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Nobody does Eurovision like Sweden does Eurovision

Saturday, 14 May, 2016 0 Comments

Vikings, IKEA, Absolut Vodka, ABBA, Stieg Larsson, H&M… The Swedes are good at lots of things. Then, there’s the Melodifestivalen, the national event through which Sweden’s representative for the Eurovision Song Contest is selected. Held every February and March, it unites the country during the long winter nights and offers endless opportunities for small talk during the ritual morning fika at the office.

The Swedes are especially good at hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, so we’re in for a delight from Stockholm tonight. A hint was provided in the interval of the second semi-final on Thursday evening with a show that took the audience through the history of modern dance, but with a very Swedish touch. Three humans were joined by three assembly-line robots in a medley that paid homage to ’70s disco (Bee Gee-style), a Thriller zombie routine, 50 Cent’s In Da Club and a version of Beyonce’s Single Ladies. The hosts described the performance as exploring the “contrasts that divide and the similarities we share with our metallic friends.” The Swedes share the same planet with the rest of us, but they are in a world of their own when it comes to Eurovision.


Seven questions with Parag Khanna

Friday, 13 May, 2016 1 Comment

After five days of posting about CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, it’s time to talk to the author, Parag Khanna, about his book. Here goes!

1. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What inspired you to write Connectography?

Parag Khanna: My love of geography and travel, and my obsession with geopolitics going back to the fall of the Berlin Wall and my introductory class in Geopolitics taken 20 years ago at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. All of the many ideas that had not yet found expression in The Second World and How to Run the World needed to be contained and also wrapped in a meta-theory that also encompassed these previous books. I also wanted to update these with new insights as these countries evolve, and include more recent travels.

2. Eamonn Fitzgerald: For writers, geography remains a very popular science for interpreting our world. Four years ago, Robert Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate described how countries’ histories have been shaped by their relationships with water and with land. Last year, Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography explained how a nation’s geography affects its internal fortunes and international strategies. Is that kind of terrain-based approach outdated? Are you saying in Connectography that geography is no longer destiny?

Parag Khanna: Not at all. Robert Kaplan is a dear friend and mentor and inspiration for me. Connectivity doesn’t invalidate geography but builds on it. Connectivity is how we make the most of our geography. Some places turn their geography into an advantage — for example Singapore and Dubai — while others don’t. China is surrounded by 14 countries but now it is using connectivity across terrain to extend its geopolitical influence in non-military ways. Connectivity is now a deep part of our relationship with geography, and that is what this book explores.

3. Eamonn Fitzgerald: One of the hottest new words coined during the last decade was “crowdsourcing,” which means getting people to contribute to a project via a website where they can make contributions. Why should “connectography” be part of our vocabulary a decade from now?

Parag Khanna: Connectography should be part of our vocabulary because geography alone assumes that geography is an unchangeable force. However, we now use topographical engineering to modify our geography, and that tells us a great deal about the fate of human civilization than geography alone.

Parag Khanna

4. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Responding to a journalist who asked what is most likely to blow a government off course, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan reputedly said, “Events, dear boy, events.” Did you encounter any unexpected events when writing Connectography that forced you to rethink a chapter or change a section?

Parag Khanna: Great question. In fact, I only found events that reinforce my conclusions. During the time of writing, Russia invaded Ukraine, but the gas pipelines are the really important long-term contest, and it is building a bridge to Crimea. In other words: Infrastructure is a key tool and battlefield. China began dredging sand to build up South China Sea islands — yet more topographical engineering. Every day I see more examples of the thesis coming to life.

5. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What’s the most surprising response (positive or negative) you’ve had so far about the book?

Parag Khanna: I’m so pleased with people’s appreciation of the maps. It has been a global outpouring of excitement and admiration for the maps made by two truly amazing teams of digital cartographers whom I worked with at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m so gratified that their intense work has received such widespread recognition.

6. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Can you sum up the three key points you’d like the reader to take away from reading Connectography?

Parag Khanna: Rather then enumerate takeaways, I simply want readers to gain an appreciation for the categories of connectivity (transportation, energy and communications) that we have ourselves built and have such a profound impact on our lives. This premise plays out in so many ways in the book (economics, climate change, geopolitics, urbanization) that I hope readers will learn about many issues they are not personally familiar with.

7. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Connectography has been published and you’re busy right now promoting it, but what’s next for Parag Khanna?

Parag Khanna: That’s a great question. This was a trilogy, and I don’t know the word for a series of 4, so I will not write another one. I intend for this to have a long shelf life, so we shall see!

Our thanks to Parag Khanna for taking the time to answer these questions. CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization is a useful guide to globalization and its impact on trade, communication and culture. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” says Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future, but where we’re going, we do need maps and Parag Khanna is pointing us in the right direction.


Drezner vs. Khanna: KO

Thursday, 12 May, 2016 0 Comments

 CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization “Parag Khanna may well be the most connected man alive,” writes Daniel Drezner in his New York Times review of CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. That flattering description of the author is followed immediately by this sentence: “‘Connectography’ represents Khanna’s latest effort to arbitrage his personal networking skills into a theory of geopolitics.” With this kind of praise, we are in Alexander Pope territory, where a compliment is so subtle that it amounts to no compliment at all, or even entails condemnation. The tactic of damning with faint praise was articulated in Roman times by Favorinus, but the expression comes from Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot (1733): “Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, and, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer.”

Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, does not rely on indirect criticism, however, of Khanna’s new book. His critique is of the candid kind and some of his observations are scathing. Example:

What is particularly odd is that Khanna believes he is evincing a savvy worldview and yet offers a utopian vision of connectivity’s effect on people. He insists that the forces of connection will overwhelm the forces of division. In the book’s most blasé sentence, Khanna argues that “the virtues of tolerance and coexistence will come to the Middle East through a combination of ‘to each his own’ cartographic remapping and supply chain interdependence.” I would gently suggest that there will be a very long and very violent stretch between the current Middle East and Khanna’s placid vision — and that it’s the bumpy part that is salient right now.

Then, right at the end, Drezner closes in and lands a devastating KO: “I wish that Khanna were right about the power of connectivity. The world would be a better place. I fear, however, that he does not know what he is talking about.”

Tomorrow, here, we’ll have a seven-question interview with Parag Khanna.


Mappa Mundi

Wednesday, 11 May, 2016 0 Comments

Welcome to our third day of reading Parag Khanna’s new book, CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. Maps featured in the first post here on Monday and they’re central to today’s post as well. In the introduction to his book, Khanna follows the Prologue with A Note About Maps in which he writes: “Mapping the complex dynamics among the three greatest forces shaping our planet — man, nature, and technology — will require a whole new kind of geographic literacy.” Technologies such as Maptitude, StatPlanet, Project Tango and GeoFusion are some of the new tools of the new cartographic trade when it comes to adding economic and cultural data to maps, and that’s just the start, says Khanna:

“With the rise of the global sensor network dubbed the ‘Internet of Everything’ (Internet of Things + Internet of People), our maps will perpetually update themselves, providing an animated view into our world, as it really is — even the five thousand commercial aircraft in the sky and the more than ten thousand ships crossing the seas at any given moment. These are the arteries and veins, capillaries and cells, of a planetary economy underpinned by an infrastructural network that can eventually become as efficient as the human body.”

Those aircraft and ships are bound for port in what Parag Khanna calls “mankind’s most profound infrastructure” of the 21st century: the city. By 2050, there will be at least 40 cities with a population of more than 10 million people — the megacities.


Emporium Dubai

Tuesday, 10 May, 2016 0 Comments

It’s the second day here of CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization by Parag Khanna, and we’re reading Part Four, “From Nations to Nodes,” which kicks off with “If You Build It, They Will Come.” The chapter is mainly about Dubai, a city Khanna calls “Home to the World,” and, coincidentally, it’s one of the few sections of the book that contains a reference to language: “Money has long replaced Arabic as the official language of Dubai. Its daily lingua franca has become English and among South Asians Hindi and Urdu, but the glue that binds everyone together is the desire for stability, prosperity and connectedness.”

Driven by this yearning for stability, prosperity, connectedness and the convenience of a lingua franca, 250,000 Chinese now reside in Dubai, as do 30,000 Somalis and 40,000 Kenyans. Ashish Thakkar, a Ugandan of Indian descent, “got his start shuttling back and forth to Dubai’s bazaars to purchase secondhand computer parts,” writes Khanna, but he also quotes Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who speaks of the “agony of being a minority in my own country.” The “most noted intellectual dissident” of the emirates used the “extinction” word in a conversation with the author, which gives Khanna occasion to ponder the price of transforming Dubai into a home to the world: “It is as if the Filipina or European boutique owner greeting a fellow foreigner with the Arabic ‘As-salamu alaykum’ is doing so out of respect to a local population that no longer exists.”

More connectography here tomorrow, and, a special treat, we’ll have a seven-question interview here on Friday with Parag Khanna.

Dubai


Culture was about chaps, geography was about maps

Monday, 9 May, 2016 1 Comment

We’ve moved on quite a bit since the maxim “culture is about chaps, and geography is about maps” used be trotted out at the club when the cigars and the brandy were being passed around. Ours is a networked world and neologisms are needed to define and explain it. Parag Khanna has come up with “connectography” to explain what’s going on and his new book, CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, is our reading for the remainder of the week here. In essence, Khanna’s thesis is that cities will matter more than states and supply chains will be a more significant source of power than soldiers. Updated for the 21st century, the new maxim states that culture is about connectivity, geography is about grids and the map is no longer the territory.

To help us will recognize the forces that will define our world, we need to understand the links between the old and the new Silk Roads, says Parag Khanna.

More connectography tomorrow.


The Unmothered

Sunday, 8 May, 2016 0 Comments

Given that our blog is called Rainy Day, we’re adding malkosh to our vocabulary of raindrops and teardrops. Backgrounder:

“I always thought that literature’s draw lay in making me identify with people and situations that were as different from my lived experience as possible. But my mother’s death changed that. It made me seek out my own kind — the left-behind and the heartbroken. The unmothered.”

So writes Ruth Margalit in a New Yorker essay titled The Unmothered. To express the immense sense of loss she feels without her mother, Margalit calls ups the Hebrew word malkosh, which means “last rain,” and which can only be applied in retrospect:

“When it’s raining, you have no way of knowing that the falling drops would be the last ones of the year. But then time goes by, the clouds clear, and you realize that that rain shower was the one. Having a mother — being mothered — is similar, in a way. It’s a term that I only fully grasp now, with the thirst of hindsight: who she was, who I was for her, what she has equipped me with.

Like a last rain, my mother left behind an earthy scent that lingered long after she was gone. Like a last rain, for a fleeting moment, everything she touched seemed to glow.”

Rain and tears


The Austria-Italy border fault line

Sunday, 8 May, 2016 0 Comments

Temperature’s rising in the run up to the second round of Austria’s presidential election vote on 22 May. The first round was won by Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party and he’s riding a popular wave of opposition to immigration, Islam and Italy. But it doesn’t stop there. “Vogliamo un Tirolo di nuovo unito. Renzi e Merkel sono scafisti di Stato,” is the headline in La Repubblica and it highlights how Hofer’s party is dissing the Italian and German leaders, while pressing the old “Greater Austria” button of bringing the “lost” northern Italian province of South Tyrol “home”, as it were. Pictures of the violent clashes at the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy yesterday are adding to the tension on the border and should play to Hofer’s advantage a fortnight from today.

South Tyrol poster


“Et tu, Brute?”

Saturday, 7 May, 2016 0 Comments

This year, the world marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the commemorations reflect a language that has become the global lingua franca for a creative economy that knows few geographic boundaries. Pedro Martín-Calero is an example of this globalization. He started his career as a cinematographer in Spain, but switched to directing and he now divides his time between Madrid and London, where he works with Colonel Blimp, a production company that makes a variety of media, including commercials, music videos and Shakespearian snippets.

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!” is one of the many memorable sayings from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Pedro Martín-Calero includes a pair of fearsome canines in his very modern interpretation of Julius Caesar, Act II Scene I.


Who will buy the New York Times?

Friday, 6 May, 2016 0 Comments

“We have tried everything we could but sadly we just haven’t reached the sales figures we needed to make it work financially,” New Day editor, Alison Phillips, on Facebook yesterday. Birthed on 22 February, the newspaper was buried on 5 May.

How can the world’s remaining newspapers avoid the grim fate of New Day? Well, the New York Times is getting into the food delivery business, Bloomberg reports: “This summer, the New York Times will begin selling ingredients for recipes from its NYT Cooking website as the newspaper publisher seeks new revenue sources to offset declines in print. The Times is partnering with meal-delivery startup Chef’d, which will send the ingredients to readers within 48 hours.”

The NYT is also placing a bet on travel. “Times Journeys” charges readers thousands for tours of theocracies and autocracies like Iran and Cuba. “Chernobyl: Nuclear Tourism” is packaged as “A journey focused on science & nature,” while “An Exploration of Southeast Asia” is undertaken “Aboard the 264-passenger L’Austral, designed to serve both the chic and the casual.” The vessel is “sleek and intimate” and “you’ll feel as if you were on your own private yacht.” With the “Owner’s Suite” priced from $18,390, one would hope so.

Earlier this year, the Financial Times, in a “Big Read” piece by Henry Mance titled “UK newspapers: Rewriting the story,” pronounced the newspaper business dead on delivery. There is no viable economic model for a written news product, Mance concluded. There is, of course, the FT’s solution to the problem. It sold itself to Japan’s Nikkei last summer for $1.3 billion. So, who will buy the New York Times?


Listeners at the wall of stone and hope

Thursday, 5 May, 2016 1 Comment

“Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” — G.K. Chesterton

Knock

“Every mental act is composed of doubt and belief, but it is belief that is the positive, it is belief that sustains thought and holds the world together.”
Søren Kierkegaard