Understanding human affliction through Donna Donna

 

An originally Yiddish song, sung by Joan Baez, about ‘a calf being led to slaughter’. Written somewhere during the onset of World War II – and also the Holocaust – it firstly analogizes the mass annihilation of Jews by NAZI Germany. Now, the song can be used to describe any kinds of tragedies befalling humanity.

‘A History of Violence’, by Steven Pinker

pinker

 

 

The ‘truth’ posited by most mass media reports – in regard to all recent forms of violence worldwide in 21st century – is that the world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live, where the binding assumption is that ‘people are more and more getting easily killed and wounded, and humanity is becoming more savage than ever’.

Steven Pinker proves it as fatally wrong, though. In his assertion, instead, the world is becoming an ever more peaceful civilization within these modern times. And he has a huge data set of statistics to disprove today’s conventional consensus.

Read his complete explanation in Edge.

 

Excerpt:

 

The extraordinary 65-year stretch since the end of the Second World War has been called the “Long Peace”, and has perhaps the most striking statistics of all, zero. There were zero wars between the United States and the Soviet Union (the two superpowers of the era), contrary to every expert prediction. No nuclear weapon has been used in war since Nagasaki, again, confounding everyone’s expectations. There have been no wars between any subset of the great powers since the end of the Korean War in 1953. There have been zero wars between Western European countries. The extraordinary thing about this fact is how un-extraordinary it sounds. If I say I’m going to predict that in my lifetime France and Germany will not go to war, everyone will say, “Yeah, yeah; of course they won’t go to war.” But that is an extraordinary statement when you consider that before 1945, Western European countries initiated two new wars per year for more than 600 years. That number has now stood at zero for 65 years.

And there have been zero wars between developed countries at all. We take it for granted nowadays that war is something that happens only in poor, primitive countries. That, too, is an extraordinary development; war used to be something that rich countries did, too. Europe, which traditionally has been the part of the world with the biggest military might, is no longer picking on countries in other parts of the world, or hurling artillery shells at one other with the rest of the world suffering collateral damage. This change has been extraordinary.

‘Till China and Africa meet…’

china and africa

Did W.H. Auden have deja vu about China-Africa relations? Or maybe this poem could slightly bear some correlation about it.

As I Walked Out One Evening

W. H. Auden, 19071973
As I walked out one evening,
   Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
   Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
   I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
   ‘Love has no ending.

‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
   Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
   And the salmon sing in the street,

‘I’ll love you till the ocean
   Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
   Like geese about the sky.

‘The years shall run like rabbits,
   For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
   And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
   Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time.

‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
   Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
   And coughs when you would kiss.

‘In headaches and in worry
   Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
   To-morrow or to-day.

‘Into many a green valley
   Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
   And the diver’s brilliant bow.

‘O plunge your hands in water,
   Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
   And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
   The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
   A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
   And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
   And Jill goes down on her back.

‘O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on. 


Indonesia at 69: preparing the nation towards Type 1 civilization

indonesia independence day

 

Yesterday, the country celebrated its independence, and as usual, things always get highly festive. Flag vendors, only during this occasional season, mushroom on both the street sides. Nearly every household raises it, while in neighborhoods, ceremonies, traditional games, and big feasts paint the towns red. Outside the country, oftentimes, Indonesian diaspora make way through embassies and consulates, where staff have prepared rows and rows of culinary dishes, mostly held after flag-raising ceremonies and some trivial homesick-making stuff.

But is the country getting better now? I’m obviously certain this question can split readers’ opinions. Some people have this nostalgia of ‘good ol’ days’, when strongman Suharto was in the leadership throne. Imagining back the days when food prices were under control, fuel supplies flourished with barely any necessity for imports, and stability was always the golden key. On the other hand, others believe ‘the country is moving in right direction at this moment’, despite many inherent problems still faced up to this minute. We now have freer press, a fervently-supported anti-corruption commission, and a large number of more politically literate persons. In regard to this question, I personally choose the latter.

Why this answer? This is where I always have to reiterate to my superiors, especially my parents (they missed the old regime, of course, but they didn’t want its discriminatory nature somehow). Firstly, changes always pose risks in the future. It wasn’t that university students didn’t have second thoughts about overthrowing a three-decade authoritarian potentate with no clear successor, but realizing the wrong direction this nation was heading to, doing it was Hobson’s choice. True, in post-Suharto era, things look clearly ‘disorganized’. Fuel prices increase, food prices skyrocket while government seemingly trims the data to make as though inflation were artificially low, crime rates are on the rise, and wealth gap is widening (imagine 100 million middle-class persons living side by side with another 100 million who struggle with less than 2 US$ a day). With decentralization applied en masse, new small political dynasties emerge elsewhere. However, on the other hand, thanks to social media, people are becoming increasingly aware of information flow, social mobility is more intense than ever, young, technocratic, and can-do professionals have successfully transformed their constituencies, and opportunities abound as economy continuously grows unabated. We are, for our imperfection, moving in to the ‘right direction’ at this moment.

So, where will the future leaders bring this country eons forward? What will Indonesia look like decades, or a century, later?

This Saturday, I watched a Big Think video starring Michio Kaku, a prominent Japanese-American theoretical physicist, and also one of my respected idols (I’m particularly more interested in international relations, but I never cease paying my tribute to this wonderful, ingenious thinker). In this talk about the future of mankind in a century to come, Dr.Kaku explains that human civilization, to this moment, is still undergoing transition from Type 0 (which is now) to Type 1 civilization. But, anyway, before you end up befuddled by the fuss I’m mentioning now, I’d better create a brief conception about what it actually is.

 

All these ‘types’ stuff I’ve written above are known as ‘Kardashev scale’. It is a form of measurement introduced in 1964 by Nikolai Kardashev, a Soviet astronomer. Fascinated with possibilities of galactic, intergalactic, or any ‘larger-than-our-fantasies’ civilizations, Kardashev introduced this system, primarily on account of how much energy they have utilized in operating their machines and devices. Summing up the information from Wikipedia, Kardashev scale is normally consisted of four types:

Type 0 : that is our current civilization. We still rely on fossil fuels to mobilize our economy, scientific progress is still underway, and there remains a substantial gap between those advocating a ‘multicultural, scientific, tolerant society’ and those hardheadedly insisting on ‘monocultural, theocratic, follow-me-others-are-wrong’ traits. We have seen latest trends in smartphones, but we still hear news about primitive tribes isolated in vast jungles, instead.

Type 1: the civilization in 22nd century. They are supposed to have controlled the entire planet, and everything ‘planetary’ is becoming a normalcy. Our future great-grandsons may have already manipulated earthquakes, tsunamis, ocean waves, volcanoes, and captured the entire solar heat on our atmosphere. Interstellar travel between planets will soon become as ordinary as we are all taking planes to the other side of the world today.

Type 2: the civilization in the fourth millennium. They have had the capability to control the entire solar system, inhabiting planets and satellites other than Earth and Moon, for instance, Mars, Io, Ganymede, Europa, Titan, etc. Terraforming – or engineering the whole planet to physically appear like Earth – is intensively utilized in transforming the faces of these worlds. Human colonies have sprung up across the whole solar system, interstellar travel will have been as mundane and ordinary as we are now taking flights, and we can even withstand a hypernova, or possibly, manipulate planets’ distances to make them suit better. We have had multilateral contacts with extraterrestrial forces (suppose they’re as sophisticated as we do), and not impossibly, human-alien hybrids will form.

Type 3: the civilization a million years after we all turn into soil particles. They have already gained the control of an entire galaxy. We may have had 1 trillion stars – or possibly trillions upon trillions of planets and life forms – under our grab. Type-1 and Type-2 life forms are becoming biased towards statistical numbing, thanks to a numerical quantity our imagination is too limited to conceive. Even Star Wars is no match to this civilization’s true potential, I can assume.

Kardashev simply stopped here, but science-fiction authors carry the scale forward to numbers you increasingly can’t think about it anymore:

Type 4: the civilization has controlled the entire universe. With trillions or more galaxies under their hands, the destruction of one, or a cluster, is no more than losing a pile of sands in a beach.

Type 5: the civilization is already in full control of a membrane of universes (multiverse, more or less). A universe may simply be ‘a child’s toy’ they can easily play with.

Type-Infinite (Beyond Numbers and Everything): ‘God’, ‘Holy Father’, ‘The Creator’, everything you name it, that is in charge of everything of everything of everything.

Which kinda brings me to a Von Neumann universe, but anyway, I’ll focus back to Dr.Kaku’s video.

After giving myself some thoughts about the video, I can summarize that the entire world right now is undergoing transition towards Type 1 civilization. The good news is: we’re right now a Type 0.7 (after further calculating our global energy usage in 2008). But, still, even to achieve the other 0.3 is no easy task. The underlying reason: we may have to boost our energy production by a multiplication of 100,000, to the extent we can already manipulate Mother Nature and start to operate them as we all wish. But, several features of a Type 1 civilization are already existent in 21st century, thanks to globalization, and it applies universally to all countries, including Indonesia:

1. English is already the world’s de facto lingua franca. A Chinese and a Japanese encountering each other beyond their home countries will most likely use the language other than either one of their mother tongues.

2. Internet is now accessible to more than 2 billion people worldwide. The number of Facebook users is more or less equivalent to India’s population in the second decade of this century. One billion people worldwide have watched Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ on Youtube.

3. Continental-sized trade blocs are today’s norms for international relations. European Union, NAFTA, ASEAN (by which Indonesia is a Big Brother), African Union, these all are perfect illustrations of a Type 1 economy.

4. United Nations. For all its inherent flaws (the real power-holders are only 5 countries today) and its limitations in preventing conflicts in numerous developing countries (Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, and today’s ISIS-occupied Iraqi and Syrian territories all testify to their weaknesses), this organization, altogether with its dozen subsidiaries, is already a beginning of ‘new planetary order’.

5. Everywhere we go, rock n’roll, pop music, and rap also follow suit.

Nonetheless, with new eras, there also appear new problems and challenges, all of which, Einstein had already reminded us, couldn’t be solved with strategies we once employed in solving past ones. And here they are:

1. Terrorism. Nostalgic with past glory – and again ‘good ol’ days’, some people are daring enough to disrupt world order for their own sake. See what the ISIS is now doing in Middle East.

2. Global warming. We have heated up the Earth, which takes up to 10,000 years, in only two centuries, thanks to Industrial Revolution. Thousands of exotic species have also gone extinct.

3. Some crazy madman who tries to poke with nukes. But I’m obviously certain that even Kim Jong Un may think many, many times before unleashing nuclear warheads towards either Seoul or Tokyo (somewhat, he needs their political and financial support!). Still, what we should be feared of is the control of those WMDs to the madmen.

4. International relations are gonna be a larger anarchy than ever. I mean, anarchy that is self-controlled. United States, the world’s current superpower, is becoming slightly stagnant. China is becoming bigger, richer, and more aggressive than ever (its neighbors already get its wind up, despite China’s current insistence on ‘non-interference’, up to near future). But new regional powers are also flourishing elsewhere. Japan, United Kingdom, France, and Germany remain dominant major powers, while India, Brazil, and Russia are slowly climbing up the ranks. Indonesia, despite being the world’s fourth most populous country, remains laggard in dealing with global affairs and comes up late in international branding.

What can – and should – Indonesia achieve in realizing its potential towards becoming a Type 1 civilization, despite necessitating nearly a century of process to do so? Here, we must remind ourselves of our inherent problems:

1. Education remains a substantial problem. We remain ranked on the range of 120-130 in terms of delivering quality education. Millions of children and teenagers are not getting what they desperately need, and this, if unsolved, can emerge into a ‘youth bulge’

2. Talking about economic aspect, our mindset remains too limited on ‘fuel subsidies’. As I’ve stated in previous post before (see ‘Jokowi’s homework’), this will always prevail a poison all economists concur. Mass media never ceases reminding us of Indonesia’s depleting oil reserves (only 4 billion barrels and 12 years of constant production rate before it’s completely used up, they say), and we even overlook more the potential renewable energy promises. Researchers from University of Washington have calculated that the daily OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) our planet’s ocean surfaces receive from the Sun equals to more than 250 billion barrels of oil. For a freaking, single day. Exclude ocean wave currents (nearly similar amounts), solar energy itself, wind energy, biofuels (corn, sugarcane, palm oil, and jatropha curcas), biogas from human and animal excreta, and geothermal energy, we all end up oblivious to a bigger picture behind all this potential.

3. Our research & development budget remains too stuffily constrained. With now GDP surpassing 1 trillion US$, government merely allocates no more than 3 billion US$ (when a supposed ideal amount is one more digit this number) for scientific activities. Our best and brightest assets, now employed in world-class universities with strong, sustainable flows of federal funding, are leaving this country.

4. Primordial, religious fundamentalist, and ethnocentric worldviews still dominate much of our society. The elites running our country today remain the same ones running Indonesia in Suharto’s time. Unarguably, that should start to change.

5. We chronically lack a ‘can-do’ attitude. There’s still a high tendency for majority of our populace to ‘beg on others’ hands’. Rely on government to handle fuel subsidies, rely on the rich and nouveau riche to be sympathetic and compassionate (no wonder stampedes happen when they distribute pocket money or free meals), and rely on ‘everyone other than me’ in solving our own problems. Sooner or later, if we don’t change the mindset, we will end up being a huge, lumpy bunch on the global stage.

Again, my personal advice on how to prepare this country towards a Type 1 civilization, be it an infinitesimal, small step or a gargantuan, huge leap:

1. Reform how the teachers should teach! At the very least, we should be glad that OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) ranks Indonesia 2nd after Denmark in terms of ‘world’s most innovative education system’. Not that we have sophisticated labs or larger-than-life devices to achieve such feats, but rather on all the flaws happening in our memorization-based system. But, most importantly, we should really have a long-term set of goals for our educational quality to succeed (something our current Ministry of Education doesn’t really possess).

2. Let the best ones out. Well, that sounds ironic, but for a short term, given our limited capacity to support them, we must export these best and brightest students out, and let them maximize their real potential. Say the least, they can afford to promote Indonesia. Only after we have dramatically increased our R&D expenditure to approximately 3-4% of GDP, coupled with intensive subsidies, incentives offered by our government (I really expect Jokowi to have such courage to do so), and massive improvement in our education system, do our country’s brightest minds will return and contribute to this nation’s development. That will take two to three decades. Once they return, they could bring the expertise and experiences to build space stations, permanent human colonies on Moon and Mars, stimulate nanotechnology industry, explore the seas and the sky to harness energy, or even build powerful artificial intelligence (AI). This will take more than four or five decades to really succeed. But at least, we must start today.

3. Intensify the utilization of renewable energy. Once we’re enough with fuel subsidies, we should be really enough with it. We must put all the taxpayer’s billions of dollars in harvesting such potential, and always start from the simplest ones (say, build biogas factories, buildings and structures lit with solar panels, and open up more lands for jatropha plantation)

4. Let the best technocrats lead the government. We must appreciate that right now, elect-President Joko Widodo is getting really serious about it. Still, a relative number of politicians (as long as they shouldn’t be an absolute majority in cabinet like in the past) can be a counter-balance against the egoistic, self-minded parliament. Some local leaders have also succeeded in implementing such example, and we should applaud such lively dynamism.

5. Crowdsource the government! Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, are always powerful tools in accommodating people’s voices and opinions, and definitely, it is only in this century that such invisible devices can bring authoritarian governments to an end (see Arab Spring). Joko Widodo plays the latest move by mobilizing his volunteer team to let the public recommend who are eligible enough for ministerial posts, a rare initiative in today’s world politics. Moreover, he will crowdsource his ‘blusukan‘ habit (sudden, unexpected outreach to constituents) by accommodating their voices in a single, online platform. With such measure, everyone can take initiatives in improving their neighborhood’s livelihoods.

6. Free trade is a must – albeit at a consequence. Imagine if all the world’s borders are opened up for free trade (under the terms that security guards continue to patrol them), how many times can the whole planet’s GDP multiply. Perhaps it will double, triple, quadruple, or even more. Only with such medium can we enable an unlimited exchange of ideas, products, and new ways in facing an uncertain future. Despite massive opposition by some affected groups, globalization is an enabling stimulant for such occurrence, and its existence is increasingly inevitable. Indonesia must make the best out of this opportunity, otherwise we will end up merely importing outsiders’ products while gradually crucifying our abundant natural resources abroad.

7. Balance religion with science. It’s been too long that we outweigh ourselves with religion, while we abandon scientific approaches in examining the whole universe. It’s time we seek that equilibrium.

From here onward, we must commence thinking Indonesia’s future many generations to come. At least, we must also be grateful to have witnessed, for the first time in human history, a transition phase from Type 0 to Type 1 civilization. Only with collective efforts and better mindsets, can we really achieve Kardashev’s dream. Of going to the stars, and beyond.

 

Bonus: watch the Michio Kaku’s video below.

 

How Do You Say ‘Kimchi’ in Kinyarwanda?

korea in rwanda

 

Inspired by South Korea’s economic success, Rwanda, now under the leadership of strongman Paul Kagame (a.k.a. Africa’s Lee Kuan Yew), wants to emulate its experience. And here comes a Korean engagement in one of Africa’s fastest growing markets, not simply in terms of financial aids and project assistance, but also in foreign direct investment, and later on, a gradual emigration of Koreans to the country to set up new businesses and empower local population.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.

 

Excerpt:

 

To whatever degree that South Korea’s expanding Africa footprint has been informed by its own successes, the process also exposes some of the Korean growth model’s limitations. Aside from several oil and mining deals, much of Korea’s activity in Africa, including a major push by Samsung into the mobile phone market, can be linked to increasingly saturated consumer markets, and therefore limited growth potential, at home. From a workforce perspective, too, Korea’s hierarchical office culture and lengthy working hours have raised the attractiveness of overseas business and aid assignments. Jeong Jun-ho, chief strategy officer of Olleh Rwanda Networks, the KT-Rwandan joint venture, says he volunteered for his placement largely because it meant he’d have more time with his family. (He relocated with his wife and children.)

Then there are entrepreneurs like Shin Ji-yoon, who was driven to Africa in part by the influence of Korea’s chaebol, which, despite playing an essential role in driving the country’s growth, are increasingly blamed for inhibiting small and medium enterprises, discouraging entrepreneurship, and stifling innovation. “In the United States, everybody can be an entrepreneur and if they fail, oh OK, they can do another business,” Shin, 26, says over coffee at Rz Manna, a Korean-style cafe and pastry shop that he and five university colleagues opened in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, last year. “In Korea, if I fail the first time, everybody will say, ‘You’re a loser.’ And if I succeed, and I invent a really good thing, a big company will just come and take it over.”

How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy

libya battle

 

 

When Muammar Qaddafi, then so-called the ‘Madman of Africa’, ruled Libya, this nation of nearly 6.5 million, despite brutal totalitarian rule and very strict control in all aspects of life, achieved unprecedented success as one of the richest, and most prosperous, in Africa. While dissident voices were crushed and government opposition was severely curtailed and tortured in underground prisons, literacy rate was nearly in its absolute terms. Healthcare was provided free for everyone, and its populace even received yearly bonuses from the government. It also has one of the world’s highest foreign exchange reserves, with the bulk worth more than 100 billion US$ stored safely in bank accounts across the globe, excluding their another sovereign wealth funds. Economy was highly booming, with numerous projects being implemented across the whole country. Infrastructure, in particular its irrigation, was fully functional.

All these hopes shattered when Arab Spring took the country by force. Preferring ‘freedom’ to ‘stability’, the country’s people, young and old, men and women, moderates and hardliners, all took their weapons to overthrow what they had deemed ‘four-decades of soul-deafening rule’. Everyone was looking for that voice, the opportunity for them to express themselves as they wished. They staked everything else for the sake of democracy, and for the sake of freedom.

Now, with Qaddafi’s rule coming to a tragic end, Libya is now at its own tatters. Democracy is partially achieved, but under a very dangerous cost: militia battles become a daily consumption for most of its populace. Paradoxically, and sadly enough, almost everyone was longing for his leadership, once again.

Read the full article in Bloomberg Businessweek to know more the fate of post-Qaddafi Libya.

 

Excerpt:

 

In the last few months, the Libyans have been finding out. Warring militias have destroyed large sections of Tripoli’s international airport with mortars, shoulder-launched missiles, rockets, and tanks. The fighting made the news again in July when a rocket or shell set a large oil depot on fire, sending clouds of choking black smoke over Tripoli. Shortly thereafter, 27,000 Libyans fled the fighting on foot in a single day, arriving as refugees in neighboring African countries. In just one week in July, according to a brief issued by the Soufan Group, a consultancy specializing in the Middle East, more than 60 people were killed in Benghazi, and the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and Canada have evacuated their diplomatic personnel.

Libyan oil production has declined to about 300,000 barrels a day, and a half-dozen prominent figures on the Libyan political scene, whose names had appeared in optimistic Western newspaper articles about the brave Libyans who opposed Qaddafi and fought for a more equal and democratic future, have been murdered. Their deaths have passed without any demonstrations or other significant forms of public notice inside Libya, a measure of how irrelevant the causes for which Libyans fought three years ago have become.

Libya’s economic future, once touted as the brightest in Africa, looks equally bleak. Western news sources around the time of Qaddafi’s death reported that the dictator had stashed tens of billions of dollars away in overseas accounts that the country desperately needed to pay its bills. After the dictator was toppled, the search began for his hidden personal fortune—an El Dorado of imagined gold that was built in part on the confusion between Qaddafi’s personal assets and state-controlled assets such as the LIA. This fortune was estimated in various publications to be from $70 billion to $100 billion and quickly gave rise to a cottage industry in which fortune hunters struck deals with representatives of Libya’s National Transitional Council to locate missing assets in return for 10 percent of the take.

“Enter Pyongyang”, by JT Singh

 

When it comes to North Korea, our minds never cease associate this isolationist, hermit-state with mostly negative terms. Dictatorship, totalitarian rule, no free Internet, famine, underfed people, state-controlled daily life, and all these things, what have you, will make you feel as though the only thing North Koreans could survive, day by day, were mere inhaling and exhaling. We often think of a Stygian vision, a panopticon-like perspective about this mysterious country we actually haven’t known the bulk out of it.

All these things do still exist, sadly, even in 21st century. Life seems gloomy, and only slightly better in the capital, Pyongyang (whose best hospitals even rely on electric generators to avoid blackouts and suffer from chronic lack of medical devices).

But JT Singh, a professional brand marketer, offers a reversed glimpse of what life seems to be in the capital. Okay, we should forgive ourselves for overlooking the other 90% of North Korea’s population who lives beyond the metropolis (and they certainly fare much worse than their Pyongyang counterparts with famine and all kinds of undernourishment), but thanks to his hard work, his immense creativity, and his deep passion in recording the heartbeats of this city, Pyongyang is actually, despite all its current hardships, more colorful than we now perceive.

If Kim Jong Un were wise enough (and could think rationally like Deng Xiaoping), he should have asked Singh, well-known for his city-branding expertise in numerous major cities across the globe, to promote North Korea, endowed with rich natural resources (but still abysmal human rights record, one we should slightly compromise), as an investment destination. Get real about it.