Showing posts with label World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World. Show all posts
01 February 2021

Military Coup Underway In Myanmar

Civilian Leaders Arrested - State TV Off Air, Internet Cut

It appears a military coup is underway in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (formerly Burma), where a state of confusion has descended on the population with soldiers now patrolling major city streets, and given state TV has also been taken off the air, according to Reuters. 

The national army says a recent major vote won by the National League for Democracy (NLD) party was "fraudulent," as a breaking BBC report details:

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar's governing National League for Democracy (NLD) party, has been arrested, the spokesman for the party said. It comes amid tensions between the civilian government and the military, stoking fears of a coup.

The NLD won enough seats in parliament to form a government in November, but the army says the vote was fraudulent.

The army has called on the government to postpone convening parliament, which was due to take place on Monday.

Image: A rift between Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, left, and commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing had been growing over the past week over contested election results.

Additionally President Win Myint and senior party figures have been detained as of early morning (local time). 

Reuters is saying the coup was sparked by an overnight raid:

Spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters by phone that Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other leaders had been "taken" in the early hours of the morning.

"I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law," he said, adding he also expected to be detained.

And Reuters further suggests a state of chaos in the capital given "phone lines to Naypyitaw, the capital, were not reachable in the early hours of Monday," and with the military initially refusing to speak to international press.

International reports are also saying that the internet has been cut in the capital of Naypyitaw, further with soldiers having taken over the streets.

The situation is incredibly tense not only as a near total information blackout is underway, but also also as supporters of the NLD could hit back at the army with sporadic violence or organized militia activity, potentially sliding the country into civil war.

23 January 2021

What do you think of the Covid Vaccine Passport?

Vaccine passports 'essential' for resumption of international travel

Italy orders TikTok to block underage users after 10-year-old girl dies doing viral challenge

Authorities said the temporary ban will last until 15 February.

Authorities said the temporary ban will last until 15 February.Italy's data protection watchdog has ordered TikTok to block access to users whose age cannot be confirmed.

The ban comes just days after the death of a young girl in Palermo, who had been taking part in an online "challenge" that has been viral on the platform.

"The Italian Data Protection Authority (GPDP) has ordered Tik Tok to immediately block the use of user data for which the age of the user has not been ascertained with certainty," it said in a statement.

"The authority decided to intervene as a matter of urgency following the terrible case of the 10-year-old girl from Palermo."

The Chinese-owned app has been prohibited from processing user data that is not "in compliance with the provisions related to the age requirement".

The temporary ban will last until 15 February as the authority continues to assess data privacy regulations. The GPDP also stated that they had informed Irish data protection authorities "given that recently TikTok has announced that it has set its main establishment in Ireland".

The President of Italy's Commission for childhood and adolescence, Licia Ronzulli, described the ban as "right and timely" on Twitter.

"The safety of minors must be protected at all costs and we cannot, as happened in Palermo, allow a social network to be an accomplice in a suicide".

Tiktok had already been accused of data privacy violations by the GPDP in December over the "lack of attention to the protection of minors".

The social network had also been accused of weak policies, which allowed users under the age of 13 to circumvent age-restricted rules.

The public prosecutor's office in Palermo indicated that it has opened an investigation into TikTok for "incitement to suicide" after the 10-year-old's death by asphyxiation, which provoked strong reactions across Italy.

"The safety of the TikTok community is our top priority," the platform said in a statement, adding, "we are at the disposal of the competent authorities to collaborate in their investigation".

09 October 2020

12-Year-Old Becomes Youngest Person Ever To Build Working Nuclear Reactor


12-Year-Old Becomes Youngest Person Ever To Build Working Nuclear Reactor
Daniel Richardson

A 12-year-old boy has managed to build a working fusion reactor and have it recorded by the Guinness Book of Records, making him the youngest on record to achieve this feat.

While most 12-year-olds play video games and enjoy the lack of responsibility that comes with youth, Jackson Oswalt had been fusing atoms. The young man, who has just turned 13, has taken the time to explain his motivation behind the endeavour and it is admirable to see how much work the child has done.

Jackson, from Memphis, Tennessee, began building his own DIY fusion reactor after being inspired by the previous Guinness World Record holder Taylor Wilson, who had managed to construct one by the age of 14. The teenager claims to have built the entire reactor himself, and offered insight into how to achieve the fusion of atoms.

Jackson Oswalt creates nuclear fusion
Guinness Book of R

Oswalt explained that he had been working on the project for around two years, and encountered issues with seals that gave him setbacks:

The project was very hard. I’d say the hardest part was figuring out how to make the seal airtight on the chamber, so I spent about…probably about half a year trying to get the seal correct.

Nevertheless, he persevered and his parents appear to have encouraged this activity – which is still being attempted by some countries.

Jackson’s mother claims that while she was excited by her son’s interest, ‘I would definitely be googling things before he turned on various stages.’ This internet activity seems understandable given that atoms are being collided in her house. She went on to explain that part of her support was because her son explained what he was doing so well.

The fact that a 12-year-old could even understand nuclear fusion is incredible, never mind putting together the components to actually perform the act. This will undoubtedly be a huge achievement for Jackson, and it will be fascinating to see what he does next.

China tells Indian media not to call Taiwan a country, Taiwan says "get lost"

NEW DELHI  - China was accused by Taiwan of trying to impose censorship in India after its embassy in New Delhi advised journalists to observe the “one-China” principle after newspapers carried advertisements for Taiwan’s national day.

Coming just months after deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese troops on the disputed Himalayan border between the two Asian giants, the controversy has flared at a time when Indian sentiments toward China are filled with antipathy and suspicion.

China’s hackles were raised on Wednesday by advertisements placed in leading Indian newspapers by Taiwan’s government to mark the democratic, Chinese-claimed island’s national day on Saturday.

The advertisement carried a photograph of President Tsai Ing-wen and hailed India, a fellow democracy, as a natural partner of Taiwan.

China, which claims Taiwan and regards it as a wayward province, made its displeasure evident in an e-mail sent by its embassy on Wednesday night to journalists in India, including Reuters.

“Regarding the so-called forthcoming ‘National Day of Taiwan’, the Chinese Embassy in India would like to remind our media friends that there is only one China in the world, and the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China,” the embassy said.

“We hope Indian media can stick to Indian government’s position on Taiwan question and do not violate the ‘One China’ principle.

“In particular, Taiwan shall not be referred to as a ‘country (nation)’ or ‘Republic of China’ or the leader of China’s Taiwan region as ‘President’, so as not to send the wrong signals to the general public.”

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu scoffed at Beijing’s advice to Indian media.

“India is the largest democracy on Earth with a vibrant press & freedom-loving people. But it looks like communist #China is hoping to march into the subcontinent by imposing censorship. #Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST!” he said in a tweet.

New Delhi has no formal diplomatic relations with Taipei, but both sides have close business and cultural ties.

India’s government has carefully avoided upsetting China over Taiwan. But relations became fraught after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops in June, and there have been calls from some Indian nationalist groups for a boycott of Chinese goods.

“The Chinese government behaves like a street goon, not like an aspiring super-power. It threatens us,” said Nitin Gokhale, the editor of a defence and security website, after receiving the Chinese embassy’s email.

07 October 2020

Hyliion Electric Truck SPAC Mints 28 Year Old Billionaire CEO

Arising out of the smoke and rubble of Nikola's recent battle with short sellers, one electric truck company has casually made its way onto the public markets via a SPAC, making its 28 year old founder a billionaire in the process. 

Does it feel enough like 1999 yet?

“We were fortunate on timing,” Hyliion Holdings Corp. CEO Thomas Healy told Bloomberg. His company, founded just 5 years ago in 2015, went public through a SPAC with Tortoise Acquisition Corporation and started trading publicly last Friday. Healy is now one of the world's youngest self-made billionaires. 

He started his company after watching Tesla while growing up and says that spurred an interest in electric vehicles. "I thought: Why do we have electric technology in cars and not in trucks yet, since trucks are where you can have the biggest impact?" he told Bloomberg. 

Healy had originally planned to go public at the time the coronavirus struck. “If we were trying to close right when the stock market was on that downswing, we might have been having different discussions,” he admitted.

The deal has not only garnered scrutiny due to Nikola's recent fall from grace, but also because the SPAC phenomenon is now being watched closer and through a more skeptical lens. Recall, days ago, we noted that SEC Chair Jay Clayton had said on CNBC that the regulator would "look closer" at the deals. 

Like many others who have used SPACs, Healy said the lack of regulation was an obvious benefit. He told Bloomberg:

In the first quarter, we kicked off our next financing round. Going public and being able to bring in more capital than we would staying private was attractive. From that, we considered: do we go down the conventional IPO route? Or do we want a SPAC process? We saw a lot of efficiencies with SPACs. You’re really negotiating a deal with an organization as opposed to going on a roadshow for an IPO that may -- or may not -- be successful. We met with the Tortoise team introduced to us through investment bank Marathon Capital. That was the moment of ‘OK. Let’s do this!’

"From our end, it was a very natural process with Tortoise. We were just going through a conventional financing fundraising process, and then we saw this as the best path," he continued.

"Our goal is you’ll be driving down the highway and the trucks you see will have Hyliion powertrains," Healy said. "There will be other trucks that are electric as well, taking a different approach. We hope all these technologies are successful as ultimately we’re trying to make this shift to electric. The more people are focused on that, the better off we’ll all be."

But don't worry Thomas - even if they don't - you'll still be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

13 March 2020

Hoards of starving monkeys storm Lopburi in central Thailand after the tourists who usually feed them fled due to Coronavirus

An elderly Italian couple who had been married for 60 years died two hours apart of the coronavirus while under lockdown

An elderly Italian couple who had been married for 60 years died two hours apart of the coronavirus while under lockdown – and their son is heartbroken that he was not allowed to visit them one last time, according to a report.

Luigi Carrara, 86, and Severa Belotti, 82, were confined to their home in Albino, in the northern province of Bergamo, for eight days without medical help, according to their son Luca Carrara, the Daily Mail reported.

Carrara’s father, a retired bricklayer, was taken to a local hospital on Saturday, while his mother was taken there the following day, the son told the daily Corriere della Sera, the UK news outlet reported.
His parents died on Tuesday – one at 9:15 a.m. and the other at 11 a.m., according to the report.
“They died alone, that’s how this virus works,” the distraught son said.
“Your loved ones are left alone and you can’t even say goodbye, hug them, try to give them some comfort. [You can’t even tell them] a good lie like, ‘Everything will be fine,’” added Carrara, a utility worker who is under quarantine with his family.

The grieving son took to Facebook to bid his parents farewell.

“Hello, Mom and Dad, this evil virus has taken you both the same day, will you continue arguing up there?” he wrote. “Surely, but then you will end with a hug.”
He added, chillingly, that his parents’ bodies have been removed to a cemetery, but “it will take a few days to cremate them because there are too many dead.”
12 March 2020

Kim Jong-un has fled Pyongyang over fears of the coronavirus

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to have fled Pyongyang for fear of the coronavirus epidemic there.

"Intelligence analysis suggests that Kim Jong-un has been away from Pyongyang for a considerable time," a government source here said on Tuesday. "This appears to be connected with the coronavirus outbreak."
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) smiles as he watches a firing drill in Sondok, South Hamgyong Province on Monday, in this photo from the [North] Korean Central Television on Tuesday. /Yonhap
Kim is reportedly staying in Wonsan, Kangwon Province, where he last made a public appearance during military drills, a Unification Ministry spokesman said.

He oversaw the test-firing of super-large multiple rocket launchers in Wonsan on March 2 and in Sondok, South Hamgyong Province, around 60 km from Wonsan on Monday.
Kim has his favorite dacha in Wonsan. 

Asian Stocks Plunge on Corona Virus Pandemic Declaration

Hong Kong blue chips have plunged by more than 900 points after the WHO declared a global pandemic from the coronavirus that surfaced in China in December.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index has sunk now by 924.75 points, or 3.67 percent at 24,306.86.
China's Meituan Dianping  (3690) shed more than 6 percent at HK$89.90.
In Tokyo, stocks extended their losses. The benchmark Nikkei is down by 5.27 percent, or 1,022 points at 18,393.34.

In Australia, the benchmark  ASX 200 index also slumped and is now down by 6.21 percent, or 355.50 points at 5,370.40.

In Seoul, stocks are sinking. The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price (KOSPI) Index fell 19.70 points, or 1.03 percent, to 1,888.57 in the first 15 minutes of trading.

On Wednesday, the KOSPI plunged by nearly 3 percent to 1,908.27 points, the lowest level since February 17, 2016.
11 March 2020

"Taiwan" to "Taipei" Johns Hopkins coronavirus map changed

A heat map showing number of coronavirus cases in China, and in "Taipei and environs."
Screenshot: JHU Coronavirus Resource Center
The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, which maintains an interactive map tracking the number of coronavirus cases worldwide, has changed how it refers to Taiwan, Axios has learned. Instead of "Taiwan," the map now uses "Taipei and environs."

Why it matters: The change tracks closely with how the Chinese government prefers to refer to Taiwan, which it views as part of Chinese territory.
  • Screenshots from early February show that the JHU coronavirus map still used "Taiwan" as a category under a section called "Confirmed cases by country/region."
  • But now the map uses "Taipei and environs," referring to Taiwan's capital city and surrounding areas.
What they're saying: When contacted Lauren Gardner, an associate professor of civil and systems engineering at JHU who directs the map project, said that they had just caught the change and would be changing it back to "Taiwan" immediately.

The big picture: Over the past several years, the Chinese government has increasingly sought to control how international organizations and companies refer to Taiwan, insisting that they change wording to align more closely with the Chinese Communist Party's "one-China policy."
  • In 2018, the Chinese government threatened airlines around the world with retaliation if they did not change wording on websites and on-place reading materials.
  • Those airlines now list the capital of Taiwan as simply "Taipei" or as "Taipei, China."

Pure Salon & Spa Koramangla, Bangalore

Led by veteran hair stylist Pure Salon & Spa offers various services from the simple hair cut and styling for women, men, kids, and brides, to vibrant hair colours, conditioning treatments, and Brazilian blowouts. Located at the heart of Koramangla, Bangalore, the salon has been around since 2015, providing professional hair treatments in a relaxed ambience. This is definitely one of our favourite hair salons in Bangalore.

26 August 2014

ISIS as Start-Up: Explosive Growth, Highly Disruptive, Super-Evil


in the bank—thanks to military victories in the past few months. ISIS has become the most well-funded terrorist group in the world

ISIS makes $3 million each day from oil, and expanded its capital massively after the capture of Iraq’s second city, Mosul, in June


people already live under its control, across 35,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria, an area captured largely over the past six months


square miles — that’s how much land ISIS aspires to, reversing the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and upending the modern map of the Middle East.

Also, they’ve vowed to “conquer Rome and own the world”


fighters have either joined the cause, or been forced to become part of it. Three years ago, ISIS consisted of just 1,000 armed militants

That’s what they call ‘hockey-stick growth’ in Silicon Valley. Compare those numbers to any non-evil, non-terroristic start-up


tweets were sent in a single day from the accounts of ISIS supporters.

It’s built a huge, sophisticated web of connected Twitter accounts that amplify every single message


Iraqi civilians have died so far this year — the highest death toll since 2008


pages of ISIS’s slick annual report (also available in English) detail the group’s activities—and its efforts to become the world’s dominant terrorism brand, with magazines, T-shirts, apparel, and even passports


seconds of footage in the video of James Foley’s murder.

ISIS’s social media videos are disconcertingly polished, with high-production values.

And they don’t just revel in brutal beheadings: their propaganda shows militants giving candy and ice cream to children and visiting hospitals


days since ISIS declared their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the newly-created Islamic State—the 156th caliphate since Mohammed’s death


months between President Obama telling the New Yorker that

“If a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant”

and announcing after the death of James Foley that

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day.”


ISIS is arguably now the second most capable military power in the Middle East behind Israel


There is no known ransom being offered for kidnapped journalist Steven Sotloff. In ISIS’s last video, the masked jihadi who killed James Foley instead offered a scenario with no good options:

“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.”

22 August 2014

Ethnic Minorities Question US-Burma Military Ties

Burma’s armed forces take part in a ceremony to honor the 65th anniversary of independence from British rule in Naypyidaw on Jan. 4, 2013. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Burma’s armed forces take part in a ceremony to honor the 65th anniversary of independence from British rule in Naypyidaw on Jan. 4, 2013. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
RANGOON — As the United States insists that military engagement with Burma is crucial to promote political reforms, human rights activists and ethnic minorities are raising some questions.
Among them: Who will take responsibility if US assistance to Burma’s armed forces is used to oppress, rather than help, the Burmese people?

Tom Malinowski, the US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, met with the commander-in-chief of the Burmese military during his visit to Naypyidaw in June. Washington has repeatedly sought to assure critics that military engagement in Burma would not involve training of combat forces or the exchange of weaponry systems, but would instead focus on promoting respect for human rights and professionalism.

But ethnic minorities in Burma, who have for several decades been the victims of brutal military campaigns, are not so convinced. Thirteen ethnic groups from Shan State sent a letter to the US Consulate in Thailand’s Chiang Mai last month, saying they believed US military engagement in the country was premature.

“What if ethnicities are attacked with US-provided technologies? That’s the question,” said Khun Htun Oo, a prominent Shan leader, adding that the uncertainty of Burmese politics was reason for caution.

“We don’t even know what will happen in 2015. We don’t know whether the election will be free and fair. Now, proportional representation (PR) is being debated and we don’t know how things will develop.”

Khon Ja, an activist from the Kachin Peace Network, also opposes US-Burma military engagement, saying she wonders what will happen if the Burmese army does not follow ethical rules after undergoing training, especially if the United States does not continue to monitor it.

During half a century of dictatorship, the military committed more rights abuses than the Burmese government, said Cherry Zahau, an ethnic Chin human rights activist. “There is no consensus in regards to how to engage with the Burmese military, which keeps on committing human rights abuses,” she said.

The military has signed bilateral ceasefires with most ethnic armed groups since 2012, but over the past three years clashes in northern Burma have left more than 100,000 people displaced.

The Chin activist accused the United States of strengthening ties with the Burmese military not to further political reforms, but due to the geopolitical importance of Burma for US national security.

“The military has continuously been a hindrance to reforms. It has impeded the progress by waging battles. It is ridiculous that [the US] says it’s engaging with the Burmese military to encourage reforms,” she said.

Because the United States is a mature democracy and a superpower, Mya Aye from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society says he believes US mentorship for the Burmese military would not be problematic, if the focus was on preventing further rights abuses.

“US’s military ties with Burma could help build democracy in Burma, but only when it takes the human rights situation in the country into consideration,” he said.

04 July 2014

Welcome to the Traffic Capital of the World

What I learned from the crippling gridlock in Dhaka, Bangladesh
By Michael Hobbes
I am in a tiny steel cage attached to a motorcycle, stuttering through traffic in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the last ten minutes, we have moved forward maybe three feet, inch by inch, the driver wrenching the wheel left and right, wriggling deeper into the wedge between a delivery truck and a rickshaw in front of us.
Up ahead, the traffic is jammed so close together that pedestrians are climbing over pickup trucks and through empty rickshaws to cross the street. Two rows to my left is an ambulance, blue light spinning uselessly. The driver is in the road, smoking a cigarette, standing on his tiptoes, looking ahead for where the traffic clears. Every once in awhile he reaches into the open door to honk his horn.
This is what the streets here look like from seven o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night. If you’re rich, you experience it from the back seat of a car, the percussion muffled behind glass. If you’re poor, you’re in a rickshaw, breathing in the exhaust.
Me, I’m sitting in the back of a CNG, a three-wheeled motorcycle shaped like a slice of pie and covered with scrap metal. I’m here working on a human rights project related (inevitably) to the garment factories, but whenever I ask people in Dhaka what their main priority is, what they think international organizations should really be working on, they tell me about the traffic.
It might not be as sexy as building schools or curing malaria, but alleviating traffic congestion is one of the defining development challenges of our time. Half the world’s population already lives in cities, and the United Nations estimates that proportion will rise to nearly 70 percent by 2050.
Of the 23 “megacities” identified by the United Nations, only five are in high-income countries, places with the infrastructure (physical, political, economic, you name it) to deal with the increasing queues of cars snarling up the roads. Mexico City adds two cars to its roads for every person it adds to its population. In India, the ratio is three to one.
Dhaka, the world’s densest and fastest-growing city by some measures, and its twentieth-largest by population, is a case study in how this problem got so badand why it’s so difficult to solve.
Like many developing-country capitals, Dhaka’s infrastructure doesn’t match the scale of its population. Just 7 percent of the city is covered by roads, compared with around 25 percent of Paris and Vienna and 40 percent of Washington and Chicago, according to one analysis. Dhaka also suffers from the absence of a deliberate road network, feeder streets leading to arterials leading to highways.

There are 650 major intersections, but
only 60 traffic lights, many of which don’t work. That means the already stretched-thin police force isn’t enforcing driving or parking rulesthey’re in the intersections, directing traffic.
Illustration by Sophia Foster-Dimino
The cost of Dhaka’s traffic congestion is estimated at $3.8 billion a year, and that’s just the delays and air pollution, not the less-tangible losses in quality of life and social capital. Paradoxically, the poor infrastructure is one of the reasons why the city is growing so fast. Without roads or trains to whisk them to the suburbs, Dhaka residents have no choice but to crowd into the middle, set up slums between high-rises, and walk to work.
“See that?” asked one of my Bangladeshi colleagues, pointing to a quilt of corrugated roofs. “That’s where all of our domestic workers live.”
Then there are the users of the roads. Besides pedestrians, the narrow lanes are shared by bicycles, rickshaws, scooters, motorcycles, CNGs, buses, and cars. All these modes take up a different amount of space and have different top speeds. It’s like a version of Tetris where none of the shapes fit.
Most people you talk to in Bangladesh blame the traffic jams on the rickshaws. There are too many of them, they say, and they drive so slowly, slaloming around the potholes, that they trap the cars, buses, and CNGs behind them. The government is under pressure to designate some lanes as car-only, to build wider roads and overpasses, to take the slow traffic out from in front of the fast.
And this brings us to the third reason why the traffic problem is so difficult to solve: politics. All of these fixes sound easy and obvious, but they come at a cost. One and a half million people drive rickshaws for a living, plus another few hundred thousand own and repair them. Government efforts to get people out of rickshaws and into buses and trains are going to attract huge opposition.
Even increasing bus capacity is more complicated than it sounds. A 2009 World Bank analysis found 60 separate bus companies in Dhaka, each with their own ever-changing routes and schedules. Passengers are charged according to how far they’re traveling, and have to haggle with the driver over the fare. Since the bus companies compete with each other, the drivers have every incentive to drive aggressively and take more passengers than the buses can hold.
What’s more, the public transport isn’t, technically, all that public. Many of the bus companies are owned or linked to political parties or powerful trade unions. Government efforts to unify or regularize the system would amount to a hostile takeover of all of these small companies.
The obvious solution, or the one proposed by international experts anyway, is to separate the rickshaws from the cars from the CNGs, give each of them lanes and lights according to their top speed, and, crucially, make car drivers pay the cost of taking up more space on the roads.
But that, politically speaking, is about as plausible as suggesting that everyone fly to work on the back of a giant eagle. Car owners are a small part of the population, but a highly influential and politically necessary one. Having a carand a driver, of courseis a major perk of being a government official or business executive.
What is development for, after all, if you still have to ride to work in a swaying, shuddering rickshaw, amid the fumes and the horns and the heat? Every year, Dhaka adds an extra 37,000 cars to its already beleaguered roads. Many Dhaka residents would, understandably, see this as a success, a sign of Bangladesh’s brighter, middle-income future.
Even the cops make it harder to fix the problem. That World Bank analysis reported that only 50 percent of bus drivers and less than half of CNG drivers had proper licenses. Cops take bribes to overlook fake, expired, or nonexistent paperwork. Updating and regularizing the licensing system and enforcing traffic laws, in practice, means cutting off an income stream for an underpaid, important constituency.
Take a second to think about all this from a Bangladeshi politician’s point of view. Any attempt to solve the traffic mess means pissing off the poor, the middle class, and the rich all at once. It’s basically President Obama versus the health care system, only instead of patients, doctors, and insurance companies, it’s rickshaw drivers, cops, and bus companies. As Americans know well by now, entrenched institutions don’t just dissolve when you point out how inefficient they are.
But here’s where the metaphor breaks down. The government of Bangladesh has an option that Obama never did, one last way to have their roads and drive on them, too: international donors. In 2012, the government announced a $2.75 billion plan to build a metro rail system. Eighty-five percent of the project is being financed as a loanat 0.01 percent interestby the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
If you’re a Bangladeshi politician, this is a great deal. Not only do you avoid taking on these inconveniently entrenched interest groups, but you also get a transportation system for poisha on the taka. A $255 million bus rapid-transit line from the airport, thanks to loans from the French government and the Asian Development Bank, will cost Bangladesh just $45 million to build.
For residents of Dhaka, however, it’s less of a bargain. These projects will take years, maybe decades, to come to fruition (there’s already infighting about how the bus lines should be built) and the construction will only make Dhaka’s traffic worse until they do. In the meantime, cheaper solutions to Dhaka’s traffic jamsenforce the law, reduce cars, improve bus servicecost too much, in political terms, to consider.
Whenever I asked my Bangladeshi colleagues how long it would take to get somewhere, they always gave two answers: “Without traffic, maybe fifteen minutes. But with traffic? Who knows?”
Maybe that’s the way to think about how the world’s megacities will solve the problem of traffic congestion. Without hard political choices to make? Maybe a few years. But with them? Who knows?
Michael Hobbes is a human rights consultant in Berlin. He has written for Slate, Pacific Standard, and The Billfold. Read more of his work here.

02 July 2014

Iraq crisis: What is a caliphate? All you need to know

Dubai: Sunni jihadists have declared an "Islamic caliphate" on territory they have seized in Iraq and Syria, reviving a system of rule abolished nearly one century ago.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, renamed itself simply as the Islamic State, and ordered the world's Muslims to obey Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now the "caliph" or successor to the Prophet Mohammed.

Representational image. AP

What is a caliphate?
After the Prophet Mohammed died in 632 AD, his followers agreed on the caliphate system, meaning succession in Arabic, as the new mode of rule.
The caliph's main duty was to implement Muslim law in the land of Islam and spread it across an empire that expanded from what is now western Saudi Arabia.
The first caliph was appointed in two stages, under which representatives of Muslim communities chose Abu Bakr and then submitted his name to the public seeking their backing.
But from day one Muslims differed on the concept of the caliphate -- a mainly Sunni system that Shiites contest as they believe the cousin of the prophet, Imam Ali, and his offspring had a divine right to lead after Mohammed's death.
Under the caliphate, a whole governing structure was developed and expanded as the territory of the state stretched in all directions. The caliph had ministers and appointed rulers in the widespread emirates.

How long did it last?
Zealous Muslims believe the caliphate lasted until it was abolished following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
But it is generally thought to have lasted in its original form for just three decades, during the reign of the first four leaders, known as the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs.
Several dynasties fought for power and ruled in the empire's vast territories, including the Omayyads in Damascus (661-750), Abbasids in Baghdad (750-1258), and the Ottomans in Turkey (1453-1924).
The succession process was hereditary and rulers all adopted the title of caliph.
In March 1924, the founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, constitutionally abolished the caliphate.

What were its boundaries?
The land where Islam flourished has never been limited by a constitution, and expansion to spread the religion was always considered part of the caliphate's role.
At its peak, Ottoman rule covered the Middle East and North Africa, the Caucasus and parts of Eastern Europe.

Are any movements calling for the revival of a caliphate?
Political Islam in general calls for the rule of sharia law as a system of life, including politics.
The founder of the Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna, considered the caliphate a symbol of Islamic unity, and reinstating the system was one of its goals. But Banna argued the caliphate needed to be preceded by cooperation agreements between Muslim states to pave the way for an eventual union led by an agreed-upon imam.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, a pan-Islamic group formed in 1953, is known for focusing on unifying Muslim countries in a caliphate.

Did Al-Qaeda want a caliphate?
An Islamic state has been the "great dream" of Al-Qaeda since the 11 September, 2001 attacks on the United States, according to Mustafa al-Ani, from the Gulf Research Centre.
ISIL's declaration is only a "nucleus for the caliphate that would expand with the collapse of established states," he argued.
In 1996, the Taliban established an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan which it ruled until the jihadist group was ousted by a US-led offensive in 2001. But the leader of the Taliban did not adopt the caliph title, preferring the rank of Amir al-Muminin, or commander of the faithful, another title carried used by caliphs.

Does the caliphate have a future?
The Islamic State could remain in place "in the current situation which is characterised by the weakness of the government in Baghdad and the absence of a foreign intervention," said Ani.
But the jihadists would have to "liquidate other Islamist groups" not loyal to them and crush any attempt at revolt within the territories they control. They would also have to strengthen their defences and impose the rule of Islamic courts.

Japan Finally Apologizes to Its Women

Say it like you mean it.                                                                                           Source: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
Say it like you mean it.                                                                                          

Source: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
On June 23, a middle-aged male Japanese politician, dressed in the traditional dark suit and '80s-retro haircut, walked in front of a waiting line of news cameras, to where a younger female politician waited. As the cameras flashed, he apologized to the woman, and bowed deeply; she looked on gravely.

To a naïve Western observer, this scene might look like just another day in the byzantine, hidebound world of Japanese politics. But I’ve been watching Japanese politics and civil society for more than a decade now, and when I saw Akihiro Suzuki bow to Ayaka Shiomura, I caught my breath. I knew what I was seeing was big. Epochal, even.

The background: On June 18, Assemblywoman Shiomura, who belongs to a small minority party, was speaking to the Tokyo city assembly about the need for programs to support working women -- a point that has been a main theme of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration. While she was speaking, someone from Abe's dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) yelled: “You should get married!” and “Can’t you even bear a child?” Shiomura, visibly disturbed, finished her speech, after which she returned to her seat and began to cry. After the incident, Shiomura and other opposition politicians requested that the LDP find and punish the heckler, but party officials responded that they didn’t know the identity of the heckler, and hence could do nothing.

In the Japan of the 1990s or early 2000s, that probably would have been the end of the issue. But not this time. Soon, the story was all over the Japanese news, and complaints began pouring in. Petitions appeared and circulated, demanding that the offenders be found and forced to apologize (about 100,000 people signed). A network of feminist groups, using the petition-gathering platform, made the issue a rallying point. A few days later, the LDP caved, identifying Akihiro Suzuki as the man responsible for (at least some of) the heckling. The historic apology followed soon after. But that didn’t stop an angry man from egging Suzuki’s house!

This incident is only a symbol, but it points to a larger underlying trend -- the metamorphosis of Japanese women from a subservient caste, valued only for their delicate beauty and homemaking skills, to full-fledged equal members of society. Prime Minister Abe, of course, is making a name as the chief booster of women’s economic equality, but it turns out that he’s jumping on a trend that’s been building for a while. Working-age women’s employment has been climbing steadily since the early 2000s, and is now higher than in the U.S. Slowly, Japanese companies are hiring more female managers and executives, and Japanese voters are electing more female politicians.

Meanwhile, social change is happening as well. Popular TV shows now depict women as tough, smart lawyers. Child pornography -- which exploits large numbers of teenage girls -- was finally banned this month. The man who egged the sexist politician’s house is an example of a growing trend of “white knighting” (men standing up for women who are being bullied in public) in a country more traditionally known for train groping.

Of course, all change is generational; some older, conservative Japanese men still view women as inferiors, to be bullied and humiliated at will (much like in the U. S.). Just a couple of weeks after the Shiomura incident, a female politician in Osaka was heckled in a similar incident. And Japan still lags far behind most other rich nations in gender equality.

But there are two forces driving social change in Japan. The first is the changing of the guard. As Devin Stewart of the Carnegie Council has noted, the 76er generation – Japan’s equivalent of America’s Generation X – is far more liberal in its outlook than the older baby boomers. Feminists such as Mariko Bando, Chizuko Ueno, and Akie Abe (yes, the prime minister’s wife!) have gained national celebrity, and a new generation, such as writer Renge Jibu and activists Asako Osaki and Emmy Suzuki Harris, are gaining in prominence as well. Meanwhile, younger male executives, politicians and academics are also talking much more openly about the need for women’s equality.

The second force is economic, and here Abe becomes the central figure. Abe’s reforms include moves toward shareholder capitalism, free trade, lower corporate taxes, and deregulation -- a sort of delayed Reagan-Thatcher revolution. Those measures, even if partly successful, will put pressure on Japanese companies to hire women (who offer more productivity per dollar than men), to reform the rigid labor systems that are biased against working mothers, and to ditch the expensive drinking sessions that preserve the “boys’ club” mentality.

Many Westerners and Japanese people alike tend to view Japan as an ancient, unchanging samurai culture, bound eternally in traditional feudal values. But Japan is turning out to be much more like Europe and America -- a place capable of social as well as economic progress, a place capable of reinventing itself through both evolution and revolution.
24 June 2014

Myanmar Wants Converts To Get Government Permission

Immanuel Baptist Church in Yangon, Myanmar.Associated Press/Photo by Khin Maung Win
Immanuel Baptist Church in Yangon, Myanmar.

By Julia A. Seymour

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has taken steps in recent years toward freedom and democracy from the iron-fisted military regime that ruled until 2011. But many groups were outraged by a recently proposed religious conversion bill they say is a step backwards.

The parliament of Myanmar released a draft bill in May that would require anyone who wanted to change faiths to apply for government permission. 

Sooyoung Kim, International Christian Concern’s regional manager for Southeast Asia, said the bill would require multiple steps of government approval to convert, making it sound “practically impossible.” 

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The bill called for penalties for proselytizing as well as preventing someone from converting, according to Agence France Presse. It also would establish a minimum age for conversion, according to Australia Network News. The government proposed another bill that would make interfaith marriage or converting to marry more difficult.

Both proposals were widely condemned in Burma and internationally. Eight-one groups came together to call for the bill to be discarded entirely, reported. Rachel Fleming of The Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), said the proposal could “seriously undermine the peace process,” and increase the number of Chin missionaries who become prisoners of conscience, according to

Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, called the religious conversion bill “a huge step backwards away from anything you would call freedom or democracy.” 

The U.S. government agreed. “This draft law, and the three others that may follow, risk stoking continuing violence and discrimination against Muslims and other religious minorities, including Christians,” said Robert George, chairman of the United States Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF). 

Myanmar has several ethnic groups, including the Burman majority, and multiple minorities including Karen, Shan, Rohinga and Chin. Buddhism is the majority religion, but Muslims and Christians make up significant minorities.

A movement of anti-Muslim, Buddhist nationalists called the “969” support the legislation because they “want to protect the Buddhist nationalist identity,” Kim said.

Although experts speculated the proposal was meant to target Muslims, everyone would be impacted, they said.

“The attention is on the Muslim-Buddhist relationship because there has been violence in recent years,” Nettleton said. “So everyone in Burma is paying attention to that. But when you start talking about people having to go before a committee to get approval for changing their personal faith, that’s going to impact everybody. … This is going to have a dampening effect on ministry efforts by Christians because it essentially criminalizes evangelism.”

The Indian state of Madhya Pradesh passed similar legislation almost a year ago. It requires converts to give the government at least a month’s notice before changing religions.
Since Myanmar went from a military dictatorship to a parliament in 2011, religious minorities have experienced some improvements. President U Thein Sein loosened restrictions on tribal minorities and allowed for celebrations of traditional festivals. “That means we can hold Christian services without having to hide,” a Chin pastor said.

But persecution of Christians has not ceased. In 2014, Open Doors ranked Myanmar 23rd on its World Watch List of worst persecutors. Open Doors said it remains difficult to register churches and existing churches are monitored by the government.
23 June 2014

Thousands on Risky Hunt for Nepal's 'Viagra'

Harvesting of Yarsagumba could also damage ecosystem

It's June in Nepal, so tens of thousands of people are scouring the nation's remote highlands for so-called "Himalayan Viagra"—a fungus said to boost libidos and ease health woes.

But harvesting is a risky job that doesn't pay much compared to the fungus' value on the open market, Al Jazeera reports.

Why risky?

Not only are the mountain paths steep and narrow, killing the occasional harvester, but the fungus is worth enough to attract crime.

Six men were given life sentences in 2011 for killing harvesters, the BBC reports, and the Himalayan Times reports that thieves stormed a harvesters' tent on Friday and stole more than $410,000 worth of fungus.

Called Yarsagumba, the fungus has been popular for more than 500 years, but Nepal's decision in 2001 to legalize its collection, use, and sale may have led to ecologically destructive over-harvesting.

Because the fungus grows inside of caterpillars, heavy collection (60,000 are now harvesting the nation's midwestern region) could destroy caterpillar populations and allow moths and larvae to proliferate, Nature reports.

On the plus side, harvesters make decent money for a couple of weeks' work, and buyers reportedly enjoy the benefits. "It regulates the normal functioning of various parts of the body and strengthens the immune and circulatory system," says a Nepalese professor.

"It has traditionally been used for impotence, backache, and to increase sperm and blood production."
20 June 2014

World Refugee Day: Burmese Family Flees Religious Persecution

'I am really amazed to live in this kind of fine apartment, using electricity for 24 hours, driving a nice car on a very smooth road'

Three of Steven's children and a friend pose for a picture in their home in Indiana. (UNHCR) Yahoo News - Three of Steven's children and a friend pose for a picture in their home in Indiana.

Steven Van Biakthang fled from Myanmar to the United States in 2008. He belongs to the Chin people, an ethnic group who are persecuted for ethnic and religious reasons. This is his story:
  Steven Van Biakthang now works in a clinic as outreach coordinator for Burmese people. (UNHCR)
Steven Van Biakthang now works in a clinic as outreach coordinator for Burmese people. (UNHCR)

'In 2008, my family and I ran away from my country because of religious issues. From there, l started the kind of life that I have right now. I am just wondering and would like to ask this question to everyone: who would want to live in a country where there is no freedom of politics, religion, speech, and discriminates against its minority ethnic groups because of its own race, origin? Therefore, we came to Malaysia for our safety and refuge. Through the help of UNHCR, we were able to be registered and got refugee status and resettled to United States of America in 2010.

I am now working in a clinic as outreach coordinator for a group of Burmese people from one company in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. Also serving the Lord at International Life Ministry. God blessed us with three kids and they learn fast and I am so happy to see them adopting the education that is given here in the States. I am really amazed to live in this kind of fine apartment, using electricity for 24 hours, driving a nice car on a very smooth road and good communications. I meet with different colourful people and become friends with them, enjoy all kinds of good food and good health.

I hope to reunite with my sister and her family soon. As of now, I just have hope for my kids. I hope one day they will become educated people and help Burma to develop in all areas that they can for the people. Especially for my Chin people who live in Chin state. I hope for my people to be free.'
18 June 2014

The Woman Who Invented Iraq

Gertrude of Arabia, the Woman Who Invented Iraq

The story of the British intelligence agent who rigged an election, installed a king loyal to the British, drew new borders—and gave us today’s ungovernable country.
She came into Baghdad after months in one of the world’s most forbidding deserts, a stoic, diminutive 45-year-old English woman with her small band of men. She had been through lawless lands, held at gunpoint by robbers, taken prisoner in a city that no Westerner had seen for 20 years.

It was a hundred years ago, a few months before the outbreak of World War I. Baghdad was under a regime loyal to the Ottoman Turks. The Turkish authorities in Constantinople had reluctantly given the persistent woman permission to embark on her desert odyssey, believing her to be an archaeologist and Arab scholar, as well as being a species of lunatic English explorer that they had seen before.

She was, in fact, a spy and her British masters had told her that if she got into trouble they would disclaim responsibility for her. Less than 10 years later Gertrude Bell would be back in Baghdad, having rigged an election, installed a king loyal to the British, re-organized the government, and fixed the borders on the map of a new Iraq. As much as anyone can be, Gertrude Bell could be said to have devised the country that nobody can make work as a country for very long—no more so than now.

The Middle East as we know it was largely the idea of a small coterie of men composed of British scholars, archaeologists, military officers and colonial administrators who were called the Orientalists—this is the “orient” according to the definition first made by the Greeks, meaning everything east of the Mediterranean as Alexander the Great advanced to seize it.

For decades, beginning in the mid-19th century, the Orientalists had explored the desert and found there the ruins of the great powers of the ancient world—Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia. Through archaeology they revealed these splendors to the modern world and, from their digs, stuffed Western museums with prizes like the polychromatic tiled Ishtar Gates of Babylon, moved to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, or the Cyrus Cylinder, containing the Persian king Cyrus’s new creed of governance as he conquered Babylon, shipped to the British Museum.

They wondered why such resplendently rich and deeply embedded pre-Christian urbanized cultures ended up buried by the drifting sands of the desert, completely unknown and ignored by the roaming Arab, Turkish and Persian tribes above. The many glories of Babylon, for example, lay unexplored not far from the boundaries of Baghdad.
The Middle East as we know it was largely the idea of a small coterie of men composed of British scholars, archaeologists, military officers and colonial administrators who were called the Orientalists.
Among the explorers, a state of mind developed that was patronizing and paternalistic. If they had not made these discoveries, who would know of these great cities? If Arabs took the artifacts it would be, to these men, mindless looting; if the Western scholars shipped them home, often in vast consignments, it was to preserve them for posterity.

The Ottomans had managed Arabia through a decentralized system of provinces called valyets, run by governors they appointed. Tribal, sectarian and territorial conflicts made it a constantly turbulent place, despite the hammer of Ottoman rule. Under a more centralized system the place would have been ungovernable. But the Turks never entertained the Western idea of nation building, it was as much as they could do to keep even a semblance of order.

The Orientalists thought differently. The Western idea of nation building was the future of Arabia. As World War I drew to its end and the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the Orientalists saw an opportunity to bring modern coherence to the desert by imposing new kingdoms of their own devising, as long as the kings would be compliant with the strategic interests of the British Empire.

Into this coterie of schemers came two mavericks, both scholars, both fluent Arab speakers, both small in stature and psychologically fragile, both capable of extraordinary feats of desert exploration—a young man called T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, a more seasoned connoisseur of the desert life.

Both had been recruited before World War I to gather intelligence on the Ottomans. Both were hard to accommodate within a normal military and diplomatic machine and so ended up working for a clandestine outfit in Cairo called the Arab Bureau, which was more aware of their singular gifts and more tolerant of their habits.

Bell’s epic desert trek in 1913-14 was already legendary. Her objective had been a city called Hail that no European had reached since 1893. Under the cover of archaeological research, her real purpose was to assess the strength of a murderous family called the al Rashids, whose capital Hail was.

The Rashids had been kicked out of Riyadh by the young Abdul Aziz bin Abdurrahman al Saud, otherwise known as Ibn Saud, who was to become the founder of Saudi Arabia.

Despite the rigors of the terrain, Bell was as susceptible to the spiritual appeal of the desert as others like her young protégée Lawrence. “Sometimes I have gone to bed with a heart so heavy that I thought I could not carry it through the next day,” she wrote. “Then comes the dawn, soft and benificent, stealing over the wide plain and down the long slopes of the little hollows, and in the end it steals into my heart also….”

When she reached Hail, the Rashids were suspicious and put her under what amounted to house arrest in the royal complex.

But as a woman, Bell enjoyed an advantage over male colleagues that she was to deploy on many missions: molesting or harming women was contrary to the desert code of conduct, even in a family as homicidal as the Rashids. For a week or so, Bell was warmly entertained by the women of this polygamous society, and the women’s gossip provided a rich source of intelligence on palace intrigues, of which there were many. From this she was able to see what her British minders valued: That the Rashids were yesterday’s men and the Saudis would likely be a formidable and independent power in Arabia. The Rashids released her, and she went on to Baghdad, Damascus, and home to London.

It was inside knowledge like this that put Bell in an influential position when the war ended and the European powers decided how they would carve up Arabia. Lawrence had committed himself to the princes of the Hashemite tribe, notably Feisal, with whom he had fought against the Turks, and promised Damascus to them. But unknown to Lawrence, a secret deal had been cut with the French, who wanted control of the eastern Mediterranean and were to get Damascus while Britain would fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by re-drawing the map of Arabia.

The British were more aware than the French of the importance that oil would assume. Syria, the new French subject state, was unpromising as an oil prospect. The first Middle Eastern oil field began pumping in Persia at the head of the Persian Gulf in 1911, under British control, and geologists suspected, rightly, that vast oil reserves lay untapped in both Persia and Iraq.

While Lawrence left the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 stricken by the guilt for a British betrayal of his Arabs to which he had not been a party, Bell was sent to Baghdad, where Feisal was to be given his consolation prize: the throne of a new Iraq.

As well as the prospect of huge oil reserves, this new Iraq was crucial to the lines of communication to the great jewel of the British Empire, India. And, ostensibly, it was the diplomats and generals of the Indian administration who ran the show in Baghdad. But they depended on Bell as an expert and a negotiator, fluent in Arabic and used to the schisms and vendettas of the region. In fact, many of the decisive meetings as the British struggled to create a provisional government took place in Bell’s own house.

On August 23, 1921, at a ceremony in central Baghdad, Feisal was installed as the monarch of Iraq, even though he had no tribal roots in the country to assist his legitimacy. “We’ve got our king crowned,” wrote Bell with relief. And she made a claim about this election that would be echoed decades later by Saddam Hussein, that Feisal had been endorsed by 96 percent of the people, even though he was the only candidate and the majority of the population was illiterate.

Indeed, Bell was so carried away with her confidence in the nation she had helped to create that she crowed: “Before I die I look to see Feisal ruling from the Persian frontier to the Mediterranean.”
In reality, the Iraqi borders had been arbitrarily drawn and disregarded 2,000 years of tribal, sectarian, and nomadic occupation. The Persian frontier was the only firmly delineated border, asserted by mountains. Beyond Baghdad the line drawn between Syria, now the property of France, and Iraq was more cartography than anthropology. Nothing had cooled the innate hostilities of the Shia, in the south, who (in a reversal of the current travesty in Baghdad) were virtually unrepresented in Bell’s new assembly, and the Sunnis to the north, as well as the Kurds, the Armenians and the Turks, each with their own turf. Lawrence, in fact, had protested that the inclusion of the Kurds was a mistake. And the desert border in the south was, in Bell’s own words, “as yet undefined.”

The reason for this was Ibn Saud. Bell wrote in a letter to her father, “I’ve been laying out on the map what I think should be our desert boundaries.” Eventually that line was settled by the Saudis, whose Wahhabi warriors were the most formidable force in the desert and who foresaw what many other Arabs at the time did: Iraq was a Western construct that defied thousands of years of history, with an alien, puppet king who would not long survive and internal forces that were centrifugal rather than coherent.

For a while, Bell was the popular and admired face of the British contingent in Baghdad. An American visitor pleased her by calling her “the first citizen of Iraq.” The Arabs called her “Al Khatun,” meaning a noble woman who earned respect. She went riding and swimming every day, somewhat diminishing the benefits of that by chain smoking in public. She also made no secret of the fact that she was an atheist. It seemed that she was more comfortable in the company of Arabs than she had been among her peers in Cairo.

Lawrence, for example, while respectful of her scholarship, thought that Bell “had no great depth of mind” and politically was a poor judge of people and “changed direction like a weathercock.” Sir Mark Sykes, a crusty diplomat who had colluded with the French to give them Damascus, was more defiantly a misogynist. He called her “a silly chattering windbag, an infernal liar, a conceited, gushing, rump-wagging, blethering ass.”

Sometimes Bell revealed a dark self-knowledge. In 1923 she wrote to her father: “At the back of my mind is that we people of war can never return to complete sanity. The shock has been too great; we’re unbalanced. I am aware that I myself have much less control over my own emotions than I used to have.”

By then she had only three years to live, and was becoming frail from overwork. She described her routine in a letter: “I get up at 5:30, do exercises till 5:45 and walk in the garden till 6 or a little after cutting flowers. All that grows now is a beautiful double jasmine of which I have bowls full every day, and zinnias, ugly and useful. I breakfast at 6:40 on an egg and some fruit…leave for the office by car at 6:55 and get there at 7…”

As well as administrating in the manner of a colonial official, she often acted like a viceroy, receiving a stream of tribal sheiks, Arab officials or simply citizens with grievances. The king had to be managed, as he sat in his garden “in full Arab dress, the white and gold of the Mecca princes.” But she also devoted much of her time to a personal passion: creating the Iraq Museum in Baghdad where she gathered a priceless collection of treasures from the world of antiquity—reminding herself and the Iraqi people how the earliest urban civilizations had flourished around the Tigris and Euphrates.
There were, though, other loves that belied the appearance of a desiccated, workaholic spinster. She lived with the memories of two passionate romances, both thwarted.

At the age of 24 she became engaged to a young diplomat but her rich industrialist father deemed it an unsuitable match and, in the compliant Victorian manner, she ended it. Her second affair was far deeper, tragic and, in its effects, everlasting. She fell in love with Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie, a soldier with a record of derring-do with appropriate movie star looks. But Doughty-Wylie was married, and as long as the war occupied them both neither could see a way out. Bell was, however, completely besotted:

“I can’t sleep,” she wrote to him, “I can’t sleep. It’s one in the morning of Sunday. I’ve tried to sleep, every night it becomes less and less possible. You, and you, and you are between me and any rest; but out of your arms there is no rest. Life, you called me, and fire. I flame and I am consumed.”
He responded in kind: “You gave me a new world, Gertrude. I have often loved women as a man like me does love them, well and badly, little and much, as the blood took me…or simply for the adventure—to see what happened. But that is all behind me.”

Doughty-Wylie died in the amphibious assault on the Turks at Gallipoli in 1916—ill-conceived by Winston Churchill as an attempt to strike at the “soft underbelly” of the Ottoman Empire.
Bell died at her house by the Tigris in Baghdad in July 1926 at the age of 57.  She had taken an overdose of barbiturates, whether deliberately or accidentally it was impossible to tell. Lawrence by then was a recluse, in flight from the road show devised by the American journalist Lowell Thomas that had turned him, as Lawrence of Arabia, into the most famous man on Earth.

But it was Gertrude Bell, who was never a public figure, who had left the greater mark on the Middle East, for better or worse.

King Feisal, who had been ailing for some time, died in Switzerland in 1933, at the age of 48, to be succeeded by his son Prince Ghazi. The monarchy was brought down by a pro-British military coup in 1938, a regime that would ultimately mutate into that of Saddam Hussein’s in 1979.