Max Fisher | The Washington Post
When two Swedish economists set out to examine whether economic freedom made people any more or less racist, they knew how they would gauge economic freedom, but they needed to find a way to measure a country’s level of racial tolerance. So they turned to something called the World Values Survey, which has been measuring global attitudes and opinions for decades.
Among the dozens of questions that World Values asks, the Swedish economists found one that, they believe, could be a pretty good indicator of tolerance for other races. The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society.
Max Fisher | The Washington Post
One thing the Harvard Institute authors did with all that data was measure it for what they call ethnic fractionalization. Another word for it might be diversity. They gauged this by asking an elegantly simple question: If you called up two people at random in a particular country and ask them their ethnicity, what are the odds that they would give different answers? The higher the odds, the more ethnically “fractionalized” or diverse the country.
I’ve mapped out the results above. The greener countries are more ethnically diverse and the orange countries more homogenous. There are a few trends you can see right away: countries in Europe and Northeast Asia tend to be the most homogenous, sub-Saharan African nations the most diverse. The Americas are generally somewhere in the middle. And richer countries appear more likely to be homogenous.
Mark Byrnes | Atlantic Cities
Known as one of the worst cities in the world in which to drive, Mexico City’s rush hours aren’t much better underground. The 10th biggest metro area in the world, its subway system generates around 4 million riders a day, or 1.5 billion a year, the second highest in North America (New York City is first).
Spanish photographer Héctor Mediavilla experienced the daily crush first hand, using the subway while living in Mexico’s capital. For a photography project he’s titled Megapolis, themed around rapid urbanization across the globe, Mediavilla saw the city’s underground commute as a clear representation of an overcrowding world.
Bob Davis | The Wall Street Journal
How best to manage urban growth is hotly debated. Urban specialists point out that many of China’s cities aren’t as densely populated as Singapore, Seoul or downtown Tokyo, which have made the transition to the consumer-led service-industry centers that China aspires to. Beijing is seen as especially poorly planned. It has about half of the population density of Seoul and is circled by six ring roads that encourage automobile use and urban sprawl.
Much more could be done to make China’s largest cities more efficient, including expanding subways. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says China’s 10 largest cities have far less extensive rail systems to service downtowns than major cities outside China, though many cities are now in the process of adding subways.
But China has long been wary of supersize urban centers for fear of creating slums, or of worsening pollution or spurring centers of political opposition.
Noah Feldman | Foreign Policy
The stakes of the debate over whether to contain China or engage it could not possibly be higher. One side argues that the United States must either accept decline or prepare for war. Only by military strength can the United States convince China that it is not worth challenging America’s status as the sole superpower. Projecting weakness would lead to instability and make war all the more likely. The other side counters that trying to contain China is the worst thing the United States can do. Excessive defense spending will make the United States less competitive economically. Worse, it will encourage China to become aggressive itself, leading to an arms race that neither side wants and that would itself increase the chance of violence. Much better, they argue, to engage China politically and economically and encourage it to share the burdens of superpower status.
What we need is to change the way we think and talk about the U.S.-China relationship — to develop an alternative to simple images of inevitable conflict or utopian cooperation. We need a way to understand the new structure that draws on historical precedent while recognizing why things are different this time. We need to understand where the United States and China can see eye to eye and where they cannot compromise. Most of all, we need a way forward to help avoid the real dangers that lie ahead.
We also need a more sophisticated understanding of the Chinese Communist Party. No longer ideologically communist, the leadership is pragmatic and committed to preserving its position of power. It seeks to maintain legitimacy through continued growth, regular transitions, and a tentative form of public accountability. It aims to manage deep internal divisions between entitled princelings and self-made meritocrats via a hybrid system that makes room for both types of elites.
Elias Groll | Foreign Policy
Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution was supposed to offer ordinary Venezuelans political power and social services. On some of these counts, it has at least partially succeeded. On others — such as the provision of toilet paper — not so much.
On Tuesday, Alejandro Fleming, the country’s commerce minister, announced that the government would make the equivalent of a frantic grocery store run to pick up some rolls. “The revolution will bring the country the equivalent of 50 million rolls of toilet paper,” he told the state news agency AVN. “We are going to saturate the market so that our people calm down.” (Not that long ago, the “revolution” was promising to provide housing and health care but hey, Marx said something about the importance of toilet paper, right?)
Gabriella Gershenson | Saveur
About an hour outside of Tel Aviv, driving north toward the Galilee, the land tells me I am getting closer to my destination. I see neat plots of banana plants and rows of avocado trees. I pass hardy date palms and fish farms with shallow rectangular pools. A stop at a gas station reveals a carob tree growing next to the parking lot and tufts of za’atar, a type of wild thyme eaten throughout the Middle East, sprouting from the curb. When I enter the Upper Galilee, subtropical hills and valleys give way to a rocky green vista of olive trees with gnarled, ropy trunks, which could be hundreds of years old. It’s good to be back.
. . . The Galilee was the breadbasket of the biblical period, and more recently, the birthplace of the kibbutz, the 20th-century Jewish farming communes that harnessed the potential of this land, turning it into Israel’s most fruitful region. It’s also home to some of the most elemental and satisfying foods I’ve ever eaten: Israeli-style breakfasts of vibrant raw vegetables and soft goat’s milk cheeses; specialties like hummus mashaushe, chickpea-topped hummus swimming in olive oil, and knafeh, a syrup-soaked cheese and shredded phyllo pastry, which I sampled in the Arab-Israeli port city of Akko. The cuisine here is influenced by Arabs, Druze, and Bedouins (see Original Galilee), and even by the Bible. There are flavors from the Jewish diaspora, from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Dishes are executed with the freshness and simplicity that’s a hallmark of Mediterranean cooking. To me, it all amounts to Israel’s most exciting regional cuisine.
Naimul Haq | Nature
Islamic countries are failing to cooperate on key development issues and to invest enough in research to drive their development in the face of the global economic downturn, a conference of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences heard in Dhaka, Bangladesh, last week (5–9 May).
Speakers said that, despite having sufficient funds, Islamic states continue to spend less than the world average on research and development, posing difficulties for the development of their science, technology and innovation sectors.
“Not only are Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries spending below the world average on R&D, but there also seems to be a clog in [ensuring the money reaches] the research system when resources are available,” Moneef R. Zou’bi, director general of the academy, told SciDev.Net.
Mark Weiner | Foreign Policy
The social and cultural consequences of clannism are insidious. Corrupt governments regularly set factions against each other to avoid scrutiny of their own practices, and a lack of economic dynamism encourages out-migration of workers and fosters social unrest. More profoundly, in the words of the 2004 Arab Human Development Report, by “implant[ing] submission, parasitic dependence and compliance in return for protection and benefits,” clannism destroys “personal independence, intellectual daring, and the flowering of a unique and authentic human entity.” But clannism is not just a relic of the developing world. Modern liberal democracies can and do succumb to clan rule when their central-government institutions are weak or perceived to be illegitimate. In inner cities of the United States, for example, where the writ of the state often runs out, petty criminal gangs enforce their own social order. Likewise, in countries like Italy and Mexico, international criminal organizations and drug syndicates dictate their own internal codes of discipline and engage in intergroup behavior — like blood feuds — strikingly akin to that of traditional clans. Even the weakening transnational institutions of the European Union have accelerated the rise of right-wing parties, such as Greece’s fascist Golden Dawn party, which claim to provide alternative social orders based on ethnicity.
And at the level of international relations, in the absence of sufficiently powerful central banking institutions, most of Europe’s response to the sovereign debt crisis has had a distinctly tribal feel: a rough harmony achieved at the expense of justice on fully individualized terms — each nation its own clan.
CJ Chivers | At War | The New York Times
When the likely day comes that these air fields are overrun, both Abu ad Duhur and Minakh Air Base will yield insights into the war and the state of the Syrian armed forces. Abu Thabet said interviews with the defected pilots from Minakh have provided new information about the surviving government forces’ desperate conditions. He estimated that about 200 soldiers and loyalist militiamen remain on Minakh, and retain control of the air base’s main building and main gate, along with a contingent of tanks, which makes them tactically difficult to unseat. Though they may still be capable of killing rebels who get near, they have little food and scant hope, Abu Thabet said. Barring a major operation by the Syrian military to relieve them, they are utterly cut off. Their base has become their trap. Some of the soldiers, he said, now live in trenches and under the tanks, waiting for a final assault.
Now the rub. Should the base fall from government hands, one likely result would be intensified fighting elsewhere. This is because when opposition fighters overpower and capture a base, a bloody dynamic typically follows – rebel groups that have been clustered around the base, often for months, are freed up for fighting elsewhere. Similarly, the Syrian Air Force has one less base to protect with air support, which allows its limited fleet to shift to other missions. This can lead to more fighting and bloodshed a short drive away.
Can a huge database of news stories help peer through the fog of war? Political scientists hope that it can – and maybe even predict a conflict’s course.
To explore the potential of the new Global Data on Events, Location and Tone dataset, New Scientist crunched the numbers on violent events in Syria since the start of 2011. As Western leaders ponder intervention, the resulting view suggests that the violence has subsided in recent months, from a peak in the third quarter of 2012.
Use the controls at the top right of the graphic to view maps for different periods, click on the event markers, and explore the daily count of events in the chart below.
Aqil Shah | Foreign Affairs
Having nearly won an outright majority of seats in the national assembly, Sharif is set to become Pakistan’s prime minister — his third time at bat. The other two were both brought to an end by the military, one indirectly through a presidential decree in 1993 and the other through the coup led by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. Imprisoned and then exiled for years after that coup, Sharif appears to have learned the right lessons.
For one, he has publicly opposed any role for the military in politics. He also steadfastly endorsed the previous government’s right to complete its tenure (even as he sided with other opposition parties to build pressure on the PPP to agree to early elections). Similarly, his party supported the PPP’s attempts to pass landmark constitutional and electoral reforms, which were eventually successful.
As an industrialist with a strong base in the business community, Sharif has long been committed to mending fences with India, as a way to both boost trade and reduce the domestic political influence of the military, which has been the main beneficiary of the two countries’ conflict over Kashmir. Finally, Sharif has publicly committed to stopping militant groups from using Pakistani soil as a base for terrorist attacks in India. That includes the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned terrorist group that India accuses of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai attacks and whose alleged ties to the ISI allow it to operate freely in Pakistan.
Dan Twining | Shadow Government | Foreign Policy
Pakistan has just held a historic election with the highest voter turnout in four decades. For the first time, a civilian administration completed its full term and handed power to new civilian leadership. The military stayed in its barracks and did not openly seek to tilt the electoral playing field, as in the past. Youth turnout was strong. From the ground, where I was part of a delegation from the National Democratic Institute observing the election, Pakistan did not look like a failed state. Rather, it appeared to be a country whose people desperately want good governance and economic opportunity, and believe their democratic choice may help deliver it.
Yet there is another Pakistan, one in which nearly 150 people – including political candidates and their supporters – were killed by the Pakistani Taliban over the past month. Leading politicians from national and regional parties were unable to campaign as militants placed “head money” not only on candidates but on their wives and children. A former prime minister’s son, running for a parliamentary seat, was kidnapped in broad daylight at a political rally just days before the vote. And the chairman of the nation’s ruling party had to campaign from abroad, so fearful was he of assassination by militants. Dozens were killed in election-day violence in Karachi, the country’s commercial capital – despite the nationwide deployment of 300,000 extra security forces to ensure peaceful balloting.
The creaking trucks that ply Pakistan’s treacherous highways form a vibrant tapestry in the country’s often bleak and rugged landscape. Showcasing the Pakistani tradition of painting vehicles elaborately, the trucks are covered with everything from detailed arabesques and Urdu calligraphy to portraits of Pakistani pop icons — or some combination of all three. Often, drivers hang chains of bells from their vehicles’ bumpers, giving them their common English name: “jingle trucks.”
Last fall, Matthieu Aikins rode one such truck, a 1993 Nissan cargo hauler with a decorated cabin, along the U.S. and NATO supply route into Afghanistan — a journey he chronicles in his new Foreign Policy ebook: Bird of Chaman, Flower of the Khyber. (The title refers to Urdu writing painted on the truck’s mud flaps.) Starting in the port city of Karachi and then winding through Pakistan and its borderlands all the way to Kabul, Aikins observed countless example of these rolling canvases. While painted trucks are also found across Indonesia, the Philippines, and much of Latin America, the practice is at its most flamboyant in Pakistan. The origins of Pakistani truck art are unclear, but the first trucks driven in the country, when it was still part of British India, were Bedfords, imported after World War I. Over time these simple, stalwart machines were affixed with wooden prows and bumpers that grew increasingly lavish, as Aikins writes. Today, some drivers spend thousands of dollars adorning their vehicles.
Noting the lack of commercial logic to all this fanfare, Aikins suggests the tradition may have other, more spiritual roots. One theory, he says, is that the art might stem from the Sufi practice of decorating holy sites as “a way of accumulating spiritual blessings.” Durriya Kazi, a Pakistani artist and professor, told Aikins: “The idea is, if we don’t honor the truck, it won’t give back to us.” For a taste of Aikins’ colorful — and dangerous — journey, check out these images depicting some of Pakistan’s more colorful tankers — and read his new book, available here.
Mohsen Milani | Foreign Affairs
Khamenei’s other option is to rely on the Guardian Council to disqualify any candidate with a questionable ideological commitment to the supreme leader. Khamenei appointed six of the 12 members of this powerful institution, which is tasked with interpreting and protecting Iran’s constitution and approving candidates for the Assembly of Experts, the presidency, and the Majlis. Khamenei will turn to that body to deal with Mashaei and Rafsanjani.
Mashaei is the easier case. Ahmadinejad dreams of using him to pull a Putin-Medvedev trick, in which the latter wins a term as president, lets the former rule from behind the scenes, and then supports Ahmadinejad’s return to power when the time is right. But things are unlikely to play out that way: Ahmadinejad has far too many enemies to stay around for long. He was a “useful idiot” for Khamenei, who, as parliamentarian Ali Motahari has said, was supported “as an effective instrument for eliminating Hashemi [Rafsanjani] and the reformists.” In addition, Mashaei is intensely disliked by conservatives and Khamenei. He has been vilified for propagating a “deviant current,” which supposedly rejects direct rule by the clerics and champions Iranian nationalism as opposed to Islamism. Khamenei issued a decree four years ago that prohibited Ahmadinejad from appointing Mashaei as first vice president.
Mashaei, undaunted by the odds, officially declared his candidacy over the weekend. If the Guardian Council disqualifies him, that would leave Mashaei with two options: ask Ahmadinejad to interrupt by postponing the elections or go down quietly, supporting his other, less known, supporters in the race. Given Khamenei’s stern warnings that he will tolerate no mischief, Ahmadinejad surely knows that he will be dealt with harshly if he foments trouble.
Khamenei also has to deal with the complex case of Rafsanjani. A seasoned statesman, the cunning 78-year-old Rafsanjani was close to Ayatollah Khomeini and has been a friend of Khamenei’s since the pre-revolutionary period, when both men where part of Khomeini’s secret network inside Iran. Khamenei and Rafsanjani engineered Khamenei’s selection as supreme leader after Khomeini died, and the two men worked closely together when Rafsanjani served as president in the 1990s.
Siegfried Modola | Reuters | NBC Photoblog
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A worker ties together slabs of salt extracted from the Danakil Depression in northern Ethiopia April 22. Once the caravan find a suitable place to mine salt, they extract, shape and pack as many salt slabs as possible before starting their two-day journey to the town of Berahile. The Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is one of the hottest and harshest environments on earth, with an average annual temperature of 94 degrees Fahrenheit (34.4 Celsius). For centuries, merchants have travelled there with caravans of camels to collect salt from the surface of the vast desert basin. The mineral is extracted and shaped into slabs, then loaded onto the animals before being transported back across the desert so that it can be sold around the country.
Michael Knights | Foreign Policy
But the real driver of violence in Iraq is arguably Baghdad’s over-centralization of power, which came too soon and was infused with sectarian paranoia. The United States was initially wary of this danger: The formula of all-inclusive power sharing — muhasa in Arabic — was a cornerstone of U.S.-led policy in Iraq until 2008, and the United States also made sure that the principle of administrative decentralization was baked into the Iraqi Constitution. This policy reflected a powerful truth — that post-Saddam Iraq was not ready for a political system with absolute winners and absolute losers.
But starting in 2008, Maliki re-centralized power, leaning on an increasingly narrow circle of Shia opponents of the previous dictatorship. And like all successful revolutionaries, this clique is paranoid about counterrevolution and has set about rebuilding a version of the authoritarian system it sought for decades to overthrow. Maliki’s inner circle dominates the selection of military commanders down to brigade level, controls the federal court, and has seized control of the central bank. The executive branch is rapidly eclipsing all checks and balances that were put in place to guarantee a new autocracy did not emerge.
The root of Iraq’s violence is thus not ancient hatreds between Sunni and Shia or Kurd and Arab, but between decentralizers and recentralizers — and between those who wish to put Iraq’s violent past behind them, and those determined to continually refight it.
Joseph Cotterill | Alphaville | The Financial Times
Quite a lot to ponder really. Members of the IMF’s executive board were set to meet on Wednesday to discuss whether to approve lending to Cyprus, more or less behind closed doors.
But maybe not so much this time. It looks like Stockwatch in Cyprus has obtained a copy of the members’ comments on the Cypriot bailout — a rather high-level internal document to find its way to the public… and it makes for fascinating reading.
Within the doc, there’s what’s called a ‘buff’ statement by officials, setting forth the outlook, then (preliminary) comments by members.
Caitlin Dewey | The Washington Post
Dubai arguably boasts one of the world’s most memorable skylines: The Burj Khalifa, at 2,700 feet, is the world’s tallest building, and the Burj al Arab, which bills itself as the world’s only “seven-star” hotel, was built to mimic a style of Arabian ship.
Photographer Gerald Donovan captured those landmarks and many others in time-lapse video, compressing 28 hours of footage down to less than two minutes, he posted to Youtube on Sunday. But the most notable sight in his stunning video, filmed in late 2011, might be the flocks of construction cranes visible across the city.
Juan Forero | The Washington Post
CALI, Colombia — Colombia’s largest rebel organization has stepped up the recruitment of children to boost its weakened fighting units even as it talks peace with the government, according to child welfare workers, officials and community leaders.
Battered militarily, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, seeks to maintain a semblance of its old self as it negotiates with the government to end a half-century of conflict. The government has the upper hand in the talks being held in Cuba, partly because of the billions of dollars in U.S. security assistance that Colombia has received since 2000, but the flow of child fighters into the ranks of the FARC could give the group some leverage.