Recap 2016: Looking back through seven TED Talks

2016 has been a turbulent year, with global events shaking the very core of our fundamental beliefs and principles on humanity, democracy, governance, innovation, and privacy. While it would be an exaggeration to say 2016 was ‘the worst’, it definitely was not a very inspiring year with global institutions failing to protect and promote the very principles they were designed for.

Here are my 7 favourite TED Talks from 2016.

1. Chinaka Hodge: What will you tell your daughters about 2016?

With words like shards of glass, Chinaka Hodge cuts open 2016 and lets 12 months of violence, grief, fear, shame, courage and hope spill out in this original poem about a year none of us will soon forget.

2.  Ameera Harouda: Why I put myself in danger to tell the stories of Gaza

When Ameera Harouda hears the sounds of bombs or shells, she heads straight towards them. “I want to be there first because these stories should be told,” says Gaza’s first female “fixer,” a role that allows her to guide journalists into chaotic, war zone scenarios in her home country, which she still loves despite its terrible situation. Find out what motivates Harouda to give a voice to Gaza’s human suffering in this unforgettable talk.

3.  Alexander Betts: Our refugee system is failing. Here’s how we can fix it

A million refugees arrived in Europe this year, says Alexander Betts, and “our response, frankly, has been pathetic.” Betts studies forced migration, the impossible choice for families between the camps, urban poverty and dangerous illegal journeys to safety. In this insightful talk, he offers four ways to change the way we treat refugees, so they can make an immediate contribution to their new homes. “There’s nothing inevitable about refugees being a cost,” Betts says. “They’re human beings with skills, talents, aspirations, with the ability to make contributions — if we let them.”

4.  Dalia Mogahed: What do you think when you look at me?

When you look at Muslim scholar Dalia Mogahed, what do you see: a woman of faith? a scholar, a mom, a sister? or an oppressed, brainwashed, potential terrorist? In this personal, powerful talk, Mogahed asks us, in this polarizing time, to fight negative perceptions of her faith in the media — and to choose empathy over prejudice.

 5.  Ian Bremmer: How the US should use its superpower status

Americanization and globalization have basically been the same thing for the last several generations. But the US’s view of the world — and the world’s view of the US — is changing. In a fast-paced tour of the current state of international politics, Ian Bremmer discusses the challenges of a world where no single country or alliance can meet the challenges of global leadership and asks if the US is ready to lead by example, not by force.

6.  Sam Harris: Can we build AI without losing control over it?

Scared of superintelligent AI? You should be, says neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris — and not just in some theoretical way. We’re going to build superhuman machines, says Harris, but we haven’t yet grappled with the problems associated with creating something that may treat us the way we treat ants.

7.   Wanis Kabbaj: What a driverless world could look like

What if traffic flowed through our streets as smoothly and efficiently as blood flows through our veins? Transportation geek Wanis Kabbaj thinks we can find inspiration in the genius of our biology to design the transit systems of the future. In this forward-thinking talk, preview exciting concepts like modular, detachable buses, flying taxis and networks of suspended magnetic pods that could help make the dream of a dynamic, driverless world into a reality.

Hopefully, 2017 will be much more inspiring than 2016. Happy new year !
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to an overflow crowd during a campaign rally on Sept. 6, 2016, in Greenville, N.C. (TIME.com)

NOT A PROUD NEPALI

Today is the day I give up the “pride” of being a Nepali. I am no longer a “proud Nepali” for there is nothing to take pride in. I am proud of the land, the nature, the history, the culture,and everything that this geo-political region called “Nepal” blessed us with. But they are NOT anything that we EARNED, we simply INHERITED them. I do not know how much sense it makes for a spoiled kid of a rich dad to brag about and be proud of everything his parents and grandparents accomplished.
But besides boasting of Lumbini, Buddha, Everest, or Araniko, we – the people, nor our “state” have done anything to be particularly proud of. We have everyone else to blame for everything that’s wrong: the crooked politicians, reckless drivers, greedy shopkeepers, fake doctors, business minded education, reckless drivers, corrupt police, inefficient bureaucracy, spoiled students, “devil” India, America, China, and who not !
This country is ruined by everyone else but “myself”. In the end, thousands will board the planes each day with heavy heart, wet eyes, but a hopeful soul. And a few return in boxes.
A country is a lot more than Everest, Araniko, or Buddha. A country is not just a beautiful geography, or rich culture, and diversity. A country is all those, AND its PEOPLE. We, the people, our society, and this “state/government” constitute much more of “Nepal” than our history, or inherited nature.
Until the day I am proud of “us” and our “state”, until the day boxes like these stop arriving, I am NOT A PROUD NEPALI !
May all those departed soul rest in peace.
(Photo : Scenes at TIA airport as bodies of Nepalese killed in Afghanistan arrive. June 22, 2016. Source: ekantipur.com)

SDGs : Food, Water, and Energy Security in Nepal

nexus2
                            Nexus approach on Food, Water, and Energy Security.  (Photo Credit: FutureEarth.org/International Renewable Energy Agency)

According to the PRELIMINARY NATIONAL REPORT ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGs) published by the NATIONAL PLANNING COMMISSION of Nepal, a couple of weeks ago :

* Approximate total electricity generation – 818 MW
*Thermal Electricity – 53 MW, Rest – all renewable, almost exclusively Hydropower

*Total National Energy Consumption
**** Renewables <= 12%
**** Fossil fuels >= 88% (Transportation and Utility Applications)

For a country which boasts of “Hydropower” almost as often as “Everest was in Nepal” or “Buddha was born in Nepal”, it’s a shame that we are one of the countries with so little share of renewables in our gross national energy consumption.

Simple math tells we would need at least 5000MW of clean electricity if we were to replace the fossil fuel based transportation and Utility sectors with electricity based systems. Our rivers maintain good flow for hardly 6 months in a year, and to meet the energy demand in dry seasons there is no option than to create reservoir based power plants which are known to have serious ecological implications. Besides, water security is soon going to be a big challenge, along with food security.

We took over a decade to react to ‪#‎EnergyCrisis‬, and survived amid power cuts upto 18 hours a day.

Imagine water crisis, 10/15 years from now. How are we going to survive? Our super slow reactive government is going to take another 15 years to realize the problem and declare a “Water Emergency”.

It’s about time we think ‪#‎BeyondRivers‬ for ‪#‎Renewables‬. No alternative energy can replace them, but many can and should compliment them.

‪#‎WaterSecurity‬ ‪#‎SDG‬ ‪#‎FoodWaterEnergy‬ #FoodWaterEnergyNEXUS

A Ride

Sometimes, we all come across some destinations that are a little further than close but a little closer than far. We are at stages when we are a little more than being nothing but a lot less than being something. Some people in our lives who are a lot more than nobody, but not quite […]

Three Lessons from “Madhes” Protest and the “Unofficial Blockade”

Disclaimer

” Most people do not listen with an intent to understand, they listen with an intent to reply ” – Stephen R. Covey ( The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)

Internet has given us all a platform to express ourselves (and be anonymous at the same time) and put our perspectives in front of the whole world. It’s easy, it’s effective and IT’S FREE, mostly ! The power to say anything and be anonymous at the same time has often been troublesome with so many incidents of cyber-bullying and harassment. Considering the fact that almost anything and everything someone can think of (Imagine a weirdest idea you can think of and just google it) has already been thought by someone somewhere and there are always a bunch of people who agree as well as disagree with everything one can think of, many people get tempted to “impose” their idea and bully when someone disagrees rather than to try and understand their counter argument. So, the point is let’s agree to disagree. 

1. ” भाई फुटे … गवार लुटे” probably started from us

At the end of the day, when all this will be over, we gotta be asking ourselves..” Really whose fault is all this?” Is the “madhesi” community struggling for equality and inclusion among other demands, supposedly the biggest gainer from this constitution or the “pahade/khas” community who were supposedly all in power and are now a significant loser from this constitution? OR is it our skewed government? Oh, who am I kidding, it’s all India’s fault for not letting us become stable and to develop, right? While it’s easy to pin point others and put all the blame on them, I believe India is least accountable for all this. India has always been least accountable for everything that has happened in our country. The problem is within us. We are never united and we have never been able to get beyond our petty personal gains. You don’t blame your neighbors for trying to play politics in your family when a member of your own family can not stand another member and “invites” the neighbor to “settle” your differences and make peace.

Whether the demands of Madhesi community are legitimate or not, is a different question, but the way our government failed to acknowledge and sort of ignored the hardships people are facing with over month long strike and death of over 40 people including children and security personnel until  there is a fuel crisis in Kathmandu is disappointing and hurtful. I am no fan of Madhesi origin leaders and neither are the millions of people who are staging this protest. In fact, many don’t even care about what the constitution has or doesn’t have for them, all they wanted was little respect, inclusion and sensitivity from the Government’s end. Top leaders giving racist and hurtful comments instead to reaching out to angry public has been a major factor as to why the neighbor got their role and influence in our “family matter”. Sanity doesn’t last very long when you are witnessing death and struggling against irrational and inhumane power. Calling death of people “merely 2 or 4 mangoes falling from tree” is not at all humane.

Had our government and leaders become a bit more sensitive towards this issue and reached out to them timely, neither the corrupt “Madhesi Leader” nor “the big brother” could have claimed authority for this movement.

2. One Picture Shows Everything that’s wrong with us

Princes Street in Edinburgh, the main thoroughfare through the city, now restricted to busses, taxis, bicycles and trams. Photograph: Elizabeth Leyden/Alamy (TheGuardian)
Princes Street in Edinburgh, the main thoroughfare through the city, now restricted to busses, taxis, bicycles and trams. Photograph: Elizabeth Leyden/Alamy (TheGuardian)

There is that and then there is this :

Unused Trolley buses are rotting while owners of private vehicles are "patiently" waiting their turn to get their share of Petrol/Diesel after fuel crisis. (Credit: Nagariknews.com(L) and ennnepal.com(R))
Unused Trolley buses are rotting while owners of private vehicles are “patiently” waiting their turn to get their share of Petrol/Diesel after fuel crisis.
(Credit: Nagariknews.com(L) and ennnepal.com(R))

Does anyone even “need” to point it out ? Okay, here it is, our transportation system sucks big time. We are a small and not yet hugely overpopulated country with relatively small cities. But we are as lazy as a pig. We use vehicles to reach walking distances, first thing someone does even before his/her job is fixed is buy a bike/scooter and owning a car is the new “standard symbol” for us. Who uses the public bus, unless they are too poor to afford a private vehicle.

First, there is an urgent need to change the culture of promoting private vehicle. Every offices/organizations should start with providing incentives for using public transport and make it mandatory that every employee comes in bicycle at least once a week if their work place is less than say 5-8km (or some appropriate distance) OR use public transport if the distance is longer.

If I am correct, our finance minister was at the recently held “NADA Auto Show” showcasing the best and the latest automobiles available in our country and explaining why he can not reduce the customs in automobiles. If it was upto me, I would say further increase the taxes on small private vehicles and make big and mass transport vehicles tax free. We should totally redesign our tax system and make vehicles running on electricity/biofuels/or other clean and alternative sources of energy totally tax free. If possible, do not let even the riches to buy cars, and if they wanna buy it anyway, make sure it’s an electric car or earn fortune from those who won’t let go the diesel Pajero. Now, an electric (Mahindra e2o) car costing approximately NRs. 7,00,000 in India costs a whooping 22,00,000 plus in Nepal !!!

Meanwhile, we should strategically abolish small vehicles from publish transport and eventually go all electric, not just in transportation for almost every possible sectors from cooking to heating and riding. Of course we need loads of electricity for that and that’s the reason we will never be rich by selling electricity. We should rather use the electricity in maximum possible ways and minimize the import if fossil fuel, and use rest of the electricity to run industries and after we reach that stage, only then we should think of selling electricity.  The irony is, because the taxes from selling petrol/diesel and the private vehicles is a major source of income for our government, many suggest that our temperamental and short lived governments will never risk the short term chaos and loss of government income for the long term strategic gain for nation.

3.  The छेपारो को कथा Phenomenon

Based on what little I  know about the छेपारो को कथा , a famous anecdote in Nepalese Society, a lazy lizard while freezing in cold night would promise itself of making a warm home the next day but would never actually do it. This is very much the case in our country. Now with the Blockade ( sick of that “unofficial” word now ) everyone’s sleeping patriotism is suddenly awake and we are enthusiastic about anyhow not caving in front of Indian government. Some to such an extent that, they’ve already bought a bicycle. That’s wonderful. Let us actually make changes in our thinking and our lifestyle this time, even after the blockade is over ( which could be any day from tomorrow to next week). This time, let’s actually “try to watch Nepali Channels ” too (apart from what you already love watching), “try to use Nepalese products” too, try walking or cycling or using public vehicles whenever possible, and above all let’s try to embrace/respect the differences instead of hating each other. Hating is easy but not the right thing to do.

Taking STAND : Little steps India is taking to “reply” global heavyweights.

Snapshot of Hindustan Times' piece.
Snapshot of Hindustan Times’ piece.

The second term in office for Indian PM Dr. Manmohan Singh has been quite a  rough ride. Never ending scams, scandals, corruption, violence against women, economic slowdown, and all them leading to rise of NaMo despite series of counter attempts by the savior – RaGa, the “prince” as the opponents call him. While the Congress government was already in enough trouble “dealing” with invective opponent, trying hard to allay the fickle and frustrated public enticed by the idea of having a party of the “common man”, it now  has an additional problem. The Indian government has to take on global heavyweights – the US, Italy / European Union.

India is a rising power with studies suggesting her economy bound to surpass traditional powerhouses in a couple of years time, while she is already the global leader in importing defense equipment. With this, sooner than later, India is gonna get to make her say in the international stage during events of global power play. Until now India has been mostly quiet, basically choosing no sides, having none to very less to say, excluding the issues related to Pakistan and China. While India’s “minding own business” might have been a good strategy while being completely focused in development. But that was 80s and 90s and we are already in second decade of 21st century and somehow Inida will certainly need to have her own voice in global politics, apart from echoing the US. While Pakistan and China have always been the traditional adversaries of Inida, but Indian people will certainly demand their country to take stand, no matter who may be on the opposite side. Taking such stands is very unlikely as long as India only echoes what her ally says and have nothing more nor less to say.

Almost two years back, two Italian marine soldiers guarding a private vessel opened fire killing two fishermen in Indian water. While Italians argue that they mistook the fishermen for pirates, Indian side presses that the soldiers opened fire without following standard procedure when pirates are suspected. Almost two years and the formal case hearing against the marines is still pending. Meanwhile, the marines flew to their country for voting in their general election as well as celebrating Christmas, and finally returned back after India pressed hard, despite some reluctance by Italy in sending them. Who is gonna file the case against them, and at what charges, it is still undecided and Italy on the other hand is doing everything from mobilizing European Union to sending delegates repeatedly to India. While the central government could opt towards softer treatment, the Kerala state government is in no mood for any soft measures and wants harsh punishments to the marines. The stakes are high for Indian government, bilateral ties in one side and the upcoming general elections on the other.

Few weeks back an Indian diplomat – Devyani Khobragade was arrested and strip searched in the US, for allegedly underpaying her domestic help. US attorney refused to drop charges against her and ultimately she flew back to India accounting the diplomatic immunity she had for working for the UN. The charges against her are still in the court in the US. India in response asked two American diplomats (Wayne May, who headed the US embassy’s security team in New Delhi, and his wife Alicia Muller May ) in Delhi, who openly mocked India in social media. An article in FIRST POST  says :

In their three years in India, the couple let their dislike for the country they served in run freely on Facebook. May’s wife Alicia joined a discussion over an article that claims non-vegetarians are more inclined to commit violence and sexual crimes to say, “It’s the vegetarians that are doing the raping, not the meat eaters — this place is just so bizarre.” When another friend said that he had never raped anyone, Alicia wrote, “Applies only to Indians, not westerners!” 
The Indian “holy cow” is a recurring theme in their posts, starting from the time May was posted in New Delhi in 2010 where he bemoans the unavailability of beef in India. His wife Alicia captions another photo “Stupid Cow”. A friend comments, “You just insulted their god…,” Alicia retorted, “Not the first time, not the last time.”

In a photograph posted online, they commented that their pet dog Paco looked bigger and in better health than their Indian gardener. May crowed that this was because his dog got more protein in his diet than the gardener did.

These are just representative events and things like these are certain to happen in the future and will happen with many other countries as well. While India might enjoy superiority, and at times even dictate the south Asian neighbors to get the work done as required for the Indian government, now is the time India should step up. South Asia is no place anymore for India to try and test her power. It will be for the good of India and yes, South Asia too, if Indian government tries to analyze the bigger picture here. Internal conflicts apart, a comprehensive agreement is necessary between all parties and governments in India to amend their foreign policies.

Meanwhile, it is equally important India have her own “voice” in global issues and not just stay silent or echo her allies. Otherwise, who’s gonna take  India seriously, of course, beside Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan etc. ?