Archive for the 'journalism' Category

Clinton on the world

Bill Clinton’s take on the problems in the world, taken from Metro on Friday 17 August.

Bill Clinton

I sometimes wonder how people who want to be well-informed make sense of the disparate things occurring in the world. I believe every committed citizen of the world needs to be able to answer five questions. I’ll give you the questions and my answers. You don’t have to agree with my answers but you need your own. The questions are:

  1. What is the fundamental nature of the 21 century world?
  2. Is it a good or a bad thing?
  3. How would you like to change it?
  4. What steps are necessary to change it?
  5. Who’s supposed to take those steps?

Self-evidentially, the nature of the 21 century world is “globalisation” but I prefer “interdependence” as a word. Globalisation has an almost exclusive economic connotation. Interdependence means we can’t escape each other and have a chance to affect each other’s welfare.

The answer to the second question is clearly “good and bad”. What’s good is self-evident. I went to Paris for a wedding. Since I don’t speak French, I had to watch two British news outlets on TV. That’s positive.

Then there are negatives. What happened in the UK with the three car bombs was also a manifestation of interdependence. Doctors who spent a lifetime learning to save lives set in motion plans they hoped might kill more people than they had saved in their entire medical career. People are ambivalent about this interdependence. It raises questions not just of security but of identity.

Question three. If there’s something you don’t like about the interdependent world, it probably falls into one of three categories. The interdependent world is unequal. Half the planet lives on less than two dollars a day. Secondly, it’s unstable because of terror and the prospect of the spread of diseases. Thirdly, it’s unsustainable because of climate change change and resource depletion. So you have to do something about inequality, instability and sustainability.

What steps are necessary to change it? We should move the world from interdependence which is unequal, unstable and unsustainable to communities, locally, nationally and globally. Every truly successful community – whether it’s a nation, a town, a sports team, a marriage, a family – has three things in common: shared opportunities to participate; a genuine sense of shared responsibility for the communities success; and a sense of belonging.

How do we move from interdependence to community?  First, you have to have a security policy. There are people out there who don’t want this to work, who cannot be reasoned with. You also have to have a more vigorous diplomatic effort because there are limits to the ability of any military policy to prevail in any place in the world. Finally you have to have a policy to fill the world with more partners and fewer enemies. If the world is truly interdependent, it means that, among other things, you cannot possibly kill or occupy everyone who doesn’t like you. The fourth thing is home improvement. Things must keep improving at home.

Governments and organizations such as the UN have to take the lead in security and diplomacy. But in making a world of more partners and home improvement, private citizens working through non-governmental groups are doing more than at any other time. There’s no set amount but you have to make a commitment not just to let the government do it, to be a part of it.

If you don’t remember anything else I say, remember this: every single fundamental problem of the interdependent world is rooted in an imperfect sense of identity. If we’re fighting over religious or political differences to the death, not just having an argument, if we’re hoarding our wealth instead of figuring out a way to help other people create it, if we’re not bothered by the fact that millions of children die every year of preventable causes and illnesses, it’s because we really do believe our differences are more important than our common humanity.

When the United States, the UK and several other countries pooled their funds to try and sequence the human genome, by far the most important discovery was that, genetically, every human being on the planet is 99.9 per cent the same. And yet we all spend 90 per cent of our time disagreeing. We spend 90 per cent of our time fixation on the one-tenth of one per cent that makes us different.

All of us fix our minds to obsess about things that don’t matter in the larger sweep of things. Whether we leave a world to our children where they can grow up safely and appreciate and respect our differences because our common humanity matters more – that at the root of all of this.

Identity. So I ask you to think about that. That’s something you can do something about. Every. Single. Day.


30,000 feet first

 John Simpson

I’ve just spent ages looking for this article online. It’s from BA’s excellent in-flight magazine High Life. It seems a monumental shame for its distribution to be restricted to just the customers of that company who are feeling slightly bored, didn’t bring a book and can’t work their in-flight entertainment. I’m sure I’ll be told if I’ve got to remove it. I hope not.

The piece is by BBC journalist supremo John Simpson, in his “Letter from 30,000 feet” column. The subheadline says: “Flying back from Baghdad, our correspondent looks forward to a reunion with his baby son, who has charmed people the  world over, from Marrakech to France”.

 Turkey, the superb, difficult, fascinating country is unfolding itself below, its lakes glinting in the sunshine, its mountains casting long shadows over the plains. The flight from Amman to London is smooth and restful after the usual fuss in the airport about our flak jackets and electonic gear. Behind me lies a two-week stint in Baghdad, with its attendant excitements.

There was a bomb at the end of the street in central Baghdad where our office is situated, a foray into Sadr City, where we had to trust our lives and liberty to  the good faith of a particularly fierce and unpredictable militia group and the usual butterflies in the stomach every time we headed out to film in the streets, our armed guards watchful for any signs of an attack on us.

And now, ahead of me, lies a short period of pure pleasure before I have to head off again. It will begin in a few hours’ time, when our Victorian front door opens and my wife stands there with our baby son in her arms. At 14 months he now knows who I am, and the strange functions I perform: ineptly changing his nappy; whirling him around my head dangerously; singing him strange, forgotten songs from decades long past.

My wife and I travel a lot, so in his 14 months he has been four times to France, three times to South Africa, once to Morocco and once to Egypt. And, as a result, he has turned into an excellent, interested quiet companion. And I have learned to admire his calmness and self-sufficiency.

And so he attracts favourable attention. In Fez, as we wandered around the souk, the shopkeepers ran over to us just to look at him. Fortunately, he always grinned back at them. Other people kissed the tips of their fingers and touched his forehead; young men would ask to hold him, and he would laugh as they swung him round. While we ate at one of the superb open-air food stalls in the main square in Marrakech, our waiter plucked him out of his pushchair and ran off into the crowd to show him to someone.

Even I was worried by that. But Dee was more relaxed and sensible, and within a couple of minutes the waiter ran back, with Rafe laughing his arms. When he’s older, the interest will fade, and so will the special treatment we get as a family. Things change all the time anyway: he’s far too heavy now to carry  him in a pouch on my chest anymore.

In Paris a few months ago, when I went out one evening to get basic necessities – some Pont l’Eveque cheese and a bottle of Bordeaux – I took him in the pouch. And because it was raining, I buttoned my ample coat around him, leaving just his head sticking out. It didn’t occur to me that there might be anything unusual about this, until I noticed that people weere looking strangeley at us, and edging away. It can’t have helped that I was singing to him.

Then I glanced in a shop window, and understood. We looked like a two-headed monster exhibit that you used to find at fairgrounds when i was young: Rafe’s little head was sticking out of the coat a few inches underneath mine, and that was all you could see of him. I smiled at everyone after that, but it only seemed to make things worse.

Rafe was born at the beginning of 2006  but he’s already changed by life. In Baghdad I have become even angrier at the dreadful sights you see there. The bodies, the injured – they could all be him, and once upon a time, even the old ones among them were as happy an welcomed, with love and joy as he is now. I hope I never awas insensitive to these things in the past, but I’m  certainly more sensitive to them now. And I have developed a loathing for high explosive and guns, one much more intense than anything I have felt before.

Now, I imagine, we are flying over some part of old Austro-Hungarian empire, with its strip-farming and its neat little towns and villages, and the mountains in the distance, In three hours, I’ll be home

If the skies are clear, I’ll even be able to see my house, or at least the terrace it’s in, as we make our way down to Heathrow.

And, for a while I will be ab le to forget about Baghdad, and that horrible sound as another bomb goes off, and the way the windows bulge inwards with the blast, and the reek of high explsive and the churning of the stomach.

And after a day or so I’ll stop looking at Rafe as thought he’s an unimaginable miracle, even though, like any other baby, any other human being, he really is.

Pretty soon, I’ll be telling him not even to think of dropping the remote for the television in the bath, or to stop fishing in the drawers for interesting electronic goodies, and that I really mean it this time. And, for a while. life will be natural and peaceful and calm again. Not long to wait now.

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