Ideas

Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

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Polexit Is Path To Dictatorship, A Cry To Keep Poland Free

EU membership is not in line with Poland's values, say the current ruling party. Will that mean Poland's Exit (Polexit) from the European Union? Everything is riding on where the long-serving conservative government of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński will do as they run counter to popular opinion on the EU question.

-OpEd-

WARSAW — They left it to Julia Przyłębska, President of Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, to state where the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) stands: the country should no longer be in the European Union since EU values are contrary to the party's rule.

This was the decision reached by this pseudo-Constitutional Tribunal last week, while nearly 90% of the public wants to remain in the EU — according to a recent Ipsos poll for Gazeta Wyborcza and OKO.press. It means that on this fundamental issue in Poland, the PiS is looking to bypass the absolute majority of Poles.

According to the same Ipsos poll, more than half of us fear that the PiS is preparing a Polexit for us. After the decision of the pseudo-CT, this fear is likely to grow.

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Luddite Chronicles: Whatever Happened To The Telephone

Why must I feel like a washed-up nobody just because I have no need for a new "data plan"? All I want to do is make (and pay for) a simple phone call.

-Essay-

MADRID — I recently tried telephoning my mother in Tehran. By that, I don't mean some kind of 1950s rotary phone or 1990s cordless relic. I've long embraced the convenience of using my mobile phone — though now we are told that it is a smart phone.

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Facing Climate Emergency, Africa Must Reinvent Its Cities

Due to climate change and pollution, entire neighborhoods and cities on the continent are destined to vanish. A new vision of African urbanism is needed to replace the illusion of the "city without limits."

-Analysis-

Sebha is bound to disappear. The capital of Libya's hydrocarbon-rich Fezzan region has become the largest city in the Sahara. For years, it has seen the convergence of public and private capital, and a steady flow of migrants. Subjected to major demographic pressure, the city of the sands is now doomed. Sooner or later, the lack of water will empty it of its inhabitants — and return its territory to nature.

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Coronavirus
Ranjani Iyer Mohanty

Time To Triage (Out!) The Anti-Vaxxers Who Get COVID

In Canada's Western province of Alberta, hospital beds are running out and forcing officials to "triage" to decide who does and doesn't get care. The same formula should not apply to those who have chosen not to get the COVID vaccine.

-OpEd-

CALGARY — The province of Alberta in western Canada has a reputation for being outdoorsy, somewhat conservative, and laid back. Well, it's not laid back anymore. Over the past week, both medical administrators and the media have been warning that due to steeply rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and rapidly filling hospitals, medical workers may soon have to apply the triage policy to determine who is allocated medical care …and who is not.

In reality, triaging already began several weeks ago — and to the detriment of the vaccinated and children.

A common definition of triage is "a practice invoked when acute care cannot be provided for lack of resources. The process rations care towards those who are most in need of immediate care, and who benefit most from it"

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Ideas
Carl Karlsson

What Is Freedom? Surviving The Facebook Outage In Bulgaria

-OpEd-

"Do you get how big this is? It's been two hours now…"

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Ideas
Gaspard Koenig

Social Media Ban For Teens? A Free-Market Philosopher Makes The Case

Cyberbullying has gained ground again this school year. For philosopher and free-market advocate Gaspard Koenig, it's simple: social media has the effects of an addictive and harmful drug, and thus forbidden for those under 16.

My daughter, born in 2010, is entering the sixth grade. In the last few days, I have received a series of alerts warning me about the "cyberbullying" that is currently targeting the "2010 generation." Following the video of a precocious French YouTuber, the "2010s" are the object of a mocking, sometimes hateful, vindictiveness on the part of their middle school elders (hashtag #Anti2010).

The affair has gained enough importance for the French National Police to remind us that "digital raiding" is a crime, and for the Minister of Education to denounce this cabal in terms that do not hide his consternation: "It's completely stupid."

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Ideas
Mihir Chitre

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.

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Ideas
Bertrand Hauger

Cher BoJo: A French Response To Boris Johnson’s Franglais Scolding

-Essay-

PARIS — I'll admit it straight away: As a bilingual journalist, the growing use of Franglais by French politicians makes my skin crawl.

Not because I think this blend of French and English is a bad thing in and of itself (it is!), or because the purity of the French language should be preserved at all costs (it should!) — but because in a serious context, it is — at best — a distraction from the substance at hand. And at worst, well …

But in France, where more and more people speak decent English, Anglo-Saxon terms are creeping in everywhere, and increasingly in the mouths of politicians who think they're being cool or smart.

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Ideas
Héctor Abad Faciolince

When Will COVID End? The Question That Won't Go Away

Vaccination was supposed to free us from the pandemic's frightening grip. Things would go back to normal, with parties and hugs and everything else. But now with the Delta variant, and the vaccines less than full-proof, COVID is again dominating our collective psyche.

-Essay-

BOGOTA — I often say, even if it's not really true, that I never get my hopes up too high. That way I can avoid disappointment. Only, life loses a good deal of its charm if you're rarely excited about anything. As Armando Manzanero's song (on nocturnal fantasies!) says, "Who cares if I live on dreams/If it makes me happy?"

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Ideas
Héctor Abad Faciolince

Deadish: What General Anesthesia Taught Me About Death

Anesthesia, or a temporary state of "nothingness," may be our closest experience of death without dying, and a reminder of the fragility of our lives.

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — Many years ago, nearly 40 actually, I translated a short story by Italo Calvino, titled Learning to be Dead. Its main character, Mr. Palomar, "decides from now on to behave as if he were dead, to see how the world fares without him." He soon realizes it makes no difference: "With or without him, everything carries on as it did before."

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food / travel
Vincent Delhomme and Benjamin Jan*

Not All Frites and Beer: Does Eating Belgian Make Sense?

When it comes to food, the fears linked to globalization must be put into perspective. They must also be weighed against the negative effects that Belgian protectionism could have on our economy.

BELGIUM — "Eating local" has become a global trend. Both the political world and the private sector are riding the "ethical consumption" wave and trying to take advantage of it by catering to the patriotic feelings of the "consumer voter." Whether it's a regional food relocation plan or the "BELhaize" campaign, through which the famous chain stop promotes "local products," the aim is to encourage people to buy "Belgian." However, this is neither in the interest of Belgium, nor the planet's.

Distrust in food imports was already palpable before the pandemic, as was the reaction caused by the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada. But these sentiments have been amplified by the health-crisis related supply problems for strategic products. While it's essential to be resilient with regard to products (e.g. semi-conductors or active pharmaceutical ingredients), Belgium would not benefit from a protectionist retreat with regard to food. It's not often pointed out that Belgium is one of the EU member states that benefits the most from the free movement of goods within the single market. Erecting economic barriers to food by favorably discriminating between Belgian products and those produced elsewhere — especially European products — is potentially dangerous. Such protectionist barriers against Belgian products, if extended to all goods, could result in the loss of up to 15% of Belgian GDP.

A man shops the bio (organic) section at a Carrefour in Brussels — Photo: Isopix/ZUMA

The Belgian food industry boasts exports worth 27 billion euros and contributes to a positive trade balance of several billion. Our biggest trading partners, both for imports and exports, are the EU member states and in particular our neighbors: Germany, France and the Netherlands account for 55% of our exports. The question arises as to whether, in a small country like Belgium, it is reasonable to encourage a consumer in Liège to prefer a vegetable produced in Visé instead of Maastricht. What would happen to our economy and our jobs if we pushed other European citizens to turn away from Belgian products? Promoting the know-how of our Belgian producers should involve the creation of a favorable economic environment that allows them to keep or gain market shares, in Belgium or elsewhere.

What would happen to our economy and our jobs if we pushed other European citizens to turn away from Belgian products?

First of all, it is strange to present the purchase of Belgian products as particularly "local" even though 56% of the country's population lives less than 25km from a national border, 65% when it comes to the Walloons. Thus for the inhabitants of Bastogne, eating products from Flanders is less local than eating French, Dutch, Luxembourgish or German goods.

It's appropriate, then, to question the widespread idea that eating locally is better for the planet. The assertion must, at best, be strongly nuanced; at worst, it's completely false. To understand why, we must first demystify the impact of transportation on the environmental cost of our plates. It is minimal: less than 10%. In reality, most of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of our food itself. Animal proteins have the greatest environmental impact. The "geographical" characteristics of the countries where our food is produced are also parameters that must be seriously taken into account.

Mussel farmer Peter Cooleman with his Belgian North Sea mussels. — Photo: Kurt Desplenter/Belga/ZUMA

Due to a favorable climate, produce such as strawberries or tomatoes from Spain, for example, have a much lower carbon footprint than those grown in greenhouses in northern Europe. Thus, for consumers concerned about their environmental footprint, it is much more useful to refuse their consumption of meat, even if it is Belgian, than to stop buying Italian tomatoes. Since the environmental impact of the origin of most products is insignificant compared to the impact of meat, eggs and dairy products, discriminating products according to their "nationality" is useless.

Fears of globalization must be put into perspective when it comes to food and weighed against the negative effects of protectionism on the Belgian economy. The economic opportunities that the single market offers to our small country are immense. As for the fight against climate change, it should not be used as an instrument to feed inward-looking attitudes and to support protectionist measures. On the contrary, we could seize the opportunity, on a European scale, to be part of the single market that has different climates in order, for example, to produce where the environment allows optimal production from an ecological point of view.

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China
Wang Yu-jie

In China, Women Still Have To Fight For Their Right To Be Single

A stand-up comedian in China recently used the term "single panic" to describe fears among women about being alone, and the words have since resonated in online discussions.

The "panic" is a product, the female comedian pointed out, of pressure and prejudices in Chinese society against single women. The only way for single women to be regarded as "not that miserable," the entertainer joked, is to live a more glamorous life than a married woman. "But even then, people will still say, 'look, she lives in such a big house and there's not even a man in it.'"

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Geopolitics
Michael Blake

The Ethics of the U.S. Pullout

Political philosophy sheds some light on the United States' moral responsibility in Afghanistan

Chaotic scenes in Kabul accompanied the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The fundamentalist Islamic group was able to retake power after President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from the country.

The withdrawal brings to a close nearly 20 years of American military presence in Afghanistan.

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Sources
Manuel Brug

Diversity Efforts in Opera Fall Flat

BERLIN - Now, in the opera, there are Black people portraying Germanic gods, Russians appearing as Chinese people, and Don Giovanni may even be played by a trans woman. If ethnically correct casts are required to be politically correct, this would mean the end for many classics and several would become unemployed.

Trinidadian-born soprano Jeanine De Bique just starred as a forester's daughter at the 200th anniversary performance of "Der Freischütz" ("The Freeshooter") at the Berlin Konzerthaus, just as South African Golda Schultz did earlier this year in a similarly touching and powerful way. She will sing again soon at the Munich Opera Festival. Two people of color sang in "new German," the soprano was remarked as "so German and genuine" that Richard Wagner would probably have praised.

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Ideas
Ahmad Ra'fat

Iran Protests Are Real, But Is The West Willing To Listen?

Keen to revive the 2015 nuclear pact, Washington and its allies are turning a blind eye to what's really taking place in the Islamic Republic.

-OpEd-

Protests and strikes are continuing in Iran, as are the clerical regime's relentless efforts to crush them. The government sees such popular actions as a grave threat to its survival. It knows it can no longer claim to enjoy public support, and sees repression as the only way to survive — at least for a while longer.

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