Mario Lawson

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Economy

How Diaspora Dollars Are Crowdfunding African Development

London-based lawyer Grace Camara came up with a clever, continent-bridging approach to financing ethical projects in Sub-Saharan Africa.

MARRAKESH — It was because of her life experiences that Grace Camara decided to make the universal proverb "Unity is strength, division is weakness' a personal motto — and her entrepreneurial inspiration.

Even as a child Camara was able to appreciate the strength of community support. Her parents came to London from Sierra Leone to study. They then decided to stay, using their resources to help compatriots — some of them political figures, others not — to flee the country's 1990s civil war and obtain asylum in Britain.

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LES ECHOS

Is Handwriting Doomed In Our Digital World?

Schools still make a point of teaching students to write the old-fashioned way. And in France, kids still have to learn cursive. But are teachers fighting a lost cause?

PARIS — Do you remember the last time you wrote by hand? Until even a few years ago that would have seemed like a silly question. And yet, these days you might actually have to pause for a moment before remembering that: "Oh yeah, I know: On Saturday I wrote out a grocery list that I posted on the fridge."

We also sign things still by hand, jot down a few notes perhaps when we're talking on the phone, fill out checks, and write addresses on envelopes. But overall, we engage relatively little in this ancestral practice, at least compared to how things used to be — in the good ol" days of the pre-digital era.

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Green Or Gone

Ecofascism: When Far-Right Ideology Fuses With Ecology

Some of the recent racist mass killers were also worried about the degradation of the environment. It's part of a old twisted ideology that mixes love of nature and xenophobia.

PARIS — Patrick Crusius, who killed 20 people in El Paso, Texas last month, and Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 in Christchurch, New Zealand in March, both justified their actions with a reference to ecology, with Tarrant going so far in his manifesto as to promote "ecofascism."

Still, neither invented extreme-right ecology, which has existed since the end of the 19th century, with a notable presence in Germany. Thus this form of ecology is older than National Socialism. Some Nazis, Adolf Hitler himself, the Minister of Agriculture and SS General Richard Walther Darré, or the regime's number two, Rudolf Hess, voiced concern about preserving nature.

Ecology only really became a major issue for the far right in the West in the early 2000s.

This form of ecology did not disappear with the end of Nazism, quite the contrary: The pastor Werner Georg Haverbeck and Renate Riemeck, medievalist and former secretary of the SS Johann von Leers, promoted it again in the 1970s. At the same time, in France, a former SS member, Robert Dun (real name Maurice Martin), was one of the pioneers of this form of ecology. In 1995, the old anti-Semitic activist and former collaborationist Henry Coston published an essay entitled No! Ecology Is Not Left-Wing.

We could multiply the French, European or even American examples. However, ecology only really became a major issue for the far right in the West in the early 2000s. For a long time, it was considered in these circles as an ideology of "leftists' or "hippies." Ecologists were sometimes referred to as "watermelons," meaning green on the outside and red on the inside.

However, environmentalist themes multiplied in the 1990s, when they merged with traditional extreme right-wing ideologies, including racism. This can be found in the writings of the killers in both El Paso and Christchurch. Each takes up the idea that ecology is above all an ecology of populations: Ethnic groups are perceived as specific entities claiming territories of their own, which themselves are derived from ecosystems. In this sense, their ecology is governed by a "mixophobia," a rejection of the Other, of the Stranger who must remain in his natural environment, in the same way that animal and plant species have their biotope.

Surveillance footage of El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This vision of ecology is often a cover for a segregationist system of thought, with any mixing or contact leading to a loss of difference. It includes an anti-immigration policy, with non-European immigrants having to return "home" to find "their roots' or, for the most racist of these ethnodifferentialists, their "natural environment." This population ecology, not surprisingly, includes the incompatibility of these different cultures.

This vision also promotes radical ecology and opposition to Speciesism​, which can also be found in other forms of ecology. Again, this is an old tradition of the far right. One of its theorists was the French neo-Nazi activist of Greek origin who converted to Hinduism Maximiani Portas, better known as Savitri Devi. An ardent defender of Nazism, she was also a radical environmental activist, publishing several books on the subject, including Impeachment of Man, which promotes Malthusianism and the reduction of the world population.

They share the same basic fear as ecologists in general: of the risk of the world as we know it disappearing.

While far-right ecology is almost always radical, both in its promotion of a deep ecology and in the promotion of a population ecology, it is rarely violent. Indeed, far-right militants have made little attempt to get closer to the "ecoterrorists," as we can see in the United States. In the 1990s, the French group Nouvelle Résistance tried to copy the methods of the American activists of Earth First and tried to take control of the French section of this movement, without much success, the latter being only slightly active. The violent militancy of the extreme right feeds mainly, not on ecology per se, but on the fear of the collapse of Western civilization as a result of the supposed grand remplacement (great replacement). In other words, taking (violent) action is not really about ecology but a consequence of the ideology of a supposed race war, and a question of protecting the "white race."

However, the far-right ecology is not cut off from other green trends. In the 1990s, activists from other extreme right-wing tendencies, including the New Right, became members of Antoine Waechter's Independent Ecological Movement (IEM). This was the case of identity activist Laurent Ozon in the 1990s and 2000s. Between 1994 and 2000, he hosted a review, Le Recours aux forêts, an expression of the Nouvelle écologie association, which saw the participation of several important figures from the ecologist movement. There were collaborations between the New Right and Edward "Teddy" Goldsmith, founder of the British magazine The Ecologist. Proponents of degrowth still regularly participate in New Right publications today.

But it is true that extreme right-wing ecologists share the same basic fear as ecologists in general, that of the risk of the world as we know it disappearing because of global warming. They also share the same rejection of the ideology of progress, of "technoscience" and of the hubris that is its corollary. They separate and oppose each other on the relationship to the Other, and more broadly on the relationship to minorities, defended by most ecologists and rejected by the extreme right in the name of their defining logic of identity.

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Economy

Digitalization Won't Kill The Banker!

Digitalization does not spare the banking sector. In the era of artificial intelligence and algorithms, the bank must know how to reinvent itself and put digital technology at the service of humans.

-OpEd-

In the era of digital technology and uberization, while artificial intelligence and algorithms arouse fears and fantasies and neobanks flourish, the banking landscape is undergoing a profound transformation.

A symbol of this digitalization, the massive reduction in the number of bank branches benefits from deeper virtual relationships via the internet and mobile applications.

At the same time, the traumas linked to the 2008 crisis contributed to the rise of widespread mistrust of banks. This phenomenon also encourages the rise of fintech and pushes bankers to reinvent their businesses.

Gradually, two types of banks for private individuals are expected to emerge.

Relational and digital

On the one hand, there will be a fully digitalized bank, able to respond to the desire for simplification and immediacy, developing the client's autonomy on simple operations with low added value, and integrating the regulatory constraints inherently included in its customer relationship. A bank where AI, robotization and algorithms will be able to spread.

Indeed, other sectors have been able to benefit from this deep digitalization, such as transport, where artificial intelligence and digitalization are invited at all stages of urban travel. Digitalization makes it possible to offer consumers a personalized, interactive and generally accessible service 24 hours a day.

57% of French people prefer to use an advisor.

On the other hand, there will be a bank whose savings support and asset management strategy meets more advanced needs such as complex real estate loans or the management of live securities. Here, the client must benefit from the sound advice that the banker, acting as a sort of financial conductor, builds by mobilizing the bank's various areas of expertise. A bank in which putting digital technology at the service of people, or wealth engineering, makes sense.

This embodiment of the relationship when it comes to assets remains essential. According to a Next Content study conducted last February, 57% of French people prefer to use an advisor for financial savings, investments or borrowing transactions.

To satisfy a multifaceted customer base, especially the younger generations, it is necessary to be able to offer different tailor-made offers. This is where the role of the banker, and in particular that of the private banker, appears to be indispensable and irreplaceable.

The banker, always essential

Only real people can ensure the adaptability of a service, even if it means being able to stand back vis-a-vis a customer who manages his daily banking activities independently. This empowerment must not conceal an ever-present need for support and a global approach that is individualized over time. In this respect, it is necessary to place human flavor at the heart of any relationship between the banker and his client, who needs to confide and trust.

More than ever, the wealth bank of tomorrow must put digital technology at the service of people and shape the success of its clients by creating a unique and lasting relationship.

Private bankers can be compared to a family doctor who maintains a close relationship over the long term. Both a confidant and a partner dedicated to everyday life, he must be responsible and offer solutions adapted to his client. The time for toxic titles is over. From now on, the private banker, supported by a strengthened regulatory framework, increases his responsibility to the benefit of his client's assets. From viniculture to energy transition and taxation, he must deploy his inventiveness to offer turnkey solutions that will meet the ambition and needs of his client.

Exchanging via videoconference but also meeting the customer in person will mean that tomorrow's banker will be somewhat nomadic — requiring a flexibility that meets the challenges of everchanging physical networks. A human experience implies proximity, intimacy and commitment that go far beyond digital tools.

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Society

Female Condoms: A Way For African Women To Take Power

Designed in the 1980s to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, female condoms are now increasingly available throughout Africa. And the world.

CAPE TOWN — Just out of her car, Nomaxhosa Pendu gathers a small group of women in a street in the township of Mfuleni, a suburb of Cape Town. "You've all heard about the female condom, right?" she asks. The women nod half-heartedly. The health worker inflates a plastic cube with a hole in the middle to get the demonstration started. She pulls out the condom with the two rings and inserts it into a model of a vagina. "First, always check the expiration date. Then, settle down in a comfortable position, relax and there you go, just insert it!"

The female condom, which first appeared in South Africa more than 20 years ago, is working wonders for different reasons in the continent's largest market for this product. Every year, the government distributes more than 40 million units, free of charge, to hospitals, university campuses and communities. South Africa has the world's largest HIV-positive population, with nearly one-fifth of adults aged 19 to 45 infected. The government provides 80% of the funding for the fight against AIDS and condoms remain the preferred method of prevention. They also work against other sexually transmitted diseases and early and unwanted pregnancies.

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Geopolitics

Bolsonaro To Boris: When Demagogues Take Over

Boris Johnson's decision to temporarily suspend Parliament marks his choice to play the people against the elected representatives. Italy, the U.S., Brazil and elsewhere, have seen similar ploys.

It's now been 300 days since Jair Bolsonaro took command of Brazil, 500 days since Matteo Salvini scored big in the Italian legislative elections, nearly 1,000 days since Donald Trump entered the White House and 1,100 days since the British voted for Brexit. What do we see each time? A long examination is not necessary to conclude that they are not good. In recent years, populists have clearly found the words to conquer power. They are quick to show their limits once they exercise it.

Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Westminster for five weeks to give himself a free hand on managing London's exit from the European Union at the end of October is, simply put, a denial of democracy. Certainly, it is possible that some of the public may agree with him: MPs have been unable to move forward for the past two years, they can say. Certainly, it's clever. It is above all the Prime Minister's choice, to play the people against their elected representatives. In the country where parliamentarianism was born, this is a strange signal.

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Society

Between The Lines: On The Enduring Power Of Oral Communication

Email, instant messaging and social networks have multiplied and accelerated written exchanges both inside and outside of work. But there are certain functions that only oral communication can achieve.

-Analysis-

PARIS — In an era of virtually constant electronic communication, businesses continue to declare that people are at the heart of their operations. Yet the new technology has greatly reduced oral exchanges, sparking the so-called syndrome of urban loneliness inside the world of work as well.

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Geopolitics

Hong Kong Protests And Xi Jinping's First Big Failure

The Chinese leader may officially defend the idea of 'one country, two systems', but in fact his management of the crisis in the archipelago is in total contradiction with this principle. And the protests continue to grow.

-Analysis-

The demonstrations that have been taking place in Hong Kong for more than two months are Xi Jinping's first major failure since coming to power in 2012. It is difficult to hold the Chinese president responsible for the trade war triggered, for many reasons, by Donald Trump. But Beijing is clearly responsible for the events in the semi-autonomous territory.

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Future

It's Time For Europe And The U.S. To Bury The GAFA Hatchet

Economist Bruno Alomar pleads for an appeasement of tensions on both sides of the Atlantic regarding the Internet and tech giants.

-Analysis-

PARIS — "We have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it in ways that Europeans can't compete. And oftentimes what is portrayed by Europeans as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is just designed to carve out some of their commercial interests." It was not Donald Trump who uttered these words, but Barack Obama, in an interview with technology website Re/Code in February 2015. And indeed, for several years now, U.S. authorities have been annoyed by what they consider to be repeated attacks on Washington's digital interests.

It is true that the French approach, and the European approach at large, is a rather constant and aggressive one. The latest development is of course the recent adoption by France, in the absence of a European consensus, of a tax intended to hit the giants of the American Internet — taking care not to affect French start-ups. The European Union has followed the same logic in recent years. It has used all the weapons of competition law against GAFA, from accusing them of abuse of a dominant position (see Microsoft and Google cases) to illegal state aids (Apple and Amazon). It has also built up an arsenal of privacy protection measures, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is primarily concerned with Facebook.

Washington never misses an opportunity to threaten the EU.

In such a context, are Europeans and Americans bound to be increasingly at odds, as digital technology deepens the rift between the two sides of the Atlantic? That would be a profound mistake — for several reasons.

First of all, Europeans and Americans have already enough bones to pick with each other. That is obviously the case at the economic level, through trade woes. While it's negotiating with China, Washington never misses an opportunity to dispense threats to the German automotive sector or to the French agricultural sector. At the military and geostrategic level, too, with Donald Trump following on Obama's aggravation with NATO's "free riders," by putting strong pressure on Europeans to spend more on their defense — preferably by buying equipment made in the U.S. And finally tensions also abound on the environmental front, with Washington's brutal withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Frenemies Trump & Macron in Washington — Photo: Chris Kleponis / Pool via CNP/ZUMA

In the face of their divides, Europeans and Americans tend to forget that developping digital technology will make them face the very same challenges. A privacy challenge first, which both sides are busy trying to solve. Another of these challenges is competition law, an area in which the U.S. administration seems to have been toughening its stance in recent weeks, as the EU did.

In this field, beyond the simplistic solutions of believing that the heavier the sanctions, the more effective and fair they are, competition authorities both in Brussels and across the pond will have to cooperate. The goal: to try and strike the right balance between protecting competition on the one hand, and on the other hand recognizing GAFA's exceptional capacity of innovating for the benefit of consumers and businesses.

How can we fail to see the essential contributions of the GAFA to EU companies and consumers?

Finally, let's remember that in digital matters, Americans and Europeans also have common interests. In a world marked by the rise of China and its digital giants, it is worth mentioning that Beijing knows how to defend its turf. And that the Chinese authorities' idea of respect of privacy and individual freedoms is at odds with the concerns shared by Americans and Europeans.

Can we imagine the collateral damage that would arise if a large part of the European market and its half billion people were to close? How can we fail to see the essential contributions of the GAFA to European companies and consumers?

All in all, the digital question puts the spotlight on the very nature of the relationship between the U.S. and Europe. Europeans and Americans should not be afraid to be in competition. They have a lot to lose by thinking of each other as rivals, or worse, enemies.

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Sources

Northern Space To Grow: A Possible Upside To Global Warming?

Global warming, melting ice, depletion of resources... the Earth seems doomed. Yet this futurist says the current thaw could offer new perspectives — by freeing up 20 million kilometers of virgin land.

PARISEarth Overshoot Day, i.e. the calendar date on which our collective ecological footprint in a given year is presumed to have exceeded the planet's ability to regenerate, fell this year on Monday, July 29. The footprint calculation is based on real, scientifically-based benchmarks, and follows the logic of the COP21 goal of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

However, the foundations of that logic are dated. It's the same logic at work behind the "Fridays for Future" movement — whose lead figure, 16 year-old activist Greta Thunberg spoke before the French National Assembly recently — and behind collapsologist and survivalist theories. But the foundations of logic, even when based on scientific approaches, can change: The future is not a continuation of the past. And some signals, however tenuous or paradoxical, should make us think.

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LES ECHOS

End Times And Ecology: Finding Meaning With Our Planet In Peril

Can the possibility of the end of the world give meaning to life? A French philosopher (and mother of young children) fears the worst but tries to live the best she can.

-Essay-

DREUX — As I write these lines, I am pregnant with my third child. The first two pick currants in the garden. The birds are singing. The breeze is blowing. Above the roof, a tree sways its palm leaves. And for me ... I am writing an article about the end of the world.

Before any philosophical reflection, two contradictory, but inseparable, feelings haunt my mind: disbelief and guilt. Isn't it criminal to give birth in a world destined for destruction? This question casts its shadow like a scythe over all ecological debates.

We know the success of neo-Malthusian discourses, justified by scientific reports and figures that have been accumulating for decades. Inequalities are increasing, resources are running out, biodiversity is declining, temperatures are increasing, ice is melting, migrants are migrating — and there is a rising degree of anxiety. "What's the use of poets in these times of distress?," said Friedrich Hölderlin. What's the use of children in times of collapse? we are tempted to think. What's the point of living if we have to die?

Formulated in its nakedness, this problem reveals its obscene banality. We create precarious lives, we create perishable works. "We civilizations now know that we are mortal," said Paul Valery long before the first report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The whole of philosophy has taken on the task of thinking about this mortality in order to give meaning to the absurd and offer a response to the what's-the-use attitude it implies.

The answers are varied, but more or less converge on this point: the horizon of death gives meaning to life. It is because my life has an end that it can have a purpose. It is because my time is limited that it must be used wisely. Only the awareness of my finiteness can allow me to carry out a work to the end. The "end" is both the term and the goal. A life, or a work, "completed" is one that is accomplished, both perfect and passed. I bring children into the world wishing them well for all their days, no matter how many they'll have.

The prospect of ecological collapse does not change the terms of this eternal wisdom, but rather radicalizes its lessons. So how can we think of the end of the world? Let us distinguish among three complementary approaches, from the most superficial to the most radical.

First scenario, the most optimistic: we would witness less the end of the world than the end of a world, our own, productivist, consumerist, globalized. It would then be an opportunity to be seized, a possible conversion to a fairer world, "sustainable" development, "green" growth. But this happy hypothesis becomes more utopian with each new free trade agreement. As Donald Trump's tweets, climate summits and garbage heaps accumulate, the hope of such a chosen transition fades away and the prospect of a sustained decline is confirmed.

The threats we're facing now are irreversible and extend to our entire planet.

Second scenario, more realistic: we would see the end of the affluent society. This is the definition of the collapse given by environmentalist and former member of French Parliament Yves Cochet: "Basic needs (water, food, housing, clothing, energy, mobility, security) are no longer provided to a majority of the population by services regulated by law." What are we seeing now in France and elsewhere? The price of energy (fuel, gas, electricity) is rising, while basic services (transport, security, water treatment) are being privatised. The "yellow vests" movement can thus be read as the first jolt of a society that breaks when it comes time to pay the bill. Faced with the predicted chaos, some people arm themselves: the survivalists. Others rely on mutual aid, such as the collapsologist Pablo Servigne.

Yet, however catastrophic it may be, this hypothesis of the end of the political world remains on a human scale: we can think of it, imagine it, turn it into bestsellers. Many societies in the past have disappeared without questioning the very viability of our planet. That is what we are talking about today.

The really dizzying question is not about the end of a world, but about the end of the world: the exorbitant possibility that — by nuclear war or climate change — the world itself will become uninhabitable. It was the fear of the philosopher Günther Anders (The Obsolescence of Man) after Hiroshima or that of Hans Jonas (The Principle of Responsibility) in the face of ecological disaster.

While past crises were limited to a given society and generation, the threats we're facing now are irreversible and extend to our entire planet. Scientists now call it the "sixth mass extinction" to denounce the current destruction of ecosystems. Studies regularly published in scientific journals estimate that 50% of animal and plant species will have disappeared by the end of the century, a disaster that would take the Earth several million years to recover from. By now we know that species, as well, are mortal.

Can we imagine the end of the world then? This is the challenge taken up by the controversial filmmaker Lars von Trier in his very beautiful film, Melancholia. We follow two sisters, one single and suicidal, the other a happy mother, confronted with the imminent approach of a planet that must destroy ours. The former is calmed by the idea that the whole world shares his imminent death, while the latter, desperate, refuses to believe it. The finale is a grandiose metaphor of the human condition, where we see the two women, accompanied by the child, huddled in a fragile reed hut, waiting for the apocalypse. The child, confident, loves those around him one last time before abandoning himself to fate.

I am between these two women and this child, hesitating between morbid resignation and tragic denial. Is there, as always in philosophy, a way to overcome the contradiction, a third way? I think so, and that's why I'm having my third child. I think that the possibility of the end of the world can give meaning to my life, and to the one I feed. Individually, we are responsible, not for the coming disaster, but for the present we must live with. We are not the cause of the end, but the end gives us a cause: to live, here and now, the best possible life.

This is always the lesson of the Ancients, and it is comes at the right time, because this good life they agree on is also the one that can stop the disaster, or help us to survive it. Plato, Aristotle, Epicure, Seneca, Epictetus ... but also Descartes, Montaigne, Pascal, for once, agree: the wise man is sober and joyful, he prefers "to change his desires rather than the order of the world" (Discourse on the Method, part III, Descartes, 1637), does not accumulate the objects of his lust but enjoys life knowing himself mortal.

If we have to lead a simple life, it is not because it is ecologically necessary, but because it is morally desirable.

If we have to lead a simple life, it is not because it is ecologically necessary, but because it is morally desirable. If we must cultivate our individual and collective autonomy, it is not only in order to survive the end of the world, but because it is the real condition of our freedom. If I educate my children in temperance, it is not to prepare them for chaos, but because it is good for them. And if, during their lifetime, the end of the world must come, they will have lived well.

In a few weeks, we will join an "eco-hamlet", located in a village in the Loire Valley. We will not hole ourselves inside in the hope of surviving the end of the world. It is neither a bunker nor a Noah's Ark, supposed to protect us from the disaster. We will not clench our teeth there. We go there to live, not to die: to give our children the life we think is best for them, away from pollution of all kinds and a world that does not make us happy.

This world is a world of endless, indefinite growth, that is, limitless and meaningless. By destroying the idea of "cosmos' — finite, limited, organized world — and replacing it with the idea of "universe" — infinite and chaotic space (From the Closed World to Infinite Universe, Alexandre Koyré) — modernity has created the conditions for an unprecedented ecological crisis. We are painfully rediscovering that our world is not a neutral space with infinite expansion, but that it is first and foremost a fragile ecosystem: a cosmos. The infinite world theorized by modern philosophy has long believed that it was immortal, it was actually aimless, and it may well cause our end.

From this point of view, then, the idea of the end of the world, whether it is a probable future or a new political myth — a hyped-up version of the Apocalypse — seems to me to be a necessary remedy: a remedy for the lack of meaning that characterizes industrial civilization.

Kant defended the need to think of "regulatory horizons," great ideas that cannot be demonstrated: God, the soul, the cosmos, but that allow us to give meaning to our actions. I believe that we need such ideas more than ever, and that it is urgent that our world finally envisions its end.

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