Trailblazer: From the Mountains of Kashmir to the Summit of Global Business and Beyond

by Rafiq Kathwari

A Jewish grandfather and a Muslim man walk into a New York delicatessen….and 55 years later the Muslim man writes a trailblazing autobiography.

He’s scrawny when he leaves his native home in the Vale of Kashmir, a disputed land in the Himalayan foothills between India and Pakistan. He dodges an impending war. He has no formal passport, just an official residency permit which expired many years ago.

Yet, he takes a chance and, amazingly, boards the last flight from Delhi to Lahore before war breaks out.…it’s an electrifying moment among many, some heartbreaking, some joyful, others human, all too human.

Those moments lead one to believe that the young man was destined for the future of his adopted home, America, where his grit and pluck, his trysts with good luck, his innate belief in common sense all combined to feed his fire within before the fire could feed on him.

Read, how many years ago the Jewish grandfather saw the hunger in the eyes of the Muslim man and sent him on a Mission Impossible to Washington D.C.

Muslim man made the impossible possible, earning the trust of his Jewish mentor who, soon after, handed over the captaincy of his quintessentially Yankee company— Ethan Allen (named after a hero of the American Revolution) — that he had founded during the Great Depression to the young Muslim man named Farooq — which in Islamic tradition means “The Redeemer” or “the one who distinguishes between right and wrong.”

Read how Farooq brought his only previous role as captain (of his college cricket team in his native Kashmir) to bear upon his new captaincy of Ethan Allen in Danbury, Connecticut, its headquarters. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 7. Bartender Bookmarks: Thin Lizzy, “Rosalie”

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

by Akim Reinhardt

A latter day incarnation of Harper's
A latter day incarnation of Harper’s at W. 231st St. and Albany Crescent.

During high school, my friends and I used to drink at a local Irish bar. And when I say Irish bar, I don’t mean some contrived yuppie shit hole with an Irish name, a bunch of Gaelic tchochkes splattered across the wall, and overpriced pints of Guiness poured poorly. I mean a working class bar in the Kingsbridge section of The Bronx where Irish immigrants drank, mostly bottles of Bud emptied into small, stemmed glassware. Whatever’s cheap.

The place was called Harper’s. The clientele was mostly old men, with a cacophony of younger people occasionally crowding in on the weekends. Me and my friends started drinking there when we were 16. The legal age in New York was still 18, and neighborhood bars usually didn’t care so long as you were within a couple of years. I didn’t bother buying a fake ID until I went away to college in Michigan. At corner bars in The Bronx, no one even bothered to ask.

Harper’s was the kind of quiet hole in the wall where nothing was happening, but anything could happen and it wouldn’t surprise you. Like out of the blue one night, some guy setup a guitar and small PA, and started singing sad sap Irish folk songs like “I Wish I Was Back Home in Derry.” Harper’s never had live music, but suddenly there he was.

No one paid attention. He never came back.

At some point you were also sure to have someone come into the bar and try to sell you something. Maybe a woman hawking black market movies on VHS, or a huckster pretending to be deaf and mute, collecting money for a fake charity, or some guy peddling roses that you could give to your lady.

None of us ever had a lady. All we ever bought was booze. Read more »

The unpalatable truth about veganism and climate change

Hephzibah Anderson in Prospect:

Ultimately, motivation is irrelevant—who cares if companies are merely pursuing the vegan pound, or if some self-declared “vegans” are self-obsessed wellness slaves ditching dairy for vanity’s sake? If they’re part of a movement that might help slam the brakes on impending environmental doom, then they are surely a force for good.

But are they? A 2019 Imperial College study did find that your diet is where you can make the biggest difference. The trouble is, while certain facts are indisputable—for instance, the amount of soya fed to a cow to produce a litre of milk is several times that used to produce a litre of soya milk—the more granular the focus, the murkier the picture becomes. Industrially-farmed soya is one of the worst crops in any quantity because it’s what is known as a monocrop, one that is planted in the same field year after year, causing soil depletion and also enhancing vulnerability to famine, Irish potato-style. So, sure, you’ve embraced a plant-based diet, but if you’re indulging every week in jackfruit tacos, prefer almond milk to oat milk, and aren’t yet sick of avocados, then your diet is hardly carbon-neutral. Even fruitarians have been found to have a high environmental impact.

More here.

Jürgen Habermas offers a framework for action on climate change

Emilie Prattico in Aeon:

And so, while the requirement for scientific and technical expertise about climate change cannot be denied, there are ways to reconcile this reality with the needs for inclusive, democratic processes about climate action. In his theory of deliberative democracy, the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas (1929-) provides a framework within which democratic processes can distinguish between the different dimensions of discourse – scientific-pragmatic and moral-political. In the context of climate change, this means that there are pathways to address the problem that don’t require scientific or technical expertise, and that are geared towards tackling the collective issues it raises democratically.

Habermas’s version of deliberative politics is rooted in his theory of communicative action. There are several reasons for singling out Habermas here. First of all, the spectre of technocratic rule has guided his work since the 1960s. More significantly, however, Habermas has consistently recognised the value of the ‘substantive’ aspect of political decisions, setting him in a tradition of democratic thought concerned with finding the adequate balance between the democratic requirement of equal respect for each citizen and the recognition that the substantive and technical quality of citizens’ contributions varies.

More here.

Are Americans Overdoing Democracy?

Oliver Traldi in The National Review:

For the past several years, there has been a flood of commentary about how politics is poisoning social life, from first-person stories about “surviving” holidays or breaking off romantic relationships to surveys about the precipitous drop in inter-partisan friendships on college campuses. There are many who think this is a reasonable state of affairs: that “the personal is political” and that it is therefore only natural that all of a person’s social perceptions and choices be suffused with the eerie light of political analysis. But there are also those who dissent. These dissenters say that Americans need to relearn how to disagree with one another productively; the strength of our public dialogue and of our democratic process itself may depend, this crowd says, on our having more and better political discussion and more interactions with those outside our bubbles.

In his new book, Robert Talisse, a philosophy professor at Vanderbilt University, agrees with the dissenters that our politically polarized and politically saturated culture is not in good shape. But he disagrees about the solution. “Calls for bipartisanship and cooperation are insufficient,” Talisse writes, “and in a way misguided. More and better politics cannot be the solution . . . because politics is the problem.” Americans are “overdoing democracy in that politics has become practically inescapable,” and hence “we have to put politics in its place.”

More here.

This election made me fall in love with democracy again

Andrew Marr in The Spectator:

It’s an unfashionable thought, but having spent many hours in the university sports hall where constituency votes for Boris Johnson and John McDonnell were counted, I feel freshly in love with democracy. There they all were, local councillors and party workers from across the spectrum; campaigners pursuing personal crusades, from animal rights to the way fathers are treated by the courts; eccentrics dressed as Time Lords. In the hot throng, there were extremists and a few who seemed frankly mad. But most were genial, thoughtful, balanced people giving of their free time to make this a slightly better country. Stuck in Westminster during relentless parliamentary crises, it’s easy to lose sight of just how energising real democracy is. I came home with my cynicism scrubbed off, and exhausted-refreshed.

However, I hadn’t seen the size of the Tory majority coming. All through the campaign, I’d felt instinctively we were heading for a Boris Johnson victory, but with a modest Tory majority. Thinking back, I’m sure I was over-influenced by social media. Conservative messages on Twitter and Facebook seemed unimaginative and repetitive, while the left was ingenious, starry, witty and emotional. But more than that, I think the online campaign made screen junkies too easily impressed by strange, vivid, eye-catching episodes, which passed most normal people by.

Many of them were to do with the Prime Minister himself: briefly pocketing a reporter’s phone to avoid an embarrassing picture; declining to be interviewed by my colleague Andrew Neil; and apparently hiding in a fridge.

More here.

Who was the Buddha?

Sam Dresser in aeon:

At Wat Doi Kham, my local temple in Chiang Mai in Thailand, visitors come in their thousands every week. Bearing money and garlands of jasmine, the devotees prostrate themselves in front of a small Buddha statue, muttering solemn prayers and requesting their wishes be granted. Similar rituals are performed in Buddhist temples across Asia every day and, as at Wat Doi Kham, their focus is usually a mythic representation of the Buddha, sitting serenely in meditation, with a mysterious half-smile, withdrawn and aloof. It is not just Buddhist temples in which the Buddha exists in an entirely mythic form. Buddhist scholars, bewildered by layers of legend as thick as clouds of incense, have mostly given up trying to understand the historical person. This might seem strange, given the ongoing relevance of the Buddha’s ideas and practices, most lately seen in the growing popularity of mindfulness meditation. As Western versions of Buddhism emerge, might space be made for the actual Buddha, a lost sage from ancient India? Might it be possible to separate myth from reality, and so bring the Buddha back into the contemporary conversation?

The legendary version of the Buddha’s life states that the Siddhattha Gotama was born as a prince of the Sakya tribe, and raised in the town of Kapilavatthu, several centuries before the Christian era. Living in luxurious seclusion, Siddhattha remained unaware of the difficulties of life, until a visit beyond the palace walls revealed four shocking sights: a sick man, an old man, a dead man and a holy man. The existential crisis this sparked led Siddhattha to renounce the world, in order to seek a spiritual solution to life. After six years of trying out various practices, including extreme asceticism, at the age of 35 Siddhattha attained spiritual realisation. Henceforth known as the ‘Buddha’ – which simply means ‘awakened’ – Siddhattha spent the rest of his life travelling around northern India and establishing a new religious order. He died at the age of 80.

Only the bare details of this account stand up to historical scrutiny. According to contemporary academic opinion, the Buddha lived in the 5th century BCE (c480-400 BCE). But the failure to identify Kapilavatthu implies that he was not a prince who lived in a grand palace. The most likely sites are the Nepalese site of Tilaurakot, an old market town about 10 km north of the Indian border, and the Indian district of Piprahwa, to the south of Tilaurakot and just over the Indian border. But the brick remains at both places are a few centuries later than the Buddha, which at least agrees with the oldest literary sources: according to the Pali canon – the only complete collection of Buddhist literature from ancient India ­– the Buddha’s world generally lacked bricks, and Kapilavatthu’s only building of note was a tribal ‘meeting hall’ (santhāgāra), an open-sided, thatched hut (sālā).

More here.

Sunday Poem

Above Pate Valley

We finished clearing the last
Section of trail by noon,
High on the ridge-side
Two thousand feet above the creek
Reached the pass, went on
Beyond the white pine groves,
Granite shoulders, to a small
Green meadow watered by the snow,
Edged with Aspen—sun
Straight high and blazing
But the air was cool.
Ate a cold fried trout in the
Trembling shadows. I spied
A glitter, and found a flake
Black volcanic glass—obsidian—
By a flower. Hands and knees
Pushing the Bear grass, thousands
Of arrowhead leavings over a
Hundred yards. Not one good
Head, just razor flakes
On a hill snowed all but summer,
A land of fat summer deer,
They came to camp. On their
Own trails. I followed my own
Trail here. Picked up the cold-drill,
Pick, singlejack, and sack
Of dynamite.
Ten thousand years.

by Gary Snyder
Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems
Shoemaker & Hoard Publishers, 2003

Citizenship law shows tension between BJP’s Hindutva and Modi govt’s economic goal

Sanjay Reddy in The Print:

Former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan was right to emphasise the idea that intolerance is also a threat to prosperity. For a period, India was branded as the world’s “fastest growing major economy”. This is a position which it has in recent years traded back and forth with China. But it was more securely the fastest growing large democracy, given that China was no competition there. This is not just a statement of political values, but also a signal to investors that in India, fissures, divisions, and tensions can and will be handled flexibly, providing the possibility of greater stability over the long run. 

It is this aspect of India that has allowed it to maintain and consolidate a nation-state over seven decades. Indian capitalists may look at China with admiration, but its inability to guarantee that divisions within the country will be handled in a flexible way remains a source of doubts about its economic future. Political tensions may not have a first-order effect on economic outcomes in the short run but in the longer term, they create the possibility of potentially devastating disruptions, even if their likelihood is difficult or impossible to judge.

More here.

An Unnatural Politics and the Madness of the Indian State

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee in The Wire:

There is an anecdote in Salvador Dali’s Diary of a Genius, where he recounts telling three men from Barcelona, nothing that occurs in the world astonishes him. Upon which a well-known watchmaker among them asks Dali, if he saw the sun coming out in the middle of the night, wouldn’t he be astonished? No, said Dali, it wouldn’t bother him the least. The watchmaker confessed, if he witnessed such a thing, he would have thought he had gone mad. To which, Dali replied with witty assurance, “I should think it was the sun that had gone mad.”

The modern counterparts of Dali’s watchmaker believe there is something mad about the student protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In fact, the madness lies elsewhere.

Muslim students, finding their place as equal subjects under the law shrinking drastically after the CAA was passed by both houses of parliament last week, have reacted sharply. Protests were spearheaded by two Muslim educational institutions, Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. The logic of the government had reached them. But more significantly perhaps, what reached them was a sense of suffocation.

Since 2014, there has been an unprecedented attack on Muslims in social spaces. It started with the lynchings on rumours of beef eating and transporting cattle. The territorialisation of the Hindu nation had begun with that move.

More here.

Chained to Globalization

Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman in Foreign Affairs:

[Thomas] Friedman was right that a globalized world had arrived but wrong about what that world would look like. Instead of liberating governments and businesses, globalization entangled them. As digital networks, financial flows, and supply chains stretched across the globe, states—especially the United States—started treating them as webs in which to trap one another. Today, the U.S. National Security Agency lurks at the heart of the Internet, listening in on all kinds of communications. The U.S. Department of the Treasury uses the international financial system to punish rogue states and errant financial institutions. In service of its trade war with China, Washington has tied down massive firms and entire national economies by targeting vulnerable points in global supply chains. Other countries are in on the game, too: Japan has used its control over key industrial chemicals to hold South Korea’s electronics industry for ransom, and Beijing might eventually be able to infiltrate the world’s 5G communications system through its access to the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

Globalization, in short, has proved to be not a force for liberation but a new source of vulnerability, competition, and control; networks have proved to be less paths to freedom than new sets of chains. Governments and societies, however, have come to understand this reality far too late to reverse it. In the past few years, Beijing and Washington have been just the most visible examples of governments recognizing how many dangers come with interdependence and frantically trying to do something about it. But the economies of countries such as China and the United States are too deeply entwined to be separated—or “decoupled”—without causing chaos.

More here.

Lisa Robertson’s Bottomless Novel of Authorship and Baudelaire

Jennifer Krasinski at Bookforum:

In the years before a woman becomes a writer, the rooms are never her own, and that can be a very fine thing. Decades before receiving the Baudelairian authorship, when she first moved to Paris as a young woman, Hazel Brown stayed in cheap hotels, admiring the neutrality of spaces designed for everyone and no one: “No judgment, no need, no contract, no seduction: just the free promiscuity of a disrobed mind.” She thereafter sublets teensy, humble apartments, living alongside the unremarkable belongings of people she doesn’t know—an actress (a role-player), a graphologist (a handwriting analyst). She spends her days reading in the park, filling her head with the words of others, of people she also doesn’t know, and picking up boys to kiss and fuck. She is equally enamored of sex and sentences; each, sensual and electrifying, grazes her body, at once possessing it and proving its otherness. She takes menial jobs: one at the summer house of a convalescing widow, for whom she performs all manner of household duties; later, she’s hired to mind the daughter of a wealthy couple, shuttling her from school back to their apartment, where Hazel Brown does the ironing and dusting, playing proxy for the wife and mother who recently returned to work.

more here.

Life, Death and Revolution in Egypt

William Dalrymple at The Guardian:

Of all the ill-fated revolutions of the Arab spring, none started more optimistically, or ended more disappointingly, than that of Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown with such rejoicing at the beginning of the revolution in 2011, was perhaps not the worst of the Arab dictators. His rise, on the classless elevator of the Egyptian armed forces, was entirely the result of his competence in the military. Cairo intellectuals disliked his backslapping air-force bonhomie and quickly dubbed him “La vache qui rit”, after the laughing cow on the French processed cheese to whom the president was said to bear a resemblance.

For two decades Mubarak provided Egypt with a plodding yet stable government, which many compared favourably with the attention-seeking antics of his predecessors Nasser and Sadat. It should not be forgotten that his ministers were corrupt, his police casually and strikingly brutal, and torture in Egyptian prisons was rife. Yet his regime was still better than its counterparts in Syria and Iraq.

more here.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Recycling

Matthew King at The Baffler:

Modern recycling as we know it—the byzantine system of color-coded bins and asterisk-ridden instruction sheets about what is or isn’t “recyclable”—was conceived in a boardroom. The anti-litter campaigns of the 1950s, championed under the slogan of “Keep America Beautiful,” were funded by the producers of that litter, who sought to position recycling as a viable alternative to the sustainable packaging laws that had percolated in nearly two dozen states. In primetime commercials over the decades, American audiences met characters like Susan Spotless and “The Crying Indian” (played by Italian-American actor Espera Oscar de Corti) who urged consumers to lead the charge against debris: “People start pollution. People can stop it.”

Keep America Beautiful flaunted a fairy tale logic that demanded little from anyone. Landscapes would be rendered pristine as long as responsible citizens placed their garbage in the proper receptacle. Any unwanted items could be magically whisked away somewhere distant and unseen.

more here.

Engineering Life: Synthetic biology and the frontiers of technology

Jonathan Shaw in Harvard Magazine:

SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY, or the application of engineering principles to the design of life, presents world-changing prospects. Could components of a living cell function as tiny switches or circuits? How would that allow biomedical engineers to build biological “smart devices”—from sensors deployed inside the body to portable medical kits able to produce vaccines and antibiotics on demand? Could bacterial “factories” replace the fossil-fueled industries that produce plastics, foods, and fertilizers? Will the secrets of living creatures that enter suspended animation during periods of drought and extreme cold be harnessed to keep human victims of trauma alive? And is the genetic information preserved in long-frozen or fossilized extinct species, like woolly mammoths, sufficiently recoverable to help save living species?

These ideas, once the stuff of science fiction, are now the stuff of science. Some aren’t yet functioning realities, but others have launched business applications, whether in medicine (such as hospital gowns that signal exposure to infection) or in land remediation (where bacterial “factories” powered by the sun capture nitrogen from the atmosphere to help plants grow). Someday, engineered forms of life that store carbon may even be one of the solutions to Earth’s climate-change problem.

“Most of biology, historically, has been analyzing how nature works,” says Donald Ingber, director of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Systems biology is the culmination of that effort to deconstruct natural processes. Now, with synthetic biology, he points out, scientists “are at the point where we know enough that we can actually engineer artificial and natural biological systems.” Researchers today can build things from biological parts, and even create hybrid systems by linking them to non-living machines. Propelling the science forward are scores of innovations in biological science, with new discoveries coming every month. Among the most important are advances in genetic editing, including improvements in accuracy, and the ability to make hundreds of changes at once.

More here.