Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Dr. Abeyratne teaches aerospace law at McGill University. Among the numerous books he has published are Air Navigation Law (2012) and Aviation Safety Law and Regulation (to be published in 2023). He is a former Senior Legal Counsel at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Henry Kissinger Turns 100 – And Talks of How to Avoid World War III


On 27 May this year, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Diplomat Extraordinaire and former Secretary of State, known to be the most knowledgeable living expert on foreign relations, turns 100.  He is known for his strategic wisdom and penetrating perspicacity, and his sage advice to leaders across the world  over the past several decades has been chronicled in journalistic tomes around the world. Additionally, Dr. Kissinger’s book Diplomacy has acted as a beacon to the world of contentious international relations.  At his age he is preparing  his next two books – on artificial intelligence (ai) and the nature of alliances.  Although his voice has slowed down, he  remains as bright as a tick.

The latest issue of The Economist carries an excellent article on Dr. Kissinger on the subject of how to avoid a third world war. The Economist reports: “ Mr Kissinger is alarmed by China’s and America’s intensifying competition for technological and economic pre-eminence. Even as Russia tumbles into China’s orbit and war overshadows Europe’s eastern flank, he fears that AI is about to supercharge the Sino-American rivalry. Around the world, the balance of power and the technological basis of warfare are shifting so fast and in so many ways that countries lack any settled principle on which they can establish order. If they cannot find one, they may resort to force. “We’re in the classic pre-world war one situation,” he says, “where neither side has much margin of political concession and in which any disturbance of the equilibrium can lead to catastrophic consequences.”

Dr. Kissinger attempts to clarify perceived inadequacies of analyses of some academics and pundits who posit that China is intent on world domination and says: “They say China wants world domination…The answer is that they [in China] want to be powerful,” he says. “They’re not heading for world domination in a Hitlerian sense,” he says. “That is not how they think or have ever thought of world order.”  To end the quotations from The Economist  I must add “Mr Kissinger sees the Chinese system as more Confucian than Marxist. That teaches Chinese leaders to attain the maximum strength of which their country is capable and to seek to be respected for their accomplishments. Chinese leaders want to be recognised as the international system’s final judges of their own interests. “If they achieved superiority that can genuinely be used, would they drive it to the point of imposing Chinese culture?” he asks. “I don’t know. My instinct is No…[But] I believe it is in our capacity to prevent that situation from arising by a combination of diplomacy and force.”

My Take

Geopolitics in the context of the world powers is polarized and convoluted at best.  China believes that the United States wants to put it down and The United States goes on the basis that China wishes to dominate the world and obviate the global influence of The United States. At the other end of the spectrum lies Russia and its invasion of Ukraine where Russia claims that NATO expansion to the East threatens Russia’s interests and that nothing is off the table, implying the possibility of tactical nuclear attacks which will in all probability escalate into a full-scale war.  To this melting pot are vast technological strides including information technology which act as catalysts to a US-China confrontation and represent, in Dr. Kissinger’s words a “pre-world war situation”.  The world is rife with politics without policy where in the Far East the issue of Taiwan looms, and in the West, the issue of how to reach a solution to the war in Ukraine is getting cloudier by the day.

The first step could be to start with Cicero’s ancient aphorism Inter arma enim silent leges  – a maxim, which translates as “In times of war, the laws are silent”. In the 21st century, this maxim, which was purported to address the growing mob violence and thuggery of Cicero’s time, has taken on a different and more complex dimension, extending from the idealistic synergy between a rules-based international order and its adherence to established law in instances of confrontation to the overall power, called “prerogative” or “discretion” of sovereign States to violate established principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter.

The enduring conflict between misguided strategy, impulsive diplomacy and the rule of law is at the heart of this maxim. In modern usage it has become a watchword for the erosion of civil liberties during internal and external strife. The implication of Cicero’s aphorism is that civil liberties and freedoms are subservient to a nation’s integrity and sovereign right.

What seems to be required now is what Dr. Kissinger calls “hard diplomacy” coupled with coercive hard power that would likely obviate mutual destruction. In this context a hard look at history is essential, garnished with a strong dollop of collective leadership between a somewhat hapless but well meaning United Nations, a determined NATO and the countries concerned.    The history of mankind has proved that it is part of human nature to learn from past experience. That having been said, we have also acted with foresight in situations where we could not build on past experience. When we look at the history of international relations, we see that we have acted with foresight, as a result of which we have brought about major changes to the international legal system by reacting to past disasters.

The United Nations was built on the failure of the League of Nations which was set up as a reaction to World War 1. The failure of the League of Nations was that its Covenant, although intended to prevent the recurrence of atrocities of 1914, failed to outlaw war but merely provided procedures for the peaceful settlement of disputes. Creators of the United Nations learnt from this mistake and wrote into the Charter of the UN the principle of collective security. The UN Security Council, on behalf of the entirety of UN member States, was empowered by the Charter to take decisive action against delinquents. However, this has never worked in practice when it was most needed. For example, the Security Council was literally impotent during the height of the Cold War. The Security Council has not taken or enforced military action against delinquent States nor has it received military assistance from member States to implement the powers ascribed to the Security Council by the UN Charter. The reactions of the Security Council have allegedly been sporadic and reactive, authorizing member States to take action on its behalf, which has prompted one commentator to say that the Council has not acted or functioned as a constitutional framework for a peaceful world but rather as a fire department reacting to emergencies as they rise.

Common ground must be discussed with an aim at compromise.  At the heart of the goal must not be the triumph of hard power but the preservation of the principles of the United Nations Charter. Perhaps a new world order is needed, and we need giants such as Dr. Kissinger to live on and help us achieve it.

Spare by Prince Harry – A Review

“It’s better to be a “misfit” than a “one-size-fits-all”! Mandy Hale

“ The Monarchy, always, at all costs, had to be protected’ Prince Harry, Spare (p.351)

I have just finished reading the book Spare by Prince Harry, who is described in the inner book-jacket as  “The Duke of Sussex; husband; father; military veteran; mental wellness advocate; and environmentalist”.  I found the book  immensely readable, which had  a seamless structural flow of words that leapt out of  the pages into the  inner sensibility of the dread of isolation and loneliness that haunts the human.  Royal correspondent Sean Coughlan is reported in the BBC as describing the book as: “ Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, is part confession, part rant and part love letter. In places it feels like the longest angry drunk text ever sent. It’s the view from inside what he calls a “surreal fishbowl” and “unending Truman Show”. It’s disarmingly frank and intimate – showing the sheer weirdness of his often-isolated life. And it’s the small details, rather than the set-piece moments, that give a glimpse of how little we really knew”.

Rebecca Mead writing in The New York Times says the book is “compellingly artful.  Another spectral figure haunting the text of Spare—that of Harry’s ghostwriter, J. R. Moehringer. Harry, or his publishing house…could not have chosen better … Moehringer has what is usually called a novelist’s eye for detail, effectively deployed in Spare … Moehringer has fashioned the Duke of Sussex’s life story into a tight three-act drama … Spare is worth reading not just for its headline-generating details but also for its narrative force, its voice, and its sometimes-surprising wit …”

My Take

The book is replete with personal details of a little boy in his bedroom, told of his mother’s fatal accident; his solipsistic isolation and his finding refuge in the “pleasure” of going to war; the vilification he suffers at the hand of the Press and the relentless hounding by “paps” (as he calls the paparazzi) of his wife Meagan and himself. In between, there are facts which bewilder the reader such as the narrative where Prince Harry discusses that both he and his brother “Willie” separately drove through the short tunnel in Paris where his mother died in the car accident, and as a result of their findings where both brothers requested that the inquiry into the circumstances of the crash be reopened which was ignored by powers that be. Prince Harry recounts throughout the book innumerable such requests made by him regarding blatant falsehoods reported in an inimical Press that were ignored or treated with indifference by Palace authorities

Family squabbles aside, the most telling message conveyed by the book is in what I consider its thrust – The insidiousness of tabloid journalism and social media that erode the pristine right to privacy and reputation.  Some have described paparazzi as “vultures” preying on celebrities for their gain, while destroying their right to a private life.  The Press, in its worst form, is no better, according to Prince Harry’s narrative of being erroneously branded throughout his childhood and adolescence as an obstreperous, vapid and frivolous spoilt brat, and later in adult life as a drunken lothario. The prince recounts that in every instance, either the Press blatantly misrepresented facts or exaggerated them.  In other words, he was an embarrassing misfit in an otherwise proper royal family.  Ironically, the prince recalls egregious and improper instances of conduct by other members of the royal family who received much less criticism than did Harry.

The book asks the inarticulate question: how can the fifth estate conduct itself with such flagrant disregard to journalistic ethics and carry on with impunity? According to the book Prince Harry’s life, as well as that of his family, were destroyed by both the Press and the paparazzi while the Palace looked on.  At a time when the Press provides yeoman service elsewhere, and functions as the watchdog against corruption, fake news, gaslighting which prompted President Biden to say at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner over the weekend that he preferred a press without government to a government without the Press, Prince Harry’s experiences seem  an counter intuitive anachronism and an existential nightmare. 

The book impels the reader to inquire into the vulnerability of the Press in various jurisdictions to actions of misinformation, disinformation and false reporting which can undermine public trust in journalism. For example, in France, there is a a law titled Law Against the Manipulation of Information which empowers the judiciary to order the removal of false or misleading information during election periods and requires online platforms to disclose the sources of sponsored content. In Germany, a law called Network Enforcement Act requires social media platforms to remove illegal content, such as hate speech and defamation, within 24 hours or face fines up to 50 million euros.  In the United States, the media can be sued for defamation if it can be proved that the media published a false statement that harmed reputation of individuals. In this context, public figures have a higher burden of proof and must also show that the media acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.   A government task force called the Electoral Integrity Assurance Task Force was set up in Australia to identify and counter potential cyberattacks and foreign influence campaigns targeting upcoming elections.  Cambodia has brought into effect a law called the Law on State of Emergency which empowers  the government to exercise sweeping powers to restrict civil liberties and punish anyone who spreads false information that may cause public fear or unrest during a state of emergency.

As a member of the legal profession I felt somewhat distraught that Prince Harry did not have recourse to protection against the breach of privacy against him and his family. brought about by the violation of their right to control the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information. There was obviously irrevocable damage to reputation. In common law jurisdictions a commoner (let alone a prince) who has suffered a breach of privacy can seek legal remedies, such as damages, injunctions, or class actions, depending on the circumstances and the applicable law. In Canada, a class action lawsuit was filed against the Bank of Montreal for a large-scale breach of personal information of approximately 113,000 customers due to security deficiencies in its online banking software. In France, a case was brought by Max Mosley, a former motor racing boss, against Google for displaying images of him participating in a sex party that were originally published by a British tabloid. The court ordered Google to remove the images from its search results and pay damages to Mosley.

Given the above, this book is by no means a rant.  Nor is it an angry drunk text.  It is a concatenation of single instances that tells the story of a young man who, in his words, flees in fear for his sanity.  When Prince Harry asked for retractions of the numerous untruths printed in the press the request  was refused or ignored time and again. When he and Meagan finally decided to branch out of the trappings of royal duties and attendant vicious defamatory and libelous publicity, not to mention the predatory “Paps”, they were told it was “massively damaging the reputation of the family and making “our relationship with the media complicated”.

From the eloquent and articulate words in the book one could feel the voices of their frowns and the sound of their derision.  Above all, the failing heartbeat of the Rule of Law.

Why Do Passengers On Planes Pee On Others?


“When people try to rain on your parade, pee on theirs.” ― Josh Stern, And That’s Why I’m Single: What Good Is Having A Lucky Horseshoe Up Your Butt When The Horse Is Still Attached?

It happened again!!

On Monday, April 24th, a passenger on American Airlines flight 292 out of John F. Kennedy Airport, New York, bound for Indira Ghandhi International Airport, New Delhi was arrested on arrival by Indian police for  allegedly urinating on another passenger on board. This is admittedly a long 15 hour flight which is highly likely to cause frayed nerves in the most patient of the human species.  However, one wonders whether an undesirable natural corollary to irritation between two passengers could justify one of the quarreling passengers resorting to directing his urinary flow towards his opponent to prove his point and win the fight. Of course, the intoxicated state of the offender which would have facilitated an enhanced proclivity to evacuate his bladder, was no excuse for the affront seemingly executed with malicious intent. 

The BBC, on 9 January 2023 reported on an incident that had taken place on 26 November 2022 in which a drunken male passenger (who else but a male?) had allegedly urinated on a female passenger on board a flight operated by Air India. The victim had filed a complaint sometime later after the alleged assaultThere was general consensus among the Indian public that the airline had not handled the incident professionally (partly because the cabin crew had indiscreetly brought the offending passenger to the victim after the fact so he could apologize). 

Another incident in February 2022 occurred on a Southwest Airlines flight from Dallas to Burbank, California where a passenger  was arrested after he urinated near a galley door and threatened flight attendants. It was reported that “The Southwest Airlines flight diverted to Albuquerque because the crew members “feared for their safety as well as that of the flight…It was the latest example of the rise in unruly passenger behavior that has prompted stepped-up enforcement by federal officials and calls from the airline industry to add disruptive fliers to a national no-fly list”.  The facts pertaining to the incident are curious as much as bizarre.  “According to the complaint…the incident began when passenger Samson Hardridge, 33, of Lancaster, Calif., got up during the flight to use the lavatory at the back of the plane. A flight attendant asked him to stand in the aisle because space was tight in the galley. At that point, according to the complaint, Hardridge had his hands in his pants and asked if the flight attendant wanted to see his genitals. The answer was no” . The crew had, with the minimum loss of patience, repeatedly reminded the offender to remain in the aisle but he had “proceeded to the aft galley door of the aircraft and began urinating in the corner of the aircraft”.

On March 9th 2021, on a flight from Seattle to Denver on board an Alaska Airlines flight, a passenger on board who had been repeatedly requested by the cabin crew to wear a face mask had blatantly ignored the requests and repeatedly struck a cabin crew member on the arm. Evidence provided by other passengers revealed that “the individual was standing up and urinating on his seat”. The charge against the 24 year old offender is that he was “interfering with a flight crew in violation of Title 49, United States Code, Section 46504.” This charge carries a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

In March 2019 it was reported that a drunk American Airlines passenger urinated on another passenger’s luggage during a flight from Chicago to Charlotte, North Carolina. The 28-year-old complainant had said that the offender had soiled her carry-on luggage with urine.

My Take

Enuresis, or urinating in inappropriate places, is usually an involuntary act attributed to children after the age of 5 years old, at which point they normally develop control of their bladder. Most of the time, the episodes are involuntary, but they can also be intentional

In my 40 years of working in air transport, I have not come across an instance where a passenger committed an offence on board by unburdening the contents of his bladder on a fellow passenger.  I have dealt with and taught aviation law under both the Montreal Convention of 1999 and the Tokyo Convention of 1963 where the former speaks of death or injury caused by accidents on board or in the process of embarkation or disembarkation, and, more to the point of this case, the latter addresses offences committed on board aircraft.  Between the offender and the direct victim, the law is straightforward: an offence is an offence, whether one physically assaults another or empties his bladder on another. Peeing on board whether specifically directed at another or directed anywhere else in the cabin  comes under Article 1 of the Tokyo Convention which says inter alia that the Convention applies in respect of: (a) offences against penal law; (b) acts which, whether or not they are offences, may or do jeopardize the safety of the aircraft or of persons or property therein or which jeopardize good order and discipline on board. The “good order and discipline” element is what is applicable here.

But this is not the end of the story.  Whereas any other offence envisions hurt caused only to the victim a public pee on board an aircraft may be termed a public nuisance.  A public nuisance is any act, condition, or thing that is illegal because it interferes with the rights of the public generally.

In the ordinary course of business, aircraft carry thieves, con men, pick pockets, sexual predators…you name it, but when they commit offences on board they do not, and indeed have not (to my understanding) urinated on others. Therefore, this trend which is recent must have other connotations.  There must be a psychological factor attached that is linked to the hectic world we live in which is getting busier by the day.  Or, is it that peeing gives a sense of release from an opponent with the final insult? Is it because, as Tom Holt said “There are few moments of clarity more profound than those that follow the emptying of an overcharged bladder. The world slows down, the focus sharpens, the brain comes back online. Huge nebulous difficulties prove on close calm examination to be merely cloud giants”?

Perhaps these public pee-ers are descendants of Diogenes who is reputed to have urinated in public.  His argument was that human society infused us with all kinds of unacceptable constraints and we should strip ourselves of these corrupting man-made constructs, so we’re able to live how we’re supposed to live: in agreement with nature.

I am waiting for the psychologists to weigh in on this interesting trend.

Earth Day 2023: What Einstein Would Say About Climate Justice


I Can hear climate change in my sister’s cough. Aaron Saad, Worlds at Stake

Earth Day is on April 22nd and the theme this year is “Invest in the Planet”.  There is no further elaboration in this message as to who should invest; of what nature that investment should be; or how one should invest.   But then, we can turn around and say that we have a history of talking about it, from 1992 in Rio with the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) right down to COP/27 (27th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC)  in Egypt in November 2022.  In the process, we have coined some fancy terms – like heat dome; wet-bulb temperature; climate anxiety; climate grief; carbon neutral; net-zero; emissions trading; carbon pricing; carbon offsetting.  Aaron Saad, in his book Worlds at Stake: Climate Politics; Ideology and Justice has added to this jumbled maze of terminology the word “Solastalgia” which denotes a homesickness we might feel without ever leaving our home, where we lament how comfortable we were before climate change started roasting us with global warming, causing floods, forest fires, unnaturally frequent tornados and the like.

Now, we are desperately trying to achieve a 1.5% degree world (measured against pre industrialized world levels of warming) without doing anything much about it. This is where the celebrated Albert Einstein comes in with his lasting definition of stupidity – doing the same wrong thing and expecting a different result. Post COP/27 responses of the more influential States to what Antonio Gutters, Secretary General of the United Nations called for  at COP/27 – a global climate pact –  amply resonate the Einsteinian definition of stupidity.  Despite the fancy words of climate conventions  and the 1.5% aspirations, what strikes one in this confederacy of pomp and circumstance is the diversity of opinion and approach.  China and India – two of the biggest users of coal – have given every indication that they intend to keep using coal, let alone reduce their use. Of the big polluters, only Britain and Australia had at the time presented new climate targets. The United States and China had not submitted anything, while the European Union was working on a redefinition of the National Voluntary Contributions to reflect the additional cuts that will result from plans against the energy crisis and to release Russia’s gas.

One of the greatest obstacles to combatting climate change at the global level is the lack of political will which can be put down to the arbitrary and capricious stance adopted by States.  This feckless insouciance of States to come to a cohesive and coordinated unity in acting as one in the battle against global warming acts as a serious problem.  As of September 2022, only 38 countries had filed their National Adaption Plans.  These plans are calculated to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, by building adaptive capacity and resilience; facilitate the integration of climate change adaptation, in a coherent manner, into relevant new and existing policies, programmes and activities, in particular development planning processes and strategies, within all relevant sectors and at different levels, as appropriate.

COP/27 ended with the retention of the 1.5c goal (compared to preindustrial levels) and an agreement on a fund to compensate developing countries for losses and damage caused by the climate crisis. However, the conference failed to agree on concrete steps to wind down the use of fossil fuels. which organizes Earth Day gives some ways we as individuals can contribute: plant trees; reduce plastic consumption; participate in advocacy; eschew wasteful fashion trends and generally “vote Earth”.  This is certainly a proactive list for citizenry.  However, as Aaron Saad says correctly “These are not solutions to an urgent and worsening moral crisis.  Real solutions call for a political program of response that has morality as its core and its overriding priority”. The morality Saad speaks of can be linked to climate justice which in turn would at least partially make reparations (to the planet) against a “climate debt” owed by the major polluters over the years.  Saad cites in his book two main  factors to consider the moral aspect of climate justice: the major polluters over a sustained period of time – throughout the ages in fact – have been developed countries and therefore they must bear primary responsibility;  the second factor is that historically, contributions of carbon emissions to the atmosphere have been extremely unequal : “ just six developed countries account for 41% of cumulative emissions from 1751 to 2020: The United States (24.4%); Germany (5.45%); The United Kingdom (4.7%); Japan (3.9%); Canada and Australia combined (3%).  The entirety of Africa accounts for just 2.9% and India 3.4%”. However, in 2023 China has taken the lead with 13.8% of pollution in the historical context, producing goods for consumption in Europe and North America in particular.

If climate justice is to be administered, Saad suggests the need to answer five questions: who ought to do what: who will be impacted and why; what the moral significance of climate impacts is (which inevitably touches on human rights); whose concerns matter; and most importantly, what is driving the crisis and preventing responses. Once these questions are answered, climate justice – in all its moral imperative – should have an implementation  tool that would strengthen enforceability which in turn  would obviate Einstein’s definition.

My Take

This defining issue for humanity’s sustenance cannot be solved nor comprehensively discussed in a short essay.  However, a good start would be to identify the issue from scratch progressively as follows.  We are aiming at global warming of 1.5°C  which is to limit the increase in the global average surface temperature compared to the pre-industrial period (1850–1900). COP/27 saw many countries agreeing to pursue efforts to this limit in the Paris Agreement of 2015, which aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its recent report, says that  global warming of 1.5°C is likely to be reached between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. As already discussed, so far, the 193 States comprising the international community of nations have given no indication that positive measures adequate to reach this goal are being taken. The recommendation of the IPCC, if exceeding this limit is to be avoided, is that global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) should fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.

Lock step with this goal is the compelling requirement to achieve rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and industrial systems. These transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options. The attendant benefits of restricting warming to 1.5°C, compared to 2°C or higher, are clear: lower risk of climate-related impacts on human health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. This cannot be achieved without significant costs and trade-offs.

What should be done?

To avoid doing the same wrong thing by pledging goals without political will and resolute determination achieved through a proactive and effective mechanism that is implementable globally, some initial agreements should be reached. For one, new fossil fuel infrastructures should be prohibited. Much of the current energy structure may have to be decommissioned. This era that we are Contemporaneously, tin – Capitalocene (an off shot of Anthropocene) – in terms of neo-liberal market economics of control exerted by huge multinational corporations and climate change deniers would have to be reexamined. More government involvement in terms of implementable policy and regulation should be encouraged.  Contemporaneously, there should be more spent on research and development that would pave the way forward to a green economy.

One way to achieve this goal is to fit into a relatively new concept called the Global Administrative Law Theory (GAL) – also sometimes referred to as legal pluralism – which came to light in the first decade of this Century.   The GAL Project is focused on an emerging field of research and practice where administrative law-type mechanisms that address issues of transparency, participation, accountability, and review operate within the parameters of global governance.

The GAL theory posits that administrative law and its principles must be applied not as a mutually exclusive realm but in conjunction with the principles of international law and other related disciplines.  Like domestic administrative law, GAL could be an amalgam of a scholarly approach or methodology and a set of actual norms, “practices,” or activities or mechanisms.  In other words, GAL would be a combination of the legal rules, principles, and institutional norms that apply to administration from a global perspective rather than a structure that demonstrates and exhibits a mere intrastate legal and political realm of authority.

To enforce climate justice we have to go back to the very beginning of the Bible where in The Book of Genesis (1:26-28)  it is said “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”.

To rule over the world, we must have enforceability founded on unswerving political will.  For now, all that we know is that we have botched our mandate as defined in the Book of Genesis.

World Autism Awareness Day – Transforming the Narrative?


“What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool?

You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.”
― Temple Grandin, The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s

World Autism Awareness Day – which falls on 2 April every year, was established by the United Nations in 2007.  The theme of the day this year is : “Transforming the narrative: Contributions at home, at work, in the arts, and in policymaking.”   ChatGPT defines the word autism as follows ” autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. It is called a spectrum disorder because the severity and symptoms of the condition can vary widely from person to person”.

The original intent of establishing Autism Awareness Day was to encourage international support, compassion, and understanding for the rights of people with autism.  On 2 April 2023 the Secretary General of the United Nations in his message said: “On World Autism Awareness Day, we celebrate the contributions of persons with autism and renew our resolve to advance their inherent rights. Despite important progress, persons with autism continue to face social and environmental barriers to the full exercise of their rights and fundamental freedoms, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We must do better – by promoting inclusive education, equal employment opportunities, self-determination, and an environment where every person is respected. And as we do so, we also recognize the role of families, caregivers, and support networks in the lives of persons with autism. Today and every day, let us fully recognize the active and diverse contributions of persons with autism to our societies – and let us work together with persons with autism to build an inclusive and accessible world for all”.

Last year, President Biden added more words of support and understanding to the above plethora of compassionate verbiage in his Presidential Proclamation for World Autism awareness Day.  He reaffirmed his Administration’s “commitment to equity for people on the autism spectrum across all races, ethnicities, genders, cultures, and geography in access to services, inclusion of people with lived experience in research, opportunities for competitive integrated employment, and the ability to pursue their life interests free of discrimination”.

If one were to “transform the narrative” as this year’s theme goes, one has to burrow through the blizzard of conciliatory and seemingly compassionate words that have been used in the above statements that are calculated to exude an aura of profound empathy and proactive action.  Words such as “inherent rights”; “social and environmental barriers”; “inclusive education”; “equal employment opportunities”; “rights and fundamental freedoms”; “respect”; “equity”; “access to services”; “inclusion of people” all cry for implementable legislative and treaty action. 

In the United States, there are several pieces of legislation.  For example, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities, including autism, receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment possible. IDEA provides funding for special education services and requires individualized education plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including autism, in areas such as employment, education, transportation, and public accommodations. It requires that reasonable accommodations be made for individuals with disabilities. Autism CARES Act: provides funding for autism research, education, and intervention programs. It also established the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to coordinate federal efforts related to autism. Finally, The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires insurance plans to cover essential health benefits, including behavioral health treatment, for individuals with autism. It also prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, including autism.

From the standpoint of treaty law, The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a multilateral treaty, adopted by the United Nations, which recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities, including those with autism, to live independently, participate fully in society, and access education, employment, and healthcare.,

How far have these instruments offered autistic persons relief in pursuing the key words used above to define their rights?  There are some instances in the United States.  In Olmstead v. L.C. (1999) The United States Supreme Court affirmed the right of individuals with disabilities, including those with autism, to receive services in the least restrictive environment possible. The case involved two women with mental disabilities who had been institutionalized for years and were seeking community-based services. In the 2009 case of Greer v. Rome City School District  the parents of a child with autism sued a school district for failing to provide him with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The court ruled in favor of the parents and ordered the school district to provide compensatory education services to the students.

More recently in 2012 in Doe v. Lakeview School District parents of a child with autism sued a school district for failing to provide their son with a FAPE. The court found that the school district had violated the IDEA and ordered it to provide compensatory education services to the student. Five years ago, in the case of Pennsylvania State Education Association v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania a group of autistic students and their families sued the state of Pennsylvania for failing to provide adequate education and services for students with disabilities, including autism. The court found that the state had violated the IDEA and ordered it to develop and implement a plan to improve services for students with disabilities.

My Take

It was Mathew Dicks who once said: “You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself when no one likes who you are.”

The first step in “transforming the narrative” would be to understand the above quote. The second step would be to be aware that autistic persons do not have “concepts” between things and the world. For instance, neuro- typical people would insert one or more concepts between a thing, idea or object and reality. A pioneer in this field was Saul Kripke a philosopher who wrote in the late 1950s on the challenges facing autistic persons. In  his book “Naming and Necessity” and his paper “A Puzzle About Belief” Kripke expounded the philosophy of language where his work on autism focused on the relationship between language, meaning, and social cognition.

According to Kripke, a person who is in the autistic spectrum would have rigid designators which are the same in all possible contexts. For example, a neuro typical would identify a flautist as a “clever” or “mediocre” musician whereas an autistic person would consider him just a flautist without an intervening concept. 

This makes it difficult for an autistic person to understand beliefs and mental states of others. In  “A Puzzle About Belief,” Kripke argues that people with autism may have difficulty with what he calls “theory of mind,” which is the ability to attribute mental states, such as beliefs and desires, to oneself and others. Kripke suggests that this difficulty may be related to the use of rigid designators and the limitations of language in representing mental states.

The initiative of 2007 to designate 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day came from the United Nations – the world body of 193 countries.  Yet, as per the World Health Organization, as of 2021, only 27 countries have national autism plans or strategies. Also, according to the World Health Organization. in 2021, about 1 in 160 children worldwide was identified with the autism spectrum disorder..  It is quite disheartening that such a prevalent condition has been proactively addressed by only 27 countries. This is despite the fact that in 2018, WHO launched the “Global Autism Public Health Initiative” to promote early detection, diagnosis, and intervention for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) globally. Additionally WHO  works to promote inclusion and integration of individuals with ASD into their communities and society as a whole. Furthermore, WHO supports research on ASD to better understand its causes, prevalence, and effective interventions. WHO’s overall focus is seemingly on improving the quality of life for individuals with ASD and their families, promoting awareness and understanding of ASD, and supporting research to better understand and address this condition.

The answer does not lie in just “including” autistic persons in society or in the usual educational curriculum without planning and understanding this unique community.  In the words of Paul Collins “Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg.”

This is what the 166 members of the United Nations seem to be doing.  Why are they dragging their feet?

Feast of St. Joseph and The Value of Unobtrusive Integrity

“Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet, and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support, and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” ~ Pope Francis, Patris Corde

The feast of St. Joseph falls on 19 March every year.  To Christians, St. Joseph is not only the patron Saint of the sick and of the dying but also the patron Saint of the family. The name of St. Joseph is of special significance to me as I received my entire primary and secondary education at St. Joseph’s College Colombo (the largest Catholic school in Sri Lanka), and I live in Canada whose patron Saint is St. Joseph, and in the city which has the largest church in the world dedicated to St. Joseph – The Oratory.  St. Joseph’s Oratory attracts thousands of locals as well as foreign tourists each year.  St. Joseph is considered by Catholics as the patron of the universal church – so declared by Pope Pius IX in 1870 – and his life is featured in the New Testament in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke.

Although Joseph lived in the first Century AD, veneration of the Saint in the western world is reported to have begun only in the 14th Century when an order of mendicant friars – the Servites – observed his feast on 19 March. In 1479 Pope Sixtus IV introduced the feast to Rome.

Joseph was from Nazareth, Galilee, a region of Palestine.  He descended from the House of King David. He married Mary and found she was already with conception. Mathew recalls in his Gospel (Matt 1:19): “ being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame” Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly, when an angel appeared and informed Joseph that the child in Mary’s womb was the son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Soon after the birth of Jesus, an angel appeared and advised Joseph of the impending danger of King Herod the Great of Judaea’s decision to have violence committed on the infant Jesus, whereupon Joseph fled with the family to Egypt, only to return to Nazareth after Herod’s demise. 

Perhaps the most relevant significance of Saint Joseph in the modern world is the integrity he presented. “integrity” is a complex word carrying many nuances, one of which is that it stands for “doing the right thing even if no one else is watching”: in other words, practicing unobtrusive goodness. In the words of Pope Francis: “The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, ‘at the service of the entire plan of salvation”.  The definition of “integrity” in Webster’s Dictionary is “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility; the quality or state of being complete or undivided”.  St. Joseph is recognized as the epitome of masculine holiness, particularly as an example for modern culture.

Martha Beck, in her book The Way to Integrity: Finding a Path to Your True Self defines integrity as “wholeness” which  denotes peace and goodness both from without and within. In other words, doing the right thing for the right reason.  This way, Ms. Beck seems to suggest that we could transcend what culture sells us to find “integrity, and with it, a sense of purpose, emotional healing, and a life free of mental suffering. Much of what plagues us—people pleasing, staying in stale relationships, negative habits—all point to what happens when we are out of touch with what truly makes us feel whole”. This translates to independence from psychological suffering.

Part of integrity was love of family for Joseph. Father Gary Caster, author of  Joseph: The Man Who Raised Jesus says: “Joseph has confidence in what God the Father is asking him to do. He doesn’t hem and haw: ‘Maybe we shouldn’t go [to Egypt]. … Just what is God asking me to do? Joseph immediately does everything the Father tells him to do through the angel. He’s not wishy-washy, doesn’t overthink things, doesn’t insert himself [his will].”  Joseph was also imbued with righteousness and justice, which are aspects of integrity. Br, Subal Rozairo, in his article St. Joseph: Patron of the Universe and Social Justice says:“ St. Joseph comes across to us as a model of many virtues. He was an authentic person who showed by his simplicity that he was not afraid because he knew God was with him. He was not controlled by external forces. He faithfully and joyfully attended to the little but fundamental things of caring for Mary and Jesus. In his simple lifestyle, he was rich in relational trust with the father to whom he utterly surrendered himself. Of all his virtues justice, simplicity, and integrity are the featured ones”.

The righteousness, social justice, and integrity that St. Joseph was known for percolated through the ages from the Gospels of Mathew and Luke to modern day philosophers such as Immanuel Kant  and Friedrich Nietzsche – the former of whom introduced the categorical imperative of universal righteousness.  Immanuel Kant was of the view that  every human being is an end and not a means.  This philosophy is based on a sense of duty to human dignity and that the duty should be performed with kindness.  This is what made Adolf Eichmann’s assertion before the Nuremberg Court tenuous – that he did everything with a sense of duty irrespective of moral restraint – unacceptable. Kant also said that one should judge a person not on how they acted when times were good, or when they felt like being kind or caring and that the true measure of kindness in a person was in how they behaved when they didn’t want to, and when there was nothing to be personally gained for them. This epitomizes what St. Joseph stood for.

Fast forward to modern times, one wonders how Nelson Mandela – the epitome of Kant’s ideal and Nietzsche’s Uber mensch – would have treated refugees or immigrants in today’s context. It has been said of Mandela: “Mandela was an amazing leader and example of love, forgiveness, and kindness and one of the things that made him so remarkable is that upon his release in 1990, not only did he not express anger, or hatred towards his jailers, he actually befriended them. In fact, he invited one of them to attend his 1994 presidential inauguration and to the 20th anniversary celebration of his release from prison. Both James Gregory, and Cristo Brand, Mandela’s jailers spoke of the deep respect they had for this man. Brand went from being pro-apartheid as a young man to someone who stood with Mandela against racial segregation, and oppression”.

One cannot gainsay that if St. Joseph were to be asked to point to an ideal human being in modern times, the great Saint would turn towards the likes of Nelson Mandela.  Unfortunately, such people are few and far between in this modern world.

Sudden Death of a British Airways Pilot – Medical, Legal And Human Aspects


Death is the handmaiden of the pilot. Sometimes it comes by accident, sometimes by an act of God. ~ Albert Scott Crossfield ~ Medical Aspects

On 11 March 2023 an article in the U.S. Sun reported that “a British Airways pilot collapsed and died shortly before he was due to captain a packed jet. He had been preparing to fly from Cairo in Egypt to Heathrow Airport but had a heart attack in the crew’s hotel”.

Infrequently, one hears news of such a sad event:  of sudden pilot incapacitation and death, both while flying an aircraft and otherwise. The World Health Organization reported in 2020 that “in 2019, the top 10 causes of death accounted for 55% of the 55.4 million deaths worldwide. The top global causes of death, in order of total number of lives lost, are associated with three broad topics: cardiovascular (ischaemic heart disease, stroke), respiratory (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections) and neonatal conditions – which include birth asphyxia and birth trauma, neonatal sepsis and infections, and preterm birth complications”. Of this, cardiovascular disease is one of the most prominent in occurrence.

Reports of pilot deaths, particularly while piloting aircraft, sometimes appear in media reports. Aviation,  Space, and Environmental Medicine in 2012 recorded that  “In 2004 there were 16,145 UK/JAR professional pilot license holders. Of the notified medical events, 36 presented as incapacitations; half were cardiac or cerebrovascular… There were four sudden deaths. The type of incapacitation varied with age. A male pilot in his 60s had 5 times the risk of incapacitation of a male pilot in his 40s. The annual incapacitation rate was 40/16,145 = 0.25%”.

BBC on 6 October 2015 reported that “Capt Michael Johnston, 57, was flying the plane with 147 passengers and five crew on board when he “passed away while at work”, as per the announcement of the airline. It was also revealed that he had double bypass surgery in 2006.  Live Science of 27 September 2013 reported  “ A pilot’s heart attack turned a United Airlines flight to Seattle into a dramatic scene where passengers attempted to save the pilot’s life, and one helped the co-pilot make an emergency landing in Boise, Idaho. The pilot died at the hospital, according to news reports. A midair heart attack is a scary scenario for sure, but the incident last night (Sept. 26) was unusual — heart attacks on flights are rare, and deaths are even rarer. A study of medical emergencies on five major airlines over a nearly three-year period showed that, of the 12,000 passengers who experienced some form of medical emergency during a flight, 0.3 percent (38 people) suffered cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops. The number who died over the study period was 31, according to the study, which was published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine”.

Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine in March 2004 went on to say “The Chicago Convention in 1944 to standardize practices where uniformity would improve air navigation. In subsequent annexes to the original convention, the regulations that standardize personnel licensing and rules of the air were established that guide the medical requirements for pilots and aircrew today. After evaluation of available data and the potential risks at different times during a flight, ICAO set a goal of less than 1% risk of pilot incapacitation per year to guide the standards for medical examinations. Gastrointestinal issues, earaches, faintness, headache, and vertigo are the most common causes of incapacitation. Less common but more dangerous debilitations such as alcohol intoxication and sudden cardiac death have been implicated in mishaps, so screening for these risks carries high importance”.

Medical assessments carried out periodically on pilots are generally indicative of a pilot’s health but are not a guarantee against unforeseen health conditions. 

The Aeromedical Office of the Airline Pilots Association reports that approximately 42 persons with rhythm disturbances contact the office annually. “Over one half of these persons have experienced syncopal episodes, with 5 to 10 in-cockpit syncopes per year. In a review of 102 syncopes over 5 years, less than half were attributed to ventricular arrhythmias. The majority of individuals with ventricular arrhythmias were permanently disqualified from flying, while most individuals with syncope believed to be bradyarrhythmic returned to flight after evaluation.

In Western Europe cardiovascular causes are the most common cause of loss of flying license, and the main cause for disqualification of pilots on medical grounds is cardiac arrhythmia  – frequent ventricular premature beats, nonsustained VT, and paroxysmal atrial fibrillation were the most common problem arrhythmias

The evidence suggests that the incapacitation risk limits used by some states, particularly for cardiovascular disease, may be too restrictive when compared with other aircraft systems, and may adversely affect flight safety if experienced pilots are retired on overly stringent medical grounds. States using the 1% rule should consider relaxing the maximum acceptable sudden incapacitation risk to 2% per year”.

Legal and Regulatory Aspects

Legally, a pilot is in a special category: the same as a surgeon who is in charge of a person’s health and a can driver or bus driver in charge of a passenger’s security.  Only, a pilot has to ensure the safety of hundreds of passengers all at once.  Inasmuch as an airline would be guilty of negligent entrustment in handing over a plane full of passengers to an improperly licensed pilot, a pilot would be guilty of gross negligence – the highest form of negligence –  if she jeopardizes the security and safety of the passenger in her charge. 

The International Civil Aviation Organization addresses the issue of pilot’s health requirements under Annex 1 (Personnel Licensing) to the Chicago Convention of 1944 and provides further guidance in  Procedures and requirements for the assessment of medical fitness which  are contained in the Manual of Civil Aviation Medicine (Doc 8984). The International Air Transport Association (IATA) – the trade association of airlines – in its guidelines for flight crew requires the following: the absence of any medical condition or any suspected medical condition that may lead to any form of acute functional incapacity; the absence of any existing or former medical condition – acute, intermittent or chronic – that leads or may lead to any form of functional incapacity; the absence of any use of medication or substances which may impair functional capacity; minimal requirements to the necessary functions such as vision and hearing.

ICAO’s Annex 1 provides that, to satisfy the licensing requirements of medical fitness for the issue of various types of licenses, the applicant must meet certain appropriate medical requirements which are specified as three classes of Medical Assessment:  Third Class: This is the most basic of the medical exams. It is required for those attempting to earn a student pilot license, recreational pilot license, and private pilot license.; Second Class: This one is required for anyone attempting to earn their commercial pilot license; First Class: A first class medical certificate is required in order to earn a airline transport pilot certificate.

The United States Federal Aviation Administration states that the main differences between these is how in depth the exam gets and how often you have to have it done. Much of the 3 tests are very similar although the first class medical exam is required to be done annually and includes an Electrocardiogram test if the applicant over the age of 40.

.Recommendation of Annex 1 suggests that from 18 November 2010 States should apply, as part of their State safety programme, basic safety management principles to the medical assessment process of licence holders, that as a minimum include: routine analysis of in-flight incapacitation events and medical findings during medical assessments to identify areas of increased medical risk; and continuous re-evaluation of the medical assessment process to concentrate on identified areas of increased medical risk. This is followed by the recommendation that the period of validity of a Medical Assessment must begin on the day the medical examination is performed.

Here, validity means acceptance as truth or fact which would go towards recognizing a pilot’s suitability to fly an aircraft. An air carrier which wet leases an aircraft to another carrier would be guilty of negligent entrustment.  So would any air carrier who employs pilots without checking if the pilot has a valid license.

Human Aspects

Although we tend to glamourize those in aviation, from the confident captain to the glamourous cabin attendant even down to the humble chap in overalls who helps put he aircraft in the sky, they are all human, like the rest of us, subject to the vulnerabilities of humanity.  When the I was working at ICAO I once had a meeting with an airline pilot who had been commanding a flight from Europe to Asia.  His young first officer, just 38 years old, had been complaining about a pain in his back on the onward flight to Europe.  He had informed the captain that it was “just a backache” and that he would get it checked by his brother who was practicing medicine in the city they were bound for.  On the return flight the next day, over Zurich, the first officer had mentioned to the captain that his back ache had returned and that he would leave the flight deck for a few minutes to rest.  A few minutes later a visibly upset cabin crew member had rushed into the flight deck and told the captain that the first officer had died.

The captain had been grief-stricken as the first officer was a good friend as well as a trusted colleague  He had to fly alone the rest of the flight, with mental acuity and equanimity, and when I asked him how he managed the flight he said the worst feeling was the feeling of loneliness in the flight deck, which was overwhelming.  The flight deck is a lonely place, even if there are two persons in it. Dr. Vivek Murthy, one time Surgeon General of the United States writing in the Harvard Business Review said: “Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher”.

Heart attacks often come from nowhere, with no prior warning.  However, what must be borne in mind, in the case of pilots is that pilots have negative factors that affect them that other professionals may not have, such as crew fatigue due to overscheduling, disturbance of sleep cycles caused by night flying and missing family events and celebrations, not to mention being away from home constantly.  The overbearing loneliness factor may add to this.

Flight MH 370 – 9 Years On


“The loss of MH370 points us to an immediate need. A large commercial airliner going missing without a trace for so long is unprecedented in modern aviation. It must not happen again”. ~ Tony Tyler, Director General, International Air Transport Association (2014)

Just after  midnight on 8 March 2014 A Boeing 777 Malaysian Airlines aircraft operating Flight MH 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur on its  way to Beijing. 227 passengers and 12 crew were on board. A short time later, the aircraft was lost on radar between the air traffic control areas of Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City.  Neither the aircraft nor the passengers or anything related thereto has been found so far except for a part of a wing and a few other pieces seemingly coming from the aircraft which were found off the coast of the French Reunion islands, Madagascar, and Mozambique, spawning theories that the plane could have veered off to somewhere in the Indian Ocean – a fact claimed to have been supported by data driven evidence. 

All that is known is that at around 1.01 a.m. the aircraft had reached an altitude of 10,700 meters. The source of data transmission in the aircraft –  The Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) – on the performance of the aircraft had  send its last transmission at 1.07 am and blipped off at around 1:19 A.M. and at 1.21 the last communication from the crew had been recorded whereupon   the plane’s communication between the aircraft and air traffic control ceased.  This was  when the transponder that communicated with the air-traffic control had got switched off just prior to Flight MH 370 entering Vietnamese airspace over the South China Sea. 

The Theories

Theories – unsubstantiated by cogent proof  – abound.  Netflix last week came out with a three-part series which had three theories.  One was that it was the pilot who veered off into the Indian Ocean from the designated flight path and crashed the plane in the sea after it ran out of fuel. The second theory was that someone or some people hijacked the aircraft and flew it perhaps to Kazakhstan.  The third theory was that the plane was carrying dangerous cargo (which had been loaded in Kuala Lumpur under armed escort) bound for China which was effectively precluded from getting there, perhaps by someone carrying out  an armed attack on the plane in mid air.

The three theories came “supported” by some incredible facts.  With regard to the first theory, the pilot in command – a seemingly respectable and respected family man who had tons of experience as a pilot with no history of professional irregularity, could have knocked off the electronics, thus making the aircraft invisible to radar; de pressurised the cabin; and put all persons on board to sleep (while he had put on a long lasting oxygen mask and despatched the First Officer out of the flight deck and locked the door), just to trash the aircraft in the Indian Ocean when the fuel tanks emptied.  This drastic theory was based on the fact that the pilot had applied  a similar deviating route (of going way South into the Indian Ocean) on his home simulator for fun. Thankfully, all concerned ruled out the pilot theory, when the other two theories saw light.

The second theory was that there could have been a Russian connection, as three Russians were on board. One was in first class where here was a “trap door” on the floor, unlocked, which led down to the computer centre of the aircraft.  One of these three, it was surmised,  could have surreptitiously gone down and disabled all electronic functions of the aircraft, disabled the flight crew and taken the aircraft to say, Kazakhstan.

The third theory – interception – was that someone thought the huge consignment of dangerous and sensitive cargo should not have been allowed to get into the hands of the Chinese, therefore two large aircraft (with huge dishes of some sort fixed on them that could disrupt electronics on any object below them) flew over MH 370 and somehow and possibly “blew up” the aircraft when the captain of MH 370 refused the commands from above to land in some place like the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean. Or the aircraft may have landed somewhere in the Indonesian Islands and that is why there is no debris flying around.

Reparation for Loss

Watching this series, I felt intensely sorry for the families left behind who were interviewed. All of the above do not help the grieving father and husband who had lost his wife and two children; a wife whose husband left for Beijing for a job; and a young wife whose husband was a member of the cabin crew on the flight. They never returned.

Technically, as both Malaysia and China have ratified the Montreal Convention of 1999, the dependants are entitled to compensation for death or injury of the passengers on board (not the crew as they were under an employment contract with the airline).  But there is a snag.  The passengers are not proven to be dead or injured. This compensation would come from the insurers of the airline.  As for Malaysia, as the aircraft bore the nationality of the State,  some accountability would have to accrue.  The BBC reported in 2014 that “the families of passengers on the missing Malaysian passenger plane have begun to receive initial compensation payments of $50,000 (£30,000). So far six Malaysian families and one Chinese family have received the money, and insurers are assessing the claims of 40 more Chinese families. Relatives of all 239 missing passengers can claim up to $175,000 each”.  How this was computed was not revealed, although in the context of Malaysian Airlines, the Montreal Convention is clear – that once death or injury is established, there will be a preliminary sum of 100, 000 Special Drawing Rights (around 132,720 US $) which is paid with no questions asked.  The plaintiffs can claim more than this amount but beyond the 100,000 SDRs the carrier can circumvent a claim for a higher amount if the carrier proves that: (a) such damage was not due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of the carrier or its servants or agents; or (b) such damage was solely due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of a third party.

There is also a provision – Article 28 – which admits of advance payments or upfront payments if required by national law, where the carrier should make advance payments without delay to a natural person or persons who are entitled to claim compensation in order to meet the immediate economic needs of such persons. Such advance payments do not presuppose a recognition of liability and may be offset against any amounts subsequently paid as damages by the carrier.  

My Take

This absolute mystery at this time of sophisticated technology available through the application of satellite tracking cries out the question “why can’t we have a system of global tracking of any aircraft wherever they are”? Admittedly, on the face of it this is a simple enough question. However, for there to be global tracking of airborne aircraft (or aircraft under the sea or anywhere in the world for that matter) there would have to be some sort of reporting apparatus installed in an aircraft. Of course, one size might not fit all types of aircraft and such a system might take years to perfect.

Whatever the cause might have been for us to believe “beyond reasonable doubt” that there are no survivors; or whether the aircraft disappeared as a result of human intervention or technical malfunction, it is not for us to question our faith in whatever religious doctrine we believe in. As someone crudely put it: “shit happens”. 

Ultimately it boils down to the grief-stricken relatives who are still waiting for an answer from the authorities. There is no point in blaming divine intervention. We bring these things upon ourselves. Rabbi Kushner has some wise words to say in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People: “The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God’s part. Because the tragedy is not God’s will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are”. Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner, in one of his articles alludes to the possibility that : “not everything that takes place in the world has a purpose or comes from God. Efforts to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering in the world with God’s justice are a waste of time because they proceed from the false premise that everything that takes place in the world comes from God and has a purpose”.

I believe it is definitely not appropriate to ascribe the disappearance of the aircraft to an inadequacy of divine intervention. As the Dalai Lama once said: “According to the Latin root of the word “religion” would mean “to bind again”. Now how does the concept of binding or tying up come to be applied as the common term for all our various teachings? The common enemy of all moral precepts laid down by the great teachers of mankind is selfishness of mind. For it is just this which causes ignorance, anger and passion which are at the root of all the troubles of the world”.

Perhaps it all boils down to randomness, which seems to leave me with no alternative but to accept Rabbi Kushner’s wise words: “If you have been brave enough to love, and sometimes you won and sometimes you lost; if you have cared enough to try, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t; if you have been bold enough to dream and found yourself with some dreams that came true and a lot of broken pieces of dreams that didn’t, that fell to earth and shattered, then you can look back from the mountaintop you now find yourself standing on, like Moses contemplating the tablets that would guide human behavior for a millennia, resting in the Ark alongside the broken fragments of an earlier dream. And you, like Moses, can realize how full your life has been and how richly you are blessed. ”

This is how I see the passengers of Flight MH 370 to whom these thoughts are lovingly dedicated. I am still hoping  they will come back to us.

International Womens’ Day – Have We Got It All Wrong?

O, Woman! in our hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade
By the light quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!

Walter Scott

Some Depressing Facts

International Women’s Day falls every year on 8 March.  This year in particular, it happens to fall at a distressing and depressing time (from the women’s point of view, that is) and it seems we are missing a crucial point. 

I am a news and commentary junkie and I tenaciously “catch up” with the news on BBC, CNN and assiduously watch programmes such as “60 Minutes” on CBS and “Panorama” on BBC. 

The first bit of news I watched this week was on BBC which reported that “Wayne Couzens, the former London police officer who abducted, raped and murdered Sarah Everard in 2021, has been sentenced to 19 further months in prison for indecent exposure incidents that took place while he was serving in the force. Couzens, 50, was already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the killing of 33-year-old Everard, which sparked outrage towards the Metropolitan Police and began a national debate about violence against women”. Sarah was a marketing executive who went missing on the evening of March 3 after leaving a friend’s house in Clapham, south London. Her remains were found days later in woodland near Ashford, Kent.

The second report came in the form of a commentary on BBC’s Panorama on the blatant sexual exploitation of women workers on a tea plantation working as tea pluckers by their supervisors who refused to give them work unless they slept with the supervisors.  Some women interviewed by Panorama admitted that they were forced to comply as their jobs were the only means of income that sustained their children. BBC has reported that, as a result of this exposure by Panorama “Kenya’s parliament has ordered an inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse on tea plantations revealed in a BBC report. Lawmaker Beatrice Kemei said she watched the report with “utter shock”. The BBC found more than 70 women had been abused by their managers at plantations operated, for years, by two British companies, Unilever and James Finlay. The companies say they are shocked by the allegations. Four managers have been suspended”.

The third commentary was on CBS’ 60 Minutes which interviewed three Ukrainian women who had been taken prisoner by Russian soldiers and tortured.  One of the women, a medic, said: “They were making our men scrape off their tattoos. They were beating them badly. They did the same to women – they would beat them, pour boiling water on them…the beating was brutal, abuse was very bad”.

These three deeply upsetting bits of media coverage came two days before March 8 along with another report from the United States where CBC reported that “A Los Angeles judge … sentenced Harvey Weinstein to 16 years in prison after a jury convicted the former movie producer of the 2013 rape and sexual assault of an Italian actor and model. The sentence comes on top of the more than 20 years the 70-year-old Weinstein has left to serve for a similar 2020 conviction in New York, furthering the fall of the former producer”.  So, it was happening from Hollywood to Kenya!!

Rahul Gandhi appeared on Chatham House on 6 March and he was asked by a member of the audience what he would do to change India if he were one day to become the Prime Minister of India.  He said that a young girl had come up to him and said that she had been raped, and Mr. Gandhi had asked her whether she had complained to the police.  The girl had said “ I did not go to the police because I did not want to be shamed”.  Mr. Gandhi said that this is one thing he would like to change in India where women would not be ashamed to complain that they had been subject to sexual abuse.

We seem to be living in a world infested with perverted specs of male humanity bent on committing sexual and other types of violence against vulnerable women – from sexual trafficking to domestic abuse.

After this barrage of information, I turned to the latest Open AI innovation ChatGPT to see what it would say about the special day allocated to the welfare of women.  It said inter alia: “International Women’s Day is celebrated in countries around the world and is recognized as an important opportunity to raise awareness about gender inequality and to promote women’s rights. It is a day to honor the achievements of women in various fields and to renew the commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment”.  The question arises : “is it enough just to raise awareness of “gender equality” and promote women’s rights? Could there be some mechanism to stop this heinous abuse with concrete and global accord? Like addressing COVID or climate change, with targets and reporting by countries on progress made? Isn’t the worldwide abuse and exploitation of women as virulent a disease as COVID and as ethically and morally unacceptable as pollution of the atmosphere? Or even more unacceptable?

United Nations Involvement

This year, the United Nations has adopted the theme  “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality… the United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day 2023 will highlight the need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education”. How ironic is this? Shouldn’t women’s bodies be protected before their achievements are lauded and minds receive digital education? Has the United Nations initiated and introduced a global mechanism to put a stop to the abuse of women all over the world? Doesn’t the United Nations Charter guarantee  “fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”? 

Of course there is a fancy term “ gender equality” that has been bandied around since almost the inception of the United Nations : A functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) called The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was  established as the first global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. In 1948 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted which talked of basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all human beings — men and women alike — should enjoy.  This does not seem to have done anything much – for women.

Of course, in theory, certain things have been done on a multilateral basis. The UN General Assembly adopted in 1979 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which some identified as the “Women’s Bill of Rights”. Correctly focused on the protection of human rights of women. It is definitive on what discrimination against women is and establishes legal obligations for countries that are parties to it (i.e. States Parties) to end such discrimination. But the word “ discrimination” is different from “sexual abuse and exploitation”. CEDAW only talks of States Parties eliminating discrimination against women in the public as well as the private sphere, including the family, and aims to achieve substantive equality between women and men — not just in laws, but also in reality on the ground.

The United Nations admits that “one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, and the immediate and long-term physical, sexual, and mental consequences for women and girls can be devastating, including death”. A proactive Organization – UN Women – a global champion for gender equality – “works to develop and uphold standards and create an environment in which every woman and girl can exercise her human rights and live up to her full potential”. As part of its prevention strategy, UN Women focuses on early education, respectful relationships, and working with men and boys, especially through, and in, the media, sports industries, and the world of work. “UN Women helps conduct research on attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of men and boys, as well as young people, related to various forms of violence, and supports advocacy, awareness-raising, community mobilization, and educational programmes, as well as legal and policy reforms”.

The Historical Perspective

The issue is whether this is enough to combat the heinous and egregious sexual abuse blatantly carried out against women around the world.   An overview paper of the Government of Canada says: “ Any woman—regardless of her age, race, ethnicity, education, cultural identity, socioeconomic status, occupation, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities, or personality—may experience abuse. A woman may be at risk of abuse at virtually any point in her life—from childhood to old age”. The paper also addresses issues such as wife abusewife assaultwife batteringspouse abuse, and partner abuse. Recently, activists within the shelter movement have begun to use the more inclusive term woman abuse or woman battering.

Before we concentrate on equality of women in the workplace or any other nuance of a social construct, there should arguably be on the table the bestial superiority (mostly physical) exercised by the male on the vulnerable female which goes back to early ages. Looking back at early human society, historian Yuval Noah Harari in his celebrated book Sapiens refers to various theories of male domination over women citing social rules that varied widely across societies and time periods, where “nearly all human societies since the Agricultural Revolution have been patriarchal—they tend to place men at the top of their social hierarchies”.  Harari refers to “many theories suggesting that men are biologically superior to women” among which is one theory which suggests that men are physically stronger, and they used their physical power to suppress women. The innate tendency of men to be more violent and aggressive has also been a theory that has percolated from early periods of human history. “Yet another theory suggests that biological differences (such as childbearing) made women evolve to be dependent on men to survive”.  Needless to say, Harari disagrees with all these trends.

Simone de Beauvoir, in her book The Second Sex,  posits the fact that “men fundamentally oppress women by characterizing them, on every level, as the Other, defined exclusively in opposition to men. Man occupies the role of the self, or subject; woman is the object, the other. He is essential, absolute, and transcendent. She is inessential, incomplete, and mutilated. He extends out into the world to impose his will on it, whereas woman is doomed to immanence, or inwardness. He creates, acts, invents; she waits for him to save her”. This distinction is the foundation of the overall thesis of de Beauvoir of exploitation of women.

After explaining how male superiority in society developed from ancient times – from nomadic hunter-gatherers through the French Revolution and contemporary times, where female subservience and inferiority were forced on the women through the exploitation of their physical frailty and vulnerability  de Beauvoir credibly explains how myths have been concocted along the lines of male superiority, effectively depriving women of opportunity and relegating them to the background of ignominy.

My Take

At least, there is good start to internationally criminalize any form of abuse against women in  work initiated by UN Women which says: “ For more than 10 years, UN Women’s global initiative, Safe Cities and Safe Public Places, has worked to prevent and respond to sexual harassment against women and girls in public spaces, and since 2017 we have also been a key member of the EUR 500 million Spotlight Initiative that deploys targeted, large-scale investments in ending violence in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific”.

I believe this initiative as well as other similar proactive measures,  should be accompanied by an enforceable international instrument with obligations of State accountability that criminalize abuse of women.Admittedly, there have been some United Nations Resolutions: e.g. Resolution 1325 (2000) which inter alia emphasizes the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls, and in this regard stresses the need to exclude these crimes, where feasible from amnesty provisions; Resolution 1820 (2008) which urges appropriate regional and sub-regional bodies in particular to consider developing and implementing policies, activities, and advocacy for the benefit of women and girls affected by sexual violence in armed conflict.

Another is Resolution 1960 (2010) which requests  the Secretary-General to continue and strengthen efforts to implement the policy of zero tolerance on sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel, and further requests the Secretary-General to continue to provide and deploy guidance on addressing sexual violence for predeployment and inductive training of military and police personnel, and to assist missions in developing situation-specific procedures to address sexual violence at the field level and to ensure that technical support is provided to troop and police contributing countries in order to include guidance for military and police personnel on addressing sexual violence in predeployment and induction training.

Resolution 2106 (2013) focuses on accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict; stressed women’s political and economic empowerment; Resolution 2122 (2013) addresses persistent gaps in the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda; identifies UN Women as the key UN entity providing information and advice on participation of women in peace and security governance; 2242 (2015) focuses on women’s roles in countering violent extremism and terrorism; improved Security Council working methods on women, peace and security. 

Regrettably, these are all the outcomes of political compromises which are optional and do not carry the obligation of monitoring and accountability of States to address this worldwide issue.  They just wouldn’t do as an effective global solution.

Black Lives Matter Day – Race, Class and The Woke Theory


Black Lives Matter Day falls  annually on February 26 in remembrance of Trayvon Martin, an African American teen who was killed by a white American seemingly out of hatred. It is a movement that emerged in July 2013 as a campaign against systemic racism and violence against black people. It’s impetus was strengthened in 2020 when George Floyd – another person of the African American community – was forcibly strangled to death by a white police officer in Minneapolis who knelt on Floyd’s neck until he choked to unconsciousness and subsequently to death. The killing sparked vociferous and sometimes violent protest marches across the United States  where an estimated 15 million to 26 million people demonstrated inter alia for criminal justice reform in the country.

At the heart of the protests was an implicit intellectual accusation that the United States was holistically and systemically racist, harking back to the Declaration of Independence.  This view was reflected in the Critical Race Theory (CRT) which was originally introduced on divisions of class and which morphed into the overall theory that every institution was philosophically and structurally racist. Stokely Carmichael, the originator of CRT argued in the1960s that although the Civil Rights Act of 1965 seemingly barred discrimination based on  racism, this was not so in practice.  In his own words “ it is white power that makes the laws, and it is violent while power that enforces those laws with guns and nightsticks”.

Ben Shapiro, in his book The Authoritarian MomentHow the Left Weaponized America’s Institutions Against Dissent (2021) says: “ Carmichaels intellectual heirs formally launched the CRT project in the late 1970s and early 1980s,  Expositors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic set out the basic principles of CRT: first that racism is ordinary, not aberrational; second, that our system of white -over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material. The system, in other words is designed to create racially disparate outcomes; any proof of racially disparate outcomes is evidence of the malignancy of the system”.

Stanford psychologist Steven O Roberts says: “Racism is a system of advantage based on race. It is a hierarchy. It is a pandemic. Racism is so deeply embedded within U.S. minds and U.S. society that it is virtually impossible to escape”. Michael Rizzo, a postdoctoral fellow at New York University says: “just as citizens of capitalistic societies reinforce capitalism, whether they identify as capitalist or not, and whether they want to or not, citizens of racist societies reinforce racism, whether they identify as racist or not, and whether they want to or not….Many people, especially White people, underestimate the depths of racism”.

It is not a matter of cultural difference that fuels this perceived division as African Americans have blended well.  An extract from The Spectator of 3 June 2019 says: “In this, black Americans are exemplars. Most of them came originally from Africa, the least individualist of all world regions. Yet they have made prodigious contributions to American life. And over time, a substantial share of the group has become individualist. Blacks now regularly appear as leaders in every realm of national life because they pursue advancement just like other groups. This fusion of group and national style is a model for the nation. The black middle class shows everyone the way forward”.

If it is not a cultural divide, then what is it?  Perhaps it is a matter of divisions in class?  Scott Woods says: “The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on”.

To counter this growing division and distrust among whites and blacks in American society, a new movement or theory has sprung up called The Woke Theory which advocates “wokeness” which is defined as “the quality of being alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism”. Ben Shapiro, who was cited earlier, at an event titled “How Wokeness is Destroying America” said: “ America is fundamentally racist, and that western civilization is, at root, similarly racist, is ruining the country”. Linking racism to wokism Shapiro went on to say “the woke  concept that racism is not just a product of individual bias or prejudice, but also in legal systems and policies…Racism, as anyone who looks at the world right now could note, is present in every society forever for all time… “It’s just an ugly part of human nature.”

In a 2020 article titled US Racism and Inequality Are Rooted in The Law, Robert J. MacCoun,James and Patricia Kowal Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, writing in Annual Reviews says: “the Racism and racial inequality in the U.S. pervade policing, but also the justice and prison systems, the job market, and housing, among others. This is a policy problem and fixing it will require broad legislative action”.

This statement points to a class division as well as  inequality among the two categories where the average income of a white family has been set at  $ 170,000 whereas it is $ 20,000 (on an average) for a black family. Psychologist Michelle P. Maidenberg says: “The first and most important step to take to eradicate racism is facing ourselves and noticing our personal part in it. It is easy to deny something we are unaware or shameful of, but realistically, based on our sociocultural and neurocognitive development, we all come with personal biases and prejudices. It makes sense, as how we were raised and how are mind functions impacts directly on our perceptions and assumptions”.

My Take

There does not seem to be a quick fix to the problem.  I would prefer to mesh Dr. Maidenberg’s view and the view of a young playwright in Ottawa – Vishesh Abeyratne – who is staging his play “Divide and Rule (as originally titled) with the new title White Lion and Brown Tiger. The play  highlights a confrontation between a member of the Sinhala community and another from the Tamil community – both of the Sri Lankan diaspora – who work together. In Vishesh’s words: “The play examines the lasting consequences of colonial violence in the interactions between two members of a diaspora, but it doesn’t examine Canada’s own shameful colonial past. To answer this question, you’d have to go back through years and years of history; the British ruling powers pitted the Sinhalese and Tamils against each other, which went from peaceful protests to riots to civil war, forcing Tamils out of the country. Our two main characters take up the fight that took place in Sri Lanka, from the privileged place of diaspora, but under a racist capitalist rule that values neither of them”.

Vishesh Abeyratne asks the pertinent question: “Which one of them is more “whitewashed” in the end? The guy who uses the same tactics of manipulation and subjugation as his country’s former oppressors? Or the guy who reads Kurt Vonnegut and listens to the Tragically Hip?”

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