“No footnote can do justice to the geopolitics of the Cola Wars. Very briefly, in the sixties, the Arab world attempted an economic embargo of Israel. Coca-Cola looked at the relative population figures and decided they were better off selling to Arabs, but public pressure in America soon forced them to start selling soda in Israel. This left an opening for Pepsi, which still dominates in the Arabian Penninsula (competing mostly against domestic brands). Coke is aggressively trying to get back in the game; on my last day in Sana’a I passed some vast, sponsored festival with Coca-Cola parade floats.”

Green Arabia

The American tourist fantasy is to find a place that’s undiscovered and see a slice of “authentic” life (albeit with all the comforts and amenities of home); a place where the natives will be overjoyed to see you. They laugh and dance their native dances. You wander through the village, peering in to wave at the jolly baker, graciously accepting a flower from the shy but cute-as-button little kid who follows you around. An old man takes you aside to say something cryptic but profound, giving you his blessing. Songbirds alight on your shoulder but do not poop.

Jibla is certainly off the beaten track, but what’s authentic here is hopelessness, hunger, and poverty. The townspeople don’t care why I’ve parachuted into their lives from the First World, and in their place, I wouldn’t care either. How can we can talk as equals when in ten days I will be back in San Francisco? Their job is to treat me with hospitality and extract whatever money they can, which can’t possibly be enough to make any difference.

Yisa asks me to promise that I’ll look for some kind of work for him. He’s trained as an engineer, but he will do anything, farm work, be a servant, cut lumber, wash dishes, it doesn’t matter. There is no future for him in Yemen. Do I understand that? I must promise not to forget his request.

I don’t have the heart to tell him that there’s no future for him anywhere I’m from, either. In the US, being from Yemen is practically synonymous with being a terrorist. The world expects people like him to stay put and suffer in place.

Green Arabia

Around noon we stop for lunch at a roadside restaurant. The word ‘restaurant’ is a little deceptive, evoking pictures of checked tablecloths, salt shakers, and little flowers in tiny vases, rather than men with guns sitting on a mutton-stained carpet, so let me set the scene a little.

The typical Yemeni eating establishment resembles a commodities trading floor on one of those days they call ’Black’. There is not a lot of furniture, but there is a lot going on. We enter a dark room that has some bare cafeteria style tables, each covered with a plastic sheet and with a plastic cooler of water at one end. There is a display case of food near the door, but people seem to be ignoring it, and its contents bear no relationship to the food I see people eating.

The restaurant is full of men all wearing the traditional outfit of skirt, jambiyeh and sport coat. Some of them have an AK-47 slung across their shoulder, barrel pointing upwards. The guns tend to swivel around as people eat and add a sword-of-Damocles excitement to the meal. Knowing that you might get shot at any moment really heightens the flavors of a Yemeni luncheon. Around the tables there are carpets, and many of the men choose to eat while reclining on the floor.

In Yemen you don’t really talk while eating. This makes the heavily-armed diners staring up at me from their carpets seem even more menacing. The wait staff, on the other hand (at least I assume that’s what they are) run round shouting at the top of their voices. Almost everyone has already purchased a bag of qat, which they’ll start chewing after lunch. The qat is leafy and kind of bulky, and comes in a colored plastic bag. Some men tuck it under their shirt, so it hangs over their belt like a paunch. Others carry it in their hand. The effect is to make everyone look excessively health conscious and obsessed with salad.

Ali motions me to a row of sinks at the back of the room where we can wash our hands. He speaks a neighborhood dialect of Yemeni Arabic that even some other Yemenis have trouble with, while I speak a halting form of the literary language understandable only to myself. We’re at an early stage in our relationship where he relies a lot on sign language and exasperation.

He finds us a table and I position myself so I’m not looking down the barrel of too many rifles. An elderly man seated next to us is just finishing his meal, his eyes fixed on mine, his white beard bobbing up and down as he chews. Ali leans across the table and asks me, “What would you like to eat?”

I find the question delightful. Caviar to start. Perhaps a clear court-bouillon, toast fingers, suprême de foie gras, smoked duck tongues, and an endive salad. Strawberries in non-alcoholic kirsch.

“Ali, I’m in your hands. Anything!”

“What?”

"Whatever you like.”

“What?”

“Anything!”

“What?”

“Anything! Chicken!”

“Chicken?”

“Chicken!”

Ali grabs a waiter and demands chicken. A young boy has already materialized with big plates of rice and two cans of Pepsi. Coca-Cola may be famous for having distributors in the remotest, least accessible parts of the world, but in this corner of the world, the Cola Wars ended differently. Pepsi is king.

As two halves of a roast chicken are brought into the presence, Ali gives me a searching, penetrating look. For a moment, something between us hangs in the balance. It’s like he’s examining my soul. Then he rises from his chair and returns with two plastic spoons. I give him a hurt look and push the offered spoon away. Are we not men? Is this not Yemen?

I’ve been using my right hand all my life, but eating non-sticky rice with it makes new demands on my dexterity. Ali has an impressive way of forming three fingers into a scoop and neatly, almost surgically, removing a portion of rice from the edge of his dish. His plate looks like a pie chart, with a slowly growing wedge of negative space tracking his progress through the meal. My side of the table looks like someone has been repeatedly smashing my head into the food to try to get me to talk.

Nervous about using my hands wrong, I forget to pace myself. Meals here tend to arrive in stages, and I’m already pretty full when another child waiter arrives with big disks of hot bread, a kind of bean dip, and a salad of finely diced tomato and cucumbers. Lunch is a big meal in Yemen. For a lot of qat chewers (which is everyone), it’s the final meal of the day.

I make stomach-exploding motions to persuade Ali that I’ve gotten enough to eat. He leads me back to the row of sinks to wash the grease off our hands. One of the sinks has been converted into a dedicated qat-rinsing station. The others are available, but there is no soap.

In America, I would go wait in line and ask the host at the front of the restaurant for help. Now I get to watch how things are done in Yemen.

First, we need numbers. Ali collects a quorum of other dissatisfied diners. The nimblest of the group captures a waiter, who quickly folds under interrogation and gives up the owner’s name. We bellow this out loud. The owner is in the back room, stirring something massive in a cauldron. He bellows back at us, and Ali charges in to begin negotiations.

There is some yelling on both sides, then a final loud cry from the owner. A young boy shoots out of the kitchen and out the front door, running at top speed. Ali follows him at a more dignified pace. Soon I see Ali coming back my way, holding a packet of laundry detergent in the air. Someone slices open its belly and spreads the contents across the sink tops in a fat white line. As the foreign guest, I am invited to wash my hands before everyone else. Another young boy chases me down with a paper napkin so I can dry my hands.

This little episode captures something I’ll see over and over again in Yemen. Faced with a problem, you find out who is in charge, escalate to the highest level of authority present, and communicate your sincerity by vigorous yelling. There is always a phalanx of sons (and presumably a similar, hidden number of daughters) who can be deployed as messengers, sent on errands, or otherwise made useful. Everything is done with a level of verbal vehemence that would involve grief counseling and possibly lawsuits back in the United States. 

In Wake of Clashes, Calls to Demilitarize Police

“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said, “I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.”

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, and Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, voiced similar sentiments.

But such opposition amounts to a sharp change in tone in Washington, where the federal government has spent more than a decade paying for body armor, mine-resistant trucks and other military gear, all while putting few restrictions on its use. Grant programs that, in the name of fighting terrorism, paid for some of the equipment being used in Ferguson have been consistently popular since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. If there has been any debate at all, it was over which departments deserved the most money.

In most instances, the government did not require training for police departments receiving military-style equipment and few if any limitations were put on its use.

The increase in military-style equipment has coincided with a significant rise in the number of police SWAT teams, which are increasingly being used for routine duties such as conducting liquor inspections and serving warrants.

For years, much of the equipment has gone unnoticed. But as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn down, police departments have been receiving 30-ton, mine-resistant trucks from the military. 

“A lovely but naive woman from the Nordic world recently told me she had been surprised when a deal fell through with a Taiwanese company that had been taken aback by the fact school holidays could get in the way of business. “They couldn’t understand that we have our holiday in this part of the world and they’d have to wait a month to come and see our facility.” I’m not sure if I blinked or winced when she said this, or a combination of the two, but I told her that it was perhaps better for Asian-European relations that the deal had collapsed and that she could get on with picking blueberries.”

Monocle’s editor-in-chief answers some of the frequently asked questions by the readers

Recently one of my receptionists made the rather absurd decision to get her nose pierced (I thought that stopped in 1998) and finds it acceptable that everyone should look at her glittering, slightly infected, nose. My assistant said I should just go with it but I think it’s wrong. What’s your view?

Seriously? Do you even need to ask? It is absolutely wrong and she must remove it immediately. And no, I don’t care if it’s not in the staff handbook, you are the boss. Also, your assistant needs a talking to as well: she/he should have already advised the receptionist to remove it before the boss spotted it.

If you are particularly worried about your front of house, then I’d suggest introducing uniforms and proper hair and make-up guidelines.

Edward Snowden: The Untold Story

Snowden will continue to haunt the US, the unpredictable impact of his actions resonating at home and around the world. The documents themselves, however, are out of his control. Snowden no longer has access to them; he says he didn’t bring them with him to Russia. Copies are now in the hands of three groups: First Look Media, set up by journalist Glenn Greenwald and American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, the two original recipients of the documents;The Guardian newspaper, which also received copies before the British government pressured it into transferring physical custody (but not ownership) to The New York Times; and Barton Gellman, a writer for The Washington Post. It’s highly unlikely that the current custodians will ever return the documents to the NSA.

That has left US officials in something like a state of impotent expectation, waiting for the next round of revelations, the next diplomatic upheaval, a fresh dose of humiliation. Snowden tells me it doesn’t have to be like this. He says that he actually intended the government to have a good idea about what exactly he stole. Before he made off with the documents, he tried to leave a trail of digital bread crumbs so investigators could determine which documents he copied and took and which he just “touched.” That way, he hoped, the agency would see that his motive was whistle-blowing and not spying for a foreign government. It would also give the government time to prepare for leaks in the future, allowing it to change code words, revise operational plans, and take other steps to mitigate damage. But he believes the NSA’s audit missed those clues and simply reported the total number of documents he touched—1.7 million. (Snowden says he actually took far fewer.) “I figured they would have a hard time,” he says. “I didn’t figure they would be completely incapable.”

Snowden speculates that the government fears that the documents contain material that’s deeply damaging—secrets the custodians have yet to find. “I think they think there’s a smoking gun in there that would be the death of them all politically,” Snowden says. “The fact that the government’s investigation failed—that they don’t know what was taken and that they keep throwing out these ridiculous huge numbers—implies to me that somewhere in their damage assessment they must have seen something that was like, ‘Holy shit.’ And they think it’s still out there.”

Yet it is very likely that no one knows precisely what is in the mammoth haul of documents—not the NSA, not the custodians, not even Snowden himself. He would not say exactly how he gathered them, but others in the intelligence community have speculated that he simply used a web crawler, a program that can search for and copy all documents containing particular keywords or combinations of keywords. This could account for many of the documents that simply list highly technical and nearly unintelligible signal parameters and other statistics.

And there’s another prospect that further complicates matters: Some of the revelations attributed to Snowden may not in fact have come from him but from another leaker spilling secrets under Snowden’s name. Snowden himself adamantly refuses to address this possibility on the record. But independent of my visit to Snowden, I was given unrestricted access to his cache of documents in various locations. And going through this archive using a sophisticated digital search tool, I could not find some of the documents that have made their way into public view, leading me to conclude that there must be a second leaker somewhere. I’m not alone in reaching that conclusion. 

Scottish independence essay: Nordic model a fantasy

The Scottish National Party cannot get enough of the Nordic model. The Nordic model is not only vastly superior to the English model – it provides people with a higher standard of living while guaranteeing a safety net that is so generous that fathers get a year’s worth of paternity leave. It is also more in tune with Scotland’s collectivist and egalitarian tradition. 

The biggest problem with the SNP’s Scandimania, however, is that it is in love with a Nordic model that was traded in for a new model more than two decades ago.

The Nordics spent almost 50 years after the war trying to perfect the People’s Home. By the early 1990s Sweden’s government gobbled up three-quarters of national wealth and Sweden’s top-rate tax payers handed over almost all their income in taxes. But the People’s Home became increasingly dilapidated: Sweden went from being the fourth-richest country in Europe in the early 1970s to the 14th richest in the early 1990s, behind Britain and Italy. And the Home collapsed completely in a succession of crises in the early 1990s that saw banks collapse and interest rates rising to 500 per cent.

Since then the Nordics have introduced a radically new economic model that owes more to Thatcherism than to socialism. Sweden has reduced the size of its government from 67 per cent of GDP in 1993 to 49 per cent of GDP today and reduced its tax burden dramatically, slashing its top rate of tax by 27 percentage points since 1983, abolishing tax on property, gifts, wealth and inheritance, and cutting its corporation tax. It has also donned a golden straitjacket that obliges it to balance its budget over the three-year economic cycle.

The Nordics have gone further than Mrs Thatcher ever dreamed in reforming the welfare state. Sweden gives all children the equivalent of a school voucher and allowed private companies to run public schools. Denmark has gone even further: parents can use state money to send their children to private schools and then top it up with their own money. Private companies (many of them backed by private equity companies) run a quarter of Sweden’s primary care practices and some of its leading hospitals.

Norway is opening its welfare-state to welfare entrepreneurs: the new hospital in Oslo is being built with private money. It is also doing everything it can to promote private-sector entrepreneurs: private companies are selling Norway’s oil extraction skills across the world. Norway, just like the rest of Scandinavia, is much closer to Mrs Thatcher’s vision of an entrepreneurial society than to Olaf Palme’s vision of a socialist paradise.

“During the final decade of the 19th century (an ‘epochal watershed’), the best rooms in the largest buildings ‘migrated’ from low to high in a decisive reversal of ‘hierarchic order’, while the worst went in the opposite direction. In Europe’s grand hotels, for example, the worst rooms had traditionally been at the top, since only poor people and hotel staff could be expected to climb all those flights of stairs. Lifts, however, ‘freed the upper storeys from the stigma of inaccessibility and lent them an unheard-of glamour’.”

'Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History'

In the early 18th century, Peter the Great abolished the patriarchate and the elected church councils, replacing them with a bureaucratic office called the Holy Synod. This meant that, in the opinion of most prelates, the church was not governed in accordance with canon law. At the height of the Revolution, however, an elected Orthodox church council re-created the patriarchate. This was the moment when the church at last emancipated itself from the secular power. In the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, just up the river and within hearing distance of the artillery pounding the Kremlin, councillors put forward three candidates for the restored office. The final choice was made not by adding up votes but by drawing lots, a procedure that was supposed to reflect God’s will rather than human caprice. An elderly monk drew the tokens, and Tikhon, Metropolitan of Moscow (who had received the smallest number of ‘human’ votes), was duly appointed patriarch.

His enthronement took place in the Kremlin on 21 November 1917. Members of the council were able to attend, but few ordinary Muscovites were there. The Soviet authorities had just taken command of the sacred space, and their sentries stopped the unauthorised from entering. The Kremlin itself was a sorry spectacle after the Red Guards’ bombardment: the Chudov Monastery was pockmarked by shells, the Dormition Cathedral had lost one of its domes and the debris of battle lay everywhere. But the bishops and archbishops assembled in their finery in the useable parts of the cathedral. Tikhon followed them in procession and was escorted to the dais, where after a solemn service his episcopal garments were taken off and the patriarchal robes and klobuk (ceremonial cap), unused for two hundred years, brought out of the vestry for him. Finally he was greeted by all as ‘Our most holy father Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia’. It is said that the Red soldiers, who had smoked and laughed at the back of the cathedral during the service, knelt in front of the new patriarch as he proceeded out into the square.

It was a coincidence most unwelcome to the new Soviet authorities that Russia had once again acquired a patriarch just as they were taking power. After a few years, they arrested Tikhon and downgraded the patriarchate, permitting only a locum tenens. The principal sacred site of the atheist state was to be the mausoleum on Red Square, which housed Lenin, the Soviet ‘patriarch’. Visitors queued for hours to peer into the glass-encased catafalque at the embalmed corpse.

In the middle of the Second World War, however, it occurred to Stalin that a genuine patriarchate might have its uses. He began to dream of using the Orthodox Church as the tsars had done, to augment Russia’s influence in the Balkans and Middle East, and even to create a kind of Orthodox Vatican. This couldn’t be done without a patriarch, so in 1943 Stalin hurriedly summoned a pliant (and unelected) church council, which elected a new patriarch, Sergei Stragorodsky, the former locum.