Johnson: ‘Terrifying limbless chickens’ but little Brexit

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London on September 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 September 2019

Johnson: ‘Terrifying limbless chickens’ but little Brexit

  • In his notably energetic speech, Johnson said he was optimistic about technology’s future
  • Things Johnson didn’t address with any substance: Brexit

UNITED NATIONS: Things the beleaguered British prime minister said in his astonishing speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday night: “Pink-eyed Terminators from the future.” “Terrifying limbless chickens.” “Your fridge will beep for more cheese.”
Things Boris Johnson didn’t address with any substance: Brexit (though he mentioned it in a quip). The British court ruling earlier in the day that said he acted illegally by dissolving Parliament. The take-no-prisoners politics that some say are threatening his premiership and undermining his influence as Britain’s leader.
Many didn’t know what to expect Tuesday after the court ruling came down hours before Johnson’s inaugural UN General Assembly speech as prime minister.
But it’s safe to say few anticipated what he dramatically and energetically delivered: a caffeinated screed about the damage that technology can do if misused — and the glories it can hand humanity if it is delivered properly.
In his notably energetic speech, which ended after 10 p.m. as more than 12 hours of UN speeches were inching to their end, Johnson said he was optimistic about technology’s future — if humanity finds “the right balance between freedom and control.”
The first potential future that Johnson mapped out was decidedly dystopian — one where technology permeates every corner of human life, and not in a good way. Digital assistants pretending to take orders — but actually watching you and acting against your interests. Computers that decide what you’ll get, where you’ll be allowed to go, who you’ll be.
“You may keep secrets from your friends, from your parents, your children, your doctor — even your personal trainer — but it takes real effort to conceal your thoughts from Google,” he said. “And if that is true today, in future there may be nowhere to hide.”
That is not, he said, a good thing at all.
“Can these algorithms be trusted with our lives and hopes?” he asked, his delivery staccato and his hands jabbing with emphasis. “Are we doomed to a cold and hard future where a computer says ‘yes’ or ‘no’?“
But if things are done right, the prime minister said, a different story could unfold for all of us.
“How do you plead with an algorithm? How do you get it to see extenuating circumstances?” he said. “We need to find the right balance between freedom and control.”
The spirited, tech-focused address was extraordinary given that immediately after it, he was to head back early to his home country to face a maelstrom of political problems — including the consequences of the court ruling and hearty calls for him to resign as prime minister.
In the speech, Johnson mentioned Brexit only once — as a pointed aside while recalling the myth of Prometheus, who was chained to a rock by Zeus and sentenced to have his liver eaten out by an eagle for eternity. “And this went on forever,” he quipped, “a bit like the experience of Brexit in the U.K, if some of our parliamentarians had their way.”
But he said that with the right approach — one of “freedom, openness and pluralism” — and making sure that such voices are heard loudly “in the standards bodies that write the rules,” humanity can deliver itself to a brighter technological future.
“Together, we must ensure that new advances reflect our values by design,” he said, adding: “I am profoundly optimistic about the ability of new technology to serve as a liberator and remake the world wondrously and benignly. Indeed, in countless respects, technology is already doing just that.”
Then, his speech over, he headed to the airport. Within the hour, he was flying home.


No more tears: Dhaka to import onions from Pakistan to curb shortage

Updated 24 min 36 sec ago

No more tears: Dhaka to import onions from Pakistan to curb shortage

  • Despite optimism, some experts remain skeptical that the onion trade will lead to a new era of diplomatic ties

DHAKA: In a bid to mitigate an onion crisis in its local markets, Bangladesh has decided to import 300 tons of the vegetable from Pakistan after nearly 15 years, despite strained diplomatic relations between the two countries in recent years.

Relations between Islamabad and Dhaka have never recovered from the 1971 war, when Bangladeshi nationalists broke away from what was then West Pakistan. Most recently, relations have been marred by the trials of prisoners taken in Bangladesh during the war nearly five decades ago. Pakistan publicly condemned the trial process by Dhaka, which the latter considered an interference into its internal affairs.

The surprise decision to import from Pakistan was taken during a government-level discussion on Friday, when Bangladesh’s Tasho Enterprise finalized the deal with Karachi-based Roshan Enterprise, as reported by Pakistan’s The News International.

Last September, following a ban on onion exports in India, the price of onions in Bangladesh rose threefold.

Experts in Bangladesh said the rise of trade relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh, especially with the new “onion diplomacy” could prove to have some positive impact over diplomatic relations between Dhaka and Islamabad. 

“With this onion diplomacy, there is the chance of expanding trade relations between the countries,” Dr. Delwar Hossain of Dhaka University told Arab News, adding: “It will definitely have a good impact on diplomatic relations but I would not say it will create a new era of their relationship overnight.

“As a whole, if Bangladesh reviews its foreign policy in a pragmatic context, the latest onion import trading may take a positive turn in terms of diplomatic relations,” Hossain said.

Last year, Dhaka did not approve the appointment of a new Pakistan high commissioner in Bangladesh.

Islamabad has been waiting for the appointment’s approval for over a year, though it is expected to come soon, sources inside Pakistan’s Dhaka mission said.

Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the US Humayun Kabir told Arab News that the onion trade could open up a window for better diplomatic relations if the political leadership of both countries wanted it to, but that it was still too early to consider it a diplomatic win.

“Bangladesh needs onions and so we are importing them from Pakistan. But at this moment, there is not enough scope to attach it with diplomacy,” Kabir said. 

Dr. Shammi Ahmed, international affairs relations secretary of the ruling Awami League party, told Arab News that Bangladesh already had diplomatic relations with Pakistan but conceded there were problems between the two countries.  

“Importing onions from Pakistan is a government level decision. Bangladesh’s foreign policy also upholds the spirit of friendship with all nations,” he said, and added that the bilateral relationship could move in a “positive direction” in the days to come.

According to State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan’s exports and imports with Bangladesh during 2018 were $782 million and $67 million respectively.

But Mohammad Zamir, a former career diplomat, said there was little scope for politicizing the onion import, which was merely a necessity for Bangladesh.

“We have bilateral relations with Pakistan and have also imported many goods from the country in previous years. Currently, we are in need of onions and Bangladesh is also importing them from some other countries, like Myanmar, Egypt and Turkey for its national interest,” Zamir told Arab News. 

According to Muhammad Aurongzeb Haral, press councillor of Pakistan’s High Commission in Dhaka, trade was already showing a rising trend with signs of a new and “positive” attitude towards Pakistan in Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry.

Total bilateral trade figures for 2018 reached $850 million compared to $681 million for 2017, Haral said.

“Pakistan has been contributing to Bangladesh’s export industry and hence its economy by providing textile raw material to the country, and contributing to the ready-made garment industry exports of Bangladesh,” he continued.

“There is huge potential for further boosting of trade between the two countries.”