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the global forum
Ajay Kaul, Author Mumbai Matinee Ajay Kaul, Author Mumbai Matinee
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Diego, CA
Friday, April 1, 2022

the global forumhttps://theglobalforum.wordpress.commusings of a global gypsySun, 28 Nov 2021 02:11:57 +0000enhourly 1 http://wordpress.com/https://s0.wp.com/i/buttonw-com.pngthe global forumhttps://theglobalforum.wordpress.comThe Lockdown, Working Remote and the Great Resignationhttps://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2021/10/24/the-lockdown-working-remote-and-the-great-resignation/https://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2021/10/24/the-lockdown-working-remote-and-the-great-resignation/#respondMon, 25 Oct 2021 01:42:25 +0000http://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/?p=1273Read More The Lockdown, Working Remote and the Great Resignation]]>March, 2020 and the Covid Pandemic created a global lockdown. Businesses, employees and consumers faced uncertainty with respect to income and availability of necessities and panic buying ensued.

When the dust settled, realization dawned that the economy could continue to operate in most scenarios with workers working remotely. Team conferencing tools like Zoom and Slack saw a surge in demand and for more than a year, the world moved without moving. Goods and services were offered and consumed while employees continued to work from their respective homes.  All of a sudden, the virtues of working from the comfort of one’s home, began to be extolled – the flexibility of work hours and the reduction of stress were important factors. And Companies started outdoing each other with respect to extending the time period for their employees to work from home.

But a year and half into the pandemic, with the restrictions still on, Companies have started witnessing the Great Resignation – employees quitting en masse, citing burnout.

Wait! Burnout? How’s that possible? Wasn’t remote work supposed to be a stress eliminator? After all, what can substitute the comfort of the home?

Yes, but reality ended up being a lot different.

The core issues:

Remote working led to flexible work hours – employees could choose their own work schedule. This was great in the beginning but it led to longer work hours. 9 to 5 evolved into 9 to 9 and slowly that ended up as 7 to 11. When working in a team environment, you need at least a 4 to 6 hours of overlap with your co-workers to accomplish stuff. So more flexible the schedule, the more extended the work hours to enable catching up with the schedule of others. Employees suddenly realized that their work day just didn’t seem to end. This ultimately led to the burnout.

But burnout is not the only factor behind the Great Resignation.

A bigger factor is isolation.

Imagine a typical day in the office pre-pandemic. You walk into the Office and look around you – a score of hellos greet you in a chorus – it’s a bright start to your day.

You’re soon immersed into a project that has a tight timeline. Just when you’re feeling overwhelmed, one of your colleagues walks up to you and asks – “coffee time?”

As the two of you walk up to the break room, you share what has had you overwhelmed. Your colleague shares a few pointers to get out of the gridlock you’re in and a few sips into the cup of coffee, you feel you have a path forward.

Lunch break finds you in the break room in a bigger company of your colleagues. The camaraderie and the engagement  is what keeps you connected with your employer.

And now imagine a typical day in your Home Office during the pandemic. You’re at your desk at 7:00 AM. Nobody around you to bring you up to speed with respect to what has happened while you were sleeping. Your engagement with your colleagues is strictly work related via a Zoom or Slack call. You know your colleagues are as overwhelmed as you, so you don’t want to waste their time with small talk or why you’re feeling overwhelmed. All of a sudden, the only interaction you have with your work colleagues is work related. This isolation has led to melancholy which in turn has led to individuals rethinking if all the burnout is worth it.

The conclusion – time to quit and get a break. The end result at an Organizational level – the Great Resignation.

The solution:

So, is there a solution? A way out?

Yes – but the solutions will only be able to contain the problem, not resolve.

Some basic rules have to be implemented around remote work – flexibility needs to be managed. Teams should ensure that at least there’s a 4 hour work hour availability overlap across the team. That could be 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM or 2 hour slots during morning and afternoon.

Along with the 4-hour overlap, the start and stop times need to be set as well – like don’t set up meetings before 8:00 AM and no later than 6:00 PM. In other words, a clean delineation between work and non-work. So, across the team, the work day starts no earlier than xx and ends no later than yy.

The fundamental question to answer though is, will the employees/team members agree to this or prefer to keep the schedule super flexible which will eventually lead to burnout?

The second, equally important item is virtualizing the coffee and lunch chats. Informal Chat rooms with Zoom/Slack need to be created where employees are frequently chatting through the day, with their co-workers about non-work stuff. In short, the Break Room needs to be virtualized.

Maintaining camaraderie with the team is a critical factor with respect to employee retention and keeping the team together.

On top of this, team meetings and get-togethers need to increase in frequency. Even though virtual, having face time with team members in a relaxed setting can work wonders on several counts.

When looked at with respect to all the factors in play, remote work though a convenient option, is not going to be a permanent one. The work habits and schedules will change post pandemic, but just like we’re not going to be in the Office hundred percent of the time, we’re not going to be remote hundred percent either.

Legends of Leadership and Management: Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945)https://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/legends-of-leadership-and-management-franklin-d-roosevelt-1882-1945/https://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/legends-of-leadership-and-management-franklin-d-roosevelt-1882-1945/#respondMon, 25 May 2020 06:25:06 +0000http://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/?p=1249Read More Legends of Leadership and Management: Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945)]]>As the 32nd President of the United States, he guided the country through the Great Depression of the 1930s and most of World War II. Through the course of World War II, he envisioned the new World Order post World War II, including the United Nations. As a manager, he operated with the mantra, “I have no expectation of making a hit every time I come to bat, what I seek is the highest possible batting average.”

For his unique inspirational leadership, a brilliant ability to experiment and implement and a unique style of communicating with his electorate, Franklin D. Roosevelt makes it to the list of legends of leadership and management.

FDR: wikipedia.org

A results oriented executor: the first hundred days

The day before FDR’s inauguration, banks in 32 of the country’s 48 states had closed and deposits evaporated. Money was completely useless — there was nothing to buy.

On Saturday, March 4, 1933, FDR delivered his famous “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” inaugural speech and got into the weeds right away. While thousands were still attending inaugural celebrations, FDR invited his cabinet to the White House where Justice Benjamin Cardozo swore them in as a group — a bipartisan mix of conservatives and liberals, including the first female Secretary of Labor.

That night, FDR stayed up past 1 a.m. with longtime aide Louis Howe, discussing the plan that would become known as the “Hundred Days,” a bold experiment in governing that set the bar for new leaders. Henceforth, the first hundred days for executives in all types of institutions would become the symbolic benchmark for measuring their early successes.

On Sunday, March 5, 1933, FDR met with Congressional leaders to enlist their support, and then issued a proclamation closing the country’s banks until Congress could pass reform legislation. The following Thursday, Congress convened in a 100-day special session and in just seven hours, legislation safeguarding banks and depositors was introduced, passed and signed. After passage of the Emergency Banking Relief Act, three out of every four banks were open within a week.

FDR’s first days in office set the tone for his presidency and were characterized by speed, confidence and a willingness to try new things. “There are many ways of going forward,” he noted, “but only one way of standing still.”

During the Hundred Days, FDR introduced — and Congress established — dozens of agencies that stimulated farm programs, initiated conservation programs, outlawed child labor and lifted wages. Timing helped. With war looming, American industry awoke — providing new jobs and what Roosevelt called the “great arsenal of democracy.”

FDR New Deal Cartoon (http://apushcanvas.pbworks.com)

Two key recovery measures of The Hundred Days were the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) and the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The AAA established the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which was charged with increasing prices of agricultural commodities and expanding the proportion of national income going to farmers. Although quite controversial when introduced—especially because it required the destruction of newly planted fields at a time when many Americans were going hungry—the AAA program gradually succeeded in raising farmers’ incomes. However, it was not until 1941 that farm income reached even the inadequate level of 1929.

Another important recovery measure was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a public corporation created in 1933 to build dams and hydroelectric power plants and to improve navigation and flood control in the vast Tennessee River basin. The TVA, which eventually provided cheap electricity to impoverished areas in seven states along the river and its tributaries, reignited a long-standing debate over the proper role of government in the development of the nation’s natural resources. The constitutionality of the agency was challenged immediately after its establishment but was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1936.

In addition to programs aimed at providing economic relief for workers and farmers and creating jobs for the unemployed, Roosevelt initiated a slate of reforms of the financial system, notably the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to protect depositors’ accounts and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate the stock market and prevent abuses of the kind that led to the 1929 crash. Both these entities have stood the test of time and exist in equal importance even today.

Connecting with his audience

FDR wanted to communicate directly with the electorate instead of them reading or hearing second hand opinion and commentary via the newspapers and radio. So he offered voters a chance to receive information unadulterated through the new medium of radio via his fireside chats.

Radio was a new-fangled technology during his time in office, but the president used it to good effect and he became one of the best orators of the 20th century.

FDR Radio broadcast (britannica.com)

The fireside chats were a series of evening radio addresses given by the President between 1933 and 1944. Roosevelt spoke with familiarity to millions of Americans about the promulgation of the Emergency Banking Act in response to the banking crisis, the recession, New Deal initiatives, and the course of World War II. On radio, he was able to quell rumors and explain his policies. His tone and demeanor communicated self-assurance during times of despair and uncertainty. Roosevelt was regarded as an effective communicator on radio, and the fireside chats kept him in high public regard throughout his presidency. Their introduction was later described as a “revolutionary experiment with a nascent media platform.

Roosevelt first used the radio fireside chats in 1929 as Governor of New York. Roosevelt was a Democrat facing a conservative Republican legislature, so during each legislative session he would occasionally address the residents of New York directly. His third gubernatorial address on April 3, 1929, on WGY radio was his first fireside chat.

In these speeches, Roosevelt appealed to radio listeners for help getting his agenda passed. Letters poured in after each of these addresses, which helped pressure legislators to pass measures Roosevelt had proposed.

Before his tenure, the White House mailroom was staffed by one mailperson, but within a week of his first radio appearance 70 people were needed to cope with almost 500,000 letters of appreciation.

The Third Term and post-World War world

While the world was in the throes of the World War II, Roosevelt went for an unprecedented third term and won. In the 1944 State of the Union Address, he advocated that Americans should think of basic economic rights as a Second Bill of Rights. He stated that all Americans should have the right to “adequate medical care”, “a good education”, “a decent home”, and a “useful and remunerative job”. In the most ambitious domestic proposal of his third term, Roosevelt proposed the G.I. Bill, which would create a massive benefits program for returning soldiers. Benefits included post-secondary education, medical care, unemployment insurance, job counseling, and low-cost loans for homes and businesses. The G.I. Bill passed unanimously in both houses of Congress and was signed into law in June 1944. Of the fifteen million Americans who served in World War II, more than half benefitted from the educational opportunities provided for in the G.I. Bill

On December 8, 1941, the day after Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress, which declared war on Japan. The first president to leave the country during wartime, Roosevelt spearheaded the alliance between countries combating the Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan), meeting frequently with Churchill and seeking to establish friendly relations with the Soviet Union and its leader, Joseph Stalin. Meanwhile, he spoke constantly on the radio, reporting war events and rallying the American people in support of the war effort (as he had for the New Deal).

He was a commander in chief who worked with and sometimes around his military advisers. He helped develop a strategy for defeating Germany in Europe through a series of invasions, first in North Africa in November 1942, then Sicily and Italy in 1943, followed by the D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944.

At the same time, Allied forces rolled back Japan in Asia and the eastern Pacific. During this time, Roosevelt promoted the formation of the United Nations.

In 1942, Roosevelt formed a new body, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which made the final decisions on American military strategy. The Joint Chiefs were chaired by Admiral William D. Leahy, the most senior officer in the military. Roosevelt avoided micromanaging the war and let his top military officers make most decisions. Roosevelt’s civilian appointees handled the draft and procurement of men and equipment, but no civilians – not even the secretaries of War or Navy – had a voice in strategy. Roosevelt avoided the State Department and conducted high-level diplomacy through his aides, especially Harry Hopkins, whose influence was bolstered by his control of the Lend Lease funds

On January 1, 1942, the United States, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and twenty-two other countries (the Allied Powers) issued the Declaration by United Nations, in which each nation pledged to defeat the Axis powers.

Roosevelt coined the term “Four Policemen” to refer to the “Big Four” Allied powers of World War II, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. They cooperated informally on a plan in which American and British troops concentrated in the West; Soviet troops fought on the Eastern front; and Chinese, British and American troops fought in Asia and the Pacific. The United States also continued to send aid via the Lend-Lease program to the Soviet Union and other countries. The Allies formulated strategy in a series of high-profile conferences as well as by contact through diplomatic and military channels.

In November 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met to discuss strategy and post-war plans at the Tehran Conference, where Roosevelt met Stalin for the first time. At the conference, Britain and the United States committed to opening a second front against Germany in 1944, while Stalin committed to entering the war against Japan at an unspecified date. Subsequent conferences at Bretton Woods and Dumbarton Oaks established the framework for the post-war international monetary system and the United Nations.

Yalta Conference and death

In 1944, as the tide of war turned toward the Allies, a weary and ailing Roosevelt managed to win election to a fourth term in the White House. The following February, he met with Churchill and Stalin in the Yalta Conference, where Roosevelt got Stalin’s commitment to enter the war against Japan after Germany’s impending surrender. (The Soviet leader kept that promise, but failed to honor his pledge to establish democratic governments in the eastern European nations then under Soviet control.) The “Big Three” also worked to build foundations for the post-war international peace organization that would become the United Nations.

After Roosevelt returned from Yalta, he was so weak that he was forced to sit down while addressing Congress for the first time in his presidency. In early April 1945, he left Washington and traveled to his cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had long before established a nonprofit foundation to aid polio patients. Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and died on April 12, 1945. He was succeeded in office by his vice president, Harry S. Truman.

His personality and legacy

FDR’s intelligence was apparent. He was a well-educated man from his youth, he attended Groton School in 1904, Columbia Law School from 1904-1907, Harvard College, Harvard University, and Columbia University. All through his educational career, he received good grades and realized that he excelled in law and politics. He was a quick study and had the patience to read books from cover to cover and talk to great lengths about any topic. He was able to learn a lot of information through conversations and that was his preferred method of learning.

During his run for office, FDR campaigned on a “New Deal” for America. While he was short on specifics, his energy, charisma and message of hope resonated. “Happy Days Are Here Again” played at all FDR events. Campaign Manager Jim Farley observed that Roosevelt’s “ability to discuss political issues in short, simple sentences made a powerful impression. There was a touch of destiny about the man.”

Biographer James M. Burns suggests that Roosevelt’s policy decisions were guided more by pragmatism than ideology and that he “was like the general of a guerrilla army whose columns, fighting blindly in the mountains through dense ravines and thickets, suddenly converge, half by plan and half by coincidence, and debouch into the plain below.” Roosevelt argued that such apparently haphazard methodology was necessary. “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation,” he wrote. “It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something

“I think,” Eleanor (Roosevelt) observed, “probably the thing that took most courage in his life was his mastery and his meeting of polio. I never heard him complain.” And though anyone remembering how athletic and strong he had been as a young man could not fail to realize what a terrific battle must have gone on within him, “he just accepted it as one of those things that was given you as discipline in life.” After his struggle with polio, he seemed less arrogant, less smug, less superficial, more focused, more complex, more interesting. “There had been a plowing up of his nature,” Labor Secretary Frances Perkins commented. “The man emerged completely warm-hearted, with new humility of spirit and a firmer understanding of philosophical concepts.” He had always taken great pleasure in people, but now they become what one historian has called “his vital links to life.” Far more intensely than before, he reached out to know them, to understand them, to pick up their emotions, to put himself into their shoes. No longer belonging to his old world in the same way, he came to empathize with the poor and the underprivileged, with people to whom fate had dealt a difficult hand.

During his Presidency, in absolute terms, the Real GDP went from $0.82 trillion in 1932 to $2.35 trillion in 1944. In terms of the GDP growth rate, from a -12.9% in 1932 to a healthy 8.0% in 1944. Unemployment which was at an alarming 23.6% in 1932 was brought down to a near-zero 1.2% in 1944.

US GDP during the FDR Presidency

Unemployment during FDR Presidency

FDR is often talked alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as one of America’s greatest Presidents. If Washington was the US President of the 18th century and Lincoln, the President of the 19th century, FDR certainly was the US President of the 20th century!

FDR’s leadership and courage during the worst years of the Great Depression and World War II are remembered as his lasting achievements. As one biographer noted, “He lifted himself from a wheelchair to lift the nation from its knees.”

The history, physics and economics of Pandemicshttps://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2020/03/21/the-history-physics-and-economics-of-pandemics/https://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2020/03/21/the-history-physics-and-economics-of-pandemics/#respondSat, 21 Mar 2020 22:09:29 +0000http://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/?p=1241Read More The history, physics and economics of Pandemics]]>Podcast: 1918: the Spanish Flu and a history of Pandemics

The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought the entire globe to a standstill. When will this Pandemic end or more generically, how does a Pandemic end? The short answer – a pandemic ends when it runs out of victims.

Infectious diseases become Pandemics when they are spread across the globe via carriers of the infection – essentially humans.

Infectious diseases like the Spanish flu spread exponentially as more and more soldiers got infected during World War I and continued to get deployed across the globe. Gradually, as people develop immunities, receive vaccines, or otherwise shield themselves from infection, the pool of possible victims dwindles until the virus can no longer sustain itself.

Epidemiologists often describe the rate of infection in terms of a reproduction number, the average number of new people whom each sick person will infect. If this number is higher than one, even by a small amount, the disease is still spreading. (One study estimates that the reproduction number of the Spanish flu was 1.49 when the disease first hit Geneva and a whopping 3.75 in the second wave, which came shortly thereafter). If the number is less than one, the disease is on the decline.

So let us look at some of the deadliest Pandemics in history and look for any patterns and lessons:


The Black Death (Bubonic Plague) (1347-1351)

The Black Death was a devastating global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. The plague arrived in Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. People gathered on the docks were met with a horrifying sight: most sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those still alive were gravely ill and covered in black boils that oozed blood and pus. Sicilian authorities hastily ordered the fleet of “death ships” out of the harbor, but it was too late: Over the next five years, the Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe – almost one-third of the continent’s population.

However, Europeans were scarcely equipped for the horrible reality of the Black Death. Blood and pus seeped out of these strange swellings, which were followed by a host of other unpleasant symptoms – fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, terrible aches and pains – and then, in short order, death. Today, scientists understand that the Black Death, now known as the plague, is spread by a bacillus called Yersina pestis, named after French biologist Alexandre Yersin who discovered it at the end of the 19th century. The bacillus travels from person to person pneumonically, or through the air, as well as through the bite of infected fleas and rats. Both of these pests were particularly prevalent aboard ships of all kinds – which is how the deadly plague made its way through Europe – one port city after another.

After Messina, the Black Death spread to the port of Marseilles in France and the port of Tunis in North Africa. Then it reached Rome and Florence, two cities at the center of an elaborate web of trade routes. By the middle of 1348, the Black Death had struck Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon and London.

The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population. In total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 475 million to 350–375 million in the 14th century. It took 200 years for Europe’s population to recover to its previous level and some regions like Florence only recovered by the 19th century.

The most visible impact of this pandemic was the end of serfdom. Before the plague, peasant serfs were confined to their lord’s estate and received little or no payment for their work. Overpopulation and shortage of resources led to malnutrition and extreme poverty for many peasants. After so many people died, serfs were free to move to other estates that provided better conditions and receive top pay for their work. Landowners, desperate for their labor, often provided free tools, housing, seed and farmland. The worker farmed all he could and paid only the rent.

Eventually two popular uprisings, La Jacquerie in France in 1358 and the Peasant’s Revolt in England in1381 followed the Black Death. Although the social and economic effects of the plague were not the primary cause for the downfall of feudalism and the rise of a mercantile class, most historians agree the Black Death contributed to it.

Smallpox (1520):

Smallpox is thought to have originated in India or Egypt at least 3,000 years ago. The earliest evidence for the disease comes from the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses V, who died in 1157 B.C. His mummified remains show telltale pockmarks on his skin.

The disease later spread along trade routes in Asia, Africa, and Europe, eventually reaching the Americas in the 1500s. In February of 1519, the Spaniard Hernán Cortés set sail from Cuba to explore and colonize Aztec civilization in the Mexican interior. Within just two years, Aztec ruler Montezuma was dead, the capital city of Tenochtitlan was captured and Cortés had claimed the Aztec empire for Spain. Spanish weaponry and tactics played a role, but most of the destruction was wrought by an epidemic of smallpox that gradually spread inward from the coast of Mexico and decimated the densely populated city of Tenochtitlan in 1520, reducing its population by 40 percent in a single year.

Indigenous populations in the Americas had never experienced the disease before the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the late 15th Century and thus had no immunity. Deadly smallpox pandemics raged through Mexico and Central America in the 1520s. All the diseases brought (unintentionally) by the explorers are thought to have led to a reduction in native populations of up to 90 percent.

Smallpox is caused by an inhaled virus, which causes fever, vomiting and a rash, soon covering the body with fluid-filled blisters. These turn into scabs which leave scars. Fatal in approximately one-third of cases, another third of those afflicted with the disease typically develop blindness.

The ability of smallpox to incapacitate and decimate populations made it an attractive agent for biological warfare. In the 18th century, the British tried to infect Native American populations. One commander wrote, “We gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the smallpox hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.”

The pandemic was finally brought under control through a vaccine by Dr. Edward Jenner. Jenner had noted that milkmaids, among others, who caught the cowpox from their animals rarely sickened with smallpox and resolved to test cowpox as a protection against smallpox. Jenner took material from a dairymaid’s cowpox and introduced it into scratches on an eight year old boys’ arms. He thus invented “vaccination” — a word whose root comes from the Latin for cow. Subsequently, mass vaccination against smallpox got going in the second half of the 1800s. And in 1980, the WHO declared smallpox eradicated.

Spanish Flu (1918-1919):

The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic infected 500 million people worldwide and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million — that’s more than all of the soldiers and civilians killed during World War I combined.

While the global pandemic lasted for two years, the vast majority of deaths were packed into three months in the fall of 1918. Historians now believe that the fatal severity of the Spanish flu’s “second wave” was caused by a mutated virus spread by wartime troop movements.

When the Spanish flu first appeared in early March 1918, it had all the hallmarks of a seasonal flu, albeit a highly contagious and virulent strain. One of the first registered cases was Albert Gitchell, a U.S. Army cook at Camp Funston in Kansas, who was hospitalized with a 104-degree fever. The virus spread quickly through the Army installation, home to 54,000 troops. By the end of the month, 1,100 troops had been hospitalized and 38 had died after developing pneumonia.

As U.S. troops deployed for the war effort in Europe, they carried the Spanish flu with them. Throughout April and May of 1918, the virus spread like wildfire through England, France, Spain and Italy. An estimated three-quarters of the French military was infected in the spring of 1918 and as many as half of British troops. Luckily, the first wave of the virus wasn’t particularly deadly, with symptoms like high fever and malaise usually lasting only three days, and mortality rates were similar to seasonal flu.

Interestingly, it was during this time that the Spanish flu earned its misnomer. Spain was neutral during World War I and unlike its European neighbors, it didn’t impose wartime censorship on its press. In France, England and the United States, newspapers weren’t allowed to report on anything that could harm the war effort, including news that a crippling virus was sweeping through troops. Since Spanish journalists were some of the only ones reporting on a widespread flu outbreak in the spring of 1918, the pandemic became known as the “Spanish flu.”

But, somewhere in Europe, a mutated strain of the Spanish flu virus emerged that had the power to kill a perfectly healthy young man or woman within 24 hours of showing the first signs of infection. In late August 1918, military ships departed the English port city of Plymouth carrying troops unknowingly infected with this new, far deadlier strain of Spanish flu. As these ships arrived in cities like Brest in France, Boston in the United States and Freetown in South Africa, the second wave of the global pandemic began. The World War I troop movement proved to be the carrier of this flu. The most bizzare was the mode of death – struck with blistering fevers, nasal hemorrhaging and pneumonia, the patients would drown in their own fluid-filled lungs.

Emergency hospital during influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas. (Image credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Decades later this phenomenon was known as “cytokine explosion.” When the human body is being attacked by a virus, the immune system sends messenger proteins called cytokines to promote helpful inflammation. But some strains of the flu, particularly the H1N1 strain responsible for the Spanish flu outbreak, can trigger a dangerous immune overreaction in healthy individuals. In those cases, the body is overloaded with cytokines leading to severe inflammation and the fatal buildup of fluid in the lungs. British military doctors conducting autopsies on soldiers killed by this second wave of the Spanish flu described the heavy damage to the lungs as akin to the effects of chemical warfare.

The core reason for the rapid spread of Spanish flu in the fall of 1918 was the public health officials unwilling to impose quarantines during wartime. The public health response to the crisis in the United States was further hampered by a severe nursing shortage as thousands of nurses had been deployed to military camps and the front lines. The shortage was worsened by the American Red Cross’s refusal to use trained African American nurses until the worst of the pandemic had already passed.

By December 1918, the deadly second wave of the Spanish flu had finally passed, but the pandemic was far from over. A third wave erupted in Australia in January 1919 and eventually worked its way back to Europe and the United States. It’s believed that President Woodrow Wilson contracted the Spanish flu during the World War I peace negotiations in Paris in April 1919.

The mortality rate of the third wave was just as high as the second wave, but the end of the war in November 1918 removed the conditions that allowed the disease to spread so far and so quickly. Global deaths from the third wave, while still in the millions, paled in comparison to the apocalyptic losses during the second wave.

The pandemic revealed just how many lives can be saved by social distancing: Cities that cancelled public events had far fewer cases. Just as the outbreak was unfolding, Philadelphia threw a parade with 200,000 people marching in support of the World War I effort; by the end of the week, 4,500 people were dead from the flu. Meanwhile, St. Louis shuttered public buildings and curtailed transit; the flu death rate there was half of Philadelphia’s.

The flu affected 28% of all Americans and claimed the lives of an estimated 675,000. The US industrial production and wider business activity dipped at the height of the pandemic in Oct 1918.

COVID-19 and Containment:


So there are 3 factors in play during an epidemic – the source, the containment and the vaccine.

In our rapidly shrinking and well connected world, containment of an epidemic becomes difficult. So it is extremely important to report the emergence of a new virus/illness in a timely fashion and even more important, is to react to the report and build defensive measures against the new virus/epidemic.

In case of COVID-19, we fell short on both counts. First, China underwent denial for more than a month (see Timeline) after the new virus was first reported in Wuhan, going to the extent of reprimanding the medical professionals who reported it. This behavior by a global superpower and a permanent member of the UN Security Council is utterly disgraceful!

The second failing was the rest of the world not implementing defenses against the virus in time. Even now, a lot of countries do not have adequate testing infrastructure to determine the blast radius of the virus in their respective countries.

So while we wait for a vaccine to be developed and approved – a few are already in clinical trials, our best bet is isolation/quarantine to cutoff any new targets for the virus. And the biggest hope is that governments across the globe and WHO are better prepared to deal with the next Pandemic.

A great example of an epidemic contained timely, is the SARS epidemic of 2003. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) incidentally, is an illness caused by one of the 7 coronaviruses that can infect humans. In 2003, an outbreak that originated in the Guangdong province of China, rapidly spread to a total of 26 countries, infecting just over 8,000 people and killing 774 of them.

But the impact of the SARS pandemic were largely limited due to an intense public health response by global authorities, including quarantining affected areas and isolating infected individuals. Here too, China took its own sweet time to report it to the world and various health organizations and it is high time that this issue is resolved though intelligent monitoring of new illnesses across the globe. We cannot continue fighting pandemics in the 21st century, using 19th century techniques.

The history and physics of Dictatorshipshttps://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/the-history-and-physics-of-dictatorships/https://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/the-history-and-physics-of-dictatorships/#respondMon, 08 Jul 2019 05:57:32 +0000http://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/?p=1228Read More The history and physics of Dictatorships]]>Podcast: 20th Century Dictators

December 1971 – East Pakistan ceded from its west wing and became Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. The newly independent Bangladesh looked forward to a new dawn under its new Prime Minister. But less than 4 years later, amid rising political agitation, post a catastrophic famine that killed a million and a half, Mujib declared a state of emergency and banned all political parties to initiate one party rule, in January 1975. Six months later, he and most of his family were assassinated by renegade army officers during a coup. A martial law government was subsequently established. Military dictators ruled Bangladesh for the next 16 years.

Sheikh Mujib assassination headlines

the history: Dictatorships – can be traced back to 510 B.C when the office of the Dictator was first created by the Roman Senate for emergency purposes, such as taking care of rebellions. During the time of the Republic, Rome was ruled by two consuls, and the Senate decided that in some cases it was necessary to have a single person making decisions. Sometimes, one of the consuls became dictator.

Dictators held authority over all other politicians, couldn’t be held legally responsible for their actions and couldn’t hold the office for longer than six months (although there were two exceptions to this rule). They could also change Roman law and the constitution, but they couldn’t use any public money other than what the Senate gave them, and they couldn’t leave Italy. Most dictators left office after they completed their tasks, even if their six months hadn’t yet elapsed.

the physics: How do Dictators come to power? One of the ways, as in our Bangladesh example, is the military toppling an inept regime. In certain parts of the world, the military looks upon itself as the ultimate protector of the nation. So when a democratic government begins to lose its hold on institutions due to ineptness or corruption, the military intervenes by toppling the regime via a coup. Pakistan and Bangladesh have been great examples of this scenario.

Kim Il-sung rebelled against Japan’s rule of Korea in the 1930s, which led to his exile in the Soviet Union. Korea was divided after Japan’s defeat in World War II and Kim came to lead the Soviet-backed North Korea. Backed by the Communist nations of the Soviet Union and China, Kim declared war on South Korea, claiming jurisdiction over the entire Korean peninsula. However, the United States came to the aid of Korea and this led to the armistice and cessation of hostilities in 1953. The Kim family members have been supreme leaders of North Korea since.

The Kim family follows a model of dynastic civilian dictatorship – a modern monarchy. It starts with the first member of the family getting installed at the helm by an external super power. The regime pushes an ideology – nationalism with a xenophobic, even racist, slant. Anti-Japanese sentiment, hostility to South Korea, and propaganda against the United States create legitimacy for the regime. As the regime inculcates its ideology and cult of personality, it strives for tighter controls on information, to prevent mass organization. The key to longevity is a strong rapport with a powerful ally who helps keep the economy alive and quell rebellion via a strong intelligence network

Kim Il-sung and son Kim Jong Il

Perhaps most important, the North Korean regime is brutal in its use of force. Dissent is detected through an elaborate network of informants working for multiple internal security agencies. People accused of relatively minor offenses undergo “reeducation”; those accused of more serious transgressions are either immediately executed or interred in miserable political prison camps. Even more daunting, according to the “three generations” policy, the regime punishes not only the individual responsible for the transgressions but his or her whole family.

.Among dictatorships, China has swung from absolute authoritarianism to a collaborative junta and back to an absolute dictatorship under Xi Jinping. When Chairman Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution in the summer of 1966, he was the absolute ruler – above any constitutional oversight, and bereft of any judiciary to be answerable to. After stamping his authority over China for a decade, his successor Deng Xiaoping implemented a host of economic and social reforms and China evolved into a market economy dictatorship – the power was still centralized in one individual, but trade and industry were open and allowed to flourish. Deng Xiaoping though, made one important change – establishment of term limits on the President in 1982 – six years after Mao’s death. Deng wanted to stay away from the cult of personality that Mao had indulged in. Subsequently, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao held the leadership position between 1992 and 2012, following the ten-year Presidential term limit between them.  During this time, the leadership was more distributed and collaborative. China had gone from being ruled by strongmen with personal credibility to leaders who were constrained by collective decision-making, term limits and other norms.

However, Xi Jingping reverted the Presidential term limit and established himself as President for life – smart move to ensure self-preservation. But will it work? Read: Xi-jinping-from-president-to-china-new-dictator

In my opinion it won’t, for two primary reasons – Xi lacks the cult personality that Mao possessed and promoted and in the era of economic boom, prosperity and social media (though suppressed in China), people have lot more reasons to denounce authoritarianism. The more absolute the authority, the more people will resist. The previous model would’ve sustained a little longer, though would’ve eventually collapsed.  So will we see another Tiananmen Square style mass protest soon? It is a possibility since In China, there is another class that is rising – the creators of wealth and that has caused tensions between the rulers and the capitalists. So money could finally decide the center of power in China – things to look out for, in the near future.

And then we come to the most dangerous form of dictatorship – the democratically elected dictator, Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe fall in this category. Incidentally, the most dangerous of ‘em all – Adolph Hitler too, was democratically elected.

Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler

Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933 after he ended a close second to the 84 year old Paul von Hindenburg in the nation’s Presidential elections. Following a suspicious fire in the German Reichstag, Hitler convinced President Hindenburg to pass an emergency law curbing personal liberties. This allowed Hitler to imprison the opposition leaders, giving him enough votes in the legislature to pass the Enabling Act – the law that gave Hitler the right to make laws without the legislature’s approval for the next four years! The rest is history. Read: Nazi control and dictatorship 1933-39

And that is the primary reason, dictatorships that are born out of democracies are most dangerous – the democratic institutions of legislature and judiciary continue to exist side-by-side with the Executive, but they are completely in control of the Executive. The Executive uses these institutions to manipulate the constitution to facilitate their re-election. Elections continue to be held, but the opposition is either behind bars or has been selectively eliminated. And since the leaders are democratically elected, they claim a mandate for their actions, essentially undermining democratic institutions.

It takes a while for the people to realize that they are in a dictatorship. And the primary reason it takes a while, is curtailment of the press. Press Freedom is the first casualty in a new dictatorship. When Indira Gandhi enforced Emergency upon India in 1975, printing presses of several newspapers across the country were raided over the next two days, resulting in the newspapers going out of circulation

Blank newspaper issue on day of India emergency 1975

The driving force behind dictatorship, is the lure of power and to hold on to it permanently. While military dictatorships face immediate opposition because of the nature of the power grab, the democratically elected dictators are able to use the set up to their advantage and last lot longer. In the era of social media, the ability for citizens to organize has increased significantly – this was most reflective in the Arab Spring of late 2010, which led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. No population will allow itself to be subjugated, but organization is key to getting its voice heard and information, notably social media censorship creates a huge barrier towards organization. This is one of the primary reasons for the survival of the Kim civilian monarchy in North Korea.

A bright silver lining in the cloud of suppressive regimes recently emerged in the case of Sudan. After 30 years of dictatorship under President Omar Hassan-al-Bashir and a month of brutal violence against pro-democracy protestors, back-room negotiations led to a power sharing agreement between the military and civilian leaders, till elections are held in three years. The key here was that diplomats from the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates convened Sudan’s military and protest leaders to come to the table to negotiate. Saudi Arabia and UAE had previously been pro military regime in Sudan, but the military led June 3 massacre in which at least 128 people were killed, induced a change in thinking and led by the US and Britain, Saudi Arabia and UAE put pressure on the military to initiate a dialog. Read: Power sharing deal in Sudan

If regimes that support dictatorships were to withdraw support, the transition to democracy would be lot easier. But in several cases like North Korea, the regime supporting the dictator is itself a dictatorship. So the transition is going to be long and hard, but there will be transition. By nature humans are pro-independence and freedom, but rulers tend to prefer absolute power. And in the struggle between the two, the citizens are bound to win, based on sheer numbers.

Listen: How Myanmar got here

Freedom profile of the globe

Great Management Disasters in history: India’s partitionhttps://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/great-management-disasters-in-history-indias-partition/https://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/great-management-disasters-in-history-indias-partition/#respondWed, 10 Apr 2019 07:14:47 +0000http://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/?p=1215Read More Great Management Disasters in history: India’s partition]]>Podcast: 1947-india-partition-chaos

The manager abdicated his accountability and those around him did not call this out. The end result was a human tragedy that rivaled the holocaust: 2 million massacred and 15 million rendered homeless! For the utter callous, unplanned and irresponsible way that it was managed, India’s partition in 1947, makes it to the list of Great Management Disasters in history.

The partition of the Indian sub-continent into the nations of India and Pakistan in 1947 was meant to ease tensions between two groups, but it led to a colossal human tragedy where two million lost their lives and fifteen million were rendered homeless. Evaluation of key facts points to gross mismanagement by the British who were in a hurry to leave the sub-continent after their coffers had been rendered empty post World War II. India had been a jewel in the British Crown for two hundred years, but suddenly after World War II, it turned into a liability for the Colonial Empire.

Mountbatten, flanked by Nehru and Jinnah, announced the partition of India |wikimwdia

The Labor Party led by Clement Attlee came to power in Britain in 1945 post World War II and set a target of June 1948 to grant independence to India. Post World War II, staying in India was no longer financially viable for the British. So when Luis Mountbatten landed in India in March, 1947 as the last Viceroy, his primary task was to determine the path for a transfer of power to an Indian government within the June 1948 deadline.

The environment: Tensions were running high in India when Luis Mountbatten arrived as the last Viceroy. The two major political parties – the Indian National Congress led by Nehru and the Muslim League led by Jinnah, were at odds with each other. Jinnah was insisting on dividing the sub-continent into a Muslim majority Pakistan and a Hindu majority India. He was concerned that the 25% Muslim minority would lose its voice in a Hindu dominated India. The Indian National Congress was strictly opposed to the division and Sir Winston Churchill, the leader of the opposition, was in favor of a gradual handover of power to India. Read: Churchill letter to Attlee

Newspaper headlines covering Calcutta Riots of 1946

A stark reminder to Mountbatten about the dwindling law and order resources at his disposal was the Direct Action Day riots in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in August 1946 that left about five thousand dead. Muslim League leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had called for a Direct Action Day on August 16, 1946 to drive home his demand for a separate nation for Muslims.  Rioting erupted soon after a huge crowd collected in the center of Calcutta to demand a separate Pakistan. With policemen absent, the rioting lasted three full days before the army was called in. By then, about five thousand lives had been lost. This was the first sign of British abdication of responsibility and authority in India post World War II.

Time, resources, scope and Budget: Viceroy Mountbatten had about a year to finalize the transfer of power to ensure a smooth transition to the new governments. Intelligence reports from the provinces of Punjab and Bengal indicated that there was unrest – more administrative/law enforcement resources were needed to ensure peace in these provinces. But Britain was in a hurry to get out and the last battalion of armed forces was returned to Britain in June of 1947. With a depleted group of law and order resources at his disposal, Mountbatten dropped a bombshell – independence would be granted and the sub-continent divided into India and Pakistan by August 15, 1947 – in less than three months and almost a year ahead of the timeline set by Prime Minister Attlee. So in one stroke, Mountbatten had increased the scope of the initiative, cut the budget and resources available to enforce law and order and shortened the timeline for the completion of the project. In short, a perfect recipe for disaster had been created.

Lack of Communication: While we place a lot of blame on Mountbatten and the British government, the political leaders – Nehru and Jinnah added to the confusion by not communicating the implication of the partition. The announcement that the sub-continent would be partitioned into India and Pakistan and handed over to the respective governments within three months, took everyone by surprise and created confusion. What did the partition mean to the residents? Both Jinnah and Nehru intended Pakistan and India to be secular nations. This meant that the current population mix could stay unchanged. Mountbatten too, did not communicate that the boundaries would be laid out based on the 1941 census. The population panicked – rumors started floating – people started taking on themselves to facilitate the creation of the boundaries – push out the minority as much as possible. The result: minorities on both sides ended up at the receiving end. The moment the plan was announced, ethnic cleansing started and due to a lack of law enforcement resources, the carnage kept getting bolder with each passing day.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the head of the Boundary Commission finished drawing the boundaries and presented them to Mountbatten on August 9, 1947. But Mountbatten sat on it for one whole week, till August 17 – two full days after independence. Both Nehru and Jinnah had no idea where their countries’ boundaries lay when they hoisted their respective national flags. And suddenly, two days after the new nations were formed, people realized that they were on the wrong side of the boundary. The ethnic cleansing that had started before independence, went into high gear. The British intent in delaying the announcement of the boundaries post transfer of power is a clear abdication of accountability. Mountbatten himself shared his decision for delaying the announcement – he did not want the British to be entangled in the partition violence and held responsible for it.

Planning/Logistics: While the political leaders were engaged in the “partition – yes or no” debate, there was no thought given to the logistics of the partition. Sir Cyril Radcliffe was identified as the owner of laying out the boundaries, but he was given just one month to finish the job!

Sir Cyril Radcliffe and the Radcliffe Lines |indiatimes.com

No thought was put to how movement of people would be managed. All sides seemed to be hoping that there would be no movement of people across the two countries. But people did move – en masse – they moved on foot, on bullock carts and on cramped trains. With limited administrative support, hundreds of thousands of migrants died of starvation, exhaustion and lack of medical care. The most gruesome of all modes of mass transport were the trains, some mere coal wagons. Without proper escort, they ended up being mass graveyards in motion as they got attacked at various stations en-route to the final destination. The minuscule few that had armed escort were the ones that finally made it alive to their respective destinations. Since provincial governors had been providing reports of unrest in the border provinces, to not plan for mass migration was an abject dereliction of duty. Mountbatten was asked by a few leaders to be prepared for mass migrations, but he gave mere lip service, knowing he was short on resources. Watch: The Day India burned

The result: About 2 million lost their lives across both sides of the border. 15 million were rendered homeless – that meant thousands of refugee camps sprung up in both countries to provide food and shelter to the displaced masses. Lady Mountbatten was so horrified at the outcome that she herself started volunteering at the refugee camps. It took about a decade to resettle the migrants – about 3% of the population ended up being migrants.

On the demographic side, the entire landscape of South Asia underwent a drastic change. In 1941, Karachi, Pakistan’s first capital, was 47.6 per cent Hindu. Delhi, the capital of independent India, was one-third Muslim. By the end of the decade, almost all the Hindus of Karachi had fled, while two hundred thousand Muslims had been forced out of Delhi. The most impacted city though, was the bustling metropolis of Lahore – one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cities in British India, culturally and economically. Lahore was in flames and several key landmarks like the Shahalam Market were razed.  It took several decades to get back its vibrancy, but it was never able to regain its cosmopolitan vibe. Read: Post-partition Lahore

Post-mortem: At the core of the tragedy was a lack of law enforcement resources and the hurried exit of the British. If Mountbatten had not compressed the one year timeline to less than three months after announcement of the partition, the chaos and the bloodshed could’ve definitely been avoided. Sticking to the original timeline would’ve ensured re-establishment of law and order before transfer of power as depicted in the original timeline below:

Mountbatten’s foremost task should’ve been to restore law and order and establish confidence in the administration across India after the Calcutta riots of 1946. It was clear that a bunch of miscreants were causing trouble across a few provinces and these elements needed to be brought to book instead of being given a free hand.

After partition was announced, a lot of thought and effort needed to be spent on managing the logistics – from communicating to the public about the process of laying out the boundaries to setting up transport and medical infrastructure to support migration. The two month timeline for handover of partition was ridiculous and should’ve been called out by the ruling Labor party as well as the political leaders – Nehru and Jinnah.  Nehru and Jinnah seemed more excited about taking on the reigns of government than thinking about the safety of their peoples. They should’ve spent a lot of time with the masses assuring them that minorities on either side of the boundaries could stay put without any fear of violence. The gradual transfer of power should’ve included appointing a few regional Governors with outside support of the British administrators, while retaining British control over key provinces like Punjab and Bengal. Gandhi, who was a brilliant mass-communicator, went into a shell, disappointed that the country was being partitioned. Gandhi took to fasting to induce mobs to give up violence. Instead, Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah should’ve pressed Mountbatten to boost the security infrastructure and set that as a pre-condition to any political dialog.

Surprisingly, the carnage of the partition got lost in history books, maybe because the world was busy in re-construction after a deadly World War II or maybe the British Empire used it’s might to suppress any coverage. The leaders of Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan were tried under the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, but no investigation or trial was carried out to book the guilty in the gross human carnage that followed the partition.

Seventy years after the partition, India inaugurated the Partition Museum on August 25, 2017 in the city of Amritsar – to maintain a central repository of stories, materials, and documents related to the post-partition riots and migrations that followed the partition.

The world acknowledged the partition migration as the biggest mass migration in recent human history, yet stopped short of investigating what led to it. In the end, it was a clear abdication of accountability and responsibility on part of the British and Mountbatten. The crown jewel of the British Empire deserved a better parting gift than a hurried exit.

Any stories you can share where the leaders abdicated accountability, leading to a disastrous outcome?

Denmark: the land of castles, Hans Christian Andersen and low carbon footprinthttps://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2019/01/15/denmark-the-land-of-castles-hans-christian-andersen-and-low-carbon-footprint/https://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/2019/01/15/denmark-the-land-of-castles-hans-christian-andersen-and-low-carbon-footprint/#respondWed, 16 Jan 2019 05:13:32 +0000http://theglobalforum.wordpress.com/?p=1172Read More Denmark: the land of castles, Hans Christian Andersen and low carbon footprint]]>
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