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Archive for August 9th, 2016

Psychologists recommend children be bored in the summer

Do you entertain your kids with chess camp, art school, cooking classes, or tennis lessons during the unstructured summer months? Or perhaps all of them?

There are activities and summer camps galore to fill children’s time and supply much needed childcare when kids are out of school. But psychologists and child development experts suggest that over-scheduling children during the summer is unnecessary and could ultimately keep kids from discovering what truly interests them. (This is a great idea for adults too)

“Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy,” says Lyn Fry, a child psychologist in London with a focus on education.

“If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”

Fry is not the only one to point out the benefits of boredom. Dr. Teresa Belton, visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia with a focus on the connection between boredom and imagination, told the BBC that boredom is crucial for developing “internal stimulus,” which then allows true creativity.

And though our capacity for boredom may well have diminished with all the attractions of the internet, experts have been discussing the importance of doing nothing for decades.

Esther Perel shared this link. August 5 at 8:09pm ·

“A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.”|By Olivia Goldhill

In 1993, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips wrote that the “capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child.” Boredom is a chance to contemplate life, rather than rushing through it, he said in his book On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life.

“It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him. Boredom is integral to the process of taking one’s time,” added Phillips.

Fry suggests that at the start of the summer, parents sit down with their kids—at least those above the age of four—and collectively write down a list of everything their children might enjoy doing during their break.

These can be basic activities, such as playing cards, reading a book, or going for a bicycle ride. They could also be more elaborate ideas such as cooking a fancy dinner, putting on a play, or practicing photography.

Then, if your child comes to you throughout the summer complaining of boredom, tell them to go and look at the list.

“It puts the onus on them to say, ‘This is what I’d like to do’,” says Fry.

While there’s a good chance children might mope around for a while and be bored, it’s important to realize that this isn’t wasted time.

 “There’s no problem with being bored,” says Fry. “It’s not a sin, is it? I think children need to learn how to be bored in order to motivate themselves to get things done. Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant.”

This same theory was put forward in 1930 by philosopher Bertrand Russell, who devoted a chapter of his book The Conquest of Happiness to the potential value of boredom.

Imagination and capacity to cope with boredom must be learnt as a child, he wrote:

“A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.”

Are making mistakes that essential?

“You show me a successful complex system, and I will show you a system that has evolved through trial and error.” (Mostly?)

God complex.  Almost all professionals in all disciplines believes he is absolutely certain in his convictions

Economics writer Tim Harford studies complex systems — and finds a surprising link among the successful ones: they were built through trial and error. In this sparkling talk from TEDGlobal 2011, he asks us to embrace our randomness and start making better mistakes

Tim Harford. Economist, journalist and broadcaster. His writings reveal the economic ideas behind everyday experiences. Full bio

Speech on July 2011

It’s the Second World War. A German prison camp. And this man, Archie Cochrane, is a prisoner of war and a doctor, and he has a problem. The problem is that the men under his care are suffering from an excruciating and debilitating condition that Archie doesn’t really understand. The symptoms are this horrible swelling up of fluids under the skin.

But he doesn’t know whether it’s an infection, whether it’s to do with malnutrition. He doesn’t know how to cure it.

And he’s operating in a hostile environment. And people do terrible things in wars.

The German camp guards, they’ve got bored. They’ve taken to just firing into the prison camp at random for fun. On one particular occasion, one of the guards threw a grenade into the prisoners’ lavatory while it was full of prisoners. He said he heard suspicious laughter.

And Archie Cochrane, as the camp doctor, was one of the first men in to clear up the mess. And one more thing: Archie was suffering from this illness himself.

1:23 So the situation seemed pretty desperate.  Archie Cochrane was a resourceful person. He’d already smuggled vitamin C into the camp, and now he managed to get hold of supplies of marmite (marmalade?)on the black market.

Some of you will be wondering what marmite is. Marmite is a breakfast spread beloved of the British. It looks like crude oil. It tastes zesty. And importantly, it’s a rich source of vitamin B12. So Archie splits the men under his care as best he can into two equal groups.

He gives half of them vitamin C. He gives half of them vitamin B12. He very carefully and meticulously notes his results in an exercise book. And after just a few days, it becomes clear that whatever is causing this illness, marmite is the cure (lack of vitamin B12. But this is No trial and error. It is an experiment designed to find the cause of the ailment)|By Tim Harford

So Cochrane then goes to the Germans who are running the prison camp. Now you’ve got to imagine at the moment — forget this photo, imagine this guy with this long ginger beard and this shock of red hair. He hasn’t been able to shave — a sort of Billy Connolly figure.

Cochrane starts ranting at these Germans in this Scottish accent — in fluent German, by the way, but in a Scottish accent — and explains to them how German culture was the culture that gave Schiller and Goethe to the world. And he can’t understand how this barbarism can be tolerated, and he vents his frustrations.

And then he goes back to his quarters, breaks down and weeps because he’s convinced that the situation is hopeless. But a young German doctor picks up Archie Cochrane’s exercise book and says to his colleagues, “This evidence is incontrovertible. If we don’t supply vitamins to the prisoners, it’s a war crime.” And the next morning, supplies of vitamin B12 are delivered to the camp, and the prisoners begin to recover.

I’m not telling you this story because I think Archie Cochrane is a dude, although Archie Cochrane is a dude. I’m not even telling you the story because I think we should be running more carefully controlled randomized trials in all aspects of public policy, although I think that would also be completely awesome.

I’m telling you this story because Archie Cochrane, all his life, fought against a terrible affliction, and he realized it was debilitating to individuals and it was corrosive to societies. And he had a name for it. He called it the God complex.

I can describe the symptoms of the God complex very easily. So the symptoms of the complex are, no matter how complicated the problem, you have an absolutely overwhelming belief that you are infallibly right in your solution.

Archie was a doctor, so he hung around with doctors a lot. And doctors suffer from the God complex a lot.

I’m an economist, I’m not a doctor, but I see the God complex around me all the time in my fellow economists.

I see it in our business leaders. I see it in the politicians we vote for — people who, in the face of an incredibly complicated world, are nevertheless absolutely convinced that they understand the way that the world works.

with the future billions that we’ve been hearing about, the world is simply far too complex to understand in that way.

 let me give you an example. Imagine for a moment that, instead of Tim Harford in front of you, there was Hans Rosling presenting his graphs. You know Hans: the Mick Jagger of TED. (Laughter) And he’d be showing you these amazing statistics, these amazing animations. And they are brilliant; it’s wonderful work.

But a typical Hans Rosling graph: think for a moment, not what it shows, but think instead about what it leaves out. So it’ll show you GDP per capita, population, longevity, that’s about it. So three pieces of data for each country — three pieces of data. Three pieces of data is nothing. I mean, have a look at this graph.

This is produced by the physicist Cesar Hidalgo. He’s at MIT. Now you won’t be able to understand a word of it, but this is what it looks like. Cesar has trolled the database of over 5,000 different products, and he’s used techniques of network analysis to interrogate this database and to graph relationships between the different products. And it’s wonderful, wonderful work.

You show all these interconnections, all these interrelations. And I think it’ll be profoundly useful in understanding how it is that economies grow. Brilliant work. Cesar and I tried to write a piece for The New York Times Magazine explaining how this works. And what we learned is Cesar’s work is far too good to explain in The New York Times Magazine.  (Explaining meta data analysis of various experiments that have Not much common ground in the designs)

Five thousand products — that’s still nothing. Five thousand products — imagine counting every product category in Cesar Hidalgo’s data. Imagine you had one second per product category. In about the length of this session, you would have counted all 5,000. Now imagine doing the same thing for every different type of product on sale in Walmart. There are 100,000 there.

It would take you all day. Now imagine trying to count every different specific product and service on sale in a major economy such as Tokyo, London or New York. It’s even more difficult in Edinburgh because you have to count all the whisky and the tartan. If you wanted to count every product and service on offer in New York — there are 10 billion of them it would take you 317 years.

This is how complex the economy we’ve created is. And I’m just counting toasters here. I’m not trying to solve the Middle East problem. The complexity here is unbelievable. And just a piece of context — the societies in which our brains evolved had about 300 products and services. You could count them in five minutes.

So this is the complexity of the world that surrounds us. This perhaps is why we find the God complex so tempting. We tend to retreat and say, “We can draw a picture, we can post some graphs, we get it, we understand how this works.” And we don’t. We never do.

 I’m not trying to deliver a nihilistic message here. I’m not trying to say we can’t solve complicated problems in a complicated world. We clearly can. But the way we solve them is with humility — to abandon the God complex and to actually use a problem-solving technique that works. And we have a problem-solving technique that works. Now you show me a successful complex system, and I will show you a system that has evolved through trial and error.

Here’s an example. This baby was produced through trial and error. I realize that’s an ambiguous statement. Maybe I should clarify it. This baby is a human body: it evolved. What is evolution? Over millions of years, variation and selection, variation and selection — trial and error, trial and error. And it’s not just biological systems that produce miracles through trial and error. You could use it in an industrial context.

 let’s say you wanted to make detergent. Let’s say you’re Unilever and you want to make detergent in a factory near Liverpool. How do you do it? Well you have this great big tank full of liquid detergent. You pump it at a high pressure through a nozzle. You create a spray of detergent. Then the spray dries. It turns into powder. It falls to the floor. You scoop it up. You put it in cardboard boxes. You sell it at a supermarket. You make lots of money.

How do you design that nozzle? It turns out to be very important. Now if you ascribe to the God complex, what you do is you find yourself a little God. You find yourself a mathematician; you find yourself a physicist — somebody who understands the dynamics of this fluid. And he will, or she will, calculate the optimal design of the nozzle. Now Unilever did this and it didn’t work — too complicated. Even this problem, too complicated.

But the geneticist Professor Steve Jones describes how Unilever actually did solve this problem — trial and error, variation and selection. You take a nozzle and you create 10 random variations on the nozzle. You try out all 10; you keep the one that works best. You create 10 variations on that one. You try out all 10. You keep the one that works best. You try out 10 variations on that one. You see how this works, right?

And after 45 generations, you have this incredible nozzle. It looks a bit like a chess piece — functions absolutely brilliantly. We have no idea why it works, no idea at all. And the moment you step back from the God complex — let’s just try to have a bunch of stuff; let’s have a systematic way of determining what’s working and what’s not — you can solve your problem.

 this process of trial and error is actually far more common in successful institutions than we care to recognize. And we’ve heard a lot about how economies function. The U.S. economy is still the world’s greatest economy. How did it become the world’s greatest economy?

I could give you all kinds of facts and figures about the U.S. economy, but I think the most salient one is this: 10% of American businesses disappear every year (No shame in taking risks and going bankrupt). That is a huge failure rate. It’s far higher than the failure rate of, say, Americans.

Ten percent of Americans don’t disappear every year. Which leads us to conclude American businesses fail faster than Americans, and therefore American businesses are evolving faster than Americans. And eventually, they’ll have evolved to such a high peak of perfection that they will make us all their pets — (Laughter) if, of course, they haven’t already done so.

I sometimes wonder. But it’s this process of trial and error that explains this great divergence, this incredible performance of Western economies. It didn’t come because you put some incredibly smart person in charge. It’s come through trial and error.

I’ve been sort of banging on about this for the last couple of months, and people sometimes say to me, “Well Tim, it’s kind of obvious. Obviously trial and error is very important. Obviously experimentation is very important. Now why are you just wandering around saying this obvious thing?”

So I say, okay, fine. You think it’s obvious? I will admit it’s obvious when schools start teaching children that there are some problems that don’t have a correct answer. Stop giving them lists of questions every single one of which has an answer.

And there’s an authority figure in the corner behind the teacher’s desk who knows all the answers. And if you can’t find the answers, you must be lazy or stupid. When schools stop doing that all the time, I will admit that, yes, it’s obvious that trial and error is a good thing.

When a politician stands up campaigning for elected office and says, “I want to fix our health system. I want to fix our education system. I have no idea how to do it. I have half a dozen ideas. We’re going to test them out. They’ll probably all fail. Then we’ll test some other ideas out. We’ll find some that work. We’ll build on those. We’ll get rid of the ones that don’t.” — when a politician campaigns on that platform, and more importantly, when voters like you and me are willing to vote for that kind of politician, then I will admit that it is obvious that trial and error works.

Until then, I’m going to keep banging on about trial and error and why we should abandon the God complex. Because it’s so hard to admit our own fallibility. It’s so uncomfortable. And Archie Cochrane understood this as well as anybody. There’s this one trial he ran many years after World War II. He wanted to test out the question of, where is it that patients should recover from heart attacks?

Should they recover in a specialized cardiac unit in hospital, or should they recover at home? All the cardiac doctors tried to shut him down. They had the God complex in spades. They knew that their hospitals were the right place for patients, and they knew it was very unethical to run any kind of trial or experiment.

Nevertheless, Archie managed to get permission to do this. He ran his trial. And after the trial had been running for a little while, he gathered together all his colleagues around his table, and he said, “Well, gentlemen, we have some preliminary results. They’re not statistically significant. But we have something. And it turns out that you’re right and I’m wrong. It is dangerous for patients to recover from heart attacks at home. They should be in hospital.”

And there’s this uproar, and all the doctors start pounding the table and saying, “We always said you were unethical, Archie. You’re killing people with your clinical trials. You need to shut it down now. Shut it down at once.” And there’s this huge hubbub.

Archie lets it die down. And then he says, “Well that’s very interesting, gentlemen, because when I gave you the table of results, I swapped the two columns around. It turns out your hospitals are killing people, and they should be at home. Would you like to close down the trial now, or should we wait until we have robust results?” Tumbleweed rolls through the meeting room.

Cochrane would do that kind of thing. And the reason he would do that kind of thing is because he understood it feels so much better to stand there and say, “Here in my own little world, I am a god, I understand everything. I do not want to have my opinions challenged. I do not want to have my conclusions tested.”

It feels so much more comfortable simply to lay down the law. Cochrane understood that uncertainty, that fallibility, that being challenged, they hurt. And you sometimes need to be shocked out of that. Now I’m not going to pretend that this is easy. It isn’t easy. It’s incredibly painful.

16:21 And since I started talking about this subject and researching this subject, I’ve been really haunted by something a Japanese mathematician said on the subject. So shortly after the war, this young man, Yutaka Taniyama, developed this amazing conjecture called the Taniyama-Shimura Conjecture.

It turned out to be absolutely instrumental many decades later in proving Fermat’s Last Theorem. In fact, it turns out it’s equivalent to proving Fermat’s Last Theorem. You prove one, you prove the other. But it was always a conjecture.

Taniyama tried and tried and tried and he could never prove that it was true. And shortly before his 30th birthday in 1958, Yutaka Taniyama killed himself. His friend, Goro Shimura — who worked on the mathematics with him — many decades later, reflected on Taniyama’s life. He said, “He was not a very careful person as a mathematician. He made a lot of mistakes. But he made mistakes in a good direction. I tried to emulate him, but I realized it is very difficult to make good mistakes.”

Five things: Marilyn Monroe

WHEN her career first picked up, Marilyn Monroe forewent the typical starlet route of extravagant partying and instead enrolled in night classes at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Having never graduated from high school, she was a voracious reader throughout her career, leaving behind a 400-book library with works by Milton, Dostoyevsky, Whitman, Hemingway and Kerouac.

Monroe would occasionally write, jotting down notes and poems on hotel stationery, scrap paper and the first few pages of new journals.

Nearly 50 years after her death, these bits of writings have been collected and published as a beautiful book, “Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters“, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment.

The glossy pages feature photo reproductions of the hand- and type-written originals—complete with arrows, crossed-out words and spelling mistakes—along with biographical sketches and some captivating and occasionally silly pictures of Marilyn reading the greats.

Monroe was very private with this work, revealing it to only a few friends and intimates. These personal fragments now lend a charming glimpse into her psyche, and also capture some of her pain.

At times she shows a real talent for poetry and its rhythm, and uses the disquiet in herself to capture the humanity around her.

Arthur Miller, her third and last husband, once said about her: “To have survived she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.”

Here are five particularly poignant fragments from the book.

On travelling by bus to Salinas:
I was the only person
woman with about
sixty Italian fisherman…such charming gentleman…
and (they hoped) fish were
waiting for them. Some
could hardly speak English
not only do I love Greeks
(illegible) I love Italians.
they’re warm, lusty and friendly as hell—I’d love to go to
Italy someday

On sailors:
I saw a lot of lonely young
sailors who/ they looked too
young to be so sad. They reminded me of
young slender trees still growing & painful

On trees:
Sad sweet trees—
I wish for you—rest
but you must be wakeful

On love:
My love sleeps besides me—
in the faint light…
but he will look like this when he is dead
oh unbearable fact inevitable
yet sooner would I rather his love die
than/ or him?

And marriage:
I guess I have always been
deeply terrified to really be someone’s
since I know from life
one cannot love another,
ever, really

Fragments Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters Marilyn Monroe(Farrar, Straus and Giroux), edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment“, is out now

Most ancient cities in Iraq:  ‎Iraq museum

‎Iraq museum المتحف العراقي‎'s photo.

Iraq museum المتحف العراقيLike Page

الحضارات والممالك التي نشأت على أرض العراق .
1-الحضارة السومرية
2-الحضارة الأكدية
3-الحضارة الآشورية
4-الحضارة البابلية
مملكة الحضر
مملكة الحيرة
5-الحضارة العباسية

مدن العراق التاريخية .

1-إيسن..تقع في الجنوب الغربي من مدينة عفك القادسيةتعرف حاليا إيشان بحريات
2-لارسا..30 ميل الى الشمال الغربي من الناصرية
3-أشنونا..تقع في الأراضي الخصبة مابين نهري دجلة وديالى وصولا الى جبال زاگروس شرقا
4-ماري..تل الحريري الأنبار بالقرب من آلبوكمال على الحدود العراقية والسورية
6-أور ..مسقط رأس إبراهيم الخليل عليه السلام بالقرب من ذي قار
8-أكد..وسط العراق
9-بابل…وسط العراق
10-أريدو..تقع الى الجنوب الغربي من أور
11-أوروك ..جنوب العراق مدينة گلگامش ومنها أشتق اسم العراق
12-آشور..شمال العراق
13-الحضر..شمال العراق
14-بغداد..حاضرة الدولة العباسية
15-جرمو..شرق كركوك
16-تل حلف..يقع عند منابع الخابور
17-تبةغورا …عندنهر دجلة نينوى
18-كيش..شرق بابل
19-أدبا..تسمى حاليا بسمايه جنوب نيبورنفر
20-أكشاك..تقع على الحدود الشمالية لأكد
21-شوروباك..مدينة نوح عليه السلام ومسقط رأسه
22-نوزو..جنوب غرب كركوك
23-بورسيبا..مدينة بابلية قديمة
24-دور كوريگالزو..عكركوف حاليا
25-سيبار..جنوب غرب بغداد
26-نمرود كالخو.. الموصل
28-أربائيلو..شمال العراق
29-سرمن رأى…سامراء
31-المدائن ..وسط العراق
حقا.. كل شبر فيك يا عراق يتنفس حضارة
أتمنى لكم قراءة ممتعة .
دمتم بخير ياأحبتي.

As the Saudis Covered Up Abuses in Yemen, America Stood By

Washington let Saudi Arabia commit atrocities in Yemen, then strong-arm the UN into remaining silent.

(Apparently, Saudi Kingdom did nothing to desist from war crimes against the civilians in Yemen and the UN maintained its verdict on this ruthless kingdom on human rights crimes. Thousands of children are dying under the airplane bombs and millions are suffering from malnutrition and lack of medical aids)

The United Nations has long been bullied by its most powerful members, and U.N. secretaries-general have usually been forced to grit their teeth and take it quietly.

But few nations have been more publicly brazen in this practice than Saudi Arabia, and earlier this summer, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon managed to get in a dig at the Kingdom over its blackmail-style tactics.

Ban Ki-moon openly admitted that it was only after Riyadh threatened to cut off funding to the U.N. that he bowed to its demand to remove the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, where it has launched a harsh military intervention, from a list of violators of children’s rights contained in the annex of his annual Children and Armed Conflict report.

“The report describes horrors no child should have to face,” Ban told reporters. “At the same time, I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many U.N. programs.”

But the secretary-general wasn’t done. “It is unacceptable for U.N. member states to exert undue pressure,” Ban added. The removal of the Saudis from the list was also, he claimed, “pending review.”

Andrew Bossone shared this link

The US is complicit and the UN is a lapdog.

For the United States, it was another reminder of what an uncomfortable ally the Saudi kingdom can be (as was the July release of a hitherto classified section of a 2002 report into the 9/11 attacks that suggested, among other things, that the wife of then-Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan gave money to the wife of a suspected 9/11 co-conspirator).

No one has become more familiar with this awkwardness than the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, the erstwhile human-rights icon (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell) who has been forced to look the other way as a powerful U.S. ally does as it pleases in Yemen with political, logistical and military cover from Washington.

Since news broke of Ban’s decision, I have asked Power’s office for a direct response to Saudi funding threats. Neither she nor her staff has ever replied.

Using their oil wealth as a weapon—and tacitly encouraged by their most powerful ally, Washington, which has supplied Riyadh with targeting assistance, logistical support and daily aerial refueling of coalition jets in Yemen—the Saudis have refused to moderate their stance.

“The U.S. silence has been deafening in the face of aggressive Saudi bullying to prevent the U.N. from condemning a horrendously abusive military campaign that has killed and maimed hundreds of children,” said Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy and former U.N. director at Human Rights Watch.

“This blatant double standard deeply undermines U.S. efforts to address human rights violations whether in Syria or elsewhere in the world.”

The U.S. silence has been deafening in the face of aggressive Saudi bullying to prevent the UN from condemning a horrendously abusive military campaign that has killed and maimed hundreds of children.”

Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch.

Ban’s honesty hasn’t helped Washington. While human rights organizations initially pilloried the lame-duck secretary-general—he leaves office at the end of 2016—for bowing to the intimidation of a wealthy donor, many diplomats and U.N. observers said Ban also set an important precedent for calling out powerful member states.

In June, after Ban went public, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner did make one oblique comment, that the U.N. “should be permitted to carry out its mandate, carry out its responsibilities, without fear of money being cut off.”

The U.S. has already set a precedent for doing just that: after the U.N.’s cultural agency, UNESCO, recognized Palestine in 2011, the United States suspended its contributions worth $80 million annually, or more than a fifth of the agency’s budget.

Both the Saudi threat and the U.S. pinch on UNESCO, like the perennial menace of vetoes on the Security Council, undermine the authority vested in the U.N.

U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen has weakened Washington morally at the U.N., allowing Russia and other countries to call the Americans hypocritical for “politicizing” Syrian humanitarian access while supporting a coalition that is blockading anntire country, helping to worsen what in Yemen is numerically the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, according to U.N. figures for those in need of aid. While the U.S. has highlighted the toll of Russian bombs in Syria, it has been less willing to criticize Moscow’s use of cluster munitions.

(The US was angry for opening passages for the fleeing Syrians under terrorists occupied parts of Aleppo)

The weapons are widely banned internationally under a U.N. treaty, but the Pentagon maintains they can be used appropriately. The Saudis offer a prime example of their reckless use in Yemen, where they’ve unleashed them in populated areas.

The more flagrant the Saudis are in their behavior, the harder it is for Washington to bury the underlying hypocrisy of its support.

This February, amid a deadly Russian air campaign in support of regime forces aiming to encircle Aleppo, the Security Council met urgently on the humanitarian situation in the city and elsewhere in Syria.

But upon leaving the session, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin used the Yemen card, telling reporters, “We are going to propose weekly meetings on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.”

However, when subsequent discussions on Yemen appeared poised to yield a resolution on humanitarian access in the country, the Saudis and other Gulf States met with diplomats from the U.S., France and the United Kingdom to complain. Unlike Syria, for which a similar resolution was passed, no such resolution has been mustered by the Council for Yemen.

The Saudi threat to cut vital funding streams—delivered forcefully, and directly by Riyadh’s foreign minister to Ban and his top political adviser—should come as little surprise to anyone who has watched Saudi Arabia’s erratic and often abusive relationship with the U.N. since the Saudis began bombing Yemen last March.

There is another reason the U.S. has said little about the strong-arm tactics employed by Saudi Arabia: The hypocrisy might be too much to take.

As Saudi behavior grew more careless publicly, both on the ground in Yemen in the halls of the U.N., the silence from Washington, and at the U.S. mission to the U.N. in New York, continued. Ambassador Power even found herself defending an intervention in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, coincided with the spread of Al Qaeda, and undercut her own passionate work to draw attention to the crimes of the Assad regime in Syria.

But there is another reason the U.S. has said little about the strong-arm tactics employed by its closest Arab ally: The hypocrisy might be too much to take. Just last year, the U.S. was instrumental in keeping Israel off the very annex the Saudis found themselves on this month.

Leila Zerrougui, the U.N.’s special representative for children and armed conflict, had endorsed the inclusion of both the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas on the blacklist.

In the end, neither was, but the pressure exerted by Washington and Israel occurred largely behind the scenes, according to diplomatic norms that are now under the spotlight.


The Saudi intervention has a great deal to do with Riyadh’s fears of its great regional rival, Iran, which has diplomatically backed the Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen. It began last March when, following rapid advances of the Houthis, who are allied with former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the new Saudi King, Salmon, announced a hastily formed coalition of Sunni Arab states.

His son, deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman—more recently the darling of the financial press for his consulting-firm endorsed plans to reform the Saudi economy—was put in charge of the campaign. The coalition’s nominal goal was to reinstate Saleh’s post-Arab Spring successor, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was whisked away to Saudi Arabia, but also to counter the rise of the Houthis as a proxy of Iran.

With the help of the U.S. military, Riyadh was able to impose a blockade, by air and sea, and commence attacks on their southern neighbor.

Prior to the war, Yemen was already the poorest country in the Arab world and soon commercial stocks of food and fuel, as well as drugs and other medical supplies, were running dangerously low. By September, the U.N. estimated Yemen was receiving just 1% of the fuel imports it required.

Today, more than 21 million people in Yemen are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance and half the population suffers from food insecurity and malnutrition—figures that dwarf Syria’s.

Another early casualty of the blockade was the access often afforded by the U.N. to foreign journalists and human rights officials working for nonprofit groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

In May, two months into the Saudi intervention, and as the civilian death toll in Yemen approached 400, senior U.N. officials in Yemen decided that neither group would be allowed on U.N. flights into and out of the country.

At the time, seats on commercial routes operated by the national carrier Yemenia Airway were difficult or impossible to obtain—when the planes ran at all. Those flights were routed through Saudi Arabia, where officials have oversight of passenger manifests.

The U.N. also maintained its own chartered plane, large enough to fit 27 or 28 people, that had begun flying several times a week between Djibouti and the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

But journalists and human rights NGO workers were banned from those flights as well; U.N. officials based in Yemen, Europe and New York, who spoke on condition of anonymity, and several aid workers said the policy stemmed from the Saudi rejection of a single flight manifest earlier in May that contained several journalists, including reporters from the New York Times and BBC.

Several U.N. staffers suggested the decision seemed to go against Ban’s Human Rights up Front agenda. That initiative, meant to give special privileges to human rights reporting, civilian protection and the prevention of “large-scale” violations of international law, was introduced largely in response to the organization’s inaction during the last months of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009 in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Even those aid workers and U.N. staff that were allowed in have found their trips are dependent on the Saudi government, which approves or denies access for all U.N. flights.

“Should the U.N. allow a government to accept such restrictions, which clearly restrict access to beneficiaries?” asked one aid worker, who spoke anonymously in order to protect their organization’s continued access in Yemen.

Some journalists instead undertook dangerous journeys by sea into Yemen from the African coast.

One reporter, Matthieu Aikins, on assignment from Rolling Stone with a cameraman, was smuggled into the country on a 23-foot-long vessel—becoming one of the first Western journalists to break through the blockade and document the toll of the air war.

Aikins said that prior to his departure from Djibouti (under French military control) , U.N. officials told him that the Saudis were no longer allowing foreign journalists to travel to Yemen. Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International, said she was booked on a flight from Djibouti to Sanaa in late June, before being told “last minute that we were off the list”—forcing her to find alternative travel through Jordan.

As journalists and human rights workers struggled to gain entry into Yemen, the news that did emerge grew direr. In May, Human Rights Watch first reported the use of cluster munitions by the coalition, and by the second half of that month, the U.N. had recorded 1,037 civilian deaths since the start of the Saudi intervention.

Many of those deaths were the result of wild and indiscriminant Houthi anti-aircraft fire, but hundreds more were caused by Saudi airstrikes. It was increasingly clear that war crimes could be taking place, but another month would pass before more international journalists began to trickle into the country.

At the U.N. in New York, a new humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, took office at the end of May, inheriting crises in Yemen, Syria and South Sudan, and massive funding gaps across the board. There was one bright spot, or so it seemed—on April 18, the Saudi government pledged to meet a $274 million U.N. “flash appeal” for Yemen, requested just the previous day.

But the negotiations that followed, and foot-dragging on the part of the Saudis, would set a pattern for the coming year when Riyadh’s diplomats repeatedly embarrassed O’Brien and his office. Desperate for a steady stream of Gulf money, U.N. officials were accommodating toward the Saudis, a stance that became increasingly dissonant as the civilian toll of their bombs escalated, and the coalition’s blockade meant the U.N. would have to serve ever more famished Yemenis.

“It’s obvious the Saudis were paying and bullying everyone who dared to say anything, and the U.N. unfortunately was boxed in,” said the senior U.N. political official.

That October, after the Saudis finally announced agreements with nine U.N. agencies to disburse the money (the terms of which have never been made public), Riyadh undertook an elaborate press junket in New York, lauding its humanitarian programming in Yemen.

Looking glum and uneasy, U.N. humanitarian chief O’Brien highlighted the U.N.’s relationship with the Saudis’ King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Center. By then, the U.N. had recorded 2,355 civilian deaths in Yemen, the majority from coalition airstrikes, which O’Brien that summer told the Security Council had in some cases violated international law. It later became clear that the Saudi delegation had effectively dragged O’Brien to the U.N. briefing room after a meeting in Ban’s office upstairs.

The U.N., O’Brien told reporters, couldn’t afford to turn down any aid, including from Saudi Arabia, “because that is existential.”

It was during the same junket, at a separate event in New York, where Riyadh’s ambassador to the U.N., Abdallah al-Mouallimi, admitted for the first time, to this reporter, that the coalition had bombed a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in northern Yemen earlier that week (the bombing took place almost at the same time as O’Brien’s news conference with the Saudis).

The ambassador, however, blamed MSF for providing incorrect coordinates. A miniscandal ensued, during which the ambassador falsely claimed to reporters that he had been “misquoted or the quotations were taken out of context.”

On several other occasions, Mouallimi has denied the use of cluster munitions by the coalition, despite extensive documentation by human rights groups and journalists. He routinely calls into question any U.N. reporting indicating the Saudi coalition has killed civilians, even as that number surpasses 2,000.

Other powerful U.N. member states, like Russia, are well known in U.N. circles for performing elegant logical contortions when confronted with incriminating evidence, such as the civilian toll from Moscow’s strikes in Syria.

But the Saudis are inexperienced and can appear petulant in the spotlight. Last year was also perceived as a low point in the Kingdom’s history: The Iran nuclear deal it lobbied against was signed; its interests in Syria took a serious blow as Russia acted to prop up the Assad regime; oil prices bottomed out around $30 per barrel; and its intervention in Yemen was not only attracting unwanted attention, but was by most measurements a failure.

One Western diplomat recalled how expertly the U.S. and Israel were able to pressure Ban into removing Israel from the same Children and Armed Conflict annex—a development that angered many, but garnered far less attention. Not so for the Saudis. “It’s the difference between how big corporations handle things and how the Corleones handle things,” said the diplomat.

Their erratic behavior came to a head in February, when Saudi officials sent a series of letters to the U.N. and aid organizations, warning them to leave areas under Houthi control. If taken literally, that meant the majority of Yemen’s populated areas, including Sanaa, where U.N. operations were headquartered.

A first letter, sent on February 5 to O’Brien’s agency, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), ominously asked that the U.N. “notify all the international organizations working in Yemen about the necessity of relocating their headquarters outside the military operations area to be away from regions where the Houthi militias and the groups belonging to them are activating, in order for the Coalition forces to guarantee the safety and security of the international organizations.”

Another letter, marked “urgent” was sent directly to NGOs from the Saudi Embassy in London.

O’Brien responded within 48 hours, reminding Saudi Arabia of its obligations under international humanitarian law, and explaining that the U.N. would continue to serve Yemen’s communities.

In a subsequent letter to the OCHA chief, Mouallimi walked back Saudi demands, clarifying that humanitarian workers should not be near military bases belonging to the Houthis and supporters of Saleh—still a vague assertion when 2,000-pound bombs are in play.

To aid workers in Yemen, the unprompted Saudi communications showed, at best, a country dangerously fighting war from the hip, making things up as it went along. Even if the letters were simply an attempt to comply with international law gone awry, humanitarians already had reason to be concerned: just weeks earlier, a leaked Security Council Panel of Experts report counted 22 coalition attacks on hospitals during the war.

A month later, in March, as the Children and Armed Conflict report was first passed among diplomats, there was separate talk in the Security Council of a humanitarian resolution aimed specifically at Yemen, potentially with explicit language on the protection of civilians. Mouallimi, evidently concerned about the prospect, called a news conference in the same briefing room, which he moderated on his own—a rarity for most ambassadors.

There he told reporters in no uncertain terms that O’Brien’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had, in fact, told him that there was no need for such a resolution. “You can quote them on that,” he said, speaking for the U.N.

Less than two weeks after the news conference, Saudi-coalition jets killed more than 100 civilians in a market in northwest Yemen, according to U.N. investigators.

“It would seem the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of airstrikes,” said U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, in the aftermath of that attack.

In September, as the civilian toll in Yemen continued mounting, Zeid had called for an independent, international inquiry into the conflict. At the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Dutch representatives introduced a resolution that would have created such a body, only to see their support melt away in the face of intense pressure from the Saudis and their allies. Instead, the council passed a Gulf-authored resolution endorsing a national investigation controlled by the exiled Hadi government. That inquiry was widely seen as biased and unequipped, and moreover had no access to most of Yemen.

According to diplomats, the U.S. was largely quiet during negotiations over the text, allowing the Saudis to bully the Netherlands—literally sitting with them at a coffee table and crossing out sections of the resolution the U.N. human rights chief wanted.

The Yemeni government investigation favored by the Human Rights Council has yet to release any findings. The U.S., which has sold more than $100 billion in arms to the Saudis since 2010, and which continues to support the coalition with targeting and indispensable refueling flights and logistics, defers to the Saudis when asked about investigations into civilian casualties.

(Canada is second as the most exporter of weapon to the Saudi Kingdom)

When it was released on June 2, Ban’s annual Children in Armed Conflict Report confirmed what many diplomats had already seen when the text was distributed as a draft months earlier: that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths—some 510 were killed by the coalition—and injuries in 2015.

In the annex that accompanies the report, Ban added the Saudi coalition, along with other parties to the conflict in Yemen, including the Houthis and Al Qaeda.

The response was quick: According to senior U.N. officials, several Gulf allies complained to the U.N. about the report, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called Ban over the weekend to express his displeasure. Nevertheless, on Monday, Ban spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told journalists that no part of the report would change in any way.

That afternoon, Jubeir called again, this time dialing Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, a former U.S. State Department official who is now Ban’s top political adviser. Feltman, according to diplomats, communicates regularly with Power, although it’s unclear to what extent she was aware of the Saudi messages.

Jubeir relayed far stronger threats to Feltman, including the specter of a break in relations with the U.N. and cuts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to vital U.N. programing including to the organization’s relief agency in Palestine. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest donors to the U.N., funding a number of additional programs in the Middle East.

In 2014, Jubeir, then the ambassador to Washington, announced $500 million to assist Iraqis displaced by the Islamic State.

But financial coercion is also a habit of Jubeir’s: According to the New York Times, earlier this year he told U.S. officials and politicians in Washington that Riyadh would sell hundreds of millions in Treasury bonds and other American assets if Congress passed legislation making it easier for the Saudi government to be sued for alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

Shortly after Jubeir’s call to Feltman, Ban’s office announced the coalition would be removed from the annex pending review. At the U.N., Mouallimi said the Saudis were vindicated, and he called the decision “final and unconditional.”

The Saudis might have had reason to be angry. In emerging as a top donor, they have come to expect the same respect that other large donors like the U.S., European Union and Japan enjoy. The U.S., meanwhile, has a history of politicizing its donations, exemplified by the UNESCO cut.

On June 9, Ban essentially conceded that the decision to take the Saudis from the annex was made to protect UN financing.  (and not because of the merits of Riyadh’s complaints).

A flummoxed Mouallimi spoke soon after, and, once again, rebutted Ban. The ambassador told reporters that “undue pressure was not exercised,” and he insisted that “the conclusions [of the report] have now been changed.”

In fact, according to Ban, the findings of the report, including that 60% of child casualties in Yemen were caused by the Sunni coalition, will not be changed. Only the annex was altered to excise the Saudis—and temporarily, pending a review and the furnishing of additional documentation from the coalition. But instead of doing that, the Saudis themselves asked the U.N. to reveal the sources of information used in the report, which was denied.

Richard Gowan, a fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation and longtime U.N. researcher, said Ban’s words in July amounted to a rhetorical coup.

“Very few diplomats or U.N. officials dare call them out for their behavior,” Gowan said of the Saudis. “At least this incident has highlighted their tactics.” He added: ”Ban has managed to avoid a total breakdown with Riyadh, yet in doing so still shone a spotlight onto both their behavior in Yemen and their behavior at the U.N.” he added.

There are further signs the U.N. may be changing its tune in Yemen. After POLITICO raised the question of access to flights by the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service, the U.N. said that the current humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick was “fully seized of the concern on the use of UNHAS by human rights organizations.”

“He believes that they, as important humanitarian partners particularly as concerns protection work, should have access to U.N. air services.” The statement added that McGoldrick was “finalizing” discussions “with relevant organizations and hopes to have a positive change to the current approach.”

But there are also signs that the Saudis aren’t keen to change their habits. Earlier this month, at the tail end of trip to the U.S., Prince Bin Salman showed up 45 minutes late for a meeting with Ban, pushing back the rest of the secretary-general’s meeting that day. In a statement following a photo-op, Ban’s office said he was still “open to receiving any new elements from Saudi Arabia,” relevant to the Children and Armed Conflict report.

Two weeks ago, Jubeir met again with Ban, after which the secretary-general’s office said he “welcomed the Coalition’s readiness to take the necessary concrete measures to end and prevent violations against children.” Ban’s office said they wanted the information before a vital Security Council debate on Children and Armed Conflict on August 2.

A separate letter sent by Zerrougui’s office to the Saudis at the end of June, and obtained by POLITICO, was more explicit. Saudi Arabia was expected to “communicate to the United Nations the commitments, measures and actions that it will undertake” in several areas, including in the “reduction of child casualties,” by July 18.

That, according to the letter, would help “enable the Secretary-General to report on positive steps that have been taken following his decision to temporarily remove the coalition from the annexes to the report.”

Judging by the language, it appeared to be giving the Saudis a retroactive and permanent way off the list.

Samuel Oakford is a journalist based at the United Nations in New York, where he was previously correspondent for VICE News.
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