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A burning issue

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

You will, of course, have seen in the news this week the fire that engulfed the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  The cathedral is one of the most iconic sights on the Parisian landscape, the others being the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur or Sacred Heart, and of course the Eiffel Tower.  Of the 3, it is by far the oldest, having been consecrated in 1158 on the site of 2 earlier churches.  It is situated on a small island in the middle of the River Seine, known as the Île de la Cité or the City Island, and it has a rich history tying it not only to France but to Britain too. 

As far back as 1431 England’s King Henry IV was crowned in the church and Mary Queen of Scots, cousin of Elizabeth 1st was married there to Francis II of France in 1587.  Napoleon Bonaparte was declared Emperor of France within its walls in 1804 and Joan of Arc was beatified there in 1919.  In Notre Dame too, in 1945 General de Gaulle declared the end of World War II and the end of the hated German occupation of the city during the war.

Much of the wooden interior and spire was destroyed in this week’s blaze but most of the cathedral,  many of its artefacts, priceless religious icons and even some of the remarkable stained glass windows survived.  However this is not the first time the cathedral has been damaged.  Over its long history it has suffered decay and damage and indeed it had nearly fallen into a state of complete ruin when Napoleon rose to power and it was he who ordered the first major restoration programme.

France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, was quick to come out and assure the people of France that the church was be restored to its former glory within 5 years, an assurance the nation desperately needed.   The sight of the blazing building was shocking in itself but so was the army of Parisians who stood silently on the banks of the river Seine, watching their beloved church burn.

To understand its significance to the people of France it is necessary to recognise that France, like Botswana, is a country founded on Christian faith, in this case, that of the Catholic  Church.  The name ‘Notre Dame’ translates as Our Lady, the title by which the Virgin Mary is most commonly known in Catholicism.  It was quite remarkable, too, how quickly corporate France responded to the disaster  French billionaire François-Henri Pinault donated €100m (£86.4m) towards efforts, saying  "This tragedy strikes all the French and beyond all those who are attached to spiritual values. Faced with such a tragedy, everyone wants to revive this jewel of our heritage as quickly as possible." 

His donation was shortly followed by LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault who offered €200m (£173m) to reconstruct the "symbol of France".  French energy company Total will donate €100m (P1300m), as a further €200m (P3000m) was pledged by French luxury and cosmetics group L'Oreal and the Bettencourt Meyers family.  Other companies offering money include Tag Heuer, Guerlain, Christian Dior, Dom Perignon and Louis Vuiton.  Even overseas corporates such as Apple   and Indiana’s Notre Dame University have pledged financial support.  Other funding efforts are underway through crowd-funding pages and with   €600m  (P12,000m) raised at the time of writing, the country has announced an international competition to select  the most suitable and talented architect to undertake the restoration.

In complete contrast, across La Manche – the English Channel to you! – in what is becoming an  increasingly secular Britain, James O’Brian, an  LBC Radio chat show host,   rather than praising their generosity and patriotism, was questioning whether Monsieurs Pinault and Arnault could not have found a more deserving cause  on which to spend their money, clearly considering that the restoration of an 800-year old church is a worthless project, in spite of the fact that it’s a much-loved national monument, major  money-making tourist attraction and arguably the most important religious building in the country.   

Sadly none of his phone-in listeners had the gumption to ask him if he was prepared to give up his iPhone in protest, along with banning his wife from using any product by LOréal or Guerlain.  In the ultimate irony, on a day when climate change protestors were blockading vase swathes of London and causing  commuter chaos, he also let it slip that he had only just made it in to the studio in time in his ‘chauffeur-driven limo’,  thoughtfully provided by his employers!  In common parlance, Mr. O’Brian is what might be termed a ‘champagne socialist’ but if so, it’s to be hoped that that doesn’t refer to French champagne and that the limo was not fuelled by Total petrol!

The situation put me in mind of something similar in England in the 1990s when a massive fire broke out in Windsor Castle and the then Prime Minister, John Major, immediately promised that it would be restored to its former glory with taxpayer’s money.  Unfortunately, it came in the same year that Princess Diana and Prince Charles had announced their decision to divorce, Queen Elizabeth II was held partially to blame, lord knows why, and most of the Royal Family were ‘persona non gratis’ in the public’s eyes.  A huge storm played out in the media and the queen eventually announced she would fund the repairs out of her own pocket, later describing the entire year as the worst in her life.  You might think, well why shouldn’t’ she fork out – after all, she lives in the building for part of the year, which is a valid argument but so is the other side which would purport that Windsor Castle, like Notre Dame, is also a major tourist crowd-puller which means money in the Treasury coffers and a nice little earner for anyone and everyone involved in British tourism.

Looked at in that way, our 2 French businessmen are actually relieving the French taxpayer of the financial burden of restoration, making it a very patriotic and charitable gesture.  I suppose, Mr. O’Brian, it’s the difference between Vive La France or the whole country having to ‘Go Dutch’!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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