Monday, July 25, 2016

Older and Long-Serving Air-Cabin Staff Need not be Sullen and Inefficient

For international travel, my first choice is Singapore Airlines.  However I often book Qatar Airlines, a close second in impeccable service, because of lower fares. (I have heard that the Emirate is subsidizing the airline to build its prestige and customer base.) Two demographics distinguish the cabin staffs of both airlines. :  they are predominantly female and within the 25 to 35 year-old age bracket.

Service on my rare journeys by American Flag carries – Delta, American and United fall well below the standard of Singapore and Qatar.  This saddens me since in the 1970s when I began an international travel regimen, Pan American and TWA, now both defunct, were the world leaders.  Not only are staff members less proactive and efficient, but also noticeably less cheerful.  Many seem only to be “putting in their time,” reluctantly fulfilling the obligations of a career they no longer find rewarding. My own impressions have been confirmed by friends and colleagues who, for various reasons must frequent  American flag carriers for international travel more regularly.

In addition to quality of service, what has also distinguished the American Flag Carrer cabin staffs has been their demographic:  many are in their 30s, 40s and, perhaps, even 50s.  This had pointed me towards two generalizations:  (1) cabin service ought to be a profession for the young; this is not a job that women and men over age 35 find rewarding.  (2)  American work-rules forbidding “age discrimination” require airline managements to keep lower-performing older staff members on the job. 

A recent trip on British Airways, from Tampa to London and London to Delft gave the lie to my generalizations.  Cabin staff members were neither young nor slim (they were predominantly, not exclusively, female). However they were not only warmly welcoming but efficient. I would gladly choose British Airways again and look forward to the journey, should the need arise.

What explains the disparity?  Clearly it is neither the age or years of service of cabin staff members.  Rather, I believe the explanation is high quality versus slovenly, and or indifferent and oppressive management on the part of those who supervise them. 

Saturday, July 09, 2016


Soon after I arrived for my first extended stay in Singapore, I was fortunate to meet with Professor Lui Pao  Chuen. “PC”, as he is called by many,  is among the wisest of the wise men who, though freed from daily responsibilities, generously share their wisdom with members of Singapore’s business, academic and public  policy communities.

After an exchange of greetings, PC got right to the point.  “What are you going to do for Singapore?,”  he asked sharply.  “It would be presumptuous for me, as a foreigner, to visit your country with plans to “do” anything specific,” was my response.  “I have come to learn about Singapore and, perhaps, when I have spent ample time observing, listening and learning, to share what I have learned with others.”

Several conference papers and publications, most notably “The Improbable Resilience of Singapore” (co authored with a Singaporean, Elizabeth Ong) are frist attempts to make what have been learning accessible and useful.  They represent just a tiny fraction of what there is to be shared.  I have decided that periodically resuming this Dormgrandpop Blog may, be another means of sharing. 

Singapore’s unique political-economic-social experiment has much to offer. What never ceases to amaze me is how few individuals whose paths cross mine either know about or care about Singapore’s political-social-economy. That “average citizens’ ” knowledge does not extend beyond “caning,” bans against chewing gum sales and vague notions of “authoritarianism” should, perhaps, not surprise me.  But to hear similar reactions from many academics and public intellectuals, who are my professional acquaintances, does.

This morning as news reports describe an America that is wracked by race-based turbulence and gun violence, I wish to mention two Singapore policies that could make a difference.   The first – rigorous proscription of firearms sales  - is one that Singapore shares with most nations of the world.  The second, proscription of enthno-religious political appeals and incitements is not. 

Before independence,  Singapore was a state within a Nation espousing a policy based on racial preference for “sons of the soil”, Malaysia.   At the time, Lee Kuan Yew observed that political/public policy statements that were the norm in Malaysia were a crime in Singapore; those that were the norm in Singapore were a crime in Malaysia.  Malaysia’s ruling party is the United National Malay Organization (UMNO).   My book, Paradise Poisoned, describes the tragedy visited on all Sri Lankans by racially preferential policies.  Like mustard gas when the wind changes, they “blow back” and poison those who use them. 

America and Singapore are societies that differ vastly.  But I have come to believe that immersing oneself in Singapore’s society does offer principles that merit consideration by America’s political leaders and those of other nations.  One, I have just described   Another provided a foundation for Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew’s  governance philosophy.  It graces the entrance of the School of Public Policy that bears his name and where I help students prepare of public policy service:  “IF YOU WANT TO REALIZE YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS, YOU CANNOT DO IT WITHOUT DISCIPLINE.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Death Anniversary Remembrance for Dana Meadows in 2015

February 20th , today, is Dana Meadows death anniversary.  She died on February 20th, 2001.  She was 59 years old.  For several years, and again today, I have chosen to write a brief death anniversary remembrance and acknowledgement.  This is not because I claim, or would want anyone to believe that I claim, some special status among the many persons who respected, loved, admired and, on occasion, collaborated with Dana.  I do not.

In choosing a death anniversary quotation from Dana’s work, I have often turned to her writings about love.  Dana understood what it meant to love, more deeply and unselfishly than anyone I have known.  It was reflected in her Global Citizen columns and even in her more “scholarly” writings.  However her writings on computer modeling, environmental science, sustainability, ethics, epistemology and public policy were equally clear and profound. 

In this remembrance I quote from her writing on epistemology.  The source is Chapter 1 of a remarkable, yet unpublished, 927pp.  manuscript entitled,  A Sustainable World: An Introduction to Environmental Systems.  It was made available to me through the kindness of Marta Ceroni, who directs the Donella Meadows Institute (formerly the Sustainability Institute).  The Chapter is entitled “Thinking about Thinking:  What Have We Learned About What  We Know.”   Dana writes

“We hope you will see that learning about the planet is not just a process of pouring into yourself a lot of facts that someone else already knows (though there will be some of that to do).  It's a process of making models, testing them, making more models, testing them again, examining yourself and your own biases as well as those of other people, and sometimes, suddenly, seeing the world in startling new ways. …The problems of our world – and their solutions are a direct function of what we think, what we know, and the certainty with which we know it. 

“…Unfortunately we know less about how to work our planet than we do about our cars.  We are not familiar with its levers and buttons.  We barely comprehend what is attached to what.  We don't always recognize when it is malfunctioning, and the people we turn it over to -- politicians, generals, corporate executives, other kinds of leaders -- are not selected for their knowledge of planetary mechanics.  There could be a breakdown.  Some say it's already here.  If a breakdown occurs, there isn't another planet handy to take over the vital services we get from this one.

“…What [this] book can do is be a foundation, and more importantly a guide to the process of learning about, thinking about, coping with, and acting effectively upon planetary problems. 

“… Every time you read the paper or watch the evening news, get involved in your community's planning process, go on a Saturday bird-watching expedition, plant a garden, or travel to a new place, you have an opportunity to learn more about the planetary systems that support you -- and to become more effective in acting to keep those systems healthy and sustainable.”

As far as I know, Dana was never a “religious” person, however she was a deeply spiritual one.  For a time, I know that she studied Buddhist philosophy and set time aside for meditation, mostly following Zen Buddhist practices.  Thus it seems appropriate to end this reflection, on Dana’s behalf, with a prayer that is sometimes included in Buddhist death anniversary remembrances:

“May all be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow.

May all never be separated from the sacred happiness which is sorrowless.”

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Friday, December 06, 2013


6 December 2013
I awoke this morning before 6 AM and lay quietly, emptying my mind to see what unbidden thoughts (Quakers call them “Leadings”) might come.  The leading that came was “Read Verse 13 in Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians; consider the role of love in your life."

Here is the familiar 1:Corinthians 13 Passage.
 13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.
 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
 What do I make of this Leading.  Clearly it has something to do with living my life, in the days, months, or years that remain to me in a manner that includes expressing Love. Perhaps it  directs my attention to further seeking about what that might mean.  Perhaps it reminds me that I am a person of “heart” as well as “head”.  I need to reflect on the fact that my gifts as a modeler and writer (such as they are) are not an “end” but a “means to an end.” 
This a day that many mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela and celebrate the values he embodied.  Not only political leaders but those who follow the callings of public policy modeling, teaching and other academic pursuits  may also draw lessons from Mandela – the values he professed and how he lived his life according to those values. 

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Monday, November 11, 2013


With thanks to the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy, I am pleased  to make a PDF version of my book Paradise Poisoned: Learning About Conflict Development and Terroism from Sri Lanka's Civil Wars available to all who may find it useful.  The link and additional information about the book follows.  

Link to
Learning about Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars

John Richardson

Paradise Poisoned is a publication of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy, Sri Lanka. It was published in 2004 with two subsequent reprintings. The Board of Directors of the ICES has authorized the distribution and reproduction of the manuscript for non-commercial purposes.  Sections of Paradise Poisoned, translated into Sinhala and Tamil, are being published by the Social Science Association of Sri Lanka, in a series entitled Lessons from the War.  Four volumes (in each language) of a projected series of eight have been published,  to date.  For further information contact, Mr. Ranjith Perera or Ms. Rasika Chandresekera, Social Science Association of Sri Lanka, 12 Suleiman Terrace, Colombo 05, Sri Lanka. Email:  Tel: 94-11-2501339/504623.

Preface and Acknowledgements xi
Prologue 1

Part I
Anatomy and Physiology:
Linkages Between Deadly Conflict, Terrorism and Development
1 - ‘How Could We Have Come To This?’ 11
2 - Why Did Sri Lanka’s Political Differences Escalate Into
Protracted, Deadly Conflicts? 39
3 - What is ‘Successful Development’ and Why Does it Matter? 55
4 - Measuring Violent Political Conflict and State-sanctioned
Violence In Sri Lanka 73
5 - The Development-Deadly-Conflict System
Part II
Homeostasis - Reality or Illusion:
Was Sri Lanka a Development ‘Success Story’?
6 - The ‘Uncle-Nephew Party’ Years: Elitist Pluralism 125
7 - Opening Pandora’s Box – The Bandaranaike Era Begins 159
8 - Political Responses and Feedback in a New Era 189
9 - ‘Middle Path’ - Dudley Senanayake’s Imperfect
Governance Strategy 217
10- Political Responses to the ‘Middle Path’ 243

Part III
Symptoms of Infection and Immune System Responses:
How Sri Lanka’s United Front Government Coped with a Violent
Insurrection and Shortcomings of its Marxist Development Model
11 - Populism and Sinhalese Nationalism Resurgent 271
12 - Sri Lanka’s Marxist Experiment - Promises and Performance 311
13 - Political Climate, Institutions and Feedback
in the United Front Era 335

Part IV
Failure of Radical Therapies:
How Sri Lanka’s ‘Open Economy’ Development Model and
Strengthened Presidential Authority Failed to Prevent
Conflict and Terrorism from Escalating Out of Control
14 - Symptoms of Development Failure 381
15 - Strengthening Executive Power to Sustain Open
Economy Reforms 393
16 - The Open Economy – Promises and Performance 427
17 - Political Identities, Attitudes and Organisations in the
Open Economy Era 465
18 - How State-Sanctioned Violence Clouded Political Feedback 493
19 - Protracted Civil War Begins 523
Part V
Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention:
Why Deadly Conflict and Terrorism are not only
Predictable, but Preventable
20 - Costs and Benefits of Protracted Violent Conflict 555
21 - How it Came to This – Learning from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars 573
22 - Preventing Deadly Conflict and Terrorism: Ten Imperatives 589
Notes 605
Selected Bibliography 717
Index 750

I have long believed that a book’s central message should come first and be given in a few words. Why must readers and reviewers struggle to learn what an author believes is fundamentally important?

Paradise Poisoned is the principal product of a seventeen-year project, devoted to understanding linkages between deadly conflict, terrorism and development, by viewing them through the lens of Sri Lanka’s post-independence history, from 1948 through 1988.
After a period of relative tranquility, escalating conflict and terrorism engulfed this beautiful island nation. Coping with two civil wars became the principal preoccupation of Sri Lanka’s government and people. Explaining how tranquility was supplanted by all encompassing violent conflict and terrorism became the focal point of my inquiries.

What I have learned about preventing deadly conflict and terrorism fromSri Lanka’s civil wars?

What I have learned, of fundamental importance, from Sri Lanka’s civil wars, is this. We know more than enough to choose policies that will help prevent protracted deadly conflict and terrorism. We also know more than enough to avoid policies that will cause protracted deadly conflict and terrorism.

Our state of knowledge is analogous to our knowledge about the relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. We know that smoking is a principal cause of lung cancer, though there are other causes. We know that refraining from smoking is the best way of avoiding lung cancer, though some abstainers may still contract the disease.

A promising, proactive strategy for preventing deadly conflict and terrorism
can be summarized in ten imperatives. Their relevance extends well beyond
Sri Lanka, to Kosovo, Kashmir, Palestine, the Sudan, Afghanistan and, in particular, Iraq. Chapter 22 discusses these imperatives in detail. The intervening chapters provide context and supporting evidence.

The ten imperatives are these:
1. Maintaining public order and preventing social turbulence from escalating
into protracted deadly conflict are prerequisite to the success
of all other development policies.
2. Polarising political rhetoric and tactics must be forgone, however
tempting their short-term benefits may seem. Like mustard gas,
which had to be abandoned as a weapon in World War I, this strategy
has a tendency to ‘blow back’ upon the user.1
3. Meeting the needs and aspirations of fighting age young men should
be the first priority of national development polices and of programs
funded by international donors.
4. Developing countries should have internal security forces (police and
paramilitary) that are generously funded, professional, apolitical and
trained to meet the complex challenges of maintaining public order
in a changing society.
5. Development policies that meet human beings’ common aspirations
– to feel good about their lives, the circumstances in which they live
and future prospects for themselves and their children – will contribute
most effectively to keeping violent conflict and terrorism within acceptable bounds.
6. Those who frame development policies should seek a middle path between capitalism’s efficient, but Darwinian precepts, and socialism’s egalitarian, but stultifying precepts.
7. Good governance and democratisation must be part of the ‘successful development’ mix. Most important are governance institutions that are open to ‘bad news’ and self-correcting.
8. Multinational corporations, businesses and businessmen’s organisations2 should play a more active role in supporting successful development policies.
9. Successful development requires a long-term view. Giving sufficient weight to the long-term requires institutional mechanisms and discourses that extend beyond the next election and term in office of political leaders presently in power.

10. There must be realistic, rigorous, opportunity-costs analyses of military options, versus equivalent expenditures for non-military options, before proceeding down the slippery slope of ‘military solutions’ to complex development problems.

‘We know our people’
Some readers want to know more than the typical preface provides about the context out of which a book grew and why the author considers it distinctive.  This section is for such readers.

The story begins when, some years ago, a picture of Iran’s former Prime Minister, Amir Abbas Hoveyda, an expression of fear and bewilderment on his face, appeared on the front page of my Washington Post. He had been imprisoned by Islamic revolutionary guards for months, while awaiting ‘trial.’ Soon after the picture was taken, revolutionary judges held a brief hearing and sentenced him to death. Guards immediately hustled him from the hearing room to an outdoor courtyard and carried out the sentence with shots to the back of his head.

I had known the Prime Minister in happier times. As a young systems engineering consultant, I had helped develop computerised simulation models to aid senior policy makers affiliated with Iran’s Plan and Budget Organisation in their long-term development planning work. Our two-year project culminated with a three-hour ‘on-line’ demonstration of the models, exclusively for cabinet ministers and senior military officers. An elegant luncheon followed our demonstration.

The luncheon gave me an opportunity to speak personally with Dr. Hoveyda and I gathered my courage to pose a troubling question. As tactfully as possible, I asked if he was not concerned that social-economic disruptions created by Iran’s accelerated industrialisation and urbanisation might be politically destabilising. In the rare opportunities that an intense work schedule gave me to walk about Teheran, these disruptions were evident, even to someone not schooled in Iran’s culture. The Prime Minister responded confidently that
I need not concern myself with such matters. ‘We know our people,’ he emphasized.
Looking at the Post photograph, I recalled the conversation and wondered what Dr. Hoveyda’s thoughts might have been during his imprisonment and in the moments before his execution.

In ensuing years, I worried about unintended contributions of my work to the draconian scenario that followed Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi’s abdication.  By then, I had co-authored a widely read book on ending world hunger3 and joined a faculty that trained international development professionals. I knew that even before the Cold War ended, violent conflict was endemic in many developing nations. Yet neither the book on hunger, nor our graduate curriculum, nor the international development professional literature generally, had much to say about linkages between development, deadly conflict and terrorism.  Development practitioners are, by and large, idealistic individuals who believe their work contributes to human well-being, especially the well-being of individuals who seem powerless to help themselves. ‘How probable was it that some elements of international development practice were more likely to produce deadly conflict than enhanced well-being?’ I wondered.

The subject of Paradise Poisoned – identifying the causes of deadly conflict and terrorism so that these pathologies could be prevented – became a major professional preoccupation. In the late 1980s, my colleagues among development professionals expressed little interest. ‘Internal security’ matters were viewed as the domain of politicians, police and military professionals.

Events in the 1990s changed this. Devastating outbreaks of deadly conflict
and terrorism – especially the internationally riveting Rwandan genocide – spurred creation of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, charged with answering the question ‘what might have been done at an early stage [of potential deadly conflicts] to avert mass violence and achieve a just outcome?’

The events of September 11, 2001 made ‘preventing terrorism’ a global preoccupation. More recently, unfolding scenarios in Afghanistan and Iraq have reminded policy makers that military intervention is not a sufficient conflict prevention strategy. There must be a long-term development strategy as well.

The Carnegie Commission’s landmark report, Preventing Deadly Conflict4, gave weight to the idea of development and deadly conflict linkages by identifying‘ structural prevention – or peace building’ – as a cost-effective conflict prevention strategy. Important elements of structural prevention, according to the report, were the development, by individual states, of ‘mechanisms to ensure bedrock security, well-being and justice for their citizens… [and] meeting people’s basic economic, social, cultural and humanitarian needs…’5 ‘The costs of prevention are miniscule,’ Preventing Deadly Conflict concluded, ‘when compared with the costs of deadly  conflict and the rebuilding and psychological healing in its aftermath.’6

Like the Carnegie Commission report, Paradise Poisoned identifies causes of deadly conflicts and explains why they are so difficult to resolve. It points to early warning indicators of conflict outbreaks and proposes structural prevention strategies. Thus it is intended to reach the same professional audiences as the report. Now that the ‘war on terrorism’ has become a global concern, general readers in both developed and developing countries will also find the book to be of interest. Clearly the cost-effective way to fight terrorism is by preventing groups like Al Qa’eda from forming in this first place or, when they have formed, to cut off their pool of potential recruits.

Paradise Poisoned differs from the Carnegie Commission Report in five respects that make it a useful complement as well as a stride forward on the terrain mapped out by Preventing Deadly Conflict.

• It argues that the early warnings envisioned by the Carnegie Commission do not come early enough. High-leverage, cost-effective interventions should, whenever possible, come before what the Report calls ‘symptoms [of] states at risk’ become apparent.
• It shows how the relationship between relatively minor incidents of violent conflict and failed development strategies can provide timely early warning indicators. Recognizing the significance of these early warning indicators can trigger remedial measures focusing – as appropriate – on economic policy, governance, democratisation and security.
• It compiles ‘political conflict incidents’ in graphically compelling ‘fever charts’ that map the escalation of violent conflict in Sri Lanka over a 40-year time horizon. It compares types of incidents to show how the pathogens created by militant movements can infect a country like a disease.
• It uses an explicit systems analysis methodology to represent the development and deadly conflict system as a structure of interlocking feedback loops, synthesizing relevant development and conflict theories. Coupled with contextually rich descriptions, this structure provides a basis for showing linkages between development failures and topologies of rising conflict intensity exhibited in the ‘fever charts.’
• Rather than generalising from a number of conflicts, Paradise Poisoned describes in some detail, over a long time period, one of the most perplexing escalations of deadly conflict and terrorism in the post-World War II era.
• Paradise Poisoned combines political history with economic analysis, grounded in a comprehensive economic database that was created especially for this book. (My commitment to combine political and economic perspectives, in the classic political economy tradition using systems analysis as an integrating framework, mostly explains why the book is so long.)

Why this particular case? Sri Lanka, once a prototype of successful development, had long been discussed by development practitioners as a puzzling example of development failure. My interest in linking deadly conflict, terrorism, and development highlighted it as an interesting subject for study.

The choice was partly serendipitous. American University’s ‘Link’ program with Colombo University gave me the opportunity to live and work there. As I learned more, it became clear that Sri Lanka’s post-independence experience provided a setting for considering linkages between terrorism, conflict and an unusually diverse range of development scenarios.

Paradise Poisoned is not about current events in Sri Lanka. Most of the political
leaders about whom I write are, like Prime Minister Hoveyda, dead. By distancing from current events, I hope to free readers from viewing my conclusions as commentaries on contemporary political debates and maneuverings. In the case of Sri Lankan readers, this is probably unrealistic, but Paradise Poisoned is not written primarily for Sri Lankans. It is written so that others can take heed and learn from their experiences.

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