Fair’s Fair: Entitlements Are Not Charity

No one needs to be poor. There is plenty for all of us! This is not utopia; this is a fact. In this second issue of our new Utopia series, we will be focusing on poverty and its elimination. Of course, our coverage does not end here. The March issue offers a wide range of insightful pieces by Partho Pratim Chatterjee, Pradeep Kumar Chatterjee, Elvira Ineza, Atika Harba, Carla Pietrobattista, Alex Liberto, Dinojah Patkunarajah, Dawn Roy, and Omar Alansari-Kreger. The editors are Adrian Liberto and Ariana Yekrangi.



Empower us to do more!

Imagine a world where the United Nations is not just a symbol of hope but a beacon of action, driven by clearer principles and free from the constraints that have long hindered its potential. This is the vision of UN-aligned, an organisation committed to reimagining and revitalising this pivotal institution to truly reflect the voices and needs of people globally.

By supporting UN-aligned, you become an integral part of this transformative journey. Your contribution empowers citizen journalism, giving a powerful platform to voices often unheard, through our insightful monthly publication, The Gordian Magazine.

Letter From the Editors

issue 2 vol7
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to the newest edition of The Gordian Magazine. We are excited to present to you a collection of insightful and engaging articles that are sure to stimulate your mind and expand your perspective.

Our cover story this month is penned by Adrian Liberto and titled “Bridging the Wealth Gap – A Blueprint for Poverty Eradication.” Through this piece, Liberto challenges the dominant economic system of the 21st century and offers a ray of hope for those who are trapped in the cycle of poverty.

In our UN in Focus column, Dinojah Patkunarajah proposes compelling reforms for the United Nations Security Council, while Omar Alansari-Kreger explores the power of world federalism and the need to transcend nationalism. We also delve into the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the troubling trend of political apathy amongst powerful nations.

Furthermore, Partho Pratim Chatterjee and Pradeep Kumar Chatterjee offer their expertise on environmental issues by bringing attention to the bioeconomy as a promising solution for mitigating climate change and promoting sustainability.

In our popular culture column, Alex Liberto delves into the rise of the Angry Young Men in British drama, while Carla Pietrobattista provides a detailed analysis of Caravaggio’s masterpiece, “The Conversion of St. Paul,” and the powerful transformation it portrays.

We also showcase the transformative power of education in refugee camps through Atika Harba’s diary entry, while Elvira Ineza brings attention to the tragic human cost of Arizona’s immigration policies.

As Artificial Intelligence becomes more prevalent in our world, Dinojah Patkunarajah explores the debate surrounding AI-generated art, questioning its true artistic merit.

Our monthly quiz explores the history and evolution of calendars, from the solstices to the equinoxes, and the lunar cycles to the solar years.

Lastly, our gallery “Diving Into the Enigmatic World of Deep Sea Animals” features stunning photographs of deep-sea creatures, reminding us of the wonder and beauty of our oceans and the need to protect them.

We invite you to join us on this journey through the pages of The Gordian, where we hope to inspire you to work towards a brighter future. Thank you for reading.

Secret Visits, Insane Politics and Devastating Natural Disasters: February 2023 in One Look

By Adrian Liberto

Monthly recap feb 2023
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

By Adrian Liberto

Stay up-to-date with the latest happenings from the past month with our monthly recap. From major events to key developments, we’ve got you covered.

Bridging the Wealth Gap: A Blueprint for Poverty Eradication

By Adrian Liberto

Bridging the Wealth Gap A Blueprint for Poverty Eradication
Graphic: UN-aligned design team

Redefining our modern self-serving economics to eradicate poverty.

Reality is what keeps us safe. It informed our past and it guides our present. Reality is our safe zone. It is the anchor on which our boat is secured. It is the devil we know. 

However, as anyone who has owned a boat can tell you, a tight anchor is the surest way to sink your boat: a change in tide, a swell… and without the leeway in your rope, you are underwater. The fact is, reality changes and unless we adapt and evolve with it, we are done for.

The poor you will always have with you

When Jesus uttered the above words, after his disciples complained at the waste of the expensive perfume a follower had been pouring over his head, he was referring to that specific situation and certainly not prophesying or decreeing that poverty is an integral part of society’s make up. Sadly, that is how many Christians interpret it. Indeed, traditions and religions have often advocated the inevitability or even the desirability of poverty. 

It isn’t. It is compassion that is missing, not resources

I am not referring to the detachment of the likes of St. Francis of Assisi. I am referring to the marginalised classes: Dalits, serfs, slaves and the millions of people who struggle to survive because the odds are squarely set against them… In other words, the exploited. They are a convenience to the powers that be who have a vested interest in promoting the big lie: it’s just the way it is: “The poor you will always have with you.” Well, no it isn’t. It is compassion that is missing, not resources.

True, some people want to be poor; many monks and nuns, for instance, actually take a vow of poverty. Others may be too lazy not to be poor, or they may not have the necessary survival skills, such as holding down a job or budgeting. Some may have debilitating disabilities that would require them to rely on others. None of this, however, takes away from the fact that no one needs to be poor. There is plenty for the lot of us! This is not Utopia; this is fact. 

Maximising our resources

In her book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Kate Raworth argues that the citizens of the coming decades are being shaped by an outdated mindset. This mindset, which she describes as rooted in outdated textbook theories from the 1850s, is proving to be a hindrance to progress in the 21st century. 

The Doughnut economic model.
The Doughnut economic model.

Raworth proposes the concept of the “doughnut” as a solution, representing the safe space for humanity to flourish within the limits of both our social needs and environmental boundaries.

“Achieving sustainable development means ensuring that all people have the resources needed – such as food, water, health care, and energy – to fulfil their human rights. And it means ensuring that humanity’s use of natural resources does not stress critical Earth-system processes…”

Despite this wake up call, founded on sound principles, “Growth! Growth! Growth!” is still the mantra of parties on most sides of the political spectrum. Even the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are loaded towards growth, pitching sustainability as a mere an accessory to growth. This sort of growth is like a cancer that is blind to the bigger picture and scurries towards its own destruction.

The meat and dairy industry is a textbook example of this self-destructive frenzy. The industry is gobbling up land and water resources that could feed the whole world several times over. According to PETA:

“It takes 1,000 gallons (4.55 m³) of water to produce just one gallon of milk, and beef has an overall water footprint of roughly 4 million gallons per ton. By contrast, the water footprint of vegetables is about 85,000 gallons (ca. 386 m³) per ton.”

In other words, plant-based diets can easily reduce water consumption by up to 50 percent and according to some estimates this alone could feed an additional 1.8 billion people; that is, almost a fourth of the world’s population.

We can add to that the extreme pollution of air, land and water created by the industry, which degrades or destroys resources far beyond the reaches of national borders. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), for instance, meat and dairy accounts for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Many studies also highlight the risks to dwindling freshwater supplies. 

Truth or Drought, for instance, points out that “one single slaughterhouse in Illinois is the largest nitrogen polluter of waterways in the US, every single day producing more than 2 million gallons of wastewater to kill 20,000 pigs…”.

Of course, there are other downsides to the industry and these can exacerbate poverty in less obvious ways. The cruelty involved which immunises people to the suffering of others, is one, while the health problems associated with meat and dairy is another; after all. One needs to be relatively healthy in order to work.

The meat and dairy industry is just one example. There are countless other industries that should be abolished or trimmed down owing to the disordinate stress they inflict on the planet and its resources.

This said, production is only part of this issue; the other is wastage. According to the FAO, one-third of all food around the world is wasted. This amounts to about 1.4 billion tons of food every year. The wastage starts right at the beginning of the production line and ends in our bins, or more accurately in landfills, because that is where it ultimately ends up, adding further to the environmental stress. This recklessness can only be tackled through national and international legislation as well as education at all levels.

We may also need to challenge some of our priorities. True, we are all entitled to our little luxuries, but here is some food for thought: in 2021, Americans spent $124 billion on pet products and services: that is more than the nominal GDP of several of the poorest countries put together! And while dog and cat homes are brimming with unwanted animals, breeders are busy at work trying to bring more and more animals into existence.

Fairer distribution of wealth

In January 2023, OXFAM published another one of it shocking reports highlighting how most of the world’s wealth rests in the hands of an unchosen few! The report, Survival of the Richest: How we must tax the super-rich now to fight inequality, offers realistic, fair and clear guidelines on how this can be done, while stressing, at the same time, why it must be done. Colombia’s Minister of Finance and Public Credit, José Antonio Ocampo, sets the scene in one of the prefaces:

José Antonio Ocampo
“Taxing the wealthiest is no longer an option—it’s a must.” José Antonio Ocampo, Minister of Finance of Colombia. Photo: World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard © CC 2.0

“Taxing the wealthiest is no longer an option—it’s a must. Global inequality has exploded, and there is no better way to tackle inequality than by redistributing wealth. As Oxfam’s report shows, the richest 1% bagged nearly two-thirds of all new wealth over the past two years, nearly twice as much money as the bottom 99% of the world’s population.”

The Executive Summary goes further and put some faces on the statistics:

“Elon Musk, one of the world’s richest men, paid a ‘true tax rate’ of just over 3% from 2014 to 2018. Aber Christine, a market trader in Northern Uganda who sells rice, flour and soya, makes $80 a month in profit. She pays a tax rate of 40%.”

One does not have to wear a mask, carry a sack and sport a stripped T-shirt to be a thief, government officials do it quite comfortably in a suit and tie, or a dress.

It goes back to the mentality mentioned above that looks at poverty as a necessary evil and wealth as a privilege with no limits. Liz Truss, the UK Prime Minister who lasted a mere 44 days in office, from 5 September 2022 to 24 October 2022, was a perfect example of this cynical approach to taxation. The reason she was outlasted by a lettuce (as had been foretold) was not because of her contempt for the working masses, but because of her inability to cloak her schemes in an aura of respectability.

Still, even the fairest and most effective national taxation regimes cannot by themselves address global issues of poverty sufficiently. A federal world order could resolve this problem in one stroke, but in the meantime, mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that wealth is also distributed globally. 

According to a recently published UN report titled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022, there is a reverse trend in tackling poverty as “the number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021. Indeed, poverty is ubiquitous and often present where we would least expect it. The United States Census Bureaux, for instance, puts the 2021 rate of poverty  in the US at 11.6 percent, amounting to an eye-watering 37.9 million people in poverty. Despite this, fairer national tax systems at home are more likely to pave the way for a fairer global distribution of wealth.

Stringent social services policies

A government can have a cornucopia that oozes money, but even that will not necessarily guarantee that the funds are being used to address poverty and inequality. The gargantuan Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, which was ordered by Nicolae Ceaușescu (1918–1989), is a prime example of this. While many Romanian people struggled to make ends meet, billions of dollars were being spent on this gargantuan project. The building is so heavy, it is actually sinking by 6 mm each year, while its utility costs are equivalent to those of a whole city. 

Nevertheless, State funds are not always syphoned off so conspicuously; they can just as easily disappear into the pockets of corrupt government ministers who care little for the needs of the people they are meant to serve. To this recklessness and greed, we can add exaggerated military spending, which is particularly disproportionate in oppressive regimes. This too would be massively reduced in a federal world scenario, while the arms race would be a thing of the past. In the meantime, international laws must be implemented to curb such excesses.

Sound national and international policies are therefore required to ensure that tax revenues are spent fairly; anything less is robbery. This means free, or universally affordable, healthcare, education, utilities, lodgings and transport… as well as safeguards to ensure that nobody goes hungry. 

Special services should also be available to support the most vulnerable. Most countries will not have anything close to that cornucopia mentioned above, so prioritising what really matters and cross border support is essential.  

Guaranteed employment and the universal basic income (UBI)

There is always something that needs to be done…

There is absolutely no reason why in normal circumstances people in developed countries should not be able to work. There is always something that needs to be done, even if it is planting flowers or reading to the sick. Handouts do not add quality to a society; work does. It takes an incredible lack of imagination to fail to see all the improvements that could be made through people power and vision. 

In poorer countries, the priority will no doubt have to be about ensuring a roof over people’s heads and enough food on their tables. This too, however, requires coordination. 

In all cases, UBI linked to reasonable job schemes, where that is possible, can help. On the one hand this two-pronged approach can pool in resources and mobilise people to get things done, while on the other, it can ensure that people have enough in order to live and work above the poverty line. True, the money will have to come from somewhere, but there is no reason why meaningful work and efficient use of resources should not generate the wealth required to eradicate poverty once and for all. As Jeremy Rifkin, an American economic and social theorist said: “Basic income is not a Utopia, it’s a practical business plan for the next step of the journey.” 

Taking personal responsibility for eradicating poverty

Turning the above points into reality involves government action and one of the best ways of making that happen is by voting in the right people and making our voices heard as best as we can. Nevertheless, there is plenty we can do to directly improve the situation ourselves. 

Each of the above points has a personal component. Are we wasteful? Do we exacerbate the problem by our lifestyle? Are we too busy being smug about our pet charity projects while our own relatives, friends and neighbours might literally be going hungry? Do we dare take our blinkers off, or are we happy with the devil we know? If we are not careful, that devil will screw us all.

Who is the devil we know: 5 Reasons Why You Should Not Trust The United Nations to represent humanity’s ideals

Hell on Earth

All said and done, this world is a hell to too many people and Sartre was on the right track when he said “l’enfer c’est les autres” (Hell is other people). Incidentally, the quote comes from his play Huis Clos (No Exit) and an excellent film version with Arletty is available on YouTube (French, with German subtitles). 

We sometimes create our own hells and we sometimes create them for other people too. What we too often do is heed Virgil’s infernal words to Dante: “Non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa…” (Let’s not dwell on them, but observe and move on…).

6 Solutions to Overhaul the United Nations Security Council

By Dinojah Patkunarajah

reform of UN Security council
Graphic: UN-aligned design team.

Six game-changing proposals to reform the UN Security Council and restore global peace

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is in desperate need of reform. Its current structure and its voting system have failed to effectively address global conflicts and address the needs of its member states. 

The council, made up of 15 members, including the five permanent members or P5 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) who hold unbridled veto power, has remained largely unchanged since its creation in 1945. 

Recent events, notably Russia’s brazen obstruction of a UNSC resolution demanding an immediate cessation of its assault on Ukraine and an immediate withdrawal of its troops, have underscored the urgent need for reform. While 11 of the council’s 15 members voted in favour of the resolution, China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstained, and it ultimately failed. 

This event highlights the ongoing challenges faced by the Security Council and the need for change in order to better reflect the current global order. Over the years, many attempts have been made to address these issues and reform the UNSC. 

1. Kofi Annan’s reform models 

The UN’s own attempt began with the establishment of the Open-ended Working Group in 1993, which discussed increasing the membership of the council. 

These efforts continued with Annan’s High-Level Panel in 2004, which proposed two reform models. The first model recommended adding six new permanent seats with no veto power, consisting of two each for Africa and Asia and an extra one for Europe and one for the Americas. 

The second proposal recommended creating eight seats that would last for four years and could be renewed, as well as one new seat that would only last for two years and could not be renewed. Despite these recommendations, the UNSC has yet to see any changes, while there continue to be various movements advocating for reforms.

2. Group of Four (G4)

The G4 is a group comprising of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan that supports each other’s bids for permanent seats on the Security Council. The group was formed in 2004 in response to the first model recommended by Kofi Annan’s panel. Since then, the economic and political influence of these countries has significantly grown, reaching a level comparable to that of the current permanent members of the UNSC. 

The G4 nations are regularly elected to two-year terms on the UNSC as non-permanent members by their respective regional groups and have spent a cumulative 64 years on the UNSC, with each country serving at least a decade. 

The G4’s bid for permanent membership has received support from some members of the P5 on the basis that they will not initially be able to exercise the veto power. However, their bid has faced opposition on an individual basis from some countries due to regional disputes. For example, China, Russia and South Korea oppose Japan, while Argentina opposes Brazil and Pakistan opposes India.

3. The Ezulwini Consensus

The Ezulwini Consensus is a proposal put forth by the African Union in 2005. It calls for the addition of at least two permanent seats and five non-permanent seats to be allocated by the African Union, with all permanent members, including the new African ones, having the right to the veto. 

However, the proposal also states that the African Union is opposed to the veto in principle, indicating a desire for a more democratic and fair decision-making process within the Security Council. 

While the African Union has stated that it will determine which countries will represent the continent on the Council, it was unable to decide on two nominees during the discussions in 2005, as Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa all claimed the right to a permanent African seat. 

Despite this, the Ezulwini Consensus has remained a central part of African negotiations in the ongoing debates over Security Council reform, given Africa’s status as a key swing region with 54 member states. The G4 countries have applied pressure on the Consensus, but it has remained a strong proposal for African representation on the UNSC.

4. Uniting for Consensus (UfC)

Led by Italy and made up of key members including Canada, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, Pakistan and Malta, the UfC aims to counter the bids for permanent seats made by the G4 and the African Union. 

Instead, it calls for a consensus to be reached before any decisions are made on the form and size of the Security Council. The group argues that the expansion of permanent seats would further widen the gap between member countries and result in the extension of privileges, with a knock-on effect on countries that are not included. 

In 2005, the UfC presented a proposal to increase the number of non-permanent seats from ten to twenty, with the seats being elected by the General Assembly. These would be for a two-year term and would be eligible for immediate re-election subject to the decision of their respective geographical groups. 

Later in 2009, Italy presented a new model of reform that proposed creating non-permanent seats with extended duration (3 to 5 years) that would be rotated among regional groups rather than allocated to individual countries. Its proposal also addresses the issue of veto, offering options ranging from its abolition to its limitation to Chapter VII (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression) matters only.

5. Permanent Continental Members

As we discussed, the UNSC has long been criticised for its lack of diversity and over-representation of certain nations. A new proposal aims to shake things up by replacing the five permanent national members with eight permanent continental members, each representing a supranational union of countries within their respective continents. 

This idea was recently highlighted in The Gordian magazine and has sparked a lot of discussion about its potential benefits and drawbacks.

The goal of this proposal is to create a more balanced and representative distribution of power within the UNSC, where decisions are made based on the common interests of the continent rather than individual national interests. This would not only bring more diverse perspectives to the table, but also help ensure that global decisions are made with the best interests of all nations in mind. 

While there are certainly challenges and potential roadblocks ahead, Permanent Continental Members could be a diverse and civilian-led approach to global governance, with the hope of ultimately leading to a more balanced and peaceful world.

6. Holding the P5 Accountable for Use of Veto

While these proposals have yet to gain real traction, amid growing criticisms, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in April 2022 aimed at holding the P5 accountable for their use of veto. 

The resolution, which was adopted without a vote, states that the President of the General Assembly should convene a formal meeting within 10 working days of a veto being cast by one or more of the permanent members. They should also hold a debate on the situation for which the veto was cast, as long as the Assembly is not already in an emergency special session on the same issue. 

The Assembly has also invited the Security Council to submit a special report on the veto in question at least 72 hours before the relevant discussion takes place. The resolution was co-sponsored by 83 member states, including three of the permanent members of the Security Council.

It has received mixed a response, with some arguing that it is an important step towards accountability, while others argue that it infringes on the division of powers between the Assembly and the Council.

Tangible Reforms in Sight?

After almost three decades of discussion, the resolution marks a significant milestone in the quest to reform the UNSC. Despite facing numerous challenges and opposition, the need for change is widely recognised and efforts are being made to address the issues faced by the council. 

From its current structure and voting system that have failed to effectively address global conflicts and the needs of member states, to the veto power held by the P5, the UNSC has remained largely unchanged since its creation in 1945. It is now up to member states to come to a consensus and implement meaningful reforms that better reflect the current global order and address the needs of all member states. The General Assembly Resolution to instil accountability in regard to veto marks a promising step towards tangible changes in the future.

The New International Man: Can World Federalism Overcome Nationalism?

By Omar Alansari-Kreger

Exploring the concept of the ‘New Soviet Man’ and how a modern-day equivalent could promote world federalism and overcome nationalism.
Graphic: UN-aligned design team

Exploring the concept of the ‘New Soviet Man’ and how a modern-day equivalent could promote world federalism and overcome nationalism.

As an old millennial having experienced childhood in the nineties, my generation grew up with the quintessential strongmen movies personified in protagonists like Rocky Balboa, Ivan Drago and Apollo Creed, as seen in the Rocky franchise. 

In Rocky 4, Dolph Lundgren portrayed a rather intimidating antihero; an opponent more machine than man. My generation remembers a world before it was possible to Google our curiosities away into the ether of the internet. Exposure to the world in terms of different cultures, languages and ways of life was primarily derived from movies like Rocky 4. Ivan Drago, Rocky’s deadly opponent having killed Apollo Creed in the boxing ring, seemingly revisited the literal definition of the New Soviet Man. 

BAmz9tRjcaFoEEffFSCdHT8 S3bL2pgqXWDctsmT9D 8cqb VBM qD uHW0NxEUXSzrZHaj
Caption: Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, epitomised the New Soviet Man in Rocky 4

Based on Marxist-Leninist propaganda officially sanctioned by the Soviet Communist Party, the New Soviet Man was described as the quintessential man of the future. He was a selfless, educated, healthy and iron-willed true believer of the Soviet Communist Experiment liberated from the primitive superstitions of the past.

Komsomol pioneers were taught to emulate the image of the New Soviet Man as a high example of what it meant to be civilised in the atomic age. The imagery associated with such a patriarchal figure was assumed to be culturally eternal: the existence of the Soviet state depended on raising New Soviet men to achieve world communism. 

The lowering of the Soviet flag for the last time on December 25th, 1991 reminded us that any ethos for civilisation cannot be achieved by totalitarian propaganda alone. What was the New Soviet Man beyond an existential allegory of perfection that contradicted the very existence of the empire it was supposed to serve? This begs a digressive question: what came first, the nation or the idea that bore it into a conceptual reality? Is ethnology the science of matter-of-fact anthropological realities evolved over geographic circumstance and sociological happenstance? 

The United States and the former Soviet Union shared one existential commonality: they were both superstates based on a diabolically opposed blueprint of ideas. The idea of a nation is validated by its supporting philosophy of civilisation.

The end of the Cold War created a multipolar geopolitical power vacuum. It rapidly became evident that a world of superimposed unilateralism is one where realpolitik is applied in lopsided absolutes. The tribalisms of antiquity are representative of the nationalisms of today. It is for this reason that we have global governance, but no world federalism. 

Historians often argue history repeated is history forsaken. Perhaps the repetition of history can be seen as an opportunity to get history right? The question is: is the United Nations too big to fail? How many activists prospecting United Nations reform have proposed a glasnost and perestroika parallel to Cold War history? To many, the United Nations is seen as an organisation of working disconnects and literal contradictions where eager diplomats seek to make self-serving zero-sum legacies passively. 

The United Nations could restore relevance and credibility to generations X and Y by offering a consciousness of ‘supracultural awareness’ to the abysmal war cries of nationalism. How can world federalism be sustained as a multicultural reality under the auspices of a ‘New International Man?’ Is there such a thing? 

In many ways, Greek mythology is illustrative of man’s hopes, desires and sufferings. Each deity of ancient polytheistic Hellas subscribes to an allegorical attribute of human nature. One of the most recognisable Titans is Atlas. He is no God. He is an eager everyman bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders with hopes of high posterity. 

A New International Man is an equal-opportunity civilisation builder. 

The New International Man sees no divisions in nations. He only sees peoples, cultures and the infinite potential of man to build a world that could be as opposed to what it has become. He is not an empty-headed ideologue disconnected from reality. He is a big picture thinker and centenarian planner. Beyond history, he views our future as our common heritage. He is dedicated to eliminating weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical warfare. He sees peaceful potential for everything, but is no pacifist, realising force is at times necessary to maintain peace. His mightiest sword is the pen. He believes every race, nation and culture of the world has new international players to add to the perpetual discourse of world peace.

Yet, can world federalism become a cultural phenomenon personified in the idea of the New International Man?

‘Like heads in the sand’: United Nations Votes on Israeli Occupation

By Adrian Liberto

UN General Assembly (UNGA)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Ragnhild H. Simenstad

The recent UN General Assembly vote on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories sheds light on the disturbing trend of political ignorance amongst powerful nations.

Ostriches are said to bury their heads in the sand to avoid facing the facts, politicians bury theirs in the dung of deliberate ignorance. 

On December 30, the United Nations General Assembly held a vote on whether to submit a request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on the consequences of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. 

UNGA votes on the Israel
UNGA voted on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. 87 in favour, 26 Against and 53 Abstentions.

Surely there could be nothing controversial about shedding light on abusive situations? In a decent world, maybe, but this is no decent world. Only 87 countries voted in favour of the resolution; 53 abstained and 26 voted against. 

Countries that voted against included some of the most powerful, including the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Germany; while only seven EU countries voted in favour. 

Is it any wonder that Israeli governments have been allowed to get away with murder? The vote passed, but it was despite the moral high ground of “clean” democracies, not thanks to them.

Odessa’s Cultural Heritage Threatened by Ongoing Conflict in Ukraine

By Adrian Liberto

Odessa Ivan Martos's statue covered in sandbags
Sandbags have been placed around the statue of the Duke of Richelieu, the first governor of Odessa, in preparation for possible future attacks by Russia. Photo: manhhai/Flickr © CC2.0

Despite being inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the historical Ukrainian city of Odessa struggles to protect its monuments from the effects of war.

On January 25, UNESCO inscribed the historical Ukrainian city of Odessa on the World Heritage List and the World Heritage in Danger List. “Odessa, a free city, a world city, a legendary port that has left its mark on cinema, literature and the arts, is thus placed under the reinforced protection of the international community,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. 

The people of the port city were delighted as was its mayor, Gennady Trukhanov. He pointed out, however, that the task would not be an easy one:

“We covered all our monuments with sandbags, but it is difficult to ensure complete security. For example, a blast from a rocket that was shot down damaged an architectural monument, the Vorontsov Palace on Prymorskyi Boulevard, part of the roof was destroyed, and the windows were smashed out.”

The irony in all this is that whilst the United Nations is trying to protect the hallowed city with one hand, one of its most powerful members, with the connivance of others, is bombing it with the other. The UN is unique in this respect. It is like a federation that has normalised civil war. 

It makes no effort to stand up for justice through red lines, but scrambles on through a free-for-all, like a mother trying to protect her many children from a vicious and abusive father through every possible means except the only one that can ultimately work: telling the monster to piss off!

Closing the Wealth Gap in Arab Economies: The Power of a Progressive Taxation System

By Dawn Roy

Closing the Wealth Gap in Arab Economies The Power of a Progressive Taxation System
Graphic: UN-aligned design team.

The rising levels of wealth inequality in the Middle East sparks debate over the need for progressive taxation models to bridge the extreme concentration of wealth in the region.

On January 4th 2023, Dubai announced an 8.7 trillion-dollar expansion plan as a part of its diversification plan to shift its focus from revenues generated from oil reserves. The emirate aspires to become a global financial hub by boosting its manufacturing and logistics, making it an attractive proposition for foreign investors. 

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is another diversification strategy under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons. The government estimates it can raise 1 trillion riyals in non-governmental revenue and decrease the unemployment rate from 12% to 7% by 2030. Qatar also positions itself to be one of the emerging investment destinations by implementing the policies from the Qatar National Vision 2030

One of the steps taken in that direction was hosting the world cup in 2022. Qatar aims to improve its local business environment through flexible economic policies and forming essential partnerships between the public and the private sector. 

With economic growth and diversification as one of the most important priorities of the Arab countries, the governments have made efforts to lower taxes to attract billionaires to invest their funds in their respective economies. For instance, Qatar has exempted income tax for foreign investors for up to 10 years and relaxed the rules surrounding the ownership of capital to facilitate foreign direct investment (FDI). 

Saudi Arabia does not levy personal income tax and wealth tax, but funds its revenues and subsidies through oil revenues. Similarly, Dubai does not have any taxes on wealth, income, capital gains and inheritance. Such taxation policies make these economies a tempting option for individuals aiming to earn tax-free benefits.     

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However, the aftermath of such policy initiatives could be seen in the rising levels of inequality in the Middle East. As per the report published by the World Inequality Lab, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the highest rates of inequality in the world.  

There exists an extreme concentration of wealth in the top 1%, such that they collectively own 23% of the total income. In the MENA region, the Arab countries have the highest levels of inequality, where 54% of the total income is concentrated in the top 10% and a mere 12% of the wealth is shared amongst the bottom 50%.  

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There has been a growing consensus among various experts regarding the introduction of a wealth tax to bridge the inequality gap that is present in these economies. The economic activity in the Middle Eastern and North Africa region is expected to sharply contract from 6.1% in 2022 to 3.5% in 2023. 

Despite the high-growth rates in the previous year, economists suggest that the growth has been uneven across all regions. Certain macroeconomic shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war and rising global interest rates, have adversely affected the bottom 50% of the economy. 

Recent studies indicate that the share of public wealth has been falling in the past years and the proportion of private wealth has been rising. The pandemic has exacerbated the condition which resulted in extreme wealth among billionaires. Hence, it is critical to introduce fairer taxation systems to tackle extreme inequalities. 

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Countries where the largest superyachts are registered

The existing wealth taxes mainly include a flat rate on the properties acquired by individuals and have no real economic significance in the current economic system. There is an urgent need to introduce a modern progressive wealth taxation system that ensures redistribution of wealth in society. A pivotal step taken in this direction would be to replace the existing property taxes with progressive modern taxes.

The payoff from such a policy initiative would be an upsurge in the tax revenues which could be utilised for a wide range of social security programmes. The governments usually rely on their oil revenues for subsidies and other social security payments. The low tax rates on wealth could raise the wealth generation capacity of the families belonging to the bottom 50% who are deprived of necessary capital. These systems would also prevent the rise of market distortionary practices of large companies and ensure sustainable growth.   

Apart from such systems, respective governments could modernise their revenue administrations and diversify their economy. Careful implementation of such reforms through transparent and clear communication mechanisms would create a significant change in improving the lives of their citizens. 

More Than a Mere Copycat? The Rise of AI-Generated Art and its implications

By Dinojah Patkunarajah

AI generated art
A photo genreated by Midjourney

Can AI art really be considered true art? The debate is heating up as many see this new technology as a mere copycat, while others argue that it has the potential to elevate human creativity to new heights.

As you scrolled through Instagram recently, did you stumble across pieces of digital artwork that looked like it was custom-made for the user? The chances are, it was generated by an AI using a trendy new app. 

Lensa is just one of many apps that have recently gained popularity, allowing users to generate portraits, illustrations and other types of artwork at the click of a button. But while these AI-powered tools can produce impressive results, they have also sparked a debate about the implications of using AI to create art.

How does it work?

AI art is generated using algorithms and machine learning techniques that are designed to perform different tasks.

One example of this is Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs), which are algorithms that are modelled after the structure and function of the human brain. ANNs are trained to recognise patterns in data, making them useful for tasks such as speech and image recognition.

How AI art works
Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) can identify patterns in data, whereas Convolutional Neural Networks (ConvNets) excel in recognising images, and Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) are capable of generating artificial data while ConvNets are useful in tasks like object detection and facial recognition.

Another type of neural network is Generative Adversarial Networks GANs, which are composed of two networks: a generator and a discriminator. Convolutional Neural Networks (GANs) are primarily used for generating synthetic data, such as images or text, by training the generator to produce output that is indistinguishable from real data. The discriminator then evaluates the generated output to determine its authenticity.

Convolutional Neural Networks (ConvNets), on the other hand, are specialised neural networks designed specifically for image recognition tasks. They are trained using large datasets of images and their corresponding labels. ConvNets are capable of detecting and recognising patterns within images, making them useful for tasks such as facial recognition and object detection.

These technologies have been used to create tools like text-to-image generators and DeepDream, which can generate images based on a text prompt or recognise various visual elements in images.

There are various companies that offer AI art tools and services, some of which charge a fee for access to their datasets or for the use of their AI tools. 

There are also open-source options available, such as Stable Diffusion, which uses publicly available datasets like LAION to train its AI. It is not entirely clear to what extent AI photo creation models rely on various sources for their input. 

While some sources, like publicly available images and licensed content, are known to be used, there are also large databases like Common Crawl that gather data from the internet and make it available to the public for free. Some organisations, like OpenAI, initially used these free resources, but these now charge a fee for access to a set of images. In addition, companies like Lensa and Avatar AI have started charging users for access to data sets that were originally obtained through scraping.

Is it really art?

Before discussing some potential copyright concerns, let us address the elephant in the room. Is AI art really art? 

The debate over whether AI art should be considered ‘real art’ is a polarising one. Some argue that AI art lacks the emotions that fuel art, as it is simply compelled by commands rather than an emotional need to express itself. Others point out that AI art is not ‘original’, as it uses pre-existing images and merges them with algorithms to illustrate a requested prompt. When machines are used to create art, determining the rightful creator—whether it is the machine or its human operator—becomes a complex issue, raising questions about copyright infringement and possible legal action by the original artists.

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In September 2022 Jason Allen was awarded $300 for a picture that he generated using Midjourney, an AI photo generator.

On the other hand, proponents of AI art argue that it should be considered ‘real art’ due to its ability to develop artistic skills like humans do. Algorithms must collect data and learn from it to create art that accurately represents a prompt, and they can continue to elevate their work through trial and error. 

Moreover, AI art can still inspire viewers just like human-made art can. While it may not be as emotive or original as human-made art, AI art can still be considered a form of craftsmanship and artistic achievement. It is also important to note that, at the end of the day, AI-art generators were created and are currently utilised by humans.

Proponents also argue that the incorporation of AI into the art industry can also bring new opportunities. For example, AI art can serve as a new medium for human artists to express their creativity. Artists could use AI to generate images and then manipulate them to create something unique and original. In this way, AI art can serve as a new medium for artists to explore and express their creativity.

Some artists, such as video collage artist Erik Winkowski, have started using AI art generators as a tool to create new works of art. In his short film Leaving Home, Winkowski drew certain frames and used the open-source AI tool Stable Diffusion to generate the frames in between. 

He describes the experience as “having a superpower as an artist” and believes that AI will allow artists to take on more ambitious projects in the future. 

Copyright concerns

One of the main concerns regarding AI art is that AI algorithms are trained on datasets of images scraped from the internet. These datasets may include copyrighted or watermarked images, which means that the original artists may not have given their permission for their work to be used. As such, many artists do not receive any compensation for their work. 

“We could say that, ethically, it’s stealing”, said Greg Rutkowski, a fantasy artist based in Poland, in an interview with As It Happens host Nil Köksal. 

Curious to investigate this, I decided to give avatar generating app Lensa a shot, all for the pocket-friendly price of $8 Canadian. I tossed in a handful of my best selfies and sat back, anticipating a whole new batch of avatars, each showcasing a different artistic style.

The results were truly impressive, but they came with a big caveat. 

Have a close look at the images generated using the app, and you will notice what appears to be blurred out signatures underneath them, suggesting that the art is likely composed of the work of multiple artists without proper compensation or credit.

ai art generator experiment
The US Copyright Office has said that AI can’t copyright its art.

The San Francisco based artist Karla Ortiz points out that these avatars are the product of real labour by millions of uncompensated artists: “I think they need to understand that those images look really good because artists’ work was stolen to make it good”.

In response to these concerns, many artists have spoken out about the dangers of AI-generated art and have advocated for change. Some have called for the creation of ethical guidelines to govern the use of AI in the art world, while others have raised awareness about the issue on social media, with hashtags such as #StopAIArt trending across TikTok.

The future of AI art

The future of AI-generated art remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: AI-generated art is here to stay, and it will continue to be a topic of debate and discussion for the foreseeable future.

As the technology continues to improve, it is likely that we will see even more realistic and sophisticated AI-generated art in the future. 

This raises the question of what role AI will play in the art world and how it will coexist with human-made art. New rules and regulations may be needed in order to address the issues that are arising.

Some changes can already be seen in the art community. For example, Deviant Art faced backlash when it initially announced plans to add its own AI text-to-image generation tool DreamUp to its website, which would have automatically made all of its users’ artwork available to train the AI. As a result, the company changed its policy and now requires users to actively opt in to have their work included in the training. 

Stock image marketplace Shutterstock has announced plans to integrate DALLE’s text-to-image generator and compensate creators whose work was used in the training process.

It is important for both the art community and society at large to address the issues surrounding AI-generated art and to consider both the positive and negative impacts it could have on human artists. 

While AI can be a powerful tool for creating art, it’s crucial that we ensure that it is used ethically and that the rights of human artists are respected. 

The Rise of the Angry Young Men in British Drama

By Alex Liberto

The Rise of the Angry Young Men in British Drama
Graphic: UN-aligned design team.

Exploring social injustice and generation gap in post-war Britain drama through the works of John Osborne and other playwrights of the Angry Young Men movement.

‘A Look Back in Anger’ by John Osborne

Drama, like the novel, reflected the discontent and disillusionment of the younger generations. The Angry Young Men were not only novelists but also playwrights. 

Look Back in Anger by John Osborne was certainly the turning point of British drama. The main character, Jimmy Porter, an intellectual who had to work in the market-place to support his family, represented that new kind of dissatisfaction and rage. He, in fact, was rejected by society and subsequently turned against it with indiscriminate fury. 

Like Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, Jimmy Porter was dissatisfied with his situation and reacted against it. Social injustice is one of the major themes in the work of John Osborne. 

The term Angry Young Men was coined in the wake of his Look Back in Anger. 

Osborne attacked the complacency of the English and the main character Jimmy Porter expressed the human suffering and the social struggle. The angry young men were those who belonged to the lower classes, but who were given the chance to exploit a complete formal education; neo-intellectuals who reacted to the old conservative standards of class distinction with strength and disdain. 

Richard Burton and Mary Ure in Look Back in Anger 1959
Richard Burton and Mary Ure in Look Back in Anger (1959). Photo: Screenshot from the movie.

Another characteristic of Osborne’s work is the study of the generation gap, which highlighted the fracture between the stable values and national greatness of the past, and the social protest and declining importance of Post-War Britain.

Learn more: John Osborne: his life and works 

The structure of his plays reversed the traditional settings and conventional parameters of post-war English drama by doing away with classical theatrical methods. 

The structure followed the basic three-act play created by the French dramatists Eugene Scribe (1791-1861) and Victorien Sardou (1831-1908). 

John Osborne playwright
John Osborne

Osbome did away with flashbacks and created a circular development in the progression of his story. In Look Back in Anger, for example, the setting in the first act is identical to the third act, a fact which underlines the repetitive nature of daily routine. 

Apart from the social sense of frustration in Osborne’s plays, which marked a break from the traditional themes of the plays belonging to pre-war Britain, the innovative language was also uniquely distinctive.

The language, up to that point in time, had been created for the upper-class theatregoers, polished and somewhat ostentatious, Osborne’s characters, by contrast, used slang, colloquialisms and the everyday simple language; the language of the middle and lower classes. 

It must be remembered that Osborne had worked in the theatre when he was a young man as an actor and it was that experience which helped create in him the acute sense of stage and theatre. His work always reflected those essential theatrical elements which revealed man’s relationship with society and with himself.

Other Angry Young Men playwrights

Other dramatists who expressed anger and sarcasm at the post-war society were Arnold Wesker and John Arden. 

Wesker dealt with the discontent of the working classes. His work was politically motivated and it highlighted the problems of Osborne’s Jimmy Porter, as being those of society and not merely of an individual. Arden’s Musgrave’s Dance (1959) was his best work. It dealt with war and peace and was influenced by Brecht. Other writers worthy of mention are Brendan Behan, Shelagh Delaney,  Ann Jellicoe and Bernard Kops.

Protesting against society and the situation of man, but in a different way, were the giants of the Theatre of the Absurd Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. 

Learn more: Samuel Beckett & Harold Pinter: 2 Giants of the Theatre of the Absurd

Both playwrights developed a new drama which was characterised by features that had nothing in common with the prevailing criteria of the time. 

‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1952) shocked the traditional critics who desperately searched for plot, characterisation, orchestrated dialogue or just a plain simple story… and found none. 

This new drama, known as the Theatre of the Absurd, was in fact the incarnation of the imperceptible situation man found himself in during the post-war society. So imperceptible and so undefinable, that the characters of Beckett’s play are surrealistic, as is their incoherent dialogue and the setting itself. Time loses all sense and meaning. 

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
A 1978 staging of Waiting for Godot by Otomar Krejca. Rufus (Estragon) and Georges Wilson (Vladimir). Photo: Fernand Michaud.

In a period of two days, a dreamlike situation unfolds as a dead, withered tree regains its full bloom. Two characters, Pozzo and Lucky, who are normal on the first day, are both handicapped on the second, Pozzo is blind and Lucky is dumb. What is more surprising is that we learn that they have been blind and dumb for a long time. 

This surrealistic quality of the play is also evident in the static development of the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon. They talk to each other, but they do not communicate. They take decisions which they never follow. They wait endlessly for Godot, who never appears. The whole work is more like dramatised poetry, or music.

Herbert Blau, who directed the play for 1400 convicts at San Quentin penitentiary in 1957, compared the play to a piece of jazz music in which one could search for any interpretation of feeling or understanding. 

Referring to jazz, which is characterised by improvisation and not altogether harmonious rhythm, helps us understand the definition of absurd, which, in musical terminology actually means ‘out of harmony’. 

Albert Camus had already described this separation between man and his environment in his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942). This is how he diagnosed the disharmony in our alien world:

“A world that can be explained by reasoning, however faulty, is a familiar world. But in a universe that is suddenly deprived of illusions and of light, man feels a Stranger. He is in an irremediable exile, because he is deprived of memories of a lost homeland as much as he lacks the hope of a promised land to come. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, truly constitutes the feeling of Absurdity.”

‘The Homecoming’ by Harold Pinter

First edition cover of The Homecoming

Harold Pinter’s plays also belong to the Theatre of the Absurd in that they express visually what is felt poetically. His characters, like Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, speak in nonsequiturs and are unable to explain their actions.

Learn more: Harold Pinter: a mirror for the common people

Pinter’s characters are even more inconsequential when they converse. They just talk for the sake of talking. This Pinteresque style of dialogue, as it has come to be known, is really typical of the disharmony Pinter wanted to portray. 

He saw man as an object that simply existed. He echoed Beckett’s description of man as “a scrap of life surrounded by death, a something encircled by nothing”. 

In Pinter’s The Homecoming one of the characters attacks his family with words which could very well have been expressed by Pinter himself in relation to man.

“You wouldn’t understand my works. You wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what they were about […] It’s nothing to do with the question of intelligence. It’s a way of being able to look at the world. It’s a question of how far you can operate on things and not in things [.] You’re just objects. You just [.] move about. I can observe it. I can see what you do. It’s the same as I do. But you’re lost in it.”

Other dramatists of this new drama include the Russian, Arthur Adamov (1908-1970), and the Frenchman of Romanian origin, Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994) who became one of the leading dramatists of the French avant-garde.

British Drama in the 60s and 70s

The theatre that developed during the 1960s and 1970s shifted from experimental to traditional. 

Two playwrights worthy of mention are Tom Stoppard (b.1937) and Robert Bolt (1924- 1995). The former wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) and Travesties (1974), while the latter kept to the traditional theatre with his Chekov-like Flowering Cherry (1957), A Man for all Seasons (1960) which was made into a successful cinema version, and Vivat Regina (1970), a historical drama on Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. 

Other angry young men
Right to left: Tom Stoppard, Peter Shaffer and Robert Bolt

Another traditionalist was Peter Shaffer (1926-2016) who wrote The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964), a play on the conquest of Peru; Equs (1973); and Amadeus (1981) which focused on the dying Mozart’s accusations of the rival Antonio Salieri for poisoning him.

During the 1930s many critics and intellectuals had predicted doom for the theatre, foreseeing the complete take-over by the new and more enticing cinema. Even George Bernard Shaw, in the New York Herald Tribune (August 7, 1930) stated: 

“The poor old theatre is done for […] there will be nothing but ‘talkies’ soon!”. Jane Cowl, an American theatre actress, addressing members of the Women’s Graduate Club of Columbia University in 1929 asserted that “We are being mechanised out of the theatre by ‘talkies’ and radio, and by people who prefer convenience to beauty.”

Luckily the vigour and vitality of the theatre after the 1940s proved them all wrong.

The Conversion of St. Paul by Caravaggio: A Masterpiece of Dramatic Intensity and Transformative Power

By Carla Pietrobattista

The Conversion of St. Paul by Caravaggio A Masterpiece of Dramatic Intensity and Transformative Power
The Conversion of St. Paul by Caravaggio- A Masterpiece of Dramatic Intensity and Transformative Power

An analysis of Caravaggio’s The Conversion of St. Paul and its representation of the powerful transformation of the future apostle.

The Meaning of ‘Conversion’ and Its Relevance to the Painting

The term ‘conversion’ is derived from the Latin word ‘conversio’, which denotes a movement from one place to another, a turning towards something or someone, or a change of direction.

Although the word itself does not necessarily connote any religious or moral significance, it presents boundless possibilities for internal and external transformation. Change can happen by deliberate choice or can be brought about unexpectedly by life’s unpredictable events, which often add new shades and dimensions to our existence.

Caravaggio’s renowned painting, The Conversion of St. Paul, portrays such a transformative moment, where everything changed for the future apostle to the people. It was a pivotal moment, one in which he became acutely aware that nothing would ever be the same again. 

The intense flash of insight that he experienced, imperceptible to those around him, was the impetus that launched him from one point in his life to another. The painting’s central figure illustrates the power of a moment that propels us towards a new destination.

St. Paul’s Encounter with Jesus: Background

St. Paul’s conversion, a pivotal moment in Christian history, saw the transformation of a notorious persecutor of Christians into a devout believer. The event, which occurred during his journey to Damascus and involved a dramatic encounter with Jesus, is documented in three accounts in the New Testament book of Acts.

This conversion is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it allowed Christianity to expand beyond its Jewish roots and reach a wider audience. Secondly, it made Paul one of the most important figures in the early Church, as evidenced by his extensive missionary work and writings.

Following his conversion, Paul spent three years in Arabia before embarking on a missionary journey across the Roman Empire. His letters to early Christian communities, a significant part of the New Testament, played a crucial role in the development of Christianity.

St. Paul’s conversion represents a powerful transformation that has had a lasting impact on Christian theology and practice. His life and work continue to inspire Christians today.

Caravaggio’s Style and Aesthetic Break from his Contemporaries

Caravaggio’s oil on canvas painting, The Conversion of St. Paul, was completed in 1601 under commission by Tiberio Cerasi. The artwork is one of two commissioned by Cerasi, the other being The Crucifixion of St. Peter, both of which are now preserved in the Cerasi Chapel of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome.

The Conversion of Saint Paul Caravaggio
The full frame of Caravaggio’s Conversion of St. Paul .

Despite Caravaggio’s current acclaim as a master artist, his contemporaries did not initially appreciate his work due to his break from the pre-established aesthetic criteria of his time. Caravaggio introduced a new way of creating and experiencing art, characterised by stylistic and conceptual elements that were not well understood by his peers. Nonetheless, he pursued his artistic vision unencumbered by the norms and conventions of the time.

As a result, The Conversion of St. Paul is a testament to Caravaggio’s dramatic style and intense approach to capturing the moment of conversion. He portrays the transformative moment with unfettered intensity, using light and shadow to create a striking contrast that emphasises the dramatic effect. 

Composition of Caravaggio’s Conversion of Saint Paul

The painting represents a clear stylistic break for Caravaggio and this is perceptible in every aspect of the artwork, from practical to theoretical. The first sign of this change is evident in the composition itself. 

Typically, the protagonist of a painting was placed in the centre of the composition, but in The Conversion of St. Paul, the centre is occupied by a horse, which is being restrained by an elderly gentleman to prevent it from trampling on Paul, who had been thrown off his horse due to a sudden startle.

This unique composition immediately captures the attention of the viewer and creates a sense of drama and intensity that is characteristic of Caravaggio’s work. The absence of a central figure adds to the realism of the scene and makes it all the more relatable for the audience.

Significance of Horse and Elderly Man

In the painting, the horse appears to be the only one to have truly perceived the profound transformation of Saul, which resulted in his “death” and the “birth” of Paul. 

Hourse 2

The animal’s tense muscles convey the difficulty of holding it back, indicating the powerful change that has taken place. On the other hand, the elderly man holding the horse seems to be more focused on the animal rather than the man on the ground. 

There are some discrepancies in how the event was perceived by those who were with the apostle on the road to Damascus, according to the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul.

Before his conversion, Saul was a zealous Jewish pupil of Gamaliel on his way to Damascus to suppress the growing Christian community. However, he was blinded by a great light and transformed by the voice of Jesus, asking him why he persecuted him, which led to his conversion.

The Power of the Voice and Light in the Conversion

In the painting, the elements that led to Paul’s conversion, the voice and the light, are of particular interest. The voice, although not audible to the viewer, is conveyed through the use of colour that vibrantly fills the space and creates a sense of power. 

Light and darkness 2

The light is also crucial, as it blinds Paul but simultaneously illuminates both him and the viewer, allowing us to bear witness to the transformation. 

The presence of light in the scene and the absence of it in Saul’s eyes highlights the meeting and dialogue between Paul and his new God; and though dressed, paradoxically he seems naked in front of the truth. 

Capturing the Paradoxical State of Paul’s Conversion

In the painting, Paolo appears to have lost not only his helmet, which lies on the ground beside him, but also his sense of self. As someone who was once resolute in his beliefs, he is now adrift without certainty, and his arms are raised as if seeking guidance. He hears a voice speaking to him, but he can no longer see. He is enveloped by light, yet finds himself in a state of darkness. 

Old man 2

The painting captures Paul’s fear, wonder and isolation with a balance between pictorial technique and scriptural knowledge. While the composition adheres to the religious subject, the originality lies in the distribution of colours and characters, as well as the ability to create a sense of presence and participation. 

Rather than being a detached observer, the viewer becomes fully immersed in the scene and experiences it as part of that world, in that moment.

The Conversion of St. Paul is a powerful representation of a transformative moment that changed the course of Christian history. The artwork’s unique composition, dramatic style and intense use of light and shadow capture the paradoxical state of Paul’s conversion. 

The painting exemplifies Caravaggio’s break from the traditional aesthetic criteria of his time, making it a testament to his artistic vision and courage to follow it. 

Unlocking the Power of a Thriving Bioeconomy

By Partho Pratim Chatterjee and Pradeep Kumar Chatterjee

vertical farming
Photo: Lianoland Wimons © CC 4.0

The bioeconomy offers a promising solution for mitigating climate change and promoting sustainability, but only with smart policy interventions.

As we face the pressing issue of climate change, it’s clear that we need solutions that are both sustainable and equitable. That’s where the concept of a bioeconomy comes in. 

By harnessing renewable resources, a bioeconomy has the potential to not only help mitigate emissions, but also support communities that have been historically marginalised, such as forest dwellers, farmers and indigenous populations.

However, in order to fully realise the benefits of a bioeconomy, we need to ensure that it is supported by smart policies.

Clean Power Generation

Generating clean power is a key aspect of building a sustainable bioeconomy. One way to do this is through the use of biomass, which can be transformed into biogas through a process called anaerobic digestion. This involves collecting biomass from sources like minor forest produce and farm stubble, and then treating it in the presence of certain bacteria to produce methane.

But that’s not all. The biogas produced from biomass can also be used to generate electricity. After removing impurities, the biogas can be burned in gas turbines to produce electricity. 

If you’re looking to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, you can even blend biomass pellets with coal to create a cleaner-burning fuel.

Clean Power Storage

Storing clean power is a crucial aspect of transitioning to a renewable energy future. While sources like solar and wind are renewable and clean, they are also intermittent, which means that there are times when they might not produce enough energy to meet demand. 

That’s why energy storage is so important. It helps to ensure that there’s a steady supply of power even when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

And that’s where biofuels come in. They offer a promising solution for long-term storage of renewable power. Surplus energy generated during peak hours or sunny months can be used to produce biogas or bioethanol. And when demand is higher than supply, these biofuels can be burned to generate electricity.

In addition to helping balance supply and demand, biofuels also promote the idea of carbon neutrality and can play a crucial role in helping countries reach their net-zero emissions targets. For example, bioethanol made from materials like sugarcane molasses can be used in flex fuel engines to reduce emissions from vehicles.

Countering Climate Change

Countering climate change is a crucial challenge of our time, and the bioeconomy has a lot to offer in this effort. One of the major problems facing cities is the formation of Urban Heat Islands (UHIs), which occur when densely populated areas become much hotter than the surrounding rural areas. 

To address the issue, there are two innovative approaches that can be utilised: vertical farming and aeroponics.

Vertical farming refers to a method of growing crops in vertically stacked layers using controlled-environment agriculture techniques. This approach offers a way to maximise crop yields in a limited space, using techniques such as hydroponics, lighting, temperature control, and nutrient delivery systems.

Aeroponics, on the other hand, is a system of growing plants in an air or mist environment, without the use of soil. This method utilises a fine mist of nutrient-rich water to provide plants with the necessary elements for growth, while also allowing for maximum oxygenation of the roots. This results in a more efficient use of water and nutrients, and can lead to faster growth and higher production.

Another important aspect of countering climate change is sequestering carbon dioxide (removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in a solid or liquid form). This can be done in a number of ways, such as using carbon dioxide from industrial processes to promote plant growth in controlled setups. 

By planting forests using techniques like Miyawaki, a method of planting forests densely with native species, we can help to increase carbon sequestration and moderate temperatures. In arid areas, bamboo plantations can be used to conserve water and sequester carbon (remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), as well as provide materials for the incense industry.

Mangrove alliances, partnerships between communities, governments, and organisations to conserve and restore mangrove forests, can also play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change. By promoting the growth of mangroves, we can increase carbon sequestration, reduce coastal erosion and reduce damage from floods and cyclones.

Instead of incinerating agricultural waste, it can be converted into fertilisers using bio enzymes and decomposers, creating a “Waste to Wealth” cycle.

Policy Interventions

To fully realise the potential of a sustainable bioeconomy, it’s crucial for governments to take the lead. Policy interventions are key to making this happen. Here are some ideas for how to get started:

  • Make bioeconomy a priority: It should be included as a key component in national green missions and made a priority for investment and funding.
  • Use bonds to finance bioeconomy projects: Governments could issue sovereign green bonds to raise funds specifically for bioeconomy-related initiatives.
  • Create a finance authority: A Bioeconomy Projects Finance Authority could be established to provide low-interest loans to support research, development and innovation in the bioeconomy sector.
  • Grant funding for startups: National green funds could be used to provide grants to startups that have promising, eco-friendly prototypes and ideas.
  • Provide incentives to biomass collectors: People who collect biomass as a livelihood should be incentivised with direct benefit transfers, making it more appealing for them to sell their biomass instead of using it for potentially harmful purposes.

By implementing these policies in a technically efficient, economically feasible, environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner, we can set the stage for a thriving, sustainable bioeconomy in the near future.

The Hidden Costs of Arizona’s Hostile Stance Towards Immigrants

By Elvira Ineza

The Hidden Costs of Arizonas Hostile Stance Towards Immigrants
Graphic: UN-aligned design team.

Arizona’s hostile immigration policies come at a hidden cost, with human lives lost and contributions to the economy ignored, while political tactics further complicate the issue.

My internship comes to an end, but my journey continues

By Atika Harba

Syrian refugee children in a Lebanese school classroom
Syrian refugee children in a Lebanese school classroom. Photo: DFID – UK Department for International Development © CC 2.0

Education in refugee camps has the transformative power to break the chains of poverty and rebuild lives, bringing hope for a better tomorrow.

During my internship at the UN-aligned, I did my best to convey the suffering of refugees and their lives in the camps through interviews and life in the camp. As a refugee myself, I now want to share one last story.

Recently, I met a 23-year-old returning from work in the stone sawmills with his clothes covered in dust. He was the son of our neighbour and one of the brightest students at his university. He was forced to leave school due to forced majeure and ended up supporting his family by working in the mills.

In our estrangement, we have learned the power of education. An educated person can uplift their companions to the top. We ask for more support regarding education, so all children can obtain their right to learn. Especially in these difficult economic conditions, we need people who can teach the young. We cannot afford private lessons for our children.

We call on those who can support us to establish new educational institutions in the camps so that our children can learn. This way, they can graduate and obtain good job opportunities. People should have the chance to get a decent job, and through work, we can encourage the younger generations.

Despite the difficult circumstances we face, we still hold on to hope for a beautiful and peaceful life, a prosperous future for our children and a society built on science and knowledge.

After graduation, I plan to support educational institutions to provide job opportunities for young graduates and to help educate children who have no one to stand up for them and teach them. 

Your support for the education of refugees in camps would bring us one step closer to achieving our dreams and lifting ourselves out of these difficult circumstances.

  • Diaries from Refugee Camps is a series that gives readers a glimpse inside the challenging life of refugees. Are you a refugee and would like to share your story inside this series? Please write to us. 
  • The following entry was submitted by during the 2022 Covid pandemic.

Diving Into the Enigmatic World of Deep Sea Creatures – in Pictures

By Ariana Yekrangi

The Barreleye. Read more about this creature in the gallery.

Step into the captivating and unknown realm of the deep sea, where a vast variety of extraordinary creatures dwell, still largely unknown to humans. 

‘Time and Time Again’: The Quiz on the History and Evolution of Calendars

By Ariana Yekrangi

Roman Calendar
© Public Domain

From the solstices to the equinoxes, the lunar cycles to the solar years, join in this quiz on calendars

Calendars have played a crucial role in shaping our daily lives and understanding of the world around us. But how much do you really know about these timekeeping systems? Grab a cup of coffee and get ready to test your knowledge of one of humanity’s oldest and most enduring inventions – the calendar!

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