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On happiness and hypocrisy | Opinions

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I took a look at the 2022 World Happiness Report during the weekend, hoping to take a break from the misery of wars from Ukraine to Yemen.

I found it pretty amusing and utterly depressing.

The fact that Finland, long a “buffer” state between Russia and the West, is crowned the happiest country in the world for the fifth consecutive year should give Ukrainians and the rest of us, pause.

Ukraine, which ranks 98, has come under Russian assault mainly or allegedly because it rejected the “buffer state” status, among other demands.

Switzerland and Austria, which ranked fourth and 11th respectively, have also been neutral states since the beginning of the Cold War.

But before we discuss the report’s findings, let us start at its beginnings.

According to its authors, the tiny poor Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan should be thanked for the “World Happiness Report” and for “much of the growing international interest in happiness”.

Well, it is not like until Bhutan intervened much of the world’s interest was focused on misery, but it may have emphasised the wrong indicators, considering that prosperous modernity has proven no guarantee for happiness and may well cause greater unhappiness.

At any rate, when Bhutan moved from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy in 2008, it also started to use gross national happiness (GNH) – which assesses “the collective wellbeing” of the population based on sustainable development, environmental conservation, cultural preservation and good governance – instead of the “antiquated” gross national product (GNP) as its main development indicator.

To quantify the people’s wellbeing, the Center for Bhutanese Studies began by surveying some 8,000 randomly selected households using a questionnaire of more than 200 questions about their personal lives and feelings. That must have been torture.

In 2011, the “Kingdom of Happiness” sponsored a UN resolution, inviting other governments to “give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development”.

And the following year, Bhutan, along with a number of academic enthusiasts of the newly created “happiness industry”, presented the UNGA with “evidence from the new emerging science of happiness”, paving the way for the UN proclamation of March 20th as International Day of Happiness.

I find “happiness day” and “happiness science” rather contrived, defeating the whole point of happiness as the end goal of all human endeavour, as the Ancient Greeks and Romans wisely observed, be it through the pursuit of virtue and justice, or the pursuit of pure pleasure.

Either way, the pursuit of happiness is only possible through the happiness of pursuit, or so goes the cliche.

At any rate, the first annual World Happiness Report saw the light in 2012 under the auspices of the United Nations – arguably the most constipated and miserable organisation the world over!

But joking aside, the report seemed to zero in on two possible sources of happiness: subjective preferences, related to culture, community and environment; and objective factors relating to wealth, health, security, education, etc.

I suspect the latter more objective indicators weigh heavily in the report’s ranking, and go a long way to explaining why the culturally introverted and largely reserved Nordic and other European states continuously make it to the top of the list. They are seemingly more “content” than happy, as per their own studies and surveys.

Sadly, the ranking of “Kingdom of Happiness” has gone from low to lower during the years, descending from 79th to 97th position.

And the one country famously associated with happiness other than Bhutan, “Happy Yemen”, had clearly not gotten the memo that year, as it plunged into civil war and turmoil, drawing in a Saudi and Emirati-led military intervention that produced “the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st century”.

On the upside, as the war entered its second year, the UAE established two ministers for happiness and tolerance, promoting virtue as a fundamental value of the state and society, while tightening its political and security grip.

That’s when George Orwell turned in his grave.

Still, after briefly falling to 28th place in 2016, the economically liberalised super-rich emirate remained ahead of its Arab peers for four consecutive years according to the Report’s index.

However, this year, the UAE was bypassed by the tiny, relatively poorer Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which ranked at 21 on the world index.

Bahrainis to be sure, have been living under tight political and security control since the Arab Spring upheaval almost paralysed it 11 years ago, which prompted Saudi military intervention to help suppress the popular uprising.

So, it begs the question how is it that Bahrain came ahead of the likes of Spain and Italy, which ranked 29 and 31, respectively, and almost beat France – even if the French are famous for railing against anything and everything, including happiness. It is their national sport; their collective charm.

Bahrain did sign a “peace agreement” with Israel, though I doubt it brought the Bahrainis much joy as most of them were against “normalisation with the Zionist enemy”.

Which brings me to Israel, which leaped into the top 10, ranking ninth on this year’s happiness index, despite its violent system of apartheid, as documented by international human rights organisations. The worse the apartheid, the higher the rank!

I have long associated military occupation with happiness, especially after watching Pharell Williams shamelessly sing, Happy, to a shameless list of Hollywood A-list guests among the shameless Friends of Israeli Defense Forces, FIDF, in Los Angeles, while Israel was shamelessly pounding the Gaza Strip.

So jolly.

Perhaps, we finally know for sure why, as TIME magazine once tried to explain in a cover story “Israel doesn’t care about peace”. Well, because it is happier without it. Thanks in no small part to the miserable failure of Palestinian and Arab leadership, whose war-ridden states rank terribly poorly.

It is indeed remarkable how a country that expels, occupies, oppresses, imprisons and humiliates an entire people for decades and in close proximity, can be so freakishly happy. Is it delusion, indifference, sadism, racism, or what?

Bhutan, “The Land of the Thunder Dragon”, shows it could be a combination of factors.

In the years leading up to its obsession with happiness, the Bhutan military expelled about 100,000 Nepali-speaking people residing mostly in the impoverished south of the country, to pave the way for the monarch’s “one nation one people” vision. King Jigme Singye Wangchuk’s other vision was to marry four sisters, which he did happily and festively in 1988.

Despite its turn to democracy after the king’s abdication, the government has done little to rectify, compensate or reverse the dreadful ethnic cleansing. In a telling interview with Al Jazeera a dozen years ago, Bhutan’s prime minister denied it, justified it, and happily embraced it, all without flinching.

But the problem is bigger than Israel, Bhutan, and Bahrain or for that matter, Russia, China and the United States. It is about the prevailing international hypocrisy of happiness, preaching virtue and projecting violence, speaking of peace and waging war, proclaiming love and spreading hate, hugging trees and polluting the air.

Wellbeing may be achieved through “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”, but only in tandem with, not at the expense of another individual, nation, race or gender or generation’s “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”.



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N Korean leader sends in military to help tackle COVID outbreak | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Kim Jong Un orders the military to stabilise the supply of medicines in Pyongyang amid the outbreak of COVID-19, KCNA reports.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the military to stabilise the supply of medicines in Pyongyang days after announcing a lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korea acknowledged for the first time last week that it is battling an “explosive” COVID-19 outbreak, with experts raising concerns that the virus could devastate a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine programme.

The country reported 392,920 more people with fever symptoms, with eight new deaths, the state news agency said.

It did not report how many of those suspected cases had tested positive for COVID-19. North Korea has no COVID vaccines, antiviral treatment drugs or mass-testing capacity.

Kim Jong Un’s administration has insisted the country was coronavirus-free until a few days ago.

State media says 50 people have now died – and more than a million workers have been mobilised to stop the spread.

At the emergency politburo meeting, held on Sunday, Kim criticised the “irresponsible” work attitude and organising and executing ability of the Cabinet and the public health sector, KCNA reported.

“Officials of the Cabinet and public health sector in charge of the supply have not rolled up their sleeves, not properly recognizing the present crisis but only talking about the spirit of devotedly serving the people,” KCNA said Kim had told officials.

The government had ordered the distribution of its national medicine reserves but Kim said the drugs procured by the state are not reaching people in a timely and accurate manner through pharmacies, the report said.

‘Careless’

Kim ordered that the “powerful forces” of the army’s medical corps be deployed to “immediately stabilise the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City.”

KCNA also reported that Kim visited pharmacies located near the Taedong River in Pyongyang to find out about the supply and sales of drugs.

Kim said pharmacies are not well-equipped to perform their functions smoothly, there are no adequate drug storage areas other than the showcases, and the salespeople were not equipped with proper sanitary clothing.

North Korea has said that a “large proportion” of the deaths so far have been due to people “careless in taking drugs due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of stealth Omicron variant virus infection disease and its correct treatment method.”

While North Korea has maintained a rigid coronavirus blockade since the pandemic’s start, experts have said that Omicron outbreaks in the region meant it was only a matter of time before COVID spread to the country.



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Deadly shooting at a church in California, police say | Gun Violence News

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At least one killed and 4 others critically wounded in a shooting in southern California, a day after a white gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York state.

At least one person has been killed and four others critically injured after multiple shots were fired at a church in southern California, authorities have said, just a day after a white gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in New York state’s Buffalo city.

The shooting happened at Geneva Presbyterian Church located in the town of Laguna Woods, 70 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Los Angeles, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter on Sunday.

“Multiple victims have been shot,” said the Sheriff’s department, adding that deputies detained one person and recovered a weapon.

The Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter that its firefighters and paramedics were “on scene and treating and transporting multiple patients.”

Pictures posted on social media appeared to show emergency vehicles lined up outside a church.

“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” tweeted Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter, who represents Orange County in Washington.

“This should not be our new normal.”

More soon.



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Turkey sets demands, not opposed to Finland, Sweden NATO bid | NATO News

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NATO expects the Nordic countries’ membership bid will not be hindered by Ankara, whose concerns will be addressed.

NATO and the United States say they are confident Turkey will not impede the membership of Finland and Sweden in the Western military alliance, despite Ankara expressing reservations.

Turkey laid out demands on Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, saying it wanted the two Nordic countries to end support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory, and to lift the ban on sales of some arms to Turkey.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his talks with Swedish and Finnish counterparts in Berlin had been helpful.

The two countries had made suggestions to respond to Ankara’s concerns, which Turkey would consider.

Cavusoglu added that he had provided proof that “terrorists” were present on their territory.

He singled out Sweden in particular, saying the Kurdish militant group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), banned as “terrorist” by the US and European Union, had held meetings in Stockholm over the weekend.

Nevertheless, he said, Turkey did not oppose the alliance’s policy of being open to all European nations that wish to apply.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was confident “that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to go into details after closed-door conversations on the issue in Berlin, but echoed Stoltenberg’s position.

“I’m very confident that we will reach consensus on that,” Blinken told reporters, adding that NATO was “a place for dialogue”.

Finland, Sweden announced intention to join NATO

Finland and Sweden on Sunday took firm steps to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, breaking away from a tradition of non-alignment and neutrality.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto confirmed that his country would apply to join, while Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats announced an official policy change that would pave the way for their country to apply within days.

“Today the Swedish Social Democratic Party took a historic decision to say yes to apply for a membership in the NATO defence alliance,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde tweeted.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has deteriorated the security situation for Sweden and Europe as a whole.”

Any decision on NATO enlargement requires approval by all 30 allies and their parliaments.

Ankara, a NATO member for 70 years, is under immense pressure to yield to the accession of Finland and Sweden, which would hugely strengthen the alliance in the Baltic Sea.

If Turkey’s objections are overcome, approval could come in just a matter of weeks, although ratification by allied parliaments could take up to a year, diplomats and officials have said.

Moscow has responded to the prospect of the Nordic states joining NATO by threatening retaliation, including unspecified “military-technical measures”.

Finland’s Niinisto, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, said their conversation was measured and did not contain any threats.

“[Putin] confirmed that he thinks it’s a mistake. We are not threatening you. Altogether, the discussion was very, could I say, calm and cool,” Niinisto said in an interview with CNN.





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