Monday, June 25, 2018


Central Asia

I had been planning to visit Central Asia with much enthusiasm for quite a while and I managed a first incursion into Kyrgyzstan for an academic conference in Bishkek during the early part of the summer of 2017. That visit only whetted my appetite to see more (especially since I hadn't been able to visit the neighboring countries of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan).

Hence, upon my return, I began planning for my trip to Western China as an ambitious follow-up. My trip took me to Ürümqi, Kashgar, Turpan, Dunhuang and partially down the Chinese side of the famed Karakoram Highway. It was everything I had hoped it would be.

My interest was twofold. First of all, I had been following closely the details surrounding the unfolding of the One Belt-One Road Initiative as part of my academic research agenda. I particularly wanted to see the China-Pakistan Friendship Highway, but I eventually became intrigued with the history of the region. I bought Peter Frankopan's "The Silk Roads: A New History of the World", and devoured as much of the book as I could during the 14 hour flight from the United States' East Coast to Beijing. I couldn't put the book down, even after landing in China:
"Urban centers spurred each other on, with rivalry between rulers and elites prompting ever more ambitious architecture and spectacular monuments. Libraries, places of worship, churches and observatories of immense scale and cultural influence dotted the region, connecting Constantinople to Damascus, Isfahan, Samarkand, Kabul and Kashgar. Cities such as these became homes to brilliant scholars who advanced the frontiers of their subjects. The names of only a small handful are familiar today--men like Ibn Sīnā, ... Al-Bīrūnī, and al-Khwarizmi--giants in the fields of astronomy and medicine; but there were many more besides. For centuries before the modern era, the intellectual centres of excellence of the world, the Oxfords and Cambridges, the Harvards and Yales, were not located in Europe or the west, but in Baghdad and Balkh, Bukhara and Samarkand." --- Peter Frankopan, "The Silk Roads: A New History of the World", Vintage Books, March 2017.



Karakoram Highway


I must say, I'll be back in the near future.

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Sunday, June 03, 2018


Media On Trial in Leeds ...and other Sunday musings.

Held recently was an event that should be much more commonplace throughout the western world than is currently, especially after the Iraq debacle. I couldn't help thinking that as it runs out of opportunities for investment, capitalism is accentuating its destructive imperialist phase where it seeks to destroy countries through war just so it can invest (among other things) in the "reconstruction" (yes, I'm admittedly a neophyte in my analysis, lacking in any ideological rigor). Anyway, participating in the "event", known as Media On Trial, were Sheila Coombes, Professor Piers Robinson, independent researcher Robert Stuart, journalist Patrick Henningsen, former UK ambassador to Bahrain and Syria Peter Ford, and investigative journalist and photographer Vanessa Beeley. The talks are also available as a 21st Century Sunday Wire podcast. Well worth taking a couple of hours (grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea) and listening.

Also interesting is a lecture by Dr. Prabhat Patnaik, entitled The State under neo-liberalism. To the question he poses of - "How do you preserve the social legitimacy of the state in the face of its submission to the powers of finance capital?", he respondes - "by locating a common enemy or a fifth column", this in the interests of diverting the public's attention. The war on terror is just one of those diversions. Interesting thoughts by an Indian Marxist economist and political commentator who taught at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning in the School of Social Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, from 1974 until his retirement in 2010. He was also the vice-chairman of the Planning Board of the Indian state of Kerala from June 2006 to May 2011.


Saturday, May 05, 2018


Hurricane season precautionary reading...

As the 2018 hurricane season rapidly approaches, I delve into the past. In particular, I'm motivated to recall the introduction to my late father's doctoral dissertation (it is worth noting that his description differs somewhat from historical reports):

On the eleventh of September, 1928, the radio operator of the freighter "Commack" wired a message describing a well-formed tropical disturbance which had been located at longitude 50 ° W., and latitude 15° N. This was the first notice concerning a large and powerful hurricane which was moving across the middle Atlantic from the direction of the Cape Verde Islands. On the following day this hurricane broke with savage fury across the feeble land barrier of islands separating the Caribbean from the Atlantic. The center of the hurricane passed slowly over the northern part of the French island of Guadeloupe during the morning of the twelfth. It was moving in a west-northwesterly direction at a speed of about ten miles an hour. Not only Guadeloupe but also St. Kitts and Montserrate informed the outside world of the great damage of property and high loss of life occasioned by the creature of nature.

Another freighter, "Matura," out of Trinidad, found itself in the path of the winds and registered a low barometer reading of 27.50 at sea level. The position of the ship when taking this reading was about ten miles to the south of St. Croix, one of the largest of the Virgin Islands. The storm kept to its west-northwest course and penetrated into the island of Puerto Rico at the southeast corner near the town of Guayama early in the morning of the thriteenth of September. Moving at a speed of about 13 miles per hour, the storm, known as San Felipe by the Puerto Ricans, ripped the island diagonally from its southeast corner to the northwest area between Isabela and Aguadilla.

From Puerto Rico the storm moved on to the north of Santo Domingo and into the Bahamas, passing south of Nassau and Turk Islands. Finally on the morning of the sixteenth it entered Florida near West Palm Beach. Here it changed direction and moved northward. Spending its force as it advanced up the Atlantic coast, it disappeared finally around Lake Ontario. However, in Florida, particularly in the Lake Okeechobee area, it did a great deal of damage. The losses were calculated in the thousands of dollars and the Red Cross estimated that nearly two thousand people lost their lives in the storm.

This hurricane has been regarded as one of the strongest to sweep across the West Indies. Its intensity did not diminish from the time it broke into the Caribbean until the seventeenth, five days later, when it was moving up the Atlantic coast. All authorities on the tropical storms which have hit Puerto Rico agree that San Felipe was the most powerful in modern times. The strength of its winds as it passed through Puerto Rico is doubtful, because the cups of the anemometer were carried off with the fury of the high winds which lashed the island. The estimate of the velocity of these winds varied from 160 to 190 miles an hour over the period of three to four hours during which the storm was at its peak. San Felipe was accompanied by heavy rains. In the mountainous area of Adjuntas, where heavy rain can normally be expected, the questionable reading of 29.6 inches for a 48 hour period was recorded.

The loss of life and property in Puerto Rico was high. Over 300 persons lost their lives. Without the radio warnings, many more would have perished. Property damage was difficult to estimate. Calculations varied from $50 million to $85 million. The impoverished little island, ... was little prepared to meet such a catastrophe.

...from Mathews, Thomas G., Puerto Rican Politics and the New Deal, Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1960: pp. 1-2.


Sunday, January 28, 2018


A Tale Of Two Islands, by Vijay Prashad

Yes, we've been through hell and back:
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was a hyperactive, deadly, and extremely destructive season, featuring 17 named storms, ranking alongside 1936 as the fifth-most active season since records began in 1851. The season also featured both the highest total accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) and the highest number of major hurricanes since 2005. All ten of the season's hurricanes occurred in a row, the greatest number of consecutive hurricanes in the satellite era, and tied for the greatest number of consecutive hurricanes ever observed in the Atlantic basin since records began in 1851.

But the point of this post is to contrast the approaches of two islands to the threats, and it's done effectively by Vijay Prashad. I'll let him "speak":
one island, a poor socialist state with infrastructure in grave need of modernisation, has slowly emerged out of the chaos caused by a hurricane’s wrath, while the other, a territory of the richest country in the world, cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.

You should read the entire article for yourself. Here is just a piece:
While Cuban journalists and brigades fanned Cuba to provide information to the authorities about destruction and reconstruction, Puerto Rico went dark. Communications collapsed and information about the damage was not easily available. While in Cuba the authorities tried to get exact information of the damage done to each home, in Puerto Rico the numbers thrown about were the price tag for recovery—between $40 billion and $85 billion is the estimated insurance claims that will likely be triggered by the devastation. It says a great deal about the different approaches to disaster: one makes sure each person is tended to and the other worries about the cost of the recovery.



Oh, and a footnote related to Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis.


Sunday, December 17, 2017


The extraordinary Ethiopian philosopher Zär’a Yaqob

Not only because of the advanced thoughts of Zar'a Yaqob, which must be attributed to his personal insight and no direct influence of a school or stream, his treatise is important for historical research. Especially in Hegel's philosophy of history, which ascribes no philosophical ambitions to Sub-Saharan Africa, Zar'a Yaqob offers a perfect counterexample, since he lived about 200 years before Hegel. Other racial theories find in him a counterexample. Wikipedia: Die freien Enzyklopädie

Casa del Libro:
Zar'a Yaqob means "Scion of Jacob" and is the name of a man who must be regarded as a significant thinker of the 17th century. He lived from 1600 to about 1693/94 u.Z. in the Ethiopian highlands. In this time of fierce religious conflict between the Catholic and Coptic churches, Zara Yaqob posed the question of truth and found in the human mind the only relevant instance of knowledge. At the request of his pupil Waldä Heywat ("son of life") he wrote his insights as a Hätäta ("essay") in the form of an autobiography. Waldä Heywat continued the book of his teacher with his own Hätäta. Zar'a Yaqob could not fall back on a rich tradition of science and philosophy in formulating his thoughts as did his contemporaries in Europe. Precisely for this reason, it is important to mention that the study of his essay by Claude Sumner results in a comparison of Zär'a Yaqob with Rene Descartes, which also shows that modern philosophy began in Africa at the same time as in Europe

Read more about this extraordinary African HERE, of which I will only highlight the following quote:
In chapter five, Yacob applies rational investigation to the different religious laws. He criticises Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Indian religions equally. For example, Yacob points out that the Creator in His wisdom has made blood flow monthly from the womb of women, in order for them to bear children. Thus, he concludes that the law of Moses, which states that menstruating women are impure, is against nature and the Creator, since it ‘impedes marriage and the entire life of a woman, and it spoils the law of mutual help, prevents the bringing up of children and destroys love’. In this way, Yacob includes the perspectives of solidarity, women and affection in his philosophical argument. And he lived up to these ideals. After Yacob left the cave, he proposed to a poor maiden named Hirut, who served a rich family. Yacob argued with her master, who did not think a servant woman was equal to an educated man, but Yacob prevailed. When Hirut gladly accepted his proposal, Yacob pointed out that she should no longer be a servant, but rather his peer, because ‘husband and wife are equal in marriage’.


Monday, May 29, 2017


What Exactly is 'Openness'?

A friend of mine posted a riposte of Angela Merkel to Trump which went like this: “It is not isolation and the building of walls that make us successful, but open societies.” I think we need to step back for a minute and ask what exactly is this "openness"? Surely open-mindedness is something that is emulated in liberal societies and we all probably agree that to have an open mind is desirable. Close-minded individuals, on the other hand, are to be avoided along with the attribute. That said, I think something is hidden here. "Openness" is sometimes uttered by politicians in the same breath as "free trade" (open trade or globalization), but they aren't the same thing. If they were synonymous, why does free trade or "globalization" also produce losers? Open-mindedness seems to us unequivocally positive while globalization obviously isn't (or at least not under certain circumstances). Someone, as we say in Spanish, might be trying to sell us "gato por liebre". As economists, we teach the so-called "virtues" of free trade (globalization), but with a very important caveat that is so easily forgotten. In my graduate international economics class, I teach the virtues of free trade, quantifying out of a very simple model what are called the "gains to trade". The principle "virtue", I tell my students, is precisely the enlargement of the "economic pie" resulting from specialization according to the comparative advantage of nations. It all seems simple, logical and quite reasonable when I demonstrate the concept on the board with numbers. However, I am also obliged to explain the caveat, which is that *free trade* produces both losers and winners. So while on the one hand, the economic pie is made greater by free trade, the latter must be followed by a redistribution of the pie in order to compensate the losers for their dire predicament which resulted directly from te implementation of said *free trade*. This is then depicted as a "win-win" for everybody because people are thereby able to partake in said enlarged pie. All good and well, right? Well, it so happens that things sometimes don't seem to turn out that way in the real world. President Bill Clinton explained the virtues of this free-trade induced *pie enlargement* when he sold NAFTA to the US public. The problem was that the losers were never compensated or compensated inadequately! We know that the Republicans do not believe in re-distributive policies, and Democrats seem as of late to lean more and more toward Republican policies, so there doesn't seem to be much prospect for re-distribution among the main political choices in America. Hence the losers were left to fester. The garment workers whose jobs "departed" for Mexico and China were not only never compensated, but the much heralded "retraining" of laid off workers from such "sunset" industries to enable adaption and subsequent employment in the "sunrise" industries which were to replace them was inadequate. ...And the politicians of both parties went their merry ways and forgot all about the "losers". The latter, to make a long story short, became bitter and elected Trump! So my point with this little ditty is that Trump is as much the fault of Liberals as it is the fault of those "Tea Partiers" who Hillary so disparagingly called "deplorables". Food for thought which I am uniquely capable of providing instruction on since it is my profession. Further reading on the subject is provided in the following PDF.

Originally published at LinkedIn.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017


Nobel Lecture by Harold Pinter

The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to English playwright, screenwriter, director and actor Harold Pinter nearly twelve years ago. Although Pinter had been stricken with a serious infection at the time of the award (he died a few years later), he videotaped his Nobel Lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics", and projected it at the Swedish Academy on the evening of 7 December 2005. It should be viewed by everyone (particularly Americans) who has the opportunity to do so:

Pinter's career as a playwright began with a production of The Room in 1957. His second play, The Birthday Party, closed after eight performances, but was enthusiastically reviewed by critic Harold Hobson. His early works were described by critics as "comedy of menace". Later plays such as No Man's Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978) became known as "memory plays". He appeared as an actor in productions of his own work on radio and film. He also undertook a number of roles in works by other writers. He directed nearly 50 productions for stage, theatre and screen. Pinter received over 50 awards, prizes, and other honours, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 and the French Légion d'honneur in 2007.

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