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Leila Alaoui R.I.P.

Leila Alaoui

I didn’t know of her until last Friday, when I learned via social media that she had been one of the victims of the Al-Qaida terrorist attack in Ouagadougou. She was in front of the café facing the hotel that was the terrorists’ target, that they raked with machine gun fire, just as the ISIS terrorists did at the cafés and restaurants in Paris’ 10th and 11th arrondissements last November 13th. Massacring people because they happened to be there. It was reported that Leila had survived, been rushed to a hospital in the city, and was out of danger. But yesterday it was announced that she had died. She was 33-years-old, Franco-Moroccan, and an accomplished professional photographer (see here and her website here). She was in Burkina Faso to do photography for Amnesty International. At least five friends and persons with whom I am friendly knew her personally—were friends of hers—and there are no doubt more. This has been all over my social media news feed today. People are shattered by her death and, though I didn’t know her myself, I am quite affected by it myself. What a loss. And a crime. I was already affected by the Ouagadougou attack before learning about Leila—as a terrorist outrage of this nature hits close to home for me—and am now that much more so. And with my sentiments—shared by countless others—reinforced that ISIS, Al-Qaida in all its forms, and others of the ilk (Boko Haram, Somali Al-Shabaab, etc, etc) need to be exterminated. Eradicated from the face of the earth. The New York Times has an obituary of Leila here. Thanks to Ammar Abd Rabbo for the photo of Leila below.

UPDATE: Le Monde’s obituary has more information on Leila, who lived between Paris, Marrakesh, and Beirut. The Amnesty International project that she was in Burkina Faso for was a documentary on violence against women. As fate would have it, she was in Paris last November 13th and in New York City on 9/11. She could have possibly survived had she been tended to in a more advanced medical facility than exists in Burkina Faso.

leila_alaoui

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Susanne Hoeber Rudolph & Lloyd I. Rudolph

Susanne Hoeber Rudolph & Lloyd I. Rudolph

[update below]

It is with sadness that I learned of the death, on December 23rd, of Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, professor emerita of political science at the University of Chicago, one of my main professors there as a graduate student, and a member of my dissertation committee. Susanne and her husband Lloyd—who survives her—were a pillar of the U. of Chicago’s political science department, where they taught for almost forty years before retiring early in the last decade. They were major political scientists—Susanne was a past president of APSA and the Association for Asian Studies—and among the world’s leading academic specialists of India (politics, history, civilization, everything). Their 1967 The Modernity of Tradition: Political Development in India is one of the most important books in political science published on that country. They knew India better than anyone one will meet in the academy, spending every fourth year there—Jaipur was their base—throughout their careers.

I speak of Susanne and Lloyd together and in the plural by reflex, as they were lifelong partners in scholarship, as in just about everything else (and they looked, at least by others, to be the perfect married couple); to know one was to know the other and equally. Almost all of their numerous books and countless articles were authored together (one that was widely read outside the academic world was their March 22nd 1993 essay in The New Republic, “Modern Hate: How Ancient Animosities Get Invented,” written at the height of the civil war in the ex-Yugoslavia). Their personalities were different, as were their professorial styles—they did not co-teach courses—but were complementary (and obviously perfectly compatible). And they were such nice people, and so appreciated by their students, colleagues, and everyone else who knew them. And so cultivated; intellectuals of their, breadth, depth, and caliber are rare in my generation, not to mention the younger ones.

The last book the Rudolphs published, in 2014, Destination India: From London Overland to India, is one that will interest those who are not specialists of India or inclined to read a book about it. They tell the story of their 1956 overland trip to India in a Land Rover (she was 26, he 29), starting in Germany and driving through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Paved roads ended soon after crossing the Bosphorus and did not resume until the Grand Trunk Road east of Kabul. Now I have not yet read the book but heard the story in detail from them one evening at their second home in Bernard, Vermont, where I visited them with my wife in 1993. It sounded like an amazing trip indeed.

Jenny Rudolph has a tribute to her mother on the website of the Indian weekly magazine Outlook and Ananya Vajpeyi, of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, has authored the obituary of Susanne in The Hindu.

UPDATE: On January 16th—twenty-four days after Susanne’s death—Lloyd Rudolph passed away. Here’s his obituary in UChicago News.

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Bobby Womack R.I.P.

bobby womack

I listened to him as a kid and teen, in the late ’60s-early ’70s. His best song—and there is likely a consensus on this—was “Across 110th Street”—which got a second life in Quentin Tarantino’s great ‘Jackie Brown’, in one of the greatest ever opening movie scenes (watch here).

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Thip Samai, Bangkok

Thip Samai, Bangkok

I just spent several days in Bangkok, an exceptional city that anyone with the inclination to travel should visit at least once in his/her life. For those who do plan a trip there, here are just a couple of recommendations. First, in terms of food, Bangkok may well be the greatest city in the world, as (a) Thai cuisine is arguably *the* world’s greatest and (b) there is no point in recommending restaurants, as the eating experience on the street—at the countless food carts and hole-in-the-wall open-air restaurants, where the food is prepared in front of you—is such that a comparable eating experience will likely be found nowhere else in this world. Bangkok is a daily eating festival. But let me recommend just one restaurant, which, in the estimation of Bangkok Thais—and this has been confirmed—, makes the best Pad Thai in the city. Pad Thai is its specialty. That’s all the restaurant does. The name and address: Thip Samai, 313 Thanon Mahachai, Samranrat, Phra Nakorn (open from 5PM to late). It’s centrally located—not far from the Wat Phra Keao and Khao San Road—but not in an area that tourists are likely to stay, so one will have to take a taxi (a meter taxi, and insist on the meter; don’t bother with tuk-tuks, which are a rip-off; cut-and-paste and hand the taxi driver this: 313 ถ.มหาไชย สำราษราษฎร์ พระนคร กทม). When I arrived at the restaurant last Saturday around 9:30PM, I had to wait in line for almost half an hour to get a table. And I was the only non-Thai, signifying that (a) locals really like it, meaning that it’s definitely a good restaurant and (b) it has, for some curious reason, not made it into the guide books. Fortunately the menu was translated into English. So was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely. Here’s a video (it’s exactly like this).

While I’m at it, I also recommend the riverside restaurants at the Tha Phra Chan pier, just north of the Wat Phra Keao (otherwise, take the ferry from Wang Lang, the nº10 stop on the Chao Phraya river express).

And I will give some free publicity to my hotel, the New Siam Guest House II, which is ideally situated and can’t be beat in terms of value for money.

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My namesake

Wat-Arun

I won’t be posting much over the next couple of weeks—and likely not at all on politics or current events—and I am far away from the banks of the Marne and not following the news comme d’habitude or spending too much time on the Internet. I am presently in the city in which this edifice—that carries my name—is a landmark (the pic is not mine, though I’ve taken a few of my own). As my readers are cosmopolitan and well-traveled in their great majority, most will immediately know where I am ;-)

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I came across this excellent, must read piece on FB yesterday from the blog of King’s College London political economy professor Alexandre Afonso, in which he discusses and documents how the academic profession—in the US and Europe (and to which one may add US academic institutions in Europe)—is increasingly coming to resemble a drug gang in its structure. Money quote:

So what you have is an increasing number of brilliant PhD graduates arriving every year into the market hoping to secure a permanent position as a professor and enjoying freedom and high salaries, a bit like the rank-and-file drug dealer hoping to become a drug lord. To achieve that, they are ready to forego the income and security that they could have in other areas of employment by accepting insecure working conditions in the hope of securing jobs that are not expanding at the same rate.

The trend is structural, increasingly linked to the insider-outsider, winner-take-all evolution of advanced capitalist societies. Which does not mean, however, that it is a fatality and there’s nothing to be done. Unionization is one response, and which is becoming a trend in American higher education (stateside friends of mine who work with the unions and bemoan their decline may look in this direction for promising growth potential).

In addition to Afonso’s blog post, one may read anthropologist Sarah Kendzior’s AJE tribune from last year on “The closing of American academia,” in which she examines how “the plight of adjunct professors highlights the end of higher education as a means to prosperity.” When undergraduate students speak to me about applying to doctoral programs, I advise them not to consider going for a Ph.D. unless they are fully funded (and with generous living stipend) and get into a top school. If not, forget it. Bad investment.

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On nationalism

I think about nationalism a lot. I hate nationalism. Nationalism—called “patriotism” in America—is a scourge of the modern era. As for nationalists—whatever their nationality—, discussion with them is futile, when not impossible. On the perversity of nationalism, I particularly like this passage by Erich Fromm, from his book The Sane Society (New York: Rinehart & Company, 1955), pp. 57-60.

[W]e find, in the European development, the persistence of…the fixation to blood and soil. Man—freed from the traditional bonds of the medieval community, afraid of the new freedom which transformed him into an isolated atom—escaped into a new idolatry of blood and soil, of which nationalism and racism are the two most evident expressions. (…)

(…) Nationalism, originally a progressive movement, replaced the bonds of feudalism and absolutism. The average man today obtains his sense of identity from his belonging to a nation, rather from his being a “son of man.” His objectivity, that is, his reason is warped by this fixation. He judges the “stranger” with different criteria than the members of his own clan. His feelings toward the stranger are equally warped. Those who are not “familiar” by bonds of blood and soil (expressed by common language, customs, food, songs, etc.) are looked upon with suspicion, and paranoid delusions about them can spring up at the slightest provocation. The incestuous fixation not only poisons the relationship of the individual to the stranger, but to the members of his own clan and to himself. The person who has not freed himself from the ties to blood and soil is not yet fully born as a human being; his capacity for love and reason are crippled; he does not experience himself nor his fellow man in their—and his own—human reality.

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. “Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by “patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with the nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare—never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of love for one’s humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.

The idolatrous character of national feeling can be seen in the reaction to the violations of clan symbols, a reaction which is very different from that to the violation of religious or moral symbols. Let us picture a man who takes the flag of his country to a street of one of the cities of the Western world, and tramples on it in view of other people. He would be lucky not to be lynched. Almost everybody would feel a sense of furious indignation, which hardly permits of any objective thought. The man who desecrated the flag would have done something unspeakable; he would have committed a crime which is not one crime among others, but the crime, the one unforgivable and unpardonable. Not quite as drastic, but nevertheless qualitatively the same would be the reaction to a man who says, “I do not love my country,” or, in the case of war, “I do not care for my country’s victory.” Such a sentence is a real sacrilege, and a man saying it becomes a monster, an outlaw in the feelings of his fellow men.

(…) Even if a man should speak disparagingly of God, he would hardly arouse the same feeling of indignation as against the crime, against the sacrilege which is the violation of the symbols of the country. (…)

After the great European Revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries failed to transform “freedom from” into “freedom to,” nationalism and state worship became the symptoms of a regression to incestuous fixation. Only when man succeeds in developing his reason further than he has done so far, only when he can build a world based on human solidarity and justice, only when he can feel rooted in the experience of universal brotherliness, will he have transformed his world into a truly human home.

Brilliant. I have the passage in French translation as well, which I’ll put up at some point.

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