Friday, August 10

I have both

I have both, but only one of the former and two of the latter, so perhaps I should think of having one more of the former but I suspect its safer and easier to have one more of the latter because if I end up trying to have one more of the former, I will end up with none of the former and useless latters.

decisions, decisions.

Thursday, August 9

Wednesday, August 8

Show me what you eat and I will tell you what you are

This article is brilliant in terms of providing a window on how the Middle Ages in Egypt played out under the Mamluks. I quote:

Food and Cooking during the Mamluk Era: Social and Political Implications

By Amalia Levanoni

Mamluk Studies Review, Vol.9:2 (2005)

Introduction: Food has been a long-standing object of attention in ethnographic and sociological research. Anthropologists of the nineteenth century focused on the ritual supernatural aspects of food consumption. Their twentieth-century successors, especially field anthropologists, studied rituals surrounding food and then food in the wider context of social systems. Among historians, too, leading historians of the Annales School pioneered attempts to develop a “total history” emphasizing the macro-historical analysis of societies over long periods and the study of all aspects of human experience, especially material culture. A salient example is Fernand Braudel’s major works, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II and Capitalism and Material Life 1400–1800, in which the author underscored the influence of long-term changes in material culture, including food, on the social systems in Europe. Braudel’s monumental works provided an incentive for the study of social history. Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process, one of the most important studies written in the last decades in this field, traces the origins of the norms of conduct in today’s western Europe in late medieval royal courts. The western European way of conduct, including table manners, was modeled by cultural factors in royal courts in a long-term political process related to the formation of states and power monopolization in them.

In the last decades, scholars studying the history of Islam have also begun to focus on the study of material culture, including food. The collection Culinary Cultures of the Middle East, edited by Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper, examines Middle Eastern cuisine mainly in the modern era, while studies by David Waines and Manuela Marín focus on the medieval period. In David Waines’ In a Caliph’s Kitchen and A. J. Arberry’s “A Baghdad Cookery-Book” an attempt was made to learn about the culinary culture of medieval Baghdad from recipe books. Eliyahu Ashtor’s “Essai sur l’alimentation des diverses classes social dans l’Orient médiéval” looks at social stratification in medieval Near Eastern populations by way of their patterns of food consumption. In his Al-Matbakh al-Sultani Nabil Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Aziz examines the royal kitchen during the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. Geert Jan Van Gelder explored food manifestations in Arabic literature and G. S. Reynolds studied the Sufi approach to food in adab literature. Late medieval humoristic and allegorical “debates” between foods were studied and edited by Manuela Marín and Ibrahim Kh. Geries. Two articles are especially interesting for the research of food and cooking in medieval Islam: Maxime Rodinson’s “Recherches sur documents arabes relatifs a la cuisine” is a valuable bibliography of the Arabic sources on cuisine, and David Waines’ “Prolegomena to the Study of Cooking in Abbasid Times: A Circuitous Bibliographical Essay” is an excellent survey of the modern study of cooking and methodological issues connected with this field of research.

Some of the interesting points which made me wonder:

The preparation of food during the
Mamluk era was similarly affected by social stratification, within both the ruling
Mamluk elite and the general population. Only people of means could maintain
kitchens in their homes, not only because of the great expense involved but also
because of the danger entailed in keeping fire indoors since no effective means
were available to extinguish it.

Another difficulty in maintaining a kitchen was the high cost of cooking
utensils. The ownership of pots and their quality were symbols of social status.
While the elite had kitchens equipped with "astounding utensils" (al-alat al-‘aj|bah), ≠
the lower classes sometimes had to rent utensils in the market

Members of the civilian middle class, those who earned a respectable living
but were not well off, prepared their food at home in "kitchenettes." These were
most likely without fire and running water, as borne out by evidence that the
water was supplied by water vendors and the food sent to the market to be
cooked, at the shop of the butcher (shara≠’ih˝|), the cook (t¸abba≠kh), or the baker
(khabba≠z), who also baked bread that had been prepared at home.


The preparation of food was of interest mainly to the top echelon of the Mamluk
ruling elite, to members of the civilian upper class who were able to cook food at
home, and to the professional cooks who kept shops catering to the vast urban
lower classes. The latter's attitude toward food preparation was simple, pragmatic,
and aimed at the maximization of profit. The cooks used countless tricks to
adulterate the food, while muh˝tasibs used counter-methods to expose their deceit.
As a result, the quality of food prepared in the market, though it varied, was
generally poor. Mud˝|rah, a sour milk soup sold by weight, was deviously made
heavier by the addition of ground rice flour. Ways of adulterating meat dishes
included the incorporation of much fat and little meat; the replacement of mutton
with goat meat or with the meat of impure animals like dogs, and the use of
spoiled, cooked meat or carrion masked by the liberal use of spices.


Appreciation of fine food was a trait associated with the owning class, and
therefore they dabbled in culinary adventures. To some of the elite, cooking was a
hobby. The vizier Maj|d Ibn Khas˝|b owned seven hundred slave girls, two of
whom were experts at preparing fried dishes. To illustrate the vast wealth he
accumulated during his period of service, al-Maqr|z| relates that large quantities
of food were cooked "in his kitchen at home." Sultan al-S˛a≠lih˝  S˛a≠lih˝
(752–55/1351–54) was an amateur cook. He himself laid the table at a banquet he
held in honor of his mother, Qutlubak, and he served her and other close associates ≠
dishes he had cooked "with his own hands

Traditional Muslim table manners involved partaking food in common meals
from one central dish, as was the standard among the upper class of western
Europe at the time.  As there was no recommendation in Muslim tradition to use
personal utensils like plates or spoons, the diner was required to take a small
morsel with three fingers and deposit it in his mouth without making contact with
his saliva. This also held true for drinking: the drinker was required to drink
without touching the vessel with his lips. Licking one's fingers and then putting
them into the common dish was considered abhorrent. Licking the fingers at the
end of the meal, on the other hand, was allowed as this was equal to wiping one's
hand with a napkin

As mentioned earlier, dishes of horseflesh were included in meals served at
their banquets. After the Oirat, the Mongol warriors who had fled the Mongol
Ilkhanate of Persia (695/1295), found refuge in the Mamluk Sultanate, they were
allowed into the Mamluk army and their children into the majority of the amirs'
households. Since they kept their homeland tradition without intervention, they
consumed horseflesh as was the custom in the Eurasian steppes. This was abhorrent
to the Muslims because they used to tether the beast and beat it to death.

The Muslim tradition, however, forbids the flesh of animals beaten to death.  Furthermore, it provides detailed prescriptions of how to slaughter the animal with minimum suffering and purify it for consumption by setting aside its blood.  Such blatant deviations from Muslim codes of behavior by the ruling elite made it easier for the ulama to level sharp criticism against the Mamluks' cultural repertoire and bar its dissemination to the general population

Tuesday, August 7

Good exercise in logic

I do not like the concept of photo id, but that’s basically from a libertarian perspective. I do not need to prove to anybody who I am, believing in freedom of self. As soon as somebody has the power to ask for my identity, my identify is compromised. At the same time, I do believe some element of self identification is required, if nothing else but for making sure assets, property, etc. etc. can be suitably linked to individuals. So for example, some form of identification will always be required.

That said, this was a great little argument.

In March, the Justice Department denied the Lone Star State the necessary clearance for this new law, arguing that it would disproportionately affect Hispanic voters. Texas officials appealed.  To preserve the access of all citizens to the right to vote . . . the District Court should follow the Justice Department’s lead and strike down this highly suspect and unnecessary law.

What is interesting here is the role disproportionality plays in these leftist attempts at argument.  Let's see if we can uncover the 'logic' of these arguments.

Suppose people of Italian  extraction are disproportionately affected by anti-racketeering statutes.  Would this be a good reason to oppose such laws? Obviously not.  Why not? The reason is that the law targets the criminal behavior, not the ethnicity of the criminal. If it just so happens that people of Italian extraction are 'overrepresented' in the memberships of organized crime syndicates, then of course they will be 'disproportionately affected' by anti-racketeering laws.  So what?

Monday, August 6

A bookshop called as Gandhi in Mexico

How interesting.

Another great ad of Gandhi Bookstores in México.

The phrase is a twist of a popular Mexican pickup line “¿A qué hora sales por el pan?” that literally means “At what time do you get out to buy bread?”.

Gandhi bookstores is known for their witty campaing to promote reading and culture in general.

Here is their facebook page.

I will have to visit them the next time I am in Mexico City Smile fascinating.

Sunday, August 5

The China USA conflict

When I was growing up son, the Olympics rivalry was Between the USA and USSR. Now the rivalry has morphed into one between USA and china. 

People write off USA at their peril, that country has some amazing properties and characteristics that gives it amazing strength in conflicts and competitions. 

One of the things you should try to understand is how East Germany, USSR or China, who created a state directed system to pick winners start failing when the state fails while USA's sports infrastructure, which is built up individual and ground up, keeps on working and producing champions. 

You have to learn and work in the USA son, otherwise your education will not be completed. 

Here's an Interesting episode from the time of the Balkan wars about china and USA. 



China Matters: Whatever You Do, Don’t Read China’s Global Times…

China Matters: Whatever You Do, Don’t Read China’s Global Times…

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Whatever You Do, Don’t Read China’s Global Times…

…You Might Learn Something

I’m not crazy about Global Times (the house organ of Chinese hypernationalism) but I like the sniggering condescension of Foreign Policy magazine(the house organ of neo-lioberalism) even less.

Actually, Christine Larson’s recent profile of Global Times in Foreign Policy is reasonably even-handed.

FP’s editors, however, couldn’t resist juicing the story—and signaling to its readership that GT and its views are not be taken seriously—by titling the piece “China’s Fox News” and adding a sidebar, “The Top 10 Screeds in China’s Global Times,” with takedowns by Uri Friedman.


Money Quote: ” Living in an international environment that China temporarily cannot change, we need to be alert to foreign interference as well as keep a sober mind, clean house and constantly improve governance … No country is fond of interference from the outside. China is no exception. In addition to hostile forces originating in foreign countries, China also has to face the mixed chorus formed by Tibet separatists, East Turkistan terrorists and the Falun Gong cult, who have gone abroad. Inner calm is specially needed when dealing with the collusions of the above-mentioned forces.”

Context: The editorial, which reflects on China’s rise in a globalized world, sounds a lot like the paranoia about foreign interference expressed by dictators during the Arab Spring. The appeal at the end to “inner calm” may sound tranquil, but one can’t help but wonder whether it’s a euphemism for a crackdown.

In case you don’t see the out-of-control dingbattery you’re supposed to detect in these excerpts, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’m on Global Times’ side of the fence on about half of the pieces, which concern America’s cynical stirring of the South China Sea pot.

Pop Quiz:

Which nation is more likely to pose a long-term threat to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea?

China, which imports most of its oil through the region?

Or the United States, which routinely uses unilateral and multilateral sanctions as a tool of foreign policy, keeps a carrier strike force on tap in the west Pacific, has something of an obsession with bottling up the Chinese strategic nuclear submarine fleet stationed in Hainan, and adores the idea of building an anti-China bloc around the South China Sea conflict?

If you answered China, well, that puts you squarely in  Foreign Policy’s preferred demographic: people for whom the US system of liberal democracy and free market capitalism a priori put it in the right in any disagreement with China.

Nevertheless, the US model, which has recently displayed a pretty strong bias toward military coercion and financial dysfunction, has its own flaws.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has, I think, generated a certain amount of cognitive dissonance among Chinese democracy advocates.

The Chinese government can, of course, be mocked for its anxious banning of the word “Occupy” from search engines and microblogs.  Crowds of disgruntled, idealistic people showing up in high-profile downtown venues is the ultimate nightmare for the CCP.

At the same time, the OWS movement is a statement that US democracy in the age of Citizens United, runaway corporatism, and abjectly craven politicians is simply not delivering the goods for many Americans.

Hurrah!  Americans can impotently demonstrate against the fact that their system isn’t working!

Global Times has a pretty tough row to hoe, of course.  Authoritarianism and state capitalism are not popular among the Chinese or foreign intelligentsia.

But their writers are trying to make some sense out of the world beyond regurgitating government propaganda.

I was struck by a statement in a Global Times editorial on the OWS movement that I found charming in its awkward truthfulness:

Western countries can withstand street demonstrations better, since their governments are elected.

The editorial, presumably written by editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (according to Larson he keeps an iron grip on the editorial page) continues:

People think the street demonstrations will not lead to the overthrow of the Western political system. They are merely valves that can help ease pressure built up in democratic societies while the pressure and dissatisfaction on the streets could end up helping the opposition party seize office.

The conflicts may be minor or serious, but it will not bring significant change.

This is a fair argument, but it also reveals one of the core reasons why the western world lacks determination for real change. Political parties have been taking advantage of dissatisfaction in their societies, manipulating them to serve their own short-term political interests, rather than eliminating the causes.

It’s a worthwhile observation that democracy provides a measure of political stability but may also  serve as an obstacle to political and economic solutions by empowering forces that want to block a solution.

That’s something that Global Times, which is trying to make the case for the advantages of China’s authoritarian system, is eager to point out; it’s also something that liberal periodicals like Foreign Policy are constitutionally unable to confront.

Like I said, if you read Global Times you might learn something.

I have to admit what really set me off about the article was this passage, which also provided an interesting perspective on where Hu Xijin is coming from:

In 1989, Hu joined the People’s Daily as a reporter; from 1993-1996 he was a correspondent in Yugoslavia covering the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He returned to Beijing in 1996, and at age 36 joined the new Global Times newspaper as deputy editor.

… “But Global Times has been increasingly relevant since 1999,” says Anti, “since the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia.” — i.e., the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy by U.S. and NATO forces, which stirred conspiracy theories in China and happened to take place in Hu’s old reporting stomping grounds.

That “i.e. the accidental bombing” is, to me, redolent of smug ignorance.  How dare China accuse us of bombing their embassy!

There is plenty of evidence—including an investigative report by England’s The Observer, presumably amply endowed with North Atlantic neoliberal cred in the eyes of FP—that the bombing was intentional and, indeed, was a watershed in elite Chinese attitudes toward the United States.

Because of Foreign Policy’s transgressions, I must perforce repost one of my articles on the Belgrade bombing, with a few minor edits:

Friday, January 26, 2007

Why China Hates Satellite Guided Munitions, Part 1: The Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999


Read further.