Friday, 30 November 2007

Random Security Checks + They say food is the way to a man's heart; I have evidence to say that chocolate is the way to a woman's heart

So I just got into New York, and between Heathrow and JFK I managed to be randomly selected for 'additional screening' 5 times - that was at every security check. Now, I found it entertaining and smiled all through it at how funny racial profiling can be.
I was thinking, "do I look like a terrorist to you?"
What could I possibly do, yell across a trading pit "hey Osama buy 50,000 Google, it's got great fundamentals!"?
Or better yet, in the words of Vidur Kapur, "Beg Al-Qaeda to let one Hindu in so I can be their fashion police. Lose the white turban, Osama!!... Labor day is over!!!"


After our last two champagne/bellini/cocktails + fondant sessions, I thought I would post the recipe for my chocolate fondant. I essentially got it from tasting Gordon Ramsey's at London Bar. He garnished his with sea salt though, which tastes about as disgusting as it sounds.

What you need:
300g 85% cocoa chocolate - essentially three regular sized blocks. Get Valrhona, its the best (it's a bit pricey though, but if you use Cadbury's, I will personally bitchslap you)
200g Butter, or butter substitute
250g Sugar, get unrefined sugar
6 eggs, use only 2 yolks, it's less rich, but you'll feel less guilty the morning after
1/4 cup flour
Secret ingredients: lime, blackcurrant concentrate, famous grouse

-Preheat oven to 250*F, or 170something*C
-Melt the chocolate with the butter over water
-Beat the eggs with sugar and add flour
-Fold in the chocolate butter stuff
-Mix it well
-Add juice of half a lime
-Add some blackcurrant concentrate depending on how you feel
-Pour the mix into muffin tray w/individual cups - make sure you grease them
-Add 1-2 shots of famous grouse to each individual cup
-Put the tray in the oven for about 8-10 mins
The goal is to watch until the outside is just about solid
The inside will remain liquid
If you can pull off the inside/outside textural difference well, you'll come off as as sophisticated. If done poorly, no one will eat it and you will be laughed at.
(I don't know how you can screw up with taste if the main ingredients are chocolate, butter, and sugar)
From past experience, I posit that chocolate (well-done of course) is the way to a woman's heart. One of my major vices is chocolate as well, so ladies take note :)
Btw If you're wondering what my other vices are, well, lets just say they wouldn't make for polite conversation

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Padma and I doing a little cooking

what else looks good together besides all that food?

Is the nature of leadership in Israel and Turkey basically the same as in the democracies of Europe?

Often, the leaderships of Turkey and Israel are compared to those of Europe. Prior to introducing the topic, the question itself begs two other important questions that will set the context of this essay. First, what do the terms “leadership” and “democracy” imply? In democratic systems, the idea of the executive is so intertwined with the overall system of governance that one is unable to differentiate between the two. Second, one must question what we mean by “Europe”. Democratic leadership variation, while existing among all states part of the European continent, is particularly pronounced between members and non-members of the EU.

If we are to compare the governments of Turkey and Israel to those of the liberal democracies of the EU, they fall short in several respects. This essay will demonstrate that these shortcomings are primarily the result of the ubiquitous exclusion of minorities from the political realm. Furthermore, specific to Israel is the lack of reconcilement of the ethnic Jewish state and the western liberal constitution. Specific to Turkey is the intervention by military leaders in politics to restore the secular Ataturkian ideal. In comparison to non-EU member states, this essay will show that, in some respects, Israel and Turkey have better-developed democratic systems.

The concept of leadership in a democracy is intertwined with all aspects of government. Aspects of leadership cannot be fully compared unless systems of governance themselves are compared. To qualify this statement, I will present a three-tiered conceptual definition to build up the idea of democracy, providing points of comparison between EU member states, Israel and Turkey, and EU non-member states. At an initial level, I will first explain the role of the electorate in democracy. At a secondary level, I will present the idea of a parliamentary system. Finally, at a tertiary level, I will explain the concept of liberal democracy.

At its most basic level, democracy is a political system for establishing leadership through free and fair elections. In the prevailing definition, representative democracy bestows the responsibilities of leadership on the candidate who wins a majority of the electorate’s votes. Inherently, voting rights are extended to all citizens of eligible age. As will later be put forth, Israel and Turkey exclude significant portions of their citizenry from the political process. Thus, leadership in those countries cannot be discussed without highlighting this fact.

In parliamentary and senate democracies present in all EU member states, Turkey and Israel, leadership is divided into two levels incorporating a system of checks and balances. A parliamentary democracy is one where popularly elected parliamentary representatives appoint executive leadership. Leadership is subject to the constraints of an elected legislative body. In a senate democracy, the electorate selects the executive, who also remains subject to the constraints of elected representatives. Additionally, elected representatives in both systems have their own legislative power, subject to constraints of executive leadership. Therefore, in such a system, leadership is divided between an executive and popularly elected representatives, each with degrees of law-making power subject to the other’s approval. Thus, again, comparison of executive rule alone, and not the entire political process, would exclude an entire level of leadership.

Finally, in a liberal democracy, leadership at both the executive and representative levels is subject to the rule of law. A constitution, as is present in Turkey, Israel and all EU states, establishes constraints on the degree to which the will of the majority can be exercised at the expense of minority rights. The nature of constitutional liberal democracy does not allow for the separation of leadership from government itself. Comparing leadership alone would ignore this fact.

Having established definitions for democracy and areas of comparison between countries, the statement “democracies in Europe” must be questioned. The question implies that leadership in all democracies in Europe is essentially the same. Empirical research abounds to prove the contrary. European democracies vary in a great number of ways. Within the EU, compound polities such as Germany, Spain, Belgium and Italy and simple polities like Britain, France and Greece can be differentiated on an authority diffusion basis (Schmidt 2004). More important to the context of this essay, is that political competition, leadership constraints and minority rights vary to a great deal between EU member and non-member states. EU member states generally provide good examples of the classical democratic definitions previously provided. Political comparison to EU member states, thus, can be taken as a proxy for comparison to the ideal definitions of representative, parliamentary and liberal democratic systems. Most EU non-member states in Europe can be said have been under totalitarian communist rule, and either remain under authoritarian rule or are imperfectly functioning democracies. Unsurprisingly, the distribution of these states has a strong geographical bias towards Eastern Europe. While there are formerly communist countries now part of the EU, the political prerequisites for membership impose a certain degree of democratic uniformity. Therefore, such Eastern European states that have become members of the EU also significantly differ in political processes from those that have not. Then, the use of the term “Europe” for comparison is unwarranted. This essay will compare Turkey and Israel’s democratic leaderships to EU member states and EU non-member states separately.

Prior to making comparisons, the democratic characteristics of Turkey and Israel must be elaborated in light of the definitions that were previously made. Subsequent comparisons to EU-member states will qualify the usage of the adjective “imperfect”. Turkey can be said to imperfectly adhere to prior representative, parliamentary, and liberal definitions. Universal suffrage was established in 1933 for individuals at least 18 years of age. 550 members of the unicameral National Grand Assembly are elected to four-year terms, and have the constitutional authority to elect a prime minister through a vote of confidence. The largely ceremonial head of state is also appointed by the parliament. Executive power rests with the prime minister, while legislate power is exercised by the National Grand Assembly.

According to our definitions, Israel can also be referred to as an imperfect example of a representative, parliamentary, liberal democracy. While no explicit constitution exists, the Basic Laws of Israel serve as a proxy. Membership to the 120-member unicameral parliament, the Knesset, is determined every four years by elections. Universal suffrage is, in theory, the right of all citizens. The parliament elects a member supported by a majority to exercise executive power as the Prime Minister. As is the case in Turkey, the elected president is largely a ceremonial role.

In some ways, Israel and Turkey’s democratic leadership can be thought of as similar to that of the EU member states. Representative, parliamentary, and liberal systems all exist to degrees. However, in comparison to EU states, Turkey and Israel’s democracies have substantial shortcomings in the areas of full electorate participation and minority rights protection. Additionally, the military in Turkey has had a historical habit of intervening in politics at the expense of the democratic establishment. Turkey’s democratic shortcomings are, among a host of other issues, used to support the argument that it should not become a member of the European Union.

In Western European democracies, citizenship is the only prerequisite for full participation within the social and political framework of the state. The granting of equal opportunity to all citizens is the underlying principle of the system. Leadership at both the executive and representative levels is elected without the exclusion of any citizens on any basis. Israel and Turkey have both been unable to reconcile their ethno-nationalist identities with their democratic responsibilities. Both states have systematic measures excluding ethnic minorities from exercising power in the political realm. In Israel, being Jewish, above holding citizenship, is the basic requirement for the enjoyment of full membership within the system. The Arab minority in Israel, which makes up approximately 20% of the state’s population, is largely underrepresented in political leadership. Of the 120-member Israeli Knesset, only 12 members are Arab, or a representation figure of 10%. Therefore, Israeli Arabs have access to leadership benefits only to an extent of half their population figure. Moreover, the access of Arabs to political representation is also unequal. The Druze are afforded much greater privileges than other Arab groups due to their historical military intervention in support of Israeli Jews. Among the Arab leadership in the Knesset the Druze are considerably overrepresented. Majalli Wahabi of Druze descent, the current deputy speaker of the Knesset, briefly became Israel’s acting President in February 2007. No other member of non-Druze Arab descent has even held either position.

Similarly, in Turkey, exclusion of the Kurdish minorities from representation in the political leadership has been systematic and indoctrinated. Like Israel, Turkey came into being in its present form in the aftermath of the First World War. Following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, Ataturk, father of the Turkish nation, established the state on a Turkish ethno-nationalist basis. As a result, being Turkish, rather than simply being a citizen, is the yardstick measure for access to full benefits of political participation. Like the Arab minority in Israel, the Kurdish population in Turkey constitutes an estimated 20% of the total population¬¬. In the National Grand Assembly of 550, Kurdish representation numbers 24. At a rate of 4.36%, Kurds are five times underrepresented in the leadership and no Kurd has ever been a head of state. Historical armed conflicts with Kurdish populations and current military tensions with the PKK in the Kurdish autonomous region of Northern Iraq have heightened anti-Kurdish sentiment. Social attitudes serve as evidence that this precedent of underrepresentation is unlikely to change.

In their constitutions, Western European democracies set forth the rights of minorities and constrain the extent to which the will of the majority may be exercised. Checks on the power of the majority are legally binding at both representative and executive levels of leadership. Inalienable individual rights for all citizens, including minorities, are established in the constitution and cannot be denied by any majority-elected leadership. Constitution and legislation in Israel and Turkey are significantly different from Western Europe in this vein. In fact, a constitutional amendment in Israel denies the extension of equal rights to minorities. The 1985 amendment to the Knesset Basic Law designates Israel as the state of the Jewish people only, to the exclusion of all other state parties. Lists, or political parties, that do not recognize the preeminence of the Jewish people in the Israeli state risk being outlawed if they seek representation in the Knesset, the legislature of Israel. As stated by Rouhana and Ghanem, Israel “excludes ethno-national groups who do not belong to the dominant ethnic group from the national goals of the state and offers the dominant group preferential treatment anchored in the state’s legal system.”

In Turkish legislation, the recognition of distinct minority groups itself is prohibited. The Southern Kurdish minority have been historically termed “mountain Turks” in legislation. The words “Kurd” and “Kurdistan” were banned and replaced by Dagli T├╝rkler, `mountain Kurd' and Dogu, 'the East' (Hassanpour). The use of the Kurdish language was banned in schools, official settings and non-music broadcasts through Article 26 of the 1982 Constitution. The ban was repealed in 2002 as Turkey embarked on reforms targeting future EU ascension. Therefore, granting of a distinct identity for the Kurds is blatantly non-existent and was actively suppressed by the Turkish legal and political systems.

In Western European democracy, an existential separation between military and the leadership exists. In such countries, the military exists to serve the government. This is not the case in Turkey, where military leadership has historically been as salient to politics as democratically elected leadership. Unlike Western European armed forces, the Turkish military owes allegiance to the Ataturk and his ideals for a secular democratic state in the abstract. Ataturk, himself a military officer, insisted on the development of secularism to counter, what he believed were, anti-modern strains in Islam that impeded development (Kinross 1964). Since the establishment of democracy in Turkey, the military has acted as the custodian of secularism often at the expense of democracy. Since 1960, the military has toppled four elected governments. Additionally, the threat of military involvement has lead to entrenchment of a secular ruling elite, to the exclusion of more devout, and often poorer, Muslims. The recent presidential approval of Abdullah Gul, an observant Mulsim, has once again stirred up democratic tensions in Turkey. Military disapproval without intervention in this scenario posits a potential change in precedent.

Prior to comparing Israel and Turkey to non-EU member states, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland must be excluded from the discussion. These three countries, while not part of EU, exhibit the similar democratic characteristics that EU member states do, rendering comparison redundant. Non-EU member states in Eastern Europe include Belarus, Moldova, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, Ukraine and Russia. In many ways, Turkey and Israel adhere closer to the previously established levels of democratic leadership than these states. The Russian constitution lacks the checks constitutional checks and balances on leadership and bestows the president with the power to issue decrees that subsequently become law. As a result, the Russian parliament remains relatively weak. Additionally, elections are competitive essentially only for places in parliament and President Putin has been increasingly criticized as being undemocratic. Leadership in Israel and Turkey experiences a healthy degree of leadership turnover, and as the rise of the Turkish conservative AKP shows, elections have seminal impact on policy. Belarus is another example of an Eastern European country that has compares unfavorably to Turkey and Israel in democratic leadership. President Lukasheko has continually tampered with the nation’s democratic process. His 1996 amendment to the 1994 constitution diminished executive constraint and afforded him the power to remove members of parliament. Parliamentary and presidential elections in 2000 and 2001 respectively have been marred by corruption and, according to human rights watch, were not free.

In conclusion, this essay compares the democratic leadership of Turkey and Israel to that of European democracies. Comparison to EU member states can serve as proxy for comparison to the given definitions of democracy themselves as EU membership prerequisites impose such a high degree of democracy. In comparison to these states, Turkey and Israel both experience shortcomings, stemming from lack of minority representation in politics and exclusion of minority rights from legislation. Therefore, this essay states that the use of the term “imperfect”, with respect to Israel and Turkey’s democracies, is warranted. There is no indication that this systematic mistreatment of minority groups will end in the foreseeable future. Additionally, the military in Turkey has historically maintained a high degree of intervention in civilian politics to preserve secularism at the expense of democracy. For having such democratic shortcomings, among other reasons, Turkey’s ascension to the EU is hotly contested. In comparison with Eastern European non-EU states, Turkey and Israel have democracies that more closely adhere to the definitions. While some may be argue that the examples presented are not of ‘democracies’ in the conventional sense, all the Eastern European states mentioned have embarked on democratization drives and have implemented versions of electoral representation, parliament, and liberalism. Ultimately, it is concluded that the leadership of Turkey and Israel is neither the same as EU member states nor non-member states.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Hall in Oxford can be so nice

My lovely friends and I, plus a bit of wine.

Does the granting of economic freedom result in greater political freedom and increased protection of human rights?

an old presentation revived and turned into an essay in my spare time


The issue of economic freedom is one that is far more controversial than political freedom. To many, the facets of economic freedom do not constitute ‘rights’ in the same way that civil and political rights do (for the purpose of this proposal, I will use the term ‘political freedoms’ to encompass civil and political rights). That is, for example, the right to free speech is fundamentally different from the right to choose your occupation. Proponents of the central allocation of resources often say that economic freedoms are inherently harmful, and that the government should control individual actions in the market. Oppositely, those who believe in laissez-faire believe that the individual should be allowed to conduct his or herself in the market in whichever way he/she perceives best. In the world today, there are no examples of absolute laissez-faire or complete central allocation. Rather, governments vary in their degrees of market intervention. This essay presents a proposal to investigate a quantitative relationship between the economic and political aspects of ‘freedom’. To accomplish this, statistical analysis using measures of economic and political freedom will be employed. Economic freedom will be judged using the "economic freedom index" in Gwartney et. al (2000), while the civil and political rights aspects constituting political freedom will be measured using Freedomhouse’s "freedom in the world" survey rating scores.

Literature on the puzzle:

20th Century economists, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Ludvig von Mises have written at length about the idea that “liberties in the political and economic spectrum are complementary and mutually dependent.” In Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman addressed the dual role of free economic arrangements in the promotion of a free society in promoting both political freedom and ‘total freedom’ (as he calls it). Using the example of post Second World War “control of arrangements order” in Britain, he shows how free economic pursuit makes up an integral part of our notion of essential personal liberties. The order indoctrinated by the Labour party made centralized allocation of individuals to occupations the law. Even though, this does not constitute a violation of any international human rights covenants, I am sure most, if not all, of us would feel this that is a grave violation of personal liberties. Therefore, the notion of our right to economic freedom is so natural and so ingrained in our beliefs of liberty that we can hardly separate it from what we call ‘freedom’. Friedrich Hayek stated, “liberty of the individual can only be obtained when the latter is free to exploit his productive capacities…without the interference of state.”
His work also addresses how economic freedom can be viewed as a means to the end of political freedom: “competitive capitalism promotes political freedom because it separates from economic power from political power and in this way enables one to offset the other.” Peitsinis Charilaos of the Institut Hayek articulates this in a slightly clearer manner: economic freedom allows the individual to earn independently of the state, and thus allows him to question, express dissent, and even combat this institution. History provides ample evidence for this argument, as there has never truly been a society that has sustained a high degree of political freedom, without also having a great degree of economic freedom as well. Examples ranging from the golden ages of Greece and Rome to the United States’ tremendous prosperity in the 1990s solidify this argument.
However, it would be foolish not to observe the rather recent instances where a high degree of economic freedom was not associated with political freedom, total freedom or the provision of human rights. Notorious examples include the repressive regimes of Russia under the Tzars, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Spain, and possibly today’s Sudan. Similarly, the astounding economic prosperity of China after it pursued economic freedom has not be associated with proportional increases in political freedom and in the provision of human rights.

Thus, History provides us with the following three outcomes for an association between political and economic freedom: 1) for political freedom to be sustained at length, economic freedom must also exist, political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom (totalitarian socialism), 2) economic freedom can exist without political freedom, 3) both exist.

Possible outcomes from historical evidence:

1) Neither political nor economic freedoms exist. > totalitarian socialism
2) Economic freedom exists only. > fascism
3) Both exist. > capitalist liberalism

Operationalization of Economic and Political Freedom:

For quantifying economic freedom we will use the ‘economic freedom index’ developed in 2000 and 2001 by James Gwartney and Robert Lawson in The Concept and Measurement of Economic Freedom, while the former author was the chief economist of the joint economic committee of the U.S. congress. I believe that this is the best existing measure for economic freedom because it is multifaceted unlike most others, which are limited to indicators such as the black market premium on foreign exchange. Nevertheless, this measure is not free from criticism. It is deeply rooted in modern libertarian ideology and assumes that the principal role of government should be limited to the enforcement of property rights and contract obligations, provision of a stable monetary system, freedom of floating exchange, and the limited provision of essential public goods like law enforcement and national defense. Therefore, the scope of this measure is limited and can be subject to dispute as suggested by Carlsson et. al in Economic Freedom and Growth: Decomposing the Effects.

Quantitatively, Gwartney et. al’s index consists of seven categories measured on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is the highest degree of freedom.

These seven categories, whose detail is beyond the scope of this presentation include:

1) The size of government
2) Economic structure and the use of market
3) Monetary policy and price stability
4) Freedom to use alternative currencies
5) Legal structure and security of private ownership
6) International exchange – freedom to trade with foreigners
7) Freedom to exchange in capital markets

Measuring Political Freedom:

For measuring political freedom we will use the freedomhouse freedom in the world survey ratings. This measure has been covered rather extensively so I won’t go into as much detail on its intricacies. The methodology of the survey is grounded in basic standards of political and civil liberties derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The authors of the survey claim that it “does not maintain an culture-bound view of freedom”, however the U.N.’s definitions of political freedom are essentially rooted in Western Liberalism. So, even this measure is not free from bias.

Quantitatively, 192 nations and 14 territories are given a rating from 1 to 7, with 1 indicating the highest degree of freedom, and 7 the least. Countries are also classified as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free by the survey.

Ho: Economic freedom has no association with political freedom
Ha: Economic freedom has a significant association with political freedom

For actually using these measures to conduct statistical tests for association, there are several approaches. But for our purposes, I will detail the simplest and most straightforward one: linear regression. Variables in political science rarely follow a non-linear relationship; therefore, a regression will be suitable. I will run a regression with political freedom as the dependent variable (Y), as measured by Freedom House, and economic freedom as the independent variable (X). Once the test is conducted, we will derive a coefficient for the correlation between the two variables. We will then conduct significance tests to test the probability of finding an association with the magnitude, as large or as small, as we did.

Subsequently, we can disaggregate the effects of economic freedom on political freedom for more policy relevant results. We can run multiple regression analysis using each of the seven categories of economic freedom to find their individual correlations with political freedom. Another possible test would be to disaggregate both the effects of economic freedom and political freedom, ala Cherif, and find the correlations between each individual measure that we use for economic and political freedoms.


I have presented a proposal that I believe will be very significant for studying associations between economic freedom and political freedom, by which I generally mean civil and political rights. From historical evidence and theory I have reason to believe that the two occur simultaneously in a large number of instances, with a minority of cases of economic freedom without political freedom. However, I do not want to overemphasize or overestimate the consequences of the study. Finding a strong positive association between the two does not mean that the granting of economic freedom results political freedom. We have seen that the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment agreements advocating liberalization have not necessarily helped poor countries. But, what I hope this study will establish is that the two freedoms are complementary and complexly interrelated. For a truly free society to exist, both forms must simultaneously occur.

Rue Des Mauvais Garcons

I was in Paris this weekend and I ran into this street. It means "street of the bad boys". you know how we roll. :p

Monday, 26 November 2007

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Yor T's ain't ballin' Henry Holland

Soo, Henry Holland has become quite popular for his "innovate wordplay" in bold 80s-esque style on t-shirts. My friend was on HH's runway for London fashion week this year and he would vouch to say that I could be better designer than Henry Holland. I think that his rhymes are pretty cheesy and his t-shirts are overpriced for what they are. In response, here are my designs, which will soon be on my own t-shirts in lots of different colors. To add insult to injury, I'll give these away for free, so if you want one, ask in a couple of weeks.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Agyness Deyn

I like indie style

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

US government defines democracy?!

Apparently the US government publishes documents defining democracy. I find sections titled "Government of the People", "Human Rights...", "Democratic Ethics...", "Elections", and "Rule of Law" just slightly oxymoronic. Propaganda? You be the judge.


Over the past thirty years, the pace of China’s growth and development has been unrelenting. While figures of the country’s rate of GDP growth over the period vary, evidence points to a statistic between 9.3% and 9.4% annually (Holz 2005, Fisher 2005, Malik 2005). Per capita GDP growth has reached over 8.1% annually and HDI measures of life expectancy and literacy have also improved dramatically during this period. Life expectancy now stands at 70 years of age, while primary education enrollment statistics are comparable to those of developed countries. Poverty incidence was as high as 31% in 1978; that number now stands at 2.8% as 250 million people have been lifted out of poverty (Malik 2005). Industrial productivity has experienced tremendous growth as well. In 2004, China’s manufacturing sector output reached $3.4 trillion, adjusted for purchasing power parity, compared to just $1.5 trillion in the U.S. “China’s factories produced just 200 room air conditioners in 1978; today, they produce 48 million. Back then, they turned out just 11 billion meters of cloth; last year, 35.4 billion meters (over 3 times as much)… There are 28 billion square feet of floor space under construction in China, compared with just 5 billion in the U.S. Five of the world’s largest shopping centers are now located in China,” (Fisher 2005).

These figures support, what Fisher (2005) presents as the “Big China view”. However, China’s economy today is not without its drawbacks and in many areas continues to fall short of developed countries. Fisher (2005) sheds light on how “little” China is in comparison to the U.S.:
• “U.S. productivity in agriculture is 33 times that of China; productivity in U.S. industry is five times that of China.
• The U.S. has 19,497 airports; China, just 126.
• We have 150,000 miles of petroleum pipelines; they have less than 10,000.
• We have 481 cars per 1,000 people; they have seven.
• We have much, much higher levels of [higher] education, technology …”

From a development perspective, the last thirty years have also resulted in increasing domestic inequality in various spheres. China’s Gini coefficient is now as high as 0.45, the threshold considered indicative of potential social unrest. Geographical inequality is also high – the urban HDI stands at 0.81, while the rural figure is only 0.67. Most striking is the fact that public health coverage in rural areas has dropped from 90% to 10% between 1979 and 2002. Unsurprisingly, Shanghai’s HDI is now equal to that of Portugal, while Tibet’s is lower than that of Gabon (Malik 2005).

There are those that tout China’s strength and laud its progress over the last thirty years. Yet, there are others that hold more sobering views, highlighting China’s increasing inequities. China has been described, at opposite extremes, as both “the next superpower” (Murray 1998) and being “on the brink” (Henderson 1999). But, it remains undeniable that, on an aggregate level, Chinese economic circumstances are dramatically better now than they were thirty years ago. Further, I make the unsupported, but not ludicrous statement, that one would find it a virtually impossible task to locate a government in a poor country that finds the last thirty years of Chinese growth and development undesirous. Thus, the question begs itself, how did they achieve it?

Two words: Deng Xiaoping.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Back once again with the ill behavya

My hair is (almost) all gone...again. Stylish? I dunno. Does it make me look tough? Hell Yea. Strange and new? yeah probably.

My room - Pretending to be Artsy

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Cuba Libre

Inspiration from Zeta Bar in Sidney.

This works best with 10 cane rum. But, if you're a broke college student, use any cheap Caribbean light rum.

Mix 1.25 ltrs. diet coke and juice from 5 limes
Place in large container, cover, and freeze
Use a melon-baller to scoop coke-lime ice out of container
Cut two thin slices of lime and place in a tumbler
Add ball of coke-lime ice to tumbler
Add approx. 2 shots of 10 cane rum. If you're hardcore, double that
Fill to 3/4 height with soda water
Add a few drops of lime juice and stir
Garnish with a sprig of mint

This drink is a nice substitute for the pedestrian rum and coke. It is best had on the beach, paired with gold and brown aviators and an oversize orange Hermes towel stolen from a very unlucky friend.

(picture from story on this very drink)

Saturday, 17 November 2007

In Oxford

Notice the revival of the patterned pocket-watch waistcoat by the gentleman on the right. What really makes his outfit is a jovial grin and a healthy punch for the sake of bravado.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Can democracy yield benefits for the Middle East? Is Western democracy compatible with Middle Eastern soicety?

In an earlier post I presented the argument that civil society, as a channel of political activism, had been effectively repressed by undemocratic governments in the Middle East. After some thought, I feel that I may have come across as paternalistic. I have always thought that democracy, in the form that it takes in Western-centric political philosophy, is both normatively and positively the paramount system of governance. I am sure that that perspective came through what should have been an unbiased critique. But now, I wonder, is democracy the best form of government for the contemporary Middle Eastern context? Moreover, even if civil society was able to upset the power structure, would a Western-style democracy be established?

Let us first define what we mean by "democracy". Democracy, in the simplest sense, is rule by the people. In the Western manifestation, it implies rule through abstract representatives elected at various geographical levels - eg. city, state and national. I believe that democracy, and abstract representation, must be differentiated. In this post, I argue that democracy, not in the Western sense, is the best solution for the social economic and political problems of the region.

In today’s Middle East, the static undemocratic regime is largely the ubiquitous political structure. During the post-colonial period, the two salient features of the Middle Eastern state have become longevity and authoritarianism. Collectively, Middle Eastern states form a highly undemocratic bloc. In 2000, on a scale of 10 to -10, with -10 being the lowest possible score, all members of the region received negative Polity IV rating evaluations. Based on measures of executive recruitment, competitiveness of political participation, and chief executive constraint, individual country scores ranged from -2 in the cases of Jordan and Yemen, to -10 in the cases of Qatar and Saudi Arabia (Noland 2005).

Unsurprisingly, the distribution of both power and wealth is extremely inequitable in the region. The reason being that the region's economy primarily revolves around rent-seeking. The vast majority of natural resources are controlled by the state. In oil-producing countries, petroleum exports account for almost half of GDP. Resource control results in state governments acquiring fabulous wealth. For example, 90% of the Saudi monarchy's revenue is gained from oil exports. In those states that are not oil-producers, such as Syria, wealth is still accrued to the state through aid from regional and external actors following geopolitical strategies. Economic prosperity is exclusive to members of the ruling elite, those involved with the oil industry, and those co-opted by these two entities. More often than not, individuals outside these categories suffer from abject poverty. Moreover, in an unrepresentative form of government, the incumbents have no interest in altering the existing establishment. These factors, among other reasons, have resulted in the term "resource curse" being applied to the entire region. Thus, I believe that the region can benefit from a representative government that will extend the rewards of oil-wealth to all citizens.

However, will a representative form of government flourish in the Middle East? In this context, I believe that a Western form of democracy is not a viable solution to issues of governance and socioeconomic inequity. Middle Eastern kinship structures are not conducive to abstract voting patterns. Israel, perhaps the only semblance of a democracy in the region (albeit doubtlessly flawed), provides an example as to why this is the case. Research shows that the nation's Bedouin tribes are unwilling to allow someone outside their own kinship structures to represent their interests. The same may be extended to Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. As a result, voter turnout is, as a whole, very low in the region. Moreover, in Egypt, voting, even in the case of civil society organizations, never yields more than 10-15% turnout. Evidence abounds to support my claim that a Western democracy cannot be implemented in the Middle East.

In conclusion, I believe that representative government and not Western democracy is needed in the region. However, questions such as whether representatives will become co-opted into the socioeconomic elite and give up on supporting popular interests, persist. But I believe, a kinship-based confessional representation structure, a la the Afghan jirga convention (, could prove to be most effective.

In short, the US implementation of Western democracy in Iraq is a futile endeavor.

Really good Bellini

This drink is best paired with a dark tan, a khaki italian suit, a shirt with too many buttons undone, suede loafers and sunshine.
Most importantly, it should not be had alone.

You will need:
Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine).
If you're a broke college student, get sparkling Cava brut rose.
Lots of white peaches.
Again, If you're a broke college student, you can use regular or canned peaches (without syrup) but it won't taste as good.
You can also use other fruits with similar sweetness and consistency. Mangoes work particularly well.

Puree fruit in blender.
Take liquid out and put through a fine strainer.
Chill until needed.
Moisten the edge of a champagne flute and dip into sugar.
Fill with about three tea spoons of puree.
Slowly mix in sparkling wine until glass is full.
Be careful and you can get a really nice color gradient. If you don't achieve this effect, your drink is not classy enough.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Why hasn't an active civil society resulted in democratic change in the Middle East?

In his study of the American Revolution and post-revolutionary society, Tocqueville first conceived a relationship between civil society and democracy in the 19th century. While the significance of this idea waned through much of the 20th century, it was revived in light of the circumstances contributing to the end of totalitarianism in Eastern Europe. Scholars argue that the development of civil society yields a significant positive impact on the quality of governance, development and quality of life (Perez-Diaz 1993). In a 1995 interview, Robert Putnam stated “you tell me how many choral societies there are in an Italian region, and I will tell you plus or minus three days how long it will take you to get your health bills reimbursed by its regional government.” Such ideas logically lead to the question, if civil society is active in the Middle East, why does the democratic system of governance remain “alien” to the region?

History is partly responsible for the current situation. The majority of undemocratic ruling regimes in the Middle East can be divided into three categories – those that were put into place by the colonial powers, those that came to power in the wake of Ottoman decline, and those that rose up against postcolonial institutions. After the First World War, the Hashemite monarchies of Jordan and Iraq were created through direct British intervention. All of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf came into being as powerful families captured control of territory as Ottoman power was dismantled and replaced by European influence. All thee Arab Gulf states are now ruled by hereditary monarchies. In those states that were directly governed by Britain and France, poorly thought-out territorial division and ill-conceived imperial ruling practices generated long-lasting communal tension and political instability. These circumstances were particularly un-conducive to democratic governance. At the end of the interwar period and nearing independence, none of the mandate states experienced functioning representative political systems (with the exception of confessional Lebanon). Rather, throughout colonial possessions, a social system was in place that alienated the vast majority of the population and allowed wealth and power to be concentrated in the hands of an elite class. Members of this class tended to be unwilling to join the military forces. As a result, the ethnic, religious, class and geographical groups that remained excluded from the political realm became well represented in the officer corps. The military coups between the late 1940s and early 1960s were a response to the inequities of the postcolonial era, and did not tend to culminate in democratic systems of governance.

While history presents the argument as to why undemocratic regimes came into being, in light of the contemporary growth of CSOs, why have these regimes endured? The reasons for the futility of CSOs to generate political change are derived from policies taken up by undemocratic states to systematically undermine them. By the end of the Gulf War, political dissent surfaced from the inability of authoritarian Arab states and their bloated bureaucracies to maintain pace with the rising aspirations of increasingly educated and socially mobile populations (Yom 2005). In response to burgeoning political dissatisfaction, governments began to reevaluate their means of quelling dissent. Across the region, legal policies undermining the effectiveness of CSOs as a means of political change were undertaken.

Middle Eastern undemocratic regimes pioneered the usage of loopholes in CSO legislation to render them ineffective as political actors. Firstly, in most states, such organizations are by law required to register with government ministries and obtain permits of operation. Ministries use “associations laws” to bureaucratically increase the costs of establishing a new civic organization. Secondly, in the examples of Yemen and Jordan, social affairs ministries mandate civic groups to abstain from anti-state activity, or siba (literally “subversion”). Thirdly, state administrators exert control over the operating budgets of CSOs, preventing them from becoming physically powerful enough to become efficient channels of anti-government sentiments. Fourthly, CSOs fall under the close scrutiny of state intelligence agencies, such as the Mukhabarat in Hussein’s Iraq. These agencies are empowered to “infiltrate major associations, cancel board elections of unions and syndicates, impose arbitrary fines for management, ban financial contributions from blacklisted donors, and dissolve any group found to commit minor legal infractions,” (Yom 2005). Fifthly, “emergency laws” in Syria, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan suspend the legal rights of activists, allowing the government to further repress organized dissent. Finally, states, such as Syria, have established their own civic organizations that promote pro-state propaganda. Jordan has gone so far as to establish the General Union of Voluntary Societies (GUVS), a government instrument that claims to be representative of all CSO interests. The GUVS thereby precludes the official voicing of any opinions that may undermine state authority.

The Middle East is a region that has ubiquitously experienced the growth of civil society organizations, yet contrary to political philosophy, has not experienced the theorized benefits of growth in democratization. There is modest evidence demonstrating political liberalization in the region between 1960 and 2000 (Noland 2005). However, evidence shows that these liberalizations have been token measures designed to actually strengthen state control. Examples such as “defensive democratization” in Jordan, “democratization from top down” in Saudi Arabia, and “tactical liberalization” in Yemen, abound. The concept of civil society is by no means alien to the region. However, the undemocratic regimes of the region have systematically undermined the effectiveness of the civil society as means of exacting political change. The concept of democratic government remains alien insofar as it has generally not taken root.

Classy and tastes great

3 measures black currant drink mix
1.5 measures citrus-based liquer (Grand Marnier, Famous Grouse - even though they are really different, they both work equally well)
Shake and strain over rocks into a Saloon Whiskey glass - preferably from before 1900 because newer ones just don't have the same charm.
Fill with soda or ice-water to the top
Garnish with orange peel

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Amartya Sen's Capability Approach

After a few drinks, I thought it would be nice to sit back, put on my intellectual hat, and pontificate about something that I'm pretty interested in.

When studying inequality, Amartya Sen's capability approach is by far the most thought-provoking abstract conceptualization analyzing the issue. It is more a framework for evaluating social welfare and development than an explicit measurement of inequality. The basis of the approach is rooted in normative egalitarianism derived from a Kantian philosophical emphasis.

Sen's approach is quite interesting and calls for economists evaluating inequality, whether from a statistical or policy-based method, to look beyond income as the only measure of social difference. Research has been conducted on an interesting hypothesis stemming from this idea - that for the same product, the poor pay higher prices than the more affluent. The Brookings institute study from 2005 provides empirical evidence supporting this conclusion. My own research, most recently also originating from the capability approach, seems to indicate that the poor use their income more inefficiently than the rich. The theoretical justification for this appears to be that the poor simply do not, for one, have access to the same financial services as the rich. This statement reveals another fascinating idea: a unit of currency yields greater return as the wealth of the individual holding that unit rises. In more colloquial terms, a richer person can make more money out of a single dollar than a poorer person can. Microfinance insitutions are one way of adressing this inequity. But, I believe that an altruistic investment fund structured like the CalPERS pension fund can most effectively grow money and alleviate poverty through a market-based, non-governmental effort. Yet another means is the pooling of funds in poor communities to achieve the collective status of an affluent economic actor, yielding more favorable rates of return. Clearly, problems of liquidity in these investment methods can easily arise and the locking of assets in a fund may be a contentious issue for poor individuals.