Here’s a quote (via David Frum) that I saw recently and liked.
“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.”
It’s attributed to Franz Kafka, but I can’t seem to find any information about where he wrote or said it.
My review of Tyler Cowen’s *An Economist Get’s Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies*
I managed to get my hands on a prerelease copy of Tyler Cowen’s new book, An Economist Gets Lunch. I enjoyed the book and decided to write an Amazon review after reading what I thought was an unnecessarily nasty review in the New York Times (I don’t think it gets much more over the top and ad hominem than comparing a quirky academic polymath to Rush Limbaugh). So you can read my take here, and I’ve posted it below the jump as well.
It’s long, and a few months old now, but I really enjoyed this panel on “Revising Kagame”. Good panelists, good discussion. Bonus cranky old man points at the very end.
West African Music from Teju Cole
Speaking of Teju Cole, he’s currently one of the people I most enjoy following on Twitter. He writes an ongoing series he calls Small Fates where he scours the Nigerian newspapers and reports pithy, poetic versions of the stories that are short enough to fit within a single tweet. A few hours ago, for example, he tweeted, “With a snap, an electrical pole in Sabo fell on Okolie’s car. With a crackle, it began to electrocute it. With a pop, he escaped.”
He’s also tweeted a few great musical top ten lists recently that anyone who’s into West African music will probably enjoy. On Friday the 16th he started with this:
What I love: lo-fi old-school West African highlife and big band music. Here’s a top ten to sweeten a Friday.
10. Sir Victor Uwaifo, “Guitar Boy”
9. Fela Ransome Kuti & Nigeria 70, “Ololufe Mi”
8. Super Rail Band, “Mansa”
7. Ambassadeur International, “N’Toman”
6. Peacocks International Highlife Band, “Eddie Quansa”
5. Stephen Osita Osadebe, “Osondi Owendi”
4. S.E. Rogie, “Kpindigbee (Morning, Noon, and Night)”
3. Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson, “Jolly Papa
2. Bembeya Jazz National, “Beni Baralé
1. Dr Victor Olaiya, “Baby Jowo/ Ere Aladun”
This week, as the coup d’état unfolded in Mali, he offered the following:
A playlist for Mali, with love and best wishes to the people of Mali at a troubling time.
10. Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, “Kaja Djula”
9. Habib Koite, “Kanawa”
8. Kandia Kouyate, feat. Djelimady Tounkara, “San Barana”
7. Boubacar Traore, “Mouso Teke Soma Ye”
6. Salif Keita, “Mandjou”
5. Oumou Sangare, “Ah Ndiya”
4. Mory Kante, “Yeke Yeke”
3. Bassekou Kouyate, “Lament for Ali Farka”
2. Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra, “Tapha Niang
1. Ali Farka Toure, feat. Ry Cooder, “Gomni”
0. Ali Farka Toure, “Roucky”
Africa is not a Blank Canvas
Although much of the debate around the whole Kony 2012 thing was stale and predictable almost as soon as it began, it did produce a few gems that may have even made the whole uproar worthwhile. I already mentioned Dinaw Mengetsu’s great piece on the “doctrine of simplicity”. I’d also single out Teju Cole’s fantastic essay on The White Savior Industrial Complex. As someone who works in the “international development” world and spends a lot of time thinking about these questions, this is a piece I expect I’ll continue to read and reread. I especially liked this bit:
One song we hear too often is the one in which Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism. From the colonial project to Out of Africa to The Constant Gardener and Kony 2012, Africa has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected. It is a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied. Many have done it under the banner of “making a difference.”
I think this is a particular strain of a more general problem with the way that a typical privileged foreigner approaches Africa. The metaphor I’ve used before is that of a blank canvas onto which we try to paint our ideas about who we are and what we believe about ourselves and how the world works. For some people this takes the form of “godlike savior” aspirations. More banal, but at least as harmful, is the routine use of Africa as a sort of proving ground for foreigners’ pet theories about government, economics, human nature, or anything else that can’t be put to the test where pesky things like laws, politics, and people with agency get in the way. In Africa, as Cole says, “the usual rules do not apply”. If you find yourself with a Big Idea and the hubristic conviction that people should indulge your fantasy, Africa is likely where you’ll end up. What was “structural adjustment” but an effort to put an empirical stamp of approval on the Washington Consensus? Jeffrey Sachs thinks he’s got economic development all figured out and he’s determined to use the Millennium Villages to prove him right. The list of examples is endless.
On the same site as Cole’s essay (a site I happen to love) I saw a short item about some German software developer who thinks Africa should adopt Bitcoin as a common currency. For reasons that the Euro is making abundantly clear this days I think this would probably be a terrible idea, but I point it out because I think it illustrates how blithely foreigners offer such prescriptions for Africa. Africans, African governments, and African institutions don’t really enter into the thinking, except insofar as their “weak” central banking systems supposedly offer an opportunity for this guy’s Big Idea.