The following is a transcript, translated into English, of an actual chat that occurred over Yahoo on the date indicated. The original language is Pashto, and the chatters were in Afghanistan. No names have been altered, and I am told that this is the first time this conversation has been released to the public. It is, sadly, all too typical of what happens there on a daily basis. Continue reading
In a 1998 essay (posted in two parts here and here), which you are free to read or ignore, the author (Derek Parfit) delves as deeply as he is able into the question of why the universe exists– of why anything exists; why there is something rather than nothing. Without any disrespect toward the author, reading it is a bit like watching a dog chase its own tail. Parfit carefully holds himself to rigorously logical thinking throughout, but he just can’t get the outside perspective on the universe that would be needed in order to see why it is here. He’s like a man at the bottom of a well shaft, wondering about the solid dirt ground and the smooth round walls, and the high, open ceiling. Having no knowledge of the surface world, he will never guess that someone once dug this shaft for water. The fact that there are such things as telephones and cities and chocolate truffles is completely outside his knowledge and beyond his imagination. Continue reading
Northern Vietnam features a traditional style of woodblock printing that is of uncertain age and origins. The style may date to the fifteenth-century Lê Dynasty, or possibly to some time in the 13th century, of the Lý or Trân Dynasties (Ha 2010, 9). Whatever the origins, the art form survives to this day, though in distinct variations and with a rapidly diminishing following. There are very few practitioners of the art still remaining (Quang 2011). Continue reading
The 2006 coup in Thailand has been described in terms of an ongoing struggle between the Thai military and the Thai citizenry. (See, for example, Chambers 2010.) According to this view, the military rose in power because of the coup, bringing with it various non-democratic changes to the political system. This model views the people of Thailand more-or-less as an amorphous whole. The divisions between Red Shirts and Yellow shirts are treated essentially as the transient political movements of the moment, and only passing attention is given to the predominant economic strata within these groups. I offer a different interpretation, one that introduces the concept of transcendent loci of political power. Political identities such as Pheu Thai or Yellow Shirts may come and go with the times, but immortal sociopolitical forces within Thai society have existed in some recognizable form or another for hundreds of years, and will survive all of Thailand’s modern-day political intrigues. When interpreted in terms of these transcendent loci, the Thaksin phenomenon and the political clashes that have continued are revealed to be aberrations, contrary to the ordinary structure and flow of Thai political life. The conflicts cannot last, because the opposing parties of today are, in the transcendent sense, natural allies; their reconciliation is inevitable. This interpretation suggests a profound stability to Thai political life, in spite of great bang and clatter at the surface. Continue reading
If our aid efforts in Afghanistan have largely gotten us nowhere, we would do well to consider that most of them are implemented in a way that amounts to Marxism: the central authority distributes goods according to people’s needs, with the expectation that those people will produce according to their abilities. Humanity spent the twentieth century proving that such a model does not work, so it is incongruous that we would attempt it in Afghanistan. At one point during the last three years, I was given control of an aid program operating in rural Dand District, south of Kandahar City, and I was free to employ my own market-based implementation strategy. I may report that we not only sparked booming economic growth in all our target villages, but we also wrested two villages from Taliban control and formally aligned them with the Afghan government. Think about that: an aid program seized ground from the enemy without a shot fired or a life lost. If we want to win in Afghanistan, I offer this program as a blueprint.
Pavel shot Haddel.