Monday, July 25, 2011

Almost Done

I came to Kyrgyzstan this summer with one primary objective. This objective is to get my daughter a US birth certificate and passport. After four trips to the US embassy I have finished all the paper work. Now I just have to wait for the documents to be processed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Third World Problems

I am getting closer to accomplishing what I came back to Bishkek to finish. I think there is some universal law that nothing in the third world ever works on the first try. Nothing ever works on the second try either. If you get really lucky you can get things to work on the third try. But, normally everthing takes four or more attempts before you can accomplish anything.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Kyrgyzstan is hotter than Ghana was when I left. Bishkek is a lot smaller and quieter than Accra. I have met with some old friends and not much seems to have changed in Central Asia since I left in December.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Back in the Former USSR

On Monday night I left Accra to go to Bishkek via London and Istanbul. I arrived in Bishkek on Wednesday morning. I do not recommend travelling from Africa to Europe to the middle of Asia in a single non-stop trip unless you are in a hurry. I will be here for about a month before I return to Ghana.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

I have some things that need my attention

I know looking at this blog it looks like my personal life is rather limited. But, I actually do have a life outside of academia. Those of you who know me personally know what  I am talking about. I have not posted on it very much in order to protect the privacy of other people. At any rate I have to go take care of some matters pertaining to that personal life this month. So until the fall semester starts at University of Ghana blogging will be slow.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Five Non-Controversial Things I Believe

1. It is almost impossible to get a really good beef hamburger outside the US. You can find decent ones if you look hard, but not excellent ones.

2. There is nothing scientific about social science, political science, or any other like discipline.

3. The best library in the world is the Library of Congress.

4.  SOAS is the single best English language institution in the world for studying Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

5. Nobody will leave any comments on this blog post.

Half steps

Sometimes you can not accomplish everything in one attempt. You have to do it in two half steps. This is frustrating, but a half step is much better than no step. I am going by what I think is a Chinese proverb: "Fear not moving slowly, fear only standing still." Even if it is not a real Chinese proverb it still makes a lot of sense to me.

Pineapple and Watermelon

Today I came across a fresh fruit juice combination I had not seen before. It was pineapple and watermelon. It tasted pretty good. But, I still prefer pineapple and ginger.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Strategy for Progress

I have decided that the best strategy for getting through life is to accomplish a little bit each day. Days where I accomplish nothing are frustrating. Monday was such a day. But, since then I have been doing well. A little bit of progress each day means moving forward. It is days when nothing gets done that kill progress and hope.

Modernity and Genocide: The Circassians

Modernity is of course a relative term. But, for a while now many scholars have identified the German extermination of the Herero and Nama people in Namibia during 1904-1907 as the first modern genocide. However, it appears that all of the modern state technology and ideology necessary to commit genocide had been in place and used considerably earlier by another state. The Russian genocide against the Circassians during 1860-1864 appears to have all the elements at least in an embryonic form of more modern genocides such as the Holocaust and the Soviet mass deportations in the 1940s.

A good argument can be made that the US committed genocide against certain Native American nations earlier than 1860. I am thinking in particular of the forced relocation of the Cherokee and other peoples by Andrew Jackson. However, I think these earlier cases had not yet acquired all of the elements of modernity that are shared by genocides in the 20th century. They certainly had many of the same features as more recent cases of genocide, but the first fully formed case of an ideologically driven attempt to destroy a group of people as a distinct entity appears to be the Russian extermination of the Circassians. The emphasis on ideology rather than land I think is a key factor in modern genocides. The articulation of totalized exclusionary concepts of the state that did not allow for the survival of certain separate cultural groups within its territory had not yet fully evolved until the 1860s.

So while the forced relocation of the Cherokee certainly constituted a genocide in being a deliberate act that the US government knew would lead to large numbers of deaths, it lacked the modern ideological drive of dissolving them as a distinct group. The survivors were allowed to reorganize their national life in what became Oklahoma. The initial removal did not aim to liquidate the Cherokee as a coherent national group, but rather to violently displace them to a marginal territory of the US. Modern genocides driven by ideology in contrast have sought to eliminate the victim groups as national entities through various means. The Tsarist expulsion of the Circassians sought to completely annihilate the idea of a Circassian nation. There was no place within the Russian Empire for the Circassians, no matter how marginalized. The Tsarist government succeeded in permanently detaching the Circassians from their ancestral lands and deporting them to the Ottoman Empire. While Circassian communities continue to exist in Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine the dispersal prevented them from forming any large contiguous, coherent, and compact settlement from which to reclaim any political autonomy. It is only among the descendants of the small number of Circassians that avoided expulsion from the Caucasus that any territorial autonomy could be reestablished after the overthrow of the Tsarist regime.

Pocket Umbrella

Since it is the rainy season here in Ghana I have finally broken down and purchased a cheap umbrella. It is small enough that it fits in my pocket so I can carry it with me in case it starts to rain. I am not sure how much protection it will afford, but something is better than nothing.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Health Care: Ghana 1 US 0

Ghana routinely beats the US in football. But, it also seems to beat the US in providing health care to ordinary people. Timothy Burke, no stranger to Africa, reports that the waiting time to see a doctor at an ER in Fresno routinely averages nine hours. I have never spent more than two hours at the hospital in Legon. I went yesterday to see a doctor about renewing a script. I got there at 11:00 am. I saw a nurse and had my temperature and blood pressure taken by noon. I saw an actual doctor and got my script at 1:00 pm. This is the same pattern I have experienced here each of the last three times I have gone to the University of Ghana Hospital. Over all it seems amazingly efficient compared with Professor Burke's story out of Fresno. Now according to all the official statistics Ghana is a lot poorer than the US. So how come it can manage a working health care system and the US can not?

Moving on to my Second Semester in Africa

Now that I have entered my grades I am completely done with the academic work of my first semester at the University of Ghana. Now I have to prepare for next semester. I still have to complete a syllabus for Aspects of Early Modern European history. I already finished my syllabus for Aspects of World History, 1914-1945. I also have to teach each of these two classes twice, once at the main campus in Legon and once at the campus in Accra. In the research and publishing department I have one conference paper to co-write on cotton in German Togoland and a revise and resubmit for a journal article dealing with Soviet history. So it is more than the one class I taught last semester, but still a pretty reasonable work load.

My First University of Ghana Shirt

Yesterday I purchased a University of Ghana knit shirt. I had not seen them on sale before. However, yesterday I noticed that two men had set up a table with all kinds of University of Ghana paraphernalia at the main gate near the security office. I purchased a green one for 16.5 GH.

Grades Entered

Well I got some problems solved in the last two days. I got my grades entered today. The average for my class was a B, higher than a normal bell curve. I am not sure when I will next teach the class, but I think over all it went quite well. When I do teach it again I will change the readings somewhat. It makes sense to focus the class, Aspects of World History since 1945, on the Cold War. So I will probably remove the articles on collectivization in North Korea and the 1948 expulsion of the Palestinians. These events are only marginally connected to the conflict between the US and the USSR.

Monday, July 04, 2011


I am really busy this week. But, I should be able to moderate any comments you want to make on this blog. Consider this post an open thread post if you want.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Happy Independence Day

Tomorrow is American Independence Day. So to all my American readers happy Independence Day. I do not have anything special planned. I have a lot things I need to take of this week so I can not afford to take the day off. But, my thoughts will be with my fellow Americans.

Friday, July 01, 2011

A Walk in Legon

The weather today in Legon is beautiful. I took a walk this morning and ran into my Liberian friend. He is one of those people who can see the invisible sun. As much as I may feel sometimes that my life is not progressing right, I have never had members of my family murdered in front of me or been forced to live in a refugee camp. Yet, there are people who suffer from the fate above like my friend who manage to persevere and literally reconstruct their lives. He told me he is going back to Liberia at the end of this year where he still has some surviving family. Ghana is a very nice place to live in large part because it has been politically stable and peaceful for a relatively long time now. But, some of Ghana's neighbors such as Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have not been so fortunate in recent decades.

Comments made easier

I have made the comments function easier to use. I have enabled Open ID so you do not have to have a Blogger account to comment. I suspect, however, that my blog just does not have a large enough audience to garner any comments on a regular basis.