Archive for November 23rd, 2017

Britain’s colonial crimes deserve a lasting memorial….

November 23, 2017

Afua Hirsch has a piece in Guardian:

The trouble with the English, remarked Salman Rushdie in typically apt fashion, is that they don’t know their history, because so much of it happened overseas. And so the island status that motivated Britain’s imperial story in the first place has helped us distance ourselves from all aspects of that story.

….

Lost in all this are inconvenient facts too numerous to list in anything other than the most cursory way. There are the centuries of state-sanctioned criminal activity: the remarkable looting by supposed heroes such as Francis Drake, one of the most notorious pirates in history, and Robert Clive, who pillaged Bengal to great personal gain. There are the crimes against humanity: the innovation of concentration camps in the Boer war that inspired the Nazis, for example, and the cultural annihilation of kingdoms and palaces from Ashanti to Beijing.

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It may be distasteful to some, but as long as the establishment continues to avoid acknowledging this history, it will flourish underground. That has consequences not just for people like me – Britons personally connected to the events we continue to ignore – it denies all of us an education about the most salient episode in our past. A museum is the least we could do.

Hmm..

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How the village feast paved the way to empires and economics

November 23, 2017

Brian Hayden (professor emeritus of archaeology at Simon Fraser University), brings another dimension to history of empires and economics. He says what we are is a lot due to the village feasts which started earlier. These feasts meant people with surpluses came and lent their surpluses to the families hosting these feasts. This led to a hierarchy where those who lent became creditors and shaped human relations for times to come.

Feasts helped to transform egalitarian hunters and gatherers into the kinds of societies that laid the foundations for early states and even industrial empires. They created hierarchies and inequalities, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Feasts might well have been the catalyst for the agricultural revolution, some 10,000 years ago. But just how did feasts bring about such dramatic transformations in cultures? In the ethnographic research that my students and I conducted among traditional tribal and chiefdom societies, feasts turned out to be very different kinds of events than your average turkey and cranberry Thanksgiving. 

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Feasts are often very expensive events, sometimes requiring up to 10 years of work and saving. Those who are paying for them expect to obtain some benefit from all their efforts and expenditures. And this is the important part about traditional feasts: those who are invited, and who often receive gifts, are considered obligated to reciprocate the invitation and gifts within a reasonable amount of time. By accepting invitations to feasts, individuals enter into relationships of alliance with the host. Each of them supports the other in political or social conflicts as well as in economic matters….

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The networks and debts that feasting systems created gave great political power to certain individuals. This is how traditional feasting created the first economically based (ie, surplus-based) hierarchies. Ambitious individuals profited from the feasting system by involving others in reciprocal debts. The use of feasts in this fashion is, of course, tied to the ability of hosts to produce food surpluses, and then to convert these surpluses into advantages. This kind of energy-conversion adaptation probably emerged only in the Upper Paleolithic of Europe among the more complex hunter/gatherers, around 30,000 years ago. Feasting became common elsewhere only about 15,000 years ago during the Mesolithic or Epipaleolithic.

Phew..Never really thought about all this.  

 

When do people prefer to use coins and when they prefer to use cards for small payments?

November 23, 2017

Superb paper (minus all the modelling) in Bank of Canada series by Heng Chen, Kim P. Huynh and Oz Shy.

They look at this simple problem. When do people prefer to pay via notes/coins and when via card? When you expect to get a lot of coins in return you pay via card. If not, then via cash/coins:

(more…)

Why does Peoria (Illinois) dominate the Processed Pumpkin Market

November 23, 2017

History, geography and economics in this terrific post by Timothy Taylor.

He points why Peoria in Illinios produces 80% of pumpkins in US:

It’s not really the entire state of Illinois, either, but mainly an area right around Peoria. The University of Illinois extension service writes: “Eighty percent of all the pumpkins produced commercially in the U.S. are produced within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. Most of those pumpkins are grown for processing into canned pumpkins. Ninety-five percent of the pumpkins processed in the United States are grown in Illinois. Morton, Illinois just 10 miles southeast of Peoria calls itself the `Pumpkin Capital of the World.'”

Why does this area have such dominance? Weather and soil are part of the advantage, but it seems unlikely that the area around Peoria is dramatically distinctive for those reasons alone. This also seems to be a case where an area got a head-start in a certain industry, established economies of scale and expertise, and has thus continued to keep a lead. The Illinois Farm Bureau writes: “Illinois earns the top rank for several reasons. Pumpkins grow well in its climate and in certain soil types. And in the 1920s, a pumpkin processing industry was established in Illinois, Babadoost [a professor at the University of Illinois] says. Decades of experience and dedicated research help Illinois maintain its edge in pumpkin production.” According to one report, Libby’s Pumpkin is “the supplier of more than 85 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin.”

The farm price of pumpkins varies considerably across states, which suggests that it is costly to ship substantial quantities of pumpkin across moderate distances. For example, the price of pumpkins is lowest in Illinois, where supply is highest, and the Illinois price is consistently below the price for other nearby Midwestern states. This pattern suggests that the processing plants for pumpkins are most cost-effective when located near the actual production.

While all States see year-to-year changes in price, New York stands out because prices have declined every year since 2011. Illinois growers consistently receive the lowest price because the majority of their pumpkins are sold for processing.

Finally, although my knowledge of recipes for pumpkin is considerably more extensive than my knowledge of supply chain for processed pumpkin, it seems plausible that demand for pumpkin is neither the most lucrative of farm products, nor is it growing quickly, so it hasn’t been worthwhile for potential competitors in the processed pumpkin market to try to establish an alternative pumpkin-producing hub somewhere else.

Fascinating…

Why Goa’s famous Mapusa market is a perennial source of inspiration for artists?

November 23, 2017

Nice piece by Arti Das. Learn about markets via pictures.

The word market suggests a commercial place with buyers and sellers. But Goa’s Mapusa market on Fridays is a sensory experience of colours, flavours, smells and people.

A market of abundance, filled with vegetables, meat, fish, dry fish, fruits, rock salt, spices, sausages and even wooden furniture and lottery tickets, Mapusa also includes Goa’s unique and fresh produce: pyramid-shaped coconut jaggery, kokum butter, and chicken sold especially as an offering to Devchar, a local deity.

The market’s name, as also the name of the town where it’s located, Mapusa, is generally thought to be derived from the Konkani word maap, or to measure – an apt title for a space crucial for the local economy. Yet, for many people, the market is a lot more than a place of commerce.

Graphic artist Orijit Sen said that Mapusa market, unlike a museum, is a reflection of culture that is not static. “The sheer intensity of that place is amazing,” he said. “Previously the market had only traditional produce from the nearby villages, but today you get products from all over the world. That’s the reality of Goan life and culture for me. It is not static and that interests me as an artist.”

Further:

Mapusa market is an important reminder of the fact that Goa is an agrarian society, not just a tourist destination. Here, in the relatively small space, mainly women bring produce from their farms along with handmade things like chorizo, pottery, cane baskets, vinegar and pickles. Anyone can sell their produce here. One merely has to just pay a sopo orrent.

“The first thing you notice about Mapusa market is the riot of colours,” said Niyati Patre, a regular at the market. “Even though it is crowded and messy, I love to shop here mainly for the local produce, medicinal herbs, plant saplings, coconut jaggery. This place is a must-see during the purumed or provisions market, just before the monsoon. At that time it is filled with spices, kokum and local rice. The market has remained the same all these years.”

It was partly this vibrancy that inspired photographer Assavri Kulkarni, author of the book Markets of Goa, to begin documenting it over a decade ago.

Flower market. Image credit: Orijit Sen

The market signifies different things to different people. For illustrator Fabian Gonsalves, the place is filled with nostalgia and inspiration. “You could bump into that old school friend or a relative, sit for five minutes for a cup of chai, exchange stories and continue shopping,” he said. “My favourite place is the pottery section, mainly to check out any new designs, or the small vendors who sell old Goan household items for low rates, like vintage plates, locks, keys and chains.”

Superb…that is what a market is..

What exactly is the Holy Grail – and why has its meaning eluded us for centuries?

November 23, 2017

Leah Tether, Reader in Medieval Literature and Digital Cultures at University of Bristol takes us through the question.

Type “Holy Grail” into Google and … well, you probably don’t need me to finish that sentence. The sheer multiplicity of what any search engine throws up demonstrates that there is no clear consensus as to what the Grail is or was. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people out there claiming to know its history, true meaning and even where to find it.

Modern authors, perhaps most (in)famously Dan Brown, offer new interpretations and, even when these are clearly and explicitly rooted in little more than imaginative fiction, they get picked up and bandied about as if a new scientific and irrefutable truth has been discovered. The Grail, though, will perhaps always eschew definition. But why?

Based on her research:

My recent book delves into the medieval publishing history of the French romances that contain references to the Grail legend, asking questions about the narratives’ compilation into manuscript books. Sometimes, a given text will be bound alongside other types of texts, some of which seemingly have nothing to do with the Grail whatsoever. So, what sorts of texts do we find accompanying Grail narratives in medieval books? Can this tell us anything about what medieval audiences knew or understood of the Grail?

The picture is varied, but a broad chronological trend is possible to spot. Some of the few earliest manuscript books we still have see Grail narratives compiled alone, but a pattern quickly appears for including them into collected volumes. In these cases, Grail narratives can be found alongside historical, religious or other narrative (or fictional) texts. A picture emerges, therefore, of a Grail just as lacking in clear definition as that of today.

Perhaps the Grail served as a useful tool that could be deployed in all manner of contexts to help communicate the required message, whatever that message may have been. We still see this today, of course, such as when we use the phrase “The Holy Grail of…” to describe the practically unobtainable, but highly desirable prize in just about any area you can think of. There is even a guitar effect-pedal named “holy grail”.

Once the prose romances of the 13th century started to appear, though, the Grail took on a proper life of its own. Like a modern soap opera, these romances comprised vast reams of narrative threads, riddled with independent episodes and inconsistencies. They occupied entire books, often enormous and lavishly illustrated, and today these offer evidence that literature about the Grail evaded straightforward understanding and needed to be set apart – physically and figuratively. In other words, Grail literature had a distinctive quality – it was, as we might call it today, a genre in its own right.

Hmm…

She cautions against using the word freely:

In the absence of clear definition, it is human nature to impose meaning. This is what happens with the Grail today and, according to the evidence of medieval book compilation, it is almost certainly what happened in the Middle Ages, too. Just as modern guitarists use their “holy grail” to experiment with all kinds of sounds, so medieval writers and publishers of romance used the Grail as an adaptable and creative instrument for conveying a particular message to their audience, the nature of which could be very different from one book to the next.

Whether the audience always understood that message, of course, is another matter entirely.

This blog is guilty of the free usage as well. Should stop using it..

How Italian banks are trying to modernise…

November 23, 2017

Valentina Za of Reuters has a piece on modernisation of banks in Italy. Right from making themselves more digital to making branches like Pizzeria, they are trying it all:

Bailed-out Monte dei Paschi, the world’s oldest bank and a bastion of tradition dating back to 1472, has entered the realms of virtual reality. It’s an unlikely sign of the times.

They are looking to catch up with European rivals in digital banking, and are reducing their dependence on lending by selling insurance and other financial products.

How this overhaul plays out could shape the sector for years to come, with those who adapt most swiftly sweeping up a larger slice of new business, say bankers and industry experts.

 Monte dei Paschi’s online arm last week launched virtual reality (VR) branches, accessed via phone app and VR headset, and said 3,500 customers had signed up in the first few hours. But other banks are moving far more aggressively in revamping their businesses.

Italy’s biggest bank, UniCredit, set a template for lenders in need of restructuring by raising 13 billion euros from shareholders this year. As well as investing 1.6 billion euros in its IT systems, it is re-training 1,500 Italian staff and moving them from administrative jobs to client-facing roles.

Mediobanca has meanwhile acquired a “robo-advisory” service, an algorithm that proposes investments to customers of its digital arm who can access it directly. It is also hiring 100 financial consultants a year to reach more than 300 by 2019 to boost assets under management.

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Under a 500-million-euro renovation push aimed at turning its branches into modern-day piazzas, Intesa is partnering with a pastry chef to host his patisseries from next year and recently launched its first branch with a cafe inside.

Meanwhile UniCredit opened its first branch for small corporate clients near La Scala theater in September, with a lounge area where they can hold their own meetings.

These are all adding bells and whistles. The real problem with Italian banks and other banks in trouble is imprudent banking and misgovernance. So unless we fix the basics, nothing much will change.


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