Spencer Low

The Geopolitics of Israel: Biblical and Modern

First Manifestation of Israel (1200 B.C.) | From STRATFOR

STRATFOR, a global team of intelligence professionals, is making available on a temporary basis their Country Profile on Israel, with the goal of exploring how geographies "determine and constrict behaviors."

Just the first paragraph is an interesting read:

The founding principle of geopolitics is that place — geography — plays a significant role in determining how nations will behave. If that theory is true, then there ought to be a deep continuity in a nation's foreign policy. Israel is a laboratory for this theory, since it has existed in three different manifestations in roughly the same place, twice in antiquity and once in modernity. If geopolitics is correct, then Israeli foreign policy, independent of policymakers, technology or the identity of neighbors, ought to have important common features. This is, therefore, a discussion of common principles in Israeli foreign policy over nearly 3,000 years.


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A vida no ritmo: the importance of music in Rio de Janeiro

Here's a 15-minute overview of the musical genres that have emerged from the cultural mélange in Rio de Janeiro: samba, favela funk, soul, etc.  Directed by students from the Rio Film School's 2010 class, this will be featured in the Cannes Film Festival this year.

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Amartya Sen on Quality of Life: India vs. China

Amartya_Sen, Indian economist and Nobel prize ...

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In the most recent New York Review of Books, the Nobel Prize economist Amartya Sen writes a thought-provoking article on why (A) it's not helpful to interpret a higher rate of GNP growth than China as a sign of India "overtaking" the former and (B) GNP growth is not an end in itself, but merely a means to realize true sources of value.

On the first point, Sen argues that "while economic growth is important for enhancing living conditions, its reach and impact depend greatly on what we do with the increased income." Sen then illustrates with statistics from the World Bank and the United Nations:

Life expectancy at birth in China is 73.5 years; in India it is 64.4 years. The infant mortality rate is fifty per thousand in India, compared with just seventeen in China; the mortality rate for children under five is sixty-six per thousand for Indians and nineteen for the Chinese; and the maternal mortality rate is 230 per 100,000 live births in India and thirty-eight in China. The mean years of schooling in India were estimated to be 4.4 years, compared with 7.5 years in China. China’s adult literacy rate is 94 percent, compared with India’s 74 percent according to the preliminary tables of the 2011 census.

To reinforce his point, Sen then makes a comparison between India and Bangladesh to show how a higher GNP per capita (as opposed to rate of growth) is also a poor predictor of quality of life. Even though India's income per head is twice that of Bangladesh's:

Life expectancy in Bangladesh is 66.9 years compared with India’s 64.4. The proportion of underweight children in Bangladesh (41.3 percent) is lower than in India (43.5), and its fertility rate (2.3) is also lower than India’s (2.7). Mean years of schooling amount to 4.8 years in Bangladesh compared with India’s 4.4 years. While India is ahead of Bangladesh in the male literacy rate for the age group between fifteen and twenty-four, the female rate in Bangladesh is higher than in India. Interestingly, the female literacy rate among young Bangladeshis is actually higher than the male rate, whereas young women still have substantially lower rates than young males in India. There is much evidence to suggest that Bangladesh’s current progress has a great deal to do with the role that liberated Bangladeshi women are beginning to play in the country.

What about health? The mortality rate of children under five is sixty-six per thousand in India compared with fifty-two in Bangladesh. In infant mortality, Bangladesh has a similar advantage: it is fifty per thousand in India and forty-one in Bangladesh. While 94 percent of Bangladeshi children are immunized withDPT vaccine, only 66 percent of Indian children are. In each of these respects, Bangladesh does better than India, despite having only half of India’s per capita income.

In his second main point, Sen argues that there are meaningful comparisons between countries that have nothing to do with economic metrics.  In particular, "most Indians are strongly appreciative of the democratic structure of the country, including its many political parties, systematic free elections, uncensored media, free speech, and the independent standing of the judiciary, among other characteristics of a lively democracy." In China, on the other hand, there is official "skepticism about the values of multiparty democracy and personal and political liberty." While China's advancement has been great helped by its leaders' strong commitment to eliminating poverty, undernourishment, illiteracy, and lack of health care, there is "a serious fragility in any authoritarian system of governance."

Finally, Sen ends with a sobering observation:

Yet an exaggerated concentration on the lives of the relatively prosperous, exacerbated by the Indian media, gives an unrealistically rosy picture of the lives of Indians in general. Since the fortunate group includes not only business leaders and the professional classes but also many of the country’s intellectuals, the story of unusual national advancement is widely and persistently heard. More worryingly, relatively privileged Indians can easily fall for the temptation to focus just on economic growth as a grand social benefactor for all.

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