(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘trade

“Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself”*…

Thomas R. Wells on something to remember in these times of international conflict…

As any map will show you, the world is divided by political borders into spaces called countries. People and things can live in, come from, or go to these places.

But countries are not any more than that.

Firstly and most obviously, countries are merely a social construction. They are collectively produced fictions (like money, or religions) rather than mind-independent objects (like stones). Being fictional does not mean that countries do not matter, but it does mean that they only exist so long as enough people agree to act as if they do.

Secondly and more significantly, countries are places not agents. Places on a map cannot have interests or goals or take actions to achieve them. To think otherwise is to confuse the properties of one kind of thing with another. This category error infects not only general talk, but also much otherwise careful journalism and even academic analysis. For example, the influential Realistschool of international relations is founded on the axiom that countries do (or ought to) act only in their national interest. This trades on two category errors: that countries (rather than governments) can act and that they have interests. The result is confusing and unfalsifiable nonsense about buffer zones, access to resources and so forth that is about as helpful for understanding, predicting, and managing conflicts as an astrological map.

What lies behind this error is the eliding of spaces on a map with the organisations that rule them. Organisations are collective agents like armies or corporations in which groups of human individuals are converted into a hierarchically coordinated and powerful actor in their own right. Unlike countries, organisations are a kind of collectively produced fiction about which it does make sense to attribute interests and which can actually do things, often very significant things. What we call governments are a particular kind of organisation, one that has achieved the power to make and enforce rules over the inhabitants of a country, for example by hurting those who dare to disagree with it and by preventing outsiders from entering. In Max Weber’s famous definition, it “successfully claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of violence”. This power is called sovereignty and it is an attribute of governments, not countries.

People live in countries and are ruled over by governments. It is important to keep each of these three elements distinct and clear so that we can prevent the relentless category errors that confuse public discussion of international affairs. In particular, we should pay more credence to actual people and less to the organisations who claim to be their legitimate representatives merely because they have the power to hurt them. There are many tyrannical governments in this world. Their leaders may declare that they act in the name of the populations and territories they rule but they remain the ones responsible, the ones who should be held to account…

Being careful in how how we apportion blame in these fraught geopolitical times: “There Is No Such Thing As Countries,” from @Philos_Beard in @3QD. Eminently worth reading in full.

* Carl Jung

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As we steer clear of stereotypes, we recall that it was on this date in 1602 that Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC, or The Dutch East India Company, as it’s known in the Anglophone world) was born.  Generally considered the world’s first trans-national corporation and the first publicly to issue stocks and bonds (and the first company to be ever actually listed on an official stock exchange), it began with a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade.  The VOC also prefigured the mega-corporation of today in that it had quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies.  Considered by many to be the greatest corporation in history, the VOC eclipsed all of its rivals in international trade (and many nations in power) for almost 200 years.

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“Fortune sides with him who dares”*…

View of Genoa by Christoforo de Grassi (after a drawing of 1481)

Understanding the origin of the modern concept of risk…

Lately, we have all become risk assessment and risk management experts, thinking, talking and Tweeting about the chances we take when we engage in once-mundane activities. It’s hard to imagine doing without risk: the analytical instrument we use to calculate the advisability of undertakings that can result in gain or loss. Yet when the word risk entered the languages of western Europe during the 12th century (at roughly the same time as other words used to jigger the scales of Fortune: hazard and chance), it took some time to catch on. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540) – the two great writers of the Italian 15th and 16th centuries who wrote about contingency and power while everything was collapsing around them – did not use the Italian rischio in the works for which they are best remembered, even though the Italians were early adopters of the word and the speculative behaviours it names.

The first known usage of the Latin word resicum – cognate and distant ancestor of the English risk – occurs in a notary contract recorded in Genoa on 26 April 1156. The captain of a ship contracts with an investor to travel to Valencia with the sum invested. The contract allocates the ‘resicum’ to the investor. In a typical arrangement, the captain received 25 per cent of the profit at the end of the journey. The investor or investors pocketed the resicum payout: the remaining 75 per cent. This contract also reminds us that the medieval Italian ship’s crew was an egalitarian society. It specifies that the voyage would be extended from Valencia to trade at Alexandria before returning to Genoa, but only if a majority of the men on board agreed.

Resicum worked a kind of practical magic in these early contracts. Canon law forbade the payment of interest on loans in medieval Europe (as Islamic law did in the eastern and southern Mediterranean). By inventing a bonus paid to the investor in the event of the successful completion of a journey, the resicum provided a workaround for venture capitalists and for the captain seeking capital. It also gave those who could not journey an opportunity to earn investment income. A small but significant proportion of the investors in these maritime contracts were retired seamen or women. Finally, it parcelled out the risk assumed by those who undertook the trans-Mediterranean journey…

The fascinating story in full: “How 12th-century Genoese merchants invented the idea of risk,” from Karla Mallette (@karlamallette) in @aeonmag.

See also: “Genoa: The Cog in the New Medieval Economy” source of the image above.

* Virgil (reminding us that a sense of contingent peril and prospect predated the Middle Ages)

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As we roll the dice, we might recall that risk came in a variety of forms in Medieval times: it was on this date in 1307 that Wilhelm Tell (or we tend to know him, William Tell) shot an apple off his son’s head.

Tell, originally from Bürglen, was a resident of the Canton of Uri (in what is now Switzerland), well known as an expert marksman with the crossbow. At the time, the Habsburg emperors of Austria were seeking to dominate Uri.  Hermann Gessler, the newly appointed Austrian Vogt (the Holy Roman Empire’s title for “overlord”) of Altdorf, raised a pole in the village’s central square, hung his hat on top of it, and demanded that all the local townsfolk bow before the hat.  When Tell passed by the hat without bowing, he was arrested; his punishment was being forced to shoot an apple off the head of his son, Walter– or else both would be executed. Tell was promised freedom if he succeeded.

As lore has it, Tell split the fruit with a single bolt from his crossbow.  When Gessler queried him about the purpose of a second bolt in his quiver, Tell answered that if he had killed his son, he would have turned the crossbow on Gessler himself.  Gessler became enraged at that comment, and had Tell bound and brought to his ship to be taken to his castle at Küssnacht.  But when a storm broke on Lake Lucerne, Tell managed to escape.  On land, he went to Küssnacht, and when Gessler arrived, Tell shot him with his crossbow.

Tell’s defiance of Gessler sparked a rebellion, in which Tell himself played a major part, leading to the formation of the Swiss Confederation.

Tell and his son (source)

“Have you ever bitten a red hot ice cube? That’s curry”*…

 

curry

Sir Joseph Paxton, “Capsicum ustulatum,” Paxton’s Magazine of Botany and Register of Flowering Plants, 1838

 

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and the entire world changed: slavery, war, disease, colonization, and an immense transfer of wealth to Europe. And with that wealth too came New World nightshades—potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco, peppers of all kinds. It took some time for these fruits and vegetables to plant themselves into European cuisine. The tomato, for example, wasn’t widely used in Italian cuisine until the eighteenth century. But what about food further out from Europe? What about India?

Soon after Columbus’ first expedition, the treaties of Tordesillas and Saragossa divided the oceans of the newly-known world. The Portuguese effectively took the Atlantic and Indian oceans, while the Spanish took the Pacific. With that, the Portuguese established forts and trading posts along India’s Malabar coast. In time, aloo (potato), tamātar (tomato), and mirchī (chilies) were available on the western coast of the Indian subcontinent. Later, the English set up their first trading posts in India in the eastern Gangetic plain, bringing these same staples into North India.

So what was curry like before Columbus? Well, curry didn’t exist…

The pre-history of one of the world’s most– if not in fact the world’s most– popular family of dishes: “Curry Before Columbus.”

* Terry Pratchett

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As we dig in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that the Hollywood Bowl opened (after a few years of operation, in a less-finished state, as the “Daisy Dell.”  It’s shell-shaped amphitheater set into a hill, against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills and the famous Hollywood Sign to the northeast, it has been the summer home of the L.A. Philharmonic and host to hundreds of other musical events each year.

300px-Hollywood_bowl_and_sign source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 11, 2020 at 1:01 am

“He who controls the spice controls the universe”*

 

Spices

 

Spices were among the first engines of globalization, not in the modern sense of a world engulfed by ever-larger corporations but in the ways that we began to become aware, desirous even, of cultures other than our own. Such desire, unchecked, once led to colonialism. After Dutch merchants nearly tripled the price of black pepper, the British countered in 1600 by founding the East India Company, a precursor to modern multinationals and the first step toward the Raj. In the following decades, the Dutch sought a monopoly on cloves, which once had grown nowhere but the tropical islands of Ternate and Tidore in what is today Indonesia, and then in 1652 introduced the scorched-earth policy known as extirpation, felling and burning tens of thousands of clove trees. This was both an ecological disaster and horribly effective: For more than a century, the Dutch kept supplies low and prices high, until a Frenchman (surnamed, in one of history’s inside jokes, Poivre, or “pepper”) arranged a commando operation to smuggle out a few clove-tree seedlings. Among their ultimate destinations were Zanzibar and Pemba, off the coast of East Africa, which until the mid-20th century dominated the world’s clove market.

The craving for spices still brings the risk of exploitation, both economically, as farmers in the developing world see only a sliver of the profits, and in the form of cultural appropriation. In the West, we’re prone to taking what isn’t ours and acting as if we discovered it, conveniently forgetting its history and context. Or else we reduce it to caricature, cooing over turmeric-stained golden lattes while invoking the mystic wisdom of the East. At the same time, a world without borrowing and learning from our neighbors would be pallid and parochial — a world, in effect, without spice…

From turmeric in Nicaragua to cardamom in Guatemala, nonnative ingredients are redefining trade routes and making unexpected connections across lands: “How Spices Have Made, and Unmade, Empires.”

* Frank Herbert, Dune

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As we go deep on dash, we might recall that this is National Buffet Day.  The concept of the buffet arose in mid 17th century France, when gentleman callers would arrive unexpectedly at the homes of ladies they wanted to woo.  It was popularized in 18th century France and quickly spread throughout Europe.  The all-you-can-eat buffet made its restaurant debut in 1946, when it was introduced by Vegas hotel manager Herb MacDonald.  By the mid-1960s, virtually every casino in Las Vegas sported its own variation.  Today, of course, buffets are regularly available not only in any/every Vegas casino, but also in thousands of Indian and Chinese restaurants and ubiquitous chains of “family restaurants.”

buffet source

 

 

 

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 2, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The exchangeable value of all commodities rises as the difficulties of their production increase”*…

 

vanilla

A vanilla flower is pollinated by hand

 

 

Though Madagascar now produces 80% of the world’s vanilla, the vine is native to Mexico. The Maya were the first to cultivate it in the jungles of the Yucatan peninsular. They flavoured their chocolate drink with the spice. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived early in the 16th century, they took both cacao and vanilla back to Europe. By the end of the 18th century, Mexico was exporting a million vanilla beans a year to Europe.

Vanilla was considered a luxury. Its delicate flavour is best expressed in the presence of fat, which is why the creams and custards of the elite’s pastry chefs became its natural milieu. One of its earliest appearances was in a recipe for “vanilla ice” in a cookery book published in Naples in the 1690s. Thomas Jefferson fell in love with French food when he served as the American ambassador to France in the 1780s. He transcribed many recipes including one for “ice cream”, using egg-yolk custard simmered with “a stick of vanilla”. When he became president in 1801, Jefferson served these dishes in the White House – his import eventually became a classic American desert.

But for well over a century real vanilla remained out of the reach of most Americans. Spain controlled the Mexican trade and though a number of people tried to grow vanilla elsewhere, the blooms failed to produce beans because they lacked natural pollinators. It took a young slave boy called Edmond Albius, working on a plantation in the French colony of Réunion, to discover a method for hand-pollinating vanilla flowers in the 1840s. His technique quickly spread to nearby Madagascar, where French administrators encouraged its cultivation…

How did hunger for the humble vanilla pod lead to greed, crime and riches? “Vanilla Fever.”

* David Ricardo

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As we rethink our Starbucks orders, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that John Albert Krohn dressed up in colonial garb and set out to win $1,000 by walking the U.S. border within 400 days – pushing a wheelbarrow.  “Colonial Jack,” as he called himself, had wagered ten of his neighbors in Newburyport, Mass., that he could circumnavigate the country in that time. agreeing that, if he lost, he would give them 2,000 copies of the book he planned to write about his adventure.  In the end, he made the trek in 357 days, having rested on Sundays.  It was the second of three such round-the-nation walks Krohn undertook.

He had to meet several conditions: He had to push the wheelbarrow to show he couldn’t get a ride. And he had to get cancellation stamps from 635 post offices along the way.

By the end of his journey, Krohn walked 9,024 miles and visited 1,209 cities. He went through 11 pairs of shoes, 112 pairs of socks and five wheels and three tires on the wheelbarrow. The trip cost an average of $3.25 per day.  [source]

colonial-jack-124x300

Colonial Jack

source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 1, 2019 at 1:01 am

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