Sunday, April 5, 2015

In memoriam: Donald Nathan Levine

Alemayehu Weldemariam

Scholar, activist, aikido sensei. Born Jun 16, 1931, in New Castle, PA; died Apr 04, 2015, in Chicago, IL, of prostate cancer, aged 83.

Donald N. Levine was the Peter B. Ritzma Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Chicago and former dean of the College. He graduated with BA in 1950 from the "Hutchins College", MA in 1954, and PhD in 1957 from the University of Chicago under the mentorship of Robert Redfield and Richard McKeon

Levine had a brilliant career as the world’s most eminent social theorist and Ethiopianist. He published over a hundred papers and five books and his corpus includes critical interpretations of Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, S.N. Eisenstadt, and above all Georg Simmel. In the realm of social theory, his work focused on reunifying the sociological traditions and imaginations in a book venture that he titles “Visions of the Sociological Tradition” (1995). One evening during my visit at the University of Chicago in 2011, as we were walking to his home where he generously hosted me for the first week, he started telling me "how sociology used to be as big as Humpty Dumpty and how it had a terribly great fall. And after Humpty Dumpty had that fall, it broke into pieces, and all sociologists and social theorists that came “couldn't put Humpty Dumpty in his place again.” That is exactly what I wanted to do with my book Visions of the Sociological Tradition."

In Ethiopian studies, he is most famous for his two books Wax and Gold (1965) and Greater Ethiopia (1974). He managed to put together and publish a collection of essays on Ethiopia which came to be his last book, Interpreting Ethiopia, with which my name is associated for which I feel proud and ashamed at the same time. Ashamed because I could not help as much as he wanted me to and proud because I was involved in the project from its inception to its completion, albeit an unfortunate hiatus in between. 


Levine served as Chair of the Theory Section of the American Sociological Association in 1997,as editor of the University of Chicago Press's Heritage of Sociology series for two decades, and as member of the editorial boards of the American Journal of Sociology, Journal of Classical Sociology, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, and Theory Culture and Society. For his expertise as an Ethiopianist he served as consultant to public and governmental organizations, include the U.S. Department of State, the United States Senate, and the Peace Corps. 


Levine received a Doctor of Letters honoris causa in 2004 from Addis Ababa University, where President Andreas Eshete lauded him in a citation speech as: "Ethiopianist, sociological theorist, educator: you have succeeded in all three vocations. Your pioneering work, Wax and Gold, has become an Ethiopian classic. As manifested in its title, yours is an exceptionally imaginative quest to reach an understanding of Amhara society from the internal point of view. The very concept of "Wax and Gold" has taken a life of its own: it figures at once in our understanding of Ethiopia's pre-modern culture and in our coming to grips with Ethiopia's reception of modernity. Greater Ethiopia draws attention to the deep fact that Ethiopian life is rooted in multicultural identities, and it also demonstrates the salient bonds that hold them together.”

Levine is a towering figure in Chicago sociology and social thought in the same league as Robert Park, George Mead, Albion Small and John Dewey, Edward Shils, and Arnaldo Momigliano. 


Mr. Levine is survived by his wife Ruth, daughter Rachel, and sons Ted and Bill. His memorial service will be held on Thursday, April 9, 1 pm, at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, 1100 E Hyde Park Blvd, Chicago, IL 60615.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Analyzing Unconfirmed Reports of Ethiopian Bombing of Eritrea

Alemayehu Weldemariam
Washington DC
24 March 2015

The first question that crosses one’s mind while reading reports about the bombing of Eritrea by the Ethiopia Air Force on the night of 20 March 2015 is why Asmara or Nevsun, the Canadian mining company that owns and runs Bisha mining, one of the targets of the bombing, wouldn't confirm or deny the reports?

Because it doesn't make economic and political sense to both of them to admit. For Nevsun, it's not only the stocks that are affected, but also the insurance premium. It seems to me the company has an insurance policy that contains a war exclusion clause or it has a distinct war risk insurance policy with a deductible and the damage it sustained is not substantial . In either case, publicity adversely affects its interests: it raises insurance premium while affecting the stocks in the market. So much for the legal implications. What's more, PFDJ wouldn't let it make the attack public before it makes it and it won't unless it plans to launch counter-attacks, which is tantamount to a declaration of war. Eritrea would rather keep quiet to avoid humiliation. So this I think is why Nevsun prefers to use "an act of vandalism" instead of "an act of war" as a legal euphemism.

Some question the veracity of the reports saying that whistle blowers would bring the matter to the attention the investors. But the problem is no whistle blower of importance seems to have interest in the matter unless such a whistle-blower is an investor. And it seems that investors don’t have the incentive to do that, because the corporate interest in this particular case overlaps with the investors' interest. If the company is lying, it's doing so to maintain the company's interests, its long-run business relationship with Asmara, and its business as a going concern.

What I am saying is, and I have not denied the increased risks to the investment, the company chose to hide such facts, and it did, because both states chose to keep quiet, neither to affirm nor to deny. So it is very likely that the air strikes took place, and apparently the company issued a statement claiming vandalism, while the states kept silent, which is indicative enough that the company is lying. Why lie? Because, it serves its interests and it coincidentally happened to be legitimate, precisely because Eritrea has not made any accusations against Ethiopia of any strikes in the first instance. Nor did Ethiopia claim to have done so. Therefore, under International Law, the air strike is a non-issue for all intents and purposes.

Martin Plaut muses in a tweet: “If the bombing of Eritrea by Ethiopia is confirmed it raises this question: would Addis have acted without informing Washington in advance?” I don’t want to indulge in that kind of unnecessary speculation. However, one thing seems to be increasing certain that, with or without Washington’s blessing, Ethiopia has carried out successful air strikes against selected Eritrean targets in retaliation for its failure to return the MI35 helicopter it hosted after an Ethiopian pilot decided to land it in Eritrea after hijacking. Mesfin Tekle, Canada-based financial analyst, says, “It’s not always about the price, check the volume. The stock price is not a big mover in any case, but the volume tells a story.” In fact, the volume of stocks offered for sale a day before the rumored strike was 371,448  before it jumped to 773,970 on the same day as the strike, reached 778,362, two days after the strike and is 798,109 at the moment. It can reasonably be expected to hit the record high of 800,000 at closing today. Mesfin explains, “the stock has a market cap of less than $1B so I doubt there're a lot of institutional investors who own it. The news seems to have an effect on the volume. Half a million share trades in less than 3hrs may indicate some exiting the stock early but the price has not made an appreciable move yet.”