Spring is here and the snow is almost gone

The weather has finally begun warming up here in Waterloo. It is now possible to walk around without a winter coat on, although a jersey is still necessary. The squirrels are increasingly active and migratory birds are returning. We are all looking forward to spring and summer, and it really does feel as though it is imminent. What happens is that the temperature fluctuates widely. It has been as high as 18ᵒc one day and as low as -10ᵒ the next night. I wonder how the animals cope; the trees on the other hand, seem, rightly, rather reticent to bud.

I have had a very busy few weeks. On 7 March we had Stephen Lewis come and sit on a panel with a number of students and faculty members. He is extremely well known in Canada, and more broadly as an exceptional humanitarian. The auditorium was packed and a number of organisations placed tables outside to advertise their activities to the assembled company. It is good to be able to facilitate these events; it is part of building a community here in Waterloo.

On the following day I drove to York University, to the north of Toronto, to give a guest lecture for a political science class. The professor, David de Witt, was in Waterloo when I arrived, but fell victim to academic infighting. It took me just over an hour to get there, and then another 40 minutes to find the parking and the building I was supposed to be meeting David in. The class was small; maybe 20 students but almost all were the children of immigrants. Clearly there are demographic profiles for the different universities in Canada. I enjoyed it as it was good to see another University, although I have to say York is a mess, so many different styles and ugly buildings.

This was one of two recent guest lectures; the second being to the fourth year health sciences class up at Laurier campus here in Waterloo. This was a very small group, only 11 students. The room we used was amazing with screens on every wall. It was an evening lecture which meant we went from six until about nine. I admire both the staff and the students who participate in these. It seems like a very long time to be at a lecture late in the evening, I don’t think I could do it. The room was hot, and I took my jersey off during the course of the lecture. When we took a break and went out to get tea I discovered that I had misbuttoned my shirt. It was very obvious! The students must have thought I was exceptionally eccentric, or just clumsy and incompetent.

On 11 March I hosted a dinner in my apartment. My friend Dana Rourke had been running a food delivery business and I had paid her in advance for a month of meals. She decided there were better things to do with her life. Rather than refund me the deal was that she would cook dinner for guests at my apartment. She bought the food, came round, did the prep and cooking, and served an excellent meal to a total of 19 guests. I think I got a very good deal because her boyfriend came and acted as the sous-chef. This size party meant that every chair and table that I had in the apartment was in use. It was an exceptional meal, served with a considerable amount of wine. Everyone had a good time. As always it is nice to see people meeting each other and making connections, the one that was most striking was of the two people who had been at the same church as teenagers but had not seen each other for years.

I co-organised a book launch at the Balsillie School on the evening of 15 March. This was possible because there are two recent Very Short Introductions authors at the BSIA. Mine on HIV and AIDS and the second by Andrew Cooper on the BRICS, which stands for Brazil Russia India China and South Africa. Andrew is a faculty member at Waterloo University and this meant that the BSIA could support the evening (both universities have to be represented for this to happen, and I am at Laurier, these are not my rules!) Wordsworth’s, the local bookshop came along to sell copies and did really well. There were brief presentations by John Ravenhill the director of the BSIA, Andrew and myself. I worked very hard on mine and decided to not talk about either AIDS or the book but rather the writing process. I also put in a couple of jokes to end the talk, and these were well received.

It was a good feeling to have done a book launch here in Waterloo. One of the real pleasures of the event was to see so many people from Waterloo who are not part of the University community coming out. I reflected on the very first one I did back in at the Staff Club at the University of Natal in 1989. The title was “Industrialisation and Investment Incentives in Southern Africa”, it seems a long time ago and a very different world. Most of the launches of recent years were at Ike’s bookshop, a Durban institution and their website is well worth visiting. In Ike’s the authors get to write the name of the book on the wall and then add their signature.

March the 18th was my birthday and, as it was a Saturday, I invited people to my favourite Indian Restaurant in the town. Masala Bay serves mainly North Indian food and it was really excellent. In the end we were eleven at the table. On the following evening we had a ‘salon’ in my apartment. The occasion was the visit of my guest lecturer. This was my friend from New York, Jeff Sturchio, and we were 16 people in the room. What made a huge difference is not trying to do fancy catering, and also the fact that I used paper plates, and people stayed behind to help me clean up. Much of the conversation was about the political situation in the USA and the threat to Obamacare. Writing a week later we know that it was blocked in congress, a defeat for Trump.

The courses are going well; there are just a couple of weeks to go in the first term. We will have a class conference for the interdisciplinary seminar, and the health and development course will require the students to prepare long essays. So far they have written blogs and book reviews and will, in one class, complete a ‘stream of consciousness’ writing assignment. We will be finished with courses by the second week of April and the final written assignment is due in the middle of the month so I should be finished with my commitments for the school by the end of April. The question then is what I am going to do with the balance of the year. Clearly it is important that I get some more projects going.

My travel for the remainder of the year will be going to the UK and South Africa at least twice. I am missing the first Governing Council meeting at Waterford and so really need to do my best to be there for the July and November meetings. I am increasingly keen to get on to writing the ‘Political Economy of Swaziland’ book. This has been on my mind for a long time and as 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of independence for the country that must be my target year to publish it. I have the publisher lined up and have written perhaps 40 percent in some form. What is needed is an end to procrastination and some serious writing. It should actually be a labour of love, and as I want to do it I don’t understand why I keep putting it off. The burden of academia is not getting down to and on with things, or waiting until the deadline is upon one.

Books

Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, W W Norton, 362 pages 2016. This is the story of the partnership between Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They wrote about our decision-making process, showing how human minds err systematically, when forced to make judgments in uncertain situations. They created the field of behavioral economics. Tversky died young, and Kahneman received the Nobel prize. This is an excellent book and although I got a library copy I may have to buy it when it comes out in paperback. Reading this led to me thinking that I need to go to Amazon and order a number of the books that are in the office in the UK so that I also have them here in Waterloo. I would of course get them second hand! The wonder of the is amazing interconnected world, although there is also an excellent second hand book shop in Waterloo.

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