Year in Review - 2019

2019's over, and we've all come one step closer to the impending climate disaster. I figured it's a good time to take stock on what I accomplished throughout this year.

1 Academic

1.1 Arabic

I traveled to Jordan in June of this year, taking the month off to focus on an Arabic intensive class at Qasid. The trip ran about 5k in total, and I'm very glad I did it. My Arabic achieved intermediate low at the end, although I've definitely been slacking on my practice since I came back. I'm hoping to pick this up in earnest throughout next year though.

I managed to make a day trip to Ramallah during this time as well, where I got a chance to see the Arafat mausoleum. There's a ton of history there, including the original Palestine Declaration of Independence.

I'm also pretty happy that I was able to easily get through the month out of my trusty D3. My final packing came out to around 25lb: https://lighterpack.com/r/1js39f.

1.2 Islamic Political Thought

I took an introductory level class on Islamic Political Thought during the fall, which was quite useful in setting the foundation for my graduate studies. Specifically, we walked through modernists (Al-Afghani, Abdul, Kawakibi, Riza) to Islamists (Mawdudi, Qutb, Shariati) to jihad (Faraj, al-Rahman).

I was disappointed we didn't cover the Iranian revolution in further depth, given how much that has shaped the US-Iran relationship. On the other hand, we could only go so far in depth for an introductory level class, so I'm pretty happy with the results.

The best book out of the class was the Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought, which dives into all Islamist strains. It lurches pretty quickly past the modernists though, which makes it hard to appreciate the context.

2 Books

This year was significantly worse for my reading than last year, I think I'll barely manage to make it to 30 books this year, instead of the 58 I did last year. However, the most significant books I read this year were:

  • Secession and Security: Explaining State Strategy Against Separatists by Ahsan Butt - Butt provides an interesting model to view crackdowns by going through the lens of the likelihood of future war. There are two paths from this: if future war is not likely, then border changes are more likely to be accepted and negotiations are more likely to be started. The other path is that war is very likely, which leads the state to limited policing, militarization, or collective repression, based on the support of third parties. Butt goes through Pakistan, India, Sweden-Norway, and the Velvet Divorce, and provides a nice historical background. The main problem I have with the book is that it doesn't really explain the substate actors who do not want to achieve an independent state, such as the Maoist insurgents in Nepal, or the various militias we see today.
  • The Great War Civilization by Robert Fisk - Fisk is definitely a crank these days, especially given his views on the Syrian civil war, but it'd be foolish to disregard his previous non-crank work. This book is a slog (including some self-gratifying bits about his father you can skip through), but its ultimately an engrossing volume. There's a fantastical story about how when Fisk was captured by the Soviets, he was asked for his map of Afghanistan, since the Soviet soldiers didn't have any as they were invading.
  • House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox by William Foege - Bill Foege pioneered the treatment of smallpox through what he calls a "containment" strategy: rather than inoculating everyone, you ring the people around the infected with vaccines. Foege chronicles how well this worked in west Africa, and then goes on to explain how, with the combination of technological advancements, they managed to eradicate smallpox in India. The sheer scale and impact this operates on is awe-inspiring, and it's really an uplifting story about one of the greatest accomplishments in human history.

3 Work

3.1 CFA

I took the CFA in December this year after 4 months of studying. To be honest, I somewhat regret it, because the CFA level 1 didn't teach me as much as I had hoped. The books themselves are dry, and even worse, a good chunk of the material is devoted to accounting, and not specifically finance. I would recommend taking the CQF for anyone who is purely interested in the financial side of this.

3.2 Actual Work

I wound up taking on a few more leadership projects this year, including the Bloomberg tech rep program (an internal program where you study a technology and become a point person for questions), as well taking on the Jira planning for our team. Overall, I'd say it's helped me grow as a person, and being able to roll with the punches as they come.

Posted: 2019-12-26
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