One I got wrong: “Memo to UCLA Geographers: Commonsense suggests Mr Bin Laden is far away from the subcontinent”

One I got completely wrong… I have written about why too at Facebook in 2011:

‘A new study from the UCLA Geography Department reportedly claims that the location of the elusive Mr Osama Bin Laden may be able to be pinpointed, or at least suggests a theoretical methodology for doing so. I am afraid I think such an ambition is unlikely to succeed because it neglects Aristotle’s advice “for the trained mind not to seek more precision than the subject of his study is intrinsically capable of granting to him”. (The quote is from my 1982 Cambridge doctoral thesis, p. 200; the original at Nicomachean Ethics Book 1 Chapter 3 says  “it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits”.)

What I said once while chatting with a German Government official in Goa in October 2006 was this: if I had been Mr Bin Laden, I would have long ago moved to “a nice oasis in the Sahara Desert” or some similarly comfortable place in North Africa. In May 2007, I decided to publish that remark here as follows:

“Where I would have gone if  I was Osama Bin Laden:

Mr Osama Bin Laden has been highly sought after for several years, against his will, yet he has thus far succeeded in maintaining his privacy. In October 2006 in Goa, I was chatting with a German Government official about this, and told him that, incidentally, I thought that how Mr Bin Laden has successfully eluded the paparazzi is by the time-honoured method of creating a red herring. He would have said his goodbyes to Mullah Omar, as Osama did in the winter of 2001, and then proceeded westward…. through Somalia towards North Africa…. all the way to a nice oasis in the Sahara Desert.”

Commonsense suggests that Mr Bin Laden would not have remained where most people would have ended up looking for him.  Those who have been looking for him  all these years seem not to have heard the old one about the drunk who looks for his lost car-keys under the lamp-post because that is where the light is…

Subroto Roy, Kolkata’


Didn’t Dr Obama (the new American President’s late father) once publish an article in Harvard’s Quarterly Journal of Economics? (Or did he?)

As an impecunious undergraduate working and paying my way through the London School of Economics in 1973-1976, I spent many long hours poring over academic journals in economics at what used to be the old British Library of Political and Economic Sciences.   If memory serves me rightly, I did come across at that time a new article published by a Barack Obama in, I think, Harvard’s Quarterly Journal of Economics, which used to be quite an eminent journal at the time.  (All academic economics journals  have since  that era tended to suffer from  dullness, corruption and unreadability of varying degrees, especially after the end of the Cold War.)

The Obama article may have been co-authored with one or more others but I feel quite sure I recall it because of the pleasure I received from the  novelty of the African name in a (stuffy) American journal.    Dr Obama’s affiliation may have been given as the University of Hawaii — where, ironically enough, I was to have much experience later, as has been told elsewhere here.

During President Obama’s electoral campaign, I had given this information to an American journalist with a request to follow it up as I am unable to do so myself, not having access to stacks of the QJE.

It would be interesting if my memory has served me rightly here after some 34-35 years, and a Barack Obama article was found in the QJE of the early 1970s.  A lot of negative things have been said about President Obama’s late father (amounting almost to defamation) and any good  he may have  accomplished may have become interred with his bones.  Of course if I am right, the new President would owe me one as he probably has not known of the existence of the article himself.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

Postscript:  It is possible the QJE article by Dr Obama, if it exists, was dated in the mid or late 1960s; if I came across it around 1974 as I think I did, it would still have been considered “new”.   So any intrepid young person who follows up on this by looking through a stack of QJE’s on my behalf may kindly include the mid or late 1960s.  Of course Dr Obama went from Manoa to Harvard so the likelihood that he published his economics research in the latter’s house journal is also high.