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•   Susan Mandiberg  8/20
•   Susan Faden (Pearlman)  8/21
•   Joel Laskin  8/21
•   Christopher Smith  8/21
•   Peter Kalnay  8/22
•   Ted Morgan  8/22
•   Rebecca Buck  8/23
•   J Scott Richards  8/24
•   Carolyn Rieth  8/24
•   Jeffrey Alteri  8/26
•   Peter Blood  8/26
•   Dwight Call  8/28
•   Frank Panchak  8/28
•   Stephen DeTray  8/30
•   Alan Lamborn  8/30
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Lynn Davies Holbein recently invited me to join her on the Charles River.  She would be glad to share her monthly (or more) renderings with you.



Dan Miller's account of working as a veteranarian and an analyst of veteranary practices is like a continuing education course. 

Here are his reflections from his recent trip to Mali.  I learned a lot from it, and asked questions to learn more.


Howdy, y’all,






Greetings from Mali, West Africa.  If you remember from earlier letters from Mali several years ago, they have a very long history.  The Malian empire composed a larger area than present day Mali and was a center of arts and learning.  Timbuctu was one of the most famous Islamic academic centers.  The emperor made his hadj and during the trip to Mecca, he dropped so much gold into the north African and European economies that they went into free fall.  

               But the empire was inhabited by a half dozen or so major ethnic groups and over the centuries, they worked out relationships so that they all functioned together as a working society.  Some groups farmed; others were merchants; others fished; others were artisans; others raised livestock; and it all functioned.  To a certain extent it still does and Malian society is remarkably tolerant of "others," especially compared to some other societies.

               The last time I was here (2013), I visited a small village near where I was this time, too, Bougouni, if you want to look for it on the map.  Since then there have been changes.  The capitol city, Bamako, has continued growing, and the roads are better.  Communications are better because of cell phones and internet.  Medical care is greatly improved and much more readily available.  But other things have stayed the same.  People still wear the same type of clothes and drive the same motorcycles.  They eat the same foods based largely on various  meat sauces poured over rice.  Alcoholic drinks are available but socially unacceptable.

               The presidential elections will be held the end of July and there are numerous candidates including the present president wandering around the country campaigning.  There are around two dozen parties of which only four or five are big enough to get national attention.  The alliances between parties are carefully calculated for political or economic advantage.

               Mali is a Francophone country so they were happy about France winning the World Cup. What made them even happier is that much of the French team are the sons of African immigrants to France.  They joke about how the cup should go to Africa, not Paris.  The French right wingers, equivalent to our alt-right, are complaining about how dark skinned their national team is.

               When I was first here, 1979 - 81, there was a military dictatorship that was taken down by civilian unrest soon after I left.  Since then, except for a short period, there has been an elected, civilian government.  Several people have told me that in retrospect the military dictatorship was bad, but the only government officials allowed to be corrupt are the dictator’s friends.  Anyone else risked being executed.  Now any governmental official can be corrupt with nothing to worry about.  It’s a lesson for us that government is honest either because an honest dictator forces them to be or because the people elected to office are inherently good.  I chose the latter.

               Most people still make their living from agriculture and, although urban areas are growing, agriculture still produces most of the wealth and most of the exports.  Mali is well suited to raising livestock - cattle, sheep, goats.  Half of it is Sahara desert, but south of that , the Sahel is useful only as range because of long dry seasons and scarcity of water.  Even where the Niger River provides water for irrigation in the famous inland delta, there are still long periods when low water levels prevent extensive  irrigation.  Besides, the by-products of the crops - rice, sugar cane - are useful as animal feed. South of the Sahel in the semi-humid areas, the growing season is still less than half a year, so livestock are a source of income for rural villages.  There is plenty of brush where goats and sheep can browse, and during the wet season, cattle can graze.

               Cattle in the south are primarily for work.  Their secondary functions are milk and beef production.  Bulls not needed for work are fattened and sold to local butchers or to truckers who take them to Bamako.  A visit to the weekly cattle market in Bougouni showed more than a thousand head being loaded onto trucks.

               The small ruminants are the ones that most locals use as either food or to sell.  Sheep are preferred for cultural reasons and because they are bigger than goats.  Over half the sheep are sold at Tabaski, an annual celebration where a family is expected to buy a sheep to eat and share with the poor and with extended family members.  Ideally it is an intact white ram with twisty horns extending to the sides.  If it happens to have four horns like a Jacob sheep, so much the better.  I didn’t see any this time, but the last time I saw a few.  Think turkey and Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US.  Just before Tabaski, thousands of rams are exported to surrounding countries.  The rest of the year the price is lower, but there is still a market for butchers, weddings, baptisms, birthdays and similar festivities.         

               The whole sheep market is important enough that people are using imported breeds that are larger than the local southern breed.  Since goats are not as much in demand, not as much attention is paid to them.  These introduced breeds come from the north and when I first came in the early 80’s, they would not have survived here because of trypanosomiasis and heartwater, two diseases spread by arthropod vectors.  Now largely because of land use changes i.e., increased farming and deforestation caused by increased populations, the vectors are no longer nearly as prevalent and the exotic sheep do ok.  That applies as well to the Zebu cattle that have virtually replaced the smaller trypanotolerant N’Dama cattle.

               Part of this project was to study the market for small ruminants using the most recent buzzwords (value chain analysis) which means we were supposed to figure how to manipulate the market to get more money into the hands of the producers.  Some of the information we got was contradictory so when the final study is done, the contradictions have to be resolved to see what is really happening.  One person tells us that producers sell on credit and get their money later after the middleman gets his.  Other people in different parts of the country say the farmer gets paid immediately.  This is important.

               The rest of the assignment was to upgrade the level of management at the village level. In this I was potentially more successful because it appears that parasitism is the primary cause of mortality. Having well defined rainy and dry seasons along with browse being an important part of the diet facilitates control.  And speaking of browse, people are very interested in planting legume trees to use as browse.  The biggest hurdle they face is that when sheep and goats run loose, as they do during the dry season, they eat the saplings before they have a chance to grow out of reach.  

               Mali has potential.  A major disadvantage is that it is landlocked and another disadvantage is that in the north there is a lot of jihadist activity that interferes with development.  The jihadist problem began with the attack on Libya that removed Khaddafi.  Previously his personal military was composed of Tuaregs, an ethnic group of camel nomads in the Sahara.  When he was removed, some returned to northern Mali with their weapons and renewed the political disputes between them as nomads and the other ethnic groups that were more settled.  They  had no particular interest in religion, but the unrest attracted the religious fundamentalists to the area.  Those boys did a lot of damage until the Malian and French armies took them on.  That was the time that there was a short lived military government when the president was regarded as too accommodating to the jihadists.  Indeed, he seemed to be running a deal on the side where, for a fee, he would negotiate with kidnappers to release European hostages.  In any case the fundies are still there but aren't as powerful.  They occasionally stage some sort of disruption as far south as Bamako, but aren't the power they used to be.  You read their proclamations and you say to yourself, "Where have I heard that before?"  And then you remember what the dominionists and evangelicals in the US have been saying.  The only difference is the methods available to them to impose their doctrines.  The doctrines are the same.

               Something interesting related to Islamic vs. Christian fundamentalism is that in all the primarily Islamic countries I’ve worked in - Lebanon, Mali, Guinea, Kosova, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt - on a personal level I’ve never met any hostility at all.  The same cannot be said for Texas and Oklahoma.  The religious atmosphere in the US is characterized by vicious intolerance (Donald Trump being Exhibit A) whereas the atmosphere in the Islamic countries where I’ve worked is friendly and tolerant.  The difference is marked.

               So for the moment there are no more trips planned for the future.  I did get a five year visa for Mali so I may be returning in the future.  Hopefully some of you will also go do something that makes the world a better place and also keeps you young.  Remember - 


Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  • Dylan Thomas

Until the next time,  



Having devoted my youth to topics like thermodynamics, I'm now catching up with some of the philosophical writings that passed me by. This one seems especially relevant in today's polity, especially as regards college campuses: