Let’s Go To Bulgaria

Actually just after my Chinese visitor dropped by I received a Bulgarian one, my former ‘research assistant’, young Bulgarian anthropologist Yassen Bosev. And what did Yassen want? To tell me to Forget India, Let’s Go To Bulgaria. Only trouble was, I had some bad news for him: India’s minister of Disininvestment and Technology, Arun Shourie, already got there first. Why does everyone think Indian president Kalaam was in Bulgaria on his first overseas visit late last year?
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Going Into Business

“Madam Wang Haiyan, who runs a pre-school class from her home, reckons that she would have been earning half of what she is now and be less happy to boot if she had stayed in her job at a state-owned firm. “

Any one else round here old enough to remember Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Little Big Man’, with the character who insisted on riding his horse back to front? I feel a bit like that sometimes: with my back-office for India and China right here in Barcelona. Of course this makes life pretty surreal, people waltz in on the messenger at all times of the day and night: from all the strange corners of the planet.

This morning it was the turn of one of my ‘sources’ in China: he came in over the messenger to tell me he’d left his job. He has had a ‘new’ idea. He is going to set up a company to do guess what? Outsourcing. He is dead set on it since he tells me he can get university graduates in China to work for him for ‘just’ 150 dollars a month.

Actually in his case no one is going to accuse him of destroying western jobs: he wants to design and put up websites for Western clients who want to sell to Chinese customers. We might well ask ourselves however, if he is succesful in this how long it will be before he leverages his position to start offering those websites in more distant climes. And good luck to him.
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It’s expensive, but we’re rich!

Remember this debate about the relative living standards of Sweden and Alabama? One little commented result of the euro, krona and pound?s rise against the US dollar over the last two years is that measured in current exchange rates European countries? income per head now compares rather more favourably against the United States.
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Is France’s Center Falling Apart?

Asks John Rossant.

He writes that this incident

On Jan. 31, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy visited a Paris shopping mall to win support for the center-right in upcoming elections. Within minutes, a group of youths — most of North African background — began hurling insults. Sarkozy, a potential presidential candidate, was chased until he reached a police station.

and this one

Later, in the Burgundian town of M?con, First Lady Bernadette Chirac attended a benefit concert for children’s hospitals. All went smoothly until a Franco-Israeli chanteuse named Shirel began a song about Jerusalem. According to those present, up to 30 Arabs in the audience suddenly began screaming epithets: “dirty Jew,” “death to the Jews.”

were too common occurrences to rate much national media attention.

After more examples and arguments, Rossett concludes:

The school system is increasingly ill-adapted to the multicultural and multi-ethnic nation France has become. Underfunded universities are prompting an unprecedented brain drain. And the arrogance of the big political parties is alienating voters. A recent example is the government’s support of former Prime Minister Alain Jupp?, head of the ruling party, after his conviction on corruption charges.

With few public figures to respect, North African kids often figure they’ve nothing to lose if they join extremist movements. At the other end of the spectrum, plenty of native French are ready to ditch the old doctrines of moderation for something nastier. With regional elections due on Mar. 21 and 28, polls already are showing important gains for extremist parties — and losses for the center-left and center-right coalitions that have long held the reins of power. Given the current climate in France, it’s hard to be surprised — and hard not to be discouraged.

I don’t know enough to say, but it’s worrying.

AIDS in Eastern Europe

Actually the Scotsman puts it like this: “Enlargement of the European Union in May will bring the world?s fastest-growing area of HIV infection on to the doorstep of the EU, United Nations experts warned today.”

Which pretty much scandalises me: how can you turn a human tragedy into a eurosceptic thing, for gods sake? The problem isn’t either nearer or farther due to the enlargement process: it is simply there. The background to this is that Peter Piot, executive director of UNAids, the UN body with responsibilities for HIV/Aids, has been speaking at the start of a conference today in Dublin, held at the invitation of the Irish EU presidency. Among the preoccupying facts contained in Piot’s speech: as many as one in 100 adults in the eastern European states and their neighbours Ukraine and Russia are infected with HIV , and the numbers are growing fast.

?Of the states who are to join, the Baltic states particularly are affected. Then you have got at the borders Ukraine and Russia, where 1% of all adults are infected.

?What may be more important is that in 10 years? time, the number of people infected with HIV has multiplied by 50. There are now about 1.5 million people living with HIV on the doorstep of the EU.?

Would it be unduly hard-hearted of me to point out that these countries are already facing the most dramatic population crisis in Europe. ‘Sempre plou sobre mullat’ we say in Catalan (it always rains on the wet). Is there nothing we can get right. Couldn’t we try, just this once.
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Primo Levi: from the depths

I first read Primo Levi in 1963. I picked up a second-hand copy of If This is a Man, a Four Square paperback published for two shillings and sixpence and which cost me (as we used to say it) one and six. I still have the book – now falling apart – with that second-hand price pencilled inside it. This was more than twenty years before Levi achieved world-wide renown with The Periodic Table.

The earlier book, Levi’s memoir of his experience at Auschwitz, certainly impressed me at the time, but I didn’t take notes on it, so I don’t now recall all the reasons why. What I most remember about reading the book then was my surprise at learning that hell on earth, even hell on earth, had a social structure. It wasn’t just, as I guess I must have half-imagined it to be up till then, a kind of shapeless inferno.

In the early 1990s I again read and re-read If This is a Man, along with other of Levi’s writings and as part of a systematic thought and research process about the Nazi genocide. The thing that struck me second time around was Levi’s extraordinary wisdom: his wisdom not only about the camps, but about life and the world. It is sometimes said that such knowledge is born of suffering, and this may be true to an extent. But in the case of Primo Levi I’m convinced it’s not the whole story, and it may not even be the main story. He would have been a great writer in any case. Reading the account of life and death at Auschwitz, written by a man not yet 30, I am constantly brought up short by the breadth and acuity of Levi’s insight.
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