The Life of Leo Africanus

TNR reviews a new biography

Now Davis brings this project of twentieth-century historiography full circle: not writing the life of someone unknown who did not write, but writing the life of someone famous who wrote a great deal but not much about his own life. The challenge here is to coax biographical details out of a non-biographical text. Few are better at this than Davis. And in pursuing this project, in tackling a well-known figure about whom little is known, Davis has poured new life into an old-fashioned genre: the “Life and Work” biography re-interpreted as the “History of the Book.”

Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Wazzan was born in Granada around 1486-1488. He died, perhaps in Tunis, sometime after 1532. Between 1518 and 1527, this same person lived in Rome and went by the names Joannes Leo (Latin), Giovanni Leone (Italian), and Yuhanna al-Asad (Arabic). Posterity knows him by still another name, given posthumously: Leo Africanus, his nom de plume. But who was he? This is the puzzle facing Davis. Unlike Martin Guerre, whose story lay buried in an archive, but buried whole, the man formerly known as Leo Africanus hides in plain sight.

OECD on Portugal with a touch of Eurozone criticism

In case you were wondering about the Portuguese economy a recent OECD survey tries to steer you in the direction and although the OECD are undobtedly right in many of their observations the case of Portugal also mirrors how being a member of the Euro does not necessarily help you to achieve those honourful demands of convergence.

Let us see what OECD has to say about Portugal’s economy.
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Gazprom, Iran and EU Energy

Well just in case the Iranian situation wasn’t difficult enough in and of itself (or here), there are always some around who will seek to take short-term benefit from the temporary embarassment of others. So this week, as June delivery oil prices spiked up around the 74 dollar a barrel mark, it became just a little bit clearer who might be doing what.
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Sego On The Up And UP?

Ségolène Royal’s ratings in the opinion polls are certainly on the up-and-up. According to a poll, published in Le Figaro yesterday she won the backing of 34 per cent of respondents (against 30% for Sarkozy). It seems like there will be a battle for the Presidency in 2007 after all, and that Emmanuel may have been unduly pessimistic about her chances. The FT has the story here. However:

In spite of her popularity, Ms Royal faces ferocious opposition from rival Socialist candidates – possibly including her partner, François Hollande, the party secretary – to clinch her party’s nomination.

Ms Royal’s popularity appears partly due to her novelty as a serious female candidate – the former environment minister appeared on the cover of five magazines last week – as well as her maverick campaigning style. Ms Royal has launched a website called (desires for the future), encouraging the public to contribute to a “participative forum” and promising to adopt the best ideas.

Her critics have argued that her “wiki-programme” has only exposed the hollowness of her ideology but it has certainly aroused the interest of France’s internet users.

The Plural of “Anecdote” Is Not “Data”, It’s “Blog”

Overheard in the bar, Paris-Toulouse TGV near Bordeaux…

A French saloon bar bore, who has apparently just returned from a spell abroad, is in the process of berating “national decline” to the barman. Apparently these students are deluded, irresponsible fools, France is in the Middle Ages, and two of the escalators weren’t working at Montparnasse this morning! (Jesus, what would he have made of Oxford Circus tube?) Only la rupture can save us, etc, etc.

But which society had he been experiencing that made him consider France to be stuck in the Middle Ages and to be desperately in need of, ahem, “modernisation” and “reform”? Why, Sweden, of course. A few minutes later, I saw a huge full-page ad in my newspaper taken out by Alcatel to boast of how the takeover of Lucent would give them the world’s biggest laboratories and that they would be spending twice Alcatel’s €2.6bn annual R&D budget in the future.

I can’t imagine a British CEO getting away with that.

Returning to Britain, I see that Peugeot has decided to transfer production of 206s from the Ryton plant in Coventry to somewhere with less job security and lower wages…after all, that’s what we all need, no? Whoops. They are zapping 2,300 workers at Ryton to transfer the work to Mulhouse..

Why France MUST Reform – MUST, I Tell You!

Since the withdrawal of the CPE and the resulting collateral damage to Dominique de Villepin, not to mention Nicolas Sarkozy’s unexpected appearance as a unity figure at the height of the crisis, it’s rapidly being promulgated as conventional wisdom that France “is ungovernable”/refuses to “reform”/cannot be “reformed”. There is only one problem with this discourse, very popular in anglophone leader columns and the like, which is that it’s nonsense.

It’s quite often been raised here on AFOE that the French economy isn’t actually in trouble. Growth, although not great, is ticking along, inflation is controlled, unemployment is higher than the UK but lower than Italy or Germany, and the demographics (as Edward Hugh will no doubt point out) look a lot better than many other countries. Certainly, there’s more youth unemployment than one might like, but almost all the figures for this are wildly misleading. The percentage rate of unemployment in the 15-24 years age group looks scary high, but is actually a very small percentage of that group–because most of them are in education or vocational training of some form and hence not part of the labour force. Unemployment as a percentage of the age group is rather lower than the national rate and not much different from that elsewhere in Europe. (Le Monde ran a useful little chart of this in a supplement yesterday that doesn’t seem to be on the web.) Much – indeed most – of the difference in employment growth between France and the UK in recent years has been accounted for by the UK government going on a hiring binge.

So why the crisis atmosphere? More, as ever, below the fold..
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Armenian Accession

The German newspaper whose web site has marginally improved published an interview today* with Arthur Baghdasarian, leader of the second-largest party in the Armenian parliament. He has been president of parliament since 2003, and he is seen as a leading candidate to be president of the republic in 2008. They talk about whether or not Armenia needs a revolution, though not what color it might have, probably because Baghdasarian opts for reform rather than revolution.

More interesting for afoe readers is this quote: “Armenia’s future is not in the union of Russia and Belarus. Armenia’s future is in the European Union and NATO.” Later on he adds, “I am convinced there is no alternative [to EU accession]. Not just Armenia, but also Georgia, and why not Azerbaijan as well. We are small countries, and for us that will be the best structure for cooperation and peace. Europe needs a secure, conflict-free Caucasus and democratic neighbors.”

Whether or not the current 25 members are ready for enlargement, much less the old 15 (or 12 or 6 or whatever), potential enlargees are eager. The EU will have to answer these questions one way or another. My bet is on more members.

* Annoyingly, it is only available online in pay-per-view. It’s on page 5 of the paper version, if you have access.

Doha Adieu?

Steve Clemons, who’s quite adept at reading the Washington tea leaves, writes that the Doha round of trade negotiations is effectively over.

Why? For most of the present US administration, Bob Zoellick had been the US Trade Representative. Zoellick was an old hand, wise in the ways of both trade and Washington. But when Condelezza Rice was appointed Secretary of State, Zoellick went over to become her deputy. His successor, Rob Portman, was a Congressman from Ohio who had been involved with the nuts and bolts of trade legislation for many years. He was serious and experienced, with friends on Capitol Hill. Now Portman has resigned as Trade Representative to head the Office of Management and Budget; a bigger responsibility, but not connected to trade.

The upshot is that the USTR position will now be empty for some time, the current president’s authority to negotiate agreements that the Congress cannot amend is expiring soon, and the administration sees little hope of progress in the Doha round before it leaves office. Looks like it could be the end of the line for Doha.

Irritations Over Holocaust Records

By Craig Whitlock, of the Washington Post

Boxed away in a former Nazi SS barracks in this central German town is the core of one of the largest collections of historical documents from World War II. All told, the archive contains 50 million records that list the names of 17.5 million people, including concentration camp prisoners, forced laborers and other victims of the Third Reich.

For 60 years, the International Committee of the Red Cross has used the documents to trace the missing and the dead, especially those of the Holocaust. But the archive has remained off-limits to historians and the public, fueling an increasingly bitter dispute among Holocaust researchers, Jewish groups and the 11 nations that oversee the collection.

Premature Evaluation, pt. 4 (The Hungarians)

I suppose I should be happy that there is a recent, one-volume general history of the Hungarians. Their history is not exactly the stuff of bestsellers, even if Hungarians were crucial in everything from computers to the atomic bomb to Hollywood studios. Ten million people, give or take, speaking a non-Indo-European language in and around the Carpathian basin. Their exact origins unknown, their polity long divided, their armies prone to getting wiped out.
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