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.

The Endless Journey

The Endless Journey
One part of western culture that has been little recorded and also greatly repressed is that of the Gypsies.

Their culture remains one of the most misunderstood and underrepresented, and is often falsely stereotyped by other cultures. Some characteristics that permeate all gypsy cultures is the denial of citizenship, denial of being bound to any piece of land, except to the earth as a whole. Although some gypsies claim that their journey is in the search of a homeland, the truth is that they would rather hold steadfast to their heritage than give it up for a settled home. Gypsies who settle down, tend to absorb the culture around them and become members of the culture they join.

EURES: one million job offers within the EU

The EU launched a new website today, EURES where one million jobs within the EU will be on offer. From the EURES-site:

EURES (EURopean Employment Services) brings together the European Commission and the public employment services of the countries belonging to the European Economic Area and Switzerland. Other regional and national bodies concerned with employment issues are also included, such as trade unions, employers’ organisations, as well as local and regional authorities. (…) EURES is playing an increasing role in identifying the surpluses and deficits of manpower in different sectors, and in overcoming qualification bottlenecks. The network also helps improve employability, particularly that of young people, through the acquisition of professional experience abroad. EURES also contributes to the creation of a common European labour market, as well as, in certain border regions, to the establishment of an integrated regional labour market.

Currently, only 2 percent of 450 million Europeans work legally in another member state. (source: De Telegraaf)

Hollywood’s Big Loss

No more free money from Germany.

Even though its focus may be far removed from the geopolitics of Europe, Hollywood has reason to be concerned with the recent results of the German elections. The newly designated Minister of Finance Peer Steinbrück announced on Nov. 12 that he was retroactively eliminating the part of the tax code that allows German investors in media funds to defer their taxes. This German tax shelter, as I have previously pointed out, provided Hollywood with an El Dorado of easy cash for the past quarter-century and allowed studios to increase their earnings without any risk. Now it is dead.

I love Edward Jay Epstein’s columns.

Something Is Moving

The FT reports this morning that France may be about to ease restrictions on certain highly regulated service industries and on business start-ups as part of a package to create jobs in poor suburbs. It is possible that these initiatives might be a test bed for broader economic reform throughout France. French finance minister, Thierry Breton, told the Financial Times:

France had failed its immigrant communities, largely housed in bleak areas of high unemployment where rioters have left one pensioner dead and burned 7,000 cars. “We have put a lot of money into the suburbs over the past 20 years,” Mr Breton said. “But obviously it wasn’t enough. We need to work on how to create more jobs and growth in those areas.”

Among the initiatives being considered is an easing of regulations in the specially designated “zones franches”. Currently companies are encouraged to locate in these areas of high unemployment through a limited range of tax breaks. However, the Finance Ministry is considering a form of “positive economic discrimination” that would exempt companies from certain rules in place elsewhere. These include relaxing professional qualifications on businesses such as hair salons and taxi companies, and increasing the level of state guarantees for business loans.

Europe’s Digital Divide

“A digital divide has appeared among Europeans, with age, income and education determining whether the continent’s citizens use the Internet”, at least this is the conclusion of a new study conducted by Eurostat on behalf of the EU commission.The largest divide by educational level was found in Portugal, and the smallest in Lithuania, only in the Netherlands did more than half of the retired population use the internet. Only in Sweden (70%), Denmark (64%), Finland (54%) and Germany (51%) did more than half of the lower educated use the internet during the first quarter of 2004, while the proportion of the higher educated who used the internet fell below 50% only in Lithuania (38%) and Greece (48%). Now why do I not find all this particularly surprising?

In the EU25, 85% of students (aged 16 or more in school or university) used the internet during the first quarter of 2004, as did 60% of employees, 40% of the unemployed and 13% of the retired, compared to an EU25 average of 47% for individuals aged from 16 to 74. This divide by employment status is also found by educational level: only 25% of those with at most lower secondary education used the internet during the first quarter of 2004, while the proportion rose to 52% for those who had completed secondary education, and 77% for those with a tertiary education.