Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Rise of Stalinist Tactics in Russia

Three articles today in The New York Times raises red flags (no pun intended!) about Russia and its "legal system":  enough to raise the hairs on my neck.
The first one is about the friend and colleague Oleg Orlov, of murdered human rights activist Natalia Estimirova.  It has taken sixteen months for the trial to begin..and who is now accused and on trial?  Not the accused murderer.  "The authorities had charged Mr. Orlov with defamation because he had publicly pointed the finger at the man he believed was responsible for the murder: the Kremlin-installed leader of Chechnya. If convicted, Mr. Orlov could face as many as three years in prison."

The second article is about a jury being dismissed by the judge before it could deliver its verdict.  Jurors felt pressure, some were approached by police.  The quote I love the best is:  “Thank God such a juror did not deliver a verdict, a juror who felt he was under pressure,” Ms. Usacheva added. “Decisions involving the fate of another person cannot be made under the influence of fear or any other emotion.” This sounds like the rationals invented by Stalin where black is white if he says so and tortured logic regarding the means justifying the ends..read Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder.

The third article is about the rearrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky upon his release from seven years in prison for opposing Putin.  "[T]he Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement accusing other countries of trying to interfere with a domestic judicial matter."  This is also a tactic used by Stalin:  accuse its own citizens of treason by invoking international conspiracies.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The New Colonialism

Relationships between politicians and their constituents and politicians and other nations get stranger by the day.  On 21 December, there was an article in the New York Times about farmers in Mali  being told by their own politicians that after the rainy season they would no longer be able to farm on their land or live in their villages.  And why?  The Malian government has leased out this land to.......Colonel Qadaffi!  So, now we have, not only resource rape by the Chinese, but actual land being taken by foreign governments...by agreement, not force; these are:   "neocolonial land grabs that destroy villages, uproot tens of thousands of farmers and create a volatile mass of landless poor. Making matters worse, they contend, much of the food is bound for wealthier nations." What a way to take over a nation without doing battle.  This is not the first instance of its kind, check out the article to see what land is being taken, by whom, and for what purpose.  What a sorry state of affairs.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Words, words, and more words!

Interesting story on NPR about "Google's book-scanning project. The company has converted approximately 15 million books so far into electronic documents. That's about 15 percent of all books ever published. It includes books published in English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Russian and Hebrew."  The authors of the project found they are able to track word usage through time and note cultural changes as words decline or increase in usage.  They are hoping others will derive pleasure and usefulness as they browse the data base:  apparently, it is a real time "waster".

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Journalists under attack again in Russia

A proposed highway through one of the last oak forests in the Moscow region has met with resistance by environmentalists.  Medvedev actually postponed a decision on the project last August because of public outcry.  He has now authorised the building of this highway.  According to an AP and NYT article in the Seattle Times, highway projects are a major source of bribery and corruption. Evidence of this comes in the form of violence against journalists merely reporting "on the topic [who] have been brutally beaten, their skulls cracked and limbs broken. Kommersant reporter Oleg Kashin was the most recent victim — hit some 50 times by two thugs in a stomach-turning attack last month that was caught on a security camera and outraged the nation."
Amnesty International is urging protection for Russian journalists. United Nations Human Rights committee urges more protection for journalists in areas of armed conflict: given the number of journalists killed in Russia, they might as well be working in an area of armed conflict and seek help under the International Covenant for the Protection of Journalists.

Monday, December 13, 2010

To the End of the LandTo the End of the Land by David Grossman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a book!  Just the sheer writing and planning of it must have required the writing of five stories of the three main characters and two smaller characters.  Beautiful writing; I think a reviewer mentioned that Grossman has written the best insight into a female character (by a male writer) since Reynolds Price wrote Kate Vaiden....and I would add Wallace Stegner's women in Crossing to Safety.
Such a poignant story of people and place: Israel.

Monday, December 6, 2010


some good news about the Roma

Gifts of Knowledge

There are many gifts that last a lifetime and more.  Gifts of education.  Gifts of reading.  Gifts of leisure time in which to read.  Gifts to support readers and writers.  Make a gift, small or large, to an educational institution you care about, in your area or elsewhere. Give the gift of a loan to a parent working to educate her child.  Buy a subscription to a journal or newspaper whose mission is to provide information responsibly to people who think and care.  Buy a book:  support a small publisher, a writer, a bookshop.

Look in your own 'backyard', check out the places and people in the world you care about.   Here is my list of favourite places to offer some support:
KIVA.....one of my criteria for who I make a loan to is if they are needing to support their children's education.  And, you can do this with a loan of $25!
American Indian College Fund (AICF).......they do a fabulous job of providing scholarships and educational support to Native American Indians heading to college or university.
Whit Press...a wonderful small non-profit press devoted to providing an
"oasis to nurture and promote the rich diversity of literary work from women writers, writers from ethnic, social, and economic minorities, young writers, and first-time authors."
Elliot Bay Book Company..and independent book store devoted to readers and writers
London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books
University of Washington.....the home of active minds.  The University makes a great effort to provide scholarships to those in need: " Each year the University of Washington awards over $240 million in financial aid to over 60% of our undergraduate students"; alumni and donors go to great lengths to support these scholarship funds.
Umuzi Photo Club....their mission is "To empower learners from developing communities in South Africa with the skill of photography while promoting artistic self-expression and critical thinking as means for raising social awareness"
Seattle Public Library Foundation...publicly funded institutions also rely on private donations

So, these are a few of my favourite things, please support yours.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Employment in Syria

The current debacle that is wikileaks and the cables quoted regarding Syria, reminded me of the sad state of affairs that is the job market in Syria.  Syria is, nominally, a socialist state.  The government has nationalised any successful sector of the economy, resulting in the usual consequences of such actions: inefficiencies, shoddy work, high unemployment among males.  All successful business people take their money out of the country, returning for the minimal amount of time to maintain residency so that they can use cheap labour and make more money to send out of the country.  They avoid paying taxes at all costs.  The only guaranteed employment is in the military, service in which is compulsory.  Bright young men avoid military service as long as possible by earning certificates in as many occupations as they can (foreign languages, etc).  Syrians are highly entrepreneurial and open small shops in the souks, small businesses such as car repair, charcoal making, sheepskin tanning, farming, tourist support,  taxi driving, bureaucrats, as well as highly skilled artisans, etc.  Below are some photos of people working very hard to earn a living in a country where doing it is very difficult.

Making charcoal near Serjilla
Tanning sheepskins
Taxis waiting for business at the bus depot
Small businesses at the border with Lebanon
Oud player in Aleppo
Deliveries to merchants in the souk, Aleppo

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Recently written, and reviewed, books on China

In the current issue of The New York Review of Books, Christian Caryl has reviewed seven recently published books on China.  This review is a must-read for amateur Sinologists and/or those interested in what the Chinese government is doing.  After discussing the various interests and approaches of the authors, Caryl says
"From my own years in the region, I’m inclined to think that the experience of the other East Asian countries—which Deng privately regarded as practical models for what he wanted to do with his own—throws a great deal of light on where China is headed now. Consider, for a moment, the city of Shenzhen. Back in 1979, when the CCP decided to designate it as one of the first four “Special Economic Zones” in the country, Shenzhen was home to about 80,000 people, most of them fishermen or farmers. Today the place has a population of just under nine million, a bit more than New York City’s. The workforce that fills its countless factories is drawn from China’s immense “floating population” of migrant workers desperate to escape the poverty of rural life. Virtually everyone who lives in Shenzhen comes from somewhere else. And since all Shenzheners are outsiders, they tend to speak to each other in Mandarin Chinese rather than the Cantonese dialect that prevails in most of surrounding Guangdong Province and Hong Kong." There is no act of innocence or accident or incident by the Chinese government, only acts of calculation.

Another book of interest to China watchers is 
The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor.  A thought-provoking review by Slavoj Zizek can be read in the London Review of Books.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And now for something.....completely the same: The Chinese & Zambia

Coal miners in Zambia are complaining about work conditions, contract breaches, and other problems at mines run by a "private" Chinese company.  See this New York Times article.  For more information about the incident where the Chinese managers shot four workers, see this article in allAfrica.com.  For a larger discussion of Afro-Chinese increasingly icy labour relations, see this article.  And for reporting on whether China is a blessing or curse for Africa, click here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Two Photographers: The Shame of Apartheid

During 2010 there have been exhibits of the work of two South African photographers who documented the humanity of those who suffered the evils of Apartheid.  Ernest Cole was black and David Goldblatt is white: two men of incredible talent telling the same stories through different eyes.

The New York Times reports today on "The largest retrospective of his [Cole's] work ever mounted is now on display at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, built in the neo-Classical style almost a century ago in an era when South Africa’s great mining fortunes were being made on the backs of black labor".

David Goldblatt's work was on exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York May-September 2010.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Russia & China: the more things change, the more they stay the same....

Whether it's human rights, freedom of the press, or free political expression, neither Russia nor China have the fortitude or political self confidence to allow any criticism by their own citizens.  In particular, journalists bear the brunt of this repression.  This week alone, there were reports out of both countries about courageous critics who have been confined to mental asylums (China); the brutal beating of a Russian newspaper editor; and a brutal beating of another journalist in Russia.   The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been investigating how to provide protection for journalists under international humanitarian laws, but this discussion has been more in the context of reporters in armed-conflict situations. The Committee to Protect Journalists is doing courageous work in this area:  Russia and China are not the only goons in this arena.  Please, please support their work: donate.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Bushmen of Southern Africa

The survival of the Bushmen of Southern Africa has been under threat for generations.  However, the government of Botswana has behaved particularly egregiously as they promote tourism at the expense of the livelihood of the Bushmen.  For those in need of a primer on this topic, an article in Friday's New York Times is very helpful.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Chinese in Europe......

So, the Chinese are no longer just mopping up resource production in Africa (see my earlier posts), investing in infrastructure building (with Chinese labour and supporting businesses) in developing economies inorder to ship these resources out of Africa and into China's factories, but now they are looking to Europe to do the same.  An article in today's New York Times describes how the Chinese no longer feel the need to disguise ulterior motives:
"Ultimately, analysts say, Beijing hopes to achieve not just more business for its own companies, but also greater influence over the economic policies set in the power corridors (my emphasis) of Brussels and Germany.
“They are indicating a willingness to stick their nose into Europe’s business,” said Carl B. Weinberg, chief economist of High Frequency Economics".  Be sure to read this article very carefully.  Chatham House has another opinion, but sources quoted at the end of this paper tend to corroborate the NYT story.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Survival International is imperilled

Survival International advocates for the rights and freedoms of Aboriginal peoples around the world.  Their website has been hacked ever since they have campaigned vociferously on behalf of the Bushmen of Botwsana.  Please support their efforts.

Khans & The Royal Exchange

Julie Flavell has written a book titled When London Was Capital of America.  One of the illustrations is a print by Thomas Malton of  The Royal Exchange in 1798.  The illustrations I have below are by different artists, but show the same detail.  What struck me most, was how much The Royal Exchange resembled  the Khans we saw in Syria.  Queen Elizabeth I decided that merchants and traders should have a place other than coffee shops to do business, so the first Exchange was opened in 1551.  Khans had been in use throughout the Ottoman Empire long before that.  I am curious to know if the architect of The Royal Exchange had seen sketches of the khans brought back to Britain by traveling traders.

The Royal Exchange
The Royal Exchange

A Khan, Aleppo

Khan off the souk, Damascus

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trouble Brewing in the Balkans?

Veteran NPR European Desk reporter, Sylvia Poggioli, filed a story on the rise of radical/political Islam in the Balkans. After the war that broke up Jugoslavia in the 1990's, the Saudi's contributed a massive amount of aid to the reconstruction of Kosovo and Bosnia, especially the construction of new mosques.  These construction projects have employed large numbers of people,who had been unemployed a very long time:  the unemployment rate in Kosovo is over 40%.  There has been strong local concern and outcry about this invasion of the Saudis, especially with the rise in the number of women in veils.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bringing out your inner Barbie

A fashion article in this weekend's FT Weekend explains the new (for the moment) fashion statement embraced by Michelle Obama and MadMen coquettes: the hour-glass look.  I loved this sentence: "Part of the reason for the prevalence of the hourglass shape is surgical: the extreme body reconstruction many women have been undergoing, with breast and bottom augmentation, alongside hours of Pilates and yoga, has created a figure as contrived and Barbie-like as bullet bras and waist cinchers (or “waspies”) did 60 years ago".  Here is a photo of said fashions from the FT article

Check out the latest in Barbie fashions here

Friday, October 22, 2010

More news of the ancients.....

The New York Times this week reported on more new news about our ancestors: evidence of grinding stones, hot-stone baking and root flour grains found in Italy, the Czech Republic, and Russia.  More articles in NYT about findings from The National Academy of Sciences, where this information was published, can be found at this link.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Only the Italians would dare say it this way.....

Washington Post story covered in The Seattle Times about the Italians getting tough with the Roma.  A Milanese politician is quoted as saying  "These are dark-skinned people, not Europeans like you and me," said Riccardo De Corato, who is Milan's vice mayor from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ruling party and who is in charge of handling the camps. He later added: "Our final goal is to have zero Gypsy camps in Milan".  I remember when the Italians were described as "swarthy" and not really considered "white" by the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa, only four decades ago....

Monday, October 11, 2010

Yakima Valley Wine Country

Washington State is the home of over 650 winerieseleven AVA's or designated appellations, and 350 grape growers.  The Yakima Valley was the first federally recognised AVA.  The Yakima Valley is also home to the Yakama Nation.  This last weekend, I accompanied the wine maker/owner of :Nota Bene to the Yakima Valley to pick up bins filled with grapes-just-picked and drop off bins for grapes-to-be-picked and also for bins ready for next year.  We drove 700 miles, fourteen hours, six vineyards, and brought back 12 bins of beautiful grapes (this was trip three for wine maker Tim Narby; three left to go!).  The vineyards we visited were: Stone Tree Vineyards, Stillwater Vineyards, Ciel du Cheval, Champoux, Dineen Family Vineyards, and Red Willow Vineyards.
                                         View from Stillwater picnic area

                                  Champoux Vineyard:  netting to keep birds away

                                          Ciel du Cheval, stop # 3, loading the grapes

Boxes ready for filling.  Champoux Vineyards

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A True Hero: A Man Who Died in the Cause of Seeking Truth & Information

On 18 September 2010 I posted a link on Facebook about a story NPR ran about Witold Pilecki, a Polish Army Captain:  "In September 1940, Pilecki didn't know exactly what was going on in Auschwitz, but he knew someone had to find out. He would spend two and a half years in the prison camp, smuggling out word of the methods of execution and interrogation. He would eventually escape and author the first intelligence report on the camp."  He sent this information to Churchill and Roosevelt and the Polish Army in exile tried every means at its disposal to tell the world about the Holocaust.  Take time to learn about this man.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Roma, again

PRI's The World reported on efforts to reintegrate the Roma into Bulgarian society.  This link should get to an audio of the report.  The question remains/arises:  what is  it about Europe (east or west) or elsewhere that the Roma  create this tension and inability for one group to be accepted by another.  This situation has been intractable for over 1000 years. A second Wikipedia link has some interesting information on the arrival of Roma people in North America in the early 19th century.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Zuma heading south?

The Economist blog features this article re: Zuma being sidelined. Seems to me, the only way forward for South African politics is that COSATU and the ANC  separate and that other parties begin to fill the void.  The coziness of the two powerhouses, especially given the organizational/power structure of the ANC, equals corruption and stagnation for South Africa. The ANC Youth League seems to have been chastised for 'behavioural' issues.  For more of Zapiro's political cartoons and commentary, see this link.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cross Dressing, Gender Roles, Social Needs

In June 2008, the New York Times carried a fascinating story about women in Albania who live their lives as men, largely because their families had lost viable males in honour killings, war, etc.  This practice is, apparently dying out. Today the NYT has a story about girls in Afghanistan who are dressed as boys. Many of these girls are loathe to return to female roles/clothes because of the constraint this places on their lives. Be sure to read the comments (click on the 'Highlights' tabs of the comments section): some people are shocked, amazed, puzzled, intrigued, etc.  The particularities of situations like this vary, but there have certainly been examples of women dressing as men (in life and fiction), men dressing as women, in all cultures through many ages.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The ANC Continues to Accumulate Demerits....

In Sunday's New York Times, Andre Brink contributed an op-ed piece on the "cloud of secrecy" beginning to shroud the dissemination of untainted information in South Africa.  In Tuesday's Mail & Guardian there is a report on a conference in Cape Town on this very cloud of secrecy. The shudders are starting to ripple.....when will the tide turn against the rot in the ANC....

A rightful slap on the wrist....

The EU has finely had enough and found it's spine
European Commissioner Vice President and Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding scolded the French for hiding their true intention of getting rid of the Roma, despite protests that these eviction notices pertained to all illegal immigrants, etc, etc, etc.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Another fine intellect departs.....

I was traveling and out of the news-loop (learning about horse racing instead) and so just today learned about the death of Frank Kermode on 17 August 2010.  His wisdom and insights will be missed.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Booker Shortlist is Announced

The six shortlisted authors are:
Peter Carey, Emma Donoghue, Damon Galgut, Howard Jacobson, Andrea Levy and Tom McCarthy.
I am sorry that David Mitchell was not amongst the above.  Damon Galgut is my favourite: his earlier work, The Impostor, is very thought-provoking, on a personal and political level.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet: A NovelThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet: A Novel by David Mitchell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the kind of book I want to race through to see how it ends, but the language is so beautiful, the observations so acute, the texture so deep, that restraint is required.  And, the book doesn't just end...there are endings, and twists, and turnings, all the way through.  A brilliant writer, interesting topic.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Now it's the Italians, again, dumping the Roma....

Today's New York Times features the Italians vs. Roma. Following the lead of the French, the Italian authorities are closing legal encampment sites..in some cases, Roma families have been living, and making a living, here for several decades.  The situation of the Roma in all of Europe is untenable and seems intractable.  For  personal views by an outsiders, read Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca and Zoli by Colum McCann

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

At least there are some in France who have a conscience

Members of the French public and a number of politicians have spoken out against Sarkozy's Roma expulsion mania.  Today's Financial Times provides details.  A search of the FT's site finds 79 articles on the issue of Roma in France.  Peruse them to get a sense of the problems faced by these people everywhere.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Plight, and Forced Flight, of the Roma

So, the Roma are once again on the run.  This time it is the French who are kicking them about and kicking them out.  According to the New York Times, "On instructions from President Nicolas Sarkozy, the French police have been dismantling improvised Roma camps in recent weeks and deporting Roma groups to Bulgaria and Romania."  Bulgaria and Romania?  And how are the Roma treated there?: As reported in WAZ.euobserver.com: "The Romanian society sees the gypsies as a foreign element", said Claudiu Padurean, a journalist and executive director for the Human Rights League in Cluj, a Transylvanian city with a large gypsy population. "Their degree of integration into the society is very much reduced. One can only imagine what the general reaction would have been if the expelled people were ethnic Romanians, and not Rromas", Mr Padurean said."  As for the Bulgarians, perhaps their attitude is somewhat better than that of the Romanians

France is not alone:  Denmark began expulsions a few weeks ago, as well.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Horse Racing: stepping into a new universe

The universe in which horse racing exists is complex and requires that the novice learn a whole new vocabulary (do you know what a 'spinner' is? a 'stooper'?) including how to read the racing forms, how to bet, amongst other things, and calibrating a whole set of social strata.  There is the horse, the event, the aftermath.  The horse= owner (individual and/or syndicates) + trainer + groom(s) + jockey + food + housing + veterinarian + accoutrement + fees (for events, licenses, etc) = money.  The racing = venue, fees/licenses, vendors (restaurants, food, booze, souvenirs, linens, toilet paper, office supplies, cash machines, computers, etc), employees (management, event development/planning, janitorial, cashiers, judges, track maintenance, food service workers, supervisors, grounds maintenance, meeter/greeters, announcers, judges, IT), equipment (large and small, complicated and simple), racing forms,  TV monitors, camera operators/photographers, and associations for all of the above.  None of this would exist if it were not for the spectators, bettors, entourages.  These all form the pageant.  This requires a variety of fashion statements.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Basil Davidson Died Last Month

Basil  Davidson was a path-breaking journalist and historian of Africa and Yugoslavia.  He was 95.  He called fascists to task.  He called imperialists and the settler class to task.  He did not shy from confrontation and lived a life of conviction and integrity. There are two tributes to him in the London Review of Books.  And perhaps one of the highest compliments paid to him is found at allafrica.com in piece by Cameron Duodu.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Those early humans are at it again...

makes me think of Dad....on what would have been his 86th birthday.....

Story in today's NYT on Lucy's ancestors as tool makers

The Daily Mess

This morning, Steve Inskeep, on NPR's Morning Edition, interviewed Tom Ricks about his prognosis for Iraq: it is cause for pause when someone is more hopeful about the future of Afghanistan (this link takes you to BBC stories) than Iraq!  Tom Ricks' book "Fiasco" is a must-read for anyone seeking a well-written and researched account of this misguided adventure.  Ricks also has a blog that is useful to check on.  Ricks is also a contributor to Foreign Policy.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Grim News

Venezuela is killing off union activists who disagree with Chavez.  Saudi Arabia and UAE plan to ban Blackberry use because they cannot break through its encryption software to spy on users.  Domestic workers are abused, physically and emotionally, in Kuwait. Stoning of women continues in Iran (and, Brazil offers to be an intermediary!).  Palestinians continue to live in limbo and their Arab neighbours do not really care.  Journalists and lawyers continue disappearing in China.  The US continues its great wall policy on the US-Mexico border.  US right wingnuts continue to insist that gun-toters in parks are just exercising their rights, even as two people get killed at a suburban Seattle lake-side park.  And then there is Sudan, Congo, Tibet, the Stans, Russia.

I think I'll look for the good news tomorrow.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back to old issues: China and Africa

For China watchers, there was an interesting letter in London Review of Books vol 32 No 12 from Hugh Miles in response to an article by Adam Shatz about the decline of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak.  The letter writer points out that while Shatz focuses on the relationship between Egypt and the US and Israel, another relationship has been developing:  the influence of China.

Here is the letter in full:
"Seventeen thousand Chinese are now officially resident in Egypt and the volume of trade between the two countries has gone from $635 million in 1999 to more than $5.86 billion in 2009. Besides granite and marble, China imports Egyptian cotton, oil, carpets and kitchen sinks. English is the main language of business, but around the Free Trade Zones, cheap manufacturing bases close to European markets with very few export restrictions, most of the road signs are in Chinese. According to Egypt’s General Authority for Investment, there are 1038 Chinese companies operating in Egypt, representing a total investment of $311 million.
‘Before the Chinese arrived everyone was leaving this neighbourhood,’ I was told recently by an estate agent in the Cairo suburb of New Maadi. ‘Nowadays you see more Chinese round here than Egyptians. They’re here for this.’ He tapped the granite counter. ‘After the first wave came all kinds of small businesses to service the community, like gyms, restaurants and shops. Then a second wave came to work for Huawei when it replaced Siemens and Alcatel as Etisalat’s main contractor in Egypt.’ Huawei Technologies is the second largest telecoms company in the world. Last November Wen Jiabao opened its $20 million new training centre in Cairo’s Smart Village. ‘We have a business relationship,’ the estate agent said. ‘They don’t care for football or religion. All they think about is business, except when they are drinking tea and playing cards. But there are no problems and we say hello to one another when we pass each other in the street.’
The Chinese Embassy has gone on a charm offensive of film festivals, photo exhibitions and, last February in Rihab City on Cairo’s eastern outskirts, a cultural week showcasing martial arts, Chinese music and tea art. Two Confucius institutes have been established and last year China Central Television launched a new Arabic-language satellite TV channel.
The love-in appears to be reciprocal. From 1999 to 2009 Egypt’s exports to China grew from $15 million to $989 million, creating thousands of new jobs. In the last six years, five Egyptian universities have opened Chinese departments and Chinese goods are a familiar part of everyday life. A new character has made an appearance in Egyptian soap operas: the Arabic-speaking Chinese saleswoman going from door to door, offering cheap consumer goods, bootleg DVDs and snappy haircuts. Egyptians joke about the quality of the imports and grumble that the Chinese never spend any money. Their fathers used to grumble about the Soviets for the same reason.
China’s relationship with the Arabs dates back to the Silk Road, but modern relations can be traced to 30 May 1956 when Nasser defied the US policy of containment to become the first Arab or African country to establish diplomatic ties with the Communist state. (Later that year Chinese newspapers celebrated the nationalisation of the Suez Canal.) Mubarak himself has been to China at least seven times. In 1999 he signed a key strategic agreement in Beijing and since then co-operation has deepened to include infrastructure building, training, energy and defence. There are goodwill politburo visits every few months and at the start of May Egypt’s Oil Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with China National Petroleum Corp to build Egypt’s biggest ever oil refinery in a contract worth $2 billion. ‘Things are going perfectly,’ according to Zhijie Zeng, the director of the China Development Bank. ‘We are eager to deepen the co-operation. Africa and China have a win-win relationship.’
But the press has spoken of China’s ‘commercial attack’ on Egypt, and there have been accusations of Chinese products being dumped in Egypt at below cost price. In January a Chinese ship accidentally destroyed coral reefs in South Sinai. And in the second half of last year China abruptly halted trade shipments to Egypt. The official reason was to combat smuggling but the move sent the price of some commodities shooting up 40 per cent."
Hugh Miles

Just makes one think.....

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lights and lighting in Syria

Armenian Church, Aleppo

One of the delights of touring the souks, citadels, churches, hotels, and other buildings, was the lighting.  At times, there was the feeling of being in an Ottoman fairytale.  CFL bulbs are used everywhere and while that seems so environmentally with-it, garbage disposal is such a nightmare in Syria, one really wonders where the used bulbs end up.

Below are some examples of such interest and beauty.

Reception Room, Citadel, Aleppo
Umayyad mosque, Damascus
Lights, Marian Church, Homs

Talisman Hotel, Damascus, divan room

Souk, Aleppo
Divan room, Talisman Hotel, Damascus

Ceiling of bath house, Citadel, Aleppo. Alabaster inserts

Lights in mosque, Hama

Bedroom, Talisman Hotel, Damascus
Courtyard, Casa Mia restaurant & boutique hotel, Palmyra

Fruit & vegetable market at 11pm, Aleppo

Lights in the Armenian Church, Aleppo.  Note Mamaluk-style arch

Maybe the niqab will fall by the wayside......

On 19 July, NPR reported that the Syrian government had banned the niqab in universities and on 20 July they reported, in the full education system. Only thing is, it was not announced in the media.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Arches: architectural & engineering things of beauty

Wandering among the ruins and the cities of Syria, I was constantly reminded of just what amazing structures we humans have built. Whether buildings had been erected in Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, Ottoman, or any other times before, during, and after (such as the Dead Cities), often all that remains of a structure are its arches . They have withstood earthquakes, wind, dust storms, neglect.
Below are photographs taken all through our trip of arches in mosques, churches, Roman temples, monasteries, other public and private buildings, walls, gates, aqueducts.

Bab Sharqi, Damascus

The Citadel, Aleppo

Roman columns & arches on the grounds of the Umayyad Mosque, Damascus

The baths, Apamea; those holes were where the water pipes came in

Old City, Hama

Grand Mosque, Damascus

Monastery courtyard, Krak de Chevalier

Khan off the Souk. Damascus

Inside St. George's Monastery

The Inn at Serjilla

The wine & olive presses, Serjilla

Church, Dead City of Serjilla

Remains of two story house, Dead City of Serjilla

Chapel ,Krak de Chevalier

Baalbek, Lebanon

Courtyard in a khan, Alepppo

Ressafa in a sand storm

Inside Ressafa

St. Simeon

At St. Simeon, north of Aleppo

Colonnade at Palmyra

The three arches, Palmyra