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.