The best of the best--Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) tells a twisted tale with compelling characters. The slight changes in emphasis of narrative voice aThe best of the best--Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) tells a twisted tale with compelling characters. The slight changes in emphasis of narrative voice and point of view create a complex but not needlessly complicated reality where horrible things happen to decent people and horrible people emerge unscathed.
It just may be that Commissario Brunetti is at the point where can no longer serve the impossibly corrupt and criminally inefficient Italian state depIt just may be that Commissario Brunetti is at the point where can no longer serve the impossibly corrupt and criminally inefficient Italian state depicted in Donna Leon's novels. Political and social life Italy lies somewhere between a Central African kleptocracy and a pre-1991 Eastern European failed socialist republic; everything is for sale, from the right of an undocumented immigrant to a market stall to a seat in the Senate. Brunetti is personally incorruptible but is part of a system that ignores crimes of the wealthy and well connected and further grinds down those barely able to survive.
Readers of this series won't be surprised at Brunetti's moral difficulties--I wasn't--but there is a finality in "By Its Cover" that didn't exist or was muted in past books.He may be facing death, transfer (death by another means) or some other end to his career.
This book is as topical as today’s newscast. A few weeks ago Huthi rebels seized control of much of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen including the presideThis book is as topical as today’s newscast. A few weeks ago Huthi rebels seized control of much of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen including the presidential compound and placed the president under house arrest. Not surprisingly President Hadi resigned, the already chaotic government of Yemen collapsed and Huthi tribal leaders seized control of the capital. Their official slogan is “Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews,” but they are enemies of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has attacked them with car bombs and suicide attacks. The United States has operated in Yemen with the permission of the last government, killing some Al Qaeda leaders with missiles fired from drones but it is the Huthis who have been battling AQAP on the streets of Sana’a. Yemeni politics are a confusing and deadly labyrinth difficult to understand but “Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon” goes a long way towards giving us the necessary background to understand how this strategic and inhospitable place affects the rest of the Middle East and is a pivot in the so-called war on terror. The authors spent years in firsthand research in Huthi areas of northern Yemen, immersed themselves in sources and research in several languages (mainly French, Arabic and English) and probably know as much as anyone about Yemen and the restive tribes within it.
The book is exceptionally comprehensive; the authors discuss and to a great extent explain that while there are Sunni/Shia religious divisions in Yemen, tribal identity and the collective honor of the tribal group take precedence over any other claim to authority. They show how the Yemen government attacks on Huthi had disastrous unintended consequences of provoking resistance among non-targeted people and provoking rebellion among non-Huthi people. U.S weapons and funds to combat Al Qaeda have been used by both the Saleh government and its now deposed successor against the regime’s local enemies while allowing the AQAP to operate against international targets unmolested.
The authors are academics whose target audience includes policy makers and think tank experts as well as other scholars but whose work can be usefully read by anyone with a bit of knowledge and a strong interest in the background to conflict in the Arab world. ...more
Short but with lots of "ripped from the headlines" info current through late 2014. Who is doing what to who in Yemen based on Congressional Research SShort but with lots of "ripped from the headlines" info current through late 2014. Who is doing what to who in Yemen based on Congressional Research Service analysis of (mainly) U.S. State Dept. reports, some classified. ...more
Not bad police procedural set in Lake District of England with usual mix of dedicated or lazy cops, eccentric or annoying locals. Its strength is wellNot bad police procedural set in Lake District of England with usual mix of dedicated or lazy cops, eccentric or annoying locals. Its strength is well described fishing with tractors in Morecambe Bay with its deadly tides and hidden quicksand. ...more
Fact filled view of Yemen from unclassified CIA/State/Defense sources. Broader coverage but with fewer nuances than Congressional Research Service pubFact filled view of Yemen from unclassified CIA/State/Defense sources. Broader coverage but with fewer nuances than Congressional Research Service publication. ...more
This is an intriguing book--actually a set of short essays by academics, edited by a LSE prof. The "emerging powers" are the usual suspects--China, RuThis is an intriguing book--actually a set of short essays by academics, edited by a LSE prof. The "emerging powers" are the usual suspects--China, Russia, India, Brazil--plus a few that didn't come to mind immediately, Turkey and South Korea. Its value lies in coverage of those countries involved in Africa that are neither China nor a former colonial power since both of those groups have and will continue to have huge stacks of books devoted to their activity in Africa. A dialectical approach works for most of the authors: the country they are covering is not China and doesn't act like China. The divergence from the Middle Kingdom means that they are preferable to China, as long as one thinks that China is only interested in strip mininging the entire continent.
But the most important difference between aid and trade in Africa from emerging powers and the more traditional western nations (the Global North) including the IMF, the World Bank, big NGOs as well as governments themselves is that nations like Brazil, Turkey and India can approach their African counterparts as equals or at least not from a position of dictating what the recipient nations can do with loans, investments and aid. All of the emerging countries are both recipients and donors of official development assistance (ODA). They contribute grants, technology transfers, commodity financing to African nations and receive it from the Global North although with different purposes in mind.
Brazil, for example, is less interested in exploiting hydrocarbon reserves and mineral deposits for their own consumption than as an expanding ground for their existing operations. Brazilian companies hire most of their workforce locally (a Brazilian company is the largest private employer in Angola), invest in capacity building--training as well as infrastructure--and employ them in operations in other parts of the continent. Not surprisingly Brazil is most active in Portuguese speaking nations--chiefly Angola and Mozambique--while its national oil company is active in Nigeria. The slogan at the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (Agência Brasileira de Cooperação – ABC) is "for every African problem there is a Brazilian solution." Seems a bit hubristic but the deliver on their promises.
Another example is Turkey where religion plays an important legitimizing part. Shared Muslim faith generates a level of trust in Turkey and Turkish activities in Islamic Africa, so in addition to trade financing, economic technical assistance and humanitarian aid Turkey is interested in becoming a part of the political future of nations they invest in. Somalia is their shining example--the Turks poured hundreds of millions of food aid into Somalia during the famine in 2011 but also set up a network of schools that taught both religion and science for a new generation that remains pious but with a broader, somewhat secular view. of the world. The Turkish message is sometimes couched in heroic terms--the headline of an article in a national newspaper was "Somalia's long-lost brother Turkey is here to rebuild the country" which, while romantic and over the top must have seemed a lot better than, say, "IMF is here to squeeze a few more drops of blood from Somalia".
Definitely worth reading if you are interested in African development or bilateral relations in the Global South. ...more
This is a thrilling crime novel and an enthralling study of a person close to falling into an abyss of shattered personalities. She credibly holds herThis is a thrilling crime novel and an enthralling study of a person close to falling into an abyss of shattered personalities. She credibly holds herself together while the reader goes along with a harrowing journey
Undercover work is perfectly suited to Fiona Griffins. She isn’t always connected to the everyday world, a place she calls Planet Normal, is often isolated from those around her and hasn't learned to trust people. She can't empathize emotionally with anyone since she doesn’t recognize emotions in herself, knowing that she should feel fear when threatened by the legitimately scary bad guy Vic Henderson but is able to do so only in her new role of mousy clerk/cleaner Fiona Grey.
This allows her to really inhabit a role, to become her "story"; Fiona Griffiths is replaced by Fiona Grey, office cleaner. She describes herself as "we", merging Fiona the cleaner and Fiona the police officer. She knows that Fiona Grey, an domestic abuse victim worried about her spouse tracking her down, tracking her down, would be self-effacing and timid, not making eye contact with men in authority and hoping to fade into the background--perfect for an undercover officer.
The criminal gang she infiltrates is working on a plan to steal tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars from companies all over the United Kingdom by implanting "Trojan Horse" programs in their payroll software and systematically skimming small amounts from millions of accounts on every payday. It takes a huge coding and testing effort behind the scenes as well as installing simple key logging devices on key computers. This is where Fiona Grey comes in since cleaners have all but unsupervised access to every part of an office. The gang is incredibly vicious; there is a significant butcher's bill even before the real killing starts in the final couple of confrontations.
I downloaded "The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths" as soon as it was available in the U.S. and read it almost straight through including a few pages on my phone while at work. Bingham has certainly earned the stack of five star reviews his books have received on Amazon. I look forward to more adventures of the intrepid Welsh detective. ...more
Big projects in Africa--real big, like dams, football stadiums and bridges--built by Chinese companies with ties to the government of China generallyBig projects in Africa--real big, like dams, football stadiums and bridges--built by Chinese companies with ties to the government of China generally get the headlines and set the tone for the narrative of China in Africa. Howard French has spent years in both China and Africa, speaks French, English and Mandarin and thinks that the a different truth about the Chinese agenda and the African response to it are created by the thoughts, deeds and attitudes of thousands of individuals, most of them anonymous. French is a clear, thoughtful storyteller. He has talked with Chinese managers, technicians, construction workers and even a few owners of karaoke bars and illegal roadside peddlers along with hundreds of African miners, merchants and farmers plus more than a few diplomats. It is tempting to say that he lets his interlocutors tell the story themselves but it only seems that way—French has shaped years of work into a book that is both full of information and a joy to read.
His chapter on Zambian copper miners and Chinese supervisors is a good example. We know that the ill treatment and lack of respect by Chinese managers of their Zambian workers, including beating them when they asked for back wages, led to a series of confrontation that resulted in a Chinese foreman being killed and twelve Zambians shot and wounded but not killed. This incident happened after French finished his reporting but he made it seem as inevitable as a Greek tragedy that there would be deadly conflict. A shocking but not surprising statement from the president, Rupiah Banda, made it clear whose side the government was on: “Every day people are shot by Zambians, are shot by white people, are shot by Americans, they are shot by everyone. Let’s be careful that we do not single out people”. Makes it seem that Zambia has as much gun violence as, say, the United States.
Senegal is another case—The Senegalese are some of the most vigorous and energetic merchants in Africa and are ubiquitous on street corners from New York to Milan selling clothing made with “authentic” West African cloth (now usually made from start to finish in textile factories in China). However Chinese merchants selling pirated DVD, mobile phone airtime, cigarettes, essentially anything portable and cheap started colonizing the trading streets and souks of Dakar, outselling the Senegalese on their home turf by undercutting prices and working more aggressively.
French found Chinese people everywhere—from boardrooms to ramshackle offices at the mouth of copper pits to shacks selling trinkets in cities. Clearly they have inserted themselves into African economies (but not societies) from top to bottom.
Well worth reading for anyone interested in the subject. ...more
I was wondering how Stuart Neville was going to follow up is masterful and harrowing introduction of Gerry Fegan, who didn't seem to have much futureI was wondering how Stuart Neville was going to follow up is masterful and harrowing introduction of Gerry Fegan, who didn't seem to have much future in West Belfast. Simply enough, Fegan is dispatched to New York City--gone but definitely not forgotten and always looming in the consciousness of everyone he has touched. Among them is the protagonist of "Collusion" Detective Inspector Jack Lennon who shares the spotlight with Fegan and with a man known only as The Traveler, a hired killer who is as implacable and efficient as any IRA or Loyalist gunman. We track the three of them as their paths converge and finally intersect in a thrilling climax with Lennon trying to save the lives of his former lover and their daughter while not being killed himself as Fegan and The Traveler, true masters of murderous violence, set upon each other.