what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fleeing the enemy


Few people blog seriously on a daily basis. You simply run out of thoughts – or get diverted by life or novels. And my excuse for the silence of the past few days is that Ive been hooked on the atmosphere and characters of Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy - which covers the travails of a British Council staffer and his new wife in Bucharest in the months before the German troops arrived in 1940, their escape to Athens and the intrigues and dangers they face there too. The sense of transience and uncertainty is well caught – with Harriet and Guy Pringle embodying such different views of people and life – Guy the gullible, sociable left-winger; Harriet the romantic realist. I’d no sooner finished thatbook than I was fleeing the Bolsheviks with Lev Nussimbaum – the amazing character born in Baku in 1905 or so to a rich jewish family (with a communist mother who commited suicide)which was twice chased out of the city by uprisings. During the first communist soviet, they went east across the Caspian to what we now know as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and back via Iran; in 1917 when the Russians took over, the father and son escaped separately north to Georgia, then west across the Black Sea to Istanbul. From these and other fantastic pre-war experiences (reconstructed from notebooks discovered by Tom Reiss in The Orientalist - in search of a man caught between east and west), Nussenbaum wrote books under various names – mostly socio-econmomic (one about Stalin with whom he claimns to have conversed at his Baku home when young). But his most famous is his great love story Ali and Nina – which is a celebration of life in Baku before the killings and published under another of his pseudonyms, Kurban Said. Reiss’s book is quite riveting – and essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the Caucasus.

Anyway I’ve discovered one original and tireless voice amongst the bloggers to whom I can turn for both information and provocation – Boffy’s blog. He had a good post recently on one option for the current British economic problems
And also his interesting thoughts on pension funds.

Finally a booklet from the Institute of Development Studies which addresses the issue I;ve been wrestling with for some years about the inappropriateness of much instituion-building in fragile states.
If building best-practice institutions in poor countries is not a short-term option, and if relationships between private investors and public authority are likely to remain highly personalised and informal in the medium term, the question becomes in what circumstances might such relationships lead to productive investment rather than crony capitalism? That is the issue addressed by this stream of the CFS research.

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