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!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rubbish Amazon

After 6 days and about 5 E-mail and 3 telephone conversations (2 at my expense), Amazon are no closer to sorting out the problem I have now ordering their books. Basically all but the most recent books in my basket have disappeared and cannot therefore be ordered. Even when I copy and paste, most of the books disappear and I am left with only 1 or 2 to order. What really annoys me is the lack of continuity in the service support. Every message tells me that I cannot reply to it – and I have to start each complaint afresh. I've tried typing in what a good customer I am - 800 books in the past decade - but their system just goes round and round - not up anywhere! So much for the new service economy!! And the public sector is supposed to ape this sort of call-centre approach?? We should get a life! Come back bureaucracy! All is forgiven!
I was looking at one of my favourite China blogs and came across an intriguing post on the current Belgian crisis from an Indian journalist who has just arrived there from a 6 year posting in Beijing.
The last time elections were held in Belgium in 2007, the country was without a government for almost 300 days. Many believe that before long Belgium is likely to split into separate nations. From an Indian perspective, Belgium’s woes are puzzling. In India, we balance 22 official languages and almost all Indians are multilingual. The diversity that citizens negotiate on a daily basis is moreover scarcely confined to the linguistic. We are a country of lily-white Kashmiris and coffee-hued Malyalis; of fish-eating Bengalis and herbivorous Gujratis. In our “Hindu” country, there are almost as many Muslims as in all of Pakistan. With no single language, ethnicity, religion or food, India’s existence is immensely more complicated than Belgium’s. And yet, somehow, they are unable to function as a nation. The Walloons rarely bother learning Dutch and the Flemings can’t find it in their hearts to live next to French speakers. Meanwhile, the rich north of the country resents spending its hard-earned money to support what they see as the lazy, left-leaning unemployed of the south.
More worrying is what Belgium’s dysfunctionality says about Europe as a whole. Europe is the birthplace of the “nation state.” Carved out of the multi-cultural fabric of the empires that once cut across the continent, modern European countries are based on the idea of one ethnicity, one religion, one language, one nation. Such homogeneity is, of course, an ideal rather than a reality; Spain with its Catalan and Basque minorities being an obvious exception, yet the fundamental idea of “oneness” that underpins European nation states makes negotiating diversity particularly problematic for them. The creation of the European Union (EU), a hugely ambitious project, could have conceivably helped provide solutions to this problem. The EU is polyphonic with 23 official languages and its ideal of “unity in diversity” is identical to that of India. Driven by the idea that in a new world order Europe must find strength in cooperation, thereby ditching old tribal identities, opening up once insular borders to outside influences and demonstrating solidarity with others within the region, the EU could potentially be a model for a post nation-state world and new multicultural identities. But unlike India, which despite occasional communal violence and serial coalition governments, faces the twenty first century with confidence and strength, the EU is floundering. Popular support for the project remains weak. Decades of Europe-wide institution building have largely failed to create a European identity. An even greater failure has been the ability to integrate and absorb non-European ethnicities and religions. Islamophobia is fast on the way to becoming accepted as a mainstream sentiment. Moreover, even the ideal of “solidarity” has been exposed as hollow by the German reaction to the sovereign debt crisis in Greece. The EU faces challenges from every direction. The current turmoil in Belgium exemplifies many of these and the future of this small country might be an indicator of things to come for the EU as a whole. Belgium is a proof of how difficult resolving the cultural gulf between north and south Europe will be. Even within a single country, large-scale transfers of wealth from north to south, in this case Flanders to Wallonia, are so deeply unpopular that they threaten the dissolution of the nation. But, if the Flemish find it impossible to help their own countrywomen, expecting Germany to pay up for the debts of Greece and Portugal is highly unrealistic. Whether Belgium makes it through the next few years intact is unlikely to have major repercussions around the world. But the manner in which Belgium’s future plays out could be a reflection of what path the EU as a whole may go down, the economic and geo-strategic consequences of which will certainly be weighty. In the short term, Belgium’s shenanigans will only be an embarrassment. From July 1, Belgium has taken over the rotating presidency of the EU. Always quick to present itself to others as a model of regional cooperation, the EU is thus presided over by a country that can’t even get its own two communities to co-operate enough to have a government.
Boffy has another good blog on the financial crisis. The painting is by one of Belgium's most famous - James Ensor

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