Wednesday, 26 May 2010

FRAMLEY PARSONAGE by Anthony Trollope


Oh yes we are back on the Trollope. Book 4 or something or the Barchester series. I woke up at 2.30am the other day, and it was not a good night, so I decided to read and it kept me going till 4.30.

This parson agrees to provide security for an apparently wealthy man he wants to impress and ends up deep in debt and shame. This parson's sister loses her father and comes to live with the parson. The parson's good friend, a peer, falls in love with her. He then rescues the parson from his debt. Happy ending!

Fabulous, sweet little book. Everything you need to know about the style is encapsulated in the title of the last chapter 'How they all got married and had two children and lived happily ever after'

AND you get characters from other books popping up in minor roles. Love it.

Monday, 17 May 2010

THE BOTTOM BILLION by Paul Collier


Subtitled: Why the Poorest Counties are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

Basically, this guy thinks that most peoples' lives in the developing world are getting better (eg Brazil etc). However, there are about a billion people in the poorest countries whose lives are not improving at all and show no signs of improving. He thinks aid etc should be focused almost entirely on this relatively small group of countries, and its a matter of habit/culture that development assistance is not focused that way.

He argues that these countries are stuck in poverty because of one of more of these traps: conflict, massive natural resources, being landlocked with bad neighbours, and bad governance. He suggests various measures which include assisting elites in these countries to turn things around (by for example producing model charters that can be easily adapted), military intervention (eg Sierra Leone, which was a huge success for British military intervention – saved many lives – and never gets talked about), and removing trade barriers.

He has some amusing things to say about the current state of aid work, pointing out that one reason for the focus outside the bottom billion is that everyone would rather be posted to Rio than Bangui. He spends quite a lot of time bashing on Bangui (extra points if you know where that's the capital of?). Apparently the World Bank doesn't have a single person stationed there, though it's one of the poorest countries in Africa (little clue there for you).

His arguments seem to have plenty of merit, but it's hard to tell, as I know very little about eg. international trade law, and he doesnt really present the other side of the question at all. Which makes one a little dubious. One feels even more dubious when he declares that the economics department of one university is either niave or 'has been infiltrated by Marxists.' What the hell does that mean? 'Infiltrate' is quite sort of emotionally laden and Cold War, but it's better than Marxist! Who even uses that word any more? Why doesn't he just say . . . has a generally leftist view' or something.

He tells some sad stories. In 2004, a study was done to see how money was spent in rural clinics in Chad. What the study found was, don't worry about how it's spent, less than 1% of it even gets to the clinics in Chad – the rest is pilfered by various officials as it leaves central government. Nice.

Monday, 10 May 2010

DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON by George Orwell

I read this book in part I admit because I have always thought it had a cool title. And I guess George Orwell has a track record, 1984, ANIMAL FARM, etc.

What I really admired about this book was it's clarity. It was just in such good taste, so clearly and unpretentiously written. I have been reading a lot of development research at the moment (votes: should I blog about this? I know this blog is supposed to be about everything I read in 2010, but are you really tough enough for posts on such gems as IMPLEMENTING THE SADC PROTOCOL AGAINST CORRUPTION: RECOMMENDATIONS AND DRAFT RULES OF PROCEDURE? Suspect not) and this research is just so jargon laden, and overwritten as shit. I suspect it's because they've nothing real to say and need to cover that up.

The bio is hilarious, wait, let me quote: “He served in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel BURMESE DAYS. Several years of poverty followed.” I don't know if they mean it to be funny, but it is. Ah, the arts and how they don't pay anything. So this book follows those years of poverty in Paris and London, where Orwell is homeless and near homeless. This must have been an experience and a half for an old Etonian, but we don't learn much about him – it's not autobiographical in that sense – it's more about the people and places he ecountered, and the difficulties of living on little money and food.

At one point, when he hasn't eaten in three days, he gets a job as a plongeur, which is I guess some kind of dishwasher at fancy Parisien hotels. This is a dreadful job, apparently, with 17 hour days being quite routine. Unsurprisingly, he is pretty big on the subject of how fancy hotels are useless, and has a lot to say on what's wrong with a world in which people can be enslaved for the useless purpose of fanciness.

He ends with what he's learnt: “I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning”

It's an interesting picture of poverty in any period, and an interesting picture of its time in particular – for example, men with shell shock are a routine problem, as they keep people awake in the paupers' dorms with their screaming. It's also of its time in being rather anti-semitic, misogynist, and homophobic. But there you go, you can't have everything.