Showing posts with label economy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economy. Show all posts

04 April 2021

Book review: The Shell Money of the Slave Trade (1986) by Jan Hogendorn and Marion Johnson, *****


This study examines the role of cowrie-shell money in West African trade, particularly the slave trade. The shells were carried from the Maldives to the Mediterranean by Arab traders for further transport across the Sahara, and to Europe by competing Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French traders for onward transport to the West African coast. In Africa, they served to purchase the slaves exported to the New World, as well as other less sinister exports. Over a large part of West Africa, they became the regular market currency but were severely devalued by the importation of thousands of tons of the cheaper Zanzibar cowries. Colonial governments disliked cowries because of the inflation and encouraged their replacement by low-value coins. They disappeared almost totally, to re-appear during the depression of the 1930s, and have been found occasionally in the markets of remote frontier districts, avoiding exchange and currency control problems.


 A most thoroughly researched book on a peculiar aspect of monetary economics in Africa and South Asia for several centuries. We learn how the Maldives played a central role in this system that could be considered an aspect of embryonic globalization ante-litteram. We learn how the shells were collected, with strenuous labor-intensive efforts, then stored underground until putrefaction had gotten rid of the mollusk, and finally shipped to Malé for export. Of course, the latter was a royal prerogative for centuries!

See my other reviews of books on the Maldives here in this blog.


02 April 2021

A conversation about China

- Hi I am from Indochina. I'd like to think what you think of China.

- Hi I'm from Europe, I'd be interested in your views too, wanna start? 

- China has traded with Indochina for thousands of years. Several times over those centuries, it was the world’s most powerful empire. Never once they sent troops to take our land. Admiral Zhenghe came to Malacca five times, in gigantic fleets, and a flagship eight times the size of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, Santa Maria. He could have seized Malacca easily, but he did not. 

- True he did not, but not because he was an especially nice guy, it was not his order from the emperor. He was to explore. Many Chinese emperors did not want much contact with the outside world. They wanted isolation.

- In 1511, the Portuguese came. In 1642, the Dutch came. In the 18th century, the British came. We were colonized by each, one after another. When China wanted spices from India, it traded with the Indians. When they wanted gems, they traded with the Persians. They didn’t take lands. 

- True they didn't invade India or Persia but they did at various times invade parts of Siberia (later lost to Russia), Korea, Vietnam, Turkish central Asia, and of course Tibet. The last two they are still holding on to. 

- The only time China expanded beyond its current borders was during the Yuan dynasty, when Genghis and his descendants Ogedei Khan, Guyuk Khan & Kublai Khan conquered China, Mid Asia and Eastern Europe. But Yuan Dynasty, although being based in China, was actually a part of the Mongol Empire. 

- I'm glad you brought up Mongolia. Here either you argue Mongolians are really Chinese, then "China" invaded central Asia and eastern Europe. Or you argue Mongolians are not Chinese, then China is now occupying half the country, which explains why the other half (the independent Republic of Mongolia, called in China "outer Mongolia") is always staunchly pro Russian, whether it's the Soviet Union or capitalist Russia. They want Russian protection against a potential Chinese threat. You can't have your Mongolian cake and eat it too! 

You also forget that The Chinese empire under the Mongols tried to conquer Japan, but failed because their fleet was destroyed by typhoons, the "kamikaze" or divine winds. That saved Japan, but China did try to invade, a couple of times actually.

And now China is slowly occupying the South China Sea on no internationally recognized legal basis. 

- Then came the "Century of Humiliation". Britain smuggled opium into China to dope the population, a strategy to turn the trade deficit around after the British could not find enough silver to pay the Qing Dynasty in their tea and porcelain trades. After the opium warehouses were burned down and ports were closed by the Chinese in ordered to curb opium, the British started the Opium War I, which China lost. Hong Kong was forced to be surrendered to the British in a peace talk (Nanjing Treaty in 1842). The British owned 90% of the opium market in China, during that time, Queen Victoria was the world’s biggest drug baron. The remaining 10% was owned by American merchants from Boston. Many of Boston’s institutions were built with profit from opium. 

- I agree with you on this point completely. The British conquest of Hong Kong and its opium trade was disgraceful and ought to be remembered as such. 

- Eighteen years after the Nanjing Treaty, in 1860, the West started getting really really greedy. The British expected the Qing government: 1. To open the borders of China to allow goods coming in and out freely, and tax-free. 2. To make opium legal in China.

Insane requests, the Qing government said no. The British and French, started Opium War II with China, which again, China lost. The Anglo-French military threatened to burn down the Imperial Palace, the Qing government was forced to pay with ports, free business zones, 300,000 kilograms of silver, and Kowloon was taken. Since then, China’s resources flowed out freely through these business zones and ports. In the subsequent amendment to the treaties, Chinese people were sold overseas to serve as labor. 

- Sadly this is true as well, shame on the French as well as on the British. 

- In 1900, China suffered attacks by the 8-National Alliance(Japan, Russia, Britain, France, USA, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary). Innocent Chinese civilians in Peking (Beijing now) were murdered, buildings were destroyed & women were raped. The Imperial Palace was raided, and treasures ended up in museums like the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris. 

- Again I agree and am ashamed my country was part of this shameful attack. 

- In the late 1930s China was occupied by the Japanese. Millions of Chinese died during the occupation. 300,000 Chinese died in Nanjing Massacre alone. 

- Japan's horrific occupation is well known and should be remembered as such. The Nanjing massacre too, though the numbers you mention are probably too high. One sad problem is that Mao and Chiang were too busy fighting each other instead of joining forces against Japan. 

- Mao brought China together again from the shambles. There were peace and unity for some time. But Mao’s later reign saw sufferings and deaths from famine and power struggles. 

- Be serious: yes Mao won the civil war, but then he brought unprecedented misery to China. More innocent people died at his hand than did in Nazi camps and Soviet gulags combined. Mao destroyed the economy, the cultural revolution destroyed more of the country's cultural heritage than all foreign invasions. Luckily Chiang, for all his crimes and corruption, took Some 7000 crates of artifacts to Taiwan, now preserved in a museum in Taipei. 

- Then came Deng Xiaoping and his famous “black-cat and white-cat” story. His preference for pragmatism over ideology has transformed China. This thinking allowed China to evolve all the time to adapt to the actual needs in the country, instead of rigidly bound to ideologies. It also signified the death of Communism in actual practice in China. The current Socialism + Meritocracy + Market Economy model fits the Chinese like gloves, and it propels the rise of China.

- There is no socialism in China except for one-party rule. Education is not free nor is housing or health care. As for meritocracy, yes there are many opportunities for capable people to emerge, but still, China is very corrupted, ask any Chinese in private (they won't say it in public or post it online). 

- Singapore has a similar model and has been arguably more successful than Hong Kong because Hong Kong is the gateway to China, was riding on the economic boom in China, while Singapore had no one to gain from.

- To compare Hong Kong and Singapore is difficult, too many differences. Both have been successful, but Singapore has been free for half a century, Hong Kong was never free: not under the British, not under China. 

A comparison of China and Singapore is even more of a far-fetched proposition. There is minimal corruption in Singapore and much more meritocracy. Hong Kong was successful because of its market economy and free trade, both of which are now in question. 

- In just 30 years, the CCP has moved 800 million people out of poverty. The rate of growth is unprecedented in human history. They have built the biggest mobile network, by far the biggest high-speed rail network in the world, and they have become a behemoth in infrastructure.

- Indeed, when China jettisoned socialism in all but name and embraced capitalism the economy predictably took off. 

- They made a fishing village called Shenzhen into the world’s second-largest technological center after the Silicon Valley. They are growing into a technological powerhouse. It has the most elaborate e-commerce and cashless payment system in the world. They have launched exploration to Mars. 

- Indeed huge progress in all of this, though Shenzhen was more than a fishing village, and I am not sure about the second-in-the-world, still, it is now an amazing XXI century city. 

- The Chinese are living a good life and China has become one of the safest countries in the world. The level of patriotism in the country has reached an unprecedented height.

- Sadly not all Chinese have a good life, far from it, much the countryside is still poor, inequalities are huge and many workers have no holidays, no pension plan, no insurance, in other words: no rights. 

- For all of the achievements, the West has nothing good to say about it. China suffers from intense anti-China propaganda from the West. Western Media used the keyword “Communist” to instill fear and hatred towards China. Everything China does is negatively reported. 

- Obviously, there are different views about China in the west, this is the nature of democracies. Many, like me, admire China's achievements and think we can all learn from them, but that does not hide its faults and shortcomings. 

- Westerners claimed China used slave labor in making iPhones. The truth was, Apple was the most profitable company in the world, it took most of the profit, leaving some to Foxconn (a Taiwanese company) and little for the workers. 

- Indeed it is not difficult to find many western companies which profited from China's labor laws, which give little protection to workers. That western companies make money in China does not make these laws good. I believe things are changing, as Chinese workers claim more rights, the way their colleagues in the west did decades ago.

They claimed China was inhuman with the one-child policy. At the same time, they accused China of polluting the earth with its huge population. The fact is the Chinese consume just 30% of energy per capita compared to the US. 

- The one-child policy was Deng Xiaoping's overreacting response to Mao's push to have as many children as possible. Both policies were wrong. Now China has a demographic time bomb waiting to go off as not enough young people will be there to support an aging population.

- Western countries claim China underwent ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang. The fact is China has a policy that prioritizes ethnic minorities. For a long time, the ethnic minorities were allowed to have two children and the majority Han only allowed one. The minorities are allowed a lower score for university intakes. 

- True indeed that minorities have enjoyed some privileges for a long time, but again that does not mean they are not repressing the Xingjian culture. Some in the West claim it is genocide, which it is not, but it is still a massive form of human rights violation.

- There are 39,000 mosques in China, and 2100 in the US. China has about 3 times more mosques per Muslim than the US. 

- I don't know where you got that number. The point is that in China all religions must submit to the central government, which is why the Vatican still does not recognize Beijing. China argues that its minorities are Chinese and is working to sinify them. 

- When terrorist attacks happened in Xinjiang, China had two choices: 1. Re-educate the Uighur extremists before they turned terrorists. 2. Let them be, after they launch attacks and killed innocent people, bomb their homes. China chose 1 to solve problem from the root and not to do killing. How the US solve terrorism? Fire missiles from battleships, drop bombs from the sky. 

- I agree the American response to Islamic fundamentalism has long been flawed and has failed. But China is trying to erase Turkic culture, not just Islamic extremism. 

- During the pandemic, when China took extreme measures to lock down the people, they were accused of being inhuman. When China recovered swiftly because of the extreme measures, they were accused of lying about the actual numbers. When China’s cases became so low that they could provide medical support to other countries, they were accused of politically motivated. 

- China initially denied there was a virus and repressed whistle-blowing doctors who flagged the problem back in late 2019. Time was lost and the problem got worse before they started doing something about it. 

- Western Media always have reasons to bash China. 

-I agree with you, it is always easier to blame others for one own mistakes. 

- Just like any country, there are irresponsible individuals from China who do bad and dirty things, but the China government overall has done very well. But I hear this comment over and over by people from the West: I like Chinese people, but the CCP is evil. What they really want is the Chinese to change the government, because the current one is too good. 

Fortunately, China is not a multi-party democratic country, otherwise, the opposition party in China will be supported by notorious NGOs (Non-Government Organization) of the USA, like the NED (National Endowment for Democracy), to topple the ruling party. The US and the British couldn’t crack Mainland China, so they work in Hong Kong. Of all the ex-British colonial countries, only the Hong Kongers were offered BNOs by the British. 

 Indeed it is hypocritical of the British to offer BNO just to Hong Kong, but any county is free to offer its citizenship to whoever they want. 

Because the UK would like the Hong Kongers to think they are British citizens, not Chinese. A divide-and-conquer strategy, which they often used in Color Revolutions around the world. 

They resort to low dirty tricks like detaining Huawei’s CFO & banning Huawei. They raised a silly trade war which benefits no one. Trade deficit always exist between a developing and a developed country. USA is like a luxury car seller who asks a farmer: why am I always buying your vegetables and you haven’t bought any of my cars? 

-I agree China is beating the old capitalist world at its own game though there are serious issues with intellectual property theft, cheating on licences, fakes etc. On the other hand I sympathize with China when it is requesting technology transfer from investors. Too many times in the past western multinationals made money in the developing world by localizing only cheap labor-intensive activities there while keeping all the high-tech for themselves.

When the Chinese were making socks for the world 30 years ago, the world let it be. But when the Chinese started to make high technology products, like Huawei and DJI, it caused red-alert. Because when Western and Japanese products are equal to Chinese in technologies, they could never match the Chinese in prices. First-world countries want China to continue in making socks. Instead of stepping up themselves, they want to pull China down. 

The recent movement by the US against China has a very important background. When Libya, Iran, and China decided to ditch the US dollar in oil trades, Gaddafi was killed by the US, Iran was being sanctioned by the US, and now it’s China’s turn. The US has been printing money out of nothing. The only reason why the US Dollar is still widely accepted is that it’s the only currency with which oil is allowed to be traded with. Without the petrol-dollar status, the US dollars will sink, and America will fall. China will soon use a gold-backed crypto-currency, the alarm in the White House go off like mad.

- China is playing this game as I understand it it is the largest holder of USD bonds in the world. Gold-backed cryptocurrency is a joke. But they could make the Renminbi convertible, it would be a strong currency, but the government in Beijing would lose control which is likely not acceptable.  Also, China is developing electronic money, not cryptocurrency, just e-Renminbi, this is a good model for others.

China’s achievement has been by hard work. Not by raiding other countries. 

- I would agree with you and admire post-Mao China a lot because of this.

I have deep sympathy for China for all the suffering, but now I feel happy for them. China is not rising, they are going back to where they belong. Good luck China.

- Yes China was a world leader several times in the past and it looks poised to become one again soon. Indeed good luck to China, it's going to need it. And the world needs a strong stable China integrated into the world economy.

31 December 2020




Siccome di messaggi con insulti al povero anno 2020 ne abbiamo sentiti troppi (ma non si chiama COVID-19?) ho pensato di raccogliere qualche pensiero in positivo sull'anno che si sta per concludere. Non per minimizzare, ma per guardare avanti con realismo, ottimismo e determinazione.

1. Chi mi sta leggendo è ancora vivo. Un buon primo risultato. Tanti ci hanno lasciato nel 2020, forse anche qualcuno che conosciamo, qualche persona cara. Io ho perso una cugina ed il padre di un amico per il Covid-19. Molti altri se ne sono andati per una serie infinita di altri motivi: incidenti, età, altre malattie, guerre, ecc. Noi invece siamo qui.

2. Abbiamo viaggiato di meno, e questo pesa particolarmente per quelli come me che vivono in vari paesi e del viaggio hanno fatto uno stile di vita. Però la prossima volta che partiremo il viaggio avrà un gusto speciale. Ce lo godremo di più, magari lo prepareremo meglio, lo ricorderemo più a lungo. Forse faremo più viaggi, che ci cambiano dentro, e meno vacanze, che nel migliore dei casi ci fanno solo riposare.

3. Siamo andati meno al ristorante, ma quando torneremo a farlo con tranquillità sceglieremo meglio il ristorante, la cucina, ed ogni boccone, ogni sorso di vino ci sembreranno più buoni.

4. Non siamo potuti andare a cinema, teatro, concerti. Ancora una volta, torneremo a farlo perché la cultura non si ferma. La prossima volta saremo più attenti ad ogni scena del film, ad ogni movimento della sinfonia, ad ogni aria dell'opera, ad ogni particolare della scena.

5. Siamo stati costretti a stare di più a casa, ma abbiamo passato più tempo con i nostri cari, fianco a fianco, giorno dopo giorno, ora dopo ora, come forse non facevamo da tanto tempo. Se siamo stati attenti, abbiamo imparato a conoscerci meglio, a rispettarci. Abbiamo capito che stare insieme non vuol dire solo avere interessi in comune o divertirsi, ma parlarsi (e ascoltarsi!), guardarsi, accarezzarsi.

6. Abbiamo riscoperto il significato della solidarietà, o almeno avremmo dovuto farlo, le occasioni non sono mancate. E dell'apprezzamento per il lavoro di chi si è impegnato per superare l'emergenza. Non ce lo dimentichiamo quando la pandemia non sarà più in prima pagina, loro saranno ancora in prima linea.

7. Abbiamo recuperato un po' della nostra identità, anzi delle identità, al plurale. Ci siamo sentiti un po’ più italiani, come forse non capita spesso tranne quando c'è la coppa del mondo di calcio. E, almeno per me, anche più europei. L'Europa si è mossa con ritardo, ma si è mossa, insieme, e visto come sono andate le cose negli altri principali paesi del mondo forse non ci possiamo lamentare. E questo nonostante la pandemia abbia messo da una parte a nudo le meschinità di tanti politici polemici, e dall'altra in risalto la mancanza di grossi calibri tra i leader della politica mondiale.

8. Abbiamo riscoperto il valore della scienza, anche di quella inesatta come la medicina. I chiacchieroni e i millantatori, i negazionisti, gli alternativi, i naturopati, gli anti-vaccinisti, quelli del "sono morti con il COVID e non di COVID" sono, mi pare, o forse lo spero soltanto, meno ascoltati di un anno fa. Abbiamo anche imparato qualche regola di igiene, di buon senso, che avremmo dovuto applicare comunque, da sempre.

9. Abbiamo capito un po' meglio il significato della disciplina. Non abbastanza e non tutti, ma ci farà bene interiorizzare perché ci sarà utile in tante altre occasioni. Prendiamo esempio da quelle società orientali che in questa circostanza hanno dato dimostrazione di grande disciplina ed hanno ottenuto risultati di conseguenza. Ho notato con dispiacere che i giovani, che hanno più da perdere, sono spesso meno consapevoli di questo degli anziani.

10. Abbiamo avuto tempo di riflettere su noi stessi, sugli errori commessi e sui traguardi raggiunti. Soprattutto su cosa vogliamo fare con il tempo che ci resta da vivere. Sapendo, mai come oggi, che potrebbe essere molto meno lungo di quanto speriamo. Riflessioni che dovremmo fare sempre, ovvio, ma quest'anno ci siamo stati quasi obbligati. Confucio scrisse che abbiamo due vite: la seconda comincia quando ci rendiamo conto di averne solo una. Mi auguro che molti abbiano cominciato la propria seconda vita nel corso del 2020.

11. Abbiamo scoperto tanta tecnologia che ci ha permesso di attutire l'urto della pandemia e che continueremo ad usare dopo di essa. Abbiamo inquinato di meno lavorando da casa e comprando online. Ci si può spostare di meno: meno traffico, meno inquinamento, meno energia sprecata. Molti continueranno a farlo anche dopo la pandemia. Viaggeremo ancora, certo, per lavoro, per piacere e per incontrare i nostri cari, ma auspicabilmente non per comprare una cipolla oppure per andare a timbrare un cartellino in ufficio e poi stare davanti ad uno schermo uguale a quello che abbiamo a casa.

12. Per molti è stato un anno drammatico sul lavoro, ed è stato importante l'intervento dei governi e delle banche centrali. Ma guardiamo avanti facendo tesoro dell'esperienza del 2020. Guardiamo al lavoro non come una punizione biblica che ci è cascata addosso perché abbiamo mangiato la mela dell'albero proibito, ma come realizzazione delle nostre aspirazioni. Tanti giovani in occidente hanno tutto ma non più aspirazioni, sogni. Sognando un po', lavoreremo serenamente, a prescindere dal guadagno, e invecchieremo meglio.


Since we have all heard too many messages with insults to the poor year 2020 (but isn't it called COVID-19?) I thought I'd collect some positive thoughts on the year that is about to end. Not to minimize the troubles we went through, but to look forward with realism, optimism and determination.

1. Whoever is reading me is still alive. A good first result. Many have left us in 2020, perhaps even someone we know, some loved ones. I lost a cousin and a friend's father to Covid-19. Many others have left for an infinite number of other reasons: accidents, age, other diseases, wars, etc. We are still here.

2. We have traveled less, and this weighs heavily on those like me who live in various countries and have made travel our lifestyle. But next time we leave home our trip will have a special taste. We will enjoy it more, hopefully we will prepare it better, maybe we will remember it for longer. Perhaps we will undertake more real "travels", which change us inside, and fewer "vacations", which in the best of circumstances only provide rest.

3. We went out to eat much less frequently, but when we return to do it we will take more care to choose the restaurant, ouru dishes, and every bite, every sip of wine will taste better.

4. We could not go to the cinema, theater, or concerts. Once again, we'll go back to doing it because culture doesn't die of any virus. Next time we will be more attentive to every scene of the film, to every movement of the symphony, to every aria of the opera, to every detail of the scene.

5. We have been forced to stay at home more, but we have spent more time with our loved ones, side by side, day after day, hour after hour, as perhaps we hadn't done in a long time. If we have been careful, we will have learned to know each other better, to respect each other. We understood that being together does not just mean having common interests or having fun, but talking (and listening) to each other, looking at each other, caressing each other.

6. We have rediscovered the meaning of solidarity, or at least we should have, we had plenty of opportunities. And we should appreciate the work of those who are fighting hard to overcome the emergency. Let's not forget that when the pandemic is no longer on the front page, they will still be at the front lines.

7. We have recovered a bit of our identity, indeed our identities. I felt a little more Italian, as perhaps does not often happen to me except every four years for the world cup. And even more European. Europe has moved with some delay, but it has moved, and given how things have gone in some of the other main countries of the world such as the US and the UK, perhaps we cannot complain. And this despite the fact that the pandemic has exposed, on the one hand, the pettiness of so many polemical politicians, and on the other the lack of heavy caliber guns among the leaders of world politics.

8. We have rediscovered the value of science, even of inexact science such as medicine. The deniers, the anti-vaccine activists, those who said someone "died with COVID and not because of COVID" are, it seems to me, or perhaps I only hope, less listened to than a year ago. We also learned some rules of hygiene, common sense, which we should have always applied anyway.

9. We have understood the meaning of discipline a little better. It will do us good to keep it in mind for future reference. Let us take an example from those countries in East Asia that in this circumstance have shown great discipline and got results accordingly. I have noted with regret that our youngsters, who have got more to lose for the future, are often less aware of this than the elderly.

10. We had time to reflect on ourselves, on the mistakes we made and on the goals we achieved. Above all we have had a chance to think about what we want to do with the time we have left to live. It could be much shorter than we hope. Reflections like this we should always do, of course, but this year we were almost forced to. Confucius wrote that we have two lives: the second begins when we realize we only have one. I think I did a long while ago. I hope that many more have started their second lives in the course of 2020.

11. We have discovered so much technology that has allowed us to soften the brunt of the pandemic and that we will continue to use after it is over. We polluted less by working from home and shopping online. You can and should move less: less traffic, less pollution, less wasted energy. Many will continue to do so even after the pandemic. We will still travel, of course, for work, for pleasure and to meet our loved ones, but hopefully not to buy an onion or to go and badge in the office and then spend our day in front of a screen identical to the one we have at home.

12. For many it was a dramatic year at work, and monetary and fiscal intervention of governments and central banks was important. But let's look ahead, drawing on the experience of 2020. We should look at work not as a biblical punishment that fell upon us for eating the apple of the forbidden tree, but as the fulfillment of our aspirations. Many young people in the West have everything but aspirations, dreams. Let us dream a little more, and we will work peacefully, regardless of how much money we make, and we will grow old better.

21 December 2020

Scienza oggi

Mi chiedo perché oggigiorno, in un momento storico in cui la scienza ha fatto passi da gigante in tanti campi dello scibile umano, ci sia ancora così tanto scetticismo nei suoi confronti e invece vadano così tanto di moda ideologie, religioni e superstizioni che non hanno alcun fondamento solido di conoscenza.

Non ho dati certi, forse ci sono più persone che si affidano alla scienza oggi di quante ce n'erano ieri, ma sono meno loquaci e attive su internet di quelle che invece dubitano della scienza dimostrata e credono ad altro. Ma la mia impressione è che i critici della scienza siano in aumento.

Posso pensare ad una ragione: anche se la scienza ci ha dato molto, le aspettative riguardo a quanto la scienza ci può dare sono cresciute ancora più velocemente.

Prendiamo ad esempio la medicina. È palese che oggi essa ci dia una speranza di vita più lunga e più sana di qualche decennio fa, per non parlare di qualche secolo fa. Ma tanti, troppi per me, si lamentano di quanto ancora non sia in grado di fare. Se le cure contro il cancro oggi danno risultati evidentemente superiori a prima, però l'attenzione di molti è focalizzata su quante persone ancora muoiono di cancro. Se una terapia che prima salvava il 10% dei malati oggi ne salva il 20%, abbiamo un raddoppio del successo. Ma si può star certi che i media e i social networks si concentreranno sull’80% che non ce la fa.

Peggio: molti di quell’80% sostengono tesi logicamente assurde, per cui siccome la medicina non è una panacea, allora ne consegue che la medicina cosiddetta "alternativa" possa offrire speranze migliori. E quindi via con omeopatia, agopuntura, naturopatia, erbe tradizionali africane, indiane e cinesi. Tutte cose che quasi sempre non hanno una comprovata utilità, e nella migliore delle ipotesi sono innocue, ma possono essere dannose se fanno perdere tempo al malato.

Forse ancora peggio in economia, che pure una scienza è, se anche una scienza sociale e quindi soggetta a maggiori margini di errore sia come analisi della realtà, sia come diagnosi su cosa va storto e sia di terapia sul come intervenire su di essa. 

Per cui è palese che il liberismo, visto come apertura al commercio internazionale, libera iniziativa privata e globalizzazione abbiano sollevato le sorti di centinaia di milioni di esseri umani, strappandoli alla povertà. Ma tanti, troppi preferiscono focalizzare la loro attenzione sulle debolezze del liberismo, che sono reali e molto serie: per esempio sull'ineguaglianza, sulle disparità di opportunità, sulla difficoltà degli anziani di rifarsi un futuro in un mondo che cambia rapidamente.

E, come in medicina, questi critici del liberismo propongono tesi, vecchie e nuove, più o meno romantiche, se non utopistiche, che hanno fallito in passato, creando miseria, o non hanno alcuna comprovata capacità di migliorare i risultati conseguiti finora dal libero mercato.

In entrambi i casi, medicina e economia, invece di sforzarsi di migliorare i risultati, parziali ma palesi, fin qui ottenuti dalla scienza, ci si concentra su come tornare indietro, ai vecchi tempi, quando "si stava meglio". Oppure a proporre improbabili salti nel buio verso un ideale che non si ha ragione di sperare possa mai essere realizzato.

Come scrisse Freud, "La scienza non è un illusione, ma sarebbe illusorio pensare che, quello che essa non ci può dare, lo potremo trovare altrove."

10 April 2020

Film review: Résistence naturelle (2014), By Jonathan Nossiter, **


Ten years after the landmark wine documentary Mondovino, filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter returns to the subject, documenting the drastic shifts that have affected the industry in the time since. Natural Resistance follows four Italian winegrowers.

First is Giovanna Tiezzi lives in a converted 11th-century monastery, and grow grains, fruit, and wine in a way that links to their ancient heritage. She laments that much of Tuscany's vineyards have been bought up by foreigners, but then is proud that her region is a leader in quality vine cultivation.

Corrado Dottori is a refugee from industrial Milan, who inherited his grandfather's farmstead and tends to it as an expression of agricultural social justice. he studied capitalism at the Bocconi, he says, so as to criticize it better.

Elena Pantaleoni works her father's vineyards and strives to create a utopian reality.

Finally, Stefano Belloti, the controversial radical farmer poet, disrupts the long-established rules of farming from his avant-garde property in Piedmont. (Synopsys partly from


A lot of ideology in this hastily put together film, which is really only a compilation of Nossiter's chats with the above growers over some wine.

The title "resistance" recalls the fighters of World War II against fascism and nazism, and it is not by chance. Nossiter, inserts several clips of Mussolini speaking from a balcony and SS guards rounding up civilians in this movie, and contrasts them with the heroic organic farmers, his partisans of today.

The other word in the title is "natural". The film compares and contrasts it with "artificial". And artificial (made by man with material that exists in nature) is not the same as "synthetic" (made through synthesis, transforming elements that do not exist in nature). Of course, all wine is artificial, it does not exist in nature.

Several of the protagonists complain about the DOC rules being abstract, detached from the criteria for quality that was the original reason for being created. In this they are right, and it has long widely been accepted that many top-quality Italian wines do not have, seek or need DOC certification.

The film nostalgically recalls when, in Italy, but the numbers are similar in other European countries, 60% of the people lived and worked on farms. Now it is about 2-3% depending on how you count it. Of course, every country that modernizes and develops moves from the primary sector of the economy (agriculture) to the secondary (manufacturing) and on to the tertiary (services). This brings higher standards of living, I find it hard to argue one should go back to the happy past.

The speakers are generally critical of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They argue it is a conspiracy to hand agriculture to big multinational corporations. Let alone that in several countries, Italy among them, EU subsidies (managed by regional administrations) are often left unused because small farmers do not bother to claim them.

They also argue that hygiene checks are targeted to create problems for small wine producers while they close an eye on the big ones. I do not know about the accuracy of this sweeping statement but they do not provide any evidence.

I also noticed a bias when a farmer shows Nossiter the difference between rich organic soil and standard vineyard next to it. The organic soil is a dark rich color and fluffy texture while the standard soil is hard and grey. But Belotti digs his organic sample near a plant and the other one on a pathway where constant traffic is expected to compact the soil. A careless test at best.

In sum, this film is more of an emotional call to arms than an analysis of the undoubted biological benefits of organic farming.

You can buy the DVD here

30 April 2019

Corte Pallavicina, Polesine Parmense il regno del culatello

Antica Corte Pallavicina

Singolare la Corte Pallavicina, un'antica casa nobile, quasi un castello, con un ristorante di altissimo livello accanto al museo del culatello, un tempio della gastronomia italiana. Ci passiamo una giornata, a perlustrare il lungofiume (stiamo proprio sulle rive del Po) e naturalmente ad assaggiare le specialità suine locali.

Ci fa compagnia un pavone che gironzola spensierato nella corte!

nel paradiso culinario emiliano

stagionatura dei culatelli

Culatello al Cavallino Bianco

Fritto di pesce

10 September 2018

Giardino e food court a Shanghai

Visitiamo il palazzo, anzi i palazzi del giardino "Yu", costruito durante la dinastia Ming intorno al 1560 e poi distrutto nei secoli durante successive vicissitudini belliche e sempre ricostruito. Tradizionale architettura cinese: costruzioni in legno con il tetto a baffo, bacini d'acqua brulicanti di pesci colorati, statue, ponti.

Dopo la visita, giustamente affamati, andiamo in un enorme "food court", non so bene come tradurre questo concetto di un enorme ambiente, su più piani, con dozzine di ristoranti indipendenti al suo interno. Frequentati da locali come da turisti, giovani e anziani. Il tutto generalmente abbastanza economico e sempre molto informale.

Mentre mia moglie va a comprare il pranzo (delego a lei questi giorni, ogni volta è una sorpresa) prendo un tavolo e mi siedo a guardare i famelici avventori che mi sfilano davanti. Tutti sempre molto seri in viso, non sembra che si stiano divertendo. Forse non si stanno divertendo, sono in pausa pranzo dal lavoro. Molto disciplinati, il che non è sempre il caso in Cina, fanno la fila con pazienza al buffet ed alla cassa.

Poi una sorpresa, ma non è il piatto scelto da Lifang. Sono alcuni poveracci, hanno l'aspetto di essere senza tetto, comunque senza cucina perché si avvicinano ai tavoli appena vanno via i commensali per raccattare gli avanzi. Molti cinesi hanno un po’ il vizio di ordinare troppo, o comunque di mettersi troppo sul piatto, soprattutto quando il prezzo è fisso al buffet. Risultato è che ci sono spesso porzioni esagerate che poi non sono finite e restano lì. I poveretti si avvicinano con una bustina di plastica e racimolano il loro pranzo. 

Qualche volta si avvicinano a chiedere a chi sta ancora finendo di mangiare, prima che vada via. Uno viene pure da me, ma poi vede che il tavolo è ancora vuoto, sto aspettando anche io, e se ne va. Un po’ triste vedere chi ha fame in mezzo a tanta pantagruelica opulenza. È la prima volta che mi capita in Cina.

27 February 2018

Banca, dentista e manicure a Guiyang

Giornata di commissioni varie che dobbiamo sbrigare in giro per la città. Cominciamo con la banca, dove dobbiamo cambiare alcune banconote di euro che ho portato per fare qualche regalino.

Le regole per cambiare valuta straniera in Cina sono un po’ complicate, e cambiano con una certa frequenza. Tanto per cominciare, solo la Banca di Cina (Bank of China) è autorizzata a cambiare. Poi, in questo periodo non fanno cambiare contante agli stranieri, quindi devo dare i soldi a mia moglie per cambiare a nome suo. Mi pare strano, come fanno tutti i turisti e gli uomini d'affari che vengono qui e non possono cambiare? Vero che pochi ormai portano contante. Forse gli alberghi lo accettano ancora, non se sono sicuro, la Cina è decisamente avanti con il denaro elettronico.

Quando arriviamo alla filiale della Banca di Cina prendiamo un numero e aspettiamo un'ora che arrivi il nostro turno. Non è particolarmente piacevole aspettare: l'ambiente è alquanto tristanzuolo, le sedie non particolarmente comode ed i fumatori appestano l'aria. Quando arriva il nostro turno ci dicono che l'unico impiegato autorizzato a cambiare valuta estera oggi non c'è. Riproveremo.

Ci rechiamo quindi presso un'altra banca, la International Commerce Bank of China (ICBC) per aiutare mia suocera in alcune operazioni sul suo conto. Lei non ama particolarmente le nuove tecnologie elettroniche per maneggiare il denaro.

Mentre Lifang fa le sue cose scambio qualche elementare convenevole con un impiegato in divisa blu che sta in piedi vicino alla porta d'ingresso, sembra una guardia della sicurezza. Mentre aspetto lo vedo camminare su e giù davanti alla porta che si apre liberamente, non ci sono metal detectors o altri controlli per evitare che maleintenzionati entrino in filiale, magari armati.

Dopo un po’ lo vedo avvicinarsi ad una vecchietta che è in difficoltà al bancomat, ed aiutarla sul touchscreen con l'operazione che non riusciva a completare. Poi se ne torna a fare la guardia.

Passa ancora un po’ di tempo - Lifang ci mette un po’ a far quello che deve fare - e noto che la guardia ha impugnato una scopa ed una pattumiera e sta pulendo per terra. Quando ha finito si allontana per tornare con un secchio d'acqua ed un mocio col quale pazientemente si mette a lavare tutti i pavimenti. Poi prende un lavavetro telescopico con un secchio d'acqua e cominciare a pulire le grandi vetrate della banca, che effettivamente ne avevano proprio bisogno! Infine, non pago, prende una grande busta di plastica e comincia a svuotare i secchi dell'immondizia

Dunque il bravo impiegato svolge tre funzioni in banca: guardia, spazzino e impiegato alla cassa, almeno quella elettronica. Non male. Mi immagino la reazione di qualche bancario italiano se si dovesse trovare a fare lo stesso: Abbasso lo sfruttamento! Inaccettabile! Sciopero! 

Mi dice Lifang che guadagna sui 1200-1400 Rmb al mese, più o meno quello che mette in tasca una donna delle pulizie che lavora a tempo pieno nel nostro condominio.

Tornando a casa ci godiamo una bella passeggiata lungo il giardino chiamato "Parco della Giada" a due passi dal nostro comprensorio. Fa freddo ma c'è un bel sole, siamo bene imbacuccati e ce la godiamo. Noto sui marciapiedi alcune signore, sulla settantina direi, ma potrebbero essere più giovani, che lustrano le scarpe. Hanno un banchetto su sui si siedono ed un altro, più alto, sui cui fanno accomodare i clienti. Ogni lustrata di scarpe costa 3 Rmb e ci mettono una mezz'oretta. Per gli stivali di Lifang però ne chiedono 5, mi pare giusto, sono alti fino al ginocchio!

La strada oggi non smette di regalare sorprese. Almeno per me sono sorprese, ma in realtà qui sono cose normali. Per la sorpresa più sorprendente è proprio questo, che siano cose normali!

Ad un incrocio vedo un uomo, tra i sessanta ed i settanta, che dirige il traffico. Non è un vigile. Veste abiti civili ma ha una grande fascia rossa sul braccio e una paletta del tipo in dotazione ai Carabinieri in Italia. Oltre a dirigere il traffico, intervenendo soprattutto quando cambia la luce del semaforo, declama poesie in dialetto hunanese. 

Che bel modo di passare il tempo in modo utile durante la pensione! Penso che forse potrei farlo anche io a Roma, recitare Trilussa mentre aiuto i pedoni a sopravvivere nel traffico selvaggio della mia città.

Nel pomeriggio accompagnamo mia suocera dal dentista, nella zona pedonale di Guiyang. Lo studio dentistico, come spesso succede qui (e a Londra, ma mai in Italia) è al piano terra, con accesso diretto dal marciapiede.

Appena entrati la segreteria, un banchetto bianco con una segretaria in camice che registra le generalità e poi chiama il professionista adatto. Si può venire senza appuntamento.

I riuniti sono disposti in un grande spazio aperto, con tanti dentisti che lavorano fianco a fianco circondati da vetrine nelle quali sono esposti, come oggetti in un museo di gioielli, dentiere e ponti. Dalle grandi vetrate si vede la strada e, quindi, i passanti possono godere dello spettacolo dei pazienti sdraiati a bocca aperta che vengono trapanati!

Mia suocera ha bisogno di un'igienista e poi avrebbe anche necessità di installare un ponte. Costano 300 Rmb (40 euro circa) con il metallo meno pregiato, 800 Rmb (110 euro) in lega nobile. Vedremo.

Poi mia suocera va a casa e noi restiamo un giro. Lifang decide di farsi dipingere le unghie, qui c'è un negozio dove sono molto bravi. Per 80 Rmb, in due ore di lavoro, le decorano tutte le unghie con squisite miniature floreali, peonie e loti. 

La ragazza dipinge con un pennellino sottilissimo, linee micromillimetriche si intrecciano per un risultato realistico e creativo al tempo stesso. Sul dito medio Lifang chiede e ottiene la replica del disegno della linea "Diva" di Bulgari, un classico che fu dedicato a Liz Taylor credo negli anni cinquanta.

Io passo due ore a zonzo, guardo vetrine e la gente che passa. Ma fa freddo e dopo un po’ torno al negozio. Sono molto gentili, le ragazze mi offrono una poltroncina e del tè caldo. Qualche domanda sull'Italia e su Londra. Sono chiaramente un'attrazione, quasi sicuramente il primo italiano che hanno mai visto, e per la maggior parte di loro probabilmente anche l'ultimo.

Tornando a casa la giornata è suggellata dall'acquisto di un paio di chili di "castagne d'acque", 20 Rmb al chilo, ottime, non le conoscevo. 

25 December 2017

My book on the Maldives is available in English! "Journeys through the Maldives" by Marco Carnovale

Typical Maldivan boat
Tales from the many trips to the Maldives of the author. Avoiding the tourist resorts, he visited remote villages, where tradition is combined with innovation and technology, meeting local people and trying to understand their culture. Always island hopping by boat, he went from postcard perfect uninhabited islands and through the streets of the bustling capital Malé, in its hidden corners often overlooked by tourism. In dozens of dives, he witnessed the richness of wildlife and the sparkling colors of these seas.

But the islands are facing rapid changes and serious problems, and they are not always the paradise they seem. The Maldives are at a turning point, with political, economic and environmental changes that pose difficult challenges to the government and to the nation.

The book is completed by an analytical index, a chronology of the Maldivian history, a bibliography and some black and white photographs.

Available on all Amazon websites.

In the UK buy it here

In Italy buy it here

In France, Belgium and Switzerland buy it here

In the US buy it here

In Canada buy it here

18 December 2017

Book review: The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy (2015) by J. J. Robinson, ****

Islamic Center in Malé

The Maldives is a small and beautiful archipelago south of India, more renowned for luxury resorts than experiments in democracy. It is a country of contradictions, where tourists sip cocktails on the beach while on nearby islands local women are flogged for extramarital sex and blackmarket vodka costs $140 a bottle. Until 2008 the Maldives also hosted Asia's longest-serving dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. A former political prisoner, Mohamed Nasheed, an environmental activist, journalist, and politician, brought Gayoom's thirty-year autocracy to a sudden end, in the Maldives' first democratic elections.

Young, progressive and charismatic, President Nasheed thrust the Maldives into the spotlight as a symbol of the fight against climate change and the struggle for democracy and human rights in one of the world's strictest Islamic societies. But dictatorships are hard to defeat, enduring in a country's institutions and the minds of people conditioned to autocracy over three decades. Democracy brought turmoil, protests, violence and intense political polarisation.The ousted dictatorship overthrew Nasheed's government in February 2012, supported by Islamic radicals and mutinying security forces. Amid Byzantine intrigue, the fight for democracy was just beginning. (Amazon)


It is unusual for a book entirely dedicated to the Maldives to come out, and here it is from an English journalist who lived and worked there for four years. The book is a compendium of his time there. It touches upon many aspects of Maldivian life, with special attention to the political dimension. Loads of facts and footnotes but also some opinions and evaluations. The book is written loosely in chronological manner, and it ends with the author's departure in 2013.

The general approach is typically English, ie detached. John J gets to know a lot about the Maldives but one does not get the impression he ever fell in love with the country, or was emotionally involved with it at all. But that is not a criticism, in fact perhaps it is a good thing in a journalist!

What the book lacks is a more critical organization of the issues, but perhaps as a journalistic chronicle it was never intended to delve in political analysis. Still, you will find more raw material for political analysis her than in any other book I know of that has been written on this country in the last decades.

I recommend reading this book to understand more about a country known mostly for its resorts.

20 June 2016

Book review: A Splendid Isolation (2014) by Madeline Drexler, *****


What does Bhutan understand about happiness that the rest of the world does not? Award-winning journalist and author Madeline Drexler recently traveled to this Himalayan nation to discover how the audacious policy known as Gross National Happiness plays out in a fast-changing society where Buddhism is deeply rooted--but where the temptations and collateral damage of materialism are rising.

Her reported essay blends lyrical travelogue, cultural history, personal insights, and provocative conversations with top policymakers, activists, bloggers, writers, artists, scholars, religious leaders, students, and ordinary citizens in many walks of life. This book is sure to fascinate readers interested in travel, Buddhism, progressive politics, and especially the study and practice of happiness. A Splendid Isolation was a Finalist in the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.


A well-informed travelogue on Bhutan by someone who knows the country well. The only slight shortcoming is that she is too much in love with Bhutan and this results in a positive bias when she hands out her opinions. 

A small book of only 60 pages, it is packed with information, some current and some of historical interest. The first paved road was built only in 1962. Until 1974 no foreign visitors were allowed and that year only 287 visas were issued (in 2012 the total topped 100,000). There was no TV until 1999, the same year, oddly, that Bhutan was connected to the internet. They did install a grand total of 1 traffic light in Thimphu in 1992 or os but then removed it as it looked out of context. (I have still seen a policeman on the spot, directing traffic, in 2016.) And so on...

All throughout the book, the author delves on the issue of Gross National Happiness, the trademark policy of Bhutan, highlighting its successes and also its shortcomings and contradictions.

18 September 2013

Book review: Wealth and poverty of nations (1999), by David Landes, *****


The history of nations is a history of haves and have-nots, and as we approach the millennium, the gap between rich and poor countries is widening. In this engrossing and important new work, eminent historian David Landes explores the complex, fascinating and often startling causes of the wealth and poverty of nations. The answers are found not only in the large forces at work in economies: geography, religion, the broad swings of politics, but also in the small surprising details. In Europe, the invention of spectacles doubled the working life of skilled craftsmen, and played a prominent role in the creation of articulated machines, and in China, the failure to adopt the clock fundamentally hindered economic development.

The relief of poverty is vital to the survival of us all. As David Landes brilliantly shows, the key to future success lies in understanding the lessons the past has to teach us - lessons uniquely imparted in this groundbreaking and vital book which exemplifies narrative history at its best.


Why are some nations so rich and some so poor? One usually hears a... wealth of common sense reasons which however are rather ...poor explanations! Some rich nations are big, some small, and many poor countries are also big or small. So size, in this case, does not matter. Same for natural resources: some rich nations are well endowed but many poor nations are too. Geographic location also seems pretty much irrelevant: some rich countries are in hot regions, some in cold ones. Same for poor countries.

What makes the difference, according to landes, is mostly cultural and ethical factors. A provocative and most informative book. Travelers will find many ideas in this book to understand the economy of countries around the world.

11 April 2013

Film review: Not one less (1999) by Zhang Yimou, *****

Testo italiano di seguito

Wei Minzhi

Not One Less, Zhang Yimou's (Raise the Red Lantern) tale of an adolescent substitute teacher in a rural Chinese village, cast entirely with non-actors and shot on location, is an astute example of censorship politics. It can be difficult to bypass political censor in China, especially when education is concerned.

Taking on touchy issues with a veneer of can-do spirit and happy-ending fantasy, his film is at once rousing and eye-opening.


A great film about the transformation of China since the 1990s, when money becomes more important than ideology. A small village can't afford to build a good school or hire a good teacher, or even buy enough chalk for that matter. A teenage substitute teacher displays much more economic drive than professional responsibility or political enthusiasm. Wei Minzhi is a stubborn young woman takes the initiative in working hard for her salary of 50 yuan, which she is to receive if she can fulfill one important condition...

She persuades her class to work in a brick factory to raise funds so she can go to town and search for a missing child. The kids show much more propensity to work for money than to perform in flag raising and goose stepping ideological ceremonies.

See my selection og movies on China here on this blog.


In un lontano villaggio della campagna cinese, dove le strutture sono modeste e il livello di vita è molto povero, il maestro Gao deve assentarsi per un mese per andare ad assistere la madre gravemente malata. Per sostituirlo il sindaco sceglie Wei, una ragazzina tredicenne senza alcuna esperienza d'insegnamento. Prima di partire, Gao raccomanda a Wei di fare in modo che nessun allievo si ritiri da scuola durante la sua assenza. Con la promessa di un compenso di cui ha molto bisogno, Wei si appresta ad affrontare un compito che però si rivela molto difficile: i bambini sono irrequieti e spesso preoccupati per le molte difficoltà che vivono in famiglia. Quasi inevitabilmente dunque una mattina il piccolo Zhang, i cui genitori sono fortemente indebitati, lascia la classe, scappa dal villaggio e va in città a cercare un lavoro. Wei non ha esitazione e decide di andare alla sua ricerca. Nel panorama urbano confuso e disordinato, Wei affronta situazioni del tutto sconosciute. Alla fine una rete televisiva viene a conoscenza della sua storia e ne fa oggetto di un servizio specifico. Zhang allora ricompare. Quando tornano al villaggio, la troupe li segue e insieme porta una serie di oggetti raccolti grazie alle donazioni. Per la scuola si aprono nuove prospettive. Intanto i bambini scrivono sulla lavagna con tanti gessetti colorati.


Un eccellente film sulle trasformazioni della Cina a partire dagli anni novanta del XX secolo. Il denaro diventa più importante dell'ideologia. Quando il maestro della scuola di un piccolo villaggio parte per andare a trovare la madre morente, il sindaco non ha i soldi per pagare un supplente. Non ci sono soldi neanche per i gessetti per la lavagna. Con la promessa di 50 yuan viene assunta una giovanissima supplente tredicenne, motivata più dalla somma di denaro che dalla vocazione di insegnante. Ma per guadagnare i 50 yuan c'è una condizione importante che la piccola Wei deve soddisfare...

Lei ci si dedica con tutte le sue forze. Quando un alunno scappa, lei convince gli altri a lavorare qualche giorno in una fabbrica di mattoni per guadagnare il denaro necessario alla ricerca del disperso. I ragazzi sembrano più propensi a lavorare per guadagnare che a cimentarsi in marcette e cerimonie a carattere ideologico. La Cina cambia rapidamente...

10 March 2013

Film review: Outsourced (2010) by John Jeffcoat, ****

Time magazine cover, 2006

Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) spends his days managing a call centre in Seattle until he gets the bad news from his boss his job has been outsourced to India. Adding insult to injury, Todd must travel to India to train his new replacement. He expects the worst experience of his life, and it certainly begins that way! As he navigates through the chaos of Bombay and an office paralyzed by constant cultural misunderstandings, Todd yearns to return to the comforts of home. But it is through his team of quirky yet likable Indian call centre workers, including his friendly and motivated replacement, Puro (Asif Basra), and the charming, opinionated Asha (Ayesha Dharker), that Todd realizes that he too has a lot to learn - not only about India and America, but about himself. He soon discovers that being outsourced may be the best thing that ever happened to him.

01 September 2012

Film review: Mondovino (2004) by Jonathan Nossiter, **


Filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter, who loves wine, looks at the international wine business. He offers his personal view of how business concerns and the homogenisation of tastes around the world are changing the way wine is being made. 


The movie is good in that it points the finger to a phenomenon that is pervasive in the world of wine, as it is in every aspect of our life: globalization. The director's thesis, which he does not spell out but appears clearly, is that this is a bad thing. I, on the contrary, think it is a good development for wine, mainly because it allows for greater choice.

Far from homogenizing the taste of the world's wines, globalization is making any wine, in any style, available everywhere in the world, and this gives each of us a chance to choose what we like, how much we want to spend.

He implicitly accuses Robert Parker (whom he interviews) to be in cahoot with American business, while in fact parker has been very beneficial to French wines and Bordeaux in particular. He received countless awards from France, including from the president of the Republic.

Nossiter is tricky as he often hides his camera and films without the subject being aware. That is not correct in my view, even for a documentarist.

He is also political, but out of context. He underlines how a mayor of a French town who rejected American money to invest in the local vineyards was a communist (good) while Italian nobles who accept to work with the same Americans has grandparents who supported fascism (bad). I find some of these people who live in their past rather disagreeable, but that says nothing about their wines. How totally irrelevant.

Finally, he never misses a chance to film any dog that happens to be in front of his camera. For example when he interviews Parker he goes at great length to emphasize how his dogs fart a log, and that is really too much. 

Today, no matter what Nossiter says, we have more diversified and better quality wines around the world than ever before.

Here is another good review of this film I agree with by Decanter.

See my other reviews of film about wine here in this blog.


22 July 2012

Film review: Chaplin blu-ray box set, *****

This is a collection of five films:

The Kid (1921) silent
A moving story of poverty and generosity.

The Gold Rush (1925) silent
Irony about greed. Poor man against poor man, in the hope of striking gold and turning the page.

The Circus (1928) silent
Love and desperation intertwined in a moving story.

Modern Times (1936) last silent film by Chaplin
A timeless classic about the dehumanization of man by machines.

The Great Dictator (1940)
Filmed as WW II was getting underway, it is a totally unveiled veiled satirical attack on Hitler and Mussolini. A movie about the need to speak up for freedom, then as now.

These are among the best masterpiecess made by Charlie Chaplin. They are timeless works, and each evokes as much emotion and humor today as it did almost a century ago.

The BD rendering is very good, even though I am not sure it justifies the expensive price tag. Perhaps a DVD set would be enough. Yet, I would still recommend this set, considering one is likely to view them again and again with undiminished pleasure.

24 February 2012

Book Review: Triumph of the City, by Edward Glaser, ****

Singapore, 2012

America is an urban nation. More than two thirds of us live on the 3 percent of land that contains our cities. Yet cities get a bad rap: they're dirty, poor, unhealthy, crime ridden, expensive, environmentally unfriendly... Or are they?

As Edward Glaeser proves in this myth-shattering book, cities are actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in cultural and economic terms) places to live. New Yorkers, for instance, live longer than other Americans; heart disease and cancer rates are lower in Gotham than in the nation as a whole. More than half of America's income is earned in twenty-two metropolitan areas. And city dwellers use, on average, 40 percent less energy than suburbanites.

18 February 2012

Recensione: Sale Nero, di Marco Aime, Stefano Pensotti e Andrea Semplici, ****


Taudenni e Ahmed Ela: due "non luoghi" africani, il primo in Mali il secondo nella Dancalia etiope, sono un chiaro esempio di quelle società "diversamente sviluppate" dove il modello è ancora quello della cultura materiale. Per entrambi è grande l'importanza che continua ad avere il commercio del sale, l'uso dello stesso per gli scambi commerciali è ancora ampiamente diffuso. 

Il libro racconta con testi e fotografie l'ambiente "umano e geografico" che le carovane attraversano: comunità, culture, ambienti naturali. Mette in rilievo le comunità che vivono di questa economia, i rapporti che si intrecciano, le strutture sociali e parentali delle popolazioni, l'esperienza umana. Chi sono questi uomini, quale la loro esperienza?


Un libro insolito, il cui il protagonista è una materia prima alimentare, la sola roccia che faccia parte della nostra alimentazione da sempre. Ed è anche merce di scambio in tutte le culture del mondo. L'aspetto economico cruciale del sale è che di solito deve essere trasportato per centinaia o anche migliaia di kilometri dal punto di produzione al consumatore. Il sale, ovviamente, è bianco, ma qui siamo in Africa...

12 January 2012

Book Review: The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Bjorn Lomborg, *****

Pollution in the Maldives

Lomborg, an associate professor of statistics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus and a former member of Greenpeace, challenges widely held beliefs that the world environmental situation is getting worse and worse. Using statistical information from internationally recognized research institutes, Lomborg systematically examines a range of major environmental issues that feature prominently in headline news around the world, including pollution, biodiversity, fear of chemicals, and the greenhouse effect, and documents that the world has actually improved. He supports his arguments with over 2500 footnotes, allowing readers to check his sources.

02 August 2011

Book Review: Rickshaw Coolie: A People's History of Singapore (2003), by James Warren, *****


Between 1880 and 1930 colonial Singapore attracted tens of thousands of Chinese immigrant laborers, brought to serve its rapidly growing economy. This book chronicles the vast movement of coolies between China and the Nanyang, and their efforts to survive in colonial Singapore.