Friday, March 31, 2023

Book Nook


  1. a corner or recess, especially one offering seclusion or security:
    "the nook beside the fire" · "the fish should be able to find nooks and crannies in which they will be safe"

And it rhymes beautfully with Book ( a place of wonderment)

So a great name for a book shop is.... The Book Nook.

Michael Malone and I were invited out to talk nonsense, have a small glass of wine and generally discuss books, the state of publishing and the affairs of the day.

We had a grand time, the place was packed.

Do any authors turn up to these things without at least a brief idea of what they are going to say? Being interviewed is easy. Doing the interviewing is easy. But there's a no man's land in the middle if there's two of you and no script. What if he's a talker? What if i'm a talker.  Are we supposed to ask each other questions? Does he do half an hour then I do half an hour? What happens if he's mad?  What happens if he thinks I'm mad?

 So I formed a vague plan. As Michael  knows me, he knew I'd  form a vague plan and was happy to go with it.  I think he knew it was my plan anyway and there was no getting away.

I spoke about the List murders, not the man or the murders, but the way the bodies were laid out in the mansion, the length of time they had been there for, the funeral music that had been playing on the radio for the month that they had lain there dead. So what would happen if two wee Scottish boys  break into the house and come across that!  

( In Scotland we have house breaking. I think you guys have home invasion. It is burglary in Englandshire?)

And the smell that would hit them?

Both Michael and I have written series. He has now gone totally standalone.
 I'm not that brave.

Sarah, in charge!

And we did quote Dame Agatha- the best time to plan a murder is when you are doing the dishes!

 We  talked a fair bit about the onslaught of celebrity authors we are suffering at the moment. everybody and their dog seems to be writing a crime novel. All the judges on 'strictly come dancing' are now 'writing' crime fiction. As well as loads of tv presenters.
It's much easier to launch a book if the writer is already, as we would say 'a well kennt face'

The audience were keen to talk about  covers and who did the art etc.
I said that I had commented that on the front of The Devil Stone, my character does not  have a dancer's chignon but a drug dealers donut for a hair do.
 The art department said that they had tried that and it made her look like she had no neck.
 I had to agree. It made her look like a monkey.
 And that comment gave me an idea for the new book.

 Michael said that for The Quicksand Of Memory - see the pic above - he rewrote a small passage of the book when he saw the cover. He liked the cover very much but it had really nothing to do with the book, but it did by the time he had finished editing it!

The Book Nook is run by Sarah Frame. It's a new venture for the book loving side of her business brain now that she's back in Scotland where she belongs. She's a mega intelligent individual, her background is in accessing computer learning /online courses for university education. or something. I got lost at the first moodle. She runs a company that does this and they really swung into action during lockdown.

I undertood about one word in three, being more of a post it note kind of person.

From the awards it has already garnered, the Book Nook is a great sucess.

Here's DCI Christine Caplan, with her drug dealers doughnut, in front of the house where my version of the List murders occured.

Happy reading


Thursday, March 30, 2023

Diamonds are forever, but maybe the marriage between Botswana and De Beers is on the rocks

 Michael alternate Thursdays

Gaborone in the early days

When Botswana became independent in 1966, it was a sparsely populated, poor country the size of France, mostly covered by the Kalahari Desert. Before that, Britain had governed it as the Bechuanaland Protectorate. The British had little interest in their "protectorate", and didn't even bother to set up a capital inside the country - it was administered from Mafikeng in South Africa. Gaborone was an insignificant town, and the country was basically a subsistence farming economy.

Kalahari landscape

What changed all that was the discovery of diamonds. There are stories that De Beers knew about the huge resources in Botswana before independence and kept it quiet at Seretse Khama's request, but that may be apocryphal. What is beyond doubt is that the opening fifteen years later of Jwaneng, still the world’s richest diamond mine in terms of gemstones,  completely changed Botswana’s economy and its future. (Jwaneng and its stream of gemstones played a key role in our first Kubu prequel Facets of Death.)

Jwaneng is a huge open pit mine about an hour's drive west of Gaborone. It produces more than 10 million carats of raw diamonds a year. If all those diamonds ended up as jewelry, they would retail for about $150 billion! As a 50% partner in the Debswana joint venture, Botswana earns huge revenue. It also holds 15% of the De Beers company and receives dividends and taxes.

The pit at Jwaneng

However, things have changed. Revenues have fallen with diamond sales dropping during recessions, costs have risen, and politicians are now thinking about where to get more money. The arrangement between Botswana and De Beers is reviewed from time to time, but has always been extended with minor tweaks and a few bonuses thrown in. This time may be different, but it's a high stakes game. Diamonds constitute two thirds of Botswana's exports and 20% of GDP.  However, the net revenue for raw diamonds pales by comparison with the revenue from retail diamonds, and De Beers pockets most of that.

An important factor is that De Beers is by no means as strong as it used to be when the marriage started. There are other big suppliers to the market - BHP in Canada, for example. In the past, De Beers was essentially a monopoly, and if you didn't play by its rules, you didn't get any diamonds. When I worked for their parent company, Anglo American, twenty years ago, one was not allowed to travel to the US on any sort of business related trip because of the anti-monopolies laws there. A business trip could be used as evidence that De Beers was doing business in the US and therefore could be sued for infringing US law.

The current Botswana president, President Masisi, has changed a lot of things. Starting out as Ian Khama's protege, he worked his way up to deputy president and then president. Almost his first act was to dump Khama, essentially accusing him of corruption. Khama now lives in exile in South Africa. Now, De Beers is in Masisi's sights. He has said he's willing to walk away from the agreement altogether, and has fired a warning shot across De Beers bows by purchasing a substantial interest in one of the key Belgian gem traders, HB Antwerp. That could give Botswana a direct sales route to the consumer cutting out De Beers altogether.

Thinking about Kwei's comments yesterday, one can sympathize with Masisi's desire to run his own economy, but in the end, I think they'll make a deal. The diamond mines are central to Botswana and it's not easy to manage and develop a big mine. Botswana and De Beers need each other. On the other hand, politicians worldwide seem less and less concerned about what their countries need and more and more concerned about what plays well for the next election. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

AID TO AFRICA: Does it do any good?


Does aid to Africa do any good?

Vice-President Kamala Harris landed in Ghana on Sunday March 26 at the start of a weeklong trip to the African continent. On her trip, Harris said she wants to promote "increasing investments," the "economic empowerment" of women, girls and young businesspeople, "digital inclusion" and food security in light of mounting challenges from climate change.

But all this in the face of Chinas grip on Africa. Bidens administration wants to re-engage the mighty continent in opposition to Chinas foothold, but the attempt is probably too little too late. All over the continent, the Chinese build roads, dams, railways, bore-holes for villages, and they take over African cobalt and gold mines. Their reputation for ignoring human rights is legendary. Not to put too fine a point, they really don’t care. 

Following the usual MO of visits to Africa by western leaders, VP Harris promised $100 million in "aid to the region” (primarily security against terrorism) and the Biden administration is asking for another $139 million from Congress to "help Ghana reduce child labor, improve weather forecasting, support local musicians and defend against disease outbreaks. Wait. Did you say improve weather forecasting and support local musicians? Simply knowing Ghana, weather forecasting is not going to improve (what do you need that for anyway in a tropical country?) and local musicians are not going to be supported, but the politicians will laugh all the way to the bank.

Why does Africa even need aid?

The history of aid to African countries dates back to the colonial era, when European powers provided assistance to their colonies in the form of infrastructure, education, and health programs. After African countries gained independence in the 1960s, aid continued to flow in from the West, with a focus on development projects such as dams, roads, and other infrastructure. China has largely replaced the West in that regard. Below Ive listed some of the pros”of aid with a rebuttal (in italics) for each.

  1. Humanitarian assistance: Foreign aid can provide essential resources and support in the face of natural disasters, conflict, or other crises. It can save lives, alleviate suffering, and help people rebuild their communities.  During epidemic outbreaks like Ebola, this was certainly important, but eradication of disease in Africa has always been tied to politics and regional security, including the WHO and MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Medical aid frequently lauds the work of American and European doctors while ignoring the efforts of local physicians.
  2. Economic growth: Foreign aid can help stimulate economic growth by providing resources for infrastructure development, education, healthcare, and other key sectors. But does it really? If a western government gives an African country aid but none of it goes to local farms and manufacturing, then where is the growth? Trickle-down economics doesnt work here either.
  3. Poverty reduction: Aid can help reduce poverty by directly providing resources to the poor, supporting social safety nets, and enabling access to education and healthcare.  Theres no evidence that aid helps reduce poverty to any significant extent in Africa. In fact, doling out aid can keep the recipients nations in endless poverty. French West Africa is a good example.
  4. Capacity building: Foreign aid can contribute to strengthening local institutions and building capacity in areas like governance, public health, and environmental management. How? If there’s no political will at the ground level, theres little point in receiving financial aid.
  5. Technology and knowledge transfer: Aid can facilitate the transfer of technology, expertise, and knowledge from developed countries to African countries, promoting innovation and development. Africa always pays the price when it asks for aid, whether its in the form of technology, expertise or anything else.
The true effects of foreign aid
  1. Dependency: Dependence on foreign aid can potentially undermine the self-reliance and self-sufficiency of African countries, making them vulnerable to the whims of donor nations. Begging is what African governments do best. It’s now a conditioned response. Meanwhile, the national debt of many countries continues to burgeon. Ghana’s was about $65 billion in 2021, about 82% of its GDP.
  2. Corruption and mismanagement: This is the biggest problem. It’s a fact: foreign aid is misused or misallocated all the time due to corruption or poor governance, limiting its impact on poverty reduction and development.
  3. Ineffectiveness: the effectiveness of aid in promoting long-term economic growth is very questionable and I would venture to say, totally unproved. Aid can actually hinder development by distorting local markets and discouraging domestic investments.
  4. Foreign aid can be used as a tool for exerting political influence, as donor countries may attach conditions to the aid they provide, potentially compromising the sovereignty of recipient countries.
  5. Lack of local ownership: In some cases, foreign aid projects may be designed and implemented without adequately considering local needs, priorities, and cultural context, which can lead to unsustainable or inappropriate interventions. Its not uncommon when you visit a country like Ghana to see projects that are unfinished because a new government is in power.       
Bottom line
The effectiveness and impact of foreign aid in Africa depend on factors like the type of aid, the intentions of the donors, the quality of governance in recipient countries, and the specific context in which aid is provided. But like Moyo Dambisaas well-intentioned as it may appear, much of aid is a bad idea. And I still can’t get over the improving weather forecasting.


Tuesday, March 28, 2023

It's Ramadan here...

 Ovidia--every other Tuesday

I was all hyped up to write about TikTok's Singaporean CEO Chew Shou Zi getting grilled in Washington--but I realise there's no point writing when my only source of information is the media. I don't know enough to say anything that could make a difference.

Besides, it's Ramadan here now, from 23 March till (probably) 21 April, depending on the sighting of the new moon.

What is Ramadan? During the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, it's a time when healthy adult Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

I'm not Muslim but in a society like ours, it's a time of mindfulness and awareness for everyone. Consciously not planning working breakfasts, lunch meetings or dinner get togethers if possible during this month.

But though what's most obvious to non-Muslims like me might be the abstaining from drinking and eating, it's also a time to abstain from immoral thoughts and anger (see why I'm trying not to write about America moving to control/ cancel TikTok after mocking China for banning Facebook? I'm not taking sides--I'm just upset seeing a Singaporean being harangued and harassed for hours then getting called evasive because he wasn't allowed to give more than yes/ no answers to multiform questions that took multiple minutes to iterate...)

Sorry, I'll go back to abstaining from anger and try to apply mindfulness and compassion. 

The Holy Month of Ramadan is about remembering to uphold justice with love and compassion and break from being ruled by our physical desires and ego--we don't have to be Muslim to see the value in that! 

Where we focus our attention is important too, so here are some flower photos taken on this rainy day...

 A sunflower, so named because it follows the sun through the day. 

And it's not just a pretty face--Singapore and South Korean university researchers have created an environmentally friendly sponge from sunflower pollen to tackle water pollution such as marine oil spills.

This flower's safe from being put to work on oil spills, though. It's growing in one of the rewilding areas. 

But the plants here are working too. This Chinese pagoda flower (Clerodendrum paniculatum L.) is very popular with butterflies and asian honey bees. 

As are these little flowers we used to call 'angel hands'-- 

Xiphidium caeruleum Aubl.

and has berries that go from green to orange to black and are very popular with birds!

And because I love birds I'll end with this one that I met. It was making a lot of noise but seemed unhurt so I let it be (will check on it tomorrow)

Writing this calmed me down some--changing focus does help! I hope it makes your day a little better too. 

Ramadan Mubarak (Happy Ramadan) to you all!

Monday, March 27, 2023

Rain, Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain

 Annamaria on Monday shouting Halleluia!

Years before before I learned about the weather in Kenya, I fell in love with a song by the great South African singers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  One of my favorites of their songs is a pean to rain.

Since I have become heart-focused on Kenya, I have studied and written here about its climate and its recent drought. The big question for the past few months has been would the long rains come this March/April and resolve the worst drought in forty years?

I have been watching the weather reports with fingers crossed and with increasing hope:

Much as I was encouraged by the weather app, it was not until this (Sunday) morning that I got the report from my eyewitness.  My friend Sarah took these photos to celebrate the very first day of rain: the first of the screen shots above, Thursday March 16th.

Women are going out to fetch water, knowing that
there will be some!

The animals, domestic and wild are already drinking!

And herds of goats and cattle are returning to the
area because the grass will soon be sprouting.

The good news has continued, as you can see from the recent Friday and Sunday reports above.

And here in faraway NYC, I am doing the happy dance.  Here's the song.  Won't you join in the celebration!

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Springing Into the Season With Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

 -- Susan, every other Sunday

The Spring Equinox is a national holiday in Japan, and this year it happened to coincide with the peak sakura (cherry blossom) blooms--which are popping out a couple of weeks earlier than normal.

Sakura blooming in Mizumoto Park, Katsushika, Tokyo

Fortunately, the weather has been lovely, which meant a lot of walks to enjoy the blossoms as they appeared.
Up close and personal with the blossoms.

One cloudy morning, I met a writer friend to see the blossoms in a different part of town. We started out with Tokyo's famous "jiggly" souffle pancakes in Tokyo's Harajuku district...

Jiggly pancake!

And then made our way to the park, where we found not only sakura, but a murder in progress:

Murder is, indeed, everywhere...

Grey skies aren't ideal for pictures, but the blossoms themselves were beautiful

Spring is here.

Sakura season also means an enormous range of specialty drinks, desserts, and sweets. Which, of course, I feel honor-bound to sample.

Take one...or nine...for the team.

The spring equinox itself was beautiful, with blue skies and many, many blossoms.

Sakura near Tokyo

The parks in and around Tokyo are bursting with beautiful trees, and people are finally able to enjoy traditional hanami (flower/sakura viewing) picnics, as the restrictions of the past three years have been lifted. Huzzah!!

A perfect place for a picnic beneath the cherry blossoms

The blossoms last only a very few days, and this afternoon's rain will shorten their lives even further, but that's also part of the reason the sakura play such a vital role in Japanese culture. Their fleeting beauty reminds us that life itself is beautiful and short, and that we should be in the moment, love the moment, and appreciate both the beauty around us and the bittersweet sorrow that comes with the knowledge that this, too, will pass away. 

We blink, and the moment is gone, never to return.

As the blossoms bloom and fall, I hope you're finding the time to enjoy the beauty around you today, and that you can get out and walk in the sun, or even in the rain.  May your spring be healthy and joyful!

Have you seen cherry blossoms in bloom? If not, would you like to someday?


Saturday, March 25, 2023

On Being a Jew

Brandon Wade/Associated Press



On Thursday, I read an article in The New York Times by Ruth Graham, its religion, faith and values national correspondent, addressing antisemitic episodes having reached new highs in the U.S.  It came as no more a surprise to me than did an opinion piece appearing soon after International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27, 2023) in Greece’s paper of record, Ekathimerini, authored by Tom Ellis, Editor-in-Chief of its English language version, and captioned "Antisemitism in Greece."


Taken together they present a distinctly unsettling present, but in their expression offer hope that history shall not repeat itself.


I’ve reproduced the two articles below—with a limited edit in length to Ms. Graham’s article, available here in its entirety.  


From The New York Times:


Ruth Graham

The number of antisemitic incidents in the United States last year was the highest since the Anti-Defamation League began keeping track in 1979, the Jewish advocacy group announced on Thursday.


In a new report, the A.D.L. counted 3,697 incidents throughout the United States in 2022, a 36 percent rise from the year before. A majority were characterized as harassment, including online, but the tally also included 111 assaults and more than 1,200 occasions of vandalism.


The report is the latest indication that antisemitism in the United States is on the rise, a trend that has been reflected in American culture and politics, sending fresh waves of alarm through Jewish communities. It also mirrors data gathered by the federal government, as well as a separate academic study tracking incidents of bias against many religious groups.


Anti-Jewish enmity has been expressed in openly antisemitic leaflets and graffiti, or brazen physical attacks, especially on visibly Orthodox Jews. But it is also palpable in harder-to-track discourse online and in troubling public rhetoric from celebrities like Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, who tweeted last fall that he would “go death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” And right-wing politicians and commentators have stoked fears of “replacement theory,” the conspiracist idea that elites, sometimes manipulated by Jews, want to “replace” white Americans. The cumulative effect is an atmosphere in which threats, slurs and conspiracy theories brew online but are increasingly visible offline, too.

“We’ve seen antisemitism normalized in ways that would have been unimaginable a few years ago,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive and national director of the A.D.L. “If people see conspiracies behind every misfortune, it doesn’t take long for them to look at the Jews and say they’re the problem.”  

This is the third time in the past five years that the A.D.L. has declared its count a record high. Five states — New York, California, New Jersey, Florida and Texas — account for more than half of the total incidents. 

“We’re in a new era for antisemitism,” said Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, which monitors hate crimes in American cities. “We’re now seeing Jews becoming a default.” …. 

From Ekathimerini:

Tom Ellis

Along with the rest of the world, Greece last week paid tribute to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Events were held, documentaries screened, interviews published and lectures given, many of which were emotionally laden with memories of the terrible ordeals of World War II that led to the eradication of almost 90% of the country’s Jews. 

The heroism and determination of many Greeks who resisted bravely and helped Jews survive was also highlighted, with the example of Archbishop Damaskinos standing out, along with those of the Metropolitan Bishop of Zakynthos Chrysostomos and the Ionian island’s mayor, whose actions are taught in schools in Israel and should serve as the bar against which we judge Hellenism’s relationship with the Jewish community.

In that vein, the percentage of the vote secured by Golden Dawn in the 2015 elections that got it into Parliament is a dark chapter in Greece’s modern political history that must be prevented from being reopened.

The neo-Nazi party’s popularity was obviously the result, to a significant degree, of the financial crisis, anger with the system and with endemic corruption and the injustices and inequalities that emerge in day-to-day life. But this reaction cannot be expressed by voting for a party that espouses the Nazi ideology and symbols; certainly not in Greece, given its experience in WWII, the destruction and pain rained on the country during the German occupation, and the brave battles that were fought against Hitler.

Holocaust Remembrance Day came as an opportunity to think long and hard about such things. It is not just the extreme version of antisemitism expressed by Golden Dawn and its offshoots that should be of concern, but also the habit – which has, admittedly, been stronger in the past – of judging the Jewish people by the actions of the politicians of the state of Israel. Someone can disagree with Israeli government policy without becoming an antisemite. The Israeli people themselves are harsh judges of their governments through their many and diverse political parties.

That said, at a time when antisemitism appears to be on the rise in many parts of the world, younger Greeks appear to shun two basic elements of “Greek antisemitism:” The first is the conspiracy theory that Greeks are a nation that has been wronged by various malevolent forces, and the Jews bear in some conspicuous way some responsibility for this, and the second is a tendency to mix the justifiable reaction to specific policies by the Israeli political leadership, with – and this is definitely not justified – lashing out against Jews simply because they are Jews.

At the same time, the deepening cooperation between Greece and Israel – bilaterally and also trilaterally with Cyprus – is not just geopolitically desirable. It also brings the two peoples closer and in doing so deals another blow against antisemitism.

Holocaust Memorial - Alexandros Avramidis/In Time News


Friday, March 24, 2023

Walking the Dog

The dog in question.
On her pile of cushions.
Wolves do this in the wild. Seemingly.

As I’ve quoted before, it was once said that the NHS could half its budget if everybody had a dog. And walking the dog is definitely one of the best things you can do for sanity. 

Mathilda and I went down to the Lochside yesterday. The weather had been largely raining, the loch was well up over its normal water line, flooding the paths by up to 6 inches in some parts. The farmer who owns the field at the side allowed the reserve to put in two gates so you can look through the field and back down on to the water when the conditions are this bad. 


This is a wildlife bird reserve, all sorts of rare geese and Whooper swans are found hanging round the car park waiting for the McDonalds wrappings to be thrown out the windows of the parked vehicles. A lot of the more exotic geese are deciding to stay at home in their more northern territories due to global warming. The water here is affected by giardia so it's used for rowing and skulling but no swimming or windsurfing. Full body immersion in that water would probably end up with you being immersed in the toilet for a couple of weeks.

Mathilda and I met a few people on the way, as we always do. Sensible dogs go up through the field. Spaniels jump straight into the water. I think as a writer, you can’t help making up backstories of the people you meet. 

There’s an elderly lady walks past on her own with a pocket full of dog biscuits. She’s here getting her exercise in the fresh air, and I think she’s moved into a flat and now she’s not allowed a dog. So she borrows everybody elses for 5 minutes. 

There’s a gentleman who bustles past, very business like, I think he’s on cardiac rehab. He's steadily losing weight. 

Then there was the couple who looked at the path (which looked like the water jump on a steeplechase) and asked ‘is it very wet?’. My dog looked at me quizzically and I was tempted to explain that water tends to be wet. And it was the precipitation from the sky that was causing it. Then I realised they were English, from the south coast, and probably not used to the vagaries of the downpour.


                                                      The small tree in the water is the actual path.

Two men walked past, I'm not a fan of fishing, I really don’t understand why people are so proud of outsmarting a trout. Anyway, they had on big wadery things, they had lots of bags strapped across them. Dressed in dark green with two long canvas, zipped holdalls full of fishing rods and they had two huge catch nets. Instruments of Satan I presumed but then saw they both had a clipboard tucked under their arm, so I re-presumed they were monitoring fish health and maybe, being spring, the condition of the water with the increased degree of run off from the arable land around.


At the turning point there was a lady sitting on her own reading a book, bearing in mind it was cold and another rain cloud was on its way over, she must have been a real book lover, or maybe this was the only place she got any peace and quiet. Of course, everybody stopped to ask her if she was enjoying her book. It was a romantic tale of daring do during the war, so ‘no dead bodies in the first 5 pages?' I asked?

'No,' she said, 'that was the last book I read'. 

And she gave Mathilda a bit of her sandwich.

So all was well in the world.