Prepare yourselves. I’m wondering if Donald – yes that one – has a point

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a minute amount of knowledge plus an article in the Times is arguably a foolish way to start a blog post about politics. But then, politics is riddled with foolishness, as I write.

Or is it?

Isn’t it all rather predictable, especially when you consider things such as the state of world trade, in particular, the west’s deal with China?

Yes, that’s where this is going. But first, let me explain…

Laid low by a lurgy last week, I found myself hooked by a couple of blogs*. Both pondering the questions raised by the Trump/Clinton drama being acted out over the pond.

Even at a distance the general shock is palpable. A feeling familiar to those of us who suffered the bereavement-like fallout of Brexit.

There’s a, ‘w-w-w-what the heck’s happening?’ burble issuing from the mouths of politicians, pundits, commentators and journalists.

How did it come to this?

Donald Trump? Why?

How can anyone think that he would make a better president – any kind of president – than Hillary Clinton?

I’m deeply puzzled by the women who don his slogan t-shirts, who’d have Hillary behind bars, if they could.  But I think I can recognise what some of them might be feeling – and why.

My life isn’t theirs – we could be two different tribes. But I suspect all of us, in different shoes, might find echoes of our own worlds in the oddest places, making lambs lie down willingly with serpents.

But I’m even more puzzled by the behaviour of Republican grandees. How come they went along with it this far?

I’ve no time for conspiracy theorists. Seriously, Donald Trump is not running and behaving as he does to ensure Hillary is elected. Yes, some people are saying that, not a word of a lie. (I never tell lies.)

But what is it that’s brought so many people into the raucous crowd that billows behind this blustering behemoth of a man?

Answers came there many.

Answers only too recognisable to bewildered Remainers in Britain, still coming to terms with the Brexit vote.

But yesterday, in the newspaper that plopped through our letterbox, came an article with an answer that rang other bells.

Closure of the coal mines bells. Textile industry moving to India bells. Shipyards abandoned bells. Steel mills threatened with closure bells.

All things that happened, or are happening to the industrial organs of the British commercial body, leaving a lasting legacy of damaged communities.

And a damaged community is made up of damaged souls.

But that’s not where I am going with this – or at least, not directly –  it’s to China. To the free movement of trade.

The article in the Times, written by Rhys Blakely, is behind a paywall so you can only read it for yourselves if you have a subscription. I’ll summarise some of it and hope the author won’t mind.

The headline reads:

Town that furnished America’s dream sold out by globalisation

The town is Hickory, North Carolina.

In 2001, after 200 years of being ‘the furniture capital of the world’ (self-professed, I assume) a shock wave hit the town.

China joined the World Trade Organisation.

In the nine years, between 1999 and 2008, unemployment rose from two to 15 percent.

Cheap imports flooded in, jobs flooded out.

The benefits of freer trade – cheaper prices – went unsung amid the visible decline of once prosperous towns and cities like Hickory across the USA.

There, as in the UK, certain industries clustered in certain areas – making the problem as clear as acne on the skin of the nation.

Then, to add injury to insult, came 2007.

In 2016 it looks as if around half of Hickory’s population will vote Trump. Not because they like the man or find him presidential (according to quoted vox pops), but because he understands what free trade has done to them, to their family’s aspirations and expectations, to their community.

Most of the areas worst affected by this trend have certain things in common and it’s not surprising, when you consider the Trump support base and when we over here think of Brexit, that they tend to be areas where people are whiter, older, less educated – and poorer.

According to the Washington Post (quoted in the Times) Trump, in the presidential primaries, won 89 of the 100 counties that have been most affected by competition from China.

All of which (thanks, Times, you’ve done your bit) made my in-house academic (he’s the one who voted) wonder about the World Trade Organisation.

And he wondered aloud. Then went online. A sensible chap, he stopped at that – but when he started talking about Dan Brown my writing whiskers sensed a blog post, if not a full blown thriller.

I have neither the time, the expertise nor enough of your patience to go much further with this today. But I want to give you a little taster of what I found in just a couple of minutes.

  • The World Trade Organization came into being in 1995. One of the youngest of the international organizations, the WTO is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) established in the wake of the Second World War.
  • The WTO has about 160 members, accounting for about 95% of world trade. Around 25 others are negotiating membership.

The press release from the WTO welcoming the agreement with China said:

“During a 12-year period starting from the date of accession there will be a special Transitional Safeguard Mechanism in cases where imports of products of Chinese origin cause or threaten to cause market disruption to the domestic producers of other WTO members.”

And I wonder (because I have so little knowledge) did the people whose jobs have gone, thanks to Chinese imports, here in Britain and over there in America, know about that safeguard mechanism?

Was it applied to Hickory?

There’s a list on the website of the many cases made to the WTO  relating to this issue, mostly (it seemed to me) emanating from the EU and the USA. I haven’t the time or inclination to delve further. Yet. (Though that mention of Dan Brown does have my writerly neurons firing.)

But, in the meantime, I wonder, who, exactly, negotiated China’s deal? (We don’t know.)

And who policed it?

We hear of these world organisations, everyday news-bulletin acronyms – and nod them by, assuming they’re doing good on our behalf.

But what if?

When it comes to politics and trade, too little knowledge, I fear, is the really dangerous thing.


*Those two blogs:

Prepare to be depressed by the ‘Idiot of the Week’ series:

And yet more potentially depressing thoughts on US politics in the run up to the election:

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It’s one of those Zambian names, along with Gift, that always makes me feel good about my fellow humans. Naming a baby girl Precious is just such a joyful thing to do.

Lately I’ve been wondering about the things we rich-nation folks call precious. It was the mention of emeralds in my last post about Rio that set me off.

I need to confess something right at the start: I have a massive collection of jewellery.

The only gold I have, though, is a cheap, white-gold ring, bought from Ratners* the week before our wedding when we realised we’d forgotten about such trivia.

*(if you haven’t heard of Ratners, Google it with ‘prawn sandwich’ )

I’ve had gold jewellery, but never very much of it. A gold and amethyst ring given me by my godmother vanished along the way. A gold cross, also her gift, was stolen.

A gold and garnet signet ring which had belonged to my grandfather I foolishly lent to a long-term boyfriend to wear. He took it off to shower – it was gone when he dried off.

A second-hand gold and ruby ring came from another former boyfriend, along with some seed pearls threaded on a gold chain. Both, like he, are long gone. He wasn’t very observant. Gold has never been my thing.

Silver, though, I adore. And turquoise.

I have a lot of silver. And turquoise. I have a necklace that’s 17 humming birds made of turquoise.

The neckalce has 17 humming birds, the central one, here, is different, all the others like this, finsihed with silver and agate.

The central bird, with the open wings, is different. They’re all detailed with silver & agate.

But I also have a lot of things that have little or no monetary value.

Bracelets made of grass.

Necklaces made of seeds.

Brooches made of safety pins.

Rings made of cow-horn.

Earrings made of snakeskin.

Yes, snakeskin. Dyed red.  It was a phase. I’m over it.

I also have things made from bits and pieces that some would regard as precious and others would not.

Trade beads, for example, some westerners regard as precious. Nowadays similar beads are made in Ghana, I’ve seen them – and very pretty they are too. Though possibly not as robust.

Copper comes and goes as a ‘precious’ commodity and I have plenty of that, from various African sources.

I have bangles made of Malachite, that gorgeous, deep-green ore that copper can be derived from, which is regarded as semi-precious.

I hope no-one’s ever named their child Semi-Precious. I’ve encountered some odd names – Transistor Radio, for example – but that would never do. Imagine growing up semi-wanted? But I suppose it might spur the young woman on, to prove she’s way better than semi.

Anyway. Back to the great discrepancy between what some regard as precious and what others regard as waste.

I’ve written before about a session my in-house-Prof holds with students in which he asks them to clear their minds of preconceptions. To imagine they’re humans who have never come across the objects before them and rank them in order of value. Silvery bottle tops, transparent plastic bags, safety pins and so on. It’s a revealing exercise.

What has value and why?

Safety pin bracelet - sadly the elastic has broken

Safety pin, seed & bead bracelet – sadly the elastic has broken

Last year I was given a dozen bracelets made of ‘waste’ glass, threaded on elastic.

Handmade, from materials the maker must surely regard as precious, since people like the beads enough to swap them for paper  money (now there’s an interesting concept in value).

The beads are rolled by hand on stone slabs until they’re sufficiently spherical.

Some are made from beer bottles.

Some are made from Coca Cola bottles.

Some are made from trade beads.

(Which we, being westerners and valuing old beads more highly for whatever reason, hope are new.)

Some are painted, some are left plain.

Here’s a rather lovely video showing how the beads are made.

I have a particular fondness for those made out of Coke bottles. Frosted pale green glass, like a terrestrial version of sea glass.

And I rather like the fact that all the marketing hype, all the slogans, colours, logos and other expensive promotional techniques in which the great Coke brainwashers invest is wasted. The beads say nothing about their origins.

They’re just beautiful. In my opinion, that is. I certainly value them more than a sugary, caffeine-laced drink.

I’d planned to include many pictures, of my favourite precious things.  But without their stories they aren’t complete – and to explain would test your patience. And be superfluous.

Because what I’m trying, in this roundabout way to say, is that no one can know what precious means to another.

Yes, scarcity makes gold precious – or do I just mean valuable? But unless it makes you feel that special feeling that precious does – as turquoise does to me, a kind of awe – then it’s not, whatever its value, precious to you.

Enough. You’ve understood by now.

One final point.

I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to those of you who responded to my last post.

Those words aren’t even drops in the ocean that is the daily outpouring into online world, but it’s not their scarcity that makes them precious.

It’s you and the fact you wrote them for me – thank you.

Postscript: while putting this together I tried several times to photograph the Coke bottle bracelets. It’s impossible (well, for me) – they always look terribly out of focus. Perhaps that’s why I like them so much – they’re elusive!

I’m also giving more thought to ‘precious’ as I wait for the return of my Desktop, not yet 2 years old, yet ready to expire.  The thought has a certain allure. Freedom from all that has digitally gone before…

Posted in Ghana, Thinking, or ranting, or both, Zambia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Did you miss me?

I expect not. Though now you’ve had this reminder perhaps it’s occurred to you that it’s been a while since I posted.

Don’t fetch your cuppa, though. This is merely a stopgap. Not a fully fledged rant, nor a eulogy, nor reminiscence.

I just wanted to confirm that I’m still around. (I worry about bloggers who vanish – sometimes the reason’s not welcome.)

So, here I am. Still writing, just not writing blog posts. Because I’ve started a new writing project. And it’s diverted me from everything else.

It’s a sort of voyage of discovery.

Revealing a bizarre, interconnected world. One that’s been there all along, I just haven’t noticed.

Like one of those colouring books we had as children – you dip your brush in your jam jar of water, paint the empty page and – ooh!

One minute there’s nothing, next there’s a picture. Magic.

Although I’ve been out and about (a post with pictures soon, perhaps) I’m restricting myself, this time, to my own small patch of territory.

Looking in. And up. And around. And liking it.

Because so much of what’s going on out there, in our crazy, war-torn, unpredictable world, is way beyond my comprehension.  And I won’t let it drive me to despair.

No doubt it will impinge, though, the messy human world – and the rants and the eulogies will resume.

Of course, if the other project fizzles out too soon, then you might just find that here.

In instalments.

It’s not just the world that can be unpredictable.



Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged | 24 Comments