Mini-announcement: I’ve started writing occasional bits about Berlin on this group blog. It’s pretty dead over there, but I figured getting involved might be a way of goading myself into getting out more. Also, there’s surprisingly little online in English about Berlin, despite ever-growing hordes of expats, so even shitty little semi-posts can pretend they’re worthwhile.

Also, and unrelatedly, I’m increasingly impressed by these translations and reviews of the European press.


I mentioned I was translating an article on manga; it’s now online. Essentially it’s an eminent French academic – and manga fanboy – explaining why manga is so popular in France

I’d be fascinated by what people make of it; not just emmav and the rest of the manga fans, but also the larger crowd who love Transmetropolitan &c. Because a good chunk of the argument is precisely what Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore have spent decades grumbling about, and fighting against: the fact that a lot of Western superhero comics are really, really bad – slow-paced, unimaginative, unable to imagine readers who aren’t boys or nostalgic men. And I’m not convinced that’s true any more: manga may be more inventive than mainstream comics, but is it really more inventive than all the fringe stuff that’s popped up since the 80s?

Exporting surveillance

When Naomi Klein explored the Chinese surveillance industry earlier this year, she touched on the idea that Chinese companies are now trying to sell their surveillance equipment to the outside world.

True enough, but as she was writing for Rolling Stone she concentrated on possible exports to America. That’s a sideline: the US, with its own massive surveillance industry, needs no foreign assistance to spy on its citizens. The more interesting story is China’s growing exports of surveillance know-how to the developing world.

Thanks to Chinese technology even the smallest, poorest and most politically isolated nations are gaining the ability to conduct sophisticated electronic monitoring and censorship. That means above all Africa, but also perhaps Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet bloc.

Some specific cases have already been identified: Chinese knowledge has helped with internet censorship in Belarus and radio-jamming in Zimbabwe. Like there is more that goes unreported, both because of the secrecy involved and because there is no obvious Western angle for the english-language media.

More broadly, look at Chinese government documents. The primary official statement of its Africa policy is this document from 2006:

China will cooperate closely with immigration departments of African countries in tackling the problem of illegal migration, improve exchange of immigration control information and set up an unimpeded and efficient channel for intelligence and information exchange.

In order to enhance the ability of both sides to address non-traditional security threats, it is necessary to increase intelligence exchange, explore more effective ways and means for closer cooperation in combating terrorism, small arms smuggling, drug trafficking, transnational economic crimes, etc.

I don’t think I’m being too conspiratorial if I read into that an ambition to supply the backbone for surveillance across Africa.

Time for a party

My phone is a decrepit hand-me-down from my sister. Deep in its addled brain are a few dozen appointments and reminders she inserted years ago, which it now regurgitates more or less at random.

It has just told me that today is my 21st birthday.