Consumerist Economics:


How much of  modern (Western?) culture and lifestyle is dictated by commercial pressures?
How much are trends started in America in the 1920's (Only Yesterday ) still shaping our lives?

Is Commerce the new morality in international affairs?

Is "Free Speech" a subtle tool for encouraging Consumerism
(removing self-restraint and promoting instant gratification)

Or is a lack of  "Free Speech" encouraging lazy thinking
(by removing intellectual confrontations and challenges)
and opening us to exploitation by ad-men and con-men?

How sustainable is our lifestyle?
Is it creating social as well as environmental pressure that might threaten it?


China's Alibaba breaks Singles Day record as sales surge


  • 11 November 2015
  • From the section Business
Media caption:  China's Singles Day sparks online spending spree

E-commerce giant Alibaba has broken its own record for sales on China's Singles Day, the world's biggest online shopping event.

By the close of trade, the site had seen sales worth 91.2bn yuan ($14.3bn; £9.4bn), a 60% increase from last year.

In comparison, sales on Cyber Monday, which is the biggest online shopping day in the US, hit $1.35bn, according to data analytics firm ComScore.

Singles Day is held every year on 11 November.

The day is also referred to as Double Eleven because of its date.


Why do China's biggest brands celebrate being single every year?


10 November 2015

Millions of people in China are celebrating being single on the social network Sina Weibo - because it's "Singles Day" on 11 November. Here's BBC Trending's quick guide to the day and the huge viral phenomenon, driven by online retailers, that it has become.

What is it?

It's meant to be a day set aside for single people to spoil themselves. The date is four single 1s - 11.11 - or as they call it in China, "bare sticks" - in other words, you're unattached.

Who started it?

It's hard to be sure but an often repeated explanation is that it started as a grassroots movement among students at Nanjing University in the early nineties. They bought themselves presents, as a sort of "anti-Valentines day".

So it's just grown from there?

No - it's grown because of heavy promotion by online retailers and brands. In 2009, the online retail giant Alibaba decided to turn the day into a massive marketing opportunity. Every Singles Day, Alibaba offers huge discounts, aimed at those who are single. It's also a shopping day for other brands and retailers - China Daily called it "China's Black Friday" last year, comparing it to the big US sales day after Thanksgiving, after sales of 10 billion yuan (US $1.63 billion) were recorded on just one online shopping site.

So it's big, then?

It's one of the biggest online conversations each year. It's perhaps no surprise that the Singles Day hashtag on Weibo has reached hundreds of millions of people over the years - because the online retailers who help drive it know their sites are just a click away.

But wait - people are also getting married this "Singles Day"? Er...

This appears to be a growing trend. Last year, the Xinhua news agency reported a "wedding boom" on Singles Day. It seems some people see the "bare sticks" next to each other (11.11) as a romantic symbol of singles finding one another.

What's this picture?

Image copyright WEIBO

This twist on Communist-style propaganda art is used all over the internet to represent Singles Day, including on the Weibo page for the hashtag. The slogan translates as: "Our Singles Day strength".

What's going viral this Singles Day?


The Chinese account of the US sitcom, the Big Bang Theory, has been making jokes about the upcoming day on Weibo. Some students are sharing selfies of themselves holding boards explaining why it's OK to be single and stating that they aren't interested in finding a partner. One student has dreamt up a fake "Singles card" that looks like a marriage licence, which is also drawing clicks. But big brands are still among the top Singles Day trends.

Research by Kerry Allen


The Nobel Prize winning economist who ate cat food


  • 13 November 2015

Once upon a time a Nobel Prize winning economist had a cat called Lightning.

Now, Lightning appeared to like his cat food, a rather pricey gourmet dish which claimed to be a cut above the rest.

But maybe, thought the Nobel Prize winning economist, I have been fooled into thinking this cat food is a cut above the rest - when it isn't.

There is only one way to find out, said the economist.

And that is to eat it myself. And so he did. It was, he said with a giggle, pretty much like any other cat food.

And the moral of this tale, he says, is that he had been "phished for a phool" - or manipulated into buying something.

Now the economist in question, Robert Shiller and his fellow Nobel laureate George Akerlof, have written Phishing for Phools, about how the sellers of cat food and thousands of other products and services "phish" us into buying things we do not want or need.

"Of course they do it," he says. "If you had a cat food company you wouldn't say 'Dried Dead Fish' on the label...we live in a constructed world that's filled with deception like this."

Fools or not

"Phishing" was initially coined to describe internet fraud, but Profs Shiller and Akerlof use it more broadly to cover a world of deception, and add the term "phools" to describe its victims.

Being gulled into paying more for cat food is hardly a serious affair. But the two economists see it as a microcosm of something much bigger in society.

Image copyright Chip Somodevilla
Image caption Firms routinely manipulate us into buying things we don't need or want, says Robert Shiller

The financial crisis of 2008 was caused in part, says Prof Shiller, by buyers being manipulated into buying financial products that were ultimately destructive to them and to society.

So the sale of deeply flawed mortgage-backed securities and their accompanying credit-default swaps flourished on the back of free markets and the reputations of the banks and finance house that sold them.

Not everyone goes along with this. "A bigger cause of the financial crisis than people fooling others was that everyone fooled themselves," says George Mason University economist, Prof Alex Tabarrok.

"From government regulators to mortgage bundlers to home buyers, people simply came to believe that house prices could never fall and they acted accordingly."

Profs Shiller and Akerlof argue that if people were fooling themselves there were plenty of others happy to help them on their way.

Behavioural economics

The two authors are behavioural economists, who inject psychology and sociology into their economics.

There's nothing new about that, but this latest foray into the "dismal art" has a distinctly dismal view of human nature.

"Most people will pick little shortcuts, little dishonesties," says Prof Shiller.

"You are pushed [to dishonesty] by many pressures, one is a sense of responsibility to your investors, another is to your employees. And you think everybody does this.

"Nobody's making a stink.... of course you do it, and the ones who don't do it are failing and going out of business. That's a phishing equilibrium."

Prof Tabarrok's view couldn't be more different: "If you look around the world it's the capitalist societies that are the high trust societies.

"There is no question that overall capitalism generates trust, honest dealings, customer service and good will. Distrust and cheating are the human norm and they have declined with the extension of the capitalist, 'trader values'."

The monkey-on-the-shoulder

Not so, say the behavioural economists.

Profs Shiller and Akerlof argue that the free markets persuade us to do things with results that no one could possibly want.

The blame, they say, lies in our "monkey-on-the-shoulder" tastes - those pernicious voices that tell us to buy what we think we want, rather than what we really want.

Prof Tabarrok takes issue with this difference.

"I do not think it is so simple. People disagree, sometimes violently, about which decisions are the ones that no one in their right mind could possibly want.

"Consider the different reactions around the world to Bruce Jenner's transition to Caitlyn Jenner [the transgender US athlete].

"Moreover, what's wrong with the monkey on the shoulder? Isn't a bit of monkeying around also a part of the good life?"

But Profs Shiller and Akerlof say this world of "phishers" pervades everything, from pharmaceutical companies that sell us drugs, politicians whose power is manipulated by the wealth of their backers, and tobacco companies that defend their right to sell their wares as seductively as possible.

On alcohol Prof Shiller talks passionately of how it destroys marriages and lives: "We have TV adverts showing beautiful young people enjoying liquor.

"We live in a society now where it's difficult to say no to a drink. But we would be in a much better society if we did that - because of the problems of alcohol.

"I am not saying we should all stop drinking but I can see the forces that make it much worse than it could be."

Regulators as heroes

So what to do about it?

Perhaps surprisingly, both economists are still fervent believers in the free market, and the power it has to improve lives.

What it needs is better regulation, they say.

But regulation is a hard sell to those who believe in the free market.

"How can the preferences of a regulator, or even a set of regulators, be superior to those of the ones being regulated?" wrote Siddharth Singh, the editor of Mint, India's second largest business magazine.

"What is needed," said Mark Hendrickson in Forbes magazine, "is not a hyper-regulatory nanny government to try to insulate us from our own shallowness and silliness. The remedy for 'phoolishness' lies beyond the scope of government."

But says Prof Shiller, "our civilization has gotten so complicated we do need complex regulation.

"It's not that the government knows better, it's that civil society knows better. Civil society is a concept, a civilization of responsible adults who do not delegate all decisions to 'the government'.

"In a civil society, society doesn't just take it for granted that whoever is, say, prime minister, is right. We are personally responsible. And that's why things work - it's not just because of free markets."



Crass, loud, meaningless: Why have we ruined Diwali like this?


  • 11 November 2015

Diwali is perhaps the most important Hindu festival celebrated in north India, but over the past decade or so, it has degenerated into a crass commercial fiesta, writes the BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

In my family, Diwali was traditionally the festival of lights - when we decorated our homes with diyas (little clay lamps), prayed to Lakshmi, the "goddess of wealth", to make us rich, and Ganesha, the cute elephant-headed god who removed obstacles in our path, helped us pass our exams when we were young, and made us generally happy.

We would wear new clothes and gorge on traditional sweets - some bought from the market and some made at home by my extremely talented mother.

We never had firecrackers - as a child whenever I asked my dad for money to buy crackers, he would say "you might as well burn the money".

The first time I spent some money on crackers was when I became a mother and bought some for my son when he was a year old. He was so frightened by the noise that I had to hide in the house with him and so, that also became the last time.

But Diwali in Delhi no longer resembles the happy festival of my childhood days.

In recent years, it's degenerated into a mega shopping festival, with endless traffic snarls and noisy firecrackers adding to the thick blanket of grey smog already choking the city's lungs, making the mere act of breathing here a dangerous exercise.

The sorry state of affairs has been worrying many Delhi'ites. In the past few years, there have been campaigns to make people shun fireworks, but clearly they have failed.

Image copyright AP
Image caption:  Delhi is among the world's most polluted cities

The Delhi high court recently said crackers were "as bad as explosives" and the parents of three infants also appealed to the Supreme Court to ban them.

The court turned down the plea but the judges told the government to launch campaigns to "sensitise the public on the ill effects and pollution of bursting of crackers" and said they would be prohibited between 10pm and 6am.

But will that really happen? I doubt that - and I say that because in my neighbourhood in south Delhi, the crackers have already been bursting for days now. And they have been going on well past the 10pm deadline.

In an angry Facebook post, a friend who lives in east Delhi said he was woken up at 12:56am by neighbours bursting loud crackers.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption On Diwali, Hindus pray to Lakshmi, the "goddess of wealth"

But the things that have most come to symbolise Diwali in Delhi - and which I hate the most - are the shopping frenzies that take over the city in the weeks preceding the festival, coupled with some truly ludicrous gift-giving.

From several weeks before Diwali, daily newspapers grow noticeably thicker thanks to multiple pages containing just advertisements for all the shiny new things you can buy.

You are encouraged to buy a newer and bigger television set, replace that old washing machine even though it works perfectly well, get gadgets and home appliances that you neither have use - nor space - for.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption:  During Diwali, Delhi is often stuck in monster traffic jams

And while you are at it, go out and buy some gold and diamonds too. And that swanky new car. Oh, and since you're buying around Diwali, you'd probably get a free gold coin, or a free music system to go with that new set of wheels.

And since Diwali is also a time to be generous towards your fellow beings, don't forget that unnecessarily large basket of dry fruits, chocolates or gifts to give away to friends, relatives and business contacts.

And of course the millions of boxes of unhealthy sugary Indian sweets. It doesn't matter that India is certified as the "diabetes and hyper-tension capital" of the world.

And then of course load them into millions of cars to deliver them to their intended recipients.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption:  The Delhi high court recently said that crackers were "as bad as explosives"

And then sit for hours in endless traffic jams, getting cranky, honking horns.

During Diwali, my mother would always end the prayer ceremony by drawing a path on the floor so that when the goddess of wealth came to our house - just like Santa at Christmas - she would know where to go.

But today, I doubt Goddess Lakshmi would come to Delhi, repulsed by its noise and pollution. And even if she did, she would probably just be stuck in the traffic jam.


Modi visit: 'Huge moment' for UK and India


  • 12 November 2015
  • From the section UK

Current negotiations between the UK and India are a "huge moment for our two great nations", India's PM Narendra Modi has said on his visit to Britain.

In a speech to Parliament, he said the two countries needed to create "one of the leading global partnerships".

Mr Modi and David Cameron are due to sign deals between Indian and UK firms worth more than £9bn.

The leaders said they would collaborate on issues including finance, defence, nuclear power and climate change.

Mr Modi, whose three-day visit is the first by an Indian prime minister in a decade, said India's relationship with the UK was of "immense importance".

Image copyright EPA

He also said that India viewed the UK as its "entry point to the EU".

"Yes we are going to other European countries as well, but we will continue to consider the UK as our entry point to the EU as far as possible," he added.

Mr Modi said the UK and India were "two strong economies and two innovative societies" but he said their relationship "must set higher ambitions".

"We are igniting the engines of our manufacturing sector," he told MPs.

"The progress of India is the destiny of one sixth of humanity," he added.

His speech marked the first time a serving Indian prime minister had spoken in the UK's Parliament.

        Media caption Narendra Modi: "This is a relationship of immense importance to us"

Live coverage of today's political events

Modimania: India's superstar PM

Image copyright Reuters
  • Narendra Modi is seen as a divisive politician - loved and loathed in equal measure
  • He is leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and took over as PM in May 2014 after leading his party to a spectacular general election win
  • He served as the chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 and is regarded as a dynamic politician who helped make the western state an economic powerhouse
  • But he is also accused of doing little to stop the 2002 religious riots when more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed - allegations he has consistently denied
  • His 18 months in power have been somewhat controversial amid concerns over rising social tensions and intolerance in India
  • Mr Modi is known as a brilliant public speaker and is very popular among Indian communities abroad - 60,000 people are expected to fill Wembley Stadium to hear him speak

Read more about Mr Modi and why he's so popular abroad

Mr Modi's arrival in London was marked with a flypast by the RAF's aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, over the House of Commons.

On his way to give a speech to Parliament, he visited a statue of India's independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

During the trip, Mr Modi will meet the Queen and address crowds at Wembley Stadium.

After his Parliament speech Mr Modi addressed business leaders and politicians at London's Guildhall.

He said India was an attractive investment destination.

"Ours is the country of vibrant youths and a rising middle class. We welcome your ideas, innovations and enterprises," he said.

BBC News correspondent Christian Fraser said India's growing economy was "crucially important to British industry and trade".

Indian businesses in the UK


people are employed by Indian companies operating in the UK

  • 13 Indian companies each employ more than 1,000 people in the UK

  • 65,000 people work for Tata Group, which owns 5 of those 13 companies

  • 28,000 of those work for Tata Motors, which owns Jaguar Land Rover

The visit comes at an unsettled time in India, where Mr Modi's Hindu-nationalist party lost a recent regional election.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered the defeat in the northern Indian state of Bihar, amid concerns over a rise in religious intolerance in India.

His supporters will hope his visit will help him spring back from that defeat.Media captionModi Miles: Why is India PM Narendra Modi always flying?

Why the UK visit is designed to dazzle Modi

India sends a message on talented migrants

Why British Sikhs are calling for a 'black Diwali'

How close are UK and India relations?

In pictures: Indian PM Modi visits the UK

Image copyright AFP

Protesters gathered outside Downing Street, criticising Mr Modi over a number of issues including claims of religious persecution, and interference in Nepal.

Campaigners from the UK-based Awaaz Network say they are against Mr Modi's "violent authoritarian agenda that seeks to undermine India's democratic and secular fabric".

Dozens of writers have signed a letter to Mr Cameron, asking him to urge Mr Modi to "provide better protection for writers, artists and other critical voices and ensure that freedom of speech is safeguarded" in India.

Supporters of Mr Modi also gathered to welcome him.


Image copyright Reuters

By Justin Rowlatt, BBC South Asia correspondent

At the heart of these big foreign visits is trade.

India is now the fastest-growing large economy in the world and David Cameron wants the UK to have a piece of the action. Meanwhile Mr Modi wants to promote his signature policy and encourage British firms to "make in India".

The big theme will be about how the two nations can enhance their "partnership".

You can expect the two leaders to announce billions of pounds worth of new deals between British and Indian companies. There'll also be talk about how the City of London can play a bigger role in the Indian economy, with plans for Indian companies to raise money in UK markets.

Mr Modi will be hoping that footage of him at Buckingham Palace and being cheered by a huge crowd in Wembley Stadium will help burnish his image in India after his party's humiliating defeat in the state elections in Bihar.

But he is a controversial figure and the visit is likely to be marked by demonstrations and protests.

Read more from Justin here

Image copyright AP 
Image caption Narendra Modi inspected soldiers from the Scots Guards outside the Treasury in London

During the visit, he will stay at Chequers, Mr Cameron's official country retreat in Buckinghamshire.

On Friday, Mr Modi will speak, mainly in Hindi, to some 60,000 people due at the Wembley event, which is expected to be a celebration of the Indian diaspora's contribution to the British economy.

Organisers have promised an Olympic-style reception for the Indian prime minister.



Desertification: The people whose land is turning to dust


  • 12 November 2015
  • From the section Africa
Image caption "Here we live off the land and if it doesn't work we are in so much trouble", says Amadou Souare

The UN predicts over 50 million people will be forced to leave their homes by 2020 because their land has turned to desert. This is already happening in Senegal, writes Laeila Adjovi.

Cattle herder Khalidou Badara took me up a hill in Louga, northern Senegal, to describe to me how his area has changed.

"When I was a child, I did not even dare to walk up to here because the vegetation was so dense.

"But these past few years, the wind and sand have been taking over.

"There are almost no more trees, and the grass does not grow anymore, and so each year, we have to go further and further away to find grazing for our cattle."

His life has become more complicated because of desertification.

He's not the only one. The UN says land degradation affects 1.5 billion people globally.

Desertification is the persistent degradation of dry land ecosystems by human activities and by climate change.

It translates into scarcer rains and decreasing soil quality, which leads to less grazing for livestock and lower crop yield.

Lost land

Each year, UN figures say, 12 million hectares of land are lost. That's land where 20 million tonnes of grain could have been grown.

People living off the land feel they have no choice but to migrate.

In another part of Louga - the village of Pendayayake - I met Cheikhou Lo.

Image caption:  Cheikhou Lo says he can't work because of the drought

He had sown hectares of peanuts and beans in the hope of selling them.

But lack of rain and soil erosion mean the peanuts and beans have not ripened.

His failed harvest is only good to feed animals.

Image caption:  Cheikhou Lo's peanut harvest has been ruined this year

"Years ago, there was more rain and we were able to produce more," he told me.

"We could live on the crops until the next rainy season. Now, with that drought, we can't work.

"If we had boreholes and sufficient means, we could grow vegetables, plant trees, and we could stay here".

"But if not, many have to leave and go elsewhere to be able to survive."

Forced to leave

His 27-year-old nephew Amadou Souare added that in the village there is only one borehole and not enough means to dig another one.

"Here we live off the land," he said.

"And if that does not work, we are in so much trouble."

Image caption There used to be much more rain in northern Senegal

Many young people from the village have left. Cheikou Lo's own children, now adults, went to find jobs in Dakar.

Some have travelled to Gabon, others are planning to go to Europe or Brazil.

"We would rather they stayed here to develop the village but with no jobs and no means, how can we ask them to stay?" he asked.

A wall of trees

One project is trying to slow the effects of desertification.

The Great Green Wall initiative aims to create a barrier of vegetation in vulnerable areas across the continent, from Senegal to Djibouti.

The organisation says hundreds of thousands of trees have already been planted in the region.

In Senegal, the wall is intended to make a 545km (338 mile) long curtain of vegetation.

Image caption:  People may not be able to wait the 10 years the trees will take to grow

The organisation also makes fodder banks for herders, vegetable gardens to prevent malnutrition and teaches children how to protect the environment.

The idea is to meet minimal living conditions so people can survive.

After all, El Hadj Goudiaby from the national agency of the Great Green Wall explained, the trees will only have an impact in 10-15 years' time.

"Can people here really wait that long? No."

Pushed by the desert

Month by month, people continue to leave. A few hours away, Dakar, the capital city, offers hope of a better life.

Malik Souare grew up in Pendayayake.

Unable to live off the land, he decided to move to Dakar, and found a job as a driver.

But now, he dreams of going even further away.

"You know, everyone wants to get ahead. So I would prefer to leave. Go to England maybe. That is the place where my hopes are now," he said.

For more and more rural communities at the mercy of the environment, migration appears to be the only choice.

According to the UN, over 50 million people could move from the desertified areas of sub-Saharan Africa towards North Africa and Europe by 2020.

Pushed by the desert and pulled by opportunity, more and more people like Mr Souare will picture their future abroad.



Migrant crisis: More drown as EU leaders meet in Malta

  • 11 November 2015
  • From the section Europe

Media caption: More than 60 leaders are meeting to discuss the mass movement of people, Gavin Lee reports.

Fourteen migrants have drowned in the latest boat sinking as European Union and African leaders gathered in Malta to discuss measures to stem the flow of people into Europe.

Seven of those who died when a wooden boat sank between Turkey and the Greek island of Lesbos were children.

Coastguards rescued 27 survivors.

The meeting in the Maltese capital Valletta was planned after about 800 died in a migrant boat sinking off Libya in April.

The UN says nearly 800,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far in 2015, while some 3,440 have died or gone missing making the journey.

Some 150,000 people from African countries such as Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia have made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean from Africa so far this year, arriving mainly in Italy and Malta.

But this has been dwarfed by the arrival of some 650,000 people - mostly Syrians - via Turkey and Greece.

BBC world affairs reporter Richard Galpin says the crisis has evolved so quickly since this year that European leaders have been struggling to keep up and formulate any coherent policies.

At the two-day Malta summit, EU leaders are expected to offer countries in Africa billions of euros in exchange for help with the migrant crisis.

Media caption: Clive Myrie reports from Ethiopia on the Eritrean children fleeing to safety

The European Commission is setting up a €1.8bn "trust fund" for Africa and has urged member states to match that sum. However, there are doubts about whether they will do so.

The aim is to tackle the economic and security problems that cause people to flee, and persuade African countries to take back more failed asylum seekers.

African leaders are likely to insist on a much clearer path for smaller numbers of their citizens to migrate officially to Europe, in exchange for help on the crisis, says the BBC's Chris Morris in Malta.

Deep divisions

Tensions in the EU have been rising because of the pressures faced by those countries where most migrants initially arrive, particularly Greece, Italy and Hungary. Most migrants then head to Germany or Sweden - regarded as the most welcoming to refugees - to claim asylum.

EU leaders have agreed a controversial programme to relocate thousands of migrants - but so far only about 130 have been successfully moved from Greece and Italy.

Wednesday evening saw Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman announce that his country will impose temporary border controls from noon on Thursday local time for 10 days until 21 November to allow it to cope with tens of thousands of new arrivals.

"We moved forward with temporary border controls in order to obtain security and stability... not to limit the number of asylum seekers, but to get better control of the flow of asylum seekers to Sweden," he said.

Other developments on Wednesday highlighted deep divisions between EU members on the migrant issue.

Hungary was bitterly critical of Germany's announcement that it planned to send more Syrian refugees back to the first EU country they had entered, after reinstating the EU's Dublin Regulation on asylum. Berlin said this would not include Greece, the first point of entry for most migrants.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said: "The Dublin system is dead."

He also accused German politicians of making "irresponsible statements" which some migrants had interpreted as an invitation to come to Europe.

Meanwhile, Slovenia has begun building a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia, a day after the government said it would install "temporary technical obstacles", but stressed official border crossings would remain open and that the move was designed to restore order.

Croatia criticised the Slovenian fence, saying it would be better to spend money on preparing reception centres for migrants.


Hidden treasures of a remote record shop


  • 9 November 2015

Until recently, people in Mongolia had to travel more than 1,000km (600 miles) across the Gobi desert to Beijing to get to their nearest record shop. But this year, a new specialist store opened in the capital, Ulan Bator.

Batbold Bavuu began collecting records by accident 10 years ago, rescuing them from rubbish bins at the music college where he was a student.

Those discs formed the basis of his collection and the inspiration for his new shop, Dund Gol Records. The business started off in the corner of a children's library, tucked away in a tiny area with tall, dusty windows. His mission: to make vinyl cool again in Mongolia.

"It's not just what I do, it's who I am," says Batbold, who usually goes by his nickname, Boldoo. "The most important part is the music, it's a big part of my life, so that's why I'm doing this."

His mother, who used to sing him Mongolian folk songs, first introduced him to music, and then in the early 1990s he got into hip hop.

"What I liked most was hip hop's sampling culture. I like funk, soul, jazz music, and later I just got into everything… I'm not the typical collector, I collected very fast. I collected because I like to sample music, that's why I like every genre."

Boldoo moved to London to study, took sound engineering courses, and then eventually began to write rap lyrics. He released a record with a Japanese artist in 2007, before returning to Ulan Bator to run a club and host underground parties.

Now he's put his 3,000 records on sale - an eclectic mix that includes Cuban tracks, Yemeni Jewish music, hip hop, Edith Piaf, pop groups from Belarus and rare state-sponsored Mongolian rock bands.

With possibly the largest record collection in the country, he has a wide selection of albums from the Soviet era - some that were officially released and others that were smuggled into the country, evading strict controls imposed by the Communist authorities.

As far as he knows, this is the country's first specialist record store. During Mongolia's 65 years as a Soviet satellite, when it came under Moscow's influence, music was sold in book shops and department stores.

Dund Gol which means Middle River, is nostalgically named after the river that flows though the city. Boldoo grew up nearby and spent his childhood fishing there, though as Ulan Bator expanded, water levels dropped and the fish have all but disappeared.

Development has brought foreign visitors though. Boldoo has welcomed shoppers from Israel, South Africa, the US, Germany and Egypt who come to dig for forgotten musical treasures.

Billy Macrae, a photographer from London, heard about Dund Gol from a Norwegian friend who introduced him to Boldoo via the shop's Facebook page.

When Macrae walked into the store, some of the first things he noticed were the Bee Gees and Beatles albums.

"It's quite unique in that these records have been sitting in someone's ger (yurt) for about 30 years, and some of them seem really well preserved," he says. "I think a lot of the particular copies would have been issued in the USSR and I don't think you'd find them in a shop in London for example."

Now, rather than sifting through rubbish bins, Boldoo finds that vinyl comes to him.

His foreign customers often post him records when they get home and sometimes local families call asking him to sell their discs in his shop. "Every Mongolian family used to have few records," he says. "It was very trendy during the 80s, but most of them played Frisbee with them."

On one of the last days of summer, before the air turned thick with the smell of coal fires, Boldoo got a call from young man living in one of the slum districts, where close to 800,000 nomads have set up their traditional yurts.

Between sips of milky Mongolian tea, he inspected 100 or so records and came away with music by Charles Aznavour and Elvis Presley, a rare set of flexible and colourful German 78s, a disc in the shape of a postcard and an album of African-American gospel music pressed in the Czech Republic in 1963.

Boldoo suspects the collection once belonged to a Mongolian diplomat who acquired the music on trips abroad more than 25 years ago - someone in such a position would have been able to bring them into Mongolia undetected.

Though his loyal customer base consists mostly of European and American visitors, Mongolians are also starting to take more notice.

Baapii came to Dund Gol just to see a record player - she'd only ever seen them in films. "I was thinking, 'Why don't we have this in Mongolia? I want to see this too,'" she says while flicking through Beethoven records.

"It's so nice to see it." She plans to come back another day to buy a turntable - Boldoo recently imported 10 to sell to his customers.

The shop seems to be doing well and has already moved to a larger site a few blocks away from the children's library. Boldoo is now sharing a place with a delicatessen where he has more space to display the albums that were once confined to cardboard boxes. He is also cataloguing his collection in the hope of selling online too.

"The good part is that I acquire a lot of knowledge," he says. "I learn languages because all these records have been pressed and written in different languages. I meet lots of interesting people with lots of stories. It's very profitable to meet like-minded people from all around the world to exchange knowledge and culture."

This article was made possible through a fellowship from the International Reporting Project.


A Point of View: Why people shouldn't feel the need to censor themselves


Self-censorship can be as much a threat to free speech as its government equivalent, argues Roger Scruton.

Any discussion of free speech needs to deal with two important issues - jokes and race. Jokes are not opinions, but they can cause just as much offence. So should there be the same freedom to make jokes as to express opinions?

The issue of race has been the subject of deep self-questioning in modern communities. The most horrible genocide in recent history - the Holocaust - occurred because people felt free to hate the Jews and to broadcast that hatred in speech that was protected by law. The oppression of black people in America and their exclusion from the privileges of citizenship was advocated freely and destructively throughout recent times. And again the opinions were protected by law. Don't these and similar cases justify the current belief that free speech is not a good in itself, and that groups liable to be targeted by collective hatred should be protected from its abuse?

These two issues are of pressing concern to us. The Charlie Hebdo affair in France reminds us that jokes can give such offence as to inspire the most violent response to them. And we should surely not be surprised if the French comedian Dieudonne, who regularly includes anti-Semitic jokes in his stand-up shows, is now banned from many places in France and Belgium.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Controversial French comedian Dieudonne

We should remember, however, that offence can be taken even when it has not been given. There are radical feminists who search every innocent remark about women for the hidden sexist agenda. Even using the masculine pronoun in the grammatically sanctioned way, so as to refer indifferently to men and women, can cause offence and is now being banned on campuses all across America. It is not that you wish to give offence. But you are up against people who are expert in taking it, who have cultivated the art of taking offence over many years, and who are never more delighted than when some innocent man falls into the trap of speaking incorrectly.

Typically a joke tries to cut things down to size, so that you can feel at ease with the thing you laugh at. Most ethnic jokes are like that - ways of dealing with ethnic diversity, by helping people to feel content with their own group, and not threatened by the others. Sometimes it is your own group that is cut down to size - as in the many Jewish jokes that show some Jewish foible to be an amusing eccentricity rather than a threat. Jokes become popular because they soften things, making reality, with all its divisions, less of a threat. Here is a well-known joke from the Northern Ireland troubles - one man stops another in the street and points a gun at his chest. "Catholic or Protestant?" he demands. "Atheist," comes the reply. To which the response is "Catholic atheist or Protestant atheist?" Humour of that kind is pointing both to the absurdity of sectarian conflict, and also to the fact that it is a pretence, an excuse for hatred rather than a response to it. It is reminding us that the art of taking offence is used by small-minded people to gain an unwarranted advantage over the rest of us.

Of course there are jokes in bad taste, jokes that express unpleasant or malicious attitudes. We teach our children not to tell jokes of that kind, and not to laugh when others tell them. Humour is informed by moral judgment. We hope to turn it towards acceptance and forgiveness, and away from malice and contempt. But how should we deal with the joke that gives offence?

You cannot legislate against offence. No legislation, no invention of new crimes and punishments, can possibly introduce irony, forgiveness and good will into minds schooled in the art of being offended. This is as true of radical feminists as of sectarians and radical Islamists. While we have a moral duty to laugh at them, they have also made it dangerous to do so. But we should never lose sight of the fact that it is they, not we, who are the transgressors. Those who suspect mockery at every turn, and who react with implacable anger when they think they have discovered it, are the real offenders.

So what about racist speech? Is this any different from the other kinds of protected speech, or is there some special reason for criminalising it? Does the Holocaust justify banning the opinions that gave rise to it? Many people think so, and in France the legislature has gone further and criminalised those who deny that the Holocaust occurred.

Image copyright Sean Gallup
Image caption:  The Berlin Holocaust memorial: Should denial of the event be punishable by law?

Racist opinions won't go away just because we forbid their expression. Indeed, forbidding them may give them a special allure. What was most destructive about the Nazi propaganda against the Jews was not so much the expression of those nasty opinions, but the suppression of those who sought to refute them. It was the lack of free speech that allowed the opinions to rampage out of control, free from the arguments that would have exposed them to ridicule. By contrast, black people in America earned their status as equal citizens partly because of free discussion, which persuaded ordinary Americans that racial stereotyping is both irrational and unjust. It is because they gave voice to their opinions that the racists were defeated.

The case is of vital importance to us in Britain. The policing of the public sphere with a view to suppressing "racist" opinions has caused a kind of public psychosis, a sense of having to tiptoe through a minefield, and to avoid all the areas where the bomb of outrage might go off in your face. And this bomb has been planted and primed by people many of whom see the accusation of racism as a useful way to undermine our belief in our country and its way of life. Hence police forces, public officials, city councillors and teachers have hesitated to think what they know to be true, or to act against what they know to be wrong. We have seen this in the cases of sexual abuse in Rotherham and elsewhere. when reluctance to single out an immigrant community for blame has been one reason for failing to act. My recent novel The Disappeared is an attempt to explore the depths of the moral disorder that has entered our society, through this kind of self-censorship, which prevents a teacher, a police officer or a social worker from acting, precisely when most sure that he or she must act.

Self-censorship is even more harmful than censorship by the state. For it shuts down the conversation completely. Because of mass migration our society has undergone vast and potentially traumatic changes, but without the benefit of public discussion, and as though we had no choice over our future. The depths of confusion and resentment are beginning to be perceivable, not only here but all across Europe, and it is discussion alone that would have prevented them. Those who have tried to initiate that discussion have been subjected to witch-hunts and character assassination of a kind that few people can easily endure. The result has been a loss of reasoned argument in places where nothing is needed so much as reasoned argument.

Image copyright PA
Image caption 2013: Cambridge students protest against the appearance of right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen at the university's debating society

One last word about the art of taking offence. Nowhere has this art been more assiduously cultivated than on American campuses, where an entirely new culture of trepidation has set out to capture the adolescent psyche. When discussing any of the matters in which the secular dogmas have staked a claim - race, sex, orientation, sexual politics - the professor may now be required to issue "trigger warnings", lest he stray into areas that might trigger the memory of some traumatic event in the life of the student. Visiting speakers with heretical views about feminism or homosexuality are also preceded by trigger warnings. Some campuses even provide safe rooms where the trembling students can retire for consolation should they have been exposed to the contamination of an unorthodox point of view.

Amusing though this is, you have to be careful not to laugh at it, at least if you are a professor who has not got tenure. Those who wish to maintain the student mind in a condition of coddled vulnerability, unhardened by opposition and unpractised in argument, now police the campus, with the result that these places which should have been the last bastion of reason in a muddled world, are instead the places where all the muddles come home for nourishment. The example vividly illustrates the way in which the attacks on free speech can go so far as to close off the route to knowledge. And in the end that is why we should value this freedom, and why John Stuart Mill was so right to defend it - as fundamental to a free society - without it we will never really know what we think.


Introduction to Cross Media Mapping
Manifesto on Aesthetics

Between Tears and Laughter
Only Yesterday

News Reports
Project Machiavelli

Intelligent Systems
The New Industrial State
The Age of Automation

Trevor Batten

 <trevor at tebatt dot net>
 Baclayon 2015