Diary - Noreena Hertz

A letter responding to my article on debt relief asks, "What make-up are you wearing?"

What's with the Guardian's policy of asking commentators to provide their e-mail addresses to publish along with their comment pieces? In the past, at least there were a few hurdles for weirdos and stalkers to jump over before they managed to get in touch. With this open-door policy, they're in your office at the click of a mouse. I wrote a piece for that paper last week on "debt [as] a feminist issue", and among the choice responses were: "I am from Africa and have never met an Aids sufferer in my whole life - and I know a lot of people . . . It's all a racist game to peddle poisonous drugs to Africans . . . Why don't people like you first solve your drug and homosexual problem in your own countries before preaching to others?" Then there were a couple of those Nigerian-type "Can I put $20m into your bank account" scams. None of these quite beat the snail-mail letter I received in Cambridge this week, from a fellow academic in Zurich who had read about me in a Swiss magazine. "Dear Dr Hertz, how I should like to be in battle with you," the letter promisingly began. It continued: "My main question is: in that photo of you, dressed in black with handsome necklace, what make-up are you wearing?" Glad to see that I am communicating my message to cancel unpayable and illegitimate debts so well.

Our heir-apparent, Gordon Brown and Dubbya have been beating the debt-relief drum this week. No cause for jubilation quite yet, though. Still to be determined is whether, under their plans, the additional monies put into debt relief will be taken out of aid budgets (obviously not the way to go) or be additional to it (the right way forward), and which countries will be eligible for this relief. Some of the world's poorest, most highly indebted countries have mysteriously been left out. Most worryingly, countries will be eligible for debt relief only if they play by the IMF and World Bank's stringent economic rules. Given that these same rules are responsible for slashing growth in Latin America by half, and the incomes of the poorest 20 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa by 2 per cent a year, I don't think this is the way to go if Brown truly is serious about "making poverty history".

Debt relief has suddenly become fashionable. Which undoubtedly accounts for the eclectic group that gathered to celebrate the launch of my new book, IOU: the debt threat and why we must defuse it. Unlike other launch parties I've been at - where no one speaks to anyone else unless they already know them or think they can get something out of them - at mine the great and the good chatted happily away to the lesser-known and the bad.

The party was so eclectic that even one of those infamous "debt vultures" whom I expose in IOU (they buy up the world's poorest countries' debt and then sue the countries to redeem it at face value) gatecrashed it. "I'm buying up Sudan's debt right now at nine cents on the dollar," the vulture proudly informed me. About Hurricane Ivan's hit on Cuba the other day, he cawed: "My main fear was that the hurricane would strike Cuba's most productive tobacco plantation, a plantation I've seriously invested in." As a good hostess, I just smiled enigmatically at both those revelations - though I wish I could be there to see his face when he gets to Chapter Five. Guess he won't after all be sending home to his mum that extra copy he bought.

Fourth Estate, my publisher, seems to be adopting a conveyor-belt approach to my publicity. So many journalists went in and out of my home this week that my neighbours asked if I was selling my house. Most were great - they had actually read the book and had decent questions and interesting views to explore. The one exception was a rather feisty journalist from one of Holland's leading newspapers, who came to interview me in advance of the Dutch publication next month. Her opening statement was: "I've just read the book in Dutch, and it's a really bad translation."

Hardly a promising beginning, especially as some of the biggest brouhahas in political science have taken place because of a key concept having been mistranslated.

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