Tuesday, June 27, 2017

BBC Bias


Funny old thing this BBC bias. The corporation is supposed to be ‘balanced’ but the sort of people it hires into editorial roles, even journalistic ones, are inveterate packers and purveyors of ‘narrative’. 

My first proper encounter with this phenomenon occurred when my college at Cambridge provided facilities for a BBC panel debate hosted by Janet Street Porter. The Q&A session was especially lively, with many of my friends asking pertinent questions. 

However, when we all subsequently piled into the JCR to watch the televised version, it seemed that the contributions of us natives had been utterly expunged and that pretty much the only questions retained in the edit were those asked by individuals that the Beeb had brought in from other colleges: controversial characters with pre-scripted enquiries designed to stir things up rather than complement the panel’s insights. 

Then, a couple of years later, I was in Spain watching BBC coverage of the aftermath of George HW Bush’s invasion of Panama. A reporter asked an ageing man standing disconsolately amidst a large pile of rubble who he thought might now help him rebuild his home. The man’s reply in Spanish was succinct. The reporter turned to camera and translated it thus: ‘I think the USA will now assist Panama in its reconstruction.’ What the man had actually said was more along the lines of ‘The same fucking gringo who blew it up!’

Anyway, can it be at all surprising the a charter to balance out extremes can result in what appears like a perpetual bias towards the centre? And one can easily see how, in our contemporary political scene, just being less rural, less provincial, more educated or more ‘young’ can look like the basis for prejudice. 



Tipping the balance...?

Always a little jarring when an article in a serious magazine has an infographic attached, which in some ways contradicts the views expressed by the text. 

This week the Economist bemoaned Trump's new Cuba policy, suggesting that it would damage ordinary Cubans more than anyone else, repeating the old chestnut about Americans tipping better than anyone else. 

But, lookee here. Non-Cuban US visitors have provided only a small part of the big jump in overall visitor numbers since 2011. One would have to be inclined to factor into this sudden surge individuals from other nations hurrying to the island to see it before the group marked in red have totally spoiled it.  






Going forward, Trump's new policy shouldn't deter Americans of Cuban heritage. And if each successive administration fiddles with the guidelines  appropriately, one could even surmise that a perpetual 'The Americans are coming, no they're not, yes they are..' sequence might keep the bubble inflating nicely. 

The anonymous author of the piece appears to suggest that most of the users of Airbnb, which has collected $40m in revenue on the island since 2015, are US nationals. Yet even if this were the case, it's not entirely clear to me that this company could not further benefit from the new prohibition on patronising state/military-owned hotels. Can't tour companies block book using such a service? 

And anyone who thinks the Yanks are the world's best tippers should take a look at some of our ex-pat forums here in Guatemala. (I won't easily forget the advice given by one regular American user of tuctucs in La Antigua - that one should just throw ten quetzales down on the ground and run.) 

When I first went to Cuba in 2011 for a wedding at an all inclusive resort, I was intrigued how the Canadians all seemed to have a mysterious supply of small change to tip the staff even where no cash transaction was involved. Are they really that much meaner than their southern neighbours?  Along with the 'Europeans' - of possibly more questionable generosity - their numbers have increased in roughly equal proportion to the Americans since the boom began. 

If I were an 'ordinary Cuban' I'd not be so worried, though there's a case to be made that the Canadians are somewhat seasonal and that grouchy old French lefties are a dying breed.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Loss of Habitat

There's a road close to our home which is rather like one of those Pacific beaches to which turtles return year after year. 

Generation after generation of Panza Verdes have come this way to learn how to drive, to smoke dope, to park and shag. 

It seems not to matter much to the current bunch that the area is now more built up, that there are security cameras everywhere and that at times there is even a build-up of what you might call 'traffic'. 

The beach is no longer pristine, yet still they come...


Friday, June 23, 2017

On the leash at all times...

That nice man who’s currently in the White House you know, the one who can say stuff that nobody else would, or perhaps should has, ignoring the fact that his administration continues to maintain a detention camp on Cuban soil in flagrant violation of international law as well as every principle the West is supposed to stand for, served up this week some pointed invective about the other despotic, nepotistic regime currently operating there.

And now Americans have a strict new set of guidelines for travel abroad  specifically in relation to the island just off the Floridian coast  yet there’s surely an argument to be made that they might be extended to other parts of the region, and in the particular case of registered Republican voters, perhaps even the whole world?


First off, they have to pick from a limited set of categories that explain their reasons for leaving the greatest nation on Earth, with ‘people to people’ encounters now very much off the table.


Then, they are prohibited from checking into the hotels where everyone else stays and have to be properly chaperoned, allowed out only in large raucous groups waving little flags, just like they do during the opening ceremony of every Olympic Games (so that other nationals can see them coming and act accordingly).


Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they are not really allowed to enjoy themselves. Indeed according to the Treasury Department — which licenses Cuba travel, under the new rules — a "traveler's schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess."


This would certainly alleviate a good many Yank-related problems we have down here in Central America. I look forward to the Donald realising that he and his sort ought to be kept on the leash at all times. 



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Terror in Finsbury Park

In a recent radio discussion on Paradise Lost, John Carey opined that Milton's Satan was the first terrorist — as his was the first deliberate assault on innocence. It's as good a starting point as any, however one of the many difficulties with understanding terror attacks today is that while Satan was rather obviously aware that his victims were pure, many modern terrorists are clearly convinced of the opposite. 

In a more general sense our prevalent reasonings on motivation don't really seem to be getting us anywhere. Yesterday the UK government and the media collaborated in using the standard language and format of the nation's terror response — Cobra meetings et al. — in a manner that inevitably came off as simulated. 

Meanwhile,  those who suspect or openly grumble that there's a form of political correctness behind this, tend to end up making the familiar bigot's slip of assuming that while a white man's murderous rage always has a simple and largely individual diagnosis of the clinical sort, darker-skinned mass murderers are inevitably part of some sort of disturbing collective which represents an existential threat to everyone else's way of life. 

And then there is the fact that multiple explanations surely have to be taken into account.  Those of the person who carries out the 'atrocity' along with those of any direct or indirect sponsors. 

In many, but not all cases of the sort of incident we can all tend to agree to tally as 'terrorism', both the individual and the organised ideology in the background can usually be pinpointed. Which is why some hesitate to put acts of race hate in the category, because the ideas doing the influencing are more diffuse and the individual may not be acting explicitly as a foot soldier within an incontestably corporeal army. 

But Islamic State recently assumed responsibility for an attack that they may not in truth have had a direct influence over (Westminster Bridge), something which should indicate that the break-down in all these distinctions we might choose to make is actually suiting them rather nicely. 

They cannot but be pleased as well with the events in London last Sunday as one distinction always remains true: organised terror by states or organisations is less discriminate in its victims than the more focussed hatred of specific others by individuals. Hence, ISIS is essentially content to see other Muslims perish along with unbelievers because their lives are a means to an end. It is always thus with ideologies. 

Nevertheless, the UK government is right to give race hate attacks the security services treatment because they have as much if not more potential for disrupting our society, as the collective Blitz spirit response we have developed for 'international' terror is inevitably more muted in such cases, and thus the damage done to social relations can be more profound in the long run. 

But we still need to be a bit more exact in our analysis of motivations and causes. Top down explanations - Terror - still have to be complemented by bottom up accounts. 

Both the attacker on Westminster Bridge and the attacker in Finsbury Park can just as easily be compared with all those lone shooters in the USA as they can be with the foreign-trained members of terror cells. 

They are essentially variations on the amok phenomenon whereby disaffected and disorientated males suddenly vent their inner demons on society at large or a specific subsection of society...like a Sorority House. 

It is very important that we appreciate the important similarities across all the massacres that are being perpetrated in the West and elsewhere — and to that end we have to occasionally and very consciously remove those 'clash of civilisations' goggles. 


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Toast

This time last week Theresa May was looking like burned toast. 

Now? Well, it's somehow a lot worse. Like she tried to scrape off a bit of her carbonised layer but then contrived to fall butter side down on a filthy floor. 

Perhaps we should just let HM the Queen and Prince Harry run the show for a bit, backed up by a suitably savvy backroom team of technocrats. I know...the T word...but it might be nice to see the country governed by a crew who provide at least a semblance of knowing what they're doing. 

The media and our elected representatives seem to be taking turns at being the dog and the tail. 

The Tories must be ruefully admitting to themselves now that, much to their cost, they ended up buying into a version of the most un-nuanced form of post-Brexit situational analysis. 

The referendum result appeared to have served them up with a new paradigm, or at least an old one we hadn't seen for quite a while - the classic mobs and snobs alliance - and that this would allow them to enter into a discussion with the 'native' working and middle classes in such a way that HM's opposition needn't actually be in the room. 

They forgot that Brexit was really just an epiphenomenon, a mechanism whereby the electorate felt able to act on concerns and grudges that were not normally part of the discourse. 

And along the way the Tories alienated a key part of their 'base' - small and big business interests that are justly terrified of throwing the baby out with the bath water if the UK leaves the EU Customs Union. 

Take just one of the semi-camouflaged issues underling the Brexit discourse: mass immigration. New arrivals from comparatively less affluent countries are said to have taken out something like £114bn more than they put in between 1995 and 2011, which has created pressure on housing, schools, healthcare etc. 

Beyond trying to spin this story out of existence, the two main political parties have each put forward a solution, neither of which will work on its own. The Tories want an 'Australian-style' approach to immigration control. Labour wants to increase spending on public services to meet the growing demand. Classic supply-side and demand-side fixes, both with a closing the door after the horse has bolted feel to them. 

I can't be the only one to have spotted that the logical approach here is a middle way, or a 'technocratic' one, except that is now a rude word. 

Meanwhile, centrist politics appear discredited, in part because they have tended to look like an amalgamation of the worst aspects of the two extremes, or just plain insipid. 

Voters are not dumb, they have only appeared so because they briefly flirted with filling this 'hole in the middle' with package of populist absurdities. This alternative has thankfully now been thoroughly disesteemed on a near global level by the on-going example of the Donald in the White House. 

Which is why I think the present situation, however fragile and potentially dysfunctional could be as much opportunity as threat: Order out of chaos as I heard one optimistic punter suggest on Newsnight tonight. 

As I have already suggested, the political class might now be forced to tackle certain issues more consensually and thus cut through all the partisan rhetoric. 


One can at least hope...


Friday, June 16, 2017

London is Open...to interpretation

The UK capital's chattering classes love to celebrate the fact that London voted 'overwhelmingly' to remain in the EU usually as part of their wider glee about its irreproachable poster boy Mayor and its inherently more diverse, cosmopolitan, liberal, tolerant (etc.) population. 

This despite the fact that recent YouGov research suggested that any given Londoner is now twice as likely to hold extremely illiberal views on a range of social issues as the equivalent rural dweller. 

This, you might acknowledge, is not how things used to be. Cultural diversity appears to come with an undercurrent of cultural divergence...from the mainstream. Who knew? 

So prior to dumping all those Leave voters in the basket marked deplorable— xenophobic white van drivers the lot of them — have a bash at recognising that a good number of the individuals who plugged for the other option are rampant homophobes with a near-medieval perspective on the appropriate place for women in society. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Could Sergio be more Andaluz if he tried?


Hellfire and Damnation

Christianity is no more a religion of compassion and humility than Islam is one of peace.

Anyone who insists on suggesting otherwise either owes more to the mainstream secular outlook than they care to admit, or lives in La La Land, though perhaps there is no need to make this distinction.

Anyway, I recommend that my would-be detractors familiarise themselves with the relevant texts. In the case of Christianity it's absolutely doctrinal. St Thomas Aquinas sold the concept of Heaven largely on the basis that the Blessed could spend eternity looking down on the sufferings of the damned, and thus take never-ending pleasure from them. Indeed, this was supposed to be one of the main perks of salvation.

No other major world religion focusses so clearly on judging and condemning one's fellow human being. And from the crucifixion to Hellfire, there is none that takes such obvious glee in torture. Tell me that hatred is a perversion of monotheism and I will tell you that it is embarrassingly easy to make the opposite case.

It's next to impossible to square the circle of decency and belief without a good deal of really awkward cherry-picking from scripture.


Delicately poised this one..

It seems the Tories can't quite decide whether getting rid of May would be the best way to avoid being got rid of themselves or whether keeping her on as zombie-PM will do the trick. 


May's Humiliation

There are some extremely lazy assumptions which have emboldened the Right in Britain since the referendum, which even now many are reluctant to revisit, instead choosing to make of Theresa May a very public and rather solitary scapegoat for last Thursday's setback. So, perhaps there are some reasons to feel just a bit sorry for her, even though her weaknesses as a national campaigner are all too obvious now and her determination to augment the surveillance state has long been a very personal crusade for her.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Of course Peña Nieto was carrying a gun...




In slow motion it is especially obvious. 




Uploading Trump into the Cloud

Republicans see no reason to impeach. 
Let's be honest, the Donald would have to be revealed as a deeply-undercover KGB and then FIS agent over 30 years, and even then, perhaps not. 
Democrats must be sniggering in private. Impeachment cannot be their desired endgame. They'd end up with Pence or even Ryan in the Oval Office and the likelihood of three years of GOP control of all branches of government, under a visibly saner and perhaps even semi-competent administration. They can't want that. 
Trump's lawyer speaks of 'lifting the cloud'. Not going to happen. The cloud is the Democrats' key play right now, at least until the mid-terms.


Textbook Error

A fresh bunch of neighbours have installed the doorbell of their new home in a position and at a height where even my small dog could press it, let alone an under-10.


The return of the 'Missing Middle'

This week the Economist lamented the ‘missing middle’ of British politics and urged readers to vote for the Lib Dems. 

Turns out the electorate had a bit more contextual awareness than that. Confronted with two unpalatable manifestos from the main parties, each with more than a nod to their ideological extremes, they have engineered a species of stalemate in the popular vote, which leaves us with a lame duck PM, whose administration will have little choice but to govern in a more consensual manner. Suddenly the middle is no longer missing. Welcome back centrism!

Some say the French version under Macron is a sham. Perhaps the more impersonal British one, contrastingly grounded on a sort of cult of no personality, may prove equally effective while it lasts.




Thursday, June 08, 2017

Two smokes make a fire...

The issue here is not really (or not just) that Trump asked Comey to make the Flynn investigation go away, it’s the fact that he subsequently made Comey go away. This is the combination that amounts to obstruction.

And the fact that Comey told Trump he was not personally under investigation is no bucket of water. 



Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Repair and ransack


So this morning a van from the Muni parks outside and blocks off access either side with red cones. 

One supposes they had been sent to fix a few loose stones in the middle of the cobbled street. Their technique for doing this proved interesting. 

Rather then just replace the individual loose stones they set about the whole area with pickaxes lifting about a half a dozen (valuable) large stones in each instance and transferring these to a sack, before proceeding to fill the resulting holes with a mix of lime, cement and much smaller (less valuable) stones. 

Strikes me that this is a dodgy little scam. 



One can surmise that the big stones in the sack will then be either sold off by the workers or perhaps the Muni themselves are effecting a transfer of larger stones to those parts of La Antigua currently being dug up to lay down new drains. 

They've now disappeared with their sacks of stones, but ill-advisedly left them unattended for a while during their lunch-break.



This particular stretch of empedrado was original funded by residents, not by the Municipality.


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

On the rebound again

When the USA invaded Mexico in 1846, helping themselves to a large chunk of their southern neighbour's territory, the Mexicans responded by...helping themselves to a large chunk of their southern neighbour's territory. 

With Trump now threatening to dick around with NAFTA, Peña Nieto is down here exploring how much more his countrymen can flog to the Chapines


Populist backlash in Belize?

An interesting piece in the Guardian here by Nina Lakhani, which nevertheless appears to contain a multitude of small misconceptions. 
It's worth stating that the party which best represents Belize's creoles (the PUP) has been out of power for some time now. 
I think it's perhaps a little too easy to write off renewed resistance in our neighbour to cross-border immigration as 'anti-Hispanic' and that Belizean attitudes relative to immigration are unlikely to be simplistically xenophobic in the main. 
I'd wager they can appreciate that the refugee crisis of the 80s and the one that presents itself now are qualitatively different. Yes, some sort of 'violence' can be said to lie at the heart of both, but this time there are deeper demographic trends behind the disorder, trends which point to serious longer-term issues that a small nation and its limited institutions might struggle to handle. 
Since I first came to Central America infant mortality rates have dropped significantly and regional populations have become both markedly younger and healthier as well as better connected, and yet they are growing steadily within developing economies unable to expand fast enough to provide sufficient employment opportunities in the mainstream. 
A degree of social chaos inevitably ensues, and the relative murder rate in Belize has actually been higher than that of Guatemala (though not of course Honduras) in recent years. 
We know that climatological pressures are likely to inform an even greater surge of human mobility in years to come. I read this weekend how Nigeria's population will have risen from 38m (1.5% of global population) to 400m by the middle of this century (6.7%), more than Europe, the USA and the combined area of Latin America and the Caribbean. Africa overall may account for 40% of the total world population by 2050, while India is about to become even more populous than China. 
So...young, healthy, well-connected populations often threatened by environmental degradation and uneven levels of economic opportunity. What's likely to happen? 
My guess is that liberal-minded commentators will focus on the side effects like violent disorder plus the deleterious impact of climate change, based on the tried and trusted logic of making rich worlders feel guilty enough to absorb as much of this migration as might prove politically tolerable. 
But the global institutions involved, along with the popular goodwill in would-be host countries are all showing signs of being seriously over-stretched already. 
Burgeoning demographic pressures appear more impersonal and blame-free and thus tend to get mentioned rather less, but a relatively underpopulated backwater like Belize will surely have an inkling already of what could be at stake in the long term.
Conservatives think most migration is 'economic' (and sometimes almost overtly criminal) while liberals tend to characterise it as a flight response to something that can easily be blamed on the developed world. 
These are both partial truths — superficial takes on a far more complex problem and if the political debate remains couched in these polarities alone, it is somewhat unlikely that workable solutions will be enacted in time. 
Historians don't tend to use moralistic caricatures to examine patterns of migration in the past, so nor should our contemporary leaders. 
PS: As for the Garifuna, I think the official line is that they are of mixed African and Carib descent and speak an Arawak tongue, but there is probably no way to be entirely on the mark about this. I've always been convinced (though without any firm evidence it must be said) that many of the residents of Livingston are in fact descended from the Jamaicans who came en masse to work for the United Fruit Co.

Offensive?


This sort of culturally-appropriative cosplay probably ought to be a designated deportable offence.

Yet not only is Que Pasa? magazine taking money from this absurd character so that she can advertise her neoshamanistic nonsense, they are simultaneously providing her with her a platform within the editorial section of the magazine. Tut tut..


Safe spaces

When Theresa May spoke on Sunday about eliminating the safe spaces where the terrorists interact, was she talking about Regents Park?! 
Somehow I don't think encryption is the issue here...


Terminators

Back in the 80s the British Army's response to Belize's nascent drug trafficking industry was positively genocidal. The Paras tended to use the narcos and other gangs for target practice and there weren't many international hacks or NGOs around to have much of a moan about it.

Belize was then considered the very model of a peaceful backwater in this troubled region, then the British Amy pulled out and it now sports one of the highest (recorded) homicide rates in the world.

These days whenever a Central American cop offs a designated bad hombre in overkeen circumstances there is an immediate outcry of 'extrajudicial murder!'

Yet when British or French armed fuzz respond to a suspected terrorist incident in a manner commensurable with John Wick on the Red Bulls, everyone is like 'Yeah, terminate with extreme prejudice!!!'


Over Grazing

One of the abiding features of La Antigua is that there is hardly any business opportunity with relatively modest start-up costs that doesn't quickly turn into a sort of plague.

Spanish schools, cybercafes, spas, barista cafés, fried chicken outlets, animal rescue charities, taco shops etc. etc.

Just yesterday we learned, in the light of the welcome prohibition on horse-drawn carriages for animal welfare protection, that there were TEN different operators in this space.

It's a variety of perpetual and endemic over-grazing of the commons and very few of our mayors have been able to get a grip on it.

In fact the only time I have ever seen one of these plagas controlled in time was during the great tuktuk boom of the early noughties — a moment when it seemed that half of the households in our neighbourhood were planning to invest in a brand new red mototaxi.

The end result is invariably that the flood of new suppliers effectively kills off the opportunity for everyone.

Now Susancio and co are trying to impose some (punitive) control on the heladeros of La Antigua with predictable displays of displeasure, though as ever the Muni is acting more like a mafia than an elected body which has given due consideration to the sort of fair regulation that would settle things down.



La Cucaracha

To commemorate the historic visit of Enrique 'Lento' Peña Nieto to our city, herewith the famous arrival scene of Slowpoke Rodriguez, an evergreen slice of national stereotyping...




(V dice que asi vengo yo casi siempre después de salir de compras en LAG...)




Presidenteeeeee


Peña Nieto is thinking Thanks for providing me with one of those annoying guides from the Parque Central, but shouldn't I be meeting the President?


Final Furlong

Theresa May has acted as if it were a given that the 52% would adopt her as their default champion going forwards, losing sight perhaps of just how many Leave voters plugged for Brexit as an act of rebellion against her predecessor, his government and ‘elites’ in general. Or indeed how many thought it might be a backhanded way of refloating the NHS. 

The 'will of the people' was a myth that her party concocted and now appear to have ended up swallowing whole themselves. 

General elections are solemn moments in the life of a democratic nation. Yet May appears to have regarded the snap election she unexpectedly called - and by implication the electorate itself - as a means to an end, a simple procedure that would allow her to reconfigure Parliament to suit her own negotiation position, both internally and externally. 

It's like they have forgotten the difference between a general election and a referendum because they've had a bit more practice of late with the latter format. And it’s no wonder that the electorate has not responded especially well to being treated this way and that the PM can now look forward to a very uncomfortable run in. 

There has been no element of the Conservative campaign that justifies the outcome of a working majority in the next Parliament. Indeed, I have reached the conclusion that no matter what my reservations about Corbyn and some of his supporters, a change of government now is probably a necessary first step in healing the entirely self-inflicted wounds of 2016.


The Real Enemy...

Let's not forget that the real enemy is ISIS not Trump, Piers Morgan urged the Twittersphere this weekend.

Central Americans will recall a version of this - 'let's not forget that the real enemy is communism' - and chuckle to themselves. Or perhaps not.

America's response to perceived threats, internal and external, has traditionally been so wrongheaded and disproportionate, that everyone else surely has a right to worry whether the cure is yet again going to be as bad as or worse than the disease itself.


Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sidewalks

Every time you find yourself wishing for just a little bit more space to operate on La Antigua's uneven and narrow pavements, just remember that the Spanish made them this way because nobody of any significance was ever supposed to be out walking in the streets! 


The Edge

I listened to an informed view on the Spectator podcast this week venturing that radical groups such as ISIS only push people over the edge. How they get close to that edge is the more interesting story.

Back when we lived on the Isle of Dogs in London I used to have to run the gauntlet of walking home along the river path where young males of Bangladeshi origin, usually aged between 8 and 15 frequently shouted abuse at me and on one occasion threw an empty bottle at me. A beer bottle.

At that stage in their development you'd hardly have imagined that they were going to turn into model Muslims, but oddly enough, I think there's a fair chance that some of them are right now getting close to the fanatical edge.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Colonial Style

Reading Mark Kurlansky's book Havana has somewhat reinforced my opinion that the Spanish ‘colonial’ style of architecture, which evolved in the Iberian peninsula largely with a view to shutting out the light and creating pools of cool interior shade, whilst it might work well enough in locations like the Cuban capital, here in La Antigua has become largely unfit for purpose. 

Nevertheless this fundamental error is now assiduously preserved by statute. 

My secondary school in London is older than La Antigua and is now largely housed in modern buildings, but here there there exists this obsessive requirement to preserve the superficial appearance of antiquity. 

The materials used as well tend not to be ideal for the tropics either. Wood in particular. And all those tejas which have to be curados, before use and roughly every couple of years. Nobody does, so that everyone with a house covered in these things ends up suffering from a leaky roof. 



Friday, May 12, 2017

Bad Hombres

This morning I overhead - there really was no alternative - your textbook American loudmouth sermonising on the situation south of the border. 

The 'whole narcos thing' is, he inisisted, just a story made up by the Federal government in order to disuade the baby boomers from taking their lifetime's hoard of loot and retiring in fun places like Mexico. 'You can't take their passports away, so they had to do SOMETHING, it was gonna cost them trillions of dollars in lost tax revenues...'

Now, I have to admit I gurgled into my espresso a bit when I heard that, but there is a grano of verdad in this particular conspiracy theory. 

Western governments and loose associations of corporations do have PR budgets set aside for making other parts of the world appear uncongenial for doing business or just generally very scary. I know this because one such brief once crossed my desk.  When was the last time you saw a story in the developed world's media about Guatemala that didn't involve some nasty shit? 

I think one reason that Trump caused such consternation in certain circles last year with his whole 'Bad Hombres' shtick was that its no-holds-barred crassness ran the risk of giving the whole game away. 

But the 'whole narcos thing' is real enough too. I have been exposed to over three decades of life in Central America and have witnessed in the more recent period how the cartels have insinuated themselves into many aspects of life in La Antigua, especially amongst what I shall call the motivated youth. They've done this with sleeper cells which reproduce and extend their influence through a vigorous process of recruitment and cultural indoctrination. (Banda music!)  No decapitated heads have turned up in the Tanque de La Union as yet, but the hold this little mafia will grow up to have over the city is indeed rather worrying. 

Meanwhile, I have been catching up with Narcos, season two, having forgotten how much I liked this series. I love the way how the criminals, the officials and the DEA team are presented in their own terms - the somewhat meatheaded voiceover gives you the ultimately false impression that this is going to be one of those America, Fuck Yeah stories with cardboard cut-out third world low-lifes getting the full law enforcement treatment, but instead anyone like myself, fluent in both languages, can see that it has at least two main registers and that it largely keeps them separate.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

On Marche?

As cures for populism go, the French one is already looking a bit, well, homeopathique

Is anyone really that convinced by the whole insider-outsider ploy? Only in France perhaps, where acting all superior is actually a valid variant of the common touch. 

Frenchness and middle of la rue, centrist, fence-sitting politics are such an absurdly unlikely match-up, that Macron's novel movement En Marche! has almost inevitably achieved the sort of rebel cachet that most establishment rearguard actions could only dream of. 

The trouble is I think that most jubilant market commentators, especially in the US, have failed to brush up on the French constitutional system, which differs from the American model in at least one important respect: the executive and legislature cannot function properly unless driven by the same basic political tendency. 

So Macron, a candidate whose would-be party currently has a grand total of zero MPs, will have some work to do prior to the June parliamentary elections and most probably throughout any term as Le President

Just because people are prepared to vote for him to keep Le Pen out of the Élysée Palace does not mean that constituency voters will behave quite so tactically. 

As James Fenby observed in this week’s Spectator: ‘A movement that came from nowhere could all too easily dissolve like snowflakes in the sun’. 


Monday, April 24, 2017

Media Bias

The snap election campaign is but a day or two old and already the Corbynites are pre-emptively calling out media bias. I can see this getting as tedious as listening to the Special One whingeing about alleged unfair treatment from referees; often before the match has even been played. .

Readers from outside the UK might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Even before we were all formally walled off inside our social media silos, bias was pretty much what the media was supposed to be about. But in over in Blighty we have a national broadcaster tasked with a state-sponsored mission to at least appear impartial: Aunty, aka the BBC.

This provides both sides with a perennial opportunity to act out their inner Mourinho. Naturally, they never accuse the Beeb of being absurdly partisan AGAINST their political opponents.

In the good old days when the polarities of British politics primarily involved progressive vs conservative sensibilities, the BBC could make a decent enough show of balance. But cripes, nowadays it’s all urban vs rural, educated vs unlettered, cosmopolitan vs nationalist, expert vs fuckwit etc. So an organisation such as the BBC  at its core urban, educated, cosmopolitan and (usually) expert  is basically up a gum tree. Even if we were only talking about inclusive vs narrow, it would surely be hard to be balanced and narrow at the same time.

Anyway, bias as used by the Left is in some ways the equivalent of division as employed by the Right — revealing how they would all prefer it if their messages could, if at all possible, arrive unfiltered at the trough where the cattle are to imbibe them.


Jaloux

Feeling kind of envious of the Froggies for (possibly) having found a way to stick one to the existing political order without simultaneously appearing half-witted...


Friday, April 14, 2017

Forked Paths

Self-consciously classless America is possibly the worst place imaginable to be leading the global cascading revolt against elites.

Classes are the headline acts in complex social ecosystems, but instead the US chooses to engage a set of stereotypical tableaux which it constantly plays back to itself through the sovereign medium of its cultural specula.

On my very first visit to America at 13 years of age I found myself within days of my arrival at that elite gathering - brunch at the Boca Ratón Club - which authentically featured a tuxedo'd string quartet playing The Hunt (K458) by Mozart. (Granted, in the Hollywood version of this scene, it is invariably Vivaldi providing the gilt-edged muzak.)

In that self-mythologising land, the person entering such a dining space with no clue about which sort of fork to use with which dish is a de facto social hero or heroine.

You can bang on until the vets with PTSD come home about the underlying radicalism of the American Revolution, but it was essentially a non-comformity of individuals who didn’t know which fork to use.

And this rebellion has never been far below the surface of American small-d democracy and freedumb. Hence the current incumbent of the White House - who looks like a member of the elite to any bien-pensant euro-chattereur, but on the other side of the pond has just the requisite number of chips on his shoulder to stand out as an insurgent.


Buscando una pinche procesión...

Cucuruchos Enojados?  Seen a few of them around.

How cool would it be to shoot a spoof of this making use of some of the purple people? 


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On the Spectrum

So the Dortmund pipe-bomber was 'on the Islamist spectrum'. What other contemporary spectra are out there? 

The Ayn Rand spectrum? La Glow is on that one for sure. 

Then there's the Wenger Out spectrum, the Corbynite (or ista) spectrum and of course the Hitler Wasn't So Bad spectrum. 

Plus the From Russia With Love spectrum...


Monday, April 10, 2017

United...

At what point in the life of a so-called civilised society does it become permissable for a company to treat its paying customers the way that United treated that doctor? If airport security is supposed to be the early warning indicator of how our governments would really like to treat us most of the time, then the treatment we get once we make it through to the departure lounge and then on to the plane may be an indicator of how corporations would like us to submit to them. And anglophone administrations and airline corporations have only just recently combined to dream up some nonsense about exploding laptops and tablets that will help the latter compete unfairly against Middle Eastern and Asian airlines hailing from nations where an entrenched tradition of hospitality and basic civility appear to persist.


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

White Elephants

Anyone who has spent any time living in and around this city must have speculated why there are so many essentially empty gated communities in the area. 

A visit to Google Earth can be instructive.

You might have already supposed that these would-be condominios are part of the wider phenomenon of over-exploitation of an actually limited economic opportunity that characterises so much of the 'entrepreneurial' exertions of La Antigua. 

We've seen it with cyber cafés, then spas and now taco joints. 

Or you could speculate that the relative returns from exploiting land for domestic real estate compared to say coffee cultivation are now so evident that speculators have been sucked into this marginal space somewhat feverishly. 

But the truth is that a significant number of these walled compounds have been tellingly situated beside roads which line the edges of the big estates. 

It's not that the big coffee fincas of DOC La Antigua are no longer able to make money from the bean. The sheer number of helicopters in the air around here at the weekends suggests otherwise. It's that advances in modern infrastructure over the past few decades have conspired to complicate their security issues. 

And so the finqueros either sell off the land on the edge of their estates or elect to 'develop' these outlying terrenos themselves. The idea being that weekending capitalinos or gullible gringos can be unwittingly co-opted into the role of wachimen

Even if nobody bites, they get a wall and a 24-hour guarida, which they have deemed sufficient deterrent to the incursive sort. 

The Absence

God knows that if he were to show himself he would cease to exist. He himself has never claimed to exist. He allows himself to be sensed only so that the problem of his existence may be posed > Jean Baudrillard

Indeed, God functions primarily as an absence for believer and non-believer alike. 

If humanity were to stumble across credible evidence for His existence, both would find themselves immediately out of business, and so too, to a large extent would God. 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Burning the candle at both ends

Thanks to David Goodhart we have a new way of bifurcating entire complex societies into separate polarised tendencies: the somewheres and the anywheres.

Over-simplified of course, but let’s run with it...


Right now the revolt of the somewheres against free trade, free movement, free bathroom choice and so on is in full flow.


And it appears to be posing a significant threat to democratic life in the developed world — precisely because it is taking place through the medium of democratic institutions.


But before we had the revolt of the somewheres, we had the underhand, barely visible machinations of the anywheres, which had (and continue to have) as much potential for disrupting democracy — precisely because they deliberately bypass the medium of democratic institutions.


How you respond to Theresa May's notorious remark that  “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”, depends to a large extent on which of these two anti-democratic tendencies is currently causing you the most anxiety. 



Thursday, March 30, 2017

Plain Sight

When I first got involved with proactive Internet communications in the early to mid-90s (largely in the context of Usenet groups), it occurred to me that the age of the cover-up was almost over: if the security services wanted to do anything outrageous they could hide it in plain sight amidst other manufactured narratives. Online audiences would lose the ability (or just the will...) to probe below the surface in order to distinguish between fact and fabrication. 

It seemed to be then that the CIA might already be doing this, but nowadays the Russians and the Chinese appear to be leading the way. 


The crest of a slump...


Iain Sinclair explores 'endgame London' in the current edition of the London Review of Books...

"That impulse towards wiping the slate clean and starting over. ‘London was, but is no more.’ John Evelyn writing, after the Great Fire, with such relish in his plain statement of fact. ‘London was, but is no more.’ It reminds me of hearing Ian Holloway, the manager of Queen’s Park Rangers, on the radio. He’s got a nice West Country burr, very soothing for his employers. He was talking about his club’s horrible run of form when he said, with disarming optimism, ‘I think we’re right on the crest of a slump.’ And that’s where the current last London seems to be: riding the crest of a slump. That madness of quitting Europe, burning our bridges, starving hospitals of funds, is part of a suicide-note delirium. When the worst is coming straight at you at a thousand miles a minute, embrace it."

Triggeration Day

Today the nation of my birth began a process which can be characterised as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

This is beyond contention I believe. What is certainly worth disputing is just how much baby and how much bathwater might be involved. 

And I have friends and family whose perspicacity is largely beyond reproach who are convinced that the baby is dead or at least dying anyway. 

I have to acknowledge that my own perspective on this has educational and generational bias. 

In the 80s I took advantage on several occasions of the Inter-Rail programme and travelled freely around what we Brits call 'the continent', including those parts still under the sway of communist autocracies, plus two visits to the pre-Glasnost USSR. 

Then in the early 90s I helped build a new business situated at the intersection of the then wild west frontiers of fabulous opportunity - digial communications and the economies of the newly-liberated states of Central and Eastern Europe. 

There seemed to be plenty of baby to cherish there, but more recent contemplation sees me admitting that in the end there was also a good deal more bathwater than at first anticipated. 

This appears to be true of all the babies one might choose to cherish, but those above and below me in age seem strangely unwilling to acknowledge the need for compromise these days. 

I bought into both the soi-disant 'European Dream' and the 'Digital Revolution' because both not only promised great things, in their early phases the delivery was also indubitable.  (And because in the case of the dream, there was just enough of the nightmare still visible to spur one on.)


How much of my remaining commitment to these ideals is nostalgia? 


I ask myself the same thing when I return to some of the haunts of my early travels in Central America. Some of them have been transformed from unspoiled, almost dreamlike loci of youthful potentiality into solid modern urban environments with all the sell-outs and trade-offs such an expansion requires. 

And yet anyone who had ever followed my observations about destinations such as Playa del Carmen over the years will know that I have come to accept its corruption over time, just as I accept my own.