Thursday, January 17, 2019

Inside and Out

Ever since Einstein theoretical physicists have made the point that there is ‘nothing’ outside the cosmos. 

Indeed, Carlo Rovelli makes the point explicitly in his latest book The Order of Time  that there’s no point in asking what exists outside of space and time, by which he is possibly really stating something rather tautological: that there is no space and time outside of space and time. 

And when one delves into the nitty-gritty of the theory he most closely adheres to   Loop Quantum Gravity  one discovers that there isn’t really any space or time inside either, as both are relative phenomena that manifest themselves subjectively as a result of the networked behaviour of particles. 

It’s not an atheistic position per se, failing to fully deter the religiously-minded, as they tend not to be looking for the Divine within space and time. And rather than agreeing that there is nothing on the outside, they’d be more inclined to assert it is where one would find everything  a perfect, absolute, first cause. 

This is actually a key point that Richard Dawkins doesn’t seem to get. It strikes me that it reveals how — perhaps counter-intuitively — the biological sciences are not the ideal stick with which to whack religion, because their perspective on our predicament is essentially internal to the system. (Hence all that nonsense about giant spaghetti monsters.) 

Theoretical physics on the other hand is poking ever closer to metaphysics, and often in ways which parallel religious perspectives. The Big Bang for example can be spun to resemble a moment of ‘creation’. 

The pantheism/monism of Baruch Spinoza is another way of spinning the problem. 

Like many modern scientists, he believed it would be a total waste of time to talk of transcendent realms outside the cosmos, to hold out for eternal spiritual stuff to counteract contingent material stuff. 

Spinoza instead thought of the cosmos itself as the absolute, as a kind of God, albeit an indifferent one. For him the absolute and the contingent, time and eternity are all part of the same system, but it is our human condition to only experience the bits, not the whole. 

However, there’s another way of addressing contemporary theoretical physics which is significantly more encouraging for unbelievers. In this view the hidden, fundamental reality is not perfect order, but perfect disorder such that everything we experience is a pattern that has somehow emerged from chaos and is steadily returning to it. 

One can insist that evolution is directionless and purposeless, as it most assuredly is, but the fact remains that it is bucking the more universal trend towards ever greater disorder.


Cobarde

Corbyn's 'all options are on the table' equivocations have similar roots to the cowardly calculation that led David Cameron to propose the referendum in the first place - an unwillingness to campaign with the familiar message of class-based tribalism when there is a real danger of his base being subjected to a flank attack by populist irregulars...


Entangled Party-cles

Both of Britain's main parties are in a sort of quantum state of equivocation right now and it is the particular nature of their leadership at this crucial time that is largely preventing them from returning to a more usefully determined condition. Corbyn has in mind that May should materialise into a properly dead cat by ruling out No Deal. She of course prefers to remain in the superimposed state that was rejected by unprecedented numbers yesterday. In turn Theresa would like Jeremy to manifest as a dead cat by opting for the No Brexit position most of his party members appear to favour...but of course he knows that he cannot do that without simultaneously collapsing her into the sort of live cat that would recognised as the only leader still standing up for Brexit and the large swathes of the embittered working classes that Corbyn himself aspires to represent. May’s indeterminacy is at least partly naïve. She seems to believe it is the best way to deliver on the ‘solemn promise’ she made to the British people, even if almost nobody else does. Corbyn’s indeterminacy is of an altogether more cynical nature. May is also not recognising that ‘The British People’ is not a constant in this equation either. Since the referendum roughly 1.8m individuals have ceased to belong to that variable and a similar number have attained voting age. Do politicians need to honour promises to the deceased? How different the whole situation might be if this rather rare pair of entangled particles were both absent, along with at least some of the uncertainty they bring with them...

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Low-lying Letterboxes

Somewhat surreal experience first thing today when I turned on BBC Parliament. Minutes before the No Confidence motion and a key debate in what is becoming the political crisis of a lifetime, a new law proposing a ban on 'low level letterboxes' was being put forward.

I'm all in favour of protecting postmen's extremities and making things a bit harder for would-be mail-pilferers, but...


Click-bait

V has been getting more than usually paranoid about social media recently as we are being bombarded with Facebook ads for the well-known restaurant in the capital owned by our newest neighbour.

Meanwhile, I have been quietly satisfied with the way he has been spending his money on us, albeit inadvertently, though one of these ads did entice me to get up and make a spaghetti alfredo, when I wasn’t feeling especially hungry...


Defamation

A Guatemalan friend of my wife was recently unfairly criticised on one of the local (largely ex-pats) classifieds groups in the manner that threatened to go viral on social media.  

He requested to join the group so that he could answer these criticisms, but was denied, having been informed rather curtly that it was a ‘closed group’. So he has decided to sue them for defamation, and in this I have to congratulate him. 



Handily, Guatemala has a fairly draconian provision in the penal code against calumny (section 164), with those found guilty facing prison terms of between two and five years. This should focus a few minds. 

In the past twelve months I too have twice been the victim of some pretty cack-handed attempts to defame me, though not in digital format. 

My would-be detractors both had in mind to use Guatemala’s equally draconian laws designed to protect women from male aggression. 

In the first instance, my neighbour’s not-so-smart spouse was put up to take me to court for having insulted her using what she described in the police report as obscene language. Fortunately I had the stamp in my passport showing that I was not even in the country on the day she called the cops.

The judge duly declared her to be in contempt of court and she was also informed that she was lucky to have avoided the sort of counter-prosecution that would have resulted in a custodial sentence. It was joyful to behold how pale and flabbergasted her lawyer became upon learning that she had been lied to by her client and friend. 

A couple of months later my dog and I were attacked and hurt by a loose pit bull owned by other residents of the village. When they refused to accept responsibility, I made a police report and their initial defence  recorded by the microphones in the courtroom  was that I had attacked a pregnant woman in the aftermath of the attack, thereby causing her to be rushed to hospital for a premature birth. 



Luckily for them, they changed lawyer and tack for the final audiencia, as I had security camera evidence showing how they had called up the pregnant woman and how she then arrived on scene some thirty minutes AFTER I had departed. (I also know the date her baby was actually born, as she told the world on social media. Duh!) 

I don’t think I would have hesitated to sue for defamation in this case. And if I ever get a sense that the damaging lie is still being spread around the village, I may still do so —  especially as the CCTV footage strongly suggested that the pit bull was deliberately provoked into attack by the pregnant girl's mother. 

A further testament to the somewhat heavy-handed nature of the newish 'femicide' laws in Guatemala (I’ve heard some in the legal profession here complaining that they have been funded by and largely foisted on the country by foreign NGOs) is that another resident of the village recently had a restraining order placed on him by his own neighbour before he had had any opportunity to appear in court to defend himself. He had to bring his own case against her, which he won, but the six month prohibition against interactions with her remained in place. 

Anyway, in the previous case I shook hands with my neighbour’s wife in the courtroom on the understanding that we would both try to keep the peace in future, but I may now review this ‘treaty’, as her husband clearly has no intention of honouring it, and they are now in breach of both the law against defamation AND that protecting women, as he has since repeatedly insulted my own wife (using suitably obscene language) in front of multiple witnesses...and cameras. 

That said, the due process of legal satisfaction in La Antigua is notoriously painful, with lawyers and judges seemingly working in tandem to string things along and to then deliver inconclusive rapprochements between all parties. 

My experiences in 2018 have nevertheless been enlightening and I have acquired a new legal representative  himself a former judge  who I feel will be a better guide through this minefield, if ever I have the need to traverse it again. 



Sunday, January 13, 2019

Truculent Folly

Some of the grand historical barriers mentioned here had what is generally known as 'practical value'.

Trump may be the last person alive that thinks his wall would have it...at least amongst those coming at the issue from a (supposedly) informed position.

All those strange birds that used to whisper in his ear about beautiful walls, travel bans and the like, have since flown the nest.

They surely knew that the wall would primarily be a symbolic act of defiance against the pressures of globalisation. The Donald apparently doesn't.

Britain's watery Brexit 'wall' features much of the same awkward disconnect between practical and symbolic value.

And its construction remains beset with some quite serious inconveniences — such as as fact that our ‘island nation’ actually consists of one island plus a sizeable chunk of another one.

Brits have been left asking how much they are prepared to pay for symbolic satisfaction, though the older generation do appear more inclined to dismiss the question, having discerned that it won't be them picking up the tab for their momentary exultation.

And in said tab there lies another distinction between Trump's truculent folly and ours — there’s no way to suggest that the people on the other side are the ones that are going to pay for it.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Those Heir-bnb Shutes

Welcome Home is a bit of B Movie mediocrity is set in Todi, a gorgeous Umbrian town that V and I had the pleasure to visit in January 2002, shortly after the fateful introduction of euro banknotes. (An acute taste of the chronic pain to follow.) 



In a more abstract sense it is set in the liminal space between Wop-o-philia and Wop-o-phobia
The screenwriter clearly influenced by the particular paranoia peddled by those articles about Airbnb host-voyeurs, though perhaps not by the associated plugs for handy apps that largely deal with the problem.
This movie is deeply silly. There's a rabbit stew scene that is practically on the plane of self-parody. The female interest is 100% a male interest. 
Yet the final 20 minutes or so up the levels of silliness to a point that almost redeems all that came before.


Anti-colados

Yesterday a member of the local ex-pats group on FB wondered out loud why there were native Guatemalans colados therein. 

The comment stream was soon disabled. 

An obsession with the protection of purity is a key part of the American mindset.  I’ve written (ranted?) here before how the puritan origins of the USA still inform its politics quite dramatically. 

Whether we’re talking walls to keep outsiders out, McCarthyist purges - on both the left and the right  - #metoo, no-platforming and so on, the neuroses of self-purification persist.

These amorphous, pitchfork wielding, context unaware, puritanical mobs have gone digital and have thus spread beyond the borders of the US in a way that no wall, however beautiful, can prevent. 

The contagion has reached British politics undoubtedly.  Our barrier wall will be Brexit and the end it promises to the free movement of foreign contaminants.   

Yet perhaps this is not so new or indeed alien. If you trace back some of the more educated leavers’ obsession with parliamentary sovereignty in historical terms, you eventually reach the 1650s and the English civil wars, an era when puritanical mobs were very much de rigeur.


Friday, January 11, 2019

This did not bring me joy....

Netflix has clearly stumbled upon the idea for one of the worst television programmes ever made. It's so bad that for the first ten minutes or so of episode one I was convinced it had to be on of those satirical fly-on-the wall documentaries. 





The format is derivative  resembling in its essence Dog Whisperer — that show where the patronising bloke from Culiacán enters the homes of annoying people ostensibly to sort out their unruly pets, but ultimately managing to resolve at least some of their #firstworldproblems along the way. 

In 'Marie Kondo' for pets read houses, houses owned by even more annoying people and frankly not all that untidy by global standards. One senses that the whole set-up is offensive, racist even, but it's not clear whether it's middle-class, white America or the Japanese that are being most savagely mocked.

It reminded me of what Ben Elton used to say about the Ferrero Rocher ad (Ambassador’s party): that it was impossible to take the piss out of it because all the piss had been pre-removed in the making of it. 






Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Replicas


This is a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie in so many ways. 




First the most obvious: it’s about a man of science who via an unorthodox experiment chooses to defy nature and mortality. 

I say man of science, because while Keanu’s character Will Foster has plenty of bizarre technology at his disposal, the screenplay is noticeably almost entirely science-free. 




Then there’s the fact that it consists of several not-entirely-compatible plot premises seemingly sown together. 

At the start the movie seems to be about a man in a medical facility in Puerto Rico attempting to transfer the conscious minds of dead soldiers into a robot. As quick as a flash however, it’s suddenly about a bereaved man cloning his dead family in order to create synthetic replicas that may or may not think and act like the originals. 

This conceit surely has the most potential and Replicas may well be a textbook example of an enticing premise made lastingly toxic by one epicly-bad implementation. 

Should we have expected any less from the people who brought us London Has Fallen and The Day After Tomorrow?  (Not to mention 'From the producers of...') 

The lameness of the last thirty minutes or so can best be explained by suggesting an alternative final act of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece in which the doctor and his creature have to escape from an assortment of incompetent goons dispatched to kill them by Frankenstein’s boss, and for reasons which remain largely opaque to say the least. 

And yet, it was vaguely entertaining. The Keanu effect again, perhaps. 


Monday, December 31, 2018

Destination Wedding

The critics were almost unanimous in preemptively reprimanding anyone who chuckles through this movie. For only a truly BAD person would warm to this misanthropic bilge...right?

So, hands up. It's a fair cop. That said, it is almost ludicrously over-written, to the extent that I wondered if I'd have enjoyed just reading through the screenplay more.

Perhaps I'd have actually enjoyed just watching Keanu reading every line...







Bird Box

Bird Box has been Netflix’s festive end-of-the-world offering with a star cast worthy of Christmas mass-casualty favourites of old like The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure and so on.




It’s been billed as the scariest movie ever.

There's a case to be made that it's at least the scariest since the last one about one of the five senses getting an awful lot of people unpleasantly killed...which wasn’t so scary after all.

Does this mean we have three more of these to go?

Don’t eat that tamal!

Did someone just fart?

You can’t touch this.

Hammer time...

Afterwards we discussed how progressive it might be to depict a woman in her mid-fifties having babies and then bringing them up with a b/f pretty much exactly half her age. 

V quipped that it's OK because he was wearing a blindfold most of the time!

John Malkovich was great. And he's even better as an over-the-hill Poirot - dodgy accent aside - in The ABC Murders.



Monday, December 24, 2018

Imperfections (1)

The ancients hit upon the two basic ways of handlng existence: acceptance or denial.

Lucretius suggested that the universe and every living thing within it was irretrievably accidental. We just had to accept this and get over it.

Quite possibly very sound advice, but it was the Platonic idea that the whole cosmos was instead a degradation of something perfect that stuck.

This became the primary notion of the Absolute in western thought. All our other absolutes (Marxism etc.) are either elaborations of it or, ironically, degradations of it. Christianity is little more than a system of ideas tacked onto it by St Augustine.

The way the Platonists saw things, time is a disarranged version of eternity that allows for the possibility of conditional existence and subjectivity. But before all that, there was but one, unified, self-sufficient, perfect thing.

So how did we get from this unified good to the manifold mess we actually experience? And is this existence predicated on finding a way back?

Plotinus thought ‘the One’ somehow experienced a superabundance of good - an excessus bontatis - which radiated out from it. In the contingent reality that resulted you need a sort of cosmic Geiger counter to determine how near to the source of this radiation you are. Pure evil marks its limit, the point at which the needle ceases to flicker.

This was a first valiant attempt to explain the essential contradiction of creation - that a perfectly unified, self-sufficient being would necessarily lack any reason for creating stuff, especially stuff that had the potential for being bad.

Augustine adopted the Platonist notion that eternity was our true ‘home’, but added that we are unable to get there by ourselves without God’s grace. We belong in the absolute, but have become lost in the wilderness of relativity, where things have both a beginning and an end. (Though conceivably not in that order.) 

When the Archbishop of Canterbury recently suggested that God was gender-neutral he was actually saying something that would have been bleeding obvious to any early medieval theologian, for they had inherited the idea from Plotinus that God was Being without any particular qualities, and Augustine was pretty clear that sexuality was a primary example of our descent or hypostasis from an existence beyond limitation.

Quoting Hegel, the now ex-Manchester United manager José Mourinho suggested at the start of this season that his failures would become un-manifest the moment his career was contemplated ‘in the whole’. Christian theodicy - the art of explaining away evil - has sometimes relied on a similar trick. It’s not really there, it only appears to exist from a partial perspective.

Another way of dealing with evil is to regard it as a kind of negation resulting from the potential for wilful disobedience that comes packaged with rationality. This is not without problems, such as the suggestion that we have a form of initiative which is independent from the absolute.

Anyway, the Mourinho version is the more interesting one as it leads, via several less-than-orthodox strands of Christian thinking, towards a more dynamic conception of existence, towards the dreaded D-word (Dialectic). 


Contaminated wells

European Islamophobes are wont to point out that Islam contains within itself the seeds of the most violent excesses committed by zealots.|

Well, duh, of course it does. As does almost every other significant cultural system in our own history. Christianity, socialism, secular humanism even...all of them contaminated wells.

Good intentions are nearly always an indication of naive dilution - as all of these ideas tend to lead with some degree of inevitability to the horrors of inverted justice given that they profess to provide answers to questions that cannot be answered. And they cross-pollinate vigorously (especially at their more zealous extremities).

Yet how much civilisation - how much good, in effect - arises from this obstinacy?

Perhaps Liberals have a particular blindness to this problem, because theirs is a system which (supposedly) stops short of absolutist pretensions.



Abandoned


This poor dog was left tied to a tree on the little green outside our house in the early hours of the morning today.



No shade, and until we showed up, no food or water either. 

As we were trying to get close with the sustenance a neighbour appeared and angrily queried whether we were the owners. (Do I look like a cold-hearted melonfarmer?) 

The poor dog remained there all day. Nobody dared to get too close because he seemed ready to attack no matter how kindly a disposition one assumed. 

As of 10pm tonight the poor pooch has been freed, thanks to a very patient and pretty heroic gentleman from Pastores, who'd learned of his predicament on social media. He wanted to take the dog with him, but his overall snarliness was not significantly reduced by being unfettered. 

He went for a wander, but has now returned to the tree, seemingly awaiting the return of his utterly heartless dueños. (I think I have managed to capture their faces with our security cameras.) 


Friday, December 21, 2018

All roads lead to ruin...

This government faces what has to be one of the least effective oppositions in the history of British parliamentary democracy.

Yet its present lead in the polls is surely deceptive, as the Tories have maneuvered themselves into a position where almost every path they can take from here leads not only to electoral defeat, but almost certainly to longer-term damage to the party's prospects.

Take the deal that Brussels has left on the table. It's unloved. And so will be any government that forces it through Parliament, however unlikely that eventuality currently appears.

Suppose there's another way to deliver Brexit; almost certainly a hard and painful way. This might please a handful of deranged toffs and thier unlikely new allies amongst the northern working classes, but the Conservative Party's reputation as a safe pair of hands for the nation's commercial interests will be shot for good. (And one can't rule out that they will end up taking much of the blame for paving the way for a Corbyn-led administration and all the resulting economic mayhem thereof.) 


Theresa May's minority government emanates out of a parliamentary muddle, set up by an indecisive general election. Yet the PM behaves as if she has been given a decisive mandate by another vote taken a year earlier - and which was only decisive because of the dumb way in which it was set up by her predecessor. 

The somewhat novel, politically-engaged constituency this gave her party are fickle friends to say the least. Not only do they tend to sit at the wrong end of the age scale, many are tending Tory for one reason alone. 


May will know that disappointing them in such a way that Brexit turns out not to mean Brexit (or is halted altogether) could be catastrophic for conservatism. 

None of the options look good, but she's hoping for the kind of fudge that keeps some of the committed Leave voters on board whilst placating the business interests where the party's  more secure base lies. 

Alienating swathes of both the so-called 'liberal elites' and 'the people' would surely spell curtains. 


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Parliamentary Purists

How many genuine purists - as opposed to opportunistic ones - sit in Parliament right now?

We shall see in January. 

My suspicion is that once they are up against the cliff edge the numbers will turn out to be low...low enough for May to get some sort of holding arrangement through. 


Confidence Vote

For two years it has been obvious that a pair of distinct parliamentary groups, the no-dealers and the no-Brexiters, have been waiting for May to come back to the Commons with whatever negotiated compromise her government has garnered, and to then reject it. 

Since that abortive election there’s also been the DUP, who were always going to make Ireland a tricky issue. Labour had no clear (or indeed coherent) policy and so could be relied upon to act opportunistically up to the last moment. 

All this would surely have been clear to the government for ages. 

The no-dealers and the no-Brexiters are polar opposites, yet depend on the threat of the other to have any hope of getting what they want. 

So what May did this week was quite smart. She gave the impression that the vote would go ahead yesterday until the very last minute then postponed it. 

This allows her to run down the clock, which effectively makes a second referendum before March close to impossible and thus puts the no-dealers in a real pickle, because when the parliamentary vote does finally happen in January the choice really will be between no deal and ‘her’ deal, and the PM will know that in the final analysis there is no majority in the House for a calamitous exit from the EU. 

They noted that they’d been placed in check and responded with their desperate no confidence vote today, but it was doomed, and so are they. 

Future historians will surely decide that the whole god-awful mess was David Cameron’s fault and that May did well enough in the aftermath of the 2016 vote to neutralise Boris, Jacob and co and to establish a path to an orderly Brexit which would protect the UK's commercial interests and restore some control over the borders. 

If she made any mistake along the way it was referring to this deal as a deal. It’s really just a holding position that we will need to assume in March 2019 until a final free trade agreement has been settled. I can’t see anything other than some close variation of the current agreement taking effect when we leave next year. 

The alternatives can only be contemplated by people who care but little for consequences. 

Talk of May being ‘injured’ or having lost her moral authority is plain nonsense. The likes of Rees-Mogg and Boris have been damaged for sure. But she won, just as the Brexit 52% did, and they didn’t feel particularly beaten up then.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Commons Vote Postponement

Talk of Theresa May's 'humiliation' today may well be premature. In fact I think she has been pretty canny, having timed her postponement perfectly. 
Rees-Mogg and the ERG wing of the Tory party might be scared of a Brexit betrayal, but they also know that the only way they might get what they really want - no deal - is if the threat of a second referendum remains. 
Similarly, the EU 27 are scared of no deal, but have no real incentive to budge on the terms if they think the threat of no deal might drive the UK to what they really want - Norway+ or even a complete cop out via a second referendum...in which all the political consequences would be felt in the UK.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

History's a marathon...


"What is Europe? It’s a harder question than you might think. For some people, it is merely a geographical entity. At the beginning of his short history from ancient Greece to the present, Simon Jenkins defines it as “a modest peninsula off the north-west corner of Asia”. Sometimes it includes Britain, sometimes Russia, sometimes even Turkey. The European Union includes Cyprus and Romania, but not Norway or Switzerland. Predominantly Muslim Albania is keen to join; predominantly Lutheran Iceland is not. Even the Eurovision Song Contest has included Israel, Morocco, Azerbaijan and Australia. So perhaps we should think of Europe as an idea, not a place." (Dominic Sandbrook)

For me ‘Europe’ is essentially that which survived and then flourished as a result of the Greek victory over the Persians at Marathon, an event now predominantly remembered in the title of a blue-riband athletic event, but also arguably the most decisive moment of in all of recorded history.

No Marathon, no Athenian experiment in popular democracy. No Marathon, no Plato, one of Democracy's earliest productive antagonists and a figure arguably more important to Christian theology than Jesus himself.

No Marathon no crucifixion anyway, because no Roman Empire. No Plato almost certainly means no Islam either, for this was also — at least in part — a 'European' faith in its development, having passed through the prism of Greco-Roman reasoning in order to achieve its ultimate form and status, just as Christianity had done. 

Remember, remember, the eleventh of November

After turning 50 it is perhaps natural to reflect that 100 years is not so long ago after all. 
And how soon memories become history; whether this is a process of softening or solidification is open to discussion. 
The last time I was in Oxford Street with my father - ‘You don’t see any English faces here any more’ - he suddenly recalled passing along the same thoroughfare as a child with his own father and being disquieted by all the maimed WWI veterans that used to congregate there. 
I also remember dim foggy November evenings in the early 70s when our home was passed annually by an kilted army pipe band, trailed by a throng of old men, mostly able-bodied, they too survivors of that conflict, which seemed more distant to me then than it does now. 
Now I suppose they and their stories have marched off into a past that those with no direct experience 'remember' each year, apparently increasingly unsure of what is being remembered other than sacrifice. (Would this seem any more or less meaningful if Europe had not gone and done the whole thing again thirty years later?) 
People say we can’t now think of WWI without thinking of Blackadder Goes Forth, but even that was a long time ago now. Last year's re-tread of Journey's End was a bit of a refresher, I suppose. 
Prof. Niall Ferguson's article in the Sunday Times today reminded me that the moment the guns went silent - those same big guns that were responsible for 75% of all casualties - was one of 'pandemonium' rather than peace. 4 of the 6 great empires that had started the conflict disintegrated and a plague-like pandemic carried off the lives of more than four times the number that the war itself had. (We barely 'remember' the Spanish Flu.) 
It was also the moment that belligerent nationalism started to look like a catch-all remedy. Reading about Macron and Merkel side by side in the train carriage yesterday almost brought me to tears, but once again the Donald elephant had to come along and trample all over the story.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

Froot Loops

Throughout the medieval and early modern periods it was England’s role in European history to not take the extremes of religious and political posturing across the channel all that seriously. Or at least to domesticate them for local consumption in such a way that their more deleterious effects were muted. 

I think this is basically what Edmund Burke was on about, and I recall a teacher at school delighting with the tale of how a shipload of flagellants were mocked on arrival in Dover at one of the many moments of supposedly impending apocalypse in the Middle Ages. 

So today Barnier warns of ‘a Farage in every country’ as if Nigel were somehow patient zero for the coming populist plague. No, Farage is the Middle England version of extremism, familiar to all connoisseurs of our history...and if there is to be any benefit from Brexit, it will be in the manner that it restores the nation to its traditional state of relative cut-offness from continental froot loops. 

Still, just by virtue of being English-speaking social media addicts, we run the risk of being blighted by those other froot loops across the pond. 

The leading article of the Spectator today concerned itself with the possibility that the statue-pullers and witch hunters general have settled for good on English shores and advised that ‘a great many people worry that minority opinions are seen as being not just incorrect but criminal. The response ought to be to urge common sense: to fight against the hysteria but in a calm way.’

That would probably be the British way...but the author of the piece is not alone in having detected a greater tendency on all sides of the discourse to treat alternative viewpoints not just as incorrect, but also morally defective, and those that hold them as non-persons. Until we find a way to sensibly discourage said tendency, the USA will continue to act as a handy early warning system, I suppose. 

The Spectator concludes:  ‘In America, Democrats are now copying Trump’s tactics and the two sides are happiest trusting in their own virtue and the moral delinquency of the other. We have not yet reached that point in Britain.’ 

Not yet. 




Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Bellendus Trogloditus Australianus




A fine example of the species - known affectionately in these parts as the Cabeza de Pijaseen here displaying its trademark morning greeting    just like in The Truman Show:

"Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!” 

And here’s another of this particular specimen apparently dressed up for its annual, unmissable Halloween bash. 

I know, spot the difference. 

In case you can't, in the second image that totemic index finger that is used variously to say hi to its neighbours and stick in people's ears - when not fully inserted into its own rectum - is being brandished as a handy standalone accessory. 






Sunday, November 04, 2018

Strangers, episode 8

I know I'm not alone in my dissatisfaction with the manner of the way ITV's Strangers was wound up. (For example, if I had to choose which of this pair gets shot in the back...) 



The screenwriting was ropey throughout the 8 episode run, but the gorgeousness of the locations seemed to compensate. But the final instalment was a standalone salmagundi of mis-steps, as if a specialist team of morons had been drafted in to deal with the ending. (Perhaps the same bunch that handled the concluding episode of Dexter?) 

Of the various baddies one was struggling to really care about, one topped himself rather abruptly off camera and another just vanished completely and was reportedly arrested on the mainland. Meanwhile Sally Porter extricated herself without, at the very least, a P45, and her boss Arthur Bach was mysteriously arrested at the British consulate. Has nobody heard of that famous line from Lethal Weapon 2: 'Diplomatic Immunity'? 
Meanwhile archetypally pushy investigative hack Michael Cohen started behaving utterly out of character, appearing bizarrely reticent when presented with the possibility of the scoop of a lifetime. 
The only character I actually cared about had already been offed. The fact that his body could not at first be found turned out to be an unnecessarily loose end, resulting in further disappointment. 
I'd put David Chen's likeability down to the lost boy performance delivered by Anthony Wong rather than any sorcery in the script. His daughter Lau had a similarly hangdog persona, but in her it remained fairly antipathetic throughout.


Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Invalid Binaries

St Thomas Aquinas was one of the first Christian thinkers to tackle head on what is perhaps the central problem of his own belief system - that God cannot exist, at least not in the same way that anything else exists in time and space.

So the question ‘Does God exist?’ is surely one of those that should never be formulated in the familiar yes/no binary format, because to do so is to inevitably sacrifice almost all of the indispensable complexity of the problem.

See also: ‘Should the UK leave the EU?’


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Every man or Everyman

In Straw Dogs John Gray famously observed that "Humanity does not exist. There are only humans, driven by conflicting needs and illusions, and subject to every kind of infirmity of will and judgement."

Yesterday an auditorium full of multilateralists laughed at a self-styled patriot. If it had been a room full of patriots listening to a multilateralist they had pre-disrespected, there would probably have also been a few guffaws picked up on the mikes. It's always fun to mock someone else's needs and illusions. 

It seems to me that the key question now is which of these illusions might be better equipped to handle the catastrophes to come: the every man (as long as he's a patriot) for himself worldview, or the wishful thinking approach to everyman worldview.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Guests and Fish


In as much as he is President of this country, Jimmy Morales is very much a big fish from CICIG's perspective. 

Yet in almost every other respect Jimmy remains a little fish. In a sense this is what got him elected and formed the undertone of 'Ni Corrupto, Ni Ladrón'. 

The contrast with his predecessor is surely obvious to almost everyone, but Iván Velásquez himself may have lost track of the distinction.

And thus we may have reached the moment when it might be appropriate for CICIG to sacrifice its illustrious, tenacious jefe in order to find a way to secure its own future and that of the wider fight against impunity in Guatemala. 

Even if Iván were to stay, the current international situation (Trump..) may already preclude the kind of high profile probing he apparently favours. Outside support could at best be described as wavering right now. 

Continued obstinance may lead to an escalation of attacks on the judiciary by a President who cannot stand again next June. And may damage the cause of any pro-CICIG, anti-graft candidate in the next election. 


Though, for this not to be notched up as a victory for the fish, Iván would have to be readmitted to the country first before stepping aside.


Hasta Duendes

There's an individual who passes in front of our house every morning at the same time wearing precisely the same malapropos get-up - a baggy grey sweater, loose yet heavy pants, oversize dark sunglasses and what also appears to be an XXL black wig. 

We've provided him/her with the nickname Groundhog, but V sometimes prefers Sinibaldi

When we had our security cameras installed one of the technicians opined that we were likely to see all sorts of things, 'hasta duendes'. 

It is certainly true that we have since seen a good deal of stuff that cannot be unseen, resulting in a small folder of miscellaneous clips that could never be shared on social media. A pair of siblings making out against our front wall and an orgy inside a police car have really been the least of it. 


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

DENIS NORDEN, 1922-2018

Back in the 80s and 90s Denis was a partner and the leading scriptwriter at my father's firm and I was in awe of him, always.

The obituary quotes him expressing somewhat regretful sentiments about the rise of the word processor, but it is as an unlikely champion and early adopter of such technology that I will remember him. Long before the company had a room full of Vydecs, Denis had his own little handheld WP, of which he seemed immensely proud.

Before proper fame came with It'll be Alright on the Night (V could never cope with the way he held his clipboard or notebook - awkwardly - at his waistline), he used to host a mid-afternoon slot with a panel of retired and forgotten celebs who competed to guess the origins of clips from black and white movies of the classic 1930s musical era. Whenever at home pulling a sickie from school I'd come across this unwelcome interruption in programming aimed at my own age-group, and wonder who on earth could possibly be interested in this sort of nostalgia for wrinklies!

He must surely have been the last of that great generation of British comedy writers and performers that came out of the forces at the end of WWII.


Skim-travellers

This article on the phenomenon of skim-reading had me musing along parallel lines about how contemporary travel too has become a process of skimming.

My second visit to La Antigua in early September 1989 had a duration of three months, including five weeks at a Spanish school.

Yet beyond those who come to settle, I come across far fewer medium term 'inhabitants' these days, and consequently, perhaps, there are fewer Spanish schools around town as well.

In the late 80s Antigua was a natural hub, pretty much the only location in the country and nearby region geared up for foreigners. There were no hotels close to the ruins at Tikal and Flores offered only the most basic options. Ditto Pana, which was a tiny, somewhat scuzzy destination.
You came here, settled for a while, and moved around when you could.

For millennials however, every day spent in one place comes with an opportunity cost, for travel in their world is essentially a stream of shareable micro-experiences. They use Tripadvisor (not Revue or Que Pasa anymore it seems) to maximise the efficiency of their stay.

A perhaps not unrelated phenomenon I have noticed in the past year or so, is the rise of the boutique hostel in La Antigua. Just like those cut-rate, booze-deluged sanctuaries for migrating tishudos...but so much more instagrammable!


Monday, September 10, 2018

Berrinche

In as much as Jaws is not really about a killer shark, a tennis match involving Serena Williams is hardly ever just about tennis. Yesterday we got to see more of the thematic underpinnings than usual.

Serena’s game is all about asserting her own power against the power of others, not just her opponents, but the whole rule-making and imposing system. I cannot be the only person to have noted that she often seems psychologically a bit more fragile when playing another woman of colour (...that isn’t her sister).

Yesterday it was as if she wanted to play the race card in her head, found that she couldn’t, played the gender card instead - with motherhood bonus - realised how absurd that made her look and then duly descended into a more generic spoiled American celeb strop, questioning the umpire’s integrity and threatening his career with the power she wields without a racket.

'Tennis was the loser', says Sue Barker. Only if you must have your sport without subtext. For me, this was a better than average spectacle for a women’s final at Flushing Meadow.

The toys don't have to come out of the pram every time, but just knowing that they might establishes an extra level of entertainment. 

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Chequers

There’s a strong possibility that historians of a generation hence will look favourably - and wistfully - at ‘Chequers’ and conclude that this was, after all, possibly the best bash at solving what will probably even in twenty years' time look like an almost intractable problem.

They will note though how this sensible attempt to cut the Gordian Knot fell almost midway between the various dogmatic positions, both in the UK parliament and the EU negotiating team, and was thus doomed to failure.

The fact that its key sponsor - the discrepantly-dancing Maybot - had proposed it from a position of self-induced weakness, will be bewailed in turn.




Friday, August 10, 2018

The dogs are whistling...

Zionist and Crusader - two descriptions that can be deployed in many contexts in polite anglophile conversation without the need for summoning a disciplinary committee immediately afterward. 

But when Osama Bin Laden spoke of ‘the Zionist-Crusader alliance', something else was going on. Both appellations had acquired a slightly kooky, reality-detached emphasis. 

Fanatics and other kinds of ideologues do this - they kidnap epithets and zap them with their wacky rays before releasing them back into the discourse, now bearing secret-handshakey added meanings. (Viz ‘Neoliberal’, as used by many on the Left today.) 

Now, while to almost all outside the Al Qaeda filter bubble it’s quite apparent that George W Bush was not literally a Frankish knight with a red cross emblazoned on his shield, many on the Corbynite Left seem unable or unwilling to comprehend that most Jews are not what the bloodthirsty bearded one actually meant by ‘Zionist’ either. 

And they habitually deflect criticism by hiding behind the fact that it surely remains possible to use the term 'Zionist' in an un-loaded fashion. 

Something similar is going on with Boris and his niqab letter boxes. It strikes me as  a more sophisticated version of the Trump Twitter idiom - a set of words designed to sit just on the edge of what liberal sentiment can currently tolerate, whilst bearing a hidden payload of meanings (complete with virtual high fives) for the co-religionists on the other side of that line. 

I am usually solidly in favour of free speech, but there can be little doubt that these are techniques that are being used to game our system of liberal democracy

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The Hitchhiker's Guide to La Antigua


Radio listeners and readers of a certain generation will call how the inhabitants of a planet called Golgafrincham managed to rid themselves of a useless third of their population by creating three oversized intergalactic vessels to seek out a new world, but only one of them, Ark Ship 'B', the one with all the telephone sanitizers and hairdressers, was actually launched into deep space. 

Thanks to Youtubers like this, Antigua is becoming that spaceship...though Douglas Adams mysteriously omitted yoga teachers from his examples. 




Travel Mum appears somewhat deluded about the market in La Antigua as you will almost never come across an actual farmer in there, and a quick visit to our local tomatera just outside town would quickly disabuse her of any notions of cleanliness in the cultivation techniques used around here. 

$4 or $5 for a beer?! (Even if it does actually appear to be a margarita.) 

She's not wrong about the dearth of decent Asian food though. I recently had a dire shared experience of El Chinito Atroz featuring chunks of soggy teryaki 'chicken' which may well have been sourced from the canine community that amasses outside the matadero beside El Calvario. 


Friday, August 03, 2018

Are nutty parties necessary?

Ultra-ist parties are on the rise across the EU. France had to invent an ersatz populist movement to keep its own demons at bay. 

I'd been reflecting recently that the way the UK has apparently 'contained' its extremes within the traditional two-party system was perhaps admirable and certainly historically very familiar. 

But I am still not sure, and Matthew Parris disagrees... 


"A substantial minority of British voters, to both the right and the left of what we may call the centre, are frankly nuts. 
"They need and deserve nutty parties to vote for. Take the left. It’s a tragedy of our era that voters, activists and a few politicians too who are rank Marxists, not democratic socialists, should have lodged themselves within the Labour party so securely that they now control its leadership." 

He goes on to conclude that a re-surfacing of UKIP, would thus not be such a bad thing, as it would purge the Tory party of some of its own crazies.



Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Labour's Anti-Semitism

One of the first things I learned as an undergrad was that historians of the hard left tend to have a completely different approach to facts to almost anyone else practicing the discipline. 

For them, prior to recruitment, facts have to be interrogated for ideological soundness. Indeed facts are never viewed as primary material, more like the fuel for existing theoretical models and worldviews, which are always in charge of centrally-planning the argument and weeding out any interfering, 'free thinking' information. 

You can witness this approach in its peak form by reading any Marxist account of the French Revolution, where blame for the Terror - aka the bad bit that needs to be explained away or at least contained - is usually pinned on reactionary forces within France and beyond, especially somehow on us Brits. 

Hard-Leftists go through a phase of fact-resistant ‘ideological ‘enchantment’ where they lose track of the absurdity of some of the maneuvers they come up with to dispose of uncomfortable realities. Only later when ‘ideological disenchantment’ has started to take its toll, does honesty in historiography start to re-assert itself. 

Corbyn’s Labour party is now very much in the former phase when it comes to its anti-semitism problem. And so we hear of Blairite conspiracies and all kinds of ad hominem attacks on anyone who might dare to point the finger. 

In fact, just about anything except a conscientious, unfeigned confrontation with the facts.