Sunday, July 23, 2017

El Shute has his dos centavos' worth...

If there's one thing Susana deserves some support on it is this displacement of the 'Feria del Libro'. As an avid and diversified reader in both Spanish and English - with noted bibliomaniac tendencies some might allege  - I can honestly say I have almost never felt the urge to graze this particular set of troughs. (Though I did pick up Gloria Álvarez's polemic on populism after listening to her plugging it live at the feria last year.) 

Most of the tomes on offer are utter junk, the sort of stuff you could buy any day of the week at the Mariposa. Claims that this annual event adds to the intellectual life of the city are spurious. 

But the real issue here is that the Muni has to be consistent - one of the main complaints levied by avuncular Dr Parada on Thursday about the pedestrianisation of the Calle del Arco. 

If they wish to de-commercialise the Parque Central, then they have to re-locate the book-sellers along with the pestering típico peddlers, no matter how much faux-intellectual bravado they display.  

Our mayor has to be prepared to piss EVERYONE off uniformly- the stuffy conservative petty-elite, the parasitical gringos, the invasive riff-raff from the provinces...everyone. 

And she has to stop trying to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Massive fines directed at all those who flout her directives will get her nowhere. Far more than an architect or urban planner, right now La Antigua needs an economist in its top job. 

This is because by its very nature Antigua benefitted a long time ago from up front contributions from architects and urban planners, and what it needs in the contemporary environment is an administration that understands the complex and sophisticated web of incentives and disincentives that needs to be spun to get the place functioning properly again.





Friday, July 21, 2017

The price is whatever you are prepared to pay...

One thing you notice here is a much more obvious disconnect between price and quality than you see in the developed world. 

This is I think one of the more obvious costs of relative ignorance - ignorant retailers selling to largely ignorant consumers. 

You see this at the Bodegona on the shelves where products like wine and pasta are stocked. The pasta aisle for example features cheap pasta on one side and expensive pasta on the other, with no noticeable difference in quality. It’s all about what people are prepared to pay. The situation with wine in there is even worse. 

Things are yet more extreme at the various delicatessens around town where supposedly fancy cheeses (mostly pre-ruined due to poor storage and sometimes even freezing) are sold by people who have never consumed such a thing in their lives. It’s like a bookshop staffed by illiterates. 


Saturday, July 15, 2017

From Referendum to Reformation...

I remain a committed remainer. 

There are all sorts of reasons for this, but at base it is because my thinking is beholden to a legacy of belief in the soi-disant ‘European Project’ which I am loath to let go of, and because of a steadfast commitment to my own adult identity as a Citizen of the EU. 

This places me in a position analogous to the sort of Roman Catholic who can park all the nonsensical medieval theology and modern abuse scandals at the back of his or her mind, reassured ultimately by the universalist proposition and the periodically illusive underlying decency that serve as bond to their faith and associated worldview. 

Is the EU capable of adapting to changing circumstances in much the same way that the Vatican transparently isn’t? It’s the trickiest of questions. The Catholic Church has a sense of being above mere circumstances. Sometimes it appears that the EU does as well. 

England at least has had some significant previous with this Brexit business. No doubt the subjects of Henry VIII were repeatedly warned that in their rejection of Rome they had made a monumental error of historical proportions. Then as now what Little Englanders rather obviously wanted was all the benefits without any of the external interference and control. 

And to some extent they got what they wanted, though the breach remained very much a live issue for at least three hundred years afterwards (soft, hard and then arguably softer again in the modern parlance — along of course with the abortive 'Lib Dem' approach undertaken by Henry's daughter Mary), and in one small part of our United Kingdom, a part they may prove particularly pertinent in relation to this new schism, it remains so to this day. 

In my desire to see the result of the referendum reversed I am as willing as the next remoaner to deploy project fear. But the truth is that not even a decision as apparently momentous as the one made last June can significantly undermine the position and trajectory of a modern nation like the UK. 

The EU ought to have given greater consideration to internal reform prior to the Brexit vote and it surely needs to do now as the world’s fifth largest economy - one with whom it maintains a handy €120bn trade surplus - detaches from it. And whatever now happens to the UK in ‘independent’ form, only the delusional can maintain that the 27 will not now witness a ramping up of the agonising pressures already being brought to bear on their four ‘indivisible’ freedoms, especially the freedom of movement. 

Instead of speaking and behaving like the Vatican, the EU might do well to consider in a timely fashion which of its fundamental precepts will best stand up to present and future realities. 


Friday, July 14, 2017

Time to act...

Both Brazil and Guatemala have over the past couple of years shown the rest of this hemisphere how to handle heads of state who both demean and mis-demean at the same time. 

Surely, the great nation that is the USA can muster just enough self respect now to know that its time to deal properly with a usurper like the Trump incubus? 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Top Notch Chop Houses

I've had the extremely good fortune to sit down to eat at many extraordinary eateries across Latin America on my travels over the past decade or so.  

Most of these fall into one of two main categories: small typical comedores of the unpretentious sort, and larger dining halls of considerable local repute cooking up notably superior versions of famed regional dishes. 

Those listed here belong to a third: mid-priced restaurants where either the quality or the creativity  in combination with the atmosphere  have made the meals served one of the standout memories of any visit to the (mostly) urban spaces they grace. 


Quintonil, Polanco, Mexico City, Mexico

Casa Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico

Catedral, Oaxaca, Mexico

El Mural de los Poblanos, Puebla, Mexico

Bangcook, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

La Palapa de Tio Fito, Campeche, Mexico

Mezzanine, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Pata Negra, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Waoo, Vedado, La Habana, Cuba

La Cocina de Pepina, Getsemaní, Cartagena, Colombia

Donostia, Bogotá, Colombia

El Cielo, Leticia, Cololmbia

Al Frio y Al Fuego, Iquitos, Perú

Restaurante César (Formerly Mi Causa), Miraflores, Lima, Perú

Cevicheria El Cebillano, Arequipa, Perú

Mestizo, Vitacura, Santiago de Chile

Aqui Está Coco, Providencia, Santiago de Chile

Bar Liguria, Providencia, Santiago de Chile 

Café La Poesía, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Asador La Estancia, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The list is undeniably personal, clearly non-definitive, and arguably a bit idiosyncratic, and it might have been longer, but sadly a handful of establishments that would almost certainly have featured have since closed their doors (e.g. Nina Yaku in Arequipa, La Carmela in Mendoza, Cha Cha Cha in Cahuita) and others, such as our very own Welten here in La Antigua, are sadly not quite what they used to be. 




Monday, July 10, 2017

The Keepers

So, we made it to to the odd-numbered conclusion of The Keepers. I'd have prefixed this post with 'spoiler alert' except that the warning would have been about as meaningful in front of a recap of an episode of the new Twin Peaks

Certainly, if you have been left wondering who the alleged nun-killer 'Brother Bob' might have been, David Lynch is probably your go-to guy. 

The whole thing was indeed plotted in a rather Lynchian fashion, with a superficial sense of linearity laid over a more elliptical narrative, with frustrating non sequiturs at every turn. At one point in episode six V quipped that 'by the time they get back to the maggots I'll probably be covered in them myself!'

This was essentially a tale about people keeping things to themselves for too long or simply not saying as much as they actually know, and director Ryan White appears to have tried to adopt this as the pattern of his own exposition. 

The two main areas of interest, the slaughter of Sister Cathy and the sorry history of systematic abuse by Father Maskell were in the end somewhat flimsily coupled, via a single eye witness account of a guided visit to the cadaver. I was disappointed that no connection between the clergy/law enforcement and uncles Edgar and Bill was ever fleshed out. 

I was also rather disappointed that nobody explicitly voiced the irony implicit in the Archdiocese's response to Maskell's outing as a pederast: send him to a girls' school; that should do the trick! 

When the Forensic investigator Doctor Werner Spitz turned up and started rolling out names like JFK and OJ Simpson, the term 'Rosicrucians' popped into my head spontaneously...and for one ghastly moment it occurred to me that the whole series might be an elaborate spoof. 

The cops were all reassuringly archetypal. This lot in Baltimore couldn't release the autopsy report as this might prejudice any future cold case investigation, yet meanwhile had lost all the rest of the physical evidence. If anyone was supposed to be the eponymous keepers, it certainly wasn't them. 

We were particularly gobsmacked by Sharon May, the prosecutor tasked with taking on cases of sexual abuse in the area, who rather obvious lacks any interest whatsoever in her chosen field. The painful logic of her inertia was quite simple: we need corroboration but don't get too excited if you get it, because then we'll tell you every case has to stand up on its own anyway. 

This series will no doubt have played well with people, such as myself, who regard religion as a crime against humanity. However, nobody should be holding their breath that the Roman Catholic Church will become any less self-serving, secretive and manipulative as a result of exposés such as this. 

Normal

Just in case you weren't quite sure what Jimmy was referring to when he spoke to Jorge Ramos about 'normal' behaviour, not just in his own household, but all over this nation, here's an example of it in action on our streets...

- First the Muni van rocks up
- Then, using pickaxes, new holes are opened up where no such holes existed previously
- Big stones thus loosened are bagged up and loaded onto the pickup
- Holes are then filled with what looks like a mix of earth and volcanic rubble
- For good measure gasoline is then syphoned out of the pickup, no doubt so the bill for refueling can then be presented as a legitimate expense
- And repeat...


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


En caso de que no estuvieras muy seguro de lo que Jimmy se estaba refiriendo cuando habló con Jorge Ramos sobre el comportamiento "normal", no sólo en su propia casa, sino en toda la nación, aquí está un ejemplo de ello en acción en nuestras calles...


- Primero, el picop de la Muni de la Antigua llega con varios trabajadores

- Luego ellos, utilizando piochas, abren nuevos agujeros donde no existían
- Las grandes piedras son así aflojadas y posteriormente embolsadas y cargadas al picop
- Los agujeros los rellenan de lo que parece una mezcla de tierra y escombros volcánicos
- Para finalizar, el colmo es que hasta extraen bocalmente (con una manguera) un galón de gasolina del vehículo, sin duda para poder pasar la factura con el gasto de rellenar el tanque. 

- Y así se repite el proceso...








PR Disasters Galore

Susancio is not only useless, she is also in a sense perpetually unlucky - as well as being very badly supported by her media team, if she even has one. This week the Muni started off with two rather good plans, on paper at least: firstly, close the noisy cafe-brothel opposite Soleil and secondly, move the clutter that is the annual biblio-junk festival out of the Parque Central and over to the forecourt of the Cooperación Española. In both cases however, the implementation process rather predictably resulted in the kind of PR disaster in which our Mayor seems to specialise.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

First Citizens

It’s a handy trick to see how modern would-be autocrats measure up against arguably the greatest of them all - Rome’s first emperor (or should we say first citizen), Augustus. 

The latter was a great autocrat because nobody then and perhaps even now is quite sure how he did it, as his highly innovative tyranny, which brought lasting change to the way the Romans were ruled, was successfully cloaked in a cloud of apparent continuity with and respect for the traditions of republican government.

Trump and Erdoğan for example, do little to disguise the innovation they claim to bring to the table, both suggesting that the existing system is flawed in significant ways and needs a strongman in charge to overcome some of these inherent weaknesses. 

In Trump’s case this message is malformed and likely to be little more than a glitch in the system, because constitutional government in the USA should ultimately prove stronger than a President lacking the intelligence to effect genuine undercover change.

Putin is a very different beast as he comes from a political tradition that is autocratic to the core. Where he does perhaps bear comparison with Augustus is in his ability to sound like the most reasonable man on earth even as his actions are demonstrably un-reasonable.

PS: Augustus was afraid of thunder storms. 





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.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Ésta mañana un picop de la Muni llegó y los trabajadores que bajaron bloquearon el acceso del la calle de ambos lados con conos rojos. Se supone que habían sido enviados a reparar unas cuantas piedras sueltas en medio de la calle empedrada. 

Su técnica para hacer ésto resultó sospechosa.

En vez de asegurar las piedras sueltas en su lugar, empezaron a abrir un area más grande con piochas, excavando alrededor de media docena de piedras grandes (valiosas) y transfiriéndolas a un costal, antes de proceder a llenar los agujeros resultantes con lo que parecía una mezcla de cal,lodito, cemento y piedras mucho más pequeñas (y así menos valiosas).


Con ésto podemos suponer que las grandes piedras del costal podrían ser vendidas por los trabajadores o tal vez los mismos oficiales de la Muni están realizando una transferencia de piedras más grandes a otros lados de la ciudad en dónde esten haciendo otros trabajos de empedrado.

Se han largado con sus costales llenos de piedras, pero antes los dejaron desatendidos durante un tiempo mientras se fueron a almorzar. 

Este tramo de empedrado fue originalmente financiado por los vecinos, no por la Muni. 




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.