Monday, August 14, 2017

Dummy's Guide

A handy guide to many-sided conflicts for the likes of Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn. 
When should one check oneself before suggesting that both sides in a ruckus are equally violent and generally looking for trouble? 
a) When one side is a bunch of Nazis
b) When one side is the state and has an army and has just flushed the constitution down the toilet.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Freeing ourselves from Freedumb...

There really is no 'free' thing that is an endless good in itself.

To some extent the West is constantly struggling these days to free itself from the strident American misconception of freedom, free markets etc. Put simply this is the notion that the application of freedom to anything improves it and any negative consequences are somehow being imagined by people with jaundiced mentalities.

In the English tradition we get our base conception of freedom from Thomas Hobbes. And as Quentin Skinner puts it: 'The desperate paradox on which Hobbes’s political theory is grounded is that the greatest enemy of human nature is human nature itself'.

Hobbes got it. Freedom is in our nature, he insisted - our birthright - but it comes with negative consequences as well as positive ones.

The trouble is that in making this point Hobbes famously emphasised a worst case scenario: the nasty, brutish and short lifestyle that results from everyone exercising their right to freedom at the same time.

In practice it is more of a slow-burn or layered kind of apocalypse that tends to occur. We get many good things from the Internet, open borders, free markets, the Uber economy and so on. In many cases the good far outweighs the bad, depending in part on one's historical perspective.

Whilst this is undeniable, so too is the fact that freedom amplifies good and evil at the same time. And some of those amplified evils manifest themselves as NEW evils and thus have a transformative effect that belies their minority status in the whole package.

Viz Douglas Murray today on the issues posed by 'free' migration into Southern Europe...

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

British Ancestry and Diversity

This over-heated debate about diversity in Roman Britain is skirting around one of the more interesting aspects of the nation's genetic heritage.

If Romans of African descent have left almost no trace in the British gene pool, Mary Beard is quite right to point out that neither have the Normans. (Or for that matter, any other kind of Romans.)

But more to the point, there is a notable (and for many, surprising) dearth of Anglo-Saxon ancestry in the English gene pool as well.

DNA studies tend to reveal that most 'native' Britons can trace their ancestors back in an unbroken line to the people that occupied the island long before the Romans even turned up, and that is this component of their DNA that tends to predominate. 

This should not be all that surprising. After the ice age Britain was effectively an empty space that was suddenly repopulated both by people coming up the Atlantic coast from the Iberian peninsula and people crossing the North Sea from what is now Germany and Scandinavia. (My own paternal ancestors belonged to the former group, according to an analysis I had done a decade ago.) 

Everyone who came later, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, Normans etc etc. represented little more than a top-up. 

Though from the political perspective the locals experienced this more as a top-down phenomenon!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Corbyn condemns 'all violence' in Venezuela...

Oh snore. 

Back in the 80s when many different Latin American countries were enduring US-supported tyrannies, a public condemnation of 'all the violence' was shorthand for downplaying the oppressive conduct of the state, as well as an attempt to establish moral equivalence between the authorities and their armed forces and anyone brave enough to stand-up to them with anything other than a placard. 

In other words, casuistry Jeremy, pure and simple. 

Ex-pat or Migrant?

That old controversy about the difference between an ex-pat and an immigrant resurfaced on the newly re-branded Ex-Pats Living in Guatemala page yesterday (now redacted).

The literature on this one is quite extensive and politically gnarly. In the UK we have non-doms as well, just to add to all the fun.

But in Guatemala, although these categories are necessarily fluid, I think it is clear that in the main an ex-pat is someone who is...

A) Wanted by the FBI, or..
B) On a 90-day tourist visa either working illegally or running a small business 'bajo agua', as they say here. 

On a somewhat separate note, I recently crossed the border between Corozal and Chetumal and the process at Mexican customs was so utterly interminable that one Belizean wag was heard to quip 'We're not here to ask for asylum you know man!' 

A typical Q&A session...

...on the Facebook page formerly known as 'Guatemala Ex-pats'..
Q: Has anyone used Uber to get to the airport?
A1: Well, I once got an Uber in Kuala Lumpur and it was fine...
A2: No, but that sure is an interesting question.

A3: What's an Uber?


There's a choice of scrambled eggs or strawberry cheesecake for breakfast. I deliberate.

According to seventeenth century English thinker Thomas Hobbes, that's exactly what I am doing: de-liberating.

For in Hobbes's view we are only truly free at the moment of choice, not in the making of it. 

As Keanu Reeves said in a recent BBC interview, 'It's quantum baby'.

This take on freedom mingles well with my own notion that one should try to juggle one's worldviews. In other words, as far as possible, one's political cats should remain both dead and alive, for that is the only way that they are also going to be free.

So, while one might think that taking up a firm and radical position out on the ideological fringe makes one look handily both conspicuous and coherent  to follow the analogy  instead the tendency is to de-cohere.

Sunday, August 06, 2017



This operation is freely available on the streets of Guatemala...

15 minutes from Antigua...

By hang glider?

One has to wonder just how above board it can be to flog off parcels of land three quarters of the way up the volcano for almost $200,000. 

These are 40 little eco-cabins we'd rather not be looking up at. 

Let's hope that 'off the grid' doesn't actually mean lack of proper planning oversight. 

Greetings, my German friends...

When I first came to Guatemala in the late 80s there was a local man of my acquaintance who was wont to greet any German national he encountered with a well-practiced yet amiable Nazi salute, often adding an ardent 'Heil Hitler' for good measure. Whilst he reported being a little disappointed with some of the responses he received ('maleducados'), there were still quite a few Teutons around town back then who might be said to have had more than a passing familiarity with this gesture...and must have had to consciously restrain themselves from responding in kind!

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Wrong Battlefield?

Back in November I was given some brief exposure to the gameplay of Battlefield 1 by a friend in London. 

Now it would be fair to say that I've been finding computer games less and less engaging as I grow older, but there was a lot more to this experience than incurious indifference. 

Back in the day I dabbled with other murderous first person scenarios which were surely conceived in at least as much poor taste (Carmageddon, Wolfenstein etc.), but given a couple of days reflection I realised that I have never felt as profoundly offended by any game as I was by this one. 

This might be a very subjective response by a lapsed historian like myself, but I suspect there are some more objective cultural triggers behind this which are worth exploring. 

The Second World War has become our primary meta-narrative of warring worldviews, the ultimate triumph of good vs evil, life over the cult of death etc.  As such, it kind of lends itself to gameplay. 

The Great War on the other hand has a very different place in our collective imagination. As we roll through the various centenaries we Brits have commemorated the conflict with a bloody moat of poppies around the Tower of London and, just recently, a melting soldier of mud in Trafalgar Square.

It has become the modern western world’s Memento Mori, a politically acceptable cult of death. Which is why I think re-spawning avatars a la Doom seem somehow especially inappropriate. 

The western front is not just any battlefield, it’s where something in our civilisation died and as with any death of personal significance, it marks a painfully irretrievable loss. 

A similar if more subdued form of vexation took hold of me during the recent and otherwise enjoyable Wonder Woman movie. 

I gather the comics were set originally in WWII, but the decision was taken to place the emergence of Diana's somewhat aggressive brand of pacifism during the earlier conflagration. Along the way the First World War was given a bit of a makeover such that it took on many of the characteristics of the next one. 

This piece of chicanery was only just legitimised by the proposition of the movie's basic mythology that the warlike Amazons are somehow against all war, and it is certainly true that the no-nonsense pacifist position encounters less resistance from WWI than it does from WWII. 

Anyway, unlike many people in modern discourse, I do understand the important difference between being offended myself and believing that everyone should be offended. 

Press 1 for English?

Dear new, possibly soon-to-be-old, fuckface at the White House podium, 

Before accusing the cosmopolitan-biased Mr Acosta of Fake News Inc. of ignorance, consider the following not-so-stupid questions. 

What proportion of the names of US states derive from the English language?

What proportion of the territory of the United States was until fairly recently part of Mexico? And in the broader sense, what portion of the continent of North America has in general strong historical ties to a non-anglophone cultural tradition? 

As Felipe Fernández-Armesto said in Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States

‘Citizens of the United States have always learned the history of their country as if it unfolded exclusively from east to west. In consequence, most of them think their past has created a community essentially—even necessarily—anglophone, with a culture heavily indebted to the heritage of radical Protestantism and English laws and values...even well-educated, amiable, open-minded people in the United States do not realize that their country has a Hispanic past, as well as a Hispanic future—or, at least, that if people do realize this fact, they commonly assign it no contemporary relevance or cultural significance.’ 

An immigration policy which makes speaking English a requirement for work permits isn’t racist per se so much as genuinely fascist, in as much as the last century’s biggest fan of linguistic discrimination was one Francisco Franco. 

Just imagine that the UK refused a work permit to a Patagonian Welsh-speaker that wanted to come and work in Cardiff but only spoke Welsh fluently. Just how ignorant would that be?