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.



Thursday, July 19, 2018

When getting somewhere can mean going nowhere...

Brexit is a very complicated matter, which is why many Britons find it altogether easier to adhere to an essentially uninformed position: either hard leave or hard remain. That is, after all, the choice that they were mistakenly offered in 2016. 

It seems that almost everyone in the general public outside the media or Parliament wants one or the other, but Parliament as a whole wants neither. So it has fallen to our compromised PM to try and hack together a compromised version of the process that will somehow acknowledge and address the complexities of Britain leaving the EU, while the country looks on, confused, many still hoping that this bothersome elite project will fail so that their own emotionally / ideologically-pure version of Brexit or No-Brexit will ultimately prevail. 

This was always more of an emotional matter than one in which facts could make any real headway, but Theresa May has been almost absurdly slow to communicate more widely the facts that informed her Chequers fudge. Consequently, the majority still seem to view her hard-worked set of compromises in the same way they view her compromised premiership - as doomed.




Wednesday, May 09, 2018

A Plea For Unrepresentative Democracy

David Runciman recently had this to say in the LRB about the way our democratic institutions are handling Brexit...


"Parliament has become a fundamentally unrepresentative body. The Brexit referendum revealed a country deeply divided on a number of measures that cut across party ties. One was age: the old, left as well as right, were far more likely to vote for Brexit than the young. But another division, just as pronounced, was education: whether or not someone had gone to university was one of strongest indicators of voting behaviour in the referendum (just under 70 per cent of university graduates voted Remain). Yet a degree has become something close to an entry requirement for a political career at Westminster. A large majority of MPs are now graduates (with only a few exceptions, the Brexit-sympathising Corbyn being one), along with a near monopoly of their advisers and civil servants. On many questions – health, housing, welfare, education itself, even fox-hunting – this might not matter because public opinion divides on grounds other than education. But on Brexit it means Parliament risks making a judgment it is not democratically qualified to make because it doesn’t represent the diversity of public opinion."

This troubles me somewhat. I think we'd all like Parliament to be more 'representative' in the sense that there should surely be more women and minority MPs, but this stream of good intentions may also be confusing us as to the true nature of parliamentary democracy. As far as I am concerned, it does not exist in order to give a fairly-weighted hearing to uninformed, scatterbrained policy ideas.

Suppose there was a viral outbreak which significantly reduced the IQ of up to a third of the population. Would elected bodies be obliged in some way to reflect this demographic dumbing down? 

Regrettably, this seems to be the way we are heading even without the assistance of microbes...


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Bandit Country

Bandits are people who behave in ways that are grounded in selfishness, brutality, materialism...even laziness, yet whose actions ultimately acquire social meaning. There are loads of would-be / wannabe bandits in Guatemala. 


Ceased to exist...

As well as being this country’s most powerful and barnacle-esque, well-established politician, he was also my neighbour. 

His sudden demise has thus shocked me on a personal level, because he occasionally stop to chat, usually about German Shepherds, his and mine. (He used to wistfully imagine that Jin was a breedable female...) 

Somewhat less favourably, he would sometimes show up at our house when I was absent, on his bike and in full padded gear and ask V to hop on behind him for a ride of seemingly unspecified duration and destination, an offer that was politely refused.

'Ceased to exist...' was how some of the local media repoted this instant in which an enormous national lacuna was opened.

I never did fully work out in my head what degree of blame he deserved for the deaths of Bishop Gerardí...and, again more personally, of Sas Rompich.



Sunday, April 15, 2018

It's No-Decision Day on Belize

And so referendum day is upon us. Even though it beggars belief that the ICJ would decide in Guatemala's favour, one presumes that a great many Chapines will be out celebrating democracy today. The outcome will be irrelevant unless Belizeans choose to waste their time and money in a similar manner at some point in the near future. The use of plebiscites by nationalist-populists for questionable ends is definitely a thing now in global democratic politics. Let's probe a little deeper into this problem than the article seems willing to do. 'Guatemala' used to refer to the Spanish captaincy general which stretched from the Mexican state of Chiapas down to the southern border of what is now Costa Rica. Santiago - today La Antigua - was the capital. Cosmopolitan opportunists operating out of the UK and other European states in the 18th century encroached at various points along the Caribbean coast of this section of the Spanish empire. 'Belize' said by some to be a corruption of the name Wallace, was under the de-fato control of pirates, buccaneers and loggers, the latter bringing in substantial numbers of Africans to extract wood like mahogany from the forests around the Maya Mountains. There appears to have been a preponderance of Scots involved, which is why the Guatemalan government's consistent use of 'ingleses' to refer to the ne'er-do-well's that 'stole' Belize from them rankles a bit! This group was collectively known as the 'Baymen' of Belize and in 1798 they fought off a Spanish fleet tasked with purging the area of protestant interlopers. This decisive victory is celebrated today in Belize as St George's Caye Day every tenth of September. Independence for Guatemala came in the form of joining the Mexican empire. Then that fell apart, and so did Guatemala, into the various modern nation states of Central America. Tellingly, Guatemala is currently making no official claim for Chiapas or indeed Honduras and El Salvador*. When the American diplomat-explorer John L. Stephens visited Belize in 1839 he was gobsmacked to find the territory effectively run by educated locals, many of whom were of African descent. There was a small garrison of red coats but did not formally belong to the UK, and this remained the case when Guatemala signed a treaty with the Brits in 1859. The Guatemalan legal case for 'recovering' a large part of the southern part of Belize rests on the fact that they claim the UK made a commitment in that treaty to construct a road linking the Caribbean zone to the more inhabited part of Guatemala, which they did not keep. Three years later, in 1862, Belize became a crown colony and would be known from then until 1981 as British Honduras. Like many other colonies in the mid-to-late 20th century, Belize experienced the development of an indigenous movement for national self-determination (under George Price) and once the basic goal was achieved, took the view - as did most other former members of the British empire (such as India, say) - that any prior commitments made by imperialists were now null and void. I can see how the modern nation state of Guatemala could put together a legal case that castigated the UK for defaulting on the 1859 treaty - asking the Brits to either build the road or pay compensation - but that one member of the UN could effectively invade another by means of an ICJ ruling is complete and utter nonsense. The southern part of Belize that acquisitive Guatemalan eyes are fixed on has had a colourful history. It is where the country's most substantial communities of Maya reside - Mopan and Kekchi - many of whom came as refugees from Guatemala's genocidal approach to diversity in the 1980s. It is also features one of the larger concentrations of Garifuna, a cultural group that claims descent from the Carib indians of St Vincent, who had mixed their blood with shipwrecked would-be African slaves and resisted British control for many years until forced to evacuate en-masse to the northern Caribbean coastlines of Central America. These 'Black Caribs' still speak an Amerindian tongue and retain synchretic religious beliefs blending West African notions and rituals those of the Caribbean indigenes. (Guatemala sports a 'Garifuna' community in Livingston and other parts of Izabal, but my suspicion is that most of the these folk are actually descended from the Jamaicans brought in to work there by the United Fruit company. When Stephens visited Livingston in 1839 he described it as a small township of pure-blooded Carib Indians.) Belize has played host over the past few centuries to an eclectic bunch of refugees, such as Mennonites seeking the promised back of beyond and a portion of the defeated Confederate army.

* Though Jimmy does seem a bit confused today about whether the consulta popular is about Belize or Mexico.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

El Feis...Hereafter

It seems that in Heaven - or perhaps it's Hell - they have better access to broadband than most Cubans do. 
When people die in Guatemala, their pages often live on in the social media afterlife. The dead get tagged more than the living. And, strangely enough, some of them even carry on posting..
I think Zuckerberg might have his own plaza fantasma problem.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Opera Cup

This being one of those 'international break' sort of gaps in the packed footballing schedule, there was a rare opportunity to catch some other sort of competitive activity on telly this morning. (Unless Armenia vs Estonia is one's thing.)

Such as the Varsity Boat Race (or University Boat Race-s as the BBC are determined to point out), coverage of which was almost as horrendous as Aunty's Winter Olympics broadcasts, with the ever-present Clare Balding.

In the meantime Glyndebourne have come up with the new-fangled Opera Cup (a sort of Confederations Cup of Bel Canto) which has been on Sky Arts all day today.

Amongst the 10 finalists is Guatemalan soprano Adriana González...


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Troy, Fall of a City


One of the fundamental assumptions of my education was that the Greeks were always the good guys - that anyone who stood up to Hellenic civilisation was, to use the modern parlance, some sort of 'dune coon' or terrorist. (If who didn't have this sort of education, well then, spoiler alerts!)
Long before I read The Iliad these stories were presented to me piecemeal, largely by one particularly inspirational Latin teacher, and then performed collectively at Prep school as a sort of dramatic adaptation.
I’d even read Julian Jaynes’s mind-bending The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind before tackling the original Homeric text in translation..only to then find myself scratching my head at the absence of a wooden horse in the third act.
The BBC’s new GOT-esque epic Troy, Fall of a City is a recognisable composite of mini-myths lifted from Homer, Virgil and other sources. The underlying premise however appears to be that the (albeit ill-fated) Trojans are the goodies after all, not the thuggish invasion force encamped outside their gates. 
Putting a love story with more than a hint of girl power at the centre of this narrative makes sense from a modern perspective, but the writers have left themselves a bit of hurdle to overcome in the denouement phase. 
Whilst the likes of Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector and even Odysseus (in prequel mode here) all possess character ‘arcs’ in the contemporary sense in the original story, Paris and Helen kind of don’t. (Homer had her married off to someone else before the city falls.)
Rather like Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, this is an amalgamation of individual, character-driven plots that taken together don’t quite add up to our familiar stand-alone story structure.
I have two episodes left to consume and look forward to seeing how the annihilation promised in the series’s title can be made dramatically satisfying.

A better class of wellies


Slightly less restrained than the F1 podium at Bahrain. 

83-80. 



Spring is in the air...

The University Boat Race marks the commencement of the traditional English summer season. 


Night vision goggles can come in handy.



The 'supermarket' formerly known as Antigua's premier night spot...

The other day, while checking out at the Bodegona, I had one of those (perchance) nostalgic moments when the tannoy system started playing Aventurero by Grupo Rana and I was thus transported to the evening in November 1989 when I had heard Pepe, Nacho and co perform the track live at that very spot...in its previous jataka as the MANHATTAN. 

They still refer to the front part of the store that way when calling each other up on their walkie-talkies. 

Meanwhile, former Rana frontman Nacho Caxaj has moved to California. His dance moves however, haven't really moved on at all...


Stripes vs Holes




These novelty zebra crossings are part of a (visible) initiative by the Muni. 

They are being painted on the roads outside schools and colleges so that students may cross, even when there might not be any particularly pressing need to do so in that location. 

In this instance we see how this project takes precedence over the possibly more handy and ever-delayed ‘Fix The Potholes’ programme. 

The interior surfaces of these shallow craters in the carretera are carefully included in the paint-job. 

PS: Belisha beacons would also be appreciated! 


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

Tradecraft for Dummies

A pair of halfwits keeping us under close surveillance last weekend.

They were sitting on the grass in front of our house sipping their drinks without actually drinking, rather like actors in a US sitcom. Amateursville. 





Sunday, March 11, 2018

Penis extensions

I used to shoot automatic pistols for Cambridge University, Before the Dunblane massacre you could actually get a Half-Blue for that sort of thing - and you didn’t even have to take aim AT those losers from Oxford. 
I was trained by the British Army’s leading marksman, a colonel in the Military Police who was the father of my best mate at Girton.
I hate guns. I see no need for them whatsoever. I don’t own a gun for the same reason that I don’t own a Ferrari. I am completely comfortable with the size of my phallus. And I am never afraid of the other.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Worst Enemy

Leaning against the jamb of the doorway to the offices of Cargo Express this morning, I felt a slight and somehow satisfying shift in the structure.

Small tremors are so regular here and I have come to welcome them, as might an inveterate sceptic longing for the briefest metaphysical wobble...a barely-perceptible sway in the foundations of reality. 

Major quakes are another thing entirely of course. Last year’s 8.2 was undoubtedly fearsome. But my worst experience of seismic displacement occurred more at the mid-level in 2015 when I found myself halfway up a high-rise tower in Tokyo dozing in my capsule hotel.

Not an experience I’d wish on my worst enemy. Actually, just now, maybe I would. 


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Untermensch'd


It has been our unfortunate fate to live next door to this cave-crawling individual. On Monday night, having apparently acquired some Dutch courage in town, he rode up to up to us on his motita bearing exactly this sort of sinister demeanor. 

He had only lately been outed as a shameless freeloader and the context might be said to have favoured some sort of personal apology, but instead he delivered a nasty and pointedly cretinous insult to my wife and then called me a 'pussy'. 

Perfectly charming. Of course only a pathetic loser would conceive of this sort of repulsive public insolence as 'winning', vulgarly demeaning a woman in the street in front of several of her relatives and then fleeing as fast as he could on his wussy little scooter. 

In much the same way that only an abject specimen would set himself up to live in a comparatively poor nation viviendo de gorra off his neighbours and the local Municipality. 

This was this gribbly's fourth attempt that day to intimidate us. Having kerb-crawled us separately on two occasions, he passed our home around 8pm singing and cackling like a maniacal fool. 

We knew he'd be back and only had to hold our position with a small family group...beneath our security cameras. It felt like a long wait, but he didn't disappoint, and now the whacko boorishness of this patán has been recorded for posterity. 

All I ever wanted was for this ex-pat troglodyte to face up to paying 30 quetzales a month (just over $4) for his water, build the wall the law in this land obliges him to, and sort out his drains. And I gave him a grace period of roughly five years. 

He appears to blame my wife for his current predicament, because he comes across as the sort that will always look to pick on a woman in the first instance, but she actually told me to cut him some slack. Yet surely there are limits? 




Monday, February 05, 2018

Ten Year Top Ten

Lincoln in the Bardo is by far the best novel I have read in a long while.
So I set about compiling a list of the finest examples of long fiction I have consumed over the past decade here in Guatemala.

I wanted it to be a top ten, but the initial selection was unmanageably large, so I had to resort to the expedient of blackballing dead authors plus those books I had elected to re-read.

And this then is the final ten, in order completed...

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Breath by Tim Winton
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanassi by Geoff Dyer
Bring Up The Bodies by Hillary Mantel
Rustication by Charles Palliser
Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
The North Water by Ian McGuire
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Downsizing

I love Alexander Payne’s movies and his latest, Downsizing , is enormous fun.

It commences rather like an episode of Black Mirror that can afford Matt Damon, with a highish speculative sci-fi concept: that a proportion of the world’s population will choose to be reduced to five inches tall in order to save the planet.

A Norwegian lightbulb that one. Except that stateside the majority that elect to go small do so for reasons not entirely dissimilar to the rationale adopted by flyover Americans for re-settling down here in Central America. The satire in this early section, was for that reason, especially biting for me.

There follows another sequence involving a eurotrash house party straight out of Middle-American dreams/nightmares that was LOLsome. 

Beyond this Payne widens the range of his satirical targets and the screenplay does seem to lose some its tightness. Critics have made waggish remarks about the movie itself requiring some downsizing. But I've known enough Norwegians to have found the final act a bit of a hoot as well.


Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Tabasco



It's where civilisation in this hemisphere originated. And chocolate. 

Yet, rather sadly perhaps, today the state is principally famous for a sauce produced in Louisiana using a variety of chile peppers not cultivated in that part of Mexico. 

In fact, this supposedly perkier version uses habaneros...which don't seem to be particularly prevalent in Havana either.



Drop 'em at your peril

Looks like the Ticos also subscribe to this minor aberration in la lengua castellana...the noisy H. 

Other examples of the not-so-silent treatment that one comes across around here are in silly names of foreign derivation - such as Heniferth - or in place names like El Hato. 

Drop any of these 'haitches' in LAG and you will tend to sound like a bit of a tit.