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.