Saturday, September 21, 2019

Gazing into the abyss

Watching The Capture has led me to reflect a bit more on CCTV and the nature of the so-called surveillance society. 

Last year we had security cameras installed across our properties in La Antigua. This followed a break in at one of them and an incident where someone accused me of a committing a crime right outside my front door. The case went well enough for me and less well for my accuser, as I was out of the country at the time. 

However, my lawyer pointed out that in a sense I had got lucky and that CCTV would prevent that kind of nonsense in the future. And he was right, because the cameras outside another house definitely thwarted something of a similar nature just three months after they were installed. 

I have always tended to be a little blasé about the risks of living in Guatemala. I grew up in an area of London where one could park one’s vintage Aston Martin beside the pavement outside and expect it to still be there, intact, the following morning. And the locals, while a bit eccentric, tended not to be outright loons. 

It has taken 18 months of security cam footage to wake me up to just how much sick shit goes on in this country and to realise that the live feeds are not really making me feel much safer. 

In Guatemala surveillance of any sort will quickly remind you of that notable observation by Nietzsche: “When you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

There has been stuff so grim that I’d hesitate to report it here in a public medium. That a woman getting down from a car, defecating and then consuming her own excrement for the amusement of the driver is not one of those unspeakables may give you a sense of how bad it sometimes gets. 

There are individuals who seem blissfully unaware of the cameras and others who appear to play up to them. 

The horror, when it occurs, is matched by a sense of helplessness, for over the years I have also learned that it is never safe to get involved in other people’s business in a village such as this. 

The cops are rarely the ideal recourse. Indeed one of the more amusing clips in our collection is an all-night orgy which took place in a PNC patrol car right outside our principal residence. 

There have been some genuinely heartwarming moments as well, yet these are somehow less memorable. much

Prescription Only

Guatemala's new law designed to stop people purchasing antibiotics without a prescription — coming into effect this week — is problematic on so many levels for me.

The country has no real equivalent to the National Health Service in the UK, so any dictat that prevents people of limited means from accessing these medicines, especially in an emergency, without a prior visit to a doctor is bound to result in unnecessary additional suffering, if not fatalities.

Once my mother passed eighty she tended to suffer from recurring bacterial infections. She had private medical insurance and was hospitalised each time this happened. This was absurd, but she would have been in a real pickle if she didn't have an easy option.

The law here seems to have a blanket effect. Yet like all laws here (viz plastic bags) it is bound not to be enforced with anything like consistency. 

What of really handy treatments for people (women in particular) with occasional urinary tract infections such as one-shot fosfomycin

After the first receta surely they should be allowed to repeat on their own discretion? Or maybe certain medications should be excluded from the provision?

And then what of people with pets? When Osli was nearing the end his skin cancer resulted in infections which I was treating regularly with amoxycilin. A vet would have had him put him down immediately. Part of the problem was the way the original outbreak was handled with an operation. (Clavi used to suffer from regular urinary tract infections until I discovered the curative powers of apple cider vinegar.)

But cats and dogs are always picking up minor infections and transporting them to and from the vet is sometimes more irksome than the equivalent effort for humans.

Pharmacists can surely be trained to function as gatekeepers, excluding those who'd self-heal a sniffle with penicillin.  

And just how is one to stockpile for the zombie apocalypse...! 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Amidst all the wrecks...

One of our oldest friends here in La Antigua has a successful, long-established business on the Calle del Arco. I’ll leave readers to guess which one based on what I am about to say. 

He once explained to us the principle of all long-thriving negocios here: you have to be selling something pretty unique, something that the local would-be copycats cannot easily duplicate. 

Trends come and go in this town, almost all distinguished by the arrival and subsequent beseiging of the first movers. Cyber cafés, spas, coffee shops etc. The general effect is of a xerox machine out of control. A phenomenon that economists tend to refer to the as the overgrazing of the commons. 

The other day we were reflecting on how many of the businesses that were here when we met have kept going all these years. 

Almost all the survivors have been offering something sui generis, have built a brand resistant to mimicry, or have always beeb the sort of businesses that never really had to turn an actual profit. There really aren’t that many on our list. 

Back then there was no Bodegona, no Frida’s, no Monoloco, no La Macdonalds or Burger King even. 

There were however certain establishments which even then gave the impression of having been around almost eternally, with the clear intention to remain unmoved on the same spot forever  Doña Luisa Xicotencatl, La Fonda de la Calle Real, Doña Maria Gordillo, La Mariposa, La Canche. Doña Luisa perhaps embodies the perfect package of brand, location and offering. 

Then there are those like Quesos y Vino, La Cenicienta and El Sereno which have evolved, changed premises, expanded, though one can still almost guarantee dining utterly alone at the latter. Others like La Hamburguesa Gigante that have persisted only as a disembodied name. 

Welten has changed too, but in ways that make me think that I am observing it today as if from a self-propelled deep submergence vehicle drifting through a deep ocean wreck. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Rojo (2018)

Benjamin Naishtat's Rojo is a study in creeping ominousness, which looks at the lesser small town evils that form the foundations of the greater evil of dictatorship.

Set in a made-up small town in Argentina in 1975, just before the Junta took power, the narrative tracks a cluster of incidents in the life of lawyer Claudio, played by Dario Grandinetti as a self-styled person of provincial substance whose moral compass is starting to spin.

Its most unsettling moment is an altercation in a restaurant right at the start and although it does its job in keeping the viewer rattled throughout, we also had the impression that the movie is never better than its opening sequences and that all its thematically-interwoven jitters never quite deliver as a whole.

There’s a Chilean TV detective that livens things up and I wish I had all the cultural references at my fingertips to know how seriously this character ought to be taken. One suspects there's an in joke going down here.

Monday, September 09, 2019

The Quake/Skjelvet (2018)

Sequel to 2015's The Wave (tsunami in the fijords), The Quake takes the nordic noir approach to the build up to an apocalyptic-level seismic event in Oslo.

The effects  set to a honking Hans Zimmer-like score  are generally excellent, with some of the best downwardly-mobile grand piano action since Laurel and Hardy.

Kristoffer Joner plays geologist Kristian, a Cassandra-esque figure who gets a lot more advanced warning than anyone ever had with a major quake, yet still fails to put it to good use.

Overall V found the film's take on the subject a bit '2012'. 

Being Norwegian, it delivers its silliness with such a straight face, that you are not quite sure if it wants to be taken in full seriousness.

Friday, September 06, 2019

The Dead Don't Die (2019)

Iggy Pop's coffee-craving zombie is perhaps the only necessary bit of attention-grabbing casting in Jim Jarmusch's largely un-necessary addition to the genre, overpopulated as it is with underused stars and plot-lines.

Think George Romero remade by David Lynch. This is not that movie. Instead it's a rather lame, struggling to be funny parody of what David Lynch would have done with the dusk of the dead. 

Our own interest flatlined in direct proportion to the number of reanimated corpses on the street.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Extraordinary Levies

These transition periods between Municipal administrations in La Antigua are kind of fun to observe, at a distance.

There is a sudden air of financial urgency. Laws that have not been strictly enforced - especially those involving large-ish fines - are suddenly applied with a visible degree of jobsworthy zealotry. 

No helmet? Pay up! Your burger bar acting like an antro? Start coughing. Behind with your IUSI? Hmmmm. Etc.

A Game of Chicken

The Sun’s front cover today features Corbyn as a big chicken; in all truth, a bit of a cock.

Yet I think Blair has really helped Magic Gramps by pointing out in advance  before all of yesterday's big noise  just how dumb it would have been to take the bait. 

I did enjoy Corbyn's Snow White and the apple analogy. It's a shame none of the tabloids did a mock-up of that. 

Once again I think the pre-campaign polls could be deceptive. The Tories will almost inevitably lose seats in Scotland and the south-east and may find it hard to remove Labour MPs in the north with the Brexit bunch breathing down their necks. 

And right now Boris’s personal popularity premium  even with his hardcore adulators — must be reaching third season Mourinho levels. 

If Labour and the Lid Dems act smartly, I can definitely see the current opposition getting themselves into a position where a coalition might be feasible. This would be a win-win because I cannot see the Lib Dems making the same mistake and not putting some dampeners on their governmental partners this time around.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

All Hail the Rebel Alliance!

The Astoria Hotel, Leningrad 1985. Blurry photo by largely unamused Soviet waiter.

I had something of an Afro in those days.

It seems that Eddy Vaizey, front left, will have lost the Conservative whip today. We all knew he'd come good in the end. (His father was a Labour Peer.)

He finds himself in good company - the 'father of the house', the former chancellor, Churchill's grandson and my father's much-appreciated local MP for Newbury, Richard Benyon.

(Carlsberg, probably - in fact definitely - the best lager in the USSR.)

'Our House is burning'

Jeremy Corbyn's excursion into the Amazon during this morning's crucial Brexit debate was irrelevant, borderline nonsensical, and so typical of his inability to knuckle down on the essence of the current contention.

Westminster may yearn for sovereignty, but that does not include sovereignty over Brazil. Bolsonaro is surely Brazil's problem. (At least until the world finds a way to respond institutionally to globalised capitalism and the worldwide environmental challenges. G7 aint it.) 

It's worth pointing out that the Amazon forest's contribution to global oxygen production is around 6% gross, net levels closer to nil. All that biodiversity consumes the stuff as well. Macron's 20% figure is fake news and an excuse for Gallic grandstanding, if not outright meddling. His motives were possibly quite cynical, but along the way he has set off the more naive protestor instincts of Magic Grandpa.

When coverage of the fires came to my own attention, some time before the matter was taken up by CR7, Macron, the Beeb et al, the crux of the issue was the impact on indigenous reserves.

Brazil has reduced deforestation considerably over the last few years, but Bolsonaro's policies signal a possible up-tick for 2019 and a re-opening of the oldest wound in South America: the conflict between the modernising state and the patchwork of less modern, pre-Hispanic societies it would like to subsume. (Remember The Mission?). This is indeed a complex matter for careful Brazilians.

By the time the media outside the region had hold of this story it had been re-worked to significantly bother their own educated metropolitan elites. "Lungs of the Earth' and all that. The indigenes had vanished into the intellectual underbrush.

A part of Brazil (Peru etc.) that is almost the size of Australia somehow now belongs to all of us, minus the knuckle-draggers of course.