Monday, September 11, 2023

Lessons

It's an oft repeated truism that we constantly run the risk of ignoring the lessons of history. Yet what exactly are these lessons?

Perhaps the one we ignore most of all is that all of the ideas that we use to understand our own world are over-simplistic. Almost as soon as historians take them and use them to analyse what happened in the past they discover that they are, to a greater or lesser extent, inadequate.

Take European society in the post-feudal era. It's rather easy to blame capitalism for some of the damaging social changes leading to both mass paupersisation and political turmoil in the nineteenth century, and by capitalism we tend to mean ethically-challenged rich people. And it is true that many landlords seized on the opportunity to assert private ownership on land that had previously been held communally or at least within a system of reciprocal rights, yet it is also true that in some regions it was the peasants themselves who drove this march towards a 'liberal' market economy against the conservative resistance of the landowners.

Another lesson of history, sadly, is that as a society we usually decide whether our ideas are good or bad based on their consequences.

Puberty blockers may be either harmless or harmful, but there is almost no point in people who believe the latter sacrificing themselves to the baying mob until enough time has elapsed for us all to see how much suffering they may have caused. It's like pissing into the wind. Human beings so rarely change course based on reason alone before the disincentives kick in properly.
 

The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

 



This Dracula is not quite the sinister charmer played by the likes of Gary Oldman and Claes Bang, but a bit more like the alien on the Nostromo. 

The movie is a sort of spin-off aspiring to be a reboot, carved from an (up to now) under-exapnded part of Stoker's tale*, the Count's less than luxurious ride to the shores of Blighty on an ill-fated vessel called the Demeter. 

I can say I rather enjoyed it with the caveat that I am almost as much a sucker for any story set on a tall ship as I am those based within large old hotels. 

The ship's course seems to be straightforward: Black Sea port, across the Med, up through the Bay of Biscay, into the channel and then a hard left into the Thames. But the script keeps throwing out navigational corkers like "we've passed the Straights of Dover and are still four days from London" and it's anyone's guess how the Demeter eventually ends up on the rocks at Whitby, though I think I once read somewhere that the Yorkshire town and its ruined Abbey inspired Stoker to write Dracula
 
* The chapter entitled The Captain's Log.


Saturday, September 02, 2023

Flip to the Obverse

The most important concepts in our collective discourse have an innate tendency to pile on the pounds, poor things. 

​Take Freedom, for example. Thomas Hobbes would have taken a matter of moments to inform you as to whether you possessed it or not. These days he'd be scratching his head along with the rest of us. 

Over the course of four centuries it has become increasingly difficult for educated, reasoned people to find themselves on the same page on this matter, and sometimes they disagree even as to the text everyone ought to be referring to. 

This cultural bulking up has notably accelerated in my lifetime, affecting a whole load of key terms — Racism, Refugee, Genocide, Misogyny etc. etc. — all of which have become, as well as engorged, rather slippery and context-driven. 

This sudden velocity of expansion can be explained in part by the way these rousing concepts have been adopted by specific governmental and non-governmental bodies and other organised groups of activists. 

Freedom was always everyone's problem (at least as the latter grouping was then defined), but these others were nichier concerns, yet not without the aspiration to be so much grander and collective in their impact. 

Today there is hardly an interest group which refuses to imagine that its problem is very much everyone's problem. 

And once you have salaried individuals whose careers depend on their specific area of interest achieving maximum reach the goalposts start to move all over the place. 

Here in Guatemala there is one such term one could write an entire book about, and such a tome would be duty bound to outline its often  unanticipated effects on the nation’s recent history: IMPUNIDAD (Impunity). 

As I suggest, this is a very complex issue, but I will outline what I think is the correct basic outline. As Guatemala moved into the new millennium and attempted to put the years of civil strife behind it, the term was largely deployed in order to refer to atrocities committed prior to 1996 and the alarming possibility that those who had committed them might never face justice. 

There were then two specific cases which permitted a kind of mission creep into the postwar era: that of the murder of Bishop Gerardi (for daring to publicise details of the role of the state in human rights abuses) and that of former dictator Ríos Montt, who had retained a high profile into the new democratic period. 

Just as the army was losing its privileged position alongside the executive, the office of Fiscal General was provided with some extra bite in order to pursue cases against those who might otherwise be permanently guilty of impunity. This seemed like a good idea at the time.

Yet the remit started to swell in the manner characterised above. Maybe it would be wrong to describe this as a consequence of over-feeding, yet the range of items in the diet definitively expanded and the targets of prosecutors (particularly under CICIG) were increasingly those whose impunity had more to do with on-going circumvention of the law in the present time than past offences under the military regimes — though it helped that there was considerable overlap at first. 

What then happened should come as a warning to all those conceptual guardians who have overseen significant bloating under their watches.  Impunity here suddenly switched to signify its own antonym* and the Guatemalan body entrusted with fighting it — FECI — has spent the last few months being the very paragon of carte blanche constitutional abuse. 

This flip to the obverse is surely not limited to Guatemala and this one concept. For example, many self-styled anti-racists in western discourse are increasingly finding it hard not to sound like common or garden racists.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Sin Pelos En La Lengua


Fernando del Rincón, like many Guatemalans, seems to revel in enunciating the surname of Rafael Curruchiche. (It’s a skill that CNN’s automatic subtitling system still needs to get the hang of.)
 
It would seem that, sin pelos en la lengua, it is easier to pronounce ‘judicialización’, a Spanish word I have decided to abbreviate to ‘judi’ in everyday speech, for my own sanity.

I’m not sure that ‘judi’ entirely encapsulates the nature of the problem faced by chapines today, or indeed its peculiar local roots.

At first I wanted to throw out something along the lines that its all rather like the situation would be in the UK if Suella Braverman were acting as if she were the real PM and as if she could not be removed under any circumstances — and then I realised I might need a better counterfactual analogy. 
 
Perhaps, it’s as if the deep state has risen from the depths and is operating on the surface with its gun like a German U-boat.

Consuelo Porras does seem to have become the de facto ruler of Guatemala, albeit as the puppet of altogether shadier figures, and as Dr G shifts into lame duck transition mode, it’s a situation that can seemingly only deteriorate…if millions of Guatemalans allow it to.

I may be wrong about this, but I suspect the post-war settlement in this country may be playing an important role in the way this is all playing out. For most of Guatemala’s history after independence the real power in the land was always the army. (Bernardo Arévalo has literally written the book on this phenomenon.)

Back in the 90s we used to take delivery in London of a glossy current affairs magazine called Crónica. In those days it was clear that the state within the state was personified by the Defence Secretary, also the de facto generalissimo.

Given the limited resources at the disposal of the elected executive, this was often more like the inner state that provided an often smothering external wrapper for the constitutional institutions.

In that era I always had a clear idea of the name and physical appearance of each incumbent Defence Secretary. I can’t say I have kept this up lately, and this has to be partly a consequence of the manner in which the military and its influence was deliberately shrunk by the peace accords of 1996.

I would therefore argue that this may have permitted the potential monopoly of weaponised, repressive power to shift across to the office of state currently occupied by Consuelo Porras. Her anti-democratic actions need to be cloaked in the codified mechanisms of that aforementioned barely pronounceable word, but in effect owe their exuberant shamelessness to a longer tradition of autocratic distortions to the rule of law in Guatemala.
 
Not so insólito after all.
 
What the millennials who aspire to transform this nation need to remember (history or indeed noted national literature can help with this) is that they are comparatively fortunate compared to previous generations. Not long before I first came here those named on the attorney general’s abortive amparo would likely have simply disappeared.

Arbitrariness has taken significant steps backwards since those dark times and the contemporary pattern seems to involve discreet initial stages of
coaccion and coercion, with persecution less likely to involve blunt cruelty.
 
 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Spring is in the air...

Back in '88 I was supervised for a term on the subject of the history of revolutions at King's College by a long-haired post-grad whose name it really pains me to have since forgotten.

Decades later I understand that I am at least as interested in the apparently lesser phenomenon of the 'Spring", those moments of mass popular engagement with political change which, by and large, end up being smothered by an unstoppable reactionary wave.

If I were a young historian at Cambridge today, I'd practically kill to be taught by the current Regius Professor, Christopher Clark, whose most recent book charts the history of the pan-continental mass movements we tend to refer to as '1848'.

Clark asserts that the revolutionary springs of 1848 did not end in failure as many other historians have suggested, but then in Sleepwalkers, he said the Germans didn't start WWI. (In fairness, he pretty much convinced me on the latter point, though I might have been predisposed to suspect the French and the Russians before even starting that book.)

Mass popular protest usually commences after a single instance of perceived injustice. In Chile in 2019 it was a change to the pricing of public transport with respect to one demographic, in USA and its cultural clients it was the racist murder of George Floyd the following year.

The people on the street are never really 'the people'. The momentum in the crowd comes from an uneasy alliance between bourgeois liberals (such as myself) and radicals from the disenfranchised and marginalised groups. The connection between them most often a cadre of middle class poseurs.

In essence this is a heady mix of people with realistic and unrealistic objectives. There are those seeking redress for a specific set of grievances and those whose purview encompasses pretty much all available grievances; an aggressive completism that is often hard to distinguish from nihilism.

The movement starts to falter at the point that the realists get spooked by the often loopy and violent approach of their fellow travellers, and this then permits 'los mismos de siempre' to rapidly re-consolidate.

The Spring that Guatemala is experiencing right now is fascinating on many levels, not least because it seems to have arrived with some powerful antibodies which may help it to dodge the familiar pathological outcome.

Firstly, the primary goal, an eradication of corruption, is either realistic or unrealistic depending on which side of the bed one got out of. That ambiguity will remain unifying for a considerable time, I surmise.
And crucially, it does not propose any fundamental change to the constitutional order (as in Chile). The social order seems fairly safe in the short term as well.

Through the persona of Tio Bernie, this primavera is as much backwards-looking as forwards-looking, a deliberate re-staging of the mid twentieth century social democratic aspiration which was effectively stolen after ten years by the gringos. (No prizes for guessing why Izabal sided with Sandra.)

It's like The Return of the King, the concluding part of a trilogy which began in 1944, re-appeared with renewed fury in 2015 and has apparently now seen off the resurgence of its orky antagonists.

I use that term resurgence with caution because the action of the corrupt elite in Guatemala throughout this election year have, to an almost ludicrous extent, contributed to the outcome on August 20.
 
 

 

 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Miaooooow

In a matter of hours the Lionesses will be released into a Sydney arena where the poor Christians of Castile await.

And so let this be another one of those periodic opportunities to remind everyone of a few facts about this, the Royal Banner of England, aka the heraldic arms of the Plantagenet family, at least before they decided that the whole of France probably also belonged to them. 

Technically the felines doing their passing, guarding thing here are leopards not lions. (I know they do look much like lions, but this is one of those courtesy (courtly?) semantic impositions like referring to a person with a penis as a woman.

Also technically, only one of them is properly English. (I'm hoping it's the little girl at the bottom.)

The marque is property of King Charles III. The English FA use it only under special dispensation from the Crown. 

And it looks like the Crown can't be bovved to schlep to Australia on this occasion.

 

 






Saturday, August 19, 2023

Purge-atory

La Ley Seca is upon us.

As part of Guatemala's supposedly benign twist on The Purge, we are all expected to be on the spinach smoothies for the next 42 hours.

And when the virtual sirens sound again on Monday morning, this land may feel like a very different place.




OK, Sandra Torres will have lost again, possibly by as much as 30%, and be crying foul, so in that sense, same old, same old. (One wonders if the hair dye will slither down her cheeks as it did with Giuliani.) 
 
But there will be palpable change in the air. A change that will nevertheless fall short of its full potential until Movimiento Semilla is more than an island in a sea of sharks. 

The potential margin of victory and widespread popular merriment may end up masking the extent of the challenge that will remain. 

This movement has demonstrated what a new kind of politics here might look like, but in the longer term there needs to be more than one exponent of it, more that one party committed to decency. 
 
There will be significant obstacles ahead, not least in the form of existing constitutional constraints.

Anyway, I've been on the wagon for over a month now, but my bunker is now nicely stocked up for the weekend...and beyond, into the brave new world.
 
 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Guatemala Untapped

 


"Ignorantes" is possibly a rather harsh way of referring to many of the people trapped in a localised rural economy with little immediate possibility for development.

Of these there are plenty in Guatemala, and ever since the system of adult suffrage was exported by the developed western world to countries where endemic economic and cultural conditions were less than ideal, there have been entirely predictable difficulties.

Arévalo sometimes talks as if corruption can be turned off like a tap, having pinpointed specific interested groups like organised crime and monopolised business as the root cause of it all.

Yet writing in March 1954 for the Sunday Times — as Vietnam's search for a lasting model of independence developed into a bigger war — Graham Greene suggested that any country with large numbers of illiterate peasants living at the edge of subsistence will not take well to a system based on voting, organised political parties and so on. 
 
"Any Government with a genuine programme of reform faces a blank wall, a time-limit, the knowledge that beyond a certain point lies the wilderness...In Europe, a strong Government is one with popular support: here a strong Government is a group of individuals with a common aim and determination, free from corruption and free from the necessity of clinging to office for the sake of the perquisites.

"Never before in Vietnam has there been a Government with a common aim; for every previous Govern­ment has included the sects, and there is little in common between the Caodaists, the Hoa Haas and the Catholics. One doubts, too, if there has ever before been a Government free from serious corruption, and certainly none where the chief Ministers were indifferent to the fruits of office."
Greene understood developmental issues as a chicken and egg conundrum. Change was needed before change could be imposed.

Vietnam lacked many of the conditions Guatemala currently blames for its corrupted state, and yet was still extremely corrupt.

Semilla's little shoot will only turn into a proper Spring if Arévalo is somehow able to kick start a developmental surge which outlasts a four year term and lays down conditions where institutions can offer an improved function, almost like they do in say Uruguay!

I suspect that "los mismos de siempre" in Guatemala feel threatened by him and his party not because he will get his hand firmly on the corruption tap (he won't), but because his programme portends a radical change in the way politics are done here relative to the disjointed conditions on the ground. A change that could be hard to reverse.
 
 

Monday, August 14, 2023

Mirage / Durante La Tormenta (2018)

Another enjoyable example of a genre that the Spanish seem to excel at — time travel or what I would tend to refer to as reality transfer.


In this treatment two cosmological storms over Catalunya, separated by thirty years, enable the transfer of information via an old TV which changes the course of events and relationships within a close-knit community.

Anyone who sat through all three seasons of Dark, also on Netflix, will either tut tut or marvel at the levity on display here.

Mirage is for that reason tonally interesting and generally rather successful. This is a movie which features a murder, by stabbing and followed by dismemberment, a suicide by jumping off a tall building and the brutal accidental death of a child, yet somehow retains the a mood close to that of romantic comedy / gentle childhood mystery story throughout.  

As in Dark the action is set in a suburban environment in which almost every character has been content to spend almost their entire lives. Indeed the German series flagged this up at one point as a possible loose end which would require tightening, but then didn't. 

Mirage features a protagonist in the contemporary stream who appears to have entered from outside and is the only character aware of the changes that have occurred, plus two timelines which are effectively shut down by the telly-messaging process, leaving one to ponder what actually happened subjectively to every other sentient being left behind in these realities.

In the German metaphysical mindbender answers to these sort of conundra gave me sleepless nights. I slept rather well after Mirage.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Huevonocracy

As I may have mentioned before, widespread corruption represents the ascendancy of incompetence, because all the incentives start to point away from excellence.

Or to put it another way, as Bertrand Russell did in the 1930s, when several forms of autocratic government threatened to devour Europe's freedoms…

Talent, specifically of the kind which might lead to positive developments, is always stifled. "since it is the nature of bureaucrats to object to all change except increase in their own power," And note, corruption is not even a prerequisite for this to occur.

 

 
Russell added: "All serious innovation is only rendered possible by some accident enabling unpopular people to survive." And unpopular people inevitably struggle to survive in autocratic societies. 

The one positive we have in our own moment, is that the autocracies of the early twenty first century, at least in this part of the world, are not really putting in a full shift. Unlike the prepackaged despotisms which cast a shadow over Russell's generation, they are not expending the time and effort required to mould the population in line with their own preconceived patterns. 

They love power and simply assume that the rest of us will grow to love watching them hoard it and abuse it.*

Corruption has become such an end in itself that incompetence has swelled up from the bottom to the top and one is even less likely to come across a would-be dictator with any basic talent for administration or persuasion.

 

 

* So-called called plazas fantasmas could be said to represent incompetence in its purest, almost transcendent form.


Saturday, August 05, 2023

Golpista

A non-Yank's perspective on the Trump indictments...

The first two tell us stuff about the man. Stuff we pretty much always knew. The porn-star payoff reminds us that he's a sleaze. The documents in the Mar-a-Lago loo accusation reminds us that he's a bit of an idiot, and probably corrupt.

But it's the case relating to his attempts to cling on to power — the only alleged crime he committed as a sitting POTUS — that tells us about the state of America and not just about the state of the Donald.

I think western leaders would find a way to work with Trump if he were somehow found guilty in the first two cases and then re-elected. But not the third. A very significant line would have been crossed in the community of western democracies. And I think we have at least one leg over that line now that Trump has been formally indicted. 

And it's hard to see how he could fail to be found guilty of conspiracy to deny every other American, no matter which candidate they had voted for, a peaceful transfer of power. Anyone even vaguely paying attention watched him do it. 

The whole world is a potential witness for the prosecution.


 

 

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Paradise (2023)

Recently released on Netflix: a German made piece of speculative science fiction about a society in which the human lifespan has been commodified, indeed whole chunks of unlived time can be left as collateral for a bank loan.



It's a thought provoking premise, and unlike the movies mentioned in the previous post, pretty much satisfactorily explored in the plot, though I did conclude that it perhaps could have done with the extra narrative space of a TV format. Maybe that's the plan for follow-up.

Inevitably there was a point where I started to consider how a Hollywood remake might turn out. The additions and omissions are not hard to imagine. Some of the darker themes and outcomes would likely be toned lighter. The action scenes would be spruced up. 

They would also find it hard, I imagine, to leave so much that is going on in the background of these dystopian near-future versions of Germany (and the Baltic states) without explicit explanation. Indeed, whole new roles would be introduced simply for the purpose of exposition. The central couple would have 'friends' etc.

 


 

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Infiesto (2023)

Infiesto is a town in Asturias that V must have driven through in the early noughties, because we do indeed recall soon after arriving in the next large settlement on the N-634: Oviedo.



 

So, not perhaps a stop and soak up the atmosphere kind of place. Yet this film set within this old mining community as the pandemic takes a grip on northern Spain has plenty of atmosphere. 

That said, the plot is largely televisual and unremarkable, and the drama is only partially redeemed by the context of early-stage lockdown. 

Overall I'd have to say that the thematic connections between the end of days mood in the spring of 2019 and the apocalyptic cult under investigation are not exploited nearly as well as they might have been. 

Last night we watched a Belgian film on Netflix called Noise which is basically a cure for insomnia. If not deserving of its own entry here, it perhaps is worth flagging up as another example of a European movie with under-exploited thematic potential. It could so easily have been a proper exploration of how so-called influencers are themselves reverse victims of the influence of their follower base, led to do things they would otherwise have no need or desire to do, solely in order to generate narrative in their existence. 




 

 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Los Renglones Torcidos de Dios / God's Crooked Lines (2022)

Worth watching for the production design alone, though it does drag on a bit to the roughly three hour mark.


 

The period of political  transition at the end of the seventies is a favoured destination for Spanish directors. This film is set four year's after the dictator's death, yet at the local police station his portrait is only just being replaced by that of Juan Carlos. It's based on a novel published in '79.

In other respects we can spot that we're on well-trodden ground as the protagonist has been committed to a vast asylum in Catalunya, initially convinced she has entered voluntarily, then convinced she has been legally kidnapped, but her key antagonist within the institution, a dead-ringer for Mark Kermode, never relinquishes his conviction that she's properly bonkers. 

As ever with this sort of psychological, or perhaps psychiatric thriller, the best moments are before the last act when all the possibilities are being tantalisingly dangled, accompanied to Hitchcockian ruminations on a piano.  

Resolution, or some sort of partial replacement with an aftertaste of ambiguity, never really satisfies.


 

 

Time to debunk the de-banked...

 

Again, it’s not really about Brexit, or even immigration, it’s about Farage’s known affiliation with an insurrectionist and a war criminal, both of whom are willing figureheads for neo-fascist movements.

And Farage is one of the disingenuous populist voices providing a cover of continued legitimacy and thus preventing democratic societies from taking all the necessary action against these men.
 

 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Fararce

When Farage started bleating that Coutts & Co had de-banked him for being a James, all they had to say was YES...or perhaps nothing at all. 

Instead their holding company has since handed him a completely bogus opportunity to posture as the heroic everyman victim of cancel culture — the latter something I vehemently oppose, but this represents a willful distortion of the issues.

It is a commercial reality in the UK that corporations and individuals within them often openly choose to reject undertaking contracts with specific clients based on a conflict of values. I certainly did.

A private bank is not a “platform” or indeed a public utility.
 
 

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Narcissistic Sociopathic State

Today we've witnessed a surge of protest and workplace walk-outs across Guatemala in response to what many people see as the covert autocracy's open interference in the supposedly free electoral process.

In The Revenge of Power Moisés Naím draws our attention to a new generation of what he refers to as 3P Autocrats, predominantly democratically-elected leaders who deploy Populism, Polarisation and Post-truth in order to be able to operate between the cracks of constitutional legality.

I think this only partially covers what has been happening here.

Populism in Central America has long been complemented with a form of clientism, whereby key demographics from amongst the relatively disadvantaged are recruited as a counter-weight to the educated middle-classes who might otherwise becomes drivers of radical readjustments.

I think what we actually have here is a kind of narcissistic-sociopathic state.

Like equivalents at the level of individual pathology, this is a coterie of government actors content to lie dormant most of the time, or at least wear a more or less functional mask of unthreatening congeniality and benevolence until, that is, the day that they are triggered.

In most cases this involves some sort of insufferable rejection (i.e. so many unexpected votes for Movimiento Semilla).

The narcissistic-sociopath state or NSS then erupts...the mask comes off and its behaviour turns overtly abusive and ultimately destructive, and not just to the designated victims, for the NSS abandons all restraint and concern for consequences which can eventually lead to its own undoing.

Having spent so much time hiding in plain sight, pretending to be decent and law-abiding, for the NSS, the so-called 'technical coup d'etat' option comes with a risk of complete de-legitimisation — a problem that old school dictators didn't really have to worry about as their authority came from the end of their boot and little else.

One must not forget that even when the mask is on, the NSS is an abuser. It's just that many people choose not to recognise and call out the signs.



 

Friday, July 21, 2023

Anti-gulagism

"Total abhorrence of dominant ideologies. And anti-gulagism is the dominant ideology today, The anti-gulag priests are every bit as bad as the gulag torturers. The sheep have taken over from the beasts of the apocalypse."

Back in 1983, when the postmodernisation of western thought was only just taking shape, Jean Baudrillard scribbled the above, slightly self-contradictory, statement.

I mean, are the sheep really as bad as the beasts of the apocalypse? Are Coutts & Co as bad as the Stasi? etc.

The real interest in this observation however is that Baudrillard pinpointed the way our political polarities have been turning non-binary (for want of a better term), the way all oppositions have become stuck in a self-referential, practically auto-catalytic whirl, such that it has become increasingly difficult to place the lines between the priesthood and heretics, between the dogmatists and those simply seeking freedom of conscience and operation in society.

Even between the different kinds of hooved beasties. 

 

Friday, July 07, 2023

I am right, you are wrong...

One of the more significant problems we face today in so-called mature democracies is what I would describe as the theological approach to politics.

Instead of understanding that the political stances we adopt (even the most cherished ones) are inevitably informed by circumstances, personal and societal, we increasingly appear to assume that they reflect fundamental matters of right and wrong. 
 
This has to be one of those American cultural exports which are so plaguing us at this point in the century, and this one is unquestionably pernicious, for once one believes that everything in one's head is some sort of inviolable principle (or indeed tenet), it becomes that much harder to listen to people with alternative notions, let alone submit to government by them for a fixed term.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

The outside world is deeply concerned about...something.

This Guardian piece is the first article I have come across in the UK media referencing Guatemala's election shambles, and it follows depressingly familiar format.

The credit to "staff and agencies" means that nobody has bothered to even try to understand what is actually going on here. They've digested some press releases from the agencies announcing the concerns of the US and other G7 members, but beyond that...not a bleeding clue.

They largely point the finger of blame for the suspension of the June 25th result at front-runner Sandra Torres even though yesterday she explicitly called for the second round to go ahead as planned on August 20. Torres actually has little to gain from participating in legal delays, which could add extra oomph to the campaign of her (currently) second placed opponent.

The main drivers of the legal posturing have been the OTHER parties that fell short of the top two places, particularly Valor, Vamos, Cabal, Mi Familia etc. Sandra’s UNE seemed to go along with it at first, but must have quickly realised what a dumb play that could end up being. 

Anyway, on the positive side, if there is one thing I have learned about the so-called Corrupt Elite of this country is that it could just as easily be described as the Incompetent Elite.

Indeed, corruption and uselessness are very strongly associated with each other in Guatemala.

I guess that this is because corruption allows them to get away with things all too easily on an everyday basis, so that they neglect to spot the moments when a bit more effort and intellectual rigor might be required.

Ditto the Guardian.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Just be careful what you wish for...

Rather like the post-imperial Romano-Britons when things started to get a bit hairy after the legions left: “What we could really do with now is a whole load of those Angles and Saxons".

 

 
 

 

97 Minutes (2023)

Explosively stupid in terms of both content and realisation...



Features the unintentionally memorable Alec Baldwin line, “If you have a magic bullet, I’m all ears”.

His career may not not be over, but he’s a ‘with’ for the foreseeable future. 

As for Rhys Myers, he’s clearly arrived at the with Alec Baldwin phase.

 

(Goose-)stepping over the line...

I'm not one of those atheists who thinks everybody ought to be an atheist.

Indeed, I think diversity of human thought, action and wider culture is an essential pillar of existence that should be diligently preserved, and that this should be one of the key 'progressive' ideals along with the protection of biodiversity.

In my book — one I'd hesitate to have printed — if you think you are right and everyone else is wrong, you are by definition, wrong.

And therewith the problem: this is not an entirely inclusive ideal, and I am going to have to stray into mildly hypocritical territory here when I suggest that certain mindsets do still need to be actively discouraged.
 
These tend to involve a codification of a more limited worldview.

It all starts with opinions that have gunboats in inverted commas, so to speak. From mild censure we go from lists of individuals who might be 'first against the wall' in some unspecified future, onward to those over-energised late night knockings on the door.

The lines are never quite as clear as anyone lucid would like them to be. Yet who can honestly deny that we now find ourselves in a society built on liberal principles which fewer and fewer seem to instinctively understand and where the goose-steppers once again pretend to be working in the best interests of the under-represented, marginalised and downright oppressed.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

The perfect bar doesn't exi...



 
 
In the absence of something so heaven sent, herewith my own current list of preferred drinking holes around ‘this region’…
 
La Rana Dorada, Panama City
Tántalo Rooftop, Panama City
Stiefel Pub, Otoya, San José, Costa Rica
La Cueva, Trinidad, Cuba
El Barón, Cartagena de Indias
Beer Lovers, Getsemaní, Cartagena de Indias
Tap Ten, Cartagena de Indias
Tokyo Music Bar, Cuauhtémoc, CDMX
Pata Negra, Cuauhtémoc, CDMX
Sabina Sabe, Oaxaca
Cafe Bar Revolución, San Cristóbal de las Casas
Pipiripau, Mérida
Xtabay, Campeche
Caiman Tugurio, Playa del Carmen
The Little Wine Bar, Placencia, Belize
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Tuesday, June 06, 2023

The White Ship by Charles Spencer

Diana’s brother Charles has no need of a ghost writer, unlike his nephew Harry. 

 




His highly competent popular histories have hardly strayed beyond his own family’s apogee, e.g the reigns of Charleses I & II.

Yet it seems he has a fascination with this, one of Medieval history’s dopey yet highly significant misadventures which occurred in 1120, when roughly 300 members of the ruling Norman elite, including the royal heir, set off from Barfleur in the Blanche-Net, the majority of both passengers and crew a little bit juiced up, choosing speed over caution in an effort to catch up with the King’s own vessel, thus encountering some rocks. The only survivor a butcher from Rouen who had boarded in order to chase his bills. 901 years later Spencer led the expedition which located the wreck.

“Game of Thrones, but in the real world” says the dust cover. (Oddly enough, today’s versions attract dust as opposed to repelling it like the old paper ones.) Thrones was based — loosely, let's say — on the Wars of the Roses, a later conflict aroused and fed by the awkward presence on the throne of the two least effective Plantagenets, Richard II and Henry VI, whose impact, domestically and abroad, encouraged their geographically-entrenched relatives to seek alternatives.

“The anarchy” which followed the sinking of the White Ship and the ascension of Stephen* — first (and last) of that name — was instead rooted in earlier dynamics which differed from GOT. The key players changed sides far more often. And if there was one thing the Norman nobility hated it was open battle (except when the other side was obviously French), so we see here how on two significant occasions the antagonists were encouraged by their aristocratic allies to sit down and parley.

Most conflicts that didn’t result in treaties were characterised by a string of sieges. Other than Masada, these have never made for good TV.

But there is some fun stuff here, including a defenestration enacted by the future Henry I himself, the victim a commoner (merchant) who had forgotten the golden rule of feudalism — flexibility was for the landed elites only, everyone else had to abide by their oaths, or else.  
 
* Only a bad case of the runs had prevented the then Stephen of Blois from boarding the doomed longship at Barfleur.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Hypnotic (2023)

"Preposterous tosh from start to finish" was Mark Kermode's take. He's not wrong, though we did kind of enjoy it.


 

I was thinking about the recent unfortunate cancellation of 1899, supposedly because a statistically-significant portion of the audience somehow lost the will to continue after an episode or two. 

Right now we are watching Apple's Silo and the phrase Dark for dummies springs to mind. 

And so perhaps we might describe Hypnotic as Inception-lite. 

Perhaps ironically when I watch a Christopher Nolan movie or a Baran bo Odar series, my inner mental state could well be represented thus...

 

 
With Hypnotic the only real swirling confusion surrounded the lackadaisical nature of the underlying ground rules and crucially, I never felt the urge to reach for my notebook because an interesting thought had been prompted to pop up inside my head. 
 
But maybe there really is a market for middlebrow mindbenders, and Netflix, having been burned by 1899, might be best placed to find it.

Minor spoiler alert: I did enjoy the way Robert Rodriguez taunted viewers for much of the movie with the sheer corny fakeness of everything (Mexico in particular, which should have hoisted a few fed flags), only to have an answer ready as the third act kicked off...though this was a new form of silliness.


Smotherers

After WWII Isaiah Berlin finally made it to Moscow. Following the cacophony of the United States, it was the silence he found there that was most disturbing. In November 1946 he wrote that the “slow humiliation of poets and musicians is more awful in a way than outright shooting”.

He was aware that Russia had always favoured authoritarian rule and that the Tsars had attempted to suppress creativity, yet in the nineteenth century this had had the effect of turning that nation into an almost unprecedented creative and intellectual hothouse. 
 
Something was different under the Soviets, he speculated, something that permitted him to conclude that not all authoritarianisms are equal in this respect, be they political or religious, and the defining factor had to be the ideological component. 
 
This ties back to my observations yesterday about the suppression of free discourse at places like the Oxford Union. Those whose point of view is backed up by a rigid, take-no-prisoners ideology usually don’t even wait to hear what potential opponents have to say before silencing them.
 
For it is one of the key assumptions held by those under the sway of Marxism, for example, that you can tell if someone deserves to be heard just by noting what sort of person they are — their socioeconomic (these days also identitarian)...and therefore historical status is the very gist of their winning/silencing argument.

 

 

Parley-vous?

 

Outside the arena of elite sporting competition this is a matter of frankly marginal importance for the majority.
 

Yet it is generating an undoubted hubbub, which is permitting the louder voices on both the left and the right to distort one of the really fundamental truths that ought to be understood by all members of a functioning liberal democracy: neither your tomes of sacred ideology nor your peer-reviewed books of agreed facts will dispense with the contradictions of either present day life...or history.

 

 


As many of us as possible surely need to be vocal pluralists (and part of that commitment involves acknowledging that it will never be all of us), which means recognising the need to balance and sometimes revise the assumptions that make collective existence bearable. 
 
People at the political extremes want to pretend that the world can somehow be made to reflect the simplicities of their own thought processes and that they owe respect only to those who are similarly, single-mindedly convinced.

Men are men and women are women is an over-simplification. Yet so too is men can be women and women can be men. 
 
There is clear and obvious room for open discussion here and the spaces where such parley traditionally occurs need to be protected from the authoritarian minorities. 
 
Look under the bonnet of anything coherent and you will soon spot incoherence. Similarly, anything apparently trouble-free rather often portends a good deal of trouble. 

With rationalism there is always an element of prejudice dressed up as common sense.  

The hard truth is that neither off-the-shelf theories nor rational guidelines absolve us from the need to acknowledge, even cultivate complexity even at its most awkward. 
 
And right now, this is what we are losing track of...again!