Monday, May 31, 2021

The Mosquito Coast S01E06

I thought that perhaps if I just kept watching this show it would become less annoying, but instead it seems to be doubling down on some of its foibles. 

This week there were more damning critiques of America, again from individuals who are that much bigger a-holes than the fugitive Foxes. (That Frenchman...)

Generally this was not a very rounded portrait of one of the hemisphere's great cities. Though around seven years ago I stayed at the Hotel Isabel for one night on my way back from Buenos Aires and I can confirm that it is fairly dickhead friendly. 

The whole evil street urchin information superhighway sub-plot was beyond absurd. And then it turned out that the hitman from the eighties ska revival band could have just used the local cops anyway. 

As far as I can recall the highest value moneda in Mexico is the ten peso coin, which has always reminded me of the old ten franc coin in France. It is worth around 50 US cents these days. Yet in the CDMX we witness here, a single coin will apparently suffice to cover a tip at a coffee shop or indeed call up the feds back home via from a phone booth. Yes, a phone booth. 

Margot has just learned with obvious elation where the quartet are headed to next, though they probably won't make it down here until season two...

No coin-operated phone booths here however…though nor are there any more feds to call it would seem. 

Cruella (2021)

Before we sat down to watch Cruella I'd seen a piece on the BBC News website referring to the mixed reviews the movie has had from leading critics. 

It was indeed an oddly mixed experience. The performances were better than the story, which was in turn better than the dialogue. 

Visually it was often rather fun, but this was nothing like the seventies London I remember. 

My mother was an elite catwalk model, admittedly of an era slightly before this, yet I also doubt there would have been anything here to tickle her fancies. 

And oh was it long. Did we really have to go through three big parties with guests that functioned like computer game NPCs?

Do kids today have the requisite attention span and are they really all that interested in couture? 

Give Wink his own franchise. 

Mare of Easttown Finale

I've been properly hooked on this show, but in the end not entirely un-glad that it has run its course, because it has been a little bit draining. 

There seems to be something of a trend forming in these TV mysteries in which the female victim is gradually forgotten, and to some extent blamed, as the episodes go by, her death eventually comprehended as something of a tragic accident where the perpetrator's greatest moral failure was the attempt to keep quiet about it. 

This was true of Viewpoint and now it seems to be true of Mare of Easttown. 

Did I miss something, or did we never really learn where Dylan was on the night of Erin's death? 

Wayne Potts came and went in a flash. In the end he served the purpose of removing Zabel rather abruptly from the plot and getting Mare her badge back, but we never really learned a great deal about him. 

Prior to any second series Chief Carter is going to have to start attending some of those church services, family reunions etc...

Sunday, May 30, 2021


I've been posting to this blog — under the present heading Inner Diablog — since December 2003. 

The views each post tends to get have been fairly consistent. And I have a small coterie of subscribers, under twenty in number. 

The inception date is significant. Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social had not been established. 

This page was never intended as a social platform. The clue is in the name, a portmanteau of Blog and Inner Dialogue. The slightly solipsistic nature of the enterprise was baked in from the outset. 

Back in 2003 I was looking for a digital mechanism for the achievement of certain personal goals.

1) A place where I could digest my significant cultural experiences — largely books and movies, then and now. Some, but not a great deal, of political observation would be included. 

2) A place where I could grapple with the discipline of writing for this particular medium, a kind of private journal with the implied jeopardy of public visibility. 

3) A place to develop a voice. Not necessarily my actual voice in everyday non-virtual social interactions, but one that would take shape as the fairly consistent personality and disposition of this page. 

I've kept a fairly detailed daily diary going back almost thirty years, becoming ever more disciplined about this over the past twenty, combining raw facts with commentary, testimony with analysis. 

But at the start of the noughties the idea of additionally penning a blog as a sort of spin-off exercise occurred to me just at the moment that I was undoubtedly coming under under the influence of Jean Baudrillard's fragmentary writing, exemplified by the Fragments and Cool Memories series published by Verso. 

I am uncertain now how much of that influence has held through almost two decades of constant blather. 

Social media has undoubtedly altered some of the basic parameters. And travel, which I have done to a greater extent since starting the blog than prior to that. These days I digest my inner and outer experiences differently, more visually than I used to, for sure. 

Meanwhile, I am (very) slowly working my way through the un-abridged ten-year diary of Samuel Pepys, who attended both the same school and university as I did, and who wrote — in shorthand and with coded passages in mock French and Spanish — the most famous diary ever hidden in someone's bedroom, which was at once absolutely private and yet from its current physical location in the library of Magdalene College, very much part of England's historical public record — something I believe its author reconciled himself to in the end. 

Claire Tomalin's biography of Sam describes him in the title as the 'unequalled self'. Pepys was certainly gazing inwardly in a way that was disconcertingly frank and modern in 1660s London, yet he too must have been aware of the truth written down in another rather controversial personal journal, that of more recent Chilean author José Donoso...

Behind the face of the mask there is never a face. There is always another mask. The masks are you, and the mask below the mask is also you . . . All different masks serve a purpose, you use them because they help you to live . . . You have to defend yourself.

Some nitwit troll once opined online that I 'hide behind my words'. He or she demonstrated (only) subconscious understanding of what this little project is all about. 

For some reason a recent post here appeared to go semi-viral. Many thousands of readers. I cannot really figure out why. It was a movie review without any particularly strong or controversial opinions. Nor indeed was it a notably high profile release. A freak occurrence perhaps. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Football's Big Day

My (paternal) grandfather supported both Brentford and Chelsea, so I guess today would have been a very big day for him.

The Bees were last in the First Division between 1934 and 1946. As I write it looks like they will be back amongst the elite in 2021-22. 

In the season that I started taking top flight English football seriously (1978-79) Chelsea were relegated to Division Two. 

They came back up in the mid-eighties, but by then had basically missed my adolescence. 

This may be one reason why I have been a bit of fair-weather-fan of Chelsea FC ever since, in spite of the fact that my childhood bedroom window afforded me a view of the King's Road. 

It would be fair to say that back in the 70s they were not the fashionable club they have since become under oligarchic ownership. 

World's End is called world's end for a reason we used to think, and Stamford Bridge was beyond Fulham. 

And there have been times when I have been more favourably disposed to Fulham F.C. and Craven Cottage is a wondrous place to watch football. 

I used to go to Arsenal's old ground Highbury with my friend Antonio, an avid Brazilian gunner-torcedor. His father was too, with a slightly awkward habit of walking out before the final whistle if the game wasn't going his way, yet he had a very vocal soft spot for one particular Chelsea player — Micky Droy — who appeared, on paper at least, to be the very antithesis of the Brazilian football ideal. (Listed on Wikipedia as an 'unsentimental...uncompromising defender'.) 

Droy also played for Brentford earlier in his career. 

Anyway, during the Premier League era I have warmed to Chelsea. I like all of London's top clubs but probably like Chelsea the most these days. 

I cheered them on in their previous Champions' League finals in 2008 and 2012 and I will be cheering them on again this afternoon...

There was perhaps a moment when City had just overcome PSG to reach the all English match-up in Porto when I realised just how nice Pep is and how, after all, it might even be a good thing for him to claim club football's biggest prize with this team. The feeling has faded a bit since. 

My mother's last private home was just a stone-throw from the Bridge...


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wrath of Man (2021)

I've not seen the French original — Le Convoyeur (Cash Truck) — but I'm immediately willing to imagine that it lacked a few things that Guy Ritchie's English version has: the extra running time, plus premium convolutions, all that ludicrous sub-Tarantino dialogue and chapterisation and, most significantly, Le Stath.

So, after all that, this new film has to be the better one, right?

By the way, writing his review in the Guardian Benjamin Lee suddenly, and somewhat bafflingly, reflects...

One wonders what an actor with more depth might have brought to the role of grieving father, whether the flashes of pain would have cut a little deeper had they been delivered with more than just a scowl. 


I no more wanted to have to deal with H's grief here than I ever wanted to see John Wick snivelling every time he trips over his murdered dog's food bowl.

The Parade by Dave Eggers

Two men — un-named contractors of a developed world corporation — have been tasked with collaborating to lay down a tarmac road in time for a celebratory parade in an un-named war torn country, which appears to be on the brink of peace. 

The story is told in fable form, the road a MacGuffin of sorts and its makers both avatars of regulatory rich world interactions with the poor world, albeit conflicting in their fundamental approach to both the job and its environment. 

I thought at the start that Eggers might have been trying to do something that has occasionally appealed to me as a project — a science fiction novel set in the near future of a developing nation where the impact of wild new tech is felt weakly and obliquely to its native, unabashedly modern implementation. 

But it's not entirely clear where we are in relation to our own world. The Rs-90 machine 'Four' and 'Nine' use to link up the north and south of this country is indeed futuristic, yet the locals they come across seem astounded by a device upon which they can view a photograph immediately after it is taken. Do such places still exist? 

I enjoyed this novel, as I have others by the same author, but it didn't shake me up in any meaningful way and I was left feeling that perhaps it ought to have. And the tension was strangely muted throughout, which made the severe 'punchline' feel just a tad unwarranted. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Mosquito Coast (...from Apple)

I am not quite sure what to make of this updated, extended-format version.

I do have a lot of time for the Theroux clan. 

My recent reading of On The Plain of Snakes by Paul was generally positive, though at times it struck me as odd that this old chap, one of the world's most seasoned travellers, still seemed to be looking at Mexico with the 'North American Gaze' *, though maybe he was only gently pandering to these resilient prejudices in order to carry his audience with him…I subsequently concluded. 

Here though, starting with the funding from Apple, there is a constant whiff of liberal hypocrisy to deal with. 

Other than these fanciful outfits — apparently how stuck-up Mexicans dress for dinner — S01E04 features a supposedly crucial culminating scene when its hero is outed as an 'asshole' by a Mexican. He is given a lecture, at gunpoint, on how he cannot ever really flee America because it is in his head, how he thinks he can simply pay for anything, and so on. 

And there is some truth in that for sure. We have a few of those nuclear family, off-the-grid types down here and even those that are not explicitly fugitives from developed world justice are usually a lot more morally murky than the Foxes so far appear to be here. 

Yet the scene still feels a bit specious, perhaps because the character played by Justin Theroux remains essentially a cipher for the progressive worldview of uncle Paul — author of the original novel — and because this particular Mexican had earlier been carried unconscious across the desert to relative safety by Fox and his basically likeable family. 

So, Chuy has a point, but delivers it in a noticeably unreasonable, chippy fashion. And this lets Fox off the hook. 

As I watch the episodes I struggling to think of a US film or TV series where there are Mexicans who live at a decent material and cultural level who have not acquired their means via either criminal activity or inheritance. Mexicans with boring midde-class lives. 

Perhaps not teachers or accountants, as these undoubtedly have their own sub-stereotypes — political activists/working for the cartel — but advertising execs, restaurant owners, college lecturers, market speculators, production runners etc.

Spoiler alert: the Foxes are not even going to make it to the Mosquito Coast itself, if ever, during season one. 

Yet they are going to reach the area around Nayarit, which interests me greatly as I have never been, but have felt the lure, and things may yet change in terms of the overall representation of the country. 

I have fond memories of Melissa George as Angel in Home and Away and so far, she's the best thing in the series. 

The Mosquito Coast, aka the Miskito Coast, was one of Britain's greatest Yank-baiting exercises during the nineteenth century. It actually had a flag...

...which is basically the UK without Northern Ireland, and so may soon have to be revived. 

* I do know that most of Mexico sits on the North American continent, but you know what I mean.

Monday, May 24, 2021

El Rosario De Mi Madre

Quien haría esto?

Devuelveme el rosario de mi madre
Y quédate con todo lo demás
Lo tuyo te lo envió cualquier tarde
No quiero que me veas nunca más…

Olé Israel !!!

See also...

And, of course, the Prawn...

Perhaps the chippiest, whingeyist of Peruvian boleros filtered through the cante of Andalucía...

Friday, May 21, 2021

Socially-distanced Choir


My favourite piece of choral music (especially In Paradisum from 55:40) which has some rather raw emotional connections to my stint at Cambridge, and ever since.

The final note...

The Chapel at Trinity College was initiated in the mid-sixteenth century by the Catholic Mary Tudor and then completed by her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter.
The ante-chapel features Roubiliac’s statue of Isaac Newton, which was carved roughly a hundred years after he graduated from Trinity.

I think St John's Choir may just have nailed that ending even better...

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Sapos Abroad

It appears that there is actually a place in the Languedoc called Chateau Arrogant. I seem to have missed a trick when it came to naming my house! 

It belongs to the self-styled 'humble wine-maker' called Jean-Claude Mas, who has clearly spotted a way to make age-old English prejudices bring home le bacon for him. 

Whilst the blurb on his website recognises that 'the French seen as arrogants (sic) are less popular abroad', his ambibulous brand mascot is introduced as a rather nice frog; 'a bit dandy'. 

I've not tried any of his wines but am suitably intrigued. There's a comprehensive selection of varietals made from grapes grown in the Limoux region, at 200m altitude and around 100km from the coast just south of Narbonne. 

These modern French wines, made with techniques pioneered in the new world are usually excellent

Monday, May 17, 2021

Vaccine Limbo

We have entered a rather strange limbo period where it is still possible for the unvaccinated to move freely around the world. 

How long this will last is moot. Much hot air has been leaked into the atmosphere on the subject of vaccine passports and, although implementation undoubtedly poses numerous challenges, I suspect that even the act of travelling in order to get vaccinated may become problematic during the course of 2022. 

It is worth noting that on an individual level at least, the various vaccines do not represent a complete solution. I know of at least one person in Guatemala who died from covid after a single dose of Astra Zeneca and I have a close friend in the US who was seriously ill and hospitalised after his first dose of Pfizer. The way out of the current situation is via herd immunity on a national and then international level. 

In percentage terms, Israel remains the most-vaccinated country in the world, with 63% of residents having at least one shot. It is followed by Mongolia (54.25%) and the UK (53.87%). The US is fifth at 47%. 

Unfortunately it seems that in the short to medium term most Guatemalan citizens are going to have access to Sputnik V alone. I would counsel against this particular vaccine except perhaps as a last resort. Those with the means to seek alternatives, even foreign residents, should indeed seek them.

Right now there is a window of opportunity of sorts in the USA, where nearly half of all adults have been jabbed, but uptake has slowed, especially in Red states.

Three potential destinations for vaccine tourism immediately present themselves for anyone located in Guate: Texas, Florida and New York. 

Texas is currently vaccinating everyone over the age of 12 regardless of citizenship or residency. In practice, other than slightly unpredictable pop-ups (more in Dallas than Houston) this means turning up at a pharmacy, some of which are accepting walk-ins. 

If you need to make a reservation online you have to provide an address, and in some instances a social security number. In other words there remains a degree of trickiness that makes it rather hard to plan a brief, in and out expedition. 

The Texas vaccine availability map and the Vaccine Spotter are essential tools. 

Based on a minimal amount of research, I would say that Galveston would be the place to head to in the Lone Star State. It has a beach, it is relatively pleasant compared to Houston or Dallas, and seems to have sufficient quantities of the one-shot J&J vaccine at its various pharmacies. But the situation undoubtedly changes from day to day. 

Florida is on paper only vaccinating its own residents and anyone in the state who can claim to be there for the purpose of offering a service. But they recently stopped asking for proof of the latter, so in other words they are inviting vaccine tourists to come on down and duly lie about this. I would strongly recommend against this subterfuge. 

The mayor of North Miami went public the other day with an open invitation to the unvaccinated of Latin America to visit his city and get their jabs and was quickly forced to back-track. 

There have been some pop-up vaccination events on the beach targeting visitors from down south, but these appear to be unpredictable and over-subscribed, given the popularity of this location with Latin Americans. 

Meanwhile, New York City's mayor appears to be specifically targeting tourists with a series of pop-up J&J vaccination days at major venues like Grand Central Station and Times Square. 

Participating visitors are even being offered a free seven day Metro card as an incentive, and De Blasio has suggested that the programme will be pursued until at least the end of July in a bid to kick-start those parts of the metropolitan economy that have traditionally depended on out-of-towners. 

It's not clear to me whether the law of the state allows non-citizens to make a reservation at a pharmacy outside of this initiative. 

Somewhat counter-intuitively, air fares to New York City from Aurora during the next couple of months are currently priced less expensively than those to either Miami or Houston. (c$250, at baggage minimum.) 

It will be a while before the effect of certain novel variants on the vaccine roll-outs in the UK and the US becomes fully apparent. 

One shot of Pfizer is said to reduce transmission by 50%. Useful, but possibly not decisive. My own anecdotal experience is that one dose of Pfizer or Moderna could be protective enough for those that have already had covid. I am a bit less confident with regards to Astra Zeneca. Mixing vaccines is probably going to be beneficial in the long run. 

The UK is likely to act as an open air experiment when it comes to the so-called Indian variant. Some parts of England have seen a threefold increase in infections last week in spite of the fact that half the adult population has now received at least one jab, generally of Astra Zeneca. 

By allowing the virus to work exclusively on the younger part of the population could result in mutations resulting in more severe disease for children and adolescents. 

I'm running late for my own NHS-allocated first Astra Zeneca shot. I was seriously considering heading across the pond at some stage this year so as not to miss out, but the further we get into 2021 the less appealing a three month sojourn in England turns out to be. (That or doing the journey twice in the space of 12 weeks.)

The Woman In The Window (2021) and Viewpoint

Another thriller that's only really half a decent movie. 

Maybe not even that, because of the disappointment that comes by way of a conclusion had been telegraphed almost from the start.

I'm not sure if the problem emanates from the source material or director Joe Wright. (Atonement, Hanna, ugggh). 

Gary Oldman has one great scene. Julianne Moore too, I suppose. Jennifer Jason Leigh is almost completely wasted. 

As the lockdowns are easing it is possibly no coincidence that we are suddenly being treated to a lot of curtain-twitchy material about people staring out of windows with morbid curiosity. 

Just last week we binge-watched Viewpoint. There too the 'twist' towards the end of the cancelled final episode was depressingly predictable from just a few minutes into the first. 

By the way, the manner with which ITV dutifully removed the last instalment from its schedules felt slightly Stalinist to me. The mini-series was the product of many different individuals' hard work and at that stage many millions had invested several hours of their week into it. Did they all have to pay for the alleged actions of one vile sexual predator? 

Anyway, as the way it was to wrap up was all too foreseeable, maybe the suits imagined they might be doing the audience a favour. It certainly won't stop them selling all five episodes around the world. If it comes here, I'd be rather chuffed if the title was translated as Por Shute.

Back to Amy Adams in her window. This movie is trying to convince us that it is Hitchcockian in the same way I might try to convince you I am speaking French just by putting on an absurdly thick accent. 

The above mentioned source novel was written under a pen name by outed mythomaniac Daniel Mallory. One of his juicier fibs was that he wrote a dissertation on Patricia Highsmith at Oxford. 

The movie was cut by Wright and then recut by Tony Gilroy, when 2018 test audiences didn't really get it. After postponements and post-production puttering it finally reaches the small screen via Netflix...and still bombs. 

Hitchcock's plots nearly always managed to surprise me. And my favourite truly twisty 'Hitchcockian' movie has long been the wonderful L'Appartement (1996) with Vincent Cassel, Monica Belluci and Romane Bohringer. 

That movie took me in directions I could never have anticipated and ended on a downer, but not the sort that comes from unsound creative decision-making. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

A bit of an oddity this. Angelina Jolie is undoubtedly the headline act, but she is one of a small group of 'good guys' here that are somewhat disconnected and dispersed. 

One could make a case that the true protagonists are the pair of hitmen, played by Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult, with their own (bad) buddy movie plotline. 

The duo have been tasked with eliminating a kid who could bring down one of those whopping criminal conspiracies, so a bit like Witness, except we never learn the detail and there's a prodigious fire in the forests of Monatana, that feels a bit like padding. 

En Garde

I came cross my old fencing jacket in our other gaff recently. Purchased with my father something like 35 years ago at Leon Paul in London. 

There was a time not so long ago when my wife used to regularly berate me for some of the things I decided not to ship over here, but I remain constantly amazed at how much stuff did eventually make the journey. Much of it is still in the boxes into which it was expertly packed by the team from Wales. 

My old electric foil has been floating around quite visibly over there for years, but I hadn't seen the jacket since it left UK shores. 

This clip shows a home match at St Pauls’s versus the old enemy, Westminster, eight years ago. 

The facilities at SPS have always been amongst the very best, and yet have remained largely unchanged since the late 60s. 

V and I were reminiscing about the sport earlier on this week. She was Guatemalan national champion and so a good deal better at it than me.  

The girl she defeated in the final — from the capital — apparently took it very badly and required constant comforting from her boyfriend during the subsequent media event.

We both specialised in Foil and dabbled in Sabre. I did cricket, rugby, swimming, scuba, tennis, squash and volleyball during my years at SPS, but there was nothing more physically demanding than Sabre. 

I am sure it made a lasting difference to my thighs — I guess you sort of need a Diego Maradona-style physique ideally for this discipline  — but I gave it up in the end because I kept being overwhelmed by larger guys with more inherently explosive personalities. 

It strikes me that the modern gear is a little bit more protective and in some important ways safer. We both remember the bruises very well. 

I never got to fight inside the school...

Friday, May 14, 2021

Antidote (2021)


It's practically a given these days that any chiller-thriller released will feature a disappointing last act which will cost it at least a star in the final rating. This is no exception, but for the first three quarters at least it is fully deserving of more than its <5 score on IMDB. 

The premise is however very guessable, which makes the moment late on when one character congratulates another for figuring it out all that more irksome. Still, as representations of bad nightmares that show no inclination to end, Antidote exceeds mediocrity by some distance.

It definitely fed into a nightmare I had that same night in which I was wandering around a vast hotel entering a series of rooms only to discover the same bizarre couple within each of them.  

Ideals, partially-applied

Bella Hadid and Gal Gadot both made the calculated choice/error of commenting on the Israel-Gaza conflict this week. 

Both of course can be said to have some sort of actual personal stake in it, unlike the hordes of zealous, armchair Middle East comentaristas who immediately and all very predictably pounced. 

Yet both were in a sense asking to be trolled for the biases they betrayed in their language. (Hang on...I am not really uggesting anyone actually asks to be trolled!) 

Hadid characterised Israel as a non-country packed with colonial oppressors. That's a bit like me observing that the British Museum is an imperialist store-cupboard packed to the rafters with looted objects. Sure, some folk would probably jump to agree with me, but most reasonable people would undoubtedly appreciate how partial a description that is. 

Another way of looking at the British Museum — doors opened in 1759 — is as one of the blue ribbon achievements of the Enlightenment in Britain: a temple to the light that knowledge and investigation can shine in the darkness. 

These ideals could be said to weakly-felt at best throughout the Middle East today. Even the keenest detractors of Israel (an actual modern democracy), many of whom vocally support issues like Trans and LGBTQ+ rights, would have to admit that their own liberal worldview is generally not highly regarded in most parts of that neighbourhood. 

Though it has something of a toe-hold in one small part at least, with the effect that certain, once-marginalised lifestyles are at least possible there. 

However, the thinkers of the Enlightenment — whose ideals can be said to have led inexorably to the modern notion of tolerance, and then onto the celebration of human diversity— also stood against false ideas, the dominance of religion, oppression and cruelty. 

And, Israelis please note — and not just Israelis, clearly — they also stood for human sympathy...for justice, freedom and the possibility of personal fulfilment, in this life rather than the next. 

If the one place in that part of the world where reason is genuinely valued on some significant levels is being seen to behave un-reasonably, then it's a really bad look as far as our overall global discourse goes. 

Enlightened ideals are nevertheless a form of prejudice. They have the potential for fostering human wellbeing, yet from the start they also had in-built defects, and these can metastasize quickly. 

There has never been a moment in human history when so-called progress arrives on the scene shorn of any potential for deleterious side effects.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Current State of Guatemala's Economy

The national economy has remained perhaps surprisingly robust through the covid pandemic.

GDP contracted by 1.5% in 2020, the second smallest contraction in the Americas after Paraguay, and is expected to rebound by 3.9% in 2021. 

Exports and remittance growth have been key here. (The current account surplus increased to 5.5% of GDP in 2020, from 2.3% in 2019.) 

Average inflation in the first quarter of 2021 was 5.7%, a little over the central bank's target, but this has been fed by higher energy prices, which are expected to be short-lived. (Though inflation has taken a bit of lurch forward recently elsewhere too, e.g. up in the US.) 

The fiscal deficit expanded to 4.9% of GDP in 2020, as government expenditure increased by 17.2%, while revenue fell by 3.8%.

The situation may be complicated by the failure to agree a budget for 2021 (and a falling back on the previous year's budget) with the result that government spending is now capped around 94.3bn quetzales and the previously agreed loans ($20m from the World Bank and $594m from the IMF) are no longer on the table, in congressionally-approved form, that is. 

Yet this appears not to imminently threaten the government's ability to finance the deficit in 2021. International reserves reached $18.5 billion (23.8% of GDP) at the end of last year, equivalent to 10 months of the current external payments.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq (1)

During my fresher year at Girton I was approached one evening in the Stanley Library by a super-sophisticated and sybaritic young lady of Hispanic origin, mature and materially well-appointed way beyond the level of just about everyone else in the intake, and frankly, a little terrifying. 

She spotted the book in my hand and duly cautioned me about pursuing my study of Schopenhauer. It tends to lead to suicide, she noted with a knowing smile. 

Back then and ever since, I've read Schopenhauer for laughs. 

Kierkegaard observed that "the more one suffers, the more, I believe, has one a sense for the comic" and there is really no reason for this not to also apply to the suffering deriving from morbid self-pity. 

There's a moment when Florent-Claude — the narrator in Serotonin — shortly after doing what many fans of classic British comedy would recognise as a 'Reggie Perrin', turns up at a doctor's surgery and explains his new situation: 

When I had finished summing up my recent life to him, he agreed, in fact, that I genuinely needed a course of treatment, and asked me if I had had thoughts of suicide. No, I replied, death doesn’t interest me.

We Brits seem to find embittered middle-aged men more entertaining than most: Basil Fawlty, Victor Meldrew, Alan Partridge, Alf Garnett, Mr Bean and so on. I guess this is why I find Rod Liddle's column in The Spectator such a guilty pleasure. 

I suppose that if Liddle were to take to the fictional form and become our most famous living novelist on the international stage, he'd be a near enough equivalent of Michel Houellebecq, minus all the stuff about gang bangs and blow jobs, one presumes. 

So here we are in the doldrums of 2020/21, and one keeps coming across recommendations for 'feel good' books to put the wind back in our sails. Yet there remains much to be said for the — perhaps counter-intuitively — uplifting effect of the sort of rancid, misanthropic rant that habitually forms the backbone of this particularly cantankerous Frenchman's novels. 

One might say that Houellebecq is a conservative with a capital D for doomed. Rather than hankering after the past (which for him means the 70s, and is thus horrid), he seems to live in an imagined near future that turns out to be disconcertingly prescient as he moves from novel to novel, each a kind of update on the ones that came before and each also more of a routine than a fictional narrative per se. 

One always finds oneself having to wade through clumps of mean-spirited and banal generalisations (often about women), before one comes across one of those surprisingly lucid and occasionally even soulful observations Houellebecq can suddenly serve up.   

When first published even the French author's detractors admitted grudgingly that in Serotonin he might have yet again demonstrated a form of foreknowledge, as the later, Normandy-based section of the novel is said to have anticipated France's gilets jaunes movement of 2018.

Earlier on he seems to be anti-EU and anti-anglais at the same time, with his spikiest barbs landing on the Dutch...

You’re never well received by the English – they are almost as racist as the Japanese, like a lite version of them), but also from the Dutch, who obviously didn’t reject me out of xenophobia (how could a Dutch person be xenophobic? That’s an oxymoron: right there: Holland isn’t a country, it’s a business at best).

Right now in 2021 the uncanny contemporary relevance of this book seems to be further suggested by its title, for this is a secretion that is vital to our sense of well-being, yet also linked to the self-esteem we derive from our group interactions. 

What then happens when we deny ourselves these activities, or are denied them by our government? 

Anyway, I am some way from the end of the novel and so will probably discover some reasons to return here with additional reflections on it later on...

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Jews Don't Count by David Baddiel


Rather like Promising Young Woman, if you immediately conclude that this is probably not for you, it almost certainly is. 

Particularly if you are the kind of 'progressive' inclined to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a person of colour yet at the same time disinclined to award the same status to any other member of his ethnic group. 
"The move to reclassify Jesus as non-white is good and historically accurate. The erasure at the same time of his Jewishness is neither."
I came to this thinking I had probably already had a basic understanding of the problem Baddiel is trying to throw some light on, but even so, this is a well-written, intelligently-presented polemic of serious quality and undoubtedly shocking in many places. 

How, he seems to be asking overall, does probably the most oppressed and persecuted ME in history find itself denied access to some fairly basic BAME protections today, and not just so-called micro-aggressions, but some really quite serious macro-aggressions too. 

He points to a key determinant: "The law of Schrödinger’s Whites, a brilliant conceit that I am not responsible for, in which Jews are white or non-white depending on the politics of the observer."

White supremacists are generally pretty clear on this. Jews are not white folk, rather they are 'Asiatic' types, secretly working behind the scenes with other dark races to replace them. 

Yet for many on the left, Jews are not only white, but in a sense more than white, a skin colour that manifests itself as kind of grey in a cultural sense or perhaps even invisible to the naked eye. 

Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G (Baddiel regards him as more 'Israeli' than Jewish, apparently for his occasionally overbearing self-confidence) played on this when he asked an interviewee 'Is it because I is black?'. 

Cultural whiteness is not so much about skin colour, as about belonging to the group which doesn't have to worry too much about such things. And Jews have historically never been free not to worry. 

In one of his gentler turns Baddiel summarises the problem for Jews in a woke society...
The problem is that Jews occupy a socio-cultural grey area. Jews, although marginal, are not thought of as marginalised. Which means Jews can’t be seen as representative of a modern Britain that is intent on shifting marginalised experiences into the mainstream.
In its extreme form contemporary anti-semitic prejudice is grounded in the notion that Jews cannot be oppressed as they are secretly controlling the levers of oppression, specifically capitalist oppression. 

As Baddiel puts it: "Interestingly, a lot of those who believe in Lizard People also seem to be anti-Semites", whilst noting that the likes of David Icke use Rothschild Zionists as their preferred euphemism for Jews. 

There's a double standard at play here which is decidedly difficult to counter...
Jews are the only objects of racism who are imagined – by the racists – as both low and high status. Jews are stereotyped, by the racists, in all the same ways that other minorities are – as lying, thieving, dirty, vile, stinking – but also as moneyed, privileged, powerful and secretly in control of the world. Jews are somehow both sub-human and humanity’s secret masters.
Again, Baddiel doesn't go into the history of this, but the association of Jews with money has its origins in medieval mentalités: Christians then, just like Muslims today, found themselves hog-tied by dogma when it came to matters of credit and interest. So they farmed the job out to a minority that they could then despise for it, in what can only be described as a thoroughly despicable manner. 

The underlying racist prejudice somehow solidified as Christians gradually allowed themselves a more hands-on role in the expansion of capitalism. 

The actor John Cusack once tweeted a noxious anti-semitic meme with the added imperative 'Follow the Money'. Yet in the USA if you do decide to embark upon that particular trail towards monied minorities, it is Hindus not Jews that you will find in greatest abundance: both the most remunerated and high net worthy of American sub-identities. Meanwhile more than half of the millionaires on a global level are Christian. 

And even then, Baddiel feels impelled to add...
This is very un-Marxist of me – fuck off about money. Because money doesn’t protect you from racism. As I say, some Jews are rich. My grandparents were: they were industrialists in East Prussia. They owned a brick factory. They had servants. By the time they were fleeing to England with my mother as a baby in 1939, however, that had all been robbed from them. And by the end of the war, most of their family – and therefore a large section of mine – had been murdered. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, because the racists will smash in the door of your big house that they know you don’t deserve anyway and only own because you’re Jews.
There's a lucid chapter on the way Israel is used by many on the left to silence any Jewish misgivings about the way their opinions tend to fare in British political discourse, and he pinpoints the way Godwin's Law is being used to slap down any Jew who might dare to mention ze vor. And this when there's really nobody else more inherently entitled to bring the Nazis into an argument. 

Baddiel highlights another telling omission that I spotted and was duly irked by recently in Jojo Rabbit...
Jews remains the only minority – and now we’re talking beyond ethnic, to include disabled, trans, autistic and many other categories – where you don’t have to cast the actor in line with the real thing. 
Later on he seems to be gently mocking former ITV sports presenter Jim Rosenthal and his son Tom for somewhat aggressively asserting their non-Jewishness. This did make me chuckle, because Marcus in Plebs is one of the most thoroughly Jewish characters in contemporary British comedy. 

On a separate note, it once bothered V that Jim Rosenthal always used to appear on ITV's Formula One show with his top button done up and eventually went so far as to dispatch an email to the channel about this rather pressing matter. 

Shortly afterwards, he stopped doing it. Nowadays if you google him, there's only one image returned that suggests this was ever a thing.