Thursday, November 30, 2023

Sooner or later... has to take sides. If one is to remain human.

The stand out observation from Fowler in The Quiet American. It seems clear enough, and yet the narrative around it dunks it into a big bowl of ambiguity, for Fowler betrays a friend who has sided with indiscriminate murder for a 'higher cause'  and yet, not so much in the background, there is also the issue of the would-be bride this friend has snatched from him.

Graham Greene repeatedly took sides in the troubled nations he felt drawn to, predominantly the sides where the Catholic clergy were also tempted to lay down their cards. The more charismatic, otherworldly or downright feral these churchmen were, the better, the author apparently surmised. 

Fowler might have been a clear avatar for Greene and his experiences as a Times correspondent in French Indochina, yet his creator turns out to be a man who was always reluctant to put any loyalty above his loyalty to friends.

And in taking sides, he often seemed unsure of his default position, echoing E.M. Forster who once said that if he "had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."

Greene faced a watered down and somewhat indirect version of this choice with his former boss Kim Philby. Others were disgusted by the deaths that apparently resulted as a consequence of the information passed by this member of the Cambridge Five to his KGB handlers, specifically those of hundreds of Albanian rebels. 

Convinced that relationships with individuals always trumped those with groups, he maintained a correspondence with Philby even after his defection and made an interesting, if disingenuous point about Intelligence work, stating that its primary purpose was to sow distrust amongst one's enemies (gaslighting!) and not the gathering of information — and so outing Philby as a mole had been counter-productive, he insisted, because it made the Americans distrust the British. 

Greene always distrusted the Americans. Whenever he wished to draw attention to the persecution of free expression in places like Cuba or the USSR, he got in a dig at Uncle Sam, for he would have hated for anything he said to be made use of as propaganda in the Cold War.

And even though Greene was always acutely sensitive to suffering, even (and perhaps especially) that of strangers, he would occasionally fall into the moral equivalence fallacy when talking about the crimes of the East and West.

In that he has seemingly no end of contemporary analogues.

Philby in Moscow

In geopolitical conflicts there often appears to exist a clear faultline, but in practice this will sometimes turn out to be rather like the frontier here at La Mesilla, with a substantial gap between the formal Mexican and Guatemalan frontier posts. 

And it's very much a case of 'Mind the Gap', For this is the groupthink space that the loudest, most ideologically-demented people from both sides of the divide wish to inhabit, and they will consistently mis-portray it as "the moral high ground". 

Within my observations in the previous post on the Galician uprising of 1846, what in effect occurred was a pair of antipodal insurrections which cancelled each other out.

The educated Polish nationalists saw themselves as revolutionaries and freedom fighters and the rustics as reactionary savages, yet the latter saw themselves as 'imperial' peasants resisting (ultimately rather savagely) the feudal revanchism of their lords.

And we know this because both sides had vociferous would-be history ordainers in the aforementioned wild space between the dotted lines. Their goal is to disguise the multi-vectoral nature of the argument.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

When nation-building comes a cropper.


Not to be confused with irredentista, a term used by historians to refer to people who believe that a certain part of the world ought to belong to them, typically because it used to.

They are amongst history’s biggest troublemakers, as recent events have only served to confirm.

Two years before the big ticket uprisings of 1848-9 described here, there occurred a disastrous insurrection of irredentists in Galicia, a highly ethnically-diverse province of the Austrian empire since absorbed into modern Poland and Ukraine.

It formally belongs to the horror genre, yet its “What have the Romans ever done for us?" element provides some darkly comic overtones.
A group of aristocratic landowners decided that it was time to do away with the empire and create something called 'Poland', which had never really existed before, except as part of the rather messy earlier entity known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

To do this they needed to get the illiterate peasants behind their cause, and this is where the trouble started. Many of these, especially in the east, were Ruthenians (we now tend to refer to them as Ukrainians) and so perhaps inherently suspicious of this newfangled Poland place, which some of the lords claimed would be different from everything before, socially-speaking.

At the first big meeting between the insurrectionists and the rustics, at the inn at Lisia Góra, about 7km north of Tarnów, one of the latter stood up and made a speech about all the reasons why the Habsburg empire and its ‘good emperor’ Ferdinand had been a positive thing for him and his chums, and he was not too sure about forming this new community of sentiment with the very people who had been exploiting them for centuries. 

One of the landlords decided it might be a good idea to take out his gun and shoot this clodhopper. It wasn’t.

From this moment onward things went pear-shaped pretty quickly and although the rebels briefly held Cracow, all around the countryside a bloodbath ensued in which indiscriminate savagery (that thing again) featured strongly, with flayings, decapitations and burnings fairly widespread whenever the peasants were not simply using their agricultural tools as improvised murder devices. 3000+ elite-level wannabe Poles came to a sticky end.

Low literacy had always been a problem when it came to spreading the propaganda of Polish solidarity in advance of this bold irredentist move, and efforts to use the priesthood as a delivery method of last resort in this respect would prove very costly for many men of the cloth, as this rebellion of upper class nationalists and their subalterns and their met with brutal resistance in the countryside. Some of the priests blamed the Jews for the whole debacle, naturally. 
Many patriotic Poles today are descended from these peasants who were determined NOT to become Poles, who described themselves as ‘imperial peasants’. Their insurrection effectively cancelled out the nationalist one of the landowners. Those thwarted elites might paint the peasants’ response as reactionary or counter-revolutionary, but looked at from a different angle, they were continuing a long fight against feudalism and did not believe in the emancipatory promises of (some of) the irredentists.


Monday, November 27, 2023

Qualified possibilities...


It is possible, but then you have to choose your fellow protesters and your method of message delivery quite carefully.

How many of the 300k in London yesterday “hate Hamas” vs hate Israel and/or Jews?

In a minority with considered, nuanced views, you can do little more than enable a mob.

What price your horror of dead innocents if it is expressed amidst banners which explicitly restate the blood libel?

“From the river to the sea” can be chanted with many different emotions or mental states. If it means just freedom and dignity to you, fine, but why sing along with a choir of people for whom it means violent vengeance, particularly when you won’t be first in line when any previously camouflaged-meanings become that much more limpid?

An you might want to start by asking yourself why you care so much anyway, relatively. What is your actual stake in all this? 



It would appear that Ridley Scott’s Napoleon movie is one of those phenomena, like the geopolitics of the Middle East, around which a whole load of incompatible and ultimately irreconcilable opinions coalesce.

These turn out to be unwinnable battles, rather like Borodino, where the victor is also a bit of a loser.

This is because no one position is ever able to assert itself as a reference point to all the others.

And sometimes this stokes a kind of death spiral of stroppiness amongst those tempted to participate, never more so than when the bulk of these are individuals that profess so-called “luxury’ beliefs, often grounded more in faith than fact — such as “Trans Women are Women” and “genocide in Gaza” — as they seem to want to have their cake and eat it e.g. they aspire to benefit from the status boost that such incongruous convictions appear to confer — to belong to an elite caste of conscience — yet at the same time they can’t stand it that not everybody else steps into line behind them, and that’s when the strop segues into bullying, and worse.*

Joseph Conrad remains my favourite author, in part because his fictional imagination emanated out of this crucial insight: “The only legitimate basis of creative work is the courageous recognition of all irreconcilable antagonisms that make our life so enigmatic, so burdensome, so fascinating, so dangerous, so full of hope. They exist!”

Truth, Conrad suggested, might only be approached by examining oppositions occurring at more relative, displaced positions.

The most obvious expression of this idea is the structure of his masterpiece, Nostromo, where the ‘incorruptible’ pile of silver is the symbolic equivalent of that unattainable Truth, a test of our own corruptibility and relativity, around which Conrad describes a big swirl of “every sort of fish”, a multiplicity of different opinions and behavioural responses.

One French critic of Napoleon I came across this week insisted that there were two rather distinct men begging to be tackled here, like a pair of biographies in a state of superposition, the eponymous Emperor and Bonaparte the reformer.

Is this a Conradian opposition or a bit of a cop out?

And with no sense of irony, British historian-reviewer, Andrew Roberts, has quipped that rather than being a proto-Hitler, Napoleon/Bonaparte was “the Enlightenment on horseback”, yet I am certain that philosopher John Gray would be inclined to answer back that Adolf was “the Enlightenment in a tank”.

Is the Enlightenment one shiny, durable, trustworthy thing which we can all agree on? Of course not.

Where do I stand on the matter to hand? Well, I haven't yet seen Ridley's epic, but my suspicion is that no matter how much money is thrown at the problem, no matter how many extras are expertly drilled, it will be hard to surpass Ian Holm's Boney in Terry Gilliam's The Time Bandits.

And this is because you are never closer to the Truth than when you are trying to be funny.

* Anyway, "Facts are the enemy of great entertainment," says Roger Lewis in a Telegraph review of Napoleon... which maybe why they have been disappearing from politics.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Destroy all the mirrors...

When the film version of The Comedians was released in 1967 Papa Doc Duvalier embarked on a massive diplomatic trashing of the movie and the author of the original novel.

Greene wrote very observantly to the movie's director: “Like the ugly queen in Snow White, he will have to destroy all the mirrors."

Like many of his kind, the dictator had a jolly good go at this. In France in 1970 a judge ruled that scenes would have to be cut. Duvalier had claimed 10m francs in damages and was awarded just one. But the edits were implemented and for French viewers at least, the movie makes less sense, but that may be just how they like it.

In 1968 Haitian embassies around the world in a move which reminds me of Alvaro Arzú 's enthusiastic international promotion of a book which suggested the murder of Bishop Gerardi was the end product of a feud between a clique of prickly homosexuals began issuing a volume entitled Greene Démasqué/Finally Exposed, an essay collection which painted the English novelist as an opium addict, racist, spy, pervert, con-man and torturer. 
Greene told a friend that in publishing this book, 'Papa Doc honoured me'.

One of the intriguing things about this novel and film is the way Greene found a way to tell a semi-clandestine story about interesting black characters making use of the mechanism of not-especially-interesting white characters in the foreground. 
This film provided an early role for James Earl Jones (Darth) as Dr Magiot, who commented that a Hollywood production would necessarily have tried to portray the Marxist intellectual as a sinister 'bastard'. 
Even today, I wonder how the industry would tackle Magiot's position as a member of an aloof, mixed race elite in Haiti. The actor said he believed Hollywood would have made all the young girls mixed race in order to make them more attractive to white audiences, which would have watered down the political significance of skin colour distinction on the island.

Already in the 1960s it seems that Graham Greene could not bring his black characters to the fore without being accused of theft of voice or some sort of cultural appropriation. 
This is perhaps a pity, because just ten years previously Colin MacInnes (who also served in British Intelligence during WW2) was writing in the first person as a Nigerian immigrant in London and there is something rather thrilling and positively disconcerting about this, even if it is at times less than 100% successful. 

If you look at the Wikipedia entry for The Comedians the section headed 'Characters' lists only the white ones, which is fabulously ironic if you have an understanding of how the novel was constructed.

Below a passage from City of Spades in which MacInnes 'appropriates' a voice with gay abandon, as one of his protagonists, Johnny Fortune from Lagos, heads into the West End. (Probably also an example of writing that would be impermissible or at least unpublishable today.) 

"This Cosmopolitan Dance Hall is the nearest proximity I've seen in London to the gaiety and happiness back home. For the very moment I walked down the carpet stair, I could see, I could hear, I could smell the overflowing joys of all my people far below. And when I first got a spectacle of crowded ballroom, oh, what a sight to make me glad! Everywhere us, with silly little white girls, hopping and skipping fit to die! Africans, West Indians and coloured G.I.s all boxed up together with the cream of this London female rubbish!"

Interestingly these Soho nightspots of the 1950s all featured soft drink-only bars and stayed open through the night. 





Tip of the tongue point...

We’re fast approaching the tipping point (or tip of the tongue point) where we have taken in so many Milei interviews and speeches that we’re starting to talk like boludos. (Had to stop myself saying “mashoria” earlier on.) 



By the look of some of his younger adherents it’s really not all that surprising that he’s moving into the Casa Rosada on December 10.

Milei has observed that the previous regime has behind a ‘minefield’, which had me thinking that the transition here in Guatemala is more like that first element of the Squid Game: Red Light, Green Light. 
He told the chap with the tie at the back that he looks like Bill Wyman, but the young man had no idea to whom he was referring.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

A thought experiment...

In this scenario Guatemala remains seriously p'd off about Mexico's 'occupation' of Chiapas (not entirely untrue, but also not exactly frothing at the mouth) and this has resulted in a permanent, largely low-level conflict and a closing of the border (and not just with Mexico, but also with El Salvador, Belize and Honduras, who worry about possible contamination from dangerous mind viruses.)

Guatemala itself is an authoritarian entity run by corrupt crazies. (not so far fetched!). These guys receive more foreign by area than any other territory, but it is mostly stolen or put to other uses. They spend a lot of time firing rockets at Tapachula with help from Cuba, an international meddler and poster boy for craziness, of which Guatemala has become a kind of a client or proxy.

Meanwhile, I am an international aid worker or UN/WHO employee at the National hospital here in Antigua. I am aware that this sits atop a military complex and that the crazies are often present and use the hospital as a shield for their activities.

Perhaps I have never suspected how the war would seriously heat up after the crazies break out suddenly into Chiapas and rape, murder and kidnap thousands of Mexicans, but I must be aware of the illegality and immorality of using babies and sick people as potential shields. And I cannot just assume that the worst won't happen.

Mexico now finds itself positioned like the US after Pearl Harbor. There may be a range of possible responses, but not responding is not one of them, as the crazies have no obvious rational motives or plan and have declared an intention to continue with similar attacks. War it is.

Mexico decides to bite the bullet and invade Guatemala, knowing that the crazies have long planned for this to be a nightmare for them on a media-coverage/humanitarian basis and that elements of global opinion will start counting the human shield casualties almost before Mexico has dropped its first bomb.

My own 'international' organisation remains inside the hospital and still not coming clean about our complicity over at least a decade. We have watched how civilian infrastructure including water pipes have been misappropriated for military uses and how fuel has been stolen. We have said and done, nothing.

This is a moral minefield for sure, but the internationals that just shrugged and carried on must surely shoulder their fair share of the blame?

"Teach some #@$%ing History!"


With all due respect to my fellow OP and historian Dan here, there's more to teaching history than providing everyone with a handbook of clichés to avoid.



History is not scripture (a collection of allegories that are really about the here and now!)
We always need to be ready to interpret how phenomena from the past might be about to interact with phenomena from the present.
Anyway, this has (of course) not stopped Nicolás Maduro from immediately characterising Javier Milei as a "Neo Nazi". 
Superficially the rise of Milei can be aligned with the familiar trope which Snow outlines and, though unmentioned, with names like Trump, Bolsonaro and Johnson. 
It's too early to make any definitive judgment, but I can already see some significant differences, and this is precisely where it is important not to overlay and thus obscure present realities with layers of historically-derived understandings. 
Trump is repellent and to a large extent inauthentic on almost every human level. He's also a sociopath, and a crook. Bolsonaro and Boris also have corrupt leanings.

V and I have done quite a deep dive into Milei: speeches, prior interviews and so on and have encountered a man who clearly has some empathy, and yet projects an oddly appealing alien-like persona, with an awkwardness that seems authentic. It's not hard to see how he has managed to appeal to younger voters in Argentina.
Milei is no fool. He's sharp, educated and cultured. His love of Donizetti and the Stones is part of a package of generally rather endearing Argie traits, which include that peculiar combination of naïveté and high-handedness. 
He's by no means a chancer or bluffer like Boris and barefaced lying would not appear to be such a fundamental part of his programme as it has been with notable populist leaders lately. 
In one interview we watched, he admitted that he had been wrong to denigrate a journalist in 2018. When did the others do anything other than double-down? 
As someone determined to live my life my own way, libertarian values have always had an underlying appeal for me, but the turn off turns up when these are rigidly formulated into an ideology, as they are with our own Gloria Álvarez. Freedom attached to a set of precepts fit for all circumstances is somehow oxymoronic. She is too deeply obsessed with her family trauma with Caribbean socialism to be the kind of practical, instinctive libertarian that Milei so far appears to be. 
Where the underlying reformist ideas are a little kooky, as they were with Lettuce Liz in the UK, one senses that Milei will be just a little more circumspect in how he implements them (and how fast). 
And when it comes to the Falklands, it has been the Peronists who have always adopted the populist line, rather like our own clown Jimmy on Belize. Milei seems to understand that the issue is an analogue of Hong Kong and China, where the aspirations of the people inhabiting the 'colony' should be paramount. 
So, I will stick my neck out here and state that there's more to Milei than "Trump with a chainsaw", as there is a lot more to the chaotic situation in Argentina to which he represents an overdue reaction, or indeed a reboot.
One could even, perhaps fancifully, characterise Milei as “Arévalo with a chainsaw” and there have indeed been times recently when I have wished Guatemala’s Prez-elect would drop his diplomatic demeanour and go a bit more lunatic lumberjack with the soft coup plotters.

On a vaguely related topic, this could be a place to
mention Gareth Edwards's new film The Creator, which very consciously 'quotes', in terms of both concept and visualisation, from a gaggle of different movies (not all of them futuristic sci-fi) which themselves might be said to have stood on the shoulders of earlier giants. And in doing so it never sacrifices its right to be described as original*.  
There are plenty of other films of which the same can be said. So, just because you have obvious  antecedents with which you can be usefully compared, does not mean that your own narrative is set to be dismissed rather pompously by academics ready to bamboozle you with historical factlets and facile comparisons. 
And, with all due respect to Noam Chomsky as well, AI is already ‘aware’ of this, if nothing else.


Systemic weakness of mind

Back in the early noughties an organisation with which I was working secured a contract with a Saudi firm, one of the leading corporations in the Kingdom.

When the account team flew out to Riyadh,their first meeting began with  'the client' delivering an extended one way lecture on why 9-11 had been such an important achievement for his nation and the Arab world in general.

In that same period I had a friend and former colleague who was touting the theory that 9-11 had been an inside job with likely involvement of Israel. 

At the time I put this down to a fairly harmless and forgivable intellectual weakness (like lunar landing denial), but twenty years on and he's still at it, and that particular derangement has since become far more systemic and wide-ranging and seems altogether more sinister, especially when it hides behind a veneer of righteousness.

Is there any limit to the anti-western terrorist atrocity that can be apologised for? The recent Letter to America TikTok phenomenon suggests that there may not be. 

As I have mentioned previously, the Nuremberg trials may have been the justice of the victors, but this is the justice that established international Human Rights law as we now understand it, yet the very global organisations responsible for upholding it seem to be losing sight of the key distinctions, such as the difference between indiscriminate collateral injury and death of civilians and extremely discriminate and barbaric slaughter of the same. 

It’s saying something that in a conflict featuring Hamas and Netanyahu the most reprehensible participants right now appear to be the ‘internationals’. This doesn’t surprise me all that much as I had some direct and rather depressing experience of the UN NGO department in New York in the 80s. Egotistical interference rather than objectivity was their primary impulse.
This week has given me reason to recall an excellent novel by Christian Jungersen — The Exception — set in the 'Danish Department of Genocide* Studies', which satirises the milieu and its all too familiar occupants very effectively. 
* Genocide is not a word that iOS will suggest automatically even if you have already tapped ‘genocid’. Missing a trick there.





Saturday, November 18, 2023

No quarter, ever

I've had several interactions with individuals that have come out in open, dilettante support of Hamas over the course of the past month or so. To one, a much-cherished friend, I responded thus and I think perhaps that this heartfelt position should be stated more universally...

Say what you like, given where and when we were born, ultimately we have the same fundamental enemy: the one that will come for us when we are in our beds, or murder us on the streets, either randomly or because we've acquired a target on our backs: Gangster Fascism.

Netanyahu is a fascist* and there are people in and around his administration that are significantly worse, as well as within his 'base'. Ditto Trump. And yet neither of these men have so far succeeded in converting their entire societies into un-free personal fiefdoms.

Guatemala's President is also a fascist. In a previous administration he ordered armed police to enter the country's biggest jail in order to 'clean' dozens of prisoners held there. He did jail time, yet now he is head of state and on the verge of turning this country into an undemocratic autocracy, just like Hamas did in Gaza.

They did this as a proxy of Iran, possibly the worst example of its kind of anti-liberal, anti-humanist, theocratic extremism. (Whatever our feelings about Israel and its armed forces, we all owe them one for taking out that reactor.)

When the gangster fascists have complete control, then the evil really commences. You only have to see the footage of Hamas leadership 'at home' to appreciate just how much they really care for the rights and dignity of Gazans.

They are like a succubus lying on top of this enclave. Yet many of the citizens are active participants, because this mindset is like a disease (see also, MAGA) and this is why not only Israel but also Egypt keeps the gate shut. Quarantine!

Fascism deserves no quarter, ever. Bullet to the head, like the living dead.

If we show the slightest weakness or lack of intellectual clarity in opposition to them, they come for us, running or perhaps shambling. Indeed, sometimes they arrive with a coup, on other occasions it is drip, drip, drip. Fast zombies or slow zombies. Either way, we look round and they suddenly, unexpectedly have their gnashers in our necks.
When you march behind people supporting totalitarian, theocratic values, chanting "shame on you", the shame is literally on you, because these values are totally toxic to everything that makes our lives worth living and none of us can afford to give them even a tiny show of approbation. If we do, Russia, Iran and even China will be belly-laughing at us, because there is nothing they want more than to erase more and more of western liberal democracy from the map and in this Israel is a kind of microcosmic wank for intolerant totalitarians everywhere, on both the extreme Left and the extreme Right.

It would be easier if this really were a Biblical battle between good and evil, but in practice it is always about confronting lesser evils - least worst options, least worst consequences. Understanding that is the lifelong duty of all liberals living in free societies.


 * It's OK to say this. It is NOT OK to refer to the state of Israel as an analog of Nazi Germany. Not only because of the obvious inaccuracy, but because those who do are knowingly making use of a disgusting anti-Semitic trope.

Gasping for air...

Many of the fellow travellers of extremist political Islam will tell you that their primary concern is the well-being of the Gazan people and in so doing will often ascend to the moral high ground so rapidly, that should you try to follow, you’ll find yourself gasping for air quite quickly.

Is it possible for someone who sits proudly up there at the ethical summit to be anything less than admirable? Quite often, yes.

Many of these seasoned climbers were already tented up at base camp (at least) on October 7.

Some seem aware of this prickly little temporal problem and will say “But you have to take into account what happened before the massacre.” That is if they don’t resort to some form of miniature Holocaust denial.

So we can look back beyond Hamas’s big play, all the way back to 2001 and what we find is that back in the day before they learned to be relentlessly righteous about the plight of Gazans, many of these same paragons of political and humanitarian virtue could be found speculating that the many thousands of victims of the 9-11 attacks were somehow deserving of their deaths, or that “The USA had it coming”.

And again, there was always the lurking stench of conspiracy and Holocaust denial beneath this dirty discourse: It was an inside job, the Israelis did it etc. 


Friday, November 17, 2023


At the Nuremberg trials one of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen task forces (German death squads) suggested in his defence that he ought not to be held accountable for any atrocities committed against Jewish communities in Eastern Europe because, you know...Dresden.

The judges disagreed, and thus was established an important legal precedent for the difference between systematic barbarism and other forms of mass slaughter during warfare. If civilisation is anything other than a sham, this distinction matters.

The British 'genocide' against innocent German citizens has been flagged up quite a lot over the past month. But less attention has been given to other aspects of the dark arts of war which we were undoubtedly also pretty good at, such as lying, deception and propaganda. (The BBC for sure, has not somehow only recently acquired this skill-set.)

Amongst the Allies, these were basically our special area of expertise, indeed there may never have been such a thing as "the Allies" without all that painstaking work done on American public and political opinion before 1941.
In any conflagration all sides have strong incentives to dissemble. Hamas may however have overused #MrFAFO to the extent that he's become a little counterproductive to their global communications, except with their most committed apologists in the western media.

Israel too knows that the duty of truth is not quite the same thing inside and outside its own borders. The other day an IDF spokesperson was spoon-feeding an embedded CNN reporter with a carefully created mise-en-scène at a captured children's hospital in Gaza, which featured what seemed to me to be a rather dodgy collection of props, such as a pile of rusty AKs and a prison guard calendar which wasn't.

One of the problems here is that armchair observers and people who march around London still attached to their invisible virtual armchairs tend to suffer a collective misapprehension of how these things work at the bleeding end of the problem, so to speak.

The 'binaries' I mentioned the other day (plenty of them in this clip) come at this having made a key decision before any news, information or data is consumed: the OTHER side is the liar, the deceiver, the propagandist, the propagator of atrocities.

The way this mindset is expressed in public is often particularly juvenile and borderline offensive: the other side are 'Nazis'. (In practice the default position of the other side is 'colonisers' and' imperialists' and they are only upgraded to Nazis once one can point to specific examples of Naziness or find uses for support terminology like 'Apartheid' to basket together a whole range of oppressive incidents.)

These stigmata are designed to shut down all debate about what might be considered ethical in the pursuit of concrete goals during an existential conflict, though in terms of the judgement made at Nuremberg, the only side to have actually behaved like Nazis in a strictly legal sense so far, are Hamas, and even then, these comparisons are unhelpful and largely a cover for a refusal to engage in any adult discussion about so-called legitimate uses of both mechanised violence and dishonesty.

Yesterday an Instragram profile that I go to for reasons other than being informed about current affairs decided it was time to lecture followers on the likelihood that Israel was lying about the presence of Hamas combatants in the Al-Shifa hospital compound. Any intelligence support from the USA was also untrustworthy it informed me, because America is a staunch ally of Israel's.

The post has since been deleted, at the time I thought because of a belated realisation that its reasoning displayed a key flaw - why else would the IDF attack this hospital...unless of course they are 'Nazis'.

Yet the removal of this post did not signal a broader adjustment to reality, for today there's a new one suggesting that Israel's main interest in invading Gaza was to steal its oil. (No sense then that October 7 had forced a significant change of calculation across all parties to this conflict.)

This is how 'binaries' think. The motivation of the other side is always fundamentally malign and detached from circumstances e.g. they will do bad for bad's sake or for their own greed and other base motivations. 
Meanwhile, anything deeply unpleasant or barbaric that their own 'team' does can of course be forgiven by the circumstances. Good people are sometimes led to forgivable excesses etc.

Often enough, 'extremism' is just a way of making ignorance sound like an excitingly codified worldview.

Even football fans have a more mature outlook on the world - and when football fans talk nonsense, however much in earnest, they often seem to be doing so knowingly. 

The Terror Plea Bargain

This week I have been nonplussed by a new TikTok phenom: American morons publicly declaring their existential crises after reading Osama Bin Laden's 'Letter to America', apparently having belatedly discovered that the bearded one was 'right'.

These individuals have lost all sense of the distinction between absolute and relative evil, if they ever had one. Flat-Earthism as Flat-Ethics.
This is undoubtedly a wider phenomenon, often hidden in the mass population nowadays, I suspect.

It is one reason why I think the characterisation 'Terrorist' can be as unhelpful as 'Nazi', though for significantly different reasons.

These days any terrorist can easily deploy the geopolitical version of the 'society woz to blame' excuse for any mass atrocity.

And it would be fair to say that across history some terrorists have been so-called "genuine freedom fighters" and thus guilty of the misdemeanour version of the charge, or at least deserving of some leniency based on circumstances. Their own little share of overall 'justice'.

Yet the fact that any given terrorist might be something less than a terrorist unhelpfully obscures the fact that some are MORE than just terrorists.

Take Hamas for example. They are in a sense freedom-rapists, freedom-barbarians, death obsessed zealots who simply cannot ever adjust to changed circumstances and coexist with their former enemies like many 'retired' terrorists and guerrillas have done in the past, not least over here in Latin America.

Calling Hamas 'terrorists' allows for the standard plea bargain. It should not.
In thirty years of civil war and both civic and guerrilla resistance to a legally-validated genocide, there never was anything to compare here in Guatemala with the moral degeneracy of Gaza's leadership.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Bodies (Netflix)

Dark for dummies. An almost identical structure: several timelines in the past, one in the present and one in a future, following an apocalypse caused by a single 'loopy' character who's his own ancestor.

Entertaining and mostly gripping, but all the metaphysical meat has been made vegan-friendly.

Which is kind of interesting, because when Netflix cancelled season two of 1899 they cited the dissatisfaction of their algorithms with viewers who either gave up after two or three episodes or possibly jumped off a bridge.

There was no doubt Baran bo Odar had found a market, but this might not be fully tapped until all that angsty German existential stuff was toned down.

Dark had started as advertised, and became a whole lot darker over three seasons. 1899 also promised to disappear up its own rear end in a way that the core audience could no doubt not wait for, but then came the chop, and now we have Bodies.

When it started I almost gave up, for different reasons. It seemed almost ludicrously stylised, but then I learned it was based on a graphic novel and became a bit more tolerant of the aesthetic. (Even Yorkshire posing as London).

In the end it failed to be more than the sum of its parts. The best of those parts for me were Jacob Fortune-Lloyd's turn as a dodgy Jewish detective in Blitz-era London and another chance to ponder, in a slightly unsettling manner, that crush I had on Greta Scacchi as a teen.

Without wishing to spoil the resolution, I'd have to say I was a little disappointed how the story's resident scientist said that there is no such thing as free will and everything is fixed, and then it kind of wasn't.
That potent adjective, 'quantum', always establishes a sort of televisual uncertainty principle, whereby one feels that, simultaneously, one's grey matter is being stimulated and that the proverbial piss is being taken.


I think we all need to be a bit more non-binary, maybe not in THAT sense, indeed, many of those who proclaim themselves as thus are often fanatically binary in almost every other aspect of their interactions with the culture. No, what I am hoping for is a resurgence of the apparently dangerous notion that there might be, at least, two sides to any dispute.

After graduating and spending some time over here in Central America, I returned to London and got a job in the sheet music department at Foyles on Charing Cross Road.

It became obvious after a month or two that some of our regular floating browsers were not musicians, but instead scientologists.

Like the Israeli security guard who used to hide behind carousels of scores in order to closely observe and then pounce on thieves, these individuals were predatory in aspect. Just a short stroll away from their London HQ on Tottenham Court Road, they were using the capital's most famous bookshop as a hunting ground...for new recruits.

The day I discovered their true identity was a morning during which I had been conversing about the sect with a colleague. One of them overheard, rushed over and without much ado, made some pointed interjections.

All future engagements with them heated up along similarly rapid lines. They could be measured (and relentlessly patronising), unless one challenged one or more of their key tenets, and then the toys all came flying out of the pram.

And in the midst of these hissy fits, one could find oneself faced with sudden viperine anger of the kind that, outside of such cults, one possibly only ever encounters amongst frustrated drug users.

In three years at Cambridge I had never really come across anyone this impossible to engage with, except on their own terms. My suspicion is that there are more of their sort now in academia than there were back in the 80s.

The Palestine solidarity massive is a curious agglomeration of individual and collective needs to be heard and not listen.

There are people who genuinely seem to want peace, others that simply want a ceasefire in order to be able to pursue their asymmetrical conflict without any blowback of any sort from more intelligent, better armed opponents.

There are Islamists, Marxists, open and closet Anti-Semites, and what I would call Tantrumists — Gen Zedders that just need to have a big cathartic strop in public every so often.

And what these past few weeks have shown me is that it is not the most obviously toxic ingredients in this soup that we need to be most worried about.

The voices of elite-educated reason on Twitter (X) want us to get in a froth about some old dickhead from Pakistan who is more obviously un-western than anti-western, and who mouths off about Hitler not doing a good enough job. This individual, and others like him, are not exactly harmless, and will probably end up on a watch list pretty quickly if they continue to proclaim their un-enlightened backwardness when surrounded by a crowd of onlookers with smartphones as opposed to say, inside their mosque.

But they are not the real problem. Nor really is it the Hamas cosplayers shouting "Allahu Akbar".

It's the cultists. The ones that start off explaining their worldview in a measured, patronising manner but react with instantaneous, unlooked-for ire (and a surge of equivocation), should you question their holy terminology: genocide, Zionist entity, settler state, apartheid, imperialism and so on.

I listened to one yesterday, interviewed by the Times: a young Jewish film critic. I got goose-bumps. It was chilling. Asked about a sniper that reportedly shot at journalists the day before from a Gaza hospital, she coldly replied: "That's your intelligence...not mine." Quite. She might as well have said: "I am not here to be bothered by facts which don't fit my narrative".

These 'individuals' have their parallels in the anti-racist and transphobia inquisitions. In fact, identity politics seems to mean that everyone is being invited to belong to one of these sects. Like all those non-binary people with rigidly binary perspectives, we now seem to have a tolerant society just so every one can be intolerant in their own way.*

And this is a challenge for the liberal tenets of free thought and speech that I have long revered in my own, tolerant, way.

I never saw a reason to repress the members of the Church of Scientology even though I recognised that they could be manipulative and abusive. Yet the problem seemed rather small scale and the law and its officers could deal with the extreme cases.

But now I am not so sure how small scale the problem of cultism is at all, and whether the authorities have any sort of clue how to respond.

England used to have a sort of natural inoculation against these kind of closed-off mentalities. In the Middle Ages all kinds of bizarre movements would germinate on the continent, such as the Flagellants, but upon crossing the Channel, found that they suffered the same fate as most British comics in Hollywood, with the key difference that they were laughed at. 


* Tolerance as a sort of formalised blind eye to a patchwork of localised intolerances might be said to be one of the founding principles of the USA, so maybe its just another of those 'cultural exports' we now have to deal with.  





Monday, November 13, 2023


This poster proxy war is an intriguing phenomenon. 

Around our house here in Guatemala any papers attached to a lamp-post usually offer toothsome loans or laments for missing pets. 

Israel’s missing are the human equivalent of the latter, for Jews, but others apparently encounter these posters and instead see something like that meme “This is my cat, he’s not missing, but I thought you’d like to see him”. 

This sort of misinterpretation comes from a flaw in the mindset of the righteous — they cannot bear not being perfectly right and so can’t help but be triggered by this alien ‘propaganda’. 

At university in the pre-digital age, almost all the undergrads at my college had a physical noticeboard on their doors, where people could write or affix notes. One would assume that these have since been made largely redundant by social media, with the effect that in cyberspace you only really get to walk past the doors of people you know and more or less like. 

This is perhaps why old-school lamp-post communication can seem a bit threatening to the snowflakes of today. Constant reminders that other perspectives exist must seem like harassment to them.

And you cannot simply UNFOLLOW a lamp-post the way even I’ve been inclined to do on the interwebs with people enunciating analytically-bereft buzz-terms like Genocide or Apartheid out of their back passages, particularly if I have come to them as a potential customer rather than cult member. 

The key passage in this article for me is the suggestion that instead of going at these posters like Basil Fawlty thrashing an Austin 1100, they could just stick up their own counter-propaganda. 

Aside from the fact that these people have become used to either not seeing the other side’s opinion or just posting some toxic abuse below it, the real problem here is that the poster-scrumplers belong to the semi-covert, zealot wing of the Pro-Palestine movement, currently an awkward coalition of peaceniks and nutjobs. 

The zealots have a sack-load of hidden agendas beneath those calls for a ceasefire or a “free Palestine” and it is just so much easier to try to suppress other worldviews than to run the risk, that in presenting their own, some of the less cuddly stuff turns up on public lamp-posts rather than the echo chambers it usually inhabits.

Meanwhile in New York Vaseline is being applied to many of these posters as a rather cunning way of impeding their removal.

The Killer (2023)


Absolutely gripping from beginning to end. And yet...on reflection once it was over, for the wrong reasons, at least in part.

Much of the tension seems to come from the immanent sensation throughout that something particularly memorable is about to be said or occur on screen and then it mostly doesn't, but such is the pace of the film that this disappointment never becomes a kind of reverse thrust.

The best bits of dialogue are really monologue. My favourite, the line about German tourists occurs quite early on. There's another about NOLA — 1000 restaurants but only one dish on the menu — actually made me think of Antigua. 🍕

But the later dialogue moments, especially the scene with "Q-Tip" flatter to deceive, and overall Fincher sometimes seems to be overlaying too many words on top of a fast-moving scene (for a change!).
Tilda Swinton's character is labelled 'The Expert', though we never quite see why. The titular character played by Fassbender certainly considers himself an expert too, but throughout the movie's action seems to make mistakes or take silly risks that even a rank amateur would spot, especially one that kept reciting "anticipate, don't improvise" to himself.

One of the odd aspects of the pacing is that the 'action' begins in a state of rest, with the assassin announcing that his trade involves a lot of boredom. He then takes what, in the timescales of The Killer, is a lot of time to make one split second mistake, and after that no more boredom, but also a lot less planning and care.

One last oddity worth noting: it is never explained why the clean up team just gave up. Whatever their expertise they seemed to lack the paranoia which saved their prey from their initial attack in the Dom Rep. Were they worried about a local investigation? The way the movie concludes it is clear that their own nemesis is not worried about the cops looking into the fate of a dead cabbie.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Ethical Topography

There’s a mysterious ethical gap between a call for an immediate ceasefire and a desire for peace, or at least a lasting end to violence in both word and deed, across all aspects of a conflict. 

I’m sure many Ukrainians have become a litt more more aware of this than the rest of us. 

Today the media and ‘citizen journalists’ of various kinds captured this disconnect as it manifested in a public space. 

One big march, with some of the participants desirous for peace, some for a ceasefire, unilateral even, and others stoking up an expansion of atavistic bloodlust, though it is perhaps unclear if that would occur in the absence of a settlement or ceasefire, or attendant on it. 

The same demonstration thus featured both the moral low ground and the moral high ground in a bizarre ethical topography, with a whole load of people haplessly lost halfway up (or down) the slopes. 

Are these polarities just ignoring each other in order to get their points across within the best vehicle Britain currently affords, or is there something uglier, more like denial in play here? 

Friday, November 10, 2023


In the Arthurian cycles there appears a Muslim knight called Palomides. He seems to be what in modern parlance goes as a “good bloke”. Certainly more appealing than Christian fanatic Percival or all-round reprobate Lancelot, even placeholder for spin-off series Tristan, though the latter often gets the better of Palomides in the joust. 

Let’s suppose, hypothetically, for I am sure this never happened, there was an elite squadron of Palomideses operating within the Knights Templar in Jerusalem. Would this have made a significant difference to the history of the Crusades, or would it simply be some sort of fun fact that popular historians would feel enormously pleased to flag up in their coverage of the period? 
Outliers. I think it is best to keep them out of arguments. There’s plenty to get angry or annoyed about on X these days, but a pet peeve of mine at the moment is the use of outliers as a rhetorical device. 
You know the kind of thing: “Look, I’ve found some Jews just smug enough to march in the wake of a murderous turd from Hamas/Jeremy Corbyn” OR “Look, here’s an Arab Israeli soldier super keen to kill as many terrorists - and whoever else foolishly gets in his way - as possible", and so on. 
It’s all a bit African Americans for Trump isn’t it? (Or White Lives Matter...for that matter.) 
I wonder why people do it, because in c90% of cases across history outliers are utterly irrelevant, a bogus distraction. 
Not all cases perhaps. One of the keenest Jew-haters in history, Gran Iquisitor Torquemada was himself a converso. And going back again to the Middle Ages, it was very often the turncoats or recent converts that caused the most trouble. (So maybe not proper outliers after all.) 
But the curves on the graph do matter. Earlier on I posted a piece which suggested that there is one global-level culture that consistently responds in a certain way to a given kind of familiar historical circumstance. It was not intended as an open invitation for people to send me examples of bloodthirsty Buddhists, but it may well have the same effect. 
I used the word “consistently” very deliberately, but there are many who choose to be selectively word blind when it comes to debate online.