Monday, February 20, 2017

Failed futurist?

It has been amusing to read this week how sceptical H.G. Wells was of the BBC and broadcasting in general. “Broadcasting shouts out its information once and cannot be recalled.” Anything broadcast immediately disperses like smoke in the wind, he opined. Why would you pay attention to this when you could read a book by a great mind, and why would you ever listen to music on the radio when gramophone records were available?

If there was any audience at all for the airwaves, it would inevitably consist of “the blind, lonely and suffering people” — or “probably very sedentary persons living in badly lighted houses or otherwise unable to read, who have never realized the possibilities of the gramophone and the pianola and who have no capacity for thought or conversation.”

So wrong, and yet somehow so right. 

One of Wells’s more prescient critics pointed out however that “he evidently hankers to listen constantly to the great, when a simple mathematical calculation would show that this would not be possible. There are not enough great people in the world.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Words spoken on February 6th

Many of us perhaps knew Daddy as he was over the past couple of decades, a man enjoying possibly the best retirement it is possible to have, maybe not the individual leading the more action-packed life of adventure which preceded it....adventures across several continents, across two marriages - more specifically between those marriages - and across a long and successful career as entrepreneur turned company Chairman. 

When I was little I remember people asking him what he did for a living and he'd reply Industrial Theatre or even Commercial Showbusiness. It was an industry that he and his partner Malcolm built from the ground up in the late 60s - and MMA Presentations Ltd, as it then began, evolved into the dominant outfit within it across the whole of Europe. 

Industrial Theatre: it's a term that points to some of the other playful oppositions at the heart of Daddy.

He could strike one as the most risk averse adventurer (or perhaps an adventurous risk avoider)

...a non-believer with the most complete, well-grounded and admirable value system you could ever hope to encounter, apparently unreflective nature with a profound intuitive connection with what others might offhandedly call creation, 

....a keeper of traditions with an aversion to rituals, gregarious and generous to a fault, yet always deeply shy, and ever a man who could spot a rip off when he saw one. 

His first great adventure took him, aged 13, across the pond when the Nazis controlled a large part of Europe, their U-Boats sinking two of the ships in his convoy. 

On arrival at the docks in New York, he received what we might today call a topical greeting from the first native he encountered, a New York Cab driver: Well Limey, he inquired, how's it feel to be a refugee? 

From the Big Apple he went west to Kansas City Missouri and an all-American adolescence: high school, flag saluting, the boy scouts, a prom date and his first significant change of identity: from Henry to Hank.

Back in London as the war drew to its conclusion and his parents Mark and Rose had opened their home, specifically their living room floor, to American GIs on leave and needing somewhere in the city to kip for the night, Daddy enlisted and was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers.

He was soon despatched to Egypt to take charge of a motorised courier platoon in the Sinai Dessert, an adventure which commenced when he famously paid off his army driving instructor, so that right up to the end of last year we were never quite sure if he really ought to be bombing around that little car of his. 

In 1948 he crossed the ocean once again to seek his fortune in the Argentina of Juan Perón. 

It would be an adventure of the amorous variety that brought this chapter to a close when officials connected with a woman scorned had his leave to remain there duly cancelled. 

But from Buenos Aires he extracted an extraordinary lifelong friendship with a French woman called Michelle,  girlfriend to his best friend Nick. Though they only met up again person a handful of times, they kept in touch for almost 70 years by letter, by telephone and then by email - and she always called him Hanky. (This morning she sent me a lovely message)

Then began the years of marriage and family, and between them a more mysterious interregnum, involving underground jazz clubs, playing the bongos and some well-situated bachelor pads. The showbiz kicked off first, but the industry was not far behind. 

Daddy always wanted to write this story himself. Today I have only been able to provide a taster of the tales he might have told. He was justly proud of everything he had done and the things he had achieved, in life and in business. 

But he was never a showy man. Some even said they could find him a little intimidating. Only last week Leonard, his accountant of half a century told me how he first met Daddy in his Hertford street office sitting behind a desk on a raised level looking down on him, and how at the time, he was a just little bit scared. 

In latter years Daddy’s been known for an occasional grumpy turn or, as Neale's story before attested, a degree of consternation at small changes in his everyday environment, a quality he shared with his capricious cat Meow. 

Yet he had this admirable knack for treating everyone he had dealings with as if they were equally important to him, was quietly sentimental and just occasionally, a bit of a pushover. 

Back in the 50s he was winning prizes for his fantastic dahlias and throughout his life retained an extraordinary flair for transforming any unlikely space into a garden. On the little balcony outside my bedroom, just months after I left home for good, tomatoes and cucumbers soon flourished where, he would soon quip to me, only been beer cans had been growing before. 

So it was hardly surprising that he was surely never more contented than in these last few years - a town mouse turned country mouse - free to indulge in his lifelong love of nature, doting on his soul mate, his garden, his canine and feline companions and his ever-devoted horse Twoflower. 

It was - at every stage - a life well lived....and no matter how hard he worked at leading a good life for himself he always strove to create the best possible existence for those he cared about and in this I can count myself most fortunate and forever grateful. 

Thank you all for coming today.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Imminent Danger

The idea that the very poor, the very rich or indeed the newly-arrived might somehow be stealing from me - or more worryingly still, represent an imminent threat to my way of life - has never really bothered me.

Yet if one or all of these notions are a fundamental part of the way you think about politics, then you are in fact in imminent danger of voting for a populist.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Acatenango (2017)

2015’s Everest could have been subtitled ‘How a bunch of self-indulgent morons got themselves killed and in the process put many others’ lives at risk’. 

Yesterday Guatemala staged its own smaller-scale regional version of this tragi-farce, when a group of ‘excursionists’ - whose most expensive piece of trek-relevant kit was probably either a GO-PRO camera or worse, a selfie stick - got lost in driving rain and plunging temperatures on the slopes of Acatenango and duly died from hypothermia. 

I do get the appeal of ascending volcanoes, dormant ones at least, for the view, the personal challenge etc. Here in La Antigua Agua should be sufficient to meet this demand, though the dangers ought still be obvious. 

Acatenango meanwhile really ought to be surrounded by a high fence with signs warning all morons to keep out. 

Anyone else should need to apply, and pay, for permission to enter - rather like the controls that exist at archaeological sites like Machu Picchu - which would control numbers, manage preparedness and give the Bomberos a heads-up on who is on the mountain at any given time.

Part of the problem as I see it is that more and more dimwits are being drawn unprepared to these sort of activities by social media. It’s not so much that they want the experience, the challenge for themselves, they want to SHARE it. 

And like most millennials they want instant gratification, no preparation or dedication required. 

And they come to a land where many locals are willing to facilitate the risks transients take, knowingly or otherwise, in order to expand their income. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Doppelgänger

(A cheeful little sci-fi caper I wrote when I was 13...)

Who is this person I look at? I have but a few moments left to me and then I will be rid of him. I am bored with him, this lowly stranger, for his company only increases my loneliness. A shadowy, perpetual reminder of a person who nobody will ever see again, staring at me from my visor, and with a vivid sneer saying ‘I have no life to lose’. 

From the moment the lifeline had snapped and I had begun my endless trek into nowhere, I knew I was there, waiting. 

My identical twin, my doppelgänger hanging over me like a hungry vulture who knows I will soon be finished. 

I don’t know whether I have suffered from agoraphobia or claustrophobia; both maybe. I’m a wanderer in a terrible dark nothingness unable to die like a human being. I grimace at him. He grimaces. I smile. He smiles. Oh, what a hollow front. I talk to him but his words fail to reach me. He is like a little child from without my suit beckoning me to come out and play, to die. 

Perhaps he is my pathetic ghost warning me of my doom. ‘Go back’, he seems to say, but I’m on a runaway train with no hop of stopping. 

A while back I thought I would plunge into the great blue-green orb and die a fiery death, my family would look up and glance briefly at a small shooting star, nothing special. At least in that I could return once more to the home which I so foolishly left, but now I am spared a little longer and must die quietly, un-noticed until someone or something finds me.

Only the Earth can contain the desires of a man; once beyond, there is no end to his thirst for knowledge and not even the confined space of a pressure-suit can stop him from wandering far. 

My breathing is heavy now the air only just squeezes in. Perhaps when I asphyxiate he will die too, but what if he doesn’t and will have that ghastly ‘I told you do’ face to the end of time?And what if he is that which I shall become - a spirit capable of life only while the body lives too? Perhaps I will soon journey in vain to warn myself...

At last he is blurring, fading; my itinerary comes to and end. I have rid myself of, myself. Now I can journey on towards those little lights, alone. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Wine Plug

We haven't tried it yet, but I'd wager that the gold medal winning 2013 Don Ramón, Pérez Juan (Campo de Borja) that has appeared at the Bodegona just before Xmas for under Q50 will glide down the gaznate rather well...

Sunday, December 11, 2016


The loss of AA Gill's irreplaceable voice feels so abrupt and absolute because he was very much at the top of his game. 
When great writers die it is most often after a period of relative silence or obvious attenuation. A series of minor works, lesser in size and ambition. 
Shakespeare's The Tempest is an exception. My favourite author, Joseph Conrad, knocked off a handful of shockers before passing on. Gárcia Márquez shuffled off slowly and somewhat disappointingly into the long night. Updike wrote Terrorist
Meanwhile, Vargas Llosa marries Enrique Iglesias's mum and then turns his attention to griping about celebrity culture and the death of modern civilisation in general. Perhaps we should be grateful that AA was spared the old git phase. 

Friday, November 11, 2016


Remember all those women that were abused on the streets of Cologne on new Year’s Eve in 2015 by men of supposedly ‘North African’ appearance? 

The way it was reported in some quarters suggested it was really just some sort of unfortunate cultural misunderstanding: the sort that might occur if the newcomers hadn’t picked up the right handbooks. 

Nobody really wanted to face up to the fact that this was actually something more systematic and deliberate - these men had set about offending progressive western values in the most outrageously public manner possible. 

Now, the xenophobes among us might conclude that this is essentially a problem of dark people on the outside determined to push their way into our bubble and burst it, out of some sort of twisted envy. But right now this is the least of our problems, because there's a far more numerous demographic of white people on the inside who are also out to aggravate all the sensitive liberals. 

You don’t even need a nihilistic medieval outlook, you just have to be uneducated, self-consciously downtrodden and pissed off. Tolerance has enemies on all sides now, because tolerance has become associated with smugness and privilege. The discontents of globalisation are legion. 

Trump voters might not be about to commit atrocities in public places, but in an America that anyway finds it hard to distinguish between an act of terror and a common-all-garden gun massacre, voting for the Donald is perhaps the greatest act of terror one can inflict on the affluent and open-minded. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Four Fewer Years

Four years of this, minimum. 

One part of me is sort of excited, another part has a finger on the OFF switch. 

I'm not sure I can really face all the moaning and griping from latte-quaffing liberal America that a Trump presidency will inevitably induce. 

I do sometimes wish that the USA could learn to be more of its own problem, like Britain has had to. 

I wish that I could be about as interested in the fact that they have elected an authoritarian buffoon to their highest office as I would be if Canada or Australia had done it. 

But one just cannot help getting rather literally yanked back into it. 

The tentacles are everywhere. Facebook doesn't help, that's for sure. Many of my friends live there, or used to. I largely make my living in the US, in their currency, paying their taxes, so I too am, in a sense, a stakeholder. 

And the USA has a proven track record, since WWII at least, of interfering in the region where I now live in a thoroughly deleterious manner, going back to the Eisenhower government's sponsorship of the coup of 1954 in Guatemala, which lead to 60+ years of internal conflict instability. 

Many of the Donald's 'blue sky' policy suggestions represent a clear and present danger to the economies of Mexico and the Central American nations. 1m Guatemalans live and work in the US, many of them not so legally. If Trump keeps his promise to undertake mass deportations the impact down here could genuinely traumatic. And whilst many were indeed economic migrants in the first place, some were also consciously seeking to put some distance between themselves and the effects of US policy.  

If their country was located on the other side of the Atlantic, Mexicans would undoubtedly benefit from freedom of movement. They are wealthier than Bulgarians, so the Republican party's approach to them makes UKIP rhetoric seem quite tame. Would Europeans ever take seriously the idea of a wall across their continent? 

Anyway, there I go again. Make it stop. 

Lost maturity

Last year Guatemala - widely considered an ‘immature’ democracy -  presented its citizens with a two candidate choice remarkably similar to that which citizens of the USA were confronted with this week: between an inexperienced television clown and the ex-wife of a previous incumbent 

The clown presented himself as the walking embodiment of some sort of solution to the country’s political malaise. Other than the fact that she would have been the nation’s first female President, his opponent represented continuity, though for some she was also the corrupt walking embodiment of the malaise. 

The clown was duly victorious and wasted no time in demonstrating an almost complete inaptitude for government. Many citizens, including those who had voted for him, were soon joining street protests repudiating their choice, largely on the basis that it had not really been any kind a real democratic choice at all. The malaise had become a vacuum. 

In effect one man had exploited a breakdown of enthusiasm for politicians and public institutions, using a populist platform to take advantage of the fact that many could not bring themselves to repeat the tried and (formerly-)trusted formulas. 

This week Donald Trump was ‘swept’ to power by 25.6% of eligible American voters. Many of these will have had reservations about their candidate as a statesman, as a human being even, but will have wanted to deliver a big kick in the goolies to the system. 

Yet arguably, the even more substantial protest was articulated by the almost 50% of eligible voters who just decided not to. 

So yes, this is a failure of democracy, and not because it delivered a result that people who watch The Daily Show are profoundly anguished about, but because it demonstrates clearly that the process of democratic maturation in the developed world is not as inevitably one-directional as the arrow of time. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


Obama promised hope, but delivered whatever he could in the circumstances. We might be sad to see him go, but this is partly his failure too. And Bill’s.

This is not just a ‘whitelash’ (though clearly this was a substantial dog-whistled part of the rhetorical / geographical strategy that took Trump to the Oval Office), it is also a hearty rejection of the politics of compromise.

One can blame those who voted for the Greens or Libertarians, but the damage may have been done earlier on by Sanders. The threat of the Left's own brand of populist protest probably conned Hillary into preaching to the converted and neglecting her so-called blue wall around the rust belt. In the end not only did she not build on Obama's performance with women and hispanics, she also lost the white working classes in crucial swing states.

I suppose Trump can now use Congress as a ready-made excuse for stepping back from some of his more outrageous policy suggestions - the ones that delivered the base. The party now has to work out how and when to betray the men in baseball caps. Part of the oddness of this moment is just not knowing how wedded Trump has become to the populist import of his own words. 

Anyway, the last couple of times I felt such a disgusto at the conclusion of an election campaign - Bush and Pérez Molina - I also speculated that things might not work out so bad after all. But they did. 


It’s not just that the data was ‘wrong’, the media also showed that they cannot be relied upon to interpret it correctly in the interests of an informed citizen base. If you think it is only the Trump voters who are being kept in ignorance, you are deluding yourself. 
Nobody should look at sharp market gains in the lead up to an event like this and simply assume that the financial world ‘expects’ one kind of result. 
I said it before Brexit and I said it again before Trumpshit (see previous post) the markets were being manipulated so that one result - the ‘surprise’ - could deliver significant gains to the big players while the opposite result would not deliver equally significant losses - except to the little guys who had been encouraged to put their faith and their cash in the common sense interpretation.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Relief Rally

The so-called Clinton relief rally is under way with the S&P up over 1.5% already this morning. 

This supposedly reflects not so much a belief that HRC will win, which the money men admit that they have already priced in, but amelioration of the fear that a victorious Clinton would face a lengthy investigation, possibly leading to impeachment proceedings. 

But let's cast our minds back to June and the Brexit referendum when there was a similar spike just before the vote. There my suspicion was that the money men were drumming up optimism amongst their clients so that their own short positions would reap a fine harvest in the unpleasant aftermath. 

Something similiar might be happening here. The major indices have been stagnant all year, so these free public votes on the whole system are providing the only serious opportunity to clean up in 2016 (unless you bought into oil at the bottom). 

By 'pricing in' a demorcratic White House, the money men are setting up a fairly risk-free opportunity for shorting the market later this week. 

Trump doesn't even have to deliver a Brexit-style pollsters' worst nightmare. A narrow defeat, some serious whingeing, a bit of redneck violence around polling stations and the GOP holding on to both houses. Not as good as the full apocalypse perhaps, but good enough for the investment bankers' purposes. 

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Canadian Example

I read an interesting article on Bloomberg today suggesting that Brexit could be made to work if only the UK looked to Canada as an example. 
And therein lies the paradox, because the Leave vote was thoroughly grounded in a rejection of liberal principles and global openness. 
In other words Brexit can only be a success if left to the Remainers to sort out. 
It's the same anywhere when you look at the surging global protest vote and then look at its leaders and the rhetoric they habitually deploy. 
Just look at many of the the people who will be coming out to vote for Trump and then just look at Donald. 
What sort of Messiah can he possibly be for the disempowered?

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Ticking clock...

The Leave vote in the EU referendum was largely comprised of an odd mix of the older demographic with the regions where poverty and inequality are most manifest. 

The Tories might have some traction with the over-50s, but the demographic trend will ultimately favour Return over Remain Out over the next decade or so. In other words ideological eurosceptics in the right wing of the Conservative party will need to maintain an obviously uneasy connection with the dis-empowered and downtrodden, presumably via nationalistic/xenophobic rhetoric: the classic snobs and mobs scenario. 

I cannot see this lasting at all. To counteract the demographic tendency, the government would have to try to persistently foster the social anger that underlies the protest vote and somehow avoid becoming the target of it.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Brexit lie of the moment...

There were plenty of lies circulating before the EU referendum, but the biggest porky doing the rounds in the new Brexit reality is that the collapse of Sterling is really quite a good thing, as it will boost Britain’s exports. 

Last week the Economist pointed out that there is in fact no evidence from recent times that the UK’s exports get any sort of leg up from a devaluation in Sterling. If we were largely in the business of pushing commodities out into the global market like say Chile, the Pound’s tribulations might have a silver lining of sorts, but most of what we sell abroad has been made with stuff we have earlier had to buy from Johnny foreigner. 

More expensive Marmite may soon by the least of Britons’ gripes. BA for example appears to base many of its fares on the dollar. Right now the basic economy ticket between Gatwick and Cancún costs more than $1000 which, given the Brexit exchange rates and the fact that this has always been the discount route between Europe and Central America, probably means there will be fewer Brits soaking up the rays on the Mayan Riviera this winter. (The peso will probably also attempt to rise from the ashes on firm news of Trump’s demise.) 

British equities look cheap, but foreign investors probably fear a further devaluation that will make them even cheaper. Many will already have been burned by the fall since June which has made the concurrent surge in the value of the FTSE index largely meaningless. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Winner and losers

As part of the wider dawning that even if Trump were to lose, some 60m Americans will have voted for him, Obama has just spoken of the GOP's 'swamp of crazy' and its responsibility for the rise of the demagogue; the suggestion being that this all politicians' doing, a dial that can be turned back. 

Yet surely it was inevitable that in a society that has so unashamedly celebrated winning, and in a manner divorced from ethical concerns, that the losers would eventually congeal into a fairly serious cultural problem. That it took so long is actually remarkable. 

Perhaps the losers had been assuaged by the perception that other ‘communities’, were losing more bigly, or that loserdom was always just a temporary state of affairs in the greatest nation on earth. Neither of these propositions have quite the firmness of yesteryear now. 

And so they have adopted Trump, the self-conscious winner who appears more than able to think and talk like a loser. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

El Desengaño Anti-Populista

On balance it probably would have been better if Gloria Álvarez had screeched ‘this shitty country’ or even ‘our shitty country’ as opposed to ‘your shitty country’. 

Maybe the slip occurred because she has been promoting her book in Argentina, where there just might be something in the air that tends to inflate one’s pelotas. But she claims it happened a while back. 

Slighting the patria is the big red button in all of Latin America and she should have been aware of this before calling the journalist; along with the intuition that most hacks tend to record phone calls and then sit around polishing these little gems.

But it isn’t really the affront to the hemisphere’s hyptertrophied patriotism that bothered me when I listened to La Glow’s invective. It was the barely-concealed threat at the end, which suggested to me that she is possibly more part of the problem than the solution. 

The possession of multiple faces is very much a national trait. At the very least, most Chapines appear to have a public face plus a more private brincón persona, which sometimes escapes into the public sphere. (Viz. current Presidente). 

In my own experience people who state 'You don't know who you are dealing with / No sabés con quien te metés! really ought to have framed this as a question for themselves in the first instance. 

On at least one occasion someone I know very well, but who was at the time unaware that they were addressing me online, has invoked a whole host of largely imaginary wing-men, including AK wielding narcos who were supposedly going to come and fuck me up, tout suite. 

The irony here is that Crazyglorita's use of huevos is indicative of how the term has become a euphemism in this region for an often pathetic display of power by the otherwise powerless. So, in the context of El Engaño Populista, the question one obviously faces is what happens when these individuals actually achieve some sort of power?

And whilst you might need the common touch to win votes here, on the other hand, sacando lo corriente can end up being a longish-term handicap.  (Viz. current Presidente; again.) 

Up until this SoundCloud leak, the worst that could be said of Gloria was that her tirades were full of rather too obvious redactions, as if her cherished ideology were wielding an unconscious black marker pen. 

Yes, she tended to 'parrot' the sage pronouncements of her intellectual idols such as Hayek, but I was always loath myself to parrot the 'Crazy Lorita' put down, because I detected a nastier, more dismissive edge to its use on social media in Guatemala. There's an all too obvious tendency to respond to her polemics with barely-concealed sexism or class-chippery. (Even this blog post is not entirely free of it.)

I come from an academic tradition which abhors dogma in all forms, and this has left me with the abiding impression that ideologies should be sternly interrogated and then, if necessary, rubbished. 

However, another lesson I learned as an historian was that bias and loudly ground axes are everywhere, and that the truth isn't something that can be said to exist apart from all these partial sources; it is something one has to try to piece together from them. 

Buscandoasyd accuses Gloria of being manca, but one-armedness is surely the abiding characteristic of those on the Left that her public positions most discomfit. 

Yes, somewhat ironically, there is a degree of populist rhetoric within her critiques of Latin American populismo, but maybe this is just a consequence of her attempt to do something a tad unusual: address, from the right, the widest possible audience with a quirky, vernacular, on-the-verge-of-popular touch. 

Yet she is not, as far as I can tell, attempting to use the politics of resentment to snatch power. What she might be accused of doing however, like many of her apparent opponents on the Left, is using hostile language that, whilst appearing to be directed at those on the opposite extreme of the political spectrum, actually serves to undermine the centre. 

We see this in the manner with which Latin American lefties deploy the term neoliberalismo for example. Meanwhile, Gloria Álvarez's support for Gary Johnson in the US election is 'deplorable', as HRC might say, because voting for third parties in America has been compared to sending out a prayer, something which Gloria would no doubt disapprove of. It also has the potential to skew the result towards more unpleasant agendas. 

Anyway, in spite of the fact that Gloria has been rather publicly found out using palabras soeces - rather like the possibly Crazy Lorita that was supposed to sing Alabaré, Alabaré and instead mouthed Que perra es mi amiga - I do still think she can perform a public service as an often lone voice here against the notion that political change (e.g. a redistribution of state power) can deliver a full package of solutions. 

I constantly aver that the deeper problems of this nation are cultural not political. What the country surely needs is not to much to dismiss Gloria's 'propaganda’ outright, but to develop a citizenry that can see through it in such a way that they can find their way through - intellectually - to the middle way on their own, at least when necessary. 

So, hard though it might be for me to admit, in some ways we might actually need the partiality of unmistakeable dogmatists. 

And here in Latin America it is especially handy when the right appears to be offering its own alternative to leftist universalism, instead of adopting a position which keeps its head below the parapet or seems otherwise grounded solely in vested interests and selfishness.

Unfortunately however, Gloria appears to have wound up in much same situation as this bird...

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Fresh off their BREXIT success, 375 'top' scientists have warned the masses not to vote for Trump. 

As Einstein probably didn't say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. 

Exhbition (2013)

A slice of London life from Joanna Hogg, but more of the negative sort of nostalgic experience for us.

We ended up ticking off all the background peculiarities we's almost forgotten and which had once seemed ever-present parts of the panorama: pneumatic drilling, leftover Xmas prezzies like scented candles, poncy estate agents, scaffolding and scaffolders, cramped lifts, internal intercoms, venetian blinds down during the daytime, radiators, duvets, sash windows, tiny tables packed with framed family pics, etc. etc.

And that worrying sense that only a city like London could provide status to such obviously useless people.

Free Movement of People

Liberal cosmopolitans, amongst whose number I suppose I should include myself, tend to warm to the idea of free movement. People should be permitted to live and work where they choose, shouldn't they? If I thought anything different I'd be open to the charge of humungous hypocrisy. the context of the EU, the theory faces some of the same headwinds in practice as the single currency. If the situation on the ground - opportunity, growth, working conditions, benefits etc. - varies between member states, and there is only a semblance of central control, then some sort of political backlash from the 'natives' (in GB's case largely former Labour voters) is almost inevitable. 


The USA’s status as the most religious nation in the West has numerous upshots, but one that perhaps goes less examined is its more marked tendency to muddle economics and politics with ethics. 

Hence the rather absurd inquiry as to whether society’s unfortunates are somehow morally superior or inferior than the norm still arises in many modern nations, but in none more so than gringolandia

If you are a Democrat it is fine to emphasise the relative highmindedness of the disadvantaged, as long as they are minorities of course; for if the downwardly-mobile are white, they are deplorable. And for the Republicans, well, we know how deplorable they tend to think the minorities are. 

To a slightly lesser extend, both blocks also tend to view the upwardly-mobile through ethically-tinted goggles. 

Rich people, poor people, middling people...we're all just people. Any political discourse which suggests that some of us are better or worse than the average owing to our socioeconomic status is plain phoney. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bogotá Street Art

An album of arresting street art from the Colombian capital...

Street Art Bogotá

Mercado de Bazurto

Some pics taken on a recent wander around Cartagena's Mercado de Bazurto...

Mercado de Bazurto

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The C Word

The free market economy is the only economic system that has ever delivered prosperity to the masses. This is simply historical fact. To deny it is like denying evolution or the holocaust.

In much the same way I would tend to avoid holding a philosophical discussion with committed creationists, it is also pretty tiresome to debate politics or economics with people who won't start by acknowledging the implications of this basic premise.

Just take at GDP per capita in Western Europe in the 1000 years before 1700 and then in the roughly 300 years since. Prior to the industrial revolution the majority were living on the equivalent of $2 a day or less i.e. in extreme poverty. And there was no aid coming in from abroad.

I suppose we can tussle over the present day case of China, but the fact is that within the context of a single party state and the deeper culture, the Chinese Communist Party has liberalised its economy just enough to drag millions out of long-term poverty in a comparatively short space of time. 

Nevertheless, there are people out there  be they at the summit of the Catholic church or the UK Labour party  who more than occasionally use the term Capitalism as if it were wholly synonymous with the system of divided labour and free market exchange as described by Adam Smith.

And as the C word has obviously negative connotations in many quarters, this subterfuge of political vocabulary has enabled countless ideologues to unleash the inverse proposition that free market economics inherently create poverty, and not just sometimes, but always.

This is nothing less than a modern dressing up of the old Marxist fallacy that wealth creation is essentially a euphemism for poverty creation. 

Many still show a degree of intellectual caution by prefixing capitalism with 'unfettered', but post-2008 others have become more emboldened. 
(And when they plead that it's not all of capitalism, just the bad bits, it's a bit like listening to Trump attest that he didn't mean ALL Mexicans, when you sort of have to know that he did.)

Of course there are many aspects of modern capitalism that appear to reverse the historical thrust towards more equitable prosperity. Some of these may be under political control, others might not be. A good few may be more cultural or even geographical.

These structural problems within the unevenly globalised system present some of the most serious challenges we face in this century, but they do not represent any sort of justification for a full system reboot based on illiberal economic principles which have time and again been shown to fail, and yes, create poverty. 

In other words, if the game is rigged, it is our collective duty to attempt to un-rig it, not dig an old abandoned game out of the cupboard and brush the dust off it.

But the notion that it is liberal economic systems that create poverty per se persists, along with the parallel absurdity that free market is inherently a zero sum game. 

Many of those who espouse it have benefitted their entire lives from the material conditions and education that liberal systems provide, and yet still appear to peddle a discourse that appears to favour North Korea lite over any version of South Korea.

Here in Latin America generations of unscrupulous politicians and intellectuals have almost certainly denied the masses the prospect of real prosperity by turning them against the free market with the old chestnut about how they would be fabulously rich if they hadn't been robbed, first by the Portuguese and Spanish and then by the Gringos.

Hogwash of course  and it would be almost impossible to build a credible academic case for such a position using a balanced selection of historical sources.

Yet it is by transcending this rather callow sense of historical grievance that many other nations in the developing world, particularly in Asia, have adapted liberal economic principles to their own requirements and duly prospered.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The extremist bent...

Extremists always end up more in conflict with moderates on their own side than their fellow extremists on the other side. You see this with terror groups, guerrilla movements, even Corbynites in the British Labour party today.

Extremists’ goals fall into two categories. The essentially unachievable (the larger of the two) and the might-be-achievable-with-a-bit-of-compromise sort.

Moderates are habitually blamed for the non-achievement of the non-achievable goals, but the real source of conflict comes from extremist fear that moderates might actually be capable of achieving some of their more achievable goals.

So all forms of compromise are thoroughly stigmatised and in some cases extremists work hard to derail initiatives that might deliver some of the results they have claimed to hanker after.

In Spain for example, ETA intensified their terror campaign once non-violent nationalists had started working with the central socialist government to grant significant autonomy to the Basque region.

When Corbynites refer to neoliberalism, one might be forgiven for thinking they are referring to a a virulent strain of liberalism which has taken hold at the opposite end of the political spectrum, but in fact they are referring to all forms of classical liberalism, especially those that occupy the moderate zone of said spectrum.

Their intention is to vilify all forms of private initiative and indeed the very notion that social and economic progress can be trusted to anyone but politicians of their own ilk.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016


A couple more thoughts on the ultimately fairly dreadful Ixcanul

This was the second film we've watched in a week which featured the on-screen slitting of an animal's throat. It's something I'd always struggle to approve of, but under some circumstances I can see how an actual death can be shot in such a way that the director doesn't seem to be seeking a short-cut to authenticity. 

If Ixcanul had featured a cast of non-professional actors, full-on hillbilly indigenes of the type represented in the movie, then it might perhaps have 'earned' that scene, but instead, given the mood of inauthenticity that was already taking hold, it further soured my relationship with the narrative. 

But the most glaring failure of this film was in the way it handled stereotypes. There are two rather obviously wrong ways to do this. A) pepper your story with a set of some of the most simplistic, non-nuanced, non-ironic versions of the prevalent ones. Or B) pepper it with clusmy inversions of the latter, which ultimately has broadly the same effect. In this way subverting stereotypes can end up reinforcing them. But Ixcanul just stuck to plan A. 

As an Englishman I could make a film about French people in which all the men were pseudo intellectuals who are deluded about their prowess in the bedroom and generally don't bathe a lot. There are ways I could get away with this. It could be done by way of comedy or perhaps it might be achieved by making it clear to the audience that I understand that I am poking fun at a minority, and even at my own xenophobic attitudes along the way. But Ixacanul's representation of Mayan stereotypes ended up being about as subtle as Jimmy Morales's Negrito Pitaya. (Viz the scene where Maria appears to be trying to get it on with a tree.) 

Similarly if I took off to Louisiana to make a movie about the African American underclass there and all of my characters were crudely-drawn stereotypes, questions would surely be asked. It wouldn’t make much of a difference if my honest intention had been to draw attention to social issues, if right wing white people could use the material to feed their prejudices without any kind of cognitive dissonance. If an outsider portrays a minority within a minority as if it were the majority, then he or she is doing that minority a massive disservice. 

How could anyone unfamiliar with this country not be inclined to conclude that the lifestyles and mentalites of the protagonists of Ixacanul are broadly universal within the country's Mayan community? 

The scene where El Pepe explains to Maria why he wants to go to the USA could have formed part of a Trump campaign infomercial, entitled 'They don't send us their best people!' 

It matters little that the film's intended target audience can be assumed to be Democrats, because that scene would work in an equally if not more powerful way for those of a wide-eyed Republican bent as well.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Guatemala: The Ground Rules (4)

Here 'lights are on but nobody's home' all too easily becomes 'lights are off but everybody's home'. 


What an absurd little film this is. Just suppose someone had decided to make a movie about a comparatively underdeveloped subculture within north american society,  say a tale of African American life in Louisiana directed by a non African American, which pandered to every available stereotype. It would be booed at every screening rather than held up as a darling of the festival circuit or indeed submitted as Oscar bait. 

On so many levels Ixcanul is a classic example of the Indie film gaze, a jāgerbomb of otherness for a certain type of first world audience. 

This is Guatemala as inframundo. Rampaging poisonous snakes, unadulterated unmodernity, people talking about cars as if they’ve never seen one, no TV, no cellphones, no Internet, no real knowledge of the world outsude this artificially represented bubble. The young men are drunken wasters, the young girls are cójelonas, their elders helpless and ignorant within Ladino society. 

This is no showcase of Mayan culture; it is a snow-globed version of it that sits somewhere between patronising and offensive. I can just imagine the conversation I’d have been forced to have with my mother if she had seen that film or even a trailer. 

And so much of all this is so transparently phoney. 

One can start with the phoney remoteness. How many Cakchiquel speakers living along the Intermericana corridor actually exist like this? Certainly not the two female leads who hail from Santa Maria de Jesús,  and yet have been paraded around European film festivals like exotic specimens in much the same way that returning conquistadors used to parade the indios they'd picked up on the other side of the Atlantic. 

But this is par for the course for serious films about Guatemala. We are back in the world of El Norte, except that 30 years haven't passed and there's no sense of humour on display. 

One can recall that even the blurb for Looking for Palladin (which has sunk without trace) begins ‘in a remote place...’. 

The scenario here might better have been handled as a fly-on-the-wall mocumentary, because creatively little was done to present us with believable fictional characters with a truthful individuality of their own. I wanted to see behind the overblown otherness and the stock situations, but there was never much of an opening. 

Guatemalan cinema will have come of age when it doesn’t feel the need to dress itself up in this sort of outlandish garb to gain international recognition. 

It’s the old McOndo posing as Macondo trope: e.g. López Bruni posing as a Mayan sacerdote whilst performing bizarre pagan rituals for the benefit of Stephen Fry’s camera crew and then taking them out for a night of partying and rock music in Antigua off camera. The latter would have made more entertaining, more truthful television. 

Thursday, September 01, 2016

17th Century Corruption

Such is the habitually moralistic tone of post-2008 social and political commentary that it is now basically taken for granted that behavious that are ethically dubious for individuals are also collectively wrong. And crucially, that even when beneficial to unscrupulous individuals, they are inevitably deleterious to society as a whole.

In Latin America we see these notions driving the various anti-corruption movements. Latin Americans look around and conclude that corruption is largely responsible for their relative lack of development compared to say the US or the UK.

Yet just the other day I came across this reference in Samuel Pepys's diary to some advice his patron Lord Montagu had given him as he began his new post in government.

"In general speaking that it was not the salary of any place that did make a man rich, but the opportunity of getting money while he is in the place".

The London of 1660 was the world's largest and fastest-growing commercial centre. Yet this kind of attitude to graft was highly prevalent and could hardly be said to be seriously shackling the developmental potential of seventeenth century British society.

Friday, August 26, 2016


Finding it strangely irksome that some Guatemalan media (e.g. El Periódico) still refer to Mexico City using its old title of 'Distrito Federal'. It just seems to highlight the clumsiness and carelessness of much of what passes for journalism in this country. Between the hacks writing the articles and their editors, there ought to be someone  in the office informed enough to correct this. 

We're not talking about some distant foreign metropolis - this is the nearest 'alpha' global city. I then get annoyed with myself for getting so anal about these small details, but my first proper job after university was in magazine publishing and was driven hard by people whose attention to detail was single-minded to the point of fanatical.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


I have never really approved of austerity. In the UK at least it was implemented in a way that tried to disguise an ideological urge as a practical need. It is thus both ironic and appropriate that the Cameron-Osborne regime was ultimately undone by Brexiters who, with varying success, went about dressing up their baser instincts as a highminded crusade.

Anyway, I am fairly sure the British economy would have done better under the sort of economic policies implemented by Obama in the wake of the great crash.

It should be noted that here in Latin America the two nations undergoing the most stringent austerity regimes are Venezuela and Cuba, ostensibly the most socialist. It's a bit of a dance of death for this pair now, as one sinks to new depths the other has to adjust and fall with it.

A month ago President Castro told the Cuban National Assembly that growth had fallen from 4.7% to just 1% in the past year and that big cuts would be required to turn things around, including a reduction in energy consumption of 6% and fuel consumption by 28%, plus fewer imports. The government would also reduce credit and liquidity across the state sector i.e. most of the economy.

Bound to work.

The less said about Venezuela the better.

Perhaps austerity has been widely adopted as the appropriate corrective to perceived socialist-induced mayhem, which is why it didn't happen in the USA and why in Latin America it has to be done by socialists themselves - because the people don't have so many opportunities to vote them out.

One thing that can be said about ideological conservatives is that they are less prone to blaim the failures of their boneheaded policies on the likes of 'exploiters, manipulators, speculators and opportunists' along Cuban and Venezuelan lines.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Not sending their best...

This one has been doing the rounds...

"They’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you...They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us"  > The Donald.