Jul 222020

No matter where you turn for information and guidance, these days, at least in my country, journalists and commentators are sure to raise their arms as a sign, not of innocence but of ignorance. “I don’t know,” they say, “I have no idea what will happen,” they say.

Obviously, they would never declare such ignorance unless they had reason to. Indeed, the bases for prognoses have cracked, not to say crumbled, just in the course of the last few months.

Many people, perhaps most, blame President Trump, who has undoubtedly eroded the rules of international law and who should long since have been put behind bars for tax evasion, among other things. But Trump didn’t invent the system, the winner-takes-all scheme of things. And he was of course compounded by Covid.

No government can be blamed for creating this particular natural disaster. However, some governments can be blamed for poor disaster management. and most can be blamed for not foreseeing that we would sooner or later be faced with a pandemic. Most can also already be blamed for not understanding that business as usual cannot and will not carry on in its wake.

In its recent deliberations about rescue measures, the EU undoubtedly had “social cohesion” in mind. Social cohesion is what was witnessed in the UK during WWII, a we’re-all-in-this-together attitude.

What you see in the below photo from Santiago de Chile is not social cohesion. It is a threat.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%932020_Chilean_protests

As you will understand if you look at the wonderful photos here, social cohesion in Chile has de facto come to an end. And that was before the pandemic! Because the so-called “Chilean oasis”, the neo-liberal success story, always was a deliberate travesty, a cynical fabrication.

Imagine, then, how anger and a long-simmering sense of injustice will play out after Covid. And what about Brazil? Yesterday saw 718 new deaths in Brazil. Yes, that was in just one day. You know, don’t you, that those 718 no-longer-existing individuals in Brazil did not belong to the jet set.

Unless the powers-that-be realise now, immediately, that major changes have to be made – and I mean major – that people will demand their fair share of equal opportunities, equal access to health care, education and sustained natural resources, Western civilisation will come to an end.

At any rate, social cohesion ends when you send in the National Guard, when you beat up or even kill protesters, hoodwinking them into believing that the manhandling they are subjected to is merely the wrath of God. Remember Syria? Autocrats of the world: You are not, I repeat, NOT God. Look to Syria: It is now a failed state.

If Western civilisation does come to an end, don’t snigger, Mr Putin. Your turn to be knocked off the pedestal will come.

In the mean time, I urge you to read the UN Secretary General’s appeal to us all, because all of us are part of this game. To quote the Secretary General:

We are sometimes told a rising tide of economic growth lifts all boats.
But in reality, rising inequality sinks all boats.”

Antonio Guterres

Dec 012019

When Pinochet came to power, he gave the so-called Chicago Boys (economists inspired by Milton Friedman) a free rein in remodelling Chile’s economy. Also, he enacted a new and obviously controversial constitution.

When Pinochet stepped down, the dictatorship ended, but the Pinochet constitution, enacted in 1981, is still in force. Moreover, the Chicago Boys’ neo-liberal market fundamentalism has reigned undisputed: The country is rich, but most of its people work their butts off for next to nothing. Proper education and health care are beyond their means.

To illustrate how dire the situation is for Chileans, consider the findings of a study published in the Lancet: “Inequalities in life expectancy in six large Latin American cities“. In case you find the wording of the article a bit dry, I quote the Spanish daily El Pais which drew my attention to it:

A woman who lives in one of Santiago’s most disadvantaged areas will have a life that is 18 years shorter than that of a woman living in the same city, but in a more wealthy district. …” We assumed that in Panama and Santiago there would be considerable differences, because there is much inequality in these two countries,” admits Usama Bilal, “in the case of Chile the magnitude of the problem surprised us.”

What is being indicted in Chile is not so much the president as neo-liberalism. If you can read Spanish, I also warmly recommend the entire above-quoted article in El País.

I fear for Chile. Soldiers target protesters eyes, hoping to frighten them. When protests continue although so many people have been blinded or killed… who knows what will happen? Will the wealthiest 10% once again launch a dictatorship to prevent the slightest redistribution of wealth and income? The protesters must be extremely brave and/or extremely desperate, because they know what they’re up against.

Unlike Spain, Chile has not attempted to forget the dictatorship. Chileans have mourned its victims, paid some compensation to its survivors, built museums documenting its abuses, etc. What’s more, they have Patricio Guzman. His haunting documentaries are not only about Chile, but about mankind. If you cannot buy, borrow, rent or steal them, you will find some of them on Youtube.

Nov 172017

I’m writing today in response to this: http://www.musicradar.com/news/5-reasons-why-your-protest-song-is-making-things-worse

Mind you, it’s well worth reading as the guy evidently has a point – five, actually – as well as a sense of humour.

And he’s not the only one who’s sick and tired of bedraggled lefties who go on and on about “the scourge of neoliberalism”, and by sanctimonious organic know-alls who insist that the apocalypse is nigh and that we must all repent, otherwise all, except those who can afford to move to Mars, will suffer a hideous, worse-than-death demise.

Most people are pissed by self-righteous, better-than- you, priggish, self-disciplined and more often than not neurotic, self-denying would-be saints who refuse to go window-shopping, refuse to splurge, refuse to eat T-bone steaks, and whose faces are perpetually warped by disapproval.

In short, by people like me.

“Look out the window,” people like me say, as though we were the only ones who ever notice what goes on in the world. “Now Saudi Arabia has even kidnapped Lebanon’s PM, with the blessing, of course, of Emperor Trump”. And since most people haven’t noticed that Lebanon’s PM has been missing for 13 days, and since they really don’t see that this concerns them, our making such a fuss about the matter annoys them. Understandably.

In short, most of the general public, if not the general public as a whole, is annoyed. The “green” people disapprove of how we live. The lefties disapprove of just about everything. And the rest of the population disapproves of both the green people and the lefties and the immigrants. What a lark!

So, what to do? Should people like me just pack up and go tend our gardens?

I know, yes, I really recognise, that by labelling anti-immigrationists “racist”, we are making things worse. I must confess that when I read that “Police estimated 60,000 people took part in Saturday’s event, in what experts say was one of the biggest gathering of far-right activists in Europe in recent years” (source: the Guardian)  my first thought was to demand that Poland be kicked out of the EU. But what good would that do? The EU is disintegrating in any event, and the best we can hope for is that it will survive a few more years. In the mean time, calling people “racist” is not a wise move.

Twenty years ago, and even five years ago, I would never have thought I should hear myself wish the EU well. Now I have come to understand that war is not something Europe has grown out of. People are, it seems, still mere primates in spite of their highly developed brains. War may come to Europe again sooner rather than later.

No, I shall not pack up and go tend my garden! I intend to continue weaving my own way through media outlets, trying to understand what is happening and why. I shall continue to try to understand why most of us act as we do, and why we allow “Democracy” to be so terribly abused. From time to time, I shall continue to express, on this site, my understanding, the understanding of a cetacea paellicius, no more, no less. In short I admit the writer of the article referenced above has a point, or five, but I also insist that defeatism is not a solution, just an option.

It is not my option.

Sep 102017

Almost blinded by the sun and my own perspiration as I drag myself up the steep hill, I find that the cobbled roads are near empty while the normally empty bars are packed. Packed with men, shouting men. Football, I assume, and snarl.

Mind you, I don’t at all mind football. What bothers me is all that seems to be so evident if we objectively look at a football stadium or study the comportment of men around TV screens when certain games are being played. “We’re in this together,” they seem to be saying, “our team!” “fight till death”, “kill the infidel”, or as General Halil of Janjaweed says, “eliminate anything in my way!”

General Halil is fighting for no cause other than himself. And he has earnest supporters, including loyal and good men who think they are fighting for a worthy cause, men who believe in Halil by virtue of his “strength”. A strong general is a good general, they think. Alas, ruthlessness and callousness is often mistaken for strength, as the US is kind enough to remind us at regular intervals.

The US is a deeply religious country, as are Israel and Saudi Arabia, its close allies. The crimes against humanity committed by those three countries are such that more and more people in my country are saying that religion is the root of all evil.

No, I say, religion is not the root cause of war. The root cause is what we see when we watch those who watch professional football. After a match, people sometimes get bashed to death. The spectators’ arousal, almost sexual in nature – indeed, fired by male hormones surging as the battle is played out before their eyes – makes them dangerous. They are one with the players, identifying with them (“our” team, “us”) , admiring them, enjoying a moment in the sun of borrowed fame and glory, and ready to defend them with their lives, if need be.

Now, some people will retort that war is not necessarily bad. Some wars, they will say, are just, wars for freedom, for instance, wars for liberation from oppression. Of course this argument is neither here nor there, since we will never all agree as to what wars are just, will we? Forget WWII, there have been infinitely many wars since, and in all of them there will have been at least one big bad bully against whom resistance is at least justifiable. Sadly, even the oppressed are usually also lead by big bad bullies, since – again – what is mistaken for strength tends to inspire confidence.

Football makes it all so clear: What spectators by the billions see and admire is: brute force, naked muscle, precision and cunning. They will rise to their feet as one, almost levitating, and they will all feel, for a few magic moments, omnipotent. In short, they will loose, not only their voices from screaming, but also their heads. Who needs drugs or religion to go to war prepared to die? Give me a general who can generate the electric current of a football match, and he will be in business, regardless of the cause.

I, too, long to – more than that – I need to admire. I particularly enjoy feeling kinship with those that I admire. I, too, feel elevated when any of my heroes “wins” a battle.  But my heroes are neither callous nor ruthless, and their strength is not muscular.Today, I finished a novel in which one of my favourite protagonists, George Smiley, definitely sealed his long-time opponent’s casket. Characteristically, Smiley did not enjoy his moment of glory, due to ruminations that I shared with him.

I wonder what Smiley would have made of the global mess we’re in now. For one thing, this little Spanish town on the top of its cliff is becoming near uninhabitable due to summer heat and winter cold. What would Smiley have suggested? I imagine him turning off the light to go to sleep. Outside his wide open window, the neighbours have finally come out of their houses, seeking relief in the evening breeze. Fathers, children, grandmothers, gossiping women… the street is full of their laughter, their pleasant chatting. Yet for all their easy pleasure, he cannot help hearing, still, the continued low wailing of a woman he knows is 97. She wails day and night, but as he knows, she has been out of this world for years. She cannot talk, cannot tell her surroundings why she is so unhappy. Her children take turns looking after her, and they all visit her almost daily. Every day she is dressed and cherished.

Smiley plays with ideas of what may be occupying her mind. After all, she is nearly a century old; think of what she has seen and endured!

Finally, Smiley falls asleep, covered only by a sheet. When he wakes up, he knows he was woken by a sound, and he soon hears it again, a thrill sound that ends in a tremulous sigh. He sits up in bed, because there is no mistaking an owl. An owl? This is definitely not owl country! But hark, there is another one. And another. Standing by now, stark naked in the middle of the room, he hears them all – four owls on different roof tops, one of them just above him on his own roof.

After a few moments, he sadly goes back to bed. Even the owls have lost their marbles, he muses.

And that was the best my hero could do, alas. Can you do better?

Nov 052016

My compatriots seem unable to talk about anything else, so great is their dread of waking up on Wednesday to learn that what they consider … – actually, I’d better not say what they consider him – … anyway, that he will turn out to be the world’s most powerful man.

The media here is unequivocal, to my regret, disregarding a whole set of human foibles, one of them being that a human being inevitably tends to consider the bad guy’s counterpart a good guy.

On the other side of the globe, however, the US side, I suspect that apathy has settled in. I wish to send a greeting to fellow humans “over there”, as we used to say back in the 1890s and in the decades between the two world wars, when hordes of my countrymen fled from poverty to the States:

This is your chance, man! Pull up your socks and turn your country around. Start work now! Today! Look beyond Scylla and Charybdis. What you want is an honourable future for your country. Tell them you no longer accept the shame of your country’s universally known human rights record. A country so rich in natural and financial resources, with such wonderful universities! Yet so many destitute people, lousy schools and ignorant citizens. Such appalling treatment of blacks! So much brazen racism! So much narrow-minded, sanctimonious bigotry!

Your system isn’t working, quite simply. It never will. Something’s got to change, or the whole structure will topple. The United States’ resistance to change is almost as pathetic as that of some religious fanatics’ with whom I am sure you don’t want to be compared.

Look to Canada, for instance. If they can do it, so can you. Right?

Nov 042015

When I turn off the main road, a narrow winding route takes me into the forest. Deep into the forest. Gaunt, tall pine trees, standing close together like freezing soldiers, sternly witness my slow progress ever deeper into their midst. I drive carefully, as it is more than likely that a deer will suddenly leap out in front of the car, and the road is gutted. Eventually it tapers to a dirt track and, with a sharp turn to the right away from the invisible river, starts making its way up the cliff.

I stop the car when I know I have reached the cabin, though I cannot see it. Nor can I see it when I get out, though it is a mere 30 metres away. I can just make out naked lace-like strands from the tops of birch trees around me. Muttering to the dog as I try to make my way to the door, I ask, as I have done as far back as I can remember: Was it really this dark last year?

After having lit the wood stove, brought in and unpacked clothes, food and water for the weekend, and having replenished the wood bin in front of the stove, I ask, as I have done as far back as I can remember: Was it really this cold last year?

Even sitting in front of the crackling, sweet-smelling wood stove with my computer on my lap, I am wearing a thick quilted jacket over my sweater, because when I arrived, the temperature was about one degree centigrade. Now it might be 10, but even the computer feels cold.

And this I have done, not out of penury, nor pressed by any obligation, but because, of all the alternatives I had to choose from for the weekend, this was the one I most longed for. I would have longed for it even if the number of alternatives had been squared or cubed.

In this country, there are many people who do likewise. Not every weekend, of course, but even in the winter season, people go off once in a while, leaving the comfort of their city dwellings to settle into freezing cabins. They do so because they want to.

Why, you may ask? Are we masochists? Hardly, I think. At the moment I am drinking a nice hot cup of coffee with whiskey and whipped cream – a concoction referred to in this country as Irish coffee. (I must really remember to ask my Irish neighbours whether this is how the Irish drink their coffee!)

Yes, I have electricity here, and it is true that I could well leave the electricity on while I am gone, keeping the place temperate, but that would be expensive and, from my point of view, “cheating”. For the same reason I have no TV and no Internet. The purpose of this game is precisely to make do with a minimum of modern comforts. Some of my countrymen don’t even have electricity in their cabins, preferring to keep it that way. And I for my part use only the wood stove for heating. The main ordeal is having to carry the water. Believe me, that is a sobering task.

The idea is to live the “simple life”.

I admit I shall be as grateful and eager to leave as I was to come. I shall enjoy returning to my flat, all the more, knowing that I am spared having to feed a wood stove 24 hours a day and carry all the water I consume. I shall leave the blessed, dark winter silence of these woods and the fear of my terror should I hear, all of a sudden, a human voice. Fear of humans can never be escaped, not even in the darkest of woods.


…realising that I have been asleep, that I have woken up, and knowing that I will look straight into a Pine tree, I open one eye, not expecting so see what I see, between the tree’s branches: an absolutely blue sky!

It’s a new day, and mine a refreshed body.

I jump out of bed and find the living room inundated by sunlight, amplified by illuminated patches of icy fog. The day is glorious! In my underwear, I stand on the threshold breathing in the complicated scents of an autumn forest before it freezes. A few birds – though most have left for the winter – tweet timidly. My dog jubilantly chases creatures who live underground – she makes sure that I never see them – be they foxes, hares, voles or something else. Down in the valley, the great river glitters on its course towards the sea.

That at least, is something that will not change. Even on foreign, lifeless planets, glittering rivers march towards the seas. Even on a lifeless planet, there will be skies of one kind or another and scents. Artists can find beauty almost anywhere, if the light is right; in deserts, in petrified forests even in battlefields and among lined-up corpses. What a pity that artists are not immortal, that they cannot live on lifeless planets.

Oct 032015

Reading a poem by Pablo Neruda this morning, I realised that his mood was mine today, though his poem was allegedly about a love long gone. Mine – had I written it – would not be about love at all.

It would be about autumn, about the slow dying of everything around us, as temperatures drop and drop, winds fall silent and finally halt altogether, so that the surfaces of lakes take on a smooth uncanny shine. This is when you are reminded that at absolute 0 all thermal motion stops.

It would be about how much of life is of the past, how much of love too, albeit. I might even insert a reference – though one doesn’t insert references in poems, does one – to Manuel Serrat’s song Balada de Otoño, because I could never express nearly as poignantly the sadness of ended love. People from my parts don’t write about such things.

People from my parts might write about our time’s bombed-out towns, streams of haggard people limping across continents, huddled at night in improvised camps – they are starting to freeze now – about acts of helpless and almost futile kindness against so much misery – there’s no looking away.

True, the trees are still wearing their leaves, autumn sunsets are more brilliant than ever, and the late afternoon glow of golden foliage brings smiles onto the faces of the most unlikely people. Passing total strangers, you might exchange with them a slight nod of recognition, and you can almost hear them thinking “so you too have come out to admire the light.”

These are the last golden embers before the light goes out and all becomes dark and cold.