Monday, 13 October 2008

Anticant for PM?

In general I refrain from commenting on the political and financial scene for fear of bursting a blood-vessel. But the events of recent weeks and days are so ludicrous that they merit notice in the Arena.

First, we had the NuLabour infighting and jockeying for position by the would-be ousters of GordiBroon, all of whom – not least the odiously reptilian Milipede – showed themselves as being eager to wound, but too timid to strike.

Then we had Gordi’s much-trumpeted reshuffle of the Downing Street deckchairs which – notwithstanding the surprise gimmick of Mandy’s return - aroused as much interest outside the Westminster goldfish bowl as an airline lunch. ZanuLab simply have not got the message that everyone – apart from themselves – has totally lost interest in them, and wish them begone. In their self-obsessed way they rabbit on and on about how the country still needs their “leadership” and how their “project” is getting back on track. But no-one else is listening any more.

The spreading financial meltdown has exposed the sheer irrelevance of both their theories and their policies. And even more that of the boastful transatlantic champions of unbridled free enterprise in the Citadel of Capitalism who have been driven to “rescue” their improvident financial institutions from the consequences of their own folly at the double expense of the taxpayers, who first of all suffer from the banks’ reckless mismanagement and dishonesty in urging them to borrow loans they cannot afford, and then pay all over again to bail their tormentors out.

The same totally clueless policy is now being adopted here, with Gormless Gordon claiming [presumably as a first effect of Mandelsonian spin] to be the “global saviour” with his risible “rescue plan”. The fact is, as is quite clear from all the media comments, that it is unlikely to work in the long term, and that no-one either in government or the City has any clear idea of what to do in order to restore confidence and get the economy functioning again.

Far from being “Prudence personified”, the Prime Minister and long-time Chancellor cannot escape his responsibility for being “Incapability Brown” who not merely presided over, but actively encouraged, the decade of financial profligacy and recklessness which has resulted in this sorry mess.

Future historians are unlikely to award him the accolade for shrewdness and sobriety which he craves. Stubborn dimwittedness is more likely to be his political obituary. The sooner he is gone, the better.

Not that anyone more competent is likely to take over, more’s the pity.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Well, who'd have thought it?

Announcing no new policies, Mr Bush said: "We must ensure the actions of one country do not contradict or undermine the actions of another.

"In an interconnected world, no nation will gain by driving down the fortunes of another. We are in this together. We will come through it together."

- BBC report

He could have fooled me. Does he think we're all dumb, or something?

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Andalucía illumined

I have known John Gill since he was a young man, and have enjoyed watching him craft his career as journalist, editor, and author. He is an informed and lively commentator on the modern music and jazz scene, and an accomplished travel writer. In his latest book, ANDALUCÍA: A CULTURAL HISTORY [Signal Books, 2008 – available here] he brings together all the insights, knowledge and enthusiasm he has gathered from eight years’ residence in Spain’s most colourful province – “a garden at the foot of Europe and a crossroads between Spain, Africa and the New World”.

Unlike most foreigners writing about another country, Gill does not assume the superior stance of “us” writing about “them”, but penetrates empathetically into the history, distinctive traditions, and cultural attitudes of the successive inhabitants of this many-peopled south-eastern corner of Spain. Indeed, he – sometimes scathingly - turns the tables on the maldito guiris [damn foreigners], mostly British or American, who – with rare exceptions, such as Gerald Brenan – have written patronisingly, and sometimes fantastically, about Andalucía.

Starting with the earliest hominid invaders of almost 2 million years ago – whose imprints are still yielding fresh insights to contemporary archaeologists - we learn of the early cave dwellers, the Beaker People, the myth of Atlantis, and lost cities and peoples; the visits – sometimes leading to settlement – by Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans; early Christianity; and the almost eight centuries of Al-Andalus – the tolerant, civilised, highly cultured Muslim regime which lasted from 711AD to the Reconquista by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

Gill looks back nostalgically to this golden age of Islamic enlightenment, philosophy, and scientific discovery and tends to view the following centuries of stiflingly Monarchic and Catholic Spain as an anticlimax. He writes perceptively and movingly of the social and cultural wounds and personal tragedies inflicted by the 1930s civil war, while taking a cautiously optimistic view of the new, post-Franco Spain. His thoughts and opinions about 20th century Andalucian writers, poets, artists, and musicians are shrewd, candid and illuminating.

A mere catalogue doesn’t do justice to this book, and even more remarkable than the richness of the skilfully deployed knowledge of many aspects of Andalucían history, culture, and contemporary life is the tautly structured and often racy style of the writing – insightful, enthusiastic, witty, allusive, and occasionally waspish. John Gill’s Andalucía is stimulating and indeed essential reading for anyone interested in this fascinating part of Europe, and will I think be warmly welcomed by Spanish and non-Spanish readers alike.