Clown Car Crash

Bonkers came and went. Liz Truss came and went. Now… There is Rishi Sunak who pleases nobody. Well… Perhaps Labour… Actually, I feel some sympathy for Liz Truss. She came in with a lot of good ideas. She attempted to do something, to actually keep her promises. She approached implementation poorly and she lacked Thatcher’s spine and mettle. Too many in Westminster wanted her gone. They only tolerated her very grudgingly and got rid of her when they had the first opportunity. Afterwards, they ensured that they’d get their man.

At least 100 MPs had to support a candidature. That meant that the process would be faster, but that it would also prevent a non-establishment pick from going far. That is, no risk of a Kemi Badenoch or Suella Braverman becoming PM. Most importantly, the party members had to be bypassed. They didn’t want Sunak.

With no real opposition, Sunak managed to take the highest political office in the land. He is, of course, an incredibly intelligent, competent and generally decent man. He has a fine eye for detail, a good work ethic and he isn’t prone to being swept away by the passions of the moment — in stark contrast with Bonkers. At the same time, he’s a profoundly unimaginative man. His economic policies are largely inline with those of Dementia 46, Trudeau the Lesser, Little Manny Macaroon and Sergeant Scholz. He is making some decent noises. For example, he’s not going to Cop-out 27 and he’s banned King Chaz 3.0 from attending — holding up Truss’s initial prohibition. He’s also indicated that the Channel crisis isn’t tolerable and has sought to reign in “woke” policing. How much is just hot air is to be seen.

Thank you, Ma’am.

I wasn’t sure if I should write this or not. I’m not really all that relevant a person and nothing I say will be anything that someone else hasn’t said and better.

So it happened. Her Majesty has taken her leave. It should not have come as a surprise. She lived a long life. Reaching 96 is an accomplishment in and of itself. After Phil the Greek passed away last year, it was clear that HM would follow him sooner rather than later. I still remember the picture of her sitting alone, weeping, at his funeral. She continued to do her duty, the most important of which, in her quiet, dignified way was to prepare us for the inevitable.

I watched the King’s Speech. He did well, but it will take some getting used to, saying His Majesty, the King. It will get some getting used to, seeing images of Charles III on coins and banknotes. It will be strange watching Charles III give this year’s Christmas address. I have known no other monarch than Her Majesty. My parents knew no other monarchs. Only my grandparents, three of which are already deceased, could remember a time without her. My nan, the last of the four, was living in Germany during those years and had other things to worry about.

So, all I can say is “thank you, ma’am”. From Cambodia to Italy, from South Africa to Russia people have paid their respects. There is something telling in that throughout the United States flags have been flying at half mast. Even the Irish have, largely, shown grace and respect.

Send In the Clowns

Boris has come and gone. His premiership was relatively short but highly eventful. It was a premiership that started with great hopes and much promise. It was a premiership that ended squalidly.

Boris is, if nothing else, ambitious. When he started, he had little to work with. Theresa May called a pointless election which cost her the narrow majority that Cameron won in 2015. By the time she was forced out, May had become a tragically farcical figure. Boris had precious little to work with, but he ultimately won out. He not only won out, he won the largest majority for a Conservative government since the 1980s. He used it to end the impasse over British Liberation. It was not a perfect agreement, but it was an agreement and Britain got out.

There were, however, two mistakes that Boris made. The first is that he failed to look out for the needs of the people of Northern Ireland. Of course, Ulster has always been a world of its own. A different way of life, a different set of banks, a different social dynamic, a different set of political parties… Yet, for all of this, it is a part of the United Kingdom and is, for all of this, loyal to it. However embattled, it remained truly and loyally British. A visit from its prime minister should never have been treated as if it were almost a visit to another country. His inability to show spine and do what was needed weakened, compromised the union. Even if the demented moron filling his Depends in DC doesn’t like it, the PM’s first duty is to his country. The devil was very much in the details. Boris did not negotiate as good an exit deal as he could have. That is very much a result of his classical lack of focus on detail. The EU is awful about most things, but one thing it is good at is detail and technicalities.

The second thing Boris got wrong was losing his cool. He followed the Beijing model to catastrophic results. The British economy was wrecked, sterling is facing crisis, sovereign debt is utterly out of control and supply lines have broken down. This is largely the result of the Chinese-style lock-ups he imposed. I am aware that he took severely ill. I’m not unsympathetic. I know people who suffered kidney failure due to influenza as children and people whose colds turned into fatal pneumonia. As a result of lock-ups, Britain — like many countries — was left vulnerable to any serious shocks that might occur. When Vova P. invaded Ukraine, that was quite a shock to an overly stressed system. The fact that Boris had so little respect that he broke his own arbitrary and pointless rules hurt him badly. Moreover, he lied about it repeatedly. He couldn’t be trusted with the details, he couldn’t be trusted to do his job and he couldn’t even be trusted to follow his own “rules”. As the country started to spin out of control, it was time for him to go.

Now, as I’m still paying the price for his cupidity, I can’t help but feel a sense of elation. Of course, my life is still full on fully effed as a result of his arbitrariness so my glee isn’t improving my situation. I’m also well aware that the banana slug that he is will likely make money hand over fist on the speaking circuit — especially in his native United States. I just wish Liz Truss well. She strikes me as an intelligent, diligent and capable public servant. Many of her appointments have been spot-on. Her messaging has been mixed, but she is facing the most complex, difficult set of circumstances since at very least Thatcher in 1979 with the exception that Thatcher entered office at the head of a new Parliament elected after the precious Labour government stuffed itself. Truss inherits a healthy majority, but one that is of a party that has had a disappointing 12-year-run. If she sticks to her word, she just might turn it around. If not… Hawai’i sounds good.

To move

As life slowly starts to return to something resembling normal, I find it easier and easier to look beyond Europe and Hawai’i for places to see, to go. You can tell a lot about countries from how they’ve adjusted to the world coming out of its stupor. Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Cambodia, India, South Africa, Botswana, etc. are once again open. Taiwan, Hong Kong and China are closed. Japan is open in theory, but is closed in practice. One can visit as part of an organised tour group, but not as an independent traveller.

Of course, Japanese authorities are bemused by the lack of interest in package holidays to Japan. Those who’ve arrived have generally come from Taiwan and South Korea. Very, very people people from Western countries have expressed much interest. The Japanese struggle to understand Western mindsets. Australians are intrepid travellers. In Europe, in Africa, in South East Asia are beloved Antipodean cousins are found in all the most unusual places. Australia’s diversity makes it easier for Australians to feel comfortable in all sorts of situations. After all, if your neighbours are Afrikaners, Italian, Vietnamese, Hong Kongers, Dutch, German, English, Scottish, Irish and New Zealanders along with the Australian-born, then interacting with others won’t be that great a challenge. For Europeans, different languages, different people are a fact of life that most are perfectly accustomed to. We’re comfortable being strangers in strange lands. Well, maybe not all of us are fully comfortable with travelling solo through Congo or Kyrgyzstan but most of us are comfortable enough in travelling on our own.

What raises concerning questions is that Japan, which does not allow non-citizen non-residents to travel freely to Japan, does allows its own citizens and non-citizen residents to travel freely. You can see Japanese travellers in the UK, in the Netherlands, in Sweden, in Hawai’i, in France… What you don’t see is British, Dutch, Swedish, French or American travellers in Japan. If the reason for this is “controlling disease”, then it is not a reason. There is no difference in the ability of Japanese and non-Japanese to transmit disease. A Dutchman would be right to be annoyed as he has to cancel a planned holiday in Japan (again) whilst looking at a Japanese holidaymaker drinking coffee next to him in Utrecht.

Although the Japanese government have taking cautious, gradual steps in fully re-opening Japan what hasn’t changed is the reluctance of the Japanese people themselves to accept the return of independent holidaymakers. I’m in regular contact with Japan. All have told me the same thing. Even when Japan fully re-opens, it would be better for me not to go to Japan for at least five years. It is not that they bear me any personal animosity. It’s that many businesses will not serve holidaymakers (including restaurants, hotels and inns) and many individuals will display that chilling passive-aggression for which Japan is so famous.

Life is charging ahead for most people. People are travelling again, people are eager to explore again. Countries like Taiwan and Japan risk being sidelined, they risk falling off the global public’s radar. Even someone as positively predisposed as I am can’t easily overlook this. Why hold on for years to go to Japan when I can go to South Korea or Vietnam? Both are beautiful places with much to offer. When deal with people who don’t want me there when I can go to a place like South Africa where people actually “want” to see me? Jy moet Suid-Afrika besoek! Jy moet sokkie dans! Nee, Mevrouw, ek moenie sokkie dans nie! Maar om Suid-Afrika te besoek klinkt baie goed!

Woke up?

In the years following the end of the Second World War, the United States controversially exported its pop culture around the world. The “American Dream” sold well. Perhaps it was just that — a dream, a fantasy, but it had its appeal and people wanted a taste of it. It was youthful, unorthodox and dynamic. People from Japan to Germany to Australia to Taiwan wanted to drink Coca Cola, they wanted to watch American films, to listen to American pop music, to watch American films. Although, myself, a defender of British (Commonwealth) and European traditions, I appreciate the appeal of the American.

The United States held a certain appeal. Americans never quite managed to develop culture to the same extent that others have. Sometimes, this is simply a result of the USA’s relative youth. Italy, Portugal, Germany… Countries with long, complex and rich histories and cultural legacies to which the USA simply cannot be compared. At the same time, the United States didn’t have their historical baggage, either. I would compare the USA and Russia — but that would be even more extreme. Russia has a cultural depth, a profundity which the USA doesn’t deserve to stand in the shadow of. At the same time, Russia has baggage that a worse enemy could scarcely be cursed to bear the half of.

The USA never had the same artistic heritage, so Americans bought up masterpieces from around the world and housed them in some of the world’s greatest, most innovative museums. The USA did not produce classical musicians of the same calibre as Germany, Russia or Italy — so it hired them. American artisans couldn’t compete with European artisans, so the Americans simply gave them visas and lucrative contracts. San Francisco, San Diego and Santa Barbara benefited tremendously from this. Some of the most iconic pieces of American numismatic history — the Barber coins, the Morgan dollar, Saint-Gaudens’s series of gold coins and the Peace dollar — were designed by Europeans. Barber, Morgan and Saint-Gaudens were from the United Kingdom. Anthony de Francisci was from Italy.

The United States didn’t have a classical tradition of its own, but it had a freshness that Europe did not. There has never been an American Bach, but Gershwin was absolutely brilliant. There has never been an American Shakespeare, but Tennessee Williams wrote absolutely brilliant plays. No American city could compete with the complexity of a Rome, the elegance of a Paris, the grandeur of a London or even the faded glory of a L├╝beck. Yet… The United States had the chaotic brilliance of New York City, the contrarian charm of San Francisco, the hellish dream-scape of Los Angeles, the languid splendour of New Orleans and Savannah… At one time, the United States offered that with the added benefit of superior infrastructure.

For its faults and shortcomings, the Americans had something to offer, something new. They could be difficult, overbearing — but they could offer opportunities and they could be excellent. After all, the United States could afford to take chances, the United States could afford to buy that which it lacked. The world’s great musicians and actors “wanted” to perform in New York City, in Chicago, in Boston… The worlds’s great film stars “wanted” to get roles in Hollywood. If you were a young German engineer, a young Italian artisan, a young French musician, a Shakespearean-trained English actor, you could do infinitely worse than in the United States.

That has all somewhat changed. The United States has become the centre of a toxic woke culture that is tearing apart the fabric of much of the world. There are countries like South Africa where the desperate need for cultural and social openness has been undermined by the USA’s exported woke culture. Countries like the United Kingdom, like Australia, like New Zealand, like Ireland, like Canada are suffering severe negative consequences. Much like South Africa, their unique sets of historical circumstances are ignored and an ideology based on a warped assessment of the USA’s set of historical circumstances is imposed. Whatever failures the Old Realms had, they did not have the USA’s history of slavery and segregation. South Africa has its share of historical horrors, but it is not the United States and it cannot be treated as such. Much like the United States has long struggled to advance and improve, South Africa needs to do so as well — but it has to find its own path, its own modes.

As I watch the US fall apart around me in my final months here, I hope that we can collectively snap out of it and move past it. If the USA is determined to implode, then it will implode but we don’t need to follow it down the drain.

Vive la France?

Today two important elections took place in Europe. One was the second round of France’s legislative election. The second was Andalusia’s regional election. The results of both were a rebuke of the ruling party. In France, where Macron was re-elected in an uncomfortably close election his coalition lost its majority. That was not a surprise. Macron won only because the name Le Pen is pure poison in France. To his credit, Macron recognised that and acknowledged as much. (An equivalent to a Marine Le Pen would be Oswald Mosley’s daughter seeking to become PM)

Macron’s coalition remains the largest in terms of MPs, but it cannot accomplish anything without the support of the opposition. Macron attempted to appeal to the centre-right coalition to support him, but they perhaps wisely rejected his overtures. They’re now the smallest formal group in the French Parliament and are desperately attempting to remain relevant. Tying themselves to a detested, outgoing and very lame-duck president isn’t their ticket to a bright political future. After all, Macron cannot stand again. A man with no political future — outside the EU, of course — with no majority? Meh. Interestingly enough, the far-left have become the official opposition. They are in no mood to compromised or cooperate with a man they see as representing everything they’re against. Le Pen’s coalition has gone up to 89 seats which is a historic record for it. France might have rejected Le Pen, but France has also rejected Macron.

In Andalusia, the increasingly nationalistic opposition — the Popular Party — won an outright majority in a region that has traditionally been the heartland of the PSOE — the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. The parties of the left and the centre have either declined or completely been eliminated from the regional parliament. The only party to improve other than the PP were Vox which is a stridently nationalist party, the first to be in the Spanish parliament since the 1975 restoration of democracy in that country.

In both cases, the parties that improved were parties that, while not in favour of French or Spanish withdrawal from the EU, are keen on taking a page from Hungary and Poland. They might be EU members, but they’re not going to play ball and they’ll ignore everything that doesn’t suit them. Rather than becoming the de facto leader of Europe, Macron will just be a long-term placeholder. His grand ambition to replace Merkel (herself no utterly discredited) seems to have been dashed. He will not have a functional government and France will remain as ungovernable as ever. What hope has he to carry serious weight? What happens when Spain starts to actually assert itself again?

Perspectives (Each Way)

The Australian election was not kind to the Coalition. After nearly a decade in power any government would have struggled to win. Morrison, albeit an improvement over Turnbull, has not been much of a leader. There has been a lot of drift, there have been many half-decisions made that haven’t exactly endeared the Coalition to working class suburban and provincial voters. The Coalition survived the last election in no small part thanks to Queensland mining seats swinging heavily in their favour. Now, they’ve lost 22 seat on a swing of -6pc.

Labour, the winning party, managed to win eight seats giving them a narrow majority at Canberra. Yet… Labour also did worse in 2022 than they did in 2019, facing a swing of -.9%. Their negative swing was simply not as significant as the Coalition’s. The biggest winners were the “teal independents”, largely concentrated in the suburbs who gained six seats. The Greens won seats in inner Melbourne and inner Brisbane. Mark McGowan’s strength in Western Australia helped Labour secure a number of marginal seats in greater Perth.

These results are reminiscent of the 2019 Canadian federal election. The Canadian Tories won more votes than the Canadian Liberals. The Liberals were able to hold onto power only because their share of the vote in the Greater Toronto Area held up and they were able to hold onto that vote-rich area even if they were swept out of entire provinces. Of course, Albanese won an outright majority — something that Trudeau the Lesser did not. What does, however, seem likely is that Labour will make the most of their hand. They do not have a true mandate for change. Their share of the vote declined. A collapse in confidence in the Coalition was the reason for their majority. Yet… Albo understands power more than the hapless No Mates ScoMo ever could.

Perspective

Much has been said this week about the British local elections, the Stormont election in Ulster, etc. The usual culprits have, as always, missed the point. After 12 years leading government, the Tories have taken a hit. London was a nightmare, but that was to be expected. London has been trending heavily in Labour’s direction for some time. The West Country broke heavily for the Liberal Democrats. In other regions, the Tories gained seats. Minor parties also had a good night, especially in the Midlands and North. Boris has managed to make a dog’s breakfast of his tenure, but Starmer hasn’t convinced all that many that he’d be the better PM.

Ulster is trickier. Stormont does not have a first-past-the-post system. Nor does any party “rule” the province. Rather, there is an obligatory power-sharing system. Unionists did lose ground, but Nationalists lost even more ground. The neutral Alliance Party did best.

Islands

I flew back to Hawai’i after many years. The Hawai’ian Airlines flight left Sacramento at the same time as it did then. The aeroplane, an Airbus A330, was the same model as I flew back then. After a multi-billion dollar renovation, Honolulu Daniel K Inouye International Airport looks much the same as it did then. The experience of seeing the Hawai’ian Islands below felt much the same as it did back then. After thousands of miles of empty ocean, the high, mountainous islands provide a striking contrast, a contrast like the waters that surround them: deep blue turning into aquamarine, aquamarine turning into a green-tinged steel. Distant Diamond Head is as iconic as it was back then. Honolulu has grown since then, there are more skyscrapers, a few more hotels, but…

I didn’t linger in Honolulu. I had no desire to. It’s actually an interesting city. It can be rough in places. Like so many other things over past few years, places that were frayed around the edges have become truly dodgy. Honolulu’s Chinatown is fascinating, but for all its historical interest and distinctive architecture it’s… Well, it has a long history of looking the other way, of turning a blind eye. In its beginnings, it was a home of sorts for down-and-out Chinese men. Over the generations, many have made it home, learning to look away and ignore the inconvenient. This has given many desperate people comfort and security, but it’s also turned into a fulcrum for many social problems. No… Honolulu, with all its brilliant museums, historic sites and cultural depth is too busy for this ageing piece of human driftwood. The gathering place it might be, but I’d rather have my quiet.

Continue reading “Islands”