Category Archives: Current Events

Baby is Brexity


While there are other reasons for the current visit, one is the incipient vote in the UK on exit from the European Union. There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence, so let’s get parsing. And let’s just focus on that independent clause. It is early in the morning — about 2am — on 22 June, 2016. Tomorrow is election day for a single referendum, the wording of which is, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

First thing to note is that this refers to the United Kingdom, not Great Britain alone, and thus includes Northern Ireland. To remind our readers, Great Britain is the island itself, which contains England, Scotland and Wales. The UK is more completely written “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” So even the commonly used portmanteau Brexit (British Exit) is, itself, misleading.

An amusing, or tragic, result of this is that if the vote is Leave, then the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will become a 310 mile land border between the UK and the EU, a subject of much consternation amongst the populace on both sides of it (both border and vote).

So our two sides are Remain and Leave, so named due to the ballot choices presented, “Remain a member of the European Union” and “Leave the European Union.” For the record, Pawn comes down firmly on the side of Remain. However, in the interest of fair play and the free flow of information, he last night plopped down in front of the telly with A to watch The Great Debate on BBC|News. Pawn is a citizen by birth of the UK, by way of both his own birth on these shores, in outer London, and his father’s birth here. A is also a citizen by birth, by way of her father’s birth in Northern Ireland, but just as Pawn also enjoys US citizenship, she enjoys Australian. A complex little pot of nationalities were thus present before the LCD screen last night. She may vote as a current resident, I may not as I have not been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years (the cut-off term for this election).

While much has been made of Sadiq Khan facing off with Boris Johnson in The Great Debate — the current Mayor of London vs the immediate past Mayor of London; the first Muslim mayor of a European capital vs a WASP career politician of fluid stripes and naked personal ambition; the second generation immigrant product of a British comprehensive education vs. the white scion of the upper-middle class, product of public schools and Eton; Labour vs. Tory (although the Tory head, PM David Cameron, schoolmate of Johnson, is putative leader of Remain); the list goes on — there were actually three person sides in this debate, the other four all being women, and it was these others who really made it interesting.

They were, for Remain, Scottish Conservative party leader Ruth Davidson, and Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress; for Leave, Labour MP Gisela Stuart and [Conservative party] energy minister Andrea Leadsom. There was much reminding voters of mum-hood and grand-mum-hood, some of which lead to laughs, and there was much clammouring for the mantle of patriotism (brought flinch from A). Gisela Stuart was quick to remind voters that she herself is an immigrant, when it served her ends to do so, and Boris was quick to remind us of the same (her, not him) when it suited his ends, which were not always the same.

Part of what makes this whole thing so blasted difficult for the public is that it’s all just so ill-defined for so many people. The term Brexit, for example, that portmanteau I referred to above, confuses people who might be forgiven to think this involves just Great Britain, and not Northern Ireland, with the difficulties that introduces (see border, etc.). Brexit owes it’s existence as a term to predecessor Grexit, itself a mashup of Greece and Exit, but that had nothing to do with the EU, referring rather to the possibility of Greece being forced out of the Eurozone, and its Euro currency, governed by the European Central Bank. The UK is part of none of those institutions, having its own central bank (BoE) and currency (pound sterling).

Into the void of public understanding of just who is leaving what pour ready vats of misinformation, carefully (or not) fashioned by the two sides, their backers (bankers, unions, business, Russia, USA, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, etc.) and the press. There are so many articles, mentions, debunkings, exposés, exploitations, etc. of this misinformation, it can be hard for even a determined voter to get at the truth.

Boris Johnson and friends, for example, were quick to raise the very real spectre of all of southern Europe — meaning Italy & Greece, but really meaning the commonly referred to PIIGS countries of Portugal, Italy, Ireland Greece and Spain — being forced into the worst depression and recessions since the Great Wars, even though, as with Grexit, that has to do with the Eurozone, of which the UK has no part. It may be an effective scare tactic to point to youth unemployment rates as high as 50% in those countries, which is true, but that has no real relevance to the matter at hand, unless one is stoking fears of mass migration, which, Surprise!, is exactly what they’re doing.

The cause and effect of mass migration is very much at play here, as are its bedfellows, xenophobia, racism, hatred. Witness, for example, the image recently introduced by Nigel Farage‘s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP):


Those are refugees fleeing war in Syria, by the way, which by International law are protected peoples, but Farage will gleefully use them as a harbinger of huddled brown people flooding the shores of England. And mind you, he’s talking just to England here. Scotland is all too happy to welcome more.

The influx of foreigners which has many here upset are those economic migrants coming from other EU countries, those taking advantage of Freedom of Movement, a central tenet of the EU itself. One can walk into a pub anywhere in this country, so it would seem, and be waited on by a Pole, or other EU migrant. But for maximum effect, Farage focuses not on those other white-skinned people, but on our darker brothers and sisters from less savoury places (remind you of someone, Mr. Trump?).

To be fair, there is plenty execrable behaviour on the side of Remain, too. Cameron has proven himself all too willing in this campaign and others, to resort to blanket statements of untruth and conjecture masquerading as fact, to the extent one wonders just how he ever manages to actually win elections. In spite of his own best efforts, it would seem.

Well, enough of this. It is now past 03:00 and time for my time-shifted brain to go back to sleep. Tomorrow waits on the doorstep, the final day of the campaign, and then comes the vote itself.

I would be remiss, however, were I not to mention the assassination of the late Labour MP Jo Cox, of Yorkshire (yes, that Yorkshire, you Downton Abbey fans) who was shot and stabbed by a crazy man, shouting Britain First! (coincidentally the name of a nationalist, racist party) in Birstall near Leeds. She had come for a “constituent surgery” (think “town hall” meeting) to be held in a library, in her district of Batley and Spen, Yorkshire.


A passionate campaigner for human rights, refugee rights, prevention of war crimes and other humanitarian causes, Cox was also a firm believer in the European experiment, and campaigned strongly in defence of Remain. Her death shook the country in ways large and small, and lead at least one Leave supporting Labour MP to switch her vote. Macabre as it is, in response to her death the financial markets rallied, believing the public revulsion at a political assassination (the first in over 40 years) would bring people back to their senses, as it were.

We shall see, the final vote tally should be in Friday morning…

Make Europe Grate Again

On 06/01/2016, A Friend wrote:

Make America Grate Again
Trump Makes America Grate

And he’ll apparently be making Europe Grate Again, too.

As fans of the London skyline well know, the Brits are fond of naming their skyscrapers, with monikers such as The Gherkin and The Salt Cellar for two distinct smudges on the sky.

30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin)

The Shard, Southwark

Another recent entry is Leadenhall Building, otherwise known as the Cheese Grater:

Give it a fuzzy orange/pink doo, and we can call it Trump Tower Europe.

But enough of this urban history.  I am leaving in a couple of weeks for 15 days in Europe, starting 21 June in London.  This means I will be there when newly elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn debates his predecessor Boris Johnson on the Beeb that evening, on the topic of whether or not the United Kingdom should remain within a United Europe.

Sadiq Kahn & Boris Johnson

Sadiq Kahn & Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson, so like Donald Trump in so many ways (but who once said, “The only reason I wouldn’t go to parts of New York is the very real risk of meeting Donald Trump” after Trump claimed that New York, London & Paris had areas so unsafe even the cops wouldn’t go there) is arguing the Leave side on the so-called Brexit issue.  Sadiq Kahn, the first Muslim mayor of a major European capital, and currently riding a crest of popularity, will argue the Stay side.

One might expect that PM David Cameron be tapped to stand for Stay, but he’s not as popular, and is especially ham fisted when it comes to persuading the public on his case.

Of course such a portentous topic has politicians coming out of the woodwork.  We have Labour stalwarts Blair (the war criminal) and Brown (who’s dudgeon has rarely been higher) on the side of Stay, and just recently we heard from the only living Tory ex-PM, John Major, who delivered this retort to claims by Johnson & team that they have only the UKs best interests at heart, in this case the National Health Service, which they’ve claimed could receive £100m/week in new funding on Brexit:

“The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python,” Major said on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.

He added Johnson was a “court jester” but not a serious politician and said that the Conservatives Johnson had divided would not be loyal to him after leaving the EU.

Hmm, doesn’t that last graph sound familiar?

Meanwhile Bertie Ahern, former EU president and three-time Northern Ireland PM says get ready for some Trump-style walls:

We are not talking about freedom of movement between the Irish and the British. If the UK leave the EU we are talking about both EU citizens and non-EU nations still seeking a way into Britain. And the only land border between a post-Brexit Britain and the EU is on this island.

If you follow the logic of the likes of Boris [Johnson] on the issue of immigration I cannot see any other way they can fulfil their promise to control the numbers coming into the UK unless they set up border controls between the north and south on this island. That would be a catastrophe in terms of business and the movement of people every single day north and south on the island.

There are for example 200 unapproved rural roads linking the north and the south. Are the out camp seriously suggesting migrants won’t use these roads to get into Northern Ireland and then try to reach Britain?

So I will get to London on 21 June, the debate is that evening and the vote follows two days hence, on 23rd.  Teeth will grind and nails will be bitten, until results are announced the next day.  What else happens the next day?  Well The Donald, the only man in politics with more ridiculous hair than Boris Johnson, will swoop down on Scotland to occupy his newly reopened resort there in an attempt to further buttress his foreign policy chops.

So before I leave for Europe I need to find a good anti-Trump pin or two.  I’ve already had the experience of being there back in 2000, during that terrible time between when the people finished electing Al Gore and the Supreme Court decided otherwise, when I was constantly being asked how my countrymen could have been so stupid.

By the way, after this stint in London, it’s off to Amsterdam and then, before my return, Brussels, home of the EU government, which should be a really interesting place to be following Brexit/16, no matter which way the vote goes.

And no, despite Pawn’s British birth and citizenship, I cannot vote in this referendum, as I haven’t lived there for the requisite 6 months prior to the vote.

Well Put Mr. Ellsberg

From the Guardian today:

Edward Snowden: saving us from the United Stasi of America

Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us a chance to roll back what is tantamount to an ‘executive coup’ against the US constitution.

     –Daniel Ellsberg
This from the man who brought us the Pentagon Papers all those years ago.

Calatrava Tele Clava

From today’s Guardian newspaper, UK edition, comes news of revolt stirring in Valencia against claims of exorbitant fees paid by the conservative government to Santiago Calatrava for works both completed and those unrelaized:

Stunning bridges, airports and daring buildings have made him famous around the world, but now Santiago Calatrava is facing fierce criticism for his dealings with the local government in his home region of Valencia.

The architect, who designed the roof of the Athens Olympic stadium, is under fire from political opponents of the conservative-run authority, and a website highlighting fees paid to him by Spanish taxpayers has been launched.

Calatrava has charged some €100m (£81m) to the Valencia government, according to the website, established by the leftwing Esquerra Unida party. The party says it has managed to see copies of bills paid by the People’s party regional government to the architect, who is now based in Zurich.

Architect Santiago Calatrava accused of ‘bleeding Valencia dry’ | The Guardian

Architect Santiago Calatrava accused of ‘bleeding Valencia dry’

Careless Courtship and the Fact Challenged

John P. Avlon has it right today:

…”Not intended to be a factual statement” is an instant dark classic, a triumph of cynicism, capturing the essence of Michael Kinsley’s definition of a gaffe in Washington: when a politician accidentally tells the truth.
No wonder “people are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke,” as Will Rogers once said and Colbert increasingly embodies. But we can’t keep depending on comedians to be the voices of sanity.
And don’t be fooled. There are real costs to this careless courtship of the lowest common denominator. Without fact-based debates, politics can quickly give way to paranoia and hate. Our democracy gets degraded.
Americans deserve better, and we should demand better, especially from our elected representatives. Empowering ignorance for political gain is unacceptable.
Colbert vs. Kyl and spread of ‘misinformation’ | CNN

Hear ye to that! <emphasis mine>

An American Ex-Pat’s Thoughts on Egypt

Pawn recently reached out to friend and ex-patriot T, now living in Mozambique, for her opinion on the current events in Egypt.  T is an international teacher, and has taught in Los Angeles and Thailand, before living and teaching in Cairo for some time.  This was her response:

Great to hear from you.  Yes, J and I are glued to the news everyday.  I think it is absolutely necessary for the people to fight against Mubarak.  He has been a tyrant and a merciless dictator for too long.  It is a shame that some people will get hurt, but I agree with the revolt and think that Hosni should resign.

I think it is amazing that social networking can possibly be the unifying factor for many people throughout Africa.  Here in Mozambique when we had the riots last fall, people were being organized by text messages, until the government cut off all cell phone service.  That was the only way to squelch it.

Many Africans in countries with corrupt governments have needed a way to organize and join together to fight and be heard, now facebook, text messages, have reached the common man, the economies have been increaing and the technology has become available to the masses.  Just last month there were protests in Tanzania for the first time in twenty years and it was all organized through texts.

Again I don’t want to see people get hurt and looting and destroying property is horrible but If you mistreat people for long periods of time, you can’t help but expect them to fight back violently.  I just hope that the international community puts enough pressure on Mubarak so that he will actually step down.  I’m worried about  my Egyptian friends of course, and concerned for their safety, but I know they are ready for the regime to be toppled.

New Mediator for Egyptian Crisis

This just in:

Controversial graffiti artist and Mobarak’s friend Banksy to act as mediator.”The embattled president of Egypt has confirmed through a Facebook entry and through the state-run Nile TV that he is willing to open his door to negotiations with the leaders of the rival parties under two conditions.

“First is for the immediate halt of the street protests in the city of Cairo and Alexandria and second is for President Mubarak’s friend and a popular graffiti artists, Banksy”… to mediate between the parties.

Egypt’s Mubarak Opens Door to Negotiations, Requests Banksy | Newsflavor

Appropriated Fables

Tonton Macoute c1976 by Gèrard Bruny

Here’s an interesting thing Pawn heard on the BBC last night on an episode of The Strand, the arts and culture show of the World Service.  The first story was about a new anthology of Haitian fiction called Haiti Noir.  The interview, with the editor, was quite interesting.  The episode is here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00cgkp8
The segment in question is the first one.

One thing I found interesting was the editor, Edwidge Danticat’s, explanation of the title.  In Creole, “noir” in addition to meaning “black” as in traditional French, also means native, familiar, one of us, as opposed to “blanc” which is taken to mean a foreigner.  But it also, in fiction, has the meaning with which we associate it.

But the other thing which really got my attention was her explanation about historical appropriation of traditional stories, such as the Tonton Macoute, by the state.  In traditional Haitian Creole lore, the Tonton Macoute (Uncle Gunnysack) is a form of boogeyman, who walks the streets after dark and kidnaps children who stay out too late.  After disbanding the Hatian army and police forces, upon gaining power, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier organized his own, ruthless, security force.  The citizens quickly named it the Tonton Macoute due to their habit of disappearing those who ran afoul of the regime.

Anyway, this whole idea just struck such a chord with me, the idea of a frightening instrument of the state getting named after a fairy tale character.  This immediately made me think, what does Janjaweed mean? To me the Janjaweed militia, known for their effortlessly ruthless attacks on innocents in Sudan represent the very worst of thugish behavior.  To what, I wondered, does that name owe its legacy?  I looked it up, and it means, literally, “ghostly riders,” fro Jin “spirit” jawad “horse.”  Or, more popularly, “Genie on a horse.”  Again, a perhaps childish visage, a genie, who rents the fabric of a displaced community.

Perhaps most striking to me is that the implication of the fairy tale is that a well behaved child need not worry, it is only if you stray that the Tonton Macoute, the Janjaweed will swoop in, throw you in his gunnysack or across his horse, and spirit you away to someplace far away from your family and your comfort and your warm bed.  You bad, bad child!

So, that is what I was left to ponder as I tried to return to my own warm, comfortable slumber.

This morning I went to the book seller and bought the book.