In an interview with the Texas Observer in 2006, Greg Grandin complained, “History is abused in all sorts of ways by those who want to reduce every issue or conflict to its barest emotional simplicity in order to justify American power in the world.” He was, of course, referring to the neocons and their antics in South America and the Middle East. Grandin has been a longstanding critic in books such as Empire’s Workshop and The Last Colonial Massacre, as well as in his work for the UN Truth Commission on the Guatemalan civil war.
The most baffling element in this story is that such a foolish and appalling man as Ford could have founded a hugely successful industry and inspired so much loyalty among his workers. In Brazil, he was dubbed the “Jesus of Industry.” In the U.S., he was likened by his employees to a Moses leading them toward the Promised Land. Yet Ford was quite clearly a destructive character: he subscribed wholeheartedly to the ideas expressed in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and had an intensely vindictive relationship with his son Edsel. In his descriptions of Ford operatives wrestling with Amazonian and Brazilian society, Grandin conveys immediacy and excitement. With a light ironic touch, he brings to life the rogues and cranks who animate his tale. But beneath his history of Ford’s adventures in the jungle and the recounting of the tycoon tyrant’s dreams and caprices, readers will discern an undercurrent of criticism for globalized capitalism and for the part that the U.S. has played in its development. This theme emerges more distinctly in an excellent last chapter, which ties the threads together. “Even as Ford was preaching his gospel of ‘high wages to create large markets,’” as Grandin puts it, “Fordism as an industrial method was making the balanced, whole world Ford longed for impossible to achieve. Today the link between production and consumption, and between good pay and big markets, has been broken, invalidated by the global extension of the logic of the assembly line.” For Grandin, the world is a much worse place now than it was in Henry Ford’s times—a view that will be shared by many readers. For we are all Fordlandians now.
One might think that he would turn from such grim topics with a light heart to the description of Henry Ford’s failed attempt to bring civilization to the Amazon in exchange for rubber. And he has, to a degree. Fordlandia, his account of the doomed founding of two Ford towns in Brazil, is written with a flair and deftness that one might expect to find in a well-crafted novel, yet a darker theme prevails.
The story starts with that favorite Hollywood villain: the Englishman. In 1876, Henry Wickham, a ne’er-do-well British wanderer, smuggled 70,000 Hevea seeds from the Amazon to Kew Gardens, a service for which he received a knighthood from Queen Victoria. Hevea, the tree that produces latex, is native only to the Amazon. As the industrialized world’s appetite for rubber rocketed in the second half of the 19th century, the Amazon experienced a latex-led boom. Rubber profits turned Manaos into a center of culture. But this did not last because latex grown in the jungle could only be sourced—“tapped” is the phrase —inefficiently, whereas the wicked British with their stolen seeds were able to grow Hevea on great plantations in their Far Eastern colonies. By 1923, the rubber production of the British Empire had outstripped that of the Amazon by a factor of almost ten.
This is where Henry Ford, with his ideals and his prejudices, comes in. There does not seem to have been much to Ford except work and more work before he founded his Ford Company in 1903. Then he started to voice his homespun philosophy: cars would end conflicts because people would travel and get to understand each other. “Happiness is on the road,” he said, chorusing Mr. Toad. “I am on the road, and I am happy.”
Ford reached the peak of his powers in his fifties, when he invented the production line and standardized the parts of the Model T, driving down the price of automobile production. He raised his workers’ wage to a minimum of $5 a day, enabling them to buy the cars they produced.
With Ford’s success came a certain hubris: he hired an ocean liner to travel to Europe on a mission to convince the British and German empires that they should desist from war. They did not listen. At this stage of his life, Ford’s opinions would not sound out of place in contemporary America. He was a suffragist and a pacifist and also a keen recycler. (Even the boats that took the first cargoes to Fordlandia were converted from scrapped vessels.) Ford hated government and banks, which he blamed for promoting war and empire.
So when it came to his attention that the rubber trade was not only dominated by British estates in the Far East but that colonial merchants had supplanted the Amazon rubber trade, Ford saw a chance to put his ideas into practice. He would create a civilized rubber-producing settlement in Brazil, complete with American-style bungalows, street lighting, and a hospital. An area of forest would be cleared, the timber put to good use, and a large Hevea-producing region would be planted. The Ford Company would offer the Amazonian rubber tappers proper wages and inculcate them with the values of small-town America. “In his more utopian moments,” says Grandin, “he envisioned a world in which industry and agriculture could exist in harmony with factories providing seasonal labor for farmers and industrial markets for agricultural products like soybeans.”
None of it worked. The tappers’ way of life proved incompatible with Fordism. They only tapped part-time and chose to practice animal husbandry. They did not want to give up their homesteads for full-time employment. But the Ford organization, while it encouraged horticulture among its workers, did not like the messy nature of small-scale livestock rearing. Ford abhorred cows because they produced only milk; he preferred soybeans that could be used for making plastic as well. “The cow is the crudest machine in the world,” he said. “Our laboratories have already demonstrated that cow’s milk can be done away with and the concentration of the elements of milk can be manufactured into food by scientific machines far cleaner than cows.” Above all, Ford was shocked to discover that while in the U.S. high wages ensured attendance at work, in the Amazon they encouraged absenteeism.
So the Ford Company abandoned its ideals and imported labor from the West Indies and elsewhere. But these workers brought their own problems: prostitution, gonorrhea, and loose dancing—the samba to be precise. Ford had hoped that the Amazonian natives would learn square dancing in evening sessions at the town hall.
The problems presented by the work force were as nothing compared to the difficulties created by the trees. Hevea thrived in large plantations in the Far East, where there were no pests or fungi. In the Amazon, these indigenous diseases, which had kept Hevea growth in check in the wild, ran riot when the trees were concentrated in plantations. Nine years after the founding of Fordlandia, the Ford Company, defeated by the terrain and the damp, moved its rubber-growing project to Belterra, where the land was drier and flatter. Yet even here the rubber project was not successful enough to warrant continuance. In 1945, after another nine years, Ford gave up the project completely and handed both Fordlandia and Belterra to the Brazilian government.
The most baffling element in this story is that such a foolish and appalling man as Ford could have founded a hugely successful industry and inspired so much loyalty among his workers. In Brazil, he was dubbed the “Jesus of Industry.” In the U.S., he was likened by his employees to a Moses leading them toward the Promised Land. Yet Ford was quite clearly a destructive character: he subscribed wholeheartedly to the ideas expressed in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and had an intensely vindictive relationship with his son Edsel.
In his descriptions of Ford operatives wrestling with Amazonian and Brazilian society, Grandin conveys immediacy and excitement. With a light ironic touch, he brings to life the rogues and cranks who animate his tale. But beneath his history of Ford’s adventures in the jungle and the recounting of the tycoon tyrant’s dreams and caprices, readers will discern an undercurrent of criticism for globalized capitalism and for the part that the U.S. has played in its development. This theme emerges more distinctly in an excellent last chapter, which ties the threads together. “Even as Ford was preaching his gospel of ‘high wages to create large markets,’” as Grandin puts it, “Fordism as an industrial method was making the balanced, whole world Ford longed for impossible to achieve. Today the link between production and consumption, and between good pay and big markets, has been broken, invalidated by the global extension of the logic of the assembly line.” For Grandin, the world is a much worse place now than it was in Henry Ford’s times—a view that will be shared by many readers. For we are all Fordlandians now.
Septimus Waugh is a carpenter and woodcarver living in Devon, England. His website is www.septimuswaugh.co.uk.
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In the current issue of Amcon there is an excellent review of Christopher Buckley’s memoir,Losing Mum and Pup, written by Alexander Waugh. To view it you will need to subscribe. Since writing Fathers and Sons, a perspicacious history of two centuries of father son relationships in the Waugh family, and the House of Wittgenstein, a family at War, Alexander has become an expert at divining family dynamics. His description of the relationship between Evelyn and Arthur Waugh, Evelyn’s father, avoids the clichéed partisanship of previous biographers and manages to provide a moving and sympathetic portrait of both warring parties. Alexander had also written two books previously in a more intellectual vein: Time and God. The first is an highly educational and entertaining history of time and the human perception of it from the Mesopotamians to Einstein, and the second is a biography of God, drawn from biblical and post biblical sources designed to prove á la Hawkins that he was too paradoxical ever to have existed. But Alexander has recanted his intellectualism as his comment on Buckley`s book illustrates
If Buckley had been known in England, he would not have been revered as an intellectual, but that is because the English do not go in for revering intellectuals .In fact we do our best not to be considered intellectual. In Britain, we think it odd that the Americans are prepared to devote acres of print to a seemingly trivial question like whether Christopher Hitchens has shifted an inch to the Right or the Left in his most recent statement on Iraq.
In fact, his dedicatory quote at the front of The House Of Wittgenstein is a most damning indictment of intellectualism. In Ludwig Wittgenstein’s own words (translated):
” There are an an enormous amount of general empirical propositions that count as certain for us. One such is that if someone’s arm is cut off it will not grow again.”
He was observing his brother’s partially armed state and deriving a general proposition from it. In the light of modern science how wrong he was.
At the end of Alexander’s review he warns Buckley Junior
Christopher Buckley will discover in the years to come that his relationship with his deceased parents has changed, to consider, quite seriously, writing another memoir of his parents in about 12 years time
Here Alexander is remembering his own memoir of his father in Fathers and Sons. If I have one criticism of that excellent book it is that, written soon after his father’s death, it does not deal with the relationship between his father and his grandfather with the same discernment that he deals with the relationships between his grandfather, and great grandfather, and the other greats back through time. He was feeling the death of his own father too keenly and desiring too intensely to memorialise him fondly and lovingly to be able to write dispassionately. Indeed he even accepted uncritically stories propagated by my dear brother partly in jest. One such is the story of the Bananas that appears in my brother Bron’s memoir, “Will This Do?” regurgitated in Fs and Ss, and again in Alexander’s review of Pups and Mums. The story goes that Evelyn, in monster mode, on his return from War ate the whole family’s ration of Bananas while his children and wife looked hungrily on. The true story is more complex more mundane and less damning. It is a conflation of several stories. The first, for which I was not bornbut which was told me on solemn oath by my nanny in the nursery, was that it was not Evelyn who was the pig but Auberon, and it was not Bananas that were devoured but scones with clotted cream and Jam. Evelyn the conquering hero was returning home from soldiering . The family had collected their cream and jam rations to celebrate his triumphant return, and had gathered under the Welcome Home banner at the front door to greet him when it was noticed that the six year old Bron was missing. The lure of the cream and Jam had been too great for his wartime tummy to resist. Filial duty had been abandoned in favour of scone scoffing.
In more prosperous times Evelyn did indeed once see off a small jar of Caviar under the hungry eyes of his children. A very kind American millionairess called Mrs. Cutting had adopted the Waugh family as a family-in-need and had taken to sending us Christmas hampers to lighten our hearts in the festive season. I am sure that at the time there were hundreds of thousands of families who received similar munificence from other soft hearted Americans. But Mrs. Cutting excelled. The Christmas hampers kept coming till I was eleven years old: a full 17 years after the war had ended . In one , maybe the last one, among the fruit and nuts and pecan pies, there was a small pot of caviar, and I think, in retrospect, that my father took the wise decision to save us from the pain of an acrimonious partition by devouring the whole pot himself.
The third story does involve fruit and does my father less credit. There were two actors: my father and my mother, and two witnesses: myself and my sister Hatty. The two witnesses argue to this day about whether it was Bananas or Apples that were thrown. I favour apples. Three Coxes Orange Pippins had been gathering wrinkles in a bowl on our dining room table. Nobody would eat them and my father had been demanding, in the way that men did in those days, that my mother should remove them. But the apples stubbornly remained in place. Finally he swore that if they were not removed by the next day he would throw them at my mother. The apples stayed and the next night he kept his word, and my mother stood scornfully and wordlessly as the apples landed quite gently bonk bonk bonk on her forehead.Hatty and I were appalled. It was Love three: Laura three; Evelyn nil. I became a feminist overnight. But it was not a reflection of their relationship. It was a strange event. They had a companionable and loving marriage. Maybe my father’s classical imagination was fired up by the three apples and he saw them as golden apples, and my mother as Atalanta, and himself: Hercules. He did at that time have a thing about keeping his word.
Despite this one failing that I have elaborated on at great length, I do recomend Alexander’s book Fathers and Sons. It casts strong and universal light on the nature of Father Son relationships, and further I commend Alexander himself who is a polymath. Not only does he write books, but he composes music beautifully. He has co-written with his brother Nathaniel a wonderful Gothick comic musical, called Bon Voyage, with Baroque and Romantic scores which won the top musical award in Britain, but has not yet been put on commercially. There are plans to take New York by storm with it once the backers have been found.
Today I received a round robin in my inbox. It seems to sum up the atmosphere in U.K. at the moment
This is unbelievable, but true! Can you imagine working for a company that has a little more than 600 employees and has the following employee statistics.
29 have been accused of spouse abuse
7 have been arrested for fraud
9 have been accused of writing bad cheque’s
17 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
3 have done time for assault
71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
8 have been arrested for shoplifting
21 are currently defendants in lawsuits
84 have been arrested for drink driving in the last year
Which organisation is this ?
It’s the 635 members of the House of Commons, the same group that cranks out hundreds of new laws each year designed to keep the rest of us inline.
What a bunch of bastards we have running our country – it says it all. And just to top all that they probably have the best ‘corporate’ pension scheme in the country!!
If you agree that this is an appalling state of affairs, please pass it on to everyone you know.
It’s time to stand up to this lot !
It is business as usual in the U.K. The catch phrase at city drinks parties is “Bonuses are Back”: Bab for short. After much breast beating and a great song and dance over the appointment of a new speaker ,who was supposed to sort out the fecklessness of our parliamentarians, the labour party used their majority to vote in Mr Feckless himself, John Bercow . It was a silly partisan victory. The Tories were left gnashing their teeth because Bercow is a turncoat tory having drifted from the far right to being proto-labour after marrying Sally Illman a labour sympathiser. In all this Majaderia the true potential saviour of the British parliamentary soul was left languishing on the back benches with a mere 40 votes. That person was Anne Widdicombe: a Roman Catholic, self proclaimed virgin with a shrill voice and an incorrigibly honest and persistent nature. She would have harried and berated those greedy parliamentarians until they acquired some moral sense. It would have been great fun to watch, but alas it was not to be. One postscript: the speaker will get an enormous pension when he retires. Anne Widdecombe would have only been speaker for one year as she has already announced that she wishes to retire, but an enormous pension in her hands would have been well spent on good causes. I doubt that the same will apply when Mr Bercow retires
Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, the red conservative rag, has a story which may be of interest to Amcon readers. The Prince of Wales, Charles U.K, has just got himself into another spat with Lord Rogers and the architecture community. This time their rage may be justifiable.
Lord Rogers had just designed a one billion pound plan for the redevelopment of the old Chelsea Barracks. The Emir of Quatar ,who owns the plot, was going to pick up the tab for the most expensive building project ever in the UK which would have provided much needed jobs for our beleaguered building industry: in the last year, architects claiming unemployment benefit have risen from 150 to 1290 persons. In the current climate it would have certainly been passed by the planning authorities, however hideous it may be.
Prince Charles, realising that the case of the action group against the project would not be won by open debate in the UK, has written to the prime minister of Quatar, a cousin of the Emir, to complain, and hit the jackpot. The Emir has agreed to withdraw the plan, and to include the Prince’s Foundation for the Built environment in plans for a future design. Thus, for another year, the traffic of central London will not be blocked up with happy builder’s vans trundling back and forth, and 1290 architects will have to remain on the dole. I am interested in what American Conservatives may make of this story. (a) are such parochial uk matters of no interest (b) does it offend the American Republican spirit to have two princes arranging matters of public interest through private letters or (c) does the Thoreauan principle of “one man more right than his neighbours constitutes a majority of one” apply?
There is at the moment an attempt being made by responsible sages of British media and our politicians to move the debate from M.P.s expenses to the subject of our economy and which part of it is going to be saved from the swingeing cuts that will have to happen to avoid meltdown as the our national debt and the interest on it rise stupendously. El CamCam and the red Tories favour saving The national health service, while the betented Labour party are refusing to commit themselves.
But I suspect that the expenses issue will run through to the next election with the British electorate. The economy seems hopeless -its a done deal- and we cant understand it anyway. The issue of wanton use of public funds by our m.ps, and whether they can reform themselves and aquire transparency is much more fun, and maybe in a way more important. Honesty in our politicians is surely a prerequisite for dealing with the momentous problems that are accruing. My local M.P. Angela Browning has set off on the narrow uphill path having been exposed for minor venalities in the Telegraph. She writes a very boring column in the local rag The Tiverton Gazette- proud winner of the award for best Journalism in the South West of England- but that has not stopped her from being exposed by her paymaster. She appears contrite even if her excuses ring slightly hollow:
“All items on my ACA (Additional Costs Allowance) were in accordance with the rules in the Green Book,” she said. “I have been careful to repair whenever possible and have made good dilapidations in a responsible way
If only Gordon Brown could boast that he has made good dilapidations to the British economy. I must sign off now I have a wall to dilapidate responsibly.
I recommend Lagaan. It is a Bollywood movie with a difference. I sat down to watch it after the trauma of voting in the European elections. At the start I did not know whether I would last the course as it is a rather wordy, archaic film, but its charm grew and by the end Significant and I were entranced . It tells the story of a cricket match between an Indian village team and their local British overlords. There is a stake on the game: the tax, Lagaan. If they lose they have to pay double tax, and if they win they do not have to pay any tax for three years. The village of course wins, but in order to do so they have to put together a team which includes a Sikh, a Saddhu, a Moslem, a disabled Untouchable and bunch of woodcutters and farmers. The film makers managed to find eleven of the most unprepossessing English actors to act the Villainous English team which they did with gusto. The acting was uniformly bold and bad and delightful, like two hours of top class charade. But it was a moving moral tale. The villagers had to overcome their differences and their caste prejudices in order to fight for their very survival. As with all Bollywood films song and dance acts were interspersed with the action, but the songs were beautiful devotional hymns to Lord Krishna, sung in that extraordinary high pitched treble that only Indian film stars seem to be able to achieve. The cricket match itself formed a large part of the film and was bliss. At the end of it Significant declared that she had finally understood what cricket was all about. High praise.
It really does feel quite depressing to be British at this moment. I spent the whole of last Thursday torpidly debating whether I should vote in the European elections or not. In principle I loathe nationalism, and think that it is a good thing to be part of the post babel multilingual world that Europe offers. But that is as far as it goes. I have absolutely zero interest in anything that is said or done in the European parliament. A lot of people get on their high horse about Health and Safety legislation and the like and blame Johnny Foreigner for it, but, as I see it, we have enough underemployed prigs working for the government here to ensure that we have a thriving health and safety industry without any aid from european legislation.
My torpid debate was as to whether it was frivolous to vote when I did not know who any of the candidates were, or whether I should vote merely because of the principle that I liked the post babel world of Europe. Of course at the moment our post-babel Eden is threatened from within by the growth of nationalist Xenophobic movements throughout Europe. Some of them, notably in Hungary, have even started dressing up in Uniform. But our own homegrown be-suited variety is obnoxious enough. So in the end I slunk off just before closing time to the voting booth, and voted Green. There were four anti Europe parties competing for votes, one pro Cornwall party, and numerous parties which had incomprehensible initials, besides the three main parties. My vote was, of course, ineffectual, and the British National Party now have two members in the European parliament: one of them named Andrew Brons looks like a kindly old gentleman, but in an article in the Guardian Duncan Campbell says of him in his youth:
The group he first joined included among its members people responsible for arson attacks on Jewish property and synagogues. According to the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, which has been tracking his career for decades, Brons appears to have approved. In a letter to Jordan’s wife, Brons reported meeting an NSM member who “mentioned such activities as bombing synagogues”, to which Brons responded that “on this subject I have a dual view, in that I realise that he is well intentioned, I feel that our public image may suffer considerable damage as a result of these activities. I am however open to correction on this point.”
These two oulandish M.E.Ps are having a whale of a time being hounded by anti fascist demonstators at any news conference that they turn up to. I have never seen people so delighted at having eggs thrown at them. They are victims in victory, and soon no doubt they will be appearing with armies of minders to protect them from the multiethnic rabble. It is all very depressing.
Many Labour MPs blame Gordon Brown for the success of the far right in Labour’s heartland. El Camarada Cameroon has been running round the country promising all the volutions- rev, dev and ev- and what has El Gordo, Señor Castaño, been up to. Well he’s been sitting in his tent! Was he sulking like Achilles? Was he dreaming like Constantine before the battle of the Milvian Bridge? Or was he just sitting in his tent? Most probably none of those three. Hes been scheming. El Gordo Castaño works slowly. He has let labour savour defeat, allowed rebellion to blossom, and and has quelled it and now he knows his enemies within his party, but can he take the fight to the electorate? The only party that the electorate will vote for whole heartedly will be one that offers meaningful constitutional reform that will make the executive answerable to parliament and parliament answerable to the people. People are universally fed up with parliamentarians for being otiose, dishonest and halfwittedly arrogant. People are astounded that they thought that they could hide their abuse of the expenses system while trumpeting their adherence to freedom of information and transparency. Already William Haig, the deputy to El Camarada Cameroon, has been denying in interviews that El Cam has promised rev dev and ev. Apparently he has only promised to discuss it when he gets elected. That will not wash when it comes to the parliamentary elections, and I don’t expect that el Gordo will do any better. We are too addicted to secrecy in England. alas!
Inspired by R.J. Stove’s article on Evelyn Waugh, I have been looking through Robbery Under the Law again, and have come across, in the introduction, a very comprehensive credo that defined his conservatism:
“I believe that man is by nature, an exile and will never be self-sufficient or complete on this earth; that his chances of happiness and virtue, here,remain more or less constant through the centuries and, generally speaking, are not much affected by the political and economic conditions in which he lives; that the balance of good and ill tends to revert to a norm; that sudden changes of physical condition are usually ill and are advocated by the wrong people for the wrong reasons…”
And so it continues for a page. I found myself signing up to the majority of its pledges . I throw it into the pot for two reasons: firstly it seems to be a preoccupation of Amcon bloggers to define their conservatism, and it might be helpful; secondly because I do not recognise this type of conservatism in the leader of the current Conservative Party of Britain, David Cameron. His response to popular rage at the irresponsible spending spree of our policians has been to offer radical change and power to the people. We will be consulted over the internet, a fatal idea; we will be able to deselect sitting mps if they behave badly, a good idea in theory; the whipping system that is used in the U.K parliament to ensure that party members vote in a block with their party will be dismantled so that genuine debates on laws can be held in parliament. In this way laws can be scrutinized and emended before being effected. This sounds fine but it would soon be subverted in practice. His worst and most dangerous idea is that we should be able to run local government by local referendum via the internet. If 5% of any given local population wants a referendum on some issue such as policing they can call a referendum, and we are all going to have to start pressing the buttons on our computers. As if it is not bad enough being tyrannised over by a priggish and hypocritical parliament, a second layer of bossiness is going to be added to the burden that we carry, that of the interfering power crazed neighbour. This profusion of ideas which , if implemented, would overturn our existing constitution, would throw us Brits into a state of terrible confusion. These ideas are a smokescreen thrown up in a panic to give the impression that el Camarada Cameron is the man who can create institutions that will force our politicians to be more honest. The real truth is that our whole society needs to become more honest.
David Marquand in an excellent article in the Guardian links the petty venality of the british politicians to the economic crisis and blames the two things on a moral turpitude in western civilization shared by all of us, rich and poor alike. This has been engendered by a neo-liberal vision that “the unhindered rationally calculated pursuit of individual self interest in free competitive markets (is) not just economically efficient but also morally right.” this he says “bathed the flagrant disparities of reward that marked the neo liberal era in the odour of sanctity” and led directly to the greed of the householders, borrowing more than they could repay, of the bankers and their bonuses, and the politicians and their seedy house deals.
On Friday May 22 in his diary column in the Guardian Hugh Muir wrote.
• The world stands transfixed as the trouser-gate virus continues to afflict the mother of parliaments. Expense abuse scandal hurts UK parties, says Germany’s Die Welt publication. Gravy train crashes for UK lawmakers, reports the Associated Press. But there’s less interest in Croatia, understandable given the recent election there of Josko Risa, the mayor of Prolozac, whose slogan “All for Me – Nothing for You” struck such a chord with the voters. “I just told them the truth. This town will be like my family business. If I get a little something, so do they,” was his rationale. Local resident Ivan Vjisnic appears sanguine: “We’re going to get ripped off no matter who takes over. At least he is being honest and up front about it.” Sometimes it pays to have this international perspective.”
Is this the way forward for our politicians? I should hope not. But ripples of fear are beginning to shake the Great and the Good outside parliament. Our Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, not to be confused with St.Thomas Becket, has said about our political Pinocchios.
“Many will now be wondering whether the point has not been adequately made: the continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy.”
The point will not have been adequately made until Parliament reforms itself. The danger is that we let up too soon for fear of something worse. Geoffrey Wheatcroft in an excellent article in the Guardian explains how Parliament had already lost its mojo before the lamentable expenses fiasco. It had been systematically ignored by Blair. Policy was no longer being debated in the chamber, and fine tuned there, but made on the hoof and in front of the camera. No wonder m.ps lost their hearts and started treating the weighty moral task of guiding our country’s fortunes as a workaday job from which they might hope to extract as much money as possible. But now their poor little corazones de madera ( spanish for wooden hearts) need to be thoroughly shaken up, swallowed into the belly of the whale and regurgitated at the very least, for them to rediscover their humanity.
Breaking News: Gordon (Pinocchio) Brown has connected with Jiminy Cricket at last. She comes in the form Of Joanna Lumley, a british actress who has been championing the cause of the Gurkhas. The Gurkhas are petite and very brave men from Nepal who hire themselves almost exclusively to the British army , and have saved many a British officer’s life in wars which have no interest to them beyond doing their duty as conscientious employees. Joanna Lumley’s father was one of these lucky officers saved by Gurkha intercession, and she has been fiercely campaigning for them to be allowed to retire to England and live here if they so choose after serving in our army. A few weeks ago the government announced that they could not let the gurkhas retire here because the country would be flooded with small Nepalese speaking men. Maybe they feared that Great Britain would share the Mexiphone fate of U.S.A by becoming a Nepaliphone country.
But Jiminy Jo went to work, humiliating ministers in front of the camera (easy sport these days), and hey presto! Today capitulation: Our home secretary announced that all ex Gurkhas would be entitled to live in the UK if they so chose, and Gordon Brown asked Joanna Lumley to tea with 36 Gurkhas,and she told the 5 Oclock news that it was a bit like Alice in Wonderland, and Instead of 36 Gurkhas turning up, hundreds did and they were all welcomed into 10 Downing street for tea and sandwiches, and Gordon kissed Joanna. And so… is Gordon’s wooden heart becoming flesh and blood at last? Time will tell.
Did you know that when Texans say what do you figure that coyote is up to, they have taken the word figure from the spanish figurar: to imagine
Well it has happened. The Pinocchio Parliament has terrorrized Michael Martin into jumping. But don’t fear. It will be a bungie jump. He will bounce back up again. He has an enormous pension fund, and some handsome expenses to be earned in the House of Lords. Arise Sir Michael!
There is something about this affair that smacks of the moribund. First there is the dying Newspaper: The Daily Telegraph which cannot even afford to pay its contributors. It has had to halve the wages of all it`s journos, but has found the money to buy the information about m.p.s expenses to give one last dying kick to the ungrateful world that has turned its back on it. Then there is the insanely greedy top echelon of our society, the bankers and politicians, who seem to be there just to steal whatever they can. In the last few years the dubious saying “You pay peanuts, and you get monkeys” has been the catch phrase of the Kleptocracy that rules us, but it is now apparent that if you pay loads’ a’ money you get swarms of rats. Gordon Brown has suggested that the regulation of M.Ps pay be farmed out to a committee from the private sector. The M.Ps will be awarded more money than they currently receive to prevent them from being tempted to steal it, and the jobless and poorly paid will see it as a stitch up.
I despair of being English. I am in the process of learning Spanish, a wonderful language, the equal of English as a literary language. I loved the article by Fred Reed in May’s issue of the Amcon about Alabama colloquialisms. I would like to share it with fellow bloggers, but alas it is necessary to subscribe to read it. Is it true that Pat Buchanan has prophesied the death of the English Language in the American Continent? I do recognise that when you Americans have finally to abandon English as your first language you may mourn the passing of those colourful provincial colloquialisms that you so treasure, but Spain and its ex empire offer every bit as much variety of self expression. Example majada = sheepfold, majadería= silliness, or rather sheepfoldiness. We dont have a word for it. Can anyone do any better?
Yesterday Michael Martin, the speaker of the UK House of Commons, finally got it. He APOLOGISED, but too late: just as the electorate are not forgiving the members of parliament, so the honourable members will not forgive Mr. Martin. He should have been their Jimminy Cricket, but when they needed a conscience, he was not there for them. They will get him out. Perhaps they will impeach him for their sins. Meanwhile the noses of the party leaders grow longer by the day as they swear vengeance on all expense fiddlers (including themselves?). Self employed people such as farmers and building tradesmen have a sneaking sympathy for the scams of the politicians, as they have themselves been using tax loopholes and the like as part of every day management of their businesses. But it is tempered by the justifiable feeling that those who make the laws that they seek to evade should not be evading those very laws themselves. As for those who are on Pay As You Earn tax, for whom there are no tax breaks or expense accounts, their rage is truly awesome. The danger is that electorate will turn to parties of the extreme right (the British National Party for example)
This is something that I have warned about in my review of “1848 Year of Revolutions” by Mike Rapport.
Cast the British public in the role of pastor and our politicians in the role of congregation and we have a full scale revivalist meeting going on in the UK, or at least the the part of it where members of the congregation get up on the podium and confess their sins and offer sums of money to their church (the Inland revenue). David Cameron , the leader of the conservative party, was the first to confess. He really regretted having used £680 of tax payers’ money to remove a Wisteria from his chimney. He realised the error of his ways and would not do it again and would sack any of his fellow shadow cabinet ministers who refused to pay back money that they had falsely claimed as expenses. And so started the flood of money and apologies. But it is not washing with the pastor. The Forgiveness and Redemption bit does not seem to be forthcoming.
The Brits have not yet got the hang of freedom of information and public accountability. Tony Blair launched these two novel ideas on the British public, and after covering up all the evidence to the contrary promptly went to war with Iraq on the phony pretext that Mr. Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Now the British parliament has offered to publish all the expenses claimed in addition to their salaries by Members of Parliament, but it was planning to release only a modified list with the most embarrassing details left out, when hey! presto! the Daily Telegraph got hold of the unexpurgated list and has been publishing it each day. Among the more venial of the sins committed by Labour ministers was the acquisition of two lavatory seats by John Prescott. He used to be called Two Jags Prescott because he had two Jaguar cars, but the recession has obviously reduced his venality count to two lavatory seats. Less venial and more venal is David Heathcoat-Amory for the conservatives who purchased 550 sacks of Cow poo with public money. It’s a hoot! But these two examples account for tiny amounts of money compared to the major carpet bagging activities that many of our politicians have been indulging in. The speaker of our parliament, who really doesn’t get it at all, has demanded that the police should investigate the mole who leaked the information to the Telegraph. David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party, who does get it, has called in all the shadow ministers and threatened them with the sack if they do not return their ill gotten gains to the Inland revenue. Result: lots of cheques have started winging their way from conservative central office to the Inland revenue. On the eve of the E.U parliament elections, repaying the Inland Revenue has taken on pandemic proportions and politicians from all our parties are now at it; desperately trying to buy back their virtue. Ah well! There is a very comforting sketch enacted by Goldie Hawn and Dean Martin on YouTube about the drawbacks of being smart and the advantages of being dumb. Here it is:
At first sight the story of the man who marries a dog, bitch to be precise, seems totally absurd and a society that could allow such a marriage might seem demented. But this story is not a fraction as crazy as the weird and wonderful disaster that has been wrought on the world by the the financial experts who have set up an unmanageable system of imaginary credit to make themselves rich at the cost of the well being of everyone else on the planet. In fact it is a tribute to the humanity of Indian culture , that anyone was prepared to suggest a cure for the dog murderer`s hysterical illness, and to the imagination of a culture that could produce marriage to a bitch as a potential cure. Will our western governments be able to come up with a cure for our hysterical banking system half as inspired as this one?
Last week the Euromillions lottery was offering £100,000,000, and like many a fellow lemming I thought it might just be worth a punt. What a joke it would be to win £100m! As it was I won £7.50, and in view of the world financial situation I am relieved that I did not win the larger sum. To be in debt at the moment is a much more secure place to be than to have large savings. Those banks with all their notional debts would be desperate to get their hands on my real money and go bust with it so that they could pay off at least a small part of their debt. The UK has foolishly offered to guarantee deposits of £35,000, so savers are anxiously running from bank to bank depositing their savings in £35,000 tranches. It would be hard work to dispose of £100 million in that way. I suspect that any American bank worth its salt would take the money and go bust instantly. The Irish having bravely offered to guarantee any savings however large could offer some good sport to the one hundred million pound investor. I presume that like any other self respecting western government the Irish government does not actually possess any funds which are not notional. They will be therefore open to blackmail á la Rupert Murdoch. Unless the Dáil opens its daily business with a rendition of God Save the Queen I will take away my 100mil. So there!
I was very impressed by the reasoning of a witty young American, of the on-the-street type, who was being interviewed about the world financial situation in one of those inane swoops that modern newscasters feel that they have to do to find out what the people think. He argued that since so many trillion dollars were needed to bail out the banks and since there were so may hundred million Americans, why not instead give a million to each and every American. What a party that would be! Sub prime mortgages would all get paid off, everyone would have cash in their pockets to buy, buy, buy and would it be any worse than giving it to just a few men in suits. Most probably not, though if I am anything to go by I don’t suppose the money would last long, but what the heck it would be fun while it lasted. The only problem is that the American government does not actually possess trillions, nor do its people. It owes trillions, and its bail out of the banks will just be more of the same: notional credits chasing notional debts.
I am a “Baby Boomer,” and my parents belong to the “Duck and Cover” generation. Baby Boomers were the product of increased copulative opportunities afforded by the end of the Second World War, and the Duck and Covers, having unleashed the power of the atom bomb, lived in guilty fear that another power—namely the Russians—might return the compliment. I remember dragging my Baby Boomer body up to my bedroom and blubbing after hearing a somewhat flippant Duck and Cover conversation between my parents at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Apparently we were all going to die because there was about to be an atomic war.
Baby Boomers were the youth of the 1960s, and a large section of The Sixties Unplugged deals with the youth “happenings” and movements that started in reaction to the Cold War caution of our parents’ generation. For us, this book has particular resonance, made stronger by DeGroot’s attitude to history. In an article entitled “When Nothing Happened” in The Journal of Mundane Behaviour, he argued that the writing of history is too influenced by what is interesting and newsworthy to be a true reflection of the past, which is made up of the boring and humdrum events of survival. By concentrating on extraordinary events, historians, he complained, were pandering to myth, though to tell the true tale of the past would be boring.
DeGroot’s historical method could be summed up as “describe and debunk,” an entertaining approach that involves telling the myth with all its excitement, producing some good jokes by way of debunking it, and adding a few mundane details made fascinating by their setting.
Enjoyable irrelevancies are sprinkled through this book, like seasoning on a delicious dish. In an essay on the genesis of the transistor radio, DeGroot reveals that, when the Japanese electronics firm Totsuko—forerunner of Sony—discovered that true marketability lay in being pocketsize, it had shirts made for its salesmen with pockets large enough to fit Totsuko radios. These nuggets provide good gossip material for ageing Baby Boomers, if only we can retain the information long enough to reach the dinner table.
DeGroot points out that very few of us ever went near the great sixties happenings. A miniscule percentage made it to Woodstock or Haight-Ashbury. Those who attended the Grosvenor Square riots in England, the Chicago convention riots, or the Berkeley sit-in would be statistically nonexistent as representatives of our generation. What we all share, however, is the myth of what happened, propagated for us by the newspapers and journalists. We have been content with that myth, convincing ourselves in the retelling that we were witnesses.
My 1960s were spent largely in a monastic boarding school in the west of England. There, like the Lady of Shallot, my school chums and I could but glimpse the events of the outside world as in a mirror. By 1968, however, two of the events dealt with by this book had impinged enough to affect our small community: the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and the Second Vatican Council. One enterprising boy, apparently inspired by protests against the war, collected up all our military uniforms on the eve of a general inspection by some military bigwig and flung them into the school swimming pool. The shock waves were palpable. The astonishment was even greater, though, when a young monk, nicknamed Kev the Rev, irrupted on a religious instruction class to tell us that the pope’s Humanae Vitae pronouncement was a load of bunkum. At the time we were appalled that a monk could so disrespect a pope. We had no clue that the revolutionary Dom Kevin was heretically defying the Holy Father’s pronouncement on contraception—a subject that was not on the curriculum. The penny finally dropped while reading DeGroot’s excellent essay debunking the mythology of the Second Vatican Council.
The last gasp of the 1960s passed me by because I went from the monastery to teach in a Catholic mission school in Tanzania, from which the trials and tribulations of the youth of Europe and America were even more remote. So I really am one of the great majority that DeGroot describes whose view of the past is not informed by the historical events recorded in his book but whose image of the world has been formed by the standard reportage of those events.
An essay on the sexual mores of the sixties relieved a long-held anxiety: had I somehow missed out on all that free love? “Sixties sexual rebels seldom made love,” DeGroot notes, “They f—-d.” I had done neither. Those like myself who were too “uptight” to partake will be gratified by the horrified descriptions of orgies and recantations by former free-love advocates contained in this book. One of many well-chosen and pithy quotes comes from Beryl Bainbridge on the subject of the pill: “In spite of all the scientific advances there wasn’t a pill invented, and we women knew it, that could stop your heart from being broken.” What balm to the monogamous soul.
DeGroot tells the story of the sixties with great pace and verve, organizing his material, in the way of soap operas, to hold the interest of as wide an audience as possible. The story of the United States’ growing involvement in Vietnam is interspersed with and interrupted by chapters on the civil-rights movement. Light relief is provided by chapters on Europe: one on the brawl between the foppish Mods and the dirty Rockers in Margate, England introduces the more socially challenging Watts riots in Los Angeles during that long hot summer.
At each end of the book are two entertaining essays on the juridical treatment of obscenity: the trial of Penguin for publishing an unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover started the sixties, and the Oz magazine’s “school kid’s issue” trial ended them. In his essay on the Lady Chatterley case, DeGroot quotes the prosecutor’s description of his modus operandi: “I put my feet up on the desk and start reading. If I get an erection we prosecute” and notes wryly, “On that standard, Chatterley seemed a filthy book worthy of a ban.”
DeGroot, an American, is much more charitable about the youth movements of Europe than those of America, toward whom he is amusingly and uniformly censorious. I suspect that it is a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Discussing the Port Huron declaration by the Students for a Democratic Society at the start of the sixties, he writes, “The decade produced few documents more boring, but S.D.S. activists, being dull, loved it.” When dealing with the Yippees, Weathermen, and Black Panthers, his prose becomes incandescent with disgust. Mods, on the other hand, merely amuse him, and he is polite about Marxist European revolutionaries such as Rudi Dutschke and Danny Cohn-Bendit. He positively approves, moreover, of the police-baiting antics of the Dutch Provos. The Provos were peaceful anarchists who carried out a series of “white campaigns,” the first of which entailed placing white bicycles around Amsterdam for the use of whoever wished to ride them. The police foolishly confiscated the bicycles because they offended their sense of order, whereupon the Provos unleashed a series of “white rumor” campaigns threatening enormous demonstrations against the police. The gullible Dutch law enforcers fell for them, put Amsterdam under a state of emergency, and annoyed the Dutch populace considerably with an absurd show of force, especially after no demonstrations materialized. The Provos’ campaigns were peculiarly effective. The Amsterdam city council took to providing free bicycles for the use of its citizenry, and the Dutch police learned the error of their ways and became the most liberal and relaxed police force in the world.
There is a darker side to this book, intent as it is on showing us that our rose-tinted view of the sixties is an illusion. DeGroot points out the massacres that we never knew about. Tlatelolco in Mexico, for example, was the scene of the slaughter of 200 or so protesters by the Mexican army on the eve of the 1968 Olympics. In comparison, the notorious Sharpeville massacre in South Africa pales into insignificance. The Mexicans effectively hid the incident from world view, while in another part of the world, Indonesia, the CIA and the British Foreign Service managed to cover up the extent of the killings that happened as Suharto ousted Sukarno.
I left Tanzania in 1969, wearing a Mao suit with a translation of the Little Red Book in the pocket, firm in the illusion that China would lead the world to a better future. DeGroot’s portrait of the Orient in the sixties has finally hammered home the horror of the Cultural Revolution, though I am not entirely convinced of the veracity of his assertion, harvested from the Internet, that the cafeteria of Wuxuan Revolutionary Committee had human flesh on its menu. Is DeGroot merely replacing one myth with another? But even if some of his stories have to be taken with a pinch of salt, this book is a wonderful fusion feast for anyone who picks it up.
Septimus Waugh is a carpenter and woodcarver living in Devon, England. His website is www.septimuswaugh.co.uk.
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