Saturday, 18 November 2017

Zimbabwe and lessons for South Africa

News24 has an interesting piece on Zimbabwe by Mpumelelo Mkhabela, written from a South African perspective.

The coup d'état in Zimbabwe – call it bloodless, benevolent, calm or whatever – holds so many lessons for South Africa.

In fact, the whole continent of Africa has a lot to teach us, mostly on how not to govern.

The question is whether we are taking notes. And if we are, whether we are going to act on what we are learning.

This has been the embarrassing aspect of African government for much of  my adult life - Africa has a lot to teach us, mostly on how not to govern. Yet in the UK there is a strange tendency to idolise Africa as the feckless political imbecile we should never criticise because... Because?

Whether Jacob Zuma likes it or not, there are no traces of Russia in our Constitution. We are closer to New York, London and Berlin than we are to Moscow. We have had what we might call the "cruel but distinct advantage" of seeing what worked better and what didn't in other jurisdictions.

The advantage was cruel because we learned from others while freedom fighters were being killed, tortured and jailed. But this is precisely one of the reasons we cannot afford to squander the lessons that Zimbabwe is offering to us now – on how not to run a country.

That seems to be Mr Mkhabela's main concern - the possibility that Jacob Zuma is not so much an aberration as an indication that South Africa could become infected with the Mugabe disease. I hope not, but when it comes to principled government Sub-Saharan Africa inspires as little confidence as it always has.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Not quite Swedish death-cleaning but -

At the moment we are busy chucking out masses of household clutter. Some of it goes to the charity shop, particularly large items of furniture, a few bits go to the auction and a fair bit goes to the tip. 

A particular pain has been reams and reams of old paperwork such as bills, receipts and financial info we need not have saved in the first place. In fact we've been really radical this time - we've dumped the filing cabinet. 

Altogether we've spent many happy hours clearing out the junk and still haven't finished although I'd rather not compare it with Swedish death-cleaning which achieved media prominence back in October.

Swedish debut author Margareta Magnusson wants you to tidy your house and think about death.

It might sound like a rather gloomy way to spend a weekend, but Magnusson – who describes herself as "between 80 and 100 years old", says she has spent the last 40 years cleaning her home in preparation for her death, and that she has "got a lot of pleasure out of it".

The uniquely Swedish practice of 'Döstädning' (death-cleaning) is a method of decluttering based on which objects will be of value to loved ones after your death.

Crikey - we certainly haven't spent the last 40 years cleaning our home in preparation for death. What a ghastly idea. A few days maybe, but this comment rings a bell.

"Today, people have enough jackets for a Siberian winter, and more shoes than a centipede could wear. When I was young it was completely different," Magnusson told The Local. "When I grew up we didn't really have brands, we didn't have logos, we had, if we were lucky, just what we needed. People today, in developed countries, have much more than they need, and that becomes a problem in the end."

Indeed - that's the real problem - we have more than we need which is why we find ourselves chucking lots of it away every now and then. Oh well - time to throw some more paperwork on the fire.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Peter Thiel: The Reasons for the Decline

Seems about right to me, but why has it happened and are we able to reverse the trend? There are a number of possible causes but it isn't easy to see how the trend could be reversed. Politically we are not even aware of it.

What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Steyn on multiculturalism

The video is a few years old, but useful as a reminder. Mark Steyn’s take on multiculturalism is as amusing as one would expect, but there is an important point embedded in it. Multiculturalism is essentially lazy, it absolves the believer from understanding cultures and avoids the intellectually and politically difficult task of comparing one with another.

In politics, easy mantras usually beat the tedium of nuanced analysis. Successful politicians know it and maybe that is the appeal of multiculturalism – it seems to simplify an impossibly sensitive and complex issue. Once a simplifying mantra takes hold there is no way back because the mantra is no longer a conclusion but a starting point. If indeed it ever was a conclusion – probably not.

There are sinister possibilities buried in all this, as if we are being dragged along by a miasma of political mantras which appear to simplify complex realities but do no such thing. As if we are at war with complexity but complexity is winning and we don’t yet know it.

Monday, 13 November 2017

No sex please, we’re bloggers

In view of the never-ending stream of sexual misbehaviour stories swirling around the great and the not so good, I wish to point out that my penchant for blogging entails no sexual suggestion or innuendo of any kind.

For example, posts about Jeremy Corbyn are not covert references to the sensual delights of hairy cheeks. Similarly, references to Theresa May should not be construed as a lascivious reference to a strict schoolmarm with a taste for exotic footwear. Absolutely not.

On the same lines - references to Harriet Harman – they certainly don’t imply a taste for shrill matronly dimwits. As for posts about Boris Johnson...

...hmm I’m feeling a little queasy at this point...

...although queasy is not a euphemism for anything...

Saturday, 11 November 2017

A shower of good things from the sky

It never was a religion for the rationalist and the worldling; it was based on alienation from the world, from the intellectual world no less than from the economic and political. It flourished in the Oriental imagination that is able to treat all existence with disdain and to hold it superbly at arm’s length, and at the same time is subject to visions and false memories, is swayed by the eloquence of private passion, and raises confidently to heaven the cry of the poor, the bereaved, and the distressed. Its daily bread, from the beginning, was hope for a miraculous change of scene, for prison-walls falling to the ground about it, for a heart inwardly comforted and a shower of good things from the sky.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason (1905-1906)

Santayana is describing the state of the Catholic church faced with the pressures of the modern world as it was over a century ago. Similarities are usually interesting - if we delete one of Santayana's words he could be describing the rise of socialism, or indeed any other political movement which promises a heart inwardly comforted against the dread spectre of reality.

Much the same promise also seems to be woven into modern secular leadership. Our leaders must seem to promise a heart inwardly comforted and a shower of good things from the sky. Leaders must display the right attitudes, the right emotions and seem to share the visceral expectations of the voter.

Fashions ebb and flow but we seem to be moving towards a world where nebulous sentimental posturing is more important than a firm grip on reality. Perhaps it always was, but as guide to reality our technical age seems to be stumbling. It is moving away from the technical outlook which has achieved so much over recent centuries and drifting backwards - back towards the shifting sands of sentimental standpoints on even the most technical matters.

Today the successful political leader is the one who understands how little interest there is in dispassionate analysis and precision. He or she is the one currently able to attract the modern voter who is subject to visions and false memories, is swayed by the eloquence of private passion, and raises confidently to heaven the cry of the poor, the bereaved, and the distressed.