Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Malawi

Independence for the former Nyasaland brought the great and honourable Hastings Banda to power, where he sat for the next thirty years, and I confess I can see the attractions of the lifestyle, being treated like a king, having any woman you want at your disposal, and men with brown tongues sycophanting to your every vision and ideal, inhabiting a world in which you have no enemies because they are all dead or in jail, where all the money that people make is being kept for safety in a bank account that you are philanthropically managing on their behalf. 

Clearly there are many who aspire to this lifestyle, and some of them run multi-national corporations, and some of them run media empires, and some of them run banks. Hastings Banda ran a country, and if he ran it into the ground, well, apparently nobody told him that this mattered – but then, before the crash of 2008, when the cowboys demanded a world without sheriffs, nobody told the people who run the multi-national corporations, the media empires or the banks either. Banda finally went off to the great tax haven in the sky and his successors have tried to undo the damage, though there are several centuries of colonial damage to undo as well, and now there is also AIDS to add to the corruption, the poverty, and the limited resources of a land dependent on virtually nothing, which is to say subsistence farming, even to survive. In the 1980s, when I was working for a while with War On Want, Malawi was rated just behind Eritrea and the Sudan on the list of countries in Africa reliant on western aid; today it is still on the list, but you need to turn the page to find it: a sign of considerable progress. Another is the fact that more people now die each year from AIDS than malnutrition – which is a startling statistic in a world that has cures available for both.

Malawi is landlocked, which ought to be a major economic problem; but virtually the entire length of its eastern border is the vast Lake Malawi, and the wildlife there, and throughout the country, is magnificent, placing the country in the top ten of the list of "best countries to visit" for several years. Presumably those who look at the zebra from the yachts manage to do so without noticing the shanty towns in the foothills or the queues outside the hospitals.



Marks For: 2

Marks Against: 4


Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Madagascar

The argument in favour of global warming is rarely put, but merits putting. Let me do it by analogy.

If you, as a nuclear family, are living in a house that becomes a daily mess because one of the children, probably a teenager, cannot aim straight at the toilet bowl, and another leaves her entire maquillage on the dining room table, with mascara spilling this way and henna staining that way, while older brother has left unfinished pizza sitting on top of the TV for so long there is now mould, and his ashtray has tipped over, leaving a large burn on the carpet because he failed to put out his last cigarette properly, and the air conditioner filter has not been changed for so long that the house’s ozone layer has collapsed into a state of mildew, and the mildew is competing with the pizza mould…someone, usually mum, has to call the troops to order, employ a housekeeper, and lay down some strict rules, which of course no one is going to follow anyway because they are too lazy, too self-absorbed, and anyway they don’t think they are the ones who should carry the responsibility. So the house goes on deteriorating, and eventually someone comes along from the local authority, and stamps a “Condemned” notice on the garage door, the lawyers get rich from the appeals, and by the time mum and dad have resolved the legal dispute the money has run out to repair the place, and the only solution is to demolish and begin again. Fixing the cause doesn’t work.

But why, anyway, does it matter? We need to deal with global warming, we are told, because the effect of global warming will be irreparable damage to the planet. What exactly will be damaged? As the ozone layer continues to disintegrate, the Earth will get hotter, causing the ice-cap to melt, which in turn will raise sea-levels, flooding low-lying land, turning some semi-deserts into full deserts (Arizona, for example). New York will disappear, as will most of Florida, the countries on the North Sea coast of Europe, Bangladesh, many others. On the other hand, parts of the currently uninhabitable world (middle Canada, the Antarctic) will become agricultural paradises, with plenty of room for the citizens of New York, Florida etc to rehouse, and with technology we can easily adapt to the new conditions, providing ourselves with indoor cities (Toronto, for example, is already equipped for this), that are climatically controlled, and with all our food created in solar-powered laboratories. Just as there was no Armageddon when the railway was invented, and we got over the loss of the donkey-and-cart, just as our moon and Mars colonies will be, so the Earth will be manned differently, and people will look back with a smile at that innocent age when we foolishly lived in the primitive conditions of today. Roll on global warming!

Ah yes, but, and this is why my little sermon is being delivered from the pulpit of Madagascar, what about the lemurs and the orchids, what about the elephant bird and the hippopotamus? How will Nature survive global warming? The answer is very simple: it will adapt. Every year, hundreds of species die out, and new ones emerge. When cities crumble, grass and wildflowers and trees quickly populate the space. From Nature’s point of view, global warming is irrelevant, but Mankind, the cause of global warming, is not, because Mankind insists on leaving its unfinished pizza on the TV and its maquillage on the dining room table.

A better solution for mum and dad would have been to tell the three kids that it was time to leave. Goodbye. You are done here. And then, kids gone, clean up – mum will do most of the work, but dad may be persuadable to help. Mother Nature feels just the same. Roll on global warming, and let it wipe out the human race. Then mum can clean up, and the Earth adapt to the new conditions, and move forward. Those who are concerned about global warming because they care about the future of the planet would be well advised to support global warming as the best possible scenario for the future of the planet.

But again, why am I preaching this utter nonsense from the pulpit of Madagascar? 


Partly because there is absolutely nothing else of any interest to say about the island (Madagascar is the world's fourth biggest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo; Australia, which is bigger, doesn't count. Because of its isolation most of its mammals, half of its birds, and most of its plants exist nowhere else on earth. The island is heavily exposed to tropical cyclones which bring torrential rains and destructive floods, such as the ones in 2000 and 2004, which left thousands homeless. The Malagasy are thought to be descendants of Africans and Indonesians who settled on the island more than two thousand years ago. Malagasy pay a lot of attention to their dead and spend much effort on ancestral tombs, which are opened from time to time so the remains can be carried in procession, before being re-wrapped in fresh shrouds. Thanks to the BBC for the details in this parenthesis). 


 Partly because, actually, there is something of very considerable interest to say about the island, but Madagascar exists in the consciousness of the West as a paradise of nature, and I am hesitant to be the one to shatter the rose-coloured glass and reveal something more than just lemurs and penguins and panther chameleons and ideal locations for movie-makers and strange baobab trees. Hesitant, but only for a moment.

Madagascar, according to the CIA World FactBook, "is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking; poor Malagasy women hired as domestic workers in Lebanon and Kuwait are vulnerable to abuse by recruitment agencies and employers; an increasing number of Malagasy men were victimized by labor trafficking abroad in 2012; Malagasy children are subjected to domestic servitude, prostitution, forced begging, and forced labor within the country, often with the complicity of family members; coastal cities have child sex tourism trades, with Malagasy men being the main clients." The CIA World FactBook, mind, not Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, neither of which even bother to include Madagascar in their country profiles. Far too concerned no doubt about the plight of the other endangered species, the non-human sort. Another reason why we should spend less time worrying about the impact of human beings on global warming, or that of global warming on human beings, and more on the impact of human beings on other human beings.



Marks For: CIA 10


Marks Against: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, 11




Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Macedonia

For decades there was a personal fiefdom in eastern Europe, owned and run by Marshall Tito under the pretense of Communism, and known as Yugoslavia. The despotic autocracy of his rule kept the country so “stable” that his supporters preserved his dead body in pickle for months after his demise, fearing that the announcement of his death would lead to wild celebrations of hysterical blood-letting. Eventually both got out, the information and the knives. When Yugoslavia collapsed into ethnic civil war, all parties put into practice what they had been taught under Nazi occupation, and war crimes trials are still in process.

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia were the countries that emerged from the ensuing chaos, as well as two autonomous enclaves within Serbia: Vojvodina and Kosovo. All nine were still run by the Communist Party, but it was ethnic and religious divisions that induced the barbarism. Macedonia was the surprising exception, though it nearly tumbled, because there were also Albanians emerging from their own decades of Communist brutality, and many of them lived in what was now Macedonia. EU and NATO peacekeepers helped the government put a new constitution in place which recognised the rights of those Albanians, and even some local autonomy, and there has been such progress that the European Non-Islamic Caliphate (EU), whose ambition like all imperial powers is to rule the whole world, eventually, is moving Macedonia at great pace towards EU membership. India and China may be a little further behind.


For reasons unclear to most people, Macedonia has a name-plaque on its seat at the United Nations which announces it as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)". Nostalgia for Tito in New York? How unlikely! The trouble is, calling itself straightforwardly Macedonia does not go down well in Greece, another imperialist power that still hasn’t realised its day is gone (the empire collapsed in the 4th century BCE!); Macedonia was Alexander the Great’s birthplace (did you know he had Aristotle as his teacher when he was at school?), and Macedonia is still in existence, other than this Macedonia, as a province of northern Greece.


Speaking of Alexander the Great, the one and only Macedonian of whom the world has heard, and speaking of people whose ambition is to rule the whole world, there is a question that nobody but me appears to have asked, but which I believe has to be asked, and answered honestly, if this "best of all possible worlds" is ever to improve. What on Earth did Alexander of Macedon ever actually do, to merit the sobriquet "great" (see my entry on Italy where the same question is asked about the Romans)? 


And the answer given in the history books which venerate him? He built an army which conquered its way around the world, murdering, raping, slaughtering, burning, enslaving, and generally destroying, until vast tracts of the Earth were under his imperial command, though it required further military brutality and incessant martial law to keep it that way, and not actually for very long. 

Does this truly merit the term "great"? Today it would merit a visit to the International Court of Justice in Den Haag on charges of war crimes - except that there are no spaces available, because of the on-going post-Tito war crimes trials of his fellow Yugoslavs, and the spare seats have "reserved for Africa" on them. If it does merit the term "great", then we should also speak of Hitler the Great and Stalin the Great and Mao the Great, and applaud the efforts of Islamic State in Syria to establish their Caliphate on much the same lines. And then close down the ICJ in Den Haag.

To merit the term "great" one has, surely, to leave something behind of true significance in the world: the unifying of peoples who wish to be so unified, and not by force; the building of new cities, but not in the ruins of older cities torn down for the purpose; the feeding of the poor, rather than the exacerbation of their hunger. In the world of art, literature, music and culture the term "great" is easy to define; but in the world of politics? Did Alexander promote the spread of literacy and numeracy? Did he invest in new technologies? Did he leave behind any significant art or culture? Did he add one jot of improvement to the human condition? No, none of these - unless one counts a handful of statues in the Pathan hills of Pakistan, Buddhas dressed in togas and with Semitic noses. He marched, fought, destroyed, marched on. It is time, I believe, to remove the sobriquet from his name, and from a long list of others too.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Macau



We hear a lot about Taiwan and Hong Kong, but not so much about Macau, a former Portuguese colony which is now administered as a “special administrative region” of China, which is to say that China got back what was stolen from it, on terms that it has no intention of honouring in the long-term, but is staying with in the short-term, because Hong Kong and Taiwan are higher priorities and the profits are massive.

A peninsula and two islands off the southern coast of China, it functions much as Seminole Hard Rock does in Florida, a den of gambling casinos and bordellos serviced by luxury hotels, so that Las Vegas sounds like a better comparison, except for the fact that Las Vegas is barely making a living when compared with Macau. The BBC website tells us that, "In 2914, activists organised an unofficial poll calling for more democracy, but the vote was disrupted by the security forces.” The date is probably not a typing error, as it is highly unlikely that anyone in Macau is going to challenge the status quo at any time in the next 80 years, and if they do, they know what lies in wait for them at the Tiananmen Palace Casino. On the other hand, if the current Chinese leader gets his way and brings an end to all that corruption, Macau may suddenly find itself with a significant drop in the number of its high-paying customers. Don't bet on it.


Marks For: 0

Marks Against: 26, 3, 35, 12, 28, 7, 29, 18, 22, 9, 31, 14, 20, 1, 33, 16, 24, 5, 10, 23, 8, 30, 11, 36, 13, 27, 6, 34, 17, 25, 2, 21, 4, 19, 15, 32



Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Luxembourg

Hugo is French, but perhaps he visited the Duchy at some time

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, inhabiting a geographical space that is landlocked between Belgium, France and Germany, also inhabits a historical space that is timelocked between the end of the Roman Empire (September 4th, 476, according to Gibbon) and the founding of the Holy Roman Empire (December 25th, 800, the day on which Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne) for the latter of which it provided several emperors. It competes very closely with Liechtenstein to be up there in the top 10 of the world’s most sought after tax havens, but it ain’t got nothing on Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. And yes, it too declared neutrality in Hitler’s War - the Germans over-ran it anyway, which probably served it right.

Where Switzerland at least produced the cuckoo-clock (digital cuckoo-clocks have rendered this fact sadly obsolete), Luxembourg’s one and only contribution to human progress was a statement made by then Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, off-the-cuff and shocked that anyone thought he was remotely serious, but which led him to become the new President of the European Commission in 2014 - the nearest modern equivalent to Holy Roman Emperor. While coming out of a meeting of finance ministers to try to deal with the economic crash of 2008, he was asked if they had found a solution. “We know the solution,” he replied, “we just don’t know how to get re-elected if we implement it.” Government of the people, by the people, for the people!

In order to try to glean some marks for this tiny state, I am conducting a quiz, but citizens of Luxembourg are not permitted to enter it (to spare you the embarrassment of not knowing the answers). Answers in the comments box below please - and no comments means no marks.

1. Name any town, however small, that you have actually heard of in Luxembourg.

2. Name any person, besides Jean-Claude Juncker (bonus mark if you admit that you hadn't even heard of him until you read this page), who you have ever heard of that came from Luxembourg.

3. What language do they speak in Luxembourg?

4. Which country in the world has won the Eurovision Song Contest the greatest number of times?

5. Why does a country of 450,000 people require 155 different banks?

6. What possible reason could Skype, Amazon, Rakuten, Paypal and many other global corporations have for placing their headquarters in Luxembourg?


Marks For: 0

Marks Against: 155



Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lithuania



Another of the many countries of the former Soviet Union which demonstrated their love and loyalty to the spirit of Communism by declining an invitation to join the post-Soviet Russian Federation, becoming instead a member of NATO in March 2004, and of the European Union just two months later. Russia, it will not surprise you to learn, is unhappy about this, and Lithuania is probably fourth, or at most fifth, on the list of countries that Comrade Putin intends to destabilise as a prelude to annexation as he plans the reincarnation of the empire of the Romanovs. In fact Lithuania has closer historical links with Poland than it does with Russia, but Poland is about ninth on Comrade Putin’s list, so this may prove to be irrelevant in the long run. Led by a woman President (Dalia Grybauskeite by name), and a Prime Minister, Algirdas Butkevicius, who is a Social Democrat, and planning entry into the Euro in 2015, Lithuania is fighting a civil war against inflation, and appears to be winning.

Before World War II, which is to say "before the Holocaust", there were a hundred and ten synagogues and ten yeshivot, just in Vilnius, or Vilna as it was then known, and forty-five per cent of that city's population was Jewish - the one hundred and sixty thousand Jews across the country made up about seven per cent of the total population. By the end of World War Two both numbers, synagogues and people, in Vilna and outside it, were reduced to zero, though sixty years later it has risen again, to around four thousand. Jews had lived in Lithuania since 1388, when they signed a Charter, much like the ones signed with monarchs and feudal lords across Europe at that time, by which they became Freemen under the protection of the feudal lord, and he had the right to demand all their money from them, officially as a loan, and then expel them when they had no more to lend and he no inclination to pay them back. The expulsion from Lithuania took place in 1495 and, as was mostly but not always the case, they were allowed back shortly afterwards - in 1503 to be precise - provided that they now agreed to live in ghettos, wear anti-Semitic clothing (yellow caps for men, yellow scarves for women) and continued to perform the duties of a Shylock even though they were now broke and had accepted the cancellation of all previous debts. Most of them were then wiped out in the Czmielnicki massacres, between 1648 and1657, and what regrouped afterwards included the Vilna Ga'on, Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer, whose story I shall now tell.


Judaism does not generally admire hermits, regarding engagement with the community as so essential that Jews are not even supposed to pray alone, but only when ten adults, ten male adults in the orthodox world, are present. Rebbe Menachem-Mendl of Kocke, my paternal ancestor, was one who took his solitude intensely seriously, remaining virtually alone for the last twenty-five years of his life. The Vilna Ga'on was another, though he married at eighteen and fathered a small family. Legends holds that he knew the entire Talmud by heart before he was twenty; certainly by that age he was sufficiently versed in it that ordained Rabbis, of which he was never one, came to him for wisdom. What made him stand out however, besides the scale of his knowledge and his refusal to be ordained, was his commitment to secular studies in a world that mostly regarded secular studies as unnecessary, even dangerous. His included botany, mathematics, astrology and zoology, all of which he regarded as essential for the understanding of Torah and Talmud, let alone the daily world. He also engaged in the mystical science of Cabbala, including the attempt to create a white golem. 18th century western Europe was deeply engaged in the Haskalah or Enlightenment, from which Reform Judaism and cultural Judaism and secular Zionism would emerge; eastern Europe, by contrast, was mesmerised by the Ba'al Shem Tov and his pious followers, the so-called Hasidim. Had the Vilna Ga'on been the Paris Ga'on or the Vienna Ga'on (ga'on is the Hebrew-Yiddish word for "genius", though there is also "ilu'i", which is merely "gifted" - the definition of a "gifted" child is "any child with at least one Jewish grandparent"), he would no doubt have become a key figure in Haskalah; but he was the Ga'on of Vilna, an obscure town in where did you say, Lithuania, where Enlightenment had not reached, but Hasidism had. The Vilna Ga'on rejected Hasidism, refuted Hasidism, persecuted Hasidism, regarding it as a cult of panentheism and not properly Jewish at all - but then he was also highly critical of Maimonides, for his rejection of those superstitions (the power of incantations, of amulets, of spirits and demons) in which the Vilna Ga'on continued to believe. He died in 1797, aged 77, and is regarded by the orthodox as one of the greatest rabbinic scholars in Jewish history.

Why am I telling his story? Because, on October 20th 1997, which also happened to be the fifth day of Sukkot that year, the two hundredth anniversary of his death was commemorated in Lithuania with the issuing of a first-day cover with his portrait, the erection of a bust at the site of his former home, and ceremonies attended by the President of Lithuania as well as members of the Lithuanian Parliament, at which the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra provided a most un-Jewish musical accompaniment, and where the Ga'on was praised for "his intellectual openness, his humanistic values, and his tolerance" - none of which did he actually have. Apparently the Vilna Ga'on is a Lithuanian national hero; the only other national hero they could find was Frank Zappa, who also has a bust on a street in Vilnius, and so Elijah Kremer had to do, even if they had to mis-remember him to do it, and his life, his work, his memory are now the fulcrum and the catalyst for a concerted effort at building positive Jewish-Christian relations, something which will certainly have Bogdan Czmielnicki turning in his grave, and might well have done the same for the Vilna Ga'on, only his grave was amongst those other Jewish graves at Šnipiškės which the Russian authorities closed and built over in 1831, and where the Soviets later erected a stadium and concert hall, theoretically permitting the removal of the Ga'on's bones before they did so, though in fact those were probably not the Ga'on's bones which were removed. I wonder if Frank Zappa ever performed at that concert hall?




Marks For: lots for trying

Marks Against: all the above removed as reparations for history




Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Liechtenstein

Or maybe this is the real wonderland – there are so many of these fantasy countries in the world, it's hard to know where to pin the ultimate Lewis Carroll badge. Number 7 in the all-time list of favourite Tax Havens, and number 11 in the Michelin Green Guide to the countries of the world that do not really exist other than to provide safety deposit boxes for money-launderers, tax-avoiders, official government fences, and the general criminal fraternity – the very same people, have you noticed, who own most of the major soccer teams in the UK?

Like Switzerland, its neighbour and partner in the tax haven stakes, Liechtenstein remained neutral in the Second World War. How can you stay neutral when Hitler is conquering Europe and wiping out thirteen million people? Does that statement not just tell you everything you never wanted to know about this revolting country which is still run as a feudal principality? “To abstain is to support the majority”, as Jean-Paul Sartre once expressed it - right in the middle of the Nazi occupation of Paris, now that I come to find a context for the statement. Only speculators, profiteers and black marketeers remain neutral in such a situation, which makes Liechtenstein a formal member of the International Community of Spivs, and worse, a collaborator in war crimes.


Marks For: 0


Marks Against: 36,925 (the number of its inhabitants at the last official count)




Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Libya

Is this Gadaffi? Or a crystal-ball prediction of the Sultan of Brunei?



And speaking, as I did in several earlier blog-entries, about fantasy kingdoms, none in recent times have been quite so fantastical as the Kingdom of Gadaffi, established in 1969 and finally toppled in 2011 when the people woke up from their wonderland dream and realised just how mad the hatter was. Beyond that, there is really no point in writing anything, as history’s editors will have changed it between hitting the “update” button and the computer completing the “refresh”. Today the country looks something like the inside of Colonel Gadaffi's mind, a place of chaos and confusion and megalomania competing with megalomania. It will take generations to sort out the mess. Oil will help, but also hinder. Expect civil war for the next decade at least as the various war-lords and ethnic groups and tribes fight over the best way to waste the spoils; whoever wins will find the wealth, like the oil, has run out by then, but at least they will have the power, the most sought-after commodity in the world, but only purchasable with blood.


Marks For: 0


Marks Against: tens of thousands




Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


Liberia



And if you thought Lebanon and Lesotho were a mess, now let’s take a look at Liberia, the land of freedom as its name suggests, but alas its recent and current politics somewhat belies. It was established on the wonderful idealism of a free state for former black slaves, a means by which they could return to their roots – or at least to the continent of their roots. The American Colonization Society established the first settlements between 1821 and 1838, while poor blacks and “Black loyalists” were doing much the same next door in Sierra Leone. It declared independence in 1847, becoming the first Black republic, though in fact barely 5% of the population are descendants of liberated slaves; the rest are indigenous peoples who, by the most absurd irony of history and ideology, have been regarded as “inferior” and treated as “second-class citizens” by the immigrants from the outset – liberated slaves running a free country by enslaving 95% of its indigenous population! And we are surprised that the whole thing finally collapsed into brutal civil war!

The modern troubles started in 1980 when food price riots led to the overthrow of the government of William Tolbert and the significant installation of Samuel Doe; significant because he was a Sergeant in the military, but mostly because he came from the indigenous population, which meant the American immigrants had finally lost power and Liberia was now just another African state like all the rest, stripped of whatever was left of its theoretical idealism. The anarchy and economic collapse that Doe brought was augmented by the guerrilla army of Charles Taylor, which took the country piece by piece, eventually murdering Doe as it seized the capital. But Taylor’s forces were divided among themselves, and splinter group fought splinter group, peacekeepers from overseas were hounded out, and Taylor finally took power in 1995. That lasted less than 5 years, with rebellions throughout the time, and accusations that neighbouring states were assisting the rebels (they were), and allegations that Taylor had perpetrated war crimes (he had).


In 2003 Taylor fled to Nigeria, from where he would be taken to The Hague to stand trial for those war crimes, and be found guilty. 15,000 UN peacekeepers, its largest force anywhere in the world, continue to be completely ineffective, and now spend most of their time assisting in the battle against that still more indiscriminate rebel army, Ebola.


The current President is also Africa’s first woman head of state, though Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election was by the lowest turn-out in political history, a boycott by her main rival, and even then she allegedly had to rig it to win. She hasn’t done a bad job as it happens, though there are contradictions. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for what the judges called “her efforts to secure peace, promote economic and social development, and strengthen the position of women”; the following year they gave it to Barack Obama for his “efforts” to bring world peace, since when he has become embroiled in wars in Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq…and note that the same prize has also been awarded to Henry Kissinger, Menachem Begin and Yassir Arafat, so it really doesn’t mean very much, and probably the Peace committee should adopt the policy of the Literature committee, which is to wait till the end of a person's life, and judge their life's work, rather than rushing in after one half-decent foray.


Mrs Sirleaf also won the 2011 Nobel Prize for Nepotism, when she made one of her sons Chairman of Liberia’s national oil company and another son deputy governor of the national bank. A nice little earner, as we say in England! It should also be noted that a Truth and Reconciliation commission after the fall of Charles Taylor recommended that she, because of her close association with him, should not be allowed to hold any public office for thirty years. That was thirty years Mrs Sirleaf; not thirty weeks. Charles Taylor is currently serving a 50-year jail term in a UK prison.



And then there are blood diamonds, which are slave-mined and force-mined in Sierra Leone, and then sold to Liberia in exchange for weapons. Theoretically the United Nations' "Kimberley process" has put a stop to this, but in practice, no it hasn't, because Liberia simply isn't bothering to implement the process, in spite of signing up to it; another credit star to be added to Mrs Sirleaf's list of great accommplishments.


Marks For: 0


Marks Against: 30




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Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lesotho

Pronounced Le-soo-too, it is not really a country at all, but a land-locked kingdom inside South Africa that was given its independence by the British. Like Shangrila and Eldorado, it is almost impossible to get to Lesotho. There is no airport that can accommodate the sorts of planes most of us prefer, though biplanes can land on various makeshift landing strips. Horseback is your best mode of travel, though many hundreds of thousands had no alternative but to walk there in the worst days of apartheid, when you lived in Lesotho but your employer was in South Africa itself – and lucky you to have one, even if it was the darkness of a gold mine. Given the famous Mediterranean weather of South Africa, you may be surprised to be told you need heavy boots and seriously warm clothing between October and April, and be prepared for thick snow. Do not expect to stay in a hotel – rondavels are what you will find, circular mud huts with mud floors and thatched roofs. The only roads are the ones that run out in mineral mines. There is now fresh water, but limited in accessibility and only for drinking – agriculture doesn’t require it, because there is no agriculture worth mentioning, no industry of any kind, and very little else that one thinks of as 20th let alone 21st century, such as electricity. AIDS is now at epidemic proportions.

All this makes for a devastatingly sad illustration of human nature, but it gets worse. In one of the world’s poorest countries, with the world’s smallest and most completely pointless army, the military staged a coup anyway, expelling their king in 1990, letting him come back as an ordinary citizen in 1992, then reinstating him as king in 1995 – his son having been made king in the meanwhile, and then abdicating in favour of his father. After which a mutiny within the military gave the South Africans the excuse to invade in 1998, and since then it has been political mayhem from polling station to polling station, with no less than eighteen political parties fighting it out for the right to rule emptiness, to govern wilderness, to hold sway over the permanently unemployed, and to administer nihil.



Marks for: 0


Marks against: 3




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The Argaman Press