Beauty and its beholders
A political note
Solution (from an occasional series)
What is right?
This North Atlantic island slum, consisting mainly of a row of rain-soaked wooden shacks with one or two storm-battered overambitious would-be villas along the ridge above the harbour, and a congeries of small shops, concrete storehouses and parking lots for all manner of marine gear down around the quays, is to my mind one of the finest spots on earth to live. Not as well set up with all the inconveniences of modern life as modern homo negotians would like, or indeed insists on, which is undoubtedly part of its attraction. We are not yet equipped with e-communications reliable enough to be worth using, which at least gives some protection against e-malfeasance. It is certainly one of the few remaining redoubts in the northern hemisphere not minutely documented and analysed for potential profit – ha! profit?! – by the dark forces of the net. But there are times when one can welcome some contacts with the outside world. Yesterday Kevin brought a delightful surprise, along with the rainwater pouring off his anorak and over the notes I had spread out across the floor in preparation for my plea to the senators to have this office granted diplomatic immunity. It is the first letter in a long time from Isabelita. For those who have only recently come across this journal, Isabelita of the many talents was for more than a year the effective directrix of the office when it included five irascible journalists (or similar), even though nominally she was just an assistant. Any remaining traces of order and organisation are owed to her. Still in remarkably good form to judge from the picture she included, even if it is sexist to say so. No longer competes internationally, but apparently twice a week leads parties of old age pensioners down to La Playa de los Frailes for two or three hours of beach volleyball. Ecuadorian academic life’s gain has been the rest of the world’s loss.
However, it may be that even in plucky little Ecuador the path to ruin may be surveyed to see how it may be opened up. The mountainous regions of the country are still richly covered with the original forests, not yet seriously damaged by ‘development’, and the forested mountains are inhabited by one of the most splendid arrays of strikingly coloured birds of any country on the planet. One reaction is to call for this region to be preserved as a wonderful example of a natural environment such as has already been despoiled in many other regions. Another reaction to such a landscape in many countries has been to ‘monetise’ it, negotiating with the government, or whoever controls a territory de facto, with a view to extracting all extractable resources, mineral, arboreal, or hydrological. (It has, after centuries, become somewhat harder to exploit human resources, though if you consider the actual conditions of the poor of this earth living in ‘third world’ countries, you will find it easy to doubt that claim.) There is also a third reaction which in America might well be called ‘monetisation-lite’. When the attractions of a landscape are undeniable, this can lead to well-fed businessmen staying in expensive hotels in the nearest capital city where they can be heard muttering to one another phrases such as ‘touristic potential’, ‘ecological experience’ and ‘high season occupancy’, and to prove it there are former fishing villages that have irremediably lost their virtue all along the coasts of Spain, and in the islands of Greece and Thailand and the Pacific. Nobody can know the motive or combination of motives which may have brought forth ideas for one or more chains of pylons allowing passengers to travel along the magnificent Sierra and view the landscape. I have nothing against pylons in themselves; if you forget the chocolate box associations and conventional attitudes most pylons are without doubt more graceful than the average castle. (Would it help if the pylons were built with pre-installed ivy and maybe miniature watchtowers at the summit?) But why might one want to erect pylons on those mountains? It may well be a simple unadulterated desire to let foreigners see the beauty of the country, perhaps at cost price only, perhaps even free? But, however pure the intention, future events remain unpredictable events. Whoever would have thought that Cameron’s kindly efforts to free the Libyan shore of the Mediterranean from tyranny would lead to the horrors of the past three years? Let a destination get some reputation as an interesting or beautiful or famous place to visit (fame alone can be enough of a magnet, with or without historical accuracy – cf many of the alleged ancient battle sites in assorted countries, which now look like perfectly ordinary countryside – and then a trickle of visitors can become a stream, justifying ‘tourist facilities’ which soon let the stream become a torrent, which is followed by the destination featuring temptingly in countless websites selling holidays and travel, and finally local citizens are effectively driven out of their own homes for half the year. Just ask the inhabitants of Barcelona, or gaze in dismay at the monstrous arks impudently dwarfing the incomparable buildings of Venice which one of them will one day, statistics and cruise ships being what they are, destroy.
In this world of ‘us’ and ‘them’ (a.k.a. tribalism; so that’s what the development of civilised politics has brought us to) Theresa must be thanking her lucky stars, little red stars it seems, that once again as she faced yet another near insurmountable hurdle in keeping her finger-tip hold on 10 Downing Street the Russians came galloping onto the scene to save her bacon. You might almost think Putin was trying to make sure she stays in office, and if you think that then be cautious; you don’t know what you might catch yourself thinking next. Monty, our esteemed contact in London, once a bold buccaneer of free speech, is increasingly cautious about saying anything to anybody about any topic but he has given me permission to pass on this observation, that nobody should believe that story about the senior UK ministers being posted to various destinations in Europe over the summer in order to cajole the locals into agreeing to her Chequers plan – a political hologram if ever there was one – and figs to the Irish. Those ministers were sent round Europe to keep them out of London and apart, so that they couldn’t gather together and stage a coup against her.
Another of our solutions to longstanding problems
Society may be ready to recognise that it pays a shocking price in terms of accidents for the right to own and drive private cars. And then there is the air pollution, and the costs to the nation of importing oil, and the massive contribution to climate change. Some would add the corrosive effects on social cohesion (deliberately stimulated by some of the manufacturers.) Far less obtrusive but perhaps much more pervasive is another factor often left out of account partly because it is exceedingly difficult to pin down the details of its profile and partly because it has somehow infiltrated society in such a way as to leave the poor harassed citizen assuming it is an inevitable part of modern life. I am of course referring to stress. Difficult to pin down it may be, but there will be few readers who do not feel they have more of it than they want. There will often be dispute as to how far any particular accident or ailment or failure results from stress but few will doubt that stress can be an important and baleful factor in all those situations. And few will doubt that the acquisition, ownership, maintenance, and use of private cars in their millions has a prime place in the roster of causes. You don’t need to read this journal to be told that. What you need is to be offered a remedy, and this journal has one. It is so obvious that it may have been proposed already elsewhere, but if so the news hasn’t reached this office, and there’s certainly no harm in putting it on view here. The key is to ban the simple ownership of private cars. It will be replaced by a system where one buys a car licensed to be on public roads only on a specified day of the week with fierce penalties for any owner whose car breaks that rule. Thus as Nigel Smith-Farquharson sees his neighbour Jamila Cottesloe walking to the station on Monday morning, does he toot derisively and congratulate himself on buying a Monday car? Possibly, but far more likely not, because he knows well that she has a Tuesday car and has always been willing to give him the ride needed. (In fact the two, from wary beginnings based purely on practicality, have become co-operating friends. Both help run the same food bank at weekends.) Naturally there is a special higher-priced category of car to be bought which can be used on both Saturdays and Sundays (but definitely not covering late trips home early Monday morning. The change of day at midnight and the penalty for cheating will yield impressive improvements in the road safety record). Identification of cheating drivers will be easy because the license plates for different days of the week will have different colours and shapes. Needless to say there will be a new richly satisfying income stream for whichever department receives it. Misers and curmudgeons who cannot work out suitable agreements with other travellers will cycle or walk, with consequent benefit to their physical condition and saving of costs to the health service. A small proportion of the well-heeled may buy enough cars for the whole week (to the applause of car manufacturers) but overall the effects on air quality, climate change, and so on will all tend to be positive, while congestion and stress with all its ill effects will be vastly reduced
If you did not enjoy that item you may also dislike this:
Presumably certain officials in the militant/extremist wing of the British Home Office are temporarily keeping their heads below the parapet until the public’s current awareness of injustices perpetrated against the weak, the unimportant and the poor slips back below the headlines and allows them to consider what to do next. No doubt some will be ruminating on the fact that same-sex marriage is now a fait accompli, and will have noticed that the arguments for accepting solemnly and legally attested relationships between partners of the same sex – consent, adulthood, no objections from previous partners, and so on – would appear to be available for campaigns in favour of polygamy (and polyandry). Also for interspecies marriage. (And I leave it to you whether you feel there are any other situations that might be considered relevant.)
The next regular posting is scheduled for 16 October