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    “Spanish ships of war at sea! We have counted…” all of three?

    Posted by Margaret on 25th September 2017 (All posts by )

    OK, it’s not quite as impressive as the fleet of fifty-three that Sir Richard Grenville encountered. And for “ships of war” read “gigantic cruise ships loaded with Guardia Civil,” and if that isn’t a WTF moment, what is?
    For anybody who’s been sensibly ignoring the news for the last week: Catalonia wants to hold a referendum on independence this coming Sunday. Spain doesn’t want them to.
    So far, Spain has confiscated referendum ballots and ballot boxes, sent Spanish – not local – Guardia Civil to arrest over a dozen Catalan leaders (in dawn raids – shades of Franco!), and parked three cruise liners full of Guardia Civil outside Barcelona and Tarragona.
    The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has announced that they have more ballot boxes stashed where the Spanish will never find them; the streets of Barcelona are filled with protestors; and the dockworkers of Barcelona and Tarragona have refused to provide any services to boats carrying security forces.
    Oh, and did I mention that at least one of the cruise ships is decorated with oversize Looney Tunes characters? (Some sources say all three, but I haven’t been able to verify that.)
    All this over a referendum that, according to polls before the Spanish Crackdown, was unlikely to garner over 40% support. And that wasn’t legally binding. The Spanish government appears terrified of allowing the Catalans even to express their opinions on the subject. So, naturally, they’ve embarked on a series of measures guaranteed to convert the other 60% of Catalans to the side of independence.
    Yup. Looney Tunes.
    But bear in mind that Sir Richard Grenville lost.

    Posted in Big Government, Current Events | 2 Comments »

    Our only enemy was gold

    Posted by Margaret on 21st September 2017 (All posts by )

    I’ve always thought Edwin Muir’s poem ‘The Castle,’ like Burns’ ‘Parcel of Rogues,’ referred to the Acts of Union of 1707. Many Scots considered the union of Scotland and England to be a corrupt bargain in which Scottish nobles and landowners who’d been ruined by the Darien scheme were bailed out with English money in return for signing over Scotland’s independence. (I don’t want to argue the merits of that theory; historians have been batting it around for four hundred years without reaching agreement. I just want to point out that the attitude exists.)

    It did just occur to me recently that there could be another, slightly anachronistic interpretation of the poem. If Edwin Muir had been given a glimpse of Scotland’s condition today and the destructive effects of welfare dependency, he might have written exactly the same poem. For generations Scotland was a poor country whose greatest natural resource was its people and their devotion to education. They educated their young people and sent them out all over the world, and as George MacDonald Fraser said, “A Scotsman on the make is a terrible thing.”

    The expansion of the welfare state has eroded that, perhaps fatally.

    All through that summer at ease we lay,
    And daily from the turret wall
    We watched the mowers in the hay
    And the enemy half a mile away
    They seemed no threat to us at all.

    For what, we thought, had we to fear
    With our arms and provender, load on load,
    Our towering battlements, tier on tier,
    And friendly allies drawing near
    On every leafy summer road.

    Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
    So smooth and high, no man could win
    A foothold there, no clever trick
    Could take us, have us dead or quick.
    Only a bird could have got in.

    What could they offer us for bait?
    Our captain was brave and we were true….
    There was a little private gate,
    A little wicked wicket gate.
    The wizened warder let them through.

    Oh then our maze of tunneled stone
    Grew thin and treacherous as air.
    The cause was lost without a groan,
    The famous citadel overthrown,
    And all its secret galleries bare.

    How can this shameful tale be told?
    I will maintain until my death
    We could do nothing, being sold;
    Our only enemy was gold,
    And we had no arms to fight it with.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Britain, Culture, History, Poetry | 8 Comments »

    Politically correct opera

    Posted by Margaret on 17th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Last week the West Australian Opera briefly decided to drop a planned performance of Carmen for fear of losing the sponsorship of a state government health promotion agency called Healthway, whose policies prohibit supporting any arts organization that portrays people smoking on stage. Healthway currently subsidizes the opera company to the tune of over $350,000.

    Australian politicians have since twisted Healthway’s arm to allow the performance, but it’s not clear whether they’re going to put Carmen back on the schedule.

    The episode left me wondering (1) what other operas need to be cleansed of incorrect material, and (2) whether the folks at West Australian Opera have actually listened to the lyrics of any of the operas they perform, and what will be left after they cleanse their repertoire of potentially offensive operas. Given that most opera plots lean heavily on rape, incest, adultery, prostitutes with golden hearts, murder, suicide, and blackmail, the answer would seem to be, “Not much.”

    This year’s lineup:

    Otello – domestic abuse! Spouse murder! Besides, racism.

    The Magic Flute – the child custody case from hell. Besides, anti-feminism.

    Il Trovatore – witch hunts, attempted abduction, and throwing the baby into the bonfire… oh well, I suppose that could be written off as post-natal abortion. Pass.

    Tosca – torture, blackmail and unassisted suicide. If only Tosca had asked a doctor to throw her off those battlements!

    Oh, well. There must be other operas, right? Let’s see:

    Don Giovanni – Serial fornication is probably OK, but did the Don obtain affirmative consent every time? Also, the last scene, where he descends into Hell, has to go. That’s forcing religion onto people!

    La Fille du Regiment – Bad language alert, illegitimacy; pass.

    Madame Butterfly – False marriage, suicide, but the fatal problem is Pinkerton’s failure to pay child support.

    The Marriage of Figaro – classic case of workplace sexual harassment.

    Pagliacci – The adultery is OK, but, hunchback abuse.

    Rosenkavalier – One word: Cougar.

    La Traviata – Prostitution is probably OK as long as it’s voluntary, but that song glorifying drinking must be cut.

    I’m sure this list is far from complete; feel free to add your own favorites.

    Posted in Arts & Letters | 15 Comments »

    Kipling on income inequality

    Posted by Margaret on 11th December 2013 (All posts by )

    AN IMPERIAL RESCRIPT

    Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser decreed,
    To ease the strong of their burden, to help the weak in their need…

    And the young King said: — “I have found it, the road to the rest ye seek:
    The strong shall wait for the weary, the hale shall halt for the weak:
    With the even tramp of an army where no man breaks from the line,
    Ye shall march to peace and plenty in the bond of brotherhood — sign!”
    ….
    And the men drew back from the paper, as a Yankee delegate spoke: —

    “There’s a girl in Jersey City who works on the telephone;
    We’re going to hitch our horses and dig for a house of our own,
    With gas and water connections, and steam-heat through to the top;
    And, W. Hohenzollern, I guess I shall work till I drop.”

    And an English delegate thundered: — “The weak an’ the lame be blowed!
    I’ve a berth in the Sou’-West workshops, a home in the Wandsworth Road;
    And till the ‘sociation has footed my buryin’ bill,
    I work for the kids an’ the missus. Pull up? I be damned if I will!”

    And over the German benches the bearded whisper ran: —
    “Lager, der girls und der dollars, dey makes or dey breaks a man.
    If Schmitt haf collared der dollars, he collars der girl deremit;
    But if Schmitt bust in der pizness, we collars der girl from Schmitt.”

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Diversions, Economics & Finance | 4 Comments »

    The Rot Comes from the Top

    Posted by Margaret on 15th November 2013 (All posts by )

    Remember last year’s scandal about the Secret Service goings-on in Cartagena? The trouble started when one of them stiffed a prostitute.

    Insurance companies have been in bed with Obama/Obamacare from the beginning. Yesterday he tried to stiff them by royal decree.

    Good role model for his underlings, no?

    Posted in Management, Obama, Politics | 7 Comments »

    Counting heads in Syria

    Posted by Margaret on 29th August 2013 (All posts by )

    While President Obama has been dithering about Syria, I’ve been nerdishly crunching numbers. On the web you can find every possible opinion about what the US ought to do, ranging from “Nothing,” to “Depose Assad.” Apart from the difficulty of achieving the latter goal, shouldn’t we think about what happens if Assad goes? Long term, some equally nasty types take over, and better-informed people than I can argue about just how bad that’s likely to be. But I haven’t seen any discussion of one likely immediate consequence.

    At the beginning of this year, Syria had an estimated 2.6 million Alawites and 2.3 million Christians. Despite the refugee exodus, I believe most of those people are still in Syria. If Islamist groups like al-Nusra replace Assad,what are their chances of survival?

    100,000 people have been killed so far, and that’s bad enough. But if we do seriously attempt to depose Assad, we should at least acknowledge the likelihood that another five million people will die.

    The Holocaust is credited with six million deaths. Will the deaths of Syrian Alawites and Christians be less tragic because their murderers aren’t as well organized as the Germans? Will this massacre be okay because nobody will take the time to tattoo numbers on the victims’ arms?

    Posted in International Affairs, Middle East | 12 Comments »

    I Told You They Love Snitches

    Posted by Margaret on 17th July 2013 (All posts by )

    From this morning’s Orlando Sentinel::

    The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday afternoon appealed to civil rights groups and community leaders, nationally and in Sanford, for help investigating whether a federal criminal case might be brought against George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, one advocate said.

    The DOJ has also set up a public email address to take in tips on its civil rights investigation.
    Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – who earlier in the day joined calls for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, said that later in the afternoon, she joined a U.S. Department of Justice conference call to discuss the prospects.
    “They were calling on us to actively refer anyone who had any information,” that might build a case against Zimmerman for either a civil rights violation or a hate crime, Arnwine said. “They said they would very aggressively investigate this case.”
    Arnwine said the call was convened at about 3:30 p.m. by Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice, and included representatives from the FBI, and several federal prosecutors, she said. DOJ officials also said they would open a public email address so people could send in tips on the case.
    That email address, which is now in operation, is Sanford.florida@usdoj.gov.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

    On the Revolutions in Egypt

    Posted by Margaret on 3rd July 2013 (All posts by )

    It’s easy to see the last week’s events as an indictment of Islamist rule, but I don’t think that’s what is going on here. (Caveat: all I know is what I read in the papers and online. I’m not writing with the benefit of firsthand knowledge.)

    Egypt has serious problems that have nothing to do with Islamism. The country that was the Roman Empire’s granary has become dependent on imported food – and they’re running out of money to buy it. The economy is so bad, it would make Obama proud: high unemployment, rising prices, fuel shortages. Oh, and an “education” system that manages to combine massive illiteracy with a university system that churns out ever more graduates with degrees that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. [Here I’m going to exercise great self-control and not go on about the specific linguistic and cultural features that make literacy in Arabic much more difficult than literacy in Western languages, because people do tend to back away slowly when I get going on linguistic matters. I hope you’re all properly appreciative.]

    Last week Leslie Chang pointed out, in a New Yorker article, that she had “yet to meet a politician with a substantive plan to overhaul a system of food and fuel subsidies that eats up almost one third of the budget, or to reform the education sector, or to stimulate foreign investment.”

    What I’ve seen and read about the protestors doesn’t inspire me with any confidence. Just as the last ones had pictures of Mubarak inside a Star of David, these have posters of Morsi inside a Star of David. They’re beating the previous protestors’ record for sexual assaults in Tahrir Square. I think what they’re unhappy about is that they’re unemployed and hungry and Morsi’s government hasn’t done anything to improve their lot. A government that rescued Egypt from its economic death spiral would probably make all the protestors happy. And if the government is anti-Semitic, anti-women and Islamist? Those would likely be features, not bugs.

    So let’s not be too optimistic here. The fact that the protestors dislike Obama doesn’t guarantee that they are nice guys or that they will do any better than the previous regimes.

    Posted in Middle East | 23 Comments »

    We Really Need to Get Out More

    Posted by Margaret on 17th July 2012 (All posts by )

    My husband is presently attempting to wind down his software business and is suddenly discovering vast chunks of free time. Recently he heard that the Blanton Museum, at UT Austin, was looking for volunteer docents. So he volunteered, took the sample tour, blew through the training materials over the weekend, and went over there today expecting to pass the test and get assigned hours.

    He didn’t get as far as the test.

    First there was another tour, composed (I think) entirely of volunteer docents, who were encouraged to ask intelligent questions and add to the discussion.

    Well, they’re having an exhibition of Western art right now. So they’re looking at a picture of a buffalo, and somebody says, “Didn’t we exterminate the buffalo in order to deprive the Indians of food?” and the official docent says yes, yes, that’s right. And Steve pipes up and says there are a few other factors to be considered, such as the fact that the Comanche horse herds seriously overgrazed Texas and deprived the buffalo herds of food.

    Come the end of the tour, a snippy Museum Lady takes Steve aside and essentially tells him not to bother taking the test, they don’t need his kind around there.

    Steve came home saying, “I don’t get it. What did I do?”

    See, he’s spent the last 30 years buried in map label placement and gridding algorithms, and had not been exposed to the total smothering effect of extreme Political Correctness. He knows not to say anything bad about Obama at neighborhood get-togethers, but that’s about it.

    I had to explain to him: “You said something negative. About American Indians. At an art museum. On a college campus!”

    Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

    A brief introduction

    Posted by Margaret on 17th July 2012 (All posts by )

    My name is Margaret Ball, and I’ve been invited to blog here through an old high school friend, David Foster, who made the highly debatable assumption that having had a number of novels published demonstrates writing ability. We’ll see how that turns out.

    My husband’s name is Steve Zoraster, and we’re both semi-retired; living in a very liberal neighborhood of a very liberal city; and making bets on how soon our Romney sign is going to be yanked out of the front yard.

    Posted in Blogging, Personal Narrative | 16 Comments »