Reflecting on the importance given by France 24 to elections in Gabon this week, it struck me just how ‘parochial’ national news programs are. In the UK, Zimbabwe rates highly on the interest scale, for example. And here in Spain this applies to every South American country except Brazil. But, not seeing itself as ex-colonial power, I suspect US bulletins don’t show much interest in the Philippines. Though perhaps Cuba merits a few mentions. Anyway, wherever Gabon actually is, it seems that a certain Mr Bongo is about to be succeeded by a Master Bongo. Which I’m sure you were anxious to know. Unless you’re French; in which case you’ll know it already.
Despite being a left-of-centre paper, El País today ran a hard-hitting editorial on the failures of Señor Zapatero to manage the Spanish economy, first through boom and now through bust. In fact, I rather got the impression they might even agree with my accusation of stupidity matched only by obstinacy. Essentially, they feel he’s addressing a deep recession from a position of weakness, needing the support of minority and nationalist parties to get anything through the parliament. I’ve often said I wouldn’t like to have the task of governing this fractious country; but never less than now. And it’s not as if the Opposition inspires much confidence either, as we head towards a raft of tax increases that will be ‘limited and temporary’. Limited to adults, I guess. And as temporary as any makeshift building you’ve ever known. Hey, ho. Pass the sackcloth and ashes.
Talking of ashes . . . I was chatting this week to three Spanish ladies about smoking. As you’d expect in modern Spain, all three of them are pretty heavy smokers. Whereas I’m not a smoker and never have been. When I confessed I’d never countenance a relationship with a woman who smoked, they dismissed me as ‘crazy’. After I’d given my rationale and pointed out that, as a libertarian, I’d never tried to stop them indulging their habit and had even joined them in the Smoking section of the café, they withdrew the accusation of insanity and satisfied themselves with 'fascist’. But, as this is the stock word used in Spain for anyone with whose views you disagree, I could muster no objection to this much-devalued term.
This evening I was telling my friend, Jon, about UK TV ads for sandwiches containing “responsibly caught prawns”. Knowing fish, he pointed out this was a genuine concern around the world. I agreed wholeheartedly, while scoffing at this and other ‘goody-goody’ marketing techniques. And I added that, looking at things from the viewpoint of the prawns, it hardly made any difference how they were trapped. Such is life that, only a couple of hours later, I read this account of how Robert Benchley approached an exam question in Harvard in 1912 . . . “Asked to frame the legal dispute over fishing rights on the Grand Banks from both the American and British points of view, Benchley began his answer by saying that he had never understood the American argument, never cared to know where Britain stood, but that he would like to consider the problem from the points of view of the fish. This statement of purpose introduced a dialogue in which a flounder and a cod take up the question as to whether it is better to be roasted in Liverpool, boiled in Boston or sautéed in Paris.”
Needless, perhaps, to say, Benchley failed the exam.