Going Bananas

My chronicles are classified into different categories.

I always include History and Historical Novels, but often I choose some more. I hesitated to flag this one as Science, but it definitely comes under World Affairs.

You see, I want to write about bananas. First of all, let me confess I’m neither a fan of bananas or cucumbers—I dislike the taste, not sure why—perhaps there’s some deep-seated phallic fear.

My father hated bananas, but he had an excellent reason—before he got married at the ripe (sorry) age of twenty-nine, he lived with his parents. His home had a set menu every weekday—the main dishes varied through the week, but dessert was always… bananas. After he left the parental abode, he never touched a banana again in his life.

Two things have colored my thoughts as the year grows long—the election of Trump as president of the United States and Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Both of these seemed remote possibilities in 2015—Dana Milbank recently ate his chronicle on account of the first one—but while the Trump scenario was a remote asteroid, Brexit was definitely within our solar system. Unfortunately, I see Trump’s election as a very real option, particularly when Clinton seems so incapable of making a difference.

If those are the two options, then I’m afraid the U.S. has primary-ed itself into a corner, and Trump will win. The contest works differently in Europe: various would-be presidents appear before the popular vote of the entire electorate, and the two most voted dispute a second round, if needed.

Brexit seems a tad more remote, but after a quick trip to London last week, I’m convinced Britain may well vote to leave—what swung it for me was the realization that highly-placed businessmen strongly support the exit—because I have no doubt the common man does.

Older Brits will vote to leave—the strongest support for Bremain is in the under twenty-fives, but many of them won’t vote.

England (rather than Britain) has a vision of Europe that is anchored somewhere between dislike and contempt—the European Union’s been a suitable scapegoat for a range of English ills, from immigration to bureaucracy. And bananas.

Detailed measurements of the curvature of a banana, courtesy of the USDA.

Detailed measurements of the curvature of a banana, courtesy of the USDA.

England is the only place I know where citizens are besotted with the EU regulations on the shape and size of cucumbers and bananas. The same goes for regulations on health and safety, and a number of other areas of legislation.

When it comes to free movement of goods, or people, there are important points of discussion. When it comes to the curvature of phallic comestibles, there aren’t.

When I was in London last week there was an outcry about banana clusters, and whether the EU allowed them to number four or over. Michael Heseltine kicked in on the debate by revealing his shopping habits.

For a guy who doesn’t like bananas, I’ve sure learned a lot about them. A single banana is called a finger, clusters are two to seven, and a hand is eight or above. This wisdom, together with so much more, comes from a USDA document on inspection instructions for bananas—and you thought you led a rich and fulfilling life.

So are the English tabloids right about the demented EU cucumber and banana rules? European Commission regulation 2257/94 did indeed wax lyrical about banana curvature—it’s a pathetic example of what the EU should not do. In 2008 Brussels came to its senses and revoked much of their ruling on fruit and vegetables, and regulation 1333/2011 states:

Account should be taken of the fact that, because climatic factors make production conditions difficult in Madeira, the Azores, the Algarve, Crete, Lakonia and Cyprus, bananas there do not develop to the minimum length laid down.

Seems to me the EU is suggesting that the Greeks and Portuguese suffer from SBS (Small Banana Syndrome). Moreover:

Checks should not, therefore, be carried out at the stage laid down on traders who offer suitable guarantees as regards staff and handling facilities and who can guarantee that the bananas they market in the Union conform with Union standards. Such exemptions should be granted by the Member State on the territory of which the check is in principle to be carried out.

What this tells every nation in the EU is that the size and bendy bits of their bananas are no one else’s concern. Issue the exemptions (or plan to do it in the fullness of time) and get on with it.

In reality, the EU is nowadays strongly committed to subsidiarity, and the business model is very similar to the US, when it comes to federal law and state law.

EU legislation (which many people would hate to call federal) is exactly that. These bills, or acts, or whatever you want to call them, get transposed into national legislation, approved by national parliaments.

The US is independent since 1776, which translates into 240 years. States came and went, bits were bought and sold, a devastating internal war was fought, and many languages competed, as Irish, Germans, Italians, and others vied for attention.

Is this all resolved? Of course not. Just as in Europe, there are still major economic inequalities among states. Language? Walmart, Home Depot—all the big stores—now display signage in Spanish. Immigration? What bit of The Grapes of Wrath did you not understand?  Or the migration of the delta blues people north to Chicago?

You only have to listen to the cabbies and cocktail waitresses in Vegas to be told repeatedly that ‘America’s broken’. But does anyone suggest it should stop being America?

The EU exists since 1992. This infant is twenty-four years of age. In history, that’s a pubic hair. Do we realize that, because of a mathematical quirk, the US will be exactly ten times older on July 4th?

Do we consider that one of the great statesmen who called for the United States of Europe, back in 1946, was none other than Winston Churchill?

Britain needs to worry less about bananas. All my years in England were spent in immigrant areas. I lived surrounded by Indians, Pakistanis, West Indians… the Uber guys that ferried me around last week were not Polish. Not Romanian. Not Spanish. One was a Somali, who nearly got me killed, and the other was a Hutu, from Rwanda.

So come on guys, be sensible. The kid is only twenty-four. It’s better to help change things for the better than to think Germany will care about you once you’re out. As Lyndon Johnson put it, better to be in the tent, pissing out.

Sure, the boy behaves badly sometimes. That’s why we have education.

And look on the bright side. If we last as long as the United States, we still have nine lives left before we get Trump.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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