Posts Tagged ‘History’


August 17, 2015

The presidential race in the United States is the most protracted in the world. With elections scheduled for November 2016, the last six months have been a circus of candidates jockeying for position to represent their respective parties.

To those outside the States, the attention paid to buffoons such as Donald Trump is nothing short of bizarre—I imagine the same is true for many inside the US.

Trump suffers from a syndrome I attributed to Columbus in The India Road. Opinion uncontaminated by fact. In the interviews I’ve seen, he’s incapable of hearing a question to the end, or indeed of taking any criticism at all.

America is much too smart to vote him into office, the GOP establishment would nominate him as a candidate on an extremely cold day in hell, and if he does a Perot, he may well put another Clinton in the White House.

But even a Perot is unlikely, unless Trump really wants to piss off the Republicans.

The rest of the world looks on as the man fires in all directions. Like any demagogue, foreigners are his first port of call. Mexico, an exporter of rapists and murderers. They shall build a wall, and pay for it themselves.

His assertions are rated as half-truths at best, and the Mexican immigration issue seems doubtful to say the least.

Mexican emigration to the United States (in thousands) - data from the Pew Research Center.

Mexican immigration to the United States (in thousands per year) – data from the Pew Research Center.

Not only is the inflow of Mexican immigrants at its lowest, but the inflow and outflow are now balanced, meaning a zero migration rate. Immigration of many nationalities continues into the US, but Mexico is no longer the key concern.

China is another popular Trump target, the argument being that the Chinese flood the US market with cheap products. Undeniable. To use the common aphorism, China is the factory, America is the mall.

But is it predominantly Chinese companies selling in the US? To be sure, you have Lenovo and some others (don’t forget Lenovo was once the IBM PC division). But what you mainly have, be it in Walmart, Home Depot, or Apple Computer, is products manufactured in China to US specs and then imported by US corporations to sell to American consumers.

The dirty little secret is US corporations make a packet out of this arrangement, and knowingly sacrifice jobs at home—consequently job recovery is far removed from GDP recovery, and the types of jobs available are mainly in the lower half of the hourglass.

The central part, what used to be known as good jobs, the ones that made the baby boom and a wealthy middle class, simply are not there. we’re talking about the shop floor, engineering jobs, mid-level administration.

The social contract that both America and Europe need is a recognition by the people of a few simple facts. Not by the banks, not by the corporations—by the regular folks.

First, if it takes credit to make something affordable, it’s probably unaffordable.

Second, the reason for manufacturing abroad and importing is price-competitiveness. If your own society isn’t rebalancing that with equivalent lower cost goods and services for export, the price is unemployment in the middle sector. America isn’t. Europe isn’t.

Third, whenever you buy a Chinese-made tool in Home Depot, or an iPhone, you compound the problem and worsen the national debt.

No one can stop people doing numbers one and three, and you’d get voted out of office if you tried. Even if you passed some law to that effect, it would be unenforceable, and most probably unconstitutional.

Solution? Restrict production abroad for domestic sale by US companies, and tax imports from foreign companies to make the US economy competitive—the only other way to make it competitive is by lowering the wage of the American worker.

Oh, there is a third way: further automation, lowering national production costs. Do please explain to me how that stimulates the creation of good jobs.

The attacks on China have provided Trump with publicity in the Middle Kingdom. Mainly the good folk of zhong guo are perplexed. When one Chinese guy read that Trump promised to change his hair if he became president, he commented “can he also change his head?”

Apart from the general demagoguery, there are the bimbo blasts. In the nation that invented political correctness, a country where you can’t show a tit (of the breast variety, that is) on network television, even if it’s a mother breastfeeding, it’s extraordinary to witness the bimbo circus, complete with jibes at menstruation—how low can you get? I’d say fox terrier.

And yet there are very serious problems to discuss. US paid maternity leave does not exist—one of only three countries in the world, the others being Surinam and Papua New Guinea.

You can argue that the American tradition placed the woman in the role of housewife, or to be non-bimboish and politically correct, homemaker. By definition, maternity leave was unnecessary, but that was many moons ago.

Paid parental leave in most EU countries is channeled through social security, and employers are of course free to secure temporary workers for the period when the new mom is on leave.

The gap between the rich and poor is now incredibly wide. The skyscrapers of New York were once the emblem of corporate success. Now they’re a trophy of individual wealth, as evidenced by a penthouse apartment sold recently to a hedge fund for one hundred million dollars.

As the gap widens, we go back in history, to a time when the consequences of this inequity reverberated across Europe. I have four words for you.

Let them eat cake.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


August 8, 2015

Her name was Ana Goméz de Silva y Mendoza, but she was known by her first name, according to the Spanish custom.

Doña Ana was only four when she was betrothed to the seventh duke of Medina Sidonia—Alonso Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno y Zúñiga was fifteen. He was obviously impatient, and in 1572 he obtained a dispensation from Pope Gregory XIII to consummate the marriage.

His wife was ten years old.

The duke was a favorite of Philip II of Spain, son of the great Emperor Carlos V, for reasons that are entangled in Philip’s amorous pursuits. These were many and varied, and strayed into the realm of the bizarre.

Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, one of Philip's many paramours.

Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, one of Philip’s many paramours.

La Cerda means the sow, and the name is still relatively common in Iberia—in Brazil and Portugal it is fused as Lacerda. The lady in question was a mistress of both the king and his secretary, Antonio Pérez, and with the latter was instrumental in various plots against the crown—under normal circumstances these would have led to her execution.

Instead she was imprisoned in 1579, and her daughter, deflowered seven years before, lived with her over the next eleven years of imprisonment, and afterwards until her death.

Philip II of Spain became Philip I of Portugal in 1580, due to a succession void, but the Leyenda Negra, the dark legend of this king is never taught at school—perhaps it should be, since it speaks volumes about the man’s character.

Social media at that time worked through chronicles and pamphlets, and the two enduring documents are the Apologia, written by William the Silent, and the Relaciones, written by Pérez.

In these documents, it is reported that Philip was already married to Isabel de Osorio, a lady-in-waiting to his mother, when he married Manuela of Portugal. In a story reminiscent of Charles and Camilla, the relationship endured until Philip’s third marriage to Isabelle de Valois in 1560.

In between there had been a four-year marriage to Mary I, known in protestant circles as ‘Bloody Mary’, which made Philip king of England and Ireland. After Mary died, Philip courted Elizabeth I, but she procrastinated and the suit was eventually terminated.

Philip’s friend Alonzo had made no serious attempt to help his mother-in-law during her imprisonment, and in 1588 the king showed his respect for the duke of Medina Sidonia by naming him Captain-General of the Ocean Sea.

By this time, William of Orange, otherwise known as William the Silent, was four years dead, possibly the first head of state to be gunned down. His assassin was captured and killed—European standards of the day put ISIS to shame.

The magistrates decreed that the right hand of Gérard should be burned off with a red-hot iron, that his flesh should be torn from his bones with pincers in six different places, that he should be quartered and disemboweled alive, that his heart should be torn from his chest and flung in his face, and that, finally, his head should be cut off.

When Medina Sidonia received notice of his appointment, he protested strongly to the king. The duke was no sailor—among other liabilities he suffered from violent seasickness.

It was therefore unfortunate that he was the man destined to lead the Grande y Felicísima Armada, which ended up smaller by two-thirds, and extremely infelicísima.

Since Portugal was then in its eighth year of occupation by Spain, the lead battle group of the Invincible Armada—and arguably the only one of significance—was the Squadron of Portugal. It included the flagship São Martinho and the São João de Portugal. The first carried forty-eight guns (and the duke), the second was the vice-admiral of the fleet, with fifty guns. The twelve ships in the squadron were captained by Spaniards and carried 3,330 soldiers.

History is written by the winners, but the whole story of the naval battle in the channel goes far beyond Plymouth Hoe and the unflappable game of bowls. The date of the final battle was August 8th, 1588, four hundred twenty-seven years today, but the fighting took place over the best part of two weeks, and the key episodes played out in France and the Netherlands. The final decision by the Spanish commander to route the fleet home via the North Sea was the nail on the coffin.

'Indians' of the Caribbean at the tender mercy of the Spanish.

American ‘Indians’ at the tender mercy of the Spanish.

Philip’s reign was an evil time, his early years marked by the exploits of Pizarro and Cortez, setting a gold standard, if you excuse the pun, for the barbarism that defined the colonial history of Latin America.

As for poor Doña Ana, a little girl raped at the age of ten with the papal blessing, her legacy is a more peaceful one—she left her name to one of the most beautiful national parks in Europe.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

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