Monday, July 27, 2015

July 2015: #PONTIFEX morphs into #POTUSINKENYA

The high and the mighty continue this month to stalk my characters.  Now that the Buenos Aires-born Pope Francis has left Bolivia and Paraguay, President Obama has made his way to the land of his ancestry, which also happens to be the setting for Strange Gods, my fourth novel.  I have to tell you, I am loving this!

The POTUS is getting a great reception in the land of his forebears.  If I had a wish for him, it would be to be able to go to the places I went when I was there last August.  He deserves a break from the slings and arrows of his job.  He needs to watch the elephants mommies nursing their babies.

So do I, as you are about to see.  I am feeling my cranky side grumbling in the background as I type.  Here’s why.

The Prez made a pointed reference to corruption in his speech to the Kenyan people.  I could not agree with him more about the hatefulness, the destructiveness of corruption on the part of politicians and businessmen.  It is the height of selfishness.  It harms only the innocent and benefits only the guilty.  I despise it.  Wherever it thrives poor people will not.

But I also have had it up to my neck hearing the sanctimonious diatribes about corruption from the holier than thou whose ancestors spent a lot of their time, and earned a lot of their wealth, sowing its seeds.  (Needles to say I am not talking about Obama here.)

PLEASE notice this is about perceptions.  It does not
include a question about the way the people near the
top of the chart behaved when they invaded the countries
at the bottom of the chart.

My ire about this subject began to reach continental proportions as the Northern European ire over Greece got splashed across the world media.  “We are tired,” a friend reported his Scandinavian friends complaining,  “of people wanting a handout.  Their country is rife with corruption.  We want them to pay their debts.”  No admission was given that the poor of Greece will suffer while the corrupt sail off in their yachts.  In fact, as far as I can see, the EU powerbase does not care how many people are starving, how many young lives are ruined, as long as they get “their” money back.

Just about everywhere one goes, one hears a lot of distain from the well-off for all those corrupt, darker-skinned folks south of Alps all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope.  In my hemisphere, it’s from the Alamo all the way down to Tierra Del Fuego.  I have heard a lot of this same drivel within the Italy: The northerners “tired” of the meridianali, blaming them for their poverty.

But where did this susceptibility toward corruption come from?  Is it a genetic propensity linked somehow how to skin color?

As it happens, I have spent the past couple of decades researching the history of Latin America and Africa and most recently, Sicily.  Here is what I know.  None of these places were sinks of depravity before more powerful and technologically advance people invaded their borders, destroyed their indigenous cultures, and grabbed whatever they could get to make themselves rich.  Almost invariably, the technological superiority involved ways of killing people.  And almost without exception the invaders came from the north.

The Brits, for example, found many clever ways to impoverish the African tribal people and then turned the word “beggar” into a pejorative when describing them.  Hey, Jack, they weren’t beggars before you got there.

And by the way, Jack, do want to give back the “Elgin Marbles” so the Greeks can use them to pay down their debt?

A small sample of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum

The scene of the crime when they were stolen

The cleverest beggars imitate their outsider overlords—they grab whatever wealth they can.  They see getting rich as the only way to a satisfying life.  Usually they take the lucre under the table.

President Obama is trying to help the people of Africa find ways to develop their legitimate economies.  I pray his efforts succeed.  I do not pray that the self-satisfied people of the north will stop calling the Africans (or the Greeks, or the Italians, or the Spanish) nasty names, and labeling them all as corrupt.  People have been praying for that for centuries.  God is not listening to those prayers.  The powerful may be right when they tell themselves that God is on their side.

Maybe the Pope can change God’s mind.  I sure hope so.

Annamaria - Monday


  1. You are perfectly right! It's what I hear all the time - the Greeks are lazy, they don't pay their taxes, they retire too early etc etc.... followed by some huffing and puffing about Johnny Foreigner not being able to get his act together. Admittedly, that is on the back of our retirement age moving further away with each new government - some Brits are working to 67-70 just to get a pension they thought they would be getting at 60-65.
    Meanwhile a lot of Scots see the 'Greek crisis' looming for us in the future. Tourism, they say is the way forward. With the weather this summer? And a pal went to a cafe in Dornoch at 12.30 for something to eat. It was closed for lunch. Hope Greece has a better season than we are having.

    1. Thank you so much for your corroboration, Caro.
      American in their 60's are facing the same kind of changes. Though I am well into the "retirement" age group, I have no resentment for the rise in the age of retirement. Nor do I have any have the remotest thought of quitting the best job I have ever had. But some people need those benefits earlier than I. I think different kinds of work should carry different retirement ages. Roofers, for instance, should stop way earlier than psychologists.

      Regarding climate, I think it has a lot to do with the culture that arises in a particular place--vitally so where conditions are harsh as opposed to where the living is easy. I wonder what the coming (inexorable, I FEAR) climate change will have to say about that. If humans survive it al all. I know I sound like a hideous misanthrope when I say it, but in a lot of ways the planet would be a whole lot better off without us. Not you and me, of course, but certainly Donald Trump .

  2. Greece is scrambling to salvage its tourist season. On Mykonos--an absolute non-bellwether for how things are going elsewhere in Greece--it was a stellar June business wise, but July crashed as a result of the capital controls and anxieties are out there over how August (the busiest tourist month) will play out. Come September, who knows.

    Interesting point, AMA, on the role of occupiers in stereotypes. In a twist on that, Greeks often ascribe the less than complimentary "traits" described by you and Caro as rooted in more than 400 years of occupation by the Ottomans.

    1. With all due respect, Jeff, I think this goes beyond stereotypes. Horrid as such gross generalizations are, what I am talking about is the rapist calling his victim a whore.
      Those Ottomans also took over my ancestral part of Magna Grecia, as you undoubtedly know. They were preceded in Sicily by the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans, and succeeded by the Normans, the Aragonians...I could go on an on, but that is blog in itself which I will write one of these days. I have never hear my Sicilian family members vilify any particular group. Maybe they are too innumerable to bother with. Or maybe it's our congenitally open hearts.

  3. You know I share your views of the ongoing damage done by the people of the colder climes to those of the warmer ones. We probably feel the same about their arrogance and self-perception of being better than others. However, if you're going to play in someone else's sandbox, either voluntarily or through coercion, you'd better be willing to play by their rules, otherwise you will always be a victim. I don't think austerity is the solution to the Greek problem, nor do I think Greece doing business as usual is either. Some fiscal discipline from Greece and some better economic arithmetic could well soften the EU's approach.

    1. Stan, it no longer surprises me, but never ceases to delight me, how much you and I think alike. D'accordo! I agree exactly with you say about about what is needed for Greece. As regards corruption, what the world seems to need desperately is a team of untouchables, to gather evidence and go after the corrupt in every country--much like the ongoing prosecution of those FIFA swine. Sicily used to have such a team--I wrote about them here a couple of years ago. They ended up Excellent Cadavers. Their memorial pictures are on the city busses of Palermo. The Sicilian people still weep over them nearly thirty years later. If we get such an international group, they will need to be brave beyond measure--like Falcone and Borsellino, willing to risk their lives. The bad guys have lots of money and lots of weaponry. Prayer will not be enough.

    2. Of course Sicilians possess those fine qualities, they're all descended from Greeks. :)

  4. As I always say: "People are no damned good!" Unless they buy A Death in the Family tomorrow!!

    1. I heartily urge those who can to do so. Come on, folk. Prove you are on the side of the just and the saved. Buy that book! We poor blighters in North America have to wait four more months.

  5. I just finished a book on Artificial Intelligence, its promises and its dangers. We continue to creep towards the achievement of self-aware machine intelligence, and just like the explosion of the modern computer technology over the past 35-40 years, once artificial intelligence is achieved, it will become a rapidly self-improving (meaning faster and smarter, on and on...) mechanism. That means that we had better get it right the FIRST time, as we may well not get a second chance. But...

    A part of me has to wonder if it would be such a bad thing for humanity to be supplanted by a faster and smarter creature, one of our own creation, but potentially far better in the sense of not being driven, to a large degree, by fear and greed, but rather by curiousity, balance, and the golden rule (not the perverted version). Humanity hasn't been around all that long, and we've supplanted so many other 'versions' of life that came before us, it's foolish to think we'll last forever and not be supplanted in our turn. Maybe we can actually create our better successors.

    Or maybe not...

    1. Then there is Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos, which I have referred to here before, in which he imagines the reversal of evolution. and we go back to being the benign creatures we once were. Perhaps those atavistic genes are the reason we feel nostalgia.

  6. Ah, is this where I should be apologising for British Colonial oppression again?

    Seriously, any kind of 'civilising influence' seems to be disastrous for those unfortunates being 'civilised' -- mainly against their will. Your comments in your reply to Caro are particularly pertinent, methinks.

    1. Zoe, I do not believe that the progeny are ever guilty of the sins of their fathers. If you feel the impulse to apologize, you show clearly that you are never inclined to vilify the suffering descendants of past victims. That is one of the many reasons I love you!!!

  7. A lot of very good points in this post. I think that colonialist attitudes are still in play by Europe and the U.S. in their dealings with poor countries.

    And what about the killing of a natural resource of Zimbabwe, a beautiful lion? This in a situation where the lion population is dwindling. Is it morally right for a rich American or European -- because he has money -- to illegally hunt and kill a lion. It reminds me of the movie title, "The Ugly American."
    This is happening with many species in Africa due to hunting and disappearing environments.
    Also, this hunter violated many of the hunting laws of that country, and then nonchalantly the next day wanted to go hunt elephants.
    Can't the natural resources of Africa, animals, land, and
    more be left alone for the people of those country to admire -- and for people of other countries to visit, while respecting the history and resources of those countries?