Monday, September 28, 2015


This isn't actually Cecil, but isn't it concerning that we care more about a murdered lion than a murdered nation?

When I began this world survey I was living in Miami, a relatively conservative city by American standards, where I tended to be regarded as a liberal; now I am living in San Francisco, a city which has not yet outlawed the word "conservative", though its time is clearly nigh, and my liberality is widely perceived as a form of reactionary though well-meaning old-fashionedism, with a small measure of old-fartism on the side. How then, in my newly-minted state of confusion over my own political stance, how am I supposed to interpret this description of Zimbabwe, which does not come from the pages of Emma Goldman's anarchist rag 'Mother Earth', nor from Human Rights Watch, nor from Amnesty International. I wonder if you can guess which loonie leftie with a dogmatic perspective it was who wrote this (and no, it wasn't Rachel Maddow of MSNBC):-

"The UK annexed Southern Rhodesia from the former British South Africa Company in 1923. A 1961 constitution was formulated that favored whites in power. In 1965 the government unilaterally declared its independence, but the UK did not recognize the act and demanded more complete voting rights for the black African majority in the country (then called Rhodesia). UN sanctions and a guerrilla uprising finally led to free elections in 1979 and independence (as Zimbabwe) in 1980. Robert Mugabe, the nation's first prime minister, has been the country's only ruler (as president since 1987) and has dominated the country's political system since independence. His chaotic land redistribution campaign, which began in 1997 and intensified after 2000, caused an exodus of white farmers, crippled the economy, and ushered in widespread shortages of basic commodities. Ignoring international condemnation, Mugabe rigged the 2002 presidential election to ensure his reelection."

Words like "annexed" and "rigged" are the big give-aways of course; how does a country annexe a piece of land held by its own trade representatives overseas? "Nationalised", perhaps; or simply "took back control of"; but "annexed" is a word filled with agendas. "Rigged" even more so, though it is undeniable that Mugabe did rig that election, and others since, to keep him still in power at age 98. As to "chaotic land redistribution", "crippled the economy", and "widespread shortages of basic commodities", a Zimbabwean could find himself in prison for writing that, and no foreigner who did so would ever be allowed an entry visa.

So who wrote it, that's what you are dying to know? Who wrote it? The CIA, that's who, in their World FactBook. The CIA, that bastion of left-wing liberalism.

I shall write no more about this benighted land until the news of Mugabe's death is reported, and I can return to report hope and possibility - however negligible and unlikely that may be, given that he is grooming his wife to succeed him - for its future.

Marks for: 0

Marks against: 35 (the number of years Mugabe has spent ruining his country while getting rich at its expense)

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

US Virgin Islands

Sex, as we all know, sells. It sells clothes and it sells movies, and of course it sells nine year old girls in Thailand and eleven year old boys in Damascus, though it does not sell adult women in any civilised country, because that would be prostitution, and that is illegal, because educated women are not capable of determining what use should be made of their own bodies and so they have to have their bodies controlled on their behalf by men. 

Sex sells religion too, and those who now regard porn movies as an entirely legitimate business, whose female stars receive the same adulation as those who perform Shakespeare or Tarantino, should be aware of the extent to which the epidemic of rape in India, for example, of sexual harassment in Egypt, of child abuse throughout the western world, is fuelled by the fantasies available for free at over a million websites (37% of total internet material is porn; 42,000 of the million most visited sites in the world are porn)

Sex sells religion too, as I distracted myself from saying. Not in Judaism - God Forbid! - where the Book of Leviticus catalogues more prohibited sex acts than the Marquis de Sade or the San Fernando Valley ever imagined, leaving only procreation within marriage for the purpose of making babies available without the risk of being stoned to death. Christianity takes its cue from Judaism, though the gospels do appear to give license to the erotic use of alabaster oil in sensual massage.

Islam, within this life, follows the same path, albeit polygamously, for men; but Islam in the afterlife is rather different, and quite probably this, and no other reason yet postulated by the pundits on the TV, is why so many lusty and testosterone-driven young men are signing up to die in the cause of the Caliphate. It is not actually stated in the Qur'an, but comes from the Hadith (the traditions of Muhammad outside the Qur'an) known as al-Tirmidhi, and which can be found in the Book of Sunah (volume IV, chapter 21, "the Messenger of Allah"). It is also quoted by Ismail ibn Kathir (1301–1373), in his Tafsir (Qur'anic commentary) of the Qur'anic surah Al-Rahman (chapter 55):

"The Prophet Muhammad was heard saying: 'The smallest reward for the people of Paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives [the term used is houris, which means virgins; they become wives by becoming deflowered; the English word "whore" is derived from the Arabic "houri"], over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby, as wide as the distance from Al-Jabiyah to Sana'a."

Al-Jabiyah was once a suburb of Damascus, though today it may be completely annihilated, or the capital of the Islamic State in Syria, or a Palestinian refugee camp; we have no way of knowing. Sana'a is the Yemen.

Candidates for the army of the Caliphate may wish to note that the age and physical appearance of these virgins is not specified, and Roman Catholicism also tells its elderly nuns that their sexual self-sacrifice will be rewarded when they reach Paradise, so these may not be the chikan-chicks that you are hoping for, but eighty year old abbesses whose inbred love of Jesus still makes them reluctant bed-companions. You might also care to read the texts thoroughly, where you will discover that – and I have missed it out above deliberately, to echo the way you do it – there will also be 28 young, which is to say pre-pubescent boys, whom you will also be invited to enjoy, or not, depending on whether you incline that way; unlike Judaism and Christianity, which still retain in principle the Mosaic punishment for homosexuality (which is stoning), the Qur'an is far more tolerant and permissive. Surah 52:24, for example, tells Moslems that, in Paradise, "There will go round boy-servants of theirs, to serve them as if they were preserved pearls", which is echoed in 56:17: "They will be served by immortal boys", and 76:19: "And round about them will (serve) boys of everlasting youth. If you see them, you would think them scattered pearls." It is not clear whether these pre-pubescent boys will also be virgins, or whether they have arrived this young in Paradise as a consequence of being used as human shields or suicide bombers.

And speaking of scattered pearls, the forty Caribbean islands and islets and coral reefs that provide yet one more tax haven and one more "offshore finance industry" to the wealthy tax-avoiders of the world, and which are shared more or less equally between US and British hegemony, are also rich with houris waiting to service the multitudes of tourists who simply booked online and did not need to become shahid (the word Hamas uses for their suicide bombers and human shields; the word technically means "martyr") in order to obtain this luxury. On the other hand, pre-pubescent boys are a protected species, so those who would like to think of the Virgin islands as Paradise have been misled.

See also British Virgin Islands.

Marks For: that depends on how much tax you wish to avoid

Marks Against: ditto

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

Viet Nam

Two words please, Viet and then Nam; that's Viet on the left and Nam on the right; buy one, get one free. Available for twelve hour days in the factory, and/or additional "escort" services in the evenings. 

The mathematical probability is that you who are reading this did not grow up in the 1960s, the era of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, the era of "flower power" and experimental LSD, the era in which the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young were moving back and forth between those camps constantly, now protesting "Blowin' In The Wind" or "Ohio", now hallucinating "Mr Tambourine Man" or "The Needle And The Damage Done". To commit politically, or to practice escapism – that was the lifestyle choice of the period, and most people chose both, simultaneously. At the core of this was the Vietnam war, which led thousands of draft-dodgers along Highway 61, the old slave route to freedom in Canada, and thousands more into the prisoner-of-war camps around Hanoi, modelled on the European camps of Hitler and the Siberian camps of Stalin. The war changed America for ever, and yet, to this day, nobody in America will admit that America lost, was roundly beaten, failed in every single one of its objectives, and then went and repeated them in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now, today, in Syria. Communist North Vietnam won, and absorbed South Vietnam into its territory, and remains an autocratic one-party state to this day, still committed to a collectivist agriculture based on five-year plans, though electronics and technology appear to be inducing change, by osmosis rather than by government policy.

Unable to defeat it militarily, America has chosen to reconcile with it economically, cemented by (pardoned draft-dodger?) President Clinton's visit in 2000, and the establishment of the US as the major buyer of the products of Vietnam's substantial textile industry - yes folks in the US, most of the slave-made clothes you are wearing come, not from Bangladesh or the Northern Mariana Islands, but from Vietnam, a land where human rights are not acknowledged, where opposition is not permitted, where religions have been outlawed, where there is no media that is not state-controlled, and where "subversion trials", a specifically Vietnamese version of the old Stalinist "show trials" and the Maoist practice of "Fanshen", were restarted as recently as 2013. I would love to know if John McCain, former Presidential candidate and senior Republican, but also a former POW in Vietnam, has an opinion on any of this; and does he ask where they came from when he buys his clothes?

The Nike factory in Vietnam - no worker rights, not even minimum wage

Marks for: 8.3 billion (the value of American imports from Vietnam of textile products; i.e most of the clothes you are wearing)

Marks against: less than 5 (the maximum percentage of this income that is believed to reach the people who make the clothing)

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


December 7th 2015: Do not despair – there is, eventually, an end to despotism…in Venezuela’s case, it may have just happened. The fall of Maduro has been announced. But will he accept the election result? Click here for a European view. Click here for how the Russian state media are reporting it.

Simon Bolivar's idea was to create a single country that would occupy the whole of central America. At its foundation in 1819, Gran Colombia included all of what is now Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama, as well as the north of Peru, the west of Guyana and the north-west of Brazil. At its collapse just twelve years later, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela emerged as independent countries, with Panama at that time still part of Colombia. Why did it collapse is a question that needs to be complemented by "why did it come into being in the first place", because the answer to both questions is the same, and provides one of the most important lessons of history that we should have learned a thousand times by now, but instead are still repeating. 

The conflict between giant supermarkets and family-owned village stores, between federalism and regional autonomy, between the European Union and Andorra, between Alexander the Great and you surely get my point by now. Some people want to own and control everything, and spend their lives gathering up as much as they can under their personal hegemony, and argue that big is best, and become so powerful that the counter-argument can simply be bought off. So there are online retailers who would like to control the means of distribution of every product that can be purchased in the world, just as there are engineering firms who are trying to buy up every other engineering firm and entertainment industry companies that annually acquire more bits of the global entertainment industry, and political institutions (Russia, China, the EU etc) which are trying to bring more and more countries within their sphere of influence, and they claim that it's in the best interest of the economy (which it isn't; it actually damages the economy), and politically sensible too (which it isn't; it's politically divisive precisely because it tries to unify what is too large to be unified and therefore has no choice but to homogenise and impose), and good for profit (which it is, but only for the elite who own and run the show; for everybody else it's a disaster); and all of these mitigations are just a cover anyway, ask Hugo Chavez. What we want is power. Power for me. Power over as much of the world as I can get. Power is a form of psychological illness (megalomania) for which there is a cure, but we in the civilised world suffer from a different psychological illness (sentimentality) and also an ingrained condition (passivity), which generally prevents us from applying the remedy (see my thoughts on the Arab Spring for the evidence of this: Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt). Or, as I say, ask Hugo Chavez.

Gran Colombia was the megalomaniacal fantasy of Simon Bolivar, the man who theoretically liberated Central America from Spanish domination (theoretically, because Spanish is still the official language in every Central American country, Catholicism is still the religion, Flamenco music etc etc…). Bolivar's Vice-President Francisco de Paula Santander was the "Second-in-Command" who I had in mind when I wrote my tale of that name, in "The Captive Bride", the one who understood that men who fight for liberty are heroes, but that men who win that fight, and then become the government themselves, usually turn into the very men they fought against, and have to be resisted too – history provides far too many examples of this to even need to list them, but again look at my thoughts on the Arab Spring. A centralised Central America, one vast country under one President, Santander foresaw, would quickly become an autocracy, because countries on that scale contain too many ethnic differences, too many economic and religious and social and intellectual and cultural differences, and so are bound to become autocracies, or oligarchies, or tyrannies of some other kind, because people have to be governed, and how else do you guarantee order and stability? Better to have lots of small countries, even if they war against each other occasionally, for in times of peace they have the capacity to become manageable without tyranny.

The latter theory doesn't always work, of course, but at least it has a better chance of working, as the United States have demonstrated with their careful balance of federalism and autonomous states, as the EU is trying to prove, as India is trying to prove, in much the same way; though these three are sadly historical exceptions, as evidenced today by China and Russia, and all three are sadly doomed to failure. And indeed as Central America since Gran Colombia appears to be proving, though several of the countries that emerged from Gran Colombia have themselves become autocratic dictatorships. Ask Hugo Chavez.

In fact you cannot ask Hugo Chavez, because he died in 2013, but his successor, Nicolas Maduro, is doing his utmost to maintain the so-called socialist revolution, which is to say the autocratic hold on power through which the elite are able to purloin the vast oil wealth into their personal bank accounts while most Venezuelans (all of whom are active and committed "chavistas" without needing to be persuaded) live in dire poverty, inflation is running at 50%, unemployment at around 60%, and even those members of the middle class who once benefited from the oil wealth (and the coal, iron ore, bauxite and gold as well) which made Venezuela one of the richest countries on Earth while also being per capita one of the poorest, even they have plummeted back into poverty in the last few years, leaving Venezuela's black market economy even larger than its official one, and thousands of middle class refugees, which is itself quite an achievement, because usually it is the poor who flee.

On the other hand, you could argue that Venezuela is a superb example of socialism in government at a national level. When I say "you" I don't really mean you personally. I mean "one". The one I am mostly thinking of on this occasion is Fidel Castro.

Marks for: 0

Marks against: dozens

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


photo courtesy of British Red Cross
Almost but not quite last and least, but very definitely at the low end, comes Vanuatu. Until 1980 these eighty islands were known as the New Hebrides, and were parts of the British and French empires. Most are inhabited, but not all; several have active volcanoes, all are mountainous, and most are densely covered with rainforest. Women have low status in the traditional social structure, and are generally excluded from education, let alone politics or the economy. Some income from money-laundering, some from tourism, some from foreign aid (mostly Australian), but the levels of income are so low that Vanuatu does not bother with income tax. The United Nations list of the world's least developed nations includes Vanuatu, though in fact, according to Global Finance Magazine, based on GDP, Vanuatu comes 123rd in the league table of riches-to-poverty, a middle position.

None of this was helped when Tropical Cyclone Pam hit the islands in March 2015, bashing it at around a hundred and fifty-five miles per hour - they call it a tropical cyclone in the south Pacific, a typhoon in the north-east Pacific, a hurricane everywhere else: different word, same damage. In Vanuatu's case the damage was worse than Katrina in New Orleans or Andrew in Miami, but not quite as bad as Sandy in Haiti in 2012. Around seventy-five thousand people were left in need of emergency shelter, and ninety-six per cent of food crops were destroyed, though only eleven people died in the storm, a paradoxical consequence of the islands' extreme poverty: most houses are made of bamboo, with perhaps a little bit of timber to hold up the roof, so the hurricane simply blew them all away, but the people had gone to the nakamals, the communal buildings which serve as above-ground shelters, built with roofs that come down to the ground like coconut shells and can't therefore be lifted up by the winds, and with materials so cheaply porous the wind can't create a pressure-vacuum inside and lift them that way either. If Vanuatu had been built using the "hurricane-proof" materials they employ, say, in New Orleans and Miami, scarcely a building would have been left standing, people sheltering in them would have had no chance, and the destruction of the buildings would have added a second method 
of annihilation to whatever lay in its wake.

So there are some good things about poverty, in a world of hurricanes and other of God's more intelligent designs. And speaking of God, and of good things, there is also the nation's motto, which is "Long God yumi stanap", a Bislama expression which, sadly, in English, lacks the poetry and mystery of the original - it simply and most banally means "in God we stand" (it ought to be "against God we stand" don't you think; when God blows the hurricane and citizens of Vanuatu refuse to yield, staying upright no matter what?). 

And then there is the national anthem, which I sang as a child without knowing I was honouring the "Ripablik blong Vanuatu", indeed simply thought I was acknowledging the presentation by my mother of a plate of cheese cake, or ice cream melting with chocolate sauce. Yumi, yumi, yumi I sang. Apparently yumi may mean "delicious" in English, but it means "we" in Bislama. I do like the idea of a country which celebrates the "we" rather than the "I". Another lesson from tiny, impoverished Vanuatu to big, brash, narcissistic all-the-rest-of-us? Perhaps.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


The one and only Uzbeki restaurant in the world (at least: that I have ever eaten at) provides an Alice In Wonderland stage set that is half Moghul Empire India and half Ali Baba’s Cave somewhere in Morocco. A plump woman in a skirt made out of gold bangles sings Abba songs in Spanish, reading the lyrics from a computer screen placed conveniently in front of her, accompanied by disco music pulsating from a karaoke app. Still more plump women gyrate enthusiastically, but go outside to smoke when the singer offers an authentic Uzbeki song. The service is beyond belief dreadful though the food is delicious. Borscht paled with sour cream provides a drowning-pool for strands of red and green cabbage, cubed beetroot, chopped parsley. Meat blintzes are served in suet so thin we could be eating dim sun in Chinatown (this is a compliment). But what has any of this to do with Uzbekistan, except that it is as near as I have ever been to Uzbekistan, except by Internet?

The answer is, that I really do not want to have to write anything down about Uzbekistan, because I know that doing so will trigger my personal Jiminy Cricket, the still small voice of my conscience, who will ask me how can I possibly have eaten in an Uzbeki restaurant, and thereby spoil my day. Of course, if I were to boycott every restaurant with a national identity that did not meet my moral standards, I would be dining on Swedish herring and Uruguayan coffee for the rest of my life, and not much else. But in the end I must write, and here is what I have to say. That Uzbekistan is really a modern invention, like Jordan and Palestine, which emerged out of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, though by then the region that is now Uzbekistan was already part of the Russian Empire, and remained so, despite initial resistance, when the Russian Empire became the Soviet Empire. The region was key to Soviet agro-economic strategies, producing cotton in such abundance it became known as "white gold", and grain in such abundance it became known as "poison, do not eat this", because abundance was achieved, not by intense prayer to a generous fertility god, but through the excessive overuse of agrochemicals, which ultimately ruined the food and depleted the water supplies, leaving the land so badly degraded it has now had to be abandoned and will take generations to recover, leaving the Aral Sea entirely, and several rivers in addition partially dry.

Leadership of this glorious prototype for the future feeding of the world has been by President Islom Karimov, now in his 70s, an apprentice of Gosplan, the Orwellian State Planning Committee of the Soviet era. On the list of tasks already lined up for whoever has the misfortune to succeed him: radical Islamic terrorism, a failed economy, and several hundred years of history which includes nothing of democracy or human rights. I still recommend the pilaf.

Marks for: 0

Marks against: as many as there are grains of white gold in the Aral Sea

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press


"The Hand" at Punta del Este, by Chilean sculptor Mario Irrazába; though why human morons have to come along and spoil it with graffiti is beyond me; much the same has been done to an even better piece by the same artist, in the Atacama Desert, in Chile.

The little bit of land that separates Argentina from Brazil, Uruguay shares with Sweden the title of "The Only Countries In The World To Get Unequivocally Positive Marks In This Encyclopaedia". Not that it was always that way, but there is surely some connection between its advanced social system and the fact that Europeans colonists did not establish themselves there until a very long time after the rest of South America, and then departed again very quickly. Uruguay was independent by the 1820s, with a constitution; women had the vote by the first decade of the 20th century, which also saw the establishment of a welfare state, the disestablishment of the church, and the abolition of the death penalty – the man who made this possible was President Jose Batlle y Ordonez.

The middle years of the 20th century were a bad time for all of South America, and Uruguay was no exception. Coups and fleeing Nazis, coups by fleeing Nazis, Nazis fleeing coups, the worst were the Tupamaros guerrillas, who fought for a decade until 1973, when the army seized power and turned Uruguay into the "torture chamber of South America". In 1985 the army agreed to give the country back its constitution and institutions, in exchange for an amnesty, since when there has been a slow return to the liberalities of Batlle y Ordonez's day, fuelled by the discovery of oil, which is run as a state monopoly and does not, as endorsed by a referendum in 2003, allow foreign investment in the national oil industry.

High marks to Uruguay's Supreme Court for ruling unconstitutional the amnesty of 1985, and then putting the military chief in jail for twenty-five years and former President Bordaberry for thirty years for their parts in the 1973 coup.

High marks also for becoming the first Latin American country (Cuba doesn't count) to legalise abortion (during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy only), and same-sex marriage. I am less than evangelistic about the cultivation of marijuana, though I understand the argument about its potential medicinal value, recognise the absurdity of allowing those killer drugs tobacco and alcohol while banning marijuana, support the argument (the same applies to prostitution) that it becomes safer if regulated, and can appreciate the desire to obtain tax income; anyway Uruguay legalised it in 2013. Highest marks of all though go to its education system and its continuing welfare stare; minused somewhat by the tendency to provide offshore banking facilities, and hooliganism at its soccer stadia.

Marks for: 12

Marks against: 3

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

United States of America

thanks to for the cartoon
The only truly free country in the world (a lie – it is actually incredibly expensive), the United States has fulfilled its ambitious aspiration to be the land of opportunity and free speech, and can justifiably be hailed as the supreme exemplar of democracy in action. All men and women live in total equality, regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, religious faith or political opinion, and with all human rights respected. Its immense manufacturing base means that it is able to produce all its needs without looking overseas, and the distribution of the ensuing wealth is balanced and fair, just like its journalism.

The USA has remained isolationist for many decades, refusing to interfere in any way in the internal affairs of other countries, and has few military assets. Culturally it is the most sophisticated civilisation in human history (it can't spell however; it thinks civilisation should have a "z" in it, and pronounces that "zed" as a "zee"), and is famous for its variety of indigenous cuisines; these include a slab of dead meat in a dry bun made of preservatives, and corn pretending to be mashed potato; the same description has also been applied by the enemies of America to its highly culturally sophisticated television programs, Hollywood movies and Broadway shows. Plans to establish American colonies on the moon and on Mars are in progress, and this model of human society can be expected to reach the outer cosmos on a permanent basis by the end of the century.

What I find saddest of all about the United States of America is that this appalling mediocrity which believes in its own exceptionalism may (not counting Sweden and Uruguay, perhaps also Botswana and Norway) actually be the best of all possible worlds, and is, without argument, the kind of world that the majority of humans dream of and aspire to.

Politically, America is an oligarchy of competing global corporations which pay the re-election expenses of their political stooges and then use further payments to out-lobby each other to obtain the tax concessions and other regulation-limitations that they are seeking for the good of their investors. This places all wealth and power in the hands of a small elite, who do not call themselves an aristocracy, but behave like one nonetheless, and are entitled to do so, because the pursuit of wealth and happiness is a right enshrined in the Constitution.

To keep the poor (the remainder of the population) in a state of permanent and passive non-protest, an enormous leisure industry has been created, its participants very few but extremely highly paid, and televisions are provided in every bar and restaurant, at gas pumps and in airport lounges, as well as in every bedroom, to ensure that the populace are gripped by the fictional lives of their dream-heroes, whether actors, singers or sports-players, and thereby distracted from any understanding or desire to understand the politics of the nation, which anyway is simply an on-going Presidential auction (the 4-year lease on the White House is currently available, and expected to go for around six billion dollars) in which the TV stations which support the current President do so all day and all night, and those who do not support the President rant and rail and blame him for everything from their back pains to the weather.

About 90% of Americans are unemployed, though the majority of these spend their days as unpaid waiters and waitresses in America's multitudinous bars, restaurants and hotels, and generously provide each other with a small means of financial support through a restaurant tax known euphemistically as a "gratuity"; the remainder fill their days by undertaking internships, a philanthropic gesture of the highest order, by which they undertake exactly the same work as paid employees, but generously decline to accept a wage for it. This practice is technically illegal, as it was abolished with the passing of the 13th Amendment, and will shortly be formally abolished, as Republicans are pressing for the removal of the words "altruism", "philanthropy" and "society" from the dictionary, and the concept "Judeo-Christian" from the philosophy manuals, and replacing the Statue of Liberty Enlightening The World with a bust of Ayn Rand. It is not clear who is the Mad Hatter running this particular Tea Party, though it is probably not the President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Marks for: 5 (Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Gummo and Zeppo)

Marks against: 0 (the number of overseas wars that the USA has ever won at any point in its history)

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

United Kingdom

Also known as Great Britain, though the term “Great” may now be an anachronism, it is comprised of four separate countries. These are England, which is an overseas territory of Germany; Scotland, which is an overland territory of England, still far too young to leave the nest and go it alone as an independent nation; Northern Ireland: which is really a part of the Republic of Ireland, except that the English conquered it and refuse to give it back; Wales, which should be pronounced Wal-ès, this being the old Anglo-Saxon word for “an outcast”, “a foreigner”, or “an outsider”.

In addition, though England has given up its Empire, and the British Commonwealth is now simply “The Commonwealth”, the United Kingdom’s “assets” remain global, being comprised of: Akrotiri, a military base on the island of Cyprus; Anguilla, a tax haven in the West Indies; Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which I include only because I enjoy being ironic; Belize, a tax haven in the Caribbean; Bermuda, an “offshore finances market” in the Caribbean; British Antarctic Territory, a stake in the ground for a future oil field; British Indian Ocean Territory, a refuelling station for US aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean; British Virgin Islands, a holiday home in the Caribbean; Cayman Islands, yet another tax haven in the Caribbean; Dhekelia, yet another military base on the island of Cyprus; Falkland Islands, a thumb in the nose of Argentina; Gibraltar, a thumb in the nose of Spain; Guernsey, a thumb in the nose of France; plus the Isle of Man, Jersey, Montserrat, Pitcairn Island, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The United Kingdom is ruled by an old lady with white hair and a degree in advanced elocution (no, not Margaret Thatcher, she died; though the description applies there too), though it has been suggested, for about forty years now, that she may abdicate in favour of her son, who does not need elocution as he only speaks to horses and plants, or her grandson, who most definitely does need elocution lessons, though he only speaks to journalists.

Given that I am a citizen of this esteemed land, and do not wish to have that citizenship revoked on the grounds of extreme sarcasm or radical satire, I propose to say nothing more than this; or only to point out that the novels of Charles Dickens may actually have been written by Tobias Smollett, while the philosophical writings of Francis Bacon were surely written by William Shakespeare, whose hunchbacked body may now be found at a tourist relic centre at Leicester Cathedral, close to that other made-up character of history Guy False, or Faux in the French, pronounced Fawkes.

The concept of a “United Kingdom” is one that is cherished in England, and especially among Londoners, but it is also self-evidently a fantasy-realm that bears no resemblance to reality; indeed, it would be far more accurate, looking at the 2015 General Election results, let alone the troubles in Northern Ireland throughout the 20th century, to call it a “Disunited Kingdom”; even “The City-State of London and its Environs” would be more accurate.

Marks for: Start with Chaucer and Roger Bacon, and keep counting

United Arab Emirates

Dhabi is the local Arabic name for the gazelle
Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwain are the seven states which comprise the Dawlat al-Imārāt al-‘Arabīyah al-Muttaḥidah - the United Arab Emirates - that were founded in December 1971, though it is likely that you have only ever heard of the first two, and suspect me of making up the other five. The place has that fantasy feel to it, an immensely wealthy mirage in the midst of nomadic desert, so your skepticism is unsurprising. What is going on, for example, that 9 million people live there, but barely one and a half million of them are actually citizens, the remainder entirely ex-patriate? The answer of course is oil and gas, or their off-shoots and service sectors.

Abu Dhabi provides the capital, which is why you have heard of it. Dubai is the second city, the most densely populated and the most oil-rich, and like Abu Dhabi has the power of veto over the UAE's ruling body. Of the other five, Ajman is the smallest, and predominantly agricultural; Fujairah has a coastline on the Gulf of Oman but not on the Persian Gulf; Sharjah has a version of the London Eye at al-Qasba (you can see that I am struggling desperately to find anything worth mentioning about any of these places), and prohibits alcohol unless you can obtain an alcohol license for home use only; Umm al Qaiwain has a museum with some interesting Ubaid pottery dug up locally; and there really is nothing to say about Ras al Khaimah except that it was the last to join the UAE, and of course oil and gas, and then more oil and gas, and then still more oil and gas, which is what the UAE is ultimately all about, and will continue to be, no doubt, until the oil and gas runs out, or electric cars render the oil and gas obsolete, or global warming floods the place.

Each of the emirates is ruled by an absolutist, hereditary monarchy of its own, and each of the emirs sits on the Federal Supreme Council of the UAE, which applies sharia law and allows no parliament, though it does maintain the majlis, a kind of open assembly to which anyone can bring an idea or a grievance, and then be ignored because of course the emirs know best. The Arab Spring never sprung in the UAE; Amnesty International's lengthy list of appeals for pardon or release for human rights activists suggests it may well have tried to spring, but was snapped back by the autocratic rulers.

Marks for: 600 (billion, that is, in dollars - the GDP of the UAE in 2014)

Marks against: 3.7 (trillion that is, in dollars - the GDP of Germany in the same year; just to give you an idea of how the Arab oil wealth compares in relative terms with the richest European country)

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