UK government sells military spyware to Honduras

Dear readers,

I have said it a few times in my time in Honduras. Being British, I often get labelled gringo, a tag that I loath. Not that I have a problem with people from the US, nor am I a snooty Brit who feels above them. I am not. It’s more about wanting to be disconnected as much as possible from US imperialism; a role it took up after the British Empire crumbled.

Before I get started, I must clarify something. For me, it’s important to separate a person from the political power in his or her country, as that individual doesn’t properly represent the behaviour and acts of that political establishment. For instance, the average Honduran is more decent and caring than those in power, the everyday Brit is nowhere as cold or conniving as the Tory party, and the great people of the US of A have very little in common with Donald Trump. It just goes to show how disconnected a government is from its citizens. That’s what I’ve come to realize in my lifetime, anyway; see the best in people, rather pigeon-holing a person through being blinded by patriotism and politics, which for me has created conflicts within and/or between countries.

While I saying that, I am going to unravel all what I have just said by stating that I have always enjoyed an upper highground over US friends as far as Honduras politics is concerned. Yes, snooty and posh, an undeserved platform to look down patronizingly on our petulant US cousins across the pond, which I know wind-ups gringos. It gives me that platform to say things such as, “Don’t moan about Russia meddling with your elections when you’re faffin’ around with another country’s politics”, with those in Central America being prime examples. A taste of your own medicine, so to speak.

Unfortunately, that platform has been taken away, after the British newspaper The Guardian uncovered that the UK government sanctioned the sale of up to £300,000 of spyware to the Honduran government just before the Honduran elections, which included sophisticated spy technology which according to the Guardian “can be used to intercept, monitor and track emails, mobile phones, and online messaging services such as WhatsApp was sold to Honduras to be used by its law enforcement agencies“.

How much this has been used on the 40 odd people who have been killed and 2,000 who have been detained since the elections, is obviously unclear. However, Juan Orlando Hernández’s use of military and Swat teams to repress opposition or protestors, with kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings, has been well-documented in the international press. I expected my government to know better. It’s not the first time it’s funded such regimes, though. Just look at Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey and Egypt. Go on. Take a bow.

The article goes on to say, “the 2008 British Export Control Act prohibits the sale of arms to countries where there is a clear risk that they will be used to repress their own people.

“Nevertheless, the government has sanctioned the sale of spyware to authoritarian states.”

Suffice to say, this raises many questions, especially for a government that prides itself on being fair and just, and bring tyrants to justice. Yet if it continues these dodgy dealings, it will find itself on the wrong side of history, yet again, further diminishing Britain’s stock on an international scale, when it has never been worse (especially in my lifetime), thanks to way it’s dealt with Brexit. Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour MP and member of the Commons committee for arms export control, has asked the government to name the company that sold this spyware equipment. With these dealings being closely connected to the Tory party, we await an answer, although the chances are those involved will slime themselves out of it, one way or the other.

One of Britain’s most famous fictional characters is obviously James Bond. I have always championed him. This time, however, 007 could be working for the wrong people.

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Cabbages and Kings by O. Henry – part one

Dear readers,

I love literature in all shapes and sizes, good and bad books, critically acclaimed to hidden gems. The genres I like can vary on my mood. Sometimes to inspire my own writing, a passing muse and/or for a topic of interest. Spanish or English, I don’t care which, or where the book is from, although I’ve been hovering over Latin American, American and Irish literature for the past few years. I’m a sucker for free-flowing prose, mixed with wit and thought. General, I know, although I’m not the only one who has this fix.

I buy books like an unhealthy whim and with there being a lack of bookshops in Tegucigalpa it has only boosted my Kindle collection of popular to obscure books, which has shrunk my phone’s content capacity and had a devastating affect on my eyes and bank account. It’s an obsession I must fix. There are not enough hours in a lifetime for all the books I wish to read.

Note to self: stop buying, read more.

One book in my Kindle, which has been been sitting there for years, is Cabbages and Kings by the US author, O. Henry. To those not in the know, Henry was a famous short story writer, who came to public attention at the beginning of the 20th century, known for including terrific plot twists in his stories, and apparently US’s answer to the famous French short story writer, Guy de Maupassant. I have yet to read anything substantial of either writer. When I do I’ll confirm.

Cabbages and Kings is O Henry’s first collection of short stories which was written in 1904, although Henry refers to it as a vaudeville (a theatrical genre which features series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill). The action takes place in a fictional Central American country named the Republic of Anchuria, although it is largely based on O. Henry’s experiences in Honduras; so be proud, Catrachos – your blessed country was the making of one world’s most renowned short story-writers. However, title takes its name after something deriving from my homeland, being a line in the poem The Walrus and The Carpenter which appears in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

So far I have only read the first story but I have quickly been induced by the caressing adjectives and cunning description of Trujillo (where I shall be headed later this month; one of my favourite destinations on this planet). It also gives us an insight into the culture during the Banana Republic era, and something that still goes on today; the US meddling in Honduran politics. I’ve taken many pointers for my own writing. So far, brilliant, and according to Kindle, I’m only 8% into the book.

Trujillo, Honduras

Having spoken to many people here, not many people know about this book. I’ve not seen it on sale anywhere, and I don’t know of any Spanish translations of the book. You can understand why it tickled my curiosity and I’ve wanted to read it for years; it’s one of the first books I downloaded on my Kindle. I won’t leave you with any more spoilers. However, I will write a review once it’s read.


An Open Letter to a Mosquito

Dear Mosquito,

I am writing this post into my phone while lying in bed. It’s 11pm and I am wide awake thanks to you. None of this information really matters to you. You know exactly where I am and you only want one thing from my wife, dog and myself, and it’s neither sex nor money. You hover over us with an arrogrance, believing you’re stealth, yet that buzzing gives you away. Like the deadly rattling of Luftwaffe aircraft engines rattling over its enemy cities and its citizens wait in trepidation for the dive dombing to begin.

The irony is, you’re a filthy fascist, too. Collectively you’ve mercilessly murdered millions of people, especially in developing countries, spreading malaria, zika, dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, amongst other illnesses, for your insidious political agenda. Ethnic cleansing.

Yet, little insect, I wish not to insult you or throw around wild accusations. I want to reason with you, find out why you feel the need to carry out such atrocities. Maybe we can come to some kind of agreement where I point you in the direction of fat Aston Villa or Olimpia supporters (they’re only subhuman species, anyway). But we need to get to the bottom of it.

First of all, blood. I don’t understand this fascination with blood. Why blood? There are so much nicer things to suck on and drink. Whiskey, Ribena or hot chocolate. Vampires and bats are passé. Boring. Gone. Why can’t you adjust your diet and join your fly cousins in the culicidae family, and just eat shit and leftovers? Why do you have to get all posh and like blood? Blood is so fatty and unhealthy. Especially mine (my wife’s is far nicer).

Talking of families, is that the real reason you commit all this misery? Family problems? Emotional turmoil? Resentment? Is it because I swatted your parent or sibling or spouse last week? Revenge is a sin, remember. Or is it anger against your own parents, who left you as a defenseless little larve in dirty water? You had to defend for yourself in your childhood, in this dark desperate world you live in, while building that bizarre insatiable thirst for blood. Is that why you’re a psychotic little shite? Go on. I’m listening. Let it all out.

Why lie? Why try to seduce or communicate with an iresome insect? I hate you. You hate me. It’s mutual.

The blood, I’m willing to donate to those who need it. Emergencies in hospitals. I’m an O type, I think, to those interested. I don’t give it away to robbing bastards like you though, who steal in the night, while invariably leaving a life-threatening disease and a painful and itchy swelling. No. No way. Shameless fucking freeloaders, stealing from the needy. Coming to think of it, you really are the most horrid creatures to have ever walked (or flown) on this planet (other than Villa or Olimpia fans); no exaggeration. Give yourself a pat on that blood filled back. Sneak thief.

Well, look at that. My wife has just turned on the fan and you’ve flown off. COWARD. I hope you fly into it or suffocate in spray. Death to you, one way or the other.

As for now, I need to stop the profanities and get some shut eye. There is literally no point in writing to a mosquito. You’ll never read this. Don’t bother to write back, either (although I’d be impressed if you did).

Good night,

I hate you with all my heart.

Nick “El Catracho” Rogers


#MeToo – Which direction is it going?

Dear readers,

In recent months, news stories from Hollywood have been pouring out about the rich elite sexually abusing women (and men). The likes of Harvey Weinstein, amongst others, are now being put to the sword, as they should be. Waves and waves of allegations came out, stories of gross sexual misconduct and rape where men used their power to force or pressurize young women into doing things they wished not to do, while the men faced no consequences and the women were threatened with career ruination if they spoke up. Those who knew the abuse was going on but did nothing are also being called out. It is an interesting time in Hollywood, politics and/or at least in the world of fame. We will see if there is lasting change.

One of things t has also brought about the #MeToo hashtag, which raises awareness of sexual harrassment for everyday people, although it seems more connected to women and a feminist movement. It has become a worldwide platform for women to talk openly about harrassment they’ve experienced. On the whole, it has been positive. It has seen men question themselves and their behaviour, and it promotes the safety of women. I think most men would agree. Correct me if I’m wrong.

However, it also feels that the #MeToo campaign has been losing its way to an extent, and becoming too broad. Why do I say that? As mentioned, it is great that it empowers women, although reading some comments and views from both sides shows a polemic divide between the sexes. As a male, although not an alpha male, the attacks launched by certain feminist groups about men come across very general and seem aimed at the gender as a whole, while certain alpha male (or red pill) groups claim women are playing victim. Neither side are really helping the chief aim of the movement which is raise awareness and improve the security from sexual predators.

I have been brought up to respect women. In fact, I’ve got great female mates who I admire and I have a laugh with. I’ve never been one to exhibit force, pressurize or trick women into bed. This is why, and I feel I’m not the only man saying this, the abuses in Hollywood feel alien to me, and I don’t tend to gravitate or know men who womenize, let alone abuse women. I don’t turn a blind eye to it, but I’m never really around to do something about it when it happens. Therefore, when attacks are made plural and aimed at all men, it feels like the message is being somewhat lost.

As stated, it has many men questioning their behaviour, but also how they approach women, especially in the Western world. It seems an outstretched arm, a touch on the back or leg, whatever, which makes dating for single men quite confusing. Does he need to ask for permission before he snogs a girl on the dance floor? I have many touchy feely female friends who are fine with being touched or hugged. Will this have men questioning their every motive when in fact a woman might like the man before her to embrace her, kiss her or have her swept off her feet? What’s inappropriate? Where’s the line?

No man, especially those with innocent intentions, wants to be accused of making inappropriate advances on women. Although many unsure men might need a guide written out for them.

What do you think? Has the #MeToo movement lost direction? Is it serving its purpose, or am I just a moaning macho? Is masculinity having an identity crisis?

Feel free to add your comments below, whichever side you’re on.


Mayan Hot Chocolate (with a kick)

Dear readers,

I read about it a year ago. Where or how I can’t remember. About party-goers and ravers in several European nightclubs snorting cacao, especially in Belgium and Germany. It’s supposed to give the snorter a high, not too dissimilar from cocaine. I wasn’t tempted to try, mainly for the fear of getting brown gunk up my nose or having seizures, and also the fact that cacao has a thousand more beneficial uses than been blown up your snout, being a rich source of vitamins and minerals, enhancing weightloss, mood and energy levels, amongst others.

It did rouse some curiosity. The history of cacao dates back to the Mayans and Aztecs, who used it as a ceremonial/sacred ingredient. Those who went on the Cadbury World tour in Birmingham during 1990s will remember the bitter cacao samples they would give out, which had thousands of visitors spitting it out (they unsurprisingly ditched the drink, a little while before I began working there myself, thankfully). The Cadbury World experience didn’t put me off experimenting with the ingredient though. Mexicans are known for using cacao and/or dark chocolate in chilli con carne recipes; something I’ve adopted too, although using cocoa (not the same, which I will touch on shortly). Then last year I thought I must try a few new recipes using cacao, especially as cacao is native to the region, although I found it surprisingly hard to get hold of. It’s not the same as cocoa powder, which is more manufactured and apparently only contains traces of cacao, as I found out.

I had given up hope getting hold of raw cacao in supermarkets, then forgot about my chocolately muse. Then a month ago I found it being sold in a kiosk in Plaza Miraflores shopping centre in Tegucigalpa, very close to where I live. Thrilled, I snapped up a bag and skipped home like a happy rabbit (like the Caramel bunny, but less sultry).

When I was young, I was always one of those who used to help mum make cakes by scoffing half the mixture, and I was also partial to smacking whole tablespoons of hot chocolate powder in gob to get my chocolate fix. Getting home with my bag of cacao, I had obviously forgot my Cadbury World cacao drink experience, and ripped open the almost barfed; do not underestimate how powerful this stuff is. The bitterness came roaring back, and any thoughts of snorting it had lost all its appeal.

I still wanted to utilize it, though, and make a chocolate cake for my wife. It’d need lots of milk, as she’s not fond of bitter chocolate. So I set upon finding a recipe on Google, when I came across a Mayan Hot Chocolate drink, which contained chilli powder. Due to it being cold and me being somewhat bored, I decided to brew myself a Mayan Hot Chocolate drink, but swapping some of the ingredients.

The recipe I found used cayenne peppers, water, cinnamon, cornmeal and nutmeg, as well as a sweetner. Cayenne pepper are not easily found here, but luckily Honduras is a kingdom for spicy peppers, so finding a replacement was not hard, neither was finding the other ingredients, although I decided to lighten the recipe using milk and less than the original amount of cornflour, as well as using lime and honey as the sweetners, trying to keep it as natural as possible.

It worked a treat.

The initial chocolate bittersweetness hits you with a raw kind of lift, then the chilli comes roaring up behind with not so much of an after taste, but an after bang. The lime gave it the perfect degree of a sweet kick, too. What’s more, it kept me going for the rest of the day (and week), with a mental sharpness that was almost triple the affect I receive from coffee, blowing any kind of hot drink I’ve ever had out the window.

Be warned, it’s not for those who suffer from nerves or high blood pressure.

Nonetheless, I’ve included the ingredients and recipe below.

MAYAN HOT CHOCOLATE

Serves: 2 people

Duration: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of raw cacao
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of chilli powder (variants: cayenne or sweet chilli)
  • Half a green lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon of honey
  1. In a small mixing bowl, add the cacao, cinnamon, nutmeg, chilli powder, and measure out half a cup of milk.
  2. Whisk the ingredients into a paste, ensuring any lumps of cacao powder are fully broken down into the mix.
  3. In the meantime, heat the remainder of the milk in a separate saucepan, removing just before it comes to boil.
  4. Add the paste into the saucepan of milk, continue to stir, then leave to simmer until it slightly thickens.
  5. Pour into mugs and add lime and honey.

A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion

Dear readers,

Before you turn away, this review isn’t on a prayer book. It’s a fictional novel by the US journalist Joan Didion, someone who I’ve suddenly become a fan of. More about why in a moment.

The book is set, it seems, in the 1980s when three Central American nations were at civil war. The country’s fictional name is Boca Grande, although it kept me guessing about which real nation Didion based it on. One of the Northern Triangle countries or Nicaragua, I suspect. It is narrated from the perspective of Grace, a North American living in the country in the run up to a conflict and is married into a powerful family. She looks back to her run ins with another North American named Charlotte Douglas, a mysterious and elusive character who gets embroiled into the conflict, but I will stop writing about her now so not to leave any spoilers.

I must admit. I judged the book by the cover somewhat and assumed it would be more about Central America’s culture, rather than conflict. I originally bought it because, all things considered, I live in the region and I enjoy writing about it. It’s always useful to read other depictions especially top quality journalists like Didion, to inspire or prompt writing, like in all other arts. I hadn’t really heard much of Joan Didion before, and through this book I seem to have found her by mistake. I now feel I’ve been missing out.

I really loved the style of writing. Poetic and a wonderful narrative of broken thoughts, due to the elderly age of the character and stresses on mental health brought by war. I thought this helped unravel the plot seductively at times. However, it slowed the plot down to sometimes tedious levels. It left me both entralled and frustrated.

It depicts Central America well to an extent, especially those in power. I sensed there were a few Juan Orlandos, Mel Zelayas and Tigre Bonillas tucked in there, especially when writing about power hungry politicians and military personnel, but in the 1980s. How close it was to reality is anyone’s guess. Suffice to say, I don’t hang out with such folk. Are there any links to modern day Honduras? Going by the last two months, certainly; especially with military repression and US influence.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book and I would like to read more of Joan Didion. A fascinating writer, a wonderful flowing style that I’ve taken quite a few pointers.

I give the book 4 out of 5 stars. Just because I felt the rhythm got a little slow on occasions. Otherwise, great work.


The Chaos by Dr. Gerard Nolst Trenité

Dear readers,

Spanish. I love the language. Its rich vocabulary, expressions and pronunciation, which can be a mouthful and leave your tongue in seizures, is a dance with romance and passion. What I like most is that it’s still fairly easy. The grammar is less complex than French and more rational than English and you get a guide with the accents in the pronunciation. The particularly vowel sounds and rolling r’s can be tricky: always pronounced; no lazy tongues in this language, which is probably the reason why people of the Latin cultures have always been considered the best lovers.

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I’ve always maintained that Spanish is the door to the romantic languages. I also enjoy its hybridity between Latin and Arabic. Then when Latin Americans (especially Hondurans) begin adding slang or pockets of their indigenous languages, your ears end up in seizures, along with your tongue. You are then thrown a life-line when the speaker chucks in a few Anglo-derived words, such as Oh my God or Have a nice day, and your hope rises, even though they are pronounced in a Spanish (or American) twang and not always used correctly in the matrices and discourse of a sentence.

Teaching the odd class in Honduras, students often run a mile when you introduce them to pronunciation and intonation. They enjoy grammar (and games and learning the meaning of vocabulary). There’s no assistance through accents or speech marks, like in other Latin languages, the short and long vowel sounds can’t be distinguished (give me a Lempira for the amount of times I’ve had to stifle laughs when hearing mispronounced faux pas’, such as, “You lay a s–t on bed” and “I’d like to drink a sick pack of beer” amongst the million others), the homophones, the homographs, the heteronyms…egh! You get asked why it is like that, almost pleadingly, yet you can’t say exactly. “That’s the way it is….get over it.”

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You can understand why English language learners hate pronunciation is confusing. I teach such classes with care, trying to raise confidence, giving them assistance bit by bit. On my blog though, I will do no such thing. I want to bruise their brains with a hurricane of the horrors in the confusing English language. While looking for a lesson, I came across a poem which did just that. Funnily enough, the poem was written by Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946), an observer of the English language born in Holland, so if anyone knows the chaos of the idioma, it’s him. The Chaos demonstrates many of the idiosyncrasies of English spelling and first appeared as an appendix to his 1920 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen.

I recommend it to intermediate or advanced students, or any smart arse students who think they know everything there is to know about the language.

Without further ado, below is the poem. Enjoy.

The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does.
Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific, Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough
— Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!