memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Saramago & Censorship



I read somewhere that during the time of Portuguese dictator, Antonio Salazar, The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin was banned.



Several Portuguese intellectuals have showed how the various forms of censorship have hindered the cultural development of Portugal with the cultural elite becoming something of an aristocracy, disconnected from the rest of the population.

This is evident by the prevalence of a gap between popular culture and high culture, with the arraiais (popular gathering with light music and ball dancing), pimba music (based on double-entendre or straightforward sexual slang) and racho folclórico (folk and ethnological dancing and music groups) on one side, and literature, drama and classical music on the other.

I stepped from one side of the divide to the other.

Portugal has become one of the countries in Europe with the lowest attendances of theatre and the lowest rates of book-reading.

So during my years here, in this place,

Physically I have taken one step forward

Spiritually I have taken one step sideways

But culturally I have I have taken one step backward

Of course, philosophically, none of this should matter

But it matters to me

It matters to me



In 1992 the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Souza Lara, who had final say on applications from Portugal, prevented José Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from participating in the European Literary Award, positing that the work, rather than being representative of Portugal, was divisive for the Portuguese people.

As a result and in protest against what he saw as an act of censorship by the Portuguese government, Saramago moved to Spain, taking permanent residency in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.



In 1996 José Saramago won the most prestigious award in the world for a writer – the Nobel Prize for Literature.


The reaction of the Portuguese government was muted and ambivalent. On the one hand the (very natural) desire to vaunt the achievement of a Portuguese citizen was offset by the writer’s evident hostility to the culture of his native shores to the extent of becoming a permanent resident of a Spanish island.

Out of kilter

The rich are getting richer

The poor are getting poorer

Something is out of kilter

Remember remember

Remember, remember, the 5th of November

Dateline London 5th November 1605


In the early hours of this morning units of the special anti-terrorist squad rounded up and arrested three men suspected to be connected in a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The three, Thomas Wintour, Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby are believed to belong to the notorious Al Guido network – Papist extremists with links to Al Vaticano in Rome. The police are searching their homes and more arrests are expected.

Our special Westminster correspondent takes up the story:

… Wintour introduced Fawkes to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. The plotters secured the lease to an undercroft beneath the House of Lords, and Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder they had stockpiled there. Prompted by the receipt of an anonymous letter, the authorities searched Westminster Palace during the early hours of 5 November, and found Fawkes guarding the explosives …

A government spokesman declared that the war on terrorism was not over and the public should maintain their vigilance …

Waiting for Sandy

The city braces itself

Battens down

And waits

Fearing the tide surge

When Sandy hits

He worries

His campaign flounders in

Wall Street awash

His concern is visible.


Meanwhile safe in Ohio

They make hay

While the sun shines

He urges them with repulsive lips

He nets them into expeditionary war

He can’t believe his luck

Another ignoramus

In the White House


Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight

Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene

I’ll see you in my dreams


Sometimes I live in the country

Sometimes I live in town

Sometimes I have a great notion

To jump into the river and drown


Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight

Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene

I’ll see you in my dream

(American folksong)


Letter from Portugal

Picture the scene: it’s the 5th October 2012, a public holiday to commemorate Portugal’s metamorphosis from a tired old Kingdom into a brave new Republic in 1911.

It’s a sunny day and the populace is gathered in front of the balcony on which the President, Sr. Anibal Cavaco Silva plus entourage is waiting for the raising of the proud standard of the Republic – The Portuguese Flag.

Slowly it rises but hang on a minute, something’s wrong! The flag is upside down, the wrong way up or reversed!

Oops! What a blunder! What a gaffe! (Someone’s going to lose their job tomorrow).

The symbolism of this little incident was not lost on anyone. The reversed flag is (literally) emblematic of the Portugal’s reversed fortunes which are mired in financial, political and social crisis.

But still, hey, things are not all black are they?

For the National Assembly felt prosperous enough to be able to vote for five new top-of-the-range Audi cars for the ruling party’s ministers.


The fact that the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a billionaire and a prominent member of the Mormon Church and who increased his fortune by setting up a company which preyed on smaller companies, took them over and then broke them up (Greed is good! proclaimed Michael Douglas In the best Wall Street tradition) gives the Mormon Church a slightly unsavoury air.

You scratch my back

And I’ll help you with your tax returns

Proselytizing zealots

Determined thick-skinned young men

In ties and white

Drip-dry shirts

Perform feats of ubiquity

Barnsley, Avignon and Bruges

Popping out from behind a rock

In the Sahara desert

Accosting me as I lounge on a bench

In Espinho’s street 19


Is this your boy?


Oh wow, how old is he?


Oh wow, what’s the little fella’s name?


Oh wow, and are you British?

English actually




The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) was founded by the visionary prophet Joseph Smith Jr. in Upstate New York toward the beginning of the 19th century. Initially outlawed, he and his band of followers wandered through various states seeking Zion or the New Jerusalem in order to build their Tabernacle/Temple, a latter-day Moses leading his tribe to the Promised Land of milk and honey.

After Smith’s death in 1844 the Mormons followed Brigham Young to a salt lake in what would become the Utah Territory.

In the early days of the Church polygamy (plural wives) was practised – Mitt Romney’s great grandfather had three wives and consequently literally hundreds of descendants, one of whom might very well become the next president of the United States of America.

God bless America

(God help the rest of us)

 While we’re on that subject, do you realize that they are Christian extremists in the heartlands of America who hold the whimsical belief that God (the Divine Creator) has singled out their country for special favour.

(During medieval times examples of this delusion are legion. At the battle of Agincourt (1415) both sides, the English and the French, were firmly convinced that God was on their side).

At what exact point of that continent’s million-year-history God made this choice is not clear. Presumably not before the 18th century – obviously God can’t have meant the indigenous Indian tribes who had been roaming those Great Plains from time immemorial … look what happened to them!

What is slightly scary about such people is the way they fly in the face of accepted science and indeed general knowledge.

And why not choose Ethiopia, Malaysia or Tibet? What’s wrong with Argentina, New Zealand or Croatia?

In short, God bless the Ukraine!

(As well as America, of course).



Crisis, what crisis?

The Domino Effect


Back in 2010, the euro-zone members and the International Monetary Fund agreed to a 100 billion euro bailout package to help Greece.  In return for this, the Greek government planned tax increases and deep cuts in pensions and public service pay.  It is reported that Greece has not implemented the planned changes. Therefore, the need for obligatory terms is under greater demand.

Because of the falling euro and as a result of the financial crisis the other weak members of the euro-zone were faced with the inability to repay their debts.  In November of 2010, the EU and IMF agreed to an 85 billion euro bailout package to the Republic of Ireland, followed by a May 2011 bailout of 78 billion to Portugal.  In July of 2011, a second bailout package of 109 billion euros was agreed to for Greece.

Due to increased fear that any of these countries could default on their public debts, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain were been given the unfortunate acronym of PIIGS.

Oh crumbs

Oh crickey

Oh cripes

That crisis!

In Parenthesis

At the beginning the 1990s, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq National Guard invaded its tiny oil-rich neighbour, Kuwait.

The United States and her allies, the so-called coalition of the willing, enthusiastically started to mass troops, tanks and other military hardware into Saudi Arabia. The American 6th Fleet moved up to the eastern Mediterranean, nuclear submarines prowled at the head of the Persian Gulf and the politicians and journalists ramped up the rhetoric.

I was reminded of Shakespeare’s manipulative Octavian, whipping up the Roman Senate into frenzy and then declaiming: Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war.

Later when the 1st Gulf War was unfolding every evening on TV like some grotesque soap opera and the military pundits were enthusiastically explaining about surgical strikes with smart bombs blithely ignoring the fact that the bombs, intelligent or otherwise, were dropping onto children’s hospitals and mosques thus sewing new seeds of ethnic hatred that would  last a generation.

Hello you two, lovely to see you again, come on in, let me take your coats, do sit down and have a drink; for dinner we’re having plovers’ eggs and roast partridge followed by a cheese soufflé; then I thought we could take our coffee into the drawing room and watch The Gulf war, such a bore I know, but Justin’s completely hooked …

As I watched on the television George Bush and his crew of hawkish associates propagating this conflict, I jotted down the title of a poem – In Parenthesis, by David Jones, as a mnemonic … and in the baized chamber the lord Agravaine counsels us, urging with repulsive lips, he nets us into expeditionary war … David Jones had served in the trenches on the western front, as a private soldier in the Royal Welsh Regiment. Steeped in Celtic medieval history, Jones is a difficult but rewarding poet and In Parenthesis is his masterpiece. T.S. Eliot, one of the seminal modernist poets of the century, called it a work of genius.


Do you believe in Gravity


In considering American right-wing politics one enters Alice in Wonderland territory where that lovely word liberal has become a term of abuse and religion has become fatally intertwined with governance.

I recently watched a TV show about the Republican Race to be nominated to square up against Obama; (by the way for us in Europe it’s the greatest show in town and we follow it with horrible fascination – you will laugh, you will cry at the goofy adventures of the candidates on their zany road to the White House; you will be amused and bemused at their gaffes and solid ignorance of even their own history… in short its must-viewing for you all folks out there).

Anyway back to this show with clips of questions put to candidates for a beauty contest to find the new Miss (I can’t quite remember which State it was … let’s call it Arcadia) yeah, the new Miss Arcadia.

One of the questions put to these shapely air-heads was:

–          Do you think that Gravity should be taught in schools in this state?

Some of them answered that although they themselves had doubts about the existence of Gravity, all points of view should be taught …

Other hardliners claimed that as it wasn’t mentioned in the Bible better to play it safe and not talk about …

Only the last candidate, with cute little frown of concentration on her pretty face, thought she remembered studying it in a science lesson and yes she reckoned it did exist.

(What I was thinking at this point was anyone who doubts the existence of gravity should just jump out of the nearest window and find out)

But, seriously, what can they have thought it meant, I wonder.



What’s in a name?

Has it occurred to anyone else that the right wing of American politics is becoming more and more paranoid and loony?
Barack Obama – there is something fishy, slightly un-American about his name Barack (actually it means «blessing» in Swahili, the language the President’s Kenyan-born father spoke).
No, what we need is a candidate with a good old American «Christian» name, you know like Mitt, Newt, Jed, Brett, Todd, Bristol, Chad or Tig.

As for Cutting Taxes for the Rich …. let’s not even go there.

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