Be Thankful for Mercies, However Small!

Will harmony in the House lead to dancing in the streets?

A memory from another life: I am backstage at the Scala Theater. Also here on his very first visit to London is Europe’s latest bodybuilding phenomenon, a native Austrian now resident in Germany. He stands just over six feet tall, weighs 220 pounds in his briefs, and is at 19 the youngest candidate on the day’s roster of Mr Universe contenders.
Several days earlier, before his arrival from Munich, he had begged his London-based German friend Helmut Reidmeier to arrange our introduction. Reidmeier was also expected to act as interpreter, since his friend spoke absolutely no English and all I could manage in German was Ich liebe dich—picked up while on an unforgettable 3-day
visit to Hamburg, in circumstances close to unspeakable!
Soon after we shook hands, the newcomer signaled his friend to commence translating. Some thirty minutes or so later, this is what I was asked: “Do you forgive friends that have betrayed you?” The question came right out of the blue, apropos of nothing that had gone on before, absolutely unrelated to professional bodybuilding and its possibilities—the topic that had dominated our earlier conversation. Without giving it   much thought, I said: “Well, that would depend.”
“On what?” asked Reidmeier.
“On how great was the betrayal, I guess.”
A lively discourse followed, in German, while I looked on perplexed. When Reidmeier faced me again, it was to ask whether I still would have chosen as my friend a man I knew beforehand could not be trusted.
“Well,” I said, unsure where we were headed. “Maybe not.”
Another Teutonic exchange ensued before Reidmeier again addressed me: “He wants to know why would you continue a relationship with someone after he had betrayed your trust? He says he might forgive such a person but never again would they be friends. Never. Auf weidershen. Good-bye!”
“Why not?” I asked. “We all make mistakes.”
“Because,” said a chuckling Reidmeier, “the second time your friend sells you out you may not be in any position to forgive him—or anyone else, for that matter!”
The barely 19-year-old’s translated reaction was as much a surprise as it was scary. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it had also presaged Arnold Schwarzenegger’s now famous Mafia-like approach to loyalty.
As I say, on the remembered occasion in London none of us had any way of knowing—least of all California’s future Governator—precisely where his life was headed. I refer not so much to his bodybuilding achievements that always had been fairly predictable as to his well-chronicled adventures in vicissitudinous Hollywood, whether gamboling with potential kiss-and-tell whores, prospecting fair-weather friends, and ubiquitous others with schadenfreude as their middle name.
But if despite his mindset he had suffered several highly publicized betrayals, it would be equally true to say Arnold had   never permitted the respective traitors a second opportunity to plant their Brutus daggers in his back. Once had always been more than enough!
The London memory came back to me this week as I read again from Paul Theroux’s collection of essays entitled Sunrise with Seamonsters his remembrances of Africa in the company of a   cherished friend and mentor: “When we were together he was very sensible and exact, and he could be terribly severe: Never do this, never do that. ‘Never give a person a second chance,’ he said. ‘If someone lets you down once, he’ll do it again.’”
Talk about the thought patterns of great minds! Who’d have expected such intellectual harmony from two men as apparently dissimilar as my Austrian friend—once widely dismissed as “a brainless musclehead”—and that esteemed pal of Theroux—the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature: V.S. Naipaul?
Consider one more time the sum of their combined sentiments on the subject of loyalty: A friend who betrays you once should be banished forever to Kyzyl-Kum. Never give a person a second chance; if someone lets you down once, he’ll do it again.
What, then, do we do about governments that let down the trusting people who elected them to office? Should they be over and over forgiven, reelected, given second and third chances to make good on their promises? Or should they be seen for what they really are: betrayers of the public trust and deserving of immediate banishment to some desert in outer Uzzbekistan?
As I took in last week’s parliamentary debate (I had further opportunities over the weekend to listen more carefully to what both sides had to say on the so-called Councilors Bill) it slowly dawned on me that what I was watching amounted to a well-choreographed performance by an etch-and-sketch government.
As noted in an earlier dispatch, the tone of their exchanges suggested a positive new attitude but what did the people stand to gain from the particular sea change?
The prime minister had taken such care from the onset to explain that his bill was in effect to be a stopgap, a temporary measure until better days were finally here—by which he sought to justify his appointment of councilors, as opposed to their election by the people. He actually empathized with the opposition voices that seemed to say the bill was okay “in spirit” despite that it tended to place too much power in the hands of the incumbents. If based on past experience some had found more reason to worry, the prime minister reassured them: the time had come to put an end to “unnecessary rancor”; to counter-productive behavior. Henceforth they would unite in the best interests of all who live here!
The prime minister and his automatically like-minded side of the table had also prated about the difficulties in trying to stay abreast of life in the constituencies that had placed them in parliament. No one mentioned the tax-funded, fully loaded offices that exist mainly to permit MPs and their constituents easy access to each other. Or that during their campaigns for office—rain or shine—they had experienced little difficulty reaching and persuading residents in the island’s remotest areas.
Besides, who among us doesn’t have a cell phone or three? To quote from Justice Wilkinson’s judgment following the Ausbert Regis case against the former attorney general: “These days connection is a single telephone call or email away.” To say nothing of our daily talk shows and their addicted UFO callers!
The more useful consideration might be whether our town and village councils have outlived their usefulness; or whether they had ever served the purpose for which they were originally designed. Especially in recent times, egregiously unflattering remarks have been directed at councilors, in particular, at the minister in charge of local government. But the irreducible truth is that there is nothing new about such charges. As far back as the Eighties, succeeding governments had conducted investigations into the operations of the Castries City Council, only to be advised that it be shut down, as much for its unchecked corruption as for the intolerable burdens it placed on the public purse.
Certainly the Kenny Anthony government had soon after taking office in 1997 uncovered good enough reason to restructure the island’s councils. In place of elected officials, known campaigners for the incumbent party were appointed to remedy the situation, after which elections were supposed to follow.                  The then opposition UWP made the predictable protest noises, only to be predictably ignored by the government.
When in 2006 the party returned to office the popular expectation was that councilors would again be elected, not handpicked by the governmnet. Of course there were no elections and—judging by last Thursday’s House debate—there will not be any time soon. The King administration had chosen to maintain the new status quo established by the Kenny Anthony government 1997.                 Small wonder that no serious arguments were offered last week against the Councils Bill. At any rate, there were no calls for councilors to be elected by the people. As I say, get used to etch-and-sketch government!
Though it seemed her heart was not in it, the MP for Babonneau repeated over and over during her presentation last Thursday that the
Councils Bill will empower the people. How? By putting taxpayers’ money in the pockets of party supporters just slightly over-qualified for STEP?
While countries far better off than we can ever be are forced to make more and more public service cuts, we continue to manage our affairs as if without a care in the world.
With ever-rising food prices threatening the especially vulnerable with imminent starvation, our etch-and-sketch government and opposition together appear hell-bent on further inflating a public service payroll that only recently the prime minister acknowledged is way beyond our means. Ah, but by all that went down on Thursday we have much to be grateful for: where once there was only “unnecessary rancor, pettiness and divisiveness,” we now have wall-to-wall harmony.
Who could ask for anything more?

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