Notes on a trip to England
Sal Imam

Caught up in the Brexit wave. This is the first part of a two-part long form

  • Even a relatively small city like Cambridge is full of Bangladeshis  

Leaving New York -- with a lingering look at the first lovely sunny day of the US spring -- I landed in England to be immediately caught up in the Brexit wave. On the two hour ride into Cambridge, my Englishman taxi driver was the soul of gentleness and friendliness, but it emerged that he was determined to vote Leave.

He felt dispossessed because there were too many people of foreign cultures around who just did not fit the English ethos of his kind of ordinary folk. It seems that even in the relatively small town of Cambridge, half the taxi drivers (echoes of New York) are Bangladeshi, a fact which he found vaguely unsettling.

It seemed as if the act of voting in the referendum was shaping up as an opportunity for some psychological venting, no more and no less. Perhaps we should all treat it as just that, a long bottled-up sentiment allowed expression for once.

The Brexit waves continued to roil the UK while I was there, and clearly formed part of the same anomie-laden backlash that Andrew Sullivan (and Plato) had identified in the US (see “Atlantic Currents” Dhaka Tribune, June 27, 2016).

By the way, this phenomenon seems to be going global as the era of the tyrant-demagogue is already upon us: Rodrigo Duterte, a certified head case, has just started a six-year term as president of the Philippines. And I am told there is another aspiring tyrant, Geerts Wilder of the Netherlands, who fits the pattern to a T: Blonde, airheaded, extreme right-wing.

It was particularly amusing to find that the British tyrant-in-the-making Boris Johnson was a mirror image of his US counterpart, down to the heavy-set body and the shifty eyes. Private Eye picked up on this with a cover photo showing David Cameron welcoming Obama to Number 10 saying: “You’ve been racially abused by a buffoon with silly hair” to which the President was replying: “You’re really making me feel at home.”

But then Private Eye, a satirical magazine which has a knack for the most acute revelations, went on to print a cartoon which set out the entire Brexit dilemma at a stroke. It showed an EU Ballot Paper with two boxes to be ticked, one labelled “More Frightened of Staying In,” and the other “More Frightened of Getting Out.”

This was indeed the unresolvable choice that was on offer. That’s why the Leave and Remain campaigns were so strangely unsymmetrical. Neither campaign presented any pros for their point of view, being content to compare positions along the lines of: Your cons are worse than my cons.

And these cons were truly weighty. The Leave campaign’s worst was a warning of the huge spending bills that Europe was about to face in order to resolve the economic problems of countries in its Southern belt: Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain.

The Remain campaign, meanwhile, harped upon the incredible economic, political, and social stress that would be caused by trying to pry apart the UK from its existing organic web of European ties.

The Rightists were furious that the European Commission bureaucrats were introducing ever more effective regulation to curb abuses such as massive corporate tax avoidance, which the Leftists welcomed.

At the same time, the Leftists hated that these same European Commission bureaucrats were secretly negotiating international trade treaties which would permanently grant concessions to corporate interests making them unchallengeable in sovereign law courts, a longstanding Rightist demand. There was never going to be any possibility of a “good” result except for those of the schizophrenic persuasion.

Eating right
A simmering controversy about the dietary implications of saturated fat broke out again with an influential article by Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times. The story was that, some 50 years ago, saturated fat was identified by experts as a leading cause of heart attacks and other serious medical conditions.

In response, a massive attempt was launched to eliminate all traces of fat from normal diet. Hence, the reign was inaugurated of insipid skimmed and semi-skimmed milk, and the shunning of the full fat version.

Food items with saturated fat in them such as eggs, butter, meat, and dairy products were, if not banned, at least made highly questionable. People switched en masse to low fat diets, and felt good about themselves doing so.

Unfortunately, this meant that one potential evil, saturated fat, was replaced by another, even worse evil: Namely, sugar. The problem is that, as Lawson puts it: “If we do not get our energy from animal fats and protein, then carbohydrates would fill the calorie gap, and that is a recipe for a high sugar intake.”

In addition, given that anything with a very low level of saturated fat tends to be utterly tasteless, sugar had to be added in large quantities to make food palatable. Both these tendencies led, over the years, to a huge increase in diabetes in the general population.

The concluding part of this long form will be published tomorrow.

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Sal Imam

Sal Imam is a concerned citizen.