Tunis: cool for cats

 

I sometimes wonder if Tunis is wholly a city of human beings.  Plenty of people live here – Tunis has, according to its Wikipedia entry, some 2,412,500 folk living in its metropolitan area – but, when I’m in a slightly paranoid mood, I suspect that only half of the city belongs to humanity.

 

The other half of the city belongs to another dominant species: cats.

 

In Tunis, you see them everywhere – cats of all ages, sizes and colours and cats exhibiting many different degrees of grooming and hygiene.  (The scruffy ones, though, definitely outnumber the upmarket ones).  They roam the streets, lurk on the street-corners, skulk beneath parked cars and do loud, unspeakable things to each other during the night.

 

When I’m in a really paranoid mood, I imagine that behind the shutters of rundown buildings and amid the shrubbery of overgrown gardens (where, invariably, they retreat when people approach them), they have their own, parallel cat city – cat shops, cat bars, cat restaurants, cat boarding houses, cat gambling dens…

 

It’s obvious how the huge cat population survives. Tunis’s human citizens put their rubbish out on the streets every day and, although collection trucks come around every night, as do cart-pushing rag-and-bone men, this rubbish is less-than-comprehensively gathered up.  As a result, Tunis’s streets always contain plenty of trash and the city’s scavenging felines have a field-day with it.

 

Needless to say, things get especially bad – or especially good if you’re a cat – whenever the rubbish collectors go on strike.  Bagfuls of domestic waste quickly pile up, are ripped open and have their contents scattered.  Outside the shops and cafes, black bin-bags are eviscerated with even messier results.  By the time the cats have finished, long tatty trails of garbage run alongside every kerb, through every gutter.

 

Before I arrived in Tunis, I’d regarded myself as being a cat person rather than a dog person.  Not that I disliked dogs – apart from those tiny, cranky, yapping poodles and Chihuahuas loved by old ladies and Mickey Rourke, I thought dogs were amiable, good-natured things.  But at the end of the day they seemed a little too daft, slobbery and lacking in social skills.  Cats, on the other hand, I’d always thought were extremely smart and cool.

 

To use one of those strange musical metaphors that I’m fond of, if dogs were musicians, they’d probably play in a gormless, shambolic glam-rock or retro-guitar band like Status Quo, Slade or Oasis.  But if cats were musicians, they’d probably be members of a chic, arty outfit like Roxy Music, Kraftwerk or Suede.  Indeed, it once occurred to me that ‘the Cats of Tunis’ would make a brilliant name for some avant-garde indie-rock band.

 

However, one morning shortly after my arrival in Tunis, I left my home to go jogging.  I was trotting along a side street whose pavement, at its mid-point, was almost blocked by a large, sprawling heap of garbage.  As I skirted the heap, a cat shot out in front of me, from under a rubbish-bag that it’d been in the process of clawing open.

 

I tripped over the cat and landed on a pane of glass that’d been left on the pavement on the far side of the garbage.  Having been on the pavement for some time, the pane was broken into several fragments, and my right hand came down on the edge of the biggest fragment.  I ended up with a long and bloody wound along the base of my thumb and I spent the remainder of the morning with my right hand painfully immersed in a bowl of Dettol.

 

So now, I’m not so enamoured with the feline species – and I’m even less enamoured with the cats of Tunis.  In fact, it wouldn’t bother me if the city authorities decided to take action against the creatures.  I wouldn’t care if Tunis employed a Cat Catcher, styled on the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who patrolled the streets in a black horse-drawn coach with barred windows, dressed in a scary black cloak and top hat.  Unlike the Child Catcher, however, the Cat Catcher could be armed with state-of-the-art equipment, such as tasers, pepper sprays, water cannons and plastic bullets.  Not so much Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as kitty kitty bang bang.

 

 

Incidentally, if you’re not a cat lover, you might enjoy reading the following article, written by Rod Liddle for the Spectator magazine in 2009.  It deals with a well-publicised cat-related incident in Bristol, England.  A beloved pet cat called Wilbur strayed one day into a neighbour’s garden in search of prey…  Only to become prey himself.

 

http://www.spectator.co.uk/essays/5258993/lets-hear-it-for-the-python-that-had-the-civic-good-sense-to-eat-wilbur-the-cat.thtml

 

The banality of evil (people’s taste in music)

 

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old, but few things seem to surprise me any more.  Certainly not last week’s revelations – taken from emails leaked by a Syrian opposition group to the Guardian newspaper – about what Bashar al-Assad has been buying on iTunes recently. 

 

Among the songs downloaded by the weasel-like dictator of Syria, who has been busy blasting the hell out of the city of Homs and murderously suppressing resistance to his regime since last March, were Don’t Talk Just Kiss by camp / novelty dance band Right Said Fred, Hurt by X Factor winner Leona Lewis and A Tribute to Cliff Richard by someone or something called 21st Century Christmas.  Here is the Daily Telegraph’s take on the story:

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9145124/Right-Said-Fred-LMFAO-and-Leona-Lewis-Bashar-al-Assads-iTunes-playlist-laid-bare.html

 

Bashar’s taste in music, then, can charitably be described as ‘mainstream’.  A more critical evaluation of it might be ‘awesomely lame’. 

 

However, there is plenty of evidence that Bashar al-Assad’s love for mainstream musical triteness is the norm rather than the exception among mass-murdering dictators and terrorist-leaders.  Among those who were offered lucrative deals to perform in front of the Gaddafi clan in recent years were Nelly Furtado, Usher and Mariah Carey.  Meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden was reportedly such a fan of the late Whitney Houston that he talked about launching an operation to execute her then-husband Bobby Brown and abduct her.  The end-plan was that Ms Houston would become one of his wives – though it has to be said that being Mrs Bin Laden couldn’t have been much worse than being Mrs Bobby Brown.

 

In North Korea, meanwhile, it’s whispered that the ruling Kim dynasty are ardent fans of Eric Clapton.  Supposedly, they’ve proposed mounting a Clapton concert in Pyongyang, under the official guise of improving cultural relations between their hardcore Stalinist state and the West.  One suspects that it isn’t so much Clapton the fiery young blues guitarist who distinguished himself in the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith that appeals to the Kims, as Clapton the geriatric purveyor of woeful, toothless pap like Wonderful Tonight and Tears in Heaven.

 

No doubt if Pol Pot was still with us, the man responsible for the Cambodian killing fields would find space on his iPod for J-Lo and James Blunt.  And though Richard Wagner’s compositions are the music normally associated with the Third Reich, I suspect that – were he installed in the Reichstag today – Adolf Hitler would be enthusiastically campaigning for the reformed Take That to come and do a gig in Berlin.

 

Of course, none of this means anything.  Going by record sales, the majority of the world’s people like pop music that is bland, unmemorable and manufactured.  So it’s not surprising that the majority of the world’s tyrants prefer their music that way too.

 

Still, over the past three decades, a lot of people – in the USA alone, the Parents’ Music Recourse Group led by Tipper Gore and Susan Baker, the FBI and various religious groups – have inferred a link between music and the behaviour of those (invariably youngsters) who listen to it.  Listening to the wrong sort of music, such people claim, leads to anti-social behaviour, disrespect for authority, depression and morbidity, self-harm, devil worship, suicide and (as in the case of the Columbine High School massacre, which was initially and falsely blamed on the influence of Marilyn Manson) murder.

 

Inevitably, ‘the wrong sort of music’ is identified as genres like heavy metal and gothic and punk rock.  Though probably none of these genres would qualify as Bashar al-Assad’s cup of tea.

 

So I’m puzzled.  If there was a link between music and people’s behaviour – I’m certain that there isn’t, but if we took the likes of the PMRG seriously and assumed that there was – I wouldn’t be worried about, say, heavy metal.  It’s unlikely that anybody who’s ever ordered the slaughter of protestors wanting an end to autocratic and corrupt government in their country, or sent passenger-filled airplanes crashing into a skyscraper, was listening beforehand to Cradle of Filth or Extreme Noise Terror.

 

No, if you’re going to damn certain types of music using circumstantial evidence, the message is clear.  If you’re a parent afraid that your children might grow up to be paranoid, violent sociopaths, don’t under any conditions let them listen to Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston.  Or to Usher or Leona Lewis.

 

And beware especially of Right Said Fred.

 

No Salafing matter

Last week, on Tunis’s Mohamed V Avenue, I saw a procession of student demonstrators who were carrying several Tunisian flags at their head.  The national flag here, incidentally, features a white crescent and star (representing peace, Arab unity and the five pillars of Islam) on a red background (representing the blood of past Tunisian martyrs).

 

What, I wondered, were the students protesting against?

 

It transpired that they were up in arms, metaphorically speaking, about an incident at the Arts and Humanities faculty of the city’s Manouba University the previous day.  Since the Tunisian Revolution, the campus has been the scene of protests by Salafist activists about the university’s policy of not allowing female students to cover their faces with the niqab, the Islamic veil.

 

In this latest incident, a Salafist protestor pulled down the Tunisian flag at the faculty and replaced it with a black flag bearing the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith.  A non-Salafist student called Khaoula Rachidi, who tried to stop him removing the national flag, got shoved off a wall for her efforts.

 

This was filmed, however, and the footage was widely shown in the media, causing an outcry among nationalist, secular and left-leaning Tunisians – politicians, journalists and trade unionists as well as students.  Here is an item I found on Youtube that pays tribute to the gutsy Khaoula Rachidi.  You can see her doing her flag-protecting stuff 30 seconds in.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PavTTahTYp0&feature=related

 

The Salafists – who, when I see them on the streets of Tunis, are usually comprised of fat, scowling blokes with beards, robes and sneakers – complain that on university campuses in Western countries, like the USA and Britain, female students are allowed to wear whatever they want, including the all-concealing niqab.  So why shouldn’t the same rights be given to students at Manouba?
Well, that’s a fair point.  But I assume that, for the sake of consistency in their arguments, the Salafists have now embraced all Western notions of freedom.  For example, the notion that, in the daytime during Ramadan, you’re free to serve food to non-believers without the threat of getting your restaurant burned down by fat, scowling blokes with beards, robes and sneakers.  Or that you’re free, as a woman, to walk around a provincial town with your hair uncovered without the threat of being harassed by fat, scowling blokes with beards, robes and sneakers.  Or that you’re free to broadcast the French-Iranian movie Persepolis without the threat of having your TV station attacked by fat, scowling blokes with beards, robes and sneakers.  Etcetera.

 

Part of me finds it a little sad that it took the removal of a flag to trigger this backlash against the Salafists, when pretty much all their bullying and intolerance have merited a backlash – a long overdue one.  But perhaps my thinking here is influenced by my background.  I’m a citizen of the United Kingdom, where, apart from the Protest community in Northern Ireland and the supporters of Glasgow Rangers Football Club in Scotland, I suspect to most people the national flag does not mean a great deal emotionally.

 

Indeed, these days, the Union Jack seems more of a corporate logo than anything else.  Sometimes an effective logo – adorning the tail-fins of British Airways planes, or Noel Gallagher’s guitar, or Roger Moore’s parachute in The Spy Who Loved Me.  Sometimes less effective – think of that mini-dress-cum-tea-towel worn by the Spice Girls’ Geri Halliwell at the 1997 Brit Awards, or basically anything on sale at a London tourist stall.

 

But unlike the brand that is the Union Jack, the Tunisian flag seems to mean something important to people here.  In the opening paragraph I said its red background symbolised the blood of Tunisia’s martyrs.  Those martyrs include the people who died fourteen months ago, in the uprising against Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s corrupt and cruel regime.  I imagine the removal of the flag at Manouba University last week wasn’t just seen as a desecration of a national emblem, but as a desecration of their memory.

 

These musings put me in mind of something I saw on a Tunis street on January 14th last year, the day that Tunisia’s revolutionaries forced Ben Ali to flee the country.  (Though at the time, it wasn’t obvious that the uprising would succeed and the ordinary people who’d taken to the streets in protest faced brutal retaliatory action if the regime stood its ground.)  In my notebook I wrote:

 

“Coming back along Avenue de la Liberte (near to the mosque, where the tramlines cross the road), I encountered a long and frankly ragged procession of chanting men and teenagers, heading towards Habib Bourguiba Avenue.  A young guy was walking a few yards ahead of the rest, holding aloft a Tunisian flag, then there was the main mass of marchers, and then there were stragglers.  The pedestrians who’d been heading in the opposite direction politely herded themselves to the side, into Avenue de Lyon and alongside the Costa Nostra Salon de The, to allow them to pass…

 

“Hobbling along at the back of the procession was a figure I don’t think I’ll ever forget.  He was a little old man, little more than five feet tall…  He was chanting as he limped along with one hand raised in a clenched fist, and a Tunisian flag hanging down his back, one corner of it tucked in behind his shirt collar.

 

“I hope he didn’t get hurt later on.”

 

 

 

Scottish cuisine

 

An American friend recently introduced me to the television work of New York chef and writer Anthony Bourdain.  I wouldn’t say Bourdain is the most entertaining TV chef I’ve ever watched – he’s not in the same league as the mighty Keith Floyd, though who is? – but I certainly prefer him to the slew of British tele-cooks who followed in Floyd’s wake, such as Anthony Worrel-Thompson, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver.  (Such people, Floyd once said in his inimitable fashion, deserved to be ‘napalmed’.)

Bourdain makes a laudable effort to hang out with ordinary folk in his shows, which usually have him travelling to an exotic or off-the-beaten-track place and sampling the local cuisine.  For example, during his visits to Scotland, he hasn’t spent all his time loitering on Highland estates owned by the landed gentry and foreign billionaires, dining on freshly slaughtered venison, pheasant and salmon – the rich-people’s delicacies that the taste-buds of 99.9% of the Scottish population only rarely encounter.

No, Bourdain hasn’t flinched from trying the more extreme examples of the common Scottish diet.  He’s eaten things that you’d find lurking on the fringes of a menu in a housing-scheme chippie and you’d only consider eating late on a Saturday night when you’re really pished.

To  his credit too, he hasn’t sermonised about how horribly unhealthy it is to eat a dollop of dead animal’s offal that’s just spent 10 minutes gestating in a deep-fat fryer.  In fact, Bourdain has the honesty to admit that something that’s been fried to buggery can occasionally taste brilliant.

Here is a clip of Bourdain checking out the best that the Mermaid Fish Bar in Leith has to offer, with crime novelist Iain Rankin in tow:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0kOOK8iVtE

And here is some footage of Bourdain in Glasgow, getting his chomps around the legendary and fearsome deep-fried Mars bar:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n6fu15VUBI

 

In fact, after watching the above, I felt an urge to search my neighbourhood shops here in Tunis and find something approximating a haggis, or a black pudding, or a white pudding, and deep-fry it to hell and devour it.

Finally, when I was looking over the wares in the meats section of my local branch of Carrefour, I saw at the end of the refrigerator a display of large, fat, offally-looking sausages.  I lifted one out and was about to take it to the checkout when I noticed the following words on its wrapping:

“Pour chiens.”  In English, that means: “for dogs.”

So there you are.  Something that in Scotland keeps a good part of the human population alive is, in Tunisia, fed to the dogs.

The Antonine Baths at Carthage

Carthage is a remarkable neighbourhood a few miles up the coast from Tunis.  It’s dotted with ruins, excavated sites and museums pertaining to the Phoenician, Punic and Roman civilisations, which were the main players in this region’s early history.

In the year-and-a-half that I’ve lived in Tunis, I’ve managed to visit most of the historical and archaeological attractions of Carthage – the Musee de Carthage on top of Byrsa Hill, the amphitheatre, the Roman villas, the Basilica of Dermech and the Sanctuary of Tophet.  It wasn’t until five days ago, however, that I made it to the Antonine Baths in the district’s north-eastern corner.

In their day, the Antonine Baths were a leisure complex of saunas, pools and gymnasiums, which ranked as one of the largest such establishments in the Roman Empire.  Their ruins stand on a site that slopes down from the TGM railway line and Avenue Habib Bourguiba to the Mediterranean coast.  A garden covers the site’s upper half while what remains of the baths themselves occupies its bottom part.  The site’s southern side is bordered by a street called Avenue des Thermes d’Antonin, while overlooking its northern side are the grounds and buildings of the Presidential Palace.

(Until last January, presumably, this palace was where ex-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi and his numerous Trabelsi-family in-laws spent their evenings, unwinding after their hectic and stressful day jobs, which consisted of plundering the country’s resources and pocketing its wealth.)

The upper-level gardens are pleasant enough.  Criss-crossed with paths and shaded by palms, eucalyptus trees and tangled cacti, they contain underground vaults, a kiln and the ruins of a necropolis and an early Christian chapel.  Here are a few pictures of carvings and sculptures that I discovered in the subterranean chambers.

 

But the baths themselves, ranged along the shore, are the main attraction.  Even though the most intact parts of them now are their foundations – an impressively labyrinthine network of vaults, archways and corridors extends below ground-level – there are enough ruins standing above to give you a sense of the complex’s original dimensions.  Indeed, one column has been re-erected to its original height of 15 metres, which suggests how its roof must have loomed over the sea.

 

Construction of the baths started during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, the man responsible for the great wall that ran across the far north of England and protected Roman-held territory from unruly Scots and Picts.  Did any legionary, during his military career, have the experience of being posted to both these testimonies to Hadrian’s ambition?  Imagine the contrast.  One year you’re guarding the Antonine Baths, beside the sparkling Mediterranean, in the sultry heat of Carthage.  The next, you’re stuck on the top of Hadrian’s Wall in windswept, rain-lashed Northumbria, fearfully on the lookout for marauding hordes of woad-covered, mud-splattered Scots.  I know which posting I’d have preferred.

The complex was razed by the Vandals in 439 AD (with the Arabs using much of the stone later in the building of Tunis).  Unfortunately, you don’t have to wander far before you notice traces of modern graffiti on the ruins and artefacts here – evidence that not all the Vandals died out in the fifth century.

The item in this last picture might look like a pre-revolutionary relic that was taken from the Presidential Palace – a Michael Jackson-style suspended animation capsule, in which the Trabelsi family kept the moribund and barely-sentient Ben Ali like a cling-film-wrapped pork chop in a freezer.  It’s not, however.  It’s actually a plastic dome that houses a model of the baths when they were in their post-Hadrian, pre-Vandals, intact and glorious prime.

Kleptocrats of the world unite

 

Now that I’m putting pieces of writing on the Internet, I’ve become a bit paranoid about the grammatical and lexical accuracy of my prose.  This is a medium accessed by hundreds of millions of folk around the globe, after all.  You don’t want to appear illiterate in front of that many people.   (Though admittedly, this blog appears to have attracted a readership of one so far – myself.)

 

One word I used in a recent entry was ‘kleptocracy’.  As soon as I posted the entry, I began to wonder if I really knew what the word meant and if I’d used it appropriately.  Thankfully, when I checked the Wikipedia article on kleptocracies, I discovered that I’d been right.  Wikipedia defines it as “a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population”.

 

Put a big tick in the ‘kleptocrat’ column next to Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s name, then.

 

Helpfully, the Wikipedia article also listed the world’s worst kleptocrats, based on research done in 2004 by the NGO Transparency International.  Here are the five most brazen offenders.

 

NAME PRESIDENT OF… POCKETTED…
Suharto Indonesia 15 – 35 billion dollars
Ferdinand Marcos The Philippines 5 – 10 billion dollars
Mobutu Sese Seko Zaire 5 billion dollars
Sani Abacha Nigeria 2 – 5 billion dollars
Slobodan Milosevic Yugoslavia and Serbia 1 billion dollars

 

Only slightly further down this league table of avarice and infamy are Haiti’s Baby Doc Duvalier, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, Ukraine’s Pavlo Lazarenko, Nicaragua’s Arnoldo Aleman and the Philippines’ Joseph Estrada.  Those poor Philippines really got lumbered with them.

 

Bear in mind that this list was compiled in 2004.  The victims of the Arab Spring – Hosni Mubarak, Mr and Mrs Ben Ali and the ghastly Gaddafi clan – would surely have a good chance of qualifying for an updated one.  And there are plenty of people still in power whose kleptocratic excesses haven’t been calculated yet.  God knows how much of Zimbabwe’s wealth has disappeared into Robert Mugabe’s trousers during the last three decades.  And one shudders to imagine the revenue generated by the hard-pressed workers of North Korea’s factories and farms that’s ended up in the Kim family bank account in Macao.

 

Returning to Transparency International’s research in 2004, I did once share a building with one of the names listed.  In the mid-1990s, Alberto Fujimori – the son of Japanese immigrants to Peru and not yet regarded as the colossal embezzler and human-rights violator that he’s known as today – was on a tour of Japan.  He stopped off at the university where I was working then, Hokkai-Gakuen University in Sapporo, and gave a speech in the swanky conference centre a few floors above the floor containing my office in the main campus building.  I didn’t go to see Fujimori and his entourage when they arrived, but I remember getting a note slipped under my office door early that morning.  The note politely informed me that if I opened my window that day, I ran the risk of being shot by a police sniper.

 

Fujimori is currently four years into a 25-year prison sentence in Peru.  Meanwhile, I suspect his visit doesn’t get much of a mention in Hokkai-Gakuen University’s promotional literature these days.

 

If you want blood… you got it

 

This is an old story, but as this blog is called Blood and Porridge, I thought I had better put some blood in it.  (The porridge will appear later.)

 

Last year, a couple of friends of mine in France thought of a novel way to illustrate the vast cost in human lives of the wars, conflicts and genocides of the past century.  In history books, these losses can only be presented as multi-digit numbers.  However, seeing 100,000 or 1,000,000 or 10,000,000 printed on a page hardly gets across to the reader the sense of massive carnage — a long sequence of zeroes is unlikely to convey the horror of slaughter conducted on an industrial scale.

 

Instead, my friends decided use blood to communicate this loss of life.  First, they made a huge amount of fake blood.  Then they gathered together an array of common kitchen receptacles and filled them with it, making sure the quantity in each was in proportion to the numbers of deaths caused by a particular conflict in recent history.  And then they assembled the blood-filled vessels on a kitchen table and photographed and labelled them: Armenia, Cambodia, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan…

 

Once you get past the visceral, visual impact of the blood itself, you start to make unsettling comparisons.  The death toll of the 9/11 attacks is represented by a tiny red bead.  The bead is dwarfed by a crimson bowl that looms over it, representing the atrocity of Holodomor in 1932-33 — the ‘terror-famine of Ukraine’ that claimed something in the region of 3,000,000 lives, engineered by Joseph Stalin.  I knew about 9/11, of course.  With shame, I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Holodmor before I saw this.

 

For more information, check out the 100 Years of World Cuisine website at: http://100yearsofworldcuisine.com/.

 

 

On a less serious note, I should mention that a few times I’ve been in the room where this was put together.  It belongs to two of the artists’ parents and is both a charming and (as you’d expect in France) a well-equipped apartment-kitchen in the heart of Paris.  Seeing it transformed into a scene that resembled the trophy room of a vampirical serial killer was a shock.  Not surprisingly, to create this display, they chose a weekend when their parents were away from home.

 

(I suspect this shows the cultural gulf between Paris and where I come from.  The Parisians used their parents’ absence from the premises to make an artistic statement about the utter hideousness of human history.  In the past, in Scotland, when my parents were away for the weekend, my immediate instinct was to commandeer the house for a debauched party fuelled by Southern Comfort, beer and AC/DC records.)

 

Incidentally, if you want to know how to make your own fake blood, here is an instructive clip by Mark Gatiss of The League of Gentlemen.  I’m told that my friends followed much the same recipe, although they heated the mixture to make it thicker and used ‘maize-starch’ instead of ‘corn flour’.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhuR1VMkpXM&NR=1

 

The depressing nature of politics

I seem to remember the great Glaswegian writer and painter Alasdair Gray describing how, during his childhood, Labour politicians (along with teachers) were perceived as being saintly because they selflessly devoted themselves to improving the lot of the common people.

‘Saintly’ is hardly how you would describe most of today’s Labour politicians.  Take, for example, Eric Joyce, the Labour Member of Parliament for Falkirk.  A few evenings ago, Joyce got so bevied in a House of Commons pub that he ran spectacularly amok and assaulted four of his fellow MPs — giving one of them a headbutt.  Adding to Joyce’s infamy is his status as Britain’s most expensive MP.  In 2011, he became the first MP to claim more than £200,000-worth of expenses in one year.  And according to this report, even the beer in the pub that night was subsidised with taxpayers’ money: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/24/eric-joyce-cheap-parliamentary-pint.

Political life seems to have a debasing effect on all who experience it.  One only has to look at the case of Sadok Chourou, who served as president of Tunisia’s Ennahda party from 1988 until 1991.  That year, under the totalitarian regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, he was arrested and thrown into prison, where he languished for the next two decades.  During that time, he was dubbed ‘Tunisia’s Nelson Mandela’.

Today, in post-revolution Tunisia, Chourou is a free man again and a member of the new constituent assembly.  Alas, he must have shattered the illusions of many of his long-term supporters when he remarked recently that people participating in strikes and sit-ins ought to be ‘crucified’.

His words reminded me of a certain chap, very prominent in the British media, who said something similar recently about public sector workers on strike in the United Kingdom: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZnP36Ym_i0.

So there you are.  That’s what happens when you are exposed to the sullying world of politics.  You go from being Nelson Madela to being a potential presenter of Tunisian Top Gear in the space of a year.  How depressing.