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  • Politicians and Maps October 9, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    As Beachcombing explained in a previous post it has been a difficult week. And yet his attempt to shrug off the blues with an unfortunate Mayan sacrificial victim yesterday backfired – he had bad dreams. Here then is a further attempt moving on from Mesoamerican pain to political stupidity. And as there is so much stupidity out there Beachcombing thought that he would concentrate on the great ones’ often abysmal geography and ask readers to help.


    First some ground rules. Beachcombing is not interested in slips of the tongue. So Gordon Brown, referred in 2008, in the British House of Commons no less, to the people of Czechoslovakia, a long decade after Czechoslovakia had ceased to exist: but Beachcombing cannot bring himself to believe that the then Labour Prime Minister really meant it. Did he?


    Likewise Beachcombing is going to let the politicos off on technicalities. For example, when Sarah Palin stated that you could see Russia from Alaska, it seems that there is a small Alaskan island from which you can see a small Russian island. Beachcombing has decided then not to rap Sarah’s knuckles. See below.


    Then, he wants substantiated comments. Beachcombing loves Dan Quayle’s: ‘I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn’t study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people’. But, unfortunately, DQ never said this: though he said lots of other rather silly things including a claim that he ‘practically grew up’ in Phoenix in the State of California.


    No, Beachcombing wants comments that suggest real, genuine and unmistakeable ignorance. He wants the Welsh goat, Lloyd George in the Paris Peace Conference being shown a map of the Pacific and stating with relish: ‘I never knew that New Zealand was on that side of Australia!’ Particularly unfortunate given the sixteen thousand Kiwis who had just laid down their lives fighting for the ‘mother-land’.


    Then there is Gerald Ford’s cracker from the 1976 presidential debate: ‘there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe’. Ford was president at the time and not an unintelligent man. What was he thinking? Was this some sort of slip like Gordon Brown’s? Beachcombing can but hope. In any case, it gave the world President Jimmy Carter.


    What about Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon in 2004, greeting the Portuguese president: ‘Norway and Portugal are on their own edge of Europe. You are placed on the Mediterranean’s warm beaches, we are as far north as it is possible to be’. Note that Haakon has an msc from the London School of Economics, specialising in international trade and Africa! Still he’s a nice bloke and has never been elected so Beachcombing is going to go easy on him.


    Beachcombing’s favourite is perhaps Hank Johnson moaning about a US military build up on Guam on the House Armed Services Committee in 2010 – though perhaps this belongs in geological gaffes: ‘My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.’ Johnson, who is no fool, later claimed that he was joking and Beachcombing perhaps believes him. But Beachcombing appreciates the polite Admiral’s reply: ‘We don’t anticipate that.’


    Beachcombing has been struck by how many modern US comments have clogged up his geographical gaffe files. There must be other and juicier titbits from elsewhere in the world and, indeed, from earlier in the twentieth century: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. Though the itty-bitty scholar in Beachcombing feels it his duty to insist again: no slips of tongues, technicalities must be taken into account and only substantiated comments.


    14 Oct, 2010: Beachcombing is grateful to Dwight over at A Common Reader for putting Beachcoming straight about Sarah P (see below). Beachcombing has already sent an email apology to the ex-Governor (or did he?) and he will spend the rest of the morning doing push ups. Seriously here is the real comment and Beachcombing is considering doing a post on the perils of sloppy internet based research. GIBSON: ‘What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?’ PALIN: ‘They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.’ GIBSON: ‘What insight does that give you into what they’re doing in Georgia?’ PALIN: ‘Well, I’m giving you that perspective of how small our world is and how important it is that we work with our allies to keep good relation with all of these countries, especially Russia. We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it’s in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.’

    1st Nov 2010: SY came up with a cracker though unfortunately he had to go and quote Time. ‘Way back in 1868, so the story goes, Queen Victoria settled the Bolivia problem in her own imperious way. General Mariano Melgarejo, the Bolivian dictator of the day, had urgently invited the British Minister to attend a reception in honor of the general’s new mistress. When the diplomat frostily declined, the affronted dictator had him tied aboard a donkey, facing aft, and trotted him three times around the main square of La Paz. The minister fled home and told Queen Victoria of the outrage. ‘Where is Bolivia?’ the Queen demanded. A map was brought and the Queen was tactfully shown that La Paz was much too far inland for the guns of a British man-of-war to force a suitable apology. So—says the legend—the Queen took a pen, scratched a few lines across the map and declared: ‘Bolivia no longer exists’.’ Beachcombing wants to stress ‘so says the legend’: Queen Victoria has been written off as a frumpy fool too often: think of another legendary anecdote – her reaction to a parliamentary bill on lesbianism. Beachcombing will open a bottle of ribena if anyone digs up a reliable source for this one. Thanks SY and good luck with your new project!

    20 March 2011: SY writes in with this comment from William Jennings Bryan being seen off by an American diplomat in Turkey in 1906. On being wished good luck with his travels through the Balkans Bryan replied ‘What are the Balkans?’ Bryan, of course, became Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson! Thanks SY!

    31 August 2012: The great Mike Dash writes in with his solution, surely the correct one, to the Bolivia incident and Queen Victoria. Thanks Mike!