Forty years after Pinochet’s coup

by Chris Bertram on September 11, 2013

My department just moved into a new building, and, being in a new building, acquired a new set of cleaners. I got chatting to one of them the other day and asked her where she was from. “Chile,” she told me. She had come to the UK some time after the coup, when other family members had been imprisoned and life had become impossible. She had been given refugee status and had raised a family here. She had been back once, but Chile had become a foreign country to her, all her life was now in the UK where her children had grown up. Often, such is the fate of the refugee, permanently exiled, a whole life, with its plans, expectations and connections, very different from how it might have been. In the late 1970s and early 80s I was involved in Latin American solidarity work in Oxford and got to know quite a few Chileans. Many seemed to be happy and friendly people but others were scarred by the experiences they had been through before exile, and it showed. People fleeing conflict, persecution and the threat of torture or death are very vulnerable and often fragile. At least British governments of the 1970s and 80s recognised and put into practice their obligations towards such people. Things are different now.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of that other, bloodier, September 11th when General Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile and overthrew a democratically-elected left-wing government, with thousands killed, “disappeared”, tortured or imprisoned. The Chilean coup hung over the leftists of my generation as a warning of what can and might happen, should capital ever be seriously worried about its entitlements and prerogatives. Such an atmosphere spawned novels such as Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup, an imaginative recreation of what a British Chile could be like. We know that in the recesses of MI5 and the Tory right there were murmurings and proto-plans. Plans for eventualities in which the country proved “ungovernable”, where the far left become too strong, or where the miners “brought down” another government. (Of course, it was the electors who actually deposed Edward Heath.) We knew too of the likely hand-wringing reaction of supposedly democratic liberals and conservatives, should such an intervention prove “necessary” closer to home. That thought was present in Ralph Miliband’s well-known “The Coup in Chile”:
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Homeopathy and vaccination

by John Q on September 11, 2013

I was working on a piece about how to respond to anti-vaccination beliefs, when it struck me that, in the absence of the germ theory of disease, vaccination looks a lot like homeopathy – you use a tiny amount of something that causes a mild version of the disease you want to prevent. I wondered whether the success of vaccination in the 18th century had any impact on the development of homeopathy. A very casual search suggests not, though there is something called homeopathic vaccination. Does anyone know more about this?

My older daughter is supposed to learn a new word a week. And tell the class. She has a good vocabulary, so I think some weeks she coasts on fancy words she already knew. But she likes new words! So I thought I would make a short list of cool words for 12-year olds, in case she ever needs a new one on short notice: asperity, vermiculation, sussurus. That sort of thing.

Then I thought of a good one: Custerdome! From the classic Steely Dan track, “Gaucho”. The Steely Dan lexicon defines it as “an archetype of a building that houses great corporations.” Alas, since this fictional synecdoche of a fictional archetype exists in the minds of Fagen and Becker, the term has languished on the badland borderlands of private language-hood. My daughter is not exactly a Dan fan, so probably that state of affairs will persist. “Try again tomorrow.” [click to continue…]