Sarah m’dear, it’s not about the party. It’s about the tea.
For those of us of the British persuasion, tea is black tea. It was the tea on which the British built the empire.
It was also, I might add, the tea that Margaret Thatcher served at No. 10 Downing Street. I enjoyed some with her there. A Conservative traditionalist, she served it with milk for certain and sugar as an option.
Thatcher did not ask her guests, as bad hotels do now, what kind of tea they would like. Tea to Thatcher was black tea, sometimes known as Indian tea, though it might have been grown in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe or Sri Lanka. It was neither flavored nor some herbal muck masquerading as tea.
The former prime minister knew that good tea is made in the kitchen, where stove-boiled water is poured from a kettle onto tea in a pot, not tepid water poured from a pot on a table into a cup with a tea bag.
Boiling water in a kettle, or pot, on the stove is important in making good tea. In a microwave, the water doesn’t bubble. Tea needs the bubbles.
While the Chinese drank green tea hundreds of years before Christ, the British developed their tea-drinking habit in the 17th century. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted permission for the charter of the British East India Company, establishing the trade in spice and silk that lead to the formal annexation of India and the establishment of the Raj.
Initially, tea was a sideline but it became increasingly important and started to define the British. The coffee shops–like the one that launched the insurer Lloyds of London around 1688–continued, but at all levels of society tea was becoming the British obsession.
By the 18th century, tea drinking was classless in Britain. Duchesses and workmen enjoyed it alike.
Tea was the fuel of the empire: the war drink, the social drink, the comfort drink and the consolation drink. Coffee had an upmarket connotation. It wasn’t widely available and the British didn’t make it very well.
Also as coffee was well established on the continent, it had to be shunned. To this day the British are divided about continental Europe and what they see as the emblems of Euro-depravity: coffee, garlic, scents and bidets.
Although tea is standardized, the British play their class games over the tea packers. For three centuries, most tea has been shipped in bulk to various packing houses throughout the British Isles. But the posh prefer Twinings to Lipton.
Offering tea with fancy cakes, clotted cream and fine jams separates the workers from the ruling classes. One of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon tea time; which the hotels turned into formal, expensive afternoon “teas.” The Ritz in London is famous for them.
The British believe that tea sustained them through many wars. “Let’s have a nice cup of tea. Things will get better.” I’ve always believed that America’s revenge against the British crown was to ice their beloved tea. Toss it into Boston Harbor, but don’t ice it. If you should have the good fortune to be asked to tea at No. 10, or at Buckingham Palace, don’t expect it to be iced.
Incidentally tea bags are fine, and it’s now just pretentious to serve loose tea with a strainer. Of course, if you want to read the political tea leaves you’ll have to use loose tea.
If you’re serving tea to the thousands at your tea parties, Sarah, remember that unlike politics, tea is very forgiving. It can be revived just with more boiling water. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
Let’s pour the tea, and see who’s come to the party. More, let’s see why they came.
What binds these good citizens together in a ramshackle and loud fraternity known as the Tea Party movement? The focal point may be the Democratic health care legislation; but there is, as always with popular movements, a back story that is more complex and more compelling.
Could it be, to use Winston Churchill’s phrase, the sum of all their fears?
Indubitably. These are days of change, massive and irreversible change. Change that is undermining but difficult to characterize, and disturbing to experience.
The nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, is the symbol of that change more than he’s its author,
The Tea Party Patriots are people who feel that their lives and their nation is being swept forward to a place they don’t wish to go. They blame Obama and the Democrats for taking them there.
But the administration and the Democratic majorities in Congress have little to do with the buffeting the American image is taking.
Consider these facts:
✔ The United States has gone from the richest nation in the world to the biggest debtor.
✔ Our competitor, China, has grown rich in our market. Now China lends us money to cement the entanglement, while it becomes increasingly obstreperous.
✔ We have the largest and most lethal military machine on earth, but we can’t subdue insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, banish pirates in international waters, or prevail in sanctioning Iran.
✔ Our infrastructure, once the envy of the world, crumbles. European trains hurtle at 220 miles an hour; ours crawl at less than a third of that speed.
✔ Broadband in the United States is many times slower than it is in Europe. This is cruel: We invent, they perfect.
✔ More than 10 percent, and possibly nearly double that, are out of work with no chance of employment for years. And new technology has made the skills of many of the unemployed obsolete.
✔ The United States is an English-speaking nation where a second language, Spanish, is creeping towards full recognition. Banks, phone companies and state governments have gone bilingual.
✔ Immigrants, legal and illegal, are changing the culture.
After 43 white, male presidents, there is a black man in the White House and a first family that reminds middle-class white tea partiers that huge changes are afoot.
A general anxiety has crystallized into a particular rage.
In memory, the 1950s have been sanctified as a time when all was well in America–if you were white and not serving in Korea. The United States was strong, the land was fertile and fear was concentrated on the Soviet threat.
As it had been in World War II, the good guys were us and the bad guys were them. The European empires were disappearing and we were the city upon a hill. Tea Party Patriots’ nostalgia for the 1950s is as pretty and disingenuous as a Saturday Evening Post cover.
The tea partiers may not be interested in the new demographics and new realities of the 21st century, but their anger won’t banish reality.
Trouble is the only political home these genuinely worried people can find is on the right: the overstated, overwrought and over-simplistic right. The right of Mark Levin and Glenn Beck.
These polemicists have concentrated the anxiety of tea partiers into a fear of socialism. It’s the undefined dark at the top of the stairs, the threat to liberty, to gun ownership and to private enterprise, according to the fear merchants of the right. Yet, there is precious little government left in the world that can be described as socialist.
The old socialism, with the nationalization of the means of production at its core is dead, sent to its eternal rest in Europe. Only a few leaders. like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, still espouse it.
Already extremists of the right–with death threats and property damage–are undoing the legitimacy of the entire Tea Party movement, and its unlikely members–the well-heeled, well-fed, well-insured but very sympathetic and very fearful activists.
Their fears deserve a hearing individually and in sum. Instead, they’re being exploited and in time they’ll be marginalized, discredited by the company they keep. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
As though there had not been trouble enough in 2009, the year ended with a nasty spat between Britain and China. A spat that might portend more trouble ahead as the world comes to terms with China’s new assertiveness.
The proximate cause of rift was the execution in China of a Briton, Akmal Shaikh, for smuggling heroin into China. The family of the 53-year-old father of three say he was mentally unstable and was duped into carrying a suitcase stuffed with heroin.
According to Shaikh’s family, he traveled to China because he was told he could become a rock star there.
The British government pled for clemency; and made 27 representations to China, after it failed to have the man examined by psychiatrists. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the execution.
China responded by accusing Britain of interfering in its judicial affairs. The Chinese also referred to the two Opium Wars that Britain fought with China in the mid-19th century to protect the opium trade conducted by British merchants. The Chinese embassy in London said the Shaikh case brought back “bitter memories of history.”
The opium was grown and processed in India. Then it was shipped to China, where addiction was encouraged by British merchants. Those merchants included Jardine Matheson, which is still a power in Asian business.
The Chinese government tried to ban the opium from entering China. But the British would have none of it, and went to war in one of the most shameful of imperial adventures. The British argument was that the Chinese were willing buyers and opium was not illegal in Europe.
At the heart of this lethal trade was an imbalance as familiar now as it was then: There was high demand in Europe for Chinese goods– porcelain, tea and silk–and low demand in China for European goods. Although always technically illegal, the opium trade grew so large that it became an important source of revenue for the British administration of India.
The two wars, 1839-43 and 1856-60, humiliated the Chinese and undermined the Quin Dynasty. Now China says Britain is up to its old tricks: supporting illegal drug dealers and undermining Chinese law.
If China were not so self-confident in its new role as a world power, the latest dispute would have been papered over by China agreeing to the reasonable British demand that the executed man be examined for mental competence. But not so. And not so on many fronts.
Last year China consolidated its grip on Africa, where it signed scientific cooperative agreements with 47 countries and entered natural resource tie-ups with as many. It also has natural resources tie-ups in Latin America.
China is beginning to throw its considerable weight around–just enough to remind the world that it is too big and too important to be seriously challenged.
Consider that China refuses to revalue its currency; won’t sanction Iran; undermined the climate change conference in Copenhagen; and makes outlandish territorial claims on the South China Sea and the outer continental shelves of its neighbors. Also, China coddles pariah states North Korea and Sudan.
One cannot blame China for succeeding, but one can blame the international business community for fleeing to Chinese manufacturing. Americans can blame budget deficits for China’s holding of more than $2 trillion in U.S. debt. We put ourselves willingly in the noose. In criticizing, as it has done, the buildup in the U.S. deficit, China reminds that it can tighten the noose at any time.
It looks as though 2009 was the year when we began to pay the high price of cheap sneakers at Walmart.
Even the celebrated 19th-century scramble for Africa seems to pale compared to the huge and growing Chinese presence, which is roiling the continent.
For a decade, China has been buying its way into Africa to secure the fuel and raw materials it believes it will need for its economic expansion.
These Chinese moves in Africa are breathtaking in their scope. Whereas the European grab for Africa and its treasures in the l9th century was haphazard, and fed by rivalry in Europe as much as interests in Africa, the Chinese neo-imperialism has a thoroughness and a planning that no European power — not even Britain — ever aspired to.
China is reported to be active in 48 countries out of the roughly 53 real state entities on the continent, or on its offshore islands. The Chinese formula is simple: Buy your way in with soft loans and generous arms deals but, above all, a preparedness to overlook the excesses of dictators. No wonder Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe lavishes praise on his new best friends.
The same is true in many other African countries. All that is needed for Beijing’s embrace is a supply of raw materials — and especially oil.
From Cape Town to Cairo, China is on the march. From South Africa it buys iron ore, among other minerals; from Zambia, copper; and from Zimbabwe chrome, gold and iron ore.
In Zambia, the Chinese have promised $3.2 billion to revive the copper industry — an interesting development because Western mining companies pulled out, unable to deal with the wholesale and destructive corruption.
At a meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt earlier this month, the Chinese pledged $10 billion in aid to Africa. Quietly, they also forgave a tranche of maturing loans.
But government-to-government loans are the least of the Chinese investment in Africa. Most of the investments, such as that in Zambia, are made by Chinese corporations — all state-sanctioned and some state-owned. It is a concerted effort.
While oil producers like Angola, Chad, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan are prime targets of the Chinese investment, the rapacious Chinese economic imperialism also extends to lumber and agriculture.
The ruling elites of Africa are ecstatic. The Chinese presence is, for them, heaven-sent. Polling, albeit rudimentary, reveals about 80-percent approval of China’s African role by Africa’s elites.
At the street level, these findings are reversed. The Chinese are roundly resented. They have no experience in the world outside of China; no curiosity about these strange African lands and their people; and a morbid indifference to Africa’s long-term future. Most Chinese workers, as opposed to executives, brought to Africa are poorly educated and ill-equipped to live in different cultures.
A study by Loro Horta, a visiting fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, found deep unhappiness in a study conducted in many African countries.
First and foremost, Horta found, China does not employ local labor, preferring to import Chinese workers and to house them in “Chinatowns.”
Second, the indifference of Chinese enterprises to environmental damage is of concern.
And third, China is accused of dumping inferior goods and medicines on the African markets. Africa’s fragile but important textile industries are being killed off by a flood of cheap Chinese manufactures.
More, Chinese merchants are flooding in and displacing local traders.
Horta quotes a school teacher in Mozambique, “They (the government) say China is a great power, just like America. But what kind of great power sends thousands of people to a poor country like ours to sell cakes on the street, and take the jobs of our own street-sellers, who are already so poor?”
Then there is the Chinese language push. The Chinese government has set up schools in many places to teach Chinese to reluctant people who would prefer to improve their English and French skills, legacies of the last scramble for Africa.
But while China buys off Africa’s elites, and provides them with weapons to suppress their own people, the rape of Africa will continue. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
It is easy to work up a head of hate against Robert Mugabe, the cruel president of Zimbabwe. He has destroyed a beautiful country and inflicted untold suffering on his people. He has so mismanaged the economy that the country’s inflation rate is the world’s highest–over 100,000 percent. He has expelled the productive people from the country and others have fled. He has given choice land and accommodations to his family of thugs.
More, he is a murderer. In the early part of his reign of terror, he killed tens of thousands of the Matabele people in southern Zimbabwe, around the city of Bulawayo.
It is not hard to vilify Mugabe, who may now be at the end of his bloody reign. But there are other guilty men who should be named. They are the de facto co-conspirators up and down the continent of Africa, who lead countries, enjoy influence and have, to a man (the arrival of a woman leader in Liberia is recent), remained silent as Mugabe has become more maniacal.
The guiltiest are those in the frontline states that surround land-locked Zimbabwe. They are the leaders of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia. Each one of them has some of the blood Mugabe has shed on his hands. Because of the silence that they have assiduously maintained, their complicity has been absolute. All four leaders have been the enablers of Mugabe.
Each country has suffered from the implosion of Zimbabwe. Each country has felt the pain from the lack of trade; unsatisfied debt; and the surge of people fleeing from the privations of Zimbabwe–once one of the richest countries in Africa, and the breadbasket of the southern region.
Botswana, on Zimbabwe’s southwest border, is currently the showplace of Africa. It is a functioning democracy, with a healthy economy based on mining and tourism. But Botswana could have used its economic leverage, as the host of the principle rail line carrying exports out of Zimbabwe into South Africa, and from there to the world, to put pressure on Mugabe. But it did not.
To the east, Mozambique hosts many of Zimbabwe’s exports and imports through the port of Beira on the Indian Ocean. If there had been some tightening of this relationship, Mugabe would have listened. Instead, there was silence.
Then there is South Africa and President Thabo Mbeki. If there is a judgment day, Mbeki will have much to answer for his connivance in tolerating Mugabe. Mbeki’s guilt extends beyond the suffering of the people to his north to his own people. More than 2 million refugees have fled from Zimbabwe to South Africa, where they have been no more popular than illegal aliens anywhere. The really hapless live on such charity as they can find; while those who are more capable of organization, particularly deserters from the Zimbabwe armed forces, have formed sophisticated criminal gangs, specializing in bank and armored car robbery.
Finally, Zambia has shouldered the burden of watching over the giant Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, which provides electricity to both Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zambia has kept essential goods flowing into Zimbabwe, against the international sanctions; and it has seen its own Victoria Falls tourism plummet because of conditions on the Zimbabwe side of the falls. Yet, Zambia’s leaders have said nothing.
If Mugabe is forced from power by the ongoing election, and if he leaves without trying to annul the results of the election, milk and honey will not flow again in the country between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers. Too much has been destroyed in 28 years of his rule. The infrastructure has been destroyed; soil erosion has carried away an incalculable amount of earth from the fragile plain that once produced corn for all of southern Africa; the professional class is scattered around the world, in what they refer to as the Zimbabwe Diaspora; and the people of Zimbabwe have lost confidence in the future. The most optimistic country in Africa has traded hope for fatalism.
Assuming Morgan Tsvangirai really has won the election in Zimbabwe, he will have to preside over a massive reconstruction, which will last decades simply to get the country back to where it was when Mugabe destroyed it through racism, megalomania, and economics so primitive that he thought he could print money and it would have value.
Tsvangirai will have to turn to the world for economic aid and technical assistance. But he will have to turn to Zimbabweans for goodwill and to resist corruption. And he will have to turn to another silent partner, China, for a better deal on the contracts Mugabe signed with Beijing.
Not since Idi Amin was feeding his opponents to the crocodiles has there been such a catastrophic head of state in Africa. And not since Amin’s days, have the leaders of Africa remained so quiet in the face of such palpable evil.