Laura Lam (2017) Shattered Minds

I got to page 41 of this book, Chapter 6. You might get further. I had a quick look because the author Laura Lam is coming to do a reading in Duntocher Library soon. Shattered Minds is a dystopian novel set in the near future. The setting is San Francisco, California, Pacifica. I guess that’s the place Laura Lam grew up, but there’s no such place as Pacifica. That’s a hint. The world is not as it seems. Near the Pacific, but no longer in broken America. Sudice Headquarters, which to me seems a bit like the sound of suicide is where it begins with girl receiving an injection –this won’t hurt a bit – from men and women in white coats. Shades of George Saunders’s short story Escape from Spiderhead here with the testing of drugs on candidates as a given. Carina, who is the dysfunctional heroine, has to go on a quest and discover what is meant by the images of a bee and rose, a meme, which has been planted in her mind by Doctor Mark Teague. Don’t get too worked up by what is meant by the brain/mind dichotomy. Brain connections here equal mind. But mind,  Mark is dead, he’s literally, Offgrid. The reader knows who killed him. He’s the good guy sending out the last signal into the connected world. The bad guy is Dr Roz Elliot. Corporations are taking over the world. A comparison with a feudal state in which those on the land once owned the people on the land, corporations own and control the mind of others in their sphere. Superfluous population marked out as criminals, for example, are held in suspended animation. Carina gets a bit of help in her quest from Dax and his group of offgrid hackers who have somehow accessed the database of Sudice. Carina is addicted to violence and killing in the Dreamscape (I’m not sure what all these guys do for a living, but ho-hum) and all her time is given over to living out these fantasies. In murder-mystery the bad guy is always found out in the end and good triumphs. I guess Shattered Minds will be super-glued together and Dr Mark’s Teague’s death, and the death of the girl with different coloured eyes Carina keeps reliving, will be avenged. He may even be rebooted. Read on. You’ll know more than me.

Andre Schwaz-Bart (2001 [1959]) The Last of the Just.

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I heard about this book in a kind of roundabout way. Richard Holloway had given a reading at Dalmuir Library and this was one of the books he said he re-read every few years. Well, that was good enough for me. I finally got around to reading The Last of the Just and was not disappointed.

Where is God? That is the question this book asks. In the final chapter, the narrator of the biography of Ernie Levy, the last of the just men, is in a sealed freight car travelling from Drancy to Auschwitz. He cradles a living corpse the body a young boy. A fellow passenger, a doctor, who is doing her best to relief the suffering of the children digs her fingernails into Ernie’s flesh and tells him the child is dead.   He rocks the child’s body, insists the child is merely sleeping.

‘Madame,’ he said finally, ‘there is no room for truth here.’

Where is God?  March 11, 1185 in the old Anglican city if York, Bishop William of Nordhouse sermonises and shouts to the mob below: ‘God’s will be done’.  Mobs have arms and legs and one voice and what has become, through the ages, a familiar refrain: Kill the Jews.

Rabbi Yom Tov Levy, one of the Just Men, gathered his followers and urges them to commit suicide: ‘God gave us life. Let us return to him by our own hands…’

Familiar lamentations. ‘ “When an unknown Just [Man] rises to heaven,” a Hasidic story goes “he is so frozen that God must warm him for a thousand years between His fingers before his soul can open itself to Paradise.”’

Is God a lullaby? Prayer books and Talmudic texts littered the Levy house in Stillenstadt. The infant Ernie learns his prayer at the feet of his ancient grandfather and Just Man, Mordecai, who has fled the pogroms in Zemyock, and followed his son, Benjamin, into the safety of Germany, Nazi Germany. There is no telling on which male child God will bestow his blessing and consolation of becoming a Just Man. He works in mysterious ways.

Is God a dream? Ernie seems to think so. The delicate little blonde girl, Fraulein Ilse, his classmate, who looks like a picture of a medieval princess, he gets to kiss and kisses him back. A Judas kiss.

Does God stand outside Drancy? Paris offers respite and God seems to be smiling on the Levy’s. Nazi Germany has been left behind. Even Grandfather Mordecai finds work and they have enough to eat and the French pastries are to die for. But Nazi Germany follows the Levy’s to Paris. Ernie a Jewish German joins a foreign division of the French army to fight against Germany, the country of his birth. He is one of the few survivors. God, he believes, has given him more lives than a cat. For a time, he imagines himself a dog and eats only raw meat. His marriage to Golda lasts but one night. He presents himself at the gates of Drancy, as a Jew, demanding entry. His love has no end.

Does God exist? Ernie cradles Golda’s broken body in the boxcar on the way to the concentration camp. His voice is a consolation to the children and his fabulous tales of the kingdom that will come, a balm to their spirit. When Doctor Mengele tries to send him right, he corrects the medic, he will go left with the broken and the old and those who do not want to die and demand the lie that the shower heads contain water. ‘Breathe it in,’ Ernie tells them. The last of the Just does not need to know that God exists, he needs to know suffering exists and he too must endure it and be broken too.

The Vietnam War BBC 4, iPlayer, Directors Ken Burns and Kym Novik, Writer Geoffrey C Ward


Déjà vu 1858-1961

The Vietnam War, in ten parts, is the best thing on television. Déjà vu seems quite apt, with the United States divided in a way not seen since those for and against the War and those that voted for the moron’s moron as President and those that hate everything he stands for. I’m not a citizen of the United States, but I’m in the latter camp. President Trump, like so many others, was a draft dodger. The metric used to measure military success against the North Vietnamese was body count. Poor and black Americans had the highest conscription and causality rate in Vietnam, but poor and white was next in line. Military hawks argued what was needed was more men and more resources and more firepower. Napalm, Agent Orange, and blowing everything up didn’t work because the American soldier was 8000 miles from home. Here the North Korean soldiers talk about their experiences and how the Ho Chin Min trail was repaired no matter how many times it was bombed, no matter how many lives were lost. It was their county. For all the talk of democracy South Korean was governed by one dictator after another and neither John F Kennedy nor successive Presidents believed in this war. Nor did they believe in the Cold War rhetoric of not allowing another country to fall into Communist hands, but to say so would make them unelectable. America paid the bills for De Gaulle’s French colonialists to take over their former colony after the second world war. Then they paid for a South Korean dictatorship that spiralled into internecine civil war between factions of Buddhists and the Catholic leadership.  Let’s just say we know how this ends – badly.

It’s perhaps also worth looking at Michael Herr’s Dispatches, described by John Le Carre as ‘The Best Book I Have Read on Men and War in our Time’.  This is how it is for the grunts. ‘Breathing In’:

Going out at night the medics gave you pills. Dexedrine breath the dead snakes kept too long in a jar. I never saw the need for them myself, a little contact or anything that even sounded like contact would give me more speed than I could bear. When-ever I heard something outside of our clenched little circle I’d practically flip, hoping to God I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed it.

Here we’ve got it first-hand interviews with who are drafted, press men, Pentagon staff, anti-war protesters and soldiers from the victorious North Korean army. Deakon W Crocker (Jnr) enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. His family remember him as being idealistic. Kennedy’s siren call ‘do not think what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,’ had him believing in a better world. One which he was prepared to die for. Only he wasn’t. He wanted to live. He was scared of dying. Wanted to go on leave. Wanted out of it. Wisdom came too late. Paul Hardcastle’s British pop number 1 hit, 19, showed the average age of those that died in Vietnam. Crocker was nineteen when he died in a pointless war. Spare a thought for the estimated one- million plus Vietnamese killed.

The draft-dodger President has the world gearing up for another war. One the hawks thing we can win. The North parallel in Korea has around 20 million people in it. All the commander in chief has to do is press a button. Problem solved. All the combined firepower of the second world war in one splinter of a warhead. He’s already boasted about using the biggest bunker-busting bomb. The moron moron’s President’s marshmallow problem.  There’ll be no return home. Only grunts.

Child in Mind, BBC 4, 10pm, directed by Sam Benstead

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I watched Men Who Sleep in Cars a drama, in verse, linking the lives of three men who, you’ve guessed it, sleep in cars, but one of them cheats, because he has the luxury of a Ford Transit van. It was OKish.

I didn’t really intend to watch Child in Mind, with poetry by Simon Armitrage, I’ve got stacks of things to do, and by that I mean, read. I write too and sometimes there’s a kind of synchronicity between what you read and what you write, or in this case see. Earlier I’d quickly sketched out Karen’s background in Grimms a novel I’m working on ( Some of the other writers on the site had said she was the least developed character, and knowing the ending, as they did, and I do, it would be worthwhile giving her a bit more detail. And here it was, here she was in composite form onscreen, less than two hours after I’d posted online.

Every year a system of triage takes place and an estimated three-thousand children are taken from mothers by social workers. The authorities’ client is the child, often a new-born, and some of these women go on to have other children taken away from them. The mothers suffer from an extended kind of shock, in modern jargon, post-traumatic-stress disorder. Here three women are given voice to tell their story. There are commonalities that begin with poverty, a controlling partner, drug or alcohol addiction, self-harming, mental illness, a toxic blend that often leads to suicide attempts.

The charity Pause, co-founded by Sophie Humphreys, in Hull, who witnessed first-hand the trauma and loss caused by repeat removal of their children gives these women space and time, an eighteen-month programme to heal. With government funding being repeatedly cut for successful programmes such as Sure Start, Pause seems something of a miracle and good news amid welfare cuts.


Celtic 2— 2 Hibernian

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This was Neil Lennon’s return to Paradise, the former manager and Celtic player’s summation of the game and Hib’s performance was absolutely right. ‘We didn’t take a step back the whole game. It was an outstanding team performance. A draw was probably a fair result but we are disappointed not to win.’

Brendan Rodgers got a bit of dig in about the pitch (no pun intended) a message to the Celtic board, and how ‘it was always going to be difficult’ after the heroics against Anderlecht.

One thing is for sure if Celtic plays like this against Anderlecht then they will beat us 3-0. There was a number of enforced changes to what we know is our best team. Dembele started ahead of Griffiths. Edouard played alongside his compatriot up top. Forest came in for Roberts. None of the stand-in players did very much to justify their selection. We know how good Dembele is and I think he’ll outmuscle Griffiths for the striker spot. Here he helped set up McGregor’s first goal, taking a measure pass from Tierney, holding off Ambrose and playing in McGregor. A wonderful goal in a half in which Celtic seemed lethargic and Hib’s players often took the initiative. Forest was booked for diving and then pulled the same theatrical trick again and was lucky to stay on the park. Hib’s players pressed Celtic high up the park and Ntcham as the water carrier sprung more than a few leaks.

John McGinn showed himself to be the outstanding midfielder on show with two second-half goals. It’s been the first time I really watched him and he rarely wasted a ball. With Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong out of the Scotland squad he must be a first pick for the do-or-die tie against Slovenia. A case can also be made for Callum McGregor, who never seems to disappoint and scored a cool equaliser here.

Celtic were lucky to get a draw but should have won. Save of the season from Craig Gordon from Hib’s player (and former Hun) Steven Whittaker allowed the usual barn-storming finish. Our old friend Eff Ambrose, who had a fine game, as did his fellow ex-Celts, McGeouch and Stokes – but, really, Hibs were better all over the pitch—pulled back Sinclair in the 87th minute when he was already passed the defender. He got his shot away but it was parried by keeper Laidlaw. Hibs escaped with a point. Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run carries on to 58.

We’ve got Hibs at Hampden in the League Cup, we wanted Rangers because of the Old Firm rivalry and also because they are a duff team. Hibs are far better and will give us a bigger test. I think we’ll have our first team out that day. And on whether McGinn would get into this Celtic team, yes definitely, I’m not sure Ntcham will, he needs to raise his game to stake a place.