As you get older the spring of optimism gives way to the winter of pessimism. You know that no matter how hard you try you will never play for Celtic, especially given the fact that you couldn’t get a game for your pub team. Surplus to requirements.
Your bullshit detector, however, gets more refined with age.
The charlatan that is Boris Johnson gets short-shrift for everything he says
and everything he stands for, for being Boris Johnson, basically.
Boris Johnson is like a Buddhist sutra there are always aspects
of his bullshit waiting to be discovered.
His reluctance, for example, to commit to bringing a handful of
British children back from Syria because it was too difficult.
We all know about the Kindertransport
that saved mainly Jewish, middle-class, children from the Nazi state prior to
the beginning of the second world war. That didn’t seem too difficult. We put
children on a train and then we put them on a ship. Around 10 000 of them arrived safely.
Taking soil samples from the surface of Mars needs a larger
commitment and to be more organised.
Sending a rocket up into the Earth’s atmosphere to circle our planet.
Sending it on a trajectory to Mars.
Land on the Syritis Major region.
Send a robotic vehicle from the hold of the spaceship to collect soil samples
Collect samples of soil from the surface of Mars put it in a metal tube and seal them.
Leave sealed metal tubes on the surface of Mars.
Send a second spaceship to Mars and land it near to the metal tubes.
Send a second robotic-rover across the surface to pick up the metal tubes and bring them back to the craft.
Use a specially designed rocket to send the metal tubes into orbit around Mars.
Send a third spaceship to intercept the orbiter with soil samples on board.
Bring the spaceship back to Earth.
Break through the Earth’s atmosphere.
Release the capsule by parachute to a spot on the Utah desert.
Not really that difficult is it? Now imagine for a minute that you are Boris Johnson and somebody asks you how difficult it would be to bring a handful of children from camps in Syria.
Visiting Time. Poems, essays and stories from behind the
walls of HMP Shotts (2019) various authors.
I’m well-disposed to liking this book, as Pat McDaid will tell
you. The judge said I was ‘an educated man’ but a ‘danger to society’.
I’d never been called educated before. I was pretty chuffed and my mind jumped to that Tobias Wolff short story when the guy laughs at the bank robbers with guns because they keep talking in clichés. Snobbish, I know. I admitted I was a danger because I kept losing my sobriety and finding my car keys.
The judge didn’t laugh.
Anyway, back to Visiting
Time. I like many of the poems, written by Anon, whoever he is. They all
seem to rhyme, which is so old fashioned. Outlawed by T.S. Eliot who measured
his life in tea spoons.
Six Wishes by Anon.
He wishes things could be more peaceful.
He wishes he’d never done it.
He wishes he was going home to his family.
He wishes he’d stayed at school.
He wishes he had listened to his mother.
He wishes he could turn back time.
It’s an easy enough book to read. I took about an hour. Honesty
comes from the heart. Aphorisms and humour, anon, anon.
As Alan Bennett remarked, ‘Reading can feel like a hand reaching
out and taking yours’.
Writing can often feel like a slap on the wrist and not for the
likes of us.
Think about diegesis and the difference between narrative and plot. The king is dead and the queen died too tells a story. The king is dead, and the queen died of grief, is the plot of a story. It’s got the bounceabilty of a longer narrative, such as, ‘The judge didn’t laugh.’
There are some plays and some songs, but mostly the stories
here are simple narratives.
In a short-story by S, One
man’s pain is another man’s laughter, for example, the narrator Stuart gets
drunk and attends the wrong funeral. I’ve done that too, although my name isn’t
Stuart and I wasn’t drunk, or at least I think I wasn’t drunk. Sit tight or
bolt? Then like Stuart, you’ve got everybody lined up, the whole clan waiting
to shake your hand, greeting. What do you
do? Tell them you’re no’ really sorry. I never knew the man, or risk getting
caught out in the lie? Aye.
poem by Anon has a wee secret at its heart. It’s an in joke for the alkies. Only those in the know, nod and wink, know
rendezvous is a pub on Dunbarton Road.
sittin in the hoose/bored oot ma heid/telly’s snide/might go back to my bed/then the dog starts to wimper n gee me that stare/get your arse in gear daddy or I’ll shite on the flair/…/arrive at the rendezvous lounge n bar/ plant our weary arses n order a jar.’
Perhaps my favourite story is a fairy-tale. I used to love
fairy-tales and big books are just fair-tales too. This a knock-off of a story
of auld Nick. You know how there is meant to be seven basic plots, well auld
Nick squeezes his way into about three of them. Offhand, think Macbeth, story
of the witches. Rabbie Burns, the Deil
and Tam o’shanter. Walter Scott, Wandering Willie’s Tale. Robert
Louis Stevenson, The Bottle Imp.
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The list goes on. There’s a devil in all
Old Nick and the Lottery
Winner (inspired by a Mayan folk tale) by Anon follows Chekov’s dictum, a short-story
should be a glance, with the Scottish believe there should be a bit of a smirk
Deal with the devil and you strike a bargain. It’s there in the
‘And that’s what he did. That night the clock struck twelve,
the man arrived at the crossroads.’
The devil appears in the form of his long dead da. We know what the devil wants –your soul. The
Edinburgh man wants a hundred-million pound Lottery rollover, which isn’t too
much to ask.
Your plots set up, the deal is done, how to end it all in fewer
than 1500 words and diddle the devil?
I write stuff nobody much reads. Think of a number below ten
and don’t multiply it. There’s a large hole in my idea of normality. I imagine someday,
someone, somewhere will pay for my writing and I’ll be in the promised land of
earning a living from writing. There’s no evidence to support this assumption.
Meanwhile, I just putter along, doing no real harm and getting on with it. Writing helps me figure out what I think and
the odd time gives me joy. Endorphins kick in and I’m on a writer high,
conquering the world, word by word.
Anyone that’s being paying attention to the rise and rise of artificial intelligence (AI) knows how the world is going to change. Has already morphed into an existential threat (although the case for that may be overstated). We know that it is going to do the boring jobs. Then it’s going to do the less boring jobs. AI or pattern-recognition software will be our doctors and nurses our servants and masters a tax on humanity with profits going to the off-shored wealthy.
For us dreamers and scribblers AI seemed a jump too far. I was
aware that AI was already performing simple tasks such as writing obituaries
and sport columns for mainstream media. Deep Blue pattern-recognition software
filtered down to games that challenge novice chess players at different levels.
‘Go’ the board game that seemed to rely on intuition rather than logic seemed a
step to far, but the best players in the world were swatted aside by machine
learning. I could go on, but I guess you see the pattern emerging.
Write every day, that’s the way, is the kind of crappy mantra I
more, or less, adhere to. What John
Naughton is saying here is AI can mimic the way you write. Just the same way
that SIRI can listen to what you say and reproduce speech. AI can be you. A
different but a better you, with an authentic voice that is yours, but not you.
The myth of the writer in the attic (although I do sit in a cupboard) pondering and pouring out hard copy is hard cheese. AI can do that quicker and better. Just the same as it can play chess better than you, all the way up to Grand Master level.
We all know how the story of writerly success is promoted. The fairy tale being written in an Edinburgh café by a writer down on her luck. Outliers brought into the mainstream by fate. A fluke of luck, a billion pound industry, resting on the back of a tortoise. Buy a lottery ticket, write that book. You might win.
Lies. Lies. Lies. I sometimes even believe them.
The economics of the creative industries (around 14% of GDP) rely on elasticity of supply. AI has changed that algorithm. Why do we need screenwriters when AI can do it faster and better? Why wait for the next great novel when we can just download something very similar?
The slog of writing remain much the same, but the chances of being published and making a writing from living are pretty much gubbed. Oh, well, back to the old-fashioned keyboard. Read on.
I’ve been pondering the difference between affect and effect.
The former is a verb. The latter is a noun and verb. The etymology of affect
suggests it has its roots in ‘a little like love’.
The effect of China’s implementation of a one-child policy for
couples, men and women, in the early 1980s was nothing like love. It was a
top-down, Communist Party, misogynistic policy, based on pseudo-economics,
demographics and projections of population growth. This was best summed up by a
midwife who conducted tens of thousands of abortions and admitted drowning
babies in buckets because she had no other choice. We’d starve and resort to
cannibalism, she argued. The Great Famine of 1959-1961 instigated by Chairman
Mao’s Great Leap Forward was in living memory so this propaganda drive was an
idea that gained consensus.
The reversal of a one-child policy, around six years ago, was
also an economic decision. China’s one child policy had the desired effect. It
was no longer the most populous nation on earth. Under President Xi Jinping the
Great Leap Forward has reached its conclusion. China is where America was
before the first world war, a rival power trying to establish hegemonic
But a simple rule of thumb and way to boost a countries GDP is to have more children. The more children the greater GDP. India is an example of this effect. Children also offset another ratio, the proportion of working population measured against the non-working population. In leaping forward, China has come to mirror the West in that it has a growing aging population and less workers to pay for their retirement. China also faces an additional demographic burden in that there are many more men than women. In our country, as I imagine in China, around sixty percent of the lowest paid jobs are done by women. Women’s work is not well-paid. But the misogynistic assumption that we need more women to care for our elderly holds a universal appeal. China’s implementation of a two-child policy is based on simple economics, or so they’d have us believe. The propaganda machine that churned out memes about the virtues of having one child has volte-faced and advocates two or more children as the perfect number. We live in an Orwellian world in more ways than one.
Nanfu Wang, a Chinese American, with her chid in tow, goes back
to her homeland to document the one-child policy. She notes the irony that in
China and America (Christian fundamentalist rights challenge of Roe v Wade)
neither nation allows women to control their own bodies.
Wang returns to the rural village where she was born during China’s one-child policy. Her name tells you something about the villager’s aspirations. It’s a boy’s name. The one-child policy was modified to allow for two children to be born in some rural areas, but only if a five year gap appeared between births. Village elders had some discretionary power. For those that failed to follow this policy, village elders were instructed to knock the down the house of the pregnant woman and fine them. Here Wang interviews the village elder who was responsible for these actions at that time. Like many in the village, a repeating motif, was that he was doing what he was told. He was powerless. The village elder’s equally elderly wife was however not affected by the same inertia and fatalism. She warned Wang that her mother, who still lived in their village, would pay, if her husband experiences any difficulties.
Pregnant women who nevertheless continued with their pregnancy, one woman, for example, hid in the pigsty, were hunted down and strapped to a stretcher and taken to the midwife.
The midwife Wang interviewed told her she would perform an
abortion every ten minutes. And she’d performed thousands of such procedures. Foetuses
at eight and nine months were left to die. Those born and breathing, drowned in
a bucket. Mothers routinely sterilised.
A Chinese photographer showed Wang his study of the corpses of
aborted foetuses and other neonates lying in the trash.
One consequence of the one-child policy, especially in rural
villages was the abandonment of female babies after they’d been born. Wang
interviewed her Auntie and Uncle who’d left their daughter in the marketplace hoping
someone else would take her and bring her up. They admitted their daughter had
been ate by mosquitoes and died. Nobody wanted a female child. The marketplace
was a graveyard for other female babies left by their parents.
The market place became just that when opportunities later came
to sell children to wealthy foreigners in the United States, Europe and Canada.
One American couple admitted adopting three Chinese babies. The prices they
paid ranged from $10 000 to $25 000 or more. Female babies were no longer left
to die in the market place, but swept up, with the finders paid a fee by State
run orphanages from $50 to $200 per baby.
In a warped sense, this could be considered win-win, but with
not enough babies and demand from abroad booming the next step was kidnapping
infants. Village elders would, for example, visit the poorest members of their
community, issue them with a fine and take a daughter for payment, until it was
paid. The child would be classified as an orphan. Police officers would sign a
form agreeing that the child had been found outside the orphanage, abandoned
and the child would be sold to the highest bidder. In many ways it mirrors the
scandal of Chinese prisons selling prisoner’s kidney, but is even sicker.
The effect of China’s one-child policy worked too well. The affect is devastation of lives and an increase in corruption from top down to bottom up. One Child Nation is the story of a holocaust.
Long story. I was in Dalmuir library yesterday. For some reason I wanted to check out Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Diaries.
As you know Gramsci was leader of the Italian Communist Party. Gramsci writes about how capitalism mutates
and appropriates art and literature to establish a cultural hegemony. If that
sounds pretty long-winded it’s probably because I don’t understand it either.
Gramsci did. And it’s increasingly relevant today. The working class (that
includes me) lost the propaganda war. What’s normal, just seems so.
Gramsci was imprisoned when Benito Mussolini’s blackshirts
marched on Rome, which is the kind of lie Gramsci would recognise as myth
making. Mussolini who wore a bowler hat and spats when taking flying lessons
and petted a lion club in his lap, while his driver chauffeured him around the
streets of Rome is a leader who sounds vaguely familiar. His switch from
supporting the Communist Party to supporting Fascism also resonates with
leaders whose only ideology is self-glorification.
Fascism shorn of its spats and bowler hats and lassez-faire
disguise sounds to me just capitalism with added imperialism. Making Italy
great again, by invading Ethiopia. Making Germany great again by Anschluss and
Lebensraum and seizing the lands of the lesser nations to give the German
people breathing space.
Volksfuhrer, Adolf Hitler, demanded Jews and Communists be kept
apart and concentrated in camps, caged as Trump cages refugees and immigrant
Business leaders’ demands of the fascist leaders were deregulation
and a cutting of red tape. Deregulation
= no regulation.
Work makes you free. Himmler’s SS were paid a fixed fee by
employers such as Volkswagon for them to provide labour. The SS provided food
and accommodation and took a fee, in much the same way Sports Direct Workers or
Amazon workers are not employed directly be the company. Zero-hour contracts,
Short story. The Prison Diaries wasn’t in Dalmuir library. Library staff said they’d purchase a copy,
even though it’s been long out of print. There’s something beautiful in that.
I noticed there was a leaflet for an author, sponsored by Book
Scotland, who was selling her book The
Sound of the Hours in Parkhall library.
I couldn’t be arsed going and it was cold outside. But I’d been
there. I’d did a gig 2016, Book Scotland, Dalmuir Library, when I was a writer,
trying to sell my book Lily Poole (West
Dunbartonshire library book of the week). I decided to go to Parkhall and show
solidarity with my fellow worker.
Karen Campbell was great. She talked about her journey as a writer. The Sound of the Hours was her seventh book, but her first historical novel. There were things I can relate to, her setting was often Glasgow, and her having been an ex-cop, but admittedly, not a very good one–write what you know – she’d wrote detective novels. She also wrote about immigrants and the homeless.
The Sound of the Hours
was a harder sell. It was set during the Second World War in Italy, but the Glaswegian
part of Italy. Barga. You’ve probably spotted the contradiction. She told me
things I was vaguely familiar with, how immigrants from the poorer Southern
regions had come here to work, mainly to sell ice-cream and chips to the
Scottish working class. A niche market and culture.
They were immigrants like my Da from Ireland, standing outside
shipyard gates waiting for that call.
My hand was first up when she asked if we’d any questions. I
said, ‘My Da, when he was drunk would always shout about the Gothic Line. That
we should get on the blower to Paki.’ Paki I explained, was an Italian and was
called Paki because he had black hair. I guess we could say those were more
innocent times, but I’d be lying.
‘Was the place she was writing about anywhere near the Gothic
Line?’ I asked her ‘Because that’s were my dad served in the army and watched his
Barga was the Gothic line. Italy is mountainous. The Germans
when they’d freed Mussolini from his hilltop prison split Italy like the Brexit
vote. She said she’d thought about having the word Gothic line in her title. I
was a step ahead of her here. That would have put her in the wrong camp, with
Dracula and co.
We don’t judge a book by its cover. She admitted her cover was
of the Friday night coup d’état from Bloomsbury order. I’m reminded of Ann Patchett
and Lucy Grealy in Truth & Beauty: A Friendship
discussing how a bad cover can kill your book. And many of my readers reminded
me the best part of my book was the cover. So I’m up to speed on the cover
issue and she admitted on the foreground it’s got hanging branches with lemons.
That fruit doesn’t grow anywhere near Barga, or Italy, generally. A bland, blue-greenish cover is a bitter lemon
for any author to swallow.
Luckily, I was already hooked. I bought a copy…Having read the
first few chapters…well, that’s another story. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have,
usually, have picked this type of book. Read on.
Our ancestors believed that the sky was round and the earth was
square, the sun and all the planets circled the earth. All these things were
When emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the
University of Cambridge were hacked in 2009 the theory that global warming was
a hoax gained credence and the sky really was round and the earth square.
Everything was up for grabs, including the truth.
Since 1880 our planet has warmed to around 0.85
100 percent certainty doesn’t exist in science,
but we can say this with between 95 percent to 99.99999999999 certainty that
half the global warming is due to human activity, in particular our reliance on
To stay below 2 degree and runaway global
warming we have a ceiling of one trillion tonnes of carbon which we can afford
But we’ve already burnt more than half that
figure and are accelerating towards runaway global warming.
Scientists in The Climate Research Unit don’t use terms like
runway global warming. They use more prosaic terms such as ‘dangerous levels’
of climate change. In other words we are facing an existential threat in the
same category as nuclear annihilation and nuclear winter.
The Third World War has begun but before it heats up, the
propaganda campaign takes place. Climategate was the epicentre of the
One of the most striking features of the programme was science
isn’t about certainty but uncertainty. Validation comes from not one body but
many. When CRU released the data they used to a team of global-warming sceptics,
physicists from the University of California, Berkley—with a $150 000 grant
from Charles Koch, one of the richest men in America, friend of the moron’s
moron in the Whitehouse and prominent climate-change denier— who used a
different methodology, but came up with the same figures as the CRU that should
be the end point of the earth is square believers. But we know that didn’t
This is an interesting case study in why that didn’t happen and
trolls rule the world. David Attenborough, Seven
World, One Planet, can tell us that a football-pitch sized piece of the
Amazon forest disappears every seven seconds and this can be seen from space. Similarly,
Jonathon Watts, report Battle for The Amazon can make the
analogy, ‘rainforests function as the heart of the world…sucking carbon dioxide
out of the air’ converting it by photosynthesis ‘pushing 20 billion tonnes of
water vapour into the atmosphere each day’ as part of the earth’s cooling system.
But for square earthers if we don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. When
we waken up in the morning take milk from the fridge and eat Cornflakes today
is much like yesterday. The bomb hasn’t landed.
We’ve been here before. Thomas Malthus, for example, Essay on Population (1798) argued that unless we showed ‘moral
restraint’ population levels would increase at a greater level than we could
feed ourselves. He factored in the horseman of the apocalypse, War, Famine and
Epidemics, but even allowing for these levelling factors his argument, like
that of David Attenborough, on land and sea, mass species extinction and a
holocaust, remained self-evident.
Malthus hadn’t factored in Planet B, the increasing efficiency
of food production and the rise of global capitalism. As a general rule those
that own the land own the people on the land. Natives of the Amazonian forest,
for example, are vulnerable because clearing the land of forest increases its value
by 50-to-100-fold and they have no land deeds to say they own the land.
Land-grabbers, logging, mining and farming combine in a toxic mix that leaves
little room for sentiment.
Marxism like Malthusianism has been overtaken by events. Liberalism
and Capitalism have established hegemonic influence as the only game in town.
Marx argued, ‘It is not the consciousness of men that
determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines
In other words, the interests of the dominant class (the 1% to
our 99%), land grabbers, logging, mining, industry, and farming conglomerates
are reflected back to us in ideology.
Marx’s architectural metaphor makes this clear. The legal
system, our ideology and politics is the ‘superstructure’ that rests on the ‘base’
of the economic structure and socioeconomic relations.
In crude terms, Marx describes morality, religion and
philosophy, as ‘phantoms formed in the minds of men’.
When, for example, during the Highland clearances crofters were
replaced by the more valuable monocrop of sheep, crofters had to sell their
labour and learn to say ‘baa’ to survive. For their children this was a natural
state, inseparable from their historical condition.
Marxism’s endpoint was when this false consciousness was shaken
off. Climategate, the rise of the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse and Boris
Johnston as the people’s czars show this is unlikely to happen soon.
Hannah Arendt, who fled Nazi Germany, argued ‘Things only
become irreversible, when people start to think so’.
The dominant class, our 1%, since Climategate have opened up
new fronts in the propaganda war. The nothing can be done argument has gained
traction. Our eco-system rests on an economic system in which there are clear
winners and losers. The Malthusian monopoly ‘on virtue’ has been co-opted by
those that benefit most.
An archaic term, ‘running dogs of capitalism’ set loose to
defend their rights and virtue. Marxism posited another scenario in which ‘contradictions
of capitalism’ would be exposed and the workers would gain control of their
workplace and the surplus value extracted from their labour.
Climategate shows there’s no Planet B and we burn through existing resources quicker than we can replace them leading to the increasing likelihood of extreme weather conditions and sea level rise. Bots and trolls rule the world. The contradictions of capitalism might just bring them down. But Malthus might just have got his timing wrong. Far more likely is tens of millions of refugees on the move. Wars and famine. An Amazonian frog doesn’t jump out of a pot if the water is slowly heated.
Below the typeface of David Wilson’s name is the tag ‘The UK’s Leading Criminologist’. Fourteen other books written (or co-written) by Wilson about well-known criminals and criminal justice system are listed inside the cover. He is one of Britain’s youngest prison governors. It was only when I had neared completion of the book, and the Chapter: ‘Theory into Practice: Interview with a Murderer’, I realised this was a programme on Channel 4 that I’d watched.
Here we had encapsulated everything Wilson had been preaching. He was asked to write the foreword for a book, with the subtitle The Truth about the Killing of Carl Bridgewater. Carl Bridgewater was shot in the head delivering newspapers to a farm near where he lived. Nobody was convicted of his killing. Channel 4 could tag the Interview with a Murderer because the original suspect of the police investigation, an ambulance driver, Bert Spencer was convicted of another killing. It was that of his friend and a ‘father figure’ that sometimes employed him, Hubert Wilkes. Spencer shot him in the head and claimed amnesia. In many crime dramas the protagonist suffers amnesia and the viewer later finds out that’s not the way it happened. He was not guilty. Spencer was guilty and sent to prison.
When he came out of prison he set out to clear his name. The
Carl Bridgewater case, apart from family members, was largely forgotten. Most
of us recognise what a psychopath looks and sounds like by seeing the moron’s
moron, President Trump, on television and the way he needs to feed the
continuing ‘I’ into his angst on social media. Bert Spenser was a littler ‘I AM’
that was not to be ignored.
Trump’s bestseller The
Art of the Deal wasn’t ghost-written by Tony Schwartz, but wholly written
and fabricated by him (a deal with the moron’s moron he later regretted).
Similarly, author Simon Golding had written about the Carl Bridgewater murder based on what Bert Spencer had told him. Like the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse, Spencer liked to claim he’d-all-but-written the book. Similarly, he was the hero in his own story. Setting the world to rights. Grandiose thinking and impetuosity are attributes of the psychopathic mindset.
In the same way that the moron’s moron craves the endorsement of well-known celebrities, Spencer wanted to hook the leading criminologist to endorse his book. Spencer wanted to make the splash of big ‘I AM’ bigger.
I must admit I underestimated President Trump. He used other
people’s money to get elected and expected to be defeated, but had gone along
for the ride because the cameras were always on him. I expected when the circus
died down President Trump would be brought down by his own narcissism, greed,
lies and above all by his own incompetence. But the moron’s moron repositioned
those attributes as virtues. The smell’s still there, but we’re looking –for now-
the other way.
Wilson did not fall for Spencer’s false bonhomie and old
worldly charms. The criminologist looked at Spencer, looked at his alibi, met
the woman that had provided the alibi and quickly concluded it had no validity.
Spencer’s ex-wife later agreed to be interviewed and she talked about Spencer
washing a jumper in the washing machine on the night of the Bridgewater murder.
Spencer had never done a washing in all
the years they had been married. The green jumper and one of Spencer’s shotguns
later went missing. Spencer’s daughter also thought he could have killed Carl
Spencer argued the world was against him. He claimed that
Wilson’s eyes were dilated and he took drugs. He was incompetent. He didn’t
fully understand the case.
Every time you listen to one of the moron’s moron rants imagine
Spencer, both are not guilty of any crime. The question remains, what do we do
with the psychopaths among us? We elect them to the highest office, out of harm’s
way, President of the United State and Prime Minister of a disunited kingdom. Psychopaths
have that great ability to not really care what you think. Just don’t get in
their way. When you think of Spencer, think of the moron’s moron and the man
that hides what little brains he has under mussed blonde hair.