Dr Richard Taylor (2021) The Mind of a Murderer: What Makes a Killer?

Dr Richard Taylor is a forensic psychiatrist. You know the sort: Wire in the Blood, Cracker, Those That Kill (Scandie noir). No, not that kind. They’re psychologists that tell you what kind of cheese the killer favours, what kind of street he stays in and how he was making humanity pay for his mum not allowing him mint humbugs. Forensic psychiatrists need to complete medical training and become a doctor (six years) and do another three to four years in their chosen field. A psychiatrist deals with what we used to call psychiatric patients, but are now called patients with mental health problems. The one in four of us. The forensic part is dealing with pattern recognition. Adjudicating between those that have committed an offence such as murder and know it’s wrong and those that are off their head. In the mad, bad, or sad equation that our court system deals with they deal with all three, but the emphasis is on the first.

‘My day job involves joint work between forensic psychiatry and law enforcement, my focus now is on managing those who make threats, or who are thought to pose a threat in one way or another. We call it liaison and diversion, and although the main outcome is facilitating access to treatment, there is also an element of harm reduction and homicide prevention.’

I found out I was relatively normal by accident. In the Afterword, the author’s final sentence makes reference to an adaptation of the Rorschach test and asks: ‘Other than a skull or brain, what else can you see?’

I hadn’t given the cover image any thought (although I should have given that if, or when, I self-publish cover design fundamental to selling one of the three of the four copies of your work) but when I looked again at Taylor’s cover; I could only see a skull. Nothing else.  I’m boring and normal.

Could I kill someone? Absolutely. I make no bones about that. But as I get older that becomes more unlikely. Anybody that is a reader knows about the triple whammy of having a shitty childhood, falling into drug or alcohol abuse (often both), falling to hold down a job. Fling in a personality disorder or condition. Often grandiose ideas and a complete lack of understanding of other people and the sort of narcissism that gets you elected American President and a danger to humanity.

Over two million incarcerated in the United States criminal system and more than 100 000 on life sentences. The human cost is staggering, but even conservatives are questioning the economics of tax dollars wasted.

Dr Richard Taylor is scathing about our criminal justice system. A botched privatisation of the parole system. A chronic underfunding of mental health services. He gives the example of a former criminal leaving prison in Helsinki having a house and job lined up. Here it’s a payment of £47 and good luck with the rest of your life, pal.  

Nature of nurture for the potential murderer. Not surprisingly, Taylor opts for both nature and nurture, but with the emphasis on the latter. The real criminals are in government, shouting about crime and increasing punishments—which as us a reader know, doesn’t work and never has. Remember SureStart? Getting in early and getting involved with those that needed help. Remember the austerity government of Cameron (honest gov, I sent a few texts for a paltry pay out of £150 million)  and Osborne (banker paid £650 000 for working one day a week) and how we were all in it together, while slashing funds for SureStart and taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. That’s nature. Human nature. It’s called greed and deception. It’s a fair cop, gov.  I can feel my blood boil, although as Taylor would point out, your blood doesn’t really boil. That’s clichéd as Tory scum.  

Stieg Larsson (2010) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland

When Mikael Blomkvist is holed up in cottage in the Vanger estate and can’t think he reads detective novels. I do that too. Hence The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and the first 100 pages of The Girl Who Kicks the Hornets’ Nest). Blomkvist namechecks Val McDermid The Mermaids Singing and some other—to me—obscure Scandinavian detective novels. In short, Blomkvist was behaving like a real person. He was behaving like me, which might have been you. But who would play you in the film? The answer is Daniel Craig plays Blomkvist. (Roona Mara plays Lisbeth Salander) Larsson/Blomkvist was everyman with a mission, or two missions, or perhaps three books full of Millennium and another three, literally, ghost written.

The trial was already over, everything that could be said had been said, but he never doubted that he would lose. The written verdict was handed down at 10.00 on Friday morning, and all that remained was a summing-up from the reporters waiting on the corridor outside the district court.

Blomkvist had been found guilty, fined and he’s going to jail for three months. But he’s more worried about the Millennium magazine he’s set up to investigate corruption and big finance, which is often the same thing. He’s been accused of libel and defamation of the reputation of financier Hans Erik Wennerstrom. That’s a bit like defaming Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green special adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron. And conservatives really would be so outraged with the Swedish model of prison time. Blomkvist thought of it as therapeutic. Our Tory friends, of course, think that the hanging of a boy of thirteen-year-old for stealing a spoon in 1788 was too lenient, because he hadn’t been flogged properly first.

Stieg Larsson has a didactic element to his writing, which if often glossed over by his page-turning prose. Current concerns in the disunited United Kingdom that children are facing Christmas cooped up with their abusers, with the NSPCC charity receiving more than 31 000 calls since April, are matched by the author’s themes of incest and sexual abuse and eugenics of the Nazi variety in The Vanger Family. They are portrayed as old money, industrialists that made things and didn’t mind destroying people in the process. But not all of them. Christopher Plummer plays the eighty-two-year-old patriarch Henrik Vanger in the film of the same name, he’s that nice kind of Teutonic fellow that worries about worker redundancies. And for the last 40 years he’s been receiving a framed and pressed flower, with a note to mark the disappearance of his niece Harriet. He believes someone is his family has murdered her. All police leads have ended in failure. He hires Blomkvist, ostensibly to write a family history, to look for new leads of what happened on the day of her disappearance. But he doesn’t hold out much hope.

Blomkvist says because it’s an island, it’s a bit like an Agatha Christie closed-room whodunnit in the Vanger family, but then discounts the idea. But that’s exactly what this long-winding book is.  

Larsson makes misogynistic abuse plain. Part 1, for example, tells the reader, 18% of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man. Part 2, 46% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man. Part 3, 13% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside a sexual relationship. 92% of Women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violent incident to the police. Here in Britain the Independent Monitor for the Press, Femicide Census, reported that a woman is currently being killed by a man every three days. Larsson, before his death, was outing not just a Scandinavian, but a British and, arguably, universal pattern.

Larsson’s revenge was the creation of the iconic Lisbeth Salander. While journalist Blomkvist experiences middle-class angst of where his next story will be coming from, Salander is the outsider’s outsider. She’s four-foot-eleven, twenty four, but looks like a beautiful fifteen-year-old waif and every minute is a battle for survival. Her battle with a bureaucracy designed to help her is of the deadly variety. Her social worker a sadistic predator that orally and anally rapes her. Larsson flips to his point of view as he muses that she’s better than a prostitute because he pays for her services with her own—state-funded—money.

Salander will get her revenge—she always does. She’s a hi-tech hacker, the best in Sweden, and she has a photographic memory. Blomkvist muses that she suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, but they become lovers as they unravel the mystery of what happened to Harriet Vanger and other mutilated and abused women. Salander is the equaliser that’s not going to let powerful men get away with it.

Salander, ironically, becomes part of capitalist branding like our aging James Bond. She becomes not a character, but a sexy Japanese Anamie figure that can be deployed in a number of situations and she’ll come out top girl.

In The Girl Who Kicks the Hornets’ Nest, for example, she’s been shot in the head by her father and buried in a shallow grave by her half-brother who is built like ‘a brick shithouse’. Because of a genetic condition, her half-brother feels no pain. He’s superhuman and a psychopathic murderer. He disarms two armed cops, kills one of them and steals their car, yet she takes him down. She has internal injuries to her leg and…well, you get the drift. Bad thing happen. Bad things happen to her. But it makes her stronger. More of a brand name. Watch the movie, save yourself time.     

Bernard Hare (2005) Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew.

I picked up this book and put it down a few times. I doubt if I’d have read it, but for one thing—it was Bob’s book. He carried it around like a lucky rabbit paw in his rucksack (not so lucky for the rabbit) Mostly in the first 150 pages of the book, around the middle of the book, Bob scribbled messages to himself in biro He underlined words like Urbie and wrote things like ‘Visible From Space So We r Told’. Adding a tick mark to quote from the narrator to Sparky, ‘Here, who you calling a cunting heretic?’ I don’t know if Bob finished the book. I guess I finished it for him.

Mad, Bad, or Sad?    1990, According to The Guardian headline, Five ‘cold-hearted and evil’ teenagers, from Skelton in Leeds, tortured and killed Angela Pearce, aged 18, who suffered from schizophrenia. The three girls and two boys showed no remorse when they were led away from the dock. Bernard Hare, the middle-aged narrator, known as Chop in the book, and his adopted son given the name Urban Grimshaw, visit the shallow grave where Angela Pearce was buried and leave a memento, a gold locket, at the site. Recognition that could have been them that did the torturing. Them that was tortured.  

Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew—his brother Frank, Skeeter, Sparky, Sam, Pinky, Theiving Little Simpkins, Trudy, Cara, Molly, and Pixie with the exception of the Tyson, the dog, who was sold by Greta his mum for a fix, where mad, bad and sad. As we all are. We’ve gone to the dogs is the message of the book. It’s almost 20 years since Angela Pearce’s murder and Chop gave himself grief. He saved himself and the adolescent boys and girls that looked up to him for some kind of parental guidance.

 Hare/ Chop is initiated into the Shed Crew and becomes one of them. Their unofficial leader and guru. I wasn’t overly convinced by the screeching tyres and stolen cars and the way they’d outfoxed the police. I was convinced the girls were sexually abused by nonces and the boys were thugs that stole and did whatever they could to stay one-up and alive. Hare, for example, has the reader believe, a fifteen-year-old Sparky, who was ‘built like a brick shitehouse’ and sets up home with Natasha, a schoolgirl who needs a good shagging and is straight out of the pages of Trainspotting, somehow also reads the collected works of Shakespeare for fun. Quotes, verbatim, from The Merchant of Venice, ‘do I not bleed…’. That’s just clichéd shite with a coating of literary havering.   

And I certainly wasn’t convinced that twelve-year-old Urban fell into a sewer, then into the canal and Chop dived into save him and Tyson bit him. They both survived. Covered in pish and shite they went to Urban mum’s house, because it was closer. Chop also knew not much would be said. He’d been shagging his mum, Greta. And had taken the boy out to help on a few of his jobs, delivering stuff. Man and van. Man, van and boy, made a more interesting story with a moral punch. Urban was street smart and he’d warned Chop, because he liked him to stay away from his mum, because she’d destroy him.

Here was have the shtick:

He was twelve going on thirty-seven. Oddly enough, I was thirty-seven going on twelve. Maybe that’s why we got on so well.

The road trip from Leeds to Aberdeen is believable, as is the glue, butane sniffing, boozing, drug taking, and even the code of conduct. The 101 houses that Greta inhabits. Her madhouse where her children and their pals go to take drugs. Chop goes too. But he also offers a safe house for the kids to decompress and teaches them to play chess and be still. To be children for a while.

Hare is making a call to arms. He’s saying this shouldn’t be happening. We all know that. Just think what low-life David Cameron was thinking when he made that speech at the Conservative Party Conference telling a wailing audience of yahoos that he had a list of families in London that were costing the country millions. His solution, their solution, of course, was to cut them off. Cuts, cuts and more cuts. To make the poor pay. Chop does that too. Goes on mad rants, usually about Thatcherism and the empty promises of consumerism. We’re kindred spirits. The world he wants is the world I want. For those not in the know, this is a book worth reading. For the rest of us, a reminder how far we’ve fallen.  Allegedly, the sixth richest nation on earth and we can’t even feed our children. Fuck, right off. You should be fucked off too. It’s not a read it and weep book. It’s a read it and understand, but as I said, I’m not sure Bob did read it. He was fucked up in so many ways and so wanted to be normal. Viscerally, I’m sure he understood.  That could have been him. That was him.   

Darkest Hour, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, Director Joe Wright, Writer Anthony McCarten.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000j4wd/darkest-hour

Gary Oldman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. A snapshot of the leading Tory M.P.’s gilded life in May 1940. The phony-war stage at Blighty, where the British bulldog is the underdog. War had been declared and troops had been sent off to fight in France and Belguim, before falling back to Calais and Dunkirk.  German Panzer division and blitzkrieg tactics roll through Eastern and Western Europe. Churchill, finally gets what he most covets, the chance to lead the nation and become Prime Minster. Here it’s portrayed as a poison chalice.

Neville Chamberlaine (Ronald Pickup) after coming back waving a piece of paper, the Munich Peace Agreement with Hitler was no longer the man to lead a national coalition government with mainly Labour M.Ps. He’d also got cancer, which would shortly kill him. The Conservative Party, of which he is leader, all agree on the anybody but Churchill option. Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) an old Etonian, friend of King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) seems the right sort of chinless wonder needed to lead a divided nation. But Halifax isn’t keen, Britain is broken, a German victory inevitable, and he turns the job down. The King is also not keen on Churchill, who’d backed his brother Edward VIII as King, only for him to abdicate and marry an American divorcee. Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor apart from being notoriously mean, committing acts of fraud and treason can hardly be condemned for falling in love and acting like any other King.  Churchill’s many failings, including losing an army at Gallipoli were trotted out.  As was his boozing, if he didn’t have a glass of whisky in his hand, he had a glass of champagne, or some other alcoholic drink.

(This was a later advantage at Yalta when dealing with Stalin, who also did most of his work during the night hours and insisted on endless toasts. More than one British aide ended up unconscious with drink and had to be carried away, but Stalin and Churchill continued dividing up Europe while Franklin D. Roosevelt looked on, also with glass in hand, ready to cut a deal.)

Roosevelt plays a bit part on the phone. Stalin’s USSR is at that time was aligned with Germany and they were not yet our allies. Churchill in desperation for war supplies phones FDR, who promises the British Prime Minister, nothing much but grudging vocal support.   

Churchill was reminded that second to the King the Prime Minister’s office was the most powerful position in Britain. Hokum of The King’s Speech variety that by properly articulating some words on the radio, King George VI, who had a stammer, was able to deliver and rousing speech and save the nation.

Darkest Hour is the same film, but Churchill has no stammer, was in fact a former journalist that as Prime Minister employed six secretaries in sixteen hour shifts to take down his notes and ideas. Here we have one secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) always on call, day and night, in awe of Churchill’s brilliance, but also afraid of him. He even dictates to her when in the toilet, which lacks decorum. A tactic also used by former President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, but in this case to manipulate and intimidate those below him. Let them know their place in the world. In Darkest Hour, it’s a bumbling, comic, note.

Somehow Churchill has to make his mind up and write a speech about ‘fighting them on the beaches, fighting them on the…’ and end with that bark of ‘Never, never surrender!’  But he’s been undermined by the snake-oil salesman Halifax, who wants to cut a deal with Hitler, through official channels with Mussolini’s Italian diplomats. With Chamberlain he has prepared the stab in the back and was waiting for the right moment. He could be in fact be playing Boris Johnson to Prime Minister David Cameron, pre-Brexit, offering his whole-hearted backing.  All around Churchill are enemies.

Then Churchill goes to the people, takes a subway ride. Foreshadowing, in an earlier scene he admitted to having never being on the subway. Stalin did the same thing on the Russian subways system build by slave labour. Crowded by curious onlookers wanting to shake his hand. On the London Tube, Churchill asks the honest commuters, what would you do if the German’s arrived.

‘Fight!’ says a woman.

‘Fight!’ says a man.

‘Fight,’ says a black man.

We know, of course, Churchill advocated that the Post Office and public bodies should not employ black people, but here he was having a chat with the young fellow, who tipped his hat to the British bulldog and said he too would, ‘Fight’.  He’d find it funny fighting on the streets of London (where people spat on him, told the nigger to go home and wouldn’t rent him a house).  A politically correct symbol of Britain’s glorious Commonwealth. 

The clincher was the little school girl. She wasn’t to be left out. She wanted to fight too.

 Vox populi, the people had spoken. Churchill got the answer he wanted to a question he was asking himself. What would you do?

I know what I’d do, I’d get rid of all war metaphors and sack all Tories from office, starting with the charlatan-in-chief, little Trump, and biographer of Churchill, leader of the war cabinet against the Covid-19 virus, Boris Johnson.

 Vox populi, the people has spoken. ‘Stay Alert’. The people of Scotland have spoken.  I wish politics and life was that simple.

Prejudice and Pride: The People’s History of LGBTQ Britain, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director James Giles.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0578x02/prejudice-and-pride-the-peoples-history-of-lgbtq-britain-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08zn99q/prejudice-and-pride-the-peoples-history-of-lgbtq-britain-series-1-episode-2

Presenters Susan Calaman and Stephen K Amos take us viewers through 50 years of LGBTQ history from before and after the (partial) decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people (quite a mouthful) could no longer be prosecuted for being LGBTQ.  But as we see here it was a bit like the Hays Code in Motion Pictures. Gay men had to have sex behind closed doors with other consenting men, and they had to be 21, or look older than your dad. They couldn’t put one foot on the floor or being seen to be enjoying themselves. They couldn’t join the armed forces or they’d soon by forcibly ejected.

I know you’re not meant to find that funny, but I thought of my old man, Dessy and his mate Jimmy Mac. They were boys, young men, that saw their army  pals die during the Second World War in the Gothic Line. They were mirror images of each other’s prejudices. But Jimmy confided to my da, one drunken night, that his son was a poof.

Dessy shook his head and told Jimmy, ‘we cannae have that. You’ll need to have a word wae ‘im’.

Homosexuals are marginalised in our society. As we become less tolerant, in other societies, more conservative, homosexuals can be stoned to death.  LGBTQ  ask all of those rich, white men, who make the rules a simple –existential- question: who are we? And more importantly, why do we need to pretend?

One of the characters in the novel I’m writing, Bruno, mirrors those ideas. He name-checks Peter Tatchell in an argument about adoption (which reminds me I’ve probably spelt his name wrong).

With nowhere else to go, even after the 1967 Act, one homosexual man admitted, cottaging, was easier and even fun. He pulled out a map of London and showed viewers the route he drove in his Ford Cortina. Those were largely happy memories for him.  George Michael was also caught having sex in a public toilet in the United States, which for a multimillionaire seems a rather queer thing to do, or maybe not.

The AIDS epidemic that hit America and was imported into Britain had a devastating effect. ‘God’s wrath,’  ‘Gay plague,’ and I think it was Tebbit that described it as a ‘cesspool of their own making.’ Thatcher, or course, tried to ban gays from being gay, local authorities and schools in particular from promoting homosexuality. Just the same as Prime Minister David Cameron held up a list of people, living off the state, and having the wrong kind of children, poor children, to demonise and publicly excoriate, we have here the controversial schoolbook that kicked it all off, Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin.  Whisper it, Eric and Martin are men, homosexuals! They probably went to Heaven nightclub in London, which was meant to be rocking and the place to be. Kenny Everett went there, which was probably a good reason for going somewhere else. Each to their own.

Thatcher’s wrath was worse than God’s wrath. At least God doesn’t drone on about leaving a better society. Emmm maybe He does. This documentaries not Calvinistic doom and gloom, and I told you so.

The legacy of LGBTQ was played out in Brookside, East Enders and Queer as Folk. Even Catholic Ireland voted to allow civil marriages of persons of the same gender. God bless us all, equally, apart from the Tory’s.  That’s nothing to do with gender. It’s to do with a lack of class. I’m sure God doesn’t give a flying fuck what we do with our squiggly bits, and neither do I. But if you’re a Tory, you’re scum to me. And you can go and fuck yourself. We’ve all got our prejudices. There’s mine out there. Why should we pretend?

Damian Barr (2013) Maggie & Me

 

 

 

The Bank That Almost Broke Britain, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, narrator Blythe Duff and director Leo Burley.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bmbhzb/the-bank-that-almost-broke-britain

hubris

noun

  1. excessive pride or self-confidence.

Remember Blythe Duff, the actress who played Detective Jackie Reid in Taggart whose famous catchphrase, ‘Where’s the body?’ became much parroted. Ten years on Blythe Duff is the narrator in search of the body of capitalism, the rise and fall of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and the biggest bailout in British history, around a trillion pounds, much of it going to prop up the nominally Scottish bank that was too big to fail.

Let’s put that into perspective. A trillion pounds of taxpayer’s money would build ten hospitals the size of the Queen Elizabeth  in Glasgow. It would build three new RBS headquarters in Edinburgh at Gogaburn £350 million, attended by the Queen, get you a fly past by the Red Arrows and with a nice view and corporate logos. Her Majesty did ask the difficult question, why did economists not see this coming?

And, equally, she could ask the same question now.  No one held to account. Fred Goodwin CEO of RBS kept his index-linked pension of £700 000 a year, but he did lose his knighthood. I’d love to be given that choice, knighthood or £700 000 a year public money for running up one of the biggest debts in history?

The interesting thing about this programme is Fred Goodwin was one of the bosses trust funds trusted. He was an accountant and megalomaniac bully to his workforce that slashed costs and kept buying even when the party was over. I laughed when I heard his nominal boss, Sir George Mathewson, admitted he’d lost a lot of money when Goodwin issued a new tranche of RBS shares worth…nothing now. I’ll chalk that one up for the little guy.

This is an insider account, with all the key players available, with the exception of the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who promised an end to boom and bust. The programme ends on a happy note, if you’re a banker, RBS announced earlier this year that it is, finally, in profit.

I see no profit. I see only loses. The losers have been the poorest in society. The culprits are the Laurel and Hardy of British politics Chancellor George Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron who propagated the malicious lie that the impending collapse of the British economy wasn’t down to banks and bankers, but poor people who like Oliver Twist with a begging bowl kept demanding more. Austerity was not for the rich, but for the poor. This is Britain’s shame. And Laurel and Hardy led us into another fine mess, before disappearing back, like Fred Goodwin, into comfortable prosperity. Only the poor pay the full price of nationalised debt. Too big to fail. Too wee to matter.

Timothy Snyder (2015) Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.

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We think we know the bare bones of the history of the holocaust. Hitler as bogey man and the German nation following him to the abyss, where around six million Jews perished and many more minorities. That was my take on it. Not bad, around a D grade. But Snyder does more than root in the history of the past. He drags us into the present and the lessons are illuminating.

For the German nation the war was portrayed as necessary, a colonial war to maintain food supplies, a war against the inferior Slavic nations, or ‘shitty countries’ are our friend President Trump termed them.  But when Lebensraum came unstuck at Leningrad and the Red Army began to roll back German colonial gains the genocidal war against Jews continued and grew even more intense.

‘The Auschwitz Paradox’ the complex of Treblinka, Belzac, Sobibor and Chelmno was a factory in which people were murdered for being the wrong type of people. The gas chambers also stood as a metonym for the evil of a racial policy of mass murder and genocide, but most of the killing had already taken place further East,

‘where tens of thousands of Germans shot millions of Jews over hundreds of death pits over the course of three years, most people knew what was happening. Hundreds of thousands of Germans witnessed the killings, and millions of Germans on the eastern front knew about them…German homes were enriched, millions of times over, by plunder from the murdered Jews, sent by post or brought back by soldiers and policemen on leave’.

Auschwitz processed a lie of left and right, separating the living and dead effectively, and more importantly it allowed a generation of Germans to say they didn’t know. It also allowed the Russians to act as liberators when earlier they had played a large part in the murder of Jews and other Slavic nationals.

The key to survival, then as now was citizenship. Jews in Denmark, for example, retained their citizenship and almost all survived.  In contrast, all 963 Jew in Estonia were murdered, not by the Germans, but Estonian citizens. And from the Baltic to the Black Sea people who killed Jews killed others such as psychiatric patients and gypsies. Lithuanian policemen who took part in the killing of 150 000 Jews in 1941, also starved to death the same number of Soviet prisoners.

Similar elements are at work in the Syrian conflict. Putin’s genocidal onslaught in the second Chechnya war helped set the template for what was to follow.  Russian troops that committed atrocities were fighting terrorism.

When Russian invaded Ukraine its citizens were deemed to be terrorists. Snyder draws explicit parallels with Hitler’s ideology:

In 2013 Russian leaders and propagandists imagined neighbouring Ukraine out of existence, or presented them as sub-Russians…an artificial entity with no history, culture, and language, backed by some global agglomeration of Jews, gays, Europeans, and Americans…In the Russian war against Ukraine, the first gains were the natural gas fields in the Black Sea…annexed in 2014…The fertile soil of mainland Ukraine, its black earth, makes it a very important exporter of food, which Russia is not.

Bashar al-Assad, Syrian’s dictator, whom Putin brought back from the brink of military defeat, using high-tech Russian jets, chemical weapons that put them outside the Geneva Convention, old-fashioned barrel bombs, artillery strikes on hospitals and schools while classifying these murders as fighting against terrorists. There is no such thing as non-combatants.  Women and children are also terrorists.

Three million people in Idib. Three million non-citizens and terrorists. On the Turkish border civilian forces offer a sense of humanity and prepare for a million refugees. Perhaps an overestimate when the Russian fleet offshore are engaged in ‘exercises’. Non-citizens can expect no mercy in a kill-box that would have been all too familiar to Eastern European Jews. Ironically, those fleeing towards Israel in the hope that proximity to another nation state will provide a safe haven of sorts are simply classified as terrorist by another nation state.

Snyder’s template of taking away citizenship as the first step in genocidal murder applies equally to Myanmar’s Rakhine state. In scenes reminiscent of Nazi occupied Poland, on 27th August 2017 Myanmar’s army attacked unarmed civilians and forced more than 700 000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Ian Figel and Benedict Rogers in The Observer report thousands were killed, thousands of women raped. Children were snatched from their parents’ arms and thrown into their burning homes or drowned. Villagers lined up and shot.

Britain’s response to refugees mirrors that of the Americans during the Holocaust – no entry. The United States and richest nation in the world patted itself on the back for allowing around 5000 Jewish refugees, around the same number that were gassed in Treblinka in a morning’s work. Remember David Cameron talking about ‘swarms’ of them waiting to cross the English Channel. Swarms of children, who we agreed to take, then reneged on the deal. Without the sovereign protection of citizenship those without passports have no rights and can be disposed of.

With global warming the numbers of refugees Snyder argues is bound to increase exponentially and the poorest nations in the world will be hit first and hit hardest. Already we are preparing our defences. The first defence being rhetoric, them-or-us fundamentalism. The warning from history is a lesson we have learned too well. Enough talk produces hate and murder, but no real people die. Only terrorists.  Believe that and you’ll believe anything. We often do and justify it to ourselves by saying we didn’t know. Read this book.

 

Adam Kay (2017) This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor.

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I loved this book. It should really be read in conjunction with Jed Mercurio’s debut novel Bodies. Yeh, that Jed Mercurio that writes scripts for the BBC, Bodies and Line of Duty. Adam Kay is following a similar trajectory, half way between the drama of Jed Mercurio and the upbeat chortleness of Harry Hill. You’re probably thinking why should the tax payer should spend all that money training junior doctors, indirectly subsidising the Australian and Canadian health services, which is bad enough, but now it’s a straightforward path –albeit a long medical apprenticeship—to write for the BBC.   The answer is going to hurt.

Simply, we are screwing the NHS into the ground and junior medics are on the front line. That’s always been the case, but the pressure is more intense. Aneurin Bevin talked about needing ‘to stuff the consultant’s mouths with gold’ in order to get a National Health Service. Consultants then were treated as a rung below God. Not much has changed. In a note Kay sent to a GP, 21st October 2010,  as a Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology wrote, ‘if  you have any questions whatsoever, please do not contact me.’ It was a typo, what he meant to say was don’t hesitate to contact me, but it worked. The GP didn’t contact him. Kay had this to say about Prof Carrow, theoretically ‘on call for the labour ward.’ But ‘as much use as having a cardboard cutout of Cher’. ‘You don’t see Professor Carrrow during the day, you don’t phone him at night.’ Like a mighty liner navigated by junior staff, which changes every six months, when they change secondment, they learn on the job by that old maxim, see one, do one, teach one. Kay started 14 years earlier as a fresh-faced student and was a veteran of muddling through. So when Prof  Carrow appeared during the day Kay wondered what the occasion was. No doubt when David Cameron’s children were being treated there would have been a consultant monitoring every NHS bed the Prime Minister passed as there was for an extremely wealthy Saudi family. Here it was quite simple. A documentary camera crew was following behind Prof Carrow as he did a ward round. On camera Prof Carrow tells Dr Kay, ‘Sounds like you’ve got it under control Adam. But if you’ve any problems at all during the night, just call me.’ When the camera crew stop recording he acts more like the typical consultant, telling Adam, ‘Obviously, don’t.’

Kay, ad-libs, that one of the problems he faces is that patients don’t really see doctors are being human. His points about low pay and overwork are valid. He looks to his cohort, people he went to school with making six-figure salaries, while the parking meter in the hospital grounds makes more money than him. He suffers burnout (post-traumatic stress) when one of his patients dies. He’s not god, only human and a doctor advises him by the time he’s finished there’ll be a bus full of patients, who have died on your watch. It’s the nature of the beast. He moans about having to take a sideways or backwards step and retrain in another speciality. It would mean a loss of income.

That’s where I’ve less sympathy with Kay. Life seems sharper and speedy when you’re younger and full of seismic spasms, but it recedes like male-pattern baldness no matter how you try. Both his parents are doctors and he tells us his sister has accepted a place in a medical school, but let’s not forget middle-class parents,   getting their kids into medical school is a status thing and a mercenary operation that would make King Herod look like a lightweight.  Working class kids have more chance of playing for Barcelona than being a junior doctor. The moneyed middle-class expropriation of the means of education is a given without the need for banner waving, what Herbert Marcuse called ‘repressive tolerance’.

No meritocracy here. Kay jokes the ideal entry for medical school has A grades and plays rugby, ideal candidates such as Harold Shipman.  I’ll not bother googling how much a senior registrar gets paid. Kay should look below him, try living on the split shifts and gig economy of the hospital cleaners. His joke about the public not thinking doctors are human applies equally to those that have nothing and can expect not much more. Grenfell Towers taught us that. The NHS is staffed by the low paid, so I’m not buying into that the parking meter in the car park makes more money, poor me, I’m skint argument.

His open letter to The Secretary of State for Health is a walk in my shoes argument, ‘you, or your successor should have to work alongside junior doctors’. He makes an analogy ‘If the President wanted to press the big red button and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, then first he’d have to take a butcher’s knife and dig it out of a volunteer’s chest himself; so that he realizes what death means first-hand, and understand the implications of his actions.’

Absolutely, but the moron’s moron in the White House isn’t really like that. He’s got flunkeys to do that kind of thing. Draft dodger Trump guilty of having a spurious bone spur on one of his feet and now with the biggest arsenal in human history, we have a spurious President Tweeting policy on the hoof. A no-brainer, reality is no obstacle to his egotistical whims. A straight choice between blowing up thirty million Koreans and starting an apocalyptical nuclear winter or being seen as being a weak-fall guy that doesn’t get bogged down in too much (or any) detail, then it’s goodbye world.

Poor people don’t really exist for him and his ilk. The NHS is an aberration and abomination because it doesn’t work for them. Nicholas Timmins wonderful book The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State sums it up, the Americans used to run to us and try and work out how through cooperation and not competition we could provide such an efficient and low-cost service, now we run to America and look at  model that doesn’t work. Cannot solve the problems they create and in the hunt for revenues calls for more of the same, more privatisation, more trickledown economics and taking money from the poorest in society and gifting it to the richest. State subsidies as opposed to handouts for the poor. Adam Kay has nailed it, privatisation is a sham. It costs around £15 000 to deliver a child in the private sector, but when something goes wrong they use public resources. Let’s call it public theft by private means that enrich the already wealthy. That makes me mad. I’m not laughing.

Alan Johnson (2016) The Long and Winding Road: A Memoir.

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I’d like Alan Johnson to be Prime Minster. That seems outlandish as Jeremy Corbyn, but Johnson is not such a Daily- Hate- Mail figure. But he was Home Secretary under the Labour Government 2009-10, a position our current Prime Minster Teresa May held before becoming Tory leader. I guess at the end of polling today she’ll remain Prime Minister. I read an interview with Paul O’Grady on Sunday in which he wished the heads of David Cameron, and his sick sidekick, George Osborne should be placed on display on Tower Bridge. I’m not sure I’d add Teresa May to that list, but I could easily be persuaded. Cameron and Osborne poisoned debate and played to the Tory grandees by using stereotypes of working-class life taken from shows such as Jeremy Kyle to cut the welfare budget and keep cutting it with spurious claims that it was to bring the nation’s deficit down to zero. If black people were portrayed in this way it would be classified as a criminal offence. Inciting racism. The promise to cut the nation’s deficit has been quietly side-lined by May.

The Long and Winding Road at one point tells us how the Conservative Party stage manages its annual get together. That’s when they pick their victims. The usual line-up. Johnson managed to infiltrate the conference. There’s a cartoon Johnson, from The Times, May 1994, portrayed as dog, savaging the President of the Board of Trade, Michael Helseltine who had lined up the Post Office – Telecom, Royal Mail, Parcelforce and Post Office Counters – as the next public service to be privatised. All were in profit, but, of course, it wasn’t about that. It was about ideology. Privatisation is good because it makes rich people richer wasn’t one of their arguments, but you get the general drift. The buzz word is usually efficiency.

That’s two paragraphs and I’ve barely mentioned Johnson’s book. I found it a bit boring and got to page 111 and pulled the bookies slip I was using as a bookmark from the book. The chances of me reading on are slim. It’s Johnson’s third autobiography and there is repetition. He needs to bring those that have not read his first book up to speed. This Boy, which is by far his best, outlines what happens when his feckless father left his sainted mother Lily, and the family was left to fend for themselves in East London slums in the 1950s.  I started with his second book, Please, Mr Postman, and worked my way backwards to This Boy.  Alan Johnson has met his future wife, who works with his sister Linda, but already has a kid, but they settle down in Slough. He starts working for the Post Office, a postman, all childhood dreams of becoming a pop star, put out of his head, with as much overtime as he wanted, leaving little time for anything else.  By the time the reader gets to The Long and Winding Road we know where the story is going, but the narrative drifts into meeting people such as Tony Blair who are going to become famous and blokes we’ve never heard of, but are salt of the earth type. It gets cliched and boring. But that’s my opinion. You May think otherwise. I’m sure when I wake up tomorrow Teresa May will still be Prime Minster, but not my Prime Minster and she’ll write a book in later years about her Long and Winding Road. Yawn.

The carrot and the thick.

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Maslow’s hammer – if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I don’t believe in a market for healthcare. I don’t believe in a market for schools. And I don’t believe in trickledown economics, the belief that giving money to the rich helps the poor.

When I see the innocence of children I can believe in God. As Dr Benjamin Spock wrote for post- Second World War baby-boomers: ‘Each child is retracing the whole history of mankind, physically and spiritually, step by step’.

‘We believe that the person with a stigma is not quite human’, Ervin Goffman.

We can build more schools or more prisons and follow the lines and lies of the American model as we’ve been doing. This isn’t Trump talk but propaganda and ideology in action.

I sometimes watch The Chase on ITV with Bradley Walsh. It’s a quiz programme, general-knowledge quiz on around dinner-time, or tea-time depending on what you call it and whether you are a bit of a nob. Contestants play against a quiz master, the Chaser, someone like Shaun Wallace who is a barrister and has won Mastermind. Amateur again professional is a mis-match, but in the final round there can be a maximum of four amateurs again one professional answering similar quiz questions. The Chaser attempts to knock contestants out in earlier rounds, which are easier multiple-choice questions than the cash-build up. All contestants start with a one point advantage. That means that if they get a question wrong and the Chaser gets it right, they don’t get caught right away. Contestants get a second chance. Most contestants win usually between three and six thousand pounds in an earlier question-and-answer format called the cash-build up. If they want to play against the Chaser for that amount they can get two questions wrong before they can be caught by the Chaser. The Chaser tries to entice the contestant to give up a potential life by offering vastly inflated sums greater than the money they have won. Usually this is a multiple and ranges from £20 000 to £60 000. The maximum number of lives a contestant can opt for is three. That gives them a three point and three question start on the Chaser. In effect they’d need to get three questions wrong out of seven before the Chaser could catch them. But here’s the rub, when a team is doing well, and has for example, £30 000 in the collective pot and two contestants have made it to the final Chase, the Chaser often offers a negative amount.  If the contestant has won, for example, £3000 in the cash-build up, in order to qualify for the three extra lives the Chaser will usually offer a negative amount of, for example, £5000.  If the contestant qualifies the team receives less money than they would where the contestant be put out by the Chaser (£30 000 – £5000 divided by 4 and not 3).

Let’s look at grammar schools. There are around 57 different types of state sponsored schools in England and Wales with shrinking budgets, growing teacher shortages and calls for an additional 750 000 pupil places projected for the next ten years. An increasing gap between expected funds and expected delivery.  Teresa May envisions spending around £50 million a year on grammar schools out of a total educational budget of £80 billion. The pitch is the same one made by the contestant taking money out of the pot, making is smaller (adding a negative amount) that by doing so they make the collective team, our countries, stronger and benefit everyone as we face further tests. Not funding grammar schools puts the nation at risk.

That’s true in the same way that the contestant going for the negative pot in The Chaser is true. It denies money in the public purse with cuts to services such as Sure Start that benefited the poor to help the rich and it denies the majority of children life chances. Sainted Margaret Thatcher as education secretary in the 1979 recognised this and shut more grammar schools than any other minister, Labour or Conservative. But she didn’t need to shut them, just no longer fund them with public money, taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich and out of 315, 139 public schools became comprehensives. Post war the gap between rich and poor had narrowed and not enough parents could afford to send their children to such schools. There is an interesting cameo of how the world was viewed in 1964 in a Granada series 7UP directed by Michael Apsted. The three upper class boys attended a preparatory school, then they said they’d attend Westminster Public School then they’d attend Oxford or Cambridge. The idea of attending any other university was snorted and laughed down (later one of them attended a northern University, but went on to work for the BBC, and was, of course, headhunted by Channel 4). Out of the mouths of babes was a keen understanding of how the world worked. The middle-class banner against comprehensive schools and the mingling of the the poor with the rich wasn’t because the latter were smelly and noisy as the Apsted’s Public school boys loudly intoned to the camera, but because, then as now, standards were seen to be slipping. Only the upper and middle-classes knew how to behave, speak properly and write properly, the first Black Paper was prophetical, ‘The Fight for Education’ in defiance of the Government’s White Paper announcing changes needed to modernise schools. This was a war that poor people and their children lost.

A 2009 OECD report showed that Britain routinely diverted the largest share of education spending, 23%, for any comparable modern nation from poor people to a small group, 7%, of privately educated children with rich parents.  Teresa May’s decision to continue with this trend is a reassurance to her Conservative backbenchers and Select- 22 Committee that nothing has changed. Britain is a good country to be rich.

Margaret Thatcher before donning the garb of Prime Minister and bastardising the words of St Francis of Assisi shared her thoughts with a rapt American audience. She utilised a poppy analogy, ‘we value all individuals…not because they’re all the same, but because they are all different…I say let our children grow tall and let some children grow taller than others if they have the ability in them to do so’.

The message is clear, some children (the 93% majority of poor children) are holding back other children (7% rich children). Coal miners were an industry-sized example of greedy workers that were holding the country back. They were ‘holding the county to ransom’ and getting paid as much as twice as much as the average worker. There’s a moral in that story of what happened to them. Thomas Piketty, Capital, and more recently The London School of Economics’ paper, have shown how money is moved from the poor to the rich. Mark Townsend quotes from a TUC report that shows that the average remuneration of a FTSE 100 boss in Britain is 123 times that of a full time worker. An example of this is advertising executive of WPP, Sir Marin Sorrell whose annual package is worth £70 million. He has grown into a very tall poppy indeed and earns in 45 minutes of his precious time the annual salary of a non-unionised full-time worker that has the same rights as a plastic spoon.

But the story is an old one of Gothic horror and the fear of contagion and contamination with the rich being a different breed of human, with children in particular needing to be kept apart, for their own good. Think tank, Policy Exchange, the Notting Hill sect, prior to Cameron’s election, suggested that city’s outside the rich South were beyond revival, full of Lamarckian chavs, feral and promiscuous youths, bent on destruction and unwilling to work. Stereotypes that proved hugely popular as had the fear of the Irish in Scotland, and the fear of the Jews in London’s East End in the late nineteenth century. Both were seen as threat to our nation’s stock.

The issue was one of control, not education. Theresa May is playing to a gallery, and singing from an old hymn sheet, build more prisons and less local authority schools, less public anything. Talk about weaning ourselves away from the nanny state while filling her friends’ pockets with loot from the nanny state. It’s a great trick when they pull it off.  Poor people deserve what they get, because they are different. Their children are different. They are Goffman’s ‘other’.