David Baddiel, Jews Don’t Count, Channel 4, written and presented by David Baddiel, directed by James Routh.

https://www.channel4.com/programmes/david-baddiel-jews-dont-count

A quote attributed to Mark Twain, but perhaps not said by Mark Twain, the great American writer and humourist goes something like this:

‘What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.’

David Baddiel shows footage of the moron’s moron supporters of the 45th American President chanting, ‘We will not be replaced by the Jews.’  

It would be better for humanity if bottom feeders and  plant life like this dragged out of the bargain basement of humanity and fed hatred three times a day were replaced by something more humane. Habits form from little lies becoming big lies.

Baddiel interview the actor David Schwimmer. He tells us that Jews make up less than two percent of the population of New York, but account for forty-percent of the hate crime.

Only it’s not really a hate crime to hate Jews goes Whoopi Goldberg. If the KKK came along, or Trump supporters, which is pretty much the same thing, her argument is only the black man or woman needs to scarper. Six million Jews dying, killed by the Nazis, wasn’t an act of racial hatred, because Jews are not a race, but a religion. It’s a whopper from Whoopi, the equivalent of blood libel that goes back to the Middle Ages.

Baddiel’s rhetoric about modern-day antisemitism is about exclusion not inclusion. He uses the example of Labour MP, Dawn Butler. She reads out a long list of exploited and oppressed people that Labour would support. He waits for Jews to be mentioned. He gets frustrated and angry by her omission.  

Miriam Margolyes, who seems to pop up on every programme, on every channel, has her say. She, of course, describes herself as an old fat Jewish lesbian. She would have been on Dawn Porter’s list. She brought up the subject of Israel. She admitted, as an atheist Jew, she felt some responsibility for the mass murder and oppression of Palestine, non-Jewish, nationals (not her words).

Baddiel, described himself as an atheist, non-practicing Jew, and thus felt little responsibility. But he knew it would be a stick used to beat him. In the same way paedophile priest as used against practicing and non-practicing Roman Catholics. As if it was our fault. I side more with Margolyles on this one. In a way it is.

I don’t hate Jews. I hate Rangers. I hate Tories. And I hate Trump and all he stands for. Ironically, the racist, rapist, misogynist, thieving hate pedlar’s daughter, Ivanka, married into a Jewish family of property developer almost equally vile. Sometimes it’s not all black and white.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/nov/22/where-was-ivanka-when-donald-launched-his-campaign-looking-after-number-one

Many of the synagogues in Scotland have closed. The largest Jewish population remains in Glasgow, but it too is declining. For Jewish boys and girls to marry other Jewish boys and girls they may need to move to larger communities. For Jews, like Catholics, to count they need to fend off secularism and apathy.

Indian nationalist have made Muslims scapegoats in many of the same ways Hitler branded the Jews. Populist governments all over the world are doing the same thing, scapegoating, including Israel. Jews, such as Shakespeare’s Shylock or T.S.Eliot’s channelling of antisemitism have always hit a nerve. A form of emotional contagion.  It can be and is deadly as Baddiel shows again and again. His old London Primary school, for example, now has a siren which sounds and Jewish children practice drills in which they flee from their attackers. But it’s also worth remembering that Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts took a good beating in and around those same lanes. Trump’s supporters are in retreat. Brazil has elected a less toxic President and populism, at last, may well be in decline. I may be wrong. Like Mark Twain, ‘it ain’t so.’  

Hate is a habit we pick up from an early age. We don’t need to think. George Orwell in 1984 got it pretty much right with hate-crime that wasn’t a crime, but a way of non-thinking.

Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) The Sympathizer

The Washington Post called Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel ‘a classic of war fiction’. The New York Times a ‘tour de force’. Yes and Yes.

The narrator has written a confession. Looked out at the shore of himself. And decided there was nothing to see. What fuelled him wasn’t nihilism, but idealism. But that too was a lie. Something he was adept at. Being the bastard son of a priest. At fourteen, his Vietnamese peasant mother became the French father’s housekeeper and mistress. His father was also his teacher at the school he attends. Here he becomes blood brothers with two other boys, Bon and Man. The Three Musketeers that take on the world.

The Symapthizer tells the reader he is not to be trusted. The first line:

I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.

Man is also two-faced. Like the narrator and Bon, he is a soldier in the South Vietnamese Army fighting against Ho Chi Minh and the Communists in the North. But he is also a commissar in the People’s Republic and an anti-revolutionary revolutionary. Man is the narrator’s interrogator and torturer, but also father confessor and his handler that he passes information to. He sets out to save him. Bon, in contrast, is a simple killer who does not know of his fellow Musketeer’s identities. He does as he’s told by the General (and people like him) and asks no questions about choosing the right or wrong side of history.

April 1975. American forces are leaving Saigon. It is easy to compare, for example, July 2021. American (and British) forces leaving Kabul.

‘The month in question was April, the cruellest month.’

The narrator, is no T.S.Eliot, but a Captain the South Vietnamese Army. Saigon is The Waste Land. The captain’s superior officer, The General, whose villa he stays in, instructs him to prepare a list of people that are going back to America with the retreating troops. He has been educated in an American College and lived in both worlds. They could not take everybody, but only those that mattered and those that could pay a sufficiently high bribe to get into the compound and board a flight.

‘We could not believe that the pleasant, scenic coffee towns of Ban Me Thout, my Highlands hometown, had been sacked in early March. We could not believe that president Thieu, whose name begged to be spat out of the mouth, had inexplicably ordered our forces defending the Highlands to retreat. We could not believe that Da Nang and Nha Trang had fallen, or that our troops had shot civilians in the back as they fought madly to escape on the barges and boats, the death toll running to thousands.’      

They could not believe it, but they did believe it. Their American allies dropped more bombs on Vietnam than all the bombs dropped in the second world war (excluding nuclear weapons) but received the refugees like flotsam, inexplicably washed up on their shore. The Captain went to live in Los Angeles with his commanding officer, the general. He had no army to lead, but acted like a man in charge, plotting to return to his lost homeland.

Bon and the Captain room together. They fall into line with their fellow exiles. It’s a life of sorts. Bon, for example, qualifies for welfare payments with money paid in cash for a job as a janitor in the black economy. Their low status makes the general bristle. Women coped better as refugees. The general’s wife, for example, opens a Vietnamese restaurant. Home cooking her speciality, even though she never cooked at home.  The Captain even begins an affair with the general’s daughter.  

Their world had turned upside down and the general wants to turn it back. His plans to invade Men who believe the yellow man is inferior, but communism is unforgiveable in any language, backed his plans to re-invade Vietnam.

The Captain reports these developments back to his handler in Paris. Bon has seen enough of America and Americans and their so-called freedom to know it is not for him. He opts of join the revolutionary force that aims to overthrow the revolutionary force, but really, it’s about returning home. The Captain goes with him, even though he’s warned by his handler, Man, not to. To stay in America, where his expertise would be of greater use. But he disobeys his order and goes with Bon to save Bon.

The confession of a confession is an examined life. The Captain has to explain to his superiors why he did what he did. What his faults were. He hand writes 352 pages and rewrites them again and again (for you, the reader). But it’s not enough. Something is missing. He has to find that part of himself and show his sorrow in a way that is appropriate without know why.

He ponders the problem of Spartacus. What do revolutionaries do when they win their revolution? Do they, for example, like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, learn to walk on two legs? And life for those that follow becomes worse rather than better in the planned utopia? His solution is to have no solution, but simply mark the fault line between ideas and idealism. Here be dragons. In losing his tortured mind, becoming two minded, he finds there are no answers. We are closer to nihilism at the end of the book than at the beginning, when idealism was not interrogated, but also closer to hope there may be an answer.    

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Yes and Yes. Read on.  

Panorama, Undercover: Britain’s Biggest GP chains, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, undercover reporter Jacqui Wakefield

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0017x2b/panorama-undercover-britains-biggest-gp-chain

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jun/13/britains-biggest-chain-of-gp-surgeries-accused-of-profiteering

My partner recently had to go into hospital. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, Accident and Emergency. It was recently slated for having up to a thirteen-hour waiting time. We know there is little point phoning for a GP appointment on the Tuesday, after a Bank Holiday. The phone will ring off the hook. My tactic to avoid this is go to the surgery window and wait to catch the receptionist’s gaze. We’re an ageing population with more money needed to be channelled into health care.

What we get instead is Thatcherite ideology of the market knows best. The market does know best. It knows best how to take money from poor people and give it to the rich. In this case Operose Health, which is a subsidiary of private healthcare firm Centene. In the United States their looting of welfare funds led to them being sued by a number of State bodies for fraud. They paid the fine, but, of course, didn’t admit guilt.

What we have here is a different kind of fraud. A rentier class, who are paid a fixed amount for providing a service where there is no risk to the rich. We also did it with trains. Subsidised other nation’s rain networks and it gave them a guaranteed income.  

70 GP surgeries and 600 000 patients. Jacqui Wakefield logged 300 patients waiting to get through to her. And she couldn’t offer any GP appointments for any of them. One ruse was to offer appointments with a cheaper option. Put them in a white coat. Give them a fancy title. Work them with appointment after appointment so they do the equivalent work of two GPs. That’s called efficiency savings. In other words, profit for destroying the worker’s health and the health of the people he or she is trying, but failing to help.

  A study of the equivalent of Norwegian GP’s, for example, found that the more highly qualified those practicing medicine the better outcome for the patient. Not only were they able to pick up early signs of disease and treat it earlier saving more costly treatments with knock-on effects at later stages. A virtuous circle.   

A vicious circle looks something like this model. Underqualified staff.  Clinical correspondence – medical reports, test results and hospital letters – that had not been read for up to six months.

In the Thatcherite model of health care, patients would be able to shop around for better treatment, where they weren’t treated to the indignity of having to spend days on the phone. Similarly, GP practices would compete against each other to bring in the brightest and best and innovate, while making a profit. In the same way we did with our prisons, or the probation service, before that was scrapped as being unworkable.

Scotland has largely rejected this carpetbagger model of modern finance. But the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was extended with many of the same principles. Give money to rich people for building something you could do cheaper and better with forward planning. We can clap NHS workers, while not giving them a pay rise and look for savings elsewhere.  We know how this looks. It looks very much like the one rule for the rich and one rule for the poor of Centene and their ilk. Efficiency savings are only efficient if they end up in a tax haven. We all know how that feels. Because we’re all in it together. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, ‘some animals are more equal than others’.  Some patients are more valued than others.

Yes! Yes! UCS! Townsend Productions written by Neil Gore.

Oscar Wilde:  ‘Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has ever read history, is a man’s original value.’

A writer’s job is to remember. The better the writer, the better we remember. I’d a day out at The Golden Friendship Club on Saturday. Jim McLaren performed two miracles—and perhaps there’ll be a play about that one day—buying the old Masonic Club and finding the money to renovate it. If he wants to hang a picture of his mum, Agnes, and Auntie Molly Kelly in one of two the main halls, well, that’s really up to him. In the old days, you had to stand up for old Queen Lizzie. He’s standing up for his mum, and she’s more to my liking. He needs a third miracle to find the funding to keep the place going. The Golden Friendship is a Community Hall in a real sense of being paid for and belonging to the community. Workshops during the day and Neil Gore’s play, Yes! Yes! UCS!  were held to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the UCS work-in on the Clyde in 1971 (for those not very good at arithmetic a Covid year wasn’t carried over, so to be pedantic, 51 years).

Bernardine Evaristio: Girl, Woman, Other, ‘she wants people to bring curiosity to her plays, doesn’t give a damn what they wear’.  

When I came into the hall Jim was there to meet guests. There was no sneaking past in casual wear. They set the seats out with a free copy of The Morning Star (cost £1.50) which made me smile. I didn’t think they still printed it. I’d a quick chat with that old dinosaur, John Foster. He didn’t remember me, but I remembered him in a tutorial asking us if we knew what hegemonic meant. We were more interested in when The Wee Howff opened. He taught us always to cite your sources. Hating Tories was a given.

Rhyming couplets and verse Yes! Yes! UCS! 

I’m up for a writer’s challenge. So a quick sketch of Peter Barra McGahey with his handlebar moustache:

 Fae John Brown’s on the Clyde—James Scott Dry Dock—tae Govan and Yarrows

Land, river and sea, nane belanged to Barra McGahey

The sootie tenemenet walls, Dalnator, where we lay out past

Glasgow Airport moles that didnae depart

An a the rats and birds that flies

pay a feu rent fae their tinker’s tents

the dog that shits, cats that hiss

the foreman’s toot isnae his

Fae James Scott Dry Dock, Yarrows and John Brown’s on the Clyde

Land, river and sea, nane belanged to Barra McGahey

The Morning Star we see.

Yard owners haunds oot free.

Their coats of arms with all its charms

Our cranes feeds your wains memes

With patriot calls to our common country

Futile dreams and poet themes of equality

the match that lights the dout

lame-duck yards goin slow

Tartan paint and a long wait—work to rule

Fair democracy, where do we place we?

We that toil should own the soil and Broomilaw

A welded chain for those that pass laws again

Fae John Brown’s on the Clyde—James Scott Dry Dock—tae Govan and Yarrows

Land, river and sea, nane belanged to Barra McGahey

No part of our common we.

A zip in his trousers at the back

for emergency purposes only

Christmas lights on his welder’s hat

the unfair and grand

none as light-headed as he

In Barra’s place, we place our grace.

None forgotten, or will be.

His gravelly laugh still finds a path

To our common humanity.

We had lunch in the hall, and Jim put on a fine spread. We could make a donation to a food bank or to The Golden Friendship. I grew up in the seventies. I could never have imagined the idea of food banks. Worker’s memories of taking over the yards and forcing Ted Heath’s government to backtrack. Go from spending a possible £6 million government package to nearer £36 million is at the core of our day out. Yes! Yes! UCS! as an antidote to the highest grossing film of 1960, I’m Alright Jack, with the stereotypical bungling and walkouts of the shop steward movement in Union Jack Foundries portrayed by Peter Sellers meant to typify a Britain that was going in the wrong direction.

I asked John Foster if there was still a Communist Party, still a Socialist Movement. In particular, if it had younger members. I don’t think anybody in the hall was under forty, apart from the two actors that played Aggie and Eddi.

I’d guess very few adults under-thirty could tell you what the plaque on Clydebank College labelling a building John Brown’s means. The Clyde has become a feature, a waterfront for selling property.

John Foster did say there was a growing Socialist movement. I’d guess Greta Thunberg, aged 15, sitting in silent protest outside Parliament (Skolstrejk för klimatet) is more important and certainly better known.

Ted Heath’s government was defeated. We had the oil-price hike and stagflation. But the token woman in Heath’s cabinet was Margaret Thatcher. Her destruction of the miner’s union with the help of a media vying with each other to create fictional stories about Arthur Scargill and present them as facts stand out.  M15 and a pumped-up police force and the loss of around 80 000 jobs is well documented in what was described as a war against terrorists. Less well documented is how we lost the propaganda war in which food banks, for example, is sold to us a positive trend.  

When I hear about a critically acclaimed singer and songwriter, I usually do a bit of planning of my own, and nip away before I get caught. I don’t listen to music in the way that other people don’t read books. I could add or go to the theatre. But when I saw a friend and nipped outside during the break of Yes!Yes! UCS!  I admitted Findlay Napier had been the best part of the day. I still don’t listen to music, but he caught me on the good side.

I asked Jim why Neil Gore’s production wasn’t on the stage. He told me it wasn’t deep enough for the set. It was impressive. A mock-up of tenement buildings, with doors that open and decades to slide into. We get to see Heath in cartoonish blue and hear his voice. ‘There’ll be nae bevvying’ cries Jimmy Reid. The roar of the crowd. On two girls’ shoulders the production hangs. I feel for them. Art makes us and unmakes us. This might be their first and last job. The yards were a men’s playground, to channel the dispute through women takes balls.

Anne Ryan was out having a fag at the canal. I’d joked with her that in 1970, everybody would have been out of the hall and smoking. She was the solitary pariah of the path, until another guy ambled over. She asked if I’d smoked, ‘Nah, I was a good boy’.

‘Whit dae yeh think of the show?’

She made a face. ‘He seems to like it.’  

Radical politics doesn’t sell is hardly a headline, even in The Morning Star. George Orwell in his unpublished introduction to Animal Farm described how ‘unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for an official ban’. Ironically, Communist China is probably best at this. Rupert Murdoch, second best. We’ve come a long way since the nineteen-seventies, backward step by backward step. Only the past can live in the present. I brought my curiosity to play. Perhaps Townsend Production doesn’t quite capture the zeitgeist. The fault might be mine. I don’t do musicals and I don’t do theatre. The wrong man in the right place. Go see for yourself. Make your own head space.    

Peter Matthiessen (2010 [1978]) The Snow Leopard.

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen is a holy book, one of those books you could read again and again, but probably won’t. It was reprinted as a Vintage Classic for a new generation of readers. I got called me a book snob, online. It irked me, at first. Readings what I do. I’m one of the clichéd, if I’ve nothing to read, I’ll read the ingredients of the sauce bottle kinda guy. I even read poetry, but I don’t put it on my chips very often.  But honestly, I’m a book snob. I give myself reasons. Starting with because I’m getting older and there are only so many books I can read. Usually, I forget books as soon as I read them, but The Snow Leopard leaves an imprint of something remembered. There’s something pure and wise in the writing. George Orwell suggested good writing was like looking through a pane of glass. Great writing holds up a mirror to the soul.

The Zen expression of Matthiessen’s beloved second wife ‘D’ ‘No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place’ is matched by the words of his transcribed diary of a journey outward and inward that rings true and pure.

‘Expect nothing,’ Matthiessen’s guru, Eldo Rosh,i had warned him on the day he left. He had also held his wife’s left hand and Matthiessen had held her right hand as she died and they chanted and renewed their Buddhist vows.

Matthiessen’s quest is renewal and if fate brings it, to see the fabled snow leopard, which only two Westerners had seen (until tens of millions viewed it on David Atttenborough’s Planet Earth, sipping tea and letting Digestive crumbs settle on the cushion, but that’s a different story).

Matthiessen carries his ego and his fate with him as a tortoise carries its shell. Roshi’s advice to be ‘light, light, light’ was for both the inner and outer journey.  The great sins for his Sherpas, carriers and guides on his journey Westward, Nothward and up At Crystal Mountain was ‘do not pick wild flowers and do not threaten children’. I like these dictums.

‘The sherpas are of the famous mountain tribe of north-east Nepal, near Namche Bazzar, whose men accompany the ascents of the great peaks: they are Buddhist herders who have come down in recent centuries out of eastern Tibet—sherpa is a Tibetan word for ‘easterner’…

Porters are mostly local men of uncertain occupation and unsteadfast habit, notorious for giving trouble’.

GS, his European travelling companion, sets out on a different goal, to study the autumnal rutting habit of the Bharal, Himalayan blue sheep, to determine whether they were archetypal ‘strange sheep’ or goat in the Land of Dolopo. All but closed to Westerners. With the coming snows and the clock ticking there is a limited window of opportunity in which GS the zoologist and Matthiessen, the biologist, are both primed as much for failure as success. They are an odd couple, who in their different ways shun human company. Yet, they seek the distant companionship and understanding of each other. A different kind of love.

They are short of money and their time window is dictated by heavy snow and the whims of district officials and police. And Matthiesen is 56 years old and does not have the mountain lungs of the porters or sherpas. Physically, he’s not up to it. He’s travelling heavy, rather than light. After over a week of walking in heavy rain they’ve not got as far as they hoped. Everything takes longer.  

‘All the way to heaven is heaven,’ as Saint Catherine of Sienna observed after three years of silence. As Mathiessen and his travelling companions gets away from civilization there are moments of grace.

But the obverse of this, all the way to hell is hell, as they come down, literally and metaphysically.

‘My knees and feet and back are sore, and all my gear is wet. I wear my last dry socks upside down so that the hole in the heal sits on top of my foot; these underpants ripped, must be worn backwards.’

We know, of course, Matthiessen’s quest to see and experience close contact with the snow leopard is doomed, but more cherished spiritual attainment, is putting his battered life in order. He promised his son he’d be home soon, home for Halloween. He knew it was a lie. But needs must.  

Needs always must. Unless you are the Rimpoche, ‘precious one’ and High Lama of Shay, Crystal Monastery. Sitting on his stone terrace facing the Crystal Mountain. Matthiessen hadn’t recognised him when they first met, seeing only a crippled old monk curing clothes in some awful goat-brain mixture. He’s here the second time by invitation. Served sun-dried green yak cheese in a coarse powder, with tsampa and buttered tea, called so-cha served in blue china cups in the mountain sunshine by Takla, the acolyte of Rimpoche. It’s heaven.

Matthiessen politely enquires about the Rimpoche’s isolation, especially with his twisted legs and arthritic bones which make it difficult of the High Lama to get about.

The High Lama, laughs, infectiously.

‘Of course I am happy here. It’s wonderful. Especially when I have no choice.’

The lesson Matthiessen takes from his meeting is acceptance.

Have you seen the snow leopard?

No! Isn’t is wonderful.

But as Matthiessen comes back down to earth, it isn’t so wonderful. All the way to heaven is heaven. All the way to hell is hell. Read on – and ponder.

Simon Sebag Montefiore (2003) Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.

Simon Sebag Monefiore won the British history book of the year with his portrait of Stalin and his followers. They were always one step away from being shot, tortured in the Lubianka, and beaten to death. Their families facing the same fate, or being sent away to the gulags. Stalin only wanted true believers in Stalinism, in Marxism, in Leninism, in his leadership to a mythical Bolshevik and true socialist revolution. Self-taught, a voracious reader of books and men. Stalin saw plots and conspiracies everywhere. If they didn’t exist he would invent them. Yet when Hitler betrayed him and his troops invaded the Soviet Union, Stalin refused to believe he’d been duped, despite countless reports telling the Communist leader the day, Sunday 21st June 1941, Operation Barbarossa would take place. The Great Patriotic War, as the Soviet Leaders termed it, had begun and because its dictator refused to believe, the Soviet Union was unprepared.

The Soviet Union paid in blood. Around 27 million war deaths in the USSR, compared to less than 5.5 million German war deaths. British and American casualties of less than half a million. https://worldwar2-database.blogspot.com/2010/10/world-war-ii-casualties.html. Around two million German women raped in the advance to Berlin.   

Montefiore gives us other rough figures of Stalin and his henchmen’s tyranny. Two famines, constant hunger, ‘perhaps 20 million killed, 28 million deported, of whom 18 million had slaved in the gulags.’

‘Yet,’ Montefiore notes, ‘after so much slaughter, there were still believers’.

When what Churchill termed ‘the iron curtain’ had descended, the Allied nations that had won the war had split, Truman was in the Whitehouse, Labour were in power in Britain and Churchill like his country and the British Empire was bankrupt. America had the atomic bomb they had used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Soviet spies had made copies of their plans and the USSR was the second nuclear power with the explosion of the hydrogen bomb. Two world powers stood nose to nose.

True believers, then, as now, with Putin, suggest all this bloodletting and suffering was necessary. That the Soviet Union wouldn’t have been able to industrialise and mechanise in constant five-year plans and drag a largely rural nation in a short amount of time to face the existential threat of fascism and Hitler’s subjugation of what the Nazi leader thought of an inferior breed of Slavic people.  

Stalin, with his pock-marked face, false teeth and birth to a Georgian drunken father that beat him, and a mother that beat him even harder, would have fitted into the Nazi category on inferior. As it did to the Tsarist forces of Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov, before his abdication, 15th March 1917 and the rise of the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin. Montefiore deals with this in a chapter termed, That Wonderful Times, Stalin and Nadya, 1878-1932. And Montefiore despite the over 600 pages here, deals with it more fully in his book Young Stalin.   

These of course, weren’t wonderful times for all Soviet Citizens. The Politburo’s war against the kulaks, Stalin compared to Ivan the Terrible’s  culling of the boyars. Grain deliveries were taken from the peasants and millions such as those in Ukraine, the former grain basket of Russia, starved and mothers ate children. Montefiore focus is not on this, but in the semi-cult like activity of those close to Stalin, physically close; they lived beside each other and were in and out of each other’s apartments. Stalin allocated each family a car and an allowance. They held elaborate parties and some women dressed in the latest fashions from Paris. George Orwell got it pretty much right in his book, Animal Farm, with the red court of Stalin mimicking that of the late Tsar’s.

In 1922 Lenin effectively appointed Stalin as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. After Lenin’s death, the threat to Stalin’s power came from Leon Trotsky. He didn’t forget or forgive. Laverenti Beria’s present to Stalin was to send assassins to Mexico and on August 1940 they finally succeeded in murdering him.

Beria was ‘one of the talented dirty trick specialists in quiet and quick deaths’. But he was also head of the NKVD, KGB, and SMERSH. He was prepared to torture, rape and murder in person, but also like Stalin to give others their head before torturing and killing them in turn. Stalin trusted no one. He deified his wife Nadya who committed suicide. He’d know her as a three-year-old girl, but courted and married her when she came to work for Lenin. A culprit had to be found and punished for her death.  Incestuous relationships between members of the Politburo were commonplace. Beria’s son, for example, almost married Stalin’s daughter, Svetlania, who called Beria, ‘Uncle Lara’.  

The oafish Nikita Khrushchev who outwitted Beria to become party leader, but was thought be Stalin to be so dumb as not to present much of a threat to his leadership. Stalin sometimes made him dance for his amusement. Stalin slept little and conducted much of the Party business at all night parties where the Politburo members were forced to attend and drink vodka and other spirits. Some became alcoholic. Stalin held meetings in the darkened  ‘Little Corner’ outside his office where he paced and would dictate policy, head to head, no records. Here he orchestrated search for ‘Rightists’, which led to the purging of the old Bolshevik guard and the Moscow Show Trials. Doctors, Jews, Foreigners, there was always another Rightist around the next corner, ready to be denounced in the Little Corner. Khrushchev was personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians.

At the Court of the Red Tsar all members had blood on their hands. And in a note from history the current Tsar, President Vladimir Putin’s grandfather worked as a chef in on of Stalin’s many houses. Before that he’d worked for the Tsar and served Rasputin. He’d served food to Lenin and then Stalin. A former Russian KGB officer is the new Tsar, much like the old Tsar, spreading disinformation and intent on keeping Russia’s place in the sun. Trusting no one is always a good place to begin. Social isolation, monomania, madness. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The saviour destroys what he tries to save. But he can never be proved wrong. World will tumble before that happens. Stalin died aged 73, his courtiers stood outside, waiting, too scared to intervene, to save him.

The Countess and the Russian Billionaire, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, editors Gregg Morgan, Chris Dale.

The Countess and the Russian Billionaire, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, editors Gregg Morgan, Chris Dale.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000h3nt/the-countess-and-the-russian-billionaire

A poignant voice towards the end of this docu-drama told viewers Sergei Pugachev was likely to be down to his last £70 million (or it might have been dollars $70 million). That was to put things into perspective. I’m not sure if we were meant to feel sorry for him. My Russian stretches to nada.   Pugachev had once been worth around $15 billion. He was a Russian oligarch and friend of Vladimir Putin. His portfolio included one of Russia’s largest private banks, shipyards, a coal mine and designer brands. He’d been married but divorced when he employed Countess Alexandra Tolstoy to teach him English.

Tolstoy was still married to Chama Uzikstn, whom she’d met while yomping across Russia on horseback. They were stars of a Russian television series ‘It’ll Never Last’, which proved prophetic. Here we had the English ideal of female beauty celebrated with pale, flawless complexion and rosy cheeks and some dark skinned horseman.

President Putin, Pugachev tells us, wasn’t keen on the Russian oligarch marrying an English rose. Putin told him much the same as he (allegedly) told President Trump that Russia had the most beautiful woman and prostitutes, who could piss on anybody’s bed (perhaps not in that order) even his.  

Pugachev tells us he defied Putin and married Countess Alexandra Tolstoy and they had three children together with houses all over the world. It’s a happy-ever-after scenario. The education of the children taking place in their home in Kensington, London. Here we have the English-language version of ‘It’ll Never Last’.  

Let’s not fall for he married the wrong woman argument. Bill Browder in his book, Red Notice, tell us how he became ‘Putin’s No.1 Enemy’. Pugachev puts himself around Putin’s No. 3 Enemy. He admits he fears with his life. With almost 40 Russian oligarchs dying and the use of  Novichok nerve agent on British soil, and the then British Prime Minster, Teresa May, condemned Russian involvement and naming two Russian agents who had perpetrated the crime, he had good reason.

Post-Soviet Russia after the fall of the Berlin wall was cowboy country in which the Chicago School model attempted to  transform Communism into Capitalism in one big gulp. Browder estimates that around twenty men ‘stole’ around 39% of the economy.  Pugachev was one of these twenty men which took him into the top 1000 richest men in the world (of around 8 billion). 

Putin, the little grey man, was pushed forward by oligarchs and regional gangsters and in January 2000, became President of the Russian Federation.  Pugachev was still part of the inner circle, still friendly with Putin as others grabbed the money and fled abroad. England, and London, offered citizenship at a fixed price of around £2 million, access to the money-laundering capital of the world and access to Conservative politicians. Pugachev remained in Moscow.

Pugachev’s narrative that he married an English rose and defied his old friend Putin, doesn’t hold. His claim that Putin’s agents took over his bank and demanded $240 million, accused him of $100 million tax fraud and threatened to kill him, his wife and children unless he paid up immediately does. Browder reports the same tactics and his Russian manager was imprisoned and beaten to death in a jail cell. The Russian state used English law to call for his deportation back to Russia (similar to the tactic they had used with Browder). Here  Pugachev made a tactical error, his passport was impounded but he fled London to his chateau in France. In absentia, he was jailed for two years for breaking English law.

Here we’re on the English version of it’ll never last. Countess Tolstoy’s parents were related to THE Leo Tolstoy of War and Peace, (perhaps also to the émigré writer and nobleman Alexi Tolstoy favoured by Stalin) and fully supportive of their daughter marrying a Russian billionaire. When things went badly, they remained supportive. Here’s the narrative of the plucky daughter, who although Pugachev was trying to bully her in the same way Putin was trying to bully him into returning home, she would not bend. The lady’s not for turning narrative.

Pugachev had tried to take her passport and imprison her and the children in his chateau in France. Countess Tolstoy said he’d a gun. He was no longer a billionaire, just another millionaire that tried to control his wife and kids and hit her when things went badly. Billionaire wife beater. That sounds about right, although not factually correct.

Countess Tolstoy was paid to appear on Russian telly, the equivalent of Fox News in America, Putin’s channel and confronted with Pugachev’s claim, she wasn’t even a proper Countess.

Fake news turns up everywhere. The wife beating Pugachev remains abroad. Tolstoy returned to Russia in an attempt to make a living. I guess with Covid-19 she’ll be home now. Home being, Kensington, London. Down and out in London and Moscow. George Orwell, eat your heart out.

Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, director Chris McLaughlin.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p081z4hg

Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, tells the story of how he went from spike to spike and from town to town. The hungry and downtrodden were given a few slices of bread and some sweet tea. A bed for the night. Moved onto to anther town.  They were not allowed to settle. Moved on to another town, a circuit of homeless, hungry men and women moving in an ever-expanding circuit of misery. This was the nineteen thirties. The Beveridge Report and full employment meant the citizens of Britain would be taken care of from ‘cradle to grave’.

Fast-forward to the seventies of high unemployment and stagflation. This is my era. I was on the buroo. Can’t say it bothered me much. I’d a home and family. One of my mates who got a diagnosis that suggested he might want to start looking at funeral plans gave me one of those: ‘I’ve worked all my day’s’ speeches beloved of Jeremy Kyle.

I had to stop him.   ‘No, you didnae. You were there when Hamish (R.I.P.) scored a screamer when we the Unemployed club played another club at Milngavie.’

I had to remind him that I’d also been on the Job Creation scheme and I loved it, meeting good people, doing a wee bit and getting paid a wee bit extra.

I knew how the buroo worked and didn’t work. It was part of our non-working life. When I hitchhiked down to London, summer 1984, and moped about for a few days, and slept outside, I remember an advice worker walking across the road near Euston station and talking the DSS into giving me an emergency payment for accommodation.  The DSS system was a patchwork quilt of different benefits.

Read Kerry Hudson’s books  but, in particular Lowborn, to see how the system didn’t work very well, but at least was a safety net for women and children.  Read Sue Townsend’s article in The Guardian to give you a feel of how things were before the safety net was torn away.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/13/adrian-mole-sue-townsend-welfare

Every time I hear the figures for unemployment are continually dropping I listen to a lie. If you’ve read Sue Townsend or Kerry Hudson’s books, you’ll know that mothers suffer most from any changes to the benefit system. Townsend had to wait a week to get paid. Those were the good old days. Nowadays we can be talking three months.  We didn’t used to have foodbanks. Now we do. For those that begin the day in debt and end the day in even greater debt to be told their claim will be sorted in three months is beyond rational belief.

250 000 officially homeless in England, 130 000 of them children. By 2023 an estimated seven million people will, according to government reports, rely on Universal Credits.

 Universal Credit (UC) is based on the American model of deterrence. Welfare is a dirty word. People claiming are held at arm’s length by overworked staff. Universal Credit gave us the Windrush scandal. In order to qualify for benefits people have to prove who they are. Claimants have to have the right bits of paper, or else not only will they not receive any delayed benefits. They may also be deported.

Universal Credit also has a housing benefit element. Often the largest part of the payment to the claimant. Bureaucratic delay can often lead to landlords not being paid on time, or at all. Because the housing benefit is paid directly to the ‘customer’ to pay to his/her landlords such as housing associations also lose income, because people simply spend the money allocated (their benefits) and don’t pay their rent. The old system of paying the landlord directly helped those that couldn’t handle money, but it also helped agencies such as housing associations to continue with their work.

If we look at Declan, for example, who has been made homeless and is sleeping in a park—nobody cares. Or Ernie, who lives in the flats in Dalmuir without electricity and is reliant on foodbanks, but is expected to go online and jobsearch for 40 hours a week. The chances of that happening are zilch. He has no phone. No mobile. One sanction follows another. His money is stopped. He appeals and during the appeal process is given a little money.  Nobody cares. It’s top-down government policy based on stripping away any rights the poorest of the poor have to a life. This is us now.

The Social Security Staff that used to sit behind screens no longer exist. It’s an open-plan office and they are now just as poorly paid as Townsend’s time but are now called job coaches. Most of the misery lifting is done before their clients of customers come in the door. Job coach’s job is to sell a lie. Their job is to sanction customers. Their job is to make sure those that can’t work are made so miserable they no longer attend their office or they find work—of any kind.  Their job is to make sure they have a job, because they know the alternative. The down on their luck story is no longer an option.

We used to have a system of carrot and stick. Neil Couling, director general of Universal Credit the person responsible for keeping the reforms to benefits on course will give us the usual party line. Now it’s no carrot and works by using the stick. Let me paraphrase Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk,  who when duty called walked in circles and agreed to everything and having no idea,  had a fair idea how the system was supposed to work for the patriot and little person.

There’s no doubting that a good officer had the perfect moral duty to beat his batman to death to enforce discipline and doing so twice was to be commended. And military doctors had a perfect moral duty to root out malingerers that feigned blindness and deafness and having only one leg by starving and beating and forced purging which killed many and cured others. Recent estimates suggest 5000 people die while awaiting their appeal for sickness benefit, which is rolled into the umbrella term, UC.

Universal Credit gives beating of a different kind, but no less harmful. No one with oodles of cash was hurt in the making of this policy. George Orwell would have recognised it at once. Class war.

Shaun Bythell (2017) The Diary of a Bookseller.

bythell.jpg

Remember them, booksellers before Amazon? On 1st Septmeber 1962, 250 000 Glaswegians gathered in the driving rain to pay homage to the last run of the tram cars. Who will honour our booksellers?

Shaun Bythwell likes being his own boss. He is the owner of The Bookstore in Wigtown, which he bought in November 2001. His employees like him too, which makes him one of the good guys. Amazingly I’ve heard of the Wigtown Book Festival. His bookstore is the second biggest independent in Scotland and his diary dates from 2014 when the nation had a vote on Independence. We lost, but maybe next time. Shaun is still there.

George Orwell also had a job selling books. His ‘Bookshop Memories’ acts as a counterweight to Bythwell’s diary musings. Here in February 2015, for example, Orwell writes of his experience during the nineteen thirties:

The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours of work are very long – I was only a part-time employee, but my employer put in a seventy hour week, apart from constant expeditions to buy books – and it is an unhealthy life.

Selling books is one of those jobs I could imagine doing. The thrill of the chase, the knowing and not knowing what you will find in the next book haul which Bythell experiences. But the long hours and the bad back hauling books. 172 000 miles on clock of his old van. 100 000 books in the shop. Nah, doesn’t sound that great. What is harder to imagine is how Bythell makes a living.

Amazon, of course, are like the orcs invading Middle Earth. ‘Cut-throat and barbaric’ notes Bythell in November 2014. An earlier entry 9th September states Amazon sells books cheaper, ‘for less than the cover price’. No book store can compete with that. No publisher can resist Amazon’s advance. No writer, with the exception of James Patterson, who campaigns against them, can fall out with Amazon. Amazon’s unique selling point is we’re cheap, but at what cost?

An analogy here is with Blythwell and his (ex-) wife Anna arguing against windfarms on Wigton Bay in a place dependent, almost totally, on tourism. Thursday, 22nd January:

At 4.30 p.m. a friend [who] lives right in the middle of the proposed site and estimates that if it goes ahead it will reduce the value of his house to almost nothing.

Scotland’s future, I believe, the future of an independent Scotland lies not in the black, black oil of the North Sea or the fossil fuels, but in renewable energy, wind and wave, but the land is owned by a handful of people with the murky past of the aristocracy. Here we have one of the smaller breeds of orcs, the developer of the proposed wind farm.

19th Janury…began by telling me, ‘I’m not here to try and change your mind’, then spent the next three hours trying to change my mind. Anna was very impressive dealing with him, asking how much he was going to get paid for allowing them to build on his land (over three times what the rest of community will receive each year) and whether he would be able to see them from any of the properties on his estate. He looked at the floor and sheepishly admitted that he would not be visible from any of the numerous properties he owns.

Standard bookish and Amazon fare, one guy gets paid more than the entire community, moves his money offshore, pays no taxes, but moans about it being too much and asks for a block discount, and doesn’t have to live with the monstrosity that he benefits from. Aye, right.

The leaven in the books is provided not by the customers, but mainly by Nicky, an employee who seems more like a member of Bythell’s extended family.

Friday 28th November: Nicky decided to stay the night so we could drink beer and gossip. Predictably we both drank too much. I offered her a bottle of Corncrake’s Ale and told me she doesn’t like any beer that has a bird’s name in it. This is the kind of logic that she applies to all her decision making.

Till total £62.50

5 customers.

I was surprised to read in the epilogue that Nicky had left The Bookstore for a job with Keystore ‘closer to her hovel’. Shaun Bythell split up with Anna, but they remain friends and The Bookstore goes from strength to strength. Ahh, a happy ending. Read on.

whose party is it in 2018 anyway, Willow?

baby kerr.jpg

To my niece Willow, I was born on the 10th December 1962. Fifty-five years ago not only was my mum Jean alive, but she had given birth and was nursing me back to health somewhere in darkest Braeholm. I wasn’t expected to live. I don’t remember the reasons why.  Yeh, we showed them mum. What we showed them I’m not really sure. I’m nearer death than birth now. Life is the miracle. And I’m not likely to forget you birthday, Willow. It’s also the 10th December.  And as the Bible, book of Timothy, suggests ‘We brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it’.

So baby Willow, I’m 55 years older than you, let’s play a game in which you sit wherever you are in 55 years’ time and look back and tell me what the world looks like. I don’t remember any of this but we had the Cuban Missile Crisis and later the assassination of the President John F Kennedy. I’m hoping you don’t remember President Donald J Trump. Shakespeare knew his villains intimately. He portrayed Richard of Gloucester  as ‘the bottled spider’, vainglorious, treacherous, ruthless murderer and usurper, but nobody’s fool. President Donald J Trump is everybody’s fool. His claim to fame is dropping ‘the mother of all bombs’ in Afghanistan and taking money from poor people and giving it to the rich. I’m not sure why bombs are called mothers. But I hope Willow you see your fifth birthday. Like me, I hope you sleep securely through threats of Armageddon and nuclear winter and the world keeps turning.

Prospero and Brave New World and the closer we get to utopia the closer we get to dystopia is something you’re going to have to live with Willow.  George Orwell, I guess got it nearly right with his three shifting blocs. The axis of the world is shifting and I’d guess China is where America was before the start of the First World War. Perhaps there will be a transition, such as Fritz Laing’s Metropolis, but the future is one in which we are equal but some are more equal than others. Deep machine learning and the use of pattern recognition software will serve your needs before you know what they are. Your body will no longer be your own. Behaviour will be monitored.  Healthy and wealthy will be conflated into flawless new bodies and flawless new babies in smart cities.

‘Hoist with his own petard.’ I’m of average intelligence and can guess what that means. I google it and see it’s from Hamlet.  But intelligence will no longer have any meaning. Machine learning how to play the game ‘Go’ shows it is possible to beat intuition as it is possible to surpass the logic of the best human chess players. Machines will be connected to other machines and humans will be part of that loop. Just as the Wright brothers took off in their flimsy craft, flew and crashed it was possible to predict air flight, quantum machines no longer need to play humans to master the precepts of ‘Go’. Machines play themselves and work out first principles. When, and if, deep learning machines master the problem of consciousness then humans need no longer be in the loop. That’s a different kind of Armageddon.

Willow, what we do know for sure is machines will do most, if not all, of the work we take for granted. How many angels fit on a pinhead? How many doctorates can fit on a subatomic particle? Masters of pattern recognition predict the future and make it happen. Energy usage will be the only transferable currency. All that green crap, waves, wind, water and sun will be the stopgap until the machines figure out something better. Nature will be a treasure trove of a different kind. Picked apart for its lessons and reconstructed. The sea will be harvested as the earth has been.

‘Gentleman, it’s your duty to make yourself rich!’ says one of Anthony Trollope’s characters in The Way We Live Now. It’s your duty to make everyone else poor. Make the world warmer and vast tracts of land uninhabitable. That’s not what Trollope said, but we’ve had our Silent Spring moment with Trump’s refusal to sign the Paris Accord and Global Warming Agreement on fossil fuels. No one can make the super rich do what they want to do. Monopoly holders of data work by their own rules.

But the problem of making everyone else poor, with no work and no surplus value, as they’d say in Marxist ideology is when everyone’s poor and wealth accumulates with the super rich as Thomas Picketty showed in his constant rate of return in his model of Capitalism is stagnation. Not enough money to buy all these surplus goods. But, of course, there’ll be no money. Not as a store of value, but as a shifting energy equation, this will be related to land use and global warming. The problem will be how to find new ways of punishing the poor for being poor.

What is materially damaging to the rich will in an Orwellian way be regarded as an attack on equality of accord.  But I lack the scrivener’s art, the means to look into the future Willow. When I was growing up in the 1970s I never imagined the internet, but neither did I imagine Britain regressing to a state where the poor need to go to a church hall to get food to last them a few days, nor that so many children would be living in sub-standard housing and poverty. Four in ten children. I expected things to get better and I hope you’re not one of them. Outside this shiny vision of the end of scarcity is a dystopian vision. When poverty because a digital country and not an economic and social relationship then that’s where we’ll all live and only the rich will float above it.  We come into the world with nothing. We go out of the world with nothing, Willow it is compassion which makes us fully human. Live in the here and now and not in a simulation of now. That’s a different kind of Armageddon. The church my mum brought me up in called it limbo. It was a sin to be truely selfish.  Put yourself out on a limb, Willow. Dare to be you and not a slice of identifiable code.