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.

Storyville, Facing Franco’s Crimes, The Silence of Others, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Directors and Producers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000bynq/storyville-facing-francos-crimes-the-silence-of-others

What is justice?

Here’s a narrative of a statue of Christ in Spain, Italy, Germany, England or sunny California in which the hands get lopped off, a bomb, a bullet or vandalism.   St Teresa of Avila, who founded an order of Carmelites nuns in her native Spain, declared Christ has no hands but ours. That was the message.

Here’s another story. Sculptures by Francesco Cedenilla, human figure set high in the mountains of El Torno in Extremadura to represent the hundreds of thousands ‘disappeared’ under the Franco regime, statues shot up by right-wing supporters of neo-fascism. Cedenilla declared that the bullet holes completed his work.

History is written by the victors.

General Franco army and militias with the support of fellow fascist dictators Hitler and Mussolini seized control of Spain during the Civil War 1936-1939. 500 000 or more Spanish citizens fled across the border, mainly into France. The war didn’t end in Spain nor did it end in 1939, Franco unlike his fellow fascist dictators did not give up power, but held onto it until his death in 1975. Under his regime 187 concentration camps were still open for business and hundreds of thousands tortured and disappeared. Tens of thousands babies stolen from their mothers at birth and given up for adoption without consent.  

The Pact of Forgetting was an attempt to put the past behind them and move on. It was ratified in the Spanish Parliament in 1977 and a general amnesty entailed. We see similar and more recent cases in, for example, South Africa, Northern Ireland and Rwanda.

Robert Harris’s Fatherland plays with this narrative. Hitler, like Franco has won the war and the Nazi leader is going to meet the American President John F Kennedy. This may seem farfetched but Franco, of course, did meet with Nixon, the Pope and most other right-wing world leaders. But in this narrative a lowly officer in the Kripo, the German criminal police, investigates the killing of Nazi officials who took part in the Wannsee Conference in 1942.  That was where the Final Solution was ratified. Hitler did not attend. Six million Jews and millions of other nationalities were killed. The world knows nothing of this and by bumping off those that attended the conference and cleaning up the concentration camps Hitler’s crimes can be righted by the disappearance of the witnesses to history.  

Franco’s victims had no voice and certainly no Nuremberg show trial. Maria Martin was a child during the Civil War. One of seven living in a little village in Castalia La Mancha. Her mother was taken from the fields, her head shaven and murdered by locals that accused her of being a ‘red’, ‘disappeared’, her body found naked. They killed 27 men and three women, including her mother. She recalled how afterwards older children threw stones at her. Later when she started leaving flowers at the side of the road where her mother’s nude body was found, villagers made signals that they’d slit her throat too. Official letters were returned telling her she’d be next if she didn’t stop pestering them with request to return her mum’s body for a proper funeral so she could be laid to rest.  

Or the case of ‘Chato’, whose torturer, ‘Billy the Kid,’ lived a few streets from him. Chato tells us how his friend was shot in the head by the police in 1968. He was taken to prison and some days beatings took place for 13 hours, his legs, his genitals, his feet. ‘Billy the Kid’ retired on a state pension to run marathons in Spain and New York.

Carlos Slepoy (now deceased) over a six year period, documents how victims attempts to bring those that had tortured them, stole their babies or killed their father and mothers were stymied by the Spanish state at the highest levels. How elderly victims had to take out an international lawsuit and take their case to Argentina to be heard. The Silence of Others, with some success, dares to challenge the status quo using the case of the Chilean dictator, General Pinochet, as a precedent.  For justice to prevail crimes against humanity must be heard. Bashar al-Assad, and other world leaders should be worried should such a legal precedent become universal. There’s a certain irony in Argentina were a military junta ruled for so many years is selling itself as the new Nuremberg. Truth is no stranger to justice unless, like St Teresa’s statue of Christ the Redeemer, our mouth stays shut, our voice goes unheard.        

Lorna Byrne (2010) Angels in My Hair.

angels in my hair.jpg

I think I’ve read this good book before. I get that sometimes. Words wash over me and through me and I’m not really reading, although I am. For the record, I read ‘The International Bestseller’ a few weeks ago, again, or not again (as this might have been the first time). Just to remind myself, where I look at words every day, Lorna Byrne sees angels. (I don’t know if Angels is a proper noun, or is it a bit like cows or sheep? No capital letter?) Here’s the rub, I believe she does see angels.

Seventy-seven percent of Americans believe in Angels and I’m not American. Probably ninety-six percent of them voted for the moron’s moron. Around seven percent of the UK population attend Christian worship. We are an agnostic nation, verging on the atheist and that’s just the way I like it. I can witter on about cognitive dissonance, or Schrodinger’s cat, but the truth is I’m with Eva Lowenthal in that I find it quite easy to believe that ‘evil does exist’. Lowenthal was secretary to the Reich Nazi Propaganda Minster, Joseph Goebbels from 1933 to 1945 and she observed first-hand how under the right conditions evil flourishes. I read about how Alabama is trying to shut all abortion clinics and outlaw abortions, even in the case of incest or rape and that to me is an evil perpetuated on poor, mainly, black women. I hear about a five-year-old girl trafficked and taken into care in Glasgow, with no nails, kept in a box and raped. And I want to kill. To hurt. To maim. I’ve no problem believing in the reality of evil. Or even the devil. I’ve got a problem with religion and a problem with God.

Probably, the best definition of religion is the Dali Lama’s, my religion is kindness.

That makes me smile.

Karen Armstrong in her introduction to A History of God, summarises how I feel.

As a child, I had a number of strong religious beliefs but little faith in God. There is a distinction between belief as a set of propositions, and faith which enables us to put our trust in them. I believed implicitly in the existence of God; I also believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the efficacy of the sacraments, the prospect of eternal damnation and the objective reality of Purgatory. I cannot say, however, that my believe in these religious opinions about the nature of ultimate reality gave me much confidence that life here on earth was good or beneficent. The Roman Catholicism of my childhood was a rather frightening creed.

Richard Holloway, like Karen Armstrong, was a cleric and walked away but gives us an insider view of the box-ticking religion. They could no longer trust God and no longer believed in God. Holloway’s favourite novel Andre Schwartz Bartz, The Last of the Just, has a hero Ernie Levy on a train destined for Auschwitz telling consolatory lies to children about the kingdom of God. That sounds like a good fit. A good way of describing religion.

Lorna Byrne, like the fictional hero, describes our world in the opening chapter: ‘Through Different Eyes’.

When I was two years old the doctor told my mother I was retarded.

As a baby, my mother noticed I always seemed to be in a world of my own. I can even remember lying in a cot – a big basket – and seeing my mother bending over me. Surrounding my mother I say wonderful bright, shiny beings in all the colours of the rainbow; they were so much bigger than I was, but smaller than her, about the size of a three year old child. These beings floated in the air like feathers and I remember reaching out to touch them, but I never succeeded. I remember being fascinated by these creatures with their beautiful lights…angels.

I’m not one of those people that can remember being a kid. I certainly don’t remember being in my pram. I can remember being scared of trains coming into Dalmuir station, that somehow the wheels would suck me under. Sorry, no angels, apart from my mum.

Moses and the burning bush. Jesus in the desert. Buddha under the tree. Muhammed in the cave. All saw and heard things beyond themselves. Holloway describes this as a kind of psychosis. Hearing voices and seeing things. What made them real was their ability to convince others that what they experienced was true.

Here’s the testing, here’s the knowledge gained, here is salvation. God does not take kindly to being questioned if we follow the precepts of the Book of Job… Where were you when I created the universe?

Well, according to Lorna Byrne, she was in heaven and she has been tested by Satan himself, she has met with the Virgin Mary and Archangels Michael and Gabriel, been tutored by the Prophet Elijah, she has met the Son of God and I’m sure there’ll be a place in heaven for her.

I’m not too sure about myself and the rest of humanity. We read our own belief into others. I recognise the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the possibility of runaway global warming and nuclear winter. I know that’s an oxymoron. Evil does exist. That I know, I’m not so good at the good stuff. Lowenthal, aged 103, said something quite profound. ‘There is no justice’. She could just as easily be working for the antichrist Trump, bookended by the fundamental Christian Right and Vice President Mike Pence. There, I’ve done it now. A victim of my own verbosity. As soon as you mention antichrist and  Hitler you lose the argument. But here’s the rub again. Hitler could not wipe out humanity. Trump has the devil’s own pride. You don’t have to be able to see angels to notice it.

We can call on The Angel of Belief. The Angel of Strength. The Angel of Courage. The Angel of Miracles. The Angel of Patience. God knows we need a Guardian Angel and all the help we can get to avoid Armageddon. I believe that. The message of religion is quite a simple one. What matters isn’t yesterday, or tomorrow, but now. What matters is this moment. Hope in the now.  May my religion be kindness too.

 

Svetlana Alexievich (1985, 2017) The Unwomanly Face of War, translated by Richard Pewar and Larissa Volokhonsky.

svetalna.jpg

Books are holy relics and none more so than this love letter to the lost. The Great Patriotic War as it is sold to the Russian people by the capitalist oligarchs is something to which they can hold on to. Something to which they can be proud. Forget the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and Stalin’s deal with Hitler and the division of Eastern European countries such as Poland. Forget the millions killed in countries such as the Ukraine by Stalin’s policy of mass- starvation ‘Death-by-hunger’ when parents ate their children. The Second World War started in earnest for the USSR with Operation Barbarossa on Sunday, 22 June 1941 with the Nazis attacked their former allies looking for a swift victory. Stalin and the USSR held on at Leningrad.  Twenty million Russians died. Think of that for a second. Millions more mutilated.

These are the fragmented memories of a forgotten race. Women who fought in the war. Women who survived and had to remain silent, because it was a man’s war. And women who fought were not real women, but front-line whores. There is a heart for love and a heart for hate. Many remember a sign by the side of the road when entering German territory for the first time, crosses. ‘Here she is accursed Germany.’

Fragments.

SUDDENLY WE WANTED DESPARATELY TO LIVE

Tamara Stepanovna Umnyagina

Junior Sergeant in The Guards, Medical Assistant.

I already went barefoot. What did I see? The train station near Mogilev was being bombarded. And there was a train carrying children. They started throwing them through the window, little children – three or four years old. There was a forest nearby, so they ran towards the forest. The German tanks drove out and the tanks drove over the children. There was nothing left of those children.

Bella Isakovna Epstein,

Sergeant, Sniper

I came back different…For a long time I had an abnormal relation with death. Strange I would say…

They were inaugurating the first streetcar in Minsk, and I rode on the streetcar. Suddenly the streetcar stopped, everybody shouted, women cried. ‘A man’s been killed!’ And I sat alone in the car. I couldn’t understand why everybody was crying.

Albina Alexandrovna Gantimurova

Sergeant Major, Scout

Berlin…a boy came running towards me with a submachine gun—a Volksssturm. The war was already over. The last days. My hand was on my submachine gun. Ready. He looked at me, blinked and burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it—I was in tears, too. I felt sorry for him; there was this kid standing with his stupid submachine gun. And I shoved him towards a wrecked building, under the gateway: ‘Hide,’ I said…He took my hand. He cried! I patted his head.

Fragments of the past make our present. Read on.

 

 

Richard Holloway (2018) Waiting For The Last Bus: Reflections on Life and Death.

last bus holloway.jpg

Psalm 90:10 King James Version (KJV)

 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

 

Richard Holloway is in his nineties, a bit older than the biblical fourscore years and he’s still waiting for that last bus. It’s a regular service. If he misses it, another is sure to follow. Life may be an unequal race, but in the end, we all end up  in a dead end. Holloway is agnostic, which means he’s just not sure and if it really matters. I guess that matches my own inarticulate beliefs.

Holloway when he was around my age was Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and even then he wasn’t sure he believed in the risen Christ, or the idea of God. He had doubts, as all good men had. It’s all there in his marvellous biography, Leaving Alexandria.

And he’s written a stack of other books about morality and religion and dabbles in poetry and music. His muse is his life and reading and ‘The Last Bus’ is an extension of Leaving Alexandria, the postscript before he becomes a postscript.

He talks about the faith he had in the pills advertised in Church Illustrated around 1958 that cured baldness, which he purchased, but went bald anyway.  The only known cure after than was combing back to front and trusting in a fair wind and the myopia of others. There’s a metaphor and lesson there somewhere and it is this, the human animal is cursed and blessed with self-awareness and self-consciousness. The secret is acceptance.  The consolation is as we get older ‘vanity and self-consciousness fade away’.  That’s the theory.

More difficult is when we can see the last bus and knowing there’s only one stop ahead of us, there’s no future in front of us and our past is behind us. He quotes Philip Larkin:

‘And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true’.

Holloway calls for gratitude, not for death, but for life and the beauty of the world. His polemic extends to the medical profession who keep us alive when all joy is gone.

When in doubt, make a documentary about is as Louis Theroux does in the state of California and the land of the free, in Altered States, Choosing Death.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bshjrp/louis-theroux-altered-states-2-choosing-death

Here we have a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. We have a man who is grateful for the life he has lived and chooses death and takes the lethal overdose a doctor had provided. He dies with his family beside him. A terminally-ill woman does not take the lethal overdose but dies of natural causes, in other words, cancer. Whether that a better end, who knows?

The ugly face of death is here, in a group called Exit. This is something Holloway recognises in his long years of religious life and strive, the fanatic, who is always right. Theroux follows this man and woman as they prep an elderly woman in a wheelchair about the best way to kill herself. She is terminally ill and has early onset dementia, her life partner, her arms and legs, her quality of life, had died with him.

Theroux is too smug to be a devil’s advocate, but here I felt there were more push factors than the pull of death. She didn’t want to lose her house, she couldn’t afford medical care and her arguments were about money.

Nobody really cares said the Exit advocate, apart from the immediate family of the dying. And he was right, I agreed with him. She’d end up living in a twelve-by-eight room with another resident if she was taken into state care. There’s a lack of light here, but no lack of clarity. His co-Exit partner agreed with him. Her argument was that was just the way it is.

We know that over 600 000 people in the United States last year were made bankrupt because of their medical bills, but that’s when the bad becomes the sad and we’re in the slippery slope argument beloved of fanatics of a different sort. I’ve been reading about how euthanasia programmes in Hitler’s Germany were first set up in hospitals by Himmler and rolled out across the conquered nations for ‘mouths unworthy of life’. This is a dilute Exit version in California and here is the evidence, when we start talking about money, we’re taking about empty mouths. Let’s not kid ourselves and call it something else. Certainty is man’s most dangerous weapon.

But certainty, like black holes and religion is plural and not singular. Holloway quotes the French mystic, Blaise Pascal.

FIRE: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars.

Death’s imperative does not go away and it’s always personal. We’re all waiting for that last bus, if we don’t get hit by a train first. Too late, too late, our regrets take us places we don’t want to go. Holloway quotes the words of the poet A.S.J. Tessimond god, or the ultimate reality will meet us wherever we are and however we have made of ourself.

He gives you time in heaven to do as you please,

To climb love’s gradual ladder by slow degrees

Gently to rise from sense to soul, to ascend

To a world of timeless joy, world without end.

 

 

Laurent Binet (2012) HHhH translated from the French by Sam Taylor

HHhH.jpg

I had a theory that HHhH stood for Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, but I wasn’t sure who or what the other H stood for. I wasn’t sure why three of the H were capitalised and one wasn’t. I was wrong in the right way. Hitler, Fuhrer, number one in the Reich, Himmler perhaps with the largest powerbase and his number two, but it was Herr Reinhard Heydrich who was ‘killer bureaucrat’ and gloried in being known as ‘the most dangerous man in the Reich’ who fancied ousting his boss and  being number two, or possibly (whisper it) even number one.

We can talk of power behind the throne or  Himmler Hirn heisst Heydrich HHhH (Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich).

I don’t know if Heydrich did fancy being number two, or even number one and supplanting Hitler. That’s speculation, or as they say in some terrible telly drama, this was based on true events. Binet admits to knowing some of the facts, but not all of the time. He’s good at pointing out when fact becomes factional, or in plainer terms fiction. And it’s a wonderful guide, a kind of how to write a historical novel.

Fiction writers such as Julian Barnes begin writing a biography of Gustave Flaubert and ask difficult questions like why does the colour of Madame Bovary’s eyes change during the narration of Madame Bovary? Is this intentional or a textual error so unlike master craftsman Flaubert as akin to an adolescent putting his shoes on the wrong feet. This is Barnes’s jumping off point to writing something that is neither fact nor fiction, neither true nor false, Flaubert’s Parrot.

Binet does not parrot the facts of what we know, but covers the whys and why nots of those grey areas in which novelists grow like toadstools and show the before and after of Heydrich’s assassination, on the 4th June 1942 in Prague and the mass murder of the citizens of Lidice, the razing of buildings, the salting of the ground.

I still don’t have the book that Heydrich wife wrote after the war, Leben mit einen Kreigversbrecher (‘Living with a War Criminal’ in English, although the book has never been translated). I imagine it would be a mine of information, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on it.

Here he tells the reader about a night he spent watching a documentary about General Patton.

The documentary consists entirely of showing extracts from the film, then interviewing witnesses who explain, ‘In fact it wasn’t really like that…’ He didn’t take on two Messerschmidts that were machine-gunning the base, armed only with his Colt…He didn’t make such-and-such a speech to the whole army, but in private, and besides, he didn’t actually say that…He didn’t disobey orders and take Palermo…He certainly didn’t tell a Russian General to go fuck himself…So, basically, the film is about a fictional character whose life is strongly inspired by Patton’s, but clearly isn’t him. And yet the film is called Patton. And that doesn’t shock anybody.

It might have if it was called Patton’s Parrot. Binet’s intention is to write the truth about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich and the reprisals which followed and it’s all there early in the text in Chapter 6 when he enters the church crypt in which the assassins died fighting to the last with 700 SS guards outside.

The props are there for the unfolding story told in the bullet holes in the vaulted ceiling, (here, I, the blog writer, am using fictional means to keep you the reader entertained, you don’t really need to know this)

There were photographs of the parachutists’ faces, with a text written in Czech and English. There was a traitor’s name and a raincoat. There was a poster of a bag and a bicycle. There was a Stern submachine guy (which jammed at the worst possible moment) [standing facing Heydrich and his driver when the car has slowed and stopped] All of this was actually in the room. But there was something else here, conjured by the story I read, that existed only in spirit…

Binet sets out to wrestle with that spirit and tell the story of the assassination and in exploring his own inadequacies somehow he makes the story more human, more believable, and more true. This is why HHhH won the prestigious Prix Goncourt and other awards. Not bad for a debut novel that is not a novel. Bravo.

 

 

Storyville, Jailed in America, BBC 4, BBCiPlayer, 10pm director and narrator Roger Ross Williams.

jailed in america.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bn6tr3/storyville-jailed-in-america

Roger Ross Williams recalled the time he first attended school in his home town of Easton, Pennsylvania and a white kid called him ‘nigger’. The white kid’s mum chastised him and told him not to do that or he would come and burn their house down. Here we are in Trump’s America, before the moron’s moron got to play at being presidential. Here we are in Trump’s America where $265 billion of Federal funds is annually allocated to jail 1 in 3 black men. As profits grown year on year, costs are cut. The quantity and quality of food, for example, for the richest nation on earth, would shame any third-world country – and it’s getting worse. A prison system that jails 2.2 million of its citizens, more incarcerations than every other nation combined. A prison system that is predicated on a simple model of taking money from the poor, incarcerating them and giving the tax dollars to the rich. Jim Crow didn’t go away, he just grew up in a different way.

Here is Ross William’s personal account of what happens to black men that don’t make it, like his old school friend, Tommy Alvin that committed suicide, leaving a daughter behind. We learn he had mental health problems, as do an estimated 67% of prisoners. Alvin was kept in a bubble, a type of transparent cage in a penitentiary for those on suicide watch. He was given a paper suit to wear.

Nothing I saw in this programme surprised me, apart from what seems to me the naïve belief of those like Adam Foss, an activist that attempts to re-educate the 31 000 public prosecutors about the real cost of jailing black people that if they knew the facts their attitude would change. It reminded me of stories of if the king only knew how us peasants suffered he’d be sure to act. If Hitler only knew how us poor Germans suffered he’d be sure to act. If Trump, the moron’s moron only knew…he’d be delighted. Not that he’d ever watch a documentary like this.

Karl Marx’s theory of surplus value shows exactly how important ‘worthless’ prison labour is to the economy. We did have one governor explaining to us ignorant viewers how it works, because in the real world prisoners don’t pay for their food, they don’t pay for their healthcare and they don’t pay rent. Slave owners on plantations used the same argument, it led to civil war. Here we are met with generalised indifference.

Marx, who knew a thing or two about propaganda, has a message from the past, for successful filmmakers like Ross Williams:

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it. [italics my own].

Here we are preaching to the converted.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Amen, to the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) who foresaw this mockery of natural justice.

 

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.

 

Richard Holloway (2012) Leaving Alexandra. A Memoir of Faith and Doubt. Richard Holloway (2016) A Little History of Religion.

I guess I should review these books individually, but it’s my blog, I have god-like powers and can do anything I want. I asked Richard Holloway to sign my book, which is his autobiographical writing, when he visited Dalmuir library. He asked me what I wanted him to write in the flyleaf, I said that book you were talking about earlier, Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just because I wanted to read it. I’m with the Society of Friends on this one, no kowtowing. No bended knee. Books are holy things. But what they mean that’s a mystery. Perhaps a blessed mystery.

A Little History of Religion has the merit of being little.  There’s not a lot of love there, references to divine love, followed by divine genocide, but the common feature of both books is a movement from faith to doubt. Richard Holloway is a prolific author. He is a former Bishop of Edinburgh, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Gresham Professor of Divinity. A theist believes in God. An atheist doesn’t believe in God. And an agnostic believe in both view. I’m a bit like that, only worse, or better, depending on your point of view. Richard Holloway’s autobiography, in particular, is a beautiful book because it is true. True to who he is now and compassionate towards who he was. Wisdom often takes a lifetime. Perhaps it never comes. And some religions that believe in the merits (and demerits) of reincarnation believes it may take lifetimes. I’m in no hurry to find out the truth.

The commonalities of both Holloway’s books are a belief not in doubt but in faith. The most dangerous kind of hate is certainty. The latest example is Trumpism, a back to the wall beleaguered party that triumphs against all the odds. This is combined with revanchist call for revenge against all those against them. Mary Queen of Scots for example had John Knox and his followers singing outside her window and shouting you’re getting it hen, as soon as we’ve got it. And they were right, but it took three blows of the axe, making her suffer first. She was going to hell anyway, or heaven, if you were a good Catholic.  The Plains Indians danced their feet off, but the white man wasn’t covered in ash, although Holloway does acknowledge buffaloes did come back, not so the Indians. Of course, the Palestinians on the West Bank shouldn’t be there because God bequeathed that land to the Israelites and everybody else is an interloper, because God can’t be wrong and no international laws or treaties can make that right. The Promised Land means The Promised Land. Move pal. Or else.  Just the same as Trump can’t be wrong because he is considered so right about making America great again. Anybody that have doubts is getting it. First on the hate list, China, second, Russia, next up the rest of the world. On bended knee we must come and return to a past that never existed to pay homage.

It’s not Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao or indeed Emperor Nero that provides the template for certainty among uncertainty but Nick Bostrom in his book Superintelligence. When the robots or whatever you want to call them figure out –very quickly – that the humans they are ostensibly serving aren’t very smart then they become gods. But even Gods have uncertainties, moments of doubt. These superintelligent robots will use all the earth and its distant stars capacities to reduce uncertainty to a point where it becomes absurd, in human terms, not that there will be any need for humans. But all religions are absurd, but they have a logic to them.

Holloway preaches a message of love. A parable he frequently uses is the parable of the blind man and the elephant. I attributed this to Rumi, but I may be wrong. Each clutches a trunk, an ear, a leg and describes what they feel and what they see. All are telling the truth of what they perceive. But when partial truth become the whole truth each sect goes to war over their vision and allows no dissent. A tusk can never be an ear, because God does not allow such things.

Note the righteousness of religion. It can never be wrong, because God cannot be wrong. A tautology that is rarely taught. Another parable Holloway is fond of is the Good Samaritan.

A man fell among thieves who left him naked and unconscious on a dangerous and deserted road. A priest came along followed by his assistant. They were good men who wanted to help, but their religion prevented it…Next along is a Samaritan, one of the races Jews were forbidden to associate with. His religion has the same prohibitions as theirs.

Both men are religious in their own one, but only one is compassionate as God is compassionate. And it’s a common refrain in Holloway’s writing, ‘the institution that claims to represent God can easily become God’s greatest enemy’. Amen to that.

Another parable Holloway favours is Matthew’s parable of workers in the vineyard all coming at different times and being paid the same rate of pay. God’s like that Holloway is saying and we don’t really understand Him (although He might be a She, but is never an It). If you don’t believe me, he says, read Job. According to scripture God gets into a bet with the devil and lots of bad things happen to Job, including losing his wife and family, all his wealth and suffering from endless and painful diseases. What makes it worse is ‘Job’s comforters’. They seem to have all the answers, but when God appears he’s not happy (God is never happy, or he doesn’t appear) and his standard stick is ‘my wrath is kindled against you and your two friends…’ I guess that means hell and everlasting damnation. But God is good to Job. He stops torturing him. And he gives him a new family and even greater wealth. Holloway is good at this bit. Basically, he’s saying what anyone with common sense would say, ‘fuck off, god, I liked my old family, even the smelly dog.’ And I’m with Holloway with this one if Abraham agreed to sacrifice his son, well, there’s something a bit sick about that.

Holloway’s call for a godless morality might be beyond us, for the very good reason we might not be here much longer. I don’t believe in the rapture. I believe in the apocalypse of greed and gross stupidity. Oh, well, I guess, our parents have been saying the same things for years. Things ain’t the way they used to be. I’m sure I’ll look good as a dead person. Go on, with your god-like powers, use that line from The Life of Brian. ‘We’re all individuals!’

Voice from the back of the crowd, ‘I’m not.’

America’s Mussolini: Donald J Trump.

benito with hair.jpg

Hyperbole: hyperbole

hʌɪˈpəːbəli/Submit

noun

exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

synonyms: exaggeration, overstatement, magnification, amplification, embroidery, embellishment, overplaying, excess, overkill.

Pre-Trump becoming the 45th American President and post-Trump, taking up tenure of office and becoming United States President, is not will Donald J Trump, last the four-year term, but will the world? That may seem like an exaggeration, overkill, embellishment, exaggeration and other synonyms associated with the American Benito Mussolini. This is one of Gay Talese’s characters, an apologist, writing in his diary in Paris around 1937 and giving his description of Mussolini as a dictator, before the pact with Hitler, but could equally apply to Donald J Trump:

Mussolini…a man with more bark than bite, an egotist, with perhaps a neurotic need to gain other people’s attention; yet he thought the Duce could be reasoned with, must be reasoned with…only a dictator could have restored order.

Trump’s soundbites suggest that one of his strengths is his ‘unpredictability’.

Benito Mussolini, aged 39, was the youngest premier in Italy’s short history (as an independent nation) but like Trump, he had come out of nowhere to lead the party and lead the country. The tone of business leaders in Italy’s demands (listed below) has a very modern ring. They could have come from and most have been enacted by state governor and Tea Party supporter, Vice President, in waiting, Mike Pence, who some commentator’s see as a moderating influence on America’s Mussolini. Think about that, moderating influence.

  1. Smaller state bureaucracies
  2. Fewer strikes
  • More tax concessions
  1. Less zeal towards the breakup of large estates
  2. Termination of rent control
  3. Reduction in unemployment benefits
  • Fewer annoying enquires concerning surplus war profits
  • Fewer annoying enquires concerning tax evasion.

 

Reading this you’d think we’ve went backwards in time to the 1930s and world is no longer as safe as it was pre-Trumpeter, with shocks and aftershocks still to come. Ask yourself one question: What legacy do you think President Trump will leave the world?

Trump has ripped up political consensus and confounded the same pollsters that, state for state, confidently predicted Obama’s first and second term of office. How did Trump do it? One word, populism. ‘I put lipstick on a pig,’ said Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghost-writer for the Art of the Deal.   http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/donald-trumps-ghostwriter-tells-all Here we are again talking about excess. Let’s throw in some other synonyms: overstatement, embroidery and the moth-eaten cliché, tapestry of lies, attention span of a gnat, the narcissism of well, Donald Trump. He bought the rights to Miss World and now he’s won the biggest beauty contest of them. When he says that something is true, he believes it too, Schwartz tells us.  Try on the term crooked Hilary—repeat ad nauseum, until it produces bumpers stickers and posters and then repeat again, until a lie becomes the truth and an association with Hitler— even although 95% of mainstream media backed Clinton to win this campaign it was not enough. Trump instead relied on digital leverage and the power of Facebook and Twitter. Donald Trump has double the number of Twitter followers compared to Hilary Clinton. And he had an army of Twitter followers he employed to tweet that he had won Presidential debates before, during and after the antagonists had finished debating. Newsfeeds about Trump being a misogynist groper and potential rapist were played down as simple dirty tricks from a propaganda machine aligned with an elite group led by crooked Hilary. Trumps other outbursts in Twitter land were understandable and supposedly taken out of context.  Trump, of course, questioned President Obama’s right to be President and famously followed the line of the Birther movement and asked him to produce his birth certificate. Black lives matter, but only to black people. The Irish famine brought millions of Irish to the new world. There were calls to ship them back in their coffin ships. Wops and Eyeties, particularly from the darker skinned natives of Southern Italy led to immigration restrictions in the 1930s. Build a wall with Mexico to keep out the rapists and thieves is a familiar tune. Do not ask how many millions the billionaire and President of the United States has stolen by avoiding tax payments. Only stupid and the poor pay tax. Feed into the disillusionment of globalization, job losses and wages rolled back to levels predating 1970; the tens of millions of Americans that start the day in debt and finish their day in more debt was, and remains, a powerful force for change. Fly the flag. Play the Trump card of nationalism. There’s nothing new here. Read any extract from Robert Tressell (Noonan’s) The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist  and remember the author’s contempt was not just for those who blamed society’s failings on anyone but themselves, but went to church and prayed away the degradations of the other. Ban abortion. Ban gays. Ban. Ban. Ban. Gun control. Forget that. This from a nation that jails a higher percentage of the population that any other nation including China, Russia and all other nations added together. Putin sent his congratulations to President Trump. Marine Le Penn called it right with her statement ‘their world is collapsing ours is being built’. The echo chambers of Twitter fed Facebook pages in which a digital nation relies on to frame its news. Most folk don’t leave the silos of their Facebook pages and makes the lie a truth others need. In simpler days, when everybody grew their own food in the back garden and read the bible for fun, bullshit wasn’t spun into gold, well not always.

 

coming soon trump house.jpgNow Trump has gone nuclear and has the codes, the panic room has been taken out of the White House and moved to the rest of the world. Hyperbolic, of course, but it would make good television and boost Trump’s ratings and make him seem like a strong leader. ‘I’d nuke Isis’, Trump told us.

Forget NATO, Trump has called it ‘obsolete’. Forget those outside of America, places like Ukraine and Georgia; they can take care of themselves. America has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and can and will negotiate from a position of strength. Plan B. Nuke them.

Obama Care. It’s poor people so nobody really cares. The market will provide.

Forget the international trade deals, particularly those made with the new superpower in the block, China. America and Trump, the terms are interchangeable, will negotiate from a position of strength, which, of course, means, not negotiating and showing how unpredictable he can be.

Trade wars and the race to the bottom.  China now stands in the position that America did before the beginning of the first world war. Putin is Russia’s strong man. The EEC the world’s largest market. Winners and losers? Spin the globe. Place your bets.

The Paris Agreement and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control worked on the assumption they had an agreement global warming was taking place and globally we need to restrict our use of fossil fuels. Donald Trump doesn’t. Neither does his Vice President Mike Pence. Bought-and-paid-for fossil-fuel scientists have modeled a better world. A safer world.  It’s the equivalent of tobacco companies telling smokers another fag won’t kill him. Let’s not expect politicians, or people that have not read a book since forced to in the classroom, like Donald J Trump boasts, to  understand inconvenient facts. If he listened to inconvenient truths crooked Hilary Clinton would be sitting in the White House. The four horsemen of the apocalypse just saddled up. More hyperbole, I guess, I hope.