Alan Parks (2017) Bloody January

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I read the review of Bloody February in The Observer and it’s like deja-fuck-you, somebody had wrote the song that you wrote and sings it better. Set in Glasgow, in the 1970s. My turf and my time and my subject matter.  This book fucking scared me big time. I was scared this book would be everything I was not. Leading writers of Scottish noir praise Bloody January on the cover.

Ian Rankin, Alex Gray, Peter May and Louise Welsh, ‘Bloody and brilliant’.

Here’s where I got to, Chapter Seven, p51.

Funny smell in here,’ said Wattie.

‘Shut it,’ said McCoy.

The waiter took their coats as Wattie looked around suspiciously. A big blown-up photo of an Indian market filled one wall. Windows overlooking the Kelvin making its slow and muddy way through the city the other.

I know Gibson Street. But I’m not sure about the last sentence, which makes me, I guess, a plonker. Windows are walls and the Kelvin is muddy. The real McCoy and his sidekick, Wattie. A whodunit.

I care too much. It’s not Alan Parks’s fault I’ve picked him and his books as a kind of Rorschach-Inkblot test.

I don’t write whodunnits. I write about us, or like to think I do. Whydunnits (that nobody wants to read or publish, perhaps for good reason). Nobody writes in the same way, because its like forensics, like fingerprints, and nobody sees the same things. Especially, if you are a nobody. We both look for the extraordinary in ordinary working- class experiences.

Remembering is not a monopoly experience. Axons and dendrites do not recreate our past, but remake it. We rewrite our own lives in different ways, encrypting each word and sentence as we go with a sense of self. Pieces of life are never whole and always blemished.

A writer’s job is to highlight those blemishes and to give them to his characters. Parks’s characters to me are clichéd and therefore untrue.

Books are holy things and in the black stone of rubble the writer must make flowers grow. Doesn’t happen.

The invisible world is our world. Listen with your eyes. See with your heart. No sound, no sight and no heart.

Parks opens a lens to the past. Sight, sound, colour and the writing of wrongs. Not for me, but we all see the world differently, write the world differently. Bloody hell.  Read on.

 

 

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.

 

Reporting Trump’s First Year: The Forth Estate, BBC 9pm, BBC iPlayer, director and producer Liz Garbus.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0b8lfjh/reporting-trumps-first-year-the-fourth-estate-series-1-1-the-first-100-days

The twin problems of Donald J Trump are entwined. Firstly, he is Donald J Trump. Secondly, he is in office as President of the United States.  This four-part documentary follows reporters in the New York Times as they cover the newly inaugurated President. Much of news in online before it reaches print, as is shown here.

Too late. Trump moves faster than any documentary crew and we already feel we know everything we need to know about him. What should be must-see viewing is in reality a yawn fest.

The Fourth Estate and New York Times, in particular, also have a bit of catching up to do. Dewey defeats Trauman, for example, was a banner on the Chicago Tribune, 3rd November 1948. But Harry S Trauman was elected President. A victory none of the print media that helped set trends then saw coming and for many of the same reasons they assumed Hillary Clinton would follow Barack Obama as the forty-fifth President. They didn’t look closely enough at what was happening on the ground.

The comparisons end there. Harry Trauman was a humble working-class man of the people, who took his nation through the years of the Korean War. Let’s hope there’s not another war, and that’s not a given with such a narcissistic psychopath in charge of the most powerful nation on earth’s armoury, or God help us, Armageddon is a possibility.

The Observer front page on the same as day Garbus’s documentary is shown on BBC 2 leads with the headline UK rabbi in genocide warning to Trump. A sidebar announces ‘Dehumanisation has ended in atrocities. May urged to attack child separation policy.’ We all know what happened on the United States and Mexican border. As we all know about Cambridge Analytica stealing data, Russian interference in the election, gaming Facebook and allegations of Trump being human.  Children at the border were separated from their parents. Some of them filmed crying in child-proof cages. One version of this and I can’t be sure of this because I originally heard it on the radio, while driving, was these were child actors. I’d guess that came from Kirsten Nielsen, one of Trump’s mouthpieces. It was even by Trump standards an incredibly stupid thing to say. The picture of a naked nine-year-old girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc OOnt, burning from Napalm during the Vietnam War led to a similar world-wide backlash. Trump’s eventual step back is partial and grudged, awaiting applause for his humanity.

Trump builds walls and hides behind them, but he loves the camera to be on him. Ronald Reagan, that old B-movie actor from before the Cold War era, knew when to stop acting. He stepped back from his anti-Soviet rhetoric and didn’t go ahead with planned Nato manoeuvres in 1983, when the Russian’s believed they would come under attack. It was on par with the Cuban Missile Crisis.   Trump cannot stop being Trump.

I had plans to write a longer piece around William Empson’s seven types of ambiguity. I’d sketched some ideas working on Trump’s seven types of idiocy. But really, that’s an underestimate. Trump always surprises us. Not in a good way. A human magnet for misery and for all that’s wrong in the world. Watch this programme if you want to learn about the New York Times. As for Trump…I’m weary, weary of him, but it’s impossible to look away.  That’s the whole point of Trumpism.

The Funeral Murders, produced and directed by Vanessa Engle.

 

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BBC 2, BBC iPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09wfrk0

Hatred has no country. Ironically, I watched this programme on BBC Catch-up on Easter Sunday in memory of  the resurrection.

I read in The Observer about Israeli snipers on Good Friday shooting Palestinian demonstrators, or terrorists, depending on how those shot are defined. Around 16 dead. Hospitals in Gaza report 284 injured people, the majority with bullet wounds. 70 wounded, children under 18, and 11 women. As well as those killed, more than 1400 were wounded by rubber bullets, the type developed for the conflict in Northern Ireland. We are experts at exporting murder.

Vanessa Engle’s documentary uses archive footage and unheard voices to do something rather brave. And let me say something that needs to be examined with the dark prospect of hard borders once again appearing in Northern Ireland with Brexit.

The facts are quite simple. The SAS killed three unarmed members of the IRA in Gibraltar – Sean Savage, Daniel McCann and Maired Farrell.

Thirty-two pounds of explosives were later found in a car parked on the Spanish side of the border.

Two Anderstone funerals, 72 hours apart in March 1988 in Northern Ireland.

Michael Stone launched an attack in the cemetery, where the so called Gibraltar Three were to be buried, using guns and grenades which killed three people, including IRA member Kevin Brady, and injured 60 others.

He complained that his gun jammed or he’d have killed more and immediately became a Nationalist hero. Loyalist, David Stitt, for example, remembers jumping around his living room cheering when Stone’s attack came on the news. He remembers, most folk around him were the same.

Included here are accounts by ex-army, and members of the security forces, George Higgins. He remembered members of the RUC also cheering Stone’s account and sympathising with him that his gun had jammed and he didn’t kill and injure more Catholics.

Higgins laughs off government accounts that his two army colleagues who were stripped naked, beaten and finally executed by the IRA had somehow got lost on Belfast’s M1 and somehow got caught up in an IRA funeral cortege. That would be the equivalent of a soldier leaving his weapon down as he went for a pee, or as Higgins put it, ‘Even the wee man on the moon would have known about the funeral’.

What British army corporals Derek Woods and David Howes were doing there that day is still open to debate. They died in a predicable way.

David Stitt was upfront enough to admit if the LVF or a crowd in the Falls had identified Republicans in their midst they would have done the same.

I’m sure Israeli snipers are similarly being lauded for their straight shooting and no-nonsense approach.

The miracle here is the Peace Process did take place in Northern Ireland. Our great shame is we are unravelling it thread by thread. It follows a familiar trajectory of denial. A downplaying of what went before. Calls for a reinterpretation of the facts. Then a reimaging of them based on LA-LA land, or lies. There’s no greater force than a radicalised state. Evil has a purity of intent and purpose.

Here is a programme that says it must be fought. But nobody is listening. From eugenics to our latest tribal conflict we revert to base, atavistic, humanity without humanity. Compassion regarded as a weakness to be exploited. It’s easier raising the dead than getting those that know best that they are wrong. Try trumping that.

 

 

 

Ian Probert (2016) Dangerous: An Intimate Journey into the Heart of Boxing.

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A reminder—if we need one— how Dangerous boxing can be is the Sunday Mail front-page headline: ‘My baby has lost his daddy, I’ll never let him fight,’ with a prominent picture of Chloe, holding her infant Rocco, with an insert photo of her partner, and the baby’s father, twenty-five-year old Mike Towell, crouching in a standard boxing stance and fighting Dale Evans on Thursday evening at St Andrew’s Sporting Club. Towell lost more than the bout, he lost his life. The Observer ranks it further down the news order and puts it on page 14, but the headline message is much the same. It asks ‘How many more lives will have to be lost?’ The answer follows. ‘Boxing ban calls grow after Glasgow death.’  It also cites the brain-injury charity Headway’s call for boxing to be banned and offers as further evidence the bout between Chris Eubank junior and Nick Blackwell, seven months ago, with the latter stopped in the tenth round and taken to hospital bleeding from the brain. Boxing is dangerous.

Here’s Probert’s take on it at the standard media meet and greet at the Hilton in London’s Park Lane. ‘And then I spot the Eubanks arrive. ’ [sic, should read arrival, in a book of almost 300 pages I spotted three errors, perhaps it needed another proofread] ‘A pair of Eubanks: father and son. Boxer and ex-boxer…  ‘What everyone here is aware of, however that his son’s last fight ended in near tragedy. Just as his father did almost 25 years earlier when he fought Michael Watson, the younger Eubank managed to put his opponent into intensive care…Although Blackwell is now out of danger he will never fight again. It’s fair to say that our malprop of Eubanks have since endured a perfect storm of negativity, bordering on abuse, both in the news and in social media’.

‘As press conferences go it’s a pedestrian affair. Nobody is that that interested to hear about Eubank Jr’s latest fancy promotional deal. Equally, no one seems particularly concerned about Eubank’s next fight, not even it must be said, his next opponent, one Tom Dorran of Wales’. The business as usual model has been restored and in several months we can expect to see Dale Evans’s manager doing the same thing.

But the intimate part of the Probert’s journey comes from the world-title fight over 25 years ago between Chris Eubank and his friend and boxing mentor Michael Watson, whose rise up the boxing ranks somehow seemed linked to the writer’s own success.  He decided after Watson’s near-death experience and subsequent brain damage, not to write about boxing again, but like many of the boxers he meets on his return journey, he couldn’t stay away from boxing. Boxing really is their life and it’s his too.

I’m a fan of Probert’s writing. Rope Burn marks out his younger days with the kind of honesty you get after drinking twelve pints, spewing up, and saying, I shouldn’t have ate the last three kebabs. Dangerous is more of the same, but I wasn’t knocked out by the Prologue. Probert describes meeting his therapist who has a very strong Chinese accent. ‘We went into her office and I politely asked if I could take a seat. She gave me a shrug, which I quickly translated as meaning: ‘Why are you asking me if you can sit down you moron? What a ridiculous question…’ Or perhaps she thought I was actually going to take a seat, pick it up and exit the building with it under my arm.’

The jokey tone doesn’t work for me and almost all the episodes with his therapist could be deleted as they detract from what is a smashing book. I was privileged to be one of the few to read at least two of Probert’s chapters on ABCtales, including ‘Scars’ which follows on from the Prologue, is where the book should really start in a windswept hotel on the outskirts of Essex.  A before and after shot of the author and Michael Watson. Pan in. ‘It was 23 years ago when I last saw him. His eyes were closed and an oxygen mask was strapped to his mouth. His magnificent muscular torso was a tangle of tubes and sensors…he could never again be the person he used to be.’

What we find out is every boxer thinks he can be, until that notion is punched out of his head, and even then he remains unconvinced. Steve Watson, one of the few undefeated world champions, who retired, tells Probert he got bored with the game and could no longer get himself up for a fight, but is back training boxers and there’s a hint that he might have had some kind of fit, or blackout that forced his hand. But for warriors like Watson, every school should have a boxing ring. ‘There are very few bullies who are successful boxers’ he tells Probert. ‘Because if you get a punch in the face that is not a nice thing.’

I’m not going to go head to head and argue with Steve Watson. The usual anecdotal evidence pops up that playing rugby, for example, is more dangerous, which is unremarkable. But the message Probert keeps reiterating is ‘How nice boxers are’ seems  contrary to the popular view. Even Tyson Fury and his family come out sounding not too bad. A sport of contrasts.  ‘Perhaps more than any other human endeavour, boxing can be an unforgiving business…On the basis of little more than an off-night today’s champion can be tomorrow’s forgotten man’.  How many days or weeks, for example, will it take to forget Mike Towell and business to go on as usual?

The most poignant part of the book, which gives it real bite, is another chapter which appeared on ABCtales, ‘Lung’. It shows how Probert’s thirteen-year-old daughter Sofia started with a shallow cough, but almost died. Probert berates himself for all the things he did wrong. How he should have been more assertive with his GP, how he should not have went to McDonalds to get something to eat and allowed his wife and child to be sent home from hospital…how he was too trusting and human. These are not particularly bad characteristics and it shows in his writing. I’d go as far to say I like Ian Probert and don’t think he’s very Dangerous. I’m not interested in boxing, but this is an up close and personal account of those inside the sport, inside the passion and outside the money and chicanery. Read on to find out what makes us human.

Shirzad Chamine (2012) Positive Intelligence. Why only 20% of Teams and Individual Achieve Their True Identity.

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It would be unfair to suggest I read Positive Intelligence with an open mind, or even read it, rather I flipped through it. I did read today’s report in The Observer by Harriet Sherwood, the headline of which is Top cleric says C of E reforms risk making it a ‘suburban sect’.  How does that apply to Shirzad Chamine’s New York Time’s bestseller?  Well, I’d argue that Positive Intelligence (PQ) which measure the percentage of your mind that is sabotaging you as opposed to  helping you is pseudoscience or just plain bullshit. ‘The great news is you can improve your PQ.’ You can minimise the Judge that rules your life and increase your Sagacity and empathise more. Win-Win. In other words, do unto other what you would do to yourself.

I’ll quote Sherwood here on the Church of England’s plans, but they could apply equally to PQ:

There seems to be no sagacity, serious science or spiritual substance to the curatives being offered.

Make no mistake Positive Intelligence tells you, like the Church of England or indeed Alcoholic Anonymous’ Big Book, how to turn your life around. Read, for example, the account of ‘Peter an entrepreneur’. He had wanted to make $10 million before his retirement. He was offered $125 million for his company, but turned it down because his college buddy had been offered $330 million. Late Peter became bankrupt. Peter is an asshole is the lesson I learned. I’m not great at empathising with people like him, but that is being judgemental. You need to ask yourself why you are being judgemental. Ask your Sagacity.

My Sagacity says fuck off.

Chamine points out in his research that ‘on average, able-bodied adults who become quadriplegic through an accident return to their baseline happiness’.

I thought I was poor and unhappy because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet. Read that sentence again. Happiness has a baseline. Unhappiness too must have a baseline. I’m going to send away for one of those things you blow into when the cops arrest you and they say ‘sorry, pal, you’ve driving a car and you’re three times over the unhappiness limit’. You’re looking at a two year ban, put in the cells and beat up.’ Blow into the bag again. ‘look pal, you’re ten time over the limit, we need to cut your feet off and you’ve done this before so we’re cutting your fingers off. Are you happy now? See what you’ve made us do?’

If you look through Positive Intelligence peppered with stories that could have come straight from AA’s Big Book so you don’t need to read the PI book. ‘The Vicious Cycle’; ‘Women Suffer Too’; ‘Jim’s Story’; ‘The Man Who Mastered Fear’; ‘He Sold Himself Short’; ‘The Missing Link’; ‘My Chance to Live’; ‘Acceptance Was the Answer’; ‘Winner Takes All’.

I’m not asking you to read the Big Book or take the PI test, or read the New York Times bestseller. I’d just ask the kind of people that read books where they can slap themselves on the back and thing how they’ve created such a fine test and algorithm for measuring happiness to blow in that bag, pal and take a long hard look at themselves. Books are the answer because they can help us empathise with the other, the worker, the underlining, the refugee.

Anthony Trollope’s character had something to say in the nineteenth century in The Way We Live Now that has added bite in the twenty-first century. ‘People said of him that he had framed and carried out long and premeditated and deeply laid schemes for the ruins of those who had trusted him, that he had swallowed up the property of all who had come in contact with him, that he was fed with the blood of widows and children’.

Positive Intelligence is an argument for the placebo effect and for backslapping for those that own the top 100 US companies Chamine is writing and works for. These are not my people. This is not my book. Read. Read. Read widely and wisely. Then you’ll understand.

 

David Cameron – the legacy!

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I was a bit miffed reading The Observer, ‘IN FOCUS’, that no one had asked me to write about David Cameron’s legacy. I can only guess that’s because a blank page wouldn’t appeal to the reader. They would think it was some kind of trick – like global warming on a miserable and wet Scottish Sunday. I listened to Jeremy Corbyn stand up (OK you can’t hear someone standing up on the radio)in the House of Commons (with very few commoners in the House- if any- and most of them from SNP) and thank David Cameron for his achievements. Corbyn mentioned two things: gay marriage and the release of a prisoner from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. The bar has not been set very high for the incoming Conservative leader and unelected Prime Minister, Theresa May.

There were echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s call for national unity 4th May 1979 and holding out the olive branch of St Francis of Assisi’s prayer in Theresa May’s speech to the media in the aftermath of her procession to Number 10 Downing Street. ‘Where there is discord, let me bring peace.’ Thatcher’s legacy lives on.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; [Brexit, hatred and fear of the foreigner wins a Referendum. Nigel Farage resigns, claiming job done.]
Where there is injury, pardon; [Highest prison population in any of the modern economies, excluding that paragon of Black Lives don’t matter, USA.]
Where there is doubt, faith; [the great lie there is no such thing as society finds expression in George Osborne’s insistence on the government bringing down the Government’s deficit to levels below that of his hero Thatcher, or even that cartoon villain John Major. A Trojan horse for cuts, cuts, cuts that Thatcherite’s love so much because it is monopoly money ringing in the ears of the rich.]
Where there is despair, hope; [social mobility has went into reverse gear since Thatcher. The class system has become a caste system, with little or no intergenerational mobility. The sins of the father affect the son. The wins of the father stay with the family.]
Where there is darkness, light; [White lives don’t matter, if they are poor and working class. Chavs. Scum. Council House welfare cheats, how many Channel 4 and Channel 5 programmes must we endure Lord, how many, before You strike down Jeremy Kyle and the other middle-class  lovies and Little Britoners?’]
Where there is sadness, joy. [always end on a joke. There was a kind of parity. George Osborne booed at the London Olympics and David Cameron booed at Wimbledon. Sadly, I wasn’t at either of these events to boo.

But Theresa’s May’s speech and her insistence on continuing with the successful electoral policy of punishing the poor while ostensibly helping them, via focusing on sleight of hand and the GDP ratio deficit, had me thinking of the London bankers threatening to move lock, stock and barrels of oil to New York unless they got the bonuses their work deserved and those New York bond boys swearing they’ll move to London unless they get the bonuses their work deserved. We sure did give them hell of a beating Mr Cameron. We sure did. What was it your dad, did again. Oh, yeh, create tax loopholes for the rich? All in the past, of course. History. Cameron who?}