Storyville, Misha and the Wolves, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Director Sam Hobkinson.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00142bh/storyville-misha-and-the-wolves

Jessica Brody, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel takes lessons from screenwriters.. The Hero’s journey. The ‘shard of glass’. ‘A psychological wound that has been festering beneath the surface of your hero for a long time.’

The moron’s moron, for example, a narcissistic psychopath with a troubled childhood that lies, lies and lies again. He hooks up a band of far-right fundamentalist Christians and other far-right hate groups until he begins to believe everything he says must be true because they’re saying it too. Find support from the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, and Kremlin backed ability to produce propaganda and hatebomb through Facebook, predominantly. And he gets elected the 45th American President.  

Misha Defonseca stood up in her local synagogue in the early 1990s and told an extraordinary story about Holocaust survival and triumph. The shard of glass was shown, and people wept. Jane Daniel owned a small publishing company in Millis. She urged Misha to write her story down. For around two years Misha refused, but then the true hero finds his/her truth, and she writes her extraordinary story.

Jane Daniel’s recognised its potential for commercial value. Because not only was it Holocaust literature, which generally sold well, but it had a Save-the- Cat-type twist. Misha, the seven-year-old heroine, trudged from her Belgian home in search of her parents. She was befriended by a she-wolf in the forest and became part of the wolf pack living off scraps of meat, and distrustful of humans.

Misha and the Wolves published April 1997, Mt. Ivy Press, Boston. It sells reasonably well internationally and at home. Oprah Winfrey comes calling. A spot on Oprah’s Book Club, Jane Daniel’s explains guarantees over a million sales. Disney talk about making a film of the book. A virtuous circle of sales and publicity. Win-win.

Lose-lose. Misha balks at going on Oprah. She sues Jane Daniels for return of her book rights.  

Middlesex Superior Court, Massachusetts, August 2001. Jane Daniels is shown to have deposited money in the tax haven of Turks Cacao (beloved of crooks and internet giants)  which she never paid royalties, and which she disputes. After a ten-day trial, the jury found for Misha on all counts and awarded her $22.5 million damages.  

The Hero may not be as simple as you think, Save the Cat advises writers.

ACT 2. The Hero decides to accept the call to action.  The Hero ‘shard of glass’ is the court judgement against her. Jane Daniel takes on the world of Misha and the Wolves. She assembles a team and cast of characters to help her.

ACT 3. Setbacks and false defeats. The HERO triumphs. But there is a sting in the tale. Trump gets elected President, fails to win re-election and commits treason. His supporters attempt to stage a right-wing coup.

Misha does not go to live with the wolves, but is fed to the wolves.  

  Deborah Dwork (The Holocaust Historian) I think we would like to believe that [the moron’s moron Donald Trump] Misha Defonseca believed. That [he]she was a survivor of the Holocaust [electoral fraud]. I think we would like to believe that we were not so naïve. That we believed it, because she believed it. And we would even like to believe that this narrative has a redemptive purpose. Because it made right the wrong of her childhood. I think it’s nonsense. There is no redemptive purpose. We were so naïve. It was all a fabrication. 

Evelyne Haendel: ‘It’s human to believe. Creditability is something else. It’s your need to question things or not that will help you discern what’s true and what’s not.’ 

NOTES:

There’s a saying in Millis, small-town big family. We became friends with Maurice and Misha. Belgian refugees. Eccentric personality. I never saw anybody that had such a relationship with animals and had so many cats. She told me about her life, during the war.

Misha was waiting for her father to pick her up from school. And he never came. A woman tapped her on the shoulder and said ‘Come with me’. She was taken into a family that she didn’t know. She was given a new name and different clothes.

When she was only seven years old she walked alone through Nazi occupied countries. Across thousands of miles in search of her deported parents.

Misha: ‘I never discovered my parents or where they went to. To this day, I do not know’

I was asked to speak about my story. Temple Beth Torah. My husband convinced me to do it. Saying it would free me. When I went up to the Beema. I realised I was going to speak for the first time. I burst into tears. And slowly, snatches. I began to tell.

The dramatic tale of a woman whose Holocaust memoir took the world by storm, but a fallout with her publisher – who turned detective – revealed an audacious deception created to hide a darker truth.

Karen Schulman (The Friend) I was mesmerised. I had tears in my eyes. She was hungry. She was thirsty. She was cold. She wanted her parents. How did this person (this little girl) survive?

‘If they think I’m alive, I can’t let them down. I have to keep going.’

You could hear a pin drop. Everyone was entranced with her story. I never expected to hear what I heard. When Misha was seven her parents were arrested by the Nazis. And she was told they’d been deported. She was place in the care of a Catholic family. Called De Wael. It was a safe place. They gave her a new identity. Monique De Wael. The deception saved her, but she felt very alienated there.

‘I ended up in a family that didn’t love me. That’s the least you could say. They hated me there. They would call me ‘worthless’ ’.

There was a grandfather in the family that was kindly. ‘He told me, my parents were in Germany.’

‘He showed me with a compass, that Germany was in the East. So Germany didn’t seem that far.’

At that point Misha made a tremendous decision. It turned her life upside down.

She decided at the age of seven to walk to Germany, to find her parents.

So she took her compass and some supplies and started walking. Heading East.

‘I know exactly what to do. I need the basic. I need food. Something to drink. To have a light for protection. ‘

‘The first night I slept under a bridge. It was not far from home.’

‘Each time I approach a village, I see the station.’

She had to hide from the Nazis. Being alone in the forest. Having to steal food. Freezing temperatures. She had been traumatised by this.

‘Killing. I saw killing. The dead people. It was really desperate. I dreamed of seeing my parents. So I stayed deep in the woods. Away from the war.’

When she was away from the woods, she was away from people being sent to concentration camps. She was away from the horror that was happening in the cities. She was with birds and flowers. She said that was what saved her.

‘I completely gave into the wild life. I saw animals living normally. Eating just what they need. Not more than they need.’

‘With animals I didn’t need any words. We were near each other, in silence. And understood, without words.’

 Jane Daniel. (The publisher). I was thinking this would make a fascinating book.  I had a small publishing company. And I mean tiny. And I was looking around for new project. I was the one that said, can we take this public?  Take it to another level?

I could make something big out of this. There’s a market for this story. Because it had an amazing twist.

‘I remember, I’d just been called by a farmer who saw me stealing food from his farm. I run away, full of fear. When you run away, you run very hard. Suddenly, I had the impression somebody was watching me. I turn around and see this magnificent animal. To me it was like a huge dog. The wolf seemed alone. And I needed a companion. It was a beautiful grey she-wolf. I look in my bag for something to eat. And I give a piece to the wolf, which it doesn’t take.

It takes a long time. But after a while, we would walk in parallel. I was able to see its generosity. To see the strength it had. I was able to live with it. She was like a mother to me.

Much later, it was a whole pack of wolves. I don’t know how long I was with them. They accepted and protected me.’

 Jonni Soffron. The Wolf Expert. Wow, this is quite a story. Misha was very different from most people I met. She should have been an animal. Or her spirit is an animal. We talked about being accepted by the pack, but treated as a low-ranking member. And she had to exhibit low-ranking behaviour, in order to be with them.

Misha said, typically, the alpha male would eat first. The others would lay around the carcase waiting for their turn. They would leave little scraps, in close proximity to where she was, when they were finished.

‘Wolves eat 10kg, in one meal. The leftovers were more than enough for me.’

We became very good friends. She visited multiple times. She would hand-feed them the pieces of meat. I think they sensed in Misha, she was a friend, as opposed to a foe. She had such a sense of being with them. It was as if she belonged in there.

‘I had no reason to stop walking. It’s what I done every day. Day after day. Month after month. I hoped to find my parents. Figuring, if I’d survived as a child. My parents must have survived. This belief helps me continue.’

Jane Daniel, Publisher. This is a moral narrative The battle between good and evil. The innocent child and the evil Nazis. And the child survived. It had mythic qualities. It could take my little publishing company to a world-wide happening. So I asked Misha if she would be interested in publishing her stories.

‘With everything I went through, I learned to mistrust people.’

I don’t think she was very impressed with me. There was no reason she should be. The only book I’d published before was a legal-financial book. Not exactly her thing.

‘For more than 2 years I refused. But my friends and community said to me “Misha, do it” for future generations.’

‘I found myself in hell, again.’

It was a painful process, but it was as if she was compelled to tell her story. As if it was some kind of catharsis. Everyone was stepping up. All over the world we were selling the translation rights. My agent came back from California and said “Disney wants this. Period”.  This was the case of a hot property.

When the book was published April 1997, Mt. Ivy Press, Boston.  I said, let’s see if we can get Oprah to do this.  Oprah had her book club. If you were one of her books, you had a guaranteed sale of one million books. They said they were interested. So that’s a big, big deal. And we’re beginning to say, we’re heading into a monster bestseller here. (Misha, The Memoir of the Holocaust Years)

Jonni Soffron. The Wolf Expert. Jane Daniels said they (Oprah) wanted to send a crew and film Misha in the wolves. So I said , yeh. (Wolf Hollow in Ipswich).  I told Misha before we went into the enclosue, “This is an adult wolf. He’s a very big boy. His name is Pedro.’

Jane Daniel, Publisher. Nobody went in but Misha. The sound man had his boom over the fence. Misha squatted down and she’s feed the wolf. Everything is going fine. The wolf is very friendly. And then the wolf decided to put its paws up on her shoulders.

Jonni Soffron. Pedro was much taller than she.

Jane Daniel. Then all of a sudden, very quickly opened his mouth and put her whole head in his mouth. Very gently. Fangs on both temples.

‘I had no fear. Nobody talk about  the big bad wolf to me.’

Jane Daniel: The wolf held her head for a minute. We stopped breathing. Then just as fast as it happened, it was over. At that point, Misha appears and lets out a big howl. At this point I get goosebumps. Way back in the pen, we hear an owww coming back.

Jonni Soffron. When she howled, they immediately howled back. 

Jane Daniel: There it was, you could immediately see the connection between the human and wolf. I saw it. It was amazing. A shocking moment. So they got a really lot of interesting footage. I thought this is going to make a great Oprah show. The next step was she was to go to Chicago for the studio portion.

Jonni Soffron. Things were going swimmingly well. Then I began to see some tension between Misha and Jane.

Karen Schulman (The Friend) It wasn’t very pleasant as time went on. The book wasn’t selling very well. She kept saying “I have no money. I have nothing. Jane Daniels is no good.” I felt saddened. But Misha was sitting at my table one night and said to me: “She didn’t want to go on Oprah Winfrey”.  I said, gee Misha. I don’t understand that.

Pat Cunnigham. (The Neighbour). Well Misha and Maurice were having financial difficulties. Then she started selling things from her house. I felt bad, they were losing everything.

Jane Daniel: All of a sudden Misha is not co-operative. Had one objection after another. Doesn’t return phone calls. She doesn’t want to go. It’s inconvenient. She needs somebody to take care of her animals at home.

‘Jane made me so mad. So insecure. My husband said many times. “We’re a survivor. You don’t use that kind of attitude”.

Jane Daniel. Come on, it’s Oprah. You find a dog sitter or pet sitter, or whatever. You make yourself available. “No!”

‘The bad memory came back. I had a nightmare. I was very anxious.’

I tried everything. I wrote her notes: This is a million sales. “No, No, No”.  I thought this is crazy. Any other author would be falling over themselves to do this. It never happened.

A year after the book came out, there’s a knock on the door. And I’m handed a big package. It’s Misha filing a lawsuit against me. Everything stopped. No other country wanted to do business with us. We had a lawsuit attached to this project.

Romana Hamblin (The Attorney) The first time I met Misha, I felt very compelled by the circumstances of the case. It was clear to me that several things had been done that were improper, illegal, fraudulent.

Misha was asking for return of the copyright. And for all of the royalties which she was due for book sales.

‘Jane Daniels saw in my life a goldmine. And she took advantage of it.’

Romana Hamblin (The Attorney)  There was so much anger and bitterness by the time I got involved. There was not much room for negotiation.

Jane Daniels It was clear we were going to trial. It wasn’t going to settle out of court.

Middlesex Superior Court, Massachusetts, August 2001.

Jonni Soffron :The sense in the courtroom was a lot of drama. The atmosphere was pretty tense. Then, of course, the money comes up.

Romana Hamblin (The Attorney)  We found that Jane Daniels had set up a company in Turks Cacao so that contracts that came from overseas came directly into her account and she never paid royalties.

Jane Daniels, We had documents to show that she’d been paid. We had cancelled cheques to show that she’d been paid. So everything she was saying, we had documentation to refute.

Jonni Soffron but she could speak no falsehood. Where’s the money? Jury was very sympathetic.

Romana Hamblin, The jury was riveted. Here was a person in front of you that had survived the Holocaust. They were engaged and absolutely enthralled by this story.

Misha was a good witness.

‘Oh what I live is…because it’s my life.’

Jane Daniels: It just made me look like a monster. And I thought. This is not going well.

‘Jane was always fighting. She fought for what she wanted.’

There was a 10 day trial and it was gruelling.

JD: The Judge asks the jury, how do you find on count one? 

Romana Hamblin: The jury found unanimously for Misha on all counts.

JD: I mean, ultimately they came in for a massive judgement against me.

Jonni Soffron. It was kind of mind-boggling to hear the number. I was blown away. I said, ‘are you kidding me?’

Romana Hamblin, $22.5m. It was a very large verdict.

JD: I’m an optimistic person. But that hit me like a ton of bricks.

RH: The money damages against JD was largely based on JD’s testimony. This was going to be on Oprah. There was some contract with Disney. There were thing JD testified to that really elevated the level of damages. Well beyond what would seem supportable to a book like this. So everybody paid attention. People love a big verdict.

JD. Disney had fallen through. Oprah had fallen through. There was no millions of dollars. It’s an untenable position to be in. A cruel exploited of an innocent Holocaust survivor. Your world falls apart at that point.

After the trial. This was the lowest point in my life. I ended up going into therapy and being diagnosed with PTSD. I had horrible insomnia.  I was hanging on by my fingernails. My publishing company was gone. My copyright was taken away. I mean, I was destroyed at that point.

I ended up doing a post-mortem on what had happened. Looking at it piece by piece by piece. I was in my lawyer’s office going through old records and documents. I had no idea what I was going to find. I opened a bank account. And it’s in Misha’s writing. And it’s her signature card. And on there it says, date and place of birth, 5/12/37, ETERBEEK. And mother’s maiden name: DONVILLE.

All of a sudden I get a flash. She knows who she is. She knows where she was born. She knows who her mother was. This was stuff she supposedly didn’t know She lost her identity in the war. This doesn’t add up. Clearly, she know a lot more about who she was than what she had told me. What else might not be true? I had be owned by courts and lawyers. My life had been turned upside down. I wanted my life back. If I can prove she’s not who she said she is, I can overturn this judgement.

It was the dead of winter. The days were short. I was standing in my kitchen. And I thought, I have to do something.

I started recalling all the things that had happened. How I’d met her. What had happened there. What happened and how did the law suit come about? And then I thought, I’ll write a book about the case. I’ll do it as a blog. I was writing my memoir of her memoir. And maybe somebody will read it. Talk about a long shot.

The next day, I get up. I turn on my computer and there’s an email. The email says,

Sharon Sergeant. (The Genealogist)I think I may be able to help find out what’s the real story. I did a timeline of Misha from a variety of photographs. First from the book. Then from other images on the internet. So I could get a sense of her life.

JD: I wanted to know who she was. Who is this person who has just ruined my life.

Sharon Sergeant: Each photograph I tried to analyse to find out what kind of information I could squeeze out of it. The first clue was Misha claimed she was 7 years old, when she was taken in by this foster family.  In the American book there was what are called polyphonic images. And the poly photos were taken at that time. And I looked at the photos and thought, No, this doesn’t look like a 7 year old. This looks like a toddler. 3-4 years old. Big bow in her hair, chubby, chubby cheeks, frilly clothes. Something’s wrong.

ERNEST and MARTHEW.

The next picture I looked at was who Misha said was her forster grandfather and grandmother. According to the narrative, he’s a rustic, farm man. I did a close-up of the hands of grandfather, which were manicured (nails). Did not look like a farm person’s hands. And he had a ring on one of his fingers. Not the kind of thing a farmer would wear.

And the little dog on grandmother’s lap, that looks like a little house dog.  Not a farm dog. I thought, jeez, that’s strange.

And that’s when I started comparing the French and American books. I was looking at names and places and dates. [De Wael, grandmother and grandmother]. That was the big red flag.

JD. She called me and said, did you notice Misha’s name is different in the French from the one she used in the American book? 

 In the American book the name she was given by the foster parents was De Wael. The foster family gave her the name Mme Valle. Why would you have two different names?

 Sharon Sergeant. There’s too many discrepancies between the name changes and the pictures and so on. Fishy, yeh. Definitely seemed fishy.

JDaniels. If her story were true and I was doubting it there was something particularly vicious about doubting somebody that is telling the truth about something that’s happened. The callousness to say I don’t believe you. And the harm you can cause. That was in my mind. On the other hand, so many discrepancies.  Why would you be saying things that aren’t true? Maybe she’s so traumatised she’s just lost her grip on reality. How much did that explain, I didn’t know. I needed a lot of answers at that point.

We need boots on the ground. In Belguim. (Brussels).

Sharon had a connection with a Belgian genealogist, who was herself a Holocaust survivor? As it turned out, she grew up in the area Misha claimed to have lived in.

Evelyne Haendel (The Holocaust Survivor) During the war, I myself was a hidden child. I went to a Catholic school. And I became a very good little Catholic girl.  I have no recollection of anybody telling me what happened to my parents. I have no memory at all. I was about 40 and I went through a sort of terrible breakdown, which led me to find what happened to me, in fact. And what happened to my parents. And my family. And I started to make research.

I found out my father was deported to Auschwitz in September 1942. My mother was arrested in October in Brussels. And deported to Auschwitz. I was told they didn’t come back. So, I went by car to Auschwitz. I saw the camp. Where there was not a single soul. The chambers. The gas chambers were exploded. I found some candles we call ‘yeseh?’ still burning the rubble of the gas chambers. Before evening, I had a Star of David done in dried flowers. I just didn’t know where to put it. I couldn’t put it at the monument. So, finally, I choose the little pond. It floated there. And I think that was the time that I…Sorry…put my parents to rest. My parents. My grandmother, my cousin.

JR. Evelyne is a Holocaust survivor whose story is very much like Misha’s. So she was the perfect person to find out what was going on.  

Sharon Sergeant. In the French book the foster family had a surname of Valle. In the American book the surname was De Wael.

Royal Library of Belgium. To reconcile the name changes Evelyne went through the city directories for the 1930 and 1940s.

Evelyne Haendel. I came for three days, searching for the De Wael and the Valle’s. The name Valle was not in the phone books. Valle name didn’t exist. De Wael, yes. Many, many.

Jane Daniels: Now you start to think the French book was distributed in Belgium. If something about Misha’s story wasn’t true, it would be important for her not to put her real name in that book. There would be somebody over there who would say, ‘I know the De Wael family. I know whether or not she was around or disappeared during the war’.

Sharon Sergeant, The fact that she changed the name in France and Belguim from DeWael to Ville suggest to me she’s trying to hide something.

JD: Sharon and I both looked at this and said. ‘Something’s really wrong with this story’.

So at this point, the book had been taken over by a French publisher. And it was a huge hit. I was published in 20 languages. She was speaking to school children, all over the French speaking world.

Marie-Claire Mommer. (The School teacher) In 2005, I was planning on creating a professor of psychology, a project on this young child who experienced all these adventures.  The project became a huge magnificent exhibition.  Then we had the idea of to try and bring her to Belgium.

We watched her get out of the train. It was a fascinating sight. She was dressed in blue, like a shining canary, with all its colours.  With two, no three, big suitcases.

She came towards me all radiant and beaming. Right away, she exhibits a very dynamic character. Very welcoming. And very generous.

When Misha entered the exhibition she collapsed.

‘I was not warned of this. So when I visited the exhibition, I burst into tears. Because it touched me very deeply.’

She was so delighted to be there. But on the other hand, we saw the sadness come out.  And the tears, the tears, the tears. It was very emotional.

JR: in the book, Misha says her parents were arrested by the Nazis and deported. Although she didn’t know their surname. Their names were GERUSHA and REUVEN. Evelyne? Said I have access to the Nazi records of deportation. I’ll take those records and see if I can find them. If they were deported, almost simultaneously with those names.

. When we examined the deportation list, we found they were not deported as a husband and wife.

War Victims Archive, Brussels.

 Evelyne Haendel, During the war, the French/Belgian committee had made a list of hidden children. With the name of their rescuer and the name of their parents. There was a real, real, risk these archives would be taken by the Nazis. Children would be found. And killed. But it was quite clever. There were four different booklets. You needed all four to find the child. But all four of them were in different places. If any Nazi found a single booklet, they would not be able to trace the child. But, at the end of the war, with the four different booklets, there would have been a way to find whose child it was. And so I searched for Misha’s parents. No names of the parents. So, I knew there was something wrong. And in the list of hidden children, they didn’t have Misha. And they didn’t have DeWael. That is for sure. She was not mentioned.

Marie-Claire Mommer. (The School teacher) Misha’s book had a snowball effect. Already millions of books had been sold. Thereafter we had to work to prepare the conferences. And get her to them. So we were always together. At that time, she would often come back to our home. She would eat with us. She was like a member of the family. We had dozens of events. Of course, we took her to them. She was always welcomed by the organisers. And always with a lot of friendliness and kindness. Everyone left the conferences dazzled by this character.

War Victims Archive, Brussels.

 Evelyne Haendel. I was stuck, really. No findings. But no proof. So that was the point that I thought that she could have been undocumented. Some children were hidden. But not necessarily through organisations. As extraordinary as her story was, I had to keep in mind she might have been a Jewish, hidden child.

Jane Daniels. So now the stakes go up. I will feel a lot of guilt, if this story is true. I’m digging into her past. And what if it is true. How unfair to challenge her. And even if it’s mostly true, but not quite…How unfair to disrespect what she’s been through. I felt I’d been cast in a play, I didn’t audition for. I didn’t want the part. I didn’t want to be in the play. It was devouring me. This had taken over my own life. But I’ve had this judgement hanging over my head for quite a while, I’d lost the appeal. I was looking at the possibility of being completely wiped out. So it was starting to get pretty uncomfortable. But I needed to get to the truth. So when we had no Jewish records to support her story, the question is, maybe she’s not even Jewish?

Evelyne Haendel, If she’s not Jewish, then she’s most likely Catholic.

Jane Daniels. If she was Catholic, perhaps she was baptised. 

Sharon Sergeant, Misha’s bank records from the trial, said she was born in 1937, her mother’s maiden name was Donneville. And she was born in Etterb. A suburb of Brussels.

Evelyne Haendel: So in Etterb, I searched for different churches.

JD. The first, the second, the third had burned to the ground. I thought, we’re probably sunk now. Because the records were probably destroyed in the fire.

Evelyne Haendel. But the office of the Presbytery was in an adjoining street.

JD. They were preserved. So Evelyne was looking date by date by date. All the children born in that parish.

Evelyne Haendel, I knew two things, her date of birth, 12th May 1937. And the mother’s name. And in that book, I found her. Monique Emesfina Josipshiux De Wael. Daughter of Roberti Floneca Ernesti and Josiphina Germane Barbashei Donil.

JD the revelation was that Misha’s father’s name was De Wael. So her real name was Monique De Wael. It wasn’t a name given to her by foster parents to hide her from the Nazis. It seems she was born Monique De Wael. She was a Catholic. She was baptised Catholic. Her father was De Wael. However, it wasn’t proof conclusive. Because in those days they used to take names of dead children and give them to Jewish children, by way of hiding them.  

 Sharon Sergeant. It was possible that the DeWaels had taken in a Jewish child and their own child had died.

Evelyne Haendel. I needed further proof.

[what did you do next?]

Off the record, this is a good question.

JR. Evelyne figured out, where can I find this proof?

Evelyne Haendel. She would have gone to school.

Sharon Sergeant: I tried to find the school, in the tram track she mentioned in her book.

Evelyne Haendel: And as I walked by, I had the school. The door was open. I walked in and asked if they had any someone with the name of Monique De Wael.

JR. So, we’re biting our fingernails to the point where they’re actually bleeding, waiting for this information. Either we’ve got the records or we don’t.   (2/9/37). That was the final proof. Both the Baptismal certificate and her attendance in the school.

JR. I got to the phone and I picked up the phone and it was Sharon. And Sharon could hardly contain her excitement. Practically, screamed into the phone, we’ve got the records. We’ve got the records. That was the smoking gun. Now I’ve caught her in a lie. My life had been contaminated by a whole spiderweb of lies. And here it is. Exposed as a hoax. Now, I thought, the whole story she tells in the book, falls apart. At that point I knew she was not who she said she was. Not only was she not a Jewish child hiding in the forest from the Nazis. She was a Catholic child, safely enrolled in school. She wasn’t anywhere near wolves. She was playing to an audience. She knew exactly what she was doing. Now we can see this not just a little white fib. This is a massive conspiracy over 20 years to propagate what was a complete falsehood. This was not the real Misha.

Evelyne Haendel: I had many feelings. I felt angry. I felt disgusted. I just saw the fake history. The fake identity. A way to get money out of the Holocaust.  Somebody stole a very painful part of my life. I felt it for myself. And for all the hidden children. The dead children. Through the Holocaust. For all the parents. For my parents. But, in fact, for all the Jewish community.

JR. At the point we got the records, the book was a huge bestseller, all over Europe. And the book had just came out. And the movie was called. ‘Surviving with Wolves’.

It had Premiered in Paris, ‘Based on a true story’. And here we’re holding these documents. So we said, let’s go with this. Let’s put it on my blog. And email somebody over in Belgium.

The next morning it had broken, front page of all the newspapers. We had fired a truth bomb. It had landed. The whole fake thing blew up.

Jonni Soffron, I went home. Put her name on my computer. And there it was. And it felt like my blood just drained from my body. You know, how can this possibly be? I was angry. I was sad. I was hurt. I felt betrayed. I felt used. She became that close to me that when we had a litter of pubs born, we named one, Misha. It was just heart-breaking. Absolutely heart-breaking. We were duped. Just like the rest of you.

Karen Schulman. That fact that she lied, made me cry. Misha played on sympathy. That’s how she became a wonderful storyteller. Sympathy. That’s how Misha was able to fool people. Sympathy.

Pat Cunnigham: I burst into tears. I felt so taken advantage of and lied to. The lies and bitterness came out. Some of my neighbours did give her quite large sums of money. We’re talking $25000, $30 000. To help her save the house. She’d go to the Rabbis and ask for donations from the temple. The entire community. The neighbours than knew her. Nobody talked to, that I know of. Everybody felt betrayed. Yeh…

Marie-Claire Mommer. There was a kind of anger that rose up in me, which never left me. The students that took part in the project. The day I entered the class there was a state of revolt. You have to imagine a pack in revolt. Rants. Tears. Cries. They were standing up on the benches. I was no longer in control. And I usually contained my students very well. I contacted Misha straight away. I wanted to be honest and authentic with her. But she said, ‘Don’t worry, it must be the doing of the publisher in America.’

Jane Daniels. And then came the next twist in the story. It couldn’t have got more bizarre. I said to myself I could never make up this plot, if I did, they would say, this is preposterous. This would not happen.

Marc Metdepinnigen (The Journalist) Every journalist dreams of a scoop.  The question for me was if the story was false, what is the real story? What I did was simply go through the Brussel’s phone book, where there are approximately 400 De Waels. So I started going through them. One after the other. And at the forty-third or forty-forth, I stumbled across a woman Emma De Wael. My meeting with Emma, Misha’s aunt was extraordinary.

Marc Metdepinnigen :She didn’t go in search of her parents?   

Emma De Wael: Good god, no. Her grandfather and grandmother

Marc Metdepinnigen. She told me her niece had always been delusional. That she would create imaginary worlds for herself.

Emma De Wael: I went and fetched her regularly with the number 56 tram to Anderlecht and brought her to Schaerbeek. In the evenings I took her back to Uncle Ernest.

Marc Metdepinnigen,  Emma De Wael told the truth about what happens during war. What happened to Robert, Misha Defonseca’s father.

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) Robert De Wael worked at Schaerbeek Town Hall. He was really very patriotic. And very engaged with his role as a reserve officer.  

Marc Metdepinnigen, I met Jean-Philippe Tondeur by chance. But he had a lot of documentation on Misha Defonseca’s father. So I went to consult Robert De Wael’s file.

On 10th May, 1940. Germans invade Belgium. They crush the Belgian army during an 18 day campaign. The king surrenders. And Belgium is occupied. Robert De Wael joins the Resistance. And begins to recruit resistance fighters. As a resistance fighter, Robert DeWael was involved in gathering weapons. Activating intelligence networks. And transmitting intelligence to the Belgian government which had gone to London.

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) Robert De Wael wasn’t very discrete about his activities for the resistance.

Emma De Wael, he had a loose tongue, because he was proud of what he was doing. Because I knew he had secret documents. He even showed them to us at home. My father told him to be careful. That he was becoming careless. He risked address.

Marc Metdepinnigen. He was denounced by a Nazi collaborator. And was quickly arrested. Robert DeWael, his wife and 41 resistance fighters were arrested. And are deported to Germany. And sent to Bruweiler prison in Cologne. The Cologne prison had a very harsh regime. He’s interrogated by the Gestapo.

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) Robert De Wael starts to scream. He cracks. He made a deal in the Cologne prison. This deal involved him handing over the names of his fellow resistance fighters in exchange for his wife being protected. And to once again see his daughter, Misha.

In 1942, after betraying his fellow officers, as the Germans demanded of him. Robert De Wael got one last opportunity to see his daughter. And that would be the end for Robert De Wael. He would later be deported. Robert and his wife Germaine would die in the camps.

Emma De Wael. We called her the traitor’s daughter. Because it was said that her father sided with the Germans.  

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) The Municipal would prescribe a plaque with the resistance fighters who died during the war. Robert De Wael, whose name was listed last, was later erased.

Marc Metdepinnigen, on 28th February 2008, when things became very clear, we published Robert De Wael’s whole story. The betrayal. The falseness of the story. Misha Defonseca’s account. And in the hours that followed a statement was issued. This was Misha Defonseca’s statement:

‘They called me the “Traitor’s daughter” because my father was suspected of having spoken under torture. This book, this story, is mine. It is not the actual reality, but it was my reality. My way of surviving. I ask forgiveness.  All I ever wanted was to exorcise my suffering.’

‘I felt so rejected. But I could not explain it to myself. Neither to my grandmother of my grandfather. I am not the girl I thought, but there are times I hesitate. I say to myself, “Did I or did I not, experience it?” I have to think.’

‘Particularly, with animals, I can still see myself, rolling on the ground with wolves.’

‘Have you seen my lovely picture with wolves? They will always be my wolves. I will be at their side. Even if I know the truth now. I am at their side. I got into a bubble. A world of my own. And this world of mine was filled with animals. Animals that defended me against humans.

Candy O’Terre. The Radio Host. Listening back to this intro the first words in this were ‘sometimes a story is so astonishing, it’s unbelievable. That’s very astonishing. Those were the first words. Then it turns out, it’s not true.’

I believed her. I didn’t see anything in those eyes that made me think she wasn’t telling me the truth. All I was doing was looking for more truth to confirm what I already believed. In hindsight, it’s chilling. But for me, at that moment, I was so respectful of someone’s experience of what we think of as citizens of the world will recognise was the darkest time of the history of the world. Far be it from me to question her.

Deborah Dwork (The Holocaust Historian) When it comes to questioning Holocaust survivors, one brings a great deal of diffidence to those claims. But the danger of believing everything puts history and the historical reality of genuine survivors at risk.

In December 1996, I got a letter and a manuscript from Jane Daniel. That manuscript was Misha (a memoir) during the Holocaust. I called Jane Daniel to explain why this narrative just didn’t work. I said to her, I would not publish this book. I have thought over the years why Jane Daniels decided to go forward with publication. She clearly hoped that the manuscript was true. But she clearly worried, it was not. I think it was greed that powered her, this narrative. For Misha and Jane Daniels. And then, as those sales’ figures rose, more and more people accepted the memoir as real. As true.

JD: I admit it. I created this monster. I created this monster with enormous sympathy as a character. Somebody that had suffered terribly. Somebody that deserved respect. In fact. Awe. And nobody wants to admit they were tricked. And I admit it, I was tricked by her. I believed her. Everybody was seduced. The American jurisprudence system. The judges. The juries. We were all seduced by this story.

Evelyne Haendel: It’s human to believe. Creditability is something else. It’s your need to question things or not that will help you discern what’s true and what’s not.  

Marie-Claire Mommer: I have enough distance to take a more analytical look at Misha’s character. Misha created a world for herself. A world of her own belief. Misha sought refuge in fantasy and with time she slowly becomes a character in her own story.

Deborah Dwork (The Holocaust Historian) I think we would like to believe that Misha Defonseca believed. That she was a survivor of the Holocaust. I think we would like to believe that we were not so naïve. That we believed it, because she believed it. And we would even like to believe that this narrative has a redemptive purpose. Because it made right the wrong of her childhood. I think it’s nonsense. There is no redemptive purpose. We were so naïve. It was all a fabrication.  

Evelyne Haendel: I feel about her today, (shrug) mixed emotions. I think she was a protagonist in the story but she was not alone. There were other people that helped to make this biography be a bestseller. Just talking about her right now, the search and the years that went by- some pity, ah, some repulsion, maybe it’s too hard a word, but I’m feeling some understanding. As a child it must have been very difficult for her after the war. The fact her father was called a traitor. A collaborator. She is both the victim and the villain. She’s both. She is both in the story.

The real Misha Defonseca still lives in Massachusetts with her husband and animals.

She chose not to be interviewed for this film.

The financial penalty against Jane Daniels was partially overturned.

Vice, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Director Adam McKay.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0011p18/vice

Described as comedy-drama, a biographical film about former US vice-president Dick Cheney. Christian Bale won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the most powerful vice-president in modern history. There is a contemporary joke that nobody is ever called Dick, but that’s about it.

There is nothing funny about Vice. At a push, I could probably name most of the President since the first wold war since it mostly involves saying Roosevelt over and over.

Vice President can become Presidents. General Eisenhower and Harry Truman spring to mind. And if you take a circular route, Republican, Vice President Richard Nixon finally got his feet under the desk at the Oval Office. Most were in agreement Vice was no more than a token job. A bit like being the President’s wife. Good for photoshoots and opening fetes.

Kamala Harris’s power, in contrast, lies her ability to cast a tie-breaking vote in a split Senate. But really, she’s waiting for Joe Biden to die so she can step into a real job.

Robert A. Caro shows how Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) spiralled into depression when his attempts to control the Senate were rebuffed and his attempt to manipulate the new American President, and darling of the media, John F. Kennedy were swatted aside with a smile. The man that had once controlled Congress and Senate reduced to a comic figure that was left out of briefings in the new Camelot.

Vice follows the path of an American boy made good. Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) telling him after a couple of drink driving convictions and barroom fights he was on the road to nowhere. He better ship up or ship out. He did both, while staying out of Vietnam and the armed forces on deferments.

Like LBJ, Cheney had a talent for politics. In one scene, he asks another intern what party  guest-speaker Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) belongs to. When told he’s a Republican, he says he’s a Republican too.

When working for Rumsfeld as an intern he asks him Cheney what he believes in. Here’s the joke part of the film. Rumsfeld slaps him on the back and laughs so long and hard, the viewer knows it’s a joke. The purpose of power is power.

Realpolitik. Rumsfeld points to a closed door. He tells Cheney behind it is Nixon and Defense Secretary Henry Kissinger are having an unofficial meeting. When the meeting was finished tens of thousands of Vietnamese would die. Subtext. They are plotting mass murderer.

Drawing a line in the sand, Cheney gave his support to gay marriages since one of his two daughters, Mary (Alison Pill) came out as gay.  

There were other shifting lines in the sand. He was a hawkish Secretary of Defense (1989–1993) following the precepts of the Eisenhower Doctrine—any (oil rich) Middle Eastern country could request American economic assistance or aid from U.S. military forces if it was being threatened by armed aggression. 1st August 1990, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein sent Iraqi forces into neighbouring oil-rich Kuwait.

President George W Bush (senior) unleashed coalition (mainly US) forces in Desert Storm under the command of General Norman Schwarzkopf. February 24. Within 100 hours, Iraqi forces had been expelled from Kuwait in the ground war. With aerial dominance, they were sitting ducks.

[Not in the film, but worth quoting Cheney’s perceptive response to the invasion of Baghdad, in the first Gulf War: how many American dead is Saddam worth?]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Cheney

 ‘Because if we’d gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it – eastern Iraq – the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq. The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families – it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.’

Vice Presidency (2001–2009).

We all know about what’s now called 9/11.

But if you asked me who the Vice President was at the time, I couldn’t have answered. The tone of the film is set early. George W. Bush (junior) (Sam Rockwell) is in the air metaphorically and literally when the planes hit The Twin Towers. Dick Cheney takes charge of the 9/11 fallout.  

But Dick Cheney had always been—more of less—in charge. The coup that LBJ had attempted had failed, but Cheney was the real power in American politics. The dithering George W Bush President, but the Vice President pulling the strings. Ironically, the power grab going in the other direction. The American President grabbing more executive power as the Twin Towers fell. Extra-ordinary rendition. Repealing the Geneva Convension. Spying on American citizens.

The invasion of Afghanistan was payback for 9/11.

Payback for his old bosses at Halliburton Corporation by adding billions of dollars to shareholder value. The invasion of Iraq’s oil-rich fields with evidence from a list drawn up before Saddam Hussein was found to have mass weapons of destruction—he didn’t have and links to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida hidden network in the paperwork with the weapons of mass destruction.  

Cheney, a hawk abroad, and conservative at home. No surprise with his fortune coming from a fossil fuel, Times 500 Company, he helped in the pushback for the ideas of global warming. He helped reframe the debate, through think-tanks sponsored by Times 500 companies as simply climate change, which sound much more palatable and less threatening. The kind of idea picked up the moron’s moron.

Cheney endorsed Trump in the 2016 Presidential election, but didn’t shut his eyes to how he got elected. Russian interference, or what he moron’s moron would call Russian help from their cyber networks, Cheney classified as ‘an act of war’. But he’d also have to have declared war on that American institution Facebook that cashed the cyber cheques made in Russia and created the images of hate that polluted politics (from a very low base which Cheney’s think-tanks helped fuel) and still does.

The film ends with the viewer finding out the narrator of the film is the man that provided Cheney with a new heart after his failed. I guess they should have saved it and given it to someone more deserving. But money talks loudest. Worth a look, but don’t expect to giggle.  

.

Flint, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, narrator Alec Baldwin, writer Richard Phinney, director and editor Anthony Baxter.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000q1km/flint

I found it strange that a crew from BBC Scotland led by Anthony Baxter should from 2014 spend five years filming a documentary about water pollution in Flint Michigan, the former home of General Motors, and the narrator is Alec Baldwin. We’re far from home.

Remember around 25 years ago when John Gummer, the then Tory agricultural minister, fed his four-year-old daughter a burgher to prove the British beef was safe after the BSE (Mad Cow Disease) disaster? Here we have President Obama sipping water from the Flint River’s Treatment Plant and declaring it safe. Whilst we have Reverend Jesse Jackson declaring that water is a basic human right. Amen to that.

What we have is a crisis of faith in authority and what they are telling us. (Soon to be mirrored by the almost 50% that will not take a Covid 19 vaccine because they don’t trust those telling us it’s safe – and often for good reason—although in the case of the Covid vaccines, plural, ignorance plays a large part).

Who to believe becomes what we believe. In Flint the mayor declares it an issue of class (and ethnicity). General Motors produced almost 50 million cars in Flint. That’s past tense. Since 1970 the population has halved. Houses that sold for $60 000 can now be bought for $6000. Lots lie empty.  

Rick Snyder was elected as Michigan’s governor on a ticket of running local government like a business. This is the kind of ticket the Laurel and Hardy of British politics Cameron and Osborne ran down the British economy. The same ticket Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ran in sacking firefighters to save public money because in Rupert Murdoch land global warming is a hoax nobody is falling for. We could even throw in the moron’s moron’s wilful dismantling of government agencies tasked with the prevention of public health epidemics because they were insiders.

Snyder got away with sacking firefighters and police officers to balance the books. His plan to ratchet up water prices and take water from the Flint River and not from the Huron River, in south-eastern Michigan which had been used before then to save around $5 million per annum was a fiscal disaster and health disaster.

It followed the usual trajectory. First up is to blame the victims. Jeremiah Loren, aged 12, with a skin rash and debilitating illnesses is somehow to blame, if not him, then his family.   

As Michigan’s governor, he stripped Flint’s city council of its power, and his administrators raised water prices to balance the books. They then forced the city to use water from the Flint River in order to save more money. Something was wrong. Tap water was brown. Residents were told to run it a little longer. Advised that colouring had nothing to do with safety—it was still safe to drink. At the last remaining General Motors assembly plant car parts began to rust.

Professor Edwards with the help of his students from nearby Virginia Tech College took water samples and found lead 5000 times over the limits advised by the World Health Organisation. He declared it ‘a man-made disaster’ that such a toxic substance had been allowed to accumulate, particularly, in the bloodstream of around 10 000 city children where it was linked with among other factors a lower IQ and possible brain damage.

ACT 2. Snyder admits there may have been a problem. He’ll fix it (but you’ll pay for him to fix it). Hey Presto. Fixed. Your water is safe to drink. Cue Snyder drinking water treated by the Flint Treatment Plant and taken from the Huron River. No more talk about saving money, now it’s about saving lives. We do get a fix on him with his ad-lib about those on welfare (that they should be glad to pay over-inflated prices for drinking poison).

Class actions suits against Flint, and at state and federal levels are filed. We’re in Erin Brokovich territory.

The expert for the Water Defence League, Scott Smith, proves to be a charlatan and snake-oil salesman. Professor Edwards turns turtle and agrees to work with Snyder. Edwards declares the water safe to drink, well, as safe as any other state. Edwards files a law suit of defamation against, mother of three, Melissa Mays. She was a major part of the city-wide initiative to uncover the truth about Flint’s water. Edward had publicly thanked and praised her and other volunteers.

Alec Baldwin appears in front of the camera to ask a resident and mother, ‘why don’t you leave?’  

If you can’t work out the answer, here’s a questionnaire I developed (A) I just love poisoning myself and my kids or  (B) I’m skint, and where would I go?

If you answered A, congratulations, you voted for the moron’s moron, Trump. If you answered B, and voted for Trump, keep drinking the water. Rust belt? Sure, hope so.

Notes on ‘Spring’ by Ali Smith

Ali Smith is the same age as me and was born in Inverness, Scotland (for those of you that don’t know Inverness is in Scotland—yeh, that happens). She’s an international star whose writing is lauded. The Guardian, for example, called Autumn, ‘The novel of the year’. I stuck with Spring and read it from start to finish. I found bits of it a chore and probably wouldn’t have read beyond the first ten pages, but for her world renown.

I’ve made some notes, you might, or might not, want to have a quick read through. These would, usually, be the basis of a larger review. The major characters in these odysseys are seeking integrity, and mostly they manage it. I agree with the didactic elements listed below.

A simple journey from London to Inverness.

An obituary appears in the Guardian, …Patricia Heal nee Hardiman 20th September 1932-11 August 2018

The stories Mansfield wrote in Switzerland were her best (sanatorium).

Script about Mansfield and Rilke, literary giants. It’s mindblowing. 37

Virtue signalling problems, Richard tells his imaginary daughter. 27

Don’t talk about climate change or the rise of the right, or the migrant crisis or Brexit or Windrush or Grenfell or the Irish border…

Don’t be calling it migrant crisis…I’ve told you a million times. It’s people. It’s an individual crossing the world against the odds.  Multiplied by 60 million, all individuals, all crossing the world, against odds that worsen by the day. 68

Dying is a salutary thing, Dick, Paddy says. It’s a gift, I look at Trump now, I see them all, the new world tyrants, all the leaders of the packs, the racists, the white supremacists, the new crusaders rabble-rousers holding forth, the thugs all across the world, and what I think is, all that too solid flesh. It’ll melt away like snow in May.

[cf Catherine of Sienna]

[cfDuncan Cambell (bent cop)

Sentenced by Mr Justice Melford Stevenson:

‘you’ve poisoned the well of justice for the crooks, cranks and do-gooders’ [who want to attack the police’]

…the fact that those two writers just living in the same place at the same time in their lives, whether they met or not.

This is the kind of coincidence that sends electricity through our lives. 99

People like feeling.

Some things that Britanny Hall learned in her first two months as a DCO at a UK IRC.

There are 30 000 detained in this country at any one time. 165

Detention is the key to maintaining an effective immigration system. 167  

[ciphers not characters]

If the force of just five more nuclear bombs going off anywhere in the world happens…eternal nuclear autumn will set in and there’ll be no more seasons. 186 Florence Smith and the machine.

You can only legally detain someone in this country for seventy-two hours before you have to charge them with a crime. 204-5

Aldo Lyons (Auld Alliance) 271

235 recent escapes…detention estates.

I had no rights. I still have no rights. I carried fear on my shoulders all the way across the world to this country you call yours. I still carry fear on my shoulders. Fear is one of my belongings…

And the first thing you did when I arrived was hand me a letter saying, Welcome to a county in which you are not welcome. You are now a designated unwelcome person with whom we will do as we please 272

320 face-recognition technology.

Jordan Belfort (2008) The Wolf of Wall Street.

Jordan Belfort (2008) The Wolf of Wall Street.

As a reader it sticks in my craw that sometimes the film is better than the book (e.g. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ben Hur and Spartacus are examples of the former) but here I think it’s a honourable draw. If you want to save several hours of your life, and don’t fancy reading over 500 pages, watch the film and save several hours of your life. Leonardo DiCaprio is great as the twenty-odd-year old Jordan Belfort beginning his meteoric rise by starting a brokerage firm in 1993, Stratton Oakmont. It ends as a morality play after eight years, as all good books do, with the narrator aged thirty-four, older and wiser. Belfort no longer having a starring part in a show he likes and frequently reference, Lifestyles of the Rich and Dysfunctional—he’s arrested by the FBI, having blown millions of dollars, lots of it up his nose.

The subtext on the front page is a lead line to his gargantuan drug addiction, throw in a bit of alcoholism and a penchant for sex with hookers at every opportunity, call it sex addiction and sometimes even having sex with his supermodel wife and their you’ve got it. Jordan Belfort’s story told in a convincing fuck-you voice.

This is what happened he’s saying. My rise and fall—and while it lasted it was a blast.

John Lanchester in How to Speak Money, A Lexicon of Money has an entry ‘bullshit versus nonsense’.   

Belfort puts words in his character’s mouth. They agree that he was the smartest man they’d ever met. Smartest-man-in-the-room syndrome. And Trump, the moron’s moron, does get a walk on part, but only as a figure of fun. A reality host with wigwam hair.   And the young broker, a child prodigy with numbers, wasn’t going to disagree. Belfort quickly figured Wall Street was 99% bullshit and 1% nonsense. A giant confidence trick.  His target wasn’t the common man, but those with money, the five-percent of Americans that were rich or superrich and liked to think they were smarter than everybody else. He realized if he could get past their secretaries and those guardians of conservatism they were reckless gamblers. The would-be broker could coach a monkey into selling them stock in new and upcoming companies. Belfort fixed the market so it was win-win for him and his cronies at Stratton Oakmont and you have the legend, he was like Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving the spoils to him and his merry men (and women) and fuck the poor. Poor being here, someone down to their last $250 000.

There was no Warren Buffet starting Berkshire Hathaway with a $10 000 investment and through prudent investment and year-on-year profits creating a $50 million portfolio and making tens of millions hand over fist from a John Major, Conservative, government then in power. Belfort was making the same kind of money by training his cohort to shout down the phone and not to take no for an answer. Die or sell. Michael Lewis describes it in the preface to Liar’s Poker as a historical trend ‘a modern gold rush, never has so many unskilled twenty-four-year olds made so much money in so little time as we made in New York and London’.  

Belfort establishes what he terms ‘The Life’ was like very early when he spends over $500 000 of credit card on hookers ($5000 a pop) drugs and booze and marks it down as entertainment, a write-down for tax. His second in command Danny Porush and his first trainee, who has almost the same level of drug intake, with drug of choice Quaaludes and throw in suitcases of cocaine and crystal. In the opening exchanges Porush, after swallowing a live goldfish, is trying to convince his boss it would be a blast to have a party and throw dwarves and watch the little people land on their head in a big dartboard thing, probably without the dartboard.  Belfort wasn’t sure that’d be a good idea, but he wasn’t totally against it. A sticking point was liability and insurance.

Here we are December 13, 1993:

‘The next morning—or if you want to get technical about it, a few hours later I was having an awesome dream. It was the sort of dream every young man hopes and prays for, so I decided to go with it. I’m alone in bed, when Venice the hooker comes to me. She kneels down at the edge of my sumptuous king-size bed, hovering just out of reach, a perfect little vision. I can see her clearly now…the lusty mane and chestnut brown hair…the fine features of her face…those young juicy jugs, those incredible loamy loins, glistening with greed and desire.’

‘Loamy loins’ pop up a lot, usually in relation to The Duchess, his second wife. Other characters in his story such as the Depraved Chinaman, Steve Madden the shoe millionaire and Elliot Lavigne, the World Class Degenerate tend to be affixed qualifying labels. While trying to do a bit of money laundering in Switzerland, ($20 million, starting with small tranches of a few million) for example, the banker and master forger both smoke and at some point inhale and don’t exhale. Mixed metaphors and mixed stereotypes make clunky prose. Similarly, his second wife’s Aunt Patricia in London sounds like something out of Mary Poppins. And Belfort makes the generalization the working classes in Britain worship the royal family and can see no wrong in those royal charlatans in horsey- mediocrity-land. Perhaps Belfort isn’t as smart as he figures. I’ve got one word for that, deluded. Or perhaps I’m just deluded?

But the autobiography isn’t about us, the working class; it’s about him and his cronies. What it shows quite convincingly is the rich can break the law and suffer no consequence. This was before the moron’s moron got elected President for doing many of the same things Belfort done. But hey, at least one of them got prison time and I’m sorry it was the latter and not the former. Belfort writes a rip-snorting book. It’s entertaining and I enjoyed reading it. You can’t say any fairer than that.  I’m glad Belfort is rehabilitated and doing the right thing. As for the other charlatan…

Mrs America, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, written by Dahvi Waller and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08ggl84/mrs-america-series-1-1-phyllis

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08gglyp/mrs-america-series-1-2-gloria

It’s 1971, American troops are still fighting in Vietnam. Richard Nixon is President and is engaged in ongoing peace talks with his USSR counterpart, President Brezhnev. Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) is scheduled to talk about the arm’s race, to give a women’s perspective on local television. She knows her stuff. She’s ran for Congress as a Republican candidate. The talk-show host is enamoured, not only is she knowledgeable, she’s beautiful. He wants her to go to Washington with him and talk to Senators, including Barry Goldwater. He’s a man who knows the money men, the men with power and hoping for a bit of hanky-panky. She smiles as she’s been told to do. She’s good at smiling. Good at most things. She’s a leader and follower.  

Next up, we get Schlfly at home in Missouri. Her husband Fred Schlafly (John Slattery) is a successful businessman and her father to her six children. He indulges her political ambitions and her networking and her Rolodex and secretary and organising local mothers into a white, middle-class mother’s group against the Equal Rights Act, because it keeps her out of harm’s way.  She indulges him. After her trip to Washington, where she’s the only woman in a roomful of Senators discussing the arm’s race and latest proposed legislation, which she’s read and is able to slap down a Senator like a school teacher quizzing an errant pupil that’s not done his homework. At home she’s too tired for sex, but he isn’t. It’s his choice and her obligation.  

Perhaps I should use different similes. Metaphorical language tends to reinforce the idea of his-story being the dominant ideology. With first-wave feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, focussing on social context. Man, Woman, Other, with the distinction of being female and being constructed as a woman. Being gendered allows patriarchy to perpetuate the status-quo. St Thomas Aquinas’s idea of women being an ‘imperfect man’. In the tradition of women being nothing but an empty womb. Setting us up for the fight against abortion, which as we know from Roe vs Wade women won in the Supreme Court in the United States but has been rolled back again and again. With the poor, working class and black women overwhelmingly effected. It’s no great surprise that Schlafly received a standing ovation at the moron’s moron’s Presidential rally in 2016, when Trump was running for office. And the President of the dis-United States attended her funeral. As a rule of thumb, whatever Trump is for, I’m against. Betty Friedman (Tracy Ulman) and Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) are having a conversation about who Phyllis Schlafly is, while Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) is foregrounded. It’s a conversation about nothing but everything. The reply sums her (and him) up. ‘She’s a right-wing, nut-job’.

Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, was also a right-wing, nut job.  She didn’t believe in sexual discrimination either. But, ironically, in early-seventies Britain, Prime Minister Edward Heath only kept Thatcher in Cabinet as Education Secretary because she was the token woman. In the same way, the viewer, from a different viewpoint, almost feels sorry for Phyllis Schlafly when she gets to attend a coveted meeting with Barry Goldwater and the other state senators in the Senate. The stenographer, a woman, naturally, is asked to leave because talks about nuclear missiles is too important an issue and she doesn’t have security clearance. But Phyllis Schlafly primed to speak and show her mettle is slapped down and asked to take notes and minutes. Women should know their place isn’t spoken, but shown. That’s great drama.

Carol Hanisch (1970) coined the term, ‘the personal is political’ and the second-wave feminist movement that is dramatized here ride on a righteous wave against ‘right-wing, nut-jobs,’ which crashed against Thatcher/Reagan. We lost the ideological war and live in the right-wing, nut-job world now of hatred and entrenched social divisions.  I’ve only watched the first two episodes of nine. The second episode feature Gloria Epstein, she’s beautiful too, but perhaps I shouldn’t be saying that. Judging people by the bogus standards of the male gaze. Perhaps I’ll watch more episodes. I’m a prisoner of my birth and personality (personal–reality) aren’t we all? Aren’t we all?

63 UP, ITV, directed by Michael Apted.

7 Up.jpg

https://www.itv.com/hub/7-63-up-uk/2a1866a0001

‘Give me a child and I will show you the man.’

That old Jesuit or ancient Greek aphorism is alive and well. I’m at 56 and UPward myself and one of my classmates, George Devine’s funeral, was on Wednesday. Arthritis creeps around my bones, but I’m still gloriously alive. When I went to school Mrs Boyle taught us that 9 x 7 = 63 (UP). My life has been in eight instalments, but I’ve followed the nine episodes of this soap opera and read into it things I already know. Class is alive and flourishing in Britain as it was in 1964; a half-hour documentary made by Granada, a World in Action, looked at the state of the nation through children’s eyes.

The villains of the series, as in life, have always been to me the upper classes. I’m like that old priest in Father Ted that when drink is mentioned his eyes glaze and he jumps out of his chair. With me it’s Tories. Fucking, Tory scum.

The first series (7UP) shows us three boys representative of that class, aged 7, Andrew, Charles and John.  They are shown singing Waltzing Matilda in Latin.  In their posh English accents they also boast about what newspapers they read. The Financial Times and Guardian. And tell the viewer exactly what prep school. public school and universities they will attend. And this all comes to pass with Biblical accuracy.  A world away from North Kensington, Grenfell Tower, the same rich South Kensington, London borough, where these boys hailed from.

The exception to the rule was Charles. We see him in 21 UP, long hair, hipster, telling the viewer how glad he didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge and attended Durham University instead. And he was glad of that because it gave him a different view of the world. Ho-hom. He does not appear in the subsequent programmes. Being educated at the right schools and having the right connections, of course, he went on to become something big in Channel 4,  something big in film and theatre and  threatened to sue his fellow documentary maker Michael Apted for using his image. This shows no class at all. Apted being one of those national treasures, like David Attenborough. Imagine, for example, a beluga whale suing Attenborough for impinging on his right’s images and all because of a bit of plastic.

Andrew went on to become a partner in his solicitor’s firm at 31, by that time he’d married outside his class to a good Yorkshire lass, plain Jane and they had two sons, Alexander and Timothy. His firm was taken over by a larger corporation and he regretted spending so much time at work, but in his modest way, admitted those were the choices he made. I quite liked Andrew.

I detested his and my namesake John. Of all the upper-class twats that little Tony wanted to punch, he would have been my prime candidate. I hated everything about him. The way he looked and sounded. His pronouncements that (Luton) car workers with their fabulous wages could afford to send their children to public schools. His life went exactly to the book, his pronouncements, aged 7 UP, realised. He became a Queen’s Council and gained his silk robe. He married the daughter of a former ambassador to Bulgaria and admitted his great grandfather, Todor Burmov, had fought against the Turks to gain independence and had been Prime Minister. No surprise, the gone, gone, gone girl, Teresa May, who attended the same Oxbridge institution, and helped create the hostile environment for immigrants didn’t exactly rush to deport him. John had the wrong accent, the right register of the Queen’s English, fabulous social connections and the pasty-white colour of skin favoured by immigrant officials. Two of his friends were Ministers in the Government.  Even Nigel Farage, the ex-Etonian, would have complained if John had suddenly been napped and put on a flight to Sofia, but then a strange thing happened. I didn’t mind John so much, and actually admired him.

He was one of the few that didn’t tell the viewer whether he had family or not. The reason he kept appearing in subsequent programmes was to promote a charity that helped disabled and disadvantage citizens in Bulgaria. He admitted modestly that he’d worked hard. While that usually would have me thinking nobody had worked harder than coal miners who’d powered the Industrial Revolution and paid in silicosis and black death, or Jimmy Savile who prided himself on being a Bevin boy and working (hard) down the pits and incredibly hard with his charity work and had other interests. John mentioned his mother had needed to work to send him to public school, in the same way that tens of millions of mothers have to work to put food on the table. John gained a scholarship to attend Oxford University, with the inference he was poor. I’m not sure if his mother was a Luton car worker, but I’m sure she didn’t work as a cleaner in a tower block in South Kensington. I didn’t exactly like John, but I understood him better, which is the beginning of knowledge.

I guess like many other viewers I identified with Tony, this tiny kid from the East End of London, his dad a card-shark crook and he looked to be going the same way. Larger than life Tony from 7 UP was a working-class cliché. He was never going to make anything of school. Left at 15 and he tells you early he yearned to be a jockey. He was helping out at the stables and got a job there. I know how he feels. I wanted to play for Celtic and trained with the boy’s club at 15. Trained with Davie Moyes, Charlie Nicholas on the next red gravel training pitch. Clutching my boots in a plastic bag I wasn’t even good enough to be molested by Frank Cairns, although he did give me a passing, playful, punch in the stomach. I guess he was aiming lower down and the lower league. Tony in a later UP series told us he’d ridden in a race against Lester Piggot. He wasn’t good enough, and is big enough to admit it.

Tony with his outdated attitude to women. The four Fs. Fuck them, forget them and I can’t remember the other two. Debbie sorted that out. She gave him three kids and now he’s got three grandkids. Tony admitted he’d had an affair. Tony, plucky London cabbie, having done The Knowledge, as did his wife and son. A spell in Spain trying to work out as a property broker. I guess, I should have guessed. Tony admitted he’d voted Tory all his days and now he wasn’t sure. More of a Farage man. Fuck off Tony.

Tony got a bit heated when he thought Apted had accused him of being a racist. ‘I’m a people’s man,’ he said. ‘You know me.’

Then he talks about the Arabs, in the same way you’d talk about poofs and Paki shops. The Arabs were the only ones that were helping him make money. It wasn’t Uber, that was ripping him off, but Labour that were taking everything and giving nothing back. Fuck off Tony, read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and find out what part of Mugsborough you’ve moved to. Yet, there were his daughter, something that had gone wrong. Sometimes we’ve got to realise that although we circle the wagons, as Tony claimed, only a community can save us.

The old lies are made new again.

Let’s look at the girls from the same social background as Tony. My kind of people. Straight as a die, Lynn, attended the same primary school as Jackie and Sue. Married for 40 years. Two daughter and two granddaughters, Riley, only two-and-a-half ounces at birth. God bless the NHS. Lynn whose first job was in a mobile library. Lynn, who loved kids and loved helping kids to read. Then she worked in Bethnal Green in the library. Under the Tories, of course, we don’t need libraries; we don’t need women like Lynn. Her job was redundant. She was redundant. RIP.

Jackie was always the mouthy one in the triumvirate of girls pictured together. She  told Apted he wasn’t asking her the right kind of questions and patronising them – which he was, a product of his own class. Jackie, first married of the group. First divorced. Said she didn’t want children, but had three boys and ended up  in a council estate in Scotland, but separated from the father of the two of them, but still in love and in touch with him. Jackie, who had rheumatoid arthritis and told the camera, and David Cameron, if he thought she was fit for work then he should show her what kind of job. Disabled, she was classified as not disabled enough and fit for work. Tory scum. Here it is in person. Public policy without humanity and based on a lie. No great surprise the suicide rate on those deprived of benefits has rocketed. I wonder what Farage, who has never worked and continues to draw a hefty stipend from rich fools and from the European Parliament he wants to destroy thinks about that. We know what he thinks. He thinks what rich people tell him. Jackie can speak for herself. Speak for us.

Sue can think for herself too. She got married to have children and had two kids, but divorced their father because she didn’t love him. Karaoke singer, she met Glen and they’ve been engaged for twenty years or more. She works as head administrator in the law faculty of Queen Mary, University of London. She’s thinking about retirement and does a bit of acting and singing. A working class life, made good. But she worries that the world we’re passing on to her children and our children isn’t as good. Doesn’t have the same level of opportunity and social mobility. She’s right to be worried.

Bruce, representative of the middle class,  who when he was 7 UP claimed to have a girlfriend in Africa that he probably wouldn’t see again and wanted to be a missionary, always had that look on his face as if he’d missed something. His father, perhaps, in Southern Rhodesia.  Bruce was beaten at public school. He freely admits it and agonised whether Christianity was an outdated doctrine and whether it was liveable. I wonder about that too. I see the façade and under the façade more façade. The devil seems to me more real than any god and Jesus whose only weapon was love. Yeh, I like Bruce. For a start, although he was public school and went to Oxford to study Maths, he was never a Tory. He taught maths to children in Sylhet, Bangladesh and in the East End of London (Tony’s old school, if I remember correctly). Late in life he married and had two sons.

Peter, who went to the same school in Liverpool as Neil, was also representative of a different strand of the middle class. Both boys claimed they wanted be astronauts, but Neil hedged his bets and claimed he would be as equally happy being a bus driver. Peter went to university, got a degree and took up teaching. The greatest moment of his life was, he claimed, the 1977 Tommy Smith goal for Liverpool in the European Cup Final in Rome. No mention of his marriage or his teaching career. He dropped out of the 7 UP series after being targeted by the Daily Hate Mail and other right-wing publications for criticising Thatcherism. He later re-appeared, in 56 UP, having remarried and hoping to promote his burgeoning musical career. He claimed to be happy working in the Civil Service. Good rate of pay, good pension. He must be ecstatic now that Mo Salah and Liverpool have given him another greatest moment of his life in Bilbao. Anyone that sees through Thatcherism has walked in my shoes and I love my team, Celtic in the same way he loves Liverpool.

Neil never became an astronaut or bus driver. He did go to study in Aberdeen University, but dropped out in the first year and at 21 UP was living in a squat in London and working as casual labour on building sites. Neil makes for good television. Contrast the bright, beautiful and confidant seven-year-old boy with what he’d become, a shifty-eyed loner, with obvious what we’d term now, mental health problems, or as he admitted depression or problems with his nerves, madness. At 28 UP he was living in a caravan in Scotland. Then he was living in Orkney.  Neil never fulfilled his boyhood potential. But I guess that’s true of us all. Then somehow, in that long curve on life he seemed to be making a comeback. 42 UP he’s living with Bruce and later becomes a Liberal Democrat councillor in Hackney. 56 UP he’s moved again to middle England as well as being a councillor is a lay preacher in the Eden district of Cumbria. Able to administer all the rites of the Church of England, apart from communion. 63 UP he’s living in northern France, a house in the countryside he’s bought with money inherited from his parent’s estate. Neil has become a squire. Like me he hoped to have written something people would want to read.

Nick, educated in a one room school house in the tiny village of Arncliffe, in the Yorkshire Dales, a farmer’s son, who went to Oxford and gained a doctorate in nuclear physics, is a story of meritocracy and upward mobility. He didn’t want to run the farm, he said, perhaps his brother that was deaf, could inherit the farm. Nick wanted to change the world. A fellow student at Oxford commented that he didn’t associate Neil’s Northern accent with intelligence.  He was right, of course, intelligence has nothing to do with accent, and upward mobility has nothing to do with meritocracy. Nick’s comments that Teresa May would never have become Prime Minister if she’s gone to an obscure polytechnic would have at one time seemed inflammatory. But Nick lives and teaches in Wisconsin-Madison. Before Trump, and the moron’s moron continual twittering, nothing has ever been the same again. Nick had a son with his first wife and later remarried Cryss. But in 63 UP he admits to having throat cancer. He’s intelligent enough to know what that mean.

In 56 UP, Nick admitted having long conversations with Suzy, who had appeared in eight of the nine episodes, but not in 63 UP. Suzy when asked about the series when she was a chain-smoking, twenty-one-year old, thought the series pointless and silly. By that time her father had died, she’d dropped out of school and been to Paris to learn secretarial skills. Her upper-class background true to form meant she was a pretty enough catch. She duly married Rupert, a solicitor and prospered as a housewife and mother of two girls and a boy. After 28 UP she glowed with good health.

Symon and Paul were the bottom of the heap in the first series of 7 UP in 1964. Symon was the only mixed race kid in the programme. His mother was white. He missed her when he was in the home. She just couldn’t cope with him, but later they became close.

Symon went to work in Wall’s freezer room. He had five kids and was married by 28 UP. He wanted to be film star. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. At 35 he was divorced and remarried. He remarried a childhood sweetheart. They met in the laundrette. She had a kid and they had a son. They fostered hundreds of kids over the years. If you take away the money Symon has been the biggest success story and has given the most.

Symon and Paul kept in touch and they reunited in 63 UP in Australia where Paul lived. He emigrated, following his father down under. Paul worked in the building trade. He was always one of the shy ones in the programme. He went walkabouts with his wife Susan, who thought him handsome and that he had a nice bum. They had a couple of kids and stacks of grandkids. Their daughter went to university. The first of their family to enter an institution of higher learning. Paul and his wife work together in a retirement home.

The 7 UP series tells us about ourselves. When it began the Cuban Missile Crisis had been played out the threat of nuclear annihilation had passed. Or so we thought. With global warming and tens of millions of migrants on the move, the threat of nuclear annihilation is more likely, but for a different reason, because countries divert rivers and tributaries and claim them as their own.

The jobs that each one did will be redundant. Self-driving cars mean taxing will be for the birds. Amazon are already delivering by drone. Any kind of administration is child’s play for artificial intelligence. The bastion of law and medicine is based on pattern recognition. We can expect the new Google to run our health service, or what’s left of it. Nick, the nuclear engineer, might not have much of a future. The future is green, totally green. Those Arab states that rely on the mono-crop of oil will become bankrupt almost overnight, like a Middle-Eastern Venezuela. Russia has long been bankrupt, but without oil it implodes. Let’s hope it doesn’t take the rest of us with it. Money flows from the poor to the rich at an increasing. rate, like an ever-growing, speeded up, Pacman creating new wealth and eating it up more quickly. We are left with dysfunctional politics, tyranny and chaos. The centre cannot hold. Our homes will be battery powered. Plants and trees are already solar powered. They shall become our new cathedrals. Scotland should be green by then.  That’s something a celticman appreciates.

 

Colson Whitehead (2016) The Underground Railway.

underground railway.jpg

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railway was a winner of The National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017. There’s not a lot of room on the front cover for namedropping, but Barrack Obama describes the book as ‘Terrific’ and the New York Review of Books, ‘Dazzling’.

I guess it resonates for a number of reasons. In some ways the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia in the nineteenth century, before the American Civil War is a Bildungsroman. It deals with her formative years and that of the American nation. A Hobbesian world in which life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.  It’s six years, for example, since her mother left, when the novel begins Cora’s narrative, which makes her around sixteen. Jokey, the oldest slave in the plantation, possibly the world, is fifty-two he said, but negroes birthdays aren’t kept track of, and it’s two years since she had been ‘seasoned’, which is another way of saying held down by young black bucks and gang raped. This isn’t a kind of black Jane Eyre, although issues of class are overwritten by issues of ethnicity and race which provide a kind of moral justification for actions. The white man was the devil, but the black man was the devil too.

‘This was a world there was no place to escape to, only places to flee from.’

The cotton crop was as important to the American South as oil is to Saudi Arabia and was built on the back of the genocide of the Indian nations and the labour of Africans stolen from across the seas. To be black was not to be a person, but a thing. There’s a cruel joke here that a black man is only treated a person when dead and his body sold to medical schools for student dissection. And Cora’s nemesis, the slave tracker, Ridgeway, never referred to a slave as a person but as an ‘it’.

Ridgeway’s eugenic ideology is the kind of the thing trumpeted by Trump supporters. Cora is a suitable test of his skills because she dared to escape, as her mother did before her. The only slave Ridgeway never returned to his master. The Fugitive Slave law allowed him to cross state lines and he had a legal right, much like bounty hunters and bond bailsmen have today, to return property to its owner. Where Cora ran, Ridgeway followed.

But here we have what a writer’s conceit, in that the Underground Railway that helped slaves escape from their brutal masters was not figurative, but actual. A railway network ran underneath the state lines of America, much like the subway system runs underneath London. We have moved from traditional narrative to something more surreal, bordering on science-fiction.

Lumbley’s words returned to her [Cora]: If you want to see what the nation is all about, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America.

Cora, like many of the hobos of 1920s and 1930s rode the lines, trying to find a better and more forgiving place. A utopian world, predating John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ were Okies could not make a living or find freedom and were black people were invisible.

This then is also a novel that holds a different kind of mirror up to America. Cora’s America is a place built on genocide and slavery which sells fear as a panacea and people as things. A free black man walks different from a slave. The distant pass isn’t that far whatever way you travel. Trump that?

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.

 

Chris Leslie (2016) Disappearing Glasgow: A Photographic Journey.

disappearing glasgow.jpg

http://www.chrisleslie.com/portfolios/red-road-underground/

As part of Book Scotland I went to talk Chris Leslie gave in Clydebank library. He overran a wee bit but I could have listened to him all night. Disappearing Glasgow is about us. Glasgow’s full of ghosts, one of the punters in his book says. And they’ve all got the same refrain – that used to be my house.

I always presumed the Red Road flats would last forever, but when you see it now in this state you realise it’s over. It’s not the actual building itself, but all your memories, that’s where I was brought up, that’s where I was made.

‘Bleak, depressing and out of date’. Shades of Grenfell Towers here.

‘What kind of legacy is this?’ Margaret Jaconelli asks.

What kind of Glasgow is this the red sandstone blocks in the West End of Glasgow are feted for the warmth and vibrancy they bring to Glasgow but  in the East End of Glasgow, in Dalmarnock, they lie derelict and are knocked down. Jaconelli is offered £29 000 compensation, enough to buy a cheap caravan.  Remember these were the same tactics used by the American President before he was President when he was just a serial groper and sex pest, when trying to evict a man from his house, which stood in the path of a proposed golf course in Aberdeen. We’ve heard the lie and we here it here. It will bring jobs. It will bring apprenticeships. Not the kind of apprenticeships that boys from Bearsden or the West End would appreciate, engineering or surveying, more the kind of security and admin apprenticeships. The social divide kind. Us and them. Then, of course, if you look at Jaconelli’s poster facing out of her soon to be demolished house it reads a litany of our past and those deals done in Kensington. Thirty-percent of social housing in Glasgow disappears with the skyline. In London, Barnabas Calder tells us these Raw Concrete, Brutalist structures we call high-rise have remained, have flourished, former council houses bought up by property developers and sold at inflated prices. Labelled sink estates money defies gravity and floats upwards from poor to rich. Backroom wrangling.

What kind of legacy is this? The residents of Grenfell ask. Even then as Margaret Jaconelli says in her poster of all the Trumps of the world.

Mayfair millionaires Charles Price given millions of public money for buying a bit of land from the council and selling it back to them. Working class resident Margaret Jaconelli penalised for buying a house in Glasgow.

Ups and downs in the property market, boom time for building firms who coin in government grants for first-time buyers. Those on the bottom rung fall off. People homeless, living on the streets and  the highest figure since records began. The answer to homelessness is quite simple. Build more homes. We did it after the Second World War, we can do it again. 250 000 houses a year, just to stand still. This book is a reminder being evicted is a political decision in which only the rich benefit. The people of Grenfell Towers deserve better, but so do the rest of us.