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.

Bill Cosby: Fall of an American Icon, BBC 2, 9pm (BBC iPlayer) Director and Producer Ricardo Pollack

bill cosby.jpg

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08tj1kx/bill-cosby-fall-of-an-american-icon

Today, 5th June 2017, Bill Cosby faces four charges of first-degree aggravated sexual assault against Andrea Constand. A possible ten-year prison sentence hangs in the balance. He has pled not guilty. In many ways this is the reverse of the OJ Simpson trial. When Constand made the allegations against Cosby that he had drugged and sexually assaulted her in summer 2004, the Hollywood star was not prosecuted, but an action was taken through the civil courts and an agreement was reached. What that agreement was and the damages paid was incommunicado, the silencing of the witness by giving them money, as compensation, with a legal provision that they keep stuhm.  It’s a rich man’s injustice. And Cosby was rich and so famous he wasn’t even regarded as black. From the 1960s onwards his success as a comedian, actor, writer and producer of the The Cosby Show, which ran for eight series and some shows were watched by over fifty-percent of the telly-watching population made him and the characters he created, paediatrician, family man and all-round good guy, Cliff Huxable, the face of television and America’s dad.

You here that quite a lot. Lili Bernard, for example, told how he mentored her, took her onto the set of The Cosby Show and offered to give her a part. After about a year of mentoring he took her to Trump’s Taj Mahal hotel ostensibly to meet a producer. In the suite he’d leased, he force fed her Quaaludes, but she trusted him, thought it best to go along with his wishes, so she drank them down, but even as he was raping her, there was a disconnect, because Bernard couldn’t believe a person she thought of a dad, was raping her. Cosby warned her not to speak out.  ‘You’re nothing,’ he said.

Cosby was always something. I’d never heard of OJ Simpson, but I could place Cosby. I watched bits of his shows.  I guess like many others, I conflated the character Huxtable with Cosby. If the character was called Bill Cosby and this was his family I don’t think many people would have complained or noticed. Cosby did have a black wife and five kids.

He was also a serial rapist. Let’s use the tip-of-the-iceberg argument. Thirteen women testified to attorney Gloria Alred that Cosby had drugged them, raped them and then threatened them afterwards not to tell anyone because they were nothing. Victoria Valentino a former Playboy bunny tells us how Cosby at the end of the nineteen-sixties, promised her and a friend he’d an eye for, an audition in a forthcoming show, but asked them to take pills that would make them feel better, which they did, but felt nauseous. He took them for a ride in his limousine into the hills and orally and vaginally raped her. He left her and her friend in the hills and told them to ‘call a cab’. She didn’t report it, because of whom he was and who she was, but even when she did, nobody seemed to want to listen.

It takes a lot to knock an icon from a pedestal. Ironically, it was a joke, Hannibal Buress, calling Cosby a rapist, which did the job. It was filmed; one black man calling another black comedian a rapist and it exploded on social media sites, being picked up by mainstream media. A statute of limitations meant that victims such as Valentino would not have their day in court, but they can be called as witnesses and it won’t be for the defence. Cosby is guilty as OJ was guilty, but he didn’t kill anybody, but both black men will join the largest concentration of citizens in the world that are serving time in prison, the majority of whom are also black. There’s justice and there’s justice. We’ll wait and see if that other serial groper and potential rapist the moron’s moron who is president is, in the years to come, charged with sexual assault. That would be an even bigger trial and I’m sure more viewers would watch that than The Cosby Show.   Perhaps we’ll finally see the footage Putin has of Trump and the prostitutes he’d hired. That would be a show-stopper that could go nuclear.