Unreported World. Putin’s Family Values. Channel 4, 7pm. Director Jessica Kay, Presented by Marcel Theroux.

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http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/on-demand/65524-002

Just when you thought you’d seen enough of writer, producer and documentary maker Louis Theroux his brother Marcel pops up in Russia in a programme about Putin’s Family Values. There are two narratives here, one which we in the West will no doubt be familiar with. Tatanya is the Russian matriarch who opens her heart and opens her home. She has adopted 48 children and is currently fostering another 28. Six-year-old Kostya, for example, was abandoned on the streets by his alcoholic parents and brought to Tatanya three days later to care for him. Five-year old Kolya has a bad squint and even worse temper tantrums. He was adopted by a family with his other three siblings, but returned to Tatanya. Kolya really wants to go to Kindergarten with the other children and the camera follows him there with Tatanya. She complains she doesn’t get enough money from the state to feed the kids in her care. From what we see the house is dilapidated, but the kids playing in the basement seem happy (there’s no way of knowing if they are unhappy).

Ivan Osaki is a Patriarch of the Russian Orthordox Church in Cossack County near the River Don, on the borders of the Ukraine. He is the face of Russia Putin wants the West to see. He lives in a palatial home with his 18 children, their ages ranging from seven to thirty-three. He also has 25 grandchildren, and his sons are also Patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church. His lifestyle is sponsored by the billionaires who cashed in on the breakup of the Soviet Union and ‘liberalised’ its assets. They include Konstantin Maleeov a banker with Kremlin connections, who has also set up Russia’s first Christian TV channel. Alexander Dugen a Putin cheerleader and—for the moment—a supporter of President Trump’s conservative values. Ivan Osaki’s wife, Nadeszhda, jokes that she went on maternity leave twenty-eight years ago and has been pregnant pretty much every year since then. Her services to the Russian state has been rewarded with Order for Parental Glory.

My reading of this is Russia’s population has been shrinking since the size of the economy halved with liberalisation and the gap between the rich and poor was once those in the Kremlin drove a Skoda and had six times the income of their comrades. Now there’s a unhealthy Western-style gap between rich and poor, with the latter choosing to have fewer children. The Order for Parental Glory – for good parents – has similarities with the Cross of Honour the Nazi Party gave to mothers who produced four or more children. The annexation of parts of Ukraine because the so-called majority of their citizens speak Russian has similarities with the Anschluss between Austria and Germany and the annexation of countries bordering the enlarged state. But you’d need to go back to Tolstoy’s War and Peace and read Nicholas Rostov’s sycophantic ravings such as ‘Oh God, what would happen to me if the Emperor spoke to me?’ thought Rostov, ‘I should die of happiness’, to appreciate the mind-sets and public pronouncements of Patriarch’s like Osaki that call Putin their father.

The strong man isn’t a uniquely Russian trait. The moron’s moron in the Whitehouse plays the same role. And both strong men seek to turn back the clock and put women firmly in their place. In America Trump seeks to appoint judges that will repeal Roe v Wade and take all federal funding from clinics that sanction abortion. Maleeov’s Christian commentators on television call for the sanctity of private property, no interference from the state in family life and compare abortions to the practices of Nazi doctors in the Death Camps. Money talks and conservatism speaks very loudly, women are not only different from men, they are lesser than men.

Yuval Noah Harari epigram in Sapiens about the crime of married rape, for example, being an oxymoron ‘as illogical as saying that a man stole his own wallet’ sums it up exactly. The proposed bill to decriminalise domestic violence in the Russian Duma supported by Maleeov was passed into Russian law. Men, of course, don’t get off Scot free. It will cost them around 5000 roubles (£70) if they are found guilty of beating their wife and 7000 roubles for beating their children. Harari cites precedents from among other books the Bible, if a man meets a virgin and rapes her he must pay fifty shekels to the father of the virgin and then marry her. Nobody can argue with the laws of the bible or the laws of the market. Both are God given. The world is becoming a much smaller and harsher place for poor women.

 

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Gay Talese (1992) Unto the Sons.

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I’m not sure how to write reviews. Usually, I start by saying something about the writer, such as I knew nothing about Gay Talese until I read an interview with him in The Observer Review, which focused on his latest book, the name of which I can’t remember, but the story centered around a man who ran a hotel and peeked through the ceiling at the room below and the couples that had sex in them. That piqued my interest. Next up, an online interview with Gay Talese in The Paris Review. I liked what he had to say. So I went to my local library (yes, libraries still exist) and got a book out. Quiet a hefty book, 629 pages and the author’s notes. It could have been any of Talese’s books, over almost a fifty-year period he’s written, according to my flawed reckoning, seven.

Unto the Sons is an epic that spans the Napoleonic wars, the taking and making of Italy by Garibaldi and the First and Second World Wars. To call it autobiographical would be an understatement and a bit like calling War and Peace a story about Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. Napoleon does feature here, a background figure. Flickering in the foreground was one of his generals Murat, who was married to his sister (or sister-in-law) but was known as the King of Naples, a dismissive term in both books, but here he appears to lead a rebellion and take back what he imagined to be his kingdom from the Bourbon king, Victor Emmanuel III. Murat has a walk on role, because Naples is near Maida, in the South of Italy. That’s important because everything springs from that soil including the people and their customs and their antagonism to the people in the North of Italy who take everything good and give nothing back.

Gay’s father Joseph is a tailor, made good in the new land, with his own business in Ocean City, New Jersey, a naturalized citizen, jingoistic in support of the war effort, but fearful for his relatives fighting for the Italians and the Axis powers, relatives of his brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of the soil of Maida. He prays daily to St Francis of Paola, a son of the southern Italian soil and a miracle worker. Like many young boys Gay finds this distasteful and embarrassing.

Usually, when reviewing a book you stick in something that spoke to you. Something that resonates. Perhaps even to show the agnostics that you have read the book. On a day when Donald J Trump becomes the forty-fifth President of the United States I was struck by a passage featuring one of the protagonists that the book follows (based I guess on the diaries he left), Joseph’s elder cousin by four years, Antonio who had fought for Italy and France in the First World War, and whom a younger Joseph lived and worked for briefly in Paris, before moving further from his homeland to America. Here Antonio, an avowed Fascist living and working in a Paris not yet occupied by the Germans, takes stock of the Duce, Mussolini,  whom he privately thinks has done some good things and can’t really do any great harm (and we know what happened next) and his thoughts mirror my own about Trump’s possible trajectory.

Antonio saw Mussolini as a man with more bark than bite, an egotist with perhaps a neurotic need to gain other people’s attention, yet he thought the Duce could be reasoned with, must be reasoned with, before he embraced Hitler as his strongest ally. Mussolini was a dictator, but Antonio believed, only a dictator could have restored order in Italy during the strike-ridden 1920s.

Blackshirts and black armbands. I’ll wear the latter, a day of mourning for the election of Donald J Trump and the belief that he can make America great again. I’m in mourning for the world I knew.

 

idiocy on a grand scale

We all know how this works. BP is on the slide. Share price dropping like a cascade of dominos.  It’s not a good time to be in fossil fuels. China no longer buying; America fracking and the Middle Eastern countries pumping out more oil than you can shake a Sheik at. Even Saudi Arabia is feeling the pinch and trying to sell shares in its monopoly. The best thing a company that BP can do is sack worker [tick] and lower existing workers’ pay [tick] and water down any obligations that the company may have towards workers’ welfare such as pensions and sick pay [tick]. And if that doesn’t work first time, keep doing it until you can see the whites of the workers’ eyes. Plead poverty. Ask for a government bailout on that infrastructure you’ve already paid for and get a tax rebate to keep you competitive. Threaten even more job losses [tick].  Then appoint a new chief executive Bob Dudley.

What makes Bob that is a Dudley unusual is  the established formula of agreeing to everything the new chief executive demands, such as a £14 million starting salary was voted down. Wow. That’s Bolshevism for you. Some of the other executives in the top FTSE 100 companies average a  salary of around £5 million a year. According to the High Pay Centre, they’ve got to make do with Exec poverty at around 183 times the earnings of the equally average UK worker. Average earnings in the UK being around £26 500 in 2015, but of course most folk I know don’t make average earnings, they make far less than that. But let’s just simply, picture your own average executive and pin his image to an internal dartboard [and it will be a he]. He makes 200 times the average worker. And Bob, this is a Dudley, makes almost three times as much as them.

What can super Bob do? Can he like Superman turn the earth back on its axis, regularly save the world, turn back time and save Lois Lane from a crumbling dam that has killed her and bring her back to life with a kiss? Temporarily blip. Like the stock market, she will recover.

I’m sure those angry shareholders were asking the question most workers face. Would Bob work for a measly £13 999 999? And if he would why not a measly £13 999 998?  £13 999 997?  You can see where it’s going. A downward pressure on Bob’s pay packet.

Perhaps shareholder could get Bob, who is a Dudley, to sign a workers’ agreement, or more a lame-duck promise, not to commit suicide, as all new global workers, such as those making smartphones and tablets for Apple’s subsidiary company Foxconn in China were forced to do, in 2010.

Ignore signs such as those held up to information technology workers on Google buses there’s 10 million Dudley’s more like you in India. One of the picketer’s placards being held by Thomas Piketty.

All wages are relative and Bob who is a Dudley is I’m sure worth more than the average worker.  But how much more? Let’s throw up some ideas. Offhand, how about 100 000 times more? The ratio of how many serfs the nobility owned in War and Peace. By the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, around 1989, the modern aristocracy of the Communist politburo has two houses and earned around six times as much as the average worker. Let’s just say it’s a changed world from the people that owned the land that also owned the people on the land, to modern commerce, but the principle is the same. Putin knows it. I’m the one holding the big stick. Like it or lump it. I’m sure Bob that’s not a Dudley knows it too.