Mistakes were made.

In their efforts to attain deniability on the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran, the U.S. administration managed to achieve considerable notoriety for self-righteousness, public befuddlement about facts, forgetfulness under oath, and constant disavowals of political error and criminality, culminating in the quasi-confessional passive-voice-mode sentence, Mistakes were made.

This, of course, was a long time ago (1980s) but it serves to show how much worse things are now. Contrast it with Robert E. Lee’s statement after the battle of Gettysburg and the calamity of Pickett’s Charge:

“All this has been my fault,” Lee said.  “I asked more of my men than should have been asked of them.”

Lee’s sentences have an antique ring.  People just don’t say such things any more.  Honest men are no longer heard. If they are heard they are vilified.

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Mistakes were made.  Who made them?  Everybody made them and no one did, and it’s history anyway, so let’s forget about it.  What difference does it make to writers of stories if public figures are denying responsibility for their own actions?  So what if they are, in effect, refusing to tell their own stories accurately?  Well, to make an obvious point, they create a climate in which social narratives are designed to be deliberately incoherent and misleading.  Such narratives humiliate the act of storytelling.  You can argue that only a coherent narrative can manage to explain public events, and you can reconstruct a story if someone says, “I made a mistake,” or “We did that.”  You can’t reconstruct a story – you can’t even know what the story is – if everybody is saying, Mistakes were made.

Every story is a history, however, and when there is no comprehensible story, there is no history.  The past, under these circumstances, becomes an unreadable mess.  When we hear words like “deniability,” we are in the presence of narrative dysfunction, the process by which we lose track of the story of ourselves, the story that tells us who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.

Fast-forward to 2004 and Karl Rove (a Bush aide). Rove criticised a New York Times journalist for working in the ‘reality based community’ with people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality’.  He went on:

“That’s not the way the world really works any more.  We’re an empire now, and we act, we create our own reality.  And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you will study too, and that’s how things will sort out.  We’re history’s actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

I’ve studied and thought about this comment of Roves quite a lot over the years since I first heard it. My first reaction was horror. How can any human being think like that? And have absolute confidence that they are right?  I do not think someone in his right mind could have such a thought; Rove is clearly not a sane person and  ‘…what we do’ usually means murdering lots of people – for oil, money, status… and they have also created a new language to match the new reality: ‘collateral damage’ – dead civilians; ‘humanitarian intervention’ – war on civilians and, er, mistakes were made.

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 Mistakes indeed.  The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that 500,000 Iraqi children died due to sanctions before the 2003 invasion.  After the invasion, estimates of civilian deaths range from 100,000 in the popular media to 1,200,000 in the Lancet. It is interesting too that if this discrepancy is pointed out to those who would rather not think about it, the reaction is outrage directed not at those who caused the deaths but at the providers of the information.  This is due to a compliant media providing the lies, and idiots believing them.

500,000 children. Perhaps another 200,000 during the war. Does anybody stop to think what that means?  I don’t think they do.  Many of you have children. Imagine your child dying of starvation or of agonising disease. Imagine your child with its arm blown off, crushed to death, blown to pieces – tiny fragile bodies twisted and torn asunder. Because that’s what happened to them, innocent children, as yours are innocent. And why was it done? Who did it?.  Who do you blame?  Who owns up to the dead children?  Are they ever mentioned?’

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Er, no.  Nobody takes responsibility. Mistakes were made. Actually, if you want to blame somebody, blame Clinton, Bush and Blair. Do you imagine any of them have lost one second’s sleep over the many child deaths in their name?  Did they ever own up to it? Do they even remember that it happened?  I doubt it.  Clinton was on the election trail with his awful wife; Bush plays golf at his ranch; Blair makes money. Blair at least has the grace to look destroyed.  While admitting nothing, his subconscious has caught up with him. His face has crumbled with guilt. He lives his own hell. He reminds me of Macbeth.  Americans just keep going on their dreadful way.

Does anybody own up to anything?  The police were still challenging the Hillsborough families right up to the last minute, adding immensely to their suffering.  Appeal after appeal on a mountain of lies. It took 27 years to finally arrive at a truth that was obvious from day one.  How many truths are denied and buried completely?

Would you trust a banker to tell you the truth? A policeman?  A judge?  A doctor?  A celebrity?

Anyone?

Ah, mistakes were made.

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Hillsborough

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It has taken me 28 years to write about Hillsborough. Whenever the subject was raised it made me angry, mainly because I’ve never understood why it had taken 27 years to state the obvious – 96 deaths were caused by, at best, extreme police stupidity. The lies and cover-up that followed were of the most obvious criminality. I doubt very much that anyone will ever pay for it.

The reason I was surprised by the cover-up was that the tragedy was all so public. The whole disaster, aided and abetted by appalling police inadequacy, was on television for all to see – several million people must have seen it. I taped what should have been the game on video. I later wiped it. Why did it take 27 years for me to see those images again? Why did nobody ever show the film of what happened? It has always existed. Why was it hidden?

Too many people were herded into a fenced in pen. This caused many to be crushed and trampled. The whole situation could have been alleviated by opening the gates onto the pitch. Instead the police stood and watched as 96 people were crushed to death and many more injured.

A lie was invented at about 3.45. The lie was to cover up a chief of police’s lack of action and his force’s dreadful incompetency. The lie was that Liverpool fans had rushed a gate, poured into the stadium in their hundreds crushing those already there to death.

The chief of police froze. His only action was to position a row of police on the half-way line to prevent hooliganism. This was while people were dying. People can freeze. It’s a tragedy, but it happens and is forgivable. What is unforgiveable are the invented lies and the heartless and callous disregard for the bereaved families.

Moira Stewart dutifully repeated the lie on the later BBC news. In other words: Liverpool supporters killed themselves. She must have known she was repeating lies but BBC employees will repeat any old rubbish they’re told to repeat. People preferred the lie. After all they were football fans, hooligans; and most of all: working class. Support the police, blame the workers.

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The lie was embellished: Liverpool fans urinated on brave police, they were all drunk, they stole wallets from the dead. Incredibly people believed this nonsense. This might have been understandable had not the whole tragedy been shown live on TV – the police were lying. Look at the film: that’s what happened! Why did so many believe those stupid lies?

The idiot celebrity, Terry Wogan, smugly described the deaths as self-inflicted. He once shouted at an audience that vociferously disagreed with him: “Get back to your hovels”. He also charged £5000 for his appearances on Children in Need, until he was rumbled. His popularity is one of life’s mysteries.

The police interviewed all the families of the dead. Completely lacking any sympathy, they told every family that their child, spouse was drunk. To one family who told them their child did not drink they replied: “You’ll be telling us he was a virgin next”. Inhuman behaviour.

The Taylor Report, soon after, exonerated the fans and blamed the police. But the media preferred the lie, incredibly the public did too. One fan was asked hundreds of times if he really urinated on the police. He replied: “Would you do it?” I wrote a letter to The Independent in 2011 voicing my thoughts about the police and Moira Stewart. I received an avalanche of replies, all criticising me. “You must have been there”; “You must have lost someone there” were the polite replies; “How dare you attack our wonderful police?” “How dare you attack the lovely Moira Stewart?” were more common. These are the same people now pretending sympathy for the dead and their families. I’m afraid they are the most hopeless idiots. Nothing can be done for them. They will believe any nonsense the state tells them to believe.

The police present on the day all had their written reports changed. The honest ones had any slight criticism of the police erased. There were some decent police, those few who helped the fans; most of those had the decency to leave the police, some had nervous breakdowns, broken by the sheer horror of what they witnessed. It was mainly the fans who helped, the police did precious little.

The final case against the police took far longer than it should have. The police maintained their lies to the last, prolonging the suffering. After 27 years they still could not admit what had been clear on TV in 1989. Why did that film not surface again for 27 years? The BBC must have known it existed, every TV station must have known, every newspaper must have known. How did film that proved police guilt, showed they were lying, stay hidden for so long?

The BBC, to their credit, finally made a fine documentary showing what really happened. It should have been made 28 years ago and would have avoided years and years of suffering, suffering only made possible by dozens of corrupt police, officials and a compliant, cowardly media.

The policeman or men who invented the lies should be jailed for life, along with Kelvin Mackenzie who repeated the lies in the Sun, a disreputable comic. All those police who interviewed and insulted the grieving families should be jailed for 10 years.

The massively stupid and infantile public who believed this nonsense for 27 years should be sent to an island for dim-witted people: Thick Island perhaps, where their brainlessness can only damage their unintelligent selves.

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Equivocation

“These doubtful speeches were used much in the old times by their false prophets, as appeareth by the oracles of Delphos and of the Sybil’s prophecies devised by the religious persons of those days to abuse the superstitious people, and to encumber their busy brains with vain hope or vain fear.”

The Art of English Poesy   

George Puttenham (16th century).

Equivocation: The art of saying one thing but meaning another.

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George Puttenham was writing about equivocation, an art he considered historical. He also considered it dangerous and wicked, a way of telling lies (sinful) while appearing not to. Shakespeare used much equivocation in his plays, although the word hardly existed then. Shakespeare portrayed equivocation as entertainment, as a way of providing information about the world and its people; while no angel Shakespeare was certainly not wicked. At that time equivocation had fiercely anti-Catholic connotations; the authorities were worried about the way Catholics used equivocation to deny their beliefs or that they were hiding priests. You could tell the authorities, for example, that you were taking dinner at a friend’s house while not mentioning that you were attending a Catholic mass. You were not lying but you were concealing the truth.

Equivocation was a rare and scholarly term, appearing in only a few books in the sixteenth century, mostly religious works and never in a play, poem or story. Because Shakespeare was such a gifted writer, wonderful words seemingly just flowing from him without thought, equivocation came naturally to him and his characters. All actors equivocate; it is entertaining, it is human, it can be clever, it can be wicked. We would be bored into slumber if all actors spoke honestly and always spoke the truth. The first time that Shakespeare used the actual word (although he many times used the deed) was in Hamlet, at the turn of the century, during the grave scene with Yoric’s skull. In answer to the Gravedigger’s clever but maddening replies, Hamlet tells Horatio:

How absolute the knave is! We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us.

Hamlet means that they must speak literally or the Gravedigger will continue with his evasive replies. Shakespeare is being humorous here; later he would use the word in a more sinister fashion. Most people thought that equivocation meant ambiguous; as late as 1605 Francis Bacon defined it as such in his Advancement of Learning. But by 1606, familiarity with the word was almost universal. It was no longer a neutral word, it was now commonly thought to mean concealing the truth by saying one thing while deceptively thinking another. Shakespeare used equivocation as an action and a word to great effect in Macbeth, of the same year.

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Although the Earl of Salisbury wrote of “that most strange and gross doctrine of equivocation” which would “tear in sunder all the bonds of human conversation”, and should be rooted out from society, Shakespeare would have understood that efforts to eliminate equivocation were hopeless and naive. Salisbury, the King – everybody – equivocated whether they were conscious of it or not. Equivocation was life’s most common sin – lying.

Shakespeare was subtle with his use of words, and equivocation was not always obvious. Though the word originated in its present use with Catholics using it to deny their beliefs, it soon became much more common with writers. One could say a King equivocated without actually accusing him of lying. Equivocation is a sophisticated word, suitable for a King and his courtiers to use.  Today a politician can say “I may have used slight equivocation on that point” and most people will not even understand that he/she has actually admitted to lying.

The action of equivocating had been in common use for as long as humans have had language. Augustus convinced the Romans that they were living in a free and fair democracy, although they lived under a ruthless dictatorship. Now, in the UK people are told that they live in a democracy, but they are presented with a choice between two almost identical parties who will merely preserve the status quo, likewise the USA. and many other countries. I live in Cuba where daily the TV convinces the people that they live in a wonderful free and fair society, but it’s a dictatorship with some good points. It’s not free and fair. Today politicians and advertisers (the main culprits) use it constantly. I can mostly ignore politicians but advertising is ubiquitous, stupid and wicked; it is impossible to ignore. Equivocation, even if it was once an art, is now the “gross doctrine” that Salisbury feared.

There is no advertising in Cuba, apart from the Cubans advertising themselves: their revolution, their system, their sportsmen and women – everything Cuban; they do not advertise commercial products. The only other place I know of where TV doesn’t advertise is Britain, with the BBC, but a significant section of the population would like to destroy it, as that section worldwide would destroy anything precious.

 

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Even in Cuba I cannot escape advertising. We have satellite TV, where my woman watches the telenovelas and I watch the football. I thought advertising in England was extremely stupid but the US satellite channels are much more obviously dumb, just a medium for advertising, rather than a medium for entertainment. Programmes are interrupted every ten minutes with the dimmest adverts imaginable, merely a method for repeating names hundreds, thousands of times so that you will be unable to forget them; there is no humour, not very much thought – just the repetition of brand names and phone numbers – and in many, many hours of programming there is not even one minute of intelligence on show. Coke now transposes its logo over the crowd during the football matches – distracting and mind-numbing – as it is supposed to be.

I have found similar programming in East Asia but particularly the United States, the country that has been bombarded more than any other. It has affected even many of their decent writers, whom write of drinking a coke when they really mean something else. Coke has been so ruthlessly advertised for over a century, that taking a drink now means taking a coke to many, many people, such is the effect of constant brainwashing. I don’t even like Coke. I think it’s horrible, but am prepared to believe that some people like it and are not just influenced by the advertising. Hoover became an actual adjective thanks to that company’s successful promotions.

During a long life I have refused to believe that people can be affected by advertising because it is so simple-minded, but of course they are. They believe soap characters are real, and they believe advertising even more if an actor or celebrity equivocates and pretends that he/she uses a particular product (for a large amount of money). One must assume from this that at least seventy per cent of world’s population (particularly the USA’s) is irredeemably stupid; they buy cars, labour saving devices, clothes, tablets and phones that they do not need, and will  soon be persuaded to replace them.

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Graham Greene said that “In any government there grows a hideous establishment of stupid men”. That is true, but unfortunately those stupid men represent a very large mass of even stupider people whose “busy brains they encumber with vain hope or vain fear.” These stupid men, big swinging dicks (an apt phrase) rule the world. While once harbouring vague thoughts that human beings will eventually sort themselves out, I tend to agree now with Voltaire, that “men are mad, and anyone who thinks they can be cured is even madder.

The consumer society does not work; it will destroy itself sooner than you think. Who will stop it? Not the public. One cannot underestimate the stupidity of the public. The public is a big fat idiot. Being naturally non-violent, I would not go quite so far as Bill Hicks, who requested that all those in the public relations/advertising industry kill themselves, but I would like to put them all on an island where they can sell each other junk, and not pollute the world.

Drink Coke. You know it makes sense.

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Shopping

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“Born in Leicester in 1946, she says her generation was one of the last to truly be free. She would often play in abandoned buildings and pick fruit without the concern for today’s myriad dangers.”

Sue Townsend. Author of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾.

 

Born five years later than Sue Townsend, I did what I liked as a child: played football in the street, played on railway lines, walked through tunnels, played on private land, swam in private lakes, stole fruit and much, much more. Not one person that I knew was hurt seriously. Nobody had any money. We never noticed.

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What do today’s children do? They stare into screens on their phone, their tablet, their computer and their TV. What do these screens do? They sell them stuff. Do they play? No, they don’t.

 

Their parents are children too. They grew up with similar, less advanced, stuff, but they too are utterly brainwashed. What do they do? They shop…and shop and shop and shop. Must have the latest car, must have the new reg so everyone can see it and think what a successful person I am. I am skinting myself but that doesn’t matter – I have a new car. And it’s one of those BIG cars, four wheel drive, an SUV, one of those really expensive cars that are not really very safe, much less safe than smaller cars, and a nuisance to everybody else, but who cares? I have one and it’s new, for six whole months, then I shall have to get another new one. You see, a car is no longer a means of getting from A to B. It’s a status symbol for idiots.

 

The kids buy jeans with holes. You can’t make the holes yourself? We did, years ago. So the marketers steal the idea (as they always do) and sell it back to the kids. But they wouldn’t be so stupid as to pay £100 for jeans with holes would they? Oh yes they would. And fades too, we used to do that, it’s easy. No thanks say the morons, we’d rather pay £100 for them. It’s my stupid parents’ money anyway.

 

Just look at all those sofas. They’re the same as last week’s sofas and last month’s sofas. Got to have one. And there’s £200 off (of course there is) and it’s blue; the one we have is grey. And the sale ends tomorrow! (of course it does).

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Must have the latest phone. Why? Because all my friends will have it. Hmm. And it will sell me stuff quicker. What? It’s out of date already? Get me the latest. Must have the latest.

 

Must have the latest fashion. Can’t you be original, be different? Create something yourself from a charity shop or an independent shop? What’s independent? Oh dear.

 

What are you doing on Saturday? Sunday? Shopping, it’s cool.

 

I’ve just been on holiday. Where did you go. Africa. Whereabouts in Africa? Don’t know. Stayed by the pool.

 

What’s on TV? Adverts, increasingly moronic adverts. I like adverts. What were you watching? Celebrity Big Brother. Oh.

 

Big Brother is a term created by George Orwell. Did you know that? Who’s Grant Orwell?

 

Did you know the world is slowly being destroyed? That we are polluting it with waste? Much of it from over-shopping? Er…

 

Did you know the most beautiful animals in the world are becoming extinct? That we murder them for clothes, for ivory, for fur?  Er…

 

Did you know your clothes were made by children earning fifty pence a day? Er…

 

Did you know that 85 people in the world have as much money as the poorest 3.5 billion? Er…

 

All because of shopping.

 

All because economies run on shopping. And massive overproduction. And persuading idiots to keep buying and buying and buying. New cars when they’re not needed. Sofas that are not needed. Clothes that are not needed. Computers that are not needed. Phones that are not needed.

 

And holes, Jesus, you pay money for holes. You literally spend money on nothing.

 

How can you be taken in by these stupid adverts? They’re utterly brainless. Surely you don’t believe them do you? How can you? Nobody could believe that stuff.

 

Can you think for yourself? Er…

 

Is your brain full of the stupid stuff that your phone vomits out? Er…

 

Do you have a brain?

 

Er…

 

“He tries to tell himself that all this…the warehouses, the shops and banks – is real, but it feels like an elaborate pantomime, a sham.”

 

Ian McGuire: The North Water.

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What is an intellectual?

Noam Chomsky dates intellectualism to 1898 and the Dreyfus affair. A Manifesto of the Intellectuals fashioned by the Dreyfusards was inspired by Emile Zola’s open letter to France’s president condemning the framing of Dreyfus for treason and the subsequent military cover-up. This created an image of the intellectual as a defender of justice, confronting power with courage and integrity. But they were not generally seen that way.

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The majority of the so-called educated classes, including several prominent figures of the Académie Franςais, considered the Dreyfusards “anarchists of the lecture-platform.” Ferdinand Brunetiére thought the very word intellectual was “one of the most ridiculous eccentricities of our time – I mean the pretension of raising writers, scientists, professors and philologists to the rank of supermen.” In other words, he was frightened of them; Dreyfus was innocent – the intellectuals were merely telling the truth. So were those criticising the Dreyfusards intellectuals? I think not.

 

Prominent intellectuals on all sides enthusiastically supplied justifications for their country’s part in World War I:

In Germany:

“…have faith in us! Believe that we shall carry on this war to the end as a civilised nation, to whom the legacy of a Goethe, a Beethoven, and a Kant, is just as sacred as its own hearth and homes.”

In the USA:

“…effective and decisive work on behalf of the war has been accomplished by…a class which must be comprehensively but loosely described as the intellectuals.”

Intellectuals in the USA believed they were entering the war:

“…under the influence of a moral verdict reached, after the utmost deliberation by the more thoughtful members of the community.”

These intellectuals were the victims of a campaign by the British Ministry of Information which sought to:

“…direct the thought of most of the world, but particularly to direct the thought of American progressive intellectuals who might help to whip a pacifist country into war fever.”

 

Would you regard people who joyously recommended entering a war, individuals who generally did not risk their own lives for one second, as intellectuals? I wouldn’t, but let’s continue…

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Not everyone agreed with the war. Bertrand Russell, Eugene Debs, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht did not agree, and like Zola fourteen years before, were sentenced to prison. Debs was punished with particular spite and malevolence. For doubting the veracity of President Wilson’s “…war for democracy and human rights” he was jailed for ten years. Wilson denied him amnesty after the war, but President Harding did finally relent. This, it seems to me, is what happens to true intellectuals: Speak against power in any country and you will be persecuted. Depending on the country, the best an intellectual can hope for is persecution – elsewhere it will be jail, torture and death, probably all three.

 

So are those who constantly praise the state intellectuals? No, they are not. If any of them were capable of being intellectuals, which is unlikely, they have forfeited any right to the title by being corrupt, by pretending that lies are the truth, by supporting mass-murder and much, much more. In the past these “intellectuals” supported the burning of people at the stake, hanging, drawing and quartering, slavery and child labour. They are Pharisees, supporters of whatever power happens to rule, non-thinkers and massive idiots.

 

There is no doubt that Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron all would have enthusiastically supported all the evils of the past: black people are not really human so we can treat them abominably, children of the poor are fit only for work, the poor are not really people are they, not like us “the elite” – elite? Are they really? Of course, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, the Bush’s, Clinton and Obama are just the same, probably much worse.

Adam Smith described the USA as the “masters of mankind” following a “vile maxim”: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people.” Are followers of this most simplistic and stupid philosophy intellectuals? The original intent of the Constitution was, according to historian Gordon Wood, “…intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period, by delivering power to a better sort of person and barring those who were not rich, well born, or prominent from exercising political power.” Were the authors of the Constitution intellectuals? No, they were rich people of low intelligence. The main qualification for “a better sort of person” was hypocrisy and greed.

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Nelson Mandela was only removed from the official State Department terrorist list in 2008. Twenty years earlier he was the criminal leader of one of the world’s “more notorious terrorist groups,” according to the Pentagon. I wonder which intellectual or intellectuals made that decision, and then later decided that he was a hero fit to be fawned over by brainless celebrities.

 

A week after the fall of the Berlin Wall, six leading Latin American intellectuals, all Jesuit priests, had their heads blown off on the direct orders of the Salvadoran high command. The act was carried out by an elite battalion armed and trained by Washington. The battalion had already left a dreadful trail of blood and terror. What intellectuals took the decision to murder thousands of people who merely wanted a slightly better standard of living? Not communism, not socialism – just a vaguely better life. Were the perpetrators intellectuals at all, or are they, in fact, the constant murderers of intellectuals who don’t agree with them?

 

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy, a well respected intellectual and admired president, made the decision to shift the mission of the militaries of Latin America from “hemispheric defence” to “internal security” – in other words, war against the domestic population, if they raised their heads. Charles Maechling Jr, who led internal defence planning from 1961 to 1966 described the result of Kennedy’s decision as “…a shift from tolerance of the rapacity and cruelty of the Latin American military to direct complicity in their crimes.” The US supported and acted in “..the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.

 

In Colombia, former minister of foreign affairs, Alfredo Vázquez Carrizosa, wrote that Kennedy “…took great pains to transform our regular armies into death squads,” and “...it is their right to fight and exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment.

 

This must be, by necessity, a fairly brief account of the crimes of self-elected intellectuals and the persecution by them of true intellectuals. It is by no means confined to the USA, although as the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, they do have a hand in most things. I have hardly touched upon the role of writers in these crimes. Two English writers do spring to mind. The first is David Aaronovitch who wrote an article in 2003 wondering when the “weapons of mass destruction” would turn up. He wrote:

At the United Nations in February, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, presented evidence claiming that there were mobile laboratories and showing clear signs that the Iraqis had moved material to escape inspection from UN teams. Put together, all this was argued as constituting a clear breach of UN resolutions that therefore required urgent action.

These claims cannot be wished away in the light of a successful war. If nothing is eventually found, I – as a supporter of the war – will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Those weapons had better be there somewhere.

He “…will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again.” Well, I’m sure he does go on believing, as a paid Pharisee, but it is quite shocking that he believed anything in the past from either government. And I think he genuinely does, and did, believe them. Some Pharisees are cynics – they don’t really believe the nonsense they write – but I believe Aaronovitch does truly believe. It is rather sad.

He concludes his article with:

At this moment, when the authorities are telling the truth and need the people to trust them, no one does. So I repeat, those weapons had better be there.

Oh dear, and one million civilians dead too.

In Owen Jones excellent book, The Establishment, Aaronovitch describes himself as one of the “elite”. When I had stopped laughing, I realised that these pseudo-intellectuals really do believe they are an elite. Because they are paid well for telling lies, I suppose. I can think of no other reason. They are rich, so in their tiny brains they see that as success. Sad indeed.

The other writer is James Delingpole. He is a climate change denier; there are many of those, of course. I’m sure he knows that the threats of global disaster are real, but business leaders are conducting a propaganda campaign to convince people that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax, and they pay very well. And Delingpole will do anything for money. Business people know full well how grave the threat is but they must maximise short-term profit and market share. If they don’t, someone else will. Delingpole is always willing to help.

Apart from being a denier, I’m not sure what he does. He doesn’t like the BBC, so constantly finds fault. He would prefer it was saturated with mindless adverts and awful programmes. He doesn’t like the NHS. He uses it, then criticises it in his columns, which is rather horrible.  He praises the awful Game of Thrones regularly. He also praised a French science-fiction thing that really was unredeemably awful. And that’s about it.

I suppose it’s a good living for a man with a room temperature IQ, but his constant jealousy of successful acquaintances and yearning for more cash does grate a bit. He is a splendid example of the low-grade Pharisee, of which there are many, but having encountered him fairly regularly, I mention him here.

An intellectual he is not!

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The Way We Live

This is, to most people an insignificant story. I first learned of it in on September 23rd 2015. It made me angry at the time. I then discovered that it kept making me angry, kept coming back to me, partly because everybody else was ignoring it. In the grand scheme of things it is of no consequence, but to me, in its unique, corrupt way, it somehow typifies what is wrong with this country and much of the world.

 

In 2010 two students, the Hilliard brothers, were accused of violent disorder by The Metropolitan Police at a demonstration against student fees in London. They were charged with dragging a policeman off of his horse and beating him. David Cameron, decided to assist the police and gain some publicity by suggesting the boys should “face the full force of the law.” The full force of the law here would have been a seven year prison sentence.

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Just pause here to ponder what a seven year sentence would mean to these boys: their lives ruined, four years or so among largely unsympathetic criminals, career prospects nil, disgrace for their family and a memory, a daily reminder, of the English justice system for the rest of their lives.

 

Now, what actually happened? The officer in question had not secured his saddle properly and while he was pulling Christopher Hilliard’s hair so hard he nearly left the floor – he fell off his horse. The Hilliard brothers were then set on by at least four policemen who battered them with truncheons and kicked them. For the crime of being assaulted they were charged with assaulting the officers, facing a long term in prison and a difficult life ahead.

They didn’t do anything, had committed no crime.

As The Guardian stated:

David Cameron himself risked influencing the outcome of the legal process when he publicly drew attention to the case, insisting that police had been “dragged off horses and beaten”. The reality is that young people have not only been denied access to education and jobs through the abolition of the education maintenance allowance and the rise in tuition fees, but they are also being injured, demonised and criminalised when they protest about it.

You see, the two students had spent two years amassing a vast amount of footage of the incident. You can imagine how hard they had to work to get it. The footage showed the officer pulling Hilliard’s hair, it showed his saddle slipping because he hadn’t secured it, it showed the police all around descending on the boys and viciously beating them. Jennifer Hilliard, the boys’ mother, who has tirelessly protested their innocence thought Cameron owed the family an apology, “I think there was an assumption of guilt” she said – incredibly mild in the circumstances.

Christopher Hilliard said:

“I used to have a very positive view, now it’s a very negative view. Through all these things that have happened I certainly don’t trust the police. We were told by our lawyers that the likelihood of us being found not guilty, due to the number of police witnesses, was extraordinarily low (8 police witnesses lied). It’s only due to the fact that we were able with our mum to put together a lot of data, a lot of video footage for the trial, that we were able to be found not guilty through a lot of hard work. But, yes, I frequently worried that I was going to go to prison, that I was going to be incarcerated for something that was not of our doing at all.”

The comments from the family are incredibly tolerant. They seem like a nice, normal, law-abiding family. But imagine if they hadn’t done all that work to clear themselves; imagine if they had just gone with system. The eight lying police officers would have been believed and what was meant to happen would have happened – seven years in prison. This was not an isolated case; there have been at least eleven acquittals by jury since the demos. A lot of police misbehaviour followed by lies.

Ah, but now you’re being filmed.

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The brothers were awarded £25,000 each in September 2015. David Cameron, of course, didn’t apologise. It’s a paltry sum, but what do ordinary people want with money? – money goes to people like David Cameron, and they keep it and grow it. Cameron will have forgotten all about it. The Met said:

“The Metropolitan police service has settled civil claims brought by Christopher Hilliard and Andrew Hilliard following their arrest during a protest on 9 December 2010. The claimants have also been given a written apology confirming that they should not have been arrested and expressing regret for the distress and injury suffered.”

 Hmm…

 

Cameron didn’t care if the story was true; he didn’t care that two young men’s lives would be ruined. He foolishly jumped on the bandwagon at the wrong time. It should have caused a scandal. People really should be protesting, demanding answers, but they don’t care – too busy shopping for rubbish and playing with their phones and gadgets.

The story, as far as I can discover, was reported nowhere of significance. I discovered it on Channel 4 news. Credit to them for covering it, but they did only give it two minutes, as though they were reluctant to report but thought they’d better, being a radical news programme and all. The BBC, ITV and Sky didn’t report it. Some minor educational papers reported it. The Guardian reported some of the later stuff. Some newspapers reported the compensation award (always interested in money). It does make one wonder about our media. Why the almost universal lack of reportage? They ALL reported the untrue inciting incident. Do you think they might be telling us what they want us to know, rather than what we ought to know?

 

And what of the Metropolitan Police? If they hadn’t been filmed and watched, several innocent people would be in prison. Now, I have nothing against the police. I have had dealings with them and always found them pretty decent. They have a job to do after all. But the police wheeled out at demonstrations are a different breed. They are the protectors of the system, the protectors of the money. They will do whatever they’re told. They are increasingly better armed; they are the military arm of the government. They are very violent people, itching to go out and hit someone. They have no conscience or finer feelings about lying and locking innocent people up for years. They probably enjoy it.

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I know it’s not so bad here as in other places. In Iraq, Iran, Russia, China and many other places it is much worse; they will kill you for standing in the wrong place, but do not believe that our police wouldn’t do the same thing if they were allowed to.

 

There have been no significant demonstrations since 2010. The police did their job. These people are merely defenders of the status quo. It is alarming how many people support them, defend them, even admire them – startlingly stupid people.

 

But for those of you with a functioning brain – wake up. It is getting worse and will be game-over before you know it. This was a comparatively minor incident, but it typifies a million more, a billion more. Even if you only send an email – do something.

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Somebody (Please) Say Something

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I wrote a blog in July 2014 suggesting that despite the plethora of news and print everywhere, nobody was really saying anything, at least nothing of interest, importance or even relating much to the truth. It was called Somebody Say Something, the title of an article written by John Lanchester ten years ago. He was pleading then for someone to say something (of some relevance). I recently listened to a recording of interviews with American Writers, a CD I’ve listened to perhaps fifty times. I never tire of it or anything to do with writers. They seem to me to be people who think about the world and have interesting things to say, not all of them of course, but any vaguely serious writers. Listening to American Writers I was struck by how relevant their opinions were and are. The CD reminded me of Lanchester’s article – if people weren’t saying much in 2004, they are saying much less now. There is plenty being said of course, but how much really addresses matters of substance?

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These interviews are from the 60, 70s and 80s and most of the writers are now dead. It doesn’t matter. Their words are as important today as they were then. Is anybody today saying anything of significance? Here is

 

William Burroughs in 1964:

Love plays little part in my mythology. I feel that what we call love is largely a fraud, a mixture of sentimentality and sex which has been systematically degraded and vulgarised by the virus power. The virus power manifests itself in many ways: in the construction of nuclear weapons, in the creation of political systems which are aimed at curtailing inner freedom. It manifests itself in the extreme drabness of everyday life in western society. It manifests itself in the ugliness and vulgarity that we see on every street.

Toni Morrison in 1982

That business about lazy. People doing four jobs are supposedly lazy. I remember working in houses for white people. It’s very difficult if you move in somebody’s dirt not to recognise that they are both lazy and dirty. I am the one who is assumed to be both those things. If a proper economic study is done of this country, it must include the fact that they had 200 years of free labour, which made them a successful country in one eighth of the time they would normally have to spend.

Henry Miller in 1979

Sex has no pull anymore. Everybody is immersed in it like a hot bath. Therefore there is no ecstasy, no surprise, no enjoyment. It’s as if they were doing exercises.

Saul Bellow in 1977

They are intellectual professionals in the study of literature. Their purpose is to convert novels, poems, plays into subject matter. This is where the damage comes; they make discourse of it. It wasn’t originally there to make discourse of. Modern novels weren’t taught in the universities of the 19th century. Anyone who has received a decent education should be able to pick up a novel by themselves and read it.

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Mary McCarthy in 1960

I think the world is pretty terrible and somebody has to speak up. I think there is a general conspiracy of silence about what goes on. All the stuff that’s piped in, including probably this programme with me on it, that daily cant that pours from the radio, the newspapers, advertising, education and everybody simply endures it. Somebody should get up and just shut it off.

Eudora Welty in 1985

Something has been troubling me a lot when I go round and talk to students. It is that very intelligent people don’t know the difference between fiction and non-fiction and they don’t assume there is any.

Arthur Miller in 1968

The reality was depression. The reality was the whole thing coming down in a heap of wood and cinders. What happens when everybody has a refrigerator? What happens when everybody has a car? It’s got to end.

Gore Vidal in 1978

With politics and religion, one is the mirror of the other and there is no answer in either case.


Except for Toni Morrison, these writers are now dead. None would be pleased with the way society has gone. If Mary McCarthy thought there was too much daily cant then, her head would explode now. Why must we be taught literature? We can teach ourselves and enjoy it ourselves. The virus power attempts more and more to curtail inner freedoms. To Eudora Welty I would point out that those students were certainly NOT ‘very intelligent people’. She was being far too polite. Arthur Miller knew in 1949 that it all has to end – we’re much closer now. Sex is merely an advertising scam.

This is just a small sample of what the writers had to say about their world. I can thoroughly recommend the CD to anyone interested (British Library: The Spoken Word archive). They also recorded a British Writers CD which is almost as good, including JB Priestly, William Golding and many others.

I shall continue to read biographies and listen to recordings of writers. They seem to me to be the only people recognising what is actually happening. Some care, some don’t. Some would like to change the world, others think it unchangeable or they would change a small part of it, usually their own tiny part of it. No matter, through the ages, from Homer to Dickens and beyond, they all have something to say. They lead interesting lives and find different ways of communicating their ideas, as did Hunter S Thompson in The Rum Diary: escaping from the Luce empire with its ‘slick drivers and jingo parrots’ spreading  ‘like a piss puddle’ to Puerto Rico where a tourist ship arrives ‘from somewhere in the middle of America, some flat little town’ with another ‘fearsomely alike’ group, consisting of ‘shapeless women in wool bathing suits and dull-eyed men with hairless legs who should never have been allowed to leave their local Elks Club.’

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Who says stuff like that anymore?

 

Reviewing books….

booksI haven’t written anything for a while, not because I lack the desire, but because there are so many ideas bouncing around that I’ve failed to keep hold of a single line of thought long enough to turn it into words. Frustrating, although at least I don’t live with a dull mind. Anyway, one theme keeps returning; it’s here again today, so I’m going to write about it before people forget I exist: A book I published in 2012, two other books and the reviews they received.

Caliente, an account of my time in Cuba has sold around one thousand copies, I haven’t kept track, and perhaps the same again in electronic format. I occasionally receive small boosts to my bank account due to people, I assume worldwide, buying it. It started as a diary, then when people liked bits and pieces, over many years it became a book. The story at the time seemed to me so alive and interesting that I had to tell it. With much help from a friend, I manfully did my best to promote it, but without a massive or even moderate publicity budget (it was truly tiny), I stood little chance of achieving big sales.

I still get emails from people who read and enjoyed Caliente, mostly travellers. At the beginning, when it was published, I got eight or so positive reviews on Amazon from friends, the other reviews, good or bad, are from genuine readers that I don’t know. I suppose everybody, even established authors, must get friends to review their books, and one thing one must always do on Amazon is try to separate the friendly from the genuine.

After a year I abandoned the publicity trail and started a novel. I have finished my novel twice and am now beginning a third rewrite which will be much longer. If I do finish it, it will almost certainly not sell. I don’t care. Some success would be good but it isn’t essential. I’m proud of Caliente and I will be proud of my novel. I appreciate the sales of Caliente and I like getting appreciative emails. I am not bitter in the slightest, but I do wonder about the reviewing process in Britain (I assume it’s the same in the USA).

In making my point I’ve chosen two books that can take a little criticism. Both have been fantastically reviewed and achieved significant sales: The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers (2012) and In The Light Of What We Know, Zia Haider Rahman (2014). The Yellow Birds is written by a veteran of the Gulf War, so has immediate kudos which people will naturally not easily criticise. On Amazon it has dozens of reviews from famous authors, actors, broadcasters and newspapers; inside its covers are printed a choice of the best reviews. Hilary Mantel (whom I admire) described it as ‘A masterpiece of war literature and a classic’; Damien Lewis, star of Homeland, thought it ‘poetic and devastating’. It won The Guardian First Book Award.

I bought the book based on the reviews, surely so many couldn’t be wrong. I must be appallingly out-of-step. I did not like the book at all. Not only did I not like it, I found hardly a page or sentence which moved me, let alone interested me. I was bored. I thought the book was badly written, had no real purpose and never came alive at any stage. I’ve read plenty of war literature, never coming across anything as bad as this. I accept that this was written by a serving soldier, and I have no experience of war, but that does not mean that the soldier can write. I believe that The Yellow Birds is a bad book.

In The Light Of What We Know supposedly ‘wrestles with the intricacies of the 2008 financial crash’. James Wood thought it ‘astonishingly achieved…ideas and provocations abound on every page’; Joyce Carol Oates compared it to Heart of Darkness and The Great Gatsby and the writers Graham Greene, W.G. Sebald, John le Carre and Thomas Mann. At 554 pages, as opposed to The Yellow Birds’ 226, this was very hard going. Again, I read it because of the reviews. Again, I found almost nothing of interest. This is not to say that Rahman may not write a good novel in the future, but this is not it; it is an obvious first novel, with too much crammed into it and no recognisable structure to hold it all. To me, another bad book.

I am still mystified by the marvellous reviews for these books. I do not believe I am over critical or unreasonable. I am quite widely read, reading anything from Shakespeare to detective novels. I fully accept that books like Fifty Shades of Grey get published and people like them. But they do not pretend to be, or get treated as, literature. They are harmless, not to my taste, but harmless. Was The Yellow Birds taken so seriously because it was written by a serving soldier? I don’t think so; there are many better books on the subject that get much closer to the truth. Did the author merely know the right people, who spread the word? I really don’t know. In The Light Of What We Know was crammed full of ideas which ultimately went nowhere in very boring fashion. How on earth did it gain such reviews?

I would be interested to hear from anyone who disagrees with me. Have any of you read these books? Am I so out-of-touch? Or is there a strange system of reviewing, where a book is chosen and the same people choose to say wonderful things about it? The same books and authors seem to get reviewed by the same people, ad nauseam. Not all the books are bad, of course, but every week something awful is praised to the heavens. I repeat, I am not bitter, merely mystified.

Just to add balance, I would like to say that I’ve recently read: A True Story Based on Lies and Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, Jimfish by Christopher Hope, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Trespass by D.J. Taylor, Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone and A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan (among others) and thoroughly enjoyed them all, for very different reasons, gaining a different kind of pleasure from each.

They were simply good stories, well-told.

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Undisturbed Reading…

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I returned from a three week trip to Cuba nine weeks back. I haven’t worked since and won’t start again until October. My working year gets shorter. Money is sometimes a problem, but I’ve enjoyed the time off. While in Havana, I read: A Ring of Conspirators: Henry James and His Literary Circle 1805-1915 by Miranda Seymour (The circle here included Hart Crane, H.G. Wells, Ford Maddox Ford, Edith Wharton and James’s brother William); Americans in Paris: Life and Death under the Nazi Occupation 1940-1944 by Charles Glass; Eichmann and the Holocaust by Hannah Arendt, Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness by Daniel Maier-Katkin; Conversations with Marilyn [Monroe] by W.J. Weatherby and You Talkin’ to Me: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama by Sam Leith.

Quite a heavy selection, now I look at it, but I enjoyed every one. Possibly I wouldn’t have read all of those books at home – too distracted, but in Cuba I can read for hours undisturbed and with good concentration.

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In the nine weeks I’ve been home I’ve read: Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism by Greg Grandin; The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene by Marie Francoise Allain; Defying Hitler, a memoir by Sebastian Haffner; Five Past Midnight in Bhopal (the horrific tale of the chemical spill) by Dominique Lapierre & Javier Moro; Selfish Whining Monkeys: How we ended up greedy, narcissistic and unhappy by Rod Liddle; Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good by James Davies; The Quality of Mercy: Reflections on Shakespeare by Peter Brook and Thirst by Kerry Hudson.

They appear, on reflection, quite heavy too, but they weren’t. And it’s taken me nine weeks to read them, mostly in bed; during the day there was little concentrated reading, being easily distracted.

I also noticed from one of my recent posts that I said I’d never read William Faulkner. The reason I’d never tried was just a few comments I’d read over the years. I remember Bill Bryson, ages ago, writing about a passage being three pages long “which would constitute one sentence for William Faulkner”; that and a few other remarks coloured my opinion of him. But having never read Faulkner, I became curious and, after all, he won Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.

I decided to investigate Faulkner. I looked through his books on Amazon and settled on Light in August. The Spectator said that it:

Burns throughout with a fierce indignation against cruelty, stupidity and prejudice – a great book”

A comment from a reader said;

This a Faulkner’s major work which could be considered as one of the best American novels of the 1930s. This book represents the best introduction to Faulkner’s novels and to the history of the deep South. Anyone interested in American literature should read it.”

It has 384 pages. Surely ideal as an introduction to Faulkner. I enjoyed the first few chapters but found the style difficult. Faulkner describes everything, tells you everything. It is written in, what for the time, was a modernistic style. It is impressionistic. The following passage is fairly typical:

Then a cold hard wind seems to blow through him. It is at once violent and peaceful, blowing hard away like chaff or trash or dead leaves all the desire and despair and the hopelessness and the tragic and vain imagining too. With the very blast of it he seems to feel himself rush back and empty again, without anything in him now which had not been there two weeks ago, before he ever saw her. The desire of this moment is more than desire; it is conviction quiet and assured; before he is aware that his brain has telegraphed his hand he has turned the mule from the road and is galloping along the ridge which parallels the running man’s course when he entered the woods.

Beautiful writing. But essentially the man changes direction; that’s about all I wanted to know. Perhaps that makes me a moron; perhaps I have a short attention span, except there comes a stage where I just want to get on with the story – it seemed so slow, so stodgy. It is wonderfully written, but the whole book is like that: every action, every thought, everything surrounding that action and thought is described in detail. It was too much. I waited and waited for the story to move. I tried. I read 200 pages. I don’t mind that kind of description in moderation, but paragraph after paragraph, page after page – and I was never entirely sure what was going on. So I gave up. I don’t like abandoning books; I usually give a book ten to fifty pages; I really tried with this one. Ultimately I didn’t care.

Maybe I am a moron. If that is a good introduction to Faulkner, I won’t be reading any more. A wonderful writer. But not for me.

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This post would be too long for me to discuss the above books in any detail, assuming anybody wants me to. Although I would recommend them all, I would like to praise a few unreservedly. I enjoyed Thirst. Kerry Hudson writes with great insight about Alena, a girl in trouble, but I didn’t care for the male character – a shame. Hudson though is a good writer. She writes about ordinary people and their interesting and, in this case, dangerous lives. She is also genuinely working class. Not enough of those writers around (see Rod Liddle) and I’ll watch out for anything else she writes.

Peter Brook is always interesting. He writes clear prose and thinks originally. He writes very slim volumes though. This one I read in an hour-and-a-half, and I’m a slow reader. Stiff at £12.99, full-price. All his books seem to be that way. Recommended though.

Strong recommendations for:

Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness by Daniel Maier-Katkin.

I knew nothing about Hannah Arendt but found myself agreeing with everything she said and everything she thought. I liked the way she lived her life, her courage and her stubbornness. I disliked Martin Heidegger. Stranger from Abroad is a superb read. I’d never heard of Daniel Maier-Katkin. He’s an academic, but also a good writer and meticulously fair-minded.

Selfish Whining Monkeys: How we ended up greedy, narcissistic and unhappy by Rod Liddle

Rod Liddle’s book is a bit of a rant, but all the better for it. He says things most people haven’t the courage to say and, for me, need saying. Our society has become rather silly and unfair. He says so, says why and names the guilty. Selfish Whining Monkeys indeed.

Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good by James Davies.

Cracked is an exposure of the psychiatric industry; and it is an industry. It also reveals how drug companies are prescribing dangerous drugs worldwide, doing most of the published research themselves while burying negative reports. Very disturbing.

Despite appearances, all the above are easy reads with the exception of Light in August (for me). You Talkin’ to Me can be hard-going too.

Hope you weren’t bored.

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Happy Idleness

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Idleness is a word that encompasses a great deal of human activity. I suppose in today’s society it is a dirty word. We’re all supposed to be rushing around being proactive, inspiring change, making things happen – why we should do that is rarely questioned. Idleness is associated with those on benefits, people who don’t want to work, loafers, scroungers, drains on society.

But I don’t think of idleness as meaning that. Idleness can merely mean stopping to think. How many people actually stop to think about anything, free from the distractions of TV, the Internet, their phones, games – the constant babble of civilisation?

 

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the essay An Apology For Idlers in 1876. He could not imagine the ways one can be idle today; just the welfare state and technology would have been unimaginable to him. But his points remain as true today as they were then; many, many things have changed, some things remain the same.

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Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formalities of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself. It is admitted that the presence of people who refuse to enter in the great handicap race for sixpenny pieces, is at once an insult and a disenchantment for those who do.

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Ah, the mad pursuit of money for its own sake. I read today that Tony Blair insists that he is ONLY worth twenty million, not the one hundred million that some claim. Why does he want that much? What will he do with it? Apart from other obvious acts of his, isn’t it a little disturbing that a man who chases after money with such enthusiasm ran the country for ten years? Do the people who run after more and more money all their lives ever stop to think: What did I do with my life? Well, Tony Blair is a ‘Middle East peace envoy’. But that’s a joke, isn’t it?

Stevenson again:

Many make a large fortune, who remain underbred and pathetically stupid to the last.

He continues:

While others (at school) are filling their memory with a lumber of words, one-half of which they will forget before the week is out, your truant may learn some really useful art: to play the fiddle, to know a good cigar, or so to speak with ease and opportunity to all varieties of men.

I learnt very little at school. My education began while I was playing truant, but mostly after I left. I chose what I needed to learn. I don’t think anybody does learn much at school, apart from perhaps how to read and write, if they didn’t know how already. Most real learning comes from life. An uneducated person can be very wise, an educated person very stupid. But there is no place for the wise today.

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I suppose the best universities and some private schools provide something better for people. But our government was, and is, full of these people: Tony Blair, David Cameron, Nick Clegg et al – born privileged, they seem to be magnificently ignorant, have worked nowhere, apart from perhaps PR or the Law, have never fought, have never had to worry about paying a bill. No knowledge of history (unimportant), can’t do simple multiplication, completely out-of-touch with ordinary people – hardly a good advertisement for the education which produced them.

Stevenson continues:

Might not the student afford some Hebrew roots, and the businessman some of his half-crowns, for a share of the idler’s knowledge of life at large, and Art of Living? Nay, and the idler has another and more important quality than these. I mean wisdom. He will have a great and cool allowance for all sorts of people and opinions. If he finds no out-of-the-way truths, he identifies himself with no very burning falsehood.

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Politicians, leaders generally (not all), never stop to think; they are too busy. As are many in the mad rush for money, the only true gauge of worth today:

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Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation.

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They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill.

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Stevenson’s essay reminds me of my travels. The sheer happiness and joy of living one often witnesses in poor countries. I can vouch for the happiness of children in Cuba, India, Indonesia and parts of Africa. I have read about the amazing resilience of the untouchables in Bangladesh and Bhopal. I am not suggesting that we should copy their economies and become poor, but we have lost something here. Something is very wrong with our lives.

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There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. The other day, a ragged, barefoot boy ran down the street after a marble, with so jolly an air that he set everyone he passed into a good humour. A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of goodwill; and their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted. We need not care whether they could prove the forty-seventh proposition; they do a better thing than that, they practically demonstrate the great Theorem of the Liveableness of Life.

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I’ll remember this on my next trip to Cuba, a poor country that has much wrong with it. But one of those wrongs is not the happiness of the children (or most of the adults, come to that). I have heard young Cubans crying very few times in years of visiting and staying (they laugh all the time). It is impossible in England to visit a supermarket or a cafe without hearing some spoilt child screaming its head off, its parents having no idea what to do with it, apart from perhaps buy it something else. The children have no shame; they don’t care who they disturb or who sees them. I would never have cried in front of other people when I was a child. I rarely cried at all. Today there are dozens of them, every day, everywhere.

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But back to idling and a last warning from Stevenson:

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They have dwarfed and narrowed their souls by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material amusement, and not one thought to rub together with another, while they wait for the train. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life.

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A marvellous essay, as true now as when it was written, 138 years ago.

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