Sunday, 2 February 2014
'The Old Man of Irkustsk'
The winter of Putin's third year in office, 2002-3, was very cold. We are a northern country, of course, Siberia, bears, furs, all that sort of thing. So you might expect we would be ready for it.
Unfortunately everything always takes us by surprise, like snow falling off a roof on to your head. This includes our frosts, which is why the following terrible events came to pass.
In Irkustsk, in the depths of Siberia, an old man was found frozen to the floor of his flat. He was past 80, an ordinary pensioner, one of those the emergency services refuse to turn out for because they are just too old. Their response to a telephone call is a straightforward and unreflecting: “Well what do you expect? Of course he is feeling ill. It's his age.” This elderly citizen lived alone, a veteran of the Second World War, one of those who freed the world from Nazism, with medals and a State pension. He was one of those to whom President Putin sends greetings on May 9, Victory Day, wishing him happiness and good health. Our old men, our war veterans unspoiled by too much attention from the State, weep over these form letters with their facsimile signature.
Anyway, in January 2003 this old man died of hypothermia. He froze to the floor where he fell. His name was Ivanov, the most common Russian surname. There are hundreds of thousands of Ivanovs in Russia.
War veteran Ivanov froze to the floor because his flat was unheated. It should have been heated of course, like all the flats in the block where he lived; like all the blocks of flats in Irkutsk in the third year of Putin's stewardship.
Why did this happen? The explanation is simple. The heating pipes wore out throughout Russia, because they had been in service since Soviet times, and those times have been gone for more than a decade, and thank God for that. For a long time the pipes leaked and leaked, and Communal Services, whose responsibility they are, did nothing about it. Communal Services is a centralised, State run monopoly. Every month we have to pay them quite a substantial sum for their non existent technical support, but they virtually ignore us, carry on not doing their job and periodically demand a rate increase. The government gives way, but those employed by Communal Services are so used to doing nothing that this is what they continue to do.
The day finally came when the monopolised pipes which had been leaking for so long, and which had not been repaired for so long, burst. At that moment, in the middle of winter, in severe frosts, it was discovered that there was no way of replacing them. Communal Services had no money to pay for this. Nobody knew what the money we had been paying them had been spent on. All the communal facilities which had been in service since the Soviet period had finally deteriorated. The fact that there was nothing to replace them with was not to be expected because we produce thousands of kilometres of all sorts of pipes every year. “The country has no funds available for this purpose,” the agents of Putin's government announced with a shrug, as if it was nothing to do with them. The President publicly ticked off the Prime Minister. And that was the end of it. The politicians agreed to differ. There was no scandal. The government did not resign. Even the appropriate minister did not resign. So what if people had to keep pacing around their flats to keep warm, sleeping and eating in their winter coats and felt boots? The pipes would be repaired come the summer.
The old man who died was hacked with crowbars off the icy floor by the other people living in his communal flat and quietly buried in the Siberian earth. No period of mourning was declared.
The President pretended that this had not happened in his country or to a member of his electorate. He remained totally aloof during the funeral and the country swallowed his silence. In order to consolidate his position, Putin even changed tack. He gave a grim speech to the effect that terrorists were responsible for everything wrong in Russia and that the State's main priority was the destruction of international terrorism in Chechnya. Apart from that, national life was back on the rails. The public could not be allowed to reflect on the imperfection of the world developing before their eyes.
Soon it was spring. Putin began preparing for his re-election in 2004. There could be no place for regret at defeats suffered, only joy at victories. Accordingly, a whole lot of new holidays were announced; in fact, an unheard-of quantity of them. Including the observance of Lent.
The nearer summer came, the less people talked about the complete collapse of Russia's heating infrastructure the previous winter. Citizens were called upon to rejoice in great numbers at the preparations for celebrating the tercentenary of St Petersburg, and to take pride in the sumptuousness of refurbished Tsarist palaces fit to dazzle the world's elite with their splendour. And that is exactly what happened.
Putin invited all the world's leaders to St Petersburg, and the city was subjected to an insensitive repainting of façades. The old man of Irkutsk, and indeed all the old men in St Petersburgh, were forgotten by everyone, including Putin.
“Mind you, if he had died in Moscow...” the metropolitan pundits would say, suggesting that then there would have been a scandal and a half, and that the authorities would have replaced the pipes before next winter.
Schroeder, Bush, Chirac, Blair and many other VIP's proceeded to our northern capital and effectively crowned Putin as their equal. They were received with pomp and ceremony. They pretended to regard Putin with respect, and old Mr Ivanov and the millions of Russian pensioners who can barely make ends meet weren't given a thought. Putin's reign reached its high point, and almost nobody noticed. He decided to base his power solely on the oligarchs, the billionaires who own Russia's oil and gas reserves. Putin is friends with some oligarchs and at war with others, and this is called statecraft. There is no place for the people in this scheme of things. Moscow is life-giving warmth and light, while the provinces are its pale reflection, and those who inhabit them might as well be living on the moon.
From 'Putin's Russia' written by Anna Politkovskaya, published in 2004.
Thursday, 26 December 2013
Inter-American Relations at Work.
Philander Knox is a lawyer and a shareholder in the Rosario and Light Mines Company. He is also secretary of state of the United States.
The president of Nicaragua, Jose Santos Zelaya, does not treat the company with due respect. He wants Rosario and Light to pay taxes. Nor does he respect the Church enough. The Holy Mother has judged him to be in sin ever since he appropriated her lands and suppressed tithes and first fruits and profaned the sacrament of matrimony with a divorce law. So the Church applauds when the United States breaks relations with Nicaragua and Secretary of State Knox sends down some Marines who overthrow President Zelaya and put in his place the accountant of the Rosario and Light Mines Company.
Extract from the book 'Century of the Wind', by Eduardo Galeano.
Monday, 9 December 2013
|'Proconsul' by May Ayres. Photo Michael Perry|
"The role of art is transcendence, it is about dealing with what we call the non-rational forces in human life. These are forces that are absolutely essential to being whole as a human being, but are not quantifiable, not empirically measurable. Grief, beauty, the struggle with our own mortality, the search for meaning, love, (and Freud said that he could write about sex, he could never write about love), and that's only going to come through art.
I don't think it's accidental that the origins of all religions were always fused with art, with poetry, with music, because you're dealing with a transcendence, or a reality which is beyond articulation. For those of us who seek to rise up against this monstrous evil, culture is going to be as important as the more prosaic elements of resistance such as a food tent or a medical tent or a communications tent. I saw that in revolutionary movements I covered in Latin America, and that has been true throughout history.
African Americans endured the nightmare of slavery through music, because it's a paradox. When you sink to that level of powerlessness, where is it that you go to find power? The great religious writers, the great philosophers, the great artists, the great novelists, the great musicians and dancers; that's what they struggle to honour and to sustain, and we are in essence engaged in a spiritual battle against the forces of death. Corporate forces are forces of death. We are fighting for life, and we are going to need those transcendent disciplines that remind us of who we are, why we struggle and what life finally is about."
Friday, 22 November 2013
Sunday, 13 October 2013
'Soham 2002' by May Ayres.
“The difference between an outlaw and a war criminal is the difference between a paedophile and a Pederast: The paedophile is a person who thinks about sexual behaviour with children, and the Pederast does these things. He lays hands on innocent children – he penetrates them and changes their lives forever.
Being the object of a paedophile's warped attentions is a Routine feature of growing up in America – and being a victim of a Pederast's crazed 'love' is part of dying. Innocence is no longer an option. Once penetrated, the child becomes a Queer in his own mind, and that is not much different to murder.
Richard Nixon crossed that line when he began murdering foreigners in the name of “family values” - and George Bush crossed it when he sneaked into office and began killing brown-skinned children in the name of Jesus and the American people.
When Muhammad Ali declined to be drafted and forced to kill “gooks” in Vietnam he said, 'I ain't got nothing against them Viet Cong. No Cong ever called me Nigger.'
I agreed with him, according to my own personal ethics and values.
He was Right.
If we all had a dash of Muhammad Ali's eloquent courage, this country and the world would be a better place today because of it.
Okay. That's it for now. Read it and weep.... See you tomorrow, folks. You havent heard the last of me. I am the one who speaks for the spirit of freedom and decency in you. Shit. Somebody has to do it.
We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world- a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just Whores for power and oil, but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and that is how history will judge us.... No redeeming social value. Just whores. Get out of our way, or we'll kill you.
Well, shit on that dumbness. George W Bush does not not speak for me or my son or my mother or my friends or the people I respect in this world. We didn't vote for these cheap, greedy little killers who speak for America today – and we will not vote for them again in 2002. Or 2004. Or ever.
Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads? Who among us can be happy and proud of having all this innocent blood on our hands? Who are these swine? These flag-sucking half wits who get fleeced and fooled by stupid little rich kids like George Bush?
They are the same ones who wanted to have Muhammad Ali locked up for refusing to kill gooks. They speak for all that is cruel and stupid and viscious in the American character. They are the racists and hate mongers among us – they are the Klu Klux Klan. I piss down the throats of these Nazis.
And I am too old to worry about whether they like it or not. Fuck them.”
Hunter S Thompson. 'Kingdom of Fear'. 2002.
In 2002 while Doctor Thompson was ruminating upon his own nation's new and shiny 'global war on terror', two schoolchildren in a sleepy rural town in England became the objects of a pederast's attention.
As the partner of the man now revealed to be the murderer of two children they had recently befriended, Maxine Carr was elevated to the status of 'the most reviled woman in Britain'.
Her crime had been that she provided an alibi for her lover in the form of a statement to the police that Ian Huntley had been with her during a time when in reality he was murdering two schoolgirls at the couple's home, while she was away visiting relatives.
The horror and disgust that this case generated in peoples hearts everywhere was cynically exploited by a nation's own tabloid press.
A campaign of fear and loathing was whipped up against Maxine Carr as she was being tried and then committed to prison to serve her sentence.
She was found guilty of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but the jury accepted that she was a dupe rather than an accomplice, and so she was spared the consequences of a far graver conviction.
Even as her release date approached though, it was clear that she remained in danger from a public that was being daily reminded of it's need for vengeance.
This was at a time when paediatricians were being attacked on the streets of Britain by the more illiterate, confused and aggressive among us.
The British establishment attempted to diffuse a volatile situation by producing fresh charges against Maxinne Carr, this time for benefit fraud commited some eight years previously, so that she might remain safely in prison while her fate was being considered.
This appears to be an example of what Edward Snowden has recently described in NSA and GCHQ speak as 'look back', where the machinery of state power focuses upon the potential criminality of any individual by accessing their history and examining it for a felony, and then prosecuting it.
In Ms Carr's case, decisions were made and the necessary arrangements and conditions for her safe return to society were eventually established.
Her identity was changed, and while we remain uninformed of the costs of protecting her, it remains a certainty that for the rest of Maxinne Carr's life, she will have to live with the fear of being outed by our tabloid press.
The costs of providing her with anonymity and protection are drawn from the public purse, and are a direct consequence of what one ex editor of a national tabloid newspaper has described as a “model campaign”, designed for; “whipping up the kind of public hysteria guaranteed to incite misguided people to take the law into their own hands.”
This of course is the very same press which today complains about how much Maxinne Carr's protection is costing us all.
Exactly how much of this hysteria was a construct generated by an aggressive and vindictive spin machine may best be considered in the light of somebody else who has been charged with the very same offence which Maxine Carr once was.
This case has many similarities in that it also concerns the murder of a child in England, an obstruction of the police's line of enquiry, while also occurring in the same year of 2002.
Having had his way with a fourteen year old schoolgirl whom he had just abducted, Levi Bellfield tossed her dead or dying body aside to a place where it lay for six months before being discovered.
Following the murder of Milly Dowler, her mobile phone's inbox had began to fill with text messages from concerned family members and friends.
The News of the World newspaper hacked into it and deleted these messages once the inbox had filled up, because it was looking for ways to keep the story going, and was mining the mobile phone for data.
The police who were investigating her disappearance noted that her mobile was still in use, and duly informed Milly Dowler's family of the possibilty that the young girl might still be alive.
The confusion and anxiety that her parents were enduring was now compounded by the suspicion that their daughter might have run away from home.
On May 15 2012, an ex national news editor named Rebekah Brooks appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court accused of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
Unlike Maxinne Carr, who had faced the very same charge some ten years previously, there were no baying mobs screaming for blood outside the court where Ms Brook's committal hearings took place.
No two minutes of hate for this ex-editor of the Sun and the News of the World.
Mainstream media coverage of Ms Brook's forthcoming trial will therefore be interesting to compare against that which was dished out against Ms Carr.
Paying attention might even lead us to conclude that large media corporations wield a substantial degree of power in deciding as to who and what matters, and what is important in our world. What in fact is a scandal and what is not. Who is a menace to society and who is not.
In 2002 when the world was being told by Western corporate media that Saddam Hussein was the personification of evil, it was not just Doctor Thompson who understood what was really happening, and what the likely outcome would be.
The fact that the Vice President's office was leaking disinformation to the US press, and then going on TV talk shows citing these very press reports to support his push to attack Iraq would only emerge later. There was however, a mountain of conflicting evidence which was being deliberately ignored by mass media at the time.
There is now little doubt that while Rebeka Brooks and others quite rightfully face trial charged with perverting the course of justice, their paymasters should also be on trial, charged with perverting the course of history into an abomination which has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children.
Sunday, 24 February 2013
As a low-income blue-collar worker and council tenant living in Tower Hamlets who is currently watching his standard of living plummet, I fail to qualify for the title of home owning decadent wine sipping overpaid pretentious arty fetishist. I understand though that some of those living among us might fit this description, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with them on the subject of 'Old Flo'.
Advocates for the sale of 'Old Flo' accurately note that nearly 30,000 children are living here in poverty, in one of the poorest boroughs in Britain, and that there are single bedroom apartments being occupied by six people. They also point to the dire and decrepit nature of some of the housing stock that people are compelled to live in. They are surely misguided though to imagine that the hopelessness and desperation can be eased with a one-off sale of a piece of the family silver.
London County Council purchased 'Old Flo' in 1962 for £7400, and at the time this sum was sufficient to buy three houses locally. The sale of 'Old Flo' will likely realise £20 million, and today when the average house price is £384,820, this is a sum sufficient to buy over forty houses. The work then has obviously remained a financial asset providing a strong bulwark against inflation over the years, and is something the Borough should perhaps be holding onto for the benefit of future generations. Why it is not being used as collateral to raise desperately needed low-interest loans for local enterprises is perhaps a pertinent question that people should be asking.
The sculpture was a gift at cost-price from Henry Moore, and over the years it continued to enrich the lives of many living here until it was removed for 'safe keeping'. It was local people who gave it the name 'Old Flo', and is a measure of the affection they felt for it.
It was not as some of it's critics maintain 'the arrogance of the rich' that planted a sculpture amongst poor and working people living in Tower Hamlets but the artist himself, and he made his motives very clear: hoping to make art accessible to those who would not normally consider visiting a gallery.
Ironically, it was the very arrogance of the more 'well off', who are among those resisting the impending sale, which was responsible for its removal to a Yorkshire park in the first place.
They successfully argued that its location on a council estate exposed it to vandalism, despite its only defacement having been from pigeon droppings.
Another irony is that the Borough whose Council is trying to auction 'Old Flo' off is also home to the wealthiest, and many would say venal and reckless financial institutions that were responsible for the economic crises now set to dwarf the Great Depression of the 1930's.
The crimes of this family of financial institutions are gradually becoming a matter of public record, most recently in December 2012, when HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion to the US Treasury in a settlement that avoided criminal prosecution for allegedly laundering Mexican drug money and providing material support to Saudi terrorism.
While there are many people living here who would take pride in being a part of a tradition of lawlessness personified by the Kray Twins, others seek inspiration in more sustaining and nurturing aspects of human existence; pursuits which are by no means confined to the wealthy.
Old Flo meanwhile serves as a reminder for many; of East London's endurance during the 1940's, and of the refuge sought on platforms of the London Underground through long nights of relentless bombing. It is a story also of people physically overcoming the resistance of an officialdom which feared the masses devolving into a species of subterranean dwelling troglodytes.
Another installation, the statue called 'Stairway to Heaven' presently taking shape in Bethnal Green Park and funded by public subscription, also demonstrates that the Blitz is something East Londoners wish to remember.
I can think of no better site for Old Flo's return than close to Bethnal Green Underground Station, sharing space in the park with another monument to those condemned to living and dying under the bombs.
I can think of no better site for Old Flo's return than close to Bethnal Green Underground Station, sharing space in the park with another monument to those condemned to living and dying under the bombs.