Tuesday, December 30, 2014

RIP my brother Ian (1948-2014)

I can’t start an entry without reporting the most serious news since I last blogged: my older brother has died. I say it is serious news not sad news, because in a way some might understand – and to use that old, even hackneyed phrase – he’s gone to a better place. He and I were both brought up as practising Roman Catholics, and although I have since gone my separate way, he returned to that faith and in RC terms he is now in a happier place: all the shit in this world has now been and gone for him.

For almost all his life he suffered increasingly from poor to bad mental health, and the medication he was prescribed to help him cope also caused him eventually to suffer from dyspraxia (or so I think it’s called – I’ve just looked it up and it doesn’t seem to be the right name). This embarrassed him a great deal.

Most recently he was hospitalised twice for malnutrition and that was the last time I saw him when I went to visit him. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the funds to eat, it was just that he had simply stopped eating. When I asked him why, he just replied ‘why should I’.

On the first visit he also insisted that our German-born mother who had grown up in Osnabrück was in fact Dutch-born and had grown up in Holland. I told him this was nonsense but he was adamant (‘I know where my mother was born!’) and I then decided he had perhaps lost something. He certainly wasn’t at all happy these past few years and I could have done something, perhaps, to make him happier. I was close to him throughout most of his illness, which last more or less 40 years, but then something happened which decided me to withdraw a little.

He often stopped taking his medication – usually he simply forgot – and his mental state always deteriorated fast from then on. I could always tell when he was in that state: he was like a different person – arrogant, feeling superior intellectually to everyone else, mocking, and there was also a distinct feeling – increasingly – that he could become violent. I stress that this was in his later years when whatever illness he suffered – no doctor ever put a name to it – grew worse and worse.

One day I got arrived home (in Cornwall) to find he had left three extremely unpleasant answerphone messages. In all three he promised to get a butcher’s knife and ‘stab, stab, stab’ me to death. He had before travelled all the way from London to Cornwall, about 250 miles, and arrived unexpectedly and as my children were still around ten and 12, I decided to cut him off. I now wish I hadn’t, although at the time it seemed the wisest thing to day. (Incidentally, I had previously had a meal with him and noticed he was obviously not taking his medication and alerted his consultant psychiatrist. But he simply pooh-poohed it all.

A month later he left those messages, obviously by then in a far worse state, and was, for the umpteenth time, sectioned. When he was well, he could be witty and quite good company. I say quite good, because we were different characters. He – this might well be a small part of his illness – seemed to be time-warped in the 1960s when we were both still young, and there was in some ways a distinct childlike quality about him. He was also intellectually far more gifted than I am, and could turn his hand to anything if he wanted. The trouble was all too often he didn’t want to.

My brother and sister and I often discussed what was his essential character and what was his illness, and I eventually came to the conclusion that both were the same. Pour milk into a cup of tea and stir it: what is the milk and what is the tea? It’s not a conclusion I like because with illness we all cling to the illusion that ‘there is a cure’. In my brother’s case there doesn’t seem to have been. He and I were born only 21 months apart and in many ways brought up a pair.

Our sister was eight years younger than him and our younger brother ten years. Neither has particularly happy memories of him when they were children. But there again I must ask the same question: was that early bullying already part of the illness from which he later increasingly suffered? What’s the milk and what’s the tea? Who knows?

Since he was last hospitalised he has had carers calling in four times a day to ensure he was eating. Sadly, they couldn’t persuade him to keep himself a little cleaner and a neighbour I talked to this week told me he would often join her on the bus to town stinking of urine.

At 9pm on December 21 a carer called in and found him watching television. She called in again an hour and a half later and he was no longer breathing. A post mortem was held and the cause of death was natural, broncopneumonia and chronic pulmonary respiratory something-of-other.

His current psychiatrist rang me and told me he had been trying to persuade my brother to give up smoking, but Ian simply refused point blank. When I went to see him in hospital he persuaded me to buy him some more cigarettes. I half-heartedly tried to get him to ‘give them up’ but it would have been futile. RIP my brother Ian.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Zero Dark Thirty’s Maya: in real life she is apparently an Alfreda Frances Bikowsky

If anyone has seen that complete farce of a film Zero Dark Thirty in which a tenacious female CIA analyst more or less works out singlehandedly where Osama Bin Laden was, they will have read the film’s legend that the analyst, called Maya in the film, was based on one particular woman, although also partly on the work of others.

That woman has now been named, despite CIA pleas - I suppose they were pleas, though knowing the CIA’s penchant for torture perhaps their demand was a little more forceful than a regular ‘plea’ - not to. She is Alfreda Frances Bikowsky.

I got that name from The Intercept which ignored the CIA’s pleas. I came across the reference to The Intercept when I read a piece in today’s Telegraph outlining how Ms Bikowsky was not quite the bright young button the CIA made her out to be. Apparently, she chose to witness torture personally although as an analyst there was no reason for her to do so, she misinterpreted information to such an extent that the CIA launched a massive hunt for a spurious African-American Al Qaeda cell in Montana, and she lied to the US senate, claiming that ‘torture got result’.

Take a look at the Telegraph piece yourselves for further evidence that Ms Bikowsky was in many ways a disaster waiting to happen. I keep asking myself why the revelations about the fact that the CIA tortured a great many of its detainees rile me so much. After all, I am not an American, Muslim, they didn’t torture me and I’m not otherwise particularly principled.

But they have and they do. I think, as I pointed out in the last entry touching upon this, it is the ‘holier than thou’ attitude of some Americans which so gets up my nose (but once again I shall be at pains to point out that I am not about to indulge in a bout of gratuitous America bashing: there are as many in the country, both Republicans and Democrats, who are equally appalled at what one of their security services has been getting up to).

One thing that does irritate me a great deal is the insistence of many Americans not just that it is most certainly the best country in the world bar none but that the rest of the world us morally obliged to join in the self-adoration. I should imagine every country in the world likes to think it is up there with the best, but none goes on to insist - it seems almost at gunpoint - that everyone else should agree.

Well, might I point out that the U.S. is most certainly not the best country in the world if you are black and/or poor. Certainly, blacks get a raw deal in other countries and every country has its poor underclass. But those other countries don’t trumpet themselves as ‘the land of the free’ and the ‘land of opportunity’.

It is quite bizarre that proportionately more men and women are locked up in jail in the U.S. than in China. Bizarre, but unfortunately true. I doubt whether any of those locked up, whether white, black, hispanic or of any other hue and colour are inclined to join in a chorus in praise of ‘the land of the free’.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What name do we use to describe hypocritical f***s like Uncle Sam and good old Johnny Bull who don’t torture, but do? And why are they so suprised when it becomes obvious many, many people in large parts of the world hate them?

Just finished watching Ridley Scott’s Body Of Lies. A week or two ago I watched Green Zone and In The Valley Of Elah. All three, in slightly different ways deal with the ‘war on terror’, the second Iraq War and related jihadi attacks.

None of the three is particularly complimentary about the U.S. actions in the Middle East and all three have been criticised by folk leaving their own reviews on IMDB for being something along the lines of ‘liberal propaganda’. Oh, and all three are Hollywood feature films produced by those who stomped up the money for their production to turn a few million cool bucks or so. Then there’s the slight matter that recently I and the rest of the world have been informed that the CIA - the ‘we never use torture CIA’, yes that bunch - has been torturing its prisoners.

The torture - let’s not get into any mealy-mouthed euphemisms such as ‘enhanced interrogation’, let’s stick to calling it by its real name, torture - was sanctioned by George ‘Dubya’ Bush and his deputy Dick Cheney, and it is very, very likely that Tony Blair and his various foreign secretaries knew it was going on. In what I can only assume to be damage limitation, much noise is being made here in the West that the U.S. is the kind of democratic country where the government can force one of its intelligence agencies to come clean about what it is up to and publish a report on the matter. The smug, though unstated, subtext is: try doing that in Kazakhstan, pal. Well, yippee! That’s fine then, democracy wins again. In that case tell that to those who were tortured.

Actually, that’s not fine, at all, but I am not about to go off on some knuckleheaded anti-American rant, because there are more than enough American citizens who are equally sickened by what the CIA - the ‘we never use torture CIA, yes that bunch - got up to.

Wiser heads have long pointed out that information apparently obtained by torture is rarely of any use because in the end those being tortured will tell you whatever they think will persuade you to stop torturing them.

Then there’s Guantanamo Bay and the poor fucking saps still incarcerated there for no better reason than the U.S administration would like to keep them incarcerated there.

Several British citizens, including Shayer Aamer, have been locked up Guantanamo Bay for many years, despite all the hoo-haa Britain indulges in about the principle of habeas corpus incorporated in our Magna Carta (in six months time exactly 900 years ago). The British government keeps telling us it is insisting that the U.S. should release those British citizens incarcerated there or charge them and bring them to trial, but they are getting nowhere.

Perhaps they would get a little further if they insisted a little more strongly. I don’t know. What strikes me as blindingly obvious is that no one should be in the least bit surprised at the outright hatred felt for the U.S. and Britain by many in the Middle East and, it seems increasingly here in Britain by many hotheads. Here we are preaching ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ one minute and then torture and kill those to whom we are preaching those values the next.

Yes, I know the situation is not simple, yet in a sense it is very simple: Western behaviour has been obscenely hypocritical for decades and that behaviour shows no sign of abating. Of the three films - the fact that at the end of the day it was made as entertainment to make money for the producers notwithstanding - Body Of Lies was decent enough to portray the deceit, double standards, hypocrisy and the consequent outright stupidity of some in the U.S. in the character played by Russell Crowe, and even the nominal ‘hero’, played by Leonardo Di Caprio is no one to write home about, although by the end of the film he quits because he is too disillusioned. And yet it’s still only a fucking film.

There was no director to shout ‘cut’ to end the torture a great may went through at the hands of the CIA, no one to tell whoever was in charge that the chap they were keeping awake for nights and days on end - I think in the case cited it was 172 hours - should be allowed to get a decent night’s sleep. This wasn’t Hollywood make believe, this was real, real torture. But what’s going to happen? Nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing.

The West will go on preaching its stupid message that it wants to bring democracy and human rights to the Middle East, they will still not be believed, hotheads will still travel to Syria where they are likley to get themselves killed, and Hollywood will still go on making ‘entertainment’ out of real evil. Oh, and people like me will carry on writing, almost inarticulately because they feel so much anger at their impotence to do anything about what is nominally being done in their name, about the disgusting practice their governments get up to. And others will carry on reading what we are writing and dismissing it all as liberal codswallop. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

I have an 18-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. I like to hope that when they get to my age these things will not be happening any more. But I know they will. That’s the worst part of it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I’m back and so is The French Stud

I’ve not written here for several weeks, and I’ve been wondering why. I know it has something to do with reaching a certain age at my last birthday, but it wasn’t that completely, either. But has spurred me on again to put fingers to keyboard is a comment my son has just made. Very often we will watch a film together on a Saturday night, and usually I watch something he will like rather than something I will like which could very well bore him. For example, I watched Killing Them Softly with Brad Pitt several times and think it’s a very good film.

Trouble is it isn’t actually what folk think it will be: just another shoot ‘em up flick with a few punch-ups and car chases (a la Miami Vice). I recommended it and we sat down to watch it (actually lay down, because my wife will have commandeered the TV set - we are a one-set household - so we watch it lying on my bed on my laptop with a earphone splitter. But that’s by the by. I recommended it and it started and I soon sensed he was getting bored (he’s 15/16). So after about 15 I asked him and he admitted he wasn’t enjoying it. From then on if I suggest a film or he asks me to suggest one, I’ll make sure it’s something he might be expected to enjoy.

Tonight I suggested David Fincher’s The Game. I saw it the other night - after having caught the last ten minutes several years ago, so I knew the ending, dammit - and enjoyed it. OK, it’s nothing but a Hollywood shaggy dog story, but it’s done with panache and if you haven’t seen it, i.e. don’t know the ending, it’s very intriguing.

Anyway, I suggested it and he asked ‘is it an old film’. No, I told him, it’s not. When was it made, he asked. I told him ‘1997’. Then it is an old film. I asked him how he worked that out. ‘It was made before I was born,’ he told me. Well, I sort of understand it. The trouble is that the early 1980s still, in some ways, seem like yesterday to me. But anyone born in, say, 1983, would today be 31. So they aren’t ‘like yesterday’.

Here are two more films which I rate a great deal but I’m sure would bore the pants off my son. The both star Tommy Lee Jones, who’s a cracking actor: The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada (which he also directed) and In The Valley Of Elah, which is a good take on the pressures which men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan had to suffer, although it isn’t a war film as such, but a thriller. Anyway, I’m back.

. . .

The blogger stats tell me that the majority of visitors to this blog are interested in one Francois Hollande (aka The French Stud). I’m not, but the rule is to give your public what they want, so here is the latest pic of Hollande. This time he allows himself to be photograph looking a complete dick in a

full traditional Kazakh costume. Next to him is his dealer, one Nursultan Nazarbayev, who likes to be known as The President locally. But as Kazakhstan as an appalling human rights record and isn’t averse to locking up lazy bloggers and throwing away the key, I’d better keep my head down. Except to tell you that Nursultan Nazarbayev is a lovely, lovely man.

. . .

It seems the euro is about to enter a new phase in its slow, but inexorable, journey down the pan, but that’s for another entry.