The Endangered Alphabets Project

Mandiac script, Carving by Tim Brookes, The Endangered Alphabets Project

Writing Rights, Human Rights

by Tim Brookes

I had been researching, carving and speaking about endangered alphabets for a decade before it struck me that the few reference sources on the topic said nothing about why these Indigenous and minority cultures were losing or abandoning their traditional scripts. No longer taught in schools, no longer used for official purposes, only used for private correspondence—okay, but why?
The net effect of this absence is to create a vastly misleading impression: that script loss is a natural process, as if scripts are like trees, springing up, having their moment or century in the sun, and then going through an organic decline and demise. The very language being used—“dying,” “declining,” “lapsing”—creates a metaphor, and thereby implicitly offers a paradigm for script loss, without ever offering information or analysis.

“Bayarlaala,” or “Thank you,” in Mongolian. Endangered Alphabets Project, Tim Brookes

Here’s the thing: If you ignore or overlook the process by which cultures are forced to abandon their traditional scripts, you also ignore the many ways in which a people and their writing affect, develop and define each other. As a result, it seems as though one form of writing can easily and naturally be replaced by another.

Not so. Many peoples around the world, in fact, keep using their beleaguered scripts for generations, even centuries, even retaining them as visual icons long after anyone has been able to read or write with them, a remarkable fact that speaks to the extraordinary value of having one’s own script.

The history books only talked about script deaths that were safely in the past. Probably the most famous and sadly effective of these was the destruction of pre- Columbian writing by the Spaniards. As part of his campaign to eradicate pagan rites, Bishop  Diego de Landa. Diego de Landa (12 November 1524 – 29 April 1579) ordered an  Inquisition Inquisition in Mani one of the centers of Mayan culture and, subsequently,
of Spanish colonization, ending with an  auto de fé auto de fé in 1562. A large number of Maya  codices and approximately 5000 Maya  cult images cult images were burned. Only three pre-Columbian books of  Maya hieroglyphics Maya text and, perhaps, fragments of a fourth are known to have survived. The Mayan writing system was functionally extinct within fifty years.

Other examples of script death are similarly violent, not the gradual demise of trees but deliberate acts of deforestation. A century and a half later in India, the ancient Meitei Mayek script in the Indian state of Manipur was reportedly all but lost when King Pamheiba converted to Hinduism and decreed the Bengali script should replace that Meitei Mayek.

According to the earliest published source, most or all books and documents written in Meitei were burned—such a catastrophic and traumatic event in Manipuri history that even today events and marches are held to commemorate this destruction, which is called Puya Meithaba (The Burning of the Puya, or traditional Meitei scriptures), said to have occurred on January 23rd, 1729.

The sun and moon in Tibetan, Endangered Alphabets Project, Tim Brookes

Likewise, traditional Nepalese scripts were suppressed in Nepal starting in 1769, an interdiction so profound that as recently as 1941, all writers and poets using them were thrown in jail, and their property confiscated. And in the United States, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 allowed the notorious Georgia Guard to crush the Cherokee syllabary.

By then, Sequoyah and his astonishing achievement in creating a script for his people had been honored by the U.S. government and the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper had been circulated as far away as London, but that success, perhaps, made the Cherokee more of a threat, and their syllabary and printing press more of a

“They dumped the soft lead type on the ground,” wrote Larry Worthy, editor of About North Georgia, “and stamped it into the red Georgia clay with their feet, effectively silencing the voice of the Cherokee Nation. Then [they] removed the press and set fire to the building.”

Such accounts, related distantly and dispassionately, still managed to make script loss a fait accompli, and in a sense inevitable. I didn’t really understand why a culture might lose or abandon its traditional script, and what that would mean for those involved, until 2011, when I went to Bangladesh.

While I was in Dhaka, I was visited by representatives of three Indigenous groups from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, an upland forested area in the south of the country, and they changed my entire understanding of minority scripts, and what I should be doing about them.

My first two visitors were members of the Marma and Mro people, two of thirteen Indigenous, genetically distinct peoples from the Hill Tracts. I would not be able to visit the Hill Tracts, they explained, because the whole area was closed to outsiders, especially writers, journalists, and human-rights activists. Raids by the military were common, they explained, as were rapes, abductions, arrests, and extra-judicial murders. A news embargo meant that Bangladeshis in the rest of the country had little idea of the situation, and any reported acts of violence were blamed on terrorists and troublemakers. The scripts, the languages, the cultures, and the entire existence of the Indigenous peoples of the Hill Tracts were under grave and constant threat.

The plight of the residents of the Hill Tracts was further clarified by my third visitor, who was a member of the Chakma people. His father, he explained, had been one of the most famous and respected Chakma writers, and in addition to his own writing had amassed a major collection of books and manuscripts in Chakma. The military raided his village twice in his early childhood, he said. “The second time they killed my father and burned down our house.” At a stroke, his connection to his family’s history and that of his culture was destroyed. He grew up in a country that denied the existence of Indigenous people and their languages. Now in early middle age, educated and successful, he could neither read nor write the script of his people, the language of his family.

My most significant informant, though, approached me a year later when I was back in Vermont. His name was Maung Nyeu; he was a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Maung turned out to be a neat, calm, handsome, quiet-spoken man, a member of the Marma people. He told me without anger or rancor much the same story I had heard from the others, a story of a childhood interrupted by raids by the army, of running into the jungle with his mother, brother, and baby sister as their village burned.

He also gave me the historical background I had been missing. When Partition divided the former territory of India crudely into Hindu and Muslim lands, and divided the Muslim lands into East Pakistan (the area that is now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now Pakistan), it was a recipe for disaster in many ways. Politically, economically and militarily, East Pakistan was almost entirely under the control of better resourced West Pakistan. Linguistically and culturally, East Pakistan was largely Bengali, and spoke as a mother tongue the language called Bangla or Bengali; yet under the new constitution the official language of both Pakistans was Urdu, the official language of the ruling elite of West Pakistan. East Pakistanis, then were ordered to abandon their traditional language—and their traditional script.

This violation of language and culture was so abhorrent it spawned protests that came to be known as the Mother Tongue movement. This was a major factor in galvanizing East Pakistan into a short but extremely violent civil war against West Pakistan. India sent troops to back East Pakistan, and in 1972 East Pakistan, in a bloody birth, became Bangladesh.

This may have been a triumph for the Bengali majority in Bangladesh, but not for its Indigenous population. The first act of the government of many a newly-independent nation is to give the impression of unity and consolidation, and to avoid further fragmentation by repressing the independent spirit of regional or ethnic minorities. In Bangladesh’s case, the liberating Mother Tongue movement turned out to have no interest in or tolerance for mother languages that were not Bangla.

“How quickly the oppressed,” Maung observed, “became the oppressors.” Bangladesh was so closely identified with the Bangla language and Islam that the new government took the position that Bangladesh had no Indigenous peoples, and therefore anyone who was not Muslim and did not speak Bangla—several hundred thousand people—did not deserve full citizenship or full human rights.

For Maung, the first experience of this de facto apartheid was his dysfunctional education. Like all Bangladeshis, the Marma were educated in Bangla, which he could not speak or understand, and on his first day of school, at the age of six, he was twice beaten for not paying attention. Next morning, his mother saw him crying, and asked him what was wrong. For her, an education was vital, but when she understood what was going on, she let him stay home and schooled him herself.

His mother’s home-schooling was so successful that Maung earned a full scholarship to a boarding school, though to get there he had to walk a considerable distance, then take a boat, two buses, a taxi, and a rickshaw. He did well enough at boarding school to go on to the University of Hawaii to earn a degree in engineering, then an MBA from the University of Southern California. He was very much an educational exception. In the Hill Tracts in the early twenty- first century, fewer than 8% of children survived their education as far as the fifth grade. Only a minuscule 1.5% stayed in school beyond tenth grade.

“I realized,” he said, “that the next generation of kids, particularly those who had been living in refugee camps in India and returned home with one or no parents, had not gone to school. Most had lost their homes and had no way to survive, since my people live off the land. I had seen the world, but so many had nothing. I had a responsibility to help these kids get at least a basic education, to have a glimpse of what was possible.”

He returned to the Hill Tracts to build a school on the grounds of a half-ruined Buddhist temple, in which local children could be educated in their own mother tongues. At Harvard he was writing his thesis on an almost entirely unexplored subject: how to create a curriculum for Indigenous schools whose pupils not only speak multiple minority languages but use multiple minority scripts.

Tripura, Marma, Mro, English, Bangla and Chakma. for ‘frog’,
Endangered Alphabets Project, Tim Brookes

“I’m trying to create children’s books in our alphabets–Mro, Marma, Tripura, Chakma and others,” he explained. “This will help not only save our alphabets, but also preserve the knowledge and wisdom passed down through generations. For us, language is not only a tool for communications, it is a voice through which our ancestors speak with us.”

This isn’t just rhetoric. As we know from sad experience in the United States, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, if children are educated in a language other than their own they are, to put it mildly, not invested in that education, and their schools may not be invested in them. Success rates are low, dropout rates high. Those same grim statistics convert into high rates of unemployment, violence, and suicide. In a single generation, he said, he has seen his people go from being self-sufficient farmers, living on ancestral lands they had tilled for generations, to being vagrant day-laborers, scattered across Bangladesh and into India and Myanmar.

Over the next few years, Maung and I partnered to create the learning materials the Bangladesh government would not: alphabet wall charts in Mro, Marma and Chakma; rubber stamps that enabled children to stamp out their own letters; coloring books; a writer’s journal; a series of children’s storybooks based on folk tales from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, published in English and a combination of Indigenous languages; and a six-language children’s picture-book dictionary, possibly the first publication of its
kind in the world.

The loss of human rights and the loss of linguistic rights are often connected, then, but there’s an additional twist of the knife. Whenever a minority or Indigenous group claims rights they were hitherto denied, the majority calls this action “political”—as if the minority were supposed to argue their rights on purely linguistic grounds, perhaps.

The long-term, status-quo denial of those rights is surely just as political. All scripts, in fact, are political; the only reason why we fail to see this is because our own linguistic rights are under so little threat.

For now, the protection and promotion of human rights through Indigenous languages and scripts is almost entirely the province of non-profits, NGOs, community organizations and individuals—who, of course, may well be termed “political” for their opposition to the status quo.

In theory, such protections are the responsibility of the governments of the world, all of whom signed off in 2007 on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIPs), Article 13 of which reads:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.”

As far as I know, the number of countries whose governments actively seek ways to offer their Indigenous peoples the rights detailed in these declarations, and provide the encouragement, protection, and funding necessary for them to exercise those rights, is zero.

Tim Brookes, founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project

Tim Brookes is the founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project ( This article is condensed from a chapter in his forthcoming book Writing Beyond Writing. The Endangered Alphabets Project (a federal 501c3 non-profit organisation)

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Visions and Nightmares: The Visionaries by Wolfram Eilenberger

Reviewed by Jon Elsby

The Visionaries bears the subtitle “Arendt, Beauvoir, Rand, Weil and the Salvation of Philosophy”, which suggests a possible kinship with other recent publications – for example, Metaphysical Animals by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman, Benjamin Lipscomb’s The Women Are Up To Something, and Nikhil Krishnan’s A Terribly Serious Adventure. But immediately we note that the first two of these concerned a quartet of formidable female moral philosophers who were friends and contemporaries at Oxford c. 1937–42 (Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch), while the third concerns Oxford philosophy between 1900 and 1960 – a period when linguistic philosophy of various kinds dominated the Oxford scene. In other words the subjects of these books had enough in common to lend a certain coherence and integrity to a project such as telling the story of modern philosophy through biographies of the principal actors.

At first sight, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Ayn Rand, and Simone Weil seem to have little or nothing in common except their sex and the accident of contemporaneity. But, as Eilenberger skilfully interweaves their stories, we begin to understand what they shared and why he chose precisely these thinkers as the subjects for his book. In the first place, all four were much occupied with questions of personal identity: Who am I? What am I? What does it mean to be a Jew, or a woman, or a worker, or an embodied human being? What is consciousness? How should I live? How should I relate to others? Is my identity socially constructed or a datum (i.e. a “given”) of nature? Secondly, they were forced to consider these existential questions against a backdrop of political turmoil, violence, persecution, war, and death. Thirdly, they were all outsiders in more than one respect – as women philosophers, at a time when philosophy was an almost exclusively male preserve; as Jews in the cases of Arendt and Weil; as a radical feminist in rebellion against her “bourgeois”, Catholic background and upbringing in the case of Beauvoir; and as a Russian émigrée and self-styled apostle of Friedrich Nietzsche in the case of Rand. Fourthly, all these thinkers, although somewhat influential within the humanities and/or the social sciences, have been largely – and, Eilenberger argues, unjustly – ignored by the mainstream philosophy departments in colleges and universities.

For all these women, precisely because of the time in which they lived, Nietzsche was a key figure, whose bold philosophical challenge – his announcement of “the death of God” – had to be met and reckoned with. As Eilenberger writes—

As with millions of other young people who found their way into philosophy through the champion of the Übermensch, not to mention Nietzsche’s rebellious content and stylistic brilliance, the psychological element had been crucial for Rand. Nietzsche’s writings give young people who are intellectually alert but largely isolated in that critical phase of their development an existential justification for being social outsiders: a kind of matrix of understanding for their own difference, which also has the seductive effect of allowing them to see their experience of exclusion as making them part of an actual elite.

The impulse has its dangers, because it also has a narcissistic after-taste. Even twenty-nine-year-old Ayn, as her philosophical journal proves, was aware of that apparent tendency toward elitism—

“Some day I’ll find out whether I’m an unusual specimen of humanity in that my instincts and reason are so inseparably one, with the reason ruling the instincts. Am I unusual or merely normal and healthy? Am I trying to impose my own peculiarities as a philosophical system? Am I unusually intelligent or merely unusually honest? I think this last. Unless – honesty is also a form of superior intelligence.”

Words of astonished self-interrogation, which could fundamentally also have come from the pens of Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, or Simone de Beauvoir. All of them were tormented from an early age by the same questions: What could it be that makes me so different? What is it that I clearly can’t understand and experience like all the others? Am I really driving down the freeway of life in the wrong direction – or is it not perhaps the mass of wildly honking people coming toward me flashing their lights? A doubt underlying every life lived philosophically. […]

The philosophizing person seems to be essentially a pariah of deviant insights, the prophet of a life lived rightly, whose traces can be found and deciphered even in the deepest falsity. At least this is one way to understand the role that Ayn Rand as well as her contemporaries Weil, Arendt, and Beauvoir assumed with ever greater confidence. Not that they had expressly made a choice. They simply experienced themselves as having been placed fundamentally differently in the world from how other people had been. And deep inside they remained certain of who or what the problem needing treatment was: not themselves, but the Others. Possibly, in fact – all the Others.

If one were to pursue that view, the actual impulse of astonishment at the beginning of all philosophizing is not the surprise that there is “something and not nothing,” but rather, honest bafflement that other people live as they do. In other words, the decoupling of philosophical thought from its original impulse is not ontological or epistemological, but social. It affects not the relationship of the self with the mute world, but the self with speaking Others.

That is certainly one way to understand the origins of philosophical inquiry. But it can hardly escape the reader’s notice that it is a very egocentric, solipsistic, and rather self-congratulatory way. Another way – less introspective, less self-centred, more objective, and more humble – might be to feel, and perhaps even to cultivate, a Chestertonian sense of childlike wonder that anything exists, and a sense of profound gratitude for the gift of being. When reading the brief extract quoted above from Rand’s philosophical journal, we note that, in the questions she poses to herself, the only alternatives she allows are those that admit of only flattering responses. “Am I unusual (i.e. special) or merely normal and healthy?” What about “normal but unhealthy (perhaps neurotic or narcissistic)”? “Am I unusually intelligent or merely unusually honest?” What if the answer is “neither”? Self-absorption easily leads to the conclusion that one is, in some way, special – not one of the herd: a misunderstood genius, an isolated exception to the norms that apply to other, “ordinary” people; and that one’s singularity is a mark of distinction: a cause for self-esteem and contempt for a world that obstinately refuses to take one at one’s own (high) valuation. Eilenberger is surely right to warn of the danger of narcissism in such an approach to philosophy. It is an approach best suited to the chronically immature: that is, to adolescents, and others who vainly and ignorantly suppose that the world revolves – or, at any rate, ought to revolve – around themselves.

An example of the moral quagmire that a self-centred, narcissistic philosophy can lead to, is furnished on page 196 et seq (the subject is Simone de Beauvoir)—

“All that year,” Simone de Beauvoir recalled, “I had gone on trying to live exclusively in the present, to grasp each flying minute.”1 But with the spring of 1939, this attitude had reached its limit. Particularly since Sartre’s and Beauvoir’s emotional life was at this point assuming a form that rivalled the geopolitical situation in complexity. After three shared years in Paris, the triangular arrangement of Sartre-Beauvoir-Olga had turned into a series of overlapping polygons. According to her delicately balanced timetables, Beauvoir was cultivating, alongside her relationship with Sartre, liaisons with Olga (who was, at this time, engaged to “Little Bost”), Little Bost (although Olga was under no circumstances to know about that), and a pupil from her previous year’s baccalauréat class, eighteen-year-old Bianca Bienenfeld (with whom Sartre had also been in a relationship since early 1939). Sartre was also in a serious relationship with Olga’s younger sister Wanda (which Sartre consistently denied in the face of all the other relationships). Beauvoir (and Sartre) were also beginning another relationship with a former pupil named Natalie Sorokin. And those were only their serious liaisons.

Entirely in line with the pact they had made ten years before, in their letters Beauvoir and Sartre spared each other no details, however humiliating, about their love affairs. Beauvoir’s life-defining urge “to enjoy every moment” in the face of a gloomy future, without ever putting herself at risk in any true sense as a human being, had in other words produced an everyday network of asymmetrical relationships and dependencies that eluded any kind of benevolent description.

Perhaps this situation contains what elevates truly literary people above the great mass of scribblers: the will, purged of all ethical dimensions, to place all experiences, all relationships, all adventures at the service of a possible fictionalization. To instrumentalize them into pure devices for one’s actual purpose in life.

This is the great temptation and besetting sin of the artist and intellectual: to see himself (or herself), not as “gifted” (which would imply a giver to whom one owed gratitude) but as privileged, or superior to others, and therefore exempt from, and unconstrained by, the ethical rules, the standards, and the network of reciprocal obligations and mutual acknowledgements which apply to lesser beings, binding “ordinary” people together into communities, and making possible a shared moral life. Those who see themselves as “exceptional” feel at liberty to transgress what they contumeliously call “bourgeois morality” and to invent their own rules and codes, or even to dispense with morality altogether, as they think fit. In keeping with this limitless conception of freedom – an autonomy that recognizes no bounds or external constraints – Sartre and Beauvoir were among the French left-wing intellectuals who signed a January 1977 petition to the French parliament calling for the decriminalization of all “consensual” sexual relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen (the age of consent in France).

To some extent, this self-centredness is understandable (although by no means excusable). When the world seems to be engulfed in a suicidal maelstrom, reflective people, always inclined to introversion, naturally turn inwards, both to find a refuge from the madness of events, and to read the signs of the times. Even in Catholic circles, philosophies like existentialism and personalism, which put the acting personthe human subject – at the front and centre of philosophical inquiry, were much in vogue. Philosophically, the temper of the times was individualistic, subjectivist, and personalistic. In part, this was a legacy of the Romantic Age, with its exaltation of the lonely, Byronic hero and its disdain for the mass of humankind; in part, it was a response to a series of seemingly apocalyptic and uncontrollable world events: revolution in Russia, European wars, the rise of fascism and communism, the Holocaust, and the unanticipated and irreversible decline of the great European powers (including Great Britain), whose empires were crumbling, leaving a vacuum where such world powers had formerly held sway. (The rise of the USA to superpower status, although it had already occurred, had not yet been made manifest; nor had the full extent of the political and economic decline of the European powers.)

Our four philosophers tried, each in her own way, to find a path through this chaos, turbulence, and uncertainty, but their solutions were strikingly different from each other. Arendt achieved cult status as a moral and political philosopher and a secular commentator on Jewish affairs. Beauvoir achieved prominence as an atheist, feminist, and existentialist, and, together with her life-partner, Jean-Paul Sartre, was active in left-wing politics. Rand, though her literary and intellectual reputation stands far below that of Arendt, Beauvoir, and Weil,2 is well regarded and enduringly influential in conservative libertarian circles, especially in the USA. Weil is widely considered to be one of the greatest Christian mystics, writers, and philosophers of the twentieth century, and is still read and studied, by Catholics especially.

The polarities between these four thinkers can be most clearly seen in the cases of Rand and Weil. Here, first, is Rand. She was working on her novel The Fountainhead (1943) when she went to hear the English Marxist intellectual, Harold Laski, speak. He proved to be the ideal model for the anti-hero in her novel3 – the counterbalance to her Nietzschean hero, Howard Roark. Eilenberg takes up the story—

Rand could hardly grasp her luck. There he was – the anti-Roark par excellence! In return for their applause, the rhetorically skilful Laski, with the obvious arrogance of his performance always slightly muted by a hint of irony, and using all the right words and all the right theories, gave an enthusiastic New York cultural set exactly what they had decided they thought was correct, as the result of long years of quiet subversive propaganda. All she had to do was observe him, listen to what he said, and write it down.

A suitable name for Laski was also quickly found. As always in Rand’s novelistic universe, it was a suggestive one: Ellsworth M. Toohey. A great and diabolically devious adversary of Roark’s, Toohey was the subject of the whole of the second of four parts of the novel. In spring 1940, Rand definitively captured him as a fictional character. As the most influential art critic of the most influential newspaper in the country, Toohey would pursue his levelling mischief from New York—

“Toohey’s [purpose is] to ruin the strong, the single, the original, the healthy, the joyous – with the weapon of ‘other people,’ of humanitarianism.

“Toohey has risen to a position of great power in society. He is the undeclared dictator of the intellectual and cultural life of the country. He has ‘collectivized’ all the arts with his various ‘organizations,’ and he allows no prominence to anyone save to mediocrities of his choice, such as Keating, Lois Cook, and others of the same quality.

“Toohey destroys all independence in people and all great achievement … To discredit great achievement, he sets up standards which are easy for the phonies.”

As far as Rand understood, the actual cultural precondition for the totalitarian advance lay in the complete and deliberate fogging by the media of the judgment of each individual. And this was nowhere more apparent than in the sphere of aesthetic judgment: in the judgment of works of art.

In his role as master of the levelling process, the art critic Toohey, for Rand, embodies a banality of the supposedly “good” (as the “humanitarian,” the “social” …). In fact, however, this is directed at the very ability that marks an individual as an individual and enables the individual to act as such – a sense of what is truly beautiful, and of how human existence should and could actually be. In Rand’s vision, the hero Roark pursues consistently and with an almost superhuman refusal to compromise that “sense of life.” The target of Toohey’s journalism in the novel is the courage embodied by Roark as well as the ability to make independent judgments and create new things. Or in other words: to think, invent, and act without relying on the support of others.

In the summer of 1940, in a new outline of the novel, Rand developed the social and political aspects of the “Toohey Principle” in a narrower sense, and aligned them with the threatening global triumph of European totalitarianism—

“[Toohey] is basically sterile; he has no great passion for anything and no great interest in anything save other men. Thus he decides not to attempt to seek superiority, but to do better: to destroy its very conception. He cannot rise. He can pull others down. He cannot reach the heights. He can raze them. Equality becomes his greatest passion.

“He understands fully the basic antithesis, the two principles fighting within human consciousness – the individual and the collective, the one and the many the ‘I’ and the ‘They.’ … He knows that the source of all evil and all sorrow, of all frustration and all lies is the collective sense, the intrusion of others into the basic motives of a man. And since he is dedicated to the destruction of greatness, he becomes the enemy of the individual and the great champion of collectivism.

“His life program is simple: to destroy men by tying them to one another; to preach self-sacrifice, self-denial, self-abasement; to preach the spiritual slavery of each man to all other men; to fight the great creator and liberator – Man’s Ego. Toohey is famous as ‘The Humanitarian’. … Universal – without even the dignity of a master. Slavery to slavery. A great circle and an utter equality. Such is Ellsworth M. Toohey.”

Thus Rand, like Nietzsche, sees herself as the foe, not only of socialism and egalitarianism, but also of Christianity. The superman has no need of, or use for, pity, sympathy, altruism, love of neighbour, or any other civilizing qualities which might mitigate his narcissism, his egoistical obsession with his own greatness. The contrast with Simone Weil, a Jewish convert from secularism to Catholic Christianity, could hardly be greater, as Eilenberger makes clear when he writes of Weil that—

Just as a clear vision of the suffering of others does not require norms or even ethical imperatives, it does not need or tolerate explicit encouragement or requirements. The tendency toward the active acceptance of the Other as a suffering being may be different in individual cases, but, in a state of what Weil called “superior indifference,” those individual differences are clearly to be taken as given just as much as the reality of suffering itself—

“We must not augment the inclination to relieve distress – it matters little whether it be strong or weak, for it is natural, and is neither good nor bad – but do away with what prevents it from being exercised.”

As regards the existence of Simone Weil, this inclination was clearly quite extreme, indeed almost pathological in the eyes of her fellows. Her ego was weakened and thus made porous to the suffering of others to an unheard-of degree. The supreme good for her would have been to be allowed to pass through the last door with the greatest possible attention and immersion – the ego weakened to an extreme degree – and abolish the boundary between her own being and that of others. It would be the highest good. It would mean becoming very light. It would mean becoming absolutely free at last, even if there was no choice—

“Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Another form of freedom than that of choice is bound up with it, which is on the level of the will – namely, grace. We should pay attention to the point where we no longer have a choice. We then know our dharma.

“The real aim is not see God in all things; it is that God through us should see the things that we see.

“I have got to withdraw in order that he may be able to see it.

“To love all facts means nothing but to read God in them.”

Weil’s ethic, based on a “superior indifference” and purged of any purpose, approaches positions represented in the Western context by Baruch Spinoza or, in Simone Weil’s lifetime, by Ludwig Wittgenstein. But in the Eastern cultural sphere, this also appears in Buddhism and Hinduism – correspondences to which Weil makes explicit reference and explores in her Notebooks. What particularly reduces and impedes the inclination among people to act in the right way is, she argues, the insistence on the “I,” or indeed on the “We,” as the supposed source of all aims and values.

Existentialist commitment is an arrogant crime against the goodness of being – that was Simone Weil’s ruthlessly consistent verdict in the winter of 1941–42. The alternative that she suggested was an ascetic path of salvation free of any form of earthly will. “Certainly, that is not for everyone,” Weil stated laconically in her Notebooks, “but, then, neither is loving God for everyone.” Yet like everything in this world that has weight and value – the beautiful, the good, the just – the origin of his love also lies in another world—

“Supernatural love alone creates reality. In this way we become co-creators. We participate in the creation of the world by decreating ourselves.”

Obviously, both Rand and Weil were temperamentally inclined to extremism. But, equally obviously, Rand’s Nietzscheanism, her uncritical admiration for the Übermensch (superman) and her boundless contempt for those whom Nietzsche called “the bungled and botched,” issue in a form of extremism which, if it were adopted as the basis for a party political programme, would do great harm, especially to the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Weil’s Christian extremism is altogether saner and healthier. It is precisely the same extremism that we encounter in the words and acts of Jesus Christ reported in the Gospels, in the epistles of the New Testament, and in the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. It is an authentically Christian radicalism.

Rand’s philosophy is the apotheosis of egoism; Weil’s is its negation. They are polar opposites. Arendt and Beauvoir would have found Rand’s politics hard to stomach but, morally and philosophically, they are closer to Rand than to Weil. Neither would have practised or advocated the negation of the ego. Neither would have acknowledged an objective moral law, uncreated by man, to which all men are answerable. Both would have repudiated Weil’s Christian mysticism without really understanding it. In order to grasp Weil’s thought, it helps to have some acquaintance with the mystical tradition, both in Christianity and in the Eastern religions. Readers of the Bhagavad Gita, the Sufi mystics of Islam, or the Christian mystics of Spain, Germany, and England – Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Walter Hilton, and Dame Julian of Norwich,4 – will be better able to comprehend the totality of Weil’s thought than those who are unacquainted with the literature of mysticism.

It is certainly true that the four women who are the subjects of Eilenberger’s book were remarkable original thinkers, fully equal to any of their male contemporaries. It is not clear, however, why they should be credited with having effected “the salvation of philosophy”. Salvation from what, exactly? Irrelevance? Meaninglessness? Sterility? Male dominance? Extinction at the hands of one or other of the totalitarian ideologies (fascism, Nazism, or communism) that were then re-drawing the map of Europe and re-shaping European culture? Disappearance from the cultural horizon? None of these seems at all likely. Many other philosophers, including some women, were active in the period when Arendt, Beauvoir, Rand, and Weil were writing, and some of them arguably made more significant contributions to philosophy than they did. Husserl’s student, Edith Stein (now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – 1891–1942), is an example. Various schools of analytical philosophy (such as linguistic analysis, logical positivism, and analytical Thomism) were then being practised in the Anglosphere, and movements such as phenomenology, neo-Thomism, and, as mentioned before, personalism and existentialism were flourishing in Continental Europe. In the USA, the pragmatism of William James, John Dewey, and C. S. Peirce was still influential. Globally, the state of philosophy was (or, at any rate, seemed to be) healthy enough – or so one would have thought. Certainly, it did not appear to require anything so radical and dramatic as “salvation”.

That said, Eilenberger’s narrative explains how four highly intelligent women navigated a way through the intellectual cross-currents of an exceptionally challenging period. It notes their commonalities and their differences. They started from very different places, and their paths, though they intersected at certain points, eventually diverged. The fact that they are still read, and their ideas remain relevant in the modern era, with its own, peculiarly distinctive properties and problems, shows that, whether one agrees with any of them or not, they do have to be taken seriously. In bringing them to our notice in a new way by juxtaposing their stories in this very readable, absorbing, and often illuminating narrative, Eilenberger has rendered a valuable service.


1 Why would anyone try to live exclusively in the present? Did Beauvoir think that the human faculties of memory of the past and anticipation of the future, had neither use nor purpose?

2 Rand called her philosophy “Objectivism” and claimed that its central tenet was that all knowledge is based on sense perception, the validity of which she considered axiomatic, and reason, which she defined as “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses”. Epistemologically, this is very simplistic, denying, as it does, any valid role for personal testimony as a source and guarantee of knowledge. Yet, much of what we ordinarily – and rightly – claim to know (e.g. what our friends did on their holidays, or that Mozart was born in 1756) is based upon such testimony. And there are many other sources of knowledge: for example, memory, sympathy, induction, a priori intuition, divine revelation, and conscience. And, as the Calvinist philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, has said, “There is also the whole process of theory building, which may or may not be reducible to the previous abilities.”

3 However, Laski was an economist and political theorist, whereas Rand’s anti-hero, Ellsworth M. Toohey, is an art critic.

4 Readers of Thomas Merton may also find Weil easier to grasp than those with no previous knowledge of mysticism.

Jon Elsby’s spiritual and intellectual journey has been from Protestantism to atheism, and finally to Catholicism, an evolution he has traced in his memoir Wrestling With the Angel: A Convert’s Tale, published in paperback by CentreHouse Press. His most recent book, also published by CentreHouse Press, is Seeing is Believing, which develops themes touched on in his memoir, but with greater focus on the relations between faith and culture, an issue addressed by several American apologists, though very few on the UK side of the Atlantic have taken it up. Seeing is Believing is available on Amazon Kindle.

The Visionaries: Arendt, Beauvoir, Rand, Weil and the Salvation of Philosophy, by Wolfram Eilenberger, is published by Allen Lane, 2023, hbk, 400 pp, ISBN ‎ 978-0241537374.

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Catholic antecedents to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights*

by Phil Hall

Karen Armstrong, the author who specialised in the Axial Age, when many of the religions of the world began, or at least, gathered speed, has come to the conclusion that all religions have compassion at their core and that they should all be looking for issues where they can converge, and that religion should converge on enlightenment values and exist in harmony with the laws of secular democracies. These secular values are enshrined by such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

We have to support the UDHR to the hilt, but rather than use the UDHR to beat a rationalist war drum, we should re-analyse UDHR and broaden it into a commonplace for humanity with a nod to the compassion at the core of religion that Karen Armstrong identifies . From a humane, socialist perspective, we should be looking at the underlying syncretisms between different ethical codes, including religious codes, and in the light of these syncretisms, finally, bring as many people on board the UDHR bandwagon as possible.

What chance is there then that religious or atheist extremists can agree on the need for convergence between secular and religious principles? A concept of human rights that ignores religious belief is exclusive, not inclusive. Likewise, extreme religious beliefs brook no opposition or dilution. Convergence has far more real potential for changing society for the better than fanaticism from extremes of inflexible belief and disbelief.

The space where religious and secular ideas converge around the issues of social justice is interesting, too. It is no coincidence that extremist Islamists often use the need to redress social and political injustice as a justification for their actions. When Khomeni first came back to Iran from Paris, he promised to give Iran back to the poor – according to dissident Iranians – Khomeni is recorded as saying that there should be free health care, the abolition of unemployment and good wages. Nowadays, still, despite Iran’s creeping progress towards tolerance, anyone who possesses a tape of that particular speech will find himself in an Iranian jail.

On the eve of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the murder of Iranian nationalism under Mossadegh by the British and the United States, the loss of human rights under the Shah, the robbery and exploitation of Iranian natural resources by foreign oil companies like BP, the loss of traditions and identity, and torture and repression by SAVAK, were all seen to be the fault of the USA, and to a lesser extent, the UK – both of whom were upholders and originators of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

The Muslim revolution bottled Iranian resentment, sugared it with promises of social justice and sold it like the fizzing yoghurt Iran drink you can now buy in corner stores in London. The population bought into this nationalist brand of Islam because they wanted their country back, and because they wanted social justice and the freedom to practice their religion. The Iranians were duped into accepting a religious autocracy; a monkey on their backs to this day.

There are echoes of religion as anti-capitalism we can hear throughout the world. In attacking religion, the poo pooing secular ‘progressives’ try to banish the symptoms of the failure of their own, pro-capitalist, ideology. One symptom of a rejection of materialism and the social Darwinist ideology of dog-eat dog and the rat race is religion, and sometimes religious extremism.

The antecedents to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were Christian long before they were claimed by the slave owning authors of the American Declaration of Independence, or written in Masonic shorthand into the Constitution of the United States. Listen to Antonio de Montesinos on Christmas 1511, preaching to the Spanish colonialists in a small church:

“This voice [of Christ tells you] that you are all in mortal sin and you live and die in it because of the tyranny and cruelty you use against these innocent people. I tell you, with what law and by what right do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible servitude? With what authority have you waged such a detestable war against these people living peacefully in their lands, where you have committed such crimes and caused such suffering, unheard of before? How can you keep these people so oppressed and exhausted…Why do you kill them to exploit them and get gold from them every day? Are these not men? Dont they have rational souls? Aren’t you obliged to love them as yourselves? Don’t you understand this? Don’t you feel this?”

As a result of the petitions to Pope Paul the III coming from Antonio de Montesinos, Bartolome de la Casas and other theologians and priests (forerunners of Liberation Theologians) Pope Paul III finally issued a Papal Bull in 1537 called Sublimis Deus and made the clarification that the indigenous people of America were rational, spiritual and human beings and that their lives and property were to be protected. This papal bull was enacted centuries before similar thoughts occurred to Thomas Paine or John Stuart Mill.

J. S Mill had similar things to say to Antonio de Montesinos, but three hundred years later, and without Antonio’s eloquence, Mill ratiocinates:

“But the great ethical doctrine of the discourse, than which a doctrine more damnable, I should think, never was propounded by a professed moral reformer, is, that one kind of human beings are born servants to another kind. You will have to be servants, he tells the negroes , to those that are born wiser than you, that are born lords of you — servants to the whites, if they are (as what mortal can doubt that they are?) born wiser than you. I do not hold him to the absurd letter of his dictum; it belongs to the mannerism in which he is enthralled like a child in swaddling clothes. By born wiser, I will suppose him to mean, born more capable of wisdom: a proposition which, he says, no mortal can doubt, but which, I will make bold to say, that a full moiety of all thinking persons, who have attended to the subject, either doubt or positively deny.”

J.S. Mill’s ideas on liberty and equality, were underpinned by associationism. He claimed that everyone was equal because environment and accident determined a people’s progress. His appeal for the equality of the Africans was a weak rationalist appeal based on pre-scientific notions of associationism.

Sublimis Dei, published 300 years before Mill wrote “On Liberty”, was more forthright and clear about the universality of human rights and it is the original antecedent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People are not equal on the basis of any scientific rationale, they are equal because we have decided to treat people equally and because, like Chesterton, we reject the ideas of social Darwinism and the survival of the fittest, and most predatory. Sublimis Deus states:

“The enemy of the human race, who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men to destruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God’s word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith.

We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power of our Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of His flock who are outside into the fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it. Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils, We define and declare by these Our letters, or by any translation thereof signed by any notary public and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical dignitary, to which the same credit shall be given as to the originals, that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.

  • Edited from an article published in Xuitlacoche and Donkeyshott in 2008
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Do we need Madame Guillotine again in 2024?

The execution of Louis XIV

Get real, they cry – as they fill their maws and dirty their snouts.

by Phil Hall

The agents of the United States maneuver and push the public’s pointiest point of perception as their preferred tactic. They want to influence policy, action, and generate passivity and acquiescence in order to preserve the hegemonic power of their country and of their county’s elites in the face of resistance from the American people themselves. Real events happen in real time, and they act on the now to exert their influence on them.

These intelligence operators have a sickness: they believe in deconstructing culture into its component atoms, its selfish genes. They do not believe in the forces of altruism, reason, and understanding. Instead, they think that nothing is what it seems and that all human behaviour can be broken into selfish, narrow motivations. They also assume that the thirst for power and status is universal. To put it bluntly, these intelligence operators are as amoral as those of any totalitarian regime

Apartheid forces suppressing the Soweto Schoolchildren’s rebellion

In South Africa, they had many informers who spoke Zulu and Xhosa. They had many opportunities to understand what people were saying and thinking. But instead, the Apartheid regime took its cues from organisations like the CIA under Lyndon Johnson, the beneficiary of the Kennedy assassination.

The leaders of the Apartheid regime did not seem interested in understanding the history, literature, or sociology of the majority population in order to develop counterarguments to the ANC and other opposition organisations. They did not act according to a proper analysis of the social, economic and political situation that existed in South Africa. An analysis of that conjuncture might have helped them take on board the reasons for the rise of greater and greater opposition. Had the agents of the Apartheid state done so, they might have been able to bring in reforms in order to ameliorate the political situation, benefitting.

The Apartheid state refused to deal with the human reality of the majority of South Africans on their own terms, but used instead a weaponised form of anthropology to try and take that social reality apart and analyse it. They preferred, with the help of the CIA, to deal with the South Africans who opposed Apartheid as if they were primates. On the recommendation of the CIA, when confronting the school children’s revolt against being forced to learn the language of the oppressor (in order to better understand his barked commands) the police, from their ‘Hippo’ armoured trucks, were instructed to take out the ‘Alphas’.

Who were the ‘Alphas’, according to Margaret Mead and her more than sinister cabal informing US intelligence in its culling and influencing operations? The Alpha was the individual at the center of the crowd, and the individuals on either side, on the extremes, corralling the rest were also ‘Alphas’. CIA anthropological advice described a demonstration as a sort of horned crescent. Mead was the Mitford sister of the ‘zombie neo-liberal’, Ayn Rand.

In their eyes, the state did not kill activists, thinkers and moral human beings fighting for a better society, like Chris Hani and Steve Biko, they were merely killing ‘Alphas’. This was the way the Apartheid regime confronted the response to their oppression of the majority population; not through argument, or understanding, but through covert methods of manipulation and control supported by the CIA, coming from some psychology and anthropology departments in the USA; departments that had ties with its intelligence services. The social sciences were used as tools for political ends, providing specialised knowledge.

Margaret Mead

US academia? The best US academics are horses running in a horse race with blinkers on. Most of them have no demonstrable love or respect for the truth; most of them are mere intellectual flunkeys. Someone as observant as Noam Chomsky, in commenting on the Vietnam war and the massacres in East Timor, becomes persona non grata to these geldings. Freedom of thought? Not a chance!

Though it is not accurate or fair to assume that the US foreign policy establishment always acts in a unified and coherent way to manipulate and exploit world events, reductionism is at the heart of their understanding and strategising; being, so to speak, ‘in the moment’. US intelligence strategists work on situations as they unfold in real time in order to affect them, gaming out possible responses with supercomputers. The advice of experts is only secondary. It comes from think tanks, forums, lecture halls and seminar rooms, and from informal chats at dinner parties and during games of golf.

Operatives at the sharp end are nihilists, lacking in all compunction. They assume equanimity in the face of two million Vietnamese dead – and that’s just one war. They live in a nirvana of ‘So what?’ thinking. So what if a million Iraqi children died of hunger? Madeleine Albright said that it was worth it to get rid of Saddam, after all?

Pushing the pointy point of perception, the point source of reality, through strategic influence and managing perception, is how US intelligence seeks to direct history along its preferred time line. Its hands are on the ouija board, interfering with ‘the Tao’, with the sacredness of life, with human aspirations for betterment.

Portrait of Witter Bynner in Santa Fe by Robert Hunt, 1919

There is a warning for these people, in the version of the Tao Te Ching translated by the poet, Witter Bynner

‘Those who would take over the earth
And shape it to their will
Never, I notice, succeed.
The earth is like a vessel so sacred
That at the mere approach of the profane
It is marred
And when they reach out their fingers it is gone.
For a time in the world some force themselves ahead
And some are left behind,
For a time in the world some make a great noise
And some are held silent,
For a time in the world some are puffed fat
And some are kept hungry,
For a time in the world some push aboard
And some are tipped out:
At no time in the world will a man who is sane
Over-reach himself,
Over-spend himself,
Over-rate himself.’

Oh the disappointments of the democratically elected Don Quixote socialists, trying again and again to do what’s right for people, of well-meaning academics and intellectuals in the face of the pigs who get close enough to the trough, and then snort. ‘Get real!’ As they fill their maws and dirty their snouts.

US forces in Iraq, 2008 , Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

What is the ‘now’ the United States Foreign Policy Establishment wants to manipulate and ride to victory? The United States Media, Security, Military Industrial Complex exerts its heavy, philistine weight on moments of history, regardless of what most of humanity thinks, wants, or aspires to; humanity in all its global complexity.

Is the ‘now’ they push at the ‘now’ of a year, a month, a week, a day, an hour? Has it become the present of an instant? Is this ‘now’ just a suppressed search result? The ‘now’ they act upon has narrowed and narrowed over the years into a moment, a fraction of a moment, requiring the use of tools like artificial intelligence.

The agents of US imperialism strategise and manipulate in real time as shells fall in Ukraine and events unfold and spill out and over in all their incredible complexity; the overflowing complexity of seven billion souls existing on a four-and-a-half-billion-year-old planet. The lovers of the capitalist materialism, of its Thingyverse reduce everything down to a pointy point… then they push at that point.

Naomi Klein has talked about how corporations find opportunities in disaster, in the destruction of countries through civil war, in the short selling of their treasury bonds in London and New York financial markets, in coups and defamation, in assassinations. As Mankoff put it in his famous cartoon for The New Yorker in 1992.

‘And so, as the end of the world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.

Meanwhile, the potential of human beings, of all human beings, to realise their creativity and live beautiful connected lives full of love and meaning lies rotting. The rot is the artificial scarcity imposed by the theft of the wealth that people create with their labour.

Madame Guillotine, look at these smooth, svelte, softly encased vampires, the wealthy and powerful elites who exploit and oppress others. They fly from yacht to forest, to lake, to private beach and retreat. They are kind to their dogs and their children, but push for wars, sending hundreds of thousands to die in the conflicts that they, and the people like them, profit from . They murder millions of children through the fostering of scarcity. They destroy nature and the life chances of billions by polluting the environment and consuming the Earth’s resources . They threaten the whole planet with nuclear destruction .

I have a nostalgic admiration for the French Revolution and its use of the guillotine as a symbol of popular justice. Madame Guillotine, bloody as you are, humane socialists that we are, perhaps we need you again.

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The Philosophical Foundations of Property Rights

By Bry Willis

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.

Woody Guthrie


“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said ‘This is mine,’ and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society…” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Proudhon’s critique of rentier property, though focussed on such rights, can be extended to private property in general. To claim land as one’s own is an act that has, throughout history, deprived future generations. Owning land is not only a matter of possession, but a matter of power and exclusion. It is an ownership maintained through violence, be it explicit or implicit. Rousseau’s words, satirical yet ironic, ring true even today. His warning against the horrors and misfortunes that stemmed from property ownership carries a weighty message. He regards the act of claiming land as founded on naïvety, condemning those who sought to deceive others into believing in the falsehood of private ownership.

“Property is theft!” — Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Then we have Locke, whose claims of rights to life, liberty, and property are unfounded. Though pronounced with conviction during the Age of Enlightenment, these so-called ‘rights’ are but relics of a time long past. Locke’s convincing rhetoric only served to exploit the inherent selfishness in humanity. In the days when land was abundant, people paid little heed to property ownership. Kings and lords ruled, violently claiming land as their own. Today, governments control these lands, doling them out to individuals under the façade of deeds and property rights. All lands are claimed, and the only way to secure them is through participation in an exploitative capitalist system or by seizing and holding them through violence.

The Tenuous Nature of Intellectual and Communal Property

The idea of intellectual property is even more precarious than that of private property. In essence, intellectual property represents a sort of land grab; most of it is derived and synthesised, often without crediting original sources. It frequently involves regurgitated and repackaged concepts. Legal systems, being precedent-based, often favour existing laws, making them difficult to overcome. And since property owners often wield political power, they act unabashedly in their self-interest to maintain ownership and power, even seeking to bequeath property as generational wealth. Communal ownership is no less problematic. While it may seem a fairer approach, it remains exclusionary. We must think beyond the immediate, providing an equal voice for future generations. This means that property should not be owned by private citizens, governments, countries, or nations.

“To own something is no longer something to share; it is to exclude.” Legal maxim

National borders further complicate the issue. No human should be prevented from occupying land, yet distinguishing between property and possession raises another philosophical challenge. While one may feel a strong entitlement to retain possession, why is this so? This dilemma is often rationalised by civility and courtesy, but the issue is complex and beyond the scope of this article. Possession is relatively temporary, while property is intended to be permanent, at least on a human scale. Ronald Coase’s approach, focussed on property rights and environmental concerns, falls short and fits only within a Capitalist framework.

Power, Inequality, and the Illusion of Property Rights

Ansel Adams

History is rife with examples of kings and conquerors taking land wholesale. This pattern continues today, with the state employing its monopoly on violence to ensure property rights are maintained. Yet, the state retains the right to seize property through eminent domain or other means, implicitly threatening legal sanctions up to and including imprisonment and loss of freedoms.

“Landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed.” — Karl Marx

Property rights, predominantly allocated to those with the means to acquire and hold them, perpetuate inequality across generations. The myth persists that the person with the most money can put property to its best use for the “greater good.” However, this is a fundamentally flawed assumption. Drawing on the work of John Rawls, we might consider rebalancing property ownership periodically. This could mirror nationalisation schemes, though extant property owners would likely object.

Modern instances of property rights being manipulated abound, as laws and regulations are shaped by those in power to protect their interests. Yet, morals, morality, and ethics remain arbitrary human constructs, maintained by precedence and comfort zones. Many without property cling to the illusion that they may someday join the ranks of property owners. This mirrors the quote often misattributed to John Steinbeck, highlighting how even those without property view themselves as potential owners.

Reimagining Property Rights for a Fairer Future

Ansel Adams

Reimagining property rights requires radical thinking and a departure from established norms. It’s not merely a matter of redistributing wealth, but deconstructing the very concept of ownership. Considering the views of thinkers like Thomas Paine, who advocated for a citizens’ dividend funded by landowners, we might seek alternative means of distributing land and resources. Paine’s proposals in “Agrarian Justice” foreshadowed ideas that continue to resonate today.

“Men did not make the earth… It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.” — Thomas Paine

In a world of finite resources, the notion of communal stewardship offers a way forward. However, this approach must extend beyond traditional notions of ownership, recognising the rights and needs of future generations. This might require a radical rethinking of national borders and exclusionary practices.

“The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on.” — Thomas Jefferson

Through a careful blending of historical and contemporary thought, guided by a moral compass aligned with justice and equity, we may yet redefine property in a way that respects the shared heritage of humanity.

Conclusion: A World Beyond Property

Ansel Adams

The concept of property ownership has become so ingrained in modern society that challenging it may seem an insurmountable task. Yet the voices of Proudhon, Rousseau, Paine, and others remind us that these constructs are not immutable. They were forged in specific historical contexts and can be reimagined for a fairer future.

“The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” — Thomas Paine

The questioning of property rights is more than a theoretical exercise; it’s a moral imperative. By examining the origins and implications of private ownership, we uncover deep-seated inequities and a system that perpetuates social stratification. To move beyond the constraints of traditional property norms, we must engage with radical ideas and be willing to redefine what ownership means in a global context. This necessitates a willingness to question the status quo and to imagine a world where possession is temporary, and stewardship is valued over ownership.

“Freedom is the man that will turn the world upside down.” — Gerrard Winstanley

This article has been an exploration, an invitation to join a conversation that seeks to redefine our relationship with the world and each other. The path is fraught with challenges, but the promise of a more equitable and compassionate world awaits those brave enough to walk it.


  1. Proudhon, P.-J. (1840). What Is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government. [Original French Title: Qu’est-ce que la propriété?]
  2. Rousseau, J.-J. (1755). Discourse on Inequality. [Original French Title: Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes]
  3. Locke, J. (1689). Two Treatises of Government.
  4. Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. [Original French Title: Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison]
  5. Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice.
  6. Coase, R. H. (1960). “The Problem of Social Cost.” Journal of Law and Economics, 3, 1-44.
  7. Steinbeck, J. (Misattributed quote, possibly paraphrased from other sources).

Bry Willis

Bry is a writer, philosopher, and all-American intellectual in the Rocky Mountain, non-conformist tradition. He loves the truth, but dislikes people who sit tall in the saddle and ride roughshod over others.

Bry has the hard, accomplished edge of the self-taught. He has never been afraid to tackle difficult issues that matter. He is a heterodox economist and progressive thinker, and an anarcho-syndicalist in the spirit of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Igtheist beliefs? Check! Buddhism? Yep! Conscientious Objector? Absolutely! Beyond the pen, he’s a musician, strumming chords that resonate with rebellion. Check out his music! There’s more to this human than meets the eye.

Dive, dive, dive into his world, and you’ll get the unfiltered, uncensored, ripeness of Bry, ‘parfaitement mûr’.

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2. Isobal Alone

Photo of Isobal with her son, Joseph

By Margaret Yip

I left school in 1964 at the age of 15. It was a Friday. I needed a job. By Monday, I had an interview which took place in my home. The wife of a housemaster at a private boys’ school in St. Bees needed a general assistant. After a short interview, she told my mum she was willing to give me a trial. I was to start the next morning at 7am.

She said: “I have an Italian cook and two general assistants who are sisters. They will show you the ropes when you arrive”.

Most mornings I would leave home at 6 am . The school was about 3 miles away. There was not a lot of money for my bus fare, so I often walked there.

I became friends with the two sisters, who were in their thirties. One of them confided in me that she had a son who was born out-of-wedlock. She told me someone had written the word ‘bastard’ on his birth certificate. When I asked my mum about this, she was shocked. She had never heard of such a thing. How could someone write that on a child’s birth certificate?

I remember vividly the day I was sent to the meeting room to serve tea and cakes. The head master, house masters, house head boys, and the matron were all present. The head boy began by saying that he was not happy with the way the skivvies were cleaning his room.

I remember clattering a plate, but none of them paid any attention to me. Later that night, I told my mum what the boy said. She thought and then answered,

“Look for something else, lass!”

My mum had been in service from age 14 until she married. She said she had thought that sort of language and attitude stopped after the war.

I did leave a few weeks later and went into hotel work. I was trained in silver service, as a chambermaid, or a general assistant. It was all hard work, long hours and low paid. I could work for 70 hours a week for £3.10 shilling. I paid 3 shillings and 8 pence national insurance and kept 3 pounds and 4p. I gave mum the 3 pounds.

My dad had left the family home about a year before I left school. I discussed the circumstances in the previous extract of ‘Isobal and Henry’. As a result, my mum was dependent on National Assistance to support her and three younger children. I do not think she received more than £5 per week. Everything had to be paid for from this small sum, including the rent. Often, we had no gas or electricity at home and so we cooked and heated water on the coal fire.

Not many on our estate were well-off. Men laboured in the coal or iron ore mines. Wives stayed at home. One family in our street had 22 children, and they all lived together in a three-bedroom house. Our next-door neighbour, Stan was a small man, but a big character. He got ill well before retirement. He couldn’t work – could barely walk. His mates used to call for him on a Saturday to take him to the bookies, or for a pint.

His method of transport to the bookies was a coach built Silver Cross pram coloured as black as the ace of spades inside. They would sit him in the large pram and he would cling to the sides as they pushed him helter-skelter down the road, laughing their heads off. Everyone on the estate used the same pram to fetch a few shillings’ worth of coal from the coal yard when money was short.

One of our neighbours was a disabled man called Acky. He would walk for miles with the pram to the nearest beach and gather sea coal. It earned him money and, and it was cheaper than real coal, though sea coal does not burn as well.

In 1965, I met the man I would marry. I found a job at a Chinese restaurant in Whitehaven as a general assistant. I would start at 11 am and work until 2:30 pm. Then I would go back home. Then come back to the restaurant again at 5:30 pm and work there until 11 pm – later on busy nights.

I did not waste money on bus fares going home on my split shifts. I would sit in the dining room, or in Whitehaven harbour, and read books from the library. I had one day off. My wage was £8 per week; more than double what I had been earning at the hotel.

“Look for something else, lass!”

My days off were spent at home, helping mum. If she had money for gas, we would fill the copper boiler and wash all day, putting clothes through the mangle before pegging them out. We used the left-over hot water to scrub the steps and swill the paths. Other days we scrubbed all the floorboards with bleach and Ajax until they were white. We cleaned windows with vinegar and polished them with newspapers. All our neighbours kept a clean house, tidy gardens, and all the pavements were swept outside the gates.

My mum was pleased with my higher wage. She was not a good manager of money, though being in service, she had had very little of it to manage. Before he his breakdown and disappearance, my dad, Henry, had dealt with the finances.

My mum was sad without dad, but knew that his mental illness meant she could not live with him. She turned to drink. Cider. She insisted it was not alcohol. After a year or so, she got ill from stomach ulcers. She always had a poor appetite; always fed us all before she herself had anything to eat.

Just after starting my new job, we heard that my two younger brothers would be coming home. What had happened was this. After my dad left – during a school holiday – they were walking in Cleator Moor when it began to rain heavily. A man they knew gave them a large coat to keep dry. He said he did not want it back. The next day they sold it for £1.10 shilling and gave the money to mum. The police came knocking!

The jacket had been stolen from the social club. They were summoned to court. The magistrate said they were out of control because there was no father at home. He ordered that they be sent to an approved school in Barnard Castle for 2 years. It was 80 miles away from home, too far, and too costly for my mum to visit them. Dr Richard Beeching, MP, had shut our local railway station down.

My brothers arrived home. My mum was so happy … though not for long. Jobs were found for them: one on the pit top, one on a farm. The farm was out in the country and my brother needed a bike. A neighbour kindly donated him a ramshackle one.

A few weeks later, dark was falling when the police came knocking at the door again. My brother was freewheeling down a hill after work, when the front mudguard came loose, jamming the front wheel of the old bike. He went over the handlebars and onto the road. He broke his jaw and was in Carlisle hospital for weeks.

The bad news kept coming. My mum fell ill and needed an emergency hysterectomy. It was a major operation in the 60s. When she was discharged, they warned her not to lift anything heavier than a teacup for six months. Hearing this, her younger brother, who lived in Middlesex, ordered her to come by coach to stay with him and his wife for two months.

She refused to go to them penniless, so we missed paying the rent while she was away. Other debts went unpaid, too. By then we were all going to school and work in shoes with stained cardboard inside cut from cereal boxes. The cardboard concealed the holes in the leather.

My mum’s departure left me and my brother in charge. We had to manage on our small wages: going to work, shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing and looking after the younger ones was hard. Our neighbours on one side offered to help with the youngest, and my brother and I accepted.

After 2 months away, mum wrote to us to say that she would be home in two days’ time. There was no money left! I went next door to borrow a loaf off Stan. My brother, who had stayed in every night while I was at work without going out with his friends to the pub, came in from the pit. He went down the back garden, put his hand through a neighbour’s fence and borrowed a lettuce and for the next two days we ate dry bread, lettuce sandwiches with a sprinkle of salt. I still say to this day, nearly 60 years on, that a dry bread lettuce sandwich is the best sandwich I have ever tasted.

With mum home and my brothers and I working, things became easier. I began going to the pictures on my day off with the boss of the restaurant. … Six months later we were married in a Whitehaven registry office. I was 16. Oddly, my old attendance officer was the registrar. It was a freezing February day in 1966.

One month later, my husband lost the restaurant. He had a gambling habit. He closed the Chinese restaurant and we moved to Southport. We rented a bedsit on Leyland Road and found jobs at another Chinese restaurant.

Southport in 1966 was a lovely, refined town with luxury stores and big hotels. I used to window shop and wonder who on Earth could afford to buy such expensive things.

I left the restaurant job after a few weeks and went back to hotel work. At the time, I was 6 weeks pregnant with my first child. Hotels, in the sixties, did not have ensuite bathrooms. The bathrooms were in the corridors, and there were lots of them.

On my first day, the housekeeper met me, her hair tied into a severe little bun. She dressed all in black and had a huge chatelaine at her waist. I thought of Mrs. Danvers. My first job, she said, was to clean the fire places out, re-set them, scrub the hearths, polish the tiles, and Brasso the fenders. My next job was to clean the many bathrooms. I was to polish the taps, clean the sinks, baths, bidets, and toilets, scrub every floor on my hands and knees – I was used to that – change all the towels, soaps, shampoos and toilet rolls.

Then I was to knock on her sitting-room door and she would inspect my work. I did as she said. By then it was lunchtime, and I was not allowed a break. For my next job, she took me to a huge foyer with at least 60 glass-topped tables surrounded by leather chairs. ‘Dust the chairs’, she said, ‘and polish all the tables. Set them up for afternoon tea.’ I looked at the grease smeared tables and asked where to go for some cleaning stuff.

“Cleaning stuff!” she hissed. ‘Cleaning stuff!?’. Elbow grease, girl! Elbow grease!’ She stomped off. As she did so, I stood and remembered my mum’s words.

‘Look for something else, lass’.

I headed for the stairs to collect my coat. As I was coming down, the woman was on her way up.

‘And where do you think you are going girl’. She spat.

I said nothing. I swept down past her on that carved staircase like a princess, and went out through the revolving doors and out onto Lord Street. By one o’clock, I had a new job in a fish and chip restaurant. There they gave me lunch every day as part of my wages. Bliss!

I turned 17 that April.

Maragaret Yip

Margaret Yip is a mother of 5, grandmother of 7 and great grandmother of 2. She lives in a small village in Cumbria. She is for social and economic justice, social housing and the NHS and she opposes all forms of prejudice and hatred.

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by J. W. Wood

Before the contract came through, Ken McKenzie’s life was the same as it ever was: pretending to read Schopenhauer and Swedenborg, drinking tea, and wondering when his money would run out. Also, he loved scrolling through social media on his phone: lately, Ken’s self-image as a poet-philosopher vagabond was being eroded by his addiction to “SoMe”, as hipsters called it.  

It didn’t matter who was posting: Ken loved social media almost as much as he loved being on disability without being disabled. Take this tweet by Ken’s pal Donald Crawford, part-time Business Communications tutor at some MBA factory in South-West England: “Absolutely disgusted. Forty-seven years old, MSc in psychology, PhD in Creative Writing. No pension, no savings. I’d have been better as a plumber #nointellectualsallowed.” 

This was nonsense. Don inherited his mother’s holiday home in France twenty years ago. He’d also enjoyed a succession of pensionable interim lecturing jobs. His best move, though, was to impregnate a student from a wealthy family. The family set them up in a comfortable three-bedroomed semi with a cleaner and everything. Happy days – though you wouldn’t know it from Don’s Twitter feed. 

Saturday afternoons would find Ken outside a pub, a pint before him and cigarette in the ashtray as he pimped the free WiFi, developing his tweeter’s thumb. This post from Paul, an estate agent mate, made Ken want to pull out a metaphorical cat o’ nine tails: “Just sold to clients who couldn’t be happier. Then steak and red wine with my darlings #bliss #family.” 

The truth? Paul dreamed of being a radio presenter and considered estate agency an affront to his talent. Paul’s wife was about to leave him, she was so sick of him whining about his dreams.  

Not long after that, Ken cracked. It was a tweet from some folk band that set him off.


Weissweg, the band in question, played mid-week gigs in pubs. You know: audiences applauding tune-ups, gnatspiss beer and sour white wine. But their breathless tweeting suggested they thought they were Beyoncé: Delighted to announce our first-ever #nationaltour in support of our #newsingle, The Wyld Rose Is Sown.

Their website revealed this “national tour” consisted of three local pubs that hosted the aforementioned mid-week amateur nights. Ken piled in:  

@Weisswegtheband no’ bad mate. Three local boozers. Is @Coldplay or @CalvinHarrisofficial supporting? See ya doon the dole! X

Weissweg banned him. But being banned just encouraged Ken to greater things.


After he’d been banned by the band, as it were, Ken began bursting bubbles in earnest. The more he trashed people, the worse (or better) things got. His follower numbers rose – modestly at first, from 48 bots and trolls to a whopping 247 curated, winnowed-out followers.  

He started with an easy target: politicians. But bubble-bursting them was an overcrowded market. Newspaper comment sections also proved good sport since they were echo-chambers for students, the terminally angry, and the retired / bored. But Ken wanted juicier prey. People who might actually care if he exposed their vanity. 

He didn’t have to look far: middle-managers boasting of fake he-man exploits on the weekends; stressed female executives asserting earth-mother status via photos of cranberry-apricot muffins; has-been sportsmen claiming fellowship with today’s stars. He went after the lot and spared none. For all he got blocked, he picked up more followers. His 247 followers soon swelled to 3,223. A week later, he was up to 6,391 thanks to a few more spats.


A month later Ken was measuring his followers in five figures, his numbers popping like a firecracker on coke. Then he got a phone call.  

Ken feared it was the police wanting him for a benefits scam that ended a year ago when he realised the presumed-dead target of his identity theft operation was still alive. But it wasn’t the police. Instead it was one Ayesha Kirschbaum, who said she worked for the “Social Media Alliance” in California. 

She had a proposal for Ken – and wanted to “hop on a Zoom call” to discuss it.


The next day, Ken found himself outside a pub before opening time. This last happened when he’d collapsed in a beer garden the summer before to be woken by the rising sun, stale beer on his tongue and a burned-out cigarette in his fingers. 

He needed to steal the pub WiFi for his Zoom call. He booted up his ancient computer, a process that took so long Ken wanted to boot its pixelated arse. Minutes later, Ken found himself peering into a home office on the other side of the world. A youngish woman with a dark ponytail stared out of his cracked laptop screen. She wore a red roll-neck sweater and a chunky necklace. In the top right corner, he saw two equally youngish men sporting glasses, white shirts and dark pastel ties.  

“Ken? Ken McKenzie?” 

“Yup, ’tis I! Ayesha? What can I do you for?” Ken wanted a smoke. But it took him four attempts to get his laptop lid to stay open before he could roll up. 

“Ken? You still there?” 

“Aye man! Still here,” Ken shouted, hands deftly flicking together a rollie. 

“Cool! OK, so I am Ayesha, and this is Mike and Neil. We represent the Social Media Alliance—”

Ken smirked.  

“Are ye’s calling to take me down?” 

“Oh no, not at all!” Ayesha protested.  

Ken looked across the pub garden, its discarded glasses and assorted rubbish. The morning sun struggled to cut the chill Scottish air.   

“My colleague Mike Nesbitt has a proposal to put to you. Over to you, Mike!” 

Mike’s image slid forward. Ken drew hard on his roll-up, blowing smoke into Mike’s preppy physiognomy from seven thousand miles away. 

“Hey Ken! Good to meet you!” 

Ken waved, smiling at the absurdity of speaking to a bunch of yuppies in sunny California from a nut-bustingly cold Scottish beer garden. 

“Awright big man?” 

“So Ken, we’ve noticed your recent popularity on Twitter…” 

“Aye mate. Popular like Pol Pot, eh? Just seein’ how many fowk I can piss off at once, hen?” 

Mike smiled a thin-lipped smile. “Ken, you may know a lot of social media platforms are struggling these days…” 

“Struggling? I’m no’ surprised mate. Struggling how? Doon tae their last ten billion?” 

Ken blew more smoke at the screen, then tossed his still-burning fag end on the concrete. The sun crept over the chimney tops.  

“Social media is in a battle for engagement. That means we need people to start posting more, following more, liking more.” 

“Right, mate. But it’s all shite. That’s why I’m trying to take people down, eh?” 

“We know. But that’s why you’re popular. You’re the UK’s rising social media star and in the European top ten growers.” 

“Naw, mate, eh? Well, there you are. My ma’ll be proud at last!” 

Ken spluttered and a little spittle hit his screen. He reached for his tobacco pouch as the third figure slid into view. This guy looked like a carbon copy of Mike Nesbitt, only with more grey hair, a bright yellow tie and different glasses.  

“Ken, this is Neil Lafferty. I’m Legal Counsel at the Social Media Foundation. We want to offer you a job.” 

“A job as what? Tormenter in chief?” 

“More or less, yes. We are prepared to pay you a quarter of a million dollars a year, starting immediately, to continue abusing celebrities, politicians, journalists, and the general public. Within the grounds of certain…legal constraints, of course.” 

“Constraints? Like no slander or libel, that sort of thing?” 

Neil Lafferty nodded. Mike Nesbitt chimed in. 

“Essentially, we want to pay you for being you. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” 

Now it was Ayesha’s turn to pile on the charm. She drew a little closer to her camera and Ken noticed her perfect teeth. 

“It’s money for nothing, Ken!” 

“Is it now?” Ken readied his next cigarette. He sparked up with his Space Alien Zippo. “I’m a philosopher to trade. And I’ll tell ye this: there’s no such thing as money for nothing. No’ unless you’re me. See, I’ve already got funds.” 

Ken chose not to tell them said funds came from his fake disabled status. Alongside a bit of casual glass-collecting in pubs if he was short that week. 

“We’re prepared to negotiate,” Ayesha countered. “What’s essential is that you understand what you bring to the table. We want your capacity to re-excite people in social media. That’s what our advertisers are jonesing for.” 

She paused, looking to her left as if her colleagues were with her, not sat in spare bedrooms across San Francisco like battery hens blinking and wobbling after being released.  

“Look Ken, let’s cut the bullshit. People are getting tired of social and we need to get them back. Who knew, but you’re making it happen. Don’t see this as a job. Just see it as encouragement, that’s all.” 

“Hmmmm….” Ken sipped his coffee. “I’ll need to speak to my agent.” 

“You have an agent?” 

“Naw. But it felt good saying that.”  

The three talking heads laughed in that hollow way some people do. Ken sipped his coffee.  

“Listen, boys and girls. You get me that contract and I’ll think about it, awright?” 

“Sounds good, Ken. Give me your email and I’ll send it right away. If you decide to join us, please print and sign.” 

“Sweet. But I cannae afford the post tae America, I’ll tell you that for free.” 

They told Ken it was no problem: all expenses would be paid. A courier would come and pick up the contract when he was ready.


That’s how Ken found himself with a contract in front of him in his council flat, the figure of $250,000, plus a signing bonus of $10,000, burning a hole in his mind. Would he sign? Not to do so would be insanity. Riches and salvation, just for being himself.  

And yet his models, his Masters, all those Philosophers whose works he opened and pretended to read, would not have approved. Bowing before the corporate beast.  

Ken decided he’d have a smoke and think about it. He rolled up and stuck the fag in his mouth. Then he fished out his lighter and flicked at it. The flame flashed up from his Space Alien Zippo, the familiar smell of sparking flint and kerosene filling the air in his tiny kitchen. 

He looked down at the contract and around himself at the cramped confines of his flat, the traces of damp on the walls. The couple next door started another row, so loud the football poster above his kitchen table started shaking. He picked up the contract with his free hand, the burning lighter in the other. Then he lit his cigarette. As he inhaled his first draw, he slowly moved the pages of the contract toward the lighter’s bright yellow flame….

J. W. Wood is the author of five books of poems and a novel, all published in the UK, and the satire ‘By Any Other Name’, forthcoming from Terror House Publishing in the US later in 2023. His work has appeared in The Poetry ReviewLondon MagazineTLS, etc. and has been shortlisted or nominated for several awards, including the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Bridport Prize. A dual citizen of the UK and Canada, he is the recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council. Visit his website for further information.

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Perspectives on Eichmann: Explaining Perpetrator Behaviour, by Andrew Elsby

Review by Arjay Frank

Otto Adolf Eichmann (1906–62) has been the subject of a surprising number of studies, given that he was merely a middle-ranking officer in the Schutzstaffel (SS) – a lieutenant-colonel, in fact – and, as such, was responsible for carrying out the orders of others, and would have played no part whatever in the formulation of Nazi Party, or even SS, policy. His notoriety owes as much to the publication of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) and to the highly dramatic circumstances surrounding his capture in Argentina by Israeli agents, his subsequent trial in Jerusalem on fifteen criminal charges, his conviction on all charges, and his execution by hanging in 1962, as it does to his actual involvement in the Holocaust.

Arendt’s influential book, in which she coined the phrase “the banality of evil”, was granted instant classic status, which has, to some extent, shielded her views from reasonable criticism or challenge. She attributed Eichmann’s actions in the Holocaust, especially his arranging for the transportation of Jews to the east despite knowing that what awaited them was extermination, to an alleged incapacity for moral reasoning, theorizing that Eichmann was, in all other respects, entirely normal. Arendt was primarily a political philosopher, and she explained Eichmann’s actions and personality in terms which would naturally have occurred to her, as a practitioner of philosophy. It is worth adding that, as a Holocaust survivor [1] herself, she has been virtually canonized by the liberal Western intelligentsia, and that, too, has helped to insulate her views against robust critical interrogation.

Arendt’s view is a theory, but it does not appear to be based on evidence. The German philosopher, Bettina Stangneth, and the British historian, David Cesarani, put forward a different explanation of Eichmann’s perpetrator behaviour – namely, that he was an eliminationist antisemite, whose actions were driven by a fanatical hatred of Jews. This theory at least posits a motive for Eichmann’s actions, which Arendt’s does not.

Dr Elsby argues against these explanations and further argues that Eichmann was entirely normal, not in the cognitive sense of having limited moral awareness and failing to appreciate the consequences of his actions, but in the sense that he was motivated chiefly – in fact, almost exclusively – by a desire to optimize his own outcomes in material, social, and psychological terms, regardless of the cost to others to whom he was indifferent. This new argument is supported by reference to

(1) the social psychological experiments of Stanley Milgram on obedience to immoral authority and Philip Zimbardo on the influence of role on behaviour;

(2) Christopher Browning’s research on the perpetrator behaviour of a German police reserve battalion in Poland; and

(3) research on Einsatzgruppen commanders.

Eichmann’s background was solidly middle-class (his father was a bookkeeper), but he seems to have been a poor student, both at school and at the vocational college he subsequently attended but left without attaining a degree. His academic performance suggests that he would be considered, by most middle-class families, an underachiever: a person of mediocre intelligence and accomplishments. His early employment history – he worked in a variety of clerical and sales jobs – confirms the evidence of his academic record. There seems to have been nothing in any way remarkable about Eichmann.

At some point in the late 1920s, Eichmann started to read Nazi newspapers and to be influenced by the views published in them. In April 1932, acting on the advice of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a family friend (and later Eichmann’s boss in the SS), he joined, first, the Nazi Party, and then, a few months later, the SS. Quite fortuitously, Eichmann found himself in an environment in which a person such as himself – someone, hitherto viewed as a nonentity, who was eager, malleable, prone to hero worship, obedient to orders, and averse from responsibility – could flourish and obtain coveted rewards in the form of promotions, status, power, a sense of identity and self-worth, relative wealth, peer recognition, and the approval of his superiors.

Dr Elsby presents a compelling argument for his thesis and for his rejection of the views of Arendt, Stangneth, and Cesarani. His conclusion, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety, is as follows—

“Arendt seems not to have understood that most people do not conceive of issues in a reflective way to assess the moral choices inherent in them because there is no incentive for them to do so. Nor does she seem to have any appreciation of the decisive role of motivation and of pursuit of personal interest at the expense of others in normal human behaviour, of the fact that pursuit of personal interest is often unreflective, of the reality that perception is itself a motivated activity and that people do not attend to what they do not want to experience, and that following changes to behaviour to optimise outcomes attitudes may change to remain consonant with new behaviour if there is dissonance, that is, to optimise psychological outcomes. In such a context of research on human motivation evidence of eliminationist antisemitism in Eichmann’s utterances and actions after a certain date seems to reflect his having assimilated the SS vocabulary of genocide to maintain the good regard of his peers and bosses in the SS and to retain his elite SS identity and rank as well as involvement in the major task assigned to the senior echelons of the SS, not least as before it became the elimination of the Jews Eichmann had pursued Jewish emigration with similar fervour. Arendt’s intellectual conceit did in fact extend beyond Eichmann to disparagement and dismissal of psychiatry and psychology as means of understanding human behaviour, an extraordinary arrogance that resulted in her lack of appreciation of the primary role of human motivation in human attitudes, cognition and behaviour, including Eichmann’s. For Eichmann had a capacity for consideration of matters that concerned his own welfare, as in his presentation of self before different audiences, which indicates concern for consequences for himself. Eichmann participated in the Holocaust because involvement optimised material, social and psychological outcomes for him, not because he could not reason through the consequences.

“Eichmann’s banality was then one not of lack of moral reasoning or understanding of the consequences of his actions but of pursuit of personal interest regardless of cost to other people. It was not the case that had Eichmann engaged in moral reasoning or had greater understanding of the consequences of his actions he would not have done what he did as part of the process of extermination of the Jews of Europe, for his own psychological, social and material interests would have remained the decisive influence on his behaviour. Eichmann’s lack of moral reasoning did in fact reflect his optimisation of outcomes and indifference to the adverse consequences for others, and, as has been seen, Eichmann was aware of the consequences for the Jews of his arranging for them to be transported to what he knew were extermination centres. And, given the primacy of self-interest as a motive in human behaviour, had Arendt been in Eichmann’s position she could have done just what he did, despite the moral reasoning from which she judges Eichmann.

“Cesarani’s assessment of Eichmann seems more compelling, in that he acknowledges the lack of evidence of anything more than cultural antisemitism in Eichmann’s background and the evidence of pursuit of personal interest and careerism in Eichmann in a meticulous consideration of Eichmann’s background and career as an SS officer, though he does not seem to conclude that it was just such optimisation of outcomes that explains Eichmann’s having assimilated an eliminationist antisemitism rhetoric when extermination of the Jews of the occupied territories became Nazi policy and an SS objective. For Eichmann never had an ideological conviction that the Jews should be exterminated but rather an identity as an SS officer of some seniority of rank that he identified with and sought to retain by his perpetrator behaviour, an instrumental orientation to his role as an SS officer for the privileges and status it conferred upon him.

“Eichmann’s perpetrator behaviour is then not explained by reference to a lack of capacity for moral reasoning (Arendt’s explanation), by obedience to orders despite moral anguish and out of powerlessness (Eichmann’s explanation in his memoir and the nature of the defence at Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem) or by eliminationist antisemitism (Stangneth’s and Cesarani’s attribution). On the contrary, Eichmann transported Jews to extermination centres to optimise his material, social and psychological outcomes regardless of the cost to the Jews he transported, to whom he seems to have been entirely indifferent.

“Eichmann does seem to have been normal in terms of motivation, for most people pursue personal optimisation of outcome at the expense of others, and many are opportunists like Eichmann. What was different in the Eichmann case was context and outcome, not process and motive. It is possible that Eichmann had a greater desire than most people for belonging, elite identity, approval, involvement and power, though many maximisers have similar drives.”

To this I would add only that Arendt seems not have noticed that, although few people possess what she, as a trained philosopher, would have recognized as a capacity for moral reasoning, most of them manage to lead normal – that is, not morally reprehensible – lives. Not only is there no incentive for people to assess moral choices rationally: it is also the case that most people are not equipped, either by nature or by education, to engage in such complex and sophisticated thinking. Furthermore, most of the time, there is no need for anyone to do so. The majority of people act, quite unreflectively, in accordance with the prevailing standards of the family, group, or society to which they belong and with which they identify. In ordinary circumstances, that is enough to maintain a certain level, if not of goodness, at least of conduct that is not heinous or obviously culpable. [2]

Stangneth and Cesarani come closer to the truth, but their attribution of Eichmann’s perpetrator behaviour to eliminationist antisemitism does not explain why Eichmann had pursued the earlier SS policy of Jewish emigration with exactly the same zeal that he later brought to the altered SS policy of extermination of the Jews from occupied Europe. And Eichmann’s own explanation for his conduct – that he followed orders as a matter of conventional military discipline despite personally experiencing “moral anguish” – is so obviously self-serving that, in the absence of any independent corroboration, it cannot be considered credible.

Eichmann’s mediocrity prior to his SS career, and the fact that he must have disappointed his father’s hopes and expectations, make it more likely that he would have been susceptible to the advantages offered to him by the SS: opportunities to gain rank, status, the approval of leaders (or father figures), and an elite identity; to wear an impressive uniform indicative of an elite status; to exercise power and control over others; to inspire fear and elicit prompt obedience in subordinates; to give orders; to terrorize Jews (and, presumably, other victims of the SS) – and all this without having to accept any responsibility, and while being able to claim that he had always acted in conformity to a recognized military code and under the orders of his superiors. For a man like Adolf Eichmann – ein Mann ohne Eigenschaften [3] (a “man without qualities”) and a moral vacuum into which almost anything might have been poured – the SS role was perfect. It fulfilled all his desires and ambitions at once. As Dr Elsby points out, in other circumstances, Eichmann might have attained a middle-ranking, managerial post in the civil service or a corporate body, and retired on a modest but sufficient pension after a moderately successful and, on the whole, blameless career.

Unlike Arendt, Stangneth, and Cesarani, Dr Elsby argues not that Eichmann was normal except for an incapacity for moral reasoning, or that he was normal except for a fanatical hatred of Jews, but that he was normal in all respects. It is a chilling conclusion, but his argument is cogently made, and well supported by scientific evidence. His essay stands as a notable and original addition to the literature on Eichmann, the Holocaust, and the social sciences, particularly psychology.


Some people will recoil in instinctive revulsion from the view that “most people pursue personal optimization of outcome at the expense of others”. In fact, however, there are at least two reasons why that conclusion should not seem especially startling, namely—

(1) The whole capitalist economic system of production and exchange is predicated on the highly questionable, but seldom seriously questioned, assumption that competition, which by definition requires people to “pursue personal optimization of outcome at the expense of others”, is fundamentally beneficial and conduces to the common good.

(2) That “most people pursue personal optimization of outcome at the expense of others” is as good a definition as any of Original Sin: the sin of preferring one’s own will to the will of God. In less theological language, this is known as selfishness. This is an orthodox Christian doctrine, taught by the Church from the time of the apostles.

Dr Elsby set out to write an essay that would bring the insights of modern psychology to the study of perpetrator behaviour as exemplified by Eichmann and his role in the Holocaust. In doing so, he has raised broader questions for ethicists, moral philosophers, and theologians. To date, the question of human motivation – the reasons why we do what we do, which are often not the same as the reasons we give in public, or even the reasons we admit in private – has been insufficiently considered outside the social sciences. It is time that the insights offered by psychology and other social sciences were properly integrated into philosophical anthropology, if only to prevent philosophers from continuing to embarrass themselves by inadvertently exposing their ignorance of the currently available scientific knowledge.


[1] Strictly speaking, it would be more accurate to say that Arendt escaped the Holocaust than that she survived it. Though twice detained and once briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo, she eventually made her way to the USA in 1941. While she undoubtedly endured frightening and extremely unpleasant experiences, she was never incarcerated in any of the concentration camps or extermination centres for which the Nazis were notorious.

[2] And, of course, a small minority of people rise far above the normal level and can only be considered saints. It is worth noting that many canonized saints were not intellectuals and possessed moral knowledge rather than Arendt’s vaunted “capacity for moral reasoning”.

[3] Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities) is the title of a 1930 novel by the Austrian novelist, Robert Musil. Though it comprises three volumes and runs to approximately 1,700 pages, it was never completed, and most of the published editions incorporate at least some of Musil’s rough notes and preparatory sketches for the final chapters of his work. It is often considered to be a modern classic.

Arjay Frank is a London opera-goer with specialist interests in modern history and nineteenth- and twentieth-century orchestral and operatic music. Perspectives on Eichmann is available across most ebook platforms.

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Editorial: Stop this Madness!

Stop the war in the Ukraine!

‘Do you know what I do to people who get in the way of me?’ asked the thuggish manager of a GAZOPROM plant sitting across the table from me.

‘No, what do you do to them?’

‘I destroy them,’ He said. And he stared at me, unsmiling.

This is a brutal, capitalist Russia, not a beacon of advanced, enlightened civilisation. The Russian nomenclature does not have many friends in a socially progressive Europe, partly because it does not deserve to have them. Arguably, the Russian answer to Western provocation and NATO expansion eastwards was comprehensible and foretold – if not excusable. Seen from the perspective of the exploited, developing world, we may recognise that bourgeois nationalism, such as the bourgeois nationalism of Russia, can form a firebreak against rampant US imperialism eager to get its hands on Russian natural resouces and to divide Russia up like a pie or a cake.

But if you are not a Russian nationalist and if you do not ally yourself firmly with the strategic aims of the Russian state and its corrupt actors, then your sympathy for Russia’s response to decades of NATO provocation – as the bodies pile high – must be severely limited. And no, the Germans in opposing Russia have not suddenly turned into Nazis.

The frightening fact is that competition between different centres of capitalism in the first part of the 20th century led to World War One. We are witnessing just such a competition between centres of capitalism right now. The priority now has to be to prevent World War Three.

Conservative Russian society is an example to no one.

Socialism arose in one of the most backward, top heavy, autocratic states in Europe. When socialism ended, Putin doubled down on the reactionary values that Soviet society had preserved in aspic.

Russia bypassed the 1960’s cultural revolution, that era of enlightenment and tolerance. In the U.S.S.R. they learned nothing from the struggles against racism around the world, the struggles for individual freedom and self expression, and the struggle for the emancipation of women. Russia is still that rather fossilised society that did not benefit from the social revolutions of the 1960s.

Russia would have more support and less opposition in the UN, Europe and the rest of the world had Russia settled on a more enlightened political system and not on brute capitalism; had it shown more solidarity with progressive social causes.

The celebration of toxic masculinity, the concentration of obscene fortunes, and the promotion of social conservatism have all provided excuses to the opponents of Russia. At the moment, the advancement of trans rights is an important part of the movement towards progressive social change in Europe and the USA. Naturally, trans rights are ignored and ridiculed in Russia. It is a mark of how socially retrograde Russia is. Conservative Russian society is an example to no one.

It is no coincidence that it is the right-wing populist, nationalist autocrats and former autocrats around the world, like Modi, Duterte, Bolsonaro and Trump most favour Putin; they share in his social conservatism.

An enlightened human being should not subscribe to the values of an intolerant, brutal, capitalist state like Russia. Russia Today. (RT) was notorious for pandering to the far right in Europe and the USA. RT inflamed feelings against migrants just as easily as it pointed the finger at US police brutality against African Americans.

What is to be done?

What is at issue now is the prospect of a dangerous nuclear escalation between an imperial USA and a nationalist Russia that threatens to destroy both the west and Russia and Europe. Peace negotiations should start at once!

And when the west and Putin manage to stop the war, then Putin will have to deal with the destructive consequences of the actions of his government. While the Russian speaking eastern and southern parts of the Ukraine will probably become attached to Russia, the Russian government will have to join in with Europe and the USA and pay for the reconstruction of what remains of the Ukraine – with no strings attached – before it is allowed to rejoin the international community.

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Tagore Prize 2021-22 Awarded to Sudeep Sen

Review by Peter Cowlam

All of us here at Ars Notoria are delighted at the news that our poetry editor, Sudeep Sen, has been awarded the prestigious Tagore Prize for 2021–22. The Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize, a literary honour in India conferred annually for published works by Indian authors, recognises novels, short stories, poetry and drama. Sudeep’s work to be so honoured is his Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation, a collection of poetry, prose and photography, published by Pippa Rann Books & Media UK (182pp hb).

Sudeep receives his award

The judges’ citation reads—

‘Sudeep Sen writes a powerful and intimate testimony to the human life inexorably and agonisingly devolving, in real time and in direct confrontation with Nature that runs its rebalancing course, keeps the Death by its side and doesn’t shiver at the sight of human arrogance. The impact Anthropocene is making, as a collection of observations that directly address the conundrum of our present and our future, but also in regard to the innovative utilisation of genre, is impossible to overestimate.’ 

The author’s reply reads as follows—

‘I am delighted that Anthropocene, has been awarded the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize. This book, which coalesced during the pandemic, is essentially a plea for positivity and prayer in these fervent times. Using multiple literary genres and tropes, it endeavours to address the wider geo-politics of our time. I hope this award will serve to sensitise a greater number of people to very urgent issues that need acute and immediate attention – such as climate change, and our global need for unity and humanism. “Hope, heed, heal – our song in present tense.”’ 
With the coveted prize

It might be recalled that at the time of the book’s launch, Ars Notoria carried a review, which is reproduced below.

The term ‘Anthropocene’ has been proposed as the definition of the geological epoch dating from the start of significant human impact on the earth, and on its ecosystems. Anthropocene is also the title of Sudeep Sen’s latest (multi-genre) book of poetry, prose and photography – published in the UK in a handsome hardback edition from Pippa Rann Books. I have a feeling this won’t be the last poetic (and literary) outcry against the ravages we inflict on our planet, with the cost not only to ourselves.

While a reversal of human rapacity is the clarion call of our era, growing louder by the day, it’s far from clear that timely correctives will be put in place sufficient to avert ultimate catastrophe. Despite the overwhelming evidence that climate change is a reality, and that dangerous levels of CO2 and methane are rising in our atmosphere, there is vested interest, there are powerful lobbies – of governments and corporations – doggedly resistant to climate treaties and any meaningful change in consumer habits. Meanwhile the globe is subject to weather extremes, coral reefs suffer bleaching, seas and rivers fill with plastic, micro-plastics enter the food chain, over-trafficked towns and cities are obliged to impose congestion and emission charges. Plastic pollution has even been detected in human placenta.

That’s the grand narrative. But what of the personal? Anthropocene is divided into nine parts, and roughly these comprise, pessimistically, a survey of the background realities of the globe as it is today, an apocalyptic vision of the world as it degenerates, the impact of the pandemic in collective and individual terms, then, as an optimistic contrast, there are skyscape photographs taken from the author’s terrace in Delhi, there is a celebration of persons, places and geological phenomena, there are the consolations of light, friendship and human togetherness, in balance with strictures imposed by nations in lockdown, with a strategy for survival of those restrictions with our mental health intact. Finally there is an epilogue.

In Part 1, the prologue, the poet is fulsome in his prose description of what he terms the ‘choreograph [of] the seasonal orchestra’, the first of many alliances of his poetic method with music (somewhere later in the book we infer music as his restorative). Frida Kahlo heads up this section, with an epigraph: ‘I paint flowers so they will not die.’ But death is the stark reality, with a reported news feature from ‘the President of the island nation of Kiribati […] informing the rest of the world that [with rising sea levels] the first country to be submerged would be theirs – and that their people would be the first “climate refugees”.’ More of the politics is touched on, with the world and its elites taking not enough notice of what is actual – the planet’s ecological crisis, with it the resurgence of fascism, the pandemic, and resulting from it the misery of enforced migration, desperate peoples dispossessed in their droves. Where once the artist celebrated nature in its colour and diversity, now there is hard descent into warnings against its destruction. The weather has certainly changed.

Part 2 begins with a plaint against human folly in its rapacity, ‘where everything is ambition, / everything is desire, everything is nothing’ (the poem ‘Disembodied’, p28). We are confronted with variants of the apocalyptic: ‘…over-heated air sucks out everything’; ‘Rain where there never was, / no rain where there [once] was.’; ‘Climate patterns [in] total disarray’; ‘…man-made havoc.’; ‘Earthquakes – overground, underground, / undersea’; ‘destruction, death’; ‘cyclone, flood, / pestilence, pollution.’; ‘Stillness, ever still – all still-born’ (‘Global Warming’, p30), and in ‘Rising Sea Levels’ (p31) there is a granite outcrop that once jutted out of the ‘ebullient’ sea, fifty metres from the shore, but is seen no more. ‘Asphyxia’, the poem on page 37, tips its hat to Eliot, in an unreal city, with a yellow fog, and yellow smoke, and urges ‘Sweet Yamuna’ (not the Thames, but a river in northern India) to run softly, till the poet of our day has ended not his song but his dirge. On page 38, in ‘Summer Heat’, macadam melts into a viscous black sea, a neem tree is bleached of its natural colour, power lines are down, in all there is limitless barrenness, while on page 39, in ‘Amaltas’, ‘sparking laburnums / […] ignite, incinerate’ under a searing 48°C. Some vision, where the city is reduced in appearance to that of a ‘glass mirage’ (‘Heat Sand’, p40), and where the science fraternity is telling us of ‘new highs’, where ‘meteorological indices shatter’ (‘Afternoon Meltdown’, p41), ‘unfinished flyovers // collapse’ (‘Concrete Graves’, p43). The contrast to excessive heat is given us in ‘Endless Rain’ (page 44), but the rain is followed by drought, then by an unstoppable monsoon (‘Shower, Wake’, p47). Examples of what ails human agency in all this is summed in bronchial disorders (the physical) and the tragedy of accentuated social division (the psychological).

Part 3, ‘Pandemic’, bears the subtitle ‘Love in the Time of Corona’, an enforced disposition Marquez (who is surely invoked) would have immediately understood. Page 54 reproduces the front page of The New York Times (a) as a mortician’s black slab (or so it seemed to this reader) and (b) a roll of the dead, names listed when the US death rate as a result of the virus was touching 100,000, responded to in ‘Obituary’ (page 55) as a conflation of ‘micro point-size fonts / on an ever inflating pandemic’. In ‘Obituary 2: Nine Pins’ (page 61) the poet names those personally he has lost to the pandemic, and amid a fourteen-haiku sequence (‘Corona Haiku’, pp62–64) the question is asked ‘will we find a more / compassionate world, after / this pandemic’s death?’ One suspects that with our current crop of leaders, and the multinationals that have got them in their pocket, we cannot bank on it. As to our mental health, ‘lockdown’s uneasy / solitude – turning into / another disease’ (page 64) does not give us hope of instant remedies, once the viral threat has passed, despite some few emollients (see Part 4, ‘Contagion’).

Part 4, ‘Contagion’. Can they salve the pain, a ‘eucalyptus steam inhalation, Ventolin sprays’, a ‘mixed concoction of ginger’, ‘black pepper, turmeric and organic honey’ (‘Implosion’, p79)? Or with these is there only ‘temporary respite’ (ibid)? Can machine technology ease the stress, with a charge of air from an electric vent? ‘I like this hellishly good blast that shakes all the embedded molecules in my bones’ (‘Icicles’, p81). ‘Fever Pitch’ (page 82), which in its epigraph recalls Thom Gunn and his man with night sweats, has its variation on that theme in an age of climate change and contagion: ‘The unknown boiling and freezing points that I hide within myself provide the ultimate enigma that even the most specialized doctors and architects find hard to map.’ Here more than ever throughout these poems we see what in the poet’s mind exists as the opposition, seldom a dialogue, between art and science. In their conflicting strategies in defining the human malaise ‘there is no room for unscientific thought’, or more fully, from ‘Heavy Water’, pp87-89)—

‘Families of electrons, protons and neutrons speed away, whirring in patterned loops, forgetting all the while that the heart of their orbit may actually feel and breathe. But in science, there is no room for unscientific thought – as if science and the arts, coolness and emotionality were mutually incompatible or different from each other.’ 

In a pandemic the truth of our mortality is brought closer into consciousness (‘Preparing For a Perfect Death’, p91)—

‘Get you papers in order – choose / your inheritors fairly – with love, care. // Outline clearly – who gets what, / what they are required to execute.’

And in ‘Icarus’ (pp92–93) there might even be a death wish: ‘The image of Icarus has been flying around / in my head. I cannot get rid of it….’ ‘I pray for Icarus to return to take me / away….’ But here among us earth-dwellers who have not crashed from the sky there are still life’s attractions. Instance Dinesh Khanna’s photograph on page 96, precursor to a meal (feasting, a social event), of chopped red onions, chopped red peppers and a clove of garlic on a chopping board with knives, despite the poet’s irresistible urge to make a crucifix out of the latter. ‘Corona Red’ (page 97) is the poem that accompanies (‘…is this a new metaphor of our / times?’). And after the metaphor, what are the other symptoms of our troubled era? The testing of friendships in enforced social distancing (‘Scar’, p99)? The alarming rate at which both fake news and the coronavirus replicate (‘Ghalib in the Time of Crisis’, pp100–101)? They are certainly among the leading contenders.

Part 5, subtitled ‘Skyscapes’, sees text give way to a series of photos the poet took from his terrace in Delhi, with his focus on a single subject (an horizon washed with trees, low-rise flat-roofed buildings and their attachments), under a big sky and subject to differing lighting conditions, ranging from evening twilight to cloudy to inky to fiery sunsets.

Part 6, ‘Holocene’, scientifically the interval of geologic time, approximately the last 11,700 years of Earth’s history, wherein the influence of human activity has been so profound it is deemed appropriate to ascribe its own name (cp ‘Anthropocene’). Poems in this section include a celebration of persons, places, and the terrible majesty of geological phenomena: ‘Four centuries ago, Akrotiri’s ancient site fell / grandly to volcanic death, victim of several quakes’ (‘Akrotiri’, p121). There is a homage to Derek Walcott. English hours take in a visit to Herefordshire, and with it the concretion of passing moments, with ‘…the kind of clock I want to measure time by – / time that depends / on the company of those who care – / time minutely layered / on this open windblown Herefordshire terrain…’ (‘Witherstone’, pp122–125). Another sequence of haiku (‘Undercurrents: 20 Lake Haiku’, pages 126–128) offers similar lyricism: ‘geese squeak, cormorants / dive, fish summersault…’ We are in Marseilles when, philosophically, the question is asked ‘Have these voyagers left something behind, / or are they yearning / to complete the incompleteness / in their lives?’ (‘Disembodied 2: Les Voyageurs’, p129). The section ends with ‘Disembodied 3: Within’ (page 130), and further philosophical probing: ‘…life, birth, death – / regermination, rejuvenation, nirvana.’

Part 7, ‘Consolation’, cinematically introduced by Stanley Kubrick: ‘However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.’ In life there is hope, and in death there are hopes for an afterlife (‘Burning Ghats, Varanasi’, (pages 136–137)—

‘In the super-heated pyre, I hear another ritual pot break,
		another skull crack, another soul take flight.
I see some shore-temples slow-sink
					into the swallowing river –
effects of unpredictable tides and climate change
	taking with them, both the mortal and the immortal –
Holocene’s carbon-footprint – its death text, unceasing.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust –
			water to heavy water, life to after-life.’ 

And from ‘Ganga, Rising’ (page 138)—

‘Here, there is no space for perfectly rounded pebbles or gentle musings – only large granite
outcrops can shackle the soul’s ferocity – a jagged fierceness – not harsh, yet quietly robust.’

And from ‘Shiuli | Harasingara’ (page 140)—

‘Soon the festivities, food,
     flowers, camaraderie,
prayer, will infuse everything –’

We are reminded in ‘Breastfeeding’ (page 150) of the social world and how that does not necessarily comply with the strictures of science, in that love is an imperfect equation, and similarly in ‘Air: Pankhā Pattachitra’ (page 151) are reminded of ‘the spare simplicity / of pure clean air.’ Not everything is lost.

Part 8, ‘Lockdown’. The writer has a natural, inborn, and after years of toil a disciplined strategy for dealing with the solitude and lack of social contact national lockdowns have imposed on the masses. It’s to be found in recourse to writing and reading, and has a distinct advantage over exploit and action in the world, its locus described in full in ‘Poetics of Solitude, Songs of Silence’ (pp162–165). But there are other pastimes more easily called upon: ‘words of grief; words of love, hate, wisdom. / Paper crafts its papyrus origins // journeying from tree to table / through clefts, wefts, contours, textures…’ (‘Paper T[r]ails’, p157). And what were the things we did in early childhood?

Part 9, ‘Epilogue’, is in the nature of a linked list, with prayer and meditation, closing with a chant and a cerement, and a rite of passage for the dying, where ‘breathing is a privilege’, ‘friends perish, the country buckles, airless’, sentiments which might seem pessimistic as a conclusion. However, one has only to remember how inexcusably reluctant governments, corporations, and we as individuals have been in meeting the challenge our post-industrial way of life has thrown at us, when at the same time there remains a volume of powerful voices denying human complicity in our current climate disaster, with the Holocene an inter-glacial period where warming is said to happen anyway, regardless of us. But even if that is so, the amount of CO2 and methane we are pumping into the atmosphere is measurable, and has reached proportions we know are not good for us, for other species, and for the planet in general. And for as long as that is the case, there is need for the poems of Anthropocene, and for their author, Sudeep Sen, who with his wide fanbase, and this latest offering, will not disappoint its members.

En passant Noted, throughout Anthropocene, is the author’s fondness for skeletal imagery, frequent reference to bronchial irritations, and the condition asthmatics endure in the drawing of breath. Noted too are life’s dramas in comparison with the operatic, ‘striation’ and its cognates a favourite word, and, unsurprisingly given the book’s subject matter, repeated reference to meteorological phenomena, weather events, cloud shapes, cloud formations, cloud breaks, layered skies, and as metaphysical embodiment errant clouds yearning for rain.

Sudeep Sen’s prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 19802015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury) and Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation (Pippa Rann). He has edited influential anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, World English Poetry, Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi), and Converse: Contemporary English Poetry by Indians (Pippa Rann).  Blue Nude: Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over twenty-five languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times,Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on the BBC, PBS, CNN IBN, NDTV, AIR & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf / Random House / Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS, editor of Atlas, and currently the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Museo Camera. Sen is the first Asian honoured to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read at the Nobel Laureate Festival. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture / literature”.

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King Charles III’s Sacred Task: dissolve the institution of Monarchy

Bring the powerful to heel, don’t glorify monarchs and privilege

by Philip Hall

The idea that Charles III is divinely appointed to rule over us is ridiculous! Yet, ultimately, it is the metaphysical idea of the divine right of kings that gives King Charles III his legitimacy as the head of state. Ordinary British people are not citizens, but the subjects of a king whose soul was chosen by God to rule over them.

Pull the other one! The only sacred task that Charles has in front of him is to phase out the British system of monarchy; to dissolve the monarchy and return all crown properties and privileges to our democratically accountable state – to the people.

Charles III is not King Arthur; he is not a sacred king. He is not divinely appointed. He is not a unifier. Royalism is a smokescreen for the neo-Thatcherites, and the warring corporations. It is a kind of opiate, an important distraction that we don’t need at a crucial time when the cost-of-living crisis is upon us – while US capitalism wars with Russian capitalism, fighting over lebensraum in Ukraine at the cost of half a million dead, and at the risk of setting off a world destroying conflagration.

What would really unite us now is not a jug-eared new king, but a fairer society. What would give satisfaction is to see our elected government call to hell the wealthy and the corporations that puppeteer our corrupt political system in Great Britain.

Royalism is a smokescreen for the neo-Thatcherites, and for the warring corporations.

. . .

Kings and Queens brought people together into greater communities using brute power and oppression. Monarchical systems concentrated the wealth produced by the labour of ordinary people. Instead of sharing wealth with the people, the aristocrats generated luxury for themselves and wasted people’s work and the resources of the land on vanity projects.

From the beginning, monarchies had great pointless monuments like the Pyramids built. They enslaved millions and made civilisation more uncivilised, preferring to have huge luxurious tombs and religious buildings built instead of, for example, preventing the deaths of children from starvation and avoidable disease. The aristocrats had, and have, all the morality of lizard-eating snakes.

The ancient institution of monarchy is not as old or respectable as our dream of a happy communalism. When we were more monocultural society, monarchism grounded our beings in the land across a narrow racial and cultural spectrum. But let’s get our bearings, for God’s sake, we no longer live in a mono-racial, monoculture, we live in the multicultural Great Britain of 2023.

Poundberry, King Charles’ infamous architectural kitsch, photo Zonda Grattus

The Monty Python team put the question well: is a mystical connection to God and the land the basis for a good modern system of government? A king is not subject to the will of the people. The monarch embodies a divine appointment to rule and the right of the Monarch contradicts, by definition, the rights of the subjects of that monarch.

The monarch heads an aristocracy. The monarchical system contradicts, in principle, the ideas of liberté, égalité, fraternité. It is an insult to the ideals of social and economic justice. For modern humans living in democracies, the values of liberty, equality, fraternity and social and economic justice supersede any mystical connection one person might or might not have to the land. Respect for basic human dignity precludes us from agreeing to subject ourselves to another human. As Mark Twain said in private notes:

The institution of royalty in any form is an insult to the human race.

Tony Benn, who was himself from an aristocratic family, while he was respectful towards the Queen, was correct in his assessment of the foundations of a monarchical system.

I don’t think people realise how the establishment became established. It simply stole the land and property off the poor, surrounded themselves with weak-minded sycophants for protection, gave themselves titles and it has been wielding power ever since.

Tony Benn, in conversation

Of course, the monarchy in the UK is not absolute as it is in places like Saudi Arabia. In Britain, the power of the monarch was circumscribed long ago by the Magna Carta (1215) and we eventually ended up with a constitutional monarchy, by way of the abortive English Revolution.

In the United Kingdom, the monarch’s power is limited by a constitution. The new King Charles III is relegated to the role of being a symbol of state continuity and the union. But the British monarchy underwrites the unfairness of our British class system. It is no coincidence that the link between the monarchy and the military is very strong and always has been. It is not just that the British people have acquiesced to becoming subjects of the monarchy, force of arms maintains the monarch in power.

I had an argument with a friend which marked the end of our friendship. He was a member of the SAS and, while he studied Arabic and French, he moonlighted as a bodyguard for Prince Charles and Diana on different occasions, when Diana was still alive. I asked him this:

I accept the monarchy and the current political state of Britain under Margaret Thatcher because that is the expression of the will of the people in a democracy. But what if a socialist republican government were to be elected into power? Would you swear loyalty to it?

He said: ‘No!’ That was when we parted company.

In fact, according to past revelations, one of the main alleged organisers of a possible coup against the Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1968 was Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s uncle. The Queen’s uncle, King Edward VIII, was a notorious Nazi sympathizer before he was forced to resign. The sexual behaviour of Edward VII was a hundred times more scandalous than that of Prince Andrew. Remember that the democratically elected Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister of Australia, was removed from office by the governor of Australia, the Queen’s representative.

Underlyingly, the ideals and principles of a monarchical system and the very real material foundations of that system are antithetical to socialism and equality. Though we should remember that four of the most progressive northern democracies in Europe apart from the UK, have constitutional monarchs: Holland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

The British monarch has no legitimacy in India, Africa, Asia or the Americas

Fifteen Commonwealth realms are now supposed to have King Charles III as their monarch. In the past, under the system of the British monarchy, Queen Victoria had the chutzpah to call herself The Empress of India (at Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s suggestion). Victoria presided over the British Empire. Britain colonised a quarter of the world and governed almost a quarter of its people not by divine right, but by conquest. Then Great Britain robbed the colonies blind in order to extract wealth and advantage. To maintain British imperial power, the British state over the whole period of empire, killed thousands in the colonies and oppressed millions on every continent. Australia, Canada and New Zealand were settled by colonialists transplanted from the mother country and dedicated to the extermination of the indigenous peoples of those lands.

A British Army patrol in pursuit of Mau Mau independence fighters, MOD Official Collection, Mau 587

Look at it coldly! How can there possibly be a mystical connection of fealty between the monarch of the United Kingdom and the native populations of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, who Britain oppressed?

Though, perhaps those same indigenous peoples do have a deep, almost mystical feeling of hatred towards the British monarchy for the British theft of farmland and mineral resources and the British violation of sovereignty and the many acts of oppression by the British. The British Monarchy, for example, can certainly sling its hook when it comes to claiming any divine right to rule over Ireland.

The United Kingdom is the place where the scattering began, as Merle Collins explained in a poem, and the UK is where the people of the former empire now gather, attracted by the wealth which that empire extracted from their different countries. When you look around you in the UK, you see that a large proportion of the people who form part of our multicultural society are here because ‘we were over there‘.

Charles I, whose head was chopped off in The English Revolution in 1649

What would really unite us all now would be a fairer society

Bevan talking to a patient at Park Hospital Manchester the Day the NHS came into being, University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Sciences

What unites us in a post-enlightenment, technologically unified, globalised society is not a monarchy. What unites us, to the extent that it still exists, is being British citizens of a functioning representative democracy. What unites us is a system of social protection and welfare. What unites us in 2022 is free education and free health care. It is also negative liberty that unites us; the right to be free from persecution and prejudice

What would really unite us all now would be a fairer society; the bringing to heel of the wealthy corporations that currently puppeteer and corrupt our British government. What would really unite us would be the control, taxation and regulation by the government of powerful people and corporations who, without that control, have a tendency to behave like the ruthless commercial barons of the early part of the industrial revolution.

Social justice will bring social solidarity, not the anachronistic, counterfactual mysticism of an incredibly expensive celebrity cult.

The unification of Europe, and togetherness and kindness further afield, global unity and the elimination of conflict, is something the more enlightened spirits among us long for. All of us who believe in reciprocity and historical justice and the equality and rights of all human beings want unity, not splintering and division. But that unity should come about as the result of a proper democracy, not something as silly and irrelevant as a monarch.

We need a different system of government in the UK. We need an elected upper house and an elected head of state.

The real sacred task of King Charles III is to ‘love’ his people enough in order to have the democratically elected state abolish all aristocratic titles and inheritances and return all that property and wealth acquired through the system of monarchy back to the British people; from the property of the Duke of Westminster downwards.

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Alexei Navalny and the Revival of the Cold War

Reproduced by kind permission of the author, from Global Research

The case of the poisoned underpants

I think we are all curious about the political trajectory of Alexey Navalny. Clearly there is a big power play being made around him. He is a pawn in a great game most of us do not properly understand. Does anyone remember the fuss that was made of Mikhail Khodorkovsky? Sometimes we have the political memories of goldfish, don’t we? In this article originally published in March 2021, John Ryan illuminates for us the case of Alexei Navaly. It’s complex. Read through to the end.

By John Ryan

The mainstream media considers Alexei Navalny to be Vladimir Putin’s main opponent. However, a “Levada Center poll from November 2020 — three months after Navalny’s poisoning — found that only 2% of Russians would vote for Navalny if he were a presidential candidate. That is a number that has remained steady for years.” How is it possible that there can be such a divergence of views?

In the western media, Navalny has been portrayed as an indefatigable Russian patriot who is trying to expose corruption in Russian society and has been victimised by various criminal prosecutions.

To set the record straight, in 2014 Navalny was charged and convicted of fraud and embezzlement of a French cosmetic firm and a Russian state-owned timber firm, totalling about $1,000,000. For the first criminal offence he was given a 3½-year sentence and for the second, a 5-year sentence, but both sentences were suspended. On the other hand, his brother who was similarly charged did go to jail. During this probation period Alexei Navalny was to report at regular intervals to police officials.

Much has been written in the Western press about an “assassination attempt” on Navalny using a weapons grade nerve agent known as Novichok and Navalny’s accusation that “Putin was trying to poison me” has been taken at face value. However, little has been said about the many questions that have arisen around these important matters and they are worth airing

On August 20th, Navalny fell seriously ill while in mid-flight from Tomsk, Siberia to the Russian capital. The Moscow-bound plane was abruptly re-routed to make an emergency landing in the Siberian city of Omsk where the Navalny was hospitalized.

Somehow while Navalny was still on the plane bound for Omsk, Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the protest punk rock Pussy Riot group, was notified of Navalny’s illness. He then immediately managed to arrange for the Berlin-based NGO Cinema for Peace Foundation to send an aircraft to Omsk with a coma-specialised team on board. This plane arrived the next day, on August 21, and these German doctors were allowed to take part in the examination and treatment of Navalny. In fact, they were able to make tests and report these back to Berlin.

The Russian doctors have affirmed that despite comprehensive toxicology tests on his biological fluids and organs, they detected no traces of toxins. He was tested for many types of poisons, including organophosphorus compounds and narcotic substances. Moreover, the atropine treatment by Russian doctors was exactly the same as would later be done at the Berlin Charité medical university. And most importantly, no evidence was detected by the German doctors of a poison attack on Navalny in the Omsk hospital, as Navalny and the western media have recently alleged.

The chief toxicologist at the Omsk Emergency Hospital, Dr. Alexander Sabaev, stated that their doctors found no traces of toxic substances in the comatose Navalny’s kidneys, liver, or lungs, which led them to conclude that Navalny’s condition was caused by a metabolic disorder and an “internal trigger mechanism.” It appeared that Navalny had suffered  a grand seizure due to hyperglycemia after going into diabetic shock in which a combination of alcohol, lithium and benzos taken by Navalny himself were involved. Sabaev also noted that tests were conducted in multiple laboratories at once.

By their skilled quick intervention, these doctors saved Navalny’s life. The Omsk doctors not only stabilized Navalny’s condition but also had demonstrated the effectiveness of the Russian antidote medication. The crucial point is that these Russian toxicology tests found no Novichok or any other such nerve poison in Navalny’s body. The Russian medics still possess the original body samples taken when Navalny was being treated in Russia.

On August 22 Navalny was flown in this German plane to Germany, along with his medical condition reports, which were to be given to the Charité Clinic in Berlin. His transport on a medically equipped plane with German specialists was permitted by the Russian authorities. In fact, it was Vladimir Putin who personally authorized this, afterwards saying, “I immediately asked the Prosecutor General’s office to allow that.”

Two days later, on August 24, a report on Navalny from the Charité hospital stated “Clinical findings indicate poisoning with a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors. The specific substance involved remains unknown, and a further series of comprehensive testing has been initiated.”

This claim was signed by a press agent, not a doctor or head of the patient treatment team. However, German hospital protocol requires the treating doctor to take responsibility for the release of a patient’s medical record. There is no evidence that such permission was granted.  In fact, Florian Roetzer of Telepolis, asked Manuela Zingl, the press agent who signed her name to this, to name the head of the Navalny’s treatment team and to provide details of the treatment. She refused. We will return to the question of why protocol was breached so seriously on such an important matter at a later point when we come to additional information that came out in December.

Notably, the Berlin doctors admit they did not detect organophosphate poisoning in Navalny’s blood, urine or on his skin; they tested no water bottle or clothing evidence which had been brought to Berlin by Navalny’s staff on the evacuation aircraft. They also acknowledge they did not know what might have caused “severe poisoning with a cholinesterase inhibitor” until the German armed forces laboratory in Munich reported the Novichok allegation two weeks later.

For an undisclosed reason, further research on Navalny was not done at the Charité hospital in Berlin.  This was assigned to be done at the German army’s chemical warfare laboratory in Munich, the Institut fur Pharmakologie und Toxikologie der Bundeswehr (IPTB). On September 2 the IPTB issued a brief report, with no details, directly to Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin stating that on the basis of their toxicological investigation “definite proof of a chemical nerve agent of the Novitchok (sic) group was produced.”

However, there is a problem with IPTB’s entire report. There was no toxicology report from the IPTB, no name of the IPTB expert in charge of the testing and of the interpretation of the results, and there was no name of the chemical compound of the “Novichok group,” which IPTB should have explicitly reported on paper, according to the naming protocol of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry; or else the report fails to do that because it was inconclusive. The failure to compile a full report on these matters seems to indicate their analysis was inconclusive.

Immediately after receiving the report on Navalny from the IPTB, Chancellor Merkel met with her cabinet and issued a report saying, “The German federal government condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms. The Russian government is urged to explain itself regarding the incident.” A communiqué was sent to Russia saying that Germany now has “unequivocal proof” Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent and demanded that Russia conduct an investigation into this. The next day Russia rejected Merkel’s accusations and demanded documents and proof to support their case.

Germany’s announcement immediately led to a series of charges in the media that the Kremlin was responsible for the attempted murder of Navalny using the Soviet-era nerve poison. Without providing any supporting evidence to Moscow or the public, the German government demanded an explanation from the Kremlin. Amazingly, Germany refused to share their analytical data and samples with Russia, but in spite of this they demanded that Moscow launch a criminal investigation into the Navalny case.

Upon hearing these accusations, the scientists behind Novichok development – Leonid Rink and Vladimir Uglev – dismissed the German claims. They stated that Novichok is an extremely deadly nerve agent and there’s no way Navalny could have survived its application. Furthermore, Uglev pointed out that others who interacted with the Navalny after he fell ill – fellow plane passengers, ambulance crews, and others would also have been contaminated. Leonid Rink stated that Navalny’s symptoms are not consistent with poisoning by Novichok. According to him, if Novichok was used, Navalny would have had seizures, and he would have already died, instead of falling into a coma.

Russia then sent a formal request from the Prosecutor-General in Moscow to Germany to provide medical condition evidence on their Navalny findings. In response, the German authorities have not produced a single medical datum, pathology, toxicology or forensic report. In European protocols of patient care and in medical professional terms, this is unprecedented. As such it appears that German doctors were under government orders not to communicate with their Russian colleagues or to respond to an official Russian government request.

German doctors who treated Navalny wrote a report that became the basis for an article in The Lancet. This was published December 22 as a four-page clinical report on Navalny. In this report, the main editors Eckardt and Steindl say “severe poisoning with a cholinesterase inhibitor was subsequently diagnosed,” not at the Charité hospital in Berlin, but by a “laboratory of the German armed forces”, i.e., the IPTB.

British toxicologists have repeatedly cautioned there can be many causes and sources for the cholinesterase inhibition detected from metabolites in Navalny’s blood and urine, and they continue to ask the German doctors and the IPTB: “Name the compound. That would be a good start.” Writing in The Lancet, the doctor in charge of Navalny’s treatment at the Charité, Kai-Uwe Eckardt and a British colleague, David Steindl note that: “results of toxicology analyses conducted in a special laboratory of the armed forces [IPTB] are not included.”

A British organo-phosphate expert adds: “I can’t stress enough the need for the German scientists to be specific. To speak of ‘Novichok family’ or ‘Novichok class or group” is just not good enough. There is no reason why the correct IUPAC chemical name should not be stipulated.  Without this certainty, there is no analysis that can stand up as toxicologically defensible evidence of a crime.”

As cited in the December issue of The Lancet, German doctors reported that “based on clinical and laboratory findings, severe cholinesterase inhibition was diagnosed and the patient was started on atropine and obidoxime . . . cholinergic signs returned to normal within 1 hour after the onset of this antidotal therapy.” This report is in stark contrast to the Charité press agent’s report on August 24 which spoke of “poisoning with a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors.”  It also neglected to mention that the atropine treatment was effective within one hour and that the atropine treatment by Russian doctors at Omsk was the same as provided to Navalny by German doctors.

Thus, the August 24 announcement by Charité hospital’s press agent was not only inaccurate, it was overly alarmist. As we have seen, it was also released by a press agent, without the signature or the authorization of a doctor. Now we know why: it appears to be a purposeful misrepresentation of Navalny’s medical condition. But questions still remain . . . why was this done, who authorized it, and for what purpose?Navalny, Nord Stream 2, Belarus, and the American Elections

At Germany’s request, on September 10 OPCW sent experts to collect biomedical samples from Navalny’s blood and urine. This was three weeks after Navalny became ill and by this time he was reasonably well recovered. Almost a month later, on October 5, the OPCW sent a report on its findings to Germany claiming that “The results of the analysis of biomedical samples conducted by the OPCW designated laboratories demonstrate that Mr Navalny was exposed to a toxic chemical acting as a cholinesterase inhibitor. The biomarkers of the cholinesterase inhibitor found in Mr Navalny’s blood and urine samples have similar structural characteristics to the toxic chemicals belonging to schedules 1.A.14 and 1.A.15, which were added to the Annex on Chemicals to the Convention at the Twenty-Fourth Session of the Conference of the States Parties in November 2019. This cholinesterase inhibitor is not listed in the Annex on Chemicals to the Convention.”

There was no further report to clarify what this actually meant. Despite this, it became accepted that OPCW claimed it was a variant of Novichok. Overall, OPCW’s remarkably late intervention in this matter is questionable and their report remains cryptic. The fact that immediately after Navalny became ill Russian and German doctors at Omsk were not able to find any traces of toxins in his blood and urine, three weeks later OPCW’s “experts” supposedly managed to do so stretches credulity.

The latest on this is that it is now reported, as of February 15, that on the day OPCW took samples of Navalny’s blood and urine, the German record shows his cholinesterase scores were so close to normal, it was impossible for the OPCW to claim they had evidence of a Novichok attack. This substantially undermines Germany’s claim that the Novichok attack was perpetrated by the Russians, on order of President Vladimir Putin.

It’s not that OPCW has an unblemished impartial record. Its reputation was seriously compromised in 2019 when the head office leadership altered the report of its own on-site investigators in Douma in Syria in an attempt to justify an unwarranted and illegal bombing raid in Syria by US and British aircraft.  Because of this, the two top investigators quit their jobs, and one of them later presented a detailed report at the United Nations in which the true course of events was presented on what actually happened at Douma in 2018.

On December 22 the Charité clinic released some of its laboratory test results on Navalny. These reveal a surprising number of medical symptoms: acute pancreatitis, diabetes, liver failure, severe dehydration, muscular rigidity, as well as serious bacterial infection, and a possible heart attack associated with his kidney problems. According to the clinic’s experts, these are not recognizable symptoms of a nerve agent attack. Given this great variety of ailments, it is clear that Navalny is not in good health.

The Charité hospital’s doctors also revealed that Navalny had a medico-psychiatric problem and was a heavy user of lithium and benzodiazepine drugs. They reported this in a set of four data tables they attached as appendices to their case report on Navalny. Their data raises the question — what would happen if Navalny was forced to withdraw from his drugs quickly.  Further on this later.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, had refused to reveal or allow Navalny’s doctors to report on several of his prior illnesses and medical preconditions; these are known to cause sudden reduction in blood sugar and cholinesterase levels—diabetes, Quincke’s Disease, and allergies leading to anaphylactic shock. It is not known if Navalny afterwards allowed this.

The disclosure that in his Tomsk hotel on August 19, hours before he collapsed, Navalny had taken a large dose of lithium, diazepam, nordazepam, oxazepam, and temazepam, was first published on December 22 in The Lancet. The medico-psychiatric literature is clear on what happens to a habitual user of these drugs if rapid withdrawal is attempted: for lithium, read this; for the benzodiazepines, click to open.

European medical sources report that the lithium found in Navalny’s blood is commonly used to treat bipolar disorders. It is known to depress the butyryl cholinesterase which Navalny’s laboratory testing revealed at the

Charité hospital. Navalny was also being treated to stabilise his insulin level with Metformin, a drug that is known to be a cholinesterase inhibitor.  From the combination of these drugs and the additional ones he took in the Tomsk hotel, Navalny would have suffered dramatic cholinesterase inhibition effects before his collapse on the plane from Tomsk to Moscow.

As such there is medical evidence provided by Russian and German doctors that Navalny may have collapsed because of the combination of drugs he was taking. The use of benzodiazepines is especially dangerous when used with alcohol or other drugs.

Independent western toxicologists, pharmacologists, and physicians believe that the Lancet evidence of Navalny’s drug intake shows that he had consumed a potentially lethal cocktail of drugs, which, if combined with alcohol and a pre-existing diabetic condition, could have triggered the cholinesterase inhibitor.  An expert from the above-cited group adds that the 0.2 blood alcohol level reported from the Omsk hospital testing on August 20 “is an extremely high level.”

The mystery of what the Berlin doctors treating Navalny discovered in his bloodstream and urine tests has deepened after the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly referred in mid-February to the clinical findings of a

Swiss-based neurologist, Vitaly Kozak. He revealed that Kozak has been reporting for several weeks that the biomedical data tables published in The Lancet in December reveal evidence of cholinesterase inhibition effects of poisoning by the drug lithium which Navalny was taking himself before his

collapse on August 20.  Why is it that The Lancet has refused to publish a clinical commentary in the form of questions from Dr. Kozak?

Kozak has pointed out there is evidence that lithium inhibits cholinesterase activity in the blood. Also not explained was that 31 hours after Navalny collapsed from his illness “he had ‘wide pupils non-reactive to light’ which is contrary to cholinergic toxidrome.” He explained the significance of this, which was not reported by The Lancet.  DrKozak’s expert credentials as a neurologist are such that he is more qualified to comment on Navalny’s clinical data than the neurologists in the Charité hospital team who listed themselves as co-authors of December 22 Lancetreport. Despite this, Kozak’s observations and inferences from the data tables have been rejected for publication in The Lancet.

It is noteworthy that career diplomat Frank Elbe, who headed the office of German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher for five years and negotiated the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons as head of the German delegation in Geneva from 1983 to 1986, stated that “I am surprised that the Federal Ministry of Defence concludes that the nerve agent Novichok was used against Navalny.”

As he put it, Novichok belongs to a group of “super-lethal substances that cause immediate death” and that it “made no sense to modify a nerve poison that was supposed to kill instantly in such a way that it did not kill, but left traces behind allowing its identification.”

To sum up this issue, the case from Germany and the west is that Navalny was the target of an attempted murder, and that Novichok was the weapon used. The Russian government case is that the medical evidence is of a metabolic crisis caused by the combination of alcohol, lithium and benzodiazepines taken by Navalny himself.

The balance of evidence available and outlined here would suggest that the Russian assessment is more credible than the Western consensus.

Aside from all of the above, there is a further more sinister possibility that should be considered. It was the doctors at the Omsk hospital who first treated Navalny and saved his life from his strange ailment. Several German doctors were there at the time and fully approved of the tests and medical care that he received. The Russian doctors still have Navalny’s biological samples, which show no presence of toxins. Hence, because of such evidence, surely there is reasonable cause to suspect that the German version may be a fabrication. That could mean that the claimed detection of Novichok by the Germans was the result of deliberate contamination of his body fluids while he was being treated in the Berlin hospital, or that his was done later at the Munich military laboratory.

Russia has been transparent in all this from the outset. But strangely, the Germans rebuffed all Russian requests for reciprocal transparency from their side to back up their extraordinary claims that Navalny was poisoned with a military nerve agent.  All efforts by Moscow for cooperation in investigating what happened when Navalny fell ill on August 20 have been stonewalled. However, the German lab did share some of their information with personnel from other countries.

There are additional questions. After Russian doctors saved his life and were prepared to deal with his recovery, why was there an urgent request from his family and his supporters to have him flown to Germany for further hospital care? Why was there an urgency to do so? Why did Moscow relent in allowing this strange foreign intervention in its internal affairs?

If, for argument’s sake, the Kremlin had in some way plotted to cause Navalny harm with Novichok or some other poison, why would Moscow permit his relocation to Berlin where toxicology tests would uncover the purported plot? That scenario is illogical.

A further point on this matter is that Novichok substances exist in at least twenty Western countries while Russia claims to have none. Furthermore, the Russian scientists who invented Novichok have stated categorically that if used, it would have killed Navalny almost instantly. Moreover, anyone who came in contact with him – his aides, doctors, fellow passengers – would inevitably have been contaminated, sickened and perhaps died, so deadly is this chemical weapon.

Recently a Russian doctor died at the Omsk hospital where Navalny was a treated six months ago. Immediately there was speculation that it was that this was somehow connected to Navalny. Upon inquiry it was reported that the doctor died of a heart attack and that this had nothing to do with Navalny.

When in Germany for treatment, a mysterious water bottle was produced by his family that the Bundeswehr labs are now claiming had traces of Novichok on its surface. If Novichok truly were on the bottle, Navalny and his assistants would have died, as well as the Bundeswehr technicians.

In addition to the water bottle, other purported methods were considered such as a bad tasting cocktail Navalny had in the hotel or perhaps it was the cup of tea while he was waiting for his plane in Tomsk. But the latest and the final idea is that Novichok was applied to Navalny’s underwear while he was staying at a hotel in the hours before his flight to Tomsk.  Laughable, yes, but this is their latest idea.

This latest explanation is based on a claim that Navalny somehow through a phone call tricked a person from the Russian Federal Security Service to admit that they had applied Novichok to his underwear. Russia immediately denied such an accusation and showed that his claim was preposterous and a fake.

In all of this there was an astounding dereliction of legal process by the Europeans, as well as the flouting of diplomatic norms in their communications with Moscow . . . all unworthy of normal bilateral relations.

Despite all this, critics wonder why “the Russian regime has not yet even opened a criminal inquiry.” Why should Russia do this? The Russian doctors who saved Navalny’s life did not find any toxic substance in his body. The German investigators have not provided any evidence of their findings of Novichok in Navalny’s body. Without such evidence what would be the point of any such inquiry?

The timing of Navalny’s alleged assassination came as the Nord Stream-2 natural gas project between the European Union and Russia entered into a final phase for completion. Predictably, there have been vociferous calls from the EU and from some sectors in Germany for that project to be cancelled, in accordance with Washington’s long-held demands. The USA is involved in this because it wants to sell its own abundant gas (from fracking) to Europe, even though it would be far more expensive than Russian gas. Obviously, this is about trade and American financial interests. In response to this, Russia is considering an international court challenge against US actions.

This $11 billion pipeline is the likely reason why the Navalny issue has been handled in this manner in Germany. Strangely there are a number of pro-Washington German politicians who have been persistent in their opposition to the ambitious boost to energy trade between Russia and Europe. On the other hand, most German politicians realize that Germany needs Russian natural gas as it phases out dirty coal and nuclear power.  Natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than coal or nuclear power. The completion of this line would double the supply of Russian gas to the EU.

Despite sanctions to disrupt construction over the past year, the Nord Stream-2 project resumed near the end of 2020. All that is needed is about 150 kilometers of pipe-laying to the German coastline in an overall 12,000-km route from Russia.

From a strategic political and commercial viewpoint, the Americans are crazed by this partnership between Europe and Russia. Navalny’s bizarre poison story and subsequent media agitation seems central to halting the Nord Stream-2 project.

So desperate is Washington to sabotage the pipeline that it is now throwing caution to the winds in its efforts at trying to incite a colour revolution in Russia. The hypocrisy is astounding considering the shrill and unfounded accusations the Americans have leveled at Russia about its supposed interference in US affairs.

But also astounding is the servility of European governments and media who entertain the American agenda. Germany wants and needs Russian gas, but Berlin has accepted the Navalny nonsense and has endangered its relationship with Russia.

In any case, under the laws of the Russian Federation, during Navalny’s five-month stay in Germany, he was on probation for a suspended jail sentence concerning his fraud conviction in 2014.  For the last two months of 2020, according to his German doctors, he was fully recovered and in good health. Hence there were no grounds for him not to return to Russia and thereby to abide by Russian laws.

Near the end of December Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service warned Alexei Navalny to return immediately from Germany or else face a suspended sentence being made into jail time. He ignored this and returned on January 17. He was detained at the airport and placed in detention till February 2.

At the ensuing court case on February 2, seemingly because he had been unable to take his usual drugs, Navalny became unhinged during the proceedings. During the court hearing, he was asked to apologize to a 95-year-old World War II veteran for insulting and defaming him some months before because the veteran had supported an amendment to Russia’s constitution.  Instead of doing this, Navalny proceeded to further ridicule and malign not only the veteran but his family as well, to the extent that it even appalled his supporters in court. As later reported “Navalny’s constant shift into shouting, rolling into hysterics, bickering with the court, and insulting other participants . . .  the judge, unable to stand the circus, gave five minutes to the lawyers to ‘bring the defendant to his senses’, since ‘there is no longer any possibility to tolerate this.’” It’s fairly certain that if Navalny had done this in the USA he’d have been charged with contempt of court and given an additional sentence. At the end of the hearing, he was jailed for parole violations resulting from an earlier embezzlement conviction and sent to serve the remaining 2½ years in a penal colony.

Probably because of Navalny’s bizarre performance in court, his staff announced they have suspended their demonstration plans until the spring.

Russia has dismissed US and EU criticism of the jailing of Navalny as meddling in its domestic affairs and said Navalny’s current situation is a procedural matter for the court, not an issue for the government.

It should be noted that while he was in Germany “recuperating,” Navalny proceeded to accuse President Putin of personally ordering his alleged assassination. On the basis of these bizarre and totally unsubstantiated charges the European governments proceeded to impose further sanctions on Russia.  The abdication by European governments of due process and of respect for Russian state laws, its government, and its president is astounding.

In a question directed at Putin regarding Navalny’s comments about him, Putin responded by saying that Navalny’s claims are merely “laundering of US intelligence” for which the dissident figure is an asset.

The notion that Russian President Vladimir Putin would try to assassinate an opposition person who holds a minuscule 2 to 4% support amongst the population is contrary to any reason or common sense. There is a reason Putin consistently polls about 60 to 70% in favorability with the Russian people.  Such polling is done regularly by the Levada Center, an independent non-governmental polling association.

Russians are fully aware that it was Putin who directed the country away from Western domination under the ruinous neoliberal economic policies of his corrupt and inebriated predecessor Boris Yeltsin.  Under Yeltsin in a matter of five years from 1990 to 1994 life expectancy dropped from age 69 to age 64, and economic output fell by 45 percent during 1989 – 1998.  Under Putin the economy recovered and life expectancy in 2020 was 72.3.

After his arrest, Navalny’s supporters released a two-hour YouTube video about an opulent Black Sea residence allegedly built for Putin. It immediately got wide media attention, especially in the West, and it has been widely viewed in Russia. President Putin immediately denied having anything to do with this structure.  Shortly afterwards, a Russian businessman, Arkady Rotenberg, provided proof that he owns this property and that this has nothing to do with the Russian president.

Navalny’s so-called Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) has a checkered history of shady financing, from allegations of foreign funding by the U.S. State Department to charges of embezzling millions of dollars. The FBK is registered as a ‘foreign agent’ by the Russian Ministry of Justice because they have evidence that it has received funding from abroad in the past.

Navalny is being used by the USA as a useful agent in its attempts to subvert the Russian state by fomenting social unrest.  For example, upon Navalny’s return to Russia on January 17, the US embassy in Moscow published detailed street maps of planned protests. Just imagine the hue and cry if, for example, the Russian embassy in Washington had published maps of the Capitol buildings prior to the January 6 violent assault there by Trump supporters.

Navalny’s FBK on January 31 asked the White House to enact additional sanctions on Russia. Russia’s Foreign Affairs official, Vladimir Dzhabarov, denounced the organization, saying: “It smacks of treason. Can you imagine an American organization appealing to Vladimir Putin with a request to impose sanctions on the US president?”

Amnesty International has recently withdrawn its designation of Navalny as a “prisoner of conscience” due to past xenophobic statements he has never retracted. The group said it “is no longer able to consider” Navalny a prisoner of conscience because he “advocated violence and discrimination” and has never retracted any of such statements he made in the past. They noted that he has compared Muslims to cockroaches and flies and recommends shooting them with guns if swatters and shoes fail.

At a party in 2013, celebrating the anniversary of the newspaper The New TimesNavalny suggested that they “make the first toast for the Holocaust”; he referred to religious Jews in his blog as: “dandies in fox hats and rags.” Also, Navalny in 2013 supported the Biryulyovo race riots in which Russian skinheads attacked immigrants in a Moscow district. In 2017, in an interview with the Guardian, he said he has “no regrets” about his past statements and called it “artistic licence.”

Navalny’s world view was formed under the total dominance of the right-wing market liberal ideology in the 2000s, when he supported radical privatization and decreases in social guarantees as a member of the Yabloko Party.

Even though Navalny is now in prison he may still face an investigation for a newer fraud case, in which he and his Anti-Corruption Foundation have been accused of misusing donations from supporters. There is a possibility he may also be charged with treason. A recently released video reveals new evidence of links between MI6 and Navalny. The video exposes the role of the US and UK in helping Navalny to foment political discord in Russia and other countries. With respect to Navalny and his supporters, Russia’s media spokesperson, Maria Zakarova was even more direct, saying “stop calling them opposition, they are NATO agents.

The case of Andrei Navalny is Russia’s problem, but because the Cold War has now been revived, in the West he is being used an instrument to try to undermine that country.

Article originally published in Global Research, the Centre for Research on Globalization

Professor John Ryan

Professor John Ryan, BA, BEd, MEd, MA (U of Manitoba, PhD (McGill) was born on a farm in Manitoba, where he was lucky not to be eaten by wolves. He is a Geographer and Senior Scholar at the University of Winnipeg. John Ryan is also Marxist in the tradition of his father. He had a wonderful life travelling all over the world with his wife, the late artist Judith Ryan, whose biography he wrote. Together, they lived and worked in over 50 countries, including Afghanistan. At the university of Winnipeg, professor Ryan taught many different aspects of economic geography, focusing on Canada. He has numerous publications to his credit.

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Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 11

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

He exploded upwards, gasping and choking.

“Once,” crowed Kerridwins, her hand on the top of his head. “Want to stay?”

“Wait, wait—” Morgan did a quick check of his extremities. He was still entire. “No. I want to go home – but to my own time.”

His mouth and lungs were already full of water. She hadn’t waited. The cow hadn’t waited to hear the last part of the sentence. This was the end. He was drowning. Not a straw in sight. His whole miserable life was flashing before his eyes.

He had less than a minute to take stock of the current dilapidation of the place before something very hard whacked the back of his head. Morgan reeled, viewed Alpheratz, indulged in a brief perusal of the Andromeda constellation, shook his head and whirled to meet his attacker. She was tiny, probably no more than four foot ten in height, with wild black hair, rampaging eczema and a mouth full of teeth squabbling about which way to point. In spite of the distractions, there was something familiar about her appearance. If you disregarded the crossed eyes, took away the directionally challenged dentition, and tied back the hair—

She was gabbling at him, but so shrill was the diatribe that he couldn’t pick out individual words. At the same time a vigorous shaking of the large bone clutched in her fist indicated eagerness to launch further attacks. It was with a sense of déjà vuthat he found himself backing towards the wall where the chimneybreast wasn’t. Another vituperative earful followed him. This time he distinctly heard no, dirty, dog, my, and house spat in close juxtaposition. That was daft. He hadn’t even brought Mercher with him. Women! He laughed and cast his eyes up to heaven.

Laughter proved to be a mistake; the ensuing flurry of blows underlined that. Hunched over, arms protecting his cranium, Morgan scuttled towards the door. It wasn’t there. By the time he’d discovered the site of its reincarnation, straight through where the draining board should have been or would one day be, on the right of the window hole, she’d twice drawn blood. He squealed and raised his fist. The look of outrage on her face told him all that he needed to know about her social standing.

Diafol!” she screamed. “Diawl! Infidel! Cur! Cawr! Dirty dog! Gogmagog!”

Morgan made it out into the enclosed mud patch.

It was raining. As usual. The farmhouse at his back was presently little more than a single-bay barn thatched over with mouldy reeds. Another, smaller one, stood a few feet away. Maybe this was the kitchen. Smoke seeped out from every unsealed orifice. A smell of bacon hung on the air. That this was no time for historical research was illustrated by a sharp blow on his shin.

“Leave it out, Mam,” he protested.

She hesitated, made irresolute by the term of respect. Morgan used the few seconds’ grace to make good his escape. Vaulting the palisade he plunged knee-deep into black treacle swamp that was part cesspit and part stream got above itself without making up its mind about career direction. Thick cloud pressed down on the valley, partially masking the heavily treed hillside, making it all but impossible to see where he was going. It didn’t matter. This was all Kerridwins’ doing. He knew the score. All he had to do was grope his way up to the stone circle and scream for a reprieve. She’d have him back like a shot. Then he’d show her.

Suddenly terrified that the Portal might have been destroyed, or simply ceased to exist, or even not yet come into existence, he began to run up the hill. He hadn’t gone far before he realised that the battle-axe harridan was close at his heels. Hitching up her rags, she resumed howling imprecations. Morgan increased his pace. He could sense the stones, was – he was sure – within minutes of reaching them, when answering cries from where the castle ruins weren’t stopped him in his tracks. Screams, howls, yells and yodels followed. Minutes later, a score of eldritch women streamed down the bank much as Lew and his cronies had done whenever it was in relation to now. And, O God Almighty, was this a/the man-free zone of nightmares? This time there was no pig, but it was soon all too apparent that Long Pig was deemed a reasonable substitute. Bawling and flailing his arms, he tried to fight them off. It was a dirty fight, such as only women could descend to. A hail of poppy-dipped elf-shot soon put paid to his struggles. Many hands made light work. Back down the slope they trundled, bearing his pin-cushioned carcass at shoulder-height, his trailing fingers brushing the dying bracken.

And, yes, it was an external kitchen. Or rather, smokehouse and kitchen combined. Dozy and resigned to his fate, Morgan lay supine on the massive central table regarding the fine joints hanging from spikes in the rafters, unreal exhibits in some ghastly unoriginal modern art gallery, listening to the excited whickering, the strop of knives being sharpened, the crunch and grind as lumps of rock salt were pestled to corns in mortars hollowed from raw quartz.

It was only when a grubby hand started marking him into sections with a stick of charcoal – neck end, hand, fore loin, belly, hind loin, leg – he corresponded with the real thing fairly well, all things considered, that survival instinct took on the opium and won. Jumping down, he made for the door, found it guarded and did the next best thing, grabbed a knife and holed up in a corner. It should be possible, he reasoned, as goblin sisters closed in on their bonus winter food supply, to kick out the infill panels of a timber-frame hovel and escape that way. In the best of buildings, these were little more than cleft oak basketwork daubed over with a mixture of clay and shitty straw, and then given a few coats of lime wash. Here, there was already daylight showing through in places.

“Death before dishonour.” Morgan kicked. They lunged.

It was hopeless. As was so often the fate of mortal man, he was outnumbered by feral females. The hand clutching the knife sliced the air. The other closed into a fist. Something small and round urgently pressed itself into his palm. Glancing down, he saw that a tiny fern seed from the hillside had stuck to his skin. The gods were with him.

Ferns have undoubted magical qualities. Although it was a dangerous business, to swallow the seed confers immediate invisibility. Even Shakespeare knew that. In a perfect world, the seed should be gathered on Midsummer’s Eve, in silence, and on a pewter plate. On no account should it be touched by human hand. Do that and you might stay spellbound, in the same place, unable to influence what was happening in the world around you, through all eternity – undoubtedly a woman’s punishment, not a man’s. Bend over the fern feather with a hazel twig – the hazel’s power is stronger than the fern’s; let the seed fall in its own time. But that was in a perfect world and there were no men here. In the circumstances therefore, any risk was worthwhile. Morgan swallowed. Reasoning that he was now safe to turn his back, he demolished the base panel with two massive kicks, a jab and a straight left, and slipped out into a late afternoon downpour.

It took him a minute or two to realise that his footprints were clearly visible in the mud. The decision to make for the grass came just too late. Already they were swarming after him, so sure of locating their prey that they threw themselves forward into empty space, clinging to his limbs, hooking into his hair, and digging in with their feet. He was down. No, he was up again. And down…and staying down. Knife blades flashed. Morgan lifted his face from the clay soup just long enough to scream for deliverance. It was demeaning. He hated doing it, but what other options were there?


And exploded upwards again, gasping and choking and coughing mud globules.

“Twice,” jeered Kerridwins, her hand already tensed to press down again. “So? Now do you want to stay?”

“Hang on.” Visible again, Morgan quickly checked his torso for markings and puncture wounds. There was nothing. He was clean. “Look, can’t we discuss this? All I want is to be sent back to my own time. That’s not too much to ask, surely?”

She smiled suddenly all sweet reasonableness: “Fair enough.”

This time, everything was just as he’d left it. Better, much better. But was it?

He took a deep breath. Practically everything in the kitchen oozed with the foul residua of Mam’s reign of terror. The parsley planter on the windowsill only partially concealed a jar of assorted nit combs and the highly carcinogenic delousing shampoo kept on hand for Saturday-night spot inspections. The large magnifying glass on top of the old black Bible wasn’t an aid to reading uplifting texts, but for examining fingernails for dirt, and index fingers for nicotine stains. The Book itself had served forty years’ hard time as both weapon and part of Mam’s Bell, Book and Candle ritual bringing down of curses on her idle, good-for-naught menfolk, though occasionally she forgot herself and hid fivers between Jeremiah and Lamentations. That nicely blacked agricultural implement hanging from an ornate brass hook next to the riddling sieve was actually the dreaded gelding iron. The scabby rag rugs in front of the Aga, were products of her demented economy drives, as were the costly devices for using up every last transparent slither of soap, for squeezing one final metallic-flavoured helping of toothpaste from the tube, for rolling electricity bills and magazines nicked from the doctor’s surgery into paper logs that smouldered unhappily for hours while giving off no heat whatsoever.

And the family photographs on the top shelf of the dresser told their own story. On one side were the wedding ones, with Dai cut off, all crooked, with curved nail scissors, of Grandma (distaff) Jones looking like an all-in wrestler, and Auntie Mererid the Moustache, bolt upright, dwarfing poor little Uncle Walter who’d twice hung himself. Bang in the middle were several of Mam beaming one-up-woman-ship behind various prize-winning Persian Queens. Shoved up in the other corner, behind the eggcups and the Coronation tin holding the Christmas pudding silver thrupenny bits that Mam always snatched back, were the snaps of her disappointing son and heir. Morgan at twelve months old, lacy bonnet over one eye, face contorted with rage; at four, reluctantly trailing a grotesque homemade rag doll called Esmerelda; at six, long-haired, truculent, and in a frilly dress, being forced to make daisy chains; at eleven, cowed and with two half-healed black eyes after the Ma Lacey incident; and at fourteen, gangling and gawky, still in short trousers, with spiteful focus on his galloping acne. It was time for some changes. Quick – before nostalgia set in.

Rag rugs, photographs, that manky fox brush that he’d hated since early childhood, the battalion of rosettes that represented long Mam-hours spent brushing and preening her inbred jumped-up moggies and neglecting him, fifteen years of seed catalogues, the lice inspection stool, the Book Itself – all snatched from their lairs and piled up in the middle of the kitchen table. He rummaged in the dry goods cupboard for matches, found none, but managed to knock a sack of dried beans from an upper shelf. They cascaded down, unstoppable, to lie in a pale circle round his feet. The sight of those beans worried him. At the same time, a cold draught circled his head at high speed and blew everything he’d gathered together up into the air. Rugs, snaps, tail, rosettes, catalogue, stool and Bible swirled around the beams and spiralled slowly down to settle in their time-accustomed places. The icy chill returned to hover somewhere around his middle chest.

Morgan gulped. “Is that you, Mam?” No, no, couldn’t be, unless metempsychosis could adapt a draught to its purposes. On second thoughts, since nothing had actually struck him, it was probably just an emissary. Squaring his shoulders, he marched across the room and repeated the process. The icy breath followed him, snatching up each item and replacing it each time his back was turned. And again; and again, when he’d spent several hours frenetically destroying everything: tearing up the rugs, plucking dead fur from the manky tail, yanking pages out of Bible and seed catalogues, breaking all three legs off the stool and splintering them, screwing up the photographs, smashing the delousing jar and maiming its contents. Even the leaf he’d torn off the courtesy-of-Cymru-Agricultural-Chemicals calendar had melted neatly back into place. He focused his rage on the date, once more doing away with October 31st, this time ripping the paper into minuscule pieces and tossing them out through the window. It made no difference. When he looked again, it was still the last day of October, Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, nos Galangaeaf, Samhain, end of summer, beginning of the Celtic New Year, day of the third, and final, harvest. And that was it. Damn bitch. She’d given him what he asked for. Let him come back to his own time to be stuck fast, poised forever on the liminal between two worlds, living and dead, real and unreal, human…and not. What was he to do? Forget the stone circle.


“Thrice.” Kerridwins dried her hands on her skirt. “Welcome back, Git. That didn’t take as long as I expected. And now, lucky you – you’re here to stay.” She turned away.

“Don’t turn your back on me, bitch, I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

“What a revolting concept. Typical, if I might say so. Put him in with the others, somebody.”

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean. 

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root,
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The place where Kerridwins deposited Morgan was stuffed full of men. Not just any men, she’d assured him, but a particular sort of men. No further explanation was offered. At first he’d thought it was a museum of statuary, a collection of hundreds of splendidly executed representations, though he could think of no rationale for the groupings. There was no sense to them – cavemen in skins side by side with Roman senators, Vietnam veterans almost nose to nose with both ancient Greeks and modern Iranians, gaitered peasants silently hobnobbing with mean-featured, ramrod-backed Victorians in stovepipe hats, men in gangster suits, or doublet and hose, in cloaks and tunics, wearing dhotis, periwigs, dungarees, Georgian excess, men of every shape and nationality and every time, sculpted in stone of every shade and flavour of grey – all arranged in quasi-conversational knots.

But what was the subject of their discourse? Why were they here?

Further back, there were statues in worse repair: pocked and lichened, with missing appendages, or acephalous, some little more than stone pillars slowly crumbling into dust. Kerridwins swept past all these, hardly sparing them a glance and Morgan, divested of his ragged swaddling sheet and now wearing a passable copy of Dai’s second-best jacket and the union jack boxers, was frogmarched behind her. They passed into an inner hall. This one was lighter and a little more cheerful, full of exceptionally realistic waxworks, also artistically arranged in small tableaux, much the same as in the previous room, but at least these were in colour.

“Stand him here.” Kerridwins stopped in front of two men in black, an obese priest, a cadaverous Victorian, a USAF bomber pilot, slightly bloodstained at the edges, and a tall bloke, whose pugnacious black face was familiar, but whose name danced tantalizingly short of Morgan’s tongue-tip. “Yes, there, no, wait…to one side, I think, immediately behind Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer.”

“Move it, Git,” said Di, “left, right, left, right. We haven’t got all day.” A push here, a shove there, a fistful of uncalled-for aggression, and Kerridwins was satisfied – for now, at least.

“That’ll do. We can always fine-tune later.”

The eyes of the fat priest met his. Morgan was both shocked and impressed by the desperate expression the artist had managed to capture. It was uncanny. And that went for the level of craftsmanship in general. Madame Tussaud’s didn’t offer this sort of realism. Indeed no – a polite distance was observed, a courteous misting of the lens. Here, every detail of the unfortunate ageing process of a Caucasian male was spitefully reproduced – from his blotched and naked skull, the orange-peel texture of his ruby nose, to a tracing of broken veins and a scatter of blackheads; even the copious nasal hair and sprouting nests of ear-wiggery were replicated, along with gappy brown teeth, and the over-proved-dough quality of the waxwork’s embonpoint. Few physical shortcomings had been spared. The result was shockingly lifelike.

Tearing free of the eye-lock, Morgan reached out to touch the figure’s liver-spotted hand. And recoiled. The flesh was warm. Ninety-eight-point-four warm. He clutched Kerridwins’ sleeve. “But they’re alive.”

She shook him off. “Now Git, settle down. There’s nothing to worry about. Not if you’re sensible. All you have to is stand there and ask yourself one question.”


“In the end, at the end, what is the one thing that men really want? That’s all.” Reaching up, she scattered a handful of tiny, pale gold discs over him. There was something familiar about them. Curious, he tried to grab a few as they spiralled past his nose but his arms refused to respond. Terrified, he found that his whole body had seized up. Nothing would move. Every muscle in his blasted body had switched allegiance. Within seconds he was set as solid as one of Mam’s revolting Carrageenan fruit moulds. Eyelids, too, even his eyes. The miserable cow had afflicted him with tunnel vision: he could only see straight in front of himself. His power of hearing wasn’t affected though – couldn’t miss her sigh of exasperation – but hearing’s always the last faculty to go, which is why the best deathbed nurses are either dumb, pleasant, or prepared to endure retribution from beyond the crematorium.

Morgan mentally ground his teeth. They couldn’t do this. It was evil. It wasn’t human. They weren’t human.

“Goodbye, Git. Maybe we’ll meet again, or maybe not. Depends on how the meditation goes.”

Damn them. Buggered if he’d think about anything he was ordered to think about. At least his thoughts were still his own and he would marshal them as he, and only he, thought fit. What do men really want? What a stupid-arse question. Men wanted power. And as they had it already they didn’t need to want it. Buggered if he’d— The day drifted on. Damned if he’d think about what he was instructed to think about. The silence intensified. How long was he expected to stay here, a prisoner in this invisible cage? Cage. A hutch. An enclosed space. A prison. Cage, John. Beginning with a ten minute consideration of for minutes thirty-three seconds, Morgan quickly moved on to other aspects of the word to avoid thinking about thinking about the other thing. It had often occurred to him that rows of houses, each with their neat little fresh-air yards, were really no different to zoo cages except that they were self-managed, self-financed and the occupants allowed illusory freedom of movement.

NIGEL Homo suburbium, b. 1972. Omnivore.

Dangerous if provoked. DO NOT RATTLE THE CAGE.

Who knew what unseen angelic or otherwise visitors walked amongst us unseen? Celestial visitors on a downmarket package tour calling themselves gods. O, you must see the homo-mammals on the Third planet, so amusing, so tasty. Better make it soon: they’re completely out of balance, don’t you know, and self-programmed for imminent evolutionary melt-down. Damned if he would think about thinking about the other thing. Cage. Cage. Better by far to be stuck in a Druidic wicker cage, a basketwork colossi, to be ritually incinerated, than this spellbinding. At least there’d be an end in sight. Now he knew why babies screamed and howled. Coming to after the terrifying birth process and finding yourself subjected to a life sentence, trapped in a meat-and-bone and gristle cage for upwards of seventy years was no laughing matter.

The sun shuffled from one window to the next. Didn’t matter to him. He could stand here all day and all night, if necessary. According to Islamic folklore Adam stood on one foot for 200 years after being booted out of the Garden.

What did men really want? Buggered if he’d think about it – power, of course. Everyone knew that.

At some point during the afternoon, a woman with long olive-green, snaky kinked hair strode in. After carefully appraising him from every angle, she made a few notes, yawned, and passed on. Ugly self-satisfying Bitch.

Yes, power, that was it. Without it you were nothing – or just something to be assessed purely on physical merit. Or lack of the same. Stared at, eyed up, incapable of making any impact on your situation. What sort of person would put up with that? God, would this day never end? Even the sun had started to lose interest. The light thickened towards twilight. Power, yes. That was definitely the answer.

Finally, night fell. Miserably dim lights, possibly glow-worm generated, grudgingly took on the darkness and half-heartedly held it at bay. The silence was broken by footsteps and faint whispers. Snake-hair had returned with a sidekick, a large female whose stupendously pyramidal outline brought to mind Lilith’s severely restricted diet. And now that he came to think of it, the sickly sweet smell of rotting top fruit was slowly but surely blotting out the prevailing fetid locker-room stink. Morgan’s eyes bored into the goblin shadows jostling the far wall. Was Lilith nearby? Or was it all down to the presence of a female archetype making Her nasty and threatening presence felt again?

“Right,” said Snake-hair. “Got his arms?”

Steatopygous grabbed him while a patch was applied under his ear. Morgan’s jaw twitched. His tongue unfroze. Pins and needles coursed from his fingertips. Snake-hair consulted her clipboard, snatched a large pink pill from a selection and poked it into his gullet with all the finesse of a vet dosing a mule.

“Answer, please.”

Morgan declined. The patch was ripped off with pleasurable zest leaving raw, red pain and a bald spot.

It was not possible to sleep with his eyes fixed open, but perhaps the mind could be dislocated with a little effort. Failing that, he spent a reasonable night dwelling on the allocation of various and complex forms of torture. The punishments inflicted on witches presented several pleasurable possibilities; variations on the themes of pressing, hanging, burning at the stake, and swimming neatly covered all four elements of medieval philosophy, earth, air, fire and water. William Lord Soulis, a pernicious fourteenth-century wizard accused of sorcery most foul, was boiled to death in a cauldron. This seemed particularly apt for Kerridwins. Or maybe Augustus Caesar’s little rap on the knuckles was more appropriate: carefully slicing off the eyelids led to death, eventually, after many weeks, when his victims went totally barking mad from sleep deprivation. Yes. And for Di, scaphism, though certain difficulties presented themselves. Not the absence of boats, for the Persians often substituted tree trunks. Hollowing out a tree shouldn’t cause too many problems, neither would boring the five holes through which her head and limbs must protrude. True, she was big, not easily overpowered, but he had right on his side. No, it was getting hold of the honey to smear all over her, plus a colony of hungry ants. Enraged wasps might have done, but apart from fleas and butterflowers the place seemed to be an insect-free zone. Perhaps the Duke of Exeter’s Daughter then – no, any sort of rack would only accentuate her size. Thumbikins? The Scotch Boots? Eiserne Jungfrau –the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg? How about old-fashioned heavy metal played at maximum volume?

The next day dragged by. During the late afternoon a gaggle of girls came in, the first he’d seen. It was to prove a terrifying experience. Without exception, they were large, frighteningly robust girls, sharp-featured, rough as hell and full of nasty juvenile tricks. Unconstrained by the accepted ideas of femininity and completely unsupervised, they spent a couple of riotous hours making loud and unduly personal observations about the appearance of the exhibits. From their comments it seemed that they had invented a norm, a totally unrealistic masculine ideal against which all other males were measured and found wanting. Conversation centred on ways in which the exhibits could be surgically reconstructed or cosmetically enhanced to make them more sexually acceptable, more pleasing to the dominant gender. It was a loathsome idea. No civilised society would permit such activities.

After a while, boredom set in. They descended to graffiti, drawing on thick black moustaches, and shoving things down trouser fronts. The appearance of Snake-hair modified their behaviour, but only in so far that the same concepts were recycled within a framework of serious critique. It was at this point that Morgan knew for sure that power was the correct answer.

“Wrong.” Snake-hair seemed supremely indifferent. Off came the patch. This time his tongue froze before he got the chance to emit the scream, which left it internalised, chuntering round the back alleys of his brain for several hours. Wrong? How could it be? It was men’s best-guarded possession. Without it they’d be nothing, less than nothing. For the love of God, without the power they’d be WOMEN.

What did men really want indeed? It was a silly-arse question. Buggered if he’d think about—







Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

So – time for a strategic rethink. What was it they wanted him to say?


“Ah, get out of it!”

In more ways than one, Morgan was petrified to realise that with each passing day it was becoming more difficult to feel sensation in his extremities during that brief period of release. Now the decrepit statuary nearer the museum entrance began to assume new significance. Could it be? Was it possible? H-h-how?

Certain gorgonologists insist that it was the act of staring into the gorgon’s eyes that achieved calcification. Others harp on about the hair. It’s possible that a good many of the exquisite classical stone figures of the Mediterranean region are not in fact statues at all. As yet, no one is open minded enough (or the research grants not generous enough) to investigate this possibility. Clearly eyes and hair are not in themselves capable of turning a man to stone, though on occasions they contribute to a certain stiffening. Of resolve, perhaps? No: of the parts. Besides the fern seed, two other factors are involved, a dolomite-based potion plus a stubborn hardening of attitude. As one is what one eats, eventually one also becomes what one thinks. The real power of the so-called gorgon is the power to magnify and act as a mirror, reflecting back a hundredfold any erroneous thinking patterns. Originally this was perceived as an invaluable aid to seeing where a bloke was going wrong. Naturally, the method was vilified when he no longer wanted to listen. As usual, the word nagging was called into play – and then extreme violence resorted to. It made no odds. The Queen was dead. Long live the Queens. Medusa left two sisters: Stethno the Flat-chested-and-Don’t-Care and Euryalea the Easily-wins.

So what did women imagine a man really wanted? What the fuck was he supposed to say? He’d been through everything important. Indulging in a panic attack during the preliminary stages of calcification limited the physical symptoms to eye-bulging and blood boiling. After he’d calmed down, Morgan decided quick death was preferable to slow transformation into a stalagmite. Tonight he’d grapple with her of the extremely large buttocks, incite her to fury, and goad her into putting him down like the sick animal he was turning into.

The silence was broken by a small noise, at first so faint that Morgan dismissed it as a memory, lingering with the painful persistence of trapped wind. It grew louder.

Xynotro…. Graviera….”

Could it really be Puck?

Kefalotyri, Manouri.”

A distant sound, hosepipe playing against wall, the splash of falling water, seemed to confirm this. The chant meandered nearer.

Anthotyros, Kaseri, Feta, Myzithra, Halloumi. Hello, hello, anybody awake? Anybody awake, I say?”

Morgan caught brief glimpses of Puck’s compressed intestine head as he darted between the live installations; half-hearted hopes began to surface. The creature’s method of investigation – clambering up selected trouser legs to inflict his rampant halitosis on each unprotected face – involved a long wait. It might have been an hour before Puck finally clung to his lapels.

“Ho, there you are, there you are, I say. You ain’t half in a cheese-an-pickle this time.” Puck arranged his apology for a grin where Morgan could see it. “Never mind, I’ll get you out of here. Cost you, mind. Shall we call it one truckle of Cheddar? Shake your head if you don’t agree. That’s settled then. I’ll be back.”

It was Hyacinth who placed the stolen patch on his neck. Gradually – cramp accompanied by pins-and-needles – feeling returned. Then guilt set in. Shambling around, making sure his sluggish circulation had got the message, involved serial ducking and weaving to avoid meeting scores of other chronically desperate eyes. Enough was enough.

“For the love of—” Morgan hesitated, unwilling to offend anyone who might save his bacon, “the love of uh…Duwies get me out of here.” With any luck, change of the Almighty’s gender might not count in the Welsh. Besides, things being as they were back home, who was to say what sort of divinely hormonal imbalances might not be afflicting the Supreme Being.

Group shuffling of feet and mumbling followed. Rowan elected himself spokesman. “Things have changed over the last three months.”

“Three months? Three months? Are you trying to tell me that’s how long I’ve been immobilised?” He’d missed Christmas then, and New Year. If they didn’t get their thumbs out the brief Welsh Marches summer, with its bearably tepid rain, would have slipped by and he’d find himself going back to bleak August and the beginning of the sleet season. “Changed, you say – how?”

Not for the better, he was sure. And yet, there was a buzz of suppressed excitement in the air. Movements were less languid. The faces looked more alert. Every head with the exception of Crocus’ – sported a wildly uneven buzz cut. What remained of Rowan’s russet hair had intensified to shockingly bright red, and he’d shed the trappings of decrepitude in favour of being his I am what I am self. Even Backus had improved. Perhaps he’d put on weight. At any rate, his skin had plumped out: the raisin wrinkles were far less obvious.

“In a nutshell, repression. Curfew in place, for a start. And all meetings of ten males or more have been banned.”

Rowan’s announcement didn’t produce the desired shock-horror effect. Reminded of past times when he’d been shown up at express supermarket checkouts, ten items or fewer, Morgan quickly counted heads. They were eleven. It had long been the number of public humiliation. One left over, one too many, the number of being forced to pick up all your carefully stacked groceries and carry them to the back of the thirty-strong ordinary, takes-for-ever, aren’t supermarkets supposed to be faster, why, in my day you just took a shopping list into the Co-op and the assistant ran round collecting everything up for you, queue.

“It means we can’t even give the boys their sewing lessons,” complained Backus. “Well, not unless some of us go out for a walk.”

“I’m not doing that crap anymore,” announced Hyacinth. “Why should men have domestic roles forced upon them? I want to be a scientist or an Order-keeper. Anything girls can do, I can do better.” Lupin nodded. Morgan noticed they both had grazed knuckles.

“And who put those words into your mouth?” Backus asked, wearily. He intercepted the boys’ quick glance at Rowan. “Don’t bother. My question was rhetorical.”

“I’ve only said what we all think privately,” muttered Rowan. “It’s a monstrous system. How the Hertha can having a uterus automatically mean they’re superior? Somehow we’ve got to shift the balance of power.”

“Fine, when discussed privately, but you didn’t. As usual, they found out and there’s always a backlash. Yet again, we’ve been penalised by having the waiting periods for regeneration doubled.”

“How did they find out, that’s what I want to know?” demanded Lupin.

“It’s got to be that Mother-sucker-up, Elverin.” Hyacinth looked meaningfully at his clenched fists.

Hermaze shook his head. “How? He wathn’t ever around.”

“Elverin’s always hanging around dusting something.”

“No.” Morgan suddenly knew without a shadow of doubt how the information was passed. He also knew they wouldn’t like it. Cats hadn’t been allowed to stay simply because they didn’t need cleaning up after but because both sexes of felines have female energy patterns, as opposed to dogs which are all male even when they’re female. This New Age concept is understood at a deep level in the Marches, where just about everything is referred to as ’ee except for tomcats which are always she. Cats belong to women and women belong to cats. No smoke without fire: they are certainly capable of acting as familiars. They prowl. They sneak. They slink. They slide. They creep through shadows on silent paws. They prostitute themselves on alien laps to pick up titbits of gossip. Even when listening intently they lull suspicion with rhythmic fur licking. And with that subdued soporific growl which is – how easily people are taken in – supposed to indicate extreme sensual pleasure. Here they were the Mothers’ spies. The men were living on sufferance like mice under the cats’ feet.

“No, what?” prompted Rowan, ginger-irritable.

“It’s his Bastet relaying every conversation.” Cats, wasn’t it always cats? He should have realised before. Bastet even had that single white patch on his chest like the wild Elvin cats of Scotland. Same size as them, too. One jump over a corpse and it becomes a vampire. All cats must be killed – their malefic influence shouldn’t be underestimated. Look at the John Fian affair. In an effort to drown James VI, and thereby change the course of history, he and his coven christened a cat, strapped it to a dismembered corpse, and chucked it into the sea while reciting evil incantations. The cat undoubtedly reneged on them for, although they raised a spectacular storm, James escaped and soon afterwards changed his name to James I, whereas Fian was subjected to the kind of torture usually reserved for defenceless old women. “Your Bastet’s a spy.”

Backus ignored him. “It’s all right for Rowan, prancing around preaching liberation. He’s got years-natural in front of him. What about me, though? The older you get, the more dangerous the process of regeneration becomes. And look at the state of Sernunnos – he’s been waiting for at least fifty years now. And that was just over an illegal tobacco plant.”


Since Backus continued to ignore him, it was Mosaic who stumbled to provide some sort of information. A circumlocutory explanation at best – artists paint because they can’t get it out in words, and nobody would listen anyway – with everyone else interrupting to add their own three ha’pence worth; what it boiled down to was that this was not, after all, a technologically backward society. It was way ahead in its exploration of the subtle energies which subtend matter: the principles simplified until the impedimenta required to contain and channel energy were invisible extensions of the women’s – and only the women’s – own force fields. That was where their power lay. Centuries ago, when the process of calidārium rejuvenation was invented, women demanded total control over the process, claiming that any birth, re- or otherwise, was part of the Female Mystique and men could bugger off and keep their noses out of it. And by the way, no more natural gestation. Pregnancy ruined the figure and labour was undignified. Henceforth, population growth, if needed, would be achieved by cloning – mostly of women, naturally. Why try and improve on perfection? Giving in to this demand had proved a big mistake, the beginning of the end. From that day on, to hear was to obey. The alternative was self-induced mortality. There was a waiting list; infringements of the new rules, which were complex and largely incomprehensible, subject to intricately detailed subdivisions and tangential addenda, meant being shuffled to the end of it – much the same as in Sainsbury’s.

“Everyone knows that,” squeaked Crocus. The ensuing scuffle reopened the half-healed wounds on Lupin’s knuckles.

“That’s why we’ve got to topple the system,” said Rowan. “As it is, we males have to wait until we’re at least one hundred and sixty-five. Women get it automatically at sixty. And they live longer anyway. And they outnumber us three to one. Boy babies only appear when one of us drops dead or meets with a ho-hum accident. There have been four this millennium. Four. It can’t continue. You know all about how real men carry on. Can we count on you to help us?”

“All we’re asking for is equality. We don’t expect supremacy.” Mosaic caught Rowan’s glare. “Well…not yet, at least.”

“It’s no good looking to him for help,” snarled Backus. “He’s a cat-hater. Not, therefore, to be trusted. My Bastet wouldn’t betray me.”

Puck’s letterbox mouth and a slice of pulsating cheek materialised a foot above the shoulder of a frozen Cree Indian. “He would so. Where do you think your raddled old moggie disappears to every evening, hey, hey? Chasing flutter-bowers? No. He’s up in the castle for debriefing with all the others, that’s where. He repeats everything, word for word. Nine lives? Nine lives my arse. My arse, I say. No allegiance whatsoever, cats. In it for what they can get, ain’t they? Bastet’s already had thirteen rejuvenations.”

“Piss off, fuck-wit.”

Not a wise thing to say. Puck instantly obliged from a great height. The meeting had to be reconvened on dry ground amongst the irreversibly fossilised stumps behind the Medes and Persians.

A meeting proper was called immediately they’d secured the entire building. It was strategy time. Weapons were a problem in a peaceful society which relied on the flat of the hand and a raised voice for crowd control. Under protest, Hermaze was appointed messenger, sent out to spread the news and gather up as many sharp kitchen implements as he could lay hands on.

“Why me? Ith thnot fair. Think I want to be turned into a pile of thtones?”

“You’re the fastest runner, so get on with it. And you’re hook-fingered, too,” snarled Backus. “Don’t think I hadn’t noticed. I know where Orchid’s new sandals went. Yes, that’s right, the rose-coloured ones with the little wings on the sides.”

“Oh, thit.”

Morgan paced the floor. “We’re at a disadvantage. Apart from females having more staying power, the Mothers are twice the size of most of you.”

“I’ve been feeding everyone up with extra rations, just in case – poached flutter-bowers, white bryony and fennel seed – but if it’s a question of all-out war, using the potato might prove to be the turning point,” murmured Sernunnos. “Remember what I told you about its characteristics? Luckily I planted a few right at the edge of the outlands. Conservation project, really. Thought if I ever made it back to Hertha and they’d died out, I could use them to trade. We’ll send a couple of boys to dig them up. You know how to prepare them for consumption, I take it.”

Morgan nodded. He absent-mindedly issued unreasonably complex directions for producing mashed potato before taking stock. The spud might help, but it wouldn’t be enough. Having decided that the museum should serve as their headquarters, it was painfully clear that this handful of wilted flowers wouldn’t be able to hold out against a rush of larger-than-life women. There was only one thing for it. “We need more manpower. Is there any chance of waking up some of these blokes?”

Sernunnos frowned. “Could be done, but there are some nasty types here, you know. Some so bad they had to be transported ready-stoned.”

“What are they in for? Nobody ever told me.”

“They’re misogynists of the worst kind, imported for educational purposes.”

Morgan blinked. What the hell was he doing here, then? He LOVED women. Well, that only proved his point. Not a bone of logic in women’s brains. “Look around, they’re big, lots of them are armed, and there’s a common purpose.” It took all of thirty seconds for Sernunnos to capitulate.

“Right, let’s go for it.”

“How’s it done?”

“Fern seed. No problem.”

“But that’s what they use to spellbind.”

“Ah yes, but you dispense it homoeopathically.” It’s a benign corruption of the principal that like cures like, that is to say that it is possible to treat a medical condition by inflicting a further minute dose of the thing that caused that condition; a principal known to sufferers from crapulence as the hair of the dog. “Better not undo them all at once. We’ll treat a few at a time.”

Morgan and the boys walked round, marking any blokes that looked halfway useful with small white crosses. He picked out a knot of Yanks in combat gear with ferocious comic-book jaws, some caveman, largely on account of their clubs and extensive collection of flint daggers, a gangster with a gun in his belt and a knife in his sock, and some of the more fancy characters of the Middle Ages who couldn’t have been as soft as they looked on account of their calloused knuckles, and/or elaborate but functional swords. One six hundredth part of a fern seed was placed in each chosen mouth with all the pomp due to a communion wafer.

Sernunnos settled himself for a nap. “It’ll take a while.”

He was no doubt correct, but the desire for revenge can transcend time and nobody had taken into account the explosion of hitherto forcibly contained rabid fury. Hence, Morgan’s carefully worked-out defensive strategy was worthless – once fully awake, nobody was interested in reason; they’d had plenty of time to mull over root causes and there was no holding the least one of them back.

Nor did a hundred disparate languages prove a barrier when it came to the communal swearing of mighty oaths. Knowing all too well what the problem was, the men set out to prove that violence would solve absolutely everything. United by common purpose and fuelled by hefty portions of mashed potato, wave after wave of newly awakened brothers burst from the building, howling sexist insults, gibbering incoherent threats, brandishing what weapons they already possessed and gathering sticks, stones, mops, pokers and washing-line props along the way. Confusion reigned, plus noise and bloodlust of biblical proportions. They descended on the city with all the relish that the first Kurgans must have displayed when invading the green swards of matriarchal Old Europe. Rampaging through the streets and marketplaces, smashing anything that looked useful, their numbers were swollen by the genuinely pissed-off, the bored, and those anxious to ensure that their bread was buttered both sides. Dwellings were fired. The smell of burnt mushroom and addled eggs tainted the air. Flutter-bowers abandoned their twigs in multicoloured swarms, leaving parks and gardens agent-orange bare. A skulk of cats fled, making for the castle with all the dignity of rats deserting a sinking coal barge. Few women were on the streets and those that were didn’t stop to lay down the Law.

For a supposedly peaceful society it didn’t take long for them to strike back. Within half an hour, a well-ordered charge of Amazons laid low a dozen or so medieval idiots constrained by farcical notions of chivalry. The sight of their well-trampled corpses caused short-lived panic. A few locals, including two dress designers and the newly – forcibly – cropped Crocus, switched sides and scuttled to the safety of the Great Hall.

In order to raise morale, two USAF bomber pilots taught anyone who would listen the gallantly obscene do-and-die words of ‘Ghost Fuckers in the Sky’.

Puck hovered, raining.

The mayhem woke dormant memories in Backus, who ran amok encouraging ripping and rending, the tearing of the enemy limb from limb, with no thought for his safety. Hermaze had to rescue him; not for the first time.

The women retreated and regrouped round Lilith. A miasma of Mother-guilt emanated from her, an effective weapon, but its affects were short-term: the Americans indulged in a little self-recrimination; one or two Italians wept; the British allowed themselves a single quiver of emotion. Then it was over. And so was Lilith’s outbreak of maternal patience. Forked lightning sprang from her clawed fingers. Thunder rocked the buildings. A shower of rock-hard pears fell. Half a dozen randomly lobbed grenades put paid to that game. By then, prisoners had been taken. Several of the less aggressive women had been bound, gagged and stacked in log piles against one of the walls. The glint in Heinrich Kramer’s eye as he stood guard over them suggested new and more personally initiated applications of those tips contained in Malleus Maleficarum.

Puck smirked. “Didn’t tell you, did they? Did they?”

Morgan dabbed wearily at his various cuts and bruises. “Didn’t tell me what?”

“That thing about Here and There having to be in balance.”

“What the bloody hell are you on about now, runt?”

“You know. Wake up, wake up. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of Peredur, son of Evrawg? Remember him, with the black sheep on one bank of the river, the white ones on the other. Balance between the two worlds, hey, hey? This place and t’Other place. Like a – what do you call it – a see-saw. Men take over here, by the time we get back to Hertha, it’ll be women on top there.”

The colour drained from Morgan’s face.

“That’s right,” sniggered Puck. “Up, down. Up, down. Moon, sun. Dark, light. Death, life. This place, the Other. Matriarchy, patriarchy. On and on and on it goes, millennium in, millennium out, Great Year after Great Year. The whole idea is to stabilise and move on, move on, I say, but you buggers never learn, do you? It’s like a disease. What did you think the cauldron showed you? An unholy trinity of might-be, could-be extremes, that’s what. Hey, hey…none of that. Don’t even think about taking it out on me, squire.” He disappeared, leaving only his broad grin which lingered for a while at knee level.

Was there still time? There had to be. What profit a man if he regained his world, but lost its sole purpose? Faced with an End of Days catastrophe, it would be better to settle for some sort of equality. Morgan pitched into the epicentre of the mêlée. “STOP! For the love of whatever, stop! This has gone too far.”

“Oh, good,” crowed Kerridwins, “our first prisoner.”

“I knew you were trouble the moment I clapped eyes on you,” growled Di’s nastier friend. “I should have finished it up there on the bloody hillside that first night. Hairy bastard.”

Drawing back her boot, she kicked him hard in his Achilles’ heel – which was nowhere near his foot. That certainly wasn’t where Thetis held her son. Imagine, if you must – Oh, never mind all that. The point is, she wasn’t stupid enough to leave his heel vulnerable, not in a land swarming with scorpions and vipers. Cultivate a healthy cynicism: suspect euphemistic Victorianism at work whenever the word foot or lameness appears in mythology and folklore. Vulcan wasn’t lame; he just wasn’t up to Venus’s demands. Then there was the cuckolding business. Think what that did for his libido. No, the truth is, Thetis held Achilles by pinching the skin of his raphe, that prominent seam line running from arsehole to scrotum. It must have hurt like hell, but it was by the keening waters of the Styx and anyway babies are prone to yelling. Morgan yelled, too, and writhed on the ground, both hands clasped over his genitalia.

“Ha-ha,” squeaked Elverin, sheltering behind various Mothers. “I told you our women knew how to put the boot in.”

“Get up,” said Kerridwins. “It’s over – time to go.”

“You’re letting me go home, back to my own time?”

“Exactly, go back and suffer the consequences of your own actions, stupid Git. What better punishment could we give you? And since you’ve buggered everything up here so successfully, a few of us will be coming with you. We’ll distribute ourselves, of course. Find positions of responsibility where we can ease the progress of your women towards total supremacy. I imagine our paths will cross and if so, you’ll recognise me when we meet.”

She flung him a vicious sweet-sour smile. “Or perhaps we already have. Time’s a funny fabric, prone to creasing. So maybe it’s already happened.”

Di clouted him. “Stand up straight when she’s talking to you.”

“I can’t.” He rocked backwards and forwards, gritting back the howls of pain. All he wanted at the moment was – what he wanted, what he really, really wanted—

“Well?” demanded Kerridwins. “Come on then. In the end all men want? What’s the answer? If you don’t know now, you never will.”

Want? What he wanted was oblivion. What he needed was the inviolable safety only to be found in that once scorned, dreaded, belittled, feared, deep-dark cave where the unmanifest became manifest. Was it inconceivable? That it might temporarily work in reverse? He wanted his mother. Not his mother, not ferocious Mam, but the officially sanctioned version; an unconditionally loving, take anything you can dish out and still cook your supper and wash your stinking socks, turn the other cheek, slip you a tenner when you’re flat broke, proper, protect against the world and Cronus too mother. Yes. No. Yes.

Yes, he wanted Mother. Damned if he was going to admit it though.

They knew though. They knew. He could see it in their faces. He had one last request. Those doomed were entitled to that. If Earth was to be lumbered with Amazonian cows the least they could do was let him be in on the selection process.

“I want to see Thorns.”

This was greeted with snorts of laughter. “Oh, you really are a silly Git.”

What a mess, he thought, hanging in the dark, what did it all mean? It was a vicious circle. There was Mam, giving birth to a son profoundly disappointing to her, and him, by his own birth, birthing a mother who, hating and or fearing men (and why? What happened in her past?), had never emotionally satisfied him and who’d made his journey through life such an empty, yearning one that he hated and resented and was terrified of all women who resembled in any way a matriarch.

FUCK – where was everyone? And where was everything?

Eliza Granville embarked on a legal career before abandoning it in favour of a bohemian lifestyle. After coming to her senses some years later, she returned to university – BA & MA University of Plymouth, PhD Aberystwyth University – and began writing in earnest. Her stories can be found in UK, US, and SA magazines, and in anthologies. Of several novels published, the most recent are Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press).


by Zeek Fharkha

Insect, by Zeek Farkha

Dad (a portrait of Mike Hall) by Zeek Farkha

Mom (Dallis Hall) by Zeek Fharkha

Guru, by Zeek Fharkha

i, by Zeek Fharkha

Angel, by Zeek Fharkha

Hell, by Zeek Fharkha

Zeek Fharkha (Christopher Robert Hall) and his son Kane

Zeek Fharkha is an artist, musician, punk, with 2 masters and an honours degree. Fine arts, digital arts and an MBA. He is reading for a PhD at wits business school in Design thinking.

2 New Malden Poets

Embroidered cloth on Karl Rutlidge’s pulpit

Karl Rutlidge

Karl is a Methodist Minster in charge of a heterodox and lively congregation at the Wesley Church in New Malden. He is also an m-Theory physicist. He is currently writing his doctorate in theology about the origins of the universe and its meaning to humankind. Karl is a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights and easily solves cryptic crosswords. He was born in Preston, Lancashire. His poem, on the question of a resolution to the Wars of the Roses, is breathtaking.

I was chatting in the church coffee bar today with someone who told me he had thought his grandad was, like me, from Preston. However, it turned out that the industrial revolution had taken him over the Pennines, and he was actually a Yorkshireman. Inspired by this and encouragement from Philip, I penned this in my lunch break:

Do white flowers bloom in Bosworth fields


Do white flowers bloom in Bosworth fields

where the crooked rose of the wrong-yet-right side

was trampled ingloriously with neither kingdom nor horse?

Perhaps God planted the Pennines between them

so that the bitter aftertaste of age-old enmities

might be drowned out in the midst of the mist,

the steaming sheets of waters fertilising Cottonopolis.


His mother’s father’s own road led west

for need to fill the growling, bulging bellies

upon which he and his kinsfolk trudged

while nature’s sweet rhythms faded from view.

The merciless march of the mechanised mall,

of merchant and money, limbs mangled and mauled,

would bang the drum of his heartbeat now.


What dreadful chills reached with soot-blackened claw

down deep into the marrow of those Yorkshiremen’s bones

and bleached their lifeblood from white through red to grey?

Yet, red he would stay on the left that was right,

as mill-stacks rose and fell and night begat light.

And thus, his daughter’s son, upon hearing this tale,

found that his own roots stretched from Preston to dale.


If a Tudor rose spawns brilliant red petals from a Yorkist stem,

might white flowers yet bloom in Bosworth fields?

Karl Rutlidge

Roger Murphy

After volunteering at the Wesley Church Cafe and meeting Karl and other friends, I would go to the local Korean cafe called The Place to have a black coffee and write. There, I often found Roger Murphy. We look rather similar, though he is older (and slimmer) than I am. When I first met him he was at the beginning of the last year of a three-year degree in creative writing.

I am not sure if I was a distraction or a catalyst. I think more of a distraction. Towards the end of one of our last conversations before his final exams, I saw him champing at the bit to get on. Then, one day, he was there and happy to see me. He actually looked relaxed. The degree was over and he was waiting for his results on the phone.

Roger had been a lynchpin of his class, bringing his experience to bear. He helped the other young students in his class in their 20s by listening to them, encouraging them and provoking them all at the same time. Roger is an appreciative listener. For a change, he read me one of his poems and I loved it for its dextrous bravery. He has kindly allowed me to share it with you.

Embroidered cloth from the Methodist Church in New Malden

I have just completed a Creative Writing degree at Birkbeck College. The poem is an octastich following a model used by WB Yeats in Sailing to Byzantium. The coward writes a prayer for himself. It is one of five poems which are meditations on loss.

Aubade for a Coward – Loss of courage


Every morning I breathe a quiet prayer

“God give me the weakness to turn away.

Let me disguise my hollowness, no flair,

No eloquence permit me. Let me stay

Silent when I can, blended in to air,

Without a word let fear mark what I say.

Let no judgement pass my parched and bloodless lips        

Obliterate my mind, make me eclipse.


“Let me hide behind the words of others

Find an opinion dressed in what they say,

Absolve me from utterance, another

Hour be blessed that judgement does not play

Upon my mind, require me to discover

Some hollowed out unlikely disarray

Of vacuous verbs that meaning mangles      

With mental weeds and insignificance entangles.    


“Scintillating chromatic zyzzyvae

Fluoresce across the jungle floor, learning

To evade feasting zygodactylae

With speed and camouflage. Perning, turning

To not be seen and yet to feast and play

As I would wish to hide awhile, yearning

For anonymity among the throng

Disguise my emptiness in an empty song.    


“Prince, pray God that is Lord of all, forgive

The silent idiot his silent sins 

Let in your heart an understanding live

Of the weakness that roots and so begins

To pause me, a tacet ineffective,

Show me that every loser always wins

Let me be gutless for every day:

Courage only to hint, but never say.”

Roger Murphy

Stabbing the Oligarchy in the Back

The Black Hundreds march in Odessa in 1905

Without socialist reform, every capitalist country is primed for civil war – including Russia

by Phil Hall

Russians are good chess players, but life is not a game of chess. It is far more complicated. Putin and his confreres correctly identify the real challenge they face – and that faces all the representatives of criminal capitalist oligarchies around the world. Vladimir Putin’s real enemy, and the enemy of the class he represents, are his own people. Any socialist worth their salt understands this. The spectre of class warfare is ever-present in every capitalist society: in the USA, China, the UK, Nigeria, South Africa and Brazil – in every capitalist country in the world.

In his speech, given during Wagner PMC’s attempted mutiny, the Bonapartist Russian president, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, compared the attempted insurrection to the Bolshevik Revolution which caused the capitulation of the Russian regime to Germany in 1917. His speech was hardly an endorsement of egalitarian, internationalist, communist and socialist ideals.

Every capitalist country in the world is faced with intense internal contradictions arising out of increasingly accentuated class conflict, with greater and greater wealth accumulating in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Unless wealthy elites and corporations reform and sustain enlightened social democracies in every capitalist country, civil wars are primed and ready to be unleashed. We saw evidence of this in France over the pension reforms and now there is rioting over the brutal behaviour of the police -mainly towards migrants. The riots have now spread to more than one European country.

To understand the limitations in the analysis of Russian strategists and game players, one must understand the following: Russia has always been relatively insular. It is hard to govern as a whole because of its great size. Despite all the many achievements of Russia’s literature, art, science and technology, the majority of the country is rural and socially and culturally backward.

For example, Russia, in the time of the USSR, did not undergo the same cultural transformation in the 1960s that much of the rest of the developed world underwent. The increased tolerance, equality and individual liberty promulgated by young people in the 1960s was regarded as bourgeois decadence by the government of the USSR.

The USSR was not an advanced communist society, although it possessed some aspects of an advanced socialist society. On the whole, the communism of the USSR was a distortion and a sham. The USSR inspired the Orwellian idea. The dictatorship of Stalin installed a vacuous and frozen ideology into the Soviet educational system. It crammed this ideology into the heads of every school child. Any questioning of this ideology resulted in being blacklisted and marginalised. The government by the Soviet communist party was pharaonic, pyramidal and tolerated no opposition. After an initial period of hope, the USSR ended up being the exact opposite of the original ideal; that of a country governed by people’s Soviets. The people did not govern in the USSR.

Unscrupulous real-politick kept the nomenklatura in power. But when the moment came to transition to capitalism, the ‘communist’ nomenklatura was ready. It had absolutely no compunction or hesitation in seizing state assets. Yes, these were the personable ‘тунеядство’ that the African, Asian and Latin American socialists hob-knobbed with uncritically; grateful for the intelligence received, for Soviet jeeps, Kalashnikovs and SAMs. When it came to a critical evaluation of Soviet society, they looked away.

Since 1990, Great Russian chauvinism has raised its troll-like head. These can sometimes be very unpleasant people. Many of us had the experience of being cornered in a bar at an airport or in a hotel by some hard-drinking Russian in the 1970s or 1980s in the USSR. He (because it was always he) would then tell us how much he hated black people and Soviet Jews and how much he liked Apartheid South Africa and, oddly, Israel.

I lived and worked in the USSR. First in 1984 and then between 1990 and 1991. The slugs of the nomenklatura, who paid lip service to socialist ideals, then morphed into monster slugs in the 1990s. After 1991, the Black Hundreds were back on the march in the Russia. They became an acceptable part of the political mix.

Ukraine has the Banderites, but Russia has the new Black Hundreds. Pamyat are reactionary, monarchist ultra-nationalists. The current ruling elite rejects any of the progressive elements it may have inherited from the time of the USSR and, instead, takes care to reaffirm the older traditions of Russian autocracy, obeisance and pre-revolutionary religious bigotry. All the Russian empire’s greatest authors lamented Russia’s extreme backwardness during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and if people like Chekhov and Tolstoy and Goncharov were alive now, they would still be lamenting it.

Barge Haulers on the Volga (1870-73)

Turning to those who shout and tout uncritically for Russia, we see people among them who say they are socialists. These so-called socialists are the same people who punch down at immigrants and transgender people, and at the usual targets of the national socialists of the 30s, including homosexuals. They are demagogues with no respect for democracy who quickly turn into reactionary nationalists and supporters of Russian and Chinese nationalism. The loud-mouthed, demagogic narcissist George Galloway is a good example of one of these anti-democratic faux socialists. He plays to the ultra-right crowd.

Chavez, Lopez Obrador, Morales, Bolsonaro, Trump and Duterte. These are all populists who either bypass democratic institutions or traduce democracy when they achieve power. Demagogues pop up in lieu of anything better. They are political opportunists; flotsam and jetsam. They conveniently forget what Russia actually is and who controls it. They ignore the fact that the Russian people might actually hate their own oligarchy. These Europeans and Americans side with the Russian oligarchy and have the cheek to call the Russians who oppose their oligarchs ‘traitors’.

Falling for the old trick; the SUN newspaper on sinking the Belgrano

Whipping up nationalism is a useful tool to manipulate the masses of people. Nationalism binds societies together into a bundle perforce, into a fasci. The war on Russia for its resources by NATO, and the great Russian nationalism of the Putin government that opposes it (acquiring its neighbour’s territory in the process) binds Russian society together in its support of a Bonapartist-like leader. If some of the humblest Brits hanker for the glory days of empire and look admiringly at the pink on the old the maps, then so do some of the humblest Russians.

Nationalism is a temporary unifier. We have seen this trick before so many times, now. We should be wise to it. How does it go? Forget inequality. Forget exploitation. Forget injustice. Rally round. Rally round the billionaires: billionaire Putin, billionaire Sunak, multi-millionnaire Ramaphosa, multi-millionnaire Biden.

It is an unfortunate truth that wars and economic crises precipitate social chaos. But they also catalyse social change and revolution. Or, as Putin explained it, ‘stabs in the back’. Putin equated the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 to a stab in the back. Putin and his oligarchy would deserve it! Just as Sunak would and so would Biden. Socialists, what may be coming, what may be precipitating out is not a world war, but a world revolution of sorts – and a chance to eliminate an especially vampiric form of corporate capitalism.

A footnote: Despite all appearances, don’t count European social democracy out of a multipolar world. With our immigration policies, with the egalitarian education of our young, with Europe’s embrace of human rights, with its regret for past colonialism and nationalism, with its partial avoidance of fratricidal wars, European society has become advanced and comparatively tolerant. Tolerance and multiculturalism are precisely the values that recidivist nations like Russia reject. If any society is prepared for a multipolar world, then it is European society, not BRICS.

Photo essay: goats for the people of Pashtun Zarghun

By Inge Colijn

During my 27 years of work for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, I lived in many countries and they all became special to me. But some places like Afghanistan mean more. I was told at our headquarters in Geneva that people from abroad working in Afghanistan would either love being in Afghanistan or hate it, and that was indeed the case. Nobody remained indifferent.

Afghan boy, Inge Colijn

The UNHCR returned to Afghanistan in 2002 when the Taliban were overthrown. The UNHCR’s main task was to help return Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran. Over the years more than 5 million Afghans returned to their country. By the time I started working in western Afghanistan in the city of Herat, the number of returnees from Iran was dwindling because of the worsening security situation in the country.

Despite the presence of International Security Assistance Force, the situation got worse over the years. The responsibility for fighting the Taliban was placed more and more on the Afghan National Security Forces. They did not defeat the Taliban and the Taliban caused further population displacements. In order to encourage people to stay, UNHCR was assisting people who had been displaced within Afghanistan. Often they were people who moved from insecure rural areas to the towns and cities.

In Herat, we created resettlement sites for people who had returned from Iran but could not go back to their original homes. We provided support for people who had managed to find themselves a new place to live and who needed help in rebuilding their lives. My photos are of people settled in Pashtun Zarghun, a district in central Herat Province in the valley of the Hari River.

Photo, Inge Colijn

The Italian NGO, Gruppo Volontariato Civile, met with people in several hamlets in Pashtun Zarghun and developed with them a project proposal to provide them with seeds, tools, six goats each and veterinary support. As head of a UNHCR branch office, I went visited the communities that we supported.

Photo, Inge Colijn

In July 2012 I went to Pashtun Zarghun to attend a meeting with the villagers. Some of the men and boys were waiting for us outside and they took us into their community hall, where we had a discussion.

Photo, Inge Colijn

After the meeting, they showed us around in the village and introduced us to some women, children and elderly in the village. Although I was invited into several houses, most of my photos were taken outside because of the lack of light inside the Afghan homes.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

In the next village, the men were also waiting for us and after another discussion, they also showed us their houses and water well and introduced us to their families.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

I was struck by people’s dignity. They were proud of their way of life, though they lived under such harsh conditions. After being displaced, they had managed to build new houses and, thanks to the water from the Hari River, they could grow the food they needed. They were displaced together as a community, and that gave them more resilience and independence.

How orderly and organised most houses were inside! Two months after this first visit, the Italian NGO was ready to distribute goats to the families in Pashtun Zarghun.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

The way the logistics were managed was impressive. The goats were sent off the truck into a big open space. All beneficiaries received a registration card and they waited their turn to register. I asked one by one the men to come forward to sign the book, receive their 6 goats and they took them home.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Registering for 6 goats, Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

It was a great occasion for the people and there was a positive vibe in the air, which the children also also felt. This project in Pashtun Zarghun will always stay in my mind. These beautiful and welcoming Afghan people had accepted their fate with pride and they showed such fortitude and spirit under difficult circumstances.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Dancing to the beat of my art

Detail from Pure Bliss, Tasneem Shaikh

Exhibiting at the World Art Fair in 2022 and 2023

by Tasneem Shaikh

My heart races unusually fast. My joy has no bounds. For the first time, I am exhibiting my paintings at a major event, at World Art Dubai (WAD). It is March 2022. So far, I have only conducted art classes, lead art clubs and held small exhibitions, but this is different altogether. It is a beautiful feeling to plan the exhibit wall and buy the art materials.

I live in a remote area of Abu Dhabi, in the Western province, so I had to drive to the city to buy the art materials. I have a full-time job as a lecturer and I also have to do research for my PhD. I did not have enough time to shop for canvas rolls and frame each canvas individually, so I settled for the generic Winsor & Newton brand of stretched canvases, which I bought at a well-known book-store in the city.

For me, unwrapping the canvases, and the smell of the primed stretched canvas itself, produces a sensation of bliss.

Banff Mountains, Tasneem Shaikh

In January, I started preparing for the 2022 exhibition. I was excited and anxious about meeting the deadline. I made up my mind to finish on time. I dedicated most evenings to completing my paintings. All my paintings were a tribute to the Canadian landscape. I intentionally incorporated teal and turquoise into many of them because these colours remind me of the Banff lakes in Alberta. Some paintings were a breeze. I could finish them within an hour. In contrast, completing other paintings was more difficult. I felt like I had to discipline myself, as one might discipline a hyperactive child. By the end of February, I was brimming with pride; I had completed sixteen paintings, and chose nine paintings for the exhibition.

 Who knew that packing and moving the artworks would be such a humongous task? I was clueless. Then lovely YouTube videos came to my rescue. Following the advice of YouTubers, I was able to do it. I made a wise decision and invested in a four-wheeled dolly, an electric drill, nails, and a hammer. Bless the local handyman who taught me how to drill into a wooden box. The box was a gift from my friend Peter, who gave it to me before he said goodbye and returned to Manchester.

I did everything myself. I could afford to hire help, but I am wary when it comes to letting people touch my paintings. Call me whatever you may, but I guard my paintings like a mother does her infant children. I feel uncomfortable when people try to touch them.

In the late evening, on the day before the exhibition, I reached the exhibition hall. It was a three-hour drive after a long day’s work. I was tired and anxious, but happy. It was a roller coaster ride of emotions. Looking for the wall I was to mount my paintings on in the exhibition maze, I peeked at the stunning art on display. The other artists exhibiting were probably much more experienced. Their work took my breath away.

On the first day of the exhibition, I met talented artists from different parts of the world. They talk differently from ordinary people. They dress differently. I stood there, watching these brilliant, creative people in awe. I have this distinct memory stuck in my mind. I saw this lovely European artist dressed in a bright multi-coloured gown. She wore a fashionable hat which had a scarf wrapped around it. I work in a college where everyone suits up. Artists have a very different dress code. Gradually, I was absorbed into the mix of people.

Calm Blue

Calm Blue, Tasneem Shaikh

On the second day, the curators selected my Calm Blue painting for the art walk. The art walk is a segment of the World Art event in which the curator committee select paintings that catch their eye. The artists are then asked to walk down a ramp holding their pieces. I was unsure how doing this walk down a ramp in front of everybody would help me develop as an artist. I relished the feeling of being chosen. In my head, I felt like a champion.

Representatives from different art galleries and collectors showed interest in my paintings. One collector complimented my work, he said “You are gifted.” Of course, I thanked him for the generous compliment. I don’t know if I am gifted, but I know that I have a gift for enjoying the process of making art. It is therapeutic. It is a way to release stress. The viewers at the exhibition who saw my paintings said they felt peace and calm when they looked at them. Peace and calm were certainly not my frame of mind while painting them. I was stressed, anxious and recovering from a bad back.

Golden Sunrise, permanent exhibition at the Haegeumgang Theme Museum, Tasneem Shaikh

Then, in June, The Geoje International Art Festival selected my painting Golden Sunrise for permanent display at the Haegeumgang Theme Museum in South Korea. This is the description they attached to it:

The rise of dawn symbolizes a new era, rising up from the darkness and illumination. The layers of blue, lavender and golden hues take us to a wonderland that promises abundance. This abstract painting represents that everything is possible in life as long as we have faith and love. We continue to work until we achieve our goals, though they may seem impossible. It is possible for anyone of us to make a difference in someone’s life; the same applies to Mother Nature. Today is our day and we can turn lives around by possibly being a mere catalyst. If ever in doubt, then look around and reassure yourself with the overwhelming evidence our bountiful nature has to offer us.

Red Romance, Tasneem Shaikh

WAD ’23

The overall experience of participating in this big exhibition motivated me to participate in it again in World Art Dubai 2023. Again, it felt good. But this time, I was not a rookie. I had learned a lot. 2023 was pretty challenging in comparison to 2022. Work got harder. Tasks piled up and seized my weekends. In the end, I had less than ten days to complete nine paintings. Whenever I had time, I planned out each painting; the composition, the hues, the presentation and the whole shebang. This time I dedicated my work not to the Canadian landscape, but to my one year yoga experience. Yes, it took me almost one year to be able to perform the sun salutation, the ultimate yoga asana, which must be performed at sunrise.

Over both years, the four-day event felt like a celebration. Diverse artists displayed their unique art, including sculptures, mixed media paintings, live urban street art and pendulum paintings. The energy is contagious. I love the feeling of being a part of a greater art community.

I was moved by the experience that World Art Dubai offered. World Art Dubai is an unforgettable spectacle! I cherish those delightful moments when I can bask blissfully in my new life in art. The sensation of trying something new, pushing boundaries, defying expectations, facing fears and dancing to the beat of my heart is delightful.

Four Poems by John Comninos

his was the dance
crow had danced in youth
in praise to god, 
for dance was his love
and love the body’s 
without chagrin
or prevarication, 
this was joy
joy until god fled 
and steps
and flight 
he had not moved since
his soul became still as god’s voice
sleep was the exception
untainted by the lost world
within faint confine
he dreamed
and he dreamed he awoke
and he dreamed he danced
again and god

love and love
he woke with
upon waking, his dreams
were simply moments
and god
the God of the dance
an understudy

it was as if christ
it was as if christ,
the median, was in his inner sight
and he could not yet see the end; 
he peered towards the core 
with fear, for in this place 
was the surrogacy of hope
like some ancient artifact that held him; 
he thought about the grail, 
its containment, and he felt lost
without it, lost with it—wondered 
if he was moving,
travelling—between fragments,
less of his past
or the divisory elements of the now
and while he wondered

it was as if Christ
became an augment to heart, Christ—
soothing, sonorous, solist

it was as if Christ, until now,
had waited to speak these words,
as if Christ had bent

into his hollow frame
to promise the very grail,
how blood and flesh meet

in this holy surprise

he knew his soul
he knew its stem
its voice, its creed
its stupefaction
he had known it
when he waited
for god in a church
had observed
the pure enchantment
of its ancient quiver
when he had looked at
jesus and his perfumed
feet and a woman
washing his body
since then his soul
had never denied him
and now in the reach
of an uneven love
he knew
once more 
the call
of its passions
pure as breath 
upon the new day
in a new prayer, he bent
towards this 
for this was his soul
and he knew 


we laid them at rest
walked the short walk
from star to grave
bequeathed them
towards their own dust

onlookers seemed drawn
in grimaces of grief

they watched the deaths
as distant deities
the tragicomedy,

the priests led the way
and then the wood
and then the others
and then the descent
always down always

we filled the graves
with sand and rock
the dirt, itself, 
alien, though familiar 
as children, we tasted
the ground

the spade in my hand
was comforting
a comfort to touch 
and shovel and dig
propel the past

finally we lay
the elements down
patted the ground
my hand pressed there


John Rueal Comninos is a Gestalt Psychotherapist and Play Therapist as well as a Pastoral Psychologist. He initially studied theology (LIC.Th) and became a Presbyterian Minister and later studied Pastoral Psychology at Stellenbosch University (M.Th.) and Gestalt Therapy at UNISA and has extensive experience in trauma, he lectured broadly in Psychology at Huguenot College and lectured and supervised students in the Masters Programme in Pastoral Psychology at SU and in the Masters programme in Play Therapy at the Play Therapy Centre, Wellington.

Chile after Aguirre Cerda, Frei Montalva and Allende

The terrifying hydra of global capitalism is still in charge

by Juan Carlos Chirgwin

Sadly, Chile is a good example where although people fight for new socio-political system, their struggle is thwarted time and time again.

The most important advances in favour of the common people, during the 20th century, occurred under the governments of Pedro Aguirre Cerda (1938/41), Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964 – 70) and Salvador Allende Gossens (1970 – 73). Social battles fought over those years brought positive and cumulative changes that meant better living conditions for millions of people, however life was still pretty hard for the poorer sections, and capitalists kept fighting back, now with increasing help from their international contacts.

The 1973 coup, military led by men trained under the USA “National Security” principles, staunchly supported by right-wing politicians, and big capital both national plus international, set out to transform radically the political and economic characteristics of the country.

The 1973 coup eliminated Parliament (Cámaras: Senado y Diputados), kept a docile Judiciary power, and self-appointed generals as Commanders of the Executive Power of the Nation that would rule the country for an indefinite period. It stripped the Sate of its original powers and obligations, and decreed that it would now assume a role as Subsidiary State in order to assist only when the military government thus required it, but otherwise having no political or economic role.

This was a significant blow to the social needs for education, health, social security, to name just a few areas vital to previous social welfare, because private interests would now take a prominent role in all such activities, and use them to extract profits. Furthermore, the state was to divest from its role in business activities in mines, agricultural, forestry, ocean and river ventures, and transfer possessions to private hands; similarly state-run industries, marketing ventures and transport businesses, would all be privatised.

Press, radio, television would be monitored by the executive power of the government and oriented to satisfy the needs of the new regime.

To summarise: all vital needs of individuals were under the control of the military government and remained so for 17 years.

Daily life for the majority was under the pressure of the new neo-liberal-conservative socio – economic order; the government ensured that salaries were reduced, and that jobs were insecure, thus making family income a great problem faced by all individuals, while employers could hire and fire at their discretion. Ever decreasing family salaries led to debt problems, and the capitalists took advantage even of this tragedy, by offering unrestricted access to credit.

Under such economic pressure on individuals, everyone took refuge by restricting their effort to solving only their personal problems and by focusing on optimising their individual purchasing capacity and getting ‘bargains’; on individualism and consumerism. Millions of people in Chile are now incapable of breaking away from this trap, and have accepted their condition of economic zombies. This might explain why it is so difficult now to propose alternative ideas to the people, to replace the current neo-liberal-conservative socio-economic system and start building, once again, a progressive movement that should ensure social justice.

In addition to all the miseries detailed above, once popular pressure, mainly in the last half of the military government, succeeded in rejecting Pinochet’s bid to continue as head of state in the 5 Oct. 1988 referendum. This set in motion a popular election that ended with P. Aylwin being elected president in December 1999.

The Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia began a new period that restored a system of “democratically” elected governments. Unfortunately, the strong grip of right-winged politicians, and fear of a return to military rule among the top leaders of the so called “Progressive parties” made them ignore previous agreements on key issues: One of them was to rescind the illegal 1980 Constitution and a number of other very important issues that could ensure political freedom in this democratic process. 

All this led to the acceptance of running this new democracy by the rules of set by the 1980 Constitution and all its unalterable Constitutional package of laws, that included numerous Secret Laws. Thus, our long fought for democracy did not live to honour its name, and worst of all, progressive democratic parties that should have represented the interest of the people chose not to do so. This was a major blow to the traditional way of making a political career, and for the supporters of such politicians.   

Chile is a good example of all the tricks used by capitalists and their imperial US allies, which they find necessary to use to keep extracting valuable surplus from all ranks among the working class of developing countries. Unfortunately, even though millions are quite aware of their scam, and their tactics – including coup d’etats like the one in Chile in 1973, the system changes whenever necessary to maintain control, like a terrifying hydra. There has not been the necessary strong world-wide opposition to liberate us from the scourge of capitalism.  But we cannot give up; that long waited moment will eventually come.   



by Peter Cowlam


A reining in at the eco-centre. Dials
in reverse for the lost trials of inspection.
Ends but a stunted survey,
fixated on crowds and venues. They are here,
young obsessives of ‘belonging’, cropped in line,
and blessed by the shades of the dead, each 
    with plans
for a history staggered by restarts. Bets
are made on the fall of dice, down payment
on the strategists of destruction. We ask,
what news, when there’s a fifth apocalyptic 
horseman, bringer of fire, floods, dearth, the crackle
of flames in our trees, earthquakes and migrations.
There is an old prince, there’s a new king reigning.


Crunch Time for the Pheasant

by J. W. Wood

Martin Hugginson was an ordinary man who dreamed of the extraordinary. Everything about him was average: his looks, his height, the condition of his hypothalamus – in fact, the size and condition of every organ. Including that one.

Unusually for someone so ambitious, he was also a nice boy. You know – get a job, get married, have children. Make his parents proud and have a nice life.After he graduated from the University of Coventry with a lower second-class degree in psychology (“very creditable,” his tutor said) he began to cast about for a career.

A few months of botched applications and failed interviews followed. Then he spotted an advertisement for a Junior Data Assistant at the National Statistics Office in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

“That’ll do me,” Martin thought.


The National Statistics Office (NSO) was housed in one of those 1960s blocks which always seem to be located near a station. Wherever you live in the world, you’ve seen one like it: grey, filthy, rectangular windows and a flat roof. The kind of place that, when you pass in a train, you wonder who or what dwells within its walls. Somewhere that looks more like a filing cabinet than a place of work.


I should have told you Martin got the job, but you probably guessed. After all, Junior Data Assistant at the National Statistics Office hardly sets your hair on fire, does it? A lower second in psychology from Coventry University was more than enough to perform what was needed.

Martin’s job consisted of handling data enquiries from the public and government departments. He had twenty days holiday on top of public holidays, a final salary pension and £22,000 per year – much less than other graduates. But Martin didn’t care. It was a start.


The NSO’s Nuneaton site hid a secret. At its heart there lay a grass quadrangle. Perhaps the architects imagined an oasis for those crunching numbers inside; a place to have lunch or chat to colleagues. Maybe even contemplate boredom-related self-harm.

It was almost always deserted given the amount of rain pouring down nine months of the year. There were four sodden wooden park benches facing each other, one on each side; two waste bins for lunchers to put sandwich wrappers in, and a one-legged pheasant.

No one knew how the pheasant got there, or why it didn’t fly away. Sometimes staff spotted it venturing up to the roof, where it would squawk and cackle. But it never flew away. It probably fed on any worm unfortunate enough to poke its head through the grass, or on scraps of sandwich tossed to it by employees. Maybe someone was secretly feeding it drugs, which explained why it never left. Its feathers were dark red and it had yellow eyes. It compensated for its ambulatory disability by being the loudest bird Martin had ever heard in his life.


Martin’s boss welcomed him on his first day with a nondescript handshake and a brief grin. Paul Harfrow was two years away from statutory retirement and had worked in this building for thirty-four years. He’d long ago settled here, and it had settled into him, weighed down by a Herculean gut that preceded him everywhere.

“This is your desk,” he told Martin, pointing at a dark plastic-looking table, eight feet long and four feet wide with an old-fashioned computer on it. “We’ll look at what you’ll be doing later.”


Martin was given a week to read through the induction manual, make sure he knew where things were on the server, and hide in the toilets when he couldn’t take being at his desk any more. He undertook these non-tasks in a giant enclosure under strip lights, then went home and ate sausages or beans with potatoes – mashed, boiled, fried. Sometimes he ate a curry.

Back in the office, the nearest employee to him was twenty yards away. He was called Trevor. Trevor was bald on top with long, unkempt grey hair that stuck out and ran down his neck. He was quite old, about the same age as Paul Harfrow. Martin had noticed Trevor dozing off after lunch. He smelled of stale beer and cigarette smoke.

After a week of surfing the internet and listening to pheasant squawks, Martin started wondering if this was the right job for him. But then, that Friday morning, he met Fenella Clarke. And someone gave him something to do – at last.


Fenella Clarke was a slash of scarlet on the used cellophane of the National Statistics Office. She worked as Executive Assistant to Tom Taylor, the top dog in this place. They looked like a couple out of an office furniture ad: Taylor, a trim man in his late fifties with dark charcoal suits, a white shirt, and blue tie; Fenella in a pencil skirt and two-inch heels. She had a long wavy perm, deep crimson lipstick, and big glasses with thin frames. She was young, like Martin.

Martin found her unbearably sexy. So much so that when Tom Taylor came to his desk that Friday morning to greet him as the new recruit, he looked down and away. Even though Fenella did no more than stand behind her boss holding a tablet computer. But when you’re twenty-two and your hormones are on fire, that’s enough.


“Settling in all right, are we, er, Martin? Did Paul give you enough to do?”

Martin could tell by the way Taylor looked at him he was expected to bullshit. So he did: “Oh yes, thank you, Mr. Taylor.”

The two men shook hands perfunctorily. Tom Taylor smelled of soap – a reassuring smell.

“Good. Well, there’s something I’d like you to do for me.”

“Certainly, Mr. Taylor – just name it.”

The pheasant crowed in the quadrangle down below.

“Bloody bird. Still, you’ll get used to it,” said Taylor with the kind of quick smile that suggested he never had. “Now look. The Department of Health has asked for a multi-variant analysis of health outcomes for all children born between 2000 and 2015 split out by region and gender, parental income, and marital status. I know it’s a lot to ask, but Fenella here will give you a hand, all right?”

Martin said it was fine by him. In particular, working with Fenella was especially fine.

“Very good. Oh – and I need to see something by four PM today, OK?”

Martin nodded like a marionette on speed, and Taylor was gone. Fenella Clarke waited until her boss was out of earshot then sat down in Martin’s seat.

“Right. Let’s call the people at Health and find out what they want.”

“Well, I imagine it’s to do with policy.”


Fenella stared at him as if he’d just declared a belief in virgin births via extra-terrestrial c-section. “Or maybe they’re battling a journo and want to kill the story. Let’s see, shall we?”

And with that, her manicured nails reached for the phone on Martin’s desk.

“Simon Tickley, please,” she demanded.

“Tickley here.”

The voice boomed out from Martin’s speakerphone. A voice used to ordering expensive wines in central London restaurants. Martin imagined pink-cuffed shirts, silk ties, and double-breasted suits kept buttoned up to hide a not-so-incipient beer gut.

“Simon? It’s Fenella Clarke from NSO Nuneaton. I wanted clarification on your request.”

“Fenella! How are you?”

Martin pictured Tickley’s tongue out on a stalk, his leer echoing down the phone.

“Fine, thanks, Simon.”

Either Fenella was playing it very cool or she had no interest in him. Martin suspected the latter. “We have a new colleague – Martin Hugginson. He’s going to assist me with your requests. So: do you really want multi-variant blah blah bollocks, or what’s your problem?”

A cough at the other end. The pheasant crowed. Martin wanted to kill it, even though he’d not been in the job a week.

“Fenella, my dear. You know me too well.” Tickley chuckled. “Gordon Bells on The Times – No-Balls Bells – uncovered our plans to offer healthcare vouchers to single mothers. He’s got a hair up his arse because his wife left him and he’s going to do a piece about single-father families being neglected. I need ammo for a rebuttal.”

“I see.” Fenella paused and looked at Martin like he was a particularly bland sheet of wallpaper. “Something that proves that the Southeast is full of lone daddies selflessly parenting on their own, right?”

“Right. And ask your wallah – oh sorry, Martin. Martin, if you could please prepare the full analysis to make it look proper, that would be great.”

They said their goodbyes, then Fenella pressed the OFF button. She turned to Martin, her brown eyes sparkling. Martin felt his heart beat faster. Then she said, “Do you know how to do a full-stack interrogation in SQL?”

Martin shook his head. The pheasant crowed. Inwardly, he swore he’d murder it after lunch.


That night, Martin was eating a ready-meal curry straight out of its plastic container. He’d failed to murder the pheasant. But he had given Simon Tickley what he wanted. He’d also microwaved his meal-for-one curry for the requisite three minutes, but botched the removal of the cellophane covering such that it slopped among the sauce. He watched the TV news and navigated this mixture of cellophane and chicken Madras with a plastic fork.

The health minister came on. Martin watched him deny that healthcare vouchers were prejudicial towards single-parent families headed by men. He heard the Minister talk about protecting lone fathers, who – the Minister acknowledged – did a great job, constituting as many as ten percent of all fathers in certain regions.

However, that was complete nonsense. Martin and Fenella had invented the number for Simon Tickley via a statistical dump so large and impenetrable no one would read it. Least of all Simon Tickley, a policy man who didn’t read at the best of times, and remained untroubled by reflection of any kind. Why waste time thinking when the fate of a nation rested on your expanding paunch? The ten percent statistic did serve one purpose, though: it launched Martin’s career at the NSO.


Martin became adept at creating statistical reports that proved nothing. Fish stocks that weren’t real. Bogus plastic card manufacturing plants somewhere near Hexham, Northumberland. Meanwhile his relationship with Fenella remained at best cool and professional; glacial might be a better word.

Perhaps his biggest thrill came from hearing the numbers he’d invented being used in newspapers, TV, and radio. OK, he didn’t invent them: rather, he drew conclusions the evidence didn’t necessarily warrant because he knew that’s what those asking the questions wanted to hear.


One day, Martin plucked up the courage to ask Fenella out for lunch on the pretence of staking out the pheasant. She accepted his invitation, even though his sexual confidence was less than zero after a three-year on-off relationship at uni with a woman who was out of his league and knew it. In other words, he’d been used – and was understandably wary. Not a good look to a young lady like Fenella.


“We could throw a net over it then sit on it or something. Or feed it poison seed. Or put it to sleep and drive it to Norfolk. That’s kind of like dying,” Martin mused as he sat with Fenella in the quadrangle, munching on a fish paste sandwich while trying not to think about what was in the paste.

“Martin! That’s shocking! How could you be so heartless to a poor, defenceless bird?”

Fenella tossed the last crust of her sandwich onto the grass and the pheasant hopped over on its one good leg to peck at the scrap of bread.

“Don’t do that! You’re feeding the beast!” Martin protested.

“Aren’t we all, Martin? Aren’t we all?” Fenella paused then asked, “I wonder how he stands up with just one good leg?”

Martin wondered whether he knew anything about the size of a male pheasant’s wedding tackle. When he realised he didn’t, he muttered something about resting on his tail feathers. It was clear by this stage that his attempt to manifest an air of manly hunter-gathererness had failed. Fenella stood up, wiped the crumbs from her packet of crisps off her dark skirt and tossed her empty Diet Coke can in the bin with a decisive thunk.

“Come on. We’ve got those data tables for Lincolnshire’s potato production to take care of.”

Unable to resist such arcadian overtures, Martin screwed up his sandwich-wrapper and threw it at the bin, but missed. When he went to pick up the wrapper, he thought he saw the pheasant’s yellow eyes laughing as it hopped around on its one good leg.


Though he didn’t know it, Martin’s stock was rising in what might be termed the corridors of power. Those corridors were in fact a warren of offices infested with mildly overweight younger men and, sadly, fewer women. The men had impressive yet useless degrees from grand universities but couldn’t have nailed two bits of wood together if their lives depended on it. Anyway, Martin’s name was increasingly being spoken of in said corridors.

“Get Hugginson on it,” went the cry.

Martin accompanied Fenella to the annual conference of government statisticians in London. This year, the title was ‘From Repository to Policy: Helping Ministers take evidence-based action’. The word “repository” made Martin think of the word “suppository” – but then, he was still only twenty-two.


At the conference, Martin clapped loudly after Fenella’s presentation and she noticed him doing so. He also met Simon Tickley in the flesh: Simon was as well-dressed and overweight as Martin imagined. Tickley was also going bald, and would soon reveal aggravated indigestion caused by the over-consumption of caffeine and alcohol. In other words, he farted a lot.

In his conversation with Tickley, Martin used terms he didn’t know the meaning of, such as “Pearson’s R” and “Student’s T”, in an effort to impress. It worked – mainly because impressing Simon Tickley, a man of Olympian stupidity, was not difficult.

During the conference dinner that evening, Martin sat next to Fenella while the Head of the Cabinet Office droned her way through a speech. They ate Chicken Maryland made with used engine-oil, or so it seemed, and drank a lot of low-quality wine. After dinner the entire conference headed for the bar at once.

Martin tagged along behind Fenella. As it turned out this was a good move. After about an hour, Fenella was visibly drunk and asked Martin to help her get back to her room.


Once in her room, Fenella wasted no time on preliminaries. Under the auspices of a goodnight kiss, she stuck her tongue in Martin’s mouth. After a brief moment of astonishment, he responded, and before they knew where they were, as the tabloid press would say, Martin lay on Fenella’s hotel-room bed with Fenella on top of him.

During proceedings he tried everything he could not to reach the top of his asymptotic curve. He thought about potato production in Lincolnshire, the number of public toilets in Cumbria, renewable energy installations off the Pentland Firth. He even thought about the pheasant in the office quadrangle, though this nearly softened his powers of analytical penetration to a catastrophic degree.

As a result of these thoughts and the amount of alcohol they had consumed, Martin managed to sustain his input until Fenella was satisfied with the results. After that she rolled over and fell asleep. Seconds later Martin was also asleep.


When Martin awoke, he wondered if life could get any better. His new job was going well, he had just slept with the girl of his (recent) dreams, and it seemed as if the world lay before him like an open mollusc. Only not one that was open because it was dead.

Of course, the pheasant in the office could disappear, which would improve matters further. When he got back to the office, he no longer noticed the pheasant, though he could, admittedly, still hear it croaking.

As to Martin’s self-interrogation whether life could improve further, it was about to – at least from his point of view. But perhaps not from the perspective of the British state, its taxpayers and civil servants.


You see, Martin began to gain power. And power, as we all know, is the greatest narcotic – or hallucinogen. For instance, Simon Tickley invited him to a shooting weekend. This consisted of people dressing up in clothes from the nineteenth century and blasting away at defenceless ducks and geese who died in agony from their gunshot wounds. Martin had never wanted to kill anything and the sight of dying birds made him feel sick. Especially if they weren’t that bastard pheasant.

He went anyway because he’d been invited and thought it might be good for his career – a word he’d recently learned to attach to sitting in an office and doing what he was told to do when told to do it for eight hours each weekday. He also remembered the other meaning of the word “career” – to run around wildly and with no apparent purpose.

That Christmas, Simon Tickley sent him an expensive bottle of brandy from an upmarket store in London as a gift. He didn’t mention that he’d put it on expenses – effectively, the taxpayer gifted Martin the brandy.

As Martin’s power in government grew, so he became aware of his ability to affect change. One time he decided taxing condoms would be a great idea because he didn’t like using them. So he fed the opposition parties bogus statistics about the need for better family planning. He built an argument from evidence stating that funds for this should come from the user base for family planning. The government caved in, and the world’s first “Pay as you Come” legislation was born.

However much his power grew, he had still done nothing about the pheasant. He celebrated his first work anniversary over lunch in Nuneaton’s most exclusive eatery. Fenella gazed at him across the table, her passion for him at its fullest flower. Amid such happiness, he remembered the pheasant back at the office and frowned.

As he perfected his own life, so the pheasant’s existence became more of an affront. Soon the very idea that this bird would have the temerity to squawk and shit where he worked was offensive to him, and he swore he would remove it, come what may.


Shortly after this first anniversary lunch with his inamorata, Martin experienced his finest hour. After no small amount of crafty planning and inventing numbers, Martin succeeded in bringing the UK’s first publicly funded Rock History Museum to Nuneaton, rather than London or Liverpool or Manchester or Newcastle or Glasgow or Belfast or anywhere else. He did this by supplying dodgy numbers to policy-makers too lazy or bored to check them. He also befriended an MP who liked rock music and the sound of his own voice and made sure he was properly briefed.

However, the rock-music-loving MP died suddenly. He passed away true to his policy objectives, since his heart attack occurred in a hotel room, in the presence of a forty-six-year-old stripper, an ounce of cocaine, a bottle of VSOP cognac and a carton of cigarettes.

His long-suffering wife was said by the media to be “devastated”.

After that MP’s passing, Martin’s life nosedived. An independent candidate was elected to replace the rock-loving people’s representative and this candidate was not just independent in name: she also possessed moral fibre, profound intelligence and a commitment to the truth. Her name was Stella Maryton and she was a single mother who believed in the free distribution of condoms. She had short hair and her enemies spread ugly rumours about her private life. Nobody liked her very much because she was honest.

Her many positive qualities meant that when she took over, she soon discovered Martin’s bogus statistical evidence relating to the Rock Museum. After some further digging, she also uncovered Martin’s fairy tale fish stocks, Hexham’s ahistorical plastic card factory, and the filching of public funds for everything from VSOP cognac to condoms, hotels, and restaurants.


Meanwhile, Martin closed in on the pheasant. Not with a gun or knife or some poison food. Nor even by sticking a hungry fox or gun dog in the quadrangle where it lived. No, Martin was using the deadliest weapon he knew – the power of statistics to confuse and bamboozle.

However, Martin hadn’t reckoned with Stella Maryton, the advent of her anti-statistics bill, her powers of forensic research, or her capacity for networking. During the first few months of her tenure, Stella had browbeaten everyone from the Cabinet Secretary to the media (off the record) about how the misuse of statistics was turning the UK into a banana republic. She used the term “fantasy island”, which made lots of influential people scared, because they liked to imagine both they and the country they ran mattered.


Based on statistical evidence, Martin constructed an argument for the legitimacy of denying existence to certain forms of wildlife (that is, killing them) on the basis of fundamental human rights such as air, water and food. Naturally this was tricky, since many would say that the wildlife had just as many rights to these things as humans.

However, by perverting a few numbers about guinea fowl as carriers of various nasty human pathogens, and armed with several examples of bat-to-human transmission from China which many have found useful in recent years, Martin prepared to declare numerical war on his avian adversary.


Stella Maryton introduced a private member’s bill criminalising the use of inaccurate data to influence public policy. This was an excellent idea, since those in public life had been deluding innocent people with fake numbers for more than 3,000 years.

She gave lots of abstract and high moral arguments in favour of the bill. The kind of arguments with which everyone in public life likes to agree. Misleading stats, she argued, were divisive (true), anti-diverse (possibly, though she never explained why), racist and sexist and other things (see previous bracketed description).

The MPs loved her bill almost as much as they loved to be seen on the side of moral right. So it was passed unanimously, with just one or two old MPs who represented constituencies nobody could place on a map dissenting. The new laws were associated with a long prison term and disbarment from public life for offenders. To the MPs voting for the bill, this was the modern equivalent of being hung, drawn and quartered and having your head stuck on a pike then paraded through central London.


After weeks of careful plotting, Martin had the pheasant in the sights of his public policy blunderbuss. He identified some of the more venal MPs who might be persuaded to advance his anti-pheasant cause in the House of Commons in exchange for some public title – you know, those mystical letters after people’s names that sound good even if you don’t know what they mean.

He fed those MPs lots of statistics and charts with bullet points on them. He used terms from data science, broken up into small units so the MPs could read them out loud even if they’d had too good a lunch in a restaurant they could never afford thanks to some billionaire who wanted the government to stop taxing him.

Then Martin sat back and waited. But he was to be disappointed – majorly so.


The police came for Martin when he was on the phone to Simon Tickley trying to get the Department of Health to declare stray birds a health risk. They hauled him out of his chair and shoved him over his desk and tied his hands behind his back in handcuffs. Then they read him his rights and marched him off to prison in full view of Trevor the dozing non-entity and his soon-to-be-former girlfriend Fenella Clarke, who pretended not to know Martin even though her cheeks were now as red as her lipstick.

As Martin was escorted from reception by the police, he turned around and looked through the glass to the quadrangle. The pheasant was flapping around like a demented puppet. And this time he was certain: those caws, cackles, and squawks through the glass were the sounds of that deformed bird laughing at him.

J. W. Wood is the author of five books of poems and a novel, all published in the UK, and the satire ‘By Any Other Name’, forthcoming from Terror House Publishing in the US later in 2023. His work has appeared in The Poetry Review, London Magazine, TLS, etc. and has been shortlisted or nominated for several awards, including the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Bridport Prize. A dual citizen of the UK and Canada, he is the recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council. You can find out more at his website.

Saint John of the Rabbits

Paricutín erupting, by Dr. Atl

by Philip Hall

I married into a large and regionally important Mexican family, and so got to know some parts of Mexico quite well. I lived there, first as a student at the university of Vera Cruz in the early eighties, later in Mexico City as a teacher, and finally as a married man with three small children throughout the ’90s to 2002. 

Mexico is astonishingly different from everywhere else I have been to. It is extraordinarily, deceptively complex. The differences between Mexican culture and European culture roil under the surface in an enormous collision of continents; the greatest power in the 16th century in Europe, Spain, collided with the greatest power in the Americas, the Aztecs, to create a new planet: planet Mexico.

We have both a vulcanologist and a small volcano in the family. The vulcanologist is a lecturer and researcher who works in the department of vulcanology at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). The volcano is called Paricutín. Paricutin used to be a town. Paricutín is the Omphalos of the municipality of Uruapan. Mexico has a whole wrap of volcanoes around its middle.

If you drive from Mexico city, Guadalajara, or Morelia to Uruapan then you know when you are near because the weather is cooler. The landscape starts to smile and dimple and the hills and mountains look soft and round, furred with pine, or made bald by deforestation.

In 1943 the people of the municipality felt earth tremors. Uruapenses heard a rumbling for many days. When the volcano finally erupted, they saw a thick black cloud of ash rising up, and a red glow in the sky. At night, there were orange plumes of lava, and hot boulders shot up into air in a fountain of sparks. In the morning grey ash covered the streets, the rooftops and the cars and pick up trucks. It was nine years before Paricutín stopped erupting.

Consider this when you drive through the municipality of Uruapan. Every single one of those hills and mountains was once a volcano.

In the district of Parangaricutiro, near the town of Paricutin, Dionisio Pulido, a farmer and goat herder, remarked to the pulque and mescal drinking customers in a local cantina in the town, that the soles of his sandaled feet burned when he walked across over the field on his farm, they laughed at him.

Later, the townspeople could hear and see the evidence for themselves. Then they listened to Dionisio without laughing. Dionisio described how a crack had opened up in his field. He said it smelled infernal and that it whistled like a train and hissed. It spouted ash and smoke.

Dionisio also told his story to the local authorities, who wrote it down. It is one of a series of eyewitness testimonies the municipality collected for publication. It should be noted that Dionisio is the only person in recorded history who has ever witnessed the birth of a volcano from the ground. I have translated some of his testimony for you:

Dionisio Pullido

At four O’clock I left my wife next to the fire we had made from forest wood and then I noticed that in one of the corals of my farm a crack had opened up in the earth and I saw that it was the sort of crack that is only half a metre deep. I turned back to light the brazier again, when I felt a thunderclap, the trees shook and I turned around to speak to Paula. That was when I saw that the hole, the earth had swollen and lifted up two or two and a half metres high and a sort of fine powder, grey like ash, began to go upwards from a bit of the crack that I hadn’t seen before.

More smoke went up and immediately a loud whistle started and kept up and I noticed the smell of sulphur. That was when I got really scared and began to go back to help yoke the ox quickly. I was stupefied and I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t see my wife or my son or my animals nearby.

That was when I came to my senses and remembered Our Sacred Lord of the Miracles. I shouted, ‘Blessed Lord of the Miracles, it was you who brought me into this world.’ And then I looked at the crack where the smoke was coming from and my fear disappeared for the first time.

I rushed to see if I could save my family, my comrades, and my animals, but I couldn’t see them. I thought they must have taken the oxen to the ranch to water. I saw that there was no water on the ranch and thought that it must have gone down the crack. I got really scared and got on my mare and galloped off to Paricutín, where I found my wife and son and friends who were waiting for me, because they thought I was dead and they would never see me again.

Paricutin, drawn by Dr Atl

The eruption grew more and more violent. Soon geologists came from Mexico City and they made the official announcement that a new volcano was being born. After the geologists came the painters and the poets.

Dr Atl (Gerardo Murillo) painted the baby volcano. Jose Revueltas wrote a book about it entitled, Vision of Paricutin. Juan Rulfo wrote about Paricutin. Pablo Neruda gives it a mention.

The Japanese ambassador was from the north of Japan. He visited Angahuan and when he saw what the people who lived there looked like, he was amazed:

‘But these look just like my people. These are my people. They are my brothers and sisters.’

To him, the people of Angahuan looked just like the people from his town on Hokkaido. Tarazcans have dark copper skins and jet black hair. They have large brown eyes which have a little twisted slant. Their faces are quite flat, and their brows slope back attractively. 

You stand out if you are not a Tarazcan in Angahuan. The people will stare at you as they go past, or else they will ignore you. There is little European, or African about them. They are not as mixed as the people of town of Uruapan, the capital of the district. Angahuan smells of wood stoves, horse manure and mud.

To get to Paricutín you have to first go to Angahuan. Some of the people there still live in trojes on the outskirts. Trojes are delicate wooden houses built on stilts. They have gabled roofs. Ordinary Tarazcan people used to live in Trojes before the Spanish invaded. The structures of the rulers of the Tarazcans are much more monumental. Visit the round pyramids of Tzintzuntzan on the shores of lake Patzcuaro.

Photo by Joven_60

In Angahuan, women – and some of the older girls and teenagers – wear the traditional rebozos, or headscarves. Every region has its own style of patterned headscarf. The rebozos of Angauan are striped a deep electric blue and black. Tarazcan men wear plain white clothes and well-made cowboy hats – the mark of a farmer. There are only a few trucks and cars in Angahuan.

Paricutin erupting on 1st August 1943

If you are a tourist, you must hire horses to go to the buried town and to the volcano. The horses pick their practiced way through the bushes and long grass, past the still sharp, frozen edges of black rock. After about half an hour you will reach the side of a wall of rough basalt. To see what is left of Paricutín you have to climb up onto the basalt. This is quite difficult; the ground billows up and down, and if you trip and fall, you will cut yourself badly. Nothing remains of the town except the steeples of the church poking up between the waves, one of which has been cracked in two.

The people of the Paricutín didn’t believe the lava would cover their town. They hoped God would stop the lava. They gathered in the church and prayed for a miracle. Inexorably, the lava advanced. Finally, they understood that the town really would be engulphed. They abandoned it at the last moment at speed and the town was swallowed up. Fifty metres outside the town the rock stopped flowing.

From the buried town, you must re-mount your horses and ride on to the volcano itself. The volcano is a huge, black, sandy hill. You climb to the top. It didn’t take long. A little white steam still rises from the cinders around the rim. You feel the heat on your face when you turn towards the crater. Don’t get too close. The vapours are toxic. They smell of sulphur.

Right at the top of the volcano is a placard stuck into the hot grey powder. It says:

Lord, I thank you for saving us when the volcano Paricutín erupted. You know what you are doing, Lord. But why, oh why, did you take my land?

The Parangaricutiros from Paricutín were relocated to another town. They call it San Juan. But behind their backs, their neighbours from Uruapan make fun of them. They call the new town San Juan de los Conejos instead, Saint John of the Rabbits, because the poor people of Paricutín, holding on until the last moment, had to run from the volcano like rabbits.

US imperialism dead against the world

Men of the London Rifle Brigade with troops of the 104th and 106th Saxon Regiments, IWM

Why do socialists defend bourgeois nationalism?

by Philip R. Hall

This was the key document of all the anti-colonial movements: ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism’ by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Whatever else was written afterwards, in the end, it relied on this tract as its foundation.

Walter Rodney, Eduardo Galeano, Gunder Frank, Frantz Fanon, Ho Chi Minh and the rest of the political theorists writing in the developing world, all understood capitalism as a global, interlinked system that could only be overthrown somewhere, if it could be overthrown everywhere. They were internationalists, but they were also pragmatic.

My parents, Tony and Eve Hall, were intellectuals in the Leninist sense. They were always concerned about praxis, about What is to be done? <<Что делать?>>. I inherited that approach from them. It is the question I have asked myself constantly my whole life. What is to be done to overthrow capitalism and create a humane socialist society?

My parents were more concerned with the practicalities of strategy and mobilisation than with abstract theory. This attitude contrasts with that of many Marxists in Europe. These Marxists, on the whole, are academic Marxists. They do not lead social movements, they merely interpret what Lenin called the current conjuncture and comment on the intentions and actions of social movements.

The task facing the anti-colonial socialists and communists in the 20th century needed to be backed up by a working system of thought that helped supply practical answers, and that system owed more to Lenin than Marx. The questions liberation strugglers asked were practical:

How do we overthrow the Portuguese colonial regime?

How do we overthrow the Apartheid government in South Africa?

What kind of society do we want to build after liberation?

What should the position of women be after the liberation?

What should be the role of the African liberation struggle be within the broader, global struggle?

In the 60s and 70s, Frelimo, the ANC, the PIAGC and MPLA were all aligned with socialist policies and they called themselves revolutionaries because no one fights a war of liberation in a colonised country in order for only a few local people to get rich.

The people who fought the anti-colonial wars were the ordinary people. There must be some benefit in liberation for them as well, not just for a future elite. In Asia, Africa and Latin America, a fairer society meant wealth redistribution, which, in turn, meant socialism, or, at the very least, an advanced social democracy and putting the good of the people first.

Leaders of the liberation movements in Africa, like Marcelino dos Santos, were applied political scientists in the sense that they were interested in affecting change above all else.

Lenin’s book, ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism’, borrowed from the ideas of John A. Hobson. Hobson analysed the phenomenon of imperialism in economic terms. Lenin tried to answer the following question:

Why did the working class of Europe agree to fight each other?

Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

The moment of the famous football match at Christmas between German and British soldiers was a frightening one for the ruling classes of both Germany and Britain. After all, it was that same war that precipitated the Russian revolution.

Clearly, working people on both sides of that war had a lot in common with each other. Often they had more in common with each other than they did with their own rulers and military commanders. Class hatred was strong in Britain; hatred of the generals, sipping their port and smoking cigars in the rear while they sent ordinary men over the top to die, was burning hot.

Historians cite the Christmas truce during World War I as a beautiful interlude; as a lovely moment when peace broke out before the inevitable recommencement of hostilities. In fact, for our ruling class, it was a nightmare moment. Revolutions start this way. If only Tommy and Fritz had decided not to go back to fighting each other!

Why then did the ordinary German and British soldier pick up their rifles and start firing again? The great guns started shelling again.

Lithograph of the truce, Arthur C. Michael, 1915

The reason why the working class of both countries continued to fight each other, according to Lenin, was because key sections of the working class in Britain and Germany benefitted just enough from imperialism to cause them to switch sides and side with the ruling class temporarily.

The rising tide of surplus from imperialism was floating more boats; skilled workers in Great Britain were getting a trickle down of blood money. They were receiving a small fraction of the vast wealth extracted, at first from slavery, and then from the extraction of wealth colonisation of countries and even continents. The British worker drank tea from Ceylon sweetened with sugar from the United States or the Caribbean.

The skilled British worker, much more so than many of his counterparts in Europe, benefitted from the empire. This explains why there was no revolution in the UK after the 1640s despite the all the economic ups and downs. There was just enough to live on in Victorian and Edwardian Britain in order to stave off civil war. A labour aristocracy would refuse to politicise trade unions. They were interested in perpetrating the status quo, not in upsetting it. They would take–and history has shown this –  the side of the bosses if push came to shove. They would focus exclusively on getting good deals for their members, and only where those deals are available.

Who then, according to Lenin, became the exploited class with the potential to rise up and overthrow capitalism and establish a new kind of egalitarian society. They were the exploited of places like India.

The real revolutionaries are the most exploited people on the periphery of empire, and in the centre, not the better off working class benefitting from empire. We see in Europe that, so long as ordinary people have enough to eat, a car, a home and the possibility of advancement, they will not join together to overthrow capitalism and install socialism. The riots in France taking place at the moment are not riots in favour of a different form of society, or riots against the exploitation of the oil wealth of Congo Brazzaville. They are arguments for a new social arrangement; for a readjustment, that’s all.

The front line against imperialism in the 1960s and 1970s was Vietnam

The new revolutionary proletariat were people like the miners and workers in South Africa, in Chile, in Guatemala and Mexico and so on. Revolution would come at their instigation, because no one in the metropolises of capitalism cared about them, not really, not even the workers. The point of oligarchic global capitalism is to extract ever-increasing amounts of labour surplus from workers everywhere, but mainly from workers, smallholders and landless peasants in the developing world.

Cuba would have its revolution as a result of these contradictions, and later Vietnam too. The focal point of exploitation shifts to the periphery. The contradictions of capitalism intensify, and so that is where the action is. That is where the iron fist of the capitalist state falls to crush opposition. Millions of people in the developing world, in the Middle East and Latin America and Asia, are killed by US bombers and weapons, but there is no bombing in London or New York. The centre must hold, even if it costs a little. Since WWII, Global Research (based in California) estimates that the USA has been responsible for the death of over 20 million people.

There is very little real revolutionary potential in any strike or action carried out in a country like the UK, not even arising out of something like the Miners’ Strike in the 1980s.  

According to Lenin, in order to be successful, revolution had to be global, because the deeply exploited workers in the periphery (the textile workers are now in Bangladesh, not Lancashire) would organise and politicise and, in the struggle against exploitation, in a Frierian way, start to work out the real causes of their oppression. In doing so. the exploited discover the roots of imperialism sunk into their own countries and subsequently join arms in a loose alliance with people in other countries experiencing the same oppression in order to fight against that oppression.

Moving on from Lenin, workers would understand through the struggle against their governments that they were facing a global ‘hydra’, not simply a local unfair ruling elite. The poor of the developing world, the theory went, would oppose the capitalist class in alliance with the most exploited and oppressed sections of the population in the imperial centre. This is why people like C. L. R. James considered the Black population of the USA to have such revolutionary potential. Why he considered it to be the vanguard of the US proletariat. These are the people who were, and many still are, at the sharpest end of capitalism.

In fact, it turned out this way in Africa against the Portuguese. The struggle against Portuguese colonialism by the liberation movements precipitated the overthrow of the dictatorship in Portugal itself.

The lesson people took away from Vietnam and Cuba and China and the other revolutions was that national struggles of liberation against imperial domination, whether imperialism took the form of colonialism, or neo-colonialism, was that a radical transformation of the nationalist struggle into a struggle for a fairer society would inevitably take place. The objective being a socialist society. Unless, that was, outside agents of imperialism could divert that struggle into a sterile populism. In other words, people like my parents and their friends saw national struggles of liberation against imperial domination as inherently progressive and transformative.

The US and the UK obviously agreed with this Leninist vision and sought to counteract it. The ruling elites in the USA and Britain were Leninists too! In opposing nationalism in the developing countries, the USA and UK and their allies did atrocious things: They supported the contras in Nicaragua. They supported coup d’ etats in Iran, in Chile. They supported genocidal dictators like Suharto. They propped up anachronistic monarchies in the Middle East. They supported the Apartheid regime to the hilt, almost to the bitter end. They supported the Portuguese colonialists fully against the nationalists fighting for independence and once the Portuguese were cast out, they funded shadowy and bloodthirsty organisations like UNITA and RENAMO.

Back in the metropolises of capitalism, theorists were working on how to co-opt more people into supporting the status quo. The final version of this pragmatic, anti-Leninist and anti-Marxist strategy was developed by John Rawls through his Theory of Justice.

Rawls tasked himself with finding ways to diffuse the possibility of global alliances between people struggling against the same enemy in both the developing and developed world. Rawlsian theory was designed to prevent these alliances. In this sense, Rawls, like all of them, are Leninists. This is because they actively believe Lenin is right.

In the present day, shameless political chameleons and servants of the ruling class of the western countries that get into positions of power in the state through the machinery of PR, understand Rawls’ simple idea and try to implement it. They provide a little support and subsidy to those who could potentially be the most radical opponents of corporate oligarchical capitalism. The ones who riot and protest at the drop of a hat. Rawls, of course, did not extend his theory to encompass the global system of capitalism. He was working to save it, not sabotage it. To extend his theory would have meant mean preventing hyper-exploitation on the periphery.

At the same time, the strategy in the centres of capitalism developed by the think tanks was to attempt to create strong comprador elements in all the countries it wanted to keep open to extraction and exploitation. It did this with the help of a global financial system through mechanisms developed by the IMF and the World bank. US and UK corporations themselves created strong vested interests in their continued presence in different developing countries through an extensive range of different tactics all backed up with the threat of military intervention and subversion: they used bribery and corruption, cultural and educational exchanges, military aid.  

Thinking members of the ruling oligarchy in the US and UK gave the elites in Africa and Latin America (and many other parts of the world) a very strong vested interest in maintaining their alliance, even when that meant the beggarment of whole nations: The most classic examples were the famous ‘Banana Republics’ of Central America.

This was the pattern then, the buying off of elites in the developing world and the provision of social support to those whose need was most dire in the richer countries. In the late 80s, 90s and noughties, there was a cause for great disappointment. In Angola, South Africa and in country after country, the ruling elites aligned themselves with foreign capital largely above the interests of their own people.

Nevertheless, the idea remained: a bourgeoise nationalist government which opposed imperialism would be intrinsically good. Good of itself. Because, in Leninist terms, it was the beginning of opposition to capitalist imperialism. To put a break on capitalism and to roll back imperial power, even when it is only a bourgeois nationalist government doing so, is, de facto, a good thing because it is about defending the interests of the bourgeoise of a country and putting them over the interests of imperialism. It was about keeping the wealth inside the country.

 There are people in the UK and US who are not immediately against Russia at the moment. This is because they are true internationalists who oppose the current hegemonic imperialism of US capitalism. But it is difficult for the majority of the population of these countries to understand what is happening. For example, why isn’t everyone in the developing world immediately dead set against the Russian invasion of the Ukraine? In the ‘West’, many citizens may think that what is happening is a simple gross violation of Ukrainian national sovereignty.

However, those of us who have lived through the seventies and whose point of view is fixed firmly in the developing world; and those of us who are still compos mentis and retain our historical memory, place imperialism much higher on the league table of evils than the evil of a resurgent, socially reactionary, corrupt Russian nationalism.

Deeply unattractive and revanchist though Russian capitalism may be, it is not yet fascism or tyranny; it is a bourgeoise nationalist country acting as a firebreak against US imperialism. This is the 64,000 dollar question: Is a bourgeois nationalist government that opposes imperialism always good?

The Hideous Strength of the Highwayman

The widening of the highways is a modern form of enclosure and land theft to benefit the wealthy

by Philip Hall

You put your life in danger if you walk along A roads and country lanes in the United Kingdom, despite the best efforts of the glorious Ramblers Association, which was founded to give ordinary people access to the countryside.

The national government and county councils make very little provision for pedestrian paths and cycle lanes alongside the roads that go between our towns and cities. There are too few cycle lanes, if any at all, running next to country lanes, motorways and A roads.

This seems to me to be a calculated policy designed to limit access to the countryside. Choice parts of the country, in the United Kingdom, are the refuge of the monied classes, and the Surrey countryside, half cleansed of ordinary people, is where many of the wealthy have their houses. It was not always this way. In the old days, everyone used to walk between towns. Or they rode. To do so now next to a tarmac road is to take your life into your hands.

Outside Wisley Gardens, and all along that section of A23 and some of the M25, the highways department has chopped down thousands of trees to widen the big road. Many of those trees were more than 50 years old – some were much older.

Visitors to the Wisley Gardens like my partner and I, were horrified. The ground had been churned up into mud on both sides of the road and cleared of all plants and animals, and yellow digging machines and earth movers were parked everywhere.

Wisley entrance, April 2023

A few of the chopped up corpses of large trees (stained black with mud) were still lying around waiting to be taken away and pulped. Or perhaps the good timber was sold to lumbar merchants. Workers stood near the dead trees in hi-viz, orange clothes.

What is this? I gestured at the trees lying on the cordoned off piece of land which now looked as if it were part of a fracking operation.

Why? The two burley men looked at me. The bosses are bad people. Bad men. One worker explained. He smiled in embarrassment. It’s not us. We don’t want to do this.

Wisley entrance, May 2018

I have pictures of that part of the approach to Wisley before the machines came in. It was beautiful. The question is this: In an age when we are supposed to be being ecologically minded, why are great highways being expanded to hold more cars? Why not improve public transport and the frequency of bus services? Why not build cycle lanes between towns?

What do you think of the destruction of the forest all along the highway? I asked a visitor to Wisley.

I suppose it was necessary, she said. I live nearby and there are no buses. It’s a tricky junction. We said goodbye. But, as I approached the entrance, she came up to me again and said. I was wrong. There is a shuttle bus from Woking. You are right. We could do without a new junction.

I asked members of staff I came across what they thought of the development. The grounds people told me that the Royal Horticultural Society had opposed the ‘improvements’ proposed for the highway and had made a counter-offer, but that the transport ministry under Grant Shapps in the period of Boris Johnson, had compulsorily purchased the land and gone ahead regardless. Private contractors moved in.

The ax falls to give more lebensraum to cars

Alarm bells started ringing. Grant Shapps? Was this a Tory skimming operating in the spirit of the contracts given out during the time of COVID? Was this something along the lines of the ferry service contract being awarded to a company with no ships or boats? Were trees being chopped down and highways expanded and developed only to line the pockets of friends of the Tories in the private sector? An investigative journalist should find out.

How is it possible that despite the problem of global warming, despite the fact that it has been necessary to expand the congestion zone around London, that the highways of Surry are being widened and thousands of trees are cut down? So many animals have been made homeless. So many flowers and plants of all sorts have been wiped out of existence.

A Constable scene in 2023, PRH prompting b.

The staff I talked to said that they had opposed the changes, but that there was nothing they could do. They looked sad, resigned. Some of the them did not even know that their own organisation had opposed the plans and the compulsory purchase. One of them gave me leaflets about how the verges of the new highway would be turned into ‘heathland’ as it was originally.

When was the Weald, the greatest forest of England, ever heathland? After the enclosures, perhaps in the 1700s. After the all the trees were chopped down. The natural vegetation of that part of Surrey, it seems to me, when it was not downland, was forest. We humans who want to protect nature; who love trees and enjoy Wisley Gardens, lament the needless loss. The devil makes work for idle hands. They can’t leave well alone.

Gary the cyclist at the Wisley bus stop

We were at the bus stop. There we met Gary, the cyclist, tall, thin, and magnificently bearded. He said he had suffered a brain injury long ago, but that he was much better now. He tried to cycle everywhere.

But you cannot cycle to Wisley from Ripley, He said. There are no cycle lanes. Given that they have chopped down all these trees all along a long section of highway, you would think they would have the decency and the environmental spirit to include a small cycle lane and path. But no. You could never cycle that way. It would be suicidal.

Over there is Saint Georges Hill. He said. There is a public school, and a gated community, and there is no way to cycle in the direction of Cobham or Mersham. In the way, there is a huge, impassable roundabout.

Saint Georges Hill? You mean the famous Saint George’s Hill that the Diggers, the Levellers, tried to take over for the people to grow food on? To garden?

Yes. Gary said.

Perhaps they do not put pedestrian pathways or cycle lanes as a sort of moat. It’s a way of cutting themselves off from the plebs like us. They threw the farmers and cottagers off the land long ago, colonised the countryside and they don’t want the commoners back. The average price of a property on saint Georges Hill now is 5.5 million pounds.

It’s impossible to get from Ripley to Wisley by bike. Gary said, without having to cross huge swathes of highway. You would kill yourself.  And it’s only 4 miles away.      

One day we will come here and find out that even this bus stop has been taken away he said.

Cover of C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength by Sam Peffer

I looked at the huge new wasteland, and the title of a book came into my mind, a book by C. S. Lewis. That Hideous Strength. In it Lewis describes how all the old trees on a university campus were dug up to make way for a new complex of concrete buildings.

Who had wanted or needed all this environmental destruction? The car-driving elite squatting on Saint Georges Hill who are pulling up the drawbridge? The moats of the United Kingdom are its highways.

Grant Shapps forced through the compulsory order in 2020, regardless of all environmental concerns, regardless of what all the stakeholders wanted, and he did as the Tories have always done: he prioritised the car over the walker and the cyclist. He put the car on a pedestal. Cyclists, pedestrians and people who use public transport are treated as untermenschen by the Tories.

Expansion of the highways is a modern type of enclosure and land theft by the wealthy. Although, having said that, it is only fair to mention that Grant Shapps did invest in quite a few cycle lanes in the towns and cities – far away from the country funk holes of the rich.

The stream of traffic rushed past. One person to a car, occasionally two, carbon monoxide rushing out of the tailpipes of hundreds near empty saloons and SUVs.

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