Tuesday, August 22, 2017

While we in  Britain were living in blissful or at least relative oblivion of the horrors taking place in occupied Europe in the thirties and forties, we were spared and to a large extent unaware of the wholesale massacre taking place in Central and Eastern European unequaled in the history of the world, And thank goodness for that. We all tell ourselves stories about the war and you will never catch me decrying the bravery of our troops. But not at the expense of repeating the same mistake 80 years down the line.

Monday, August 21, 2017


In my current fragile state it would be difficult to find a more unsuitable book than Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder.

After reading this magnificent book, one can only ask what on earth did we think we were playing at? Secondly, isn't it about time we had another punch up?


The killing in the bloodlands took five forms. First, Stalin undertook modernization by way of the self-colonization of his Soviet Union. The Soviets created a vast system of labor camps known as the Gulag, collectivized agriculture, and built factories, mines, and canals. When collectivized agriculture led to hunger, this was blamed on particular groups, primarily the Ukrainians. More than five million people starved to death in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s, most of them in Soviet Ukraine. The hunger was caused by collective agriculture, but the starvation was caused by politics.
Then the Soviets effected a retreat into terror. In the Great Terror of 1937 and 1938, the Soviet leadership identified peasants, the victims of collectivization, as the primary threat to Soviet power. People who had survived hunger and the Gulag were shot. At the same time, the Soviet leadership defined certain national minorities as enemies. Nearly seven hundred thousand people were recorded as executed in the Terror, although the true number may be somewhat higher. These people were disproportionately agricultural laborers and Soviet Poles.
In 1939, the Soviets and the Germans invaded Poland together, and carried out a policy of de-Enlightenment. Reasoning from different ideologies, but drawing similar conclusions, the Germans and Soviets killed some two hundred thousand Polish citizens between 1939 and 1941, disproportionately the educated people who represented European culture and who might have led resistance. When the Soviets executed the 21,892 Polish officers and others at Katyn and four other sites in spring 1940, they were mirroring a German killing campaign that was going on at the same time. The Soviets and Germans also deported about a million Polish citizens at this time, swelling the Soviet and the German camp systems. The Germans put Polish Jews in ghettos, in the anticipation that they would all be deported. Tens of thousands of Jews died of hunger and disease as the ghettos become improvised labor camps.
After the Germans broke the alliance and invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the two enemies killed civilians in a pattern of belligerent complicity. In German-occupied Soviet Belarus the Soviets encouraged partisan activity, and the Germans executed more than three hundred thousand people in return. These mass killings had little to do with reprisals in any conventional sense. By the end the Germans were shooting Belarusian women and children as an encumbrance, and taking the men as slave laborers. In Warsaw, Soviet forces first encouraged a Polish uprising and then watched, without involving themselves, as the Germans killed more than one hundred thousand Poles and then destroyed the city itself.
Hitler imagined a colonial demodernization of the Soviet Union and Poland that would take tens of millions of lives. The Nazi leadership envisioned an eastern frontier to be depopulated and deindustrialized, and then remade as the agrarian domain of German masters. This vision had four parts. First, the Soviet state was to collapse after a lightning victory in summer 1941, just as the Polish state had in summer 1939, leaving the Germans with complete control over Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, western Russia, and the Caucasus. Second, a Hunger Plan would starve to death some thirty million inhabitants of these lands in winter 1941-1942, as food was diverted to Germany and western Europe. Third, the Jews of the Soviet Union who survived the starvation, along with Polish Jews and other Jews under German control, were to be eliminated from Europe in a Final Solution. Fourth, a Generalplan Ost foresaw the deportation, murder, enslavement, or assimilation of remaining populations, and the resettlement of eastern Europe by German colonists in the years after the victory. Living space for Germans was to be dying space for others.
When the Soviet Union defended itself and no lightning victory could be won, Hitler and the German leadership adapted the three remaining plans to the new situation, killing about ten million people, which was fewer than originally planned. The Hunger Plan was abandoned in its original conception, and applied only to areas under total German control. Thus a million people were purposefully starved in besieged Leningrad and more than three million Soviet prisoners of war died of starvation and neglect. As the war continued, the Germans began to use prisoners as forced laborers, rather than allowing most of them to starve. The grand colonial scheme of Generalplan Ost could not be implemented without a total victory, which was not forthcoming. It was tried in areas of occupied Poland, where Poles were deported to create space for German racial colonies. Its essential concept was also visible in the German decision to destroy the city of Warsaw physically in response to the uprising of summer 1944. In the cases of both the Hunger Plan and Generalplan Ost, plans for mass killing had to be scaled back and delayed. The general goal of colonization was never abandoned.
The Final Solution, by contrast, was implemented as fully as possible. It was originally to take place after the war. As it became clear in the second half of 1941 that the war was not going according to plan, Hitler made clear that he wanted a Final Solution to be effected immediately. By then, four versions of a Final Solution by deportation had been proposed and found to be impracticable. The invasion of the Soviet Union, and its failure, demonstrated how the Jews could be removed from Europe: by mass murder. Einsatzgruppen originally tasked with eliminating political enemies were used to shoot Jews. Battalions of German Order Police originally tasked with patrolling the conquered Soviet Union were used in massive killing actions. By December 1941, when Hitler made clear that he expected all of the Jews under German control to be exterminated, a new technique of mass murder was available. Asphyxiation by carbon monoxide, used first in a “euthanasia” program, was adapted for use in gas vans in the occupied Soviet Union, and then in permanent gassing facilities in occupied Poland. To the labor camp at Auschwitz was added a death factory, where hydrogen cyanide rather than carbon monoxide was used as the agent of killing. The Jews of occupied Poland, already gathered into ghettos for deportation, were instead sent to Bełżec, Sobibór, Chełmno, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Majdanek, and gassed.

Nice work all round, chaps.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

If you are feeling a bit down in the dumps, may I recommend Leonard Cohen? He should finish you off. If by any chance you are still on your feet, try any one of the many requiems written for that very purpose.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Upshot: Applying Data Analysis to Jane Austen

For extra emphasis, Miss Austen may on occasion repeat a word, as in "very, very tremendous" and in "my very, very good friend Colonel Brandon". Miss Austen does not shy away from graphic description of violence if she thinks they will help her make a point: At another moment, Colonel Trump tells Miss Woodbine "I shill be going going to London to discuss American Carnage with Lloyd Blankfein , Steven Mnuchin and other members of the Washington Swamp.

On another tack completely: if American evangelists, born-again Christians etc. believed in the after-life as much as they profess to do, surely they would be at pains to adhere to something more closely resembling a Christian life, or at the very least try their hand at a bit of death-bed repentance?

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Fulham Road

"You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry, don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way."
This intriguing admonition is written on a blackboard outside a florist's at the nether end of Fulham Rd, a long way from its splendour at South Kensington and just before it's about to give up the ghost and fork right into Fulham Palace Rd or left into Fulham High St and Putney Rd.
The quotation is from Walter Hagen and I am prepared to bet that I am one of the few passers-by in this cosmopolitan part of London who actually know who Hagen is or was. And a fat lot of good it's done me. He was a professional American golfer, "active" as they say at about the same time as Bobby Jones.

Also to be seen in Fulham Rd is a man wending his way in the direction of Bishop's Palace or Fulham Broadway. As Gerry Rafferty once sang "He's got that look on his face". He's also got a parrot perched on each shoulder, or should that be "both shoulders"? Anyway, they are perched all right.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

A year almost to this day, I read a book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Of all the books I have read in recent times, and indeed over a longer stretch of time, I think this is the one that has impressed me the most, so much so that I thought it would be worth re-reading. Well, one year down the line and at the second time of asking, it's almost as though I have never read it. Along with a host of other books, it has been completely erased from what is still referred to in polite circles. How can a work of such brilliance leave so little trace? More to the point, what does medical science intend to do about it?

I have also read, or am in the process of reading, illuminating, harrowing or haunting books like Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow; Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning; Under A Cruel Star: Life in Prague 1941-1968; Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin; The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939; Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble; Paris After The Liberation: 1944-1949, together with a host of other books, including National Geographic Guidebooks to Turkey and India. Again, I really need not have bothered for all that I can remember of them.

I don't know what it is, but whereas in the past I could read countless accounts of atrocities  and horrors without completely losing my sense of perspective, I find that nowadays I am completely thrown off my stride. I never thought i would write these words but I think that, next time round, I would be a pacifist.

Friday, June 30, 2017

OK Computer by Radiohead

Generally considered one of the best albums of, that's right, all time

Track List
1. Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain
2. Sealed with a Kiss
3. In the Window (How Much is it?)
4. You what?
5. Tales from the Vienna Woods
6. Carry On Number One
7. Time for Old Time
8. Birth of the Cool
9. Get With it, Daddio
10. Glastonbury or Bust

Radiohead is a Not-for-Profit organization. All proceeds go to worthy causes such as Radiohead.

While we in  Britain were living in blissful or at least relative oblivion of the horrors taking place in occupied Europe in the thirties a...