Jan 092021
 

Two days ago, I wrote of the challenge facing the Democratic Party if Georgia granted it the two seats it so sorely needed in the Senate. Georgia did just that! Georgia’s blacks and Georgia’s young had mobilised and saved the day for the Democratic Party. What a tremendous debt that party now owes Georgia!

Later in the day, after I had written “Georgia on my mind”, checking the news again, I saw that something was snapping in Washington D.C. where thousands and thousands of Trump supporters had congregated, swarming, at Trump’s instigation.

Over the past years, Trump has been using Fox News, Twitter and other outlets to foment hatred and rabid attitudes, as well as weird ideas among certain emotionally and educationally vulnerable segments of the US population. I cannot tell you – because I do not understand – what Trump-loving evangelists have in common with laid-off rust belt workers and depressed opioid addicts. Apparently, Trump whispers falsehoods in all of their and many others’ ears, such as those of the disenfranchised so-called “working middle class”.

No wonder, then, that his thugs actually stormed and vandalised the seat of the USA’s national assembly, its congress, lovingly referred to by the population as Capitol. They did so to obstruct Trump’s opponents. (Trump, of course, will have his own reasons to dread leaving the White House.) Legislators were rushed off to safety by the police and none of them were harmed, as far as I know, except by an inrush of Covid-19, which may of course yet kill some of them.

There is no doubt that Trump is directly and fully responsible for the mob’s storming and vandalising of Capitol. Many of his supporters will, however, be saddened and shocked. BUT they may nevertheless continue to idealise their hero until they can find someone to replace him. I believe it’s important to realise that Trump is seen by many as some sort of Wat Tyler, or even as God’s special envoy. Indeed, many of the people who believe in him have much in common with 14th century British peasants.

Unlike Wat Tyler, however, Trump is anything but an oppressed labourer. He and others who will turn up in his wake – super rich and callous – will continue to discombobulate the emotionally and educationally vulnerable for their own ends.

President elect Joe Biden has since held a forceful speech about the “rule of law”. He chose his words well, and his majesterial speech offered disconcerted US Americans a chance to believe once again in the greatness of their country. But I fear that the expression “rule of law” means little to the country’s more poorly educated citizens. In a land that used to boast that anybody could become president, that used to pride itself on being meritocratic, there is much undeserved poverty and hopelessness, much fear, much understandable anger, much corruption, and much untreated physical pain.

Something snapped in Washington D.C. That snap was just a warning, but there may still be time to put things right.

Jan 062021
 

Dear friends

Never before have I prayed for the Democratic Party – to be honest, I never pray at all – but now I am praying passionately for the Democratic Party. Mind you, I don’t like or trust the Democratic Party anymore than I like or trust Jeff Besos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page. The Democratic Party has failed in every conceivable respect, but its voters include most of the USA’s great scientists, artists, computer experts (including hackers, and I have a penchant for hackers) and voting Blacks (though I deeply sympathise with non-voting Blacks).

Reading the News this morning, I almost choked. There is actually a glimmer of hope! If Georgia salvages the Senate for the Democratic Party, there will be no fucking excuse – none! – to fail, once again, the poor, the disenfranchised so-called “working middle class” and the Blacks. In fact, if the Democratic Party wins the Senate, their politicians will have their once-in-a-lifetime chance of showing Trump’s voters that they, not Trump, can and will improve conditions for life and work in, e.g. the Rust Belt.

At the risk of counting my chickens, if the Democratic Party wins but fails to do its duty by the 50 % of the USA’s population that owned (even before Trump!) less than 1 % of the country’s wealth and the 89 or so per cent that owned (before Trump!) only 10 % of it, there will be hell to pay not only for the Party and its long-suffering country (that is already paying a great deal), but for all of us. The rest of us will see the final disintegration of a country that claimed to be, but was so evidently far from, a bastion of “Democracy.”

I write this expecting some gruelling hours and probably even days of suspense for Georgia.

Let us all cross our fingers.

Dec 272020
 

Jeg hadde ventet 30 min. foran en enslig opptatt hurtiglader langt fra sjapper, kiosker og toaletter. Det snødde vått og kaldt, jeg var tissetrengt og det var ingenting å gjemme seg bak på den store sletta omgitt av småhus. Da jeg endelig slapp til laderen, var jeg så trengt og så kald at jeg ladet bare noen få minutter før jeg dro videre til neste ladested. Der var det, foruten spisested og bensinstasjon, 20 tesla-ladere, 3 hurtigladere for oss andre – alle opptatt og med 4 biler i kø – og 1 ladestolpe. Den var ledig. Jeg koplet bilen til stolpen og trasket av sted til spisestedet for å gå på do og varme meg.

Men spisestedet var stengt. Heldigvis var det også en Macdonalds et stykke unna, og der fikk jeg lettet det mest presserende av mine behov.

Da jeg kom tilbake til bilen 20 minutter senere, hadde den ikke tatt lading. Jeg prøvde en 10­–15 ganger å koble fra og koble til, men nei, bilen ville ikke ta lading. Så kom det en ung mann med lyseblå øyne og tilbød seg til å hjelpe. “Jobber du her?” spurte jeg overrasket. “Nei, jeg skal bare hjelpe.” Jeg frøs litt og var for oppgitt til å vurdere om det var grunn til å mistenke onde hensikter; dog ikke så oppgitt at jeg ikke registrerte et snev av utlendighet i språket hans. Kanskje polsk, tenkte jeg.

Han prøvde 10­–15 ganger å koble til og å koble fra kabelen på bilen min, og fikk samme resultat som jeg. Det snødde fortsatt, og jeg var igjen begynt å bli tissetrengt og aldri så lite realt bekymret. Jeg hadde helt klart ikke nok strøm til å komme meg hjem. Mannen prøvde da å sette i gang ladeprosessen (på MIN bil) fra SIN telefon. Da tok bilen lading. Vi hadde altså fått bekreftet at det ikke var noe galt hverken med stolpen eller bilen min.

Han avbrøt ladingen – som han ellers ville måtte betale – og prøvde igjen med min ladebrikke. Niks. Så startet han uten videre nok en gang ladingen fra sin telefon, ba meg ringe seg når jeg hadde nok strøm, lovet å sende meg beskjed om hva det kostet slik at jeg kunne Vipse ham beløpet, og forsvant. Forvirret satte jeg meg inn i min kalde bil, som nå pent og pyntelig la på seg kilometer etter kilometer, og ventet til jeg hadde fått nok strøm.

Da ringte jeg ham slik at han kunne avbryte ladingen, og minnet ham om å sende SMS om hva jeg skyldte ham. Etter en stund kom det melding fra ham: “Det var så lite… se på det som en liten julegave. Hilsen Krystian”.

Takk Krystian!

Dec 012020
 

In a phone conversation with a talkative friend the other day, my counterpart’s initial volubility subsided, so that in the end, I was the only one still talking. Afterwards, wondering why his cheeriness had morphed into discouragement, I reached the conclusion that it was my fault.

Over the decades, I have been considered a lefty, and he has been the slightly patronising advocate of what he believes is “the middle ground”. Had I asked him, or for that matter almost anybody else, what is “the middle ground”, he would have given the glib reply “neither right nor left” and I might insolently have retorted, “neither right nor wrong?”

Yes, over the decades, he has patiently countered my impatient allegations about systemic racism, perpetuated social inequality, injustice etc., etc. with kindly smiles, and “sensible” arguments. More often than not, I for my part tended to have forgotten the statistical details informing my views and chaffed at the bit of my own ignorance, unable to prove my point.

The other day, though, the tables had turned. I didn’t remember the details about the tipping point, but I did have a pretty clear understanding of the concept “exponential”.

Likewise, I didn’t remember the details of Piketty’s statistics about rising wealth and income inequality, but since I follow international news pretty closely, the word “exponential” lurked at the corners of my mouth.

As another acquaintance predicted a few days ago: “Before long, we won’t be picking them up out of the Mediterranean, we’ll be shooting them.” He was referring to the not so distant future when most of the African continent will be uninhabitable and when Europe … no, I won’t go into that just now.

I won’t, because that was what I did during the said phone conversation with my friend the other day. I did not have Piketty’s figures at hand, but I certainly was able to outline approximately where Europe is heading, and it’s not somewhere nice. That is unless…. But before I could finish my lecture, my friend had wilted like a plane falling out of the sky. I had halted the trajectory of an optimistic man full of confidence in himself, his country and the future of humankind. I had brought him down. Now that was certainly not my intention.

Mind you, he knew that what I had said about the future of Europe, “unless…”, was correct. So why was he not willing to discuss the terms of the “unless” clause?

As for the tipping point, no reasonably sane, informed person can possibly doubt its reality, yet we just sit around doing exactly what we have been doing since we were born, with regard to the tipping point, that is: NOTHING.

Well, strictly speaking, that is not correct. Somebody is doing something, but that somebody is not me. It probably isn’t you either. I am very very sorry to say that it is not a government in any country, nor any powerful multinational company or mainstream media outlet. Extinction Rebellion is courageous, passionate and truly called for, but – alas – not my style; I’m no better than the rest of us law-abiding, spineless citizens, the gutless “we” I keep referring to.

We have been tranquillised and rendered non-combatant by a lullaby of promises about “climate neutrality by 2050”. Read that again: 2050. Thirty years hence, the planet will be unrecognisable.

Why? Why do we allow doctors to medicate us with tranquillisers and false hopes?

My theory is that we are sincerely frightened. And now that we are social distancing or in quarantine, we’re also not happy. If your day has been miserable, what do you do? Well, I don’t know about you, but most of us put on a brave face and tell ourselves and each other that tomorrow will be better. Yes, tomorrow must always be better, otherwise, we would not endure being alive. If baseless optimism hadn’t been part of our genetic makeup from the start, our species would not have survived locust swarms, bubonic plagues, famines, Hiroshima, the Holocaust, Apartheid, etc., and even Trump.

I put to you that optimism is not a crime. Stupidity, however, is. I assume that mankind will survive the next thirty years, in some form or another. I hope that having learnt from the mistakes we are making now, future civilisations’ penal codes will deem stupidity on the part of “whomsoever has been endowed with normal intelligence and adequate social/economic conditions” a criminal offence.

Today is 1 December. According to the calendar, winter has come to the Northern hemisphere. But according to the trees, spring has come and the buds are opening. Maybe by Christmas the lilacs will bloom and the birds will be singing. Maybe in January, we can go swimming in the sea again. That would be so nice.

Nov 092020
 

My friends both in the USA and in my own country are ecstatically congratulating one another on the Biden/Harris victory, and I too am relieved to see the imminent end of Trump’s barbarian one-man show. But this may not be the end of his methods, and I think it is important not to be carried away by triumphalism.

The difference was, after all, only four million votes. True, we are rid of Trumpism for four years, but many poor and/or non-white prospective Democratic voters told interviewers that they intended to vote only to get rid of Trump, not because they thought Biden would “make a difference” for them. Will they come out again in four years?

Who voted for Trump and why? I agree with those who maintain that the media played a big part. But Trump, too, blamed the media. In fact, far from all the media was pro-Trump. So I must ask: What is the main difference between people who believe a headline like “chlorine kills Covid”, or who subscribe to the Pizzagate conspiracy, and those who don’t? I maintain that by substantially improving educational opportunities for all young citizens, we would substantially reduce vulnerability to false news in the course of only three or four years.

Evangelical Trump followers were loyal regardless of the press, and there were very many of them, even though they knew what sort of person he was. They believed God was using him because he had promised to continue helping Israel engulf Palestine. I’m not privy to their beliefs, but as I understand it, they are convinced that all of this will hasten the return of the Messiah. Not much you can do about that, I guess.

I have the impression that the past decades (since the 70s) have seen a downhill slide for a large part of the US population as is described, for instance, in the Guardian: Who will speak for…

The so-called “divided America” is not just about Trump. It is to a large extent about despair, humiliation and loss of dignity. It is also about anger.

Trump is angry, too. He claims to hate the elite. To many voters it seemed that because of his ostentatious and iconoclastic alleged anti-elitism, Trump was being humiliated, ridiculed and harassed by mainstream press, just like them. He told them he was on their side, and they hoped he would get rid of some of the multinational corporations that had gobbled up their livelihoods.

I believe that what Trump really hates is science, education, etc.,and anything that stands in his way. Getting rid of him does not, however, mean you get rid of his voters who want something neither Trump nor Biden can or will give them: decently paid work, education and proper health care.

From Thomas Piketty’s book (see the Harvard Gazette article How political ideas keep economic inequality going) we learn that inequality in all of the western world has been rising steadily ever since the seventies, and is now back at where it was before WWI. This trend is not due to Trump, is not limited to the USA, and is not going to stop by itself.

Meanwhile, to quote the above Guardian article, “It is one thing to be spinning your wheels stuck in the mud, but it is even more demeaning to watch as others zoom by on well-paved roads, none offering help.”

Take a look the below graph from the Fed.

Oct 302020
 

There is absolutely nothing I can do about the shoot-out between Trump and Biden, other than to commiserate with US citizens in both camps who have had to watch their American dream go down the drain.

Had I been a US citizen, I would have voted, sure, but as I am not, I do not intend to sit up all night, every night of this last week, waiting for the election results, so please have me excused. Nor do I intend to incur headaches, hypertension, muscular pains, insomnia, or psychosis by following the news byte by byte. It is nearly all about Trump and Covid, even in my country. You could almost envy the people in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, who have issues that take their mind off Covid-Trump.

However, there are actually enjoyable pieces of news out there, would you believe it? True, my country’s national broadcasting company did not see fit to inform us about the outcome of the 25 October plebiscite in Chile, but we still have internet. (By the way, did you know that in Kashmir they don’t, thanks to “Democratic” India’s rabid PM Narendra Modi’s having slapped a one-year-long internet blackout on Kashmir.) So I watched a Chilean TV channel for – yes, for a whole night.

General Pinochet, whose US-assisted dictatorship had engaged in a particularly sadistic effort to exterminate the regime’s political opponents, stepped down in 1990 following a plebiscite he had allowed, believing that it would grant his dictatorship legitimacy. To everybody’s surprise, it didn’t. See the film No! directed by Pablo Larrain (trailer).

However, Chile was not rid of Pinochet. He left his mark in a Constitution (adopted back in 1980, when people were too terrified to oppose it), a constitution that seemed a hymn to Milton Friedman’s market fundamentalism.

Subsequent legislative efforts to protect the population from the effects of that constitution have been a seemingly hopeless uphill battle.

Milton Friedman often proudly referred to “the miracle of Chile”. Moreover, the father of Neoliberalism (albeit Neoliberal economists indignantly declare there is no such thing as Neoliberalism) Friedrich Hayek, visited Pinochet. If you are an economist, and if you still adhere to the “classical” economic precepts of Hayek, I suggest you take a look at Wikiquotes and search “Chile”.

Chile’s economy has been a model of stability, the darling of the IMF, with steady and uninterrupted growth in terms of GNP. But let me declare loudly, let me stand on a chair, let me shout, let me scream, as the Chilean protesters have been screaming: GNP does not reflect the welfare of the vast majority of a country’s inhabitants.

True, the number of people defined as living in extreme poverty has declined markedly from year to year. However, how do you define poverty? I put to you, that the majority of Chile’s population is living in what I consider poverty. I am sure you would agree if you were put to the test.

I quote from the think tank www.americas.org:

Fifty percent of the economically active population earns less than 550 dollars per month, with the minimum wage equivalent to 414 dollars. Overwhelmed by the narrow strip that separates it from poverty, an important part of the population lives in fear of seeing their income fall. In Chile, downward social mobility is greater than upward social mobility, and downward mobility is more highly correlated to political protest than poverty itself.

The biggest factor that exacerbates inequality is probably the nation’s pension system, in force since 1982. Designed during the military government, the pension mechanism has not met Chileans’ expectations. According to the group No + AFP (No More Pension Fund Managers), which in 2016 organized a march of 600,000 people, these are “undercover banks of the richest entrepreneurs in our country who use the pension funds to expand their investments and further concentrate capital in a few hands”. The average pension for retirees is $286 per month, and 80% receive pensions below the minimum wage. The amount of pensions is on average close to 40% of people’s income at the time of retirement.

Education is the second major source of inequality. In 2006 and 2011, students organized massive demonstrations calling for profound reforms in the education system. Chilean education is characterized by the huge gap between public and private education. The withdrawal of the State from its functions as generator, regulator and supervisor of the education sector led to the gap as part of neoliberal reforms beginning in the 1980s.

The above quote is far too polite, in my mind. (The NY Times does a better job of it.) Then again, I suspect that working and living conditions for more than half the population in the USA is not very much better than for the majority of the population in Chile.

Now back to the night when the votes were being counted. The below link will take you to the infamous Stadium in Santiago during the last minutes before voting ends. Then you will see how counting starts at various polling stations, how amazed silence follows the first signs of what seems to be happening,

If you go on watching, you will see that dazed spectators surrounding the polling stations (las mesas) start to understand that they may actually have won. Eventually, they will find themselves in the streets, deliriously celebrating, and although there is a curfew, neither the police nor the army intervenes.

What emerges when all the votes have been counted is that only 5 of the 346 electoral districts were opposed to the trashing of Pinochet’s constitution. Two of them are so small they are statistically insignificant. Three of them, however, constitute the part of Santiago that houses the top of the social pyramid, the epicentre of political and economic power: Vitacura, las Condes and Lo Barnochea. In an interesting article, BBC explains that Santiago consists of two distinct universes. What is clear is that from the top of a pyramid, you don’t see the ants swarming down below.

President Piñera deserves praise for at least not having declared a civil war on the night when it became clear that 78.2 % of the population of Chile, had declared the country’s constitution worthless.

Look to Chile, my friends. Change is indeed possible.

Sep 202020
 

No, I’m not done yet. And the extradition hearing isn’t over. Its outcome is crucial not only for Assange, but for us all.

For many people, the Trump period has been a watershed, a scales-falling-from-the-eyes event. For others, the turning point came much earlier, with Wikileaks, which is why the US authorities hate Assange so vehemently. Moreover, many honest US American citizens have clung at length to the hope that the Iraq war and Bush had merely been aberrations, so defence of Julian Asange has therefore not been deafening in the USA, a country where brave men and women are willing to risk their lives in the great “Black Lives Matter” battle, and where many firefighters are loosing their lives in the fight against climate devastation. There is no lack of bravery in the USA, just a lack of information. Julian Assange attempted to provide some of the missing information. He was not thanked.

Daniel Ellsberg‘s Pentagon Papers in 1971 were also a scales-falling-from-the-eyes event from which we have unfortunately not learned enough. I recommend listening to Daniel Ellsberg’s explaining why he is a witness for the defence of Julian Assange. What he says applies specifically to the prosecution’s hypocritical charges that Assange put people’s lives at risk with Cablegate.

European authorities, fearing US backlashes, appear to be discouraging the media from highlighting the ignoble (i.e. illegal ) conditions of Julian Asange’s lengthy captivity and the parody of the legal proceedings against him. In any civilised court, illegally obtained evidence would not be acccepted. Not so, in this case, it seems; see example of illegal surveillance of Julian Assange.

I have just discovered, that there is a small newspaper in my own small country, that has been granted access to the preposterous extradition hearing and is diligently covering it. I expect it has been granted access because it is not widely read.

Saturday’s issue includes an article about a US torture victim who had just witnessed for Assange. If I have understood correctly – after all, I wasn’t there – the US tried and eventually succeeded in blocking the witness’s appearance. In the end, however, his written statement was read to the court. The witness stated that diplomatic notes among Wikileaks’s “Cablegate” were instrumental as evidence in his own legal battle for justice (in Europe, that is, not in the USA).

Since I’m sure you may be as ignorant as I was about the legal battle in question, I would like to direct your attention to the Wikipedia article that covers it. However, since there is a risk that the article will be tampered with in the wake of the Assange hearing, I think I had better just paste a quote from Wikipedia as at 20/09/2020 (without the reference numbers).

Khaled El-Masri … ,[born] 1963, is a German and Lebanese citizen who was mistakenly abducted by the Macedonian police in 2003, and handed over to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). While in CIA custody, he was flown to Afghanistan, where he was held at a black site and routinely interrogated, beaten, strip-searched, sodomized, and subjected to other cruel forms of inhumane and degrading treatment and torture. After El-Masri held hunger strikes, and was detained for four months in the “Salt Pit”, the CIA finally admitted his arrest and torture were a mistake and released him. He is believed to be among an estimated 3,000 detainees whom the CIA abducted from 2001–2005.

In May 2004, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Daniel R. Coats, convinced the German interior minister, Otto Schily, not to press charges or to reveal the program. El-Masri filed suit against the CIA for his arrest, extraordinary rendition and torture. In 2006, his suit El Masri v. Tenet, in which he was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was dismissed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, based on the U.S. government’s claiming the state secrets privilege. The ACLU said the Bush administration attempted to shield its abuses by invoking this privilege. The case was also dismissed by the Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit, and in December 2007, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

On 13 December 2012, El-Masri won an Article 34 case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The court determined he had been tortured while held by CIA agents and ruled that Macedonia was responsible for abusing him while in the country, and knowingly transferring him to the CIA when torture was a possibility. It awarded him compensation. This marked the first time that CIA activities against detainees was legally declared as torture. The European Court condemned nations for collaborating with the United States in these secret programs.

The Julian Assange case (not to mention the El Masri case before him) is critical for all Europeans, not to mention US nationals. It is a demonstration of the bullying our governments submit to from the USA. Our European governments are accessories to US government-sponsored outrageous acts of every conceivable flavour. The extradition case is also an example of how due process is being eroded in the UK.

Sep 182020
 

In country after country, critical press coverage is becoming risky. Very risky. It has always been risky in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, China… If Julian Assange, an Australian national living in Europe, is extradited to the US, freedom of the press will have become a figment of the imagination also in Western Europe and the USA. I use the cliché to indicate that many of us will not even know that we no longer enjoy freedom of the press, if indeed we ever really did.

In my country, the national broadcasting company now basically tells us what our government wants it to, which is mostly just to observe social distancing, to distrust the Russians and hate the Chinese, and to have fun.

Still, as far as I know, progressive or environmentalist media outlets are not being hobbled here. Not yet. But they don’t have the economic clout to send reporters all over the world to pick up and analyse news outside our borders, to challenge mainstream press and to expose financial and political overlords.

There is one news outlet that has the necessary clout and dedication to do just that: Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is no more progressive or environmentalist than your Aunt Julia, but it has a freer rein than most other news outlets and its reporters are extremely competent.

Obviously, a much respected and fearless outlet will have many enemies. I would like to direct your attention to a post on this site written back in June 2017: The Rat is out of the Hole. (A related post, also written in June 2017, discusses the disconcerting relationship between the Trump administration and the Arabian peninsula. ) You will particularly notice the UAE statement (as quoted by the Guardian):

We do not claim to have press freedom. We do not promote the idea of press freedom. What we talk about is responsibility in speech.

Beautiful, that, no? If all autocrats could be as frank, we’d be spared a lot of claptrap.

Now the UAE has finally succeeded in partially hobbling Al Jazeera. From CNN’s rendition of the matter, you will see that US authorities are not very fond of Al Jazeera, which according to a letter from the Justice Department obtained by CNN aims “to influence audience attitudes with its reporting” with, CNN adds, “policies such as calling the Israeli Defense Forces the Israeli army instead of the IDF and not using the words terrorist or terrorism.”)

Meanwhile my own country’s national broadcasting company has not yet mentioned the bridle put on Al Jazeera. Nor does it appear to care much about the outcome of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London.

However, I find in El Pais a letter to that paper’s readers dated 3 March 2020 from no lesser a personage than the famous judge Baltasar Garzón, who humbled Dictator Pinochet and who directed the world’s attention to the shameful post-dictatorial silence (about mass graves, stolen babies etc.) in Spain. The title of the letter: Assange, la prensa en peligro. If you understand Spanish, read it! If you don’t understand Spanish, learn the language.

Sep 062020
 

My dog’s health is declining. I won’t go into detail, but the latest development is that she has started to limp, on alternating paws. One of these days, I shall have to take her to the vet’s for the final solution. She has had 12 good years and will have a painless death. I will be heartbroken.

Not everybody dies painlessly. People in concentration camps, for instance… In Finland there was a terrible civil war in 1918. All I knew about it, until I read Kjell Westö’s novel The Wednesday Club, was that the “Whites” beat the “Reds” and saved the country (for the Germans, except that the Germans lost everything after WWI). Frankly, my ignorance was more due to lack of interest than to anything else. I mean, who cares about Finland? (Until I read the Wednesday Club, that is.)

But before I continue about the Wednesday Club, I would like to draw your attention once again to Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Don’t read about the book, just go get it. I mean, what are pandemics for if not for enlightenment?

In Finland, after the 1918 civil war, there appear to have been concentration camps in which thousands of people died, not from wounds but from maltreatment.

Kjell Westö’s novel is not about the concentration camps as such, but about how the winners of the war told their story. He describes the crippling shame felt, still in 1938, by women who had been raped in concentration camps in 1919. The author seems to be suggesting that since, in 1938, Finnish society had not yet started to understand what crimes had been committed by the winners in 1918, they were already busy excusing Nazi crimes, endorsing fascism and overlooking the ghastly moral consequences of easy fixes. I find the narrative very compelling, because I recognise it. I recognise the pattern.

My personal history links me to South America and to Palestine, where so much injustice has been inflicted and endured that I am almost in favour of endorsing euthanasia for entire populations to spare the victims more misery. After all, to quote Jane Fonda, “they shoot horses, don’t they?”

Your personal history might link you to Algeria or Egypt; or Iran; or India. At the moment, everything seems to indicate that in Russia, murdering Putin’s political opponents is just a cup of tea. Navalnyj, whatever else he might be, is nothing if not astoundingly brave, a hero and a martyr. In the West, we also have martyrs, Julian Assange, for instance.

But what about the rest of us? How did our governments react to Operation Condor and the vicious and systematic slaughter of anyone vaguely “leftist” in most of Latin America (not least in Central America). How did we react here, for that matter, to the emergence of Nazi Germany in the 1930-s and the pogroms and subsequent extermination of Jews? How did our governments react to the Vietnam war? In retrospect, have Bush Jr. or Tony Blair or José Aznar expressed any shame about the war on Iraq and its aftermath? On the contrary, it would seem that the US and the UK are hell-bent on preventing crimes committed by the state from being exposed, cf. the Julian Assange case, which in reality is about defence of a free press. I quote the N.Y. Times:

From the start, the charges against Mr. Assange have raised profound First Amendment issues because his actions are difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from those of traditional news organizations. It would be unprecedented in American law for such activity to result in criminal convictions, so press freedom advocates have denounced the charges against him and have been watching the case closely.

The winner is always the one to tell the story. But even after a winner has had to leave the scene, he or she will rarely express shame. Shame is felt primarily by a perpretrator’s victims, who have often had to do things they, the victims, feel are indefensible.

The Latin American dictators and their henchmen (and their far from innocent wives) have shown no regret, no shame when questioned by the press or by judges. Not a jot of it. On the other hand, those who survived torture and many years’ imprisonment …, well, you can imagine.

On this cheerful note, I can recommend a whole stack of very good novels. Tonight I particularly wish to direct your attention to José Saramago. Any of his novels will probably astound you. I love his elegant irony and humour, as well as his penetrating insight. I believe the man must have been extraordinarily intelligent. His most important work may have been Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira). I would also recommend, for the sake of the reader’s sanity, the somewhat more cheerful follow-up Seeing (Ensaio sobre a Lucidez). If you cannot read them in Portuguese, read them in Spanish, if you can, because most of them were beautifully translated by his Spanish wife.