Saturday, 2 September 2017

Stratton coincidence

Events which appear loosely connected are usually not.

A week ago, my attention was drawn to an appeal by Sussex police for residents in the Eastbourne to Birling Gap area on the coast to keep their windows and doors closed because of the impact of a chemical haze which had come inland from the sea. The BBC also carried a report which said that the number of people affected and requiring attention had risen from 50 to 150. Kent live reported that 200 people had been decontaminated at hospital.

There was a news report in the Telegraph which stated that scientists believed the cloud had been created from shipping and not the continent. The Guardian presented the views of several experts. One suggested it could have been a discharge from a water treatment works but this was immediately dismissed by Southern Water.

One expert pointed to the similarity with chlorine gas and Sky online included a notice to the door of a McDonalds saying the store had closed because of a discharge of chlorine gas. Another reported said this was not chlorine gas.  While police investigations were reported to be continuing there appears to have been no further report explaining what had happened. Fortunately, the cloud had dispersed sufficiently in time not to affect the expected numbers coming to the coast on the Bank holiday and the stay home request was lifted.

My first reaction at the time was that this was a terrorist attack from a craft off the coast.

Yesterday, I went to the new Cineworld  Cinema at the Gate restaurant, and entertainment centre in the heart of the City of Newcastle to see the second performance of the new British film directed by Simon West called Stratton and based on the novel series by former special boat services officer Duncan Falconer who since his service with the British Security Services has become a specialist for a  British based international enterprise  and which includes outsourced work for government intelligence and defence departments. The extraordinary aspect of my attendance at on an evening opening performance at the start of the weekend is that I was the only person in the theatre.

I was not aware from what I had read beforehand that the plot involves a terrorist creating four drones to disperse clouds of a lethal gas in an attack on a major city. I am tempted to explain in more detail but given the negative review by Mark Kermode, in the podcast checked this morning will say no more. In fairness it is an old fashioned British action film divorced from the sophisticated CGI technology we have now come to expect with Derek Jacobi playing an old sea dog anchor  father figure for the hero. The Danish actress Connie Nielson plays the MI6 chief in a stilted and slow English way which I interpreted as the attempt by the director to create the illusion of a real-life documentary but which only added to the lists of negatives which make Kermode’s criticism valid. However, I looked beyond the film as a film or coherent and plausible story into the potential reality that Terrorists would attempt this kind and level of atrocity if they have not already thought of it. It is however the kind of attack which the authorities will have anticipated, monitored and planned to defend against. In the film, it is said that the only way to prevent the airborne generated number of fatalities is to incinerate the device before it can be used but I wonder if this can be so and that while it should eliminate most of the toxicity is not possible to prevent some damage using such a method.

It is noteworthy that coinciding with the Bank holiday weekend the public were reminded to be vigilant and a senior counter terrorism specialist said there appeared to have been  shift to using social media to incite existing UK based fanatics to commit atrocities in part because of the extent  to which  those returning from fighting in Syria and Afghanistan are being monitored The implication is that local fanatics were being shown how to make simple but lethal explosive devices or to use simpler weapons such as knives. I am taking the warning seriously, paying close attention to what is happening around me when I am out and about.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017


I am disappointed that Lion is not one of the best film nominations for a Bafta but has been included in the list for an Oscar. Dev Patel should get the award for best supporting Actor and Nicole Kidman as his adopting mother gives her best screen performance meriting the award for best supporting actress. The film is not about lions, and forget the tile which is explained at the end of the film. The film credit opens with a warning of intense emotional scenes which is an understatement as I have never openly and unashamedly cried more, and was not alone, and in a packed early evening cinema there were audible cries of joy and sadness as the film ended.

Over the past year, I have attend two of the nominated films during performances with a few others but the level of early evening midweek audience at the Cineworld Bolden suggests to me there is word of mouth that this is an impotent film to experience because it is based on a remarkable true story and is retold in such a powerful way. I shall be very angry if La La Land with its evident studio hype gets more awards on either night.

As a child, I was taken on a family trip to Brighton and was left on my own in the railway station while the accompanying female adults went the loo. I had no sense of time, was on my own in a strange place and burst into tears attracting the attention of passers-by who comforted me until a family adult reappeared.  Those who have seen the trailer, read a review, or the book, know the film is about a child in India who became lost at a railway station, is adopted by a family in Tasmania, Australia and as an adult is driven by the need to search for his birth mother, his brother and his sister.

I also remember the terror I felt when being taken to a hospital to have my tonsils and adenoids removed and when aged eleven being taken with a small case to a children’s home, in the first instance persuading an adult to bring be back home before admission, and on the second when she visited the following day or soon after and where I spent several years in later life trying to find the children’s home without success.

There is also one moment from that great film Dr Zhivago when Rita Tushingham, the young adult Tanya Komarova explains to her uncle, Yevgraf Zhivago played by Alec Guiness, how she became lost, “he let go my hand.”

It is said some 80000 children become lost in India at any one time, live on the streets or find themselves in forms of residential care where in both situations they are at risk of exploitation and abuse trafficking. No one has yet estimated the number of children lost and alive, as well as lost at sea who are presently alone, trafficked abused as families attempt to escape the atrocities committed in the battle of powers to profit from the rebuilding and natural assets of Syria, Iraq and Libya.

 What the film, Lion achieves, is to communicate the terror of such situations and the long-term impact, even for those who experience loving and thoughtful childhoods.  There is a level of depth in the emotional and mental experiences portrayed in this film which is equalled in this extraordinary year by the performances such as by Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, Emily Blunt Girl on a Train, and I am as led to believe but to see, Natalie Portman in Jackie.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Snowden- a film about the cyber war traitor

This writing about the film Snowden will surprise because if its intention is make the audience feel that Edward Snowden is a hero for what he did, then in my case it failed. According to the information available to me as a member of the public, Edward Snowden, deliberately, and of sound mind, committed treachery of the highest level and unlike the fictional film Allied, which I cover separately and as  part of  the more general  article, I am not convinced by his alleged motivation given that because of his training and subsequent work he must have known of the threat to his country from digital warfare and intelligence on behalf of China, Russia, and independent international bodies developing the abilities to the same levels of operation. His decision to seek sanctuary by travelling via Russia was at best, odd, in the circumstances. His residency permit expires in 2017 and President Trump may well express his view to his new chum at the Kremlin. As the Mafia are alleged to say, nothing personal, it is just business.

The extraordinary aspect of Snowden’s former role in devising ways to access the digital records and communications of anyone anywhere anytime is that within the past days it is this ability which enabled the Russians to hack the digital records of one of the candidates for the USA Presidency and said to have assisted in the unanticipated victory of Donald Trump given his self-destructive campaign. The work which Snowden is understood to have been personally responsible also explains how it was possible for several hundred thousand records to be quickly processed to clear the Democratic candidate of prosecutable wrong doing.

The world of fictional book, fictional theatre film, documentary, spying, surveillance, disinformation is blurred and it is impossible for anyone on the outside, or on the inside  who does not have the clearance levels required to be able to separate truth from propaganda,  from the role of the identified intelligence officer from  those undercover, often appearing to be key figures in organisations and groups under surveillance,  sometimes volunteer informants, sometimes blackmailed, and where every nation uses its diplomatic service, travelling business, financial and journalist people to spy on everyone else including its closest allies for to do otherwise goes against the first duty of government.

I will first explain my position on the issue of defence, policing and Intelligence which together provides the security which should be the basis for the contract between government and the governed in a democracy. It should be the first duty of government, and it does not matter what form of government, to protect the governed. This is the justification for an armed force to prevent invasion, for a police force to prevent crimes against the person within the state, and for the establishment of intelligence to provide advance knowledge of an assault against the state or of an assault against the individual governed. Intelligence also provides government with assessments of the need for the force required to protect the state and to protect individuals within the state.

The aspect of this which will surprise and indeed shock some is that given this duty I believe it is right that government use whatever means necessary in the prevailing circumstance and to keep what it does in this respect secret, providing lifetime protection for its agents in undertaking what is considered required.

Mistakes will be made by those authorised, and when established that the mistakes are genuine, cover up and protection is justified This should not be interpreted as a blank cheque and states will devise their own systems for self-governance and in a democracy, whatever its form it is the people through the Rule of Law, Parliament and the media that should Guard the Guardians.

Clearly if there is a prevailing law which prevents some action considered necessary by the state then the use of an arm’s length agency or a sympathetic other nation is an appropriate option especially if there is no time to change law or it could prove difficult to change the law without giving away to a perceived enemy what is proposed.

I will be writing separately at greater length about the issues which this position raises, including the subject of cover up. However, less what I say be considered fanciful or worse disclosure of information endangering the good workings of the state, I will at the end of this writing summarise the published authorized history of MI5- The Defence of the Realm by Christopher Andrew, an academic historian who specialised in International Relations and Intelligence and whose four works on the KGB have a worldwide reputation. The study which covers the creation of the joint service with what is now known as MI6 in 1909 ends in the 1980’s when the cyber warfare and  intelligence changed the way countries engaged with each other, and when significantly in 1984 (Orwell)  I first grasped the nature of the changes  together with the plans for global business and finance , attending  one of the  leading International management courses in the world for Directors contemplating or being considered for the role of Chief Executives.

In some ways I am similar to Snowden, but no genius, alas, and without any technical skills, who appears to have experienced the same level of realization which I then had although it was only when on my own, swimming naked in the  private pool of a hired villa in the South of France several years later, enjoying glasses of cold wine with chunks of French bread, salami and olives, looking across the vast plain below the hillside  and I came to know my way ahead. This is something which I wonder if Snowden ever experienced or did he just act and run without any notion of how he would spend the rest of his life, perhaps like George Blake spending the rest of his life in Russia, a traitor in the eyes of his country and most of its population.

I do not have regrets about the decisions taken in 1984 and again in 1991 although when I stood on my own at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar in 2004 I saw what my life could have been had my father been almost anyone other than who he was and became. I experienced a great sadness which has been there since, but has influenced but not negatively, what I have considered necessary since.

Traditionally the way to collate intelligence was through the operation of undercover spies and informants but from about the mid 1980’s the ability to use digital became evident and this opened the door on mass global surveillance and once everything, everywhere as well as everyone  commenced  to become digital the ability to use aggressively as well as defensively became evident and in 2003 I commenced an art work project with one aspect that everything we did and said  could be heard, viewed, recorded and revised by anyone, anywhere, anytime with the technology.

My assumption then was that this would be restricted to identified targets and only later to appreciate that improved data collation and analysis techniques would enable comprehensive material acquisition and processing. Those aware of the approach I took early in 2014 to calls for a nation inquiry into past child abuse have a copy of my letter to government in which I pressed for the collating and securing of all documentation not already digitalized. In this respect, I was only saying what government had said to me in 1991 in relation to the one matter about which I became   known in some circles of interest.  It was also the basis on which truths about the Hillsborough were uncovered following the intervention from Andy Burnham, then a government Minister and the prospective Mayor for the Manchester region.

Because of my experiences during the period of full time activism 1959-1961 and several subsequent situations and incidents I believed I had a good understanding of how MI5 worked, alongside special branch and the intelligence units of the armed services, and following my attendance at the International Senior Management Course in 1984, I understood the intelligence operations of global business and finance. However, it was not until 2009 and the publication of the authorised History of MI5, The Defence of the Realm that there was confirmation of what I had assumed, the placement of undercover operatives in any organisation considered a threat, including a potential threat to the state and where one of the key targets was always access to Membership and supporter lists. There is symmetry about the state using entryism to keep under surveillance the enterists.  In the book, there are some surprisingly detailed accounts of who was targeted and in broad terms why, including the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt then of the National Council for Civil Liberties and Neil Kinnock’s role in combatting the Militant Tendency. I must remind Tom Watson of this.

I only recently acquired the reprint of Hammer of the Left by John Golding with an important update of Neil Kinnock’s original forward written before the attempted coup against Jeremy by the Parliamentary Party in which it is  evident,  his experience then, governed his belief that history was repeating but in my judgement this lacked appreciation  of  the fundamentally different circumstances and how the USA, China and Russia have been exploiting the digital explosion as a means for aggressive intelligence as well as defensive or that the rise of the left is essential if the new power of the right built up by stealth slowly since the mid 1980’s are to be countered. While my heart is with LoveLikeJo (Cox) my head is firmly with the state although the role of Parliament, organisation and individuals to ensure that the means remains committed to agreed values and standards is also essential, if the individuals or individual in association with other recognises the right of the state to act if the intention is to break or go outside the law, whatever the motivation or justification. I support in principal the proposed Loyalty oath for all public office holders announced by David Javid although I believe the way he would describe British values and standards is likely to be different from mine (Time’s article 18th December 2016).

In contrast to the fictional Allied and Ipcress File (also separately reviewed and part of the main article), Snowden is about a traitor who betrayed his country and his colleagues, breaking his oath of allegiance and playing international politics, attempting to evade justice by taking a transit flight to Moscow.  A harsh judgemental but I believe the available information justifies.

Snowdon was born into a family of patriotic Americans who became employees of the state. His father served as a rear admiral in the Coast guard before moving to the CIA and was at the Pentagon at 9/11. His mother and older sister are lawyers holding important positions.  His I Q is said to be at genius level but his education was interrupted at senior school, not taking a basic degree. He claims to have worked online for a master degree from the University of Liverpool concerned with computer studies but the University says that although he registered he was not active and did not complete the work. He is supposed to have attended computer training classes at the John Hopkins University but there is no record of this. He did attend a summer session at the University of Maryland.

He is said to have become proficient in understanding Chinese and Japanese and took up martial arts and went against the American grain by stating Buddhism as his religion because there was no provision for saying agnostic on the military recruitment form.  I came across this rigidity in prison so put down Quaker which enabled peaceful breaks with others similarly registered.

He was accepted for basic Special Forces Training and in the film, was given an administrative discharge after breaking both his legs caused by stress fractures.  He had wanted to serve in Iraq.

It is accurate that he joined the CIA where he demonstrated talent in computer technology and was singled out to attend the top-secret training programme which lasted for six months and the film suggests he was the brightest of the students completing an early test in an extraordinary quick time by approaching the task outside the box.  The way he did the test, just as Harry Palmer tracked down the target in the Ipcress File and the hero of Allied risks his life to protect his wife when revealed to be a German wartime agent, is indicative  of the assessment as a Creative, that is, people with the ability to create originality and this assessment is confirmed when it is said he was responsible for ensuring that everything was backed up in such a way so that if an external assault was made to the system it did not go down.

The film also discloses his role in establishing the ability to shut down the systems in other countries alleging this was achieved unintentionally in relation to Syria and that it took time to rectify. The ability to suddenly close digital systems in an emergency has profound implications for things that move at speed on land and in air as well as those dependent on electronic devices such as in hospitals. It is also my understanding that because of the implications of complete switching off with the internet and mobile phones being the main targets, the focus has been on the ability to target shut down and in the recent TV second series of Our Girl, the ability of a terrorist to trigger a bomb via his mobile phone was stopped remotely.

The recent film Eye in the Sky focuses on the controllable Drone combining the pilotless delivery of a lethal weapon with the on the ground control of a camera disguises as an insect capable of entering through a window to check who is inside a building before it is demolished, one of over 40 of films featuring the remotely controlled devices since 2010 and with only half a dozen before although interestingly the earliest is Back to the Future II in 1989.

The film covers something of the assessment required for someone to gain the highest level of state security and this includes a polygraph test with the questions designed to establish his loyalty, honesty and integrity to the state and where later he admits that at one point he faked a response intended to explain to the audience that he could cover up something which helps explain what he came to do. This is nonsense because Creatives especially those at the genius level, have their own sense of right and wrong and will do whatever is necessary or required for what they believe in or have committed themselves including self-sacrifice and deceit. This will have been known and monitored another aspect of Who guards the guardians?

This brings me to the other issue of how it is alleged Snowden removed a copy of the information on a micro disk from such a top-level establishment. I just do not believe that such an establishment did not explore all the possibilities of how someone might want to remove stored data or that there would have an instant notifying of any copying of data information to a 24/7 monitoring and alert system unless of course they were in the position of responsibility to guard against such action, but which in turn they would have created or been asked to create a fail system to ensure that the Guardian is also guarded. It should be potentially criminally negligent to do otherwise. The film alleges that he removed the data into a Rubik’s cube which he tosses to a gate guard while he goes through the scanner and where the guard then tosses the cube back to him when he has passed through. This is absurd.

The development of digital technology will have changed the whole approach of the British government to security and may have led to the decision to change the way the Home Office is physically structured although my knowledge of the new building comes from a TV news item. In 2015 I gave thought to my experience of visiting the old Home office building arising from the national interest in missing Home office files which were thought to provide important information concerning the cover up and protectionism which took place in relation to crimes against children in the past. Despite the presentation of several reports including an independent investigation and report under all party-political pressure there has never been a satisfactory explanation why over a hundred Home Office Files could not be accounted for, although some information was subsequently traced to National archives and Libraries.  The holding of a manuscript for the double spy Keeper of the Royal Art (after he was outed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher within months of her coming into office) in the safe of the National Library makes me wonder about the size of the safe and what else is being kept there.

I thought of my own experience of visiting the former Home Office building in the late 1980’s was instructive when I had been granted a car park pass for attending a   meeting of a national advisory committee and followed someone else who had exited a car through a doorway into the building.  Previously I had arrived from the street at the front reception desk which controlled entry two the two parts of the building with the Ministers and their immediate staff separate from the rest and which included meeting rooms. I found myself in a corridor with individual rooms marked by levels of security required and quickly concluded that I was not sure I should be where I was so I retreated into the car park, through the entrance gate where the written pass was shown and into the reception area from the street where I was escorted as I had been previously to the meeting room. The point being that I had a brief case with me so that even if my entry and walk within the building was camera monitored the contents of my brief case was not and therefore anyone with a car park permit could remove files/papers from the building without a check.

This was also in the days just before the lap top computer reduced in size sufficiently to be in transported within a brief case although I used the Amstrad floppy disk to record my work at the office to a similar machine at my home.  I have always had problems with my memory and my hand writing is indecipherable me let alone to anyone else so the development of the word processor changed my life in many ways.

I will concede that the jumps in digital storage and communication technology have been such that it will have been a challenge for all government and other bodies to catch up with the security implications, but it is not unreasonable to expect that those responsible for national security would have been at the cutting edge in this respect, so I still do not understand how Snowden got away with it without help.

Nor am I really concerned with why he did it. Motivation may contribute to mitigation of whatever penalty the justice system process may conclude is merited but being well motivated should never be the basis for deciding to break the law and expecting the justice system not to take its course. If you set out to break the law even if the law is a bad one you should expect to face the stated consequences. Throughout recorded history individuals because of patriotism, for a religion, to protect those for whom they have responsibility, for their families and those they love, have broken the law, sometimes hoping not to pay the price for what they do, but always in the expectation that a price may be exacted.  In simple terms two wrongs do not make a right.

There are other aspects of his story which merit scrutiny especially the circumstances which led him to resign from the CIA and move to a security agency employed by the state. In the film and the Wikipedia account, he was sent to the CIA office in Switzerland to maintain computer security, providing him with a diplomatic passport and a four-bedroom apartment near Lake Geneva. He had been assigned to the U.S mission to the United Nations and had been responsible for providing support to the US President when attending a NATO summit in Romania. The film gives the impression that his interest in working as a field agent was taken up by a senior colleague in Geneva who had been tasked with finding a way to persuade a leading banker to become an informant. The film suggests that Snowden was so shocked by the methods used that he resigned in February 2009 without knowing what he will do next.

The film suggests that it is his former training chief who introduces him to a top-level subcontractor agency for the government and where he is based in Japan near Tokyo to advise how to defend system from Chinese hacker.  After two years, which one can assume were successful he returns to the USA and promoted to a more senior position concerned with cyber intelligence and strategy. It is during this period that the film suggests he became concerned  that the programmes he had helped to create, if not create, were being used not just to target the digital communications and records of those under surveillance in accord with nationally agreed procedures, but were tracking  the records of everyone worldwide and film provides figures about the scale of the operation and where what  is said to have triggered  his rebellion is the number on USA citizens being surveyed which was against the law and about which  when challenged the government is said to have lied.

It is alleged that he commenced to copy records. He moved to the firm’s office in Hawaii which concentrated on surveillance of China and North Korea. He also moved between contractors, with a loss of salary, in order, it is said, to continue to acquire documentation he needed.

Snowden is said to have used his position and reputation to persuade between 20 and 25 colleagues to give him their passwords so he could independently monitor their records and copy those which presumably he decided would provide the evidence required from him to substantiate what he had decided to do. This story via Reuters is said to have been rejected by Snowden and that he was responsible for his own for the copying of documents said to have been be between 50000 and 200000. Instead of as suggested in the film passing everything out in on one occasion as mentioned previously with the Rubik cube the possibility of finding a way to transfer documents via the passwords of his colleagues is the more obvious pathway, even if they were aware he was hacking them.

However, there are different accounts of the scale of his treachery.  The Australian government have said he made available to unauthorised parties 15000 of their intelligence files. The British Government put their figure at 50000.   USA figures have put the number of their documents at 1.7 million. The clear majority of these documents were nothing to do with political acts of government but covered military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures. I rest my case against him.

Dr Kermode in his film review argues that despite those going to theatres knowing the basics of the story and his escape from Hong Kong to Russia the documentary about the escape provides a more engaging experience than the film and on this I, disagree. Both are effective in persuading the audience to his perspective and make the USA government the villain. I am surprised that the good Dr did not point this out and that both works are therefore questionable in this respect.  Now to my summary of Defence of the Realm in relation to issues which interest me.

Friday, 16 December 2016

The Ipcress file (Intelligence in the Cold War)

Recently I have viewed three films, two for the first time and one an old favourite which cover the dramatic change that taken place in government intelligence with the digital era-  Allied (WWII), the Ipcress File (the Cold War) and Snowdon, together with one documentary which covers the escape of Snowden from Hong Kong to Russia.

The 1965 film the Ipcress File was the second major film within three years on brainwashing, in this instance using electronic sounds in addition to a disorientating environment and I could not resist seeing again when it appeared on the electronic programme guide. The first film was the Manchurian Candidate (1962) based on the embedded psychological transformation of a Korean War prisoner which can be triggered subsequent and remade for release in 2004. The two films which interested me more because they dealt with the ability to manipulate and control people is the classic George Orwell 1984, a book, film and radio play and the relatively unknown Control Factor (2003). The Ipcress File is based on the book by Len Deighton with Michael Caine in the role of Harry Palmer, an army soldier blackmailed into becoming a Watcher for the security services after some unauthorised private enterprise when serving in the army of Occupation in Germany. He is transferred to a special ops unit after an alarming number of scientists disappear in circumstances which cannot be attributed to the much talked about “brain drain” at that time. The character of Palmer fits the traditional projection of the British low level operative, single but able to manage a home (he likes to cook with quality ingredients, reprimanding a senior officer who recommended an inexpensive brand of tinned mushrooms compared to the original champignons, and he is well read and an educated musical ear.  Another of my favourites of the genre is Callan with Edward Woodward.

Harry Palmer was intentionally created not to being the same class or league as James Bond although he has a roving eye, is creative in his approach and commands loyalty and help from friendship accumulated along the way.  In this instance, he sees several of his new colleagues murdered and an attempt to frame for the murder of a CIA officer at his flat.  The action centres on tracing the person likely to be engaged in the trafficking of the abducted scientist. When the scientist is recovered for a ransom payment he is found to have been brain washed and memory cleared. When Palmer begins to suspect one of this two bosses is a traitor he is abducted believes he is solitary confinement in a Soviet state and given the treatment, but managing to retain some self-control and memory by self-injury pain.  He and his audience then face a difficult choice between which of the bosses is the traitor and which to kill. Fortunately, his judgment is correct.  Ipcress stands for An Introduction into Conditioned Reflex Under Stress. This film is also entertainment with low level technology reminding of all those large computer frames with flashing coloured lights to signify brain power processing

Len Deighton wrote four book on Harry Palmer with Michael Caine starring in the three made into films (Funeral in Berlin and Million Dollar Brain. Harry Palmer is said to appear in two other Deighton Works Spy Story and Twinkle Twinkle Little Spy.    Michael Caine two decades later reappeared as Harry Palmer in two films, not based on the work of Deighton Bullet to Beijing 1995 and Midnight in St Petersburg 1996. I have one Len Deighton novel, a hardback edition of Close on the Film Industry.

The world of spying, its treachery, double dealing and expendability of agents in the national interest is well documented on film book and documentary. At present among the books being read is the biography of Le Carre. A more realistic presentation of the Spy can be experienced through the works of Le Carre and I have his books, Smiley’s People (and DVD), The Honourable Schoolboy, Tinker Tailor. Solder. Spy (and DVD), The Russia House and DVD, The Mission Song and the Constant Gardener (and DVD) together with the DVD of the series, the Perfect Spy together with the BBC radio series which also includes The Secret Pilgrim. Call for Dead, the looking Glass War, a Murder of Quality, the DVD of the Deadly Affair and the most haunting of them all The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with a memorable performance on screen by Richard Burton (have the DVD).

Allied (Intelligence during Wold War II)

Recently I have viewed three films, two for the first time and one an old favourite which cover the dramatic change that taken place in government intelligence with the digital era-  Allied (WWII), the Ipcress File (the Cold War) and Snowdon, together with one documentary which covers the escape of Snowden from Hong Kong to Russia.

The first film Allied is a curious concoction set in World War II in Casablanca and London. Casablanca is the focus of my favourite film of all time, a French city in North Africa, occupied by the Nazis, a love triangle in which freedom and opposition to tyranny triumphs over individual feelings and relationships (our relationship not worth a hill of beans).

Allied begins in 1942 when a highly trained Canadian (presumably French speaking) operative (Brad Pitt) is sent to Casablanca to assassinate the visiting German Ambassador with the help of a trained French resistance worker who had escaped to the city after the rest of the group she led in Paris had been compromised and killed. The two pose as husband and wife and fall in love and against the odds the plan to assassinate not only works but they escape. Whereas the film Casablanca emotionally engages on very viewing with its great actors and script (Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henried, Claude Raines, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lore, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson - you must remember this - Play it again Sam- and others: such as the night club singer, the bar tender, the young couple) credible storyline and script) what happens in Allied by comparison appears absurd. The couple then make their home in London with the wife (Marion Collard) settling down to pregnancy and motherhood homemaking while her husband (a trained pilot former squadron type leader) appears to be desk bound at Special Operations Headquarters until summoned to be told that his wife is an imposter, a German Spy as the Paris resistance worker did not survive.

He is told to carry on as normal while confirmation is established in which instance he will kill her. The notion that he would be asked to do this is also absurd. It is believed she is part of a cell and passes on information she gains from what he mentions and from papers he brings home with him.  A trap is set and he is told to nothing but he persuades someone at the air base to make a contact on a mission to the resistance in France to get confirmation that his wife is who she says she is. The young man in question loses his life which is rightly placed at the door of Mr Pitt whose suspicions that his wife is in fact part of a German spy network is such that he then goes to France where unable to substantiate the death he does gain information which enables him to test his wife. A test which she fails but such is his love for her and their child that he deals with the spy network and then plans for them to escape by air, having been warned that if he fails to execute his wife he will be treated as a traitor and hanged.

His wife admits she was placed as an agent in Casablanca posing as the dead resistance worker but went along with the assassination plan rather than expose him in advance because of falling in love. She had hoped to disappear through marriage but she had been tracked to London and blackmailed. When the escape plan is foiled she commits suicide rather than see their daughter become parentless. Her action saves her husband and the audience is left with the feeling that her treachery and his complicity can be left unpunished, the record showing that he carried out the execution. The film closes with a scene of daughter, now a young woman with her father with the implication that he devoted himself to her care and remained unmarried another implausibility. It is entertainment and nothing more.

The world of spying, its treachery, double dealing and expendability of agents in the national interest is well documented on film book and documentary. At present among the books being read is the biography of Le Carre. A more realistic presentation of the Spy can be experienced through the works of Le Carre and I have his books, Smiley’s People (and DVD), The Honourable Schoolboy, Tinker Tailor. Solder. Spy (and DVD), The Russia House and DVD, The Mission Song and the Constant Gardener (and DVD) together with the DVD of the series, the Perfect Spy together with the BBC radio series which also includes The Secret Pilgrim. Call for Dead, the looking Glass War, a Murder of Quality, the DVD of the Deadly Affair and the most haunting of them all The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with a memorable performance on screen by Richard Burton (have the DVD).

Friday, 2 December 2016

A United Kingdom

I then found I had failed to bring the unlimited card but the email was accepted so I could experience the film A United Kingdom at the Cineworld Docklands on Sunday 27th November 2016, and which merits some reporting and attention as part of the story of political awareness and engagement. I only have a vague memory of the fuss at the time of the impact of the African tribal leader from Botswana, Seretse Kharma marrying a white young woman or that the play and film “Guess who is coming to dinner?” was loosely based on their story together.  There has been a book called Colour Bar by Susan Williams and on which the present film A United Kingdom is said to be based with David Oyelowo as Seretse and Rosamund Pike as his wife The film accurately  covers the important aspects of how they met and their life together, but there are also significant differences in terms of the political events although again the overall story of why the Atlee and Churchill post war government accepted South African Apartheid and Churchill  lied to voters reneging on what he had said is accurate.

Seretse Kharma was born in 1921 and died at the age of 59. He was the grandson of King of Botswana a large country the size of France but then one of the poorest and least populated with now some 2 million people with France 66 million and the subject to direct rule as a British Protectorate on the borders with South Africa who coveted the potential of its Mineral wealth which fortunately was vested in the indigenous people.  Where Seretse was aged 4 his father died so he was to inherit the title with his uncle appointed Regent. Seretse obtained a degree in South Africa, spent a year as an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford and then trained to become a Barrister in London.

He met his future wife at a dance arranged by a mission at which she was taken by her sister and although there was no immediate connection on dancing together a common interest in Jazz was discovered. The film portrays his future wife as” forward” in her interest for the time in question and gives the impression of a quick relationship leading to an engagement but in fact they courted for a period of a year, with opposition from her father who had served as an army officer in India and then worked in the tea trade and by his uncle primarily over race but she was also considered inferior in terms of social status. Following the request to return home he formally proposed marriage which was accepted in the knowledge that this would breaking with her family and moving to his homeland. There was immediate intervention by the British Colonial Office on learning news and the given the fascist racialist direction of South Africa and with the UK in significant debt because of the World War II there was fear South Africa would declare independence with the loss of cheap gold and uranium needed for Nuclear weapon development. Every obstacle and pressure was put on the marriage which went ahead as a civil ceremony.

Not knowing the extent to which the two sisters cooperated with the writer of the book  it is unclear how much some of the information provided is accurate but I am inclined to accept that opposition came from the Regent who attempted to steer the elders against Seretse becoming king and his wife the Tribal Queen and because of his status he would not only be allowed to attend functions restricted to the White community  but with her entitlement the mixed marriage would be continuously and openly evident.

Fortunately, in an interesting connection with democracy in in Greek city states, major decision affecting the tribal state were taken by all the men with the women, apparently, also in attendance and he could convince them that he would be a good king and leader but only with his wife alongside him. They agree but this was unacceptable to the British and they attempt a move which would bring the couple back to London, where it appears the plan was to offer him the position of Ambassador to Jamaica, preventing him returning to his homeland for a period of five years. Suspecting this was the intention Ruth remained on her own, although pregnant, and had difficulty in finding her feet on her own especially with her husband’s sister and the woman who had married in Regent who by this time had departed with his people to establish a separate community.

The government had established an “independent” commission to examine the position and the respective suitability of the couple and the findings of the report were suppressed for 30 years as it recommended in their favour. It is established that marooned in London without his wife and subsequently his wife and daughter Seretse has the support of Tony Benn, then the young back bench member of Labour Member of the House of Commons during the Atlee government who along with Fener Brockway took up the cause and brought a commitment from Tory opposition leader Winston Church to end the five-year exile. Ruth also made an influential appeal broadcast in the newsreel shown in cinemas between the two film performances, the only way in which the public could view news other than photographs in newspapers and magazine such as the popular Picture Post.

When Churchill was elected into power he reneged on the election promise and imposed a life ban citing the report and continuing opposition from the former Regent. The film reveals that in addition to concerns about the position of the South Africa Government the main reason the British Government wanted to impose direct rule is the prospect of valuable mineral being found in area which covered both countries. However, it was possible to established that under the original contract which formed the protectorate the indigenous people retained the mining rights and this would provide crucial in the deal which was subsequently agreed and in which Seretse gave up the controversial issue of Kingship proposing a more democratic and eventually independent state.  The couple then lived in Bechuanaland in Botswana for the rest of their live having three more children.

On return in 1956  as private citizens and  unsuccessfully attempting to become a cattle farmer he commenced an involvement in politics with election to the Tribal Council in 1957 forming the Bechuanaland Democratic Party in 1961, having great success in the national elections in 1965 which swept aside the socialists and pan African rivals he became Prime Minister of the territory and commenced to pressed for independence from his base in the newly established capital city of Gaborone  In 1966 The third poorest nation in the world became independent and Seretse became the first President, winning subsequent elections until he died in office in 1980, becoming the finest growing economy in the world with the discovering of Diamonds using the revues to invest in education, in health care and creating a infra  structure as well as developing other sources for  economic wealth and advancement, a crucial matter for countries  whose development has  been other time limited resources  such as oil, gas and other valuable minerals. He was responsible for a   lucrative trade deal with the European Economic Community.  The formal break with the Apartheid South Africa occurred in 1976 when a new currency was created to replace the Rand.

Ruth against expectations remained in Botswana after the death of her husband and was joined for the rest her life by her sister. One of her sons became president of Botswana in 2008 something she did not live to see. Overall the country has moved from one of the poorest to one of the richest in Africa although there is racism between tribes and HIV/Aids was rife although government action has started to change the position, the level of corruption and wealth creation by politicians is unknown or the extent to which here are deal with outside interests which work against the interests of most the people.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

American Pastoral and Strangerland

American Pastoral and Arrival are two films released at the end of the same week in November 2016. I saw American Pastoral last showing on Friday 11th Armistice day and given the thoughtful and careful review by the British Institution of film critics  Dr Mark Kermode who admitted he had  not read the Philip Roth novel on which the film is rooted, I was surprised to find that I was the only person in the film theatre when I  arrived, remaining so, enabling the use of the light of my phone to note down questions on the back of the printed e-ticket, having forgotten to return a slim notepad to the inside jacket pocket, used earlier in the day for shopping notes made on a visit to Gateshead to shop and park at Tesco’s and on to Newcastle to collect coffee and buy winkles in the Grainger Market.

Because the film covered subjects of significant personal interest I immediately ordered the novel which I have now read and confirm the appraisal of Mark Kermode that this is a good directorial debut by Ewen McGregor.  I go further and say the film provides coherence to the story and a credibility of character that the book by Philip Roth does not and at which at one level is a well written rant,  bravely  attempting to communicate how at any moment our ideas and  feelings contain all our previous and inherited experiences, but I failed to be convinced that the characters are more than the ideas, views and beliefs of the author although I accept I was confused by the narrative time framework and because of having experienced the film first.

The approach of Mr Roth has much in common with what I understand to be one of the two central themes of Arrival, a multi-dimensional sense of time and which also uses an alien visitation to explain the nature of language and communication in an engaging and entertaining way. Arrival end the first week as top box office and American Pastoral per the British Film Institute was only number 19.

I also understand that American Pastoral is one of several books by Roth in which he uses a character as his alter ego, (that is a second self, different from his normal or original personality). I do not know if this is true as I do not know Roth,  but I  will say   that the starting point of his book is the  proposition  that  many American men believed in the American Dream, that  their nation was God’s special land and the greatest, and their values and standards of the highest order  and  where for many the 1960’s was a period of great awakening, when the Hollywood image of  the second world war was shattered in Vietnam (and as I have recently presented  when covering 25 years of Miss Saigon and the worldwide belief that an entry permit enabled automatic participation in the American Dream of equal opportunity to wealth and power and where the greater the  belief, the  greater the fall). The opening section of the 400-page novel is called Paradise Remembered, followed by the Fall and concludes with Paradise Lost.

I also have a very different but in some respects more important and lasting experience, a live relay from the Royal Opera House in London of the Offenbach opera Les Contes D’Hoffmann, the Tales of Hoffmann and this was followed by two films on Sky TV, Strangerland, a film set in a contemporary  Australian small town on the edge of a desert  and where there are important similarities with American Pastoral, as they are with American Beauty, followed by the delightful Spanish film  with its English  titled Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, aimed at the Oscars best film in a language other than English and which won the  Goya in 2014 for that category and several others. To complete the cultural experience of the past week I went to see Fantastic Beasts in 3D on Friday November 18th.  I also need to write up experiencing the stage musical The Glenn Miller Story with Tommy Steele for the second occasion, this time at the Sunderland Empire, previously, the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, and the films the Girl on the Train and Nocturnal Animals.

I also intend to make time to comment on a brilliant one off documentary about the Tyne Bridge, the moving series of  canal trips by Timothy West and his partner Prunella Scales, the remarkable Planet Earth II naturalist  the latest BBC four Saturday serial The Deep,  Humans and Westworld cover artificial intelligence,  the Missing and child  abduction and abuse,  the Young Pope -what is it about, the interesting Close to the Enemy and the yet to interest, My Mother and Other Strangers, Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor and the never ending -The Blacklist.

One interesting and challenging aspect of the book American Pastoral is its argument that we can make the right decision choice but this can have devastating life changing consequences. I will say more about the advice a parent gives his daughter, how he responds to an initiative from his daughter, followed by his reaction to meeting an emissary from his daughter and going into the kitchen before sitting down with friends for a meal and where despite the chronology set out in the film I am still unclear of the time frame when attempting to unravel cause and effect. I will also add the appearance of something, or someone is only one aspect of its reality

The main character of the book is not its author who in the form of Nathan Zuckerman, a successful published writer who tells the story of “the Swede”, (Seymour Levov) already a legend from being a great Athlete in American Football, basketball and baseball and a veteran of the second world war and who had attended the same Jewish High school years as the story teller. Nathan admits that he idolised the Swede the American Dream) when attending the same Jewish Newark, New Jersey High School with Jerry the younger of Levov’s two sons and who as a World War II veteran of the Marines took over his father’s quality glove making factory and who married a beauty queen with success graduating from city to state to the Miss America contest staged in Atlantic City, underlining the American Dream theme. The nickname Swede and ”The Swede” remained unclear until the book discloses his name is Seymour and Swede was a  tall blond rock of  a man compared to his short in stature wife and its only towards the end of the book is there reference to their discovery in private of passionate sexuality but which they kept within the bedroom and where sex  is  part of the shattering of his idealism and where how couples present themselves when being sociable with others is very different from the image they  wish to present and have within the marriage.

It was only when reading the book that the thought occurred that that Roth had created the Swede as the American Dream to explain that he too had been an idealist who had set himself great standards to have these shattered by the realities of life. As a young man, I developed an interest in Fundamental Freudianism where everything is based to procreation desire and sex and on aggression, violence and death and on the guilt of having wishes desires which parents, family, the local community, a religion, a church and its leaders, those controlling the one’s country society has declared taboo. I have learned that Roth was brought up in the Jewish belief and cultural system which draws as strong between themselves and as Catholicism of my birth father who I never knew but became a senior priest, my birth mother and my childhood and which there are many in the Muslim world, some Protestant and other religious bodies who also attempt to divide themselves off from others in what is a spectrum of belief within and between religions and which impact on behaviour. The statement there is more which unites than divides is meaningless in this context.

At one level Seymour is presented as a conformist but in one significant passage he declares that the faith and culture of his childhood mean nothing yet it is his Catholic wife who stands up to the father in law over an inquisition about her gather and how the children will be brought up. In this film, this happens in its chronology of events, maturing and individual development, in the book it comes almost at the end. The film uses the unravelling of the story line to engage our attention in contrast to Roth who spits out the key aspects of the story and then attempts to explain leaving the reader to knit everything together and made sense as they wish from their experience.

Although Roth is a war veteran he joined too late to see the blood and guts of war and although in film  (but less I thought)  in the book uses the  black v white rioting of Newark 1967  to  bring out that he is a liberal democrat where the majority of workers at the family owned business are black, the  blood and guts of the rioting is  only alluded, and this is also true for the, Vietnam and the anti-war protests and it is the film that there is the more vivid impact of the bomb which destroys what  we  in England would called the  village store with  post office outlet. The American Dream is a device to cover those who disassociate themselves from the realities of life until it is brought home to them directly. A home break in a car accident or break down, a storm, an expected death all of which I have experienced added to which there are the floods, the earthquakes and most of all the wars and I have met no one who has experienced night after night bombings even as a very young child who not affected, in my instance it was the far of the adults as they prayed with their rosaries which communicated to me and I have still. 

Roth is also not the conformist his younger brother accuses nor is he weak in giving in to pressure from parent or daughter although he respects both parents. So, he agrees to his future wife a Catholic being questioned by the parent, something I experienced when going out with a girl for the first time at the age of 17 and she was16 and in returning to her home from the pictures and invited in and faced an inquisition from mother father (a civil servant) with a bemused older sister who I knew from a cycling club who arranged the date after her sister and come to one of our Sunday outings. My  humiliation was great because the dread question what does  your father do I could only mumble dead  because I did not know and  did not believe the cover story given to me a couple of years before,  was possibly given  an opportunity some years late, but could not cope with at that time and then was told just before I was sixty that he had been a priest, and only to learn from subsequent efforts that he had had been  number  two to a Bishop and acting for the Bishop and  awarded the  O.B.E.

Seymour’s other defiance against parental pleading was to buy a large house in the country with 100 wondering cows and a romping free bull, the Count in a solid Republican community with a Klu Klux Klan history.  Father warns about getting to and the farm to the nearest station in winter and getting to work at the business and Seymour explains about the good train services which goes on into New York with Parlour cars in the morning, the USA first class lounge dining car with bar but on two levels with a small cinema.

The more I age the more I appreciate that how others view as history or an art or entertainment experience set in costume and period, events which have understand from the perspective of having lived through the time, and sometimes with direct experience. Before starting to write I try and check my memory with the available facts.  In this instance, I had not appreciated that Newark. the largest city still in New Jersey state, is a short commuter train ride from central New York about the same distance in travel time as my former five  childhood and young adult homers in Wallington, Surrey from central London when I became an anti-war campaigner a few years before the daughter of the Swede, so the parallel comparison between the reactions of her close and extended family to mine are fresh as I have commenced to write again about my experience and its impact on the rest on my life, and my closed and extended family network.

In book with words, and film through pictures, we gain some knowledge off Newark post second world war when the town had a population of some 400000 but commenced to rapidly drop with the 1967 Race Rioting with up to 80% of the Whites leaving and the 2010 census putting the city total at about 275000. The African origin American population has also dropped from a high of 58% to 52% and with of Hispanic and Latino combining more recent populations from Portugal and Brazil to form the second largest grouping, leaving the Whites at under 25%.  The Democratic candidate for president has won the state since 2000 and did so again this year by a significant majority of the votes casts with the Green Party gaining 1%.

There were 80000 Jews living in Newark at one point, the city where Philip Roth grew up with his parents and based several of his novels many of the successful business merchants, as the Levov’s had already moved away from the city centre concentration of cold water flats, before the 1967 rioting when most pulled out. It is normal hat when first arriving ethnic groups living together in area with privately renting housing is available, quickly establishing speciality food and services, together with junior and high schools.

This is a subject where I have some direct knowledge as seventy percent of the twenty thousand predominantly Catholic population of Gibraltar were required to leave their tiny almost island homeland at the southern tip of Spain as World War II commenced and were sent and lived in neighbourhoods to a number of countries, including one part of London if they did not already have an extended family living in other countries to taken in as happened to mine, coming to England and not to the USA, or North Africa where there were other close relatives. Although I went to a Catholic school the emphasis was on integration as there was no prospect of returning to the homeland when the war ended for my birth mother and six of her seven sisters.

Going to work in central and outer London, then becoming an activist and then going into adult education, I quickly became aware of the singularity of the Jewish world even when families lived in neighbourhoods of mixed ethnicity and this culminated in my sixth decade when undertaking an assessment for allocating funding  to a business enterprise it was necessary to call at home of an applicant whose family was at one end of the Jewish belief and practice spectrum where contact was not allowed with others, and where it was evident the children  came in and out of the room just to see what someone who was not one of them was like and because the applicant was a woman and  could not be in the presence of a male without a chaperone,  her partner was present but declined to communicate directly on religious grounds. This contrasted with a girlfriend of a short time where Jewishness was not central to her being and outlook and to the number who were members or supporters of communism, socialism and activists for against weapons of mass civilian destruction.

The core of the book and film is the relationship between Seymour and his one child at that time, a girl, Merry, who becomes a verbal and direct actionist extremist as a teenager against the Vietnam War, against the system, the everyday of family life and their apparent acceptance of the way everything is. Roth is good at using a sentence to communicate an era or the context opening the second chapter with reminding that after the second world war the USA governed 200 million other people in Germany, Austria, Italy and Japan. Back home in the States and in Britain. In the book, what remains uncertain in the film. What the book, and film does not attempt to do is to explain why Merry normal adolescent rebellion against parental, school and religious authority graduated from nonviolent to violent protesting, a subject with interests me especially as later or she becomes a convert to the extreme end of non-pacifism- Janis and which influenced Gandhi in his activist approach of Satyagraha

The film Strangerland has a very different setting and time but also uses disappearance of a 15-year-old daughter (and her young brother) who appear to have gone off into the Australian desert on Walkabout just as a sandstorm engulfs the area. Walkabout remain a seminal film starring Jenny Agutter who finds herself with her young brother in the desert after their father shoots himself and where they are rescued by an aborigine boy who is undertaking his solo rites into manhood. There is moment in Strangerland where I hoped an indigenous resident would come to the aid of the family and can find both children alive. It is after the two children go missing in that we learn the facts of why the family, he is a dispensing chemist, moved into the town and an extraordinary blunder like that which Seymour Levov makes. We also experience through both films the full extent of their culpability for what happens, in part because of parental denial and the inability of the parents to intervene in a constructive way. Both mothers end up walking into the local town centres naked which says something of their sexuality and guilt although the daughters take very different routes in expressing themselves, reacting to the unbalanced marital relationships and the cultural mind set in which the parents have themselves been raised and appears to them to have accepted without questioning.

The reaction to Jerry Levov’s revelations about his brother is for Nathan to start to revisit the location of the homes, the business of the Swede and to look at press records in the local library. He meets someone he once took on a hayride who as a teenager had refused to let him undo her bra him undo her bra, not because she was sexually shy as such but because if he had become her boyfriend that he would have discovered the nature of the family set up which she did not want others to know. This quickly leads to one of the key passages in the film and which McGregor includes although in a modified version, and centres of the Freudian understanding of the sexual development of girls in relation to the attachments they have with their father seeking genuinely at times to replace their mothers as where it is also not uncommon   for a son to also say to his mother that he will marry her when grows up without understanding the implications of what he is saying.  Roth has the father responding to this situation as most fathers would at that time but also with understanding the potential impact of the rejection on the daughter and moreover also imbuing the daughter with an insight into her general behaviour of pushing things over normal limits with the consequential reactions of those involved.  The problem is that pushing to the limits allowed is normal behaviour and that this another aspect where both sets of parents are found wanting.

In Strangerland, the teenage girl is seduced by a teacher at the school with whom she had developed an emotional attachment, the crush which teenage girls and boys will develop for teachers who are themselves flattered by the attention, if they are not predators on the lookout for such a situation. Freud and several generations of Freudian enthusiasts accepted his argument that the wish of the child for the death of a parent, the death of a parent or sibling or having an embryonic sexual relationship, depending on their knowledge of marital relationships at the time can have just as strong and devastating impact on their behaviour because of guilt than had the situation developed into one of physical reality.

The different between those who think and feel and those who also act, or respond in destructive and often self-destructive ways is my main issue of interest because of my own experiences and have been undertaking research in preparation for rewriting experience in relation to opposition towards weapons of mass civilian extermination.

The first quarter  and first section of the books ends with the daughter as a  rebellious 16 year old, staying out over night with her radical friends, at constant war with her mother who sees the behaviour as adolescent rebellion against everything, using language most foul in order to bring  about  a desired reaction,  the stutter as a weapon, reminding of my own confrontations although I was able to insist on freedom to  as well as freedom from, earning  an income and with a monthly train season ticket which enabled to me to  travel to London at weekends  or stay on after work and where I cannot remember eating much if anything.   However, it is the father, in desperation, fearing his daughter is becoming more and more involved with the activities of the extremists in New York, poses the challenge to her to try and influence the local community and bringing the protesting locally, unaware of how this will be interpreted by the daughter and her friends with disastrous consequence for everyone- the law of the unintended consequence with paves the way to hell with good intentions.

Both book and film focusses on the visit of a young look University student seeking information in the glove making industry and where the Levov family business is known to provide the best handmade gloves in the country. This open the second section of the book headed The Fall. The book quickly reveals the student is an agent for the disappeared daughter whereas in the film only later is the truth self-revealed. I wondered why it was necessary for the history and nature of glove making industry to present in such detail until author explain through Seymour his opposition the approach of profit before everything and cutting corners, using the expression stealing time. The younger brother Jerry accuses his older of only knowing the business of making specialist gloves and when the market drops because of changing custom and overseas production it provides another reason for the world of Seymour to collapse further. It is only after Seymour has taken the young woman through the process of making her a pair of bespoke gloves that she reveals she is an emissary for his daughter with requests that items are brought to a secret location. Rita, the young woman, refuses to disclose where his daughter is, declares that Merry hates him and would like to see him shot.

He defends against inaccurate references to the upbringing of his daughter and she counters his attempt to challenge the accusation that his child murder by referring to the number of civilian deaths which occur because of the bombings by the USSAF and ground forces. He knew he should have reported the contact to the authorities but his wife persuaded him to continue with their only link providing her with a briefcase full of ten thousand dollars in bills. They meet for this in a hotel room where she offers herself crudely and which is also featured in the film. I had a similar experience when aged 21 or 22 with an 18/19-year-old subsequently murdered, which I rejected and which Seymour also rejects, bolts from the room and report to the FBI as I was to do to police after the death.  In the book, we move on five years and accounts of all the bombings and not coming to terms that the daughter has killed three people. Roth reflects on the course of the war and on the trial of a Black Communist Sympathetic Professor at ULCA, Angela Davis’ about the same age as Rita the girl Seymour is confronted by. Later it is Rita who writes telling him where Merry is claiming she had been under the power of Merry and acting as she had directed to the extent she pretends Seymour had used her sexually for Merry to accepted the cash and her continuing involvement.

The book looks back to how the community responded to the allegations with the highlight the disbelief that such a multi-talented school girl who never challenged authority was responsible for such deadly acts.  Someone her school mention she talked a lot about the Vietnam War, lashing out in one instance because of view expressed strongly opposed her own and one of the teachers was said by the FBI to have provided valuable information. There was incomprehension that this has happened to such a family

On the 1st September 1973 Seymour received the letter from Rita in which she says but she cannot cope anymore and his daughter needs urgent medical help. She provides the assumed name and location in Newark advising him to wait outside until she appears. His wife had twice been in hospital because of suicidal depression and she blamed him for marrying her, for having their child when all she wanted to be was a teacher, when being pressured to become a beauty queen but where she did not reach the final ten at Miss America contest in Atlantic City. We learn that in 1969, two years after her daughter disappeared she was back in hospital coinciding with an invitation to the 20th anniversary of leaving High School. He funded a trip to Geneva for facial surgery but this was not for him or her it is later revealed. The farm and grand house are sold and something smaller in a different area acquired, and his where several new versions of what are given, we are also taken further back in book and in film to events immediately after the bombing when he had gone to see the owners of the store and post office concession and the widow of the man killed who understood that the impact would be worse on the parents as they had a supportive family and community to help her and her child to cope.

He waits outside the Cat and Dog hospital dilapidated building where his daughter has been said to work in what had become a grim part of the city. She come unrecognisable in terms of clothing   body project and her covered face but it is her. She has become an adherent of the ancient Indian religions which I had also considered but came to quickly understand aspects   were not for me. Jainism is a total way of life based on passive inaction and a belief that all living things are beings with souls and with those who fully embrace accept poverty, chastity, truth and honesty without exception and the level of renunciation and noninvolvement which most find impossible to achieve or maintain. It is not only the opposite of what she had but what for a short while she has become. He found her condition distressing, especially her acceptance of squalor and deprivation. She had been there, close by for six months.

She tells the story of what happened after she admitted carrying out the bombing. She had spent three days at the home of the speech therapist who had arranged for her to enter an underground of places and people, some fifteen aliases in two months. She details how she became Mary Stoltz working for a year in the kitchen of an old person’s home. A minister who had befriended advised her to immediately sending to a commune in another part of the country but arriving in Chicago on her way to Oregon, she was raped, held captive and robbed. The film does not detail more, or if it does I do not remember.

She gets a casual job, was raped in another situation. She made her destination Oregon and became involved with two further bombings. She killed three people. She fell in love with a woman at the commune. The woman was married and a situation developed where she to leave. She worked in a potato field and commenced to learn Spanish planning to travel to Cuba, believing a revolution would never take place in the USA, she made her way to Florida. She had become parotid about the FBI on the lookout for her and came across an old woman begging who taught her trade and with whom she moved in until the woman died. She had commenced to learn about religions at the public library.

Hiss reaction to her story was deny she his daughter because his daughter could not have done the terrible things she had admitted.  He could not bear her as she was and pleaded with her to go with him whereas she pleaded to be left alone as she was. The book and the film then covers the impact of the riots on his factory, the neighbourhood he community. Seymour also tells his brother he has found his daughter and what she had done, the brother confronts Seymour with the reality of having become some the product of his father, the country and its system without having a separate identity with his daughter challenging in every way that she can, forcing him to accept the reality of who he is. What Roth appears to be demonstrating is that one brother has been passive, accepting what happens, until challenged in some fundamental way while the other has always been aggressive, accept my as I am or not at all with the implication that our basic inherited nature will only change when challenged by something out of the ordinary or by someone. Whether Roth had knowledge about how new humans are created, their gene structures, the neurology of the brain which I have only now commenced to learn the language to be able to understand, is a good question

But as fundamental to this, that there are significant differences to the platitude there is more that unites than divides is what seems to me the message of this book  is that education and parental upbringing should be about enabling each human being  to develop a sense of individual identity and thought process which does not accept what they given, including by parents and teachers without questioning and challenge and this today applies most of all to politicians and  mainstream media, and to experts  who  pretend objectivity, and  I also include the pure scientist in this who pontificates on subjects broader than their area of study. The phone exchange between the two brothers ends when Jerry reminds that Seymour had been an instructor in the Marines but still could not cope with the brutality of what could be human behaviour, his daughter had become a murderer and the reasons were only secondary in determining how society should treat her once guilt has been proved or in this instance admitted.

The third section of the book is headed Paradise Lost back at the time of the Watergate hearings which they would listen to and reflect on at the end of day to when they and the cows and then farm was being sold more ruminating on has been and which is also where I argue that one of the simplistic message of Arrival is a major feature of this important work of fiction because Roth repeatedly makes the point that when thinking and reacting to the present  we drawn what  has happened  before not as a chronology but in terms of relevance to our mood, our feeling, the person we have been, are and still hope to become.

But another aspect of the he books which is again explored is hate, the hate of things not understood, threatened, changing, he same kind of hate which his daughter and her associate had expressed. I now turn to two of the events mentioned in book which centre on our sexual awareness as children, of our sexuality as adults in relationships, to sex as a means for procreation, as giving and submitting to power as well of personal enjoyment plus the sense of betrayal leading to violence which can also result. I was unsure at first of why Roth included the situation where after Seymour and the daughter spends time together on a camping expedition on advice of a talking therapist she acts out the Freudian urge to replace her mother as his wife and he understandably is horrified and his responses crushes her although she has the insight and ability to communicate to admit that she tends to go too far. It his failure to understand and protect which appears to affect him more when learns she has been raped on two separate occasions. 

In Strangerland, the daughter becomes the town anybody’s who takes an interest which leads father to acts of continued aggression against the teacher who seduced her and those he finds have used in her the town. Just as it fathers who tells the daughter to protest within the community, the father in Strangerland admits at the end of the film to his wife that he had watched her go off at night with the younger brother who tends to go night walking and decided not to intervene to teach her a lesson, hence the great panic when the dust storm arrives, the son is fund barely alive   the daughter is not.  In American Pastoral, we know the daughter survives as she attended the funeral of her dad dead from prostate cancer aged 67 whereas in Strangerland we are left with the assumption she has perished from lack of water and sub alone in the desert. The audience reaction to both films, I assume American Pastoral for as mentioned I saw it alone, is to sit and working through their emotional reactions when the credits roll.  By contrast in Living is Easy with the eyes shut both the adolescent school boy who runs of from his dictatorial father and a young pregnant girl are known by the audience to be safe with prospects for a potentially good life when the film ends.
 In American Pastoral Seymour walks into the kitchen as they prepare to sit down for a meal with friends to find that the man from one of the couples is taking his wife and from her comments this is not first instance.  Later he learns she had the expensive facelift in Switzerland to please this man who she runs off and marries.  He backs off then but not when he finds that the talking therapist at the same meal with her husband had looked after his daughter for three days immediately after the bombing. She explains that because of the professional relationship she was bound by secrecy even when she knew from the TV what the girl was alleged to have done. What hurt Seymour most is that she did not tell him, the woman with whom Seymour had an extra marital affair, he later remarried with two sons. His back and white father could not understand his children in this respect, especially Jerry who has divorced three times with four wives all nurses and with an increasing gap in their age difference. What children  always find difficult to accept from their parents is the reality of life compared  the fairy stories of childhood  until he children  themselves grow  and have children of their own, and then sometimes too light they begin to see that their parents were always doing their best  but the best is too often not good  enough .I was struck  by this  thought to day when reading an article in Times by Melanie Phillips  headed Royal sense of duty may die with the Queen with the sub text that our present head of state could be the last to believe in a  higher cause than family or personal desires. I think not given the vast numbers of everyone everywhere try and balance their duty to themselves and their families with concern and action in relation to others.