Saturday, 28 February 2015

Chapter 14

“IMAGINE Zvereva face-to-face with Kass, a puppet in a goatee, shitting in his pants, stinking of treachery – of every imaginable kind of treachery- like a dung heap smells of crap! And behind them the chubby shadow of Bobrov, self-satisfied and satisfied with us. We pay him well.  The idea that Zvereva would probably be hanged from the same limb as us is hardly any consolation, you see. I don’t give a damn about bad company beyond the grave; I know that the gallows has a way of making quite suitable and perfectly historical heroes out of rather insipid spawn. But that female, under any regime, will simper in front of mirrors, have her own car, and put caviar on her white bread when the stokers down at the Great Works are getting their special milk ration only on paper. I myself am ashamed to speak in front of them, understand, when I see their bony faces and sunken cheeks. Myself, I eat at the Executive table, and then go make them beautiful speeches. `Gotta hold on, comrades! Hold on, hold on, hold on!` They know it as well as I do; but they’re starving.
“I tell you, these Zverevas will make themselves indispensable under any regime until man is completely transformed. We’re having a good crack at it, it’s true, assuming we win. Can’t you hear her purring, one well-shod pad on the running board of the Renault:
`The speaker from the Central Committee spoke so well! These four hours went by like nothing. Comrade Artem has a great future ahead of him.` Have you noticed the flair she has for always being on the stronger side? She’s never been seen voting with a minority. When difficult questions come up, she isn’t seen. But as soon as a more or less stable majority has been formed, you discover that she was in it the day before, that she’s one of the oldest of the old, well within the line. When I think about it, I feel like spitting: the same effect as the lousy plugs we used to chew on board the ships of the Blue Star Line…
“You see, old pal, those types infallibly land on their feet. If the Republic holds out, Zvereva will bury us all. We’ll end up tripping over some insoluble problem and falling on our faces, assuming nothing worse happens to us. We’ll say stupid things, we’ll do them! You are capable of getting yourself killed to set an example. Me, I’m capable of telling the most authoritative speaker of the most influential majority of the C.C. to go take a walk.  I’m capable of voting alone, against! – So that, in the long run, the common lot will fall to us, it’s in the nature of things, it’s even good. Our type is necessary: we are not negligible. But your Zvereva will outlive us, old pal.
“Bobrov too. Or his young. Kaas, perhaps. For after all they can’t shoot that bastard now. He’s needed. He’s precious. He has become a factor in our interior defence system. The best workers’ battalion can be sacrificed in a fourth-rate operation at the front; Kaas cannot be sacrificed! All these vermin whom we are using, whom we are making work for us, who are necessary to us, who carry out a million tasks with us, necessary ones, I know – won’t they end up by devouring us? Aren’t they gnawing away at us as they obey us?”
Kirk stooped talking. He had before him the dry face of Osipov, who was leaning back against a tree trunk. In the distance the countryside was emerging from the mist.
“Devoured or not,” said Osipov, “the important thing is to make ourselves useful: to do what must be done. In that sense, no one can harm us. It is already an achievement that these vermin, the Bobrovs and Kaases, are in our service. Their natural destination is basically to serve the wealthy classes. Today they serve us. Afterward, we will try to rid the earth of them; first, let’s win. All weapons are good. Don’t take me literally: all weapons are not good at every moment. All means do not lead to an end; an end demands specific means; the choice of weapons depends on the objective of the struggle. “Zvereva gets on your nerves too much, my friend. She’s not that important. Somebody’s got to compile dossiers, go through denunciations, interrogate people like Kaas. Who should it be, if not her? Beings of another stamp choose different tasks. We don’t have many men. We are a few handfuls. Millions of men, the mightiest masses ever, are behind us – and there are only a few of us, mortal men, susceptible to influenza, susceptible to fits of conscience (much more serious, that, watch out for that one, no laugh). The Party is becoming contaminated you say? It’s inevitable. Remember the entrance of the anarchists into Ekaterinoslav? They were carrying a big black banner with these words: `No Poison Is More Deadly Than Power!` that’s pretty true. It’s also a poison we need. They’ve used it against us for time immemorial without knowing it’s a poison. We know it. We want to suppress it. That’s progress. Speaking of the anarchists, behind the banner rode Popov on horseback surrounded by his bodyguards, a dictator like any other, a dictator in spite of himself, missing all the cues in his part.
“…In the long run we’ll see. Not you or me, of course: the working class. I’m optimistic for the long run; as for the present, I have my doubts, I’m even rather pessimistic. I’m not sure we’ll survive the winter. But I’m certain we have time, a half century, a century perhaps. The mechanism of the world is exposed; it’s easy to see how it turns. That is our strength. We are pushing in the right direction. Perhaps we’ll be swept away; that direction will be no less the right one for it.
“Our mistake is in thinking too much about ourselves. We say I, me, every minute. We have that mythology of the ego in our blood; it’s not our fault. We haven’t yet discovered what the new place of the individual is in the age of the masses. A place which is certainly very great and almost insignificant at the same time. On this point of the front, from these trees to that cottage over there, we three, you, that fellow sleeping there, and I, can make the two hundred men dug into this trench hold out a few more days – and those few days could be enough to save the future and this point of the front could be just the place where the victory is decided. Thus, we are great, we count. I think of the places where I have held on in my life: on ’05 at the underground print shop, in ’07 in the combat organisation, then in prison; then on the Irtysh where we were only five, in exile, with Sonia, who was losing her mind – we had to hold on to our reason and our strength, not lose all hope. That was the hardest. Sometimes on summer nights we would go out onto the steppe and light bonfires, which were strange holidays for us; I used to jump across the fire with the secret desire of falling into an abyss. I kept my reason, you see, it still works. Then- the Great Works in ’17, what days those were, brother! Prodigious days! Where were you? At La Chaux-de-fonds? Where’s that? Oh. – Then the inner-party struggles, for or against the insurrection; there are times when everything depends on voting a resolution in a committee, for if you let the occasion slip by, the enemy won’t let it slip by. And since committees depend on organisations, everything depends on each of us, you have to fight for every conviction…”
“That, Osipov, is why there are good organisers who juggle with votes and imagine they are doing a great service to the Revolution when they have put together a fake majority on paper…”
“Let ‘em do it. You can fool one man, one hundred men, for a time with lots of printed paper, and by blinding yourself; you can’t fool classes locked in struggle; you can’t force events like forcing a door. You see that each of us serves, that he is great. We, too, are great. I can’t see your face in the dark, but I know you’re not smiling. Yes, you’re great too, in spite of your haemorrhoids, your doubts, your pointless rebellions. You hold down your corner, you’ll hold on as long as you can… But, my friend, if we weren’t here, this morning, the Committee would have sent others who would have done the job just as well. If I hadn’t been the prison librarian, the politicals would have found another, wouldn’t they? We are not necessary. Think of those who have died: Sacha, Bokin, Vlassov, Gregor, Fugger, just among us, just in one year. Yet we’re holding on without them. Among the men sleeping there, several are perhaps nearly as valuable as we and could replace us. And if the working class lacks men, if, when the time comes, the man who is needed doesn’t spring up at the head of the masses, understand! Incarnating the millions who are hesitating, feeling their way, keeping quiet, if that man doesn’t spring up, if those men don’t spring up in the necessary numbers, it’s because the proletariat is not ripe enough to conquer. Let them go back down into the mines that belong to others, then. Let them take up the harness again, let them get drunk, let them fight for others. We’ll either be dead or we’ll continue. We’ll know tomorrow or the day after if things must go that way.
“Kirk, the question is that of the proletariat. As it goes, so goes the Party, so goes the Revolution. We’re pretty solid for the moment. I have confidence in the workers’ grip.”
“Me, not so much. If you called a real vote in the Great Works without checking on who raised his hand, without them feeling we have the upper hand and the resolve to pass over, what a mess that would be!”
“It’s therefore necessary no to call them to vote. They know that they’re hungry and that they’re worn out. We know that the best among them have left. We are at a time when votes are no longer appropriate. Do people vote on a ship which is taking on water? They pump. And the captain must crack the head of any man who cries `Every man for himself` because he wants to live, too, like everyone else. The Great Works just gave another forty-eight men for the special mobilisation in the south. That’s more than a vote.”
“We eat better, that’s true. Sometimes I feel ashamed of it, too. What do you want? It’s the law of armies that those in command eat better and are less exposed. Our privileges are rather modest, admit it. Do you have a spare pair of boots?…”
“No, but Zvereva with her car glued to her arse, has a closetful. The Zverevas were behind the decision to divide up the stock of the Select among the female activists holding the highest positions, dammit… while half the female workers at the Wahl Factory go barefoot…”
“I tell you our commanders are still worth more than all the others. A question of human material. After all, let the pigs get fat off the backs of the working class, just as long as it holds out. The working class has more time than the pigs. It will deal with them quite easily when it has conquered half of Europe – which we need to keep from suffocating…”
Someone stirred in the half-darkness where the shapes of trees were beginning to take form. Wisps of fog marked the bed of a river. “And that guy sleeping there,” said Kirk, “another faceless, mindless man, an X, Y, or Z, the type who gets lost on a street corner. You should have heard him the other night; Goldin asks him: `After all, what does it mean to make revolution?` and our Antonov answers, without a moment’s reflection, like an automat returning your money when it’s out of candy: `Carrying out the tasks assigned to me by the Central Committee.` Ha! That’s what it’s all about for him: memos, instructions - `order for Comrade Antonov to nationalise the Titov Manufacturing Company.` without which he’d probably walk right by the place without even thinking of it! What if those orders became stupid? What if somebody got hold of the great seal of the C.C. and no one noticed it right away?”
“Your suppositions go far. I’m glad the battalion can’t hear you. You yourself would arrest the man who formulated them out loud in front of these men. Antonov isn’t wrong. He’s a voice. He doesn’t know how to think by himself, but he knows very well what the Party thinks. He’s worth more than Goldin, who thinks too much, thinks only by himself, gets high on his thoughts and tries to comprehend, rediscover, and reinvent the world because he’s a poet, because in the end he’s nothing but a romantic muddlehead and rather dangerous to have around when safety depends on order, method, and cohesion. The cohesion of a class, even in error, can be stronger than the isolation of a few men, even with the highest degree of clear-sightedness – provided the error is not one of principle. History has not forged nor men invented a better instrument for struggle than organisation; you know that as well as I do. But there is no weapon that doesn’t get rusty, no instrument that doesn’t bend one fine day. Whoever lives will see. If the proletariat has sufficient resources within itself – and it will have them, I will answer for that, as soon as we’re on the banks of the Rhone instead of being on the banks of the Narva – neither the cream-skinners nor the adventurers will be able to outflank it. If it’s not yet able to pick up the world on its shoulders and carry it away, is it by disdaining its best weapon that it will be saved from a Bonaparte? And then, old friend, the Bonapartes did their job well for the bourgeoisie. Who knows if the proletariat won’t need them?”
 Osipov seemed to take fright at what he had just said. His hand, a shadowy hand, moved through the opaque air seeking a dead branch which was hanging and snatched it. The branch snapped. Then he went on, with a calm little laugh.
“One should not, even in thought, cling to rotten branches. I would only accept a Bonaparte in the firm intention of shooting him one day in recompense for services rendered. Because…”
They both remained silent for a long moment. A vast rural landscape, bristling in the near distance with anti-cavalry spikes, was taking shape around them.
“Because,” Kirk finished, “we haven’t come to start the same old story all over again. Or it wouldn’t be worth it, no… It would be better, for the Revolution, to perish and leave a clear memory. Blood? Blood is never completely lost.”
Osipov was practically shouting, even though his voice remained low:
“No, no, no, no! Get rid of those ideas, comrade. They’ve been beaten into us with billy clubs, I mean with defeats. No beautiful suicides, above all! They were invented by literary folk, who don’t commit suicide either beautifully or any other way. A philosophy of the whipped. No more of that! We’re here to stay, by God! To hold on, to work, to organise, to use everything to the limit including dung. Dung is also necessary. And then if we break our necks it will be something great, I grant you that, on the condition that we strike our pose before history with epic grandeur, et cetera. To live, that’s what the flesh-and-blood working class wants, that great collection of hungry people behind us whom we seem to be leading and who in reality are pushing us forward. Whenever there is a choice – give up or continue – they continue. Let’s continue, let’s get into the habit of living.”
All of a sudden the sun came up. A rooster crowed. The white clouds opened up, magical waves of gold rippled through the pale grass. Osipov was sitting at the foot of an apple tree. Kirk picked a green apple off the ground, took a bite, and tossed it into the distance with a side-arm twist learned in his twelfth year.
“Right!” he cried. “Let’s get into the habit of living. A good habit, brother. Ah!”
He felt like frolicking around the green like a colt. Osipov was smoking, eyes off in the distance, lips half open in a smile which gave the tortured oval of his face an almost childlike appearance. Had it not been for their uniforms and the undefinable weight of the years somewhere behind their thoughts, the two men might have thought they had returned momentarily to that borderland between childhood and adolescence where life is new with each morning.
“I think,” murmured Osipov, “that I’m about to be appointed to the Special commission.”
“My friend, I’ve got a beautiful case for you. A whole factory stolen – land, buildings, machinery, twenty-seven workers (none of them worth much of anything), including an assistant manager! I just discovered the key to the mystery, imagine. It wasn’t nationalised because it wasn’t under any administration. Just disappeared, what!”
The sleeper lying near them shook his covers. Antonov’s ruddy square face, planted with rust-coloured whiskers, appeared illuminated by a warm blue gaze. A hundred yards away, men were coming out of the trenches. A famished-looking soldier dressed in a shapeless tunic, whose walk seemed lopsided under the weight of the heavy wooden-holstered pistol slapping his hip, made his way toward the three envoys from the Committees. An oversized cap covered his narrow head. He might have been only a kid, even though he was as wrinkled as certain old peasants. “There’s Parfenov, the battalion commissar,” said Antonov. “A little guy from the Wildborg Printshop.” Osipov brought him up to date in a few words: “No relief for a week.” (He should have said two.) “No clothes or ammunition for four or five days. Can you hold?” The ageless little man had a slightly crooked, pointed nose, hollow cheeks in which the bones seemed about to push through, and parchment-like lips.
“We’ll try,” he said.
In front of the men, who were assembled on the edge of the trench – 140 dirty faces- it was Antonov who spoke first:
“Comrades! The Third International…”
Osipov sat at the orator’s feet, taking notwa: “2nd Battalion, 140 men: workers, 8; employees, 4; peasants, 103; undetermined social origin, 15; returned or recaptured deserters, 40. Commander and four men gone over to the enemy at our arrival. At the first meeting, shouts of `Down with the Civil War! Boots!` Lacking clothing: all. Rations: all. Boots: 27. Low on ammunition.” He hesitated when he got to the question: Morale? Above these 140 heads which had surged out of the earth  and were still contaminated with the earth, Antonov was throwing out clear phrases, hammering each one home three times in order to implement them in every brain. The Allies relentlessly set on killing us, all-powerful and yet powerless; Germany, where your brothers in Hamburg – the largest port in the world- are winning victories; the world on the point of exploding in a 1917 vastly more powerful than ours; peace, which we are proclaiming, peace which we will impose through victories and insurrections in every country; the land, which we are holding on to, the land, which the generals and their train of bankers, landlords, and traitors are trying to take back from us (“but all these hungry dogs will break their teeth…)”. The sharp words, cracked out, sometimes like pistol shots, sometimes like a flag snapping in a strong breeze. Pent-up angers changed into a cold exaltation: friendly snickers and stubborn glances were drawn like magnets toward the orator. As soon as he had stopped speaking, someone who had been waiting for that moment cried out:
“We have no underwear, we’re being eaten alive by lice! So!”
And another voice rose up:
“Is it true that the Soviets of Hungary have fallen?”
“They have fallen,” barked Antonov. “Long live the Soviets of Hungary! Hurrah!”
His two fists and his throat tossed out the cheer for the vanquished like the news of a victory. Scattered voices echoed him, sought one another for a moment, and finally came together:
It was the very rumbling of the earth from which these 140 soldiers had emerged. Most of them didn’t know there was a Hungary. They thought they had heard of an unknown victory. They were greeting, in this, the hope of deliverance. They’re right, thought Osipov. And under the heading, Morale, he noted: “Satisfactory.”

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Sunday, 22 February 2015

How the Space Race really ended

Over the weekend I finished playing a little indie platformer that caught my eye. Lifeless Planet a game whose premise revolves around discovering an abandon Soviet village and research station on a planet light years away from Earth. I like my SciFi (I'm sure you're shocked) and the chance to explore an alien world appeals to me, but honestly the gimmick with the Soviet town was what convinced me to take a dip.

I'm not sure why but I'm one of those who seem stuck in the Cold War, Der Spiegel dubbed this concept Ostlagia, or nostalgia for the Eastern block. That's close but it doesn't really fit me since I was born in the West and in the dying days of the Cold War, I can remember the break up of Yugoslavia and have vague memories of tanks with red stars on them but that's about it. Nevertheless the Soviet Union and the eastern regimes hold a fascination for me that I just can't quite shake. I'm an amateur Sovietologist. 

While seeking life on a distant planet, a skeptical astronaut discovers an abandoned Russian laboratory and suspects his mission is a hoax until a mysterious young woman saves him from a strange and deadly phenomenon...

So I started the game up and started trekking across the sands of the unnamed and unfamiliar world. Six hours later I was done, good thing I got it in a sale. I quite enjoyed most of those six hours but unfortunately the game can be added to the growing pile of projects that failed to live up to there premises. The Soviet connection is really just a gimmick, a way to make the human structures seem plausible, after reaching the town very early on for an eerie what's going on moment and a few scattered logs about life in the town and the research projects it doesn't really come into play again. Which is a shame as in addition to proper Russian voices the logs show the game makers really did their homework about the Soviet Union. Rather than the cliché  goose stepping storm troopers ranting about total victory like Nazi's in winter coats, the logs read like scientists conducting feasible experiments with unknown materials. There are also references to the possibility of this planet being capable of hosting a colony for the New Soviet Society, which was a preoccupation of internal Soviet propaganda, as was the concept of the New Soviet Man.

But the Cold War window dressing does its job well enough, it adds some variety to the scenery, and helps ground the premise. The meat of the game is the exploration of an alien world and it does deliver. I was a little disappointed however to find that this exploration is very linear, there's one correct path to the next destination with only minor diversions for mineral analysis. The logs act as breadcrumbs leading you to the important things. A little disappointing but I didn't mind it too much since the visuals are really impressive. 

 They really do sell the idea that this is a desolate alien world. The main landscape is rocks and sand broken up with a crumbling pylon or chasm. But later levels introduce far more diverse climates. You progress through the story by progressing through the landscape. You piece together the answer to the mysteries of this world by finding logs and witnessing certain events that prompt your character to make a comment and hypothesis. Though towards the end I noticed a few big expository logs being placed in unmissable locations which took the satisfaction out of figuring out the plot a little.

Though the plot is quite interesting, if you're well versed in science fiction you may well figure out a few things ahead of time. Though there should still be some surprises. The plot reminded me a little of Stargate but aside from me humming the theme tune to SG1 occasionally it remained firmly its own idea. I also really liked how you move in this game, it's set in a low gravity planet and you move like it, plodding along and able to make impossible leaps. And once you get your jetpack working you make even more impossible leaps. Though keep in mind, low gravity is not the same as no gravity, a fall from too great height can and will kill.

So there's quite a bit to recommend Lifeless Planet. Sadly there is also one or two things to sour that recommendation. I spoke about how you move like your in a low gravity environment, well that's a double edged sword, this game is terrible to control with a keyboard and mouse. It is gamepad compatible but since I don't own one that feature isn't much use. You control like a tank, turning is a chore and there is a slight issue with control sensitivity and lag. Many times tapping a direction key made a tiny turn while other times it caused the character to spin around. This is exacerbated by the abundance of jumping puzzles. I don't like jumping puzzles, I don't think they're fun and once you've figured out which way to go they only serve as a reflex test. This game has many of them, I mentioned that I played for six hours, well a good hour of that was me struggling with about three or four particularly nasty ones. You have a jetpack but that only assists distance and height, once you've jumped you cannot change direction, you can't stop if you overshoot, you have to line up exactly and hope you can gain enough momentum to reach the ledge on the other side.

Another issue that also makes the jumping puzzles a major pain is the bugs. This is not a polished game I encounter several bugs that made me restart sections of the game several times. When I first encountered pressure point traps a bug occurred where if I activated them I would be killed even if I managed to escape to the other side before they were triggered. Fortunately this didn't happen the rest of the time I encountered them otherwise the game would be unplayable. At another point towards the end I encountered what's either a very annoying bug or an incredibly bad design choice. You can't direct yourself with the jet pack you move in one direction (well two if you count height) so at one stage you encounter moving platforms. It gets worse rather then move in a pattern that you can observe and predict they sort a jerk about quit violently. Another problem is that even if you land on those platforms you often fall through them. And the final kick in the teeth? you fall forever, you have to go to the menu and reload a checkpoint.

One final bug, sometimes the menu doesn't work, you can only click on the load checkpoint option with the mouse, sometimes you can get around this with the number keys, but sometimes you can't. After finishing the game I had to go to task manager to close the application.

And while I did enjoy my visit to this strange world I very much doubt I'll be making a return journey. Once you've finished the story there really isn't anything more to do, the only side activities are collecting mineral samples, where you get a little geology lesson. But those samples are for real minerals on earth like Coal, Garnets, Basalt etc so if you're really that interested in geology you can find far more compelling information elsewhere.

Though that being said if you find the game in one of those sales or have a friend who owns it I recommend giving it a go. It's an interesting experience and the developer is still updating it so hopefully those nasty bugs will be gone by the time you're module touches down.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Casting James Bond: a Black and White Issue?

I recently became aware of what seems to have been big news for a week or two on the airwaves. If you're curious why I'm often finding things out long after everyone else, well its because North East Lincolnshire isn't exactly a hub of gossip or centre of learning. Plus I work 12 hour shifts on the docks were battery operated devices including mobile phones and tablets and pads are not allowed. So I routinely fall into a media black out. So if it doesn't make it to the mess room radio I'll probably have to play catchup.

No matter though, it seems some of the fallout related to the Sony Hack concerns one James Bond, a secret agent and alcoholic womaniser. In some of the thousands of e-mails leaked a conversation over whether or not the next James Bond should be played by a black actor, specifically one Idris Elba. This caused quite a stir, but then James Bond is a franchise that never fails to create a stir. When Daniel Craig was cast as Bond there were months of "debate" about whether or not he was capable, with the consensus leaning heavily in the direction of he wasn't. with many reasons cited. There was the usual comparisons to Connery which have dogged every other actor to play Bond, some on the internet rejected him out of hand because he had blonde hair, and other silly reasons. When Craig was made to wear a life jacket (above) for a publicity stunt he was publicly mocked on British television even though he wouldn't have been allowed to get in a boat without wearing one. And that was all before his first film had been released.
 After the role of Bond was boldly established by the original 007, Sean Connery, the
standard was set for all Bond actors to follow. And from George Lazenby to Pierce
Brosnan, Bond was cast with men that were universally regarded as handsome, tall
and naturally charismatic, as would be the case with any leading man's role.

Why then did Bond producers take the image of Bond to a new low by hiring the
likes of Daniel Craig, and[sic] actor who can at best be described as average, rough if not
downright ugly, is a question that no one in their right mind could answer.
And of course there's been a debate going on for years about the characters attitudes toward women, constant drinking and willingness to murder. So it isn't really that surprising that the possibility of Bond blacking up added more fuel to this decades long fire. And for some reason it also failed to surprise me that this potential change to a British film icon wound up more then a few media types in America either.
 "Idris should be the next Bond," Sony Pictures chair Amy Pascal wrote, reportedly to a fellow studio executive.
That was enough to set conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh into a tizzy. Bond, he said on his radio programme last week, has a distinct ethnic profile that Mr Elba, who is black, doesn't fit.
"He was white and Scottish, period. That is who James Bond is," Limbaugh said, adding: "I know it's racist to probably even point this out."

 I don't know why finding that out didn't surprise me it just didn't. This Limbaugh fellows argument seems to be representative of the others I've seen so I'll stick with this. I actually don't believe the argument itself is racist -now that is different from using an argument to make a racist point- because its pretty much true, Ian Fleming created the character James Bond and as part of his creation he came from a certain background. He was white, British and had a Scottish background, though his Scottishness was pretty subdued compared to his "Britishness" aka Englishness. He also came from a fairly well to do background having attended a number of very respectable public schools including Eton. And he was in his 30's in when the books were written meaning he was probably born some point in the twenties. So yes it would stretch credibility to have a black actor play someone with that background. It wouldn't be impossible though, there were a small number of students at these posh boarding schools from the Empire whose parents were not only wealthy but very highly connected to the British Empire and establishment.

If your objection to Mr Elba or whoever is purely motivated by a love for the original idea of James Bond and you're worried that this change goes against Flemings wishes, then I understand and don't think that's racially motivated. I don't really know this Limbaugh fellow I'm only aware of him for several viral youtube clips of some absurd rants so can't really judge. And usually I agree with this line of argument, if a film wants to adapt a book then in general I think it should strive to remain as faithful as is reasonable. But I think that argument for James Bond expired decades ago, the franchise has already moved far beyond what Fleming intended and for good reason, a faithful adaptation in this day and age would be dated by about forty years. For a start Fleming believed you can rape a lesbian straight.

Even back when Connery was still knocking back shaken Martini's the films had begun to move away from the literary character. Bond the book protagonist was quite ruthless and the action was written completely seriously, Bond the film character was increasingly comedic and less vicious, he had no qualms about killing but only when he had to. After Roger Moore came along the films were firmly entrenched in fun action comedy.

Just compare theses two trailers, Dr No

"Licensed to kill,  whom he pleases, where he pleases, when he pleases"

"More excitement, more thrills, more spills"

But starting to go back the other way a bit. But the changes go beyond special effects and tone, the background of James Bond's world and MI6 has also radically changed. A key subplot to Golden Eye was the tension between Pierce Brosnan's James Bond and Judi Dench as the new M. Specifically because M is a woman, Brosnan got over that as she proved herself capable. The role of women in the films in general have been revamped, there still used as a attractive bait for the audience but female characters went from damsel's in distress (often disposable) into secondary characters capable of actually doing things and helping out. That was unthinkable to Fleming, which was why the only female characters to have a biggish role in the books were the ones working for the baddies. We also have the fact that film Bond's background simply has to be different from Fleming's because otherwise Bond would be pushing 90 and be the anachronism. Britain has changed and so must Bond's background, and that's assuming that Bond has always been the same character played by different actors. When I was a kid watching the old Bond films, I assumed that James Bond was a code name along with 007 because he couldn't possibly be the same guy. So if that's the case, then there simply isn't any real reason not to have a James Bond be black, or come from any other background. 006 from Golden Eye was the son of Pro Nazi Cossacks and he had no trouble fitting in with the MI6 crowd.

So unless Idris Elba simply doesn't have the acting chops for the role (personally I haven't seen him in many roles) then I really don't see a problem here.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Downfall of Robert Mugabe

Ok not really,
Several bodyguards of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe have been punished for failing to prevent him falling down the steps from a podium, in an incident that drew widespread mockery online.
The 90-year-old dictator was captured on camera as he stumbled on a red carpet and fell to his knees after addressing supporters who gathered to welcome him back from a trip to Ethiopia at Harare airport last week.
His staff scrambled to cover up the embarrassing incident, with photographers at the scene saying they were forced to delete an image which could have undermined Mugabe's claim that, despite his advanced age, he is "fit as two fiddles".

Clearly it was the fault of his security team for not being able to defy a little gravity. What's the point of being an enforcer for an autocrat if you can break physical  laws along with the nation's legal code.

All kidding aside I'll say this for the man he's maintained a tight -but at times shaky- grip on the nation for 35 years now. Whilst facing some stiff opposition both abroad and internally. But virtually everyone stagnates when they've been on the job for a few years, so we shouldn't at all be surprised that a politician has made some enemies and caused a few scandals. What about his glory days when ZANU-PF was just called plain ZANU, and his Peoples Liberation Army backed by China's original PLA and North Korea.

Well truth is the early days weren't all that great either, here's a contemporary article written by the defunct Big Flame. We're going back in time to the 80's, thankfully its a land that missed the crap fashions.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Chapter 13

“I CAN do without everything,” Comrade Zvereva would say, in a voice full of unction, “except flowers. Don’t laugh at me,” she would add, “I have such a sad life!” The blue files were piling up on her little worktable between a vase full of azaleas, the telephone wired by direct line to the Special Commission, and a portrait of Rosa Luxemburg in the dark oval of an Empire frame: gold fillet and bows. Sometimes, friendly and familiar, she would telephone the director of the former imperial greenhouses: “You haven’t forgotten all about me, Jacobsen? Yes, yes , my dear friend, send me some flowers tomorrow.” Jacobsen, slack-faced, crippled with rheumatism, took his cane and headed for the desolate greenhouses. Only a small section was still kept up, and this with gret difficulty: in winter he had to deprive himself of fire at night out of love for a few rare plants. In the damp warmth of a gallery defended with unsung heroism, he found the only man remaining at his post, silent Gavril, agile for his seventy years, who had created many masterpieces in his long life as a horticulturist; Gavril, who knew all the varieties of roses, whether they came from Bulgaria, Italy, California, Japan, or the indies, and who had invented some of his own. “Gavril Petrovich, that woman, you know who, is asking for more flowers.” The two men considered each other for a moment with sadness. They alone had survived the disaster of the most beautiful greenhouses in the Empire, in Europe – perhaps in the world!- visited in 18 – by the Crown Prince of Japan, who was amazed to find an extremely rare family of chrysanthemums there… They no longer, even in the summer, crossed the threshold of the closed galleries, exposed to murderous winter, containing Indonesian ferns, Brazilian lianas, thin palm trees from Ceylon, dead and still in the polar cold and still standing, tragic to look at like the corpses of children. “Very well, I’ll go over again,” muttered Gavril. “What must be, must be. Poor us.” – “Poor us.” At that moment Jacobsen noticed among the little red pots some tiny buds of a tender feathery green, growing around a yellow grain. “What! You were able to save them, Gavril!” Gavril’s gnarled hand caressed the little pot lovingly. – “It wasn’t easy, Iakov Iakovich, but look how well they’re coming along.” Heads bent, they contemplated tiny buds together. But the harsh breath of the outside world brought them up short. “Iakov Iakovich, our fish are dying…” Jacobsen expected as much. “it’s not possible!” – “They’re dying of hunger, Iakov Iakovich. They closed down the German’s shop; seems he was speculating. The aquariums in his window are full of little dead angels. It breaks my heart! Yesterday I climbed every flight of stairs in the Commissariat of Public Education. I waited four hours to get in to see the member of the collegium himself. I told him like that, right to his face `You’ve got to feed my fish. You nationalised them, you’ve got to feed them. I’m an old proletarian myself, understand? I’m telling you my scarlares are dying already; my pantodons…` He showed me the door, Iakov Iakovich, that’s what things have come to.”
Jacobsen proposed:
“What if you spoke to that woman about the fish, Gavril Petrovich?”
Old Gavril trudged through the streets for a full hour bearing four pots of nearly white hortensias which he carried on a plank suspend across his chest by a thick strap around his neck. People watched intrigued as the silk-paper-covered flowers went by. They brought back memories of galas, weddings, saints’ days, other times. Where did the come from? For what happy people?
When Gavril arrived, Comrade Zvereva was in fact happy. A note from headquarters informed her of the arrest of two of the wanted suspects from File No. 42: X, first name Danil, discovered at Professor lytaev’s  with papers which were probably fake. “The Professor!” What a master stroke for her first big political investigation. What long faces some of her colleagues would pull when they saw her handling this case. She could hear those hypocrites congratulating her in advance, and she answered them, full of austere detachment: “For me, you see, there are neither big cases nor little ones; there is only the service of the Party.” That would shut their mouths, all those neophytes who think they’re so great just because they’re examining magistrates of the Commission. She would make her report to the President that very evening: “I got the case moving, as you requested…”
Gavril found her in an excellent mood. Evidence of a sumptuous luncheon – Gruyere cheese, salami, real tea- arrested the old horticulturalist’s eye. So they were true, eh, stories they told about special rations set aside for those people. After all, they are masters.
£Gavril, you’re my best friend in the world. But your hortensias are simply marvellous! And how is Jacobsen?”
That bitch would never think of offering him a cup of tea, though she might be able to guess he would be thirsty in such hot weather! And for months he had drunk nothing but slops of an ersatz tea made of carrot scrapings. Poor us. Gavril sighed. The countless wrinkles of his face seemed begrimed with damp earth. His eyes shone out of it like the dark elytra of tiny coleoptera.
“I have a big, big favour to ask you, Comrade Zvereva, and for Iakov Iakovich, too…”
(…You have to know how to say no. We’re not sentimentalists. Duty first. Say no politely but irrevocably. Don’t go thinking that I’m easily moved just because I’m a woman.) Comrade Zvereva’s winning smile melted slowly into an expression of austere distance.
“Go on, my friend.”
Gavril felt a sudden chill. He felt like grabbing his cap off the chair where he had thrown it and beating it without saying another word; but it was a matter of life or death for his scarlares and his pantodons.
“Well, my fish are dying…”
A warm smile illuminated that woman’s glance.
“Really? Your fish? And what can I do about it, Gavril. My good fellow?”
The seeds, the flour, the earth, the worms that were needed existedin the German’s shop, which was closed. The German was in flight or in jail. The shop under seals. All that stuff was going bad. And the fish were dying. Zvereva, delighted, noted the details; the address, the department. “Well, I’m going to save those fish of yours. This very day the German’s store will be opened for you, Gavril, my good fellow… I’ll get on the telephone this instant, you’ll see!”
She loved to insist on imperative orders or requests over the telephone. There are, you see, people who are born organisers: those who know how to make others listen to them, to handle the levers of authority, to give precise instructions. There are also other types, anarchic and romantic temperaments, whom, all things considered, the Party needs only for a time.
Gavril walked home with a high heart. Trucks bristling with shimmering blades jolted along huge bouquets of black torsos with with glowing heads. Hands waving their berets on the points of bayonets: dark tulips borne by straight stems of heavenly blue. Hair flying, mouths clamouring, eyes flashing quick bright glances. A chorus of powerful voices mingled with the motors’ roar:
“We will unfurl
Labour’s red flag
Across the world!”
Gavril realised that these men were returning from a victory. For the first time, his joy was in unison with theirs. He crossed himself, for it was in front of the Kazan Cathedral. “Let itlive, let it live afte all, our starving Republic… when the war is over, the greenhouse will come back to life. Maybe we’ll see it Iakov Iakovich…”
Kirk lived in Room 218, Frumkin in 311, Arkadi and Ryzhik way upstairs. The President of the Executive occupied the best suite on the second floor. A nest of cables ran through a hole in the wall next to his door. Kirk seemed out of place among these more or less interchangeable men. Kirk loved only revolution, energy, and, secretly, outlaws. He had come to know them on the highways of America when, himself a tramp, he had bummed his way across the States from north to south and from south to north, following the seasons, spending winter in Florida, spring in Manhattan, and the summer on the shores of the Great Lakes. You slept at a buddy’s, in the woods, in gardens, in barns, in jail (some of them aren’t bad). The loggers’ strikes, in those days with one-eyed Big Bill. That was nice work! He still bore their scar, over his right eyebrow, which was thick and brown, split in half by a pink line. His big round eyes took easy possession of things, jostled people, and forced their reserves with careless, good-natured ease. “What will they do with me after they drain me dry?” he asked, propping both booted feet on a chair.
His wide mouth split into the constrained smile of a man who has made a bad deal and knows it.
“What will become of me when there are new uniforms for the whole army?”
Zvereva was admiring herself, something she always did. She never failed, when at home, to sit so that the big looking glass returned her slightest gestures bathed in silvered, mirrored purity. Hysterical, thought kirk. A whore’s temperament; and that snout, like an evil nun for a Maeterlinck play…
She answered: “You will serve the Party Kirk.”
(…Not for long, though. Semi-anarchist, not a real proletarian. A lumpen-proletarian rather, newcomer to the Party, ready to criticise everything, calling the leaders’ portraits “little holy pictures”, casting a chill over the table of the Executive by declaring the President’s last speech “horribly boring, and completely wrong as far as figures are concerned!” – She could easily see herself interrogating him one fine day, with him accused of having a hand in some stupid adventure of the third revolution…)
(…Orthodox, of course, to the tips of her nails. Flat on her belly before the President’s slippers; - but tomorrow, if Kondrati’s clique takes over, pfui, it’ll be “Comrade Kondrati this” and “Comrade Kondrati that” every time she opens her mouth. Where does she get her flowers? I’d bet she gets a special ration at the Executive with cocoa, hazelnuts, and condensed milk taken from my wounded….) “Some people,” said Kirk “make revolution like getting kicked in the ass. The garrison on the Obruchev front, hearing what happened at Fort Hill, arrests the Communists, debates for hours whether or not to shoot them, and locks them in a cellar, so as not to compromise themselves, while waiting for orders from the Whites. We take the hill. I telephone the sons of bitches: `Ten minutes to surrender, no conditions.` They pull the Communists right out of the bunker and stick their officers in. What shits!”
He spat a heavy glob at the blue carpet.
“By the way, Comrade Zvereva, the Committee has directed me to work with you on the Centre Right case.”
Zvereva took this blow without batting an eye. She knew you had to swallow many affronts before being able to inflict them in turn.
The arrest of the five Centre Right confederates accidentally brought about that of a stranger known only as Nikita, who refused to answer when interrogated. He was kept closely watched in a special cell at the Commission. He was obviously a man of exceptional endurance. Kirk observed him through the peephole, stretched out on the floor, eyes closed, with his arms behind his head. “He won’t talk.” But, sewn inside the collar of Danil’s tunic, they had found a scrap of paper covered with ciphers. Bobrov got it directly from Zvereva. Bobrov was a little man of about sixty, neat, meticulous, dressed exactly as if he continued to report to his office in the Ministry of the Interior every morning. He lived with a Lutheran matron and two ugly little girls supervised by a German nanny. The fall of the Empire and of two governments had changed none of his habits except the route of his morning walk, during which, in winter, he wore the same fur-lined coat and, in summer, the same black, silk-lined, lightweight overcoat and well-brushed, pearl-grey derby hat, perhaps the only one still to be seen in this city. Witty and apathetic, he occasionally smiled at himself along the way; his white sideburns, hanging down on both sides over a China silk necktie on which gleamed two tiny riding crops, in gold, gave him the air of an old roue in an operetta. He had long preserved this “Parisian” elegance, which he had picked up in Vienna around the high-class bordellos. For a little distraction, as a supremely disinterested spectator, he would read the first lines of wall posters along the way: MOBILISATIO OF WORKERS: OBLIGATORY REGISTRATION OF NON-WORKERS CALLED UPON TO EXECUTE PUBLIC WORKS; PEACE TO RELIGIONISTS! When a poor devil in an engineer’s cap walked next to him for a moment in the street murmuring: “Ruined civil servant, twenty-four years of irreproachable service, two sons killed at the front, four months in jail; I haven’t a stone to rest my head on, like the Son of Man!”- Bobrov stopped, slowly opened his billfold and pulled out a wad of rubles, the price of a half-pound of bread, which he considered to be a Christian alms. He gave only to extremely clean beggars you could imagine coming from the former bourgeoisie. Under the dictatorship of the Proletariat, as under the ancient regime, secret directives kept him free of all cares. The furnishings and arrangement of his office, in a building next to the Commission, had remained nearly identical for twenty-five years; he had personally seen to it that nothing changed when they were removed from the quarters of the Political Police. They consisted of coloured cartons, pigeonholes, file cabinets, card indexes, dossiers, alphabetical records, charts, complicated number systems, thick annotated volumes, literary classics, Lives of the Saints, sheaves of newspapers, photograph albums. The Secret Codebook of the British Navy neighboured with Gogol’s Dead Souls. There were several useful editions of Lermontov’s great poem, The Demon. Bobrov deciphered the most carefully coded texts. He possessed the key to all the locks of the mind. He divined miraculously, reading “I. 81. V.” at the head of a cryptic rune that the key was to be found in Volume I of the 1873 edition of Lermontov’s Works, on page 81, in verse V of Mtsyri. He knew the favourite first names of terrorists, the false initials most frequently adopted by people whose names began with a K, the codes preferred by lovers, madmen, assassins, blackmailers, secret agents, great idealists, world organisers. They would bring him a postcard with the following lines, written under a view of Lake Constance (white sails, lake hotel, mountains): “Splendid weather, wish you were here, Linette”; he would translate: “Check received, sum insufficient, Agent 121!” – and it would be true, he could have demonstrated it by the yachts on the lake, the number of windows in the hotel, the indentations of the mountains, and those of the postage stamp. Under the ancient regime the chiefs of police used to introduce him into the residences of important ministers for highly special services; they would personally act as go-betweens with the procuress attached to the imperial family to reserve him skinny, depraved little girls, whom he would painfully deflower every month, on the twenty-fifth, from five to eight o’clock. Under the new regime, special couriers brought him envelopes sealed with five red stamps; Comrade Zvereva herself made sure that he received a food ration more opulent than that of the members of the Executive Committee and which could only be compared with that of the President.   If the memory mechanism of his brain had not been reduced to a purely technical function, he might remember having deciphered the cryptograms of the illegal Central Committee. Their systems were not profoundly different.
It took him little time to penetrate the meaning of the following lone: 21.2 2.M.B.G. 4. H.O. 6.2.4. 60. 2. R. 11. A. 4. M. 9. 10? 4. 2. R. 9. S., which should be read: “Kaas, 8 Avenue of the English, reliable.” Moreover, he remained convinced that the encoder had made two mistakes. What he feared most in the subterfuge of others were irrational complications due to error. Before subsiding each day into an astounding imbecility which bordered on genius without ever attaining it, he had dreamed of writing a Treatise on Error, where stupidity and the multitude would be revealed as the only invincible enemies of the human mind.
Thanks to him, Kaas, who was strangely like him, was arrested. An unlucky businessman, the files of the former Political Police presented Kaas as a double agent. As soon as he was seated face-to-face with Zvereva – Kirk studied him from profile- his tremulous voice reeled off a prepared speech:
“Citizeness. The admirable vigilance of the Special Commission has convinced me of the justice of the great cause of the proletariat. I confess that I have conspired, but as a loyal adversary of the dictatorship and through a profound mistake. I no longer have any desire but to rectify it by lavishing the proofs of my repentance on you. I was to have occupied an eminent position in the government of the counterrevolution; I am ready to reveal to you all the threads of the conspiracy, beginning with the names of the thirty members of the League of Resurrection.”
The sickly creature was playing his last card with an intelligence sharpened by so much fear that he seemed on the point of collapse. He kept his hands beneath the edge of the table so that their trembling should not be seen. But his whole head was trembling.
“I know your organisation quite well. You are Kirk of the Public Health Commission, the Economic Council, the Metals Management, the Special Supply Commission of the Seventh Army…”
“Citizen,” said Zvereva, “that’s quite enough. The Commission will find ways to put your sincerity to the test.”

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