Saturday, 30 May 2020

In Memory of George Floyd

It happened again, a few days ago the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin (though at least one other officer just stood there and watched it happen) in Minneapolis in the state of Minnesota appalled many. This is not a rare occurrence, immediately after the news became well known the families of many other victims of police murder -the majority of them African Americans- in the recent past came forward to share their accounts too.

This time however, the people of the Twin Cities had had enough and massive street demonstrations erupted which the police met with even more violence. Only this time the police over estimated their ability to beat and intimidate the population, they quickly lost control and by nightfall they had lost a precinct which burned into the night.

Solidarity protests have broken out across the United States, many of which are also being met with military style violence from the police and in some cases elements of the national guard and far right paramilitary groups.

At the time of writing this I know very little about the life of George Floyd apart from how it ended, so I have no idea if he was in fact an "angel" to use the measurement the American mass media likes to use when determining whether or not someone deserves to be killed by someone with a badge and a blue shirt. But I don't need to, because I don't support the ability of the police or any institutional force in society to take the life of anyone. And to seal the matter I have seen 48 seconds of George Floyd's life. In that 48 seconds officer Derek Chauvin has his knee pinning George Floyd to the floor, but this is not enough for him, he has to taunt, lecture and berate the man he has at his mercy, all the while ignoring George Floyd's pleas for air. Its pretty disgusting to watch, but it's important to see.

The video and other versions with more or less footage and obstructive watermarks aren't hard to find online. Since I am extremely remote from the United States, never mind the state of Minnesota, there's not much I can do beyond token gestures of support and sympathy. So I did what I have experience in and made another version of the video with a transcript for added clarity. I don't think there's any danger of this video being pulled from the web, especially now the state and federal government are scrambling to contain the fallout and doing a very poor job, but I hope it may find some use somewhere.

CONTENT WARNING Video of the Arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis [Transcription added]

[Officer Derek Chauvin] What do you want?
[George Floyd] I can't breathe!
[Floyd] Please - the knee on my neck, I can't breathe shit.
[Officer Chauvin] Well get up, and get in the car man
[Floyd] I will!
[Officer Chauvin] Get up and get in the car!
[Floyd] I can't move!
[Officer Chauvin] I been wiping the whole (unintelligible)
[Floyd] screams of pain
[Officer Chauvin] Now get up and get in the car!
[Floyd] Mama!
[Officer Chauvin] Get up and get in the car right! [Floyd] Mama!
[Floyd] I can't!
[Officer Chauvin] Get, go get your on too it and get in, - I'm talking to you can't win
[Floyd] My knee, my neck [Officer Chauvin] You can't win man
[Floyd] I'm doing
[Floyd] My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts
[Floyd] (in pain)need some water or something, please!
[Floyd] Please!
[Floyd] (in extreme pain)I can't breathe officer!

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Invergordon Mutineer By Len Wincott

Invergordon Mutineer


Len Wincott

To the men of the Royal Navy who time and time again

have proved their incomparable courage

in the face of adversity.

1.    In the Boots    1
2.    We’re inthe Navy Now   16
3.    Submarine Boy   27
4.    China Station    39
6.    A HappyShip    75
7.    Sunday, 13September 1931   85
8.    The GuiltyAdmirals    98
9.    Strike Meeting    105
10.  Mutiny   112
11.  The Admiralty’s Revenge    129
12.  Inquest   146
Epilogue   176
Index  179


1 In the Boots

I was born into a very poor working class family. Now contemporary critics consider this a very heavyweight way to begin an autobiography. Maybe it is, but at least I claim originality for my opening, for it is the absolute truth, something I intend to adhere to throughout the whole of my story. Autobiographies, like everything else, have changed. Years ago they were rare, usually the work of some scion of the bluebloods whose claim to an audience was based mainly on the assertion that a forbear helped Mrs Boadicea to burn Roman London. Nowadays the claims have a different character, instead of filling page after page with society balls, house parties and other aristocratic gambols, the autobiographer of today, by a clever piece of word jugglery, gives the impression of a genteel but somewhat poverty-stricken intellectual who has managed to struggle through college on a shoestring. Further investigation generally discloses however that at some stage a rich aunt turned up to foot the bill, in some cases sending her beloved nephew, in addition, a sample of the edible wildlife in her county. Very touching indeed, and one feels one should sympathise with the poverty which prevented the writer from buying a car – his third one, that is. These gentlemen have a strange language for the poverty-stricken, including such expressions as `What would you like to drink?` when some friend drops in for a chat.

In our genuinely poverty-stricken family, eight children and a drunken father, the language was the true language of compulsory shortage. When mother handed us the sugar to sweeten the tea, she always said, in all seriousness, `Remember, sugar is for sweetening not thickening`. If one of the older children, that is a wage-earner ventured to suggest that their portion was rather small, mother quickly pointed out that it was even smaller where there was none.

Although not fate, but a lack of knowledge of contraceptives, gave us to an illiterate drunken bully of a father, our burden was eased by a miracle-working mother. On Saturdays, our father would stagger into the little house of three up and two down with a single golden sovereign hidden under his tongue. Rumour had it that it was he who inspired the story of the working man’s wife who warned that carrying one’s wages in one’s mouth was dangerous as there might be germs on the money; to which he replied `A germ couldn’t live on my wages.`

How much he really earned neither mother nor any other member of the family knew. All mother knew was that out of that one sovereign she had to feed eight children, him and herself, and find tobacco for him. He smoked a clay pipe stuffed with an evil-smelling twist that looked like the unwashed pigtail of a seventy-year-old Chinese. The rocking chair by the fire-grate was the throne from which this bricklayer’s Ivan the Terrible glowered dire threats at anyone who dared to speak. No one ever did. A well-oiled strap dangling from a nail at the fireplace was a perpetual reminder for us all that the booze-angered deity did not forgive. His method of beating seems to have been adopted by the modern all-in-wrestlers except that there was nothing fake in the punches our father handed out. Brutal beatings were usually followed by the child in question being sent to bed without food. Anyway the junior members of the family were obliged to retire for the night at 6 pm, and then the others in order of age. Only those who were twenty-one got the key to the door, but those who were nearing the age of twenty-one during his tyranny did not wait to test the validity of the key to the door theory but just simply walked out. They had learned by bitter experience that the key to a lodging house was worth two to his door.

In the midst of all this misery stood mother, firm as a rock at the same time as soft and comforting as the warm sand on a beautiful beach. She often had to be a strong bulwark between him and the child who was, in his besotted conception, a wicked and wilful defaulter needing to be thrashed. It made little difference to him that she was the woman who had brought up his two children by a former wife and bore him nine that he blindly created with no consideration for anybody or anything except his lustful satisfaction. If she protected her child with her body, then her body bore the brunt of the blows. When we came home after playing (mainly football with a rag ball on the `stadium of the plebeians`, the street, we were obliged to remove our boots and hand them over to the ogre for inspection. Woe betide the unfortunate who had kicked out one of the heavy hob nails he had covered the soles with. But it was mother, not he, who found the shoe factory which was selling rejects cheap – and found the money too, for that matter.

The money was far from easy to find. It entailed slaving over a washtub of other people’s dirty linen from morning till night. In those days washing was heavy work, twirling clumsy dolly pegs in a huge tubful of waterlogged clothes and wringing them out with a mangle half as big as the kitchen. The two massive rollers were turned by swinging with all the weight of the body. As all this was done before a steaming coal-fired boiler, one wonders how a working woman ever came out of the kitchen with strength enough to climb the short stairs to the bedroom and there be raped by a moron who had long ceased to give her any joy or satisfaction, in bed or out of it.

Amazing as it may seem, our mother not only fed us, dressed us and saved us from the two killers that took so many of my schoolmates, TB and Meningitis, but in that age of no maternity homes or proper medical attention, it was she who brought into the world half the children born around our streets. When a pregnancy out of wedlock occurred, my mother realised it long before it was noticeable to anybody else. It was she who shamed he young man into fulfilling his duties or, if he was married, knew other ways of helping the couple out of their difficulty. But she was no illegal abortionist: that was their affair; she only approached the right people to get the money. Herself, she never received a penny from the unfortunates she helped. She continued her good work almost to the day of her death. On one occasion she stayed by the deathbed of a woman with thirteen children and a drunken husband, and after feeding and washing all those children and tending the dying mother all through the night, she came home tired out and wanting only to sleep. Four days later she was dead. But that is going too fast ahead. When the First World War broke our father’s boozing decreased, not because of any desire to reform but simply because in wartime drink was difficult to get. The beatings, not being affected by the shortages remained at their prewar level.

Just about three years before the start of the First World War, I had made my initial trip to the neighbouring school in the company of my mother. She had one more little boy on her hands who was bidding fair to be an invalid, as polio had caught up with him, and she wanted me at school a year before time. So she talked the headmaster into receiving me at the age of four into the infants’ class of the Catherine Street Elementary School of the City of Leicester, one of Britain’s oldest towns. (Twice recently I wanted to phone this city of almost three hundred thousand people and on both occasions I was asked by the Moscow operator `Where is it?` - an ignorance I attribute less to Russian shortcomings in geography than to the fact that the World Service of the BBC ignores the existence of our major cities, preferring to concentrate on the thirteenth-century music and the stained glass windows in old churches.)

My introduction to the three Rs, which we were supposed to get at least an inkling of so that we might in the future be able to read the murders in the papers and reckon up our wages as one shilling an hour for a forty-eight-hour week, was not very promising. I was dull, scared of every word the teacher said to me as I expected it to be followed by a blow. In fact I soon learned that the Three Rs were more properly Four, the fourth being the Rod of which we had plenty. One of my teachers gave a whack across the hand for every mistake in dictation.

We all spoke with the Leicester accent, not acknowledging aitches, say `yo` for `you` and uttering vowels as broad as the Atlantic, but no effort was made to improve our speech or give us a love for the language which birth had made our right and which a traveller can travel the whole world with. Instead there were stupid singing lessons that nobody needed, in which the teacher spent his time going round with a tuning fork to detect the boys who were striking false notes. He never got beyond me, for by the time he had finished handing out cuts with his cane for my false notes he had no more energy for sleuth work with the tuning fork. It was no good trying to explain that I was a breadwinner and sold the Leicester Mercury on the streets in the evening; or that he who made the best sale was the one whose screech of `Eeextrra Merrrcurrreee!` reached the furthest corners of the city: an accomplishments which, of course, did not aid the vocal cords to produce the sweet sounds our music teacher demanded.

But in general the demands of the teachers were not exacting. In fact the teachers were no more interested in us than we were in seeing Santa Claus on Pancake Day. They were aliens to us and I suppose we were to them. They lived in another part of the city, the `posh` part, and when lessons were over they jumped on their bicycles and sailed away to it. Even their language was, in a way, foreign to us and except for the teacher responsible for sport they never used it to converse with us on other than school affairs. I can only remember one of them visiting a pupil’s house. That was when the captain of the school’s  football team was dying of meningitis at the age of thirteen.

As for us, we had no desire for homework and nobody offered us any. At that time, when wartime shortages meant effort and ingenuity to obtain something over and above the ration, I had a peculiar form of homework. Every other day I got up at three in the morning and walked through the darkened city to join a huge queue at a shop in the centre which opened at six to sell a pound of something edible on the `first come first served` principle. The other days I got up at six because the shop then opened at nine. Although I did the journey so often, I could never get rid of the fear of walking through the dark streets alone. Our town was as safe as Fort Knox, yet I walked along in the middle of the street, whistling as loudly as I could in an attempt to convince myself that Dutch courage is not only found in bottles.

The now-demolished railway station to which the van brought the local newspaper was a scene of great activity every day, for here the soldiers coming home on leave from France arrived, and as they left the train we mobbed them for souvenirs and French money. A certain French coin just fitted into the penny-in-the-slot machine which shot out a small bar of chocolate in return. At the station I also kept a look out for any of my three elder brothers who had all gone to the front, leaving me the only man at home. Early in 1918 father had been taken to hospital where the doctor diagnosed fatty degeneration of the heart, adding tartly that it was not caused by drinking too much lemonade. He lingered for a year and then we got the news that he had died. It was a Saturday. I had been playing in the street and I knew my mother and elder sister had been visiting the hospital. I came into the house for a drink of water and found my mother and sister sitting before the fire somewhat dejected. I asked what the matter was, `Your father has died,` they answered. `Oh!` I said, and walked out to continue my game. I can’t remember whether I told any of my chums but it seems to me that I did not. The game interested me more.

On a bleak January morning in 1919 we all got dressed in black and took him to the cemetery. We were tearless when we went there and tearless when we returned. Eleven years later when I was in the Navy and qualifying in the Gunnery School at Devonport, I received the news of my mother’s death. Unable to say a word I chose a far corner of the barrack room and stood there for more than an hour while the tears poured freely down my cheeks. I cried in silence, not once lifting my hand to brush away the tears, one phrase repeating itself incessantly in my brain: `They can’t bury her with that man!` I will never forget how when I was at sea somewhere and there was a devastating storm over England, she would spend the whole night praying for my safety. Her photograph is before me now, as it will always be.

The war ended and the men teachers returned from the front, more hardened and less averse to letting out a strong word or two, in the absence of the head, of course. Likewise they were more inclined to bring the cane into action. My academic successes were nothing to boast about, but even if they had been I don’t suppose it would have mattered much: my destiny, like my classmates’, was, in the expression peculiar to Leicester, `in the boots`. Some of our teachers who disliked our mutilation of the English language and other lowborn characteristics would comfort themselves by taunting us about going `in the boots` with total acceptance of the idea. Nobody ever asked me or anyone I knew what we intended to do in the future. That was the prerogative of the `rich`, the children in private schools. As for further education, it was never even thought of.

Just before my father died our teacher decided to run a mock election with two candidates contesting for an imaginary constituency. Naturally the captain of the school, a very popular boy because he played football well and had a father who had been a fairly successful professional boxer, was immediately adopted as the Conservative candidate. Nobody, however, wanted to be the candidate for the very unpopular Labour Party, and it looked like a walkover for the Tories. There was no reason why I should care about this. Our family were anything but Labour supporters, in fact we were all aggressively Tory, and at any election a faked-up photograph of the Tory candidate was put up in our front window. But for some reason I got up and volunteered for Labour. One or two pitying glances were cast at me but on the whole the boys were delighted that there would now be a real contest.  The campaign consisted of each candidate coming in turn before the class and making a speech which was to be followed by questions. To everybody’s amazement I wiped the floor with my opponent and answered the questioners almost into the ground. Then the count took place and I had lost by only one vote. All the congratulations came to me and for a time I was the proud peacock.

I had not noticed that the headmaster was standing by the open classroom door during my speech and when some days he presented me with a diploma entitling me to attend highschool I was more shocked than a pauper who has heard he has been left a fortune. I ran all the way home taking surreptitious glances at my elaborately coloured diploma and placed it on the table with an air of `now, what do you say to this?` My pride soon went sliding into the dirt bucket, however for when the family saw that a small payment was required. I was told to take the diploma and tell the headmaster to hang it on the wall in the smallest room of his house. I was wise enough not to deliver this message verbatim but I lost the diploma to the local barber’s son who was counted among the `rich`.

A further blow to my election victory soon followed. Our school was shaken to the very foundations by a most extraordinary event for 1919. Not far away, about two miles or so (Catherine Street was then on the outskirts of Leicester), was a small farm, where, one early morning, an aeroplane had chosen to make a forced landing. The whole district was agog, for in those days the egg-crates which our intrepid airmen flew were rarer than hairs on a head of cheese. Nowadays I don’t suppose anyone would bat an eyelid if a flying machine of that size landed on his window-box.

All through morning lessons we were fidgety, and whenever the teacher’s eagle eye turned away we made motions with a thumb in the direction of the farm. We were absolutely sure that just before breaking up for dinner at twelve o’clock a benevolent headmaster would announce that afternoon lessons had been cancelled. Imagine our disappointment when no such announcement was made! We were wild, angry, rebellious and I organised my first strike. Quickly I spread the news that instead of going straight home to dinner, we would gather on an adjacent piece of wasteland and there hold a protest meeting. On the basis of my election speech I was of course chosen as speaker, and my call for a strike was met with loud cheers. After dinner we gathered again on the waste ground and then set off to march to the fields. We were about half way there when someone gave a shout. On looking back we saw all our men teachers mounted on their bicycles, waving their canes and rapidly overtaking us. Like cowboys in a Western they herded us back to school and corralled us in the drill shed. There stood the headmaster, shaking his cane in a most ominous manner.

`Now,` he saif, glaring along the row of boys, `who is the ringleader?` There was a silence. `Who is the ring leader?` Not one boy answered. A third time he put the question, and out stepped a boy who had suffered at the hands of jibing teachers for his name, which was Slow. There he stood, head up and slightly inclined to one side, hands clasped behind his back. `There are no ringleaders, sir,` he said, his voice level and firm. `We are all of the same mind.`

There he stood, the plebeian, `when-did-you-last-see-your-father,` boy, calmly facing the roundhead schoolmaster. Of course he got the biggest share of the cane but he took it with the same fortitude as he had answered the head’s question. Six months later I sat with his mother by the side of his bed and watched him die of meningitis. It was terrible, the way he suffered. Although I later saw men die of ghastly wounds and strong men die of starvation in the siege of Leningrad, no suffering has ever left such a deep impression on me. I left the house and made a collection among his schoolmates to buy a small spray of flowers. When, on the day of his funeral, I placed them on the coffin lid I saw the brass plate with the words `Harry Burdett Slow`. They remain forever in my memory.

A month or so later the circus came to town. It was a poor, shabby affair and its appearance was not heralded by the usual parade of camels and elephants with scraggy loungers in patched motley riding aloft. As the trucks drove on to the ground all hands joined in the hard labour. It was at this moment, with the debris of disorder strewn all about, that I came on to the field. Evidently the big top had just been raised for it stood in the centre of the chaos, mute and bleak, waiting for the bunting, the lights and music to breathe life into it. My appearance there on a school day was more accidental than deliberate. I had not planned to come and did not even dare dreaming of being the `daring young man on the flying trapeze`, giving the breathless crowd a pain in the neck as its eyes strained upward to follow my sensational dives across space. When the school bell clanged out its summons I left home to answer it, as I had done for almost nine years. But somehow instead of turning right in the direction of the school, I turned left in the direction of the circus field.

By the partly open entrance to the big top stood a man who was unmistakably the boss. He wore an almost-new suit of a strange beige-lavender colour, in the middle of which a promontory stuck out, giving the impression that his chest had slipped and the waistcoat with its long row of buttons was there to prevent the slip becoming an avalanche and landing his chest at his feet. He was a big man with a hooked nose and to one side of it, covering one of his eyes, was a monocle. Despite the gaudy get-up it was difficult to take him for a clown, for with the mechanical regularity of a ventriloquist’s doll his mouth opened to emit sounds of command suggesting an automatic potato peeler filled with bits of sheet iron.

This was my man. I stepped boldly up to him and asked if he needed any help. `How old are you?` `Fourteen`, I answered. It was no lie, just an overstatement of the truth by about six months. That six months, however, made it illegal to take me on as a worker. The boss turned into the top and pointed at a pick lying on the grass. `Take that pick`, he said, `and go round the ring loosening the turf for the horses to get a footing.` Then without waiting for my response, he left the tent and began issuing his far-from-musical orders again.

I looked at that pick and wondered if he thought he had engaged a weight-lifter. Except that it had a wooden shaft, it looked like an anchor for a battleship. Years later in Devonport Naval Dockyard the huge seven-ton anchors lying about immediately called to mind that pick. Evidently circus owners and dockyard officials have something in common, perhaps a sense of humour. For both the pick and the anchors bore a notice `Not to be taken away.`

Somehow I managed to do the job but I must admit that it was not me who brought the pick down to cut the sod, but the pick which brought me down almost to kiss it. He was a live wire, that boss. No sooner had I delivered my last blow than he stuck his head in the door to order `Go and help the strong man`, jerking his thumb in the direction of a ragged curtain in one corner.

This was where all my illusions about the circus in general and their strong men in particular were devastatingly shattered. My years of study at the street-corner school of philosophy, where the dons give lessons in how to send smoke down the nostrils, artistic cursing and their own lurid sexual experiences, most of them imaginary, had absolutely convinced me that circus strong men were fakes and that the huge dumb-bells they threw around with the greatest ease were rubber. This one was huge and flabby, like a Japanese heavyweight wrestler who cocks his leg as if he has been bitten by a dog and cannot get out of the habit of leg-cocking. He pointed at the dumb-bells and told me to roll them over to the side. Trying to impress I made a dive at the bar, intending to set them rolling with a mere thrust of my arms. When I did connect it was with such a jarring blow that I thought my arms were broken in several places.

The strong man never blinked an eye but threatened to cuff me if I didn’t stop playing the fool. Clearly he did not like boys, especially me, and several times he stuck his massive fist under my nose to remind me that the cuffing was always near. But I did discover a number of fakes in the short time I was at the circus. The sharp-shooter, who shot out of the air anything and everything his stooge threw into it, used buck-shot; he could not miss. He was a bald-headed runt, dressed, cowboy fashion, in a pair of motheaten hairy chaps several sizes too big for him, because, instead of being bow-legged as a cinema rustler should be, he was knock-kneed. He always appeared in the ring unshaven, believing this made him look like Joe Ryan, then the screen’s most beloved bad man. The lion, into whose maw our young lady tamer put her blonde-painted grey locks, must have been the grandson of the character Daniel chummed up with. When nobody had time to put it in its cage, it just strolled around among the company, and if it got in anbody’s way, they simply gave it a cuff and it slunk under what was available as cover, like a cur caught scrounging in the dustbin. The clown said the fierce teeth it displayed during the performance were rubber, and if, after yawning, it shut its maw sharply, it would bounce open again.

My efforts to make fame, if not fortune, came to an abrupt end when I saw some rehearsals with the other performing animals. In rehearsal the sugar given as a reward at the performance was replaced by the whip. To see a huge grizzly bear, its maw viciously clasped in a metal muzzle, grovelling on the ground as the trainer stands over him and slashes him about the head is an ordeal. Nobody remonstrated, in the belief that at the first sign of weakness the trainer would perish. The idea that it would perhaps be better not to have performing animals if their training involved so much brutality never entered their heads.

So I walked out and home. Apart from anything else the promised cuffs from the ham fists did finally land on my person. I was often beaten at home but home-made beatings are always more tolerable than other people’s. I crept into our street a little hero to my schoolmates, who thought that my adventure in the circus had raised me to a status they could never dream of. I returned to my own home to be fed by my sister, hugged and wept over by my mother and thrashed by the schoolmaster. He had long ago given up the idea that my budding promise as a politician would ever bear fruit.

A few months later I left school, having achieved nothing, least of all in my studies. But good luck met me in the labour market. By chance I noticed a little factory down an entry to a yard. It was a factory for building hosiery machines and though three stories high employed only about eight workers. The owner Mr Arkwright, who was still working at the age of eighty, was a direct descendant of the original Arkwright.*[1] He took me on as a tea-boy, errand boy and non-indentured apprentice for the fabulous wage of ten shillings a week. My mother was delighted, for at this time hundreds and thousands of workers were being laid off to join the biggest queue anywhere in Britain, the queue to the Labour Exchange.

However a year of tea-making and errand-running on the one hand, and learning nothing and receiving no increase in my princely salary on the other made me think of moving on. I was finally convinced by one of our workers. He had once kept a pub and had been deprived of his licence for not observing the time laws. By some misfortune he discovered that a certain inspector in the City of Leicester police was my mother’s brother and therefore my uncle. Moreover this was the very officer who had caught him serving drinks after closing time. He decided to blame me for the unpleasantness that my very officious uncle had brought down on his head – and for the loss, to his pocket, of what, in those days, was considered a gold mine. I took advantage of the fact that my sister had recently married a man employed at the huge Wolsey works, and managed, with his help, to get taken on there.

But the persistent deepening of the depression with its attendant growth in the army of unemployed could not pass our works by, no matter how huge they were. More and more often we were sent home because there was nothing to do. How long it would be before we were sent home never to return was anybody’s guess, but everybody guessed perfectly correctly that one day or another it would come t pass. Somehow I became the possessor of a little pamphlet called How To Join The royal Navy. Naturally there was the usual slogan `Join the Navy see the world`, but, equally naturally, there was no mention of the old sailors’ bitter addition `Serve twelve years and see the next`. Not knowing any sailors, old or young, I was little troubled by this. Sailors were such a rarity in our town that the appearance of one on the streets caused heads to turn. Perhaps that is why no ship of the Royal Navy has ever been christened `HMS Leicester`, although neighbouring Nottingham appears on the stern of a cruiser and I doubt if there are many more Nottingham men in the Navy than Leicester men. At least our city has one Naval hero. In 1926 a Royal Naval sloop was sunk in a hurricane in the West Indies after an heroic struggle by all the officers and men against fearful odds, in seas which made impossible the launching of the ship’s boats. One man remained at his post sending out distress signals as the water flooded his wireless office and, when all power from the ship’s engines had broken down, continued to send out signals from a battery powered set. He went down with the ship, a Leicester man whose father kept a well-known pub in the city called Spitall House.

But no one will suppose that a sixteen-year old boy was moved by ideas of heroism to read a pamphlet on how to join the Royal Navy. In my case the urge was certainly the ominous spectre of unemployment. I despatched my letter to the nearest recruiting office, which was in Nottingham, and in a few days was invited to come to that city and try y luck. I needed luck. The physical examination went well enough. It was when I was faced with the ordinary, standard seven examination in arithmetic that I flopped. I was already preparing myself for a repeat performance of my empty handed return from the circus – not this time as the prodigal son to be cherished by those who had worried, but as the son who had failed the most simple exam.

However, the recruiting officer, an ex-naval chief petty officer, was reluctant to let me go, possibly because all other showings had been in my favour – or maybe because he was working on a commission basis. Anyway he quietly showed me where I was going wrong, tore up the disgraced paper and gave me another try. The next morning, with no more school tests to face, I was on my way to London for a more stringent medical examination.  Whatever those doctors thought about the contents of a candidate’s head, they were determined to find out the most minor defect of his body. All day we were passed from one doctor to another, each dealing with some little part of our anatomy in which he was obviously a specialist. Short of turning us inside out there was nothing they did not do, and when, towards evening, they concluded their collective examination not an authority in the world could doubt their conclusion that we were physically fit for service in His Britannic Majesty’s Royal Navy.

About 8 pm we left Liverpool Street Station for Harwich, bound for the Royal Navy Training Establishment at Shotley.

[1] Richard Arkwright (1732-92), inventor in 1769 of a cotton spinning frame worked by water power.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

The Economics of Used Cars

I've found myself with a lot more free time and have been filling that time with catching up on a lot of my reading and watchlists. Recently I've come across a 2004 documentary called Slasher, and no it's not a true crime style documentary about a serial killer, its about a used car salesman. A used car salesman who has become so dedicated to selling old cars that he's created a sort of celebrity persona around it called the Slasher.

It doesn't appear to be a very well known film, its been on youtube for a few years and has less than 20,000 views, and I've had a hard time finding information about the film. I only knew it came out in 2004 and John Landis was involved in some capacity because the uploader gave that information out. Looking it up I found a sparse IMDB entry with the above promotional poster.

A documentary on a stereotypically shady used car salesman, one who convinces customers to buy vehicles that others have deemed unfit for sale.
IMDB synopsis

I'm a little surprised to see them market it as a comedy as its one of the most depressing and exhausting films I've seen in awhile. I get why they did it, John Landis is known for two things, that helicopter crash which killed two children, and hit comedies like The Blues Brothers "watch a man sell work himself into exhaustion tricking poor people into buying old clunkers" probably didn't focus test very well, even if it is more accurate.

There are moments when the people being filmed make a few wisecracks and some shop-floor banter, but the closest equivalent in comedic tone I can think of is if The Office were a real documentary at a real company and workforce and not a scripted comedy pretending to be a documentary.

So I'm not surprised its obscure, but I think that's a shame as while it is really horrible and exhausting to watch, its one of the best examples of just how pernicious and destructive capitalist economics is on essentially everyone who takes part in it. Over its 85 minute runtime we see how market economics effects and shapes the Slasher and his team of celebrity (celebrity as in diva attitudes) salesmen, the regular staff at the lots, the lot owner and the customer base.

I don't think its a surprise to anyone that the world of used car sales is built on trickery, manipulation and deceit, but the lengths and the sophistication the Slasher and his team go to, in order to pull off a successful 3-day sale, the Slasher and his team draw up a battle plan that's based on surprisingly sophisticated market research, study of the local economy and psychology.

"The American consumer, if they drive by a pile of horseshit for a million dollars, and they drive past it for two weeks and one day they drive by and there's a sign for a dollar, they'll buy the shit."

The Slasher is a celebrity in the world of used cars in the United States, he does radio adverts, press interviews and makes his money flying around the US holding big publicised sales for used car sellers. His success revolves around a gimmick, he's the Slasher because he slashes prices, and he has a fake plastic chainsaw which he uses to "slash" prices and paperwork. He brings a team of other highly dedicated sellers with him and he appears to have been consumed entirely by his work personality. I've seen this film several times and I don't know the Slasher's real name is, nor can I remember if he ever says it on screen or not. The IMDB profile tells me its Michael Bennett, but aside from two very brief segments he acts like the Slasher throughout, even when he's chatting with his team or resting up in a motel after work, he's always speaking in a rapid fire "Hi, how are you, isn't it a great day?" manner, and he's constantly moving and twitching like he does when he's pounding the tarmac of the lot. In order to make this life of selling overpriced and borderline undriveable cars to people with very poor credit he seems to have sacrificed his own identity. At the end of the film he's sitting in a car and is having a mental breakdown, he's choking up and lamenting his life and just wishes he could be normal. He's tired, he doesn't want to be the Slasher but he can't stop, he just can't be normal it's too late he has to provide for his family and he's trapped himself in this life.

The sale where we watch the Slasher and his co-workers who sort of count as his friends do their magic is in Memphis Tennessee. The film was recorded in 2004 and this is important Memphis isn't doing very well and this was before the 2008 financial crash and recession. Looking back its easy to fall into monolithic model of global capitalism, it has a boom period and then it has a bust period. But this is misleading, its booming and busting all the time everywhere, the traditional economy of Memphis has collapsed and poverty rates have increased. I don't want to think how bad Memphis and places like it were hit when 08 happened on top of their already crumbling economies.

We see a lot of this in the film, in addition to the Slasher persona, the Slasher and his team have another gimmick to draw in the crowds, an $88 car sale. They will sell some (it looks about one car per day of sale) for $88. This is important because several segments show the team going about getting the word out by essentially just going into the community and putting up signs and stickers but also just talking to people whenever they have the opportunity, cashiers at shops, staff at drive throughs, people on the street. And what's get horrible about this whole thing is it becomes very obvious that many of the people they're talking to are very poor, because they're just being polite to the man whose talking to them nicely, until the sales people let them know there will be cars for sale for as low as $88. In several cases you can see the people stop for a second and seriously consider it now, because they now can afford a car potentially if its for $88.

The kicker is that in addition to there only being about 1 car per day going for that price, the rest of the cars for sale despite "slashing" are not in very good condition, still very expensive, and since they're expecting mostly poor people to turn out for this sale they're are prepared with multiple different down payment and credit plans, many of which seem (I'm not an expert on finances) to be essentially rip offs, like paying in instalments with add-ons like insurance (including one sale where life insurance appears to be added to the package) so when its all calculated add up to a much higher cost than the price agreed upon. Oh, and the prices written on the windshields are mostly made up and inflated specifically so the sales people can drop down the price in order to entice a sale.

They also use this technique which I didn't fully understand but seemed effective where by asking what appear to be fairly harmless questions about their customers while waiting for the manager or the Slasher they were able to profile their customers based on how much they can afford and how likely they are to default, which seemed to be very effective. People believed to have very little money and extremely poor credit were given a badge of a different colour to those believed to have a higher price range. It seemed to work too based on the footage of them processing sales paperwork.

Oh and those $88 cars were the oldest and in most need of repair models on the lot that still looked presentable. The Slasher even says as the first $88 car sold drives off the lot
"That's what you get for $88, if it makes out of the driveway you've got yourself a deal."
And later on a segment shows that $88 car essentially completely broken down, the engine won't start, its leaking fuel and the owner says she was told she'd be better off scrapping it. The other cars are in better conditions but they're still old and in poor shape and still being hocked at inflated prices with very predatory payment plans. But what's really sinister about this is that it works a lot more than you'd expect, a lot of people get really into the festivities of the sale, and when that $88 car makes it home the neighbours are really impressed and many of them show up the next day. Its really hard to watch these people's hopes and dreams being exploited by a group that has sat back and planned to exploit them to the full with the support of an industry that has had decades of experience with these tricks on their side. That first $88 car was a present from two parents for their daughter who was going to college. Looking at the neighbourhood they live in it seems likely that this was the only car they could ever afford and they bought it purely to provide for their daughter. It's sickening that their hope and wish to do a nice thing for someone they care about is being used as fodder for a predatory business spectacle. The team are even able to talk their way into a sale against customers who have experience with cars and can see the obvious problems with the car on offer, that's how well they've done their research into their craft.

The two least sympathetic people in the doc are the "Mercenary" the Slasher's main collaborator and the lot owner who hired them in the first place. The Mercenary (again I don't remember his name and the IMDB entry didn't list it) is essentially the Slasher without the charisma. Which bear in mind the Slasher is a man who runs up and down a used car lot in a suit and a plastic battery operated toy chainsaw. He's even more macho and "no nonsense", who knows all the tricks and makes no bones about the scummy side of the business, he's more than happy to spend several hours essentially wearing down a customer to close a deal. He's also the one who spends most of his time in the office working out payment the plans, the Slasher doesn't really handle the paperwork he just runs up to a customer and haggles with them, and if they agree on a price he shakes their hand, lets them play with his chainsaw, wishes them a great day and then runs off after another customer. Its the Merc who we see bad mouthing the customers for giving him a hard time for the most part, even though he knows full well most of the cars are junk and he's saddling vulnerable people with a lot of debt and financial obligations.

The Slasher and his team are manipulative but they're doing it for the lot owner who has final say on the sales going through. At the start of the doc he says he hired the Slasher to host this sale to free up lot space since he's given up on ever selling the cars that will be for sale since they've been there for so long. Sound bites by him make it clear he knows full well the sale will mostly draw in the poor and desperate, and that he's selling them junk that can just barely be considered road worthy at extortionate prices. But even with him we see some of the damage of capitalist economics. His business doesn't look to healthy, later segments suggest that this is less about getting some space for better inventory and more a way to stay in business. And well this is only a 3-day sale in a city that is going through some very hard times, according to the doc the biggest employer is Fedex which operates mainly out of the airport. Most of the shots of the city show it to be in decline and well many of the people who turn out to the lot leave as soon as that days $88 car is sold. There's a lot of tension between him and the Slasher and his team as the sales haven't been very strong, they were expecting at least 60 cars to be sold over the 3 days and days 1 and 2 were disappointments and day 3 has the Slasher so desperate to bring in customers he runs into the busy road while ranting on his microphone. The last segments of the sale end on a sort of positive note with the number of sales picking up but its unclear to me if they made it to the agreed upon number, which if they did they'd receive a bonus.

But even if they did make the target I don't think he has a healthy business base anymore. Most of these people were lured into the lot by what was essentially the promise of a free car, the cars themselves are old and in bad condition, the Slasher and his team pulled out all the stops and spent 3 days of hard work (the Slasher is physically and emotionally exhausted) to drum up some business and they're leaving.

On IMDB there's a review of this film by user denves2003 who claims to be from that area.

I used to live 50 miles north of Memphis so I know where their dealership is. Having gone through a six-month stint as a car salesmen (while between jobs) a long time ago I know a few things about the games the sales-people AND the customers play. Yes, salesmen lie through their teeth ("I have to talk to the sales manager"; "we're not making a thing on this deal"; "we're giving you {fill in the blanks} for your car which is more than it's worth", etc.).

But customers also lie (I'll be back),and I've seen many who will come in just to jack a salesmen around. Real time-killers.

But on to the movie. The "Slasher" is the typical used car salesman with the hyped up attitude and proclaiming to cut prices to the bone. It was still interesting and worth everyone's time to watch.

I thought the gals hired to bring in the customers was a typical tactic and it probably worked, esp. with the blond.
This review was in February 2005 so I guess the lot survived until then at least, but I still get a strong sense of a business that's now been made obsolete by much more powerful market trends and just marking time. Even the lot owner is aware that the economy in Memphis is bad and that he has fallen, many of his segments involve tales of his glory days, he sold Cadillacs to Elvis and was frequently invited to parties at Graceland. Now he has to rely on a man running around with a plastic chainsaw to talk people into buying cars he couldn't be bothered to pay to have chewing gum removed from the seats.

I think ultimately the message of Slasher is that even the supposedly simple act of buying a commodity takes an extreme emotional and physical toll on everyone in the process. Its easy to vilify the salesmen but they're essentially trapped in these roles they've worked in for so long. I don't like the Slasher as a person he has a charm to him and he clearly dedicates himself to the tasks he has to do, and he does seem to genuinely care about his family and hate being away from them, but that doesn't change that he's built a career and identity out of tricking and hurting people. They aren't soldiers or police officers, or selling weapons but they can still cause a lot of damage, having to default on a payment can tank credit completely, buying a car that breaks down almost immediately when you're depending upon it can have all sorts of consequences. But when he was breaking down in the car and trying to come to terms with his life I had to pause the video several times because it was that uncomfortable to watch, and it is somewhat relatable. Every job I've ever had has required me to do things and behave in ways I am not comfortable doing, and I don't think this is unique or rare, its just that the Slasher is an extreme case.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Sifo - Liu Shifu (1884-1915)

SIFO - Liu Shifu - (ĉine 劉師復) (1884-1915), estis ĉino, verkisto kaj la unua anarkiisto en Ĉinio. Li naskiĝis en 1884 en Kantono (Ĉinio), kaj mortis pro malriĉeco, neflegita dum la malsano la 27-an de marto 1915 en Ŝanhajo. De sia junaĝo li partoprenis politikan revolucion por renversi la Manchu-dinastion. Bombatencis Manchu admiralon en Kantono, 1907; malsukcesis; perdis sian maldekstran brakon; en malliberejo dum 3 jaroj. Multe verkis. Helpis sukcesigi la revolucion; rezignis altan ŝtatoficon; sin turnis por socia revolucio. Adepto de la doktrinoj de Tolstoj kaj Kropotkin. Fondis „Konsciencan Grupon“ kun vivreformaj principoj. (vegetara, senservista, senedzeca ktp). Esperantisto de 1912. Kunfondinto de Esperanto Asocio en Ŝanhajo. En 1913 eldonis ĉiusemajnan ĉinan Esperanto-gazeton „La Voĉo de la Popolo“. Fariĝis mem redaktoro, kompostisto kaj presisto kaj predikis anarkiistan komunismon.

Vivo kaj agado

Sifo estis influa figuro en la Ĉina revolucia movado frue en la dudeka jarcento, kaj en la Ĉina Anarĥisto-movado specife. Li estis esenca rolanto en la movado, precipe en provinco Kantono, kaj unu el la plej gravaj organizintoj en la Ĉina Anarĥisma tradicio.

Li komencis sian radikalan karieron kiel membro de la Ĉina Atenca Grupo, kontraŭkolonia movado kiu estis forte influita de la taktikoj de la rusa nihilisto-movado kaj rekomendis revolucian terorismon kaj la atencon de krimaj elitoj. Post konvertiĝo al Anarĥismo li kondamnis ĉi tiujn taktikojn kiel kontraŭproduktemaj kaj transmetis sian fokuson al baza organizado inter kamparanoj kaj laboristoj por konstruadi revolucian amasmovadon. Li estis unu el la unuaj ĉinaj revoluciuloj kiuj grave rekomendis organizadon al kamparanoj kiel kerna elemento de ilia revolucia strategio.

En 1912 Sifo fondis la “Asocion de kokoj kiuj kokkrias en mallumo” (alinome Kokokrio-asocio), kies ĵurnalo, Voĉo de la Popolo, estis la gvida organo de ĉina anarĥismo en la 1910a jardeko. Sifo estis sperta ekzemplo de de anarĥisma doktrino kaj lia polemika interŝanĝo kun la socialisma gvidanto Jiang Khangu helpis al popularigo de anarĥismo kiel “pura socialismo” kaj al ĝia distingo el aliaj tendencoj en socialisma penso.

Oni kutime priskribas la Kokokrio-asocion, ankaŭ konata per "Guangzhou grupo", kiel “gvidata” de Sifo. Tio ĝustas se por tio oni komprenas gvidadon per ekzemplodono ĉar oni neniam cedis al li formalan postenon aŭ trudan aŭtoritatecon fare de la grupo. Ĝiaj plej gravaj kontribuaĵoj en tiu momento estis la starigo de “ligo inter intelektuloj kaj laboristoj” kaj ĝia politika propaganda laboro kiu ekintencis la diferencigon de anarĥismo disde ĉiuj aliaj socialismoj kiuj iĝis pli kaj pli popularaj; kaj tion farante, ĝi sukcesis unuafoje formigi klaran ideon pri tio kio estas Anarĥismo. La Guangzhou grupo uzis certigajn asertojn pri rajtoj de laboristoj, virinoj, kamparanoj, kaj alia subpremataj grupoj por enkadrigi ĝian koncepton de Anarĥisma socio. Videble malĉeestis ia mencio pri etnaj malplimultoj, ĉar parto de ĝia nociaro estis la elimino de etna, rasa, kaj nacia identecoj favore al internaciisma identeco kiu enmetu unuarangan gravecon je fideleco al homaro kiel tuto, anstataŭ al iuj etna aŭ rasa grupoj.

Endas rekoni ke ĉi tiu pozicio estis formulita responde al la graveco donita al ideo je etneco de la Kontraŭ Manĉu-movado, kiu provis rajtigi la nelegitimecon de la Qing dinastio surbaze parte de la fakto ke ĝiaj membroj apartenis al etna malplimulto kiu havis nenian rilaton al la Han plimulto, pozicio kiun Anarĥistoj de ĉiuj kvar ĉefaj grupoj mallaŭdis kiel rasisma kaj nekongrua al movado kiu deklaris labori por liberigo. Ĝia pozicio, sekve, estis ke organizado bazita je etneco instigis rasismon, kaj ne havis lokon en revolucio kiu serĉis liberigon por tuta homaro.

Li estis tre aktiva en la movado por la Internacia Lingvo Esperanto, en kiu li uzis la pseŭdonimon Sifo.

ĉi tio artikolo el vikipedio

*Specife li estis la unua anarkiisto aktiva en Ĉinio. Tie jam ĉinoj anarkiistoj en la ekzilo komunumo.

Sifo -Liu Shifu- (Chinese 劉師復) (1884-1915) was a Chinese writer and the first Anarchist[1] in China. He was born in Canton and died in poverty from lung cancer on the 27th of March 1915 in Shanghai. In his youth he took part in the political revolution to topple the Manchu Dynasty. He bombed a Manchu Admiral unsuccessfully in Canton in 1907, he lost his left arm and spent 3 years in prison. He wrote a lot. He helped the revolution succeed, resigned from high office and turned towards the social revolution. An adept of the principles of Tolstoy and Kropotkin, he founded the "Conscience Group" which practised life reforming principles (Vegetarianism, selflessness, free love etc). Became an Esperantist in 1912, cofounded the Esperanto Association in Shanghai. In 1913 he published the weekly Chinese and Esperanto language newspaper "Voice of the People", became the editor, compositionist and persistently preached Anarchist Communism.

Life and Activity

Sifo was an influential figure in the Chinese revolutionary movement in the early 20th century, and in the Chinese Anarchist movement specifically. He held an essential role in the movement, mainly in the province of Canton, and one of the most important organisers in the Chinese Anarchist tradition.

He began his radical career as a member of the "Chinese Attack Group", an anti-colonial movement which was strongly influenced by the tactics of the Russian Nihilist movement and supported revolutionary terrorism and attacks on the criminal elite. Later after his conversion to Anarchism he condemned these methods as counter productive and transferred his focus onto a base organisation to unite the peasants and workers to build a revolutionary mass movement. He was one of the first Chinese revolutionary to recognise organising peasants as a crucial element of their revolutionary strategy.

In 1912 Sifo founded the "Association of the Cock who Crows in the darkness" (also known as "Cock-Crow Association) whose journal, the Voice of the People was the leading organ of the Anarchist movement in the 1910s. Sifo was an expert example of the Anarchist doctrine and his polemical exchanges with the Socialist leader Jiang Khangu helped to popularise Anarchism as a "Pure Socialism" and to its spread to other tendencies in socialist thought.

It is usually written about the Cock-Crow society also known as the "Guangzhou Group" as being "led" by Sifo. This is true if one understands leader as a guiding example, but the group never establishes a formal leadership position or mechanism of authority. Its most important contribution in this moment was the establishment of a "link between intellectuals and workers" and its political propaganda work that aimed at differentiating Anarchism from the other socialisms that became more and more popular; and that work succeeded for the first time in forming a clear idea about what Anarchism is. The Guangzhou Group used the assertive claims of the rights of workers, women, peasants, and other suppressed groups to frame its concept of Anarchist society. Evidently there was no mention of ethnic minorities, as part of its conception was the elimination of ethnic, racial or national identities in favour of an internationalist identity that would place a primary importance on fidelity to humanity as a whole, instead of to certain ethnic or racial groups.

We must recognise that this position was formulated in response to the importance given to the idea of ethnicity within the anti-Manchu movement, which tried to establish the illegitimacy of the Qing dynasty on the basis that they were members of an ethnic minority that had no relation to the Han majority. A position Anarchists of all four main groups dismissed as racist and incompatible with a movement that declares to be working for liberation. Its position therefore, was that an organisation based on ethnicity encouraged racism, and could have no place in the revolution that sought to liberate the whole of humanity.

He was very active in the movement for Esperanto in which he adopted the pseudonym Sifo.

This article is from Vikipedio

1: This is somewhat in dispute, while there were other Chinese Anarchists active at the same time or before Sifo, many seem to have been active in the exile or international student communities or politically active but didn't become anarchists until later.

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