Tuesday. A protest march in the US has some women dressing in
they're recycling from other recent protests.
East European girls express to me stunned disbelief and compassion for Western men.
Monday. Artificial life is now
alive. 6-base DNA a thing.
Sunday. Chaos as Baroque souls climb ladder, enter sky machine.
Saturday. Chilly and not-so-chilly days continue to alternate. Comforting that some folk still do dress-up theatricals: pantomime lives on.
Friday. Two articles about Northern Ireland: Provos of Animal Farm & the unfairly maligned work of the RUC Special Branch.
Thursday. On the subect of time, we have talking alarm clocks & futureless languages. Plus a brilliant business trick to show us all how to create a new product: take off your minute hand, put 24 hours on the dial, and rebrand it as a new concept in wristwatches.
Wednesday. Don't put jade eggs up yourselves, girls.
Tuesday. Senior Hungarian lawyer tells me he's seen a fall-off in both 1) curiosity about international legal discussion and 2) raw intellectual quality among Britain's highest judges since a) drastic reduction to Lord Chancellor's role and b) move from House of Lords to separate Supreme Court.
Monday. Pet dogs frolic in 17th-century library.
Sunday. Big chill suddenly lifts. Sunspot numbers still falling though.
Saturday. Continuing disagreements about President Honey Monster and Russia. Article finds the Russia-hacked-elections evidence weak. Another piece points out that officials from FBI never asked to see servers involved. Another website catches Washpo puffing up Russian electric-grid hack non-story. Glorious urinating-Moscow-prostitutes allegation still in full blossom.
Friday. Sankt Peterburg DJ, 2 December shows:
Thursday. 1960s actress Fran Jeffries died back in mid-December.
Wednesday. Vampirism works!
Tuesday. Lucid summary of foreign-policy events in December by man in cowboy hat, including thoughts on the ambassador offing.
Monday. Miraculously, after I get paid twice as much as I expected by the magazine, I'm able to redeem laptop, plus new topcase, from the laptop people. Otherwise couldn't have paid them.
Sunday. US women to protest against Donald Trump by wearing pink pussy hats. Not yet anatomically correct knitting, but doubtless that will come.
Saturday. Polish anglers find Nazi officer inside fish. Supposedly.
Friday. Young Lorinc explains some of the moves he finds hardest in skating, and I get him interested in one of the short stories in 'The King in Yellow' collection. All about a ghastly, unspeakably horrific book that drives you insane if you make the mistake of reading it.
Thursday. Good article about a new translation of a short book from John M.'s house by Spengler, author of 'Decline of the West'. Though I'm still an optimist. Am I "cowardly" or "criminal" in Spengler-speak, I wonder?
Wednesday. Get to the end of a compilation of verse borrowed from Robin, 'A Book of English Poetry - Chaucer to Rossetti', collected by G.B. Harrison. There are some odd choices, and the sheer number of writers forces him to trim down many to just one or two poems. The overall effect is grand though. The penultimate poem, Matthew Arnold's 'The Scholar Gipsy', is intriguing. One stanza reads
But once, years after, in the country lanes,
Two scholars whom at college erst he knew
Met him, and of his way of life enquir'd.
Whereat he answer'd, that the Gipsy crew,
His mates, had arts to rule as they desir'd
The workings of men's brains
And they can bind them to what thoughts they will:
'And I,' he said, 'the secret of their art,
When fully learn'd, will to the world impart:
But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill.'
Tuesday. Finish Heikki's gift to me from last year 'Righteous Gentile' by John Bierman, the inspiring yet sad story of young Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. The long back half where he disappears into the USSR's prison system for decades, recalls Wilde's bitter remark that no good deed goes unpunished. Countless Soviet bureaucrats literally could not imagine a wealthy aristocrat from a neutral power endangering his life merely to save hundreds of the Jews they despised so much (therefore he must be a spy). This fact is almost enough by itself to prove the worthlessness of the 1917 revolution.
Monday. Train journey back to Budapest. Finish reading Che Guevara's 'Bolivian Diary', a slightly odd but intriguing Christmas present about the pop-star communist partisan who died in 1967 trying to overthrow Bolivia's government and almost at once become a bedroom-wall poster. This is a depressing read because it's easy to imagine how thrillingly heroic it must seem to immature readers lacking in human sympathy or understanding (lonely schoolboys, for example). To anyone with a more experienced eye what jumps out is the humourless, unreflective dogmatism of both Guevara and Castro (the edition has a pompous, mechanical introduction from Fidel, who outlived Che, imposing the communist dream on several million luckless Cubans for another half century).
The stiff-necked dullness of Guevara's minutely detailed combat diary (there is almost no fighting) in his last 11 months leading his band of revolutionaries through Bolivian hill country is puzzling at first. It reminds us he was a medic as well as a Marxist, and therefore apt to take himself very seriously on both counts. Still, reading this account from cover to cover it's hard to see what the point of the diary was in practical terms. The claim is, Guevara is earnestly noting down lessons and mistakes so as to hone his team into a successful spearhead for leading the overthrow of Bolivia's government. Yet a reader soon feels this was meant to be a statement, a kind of justification for his short, violent life - a record of why he felt what he was doing was righteous and glorious, disguised as a low-key, no-nonsense combat notebook of daily privations, injuries to his team, and distances walked. It was obviously of huge potential value to the government forces tracking them, and therefore supreme recklessness to be writing it in the first place. Even had his force grown bigger, the geographical information alone in the diary if captured would almost certainly have made the decisive difference in crushing whatever larger revolutionary movement he'd created. Yet that was the thing he claimed to be sacrificing everything for.
However if the goal was to leave a personal memoir of a conflict he suspected he might not survive, to burnish his own Marxist sainthood with an autohagiography, then he succeeded brilliantly. Read naively by someone who lacks discernment, this is an exciting day-by-day account, written in modest, unpretentious entries, of a romantically doomed historic struggle. Read a little more shrewdly, this is a tedious 11-month text where he sabotages the chances of the revolution he claimed to fervently desire, as well as the plucky band of comrades he was leading to their deaths. Both were probably sacrificed on the altar of Che's posthumous reputation by this incriminating, boring, yet "gritty" document. It has thrilled millions of boy readers despite lacking any literary or military merit. The whole point of reading it is you know he dies at the end. Reading it is an act of religious homage by penitents who piously trudge through the daily entries up to his capture.
Che's sabotage of his band's chances is not only in the act of writing the diary. It slowly becomes clear that his feckless leadership is what gets him and his men killed in the end. This detailed account of a difficult, not to say pointless, long march trying to "raise the consciousness" of understandably nervous peasants in remote districts shows none of the cunning and patience of Mao, nor any of Castro's luck and audacity.
It quickly becomes clear that Guevara was not a talented officer, nor a memorable writer, nor a flamboyant bandit. Like the narrow-minded medical student in the German joke who's handed a phone directory and immediately asks when the test is, Che shows himself here as a plodder. The mass of detail, his tendency to note down any event without an apparent pattern or system ("---the pig arrived, quite a large one", "Two turkeys were caught, a small animal was trapped but its foot was severed and it was able to escape", "Miguel still has a high fever", "We postponed target practice because of rain", "No special news today") remind the reader of someone mediocre struggling with what he feels is a historic task, yet a task which is beyond him. Guevara has no overview of his band's situation as they get increasingly encircled. They frequently get lost. They frequently lose specific men for days on end. Simple things go wrong for them. They are incompetent at hunting for food. They go round in circles without any apparent plan, struggling to cut paths through thick undergrowth. Worse still, Guevara quarrels with his men and comes across as a poor commander. He has to resolve what he feels are childish disputes, yet fails to. He writes that he must have a word with this comrade, yet doesn't talk to him for days. He writes of one man's desertion, yet he is still recorded as with the band several days later. He punctuates their aimless forest wanderings with finger-wagging little speeches to (he thinks) buck up morale. He repeatedly blames other people, in prissy tight-lipped prose, for shortcomings like lack of maps it was obviously his responsibility as leader to secure. He lacks initiative or flair.
It started to cross my mind that Castro sent the good-looking wannabe commando on a doomed mission to get him out of Cuba (perhaps as a possible political rival) for ever. Castro and he had seen live action together before, and Castro perhaps knew from close-up experience of his character that Che was gullible and wouldn't last long if given command in hostile country without proper support. Not the slightest hint of any suspicion of this shows in Che's unimaginative, bureaucratic text. It never occurs to him he might have been duped by Havana. You get just the faintest feeling he subconsciously sensed he was never coming back though. Otherwise why record all this banal laundry-list prose, except as a testament?
New Year's Day. Robin returns from Debrecen. NYMEX closes open-outcry pit. Should be obvious by now this is a dumb move, you'd have thought. Intelligent people in the 1980s already could see it was a mistake closing trading floors - how slow off the uptake can you be? 30 years and they still don't get it?
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com