The Black and White Converse Challenge

This morning I was walking along a small street in Camden Town. Ahead of me, above me, was (of course always is) a telephone wire sagging between two telegraph poles. How old fashioned that looks these days. I walk here often and have therefore seen this wire often.

A few weeks ago there was a pair of black and white converse trainers dangling from that high up wire, in the middle, far from either telegraph pole. How had they got there?

Today there are eight pairs of black and white converse trainers, all old, dangling from the wire.

Who put them there? When? How? Why? Are they proving something, the (I presume) young men/boys who for some reason have turned against converse? Is it a dare? How long will the shoes stay?

Posted on Saturday, September 14, 2013 at 09:38AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | Comments1 Comment | References1 Reference

Snowden, Russia, the USA and Guilty Parties

This is getting ridiculous - in all senses of the word. Here are a few knots to untie:

In Russia's Tverskoy Court a guarded but empty cage in the courtroom has just been found guilty of tax evasion. I have no idea what sentence was demanded for it (in Russia no one is ever found not guilty), but in this case as far as I know sentence was not pronounced. This may have been because the convicted man who would normally have been in the cage had already been dead six years.

His name was Sergei Magnitsky, and he was a tax lawyer engaged by a US-born British Investment Fund manager to investigate weird things happening to the finances of his company. Magnitsky said he had uncovered $230 million of tax fraud among officials in Russia's Interior Ministry and Tax office. When he reported this to the police in 2008, he was arrested for that same crime and died a year later in prison.

According to the Kremlin's own human rights commission he had been tortured. No one disagrees that he was denied medical care for a pancreatic condition that developed while he was in prison. He was 36 years old. The authorities in Russia have said there is nothing to invstigate in relation to his death.

Cut to Edward Snowden, currently living in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetevo airport. He has fled the USA because he told the world about the degree of US (and incidentally UK) government snooping on citizens' and foreigners' email and telephone traffic. Such was US government embarrassment at this that it has divested him of his citizenship, making his passport invalid. So he is stuck in the transit area of an airport, apparently sitting in no country at all.

Snowden has allegedly applied for asylum to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia - perhaps not best known for their records on the protection of human rights. They have all said they would look at his application with sympathy - but he has to be on their soil to proceed. He cannot get there because US-friendly European governments have forbdden over-flight rights to any airline with Snowden on board.

So last Friday Snowden had a press conference in not-Russia, which may or may not have helped him, but it did give President Vladimir Putin the chance to tell the world what a champion of human rights he himself is. An article in Forbes Magazine has somehow contrived to suggest that while Russia is running show trials (which is true) the USA's snooping is entirely legal because the bodies that decided to okay that were democractically elected. According to Forbes, Sergei Magnitsky was a whistleblower who died for his pains, but Snowden doesn't deserve the title because the US authorities haven't done anything wrong.

Snowden has to be naive. There must have been somewhere more sensible to flee to than Russia. (Another idiot is Gerard Depardieu, who decided to take the proffered Russian citizenship in order not to pay French tax on his huge film star income. In Russia you only pay a flat rate of 13% - which makes me wonder why so many people are charged with tax offences and embezzlement, in the Russian catch-all term moshennichestvo.)

Actually, back to Russia and Magnitksy. The tax official he said had masterminded the fraud for which he died was one Olga Tsymai. Her accomplice as head of the tax inspectorate was Olga Stepanova. Oddly, the two Olgas have both just been charged with tax fraud, the victim this time being the Russian state. Perhaps that's the difference: in the first case it was a Western company; in the second, it was 'us'.

But what the authorities are now saying is that the Olgas have been part of a gang that was set up in 2009 - the year Magnitsky died. So that's all right, then. If the gang was nly formed in 2009 the women cannot possibly have been involved in the fraud Magnitsky said they had perpetrated a year earlier, with a modus operandi exactly like the one they have just been accused of by the Russian State...can they? Certainly I have yet to read of anyone in Russia making the connection. Or anyone else, for that matter.

It all stinks. Everywhere.


Posted on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 04:46AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

Whom to Believe?

I saw a young man in a vest, standing outside Kentish Town tube, his bicycle leaning up against a wall. In educated tones he spoke through a surprisingly effective loudhailer: 'This is a security announcement. The world that you see is not real. It is a construction to make you believe what they want you to believe, but nothing you see or hear is real. Children, do not believe adults. Nothing they say is true, none of it is real." Presumably that applied to what he was saying too?

But then, as someone has pointed out to me, it would also apply to what I have just written. And so on and so forth.

Posted on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 04:07PM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

Spies, Writers and Libraries Running Scared

I seem to be going back over old BBC programmes...but never mind: here goes.

In 1983 I was in Prague to make a feature about Franz Kafka who had been born there 100 years before. In 1983 he was still banned in Prague, and much admired elsewhere, though not everywhere else. Since I knew this I had already done a lot of the interviews I would need with Kafka experts in the UK, but then went to Prague anyway. 

I had to get 'visa support' from the Academy of Sciences to get in and register with the Centre for Foreign Journalists on arrival. I arrived and registered. The man at the desk, his elbows over some telexes from me (telexes? Well, it was 1983), said he didn't know who I was or why I was there. But I sent you those (pointing) and asked to have interviews arranged with X and Y and Z. Oh dear, he said. They're not here. They've gone away. Where?, I asked. To Finland, he said. Fishing. What, all of them? Together? Yes, he said. Odd, isn't it.

I told him I needed to interview someone about Kafka, preferably someone who could speak English which sounds better than a voiceover, although if necessary that could do too. Well, never mind all that...

Later I decided to see what would happen if I tried to borrow some Kafka form the Charles University Library. So I got someone's ticket (brave of her to lend it to me) and went to look up the catalogue. All Kafka's works were listed there. So I asked to borrow The Trial and The Castle. I'm sorry, said the librarian. We don't actually have any of the books. They've all been stolen. What, all of them? I'm afraid so, she said. Odd, isn't it.

Actually, I believed her. If  books are stolen, even if they are passed from hand to hand, fewer people will read them than if they are in a library, and the authorities can always say, as they were saying indeed, Don't blame us. Blame those thieving hooligans.

Today I went to the British Library. I had reserved Peter Wright's Spycatcher. I discovered you can only read that in the Music and Rare Manuscripts room. When I arrived and presented my card the librarian couldn't find the first. Then he look on the computer and saw what it was I wanted. Oh, I see, he said. Special Material. He went to get a key and disappeared.

When he came back he told me I could only sit at one of some 10 designated seats, and there was a slip in the book which instructed me that I should not leave the book unattended FOR ANY TIME AT ALL. This meant that if I wanted to go to the loo or get a coffee I had to take the book back and let him look after it until I returned. Meanwhile my readers card was held hostage.

So I asked the librarian what constitues Special Material. Well, he said, old manuscripts and rare books are precious. But this was published in 1987, I said. Nothing rare about it at all. Well, he siad, some books are I looked up Spycatcher on my mobile and saw that it is available at Amazon (boo! down with Amazon - see earlier posts). So I asked the librarian why there was  a restriction placed on this book. No idea, he said. Odd, isn't it?

Posted on Friday, May 24, 2013 at 01:18PM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

Hitler re-Visited

In 1989, when I was at the Beeb, I made a long radio doc on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Hitler's birth. One of the people I interviewed for it was his secretary, Traudl Junge, who was then only a few years older than I am now.

It took me a long time to run her down. No, I'll re-phrase that. It took me a long time to find her, in a flat in Munich, at the end of what I remember as a rather long corridor. She was a good-looking woman with a blonde chignon, who gave me coffee and somewhat stale biscuits, and talked and talked.

She was lonely; lived more or less icognito; and she'd had a 12-year-long love affair with a married man who had recently died. As his wife hadn't known about this affair Traudl Junge hadn't been able to go to the funeral, to lay him and their relationship to rest. So she needed to talk, and who better to provide the pair of ears than another woman - a stranger who was guaranteeed to go away never to be seen again?

By the time I got round to asking her about Hitler she had forgotten that I was holding a microphone (long live radio! Much less intrusive than TV) and gave me a wonderful interview. At the end, as I was packing away my equipment, I commented on her very pleasant speaking voice and she told me she kept herself busy doing talking books for the blind.

But how come, I asked her, you speak such good English? Oh, she said, you know. My sister, she married an Untermensch (subhuman) and went to live in Australia. I stayed with them for some years and learned to speak English there.

Now...I fully understand how the word Untermensch, which she used casually, not ironically nor with any self-awareness, would have been to her an ordinary term in the days of the war. She was not an educated woman, nor I think a particularly reflective one. And of course, spending all her time with Hitler and his cohorts, would have meant she wasn't in touch with alternative views. But by 1989? You'd have thought, wouldn't you?....

Back then, of course (1989) there was no internet and no Google, so I couldn't find out as I have now that the said Untermensch was Polish and Jewish. You can't get much more Untermensch than that. But is it odd? Surprising? Hitler's secretary's sister marries a Polish Jew...Probably she just loved him. Or

Posted on Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 03:19PM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | Comments2 Comments | References2 References