Shostakovich is a personal hero of mine. He walked a tightrope between the Gulag and compromise in the vortex of Stalinist Russia. But more than that, his music has brought me consolation, invigoration, provocation, and perplexity. Sometimes all at once.…
Having just heard of her death - see WAPO, Guardian, Wiki - it seems appropriate to repost my post from 2010. I can't now remember exactly what I was doing that day, but back in early 1989, I had a couple…
If the last Q combo was a chronological mismatch of artist and poet, this one is seasonal. Today’s still been pretty warm for a British September day, so it’s perhaps rather incongruous to be thinking about winter. But a dear friend and colleague, Jennifer, sent me this all too brief poem last week, and so I felt it was a perfect combo contender.
It hardly needs saying, but spying did not stop with the collapse of Communism. But if spying continued, it naturally follows that so did betrayal. The haunting question provoked by every betrayal is, “Why?” Perhaps it was easier to understand during the Cold War. The globe’s ideological map was drawn all too clearly. However flawed the enemy might be, believing in their ideological stance always made it forgiving those flaws much easier. But what about today? (more…)
This is a great year for conspiracists – from the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy to the constant dribble (and occasional torrent) of government surveillance revelations. It’s all happening. So i’ve been trying to get my head around the whole Kennedy thing. A few years back, I read the seminal bio by Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life, which is the best place to start (beautifully written, brilliant insights). But have just finished Thurston Clarke’s JFK’s Last Hundred Days which is a week by week account of those final months of his life and presidency. Tragedy is a word much diluted by overuse and misuse – (more…)
I’m trying to understand power – what it means, how it’s wielded, how it affects us. Big topic. But I’m increasingly convinced that we can’t understand the culture of suspicion without grasping the power of power (and itsabuses).
This has drawn meto someone who has been a bit of a hero, but whose writings I’d only dipped into. Reading Václav Havel‘s masterly and vital 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless has blown me away. Written in the dark days of Czechoslovak communism (only 10 years after the false dawn of the Prague Spring), it is a profound analysis of what it was like to live under a regime built entirely on lies. The only response, the only subversion of the regime, therefore, is to live in truth. (more…)
He ate my toast and drank my beer. But that seemed sufficient to put him at his ease and get him talking (good cop routine). And it was a lot of fun. Charles Cumming has managed to craft a very successful career as a spy novelist out of the failure to enter SIS/MI6 after their initial approach. (more…)
Some readers will know that my current obsessions are conspiracies and suspicions. One of these days, these may coalesce into something substantial. But that feels a long way off at the moment. Ho hum. But for now, if you want some brilliant ripostes to those who suck up every conspiracy theory going, then my suggestions are twofold:
- Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest David Aaronovitch’s superb Voodoo Histories, reviewed here some months back.
- Watch, chuckle and take very seriously indeed these little gems from the wondrous archive of Mitchell & Webb.
The proverbial ‘out of the fryingpan into thefire’ could have been minted especially for Lev Mishchenko, one half of the extraordinary couple at the heart of Orlando Figes’ Just Send Me Word. Before completing his science studies in Moscow, he was whisked away to the Nazi front. Soon after, he was captured and spent considerable time as a German POW. As a German-speaker, he was able to make himself useful – though he resolutely refused to become a German spy. That wasn’t enough to prevent him from being convicted as one on his release – for which his sentence was death, commuted to 10 years hard labour in Siberia. (more…)