We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“…I find it rather regrettable that Lady Hale’s judgment makes so many references to defecation.”

said Lord Walker, a UK Supreme Court Justice in one, rather unfortunate case. However, we had better get used to Lady Hale’s judgments as she has now been nominated as the next President of the Supreme Court, a promotion from her position as Deputy President, and her influence on UK law will grow.

Why anyone should be concerned that a former academic lawyer with her track record should be in charge of a court that does not sit en banc is that she may well control the lists and influence which judges sit on particular cases, thereby having scope to shape the law.

She has long been a supporter of greater diversity in the judiciary.

“It may be a genuine occupational qualification to choose a black Othello or a female Desdemona, but could it be thought a genuine occupational qualification to bring a minority perspective to the business of judging in the higher courts?

“So do we need to revive the argument for some special provision, akin to that in Northern Ireland, to enable the appointing commissions to take racial or gender balance into account when making their appointments? Would that really be such a bad thing? I think not.”

But some might prefer to have judges who judge the case before them on the basis of applying the law, rather than their own perspective, if one hoped for the rule of law to be seen to be maintained.

Lady Hale has however, speaking privately, cast doubt on her own judgment in one case, a meagre consolation for the losing party.

The trouble with the UK’s Supreme Court is that it is really the result of a Lefty wet dream about judicial activism, finally in 2005 (wef 2009) destroying a long tradition (before then vandalised in the 1870s) of the UK’s final court* being a committee of the House of Lords. (* Not for Scots Criminal Law, which remains under the Scottish Court of Session).

The UK’s Supreme Court has been described by one of its justices as a political court, being politicised by its inevitable involvement in devolution issues and interpretation of Human Rights and EU law (as was, to be fair, the House of Lords before it).

I have a modest proposal, that the Supreme Court be abolished, saving taxpayers money and removing an avenue for more legal fees to be charged in pursuit of a result, thereby removing work and money from the legal profession and reducing litigation risk. There is a simple alternative, that should a party find that litigation results in an injustice, or a nonsense whereby different UK courts have different precedents to follow, that party could petition Parliament to change the law, even in respect of that particular case, as happened in the Burmah Oil case. This approach would have the advantage of getting our Parliamentarians to see the consequences of the laws that they pass (or do not pass) and also take up time that could be spent passing more unhelpful legislation.

To those who say that our politicians should not be our judges, I say ‘Better than our judges being our politicians.

A trip to Venice

Last month, the Sage of Kettering and I went to Venice for a few days, marking decades of friendship. The visit to the Most Serene Republic, home to distrust of government that lasted for over 1,000 years, fell during the Biennale ‘Festival’, when modern art invades Venice, which for all its ghastly, sinister absurdity, at least allows the occasional foray into fine, otherwise closed buildings, in which the modernists squat like bats dripping rabies with their urine, and I thought that I would share some pictures from our trip.

The gardens of the Armenian Institute, in Dorsoduro, open for the Biennale. Venice was long a refuge for the Armenian diaspora, and there is an Armenian monastery island.

Within the Armenian gardens, Tibet had an exhibition, tactfully reclaiming a Buddhist sun symbol from the last power to occupy Venice before the resumption of Italian rule.

A trip to San Giorgio Maggiore, opposite St Mark’s Square, gave us a full taste of the modern ‘Artist’. Behind the fine façade…

…lurked the artist.

And of his work, as the Sage pointed out, with one opera, you could not tell if it had been vandalised or not.

And of course, there was the use of contrast.

Uplifted by this, we needed a snack and prosecco (archive pic) at a bar in Dorsoduro just off the Giudecca canal, opposite a Squero (boat yard) where gondolas are made, still following a sumptuary law; any colour you like, so long as it’s black.

And just over the Guidecca Canal from the bar, the Redentore (Redeemer) Plague church, testament to a lack of understanding of pathogenesis, and Andrea Palladio’s eye for style.

A visit to the Doge’s Palace and the grim dungeon, but luxurious by the standards of Stalin’s prisons. This would have had a mere 5 people, and some cells had a capacity of 2.

And the Guardia di Finanza boats lurked, ready to levy for the heavy hand of Rome, taxes, and woe betide any retailer who does not proffer a receipt for each and every purchase, one of the most irritating aspects of modern Italy.

The Biennale spread its wings far and wide, such as this ‘car’ in Campo San Stefano. How many Cubans would wish to try their chances in such a vehicle?

A definite highlight was a trip into the lagoon to see Torcello, the first inhabited island in the lagoon, where the Veneti built a cathedral, starting in 639 AD under the Exarchate of Ravenna. Torcello is an astonishingly peaceful contrast to the bustle of central Venice, a few houses, some restaurants and the Cathedral, and the main sound in June was birdsong.

The Sage found himself the Bishop’s Throne to sit on, outside the cathedral.

A gecko on the cathedral wall, note the building materials. Much stone from old buildings has been recycled.

The view from Torcello Campanile

A fisherman on the lagoon, off Torcello.

A welcome reminder of how they got to be civilised.

Back in St Mark’s Square, the statue of the Tetrarchs, on the wall of St Mark’s Basilica, was virtually unremarked. A useful tip if you do visit the Basilica is that you can (a) queue outside for up to 45 minutes and get in for free or (b) pay 2 Euros and get a time slot when you get into the procession through the basilica straight away, a rare implicit recognition of the benefit of pricing.

And within the Doge’s Palace, a column with contrasting faces.

On the day-to-day side, the logistics of Venice never cease to delight; a mobile bookshop.

And the secret of how Venice sustained itself in the saline lagoon, the wells dug below the lagoon into the fresh water aquifers underneath (now capped and sealed).

A typical scene in Cannaregio district, near the Ghetto, where we had a nice meal in a Jewish restaurant, whose ‘meat sauce’ was not at all like Bolognese 🙂 There was a grim reminder of present-day realities as there is a permanent Army post in the Ghetto now.

And of course, outside the Ghetto, there was seafood.

And the locals were friendly.

Another highlight was the Basilica of Saints John and Paul, virtually empty of tourists on a Monday afternoon, despite having 25 Doges entomned inside, and a fine equestrian statue outside…

…and the finest little church on Earth? Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Castello district, tucked away from the crowds.

Yet another Plague Church, the Salute.

There is lots of graffiti in Venice, this one says ‘The Left is the problem’. Not sure who Yago is, but I hope he is free.

And the first aerial bombardment in warfare was of Venice by the Austrians, using a balloon, on 12th July 1849. The Church of Tolentin was bombarded by Austrian cannons on 6th August 1849, and they have put the cannonball in the front of the church, facing, as it happens, the Austrian Consulate.

“But if Pavlov had been given the task of introducing communism, he’d have quickly proved, by experimenting on dogs, that this way of life isn’t suitable for a living soul!’

So spake a brave and wise Czech man to a Soviet Army Zampolit (Political Officer) in an angry exchange after the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, per the wonderful, semi-biographical novel The Liberators by Soviet defector Viktor Suvorov. (BTW did the young (or old) Mr Corbyn ever condemn that particular Soviet invasion?).

But I digress. It turns out that scientists have now (perhaps inadvertently) tested a sort of socialism (we all know that the paradise of communism was always just around the corner under socialism) on dogs, and it turns out that they don’t like it.

Dogs have their own innate sense of fairness and did not learn this from humans as previously believed, a new study has concluded.

You might wonder what tree they were barking up, so let’s have a look:

In tests, wolves and dogs would both refuse to take part if they received no reward for pressing a buzzer while a partner animal got one for doing so. The same was true if they received a lower quality prize.

It was thought that dogs had learned the importance of equality – seen as a sophisticated trait found in humans and some primates – during the domestication process, but the study found the wolves displayed a greater reluctance to take part once they realised what was going on.

See how the piece smuggles in an unscientific value judgment?

So dogs don’t like being ripped off? Who does? I once met a falconer who told me that an eagle he knew remembered a ‘breach of contract’ when the owner’s son didn’t give him his due piece of meat, contrary to established custom and practice. He told me that when the son came back from University, the eagle still showed him great hostility, which lasted for years afterwards.

So it appears that dogs don’t like doing the work and others getting the rewards. The dogs are quite lucky, as they haven’t been slaughtered for opposing socialism, or just not being ‘in’, unlike 100,000,000 humans.

Some of the findings might appear to corroborate old folk tales…

the dogs in the study had been “highly socialised with humans in their first weeks of life” but did not have a pet-owner relationship.

“Nevertheless, they were still more eager to please the human experimenter than were the wolves,” the researchers wrote.

But is this science? Where, I ask myself, are the controls? I had a thought, why not use as a ‘control’ not just a wolf, but a dog raised in North Korea, where it will have only known socialism. But then again, I understand that they have already eaten the dogs there, during a famine caused by socialism…

Equality denied boarding at Aeroflot?

News reaches us from Russia, that, despite 70 years of Leninism and now an assault by the Cultural Marxists, notions of equality do not appear to be taking off at Aeroflot, reportedly with a fleet of newish aircraft, now Russia most powerful ‘brand’ (surely ‘Kalashnikov’, but I digress).

Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot is fighting a legal battle with several of its female flight attendants who say it favours slim and attractive cabin crew.

One case has been thrown out of court. The concept of someone actually needing to be up to the job appears to have survived in Russia.

The company argues that every extra kilogram of weight forces Aeroflot to spend more on fuel.
Its application form for would-be flight attendants requires details of height, weight and clothing size.
Staff have to meet a minimum height requirement because they need to store hand luggage in the overhead lockers, Aeroflot says.

The fuel penalty was quoted as every extra kilogram of weight costing an extra 800 roubles (£11; $14) annually on fuel, but Aeroflot has other points.

‘…a survey carried out for Aeroflot showed that passengers preferred attractive flight attendants and agreed that an airline had a right to stipulate weight limits and clothes sizes for its staff.

Perish the thought that the fat and the short are not wanted, it’s all down to job-need.

In one case, the complaint is stark.

Ms Ierusalimskaya, aged 45, wants Aeroflot to pay her 1m roubles (£14,000; $17,750) in compensation, Russia’s Kommersant news reports. Her clothes size is 52 (XL, under the international system).
She said the airline had transferred her to domestic flights, cutting her income. She complained that Aeroflot’s rules required stewardesses to be at least 160cm (5ft 3ins) tall and have a clothes size no larger than 48 (L; 16 in UK; 42 in Germany; 14 in US).

Aeroflot’s point of view:

“A heavy physical build makes it harder for a flight attendant to move around the cabin and provide a smooth service for the passenger,” an Aeroflot official told the court.

Quite, you can’t have stewardesses so wide that they would need to be punted down the aisle with a trolley, that’s just not safe.

But a Russian Trade Unionist, helpfully called Boris, is on the warpath.

Boris Kravchenko called Ms Ierusalimskaya’s case “an unprecedented case of sex discrimination”. He is a member of President Vladimir Putin’s Council for Human Rights, and chairs the Russian Labour Confederation.
“The trade unions in this sector have teeth,” he said, warning of possible strike action “if such discriminatory behaviour persists”. He was speaking to Russia’s RBC news website.

Boris is keeping rather quiet about what happened to women with Beria it seems.

Now does this resistance to PC blandishments augur well for Russia, in that it might have a cultural meta-context where, if other silly and evil notions of statism and/or banditry can be got rid of, it might lay the basis of a free and prosperous commonwealth? And are we in the West closer to that goal?

She fought Scots law, and the law won.

News reaches us from Dundee, of a lady, Carly Mackie, who thought that she could have her cake and eat it, by parking on another’s land and ignoring the notices demanding the payment due in exchange. Having ignored around 200 such notices, she was taken to the Sheriff court and the Pursuer (Plaintiff/Claimant) won a tidy £24,500 (c. USD 30,400).

Well Carly, it’s your party and you can cry if you want to, but the Sheriff would be unmoved.

Sheriff George Way ruled: ‘[Miss Mackie] has, in my judgment, entirely misdirected herself on both the law and the contractual chain in this case.’
He added that the company had a valid contract and residents in the area had a ‘legitimate interest arising from their title to the land to protect their property and amenity’. The sheriff continued: ‘Parking is not only an amenity but a valuable commodity in modern life.’

Well, he might have said: “The Defender was a trespasser, the Pursuer offered to let her park there if she agreed a fee, she did so, and so the fee is due.“.

However, a Conservative MSP has, we are told, chipped in:

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser has highlighted the distress caused by ‘bully-boy’ tactics, including the threat of court action, increased fines and damage to an individual’s credit rating.

The bully-boy? This was a woman parking on other’s land. Court action is there as the lawful way to prove a claim, and the credit rating? Who (sensibly) would lend money to Miss Mackie now? She clearly seems to think that debts are optional.

The Daily Mail has its own view.

The Dundee case is thought to be the first in Scotland involving a private parking firm and a member of the public – and lawyers say it could open the floodgates in a sector that is notoriously poorly regulated.

Yes, what regulations are there to stop people trespassing? What regulations are there to stop people from breaking contracts, such as an agreement by conduct to pay a fee for parking on land without prior permission? Do tell. Or perhaps let us stick with this private system of offer and acceptance.

It’s nice to know that out there, some judges sit, like spiders, waiting for a buzzing fly to land in their web. Can we have a bit more of this please, it might help to rebuild faith in the law?

Film Review – Bitter Harvest (Stalin’s Terror Famine)

Today I went to the cinema, Cineworld, a round trip of some 100 miles, to see the film Bitter Harvest, a film about the Stalin’s Terror Famine in the Ukraine in 1932/3. The film takes the form of a dramatic ‘love story’, starting in a Ukrainian village (most likely but it unspoken – Cossack) as the Bolshevik Revolution has started, and news of the Tsar’s death breaks. The Revolution seems far away in this idyll and the couple who are the heroes are young children. There is an echo of Tolkien’s shire about the place, very beautiful even if life is hard. Then Lenin dies and Stalin (called ‘Koba’ by his Comrades) comes to power. The local Commissar comes around, backed by Red Army troops, and the village is to be collectivised. All land belongs to the State, as the Commissar reminds everyone, and evidently he has some targets to meet, enemies of the people to kill, kulaks to be purged, icons to be seized (for sale) and Collective Farms to be formed. His brutality is probably only tempered only by his anxiety at which target he has the greatest need to meet, something which diverts him occasionally from the most brutal option available.

The heroes of the film are a couple Yuri and Natalka from that same village. Yuri is one of several artists, he is a painter, and all his friends in his age group are keen to go to the Big City Kiev, some eagerly noting how the State has work for artists. Eventually Yuri goes to Kiev (on his internal passport*), leaving behind Natalka. On the way to Kiev, there are encounters with the starving peasantry, a passenger talks about the famine and gets arrested by the NKVD. There is a constant theme of the starving and dying, with an unmechanised disposal system of horse and carts scouring the streets for corpses for mass burials here and there, and corpses in open train wagons. The starving flock to Kiev, simply to die in the streets. The film is simply and properly unrelentingly grim, and it does not shy from showing the brutality of the Bolsheviks.

Stalin is informed of the resistance to collectivisation and the starvation that his policy is causing, he implements Lenin’s plans but without mercy, and the greater the resistance, the higher the targets become until all food is to be seized. The official line is that there is ‘malnutrition’ but not famine, a lie that Walter Duranty and the New York Times were happy to peddle, the latter partially recanting many decades later.

Yuri in Kiev meets up with his friends, and awkwardly hints and the famine and its increasingly visible consequences. He finds himself working as a painter, with his friends all doing political work, but his art lacks the necessary ideological flavour, his boss is purged (we infer) and he is then fired, working as a ‘rag and bone man‘, sorting through the possessions of the dead for sale, the only growth industry apart from terror. His friend from the village, who has risen in Kiev to be local party chief, shows some perhaps surprising independence, before shooting himself as the NKVD close in. Yuri gets arrested after a brawl, but manages to escape. Yuri’s family have been arrested for anti-Soviet activity after realising that they are doomed in the village as it is collectivised. Yuri meets up with Ukrainian partisans, and manages to spring some of his family. The film gives the impression that there was a significant amount of resistance to the Soviets, and also that people in the early 1930s spoke more freely that you might have imagined. Perhaps this has been overlooked in the face of the apparently monolithic Soviet police state. Yuri and Natalka realise that they have to escape, and they hope to make it to Canada, (long before the Trudeaus starting fawning over Castro). They head for the Polish border before making for a break chased by shooting Soviet Border Guards.

The film is very well shot, CGI is minimal, and barely noticeable. The grimy, shrunken starving hordes are a constant presence, very well done. The clothing and fashion are convincing, and whilst the dialogue is a little forced sometimes, the message that the State is your executioner (which it was) is well put across. It also mentioned famines in Kazhakstan and amongst the Jews in Belarus. The plot feels slightly fanciful, being necessarily at the high end of expectations, not in that it obviously shows a fight-back, but that there was so much spirit in those fighting the Soviets. However, it at least tells a story that should be told again and again.

That the film has had minimal publicity is a shame, even in the cinema showing it, it was not advertised except for a partial listing. In its first and only week, 11 people came to this Sunday showing, the nearest to me at 50 miles away. I enjoyed it, I appreciated it, and it was nice to be somewhere watching an anti-Soviet film feeling pretty damn certain that I wouldn’t end up sitting next to Jeremy Corbyn.

As I write, some speeches are perhaps being polished for the Oscars. I’m sure that the people in this film heading for a border as a matter of life and death won’t feature in the minds of the speech makers, and you won’t hear an actor not called, say, Sterile Weep, making a heart-renching condemnation of the system that led to an estimated 7,000,000 to 10,000,000 deaths.

* per Wikipedia, The Ukraine only scrapped internal passports in 2016.

In Austria, perhaps they are only following orders….

Hitler lookalike arrested in Austria

A Hitler lookalike has been arrested in Austria on charges of glorifying the Nazi era, local officials say.
The 25-year-old man reportedly calls himself Harald Hitler.
The man, sporting a side parting and a trademark moustache, had been seen having his photograph taken outside the house in Braunau am Inn in which Adolf Hitler was born.
The lookalike had recently moved to the town on the German border, police spokesman David Furtner told the BBC.

Well if ever someone’s face didn’t fit… Best not be a Charlie Chaplin tribute act in Austria then, or go to a Sparks concert, that town ain’t big enough for the both of them.

What’s next, putting down cats with unfortunate colouring?

On a more serious note, how better to discredit freedom that to carry on like this? Perhaps that’s all socialists can think to do. Mocking a fool is better that locking a fool up. Hitler is, thanks to Downfall parodies (here’s one, oddly prescient on the EU referendum, about Gordon Brown’s fading Premiership), a laughing stock, and the one thing that discredits tyrants more than anything is being laughed at. After all, mass murder has not discredited any brand of socialism.

Fools and their money are soon divorced

A recent decision of the English Court of Appeal presents a sharp, but unsurprising, illustration of the perils of marriage for those interested in keeping their property and the fruits of their labours.

Surrey couple’s divorce payments raised after 15 years

The ex-husband of a woman who was awarded £230,000 on her divorce has been told by the Court of Appeal he must support her for life.
Maria Mills, 51, was originally awarded £1,100 a month from 50-year-old Graham Mills after 13 years of marriage.
Appeal Court judges also ruled he should pay her £1,441 per month as she is “unable to meet her basic needs”.

Some 15 years after the marriage ended, with an adult child, Mr Mills now faces a lifetime of supporting his ex-wife. Why is this, might you ask?

Because Mrs Mills unfortunately p*ssed away all her money in unwise property deals, despite the apparently endless ballooning of property prices in London and Southeast England, so she has had her maintenance order reviewed. To her credit, the former estate agent is working.

Mrs Mills works for two days per week as a beauty therapist

Well, that is something, and it belies the old jibe about why estate agents don’t look out the window in the morning, since they would then have nothing to do in the afternoon.

It’s high time for freedom of contract in marriage, let the terms be negotiated and if one side fundamentally breaches the terms, why not allow the injured party to repudiate the contract with no damages to the wrongdoer whatsoever for the other side?

As for the ‘child bomb’, could the law let child support be a matter of parental conscience, or perhaps 50/50 (excluding mitochondria donors)?

If you were seeking to destroy marriage as an institution, would you have done anything differently than to set up laws that allow for judgements such as this? The moral hazard is obvious: Risk the capital, take a part-time job, and come back for more, till death.

Would any person marry someone less wealthy, less industrious, or with fewer prospects under English law?

The Petition of the Scandalmakers

All libertarians should really be opposed to State Visits, by definition. But do I sense that not libertarians but sanctimonious prigs are out in force here in the UK? Trump executive order: Million sign petition to stop UK visit. This is somehow newsworthy, but read the small print in the petition, not visible on the headnote:

Donald Trump’s well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales.

Wasn’t Prince Charles the chap who talked about wanting to be a tampon? But then again, cancelling the visit would save Prince Charles the horror of meeting a climate sceptic!

So it would be a scandal for this visit to go ahead. Did they say that about the GIs in 1942? Wouldn’t it be a scandal for the government to take notice of this petition?

Given that the Queen was railroaded into giving a knighthood and a State Visit to the Romanian Communist tyrant Ceausescu, President Trump seems to have a long way to go before he could possibly compare. How about making President Trump an honorary Knight of the Thistle instead?

Some things can come out from the petition process (and I don’t mean changes to government policy). The site provides a breakdown of voters’ location by Parliamentary constituency (or, at the least, where the voters purport to originate), so you can see where those affected by the apparently ceaseless urge to agitate and virtue-signal, like a bird in some bizarre mating and nesting ritual, are found. As I write, the data suggests (well I never!) clusters of Lefties in University cities and towns across the UK, and relative indifference in-between. This is where the Left are found, and there are still 58,000,000 or more who haven’t signed the petition. The Left are outnumbered and isolated, but signalling away to each other, they come to think that they rule the roost.

I suppose this data might help the North Koreans estimate where the socialists are most densely packed and so to target their nukes accordingly when they get round to liberating us.

The Pope has staged a coup in ‘Malta’!

News reaches us from the Telegraph of rumblings in Rome, where an expansionist Pope appears to have burst the bonds set up by Mussolini and, setting his sights on the smallest ‘state’ within Rome, persuaded the British head of the International Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Grand Master Matthew Festing, to resign. Unlike a previous situation of Argentine aggression against a small group of islands sitting peacefully in a deep blue sea, this has passed off far more peacefully and entirely within Rome.

The background to this dispute is, we are told:

Mr Festing and the Vatican have been locked in a bitter dispute since one of the order’s top knights, Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, was sacked in December in the chivalric equivalent of a boardroom showdown – ostensibly because he allowed the use of condoms in a medical project for the poor.

Is the article hinting that the ‘condoms’ issue is a bit of a stretch?

When Festing fired von Boeselager, he accused the German of hiding the fact that he allowed the use of condoms when he ran Malteser International, the order’s humanitarian aid agency.

Von Boeselager and his supporters say the condom issue was an excuse by Festing and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, an arch-conservative who has accused the pope of being too liberal, to increase their power.

Well since neither the Swiss Guard nor the St John’s Ambulance have got involved, it all seems rather peaceful. But the Pope seems to brook no dissent, not even in his last satellite ‘state’.

Francis has said he wants the 1.2 billion-member church to avoid so-called “culture wars” over moral teachings and show mercy to those who cannot live by all its rules, especially the poor.

Perhaps this is the Pope’s version of the Brezhnev Doctrine?

When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.

There has never been a greater day, than this.

So said Churchill on VE Day, but in its own way, 25 years ago, 25th December 1991 was a yet greater day, the day when the Soviet Union collapsed with Gorbachev’s resignation as President of the USSR, and so it vanished after the leaders of Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus had told Gorbachev, who had by then become Lenin’s Dönitz, to go away and take what Auberon Waugh called ‘that accursed, groaning slave empire’ with him.

The events leading up to the disappearance of the USSR are recalled in an article on the BBC website, ‘How three men signed the USSR’s death warrant‘ rather lacking in nostalgia for the slaughterhouse of nations. The then leader of Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich, was a key figure, as the article tells us:

8 December, at 09:00 the leaders (of Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus), with their prime ministers and various officials in tow, gathered for the negotiations – still apparently unclear what they were about to discuss.

The first suggestion came from a Russian adviser, Gennadi Burbulis – and it could not have been more radical.”I will remember this sentence to the end of my life,” says Shushkevich.
“It is the opening statement of our agreement, the only one which was adopted without any arguments. ‘The USSR, as a geopolitical reality, and as a subject of international law – has ceased to exist.’ And I was the first to say that I would sign up for this.”

The agreement would render the Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev irrelevant, while giving more power in Moscow to Russia’s president Boris Yeltsin.
But putting an end to the centuries-old Russian empire and its successor, the USSR, was a big step. Years later, many wondered whether the three politicians were entirely sober when taking this momentous decision?

“According to a popular myth, we drafted our agreement while drunk,” says Shushkevich. “This is completely wrong! Of course, it was a typical Soviet arrangement, and alcohol was freely available everywhere in the residence – but no-one touched it. The most we would allow ourselves was a drop of brandy every time we adopted a new article.”
In the next few hours, 14 articles in all were adopted. By about 15:00, the document confirming the dissolution of the USSR was ready. The next step was to inform the world, and the Byelorussian leader drew the short straw.

Shushkevich goes on:

“Yeltsin and Kravchuk said to me jokingly: ‘We have voted to nominate you to inform Gorbachev.’ And then I said: ‘Kravchuk and myself nominate you, Mr Yeltsin, to call your good friend, the US president George Bush.’

“I dialled Gorbachev’s office in Moscow – but they wouldn’t put me straight through, they kept passing me from pillar to post, and I had to explain who I was over and over again. Meanwhile, Yeltsin, seeing that I was on the phone to Moscow, dialled President Bush. [Andrei] Kozyrev, the [Russian] minister of foreign affairs, was on the other line, translating Bush’s comments.”

For a more sanguine review of the Soviet Union, the good people at Breitbart have provided this piece, full of details of the horrors of Soviet power.

An example of a diary entry from 1920.

The machine of the Red Terror works incessantly. Every day and every night, in Petrograd, Moscow, and all over the country the mountain of the dead grows higher … Everywhere people are shot, mutilated, wiped out of existence …

Every night we hear the rattle of trucks bearing new victims. Every night we hear the rifle fire of executions, and often some of us hear from the ditches, where the bodies are flung, faint groans and cries of those who did not die at once under the guns. People living near these places begin to move away. They cannot sleep …

Getting up in the morning, no man or woman knows whether he will be free that night. Leaving one’s home, one never knows whether he will return. Sometimes a neighborhood is surrounded and everyone caught out of his house without a certificate is arrested … Life these days depends entirely on luck.

And then there was Brezhnev’s abuse of psychiatric hospitals for those who rejected the logic of Socialism, and it wasn’t just locking people up, it was using drugs for torture.

As head of the KGB in the 1970s, Yuri Andropov (who later was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Leonid Brezhnev’s death in 1982), accepted a new theory in Soviet psychiatry which said opposition to the socialist regime was a sign of mental illness.

Why? Because only the mentally disturbed would resist the logic and the truth of Marxian dialectical determinism and its “proof” that socialism and communism were the highest and most humane stage of social development. Those who criticized the system or wanted to reform or overthrow the Soviet socialist regime were mentally sick and required psychiatric treatment.

And the grim reality?

Of all the drugs administered [at the mental institution] to impose discipline, sulfazine stood at the pinnacle of pain … ‘People injected with sulfazine were groaning, sighing with pain, cursing the psychiatrists and Soviet power, cursing with everything in their hearts,’ Alexei told us. ‘The people go into horrible convulsions and get completely disoriented. The body temperature rises to 40 degrees centigrade [104 degrees Fahrenheit] almost instantly, and the pain is so intense they cannot move from their beds for three days. Sulfazine is simply a way to destroy a man completely. If they torture you and break your arms, there is a certain specific pain and you somehow can stand it. But sulfazine is like a drill boring into your body that gets worse and worse until it’s more than you can stand. It’s impossible to endure. It is worse than torture, because, sometimes, torture may end. But this kind of torture may continue for years.’

So remember when people talk of the need to reform or reduce government, it is possible for an entire State to be swept away, without bloodshed, in hours, and whilst in the Soviet Union’s case, the aftermath was economically chaotic, that was because of where they had been, not because of where they were going.

Edit: TM Lutas points out in the comments, for which I am grateful, the following regarding an apparent error in the linked article:

Sulfozinum is not sulfazine. The former is what was used in political psychiatry. The latter is actually used in legitimate medicine. Could you add the spelling variant at least to the article so people unfamiliar with the substance are not led astray? The following two links above in combination illustrate the problem.

“Your economy will become a third world wasteland that global investors will avoid.”

Said the Donald to the Salmon(d), erstwhile First Minister of Scotland, in a letter about the plans for windfarms off the Aberdeenshire coast, we know now from the Trump letters, obtained under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act.

A series of colourfully-written letters sent by Donald Trump to then-Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has been published in full for the first time.

The letters formed part of an intense lobbying campaign against plans for an offshore wind project near Mr Trump’s Aberdeenshire golf resort.

Some examples of Mr Trump’s forthright style:

On 12 March 2012 he asked Mr Salmond: “Do you want to be known for centuries to come as ‘Mad Alex – the man who destroyed Scotland’?”
He added: “If you pursue this craziness Scotland will go broke and forever lose whatever chance you currently have of making Scotland independent.”

he sent a one-sentence missive to the then first minister asking why Swedish energy firm Vattenfall was being allowed to “ruin” the Scottish coastline, adding: “Let them ruin the coastline of Sweden first.”

On 9 February 2012, Mr Trump told Mr Salmond: “With the reckless installation of these monsters, you will single-handedly have done more damage to Scotland than virtually any event in Scottish history.

I note that the letters indicate an appreciation of pragmatism by Mr Trump.

In one letter Mr Trump said: “History has proven conclusively that the world’s greatest leaders have always been those who have been able to change their minds for the good.”
He also said he would be “your greatest cheerleader if you can change or modify your stance on at least the inappropriately placed turbines.”

In the other letter he told Mr Salmond: “Your idea of independence is ‘Gone With the Wind’.”

Well, I am slightly puzzled by Mr Trump’s writings, if only by the use of the future tense in the reference to a third-world wasteland. And he surely meant to say ‘sh*thole’, which in Scots English I’m told is spelt ‘Cumbernauld‘.

I have to say that I am looking forward even more to 12 noon on 20th January 2017.