A Trade Unionist goes to Japan

A Japanese firm took over a British company and knew that there would be cultural problems so they took both senior management and trade unionists to Japan. When they returned they gathered together in the board room for a discussion.

The Japanese were delighted that everyone seemed very positive except for the senior trade unionist who sat silently glowering. They asked head-on what his impressions were about the Japanese system of working.

I think its excellent. I like the shared canteen, the way all workers wear the same overalls, the improved toilets and just-in-time working. But I have to ask, will management also adopt the Japanese philosophy?”

What did you have in mind?

“When they make a cock-up will they jump off the roof?”


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The Evian Conference and Kristallnacht, 1938

The world was faced by the involuntary migration of hundreds of thousands of destitute German Jews from the Reich in 1938. Roosevelt called an international conference to try to resolve the situation. Roosevelt hoped international outrage at Nazi anti-Semitism would translate into burden sharing. He believed burden sharing would reduce the numbers of Jewish refugees each country would need to take to resolve the challenge. However Hitler’s racial views were commonplace in the 1930s. Virtually no country believed Jewish immigration was beneficial. Political pragmatism trumped moral duty. This delighted Hitler, confirming his belief that western democracies were pusillanimous. Emboldened, Hitler annexed Sudetenland in September,1938, and unleashed Kristallnacht in November, just four months after the conference took place. The Evian Conference was an unmitigated disaster for the world because Roosevelt didn’t provide robust leadership.

Anti-Semitism was commonplace in the 1930s. The difference between Hitler’s anti-Semitism and that of other countries was that he made it was government policy. There was nothing like the 1936 Nuremburg Laws elsewhere. French, American and British anti-semitic attitudes informed decision-making. There were informal barriers but these were ad hoc as opposed to being legitimatised by government. Many believed that Jews belonged to a shadowy foreign nation-state and were untrustworthy. The French Dreyfus Affair, 1894, is a startling example of this belief. French Jews were literally felt to be different, notwithstanding compelling evidence to the contrary. French anti-Semitism became Nazi during the Vichy years*. French police over-achieved in hunting down Jews for deportation showing that the intellectually blind Dreyfus Affair had taught no lessons.

Like the Nazis, the USA had racial laws. American racial laws segregated the African-American population from the dominant white population. Segregation was purposefully used to deny opportunities in education and social mobility. American racial laws led to black segregated units in the US military fighting for Jewish rights in the Second World War. When Nobel prize winner Albert Einstein was initially denied a visa into the USA this had a whiff of anti-Semitism**. The all-American upper-class Jew, Robert Oppenheimer, who was a world-class physicist, rose in the academic world because of sheer genius. The chair of his department was Raymond Birge. When Oppenheimer tried to appoint Robert Serber, an outstanding physicist, Birge said, “One Jew in the department is enough”***. The 1924 Quota Act was designed to limit inward immigration of certain groups, amongst which were European Jews, as the world found out during the highly publicised St Louis Incident, 1939.

Britain and the British Empire were more important than both France and America. Controlling about a quarter of the earth’s landmass with the vast open spaces of Australia and Africa, positive political leadership from London could have resolved the crisis. But it wasn’t to be. The British too had negative attitudes towards Jewish immigration. British hypocrisy led them to offer hand-wringing excuses about their inability to provide a haven for involuntary migrants. In a typical reply in a debate about refugees, Neville Chamberlain said the British Empire was entirely unsuitable for European refugees****.

His Majesty’s Government consider that there is no territory in the Colonial Empire where suitable land is available for the immediate settlement of refugees in large numbers, although in certain territories small-scale settlement might be practicable.

The case of Australia is especially lamentable as in the immediate post-war period their government financed inward immigration expanding their population with two million immigrants in 20 years*****.

Naturally Hitler pounced on the hypocrisy of the western democracies saying, “I can only hope and expect that the other [outside] world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.******” . Western hypocrisy emboldened him and four months after Evian he unleased Kristallnacht on the Jewish population. Hitler knew he could literally do anything to his Jewish population and it was quite safe to ignore any threats. Evian was a total disaster.

The Evian Conference was a doomed attempt at solving an unfolding tragedy. Roosevelt called the conference to off-load a problem where the USA and Britain were plumb centre. Naturally there was a feeling that ‘we will, if you will’ leading to unseemly buck passing. The Evian Conference was not only a disaster for Germany’s Jews but also for the world, as Hitler rightly saw weakness which turbocharged his malevolence. The annexation of Sudetenland, a ‘domino’ in the march to war, and Kristallnacht could be said to be a direct consequence of Evian.

*For Dreyfus see http://www.e-ir.info/2012/06/06/the-significance-of-the-dreyfus-affairs-on-politics-in-france-from-1894-to-1906/

For Vichy France and French persecution of the Jews see


** J Edgar Hoover the director of the FBI was anti-Semitic and was willing to see Einstein suffer in Nazi Germany after Jewish scientists were sacked from their academic positions. Hitler also created the concept ‘Jewish science’, which he felt was a perversion of true Aryan science. For Einstein’s visa problems see www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1384909/Albert-Einsteins-immigration-papers-turn-80-years-fled-Britain-Nazi-Germany.html

***Ray Monk Inside the Centre: The life of J Robert Oppenheimer p259 Needless to relate Birge didn’t say this to Oppenheimer as this was part of the background noise of American anti-Semitism: pusillanimous. Serber subsequently was a crucial participant in the development of the atom bomb.

****Hansard HC Deb 21 Nov. 1938; this was repudiated by Lord Marley HL Deb 14 Dec 1938

***** See http://www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/exhibition/objectsthroughtime-history/1945-1965/index.html Australia’s population increased from 7.4M in 1945 to 11.4M in 1965 mainly due to inward immigration. http://populstat.info/Oceania/australc.htm

****** Michael Green Hitler p220


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It costs an arm and leg

George Washington: skinflint

Men of the 18th century are often painted with one hand inside their vests to save money. This is because the artist would set the price based on how many hands, arms, or legs were in the painting. From this came the phrase: “It will cost you an arm and a leg.”


[This might be a myth]

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Film Review ~ Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf)

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age film with the angst of mother and daughter extremely well done. The daughter is the underachieving ‘Lady Bird’, who’s renamed herself. She’s stuck in a Catholic school in Sacramento, California. She’s dissatisfied. The school is punished with a series of practical jokes, stunning defiance, including destroying a mark book, and feeble efforts at fitting in to the school ethos. The nuns and priests are implausibly pleasant and understanding. This is a sharp change in emphasis from films like Spotlight.

Although poor she gets a high status boy friend, who disappoints. He’s followed by one of even higher status who also disappoints. Alienating her school is set against the drama of her home. Her mother is well a mother. She’s making sacrifices, working double shifts, which isn’t enough. Lady Bird wants better. Her attitude reeks of adolescent entitlement. The alienation of mother and daughter continues apace until she finally leaves home for the desired east coast college- paid for by re-mortgaging the family home.

The vigorous angst of mother-daughter relationships is very well done as are glorious pieces of defiance in school. They tiptoe to the edge of breakdown but don’t get there and there is a final piece of redemptive understanding. All very American. This demonstrates that the possibility of a Loveless clone being made in Hollywood is impossible.

Why you should watch this film: Anyone who’s had an adolescent daughter will empathise

Why you shouldn’t watch this film: It’s a bit glib about the Catholics and the likelihood of a happy ending.

For an alternative review http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/lady-bird-review-greta-gerwig-1202546609/


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Why it’s better to have a general anaesthetic

A man is recovering from surgery when the Surgical Nurse appears and asks him how he is feeling.
I’m OK but I didn’t like the four letter-words the doctor used in surgery,’ he answered.
What did he say,’ asked the nurse.

Ray E

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Games Lessons in the 1950s at Sir Philip Magnus school, London

I have never liked sporting events, especially team games. Every Wednesday afternoon my class, of around 28 pupils from Sir Philip Magnus school in North London had to muster outside the school gates for the obligatory torture session. All or most of my class mates absolutely looked forward to this session of purgatory, but I hated it!

At the allotted hour the coach would turn up and on we would by directed by our geography teacher, a Hitler acolyte. We were counted onto the coach, in regimented fashion and told to “sit, be quiet”. The coach went to the London schools football pitches at Friern Barnet near Finchley.  Almost every boy was excited at the prospect of playing football, but I hated it. Each of us had our kit bag with a pair of shorts socks and a top to change into. I didn’t like this silly ritual. I would get dressed every morning with my kit under my outdoor clothes. I absolutely hated undressing in front of the other kids.

Spewed from the coach, our demented teacher couldn’t wait for the class to get changed. We met him on the field about 200 yards from the changing/shower rooms. More than a few times I got on the wrong side of his enthusiasm to get the game started and told loudly, “get moving boy, or you won’t be playing”. He had no idea how those words gave me hope.

I would dawdle, in the changing room, whilst the other kids seem to think these sessions were the very highlight of their week. Often I would be the last player ready to leave the room. The others were already scampering across the muddy grass to the so called pitch. I would linger, in the hope that I’d been forgotten. Being last out, I could slip behind the changing rooms and watch ‘Mr Hitler’, telling his devotees, “This is the beautiful game, and that I want to see you play with your utmost vigour”.  ‘What a twat’, I used to think. It seemed to me that he was fixated on blowing his whistle and pointing aggressively. It seemed to give him omnipotent powers.

If I was lucky I could avoid the banal activity of kicking a silly ball up and down a field. Otherwise Hitler and the other kids screamed at me some incomprehensible advice that more often than not I would deliberately ignore. Usually with selective deafness.

On the occasions that I managed to slip through the visual net, rather than run myself ragged on the silly football pitch, I hid behind the changing building. There I had a smoke of my Player’s Weights cigarettes, whilst the idiots were enjoying themselves, out on that cold field of misery.

After whatever time it took, for Hitler to satisfy himself and his storm troopers. Having well acquitted themselves, under his excellent tutorage and whistle control, he ordered a return to the showers. At that point I had to find a suitable point of muddy grass to smear my legs and boots and get into the changing rooms first. Heaving, like my lungs would burst, I would be animated, as though I had ‘given my all’.

With only a few small mud stains on me I maintained I didn’t need a shower and that I would clean up at home. The coach ride back to school was just as tedious as that outward journey, but a least I knew the rubbish was over for yet another week.

On discharge form school one Wednesday, with my muddied boots hung round my neck by the tied laces, I was walking home along Upper Street when an old bloke in about his thirties stopped me and asked “have you had a great game today”?  He seemed perplexed when I just walked on past, with a stony face.



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Irish Famine Memorial

Famine memorial in Dublin

The Irish famine of 1845-9 caused a million deaths out of a population of about 8.3M. There were a further million refugees from Ireland who went mainly to mainland Britain and the USA.

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