Monty Python’s Dark Side

On Friday I’m going to the BFI Southbank to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I produced in 1974. I had to buy my own tickets because the BFI never bothered to inform me of the screening. I assume the reason they have left me in the cold is that the Pythons asked them not to invite me. This is quite a long story, but the short version is that after Spamalot came out, the Pythons decided that the royalties they had been paying me for 30 years was wrong and they slashed my royalties by 50%. I tried to negotiate and mediate my way out of this white collar theft but they were adamant that I had been cheating them for 30 years. After 7 years of haggling and getting nowhere I had no alternative but to take them to court, and I won the case, but at a terrible cost to my health and finances. The trial cost the Pythons £ 1.3m and they put on their 02 reunion to recoup that loss. Ever since then, they have done their best to erase me from their history. If you want to read more about the dark side of Python read my book The 7th Python which tells the sorry tale (www.the7thpython.com). The worst part of the experience for me was the fact that neither Terry Gilliam, a fellow film student when we shared a flat in NYC or National Treasure Michael Palin were willing to say to Eric Idle – let’s not do this. Why do I single out Eric? He revealed his hatred of me at the trial and called me ungrateful for trying to defend myself. Eric once put on a one man show called The Greedy Bastard Tour – this really says it all. In the book I include parts of Eric and Michael’s cross examination which is revealing of another side to them. I’m going to the screening because I’d like to view the film on a big screen again and to see Neil Innes, who is a friend. What bothers me the most is how petty this is of the Pythons, and how the BFI, our guardians of film culture, went along with this insult. After the trial I received this anonymous poem:

With a little grudge, with a little grudge
Open your purse ‘cause you’ve been defeated
With a little nudge from the trial judge
You’re worth’s slightly worse but not depleted

Sorry if it’s dumb to say
You’ve done all right in your lives
Really, is the sum you’ll pay
Worth such a fight in your lives

And though you feel rotten that he has won
Still I say don’t appeal, say that the deal is done
Is it just a grudge, just a little grudge
Hope the little nudge from the judge
Helps erase the grudge

With a little grudge, with a little grudge
Open your purse ‘cause you’ve been defeated
With a little nudge from the trial judge
You’re worth’s slightly worse but not depleted

Sorry if it’s dumb to say
You’ve done all right in your lives
Really, is the sum you’ll pay
Worth such a fight in your lives

And though you feel rotten that he has won
Still I say don’t appeal, say that the deal is done
Is it just a grudge, just a little grudge
Hope the little nudge from the judge
Helps erase the grudge

September 17, 2019 at 1:35 pm Leave a comment

The Crisis Years: 1914/1939/2016

In the last 100 years, Britain has faced 3 existential crises. The first was 1914 at the start of the 1st world war, the second 1939 at the beginning of the 2nd and the latest one – Brexit- is not even a war at all (but has the potential to turn into one- a civil war). Each of these crises shows a persistent pattern to British decision making, and it’s worth remembering what they are.

In 1914 when the 1st WW started, Britain had only 4 months’ supply of acetone. Acetone is needed to make cordite, which is a missile propellant, and without a supply the war would have been over in 6 months. None could be bought because the Germans had monopolised the supply. The government turned to a chemistry lecturer in Manchester named Dr Chaim Weizmann who had synthesized acetone from grain in 1912 and asked him if could create it on an industrial scale. He did it in a matter of weeks and factories were quickly set up. Because of this Britain managed to fight the war but only won because the Americans finally joined in.

In WW2 we had a different fiasco. Then the government tried to appease Hitler by making deals with him and did not prepare for war. Hitler had been re-arming for six years and was ready to fight. He had even bought airplanes from the British. How could they have thought they could appease this dictator, who was gobbling up Europe one country at a time? That so-called ‘warmonger’ Churchill was right all along that we would have to confront Hitler at some time and the sooner the better. In the end Britain won the war again but only because America joined.

2016 will go down in history as the year of Brexit, when a prosperous country, without an obvious enemy, decided to voluntarily make itself poorer, weaker and less stable. In that year we decided to cut ourselves loose from our largest trading partners and instead seek to be saved once again by America. But this America is not the same as the one who selflessly aided us in 1914 and 1939. This America won’t care what happens to us if we decide to cut our own throats. In fact, there will be people there (and in the rest of the world) who will find British decline quite an amusing spectacle.

Both Wars showed a woeful lack of planning and insight into the nature of the crisis. Both wars could have easily been lost. Plucky Britain was lucky Britain. But maybe it’s not three times lucky. Our history tells us that we are not very good at planning and management in a crisis. Do we really want to break our own legs? And for what?

August 12, 2019 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

The Unknown Jewish Prophet

I am planning a museum installation called Yellow Star. It will show the history of German Jewry during the period 1930-1941. During my research I read the book The Pity of it All: A Portrait of the Jews in Germany 1743-1933 by Amos Elon. I was struck by this passage in the book:

“Another obscure publication of this kind was Before the Storm: A Serious Word of Warning to the Jews of Germany, which came out in Berlin in 1896. The author was a physician named Bernhard Cohn who minced no words advising German Jews to “expect the worst”: another St Bartholomew’s Day was in the making, he said, referring to the sixteenth-century massacre of Huguenots in France. German anti-Semitism had “method” and was therefore “more dangerous” even than Russian anti-Semitism: “Between Jews and non-Jews in Germany there exists, in effect, a state of war. It is no longer a legal question. The demand is not for our defeat or submission – this they have already achieved – but for destruction.”

I was amazed that Dr. Cohn, writing in 1896, could be so prescient about the future fate of German Jews. 37 years before Hitler came to power, Cohn was warning German Jews that the Shoah was on its way. I located Cohn’s pamphlet in the Wiener Library and asked my friend Mirco Keilflug to translate pages 8,12, and 46 which were the pages Elon cited as his source. The following is our translation of what Cohn wrote on those pages:
“It is very sad that the hatred of Jews has soared to such large-scale dimensions. The respectable classes of society listen with pleasure to the lying and vicious rants of anti-Semites. They see it as the patriotic duty of every German to view Judaism as a public enemy and to free the motherland from them.

My pamphlet doesn’t intend to investigate the causes of those strange manifestations, or to prove its inability to create any effect on the non-Jewish population or to prompt them to give up their repellant attitude towards the Jews. We would be blind if we don’t come to the conclusion that the latter is impossible. Citizens, parties or government don’t want to be taught that. We Jews take it as it is and are only interested to answer the questions: What do we have to be afraid of? What do we have to do to protect ourselves from events that might happen?

In answering the first question about the systematic inciting of all classes against the existence of Judaism and their attack on Jews, it is a mistake to remain optimistic. Lessons from the past and current observations warn us to expect the worst. To get straight to the point, we acknowledge that between Jews and non-Jews in Germany there has developed a state of war. It is no longer a question for the law. There is no place for illusions. We will not be able to persuade our enemy with any peaceful actions such as scientific deductions, essays, religious, philosophical, political, historical, socialistic, or ethnological discussions. It is not our inferiority that is the problem, but the assumed superiority that is an eyesore for them. Evidently, the superiority of Judaism is based on our economic success in Germany. This is a blessing for the country. But for us this is a problem because of the unfortunate separation of the Jewish and Christian populations. Or should we say the Aryan and Semitic parts of the population, which is a conceptual distinction invented by the anti-Semitic press.

Hence there is war between Jews and Christians, the black heads and the blonds! What should we do? Our advantage is that it is not us who caused the war. Generally we are like patient lambs lead to the slaughter. Sadly, it doesn’t matter what is legally right in the case of war. That is what had set an end to Carthage in the Third Punic War. We are in a similar situation. They do not expect our surrender or submission, because that has been given already. They expect our destruction and extermination.
Our situation is indeed extraordinarily endangered. As long there are quiet times and peace, our enemies will not risk an attack. The authorities are obliged to react to any unlawful actions towards us. Peace and order are the foundations for the existence and durability of any state. If those foundations are missing, it would expose the weakness of the regime. That is why the government has to protect its declared and most hated enemy.

But times may come when it will be very difficult for the authorities to protect our lives and property. For example, war could all of a sudden be declared because the political constellation has changed (may G-d protect us from it!) or a deciding battle is lost. Or any other unpredictable events that might happen where the states’ authority cannot defend us. Who knows if our adversaries are already waiting for such an event. Maybe they have already issued an edict to act against us in an organized way like a second St. Batholomew’s Night? Without doubt, the magnitude of rage against us is the same as it was three centuries ago against the Huguenots in France. Considering all the reports of anti-Semitism from Vienna, it needs only a little drop of water to make the barrel overflow. We are then facing the same danger as the Huguenots in France. Why should this not be possible and our concern justifiable?”

I have not been able to find any information about Dr. Cohn. Elon says that few people would have read his pamphlet yet he was in a long line of Jewish prophets, warning of a terrible future. He got it right that World War 1 would help to de-stabilise the country and that financial crises like hyperinflation and the great depression would cause the Weimar Republic to lose its authority. That power vacuum gave the Nazis a chance to seize power, Their hatred destroyed not only the Jews but Germany as well. This is the poison of Anti-Semitism.

May 9, 2019 at 6:35 pm Leave a comment

Brexit – a typical British mess

There is something radically ramshackle about the politics of England whenever an existential threat arises. The government of the day appears to be both unprepared for the threat and in need of outside help to avert disaster.

On a recent Question Time Gina Miller called the government’s actions on Brexit ‘shambolic’. This word I believe applies to every existential crisis that this country has lived through in the past 100 years. For example, look at the preparations for WW1 and WW2. When war started in 1914, the War Office had only 4 months supply of Acetone, which was essential for coating the heads of missiles. They used to buy it from Germany and for some reason that source was no longer available. Now there was none to be had. Unless something could be done, the war would be lost in 6 months.

The government asked a senior lecturer in biochemistry at the University of Manchester named Dr. Chaim Weizmann to try to develop a synthesised version of Acetone. He soon invented a fermentation process that came to be called “the Weizmann Process.” This enabled Britain to fight the war, which was eventually decided by the US adding their men and materiel to the fight.

WW 2 had a different but similar situation. The government of the day was so anxious to avoid a war that it both appeased Hitler and made no preparation for a possible conflict, leaving the country without planes, tanks, guns and bombs to fight against a Germany that had been re-arming itself for 6 years. Churchill spent his wilderness years trying to convince the government that Hitler was a real threat and that appeasement would not work. In the end the US again had to step into the conflict to give the Allies a decisive victory. Both of these potential disasters were averted by the US stepping in, something which will not happen this time. .

The current existential crisis, which at least is not a war, is the question of Brexit. Once again, the government is totally unprepared for the event, and doesn’t seem to understand the nature of the threat. In this crisis the USA will not step in to help, because it has actually increased the threat by starting a new trade war as the aggressor.

This trade war should make it very obvious where the country is heading via Brexit. It is obvious that Trump only respects power, and what we are doing with Brexit is voluntarily reducing our power. The hard-line Brexiteers may believe that going it alone in the world will increase our power and prosperity, but this looks increasingly like an illusion. Leaving the EU will make us weaker economically and in the eyes of the world, including Donald Trump’s. This means we are deliberately making ourselves weaker and poorer. Hard to believe that a country would do this to itself, but then why didn’t anyone stockpile acetone and who thought you could appease Hitler? There is a terrible pattern repeating itself here. Mrs May rushed to Washington when Trump was elected to solidify the special relationship and lay the ground for a great trade deal with the US. We now see how much that is worth. He said America First not the special relationship first.

Let’s do a ‘what if’ moment. What if the US trade war started before the referendum was called. Who, other than hard-line Tory and Ukip Eurosceptics, would have seen the sense of breaking away from our largest trading partners in the midst of economic turmoil. It’s time to wake up. It’s not too late. The country needs to vote again, now that it is becoming clear what an unholy mess Brexit is going to be.

June 30, 2018 at 1:53 pm 1 comment

Spiritual Teachings of Yoga

 

After the success of The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, Hodder and Stoughton  commissioned me to write 4 more books on philosophy and spirituality. After writing a book on Seneca, my then partner Jo Manuel suggested I write a book on Yoga philosophy. This was a subject that I had never found easy to penetrate, partly because of so many Sanskrit terms, and partly because of the alien (to the western mind) nature of the philosophy’s expression and ideas. . But Jo, a yoga therapist,  said she would work with me on the book. So we plowed ahead and the book was published in 2003.  It has been in constant publication since then, and is especially popular with yoga student teachers, who often need to study yoga philosophy but find it as difficult to understand as I did. The book is a readable, accessible and sometimes surprising account of yoga philosophy, touching on practice as well as some history. The book also includes the Yoga Sutras, some Upanishads and a section of the Bhagavad Gita.

Looking recently at the book’s listing on Amazon.com I was heartened by a number of reviews of the book. Here are a few:

First of all, I did not need to be practicing physical yoga in order to find this book enlightening. (I have had yoga classes but mainly focus on one position each day that relieves a cranky back.) The focus is on living the spiritual life. I am currently reading the selections from the Upanishads that are a part of this book. They touch my heart and my soul and teach me what living and loving are truly about, and the unimportance of material things. While reading and meditating on Yoga Masters, “earth’s vain shadows flee”, and I am reminded of the oneness of all things. Starting each morning with this book has truly added richness and meaning to my daily life.

This book ROCKS! I totally agree with the reviewer before me. This is a great book for someone who has done some yoga and loves it and is ready to move into the spiritual side of yoga. Truly amazing and has completely changed my life. The writers have written this book with perfect simplicity and grace. A very easy read, yet encompasses everything quickly and neatly.

My favorite yoga instructor loaned me this and one other (Heart of Yoga) when I expressed an interest in learning more about the “whole picture” vs. just asanas. Am purchasing my own copy after spending time letting the various texts sink in. If you are looking for a deeper, readable resource try this one.

I can’t believe no one else has reviewed this yet! Despite the cheesy title, this is a bona fide invaluable resource, especially for those who do postures, but are unfamiliar with Hindu philosophy. The first half of the book is a basic introduction to yoga philosophy. The second half, believe it or not, consists of ample selections from the Upanishads, as well as the entire texts of the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, all translated into contemporary English with no complicated sanskrit terms—all in this tight little compact paperback. For such a small price, don’t pass up this bargain!

 

It’s a lovely feeling to know that a book we created 15 years ago has touched and helped so many readers.

 

 

 

June 1, 2018 at 9:23 am Leave a comment

A New You Resolution from Cleo

My daughter Cleo posted two messages this week that I thought were very good. One was a kind of New Year resolution, or maybe it should be called a New You resolution because it’s about Cleo’s new feeling of the joy of being, and the potential of what life can become. It’s a mission statement for herself, a prayer for the love that she has for herself and for the world.

The second is a Christmas message, much more poetic and touching than the Queen’s. You could say this the Goddess’ Christmas message. It is touching and beautiful. It is based on a Christian view, but if goes beyond that as it overflows with love for life, and enters you with the truth of her feeling.

 

December 30, 2017 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment

The Revaluation of All Values

Nietzsche wrote about the revaluation of all values. I believe we are living at a unique time when it is possible to conceive of a revaluation like this. The current dissatisfaction with the way we live forces us to think about other ways. This gives us an opportunity to re-examine the values we live by, and to create new ones or revert back to earlier ones now lost or in danger.

The ascendance of Trump in the US and of Brexit in the UK gives us the chance, indeed the duty, to look at the values we currently live under, and to decide which ones can help us to sustain a life we would like to lead. These events show us in stark relief that the outcomes of our current system have terrible effects on our lives. Do I need to mention Climate Change ? Grenfell? Homelessness? Foodbanks? It is all too obvious.

But Trump will go, and although Brexit will probably happen, its revelation of the sharp divisions in our society, and its breaking up of old settled ideas and ways, gives us a short window when it is possible for us to revalue our values and to make some choices for the future.

This is why I like Jeremy Corbyn, despite his shortcomings. I believe he sincerely wants to create a better society, and to live under better values. These values, ones that can create and sustain a better society, are not the ones we currently live under. We have to decide what is more important, to keep the political economy that currently exists and that leads to greater and greater inequality or to refigure our economic and political life so that it reduces inequality and gives everyone a fair chance of a decent life.

We create society, it is not a given, and if we can dream and plan of a society that is fairer and better, then there is no reason, given the political will, that we cannot create that society. It is political will that is missing. The ideas are all there. We know what good values are, and we know what are bad ones. But do we have the political will to say to ourselves, we need to lose some of these values and to encourage others.

It would be a shame to miss this moment. It doesn’t come around that often.

December 30, 2017 at 9:43 pm Leave a comment

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