28 September 2011
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Travesty

Went to see the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy movie the other day.  It is difficult to watch this having previously read the book and watched the TV series.  The TV series seared itself into the memory.  So, I am not sure if I understood things through watching the film or because I had previously seen the TV series.  So, I won’t talk about how easy to follow it may or may not be.

Things that definitely differ from the book:

  1. The Americans don’t have Karla tortured
  2. Peter Guillam is not gay
  3. Peter Guillam drives a sports car not a saloon
  4. Jim Prideaux is shot in Czechoslovakia not Hungary
  5. Ricky Tarr goes out to Hong Kong, not Istanbul
  6. Ricky Tarr’s secret is not accepting money from the Russians but trying to get his family to safety
  7. Ricky Tarr starts the fight not Guillam.
  8. Irina is not shot in front of Prideaux

Things that probably differ from the book (I don’t have time to check):

  1. There was no Christmas Party
  2. Smiley does not make any promises to Tarr
  3. I don’t think anyone thought Prideaux had been killed.
  4. Tufty Thesinger is not killed
  5. Haydon is not shot. 

Not all of these changes are important but they combine to significantly change the meaning of the book.  Where, in the book, there was a clear distinction made between East and West, the movie manages to muddy that distinction.  This is unforgivable.  Communism was appalling.  It killed and impoverished millions.  Sure, the West wasn’t perfect.  The book acknowledges this in spades but always makes it clear that the West is much, much better.

Other faults:

  • Boy, it drags.  It even manages to feel slower than the 1970s TV series which in terms of running time was much longer.  Way too much effort goes into creating a world of brown, orange and grey and then taking long, lingering shots of it.
  • Ciaran Hands (playing Roy Bland) doesn’t, if I recall correctly, say a word.  Not a word.  What a waste.

Things that I am pretty sure they did have in the 1970s but don’t appear in the movie:

  • Flares

Things they got right:

  • Gary Oldman
  • Colin Firth


24 June 2011
Paul Marks and I talk about everything

“Everything” to include unemployment, the Fairness Doctrine, liberation theology, Guatamalan novelists and banking - a subject that prompted Paul to remark: “If you consider it and think about it too long, you go mad.”

06 February 2011
"In my living memory, every socialist failure has been blamed on the weather." Jeffrey Tucker …link
14 October 2010
The lack of intellectual property gave the Soviet Union an advantage in the Cold War

Seen in a piece on the AK-47 linked to by Instapundit:

That was how the Soviet Union designed much of its suite of military equipment. Rival teams were given a set of specification and deadlines, and through a series of stages the teams presented prototypes, and contest supervisors winnowed the field. Stalin liked these contests. They created urgency and a strong sense of priorities, and they helped speed along development. This was also a system without patents or even notions of intellectual property, at least as we know them in the West. So design convergence was part of the process—the teams and the judges, as time passed, could mix and match features from different submissions. Think of a game of Mr. Potato Head. Now imagine a similar game, in which many different elements and features of an automatic rifle are available to you, and more are available at each cycle, and you can gradually pluck the best features and assemble them into a new whole. In some ways, this was the process here.

It was always been a great puzzle to me how the half-way capitalist Tsarists managed to lose their world war while the full-on commies won theirs.  My explanation had always been that the disciplines learnt under the Tsar and the extraordinary growth that Russia experienced prior to the First World War, somehow kept going.  But, surely, twenty years of Leninist, followed by Stalinist communism will destroy anything.  Or, maybe, that Allied aid to the Soviets was more than we tend to think.  The explanation that it’s to do with intellectual property seems far more plausible.  And it also explains why the Soviets were good at military stuff but lousy at everything else.

05 August 2010
What to do when the Russians come. (History According to) Bob reads extracts from this Cold War classic (?). Not good news if you're a Maoist or a Trotskyite. But if you're a Nazi things are not nearly as bad as they could be. And if you're a psychopath...

02 August 2010
The fun of having your political opponents make your point for you

I was watching Roger Simon’s YouTube piece on Walter Duranty - the New York Times correspondent who covered up the Ukrainian famine in the 1930s.  I thought: “Well, I wonder if the reporting in the (London) Times was any better?”  And so I looked through some old editions online.  And then I found a really interesting letter - one that uses Duranty’s very own words to make the point that - at very least - food was very scarce in Russia.

This is something I have found myself when writing about railways.  One of the best writers around is Christian Wolmar who I am pretty sure is some sort of socialist.  However, time and time again he would come up with the facts to support the libertarian argument.

By the way, in terms of reporting, although there are dark hints, the Times didn’t really come to terms with the fact that there had been a famine until a couple of years later.  We have to bear in mind that it had no correspondents in the Soviet Union, all its reporting was done out of Riga in Latvia and its main source was official Soviet reports.

16 May 2010
I've only just got round to listening to Michael Jennings's interview with James Waterton in Hanoi. And I'm glad I did. So, the Vietnamese are a lot more relaxed than the Chinese? I didn't know that. And Australians move away because Australia's too clean? I didn't know that either.

I even liked all that honking in the background.

04 August 2008

To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good…

Alexander Solyhenitsyn whose death was announced today.

07 July 2007
Went to see the Lives of Others the other day. Thought it very good. So did Adriana who has some personal reflections on life under communism.
11 March 2007
TV Alert: The Trap: What Happened to Our Dreams of Freedom

Uh oh, this looks bad:

Individual freedom is the dream of our age. But if one steps back and looks at what freedom actually means for us today, it’s a strange and limited kind of freedom.


It will show how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today’s idea of freedom. This model was derived from ideas and techniques developed by nuclear strategists during the Cold War. It was then taken up by genetic biologists, anthropologists, radical psychiatrists and free market economists, until it became a new system of invisible control.

They’re taking our word.  The bastards.  I suppose it is a compliment to the 19th century liberals that the Marxists had to take their word and make it mean something quite different.  Confucius may or may not have said: “When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.”  But what happens when freedom loses its meaning?

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dreams of Freedom, Sunday, 2100-2200, BBC2


13 December 2006
Pinochet again

One of the good things about someone dying is that you get to hear all sides of the debate.  I can’t say this has changed my view of the guy but it has clarified it:

  • He was right to launch the coup
  • He was right to champion free market policies
  • He was wrong to torture and kill unarmed opponents

The trick is to avoid falling into the trap of backing everything he did just because you agree with some of what he did.

Having said that - and this is mostly an intellectual exercise - is it possible to justify the torture and murder? Well, put as starkly as that, obviously not.  But is it possible that this was a package deal: that Pinochet could not have launched the coup in the first place had he not had the support of some pretty unsavoury characters ie, people who got a kick out of torture and murder?

28 October 2006
Stalin only killed 7 million - well that's all right then …link
04 March 2006
The man who saved the world - when the Soviet Union's missile strike early-warning system developed a glitch …link