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Book of the week – The Devil and Mr Casement

The devil and mr casement
Jordan Goldman
Verso books


Previously i reviewed King Leopold’s ghost, a book loaned to me by a union activist. On return of that I was given a different but similar missive, the devil and mr casement. While King Leopold’s was about the Congo and the suffering imposed on its population the devil moves continent. To South America and Peru.

With one thread between the two, Roger casement. After all it is the centenary of the Easter Rising so why not celebrate one of Ireland’s heroic gun runners by reading of his exploits prior to dealing with the Germans during the First World War in an effort to get arms from them for this countries own war effort.

Casement is a colourful character, one out of kilter in an Ireland of stereotypes. Christened twice under two different religions and gay made him NOT the poster boy for the rebellion, that’s for sure, but through all the torment growing up he knew knew the difference between what he felt was right and wrong.

The devil in this book is the Peruvian Amazon company, listed in the British Stock Exchange, through it’s owner – Julio Cesar Arana, dealing with rubber and about to exploit anyone it can. Geography helped it get a stronghold in an area where few people travelled. An emerging market looking for rubber as car tires, bike tires and many other uses for rubber was being found. There are stories of brutality and torture as the British empire became aware of the plight of people in Peru.

We get used to the language of today and phrases like living wage as being of their time. I have been at many conferences when forced labour and it’s horrendous effects on human beings, prisoners in their own skin, have lights shine on them. It’s certainly not a 21st century phenomena and since slavery has been abolished in some areas over one and a half centuries ago it is something that has continually been part of the global radar. We like to think that the settled western world has no place for such things but we do. As my “no to human trafficking bookmark” constantly reminds me. However it was very much prevalent amongst “respectable” rubber producing companies, most notably the previously mentioned Peruvian Amazon company.

It’s also easy to forget that different times to today were lived under extremely different circumstances. Now I have the potential to communicate with over 50% of the worlds population instantaneously. I can pretty much see where any island is in the world. Many countries secret services can try and get cameras into any of the worlds nooks and crannies. They aren’t quite there yet but it’s getting closer. Whereas a century ago maps were being drawn and vast areas of countries were either unexplored or untraversable. Except for indigenous people and local gangs. Which is where much of the worlds rubber stock came from but always with some man (pretty much always a man) ready to exploit it for profit. And ready to do whatever it takes to hang on and increase it.

So it took a while for word to get around the world on events good or bad. The Peruvian Amazon Company were getting away with indiscretions in the name of business as their product was very much in demand and that demand was being met. However they had some forced labour issues and due to the expansion of the British empire it became the business of the British state when stories of its citizens (from Barbados) being tortured came to light. They set up a committee to investigate. And who better to lead the investigation? Future traitor and leading humanitarian Roger Casement.

Casements work in compiling his report for the foreign office made him almost like an investigative journalist. He hunted people down? Sourced interpreters and spoke to as many as he could whilst hearing tales of decapitation. Casement disgust was mixed with amazement when a domestic murder held so much more credence that this tales of inhumanity it helped shape his belief in justice for downtrodden and lp doubt played a part in his wish to assist Irish Rebels in their future fight against the British empire.

He published a paper on the situation that garnered huge press coverage. How could it not when it stated that the native Indian population nosedived from 50,000 to 11,000 in the years between 1908 and 1911.

This book tells the story in chronological order through extensive research of letter, newspaper article and published journals. I was struck when reading the details of a select committee set up by the House of Commons to investigate the company as it had British directors. Some of the transcripts are mind boggling in their evasiveness but that brought me a century ahead and this small island, formerly fully part of the British empire. We have had our share of select committees and tribunals investigating wrongdoing and corruption. Many answers to these were misleading and quite frankly bizarre. So what has really changed?

Slavery is abolished but we still have forced labour.
Labour laws are in place but we still have people being paid below minimum wage
Health and safety standards are published but we still have negligent workplaces.

We are forever evolving and still have a way to go but thanks to people like Roger Casement change came quicker to some countries.


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Book of the week Pele – the autobiography

pele – the autobiography

pocket books sport


Where i live in Dublin there is a certain footballer who was lauded when Dublin won the all-ireland last year.  This player had taken the championship by storm/ and won player of the year by the seasons end.  We often see him in the local park, walking his dog.  He always has time to say hello to the kids and encourages all he sees to play sport.

i often wonder what really goes on in Brian Fentons head, how hard isit to stay grounded when youve played such a pivotal role in your counties success,.  How do you  keep those feet on the ground when most people you see have already spotted you and either congratulate you on your performances or want to, and you know it.  Im sure you practice outting up a facade and try and remain humble.

now magnify that by one million and you are Pele.  My guess is that many years ago Pele gave in to the temptation to remain humble and one day had an epiphany.  “Im the best footballer in the world, there can be no doubt”  And then you have to write a book….


Well this is the book.  Really it should be told King but it is the story of a man better at football than at business who is treated like a king everywhere he goes.  This was published in the 90s but no doubt the focus is more relenting.

Just like a king there are stories of women, not as many enry the 8th but on the way, plenty of children too but with an obvious llove for them.

I read this as my son asked me, never really would have stretched out for it but am glad that i did.  He is some footballer after all.


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Book of the Week – The Road to Wigan Pier


The road to Wigan pier
George Orwell
Penguin Press

Nearly 80 years since it was written this book has been the introduction to a new chapter for me. I have decided to attempt 52 books in a year and where better to start than with a classic.

When the first paragraph of that classic ends with the line “In spite of his trying man has not yet succeeded in doing his dirt everywhere” I am enthused as this still rings true today. “Even in the filthy heart of civilisation you find fields where the grass is green instead of grey ; perhaps if you looked for them you might find streams with live fish in them instead of salmon tins ”
That sums up so many of us looking for a brighter future, not just for themselves but for all. A future where flowers blossom on bomb sites.

There is a sense of history reading a book based on a coal industry that lost its last pit to closure prior to Christmas. Of course our desire to burn fossil fuels has left the earth in a somewhat torturous state but that hasn’t been the reason the coal industry was defeated. There was a concerted effort put in place to break a group of organised workers. In our efforts to dumb these people down a new ideology blossomed. One where money became king and the hunt for it overcame all else.

This book is in many ways Orwell’s homage to the coal miners. Their horrific work conditions are explained in great detail, the necessity for coal in every facet of people’s life is highlighted but not only that the fact that we tend to ignore the means of production as we sit at home writing or reading. That is all the more obvious these days as we watch TV on screens that have been manufactured and transported half way across the world. Or as we type on devices built by factory workers in conditions similar to coal miners in the 30’s or, in the case of garment workers making our clothes, quite possibly worse.

Whilst it was written almost 80 years ago it speaks of an age that could be transferred into the 21st Century. The industrial world could be in China or Russia where manufacturing is still very much alive. It could relate to the previously mentioned garment industry in Bangladesh or Burma or India. From an Irish perspective The road to Wigan pier also speaks of poverty and a housing crisis which most definitely fits into today’s front pages alongside a dissection of unemployment rates that don’t fully give a picture of what’s going on due to the amount of underemployment. The working class didn’t turn revolutionary when things took a turn for the worse as they had electricity and access to newspapers which assisted them in keeping their tempers to make the best out of what they have, much like smart phones and Internet has done nowadays.

Orwell states simply that he had reduced everything to the “theory that the oppressed are always right and the oppressors are always wrong”. He recognised that this was mistaken but the roots of it remain especially when it came to class issues, things may have changed for many working class people on the past 80 years but difference still exist for many in society and your birthplace does still have a huge bearing on your life’s trajectory. However the reality for many is that there are two economic classes, the rich and the poor. Post economic crisis (well post for some in society) one part of discourse is trying to ensure everyone is getting enough to eat. Orwell says that socialism provided a way out. We are waiting to see if that is the case.

He also states that “under capitalism any invention which does not promise fairly immediate profits is neglected”, interesting and when you look at the recent closure of Clery’s department store you can see the truth in that statement. What Orwell would say abuut a shop that splits into two companies, one for trading and one for the property aspect would be very interesting. Especially when the property arm makes 6 million in profit and the trading arm loses 4 million. The companies are sold and a few hours later the trading arm is sold for £1 and shut down by close of business with all the staff made redundant and the state left making any payouts to them. Meanwhile the building sits idle waiting for the right time. All completely legal and admired in some quarters.

This has been our road to Wigan Pier and in an election year in Ireland it will be interesting to see where we go next. Will it be the time as Orwell Stated 8 decades ago that “it is desperately necessary for left-wingers of all complexions to drop their differences and hang together” when he was trying to get Socialism into mainstream language and away from doctrine. We live in interesting times


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