" Madam Miaow Says: April 2008

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Communist Manifestoon: a spectre haunts



As true now as it was then ...

Thanks to Denis

Communist Manifestoon: a spectre haunts



As true now as it was then ...

Thanks to Denis

Monday, 21 April 2008

Manqué business: personality cults and the retreat into mysticism



"My dad's bigger than your dad and he's gonna do you, sunshine!"
"Yo mama so fugly, we gonna kill the lot of you."
"Yo Dalai so feudal he gotta suck Amurkin dick fo dollahs!"
"Yo side so oppressive we gotta give special dispensation for violence. Om!"

So what are we to make of the current tsunami of lunacy rolling around the world? It's crashing on my beach and I don't like it one little bit.

The end of the dream of China being a genuine socialist state was tragic. The last great hope. Elsewhere, political dregs that identify as socialist fight like rats in a sack. We've given up on the ingenuity of the human mind and retreated into mysticism while the social and cultural superstructure collapses into the base like the melting tiers of a soggy wedding cake. (Or, to quote replicant Roy Batty at the end of Blade Runner, "Like tiers in reign".) Prophets and demigods and their MiniMees supplant Marx and Darwin. We're expected to be in thrall to the deities' earthly representatives, uncritically swallow their lip-service to Peace and be very, very respectful indeed ... or get bashed up or worse for our irreverent offences.


"Like tiers in reign" Roy Batty, Bladerunner

Having been raised on one personality cult, I've been pretty effectively immunised against all others. Full credit to Mao for leading the communists to victory against all odds in 1949. But if the sight of weeping 'n' wailing Red Guards in Tien An Men Square while the Great Helmsman beamed down from the Emperors' old heavenly throne set alarm bells ringing, the Book of Revelations written by his doctor, describing all his earthly excess in putrid detail, made you want to call in the emergency services.

That was faith dressed up in politics. We now have the real thing; The Return of Religion: This Time It's Personal. One of the most powerful and pernicious myths of our time, welcome to the cult of the Dalai Lama. He ticks all the boxes that spiritually impoverished westerners could ever desire (and there's me thinking desire was a no-no). He's an earth-bound deity. A god king. Kind and wise granter of redemption - unless you're a Tibetan serf. Coz it's all illusion, see?

But question the old fraud and suddenly you are met with some very un-Buddhist howls of protest and a plethora of "How dare you?"s. Don't they know it's the revolutionary's duty to give a kicking to a myth when they see one?

The search for the ideal benevolent father figure is a universal. Coca-Cola knew this when they created the modern image of Santa Claus. Add to that the muscle wielded when the other kids knock over your sandcastle or teecher won't acknowledge your true worth, and the result is intoxicating.

Do I want to believe? You betcha! In a disintegrating world, I crave certainties as avidly as the next sistah. I, too, seek comfort. The reassurance that, somewhere out there, lies a sea of love in which I can immerse myself and wash away all pain. Perhaps it's the siren call to my innate hunger for spiritual parenting that makes me kick up when I see the seductive powers of the image. I happen to like my capacity for original thought, and anything that threatens to turn my brain into jelly can expect a rough ride.

As a schoolgirl I was relieved not to have been kept in China for my education during the Cultural Revolution, as my gobby character flaws would have made kneeling on broken glass an inevitability. But I saw enough of it to recognise the Red Guard types: bellowing bullies tasting power for the first time, high on self-righteousness and confident of a strong daddy behind them. Lacking in imagination themselves, they whacked anyone who didn't conform to their tramline minds. They scared me sumfink rotten.

Many of these Red Guards are now middle-aged depressives: self-loathing, guilt-ridden, unemployable or suicidal. That's a post-party hangover to beat all hangovers.

The specific conditions may have changed but the type remains. I'm sure you've spotted the phenomenon already and I hope, in the spirit of comradeship and siblinghood, you are not one yourself: those brittle sticks who think they are mighty oaks marking out the boundaries of what is allowed, making landgrabs in a shrinking thinking space.

What can we do but piss up against these fences?

So, in the Mean Time, I'll continue to batter my head against these walls even if it means signing them with splattered blood and brain matter. Don't worry — you can hose it down afterwards and obliterate all memory.

I am the lone dog pacing your purlieus; the barbarian at the gate. I am the carapace-free lungfish trapped where the sea has drained, gulping down the poisoned air and staring at the stars.

If you're one also, I'll shake you by the hand. If not, I'll probably want to shake you by the throat.

"Religion is the new social evil" Joseph Rowntree Foundation report

Manqué business: personality cults and the retreat into mysticism



"My dad's bigger than your dad and he's gonna do you, sunshine!"
"Yo mama so fugly, we gonna kill the lot of you."
"Yo Dalai so feudal he gotta suck Amurkin dick fo dollahs!"
"Yo side so oppressive we gotta give special dispensation for violence. Om!"

So what are we to make of the current tsunami of lunacy rolling around the world? It's crashing on my beach and I don't like it one little bit.

The end of the dream of China being a genuine socialist state was tragic. The last great hope. Elsewhere, political dregs that identify as socialist fight like rats in a sack. We've given up on the ingenuity of the human mind and retreated into mysticism while the social and cultural superstructure collapses into the base like the melting tiers of a soggy wedding cake. (Or, to quote replicant Roy Batty at the end of Blade Runner, "Like tiers in reign".) Prophets and demigods and their MiniMees supplant Marx and Darwin. We're expected to be in thrall to the deities' earthly representatives, uncritically swallow their lip-service to Peace and be very, very respectful indeed ... or get bashed up or worse for our irreverent offences.


"Like tiers in reign" Roy Batty, Bladerunner

Having been raised on one personality cult, I've been pretty effectively immunised against all others. Full credit to Mao for leading the communists to victory against all odds in 1949. But if the sight of weeping 'n' wailing Red Guards in Tien An Men Square while the Great Helmsman beamed down from the Emperors' old heavenly throne set alarm bells ringing, the Book of Revelations written by his doctor, describing all his earthly excess in putrid detail, made you want to call in the emergency services.

That was faith dressed up in politics. We now have the real thing; The Return of Religion: This Time It's Personal. One of the most powerful and pernicious myths of our time, welcome to the cult of the Dalai Lama. He ticks all the boxes that spiritually impoverished westerners could ever desire (and there's me thinking desire was a no-no). He's an earth-bound deity. A god king. Kind and wise granter of redemption - unless you're a Tibetan serf. Coz it's all illusion, see?

But question the old fraud and suddenly you are met with some very un-Buddhist howls of protest and a plethora of "How dare you?"s. Don't they know it's the revolutionary's duty to give a kicking to a myth when they see one?

The search for the ideal benevolent father figure is a universal. Coca-Cola knew this when they created the modern image of Santa Claus. Add to that the muscle wielded when the other kids knock over your sandcastle or teecher won't acknowledge your true worth, and the result is intoxicating.

Do I want to believe? You betcha! In a disintegrating world, I crave certainties as avidly as the next sistah. I, too, seek comfort. The reassurance that, somewhere out there, lies a sea of love in which I can immerse myself and wash away all pain. Perhaps it's the siren call to my innate hunger for spiritual parenting that makes me kick up when I see the seductive powers of the image. I happen to like my capacity for original thought, and anything that threatens to turn my brain into jelly can expect a rough ride.

As a schoolgirl I was relieved not to have been kept in China for my education during the Cultural Revolution, as my gobby character flaws would have made kneeling on broken glass an inevitability. But I saw enough of it to recognise the Red Guard types: bellowing bullies tasting power for the first time, high on self-righteousness and confident of a strong daddy behind them. Lacking in imagination themselves, they whacked anyone who didn't conform to their tramline minds. They scared me sumfink rotten.

Many of these Red Guards are now middle-aged depressives: self-loathing, guilt-ridden, unemployable or suicidal. That's a post-party hangover to beat all hangovers.

The specific conditions may have changed but the type remains. I'm sure you've spotted the phenomenon already and I hope, in the spirit of comradeship and siblinghood, you are not one yourself: those brittle sticks who think they are mighty oaks marking out the boundaries of what is allowed, making landgrabs in a shrinking thinking space.

What can we do but piss up against these fences?

So, in the Mean Time, I'll continue to batter my head against these walls even if it means signing them with splattered blood and brain matter. Don't worry — you can hose it down afterwards and obliterate all memory.

I am the lone dog pacing your purlieus; the barbarian at the gate. I am the carapace-free lungfish trapped where the sea has drained, gulping down the poisoned air and staring at the stars.

If you're one also, I'll shake you by the hand. If not, I'll probably want to shake you by the throat.

"Religion is the new social evil" Joseph Rowntree Foundation report

Saturday, 12 April 2008

The Wicker Man review: guest post by Babeuf


Have you ever had one of those moments when suddenly you realise you’ve been following the wrong rule book? You think you're playing one game, but then you see you’re caught up in something very different? And maybe something much darker than you’d imagined. You’ve been pouring your energy, intellect or emotions into one task, only to find that someone higher up has been redirecting your efforts towards other ends.

Officer Kujan, in The Usual Suspects, reaches this point: having teased out the long, complex story from “Verbal” Kint, he releases his witness, only to discover, moments too late, that Kint was not a witness but Keyser Soze, the perpetrator himself. The scales fall from our eyes simultaneously, as we survey the notice board together with Kujan and see how Kint had improvised his yarn from the names of people and places he’d seen there. As listeners, we undergo a similar experience in the course of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony. A banal little tune enters in the middle of the first movement, but as the repetitions continue obsessively, and as the orchestration thickens and darkens, the horror of the situation dawns on us: banality is united with the horror of a war of annihilation in the form of the Nazi war machine, which had advanced through Russia and reached the outskirts of Leningrad by the time the symphony was broadcast in the streets of the besieged city.

Sergeant Howie, the luckless, repressed protagonist of The Wicker Man, experiences this lurch too. And even ends up in the costume of a fool to drive the point home. But once his eyes are opened, he has to be sacrificed. Religious reasons, of course – like people who know too much can say some very awkward things for those whose power depends on the success of their lies.

It all looked very different at the start. We thought we knew what the game was: a detective suspense movie. Howie thought he knew what his job was: to fly over to Summerisle, find the missing girl, or her corpse, and to catch the kidnappers or murderers (yes, yes, Sassenach reader, I know how you love to hear “murrdurr”, and you’ll get a year’s supply in The Wicker Man). But all along the way he’s stonewalled by the islanders – even the girl’s own mother – and good leads turn into red herrings. Even the bedrock of his assumptions, that there actually was a missing girl, turns out to be another illusion, and Howie finally sees that the game really revolves around him instead, because he has already been chosen as the sacrificial victim even before he came to Summerisle.

And we, as careful and critical viewers, congratulate ourselves on noticing that there’s another game in motion, namely the friction between two utterly different moral outlooks. On the one side, we have the pursed lips and raised eyebrows of Howie’s uptight Christianity, exchanging six days of self-denial and repression for the austere, whitewashed pleasures of his hymn-singing and bible reading. And on the other side, the obvious attractions of the islanders’ way of life, their freedom to follow their pleasures without shame, mediated by rituals that have so much more colour and mystery than anything in Howie’s repertoire. So we know which side we’re on.

OK, we’re with the islanders and against Howie. Except. Child sacrifice. Now that’s difficult to swallow. Call it the anthropologist’s dilemma: you don’t want to claim your Western values are universal, so you refuse to pass judgement on the morals and practises of other societies. Until you hit something like this that you ... just ... can’t ... bring yourself ... to accept. But, you say, let’s make a slight adjustment to the game – we’re playing moral dilemmas now. Tougher terrain, but still familiar, the very stuff of good drama.

Now here’s where I’m going to part company with everyone else (and possibly even with the director and the author of the screenplay, going by the interviews they’ve given). Because I want to show why the moral-dilemma game is just as much a red herring as the detective game. When Samuel P. Huntington tells us that the key to wars and cold wars is the “clash of civilisations” we rightly ask whether we’re being taken for fools. Does the seven-figure death toll in Iraq really stem from some primeval tectonic friction between “Western” and “Muslim” “civilisations”? How sordid of us to drag Huntington’s pristine account of cultural history down to the level of strategic control of oil reserves.

If we can reject the “Clash of Civilisations” as the ultimate ground of explanation (and justification) for world conflict, it shouldn’t be too difficult for us to see that there should be something beyond the clash between Howie’s Christianity and Summerisle’s paganism. Especially when all the information we need is contained within the film. The centrepiece is the scene where Howie visits the castle, and finally meets Lord Summerisle face to face. After toying with Howie and mocking his beliefs, Summerisle turns serious and offers Howie a very candid explanation for the islanders' ways:

In the last century, the islanders were starving. Like our neighbours today, they were scratching a bare subsistence from sheep and sea. Then in 1868, my grandfather bought this barren island and began to change things. A distinguished Victorian scientist, agronomist, freethinker. ... What attracted my grandfather to the island, apart from the profuse source of wiry labour that it promised, was the unique combination of volcanic soil and the warm gulf stream that surrounded it. You see, his experiments had led him to believe that it was possible to induce here the successful growth of certain new strains of fruit that he’d developed. So, with typical mid-Victorian zeal, he set to work.


So the pioneering grandfather was an enlightened man of science. Then why did he bring a new religion to the island? Couldn’t he share his “freethinking” with the inhabitants?

The best way of accomplishing this – so it seemed to him – was to rouse the people from their apathy by giving them back their joyous old gods. And that as a result of this worship, the barren island would burgeon and bring forth fruit in great abundance. What he did, of course, was to develop new cultivars of hardy fruit suited to local conditions.


Summerisle is holding back a little here. The grandfather’s scientific knowledge could have been taught to the islanders, and “the joyous old gods” would have been redundant. But if the islanders had the science, then the scientist himself would have become redundant. So the scientist had to transform himself into a priest in order to maintain his power over the islanders (his life of leisure, his servants and his fine castle), replacing the island’s ministers, who’d been scared off in the meantime:

Well, of course, to begin with they worked for him because he fed and clothed them, but later when the trees started fruiting, it became a very different matter, and the ministers fled the island, never to return. What my grandfather had started out of expediency, my father continued out of love. He brought me up the same way: to reverence the music and the drama and the rituals of the old gods; to love nature, and to fear it – and to rely on it and to appease it where necessary.


So if Summerisle’s own words tell us most of what we need to know, why have they been overlooked? Or at best seen as marginalia, while the culture clash is seen as central? When we hear these words, our sympathies still lie firmly with the islanders and their pagan beliefs, which seem liberating in contrast to Howie’s Christianity, and this allows the material underpinnings of the island’s cult to pass us by. A little later, the brief flashbacks to Summerisle’s monologue focus precisely on the lines that don’t contextualise the cult, leading us astray again.

But the final exchange between Summerisle and Howie forces us to confront the reality behind the culture clash, not as some discursive intrusion, but now integrated into the dramatic situation, Alongside Howie, we finally realise what Summerisle had planned all along. A defeated but defiant Howie, in his last words to Summerisle, says that the sacrifice – of Howie himself – will only buy Summerisle another year. Summerisle knows this, but the islanders don't ... yet.

Your crops failed because your strains failed. Fruit is not meant to be grown on these islands – it’s against nature. Well don’t you see that killing me is not going to bring back your apples? Summerisle, you know it won’t. ... Don’t you understand that if your crops fail this year, next year you’re going to have to have another blood sacrifice. And next year, no-one less than the king of Summerisle himself will do. When the crops fail, Summerisle, next year your people will kill you on May Day.


The arrogance and contempt drain from Summerisle’s face, and he can’t bring himself to look at Howie – not from guilt, but fear, since he knows Howie is speaking the truth. This, at last gives us a perspective that takes us outside the problems we'd thought the film was engaged with, and offers us an understanding both of the facts and the morality of what we’ve seen.

For so long as it appeared to be a tale of conflicting world views, the film latched on to contemporary cultural and moral debates; but now that we’ve outgrown that opposition, let’s see what the film can tell us about the world then (and today). The imagery of people being burnt to death was at the time most clearly associated with the war on the people of Vietnam (and Cambodia, and Laos). The real representative of our rulers in all their horror turns out to be Summerisle, not Howie – the same laird we were earlier invited to see as a benign, even liberating patriarch. The wicker-man sacrifice shows him flailing out with violence to stave off the disaster that awaits him, just as the US ruling class set South-East Asia alight rather than face up to its own inescapable economic and social problems. But the ultimate failure of the Summerisle agricultural experiment after three human generations – “it’s against nature”, as Howie says – also points to fears over the unsustainability of the industrialised world, fears that were beginning to emerge in popular consciousness when the film was released, and which we have all the more reason to heed today.

As the system begins to collapse, our rulers and owners, who maintain it in their interests, will sooner sacrifice ever more human lives rather than loosen their grasp on the source of their profits. They know this can’t save them in the long run, but so long as they think it will postpone their day of reckoning, they’ll continue to feed the flames with human bodies. And they’ll continue to use their house-trained journalists, academics and clerics to wrap up murder so that it looks grand and right.


by Babeuf

The Wicker Man review: guest post by Babeuf


Have you ever had one of those moments when suddenly you realise you’ve been following the wrong rule book? You think you're playing one game, but then you see you’re caught up in something very different? And maybe something much darker than you’d imagined. You’ve been pouring your energy, intellect or emotions into one task, only to find that someone higher up has been redirecting your efforts towards other ends.

Officer Kujan, in The Usual Suspects, reaches this point: having teased out the long, complex story from “Verbal” Kint, he releases his witness, only to discover, moments too late, that Kint was not a witness but Keyser Soze, the perpetrator himself. The scales fall from our eyes simultaneously, as we survey the notice board together with Kujan and see how Kint had improvised his yarn from the names of people and places he’d seen there. As listeners, we undergo a similar experience in the course of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony. A banal little tune enters in the middle of the first movement, but as the repetitions continue obsessively, and as the orchestration thickens and darkens, the horror of the situation dawns on us: banality is united with the horror of a war of annihilation in the form of the Nazi war machine, which had advanced through Russia and reached the outskirts of Leningrad by the time the symphony was broadcast in the streets of the besieged city.

Sergeant Howie, the luckless, repressed protagonist of The Wicker Man, experiences this lurch too. And even ends up in the costume of a fool to drive the point home. But once his eyes are opened, he has to be sacrificed. Religious reasons, of course – like people who know too much can say some very awkward things for those whose power depends on the success of their lies.

It all looked very different at the start. We thought we knew what the game was: a detective suspense movie. Howie thought he knew what his job was: to fly over to Summerisle, find the missing girl, or her corpse, and to catch the kidnappers or murderers (yes, yes, Sassenach reader, I know how you love to hear “murrdurr”, and you’ll get a year’s supply in The Wicker Man). But all along the way he’s stonewalled by the islanders – even the girl’s own mother – and good leads turn into red herrings. Even the bedrock of his assumptions, that there actually was a missing girl, turns out to be another illusion, and Howie finally sees that the game really revolves around him instead, because he has already been chosen as the sacrificial victim even before he came to Summerisle.

And we, as careful and critical viewers, congratulate ourselves on noticing that there’s another game in motion, namely the friction between two utterly different moral outlooks. On the one side, we have the pursed lips and raised eyebrows of Howie’s uptight Christianity, exchanging six days of self-denial and repression for the austere, whitewashed pleasures of his hymn-singing and bible reading. And on the other side, the obvious attractions of the islanders’ way of life, their freedom to follow their pleasures without shame, mediated by rituals that have so much more colour and mystery than anything in Howie’s repertoire. So we know which side we’re on.

OK, we’re with the islanders and against Howie. Except. Child sacrifice. Now that’s difficult to swallow. Call it the anthropologist’s dilemma: you don’t want to claim your Western values are universal, so you refuse to pass judgement on the morals and practises of other societies. Until you hit something like this that you ... just ... can’t ... bring yourself ... to accept. But, you say, let’s make a slight adjustment to the game – we’re playing moral dilemmas now. Tougher terrain, but still familiar, the very stuff of good drama.

Now here’s where I’m going to part company with everyone else (and possibly even with the director and the author of the screenplay, going by the interviews they’ve given). Because I want to show why the moral-dilemma game is just as much a red herring as the detective game. When Samuel P. Huntington tells us that the key to wars and cold wars is the “clash of civilisations” we rightly ask whether we’re being taken for fools. Does the seven-figure death toll in Iraq really stem from some primeval tectonic friction between “Western” and “Muslim” “civilisations”? How sordid of us to drag Huntington’s pristine account of cultural history down to the level of strategic control of oil reserves.

If we can reject the “Clash of Civilisations” as the ultimate ground of explanation (and justification) for world conflict, it shouldn’t be too difficult for us to see that there should be something beyond the clash between Howie’s Christianity and Summerisle’s paganism. Especially when all the information we need is contained within the film. The centrepiece is the scene where Howie visits the castle, and finally meets Lord Summerisle face to face. After toying with Howie and mocking his beliefs, Summerisle turns serious and offers Howie a very candid explanation for the islanders' ways:

In the last century, the islanders were starving. Like our neighbours today, they were scratching a bare subsistence from sheep and sea. Then in 1868, my grandfather bought this barren island and began to change things. A distinguished Victorian scientist, agronomist, freethinker. ... What attracted my grandfather to the island, apart from the profuse source of wiry labour that it promised, was the unique combination of volcanic soil and the warm gulf stream that surrounded it. You see, his experiments had led him to believe that it was possible to induce here the successful growth of certain new strains of fruit that he’d developed. So, with typical mid-Victorian zeal, he set to work.


So the pioneering grandfather was an enlightened man of science. Then why did he bring a new religion to the island? Couldn’t he share his “freethinking” with the inhabitants?

The best way of accomplishing this – so it seemed to him – was to rouse the people from their apathy by giving them back their joyous old gods. And that as a result of this worship, the barren island would burgeon and bring forth fruit in great abundance. What he did, of course, was to develop new cultivars of hardy fruit suited to local conditions.


Summerisle is holding back a little here. The grandfather’s scientific knowledge could have been taught to the islanders, and “the joyous old gods” would have been redundant. But if the islanders had the science, then the scientist himself would have become redundant. So the scientist had to transform himself into a priest in order to maintain his power over the islanders (his life of leisure, his servants and his fine castle), replacing the island’s ministers, who’d been scared off in the meantime:

Well, of course, to begin with they worked for him because he fed and clothed them, but later when the trees started fruiting, it became a very different matter, and the ministers fled the island, never to return. What my grandfather had started out of expediency, my father continued out of love. He brought me up the same way: to reverence the music and the drama and the rituals of the old gods; to love nature, and to fear it – and to rely on it and to appease it where necessary.


So if Summerisle’s own words tell us most of what we need to know, why have they been overlooked? Or at best seen as marginalia, while the culture clash is seen as central? When we hear these words, our sympathies still lie firmly with the islanders and their pagan beliefs, which seem liberating in contrast to Howie’s Christianity, and this allows the material underpinnings of the island’s cult to pass us by. A little later, the brief flashbacks to Summerisle’s monologue focus precisely on the lines that don’t contextualise the cult, leading us astray again.

But the final exchange between Summerisle and Howie forces us to confront the reality behind the culture clash, not as some discursive intrusion, but now integrated into the dramatic situation, Alongside Howie, we finally realise what Summerisle had planned all along. A defeated but defiant Howie, in his last words to Summerisle, says that the sacrifice – of Howie himself – will only buy Summerisle another year. Summerisle knows this, but the islanders don't ... yet.

Your crops failed because your strains failed. Fruit is not meant to be grown on these islands – it’s against nature. Well don’t you see that killing me is not going to bring back your apples? Summerisle, you know it won’t. ... Don’t you understand that if your crops fail this year, next year you’re going to have to have another blood sacrifice. And next year, no-one less than the king of Summerisle himself will do. When the crops fail, Summerisle, next year your people will kill you on May Day.


The arrogance and contempt drain from Summerisle’s face, and he can’t bring himself to look at Howie – not from guilt, but fear, since he knows Howie is speaking the truth. This, at last gives us a perspective that takes us outside the problems we'd thought the film was engaged with, and offers us an understanding both of the facts and the morality of what we’ve seen.

For so long as it appeared to be a tale of conflicting world views, the film latched on to contemporary cultural and moral debates; but now that we’ve outgrown that opposition, let’s see what the film can tell us about the world then (and today). The imagery of people being burnt to death was at the time most clearly associated with the war on the people of Vietnam (and Cambodia, and Laos). The real representative of our rulers in all their horror turns out to be Summerisle, not Howie – the same laird we were earlier invited to see as a benign, even liberating patriarch. The wicker-man sacrifice shows him flailing out with violence to stave off the disaster that awaits him, just as the US ruling class set South-East Asia alight rather than face up to its own inescapable economic and social problems. But the ultimate failure of the Summerisle agricultural experiment after three human generations – “it’s against nature”, as Howie says – also points to fears over the unsustainability of the industrialised world, fears that were beginning to emerge in popular consciousness when the film was released, and which we have all the more reason to heed today.

As the system begins to collapse, our rulers and owners, who maintain it in their interests, will sooner sacrifice ever more human lives rather than loosen their grasp on the source of their profits. They know this can’t save them in the long run, but so long as they think it will postpone their day of reckoning, they’ll continue to feed the flames with human bodies. And they’ll continue to use their house-trained journalists, academics and clerics to wrap up murder so that it looks grand and right.


by Babeuf

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Madam Miaow on the radio: world leaders at the Olympics


Stop me before I broadcast again!

Like the song says, I'm just a girl who can't say no. Hence my appearance (against my better judgement) on tonight's BBC World Service programme, "World Have Your Say".

Tonight we were mostly discussing the Olympics, and host Ross Atkins asked if we thought our leaders should attend the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. Gordon Brown, sly dog that he is, has had an appointment washing his hair (or whatever) marked in his diary for months. But he insists it's not a boycott. Does this man want to have his cake and eat it or what?!

My answer: yes. And let's see how this rebounds for the 2012 Olympics when everyone who's suffered at the hands of the US and Britain learns from the Free Tibet protesters, and then some!

Anyhow, you can listen to the podcast for seven days:
World Have Your Say: Olympic Boycott

Next week I'm on "World Shut Your Mouth".

Madam Miaow on the radio: world leaders at the Olympics


Stop me before I broadcast again!

Like the song says, I'm just a girl who can't say no. Hence my appearance (against my better judgement) on tonight's BBC World Service programme, "World Have Your Say".

Tonight we were mostly discussing the Olympics, and host Ross Atkins asked if we thought our leaders should attend the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. Gordon Brown, sly dog that he is, has had an appointment washing his hair (or whatever) marked in his diary for months. But he insists it's not a boycott. Does this man want to have his cake and eat it or what?!

My answer: yes. And let's see how this rebounds for the 2012 Olympics when everyone who's suffered at the hands of the US and Britain learns from the Free Tibet protesters, and then some!

Anyhow, you can listen to the podcast for seven days:
World Have Your Say: Olympic Boycott

Next week I'm on "World Shut Your Mouth".

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Madam Miaow on the radio: China in the news


Pic: Madam Miaow takes instructions from her evil interlocutor

Who'd have thought I'd turn out to be the Mystic Meg of the China blogs when I wrote my China Panic piece for New Internationalist, warning of the imminent demonisation of this year's Olympics host? Prescient or what?!

Leaping in where angels fear to tread, I'm appearing on BBC Five Live tomorrow morning (Wednesday 9th April) to try and even up the score and add some balance — if not colour — to the current China-bashing hate-fest.

It's on the Victoria Derbyshire programme (09:00 to 12:00), scheduled for a 20 minute spot beginning 10:05. You can listen to it live and for seven days after broadcast.

The other poor saps, I mean honoured guests, include a couple of ex-pats and a Chinese student studying in London. The challenge for me is to counter the myths sprung up around Tibet without being heard as excusing the excesses of the Chinese government. Difficult when everyone's hard-wired to hear exactly that. Tis a fine line I walk tomorrow.

Note to self: do not say, "The Dalai Lama. What a cunt." At least not before the watershed.

All together, now. "Into the valley ..."

Madam Miaow on the radio: China in the news


Pic: Madam Miaow takes instructions from her evil interlocutor

Who'd have thought I'd turn out to be the Mystic Meg of the China blogs when I wrote my China Panic piece for New Internationalist, warning of the imminent demonisation of this year's Olympics host? Prescient or what?!

Leaping in where angels fear to tread, I'm appearing on BBC Five Live tomorrow morning (Wednesday 9th April) to try and even up the score and add some balance — if not colour — to the current China-bashing hate-fest.

It's on the Victoria Derbyshire programme (09:00 to 12:00), scheduled for a 20 minute spot beginning 10:05. You can listen to it live and for seven days after broadcast.

The other poor saps, I mean honoured guests, include a couple of ex-pats and a Chinese student studying in London. The challenge for me is to counter the myths sprung up around Tibet without being heard as excusing the excesses of the Chinese government. Difficult when everyone's hard-wired to hear exactly that. Tis a fine line I walk tomorrow.

Note to self: do not say, "The Dalai Lama. What a cunt." At least not before the watershed.

All together, now. "Into the valley ..."

Friday, 4 April 2008

Torchwood review: Wahey! My cock's on fire!



WARNING: SPOILERS TA RAAS

So. This was it. The final episode of the second season of Torchwood, execrable spin-off of the hysterical Dr Who, reinvented and revitalised by Russell T Grant, the world's most desperate Joss Whedon wannabe. The first two seasons of Dr Who, long before it jumped the shark by involving Catherine Tate, indubitably had their faults. A full list may possibly follow.

However, when you pull back and look at the big picture, the achievement was more than respectable: a successful update and relaunch of a franchise which had been essentially dormant for many years and in serious decline for many years before that. Dr Who was where Grant flashed his chops. Torchwood is where his reach exceeds his grasp.

In the beginning there was Angel, divine spin-off of the exquisite Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The title character, a superhuman given to long coats and long silences where Captain Jack is merely given to long coats, is played by the tall, handsome and brooding David Boreanaz. Captain Jack Harkness is played by John Barrowman, who is merely tall and handsome.

In one storyline, Angel, the vampire who can never die, is captured by his son, Connor, who's been driven bitter, twisted and a bit mad through torture by monsters in a strange dimension far away. Connor erroneously blames his father for abandoning him to his fate when in fact he has never stopped thinking about him. Connor buries his immortal dad at sea in a lead box so his torture will be eternal.

In tonight's Torchwood season finale, "Exit Wounds", Captain Jack Harkness, the temporal agent who can never die, is captured by his brother, Gray, who's been driven bitter, twisted and a bit mad through torture by monsters on a strange planet far away. Gray erroneously blames his brother for abandoning him to his fate when in fact he has never stopped thinking about him. Gray buries his immortal brother underneath Cardiff AD 27 so his torture will be eternal.

Guess whose punishment is the most excruciating.

So. We continued to play the usual Torchwood game of spot-the-nick. I got the climactic scene of Fight Club where the buildings are exploding around the protagonists. My friend got Tasha Yar's prerecorded posthumous speech sprung on her surviving colleagues in the episode "Skin of Evil" from season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when Toshiko dies and springs a prerecorded posthumous speech on her surviving colleagues. The poignancy was detectable.

Spike the bleached-blond vampire — magnetically and irresistibly played by the god in human form that is James Marsters — dies heroically in a magical conflagration at the end of the Buffy series finale, and is revived as an insensate ghost in Angel. Owen, the twitching ferretty Spike manque — soggily and resistibly played by the hole in the air that is Burn Gorman — dies earlier in season two of Torchwood and is revived as an insensate being and now dies again (did I say heroically?) in a nuclear catastrophe, tastefully bleached out to an oblivion whiter than Spike's Billy Idol barnet.

Functioning as the moral centre of the programme, the competent but winsome Gwen almost promises to leave on account of she can't stand it any more. We feel her pain.

And Joss's hits just keep on coming. The (Cardiff) Power Walk — smash cuts — helicopter shots of an ominous nocturnal metropolis. Team Harkness with porn-star good looks. Hey, check it out, it's just like LA with cheese on toast!

And of course - how could we forget? I mean, like, HOW? — James Marsters!!!!!!! Spike Himself!!!!!!!!! (As something called "Captain John".) Yet another morally ambiguous, sexually charismatic bad boy turned good guy with an almost perfect posh-punk English accent. And a bad 1980s jacket that fell out of an Adam Ant video threatened to upstage His Gorgeousness.

And the high emotion! If you milked a cow like this, the Animal Liberation Front would be camped in your yard and PETA would be on your tail. Why o why, ten whole minutes after the A-story has ended and Gray the evil brother has been vanquished, are they all still ladling on the sentiment? It's a fifty-minute telly show, ferfuxache! This kind of aggressive begging for BAFTAs would get you moved on by the cops if you tried it in the street. I haven't seen so much snot and grizzling since Respect imploded. [For readers sufficiently fortunate not to be au fait with the ins and outs of the cat's arse that is the British Left, the Respect split was a tragic tale of epic proportions. Two bald men, not just fighting over a comb, but over a comb that had no teeth.]

So. As Ann Robinson would demand, who is the Captain Jack Sparrow and who is the Captain Jack Harkness? If I may quote myself rather than simply repeat myself: there is STILL only one Captain Jack and Keef Richards is his dad.

So. There.


Torchwood review: Wahey! My cock's on fire!



WARNING: SPOILERS TA RAAS

So. This was it. The final episode of the second season of Torchwood, execrable spin-off of the hysterical Dr Who, reinvented and revitalised by Russell T Grant, the world's most desperate Joss Whedon wannabe. The first two seasons of Dr Who, long before it jumped the shark by involving Catherine Tate, indubitably had their faults. A full list may possibly follow.

However, when you pull back and look at the big picture, the achievement was more than respectable: a successful update and relaunch of a franchise which had been essentially dormant for many years and in serious decline for many years before that. Dr Who was where Grant flashed his chops. Torchwood is where his reach exceeds his grasp.

In the beginning there was Angel, divine spin-off of the exquisite Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The title character, a superhuman given to long coats and long silences where Captain Jack is merely given to long coats, is played by the tall, handsome and brooding David Boreanaz. Captain Jack Harkness is played by John Barrowman, who is merely tall and handsome.

In one storyline, Angel, the vampire who can never die, is captured by his son, Connor, who's been driven bitter, twisted and a bit mad through torture by monsters in a strange dimension far away. Connor erroneously blames his father for abandoning him to his fate when in fact he has never stopped thinking about him. Connor buries his immortal dad at sea in a lead box so his torture will be eternal.

In tonight's Torchwood season finale, "Exit Wounds", Captain Jack Harkness, the temporal agent who can never die, is captured by his brother, Gray, who's been driven bitter, twisted and a bit mad through torture by monsters on a strange planet far away. Gray erroneously blames his brother for abandoning him to his fate when in fact he has never stopped thinking about him. Gray buries his immortal brother underneath Cardiff AD 27 so his torture will be eternal.

Guess whose punishment is the most excruciating.

So. We continued to play the usual Torchwood game of spot-the-nick. I got the climactic scene of Fight Club where the buildings are exploding around the protagonists. My friend got Tasha Yar's prerecorded posthumous speech sprung on her surviving colleagues in the episode "Skin of Evil" from season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when Toshiko dies and springs a prerecorded posthumous speech on her surviving colleagues. The poignancy was detectable.

Spike the bleached-blond vampire — magnetically and irresistibly played by the god in human form that is James Marsters — dies heroically in a magical conflagration at the end of the Buffy series finale, and is revived as an insensate ghost in Angel. Owen, the twitching ferretty Spike manque — soggily and resistibly played by the hole in the air that is Burn Gorman — dies earlier in season two of Torchwood and is revived as an insensate being and now dies again (did I say heroically?) in a nuclear catastrophe, tastefully bleached out to an oblivion whiter than Spike's Billy Idol barnet.

Functioning as the moral centre of the programme, the competent but winsome Gwen almost promises to leave on account of she can't stand it any more. We feel her pain.

And Joss's hits just keep on coming. The (Cardiff) Power Walk — smash cuts — helicopter shots of an ominous nocturnal metropolis. Team Harkness with porn-star good looks. Hey, check it out, it's just like LA with cheese on toast!

And of course - how could we forget? I mean, like, HOW? — James Marsters!!!!!!! Spike Himself!!!!!!!!! (As something called "Captain John".) Yet another morally ambiguous, sexually charismatic bad boy turned good guy with an almost perfect posh-punk English accent. And a bad 1980s jacket that fell out of an Adam Ant video threatened to upstage His Gorgeousness.

And the high emotion! If you milked a cow like this, the Animal Liberation Front would be camped in your yard and PETA would be on your tail. Why o why, ten whole minutes after the A-story has ended and Gray the evil brother has been vanquished, are they all still ladling on the sentiment? It's a fifty-minute telly show, ferfuxache! This kind of aggressive begging for BAFTAs would get you moved on by the cops if you tried it in the street. I haven't seen so much snot and grizzling since Respect imploded. [For readers sufficiently fortunate not to be au fait with the ins and outs of the cat's arse that is the British Left, the Respect split was a tragic tale of epic proportions. Two bald men, not just fighting over a comb, but over a comb that had no teeth.]

So. As Ann Robinson would demand, who is the Captain Jack Sparrow and who is the Captain Jack Harkness? If I may quote myself rather than simply repeat myself: there is STILL only one Captain Jack and Keef Richards is his dad.

So. There.


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