" Madam Miaow Says: March 2010

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Orwell Prize: Stalinist loathing of George still raw


Sometimes a thing is true even if George Orwell says it's true. Old grudges die hard; Stalinists still hate George (not Galloway) while 'decents' claim him for their own.

My fellow blogging longlister in the Orwell Prize, Dave Osler, has posted a defence of Gorgeous. And I guess that's my cue to do likewise with an article I wrote on this very subject a few years ago on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, reviewing John Newsinger's biography, Orwell's Politics.

Orwell's writing was the source of as much controversy during his life as it was when left and right fought over his literary corpse after his death. The right claimed him for themselves, "embracing him as an emotional conservative who had given terrible warning of the totalitarian logic inherent in the socialist cause", while the Stalinist dominated left were willing to give away the man H.G. Wells once described as the "Trotskyist with big feet". Nineteen Eighty Four, Orwell's final novel and a satire of Stalinist Russia, has been defined as "the 'canonical text' of conservative anti-Communism, as 'the key imaginative manifesto of the Cold War' and gives Orwell the dubious honour of having 'invented ... a complete poetics of political invective'." Isaac Deutscher, Marxist historian, famed anti-Stalinist and biographer of both Trotsky and Stalin, weighed into the debate, dismissing Orwell as "a 'simple minded anarchist' for whom any movement 'forfeited its raison d'etre the moment it acquired a raison d'etat'."

The 1970 publication of Orwell's miscellaneous writing under the title The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters provided a context for Orwell's best known books and put the Stalinists and right wingers on the back foot as a new generation of socialists, unfettered by loyalty to the Communist Party, broke through the claims and counter-claims. And in 1980 Bernard Crick's exhaustively researched biography, George Orwell: A Life, lifted Orwell out of the quagmire of malice and misinformation and placed him firmly on the left, albeit as a Tribune socialist grown shy of revolutionary politics. However, even this mild reclamation of Orwell for the reformist left proved too much for adherents to the Communist tradition. Their reaction plumbed new depths with the publication in 1984 of Inside The Myth: Orwell - Views from the LefT, a collection of essays attacking Orwell, edited by Christopher Norris and published by Lawrence and Wishart, a book which Newsinger calls "an unholy alliance of feminists, cultural theorists and old fashioned Stalinists, dedicated to reversing his influence".

Orwell's Politics by John Newsinger moves the debate a critical step further. Taking the end of the Cold War as "an ideal context for a reassessment" of Orwell's political ideas, Newsinger gives us a map of Orwell's intellectual terrain, and deftly orientates the reader around the key Orwellian debates. He examines how Orwell's politics developed in a changing world, and extracts a through-line strung like a piano wire through volatile circumstances, warring ideologies and intellectual sleight of hand in the century that promised workers in the saddle. Newsinger's thesis is that, although Orwell's politics shifted throughout his lifetime, the one constant was his unwavering socialism. What detractors - and even some admirers - have missed is that he never ceased to write from within the left, attacking the betrayal of the revolution rather than the revolution itself.

To read more click here

Orwell Prize: Stalinist loathing of George still raw


Sometimes a thing is true even if George Orwell says it's true. Old grudges die hard; Stalinists still hate George (not Galloway) while 'decents' claim him for their own.

My fellow blogging longlister in the Orwell Prize, Dave Osler, has posted a defence of Gorgeous. And I guess that's my cue to do likewise with an article I wrote on this very subject a few years ago on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, reviewing John Newsinger's biography, Orwell's Politics.

Orwell's writing was the source of as much controversy during his life as it was when left and right fought over his literary corpse after his death. The right claimed him for themselves, "embracing him as an emotional conservative who had given terrible warning of the totalitarian logic inherent in the socialist cause", while the Stalinist dominated left were willing to give away the man H.G. Wells once described as the "Trotskyist with big feet". Nineteen Eighty Four, Orwell's final novel and a satire of Stalinist Russia, has been defined as "the 'canonical text' of conservative anti-Communism, as 'the key imaginative manifesto of the Cold War' and gives Orwell the dubious honour of having 'invented ... a complete poetics of political invective'." Isaac Deutscher, Marxist historian, famed anti-Stalinist and biographer of both Trotsky and Stalin, weighed into the debate, dismissing Orwell as "a 'simple minded anarchist' for whom any movement 'forfeited its raison d'etre the moment it acquired a raison d'etat'."

The 1970 publication of Orwell's miscellaneous writing under the title The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters provided a context for Orwell's best known books and put the Stalinists and right wingers on the back foot as a new generation of socialists, unfettered by loyalty to the Communist Party, broke through the claims and counter-claims. And in 1980 Bernard Crick's exhaustively researched biography, George Orwell: A Life, lifted Orwell out of the quagmire of malice and misinformation and placed him firmly on the left, albeit as a Tribune socialist grown shy of revolutionary politics. However, even this mild reclamation of Orwell for the reformist left proved too much for adherents to the Communist tradition. Their reaction plumbed new depths with the publication in 1984 of Inside The Myth: Orwell - Views from the LefT, a collection of essays attacking Orwell, edited by Christopher Norris and published by Lawrence and Wishart, a book which Newsinger calls "an unholy alliance of feminists, cultural theorists and old fashioned Stalinists, dedicated to reversing his influence".

Orwell's Politics by John Newsinger moves the debate a critical step further. Taking the end of the Cold War as "an ideal context for a reassessment" of Orwell's political ideas, Newsinger gives us a map of Orwell's intellectual terrain, and deftly orientates the reader around the key Orwellian debates. He examines how Orwell's politics developed in a changing world, and extracts a through-line strung like a piano wire through volatile circumstances, warring ideologies and intellectual sleight of hand in the century that promised workers in the saddle. Newsinger's thesis is that, although Orwell's politics shifted throughout his lifetime, the one constant was his unwavering socialism. What detractors - and even some admirers - have missed is that he never ceased to write from within the left, attacking the betrayal of the revolution rather than the revolution itself.

To read more click here

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

1000 Ways To Die review: lurid, shocking, gruesome TV


Has anyone else stumbled across the Bravo cable TV show, 1,000 Ways To Die? It's a sweet little offering from the US, re-enacting the weirdest ways people have met their end — usually prime contenders for the Darwin Awards.

I'm sitting here squirming having just watched the fate of the scumbag robber who stole groceries from a pregnant blind woman (aw, presumably with one leg and five grandparents to look after). Now, robbery isn't a capital crime to anyone except the Joe Sixpack couch potatoes who enjoy this lowly entertainment, whose ranks I now admit to joining in a rare confessional moment I'll probably live to regret, especially if the Orwell Prize judges are reading this (please look away now). But the gleeful voice-over assures us that the evil perp got his just deserts.

Escaping from the pursuing cop, the villain runs into a doorway, unaware that he is now in a car wash. At that moment, an attendant, oblivious to the presence of the unwanted visitor, starts up the machinery for its daily test run. Said crimo, disorientated by flailing brushes, oceans of soap and jets of water, slips and falls back onto a high-pressure nozzle in the wall that spears his head. So far, so banal.

Did I mention this was a high-pressure nozzle?

We are treated to a very surprised criminal whose head suddenly explodes, leaving a stump of neck above his rather fetching blue jumper.

To an animated illustration of the inside of the human anatomy, a Scientist then tells us in a serious tone befitting the sad occasion, exactly what happens when water is rapidly pumped into your cranial cavity at kazillions of pounds per square inch. "It raises the brain to the top of the skull and, having nowhere to go, is ejected upwards and out at force," because, of course, we needed that explained.

Cue illustration showing said brain squeezed up until the skull shatters.

It's all done with no pretence of good taste whatsover, tells the stories with lipsmacking delight, makes us contemplate our own mortality and thank the lord there but by the grace of god/luck/smarts go I.

What's not to like?

1000 Ways To Die review: lurid, shocking, gruesome TV


Has anyone else stumbled across the Bravo cable TV show, 1,000 Ways To Die? It's a sweet little offering from the US, re-enacting the weirdest ways people have met their end — usually prime contenders for the Darwin Awards.

I'm sitting here squirming having just watched the fate of the scumbag robber who stole groceries from a pregnant blind woman (aw, presumably with one leg and five grandparents to look after). Now, robbery isn't a capital crime to anyone except the Joe Sixpack couch potatoes who enjoy this lowly entertainment, whose ranks I now admit to joining in a rare confessional moment I'll probably live to regret, especially if the Orwell Prize judges are reading this (please look away now). But the gleeful voice-over assures us that the evil perp got his just deserts.

Escaping from the pursuing cop, the villain runs into a doorway, unaware that he is now in a car wash. At that moment, an attendant, oblivious to the presence of the unwanted visitor, starts up the machinery for its daily test run. Said crimo, disorientated by flailing brushes, oceans of soap and jets of water, slips and falls back onto a high-pressure nozzle in the wall that spears his head. So far, so banal.

Did I mention this was a high-pressure nozzle?

We are treated to a very surprised criminal whose head suddenly explodes, leaving a stump of neck above his rather fetching blue jumper.

To an animated illustration of the inside of the human anatomy, a Scientist then tells us in a serious tone befitting the sad occasion, exactly what happens when water is rapidly pumped into your cranial cavity at kazillions of pounds per square inch. "It raises the brain to the top of the skull and, having nowhere to go, is ejected upwards and out at force," because, of course, we needed that explained.

Cue illustration showing said brain squeezed up until the skull shatters.

It's all done with no pretence of good taste whatsover, tells the stories with lipsmacking delight, makes us contemplate our own mortality and thank the lord there but by the grace of god/luck/smarts go I.

What's not to like?

Monday, 29 March 2010

Belle Curve De Jour: GCSE Chinese and Indians not British


What's wrong with this headline?
Chinese and Indian pupils get more top grades at GCSE than British children

The Daily Mail does it again. In an article that's supposed to prove Chinese and Indian kids are high in Geek Factor when it comes to exams, Laura Clark effectively says that UK Chinese and Indians living, studying and most likely born here aren't British. At no point are we described as such. I know it shouldn't come as a shock to me that on Planet Mail, only white children can be classed as Brits, but it still annoys me to see us defined as "Other" in this underhand way.

Clark writes:
Chinese and Indian pupils gain more top grades than white British children in every school subject, official figures reveal. The biggest gulf in attainment is in GCSE maths, where Chinese children are three-and-a-half times more likely to get an A than white British children.

Yeah, we're fiendishly clever and foreign. So watch out!

This naked expression of a fear of (a) intellectuals and (b) forners plays on the dawning realisation that deteriorating living standards threaten to regress us all back to Victorian levels of poverty. Someone ate all the pies, but the the finger keeps getting pointed to other groups struggling to make a good life instead of the kleptocrats currently stealing everything that isn't nailed down (and, thanks to the clawhammers supplied under Blair, quite a lot that was). While Dyson relocates his domestic appliance business to hoover up cheap labour in Malaysia, company directors lay workers off and then pay themselves the stolen wages in fat bonuses and peers of the realm on both sides of the House refuse to pay British taxes, we're supposed to blame other workers. We should at least be smart enough not to allow politicians and media to turn us into rats in a sack while the super-rich wreck our lives.

Lies, damned lies and The Bell Curve
I was greatly amused when all the rednecks started quoting soi-disant "libertarian political scientist" Charles Murray (no relation, thankfully, to the British blues-rock guru of almost the same name), whose mission seems to be to render racism respectable. His dubious 'Bell Curve' statistics were supposed to prove that whites were intellectually superior to blacks, as if there were no other factors in the way these tests were organised. But the same tests and dodgy methodology also showed that Chinese, Japanese and Koreans scored higher than whites. Somehow his adherents excised that latter chunk of data from their arguments whilst waging their race war.

So, what do we learn from the latest statistics? Curry feeds the brain? Eating with chopsticks increases your intelligence? Perhaps it's the delicate co-ordination required every mealtime that forges those synaptic links in the young brain which will stand you in such good stead when it comes to writing your dissertation on genetic degeneration in the grey matter of certain white scientists and Daily Mail journalists.

Hat-tip, Navjot Singh.

Belle Curve De Jour: GCSE Chinese and Indians not British


What's wrong with this headline?
Chinese and Indian pupils get more top grades at GCSE than British children

The Daily Mail does it again. In an article that's supposed to prove Chinese and Indian kids are high in Geek Factor when it comes to exams, Laura Clark effectively says that UK Chinese and Indians living, studying and most likely born here aren't British. At no point are we described as such. I know it shouldn't come as a shock to me that on Planet Mail, only white children can be classed as Brits, but it still annoys me to see us defined as "Other" in this underhand way.

Clark writes:
Chinese and Indian pupils gain more top grades than white British children in every school subject, official figures reveal. The biggest gulf in attainment is in GCSE maths, where Chinese children are three-and-a-half times more likely to get an A than white British children.

Yeah, we're fiendishly clever and foreign. So watch out!

This naked expression of a fear of (a) intellectuals and (b) forners plays on the dawning realisation that deteriorating living standards threaten to regress us all back to Victorian levels of poverty. Someone ate all the pies, but the the finger keeps getting pointed to other groups struggling to make a good life instead of the kleptocrats currently stealing everything that isn't nailed down (and, thanks to the clawhammers supplied under Blair, quite a lot that was). While Dyson relocates his domestic appliance business to hoover up cheap labour in Malaysia, company directors lay workers off and then pay themselves the stolen wages in fat bonuses and peers of the realm on both sides of the House refuse to pay British taxes, we're supposed to blame other workers. We should at least be smart enough not to allow politicians and media to turn us into rats in a sack while the super-rich wreck our lives.

Lies, damned lies and The Bell Curve
I was greatly amused when all the rednecks started quoting soi-disant "libertarian political scientist" Charles Murray (no relation, thankfully, to the British blues-rock guru of almost the same name), whose mission seems to be to render racism respectable. His dubious 'Bell Curve' statistics were supposed to prove that whites were intellectually superior to blacks, as if there were no other factors in the way these tests were organised. But the same tests and dodgy methodology also showed that Chinese, Japanese and Koreans scored higher than whites. Somehow his adherents excised that latter chunk of data from their arguments whilst waging their race war.

So, what do we learn from the latest statistics? Curry feeds the brain? Eating with chopsticks increases your intelligence? Perhaps it's the delicate co-ordination required every mealtime that forges those synaptic links in the young brain which will stand you in such good stead when it comes to writing your dissertation on genetic degeneration in the grey matter of certain white scientists and Daily Mail journalists.

Hat-tip, Navjot Singh.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Alice In Wonderland review: Disney and the Opium Wars


Rather belatedly, I'm posting a review of Tim Burton's 3D movie adaptation of Alice In Wonderland. Being a sucker for the technology (especially now that you get proper stylish Rayban-style spectacles and not the horrid — if nostalgic — cardboard face-wear of old), I had gone to see Alice the first week it opened at the local multiplex. I'd been a fan of the Rev Dodgson's finest since childhood, natch, and knew "Jabberwocky" and "The Walrus And The Carpenter" by heart. Many's the time I've watched politicians, big and small, and thought of the Carpenter weeping for the fate of the poor oysters as he stuffs as many as possible into his blubbering gob under cover of his handkerchief.

So I was determined not to miss out. The visuals didn't disappoint, even though the movie came hot on the heels of James Cameron's Avatar blockbuster. The performances positively sparkled. I will say, though, that Matt Lucas, brilliantly cast as both Tweedledum and Tweedledee, was criminally underused. Johnny Depp in best Vivienne Westwood drag and eyes enlarged through CGI by 25 per cent, put in another one of his trademark oddball performances as the Mad Hatter who, played by the box-office pull, morphed into a centre-stage action hero. Burton's missus, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, allowed her director husband to commit gross uglification by hydroencephalising her pretty head. One laugh-out-loud moment is when this mass-murdering monster looks up at her evil swain and flutters her outsized eyes in a manner she assumes is appealing. Oh, the joy in the recognition that some of us just can't do 'cute'.

Mia Wasikowska played Alice as a feisty 19-year old Victorian miss, and very attractively too. In her shining armour and flowing pre-Raphaelite hair (be still, my beating heart!), she made the most stunningly beautiful boy in her climactic fight with the Jabberwock (voiced, in full-on stentorian mode, by no less a personage than Christopher Lee).

But the script ... something failed to fully emotionally engage and I didn't know what it was. Hmm ... made for Disney, huh?

As the film was made for the Fascist Rodent corporation, I was surprised to see it foregrounding the druggy perspective, an interpretation popular since the tripped-out 60s, with a very stoned Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) sucking on a hookah which was more opium pipe than shisha.

Now, everyone seems to have assumed that Tim Burton had taken his eye off the ball with Alice and turned out a nice safe movie for Disney, and that the hint that this might be an opium dream was just a cheap way to reclaim a bit of his old transgressive credibility. Well, yes. But much more than this, oh, yes.

The framing device, before she falls down the rabbit hole and enters Wonderland, is set around Alice's real life and her imminent engagement to Hamish (Leo Bill), a twittish minor aristocrat (aren't they all?), offspring to Lady Ascot (Geraldine James) who wants Alice's beauty in the family gene-pool so they can breed beautiful grandchildren for her. At the end, fresh out of her adventures in Underland, Alice rejects Hamish and a life of a privileged brood-mare, telling everyone what she thinks of them, and taking charge of her late father's business in partnership with Hamish's father, Lord Ascot.

Laid on with a shovel, Alice's anachronistic feminist feistiness may have been irritating as an unconvincing attitude which was not so much seeing the age refracted through modern eyes, as completely rewriting history. But, in a great Tim Burton sleight-of-hand, there was something else going on which seems to have bypassed the studio execs. The Powers That Be may be congratulating themselves that this is a nice conventional tale of how white folk in the Imperial West (for the glory days of Great Britain, read the nostalgia for America's 'finest hour') advanced themselves through trade, all with a dash of Girl Power.

But where did all that wealth come from? Burton and co-writer Linda Woolverton focus you on the business of how money is made in the opening scenes.

Alice's father, (Marton Csokas as Charles Kingsleigh — does that make Alice a water baby?), is in shipping to the East Indies and Indonesia. But what looks at first glance as a ho-hum story of middle-class folk innocently making their fortune in the world with a feminist twist is dealt a sly kicking by the writers.

At the end, breadhead Alice — child of the British Empire — drags Lord Ascot into a room where she lays out the map of the world and analyses their current Eastern trade routes. Her new-found leadership skills (she has just slain the Jabberwock with her vorpal sword) take her beyond what's known and into the relatively new area of trade with China. She points triumphantly at Hong Kong. THIS is where they will make their fortune. Her brush with the stoned Caterpillar and his drug habit has taught her where there is money to be made.

Anyone even slightly familiar with that slice of history knows about the Opium Wars, and exactly how Britain acquired Hong Kong. How, when our taste for China's silks, spices, tea and porcelain threatened to empty the treasury of its silver, Britain cultivated cheap opium in Bengal and forced it on China at gunpoint. This was what Britain's trade with China meant: in turning what had once been an aristocratic vice into a mass addiction, Britain became the world's Number One Pusher and turned China into a nation of junkies.

And that's where I nearly fell off my chair. Mr Burton, you sly dog, you. Never mind the lovely Johnny, I think I'm a little bit in love with Tim.

Alice In Wonderland review: Disney and the Opium Wars


Rather belatedly, I'm posting a review of Tim Burton's 3D movie adaptation of Alice In Wonderland. Being a sucker for the technology (especially now that you get proper stylish Rayban-style spectacles and not the horrid — if nostalgic — cardboard face-wear of old), I had gone to see Alice the first week it opened at the local multiplex. I'd been a fan of the Rev Dodgson's finest since childhood, natch, and knew "Jabberwocky" and "The Walrus And The Carpenter" by heart. Many's the time I've watched politicians, big and small, and thought of the Carpenter weeping for the fate of the poor oysters as he stuffs as many as possible into his blubbering gob under cover of his handkerchief.

So I was determined not to miss out. The visuals didn't disappoint, even though the movie came hot on the heels of James Cameron's Avatar blockbuster. The performances positively sparkled. I will say, though, that Matt Lucas, brilliantly cast as both Tweedledum and Tweedledee, was criminally underused. Johnny Depp in best Vivienne Westwood drag and eyes enlarged through CGI by 25 per cent, put in another one of his trademark oddball performances as the Mad Hatter who, played by the box-office pull, morphed into a centre-stage action hero. Burton's missus, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, allowed her director husband to commit gross uglification by hydroencephalising her pretty head. One laugh-out-loud moment is when this mass-murdering monster looks up at her evil swain and flutters her outsized eyes in a manner she assumes is appealing. Oh, the joy in the recognition that some of us just can't do 'cute'.

Mia Wasikowska played Alice as a feisty 19-year old Victorian miss, and very attractively too. In her shining armour and flowing pre-Raphaelite hair (be still, my beating heart!), she made the most stunningly beautiful boy in her climactic fight with the Jabberwock (voiced, in full-on stentorian mode, by no less a personage than Christopher Lee).

But the script ... something failed to fully emotionally engage and I didn't know what it was. Hmm ... made for Disney, huh?

As the film was made for the Fascist Rodent corporation, I was surprised to see it foregrounding the druggy perspective, an interpretation popular since the tripped-out 60s, with a very stoned Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) sucking on a hookah which was more opium pipe than shisha.

Now, everyone seems to have assumed that Tim Burton had taken his eye off the ball with Alice and turned out a nice safe movie for Disney, and that the hint that this might be an opium dream was just a cheap way to reclaim a bit of his old transgressive credibility. Well, yes. But much more than this, oh, yes.

The framing device, before she falls down the rabbit hole and enters Wonderland, is set around Alice's real life and her imminent engagement to Hamish (Leo Bill), a twittish minor aristocrat (aren't they all?), offspring to Lady Ascot (Geraldine James) who wants Alice's beauty in the family gene-pool so they can breed beautiful grandchildren for her. At the end, fresh out of her adventures in Underland, Alice rejects Hamish and a life of a privileged brood-mare, telling everyone what she thinks of them, and taking charge of her late father's business in partnership with Hamish's father, Lord Ascot.

Laid on with a shovel, Alice's anachronistic feminist feistiness may have been irritating as an unconvincing attitude which was not so much seeing the age refracted through modern eyes, as completely rewriting history. But, in a great Tim Burton sleight-of-hand, there was something else going on which seems to have bypassed the studio execs. The Powers That Be may be congratulating themselves that this is a nice conventional tale of how white folk in the Imperial West (for the glory days of Great Britain, read the nostalgia for America's 'finest hour') advanced themselves through trade, all with a dash of Girl Power.

But where did all that wealth come from? Burton and co-writer Linda Woolverton focus you on the business of how money is made in the opening scenes.

Alice's father, (Marton Csokas as Charles Kingsleigh — does that make Alice a water baby?), is in shipping to the East Indies and Indonesia. But what looks at first glance as a ho-hum story of middle-class folk innocently making their fortune in the world with a feminist twist is dealt a sly kicking by the writers.

At the end, breadhead Alice — child of the British Empire — drags Lord Ascot into a room where she lays out the map of the world and analyses their current Eastern trade routes. Her new-found leadership skills (she has just slain the Jabberwock with her vorpal sword) take her beyond what's known and into the relatively new area of trade with China. She points triumphantly at Hong Kong. THIS is where they will make their fortune. Her brush with the stoned Caterpillar and his drug habit has taught her where there is money to be made.

Anyone even slightly familiar with that slice of history knows about the Opium Wars, and exactly how Britain acquired Hong Kong. How, when our taste for China's silks, spices, tea and porcelain threatened to empty the treasury of its silver, Britain cultivated cheap opium in Bengal and forced it on China at gunpoint. This was what Britain's trade with China meant: in turning what had once been an aristocratic vice into a mass addiction, Britain became the world's Number One Pusher and turned China into a nation of junkies.

And that's where I nearly fell off my chair. Mr Burton, you sly dog, you. Never mind the lovely Johnny, I think I'm a little bit in love with Tim.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Orwell Prize: Madam Miaow makes the longlist


May I just say, "Blimey!"?

I've just heard from the organisers of The Orwell Prize that I've made the longlist in the Blog category. "They are awarded to the book, the journalism and the blogposts which are judged to have best achieved George Orwell’s aim to ‘make political writing into an art’."

When I submitted my entry a few months back I didn't dream I'd get anywhere in this prestigious award so I am delighted to have made the final fourteen.

"This year’s shortlists, of six in each category, will be announced at Thomson Reuters, Canary Wharf on Thursday 15th April at 7pm. The announcement will be followed by a debate entitled ‘have the political classes been fatally weakened?’"

Commiserations to my comrades who also submitted their blogs for consideration. A special mention for Splintered Sunrise who I was convinced would lead the pack and at least get this far as his writing style, wicked wit, and sharp incisive analysis outshine us all in the left. Also for Harpy Marx whose knowledge of the political landscape teaches me much.

Congratulations to the others on the list. You may recognise some of them. Well done.

David Osler Dave's Part
David Smith Letter from Africa
Gideon Rachman rachmanblog
Hopi Sen Hopi Sen
Iain Dale Iain Dale's Diary
Jack of Kent Jack of Kent
Laurie Penny Penny Red and others
Madam Miaow Madam Miaow Says
Mary Beard A Don’s Life
Morus PoliticalBetting.com; Daily Kos
PC Ellie Bloggs A Twenty-First Century Police Officer
ray The Bad Old Days Will End
Tim Marshall Foreign Matters
Winston Smith Working with the Underclass

More about this year's prize here

PS: Ha! I can't believe this news came in just after I succumbed and posted a funny pet video. George must be spinning. Or maybe not. He did, after all, own a poodle called Marx, thus proving a fondness for mutts combined with a sense of humour. Hey, perhaps the pet pooch video is the perfect Orwell blog item. Judges, please note.

EDIT: Other left blogs submitted and worth checking out include: Andy Newman Socialist Unity, Phil BC A Very Public Sociologist, Lenin's Tomb, Kevin Blowe Random Blowe, Jim Jepps The Daily (Maybe), Sunny Hundal Liberal Conspiracy, and Neil Clark

My essay on George Orwell here. Written as a review of John Newsinger's insightful biography.

Orwell Prize: Madam Miaow makes the longlist


May I just say, "Blimey!"?

I've just heard from the organisers of The Orwell Prize that I've made the longlist in the Blog category. "They are awarded to the book, the journalism and the blogposts which are judged to have best achieved George Orwell’s aim to ‘make political writing into an art’."

When I submitted my entry a few months back I didn't dream I'd get anywhere in this prestigious award so I am delighted to have made the final fourteen.

"This year’s shortlists, of six in each category, will be announced at Thomson Reuters, Canary Wharf on Thursday 15th April at 7pm. The announcement will be followed by a debate entitled ‘have the political classes been fatally weakened?’"

Commiserations to my comrades who also submitted their blogs for consideration. A special mention for Splintered Sunrise who I was convinced would lead the pack and at least get this far as his writing style, wicked wit, and sharp incisive analysis outshine us all in the left. Also for Harpy Marx whose knowledge of the political landscape teaches me much.

Congratulations to the others on the list. You may recognise some of them. Well done.

David Osler Dave's Part
David Smith Letter from Africa
Gideon Rachman rachmanblog
Hopi Sen Hopi Sen
Iain Dale Iain Dale's Diary
Jack of Kent Jack of Kent
Laurie Penny Penny Red and others
Madam Miaow Madam Miaow Says
Mary Beard A Don’s Life
Morus PoliticalBetting.com; Daily Kos
PC Ellie Bloggs A Twenty-First Century Police Officer
ray The Bad Old Days Will End
Tim Marshall Foreign Matters
Winston Smith Working with the Underclass

More about this year's prize here

PS: Ha! I can't believe this news came in just after I succumbed and posted a funny pet video. George must be spinning. Or maybe not. He did, after all, own a poodle called Marx, thus proving a fondness for mutts combined with a sense of humour. Hey, perhaps the pet pooch video is the perfect Orwell blog item. Judges, please note.

EDIT: Other left blogs submitted and worth checking out include: Andy Newman Socialist Unity, Phil BC A Very Public Sociologist, Lenin's Tomb, Kevin Blowe Random Blowe, Jim Jepps The Daily (Maybe), Sunny Hundal Liberal Conspiracy, and Neil Clark

My essay on George Orwell here. Written as a review of John Newsinger's insightful biography.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Dog's Dinner: funny pet video



I want a dog!

Hat-tip Popbitch

Dog's Dinner: funny pet video



I want a dog!

Hat-tip Popbitch

Friday, 19 March 2010

Tony Blair's secret Iraq oil cash deal


Has this man no shame? Yeah, stupid question. What price human lives lost on all sides in an illegal war in Iraq? About £20 million since Tony Blair left office.

The Daily Mail reports:
Tony Blair waged an extraordinary two-year battle to keep secret a lucrative deal with a multinational oil giant which has extensive interests in Iraq. ... also went to great efforts to keep hidden a £1million deal advising the ruling royal family in Iraq's neighbour Kuwait. ... They will increase concerns that Mr Blair is using his role as the West's Middle East envoy for personal gain. ... Critics also point out that a large proportion of his earnings comes from patrons in America and the Middle East - a clear benefit from forging a close alliance with George Bush during his invasion of Iraq. ... Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said: 'These revelations show that our former Prime Minister is for sale - he is driven by making as much money as possible."

We haven't forgotten, though, that David Cameron's Tories voted for this war. And John Major isn't exactly poor off the back of his Middle East skirmishes as Prime Minister.

How about Inspector Knacker whisking Blair off to the Hague for war crimes? And make sure he has to spend his blood money on his defence.

Tony Blair's secret Iraq oil cash deal


Has this man no shame? Yeah, stupid question. What price human lives lost on all sides in an illegal war in Iraq? About £20 million since Tony Blair left office.

The Daily Mail reports:
Tony Blair waged an extraordinary two-year battle to keep secret a lucrative deal with a multinational oil giant which has extensive interests in Iraq. ... also went to great efforts to keep hidden a £1million deal advising the ruling royal family in Iraq's neighbour Kuwait. ... They will increase concerns that Mr Blair is using his role as the West's Middle East envoy for personal gain. ... Critics also point out that a large proportion of his earnings comes from patrons in America and the Middle East - a clear benefit from forging a close alliance with George Bush during his invasion of Iraq. ... Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said: 'These revelations show that our former Prime Minister is for sale - he is driven by making as much money as possible."

We haven't forgotten, though, that David Cameron's Tories voted for this war. And John Major isn't exactly poor off the back of his Middle East skirmishes as Prime Minister.

How about Inspector Knacker whisking Blair off to the Hague for war crimes? And make sure he has to spend his blood money on his defence.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum: Anna Chen on BBC Radio 4


China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum
Presented by Anna Chen, produced by Sally Heaven.
BBC RADIO 4 – 11.00-11.30am
Friday 19 March 2010
Listen for seven days after broadcast here


Ever wondered about the origins of those brightly-coloured novelty items for grown-ups, so handy when you’re pushed for a cheap prezzy or in need of a quick chuckle? Those cutesy objects seemingly designed to separate us from our disposable income? Upend the packaging and it’s a sure bet that it reads “Made In China”.

The star turns — the three-inch high fire-breathing wind-up Nunzilla, Dashboard Jesus, and the Billy Bass trophy-mounted fish that sings, “Don’t worry, be happy” and drove us all nuts — were marketing phenomena in an industry now worth $35 billion worldwide and of which China has a whopping sixty per cent.

In China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum, I follow the manufacture of one such item — Mummy Mike, a little man-shaped rubber-band holder — from its design at Suck UK in East London, through production in China, to sale in Birmingham.

The Birmingham Trade Fair at the NEC was a cornucopia of tat. I never realised I needed so much utterly useless merchandise until I set foot in its hangar-sized halls. Ooh, shiny!

The Brands of China hall, however, was a different story: every one of the fifty or so Chinese stalls sold purely practical goods. From handbags to Develop Your Pecs exercisers, I searched in vain for items as audaciously pointless as the giftware designed in Britain, made in China and consumed in the West. One looked promising from a distance, but it was a pet stall. Those brightly coloured trifles were actually dayglo-pink and lime doggy dumbbells. Dogs in China do silly. People don’t.

As one Xiamen factory worker said of the Dashboard Jesus, “For people like me who work for other people, we only earn a small salary. We don't need this. I don't have anywhere to put it — our apartments are rented — we don't have any assets to protect, or pray for.”



Perhaps a taste for tat signals an economy in the later stages of capitalism which, staring into the abyss, finds solace (if no actual solution) in fits of giggles. For the Chinese, with memories of deprivation rooted in centuries of foreign exploitation, imperial rule and civil wars, wasting money on trivia is serious business.

According to Jude Biddulph, Designer-In-Chief at Suck UK, better-off Chinese aspire to European goods. He says the wealthy Chinese do buy British, but only expensive high-end pieces such as the illuminated glass and steel coffee table or a leather James Bond Villain’s Chair.

“People want to buy into the brand,” he says of a nation entering the equivalent of Britain’s 1960s economic explosion. “There is extreme wealth, and they aspire to European brands and European-made products.”

While tiny but growing numbers of Chinese buy high-end goods, those of us stuck in our UK recession shore up the giftware market by buying at the cheap end. For, as trader Malcolm Ford says, in a recession people cut back on the biggies. “They don’t feel as if they’re human if they’re not spending money on something.” And this is where cheap amusing trinkets play their part. Retail therapy really does make you feel good, albeit briefly.

Or would we be better off without it? Producing Stuff for Western consumption generates a third of China’s carbon emissions. And isn’t its glittering spell turning us into lotus-eaters, pacifying our critical faculties like some new opiate of the masses? The reality: China and the West are hardly going to give up on a $35 billion worldwide industry.

Just as the Japanese were once known for turning out cheap goods but learnt fast and ended up dominating the car and electrical markets, Chinese manufacturers are honing their skills with the giftware trade. My beautiful Mac laptop and half my cosmetics (with their posh French labels) are now made in China.

Simon Collinson of Warwick University Business School says change is underway. “As the Chinese get better at understanding what is needed in the West they will get better, not just at designing, but actally coming up with new innovations.”

The good news is that the government is closing down the bad old factories, with fewer but highter-tech facilities surviving. Only 3,000 out of 8,000 toy factories survive. And in 2006 they would have relaxed their restrictions on unions had the American Chamber of Commerce, backed up by the Europeans, not lobbied hard to stop it happening.

Progress is slow but it is happening in some areas even if the new super-rich are hoovering up the lion's share of the wealth leaving the poor behind. But as the quality of China’s goods get better, as more and more of the population take a share in the form of better wages and conditions, it loses its competitiveness in the markets — if you see naked profit and mindless competition as a good thing. Some are already anticipating a time when Africa becomes China’s workshop, just as China was ours, whilst capitalism plays musical chairs and another economic arena flowers and withers.

Watch what happened to us, China, and learn from our example.

China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum
Presented by Anna Chen
Produced by Sally Heaven.
BBC RADIO 4 – 11.00-11.30am
Friday 19 March 2010
PICK OF THE DAY Guardian Guide, Radio Times and Daily Telegraph
which says, " ... tying it with a ribbon of her wit. "
PICK OF THE WEEK Sunday Telegraph
" ... refreshingly original ..."
Recommended by the Diocese of Liverpool

Listen for seven days after Friday’s broadcast here

Photo of Anna Chen at iPlayer by Sukey Parnell

China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum: Anna Chen on BBC Radio 4


China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum
Presented by Anna Chen, produced by Sally Heaven.
BBC RADIO 4 – 11.00-11.30am
Friday 19 March 2010
Listen for seven days after broadcast here


Ever wondered about the origins of those brightly-coloured novelty items for grown-ups, so handy when you’re pushed for a cheap prezzy or in need of a quick chuckle? Those cutesy objects seemingly designed to separate us from our disposable income? Upend the packaging and it’s a sure bet that it reads “Made In China”.

The star turns — the three-inch high fire-breathing wind-up Nunzilla, Dashboard Jesus, and the Billy Bass trophy-mounted fish that sings, “Don’t worry, be happy” and drove us all nuts — were marketing phenomena in an industry now worth $35 billion worldwide and of which China has a whopping sixty per cent.

In China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum, I follow the manufacture of one such item — Mummy Mike, a little man-shaped rubber-band holder — from its design at Suck UK in East London, through production in China, to sale in Birmingham.

The Birmingham Trade Fair at the NEC was a cornucopia of tat. I never realised I needed so much utterly useless merchandise until I set foot in its hangar-sized halls. Ooh, shiny!

The Brands of China hall, however, was a different story: every one of the fifty or so Chinese stalls sold purely practical goods. From handbags to Develop Your Pecs exercisers, I searched in vain for items as audaciously pointless as the giftware designed in Britain, made in China and consumed in the West. One looked promising from a distance, but it was a pet stall. Those brightly coloured trifles were actually dayglo-pink and lime doggy dumbbells. Dogs in China do silly. People don’t.

As one Xiamen factory worker said of the Dashboard Jesus, “For people like me who work for other people, we only earn a small salary. We don't need this. I don't have anywhere to put it — our apartments are rented — we don't have any assets to protect, or pray for.”



Perhaps a taste for tat signals an economy in the later stages of capitalism which, staring into the abyss, finds solace (if no actual solution) in fits of giggles. For the Chinese, with memories of deprivation rooted in centuries of foreign exploitation, imperial rule and civil wars, wasting money on trivia is serious business.

According to Jude Biddulph, Designer-In-Chief at Suck UK, better-off Chinese aspire to European goods. He says the wealthy Chinese do buy British, but only expensive high-end pieces such as the illuminated glass and steel coffee table or a leather James Bond Villain’s Chair.

“People want to buy into the brand,” he says of a nation entering the equivalent of Britain’s 1960s economic explosion. “There is extreme wealth, and they aspire to European brands and European-made products.”

While tiny but growing numbers of Chinese buy high-end goods, those of us stuck in our UK recession shore up the giftware market by buying at the cheap end. For, as trader Malcolm Ford says, in a recession people cut back on the biggies. “They don’t feel as if they’re human if they’re not spending money on something.” And this is where cheap amusing trinkets play their part. Retail therapy really does make you feel good, albeit briefly.

Or would we be better off without it? Producing Stuff for Western consumption generates a third of China’s carbon emissions. And isn’t its glittering spell turning us into lotus-eaters, pacifying our critical faculties like some new opiate of the masses? The reality: China and the West are hardly going to give up on a $35 billion worldwide industry.

Just as the Japanese were once known for turning out cheap goods but learnt fast and ended up dominating the car and electrical markets, Chinese manufacturers are honing their skills with the giftware trade. My beautiful Mac laptop and half my cosmetics (with their posh French labels) are now made in China.

Simon Collinson of Warwick University Business School says change is underway. “As the Chinese get better at understanding what is needed in the West they will get better, not just at designing, but actally coming up with new innovations.”

The good news is that the government is closing down the bad old factories, with fewer but highter-tech facilities surviving. Only 3,000 out of 8,000 toy factories survive. And in 2006 they would have relaxed their restrictions on unions had the American Chamber of Commerce, backed up by the Europeans, not lobbied hard to stop it happening.

Progress is slow but it is happening in some areas even if the new super-rich are hoovering up the lion's share of the wealth leaving the poor behind. But as the quality of China’s goods get better, as more and more of the population take a share in the form of better wages and conditions, it loses its competitiveness in the markets — if you see naked profit and mindless competition as a good thing. Some are already anticipating a time when Africa becomes China’s workshop, just as China was ours, whilst capitalism plays musical chairs and another economic arena flowers and withers.

Watch what happened to us, China, and learn from our example.

China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum
Presented by Anna Chen
Produced by Sally Heaven.
BBC RADIO 4 – 11.00-11.30am
Friday 19 March 2010
PICK OF THE DAY Guardian Guide, Radio Times and Daily Telegraph
which says, " ... tying it with a ribbon of her wit. "
PICK OF THE WEEK Sunday Telegraph
" ... refreshingly original ..."
Recommended by the Diocese of Liverpool

Listen for seven days after Friday’s broadcast here

Photo of Anna Chen at iPlayer by Sukey Parnell

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

How (not) to survive the Apocalypse


So. That was my trial run for Armageddon; the day capitalism implodes and society breaks down. With the spring comes blessed relief from the arctic turmoil that had Canadians, New Yorkers, Inuit and Siberian huskies wondering what the hell was wrong with us Brits. Even my surfing Oz neighbours, off to see the blizzard, reckoned they could do a better job than our puny infrastructure.

I’ve emerged from winter feeling like a Montana survivalist. I fretted over getting an electric heater because the nation was down to its last eight days of gas. Hot-water bottles, ditto. There was a wood pile somewhere under the ice in case the boiler blew, bottles of water and a full pot on the stove ready for when the pipes burst. Men’s thick thermals (or thick men’s thermals from whom they were purloined) guaranteed back-up for the day gas and electricity are a dim memory from the golden age of Having Stuff. And torches, tea-lights, and a blunt instrument ready for the Raiders when they target our meagre crop of potatoes and roquette salad.

I actually wondered if I should fight the birds for their fat balls. How many squirrels to make a stew? How many tits for a single-entendre?

The best metaphor of the season was grit because we had none in any sense. Not only did the roads go ungritted meaning you played Russian Roulette just getting about, but the Iraq inquiry needed a spinal column shoved up its flabby supine fundament. The only gentlemen’s club I wish to see in action is one embedded with studs and swung with gusto in the general direction of the war-mongerers and their cheerleaders.

Not that I had much moxie about me. It’s not as if I was in deepest Devon where poor motorists were stranded six hours at a time in sub-zero temperatures and farm workers fought to dig out our root vegetables. I was struggling in the pampered north of one of the world’s great capital cities.

Ah well, at least come the thaw, hair washing and bathing are no longer on hold.

But each new global catastrophe brings us a little nearer to the day we find out how useless we will be when our number really is up.

What to do to entertain myself during the breakdown of society? I know. I’ll watch my mega-collection of DVDs and use my digital reader to catch up on all those good books I never read. … Doh!

This article was first published in New Internationalist, March 2010

BTW, if you hadn't already noticed, my forthcoming R4 programme, China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum, wins Pick of the Day and Week status in several publications.
BBC RADIO 4 – 11.00-11.30am
Friday 19 March 2010
PICK OF THE DAY Guardian Guide and Radio Times
PICK OF THE WEEK Sunday Telegraph who calls it " ... refreshingly original ..."
Also spotted in the Observer and Daily Telegraph on Saturday, as well as Time Out.
As recommended by the Diocese of Liverpool

How (not) to survive the Apocalypse


So. That was my trial run for Armageddon; the day capitalism implodes and society breaks down. With the spring comes blessed relief from the arctic turmoil that had Canadians, New Yorkers, Inuit and Siberian huskies wondering what the hell was wrong with us Brits. Even my surfing Oz neighbours, off to see the blizzard, reckoned they could do a better job than our puny infrastructure.

I’ve emerged from winter feeling like a Montana survivalist. I fretted over getting an electric heater because the nation was down to its last eight days of gas. Hot-water bottles, ditto. There was a wood pile somewhere under the ice in case the boiler blew, bottles of water and a full pot on the stove ready for when the pipes burst. Men’s thick thermals (or thick men’s thermals from whom they were purloined) guaranteed back-up for the day gas and electricity are a dim memory from the golden age of Having Stuff. And torches, tea-lights, and a blunt instrument ready for the Raiders when they target our meagre crop of potatoes and roquette salad.

I actually wondered if I should fight the birds for their fat balls. How many squirrels to make a stew? How many tits for a single-entendre?

The best metaphor of the season was grit because we had none in any sense. Not only did the roads go ungritted meaning you played Russian Roulette just getting about, but the Iraq inquiry needed a spinal column shoved up its flabby supine fundament. The only gentlemen’s club I wish to see in action is one embedded with studs and swung with gusto in the general direction of the war-mongerers and their cheerleaders.

Not that I had much moxie about me. It’s not as if I was in deepest Devon where poor motorists were stranded six hours at a time in sub-zero temperatures and farm workers fought to dig out our root vegetables. I was struggling in the pampered north of one of the world’s great capital cities.

Ah well, at least come the thaw, hair washing and bathing are no longer on hold.

But each new global catastrophe brings us a little nearer to the day we find out how useless we will be when our number really is up.

What to do to entertain myself during the breakdown of society? I know. I’ll watch my mega-collection of DVDs and use my digital reader to catch up on all those good books I never read. … Doh!

This article was first published in New Internationalist, March 2010

BTW, if you hadn't already noticed, my forthcoming R4 programme, China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum, wins Pick of the Day and Week status in several publications.
BBC RADIO 4 – 11.00-11.30am
Friday 19 March 2010
PICK OF THE DAY Guardian Guide and Radio Times
PICK OF THE WEEK Sunday Telegraph who calls it " ... refreshingly original ..."
Also spotted in the Observer and Daily Telegraph on Saturday, as well as Time Out.
As recommended by the Diocese of Liverpool

Friday, 12 March 2010

FARRAGO POETRY SLAM: Anna Chen and Daddy Freud



Went to Farrago's excellent Poetry Slam last night and busted my competition cherry with Daddy Freud and Anna May Wong Must Die! I was a bit nervous with Daddy Freud but AMWMD was going great guns and I was well into my stride when disaster struck and I forgot the last verse.

But, here for your delectation, perusal, praise or raspberries, is Daddy Freud.

I didn't win but I got a respectable score and I won a bendy Li'L Ludwig Van Beethoven doll, so I will be doing this again.

The Farrago slam is a monthly bundle of fun organised by MC John Paul O'Neill who has performed the magical task of assembling much awesome young and diverse talent. Some of the writing and performances blow you away with their energy, originality and wit, brilliant enough to keep me on my toes. A far cry from the po-faced establishment poets we saw recently at a Haiti benefit gig in central London. That was for a great cause but, boy, some toe-curling pomposity made it a bum-acher. I'd like to see former poet-laureate Andrew Motion talking about sitting as a young boy on his mother's Aga in front of last night's audience, oh yes.

Anyhow, HarpyMarx, AngloNoel and Loved One provided support and took video on my mobile phone. They were impressed as well and we will all be going to the next one in April.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Love Among The Reds by Sylvie Kringe: Episode Two


Episode Two of Love Among The Reds
by Sylvie Kringe
(Episode One here)

"What's the revolution but a backdrop to our flaming love?" asked Vladimir Ilyich, coming up for air.

"Why, you are my very own Vlad the Impaler," breathed Inessa huskily. "Your penetration is without par. You do it with such flair and imagination."

"Yes," he said, stroking his goatee thoughtfully as he eyed his text, "it is vital to dispel the mysticism that counter-revolutionaries wish to weave around the Great Marx. If only I had been there at the time to make him more accessible to the masses. I might even have got him on the Jeremy Vine Show. Come, back to my speech. I must perfect it to ensure even the dimwits in the Party can understand it."

"Such fools. I sometimes wonder why you waste your time when a sharp axe would do the job just as well."

"It is such an uphill struggle having to repeat and repeat louder and louder, even illustrating my thoughts with hand-movements and whirling my arms like Pete Townshend on amphetamines until the penny drops.”

Weary of his Promethean task, he dropped his head into his hands. ”You are the one little petite chou who understands me. Without your help ... "

“And that is why our love is of historic proportions. As is everything about you. Grrr.”

“Yowza!” He gazed into her huge warm eyes the source of such human sympathy and kindness that the world had never known. Kissed her soft yielding lips with fervour.

“But people are talking, Vladdy.”

“Gossip and tittle-tattle. Who cares what the little people think? Those in the Left Ghetto will never know a love such as ours. Stroke my brow again, ma cherie, you know I love it.”

“You will rule these people one day, and my love will give the strength to carry on making all those hard decisions such as who to expel and who to pay wages to and who not, and whose labour we need to appropriate for the revolution …”

“Labia? But it was only a rumour …”

“No, my sweet yet rough tough leader of the revolution, 'labour'. Remember? Sometimes I suspect you have a one-track mind.”

“But it is a big one, yes?”

“Well, you be a size queen if you must, but of course. It is the very biggest one in the whole socialist pantheon and there were some right whoppers there. I should know, I’ve seen a few. How come we have to deal with the dross?"

“Such is the human material we have to work with, liebchen."

"Huh! Useless wastes of space. I should be doing their job. And those women in the party. The clever ones and the pretty ones. Put them in their place for ickle me?”

"If only I had one bullet for the lot of them."

“What, you'd shoot them down like partridges?" She sprung to her feet and clapped her hands with glee.

“No, I’d shoot them down like comrades. One day I too will have my Kronstadt and then they’ll be sorry, the witch-hunting bastards. And that jumped up DJ with his Iberian villa. He never invites me back for holidays, does he? No respect!”

She sat on his lap and stroked his poor aching but capacious head.

“Calm down, my precious. You might need to get some anger management happening if Freudian introspection and insight isn’t too bourgeois an expectation in such momentous times such as what these are. Anyhow, want to hear my contribution to your speech?”

“Of course, my darling. So wise. So talented.”

She picked up the sheet of paper upon which she had been working all of five minutes, taxing her mind, pouring into it her passion for the man, for the revolution, for the masses.

“Ahem. So Marx was right. And anyone who doesn’t geddit is gonna get it, see? I am right because I am the new Marx and only I understand. And Gramsci, he was dead good, he was. But now he’s only dead. What a writer, loved his diaries. Could have sold them to Hello! magazine if he was alive today. And Lukacs, I really like him. Really, REALLY!”

Vlad groaned.

“So it’s that good? You going to include it in your speech, huh? Huh? Pretty please. You are so sweet to me, Vladdy Daddy. I wuv you, wuv you, WUV you!” She threw herself across him, enveloped him in her warm embrace as the other comrades in the office averted their gaze, seeing nothing, hearing nothing and saying sweet FA.

The lovers instantly unclinched as the unmistakeable pounding of Krupskaya's footsteps thundered through the corridor, as if shaking the very foundations of the system itself to the core. They would have to break the news to her one day in a way that allowed her to keep the dignity and pride he was even now stripping from her. Hmm ... how to couch it in terms that would not end up with his smart wardrobe scissored to ribbons? Again. How to aid her rationalisation and let him have his little cupcake and eat it ...

Inessa Armand

Why socialists should read this rubbish here

Love Among The Reds by Sylvie Kringe: Episode Two


Episode Two of Love Among The Reds
by Sylvie Kringe
(Episode One here)

"What's the revolution but a backdrop to our flaming love?" asked Vladimir Ilyich, coming up for air.

"Why, you are my very own Vlad the Impaler," breathed Inessa huskily. "Your penetration is without par. You do it with such flair and imagination."

"Yes," he said, stroking his goatee thoughtfully as he eyed his text, "it is vital to dispel the mysticism that counter-revolutionaries wish to weave around the Great Marx. If only I had been there at the time to make him more accessible to the masses. I might even have got him on the Jeremy Vine Show. Come, back to my speech. I must perfect it to ensure even the dimwits in the Party can understand it."

"Such fools. I sometimes wonder why you waste your time when a sharp axe would do the job just as well."

"It is such an uphill struggle having to repeat and repeat louder and louder, even illustrating my thoughts with hand-movements and whirling my arms like Pete Townshend on amphetamines until the penny drops.”

Weary of his Promethean task, he dropped his head into his hands. ”You are the one little petite chou who understands me. Without your help ... "

“And that is why our love is of historic proportions. As is everything about you. Grrr.”

“Yowza!” He gazed into her huge warm eyes the source of such human sympathy and kindness that the world had never known. Kissed her soft yielding lips with fervour.

“But people are talking, Vladdy.”

“Gossip and tittle-tattle. Who cares what the little people think? Those in the Left Ghetto will never know a love such as ours. Stroke my brow again, ma cherie, you know I love it.”

“You will rule these people one day, and my love will give the strength to carry on making all those hard decisions such as who to expel and who to pay wages to and who not, and whose labour we need to appropriate for the revolution …”

“Labia? But it was only a rumour …”

“No, my sweet yet rough tough leader of the revolution, 'labour'. Remember? Sometimes I suspect you have a one-track mind.”

“But it is a big one, yes?”

“Well, you be a size queen if you must, but of course. It is the very biggest one in the whole socialist pantheon and there were some right whoppers there. I should know, I’ve seen a few. How come we have to deal with the dross?"

“Such is the human material we have to work with, liebchen."

"Huh! Useless wastes of space. I should be doing their job. And those women in the party. The clever ones and the pretty ones. Put them in their place for ickle me?”

"If only I had one bullet for the lot of them."

“What, you'd shoot them down like partridges?" She sprung to her feet and clapped her hands with glee.

“No, I’d shoot them down like comrades. One day I too will have my Kronstadt and then they’ll be sorry, the witch-hunting bastards. And that jumped up DJ with his Iberian villa. He never invites me back for holidays, does he? No respect!”

She sat on his lap and stroked his poor aching but capacious head.

“Calm down, my precious. You might need to get some anger management happening if Freudian introspection and insight isn’t too bourgeois an expectation in such momentous times such as what these are. Anyhow, want to hear my contribution to your speech?”

“Of course, my darling. So wise. So talented.”

She picked up the sheet of paper upon which she had been working all of five minutes, taxing her mind, pouring into it her passion for the man, for the revolution, for the masses.

“Ahem. So Marx was right. And anyone who doesn’t geddit is gonna get it, see? I am right because I am the new Marx and only I understand. And Gramsci, he was dead good, he was. But now he’s only dead. What a writer, loved his diaries. Could have sold them to Hello! magazine if he was alive today. And Lukacs, I really like him. Really, REALLY!”

Vlad groaned.

“So it’s that good? You going to include it in your speech, huh? Huh? Pretty please. You are so sweet to me, Vladdy Daddy. I wuv you, wuv you, WUV you!” She threw herself across him, enveloped him in her warm embrace as the other comrades in the office averted their gaze, seeing nothing, hearing nothing and saying sweet FA.

The lovers instantly unclinched as the unmistakeable pounding of Krupskaya's footsteps thundered through the corridor, as if shaking the very foundations of the system itself to the core. They would have to break the news to her one day in a way that allowed her to keep the dignity and pride he was even now stripping from her. Hmm ... how to couch it in terms that would not end up with his smart wardrobe scissored to ribbons? Again. How to aid her rationalisation and let him have his little cupcake and eat it ...

Inessa Armand

Why socialists should read this rubbish here

Monday, 8 March 2010

International Women's Day: All Mouth But Still No Trousers

Katie Price demands worship from her men and takes no crap

When Though Cowards Flinch asked me to write something for International Women’s Day, I was flummoxed by the request. What’s to write about? Everything seems to have reached a fine old equilibrium. Plenty of babes in government, the ruling class stuffed to the brim with bosses of the female persuasion ...

That nice Tessa Jowell could even afford to give her old man the heave-ho when he was caught embarrassing her with his alleged acceptance of largesse off Silvio Berlusconi, instead of hanging on timidly as the little woman was wont to do in days of old (not that embarrassment ever inhibited Tony and Cherie from snuffling in that particular hospitality trough). No, these women can snaffle their own Hérmes Birkins, thank you very much. And cheers for the goody-bag.

In the absence of anyone of high enough calibre on the domestic front, Katie Price and her high calibre domestic frontage is proving an outstanding role model for women.

Seriously.

As feminist icon she’s the only contender. While WAGs and slebs are publicly humiliated by their chaps’ shagathons and beatings, Katie demands a man who worships the ground ’pon which she walks. And, thanks to breast implant reduction, she now has less need to worry about said upholstery exploding under low pressure at high altitude when she flies. How liberating is that? Plus she’s authored more books than she’s read. Suck on that, literary losers (I address myself there.)

And, glory be, in this age of the Credit Crunch we now have equal pay … what with male friends getting their wages lowered to the level of women. Don’t tell me we haven’t made progress.

Incidence of rape is down, according to UK prosecution figures. I may very well be able to walk out naked on a Saturday night safe in the knowledge that chivalry is flourishing. And the only violation will be of the parking laws when I hurtle onto the kerb across two residents’ parking bays because we ladies can’t drive, innit? No more the irrational fear of the rogue minicab driver, or groundless suspicion of the leering lothario at the bar and his secret stash of Rohypnol.

Don’t forget: if you do find yourself sexually assaulted on a date and you lack witnesses, polaroids or video demonstrating you yelled “No!” in a manner that did not mean, “Yes, I’m up for it, big boy”, then you probably brought it on yourself. And so say an increasing number of women. Right on sistaz!

Good to see that women still luxuriate in the patronage of boyfriends and partners able to dole out privileges on the basis of comfort and dubious merit. Note Kate Moss and her scraggy range of schmatte tossed together at the behest of her Top Shop “mentor”, the tax-avoiding Monaco-residing Philip Green, in return for much moolah paid into the Moss coffers and which is said to have hastened the departure of the woman who’d dragged the clothing emporium out of the doldrums, Jane Shepherdson.

This levelling of the playing field has been so successful in bringing the gurls in from oblivion or penury that it’s even been adopted by the left. Ah yes, I well remember being told by one bit of socialist totty, “I’m doing your job now”, once I’d worked unpaid around the clock for la causa and something was up for grabs. She never did do the serious work but she enjoyed the fruits of my labour, proving that women can do whatever a man can do … and do it better. Cheers, comrade.

Elsewhere, lionesses of feminism decry sexist behaviour unless it’s their blokes who’re doing the exploiting. (Where’re my wages, Lindz?)

Nothing like support from fellow women in the movement. And, indeed, that was nuthin’ like it.

No, my respect goes to the women in real danger across the world, living under oppression every day and fighting to resist it. All power to you in your struggle, sisters, on International Women’s Day.

First published at Though Cowards Flinch

International Women's Day: All Mouth But Still No Trousers

Katie Price demands worship from her men and takes no crap

When Though Cowards Flinch asked me to write something for International Women’s Day, I was flummoxed by the request. What’s to write about? Everything seems to have reached a fine old equilibrium. Plenty of babes in government, the ruling class stuffed to the brim with bosses of the female persuasion ...

That nice Tessa Jowell could even afford to give her old man the heave-ho when he was caught embarrassing her with his alleged acceptance of largesse off Silvio Berlusconi, instead of hanging on timidly as the little woman was wont to do in days of old (not that embarrassment ever inhibited Tony and Cherie from snuffling in that particular hospitality trough). No, these women can snaffle their own Hérmes Birkins, thank you very much. And cheers for the goody-bag.

In the absence of anyone of high enough calibre on the domestic front, Katie Price and her high calibre domestic frontage is proving an outstanding role model for women.

Seriously.

As feminist icon she’s the only contender. While WAGs and slebs are publicly humiliated by their chaps’ shagathons and beatings, Katie demands a man who worships the ground ’pon which she walks. And, thanks to breast implant reduction, she now has less need to worry about said upholstery exploding under low pressure at high altitude when she flies. How liberating is that? Plus she’s authored more books than she’s read. Suck on that, literary losers (I address myself there.)

And, glory be, in this age of the Credit Crunch we now have equal pay … what with male friends getting their wages lowered to the level of women. Don’t tell me we haven’t made progress.

Incidence of rape is down, according to UK prosecution figures. I may very well be able to walk out naked on a Saturday night safe in the knowledge that chivalry is flourishing. And the only violation will be of the parking laws when I hurtle onto the kerb across two residents’ parking bays because we ladies can’t drive, innit? No more the irrational fear of the rogue minicab driver, or groundless suspicion of the leering lothario at the bar and his secret stash of Rohypnol.

Don’t forget: if you do find yourself sexually assaulted on a date and you lack witnesses, polaroids or video demonstrating you yelled “No!” in a manner that did not mean, “Yes, I’m up for it, big boy”, then you probably brought it on yourself. And so say an increasing number of women. Right on sistaz!

Good to see that women still luxuriate in the patronage of boyfriends and partners able to dole out privileges on the basis of comfort and dubious merit. Note Kate Moss and her scraggy range of schmatte tossed together at the behest of her Top Shop “mentor”, the tax-avoiding Monaco-residing Philip Green, in return for much moolah paid into the Moss coffers and which is said to have hastened the departure of the woman who’d dragged the clothing emporium out of the doldrums, Jane Shepherdson.

This levelling of the playing field has been so successful in bringing the gurls in from oblivion or penury that it’s even been adopted by the left. Ah yes, I well remember being told by one bit of socialist totty, “I’m doing your job now”, once I’d worked unpaid around the clock for la causa and something was up for grabs. She never did do the serious work but she enjoyed the fruits of my labour, proving that women can do whatever a man can do … and do it better. Cheers, comrade.

Elsewhere, lionesses of feminism decry sexist behaviour unless it’s their blokes who’re doing the exploiting. (Where’re my wages, Lindz?)

Nothing like support from fellow women in the movement. And, indeed, that was nuthin’ like it.

No, my respect goes to the women in real danger across the world, living under oppression every day and fighting to resist it. All power to you in your struggle, sisters, on International Women’s Day.

First published at Though Cowards Flinch

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Spirit Warriors review: Chinese talent alert


Oh, I am so suggestible. I have just finished my first bacon roll in years (actually, a bagel — howzat for a fusion-cuisine atrocity?) as a direct result of watching the seventh and latest episode of CBBC's children's show, Spirit Warriors. The one that begins with our young heroes happening upon a dream setting of their favourite meals.

Crrrrrispy frrrrragrant bacon, fried tomato and ketchup on a hot toasted buttered bagel aside (getting you too, huh?), those familiar with Hansel and Gretel will recognise the universal trope in this story: kindly mother-figure, in this instance the impossibly beautiful Elizabeth Tan, who turns out to be an evil witch vamping off the youthful vigour of her child victims in the absence of botox and monkey-gland injections in this fantasy realm.

"Since the creation of Yin and Yang there has been the Spirit World filled with magic and myth, protected by five warriors," so quoth the dragon laying out the show's franchise in its opening moments. Their quest is to collect twelve jade McGuffins and save the universe along with the girls' mother, who has sent them into the other world in Episode 1. (Hmm, is the writer working out some mother stuff here?)

Production values are fantastic: lighting, costumes and design are outstanding considering the moderate budget. And it's great to see familiar faces from the decidedly-underemployed Chinese actor circuit getting some meaty roles for a change from mere noodling. From the voice of the dragon (Burt Kwouk, now being mooted as a long-overdue MBE recipient) to perpetually furious Tom Wu as Hwang, their kung-fu military antagonist, and the wonderful Benedict Wong (last seen in Danny Boyle's Sunshine) as his leader, evil Master Li — they all deliver some energised performances.

A whopping two out of the five child protagonists — count ’em, FORTY PERCENT OF THE STARRING CAST!!! — are Chinese, growing up in multicultural Britain. They include a budding Buffy-alike, Bo (Jessica Henwick), and her younger sister, Jen (Alicia Lai). Their schoolmates trapped with them in the Spirit World dimension are Vicky (Lil' Simz), Trix (Gilles Geary) and Martin (Karl Rogers).

But, best of all, the series is the creation of British Chinese writer Jo Ho, who has endeavoured to kick out the stereotypes and present her Chinese characters as part of the normal range of humanity ... and the supernatural.

There have been some criticisms that Chinese are again doing martial arts as their party trick — and there is some truth in this — but only because the almost total dearth of east Asian Pacific performers in the media and entertainment means that we are forever being associated with China as the Orient and Other. When will British casting directors apply their (round-) eyes to the reality that the Chinese are the third largest ethnic minority within these shores, and go in for some cross-racial colourblind casting, as the Americans have been doing for years?

Some of the plot points have dodgy reversals and the breathless directing allows some idiot-plotting to get through. F'rinstance, one golden rule is that you never make things easy for your protagonists. So when in episode seven our heroes fall under the spell of a rain of green flakes that makes them hate each other, it needed more than one of the boys to say, oh, by the way, I think this green stuff is responsible, and then simply shaking themselves down. Or when the witch's minion signals to Jen that she shouldn't eat the biscuit by shaking his hand over the lo-o-ongest time and she still doesn't geddit ... And perhaps post-Heroes cheerleader and after Buffy, the notion of a girl saving the world could have a tad more irony when somebody articulates it. But it's early days and they definitely deserve a second series.

I'm not bovvered by the kung-fu fantasy schlock. After all, no-one sneers at Arthurian legends as "English stereotyping". And I remember enjoying the Chinese 1970s series of "Monkey" with its mediaeval tales of everyday Buddhist folks.

This is a good start, and it enables the BBC to tick a few boxes. But it is only a beginning. Ai-yah!

Watch Spirit Warriors on iPlayer here

Elizabeth Tan

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