" Madam Miaow Says: May 2010

Monday, 31 May 2010

China bans evidence gained under torture

Regular readers of this blog probably know I have an expectation that, as China grows more secure, it will loosen up on human rights issues while Britain and the rest in the West will clamp down on dissent. The cultural and social superstructure arises out of the economic base, innit? At some point there will be a crossover and that's when I will seriously consider emigrating. If only they'd have me.

Well, yay for China. Another big step follows hard on the heels of allowing the biggest strike ever this month, which resulted in Honda shutting down its four vehicle plants. No movement was crushed, no-one died and the sky didn't fall.

At long last, China has just banned the use of evidence obtained under torture in the courts. And about time, too. If only America and Britain would follow suit.

The China Daily reported:
"This is the first time that a systematic and clear regulation tells law enforcers that evidence obtained through illegal means is not only illegal but also useless," said Zhao Bingzhi, dean of the law school at Beijing Normal University. "Previously we could only infer from abstract laws that illegal evidence is not allowed. But in reality, in many cases, such evidence was considered valid," he said. "This is big progress, both for the legal system and for better protection of human rights," he said. "It will help reduce the number of executions". Zhao said the new rules will also help change the mindset of law enforcers and reduce torture in interrogation, one of the causes of wrongful sentences.

The longest journey begins with the first step. A few more, please. Like ending the death penalty.

UPDATE: Via B&T. Zhao Zuohai confesses to murder then his "victim" turns up alive after 11 years. A happy ending? Not if you are "touristed". "They are immediately giving him the “seal your mouth” education."

China bans evidence gained under torture

Regular readers of this blog probably know I have an expectation that, as China grows more secure, it will loosen up on human rights issues while Britain and the rest in the West will clamp down on dissent. The cultural and social superstructure arises out of the economic base, innit? At some point there will be a crossover and that's when I will seriously consider emigrating. If only they'd have me.

Well, yay for China. Another big step follows hard on the heels of allowing the biggest strike ever this month, which resulted in Honda shutting down its four vehicle plants. No movement was crushed, no-one died and the sky didn't fall.

At long last, China has just banned the use of evidence obtained under torture in the courts. And about time, too. If only America and Britain would follow suit.

The China Daily reported:
"This is the first time that a systematic and clear regulation tells law enforcers that evidence obtained through illegal means is not only illegal but also useless," said Zhao Bingzhi, dean of the law school at Beijing Normal University. "Previously we could only infer from abstract laws that illegal evidence is not allowed. But in reality, in many cases, such evidence was considered valid," he said. "This is big progress, both for the legal system and for better protection of human rights," he said. "It will help reduce the number of executions". Zhao said the new rules will also help change the mindset of law enforcers and reduce torture in interrogation, one of the causes of wrongful sentences.

The longest journey begins with the first step. A few more, please. Like ending the death penalty.

UPDATE: Via B&T. Zhao Zuohai confesses to murder then his "victim" turns up alive after 11 years. A happy ending? Not if you are "touristed". "They are immediately giving him the “seal your mouth” education."

Israel attacks humanitarian aid flotilla off Gaza killing 16 civilians


VIDEO UPDATE: This is the longer 9:35 version of the video which shows shot civilians and reports of two dead before the Israeli commandos even land on the ship. Any violence in international waters by the passengers is clearly self-defence. Organisers are trying to keep everyone calm but despite the hoisting of the white flag you can still hear shots. There is some English commentary as three reporters share the microphone.

Israel has done the unthinkable and attacked the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, one of the peace ships bringing humanitarian aid to the stricken people of Gaza, killing at least 16 people with dozens injured. These are idealists, civilians, some mothers' sons and daughters who were killed in international waters, 80 miles off the Gazan coast.

The ships hold 600 civilian activists including Parliamentarians, women, children and the elderly.

Following much harassment of the Freedom Flotilla aid craft by Israel since they left northern (Turkish) Cyprus, Israeli armed commandos stormed the boat from helicopters in the early hours of this morning. They had guns, the activists had sticks. Firing continued after the white flag had been raised.

I wonder if they thought the BP oil spill Top Kill failure and the environmental catastrophe was the chance to bury bad news and carry out their own killing from above.

Is Sweden the only country with any spine? it has withdrawn its ambassador in protest. And there is public fury in Turkey with demonstrations being held. A protest is planned for today at Downing Street in London, no doubt complete with brutish policing and prison sentences handed down to people who object to state murder if the last one at the Israel Embassy is anything to go by. But what's Britain's media doing? Giving these murderers a free ticket in the media. In biased and imbalanced reporting, the BBC allowed the Israel government several minutes to present their propaganda while including NO pro-Palestinian voice.

The general level of reporting is abominable. Even while explaining the background, The Telegraph says:
Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza after the strip was taken over by the militant group Hamas in 2007. It has allowed some food and medical supplies through, but has prevented large-scale rebuilding following the bombardment and invasion of 2008-9.

The fact the Telegraph and others find so unpalatable is that Hamas, like them or loathe them, were voted in by the Gazans in a free democratic election.

Even Twitter is blocking searches of the hashtag #flotilla. How superior is our side when it comes to human rights and freedom of speech.

No civiilsed country can maintain diplomatic relations with this pariah terrorist state, let alone continue arming and throwing money at it. Israel has yet again breached international law. On a hubristic high from getting away with assassinations in foreign countries and slaughtering Gazans in the sliver of land left to them, Israel has gone nuts with the West's connivance. The Turkish ship was from a NATO country, two of the ships flew American flags. Britain and the EU must condemn Israel's illegal action.

UPDATE: At the end of its online report, the BBC asks:
Do you know someone aboard these ships? What is your reaction to this story? Send us your comments, pictures and videos. Send your pictures and videos to yourpics@bbc.co.uk or text them to 61124 (UK) or 0044 7725 100 100 (International). If you have a large file you can upload here.

OK, peeps, you know what to do.

UPDATE 2: Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague has deplored the loss of life and called for the end to the Gaza blockade by Israel.

Did Twitter censor the #flotilla hashtag as it was trending?

UPDATE 3: Contrary to the BBC News 24 report, there is at least one British person on the convoy, former journalist and George Galloway's assistant, Kevin Ovenden. See his reports for Viva Palestina here. (This oversight may be due to the UK left's practice of preaching to the converted and not sending out press releases. Have you forgotten already, Kevin? Hope you are safe. But do please learn to use the bloody media!) There may be 27 British nationals on the ships.

UPDATE 4: Adam Gabbatt is writing the Guardian's Live Blog on the deadly Freedom Flotilla attack by Israel. He writes:

3.32pm:
@MadamMiaow has pointed me to a blogpost from Kevin Ovenden, a Briton from the Viva Palestina charity who was on the Mavi Marmara in the flotilla (see 11.08am).
Ovenden appears to have been writing as Israel boats approached the flotilla.
We are 90 miles away from land - 22 miles further than the Israeli decided 68 mile exclusion zone - but are being approached by an Israeli vessel. [...]
This is a very serious situation, and we are calling on everyone to play their part in helping ensure their safety, and that the aid reaches Gaza without difficulty.

Full article here.

Pulse keeps tracks of BBC bias

UPDATE 5: The UN Security Council condemns the raid on the Freedom Flotilla but refuses to name Israel in a grotesquely absurd bit of politicking. Meanwhile, Cameron's weasel words: he describes the attack as "unacceptable" and calls for a "constructive" response to "legitimate criticism" of its actions. Ooh, tough! Everyone except Turkey is placating Israel while 700 international civilians remain kidnapped and held in isolation while the Foreign office dithers. Eyewitness accounts are beginning to surface as activists are deported, describing how armed IDF rappelled onto the ship shooting as they dropped. Confirmed by three German current and former MPs. Reports of one Briton injured but Viva Palestina officer and journalist Kevin Ovenden OK.

"Gaza #flotilla drives Israel into a sea of stupidity." Haaretz

Israel attacks humanitarian aid flotilla off Gaza killing 16 civilians


VIDEO UPDATE: This is the longer 9:35 version of the video which shows shot civilians and reports of two dead before the Israeli commandos even land on the ship. Any violence in international waters by the passengers is clearly self-defence. Organisers are trying to keep everyone calm but despite the hoisting of the white flag you can still hear shots. There is some English commentary as three reporters share the microphone.

Israel has done the unthinkable and attacked the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, one of the peace ships bringing humanitarian aid to the stricken people of Gaza, killing at least 16 people with dozens injured. These are idealists, civilians, some mothers' sons and daughters who were killed in international waters, 80 miles off the Gazan coast.

The ships hold 600 civilian activists including Parliamentarians, women, children and the elderly.

Following much harassment of the Freedom Flotilla aid craft by Israel since they left northern (Turkish) Cyprus, Israeli armed commandos stormed the boat from helicopters in the early hours of this morning. They had guns, the activists had sticks. Firing continued after the white flag had been raised.

I wonder if they thought the BP oil spill Top Kill failure and the environmental catastrophe was the chance to bury bad news and carry out their own killing from above.

Is Sweden the only country with any spine? it has withdrawn its ambassador in protest. And there is public fury in Turkey with demonstrations being held. A protest is planned for today at Downing Street in London, no doubt complete with brutish policing and prison sentences handed down to people who object to state murder if the last one at the Israel Embassy is anything to go by. But what's Britain's media doing? Giving these murderers a free ticket in the media. In biased and imbalanced reporting, the BBC allowed the Israel government several minutes to present their propaganda while including NO pro-Palestinian voice.

The general level of reporting is abominable. Even while explaining the background, The Telegraph says:
Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza after the strip was taken over by the militant group Hamas in 2007. It has allowed some food and medical supplies through, but has prevented large-scale rebuilding following the bombardment and invasion of 2008-9.

The fact the Telegraph and others find so unpalatable is that Hamas, like them or loathe them, were voted in by the Gazans in a free democratic election.

Even Twitter is blocking searches of the hashtag #flotilla. How superior is our side when it comes to human rights and freedom of speech.

No civiilsed country can maintain diplomatic relations with this pariah terrorist state, let alone continue arming and throwing money at it. Israel has yet again breached international law. On a hubristic high from getting away with assassinations in foreign countries and slaughtering Gazans in the sliver of land left to them, Israel has gone nuts with the West's connivance. The Turkish ship was from a NATO country, two of the ships flew American flags. Britain and the EU must condemn Israel's illegal action.

UPDATE: At the end of its online report, the BBC asks:
Do you know someone aboard these ships? What is your reaction to this story? Send us your comments, pictures and videos. Send your pictures and videos to yourpics@bbc.co.uk or text them to 61124 (UK) or 0044 7725 100 100 (International). If you have a large file you can upload here.

OK, peeps, you know what to do.

UPDATE 2: Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague has deplored the loss of life and called for the end to the Gaza blockade by Israel.

Did Twitter censor the #flotilla hashtag as it was trending?

UPDATE 3: Contrary to the BBC News 24 report, there is at least one British person on the convoy, former journalist and George Galloway's assistant, Kevin Ovenden. See his reports for Viva Palestina here. (This oversight may be due to the UK left's practice of preaching to the converted and not sending out press releases. Have you forgotten already, Kevin? Hope you are safe. But do please learn to use the bloody media!) There may be 27 British nationals on the ships.

UPDATE 4: Adam Gabbatt is writing the Guardian's Live Blog on the deadly Freedom Flotilla attack by Israel. He writes:

3.32pm:
@MadamMiaow has pointed me to a blogpost from Kevin Ovenden, a Briton from the Viva Palestina charity who was on the Mavi Marmara in the flotilla (see 11.08am).
Ovenden appears to have been writing as Israel boats approached the flotilla.
We are 90 miles away from land - 22 miles further than the Israeli decided 68 mile exclusion zone - but are being approached by an Israeli vessel. [...]
This is a very serious situation, and we are calling on everyone to play their part in helping ensure their safety, and that the aid reaches Gaza without difficulty.

Full article here.

Pulse keeps tracks of BBC bias

UPDATE 5: The UN Security Council condemns the raid on the Freedom Flotilla but refuses to name Israel in a grotesquely absurd bit of politicking. Meanwhile, Cameron's weasel words: he describes the attack as "unacceptable" and calls for a "constructive" response to "legitimate criticism" of its actions. Ooh, tough! Everyone except Turkey is placating Israel while 700 international civilians remain kidnapped and held in isolation while the Foreign office dithers. Eyewitness accounts are beginning to surface as activists are deported, describing how armed IDF rappelled onto the ship shooting as they dropped. Confirmed by three German current and former MPs. Reports of one Briton injured but Viva Palestina officer and journalist Kevin Ovenden OK.

"Gaza #flotilla drives Israel into a sea of stupidity." Haaretz

Sunday, 30 May 2010

BP Oil Spill Top Kill Fails: will criminal charges be brought?


We should never have laughed at that Mayan prophecy about the world ending in 2012. We're on course to make it just in time.

As I updated yesterday, I was watching the live oil spill feed in the morning and noticed that the leak was belching black again, rather than the dense brown mud we'd seen over the last two days. This was bad. In the evening (GMT) the media confirmed that the Top Kill effort had failed and even the junk shot wasn't working.

We now have vast dead zones being created as a result of the continuing leak. The entire food chain could be devastated. The blue fin tuna spawning ground is just south of the spill so an already distressed species may become extinct.

Everything is compounded by the use of 800,000 gallons of Corexit 9527 which is even more toxic than the oil. The main purpose of this poison appears to be cosmetic as it makes it look better. One marine toxicologist warned: "That ruptures red blood cells and causes fish to bleed. With 800,000 gallons of this, we can only imagine the death that will be caused."

BP has been withholding information and has given figures that massively underestimate the volume of oil being released, surprise, surprise, possibly in anticipation of legal action and liability to come. BP is lobbying for a Houston-based oil industry-friendly judge to hear the plethora of spill cases mounting up.

We're now hearing about all the other spills and negligence by BP, such as with their other spill this week, in Alaska. There's been one in Singapore, and of course, the ongoing hellhole created by Shell in Nigeria.

Bush and Cheney favourite, Halliburton, is in the frame for the inferior cement that was supposed to hold back the oil.

This affects us here. In the two months it will take for BP to drill the relief wells, the oil and chemicals will have been picked up by the same Atlantic currents that bring the warm waters of the Gulf to Britain and Ireland, making us unusually warm for our northerly latitude, and will be headed here. Then the rest of the West coast of Europe gets it. Readers of this blog know how much I love Cornwall. I'm already picturing it dead and toxic.

Bankers and oil men. Dontcha just love 'em?

A new Google Earth Map Tool lets you compare the size of the spill with your area. I just typed in London and the slick covers almost the whole of the south east of England.

UPDATE: 7th June ""Are you fucking happy? The rig's on fire! I told you this was gonna happen." New eyewitness accounts via @MacMcLelland.

UPDATE 2: Rustbelt Radical has this left overview of BP and the rape of the Earth: Expropriate the Expropriators.

BP Oil Spill Top Kill Fails: will criminal charges be brought?


We should never have laughed at that Mayan prophecy about the world ending in 2012. We're on course to make it just in time.

As I updated yesterday, I was watching the live oil spill feed in the morning and noticed that the leak was belching black again, rather than the dense brown mud we'd seen over the last two days. This was bad. In the evening (GMT) the media confirmed that the Top Kill effort had failed and even the junk shot wasn't working.

We now have vast dead zones being created as a result of the continuing leak. The entire food chain could be devastated. The blue fin tuna spawning ground is just south of the spill so an already distressed species may become extinct.

Everything is compounded by the use of 800,000 gallons of Corexit 9527 which is even more toxic than the oil. The main purpose of this poison appears to be cosmetic as it makes it look better. One marine toxicologist warned: "That ruptures red blood cells and causes fish to bleed. With 800,000 gallons of this, we can only imagine the death that will be caused."

BP has been withholding information and has given figures that massively underestimate the volume of oil being released, surprise, surprise, possibly in anticipation of legal action and liability to come. BP is lobbying for a Houston-based oil industry-friendly judge to hear the plethora of spill cases mounting up.

We're now hearing about all the other spills and negligence by BP, such as with their other spill this week, in Alaska. There's been one in Singapore, and of course, the ongoing hellhole created by Shell in Nigeria.

Bush and Cheney favourite, Halliburton, is in the frame for the inferior cement that was supposed to hold back the oil.

This affects us here. In the two months it will take for BP to drill the relief wells, the oil and chemicals will have been picked up by the same Atlantic currents that bring the warm waters of the Gulf to Britain and Ireland, making us unusually warm for our northerly latitude, and will be headed here. Then the rest of the West coast of Europe gets it. Readers of this blog know how much I love Cornwall. I'm already picturing it dead and toxic.

Bankers and oil men. Dontcha just love 'em?

A new Google Earth Map Tool lets you compare the size of the spill with your area. I just typed in London and the slick covers almost the whole of the south east of England.

UPDATE: 7th June ""Are you fucking happy? The rig's on fire! I told you this was gonna happen." New eyewitness accounts via @MacMcLelland.

UPDATE 2: Rustbelt Radical has this left overview of BP and the rape of the Earth: Expropriate the Expropriators.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Honda car strike in China inspiring workers


This is pretty amazing. Honda workers at three plants in China have gone on strike in the carmaker's largest potential market.

A hundred workers at one plant struck on May 17th for more than the current measly $180 US per month, or 1,200 yuan, and want at least 2,000 yuan starting pay. After Honda reneged on an agreement, 1,900 Chinese workers in two other factories came out in force eleven days ago. Honda has just shut down all four plants in Guangzhou and Wuhan despite announcing an aggressive push to boost capacity from 360,000 vehicles to 480,000 by the end of 2011, and by 28 per cent by 2012.

The largest strike ever reported in China is being seen as a warning to other auto-manufacturers in China. There's a lot to play for so the company is digging in its heels. According to the China Daily:
Negotiations were held on Tuesday between executives from all workshops and workers but "due to vast differences, the two sides failed to reach a deal," ... Government agencies and trade unions are also trying to broker a deal ... Ma Qiufeng, a professor in sociology at Guangzhou-based Jinan University, called the strike "good news" because the workers' demand may help China become a more open society.

May I say: about time, too?

One Shanghai-based analyst said:
"Profits in China's auto industry are relatively high compared to mature markets, and there's room for increasing workers' benefits."

In 2006 there were moves to open up the trade unions in China but this came to an end when the American Chamber Of Commerce, backed by the Europeans, lobbied hard against it.

China wants to maintain its national pride as it prepares to take Number One status among the world powers, but it can hardly do that if its workers are expected to man the lowly sweatshop of the world. We've already had the scandal of the spate of suicides at the Foxconn Apple and Dell factories. Not only that, but if you want your workers to be able to consume your goods, you'd better pay them well, even if capitalist consumerism inevitably leads to slumps (Marx's Das Kapital, innit?). Expect to see improving standards as when the West gained its own superior economic power. We may yet see British workers trying to join the Chinese workforce in a case of "Zai Jian, Pet".

Hong Kong labour activists push for iPhone boycott

Thanks to Denis for this Han Han link on the suicides: Han Han (韩寒): The Bloom of Youth

Honda car strike in China inspiring workers


This is pretty amazing. Honda workers at three plants in China have gone on strike in the carmaker's largest potential market.

A hundred workers at one plant struck on May 17th for more than the current measly $180 US per month, or 1,200 yuan, and want at least 2,000 yuan starting pay. After Honda reneged on an agreement, 1,900 Chinese workers in two other factories came out in force eleven days ago. Honda has just shut down all four plants in Guangzhou and Wuhan despite announcing an aggressive push to boost capacity from 360,000 vehicles to 480,000 by the end of 2011, and by 28 per cent by 2012.

The largest strike ever reported in China is being seen as a warning to other auto-manufacturers in China. There's a lot to play for so the company is digging in its heels. According to the China Daily:
Negotiations were held on Tuesday between executives from all workshops and workers but "due to vast differences, the two sides failed to reach a deal," ... Government agencies and trade unions are also trying to broker a deal ... Ma Qiufeng, a professor in sociology at Guangzhou-based Jinan University, called the strike "good news" because the workers' demand may help China become a more open society.

May I say: about time, too?

One Shanghai-based analyst said:
"Profits in China's auto industry are relatively high compared to mature markets, and there's room for increasing workers' benefits."

In 2006 there were moves to open up the trade unions in China but this came to an end when the American Chamber Of Commerce, backed by the Europeans, lobbied hard against it.

China wants to maintain its national pride as it prepares to take Number One status among the world powers, but it can hardly do that if its workers are expected to man the lowly sweatshop of the world. We've already had the scandal of the spate of suicides at the Foxconn Apple and Dell factories. Not only that, but if you want your workers to be able to consume your goods, you'd better pay them well, even if capitalist consumerism inevitably leads to slumps (Marx's Das Kapital, innit?). Expect to see improving standards as when the West gained its own superior economic power. We may yet see British workers trying to join the Chinese workforce in a case of "Zai Jian, Pet".

Hong Kong labour activists push for iPhone boycott

Thanks to Denis for this Han Han link on the suicides: Han Han (韩寒): The Bloom of Youth

Friday, 28 May 2010

How the rich stay rich: Baroness Scotland's £6 per hour cleaner

Baroness Scotland

I'm neither in the habit or position, nor have I the disposition, to employ anyone. However, when eleven years ago a fellow leftie found herself even more skint than me, one way to help her out was to offer £20 per week for a four-hour cleaning session at my scruffy flat each week. This represented a large chunk of my dosh but, as she was a single mother facing possible eviction, I thought an emergency redistribution of resources was called for. This was better than a loan or gift as it maintained her sense of pride.

She'd come up with the cleaning idea herself and initially offered to do it for less — I think it was a tenner in those pre-minimum wage days — but that would have changed the relationship to one of exploitation, which was out of the question. As it was, suddenly finding myself in the role of "employer" sat uncomfortably with me, but she insisted she needed the dosh. And so we settled into a tidy home for me and a bit of help for her. In mitigation of the situation, much of these sessions over the next few months was spent talking politics over tea and lunch. And although I couldn't really afford it, I was paying a fiver an hour when the low pay minimum was something like £3.80.

So it's with a wry smile that I learn that Labour peer Baroness Scotland's cleaner, Loloahi Tapui, now imprisoned for overstaying her student visa by four years, was paid a miserly £6 per hour. That's just insulting. I cannot imagine having Pat's income (her real name is the far less lofty Patricia Mawhinney) and paying someone so little.

Although Tapui was yesterday gaoled for a severe eight months, she did at least make £75K off the media through Max Clifford, so perhaps that makes up for being lowballed for her labour by a rich woman.

I was pleased to see that the Baroness who, as Attorney General, was the architect of some draconian anti-immigrant laws, fell foul of her own legislation. Pat was fined £5,000 for neglecting to take copies of Tapui's papers, but I think she should have been fined that sum again for being so bloody mean.

And talking about the people who make our laws, Pat has starred in the Parliamentary expenses scandal, wrongly claiming some £170,000 since 2004. Only ministers with a primary residence outside the capital are entitled to this. Pat has a £2 million house in Chiswick which — last time I checked — was in London.

As the song goes, it's the rich what gets the pleasure, it's the poor what gets the blame. And the gaol term. But at least sometimes they have the savvy to get Max Clifford on board.

EDIT: An hour later, I've been thinking about how the injustice in this case operates on so many levels. I think it blows out of the water the notion that just sticking a woman of colour, whatever her character, into a position of power, somehow rectifies any social imbalance. This was an instance of one non-white woman exploiting another. If I am being ripped off, it makes no odds whether the Fat Cat in question is black, brown, white, yellow or purple. (Like the Chinese communists who said — albeit in an altogether different context — it didn't matter what colour a cat is, as long as it catches mice.) Although some might argue that it adds insult to injury. I suspect this was a cynical box-ticking exercise by Labour, making a mockery of attempts to create a more equitable system. There are high-calibre women of colour out there who are neither Blairite drones, Tory entrepreneurs nor simple careerists: women who know how to make a moral decision. Those who send their children to private schools while preaching left, or who remain cheerleaders for the Iraq war, do NOT count.

How the rich stay rich: Baroness Scotland's £6 per hour cleaner

Baroness Scotland

I'm neither in the habit or position, nor have I the disposition, to employ anyone. However, when eleven years ago a fellow leftie found herself even more skint than me, one way to help her out was to offer £20 per week for a four-hour cleaning session at my scruffy flat each week. This represented a large chunk of my dosh but, as she was a single mother facing possible eviction, I thought an emergency redistribution of resources was called for. This was better than a loan or gift as it maintained her sense of pride.

She'd come up with the cleaning idea herself and initially offered to do it for less — I think it was a tenner in those pre-minimum wage days — but that would have changed the relationship to one of exploitation, which was out of the question. As it was, suddenly finding myself in the role of "employer" sat uncomfortably with me, but she insisted she needed the dosh. And so we settled into a tidy home for me and a bit of help for her. In mitigation of the situation, much of these sessions over the next few months was spent talking politics over tea and lunch. And although I couldn't really afford it, I was paying a fiver an hour when the low pay minimum was something like £3.80.

So it's with a wry smile that I learn that Labour peer Baroness Scotland's cleaner, Loloahi Tapui, now imprisoned for overstaying her student visa by four years, was paid a miserly £6 per hour. That's just insulting. I cannot imagine having Pat's income (her real name is the far less lofty Patricia Mawhinney) and paying someone so little.

Although Tapui was yesterday gaoled for a severe eight months, she did at least make £75K off the media through Max Clifford, so perhaps that makes up for being lowballed for her labour by a rich woman.

I was pleased to see that the Baroness who, as Attorney General, was the architect of some draconian anti-immigrant laws, fell foul of her own legislation. Pat was fined £5,000 for neglecting to take copies of Tapui's papers, but I think she should have been fined that sum again for being so bloody mean.

And talking about the people who make our laws, Pat has starred in the Parliamentary expenses scandal, wrongly claiming some £170,000 since 2004. Only ministers with a primary residence outside the capital are entitled to this. Pat has a £2 million house in Chiswick which — last time I checked — was in London.

As the song goes, it's the rich what gets the pleasure, it's the poor what gets the blame. And the gaol term. But at least sometimes they have the savvy to get Max Clifford on board.

EDIT: An hour later, I've been thinking about how the injustice in this case operates on so many levels. I think it blows out of the water the notion that just sticking a woman of colour, whatever her character, into a position of power, somehow rectifies any social imbalance. This was an instance of one non-white woman exploiting another. If I am being ripped off, it makes no odds whether the Fat Cat in question is black, brown, white, yellow or purple. (Like the Chinese communists who said — albeit in an altogether different context — it didn't matter what colour a cat is, as long as it catches mice.) Although some might argue that it adds insult to injury. I suspect this was a cynical box-ticking exercise by Labour, making a mockery of attempts to create a more equitable system. There are high-calibre women of colour out there who are neither Blairite drones, Tory entrepreneurs nor simple careerists: women who know how to make a moral decision. Those who send their children to private schools while preaching left, or who remain cheerleaders for the Iraq war, do NOT count.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Porn, Cancer, Drugs and Gifts: Oil Spill Top Kill Guesswork Under Way


Gulf Oil Tracker spillcam PBS.com If it's not working, try the BP website live feed

So what do we know so far about attempts to halt the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, now estimated at covering 16,000 square miles? While BP tries choking the broken riser with mud in an increasingly desperate series of measures — a "Top Kill" method never attempted at these depths which risks blowing the rupture wide open — corruption surrounding the oil industry emerges faster than the gusher of oil.

The 600,000 of gallons of toxic dispersant chemicals dumped in the sea has a largely cosmetic effect, breaking up the oil and making it harder to capture, making a nightmare situation even worse.
Corexit is carcinogenic, mutagenic, and highly toxic, and scientists are concerned about its effect on marine life. Corexit is banned in Great Britain.

The chemical company, Nalco, has a former BP executive on its board.
"Why would you use something that is much more toxic and much less effective, other than you have a corporate relationship with the manufacturer?" asked Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic congressman from New York told a hearing on Wednesday

US oil spill clean-up boats have been recalled as crew fall ill. Something is certainly toxic, and not just the relationship between government and oil companies.

We now know that government workers at the Minerals Management Service who dealt with the gulf oil industry, and whose job it was to inspect offshore drilling and rigs, accepted gifts, took drugs on the job and spent their work time slavering over porn. Meanwhile, Rick Steiner, a fierce critic of the oil industry, lost his grant and was elbowed out from his university.
Steiner observes that the BP plan is almost 600 pages largely consisting of lists, phone numbers and blank forms. "Incredibly, this voluminous document never once discusses how to stop a deep water blowout even though BP has significant deep water operations in the Gulf," he said.

Mary Kendall, acting inspector general at the department of the interior, told a congressional committee yesterday that there were problems with "gift acceptance, fraternising with industry and pornography" at the agency. She suggested there was a problem with the closeness of ties between watchdogs and industry executives: "The individuals involved in the fraternising and gift exchange – both government and industry – have often known one another since childhood."

BP oil spillers face no charges while peaceful Greenpeace protesters have been charged with felony.

The Obama government is still issuing environmental waivers. This despite the fact they already issued the BP permit for the Gulf of Mexico knowing they would be drilling on a tectonic plate with known earthquake activity — there was an underwater earthquake in 2006. Today there's talk of a well overdue oil moratorium. And, at last, a drive to stop Shell drilling in the Arctic.

As with any gripping action drama script, there's a time-factor involved and a ticking clock before something more catastrophic occurs. The escaping oil is eroding the seabed and has probably entirely eaten away the riser casing by now. This weakens the sea bed over the world's second largest oil reserve. This means not only more leaks, but if an entire chunk of seabed collapses, we get the mother of all tsunami and the release of a helluva lot more oil into our oceans. An extinction event if ever there was one. If Top Kill fails, BP's last remaining options are a junk shot (so-called because the idea is junk), where they throw everything they can get their hands on including golf balls and old tyres, calling Superman, and prayer. At the moment, the last two have the edge.

National Geographic: What happens if we can't stop the leak? Gulf oil leaks could go on for years until the reservoir is dry.

UPDATE: 19:00 Top Kill slowing down the leak.
UPDATE 2: Saturday 29 May. Top Kill fails. I noticed around 11am GMT that the leak was gushing black again, and a bit later both black and brown (dense mud). 7pm, just saw the NY Times has just confirmed it's failed.

At a Gulf Aid event, where locals were angry that the state of Louisiana got so little from the massively profitable oil industry in their own area, the BP man declared that the company had contributed $15 million towards encouraging tourism while pledging $500 million over ten years to study the impact of the oil spill on the environment. When you consider that BP makes $66 million per day, you realise how insulting this is. There should surely be a principle that the people whose resources are being exploited should share in any bounty. Instead, Louisiana's education system is second from bottom in the US.

Good source of oil spill news at The Oil Drum
Philppe Cousteau Jr video: Scenes under the sea — ‘This Is a Nightmare… a Nightmare’

Hat Tip Their Vodka

Porn, Cancer, Drugs and Gifts: Oil Spill Top Kill Guesswork Under Way


Gulf Oil Tracker spillcam PBS.com If it's not working, try the BP website live feed

So what do we know so far about attempts to halt the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, now estimated at covering 16,000 square miles? While BP tries choking the broken riser with mud in an increasingly desperate series of measures — a "Top Kill" method never attempted at these depths which risks blowing the rupture wide open — corruption surrounding the oil industry emerges faster than the gusher of oil.

The 600,000 of gallons of toxic dispersant chemicals dumped in the sea has a largely cosmetic effect, breaking up the oil and making it harder to capture, making a nightmare situation even worse.
Corexit is carcinogenic, mutagenic, and highly toxic, and scientists are concerned about its effect on marine life. Corexit is banned in Great Britain.

The chemical company, Nalco, has a former BP executive on its board.
"Why would you use something that is much more toxic and much less effective, other than you have a corporate relationship with the manufacturer?" asked Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic congressman from New York told a hearing on Wednesday

US oil spill clean-up boats have been recalled as crew fall ill. Something is certainly toxic, and not just the relationship between government and oil companies.

We now know that government workers at the Minerals Management Service who dealt with the gulf oil industry, and whose job it was to inspect offshore drilling and rigs, accepted gifts, took drugs on the job and spent their work time slavering over porn. Meanwhile, Rick Steiner, a fierce critic of the oil industry, lost his grant and was elbowed out from his university.
Steiner observes that the BP plan is almost 600 pages largely consisting of lists, phone numbers and blank forms. "Incredibly, this voluminous document never once discusses how to stop a deep water blowout even though BP has significant deep water operations in the Gulf," he said.

Mary Kendall, acting inspector general at the department of the interior, told a congressional committee yesterday that there were problems with "gift acceptance, fraternising with industry and pornography" at the agency. She suggested there was a problem with the closeness of ties between watchdogs and industry executives: "The individuals involved in the fraternising and gift exchange – both government and industry – have often known one another since childhood."

BP oil spillers face no charges while peaceful Greenpeace protesters have been charged with felony.

The Obama government is still issuing environmental waivers. This despite the fact they already issued the BP permit for the Gulf of Mexico knowing they would be drilling on a tectonic plate with known earthquake activity — there was an underwater earthquake in 2006. Today there's talk of a well overdue oil moratorium. And, at last, a drive to stop Shell drilling in the Arctic.

As with any gripping action drama script, there's a time-factor involved and a ticking clock before something more catastrophic occurs. The escaping oil is eroding the seabed and has probably entirely eaten away the riser casing by now. This weakens the sea bed over the world's second largest oil reserve. This means not only more leaks, but if an entire chunk of seabed collapses, we get the mother of all tsunami and the release of a helluva lot more oil into our oceans. An extinction event if ever there was one. If Top Kill fails, BP's last remaining options are a junk shot (so-called because the idea is junk), where they throw everything they can get their hands on including golf balls and old tyres, calling Superman, and prayer. At the moment, the last two have the edge.

National Geographic: What happens if we can't stop the leak? Gulf oil leaks could go on for years until the reservoir is dry.

UPDATE: 19:00 Top Kill slowing down the leak.
UPDATE 2: Saturday 29 May. Top Kill fails. I noticed around 11am GMT that the leak was gushing black again, and a bit later both black and brown (dense mud). 7pm, just saw the NY Times has just confirmed it's failed.

At a Gulf Aid event, where locals were angry that the state of Louisiana got so little from the massively profitable oil industry in their own area, the BP man declared that the company had contributed $15 million towards encouraging tourism while pledging $500 million over ten years to study the impact of the oil spill on the environment. When you consider that BP makes $66 million per day, you realise how insulting this is. There should surely be a principle that the people whose resources are being exploited should share in any bounty. Instead, Louisiana's education system is second from bottom in the US.

Good source of oil spill news at The Oil Drum
Philppe Cousteau Jr video: Scenes under the sea — ‘This Is a Nightmare… a Nightmare’

Hat Tip Their Vodka

Monday, 24 May 2010

Has BP oil spill seabed collapsed?


Not sure how reliable this is as I can't find anything in the newspapers yet, but it looks as if the seabed at the BP oil-spill has collapsed following a series of explosions, resulting in massive escape of oil.

Found the video screen-grab above at Harmony Central where there's an interesting debate. Speed Ball Blues writes : "Update: Here's a screen grab showing the new hole in the seabed. That's not the riser end from a new angle. This was grabbed while the ROV on the riser end was panning around. The BOP is over 600 feet away, so it is not that, either."

Does this mean an entire oil reserve is being released into the sea?

The BP live webcam has gone offline.

God help this planet if it's true.

Previously: BP incompetence, criticism of BP oil spill "UnAmercian", and volcano of oil unstoppable.

More pictures of seabed collapse

Heavy advanced technical debate as to what went wrong at Drilling Ahead, oil and gas professionals. The bits I can understand are fascinating.

BP Deepwater is the second largest oil deposit in the world, Daily Kos.

Gulf of Mexico: BP have been drilling on a tectonic plate prone to volcanic activity. More here.

Disturbing pictures of the effects of the oil as it reaches land.

Casing finally worn through 300 ft below seabed with oil finding new exits. This is bad.

Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command

Obama government still issuing environmental waivers.

NOAA Gulf Spill Restoration website.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill - History & Analysis

USGS Oil Spill Response

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Gary McKinnon and the prison system: do not extradite

Crushed under the juggernaut of blind authority

You've seen the Tweets, now read the blog.

Following an interesting discussion with Jack Of Kent about Aspergers hacker Gary McKinnon on Twitter (described by one Tweeter as like Newsnight in haiku) I have a few brief points to make.

I'm totally opposed to extraditing Gary McKinnon to the US, where draconian punishment and prison conditions place their judicial system somewhere in the nastier part of the Middle Ages. Only last night, those of us who watched Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story saw how one juvenile prison faciity was essentially a money-making scam between the judge — sentencing teenagers who behaved like teenagers to the nightmare of being banged up for long periods — and the prison boss, who had lobbied for the old public facility to be demolished so he could replace it with his own privately-built one costing $8 million, for which he was paid $58 million out of the public purse.

The kids' "crimes" included throwing a piece of meat at Mum's boyfriend during a family row, and a fight with a friend in a Mall.

This is a system that also locks up a disproportionate number of black men.

But prisons in the US are big business.

No man or woman's freedom should be bartered away at the whim of blind state power.

Who has determined that Gary McKinnon's hacking into the government's cyberspace is a criminal act? He wasn't a terrorist. He was a bored web-savvy amateur who showed up the flaws in the system before someone actually dangerous found it. His curiosity concerning free energy and UFOs, ferchrissake, was satisfied because the US military and NASA's inept security allowed him in. Governments do enough spying on us — they don't like it up 'em. Isn't it capitulating to overweening state authority to say his mischief was an actual crime? It's out of all proportion in a civilised society.

In an interview straight out of Monty Python, one senior military officer at the Pentagon said: "He did very serious and deliberate damage to military and Nasa computers and left silly and anti-American messages." So which is he being done for? Damage? (Under the terms of the 2003 Extradition Act, the US doesn't have to produce contestable evidence.) Or the sort of two-fingers-to-authority that in the free West we once thought quite romantic?

The Wiki account says:
McKinnon has denied causing any damage, arguing that, in his quest for UFO-related material, he accessed open, unsecured machines with no passwords and no firewalls and that he left countless notes pointing out their many security failings. He adamantly disputes the damage and the financial loss claimed by the US as concocted in order to create a dollar amount justifying an extraditable offence. While it did not constitute evidence of destruction, he did admit leaving a threat on one computer:
"US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days? It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down on September 11 last year...I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.”

But did he continue to disrupt? Should you be extradited for bravado? Is it true what he said about government-sponsored terrorism? And should the "dollar amount" be a determining factor in extradition?

All the things that the Masters and Mistresses of the Universe do, with no possibility of redress for us, and yet here's a man's life about to be destroyed, effectively out of spite. Blair, Haliburton, the oil corps et al are enriched through behaviour that would be criminal if only they weren't making the rules. Compare Gary's video-gamer's excitement with the Apache helicopter crew waggling their joysticks, who massacred a crowd in Iraq including two Reuters employees. Or the greed machines currently destroying the whole coast of Louisiana and beyond.

The Labour government rolled over and did the US neocon regime's bidding over the Iraq War, colluded in rendition and torture, and then tried to deliver its own civilians to a foreign power.

We are encountering a massive juggernaut of authority with no morality backing it up. This is wrong. We should not be actively collaborating in our own oppression.

UPDATE: QC Geoffrey Robertson on Gary McKinnon and the US government's restrospective malice: a test case for principles. He points out that Stieg Larsson's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo heroine, Lisbeth Salander, would be extradited for the same activity.

Gary McKinnon and the prison system: do not extradite

Crushed under the juggernaut of blind authority

You've seen the Tweets, now read the blog.

Following an interesting discussion with Jack Of Kent about Aspergers hacker Gary McKinnon on Twitter (described by one Tweeter as like Newsnight in haiku) I have a few brief points to make.

I'm totally opposed to extraditing Gary McKinnon to the US, where draconian punishment and prison conditions place their judicial system somewhere in the nastier part of the Middle Ages. Only last night, those of us who watched Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story saw how one juvenile prison faciity was essentially a money-making scam between the judge — sentencing teenagers who behaved like teenagers to the nightmare of being banged up for long periods — and the prison boss, who had lobbied for the old public facility to be demolished so he could replace it with his own privately-built one costing $8 million, for which he was paid $58 million out of the public purse.

The kids' "crimes" included throwing a piece of meat at Mum's boyfriend during a family row, and a fight with a friend in a Mall.

This is a system that also locks up a disproportionate number of black men.

But prisons in the US are big business.

No man or woman's freedom should be bartered away at the whim of blind state power.

Who has determined that Gary McKinnon's hacking into the government's cyberspace is a criminal act? He wasn't a terrorist. He was a bored web-savvy amateur who showed up the flaws in the system before someone actually dangerous found it. His curiosity concerning free energy and UFOs, ferchrissake, was satisfied because the US military and NASA's inept security allowed him in. Governments do enough spying on us — they don't like it up 'em. Isn't it capitulating to overweening state authority to say his mischief was an actual crime? It's out of all proportion in a civilised society.

In an interview straight out of Monty Python, one senior military officer at the Pentagon said: "He did very serious and deliberate damage to military and Nasa computers and left silly and anti-American messages." So which is he being done for? Damage? (Under the terms of the 2003 Extradition Act, the US doesn't have to produce contestable evidence.) Or the sort of two-fingers-to-authority that in the free West we once thought quite romantic?

The Wiki account says:
McKinnon has denied causing any damage, arguing that, in his quest for UFO-related material, he accessed open, unsecured machines with no passwords and no firewalls and that he left countless notes pointing out their many security failings. He adamantly disputes the damage and the financial loss claimed by the US as concocted in order to create a dollar amount justifying an extraditable offence. While it did not constitute evidence of destruction, he did admit leaving a threat on one computer:
"US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days? It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down on September 11 last year...I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.”

But did he continue to disrupt? Should you be extradited for bravado? Is it true what he said about government-sponsored terrorism? And should the "dollar amount" be a determining factor in extradition?

All the things that the Masters and Mistresses of the Universe do, with no possibility of redress for us, and yet here's a man's life about to be destroyed, effectively out of spite. Blair, Haliburton, the oil corps et al are enriched through behaviour that would be criminal if only they weren't making the rules. Compare Gary's video-gamer's excitement with the Apache helicopter crew waggling their joysticks, who massacred a crowd in Iraq including two Reuters employees. Or the greed machines currently destroying the whole coast of Louisiana and beyond.

The Labour government rolled over and did the US neocon regime's bidding over the Iraq War, colluded in rendition and torture, and then tried to deliver its own civilians to a foreign power.

We are encountering a massive juggernaut of authority with no morality backing it up. This is wrong. We should not be actively collaborating in our own oppression.

UPDATE: QC Geoffrey Robertson on Gary McKinnon and the US government's restrospective malice: a test case for principles. He points out that Stieg Larsson's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo heroine, Lisbeth Salander, would be extradited for the same activity.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Criticism of BP oil spill "un-American": "Drill, baby, drill!"

Now, why does Rand Paul remind me of The Manchurian Candidate?

Kentucky's Republican Senate nominee and Tea Party darling, Rand Paul, who could kindly be described as "eccentric" by our wussy Brit standards, has gone all gooey over BP, defending the company and its gosh darn bad luck oil spill against that mean Barry Obama.

"What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'" Paul said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America." "I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. ... And I think it's part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it's always got to be somebody's fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen," Paul said.

Now, I know practically zilch about US politicians and how they are financed, but are they in any way related? Has the oily one been greased in any way?

Gee, what's all the fuss about 11 dead workers, the Gulf Of Mexico nixed, Louisiana's coast turned into a wasteland, the livelihoods of entire communities gone, and the sea turned into a sewer, anyhow? Get real, people. We make money. And that's what makes the world go round. Or kills it. Same diff. Make like the planet and rotate. Accidents happen.

BTW, to our dear American friends, please don't blame us Brits for the appalling damage done to the planet by yet another greedy corporation. Most of us would gladly help you string up the guilty parties. Metaphorically speaking. They arrest you for making such jokes in these heah parts, our freedom of speech going much the same way as your beautiful Louisiana coastline.

UPDATE: Randall Paul, Son of Ron, also said he wouldn't have voted for the Civil Rights Bill. And he was only the third person in 62 years to pull out out of the prestigious Meet The Press current affairs debate show. The other two were Louis Farrakhan (1996) and Saudi Prince Bandar (2003).

Criticism of BP oil spill "un-American": "Drill, baby, drill!"

Now, why does Rand Paul remind me of The Manchurian Candidate?

Kentucky's Republican Senate nominee and Tea Party darling, Rand Paul, who could kindly be described as "eccentric" by our wussy Brit standards, has gone all gooey over BP, defending the company and its gosh darn bad luck oil spill against that mean Barry Obama.

"What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'" Paul said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America." "I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. ... And I think it's part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it's always got to be somebody's fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen," Paul said.

Now, I know practically zilch about US politicians and how they are financed, but are they in any way related? Has the oily one been greased in any way?

Gee, what's all the fuss about 11 dead workers, the Gulf Of Mexico nixed, Louisiana's coast turned into a wasteland, the livelihoods of entire communities gone, and the sea turned into a sewer, anyhow? Get real, people. We make money. And that's what makes the world go round. Or kills it. Same diff. Make like the planet and rotate. Accidents happen.

BTW, to our dear American friends, please don't blame us Brits for the appalling damage done to the planet by yet another greedy corporation. Most of us would gladly help you string up the guilty parties. Metaphorically speaking. They arrest you for making such jokes in these heah parts, our freedom of speech going much the same way as your beautiful Louisiana coastline.

UPDATE: Randall Paul, Son of Ron, also said he wouldn't have voted for the Civil Rights Bill. And he was only the third person in 62 years to pull out out of the prestigious Meet The Press current affairs debate show. The other two were Louis Farrakhan (1996) and Saudi Prince Bandar (2003).

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Orwell Prize blogging won by Winston Smith


Had a lovely time last night in the domed wood-panelled hall of Church House in Westminster for the Orwell Prize winners announcement.

Bunged up with bronchitis as I was, there was no way I was going to miss this event. Lots of mates turned up in support (thank you, guys 'n' gals) and I hung around with fellow shortlisters Laurie (Penny Red) and David (Jack of Kent) but missed Hopi Sen and Tim Marshall.

I was convinced that either David or Laurie would win. Laurie because she is a rising young woman writer of the left and talented youth is what we majorly need. Or David because he has had some spectacular wins in the last month or so, taking his vorpal Sword of Truth to the antedeluvian libel laws on behalf of Simon Singh and Dave Osler. Plus they are both clear and passionate writers (Laurie is rilly passionate) and clarity is a quality Orwell considered vital to good political writing.

Blog prize judge Richard Horton, last year's winner, said that it's no coincidence that as Labour has gone into opposition there's been a growth of organic voices from the left, reflected in the shortlist. He said of Madam Miaow:
"Every post is entertaining and informative. From the impact of the X-Factor on Chinese diplomacy to the inner voice of Tony Blair as he looks in the shaving mirror every morning, and what must that be like. This is a blog that doesn't do the obvious. It doesn't do big news or big issues. It follows the writer's own agenda, it goes outside the commentariat, and we thought it was all the better for that."

Which, of course, softened the blow when Winston Smith got it (hey, the name alone clinches it). He couldn't be present in person due to his activity behind enemy lines so his publisher accepted the prize on his behalf. Well done, Winston, whoever you are. And even though you refer to those at the bottom of society as the "underclass".

Peter Hitchens won the prize for journalism. I sort of expected this. I disagree with his politics, obviously, but he is utterly sincere about his beliefs and betrays no cynicism.

Andrea Gillies won the book prize with Keeper. I know nothing about this but it looks like a fascinating investigation into what makes us human, and how much of our soul is tied up with our memories.

The shortlisters were whisked off to dinner all the way across the hall where we dined on quail's egg salad, roast lamb with potatoes au gratin, and strawberry shortcake confection with clotted cream. Jack Of Kent's lovely friend, Sally, donated David's dessert to me while he was table-hopping. Ya see? Priorities. No wonder my networking skills are a Big Fail.

More at Harpy Marx

Orwell Prize blogging won by Winston Smith


Had a lovely time last night in the domed wood-panelled hall of Church House in Westminster for the Orwell Prize winners announcement.

Bunged up with bronchitis as I was, there was no way I was going to miss this event. Lots of mates turned up in support (thank you, guys 'n' gals) and I hung around with fellow shortlisters Laurie (Penny Red) and David (Jack of Kent) but missed Hopi Sen and Tim Marshall.

I was convinced that either David or Laurie would win. Laurie because she is a rising young woman writer of the left and talented youth is what we majorly need. Or David because he has had some spectacular wins in the last month or so, taking his vorpal Sword of Truth to the antedeluvian libel laws on behalf of Simon Singh and Dave Osler. Plus they are both clear and passionate writers (Laurie is rilly passionate) and clarity is a quality Orwell considered vital to good political writing.

Blog prize judge Richard Horton, last year's winner, said that it's no coincidence that as Labour has gone into opposition there's been a growth of organic voices from the left, reflected in the shortlist. He said of Madam Miaow:
"Every post is entertaining and informative. From the impact of the X-Factor on Chinese diplomacy to the inner voice of Tony Blair as he looks in the shaving mirror every morning, and what must that be like. This is a blog that doesn't do the obvious. It doesn't do big news or big issues. It follows the writer's own agenda, it goes outside the commentariat, and we thought it was all the better for that."

Which, of course, softened the blow when Winston Smith got it (hey, the name alone clinches it). He couldn't be present in person due to his activity behind enemy lines so his publisher accepted the prize on his behalf. Well done, Winston, whoever you are. And even though you refer to those at the bottom of society as the "underclass".

Peter Hitchens won the prize for journalism. I sort of expected this. I disagree with his politics, obviously, but he is utterly sincere about his beliefs and betrays no cynicism.

Andrea Gillies won the book prize with Keeper. I know nothing about this but it looks like a fascinating investigation into what makes us human, and how much of our soul is tied up with our memories.

The shortlisters were whisked off to dinner all the way across the hall where we dined on quail's egg salad, roast lamb with potatoes au gratin, and strawberry shortcake confection with clotted cream. Jack Of Kent's lovely friend, Sally, donated David's dessert to me while he was table-hopping. Ya see? Priorities. No wonder my networking skills are a Big Fail.

More at Harpy Marx

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Seed Cathedral: UK Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010



I first heard about the UK Pavilion in early 2009 when my friend Sonny Leong took me and actress Alice Lee along to a meeting with the British Council to lobby for the inclusion of British Chinese artists at the UK site for Shanghai Expo 2010. Coals to Newcastle it may have been, but what better way to show China's contribution to the world than illustrate where we are in the Chinese diaspora? Hey, China, this is one of the ways in which we've developed since leaving the Mothership, bringing it full circle. Don't we scrub up a treat?

My Big Idea was to take my comedy show, Anna May Wong Must Die!, to the Shanghai Expo, introducing the mitochondrial Eve of the Chinese diaspora, Hollywood's first movie legend, to Chinese audiences. And other artists who were using different artistic disciplines to tackle the same major figure in Western culture — whose birth centenary had just passed in 2005 — would show us in our infinite variety.

Over a delightful lunch of dim sum (thanks, Sonny) we presented our case. The two officers from the BC smiled and looked blank. They then got out a portfolio of sketches and photo mock-ups and embarked on a presentation of the UK Pavilion, which looked something like a giant hedgehog. Oohing and aahing, we awaited the expected conclusion: dates, capacity of the venue, that sort of thing. And we waited. And we waited.

The officers concluded their presentation and sat back. "So how many does it hold?" I asked.

They looked at each other and one of them told me, "We expect a through-put time of about two minutes."

Huh? A non sequitur if ever I heard one.

"Yes, but what's the audience capacity?"

Over a tortuous ten minutes or so it transpired that (and how typical does this sound) the UK Pavilion had no practical function. It was merely a thing of beauty to be admired. A bit like the upcoming Labour leadership contest if the Blair/Brown axis has it their own way.

As it turns out, the UK Pavilion — known as the Seed Cathedral — is indeed beautiful. It is a structure pierced by a myriad acrylic rods, each with an illuminated seed where the rods end in the pavilion, so it has some sort of ecological message, like nature is destined to museum status or something like that. And being flexible, the rods move in the breeze, giving the impression of glowing fur.

The British Council is taking British artists to the Expo. Sadly, none of them Chinese. My mate Neil Hornick and his crew (lucky things!) will be committing street-theatre on the crowds queuing up to be two-minute through-put. I am told Queen Victoria may make an appearance.

More on Shanghai Expo 2010 at Ronin

Seed Cathedral: UK Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010



I first heard about the UK Pavilion in early 2009 when my friend Sonny Leong took me and actress Alice Lee along to a meeting with the British Council to lobby for the inclusion of British Chinese artists at the UK site for Shanghai Expo 2010. Coals to Newcastle it may have been, but what better way to show China's contribution to the world than illustrate where we are in the Chinese diaspora? Hey, China, this is one of the ways in which we've developed since leaving the Mothership, bringing it full circle. Don't we scrub up a treat?

My Big Idea was to take my comedy show, Anna May Wong Must Die!, to the Shanghai Expo, introducing the mitochondrial Eve of the Chinese diaspora, Hollywood's first movie legend, to Chinese audiences. And other artists who were using different artistic disciplines to tackle the same major figure in Western culture — whose birth centenary had just passed in 2005 — would show us in our infinite variety.

Over a delightful lunch of dim sum (thanks, Sonny) we presented our case. The two officers from the BC smiled and looked blank. They then got out a portfolio of sketches and photo mock-ups and embarked on a presentation of the UK Pavilion, which looked something like a giant hedgehog. Oohing and aahing, we awaited the expected conclusion: dates, capacity of the venue, that sort of thing. And we waited. And we waited.

The officers concluded their presentation and sat back. "So how many does it hold?" I asked.

They looked at each other and one of them told me, "We expect a through-put time of about two minutes."

Huh? A non sequitur if ever I heard one.

"Yes, but what's the audience capacity?"

Over a tortuous ten minutes or so it transpired that (and how typical does this sound) the UK Pavilion had no practical function. It was merely a thing of beauty to be admired. A bit like the upcoming Labour leadership contest if the Blair/Brown axis has it their own way.

As it turns out, the UK Pavilion — known as the Seed Cathedral — is indeed beautiful. It is a structure pierced by a myriad acrylic rods, each with an illuminated seed where the rods end in the pavilion, so it has some sort of ecological message, like nature is destined to museum status or something like that. And being flexible, the rods move in the breeze, giving the impression of glowing fur.

The British Council is taking British artists to the Expo. Sadly, none of them Chinese. My mate Neil Hornick and his crew (lucky things!) will be committing street-theatre on the crowds queuing up to be two-minute through-put. I am told Queen Victoria may make an appearance.

More on Shanghai Expo 2010 at Ronin

Monday, 17 May 2010

Chopsticks At Dawn: This Time It's Personal



I finally got all my links done for my Radio 4 programme, Chopsticks At Dawn, which goes out at 13:30 on Tuesday 8th June.

This was no mean feat, hobbled as I was by a bad bout of bronchitis brought on by hanging about in enclosed spaces with dear friends who love their smokes and will fight to the death for their right to indulge. Even if it's someone else's death. Thank you Roy Castle, wherever you are, for campaigning for smokers to keep their evil weed to themselves even as you were dying of cancer, the most famous passive smoking victim in the world — we wussies with weak lungs salute you.

A decoction of Chinese herbs twice a day seem to have held total vocal breakdown at bay. (I'll spare you details of the morning ritual of clearing my chest of gunge. Suffice to say it involved Loved One playing me like a pair of congas.) I sat there getting through the studio's stock of Twinings lemon and ginger tea with a big dollop of honey, relieved to find my chest and sinuses opening up under the influence of hot gingery goodness.

Fearing a croak might replace my usual warm, rich and resonant tones, I'd done plenty of vocal exercises and used the time before my studio slot to quietly declaim how Peter Piper had picked a a peck of pickled peppers whilst wondering if Peter Piper had done such a thing, how many pecks would Peter Piper now possess. Whatever a peck is. A fraction of a bushel, I'd venture.

A timing mix-up meant I was there nearly two hours early. So by the time I was sat behind the microphone, trying to avoid spraying the pop-shield with germs, I practically knew the script by heart. Pretty good considering I'd taken it to the wire and only finished the script in the early hours of the morning. Ending with a joke. That's always a good idea.

Breaking off only to cough in the ladylike manner which befits a BBC presenter, I did occasionally have to warn the studio to turn the speakers off at their end as I was about to vesuviate the contents of my thorax into a wodge of tissues in the manner of the volcano wot we can't pronounce. Attempting to actually pronounce 'Eyjafjallajokull' would have ended up with my innards decorating the sound booth.

I trust the pop-shield was removed with sterilised implements and ceremonially burnt. The Terror Of The Tongs.

Oh, you might be interested in the content of my latest magnum opus. (There have been several and will be many more.) It's about orientalism in Western music and I get to have a go at all those toons that were the bane of my young life with their Chop Suey riffs. Yes, about as authentically Chinese as a Vesta Chow Mein and almost as tasteful.

Enjoy.

Chopsticks At Dawn is written and presented by Anna Chen with Dr Jonathan Walker. Produced by Chris Eldon-Lee and Culture Wise.
Broadcast 13:30, Tuesday 8th June 2010
BBC Radio 4

Also featuring Derek Scott (Leeds Uni), Rachel Harris (SOAS). Plus the fabulously talented Sarah and Liz Liew of Chi2, Ben Chan (Big Yellow Band) and Jane Ng


More on Chopsticks at Dawn here

ShareThis