Friday 15 March 2024

View from the Edge Bulletin 2: Margate Grains of Sand

First published at Anna's new website: ANNA CHEN

Previously in View from the Edge … When David Bowie died in 2016 he took all the cosmic glue with him. Some suspect that we’ve all been trapped in a science fiction writer’s coma dream ever since. Or was there an earlier rip in the multiverse?

EDGE BULLETIN 1: Dateline 20 February 2024

By Anna Chen

Margate Grains of Sand

I nearly died in Margate when I was six. It was my own fault. I’d hitched a ride on another girl’s inflatable oval ring which she was paddling into the deep end of the holiday resort’s ancient open-air bathing pool. Set deep into the beach, the rectangle of seaweed-covered rocks filled with grey seawater with each high tide. It felt like it had been there forever: a seaside Stonehenge harnessing the elements.

Somewhere around the middle of the pool, I lost my balance and fell in. A non-swimmer who could barely doggy-paddle, I slipped into the murky water with hardly a splash. Each of the three times I surfaced to gulp air, all I glimpsed were a few shuttered snapshots. Strands of white cloud against the watery sky, the pool’s green-black walls, the girl’s rictus of laughter.

I know how many times it was because I counted. Even at that young age I knew you only had three goes and then you were gone.

Each time I rose, I threw my spindly arm over the ring long enough to take a quick, shallow breath. And each time I slipped from the wet plastic, my own meagre body weight dragging me down.

The fourth time I was desperate. It was, after all, my first-ever race against death. Eye-level with the horizontal seam running along the outside of the inflatable, I noticed the half inch of material sticking out all round. Too small for a fist to grab (and I tried), it was, however, with lightning-fast fine-tuning of motor skills, wide enough for a child’s nimble little fingers to pinch and provide enough buoyancy for a proper breath, if not for a scream.

I managed short, slippery grips while the girl paddled her inflatable into the deep end towards some mysterious purpose from which nothing could distract her. My own objective was to reach the wall and safety before my fingers weakened.

Finally, a few feet away, I let go and lurched towards it, abandoning the sanctuary of the half-inch seam. I grabbed at it only to find a fistful of seaweed slipping through my fingers. Finding no purchase, I slid down a sheer wall of slime, enveloped in weedy fronds. Exhaustion eventually overcame buoyancy. I finally gave up the struggle and accepted my fate.

As I hung suspended in time, in a distantly familiar environment only six years passing, I watched the light playing through the water. I felt completely calm, even peaceful, my only anxiety being that my mother was going to be very angry when she found out. Especially as she’d told me explicitly not to go near the pool which she’d correctly numbered as an unguarded death-trap. I started to breathe in water. It didn’t hurt. I felt no fear. It was almost beautiful. I’d surrendered completely.

It seemed an age but must have only been a few moments before a hand roughly grasped the back of my neck and hauled me out.

I gagged and spluttered to my feet, head pounding, surrounded by a small crowd on Margate sands. Bedraggled and quite embarrassed, I was suddenly overcome by a wave of dread of my mum’s fury, a dread amplified by an outraged chorus of “where’s the mother?” If the pool hadn’t killed me, my mother might well finish the job. What a choice — my own Scylla and Charybdis.

I sometimes wonder if I did die that day and everything since then in this world has been the imaginings of a six-year-old in her last moments. An eternity in the grains of sand on which I stumbled back to our basement holiday rooms in the down-at-heel Royal Crescent.

Because what I’m watching in this “Now” is what a child might construct had she missed her expected life trajectory. If she’d found herself banished to an unrealised, other-worldly plane in which she was left extrapolating a path for humanity from the little experience she’d picked up in her short life, this might very well be it.

She might well be regaining consciousness in a shrieking nosedive into a multiverse gone wrong as capitalism crashes to its flaming end, her widening eyes pulling focus all the way.

Plunging into the snarling instant gratification of immediate primal needs in the most advanced system on the planet, explained by a figure she’d invented called Karl Marx, in a cycle of events to which only someone severely damaged would willingly submit, she might well ask what the hell happened and how do I get out of this.

Did everything change at the Mother Portal? Did I, grasping at seaweed and straws, rename it the Ma Gate in my final moments? Does it really have a revivification chamber called Dreamland?

To be continued ….

Edge Bulletin 2 – Logged 20 February 2024 by Anna Chen

View from the Edge Bulletin 1: The science fiction writer's coma dream

Friday 23 February 2024

View from the Edge Bulletin 1: Coma Dream

First published at Anna's new website: ANNA CHEN

EDGE BULLETIN 1: Dateline 18 June 2023

By Anna Chen

The science fiction writer’s coma dream

For the longest time it felt like we were trapped in a science fiction writer’s coma dream and nobody could wake him up. We sensed something shifting underfoot, tiny spider-web cracks at first, then the juddering tectonic shift and the beginnings of a rip in the universe. Or was it just the post-war liberal order coming to an end as the capitalist cycle neared completion with all the goodness finally sucked out and nothing more left to give?

David Bowie left us in January 2016, taking all the cosmic glue with him. He’d given us five years. That would take us to 2021. How much worse could it get?

First the empathy went. Then the critical thinking. A cloud of amnesia floated like swarming locusts over the field of human view, before settling invisibly.

We were the last remnants of a better time, a higher collective consciousness when, despite the flaws and age-old crimes, mostly everything was on an upward trajectory. Humankind flowing towards the Great Attractor; full potential, us at our best.

Never before had the mass of any population enjoyed the advantages of princes. Time to spend toiling less in fields and factories and more on the things of wonder and beauty. We enjoyed poetry, philosophy, science, music. We even made it ourselves, no longer solely passive consumers of the crumbs thrown our way, but building things and thinking new possibilities into existence.

Then the storm began to gather.

Someone wanted it all back. A slow, incessant, silent assassin killing off what generations had built up in 400 years of Enlightenment.

They didn’t have to burn books. They just made sure fewer and fewer of us read them.

Giant conglomerates undercut the bookstores while we were busy amusing ourselves to death. You saw them die off in the towns, those peculiar little caches of humanity’s knowledge. It was the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, this time in slomo. A process of attrition rather than all-out war, it crept up on us. We were the frogs being boiled slowly and served up with garlic sauce.

This one was digging out the roots of our perception. We’d have stuck our fists in the dyke to plug the outpouring, but where was the wall? Where were the cracks? What was the flow and how could we physically stop it?

Thinking it wasn’t enough. The resistance stayed in the heads of the few who saw it but we couldn’t yank it out into the concrete world where the damage was being done, foundations ripped up.

All the small, delicate dendritic connections began to wither and erode as our neurotransmitters dried up. The finest filaments, the sprigs and twiglets at the furthest ends, turned brittle and crumbled, blowing away like ash.

Then the larger twigs. Then along the stems, working its way down the branches until the bough broke and all we had left was brainstem. The world perceived without nuance; crude clashing opposites, grunts and cliches, pleasure and pain without the pleasure, ones and zeros.

It wore down to basic sex drives and fury: fight, flee or fuck. Then even that failed as our libido was throttled.

The television screen that had once been a window into the wider world, seducing us by showing us experiences we were unlikely to have ourselves, that had laid out vicarious pleasures like lacy underwear and chocolates on silk pillows, was now our jailor.

Dramas that drew you into the complex curlicues of thought, that surprised and shed light, now reduced humans to hysterics, never alive unless confronted by death.

The Case for the Prosecution that had once been balanced by a robust Case for the Defence in a society where fair play was the purported pinnacle of civilised existence now stood thuggish and triumphant like a roaring champ over the lifeless body of its opponent. No longer thesis-antithesis-synthesis, but one big tough-guy imposition of narrative smashing your head like a sledgehammer crushes a nut.

With nothing feeding us and no other coordinates directing us to a distanced perspective, everything collapsed into a single plane of grey mush.

Might was right.

Some had done hallucinogenic altered states drugs in their youth and knew the enhanced colours, the deep focus untangling. Others had loved beyond themselves and accessed the divine that way.

This was the opposite. A smashing together of plane after plane after plane, like the pancaking floors of the Twin Towers, into a single dimensional watery-grey contrast-free haze, like the morning after the death of the universe.

Where was up? Which way was down? We only moved when prodded with a big stick stimulus, tasered by horror. We weren’t even lab rats in a maze any more. We were amoeba cells on the petri dish of some mad scientist who thought there were too many of us anyway.

In the time we had left, we noticed few written items online carried dates any more, collapsing chronology and making orientation near impossible. It was hard to tell when something was written, when that idea was born, or what its genesis might have been. How did it slot into the timeline? Meta led the metaverse attempt to yank us out of reality and into their Matrix knock-off. An anaesthetising, soporific tranquiliser in a little headset.

When that failed, they gave us Artificial Intelligence that wasn’t very intelligent after all. More a big fancy word-processor relieving us of the need to experience and have the thoughts ourselves in the way your subconscious once processed all your experiences, gave them shape and made sense of them. Or not.

It was a good party trick, but the magicians never truly produced the rabbit, only a simulacrum of one.

That’s what we were to them, ones and zeros being programmed, our information stripped from us to create the world for the next pliant generation. They wanted newborns no longer sucking at the teat of the TV screen, or the iPad or the mobile phone but shrouded, cocooned, all stimulus inserted via goggles.

So what was to be done?

It was simple, really. All I had to do was complete three missions in the 21st century.

1) Make sure the left didn’t bury the anti-Iraq War campaign, one of the first countries in the long line of boxes being ticked off, the way they’d done with all the others. As long as it didn’t end up as another forgotten walk in the park, we might stand a chance. Check.

2) Make visible the invisible and humanise the Chinese in the culture, on the BBC and in the rest of the media. Usher them out of the ghetto, where they were sitting ducks, before the war started in earnest. Nice try.

3) Stop World War 3. Still working on it.

Edge Bulletin 1 – Logged 18 June 2023

More at Anna Chen's website

Sunday 31 December 2023

Heroes and villains of 2023: Xi Jinping or Boris Johnson?

First published at Anna's new website: ANNA CHEN

Boris Johnson’s scary clown career

Boris Johnson scary clown (Photo Jannes van den Wouwer - Unsplash)

In the month that Twitter/X deleted my 15-year old Madam Miaow account, the longest consistent commentary from a Chinese Brit (since 2008), it’s hard to take the West’s moral high ground seriously. No violations. Six appeals with ID, all falling on deaf ears. Free speech? Democracy? Really?

At the end of 2023, it’s worth delving into claims of western superiority and taking a look at how heroes and villains have been shaped by media narratives. Which ones are cracking and who’s shining through?

I think most of the public by now recognise Boris Johnson’s role as all the Horsemen of the Apocalypse rolled into one overfed scary clown. It’s hard to overlook his achievements.

Johnson pauperised Britain with Brexit, losing us our biggest market that happened to be on our doorstep. Costs £100bn a year. Poverty kills.

He handed us over to the US war machine so we now do their bidding. World War III in the making.

Partied like Nero unbound while Covid spread. There are now 220K dead Brits, the second highest number in the developed world.

Personally scuppered the Ukraine peace deal negotiation, April 2022. NYT says 500K dead.
We were dragged from the EU frying pan into the US fire, on the referendum's simple majority vote of 37% of the population. And now look at the state of us. Instead of delivering the yummy trade deals with China as promised, Johnson nailed us to the USS Titanic and torpedoed our global lifeboat. Now we send war fleets to China’s coast instead of cargo ships.

Rising China and a thriving West

Is it a coincidence that years of low inflation coincided with a rising China making our stuff cheaply and allowing consumers living in a decaying West to live beyond our means? Instead of winning deals, Johnson ended our hi-tech development. Agreeing to rip out our Huawei 5G infrastructure (for which we’d already paid billions), despite GCHQ having done a thorough investigation which cleared the company, plunged us further into the backwater status that Brexit wrought. And we still don’t have a US trade deal.

All this hollering about purported Chinese human rights abuses has been a useful deflection from October’s Afghanistan war crimes inquiry. Because real civilians killed in their own home by British forces don’t count. Current horrors in Gaza expose just how flimsy the West’s self-image really is.

Despite impressing no-one at the UK Covid Inquiry, Johnson’s been given a job at the Daily Mail.

Xi Jinping (Photo James B Cutchin - Flckr)

Xi Jinping takes on Jack Ma

Far more column inches have been blared at us about Xi Jinping’s imagined failings than about the effects of Brexit and the Covid pandemic which is still with us. (Wear a mask!)

Just one example of the gaslighting to which the MSM is subjecting us: how Xi dealt with Jack Ma and Ant Group.

It’s a given that Jack Ma is the West’s ideal Chinese capitalist, having created the ecommerce behemoth Alibaba whose shares were even owned by Queen Elizabeth II. He started out as a much-loved philanthropist. Among many charitable endeavors, his Jack Ma Foundation funded an enormously useful Covid pandemic resource, tragically ignored by the West to our collective detriment.

However, that changed on 3 November 2020 when China’s financial regulators, with Xi’s approval, halted the massive Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Ma’s Ant Group which had grown out of Alibaba’s success. Now, with Wall Street investors slavering, why would Xi do that?

In the cage fight of communist ideals versus raw capitalism, the government won. After years of tensions, it quashed the eagerly awaited $350-450 billion IPO of the Giant Ant Group in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Set to be the biggest stock offering in history, this mega-debut threatened to render the giant group too big to fail. Furthermore, Ant Financial defied regulatory protective measures by working outside the rules. Ma openly dismissed the regulations set up to prevent systemic financial risk as “red tape”.

Xi Jinping could have taken the easy route and taken US heat off himself by letting the IPO slide by.

However, China had already saved the world economy from the US Great Crash of 2008 by acting as a shock absorber. It bought up US debt, took the hit of allowing global currencies to devalue against the yuan, encouraged consumption by the biggest middle-class on the Earth, invested hugely to stimulate growth and kick-started the longest-ever bull-run in US market history. With that near-fatal meltdown still in the rear-view mirror, and aware that in the ailing US it’s business that runs the government – reaping low taxes and endless bailouts with devastating consequences for American society – the CPC was never going to allow that to happen in China.

As a result of this eleventh-hour halt, the Chinese economy was no longer allowed to overheat and run into a crash. Boom and bust was not to be a feature of China’s system.

Wall Street was enraged. Xi Jinping became the target for the West’s fury.

Xi Jinping saves China’s economy from the shark fest

To worsen Jack Ma’s fall from grace, he appeared to turn on his own workers, who had made his business empire such a success.

One might have thought that, in a communist society, the people who helped make Alibaba one of the most profitable companies in the world would have been treated as pampered examples of the joys of capitalism with socialist characteristics. In the UK, John Lewis Partnership staff share in the wealth. In Silicon Valley, employees are given idyllic campus conditions with luxurious rest-rooms, indoor slides, entertainment in the very fabric of the buildings. Google employees work 40-45 hour weeks.

Instead of showing how China could do even better, he pushed his luck further by defending the dreaded 996 work conditions: 9am-9pm, 6 days a week, 72 hours a week for workers. Given that he was one of the richest men on the planet, this seemed a little selfish.

By halting the IPO, Xi saved the economy, prevented a slow business coup and preserved the upward trajectory for China’s workers. The subsequent all-out assault by the press tells us more about western objectives for China than it does about Xi’s character. If China’s vast economy is blasted open for a capitalist feeding frenzy, Chinese society can look to America as the model for a 996 future and worse.

Not forgetting Benjamin Netanyahu

Lastly, Benjamin Netanyahu …

Already facing prosecution and unprecedented street protests in Israel for his power grab against the judges, Netanyahu was in deep trouble at home. Earlier in the year he pleaded with America to join him in a war on Iran. America said no.

We now know that he had been funding theocratic Hamas via Qatar to prevent the foundation of a Palestinian state. Israel evidently preferred religious fundamentalists to the secular leadership who might have negotiated a peaceful solution. To make matters worse, he knew there was an attack being planned, which came on 7 October, having been informed about it by Egypt and by locals.

He now has the US and the rest of the axis on board as he wanted. There have been 22,000 Palestinian deaths in less than three months and rising. Meanwhile, Israel has signed oil drilling rights off the Gaza coast.


* * * * *

NOTE: Taiwan is legally part of China as recognised in the West’s One China policy since President Nixon in 1979. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which the US is not signed up, defines the strait not as international waters (as it lies between two parts of the same country), but as China’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Running warships through the strait is not legal.

Shakedown Timeline of America’s 21st Century war on China

Anna Chen’s replacement Twitter/X account: @AnnaChenMiaow

Anna's website: ANNA CHEN

Monday 4 December 2023

Has the US had its chips? Chip tech under fire

First published at Anna's new website: ANNA CHEN

Chip tech (Photo Jiefeng Jiang)

The US semiconductor technology war against itself

US chip tech once more faces government friendly fire, courtesy of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s rant about cutting off China from AI technology. Severance in the same way you might close a stable post equine scarper: is it the door or the horse that’s bolted?

Welcome to late stage capitalism where making a buck is no longer the name of the game. Trashing your competitor is the aim.

Military interests are now prioritised over straight up capitalist concerns, which must be worrying for supertech manufacturer Nvidia. “Such is life, protecting our national security matters more than short term revenue,” scolded Raimondo.

It’s alarming to see the USA lurch deeper into self-harm as it loses its top-dog ranking. But, however much it yearns for its old supremacy, it can howl at the moon and gnash its teeth all it likes. That won’t rescue the oligarchs from their self-made predicament. Which stage of grief are we at now? Still stuck at anger?

The intellectual, diplomatic and economic skillsets supposedly exemplified by America in the postwar years should have come to its rescue. Instead, it grew old before it grew wise. We’re left with geriatric grandpa having a tantrum and spraying his nappy contents over the world while the rest of us duck and cover.

Behind the rage, however, fear stalks the upper crust. Abandoning cooperation in its bullying hubris, the elite discovered itself to be incapable of competing on a level playing field. A fundamental aspect of its national self-image, this failure to win has been wounding.

A last-ditch attempt to regain past glories resorted to mobster tactics when all else collapsed. Trying to smash China’s kneecaps at every turn was so not a good look. Especially when it rebounded spectacularly, spurring China on to even bigger and better advancements in chip technology.

The glass slipper fitted Cinderella courtesy of a cosmos that was evidently on the newcomer’s side. Cutting off its own toes wouldn’t help the Ugly Sister one bit.

Yet here is America doing exactly that when the chips are down.

Because if it’s Monday it must be tech time. Again.

Joe “Not on my watch” Biden explicitly aims to handicap China’s chip tech for 10 years. China’s had its chips and it ain’t getting ours, says Gina Raimondo, as if this is a brilliant new strategy, even though depriving the rising superpower of semi-conductors has only accelerated its advances. Suffer ye Silicon Valley to save our status.

“Chip tech ours. No way are we letting China catch up. Biggest threat. China not our friend. Protect America. Game on, game on. Exterminate, exterminate, exterminate!” (Okay, either that last bit was a dalek or I’ve been listening to too much news.) If madness is repeating the same act over and over despite getting the same results, then the boomerang must have hit America square in the noggin.

An obsolete system even chip tech protectionism can’t save

The US represents an old mode of thinking for an obsolete system that no longer works for its people. While it may be horrible to live through these events, it is also undeniably fascinating. Like watching the fall of the Roman Empire in a few years rather than decades, in fast motion speed for a modern sensibility conditioned by binge-watching.

It has painted itself unnecessarily into a corner where it behaves like the proverbial cornered rodent when it should have held on to friendship and cooperation. They’d have been better off if military supremacy had never been tested but had remained a mystery. After all, China’s a known quantity when it comes to helping the Numero Uno superpower out of a tight spot. Think of the 2008 US Great Crash, when China raced to the rescue instead of letting the global economy burn.

Now China’s forced to take defensive measures and spend on building up its armed forces. And, hey, guess what? They’re even catching up on that. The US’s only remaining advantage is decades of advertising psychology: whipping up fear, desire, unrealisable self-image. All converging in war fever.

And who is this for? Not the American working and middle classes who’ve seen their share of national wealth drop alarmingly.

“America leads the world in artificial intelligence … That’s because of our private sector,” Raimondo boasted. Private wealth, not public good.

Without a change of heart and a return to cooperation, all the US state has left to look forward to is continued collapse. Or at questionable best, ossification as the world’s military overlord, maintaining its position through brute terror. Suzanne Collins nailed this structure in The Hunger Games with the Capitol, ruled by President Snow, at the centre of Panem’s 13 districts.

“Panem is a sovereign nuclear state and democratic constitutional republic established sometime after a series of ecological disasters and a global conflict brought about the collapse of modern civilization. It is situated in North America, consisting of a federal district, the Capitol, and thirteen outlying districts.”

And there you have it. The American model for the future with a shrinking number of beneficiaries feeding off the districts whose people yearn to be free. “Protect the Capitol! Hide the chips!”

* * * * *

Tech links below courtesy of William Huo. Follow him at Twitter for reliable China tech info.

HOW HUAWEI MADE A CUTTING EDGE CHIP IN CHINA AND SURPRISED THE US: China’s flagship smartphone maker pulled off the feat despite sanctions. Hush, hush, sweet Charlotte … “This article from Ars Technica tells the story of how Huawei and SMIC managed to produce a powerful smartphone chip, the Kirin 9000S, despite the US sanctions that cut them off from global semiconductor supply chains. It reveals how the companies used vast resources, state support, and innovative techniques to overcome the challenges and achieve a breakthrough in AI chip production.” WH

US CHIP SANCTIONS “KNEECAP” CHINA’S TECH INDUSTRY: The toughest export restrictions yet cut off AI hardware and chipmaking tools crucial to China’s commercial and military ambitions. “This article from WIRED explains how the US export controls, announced in October 2022, aim to keep China’s AI industry stuck in the dark ages by blocking its access to advanced chips and chipmaking equipment. It also discusses how the restrictions affect China’s leading tech companies, such as Alibaba, Baidu, and ByteDance, and what strategies they might adopt to cope with the situation.” WH

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION IMPOSES SWEEPING TECH RESTRICTIONS ON CHINA: New rules include measure to exclude China from using semiconductor chips made anywhere in world with US tools – Reuters/Guardian 7 October 2022. “Report on the Biden administration’s decision to publish a set of export controls in October 2022, including a measure to cut China off from certain semiconductor chips made anywhere in the world with US tools. It describes how the rules are designed to slow down China’s technological and military advances, and how they have sparked criticism and backlash from China and some US companies.” WH

US CHIP TECH SANCTIONS MAY NOT BE ENOUGH TO DETER CHINA’S MILITARY AMBITIONS: “East Asia Forum report, 30 August 2023, analyzes the impact and limitations of the US chip sanctions on China’s military modernization. It argues that the restrictions may not be effective in deterring China’s development of data-intensive AI models, supercomputers, and hypersonic missiles, as China has alternative sources of chips and can leverage its domestic capabilities and partnerships. It also suggests that the US should pursue a more cooperative and constructive approach with China on technology issues.” WH

SHAKEDOWN: Timeline of America’s 21st Century War on China — the Opium Wars on steroids

DON QUIXOTE IN THE WHITE HOUSE: from windmills to stray weather balloons, the monsters inside the American id

US CHIPS AND SCIENCE ACT July 2022 to subsidise the highly profitable US semiconductor industry with $280b budget. Passes in August 2022.


Anna's website: ANNA CHEN

Friday 24 November 2023

The Wars of the Roses: Shakespeare First Folio 400th anniversary

Anna's new website: ANNA CHEN

Review of The Wars of the Roses: Shakespeare First Folio 400th anniversary

By Anna Chen. First published by Asia Times 13 November 2023

On this month’s 400th anniversary of the First Folio’s publication, what looks like a simple squaring up of combative parties is more a dodecahedron of feuding interests.

William Shakespeare’s history play cycle, a cynic’s take on human relations in favour of the strong leader who will restore equilibrium and God’s order, strips bare the mindset that kicked off Britain’s empire now wheezing into a comeback effort. First time as tragedy, second time top-and-tailing the empire years with added farce.

Binge-watching Shakespeare’s The Wars of the Roses — Henry VI parts 1 and 2, and Richard III — you realise nothing changes.

On this month’s 400th anniversary of the First Folio’s publication, what looks like a simple squaring up of combative parties is more a dodecahedron of feuding interests. Scratch the surface and deduce that humanity is less straightforwardly angel-and-devil, even if lunacy and the callous intent of leaders tell us otherwise.

The BBC is currently broadcasting three Shakespeare series to a Britain in sharp decline and waxing nostalgic about the high points of its culture. Out of these, the 2012-2016 BBC series, “The Hollow Crown”, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Tricky Dicky, enthralls the most.

I’m not Cumberbatch’s biggest fan, but in this he was superbad, summoning mesmerizing subtleties of demonic malice and wearing a prosthetic hump a lot better than Richard wears the crown.

If “The Elephant Man” told us beauty is only skin deep, “Richard III” returns us to an age when a deformed body is seen as a corporeal manifestation of the devil within. Yet Cumberbatch injects psychological light and shade into one of theatre’s greatest villains.

I’ve watched the 1965 and 1983 versions of The Wars Of The Roses in the past month, but was confused even while viewing with my laptop open at history pages and stopping to check who was stabbing who in the back and why.

In Peter Hall’s classic 1965 production for the BBC, a modern audience can easily lose the plot. Unkind souls might assume this is because we have the memory of goldfish.

Others might put it down to a now-dated acting style dependent on a booming vocal delivery, exemplified in the much-parodied Donald Sinden playing Richard, Duke of York.

I like David Warner in his later screen incarnations but I never quite believed him as the fragile Henry since the strong character that made him a favorite baddie was never far below the surface. His vocal approximation of weakness is never convincing. The series is also hamstrung by the limited, fuzzy black-and-white camerawork of the period, and by being stage-bound.

There’s a Great Leap Forward with the BBC Shakespeare Collection from 1983, but its faithfulness to the entire unedited text sometimes hampers its narrative thrust and clarity. The children’s playroom mise en scene and hyper-theatrical style also renders it obtrusively stagey.

This beautiful box set is impressive and eminently strokable, but it’s the 2012-2016 BBC series “The Hollow Crown” that brilliantly nails the throughline via expeditious editing (much of Joan of Arc’s arc is left out) and the amplification of the subtext in unspoken actors’ business clarifying what’s happening. Glossy production values and location filming also help.

Shakespeare’s story is an entangled briar patch. Trouble starts with the descendants of King Edward III (1312-1377) and his wife, Philippa of Hainaut. Actually, it goes back even earlier to Geoffrey of Anjou, the French count who founded the Plantagenet dynasty. Yes, our British monarchy is not only German but French. Very French.

It’s a given that Henry VI (1421-1471) is as weak as Richard II (1367-1400) before him, Richard being the tragic usurped son of Edward, The Black Prince, the eldest son of Edward III.

That line of succession is snuffed out with childless King Richard’s death, propelling the line of the second son — Lionel, Duke of Clarence (1338-1368) — to pole position, led, at the time of the play, by Richard, Duke of York (1411-1460) through his mother Anne, Lionel’s great-granddaughter.

York is also father of Edward IV to be, George “drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine” Duke of Clarence, and a misshapen creature named Richard. These are the white roses of York.

However, the snuffing has been done by upstart Henry Bolingbroke — son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Edward III’s son number THREE — the regicide who crowns himself Henry IV by clearing out Richard II to make way for the Lancastrian line: the red roses.

Henry IV’s son, Henry V, unleashes the dogs of war and wins back swathes of French home turf for his band of brothers. His sensitive son, Henry VI, loses it all again and leaves the power vacuum without which we would not have had the drama, or, probably, the current crop of Windsors.

You may now have some sympathy for my recourse to the laptop when cutting through the history thickets of the Wars of The Roses’ family tree.

How would Shakespeare manage to flatter his royal audience and avoid offending his murderous patrons by pointing out that, actually, the Plantagenets had the better claim to succession, being descended from the second son?

You could present them as syphilitics, psychos, sadists and child killers whose deformed bodies are manifestations of twisted souls. Or incompetent mad fools who brought it upon themselves.

Henry VI falls into the latter camp. Several times he makes a decision providing a plot point that you know is going to have grim consequences. However, it’s only in the 2012 production that you get the full face-palm revelation that his well-intentioned decisions are going to reap the whirlwind. At times you want to yell, “He’s behind you!”

Henry is blind to the depths of the seething rivalries and hunger for power that permeates even the furniture. The throne is referred to throughout as “the chair” as if this is going to disguise the vaulting ambition of his family.

Shakespeare employs Greek tragic irony, where every step his protagonist takes to create harmony and enjoy a peaceful life is the very move that makes his relatives spit blood.

When Henry’s uncle, the neutral Gloucester, is killed by the Lancastrians, Henry banishes red rose Somerset and Suffolk. So far, so decisive. However, the manipulating Queen Margaret, Henry’s wife and daughter of the current Count of Anjou, pleads her lover Somerset’s case. Henry’s feeble character is further revealed when he relents, enraging the Yorkists and turbo-charging the drama.

This is a cynic’s take on human relations in favour of the strong man (or woman – Elizabeth I would have seen the play) who will restore equilibrium and God’s order. Shakespeare knew how to flatter his audience even if it means abandoning the Christian “blessed are the peacemakers.”

Even when characters do make decisions, hubris abounds and the fallout mounts. A bad decision is as bad as timidity if it’s the wrong choice. No sooner is Edward IV on the “chair” than he seizes defeat from the jaws of victory by rejecting the French princess and marrying widow Elizabeth Woodville, of course, infuriating everyone.

Despite the playwright’s efforts, our sympathy is with Henry VI when he’s traumatized by the Battle of Towton, with carnage which has been compared to the Somme. He strips away his power along with his clothing and tosses his crown into a river. He never wanted this role, having been made king at only nine months old on Henry V’s death.

Not for him dad’s self-justifying rationale, “What watch the King keeps to maintain the peace, whose hours the peasant best advantages.” Henry VI longs for “white hairs and a quiet grave.” “O piteous spectacle! O bloody times! While lions war and battle for their dens, poor harmless lambs abide their enmity. Weep, wretched man, I’ll aid thee tear for tear and that our hearts and eyes like civil war.” The choice back then was defeat or destruction: “If you contend, a thousand lives must wither.” Sad to see today’s power politics reverting to a barbarous age where diplomacy and the common good of humanity are blown up because one side has to crush, kill and destroy the other.

As ever, ultimate blame falls on women, even in Elizabethan times. Joan of Arc is defamed as being a vengeful witch rather than a freedom fighter for France. And Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, is the she-wolf who exploits poor Henry and is the source of the Thirty Years War between Plantagenets and Lancastrians.

It was the French who coined the phrase cherchez la femme — “look for the woman” when incapable of taking responsibility for their own drives and errors. Blame everyone else, indulge your rage, take everything.

The First Folio’s 400th anniversary finds The Wars of the Roses coming full circle, only five years after it seemed peace was breaking out across the world, with a stabilizing global economy and growing prosperity.

As Richard III says,
” I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other”

Like I said, nuthin’ changes. Watch out for the Dicks.


Anna's website: ANNA CHEN

Thursday 23 November 2023

Masters of the Universe: Stuart Seldowitz race-bait meltdown

Anna's new website: ANNA CHEN

US state department official Stuart Seldowitz arrested and sacked for race-baiting food vendor

When Stuart Seldowitz launched his Islamophobic rant at a New York food truck vendor, he discovered the hard way that his Masters of the Universe privileges had been rescinded.

Gloating grotesquely, “We killed 4,000 kids, it wasn’t enough. We should have killed more”, about the raging carnage in Gaza, Seldowitz hadn’t reckoned on the public’s collective sense of injustice making the vendor’s video go viral. If he had been an average jerk off the street, his hate-fuelled tirade would have been bad enough. The revelation that this oleaginous sophisticate had been deputy director of the US State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs, provides a major insight into the perverse attitudes in charge.

It wasn’t even the first time he’d harassed food worker Mohammad Hussein. He’d returned again and again over two weeks to insult him and his religion until Hussein finally caught him on camera. Maybe he couldn’t get enough of the halal cuisine. Or maybe he was a sadistic supremacist venting his inadequacy on someone doing his job.

The authorities dragged their heels for two weeks but have finally detained him. New York police charged him with aggravated harassment, hate crime stalking, stalking causing fear, and stalking at a place of employment.

On top of this, we now know that Seldowitz had spent a year harassing the Russian consulate, calling women working there “whores”.

It’ll be glossed over but, if a picture speaks a thousand words, Stuart leaves us with an indelible snapshot of the state of western hegemony.

He is the walking mindset of the ruling class with its pants down. A glimpse of what lurks beneath the superficial charm.

His assumption that this triumphalist behaviour is socially acceptable demonstrates the distance between the governing class and the rest of us. A picture of the dominant western male whose time at the top is over, Seldowitz is more than just an individual bully. He embodies America at the historical pivot of world power and the failure of character in dealing with it.

More Masters of the Universe: Niall Ferguson and his “Killer Apps”

Anna's website: ANNA CHEN