Tuesday 21 December 2010

Madam Miaow commended in blog round-up: leftie love-in

The left notoriously is often a rats-in-a-sack scenario, all sectarian spats and spite-fuelled hacks sucking up precious bodily fluids that would be better spent on challenging the system. It is therefore always cheering to receive support from fellow socialists.

Andy at Socialist Unity, one of the big beasts of the left blogosphere, has written up his end of year blog round-up and given Madam Miaow Says a big thumbs-up.
Anna’s blog “Madam Miaow Says” in particular is always both edgy and concise: her articles about Julian Assange have been very good. Anna’s strength is in never accepting the moral superiority of the West, while avoiding the trap of cheerleading for the West’s opponents.

Yay!. That's one for the hard-of-comprehension who write me those charming stalker notes on why my foreign-looking boat-race is inferior to aryan blondes, and demanding to know how often I pop over to the PRC for tea with Uncle Mao. (Not since I was a kid, as it happens. Visited China, that is, not hob-nobbed with world leaders. No-one's going to be bringing no fifty-carat dirty pebbles to my door at "what time d'ya call this?" o'clock in the small hours. Sadly.)

I'll second Andy's endorsement of Harpy Marx in particular, a principled comrade from whom I've learnt much about parliamentary politics. Elsewhere, Gauche has caught my eye, I'm waiting for the brilliant Dolphinarium to get into her stride, Laurie Penny is striding away in seven-league boots, and Jack Of Kent alternately delights and exasperates with his come-hither slappety-slapdowns of US-offending maverick males every time you think he's on the side of the angels.

2010 sees the end of Tory blogger Ian Dale (now moved to Total Politics) and Labourite Tom Harris, and I hope that the current hiatus over at Splintered Sunrise is only a temporary one.

Remember, guys, it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it, so it might as well be us.

Reminder: it's time for bloggers to get their submission in for the Orwell Prize 2011. Ten links to your favourite blogposts by the 11th January deadline.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Bradley Manning: Wikileaks hero was outspoken at school

The child was father to the man even back at school. Bradley Manning, perhaps the real hero of the massive Wikileaks saga, was outspoken in his challenge of authority as a schoolboy in Wales, according to a Channel 4 News report. He'd stand up for what he thought was important and knew he would "right a big wrong" one day.

Manning moved to Wales from the US in 2001 at 13, later joining the army where his impressive computer skills put him at the heart of government skullduggery as an intelligence analyst. Disillusioned with what he found there, such as the Iraq video designated "Collateral Murder", he released a repository of classified foreign policy so that the public could make informed decisions.

Prometheus was an ancient Greek mythical character, a Titan who stole the secret of fire from the gods and gave it to humanity, and was then punished by having his liver pecked out every day by an eagle, growing back each night so his torture was never-ending. In the same way, Bradley's prospects are looking pretty grim what with the American eagle being so mightily pissed off.

His fearless attitude is needed even more now that the large swathes of the media opinionati still in thrall to our political masters slip the truth a rohypnol, rationalising outrages and naturalising horrors. In Britain and the UK, with any luck, the student protests will be a fertile ground for Bradley's brand of integrity and idealism to take root once more.

Website: bradleymanning.org

Jack Of Kent speaks to Mark Stephens, Julian Assange's lawyer.

Glenn Greenwald on Manning being kept in inhuman conditions in Salon.com.

Monday 13 December 2010

Wonderful protest pic and PIL's Order Of Death

I don't know who took this great image of the recent student protests at Parliament but thanks to Charles Shaar Murray and Jon Savage for circulating it.

Meanwhile, here's a leedle sumthin' for everyone who voted for the LibDems: Public Image Limited's Order Of Death. "This is what you want, this is what you get."

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Free Assange: China should nominate Wikileaks founder for Nobel Prize

"FREE JULIAN ASSANGE!" declaims my mate Gauche on Facebook, to which the reply, surely, can only be, "... with every packet of condoms."

"Try our new Assange range. So featherweight, you'll never know it's on."

With US politicians calling for Wikileaks whistleblowing founder Julian Assange to be abducted and assassinated and not necessarily in that order, and his current incarceration in Her Majesty's Wandsworth Prison for alleged todger offences, one way or another this blond beast is being brought down for his Promethean release into the public domain of knowledge about the behaviour and attitudes of the people we pay for. At least he's not getting his liver pecked out every day by the US eagle, but don't tell Sarah Palin and start giving her ideas ... even if she does need a few.

It's like we've switched realities or someone has put a hallucinogen in the water supply. Or perhaps we're in the Matrix and this is the best story the system controllers can come up with: a sub-James Bond plot as life imitates schlock. There's even a sex subplot and a fine treacherous role for Sharon Stone as cooked up by Joe Esterhas in five coke-frenzied minutes.

Meanwhile, back at the funny farm: in another bit of cold war gamesmanship, Chinese Charter 8 dissident Liu Xiaobo gets his Nobel Peace Prize in a couple of days, joining that noble Nobel firmament of famous peaceniks such as Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair. While it is an utter disgrace that he should be imprisoned for disseminating ideas that challenge the government – and his wife shouldn't be banged up, either – I'd like to know exactly for which services to world peace Liu is being honoured.

I was hoping that China would nominate Julian Assange, as he really does seem to have ruffled hawkish feathers around the globe. But the Chinese have gone one better and created their own ceremony: the Confucius Peace Prize. Nominees include Bill Clinton (Somalia!), Bill Gates (oh dear!) and the Panchen Llama (cue Dalai hissy-fit). But they do seem to have missed a trick here and ignored the West's most persecuted dissident.

Which brings me back to America. In a further irony, the US will be hosting Press Freedom Day in 2011. Wow. ONE WHOLE DAY!

China should offer Julian Assange political asylum.

UPDATE: Tariq Ali on Liu Xiaobo.
For the record, Liu Xiaobo has stated publicly that in his view:
(a) China's tragedy is that it wasn't colonised for at least 300 years by a Western power or Japan. This would apparently have civilised it for ever;

(b) The Korean and Vietnam wars fought by the US were wars against totalitarianism and enhanced Washington's 'moral credibility';

(c) Bush was right to go to war in Iraq and Senator Kerry's criticisms were 'slander-mongering';

(d) Afghanistan? No surprises here: Full support for Nato's war.

Monday 6 December 2010

China should offer Julian Assange political asylum: Wikileaks dissident persecution

So the powers that be are circling like whitetip sharks at a Sharm el-Sheikh eat-all-u-can scuba feast, and are about to round up Julian Assange (thought to be hiding out in South East England — my bet's Brighton) on an extraordinary charge of refusing to wear a condom during consensual sex.

There must be many blokes out there shuddering at the thought of their own irresponsible sex-lives and fearing the midnight knock at the door. Wimmin, ladies, gurls, if you really care about Julian and freedom of information, go to Sweden with a sweetie, have unprotected sex and then shop your beau to the authorities, yelling, "I am Spartacus. And so is he. We shall not rubber up." Clog up the machinery, bruthas and sistahs.

China should give the Wikileaks dissident political asylum before he is arrested on trumped-up rape charges. (More about the charming Ms Anna Ardin and her unfortunate CIA connections here and here.) So what if he stirred it up between China and its spoilt child, North Korea? Offering asylum promises a few laughs and an embarrassment of riches — or a treasure trove of embarrassment.

Amazon and PayPal have played politics with their business, dumping their client, and now the Swiss Post Office has shut down one of Julian's bank accounts (this is Switzerland, fer cryin' out loud) — so much for market forces. Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin calls for him to be hunted down like a bear-shoot from a helicopter, and senior Republican Mick Huckabee demands his execution. Thank heavens I don't live in China where they shut down internet dissidents and freedom of speech.

What's the betting that the next Bond movie has a pussy-stroking villain eerily similar to our eccentric Antipodean idealist? (That pussy will get you into trouble every time!)

Talk about breaking a butterfly on a wheel.

UPDATE Tuesday 7th Dec 2010: Julian Assange has been arrested. It'll take a couple of days for the UK courts to decide whether or not he has a case to answer and whether he'll be extradited. Given the pressure from the US, it'll be a brave judge who frees him.

No condom Assange sex smear.

UPDATE 2: An interesting comment by Harpy Marx with links to some strong counterarguments, such as at Feministe.

China should nominate Assange for Nobel Peace Prize.

Sarah Palin done by John Mendelssohn

Tee, hee! A brilliant paeon/peony/pain/pee-on of praise for next US president Sarah Palin by my mate John Mendlessohn.

"How a long-time political progressive saw the light and came to embrace common-sense conservatism of the sort promulgated by Gov. Sarah Palin."

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Boycott Topshop and tax-avoiding oligarchs

Student occupation of Topshop

Here's a vivid example of the oligarchs currently fleecing the nation of tax revenue while also advising the coalition government on cutting public services. I wonder if Ferdinand Mount is as hard on Tory favourite "Sir" Phillip Green as he is on the infrastructure in which the rest of us survive. (See my last post on Mount's defence of the ConDems.)

As much as it pains me to refrain from purchasing from one of my preferred frockeries, I would rather go naked than put another penny into Green's piggy hands. He famously paid himself a dividend of £1.2 billion from profits by his Arcadia group (Topshop, Miss Selfridge, BHS and others), but made the cheque out to his wife, a resident of Monaco, thereby escaping a tax bill of some £280 million. And now he's wrecking lives of countless people by colluding with the thieving Bullingdonites running and ruining the country.

UKuncut organised an occupation of Topshop yesterday, a spokesman promising: "If you bring your market into our education, we will bring our education into your market."
"At 1.30pm on Monday 29th November, a group of students and citizens fighting cuts used Twitter and Facebook to organise a flashmob against Topshop where they staged a public lecture on the dangers of debt. Dressed as prisoners in a chain gang, enslaved to debt, they protested at Topshop's flagship store in Oxford Street."

Watch out for the spirited Laurie Penny in the video.


UKuncut website
UKuncut on Twitter

Richest 1,000 could pay off the deficit here

Saturday 27 November 2010

Ferdinand Mount's 'Orwell on the Oligarchs' lecture: how George would have loved the Tory cuts

Ferdinand Mount George Orwell memorial lecture
Well, I saw this coming a mile off. I knew that Ferdinand Mount was a novelist, Sunday Times columnist, Thatcher-era Tory grandee and former TLS editor when I heard him deliver his talk on 'Orwell and the Oligarchs' last night at the annual George Orwell Memorial Lecture hosted by Birkbeck. However, I had no idea he was also a cousin of David Cameron's Mum and a former baronet, yet I still managed to guess, about ten minutes in, on which side his fois gras was buttered.

More sophisticated than John Lloyd, whose carefully selected quotes at last week's talk on Orwell and Russia skewed Orwell into a hater of all things socialist rather than someone opposed to the Stalinist betrayal of the revolution, Ferdy knew how to get his audience on board.

He began well enough with the bleedin' obvious crowd-pleasing observation that the new oligarchs of business are having a larf with their pay. Directors are trousering hundreds of times the average pay of their own workers and Ferdy laid out how it's done with satirical aplomb.

Remuneration for boards of directors is out of control and has little to do with worth, stitched up by "mutual admiration societies" of executives and non-executives, leading to widescale looting and pillaging.

He highlighted the case of US company Household, bought by HSBC for £9 billion and which turned out to be an aggressive lender in the sub-prime market. Its inevitable fall was one of the first examples of collapse leading to the recession.

And yet ...

Building up to a full head of steam, he pleaded for self-examination, pointing out that while Marx and others in the leftist pantheon were willing to tear the mask off others, they failed to fully introspect themselves. And so Ferdy showed us how to do it, generously allowing himself the assumption that his way was the straight and narrow, pursued with enviable crystal clarity.

Thus Ferdy took us from George Orwell's critique of James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution and through to his own conclusion. Burnham, according to my Lovely Companion, made the rightward trek from Trotskyist to "ferocious right-wing-conservative". But he didn't travel far enough to the right for Ferdy, who detected a residual Trotskyism in Burnham's analysis that "capitalism was doomed". The state would take over, he warned, and rentier private capital would be smashed rather than retain any place in business. Orwell disagreed, foreseeing a trajectory towards an oligarchy where bankers and managers displaced scientists and productive talent, snatching a disproportionate share of the rewards. Power would be concentrated in fewer hands at the top and, indeed, Britain now has one of the most concentrated power elites in Europe.

And how does this destructive state of affairs manifest?

Not in the rich and powerful who make up the oligarchy: the upper classes salting away their cash in tax havens, dominating the media, and sucking out all the wealth with devil-take-the-hindmost gusto, apparently. Not in the smashing up our arts, culture and education and returning us to Victorian levels of poverty.

According to Ferdy, it is centralised government that is the Big Bad. After all that preamble, with one bound banking and business were suddenly off the hook and out of the equation, while the "thickening networks of controls" and "gigantism" were doing the damage. The Department of Education, f'rinstance, imposed its power on all aspects of education. What's more, municipal housing equates not with putting a roof over the heads of our citizens but with the loss of freedom for the tenants.

He harked back wistfully to a time of individual freedom before financial controls and regulations became oppressive. We all like to relive our glory days, and Ferdy's would have been around 1982-3 when he was a member of Margaret Thatcher's inner sanctum and heartthrob Ronald Reagan was dismantling US financial controls with the results we are still feeling today.

Ferdy wittered on about the virtues of the coalition government. Theirs is true liberalism, don'tcha know, an "apprehension of oligarchy concentrated in too few hands" aiming at a "devolved, plural, liberal" system without central government telling the little people what to do. The policy of Tory cuts, backed by the LibDems, is "the result of genuine dialogue designed to put right what's gone wrong." A "refreshing" "surfacing impulse to examine and put right the oligarchy".

Thus a banking crisis is turned into a crisis of public services. See what he did there?

It was fitting that this lecture should have been held in Senate House, the architectural inspiration for Orwell's Ministry of Truth.

Such was the tortured logic of the argument that the purpose of the lecture appeared to be to give succour to the Bullingdon bullies and legitimise the coalition government's savage policies. Do these guys sit down over dinner and work out a strategy for deceiving the public via the various media organs and propaganda outlets? Or does this stuff spring fully-formed like Minerva from heads hard-wired to work in self-serving concert? As Orwell wrote, you don't need a beaten dog when well-trained ones will do just as well.

The surreal lurch from a deserved castigation of the greed and corruption of the elite — Ferdy's peers — into an attack on our public services, and everything that made this country a pleasure, was bizarre to behold. If this is the best the right-wing intelligentsia can offer, pack them off to the dreaded Media Studies they loathe so much where perhaps they will learn to make their propagandising a teensy tad less transparent.

Birkbeck's invitation was a truly generous and charitable act, providing Mount's threadbare intellectual cast-off with home and shelter. Ferdinand Mount should be grateful that the great man himself was not in the house to offer the drily stinging rebuttal which some of us were aching to hear.

At close of play, Orwell may have been Mounted, but he certainly wasn't stuffed.

Gauche asks what sort of state is it that Labour wants?

Video: Ferdinand Mount's George Orwell Memorial Lecture, "Orwell and the Oligarchs".

Richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Friday 26 November 2010

Wilko Johnson presents Charles Shaar Murray with journalism award: Record of the Day 2010

The lovely readers of Record of the Day voted Charles Shaar Murray winner of the prestigious Outstanding Contribution to Music Journalism Award at last night's bash at the Idea Generation Gallery in Shoreditch.

Following an almost clean sweep of the awards by the newly rebooted NME, Charles's old alma mater — thanks to editor Krissi Murison who won the Editor of the Year Award — he impressed on the journos in the audience the importance of writing, not just about the music, but about what the music is about, including the political, spiritual and cultural landscape of the time. Which is largely what led to the success of the NME in its 1970s heyday.

As Charles said in his blockbuster speech, if you stick around long enough, you get your props.

Also getting his props since featuring in the Julian Temple film, OIl City Confidential, about the history of Britain's finest blues rock band Dr Feelgood, was the magnificent Wilko Johnson, guitarist, songwriter and singer, who was there to present the award to Charles. Two legends on one ticket — it doesn't get much better than this. (Shame they played "Milk & Alcohol" as his play-on music when it was recorded after he left the band.)

Lucky gurl that I yam, I got to talk to Wilko beforehand. He's very excited about the HBO series, Game Of Thrones, he's making for American TV in which he plays the mute villain Ilyn Payne (geddit?). Possessed of a rubbery face it was a delight to watch Wilko animatedly describing the role, the full-length chain mail suits, and the swords he has strapped to his back, poor lamb, making sitting down belween takes an impossibility. How we laughed, though, when he told us about how Sean Bean fares in confrontation with our hero/villain, which I can't possibly divulge here as that would be an almighty spoiler.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer writer Jane Espenson is also involved so this will be one to watch.

Charles and I urged him to sort out merchandise so we can have an articulated action doll of him in full regalia. Either that or we take him home.

UPDATE: For everyone outside the UK who's visiting this blogpost via the Winter Is Coming site, a bit more about the gorgeous much-loved Wilko. You may already know that he was the super-talented guitarist and songwriter with Dr Feelgood, the uber British pub-rock band of the 1970s who played up a storm with their hyper-energy blues rock. Not only that, his chiselled features made him one of the most beautiful men on the planet. If you haven't seen it, check out Julien Temple's documentary film, Oil City Confidential. This may help explain why there are guys of a certain age (40s and 50s) who, even though they may be stern upright citizens, turn into babbling fifteen year olds when talking about Wilko. I have never seen so many straight men go so silly over a rock hero. It's quite funny and sweet to watch.

Anyhow, we are all thrilled that Wilko's multiple skills have been revealed to a new audience across the Pond via Game Of Thrones, and hope you come to love him as much as we do. If you are lucky, you may even get to see him play. On New Year's Eve his band (with Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe) plays London's 100 Club which is now under threat, supported by Crosstown Lightnin'. Hope there's a US tour next year. Go see.

Wilko Johnson, Charles Shaar Murray, Record of the Day AwardCharles Shaar Murray and Wilko Johnson (pic Record of the Day)

Wilko Johnson, Charles Shaar Murray, Record of the Day AwardCharles Shaar Murray and Wilko Johnson (pic Record of the Day)

Wilko Johnson, Charles Shaar Murray, Anna ChenWilko Johnson, Anna Chen and Charles Shaar Murray

Wilko Johnson, Anna ChenWilko and Anna

Thursday 25 November 2010

Impossible shoes and sado-fashionism

I am reposting this item from July as the media seem to have caught up and noticed on the dominance of the killer heel in fashion over the past couple of years.

And I am supposed to walk in these, how?

The male species may not be aware of the torture-wear storming the shops this past year. Following the best few seasons for ages featuring frocks that I actually desire and which would be cramming my wardrobe if it weren't for (a) dosh (or lack thereof), (b) space (or lack thereof) and (c) my favourite outlet, Primark — bringing high fashion to the low rent — STILL failing to sort out its cheap labour sources ... the deity that rules these things has snuck in footwear that hates women.

Unbearable AND unwearable! Your choice this summer is flat flip-flop-style sandals with that alarming strap that threatens to slice your big toes from all the other little piggies; medium-height wedges that allow no movement in the dark night of the sole; and vertigo-inducing hobblers, example above (Top Shop). Steve Martin didn't call them "cruel shoes" for nothing.

What happened to good ol' Clarks, you may ask? Well, what happened with me was a pair of lovely black leather mid-heel boots that moulded beautifully to my size sevens, apart from the stitched band across the base of the toes that failed to give and pushed my big toe joint sideways, making walking painful even now.

China got rid of its bound feet decades ago, but here we are being lured back into crippling bondage boxes for our delicate tootsies. Do you know how similar to bound foot-stumps the current trend in foot shapes is? These things may look fab when you are reclining sexily, but have you watched women walking in them? Have you TRIED walking in them? Look at the angles on those things. They push your bum out at unnatural degrees closer to our Australopithecus ancestors, and force you to waddle like a duck.

France bans the veil but puts up with our young women crippling themselves permanently. If you are going to dictate what women should or shouldn't wear — which you should not be doing at all — I'd rather see Sarkozy banning Carla Bruni and her sisters from wearing these things in public than telling grown Muslim women they have no say in their own attire.

And, yes, I did buy a pair. Why do you ask?

Monday 22 November 2010

How Lefties Commit Romance

I just knocked this up on the xtranormal website. Romance lefty-style.

This is not based on any real people, living or dead, etc. Sort of.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Quantitave Easing Explained: utterly brilliant

Thanks to Mick for this gem about treasury bonds, the Federal Reserve, printing money the recession and the whole grim stitch-up. Economics made easy.

The richest 1,000 cud clear the deficit here

Friday 19 November 2010

China's take on the royal wedding: Kate and Wills

Thanks to Blood & Treasure for finding this very serious in-depth Chinese report on next year's wedding between commoner Kate Middleton and Prince William Wales/Windsor/Saxe Coburg Gotha. So much closer to socialism than his parents' pairing, don'tcha know?

Where's a revolution when you need it?

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Hungry Ghosts theatre review: China from the outside

Lourdes Faberes Andres Williams Hungry Ghosts Liv Tyler Lourdes Faberes and Andres Williams in Hungry Ghosts

Hungry Ghosts
Written and directed by Tim Luscombe
10 Nov - 11 Dec 2010
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Director/playwright Tim Luscombe sets out his agenda in the programme for Hungry Ghosts, his new play about human rights in China.

"We should remember that China's current leadership is in power only because in 1989 it repressed a fragile but potent democratic movement," he writes. This is more wishful thinking than evidence-based analysis. Whatever you may think of the Chinese government, not even the hardest-hearted of cold warriors considers the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest a serious threat to the continuing power of the ruling Communist party.

It seems to have been lost on the producers that the protest was actually several-fold, with supporters of the collapse of the state and its replacement by Western-style democracy forming only one strand: the one picked up by the western media. The struggle of the peasants and workers who had done so well under Mao's pre-reform welfare system — hundreds of thousands raised out of poverty and life-expectancy almost doubled — and who were protesting against the return of the capitalist practices wrecking their healthcare, iron-rice-bowl jobs and housing, is overlooked in favour of the western narrative, which has the Chinese looking to us as the model for their political system.

The lasting model we provided for China's emergence as a world power was the vision of Milton Friedman. The father of the Chicago School of neo-liberal pillage had, only a few months previously, been guest of honour of the Deng Xiaoping-led coterie at the head of the Communist Party, encouraging them to "modernise" and introduce the predations of the free market, thereby liberalising the economy and busting open state-owned assets for privatisation.

Luscombe's overwhelming cold-war impulse to knock China — rather than offer any illuminating critique of the elite who are shafting the masses — permeates the play. He occasionally gets facts wrong, such as one character's claim that "Mao told us to attack teachers". In fact, Mao's problem was that, once the Cultural Revolution was set in motion, he lost control of it. The Red Guards who beat teachers, leaving them maimed or dead, were not acting on instructions from the Centre. The Red Guards were not a single homogeneous mass with a single goal in a robot brain. Such was the chaos that different factions of Red Guards sprang up and fought each other, traumatising the fledgling state and wasting a decade and a generation.

We've come a long way since Fanshen, William Hinton's examination of what was happening in one village at the time of the revolution. The relentless hostility of Luscombe's outsider's-eye-view detracts from what is a sadly rare opportunity for Chinese actors to showcase themselves.

Three meaty roles differentiate character types who are not fully alive. The hungry ghosts of the title are driven political activist and tragic heroine Ping-de (Lucy Sheen); successful but dissipated sports journalist and communist Zhi-hui (Benedict Wong) now embracing capitalism with Chinese characteristics, a "communist Murray Walker" read by a quarter of the planet; and Liv (Lourdes Faberes), the sharp fortune cookie who thrives by selling her PR services to the corrupt world of Formula One racing.

Lucy Sheen Hungry GhostsLucy Sheen

Ping-de crashes into her estranged brother Zhi-hui's comfortable world, appealing for him to use his considerable clout with the party to save their activist sister Feng, who has been sentenced to death for treason due to her collection of evidence against corrupt officials.

Ping-de arrives in Zhi-hui's smart Shanghai apartment bearing the MacGuffin, an 8Gb memory stick containing facts so explosive in their revelation of local corruption and the brutal enforcement of the one-child policy that it could save Feng's life if it reaches the international media. A touching faith in the power of the Guardian in the information age, you might think.

East collides with West when Ping-de tries to enlist racing star Tyler (Andres Williams), who Zhi-hui is eager to interview, in her bid to get the memory stick out of China and save her sister. Tyler is being stuffed by his sponsors and owner, big bad Baz (Barry Stanton), who are ready to ditch him for a home-grown Chinese driver. Mixed-race Liv, played with subtle comic timing by Lourdes Faberes, combines the worst of both worlds, doing Baz's dirty work, from smuggling out antique buddhas to betraying her lover Tyler.

Luscombe's strength lies in his dialogue (when it's not languishing in sub-Lao Tzu homilies), with some gorgeously arch banter and witty turns of phrase as the characters pursue their objectives.

In a lovely cat-and-mouse power play between Zhi-hui and Tyler, Benedict Wong excels, exuding world-weary gravitas with the most gravelly of voices. "Here is very liberal. Free to advertise cigarettes." His shift into Mancunian to denote speech in native Chinese is perfect, never slipping for an instant and making it clear why some regard him as our foremost British Chinese actor.

The impressive Lucy Sheen who, like Wong has a couple of decades'-worth of experience behind her and the stage presence to go with it, takes on a whopper of a role as Ping-de. She keeps her controlled rage simmering nicely but is given little space to develop except to ratchet up the anger. The two of them express the ideas of the play but it is still the white guy who, as the protagonist, is the heart of the story.

Structurally this is linear and heavy on the longueurs. At two hours 25 minutes it could do with losing 20 minutes or so. Difficult I know when you are both writer and director but the scene towards the end, when brother fesses up to his sister, lasting 12 minutes or more, flows like wet cement and is truly a bum-acher.

In the end the Chinese characters are cyphers, mouthing political positions and keeping me out of the crudely drawn emotions despite some witty dialogue. Zhi-hui's reversal is vastly undermotivated and it is a credit to Wong that he disguises this jarring lurch of his character arc so artfully.

Being a performance in the round, designer Tim Meacock keeps the set simple with a red-laquer-washed floor, Chinese desk and sofas, all overlooked by a giant hollow-bellied buddha. A couple of ironies which, given the context, I doubt were intentional, two examples of what is rotten in the west: Liv's racing jacket emblazoned with the orange logo of the tax-evading Vodafone, and Tyler's Guantanamo orange racing suit, serving as a subliminal reminder of the West's own outrages. (Did Tim Luscombe deliberately use the name of the beautiful offspring of the Aerosmith lead singer and what's the erstwhile Arwen done to deserve this?)

I was left with the feeling that, if Chinese life is cheap in China, as the play asserts, then it's not much more valuable here in Britain. The programme claims that a combined number of 60,000 Chinese and Japanese died in the 1930s, completely ignoring the rape of Nanking and the estimated 1.5 million who died in the Second World War.

The Chinese are still being portrayed as either malevolent dragon ladies and lads or lotus blossoms in need of our protection. Do the producers really care about the plight of the Chinese? Or just one: the projection of the West into the character of one ghostly off-stage presence, the activist sister?

Benedict Wong Hungry GhostsBenedict Wong

Monday 15 November 2010

Labour woos UK Chinese in rebranding exercise

Ray Collins Labour Party General Secretary Sonny Leong Chinese For LabourRay Collins (Labour Party General Secretary) and Sonny Leong (Chair, Chinese For Labour)

Fancy "refreshing the Labour brand"?

The Labour training session at the weekend was a long-overdue attempt, pioneered by Chinese For Labour's chair Sonny Leong, to engage the Chinese, Britain's third-largest ethnic minority, in mainstream politics in order to find "credible" candidates for the 2011 election and haul them out of their isolation. The sad part of this innovation was the revelation that New Labour lurks like a coiled viper ready with the same old toxic policies that got us into the present mess where a right-wing coalition demolishes with no meaningful challenge what remains of the egalitarian society in which I grew up.

New Labour returns
Just when you thought it was safe to rebuild your movement ...

Richard Angell, the Deputy Director of Progress, the organ set up by arch-Blairite Derek Draper, opened proceedings by extolling the virtues of this "new Labour pressure group". Surely I must have heard that wrong? So I checked that he meant "new Labour ..." and not "New-Labour", but no, he was proud of the New Labour record that led to a fall of seats in the South from 45 to eight and ushered in the unelected ConDem Bullingdon vandals aided by Ramsay McClegg's lot. Arch-villain and New Labour architect "Lord" Peter Mandelson is, after all, supportive of key aspects of the coalition's attack on the poor.

Angell rushed in where even fools know the score, insisting that "we must know where we went wrong". But exactly what was it he identifies as going wrong? Like a pomo ad-man doomed to repeat history in ever diminishing circlets of hell, he ascribed the electorate's revulsion with Labour to not using "language they understand". We needed "the answers, not the problem ... solutions." We had to be "in the game and winning it," and "thinking the unthinkable". Be "bold, radical." "Yes we can," at the very moment the coiner of this platitudinous phrase was losing his mid-term election by a landslide.

And Angell's solution? It was crime what done us in. Even when all the figures show that crime was not the public's chief concern no matter how hard the Daily Mail tried to tell us it was so, and even though the crime rate was falling. Not the economy, not the war, not the crackdown on civil liberties, not the corruption, the sleaze, the expenses scandal, the infatuation with the rich and powerful and contempt for the poor. It was crime. Not even the causes of crime. It all fell apart when "we let the treasury deal with crime." People must learn not to commit crime ... crime ungood ... don't do it again. On Planet New Labour it is drummed into us that, "actions have consequences", which is hilarious when you consider these physicians can't even heal themselves.

How to rectify this? Fight them on the beaches? Organise in the workplace? Win the propaganda war at the hustings, in the media? Nope, we had to "go to the bars and talk to the people." I kid you not.

Platitude after platitude, cliché after cliché came thick and fast, but mostly thick, and had us reeling on the ropes. It was like banal rape — taken up the wrong'un with no chance of impregnation. The response to this utter vacuum of ideas, this tsunami of insubstance, this blizzard of buzzwords and rehashed politics while Rome is about to go up in flames, was a marked coolness from the 40 or so Chinese present. Hey, Richard, the stereotype of the Chinese being smart contains a grain of truth and if you think the ethnics are going to swallow your nonsense even with the implicit carrot that careers can be made, you are even more unsmart (to borrow his Orwellian Ministry of Truth speak) than you looked. As a seduction it was a big fat fail.

Sarah Mulley IPPR Mee Ling Ng Chinese For Labour Sonia Sodha DemosSarah Mulley (IPPR), Mee Ling Ng, (Chinese For Labour), and Sonia Sodha (Demos)

Women wonks rool
The two women wonks, Sarah Mulley, Associate Director of the Institute For Public Policy Research (IPPR), and Sonia Sodha, Head of the Public Finance Programme at Demos, on the other hand, were far more impressive and on top of their brief.

Sarah Mulley's flawless analysis, locating the cracks in the coalition government's vicious policies, homed in on their emphasis on immigration as a problem for them. This is in meltdown as she demonstrated with forensic clarity. They've set an impossible task for themselves resulting in splits in the government and even their business supporters kicking up over the cap on the importation of skilled labour.

In their haste to number-crunch and halve net immigration from 200,000 to 100,000 per year, the government neglected to work out how they can do this in real terms. With only foreign students paying top-whack fees, families, migrants already here and the highly skilled — such as lawyers, academics, doctors, and Chinese chefs — to pick on, they will end up cutting the figures by only ten percent. Boy, will the Mail be pissed.

Unlike Ed Balls who made immigration-as-a-problem his Unique Selling Point (USP) in the recent Labour leadership contest, Mulley said that this is one area where Labour has to avoid a race to the bottom with the Tories as they can never win. Besides, "this is not as big a concern to the electorate as the economy." Balls's campaign revealed the dark night of the Labour soul and the conflict between its internationalist impulse and exaggerated doorstep anxieties. Labour should stand their progressive ground and refuse to fight this battle on Tory turf.

Mulley understands this well, and yet they don't seem able to extend this principle to other issues of fairer taxation and wealth distribution.

Sonia Sodha talked abut the spending review and how the Tories had succeeded in boosting its economic credibility.

She said that despite Blair and Brown winning the economic argument in the run-up to the 1997 election and Brown making all the correct public sector investments, as well as bailing out the banks with the support of the Tories in the wake of the crisis, the Tories had turned the narrative on its head.

The silence of the shams
Unfortunately, she made no mention of how this happened, ignoring Labour's almost total silence between June, when the cuts policy was announced, and the October Bullingdon Budget, when that narrative was taking shape, or questioned why Ed Miliband couldn't even turn up to the first (very late!) protest as he had promised. In the face of such an onslaught, babies and leadership contests are no excuse for people who purport to be leaders of our nation: if you can't walk and chew gum at the same time, you should not be doing the job.

While the Tories are cutting too hard and fast, she claimed Labour would halve the deficit in 4-5 years. Even though the crisis was not of our making, Labour still capitulates to the right-wing claim that we need a combination of cuts and tax. It's just the proportions they are quibbling about: a quick death or the death of a thousand cuts. How very feudal Chinese of them. As Harpy Marx pointed out at another showdown with the Dark Forces, we've not had our £1.3 trillion bailout back, £70 billion is lost every year in tax avoidance or evasion, and we still have funds for Trident.

Not only that, but someone scrutinising the Sunday Times rich list spotted that "the richest 1,000 people in the UK could pay off the whole of the £159 billion public deficit tomorrow, just from the profits they have made last year out of the economic crisis. The collective wealth of the country's 1,000 richest people rose 30% last year in the wake of the economic crisis. Their combined wealth rose by more than £77bn to £333.5bn, the biggest annual increase in the 22-year history of the Sunday Times rich list."

Ross McKibbin in the London Review Of Books questions the whole con-job assertion that the cuts have anything to do with the economy and says the crisis allowed the Conservatives to transform a crisis of the banks into a crisis of the welfare state:
To the historian, especially of the 1931 crisis, the whole thing is sadly familiar. There is the same paralysis on the part of the Labour Party ... and everywhere the same ramped-up rhetoric: the country is on the edge, going bankrupt, capital will flee, and it is all Labour’s fault. And this time, as in 1931, there is much that is spurious. The country is not on the verge of bankruptcy. There is no evidence that the bond market was reacting against British debt, despite the best efforts of the Conservative Party to encourage it to do so. Our fiscal position was never like that of Greece, which had cooked the books and was struggling to cope with short-term government debt, though Osborne et al insisted it was. Why was it necessary to take such drastic action at all? Our debt ratio was much higher after the Second World War and neither Attlee nor Churchill felt any obligation to do what Cameron, Clegg and Osborne have done. Even Darling’s proposed schedule of deficit reduction seems excessively prudent. A less political chancellor might simply have allowed economic recovery (i.e. increased tax returns to the Treasury), modest reductions in new spending and inflation to deal with the debt.

(LRB hat tip Gauche who writes on Labour's poor showing here.)

The reality of the Tories' "Big Society" is 78 percent spending cuts and a miserly 22 percent rise in taxes. While Sodha points out that even Norman Lamont in the 1980s split the fiscal readjustment 50/50 between cuts and taxes, she still buys into their version — the best Labour can offer is the Tory levels in the Thatcher years. I asked her how she would like the deficit divvied up and she confessed she'd like to see it at a marginally more generous proportion of 60/40. In which case, why did "Red" Ed Miliband promote economics ignoramus Alan Johnson to the Treasury when he advocates 50/50, snubbing Ed Balls and his 60/40 split?

We know that the spending review is massively regressive with the bottom ten percent of the population (minus the very top two percent) picking up the tab for the banking crisis. But who is protecting them? Not Labour. In this climate, when the majority of the electorate would like to see the rich taxed highly to alleviate the pressure on the poor by the Bullingdon bullies, Johnson is hinting that he might even axe the measly 50 percent top rate of tax. To quote Amy Winehouse, what kind of fuckery is this?

Labour is stolidly on the back foot with the media determining policy in a time of crisis.

If this was a movie, we would be in the final reel with the monster still not dead. In fact, this promises to be an umpteen-sequel franchise which won't come to an end until Jamie Lee Curtis comes in swinging a bloody great axe to put the New Labour horror out of our collective misery.

Richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Friday 12 November 2010

Student protests mark revival of spirit and challenge to ConDem cuts

A brilliant piece by John Harris here, exposes the right-wing lies pushed by the ConDem media wing about the cuts.

The students who stormed Millbank Tory headquarters on Wednesday are the canaries down the mine. They indicate the level of protest to come when the cuts bite. Greedy bastards such as the tax-avoiding billionaire Philip Green and dodgy former BP head Lord Browne who are helming the attack on the poor, leading to workhouse-style free labour, homelessness and exodus of the poorest from the cities, may think they have a free run, but Harris finds evidence in the polls — largely ignored by the press — that people aren't as stupid as the government hopes.

As Harris writes:
More generally, presumably to the delight of the government, a cliche has long since oozed into the reporting of what they are up to: that people accept the need for drastic austerity, and are meekly preparing for the necessary dose of fiscal medicine. ... the share of people who think the government has made either the right or wrong calls on public spending is evenly split: 41% and 38% respectively, while one in five simply don't know; 40% of people disagree with the idea that the coalition's approach will improve the state of the economy; while 49% reject the idea that, as the coalition insists, public services will somehow improve in the long run; 47% oppose cutting back the number of people who work in the public sector. Public opinion, it seems, is as contorted and contradictory as ever – and for the government, there is much less comfort than you might imagine.

Unlike the mainstream media, we can see that the real vandalism and violence being done to our society is by an unelected government with no mandate to carry out their attacks while preserving their own wealth and privilege.

If we are all in this together, welfare state vandals like Osborne should get their millions out of offshore havens and start paying proper tax. A steep rise in tax for those earning over £100 K, a Robin Hood Tobin tax on city deals, swingeing levels of tax on bankers' bonuses at least until our £1.3 trillion bailout is repaid, and the closure of tax loopholes are all needed if we are to start repairing the damage done by the bankers to the world economy.

Wednesday's student protest at Millbank was a heartening reminder that the spirit of resistance is alive. In the absence of any leadership from a supine Labour party, this looks like the only way forward.

Laurie Penny on the front line.

How the richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Student protests mark revival of spirit and challenge to ConDem cuts

A brilliant piece by John Harris here, exposes the right-wing lies pushed by the ConDem media wing about the cuts.

The students who stormed Millbank Tory headquarters on Wednesday are the canaries down the mine. They indicate the level of protest to come when the cuts bite. Greedy bastards such as the tax-avoiding billionaire Philip Green and dodgy former BP head Lord Browne who are helming the attack on the poor, leading to workhouse-style free labour, homelessness and exodus of the poorest from the cities, may think they have a free run, but Harris finds evidence in the polls — largely ignored by the press — that people aren't as stupid as the government hopes.

As Harris writes:
More generally, presumably to the delight of the government, a cliche has long since oozed into the reporting of what they are up to: that people accept the need for drastic austerity, and are meekly preparing for the necessary dose of fiscal medicine. ... the share of people who think the government has made either the right or wrong calls on public spending is evenly split: 41% and 38% respectively, while one in five simply don't know; 40% of people disagree with the idea that the coalition's approach will improve the state of the economy; while 49% reject the idea that, as the coalition insists, public services will somehow improve in the long run; 47% oppose cutting back the number of people who work in the public sector. Public opinion, it seems, is as contorted and contradictory as ever – and for the government, there is much less comfort than you might imagine.

Unlike the mainstream media, we can see that the real vandalism and violence being done to our society is by an unelected government with no mandate to carry out their attacks while preserving their own wealth and privilege.

If we are all in this together, welfare state vandals like Osborne should get their millions out of offshore havens and start paying proper tax. A steep rise in tax for those earning over £100 K, a Robin Hood Tobin tax on city deals, swingeing levels of tax on bankers' bonuses at least until our £1.3 trillion bailout is repaid, and the closure of tax loopholes are all needed if we are to start repairing the damage done by the bankers to the world economy.

Wednesday's student protest at Millbank was a heartening reminder that the spirit of resistance is alive. In the absence of any leadership from a supine Labour party, this looks like the only way forward.

Laurie Penny on the front line.

How the richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Thursday 11 November 2010

Cameron team wears poppies in China

Yes, that's a great idea. Wear poppies on a trade visit to China in the 150th anniversary year marking the end of the Opium Wars when Britain forced cheap Bengal opium on the Chinese people at the point of a gun.

Prime Minister David Cameron may think he is remembering the dead of World Wars One and Two, but in China the vivid symbols only serve as a reminder of Western arrogance and corruption and the Chinese who died due to the actions of a ruthless invading force. That's like a German delegation visiting Coventry and wearing doodlebug bomb badges emblazoned with "Ballroom Blitz". Is this in-yer-face callousness regarding British cruelty abroad the right way to go about touting for trade? Nah! Wouldn't think so.

I'm quoted in today's Evening Standard, responding to Cameron's breathtaking cheek in lecturing the Chinese on international responsibility. China certainly needs to clean up its act in regard to free speech and rights, and is slowly loosening up, but for us — the country that helped start the illegal Iraq war, approved of rendition and torture of its subjects — to deliver the lecture is nothing short of gobsmacking hypocrisy.

Under the Tory LibDem coalition government, which we did not vote for in our democratic elections, lives are being destroyed and a trajectory set for a return to Victorian levels of poverty. I can see a time coming when we'll envy the Chinese.

As for telling another nation to adjust its economy to help us out of a hole, have America or Britain ever done this to ease the debts of foreign countries? I thought it was all market forces. In fact, this means socialism for our rulers but dog-eat-dog capitalism for everyone else. The Chinese economy is made up of thousands of small factories with tiny profit margins making our crap for us. A revaluation of the yuan will mean whole swathes of production wiped out. If the reverse were needed, would America destroy great chunks of its industry with mass unemployment and civil unrest in order to placate another country in trouble due to a crisis that wasn't of our making? They will be making snowmen in hell before this ever happens.

[EDIT 2022: This event ended up marking the start of the Golden Era in UK China relations, brought to a close by the US and Boris Johnson. As for free speech and human rights, China and the US/UK are now travelling in opposite directions. "I can see a time coming when we'll envy the Chinese," is happening. Rising life expectancy; lowering of pollution and the world's biggest investment in fighting Climate Change; 850 million raised out of absolute poverty while US tent cites and UK food banks proliferate; the creation of a huge 550 million-strong middle-class, almost twice the size of America's population; personal safety and no gun killings; Harvard research shows over 95 per cent of China's people support the government, especially after it prevented an estimated five million deaths had China gone down the US/UK route of letting Covid rip through the population.]

Tuesday 9 November 2010

The Forum, BBC World Service, and Anna May Wong in Nunhead

You can hear me talking about Hollywood legend Anna May Wong this Sunday on the BBC World Service's The Forum at 9am. Chaired by Bridget Kendall, I'm on with Professor Dimitar Sasselov, discussing Super-earths, and Kwame Anthony Appiah on honour revolutions.

Bob From Brockley tells me there's a chance to see Anna May Wong on the big(gish) screen in Nunhead next month with a showing of Piccadilly (1929), her last silent movie which some have said is her best film ever.

Don't miss out on this night.
1920s Soho is coming to Nunhead!
A classic silent film with live music score
4th December, 8pm
Tickets £8

This classic silent film will be screened with live musical score for one night only at the Ivy House pub in Nunhead. Seated in the style of a 1920s club you will be able to enjoy period cocktails from the bar.

Described by Martin Scorsese as “one of the truly great films of the silent era”, Piccadilly will be accompanied by an evocative improvised score performed by acclaimed Russian accordionist Igor Outkine.

Trailer and booking information www.brockleyjackfilmclub.co.uk/piccadilly

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Tuesday 2 November 2010

Striking firefighters attacked by managers: propaganda wars have to be fought

Pic by Harpy Marx

Only a slave has no right to withdraw their labour. But 5,500 brave men and women threatened with the sack have been denied the right to defend their jobs.

And now in two separate incidents, fire service managers have physically attacked striking firefighters, one driving a car into the Croydon picket line, and one driving a firetruck into a picket line outside Southwark station, smashing up one guy's pelvis. Well I guess he won't be putting out any fires any time soon. But you probably don't know about this. Because the media has gone curiously schtum when it comes to reporting the strikes from the workers' perspective. The BBC didn't even report the fact that the drivers were managers.

So what are the strikes about? The press claim they are demanding a £10,000 pay rise. This is such an absurd lie. As bloggers such as Lenin's Tomb are reporting:
The dispute is about shift patterns and the threat of cuts to night-time cover, but the strike was prompted by management's bullying tactics, wherein they used a section 188 notice to threaten all workers with redundancy unless they accepted the new terms. ... Such moves are taking place all over the country as part of the government's cuts agenda, as tens of thousands of council workers have been threatened with the same threat of redundancy unless they accept lower pay. ... The incompetence of the scab replacement firm, Assetco, has become nearly legendary. Destroying vehicles, letting houses burn to the ground, calling out striking firefighters to handle situations which they are just not trained or equipped to handle, are just a few examples of their last display.

The war on the firefighters has turned vicious with one leaked email promising to "unleash hell" on the FBU. Everywhere you look there are stories demonising them with total distortions of the truth. During the 7/7 bombings in London, firefighters at Kings Cross refused to walk on rails that might have been live until it was confirmed the electricty had been switched off. Yes, that would have been useful. Fried firefighters requiring paremedic help that should have been devoted to the injured and unable to do any good. Are they supposed to be reckless with their own lives and resources?

Similarly, The Daily Mail reports that a fire crew watched while a man drowned. And yet, dig deeper, as LBC's James O'Brien did, and you discover the situation is different.

The London Weighting Allowance is paid to workers who either live in London or who can't afford to live there and have to commute to the capital to protect us from disaster, and yet the Mail was fed names and addresses of a tiny number of firefighters who live elsewhere as if they shouldn't be recompensed for the extra travel and expense incurred when they are on duty.

There's a brilliant demolition of the anti-firefighters propaganda in the media by James O'Brien at LBC radio. Do listen here. It is a refreshing counter-balance to the lies rampant in the media.

As I have been arguing of late, there is a propaganda war going on and you ignore it at your peril, whether it be over the firefighters or the deficit and Tory cuts.

A day of shocking violence against FBU pickets. MORE >

Brian Coleman paid £107k for attacking firefighters but he can’t turn up for critical meetings.

UPDATE: In case you don't know, the new terms the firefighters are being forced to accept include 12 hour-shifts. Linda Smith in the Guardian:
This year, the management has decided we should work to 12-hour shifts. When firefighters were surveyed, a whopping 97% of us said we disagreed with the idea. Why? Our lives are organised around our current shifts, and longer shifts would affect not only our own lives but those of our families. Many of us would return home to sleeping children. We would have to wave goodbye to family time and any semblance of a social life. And we suspect that our management would eventually allow "differential cover", meaning fewer staff on call at night – which is when we have the highest rate of casualties. ... Unfortunately, the management decided to invoke section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which would allow them to legally sack us all, and to offer us re-employment contracts only on their terms.

Smith's take-home pay after 25 years of service is £1,800 per month, now frozen for three years.

Pix of vehicle driven into picket from Jess Hurd here

Brilliant demolition of the right-wing argument in London Review Of Books by Ross McKibbin: Nothing to do with the economy.

How the richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Sunday 31 October 2010

Vodafone tax protests put Left and TUC to shame

Look. This is what can be achieved with imagination and a bit of media savvy. The sneaky Vodafone deal whereby the ConDem coalition government (that did NOT win the election) let them off £6 billion in taxes owed to the British public while smashing up our society with draconian cuts has been thrust into the media spotlight by independent activists.

So where is the leadership from the Left, whether it be Labour, the TUC or the far left? The sad old dinosaurs and sectarians have had MONTHS to get their act together. Yet all they could do was hold a couple of demos in the week of the actual cuts with another planned manyana.

Meanwhile, the right have been given a free run in the media with the BBC especially shameful in their reinforcing of the cutters' narrative. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to listen to the BBC R4 Today programme coverage on the morning of the Bullingdon Budget (thanks Armando Iannucci) on October 20th, spitting blood over the presentation of the right agenda with no balance except for a meek and mild Mark Steel at the very end.

Did they have a team harrying the BBC editors to present the economically literate side, as articulated by Robert Skidlelsky, and as demanded by their public remit? Aside from the odd token appearance allowed of commentators such as Skidelsky and Ken Loach (who put up a damn good fight versus Michael Heseltine on Newsnight), we were left almost entirely without spokespersons. Selective vox pop meant that the Tory cutting lie was halfway around the world before the truth had got its pants on.

There is a groundswell of disgust with the left's inaction over the assault on our services with the suspicion that Labour is keeping quiet because it, too, would have pushed through similarly swingeing cuts. Johnson instead of Balls in the Treasury? Wrong bit of anatomy, mate. See, I told you "Red" Ed Miliband was all pantomime (here and here), confirmed when he didn't even turn up for the first of the demos as he'd promised.

I look forward to more Vodafone-style action from the public while the Left and the TUC find their balls, now officially MIA.

False Economy
False Economy on Facebook
Paul Anderson in Tribune
Johann Hari in The Independent

Saturday 30 October 2010

Ozzy Osbourne meets Tony Blair: War Pigs

Ah, the wit and wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne, clown prince of rock 'n' roll but a breath of fresh air among the creepier psychofrantic wing of the liberal media.

While some present Blair as a sincere chap who, f'rinstance, donated his £4 million book advance to the British Legion out of the goodness of his own heart, which I say was the price of buying back his brand taking a clobbering in the nether regions of the advance book sales lists, Ozzy paints a very different picture of his fan.

From Ozzy's hilarious autobiography, I Am Ozzy (Sphere, Little Brown) a small but telling moment when Blair schmoozed while soldiers and civilians died in his war:
I'm not so comfortable with politicians. Meeting them always feels weird and a bit creepy, no matter who it is. For example, I met Tony Blair during The Osbournes period at this thing called the Pride of Britain Awards. He was all right, I suppose; very charming. But I couldn't get over the fact that our young soldiers were dying out in the Middle East and he could still find time to hang out with pop stars.

Then he came over to me and said, "I was in a rock 'n' roll band once, y'know?"

I said, "So I believe, Prime Minister."

"But I could never work out the chords to 'Iron Man'."

I wanted to say, "Fuck me, Tony, that's a staggering piece of information, that is. I mean, you're at war with Afghanistan, people are getting blown up all over the place, so who honestly gives a fuck that you could never work out the chords to 'Iron Man'?"

But they're all the same, so there's no point getting wound up about it.

A quick reminder of those Black Sabbath War Pigs lyrics:
Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death's construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord yeah!

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor
Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait 'til their judgement day comes

Now in darkness world stops turning
Ashes where the bodies burning
No more war pigs have the power
Hand of God has struck the hour
Day of judgement, God is calling
On their knees the war pigs crawling
Begging mercy for their sins
Satan laughing spreads his wings
Oh lord yeah!

Monday 25 October 2010

Gauguin at the Tate review: Derek & Clive go to the pictures

I finally saw the Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) exhibition at the Tate Modern yesterday and, yep, it had more breasts than a Bernard Matthews turkey farm.

It's an interesting look at a former impressionist who predates Matisse in his use of colour and the surface plane of the canvas. Murkier than the great colourist or even Van Gogh en masse, the subject matter was also a bit more, er, limited? A tiny tad "one note', shall we say? All T & A, or, for variety, T or A. As my lovely companion observed, the arses follow you around the room.

There's a hilarious schizophrenic collision of what the gallery wants you to focus on through their high-tone wall texts, and the glaring obviousity that Gauguin was a white bourgeois having much fun with the native girls of Tahiti and the Polynesian South Seas whilst away from his Parisian home.

Overwhelmingly comprising paintings of naked and half-clad dusky women, the exhibition provides a slightly disturbing portrait of a white man immersing himself in the local "colour" and enthusiastically dipping his paintbrush at the drop of a lei. As if Gary Glitter, having spent happy times in Indo-China, produced an oeuvre of work recording the musical delights of his exploits for our delectation.

Gauguin, the double of Alfred Molina (who played him in a recent TV biopic), sought the pagan but initially found the missionary position as the Christian missionaries got there before he did, arming the islanders against their own innocent sexuality with biblical tracts in a process some call civilising and others might think was bloody imperialist cheek. Gauguin made the reverse journey, recreating primitivist fantasies of a lost age in his art. He morphed from bourgeois banker to "savage" ... and he did it very well.

In the last room we were most gobsmacked to learn that Gauguin died of syphillis. WHAT??? Yer kiiiiddiiiing! I'd've thought him more likely to have been hit by an Acme piano dropped from a great height by Wile E. Coyote.

But here's Derek & Clive putting it far more eloquently than I ever could. (Phooey to the purists who point out that this is actually a Pete 'n' Dud routine.)

Admission: Adult £13.50.
Runs until 16 Jan. Sun-Thu 10.00-18.00. Fri & Sat 10.00-22.00. Closed 24-26 Dec.
Telephone: 020 7887 8888.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Anti-cuts demo: Harpy Marx has pix

Harpy Marx has a great set of pix of today's anti-cuts protest in London at her website, including this rather fetching portrait of the proletariat's finest.

I like a man in uniform. Actually, I don't. But I'll make an exception for these chaps. You can come and rescue my cat stuck up a tree any time. (Be still my beating heart.)

Anti-cuts demo: Harpy Marx has pix

Harpy Marx has a great set of pix of today's anti-cuts protest in London at her website, including this rather fetching portrait of the proletariat's finest.

I like a man in uniform. Actually, I don't. But I'll make an exception for these chaps. You can come and rescue my cat stuck up a tree any time. (Be still my beating heart.)

Dr Patrick Nolan defends bankers: Orwell Prize launch

I offer in evidence of the depraved mindset of the managerial class imposing the Tory cuts this video from the Orwell Prize launch debate (Thursday 21st Oct 2011) on Poverty and the Spending Review.

The charmless Dr Patrick Nolan argues that the bankers are innocent while the plebs who sneak smokes back across the channel and small businesses who work the system are to blame.

Tumbrils. Now.

More on Dr Patrick Nolan here

Video 3 of Nolan's original speech here.

Harpy Marx's comments from the floor, followed by Penny Red, in video 8 here

Friday 22 October 2010

Orwell Prize launch debate: poverty and Tory cuts

The nuts were on the platform, but where were the crisps? Laid out with less legroom than a Romanian airline, last night's Orwell Prize drinks 'n' nibbles launch at London's Frontline Club was a hot and sweaty affair with the faintest methane miasma of drains. The worst flatulence, however, was to come as we gained an insight into the mindset running the economy into the ground.

Four members of the intelligentsia did little to challenge the right-wing narrative that the ConDem coalition cuts are necessary, that we all have to share in the misery, and that there's not a lot we can do. David "Mr Polly Toynbee" Walker got off to a promising start, speaking of the invisibility of the poor and questioning the responsibility of the media in "enhancing the opacity of our fellow citizens". He listed achievements and failures of the Labour government to tackle poverty, concluding that the glass was half empty and half full. "Many of Osborne's destructions announced yesterday had been presaged by successive Labour secretaries of State for Social Security and two Labour Chancellors," who'd already targeted groups of poor people on benefits. Thirteen years of Labour government had left a gap of fifteen years in terms of health and longevity between the best and worst off. But he never nailed the argument that we have been reading the current economic situation through a series of distorting mirrors wielded by the Tories.

Lisa Harker (former co-director of the IPPR) wrung her hands but said little of substance. [EDIT: apols to Lisa but I mixed her up with Meg Russell whose performance at the 2010 Orwell Prize shortlist event earlier this year I was trying to forget when, horror-struck by nasty members of the public who had produced a Wanted poster lampooning the Westminster benefit cheats, she'd had to be calmed down by Helena Kennedy.]

Chris Giles of the Financial Times gave us facts and figures proving that the Tories were dissembling with their figures, but the chief source of entertainment for the mob – er, I mean the us – was the twitchy New Zealand Chief Economist for Reform and former adviser to the New Zealand government, Dr Patrick Nolan.

A classic bean-counting wonk too parsimonious even to move his mouth when he spoke, giving the unfortunate impression of a cat who'd just walked into the room backwards, his case seemed to rest on the assertion that there was too big an ageing population, as if this was a nuisance rather than something to be celebrated in an advanced society. He cited Canada as a success story, where a vicious right-wing government had laid into the poor with gusto in order to stabilise the economy. Nolan said you should never run any deficit. He also slagged off Joseph Stiglitz who, as gamekeeper-turned-poacher and a prominent critic of globalisation, is a bit of a hero to many of us seeking an equitable society.

Nolan really won us over with his claim that you don't measure the health service by the number of nurses, or the education system by the number of buildings. It's quality of spending, not quantity, ya dig. He should tell the rich to remember that next time they count their moolah. He was all about why we had to pick up the bill as "communities" and individuals had to take more responsibility because governments had less money.

As my lovely companion murmered, where's this money going to? The debt is all domestic. Then he said something about "it's the bond markets" and I felt my nictitating membrane flutter as it always does when sleep beckons.

The best moment came when my mates got to work from the floor. Sigh! My heroes.

First Louise (Harpy Marx) asked why no-one had mentioned the cost of Trident, "stupid, futile wars", the £1.3 trillion bail-out for the bankers, or the £70 billion lost in tax evasion every year. "It's always the poor who pay for this, this is an ideological attack on the poor." You can listen to her contribution here.

Then Laurie Penny (New Statesman and Penny Red) observed that the panel was allowing the ideology of the right to set the terms of the event. "The financial failings of the rich are being blamed on the moral failings of the poor."

Sadly, the Orwell Prize You Tube Channel has omitted video No 9 which has Nolan's response. Luckily, I made notes and was paying attention. [EDIT: Saturday 23rd Oct, vid 9 — the Nolan Tape —is now up.]

Nolan launched his riposte with a huffy "How predictable you mention banks and tax. I won't ask if you'd actually bothered to look at the statistics ...". He could have responded to Louise's comments by offering evidence in a coruscating counter-argument but instead eyeballed Louise and repeatedly demanded she "clarify which taxes were most prone to avoidance and who are the people who are most cheating the system." (Thanks Carl Raincoat at Though Cowards Flinch for finding the Spectator article written by the Great Man in his neurosis to have the last word.)

I did respond to his haranguing (you can hear my deep Joan Greenwood tones in video 9), and I should add that by this point the audience was most definitely sniggering at him and not with him. "It's easy to blame the bankers," he blustered, the only point where we all agreed. The tetchy sheep doctor should have got his pearl-grey tank-top off our lawn and allowed some proper debate. "Ahem, the Tolpuddle Martyrs," our Jean had to remind him when he Frank Fielded on the notion of protest and we yelled, "Suffragettes!". And totally correct she was, too.

After this staggering lack of empathy for the weakest in society, I want tumbrils rolling in the streets. I may even take up knitting. Or at least do my make-up during the speeches as Laurie "Red" Penny did last night to stave off boredom and fury.

If they want class warfare, may I suggest we give them class warfare?


Tied up in a neat bow with a red ribbon.

The Orwell Prize You Tube Channel here

How the richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here