Sunday 30 January 2011

Julian Assange under attack for grooming crimes

What madness is this? Three new books launch savage attacks on Julian Assange, one of them excoriating him for smelling as if he hadn't washed for days.

May I just say, 'So frikkin' what?'

Assange's one-time collaborator The New York Times publishes its ebook Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy tomorrow. The NYT executive editor, Bill Keller, is reported to have said:
'He was alert but dishevelled, like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-coloured sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles. He smelled as if he hadn't bathed for days.'

The Guardian's book, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, is also published tomorrow.

Labelled a 'freak' by fairweather friends such as Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a Wikileaks co-founder who has written Inside WikiLeaks: My Time at the World's Most Dangerous Website, Assange is being used as an example pour encourager les autres for the rest of us to conform. Heaven forfend that anyone should be thought 'weird'.

Assange is a man who has incurred the wrath of the greatest state power on earth in order to liberate certain facts that are now being buried under a mountain of irrelevance. He's had death threats and faces the possibility of being chucked in gaol and the key thrown away, as they are doing to Bradley Manning. And critics are focusing on his grooming?

Genius Albert Einstein had a wardrobe of mostly identical clothes so he wouldn't have to think about what to wear, and was also said to have smelt like a polecat. But I don't see evidence that his contemporaries wrote off his contribution to humankind on the basis of his grooming.

After all, without Albert, we'd never have seen the atom split or produced nuclear weaponry ... (Er, let me think about this one.)

There may well be valid criticism of Assange, but diminishing the importance of the leaks themselves by providing a tawdry diversion does not serve anyone but the very forces Wikileaks and Open Leaks are supposed to be challenging.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Militarised Hamlet at the National Theatre: review

A fighter plane roars overhead. Lights come up on a bleak black-and-white Elsinore Castle. Soldiers in camouflage strike the familiar high-shouldered automatic rifle-toting power-pose so beloved of army recruitment ads, sorry, TV & movies. Who needs a bare bodkin when a Bullpup SA80 can do the job?

Two youths — Hamlet and Laertes — lose their fathers and seek revenge, leading to much blood-letting and misery all round. The plot is familiar but director Nicholas Hytner tries to find a modern spin for his first-ever bite at the great Dane.

Hytner chooses a modern militarised setting with new king of the castle, Hamlet's Uncle Claudius, ruling by way of a surveillance society, and bumbling old Polonius actually a Walsinghamesque head of the secret service. Something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark, possibly the whiff of testosterone permeating the masculine iconography. Armed spooks in snappy suits and earpieces lurk like club bouncers, while soldiers in trousers at half-mast over sexy high-laced bovver boots are on call at the flick of a switch to coked-up banging techno.

No wonder poor sensitive Hamlet is driven half mad.

When his father's ghost (James Laurenson) tells his son that his Uncle Claudius (Patrick Malahide) is both regicide and fratricide as well as schtupping his dipso mother, tough-as-old-boots Queen Gertrude (Clare Higgins), Hamlet, recently-bereaved Prince of Denmark, is galvanised into inaction. Should he take arms against a sea of troubles or smoke a fag?

It's a mark of any good Shakespeare production that the audience can understand words from another age requiring a different register of thought, and Hytner's Hamlet is excellent on this score. Marred only by appalling sound at the beginning (the actors are all mic'ed up), and vastly improved by sneaking into the empty balcony seats further towards the middle of the Olivier auditorium where the acoustics thrive, the text is delivered with full clarity and meaning.

Rory Kinnear earns all the plaudits he's been getting. Looking well for his age, this star of the NT repertory company gets away with everything except murder. Playing two modes — loony and ultra-sane — he uses his feigned madness to outwit an entire oppressive regime. Although you have to ask if this was the status quo way before Claudius's promotion, implicating Hamlet senior in the creation of this grim world, and makes you wonder if he got what he deserved.

Hamlet's quicksilver backchat is matched by leaping and gambolling, running rings around his antagonists in every way. But if he's so smart, why can't he restore nature's equilibrium, right wrongs and correct an off-kilter world? Lacking the nerve to self-slaughter, he must marshall his internal forces to wreak revenge and lay ghosts to rest ... at least in the outside world, if not in his own mind.

There's a satisfying amount of "business" — the stuff not in the text — discovered in the creative process as well as thrust into play by the director, who will have been wrestling with his production for months if not years. In conversation with the stolid Polonius, Hamlet transforms an open book into a bird as his thoughts fly away apparently unanchored to terra firma. His smiley-face Watchmen graffito becomes a symbol of defiance, the gormless mask he is able to slip on to facilitate his deceit. When Ophelia (Rugh Negga) wears the smiley T-shirt you know she too is caught up in the game: in this version, the power-play of her puppeteer father. Ophelia, whose madness Ruth Negga strains for but never quite grasps, comes to her watery end by an unexpected means that feels a bit forced.

The choreography for Hamlet's play-within-a-play which will unmask his father's killer is brilliant and the scene becomes a vital building block in the story rather than a tacked-on addendum. The star of the show for me is James Laurenson who stood out as the deceased King and Player King, possessing the sort of charisma you just don't get any more.

These positives aside: if each Hamlet reflects each age, then what is the National Theatre's production telling us about ourselves?

The bouncer/squaddie trope is cringingly patronising to the National Theatre audience — although Team Hamlet is probably banking on approval when it tours the provinces from next month — and a sense of pandering to an audience brought up on the stale TV imagery of media, muscle and sex. Is this all we can understand? Each time another camera crew came on to capture the moment I wanted to reach for my AK47.

A deeply conservative vision runs through this production: the air of an etiolated middle-class establishment appropriating imagery of working-class males serving the ruling class as its bully-boys, rather than challenging the power structure. It may be a comment on the creeping authoritarianism of successive governments, but it ultimately communicates a pessimistic view of our society's potential while keeping usurpers of power in the driving seat.

Fascism wins out when the hippy Prince dies, embodied curiously in the shaven head of Fortinbras as revealed in a news bulletin tableau when he surveys the carnage at the end. My Lovely Companion noted a visual reference to the paratrooper in Pontecorvo's Battle Of Algiers. No time for grand thoughts and grooming here. The shaven male head becomes a symbol of raw male power, the jettisoning of sentiment and human tenderness for the great smell of brute function, the quality required to survive in the world. This scene comes perilously close to celebrating military restoration of order: it's a dirty job but someone has to do it.

By William Shakespeare
Starring Rory Kinnear
Director: Nicholas Hytner
National Theatre ends this week.
National tour from 11th February 2011: Nottingham Theatre Royal; Salford Lowry; Plymouth Theatre Royal; Milton Keynes; Woking; Luxembourg

Julian Assange's Lonely Hearts profile: if only ...

Would someone please settle the dispute between myself and poet extraordinaire, Niall Spooner-Harvey, who found this Lonely Heart profile at OK Cupid online, and reckons it belongs to the real Julian Assange. (Niall just wrote to say that he's having second thoughts.)

Not never, no how, no way. Someone sussed what women want and is test-driving it here.

If, however, as further proof that we have indeed slipped dimensions into some screen-writer's fever dream and this really is Julian then, hey, I hope one of the lovely laydees who read my blog can make him happy and flip him over from philandering to philosophy with nary a snagged johnny.

He says he seeks "spunk". Please, possums, no used condoms in the mail. You may think it amusing but it's most unfair on our posties.

37 / M / Straight / Single
Melbourne, Australia (10515 Miles)

My self-summary
WARNING: Want a regular, down to earth guy? Keep moving. I am not the droid you're looking for. Save us both while you still can.

Passionate, and often pig headed activist intellectual seeks siren for love affair, children and occasional criminal conspiracy.

Such a woman should spirited and playful, of high intelligence, though not necessarily formally educated, have spunk, class & inner strength and be able to think strategically about the world and the people she cares about.

I like women from countries that have sustained political turmoil. Western culture seems to forge women that are valueless and inane. OK. Not only women!

Although I am pretty intellectually and physically pugnacious I am very protective of women and children.

I am DANGER, ACHTUNG, and ??????????????!

What I’m doing with my life
Directing a consuming, dangerous human rights project which is, as you might expect, male dominated. Variously professionally involved in international journalism/books, documentaries, cryptography, intelligence agencies, civil rights, political activism, white collar crime and the internet. Formal background in neuroscience, mathematics, physics and philosophy.

I’m really good at
A gentleman never tells.

The first things people usually notice about me
Height. Nordic appearance. Unusual presense. Often carrying mystery brown paper packages tied up with strings; these are a few of my first things.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food
Russian. (D) anything but Russian!

The six things I could never do without
I could adapt to anything except the loss of female company and carbon.

I spend a lot of time thinking about
Changing the world through passion, inspiration and trickery. Travel (33 countries). Structure of reality. Birth and death of the universe (physics background) Ontology. Chopping up human brains (neuroscience background)

On a typical Friday night I am
Working, or in wilderness, which I retain an undying love for. Parties with good friends are glue, otherwise entertainment is less entertaining than working!

The most private thing I’m willing to admit
I have asian teengirl stalkers. Hello.

I’m looking for
Ages 22-46
Located anywhere
For new friends

You should message me if
You are a spirited, erotic, non-confomist. Non-conformity is not the adoption of some pre-existing alternative subculture. I seek innate perceptiveness and spunk.

Do not write to me if you are timid. I am too busy. Write to me if you are brave.

Friday 21 January 2011

Tony Blair at Chilcot: pants on fire 2

Video: a telling moment when Blair admits 'inconsistency'

This time it's personal.

Watching live feed of Tony Blair at Chilcot. Anyone else noticed how, when he's on the spot he glottal stops for England (presumably seeking orfenticity) but adopts posh when he's seeking high status? (One Tweeter noted 'gaing' instead of 'going', f'rinstance). Tweeters inside the inquiry have observed the shaking hand as he reaches for his notes. The slipperiness is on show for all to see.

Blair dismisses his own contradictions with sophistry. Hence, Sir Rodders Lyne's question quoting Blair's 'unreasonable veto' comment is brushed off as not counting because he was only making 'a political point'. So the appearance that they were going to bulldoze through any inconvenient UN vetos regardless is only gloss. So says Tone.

EDIT: Channel 4 News video of Blair's 'political point' and his admission of 'inconsistency' here.
"I was making basically a political point - however I accept entirely that there was an inconsistency between what he [Peter Goldsmith] was saying and what I was saying..."

His constant reference to 9/11 remains unchallenged. Yet the events of September 11th are and always were an irrelevance.

Did you know that our attorney general is supposed to take instructions from the US to determine the legality of UK policy? No? Neither did I. Neither did the UK electorate. Blair regarded Goldsmith's advice as 'provisional' (Guardian).

Blair admits that Saddam might have obeyed the resolution — it looks like there was a race against time and they had to pre-empt Saddam's brinkmanship by not waiting for the second resolution as SH might well have complied and thereby taken the boys' toys away.

The Guardian blog points out:
Freedman says this is not necessarily the case. In March, Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector, said that Iraq was allowing people to be interviewed. There was "progressively more cooperation", Freedman says.

Meanwhile, Sky and BBC News allow Andy Coulson's resignation to knock Blair off the front page.

I'll be updating this throughout. It beats chucking something heavy at the telly.

UPDATE 12.18: One pic of the (tiny) demo shows a banner reading, "Saddam was ready to go into exile". Of course, this would have meant no bangy war-games for the lads.

UPDATE 12.22: Channel 4 News #iraqinquiryblog tweets:
Blair: Iraq started to give out a little bit more in the last few weeks but it was nothing like full, immediate & unconditional cooperation.

UPDATE 12.30: Chilcot takes a break. Steve M Facebooks me: Tony has been getting in some practice.

UPDATE 12.45: IraqInquiryBlog Iraq:
Prashar: Why didn't enough post-conflict planning take place? Blair: Planning DID take place. Should we have focused on different things?

Shocking. Prashar quotes Blair saying that was the responsibility of the Americans. Blair just denied he was going to leave it to the Americans. Words mean whatever he wants them to mean. Psychoboy!

UPDATE 13.00: IraqInquiryBlog:
Blair: Gordon & I honoured our commitment with resources required. Money really wasn't the problem. If people had problems I wanted to know

Indeed, money was hardly a problem when Blair's favourite JP Morgan (Blair 'earned' millions in fees from them) won pole position co-ordinating the pillage of Iraq.

UPDATE: Craig Murray writes:
The Chilcot Inquiry was summed up for me ten minutes ago, when Tony Blair quoted an extraordinary passage - I believe from George Bush, but didn't catch his attribution. The quote said that WMD were not things that had a physical existence, but rather existed in the minds of scientists who could create them, other than nuclear weapons, at very short notice. This absurd expedition into metaphysical justification was greeted by Sir Roderic Lyne's much vaunted forensic brain. MORE

HARPY MARX made the protest at Chilcot today and posts pix here.

THE CASE AGAINST BLAIR: 15 charges that have yet to be answered in The Independent.

Tony Blair dug his own hole in the Chilcot inquiry — Guardian

Thursday 20 January 2011

NHS following disastrous rail privatisation under Tory coalition

Imagine a national health service where the equivalent of this could happen.

You try to get off the train at a deserted station, no station staff, no guard on the train. Your leg is caught in the automatic doors and you are dragged to your mutilated fate.

Luckily, Mark Simpson pulled himself free while his partner was left inside the National Express train at Rayleigh and had to make her way back from the next station along the line by taxi. But Simpson was a tough male. Anyone else would probably have died. As have passengers (no, we are not just 'customers', defined buy our purchase-power) who have been stabbed and mugged at stations left unmanned to protect the health of shareholder dividends.

As for the soaring costs of travel by rail, bus and tube, making us one of the most expensive countries in the world to get around, what a joke. So much for getting us out of our cars.

It is to New Labour's shame that they refused to reverse John Major's (remember him?) destructive move to privatise rail in the dying days of the last Tory government. During the wealthiest decade this nation has ever seen with tons of money sloshing around and a mandate for progressive change, Labour under Blair and Brown squandered our hopes and left us at the mercy of the upper classes now back in the driving seat.

We can look forward to the NHS being similarly incompetent, dangerous and expensive thanks to the Tories and the Lib Dems and their carving up the service, something we did not vote for.

I hope the trade unions note the students' anger and follow suit because the violence inherent in the policies of this Tory-led government is killing us.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Madam Miaow at Apples & Snakes Jawdance tonight

Oops! Forgot to mention I'm doing a ten-minute poetry slot for Apples and Snakes this evening at Jawdance, Rich Mix in Shoreditch.

Say hi if you;re passing by.

7.30pm Wednesday 19th January 2011
Rich Mix
35-47 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA
London, United Kingdom

Jawdance on Facebook

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Blair at Chilcot this Friday: pants on fire

Tony Blair returns to the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war this Friday following certain, ahem, 'inconsistencies' in his earlier testimony, contradicted by former attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, and former head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett. Ooh, there's embarrassing. I wonder who's been economical with the actualité.

John Wight has written a scorching account at Socialist Unity which everyone should read for background to Blair's appearance.

Since [summer 2009] a veritable parade of witnesses have appeared, the vast majority assorted ex-government flunkies, civil servants and bureaucrats, along with the usual suspects whose names and reputations will forever be associated with Iraq. How could it be otherwise given that it was one of the most egregious and overt imperialist military adventures ever undertaken by any western country, one that has impacted on society at home in the shape of increased racial, ethnic and religious tensions, attacks on civil liberties and an increasingly corrupt body politic. ...

But it is not just Iraq that Tony Blair will be remembered for. He will also go down as the most right wing, anti trade union and anti working class Labour leader in the history of the Labour Party. Indeed, the amputation of the Labour Party’s founding ethos was performed by Blair with the skill and precision of a surgeon. Where former Labour leader Neil ‘Lord’ Kinnock took tentative steps in a rightward direction, Blair sprinted headlong to jump on the bus marked Thatcherism when it came to his embrace of the free market and the City. Piecemeal reforms were parcelled out to the poor and low paid during the boom years - years in which the richest layer of society saw their wealth go up exponentially while wages for the majority went down in real terms, offset by the easy availability of personal credit. ...

Meritocracy replaced solidarity as the core value of Labour, along with the importation of that old American chestnut of social mobility to justify crippling inequality. His adherence to the Clintonite rightward shift doctrine of social democracy, known as triangulation, turned Britain into a free market paradise for billionaires, corporate executives and financial institutions. Blair’s genius was in presentation, utilising his evident talents as a PR man to sell the process as progressive politics.

But an example of how Blair was given an easy ride last time around was revealed last February by David Hencke in Tribune, where he wrote that, '... Tony Blair was let off the hook during his session because vital documents given to the Iraq inquiry are not being made public'.

Let's hope Blair gets the warm welcome he deserves when he turns up at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre at Westminster, London SW1P 3EE on Friday, 8am-2pm.

UPDATE: Tuesday afternoon, Sir John Chilcot announces that the government has blocked the release of a note from Tony Blair to George W Bush, evidence crucial to the examination of a narrow but significant area in the build-up to the allied invasion of Iraq. It must be pretty explosive for the Tories to protect the former Labour prime minister. After all, a former PM dragged into the Hague probably wouldn't look good for anyone.

UPDATE 2: The Daily Mail — 'But it is Mr Blair, of course, who emerges in even darker colours, because he was the man who railroaded this country into war — invoking weapons of mass destruction which did not exist (and which he should have known did not exist) and, unless Lord Goldsmith’s testimony is to be dismissed by him as mendacious, misleading Parliament and the public. ... This time, with Lord Goldsmith’s evidence in front of them, they have the material with which to unseat even a customer as slippery and evasive as Tony Blair. ... when a former Attorney General accuses a former Prime Minister of misleading Parliament over so vital a matter, we have entered an important new phase. Sooner or later the seriousness of what Lord Goldsmith has said will sink in.'

Blair War Crimes Foundation: aims to Bring Tony Blair to trial.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Jack Straw's sex fantasy about dark men and white girls

Cor! They were THIS big!

So Jack Straw draws on the age-old slur regarding men of colour and white women, with the accusation that "some British Pakistani men regard white girls as 'easy meat' for sexual abuse".

I believe this was also the chief fantasy of the Ku Klux Klan when they lynched black men in the Deep South during the days of Jim Crow.

Funny how we are dehumanising Pakistani males at the same time as we are blowing innocent Pakistani people to smithereens in their own homeland with drones, one of the most cowardly forms of military killing machine ever devised. What a fortuitous bit of mind-frakking.

Rather than deal with the breakdown of our society as the rich suck up all the remaining wealth, and having an honest look at how the resulting stresses affect human relations, we demonise an entire race group. Is Straw seriously saying that these men would never have targeted non-white girls? That white men don't traffic and abuse women?

Doesn't any group of males from a background where religious morality sets the standards for behaviour tend to have screwed up attitudes towards women? It manifests in differing ways but there are parallels, the common factors being a sense of ownership of women's sexuality.

Far from being dangerous, I remember the wave of Bangladeshi men who migrated to the East End in the 1970s as being kind to kids, presumably because they missed their own children back home or had yet to have their own families. It was they who were in harm's way, beaten and abused by skinhead gangs who shared the views of swathes of the media and the odd MP.

The Guardian reports:
The judge in the case said he did not believe the crimes were "racially aggravated", adding that the race of the victims and their abusers was "coincidental".

But Jack knows better. Who can guess what this creepy man harbours in the deepest recesses of his imagination? Er, oh we do now.

Some actual research here. Hat tip MartinJJB

Friday 7 January 2011

Greed is gruesome: Madam Miaow gets supersized

I'm just a girl who can't say no. No, not a popular breakaway hit from the musical Oklahoma, but a dawning realisation that I like to indulge. Which can lead to a peculiar leftist angst as my ascetic consideration for the planet and the holy temple of my bod does battle with my inner gannet.

A glutton for everything except punishment, I like to wolf down things that are bad for me. I recently stayed in the arty seaside resort of St Ives and found myself conducting a Supersize Me experiment as I relinquished my usual balanced diet for the regional Cornish produce of pasties, clotted cream and scones, clotted cream ice-cream with clotted cream and the local cider brew. I would have snaffled one of the marauding seagulls as well had I caught one with a nice ready-made stuffing of pasty and ice-cream purloined from unsuspecting tourists. It was only after two weeks when my skin turned to parchment and my eyes sprouted bags like luggage that I snapped out of it and into a mini-detox.

At these moments I'm more gorge than gorgeous. Take burgers, f'rinstance. Bad for the planet, bad for me, but every so often when the moon is full, I need my cholesterol indulgence. Okay, it may be largely connective tissue, fat and cancerous tumours, but mashed up with a dollop of ketchup or "relish", it slips down a treat, barely hitting the sides.

That's how I came down with dysentary as a kid, on the grand tour of China with a stopover in Karachi. "Drink bottled water, wash the fruit and DON'T EAT THE MEAT!" warned my mother. Hah! Mothers, what do they know? So I'm waiting for the taxi to take us to the airport when I spy a burger stall and come over all tunnel-visioned seeing nothing but the patty glistening in the 100 degree noonday sun. I'm halfway through when it occurs to me that this may not be the sensible thing to do and, sho 'nuff, a week later, I find myself convalescing in a Beijing hospital, the details of which I shall spare my sensitive readers.

And this summer, I did it again! In Scarborough for a concert, I dived off with the sound techie's partner for seaside fun on the beach, partaking of the seafood which included big fat oysters. One oyster tasted different. Not bad, but different. Ignoring everything I have been told about shellfish I still ate it with all my alarm bells screaming at once. Just as well I didn't feed it to the seagull lurking at my feet, as I was tempted to do ... he would only have flown off, exploding his guts all over the tourists, and that is so not a good look. In any case, he sensed something was wrong and waddled off. Animal instincts? Yes, please.

So that's why I spent 24 hours purging myself of toxins (don't ask!) before the gig. Not such a hot thang now, was I? Green in consumption habits, good. Green in face, doubleplusungood.

First published in New Internationalist magazine.

Sunday 2 January 2011

Simon Hughes dons fishnets for Tory education cuts

Ah, yes, "perception". How very Mad Men of the Coalition. Lucky Tories never having to consider the actualité now they can hide behind the human shield of delusion provided by their LibDem juniors.

Following in the footsteps of Vince Cable (Cable 0 — Satellite 3), Simon Hughes suppresses his political instinct to challenge, or at least abstain, when he finds himself charged with pushing through the education policies he so obviously despises. Having spoken against the rise in university tuition fees and the cuts in education, Hughes's new role is to sell the new measures to the people who will be picking up the bill despite funds intended to encourage disadvantaged pupils being cut from £360m a year to £150m, by massaging their "perception".

How does someone square this?

Observe the self-loathing as his eyes flip between two modes: the giveaway lying eyes of the unblinking thousand-yard stare, and the barely-able-to-open-his-lids gaze blocking out the world as we know it crumbling around him on his watch. Wince as you witness him performing verbal gymnastics with the grace and conviction of someone kneecapped by his senior partners.

Has Simon been hard-wired for fagging, 'cause he does it so well? Do the Bullingdon bullies make him toast their crumpets and then flush his head down the toilet for sport?

Laurie Penny ponders these matters here.
"The problem with the system is the perception rather than the reality," said Hughes, whose new role as "advocate for access to higher education" will see him trying to persuade poorer teenagers that lifelong debt is no reason not to go to university and join the bargain-bucket scramble for the educational opportunities that their mothers, fathers and political representatives enjoyed for free. Hughes will be taking his higher education roadshow to deprived schools and under-funded sixthform colleges over the next six months, a glorified door-to-door salesperson for unpopular Tory policies, an Avon Lady for Thatcherite university reform. The dogged, defeated hypocrisy of this former rebel Lib Dem's decision to accept the appointment is far from the most compelling thing about this story.

Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his principles for his career. Does Hughes believe he is setting a good example for his young constituency? Is he happy to be Morlock-in-chief, ushering in a Brave New World bereft of humanities in favour of a one-note profit-obsessed business juggernaut?

Are we content to be Eloi, herded for slaughter and consumption via a sausage-meat grinder which used to be a pretty good education system?

As Joe Strummer seddit in White Riot:
"All the power in the hands of people rich enough to buy it,
While we walk the streets too chicken to even try it.

Happy 2011. Let's see some resistance.