Monday 28 February 2011

'Go Wisconsin. You Are fighting For All Of Us'

'Go Wisconsin. You Are fighting For All Of Us'.

So says Chicago trade unonist Clancy Segal in the Guardian today. And he is totally right.

So appalling is the onslaught of capital on labour that even the police have joined the 600 protesters occupying the State Capitol building, while outside thousands of workers brave the freezing conditions in sleeping bags.

Clancy Segal writes:
This assault is essentially an ambush of the working middle class. It is openly financed by Big Money, like the hard-right multibillionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who also fund – courtesy of the US supreme court's Citizens United decision – the Tea Party groups that supply anti-labour's ideological storm troopers. ... it comes as no surprise when Jeffrey Cox, Indiana's deputy attorney general, calls Wisconsin public sector workers "thugs" against whom he advocates deadly force. "Use live ammunition," he tweeted.

The fight is on. I'm going to my council's budget protest in Camden tonight to demand they do what their voters and ordinary people across the world are donig at the moment: represent us and fight back. Do not do their dirty work for them.

In Hackney, six councillors have signed a letter against the cuts. They write:
Some think we should protest - and wait for the next election. Our view is that we cannot wait until the damage is done. Nobody voted to privatise the NHS or make our communities pay for the bankers’ crisis. The government has no mandate. The bankers’ greed caused the crisis - they and their rich friends should pay for it through targeted taxes and a crack down on the tax loopholes used by millionaires and big corporations. As Labour Councillors, along with supporters of the Labour Representation Committee, we support a campaign to defeat the policies of this government through public protest, opposition and defiance. ... We would like to see local Councils across London leading the charge and refusing to adopt cuts budgets as a result of government enforced policies and producing a Needs Budgets to show what should be funded.

It's not without a little pride that I read the Wisconsin movement was inspired by the UK Uncut actions. Well done, guys and gals.

Wisconsin and Hackney are drawing on the power unleashed in recent events in the Middle East and picked up by UK Uncut. Carry on, you are doing this for us and we are there with you.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Jeff Beck's Rock N Roll Party DVD launch

anna chen jeff beck rock n roll partyAnna Chen and Jeff Beck

A busy week included a proper old-school lig at Jeff Beck's Rock 'n' Roll Party DVD launch, and helping to present pictures from my late father's archive at the National Maritime Museum (more on that tomorrow).

Thursday's rock lig spectacular for the launch of Jeff Beck's latest DVD was fun and frolicks from the start. Congregating at Westminster Pier with assorted musos, journos and music biz bods, our Thames Clipper was held up by an animated Ronnie Wood pleading with the crew not to cast off (or is that knitting?). He disappeared, we finally set off, only find ourselves drifting snoozily across the river to the London Millennium Eye pier on the South Bank where Woody's girlfriend had ended up.

With Woody and his snowy-mink-clad paramour on board, there followed a fast booze-laden trip through the dream-like vista of night-time London all lit up in colour like a showgirl in spangles, past the monstrous Shard-enfreude tower looking like the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner, to disembarkation at the O2 pier.

We were most generously fed and watered by Harvey Goldsmith, who now runs the British Music Experience under the billion-quid tent that is the Millennium Dome, as well as managing Mr Beck. I dunno about our publicly-funded edifice celebrating the best of British: the Dome looks like any shabby High Street, with all the same chain-sore eateries and coffee houses.

But the BME is a great mixture of museum and music venue. Luckily, it's also ideal for parties. Like this one. Sitting one table up from Jeff Beck, Cleo Rocas, Woody and other starry bods, we watched an edited version of Jeff's 'Rock 'n' Roll Party DVD, which was recorded at the Iridium Club in New York, where legendary guitarist Les Paul used to play.

The onscreen atmosphere was hot, stoked up to incendiary by some awe-inspiring guests such as Gary US Bonds, Brian Setzer and Trombone Shorty.

Regular Beck associate Imelda May possesses the warmest womanly voice: rich, textured and expressive like the Old School torch singers. Her "Cry Me A River" sent shivers up my spine, and her handsome rockabilly husband, Darrel Higham — also a champion vocalist, rhythm guitarist and Jeff's musical director for this occasion — could be seen gazing lovingly at his talented missus.

Peter Gunn, with the entire ensemble of Imelda's band and guest musicians – including Blues Brothers baritone saxophonst Blue Lou – was enormous fun.

I had a chat with Jeff afterwards and said how much I like the way he treats his female collaborators with such obvious respect: singer Imogen Heap, bassists Tal Wilkenfeld and Rhonda Smith, and now Imelda May, have all enjoyed the spotlight sharing Jeff's stage.

'I'm glad you noticed that,' he said. 'Women are smart. We are stupid.' He asked me if I'd seen some documentary film about the Spitfire women, and sang their praises to the wild blue sky where they flew so high. This is a guy who loves, likes and admires women. And if that's not catnip for smart cookies like wot I yam, I dunno what is.

We returned by launch along the beautiful Thames, past the scary Shard, and were deposited blissfully pissed back at Westminster having had a great night.

Nice one, guys.

jeff beck charles shaar murrayJeff Beck, Paul Jones and Charles Shaar Murray

Sunday 20 February 2011

Orange Tone: a poem about perma-tanned politicians

When I started to write this poem, I had in mind the startling image of a sleek well-oiled Philip Gould stepping out of a sliver limousine to attend a £600-a-head Labour dinner at the Grosvenor Hotel in Park Lane which was being picketed by us, the Socialist Alliance in its heyday.

If it is the remit of the artist to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, Gould got my impulse to do the latter cooking up a storm.

That was the original image that began this poem, along with a light-hearted thread on Facebook about whether there were any new rhymes for the word 'orange'. Along with 'silver' and 'month' (thanks, Ian S), I recognised this as a hard one ever since I watched Witchypoo sing 'Oranges, Poranges' in 'H.R. Puff'n'stuff' in the 1970s.

As it should, the poem took on a life of its own as I set out to write it. Images of other oleaginous politicians corrupted by their vanity — or their vanity expressing the inner rot — crept in. I'm sure they'll occur to you too as you read Orange Tone.

Oops, nearly forgot to thank Greg B and Ian W for 'sporange'. Heh!

Orange Tone
by Anna Chen 17 Feb 2011

I never could understand
Men who top up their tan with elan
Turn tangerine polished with Mr Sheen
The shiny surface of kidney beans
Looking mean as mahogany would

if no longer home for orangutans
Felled instead for rich men's dens
Men blasted red under UV rays
Glow in the dark, pulsate in the haze
Like zits preparing to pop

Like rotten tomatoes straining to drop
Their sporange burns orange, their blood turns to glop
It would be a fair cop if they weren't very tanned
Leather hides hiding how bland they am
Blancmange with a scab on the top

Unhinged by the heat, derailed in the raw,
Carapace of lies the colour of gore
No, that's not it,
The colour of shit when you've nibbled a week-old prawn
Caught at the arse of a waste pipe at dawn
'Let's diarise'
I like that hue
Not too, too ... ecru?
Remember, contender
It's 'tall, dark and handsome',
Not 'beige, bleached and winsome'

Winsome Losesome
Ditched his pallor for crimson
Flashed a smile that was toothsome
Exponentialised his income.
Travelled the dark zone
Split schizoid twosome
Nicotinised flotsam and jetsam
Oh farce in the mirror,
Who wouldn't want some?
His outsides were wholesome
His secrets were gruesome

What are you hiding apart from your skin
Is there some sort of sin going on you should bin?
How could you sweeten this little hand
Shoved in a blender with marzipan?
That red, that blood, it's not even yours
Extracted from virgins to tighten your pores,
Tighten your wallet exploding with wad
And now you've found god
Have you fallen in love with your maker?
Bully for you, Orange Tone, you foul faker.

Orange Tone can be found in Anna Chen's collection, Reaching for my Gnu, paperback and e-book from Aaaargh! Press.

Saturday 19 February 2011

AV is not PR: this much I understand

So it's payoff time for Ramsay McClegg. The Tories have finally thrown a bone to their human shield allies in the form of a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV), to take place on May 5th.

In return for services rendered, the Lib Dems get a long-awaited shot at an electoral system that's supposed to more truly reflect their performance in the general election, with the number of MPs elected tallying more closely with the percentage of the overall vote. It is plainly unfair that a relatively large turnout of the LibDem's electorate always results in a pitiful clutch of seats in Parliament.

However, because AV is not even a watered down form of Proportional Representation (PR), which most progressives see as fairer than the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system, it comes with a whole host of problems even worse than FPTP.

AV is the coalition vote.

AV encourages consolidation of coalitions into two blocs and in the UK is more likely to lead to permanent centre-right coalitions unless the Labour Party and the Greens do a deal (see this Australia post).

Can you imagine what it'll be like for our government to be in permanent coalition mode with the Lib Dems swinging power for ever and ever? Or an emulation of Italy's system of unelected conservative coalitions which returns Berlusconi to power again and again? Not so much the image of a boot in the face as a custard pie in the mush in perpetuity.

The May 5th referendum is a sham. Why only give us the choice between FPTP and AV? Why so scared of proper PR?

My understanding of the situation, following fairly idiot-proof discussions with a very patient Paul Anderson, is that some versions of PR still allow a consituency to elect its MP according to whoever gets the majority of the votes, as in FPTP. But the Additional Member System (AMS) kicks in by having a top-up list at the regional level which makes the final tally of MPs reflect their overall support in the electorate.

AV does not have regional top-up seats.

In Anderson's new website, AV Is Not PR, he explains why AV is not proportional:
Without regional top-up seats, the alternative vote is not a system of proportional representation. AV, used in Australia, retains single-member constituencies from first past the post but changes the marking of ballots to ‘1, 2, 3’ and so on in order of preference. If no candidate gets 50 per cent of first preferences, the second preferences of the candidate with the fewest votes are added to the other candidates’ totals. This process continues until one candidate has more than 50 per cent of the vote.

So the weakest candidates get their second preferences to count more heavily than everyone else's. Under AV, some voters are evidently more equal than others.

AV is a sham. Even Nick Clegg once wrote it off as 'a miserable little compromise'.

Anderson quotes a letter in the Independent from Antony Brown, Thomas Lundberg, John Cox and Brian Wilson:
AV is not proportional and can exaggerate landslide elections. In 1997, for example, it is probable that Blair would have had a majority of over 200 with AV. It exaggerates the tendency of our current system to direct voters into a two-sided competition. Smaller parties, such as the Greens, are no more likely to be elected than today.

AV gives minority parties greater electoral leverage but without democratic accountability. A minority party can barter with larger parties, urging its supporters to give the larger party their second preferences in return for policy concessions. Smaller parties should be heard, but transparently and after receiving a mandate.

Expect even more sleazy back-room deals and horse-trading than usual.

AV is not a step toward the fairer system of PR, but a dead end we'll be stuck in for a long time.

Vote No to AV on May 5th.

Others on the left arguing against AV include Socialist Unity.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Ed Miliband tools up for TUC anti-cuts rally

Har, har! Garbo speaks!

Ed Miliband's team have announced that Glorious Leader will be addressing the subject of Tory cuts at the TUC demo but will not march with the march in March.

And Baroness Warsi has a fit like Linda Blair in full Exorcist mode with term-of-the-day, 'deficit deniers', flying 360 degrees.

That's some spin, Baroness, but third grade alliteration won't help you now that SuperEd is out of the trap and on the case. OK, I exaggerate a tad, hope over experience and all that, but a gurl can dream.

Really, Baroness. 'Deficit denier'? The Tory LibDem argument has been so sheer, thin and transparent that '9 denier' barely covers it.

Bankers beware, shady Blairite scum take cover, for the Nice Man Cometh.

TUC protest against the cuts
'March for the Alternative: Jobs, Growth, Justice'
26th March 2011
March from Embankment
End rally at Hyde Park

Ed Miliband ushers in Chinese New Year of the Rabbit

Anna and Labour's Ian McCartney

Ed Miliband ushering in the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit may not be an event a testosterony communications team might see yielding the best headlines, but I had a pleasant evening meeting him and other Labourites at the Portcullis House bash tonight (Thursday 9th February).

About fifty UK Chinese tucked into great dimsum (canapés to you with nobs on), including Chinese sushi (heh!), and chatted about politics.

My own concerns regarded the pitiful response from Labour over the deficit when the ConDem coalition were able to take the high ground and make their narrative the dominant, unassailable one: that Labour had created the deficit and that we all had to pay for it. Bankers? I see no bankers.

It's no good telling us the screeching silence was because energies were taken up with over-extended leadership contests and childbirth. No, the dog did not eat your homework, although it was a dog's dinner of sorts. It was your job to stay on top of the most important issue staring us in the face because you let in the Tories with your wars and screwed values: a fullscale assault on Labour's constituency — the working and middle classes — by the evil Bullingdon bullies.

Someone was asleep at the wheel.

Anyhow, I told Peter Hain that many of us were, ahem!, 'disappointed' with their performance, and a few minutes later, he returned from doing the room with new communications director Tom Baldwin in tow. Further fun was only terminated when Chinese for Labour Chair, the wonderful Sonny Leong who has campaigned tirelessly for the rights of UK Chinese, made a speech.

I chatted to Sir Comrade Ian McCartney, who has allowed his hair to grow and looks years younger since he stopped being an MP. He was knighted in October and apparently told the Queen she was dubbing him in the wrong month because he is, 'the shortest knight of the year'. Boom, boom!

I look forward to seeing whether Labour will wrest control of our services from the unelected Tories and their snivelling LibDem sidekicks, or allow us to be beaten into the ground as the modern Enclosures Act takes its toll. Fingers crossed but I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Tiger Mom or total cow? Amy Chua punts her book

Look. Let's get this straight. Amy Chua is nuts. In China her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is called U.S. Mom because her maternal oddities are regarded as symptomatic of a western spiritual and psychic malaise. That her neuroses are being marketed as typical of the Chinese people as a whole (as if we are a monolithic society) is a sign of how little we are understood over here.

A grown woman goes into battle with a three-year old when she shows signs of having a will of her own? You threaten to chuck her out into the freezing winter's night because she had fun bashing the keys of the piano with her tiny splayed fists instead of picking out the pinched three notes to which you have reduced her world? Get some therapy, lady.

While I haven't yet read the book, I've heard the radio serialisation, watched the TV interviews and read the numerous articles as the Amy Chua roadshow juggernauts another stereotype down our collective craw: the machine-like drone incapable of deep love; function and service being all.

Chinese are complex, as all human beings should be. Yes, there's the age-old pressure to 'get on' and do well materially: hardly mysterious in a region of the world where absolute poverty, famine, civil war, the low status of the regularly conquered, and a short life-span was the norm until the latter half of the 20th century. [Note: while there is still poverty, China lifted 400 million out of absolute poverty in the last few decades according to the World Bank.]

Yes, Chinese can be strict as any middle-class white folk who send their offspring to boarding school to be beaten and fagged. As anyone who ever belted their kids. But they are unlikely to start an airline with child-free flights. And the Chinese certainly don't get arsey when kids have noisy fun in restaurants.

While there are indeed student suicides in China driven by failure to gain desired grades, Cambridge had a two per cent suicide rate [Edit: need to confirm this figure]. My mate Denis Wong remembers the tower being sealed off while he was at Birmingham University. Recalling his own mother's soppiness towards all children, Denis points out, 'Chua correlates herself with the Chinese, rather than of a certain class in North America. Much of the pressure by Chinese parents is not Spartan, but concern for their children to succeed, like anyone else might feel.'

But no! We are presented with a media tidal wave of stereotyping the Chinese as loveless robots. Channel 4 News, departing from its usual high standards, has Katie Razzall writing online:
It's a far cry from traditional western methods of parenting and, at some points in the book, Ms Chua appears almost deranged.

Funny how, when CNN went to China to find these 'Tiger Moms', they couldn't. How surprised they must have been to discover that the Tiger Mom is seen in China itself as a specifically US stereotype.

Even Chua's own husband, Jed Rubenfeld, now assures us that they were raising their kids with traditional American values.

Sigh! Someone brings out Mommie Dearest and suddenly we are all Joan Crawford.

When I was a kid, I was spoilt something rotten by the Xinhua journalists and embassy staff, who missed their own children while they were abroad on assignment. Comrade Ma, the Chargé d'affaires, swept the porcelain panda off his desk and into my hands when he noticed I'd been admiring it. My white English mother raised me as a Spock baby, with my father's up-to-a-point approval, but Denis reminds me of the counter-trend to instil discipline, and intensely hothouse, the children of the western middle classes. I escaped that relentless academic pressure and was still consistently in the top three of the class, and joint first in the year for O levels.

Perhaps journalists should get out more. Or get some Chinese friends.

Monday 7 February 2011

Christina Aguilera's fluff versus Jimi Hendrix's fuzz: Super Bowl Star Spangled Banner

Poor old Christina Aguilera, booed for fluffing a line of Star Spangled Banner at the opening of Sunday's Superbowl in Texas.

The BBC reports on the offending line:
The singer should have sung: "O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?" but repeated an earlier line with a slight variation. ... Instead of the correct line, Aguilera actually sang: "What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last gleaming."

Have you ever read the entire lyrics? First verse goes:
O! say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Crikey! Not sure about rockets and bombs proving the existence of anything much except death and mayhem.

The Aguilera episode revives memories of Roseanne Barr a few years back when she stirred patriotic fervour and a heap of death threatage by squawking her way through the national anthem. What would today's audience make of Jimi Hendrix's musical commentary on US militarism at Woodstock in 1969? (See the video above.)

A pedant (Charles Shaar Murray) says that Jimi's version a few months later, immortalised in the Jimi Plays Berkeley concert movie, was even better, but acknowledges that Woodstock was the iconic performance. "Black man, white Strat, white jacket, white audience."

Cut the woman some slack, all. My only criticism of Sunday's over-singing would be, 'too many notes, Christina, too many notes'.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Martin Rowson holds the Frontline: talk review

I can't be sure, but I think I heard cartoonist Martin Rowson refer to the late Labour MP Tom Driberg, in one of his anecdotes last night, as a 'fellationist'. He might have said 'fallacionist' but as it's Rowson doing the telling, I'm assuming it was the former.

It takes a special kind of genius to be equally sharp with the verbals and with visual dexterity. Following in the satirical tradition of William Hogarth, James Gillray and David Low, virtuoso caricaturist Martin Rowson ranks alongside Steve Bell as one of the most savage political commentators of our era, slicing into psychic zones where mere journalists mostly fear to tread.

The in-the-flesh Rowson is also an excellent entertainer. In a masterclass on how to take on the establishment, he enthralled the audience at the Frontline Club on Tuesday with an illustrated talk about his career, hosted by Laurie Taylor. From the alarming photo portrait of Alastair Campbell which greeted you on entrance, through the pantheon of cartoon greats, to his own instruments of assassination, he took us through his development as a scourge of society's most powerful.

He outlined the sorts of horrors that spur him on to wage war with his pens, such as our government trying to force international trading partners to take our BSE-infected brains when we'd given the world Mad Cow Disease. He reckons 'laughing at them stops us beheading them' (and splashing their cranial matter over other poor unsuspecting folk), which some of us might count as an argument against such safety valves. Still, he is an embodiment of all those great George Orwell values we love, so I wouldn't make Martin kneel on broken glass just yet.

Due to an oversight in 1695 when the government failed to renew the censorship laws after the glorious revolution (1688), there was an explosion in vicious satire, the Great Leap Forward being Hogarth's Gin Lane, Madonna and Child seen through angry cartoonist's eyes. As the Enlightenment took hold, writers Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift joined the artists in their attack on elites and created a unique field in which Britain and Ireland led. Americans can't do their leaders wearing their underpants over their trousers, or show modern politics in the increasingly grotesque pictorial history of Blair's teeth, relying instead on gentle and genteel generics. It took a Brit (Gillray) to show William Pitt, who had created paper money to finance war with Bonaparte, shitting money, and it took Rowson centuries later to pastiche this as Gordon Brown failing to shit money into the public sector.

I also liked Charles Clarke as a tampon and Peter Oborne as a turd floating uselessly in sewage. But not as much as the mad canine Tony Blairs, which remain a personal favourite.

'I'm not attacking the elite to make them behave differently, but to make us feel better,' he tells us. And yet ...

You get the sense that Rowson envies David Low's status on Hitler's death list, so effective were his war cartoons in ridiculing the Nazis. The worst he had to deal with is the timidity of various editors. His most crushing defeat was being kicked off the Times by editor George Brock to make space for Julie Burchill. Rowson's final cartoon and last hurrah for News International was the crowded portrait of political stars in the bar who, if you look very carefully, spell out, "Fuck Brock".

Today, politicians clamour to be drawn, as a mark that they've truly arrived. Dennis McShane even pestered him, demanding, 'You must put me in more cartoons'. Oh, Martin, you're only encouraging them.

His response over the years has been to turn up the grotesquery to eleven, even though it seems to fall on blind eyes when celebrity is at stake. Does he ever switch off his uglification filter? He says he is sometimes brought down by relentless misanthropy and would like to paint kittens. Nevertheless, his killer skills are only used for good, undermining the powerful. He described one occasion when he drew a Downs Syndrome child and ended up flattering her. This is no bully throwing his weight around or sucking up to the political class. He means it.

I emerged from the Frontline revivified, inspired and determined to make even more mischief.

Now settle down and watch the Frontline video above.