Monday 19 December 2011

Kim Jong Il: power grows from the barrel of a vegetable

"They don't make 'em like they used to."

I'm just getting to grips with the sad news that the man named after Superman's Dad has passed on to the Great Hall of the People in the Sky.

We all know that power grows from the barrel of a gun. Here's Dear Leader practising with veg.

As Sigmund Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a vegetable is just a vegetable. Or not.

"Hmm, something's missing."

"The people's cheap laugh is deepest red."

"Do we have something a bit nobblier?"

"Well, it's the right colour."

"I may be needing some of these these."

"Huh! Jesus needed twelve of these."

So Hitchens, Havel and Kim are standing at the Pearly Gates ...

This weekend's haul by the Grim Reaper has been an impressive one. First Christopher Hitchens, then Vaclav Havel, now ding dong, Kim Jong Il is dead. Is there no God!!!? Hitchens will know by now but he ain't telling.

The only time I saw Hitch was at Bookmarks where he took on the titans (or were they just tits?) of the SWP on the subject of NATO and former Yugoslavia. I disagreed with him but was shock 'n' awed by his bravura performance, standing on a tiny makeshift stage, drink in one hand, fag in the other, tying up the Greatest Minds of the Left like Danny Kaye in The Court Jester. Shame about Iraq and loving up to Bush, though.

He was a great wit, a beautiful youth and had massive style but, in the end, he was more an entertainer and a token radical for the Bush Right than a serious political analyst.

There were early signs that Hitchens was changing sides, or at least hedging his bets, such as in his support for the Falklands War and admiration for Thatcher. His tectonic rationalisation for siding with the new power in the world got under way once the forces of progress were in retreat after 9/11, famously cheerleading the massacre at Fallujah and laying into the Dixie Chicks for their rather mild statement of dissent days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The spirit of Hitchens's hero Voltaire was in absentia, as was his great rhetorical style, when during the peak of their monstering — death threats, McCarthyite attacks in the right-wing media, blacklisting and careers almost demolished — he joined in the public baying for their blood by referring to them in Viz-talk as "fat sluts", later correcting this to the "Fat Slags" of comic-book fame. So much for his gallant defence of the laydeez from the evil woman-hating Taliban.

Country music veteran Merle Haggard said of the episode:
I don't even know the Dixie Chicks, but I find it an insult for all the men and women who fought and died in past wars when almost the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion. It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching.

We have burqas in the West — they're just invisible.

“Water boarding” is a potentially dangerous activity in which the participant can receive serious and permanent (physical, emotional and psychological) injuries and even death, including injuries and death due to the respiratory and neurological systems of the body. (A clause in the indemnification contract signed by Hitch)

Hitchens is often praised for his moral clarity despite some gobsmackingly blatant murkiness. What, for me, summed up the disjuncture between his sharp mind and his inability to empathise was his failure to grasp that waterboarding hurts, can cause brain damage and kills. He lacked the imagination to understand the terror and pain until it was actually done to him under controlled conditions by friendly practitioners in the US army. "You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning ..." Good for him that he recanted his earlier position on this score in Vanity Fair but most of us don't need first-hand experience of being half drowned to understand that this horror is torture.

The tragedy of Christopher Hitchens was that he absconded just as we needed him. The joy was that he was great entertainment as a live act — just don't take him too seriously.

Latte Labour

Harpy Marx

The Genocidal Imagination of Christopher Hitchens

Norman Finkelstein

He said what!!? about Columbus and the native American Indians?

Gauche obituary

Nick Cohen on his friend

Peter Hitchens on his brother

Saturday 10 December 2011

Ruling elite depravity Pt 4: tax whisteblower Osita Mba prosecuted while Hartnett gets pay-off

Here's another case that goes on the shitlist I'm calling "How depraved is out ruling elite?"

You'd think, wouldn't you, that in these times of austerity, cuts and sharing the pain in our Big Society, that anyone who helped stem the flow of wealth away from the public purse and into greedy corporate maws would be held up as an example to us all. Maybe even a sign that the government is getting something right. But, no. Perverse and self-serving, the system is rigged so that the more outrageous your economic misdemeanour, the more you are rewarded.

Osita Mba is a name that should go down in history as a rare outbreak of courage and integrity in these brutish times. He is the solicitor at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs department (HMRC) who blew the whistle on tax supremo David Hartnett's curious habit of letting corporations off of their huge tax bills: Goldman Sachs £10mn interest and an eye-watering and possibly illegal £1bn for Vodafone. Denying for ages that dinners with corporate bigwigs had greased his podgy palms, Hartnett has finally decided to bugger off but not without a £1.7 million pension fund of our money, and not without setting off a spite-bomb with a slow fuse for the heroic lawyer without whom Hartnett would have still been indulging his generosity for the rich.

When you hear Frances Maude (pension £42,000 pa) and others complaining about Public sector pensions (average: £7,000 pa), just remember this:
Hartnett's package will anger critics. At the most recent valuation, in March 2011, his pension pot was worth £1.7m. He is expected to receive an annual payout of up to £80,000 and a lump sum on retirement of one year's salary, which is recorded as £160-165,000.

In an act that some might suspect of malice, Hartnett has set in motion a prosecution of Osita which may result in his sacking or, worse, his prosecution.

Personally, I'd rather see this fate directed at the hospitality-loving Hartnett rather than Osita, who should be garlanded with flowers and have rose petals strewn at his feet by dancing girls.

If Osita is punished I am personally going to riot.

You can sign a petition here.

UK Uncut's response to resignation of "Whitehall's most 'wined and dined' civil servant" here.

Monday 5 December 2011

How depraved is our ruling elite Pt 3: coalition steals from cancer patients

The bankers are paying themselves bonuses with gusto, Tamara Ecclestone still has her £500,000 shelf of Birkin bags, the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are having to pick up the bill.

And still we hear the shrill call that it's the deficit that needs eliminating. So how well are our masters doing in pursuing their aims?

Have they closed tax loopholes? Asked the rich to cough up some of the increasing profits made, f'rinstance, by supermarkets and energy companies? Whacked a supertax on yachts and skiiing holidays?

Nope, in this big society, the coalition government has decided to turn the bean-counters on to yet another group of the weakest in society, this time, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Under the plans being consulted on, seriously ill cancer patients in the middle of gruelling intravenous chemotherapy treatment will be forced to prove they are too sick to work. Some patients will have to face back-to-work interviews or be denied a crucial benefit - Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). This is despite unambiguous recommendations from cancer experts and 30 cancer charities[2] who have clearly stated that patients going through debilitating cancer treatment - and who have to leave work - should be automatically eligible for ESA.

Meanwhile, we all knew it but the Guardian's Randeep Ramesh confirms now it's official.
Income inequality among working-age people has risen faster in Britain than in any other rich nation since the mid-1970s owing to the rise of a financial services elite who through education and marriage have concentrated wealth into the hands of a tiny minority, according to a new report by the OECD.

To them that have much let them have even more. The top ten percenters' proportion of the national wealth has climbed to 12 times that of the bottom 10%, up from eight times.
This trend is especially pronounced in Britain, where the dramatic rise in inequality has been fuelled by the creation of a super-rich class. The share of the top 1% of income earners increased from 7.1% in 1970 to 14.3% in 2005. ... Just prior to the global recession, the OECD says the very top of British society – the 0.1% of highest earners – accounted for a remarkable 5% of total pre-tax income, a level of wealth hoarding not seen since the second world war.

We can no longer expect the government to protect the electorate that didn't vote them in in the first place. In the absence of human agency, the best we can hope for is that divine forces take a hand and do things to infuriate the rich like remove all the snow from Klosters and Aspen. Heh!

Laurie Penny locates decision to pursue cancer patients in Labour government.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Yet more depravity at the top: Jeremy Clarkson's joke

How depraved is our ruling elite: No 2

Ah, yes. A big Number two.

Then there's the BBC okaying Jeremy Clarkson's Pinochetesque outburst calling for strikers to be taken out and shot in front of their families. Under pressure from 21,000 complaints, the public corporation then told him to apologise, exercising more punitive authority over two middle-aged lads making a mischievous phone call in Sachsgate than they have over the popular entertainer so admired by Norwegian killer Anders Breivik and the EDL who are calling for attacks on trade unionists.

I am told by John Mendelsohn that, in the US, Ann Coulter is calling for a Kent State-like response (that is, fatal shootings) to the Occupy movement.

String him up with dental floss and then make him drive a Trabant. Only joking.

Or throttle him with his own oversized gizzards in front of his idiot sidekick. Only choking.

Not that the "only joking" plea worked for the Facebook Two, jailed for four years each after the summer riots, or Paul Chambers convicted and fined over a joke Tweet in the Twitter joke trial.

Before Clarkson fans start bleating about freedom of speech, remember that this is someone who supports the use of super-injunctions for the rich and, indeed, reached for his lawyer to shut up his ex-wife when he didn't like what she was saying about him. He only had the order lifted when he saw that it didn't work.

Comics (I know, Clarkson's not very comical) bust down taboos, paving the way for others to follow: usually good when you are mocking authority and control. But how about when you are facilitating the return of a mindset that divides us, that reinforces the powers of those repressive authorities? The beeb surely wouldn't want their man planting a seed in the collective unconscious for use of the same atrocities occurring in places like Colombia. Surely not just as working people are starting to challenge the pillaging of their their livelihoods by bankers and business, and when the right is on the rise in Europe?

More depravity: Dow Chemicals sponsors 2012 Olympics

Reports that one of the sponsors of our wonderful 2012 Olympics is Dow Chemicals, owner of Union Carbide which killed 15,000 people 27 years ago in Bhopal in India and is still maiming the local population, prompts me to start a "How depraved is our ruling elite" series here at Madam Miaow.

Dow's refusal to fully compensate the victims and clean up properly failed to move the Olympic organisers to do the right thing, and has effectively been rewarded with the kudos and prestige expected to result from the glorious Stratford event. (Oh, hold on. I think I see what Olympics chairman Lord Sebastian Coe and his pack are doing.)

Whether or not this is a cunning ploy to take the evil corporation down with the sinking ship — along with its its ground-to-air missiles, good taste and disposable buildings costing hundreds of millions in dosh — to ignore the plight of poor people continuing to be poisoned really does rank with the lowest of the low. Economic power is all that counts.

No wonder the Indian protesters burnt an effigy of smirking Seb Coe.

Read more about what happened in Bhopal here

Thursday 1 December 2011

St Ives & Me: BBC R4 11.30am today

St Ives & Me: BBC R4 11.30am Thursday 1st December 2011
Available to listen on iPlayer for seven days

Put a face to the voices: pix here

St Ives, a Cornish seaside town 300 miles from comedian and poet Anna Chen's London home has been attracting artists for two centuries. A varied assortment of eccentrics, entrepreneurs and free spirits have turned the pilchard-fishing and tin-mining town into a popular cultural haven.

Anna has been holidaying there since she was ten and knew many of the famous artists who've populated and popularised St Ives.

In the late 1970s the bohemian fashion journalist and novelist Molly Parkin was a regular on the St. Ives scene and she recalls how, in the dark recesses of Mr Peggotty's disco, she introduced Anna to artist Patrick Heron. In his Porthmeor studio by the Atlantic, Heron used to make Anna mugs of tea while he painted and sketched her and their conversations opened her eyes to the arts. Revisiting those studios, she meets two present day painters maintaining the St Ives' tradition.

On a personal tour of the town, she returns to Barbara Hepworth's sculpture garden, hears about the unique light conditions that attract so many artists and reveals the vital roles Napoleon, Von Ribbentrop and the 1960s hippies played in promoting and preserving St Ives.

At lunchtime, in Norway Square, Anna performs her comic poetry in the St Ives Festival, which has been attracting trendsetters for thirty years.

And she waits on the beach, with bated breath, for the legendary 33rd wave.

Producer: Chris Eldon Lee
A Culture Wise production for BBC Radio 4.