Friday 30 March 2012

George Galloway wins Bradford West: Labour should learn lesson

Whatever you think of George Galloway, the main parties should take heed. This is the public putting a rocket up your bum. It's no use dismissing this arrogantly as the victory of "communalism", "oh it was just the Muslim vote", and all the other whining I've seen and heard since he won his astonishing 36 per cent swing in last night's Bradford West by-election for the Respect party. The voters have noted that the Tories are emboldened in their attacks on every aspect of life for anybody who isn't a top earner while the creepy Lib Dems facilitate their pillage and Labour flails pathetically.

Yes, he has a monstrous ego. Yes, he sues at the drop of a mention of his affiliations or parts of his past. Yes, he wore a cock-hugging leotard, aired his sinister submissive side when he role-played a cat with Rula Lenska on Big Brother and was a beastly bully to the two young contestants on the show. All that is true.

But he defends the Palestinians articulately and with gusto — his performances in the US and against the awful Sky newsreader were impressive. And he is now saying what most of us are saying. While Labour can barely muster the energy to pretend they care about the damage being done to British society, Galloway provides a voice, an analysis and a willingness to fight this corner where no others will.

If Labour doesn't like Galloway then the solution is easy. Start doing your job so Galloway doesn't have to.

UPDATE: In one predominantly white middle-class ward, 900 votes went to Respect while only 40 went to Labour.

Sunday 8th April 2012 — Patrick Coburn in the
The Economist, after recording that Mr Galloway is "a hate figure for the British establishment", claims he won his seat "mostly by touting his opposition to the war in Afghanistan." (Note the use of the loaded word "touting".) But what should be more relevant to current British politics than the Afghan war where 407 British soldiers have been killed and a small British army of 9,500 is still fighting? It is a conflict in which men and women have died and are dying in vain: their intervention has achieved nothing; the Taliban are not being defeated and this should long have been self-evident.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Pastygate: George Osborne get your hands off our pasties!

A 20 per cent tax on hot food for poor people from the millionaire cabinet that just awarded their friends a five per cent cut in their taxes.

Here's a poem from the other year which features a pasty.

Ode To A Detox On Returning From St Ives

I'd hoped to grow old like Lauren Bacall,
Elegant, willowy, tall,
Tight arse, tons of class,
An enigma on a pedestal

Once slender and considered quite tasty
In a thin thong and pasties,
The pasties are now Cornish pasties
And I can't thing the thame thong without crying.
My legendary six-pack is now a six-pack of cider,
My inner Size Zero grows a whole lot wider
finds the hacksaw hidden in the hogroast
and hacks her way free,
pausing only for a swift one with pork scratchings on the side.
Deep fried.
If only I ate apples instead of being shaped like one.
I am a woman of many appetites but fruit salad ain't fun.
My overactive mandibles leave love handles the size of trees,
I love my food but my food hates me.
Treacherous, it deposits clues
In my jelly belly
it's a jelly belly, it's a jelly belly, it's a jelly belly, it's a jelly belly
I tried sleeping with the fishes,
Even they didn't fancy me.
They flashed their fins and went upscale
And threw me out of the sea

A whale washed up,
A chubby cherub after the Fall,
I roll across the land, a shapeless fog,
Devouring all in an epic trawl.
I wish the fog was a pea-souper
Cause I could scoff that an' all
Scarf the lot like a hog.
Nom, nom, nom.
No! This lardy bard must recall
Lauren Bacall was no butterball.

Fat threatens to settle in folds,
In rolls of old cholesterol.
The make-up thickens
Like clotting cream,
Like two inches of plasticene,
Like fossil strata from the palioscene.
My bags are now luggage
My breasts are baggage
In body angst overdrive
My reflection is savage.
I will rivet closed my gaping maws
My beak snaps shut,
My greedy paws gathering greenery,
My jaws chewing up the scenery,
Filling the hole inside me
Coz I recognise the metaphors.
Grimly I scan the vision before me
And understand why no-one adores me.
I do not enthrall like Lauren Bacall
Tons of flaws, open pores,
I'm growing old like Diana Dors

Anna Chen September 2010

Madam Miaow makes the Orwell Prize longlist for blogging 2012

Informed witty commentary on China matters available here

The Orwell Prize has just announced its 2012 longlist for blogging and I'm delighted to find that Madam Miaow has made the grade.

My submitted entries here.

Blog longlist here.

Alex Massie Alex Massie
Anna Chen Madam Miaow Says
Bagehot Bagehot’s Notebook
Ms Baroque Baroque in Hackney
BendyGirl Benefit Scrounging Scum
David Allen Green Jack of Kent
Gavin Kelly Economics and the reality of the ‘squeezed middle’
John Rentoul Independent Blogs
Lisa Ansell Lisa Ansell
Pavel Konnolsky The Konnolsky Files
Polly Curtis Reality Check with Polly Curtis
Mick Fealty Slugger O’Toole
Raph Shirley Another stupid human
Rangers Tax-Case Rangers Tax-Case
Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi
Tim Marshall Foreign Matters
Toby Young Telegraph Blogs
Wiggy Beneath the Wig

Friday 23 March 2012

Reading art: Li Tianbing exhibition

I quite fancy going to see the exhibition of Li Tianbing's paitings being shown at the Stephen Friedman Gallery.

I know nothing about Li's art except for what I've been reading today, including an intriguing piece at Art Lyst.

Li is quite young, born in 1974, the year I visited China with my parents. Still a schoolkid who wanted to be an artist, I was shown around Shanghai University's art department and, with my mother in tow, allowed into their gallery to view the work of their students. It was an impressive display with superb technical ability on show in a range of styles from traditional watercolours to Western oils.

We soon noticed a common trait in the landscapes that amused us. Every one featured a tractor. You didn't need to be a student of Kremlinology to see who'd go far. We guessed that the artists with the in-yer-face bright red tractors taking up the biggest area of canvas would climb the greasy career pole faster than the painters who appeared to have used the finest sable brush with about two hairs to make the most parsimonious stroke of red possible denoting the presence of the people's farm vehicle in the furthest reaches of the landscape, several miles distant. We thought they may very well have a had a future kneeling on glass and would have been lucky getting a job painting white lines down roads in the middle of traffic. Which, consisting mostly of bicycles in those days wouldn't have been as bad as it sounds.

Anyhow, a look at Li's paintings places him in the latter category and on the naughty step.

Take the painting above — Recruitment — of four children holding up official information pamphlets. At first glance it's a rural portrait of poor kids. Art Lyst says:
Like many of Li Tianbing's paintings, the work is pock-marked with black ink-like stains - a reference to photos the artist once saw of the Khmer Rouge, whose deteriorating surfaces convey a haunting connection to an obliterated past. This stain motif is used time and time again as a reminder of the corrosive power of political dictates and is a haunting yet powerful motif.

What struck me is what he's saying in the picture. Where are the official pamphlets being held? Think of the Three Wise Monkeys and see how the paper is held, left to right, over the mouth, the ears, almost over the eyes which are almost obscured, and then, adding a new figure, the boy who is standing holds his pamphlet over his head: think no evil. Or just: don't think.

Not only that but, behind them, emerging from the group, are leafless trees: dormant, wintry. Two of the trees go nowhere, hitting the dead end of the top edge of the picture. But the fourth one we see in it's entirety (a third one is in view but stunted): what's it doing? It is not heading towards the light but is bent. And what is it bending towards? The left (the past in western terms as we read left to right — Li did study in Paris, after all), and towards the old traditional building. It also forms a circle and an anti-clockwise (backward) cycle from which nothing breaks out. Far from being an innocent flat snapshot of a historical moment, this is a bitter caustic comment on what Li believes the system is doing.

It is sad that the system that once promised to break the masses out of their spiritual and intellectual poverty, having raised hundreds of millions out of physical poverty and doubled life expectancy, is now seen by some as trapping them in a deadening cycle. Agree or not with what he's saying, this picture is powerful because it is so loaded with meaning. And he's a bloody good draftsman.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Tory lords, LibDem peers and MPs with interests in health companies

In the wake of today's shameful vote for the Health and Social Care (NHS) Bill 2011 in the House of Lords, here is a brilliant comprehensive list of politicians where there may very well be a conflict of interest due to their financial involvement with the private health industry.

Another must-read is Professor Allyson Pollock's papers laying out the arguments against the bill: ‘Commercial confidentiality’ trumps public right to know in England’s new health market'; 'a legal basis for charging and providing fewer health services to people in England'; 'services, charges, and exclusions'; 'A flawed bill with a hidden purpose'; 'How the Health and Social Care Bill 2011 would end entitlement to comprehensive health care in England'; 'changing data requirements of the market: implications for public health'; 'conflicts of interest'; ' abolition of the secretary of state's duty'; 'The final frontier: The UK’s new coalition government turns the English National Health Service over to the global health care market'.

UPDATE Tuesday 20th March: Harpy Marx writes to me:
When services become privatised one of the first things to go is accountability replaced with "‘commercial confidentiality’. This is happening with welfare reform, private companies becoming covered by "commercial confidentiality" and many of these greedy companies try and sue....and pressure blog providers, for example, to take a blog down if it criticising them. Bookbinder judgement in '93 stated (when local authority tried to sue a newspaper). "It was contrary to the public interest that organs of government, whether central or local, should have the right to sue for libel because any governmental body should be open to uninhibited public criticism and to allow such actions would place an undesirable fetter on freedom of speech." Freedom of speech is part of a functioning democracy privatisation erodes it democracy. Excellent book by Dexter Whitfield on "New Labour’s Attack on Public Services: Modernisation by Marketisation (2006)" Just replace New Labour with ConDems in the title...same process happening but at an accelerated force.

Monday 19 March 2012

Looting at the top: Marie Antoinette meet George Orwell

The two million dollar bra

The looting at the top carries on apace. While we wait for the results of the next vote on the break-up of the NHS, here's a delightful Rogues' Gallery of Tory peers and their connections to private health companies.

Essentially, they are privatising our public services, removing the wealth via tax havens, making the majority capitalise their banks, finding more mad luxury items to waste our money on at a time when corporate profits are at a 50-year high and the Sunday Times Rich List is breaking records.

Luxury items include the £100 million yacht recently built for former Miss UK Kirsty Bertarelli and her Swiss pharma tycoon husband, multi-million dollar bras, spider silk fabric because they reckon they're worth it and Beckham and Ecclestone owning Birkin handbags worth between £500K - £1.5 million. Ever suspect we are being run by a bunch of degenerates?

The Tories were not elected to power and have no mandate for any of this. Their Lib Dems human shields are helping to usher in major healthcare companies in a feeding frenzy as they use tax havens to suck out public money. Lib Dems who talk about "bloated public services" being the problem are ill-informed at best. A friend tells me that, according to a World Service report, over 30% of local authority expenditures are private 'Special Services' run by ex civil servents who avoid income tax on their fees by being paid directly by the private company.

Meanwhile, the cop with the machine gun in Trafalgar Square on Saturday's NHS protest goes unreported in the mainstream press.Welcome to Britain, George Orwell stylee.

Don't tell me there's no money: great facts and figures from Mark Wright

Saturday 17 March 2012

This American Life retracts Mike Daisey's China labour story

If only I'd known this show may contain nuts. Mike Daisey's monologue, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a powerful exposé about labour abuses at the Apple factory in China, turns out to contain falsehoods.

Daisey did what he claims no journalist had done: he went into the Foxconn factory under cover as a businessman and emerged with a shocking eyewitness account of suicide nets, gun-toting security guards and under-age child labour spilling out into the streets. Forbes reports:
To cite just one example: child labor. The abuses of many foreign factories, including Apple’s, have been extensively documented by journalists and NGOs, and employing children is the among the most explosive and damaging. The New York Times has reported that Apple itself had cited Foxconn for hiring 15-year-olds. But the Times reporters evidently found none of them, nor is it clear how extensive a problem it is. Schmitz, who has also reported extensively on this topic, says “these things are rare,” and Apple claims it’s been addressed. Yet Daisy claimed the problem was literally overflowing into the street: “I’m telling you that in my first two hours at my first day at that gate I met workers who were 14 years old…13 years old…12 …Do you really think Apple doesn’t know?”

Ira Glass, presenter of This American Life, the Chicago Public Radio programme that first aired Daisey's show and propelled the performer to stardom and hero status, has fessed-up to failing to fact-check, falling for the writer's claim that he didn't have his Chinese interpreter's mobile number. They are now pulling the original programme and broadcasting one this weekend that investigates where it went wrong.

Daisey is unrepentant. Yes, it is true that you can tell a bigger truth by juggling the facts, especially in fiction where dramatic license is a stock-in-trade. You can use a distorting mirror to pull into view aspects that an audience might have otherwise missed, as long as the audience is in on the game. However, pure invention of facts that you know will be taken at face value, that you have not signalled as being tampered with, makes you more than a "fabulist" as some are politely labelling him: it wrecks the very case you are making. Daisey says:
I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. What I do is not journalism [italics mine]. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­– not a theatrical ­– enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret.

There are real problems in China regarding harsh labour conditions and a polarisation of rich and poor. Outflanked by unofficial strikes and protests, the approved trade unions are having to negotiate towards a better life for their workers, and there is a growing movement for the establishment of independent trade unions, but this sensationalising does not help. It adds to the weight of dehumanisation of the Chinese. Sadly, there is such a feeding-frenzy around demonising China and the Chinese that such exaggerations are assumed to be literal truth. Any carpet-bagging opportunist can thereby pluck what they like from the collective fantasy being constructed and build a career on it.

Daisey is a mesmerising performer who had a long and successful career stretching out in front of him. His reputation is now in tatters and the bigger truth has not been served.

PODCAST This Americal Life investigation here or here

Apple at fault at Foxconn. Fair Labor Association's findings on Apple and Foxconn

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Doonesbury: Rick Perry's foetal exam

Some publications refused to print this week's worth of sublime Doonesbury on Rick Perry's violation of Texan women's rights and bodies. And so freedom of speech passes into memory along with Enlightenment values.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

The Triumph and Turmoil of Niall Ferguson's obsession with China, Channel 4: review

I knew the nutty Professor wouldn't let me down.

"Could China’s rise repeat the same disastrous trajectory of Germany a hundred years ago? It’s something to ponder the next time you order a Chinese takeaway." So says Niall Ferguson in the Radio Times even as the US moves forces out of the Middle East where they've done such a fine job and into the Pacific.

There are some who think that America is closer to Weimar hyper-inflation than the Land of the Rising Renminbi, and China tends to purchase its raw materials rather than send in the troops, but it doesn't make for as good a scare story as the humble takeaway as outrider for the new Chinese empire.

In Channel 4's China: Triumph and Turmoil (Mondays 8pm) Ferguson takes us from 250 BC to the present day and the Chinese "huge potential for venality" with no mention of Jardine Matheson, Western banks and drug money liquidity in 2007, hackgate, Empire, an accelerating number of wars on foreign soil or even the Opium Wars.

Niall shows us little old ladies playing mah jong because, he says, this is how we Chinese launder our ill-gotten gains. Children draw beautiful calligraphy as visual filler for yet more fear-laden drivel. We are sinister, we are robots, we are less than human: thank goodness we have been found out by the Yellow Peril Finder General. "They think differently," he growls. No, Niall. We think.

He's actually paid for this.

Niall shows us how awful it must have been to live under the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210BC). What did the Emperor ever do for us? Apart from standardising the language. And the currency. And the Terracotta Army. He burned books and he killed scholars. Two thousand years ago. Of course, what I'm really jonesing for is to live in mediaeval Europe 'cause I'd look good with buboes and the robber barons were sort of hippies if you overlook the weapons and the rape and the pillage. (Niall keeps referring to "Qin" as if this is his surname whereas his personal name was Ying Zheng. Keep up, Ferguson.)

Who could forget Niall's terror of Chinese male sexuality in Newsweek?
That has scary implications. ... It may be that the coming generation of Asian men without women will find harmless outlets for their inevitable frustrations, like team sports or videogames. But I doubt it. Either this bachelor generation will be a source of domestic instability, whether Brazilian-style crime or Arab-style revolution—or, as happened in Europe, they and their testosterone will be exported. There’s already enough shrill nationalism in Asia as it is. Don’t be surprised if, in the next generation, it takes the form of macho militarism and even imperialism. Lock up your daughters.

The trouble with this Top Gear school of history is that valid criticism, such as the very real corruption scandal of the billions stolen and taken abroad (helped by Western banks), gets lost in the fog of some old geezer's paranoid ramblings (there's an entire series of this to come). Instead of thoughtful analysis which would allow a deeper understanding and dialogue, we find ourselves being hard-wired for a military conflict further down the line once we've done over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iran, Venezuela and Russia. Hello, George Bush senior's New World Order.

The British media, once the best in the world (by my limited reckoning), now indulges such ill-informed racist nonsense. However, if you can get past the collective raspberry being blown on Twitter during last night's first episode, a quick scan of tweets shows that viewers are generally better informed than this throwback to Empire. Edward Luce in yesterday's FT — headline: Welcome to the new China-bashing — observes that the US trade deficit with China stands at £300bn, and we always tail the Americans. Damn those cunning orientals and their enormous tax breaks for investors!

Meanwhile, back here in the country with the highest number of CCTV cameras per head of population, where our government scrambles to withdraw us from European Human Rights laws, I look forward to the Olympics in the Land of the Free.

Niall Ferguson on the BBC.

Monday 5 March 2012

Copper Comes A Cropper: Poem on today's Leveson Inquiry

Copper Comes A Cropper
5th March 2012

A little bit of sympathy at the back, there.
Puh-leaze. Let's be 'aving yew.
At the Leveson inquiry
The cruellest moment is when
Sir Paul Stephenson,
The poor put-upon former chief bill
Hobbles in on crutches and drops a pill,
Cutting a pathetic sight
Under the assembled legal might.
So small for a tall man,
Bespectacled nerd
Pinched lips, he can barely cope.
Only a thug like a lawyer
Would punch well-honed words
At a man on the ropes.

He says:
I may be public watchdog eyes and ears but
I wasn't there, never heard a thing,
Couldn't see, except for what the reptiles did to Lord Ian Blair
Stripped bare in the glare of The Sun
And that wasn't going to happen to me.

A loose-lipped minority gossiped
In a distracting dialogue of disharmony,
Dysfunctional, too close for my liking.
But I couldn't do a thing, not a thing.

Ever so humbly, you are
Crediting me with a level of analysis I don't have
I didn't give it any particular thought
No conclusions can be wrought.
It was just something that happened.
Like The Sun coming up in the morning
Shedding light on the scum we turned over.
I am not fawning but we don't investigate someone we know socially
and with whom we are friends.
Except when we did the police officers.
A big boy done it and ran away
And stopped us realising there was anything wrong
When he told us there was no new hack sore.
We adopted a defensive mindset instead of a challenging stance
I can see that now.
It was a cursory glance
Not wide, not deep.
We were asleep.
If only we had the wisdom of hindsight
and weren't caught out
it would all be all right.

I'm not throwing my colleague out of the back of the sleigh and
I can't answer for him but
It would have been wiser presentationally
For him to have done it different.
But he is away in Bahrain and you aren't getting him back in Old Blighty
Until the heat is off,
Until you call off the dogs,
Until the trail has chilled like the champagne we quaffed as we doffed.
Defending and not challenging,
That was the error of our ways.
We are brave and did not back off, guv,
Just because it was News International.

We were logical and needed the polaroids
Coz the tapes and diaries in Glenn's black bags were not enough.
It was the Bahrain runaway who did not reopen the enquiry
He failed, it is regrettable. That's tough.
Fear of taking on a powerful enterprise is not the case.
I did not put the frighteners on the Guardian editor,
Or spray him with Mace,
Or rough him up too much.
Politics over substance
I merely turned up to understand.
But there was no meeting of minds,
My pulse did not race.
You could not get off your face with him
Unlike the real press, proper gents we could have a laugh with
Over a drink and a nice dinner.
Call it folly but Mr Wallis was generous with the Bolly
And Yates of the Yard was fond of his jollies.
I just did not get it and wasn't keeping tally,
The Met caught Chlamedia off Wallis by getting too pally
But we gave him Cressida Dick.

A lack of evidence beyond the lone rogue reporter
Meant rationed resources and an underfunded force
Would not be deployed as a matter of course.
Please give us more dosh if you wish us to wield the cosh.
I was overworked with anti-terrorism,
The Olympics,
Not my decision
A junior did it and is sunning himself in sandy climes.
I am an ill man, I need a week in a spa.
Can you recommend one?

And so they adjourn for another time.

But spare a thought for the thin blue line.
Poor Raisa, disappeared, turned to glue,
Currently starring in a pet food can near you
To stop her singing like a canary,
Squealing like a pig at an inquiry.
Take the porkers she carried;
She knew Cameron's arse inside and out,
Blue heart and stout,
Fullsome about Coulson,
He put it about,
Withdrew when the thin blue sphincter tightened,
Purged the toad and found his load lightened.
Raisa rode bravely into the student throngs they harried
Righting a wrong for the Right,
Got the stomach for a fight when protesters say neigh
And you weigh as much as ten of them
With a bobby on your back.
Truncheoned before luncheon
Unfree by tea
Scuppered before supper
A hack for the hacks
The sack for the lax
When they are found out
Her hooves are all over this
but her head is in some mogul's bed.

Anna Chen 5th March 2012

Boris Johnson and his assistant Kit Malthouse in the frame

Sunday 4 March 2012

Lucy Liu cast as Elementary Watson: British Sherlock threatens turf war with US show

Brilliant news that the enlightened producers of Elementary, the new American Sherlock Holmes television series on CBS, have had the imagination to cast Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson. Some wags have commented that this is wrong because she should have been playing Holmes him/herself, but you can't have everything.

Amusingly, the team behind the BBC "reboot", starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, have made ill-tempered threats to sue the US series.

Producer Sue Vertue said: "We have been in touch with CBS and informed them that we will be looking at their finished pilot very closely for any infringement of our rights."

Love that "infringement of our rights".

Personally, I think they were lucky we no longer have proper diversity awareness in the British media or else they might have been the ones having a much-deserved slap on the wrist for an unpleasant outbreak of "infringements of rights" in the antedeluvian anti-Chinese racism at the centre of their Blind Banker episode.

Of course, not only did they receive no criticism from the so-called liberal media but they went on to receive the BAFTA award for drama despite reviving colonialist tropes which dehumanise an entire race. Leni Riefenstahl, eat your heart out.

The BBC calls their effort, "A thrilling, funny, fast-paced contemporary reimagining of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic." Well, "contemporary" if you are an early 20th Century Colonel Blimp with technology, and "reimagining" if you think setting your stories in the era of crack but with attitudes straight out of the Opium Wars is hiply nouveau.

Liu's casting, transgressing not only gender but race boundaries, and the subsequent squealing from certain interests, has been illuminating in revealing exactly how far we've travelled: not very far at all.

Go Robert Doherty! Go Lucy! Go Joan Watson!

UPDATE: Thanks to Ross Fitzsimons for letting us know that there is a precedent for Sherlock cross-gender casting in "There Might Be Giants" in which Holmes is played by George C Scott and Dr Mildred Watson is played by Joanne Woodward. One does suspect that this is less about Watson's sex as his/her race.

Saturday 3 March 2012

VIDEO Camellia and the Poppy from The Steampunk Opium Wars

Anna Chen sings The Camellia and the Poppy, the opening song of The Steampunk Opium Wars. Filmed at the National Maritime Museum on Thursday 16th February 2012.

With Charles Shaar Murray on guitar and Marc Jefferies on bass guitar.

Camera: Jeff Willis

The Steampunk Opium Wars pages here.