Friday 27 April 2012

The Grudge Lonely Heart: Madam Miaow seeks boyfriend

The Grudge is looking for a boyfriend so give her a Ring. You have seven days ...

Bo Xilai's downfall in cartoon form: CCPology made easy

Arf, arf!

Other news in the China saga: blind activist Chen Guangcheng escapes but his family may pay the price. Also here.

Ai Weiwei's cactus and crab packs political punch

Ai Weiwei has another work on show in London: a living sculpture, "The Box", consisting of a crab and a cactus in the small confined space of a white box (the artist has been incarcerated for months at a time in China) is at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery from today.

As with the box, the significance of the prickly cactus is fairly easy to work out but what some Western commentators may me missing is what the crab may mean, especially if it turns out to be a river crab. The gallery had to search around for the right kind of cactus as stipulated by Ai. I do hope they managed to obtain a Chinese mitten crab — the river crab — as this carries an extra layer of meaning in written Chinese: harmony which has become synonymous with censorship.
In Chinese Mandarin, the word "River crab" (河蟹), which originally means Chinese mitten crab, sounds similar to "Harmonious/Harmonize/Harmonization" (Chinese: 和谐) in the word "Harmonious society" (和谐社会), Chinese leader Hu Jintao's signature ideology.

Along with "grass mud horse" (meaning yo mama's anatomy), river crabs have been used for years by China's netizens to goad the Chinese government. Let's hope they let him out for the launch of his pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery in London this summer.

For your edification and amusement, here's The Song of the Mud Grass Horse which makes South Park look like Enid Blyton.

Ai Weiwei's The Box is at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, 6 Heddon Street, London W1, 27 April - 26 May 2012.

Thursday 26 April 2012

On the Mississippi Blues Trail: Madam Miaow in America

Duck stars at the Peabody Hotel, Memphis

This article first appeared in Gap Year Magazine

The Mississippi Blues trail

It was the ducks that did it. Even they had their own musical accompaniment: the King Cotton March by John Phillip Sousa, as it happens.

Any trip worth remembering will have its own soundtrack that stays with the traveller long after the souvenirs have gathered dust: whether it be the favourite tracks you load onto your MP3 player or, if you seek escape from your private tourist bubble, the local music you stumble across as you pass through exciting new landscapes.

There are few sounds more powerful than the music associated with the American blues trail, carrying with it the history of an entire people from tragic beginnings in slavery to the creation of a major art form that’s sired jazz and rock and roll in all its forms … except maybe for ABBA.

From what’s left of sleepy sensual New Orleans in the Mississippi Delta in the south after Hurricane Katrina and the developers got through with it, to the speedy urban setting of Chicago on the banks of Lake Michigan 930 miles away in the north, the Blues Highway is one of the culturally richest journeys you can make. The cast in this story features African American music legends John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, Buddy Guy, Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, Sam Cooke, Charley Patton , Willie Dixon, and not forgetting Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and a whole bluesmobile-full of others.

I did this by car, taking in all the main centres along Highway 61 in little over a week. A leisurely fortnight would have been ideal and if you can manage longer, well, lucky you.

* * *

The invention of the cotton gin in the late 18th century rejuvenated the use of slavery in the massively profitable cotton growing areas of the Deep South including the Mississippi River Delta. When the Civil War brought an end to slavery, it was replaced by sharecropper poverty and vicious Jim Crow laws as the chief source of misery.

A generation of young African American men left the plantations for work in the cities. The easiest escape was jumping the train north to St Louis and Chicago.

The blues had grown out of field hollers and spirituals. Musical instruments were improvised out of any materials that were to hand. Thus the diddley bow was born out of a piece of wire strung between two nails hammered into the porch. Guitars and harmonicas could be bought cheaply from catalogues and stores.

The luckier among them could get work in the Chicago heavy industries, and because their instruments were portable, the talented ones could make a living or at least feed their souls with their music.

When you take the Mississippi blues trail, you are following in the footsteps of these refugees and early pioneers of jazz and rock. So load up your MP3 player with blues goodies and get ready to roll.


Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River at the crossroads between Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas, Memphis is the centre of the American heartland that gave birth to the blues. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Jim, the runaway slave, would have sailed past on their raft on their way to freedom.

There’s an observation you’ll see emblazoned everywhere except in sky writing so I’ll introduce you to it here: the Mississippi Delta "begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel (in Memphis) and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg". They may as well have a T-shirt printed with it. They probably do already.

Stepping into the Peabody Hotel on Union Street conjures up Tennessee Williams, mint juleps and a hundred variants of barbecue sauce that have me drooling even as I write. This homage to the original Peabody, which closed in 1923, was built two years later in the style of the Italian Renaissance, with all the grandeur of the deep south but with ethnic minorities. Suffering more tragic declines than Blanche DuBois, its faded fortunes were revived in 1981.

If you can’t afford to stay here, you can still enjoy the bar which did brisk under-the-counter business during prohibition, but it won’t be the plush surrounds or the travertine marble fountain that amaze you. Time it right and you’ll witness a sight that has had tourists crowding the lobby since the 1930s with not one call for BBQ sauce.

Every morning at 11am, the poultry wrangler known as the “Duckmaster” escorts one mallard drake and four hens from their penthouse Duck Palace (cost $200,000) on the Plantation Roof, into the elevator and down into the lobby where they waddle in line to the fountain to frolic for the rest of the day until bedtime at five o’clock when it all happens in reverse. Reader, I have watched movie star Nic Cage on the balcony watching the duck parade below, as spellbound as any other out-of-town visitor. That’s how weird and wonderful it is.

If this is making you hungry, you’re in the right place. Southern soul food is another one of the delights of this region. Several blues maestros own music venues serving the local fare. If you head for BB’s (owned by B B King) on Beale Street, a famous centre of African-American music, you’ll get great food and music in the same hit. Forget burgers. We ate cornbread, Jack Daniels-marinaded steak, gumbo and a rack of ribs smothered in sticky BBQ sauce until we were stuffed silly. All washed down with the weak brew which the locals joke gets its flavour from the Mississippi water it’s made from.

If that doesn’t satisfy you, you can try the Elvis Presley restaurant that replicates the menus that ultimately killed the King. Speciality: a loaf halved lengthways and fried in butter, filled with bacon fried in butter with peanut butter, jello (jam), mashed banana and probably a knob of butter. Add a carton of clotted cream and this would be my idea of heaven even if my heartburn would be hell.

Elvis was a local lad made good after he ventured into Sun Studios, round the corner from Beale Street, and caught the ear of owner and producer Sam Phillips. For twelve bucks you can take the studio tour and see where the legends of Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash were created. I have a snap of me singing into the very same Epiphone microphone (or one just like it) that Elvis would have used.

Charles Shaar Murray at Sun Studio, Memphis

If you have time, get over to Graceland, Elvis’s famous mansion home. It’s a lot smaller than you imagine. Who knew you could spend half a million dollars in Woolworths?

A sadder story is the one of the other King at the Lorraine Motel in Downtown Memphis. It’s here that Dr Martin Luther King was shot dead on the balcony outside his room by racist loonies eager to keep black people in their place. There’s some controversy attached to the building as it was home for the wretched poor when the decision was made to turn it into a state-of-the-art museum. While the shell has been preserved and King’s room encased in glass, the area behind has been completely rebuilt and the residents evicted. The exhibits include a bus like the one where Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to give up her seat for an able-bodied white man, kicking off the Montgomery Bus Boycott and galvanising the Civil Rights movement of which King became a leader. Worth seeing but you may first want to speak to Jacqueline Smith, the last of the motel residents to be evicted and who has mounted a lonely protest outside for twenty years.

If you are a music fiend, you could make a detour to Nashville, home of the po' white folk equivalent of the blues: Country and Western. Otherwise, head south towards New Orleans on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.


After 60 miles, where Highway 61 meets Highway 49 just outside Clarksdale, there’s a junction steeped in myth — the biggest one in the whole mythography of music. It’s where the young musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in order to gain his supernatural guitar skills. It gained him fame, glory and sex for a few years before the devil called in his marker and Johnson was poisoned by the jealous boyfriend of a woman he was seeing. The Crossroads of legend turns out to be several places in the real world as there are different intersections all telling you you’re crossing 49. We were stymied. It’s not like you can trust the gigantic crossed guitars at one of them — even if X does mark the spot — as this was smart advertising for a local business. My advice: pick a place and meditate. It was all invented so you might as well join in. As long as you locate the crossroads deep in your soul …

Squealing like a porker that’s caught a whiff of BBQ sauce, I nearly crashed the car when I spotted the Riverside Inn (now Hotel) just outside town. For this is where singer Bessie Smith breathed her last with her magnificent lungs when it was formerly a hospital for black people in the bad old days of legalised racism.

Smith should rightly be referred to as “legend” rather than mere singer, but we are now in an area renowned for its legends. Throw a rock and you will hit a spot that had something to do with one, whether it be Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Duke Ellington or Robert Nighthawk who all stayed at the Riverside. There must be ley-lines or a spooky alignment of the planets or maybe they put whisky in the water. Whatever it is, I want some.

Clarksdale is a small town — maybe one and a half horse’s worth. But what a history. I stood staring at the tiny single-platform station where mile-long cargo trains trundle past on the Illinois Central Railroad, very slowly but never stopping, with the ghosts of desperate young men showing me how easy it would have been to hop a train north.

Across from the station, the Ground Zero Blues Club: perhaps the most famous of the juke joints, part owned by Morgan Freeman. Outside on the sidewalk, one of the kitchen staff sits on an old armchair for a smoke. Inside, it’s a large square room with a small stage at one end with just enough room to swing a Strat, and a bar running down the side. We drink bourbon and eat ribs followed by peach cobbler and feel like we are in hawg heaven.

Clarksdale’s Delta Blues Museum documents the town’s amazing history and is run by volunteer heroes. Star feature is Muddy Waters’ shack from Stovall Farms where he was a sharecropper before finding fame and fortune with his axe. Son House and Charlie Musselwhite were local lads who also have their own sections in the exhibition.

Three miles from Clarksdale, the Shack-Up Inn is one of the most unusual places I’ve ever stayed at. Occupying a slice of the old Hopson Plantation where the early cotton picker was trialled, it’s an unconventional hotel complex made out of real sharecroppers’ shacks, giving cultural historians an authentic glimpse of the environment that produced the blues. Some might call it misery tourism but there are skint creatives out there looking for a quiet place to think and compose: patrons include Morgan Freeman, Samuel L Jackson, Charlie Musselwhite and the late Ike Turner. None of the cabins are luxurious, although they contain the requisite bathrooms, fridges and fans, and many come with keyboards and sound systems. Trying sitting on the porch in the torpid heat of a southern summer evening, drinking a cold beer with Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf or Waters playing in the background. Ah, magic. Apart from the mosquitoes. They’re just maddening.

Anna and CSM in the Cadillac Shack at the Shack-up Inn, Clarksdale

St Louis

Short of time, we miss New Orleans — home of dixieland jazz and all things Creole — and head back north through Memphis to St Louis, best known for ragtime jazz and a major stopover for the black exodus of the 1920s and 30s. The only obvious landmarks are the Gateway Arch on the West bank of the Mississippi, looking like half a monument to McDonalds, and the gorgeous rail terminus. Union Station’s huge vaulted ceiling is more cathedral than railway station, once the biggest in the world, now the luxury hotel that annoyingly gave up our room despite notice that we’d be arriving late.

We spend our evening at BB’s Jazz, Blues And Soups, a smallish joint which stays open until 2am, and serves pleasant food to some cracking live music.


Driving to the Windy City of Chicago, the spiritual end of the Blues Highway, we struggle to find any of the great blues stations we’d listened to on the car radio at the start of our journey. The further north you go the angrier and meaner become the jocks and commentators.

The architecture of central Chicago is fabulous: a creamy Gotham of art deco and waterways. We stay in the Essex Hotel on Lake Shore Drive fronting onto Lake Michigan, in the four-mile part of the city destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871. The rebuilding took place during the wealthiest period in America’s history, when skyscraper construction had just been made possible. No wonder it looks amazing. Except for the Essex Hotel which looks like something constructed in Essex; perhaps Ripple Road in Romford. Luckily, we were on the inside looking out.

The best way to see the sights is to take the tram, touring the El railway, the Sears Building, Wrigley Field stadium, the waterfront, Oprah Winfrey’s modern tower block and the fairground underneath.

Take a cab down town to Chess Records to complete the music tour. Willie Dixon, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley; all the blues giants recorded here. So great was their impact that their effect was felt in Britain, inspiring bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Just one last music stop: Buddy Guy’s Legends, serving some of the best food I have ever eaten. Jambalaya, gumbo, frogs legs, ribs, catfish, crawfish etouffée … Mmm, excuse my drool. If you’re lucky, you may get to see the man himself perform. If you’re luckier still, Buddy might even be personally cheffing in the kitchen ...

Music and artists associated with the Delta:
Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Junior Parker, Jimmy Reed, Sam Cooke
Sun Records: Sam Phillips (producer), Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin' Wolf, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Ike Turner
Chess Records: Muddy and Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker

Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale
Delta Blues Museum
1 Blues Alley - Clarksdale, MS 38614 - 662-627-6820 
Current Hours - Monday thru Saturday - 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Sun Studio, Memphis
Buddy Guy’s Legends, Chicago
Chess Records, Chicago

Sunday 22 April 2012

Bo Xilai: China aberration or business as usual?

In Lewis Carroll's Alice Through The Looking Glass, when the Walrus and the Carpenter take the little oysters on a long march along the beach, the Walrus weeps over the fate of the poor shellfish while he scoffs as many as he can behind the cover of the handkerchief he's sobbing into. This image sums up my feelings about the disgraced party secretary of Chonqing, Bo Xilai whose rising star has been super-novaed in spectacular style.

Months after 41-year old British businessman Neil Heywood died in Chongqing last November of a suspected drinks binge and was hurriedly cremated without an autopsy despite telling friends he feared for his life, the news that he was most likely poisoned with cyanide at the behest of Bo's wife, Gu Kailai after an argument about their business interests, has exploded across the top echelons of the CPP.

Set to become the leader of the top superpower with a seat on the nine-strong Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), Bo will now be lucky if he's sweeping streets by the end of the murder investigation, and it'll be astonishing if his wife —rapidly replacing the late Madam Mao Chiang Ching as Lady MacBeth du nos jours — avoids the death penalty.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--

Of cabbages--and kings--

And why the sea is boiling hot--

And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.

They thanked him much for that.

What's emerging from the suspected "intentional homicide" of Heywood (and who knows what little embellishments and out-and-out inventions are being devised by interested parties) is a text-book case of the sort of leaders who give despotism a bad name. While Bo was the politician showman and leader of a supercity of 28 million, Gu's law firm specialised in extracting a large slice of China's wealth and spiriting it abroad, claimed by former deputy mayor and police chief Wang Lijun to be several hundred million dollars. Heywood is thought to have threatened to blow the whistle on her deals.

Smuggling money abroad is a major problem for China. It's estimated that, in the ten years to 2009, RMB 800 billion ($127bn) was moved overseas illegally.

A China Merchants Bank and Bain & Company joint report, published in April 2011, revealed that 27% of those with over RMB 100 million have emigrated, and a further 47% are considering emigration. That's a whopping 74% of China's wealthiest wanting to leave with their loot.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,

"Is what we chiefly need:

Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, 
Oysters dear,

We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.

"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"

"The night is fine," the Walrus said.

"Do you admire the view?

I'd been hoping that China had avoided the fate of the old USSR where, under Yeltsin and then Putin, communist cadre turned cowboys turned oligarchs and carved up Russia's assets making billionaires out of the former guardians of the socialist state. However, with China's top 70 politicians in the National People's Congress worth $89b, ten times the net worth of all of the US Congress, that's some wishful thinking.

According to Louisa Lim's interview with Jiang Weiping, a Chinese journalist who did time in prison after investigating Bo and Gu's corruption in the 1980s:
Bo was running Dalian's propaganda office, which oversaw cultural affairs. His wife, who is also a lawyer, started the Folk Customs Culture Research Institute.
"The heads of the Authors Association and the Artists Association, etc., were chosen by his wife," Jiang says. "You had to give her gifts before you would be promoted. She got millions from entrepreneurs 'sponsoring' her institute. But she was actually just raking in money. She used this to throw parties, give favors and line her own pockets."
As her husband rose through the ranks, Gu set up a legal firm, which Jiang believes fulfilled the same function. Jiang alleges the pair used family members to hide their wealth. Gu's sisters have companies worth $126 million, according to Bloomberg news agency. And Bo's brother is reportedly vice chairman of a state-run company, using a pseudonym, with stock options worth $25 million.
It's little wonder that the children of formerly privileged families such as Ai Wei Wei are seething. It's one thing losing the family fortune if it all goes back into the pot for the good of society as a whole. It's quite another to see another ruling elite emerging who are troughing down on your inheritance.

"It was so kind of you to come!

And you are very nice!"

The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:

I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

The peasants and workers aren't too pleased, either. There's a nostalgia for Mao Zedong whose helmsmanship saw life expectancy double, lowered the death rate from 38 per thousand in 1949 to 10 per thousand in 1957, and lifted hundreds of millions out of absolute poverty. In Mobo Gao's fascinating book, The Battle For China's Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, he describes the change in lifestyle for ordinary people in his home village. Not only did their quality of life improve with free or cheap healthcare, decent housing and often a job for life, but their cultural life was enriched as well.

Now, under communism with capitalist characteristics, the poor are getting poorer and 95 percent of the national wealth is owned by 5 percent of the population. Revolution? What revolution?

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,

"To play them such a trick,

After we've brought them out so far,

And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

So when, in classic demagogue style, wideboy Bo saw a gap in the market, he was in there like a rat up a drainpipe. His populist Mao-inspired campaigns and crackdown on corruption earned him rock-star status that began to worry his CCP rivals. But at the same time as he was sticking it to the mafia and sticking up for the masses, we now know that his lady wife was getting her alleged lover, the very dead Heywood, to take their mega-millions out of the country.

There's been a groundswell of bitterness in evidence ever since 1989. Although the western press like to depict the Tian Anmen protests as a desire by the populace to emulate western democracy, the occupants of the square that June came with a wide range of complaints, a chief one being corruption and a growing divide between the new rich and the poor who'd made such great sacrifices in the effort to create an equitable and democratic society.

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."

With sobs and tears he sorted out

Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief

Before his streaming eyes.

It may not have taken a genius to see which way the wind was blowing but it took a charismatic talent like Bo — tall, handsome, a ready smile, charm and utter ruthlessness — to marshall those forces into one which would sweep him to power. And, indeed, he was headed for the very top: leader of the geriatric communist party. At 62 Bo was a mere whippersnapper by CCP standards and probably had a couple more decades of careerism in him.

It may not have been his own corruption, however, that triggered his demise. It's depressing to think that if he hadn't over-reached himself, he may well have risen to the top. Louisa Lim again:
China's press is emphasizing that his spectacular downfall has not touched off any political turmoil. "It does not indicate a political struggle within the party," reads an editorial published Wednesday in the China Daily.
But few Chinese believe that, especially in light of news reports that party members and the military have had to swear loyalty oaths to China's current leadership. "There can only be one explanation for the military's oath of loyalty," says Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University of China. "Bo Xilai tried to mobilize the army, something like a rebellion. He went too far."
I haven't yet heard who's idea it was to cremate Heywood so fast [EDIT: apparently it was the family who requested it] or why a British consul official was present at the deed. In this murky tale, the businessman's was not the only cadaver clogging up the scenery. When Bo's former henchman, the police chief Wang Lijun, realised he was in too deep and ran to the sanctuary of the American consulate in Chengdu, seven of his associates were said to have been captured by Bo and two of his investigation team tortured to death, probably by his "personal security detail" getting mediaeval on their arse.

On the other hand, inconveniently deprived of a body, we may never know whether Bo and Gu were stitched up by their rivals or if they really are as monstrous as has been claimed.

A handful of dust he may be, but in shaking the ruling elite of the next top superpower to the core, Neil Heywood — suspected of being a spook, now in every sense — may have done a better job than NATO.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,

"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--

And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

FURTHER READING: Clear insightful analysis at China Worker looking at the power struggle between the factions at the top.
“In [Wen’s] nine years in office, China’s electricity generation has tripled, its steel production has quadrupled and the number of cars and trucks manufactured each year has increased nearly sixfold,” noted the South China Morning Post (14 March 2012). But as this newspaper then added, “China’s Gini coefficient, a widely followed measure of income inequality, has shot up from a level similar to America’s when Wen took over, to a level today closer to Swaziland’s.”

The LRB on The Dismissal of Bo Xilai

Thursday 19 April 2012

Black T-shirt Collection by Inua Ellams: review

This review first appeared in the Morning Star 19th April 2012

Black T-shirt Collection
Inua Ellams — Cottesloe Theatre, NT
16 April 2012

In Inua Ellam's 75-minute monologue about how to be successful whilst keeping your soul unsullied, Matthew and Muhammed, two Nigerian foster-brothers from across the Muslim-Christian divide, set up their eponymous Black T-shirt Collection, a hip clothing venture which begins with a kick in the chest and ends with something far nastier. Their upwardly-mobile journey takes them from the streets of Nigeria, (via the swanky scotch-and-Ribena set) to Egypt, consumerist Europe and sweatshop China.

As their T-shirt brand goes global, the young entrepreneurs live the petit bourgeois dream where creativity and a bit of luck propel you into the upper stratum of society. Of course it goes sour, but in the meantime, Ellam explores issues including homophobia, social inequality and exploitation.

With his studious specs and relaxed thoughtful delivery, Ellam cuts a dash onstage as the multi-talented bright spark. His language has been acknowledged as beautiful, and indeed it is. His graphic design skills are also in evidence in the projected black and white comic frames that illustrate the story.

Over-egging factory exploitation in China provides a powerful climax, rich in metaphor. However, it is uncomfortably reminiscent of Mike Daisey who invented gun-toting factory guards, child workers and industrial injuries for his hit show, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, just in case we didn't think the real deal was bad enough. Ellams gives us a scene out of Bosch:

"There are children here, least a hundred of them, scruffy, eyes inflamed , fingers swollen from dipping hands in vats of boiling water ..." Then there are those giant dye cauldrons: " ... its blades slice the churning water, they slash the black broth like swords in moonlight."

Really? Is Ellams sure about this? Beautifully written it may be but this scene of bovine passivity is at best anachronistic when we're seeing the end of the era of cheap labour in China. Despite the thwarting of China's 2006 attempts to relax its draconian trade union laws when the American Chamber of Commerce (backed by their European counterparts) demanded the government nix workers' power, Chinese workers are slowly winning better rights and conditions.

Far from Chinese workers' struggle being a source of inspiration, increasingly, China stands for a horror location in the mental landscape where western guilt can be assuaged; another form of imperialism where the Chinese are the extras in western writers' stories. You get the examination of the inner life, the Chinese get the bit-part player credit.

An Unusual Case of Smothering Secondary to Ingesting Raw Pet Cat

Oh my good frickin' god. That must have been a bad puddy.

This report from the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology (via Private Eye) reads like a horror story par excellence. It's the cool scientific tone that packs the punch as we see the whole episode and backstory played out in our mind's eye. Short story writers take note.

Motivation? Forensics should have looked for scratch-marks on the furniture or poo in the pot plants.

"Margaret Redpath MD — 'An Unusual Case of Smothering Secondary to Ingesting Raw Pet Cat'.
Abstract: Smothering is defined as an obstruction of the air passages above the level of the epiglottis, including the nose, mouth, and pharynx. This is in contrast to choking, which is considered to be due to an obstruction of the air passages below the epiglottis. The manner of death in smothering can be homicidal, suicidal, or an accident. Accidental smothering is considered rare among middle-aged adults, yet many cases still occur. Presented here is the case of a 39-year old woman who was found dead on her living room floor by her neighbours. Her hands were covered in scratches and her pet cat was found disembowelled in the kitchen with its tail hacked off. On autopsy her stomach was found to be full of cat intestines, adipose tissue, and strips of fur-covered skin. An intact left kidney and adipose tissue were found lodged in her throat just above her epiglottis. After a complete investigation, the cause of death was determined to be asphyxia by smothering due to animal tissue." 06/2011

Actually, this is similar to a scene in the late JG Ballard's "Home" which was dramatised for television with Anthony Sher in the main role. Wonderful it was, too.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Military industrial complex Skynet rewiring our brains

Not another radio drama about soldiers. Our 21st Century militarised culture seems to be shaping up with the help of an increasing number of army plays on BBC Radio 4 to go with the tedious humanisation of business drummed into us in programmes such as The Apprentice, Dragons Den, anything with Evan Davies, Secret Millionaire (boo-hoo!), and anything with Mary Portas.

Not to mention the bloody awful swathe of Confucian wet-dreams telling us where we are in the pecking order with a ready-made stratum of management big-heads enjoying putting the scum in their place. Very offending examples include: X-Factor, Pop Idol, Britain's Got Talent and anything involving Gordon Ramsey. Across the pond, there's a plethora of instances but let's go with America's Top Model where an imperious Tyra Banks and her thousand-yard stare regularly mash up young beauty, and Kate Perry's ghastly Part of Me video where she gets over a breakup by shearing off her lovely locks, donning khaki and learning how to shoot foreigners in their own lands.

Today we had Behind Enemy Lines in Radio 4's Red and Blue series, a tale about British Special Forces and war games. Last week it was Hearts and Minds. Even the National Theatre has got in on the act with its militarised Hamlet, although you'll have to take my word for it as all pix of the heavily tooled-up soldiery behind Fortinbras and manning Elsinore have disappeared off the net despite this being a crucial element of the production's mise en scene. Elsewhere we have images from Wootton Bassett stoking emotion so we daren't ask the important questions about why these young people were sent to fight, for what purpose and in whose interest.

Soldiers and commerce are stewing up a treat in a mercenary agenda where the state backs the interests of money, not unlike the East India Company of old. Even Islington Green isn't immune from that military magic now that the powers-that-be are changing its name to Islington Memorial Green.

Former residents of the one-time People's Republic of Islington are especially resentful of this. Shapely Charles Shaar Murray (42, 42, 42, 12.5) said: "I am especially resentful of this." He then flounced off, muttering, "I am a free man, not a cylinder."

UPDATE: Watching Britain's Got Talent, I realise that this breaks the mould in that it's not a freak show set up to entertain the mob. There's some awesome talent in there and the judges genuinely seem to care and want to develop the newcomers. So apologies to everyone at BGT — you're doing a great job.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Steve Bell on Tony Blair and rendition

Heh! This is pretty much how I see Blair after he helped start the Iraq war using the dodgy dossier and other untruths to initiate a conflagration that still cripples that country today, not to mention the cost in money and lives to Britain.

The bank that gained most out of the Iraq war was JP Morgan in its role as co-ordinating the institutions syphoning loot out of the country. Guess which bank pays Blair £2 million a year? Then there were all the other little tips and stipends, such as the million quid from the Israeli university. Interesting how American imperialist interests find all sorts of channels to pay their man.

And guess who, along with his lovely wife, is preparing their companies for the carve-up of the NHS? No, surely not the former leader of the Labour Party? Health clinics in Sainsbury's and Tesco, anyone?

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Chinese seamen and Britain's betrayal

An interesting piece in the Independent on the history of Chinese seamen who have served Britain and been badly mistreated for their efforts by my two friends Sonny Leong and Yvonne Foley.

Britain’s double Chinese betrayal?
Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 10:02 am

The relationship between the Chinese and the British goes back over 200 years. And the products of that relationship are evident throughout what used to be Britain’s Empire. It can be seen in the architecture it left behind in Shanghai and Hong Kong and in the populations of Chinese descent living in Britain and the countries that were part of that Empire, both formal and informal.

The East India Company recruited Chinese seamen in the eighteenth century to man its trading vessels in the Far East. The Royal Navy recruited them in the Napoleonic Wars. Heirs to the Great Voyages of Admiral Zheng He, they were known to be excellent seamen, sober and industrious.

Chinese seamen in their thousands were used in the British merchant fleet in both the First and Second World Wars, most sailing out of the city of Liverpool in the North West of England. Hundreds of these men settled down with local women and began to raise families only to find that at the end of the conflict that they were no longer needed.

After World War I men found themselves unable to get work, some waiting two years to find a ship. After World War II, the situation was to be far worse. Almost twenty thousand Chinese mariners were based in Liverpool manning the convoys that brought the supplies from the USA without which Britain could not fight the War. Like in the first conflict, hundreds formed relationships with girls in the city and had children. At least a thousand babies were born to these Anglo-Chinese couples.

Read more here

Monday 9 April 2012

What the Tory bottom-feeders and their Lib Dem low life human shield have done so far

Let's have a quick Tory tally this Easter weekend in case they come to bury bad news, not raise it. How's it going with the Ancien Regime and are we having fun yet?

Ever since they assumed power with the help of their Renfield Lib Dem crew, the unelected Tories have nicked from grannies, pasty-eaters, poor families, children, rough sleepers, college kids and the arts, while continuing to hack away at the NHS ... but they have cut their own taxes. O brave new world that has such people, innit! Noble George Osborne, Boris Johnson et al.

This holiday weekend, we learn that London Mayor Boris Johnson skimmed £5.3mn from the homeless budget, no-one knows what for or where it is.

Not content with raids on pensions and the Granny Tax, plans are afoot to tax pensioners at source in Granny Tax II — this time it's personal. Thus, a weekly pension of £107 miraculously turns into £86.

In a bit of a blur off the top of my head: Arts Council budget has been cut by 30 percent. The EMA £30 per week to college kids has gone. Cuts to services means that youth workers' jobs have been lost. Everything is going up in price despite corporate profits being at a 50-year high. Supermarkets have been caught diddling the public. A world-leading forensic lab has gone.

Anyone still bleating about anarchist Trenton Oldfield should really STFU and focus on where we all are right now because if you can weigh all this up and it's Oldfield's protest that makes you reach for your gun, then you have not been paying attention. Swallow the red pill because the thieving elite in charge is dismantling British society before our eyes.

There's no moral or intellectual content to Tory policy: money-making for their mates is all. Everything's up for grabs like the Russian cowboys' carve-up of state assets in the 1990s.

Not that I'm letting Labour off the hook, not when Tony and Cherie Blair (along with former health minister Alan Milburn) have their paws all over NHS privatisation. And certainly not when Jack Straw did what we all know he did on behalf of their Bush government friends and sent British subjects into rendition hell.

We are being run by some rather unpleasant people.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Phwoar! Panda love

Fucking pandas! Or so the news tells us. Last night was the night for bamboo romance and four black eyes — Venus is in Gemini and Yang Guang is in Tian Tian (or vice versa). Good luck, my bredren and sistren. Hope you got it on. Or we'll have to wait another year for her eggs to be in the mood. No pressure. But hurry up.

With our furry chums on loan to Edinburgh Zoo from China for ten years, panda porn followed by the patter of tiny claws is a sure-fire way to draw in the punters.

Here's a video of Tian Tian gagging for it. I sometimes make those whimpering sounds ...