Friday 30 August 2013

World War III averted: Ed Miliband finally does his job

Yesterday, Ed Miliband pulled his big-boy underpants over his trousers and rose to new adequacies by actually doing what the electorate has been yelling for loud and clear all along: NO WAR WITH SYRIA. He slew the Cameron lizards in the parliamentary vote and carved out a space for the pursuit of a peaceful solution.

There is no proof that hereditary despot Basher Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, killing hundreds of men women and lots of children. It would be suicidal (and nuts) if he did this just as inspectors arrive and Obama warms up for war. I would have to see the polaroids to believe he did it, and not the opposition fundies who'd stop at nothing to repeat NATO operations in Iraq and Libya, dislodging secular tyrants only to be replaced by mayhem with no end in sight. After all, UN reports say the Syrian rebels carried out a Sarin nerve gas attack earlier this year, only revealed at the 11th hour when we were tooling up for conflict. Even weirder that Al Qaeda nemesis Israel stepped in to do the job right this time by claiming the government carried out recent poison attack.

Let's suppose it does emerge that Cameron's "likelihood" is a dead cert and Assad did indeed do it. What good is bombing? "Hulk smash!" mode is for ten-year olds, not world leaders. Turning a disastrous situation into a calamity and piling atrocity on atrocity in a geopolitical layer cake of horrors is not the way to solve anything. How would we like it if a bigger power bombed, say, Westminster? OK, fantasies about Guy Fawkes notwithstanding, the reality would be horrific. Killing civilians and traumatising the rest is a war crime that only adds to these people's misery. There has to be another way with Russia, China and the Arab League doing something useful. There are other pressures that can be brought to bear through economic, trade and cultural means.

If we were serious about chemical warfare, we'd stop selling nerve gas components such as sodium fluoride, not only an innocent toothpaste ingredient. And how about America compensating the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia who are still dying decades after the US drenched their forests with Agent Orange herbicides? Or Bhopal where Dow Chemicals refuses to clear up the mess made by Union Carbide Corp — the parent company of Union Carbide India at the time of the disaster — which Dow bought with all the benefits and none of the responsibilities? The CIA helped Saddam Hussein use mustard gas and sarin on Iranians in 1988 when he was our boy. America's depleted uranium used in the Gulf and Iraq wars is still killing but nothing is being done about it. Then there are the cluster bombs and phosphorous and the nuclear ...

The hypocrisy is amazing. This time the British public has seen through the NATO agenda of cutting a swathe through the world and reshaping it into a New World Order of their liking.

Apart from the big question — who used chemical warfare against Syrian civilians? — there are two more I'd like answered:

1) Who were the 30 Labour MPs who stayed away from last night's vote?

2) Remembering the parliamentary vote that effectively privatised the NHS, plus Halliburton and J P Morgan's profits from the Iraq war, how many of the war cheerleaders have investments in arms companies?

Ed may have fudged too many issues, but today there is palpable relief that we aren't repeating Tony Blair's war crimes. Is this is how our forebears felt after the Bay of Pigs Crisis? The world did not end. For now.

EDIT: When you play "Risk", the board game, you reach a stage where several players have a ton of armies. No-one want to take on the one with the most armies so you work round it, picking off their weaker territories and allies. Robert Fisk points out that the US's real target in the region is Iran before it stabilises under the promising new president. To do that it has to exhaust the munitions of their chief supporter — Syria. (Assad seems to be winning its fight against the rebels.) Hence the rush to war.

Basher in The Onion telling it like it is.

Not about oil, then. Transnational energy corporations represented as Saudis join Israel, France and US in Syria clusterfuck.

Even the US army "in doubt" about an attack.

An interesting gender take at Open Democracy on weaponry and patriarchy.

Ministry: New World Order

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe greenlights yellowface and BLACKFACE

Alarming news emerges from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival: not only yellowface but now BLACKFACE is okay in its theatres, marking a throwback to majorly less enlightened times.

Three young east Asian women, Julie Cheung-Inhin, Emily Siu-see Hung and Anh Chu, were put through the grinder this week, when they went to see Beijing Cake, a Chinese-themed play at theSpace Venue 39. They watched a group of white, black and Jewish students from Yale University doing the ching-chong playground thang for 15 minutes, before walking out humiliated and upset. One has to ask: why would a young theatre company do that to their audience?

What is this, the 1950s?

Actually, the fifties is a bit modern for this outfit unless you mean the 1850s, since the 19th century costumes spring directly from the anachronistic film and TV tropes which evidently fed their minuscule mindset. Guys ... READ. Extend your horizons. Meet some actual east Asian people. There were three in your audience the other day from whom you might have learnt something — like Julie who wrote this:
We stayed for 15 minutes of what felt like being slapped in the face while approximately 30 audience members laughed away.

The play starts off with two white actors and two black actors coming out in traditional Chinese costumes to perform a mock Chinese dance waddle that made our fists clench. The dialogue then began with the white American protagonist (Sarah Rosen) talking loudly and slowly to the black actress (Cassie Da Costa) playing Mie Hwa, asking how to say certain words in Chinese. Da Costa replied in a made-up “Chinese” language that was clearly meant to sound Chinese. (Indeed, it felt like “Chinky Chonky shu shu shu” mockery).

Later on when talking to the playwright, Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, about the “Chinese” used in the play, she explained they wanted to make up the Chinese language rather than use real Chinese (and let’s not even start on how old this language is!) so as to not offend the Chinese people.

We hoped that the joke or irony would come out soon, but when the yellow-faced black actor (Gabriel Christian) started to portray an elderly Chinese man chucking money at a white woman to buy her unborn child, we could take no more. Perhaps the most insensitive and hurtful part of the play was the portrayal of the ghost of Mao Zedong as a kindly paternal figure that Rosen’s character repeatedly goes to for comfort and hugs. A parallel of this would be painting Hitler or Mugabe as a friendly confidante.

Nostalgia for times past, when white dominance was rarely challenged, is creeping in everywhere. From theatre and popular entertainment to politics, angry white boys and girls and their dimmer sidekick Tontos are reasserting an obsolete pecking order. We bet our last prawn cracker they wouldn't dare do the black or Jewish version ... thankfully for our multi-racial friends who are viewing this with bemusement. We're all wondering where this bit of cultural kite-flying is leading us.

When the women spoke to the manager of theSpace venue where Beijing Cake was playing, he was less than helpful, replying never mind yellowface, blackface was all the rage in the US. *scary face* Ah! So! That's what's in the pipeline. That ain't no light at the end of the tunnel — that's an oncoming train. "He told us we were wasting our time. He blew the issue off by saying its all subjective and that we are the only ones that are offended."

It's not only about race. The elderly, the poor, immigrants — anyone who can be classified as "other" — we're all being crushed under the tank treads of the new producers of culture, the people who are supposed be dreaming for us ... but whose off-the-peg dream collection only fits some of us, and then only some of the time.

The sleep of reason now produces this sort of shrunken homunculus rather too often, with higher human faculties disconnected. My baby Marxism taught me that the cultural superstructure arises out of the economic base. If only I'd known it can sink right back in if the base goes tits-up, I'd have yelled louder and earlier. Call me the Flying Buttress (my magnificent flying butt yields to no man) but we are witnessing a descent into an ugly primordial sludge where we're being hardwired to react with fear and loathing. We need to look at how Beijing Cake represents yet another marker in the ongoing cultural implosion as the new order crystallises with the biggest social shake-out since the second world war. Cultural output reflects a major restructuring of the western economy in favour of an intellectually-limited and spiritually-moribund elite, with nothing better to do than consume on a grand scale and gestate mini-me versions of themselves.

So: yellowface and blackface, even today. What next? A ground-breaking Jim Crow revival?

Those who own society need court jesters to flatter them, authenticate and endorse their version of reality, reshape truths and render invisible threats and unpalatable facts. There are too many incurious entertainment industry shills willing to fill the brief. Once was a time when the Edinburgh Fringe was a byword for progress in the arts. Now it's just a showcase for those licensed sycophants.

Let's hope that the Arts Council's shrinking resources aren't funding any of these miserable shows or the venues which insult our collective intelligence by giving them house room. [Edit: to make it crystal clear, the Arts Council England didn't fund this particular schlock, thank heavens. I do hope ACE continues to remain alert to the lively wider debate about representations of east Asians that sprung up after the RSC Orphan of Zhao debacle.]

Thursday 15 August 2013

Charles Shaar Murray's Hothouse Journalism course returns to north London


Or learn how to pimp your prose.

Legendary author and journalist Charles Shaar Murray's excellent Hothouse Project "Journalism as Art and Craft" writing classes return to north London in September for eight weeks.

CSM has been dubbed "the rock writers' rock writer" and has accumulated a wealth of knowledge over his four decade career which he endeavours to impart to his students in his eight week course. Aimed at writers, editors, beginners, veterans wanting to raise their game, bloggers and the mildly curious, CSM's course adds a vital skillset in an increasingly competitive climate.

He may be my Loved One but he's also recognised way beyond our living room as a fabulous stylist who helped bring the liveliness of the counter-culture into the mainstream in the early 1970s when he was one of the star writers on the NME in its glory days.

He's also an engaging raconteur so expect to hear his stories about meeting some of the great men and women of the culture including Paul McCartney, The Who, Pink Floyd, John Lee Hooker, Marc Bolan, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, J G Ballard, Black Sabbath, Kurt Vonnegut and David Bowie.

“front-line cultural warrior” and “original gunslinger” Independent on Sunday

“The artistry of [Crosstown Traffic] matches that of its subject” Nick Tosches

“The Johnny Cash of rock journalism” Phil Campbell – Motorhead

“Next time you’re in Chicago, I’ll cook for you myself” Buddy Guy

“I’d go if I lived in London … if I could do it all over again, at age 17 … this is how I’d do it. CSM is the Yoda of music writing” Julie Burchill

“Charles Shaar Murray was always the best read” Tony Visconti

“The New Musical Express was one of the big things in my life … there was outrageous writing by Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent and, later, Julie Burchill — what they were writing was unbelievable! The NME was so important for lonely suburban kids. It was a lifeline” Danny Boyle


“Charles’ course is personal, packed with anecdote, caters to the individual and is so helpful for anyone brushing up their journalistic skills or branching out into different types of writing. 5 shiny gold stars from me – I’d do the course again just for fun to be honest!”
Juliet Rossetti

“I thought your course was ‘write on’! You polished and perfected everyone’s writing style. I felt privileged to have been coached by you. You imparted a lot of knowledge. The course was well structured and more importantly, good fun. Would I recommend it? Absolutely.”
Tessa Christian

“For anyone interested in the processes of writing and assessing creative journalism, Charles Shaar Murray’s Hothouse Project courses are essential!”
David Hodson

If you are a writer, you need this course. More information here.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Solidarity is for white women: what happens in the British left

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of white women in the left who offered me warmth and support as a sister while I was an activist. So it is with pleasure that I see one black American feminist, Mikki Kendall, stirring it up with the brilliantly exasperated Twitter hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

I recently attempted to draw attention to the actions of a prominent section of the British left who are moving rightwards and redrawing events in living memory as a white narrative, as demonstrated in the all-white Ken Loach's "Spirit of '45", a feature film-length documentary which covered the birth of the welfare state and its legacy. Interestingly, my article was met with only two irate tweets from rabid right-wingers but a blizzard of denial and hostility from the white left.

Instead of debating this worrying trend, personnel in the grouplet Counterfire tried to lead a Twitter mobbing (they got four involved) and attempted hounding me on the Third Estate website before one of the site co-founders gave the perp a slap.

I'm told that, failing to engage with the issues of blind spots in the movement regarding the blatant exclusion of non-whites that need addressing, bods at Shiraz "Socialist" (hah!) are resorting to an ad hominem dismissal of me as a "loose cannon" (as opposed to line-toeing hack, I guess). I hear that one principled leftist has posted evidence of my argument going back ten years but again, rather than deal with the problem, the response is bluster and then silence.

And Lindsey "Shibboleths" German of Counterfire did a phone round denouncing me as a chippy Chinese actress with a grudge about slave labour. Well, I do hope so, Lindsey. Never mind the use of language straight out of a Life on Mars episode illustrating the worst of the 1970s, I hope that any genuine socialist would be unhappy about activists being ripped off for their labour while Glorious Leaders draw a wage from the movement built by those activists Animal Farm stylee.

(And, by the way, why did you, in your role as convenor, decide NOT to mobilise Stop the War Coalition (STWC) action on the most crucial day for the anti-war movement? The day of the Parliamentary vote in March 2003 when a protest at the Palace of Westminster may well have stopped the war in Iraq.)

Unless we all stand together in the face of worsening assaults under capitalism, we all go under. We understand that revolutions have gone wrong when the new boss behaves like the old boss with all the same hang-ups, greed and personal ambitions, so we'd better learn fast that we have more in common than divides us ... and put it into practice.

In Lindsey's honour I'm reposting here my article from earlier in the year looking at the phenomenon of sistahs who ain't sistahs no matter how many big fat tomes they write on the subject.

The Left's invisibilty bomb: how's that liberation thing working out for you?

Perhaps it's unconscious and far from deliberate but there's a set of prejudices in the Left that they just won't confront. You can be a woman, non-white or working class but not all three at once or you get the INVISIBILITY BOMB exploded all over you.

Feminist Camilla Power wrote to me earlier this month asking me to link to her piece on the Socialist Workers Party crisis, Feminism is a Dirty Word, (which I did). However, in a letter to the CPGB Weekly Worker about the dreadful treatment of WOMEN, she then cites the experiences of MEN only. As the elephant in the room who's been writing about this for years as an insider with direct experience of the problem, I wrote to her:

"Imagine my surprise and disappointment to find your letter to the Weekly Worker citing several men but not my experience as the lone working-class non-white woman consistently whistle-blowing and challenging the sexism and abuse in the SWP and elsewhere in the left over several years — in a debate about WOMEN.

"I didn't find this further marginalisation a particularly sisterly act. I'm sure it was unconscious — it was certainly unthinking and insensitive but then what do my emotions count for?

"Please read your letter again and then marvel at the irony. I would hate to think you were part of the problem and not the solution — or all theory and no knickers, as us non-egghead non-people might say."

I got a polite email back — a sort of an acknowledgment — and I'm waiting with bated breath to see whether there's any serious attempt to redress this omission.

This situation has been going on for years. Once again I feel compelled to remind the "comrades" that it took a non-white working-class woman to propel your various campaigns into the media spotlight when the left was refusing to engage with the "bourgeois press" and wouldn't even put out a press release for fear it would sully their revolutionary purity: chiefly (but not solely) the Socialist Alliance and Stop the War Coalition. All full-time and for no pay leaving me in debt having paid to establish the anti-war press office while leaders such as John Rees and Lindsey German drew a wage.

Then there's Ian Sinclair's abysmally-researched book The March That Shook Blair, in which three people lay claim to being the STWC's press officers, but the one person who was at the coal-face actually battering down media resistance from Day 1 is left out. Shame that, because I have the day-to-day blow-by-blow accounts of what it took to get mainstream media to notice STWC when they tried to ignore the mounting anti-war anger.

[EDIT: This was written by Ian Sinclair only a few days ago specifically dealing with abuse in the STWC anti-Iraq war campaign, and I'm still not allowed to have a say. STWC is described as "... perhaps the most high profile campaign of the last decade...". How do you suppose it got to be "high profile"? Charles Shaar Murray writes: 'First time it's happenstance. Second time it's coincidence. Third time -- it's enemy action.' -- Ian Fleming, Goldfinger.]

According to Greg Palast, research shows that not just white people, but even black people, overlook black people when it comes to intellectual tasks. That's no different in the left where, with a few exceptions, everyone congratulates themselves for being "right-on" until something like the SWP sex-abuse accusations bites them on the bum and shines a spotlight on exactly how archaic their own assumptions and practice actually are.

Of course, I could always stay schtum and submit to my own obliteration as a human being. Standards of respect, comradeship, appreciation, decency, solidarity, inclusiveness, equality and other bourgeois individualistic fripperies evidently don't apply to uppity effnik coolie labour, only to the self-appointed chosen ones; but since this is how marginalisation and objectification work, I say screw that.

So backward is the left on this issue that they're behind even the comedians who've acknowledged the phenomenon in Paul Whitehouse's "The Fast Show" series. Arabella Weir's character regularly finds her bright ideas and solutions ignored by the boys in the room until, moments later, they regurgitate what she's said like it's their own. We are all Arabella Weir. Well, some of us are more Arabella than others.

It's a white boys club with a few women allowed to play. You have to be the "right" sort of non-white or woman to register in whatever passes for awareness. The left's current mindset has nothing to do with my liberation and EVERYTHING to do with continuing my oppression.

Anna's updated account of life, dearth and sexism in the SWP and the British left.

My time on the left has largely felt like this.

Public health warning about the People's Assembly as currently led.

A Bad Case of the Trots — an early public airing of the SWP/STWC problem in 2003.

Maybe less elephant in the room and more basketball gorilla. Does this mean I can rob banks?

This was written by Ian Sinclair only a few days ago.

The Smethwick Problem in 2010 by Evan Smith.

HUGO mini review: a dramatic turkey with brass knobs on.

MINI REVIEW: Steampunk aesthetics and the history of cinema: what could go wrong?

I watched Martin Scorsese's Hugo last night and, although the visuals are stunning (I'd have loved to have seen this in 3D) the script was one of the worst things ever.

Snobby middle-class preciousness (the cute kids with Rank starlet accents nearly gave me diabetes) and dramatic ineptitude killed for me the story of one of the fathers of cinema, George Melies (Ben Kingsley). Sir Ben's muted appearance in the same film as Ray Winstone who played Hugo's evil drunken uncle had me longing for the last time I saw them paired up in Sexy Beast and wishing Melies would blurt Don's immortal line, "I'm sweating like a cunt". This would have given the lagubrious script a much-needed cheering up.

Two nights running I've seen Sasha Baron Cohen in iffy films (although this was still considerably better than The Dictator, a pale shadow of Borat and Bruno).

Reading the reviews and scanning the list of awards garnered (although not for veteran film editor Thelma Schoonmaker for clear reasons in my eyes), it appears that flattering the movierati guarantees good write-ups.

However, box office failure reveals the wisdom of audiences who stayed away in droves. A good yarn told well beats any amount of bells and whistles.

A dramatic turkey with brass knobs on.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

The most colourful place on Earth: eye-popping Danxia rock formations

Bwa-ha-ha! We laugh at your puny landscapes. THIS is what I call landscape.

No, it's not a painting, no, you're not on drugs (well, maybe you are, but that's not the cause of this particular retinal explosion). It's a world apparently made of bubble gum and sherbet, and it is in south-west China at Zhangye Danxia.

You think that's good? You should see the rest of the pix here.

(Thanks to Raven Garcia without whom I'd never have known this existed.)