Friday 26 September 2014

Saturday interview at All That Is Solid with Anna Chen: "Don't sneer at love in politics"

Saturday interview with Phil Burton Cartledge at All That Is Solid ...: Anna Chen

Extracts: highlights and lowlifes

- Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging as Madam Miaow in 2007 to stop me chucking heavy objects through the television screen. I needed not only to vent, but to order my thoughts when faced with the all-pervading mess out there. I'm sure there are many of us who have been kept sane by having the option to communicate our views to an audience, even a small one. It's a healthy way to make sense of an increasingly chaotic world.

- What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?

A rising tide floats all boats. Rosa Luxemburg's warning that the choice would be between socialism or barbarism grows truer by the minute. Socialism is supposed to about an egalitarian, freeing society; from each according to their ability, to each according to their need, not a wholesale troughing down by power-hungry opportunists.

- What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?

Nationalism, anti-immigration, racism, sexism. I would include reformism if only there was a socialist alternative.

- How about political villains?

Anyone who rises through the left only to take an axe to the movement as soon as they see an opportunity to climb the greasy pole — they have done so much damage to the movement and proper socialism which should represent liberation for the majority. The SWP analysis in the late 1990s predicted that Blair would be right-wing and betray the working class who would move rightwards so it was vital that we build an alternative to Labour. They were correct in that instance yet here we are over a decade later with the left worse than ever following pointless sectarian punch-ups mostly initiated by the SWP when a strong principled left has never been more desperately needed.

- What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?

The constant upward suck of wealth with our resources accreting in the hands of a tiny global elite. This can't carry on without major crises and a battle to redistribute fairly. Trouble is, they now have the technology to hang on to their ill-gotten gains and leave us behind. Recent "revolutions" have not been inspiring, they've simply meant a change of personnel at the top as die alte scheisse takes over.

- What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Beware inadequates — they loathe you. Learn to tell the difference between lip-service and action. If love isn't part of your politics, then you have no business telling others what to do and how to run the world. Far from being romantic nonsense as so many cynics would have it, love is the highest plane on which human beings as social animals interact. We need to develop 360 degree abilities and wider bandwidth.

- What do you consider the most important personal quality?

Capacity for love — not the romantic kind, the other bigger one that encompasses generosity, solidarity and comradeship. Intelligence versus cleverness.

- And any pet peeves?

Mockney accents on posh leftists who tell working-class people how to be working-class. Purported progressives and anti-racists I've never met projecting their yellow peril fears onto me. Leftists who fall over themselves to appropriate your labour and the comrades who turn a blind eye. The snowy blinding WHITENESS of the left groups and the obvious lack of diversity, often manifesting as outright hostility towards Other. Organisations that bolt themselves to the front of other people's struggle and then claim leadership rights. None of this helps us advance our political cause.

- What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?

Use softening rose water instead of tonics that strip your skin and dry it up. Don't smoke or stay in the sun too long.

Don't go anywhere near the British far left. Too many charlatans, careerists and snake-oil salesmen and women with ambitions who are happy to plant their boot in your face if it means personal advancement as soon as something's up for grabs. Suddenly, gay rights are no longer a "shibboleth", that rape never happened and "what's yours is mine". Wise up to the fact that, just because someone says the right thing, it doesn't mean they live it. No-one on the left has your back if you are already a marginalised minority because so many of them are insecure, chasing status, career, youth and power, and they harbour a deep contempt for those who they see as occupying the bottom of society, whatever lip-service they pay otherwise — it's their own self-loathing projected out. Just because you are comradely, principled and non-sectarian, it doesn't mean everyone else is, too, simply because they've read the right books. Watch out for the middle-class ones who sneer at ethics and morality as "bourgeois", forgetting that Trotsky wrote a book called Their Morals and Ours, not Their Morals and We Ain't Got None.

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Sunday 21 September 2014

Texas rules up-the-skirt photos are legal in freedom of speech tussle that's not as clear cut as you think.

I've been saying for a geological era that women in the west have a burqa imposed on us. It's just that ours is invisible.

The Texas Court of Appeal ruling legalising up-the-skirt shots — where a perv can thrust his camera up your skirt to take the image for sexual gratification — seems on the surface like another mind-boggling manifestation of how patriarchy rools.

However, sensationalist reports have ignored the genuine concern that, in its current form, the improper photography statute has enough wiggle-room for abuse by the State. It is actually an interesting legal dilemma that requires closer examination than my own initial harrumphing shock-horror allowed. As ever, going back to the source rather than relying on press reports yields nuances that get missed.

The Independent reports:
The Texas Court of Appeals ruled 8-1 to strike down part of a law which bans taking images of another person in public without their consent and with the intention to “arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person”, criticising the “paternalistic” intrusion into peoples’ private right to be aroused.

To stop someone using you as a masturbatory aid is not something the Founding Fathers had in mind when they penned their First Ammendment, says Sharon Keller (for the judge be a she, sistahs).

"Orwellian thoughtcrime", yelled lawyers for the perp Ronald Thomas, sounding like they never read any Gorgeous George in their lives. (Alexander Pope wasn't wrong when he wrote "a little learning is a dangerous thing".) After an alarming 2011 incident at Sea World in San Antonio, Thomas was found with 73 T & A shots of swimsuited children on his camera but, hey, this is his constitutional right.

In Wednesday's judgement the State argued, defending the improper photography statute in its present form:
The State further contends that the lack-of-consent requirement means that the statute does not apply to a photograph of a person in public as long as the photograph is of an area of that person that was exposed to the public. … any person who appears in public and exposes a certain part of the body to the public has necessarily consented to that part being photographed, and therefore, the improper-photography statute would not apply. But, the State reasons, if the person is not in public, or the photograph is of an area of the person that is not exposed to the public—such as the use of an X-Ray camera that can see through clothing or a photograph taken up a woman’s skirt—then the improper-photography statute would criminalize such behavior if done with the requisite intent [italics mine]. … the statute serves the important government interest of protecting privacy by “protecting individuals from invasive covert photography” and “protecting individuals from having their images unconsensually exploited for the sexual gratifications of others.”

But the defence argued:
... the improper-photography statute prohibits not merely the act of photography but photography with intent to arouse or gratify sexual desire, and the latter is expressive. ... While the legislature may have a legitimate interest in prohibiting “peeping tom” and “up-skirt” photography, appellant contends that the language of the statute “utterly fails to achieve that interest because it fails to distinguish those situations from merely photographing a girl in a skirt walking down the street.” Appellant argues that the “street photographer, the entertainment reporter, patrons of the arts, attendees to a parade or a pep-rally, [and] even the harmless eccentric are all at risk of incarceration under a plain reading of this statute." … The amicus also states that the statute “covers only those photographs that have the intended primary effect of causing sexual arousal, and it is the content of speech that would cause such arousal.”

It's a bad-faith argument, but the creep has a point in law. Your freedom not to be sexually harassed and violated is trumped by this man's right to expression because the lawyers who wrote the legislation failed to nail it. So now in this corner of the Land of the Free, women and children have choices: you can cover up or you can wear your skirt or swimwear and be considered fair game by male predators.

The judge concluded:
... that photographs and visual recordings are inherently expressive … The camera is essentially the photographer’s pen or paintbrush. Using a camera to create a photograph or video is like applying pen to paper to create a writing or applying brush to canvas to create a painting. … Banning otherwise protected expression on the basis that it produces sexual arousal or gratification is the regulation of protected thought, and such a regulation is outside the government’s power.

Yet this intimidation is permitted. Consent doesn't come into it as it would if you sat for a painting as "there need not be any actual concurrence of wills between the photographer and the subject or any actual voluntary agreement by the subject to be photographed." Is a direct image of you snapped by a photographic device as artistically valid as a scurrilous cartoon? One has been created in the mind and brought into the world through an act of artistic creation whilst the other is an immediate capture of your actual image in light form. Snapping police in their duty has political validity in a way that photographing your knickered bum clearly does not.

However, the judge says, "A person who walks down a public street cannot prevent others from looking at him or her with sexual thoughts in their heads." Perversely, even though the areas of your body are not on public display, photographing them covertly is legal. "Protecting someone who appears in public from being the object of sexual thoughts seems to be the sort of 'paternalistic interest in regulating the defendant’s mind' that the First Amendment was designed to guard against."

Yeah, so let's allow them to enact what's in their minds willy-nilly. The letter of the law is a dead thing if there is no application of the spirit of the law.

However ...

Could it be this which is the problem? The judge says:
The statutory provision at issue is extremely broad, applying to any non-consensual photograph, occurring anywhere, as long as the actor has an intent to arouse or gratify sexual desire.

Because the act of photographing is not illegal in itself, but is only illegal under the improper photography statute when motivated by sexual gratification, the law is being asked to look into a person's mind, and this, I reckon, is where the difficulty lies. Remember those italics in the State's argument defending the statute? "… if done with the requisite intent"? How on earth do you determine whether or not this is the case?

“Photographs are routinely taken of people in public places, including at public beaches, where bathing suits are also commonly worn, and at concerts, festivals, and sporting events. Taking photographs of people at such venues,” the Court said, “is not unusual, suspicious, or criminal.”

So this may be a case of dangerously worded legislation bashed out in a rush, with the devil being in the detail. Some societies consider a photograph to be theft of the soul. Until this flabby statute is tightened up, in this instance, I fear they may be right.

The appeal against the ruling hinges on whether the camera is a dead machine and photography a technical process not protected by constitutional right. Jury … still out.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Chinese Labour Corps, the forgotten army: my column for the South China Morning Post


Anna Chen's South China Morning Post magazine City Scope column on the China Labour Corps memorial campaign

31st August 2014

This month, the world commemorated the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war. Notably absent in the British ceremonies was any mention of the 140,000 or more Chinese workers, including 96,000 in the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), who provided the support system for frontline Allied troops. Thousands of these men died in service.

The Chinese did the heavy support work - digging trenches, hauling ammunition and supplies, and retrieving bodies. Yet none of Britain's 43,000 first world war memorials acknowledge the participation of the CLC, despite the battlefields of France and Belgium being littered with the remains of these men.

Redress could be in sight, however. August saw the launch of a three-year British campaign, Ensuring We Remember, aimed at establishing a permanent memorial to the Chinese who died in the war.

Steve Lau, of the Chinese In Britain Forum, one of the organisations behind the campaign, is hopeful that change is coming. His invitation to the National Service of Commemoration at Glasgow Cathedral on August 4 "was probably the first time the CLC have been recognised by a British government since the war".

"There were thousands of Chinese who worked in Britain during the war," Lau says. "At least 500 worked in munitions factories in Birmingham, and a further 1,500 are recorded as assisting in the building of various aerodromes.

"This is a narrative of the Home Front nobody wants to know about."

Its historical significance has also been missed. The mix of Chinese workers and intellectuals on the European battlefield was a catalyst for change.

In 1937, Gu Xingqing published an account of his time as a CLC interpreter in Europe and described the mixture of workers and intellectuals as a political awakening. The ideals formed during this conflict were carried back home and contributed to China's political landscape in the 20th century.

"These men were failed by everyone. Their contribution to China's journey into the modern world should be recognised and commemorated," says Lau.

"We have planned a three-year programme of grass-roots community engagement to be supported by a one-year national lecture tour aimed at the British establishment.

"Ultimately, we want a permanent memorial fitting to the men who served in the war effort."

Ensuring We Remember campaign:

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Scotland: I want you to stay but I understand why you've had enough

I adore Scotland and its people. Not just the ones I've met at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but during the weeks in Glasgow with the play M Butterfly at the Kings Theatre.

The theatre crew looked after us and were so delightful, funny and hospitable, getting us drunk every night and refusing to let us go back to our lonely digs without a skinful. We got to know the bars of Sauchiehall Street intimately. They were rightly proud that they'd held the longest ever theatre strike and won. I have very happy memories of their sharp wits and general smarts in a way that often makes the English look flabby. And they have proper landscape!

I really want them to stay as I'm terrified of the Tories being given a Third Reich in what remains of the UK.

However … I understand why they might want to go it alone. They were the ones who got the Poll Tax first, courtesy of the Tories, and weren't they tried out with the tuition fees by Labour before they were dumped on the rest of us? You can't treat people like a colonial outpost and then complain when they've had enough.

John Wight makes a powerful case for a No vote in the Guardian.

The Bedroom Tax, another government policy that does not thrill. No wonder Scotland wants rid of us.

Saturday 6 September 2014

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Laniakea: galaxy supercluster home to the Milky Way

Putting everything into perspective.

Laniakea — Hawaiian for "immeasurable heaven" — is the vast area of the universe that's home to the Milky Way which is tiny in the greater scheme of things.

Human beings are the most amazing creatures; this planet and everything alive or that's ever been alive is a complete fluke in terms of astronomical odds of existence

Death cults and chasers of glory, meaningless baubles, ego, who measure themselves by their possessions, who seek power over other human beings, seem so primitive anyway, but watching this film clip explaining Laniakea, they seem so way off-beam, you almost feel sorry for them.

A bit like this ...

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