Saturday, 30 May 2009

RIP, Reality

I'm not going to claim that New Labour have ever had much contact with reality, but this beggars belief.

James Purnell: It's all about the money.

No shit, James, the man who took taxpayers money to get advice on how to avoid tax, but well done for being so forthcoming.

Oh, you don't mean you, after all

The last few weeks have been deeply uncomfortable for anyone who believes that politics is not a means for enriching yourself but a vehicle for us to change our society.

Right again, James, and would it be churlish to point out how effective you've been at demonstrating both these things - after all, without you, who would there be to attack people on benefits? Now that's compassionate conservatism for you...

But wait! James is only just getting started. He doesn't want our money for himself this time, oh no. He wants it for the parties!

The prime minister has already set out a radical reform of the MPs' expenses system to end the gentlemen's club where members make up the rules for themselves.

*ahem* After, and I really can't stress this enough, you all got caught. Why don't you get that this isn't enough? You're a tax dodging crook - that's not actually OK, you twunt.* You have, after all, been an MP for 8 years now, and you're joint second in claiming 'additional cost allowance'? Not bad work I suppose...

Hang on, before we get to the meat, there's still more...

Money means power. It affects the extent to which you have control over your own life and whether others – either people or institutions – have control over you. For example, many people who are losing their jobs now are doing so because of the power exercised irresponsibly and unaccountably by the banking sector.

*headdesk* Yes, who could have encouraged the proliferation of irresponsibility in that sector?

Anyway, let's check out the begging bowl.

Right, so he wants to cut big donations altogether and give parties state funding. So, that's the links with the unions gone forever then.

By offering state funding to parties in return for them engaging the entire public through local activism and policy-making we would incentivise them to return to their roots as vehicles for bringing citizens together to change their communities – not separating them into narrow segments of valued voters.

He likes this phrase so much he repeats it twice, word for word. Mmm, state-funded BNP activists, working closely with the whole community to engage them. Smell those buzzwords! They're luvverly.

What an arsehole. Words fail me.

*To be perfectly accurate, that should be: civil-liberties trouncing, warmongering, ID-card loving, foundation hospital supporting, nukulars-r-grate dickhead.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Galaxy Rise

Just how unbelievably cool is this?

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas Star Party from William Castleman on Vimeo.

From here, h/t Graun.

Random, Belated Geekery

Meant to do this last week, but Wolfram Alpha's gone online! Yay!

Go try it out, it's hugely enjoyable, although a bit limited at the moment.

Great on places:

Not so fantastic on world-spanning megastars just yet:

Still, it'll learn, eh? Cue Skynet gags...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ

I thought I'd do a review of a book I've been reading over the past couple of days, fitting neatly as it does with all my recent boning up on Christianity. Plus I'm a huge fan of Jose Saramago and would highly recommend The Cave and Death at Intervals to anyone who has yet to discover him.

Hopefully the fact that it's about Jesus can be overcome and what readers I may have will find it at least vaguely interesting. Usual caveats: I'm not a Christian and I have only recently started taking an interest in it as a religion. My familiarity with the texts is somewhat limited - if I miss something that's in Corinthians or Acts, it's because I haven't read them.

Also, as I've gone to the bother of checking out some genuine sources and stuff, I've gone to the poncy effort of doing references. Check me out!

So, what's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ all about then? Well, it's an novel purporting to be an account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, a man who Douglas Adams rather neatly summed up as being 'nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.' You've probably heard of him.

As I said in previous posts, the real gospels aren't meant to be historically accurate documents. They do, after all, feature a central character who returns from the dead (not that this is unknown, but in my experience those who return from the dead have an insatiable hunger for braaaiins. Seriously, I've seen films about it and everything). They are, however, thematically vital. For all the inconsistencies, those documents have survived the evolution and argument within the early Church and become the bedrock of the religion. Their conceptual space is important. Jesus' message has broad universal themes and the parables often have clear, if uncomfortable messages - and certain parables are repeated across the canon, such as the prodigal son.

Saramago therefore seeks to illuminate the life of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels. Key events are either replicated or woven into the new situations he creates. 'Father, why have you forsaken me' for example comes not on the cross but when a young Jesus sees his father crucified by the Romans.

This is important because the Gospels have certain major historical inconsistencies. As Chris Harman notes in A People's History of the World,

It claims his birth was in Bethlehem in the Roman province of Judaea, where his family had gone for a census during the time of Augustus. But there was no census at the time stated and Judaea was not a Roman province at the time. When a census was held in 7 AD it did not require anyone to leave their place of residence. Similarly, the New Testament locates Jesus's birth as in the time of King Herod, who died in 4 BC. Roman and Greek writers of he time make no mention of Jesus


Nevertheless, Saramago has Jesus born in a cave in Bethlehem after an arduous journey for the Roman census. It reminds me in a way of something David Harvey has to say about Capital, that Marx is taking the suppositions of classical economists as true in order to show that by their own lights they fail to produce the outcome they expect (Reading Marx's Capital Lecture 1).

And Saramago's Gospel is definitely heretical and blasphemous. Jesus has a prolonged, though monogamous, physical relationship with former prostitute Mary Magdalene, he spends much of the novel unaware of his divine status, and even equivocates nicely on the Trinity: 'you won't be dead in the absolute sense of the word, for as my son you'll be with Me, or in Me, I still haven't finally decided' says God at one point (2008:283). Jesus' brother James also gets short shrift, coming off as a petulant adolescent who wants nothing to do with his grandiose elder sibling. In contrast, James is generally held to have 'emerged as generally acknowledged head of the comunity at Jerusalem. Side by side with him were the 'apostles'' (Chadwick 1992:22)

The most interesting relationship in the book is probably the triumvirate of God, Jesus and the Devil. Jesus spends considerable time with both, and the Devil is a far more likeable presence than God.

I simply took what God didn't want, the flesh with all it's joys and sorrows, youth and senility, bloom and decay, but it isn't true that fear is one of my weapons, I don't recall having invented sin and punishment or the terror they inspire

(Saramago 2008:295)

he says, whilst in contrast God is made to spend over four pages detailing the gruesome deaths of various Christian martyrs, and comes across as every inch the God of the Old Testament: vain, patriarchal, arrogant and full of bloodlust.

Sympathy for the devil is an old theme of course, and criticism of God's character runs from Bertrand Russell to Terry Pratchett. Saramago's novel stands out in my eyes through bringing his usual sense of civility even to his outrage. Jesus, in particular, comes out fairly unblemished, relieved of responsibility for many of his more dubious teachings, a sensitive, intelligent man doomed by powers far beyond his or anyone else's ability to be saved from, a neat inversion of the traditional role of Jesus, that he is seen not as a deliverer from sin but a bringer of division and death.

Additionally, Saramago is very aware of just how Jewish Christianity is. Jesus inhabits an intensely religious Jewish land, and God himself is frequently concerned with his legacy as God of the Jews as much as his hope to change how he is seen (and hence who he is?) with his new idea of the Messiah.

Finally, he intelligently explores the big themes of justice, salvation, poverty, destiny, patriarchy, the nature of evil, the role of women and even love that fill the Gospels so. He has brought out a fantastic interpretation of the life of Jesus, and created from a story that has such mixed moral messages a firmly ethical interpretation of the story, in which God and justice are firmly separate and frequently opposing things. This is the greatest triumph of the book, that he has taken the life story of one who is supposedly one of the great moral teachers of all time, and shown that even if you grant him his story, a plausible interpretation is quite the reverse of what it is commonly assumed to be. Take Saramago's version of the Sermon on the Mount (warning - Saramago doesn't use speech marks to indicate when someone is talking so you have to work it out from the commas):

Blessed be you poor, Jesus told them, for yours is the kingdom of heaven ... but just then God became aware of what was happening and although too late to retract what Jesus had said, he forced him to speak other words which turned those tears of happiness into grim foreboding of the black future ahead, Blessed are you when men shall hate you
(ibid.: 309)
thus forcing the divisive elements of Jesus's philosophy squarely onto God's shoulders, leaving Jesus himself a far more enlightened figure than the Deity.

In conclusion then, if you'd like to see a coherent and humanitarian take on the life of Jesus Christ, one which captures many of the key ideas and underlying ethical implications of the New Testament, you could do far worse than pick up this book.

Fraser, Giles (ed.) 2007. The Gospels (Revolutions Series). Verso.
Gaiman, Neil and Pratchett, Terry 1991. Good Omens. Corgi.
Moorcock, Michael 1999. Behold the Man. Gollancz.
Nietzsche, Friedrich 2000. The Antichrist Prometheus
Nietzsche, Friedrich 1998. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future Dover Thrift.
Plato, 380 BCE. Euthyphro Internet Classics Archive.
Pratchett, Terry 1993. Small Gods Corgi.
Russell, Bertrand 2004.Why I am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects. Routledge.

Chadwick, Henry 1992. The Early Christian Community in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, McManners J (Ed.) OUP 1992.
Harman, Chris 2008. A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium. Verso.
Harvey, David Reading Marx's Capital - Class 1, Introduction, available at
Saramago, Jose 2008. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. Vintage.

Bumper BNP Bashing Bonus Blogging

(taking an assonatic leaf out of JURY TEAM's book there).

Anyway, at risk of sounding like a stuck bloody record, just caught Tim Ireland's new Billy Brit pisstake, and it made me laugh, so it might you.

Here you goes.

Tim's trying to improve the Google ranking of the vid, so go to You Tube and give it some props, yeah? (I'm just so ghetto when I'm being anti-fascist)

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to vote with your conscience and suffer a BNP MEP, or to take the compromise choice and by opposing end them?

There's a lot of worry about the BNP getting seats at the Euro elections next month. Here in the North East there's 3 seats up for grabs, and it has been suggested that, with the BNP getting 5th place 5 years ago, they could get a seat this time round (although not everyone takes this too seriously and if you look at the actual difference in percentages between 3rd and 4th place it's still fairly unlikely).

Still, what better time to ponder the options open to the discerning voter?

There's the usuals of course, Con, Lab, Lib - I suppose I'd consider voting for Clegg's men if I had to, but let's see if we can't do a little better.

Hmm. Bit of a mixed bag, as it happens.
BNP, Greens, UKIP, No2EU, Jury Team, English Democrats, Socialist Labour, some random god-botherers, and Libertas. So a total of 12 parties, 3 of whom I'd never even heard of. How do we narrow it down? Well, first off let's find out who the 3 randoms are.

Jury Team. Who they?
Esther Rantzen's backing this lot apparently, so already things aren't looking good for Jury Team.
Then there's the name - sounds like a really shit mid-afternoon crime-solving drama involving 12 people with minor superpowers, like the ability to induce migraines or grow aubergines quicker than you might expect. GO, JURY TEAM! GO!
What do they stand for? According to their website they stand for assonance, and plenty of it:

'Politics for the People Politics without Parties Politics with Principles'

is their battle cry.
What does this mean? Well, their actual demands seem fairly reasonable, if limited. More accountability and an end to whips, that sort of thing. But if they mean 'politics without parties' in any kind of literal sense then you can count me out until after the revolution. Anarchism is fine, but let's make sure we've got some kind of equality and production on the basis of need in place first, eh? 'Cos, you know, if there're no parties then there are no united blocs to push for change and everything loses focus.

Christian Party - Christian People's Alliance. Who they?
Self-explanatory really. No. Next!

Libertas. Who they?
They're the 'fresh and exciting new political force sweeping across Europe' apparently. So the party equivalent of a Glade plug-in, then.
Pro and pan-European apparently, which to me sounds like an SNCF breakfast croissant, but what do they stand for? Well, it's 'democracy, accountability and transparency' - much like Jury Team. But they've got a lot more ambition than that: in this set of elections they want to create a brand new bloc, from scratch (they're a brand new outfit). This bloc is pushing for things like an elected commission, which is fine as far as it goes. But for me it's not enough to democratise the institutions, the point is to change them. This all sounds very laudable, but it's not going to devolve power to workers' soviets any time soon or bring action on climate change to the top of the agenda. It's all a bit meh.

So, that's the new ones, who's left?
Well we've got the fascists, so they're out. UKIP, ditto. English Democrats - oddball far-right English Nationalists, they can sod off.

SLP is Scargill, so it's got the nostalgia vote sewn up. Plus their policies seem pretty good - nationalisation, socialism, democracy, the environment. That all sounds like the sort of thing you can get behind. Pity their website's so bloody awful though. Come on guys, we've moved on since the miner's strike, you're not on Teletext now!

Greens are also pretty nice looking though. Fairly left-wing, Caroline Lucas seems decent enough (if you've not heard her on Mark Thomas' podcast, do check it out, there's a dear), and of course this whole saving mankind agenda is hard to disagree with. And their website's nifty. And of course, they're polling pretty well, so could potentially outstrip the BNP this time round.

Bugger, it's going to be them isn't it? I'd better go and get me some sandals and muesli.

Update: Heh, completely forgot to do No2EU. I've been out of the activist loop for some time now, as the course I've been doing has taken up virtually every waking moment, and I've not had much time for news (hence all these posts about books and films, really), so I missed out on No2EU. Still, it's backed by the right people, like the RMT and Tony Benn, its focus is all those things Benn was talking about years and years ago, and which Greg Palast has touched on. They do make a persuasive case, especially on the prospect of enforced 'competitiveness'. I don't know though - the last poll I saw didn't really place them anywhere, and the Greens look to be well placed at the mo. But then... they do make a good video, don't they?

How Euro Elections Work

Found this via Bristling Badger:

It's rather good isn't it? Luckily my region's not so heavily being targeted by the BNP scum, but they're still a presence. I'm still not sure which way to vote, but that's probably for another post.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Blacking Up: Racist or Avant Garde?

Now, here's one of those not-with-a-ten-foot-pole issues: white people blacking up on stage and screen.

Not surprisingly, this is a bit of an emotive issue in terms of racial politics. The classic example is the Black and White Minstrel Show, which was a clearly, unequivocally racist show, as I think very few people would argue with, including one of its stars:

BBC Four: In the programme, one of the show's producers describes the moment when it first struck him that black people might find it offensive. Did you have a similar realisation?
Les Want: Yes. It was during the dress rehearsal for our second Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium. Diana Ross and the Supremes were topping the bill, and we were absolutely thrilled. When Diana Ross saw us she refused to carry on until we'd cleared the auditorium. As we left the stage she gave the Black Power salute. Then it all came home. Three years after that we disbanded.
Yes, 3 years later they realised there might be something dodgy about this:

The broader issue of blacking up is obviously controversial, but it was surprisingly common right up until the mid-70s. Even my beloved Doctor Who has some issues in this regard:

But the reason I bring it up is because I recently got round to obtaining and watching a film that had piqued my curiosity when reading a strange little book some time ago: O Lucky Man!

It's a Lindsey Anderson film (him wot did If...) starring Malcolm McDowell from 1973, and it's a fascinating, anarchic, hilarious, beautiful piece of work. McDowell plays a young salesman called Michael Travis, and the film follows his fortunes as he goes up and down the country, falling afoul of various official and vested interests, a kind of English Candide. One of the themes of the film is the idea that the same situations play themselves out with the same characters in different roles. So a military interrogator is played by the same actor as a Salvation Army major in a later scene.

And Arthur Lowe (yes, Captain Mainwaring) plays a coffee company boss, a mayor and, well... Doctor Munda:

But here's the thing: given the thematic content of the film, and what all these character changes are meant to achieve, I don't think it is racist. In fact, given the kinds of character Arthur plays in the film - minor players, people with a bit of power but ultimately responsible to people with far bigger desks than his, the character makes a lot of sense to be played by Arthur. Doctor Munda is the President of a small African republic appealing to a wealthy English financier to lend him the funds to purchase a horrific Agent Orange-type defoliant to bring some rebels into line, in exchange for which Doctor Munda will turn his country into a sweatshop for Western capital.

A strong theme in the film is a cycle of oppression and colonialism, which this scene captures rather neatly.

So why bother posting on this at all? Well, for the reasons above, essentially. Blacking up has a long, ignoble tradition, whether it's the Minstrels, Olivier playing Othello, or just Tory councillors. Seeing it was still something of a shock, given what a taboo it has become over the years. But it also seems far from clear cut, in the sense that people's attitudes to it have changed remarkably over a relatively short period of time (check out Les Want in the BBC Four interview above avowing that the entire Duke Ellington orchestra gave the show a standing ovation, whilst a few years later Diana Ross was appalled). Then there's the weird phenomenon of 'Darkie Days' where half a town black up for charidee, and can't see anything racist in it (check the link for the ultimate 'I can't be racist, some of my best lays were black' moment). How do you react to that? I mean, where I'm from we also have a strange annual tradition, although that involves making odd pictures out of petals and seeds and putting them around wells, rather than crassly caricaturing people with more melanin than themselves, but there's a strange normalising cultural context these things often take place in. It wasn't until I moved up North, for example, that I realised just how weird well-dressings really are, and how little sense the idea makes to anyone not from the area.

And whilst I'm more or less happy with my reasoning on this particular film, although I admit the whole topic makes me feel uneasy, that doesn't preclude me being dead wrong - so I'd love to know what anyone else thinks on this.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Robin Hood: 5 Seconds Inside the Dome

Honestly, check out this week's episode and see if there isn't a scene that is taken EXACTLY from an episode of the Crystle Maze.

(about 6 min in)

(Yes, I know it's bloody awful, but recently I've been desperate for any moving images/sound combination to distract me from the tedium of work.)

John the Baptist

I've been making my way through the Gospels for some time now, and I've finally finished them (it was for work, in case you were wondering).

I'd like to make it clear, I'm definitely not a Biblical scholar. Any comments I make here are purely a reaction to the text, and an attempt to comment on what is by any standards an extremely complex piece of literature (as a short illustration: there is not one Jesus in the Gospels but four, each markedly different from the others in temperament and action).

As a lifelong atheist, I'd never seen the point in reading the Bible before, especially since the copy I was given for my Christening was KJV, which is virtually impossible to read without slipping into a coma. However the NRSV translation is very good and readable, and the introduction by Terry Eagleton is very spiffing.

What interests me, naturally, are the political aspects of the text. Of course religions are inherently political, and founding documents incredibly so; and equally obviously Jesus was a politically significant figure in the Gospels: for a start, crucifixion was a punishment only the Romans were allowed to mete out, a secular sentence of tortureporn-and-death by the occupying military authority. Jesus' symbol is inherently political. What particularly interested me though was a different character entirely: John the Baptist.

First, some background. The Gospels were written between approximately 60 and 100 AD, several decades after the events which are supposed to take place in them, and the 'authors' (assuming there was only one for each book, which is debatable) were writing at a time when Christians were just one more Jewish splinter sect trying to establish itself and attract supporters (Christians as a label is also a fairly late development - it comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning saviour). Each Gospel is written for particular audiences. Luke is very keen to stress the miracles aspect, all evangelical, definitely aimed at the gentiles. Matthew, by contrast, is keen to push the Jewish angle ('Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.' 5:17).

John is a fascinating character. He turns up in all four gospels (although, natch, occupying different thematic roles each time), and he seems to be of both thematic and political importance. Some stress his miraculous birth, others his baptismal activities. But they seem to agree that Jesus has himself baptised by John. This may be part of 'paving the way', of which more later, but politically seems to be a clear act of submission or at least of acknowledgement of the importance of the John cult.

The other part of John's role, paving the way, is much more theological. It is important to remember that it is central to the writers' case that Jesus MUST have returned from the dead, because otherwise he has failed to fulfil the Old Testament prophecies that would qualify him as the Messiah. John's presence is much the same: Matthew lifts his raison d'etre straight from Isiah 40:3

1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' "

By having someone to pave the way, Jesus' appearance is strictly in line with Jewish expectations. As Terry Eagleton notes:

Not much of what Jesus does or says in these writings is original. For the most part, he does and says things we know to be fairly typical of first-century Jewish prophets.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that there are at least two Messiah cults here, that of Jesus and that of John. Jesus' cult is keen to portray John as one who believes he is 'paving the way' for Jesus to come later, so he can surrender his role and anoint Jesus as the real Messiah. From my personal, perhaps not terribly well-informed, perspective, the theological angle reads like classic 'face-saving' politics. It's the public line you take when realpolitik dictates your actions. There is a reason you can give for this from the Law, but you can't disguise that it's a written olive branch.

I have no idea the extent to which John is a genuine historical figure, but the subtexts within the Gospels themselves are fascinating, and I think they easily support a reading of a very politically savvy cult – which probably goes some way to explaining its later success.

Just A Thought

Something that just occurred to me about the ongoing expenses scandal. I've not had much time to think it through so it may just be complete bollocks, but...

For the last 12 years, Labour have pursued obviously stupid economic policies. I think our PM liked to call it some variation on the words 'post neo-classical endogenous growth theory'

The repeated mantra appeared to involve an idea that the economy had moved away from 'boom and bust' and that it could be kept at a 'goldilocks' rate of growth. Now, anyone who is familiar with the way capitalism works would probably tell you that this is bullshit. Brown probably new it was bullshit, unless he really is that stupid.

But here's the thing: what if they didn't know? What if people who thought their personal money trees flowered all year round didn't understand that debt can't be magicked into being forever? What if they thought monetarism could actually deliver stability?

Can they really be that thick? I'd always assumed that they were a bunch of mendacious, warmongering, right-wing arseholes - it never occurred to me that they might just be a bit dim.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Election Material

With the Euro elections coming up, it's not just the openly racist parties that have been sending their bumf. Today I also got some weak piece of crap from the Tories, which looks like a timetable for a particularly ineffective management seminar, personally addressed to me for some fucking reason.

I'd like to find some way of explaining to these bastards that I hate them, their policies, their members, and everything they stand for. Unfortunately I have the horrible feeling that if I email them to tell them this, some public school Tory fuckwad will immediately send me every piece of election literature in their catalogue, probably whilst braying with horsey, haughty laughter. And eating a swan and caviar pasty. With his feet on a kneeling serf.

That's EXACTLY what they're like. And you know it. Deep in your heart of hearts, you know it.

Yes you do.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Random News Trivia

Overheard on Radio Fourgeois this morning:

'The Conservatives have committed themselves to a cull of badgers if they win the next election. We will be asking: why?'

This is where the left's been going wrong, I think. Too much interest in reforming the financial system, not enough in attacking the cast of Wind in the Willows.

'The latest victim of the expenses scandal is Conservative MP Peter Viggers, who resigned after claiming £1,645 for a floating island for ducks in his pond. David Cameron said this was completely unacceptable.'

I always find trivia like this most illuminating. As Oliver once said, the truth is rarely on the main road, but frequently down a side road or round the back*. I think this one shows just how close to the perigee of farce this scandal has reached now.

Update: Heh, then this happened. This is just the bleakly comic gift that keeps on giving depressing shit-nuggets, isn't it?

*Paraphrasing, anyway. I can't lay my hands on my copy at the moment to check but once I do I'll update it appropriately.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

How Great Are the New SWP Posters?

Seriously. I mean, I don't want to come across like a party hack here (though I suppose I am), but via Lenin here're some rather brill items from SW, which I think are smashing.

Update: More here for them as wants it.
Edited: To make my English alls gud.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Cinema Choices

Until Friday it had never even occurred to me that I would want to see Angels and Demons. I mean, it's a Dan 'Fucking' Brown novel. I picked up the Da Vinci Code once and couldn't get more than a couple of pages into it: it's a worse read - stylistically anyway - than Richard Littlejohn's Magnum Opus 'To Hell in a Handcart'. Which is an achievement of sorts, I suppose.

However, after seeing a couple of reviews, like Xan Brooks', in which we are told that Tom Hanks plays an academic 'with a PhD in expository dialogue,' and most particularly Mark Kermode's vivid depiction of the film, frankly how could I not see it? Anti-matter in the Vatican? That's practically Pride and Prejudice and Zombies territory...


I know, two posts in as many days, it's a bit of an achievement. And as I always say, never mind the quality - feel the width...

I'm off work with some kind of stomach-thingy so I was already feeling nauseous before I found the leaflet the BNP dropped through the door this morning. God it's creepy though. It literally makes my skin crawl. And I do mean literally - it felt like it was trying to crawl away from the thing.

A few years ago, we got this A4, black and white thing through the door claiming to be the 'Gateshead Patriot' which had - I shit thee not - a picture of an Asian man getting off a dinghy at a reservoir with the caption 'flood of asylum seekers - headed for Gateshead?' on it.

That was nasty, but so poorly executed that there was some comedy value.

This one is somewhat nastier, although I should find it funnier.

After all, it's got the hilarious Polish spitfire on it, the not-terribly real voters, and the bright friendly colours (strangely similar to those on the UKIP leaflet that got pushed through atthe letterbox at, interestingly, the very same time - what could that mean?) somewhat undermined by gratuitously racist text like 'British Jobs for British Workers - Because We've Earned the Right'. It's still a very poor effort, just a bit glossier.

Of course the reason it makes me uncomfortable is that it's got the level of faux-honesty about on par with the leaflets you tend to get from the real parties, and production values to match. When you get one from Labour, for example, they never seem to mention 'a key part of our manifesto is continuing to put the public sector in hock to Balfour Beatty until your children are nearing retirement' or 'we promise to serve the interests of the City of London for reasons too stupid to detail'. No, they focus on you, the hardworkingfamily. And if you're not a hardworkingfamily then you probably like hardworkingfamilies or want to be one, yeah? And so too with the BNP's scumlet: pics of white people with hard hats or doctor's coats on all apparently avowing how important it is to hate foreigners.

It's still poorly judged of course. I don't know quite how anyone is supposed to link jobs for white people today with victory at Trafalgar, and I think most people will find it a stretch, even assuming they can make the required leap to Planet Bigot in the first place, a magical fairyland where the colour of your skin means something to global capitalism. It reminds me of Labour's recent attacks on unemployment benefits, where in order for it to make sense you have to buy into the idea that the reason there are so many people unemployed is because half the workforce became institutionally lazy overnight, upsetting the Jobs Unicorn and making it skitter off into the Forest of Recession, never to be seen again.

In short, this leaflet really is just ghastly, and its similarity to proper political leaflets implies a bid for respectability, with its careful use of obfuscation and the unconvincing institutional fictions of actual politics. I can't even bring myself to treat it with the admirable lightness of touch that Anton Vowl has. I only hope that this is a last gasp and that Griffin gets nowhere near Brussels. If he does, their despicable narrative might actually gain currency.

Update: just caught Charlie Brooker's piece. Damn, that's good!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Star Trek: WTF

Couldn't think of a punnier title I'm afraid, but if you can, drop me a comment.

I have been trying to think of a post to do on the expenses thing, but frankly it's just too depressing. Although Douglas Hogg's moat cleaning and Eric Pickles' 'the thing about Parliament is, you have to turn up on time' have a black comedic value far beyond even Blears' 'look at my wodge of money, proles!' moment.

So instead, something which has been headfucking me for about a week now - the new Star Trek movie, and how reviewing it for the audience in my head has been a really hard task.

Two warnings:

To start with, the whole film is really fucking weird. Just odd. It's being billed as a 'reboot' movie, presumably because 're-magining' is soo Battlestar Galactica. So it's supposed to kick off a new slew of entries into the franchise presumably.

That's fine, as far as it goes, and certainly when I came out of the flicks I felt I had a good understanding of the new ground rules (mainly: none of the stuff from the last 40 years has happened any more, apart from presumably the late, unlamented, Enterprise thing, so pretty much anything goes; but there's probably enough of the future left intact for some cameos and nudge-nudge in-jokes over the next however many movies).

This leaves open the question of what kind of movie it is though. As in, what's the genre here? Generally, Star Trek movies have known their place. Certainly with the TNG crew they've felt like extended episodes rather than cinematic experiences, with that oddly televisual feel to the fairly cheap sets (First Contact is definitely the one that suffers the least from this, but check out the exterior scenes on the deflector dish and you'll still be able to see what I mean). Star Trek sets out to be more cinematic. Unfortunately I think it may be the cinema of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystle Skull. By which I mean that the elements of a blockbuster romp are there but no one has any clue why it's been made.

For a start, there's the plot. Or at least, there should be. What there actually is seems to consist of yet another temporal anomaly plot-device, and some stuff. That stuff seems to be largely random, although it does allow a Star Trek IV reference to San Francisco. The Romulans are back, for some reason or another - something to do with the first ship to be powered by demented bluebottles, and a mining ship that looks like a collection of rusty razor blades and Meccano, no doubt for some really good space reason. Weirdly the baddie reminded me less of Khan and more of Frank Sobotka from The Wire. As far as I can work out, the whole thing seems to exist solely to set up a convenient way to explain away whatever its sequels get up to.

The characters were also very odd to watch. None of them were bad, but they were all doing impressions of people we know very well. I won't say they were like a tribute act - it's more like going to the pub to meet a friend and finding James van der Beek there claiming to be him and reminding you of that time you both went arse over tit down Dog Leap Stairs.

The attempt to recreate the spirit of the original series - with the familiar slightly overdone humour between Kirk, Spock and McCoy - clashes so oddly with the high-end blockbuster special effects that for me it added yet another disconcerting element to it, as though it were to-ing and fro-ing between Saving Private Ryan and Galaxy Quest.

Finally, the politics. It's a difficult film to assess, as it often is with Star Trek, pushing as it always does the strange line between some kind of apparently socialist economics and a liberal hegemonic view of legalistic national/planetary power structures. There's some attempt to equate Star Fleet with a UN task force, but as others have pointed out, it's a very weapon-heavy task force if so. A UN with the US military at its disposal, rather than the underpaid 3rd-world soldiers that it usually relies on. So it's at once an imperialist and notionally multilateral world view (interestingly the loss of Vulcan, which has always been the underpinning other tribune of the Federation, implies a newly unipolar Federation). Then there's the odd choice of a suicide-bomber hero in the first few minutes of the film. I don't want to stretch a 9/11 analogy in too strongly here - I don't quite see how an American single-handedly flying a ship into the belly of the beast resonates strongly with the American popular narrative of that event. It does however fit strongly with the more general narrative of American Exceptionalism, the sort of thing the neocons are so keen on. So keeping the franchise's liberal credentials would be a bit of a stretch here, if the film were particularly interested in politics. Luckily it focuses almost wholly on the Kirk/Spock dynamic, making it a personal story in which galactic politics are are a sketchily painted canvas backdrop to make the sets seem somewhat larger than they really are. Much like the saving-the-world bobbins that gets put in towards the end.

In short: This film was one of the weirdest experiences I have had with a mainstream blockbuster release. I don't even know if it was enjoyable or not. I don't think it was a bad film exactly, but I'm really not sure if I could say why.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Competition Time!

I've been trying to work out on exactly how many different levels this idea is offensive at once:

Endemol, the brains - although perhaps not the heart - behind Big Brother, has launched a new US reality show for these difficult times: Someone's Gotta Go!

Each show focuses on a struggling small business where redundancies are on the cards. Workers are then pitted against one another, with the wage books opened up and employees fighting it out over whose pay should be cut. The entertainment reaches a crescendo when the workforce votes on which of their colleagues should be thrown onto the dole.

More info here.

Answers on a comment please.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Hey, Where's My Swine Flu Leaflet?

Just asking. I'm beginning to think the government don't love me no more.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Interesting Things

Yesterday I discovered, downloaded and spent most of the day listening to the rather good recordings on Mark Thomas' site from his current 'It's the Stupid Economy' show.

Check them out.

Particular highlights include Vince Cable (believe me, I'm as surprised as you are), Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and Nick Hildyard of Corner House, but they're all really interesting perspectives - especially the economists.

After finding these my thirst for left-wing audio was aroused, and following some quick Googling I found that the recordings from the SWP's Marxism festival are put on the interwebs as well. I've been listening to some of the ones on basic Marxist Theory and I've got Paul Foot on the Peasant's Revolt lined up for the commute into work.

Find them all here.

Edited for: too many afters.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Waiting For Hefner

30 Years Ago Today, apparently. The final triumph of monetarism and the beginning of the great wasting of 3 decades of opportunity for progress.

When will I get to put Hefner on? I keep it on standby just in case but she stubbornly refuses to just kick the fucking bucket. What's her secret? Is she animatronic or something? Or does pure evil act as a kind of perpetual motion engine?

The Coincidence Matrix

Recently, a few coincidences have piled up: my interest in 'Keep Calm and Carry On' peaked just when the Graun's readership's was being piqued; I discovered where the University was hiding information on assignments just in time to write it, and now this:

Harman: 'I don't want to be PM'

I know. It's uncanny. Harriet, we are of one mind on this. I'd much rather you do what you were destined for and try your hand at estate agency, preferably in the John O'Groats area.

What a fucking choice. Harman OR Johnson. Why, Monsieur Guardian, with zis choice you are spoiling us..

Phone me back with McDonnell and we can talk.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Where Does All The Money Come From?

This is another event announcement, you lucky lucky people.

Do you ever wonder where all this money comes from? Does something irk you about people describing the rich as 'wealth-creators' but you find it difficult to place exactly why? Do you not have the months to set aside to read Capital?

Well, if your copy of The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx disappeared at the time your weird flatmate vanished, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists now looks tainted by its temporary popularity with the muesli and rocket dinner-party set, and you haven't got the time to follow David Harvey's lectures, why not pop along to Northumbria Uni's Stage 2 this Sunday at 2 p.m. for a 'Socialist Sunday School' with Matt Perry on Marxist economics? Might be interesting, and it's only a quid.