Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Crisis

I've found the reporting of the 'hostage crisis' over the past few days intensely irritating. For one thing - and let's get this straight - for the moment, they're not 'hostages', they're prisoners. To say that is not to lend any justification to Iranian actions (we don't know who's right about the measurement of territorial boundaries), but it is to use a rather more impartial term. But the word 'hostage' fits the narrative better - since, as we all know, the Iranians just can't help taking hostages. History shows. They're always taking hostages. It's what they do. They don't need a reason. They take hostages because they're uncivilised and volatile and they hate, hate, hate. All this is implied - it's there under the surface - in media reports. The British military's story is taken at face value, while the Iranian version of events - that British military personnel were arrested for making an incursion into Iranian waters - is treated with high scepticism.

Now I don't trust the Iranian government's version of events anymore than I trust that of the British government. Who knows? None of us.

What I am quite sure about, however, is that driving forward the media's shrieking sensationalised 'international crisis' mongering is the tacit assumption that we simply can't have this uncivilised nation taking British people - yes BRITISH people (!!!!!) - captive. That's the real scandal.

The thing that really gets me, however, is all the stuff about the female 'hostage'. It's incredibly sexist, really isn't it? The assumption seems to be, firstly, that a woman (being by nature a weak creature who needs male protection and etc) simply cannot cope in that situation (although, thankfully, there'll be some strong British lads with her to give her a slap to snap her out of it if she starts getting too hysterical). Secondly, it seems that keeping her capitive is an incredibly beastly thing to do - because she's a mother. Think of the children(!!!) the media implore. Well, aren't any of the other captives parents as well? What about their children? Aren't they worried too? Further, this lady has been away on a ship (possibly for months on end) for goodness sake - she's in the fucking navy!!! It's not like the Iranians have directly snatched her away from her kids. The media seem to be quite happy to have female sailors zipping around in heavily armed gunboats in the Gulf - but now a female in the armed forces has been captured, we're back to the 19th Century and the papers are working themselves up into a frenzy because a helpless, blushing, English rose is in mortal danger (which, of course, she isn't).

Now, like any other half-way civilised human being, I hope no harm comes to these captives and I would like them to be released soon. I'd rather they hadn't been taken captive. In fact, come to think of it, I'd rather the Royal Navy weren't pissing around in the Gulf. But let's think on this for a minute. Does anyone really think that any harm is going to come to them? I can't see it. Does anyone really think that the Iranians are going to hold them for years on end? I can't see that happening either.

When this little crisis is over and when the bombs and missiles start falling on Iran, let's see if the papers have pictures of Iranian women on their front pages and headlines imploring us to think about the mothers and their little children.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cricket World Cup

I'm enjoying the Cricket World Cup. Part of the enjoyment, I have to say, is the near absurdity of some aspects of this competition - terms like 'power plays' and 'super-8s' applied to cricket make me giggle every time I hear them. There's something a little ridiculously theatrical about the colourful team kits, too. I'm a great fan, incidentally, of the New Zealand kit. If you've ever wondered what Darth Vader would look like at the crease, just watch New Zealand in bat.

The thing I really like, however, is the juxtaposition of try-hard razzmatazz (the costumes, the 'power plays') with ramshackle cricketiness - the often more or less empty stadiums, the TV shots of spectators reading newspapers rather than watching the match, the beer bellies (have you seen team Bermuda?), the team captains falling into potholes, that sort of thing.

Many of the games have been pretty entertaining. I especially enjoyed the Ireland - Pakistan match recently where the Irish somehow managed to win the game with the last ball.

Unfortunately, this competition is likely to be remembered for the death of the Pakistan coach - Bob Woolmer - rather than Vaughan's pothole incident, or Dwayne Leverock's athleticism. It's been announced today, that Jamaican police are treating Woolmer's death as 'suspicious'. Sounds like it might have been suicide (surely cricket hasn't stooped so far that coaches now get bumped off for losing).


Monday, March 12, 2007

Look At Me Everybody

I've got something in the latest issue of Historical Materialism.

Sort of.

Specifically, I get a mention in footnote 19 of Alex Callinicos's and Sam Ashman's essay on 'Capital Accumulation and the State System'. My mum is very proud.

You have to start somewhere. Out of tiny chestnuts mighty oaks do grow.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Went to see Hot Fuzz last night. I have to say that I was pretty disappointed. It's not bad but it certainly wasn't as good as I had expected. It has its moments - the last half an hour or so is a gloriously over-the-top Tarantino-esque shoot-out and very entertaining. That last portion of the film is reminiscent of Desperado - only set in a Somerset village and featuring cops exchanging gunfire with machine gun toting little old ladies (although, of course, Channel 5 got there first with Suburban Shootout). Nick Frost is as amusing as ever and gets most of the best lines in the film. Pegg, however, isn't very funny at all. Whereas Frost plays the same sort of character he always plays (naive, boyish, day-dreaming, hero worshipping) - Frost's PC Danny is essentially the same person as Mike in Spaced and Ed in Shaun of the Dead - Pegg doesn't get to play Tim/Shaun this time. So, while Nick Frost can play to his strengths (and, yes, give the audience what they paid money to see - I paid to see Mike/Ed and Tim/Shaun in a cop buddy film spoof), there's very little that Pegg can do to find comedy in his character, Nick Angel, because Angel is a straight-laced, straight-faced and rather robotic sort of character.

I have to say that the first half an hour of the film is almost spectacularly dull, and the following hour isn't much better. There are a few laughs (mostly Nick Frost) but a lot of it is rather forced and I'm afraid we've seen most of the set-piece gags before - the fence vaulting slap-stick is essentially the same scene as the one in Shaun of the Dead (although I'm told that this is an intentional in-joke). It starts hotting up a little, however, when the grisly murders start - and the blood and gore special effects are actually pretty good. The first hour and half of the film is made interesting only because of Pegg's and Wright's trade-mark multiple film references, nods and spoofs.

There are plenty of comic actors in the the film besides Pegg and Frost - Adam Buxton (from Adam and Joe), Bill Bailey, Kevin Eldon (Big Train), Olivia Colman (Peep Show), Stephen Merchant and Steve Coogan - but almost all of them are completely wasted and given little more than deeply forgettable cameos and bit-parts.

I'm afraid I find Edgar Wright's direction style a little grating in this film. I quite like the fast, punchy editing in Spaced and Shaun of the Dead but in this film a lot of it is just uncomfortable to watch - as if Wright is trying to force his editing cleverness down your throat. There's a sequence in the film every time someone is arrested where quick fire frames of the suspect's mug shots are shown, with aggressive, discordant music in the back ground. I found that frequently repeated sequence teeth-grindingly uncomfortable as if I was being violently assaulted by means of disorienting noise and image - Guantanamo Bay style torture isn't really my idea of fun.

If you haven't seen it, I recommend you wait for the film to be shown on TV and just watch the last 30 minutes or so.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Baudrillard is Dead

I can think of a number of cheap quips - but the Guardian's obit does it all anyway.

I think the obituary is quite fair - after the initial cheap shots, anyway. For what it's worth I think that Baudrillard's early work is really good, although I'm not sure if I'm convinced by it. The idea that under advanced consumer capitalism commodities must possess 'symbolic value' in addition to use and exchange values seems to have quite a lot of force to it. Baudrillard got there long before Naomi Klein.

I'm with Christopher Norris, though, on the later stuff - his famous declaration that the first Gulf War 'never happened' was, I think, politically and morally irresponsible. This isn't to say that Baudrillard doesn't make some good points in that infamous work - clearly, (post)modern* warfare is, in many ways, media spectacle. Doesn't mean that there aren't real people really being pulverised and eviscerated in the explosions shown on our TV screens, however.

*Argghhh, dirty!Must wash hands.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Pinch and a Punch, First of the Month!!

Bollocks. It's the 2nd.

Never mind. You can have a pinch and a punch anyway. That's all right. Don't mention it.

Some interesting things:

1. Interview with Lynne Segal in today's Guardian.

2. China 'sneezes' and the global financial markets get the shits. Or something like that. I said this was going to happen all along didn't I? Yes I did. Of course, all of this is explained away in obfuscatory, mystificatory terms by media economics correspondents and 'City analyists'* - it's all about market 'correction' you see (i.e. it's all the mysterious but benign work of the invisible hand of the magic Adam Smith fairy sprinkling its magic market correcting moondust and, er, you shouldn't trouble your silly little heads about it) . I haven't seen any pictures on TV of City traders sitting on steps with their heads in their hands looking thoroughly dejected like in 1987. Obviously things aren't quite that bad yet, then. It will be interesting to see whether the US economy slides into recession in the coming weeks and months, though.

3. I'm reading Will Hutton's The State We're In and The State to Come at the moment. Never really read them before. They're actually quite good rollocking reads - or, at least, as close as you can get to a rollocking read on the subject of economic growth and investment. I have to say that I normally prefer Iain M Banks.

* In Elliott's book (with Dan Atkinson) The Age of Insecurity, it's pointed out that one very successful City analyst used to prepare briefings about projected future economic trends over the coming three months by adding up various stats from the previous 3 months and then dividing by three. This is what they get paid for. Do not believe the bastards. They don't really know what they're doing. As Elliott and Atkinson suggest, economics - particularly economic 'analysis' resting on neo-classical assumptions - isn't a 'science', it's witchcraft and soothsaying.

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