Monday, December 29, 2008

The Pope, the rainforest and the gays

Something that caught my attention just before Christmas was the message from His Holiness, the Pope, and his rather headline-grabbing comment that, as paraphrased when reported by the BBC, that 'saving humanity from homosexuality was just as important as saving the rainforest'.

My immediate and obvious gut-reaction to this, probably in line with the reaction of any other rational and open-minded person on this earth (not to mention the gay community) was: 'so how important is saving the rainforest?'

It's all too easy to assume the Pope is having a go at homosexuality, but has anybody paused to think that maybe he just got an irrational dislike of trees, particularly those in Brazil? Maybe he believes the tree roots point down towards the devil and might lead the local indians towards Satanism. Maybe that's why so many missionaries went to South America (and whilst they were down there they could pulp more wood from those pesky trees to print even more bibles).

So there you go, maybe he really loves gay people (but not in that way of course). He just really really hates trees and has a secret cunning plan to make ever christian household cut one down and plant them in their living rooms every year. Oh hang on.....

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Panda Pops over t'neighbours

The Chinese-made JZ-3600D Missile, nicknamed "The Panda" by journalists.

Taken from the Daily Laim, London.

China is at it again, and its latest victim as the RED DRAGON strives to become TOP DOG of Asia is poor old Taiwan.

In an attempt to BAMBOOzle the Taiwanese, China have sent two PANDAS to Taipei Zoo as a unashamedly political bribe for unification. Well you can't accuse China of PANDERing to the wishes of independence-minded Taiwanese, as they unleash a PANDEmic of cuddly propaganda symbols on the world that will surely result in ecological PANDEmonium for the species.

But one consolation is at least they won't be stealing work for lower wages from the local native species of bear.


Translated from the Workers' and Doctors' and Nurses' and Farmers' and Workers' Daily, Beijing

Today heralds a great new chapter in the history of cross-straits relations. With the arrival of Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, the cute and lovable symbols of Chinese hope and conciliation, at Taipei zoo, personally received by the President Ma, peoples on both sides of the Taiwan Straits have but one more thing in common.

The historic arrival of these rare and endangered species is but only one sign of thawing relations between both parties, what with the resumption of direct air and postal traffic between the two entities.

We hope this signifies one more tiny step toward a resolution of the historic and painful issues separating the peoples of Taiwan and mainland China. It is an unstoppable fact of history that there will be a re-union, as predicted by Lennonism when a Free Marx economy is controlled through rigorous application of Communist/Consumerist dogma in its purest form.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Xmas (War is over)

Well, Christmas time is here again, it comes but once a year.... that sounds like the first line of a naff Christmassy song doesn't it? It probably exists if I wanted to spend enough time to dig it out. Talking about Christmas songs (the non-naff variety, this time) I just want to write about what I consider to be undoubtedly the best Christmas song. Ever. It is of course John and Yoko's Merry Xmas (War is Over)

And these are the reasons why this is the song I reach for every Yuletime ahead of any other Christmas tune anyone may care to record.

1. It's another classic John Lennon song.

Yes, it's got a great and instantly recognisable guitar chord progression and the first line of John Lennon's distinct vocals launches you straight into 3 and a half minutes of pure unadulterated joy.

2. It's produced by Phil Spector.

The legendary producer of so many classic songs including the 1963 Christmas Gift For You album took the helm as producer and he's done a splendid job once again, despite Yoko Ono barging in and applying her own, erm, unique vocals to the master tape. Imagine the honour, joy and prestige to be told that none other than John Lennon wants YOU to produce his next single. Now imagine being told Yoko wants to sing on it too. Imagine no Yoko singing (it's easy if you try). Without being too unkind on her, all I can say is that at least Linda McCartney (rest in peace) was able to vaguely sing in tune on his ex-Beatle husband's songs. So what does ol' Phil decide to do? Bring in a load of schoolchildren to sing the chorus behind Ms Ono so that it almost drowns out Mrs Lennon's warbling AND also adds a superb new angle to the anti-war message of the song. Ge-ni-us.

3. The lyrics

Rather than having twee lyrics about chestnuts roasting by the fireside and people dressed up like snowmen, and other idealised images of a non-realistic mid-winter paradise that only exists in Richard Curtis' mind, this song injects a political message that blends exceedingly well with the classic Christmas message of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. It's a message that was very apt in 1971 against the backdrop of Vietnam. It's still very apt now.

4. It's not yet another piece of manufactured rubbish from the bl**dy X Factor.

Need I explain any more? Thanks to Simon Cowell and his stooges, the music charts have now become even more predicatable and boring than the English Football Premiership.

And on that note I'd like to wish everybody on this Earth a fantastic Christmas and a very peaceful 2009. Except for Simon Cowell that is.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Naff t-shirts

I've just had a road-to-Damascus experience (well actually it wasn't on an actual road and I definitely wasn't going anywhere near Damascus, but I couldn't just call it a "standing in my wet and cold bathroom" experience).

The vision and the truth that came to me in a blinding flash of, erm, water is this great pearl of wisdom: humanity is built upon that solid bedrock of civilisation, the naff t-shirt.

Don't you feel sorry for the poor downtrodden runt of the fashion family? Whenever family and friends go on holiday anywhere vaguely interesting (or Frankfurt) they always buy you a t-shirt with the name of the city or country blazened in glorious PVC with, if you're lucky, a naff picture of the symbol of that place alongside. Like a red bus. Or a pie. Or something. When you receive said gifts, you think "what a nice thought, but am I actually ever going to wear it in the company of any other member of the human race?"

Well... actually... I actually do, do I. No-one ever SEES me wearing them, but the reality is that I actually wear naff t-shirts all the time! (I actually wear them more than I use the word "actually", actually.) I wear them in bed every night, I wear them hidden under other clothing every day in winter, and I even wear them under work shirts if said work shirts are thick and dark enough to mask the crime against taste and tourism that lurks beneath. I have a mammoth stock of the stuff breeding away and perpetually in the cycle of wash, dry, wear, wash, dry, wear, wash, dry, wear, until they start getting a bit stale and tatty, and then I cheerfully continue to wash, dry, wear them until they begin to really fall apart and beg me to put the proverbial gun against its proverbial temple (if it had one) to put it out of its sartorial misery.

That's when phase 2 begins and they begin a whole new life as rags in the kitchen, rags in the bathroom, and rags everywhere in the home, to be used to mop up dirt and mop up water and just generaly be very useful in keeping the place clean. Why buy cleaning cloths from the supermarket when you have a wardrobe full of them, which, as long as Ryanair are in business will continue to be stocked with naff t-shirts from all over the world!

Maybe it's just a Chinese thing in that saving money through squeezing value out of the naffest of your possesions is the only true path to happiness. But it's better than actually wearing them in public view, shurely?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shannon's Mum

Shannon Matthews' mum. A recent radio program recently asked the public: 'is she evil or stupid'? Well, I think a certain A. Hitler of Austria might have pipped her to post in the 'evil' stakes, but I can't think of anyone who can beat her for sheer stupidity. And poor old Shannon herself. Some souls are lucky and born to loving and decent parents. Others are, to put it briefly, not.

When I first heard about the abduction of Shannon Matthews a while ago I was immediately struck by the image and sound of her mother on television. No matter how sorry I felt for their predicament, especially after Madelaine McCann, a little part of my brain could not help but think about what kind of family Shannon was from. To the best of my abilities I tried to repress my middle-class judgements on the way her mother looked, spoke, and came across and tried to concentrate on just feeling very sad and sorry and wishing and praying that the world avoids yet another unsolved child abduction tragedy.

Now with hindsight that her mother had orchestrated her own daughter's kipnap, drugging and imprisonment in an idiotic and fumbled attempt to grab some reward money, I actually feel quite free to throw caution to the wind and tell the world what I think of her. Is it too unkind to call her a cross between Waynetta Slobb and a character from Viz magazine? Yes it probably is: she's just Waynetta Slobb. And where on earth are her braincells? Did she plan on using any of them?? If you were planning a wicked scheme to obtain £50,000 through immoral deceit, wouldn't you at least sit down, think about it first and try to get your "story" straight? Not Shannon Matthews's mum, it seems, who spun out 5 different versions of her side of the story. To the police. And what was her story(ies) going to be when wanted to finally claim the reward money? Oh yes I was just walking on my way to Iceland when I found her chained to a lamp-post on the high-street? She just got a little lost on her home from school and took a months-long detour? She had been stuck in the toilet at her step-dad's house all this time and everybody was too busy looking for her to hear her shouts and complaints?? It must have been aliens???

And presuming Shannon Matthews a) has the ability to speak, b) feels a little more than slightly annoyed at being kidnapped, sedated and locked up by her own "step-dad" what were the odds of her deciding to stick to her mother's version of how she was abducted? (When she finally decides which one to stick to)

So has there been any Good eminating from Shannon Matthews's mum's existence on this very planet that we all share together? Putting on my thinking-cap of hope and enlightenment here's my attempt at a list.

1. She makes you thankful for the parents you've got.

My parents may not be perfect, and by god parents of British Born Chinese certainly know how to be aggressive and pushy and to liberally sprinkle you with cultural and moral dilemmas, but at least they never drugged me up, tied me up and then forced me underneath a bed, to only bungle the whole enterprise. (My parents would have been much more competent.)

2. She makes you glad you studied hard at school.

At school if you were mischevious, badly-behaved and rebellious, you were cool and popular. If you studied hard and did well in exams, you were spoddy, square and Nobby No-Mates. Those who decided not to succomb to the Dark Side should be glad of the path they chose, otherwise they could have ended up like Shannon Matthew's mum. Or even worse, one of her boyfriends.

3. Erm, I can't think of a third positive thing about Shannon's Matthew's Mum. Damn you thinking-cap of hope and enlightenment.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Give me a T, give me an I, give me a B, give me an E, give me a T!

Ok, my first venture into the darkest realms of the human topic of politics. I spotted this article on the BBC today, and the current status of that ever-dragging soap opera that is Tibet. (Maybe in many years from now when we get some proper historical perspective some future budding Rodgers and Hammestein could do a musical based on these goings-on and call it "Tibet!". If you can do a Julie Andrews vehicle based on the Anschluss of Austria then why not Michael Crawford as the Daila Lama as he prances around the himalayas declaring his simple love of yaks' milk in song. But I digress a teensy weensy bit)

This is the article, and the paragraph that actually caught my attention was:

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, after Chinese troops had crushed an uprising by pro-independence Tibetans. Beijing says Tibet has been part of the Chinese nation since the 13th Century. Many Tibetans disagree, pointing out that the Himalayan region was an independent kingdom for many centuries, and that Chinese rule over Tibet has not been constant.

Now I actually applaud the BBC for starting to show signs of neutrality over the issue. A few years ago I would not have been surprised to see maybe only the first sentence being published. In other words the implication would have been was that Tibet was a happy, peaceful, independent and lover-ly place until the Chinese People's Liberation Army came in and annexed the region for no apparent reason other than maybe greed. The same kind of thing as Poland 1939 maybe. Now, I am no apologist for the People's Republic of China, but I do think the Western Media have been guilty of neatly packaging many of China's problems into easy-to-digest bite-sized morsels that somehow fail to provide any proper perspective and therefore nudges the reader towards one particular point of view.

In this article note how China "claims" something, whilst the Tibetans "point out" something else. Dipping into my Chinese history books written by westerners for the consumption of westerners it seems that Tibet was a part of Qing dynasty China before the whole nation splintered into independent, locally ruled provinces (including one called Tibet). It wasn't until the Chinese Liberation Army forcefully swept around the whole previous Qing-ruled territories (including Tibet) that China became united again. The violent cycle of unity and fragmenation is a sadly reoccuring theme in Chinese history.

I don't claim to be an expert in the Tibetan matter, or to have a solid opinion about Tibet, but I think many Western media should do more to provide the full facts on the issue and not just the bits that sound most juicy and riveting. The lesson for the today is that no media is free from bias intended or otherwise, here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing

And now the other big news item of the past few days. Why yes it's got to be what the first ever black American president is up to as he appoints his first cabinet. Oh no, sorry, our political commentator seemes to have upped and skipped off towards to the glitzy and glamourous surroundings of Shepherd's Bush to debate a matter of great importance concerning the future of democracy and personal freedom and choice. Strictly Come Dancing.

I have to admit I was not a fan of the show when it first broadcast in 2004, and really had not much interest in it. My other half on the other hand was hooked from the start, and so I had to watch it too. Over the years I've slowly warmed to its sophisticatedly put-together charms until I've now reached the stage where I actually watch it virtually every week. OK maybe "watch" is too strong a word, because I have it on in the background whilst I'm doing other chores, but I find myself strangely needing to know the latest goings-on. And with the John Sergeant Scandal taking up headlines and shunting more important world events off the television news, you know we are witnessing something of a new TV phenomenon strutting at its peak.

What is it about Strictly that I personally find so interesting? Well, actually in a surreal way it's actually got not much to do with the dancing itself. The bits I do decide to skip are mainly the dancing, unless it's a bust-a-gust, go-for-it spectacular from an ultra-competitive finalist going for the kill, or an in-it-for-a-larf self mocking entertainer who's not taking themselves too seriously.

The bits I like to watch most are the comments from the judges and the reactions from the competitors, which tells you a lot about the people and their motivations. Some of the competitive ones really want to win because they are just competitive by nature. Others who are just as keen to win probably want to prove themselves to themselves because of the unstable and transitory nature of their fame and career. And then you've got those who don't really need the money, fame or self-promotion and just fancied a larf. Not forgetting the in-betweens who earn my greatest empathy because they are people of limited talent (dance-wise) who are genuinely putting themselves under pressure in order to learn a new skill and see how far they can go.

Apart from the people-watching then, what are the ingredients of this expertly crafted tv serving that makes me switch on the telly whenever it's on (note how I'm still denying I "watch" it in the true sense of the word)

Brucie. In an age where everything is becoming more and more analysed and put in its place here is a living example of something that defies categorisation. Imagine pitching this host to the Americans for their version of the show. We want a man in his 70s or 80s (but who looks his age) whose is a veteran of 1950s tv and who tells jokes with a sense of humour that is at least two decades old, preferable someone who previously had reached a career low of taking "The Price is Right" to Channel 5. Now imagine pitching the host to the British. Three words. It's Brucie Forsyth! Despite his terrible jokes that bomb more often than succeed (but I'll admit when he does succeed he can be funny, or am I just willing him on too much?) it seems that everyone including myself is in awe of the guy. But why? I don't know. Maybe it's the way that he shows now signs of slowing down in his 80th year still hosting a LIVE weekly peak-time tv programme. It's probably the effortless and obvious zest for life he still displays. But it's got to have something to do with how we hope we will all be as active, chirpy and on-the-ball when we reach that age. Surely the mantle of our Favourite Oldie vacated by the Queen Mother has now been taken by our singing, dancing and joke-cracking all-round entertainer?

The Judges. What a cocktail of personalities. Whilst it's debatable about how much of their in-fighting when they disagree is stage-managed and how much of it is genuine, you can't deny that when they start shouting at each other and getting ugly and rowdy in front of 10 million (or whatever) live viewers, it's hard to stop watching. Normally it takes our Brucie to step in, calm things down and smoothly link to the couple as they talk to Tess Daley. It certainly says something that when the Americans created their own version of the show they decided to take the two most interesting judges with them. (But not the 80-year old who looks his age!)

The contestants. This is a soap opera in itself. I only need to list a few names. John Sergeant. Jimmy Tarbuck. Natasha Kaplinski. Even the professional dancers themselves are becoming celebrities in their own right.

So there you go, a great way to pass your early Saturday evenings whilst you get the things that you didn't get around to doing earlier in the week done (and you don't get a greater endorsement from me than that!) The format is so successful it's been sold to countries all around the world and as such is the most successful television program in the world. It's even being made in China as a joint venture between Hong Kong's TVB and Hunan TV (though I don't know if it's broadcast in Mandarin or Cantonese or both in a strangely Eurovisionesque manner). It's called 舞動奇跡 and here are a few images I found on the web. I wonder what HK or Chinese touches they've added to it? Maybe a token English government official who doesn't underground Chinese sitting in the background painfully trying to look as politely interested as possible even though his bum must be aching by now, and how much longer can I sit here, and if I look at my watch will anyone notice?

Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to make Strictly Come Dancing even more glitzy, camp and cheesy for the Chinese market. Surely it's a mission impossible? Maybe not....

Who would be the Chinese version of John Sergeant? Tung Chee Hwa? And when are they going to get Sammo Hung to take part? He'd be awesome! And the obligatory too-tall-to-be-a-decent-dancer? Mmm, can't think of a really famous really tall Chinese person who plays basketball............

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Somali Pirates

One news item that particularly grabbed my attention in recent days (amongst stories of job cuts, bank failures, growing personal and government debt, and erm, oh yes, the economic downturn) was the story of audacious Somali pirates who had hijacked an oil tanker the size of Wales (OK then, maybe containing oil equal in value to the GDP of Wales).

I don't know why this story grabbed my attention in particular (apart from the fact it was not yet another story about The End of Capitalism). Maybe because it involved pirates that I don't normally hear about. That is, they are not of the kind that make counterfeit CDs, broadcast rock and roll songs from rickety ships in the North Sea, frequent parrot and wooden limb shops on Penzance High Street or even zip around the South China seas in speedboats waving kalashnikovs in the air. Maybe because it was a hijack but not of a vehicle that would be the choice of your average discerning hijacker: a jet passenger airliner. At least with a jet plane you're able to fly to almost anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. But to be honest a fully laden oil tanker is not exactly the fastest and nimblest of vehicles is it? I mean I'm not sure how many knots an oil tanker can do, but instead of scrambling fighter jets to follow its every move I'm sure the Navy could easily casually send out a few canoes and dinghies. Or sit a bloke on the beach with a pair of binoculors.

Then there is the matter of the ransom on demand. $25 million dollars!? How on earth are they going to receive that money and then try to avoid detection afterwards? Do they want it all in used banknotes? Or gold bullion? How about crude oil? Yes, in the current economic climate they would be foolish to ask for the ransom to be paid in Sterling and nobody will be able to obtain that much gold in such short notice. And everbody knows that crude oil is going to get scarser and scarser as the time goes by.

Yes, we demand $25 million in crude oil for the safe return of the crew of the Sirius Star. In fact since it's already carring $100 million of the stuff just tell us where to dump the remaining 75% of its content then we'll be off thank you very much. And no funny tricks or men in canoes following us.

This being my first post in this blog I've forgotten to put a British Chinese spin to this article. Oh well, c'est la vie.