Category Archives: politics

Casting the White House

My bad habit of reading entertainment blogs when I should be working has finally got the better of me. A post on the Guardian’s film blog about Oliver Stone’s forthcoming biopic of George W. Bush, which will star Josh Brolin as the prez, has now taken up residence in my brain and will not leave.

My first thought: dear God, what are we in for? Stone’s sledgehammer-subtle approach to film-making turns everyone into either a hero or a villain. And somehow I don’t think Dubya will come out as the latter. Stone

says his biopic will be “a fair, true portrait of the man” and will “contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors”.

This is absolutely the wrong way to go about it. If you’ve read anything about Bush’s early life, or his current administration, the only way to do it is complete gonzo black comedy. Go for the sickest laughs possible, because what other running joke has a body count in the hundreds of thousands? Stone doesn’t do laughs. All his films are excessively noble and po-faced, with the highest regard held for the office of the President. (See JFK, his paean to the titular president.) If I was doing it, it’d be different. For starters, it would have a tiny budget because I’m not Oliver Stone.

And so to the question from the original blog post that’s been occupying my thoughts — how to cast the Bush administration? Here are my ideas for the senior players in a story so bizarre it had to be true.

George W. BushJohn C. Reilly. Sure, Will Ferrell may bring the goofy expressions, but Reilly has both the goofiness and the narrow-eyed, grown-up frat boy malevolence that  pops to the surface when Dubya is (very) occasionally challenged on something. Chris Cooper also did a very good impression in John Sayles’ Silver City, but he may well come up further down the list.

Dick Cheney – Jon Voigt. Or any other old-ish actor with a line in creepy authority figures. To be honest, Cheney has a kind of sinister non-presence, which could best be replicated with an unknown actor. Whoever plays him though will have to master the growled delivery of “Go fuck yourself” to get the true character across.

Donald Rumsfeld – Chris Cooper or John Doman. Cooper’s experience at playing sinister, violent right-wingers will be obvious to anyone who’s seen American Beauty. Nevertheless, Doman (who plays ruthless senior cop Rawls in The Wire) is a pretty good prospect. Don’t tell me you don’t want to hear Rumsfeld referring to “this beshitted department” or calling a subordinate “a gaping asshole”.

Condoleeza Rice – Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Unfortunately, there’s not as great a range of black female actors as there are old white male actors to choose from, but the top-tier Hollywood set, the Halle Berrys and Thandie Newtons, don’t display the kind of toughness that Rice exudes. My choice would be for the British Jean-Baptiste, most famous for her performance in Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, but doing an American accent in police drama Without A Trace.

Paul Wolfowitz – Steve Buscemi. Picture him sucking on that comb. See it? Suddenly don’t want to eat for a while? No, me neither.

Colin Powell – While Denzel Washington has been stacking up a series of stellar performances, there’s every chance he could act everyone else off the screen, which was in fact the opposite of what Powell did. Forced to go to the U.N. and drum up support for a war he didn’t believe in using fake evidence, he seemed diffident, defeated, compromised – the kind of role Don Cheadle would do great things with.

Tony Blair – Michael Sheen has become the go-to Blair impersonator following stunning turns in The Deal and The Queen. But that only makes him the predictable choice, prompting me to go left-field. David Tennant can do bug-eyed staring, weak, insincere grins, gulping faux-emotional delivery – in short he’s all of Blair’s tics and hang-ups. Add in puppy-dog admiration for Dubya and you’re there. And in the event of a British government spin-off, David Morrissey can reprise his role in The Deal as Gordon Brown. Then, the stage is set for Tennant and Morrissey to sing together in a retread of so-insane-it-was-brilliant musical drama Blackpool.

Any role you can suggest? Saddam Hussein played by the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld? Alberto Gonzales by that guy from Memento? And the all-important consideration – the violence is all there, but how are we going to get some sex into this thing?


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Amis and his “urges”

I meant to write about this a while ago, but put it aside due to work. In a previous post I said I’d always admire Martin Amis for writing novels like Money and London Fields. What I didn’t say was that Amis has done precious little in recent years to earn further admiration. After publishing his memoir, Experience, he wrote a non-fiction book about Stalin called Koba the Dread, which from the extracts I read was more about his friendship with Julian Barnes and Christopher Hitchens. What better way to commemorate the tens of millions of victims of Stalinism than by thrashing out a tiff over which well-off author said what about Communism back in the 70s? The book was followed by Yellow Dog, infamously hated by critics (and by this reader).

Post-9/11, Amis published some meditations on the war on terror, in the form of a short story, “The Last Days of Muhammed Atta” and a long essay, “The Age Of Horrorism”, both published in The Observer. The short story contained an intriguing meditation on Atta’s “punishment”, suggesting that for the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers the very definition of hell was to be trapped with his own rage and self-loathing for all eternity. I myself had a slightly different view, believing that hell can be defined as having to read Amis’ lengthy description of the terrorist straining on the toilet, trying to take his final dump.

The essay wasn’t much better; a confused melange of stereotypes, overgeneralisations and Amis’ own overwhelming belief in the importance of his own opinion. Even the word “horrorism” in the title just seems silly, as his overblown prose attempts to hype up a shocking event (which doesn’t really need hyping up) and simply can’t compete.

Which brings me to the essential elements of Amis’s writing – he is an atrocity tourist. For the last few years, he has been trawling the worst parts of the 20th Century in his books; the Holocaust in Time’s Arrow, the Gulag in Koba the Dread and House Of Meetings. In a review of the latter book, Nicholas Lezard writes:

Amis has always described the world, even west London, as being full of the worst things. This almost irresponsible hyperbole has always been his trick, what gives his writing its finest and most distinctive savour. But now he has found the worst thing in the world, and the style now fits it neatly.

Except his search for “the worst thing in the world” inspires him to bring his both-barrels writing approach to complex, real-world issues, and this inevitably causes problems. Witness his now-infamous comments in a September 2006 interview with Ginny Dougary in The Times:

“What can we do to raise the price of them doing this? There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suff­­er­­­ing? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan… Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children. They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs – well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people. It’s a huge dereliction on their part.”

This “urge” may well have stayed buried if Terry Eagleton, Amis’s new colleague at the University of Manchester, hadn’t brought them up. Quite honestly, any airing of these views by anyone I know would have prompted a furious response from me. They are absolutely disgusting and advocate collective punishment based on ethnic origin (“people who look like they’re from the Middle East”). Quite apart from the futility of such tactics in persuading people to give up terrorism, he also expresses a worry in the same interview that:

They’re also gaining on us demographically at a huge rate. A quarter of humanity now and by 2025 they’ll be a third. Italy’s down to 1.1 child per woman. We’re just going to be outnumbered.

This is plain, old-fashioned racism – the never-ending fear of the white man being outbred by “inferior races” that has recently gained new currency through far-right authors such as Mark Steyn. The fact that Mart described these opinions (and has since defended them) as an “urge” makes them even more nauseating – he acquires the nudge-nudge-wink-wink tone of a saloon-bar bigot trying to justify his prejudices.

Since the story broke in the mainstream media, Amis has been trying to play it down. Does he prove he’s not a racist? In this Channel 4 News interview, he demonstrates nothing except an impressive ability to wriggle out of any question asked him. But the more ominous conclusion I draw from this episode, and from Amis’s terrorism-related writing, is not that he hates Muslims, he simply doesn’t see them at all. The talk of discriminatory tactics, strip-searches and deportations doesn’t come from a misunderstanding of counter-terrorism or unawareness of the futility of collective punishment. It comes from seeing a billion or so Muslims (1.5 million of whom live in Britain) as less than human.

In his amateur and highly selective sketching of Middle East history and his plans for the Great Islamic Reformation contained within “Horrorism”, he never outlines what any actual Muslims may think about this. They are just pawns to be pushed around on the chessboard of Martin Amis’s big ideas. The danger is that seeing people of a certain religion as a problem to be dealt with is an idea that is spreading through the political and intellectual circles of the West, with dangerous consequences.

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Just an Abe-rration?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has abruptly resigned, after only a little over a year in office:

Abe, who had just recently resisted calls for his ouster and vowed to carry out his reform program, said he was stepping down to achieve a breakthrough in the stalled political situation. But the timing of his announcement raised more questions about what was going on in the political world.

“I made the decision because I felt that a new prime minister should continue the fight against terrorism,” the prime minister told a news conference.

Abe said it was his responsibility–as well as an international promise–to pass legislation in the current Diet session to continue the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s mission in the Indian Ocean refueling ships of the multinational force fighting terror in Afghanistan.

The special measures law that allows the MSDF to operate in the Indian Ocean expires on Nov. 1. Opposition parties have made clear they could not support an extension of the mission.

Considering the way his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi was able to gain immense political capital from facing down the old guard of his party in the 2005 general election, and before that persuade the Diet to allow Japanese troops to be deployed into a combat zone for the first time since 1945, Abe’s early exit will be particularly humiliating, especially as he had staked his political reputation on contiuing Koizumi’s post-9/11 special measures law. But there could be more here. After this summer’s disastrous results for the LDP in the upper house elections, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) seems in the ascendant. Abe’s twin political projects have been to instill patriotism in the education system and make Japan a “normal country” with a military able to act unconstrained by Article 9 of the Constitution. He could have thought that extending the MSDF’s mission in the Indian Ocean was something important enough to sacrifice himself for. Or, it could be about a possible forthcoming election:

The DPJ was pushing for a general election, which we all knew the LDP would have a hard time winning.  The question now is to what extent Abe stole the DPJ’s thunder by stepping down, acting as a lightning rod and taking the DPJ best ammo down with him.  Is a general election now more or less likely?

(via CA) Then again, it could be that after a series of scandals involving several ministers, Abe knew that his was a lame-duck administration and felt that the political situation really had reached stalemate. Japan could be heading back to the weak prime minister model that had been the status quo for years before Koizumi broke the mold. Now, as it looks like xenophobic and gaffe-prone Foreign Minister Taro Aso might take over, it seems Koizumi didn’t break the mold so much as scrape some of it off.

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Lenin wants your lovin

lenin wants your lovin
Originally uploaded by moorethanthis.

Walking around Leeds campus, you’ll always be sure to find posters for various left-wing groups and events. This one caught my attention because it was the first I’d ever seen to use humour. Of course, being an Alabama 3 fan makes the joke so much richer (but not in the financial sense, capitalist pig-dogs).

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Hate your next door neighbour, but don’t forget to say grace

Happy Christmas to everyone reading this, and I hope you all got what you asked for. (For anyone who asked for world peace like I did, yeah, I know. Bummer, eh?)

So I was in the pub last night, looking back over the year with some mates. For some reason, the conversation got onto politics (what were we thinking?) and I was launching into a triade of abuse about Jack Straw’s kicking off the whole manufactured veil controversy back in October. The fact that people around me were willing to stand up for him I found unbelievable. As I wrote at the time, Straw’s original piece was a thoughtful and considered reflection on where one’s person’s tolerance meets another’s beliefs. For the record, I’ve always believed that you have the right in your house or workplace to make requests of people, as long as you’re prepared to offer a decent explanation.

However, that wasn’t really the point of it all. The point was to raise fear and resentment of British Muslims in an attempt by New Labour at raising some cheap populism. The tenor and management of it seemed very well thought out, so much so that I’m inclined to think the statements from various ministers had been got ready in advance. Straw’s article was the kickoff point. He either knew what his masters expected of him and jumped, or had that end in mind all along.

The most dispiriting thing this year for me (apart from the meaning of the term “wag” degenerating from a witty and irreverent person into something I wouldn’t want to be associated with in a million years) is the way the government and the right-wing press has again and again fallen back on the politics of fear, of hatred and division. They’re incapable of admitting they’re wrong, so they want us to be scared of our neighbours, scared of immigrants, scared of terrorist attacks. Every bullshit manufactured controversy, from the veil scare to the aircraft bomb plot (that wasn’t) to the fake war on Christmas, fractures the country and plays into the hands of the far-right, who are more than happy to have matters of race and culture put on the political agenda. That’s why Straw, and everyone like him who trades on hatred for political capital, will never be worthy of my respect. A happy new year to you all.

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"It’s ironic, this revolution. The rich are even richer now,"

Good news from Venezuela!

President Hugo Chávez has warned that “capitalism will lead to the destruction of humanity” but seldom has there been a better time to make, spend and enjoy money.

The economy is surging at 9.4% and banks and credit card companies are reporting exponential increases in deposits and loans. Car sales are expected to more than double this year to 300,000, many of them luxury models, and property prices rival Manhattan.

Oh, come now. I didn’t say who the news was good for, did I? If the main protion of your country’s wealth is from rising oil prices, it stands to reason which portion of the population will become richer. (Clue: there aren’t that many slum dwellers or rural peasants owning refineries and distribution centres.)

Chávez is an interesting case in present-day Latin America. He’s treated by Westerners on both sides of the political divide as a resurrection of Cold War stereotypes, representing either a blood-soaked Communist dictator looking to turn his democratic neighbours red, or a heroic saviour cocking a snook to the evil imperialist Yanquis, depending on whether you have the National Review or Daily Kos in your bookmarks.

The reality is that Chávez is more of an old-school populist-nationalist along the lines of Juan Perón – ruling by charisma and personal appeal to the poor, strengthening his connection with them through personal largesse rather than genuine egalitarianism. This is all well and good when you’re riding high on an oil boom, but relying exclusively on energy exports is a recipe for instability. However, something tells me the country’s elite won’t get hurt as much as the people at the bottom, who Chávez professes to care for so much.

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Stop the war, I want to get off

As the situation in Iraq increases in brutality, and outside commenatators look at the mess created and sustained within the country, the most enthusiastic neoconservative cheerleaders for war are again outdoing themelves in their eagerness to jump on a bandwagon, this time for the opposite cause:

As he looks into my eyes, speaking slowly and with obvious deliberation, Perle is unrecognizable as the confident hawk who, as chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, had invited the exiled Iraqi dissident Ahmad Chalabi to its first meeting after 9/11. “The levels of brutality that we’ve seen are truly horrifying, and I have to say, I underestimated the depravity,” Perle says now, adding that total defeat—an American withdrawal that leaves Iraq as an anarchic “failed state”—is not yet inevitable but is becoming more likely.

More likely? Good Lord, Perle, where is your confidence in the End of History and inevitable triumph of Western democracy? Right now the general carnage in Iraq seems too widespread for even the really big lies to paper over. But, even at this terrible point, will they put their hands up and admit responsibility?

Sadly, No!

Know what, Richard? Go to hell. You brought Chalabi and his merry band of crooks to the White House and had them feed the CIA bogus intel. You kept insisting that the invasion was a success long after it was clear to all … that it was an abject failure. And you and Frummy wrote An End to Evil, the ultimate book of neocon wingnuttery that recommended, among other things, that the United States declare France an enemy state. To say that you bear no blame for this sad human catastrophe is beyond reprehensible. You and your buddies need to be banished completely from the national discourse and be forced to beg on the street for food. Just go away. Never come back.

Reading through the excerpts, the neocons blame everybody (the President and the President’s advisors are choice targets) except themselves for ramping up pro-war sentiment with dodgy intelligence. Still, I don’t think much will be achieved from this turnaround. Just as with the mass recantation of the Decents, both the the recent rash of pro-war chest-beaters and the opponents waiting in the wings assume that it’s all a game, the outcome of which is no more important than who gets the biggest space for their op-ed page, in which they outline what they would have done to make it all better, never mind the blood on the streets in the present day. I don’t think anyone far from the bloodshed is entitled to finger-pointing, let alone a bit of a gloat. Given the amount of killing that has taken place as a direct consequence, this recantation is far too little, too late.

(Bearing in mind I’m writing this on the eve of the US midterm elections while listening to the Beeb World Service report on the voting, where Iraq is treated as just another talking point. Never mind the piles of corpses, what about the exit polls?)

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