Thursday, 24 November 2011

Strikes - does the government understand the point of them?

Another day, another ritualistic attempt to denounce the unions as selfish and greedy. Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude claims that next weeks strikes could cost the economy £500 million and cause vaguely alluded to job losses.

Yes, the strikes will have an effect. If they didn't there wouldn't be any way to distinguish it from an ordinary working day. The fact that public minded civil servants are willing to take time out from the vital jobs they carry out every day should surely show the government the strength of feeling that people have about the current economic climate. Simply saying there is "no more money on the table." is no recipe for social harmony. Perhaps a more equitable distribution of cuts and public debate on their necessity would.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Maoists a threat to the environment?

The insurgency is straining Government of Nepal and Royal Nepalese Army resources, causing them to redeploy forces away from environmentally sensitive areas like the national parks.  The result has been a vacuum that both the Maoist insurgents and criminal poachers have rushed to exploit. In this case, the victims have included not only the police and army officers assassinated by the Maoists, and Nepal's helpless civilian population, but also Nepal's equally defenseless wildlife -- a national treasure and an asset of truly global significance. 
From Wikileaks. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Avoiding the Second Falklands War

Just found this on Wikileaks regarding a unilateral move by Argentina to extend their t-erritorial waters. It must be a hard job for American diplomats trying to couch their la-nguage in such unambiguous terms that it can't be used as an excuse to start a war. Ev-en funnier the author does the 'NOT RPT NOT' thing about four times throughout the dispatch to add emphasis. He should be commended for his clarity and lack of imagin-ation ;)  

Friday, 11 November 2011

Racism and Fantasy revisited

Happy armistice day!

So I've talked about the political problems of most mainstream science fiction and fantasy writing before ( However, then I only identified the problem and suggested methods of coping with it for the politically conscious, non-conservative reader. This time around I'm more concerned about why fantasy writers are so keen to champion racial essentialism, moral absolutism and conflict between races or species. I will argue that it is largely due to the influence of Tolkien on Fantasy writing as well as the unquestioning acceptance of the moralizing discourse of total war in the real world.

So let's start with Tolkien. His books about Middle Earth envoke many of these trends. Lord of the Rings is an epic tale of the fight between good and evil, with the combatant's allegiance decided mainly by race.

There are characters who cross this boundary. Saruman, the Wild Men and the Easterlings (Orientalism ahoy!) are conventional traitor characters. The Nazgul represent a more insidious form of corruption leading to evil and the Orcs are often described as corrupted men or elves. Finally it takes some characters time to throw off bad advice or weakness and oppose the dark force; Rohan is held back by Wormtongue's advice while Gondor is hindered by the madness and greed of the regent.

However, this by no means turns the battle ground of Middle Earth into an open conflict where participants are primarily divided by ideology or political considerations rather than race. While there are examples of good characters who defect to the side of evil there is never a case of the reverse. Sauron and his followers are portrayed as beyond redemption. They are ultimately responsible for the war and are killed in droves by the heroic fellowship without any signs of remorse. We are never given any hint that they might have a family life or engage in any activities beyond murder, theft and invasion.

This demonisation of the enemy is of course a major feature of modern wars. Tolkien claimed not to have been influenced by Germany's aggression in WW2 when writing the plot of LOTR. However, there are obvious parallels to be drawn. The war between Sauron and the 'good' races is fought to the finish. There is no suggestion that there could be a compromise peace or surrender by one side or the other. This pursuit of total victory is arguably the defining feature of the modern, total war.

Similarly the racial stereotyping of the enemy is a standard aspect of contemporary war. In his book, 'Colonial Madness; Psychiatry in French North Africa', Richard Keller relates how the conception of the Algerians as violent and irresponsible addicts with a fatalistic attitude was used to legitimate French imperialism in the Maghreb. During the Algerian war of independence the FLN resistance was invariably presented as destructive, primitive and fanatical. Similarly the varied propaganda machines of the World Wars and the following Cold War always attempted to present enemies as unchangeably evil. If an enemy can change then they can be negotiated with and that may not be in line with the aims of those running the conflict. If an enemy is not evil then how can we justify the morally dubious methods we must use to defeat them?

Therefore, the use in fantasy of ideas that seem politically extreme and hard to agree with may not be down to the personal views held by the writers. Readers of the genre can be assumed to be familiar with Tolkien or the many, many authors that have imitated him and therefore are assumed to want more of the same. Thus the influence of total war on Tolkien's fictional conflict (which was tellingly written during the period of the Second World War) is unquestioningly passed down from writer to writer with little attempt to change the fundamental assumptions about the fixed character of races or the genocidal methods justified by moralized, racial conflict.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Fresh Meat - Joints no. 5 and 6

I've already talked about the first few episodes of Channel Four student comedy, Fresh Meat, which I've been getting my teeth into (pun intended).

To cut a long and frequently tangential review short, the series started off well but got less funny very quickly after the initial episodes.

Luckily this trend hasn't continued with episodes five and six which seem to have increased got better again and have a bit more direction rather than just rehashing (pun intended) jokes that they have already done. Here are my thoughts on the lastest offerings:

Episode 5) An improvement but not a huge one. The student demonstration angle is nice and there are some good jokes about kettling and the group getting lost in London. However, it really didn't shake things up enough. The only real new character we met was the wimpy protest organizer, who got a few funny lines, but generally it was the same old gang and the usual jokes. Vod's efforts to be an urban guerrilla despite her complete lack of political awareness also got a few laughs.

Episode 6) A real return to quality. All of the characters actually showed some emotional depth; JP and his dad, Oregon ( or rather, shock horror, Melissa!) and her horse, Howard's sabotaged romance with Geology girl and Vod finding out Oregon's secrets. The knee jerk laughs were kept to a minimum but when they were used they were pretty good (Awesome trees!). Generally a really good episode and best of all, no Professor Shales. I swear that character hasn't been at all funny since episode 3.

Bring on the rest and keep it up, Channel 4!