Thursday, September 27, 2007

Boris to the fore

Boris Johnson is the Conservatives' official candidate for Mayor of London.

It's a sentence so ludicrous that it warrants being written twice.

Boris Johnson is the Conservatives' official candidate for Mayor of London.

Just to remind ourselves, this is the man who...

  • allowed The Spectator to accuse Liverpudlians of "wallowing in their victim status" straight after the execution of Ken Bigley
  • branded the inhabitants of Portsmouth as being a bunch of overweight junkies
  • referred to Papua New Guinea as a country of "orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing"
  • lists the scrapping of bendy buses in favour of bringing back the old Routemasters, because, well, they're rather sweet, aren't they?

Okay, so none of these are hanging offences, but they hardly fill me with confidence that he'd be capable of handling the pressures of being mayor of London. His supporters often like to say that he's a master of disguise; a sky genius who plays the fool. But is it possible for someone who is virtually never taken seriously to take on one of the most important jobs in the country? London is an economic powerhouse, and one of the largest cities in Europe - being its mayor will require more than opening a few fĂȘtes or posing for photo ops with pensioners and babies (or, in Boris's case, hosting the odd TV quiz show). Is this really the best candidate the Tories can find?

He might be exactly that. Say what you want about Boris, but the man is popular, with Tories and non-Tories alike. He comes across as amiable, as someone who'd go down well at a dinner party. Let's see, what other prominent politician was first voted in largely because of his "laid-back" and "trusty" attitude rather than his policies? Yes, that's right, one George W Bush. And who else can we think of who hails from a career in the entertainment industry (okay, so Boris is an MP, but most of us arguably know him from the print and television media much better than through his speeches at Westminster), but was voted in to head up one of the world's top economic regions? The Conservatives are trying to take City Hall through the Schwarzenegger effect rather than by offering what's best for London.

* * *

UPDATE: Ha! What did I tell you about the Tories and the Schwarzenegger effect? No sooner did their Blackpool conference kick off than we were treated to a videolinked speech by none other than the Governator himself, trying to appear genuinely sorry for having been forced to stay in sunny California rather than spend a week in freezing miserable Blackpool, and giving his strings-free support to David Cameron. But will Our Dave's shameless use of celebrity endorsement carry any weight in the sober (sorry, "dour") Brownite Time of Change??

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Uprising in Burma

Protest marches held by Buddhist monks in the Burmese capital, Rangoon, in recent days have inspired me to start blogging again. It seems that at long last, the international media is waking up to the situation in Burma, and beginning to take an interest that stretches farther than pensive shots of Aung Sang Suu Kyi on her front porch.

What started as a popular protest against the decision by the military junta to increase the price of fuel soon attracted the sympathy of the monks after several of them were hurt by the military during a peaceful rally, and now, they are the central feature of the ongoing demonstrations. While Burma's main ally China is thought to have been urging the junta not to engage in a full-out show of force against the monks and other protesters,today the inevitable happened and several people have been killed and many injured.

This disgusting display of violence has amazingly not dampened the protesters' spirits, at least not to the point of making them give up and go home: more rallies are expected tomorrow. Carried out in the full glare of the media, the protests are now about much more than the price of fuel. That decision was, it seems, a tipping point for all the repressed frustration and anger with the junta to come spilling out. It's not clear yet to what extent the demonstrations are being organised, and by whom, and it remains to be seen how much bigger they will get, if at all.

The uprising has had the effect of pushing an unwilling China into the spotlight. As Burma's biggest international ally, both politically and economically, most international observers are pointing the finger at Beijing as being the only voice capable of exercising any influence over the Burmese junta. In these circumstances, China is obviously hoping to avoid the situation escalating into a Tiananmen Square-style massacre. On the flipside, the prospect of a religious opposition movement forcing the government to back down on its policies is something that must fill the leaders of Communist China with dread as well.

Watching the news tonight, it turns out that China is far from being alone in having a strategic interest in Burma. Oil, as ever, plays a major role, with French company Total owning a pipeline that runs almost the length of the country into China. India and the US also have investments in Burmese energy. Which essentially means they have been tacitly suporting the regime for business reasons. Surprised? Of course not.

A good friend of mine has been based in neighbouring Thailand for the past three years, working for an excellent organisation called Burma Issues.Their purpose is to increase public awareness of the atrocities of the regime, and to seek a peaceful solution. Much of their focus is on the Karen State, where the Karenni tribespeople are constantly in hiding from the military, who have long since moved the core of their operations outside of the capital. Whether this stance now changes remains to be seen. In any case, this friend sent me an e-mail from Bangkok last week, when the demonstrations were beginning to pick up speed and the Western media was starting to take notice. At one point she asked: "How can we, as members of the international community, support them [the monks/protesters]? How can we show them that their voices are being heard? How do we show them that what is happening to them is unfair, that it should not be occuring and that they deserve the same opportunities as we do?"

The UN Security Council is meeting now to figure out how to do exactly that, but so far all it has done is to "call for restraint". Great.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fluffwatch: Britney Spears

One of the good things about allowing my blog posting to become so infrequent is that the few regular readers I had have now all but disappeared. This might not seem like a good thing at first, but it does afford me the freedom to ignore some of the more important events that have been making the news in order to concentrate on ones that may be more trivial, but have still managed to catch my eye. If nobody's reading, nobody can sneer at your topics of choice, right? Thank Christ I don't have to put up with the trolls on CiF, who delight in being the first to comment "Does the Guardian really pay you to write this drivel? It pains me to read stuff like this when there's a war going on" and bla bla bla. Get over yourselves! Sometimes it can be therapeutic to write (and read) about fluffy topics... like Britney Spears.

After so much hoo-ha over her big comeback performance at last week's VMAs, and especially after reading Perez Hilton's vitriolic attack, I tracked down a video of the number on YouTube. My first thought was "it's not that bad". A little lacklustre, perhaps, but she still had all the moves. However (and you can tell I had free time on my hands yesterday evening), the clip is a lot more telling if you look at some of Britney's VMA dance routines from years gone by first. I was never a Britney fan per se (probably too old to form part of her target market), but looking at those early clips objectively, my god the girl can dance. We're talking uber-synchronised, ultra-choreographed, Broadway-style group dancing where every move is timed to perfection, and every facial expression is exaggerated to get the point across. She was brilliant at it.

Then I watched the VMAs performance, and it suddenly became clear. It's not that she wasn't dancing well. It's that she wasn't really into it. The moves were there, but there was no passion or energy in them. She knew the words, but she didn't seem interested in the song. Her face was pretty but her eyes were miles away. In other words, hers was the act of a 40-year-old stripper who's been working the same dive for the last 20 years and has given up trying. It's sad, actually. Like she had nothing left to give (ironic, considering the song she was performing was called "Gimme More").

Some days later it emerged (according to that bastion of hard-hitting news, thelondonpaper) that Britney's iffy performance at the MTV awards was in fact due to a handful of anti-depressants she had popped just prior to going onstage, to ease her jitters. Yikes. That must've been one hell of a handful. And if it's true, it rather adds to the rumours that Ms Spears was pushed to perform at the VMAs before she was really ready, presumably by greedy industry types hoping for a dusting of the old Britney gold.

Who'd be a pop star, eh? It takes someone like Britney, who had the world eating from the palm of her hand at 17 but is now somehow "washed up" at the ripe old age of 25, to bring home just how cynical and unforgiving an industry pop music has become. Was it always thus?