Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Not impressed with Princess Diana

Recently I saw the British film 'The Queen'. It was well-acted, an accurate portrayal, perhaps, of the Royal Family, but I was left wondering how happy the Queen would be with the subject matter of the film. I am guessing that she would prefer it if other movies about her are made at some stage, and that the only cinematic representation of her life did not revolve around her relationship with a dead bimbo.

While she was alive I more or less held Princess Diana in contempt, and her sudden death did little to change my opinion. To me, she had always been a symbol of undeserved wealth and fame, a triumph of both the vacuous cult of celebrity and the hereditary cult of royal privilege. I mistakenly thought that other people shared my view, and I have a vivid memory of walking into my class of Vietnamese and Lebanese migrants and raising my arms in trimph as I announced 'The Stupid Cow is dead!' The students' reactions made it clear that I had completely misjudged people's reactions- I get the feeling the Queen made the same mistake.

It is still very difficult for me to rationalise public respect for Diana, let alone adoration.

Notoriously thick from an early age, she failed her O-levels twice. Born not so much with a silver spoon in her mouth so much as a whole goddamn cutlery set, she auctioned off her virginity, Jane Austen-style, to the highest bidder, and was lucky enough to score the jackpot, Prince Charles himself, a man with whom she had almost nothing in common. She allowed herself to be portrayed as a victim in this marriage, the young and foolish girl married off to a man with a lover on the side and in-laws from hell. But if she had any real reservations, walking into a life of world-wide fame and perpetual wealth and glamour, she didn't voice them. She deserves no pity regard ing her marriage; it didn't look to me as if she was being dragged down the aisle.

If she was hard done by in the sense that her husband was seeing Camilla, she soon got her revenge by sleeping with every man in England except Lord Nelson at Trafalgar Square. The list of men identified as her lovers include Barry Mannakee, David Waterhouse, James Gilbey, Oliver Hoare, Dr Hasnet Khan, Bryan Adams, Will Carling and Dodi Fayed. Apparently they buried her in a Y-shaped coffin.

Despite all this and her divorce (or perhaps because of), she was unfailingly popular with the public. Apparently much of her reputation rests with her charity work, a very curious phenomenon indeed. In 1987 she was photographed- shock of shocks and horror of horrors-

holding hand with an AIDS patient,

which some people at the time seemed to think rather honourable or admirable. Her motives were so obviously selfless that future secret and unannounced visits to AIDS hospices invariably were widely covered in the media. Meanwhile her work for the banning of landmines was similarly self-serving and manipulative. There were pictures of her touring a minefield wearing a flak jacket and helmet, long after, of course, the mine had actually been cleared by professional mine-clearers. Even the most fervent supporter of Diana admits that she had almost zero influence in the campaign against the use of landmines until after her death! At which time, supposedly, Britain and several other countries signed a treaty banning landmines. Those who trumpet this fact usually forget to note that the largest users and producers of landmines (the USA, China, Pakistan, North Korea etc) have failed completely to ratify the treaty.

In the last few years of her life however, Diana devoted herself wholeheartedly to those activities for which she had a natural talent: bad mouthing her ex-husband on TV, being glamorous, and sucking cocks on multi-million dollar yachts. Her senseless death was nothing more than the natural conclusion, the culmination of a wasted, senseless life.

I find it incredible that a thinking person could view her death as a tragedy. The silly cow was cavorting with her playboy billionnaire boyfriend in the back seat of a sportscar, swilling champers, seatbeltless and unthinking, while the driver, pissed as a newt and tripping off his dial, careless of speed limits and disdainful of safe driving, steered into a pylon and did all of us a favour.

In this context it is painfully obvious that public response to her death was not a response to Diana the person, the dull silly bimbo, or even to her life, a misled and gruesome joke. Something else is happening here. Something weird and perhaps inexplicable.

It has always been clear to me that any thinking person, anybody truly concerned with the betterment of the humanity's lot, could not support the existence of the royal family. How could they exist? What sad, parasitic culmination of the mindless and useless class system could this be? The ultimate pinnacle of hereditary privilege, responsible for countless and justified revolutions in hundreds of political systems in global history.

The royal family is both protection for and culmination of the iniquitous and pernicious class system which, to this day, permeates Bristish, and, to a lesser extent, all Anglo-Saxon society like a cancer. Take away the royals, and the whole sorry system will collapse. No more public schools, hereditary privilege, snobby accents, kinky repressed Tory MPs whipping each others' botties with bit of wet lettuce. All that will slowly decay if you take away the royals, which is of course what should be done. The French had it right after all: Off With Their Heads, the whole sorry bloody lot of them.

The absurdity and abhorrence of the royal family is understood, if only unconsciously, by every British person. The working classes feel it the most, because they are the largest victims of the class sytem; and in a seeming paradox, it was the lesser-educated, the unthinking, the shallow, who loved Diana the most and reacted with such inane panic at her death.

The conclusion is obvious. Diana's sacrificial death represents, at some deeper level, not only the sacrifice that the royal family makes in being royal (and do you think Prince William is due for a happy life?), but the sacrifice the public makes in supporting this parasitic atavistic snobbery in the first place. Those who wept for Diana wept for themselves, she was the sacrificial lamb for the absurdities inherent in the monarchical system. The tears were selfish tears. They wept for themselves, for the poor, pitiful, deluded and exploited fools that they must know, on some level, that they are.

Diana's failure is our own. Her failure is the failure of those who loved her most. Her weakness was theirs. The poorer, the more blighted, the more atavistic, the shallower, the more banal you are, the more likely you were to identify with and join the demented millions who wept at her funeral.

She also falls into that large category of 'more successful in death than in life' celebrities. She is the Jimmy Hendrix, the Kurt Kobain of the royal family. Her death provides infinitely more significance and satisfaction to history than her life. It has made her glorious and has given her purity and abilities she never had in life.

Monday, January 15, 2007

I like gays

Homos. Queers. Fags.

I like them. I can hardly say a word against them. Unlike heteros.

Gays don't bash people. They don't bully kids at high school.

They don't get drunk at cricket matches and hurl racial abuse at my Japanese girlfriend.

They don't have fights on trains after football matches and molest young women.

They don't start riots at Cronulla beaches.

They don't start wars, bomb countries or send troops to Iraq.

I suspect, without evidence apart from the anecdotal, that gays are better educated, more sophisticated, and more socially skilled than the average hetero.

It's even true to say I've hardly met a gay man I haven't liked. Only once was I the acquaintance of a gay man who was unpopular, the widely-despised bully at Uniworld. As there were several gay men in the office, one woman observed 'There are three gay guys here, and they are all so different.'
Which caused Justin to sardonically remark, 'Just like normal people.'

Meanwhile the number of gay men who have positively influenced my life is substantial. I cannot shake the idea that they are friendlier, funnier and more reliable than straights.

I cannot become gay, but if the world were free of homophobia I would wish it. Fergus and others have urged me to try, but I do not believe what is sometimes said, that everybody can be gay or bisexual. My attraction to women is monumental, compulsive, irresistable, even if it is sometimes destructive. But if I could become gay, I would consider it. Gay sex is a candy shop.

I'm not sure how I feel about lesbians. Bisexual women I have known and loved, but women who are solely attracted to women seem to me, at times, dismissive of men. Disdainful. I wonder if they would like a world without men. I think it remarkable that while many gay men have heterosexual female friends, faghags, lesbians seem to have few male heterosexual friends. I have wondered about that, thinking that something is there that needs explaining. Just what is going on there? Can you imagine a group of lesbians welcoming a masculine, ocker man into their circle of warmth and friendship, in the same way that gay men welcome feminine women, Sex in the City style?

But I still like gays.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Hard Truth: Japan is Dying

Japan is doomed. It's partly a problem that other develped countries are facing, but partly a consequence of decades of inflexibility, racism and formality.

The agent of Japan's death is simple: depopulation.

The fertility rate in Japan is 1.29. That is 1.29 children per woman, whereas demographers consider replacement fertility to be about 2.1. All developed countries have lowering fertility rates, and its a problem of varying degrees. The liberation of women, higher age of marriage, the cost of raising and educating children, all contribute towards low fertility. Japan suffers more than most (only Italy's fertility rate is lower) but it's a country-killer especially in Japan because

Japan refuses to take immigrants.

Immigration is the lifeblood of America, Canada, Australia and Europe. It keeps the economy, culture and pension systems alive in those countries. It provides young people (who have babies) and workers that both produce goods and consume them. Immigration causes some problems and the process is rarely completely smooth. But the target cultures are immeasurably enriched. New ideas, languages, cultures, food, all serve to enliven and stimulate the host country.

Japan is desperately in need of new ideas, culture, and languages, not to mention babies.

It is ironic that the need for immigration in Japan is in almost direct reverse proportion to its likelihood of getting it.

Japan's government, police and bureacracy are all deeply racist and xenophobic. Restrictions on foreigners are extreme; foreigners (labelled 'aliens') have to carry foreign identification cards at all times, and are routinely discrinated against in employment, housing and the law. The process of obtaining permanent residency (e.g. for spouses of Japanese citizens) is fiendishly and purposefully complex. Public conservatism and reluctance to accept foreigners is exacerbated by sensationalist and one-sided media reports of "foreign gangs". Foreign workers find it increasingly difficult to stay on as years go by, and even Westerners, who hold a certain charm and fascination for the Japanese, are expected to leave after a few years. Meanwhile Japanese hold the Chinese and other Asian people in open contempt. Many Japanese do not consider themselves Asian, but rather 'Japanese'.

This (partly imaginary) homogeneity is partly the root cause of the problem. Only Japanese are (or can be) Japanese. And Japan is only for the Japanese. The idea, more or less accepted in countries like Canada or Australia, that you can become Australian or Canadian by living there for a long time or at least by being born there, is alien to Japan. If you don't have Japanese blood, you can't be Japanese. That simple. They also expect other nationalities to be similiar. All Americans are blond and blue eyed, for example. Many Japanese were confused, for example, when I told them many Australians are Asians. For the Japanese, even living there for many generations will not make you one of them. Koreans, whose ancestors were kidnapped and brought to Japan centuries ago, who look like and sound like Japanese, who no longer speak Korean, must carry Korean identification cards.

If excluding foreigners from the country was not dangerous enough, Japanese culture and government policy make it unlikely that the demographic crisis will be solved from the inside. The fertility is set to decline even further. Fewer women choose to marry, fewer couples have children, fewer children are being born to those couples who decide to have them. For Japan's powerful, professional and independent women, a life as a housewife is increasingly unattractive; and women are rarely expected to work after marriage.

And who wants to marry anyway? Japanese people are about as romantic as cement, sex is so unpopular that sex rates are the lowest in the developed world, and the typical marriage has about as much passion as a bank account. Sex within marriage is reportedly so rare that it must be planned around yearly holidays, while men typically (and, from my experience, without much objection from their wives) go outside the marriage for sex, to host bars and 'soaplands', where their money can buy what their personality can't otherwise obtain for them. Meanwhile women learn the lessson that only men want sex, and women are paid for it in one way or another. My girlfriend seemed honestly surprised that I expected her to enjoy sex, apparently 'women don't enjoy sex', and the idea that women in the West can enjoy it and even seek it out took her by suprise.

This is the background for kaso, rural depopulation. Combined with the natural drift of population from the country to the city, the result is demographic disaster in the countryside. Some prefectures have upwards of 70% of residents over 70. The Japanese countryside is rapidly becoming a collection of nursing homes with attached nursing residence and collections of rice farms being farmed by over 70 year old couples.

This leaves many areas completely overserviced in terms of, for example, education. There are primary schools in Minami Osumi Cho, where I was living, with 6 or 7 students. I attended a beggining of year opening ceremony with two students entering the first grade. Meanwhile, the 6th grade had 8. A rapidly shrinking school with more staff than students.

Things are hardly likely to change. The government recently exhorted Japanese women to "pay attention to their duties and not be so selfish". Couples can't hold hands in public, and many men remain so sexually immature they are virgins in their thirties and forties. Both men and women lack flirting skills, while the costs of marrying and raising children are extreme ($350 for a school backpack, anyone?)

The end result is not good. The latest statistics suggest that the population peaked last year; it will decline slightly this year, and will go down steadily...forever.

Unless they take migrants.

Battlestar Galactica is Crap

It was with great anticipation that I finally got hold of the first season DVD and whacked it into my player, relishing the thought of hours of enjoyment.

But, let's be honest: It's complete crapola. It could be one underlying theme or approach that makes it crap, but I can't quite put my finger on this 'unifying crapness', so I'll just list my complaints and see how that goes.

1. My biggest complaint, the game killer, is that there are no Cylons. That's right. Battlestar Galactica has no Cylons. Oh, individual CG Cylons turn up every second episode for about 3.5 seconds. But that's it. No laser fights. No interrogations by terrifying androids. No Terminator-style battle scenes.

2. What they do have is human cylons. That's right, robots that look like humans, even think they are humans. There is one particularly irritating human cylon woman who may or may not be real, who may or may not be helpful, who may or may not be getting it on with this human scientist. Like some cheap Fatal Attraction situation, deliberately designed to be vague and frustrating. She ain't that pretty either. These human cylons are supposed to take the place of the real thing, but all I hear is blah blah blah, blah blah blah, we couldn't afford cylons. And if you have no cylons, you have no contest.

3. There are no battles. You will watch 3 episodes before you see spacecraft do anything. You can watch five hours in vain to see a cylon spacecraft destroyed. There are no dogfights, heroic last stands, grim fightbacks, or victories of any kind. Instead you get endless anxiety without resolution.

4. It's not about anything. The classic angst and fear that is tapped into so successfully by the original series or Terminator, or even the Cybermen of Doctor Who, the idea of man versus robot, is entirely absent. The theme of good versus evil, done so well by, say, Star Wars, is not even attempted. Instead you get human drama and politics. Like some kind of West Wing combined with Futurama. But without the future, because...

5. It's not even science fiction. If it's set in the future, the future must look like Washington about the time of the Watergate scandal. Apart from an occasional CG scene, it's about as futuristic as Top Gun. There are no automatic doors, food dispensers, transport beams, personal communicators, holo decks, androids, not even any robots or aliens! Instead it all looks depressingly late-2oth century. Empty coffee cups on tables. Paper everywhere. Communication by radio. Books! The human president appears to work in an aircraft cabin, everybody else sits in the passenger seats! Where is the shiny out-0f-worldness of Star Trek, the cool metallica and technology of Alien?

6. It's barely fiction. Plots inspired by modern life. Terrorism, who can we trust? How much democracy should we have? How can we find the traitors in our midst? Society versus the individual. The needs of the many versus the needs of the few. An entire episode was spent dealing with prisoner's rights! Not a cylon within lightyears! God, what is this crap? I don't need to see this in science fiction, it's like a BBC documentary!

7. It could have been so good. It could have been a new V. Now that was science fiction. Good versus evil. Heroism, glory, guts, sacrifce, freaky aliens. Or it could have been like Starship Troopers. Now there was a movie. Hot chicks with nice boobies and shining eyes who take showers with the troops and make frantic love to them in between battles. Huge battle scenes with lots of death and victory. The heroic quest, against a backdrop of an epic clash of Good and Evil.

Instead it's Crap.