Friday, 31 August 2012

My Mule Don't Like You Laughing...

As a boy grows into a man, there comes a time when he may look back upon the things he encountered in his childhood and reflect with sadness that maybe they weren't actually as great as he remembered. Morph, Johnny Ball, Knightmare...all staples of my childhood that when I look back on them now, turn out to be more than just a little bit naff.

But some things remain, because some heroes have to endure, rather than fading away and dying. And nothing is so indelibly burned onto my memory than my first true hero, who I discovered when I sat next to my father on our dilapidated sofa, and watched Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti western Dollar Trilogy.

What epic films these are. Can there be any villain more twisted than the evil Indio, his maniacal laughter ringing in our furious ears as he rapes Mortimer's sister and shoots her husband? Can there be anyone more shrewd than Eastwood's Man With No Name, playing the Rojos and the Baxters against one another in the cemetery before finally killing Ramon Rojo in the final shootout on Main Street? My childhood memories are full of Ennio Morricone's haunting musical scores, which drum up to an epic climax when a growling Eastwood demands that his opponent shoot for the heart.

Heroes stay with you, no matter how old you become. The music still plays, the shots ring out exactly on cue. The Man With No Name walks out onto Main Street and tells the undertaker to reserve three coffins, before single-handedly taking down a gang sent to kill him. He might just have been the first great action hero.

So what happened? I mean really, what happened? I've been trying to avoid as much coverage as possible of the Republican National Convention in the US, which seems to me to be a vicious collective of deceitful, religiously-motivated racist bigots. But self-defeating arguments about running the free world aside, why is an American national treasure like Clint Eastwood rolled out at the Republican National Convention to bumble his way through an incoherent speech that ends with him simulating a conversation with Barack Obama by talking to an empty chair?

The Twitterati and the liberal media have gone to town, with much being made of how the aging actor upstaged presidential candidate Mitt Romney with his bizarre behaviour. There are parodies, photo mashups and 'LOL's aplenty. But as much as I want Obama to win the election, I can't enjoy this moment.

You, moustachioed teenage you even know who you're mocking? How many bounties did he collect? How many evil men did he kill? You couldn't throw aside a poncho with one tenth of this man's casual disdain. And most of all, you couldn't deliver the line 'My mule don't like you laughing' without reducing an entire cinema audience to comedy tears.

Let's do a deal, Clint. Stop talking about politics now, while you're still slightly ahead of the game. You might be an old man, you might be as mad as a march hare. But when it comes to a Mexican standoff, no man alive is your equal.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A Nation Enthused, A Pussy Riot and A Violent Slaughter

As I sit here writing my first blog entry for weeks, the world's Paralympians are smiling and waving to the assembled media in London. The Paralympics is a wonderful addendum to a massively successful summer of British sport, although there is less of the glitz that was seen in the opening ceremony of the Olympics proper a few weeks ago. There's a different mood to these games, one less to do with political arguments about playing fields, sport funding and infrastructure investment than it is to do with unique individuals who have overcome tremendous struggles simply to be here at all.

Of course, the Olympics were a complete success - though no thanks to the sponsors, or to the private companies who continue to fleece the taxpayer in the name of enterprise. Team GB surpassed all expectations, nailing down gold after gold. The Tories antipathy to the modern NHS was exposed by Danny Boyle's deviously clever opening ceremony, which won over journalists worldwide with its simple, understated charm. It turns out that Britain still does a few things well - and it's cheering to think that the army, the volunteers and the athletes all played a part in something that has been central to restoring the national pride.

There has been other news too. In Russia, the decision to imprison anti-Putin musicians Pussy Riot has been condemned worldwide but most curiously by the US, whose administration see no hypocrisy even though they have now kept Bradley Manning, the soldier suspected of releasing information to Wikileaks, in custody for over 800 days without trial. The decision by Ecuador to offer political asylum to Julian Assange is now unavoidably tied into the rape accusations from Sweden that he will not be able to answer without risking extradition to the US. These incidents, coupled with the British establishment's response to the peaceful Occupy movement in the UK, continue to raise questions about freedom of speech and human rights advocacy in the West.

In perhaps the most appalling news of the summer, a number of South African miners have been shot dead in a pay dispute at a Lonmin mine in Marikana. The events have been condemned by unions worldwide.

The strike began on August 10, with ten deaths, including police officers and mine security staff, reported within days. On August 16, following fruitless attempts to control the crowd with tear gas, barbed wire and water canons, police hit back in a three-minute live fire barrage that constituted the deadliest force used since the end of apartheid in 1994.

34 men died in that murderous barrage, and the police's use of deadly force is now being questioned as it has emerged that many of the miners may have been shot in the back while facing away from police. The time has come for a full public investigation into the events that transpired at the protest, and all sides to immediately move back to negotiation to resolve the dispute. If necessary, the government needs to become involved and mediate - there can be no acceptance of violence from either side to resolve a pay dispute. If it subsequently transpires that the police acted without due cause, murder charges should be brought against those responsible.

The dispute raises urgent questions about how to address inequality in the Rainbow Nation, questions that will also be asked in other countries as the economic fallout of the worldwide banking crisis continues to spread.