BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Shortwave radio may be the most underused of all the AM wavebands, though its ability to travel far greater distances than either long or medium-wave has enabled it to cross continents, open extended lines of communication between amateur radio hams and provide intelligence services with an invaluable means of both eavesdropping on the enemy and passing instructions on to agents in the field. The clandestine cult of the Numbers Stations (which I have covered in previous posts) has highlighted the indisputable existence of the latter shortwave use, even if governments remain in public denial. The repetitive reading of numbers by an electronically-generated voice, reciting a code indecipherable to the layman, was a vital weapon in the Cold War because shortwave broadcasts can often be untraceable.

The golden age of the Numbers Stations was when the majority of them emanated from behind the Iron Curtain, though they have continued to appear on shortwave long after the so-called Russian Woodpecker over-the-horizon Soviet radar system served as a useful jamming device. Many these days come from the likes of Cuba and China. Shortwave radio is an almost infallible method of secret communication, far more than the easily-hacked and traceable signal from the internet. The notion that a medium dating from the early years of the twentieth century is a safer bet than contemporary technology flies in the face of everything we’re led to believe in this techno-savvy age, when the lifespan of mediums means they seem to have a use-by date stamped on them the minute they exit the conveyor belt; but it’s true.

It goes without saying that I’ve no evidence whether or not shortwave is utilised to penetrate the closed world of North Korea, but if it isn’t it should be. The global reach of the worldwide web experiences something of an obstacle when confronted by Kim Jong-un’s citadel; very few of the great dictator’s subjects have internet access, so snooping on the traffic travelling in and out of Pyongyang is a considerably more challenging task than watching westerners wanking over webcam wonders doing rude things in a Belarus bedroom.

That many of the North Korean nuclear testing sites are situated underground has also limited the ability of American satellites to observe the country’s rapidly developing nuclear programme. Modern spying techniques that work so well when observing the innocent have proven to be all-but useless whenever the west has attempted to keep an eye on the Far East’s most worrisome nation.

North Korea’s old sponsor China hasn’t seen fit to share what its own intelligence has been able to divulge re recent events, though North Korea’s understandably jittery neighbour in the South has claimed more missile launches are being prepared; these would be hot on the heels of the one that flew over Japan last week before splashing down in the Pacific. North Korea has also bragged that it now has the capabilities for attaching a hydrogen bomb onto a long-range missile, after testing out said explosive device at the weekend, one that apparently made the H-bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 resemble little more than a fart in a curry-house.

The detonation of North Korea’s weekend H-bomb could be clearly detected in tremors that were felt in the Chinese city of Yanji, though few who flooded social media with their videos of the aftershocks were initially aware this had been a manmade earthquake. The fact that North Korea chose to test their H-bomb on the same day as Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to give a speech at an international diplomatic shindig perhaps demonstrates its growing detachment from its former ally. Each of the recent publicised North Korean nuclear tests have coincided with major dates in the Chinese President’s schedule; the fact that China has backed UN sanctions against the nation it remains one of the few in the world to still trade with clearly grates.

China, however, is still in a position where it could effectively bring North Korea to its knees, being the country’s principle supplier of gas and oil as well as laundering billions in its banks; the apparent reason it doesn’t seems to stem from Chinese fears over what the collapse of the North Korean regime would do to the region. If North and South were to reunite, with the whole of the nation becoming one giant South Korea, China is concerned that the US would exercise the same influence it already has over the South, turning the reunified Korean Peninsula into another American base in the Pacific akin to Japan. China isn’t exactly keen on the thought of US troops stationed on its borders, but how much more is it prepared to tolerate before it exercises its remaining power over its one-time protégé?

China and the USA have a greater influence in the area around North Korea than any other world powers, so they are both better placed than most to change the current situation; but it’s equally obvious that they need to work together to bring about a resolution that the UN is incapable of concocting. North Korea has hardly paid much attention to that institution so far. President Trump declaring that America is considering no longer trading with any nation that trades with North Korea seemingly overlooks the fact that China provides the country with 90% of its trade. For the moment, North Korea is essentially dropping its trousers and mooning China, the US and the UN in an act of schoolboy taunting; but China still wields the cane. All it needs to do is use it and maybe the rest of the world can sleep a little sounder as a consequence.

© The Editor

CARRY ON UP THE AMAZON

wwAnyone who watched ‘The Day Today’, ‘Brass Eye’ or even the more obscure ‘Jam’ several years ago may have wondered of late where Chris Morris is. After his involvement in the prophetic ‘Nathan Barley’ and suicide bomber comedy ‘Four Lions’, he seems to have been inactive; not true, of course. I suspect he’s currently the criminal mastermind behind the world we live in, creator of comic characters as wide-ranging as Ed Miliband and Boris Johnson, and perhaps his greatest work of fiction, Donald Trump. He also scripted the long-running saga of Samsung’s exploding mobiles and the recent clown craze, and was even making his mark at the United Nations last week by pulling off a magnificently mischievous conceptual art stunt in persuading that august institution to make a comic-book superhero an ambassador.

Okay, so there’s no evidence Mr Morris was involved, but surely he had to be, right? Wonder Woman belongs to the same DC universe as Superman, Batman, The Flash and The Green Lantern – in other words, she exists only when an artist draws her. She’s not real. She was played on the small screen by Lynda Carter in the 70s and will shortly be portrayed by another actress on the big screen as the Wonder Woman character is added to the never-ending superhero cinema franchise. Yet, the key point is that neither Lynda Carter nor the weirdly-named Gal Gadot has been nominated as a UN Ambassador, whereas the character they’ve played has. Imagine Sherlock Holmes being given a peerage. Granted, probably more deserving than most recipients, but that’s the ball-park of unreality we’re in.

For all the Nobel Prize Committee’s whinging about Bob Dylan’s silence on winning the literature gong, Bob’s failure to fly down to Stockholm and collect his award was probably to be expected, knowing the kind of erratic and unpredictable individual he is; but the UN will be waiting forever if it expects Wonder Woman to take up her ambassadorial role for the simple reason that she doesn’t actually exist.

The official title that the creation of William Moulton Marston and his wife Elizabeth has had bestowed upon her by the UN is that of ‘honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls’; giving that role to a fictitious character suggests either the UN doesn’t regard it as an important task or that an organisation formed to be the ultimate arbitration service between warring nations has been reduced to a subservient marketing tool for the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie.

Wonder Woman will be used to promote women’s rights and gender equality, apparently; this is one of the UN’s ‘sustainable development goals’. The UN’s Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information (yes, unlike Female Superhero, that really is a job title), Cristina Gallach, was quoted as saying ‘Gender equality is a fundamental human right and a foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.’ And the way to achieve it is to hire a cartoon woman with the vital statistics of a young Pamela Anderson, who walks around in nothing more than a bodice, skin-tight knickers and knee-high boots. The UN couldn’t have scored a greater own-goal if it had borrowed a couple of bunny-girls from the Playboy Mansion.

The initial early 40s creation of Wonder Woman by a prominent psychologist and his missus, both of whom were involved in a polyamorous relationship with the same woman, was supposed to introduce an emancipated feminist heroine into the men-only club of superheroes; in that respect, their creation was genuinely groundbreaking, especially when the best a female character in a comic-book could hope for at that time was to be the Lois Lane girlfriend figure. But the character has developed such ridiculously perfect physical proportions over the decades (mirroring the similar transformation of her male counterparts) that for her to make the transition to the movies an actress probably has to submit herself to the kind of intense daily work-out regime beyond the budget and available leisure time of most girls who will see the film. She is as unattainable a physical ideal as Barbie, and this is one of the more prominent objections to her adoption by the UN – once the fact she doesn’t exist is put to one side, that is.

An in-house petition by UN staff protesting against the decision cites this aspect, claiming ‘It is alarming that the United Nations would consider using a character with an overtly sexualised image at a time when the headline news in the United States and the world is the objectification of women and girls.’ Some of those behind the petition turned their backs on the ceremony (attended by Lynda Carter) announcing Wonder Woman’s appointment, and there was a predictable storm on social media decrying the decision, coming as it did in the aftermath of the latest ‘Trump tape’ revelations.

If the aim is to move away from the common media and advertising image of a woman’s sole role outside of motherhood as being a desirable sex symbol, a character whose visual appearance embodies the latter certainly seems a strange choice. But for me it is the simple fact that the UN opted for a fictional character rather than a living breathing human being that remains the oddest element of this whole PR disaster. Then again, at least they recruited Wonder Woman rather than that other fictional character and parody of feminine assets, one who doesn’t even possess any super-powers, Kim Kardashian.


JIMMY PERRY (1923-2016)

perryI’m actually old enough to remember seeing some ‘Dad’s Army’ episodes when they first aired. I only say this because there will now be more than one generation tuning in to the most beloved of British sitcoms who have only ever known it as a classic series; the permanent rerun slot on a Saturday evening has a devoted following, perhaps amongst those allergic to the mystifying charms of the talent show. But as much as I enjoyed ‘Dad’s Army’ as a child, I was never as devoted to it as, say, ‘The Goodies’. Like fine wine, it has matured along with me, so that I can now genuinely appreciate the genius of the casting and the undoubted genius in the writing. The combination of the two is a truly magical alchemy that doesn’t happen on television very often, and the last living half of the writing side has now joined the majority of the cast in the cathode ray Necropolis where TV immortality is the reward for gifting the viewing public with such a gem.

The death of Jimmy Perry at the age of 93 brings to an end the era of the TV comedy scriptwriter whose University of Life was the battlefield. As with contemporaries such as Eric Sykes and Johnny Speight, Jimmy Perry’s youth was shaped by the Second World War, and Perry drew on that experience to forge some of the BBC’s most successful sitcoms. Like Private Pike, he had been in the Home Guard at the outbreak of conflict; his time serving in Burma inspired ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ (now rarely seen due to the PC brigade’s disapproval); and his stint as a Butlin’s redcoat was recalled when he created ‘Hi De Hi’. Working on all three with long-term collaborator David Croft, Perry was responsible for numerous memorable comic characters in an ensemble setting that belonged to an age when the compulsion to ‘shock’ was not an essential ingredient within the TV comedy framework. It was about character and the interaction between those characters – between Mainwaring and Wilson, between Williams and Lofty, and between Jeffrey and Gladys. You have been watching, and will continue to watch.

© The Editor