kenny hodgart

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Let there be light

This article was published in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine

Trading in the online currency Bitcoin has just gone the way of most things the Chinese government fears or doesn’t understand (they’re not the only ones) and been banned in the mainland after huge demand there saw it surge in value. The news also came fast on the heels of reports that the so-called Great Firewall of China is under attack from uptake of a new software programme that allows users to get round web censorship: Lantern.

It may well be that by the time you read this Lantern – which has already been put to the test by dissidents in Iran – will have had Beijing’s hose turned on it, but its emergence demonstrates that rearguard attempts to wage war on internet activity are likely doomed to failure. Because the thing about the web is that there’s always a workaround. The technology it has spawned and put at the world’s disposal already outstrips the might of governments to control it. It’s about time they realised this.

It’s not just the Chinese and the Iranians (and the Russians) – all of whom seem to think a closed, national “intranet” model is possible – who don’t quite seem to get it, though. British Prime Minister David Cameron keeps talking about being able to turn off the tap of online pornography. Does he really believe any “fix” his taxpayer-funded IT wallahs can come up with will be any match for internetland’s plumbers? If governments can’t control things like porn or copyright, what hope have they of reining in alternative currencies, or thought?

East and West alike seem to fear “the dark web”. We learn that it’s a nasty place, one where people sell drugs and plan terror attacks and eat babies. But actually it’s just a way of connecting to the world with anonymity. No wonder it’s the new bogey man.

As the efforts of the NSA to be the world’s listening post (its priest, if you will) have shown, at considerable cost to America’s soft power – attempting to master the web is a losing game. If there’s a war going, the geeks have already won.


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Channel hop, 8/12

This article was published in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine

Whenever I have had occasion to meet elected politicians, I’ve found them to be, in the main, good, well-meaning sorts; decent, principled, hard-working, etc. The celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is also possessed of these qualities; and in the second series of Jamie Oliver’s American Food Revolution (TLC, Thursday, 7pm), he is a man on a mission – to change the system, minds, the world, the menu. Where he differs from politicians is that they do not, as a rule, get given six-part prime-time platforms via which to go on spittle-flecked tirades; no, they have to grovel and scrape, and kiss babies, and get voted out, and put up with being called rude names on the Twitter accounts their special advisers maintain for them. They don’t win Emmy awards – which is what Oliver blagged for himself with his first American Food Revolution, in which he failed to persuade grotesquely obese schoolchildren in Hungtinton, West Virginia to choose his food over the crap served in their schools.

So, anyway, he’s back, and he’s on the warpath again, this time in Los Angeles, which he probably surmised might prove more receptive to his proselystising, being, after all, celebrity chef terra firma. But no, it turns out people there are just as happy to kill their children slowly with fat, slime and sugar as they are elsewhere in the country (or in all those forlorn parts of Britain visited by Oliver in other shows where most people are nowadays between 90 and 95 per cent tattooed lard and pie crust). He’s on the side of the angels, of course, and his palpable anger is righteous and this stuff matters. But as he goes about telling small-time fast food business to put fruit in their milkshakes, hinting at conspiracies and cover-ups on the part of LA’s education authorities and generally being all martyr-like, the thought that comes to mind is that celebrity and riches have come at a cost to Oliver’s mental health. Jamie, mate, Americans don’t respond well to being lectured by anyone, even Brits; and besides, they’re really not all that into revolutions, except maybe that one where they put your forefathers back in their boats.

TV shows tend to air in Hong Kong way after they’ve impacted on general consciousness and been illegally torrented by half the world, which often defeats the purpose of “previewing” them. Ray Donovan debuts tonight (Fox Movies Premium, 10.45pm), but though much-hyped in the US it’s probably one of those ones that will grow cultish appeal and you’ll finally get round to watching it all in one sitting because you’re fed up feeling left out in conversations. A lot happens in the first episode and at a ferocious clip, but it’s all show and not very much tell, so you’re reeled in good and slow. Complexity being king these days, there are masses of characters and fugues of “what just happened?” moments as we’re dropped into a Los Angeles that is rotten to the core.

Ray, played by Liev Schreiber, is a PR “fixer” for a law firm that makes everything OK for rich and famous people to be as venal as they like. He’s part private eye, part-gunslinger, but there’s no moral dimension to his aptitude for violence – he’s no Clint Eastwood. Maybe he’ll turn out to have endearing qualities but for now it looks as though Ray Donovan’s creators want viewers to accept that bad guys being good at being bad is as good as it gets in Hollywood. Stylistically there are elements of Raymond Chandler, the cast (Jon Voight as Ray’s bad old dad just freed from prison; the excellent Eddie Marsan as his brother; Elliot Gould as a lunatic) is formidable and it’s very filmic, but all the swinishness and neurosis and psychosis might be a little exhausting for some.