Feature

Japan: All in the Family

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The history and myths behind Japan's imperial dynasty

Japan's Crown Princess Masako gave birth to a girl in early December - no ordinary child, this, but potentially the heir to an imperial dynasty that claims a 2,600-year unbroken line. The press, when it was not using the language of a stud farm to discuss the problems of a family 'running out of its stock of males' because no boy babies had been 'produced' since 1965, filled its pages with stories and pictures of happy flag-waving subjects.

Tolkien - Middle Earth Meets Middle England

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Fantasy writer China Miéville looks at the ideas and work of JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings.

In 1954 and 1955 a professor of English at Oxford University published a long, rambling fairy story in three hardbacks. And nothing much happened. This was the 1905 of fantastic literature - a dress rehearsal for the revolution. That revolution came in earnest ten years later, when the book, The Lord of the Rings, was published in the US in cheap, pirate paperbacks, along with rapid response authorised versions. And they sold. A generation of students, hippies and potheads found hidden meanings in legends of power, wisdom, magic and secret knowledge.

Clones Maketh a man?

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John Parrington examines the controversy over the cloning of human embryos.

A controversial area of science that has hardly been out of the spotlight since the birth of its leading lady - Dolly the sheep - is cloning. The recent announcement that scientists have succeeded in cloning a human embryo has reignited the simmering debate about the issue. The US biotechnology firm responsible, Advanced Cell Technology (Act) says its intention is not to produce a cloned baby. Instead it aims to produce cloned embryos as a source of human stem cells. These have the unique property of being able to mature into any cell type in the body.

The Culture of Discontent

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What is "Britishness"?

So David Blunkett has decided, like Norman Tebbit before him, that immigrants should be tested for their responsiveness to British cultural values! In Tebbit's case, the key test was cricket. A British person was a man (note!) who knew his cricket, who understood the world of cork on willow, and the deep significance of taking tea and cream scones on the village green.

Black and White Lies

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Race in Britain

It didn't take long for this government's brief flirtation with Britain's Muslims to come to an end. No sooner had the war against Afghanistan been 'won', accompanied by convenient pictures of religious leaders on the steps of 10 Downing Street, than it was back to normal. Tony Blair tucked his copy of the Koran away, and out came the Old Testament figure of home secretary David Blunkett.

The Party's Just Begun

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Spontaneous activity is not enough - we need collective organisation.

'We are many - they are few.' With that historic reminder, the poet Shelley ended his furious poem about the massacre of trade unionists at Peterloo. The line has been quoted (well, misquoted really, since Shelley, in self imposed exile in Italy, wrote, 'Ye are many - they are few') a million times since. It reminds the world's exploited masses of their numerical superiority over their exploiters. The line was written nearly 200 years ago, and its simple truth grows more obvious every day.

Palestine: Loss of Authority

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Yasser Arafat faces considerable opposition from erstwhile supporters.

Hamas's suicide bomb attacks on Jerusalem and Haifa in early December had two targets. The first and dearest target was Israel. Hamas had sworn to revenge the Israeli assassination of one its leading activists. However, the second, indirect target was Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas's actions sent a clear message to the Palestinian leadership - the armed struggle takes priority over US-sponsored peace deals.

The Limits of US Power

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The world's only superpower combines military strength with economic and political weakness.

Is US power sweeping all before it? The rapid defeat of the Taliban regime is seen by supporters of US policy as a vindication of the Afghan war and a confirmation that US might is invincible. US leaders are hardly likely to disagree. It is only in legend that kings like Canute show the world the limits of their power. George Bush will not be found on a seashore commanding the sea to go back. He needs the world to believe that there are no limits to US power.

Tales from the Tabloids

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Can we rely on press reports of the war in Afghanistan?

There is another battle going on that is a long way from the bombings and fighting on the frontline. This is the fight to dictate public opinion through the control and manipulation of the media. We are all familiar with the terms and phrases used by government ministers and defence officials who try to sanitise some of the horrific effects of war. In order for the government to keep the public on board and support for the war high, it has to make sure the right message gets out and any critical comment is kept to a minimum.

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