Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Poverty in Ladywood

Ladywood has many qualities, but it also has "absolutely shocking levels of poverty", according to The Campaign to End Child Poverty. Those familiar with the constituency may not be shocked.

However, not even the biggest pessimist would have anticipated that "81% of Ladywood residents live in or on the brink of poverty". The BBC website features a video in which a local family of three describe how they live on a monthly income of £650 (why have a child, though??? Why not wait until things are looking up a bit?), while the Birmingham Mail points out that today 3,900,000 children in the UK live in, or close to, poverty. In the fifth richest country in the world, that is.

Help this woman

Some of The Times' India Knight's pieces carry the poise a staggering pisshead.

Recently, Ken Livingstone said that the British press counts too many 'columnists' in its ranks, many of whom sit at their preaching altar without any worthy grounds. India Knight is a perfect case in point. As The Times' columnist pens increasingly confused and contradictory pieces, she appears increasingly on course for The Most Extraordinary Logical U-Turns Award. Some of her pieces honestly carry the poise a staggering pisshead.

The subject of her latest incongruous rant is, how did you guess, men. Except that this time you have to read it ten times to believe it. As she confusingly hatches a plea for the sexist mean alpha male, India Knight contends the current "emasculation" of men is "pretty alarming" and "needs to be addressed before it does considerable damage".

Look at this: "It is surely no coincidence that men seem angrier than they have ever been; you notice it especially when it comes to pornography. Wanting to subjugate and violate powerless women used to be a specialist minority interest; it has now become mainstream".

Surely? Has it? How? So this is the logic: we're all getting emasculated therefore we're all angrier, therefore scour for porn, therefore violate powerless women. Note that she means the majority of men ("the mainstream"), just like that. Like a man could get away with writing, for instance, "all upper class divorcee females seem to gag for it more than they ever did"?

But that's just for starters. Because then India Knight comes up with: "See also the extremes men now go to in order to punish their former wives or girlfriends: horrific news stories about fathers murdering their children and then killing themselves have become, if not quite commonplace, frequent enough to ring loud alarm bells".

Clearly centuries of patriarchal violence that was commonplace behind close doors are eluding India Knight like piss down a drain. If her tirade is to be understood correctly, our cultured, Cambridge-educated columnist is totally unaware of how the macho-dominated society of the past worked - with incest as well as women and children getting battered or murdered aplenty. She says such news stories are now alarmingly frequent but she doesn't clock that news stories were rare and far-between at the time. Or, better, that a woman trapped in an aggressive relationship crying for help wouldn’t stand a chance in the "non-emasculated" society of the past that India Knight seems to be grieving for. Domestic violence of the most horrific kind was so commonplace that it wouldn't even make the news.

But such is life, or perhaps such are Britain's elite columnists.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spoilt rich kids

Those banks are increasingly looking like a spoilt rich kid sneering at his parents' pleas for a sensible conduct. But when it all goes tits-up he sobs back to his dad begging to be bailed out.

It started with the government spending £55bn of taxpayers' money on Northern Rock. In the US, lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were rescued and investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Then there was last week's $700bn public bailout of the financial markets in America. Now, more news of state rescue plans (read: our money) come in the guise of Bradford & Bingley being nationalised.

Those banks are increasingly looking like a spoilt rich kid sneering at his parents' pleas for a more sensible conduct. As he keeps splashing his money out on stuff, gambling and speculating, his parents can do nothing more than warn him of the potential consequences. But in return he keeps telling them to sod off and mind their own business...he knows better than those boring old farts. And after all goes wrong and he's left in deep shit, he sobs back to his paternal home begging to be bailed out.

That's exactly what's happening now. For years we've had to endure trite talks of how bad it is when Governments poke their nose into the market, that nothing can create wealth and success like de-regulation, yet now the Government is "forced" to plough billions into ailing banks in order to minimise the consequences of greed.

In the words of the BBC's Robert Peston: "The conversion of building societies into banks is an instance where deregulation and the liberalisation of an industry appears to have been an unmitigated disaster".

God Save the Subjects

The latest from the credit crunch: the Queen may not yet be able to get a new private jet.

Last week's Royal request for cash didn't go down well. Aside from a Telegraph editorial and very few others, even The Sun turned against poor old frugal Queen Elizabeth II with the revelation that her Majesty is planning to splash out £7 million on a new private jet with "luxury touches expected to include reclining seats embroidered with the royal crest". More surprising, Katie Nicholl in yesterday's Daily Mail also didn't seem at ease with the contradiction between a million-pleading Royal family and the news that Prince Charles is planning not one but two lavish birthday bashes for his 60th.

But the best, and most explicit, analysis of this latest royal pisstake has so far been Joan Smith's in the Independent. Pointing out the government's recent stance against "unacceptable" pay demands at a time of deep financial turmoil, Joan Smith wrote that "[A]mazingly, though, that is exactly what one group of public service workers has been doing", adding that: "The culprits belong to a single family, whose annual consumption of public funds has risen by £12m since 2002 to an astonishing £40m. If these people lived in a council house, they'd never be off the front page of the Daily Mail, where they'd be excoriated as the kind of scroungers who are ruining the country". As you read on, you learn that, only last year, Prince Andrew's travel bill neared £800,000 and Prince Charles' cruise to the Caribbean £210,000.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This week's news round-up

by Johnny Taronja

Looking at the collapse of easy-lending banking, The Independent's Dominic Lawson really believes that "The borrowers must take their share of the blame too". "Yes, many of the loans should never have been offered", he says, "[Y]et it requires two parties to sign a bad loan agreement". The aggressive way banks have been targeting potential borrowers? The military-scale campaign from financial institutions aimed at making money out of indebted 'customers'? Petty, invisible stuff.
No wonder on Friday BBC online reported that France is coping better than the US and the UK "against the credit crunch". "French banks are immensely careful about whom they lend money to", wrote Emma Jane Kirby. No 100% mortgages or credit cards handed out like sweets. Only a few years back, Blair and Brown were sneering at France's sluggish growth. Arses.

Guardian's John Harris from the Labour conference: "The soul of Labour is still twitching", he reports. Apparently, for the first time in years, lots of delegates were talking about redistribution of wealth and class war. Firmly off stage, though. Free cancer treatment and more nurses is the very least a Labour government should grant after 11 years in power. But too little, too late.

The dream of any Sun hack. Writing about a dodgy Muslim hate cleric and scantily dressed poledancers - all in one go. Well, it happened this week. "Poles apart", was the headline about "busty Yasmin Fostok", who "performs pole dancing bars and gyrated half-naked in cages at club nights leads a secret life after rebelling against her fanatical Muslim dad — who rants against Western 'depravity'".

Trust the Telegraph to have a fit in favour of the Queen gagging for £32 million. "The Queen is feeling the pinch too". According to the Telegraph, the Royals are "remarkably good value" for money, "certainly when compared to Parliament". It makes you wonder if they'd have any qualm over doing away with the Parliament and all that red tape stuff. So very Telegraph. How about a good old no-bullshit Absolute monarchy. Now that would get the tourists flocking in.

The Daily Express is renowned for being in tune with real problems. Good to see they don't lack coherence. "Champagne? It's us who invented it", was one of the headlines this week. It comes with the outstanding: "[The French] cannot claim to have invented the method for the simple reason they did not have the strong English bottles". And “[...]the French stole our technology and used it as their own”.

The first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama saw the 72-year-old Republican candidate confirm that 4,200 American victims and the total failure of the Iraq military adventure are just details. "We are winning", he repeated. So much so that they still can't leave Iraq.
But McCain's worst remark was about reforming the US health system. Any move to introduce universal coverage (and end the shame of having ambulance staff asking the patient if they have a private insurance) is presented by McCain as the Federal Government "interfering" in the "decisions made between patience and doctors". He hasn't even got the decency to openly stand by what he believes.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Barbarism at home

Parents or society: who's to blame when kids commit a crime?

Camila Batmanghelidjh in yesterday's Independent wrote that: "When a child commits a crime, the truth is we're all responsible", adding that "Prisons, Asbos and some 460,000 prescriptions of Ritalin a year" simply highlight society's failure to redress injustice. Note that the word "parent/s" isn't mentioned once throughout the article. Which may well be an oversight, but can also suggest that parenting isn't what the writer regards as no.1 factor in a child's upbringing.

No sorry, Camilla. When underage/teenage crime is mentioned, no-one can omit the weight that parenting carries. At risk of coming across as insensitive and offensive, it's got nothing to do with me if certain lowlives decide to have a baby, not giving a toss about teaching them right from wrong and basic principles about respecting others and living in a society. No question the child is the real victim, but there's only as much society or the government can do when feral specimens decide to pop one out and play the parent for the first 5 minutes until they realise it's not a game. 'Course there no easy solution, or perhaps none at all, but it's a fact that whereas an ultra-liberal sex education worked in other countries (i.e. Holland) it failed spectacularly in the UK.

Granted it's a generalisation, but those scumbags pushing a pram with earphones on - in what sense is that society's fault? And chances are if a person spotted a child setting a bin alight, mangling a cat, or smoking at a station and somehow decided to do their bit as members of society by telling the "victim" off...chances are they'd get battered within ten minutes as the child returns home to tell parents about someone who "weren't minding their own fookin bizniss". In conclusion, like a great song once said: barbarism begins at home.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Katy Perry, One of the Boys

The woman who makes Avril Lavigne look genuine.

The NME branded her "as alternative as a Bratz doll with a safety pin through its nose" and for anybody over the age of twelve (or, for that matter, any schoolkid who doesn't spend his day jerking off) it should be hard to disagree. This 22-year-old Californian, raised on a diet of bread, church and gospel, stole the limelight of Summer '08 with her songs flooding TV programmes, adverts and supermarkets. What better marketing tool than two songs about homosexuality coming from the daughter of two pastors. You may not recover from the shock.

One of the boys is actually Perry's second CD; the first was a selection of Christian gospel songs that went unnoticed. But when Perry met producers Greg Wells (Mika, One Republic) in 2007, she (?) opted for a radical makeover. Not afraid to parade her knockers, this wanna-be is now utterly convinced she is a "rock chick", perhaps a "riot grrrrrl" and she'd probably agree if you told her that "she ain't taking no shit".

The crass, wince-inducing, attention-seeking hit I Kissed a Girl (which topped Billboard 100 in June with the highly stimulating chorus "I kissed a girl and I liked it I kissed a girl just to try it") raised a few eyebrows for its references to promiscuity and homosexuality. Controversy to sell records? Wow, what next: guitars with strings???
Waking up in Vegas makes McFly sound like consumate rock'n'rollers, while second single Thinking of You goes: "Cause when I'm with him I am thinking of you" and "You said there's tons of fish in the water so the waters I will tests". What a naughty, naughty, rock chick.

Ur So Gay must be the most irritating song of the year. "You're so gay, you're so gay. You walk around like you're oh so debonair". No wonder Madonna hailed it as one of her favourite. Described as Perry's revenge against her ex-boyfriend, it's basically about him dumping her (never too late, mate) and Perry calling him gay cos she's pissed off. You get the general idea of the level. Incidentally, what would happen if the word "gay" was replaced by "black"?

Katy Perry: she makes Avril Lavigne look real.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Queen wants more cash

She's a frail old lady and she's struggling with bills. Donations to Buckingham Palace, SW1, London

The Queen claims she is need of shrapnel and she wants it from you. It's today's news that £150million sponged off the taxpayer isn't enough. Her aids claim Buckingham Palace require an extra "£32m of refurbishment and maintenance in the next 10 years". Amongst the reasons cited, the rising cost of living as well as investments gone wrong in the wake of the stock market crash.

Nothing surprising there. At the end of the day, that's exactly what the royals have been doing for a mere few centuries and you can't ask a nit to grow their own head of hair. The surprising bit, however, is that even Daily Mail readers (i.e. the breed who still wet their bed at the thought of bowing before a superior creature) appear pissed off. A look at the general balance of opinion on the Mail site reveals that, aside from a resilient number of hardcore minions, there is very little sympathy for our down and out sovereign.

No doubt the creatures inside Buckingham Palace hold the belief that those measly few millions are theirs by right and that only a ruthless, hostile, ungrateful government would shun their plea. The plebs who are losing their homes, jobs or both can bugger off to the back of the queue. A God-given right is a God-given right, more so when it's a British one.

(Last month, the US magazine Forbes estimated the Queen's fortune at £349 million, including "unspecified property in England and Scotland, fine art, gems and a stamp collection built by her grandfather George V". The magazine added that "the true value of the Queen's private property, which includes Balmoral, Sandringham, a smaller collection of jewellery and some paintings has never been disclosed" and that [the Queen] "also derives a personal income of around £12.5million a year from the Duchy of Lancaster").

The Worst Films of the last ten years

Badly acted. Imbecilic. Self-indulgent, unfunny or oozing cheese. After the scariest ever, the best in social observation and the funniest films, it's time for a tour of piss poor cinema.

Mulholland Drive (2002)
Directed by David Lynch. With Naomi Watts, Laura Harring.
The slowest motion in human history. A flurry of inconsequential subplots. Characters that make no sense. Dancing dwarves popping out of nowhere. People who wake up in a theatre where unknown people speak three languages but you don't quite understand why. By the end of it you feel a) pissed off for having wasted two hours of your life and b) thick for not grasping whatever underlying meaning this film may harbour. David Lynch, however, would probably take all this as a big compliment. Predictability rate: 0/10 - You just won't have a clue throughout the whole film

Goldfish Memory (2003)
Directed by Elizabeth Gill. With Sean Campion. Absolutely ridiculous. My rubbish bin would act better, except that there's nothing to act, aside from a lame story based on a series of 10-minute long relationships and dollops of gratuitous lesbianism. This film will give you severe migranes. Predictability rate: 6/10 - Little to predict, in the sense that it staggers on the road to nowhere

Things To Do Before You're Thirty
Directed by Simon Shore. With Billie Piper, Jimi Mistry.
Abhorrent and insipid 'coming of age' comedy about a group of vulgar 'saturday football' geezers and irritating posh studenty types, who after compiling a list of things to do before the big 3-0 strikes, try and accomplish them. Cue threesomes, tons of sexist references, predictable football dialogue and other hammy triteness. Warning: Contains Billie Piper. Predictability rate: 10/10 - Obvious

Just Married (2003)
Directed by Shawn Levy. With Ashton Kutcher, Brittany Murphy
A colossal flop on release, it's written and designed for people with the attention span of a quail. The gags are not funny at all, the story is extremely predictable and the two main characters are so irritating you just hope for their Venice gondola to sink without trace. Predictability rate: 10/10 - It makes you feel like Nostradamus

Prime (2005)
Directed by Ben Younger. With Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep.
Industrial quantities of bollocks and not a hint of irony. Aside from the diabolical acting (except for Streep), unnecessary Jewish references are dropped every ten seconds. The plot has some potential (a 37-year-old woman falls in love with a 23-year-old-guy without knowing he's her psychologist's son), but the story unravels without any contrast or pace. Predictability rate: 9/10 - Monodimensional

Dude Where's My Car (2000)
Directed by Danny Leiner. With Ashton Kutcher, Sean William Scott
Lowest common denominator? Braindead? Aimed at spotty irritating 12-year-old boys? No, the best description of this masterpiece is borrowed from an online review on Rotten Tomatoes: "Don't bring a date - they'll dump you straight afterwards". Predictability rate: n/a - Nothing to predict

Armageddon (1998)
Directed by Michael Bay. With Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler Look up the word "predictable" in the dictionary and Armageddon is what you get. Just in case you didn't know: whether it's a meteor or the Aye-rakis, brave Americans (especially if led by SuperBruceWillis) were put on this planet to save us all, that's their mission. And women like Liv Tyler were meant to wait at home. And have that dinner on the table for when I'm back, you bitch. Predictability rate: 10/10 - Fulfilling every cliche in the book

FEAR.com (2002)
Directed by William Malone. With Stephen Dorff.
The tagline goes: "Want to see a really killer website? It's the last site you'll ever see". And if you're lucky you'll never see this shit film again either. Predictability rate: n/a - Impossible to watch til the end

Turbulence Three (2001)
Directed by Jorge Montesi. With Monica Schnarre
This GCSE-like project is about some satanist terrorists hijacking an airplane that is broadcasting a metal concert live on the Internet. Hammed up to fuck, it's basically a cheap excuse to parade generous cleavages. Predictability rate: 2/10 - In fairness, there is a twist

The Next Best Thing
Directed by John Schlesinger. With Madonna and Rupert Everett
If you were still in doubt about Madonna's acting skills then this is a must, as it handed the superstar a Razzie award for worst actress- and rightly so. Two best friends—one a straight woman, Abbie (Madonna), the other a gay man, Robert (Everett)— accidentally have a child together. That's it really. Unless you count endless cliches i.e. people slipping over banana skins and the likes. It may hold the record for highest number of people leaving the cinema before the end. Predictability rate: 10/10 - We predict you'll find it unbearable

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Metallica, Death Magnetic

A review

Death Magnetic, Metallica's ninth studio album, is a return to form after the dire Load, ReLoad and St. Anger. With Rick Rubin replacing Bob Rock behind the desk, the album's been hailed as the missing link between 1988's And Justice For All and 1991's Black Album. And it's partly true. Tempo-changes, solos and boiling frustration bring back glimpses of one of the world's best bands.

Logically, if you were expecting four world-famous millionaires in their forties to have the same creative drive as a bunch of kids in their early-twenties, you'd be inhabiting DelusionLand. However, Death Magnetic is the sound of an invigorated, mature, skilful four-piece still oozing raw energy and able to instigate feelings like younger bands could only dream of.

The album contains ten tracks averaging 7 and half minutes each and it's pervaded by a dark mood throughout. James Hetfield admitted that it's mostly centred on the themes of death and mortality. Whereas first single The Day That Never Comes hints that things are looking up, it's with My Apocalypse (whose lyrics inspired the album title) that you get the impression Metallica are firing on all cylinders. And that's without counting Kirk Hammet's explosive solo, possibly one of his best ever, along with more fine guitar display on The End Of The Line. The stunning All Nightmare Long is punctuated by the tempo changes that defined the And Justice For All era, i.e. Metallica at their best. A special mention goes to the roaring Cyanide, the third single, possibly the main contender for best song on the album, whereas The Unforgiven III is the only ballad.

The return of Metallica's legendary logo, with the bigger first and last letters in the style of their first five albums, is the best indication that Hetfield, Ulrich and Hammet are back.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Too long for Ryanair

How a long surname can leave you stranded

Another milestone in Ryanair's quest to revamp its fame for dire public relations. A Swedish passenger, Ulrika Örtegren-Kärjenmäki, was forced to remain at Stansted Airport because her name was deemed too long to fit on Ryanair's boarding passes. The lady had to wait until the next day and fork out £380 for a "non-low cost" flight in order to return home. Click here for the full story.

Littlejohn on de Menezes

The Daily Mail columnist keeps secreting spite.

As the inquest over the death of Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005 continues, one of the most beef-witted commentators in England, Richard Littlejohn, goes on with his secretion of spite and poppycock (in equal doses) through his Daily Mail column. "Jean-Charles de Menezes was in the wrong place at the wrong time", he rules, "Let's leave it at that. Turning this into a cause celebre does no one any favours, except for the usual Trots and trouble-makers". Unusual for Littlejohn, he then elaborates beyond name calling: "I have always been of the opinion that this was a tragic mistake, no more. Try putting yourselves in the minds of those officers who believed they were tailing another suicide bomber in the wake of the July 7 attacks".

But if Littlejohn's brain wasn't so hazed by his own delirious immigration-mania, instead of pontificating he would ask himself this simple question: if the police were convinced, however mistakenly, that Menezes was a suicide-bomber (which is fair enough), why did they wait until he walked into the underground station, not to mention all the way downstairs to the platform -hence taking a massive, unnecessary risk? Why didn't they stop him in the street, on his way from home to the tube? It's that simple, but not for Littlejohn.

Attack of the 'awful man'

The patronising drivel of a woman who has no doubt sent her previous partners running for the hills with her scary and faintly backward stance to dating.

You don't have to be an especially observant person to notice that the Independent is worryingly turning into some kind of Cosmopolitan-meets-broadsheet hybrid, with articles such as 'Are you gender typical?', 'The ten best ways to impress a man/woman' in fact, earlier today I had to glance at the top of my browser to check that I wasn't reading More! magazine for a moment. Whilst confusedly reading through the list I spotted an article called 'What men don't know about women' and, interested, I read on.

One thing I despise about my sisterhood is the woe-is-me-they're-are-all-the-same pigeonholing of men. The whole tissue-kneading divorcee ranting really irks me like nothing else, especially because the greatest majority of these women (journalists aplenty, Kleenex-fiddler India Knight I hope you're reading) seem under the impression that all men truly are evil, responsible for bad weather, third-world debt and hunger, wheras women, however much of a bitch they are, are always entitled to be because they are so downtrodden from living in a man's world.

One individual who personifies this hackneyed attitude is a woman called Esther Walker.
Her column reads more like a self help book by a person who has been dumped a few too many times, and has questionable mental health and serious rejection issues. It brings to mind depressing images of a woman who, dragged through so many romantic thornbushes by 'the awful man' has to resort to writing this Bridget Jones, dreamland bollocks which has no relevance in real life.

Lying to women seems to be the easy key to making her happy, suggests Walker. Whether its pretending not to see your lady's arse bursting out of her skinny-jeans following the inevitable 'does my bum look big in this?' interrogation she offers this gem, "You must, always, simply put your head on one side and say, as if it's the first time you've had the conversation: "You don't look fat to me," and smile" brings a whole new meaning to stating the bleedin' obvious. Even more useful, when faced with the possibility of stealing a woman from her current partner, it's advisable to, "...know what to listen for. [Her partner]'s too passive? Take charge. He never listens to her? You're all ears! He didn't think her career was important? Women with careers are so sexy!!" So, what, Esther? Your prospective boyfriend must lie to you in order to get his leg over?

Or, heaven forbid he even thinks about spending the night with you on the first date, because Esther's chosen pearls for this dilemma, is "Most women sleep with men on the first date (especially in winter) because they are too pissed, cold or lazy to get themselves home."
Speak for yourself my love. I know us British women are a bit of a promiscous lot but I am yet to encounter one of my girlfriends telling me that she slept with a guy because she's cold. It begs the question, 'What is this poor excuse for womanhood on?' If a world-renowned newspaper lets a woman as patronising as her write articles, I can only hope that the editor was feeling so desperate for material he had to rope any old sod in to fill the gaps.

Women and men do not need a do's and don't's list like a Photoshop for Dummy's guide to understand each other. The truth is that men and women do speak a different language, and they do have a completely different outlook to most things in life. We have different brains, its biological. It's X and Y. This is the main reason why I find books such as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and, unfortunately some female columists, such load of clap trap.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Jolly little game, poverty

"£1-a-day", "cheap thrills", "how to scrimp stylishly"...But when those toffy, stuck-up brats recite their jolly chronicle to Bunty and Mufty as they chuckle over their 'divine' credit-crunch canapés, they forget they can escape it anytime they want.

Human nature is unbelievable. Look at how a certain category of people -the journalistic breed, to be more accurate- are now involved head to toe in the "Let's play the Credit Crunch Game". So much fun, isn't it? Like the old notion of "slummin' it", where affluent people find contentment and collect street-cred as they play hard-up for a limited period of time only.

Well, two weeks ago, we were trying to highlight how "the credit crunch" has become the corniest, most redundant formula of 2008. Whatever the papers are blabbering on, "credit crunch" is their heaven-sent bail that will hand them yet another lazy headline. Now, there's more. Last week's papers were packed with anecdotes of one Kath Kelly who decided to live on £1-a-day for a year following a drunken dare and ended up writing a book about it.

The Independent thought it'd be a good idea to dispatch a young journalist to try and do it for a week. How cool, man. Like being a student over again. Read his article "Cheap thrills?" and you'll get a sense of how Jamie Merrill loved it and is now probably bragging about his Dickensian-like, 'freeganism-embracing' 'experiment' at every "dinner party" (because these people have dinner parties, whatever that means) as he corks another bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

And this is exactly what's offensive about it. This whiff of Victorian-style elitism, the social experiment dressed up as concern for the plight of the invisible "victims of the credit crunch". When those toffy, stuck-up brats recite their jolly chronicle to Bunty and Mufty as they chuckle over their 'divine' credit-crunch canapés, they forget they can escape it anytime they want. If they are not up to the task and can't see their 'dare' through, they have a stable bank account to go back to, and none of the back-of-your-mind anxiety of having their miserable amounts frozen when the bank decides you're too far behind with your credit card payments. They've got their good job, unlike some temping call-centre crap that will hardly bring them back within their overdraft limit. And when Jamie Merrill brags about the dozens of miles he turned out while cycling against the credit crunch, he should do more than just touch upon the fact most people (especially the not so young) wouldn’t be able to manage one hundred yards on a bike.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was spot on when she mocks "this playing at poverty" and the "highly paid journalists [who] are penning advice on thrift (how to knit your own blanket and resuscitate dead oranges) and the joys of Lidl and Aldi". Likewise, Sue Carroll, in the Mirror, tells us of the stories she's heard of people who "must make a bag of rocket salad stretch a whole two days".

But Alibhai-Brown and Carroll are the exception in a sea of self-indulgent, oily journalism.

Take a look at this revolting, no less, article by Polly Vernon in yesterday's Observer. The words atrocious and cringeworthy don’t even begin to describe it. Again, talking about the credit crunch like a jolly little game that is so much fun to a have a go at (for a while). "Goodbye steak and champagne", it heaves, "Hello, mince and £3.99 Pinot Grigio", complete with tips such as "Reheated leftovers is the molecular gastronomy of the credit-crunched future". And "Our favourite? Brisket. So retro and ration-y". Splendid. Or how about: "It's legit to order tap. More than legitimate - it's de rigeur". Mange tout, mange tout. It'd make Del Boy proud. Not to mention the "Lidl's must-have bag…Cool as Christmas, with its pop-art graphic, and its endless capacity for carrying stuff."

Being skint has never been so much fun, has it, Ms. Vernon...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hyenas of the world

Stealing in "good faith"? Welcome to the News of the World

Can someone close down the News of the World, please? Or at least re-badge it Hyenas of the World. As the paper was forced to apologise for publishing Kate McCann's diaries without permission, check out their slow-witted, twatty response: "We published the extracts in the belief held in good faith that we had Kate's permission to do so".

I know, you have to read it to believe it. This is the link.

At which point you wonder if car thieves should try it too. Nick a car, drive around for miles and, once pulled up by the police, just mumble the bizarre: "I took the car in the belief held in good faith that we had the owner's permission to do so". Then see what happens.

This week's news round-up

By Johnny Taronja

A massive state bailout in the Mecca of the free-market. "Huge measures", in the words of George W Bush: 800 billion dollars to sweep up the toxic debt that kick-started the "credit crisis". Is that the invisible hand free-marketeers regularly wash their mouths with? "The facts are plain", writes Johann Hari in Friday's Independent, "John McCain enthusiastically backed every one of George Bush's moves to deregulate the banks and the mortgage industry that caused this collapse, while Barack Obama opposed them. This isn't just a credit crunch; it's a conservatism crunch. The right got their dream of a totally unregulated 'shadow' banking sector – and it swiftly imploded, bringing the world economy down with it".

Harry Potter author JK Rowling is right to frown upon David Cameron's "tax perks for the married" and the Tories' offensive against lone parents. But a £1m donation to the Labour party as a conference gift? Please!

Slating the energy companies' abuse of power earns Fiona Phillips a few marks. As well as making a point about the nonsense of "energy-saving tips" as a measure against skyrocketing bills. It's like an obese boasting they take artificial sweetener with their coffee to lose weight while they're stuffing their face with chocolate fudge cake and BigMacs. "If anyone patronises me once more by offering energy-saving tips" writes Fiona in The Mirror, "I might have to expend an enormous amount in punching them where it hurts".

Jeremy Clarkson, what a naughty man: "My tip if you wish to keep the thieving scumbags out of your house, is to buy a gun". Him, calling someone "a scumbag".

Even cheekier is Heather Mills as she's now taking someone else to court. This time she's after £250,000 from her ex-publicist for allegedly accusing her of being "money and fame hungry".

The Independent's Deborah Orr wrote the best article of the week. If anything, courtesy of this gem: "You've got to hand it to the hard-core laissez-faire guys. They are, at least, consistent. The economically illiterate masses have been reviling hedge-fund managers, derivatives traders, buy-to-let landlords, five-times-your-salary-100-per-cent mortgage brokers, credit companies that just won't stop inviting you to rack up a new card debt, bonkers City bonuses, and so on, for years now. But the purists are still insisting, with tremendous passion, that deregulation works, and government is the enemy".

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Little, little Englander

The disturbing verbal diarrhoea of The Sun's Fergus Shanahan

The initial instinct would be to call it the most racist article seen in years. Even for a rag like The Sun, this week's column by deputy editor Fergus Shanahan was out of order. And, though at Hagley Road we don't subscribe to an overly liberal use of the word, there are times it makes sense to call someone 'racist'. But at a closer scrutiny "Pass the coke Kate...Gord's having a party" looks more like the work of a seriously disturbed person than simple racism.

A hosepipe-style rant against everything that isn't white, Anglo-Saxon, little England, the Royals and arch-Tory, it starts off as a scathing attack against…guess who… Gordon Brown, and it soon veers to a swirl of ignorant, nasty remarks against Albanians, Muslims, Europe, Kate Moss and much more. Shanahan is certainly second to none in egging himself on. One thing is to slag off Brown & Co. but to then spiral into pure verbal diarrhoea that includes racism, the floods, King Arthur, Fred West, a National Drunkards' Day, images of a drunken Gordon as well as "gay Gordons" in Trafalgar Square, the bulldog from Churchill insurance and Brussels bureaucrats is more like the work of a maniac.

And that isn't even half of it. As he sneers upon the notion of "Community cultural activities", Mr Shanahan comes up with the slightly sweeping "So Albanian and Turkish drug gangs can knife each other to death in London while Muslim fanatics plot the next 7/7. Nothing like rubbing along together".

Just note the logical somersault. The little Englander hears "community cultural activities" and he works himself up to the tune of every Albanian or Turk being called a drug-trafficker and each British Muslim a jihads terrorist.

But I guess it's time to rejoice, Mr Shanahan. Some people in certain pockets of England are already putting your everyone-must-go views into practice.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hideous reviews (1)

Professional music reviews. A land that the words absurd, obscure and warped can't even remotely describe.

Have you got some paracetamol at hand? Because, like we did back in 2005, we're gonna take you through another psychedelic trip of ridiculous professional music reviews. A land that the words absurd, obscure and warped can't even remotely describe. Whoremongering, skank and sonic menagerie, horizontal guitars, Aeolian e-bow hums and molten lava flow of electic guitars... As you wonder what mind-enhancing product those reviewers have taken to write such bullshit, remember that they are supposed to guide you through your music purchases.

"It's eclectic stuff - mordant skank Mr Magnifico brings in Latin brass for its ambivalent tale of
whoremongering, while the entrancing, bittersweet drone Lavander sees singer and string section morphing into one luminous sound painting of sunshine on water".
(Ian Harrison, new albums reviews, Q magazine - Aug 2008)

"This follow-up to 2003's abrasive Pressure broadens his musical palette, with digi-dub, moody techno, and deranged dubstep adding weight to Martin's winning sonic menagerie".
(Simon McEwen, new albums reviews, Q magazine - Aug 2008)

"Rumbling drums, atmospheric washes of guitar and disembodied falsetto vocals ebb and flow with no clear delineation between tracks, gradually building to a climax at the album's midway point with
The Crowned's tribal drumming and densely packed layers of sound, before fading out gradually overthe album's second half".
(Chris Cottingham, new albums reviews, Q magazine - Aug 2008)

"The principle of these highly pleasant, improvised ambient recordings is set on the opener 'Land Beyondthe Forest', warm, tonal, reverberant, in the grand, awning material of Harold Budd. Theo Travis' Arcadian flute and Robert Fripp's horizontal guitar stylings convey unspoilt, unpopulated land, sea andairscapes, with the backdrop occasionally varying, as on the spangled and Aeolian 'Before Then'.
(David Stubbs, reviews albums, UNCUT - Sep 2008)

"They're unlikely to make you ponder your navel and cry, but certain to get you smashing things up with wanton cathartic aggression. Splendid deadbeat drums, lumbering bass and wilfully mis-tuned guitars urge Rivka Guilleron's voice to yelp and admonish".
(Chris Roberts, reviews albums, UNCUT - Sep 2008)

"Opener 'Alone With the Alone' solitary E minor chord comes laced with e-bow hums, Robbie Basho-likeraga extemporisations and, later, molten lava floes of electric guitar, while the less feral but equally potent'Strangled Road' finds Chasny rummaging in the psychic backwoods while rainy acoustic guitars thrum and fiancee' Elisa Ambroglio (of noiseniks the Magik Markers) lends the sensual vocal counterpoint".
(David Sheppard, filter albums, Mojo - Dec 2007)

Who are these people?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Double murder in Ladywood

The bodies of two women were discovered yesterday at a flat in Ryland Street, Ladywood. According to Sky News, the bodies were found by "the building's concierge following concerns from their family members. The identies of the women hasn't been made public, but it's believed they are both in their early 20s.

A 28-year-old man was arrested as he was in the process of boarding a ferry in Dover. As reported by the Guardian, the police claim he's connected to one of the women and "they're not looking for anyone else" at the moment.

The Birmingham Post offers the opinions of Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Mirfield. He said: "We believe at at this stage at least one or more weapons had been used", adding that the scene was "particularly challenging forensically".
The Telegraph comes up with a slightly different angle, with the headline "Bodies of two women found in Birmingham flat after party", reporting accounts of a "big party" that allegedly took place over the weekend at the same flat. The Times has the reactions of a number of residents, some of which complained of not having been kept informed by the police.

Last, the BBC West Midlands website reports the opinion of Reverend Simon Ramsay, of the Unitarian New Meeting church in Ryland Street. Ramsey described the immediate area as a "mixture of foreign students and business people" and talked of the "great disparity" between the "luxury" apartments where the murders seem to have taken place and the nearby inner-city deprived areas.

Richard Wright (1943-2008)

Pink Floyd founder and keyboardist Richard Wright passed away yesterday, aged 65. In the words of guitarist and bandmate David Gilmour, "all the greatest PF moments are the ones where he is in full flow. After all, without 'Us and Them' and 'The Great Gig In The Sky', both of which he wrote, what would 'The Dark Side Of The Moon' have been? Without his quiet touch the Album 'Wish You Were Here' would not quite have worked".

You can read a moving tribute to Wright and his work on The Reaction blog.

It's alright for some

Work or home duties? While dissecting the emotional side effects of Fiona Phillips' decision, Britain's chief columnists forgot that, in the real world, most females can't afford the option.

All that ink spent on Fiona Phillips recently. The GMTV presenter and Mirror columnist decided to knock her television commitment on the head and spend more time at home with her young children and ageing father. That inspired Britain's columnists and chief pontificators to confirm how elitist their tiny little world is. Oh poor Fiona. Did Fiona do the right thing? Did she do the wrong thing? Where does her decision stand in the grand path of history's female empowerment?

The Times' India Knight, for instance, dedicated an entire one of her ramblings to Fiona's choice, making it sound as if the family/work dilemma was more like a question of fancying strawberries over raspberries. "Shall I have a shot at it, what do you say?". "Oh, why not, my dear, and if you happen to find yourself emotionally unsatisfied then you can always quit and look after the little darlings, can't you?".

For her part, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, from the Independent, praised Ms Phillips for using her coming years "more wisely, not to squander precious time by giving over such a disproportionate amount to her brilliant career". And then on with the noose, lashing out at the white man and his responsibility for making careerism a male privilege.

But one simple, plain fact wasn't even mentioned. Not once. And it's the fact that in most households the issue wouldn't even be an option, let alone the India Knight-sanctioned dilemma of lipstick or cottage pie. It's not an option because most people need two salaries to make ends meet and haven't got the means for childcare - forget exhaustion, emotional satisfaction and collateral damage. Britain's chief columnists forgot all about it. Easily done.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Yahoo, my arse (PART TWO)

More on Yahoo a.k.a the Bermuda triangle of e-mail accounts
Last week we wrote about Yahoo! Answers very strange routine of randomly (and robotically) deleting people's accounts for no apparent reason. Here are some extracts of other people's experiences with and theories about Y!A and the case of the amazing disappearing email addresses.

Alvaro wrote:
"I had my account deleted. Someone on Yahoo! Answers made a comment about homosexuality not being a transgression against God. I listed several Bible verses which refuted the comment and made a few comments of my own and was suspended from all of Yahoo, including Yahoo Mail".

Mom of Scrappy wrote:
"Yep. It's overrunned by trolls just reporting for no reason and they get your accounts deleted. Y!A doesn't look at your appeals, It's all computerised. There are people that were at the highest level and had never gotten a violation notice in 5 years, then all of a sudden were getting 20-30 a day and all Y!A told them was that they need to learn the rules. If anyone disagrees with your answer or just doesn't like your name or whatever they can report you and without any verification to verify that the report was valid, they just delete accounts, no humans involved. They don't care. Read the forum. They are actually accusing the people who are complaining about false account deletions of reporting themselves (why would I report myself and get my own account deleted?). They just do not care. It's all about advertising and the money for them. They don't care if Y!A is a successful site. I came here from there after reaching level 7 and almost 100,000 points and 3 years of hard work.
Go to the Y!A forum and read away. For over three years they have been mentioning the same problems and they still exist but are 100 times worse now. If you complain, they tell you that you are the ones who are getting your own account deleted/reporting yourself. Someone needs to shut them down or sue them or something.
So it seems as if Yahoo! and their customer service is second to none, especially when you consider that they are now even accusing members who appeal against deletion of reporting themselves. I wonder why they even bother giving members the option of writing an appeal if they don't even get read?"

Keep the emails coming at the usual address.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The week's news round-up

By Johnny Taronja

The utility bill debate has been on all front pages. Except that it's not a debate. To a degree or other, everyone agrees the utility companies are taking the piss but, TUC conference aside, hardly anyone has the guts to say it out loud: utility companies should be re-nationalised. If you're new to the intricacies of the subject but you keep paying the bills, this article by Mark Steel will shed some light.

Hardly a week goes by without the Daily Mail reporting about "lesbians". There's definitely some fascination there. Something that reminds us of Eminem going on about 'faggots'. On Thursday, they had this endless, boring, "report" about a Government minister marrying "her lesbian partner". Who cares? The Daily Mail, of course.

However, on Friday the Mail got it right when it wrote that "New homes in Britain are the most cramped in Europe". Back in 2006 this blog ranted against the hideousness of most new dwellings. The smaller they get, the more expensive. The more prefab, the more cracks on your plastic panels.

It's a well-known fact that, when it comes to manipulation, the US Republicans are unrivalled. The furore surrounding Obama's remarks about Republican old policies recycled as new in the manner of a pig wearing lipstick was the mother of taking things out of context. Suddenly they were all over him with accusations of sexism. "He insulted Sarah Palin", was their argument. Quite a Freudian one too, they were the only ones to make the equation pig=Palin. And you know what? They're not wrong.

Look at The Times' Matthew Parris on Saturday: "Labour should dump compassion", adding that "the Left must embrace progress and winners, not the workshy and the weak". Survival of the fittest and all...

It's official. The British press suffers from split personalities. Until Wednesday morning, English football players were all a bunch of overpaid morons and Fabio Capello an overpaid, clueless foreigner. Fast forward twenty four hours and it looks like Jesus Christ the saviour has come back amongst us. Having beaten Croatia 4-1, talks of "tactical mastery" are everywhere. The Sun managed to fit magnificent, glorious, revenge, whizzkid, sensational and demolition in just six lines. Til the next time.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"At worse we'll make more money"

British utility bills have gone up by 500% since 2003. You don't have to be 'left-wing' to understand that's plain wrong. If Spain can cap utility prices then why can't Britain?

The Unions are asking the government to tax the "windfall" profits of utility corporations. In plain English: if, for example, nPower had forecast an already massive profit of 20% in a year and, by cashing in on higher oil prices, they ended up raking in a 45% profit (by squeezing higher bills out of millions of citizens), the government should tax that extra mega-profit. The result would be used to offset the effects of dearer utility bills. But, predictably, after talking to the Big companies, Gordon Brown ruled out the windfall tax as a useless "short-term gimmick". If only he knew how many thousands of citizens could do with "short-term" relief.

And yet, why are we surprised? Oil corporations and utility companies alike are a little shy, for want of a better word, at the idea of lowering prices as soon as oil gets cheaper. To reassure the public that they're not hauling in dividends on our back, they always come up with a cop-out: currency devaluation, high tax, the stock market in Hong Kong, the Nimex, Russia, the Cold war, tension in the Middle East, etc. There's always some excuse. But if only the same papers whose headlines were screaming at skyrocketing oil prices used the same big fonts to report their current fall, perhaps people would learn that in two months oil went down by 24% whereas petrol and utilities didn't (instead they are expected to go up by 20 to 40 per cent this year). The pressure on those greedy "wealth creators" and the government would increase.

In Spain, the Government holds the legal prerogative to cap utility increases. The companies put forward their proposal (say, 20%) and the Government decides if that's appropriate. Granted they always make sure the bargaining process doesn't end up pissing off the corporations (this year's sanctioned rise stopped at 11%), but at least Spanish customers are spared the obscene rises seen in Britain, where utilites have gone up by 500 per cent since 2003. And before you spare a tear for those poor Iberic utility companies, they still manage to pocket millions' worth of dividends. The unregulated British system, instead, ensures the balance is completely and utterly at the expense of the customers.

How Labour doesn't even consider the possibility of reintroducing regulation on utilites tells you all about the state of the party. But you don't necessarily need to be left-wing or "liberal" to be of the opinion that there's something wrong with a 500% increase in your gas/electricity bill in five years. Most people who'd call themselves "conservative" would agree that an unregulated utility market is not working except for a handful of glib shareholders ("at worse we'll make more money", quipped Mark Owen-Lloyd, head of power trading at E.On. What a nice man). When utilites go up that much, that fast, and there's a trickle down effect on inflation, companies, retailers and consumers, the buck will ultimately stop at the government. Read: election defeat.

[Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary of Unite, made a speech at the TUC conference on the subject. Read it here]

Friday, September 12, 2008

The funniest films of the century

American Pie II, III (2000, 2002)
Directed by James B Rodgers. With Jason Biggs, Sean William-Scott
Having inspired the so-called "teenage comedy" genre in the late 1990s, Pie is judged by many as shallow and demented. That it may be, but it's absolutely hilarious. Unlike other self-professed comedies, it's also based on some fairly elaborate character development. American Pie is a goldmine of gags and cringeworthy antics that includes glued genitals, pubes landing on a wedding cake and dog shit tasting of Belgian chocolate.

Roadtrip (2000)
Directed by Todd Phillips. With Tom Greene, Sean William-Scott
Josh cheats on his childhood sweetheart and decided that filming the escapade will be a good idea for pickle-tickling posterity. Except that the same dirty videotape is posted by mistake to his girlfriend. The result is a roadtrip across the US on a quest to pip the parcel at the post (quite literally). Oversexed maniac E.L., dopehead genius Rubin and uberskinny geek Kyle decide to tag along. Featuring organic French toast, a hungry snake and a particularly hyper Tom Greene.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Directed by Judd Apatow. With Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd
In a world where social status revolves around sexual conquests and sexual deeds, 40-year-old Andy Sitzer sticks out like a sore thumb. He's the ultimate virgin bachelor, action-figure collector and electronics geek. His colleagues decide to help him out of his dire situation. Incredibly funny.

Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Directed by Edgar Wright. With Simon Pegg, Lucy Davis, Bill Nighy
More than just a genius parody of your average film about the living dead, it's also a poignant swipe at our zombified society. Sean is a placid sales assistant with nothing going for him aside from his girlfriend Liz and every single night wasted at his local pub (the Winchester) with his annoying best mate Ed. Until disaster strikes. Remember the tip: removing the head and destroying the brain.

Superbad (2008)
Directed by Greg Mottola. With Michael Cera, Jonah Hill
Superbad is a fantastic story about the tail end of teenage innocence. Oozing slapstick, it's centred around the inept college trio of sensible Evan, chubby trouble maker Seth and nerdy McLovin'.

Shallow Hal (2003)
Directed by the Farrelly brothers. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black
Hal is the shallowest man on earth. Looking at women like pieces of meat, his outlook on life, relationships and sex will suddenly change when a spell is cast on him. Suddenly, beauty of the soul is all he can spot. Hilarious and original too.

Duplex (2003)
Directed by Danny De Vito. With Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore.
You finally lay your hands on a dream apartment. But the lodger, a conniving old Irish lady, will prove a tough nut to crack. The bit when Stiller and Barrymore try to contaminate the old lady during a flu epidemic will have you in tears.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. With Toni Collette, Steve Carell
A fantastic parody of the winning-at-all-cost mentality and the American dream of fame, fortune and success. Especially when it's designed to conceal emotional fuck-ups and a family falling apart. Featuring a cross-nation trip on a battered VW, a suicidal uncle, a randy grandad, a teenage Nietzche fan and a hidden corpse.

The Parole Officer (2002)

Directed by John Duigan. With Steve Coogan, Simon Pegg
Back in the days when Steve Coogan couldn't get a single thing wrong, it's the story of lone wolf parole officer Simon Gardner trying to thwart a criminal gang that stretches all the way to the highest police ranks. Includes staple diahorrea one-liners and a Simon Pegg cameo featuring boners gone wrong.

Freddie Got Fingered (2003)

Directed by and starring Tom Greene
Non-sensical and incredibly random, it's turned into a masterpiece by Tom Greene's role as Gord, a demented, behaviourally challenged layabout. With too many ultra-funny bits to mention, extra marks go to the restaurant scene when Gord tries to convince his girlfriend he's a high-flying executive. While that's doomed to fail, Gord will still talk his shrink into believing that his brother Freddie got fingered.

The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
Directed by the Farrelly brothers. With Ben Stiller, Michelle Monaghan
With Ben Stiller a master of his genre, any one out of Meet the Parents, Meet the Fuckers, Zoolander or Along Came Polly would easily make it into a 'Funniest Films Best Of'. Last year's Heatbreak Kid is probably the best of the crop, based on a terribly ill-judged choice of spouse and a honeymoon where everything goes tits-up the moment they hit the road. But most ridiculous is the succession of Carry-on style cat-and-mouse antics involving Stiller in a series of clumsy love triangles.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Who's reckless?

In the words of Paul Routledge, "these days, Gordon Brown could walk down your local High Street handing out fivers, and people would refuse them. But if Tony Blair had done the same thing with fake banknotes, they would have bitten his hand off".

If you were seeking further indication that Gordon Brown's career no longer stands a chance, last week was typical. The onset of total hostility that he's getting come-what-may is at levels not seen since the annihilation of Steve McLaren. Even when Brown finally decided to think up practical policies to help ordinary struggling citizens, the usual papers lashed out.

And yet, for once, the Government's £1.1 billion package wasn't designed to build a Millennium Dome, to renew an arms deal, or to rescue a troubled bank and its shareholders. This time, money is going to be spent in aid of thousands of families facing the nightmare of home repossession. It will help them with mortgage repayments and extra social housing. Also, it contains measures to help -albeit marginally- first-time buyers. Analysing the flack the Government's run into on the issue, The Mirror's Paul Routledge has a point: "These days, Gordon Brown could walk down your local High Street handing out fivers, and people would refuse them. They just wouldn't believe they were real. But if Tony Blair had done the same thing with fake banknotes, they would have bitten his hand off".

So you get the Daily Mail's Ian Drury moaning that "millions of taxpayers' money is used to save reckless homeowners who have got into financial difficulties by overstretching themselves", even though he didn't seem to mind Tony Blair wasting £76bn worth of taxpayers' money on the Trident nuclear system or £1bn-a-year on the Iraq war. Not to mention that financial difficulties do not at all equate recklessness. Losing a job, for one thing, can completely mess up your mortgage repayments. But I guess a Daily Mail writer doesn't inhabit the same planet. And, still on the subject of recklessness, don't expect Drury or the Mail to remind you that, if anything, it's the happy-to-lend banks who have a few things to answer for. Did he mind taxpayers' money being wasted to right the heinous wrongs of Northern Rock's executives? Most pathetically, the Daily Mail got together a convenient crowd of people, anyone ranging from bankers to Sarah Beeney, dressed up as "experts", to argue the point against the Government's measures. However, they didn't bother to interview a single family facing repossessions.

This is probably why the Telegraph chose to kick up such a fuss about the marginal detail of the stamp duty cut ('useless', 'insignificant', 'overoptimistic', "doomed to fail"), while it glossed over the bulk of the £1.1 rescue plan. If you read between the lines, it's an implicit admission that the rest of the package is a decent attempt.

However, Brown did himself no favours the way he buckled to the big energy corporations. Last week's talks to persuade 'the Big Six' to accept measures in favour of families struggling with rising bills were thwarted by the utility companies and the outcome tamely accepted by the Government. A "disgrace", according to Unite.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yahoo my arse

Has your Yahoo! account been deleted? Mine too, mate.

Boredom does very strange things to people. It makes you sign up to all sorts of weird forums and websites, and read all sorts of bizarre blogs (as you know by being here right now) and in my case, questions. I signed up to Yahoo! Answers a month ago, a site where, providing you have an email account with Yahoo!, you can register and ask or answer lots of stuff. Anyone can join, providing you are over 13 that is.

Once registered, the site is your oyster, with hundreds of thousands of questions for you to answer, organised into hundreds of subcategories (How to get your hamster to stop biting you? Check! How to burp a baby? Check! Where to buy X-brand of trainers? Of course!) or, if you fancy, you can ask your own question and wait eagerly (or maybe that's just sad old me) for the answers to flood in. Y!A also has incentives which appeal to the competitive kid in all of us by way of a points system. If your answer a question you get two points and if it's good enough and chosen as 'best' you get 10, and so on. The amount of points you accumulate dictates how much you can contribute to the site, and the more you have, the more you can do. It all makes for a rather addictive and occasionally hilarious way to waste time.

So, there I was, happily answering people's dilemmas, being careful to keep to the rather patronising site guidelines (no insulting people, quote your sources, don't chew with your mouth open) when I found myself automatically logged out, the happy 'ready to participate?' logo staring at me. I instinctively checked my email only to find a robo-mail from someone called Jack (Shit?) at Y!A Customer Care saying that my account had been suspended pending deletion and if I wanted, I could write to them defending myself.

Apart from the odd 'I don't think a pink dress would flatter your skintone, try a red' or 'Yes, I agree, Madonna really should give the weights a rest' comment, which were the most opinionated of all my answers (I don't think my answer to 'why do you love Shih-tzus?' would have offended anyone) nothing I posted was in breach of Y!A terms of use or guidelines.

So, write to them I did, on their rather self important 'appeal' page, stating the above and asking for a full account reinstatement, together with all 300 of my slaved-over points, not to mention my emails. I received an automated email back shortly afterwards, from a Veronica this time, saying, stubbornly, that they would not reinstate it and I was advised to familiarise myself with their rules before signing up again. I had my email account invalidated too, so I couldn't sign up with that address again, thus having to make a new one. It was hard for me not to imagine smug little Jack and Veronica sitting there with their tongues sticking out.

Beaten but not ready to give up just yet, I signed up again. A week into frantic question answering, and feeling good about my stash of points, the same thing happened. I got a duplicate email from another droid, (I didn't appeal this time, as I figured that there are many more fish in the sea) then the same account deletion notice. Thanks for using Yahoo, indeed. Given all this, and the time I wasted, I started a mission to find out why my account was scrapped and find people who have gone through the same thing. More is to come over the next week.

Have you had your precious collection of points incinerated and you don't know why? Did you wake up to find Veronica or Jack had paid you a visit? Let us know and we'll investigate.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

End of the pier

With Weston-super-Mare's Grand Pier and Fleetwood recently joining Brighton's West Pier in heaven, a significant piece of British history appears to be on the wane. When piers burn down... is an article on BBC online about the short, medium and long-term effects of a town centrepiece going up in flames.

Credit cringe

You can't escape the new buzzword. Everything, even berry picking, is about the credit crunch, along with 'economic woe', 'slump', 'crisis' and the rest.

"Beans are back in fashion as the credit crisis bites". "Baked beans sales have risen by 12% last year as the economy plumbs".
(The Telegraph, 3 Sep 2008)

"Economic woe equals Beanz Meanz Bargain"
(The Mirror, 3 Sep 2008)

"Put the bite on builders" - "Homing in on a crunch bargain"
(The Mirror, 3 Sep 2008)

"Hard-up owners putting down pets because can't afford vet bills"
(The Mirror, 4 Sep 2008)

"Credit Crunch cuisine"
(The Times, 2 Aug 2008)

"Run, rabbit, run" - "Our village is inundated with rabbits [...] At a time when grocery bills go higher each week we have a plentiful source of cheap fresh meat right on our doorstep - why do we not take advantage of it?"
(Letters, The Times, 2 Sep 2008)

"Credit crunch saver. Up to 70% off UK dental cost"
(advert, The Express, 4 Sep 2008)

"Carrot farmers beat the crunch"
(The Express, 4 Sep 2008)

"Is the credit squeeze making us buy cheap and sometimes cheerless frozen food?"
(The Guardian, 21 Aug 2008)

"Stay-at-home bank holiday as the credit crisis bites"
(The Telegraph, 21 Aug 2008)

"Credit crunch takes a bite out of people's health"
(The Telegraph, 7 Sep 2008)

"A bride has beaten the credit crunch by buying her dream wedding dress for just 5p on eBay"
(Daily Mail, 2 Sep 2008)

"Goals scores despite credit crunch"
(Daily Mail, 2 Sep 2008)

"Wildlife watchers are reporting a sharp decline in blackberry picking even though the current economic climate makes it the perfect time to plunder nature's store cupboard"
(Daily Mail, 2 Sep 2008)

"Darling, it's crunch time"
(The Sun, 4 Sep 2008)

"White goods such as fridges have been hit by the housing slowdown"
(The Sun, 4 Sep 2008)

Monday, September 08, 2008

The End of New Labour?

With Gordon Brown's government in apparently terminal decline, many are declaring the end of New Labour. But an electoral defeat would not necessarily be the end of New Labour.

For many people, New Labour is synonymous with Blair and Brown, when they have gone, so will have New Labour. For others, New Labour was always about the grab for power, or the creation of a 'broad church' which could appeal to both traditional Labour supporters and the middle-English middle classes deemed necessary for a Parliamentary majority. With the end of power, and the collapse of the fragile alliance between Labour and these non-traditional supporters, New Labour is seen to be at an end.
However, this underestimates the degree to which New Labour represents a coherent political approach, and overestimates the ability of opposition within the Labour party to push alternative policies. Broadly speaking, most of the Labour party either agrees with most of New Labour's premises, or hasn't got a coherent response to them upon which to base their own.

Basically, New Labour is convinced that society has irrevocably changed in the last few decades. Society has become more diverse and less class based. People are more individualistic and more sceptical about politicians and the state's ability and right to try to solve society's problems. These changes, combined with globalisation, which for for New Labour is an unstoppable force which seriously limits the options open to governments, mean that radically new policies are required.
New Labour sees itself as the only realistic social democratic response to all this.
It believes that social democratic ideals have been focused too long on out dated approaches such as nationalisation and high taxes. For New Labour, real social democracy must now focus on giving power and autonomy to individuals, if needed by forcing them to become autonomous if for some reason they are unwilling to take this on themselves.

Hence New Labour's emphasis on flexibility, educational attainment and training, and welfare reforms. New Labour is creating the new type of citizen who can thrive in these changed times, without relying further on the state, who will be given equal opportunity to succeed, or fail.
This is what New Labour's new social democratic equality is about, social mobility and meritocracy. Moreover, their polices genuinely reflect this, the only real gap being the lack of any, minimal, redistribution of wealth from the richest to the poorest that their equality of opportunity would imply.
Sure, some, like Tony Blair, appear more enthusiasitic about this than others, who see all this in terms of what they can no longer do. But most Labour MPs would broadly agree with the premises set out above, and as yet no significant opposition within the party sems to be offering any major alternative. The best on offer at the moment seems to be a position that argues for gradual leftward drift based on creating a case for some progressive taxation and fairly populist measures around, for example, affordable housing.

In all honesty, this is probably the best (or least worst) option at the moment, but there is no guarantee that anyone advocating this will get anywhere near power in the Labour party, nevermind have the courage to push this in the face of an offensive from the right-wing newspapers.
Barring a major surprise, New Labour will be around for some time yet.