Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gorbachev

The last surviving Soviet leader on the fall of the Berlin wall.

I've always thought one man who's yet to be given due credit for his role in shaping history is former Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev.

Despised by the nostalgics of communism and hastily dismissed by predatory free marketers who couldn't wait an extra five minutes, I still remember the incredible way Gorbachev was made to bow out.

As the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall approach, there's a growing number of articles analysing the end of the Cold war and its significance.

The most interesting so far is published in today's Guardian and it's a piece by Gorbachev himself: The Berlin wall had to fall, but today's world is no fairer.

"[While] we can celebrate the fact that the 20th century marked the end of totalitarian ideologies", he writes, "over the last few decades, the world has not become a fairer place: disparities between the rich and the poor either remained or increased, not only between the north and the developing south but also within developed countries themselves".

Friday, October 30, 2009

Payday today

What Johann Hari's 'celebrity evolution' and Tony Blair not becoming President of Europe have in common.

Forgive this blog if posts are a bit thin on the ground this weekend, but after a gruelling period, I'm finally going to be able to go shopping and help the world overcome the recession.

Here, however, are a number of articles that caught my eyes this morning for either getting on my nerves or spelling something interesting.

Johann Hari in the Independent is in toss-arguing mode today. Don't dismiss celebrity culture, he writes, with a long drawn out pseudo-history of evolutionary celebrity cults. So we learn that, apparently, Christian martyrs used to be followed by paparazzi and the Latin version of Heat was issuing scrolls and wax tablets bitching about the gladiators' skin blemish.

And you also learn that, in case you think Hari has hit a bum note with all of the above, you are (suprise surprise) guilty of - you guessed it!- snobbish superiority.

The Independent also sports a chronicle of the Manic Street Preachers' first US tour in ten years as penned by novelist John Niven. Compelling read, if you're a fan.

You'll be delighted to know that the much-talked about chances of war criminal Tony Blair becoming 'President of Europe' are hopefully sinking fast. It's the Guardian's main story today, but it's also prominent in the Daily Mail: 'Boney Blair's EU bid in crisis', is the headline.

In the event you needed any persuading that Blair snatching the post would be a terrible idea, just read what ConservativeHome wrote two days ago. Vote Blair for President! was their enthusiastic headline. "He is charismatic, visionary, has natural leadership and a gift for uniting", they penned. Read that bit again: "a gift for uniting". Like, presumably, George W Bush had one for swallowing pretzels.

The Times reports that legendary off-licence chain Threshers has gone into administration. It must be to do with all those green shoots, no doubt.

Neil Robertson on Liberal Conspiracy writes about the policy of 'inclusion' in schools- not miles away from the debate we had on this blog in the last two days and that was starting to turn nasty.

Harpymarx explains why the private sector cannot run the benefit system and Angrymob poses the excellent rhetorical question: What is worse than the tabloid press?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Aggression can pay

The debate on the crumbling of teachers' authority continues.

On Monday we wrote about the changes in dynamics inside state schools. It's swung from one excess to the other: from the days of corporal punishment to the relentless rise in violence from pupils.

Last week's two court cases involving teaching staff attempting to restrain aggressive pupils reminded society of the pariah status recently acquired by state schoolworkers.

Some commenters made the argument that pointing at this deteriorating situation is none other than "jumping on yet another populistic bandwagon", as the rate of teachers experiencing physical assaults is a mere "4,1%"- one in twenty-five.

But can you imagine if the same blase' approach was applied to any other area of public life? Walk around a museum and count the assistants. Imagine you found out that one in twenty-five was whacked in the face last year. Would you argue that it's not that bad and you should put it in a context, perhaps because "it never happened to me"?

And would you do the same with one in twenty-five bus drivers (experiencing, incidentally, the same assault rate as teachers'), nurses or firemen? "Populistic bandwagon" or totally unacceptable violence to be stamped out with no ifs and no buts- especially as it concerns our schools?

Just to give you a reference point, last year Derbyshire police recorded a rate of assaults on their staff of around 9%. Not that far off, are we? And consider that is the one job that most directly deals with violence- crimes, fights and assaults, the like.

Today Jenni Russell in the Guardian points out the dangers of this "inversion of power" in our state schools: "It serves no one", she adds "not the children who cannot learn in chaotic classes, or the teachers hamstrung by our anxieties. It is, ironically, a deep disservice to the disruptive pupils themselves, who discover that aggression can pay".

You can read Russell's full article here.

The Q Award for Best Second Song

The remarkable generosity of Britain's music magazine.

Like the Brit Awards, in the last few years the Q Awards have been multiplying exponentially. Look at the nice compact list they had when they first began in 1990. From Best Album to Merit Award, they were eight in total.

Take a look at the last few years, however, and the same awards have reproduced like fast-sprawling weeds, triffid-style, turning into a feast of thesaurus-inspired duplicates that you'll struggle to tell apart.

Unless, of course, you can tell the difference between Q Inspiration, Q Legend, Q Icon, Q Hero, Q Classic Songwriter, Q Innovation in Sound, Q Lifetime Achievement and Q Outstanding Contribution to Music.

At this rate, don't be surprised if you'll soon spot pictures of a wasted Amy Winehouse puking into the Q Award for Best Middle Eight in a Love Song or Best First Verse in Song Beginning With 'D'.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fear of change

It's within human nature to fear the loss of social stability or the pace of change. But when that turns on immigration, it resembles ugly chapters in history that we would be wise not to repeat.

I'm no big fan of David Aaronovitch, a man known for keeping a Tony Blair shrine in his living room. However, credit when due, his article in today's Times is the bravest I've read about immigration in a long time.

What if, basically, the growing obsession with immigration was simply another projection of our innate fear of change? Like Aaronovitch points out:
"It occurs to me, in all this, that net inward migration has again become the lightning conductor of people’s disgruntlement with change, with the ever more mobile and demanding world of the 21st century."
How many times, in fact, have you heard commentators and politicians alike backing their argument with the notion that "our towns have changed beyond recognition since immigration began"? And who could deny that they have? Our towns -and our lives- look a great deal different compared to forty or fifty years ago.

Except that there's a million interconnected reasons for that, and we happily take advantage of most of them everyday - large scale immigration included - without even registering that we wouldn't be able to live in the early 20th century politically while enjoying the economic benefits of the 21st century.

Take this, for instance. We moan that 800,000 Poles and Czechs came in since 2004. But you hardly ever hear Johnny Ex-Pat relinquishing his automatic rights, along with 750,000 other Brits, to live and (in many cases) build unlicensed villas in Spain.

But then some people would tell you that no, really, the problem is overcrowding -because Britain's only a small country. But would the Daily Mail and the BNP stop ranting about immigration if Britain woke up twice the size tomorrow? Because, come to think of it, racism and fear of the immigrant is also alive and kicking in countries which have more "space" than Britain and took their vast share of immigrants as well.

Look at France. It is huge compared to the UK but, last time I checked, Le Pen's Party was still around. Or Italy. Again, bigger than the UK, but run by a right-wing government making hay of the same subject. And would Nick Griffin turn to an American racist to tell him that he's making a mountain out of a molehill because, really, his country is so vast?
But then they'd probably tell you that the real crux of the problem lies in "social cohesion" and "community cohesion". Fine. That's a better point. But is cohesion really changing just because of people of non-white skin colour settling in our towns? Are we sure there aren't other, more significant, factors?

Let's take them at random. The rise of clonetown, for instance. Think of how much this has changed both our lives and our landscapes. Just consider the end of the relationship shopper/shopkeeper the way our grannies knew it. In the past, getting hold of your loaf of bread, vegetables and prescription drugs carried a whole set of interactions and mutuality in a way we can't even imagine when we drive to that big fuckoff Tesco the size of the Birmingham NEC.

Or perhaps, consider the end of jobs-for-life, permanent contracts and universal workers' rights? Are we sure that huge switch didn't have any impact on the way we act, interact, and fear for our future, loyalties and job allegiance?

Or look at the way we eat. Would our lazy selves be prepared to fork out a tenner for that microwaveable ready meal from Tesco or Sainsburys if the price to pay was less immigration? Because if you just think about it, the reason why it's currently so cheap is that it's probably made by desperate immigrants accepting crap working conditions in food-packaging plants.

And on the topic of food. Would you accept a sudden switchback to when Britain was completely devoid of foreign restaurants and takeaways? Because the thing is: those thousands and thousands of premises (that have made such a massive contribution to our quality of life) don't just function on the their own, you know. The people who work there aren't ghosts who do a count Dracula and return to their coffins when the shutters are down.

They are human beings, often with families and kids who may also have to go to school, use public services and, more generally, exist. Multiply them for all the take aways and non-British meals that you're quite happy to guzzle over the period of a month and you may see the picture.

Yet, fair enough. If going back to a mythical 'pre-change' Britain means all of the above, like blogger Emiliano writes here, "then we'd see if you could afford a flat-screen TV, a kettle or even a football shirt made by British workers".

The trouble with shouting hysterically at immigration is that it often becomes a slanging match where arguments get muddled in a sea of ideological point-scoring. Because, out of all the usual arguments churned out against migration, there is one that stands the most: integration. Except that it's one that is intrinsically linked with class.

Because you wouldn't dispute, or would you, that the least integrated migrant families are generally those who live in deprived rundown ghettoes such as Small Heath, Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook in Birmingham. And when entire estates are left to their own device, they do turn into separate unintegrated entities, irrespective of ethnicity or religion.

Which is where the argument should, ultimately, be centred around. Because fair enough it's within human nature to fear the loss of social stability or the pace and direction of our changing society. But if we don't redirect the debate towards more rational paths, as opposed to things like "Civic Britons", "Ethnic Britons" and the Ice Age, then the risk is that we may wake up in even more frightening times than those we're currently living in.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Barbarism begins at home

Violence against state school teachers continues to rise. Has our 'culture' really changed so radically?

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And that's the case with Boris Johnson and his article in today's Telegraph, "Teachers need the law on their side", where the current Mayor of London remarks that:
"Classrooms are often scenes of such anarchy that learning is impossible. Violence against teachers is continuing to rise, with physical assaults by children on adults up to 18,000 a year".
By strange coincidence, last night I finally got round to watching acclaimed French film The Class Entre Les Mures. When I did, the first thing that crossed my mind was: who on earth would want to be a state school teacher today?

The way things turned around within a generation is simply stunning. From the excesses of corporal punishment and anachronistic authority, state school teachers have now turned into pariahs: wholly powerless and deprived of dignity and respect.

And even if you ignored recent news stories, a simple glance at violence-related statistics would reveal the sheer scale of the problem.

And I wince as I type the words up, but Boris Johnson is absolutely spot-on when he writes that part of the blame lays directly on the parents.

Our 'culture', for want of a better word, has changed. State school teachers are no longer regarded the same way. Worse than the cane used to be mum and dad finding out the student had been punished, no matter what justification he'd stutter.

Now, on top of "not my son" and "my kid could do no wrong", many parents also look down on teachers and they're not afraid to show it. Which in turn rubs off on the students. Schoolworkers' wages are nothing to write home about and -in the era of celebrity oracles, short attention spans and instant gratification- those pedantic 'losers' are hardly going to look like models to aspire to.

It may sound terribly defeatist, but culture and knowledge are not in fashion today.

At best, this is the era of the self-made young entrepreneurs, asset prices and high flyers. At worst, it's the rule of endemic celebrity obsession where anyone can get their faces (or knockers) known to the wider public through the media circus of big brothers and who bullies the loudest.

Either way, using grey stuff in the old-fashioned way appears to be definitely passe'.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nationwide support for Postal Workers

Public support for the CWU strike.

You saw the headlines of despair last week. Those Christmas cards allegedly gathering dust in depots because of the nasty costly ugly suicidal striking postmen.

Well, the public turned out more understanding and sympathetic than the press would have you believe.

A ComRes poll commissioned for BBC Newsnight revealed on Thursday that 50% of those surveyed sympathised with the postal workers as opposed to 25% backing the Royal Mail management in the dispute.

More, "the vast majority of people do not think the Royal Mail should be privatised (68%)". Details of the survey to be found here (pdf).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spot the difference

Preposterous, left-wing, trashy, crass, circus, partial, multi-cultural. The Daily Mail lashes out at Question Time.

The Daily Mail's support of BNP policies is descending into parody. Sod subtle machinations, spotting their strategy is as easy as piss.

Step 1. Littlejohn, Glover, Philips or Platell write entire tirades about the immigrants swamping the country, "ZaNu Labour" inflicting social engineering upon Britain, the nasty Muslims, the welfare state and all the rest.

Step 2. As suspicions of inflammatory content begin to surface, any of the above mentioned opinionators writes a token word or two against "the racist BNP"- better if garnished with adjectives such as vile, ogre and odious. Because: how can you say that the Daily Mail is racist when they've just badmouthed the BNP?

Step 3. See Step 1, only more virulent, with three quarters of the paper's content resembling Nick Griffin's shopping list.

Look no further than today's paper for evidence. While the entire country saluted the way Question Time exposed the fascists' appalling ideas, Nick Griffin complained that:
  • the BBC is "hard left";
  • Question Time was "a lynch mob";
  • The programme should have been filmed elsewhere as London is "not my country anymore" and [the audience was] "dominated by ethnic minorities".
Now look at how the Daily Mail are reviewing the subject today (presenting it to a readership of 3.1 million people). The similarities with Griffin's language are simply striking.
  • the BBC "is utterly in thrall to the left-wing agenda of the majority of its staff";
  • "Question Time became a public lynching"
  • the "multicultural" audience "bore little resemblance to the [...]average community";

Friday, October 23, 2009

On Nick Griffin

For a moment there I expected to see the Sun with a headline "Even we aren't so ridiculous". By Antonis.

I think the fact that the whole of Britain got to see what the views of Nick Griffin really are, as opposed to everyone commenting on them, was a good thing.

When I went to my newsagent, I have to admit that I was sort of surprised to see the tabloid headlines denouncing Griffin: "A disgrace to Humanity", "nutter" etc. For a moment there I expected to see the Sun having the headline "Even we aren't so ridiculous".

The problem though is that yesterday night ushered a new era for Nick Griffin, one where he is denounced as the racist, homophobe fascist who can't even articulate his views consistently, yet all the other parties can conveniently point the finger to the man who, in most cases, is only arguing for the logical conclusion of many of their contradictory official policies and views.

Ironically, it is easy to limit the debate to the fact that Nick Griffin is a racist, yet no-one engages into the very substance of issues like the latent xenophobia and inefficiency of government immigration policy. The tabloids found a scapegoat, but, as always, the substance of the issue is completely lost.

What really happened on Question Time

The whole country has been talking about Nick Griffin on QT, but very few know what happened behind the scenes. This is what the BBC didn't want you to see. Hats off to cassetteboy.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

The BNP has the tabloids to thank

No other political party can say they enjoy the privilege of having at least three dailies echoing their policies.

As the most talked about Question Time ever is about to be broadcast, articles and blogs discussing the BNP are reaching fever pitch.

If Nick Griffin is currently walking around with a grin, he's got a long list of benefactors to thank. New Labour, for instance, for their systematic sticking two fingers up at the lower classes, successfully completing the race to the bottom in employment relations that was started by their predecessors.

Which leads us to the Tories, lest we forget, with an inglorious history lined with characters like Enoch Powell or Maggie Thatcher. In case you didn't know she publicly came up with words like "swamped by an alien culture" and was a staunch supporter of racist South Africa.

But for this blog, like we've repeated ad nauseam, it is no coincidence that the BNP's success is peaking at the time of the most intense tabloid bombardment on immigration.

Like, AngryMob writes here, "support for the BNP is the inevitable result of concerted tabloid lies about Muslims and immigrants in general".

For the past ten years, not a single day has gone by without the Daily Mail, the Express, the Daily Star, the Sun or all of them, pummelling in half-baked myths or outright lies about ethnic minorities.

Their "stories" have escalated exponentially in both frequency and virulence -and it doesn't matter that their top columnists occasionally drop a token remark or two about how "nasty" the BNP may be. Two paragraphs down the line they'll be reading straight from Nick Griffin's hymn sheet (literally, in some cases).

Remember that the above mentioned tabloids total a circulation of up to 6 million copies. Think of millions of Britons flicking through massive headlines carrying paranoid/horror stories about the immigrants- mostly without verifying the content.

No other political party, not even the Tories with the Telegraph or Labour with the Mirror, can say they enjoy the privilege of having at least three dailies reverberating their policies so blatantly. So sod your victim-posturing, Nick Griffin, you're talking shite again.

Also: "10 things you should know about the BNP when you watch Question Time tonight".

Stand up for the postal strikers

Did you know that Royal Mail's chief executive takes home £3m a year- 166 times the salary of an average postal worker?

I wasn't sure whether the two-day strike announced by postal workers would be a good idea. I wasn't sure because a) I knew nothing about the details and b) at least nine news reports out of ten that I'd spotted or overheard fed a negative angle - mainly related to Christmas cards piling up.

It's very easy to be against a strike. Most are disruptive, inconvenient, dramatic - a pain in the arse, basically. But many people don't even bother to find out why walkouts are called. It doesn't involve Number One, does it? Reading about strikes is not a 30-second job either, it's taxing and, most likely, depressing.

Because if people bothered to find out, they'd simply register that the same may happen to themselves and their own job. Mounting pressure from bosses, unrealistic targets, pushy requests for overtime, subtle and not-so-subtle bullying practices, and so on, over a long period, until you've had enough.

All of the above justified by glaze-eyed soundbites and formulas that no-one quite fully understands: modernisation is one of them, and the other is "figures are down".

But if we always just think of Number One, who's going to stand up for us when it's our job that is put on the line?

When I finally had the opportunity to read about the Royal Mail dispute, it dawned on me that, most people -including myself- don't have the slightest clue of how postal workers are organised, and yet they pontificate. This excellent article, written by a postman, opened my eyes.

Very articulate, and very easy to read, it explains exactly what's going on in their offices: the myths about the dearth of 'traditional' mail; the understaffed sorting centres; the rising volume of work; the effects of today's part-privatisation (whereby Royal Mail does the work and private mail companies take the profit); the increased use of part-timers on 'flexible' contracts being used to undercut staff; the obsession with corporate customers.

Though I wasn't at all surprised, I also found out that bosses at the Royal Mail earn obscene amounts of money. I expected a lot, but not as much. Adam Crozier, the chief executive, takes home £3m a year, 166 times the salary of an average postal worker. It is estimated that his money alone could save at least 167 post offices around Britain. Just to give you a perspective, last year, total profits at Royal Mail tallied £321m. Staff got a pay freeze this year and managers got massive bonuses worth thousands of pounds.

And I thought, how can we -the public- become desensitised to such humongous salaries at the top while the same companies talk of redundancies and modernisation? Surely not giving out billions just like that should become the priority, right? Surely we can understand why postal workers have had enough?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Casual, dynamic and crap: a tale of modern employment

Other countries are finally talking about it. Some have started to grasp that, especially in a recession, job insecurity is a liability and not an asset.

Tim started a job. An ordinary job like many others. Nothing fancy, some kind of admin position that pays about a grand a month, maybe a little less. He was told he'd start as a casual, today's best way "to get a foot in the door", while enjoying the benefits of a dynamic, modernised and flexible market.

It soon dawned on Tim that his working conditions weren't the same as his "permanent" colleagues. For instance, with no sick pay for casuals like him, that nasty ear infection that had him bed-ridden for a few days meant less money at the end of the month. Dynamism, basically.

Not only that. Being off sick again carried the modernised risk of his employers no longer calling him. Like it happened to that gangly bloke across the office floor. He missed a few too many days and they simply told him to get his coat. They can do that. There is no contractual obligation, nor are there any notice rights.

Of course, when they asked Tim to work ten days in a row, it was within his rights to say no but, again, he may have done so at his peril. When it comes down to it, who are his managers going to pick: the chap who's just doing his regular hours or the billy-no-mates with no life who's saying yes to each and every overtime request?

Tim remained a casual for 15 months. Fifteen months of dynamic, modernised insecurity playing on his mind, knowing that he was disposable at any moment.

And yet he was doing exactly the same job as those colleagues on a permanent contract. There was no 'casuality' in his job. It was no short-term stop-gap, no fixed-term project or maternity leave cover.

Being a 'casual' meant that his pay started basic and remained basic, that he was cheaper to hire, that he was sackable on a whim and enjoyed no sickpay entitlement, no holiday rights, no pension rights and no redundancy rights whatsoever. As older colleagues left or retired, they were gradually being replaced one by one by dynamic staff like Tim.

And this is what's happening all the time - and increasingly so. The calls for flexibility and modernisation of the labour market turned into a device to push down wages, erode rights and transfer 100 per cent of risks on the (casual) employee.

As previous recessions had been partly blamed on too much employment regulation, the dogma became that "employment-flexibility-will-benefit-society".

Sure, some benefited no doubt. Cutting costs on employment meant more profits and bonuses at the top. On the other side, however, vasts numbers of people remain precarious for years, unable to afford things and relying on credit for the most basic stuff. Chances are labour market flexibility and dynamism became some of the factors contributing to the country's widening income gap.

It's also interesting that the biggest recession in 60 years has taken place within the framework of the most flexible employment system since the 1930s - meaning that an unregulated labour market is no guarantee of business stability whatsoever. Not only that. In a downturn, think of the social impact of having millions of people losing their job with the shock absorber of a redundancy package as opposed to walking home completely empty-handed.

This is why other countries have finally started to grasp that, especially in a recession, job insecurity is a liability and not an asset. In Spain, the government and unions both publicly slammed CEOE, the CBI's Spanish equivalent, for using the recession as an excuse for more flexibility. "What we need is an entrepreneurial reform", said union leader Candido Méndez, adding that a culture of low salaries, cheaper redundancies and low investment "is not the solution".

Most surprisingly, similar words were uttered in Italy by conservative Chancellor Giulio Tremonti. Two days ago, he called for "an end to [labour] casualisation", adding that "permanent jobs should be the foundations of social stability". Mr Tremonti went further: "In the US, your pension funds depend upon Wall Street and, if the tide turns, you end up eating kitkats [living] in trailers and [will have to] deprive your children of an education".

In the UK, however, that's a non-debater. The one attempt to introduce guarantees for 'agency workers' after 12 weeks on a given job went up in smoke last week and, for all the renewed Tory talks of "social stability" and community cohesion (and with people like Iain Duncan Smith allegedly singling out patterns of "family breakdown"), the notion of reforming the labour market towards more job security is not even remotely on the agenda.

And yet, with more and more people either starting a family on shaky financial grounds or being put off altogether, increased employment protection would certainly help to revert the trend.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

British Airways distributes Daily Mail for free

A petition shows them why that's wrong for business.

Did you know about it? I didn't until five minutes ago. Every day British Airways, the UK national carrier, the one carrying the British flag, the one that is "apparently the world's favourite airline", gives out complimentary copies of the Daily Mail.

The good news is that a new petition has been set up. It's called "BA to Stop Offering Daily Mail on Its Flights" and it's based on the simple truth that such an inflammatory paper, so intensely devoted to bullying, racial/religious tension as well as homophobic abuse would look like a seriously bad insight into the British way of life.

"Please, reconsider your partnership and close association with this insensitive publication, and we ask that you stop offering free copies of the Daily Mail to us, your customers, on your flights", says the petition. If you agree, then please click on this link.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Labour betraying agency workers

The government turns its back on the Agency Workers' Directive.

With last week's Tory conference was peppered with proposals coming straight from the Thatcherite book, Labour was handed a slight chance to make up some lost ground. Instead, they've just scored another massive electoral own goal.

This weekend, in fact, to the cheers from the CBI and other employers' organisations, Labour announced they're backtracking on their promises to finally adopt the European Working Directive, a set of measures aimed at protecting the most vulnerable workers in Britain while, at the same time, preventing full-time staff being undercut by cheap agency recruits.

The government has now said that the Agency Workers Directive will not be implemented until October 2011, meaning that it will be left to the whim of the next Tory government - meaning, in turn, that it will probably be scrapped.

Aimed at 1.3 million agency workers in Britain, the Directive intended to introduce equal treatment on basic pay, redundancy rights, breaks, maternity, holiday entitlements and time off. This would have covered agency workers after 12 weeks on a given jobs -ending the current discrimination between casual and 'direct' workers.

More and more firms are in fact gradually replacing permanent staff with agency workers, as the latter are automatically on the back foot: cheaper to hire and instantly sackable, with no redundancy rights and not even the right to a written statement of their contract. A recent study by the TUC confirmed what everybody already knew: that "temps" are by far the worst treated workers in the country.

It was a chance to mark a clear difference between those who support tax cuts for millionaire heirs and those who defend the most exploited, precarious and vulnerable workers in the country. Labour missed it.

RBS bonus bonanza- we're in this together

70 per cent of their £4bn bonuses will be paid for by the taxpayer.

You may have overheard that banks are about to report record bonuses.

Royal Bank of Scotland, the same people who sacked 15,000 staff worldwide last year, are set to hand £4bn in bonuses- mainly to its investment banking arm.

According to the Independent on Sunday, "[t]he lavish awards for 2009 outstrip even those given in 2007 before the recession, and make a mockery of ministers' promises to clamp down on bankers' bonuses".

Remember that, following last year's bail-out, 70% of RBS is owned by the taxpayer. That means that the taxpayer will foot the bill for 70% (£2.8bn) of those bonuses.

Two weeks ago, at the Conservative Party conference, George Osborne showed us where his priorities are as he reminded us that "we're-all-in-this-together", unveiling his urgent plans to reform incapacity benefits that would save "more than £1bn over the next Parliament".

This is while 65,000 homes will have been repossessed by the end of 2009, and while tens of thousands of people are seeing their final salary pension schemes slashed and mangled because of City investments going tits up.

At RBS they're all-in-this-together alright.

[Picture courtesy of Neil at Beau Bo D'Or]

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jan Moir in the Daily Mail: sickening homophobia

We said it last week: anti-gay propaganda is back at the top of the Mail agenda.

Since Stephen Gately's death last week, the Daily Mail has been desperately trying to dig up some dirt.

In spite of official confirmations that the Boyzone star died of natural causes, the Mail has decided that the unfortunate death of an innocent 33-year-old man is fair game (see, for instance, Paul Scott's unashamed hatchet job the day after Gately's death).

The lowest point was hit today by Jan Moir with her article "Why there was nothing natural about Stephen Gately's death" [UPDATE: 2pm- the headline's now been switched into something more tame], where this overpaid food obsessive uses a personal tragedy to lash out at civil partnerships and sexual minorities. Look at this bit here (our emphasis):

"Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships. Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now
the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened. It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death.

As a gay rights champion, I am sure he would want to set an example to
any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine. For once again, under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see".


How do you call that? This venomous vulture takes two tragic cases: a young man who died in his sleep and another who hanged himself, to give off the most homophobic shit ever written in about a decade. What on earth has their sexuality got to do with their "hedonistic lifestyle", let alone their death?

How obnoxious would it be if, the day after Jan Moir finally pops her clogs, opinion columnists start pontificating about "the dangerous lifestyle" of eating too much and earning too much money for writing shit articles in tabloids?

Is Jan Moir really that dense not to register that scores of heterosexual celebrities engage in the same "hedonistic lifestyle" she stupidly assumes Stephen Gately and Kevin McGee were leading?

And yet she should know better. Half of what her newspaper is about is that sort of sordid stuff. The Kerry Katonas and the Jordans, the Amy Winehouses and the Russell Brands, the Ashley Coles and the Steve Joneses...Or how about the list of heterosexual celebs who killed themselves? What stuff are you on, Jan Moir, to be capable of writing such a low, vile, judgemental little story in the wake of not one, but two personal tragedies?

How can such levels of intolerance be printed on one of Britain's most popular brands of arse paper a mere two days after the news of yet another homophobic murder in London?

Is there a limit to the shameful, distasteful, hate-soaked drivel the Daily Mail can put into print?

Also on the subject. The Daily Quail: "Do you know any straight people under the age of 50 who are dead? I don't";
Not so wunderbar: "Why There Is Nothing Natural About Jan Moir's Weird Face".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Letter to a film student

Why does every programme have to be a constant swirl of epilepsy-inducing flashes, pop-ups and fast lights?

By Claude Carpentieri

Dear film student,

You don't know me, I don't know you, but I thought I'd write this after watching BBC Panorama -Why Hate Ryanair, the controversial half hour investigation into the airline run by millionaire Michael O'Leary.

This is not about our worthless opinion on the so-called 'no frills carrier'. Instead, I'm here to tell you about the way Panorama was filmed, which is in line with most contemporary UK programmes. I'm talking about that erratic camera, the one you hold, the one that appears incapable of sitting still for any longer than literally one second.

So this is the thing. Do they teach you that at university? Is it a new trend? Do they tell you that to be 'cool', it has to be mega-fast at all times, no matter what the programme's about? Is it to do with attention spans? What is it?

Why does every programme have to be a constant swirl of epilepsy-inducing flashes, pop-ups and fast lights? What's the deal with all those fast-forwarded bits and pieces, bursting and gleaming like the most neurotic Aphex Twin stuff?

Is it now mandatory to have every bit clipped to the extreme, textbook ADHD, jittery as a rollercoaster, as if the cameraman had swallowed an entire jar of speed and then proceeded to film from the side of a Ferrari at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix? Who decided that? Why on earth? Why? It's not cool, it's confusing, it's annoying, it gives you epilepsy, it drives you insane!

Not to mention the music. You and I will be fucked if there is any longer than 10 seconds without some music in the background. Except that it's not even in the background. It's in the foreground, because more often than not it's louder than the narrator's voice. And it's got absolutely FA to do with the content of the programme. Like, what's Radiohead got to do with Ryanair?

So here's my plea, dear film students. Don't listen to your lecturers. Ignore whatever it is that they're telling you. Please stop it now. I can't take it anymore. Every single British programme or film is now being shot in the style of a 3-minute happy hardcore video.

The world went a good fifty years with cameras being held steady, nice and horizontal for longer than a second. Memorable films, programmes and documentaries were made. I'm not saying that everything should look like the Queen's Christmas message. You can still experiment, like many directors and filmmakers did for decades (adding their own personal touch and so on) without turning everything into a televisual equivalent of a panic attack in a nightclub.

But this? What's all this? You can't watch anything anymore, whether it's Antiques Roadshow or the Xtra Factor, without getting sweaty palms as you start to believe the world is like a permanent Hurricane Katrina.

In the hope that you'll excuse my rant, I wish you a happy day.

Hagley Road to Ladywood.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The cretinisation of "we're all in this together"

Today's two must-read articles.

Hooray! We're not alone! There are other people out there who regard today's celebrity obsession as sick, degrading, as well as a waste of time and energy (and dull as shit too, if we may).

In a piece titled Stop the sick, degrading culture of celebrity, Raymond Tallis in the Times argues:

The celebrity culture is a black hole sucking up light. It is not only a manifestation of the cretinisation or tabloidisation of our culture but further cretinises it. Celebrity culture spreads like a stain. It engulfs even those whose fame is rooted in real achievement or real responsibility. As the empty are valued, so the valuable are emptied.

All very true. Shame, however, that Tallis forgot to mention that the Sun - proudly owned by the same people who run the Times- is amongst the brashest perpetrators of said culture. That would have earned him a ten out of ten. Though chances are it'd have been discreetly edited out.

Another top article today is Mark Steel's in the Independent. When I watched BBC Question Time last week, I saw George Osborne pontificating that "we're all in this together" and that everybody should be expected to make sacrifices to beat the recession.

This is what Mark Steel is disputing. "We're all in this together, except when times are good", he writes, adding that "While the banks were making billions, very few politicians were screaming 'For God's sake you idiots, share all those bonuses out. Can't you see we're all in this together'".

No, we couldn't. Because we were all too busy dissecting Kerry Katona's 14th boob job and Amy Winehouse's armpits.

Which takes us back to the point about the tabloidisation or cretinisation of our culture: amongst the main reasons why the twisted rules of modern economics go unchecked.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The NME joins in with the bullies

Losing the battle with its pathetic fall in circulation, the weekly music mag is desperately seeking attention.

It's been at least ten years since I last bought the NME. A combination of being unfamiliar with at least half of the bands they're on about and a 'journalistic style' increasingly consisting of "cheers mate, got pissed last night ha ha" interviews was enough to put me off.

And by the look of it I wasn't alone, given that the NME's freefalling circulation has reached epic proportions.

So, what better way then, to take a leaf out of everyone's book and join in with the bullies? At the end of the day, they must have thought at the NME, everyone does it. From tabloids to senior BBC journalists, from desperate bloggers to "TV personalities" and celebrity mags - playground bullying is now officially topping the attention seeker's tricks of the trade.

Which is why the ailing music magazine treated its few readers with a photo gallery titled 'Popstars now and then'. Far from being an innocent look at what old popstars are up to these days (which would have made perfect sense), the feature consists instead of pointing at people in the playground, shouting a string of nasty remarks and laughing out loud and "get a sense of humour, will ya?"

But that aside, what's alarmingly dumb is that no-one at the NME had enough grey stuff to grasp the bleeding obvious: the fact that nobody looks younger and less wrinkly than 25 or 30 years before. And even if they did, say, with the aid of a nip and tuck, wouldn't they get pilloried nonetheless?

Are the cool kids at the NME going to have a head full of hair in 2039? Will they look leaner and fitter and cellulite-free? Didn't think so either. Nevertheless, the desperate sods manage to assemble a sneering collection of trite "look how fat he got", "time has taken its toll", "slaphead", "weathered", "two generations older than she is", "haggard-looking" and so on.

So here's our suggestion for a better "feature". How about "the NME now and then?", to be printed on the front page - parading the figures from the 80s and 90s averaging 250,000 placed right next to today's pathetic 50,000 (or less, actually) - down a ludicrous 24,3% on the previous year.

Now that would be fun. They could even recycle the same captions. "Time has taken its toll", "weathered" and "haggard-looking". It'd be the perfect description of today's NME.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Britain a bad place", says the Daily Mail

The country's most neurotic rag slams Britain for adopting policies regularly championed by the Mail itself.

Today, Britain's worst tabloid features a textbook display of dailymailism. We're on about Laura Clark's piece titled Britain is the worst place to live in Europe (despite our big pay packets), which shamelessly rehashes a study by uSwitch published -seriously- in July 2008.

First off, this stuff is vintage Daily Mail because it bases an entire point on "reports" or "studies" originating from the age when Paul Dacre's head was still full of hair. Don't be surprised if you soon spot a Mail piece that goes: "We're shunning radio for telly, a study from 1978 reveals".

Secondly, it's fantastic to see the country's most neurotic rag twistedly slamming Britain for the same policies that are regularly championed by the Mail itself.

For instance. Apparently, Britain's a bad place to live because it's got long working hours and not enough holidays. But the Daily Mail has always called in favour of opting out of the European Working Time Directive, echoing the CBI's fears that it "would have a 'significant or severe' impact on business". Not to mention the numerous Daily Mail lectures about "lazy Britons".

Similarly, the Mail now says Britain is bad because less cash is spent on both health and education. But, aside from the daily bombardment of "stories" about the expensive NHS, whenever the government announces extra spending on public services, you get the Barmy Army of Littlejohn, Phillips and friends ranting that ZaNu Labour is wasting taxpayers' money on 'Nanny State'.

Retirement age. Apparently Britain has the third highest retirement age. But guess who applauded George Osborne last week for making the "tough call" to "extend our working lives by a year?".

But this is also "vintage Daily Mail" right from the headline. "Despite our big pay packets", it reads. Speak for yourself, Laura Clark. She keeps going on about high incomes in the UK but little does she say about the huge (and increasing) wage differentials between rich and poor and also between different parts of the UK.

Finally, the uSwitch study reveals that "41,026 Brits fled [the] UK in 2006, the highest number in Europe", but that's the one thing Laura Clark's piece does not mention. Perhaps because it sits at odds with the Mail's relentless bombardment about immigration.

And even for such a ridiculous paper, that would be one contradiction too many.

***UPDATE*** 13 Oct 2009
Sure enough, Richard Littlejohn's preying on the carcass already. "Britain is the worst place to live in Europe, according to a new survey [our emphasis]", he writes in today's Mail.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Obama speaks out on LGBT rights

I never thought that, in my lifetime, I'd hear a major head of state spell out their support for LGBT rights so unequivocally.

In recent weeks, there's been a surge in the number of articles slamming Barack Obama for his allegedly disappointing record on progressive causes. Only a few days ago, Mehdi Hasan wrote in the New Statesman that:

"The distance between Obama and Bush on a host of policies is not as great as many people might hope or have expected - and it appears to get narrower by the day. [...] It was inevitable that even the slightest sense of continuity in policy, personnel or practice would disappoint, as it has. Obama, however, has gone further, adopting his predecessor's positions on a wide variety of issues, from the parochially domestic to the grandly geopolitical".

Although such attacks fit in comfortably with the Left's long history of sado-masochism, they're also remarkably ingenerous.

When Obama spoke last night at the Human Rights Campaign he reminded us of the abyss between his administration and his predecessor's.

Remember that only four years ago, George W Bush was publicly stating that "marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society". He defined marriage as a "sacred institution between a man and a woman", advocated a federal ban on gay marriage and went as far as comparing "unethical politicians" with same-sex marriage supporters.

His predecessor Bill Clinton did not fair well either. In a country where opposition to LGBT rights is a clear vote-winner, he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which legally defines marriage as a legal union exclusively between one man and one woman.

Now, compare all of the above with last June when - fresh from election - Obama paid tribute to the Stonewall resistance movement of 1969 and called upon "the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity".

Compare Bush's rhetoric and actions with last week's vote in the House of Representatives, where the Democrats passed a law that expands the definition of hate crimes to include those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation.

Compare it to Obama's pledge last night that he will repeal the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy (another Clintonite gem) that prevents gay people in the military from revealing their sexual orientation. "That is my commitment to you", Obama said, while also calling on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and to introduce a law that would extend benefits to domestic partners.

"I'm here with a simple message: I'm here with you in that fight", the President said, adding: "My expectation is that when you look back on these years you will look back and see a time when we put a stop against discrimination ... whether in the office or the battlefield."

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Salmonese called it "a historic night" and he's right. I never thought that in my lifetime I'd hear any major head of state - let alone a US president - spell out their support for LGBT rights so clearly and unequivocally.

Friday, October 09, 2009

How one in three people in the world are Christian and 42m are in Britain

The Global Spread of Christianity.

The Muslim-obsessed Daily Mail is currently making a big deal out of a recent report claiming that "almost one in four people in the world are Muslim".

"The project", the article continues, "presents a portrait of the Muslim world that might surprise some. For example, Germany has more Muslims than Lebanon".

Accompanying the "revelation", Paul Dacre's paper is also sporting a picture of a group of ladies wearing black niqabs, the equivalent of sticking a picture of an Orthodox monk onto an article about "Christianity".

The article, by MAIL FOREIGN SERVICE, continues with the news that 1,647,000 Muslims currently live in Britain, and carries captions such as "THE GLOBAL SPREAD OF ISLAM"- its only purpose being, presumably, to nicely complement the BNP's repeated bombardment about "the Islamic demographic time bomb".

But because we care about our Daily Mail readers' stunted access to information, we thought we'd provide the goods and shed some light on the number of Christians worldwide.

Apparently, 33 per cent of the world's population is Christian. Over 42m adherents live in Britain, which amounts to 71,6 per cent of the UK population.

Figures also present a picure of Christianity that may surprise some. For instance, there are more Christians in India or Pakistan than there are in the Vatican or even in Ireland! You couldn't make it up!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Macho Italiano

Fresh from his sex-scandals, Silvio Berlusconi insults a middle-aged female MP live on TV.

Enough has been written about the unexpected display of mettle from Italy's Constitutional Court as they overruled Emperor Berlusconi's most controversial immunity law.

If you feel unfamiliar with the subject, we're on about the first thing that the pervy multi-millionaire Italian Prime Minister did the moment he was voted in. In essence, an immunity law that exempts the country's top four office holders from prosecution.

This has now been declared unconstitutional as it breaches the principle that all citizens are equal before the law.

Nonetheless, not used to being contradicted, Berlusconi has reacted by literally lashing out like a rabid dog who had his bone snatched from right under his nose.

Not content with his reputation as a slimy Lothario suffering from incurable sex-addiction (his own lawyer defined him as "the end user" of a prostitution racket), and borderline tourettes (he called Barack Obama "tanned"), today the 73-year-old right-winger grabbed a few headlines with some spectacularly misogynist comments.

Attacking
Rosy Bindi, a 60-year-old female MP who was guilty of disagreeing with him on TV, Berlusconi slammed: "I've always thought you are more beautiful than intelligent". He was later joined by one of his coalition's most far-right (and senior) ministers, Roberto Castelli, who called Ms Bindi "a petulant spinster" live on state television.

Pure Macho Italiano-style, a mindset where the woman is either:
a) a tarty barelegged ornament in a mini-dress whose only duty is to spice up the night or cook;
or:
b) an old hag - in the event she dares to contradict the patriarch.

Which makes me terribly ashamed of carrying Italian blood in my body.

Vintage homophobia in the Mail

Always needing someone to pick on, the bullies at the Daily Mail are now busy with a series of homophobic remarks.

"One gay man, two lesbians, a three-legged cat and a poisoned curry plot".

It's one of today's headlines in the Daily Mail, in which an ongoing feud between neighbours is explained using the protagonists' sexuality as the central issue. Instead, needless to day, it is totally irrelevant.

Imagine if any of the hundreds of neighbours' tiffs taking place each day up and down the country was reported with a headline like: "One hetero man with a preference for blow jobs, a man and a woman who use plenty of lubricant, a three-legged dog and a poisoned fried Matzo". You'd think our Daily Mail Reporter was on dodgy ketamine.

Which it may as well be the case, given that Jaya Narain, author of the piece, spends half of her time penning articles about adults caught having affairs with schoolboys. That, and working for the Daily Mail, surely must take its toll.

Interesting, also, how the headlines sandwiches the word "curry" between "poisoned" and "plot". Had that not been the Daily Mail, any suspicion of foul play would be unfounded. But as we're talking about the country's most poisonous rag, then everything is possible.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The world according to the Tories

Britain's "broken"? Blame public workers and incapacity benefits!

So there we have it. If you thought Britain's current woes were in any way related to bankers running amok, to the ever-growing wage differentials, to the masses' sinking purchasing power, or even to the billions wasted on headline grabbers like Trident, or lost through tax evasion - if you ever considered any of those, then you were wrong.

It turns out, the Tories tell us, that Britain is a "broken" country because:


b) some public sector workers earn over £18K a year;

c) public sector pensions should be capped.

These, the "reformed" Conservatives are repeating, are the most compelling, serious and urgent problems facing Britain. These and little else. Alright, maybe hoodies too, like Chris Grayling would be keen to remind you, but if both public workers and incapacity benefit claimants are tackled head-on and bashed (better if with some Daily Mail-pleasing hoopla), Britain will finally get working.

Except that we've heard it all before and what a shame no-one's reminding the good old Tories (and Labour too) that it's about time they start cracking their knuckles over something more factual.

Even the most acute observer may have lost count of the amount of times the government, - egged on by the right-wing press - unveiled a blustering crackdown on incapacity benefits and public sector workers. Remember Labour's cuts in 1999 and 2002, the "overhaul" of 2006 and the fanfare of James Purnell's reforms a few months ago?

Either none of this ever worked, or it is simply time to call time on the bogeyman.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

David Cameron's nothing

Who on earth still buys the fairy tale that the PM-in waiting is a good communicator?

The nation's disgust with 'the Westminster class' has been smouldering for months. People say they've had enough of incomprehensible politicians who are incapable of coming up with a straight answer. The Tony Blairs, the Harriet Harmans, the Hazel Blears. For years they'd wriggle out of simple questions by getting the viewer and the interviewer drunk with bamboozling displays of verbal diarrohea.

Change, then. Isn't it what they want? Isn't 'the common man', the average Sun-reader, just gagging for change?

Sure. Yesterday, Prime Minister-to-be David Cameron was handed a platform and a half to illustrate his "vision for change".

One was offered by his new mates and supporters at the News of the World. In an article for the Sun's sister paper, the Tory leader spelt out the word "change" five times, no less. And yet, he managed to say very little. Plenty of hollow statements like this:

"Our plan is for the biggest shake-up in welfare for 60 years. It includes giving the long-term unemployed the personalised support they need to get back into work".

But those exact same words could have been said by any senior New Labour minister in the last 13 years. In fact they have been said, in exactly the same way, for the past 13 years.

And then there was Andrew Marr's interview on the BBC. If you watched, you may have noticed how vague each and everyone of Cameron's statements was.

He said absolutely nothing. He dodged questions about his wealth. He ducked stuff on financial regulation and public cuts, unemployment and public debt. He also said nothing factual on Europe. Even Nick Robinson, generally quite soft on the Tories, wrote:

"So what does the self proclaimed "straight talking" guy say about one of the biggest foreign policy dilemma he's likely to face if he becomes prime minister? Nothing. Nowt. Nix. Zippo. Zilch."

For all the myth that Britain's PM-in waiting is a charismatic fella and a good communicator, David Cameron is actually an abysmal one. For all the ritual talks of 'change', the country is in the process of replacing one elitist lot with another that talk and act in exactly the same way.

If that's the best the opposition can come up with after a decade and a half in the wilderness (and with a government in tatters), then this country is seriously doomed.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Cervical cancer jab

"I've pointed out that any concerned parents searching Google for information on the cervical cancer jab (in the tragic wake of a schoolgirl's death) see a mass of negative and inaccurate information linking the girl's death to the vaccine.

It turns out she died of an unrelated tumour [read what really happened here- ed]. But Google's results will give parents second thoughts about letting their daughters be vaccinated, even though the injection will save 00s of lives a year".

If you're looking for information regarding cervical cancer vaccine, please visit the NHS website.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Murdoch bigged up beyond belief

Which do you think is most likely to cause Labour's voters to switch allegiance?

It is widely accepted that Labour will probably lose the next elections. With ratings at an all-time low and Labour's membership standing today at half the numbers of 1997, it appears the writing's on the wall.

A few people have kicked up a fuss over Rupert Murdoch's recent decision to officially desert the Labour Party- Conservative Home called it "devastating", nothing less. As if the titty rag's politics was really the factor that mattered.

Now. Look at all those:

1) The Iraq war fiasco (featuring mass-scale death, lies, deception and copious licking of GW Bush's arse);

2) Labour aping Tory rhetoric on welfare, immigration and social policy (the kind 'headline generator' material);

3) Labour aping Tory rhetoric and approach towards Big Business, the "have yachts" and tax avoiders;

4) Labour aping Tory policy with u-turns such as those on PFIs (privatisations) and tuition fees;

5) The biggest economic crisis in decades;

6) Twelve or thirteen years of the same tired people in power;

7) Job insecurity and unemployment on the rise;

8) Years and years of relenless rise in cost of living (Britain is one of the most expensive places in the EU);

9) Lower wages at the bottom and fatter ones at the very top;

10) The Sun's decision to turn against Labour;

Which factor do you think is most likely to cause Labour's voters to abstain or vote another party instead?