Sunday, December 31, 2006

Lacking jaffas; G.W.Bush

The most inept US administration in history has managed another masterpiece: by taking Saddam Hussein to the gallows they handed him the dignity he'd never had in his lifetime. Sparing him the death penalty would have required some real jaffas, but I suppose that's telling. The Bush government doesn't miss a blip when it comes down to taking decisions that aim at inflaming tension. I guess it'll be all "mission accomplished" in the White House tonight. Hurry up quick, November 2008...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Scrooge appreciation society

Christmas gets on a lot of people's nerves. I'm one of them.

That bloody word, Crimbo. Oh doesn't it get on my tits.

The mental queues that could piss over the maze in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Think HMV Oxford Street on 22 Dec without doubt the biggest queue ever seen in my life. Along with any underwear section as you get elbowed left, right and centre by the hordes who are checking out y-fronts, socks and trunks for the second cousin's boyfriend that they briefly met in 1999.

The only time of the year in which no shame is there towards the most amazing waste of money ever - especially on paper, cards, useless decoration and clutter.

The unprecedented smothering of feelgood ads and crap TV programmes, expectations of how great and merry Christmas time should be, how it's all perfect with our wonderful families and friends and you're fucked if your having a hard time in life. Step in the growing army of those 'non-privileged' poor sods who have to work round Xmas time i.e. puke cleaners in pubs, shop assistants or NHS staff.

The saccharine music, the jingles, the overpriced reissues of trite Xmas compilations. As naff as anything humans could ever come up with since the olden days of Jurassica. And the bells are never enough to fill the air, and the cliched kids choirs are never high-pitched enough as you irately scramble for the remote control or towards the nearest department store exit. I suppose it simply brings my social ineptitude to the fore...And yet...

The artificial, rammed-down-your-throat, association with people you have nothing in common with -at best- or you despise -at worst. Which cunting masochist decided that extended family gathering have to take place at Christmas? There's got to be some bleedin' reason if you never otherwise spend time with those folks at any other time of the year ever??!!

All that solemn gift-unwrapping bollocks as your body get on painted-smile-mode cos chances are it's something crass, inappropriate or utterly useless you're unwrapping in front of embarrassing, scrutinising eyebulbs. And viceversa, hoping that your customary gift to the unknown characters you've seen about twice in your adult life is not gonna be deemed worthless. But can you blame them?? You've got to do it for Xmas.

And the moment the door shuts one bit of the family bitches on the other bit of the family...and the rows...and the wasted money...the showing off...the guilt-trips...the social ineptitude...and the whining grannie with the achey joints and the tension-spawn cooking that could -incidentally- feed the entire population of Ethiopia, forget Live 8 and Live Aid and Band Aid put together. And they all talk about pressure, stress and unwinding...

Oh aren't I bitter...Well, don't say it too loud, I know I'm not alone here...

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Jarvis Cocker Album

How we've missed him

A review of Jarvis' solo debut

If you're a Pulp fan no doubt you've sometimes endured the sad 'high fidelity'-like game of how-you-rate-Different Class against His'n'Hers, This is Hardcore and the sorry We Love Life. Few would be ready to dispute that the sensuous Different Class remains unrivalled and always will, put out -as it was- amidst the galvanising swirl of 1995. Yet Pulp fans need not despair. There's no actual need for the band to reunite and hark back to the glory days. The new entry The Jarvis Cocker Album would easily have a fair crack at a Champions League berth. Jarvis solo may be short of a killer-single (though the portrayal of today's UK "Fat Children" comes close, eye-winking as it is at Cockney Rebel's vintage brand of glam rock), but the tunes, the arrangements and the lyrics are absolutely spot-on, an indication of a massive return to form for the finest vignettist of his generation.

"Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" is Jarvis' way of starting with a bang. It could be T-Rex all over again until that pleasantly familiar voice kicks in, last heard as inspired circa 1997. True, a hand and a half is gracefully lent out by guest star guitarist and fellow Sheffielder Richard Hawley. Funny how the British press spent the best part of the last 20 years navel-gazing for Johnny Marr's heir apparent. Well, he's sitting right in front of them now. With a subtle guitar work that sounds nothing short of sublime, tasteful and discreet at once, Hawley's contribution to The Jarvis Cocker Album is just "the dog's". Or, for want of a better word, vital.

Jarvis' solo debut is music for grown-ups, testament to the fact that turning 40plus, a hubby and a dad is not always to the detriment of edge and inspiration. Lyrically as engaging, cynical and scathing as ever, the Jarvis Cocker of 2006 sounds all but content. For one, he takes on today's make-believe pampered world of telly and reality pap; "how come they're called Adult movies when the only thing they show is people making babies filmed up close", he protests on "Disney Time", the subject so depressing a platform that the dark sense of drama of the song wouldn't go amiss on Pink Floyd's The Final Cut. Except that Jarvis' tongue-in-cheek doesn't let him down, placing the track on a league of its own.

The aptly titled "From Auschwitz to Ipswich" beautifully sums up the post-9/11 sense of fatality and us-and-them paranoia: "They want our way of life/well they can take mine any time they like", he shrugs off, "like the Roman Empire fell away/let me tell you we are going the same way". "Big Julie" is possibly the most beautiful track on Jarvis. If you're insensitive to its vocal performance and its poignant arrangement, strings and piano then you may as well top yourself. A dark tale of a misfit, a solitary schoolkid who's well ahead of her peers, she knows "sex is just for when you've run out of things to say" and will have her own back one day, against a bleak backdrop of "stupid kids", "sweaty lads who get her down " and pervy "Sunday school teachers". Track 10 "Tonite" is a perfect exercise in genius musical arrangement, with Richard Hawley's swooping slide and pedal-steel guitar licks standing out beautifully.

As he puts out his darkest yet most accomplished album to date, Jarvis seems to invite us all to a mind-broadening exercise and finger-wagging at the nostalgicomics of "Common People". Not the one for you if you're looking for a student-union-anthem in the style of 94-95. Otherwise, great to have you back, finest bespectacled Yorkshireman of all.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Scissor Sisters, "Ta-Dah"

The New York glamsters' second album

A review

World stardom can't be easy to juggle. For over two years, you'd look up the word ubiquity in the dictionary and read Scissor Sisters, as they shifted three million units with one of the unlikeliest debut albums of all times. Forget camp, Scissor Sisters wore their sexuality on both sleeves, turning out catchy tunes and kitsch galore. After years of greyness, Scissor Sisters brought a welcome change, miles more colourful than any bored-looking popstar who'd make you scramble for the nearest sicknote in search of life.

That was 2004-2005. How they'd handle that 'difficult second album' was anybody's guess. And what a sturdy piece did they manage. Ta-Dah arguably contains the catchiest pop songs ever known to man. Ooh, in particular, with its wah pedals and funky beats is absolutely infectious at a glance, a hymn to putting back 'guilty feelings' and 'them blues' when you 'got magic in those dancing shoes'. Not to mention the bizarrely titled Paul McCartney, it'd go down a treat on any dancefloor anywhere in the country. And no doubt you've heard first single I Don’t Feel Like Dancin' about a million times already.

But here's where the praises end. I suppose many a band would bank on what are possibly the most annoyingly catchy tunes. They won't mind getting on people's nerves as long as that happens two minutes after they've bought your record. That's exactly the marketing ploy. And the Sisters are positively gifted at that. But I swear, a week after you buy Ta-Dah there's no better way of defining it than to say it's just TOO MUCH. How many Bee Gees-like falsettos and Elton John-esque honky-tonkying can you get away with before you objectively do people's head in?

You're bound to hear them non-stop as you zip your trolley round at your local Tesco, and they're destined to sell bucket-loads again. But something tells me within five years they'll be guilty-pleasure-material, as passé and dated as Level 42, Simple Minds or Bucks Fizz. And your kids will look at their folks' CD collection, spot Ta-Dah and take the piss.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Music in your 30s. Richard Hawley

A review of Coles Corner

I don't know about yous, but to say that I've started to feel a tad out of touch with today's music is not to overstate my case. You hit 30, you watch -say- the highlights of Reading Festival or V, or X, Y, Z sponsored by some huge lager-pumping corporation, presented by some giddy-acting trollop and you don't recognise a single tune. You may have heard the bands' names, but they don't push the right buttons. Most likely, a generational thing.

And yet somebody did it for me, out of the blue. A guy of unassuming appearance, a denim-clad semi-geek with a clear penchant for vintage rock'n'roll, quite cool-looking actually. But veneer aside, it's songwriting that does the trick here.

Think of Morrissey at his most heartfelt, that wavering, impassionate cover of 50s classic Moonriver lost amidst the indifference of his rockabilly days. Think of Nick Cave's The Boatman's Call, eerie and spectral. Think of that excruciatingly psychotic plea for help (the-party's-over-and-you're-as-alone-as-ever) that was Pulp's This is Hardcore.

That's my way of describing what Richard Hawley does to you. His latest -magnificent- Coles Corner is a rubber ring chucked at a generation often too inhibited, too cool, to sing about emotions in unassuming fashion. An 'old' romantic, dareisay.

Coles Corner is a tale of lonely despair, it's a post-being-dumped walk around the park. Sparse piano, shy, shimmering, beautiful guitars, stunning arrangements. It's also the most stunning tribute to Sheffield's most anonymous yet popular corner. The place where a million souls may decide to meet up on their first date and get stood up. Hotel Room, Tonight, Born Under A Bad Sign, they should all be classics and to me they already are.

And if you'd been out on the pull and luck was on your side and they'd said yes to a date, which would your Coles Corner be in Birmingham? The Odeon in New Street? Paradise Forum? Or maybe that newly defaced bull statue outside the Bull Ring? Nominate Brum's own Coles Corner. And get hold of that CD!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

"A million are socially excluded"

Oh the beauty of the Internet. You're miles away but you're still drawn to the place. And so the absurdity of it all reaches a new high with the news that newly appointed Social Exclusion Minister Hilary Armstrong reveals the astonishing truth of "a million people in the UK [being] socially excluded [while] 5% of the population are at risk of becoming so". I'm quite worried she may not fare too well at the Acute Observers' Olympics. Did any commentator dare to ask her where the Blair Government have been in the last 9 years? A report or two shows that the social gap under progressive St. Tony the evangelist has widened like never before...Still, Ms Armstrongs continues :"It's my job to pull people together across government, so that we are intervening early". Never has the concept of velocity seemed such a subjective one.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

So in my bedroom from those ugly new houses

Those samey city-living apartments are sprawling everywhere.

During my time in London I remember asking the clichè question: how can people afford it?

Have a walk around. It makes you wonder who's ever gonna be able to repay those mortgages in full before they snuff it. Which explains why adults past 35 still rent and share as if perma-studentdom was to last forever. Or how about those city-living apartments that are sprawling everywhere, in each single town centre, from Cardiff to Birmingham, from Sheffield to Brighton. Monstrosities closer to hives than they are to human dwellings.

Until recently the consensus was that never again the fiasco of post-war social housing was to be repeated. Those high-rise blocks -the script reads out- had been the hard way of learning how you don’t do urban planning. Ugly, alienating, anonymous. But at least the post-war social housing drive was a positive one. It was the government taking on board the task of allowing everybody modern and affordable living in some shape or form. The UK had taken on the noble task of mammoth slum-clearance. And modernist post-war housing was seen as the quickest, most affordable and most effective solution.

But now? What’s all this? At the turn of the 21st century you cannot believe the rate at which humongous apartment blocks are mushrooming throughout the UK. Housing it may be, but this time it’s no social we’re talking about. No cheap, affordable, “homes for heroes”. They are all invariably high-rent, glossy, “city-living”, “south-side”, “west-side”, “urban- splash” dens. Not even that glossy, to tell you the truth. But certainly re-mortageable, if you don't fancy repossession.

I’m sitting outside a bar in Hurst Street, on a rare April sunny afternoon, sipping rose wine, what else. The building opposite us must have been assembled in less than five minutes. Lego for giants. For a second I express bewilderment. I didn’t know the new A&E department was being built in Hurst Street. Not quite.

A pink banner sheds some light “City Living- Show Room- Southside”. “Enjoy life at the heart of the business district”. You really should take a look at the building. Had it been a guessing game, chances are the A&E speculation would have been followed by a) school, b) prison, c) police HQ. Scratch beneath the surface of extortionate prices and…but that's another story.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blighted in Blighty

It’s been three weeks since I first trotted around the streets of this town in Portugal. Afternoons are a notoriously quiet affair here. The place is industrious but unhurried. The region was described as one of the richest of the EU and “typical Calvinist spirit, a far cry from the stereotype of lazy Poland” by a Yale University research. None of that frenzied English clone-town centre vestige. Since legging it, a few weeks ago, it didn’t take long to register that the perception of Britain abroad is a far cry from reality, a testing concoction of misconceptions and distorted myths of a green and pleasant land stuck in aspic.

People here come up with all sorts of ideas suggesting that Britain may find itself a mere step short from being a heavenly kingdom, were it not for inclement weather and stodgy food.

How many times do I have to repost that, no, drive-by shooting does exist in the UK. That their lovely new cultural phenomenon called “happy-slapping” isn’t quite in the league of mini-skirts, Britpop and all those slightly more constructive old British exports. That no, music people do get a hard time too, outside London you’d easily get a beating for sporting a Mohawk or looking like an ‘indie-kid’, a poofter, or a goth. That schools are blighted by bullying.

That men don’t all prance about speaking like Hugh Grant and rarely spend more than a minute in front of the mirror. That a look at a beer bellies and football-geezers wouldn’t go amiss to have an idea. That timber-frame homes ended their reign quite a while back and haven’t they heard of clone-towns, that whether you hurry with your shopping down Dudley high street or Southampton town centre, chances are the plastic bags you’re carrying sport the same logos.

That pubs have long ceased to be cosy pretty social hideaways and bring your earplugs along as you try the Actress &Bishop on a weekend. That vomit on pavements on a Friday night is run of the mill. That, no, I don’t live in London and I haven’t met the queen. And that, yes, corruption is endemic in the UK, too.

And when they look at its “model of democracy” they’d better take notice of that kick in the eye that answers the moniker of the House of Lords, the peer- selection backhander scandal, or at the one-man band that has been Tony Blair’s government in the past few years.

And when the Latvians whinge about their manic political system, they may want to take a peek at the United Kingdom of Apathy and the lowest electoral turnout in Europe, perhaps explained by the non-existent choice between two incredibly similar and unrepresentative political parties.

And that –for goodness’ sake- the next time you give me that look when I tell you that trains in Greece are actually cheaper and NOT more inefficient that those in Britain, I’ll take you for a ride on that packed overpriced Birmingham-Brighton Virgin Trains service and the bill is on you. But here, in Slovakia, on a sunny, sultry afternoon, with a heat that you don’t get in Brum were it not for the first two weeks of July when you’re working your arse out and wait for that evening drink in the pub, something finally hits home.

The bank guy –Mehmet, his name is- isn’t taking the piss nor having me on. A tinge of embarrassment twists his face for a split second. You’d want to cuddle him if it wasn’t for my now endemic suspicion that he may be after something. A **********, maybe. The request for a signature that would tie me for life to an insurance scheme, arguably. Oh haven’t years of Blighty turned me into a conspiratorial watchdog type.

No, all he utters timidly, as he squeezes an English preposition or two within his lovely Serbo Croat, is: “This one I’d really love to know. It’s been bugging me for a while. people in England really walk around carrying a suitcase and wear a bowler hat?”. Oh dear, where do I begin. This time I could write a book about it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Amazing, amazing, Fern, it's amazing

She must have "fey-ver-it bands" in the thousands. In fact, they're all her favourites. They're all brilliant and they're all a-m-a-z-i-n-g. She hangs around with them all and they're lovely people. Hooray! Cheers! Hooraahh!

People scoff at how TOTP presenters in the 1980s were bigging everything up and it was all OTT, ego, baloons and cheers, Mike Read, Steve Wright, Bruno Brookes. But how is Fern Cotton any different? As Top of The Pops ratings keep plummeting, there must be someone, somewhere at the BBC able to grasp how much that bloodless, fake, sycophantic egomaniac annoys the hell out of people.

One day, in 2020, there'll be a Top 50 cringeworthy list about the noughties and Fern "Amazing" Cotton will be well in it, along with Jo "it's such a good band" Whiley and Davina "Awww" McCall.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The arrogant US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is sneering at the simmering suggestions from military high ranks that he should quit. And in the meantime, sottovoce, an average of two US soldiers a day are killed in Iraq. One wonders if the Americans have subconsciously become accustomed to and immune from the heaps of military fatalities. In 2003 and 2004 George W Bush was speaking a different language. A plethora of "bring them on", "we've won the war" and all the rest of it. To get an idea of what "We" are supposed to have won, take a peek.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Morrissey, "Ringleader of the Tormentors"

"Your songs are not as good as they once were".

A review of Morrissey's new album

I bet he knows it. Ok, what a joy when your new album is strutting triumphantly at no.1. But what an odd state of affairs, to reach your commercial peak when your inspiration's gone to the dogs. If you think that Morrissey endured years and years of stick right when he was putting out some seriously inspired good stuff. He was pilloried while, for better or for worse, each of his 90s albums had some real depth, a specific tinge, some experimentation. Yes, even the clumsy stammer that was Kill Uncle, the rockabilly hooks of 1992's Your Arsenal, not to mention the heart-rending Vauxhall and I which, while the NME was busy issuing its anti-Moz fatwa, was hailed by his fans as up there along with the best of The Smiths. Those were the days when Britain was in awe of the flash in the pan of Oasis, Blur & co. Yet Mozzer seemed on a one-man mission, a release after the other, Boxers and Southpaw Grammar sporting some of his most daring music to date, brutal and violent, the guy clearly with a score to settle against bucketloads of nasty, nasty press. Put simply, if you liked Morrissey solo in the 90s you were considered a freak. It's only with the unimaginative Maladjusted (1997) that some cracks finally showed, even though Morrissey could still pen gems like 'Trouble Loves Me'.

What follows is well documented. The tale of a massive comeback after seven years in the wilderness without a record deal, Morrissey finally being paid his dues with a place in history. Were it not for the old law of pendulum-swings and revivals due every 20 years, the change of heart would be all but inexplicable. In 2004, you had to like Morrissey. His new label invested on him and did so heavily. He was the flavour of the year, TV, radio and magazines, namechecked by the new hordes of 80s revivalists. Yet it was obvious that You Are The Quarry sucked, as simple as that. Just one big clump of MoR, and ten more listens down the road you still wouldn't remember a single tune (except...maybe... 'First of The Gang To Die'). Which is why many long term fans hoped for a reprieve when the release of Ringleader of the Tormentors was announced. His move to Rome was seen as a promising change of scenery for a man in desperate need of new ideas. And yes, his interviews are still the most interesting ever. In a music-scene epitomised by the cerebral death of stuff akin to Channel 4's Popworld, it's always refreshing to read Morrissey telling it like it is.

But the music? Ringleader of the Tormentors is Quarry-part 2, just a touch better. Mostly, another clump of unremarkable MoR starved of hooks and brilliance, stifled by those trademark- alas- mildly dull distorted guitars. Little sticks in your mind. In a word, bland. You can even sing the tune of You Are The Quarry's 'I Like You', on top of the new single 'You Have Killed Me'. It just goes nowhere. And it's the usual collection of "i-forgive-you, please-god-help-me, I-live-longer-than-intended", none of the genius social observation of Your Arsenal, the wit of Bona Drag, and only glimpses of the passion of Vauxhall And I. It's only when the trite and tiresome tangle of sapid guitars keeps quiet that the music and vocals do have a chance to shine, like in the gorgeous, stunningly wholehearted 'Dear God Please Help Me' (featuring arrangements by Ennio Morricone). In fact, the whole album is gagging for those dreary guitars to shut up. As such, the few moments with new ideas are indeed quite brilliant: Tony Visconti's laudable production is tangible on the 'Panic'-like choir of 'The Youngest Was The Most Loved', or tracks that don't rely on the usual MoR formula (the glam-stomp of 'The Father Who Must Be Killed', the eastern swirl of the touchingly anti-Bush 'I Will See You In Far Off Places', the drums and trombone of ‘I Just Want To See The Boy Happy’ and the eerie piano of 'Life Is A Pigsty').

In 1990 Morrissey wrote a b-side called 'Get Off The Stage', a scathing attack on ageing rockstars who just can't jack it in. How ironic, how foretelling. In the meantime I'll stick the title 'Your songs are not as good as they once were' on this review. It sounds, would you believe it, almost Morrissey-esque.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Boot him out!

Today and tomorrow Italians are expected to go to the poll en masse on watershed-like general elections. And so boot him out, miei compatrioti, boot him out. Except that the alternative to the jaded swindler Berlusconi is Romano Prodi, a dour and scholarly professor of economics that is nothing to write home about. Rumour has it that the centre-left political manifesto is a run-of-the-mill 281 pages long tome. I'm no fan of telegenic Blair, but the Italian left could do with old-school charisma capable to excite and speak the language of the millions of non-intellectual souls who feel the pinch mid-month. With such lacklustre opposition, if this time round Berlusconi finds himself in the losing seat it'll be a telling tale of how low he's managed to stoop.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Heroes of the bleeding obvious

A couple of years ago, American film director Morgan Spurlock earned himself fame with the controversial Supersize Me, an experiment on the side effects of a month-long McDonalds-based diet. Now he's back on Channel Four with 30 Days, a -never did the definition sound more appropriate- reality TV programme. The first episode featured Spurlock and his girlfriend taking the plunge to live on the minimum wage in Columbus, Ohio. It's £2.91 in the US, and we thought it was crap here! Needless to say that the following morning reviewers cut him apart. This country's journos, consummate chanters of the working class, spent inches and inches of columns lambasting Spurlock accusing him of 'narcisism', 'stating the bleeding obvious', and showing sympathy for the poor purely in his quest 'to advance the Spurlock Inc.', etc... That's in spite of Spurlock emphasising quite clearly that what they experienced for a mere month, some people have to endure for a lifetime.

The facts are simple. If Spurlock didn't do it, I don't quite see any other TV or press do-gooder going out of their way to illustrate the point (the point being that the US society cannot go on forever at its ruthless, astonishing level of inequality). They'd sooner jump at the opps of writing about glitzy parties, hollywood, desperate housewives and other pap. Yes, bleeding obvious it may be, but how often do you hear or read about the flipside of America? In which case, fair play to Morgan Spurlock and his laydee for actually showing in all its squalor what life is really like for the tens of millions of American we never hear about. An invisible underclass, ghosts who work their backside out and still live in deprivation, unable to afford primary goods such as healthcare. And above all, they're helpless when it comes down to escaping the perpetual cycle of debts, poor diet, ill-health, long hours, lowpay, blacklisting, and refrain.

But I suspect it's easier that way. Slag off Spurlock the "narcissus", stop one step short of saying that it's all his fault, and the prickly issues are soon glossed over.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Repressed but remarkably dressed.

Week 1 in London. And I can see why Londoners queue up to purchase that coveted retreat in the countryside.

I had been to the capital hundreds of times before, and -granted- its chaos and frazzled pace are undoubtedly part of the charme. But to get used to the DAILY scrum catching the tube at rush-hour is an entirely different story. D-e-a-r g-o-d! Wherever it is you're going between 8 and 9am (or 5 and 7pm), by the time you reach work/home you are absolutely worn out. And scenes from Shaun of the Dead echo round your head.

Still I maintain, there is something about London that keeps it head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the country. Maybe love is blind, and well, it is.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dictators with a belly and their grandaughters

It is often argued that there's more life in a sicknote than there is in UK politics, where commentators like Andrew Neil have to resort to imaginative ways of flogging a dead horse. Italian or continental politics may be regarded as a right mess, but no doubt they're more, so to speak, colourful. Any looks of interest though ground to a halt the other day when Benito Mussolini's grandaughter Alessandra, for years an MP in the Italian parliament, came up with a disgraceful comment during a television debate with a transvestite challenger.
As bare-faced as usual, she shot her mouth off live on national television by arguing that "it's better to be a fascist than a queer". As we all have a different degree of sensibility, someone should have asked her to start counting the number of people her fascist grandad sent to the deaths between 1921 and 1945 as against any potential victims caused by "queerdom". Italy has a proud history of trade-union and civil rights activism, but with shady pantomimes like Berlusconi and Mrs Mussolini at the helm, it's quite clear that they're in desperate need of a 'proper' conservative party.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Anonymous. Cherche le travail.

The celebrated Canadian author Douglas Copeland defines the notion of McJobs as a "crap underpaid job often seen as a great opportunity by people who've never held one". If that's what you're after, no doubt the UK is 'the' place. As much casual, minimum wage-strapped employment as you want, just take your pick. But in the age of decent jobs becoming an increasing commodity, France came up with an approach that seems nothing short of revolutionary. Yesterday, a White Paper was given the go-ahead by the French Senate, introducing a scheme based on anonymous application forms and CVs. Under the new legislation, people won't have to jot down their name, address, age and sex when they're looking for work as all that matters will be experience, education and skills. Photos also won't be required and the only contacts will be e-mail address and phone number.

In the UK, so-called equal opportunities is increasingly a formula, a rigid matter of form, more likely to increase recriminations based on dubious positive discrimination schemes. The French approach appears the fairest way forward. It nips prejudice in the bud as it's based on surveys confirming that a foreign name, certain physical traits (i.e. obesity, age or specific notions of attractiveness) or a person's place of living make your job search a serious uphill or downhill task according to circumstances. With the new legislation, French employers won't have a clue about your looks or ethnicity at least until the interview stage. Selection will be more likely to be based on merits. Perhaps the buffs in human resources may wish to take a peek south of the Channel?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Final Destination 3. A review.

Sequels are notoriously to be taken with a pinch of salt. For the first two instalments, the Final Destination formula had worked alright, teenagers dying gruesomely in succession and sadism aplenty. No wonder its third chapter is released already, promising to do exactly what is expected. Final Destination was never the most complex of horror tales to begin with, yet this time –seriously- not even one iota of imagination is in place. It doesn’t even take parts 1 or 2 an inch further, like most sequels instead are set to do.

As it’s exactly like the first two (except different cast and slightly different ways to die), it actually crosses your mind whether director James Wong just aimed at an exercise of the kind: alright guys, now let’s try it over again; Got your body mangled in a pile-up? Now try and get your cranium squeezed like a spot by a fork-lift truck, see which one works better. Did the lift-doors leave you decapitated? Now check out how many limbs you lose while at a fairground…

However, if you don’t set it in context with its predecessors, Final Destination 3 does its job and is honest enough. For a rollercoaster-phobic like myself, the initial scenes are absolutely terrifying, a 5-minutes gorefest that leaves your palms drenched in sweat... And would you believe it, this simple, unassuming movie even managed to stir some controversy in the US where the Los Angeles Daily News denounced “its vulgarity on its blood-caked sleeve” calling it “cynical enough to use 9/11 in its vapid story lane!”. Whoa whoa, guys, I’m not sure the sophistication of Final Destination 3 went quite that far…

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Syriana. A review.

Before castigating America, people should note what a multi-faceted society it is. A look at the last few months is a staggering demonstration of film after film (and we're not talking about little known 'indie' ones) carrying a strong critical and anti-White House message. In succession, Jarhead, Good Night and Good Luck, Flight 93, Syriana and others are kickstarting a welcome new-era of politicised Hollywood. They may not be quite as easy to follow as American Pie, yet those grey-matter-friendly movies should put in their place those who think the U.S. is merely an equation of bible-belt, rednecks and trailer trash.

With the fanfare surrounding it, an amazing cast (George Clooney at his best) and its Oscar nominations, Syriana has a huge potential to preach beyond the converted. Stephen Gaghan's film is extremely intelligent and valuable, as it points out how each single one of our informed choices as ordinary citizens is likely to be connected to some appalling policy carried out by the Government-backed oil industry in that ticking time-bomb that is the Middle East. The movie isn't political propaganda as such, yet the sheer fact that it isn't fiction is enough to convey an extremely brave message, especially when you consider that we're talking about Hollywood. If anything, it makes you wonder how the creators managed to find any producers to back it.

Nonetheless, you can't help but think that after penning the bulk of Syriana, its masterminds sat down to a cup of tea and discussed how to make it as muddled as possible for the viewers. The plot can get so disjointed that even the most attentive person struggles to keep up which, frankly, is a real shame as there was no need for that. The idea of having a web of subplots that will come intertwined at the end is an intriguing and admirable one, yet not all of the stories on display in Syriana are as relevant or interesting as others. Its merciless realism, though, is enough to make it recommendable. Unless, that is, it's Final Destination 3 you're after...then you have to consider whether a 2-hour snooze is worth £5.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Selling Yourself

There's a programme on Five that seems to bring a tiny bit of realism to the vacuum notion of reality TV. I was robotically prodding my remote control when I suddenly spotted a scene far too familiar with my recent existence: a desperate-to-impress twenty-something in front of a power-trip-fuelled interview panel. Although heavily edited, "Selling Yourself" is a household scenario for all of us, the generation of zombified debt-ridden graduates making up the hordes of delusional employees stuck in dead-end jobs. The noughts' equivalent of the early-80s "gissa job" flock.

In a kind of context not too dissimilar to the "X-Factor", five candidates take up a battery of nerve-racking tests and interrogations after which only one survivor will land their dream job. Granted the panel have been taking a tip or two from the world of routine cowellite nastiness, yet for once there's a programme that strikes a chord with what goes on in real life. And the process of applying for a job, as you volunteer to have your face, body language and mannerism judged by total strangers with their arse warm is, alas, cruel and real enough to make towards some dramatic reality television.

Now all it takes is some producer out there having the guts to come up with a "Call-centre Island" or "Temping Idol" and justice will be done. Reality TV will have finally found its purpose, away from the useless (and unentertaining, if anything) alice in wonderland gloss of "Celebrity Love Island" and the rest. "Selling Yourself" is the first step.

Friday, February 24, 2006

"Loves and hates and passions just like mine"

Johnny Marr is one of my heroes, the guitarist and songwriter of one of my favourite bands ever, The Smiths. He wrote the sweetest and most touching article you could ever imagine. It's about friendship and how sharing such intense emotions and experiences with (band)mates stays with you forever. The article was penned for today's The Independent and I think the whole world should read it so here is the link.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Work the unpaid hour. Pay the unworked hour.

Five million workers do unpaid overtime.

Scenes that you seldom see. Imagine a workplace where you routinely go home earlier and still grab full pay for it. Over 8 hours a week of unworked pay. You may even take it all at once and make it into an extra day off.

Now wouldn't that be handy. And wouldn't it make your gaffers go spaz. They'd call it theft, wouldn't they?

Now back to reality. According to the TUC, almost 5 million people work the equivalent of a day a week of unpaid overtime.

The story goes that if each employee worked all their unpaid overtime at the start of the year, they would not get paid until 24 February. The poll only covers staff covered by a trade union. Those who work the highest number of unpaid hours wouldn't even appear on any polls because they have no union cover. The crappier and more unprotected the job, the more there's a tendency to expect unpaid overtime.

This is big news, you'd expect it to take up a fair amount of press coverage. Especially from those tabloids (guess which ones) that are so adamant when it comes to denouncing the "scrounging culture" that allegedly plagues this Land-of-gargantuan-£40-a-week-benefits. Or the "high tax system".

Instead, the "Work Your Proper Hour" campaign is nothing but a mere footnote in these days' papers. The reason is the old, usual, one. Ignorance is bliss; if people don't know about it they won't complain. Cry wolf about the scroungers instead and that'll get people barking. The writer Nick Cohen calls it the manipulation of fears. And isn't he right.

In the meantime, listen to one of those deprived managers who can't afford to buy a new purse when the old one bursts at the seams. Alan Addis, managing director of Verdict Aerospace Components, claims that a bit of unpaid overtime is essential for companies such as his to compete in the global market.

"We need the support of the employee to not put their palm out for every penny for every moment they work," he told the BBC. Yeah, it starts like that and it ends like Wal-Mart in the US. So how about going back to where we started?

Try the other way round, Alan Addis, 8 hours unworked pay every week. Don't put the palm out and watch the clock for every moment they (don't) work. Granted, that'll do wonders for morale, loyalty and- would you believe it- productivity.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Voltaire. In his grave. Turning. The incarceration of David Irving.

It's a slow, perilous, downhill route, the censorship that is sweeping over Western Europe. Wars were fought and it took us centuries to earn the right of free speech, free thought, the right to an opinion. And what's left of free speech if the most controversial, most debatable and even stupidest ideas are to banned, censored and stamped down? What sort of free speech is the one were we all think alike and we all think safe? Tonight British historian David Irving was found guilty in Vienna of denying the Holocaust of European Jewry and was sentenced to three years in prison. How can somebody actually be sent to prison for saying that the Holocaust didn't exist? It's mental... Have a debate with the guy, call him an idiot, strap him in front of a Schindler's List DVD, do whatever you've gotta do...but, to deny free speech, now that seems the nazi thing to me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The sheep of Valentine

Take your girlfriend out tomorrow. Do it the day after. Or preferably try light the candle on that table the week, or month, before. Any other time but please, please, please, fend off Valentine's Day or Schmaltz Central. If a couple needs a calendar stipulation to conjure up something special to do, then chances are the relationship's hit the rocks already, don't you find?
And if I'm being too harsh on the day of pre-packed love then I'm happy to concede; ten-years-old kids who want to send cards to themselves and feel a bit special are excused. Happy Valentine's Day to them.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The buck stops at Dunfermline

The people of Scotland showed that real issues are more important than tabloid pap. Right when most analysts were expecting the Lib-Dems to collapse under the ongoing press trouncing and their most turbulent period ever, they tallied their 63rd MP as they snatched the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election from Labour. Hope exists! Enough people in Scotland proved that they're not bothered if Simon Hughes is gay, Mark Oaten betrayed his wife, or Charles Kennedy was a bit of an alky. Questions of economic fairness, for instance, maybe a touch more relevant which explains why the Lib-Dems managed not to fall apart and Labour's smokescreen strategy failed miserably. What else do you call losing over 11,000 votes in 9 months? As for Cameron... did anyone bother?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bauhaus. Birmingham Academy, 2 Feb 06

The world in 1991 was still hesitant between vinyl and CDs. And forget MP3s and mobile phones, the Kingdom of Tapes was still the rule. I was at school when I-can’t-remember-who handed me one of those “High Fidelity”-style compilation tapes suggesting that I would definitely like Bauhaus, a legendary 80s band that ceased to exist back in 1983.

Within months their music graduated to LP-status in my collection, a likely suspect for my pocket money running thin. And how frustrated I became, typically falling in love with a band that I would never get a chance to see live during my lifetime. Correct me if I’m wrong, but who else would come up with a crossover between dub and spectral tones? And how about that sexy, warm, theatrical, voice, those robotic drum patterns and that guitar-god...and, by the way, is that actually a guitar I’m hearing or what?

2006 and here I am, at that grotty soon-to-be-knocked-down venue called Birmingham Academy, this time –would you believe it- ready to see Bauhaus reunited. A man resembling Bono if he went cyber steps on stage playing those hypnotic, unmistakeable chords and I’m blown away. It’s him! It’s Daniel Ash! And the song is Burning from the Inside. The crowd seems bamboozled and before you wake up Peter Murphy - looking fantastic at 49- launches into his “an-aay-more” refrain.

They all look amazing, Murphy may yet have to concede defeat about a receding hairline, but if I ever manage to look like that at 49 then blame a future pact with the devil. David J is looking increasingly like a handsome Chris Evans and only now, fifteen years later, I appreciate how unique his bass-playing style is. As a classic is played after the other, it’s up to the outstanding She’s In Parties to set the mood. The crowd have gone mad, while Pete Murphy seems to produce his Bontempi keyboard out of nowhere and David J’s bass-line promises to penetrate my head again for the next round of 15 years.

I don’t think our incredibly stuck-up self-important British press ever registered how tongue-in-cheek Bauhaus were. They hit the big time in America, but not here, the land where the NME lambastes week in week out if you don’t quite tickle their fancy. Quite amazing then to see the Birmingham Academy packed, and Peter Murphy undeterred in full-blown eccentrics. There's something magnetising about the man.

Kick In The Eye makes us dance and the eerie Hollow Hills leaves us transfixed. Part 2 of their set is an astounding display of cover versions, Dead Can Dance’s Severance, John Cale’s Rosegarden Funeral and –having everybody in awe- Joy Division’s Transmission. I may be accused of blasphemy but Bauhaus’ version sounds even better; much, much better. Think Billy Idol, Killing Joke and The Cult doing a Ian Curtis together. Actually, don't...

The band re-emerges for a stomping Telegram Sam, Daniel Ash sporting a fur-waistcoat and Peter Murphy vampiresque gear. But it’s not until Bauhaus return for Ziggy Stardust that we can go home alright, even more so with the hypnotic dub-goth classic Bela Lugosi’s Dead drawing the curtains, while I wonder how it is that a band as fantastic as Bauhaus will go down in history as the most underrated ever.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Viva Denmark!

Being a religious zealot must be such a sorry, paranoid task.

Constantly on the lookout for something sinful, outrageous and worth a fatwa or a round of flagellation. Most recently the limelight in Europe was stolen by Muslim fundamentalists. And satire is one of the many things they really can't stomach, almost as bad as ice-cream-eating women. Remember the 1989 fatwa issued to kill Salman Rushdie for alleged blasphemy in his book The Satanic Verses? Well, we're at it again.

The latest outrage was sparked yesterday by a cartoon published on a Danish newspaper showing the Prophet saying that paradise was running short of virgins for suicide bombers. God forbid. Unbelievably, that was enough to earn the Danes death-threats and state-sponsored boycotts.

Yet, what's really 'intolerable' isn't religious satire (spare a thought for those Christians who a year ago lambasted Jerry Springer- The Musical) , instead it's the fact that a simple cartoon can justify issuing a fatwa! You may be starving and oppressed in Iran or Saudi Arabia, but religious brainwashing turns your scale of priorities into something totally dysfunctional. And so cartoons become a matter of life or death.

But whereas in this and many other countries politicians would bow to the bigots in the name of quiet life, in Denmark Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen defended the freedom of the press and the importance of a secular state. That's the way to do it.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A tale of contemporary Britain

Mice are in my flat. It's been months and the estate agent's done F.A. about it. Tracking him down over the phone is being a bit of a task, not made any easier by the fact that a managing company (Curry&Partners), the landlord himself, and a pest-control firm are also involved. Two months and the problem seems to be getting worse. The occasional beast dies of poison in the wall cavities, not very pleasant I tell thee. And yet that doesn't solve the root of the problem.

I no longer wish to live in this place, not for the fat "city-centre living" rate that they ask per month. The contract didn't mention I was gonna have any co-tenants, certainly not of the rodent species. So, sure that it's within my right to cut short my tenancy agreement on the grounds of change of circumstances and -more to the point- health & safety, I trot to that wonderful place of free legal advice for everyone, the Council Tax-funded Citizens Advice Bureau, or CAB.

Friday, 1pm. No opening times in view. No "CLOSED"-sign at the booth, no receptionist either . After some procrastination, those waiting learn that the system operate on numbered tickets, a bit like the clap clinic. Except that there's no ticket machine. Apparently it's the receptionist who hands tickets over to you, except that -yes, you were correct- there was no receptionist. Someone shouts for help over the booth. "I'll be there in a few minutes", is the reposte from an invisible receptionist at the back. A few minutes later, she finally re-emerges: "Can I help you?". Ahead of me, a woman utters: "Yes, I was...". The receptionist cuts it short, very matter-of-fact:"We've stopped seeing people for today, sorry". And off she goes, no explanation, no time wasted on explaining opening times and all that jizz. Vanished. Later I will learn from their website that their opening times are 10am-3pm. A poster looms imposing over the waiting room: "Let us know what you think of our service. Pick up a Citizens' Advice Bureau comment form". Guess what? Those forms must be invisible, cos not a single one is on display.

As I cast off, perplexity takes over: is it Britain i live in, or a third world country? No doubt, if I could afford it, I'd pay a solicitor handsome fees to sort it out for me. Then they say money doesn't make a difference. Jizz off.

The BNP on trial. Or is it freedom of speech?

The BNP and its leader Nick Griffin are on trial at Leeds Crown Court on charges of incitement to racial hatred.

The subject is a very delicate one and I can't help but wonder whether a ban on the BNP or the 'judicial route' are the correct way of dealing with the issue.

Sure enough, the BNP is a vile, old-fashioned, homophobic (or more generally, phobic), far-right organisation. But, like it or not, it expresses views that are not that uncommon across sections of society; views that are not helped by a permanent ban on the media, on the grounds that they are 'racist' or 'unpleasant'.

Honesty would suggest that - at this point in history- if damage on minorities and the Muslim community is being done, part of the blame is also to be shouldered by fundamentalist Islam or the preachings of Imams such as Abu Hamza or Sheikh Mohammed Bakri of Al-Mujaharoun. Meetings legally take place in this country -remember the Al Mujaharoun rally at the Birmingham NIA, just down the road- where appalling things are said about women's liberties, the 'infidels', or wiping the Jews off the map. Victimising the BNP won't solve a single thing.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Your safe night out

Bouncers are likely to provoke violence or cause unnecessary injury in more than 30 per cent of incidents in which they are involved, according to Professor Tim Stockwell, director of the Perth-based National Drug Research Institute. If that’s surprising news to you and you’re vaguely familiar with clubland then no doubt you’re telling a porky. One of the subjects that has always left me in bewilderment is the legal zona franca that club doormen enjoy. And that’s without dwelling on the many occasions when I witnessed well behaved puny little things being manhandled (yes, women too) or beaten the crap out of by power-crazed bouncers (my friends and I used to refer to the bouncers at the Birmingham Academy as “the Gestapo”). They may have been pissed-up punters, but does that justify a full-on beating? Security firms can blabber that “if you show us respect you’ll receive respect”, but apply the same principle in any area of customer service and you’d be guaranteed to collect your P45 before lunch break begins.

The fact is, too many bouncers have made machismo an integral part of their self-image and seen the job as a power trip that can boost their ego and usually low self-esteem. Although many security firms check the background of potential employees, Home Office research has found cases where firms took on people with extensive criminal records, or former convicts who set up their own company. No doubt doormen have to put up with hordes of drunken idiots every nights, and no doubt I have also met some really decent ones (well, not many, but I can think of one perfect gentleman, many years ago in that studenty pit that is Snobs) but that isn’t the point. Ugly and overly tough behaviour on the doormen’s part can only increase provocation and the likeliness of injuries with the risk that, in some cases, it is actually the bouncer who can violently put a damper on a night out.

Only a series of recent episodes urged the law-makers in this country to come up with a new regulatory system based on vetting and licensing. How enforceable that is, and what a difference a badge may do, we’ll have to see. At least they should register that if they let their beastly instinct prevail by decking someone’s brains at the slightest hint of misbehaviour there may be legal repercussions. And more good news come from the setting up of a helpline, “Release”, that provides legal advice to people who have been victims of violent behaviour from security staff in clubs. There’s even a phone number, 02077299904. A year of clubbing I miss and see the surprises. Who would have thought.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Sun shines out of our behinds

Have low have we sunk that we deserve The Sun, out of all people, giving us moral lectures about Mark Oaten?

The latest victim to be ripped apart by the demented UK tabloid brigade is rent-a-chap Mark Oaten, LibDem MP for Winchester, guilty of betraying his family-man credentials by having an affair with a rent boy.

The fact of the matter is that this country’s press has topped the most sickening levels of hypocrisy. Who are they, those tabloids, to preach about family values and a bloke's sexual anguish when they’re first in the queue with the most relentless, lurid, cheapest notion of sex. The very same Sun (and News of The World) that, by commodifying the female body, is responsible for cementing a macho-fuelled notion of beauty that results in generations of teenage girls wondering whether their knockers will ever be “up to the task”.

The same vulgar Sun that preaches about a populistic British grandeur while it forwards the shrewd self-interest business of non-British tycoon Rupert Murdoch, a right-winger who will not go down in history for re-investing his humongous profits back into this country.

But perhaps the problem is deeper. The problem of a rotten country that may not care about Tony Blair’s lies as he sends British soldiers to the deaths on the basis of a counterfeited PhD thesis. A country where certain press are so obsessed with page-3-boobs that, displaying memory-levels worth of a goldfish, they give the same Prime Minister such an easy ride over the connection between Iraq and Islamic terrorism reaching our shores. A press that finds rent-a-chap Oaten more relevant than a widening gap between rich and poor under a Labour government, with fat-cats payouts growing as fast as the £1.3 trillion debt bubble. A country that boasts 2/3 of the entire EU credit card debt, where the economy would collapse without its gurgle of virtual money, shopping centre after shopping centre. Where workers’ rights are at an all-time low and the education system faces another elitist overhaul. A country where Oaten fancying it ‘that way’ has more social relevance than a government holding 65 per cent of the seats based on a 27 per cent share of the vote.

Have low have we sunk that we deserve The Sun, out of all people, giving us moral lectures about Mark Oaten?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Jarhead. A review of Sam Mendes’ latest film

“Every war is different, every war is the same”, sighs Anthony "Swoff" Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Sam Mendes’ new stunning success.

By complaining that it confounds expectations, some reviewers miss the point: Jarhead isn’t a war movie, more a reflection behind rhetoric, propaganda and the sense of anonymity, loneliness and hopelessness of contemporary cannon (or shall we say depleted uranium) fodder.

Hollywood is crowded with illustrious war-films: Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now and the rest, and even the most recent battle-based contributions (think Three Kings or Black Hawk Down) had their mainstay in velocity and the ritualisation of combat in its most tragic sense.

That alone makes Jarhead unique. The sense of boredom, the stifling wait, the intolerable heat are all inexorable factors that little by little, and with exasperating subtlety, drive those marines insane.

Inspired by Swofford’s 2003 book “Jarhead- A Marines’ Chronicle of The Gulf War and Other Battles”, Mendes wisely takes a step back, leaving the viewers alone to make up their mind about the inebriated rhetoric of god-bless-america-let’s-kick-the-aye-raki’s-ass.

The sense of build-up is remarkably rendered, troops growing from 60,000 to 575,000 within four months, gagging for action while the battle never comes and the enemy doesn’t materialise.

All that is left are hideous levels of testosterone bound to rip the marines apart from within with frustration, nerves and unmitigated boredom. And with inertia comes the realisation that their lives back home – indeed is there a home to go back to at all - are none other than trash, the same trailer trash that pushed then into that deceptively glamorous way out, the marines. But glamorous it isn’t, those guys were promised Apocalypse Now and death of inaction is all they’re getting.

When Swofford concludes “ten years on and we’re still in the desert”, one suspects that Jarhead will turn out to be the landmark of a generation, the lapse that helps the US public register the morass they got themselves into, the physiological guilty swing of the pendulum like it happened halfway through Vietnam.

In which case -be proud Kate- Mendes will deservedly step into cinematic history and with an eye on that other rising star, the absolutely superb Jake Gyllenhall. 2006 may have just begun, but Jarhead is on course to be one of the Hollywood highlights of the year.

Friday, January 20, 2006


At which stage in the evolution of mankind did we decide that people like Chantelle or Pete Burns are to be elevated to 'celebrity' status?
Since he doesnt mind it on other creatures, that idiot should be skinned himself.
Yes, i know, hands up, I'm watching it. Ooops. Blame January's skintness.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Those stinky Travel West Midlands buses

In the space of two years a standard bus fare in the West Midlands has gone up to £1.20, a steep 20% rise. The so-called 'daysaver'? Another 20% rise, from £2-50 to £3-00. At this rate it'll be a fiver by the end of the decade. Even worse the 'short hop' ticket, from 55p to 85p an increase of around 50%. Perhaps they charge extra for the eau-de-piss essence you inhale on those Travel West Midlands' double-deckers.

Now look at your wage slip. What a surprise it doesn't swell up anywhere near as fast as those rates. Somehow in the same stretch my wage went up by 2% in total, and I should even concede I've been luckier than some. And let's not get into the mad rise of London Underground fares or railway prices. Train fares could knock you for six unless you know whether you're going to travel 25 months in advance, the exact departing time and your surname begins with M or something. And what a service they offer, but that's another story.

Clearly the taxpayers' zillions poured into Virgin Trains and every cash-strapped private company contracted out to supply public services aren't enough. Do your bit of charity. Get on that bus.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Whores of the world unite

Paying for sex is not what's damaging society. Keeping it underground is.

Its attitude to civil liberties may appear erratic at best, but there's no doubt the Blair's government is making unprecedented inroads in modernising the approach to canons and customs.

Like many other issues (i.e. cannabis, homosexuality), the attitude towards prostitution is more a matter of acknowledging reality than holding on to abstract moral smokescreens. And so the facts speak for themselves: stuck within an illegal regime, prostitutes make easier prey to molesters and criminals.

Of course, there is no quick-fix. Indeed some would actually argue that prostitution isn't a problem as such, given that trying to combat the law of supply and demand is like trying to get water to run uphill. The problems arise when the trade is buried under the sand, making it illegal in the names of pious moralism.

The Government is now looking at the model already in place in Australia and New Zealand where brothels are state-licensed. The UK law is to be changed to allow two prostitutes and a receptionist or maid to work together legally in brothels, whereas currently only lone prostitutes can offer sex from flats or other premises without breaking the law.

The strategy seems on the right track, based on the assumption that working in groups would be safer for women. Hopefully Blair will ditch his proto-christian hang-ups and go all the way to stop criminalising prostitutes. As well as many other benefits, it would make it more difficult for prostitutes to jump in the car with people they don't know, something that is obviously very difficult when there's a crackdown going on.

Religious zealots can talk about "zero-tolerance", but centuries of giving clients and prostitutes criminal records never eradicated the issue.
It is not paying for sex that is damaging society. It's keeping it underground that is none other than contracting it out to criminal organisation.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Feeding intolerance

To declare war on terror doesn't mean having missiles randomly pissing down from the sky. Surely there's enough handsomely paid-up US war strategist who'd gather that.

The 1996 IRA attacks on the Docklands and Manchester’s Arndale centre left us with some devastating scenes. Now imagine this. Without any warning or consultation with the Irish government, a couple of avenging RAF planes would take off and bomb Dublin. 18 dead, streets and buildings raised to the ground. Of course that never happened. It’d be a daft, absurd and misguided piece of revenge.

It happened, instead, on Friday. Only difference, a missile or two was dropped out of the blue by the US Air Force on a Pakistani village. The reason? They were looking, in vain -it turned out- for Al Quaeda number two, Mr Al-Zawahari. The creepy geezer wasn’t there, of course, and I just wonder how many more deprived, ignorant kids, witnessing their huts smashed into pieces and with nothing else to lose, will now join a fundamentalist group as a result. To declare war on terror doesn't mean having missiles randomly pissing down from the sky. Surely there's enough handsomely paid-up US war strategist who'd gather that.

Yet, we haven’t got much to worry, as sure enough our pampering news coverage system will keep us safe in the bubble: Jodie Marsh’s eviction or Sven-Goran Eriksson’s grotesque gossip are our media fodder of preference, forget the Pakistani slaughter. Til the next 7/7 blasts up the crack of our arse.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


The very word -celebrity- was hardly ever used before the noughties, now it'll go down in history as this decade's obsession.

Trite and pathetic the anti-Galloway witch-hunt may be, but it's a simple fact that the Bethnal Green MP has not been doing his job. As well as being virtually absent from debates and parliamentary votes, his attendance record at the Commons is one of the very lowest amongst all MPs.

So one wonders if George Galloway knew what he was doing when he entered "Celebrity Big Brother", jeopardising his political career on the altar of the dullest, most brain-dead programme of all. If he thought he'd use it as a platform to "get across the anti-war message", then what a massive blunder he made. A quick look at the Z-Lists of fallen egomaniacs he's surrounding himself with and his constituents would be more inclined to think that he's there to preen his feathers instead.

But since you cannot judge what you don't know, this year I decided to give it a go. Yes, I did fear I’d develop a soap-style addiction, but in reality all I could stomach was just about an hour. Not only is it boring, it's just painfully unbearable.

The 'platform' is none other than an A&E centre for a dim-witted collection of failed celebrities with absolutely nothing to write home about. Except, so to speak, for constant sexual innuendos and graphic jokes which don't take long to wear thin.

One character is called Chantelle (give it another generation and kids will answer monikers such as Lambrini and Sudoku), a thick Essex idiot who doesn't even know what a gynaecologist is and resorts to model herself after another chief nonentity, Paris Hilton. And what about that Geordie Big Brother voice, "eeeght-thirtee-three-eeh-yem", striving to add a sense of drama, as if there was anybody left out there believing they're in the throes of a social documentary.

The very word -celebrity- was hardly ever used before the noughties, now it'll go down in history as this decade's obsession, the new device to fill empty lives. The saturation with celebrities has become endemic, a cult run by a self-perpetrating industry that makes a mint out of it.

According to USA Today, the number of celebrity mags in Britain has doubled in the past four years and, in spite of being a sixth its size, there's more celebrity weeklies in the UK than there are in the US. One thing I've learnt from watching "Celebrity Big Brother" though is that those egomaniacs are not to be envied. Just look at Jodie Marsh, Michael Barrymore or Pete Burns. So self-absorbed, desperate to impress and to keep their hollow celebrity status, that breaking point is never too far removed from them.


I am addicted to Lost, it's official. Last night's double bill marked the end of series 1 and I'm in trouble! Will Sawyer survive? What's inside the hatch? Who were those neanderthals who abducted Walt? What's going on??? That show is brilliant, the biggest television tease ever, I just hope it doesn't become another endless X-Files type of drama, tangling itself up. Roll on the Spring then...!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

'The spread of diseases'

Statements like those made by the leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, ‘Sir’ Iqbal Sacrani, are the most telling argument about the level of the people knighted in this country.

As he spoke to BBC Radio 4 on January 3rd, Sir Iqbal Sacrani illustrated the long-standing MCB views that deem homosexuality as ‘harmful’, ‘unacceptable’ and linked with the ‘spread of diseases’, the same kind of 14th century crap that you’d expect to read on BNP leaflets.

But then you stop for a second and think: since the atrocities of 7/7, thousand of people in this country have been bending over backwards to point out that the majority of Muslims are in favour of tolerance, harmony and integration. It really makes you wonder when the leader of a self-professed moderate mainstream Muslim organization preaches intolerance like that.

Simply the other day, one of my colleagues, a Muslim guy you’d regard as being ‘fairly liberal’ candidly remarked that he will never allow his kids (third generation) to date, let alone marry, white people. Had a Christian said that we’d be writing about the Ku-Klux Klan being back in town.

I simply quote the respected civil right activist Peter Tatchell: “Tolerance is a two-way street. How can the MCB expect to secure respect for Muslims when it shows such obvious disrespect to other people because of their sexual orientation?”

Monday, January 09, 2006

The assassination of yet another Kennedy

Or how the most successful Lib-Dem leader since 1929 was made to step down

David Cameron’s crafty strategy is increasingly looking like the new Channel4 series Invasion: you watch out for the signs of an offensive only to discover that the invaders are already amongst us. People are falling for it and Cameron’s New Year’s Eve preening that it’s now cool to be a Tory is starting to sound less joke-like. Step forward the first victim, Charles Kennedy. The fictitious ‘Lib-Dems-for-Cameron’ campaign is already reaping the harvest, as insidious as a malware-ridden Trojan horse poking through your PC. Out of the blue, in the country of alcoholics, the same very UK where livers are the size of hand-grenades, street-vomiting as common a sight as pram-pushing 14-years-olds and the government one step short of sanctioning binge-drinking, a confession of past alcoholism turns into the de profundis of a political career.

The ‘Cameronian’ wing of the Lib-Dems didn't waste any time at all and the result is that the party is now irreparably damaged. The norm was that the Lib-Dems, guilty of taking principled stances like opposition to the Iraq war, would be invariably IGNORED by the UK press. Yet the moment Charles Kennedy comes clean, he’s the laughing stock on ALL front pages, ruthlessly smeared to the point of tearing him to pieces. Such an easy prey. Hurdle no.1 for David Cameron has been removed. Keep an eye.