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.