Friday, February 29, 2008


"How it must actually feel to be part of such a horrific experience"

Film review by Darren Whitcombe

I guess it all started when I was bored on myspace one day and saw the statue of liberty's head lying on the floor somewhere in an advert. About a year later I went to the cinema to see Cloverfield.
That was the other week and I must say I was quite blown away. Blown in which direction I still can't decide, maybe I will be a little closer after I write this.

I had no knowledge of it apart from these reviews from different people;
"I fell asleep it was that boring"; "it was amazing and so scary". Who to believe?
It started out with what I think may be a typical New York (American) house party where you have all of the stereotypical people. I then found myself part of that house party and quite involved with the emotions of the people there and that was terrifying. I was there and I just couldn't imagine anything bad happening at all. Everything seemed so normal, like there was nothing apart from which we know to be real.

Then it happened, New York was being attacked, and that is where most people would feel the movie actually starts. I felt the opposite. I couldn't help but sense that the directors were replaying 9/11 and letting everyone understand how it must actually feel to be part of such a horrific experience and how it would feel before it would actually happen. The movie then follows the adventures of a few ordinary people and how they deal with what is happening. I felt myself living the experience too and how I would cope if I was in their circumstance.

Instincts, emotions, survival, terror and love all come to play in such times during life and I guess what the film is really trying to convey is not how you would feel if it was you who was in that position, but someone who you love more than yourself and what extremes you would go to to help them.
I would recommend this film to everyone because it is a film that should just be seen, not just for the action or for a night out or for a quick scare, but for the experience that some have gone through. I feel thankful that I haven't been in that position where the people whom I hold dear to me are being attacked.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Love Machine and the Love Rat

More on the lethal mix of football and WAGS -
by Emma

It's quite ironic that Girls Aloud pride themselves on their 'take no shite' 21st century Girl Power attitude when their leading lady has become something akin to a doormat in recent weeks.

Cheryl Cole (nee' Tweedy) is portrayed as a bit of a hard nut. A Geordie who has had some bad press in the past with her alleged racism towards a black toilet attendant in a nightclub, she sports - in the words of The Mirror's Tony Parsons - a "florist shop tattooed around the top of her thigh" and, even though she's obviously a bit of a looker, there's the slight whiff of chavvy fishwife about her, especially if you consider her penchant for slagging other female artists like Lily Allen and Charlotte Church.

But she's most famous for being married to footballer Ashley Cole and now the centre of gossip mag frenzy since the news of Ashley's infidelity have arisen.

He's alleged to have slept with a hairdresser, enjoyed a variety of positions with her and ended their sojourn with the offer of funding her abortion if she happens to become 'enciente'. Talk about romance. After spending a short break in Thailand to sort her head out, she's taken him back with open arms.

I am a firm believer that the majority of young footballers are scumbags when it comes to relationships. Not a week goes by without some sort of spitroasting story or prostitute-cocaine-romp (remember Wayne Rooney?), but it certainly doesn't help matters when the women who gravitate towards these men are willing to accept this behaviour. Which, if the papers are to be believed, is a great deal.

Judging by how morbidly obsessed young girls are with 'WAGS' these days, no doubt the moral of 'stand by your man even though he pulls 5 Essex girls a week' will prevail.

Especially if it means the Platinum Visa stays in your Balenciaga handbag.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Goldfrapp, "Seventh Tree"

A review - by Stan Moss

Alison's ditched the more libidinous tendencies for songs about nature, birds and tempos that rarely whip up minstrel dancing in the fields, let alone a romp at Snobs. If you’re expecting any pretty feather boas or sparkly disco-balls, you got hold of the wrong CD. This time round, Goldfrapp are in a thoroughly folky state of mind.

Their 4th album, the successor to two collections of camply sexualised, glam-influenced electro-pop, Seventh Tree represents a dramatic rethink: out go the stomping glitter beats and whip-crack synthesisers, in comes "psychedelic folk". Of course the danger is that unfamiliar territory may alienate fans. But you could reasonably argue that all the possibilities of glam-influenced electro had been exhausted.

Supernature and its predecessor Black Cherry were both platinum sellers. They even influenced Madonna, who found herself labelled Oldfrapp as a result. Seventh Tree is possibly their boldest work to date. Single A&E is obviously the standout track. Some reviewers thought it dangerously peaceful, but these are the same people who'd protest about the "same formula" if Goldfrapp has stuck to their old recipe of success.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Profiteering? Isn't it what free market is about?

Each year the same grumble. But the reason behind the rise in your utility bill is plain and simple. Just do the maths.

Today's UK newspapers are united in their outrage at the profits recorded by British Gas. In the period 2006-2007 BG's takings quintuplicated as the company made £571m compared to £95m the previous year. Welcome to Britain, the country where electricity and gas bills go up 15% a year, council tax eats into a third of your wage and rents simply take the piss. British Gas keep wailing that, poor little things, they have to struggle within this "higly competitive market". Wouldn’t we all like a struggle like that, where you end up pocketing an extra 476 million pounds in a year?

The most useless, almost disarming, contribution comes from the stoical watchdog groups who keep urging the customer to "shop around" and "switch suppliers". In other words, if your bills are rising like a hot-air balloon, then you just take your customs elsewhere and switch to another power supplier. Except that, in the real world, competition doesn’t work like it would in theory. And picking Npower over British Gas isn’t quite as simple as giving Tesco the nod over Sainsbury's because of their enticing three-for-two wine promotion. The price difference amongst gas and power suppliers is negligible and they all have put up their rates along very similar patterns.

That's the nature of the market and dividends have to pour in from somewhere. Is there a single politician or paper ready to go on record as saying that it's time we stop fooling ourselves and accept that those companies are physiologically bent on making a profit? People were warned when Thatcher & Lawson privatised them. Now, just do the maths and spread £476 million amongst all British Gas bills dished out in 2007. Then ask yourself if private ownership of public utilities is worth your pocket's while.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Without access to the evidence we can only work on likelihoods"

The Strange Death of Dr Kelly. Interview with Rowena Thursby

Some of the credit for not ever letting the Dr Kelly issue drop goes to a lady by the name of Rowena Thursby. In the wake of the unquestioned suicide verdict and the one-sided nature of the Lord Hutton report, Mrs Thursby had the resolve to piece together the many voices of dissent. She posted articles on her blog and won the backing of a number of health professionals and medical experts who were increasingly sceptical of the investigative process as well as the official verdict.

Mrs Thursby kindly accepted to help me explore the issue and answered a few questions.
"I had never been particularly interested in politics", she told me, "but for me 9/11 was the catalyst for extensive reading, as I attempted to comprehend the political processes behind it. It became clear that the PNAC neoconservative think tank had been set on controlling the massive resources in the Caspian Sea basin long before 9/11 -- and capturing control of Iraq was central to their geopolitical plan".

Her analysis on the months leading to the Iraq invasion would only be questioned by all but a handful of people. No doubt two would be Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell:
"During 2002 it became increasingly clear that the American government was intent on invading Iraq and looking for a pretext. Searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq provided one. So when Dr David Kelly insisted upon accuracy when talking about WMDs, he eventually found himself in a perilous situation. There can't have been many intelligent people around who did not wonder, when he was found dead in the woods two days after being hauled in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee, if he had been 'dealt with'. Joseph Wilson, mindful of his own safety, was one of them".

Joseph Wilson's, the US former ambassador to Niger, is an interesting case in point. Like Kelly, he became one of the whistleblowers of the lies behind the Iraq invasion. In an article for the New York Times, he stated that the George W. Bush administration had distorted intelligence to "exaggerate the Iraqi threat". A week later, the US Government unleashed its revenge. Wilson's wife's covert CIA identity as "Valerie Plame" was outed in a Washington Post column, putting her safety at risk and obviously setting an abrupt end to her career. No wonder Joseph Wilson wrote, "I too wondered about Kelly's death…I was horrified that I could actually harbour suspicions… that a democratic government might actually do bodily harm to an opponent".

Mrs Thursby, did you ever feel hampered as you began your work to find out more?
"When I was in the thick of it - around the time of the Hutton Report -3,000 e-mails related to the Kelly investigation vanished from my Outlook Express inbox".

But shouldn’t journalists ask the questions that yourself and Norman Baker dared to?
"I lament the fact that there is hardly any investigative journalism nowadays. Few journalists appear to be willing to sink their teeth into a story and stay with it. I suspect many journalists are selected for their tendency to stick to the straight and narrow. Those with more maverick inclinations find they do not have the resources to investigate at a meaningful level".

Do you believe Norman Baker's book can help reopen the case or at least re-focus public opinion? I have the feeling the "it's-the-usual-loonie-conspiracy-theorists" has been already unleashed with a vengeance...
"To make any real difference it needs a whistleblower to come forward with convincing evidence - sufficient to convince not only the Coroner but also Mrs Kelly, who believes it was suicide".

How can her position be explained? Did you speak to her?
"I spoke to Mrs Kelly about the possibility of bringing a judicial review on the Coroner's decision not to re-open the inquest in 2004. She was dead against it because she firmly believes her husband committed suicide. I find her certainty puzzling".

Norman Baker's book ends with a theory. Iraqi hitmen may have been involved in Dr Kelly's 'wet disposal'. Some people dismiss it as conspiracy theory yet it's also true that conspiracy theories arise when a case is shrouded in secrecy.
"Without access to the evidence, we can only work on likelihoods. While it is possible Iraqi hitmen were responsible, I doubt they would have been able to act beneath the radar of British/American intelligence. George Galloway was of the view that the Iraqis barely sneezed without US permission. To set up a suicide scene would require knowledge of the pills, the jacket and the knife -- and the opportunity to take them from the Kelly household such that no one would know they were missing; it seems unlikely that Iraqis would be able to accomplish that without assistance".

Monday, February 18, 2008

"It was impossible for Dr Kelly to have died like that"

Hagley Road interviews Norman Baker MP, author of "The Strange Death of David Kelly"

According to the stereotype, MPs are a collection of spineless, boring and samey individuals. After the squalid 10-year-long display offered by most Labour Party MPs under Messiah Tony, it's now quite difficult to argue against that. Whether it was the Iraq war, tuition fees or foundation hospitals, one of the few certainties of life became that the House of the Unrepresentatives would vote against people's wishes. Yet, it must be said that not all MPs are the same and laudable exceptions do exist. And when they do, they come in the guise of one Norman Baker, MP for Lewes, Sussex, since 1997, a man with an enviable record of tireless investigations into the privileges and expenses of Westminster. One who would probably be called "a pain in the arse" by fellow parliamentarians reluctant to scrutiny and transparency. Most recently, Norman Baker embarked upon an almost solitary battle to shed light on one of the most disgraceful moments of recent British history, the death of weapons inspector David Kelly. You can read this blog's review of Norman Baker's book The Strange Death of David Kelly here. The topic was too interesting to pass over the chance of asking Mr Baker some questions and the Lewis MP kindly decided to spare a pleasant fifteen minutes.

As I was researching for this I found out you used to work as a teacher.

I did! Mainly in Eastbourne, but sometimes in Brighton too. I used to teach groups of Swedes. Any advice? Well, teaching Swedish girls…it was a good job, I did it in between other things when I was waiting for my politics to take off.

What triggered your interest in the Dr Kelly controversy to the point of writing a book?

I think it was obviously a sensational death. Newspapers and tabloids were on about it all the time and it grabbed my attention like everyone else's. So I waited for Lord Hutton's inquiry to be completed. Rather naïvely of me, because when the report came out it became apparent it had completely failed to investigate his death, as it spent most of its time analysing the row between the BBC and the government. Then what happened was that letters from medical experts started appearing in the press saying it was impossible for Dr Kelly to have died like that. In July 2006 I published an article on The Mail on Sunday. I had the largest response to anything I've done since becoming an MP. Literally, hundreds of letters of support. In fact, all bar two were supportive. Some people sent me statements or pieces of evidence that Lord Hutton hadn’t used. So I thought that writing a book would be the most sensible way to go about it.

Was relevant evidence actually being sent to you?

Some stuff they sent seemed to be. Yes.

Last year The Independent called you "the most hated man in Westminster". Surely you can wear that as a badge of honour…

Well, it was interesting because, in spite of the title, the article was actually positive. On the other hand you had the Daily Mail headlining "Britain's greatest MP". But neither are true. It's not a question of black or white. In a sense how you describe me is not relevant to things I campaign on. I don’t do it to improve my public image.

How sympathetic - or hostile- was the climate at Westminster throughout the time you spent gathering evidence for your book?

People were instinctively uncomfortable about it. Maybe sceptical, but what I showed them for many years was objective statements. As Matthew Parris said I'm usually right in what I'm doing and people recognise that. I was right on the Millennium Dome, I was right on Mandelson, I was right on Campbell and then climate change. Earlier on people disagreed but I was then vindicated by the way events turned out.

You mentioned quite a few disturbing episodes that occurred while you were writing. For instance, when the hard drive on your PC was completely erased. Did you ever feel you were treading on murky territory? Did you fear for your own safety?

Well, what I tried to do in the book was to make sure I didn’t overegg the pudding. If you overegg the pudding, that's easiest way to be rubbished. I haven’t written anything to exactly say that there was a direct connection. I just described what happened. But, you know, it may be entirely innocuous and coincidental and I have no evidence to the contrary. That's what I wrote in the book. Did I fear for my safety? Well, you do what you think is right. You can cross the road and get runover and you can't live like that. The best defence in any such situation is to keep a high profile in the papers, therefore if anything happens then at least it's in the public view.

So you don’t have any protection as an MP? A police escort or something?

A Ford Escort, more like.

It's quite puzzling that Dr Kelly's wife, Janice, has kept such a low profile since the start of the whole controversy. Why do you think that is…and did you try to contact her?

I don’t want to hurt anybody's sensitivity therefore I don’t think it's appropriate to go into what I did or I didn’t in relation with Janice Kelly. As I wrote in my book, there are members of the family who were unhappy with the verdict and you may be aware of that. As with Mrs Kelly and her actions, it's all in the book.

Similarly, Ruth Absalom, the last person who allegedly spoke to David Kelly before his disappearance, gave a fairly muddled statement to the Hutton inquiry. Did you manage to track her down?

Yes and no. I found out where she's living but she's got Alzheimers or similar debilitating illness which means she was unable to contribute. I suppose in retrospect it may have started at that point already. I spoke to relatives, but no, they couldn’t shed any light.

Britain seems to have remarkable ability to sweep most relevant questions under the carpet - perhaps I dare say in a way other countries haven’t. The endless post 7/7 spirit-of-the-blitz rhetoric was a typical example of weapons of mass distraction. In the light of Lord Hutton's whitewash, what's your view?

I would say this. Any society which functions properly as a democratic society needs certain safeguards. To begin with, in this country there is too much centralised power. Also, you need a system of freedom of information. Thirdly, a system of accountability for the government of the day so that if they cover something up it should be found out. We haven’t got that. A lot of info in my book came from the US. Though faulty they have congress hearing and you can get to bottom of some issues. I mean, Nixon was subject to impeachment and we that simply wouldn’t happen here. It was quite clear that many people thought Blair lied but nothing happened.

I mean, I find it incredible that a war can be unleashed on what soon turn out to be a pack of lies and no political consequences take place. I mean, look at what happened to Aznar in Spain in 2004…would that take place in Britain? I don’t think so…

I think… sometimes if you wanna tell a lie just tell a big one.

I thought your book was incredibly analytical in the way cases were put forward. Only, in the last chapter, you seem to give some credit to the Iraqi element theory, yet quite without a great deal of evidence. Did you find out more than you were allowed to publish?

Yes [chuckles]. There were two constraining facts. There's the issue of libel and my publishers advised me to drop a few things from my book. Secondly, in the last chapter I refer to one particular source, and a great deal of what he told me had to be removed in order to protect his identity and safety.

Amongst the many reviews of your book I've looked at, The Times' David Aaronovitch was dishearteningly dismissive. Personally I don’t even think he read your book. For one, he glossed over the fact that under one tablet of Copraxamol was found inside Kelly's body, whereas the official version spoke of 29 tablets. Now, I know in ten years he's never written a critical word, not a single one, about the Blair government, but whatever happened to investigative journalism?

Investigative journalism is alive and kicking. Well, ok, not alive and kicking, perhaps more on a life support machine in fact. There's a book, 'Flat Earth News', written by one of my constituents, Nick Davies, analysing the weaknesses of the press. There are indeed plenty of good journalists out there, Anthony Barnett from The Observer, for example, and one or two papers who have the time or money to do it. The Sunday Times does it, the Mail on Sunday does it…they have got time and money. But the worst journalists are those who betray their profession by simply acting as promoters for those in power. What [Aaronovitch] wrote was a pre-emptive strike. At the time of his article, the book hadn’t even been published.

But perhaps he got hold of sample copies, you know…made available to the press prior to publishing dates?

No, no, there was no such thing! He just read one or two extracts from the Daily Mail and that was it!

Has the LibDems' policy on Iraq changed in any way since the election of Nick Clegg as leader?
No, it hasn’t. We want to get out. We’re doing no good in Iraq and we need to extract ourselves as soon as possible. That's what the public as large has said to me. The picture coming out from those days is one of a totally discredited government who behaved disgracefully and with no control from within the [Labour] party. Then we had a Tory party who at the time was totally out of touch and unable to form any coherent policy. So the only people against the war were us. In fact, every single Liberal Democrat MP voted against the war in the Commons.

In the book you also hint at the possibility that Tony Blair was left with no choice with regard to Iraq. He appeared disconcertingly eager to please the Bush administration. Apart from losing political capital what else could he have been scared of?

He put himself into a corner where he thought he could be very clever. He thought he could do what Bush wanted by agreeing to the war in 2002, so long before the war actually started. Secondly, he was still of the opinion he could get the UN Security Council to authorise it. That way he could get cover and still please Bush. But things went down a different route, so Blair ended up tied to Bush's wagon and unable to separate himself. He played his cards rather badly and things went different from what he wanted. Again, one section of the book had to be edited out but the question you can still read is basically: "If the US had info which, if released, would have caused Blair to resign, in what way would he have behaved differently from how he did."

Some people are pointing out that they were right all along as the number of casualties in Iraq is now decreasing. But what pisses me off is that if you show a bit of realism you're deemed a Cassandra who's going against the grain. This from the people who declared victory 5 years ago and are still bogged down.

I mean, fatalities are decreasing only because they were at such a horrendously high figure but they are still a high figure. The whole Iraq escapade has been a total disaster for UK policies across the world, for the UK's image in the world, as we are now seen as an adjunct to the US. Secondly, it's damaged Iraq, it's in such a mess, and it may as well splinter into two. Saddam was a ghastly grotesque maniac but he held the country together. Now it's falling apart, especially into the two Sunni and Shia entities. It's also damaging US interests because if you want to pour petrol on the flame then that's exactly what's been happening. Radical Islamism has been escalating to a point we didn’t have before.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mobile phones, chavs and civic idiocy

The new phenomenon of those who insist on playing music in public on their mobile phones

If 1980 went down in history as the year of Rubik's cube, 2008 is at risk of being remembered for a new phenomenon.

I'm talking about chavs who insist on playing music on their mobile phones. I just spotted a couple on my way back from the supermarket. Two girls strutting about with their top of the range mobiles radiating tinny ghetto-in-yer-face-bad-ass R&B.

The phenomenon is so widespread that some people in London even started a Facebook group called: "Kill the annoying chav playing loud music from his phone on public transport". "Ever been sitting on a bus", the byline says" and "some stupid […] chav starts playing loud garage music from his phone because woooooow he thinks he's so cool cos music is playin' from his mobile?". Objectively, it is incredibly irritating.

More puzzlingly, the whole trend is gathering pace as MP3s are giving way to more sophisticated iPods and MP4s, and we all know how sensitive to new electronic wizardry certain breeds of people are. You'd have thought earphones would be the "in" item. Instead, you're forced to witness the bewildered look on old ladies on the bus, as they endure a half hour pounding of metallic thumping coming from the tracksuited ones.

Of course the big question is "why". Why on earth do some people think that playing their R&B, flamenco beats, or drum'n'bass "choons" out loud on their mobile may be the coolest thing to do is difficult to answer. A type of territorial pissing, possibly. Or a tribal convention that means "I'm full ov a'itude, maan, this is me ghe'o, and I ain takin no shit".

It's like those who rev up their souped up bikes and cars. The louder the roar, the more of a geezer or ladette they think they are. Still, possibly, a more harmless activity than chucking white lightning bottles at bus drivers.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Craig David and why the BRIT Awards fail British music

If you think M People, Five and S Club 7 are faithful representatives of British Music then tune in for the Mastercard-sponsored awards

Craig "Crazy-Paving" David is the new welcome addition to the list of mortals suspecting the BRIT Awards are not representative of the true reality of the music business.

But is the R&B vocalist simply embittered by years of relentless pisstake (remember Bo Selecta, the pissbag and the Peregrin falcon) or has he got a valid point?

Let's put aside the fact that million-making horrors like Spice Girls, Take That, Robbie Williams and Dido were obviously going to be showered with awards and nominations alike. Good or ill, they did leave their mark.

Still, a look at the roll of honour would make for a fascinating read. You get characters like Rick Astley, for goodness' sake, netting the BRIT Award for best singer, but not Morrissey. Simply Red were twice sanctioned best band, but don't mention groups that influenced generations, i.e. Depeche Mode or The Clash, coz they're notable by their absence.

An alien who landed on earth today and flicked through the winners' list (though why he'd want to do that may be a pertinent question) would scratch his head(s) at a roll that include Liberty X, M-People, Shaggy, Five, Blue, Sonique, Bros and other timeless acts. Yes, you read well, these people all pocketed BRIT awards. But The Kinks, Elvis Costello, Roxy Music and The Smiths didn't.

Luckily people deserve more credit than the saturated award and backpatting industry suggest and the indelible mark left by neglected non-winners like Radiohead, Pulp or Pink Floyd will always be a million times more meaningful than the piece of silverware waved about by Kula Shaker or S Club 7 (yes, they won one too).

In the meantime, if you have any luck grabbing hold of S Club Party or Mr Boombastic at a car boot sale, try and run a context for outstanding contribution to oblivion. It's good fun and it can be called the Steve McLaren music awards.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Home crowd? In the Far East

Fancy a bit of Derby County vs Newcastle? Brace yourself for a long, expensive flight - by Stan Moss

Less than two months ago, Sir Alex Ferguson hit out at the comatose state of Man Utd supporters, no passion, no commitment, just a new kind of audience looking for a lovely day out. This week the bigwigs from the Premier League called their bluff .

A 'genuine people's game'? Local roots and atmosphere? Well, in case you wondered, a meeting of the 20 top clubs agreed to explore staging an extra-match a season that would be played in a city in Asia, North America or the Middle East. It is not clear yet how the idea is to be finalised but the proposals on the table suggested each club playing 39 games (hands up those who can figure out how that would work), with a draw to pick out each side’s overseas match.

The aim? Raking up extra millions. The English football "market" (or its "brand value", that's how they refer to it now) is saturated so hail the 21st century version of English colonialism.

If you are one of those fans wishing the ‘bubble’ would burst and the people’s game would return, you'd be better off resting your case. Nothing can stop the lethal mix of football and big money.

Yes, the Premier League chief executive was keen to go on record with routine blather like "it is critical we retain our English character by improving our efforts to produce homegrown talent, deepening our commitment to community engagement and continuing our investment in the grassroots". But somehow there's a hollow ring to it; they haven't cared for the last fifteen years so why would they now?

Uefa boss Michel Platini cracked it: "In England, you already have no English coach, no English players and maybe now you will have no clubs playing in England. It's a joke", he said.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Morrissey, That's How People Grow Up

Single review

Morrissey's dreadful new single That's How People Grow Up smells of desperation.

An official statement on his website begs all fans to go out en masse and propel him up to number one so that he can win "the war against the crashing bores".

Perhaps from the heights of Los Angeles Mansions and suites in top Roman hotels reality gets a bit elusive, but who past the mental age of 13 would buy a record purely so that it hits no.1 in the charts?

Not so long ago, Morrissey would have slammed as "crashing bores" those who'd give priority to "chart wars" as opposed to putting out a quality record with meaningful lyrics, memorable sleeves and -preferably- songs that save your life.

I've heard That's How People Grow Up and the fact that I can't remember a single moment of it may have something to do with its mediocre, middle of the road value. It could have been on You Are The Quarry or Ringleader, you wouldn’t have noticed.

It doesn’t help that its release coincides with yet another Greatest Hits (the 4th one in ten years if you also include a live release). And it doesn’t help that, with the cheap aim of shifting more copies, Morrissey decided to stick a 15-year-old photo of his butt cheeks on the sleeve.

What artistic value has that got, exactly? Does it really matter if you reach no.1? So that your ego can get even bigger?

Forget chart battles, Moz, and sort something out before old, loyal, fans get fed up with the same old song.

It pains me to think that perhaps the time has come for my favourite singer to gracefully knock it on the head.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sharia law, honour victims and the Archbishop of Canterbury

Someone should take a look at what the Archbishop of Canterbury puts in his tea. Maybe the Church of England falling into oblivion is playing on his mind.

The fact that we've reached a point where Jeremy Paxman nit-picking Marks & Spencer's alleged flaccid underpants grabs more headlines than anything the Archbishop says may have required some sort of divine intervention. Not quite.

All it took was a moment of vintage medieval folly and there he is again, Rowan Williams makes the front page news. When the Archbishop made the suggestions that "some aspects of Sharia law should be adopted in the UK", he obviously didn’t take into account that Sharia law is -de facto- already ruling the lives of tens of thousands of British citizens and residents. The moderate Muslim Council of Britain couldn’t believe their ears, as they remarked what a great idea the Archbishop's is.

After all, their line is, Sharia in Britain wouldn't be about chopping thieves' hands and public flagellation, but would only regulate family law and aspects related to marriage and adultery.

In which case, there won't be much change. Everybody knows that a not insignificant percentage of British Muslims are involved in arranged marriages. Some argue that many of them are forced marriages, but proving the allegation is just about impossible.

I will never forget that time when I asked an ex-colleague how arranged marriage works. What if the woman isn't up for it? "She is", was his firm, totemic answer. "Her life is made much easier that way". I refrained from asking any more as in Britain that's automatically muddy waters and it makes you a… (fill in the gap). But otherwise I'd have mentioned those -as young as 12- taken overseas against their own will so that they can be forced to marry their cousin. Or the women who are segregated into pariah status, prevented from finding a job, leaving the house unaccompanied and much more. Official figures talk of 17,000 "honour victims" each year and no in-depth analysis is required to gather that an infinitely higher number goes unreported. I don’t hear anyone sticking this abomination on top of their political agenda.

Quite the opposite. Perhaps the Archbishop didn’t give it much thought, but if it's already difficult for the victims to come forward in fear of reprisals, the idea of knocking on the door of a Sharia court would simply kill off any chance. It would mean a total amnesty on the daily abuse of human rights that happens against British Muslim women. According to the Centre for Social Cohesion, women aged 16 to 24 from Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi backgrounds are three times more likely to kill themselves than the national average for women of their age. In recent years there have been endless news reports of girls intimidated, kidnapped, dreadfully killed for turning their back on their 'family law'.

That is the result of Sharia already unofficially operating in Britain. It's about time someone should say, once and for all - loud and clear- that Sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"The Strange Death of David Kelly" by Norman Baker

Book review

You'd be hard pressed to find a single person in Britain unable to associate ten years of Blair and New Labour with the words "spin", "deceit" and Alistair Campbell.

But whatever your views on Iraq, their lowest point was undoubtedly the absolute mess of "dodgy dossiers", lies and apocalyptic 45-minute claims. That included the Government bullying the BBC for shedding light over the doctoring of intelligence documents and, most shockingly, the death of weapons inspector David Kelly, the BBC source as whistleblower of Britain's faltering justification into the Iraq war. His body was found in the Oxfordshire woods in July 2003. For Blair, it all went downhill from there. And yet no serious analysis of the fact ever took place.

Norman Baker, MP for Lewes in Sussex, tries to redress the balance. His book The Strange Death of David Kelly has been nominated for the Channel 4 Political Book Award 2008. For one thing, it is infinitely more analytical than the hurried statutory inquiry set up by Tony Blair hours after Dr Kelly's demise.

In fact, as you read, you learn that -quirk no.1- a statutory inquiry (such as the one led by Lord Hutton) has no tribunal powers. Less, in fact, than an ordinary coroner's inquest. For instance, they have no authority over witnesses, no warrant to call for new evidence as well as no power to sanction perjury. You won't hear that from the newspapers. And yet, it's only one of the mysteries that surround the case.

Lord Hutton's official verdict was suicide, coupled with ample bollocking of those at the BBC who dared question the accuracy of the Government claims behind the invasion of Iraq. Thought it was common knowledge that intelligence material had been disgracefully 'sexed up', it didn’t matter. The BBC was forced to apologise and its director general to resign.

Meanwhile, Dr David Kelly was alleged to have taken 29 Coproxamol tablets and slashed a small artery in his wrist. But -quirk no.2- only less than the content of one Coproxamol tablet was found inside Dr Kelly's body. Lord Hutton didn’t deem it worthy of a more thorough investigation.

More, a group of respected vascular experts queried Lord Hutton's conclusion protesting that the chances of dying of haemorrhage from severing the artery Dr Kelly was alleged to have slashed are close to nil.

And - quirk no.4 - in spite his alleged lethal haemorrhage, hardly any blood was found on David Kelly's clothes or sprayed around. Put simply, there isn’t enough space here to sum up the huge list of inconsistencies published in the Hutton whitewash. And yet, it's just unbelievable. There's the last person to have seen Dr Kelly who claims he wasn’t wearing a coat (it was July, remember). Yet one was found on his corpse.

There's the unexplained fact of the police support operation, codenamed Mason, starting nine hours before Dr Kelly was reported missing. Unorthodoxly, the police focused on searching Dr Kelly's house as soon as they turned up, requesting that Mrs Kelly wait outside. Besides, there's Dr Kelly's past involvement with highly secret Ministry of Defence-sanctioned projects. If he could speak to the BBC about the Government lies in their case for war, what else might he spill?

There's his cryptic words to a colleague just before the Iraq war: "if Iraq is invaded I'll be found dead in the woods". There are Dr Kelly's work-related emails sent on the day he disappeared which suggest a perfectly stable and forward-looking state of mind. There's the plane tickets he booked. Last but not least, the disturbing number of incidents that surrounded Norman Baker's sources as he was collecting his evidence.

As it's very easy to shrug off the fragmented evidence and list of contradictions as conspiracy theory, Norman Baker centres his research on meticulous investigation and forensic research rather than plain hearsay. The book is more a dissection of all possible options rather than pre-conceived theory.

So I guess the best endorsement to the book comes from the stick Norman Baker took from the usual suspects. In The Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor talks about "plenty of evidence supporting the conclusion that he was driven to suicide" but he doesn’t say what the evidence is.

But, best of all, there's The Times' David Aaronovitch. Now, seriously, there's a better chance of Blair disagreeing with himself than that of Mr Aaronovitch disagreeing with Blair. In 10 years, the independent-minded columnist has not written one - read 1- article even remotely critical of any action taken by Messiah Tony.

Instead of debating the facts, in classic Pravda-style, Aaronovitch proceeds with his character assassination of Norman Baker and his current role in the Liberal Democrats. Then there's this one: "Since the fearless Mr Baker believes it is impossible to die in the way Dr Kelly is supposed to have done, then it should be able to meet the simple challenge of himself taking 29 Coproxamol tablets and then slitting his own left ulnar artery". Not impossible, if all the tablets you swallow amount to less than one.

But one can excuse Aaronovitch for being obviously too busy with his own independent thinking to check all the facts. And actually read the book.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I have not been bitten by a warewolf!!!

FaceBook, the new refuge of the socially inept

"Social network" is very 21st century. Just as a decade ago you'd have scratched your head at the sound of 'frappuccino', 'metrosexual' and 'ladette', you'd have also recoiled at the combination of "social" and "network" in the same expression. Too redolent of a Peter Mandelson-sponsored DSS initiative, perhaps. In principle, a "social network" is a great idea. Try and tell anyone you don’t have an online account with MySpace or Facebook and you'll be labelled a Disco Vicar for life. MySpace may be a bit passe', but Facebook is most certainly wicked. You can upload photographs of your last holiday, talk about how much you don't care and -above all- stay in touch or re-establish contact with long lost friends. Fantastic. A web-based 'This is Your Life' that signifies the end of "I wonder what that prick I went to school with is up to", now replaced by a more informed "look-at-him-in-his-wedding-suit-he-seems-to-be-doing-well-for-himself", or "ha-ha-my-ex-from-ten-years-ago-has-turned-into-a-right-minger". You can literally unearth people back from Year 2 and, in theory, keep in touch.

However, in line with human nature, people have to turn everything they touch into a bewildering tacky mess. Some people think the internet and Playstation generation are going to turn out less socially skilled than their predecessors. A look at one of those social networks and the chances of proving that argument wrong are lower than Wolves' likelihood of a victory at Old Trafford. Facebook has become the new refuge of the socially inept. You may be in awe of having been added as a "friend" by someone you last saw in 1995, but a sense of unease will soon come upon you as they won't be able to reply to a simple "what are you up to now" or "do you still live in…" question. Any attempt to a basic online conversation is dampened by a whirlwind of "invitations", except they're the most useless, irritating, impersonal ones. This morning I clicked on one and it read: "Dear victim, you've been bitten by John! Click the Start Biting Chumps button to become a warewolf and start biting other chumps". What?! Does that sound braindead to you? I don't know, because also "Matt has just thrown a sheep at you", and "Rebecca as just bought you for $3,000". I don’t wanna be bitten by a bat or bought, Rebecca; just say something! Answer me!…How the hell are you????

I mailed Steve if he remembers the mess of Fresher's Week ten years back but as weeks go by without a reply, it's quite clear my question unearthed deep discomfort in his subconscious. Strange cos in the meantime Steve himself has inundated my Facebook mailbox with a "Warbook" notification, a "What Sex Position are you" application and, last but not least, a "Pillowfight invitation". Call me humourless and bitter, but why I would want to have a Pillow fight online, simply, eludes me. And Andy, I asked you how your new job was, I didn’t request an "Album Rack" application! And if you decide to check Tara's profile, you may want to book a day off. Their send-mail button or even their photo album are drowned in a bamboozling ocean of pointless "applications" that are the epitomy of social ineptitude: "You're a Hottie", "Pick You Up", "What Drink are you?", "What Vegetable are you" (why would you want to know if I'm a carrot or a courgette?), "Tiz Me" and…lo and behold…even a "My Starbucks" application, in which you send imaginary drinks to bestest "hottie" "trendsetting" mates you'd carefully keep at an arm's length if it was the real world. Any excuse to say nothing.

When Facebook was created, each profile pages featured a "Wall" section in which people could leave messages everybody could read. That wasn't enough. As Facebook gets more popular the scroll button on your mouse is working overtime as you get sweaty palms negotiating your way between Wall, FunWall, SuperWall, GraffitiWall, MegaWall and Another Brick in The Wall. And, being a British thing, you can be sure there's a BoozeMail section too. Thank god you can't get pissed online.

So here's what I say. If anybody out there is bored enough to have figured out the difference between Poke and SuperPoke, please do us a favour, delete us from your Friends list.