Sunday, April 27, 2008

Moby...remember him?

Music so bland, artificial and processed that if it were food they'd have to come up with new E-numbers.

They may say it's not fair to kick someone when they're already down. And you may not have noticed, but a guy called Moby recently released his new album "Last Night" amongst the most supreme indifference. A poke at him and one at the most fickle creatures in the history of mankind (the UK music press) is therefore too good to resist. Ten years ago, in fact, Moby and his LP "Play" were ever-present, the coolest things since sliced bread. All its tracks were used on TV, ads and films, an all-time record.

To look back now at 1998-99, it's clear how music distinctly resembled post-disaster Chernobyl. It may have been a consequence of the Britpop binge or horror-like videos of Blur milking cows with Damien Hirst, but the press decided that guitars were passé. Suddenly, if you wanted to look cool, man, you'd have to adopt a DJ posture and talk to your mates about your "decks", man. Better if with a bit of "ganja" in your pockets. Man. Late 90s students loved their Nike Air Max trainers and would routinely listen to grit-free Groove Armada, Air, Moloko and Basement Jaxx. In terms of popularity, however, none could hold a candle to Moby. "Really? You don’t like Moby? But he's so cool, man!" was what I remember the most from Year Two at Uni.

"Play" epitomised everything that had gone tits-up with the music industry of the time. Under the guise of "ambient", a pinch of cinematic feel and a sprinkle of "breakbeat", this safe, faux-alternative, dull, middle-of-the-road hybrid was literally shoved down the country's throat. You couldn’t watch 5 minutes of telly without hearing his music. No wonder 9,000,000 copies were offloaded. In halls of residence "Play" quickly outdid nicked traffic cones as the most cherished item. You had to have one. Echoes of its most popular hit Porcelain were heard everywhere: supermarkets, Boots and hairdressers as well as University corridors, along chattering of "Got so caned last night, man". The mosquito-like "Eeeehh, owah" and that exasperating piano, "d-d-din din din din d-d-din", would make you wonder if having yourself committed could be the only way to salvation. Not to mention the mock-cinematic bluesy gospel of Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? and the doing-your-head-in-effect of the mock-grainy sample "Ooh lordy troubles so hard" on Natural Blues. Music so bland, artificial and processed that if it were food you'd have to invent new E-numbers.

Luckily, the rest is history. Moby collected "best album of the year" awards and huge amounts of money, but the mark he left in artistic terms remained the equivalent of Lichtenstein in international relations. As The Strokes came along, and then Franz Ferdinand and others, music was given its crucial dose of CPR and the music press looked for new definitions of cool. Within two years, Moby was in Room 101.
Let's just hope that's where he stays.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

This week's news round-up

This week's news reassessed. By Claude*.

Rejoice. Phil Collins has announced his long overdue retirement. In an interview with the Sunday Times he revealed he's packed in his recording and touring career. Yet his outlook doesn’t look grim. Rumour has it that the guy who inflicted "A Groovy Kind Of Love" and "Another Day In Paradise" upon a generation may be contracted out to write music for the exclusive use of torturers at Guantamo Bay. After a daily diet of Phil Collins blasting down their headphones, prisoners will be more than happy to spill the beans.

On to another 80s has-been, some of you may remember Limahl from 80s hair band Kajagoogoo. His career may be on the brink of a revival as his hit Never Ending Story stands a good chance of becoming the official soundtrack of the US primary elections. For last Tuesday's Pennsylvania primaries, Hillary Clinton a.k.a. "The Obliterator" needed a 10% victory, no less, to stay on course. And guess what? A 10% margin is exactly what she got. Just enough to drag this Clinton v Obama extravaganza to the bitter end. Meanwhile, from all that rubbing, McCain's hands are on fire.


Madonna, instead, is all but a has-been. Unfortunately. Because as she's about to release her 11th album, the American singer is amassing a faux pas after the other. First off, her husband Guy Ritchie lambasted the changing face of central London, now hijacked by foreign billionaires, to the point that it's become extremely unaffordable for the "natives". A well placed grievance, except for the bizarre twist that multi-millionaire Mr and Mrs Madonna are also owners of seven properties in Central London. Second, in a special edition of this month's Q magazine's "Cash for Questions", Madonna made a complete arse of herself. Oozing arrogance from all pores, her up-her-own-arse diva attitude would make a comparison between Lou Reed and a docile Labrador quite a sensible one.


Our weekly update with New Labour's own Waterloo is increasingly looking like a bulletin from The Poseidon Adventure. Remember last week's outcry caused by Gordon Brown's decision to scrap the 10p tax rate? Well, the beleaguered Prime Minister had to back down. Or not. He just promised measures to make up for it, though what and when exactly is far from clear. Conclusion? The message that came across is that the Labour government is now beyond redemption and that there are more chances of Derby County winning the Premier League than Brown the next general elections.


Imagine you've been knocking yourself out all of your life with a view to a nice retirement. All these years your contract's been saying you're going to expect a £1,000 a-month pension. Now your employers, who are still making a mint each day, in a classic case of goalposts being shifted half way through the match, are saying that they've got to slash your retirement money down to £700 - and don’t you dare moan because you're lucky enough to expect a pension scheme at all. As the word 'unfair' starts creeping into your brain, just ask yourself what you would do. This is why 1,250 workers from Grangeworth Oil Refinery are starting a 2-day strike on Sunday. "Be in no doubt", Dave Moxham of the Scottish Trade Union Congress said, "the Grangemouth workers are striking as a last resort. They are not striking to win a better pensions deal or extract more money from the company, but merely to protect their existing pensions".


Finally, a big thank you to all Cure fans who responded to our requests. As we've been inundated with Cure stories and anecdotes from all over the world there are all the premises for a fantastic Cure project to coincide with Robert Smith and Co.'s new album. In the meantime, their new single The Only One has been scheduled for release on May the 13th.

*[Johnny Taronja is on holiday. He'll be back next week]

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Council tax? Rubbish

1. You may have been a perfectly law-abiding citizen all your life but a half raised bin lid is gonna tarnish that spotless criminal record.

2. Council tax continues to rise unabated while your local authorities collect your rubbish half as often as they used to.

If you're still struggling to find a connection between statements 1, and 2, then take a look at this story from the BBC and it'll all make sense. You may as well google cost effective. The words "local" and "authorities" won't come up.

However, you'll find out why local councils need hard cash to employ their teams of investigators, photographers, enforcement officers and then take those rubbish cases to court.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Unsung scroungers

Ordinary tales of bosses nicking their staff's tips.

Last weekend there was one political story that mattered, and it had nothing to do with hollow proto-political coverage preoccupied with Gordon Brown's suits, Labour's alleged rebellions (but over what, exactly?), or MPs dating Cheeky Girls. Credit to the Mirror ("SHAME OF TIPS RIP-OFF" was Saturday's headline) for being alone in exposing one of the unseen scandals of today's Britain.

So you are a barmaid. You can't sit on your arse, you have to be on constant alert, walk up and down the dining area, wipe surfaces, pay attention to details, make sure you've got the correct order and you don't drop plates and glasses on the way. Complaining customers will happily take it out on you even though you aren't the one managing the place or shoving food in the microwave. When you started you were probably weighed down with glossy booklets about how smashing it is to be a "team member", and clichés like "cutting edge service", "customer care" and "targets". Not to mention the importance of having a permasmile stamped on your underpaid face. And, lest we forget, the constant bogeyman threat of the "mystery customer" sent over by head office.

It's hard to think of many other jobs that have to involve anti-social hours, customer care skills, dexterity, physical stamina, a clear head and huge dollops of patience all in one. The minimum wage may still be too low (currently standing at £5.52 an hour), but it was introduced precisely to avoid the obscenity of waiting staff pocketing £3 or below for all that work.

Except that a number of fat companies such as Pizza Express and Café Rouge are now rumoured to be at the forefront of crooked practices. Not only do they pay their staff below the minimum wage (as little as £3 an hour, according to trade union Unite) and then use tips to cover the difference, but they also pocket a slice of the same tips. A kind of inverted Robin Hood. In essence, they defeat the object of what a tip has been since civilisation began.

It may also have crossed your mind that it's not as if franchises like these (along with many others, just to keep it clear) weren't doing so well. In recent years they've been multiplying like rabbits. And a cynical reader may be tempted to stick the two facts together.

Unite and The Mirror have started a campaign to name and shame bosses who indulge in such practices. Shame the Sun and Daily Mail haven’t backed it. And we thought they didn’t like scroungers!

Friday, April 18, 2008

A call to all Cure fans

How did you get into The Cure?
We are currently working on a project to coincide with the release of the new Cure album. It's a call to all Cure fans, old and new, no matter what sex, age, religion or country, to get in touch with us.
We would like to know how you first got into The Cure. Were you at school? Was it through a relationship? Did you her them on the radio? Or were you flicking through a magazine and liked the look of Robert Smith (or Simon Gallup)?...How did you get into them? Also, how has your attitude towards The Cure changed through the years???

Please drop the site an e-mail or contact me directly if you wish to contribute.

This week's news round-up

The week's news reassessed by Johnny Taronja

Mackenzie Crook of The Office is the main character in the comedy film Three And Out on release this month. If the plot brings to mind the expression "scraping the barrel", it was its risqué theme that provided some much needed publicity. Crook is a tube driver who witnesses two accidental deaths. The rule is that -in the event of three deaths in one month- a driver would lose his job but net a massive payout. With a view to an idyllic retirement, Crook sets out to seek the 3rd person, someone willing to hurl themselves under a train.

As you can imagine, this didn’t go down well with the train drivers themselves. "The best thing about cinema is that you don’t have to go. This view has been reinforced at the news of the release [this month] of Three And Out", wrote Keith Norman, General Secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers' union. The distribution company came up with a customary "we took great care" to handle "heartfelt issues" sensitively. But, as Keith Norman replied, "how would these writers and producers react to a film that had a good laugh at a form of cancer they could pick up from keyboards? Or to a hilarious skit about acute spinal pain they can get for sitting too long at desks?"


It's not everyday that we agree with the Gallagher brothers. This week, however, we find ourselves completely on Noel's side. Asked his opinion about the crisis afflicting the Glastonbury festival, the Oasis guitarist pointed the blame at the rise of headlining acts like Jay-Z. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", he said, adding that it's Glastonbury's guitar tradition that made the festival what it is. The Eavis family replied that they have a "responsibility" to do "inclusiveness". Except that it's a music festival, not a Council scheme. But if the Eavises got it right soon you'll be able to book your tickets for Napalm Death at Ronnie Scott's or 50 Cent at the Proms.


"OutTory" the Tories; we said it at Hagley Road to Ladywood two months ago and there seems to be no end to it. In fact, no-one can accuse Gordon Brown of not being thorough. This week's controversy was punctuated by a new nail in the coffin: the "abolition of the 10p rate" issue. Read: if a higher mortgage or bills won't push you into official poverty just yet, then the Government will. Just in the off chance there were still any low income voters professing an allegiance to Labour, this should manage a clean wipeout.

It took centuries for the world to wake up to a government with more female ministers than men. This week, Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero announced his new cabinet, including the first female Defence Secretary in the Western (or possibly, entire) world, 37-year-old Carme Chacon. Like all historical changes, the decision required balls. And you don’t fight prejudice without balls. The European landscape seems to be going through a desolate right-wing swing of the pendulum. Just to give you an idea, in the wake of his election victory in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi promised 4 (four) female ministers out of a pool of 12. Because men don’t take orders from women. Zapatero signals that not all hope is lost.

The departure of Richard and Judy from Channel 4 to make their leap onto digital channel UKTV marks the end of an era. The pair of them were like a certainty. Along with the knowledge that your house was still there, your furniture still there, your cooking programmes still there, your local pub still round the corner, Richard and Judy were always on daytime telly while you were at work. I hardly ever watched them but I will always remember Judy's struggle to get a word in edgeways and Richard's remarkable capacity to interrupt. Wish them well.

A number of parents who watched Newsround on CBBC complained that announcing the death of children TV presenter Mark Speight was insensitive, "sick" and "appalling". It didn’t matter that Newsround did it in a sanitised way (without a single mention of his suicide and drug involvement), according to the whingeing parents, children shouldn't even know about death and only hear about "positive stuff". Let's ask them parents for advice shall we? If your kid catches you watching a programme about the Iraq war, you should make clear you're only playing a gamepad-free computer game called "snatch the oil". If the same kid catches tonsilitis you should simply say that he's nurturing two tennis balls in his throat and it's certainly worth the pain. And so forth.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Just go, Mugabe

For all his macho posturing, the dictator is acting like a juvenile keeping his school marks from his parents

It's now three weeks since the Zimbabwean elections sanctioned Robert Mugabe's defeat. If it wasn't that thousands of lives were at stake, you'd be excused for thinking that the 81-year-old bully (lest we forget, one the most sanguinary dictators alive) is acting like an inept juvenile keeping his school marks from his parents. "Got your exam results yet?" mum and dad probe, while the kiddo, snot hanging from his nose, clings on to his increasingly pathetic "no, not yet". But even a thicko like him must be aware that the clock's ticking and failure's looming. How long Mugabe can go on hiding the elections results is everybody's guess.

But the worst aspect of Mugabe's desperate grip on power isn’t simply "the West", like cliché-lovers are happy to suggest. Of course, the priests of "Exported Democracy™" are notable by their absence, and the next time Busho and his faith-loving lackey Tonino Blair go round talking of "moral imperatives" they should be kicked in the nuts. However, this time the biggest culprits are African countries (read: the members of the Southern Africa Development Community). South Africa, in particular, with its enormous influence over neighbouring Zimbabwe, has so far refused to issue any condemnation of Mugabe's regime of torture and violence.

The best President Thabo Mbeki managed to produce came today, "it is our view all the participants should come together, sort out all the causes of the delay, and then release the results as a matter of urgency". I bet he wouldn’t have liked that coming from another head of state during the apartheid years.

Put this woman on an island somewhere

It's not every day that I read an article that makes me see red, however it happened yesterday. It makes you really question reality/decency when parents like Alicia Douvall exist.

The glamour 'model' (who to be honest is more freakish than glam), who has bedded the majority of Z-list celebrities, and is famous for her kiss and tells, has announced that she's buying her daughter some boobs on her 16th birthday.

Alicia, who has had over 50 surgeries on her body in the past decade (with her 13th boob-job looming), wants her 12 year old Georgia to become a topless model like herself when she's older.
She said "I think a 16 year old with a nice, sexy figure will do really well as a model if she's managed properly... I didn't know she was worried about her flat chest... She'll become more famous than Britney!", to which the rather sad looking child added, "I think it's normal to have surgery if somethings not quite right"
Alicia, then remarked, "I'm happy for Georgia to have a boob-job because it will give her a career"

By now, I hope you've managed to keep your puke in your mouth rather than all over your computer screen.

Firstly, if you've been brought up by such an ignorant creature like Alicia, it's very likely that you're going to have a highly distorted view of life.
This poor child is growing up thinking that the only way of being successful in life is to have an enormous pair of tits, take your clothes off, fall out of clubs and sleep with men and tell the world (or, News of the World) She will believe that it's normal to have tons of plastic surgery if you have flaws, and no doubt grow up with the lowest self-esteem known to man.
Why? Because of her mother, and this is all she has known.

What ever happened to encouraging your children to use their brain and get a decent education? Since when was having big boobs the only way to get a career?
Aside from the fact that getting your boobs done at 16 should be illegal (in my opinion), Alicia has obviously forgotten that her child is just entering puberty, and of course she's going to have a flat chest.
It is worrying that a 12 year old child like Georgia even thinks about breast enlargement, but the truly revolting thing is the fact that her mother is the one encouraging it.

However, get used to calling Georgia 'Destiny' in future, because her mum's already changed her name in preparation for her future career, despite the fact that her gran said it sounded 'like the name of a lapdancer'

That proves a lot really, doesn't it? Poor kid.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not the breast one to trust

Trust The Sun to chip in with some in-depth analyses. WHO'S THE BREAST MAYOR? is their contribution to the London elections debate. A headline that must have taken them ages. Not to mention the byline, "page 3 babes tell you who their favourite man-ifesto is". Don't you love those old British values...

Staying with the London elections, you can also get the whiff of Rupert Murdoch's new direction. Headlines like "Ken to give asylum seekers cut price bus travel" and worn-out talks of the Mayor's alleged "motorists bashing exercise" aren't designed to go down well with Sun readers. For sure, they set off nicely the Sun's coverage of Boris, or rather "Beau-ris", "the ladies' choice", in their own words. If that was the case, free NHS glasses to London ladies should be a no.1 priority. Listen out, Ken.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Peter Tatchell: "Boris Johnson? A big mistake"

Speaking to Hagley Road to Ladywood, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has his say on the London elections, Ken Livingstone vs Boris Johnson, celebrity culture, and George Galloway's recent nonsense. Interview by Claude Carpentieri

Gordon Brown may have said that he’s "losing patience" with Robert Mugabe, but if only the world had been listening in due time. For years, Peter Tatchell and a number of fellow human rights activists were amongst the very few who tried to open the world’s eyes on Mugabe’s genocidal policies. In 1999, Tatchell ambushed Mugabe’s car during an official state visit in London and performed a citizen’s arrest. But when the police were called, the one who was let free to go was Mugabe ("sorry-for-any-inconvenience") while the human rights activists were jailed.

Now 56, Peter Tatchell is possibly the most unrelenting human rights campaigner in the UK. If Britain finally managed to turn over a new leaf and left Soviet-style anti-gay policies behind, part of the credit goes to him. From the 1990 "Kiss-in" at Piccadilly Circus to protest against arrests of gay men for kissing in public, to the stoical campaigning against Section 28 (one of the most shameful pieces of legislation in the history of Britain), Peter Tatchell has been at the forefront of the fight against religious fundamentalism and bigotry.

Tatchell never gave a shit about trends and media popularity. He may have recently been praised as a "national treasure" or "a hero of our time", but when for decades he risked his own skin and got himself arrested or beaten to stand for human rights in Britain as well as the Eastern bloc, Zimbabwe or the Middle East, most of the left opted for blinkers instead. I must say I couldn’t believe my luck when I was offered the chance to speak to him. Amongst the topics we discussed, the fact that London may be at danger of capitulating to a bigot.

The debate on the London elections is heating up. Do you find it disturbing that the media can spend so much time on the fact that "Ken Livingstone has five children by three different women"? How on earth does that affect Londoners and their daily lives???

PT: Ken’s personal life is totally irrelevant. It’s no one else’s business. The same goes for Boris Johnson’s extra-marital affairs and Brian Paddick’s same-sex partner. Judge the candidates on their integrity and their policies.

As a critic of Ken Livingstone over his courting of al-Qaradawi, do you actually support him in the mayoral election?

PT: I will give my first preference to Sian Berry, the Green Party candidate. She is the most progressive, with the best policies on housing, transport, jobs, crime, equal opportunities and the environment. Moreover, she is not sectarian. Sian is open, inclusive, fair, honest, accessible and democratic. In addition, it would be brilliant to have a woman Mayor - and someone young to lead what is a youthful city.

My second preference will go to Ken Livingstone. Boris Johnson would be a big mistake. He is clownish, disorganised, not well informed, has little grasp of policy detail and is on record as saying some very bigoted things about various minority communities.

Based on existing polls, Ken is the only candidate who can stop Boris. In any case, Ken's policies as Mayor have been mostly positive and benefited Londoners. All in all, he has been a good Mayor. He should be judged in the round. Despite his flaws and policy misjudgements (such his fondness for high-rise office blocks, closeness to big business, promotion of bendy buses etc), he is way better than Boris.

I don't hold personal grudges. I would never base my voting intentions on what bad things Ken may have done to me personally (he unjustly denounced me as an Islamophobe in 2004 because I criticised the fundamentalist cleric, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi). The interests of all Londoners must come first.

I do, however, hope that Ken will listen to the valid criticisms that I and other friends and allies have made and, if he is re-elected, that he will reform his administration to end the favouritism, personal vendettas, sectarianism, control freakery and unsavory alliances that have sometimes characterised City Hall.

Opinion polls suggest Boris Johnson's ahead. Is this the official signal for the country's swing to the right that many analysts have forecast? Given that in terms of policies, instead, polls suggest a majority of pro-Ken views, how can someone become Mayor of London purely for the jokes they tell?

PT: A victory for Boris would be a big boost for the Tories. It might give them momentum to win the next general election. Mind you, although I don’t want the Conservatives back in power, Labour doesn’t deserve to win either. Gordon Brown is pursuing Tony Blair’s disastrous policies and piling on disasters of his own: the Iraq war, abolition of the 10p rate of tax for low earners, ID cards, expanded nuclear power, post office closures, the renewal of Trident nuclear missiles and plans to extend the detention of terror suspects to 42 days. These are reactionary policies. That’s why I no longer support Labour. I am backing the Greens and standing as their parliamentary candidate for Oxford East at the next general election.

Heat magazine is officially more popular than The Independent. How do you view Britain's so-called celebrity culture?

PT: Celebrity culture is the bane of modern Britain. It epitomises the greedy, me-first, fame-driven, consumerist lifestyle that is promoted by, and pandered to, by the media. True achievement comes through talent and hard work. They are no easy routes to doing things that are truly individually rewarding and socially valuable.

Why should an 18-year-old guy take an interest in politics today? They were anti-Iraq war en-masse and it happened anyway. They were against tuition fees yet Blair still ploughed ahead and now fees are here to stay. What do you answer to the "what's the point" argument?

PT: If young people walk away from politics, the careerists and self-servers win. Decisions taken by politicians determine our future. That’s why politics matters. The ramifications of politics are too important to be left to the professional political elite.

For a short while some of the press timidly focussed on the scandal of 'non-doms' paying virtually no tax in Britain. Yet most people are still unaware of it, or totally resigned that nothing will ever change. Will it ever?

PT: We, the people, can change Britain and the world for the better. But only if we are determined to see change and get organised. All of us who care need to work together, across generations and politics, around issues like civil liberties, economic justice, fair voting, equality for all, de-militarisation, animal rights, international solidarity, environmental protection and many other big local, national and global issues. The poll tax protests, especially the millions who refused to pay the poll tax or delayed their payments, showed that ordinary people can force governments to abandon crazy policies.

Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

PT: Obama is better than Clinton. But I would not vote for either of them. The Green anti-corporate candidate Ralph Nader would be my choice. He’s far more radical, and has concrete, practical solutions too.

The recent killing of 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster, brutally murdered only because she was a "goth", reminded us of the level of brutality in Britain. A petition to extend the definition of "hate crime" to include offences against people based on their appearance was recently submitted to the Government. As a long-time campaigner for the inclusion of homophobia within the definition of "Hate Crime", do you back the idea?

PT: Yes, hate crime legislation should be all-inclusive.

Last month George Galloway said: "All the (British) papers seem to imply that you get executed in Iran for being gay. That's not true" [Watch his dismal performance on The Wright Stuff by clicking here].
An act of political calculation or does he honestly believe what he's saying (that's crap either way, I say)?

PT: I don’t know why George said that nonsense. Whatever his rationale, he is wrong. It looked a bit like he was pushing the Iranian government’s propaganda. He works for Press TV, which is funded by the Iranian regime. Perhaps he’s putting his mouth where his money comes from? I don’t know. All the Iranian and international human rights groups agree that gay people in Iran are arrested, jailed, flogged, tortured and sometimes executed.

I presume you had a look at "What's Left?", the book written last year by Nick Cohen of The Observer and that Hagley Road to Ladywood reviewed. Cohen's argument was largely based on so-called straw-man logic. However, when you watch performances like Galloway's on The Wright Stuff, it does make you think. Why is there still such a chunk of the left that would turn a blind eye or two towards mysoginy, anti-semitism and homophobia? How on earth are you an "Islamophobe" if you simply frown upon gay men being flogged to death in Iran or Saudi Arabia?

PT: Sadly, large chunks of the left have either capitulated to Blairism and Brownism, or they have descended into the crude simplicity of anti-Americanism, which sometimes leads them to back anti-US movements and regimes like Iran and Hezbollah. It is absurd to condemn as anti-Muslim those people, like myself, who defend Muslim women and gays against fundamentalist fanatics.

Let's remain on the Middle East. I don't know if you ever got a chance to get to know Tony Blair. Why do you think he ploughed ahead the way he did with Iraq? Messianic conviction or what?

PT: Blair was always a pro-American Atlanticist. He could never conceive of Britain having an independent foreign policy, or Europe being a bulwark against US hegemony. So he threw his lot with Clinton and Bush. Turning the UK into Washington’s poodle was a huge and very insulting error of judgement. The Iraq debacle destroyed Blair’s credibility and reputation forever.

I wrote my dissertation on Section 28. Even 10 years ago it was unthinkable it would ever be scrapped. And it was 1999 when a nail bomb blew up the Admiral Duncan in Soho. Is Britain really less homophobic today?

PT: Public attitudes are much more accepting and understanding. We really have become a more liberal, tolerant society. There are still backwaters of racism, misogyny and homophobia but they are a minority and getting smaller.

Peter Tatchell will be the Green Party's parliamentary candidate for the Oxford East constituency at the next general elections.

[You can read about Peter Tatchell's work on his website]

Claude Carpentieri

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Champions of style - Part one

If you thought David Beckham was the one that brought style into football, think again. Take a look at ten of the biggest trendsetting footballers that ever graced the world's pitches before his time. Brought to you by Nike Hair Max.

Rudy Voeller

Peter Beardsley

Kevin Keegan

Rene Higuita


Ray Wilkins

Walter Zenga

Chris Waddle

Barry Venison

Alexi Lalas

My love affair with downloading

Who knows, perhaps one day we'll look at the romantic times when we were spending hours amassing MP3 files into a music library. And Nick Hornby will write a book about a couple of nerdy file-sharers called Dick and Barry.

I'm never the sharpest when it comes to technology and gadgets. Remember when CDs first came out and brought along a whole new world of features? A swishing noise, to start off, and within seconds the display would tell you track number and total running time. That was the end of any stylo-based surgical manoeuvring and pizza-like twirling of a-side and b-side: with CDs, a simple one-finger movement would be enough to skip tracks. Not to mention the shuffle option, as well as a louder, crispier sound. And, most importantly, the added bonus of a music format that, as the catchphrase went, "will last for years". In spite of all that, my conservative inner self didn't bow down to CD domination until 1993. Reluctant to the idea that my few LPs and cassettes could soon fade into obsolescence, I talked myself into the cliché that "vinyl has a warmer sound", whatever that means. Soon I was the last one out of my group of friends to give in. However, when the last LP I bought (Suede's debut album) got dreadfully scratched within days of its purchase, I realised time to concede defeat was knocking at my door.

Yet it took me months to recover. Those puny plastic boxes were no match for the romantic sight of LPs and their laminated cardboard. In those pre-internet days when you couldn’t dispense of trips to your record shop, an album sleeve was the only available preview of a band and their artwork a key insight into their world. It was the equivalent of nightclub 'pulling' politics. For all talks that it's personality that matters, looks and style are the first things you notice the other side of the dancefloor. I could list every single detail of The Cure "Disintegration" sleeve, Pink Floyd "Animals", or "Manifesto" by Roxy Music. I may have had my maths test the following day but my eyes could gaze at the front sleeve of "Wish" by The Cure and the world would just slip away. Not to mention that every new 7" or LP was like Christmas. In the days of pocket money, it was up to your mates' legendary compilation tapes - whose ritual is exceptionally portrayed by Nick Hornby in "High Fidelity" - to provide the bulk of your music collection.

But humans are creatures of habit and, whatever the change, they get used to it. As I got older, my CD collection gradually grew in number, and it was soon apparent that in no way had artwork been sacrificed to the advance in technology. And if it had, then it had been a good compromise. In fact, as PCs started popping up in every household, it even became possible to "burn" CDs, waving goodbye to nagging hours of rewinding and fast-forwarding that cassettes entailed. Soon, even the sight of CDs (though generally of the Mariah Carey type) on display at Sainsburys or Tesco became routine.

And then the word "downloading" came along. It took me years to get my head round it: is it true you can get hold of a song from 'outer space' with a simple, single mouse click? And what about all those scary stories of "Napster", Metallica's court battle and the notion of piracy and copyright? To me, the idea that you could lay hands on music without knowing what the artwork or the band look like felt quite dubious. One-dimensional. Shallow, in fact. Music as a throwaway product that you can acquire and then ditch at a finger click. I kept reading of record sales going down and stuck to my regular trips to Plastic Factory, Tower Records, HMV or the record stool at the Rag Market in the Bull Ring. I read of dodgy Russian websites to be avoided like the plague and Trojan horses that would stick to your computers like a fat man to a double burger. Horror stories of infested PCs that would make a clap clinic pale by comparison. In my imagination, the notion that "download is bad" became the equivalent of not letting off in public. Something that you don’t do.

Until the day came when bands themselves started releasing official downloads, free downloads, legal file-sharing and the rest. It suddenly dawned on me that it'd be absolutely pointless to fork out £12-99 for a single track you think you may like that is hidden on an obscure Matt Bianco release circa-1984. The fortune you'd have to spend if you simply fancied a peek into the Rolling Stones back catalogue suddenly no longer seemed an insurmountable obstacle. A whole new world opened up. Old albums from your school days that you were never able to afford and then faded into oblivion? A one-off single released back in '81 that you'd have to order from god-knows-where? A personal culture-induced journey into the sound of the 1960s? Records that if added to a shopping basket in HMV would eat into half your monthly wages? Well, they now come for free and are with you in minutes.

Thanks to downloading I've been able to make up for lost ground and broaden my musical knowledge. Northern soul, rockabilly, 70s glam rock and the worst of late 70s disco music. I've been able to revive dormant memories of early 80s Italian summers with the sound of "Vamos A La Playa" by Righeira. Not to mention the fun side of it. Do you remember that crap entry (which one…) from the Eurovision song contest? All you need to do is look it up on Wikipedia, download it and then scramble for the nearest bucket. Or that toe-curling single released by that Scouser who won Big Brother 1? You can resurrect it from the dead and make it haunt you again from the deepest depths of forlorn bargain bins. Or you can cringe at the sound of lost classics like "Yes Sir I Can Boogie", "Who Let The Dogs Out" and other junk the walls in my house never thought were gonna be subjected to.

And that's not to say that I won't buy CDs ever again. When it comes to my favourite artists, I'm afraid owning their records and monging out in front of the artwork is still integral part of my sad, sad life. Yes, it may be a shame that songs can be given the relevance of a notepad document or a discarded Excel folder. But for every track that ends up in the recycling bin or the land of hard drive oblivion there's another one I cherish and am proud to own.

The record industry are crying foul at the current outlook of dwindling sales. But I'm afraid with the thousands of pounds I gave them since the age of 13 I can now say it's time to get even. Who knows, perhaps one day we'll look at the romantic times when we were spending hours amassing MP3 files into a music library. And then Nick Hornby will write a book about a couple of nerdy file-sharers called Dick and Barry.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

On Hate Crime, by Ade Varney

Much has been written about the brutal killing of Sophie Lancaster. The petition to widen the definition of 'hate crime' to include crimes against subcultures and people who dress differently has now been handed to the Government. We asked the promoter, Ade Varney, one of the supporters of S.O.P.H.I.E., "Stamp Out, Prejudice, Hate and Intolerance Everywhere", to tell us about the motivation behind the campaign, the kind of reaction he encountered, the country's attitude to alternative cultures, the issues of rehabilitation and Britain losing its moral compass. Here are his thoughts:

7,126 people have signed the petition.
People in other countries wanted to sign, but discovered they couldn't as it only accepted UK citizens. I find that to be extremely encouraging, even despite them not being able to sign. It showed we had what amounted to international support, at least in principle.
At the time, I didn't quite know what sort of target I was aiming for. In a way, it started as a kind of experiment, if you like but also a gut reaction to the tragedy which affected us all. I had no idea how many signatures I needed to bring about any real change, so my thoughts were to see where it took us and if not successful, I'd run it again, in paper form as well as the electronic.

It might come as a surprise to some people, but reactions to it were mixed. Those who understood the problems faced by subculture could see absolutely no reason why a petition, which sought to 'widen the definition of hate crimes' should not be signed by anyone who also rejects racism and its associated partners in crime.
Then there were those who had questions, based on the notion that society can have too much, over-cloying legislation, which could potentially limit individual freedoms of expression. I'm afraid my answer to some of these included: "Such as? You mean the freedom to hurl abuse at someone for the way they look?"
Then I encountered a few aggressive responses, accusing me (or at least the petition) of potentially widening the gap between subculture and 'normal' society (whatever 'normal' is supposed to mean!).
Interestingly, not a single person I encountered from the media, saw any reason at all why this petition could not represent something good. I started hearing of MEPs and MPs voicing their support. One or two people commented that goths are asking for it by dressing that way, which to me sounded reminiscent of the old Picklesque argument surrounding the seduction of helpless rapists, by ladies in short skirts. That's something else I can't abide with and frankly, represents something rather sinister, if not just monumentally stupid.

I remember vividly when the attack first happened. It was posted on the Whitby Gothic Weekend Forum, by a close friend of mine and close relative of Robert's, whose topic carried the heading: "Lost My Faith In Human Nature". I could only watch, helplessly, as this hideous story unfolded, both in public forum and private email. Watching my friend getting more and more upset, with every new posting, I realised something terrible was about to occur. The pair were both in intensive care, on what amounted to life support, with Sophie responding less well to treatment. When it came to Rob arising from his coma while it looked increasingly as though Sophie's equipment might have to be turned off at the end of the week, I and many others started to feel strong emotions stirring inside. I just remember thinking even though I've never met this girl, I felt somehow connected to her. I started imagining what her family and what poor Rob must be going through. Believe me, I'm not the sort to get involved in other people's tragedies, but honestly, this was something very different. I was literally aching for her to get well again; to give someone a sign she was still in there...

When finally the tragic news was released, you could feel a tangible wave of anger and despair arising from those who had been following the story. I think what hit me the most was she could have been someone I knew; someone I loved; a relative or just a friend. How the hell would it feel to lose someone like that? To know how much she suffered and to know what a brave person had been lost to us all brought with it a suffocating feeling of anger and sadness. It was an intoxicating mix of indignance, outrage and deep sadness, floating in a body of senseless reason. The base-motive for killing her was one we'd all experienced - only now, this had escalated to its worst possible conclusion.

I think to say the entire country is in the grip of ‘ultraviolence’ may sound a little sensationalist. It’s easy for us to over-catastrophise the evidence, when we can just as easily place most of these attacks in rougher parts of the UK. However, there is a strongly perceivable rise, just lately, in the amount of alcohol-fuelled attacks upon defenseless and vulnerable people. I’m remembering Gary Newlove and the young disabled man who was set upon last year and I keep hearing about some rather horrendous instances of subculture abuse happening across both here and in other parts of the world, too, such as the Emos being mobbed recently in Mexico and a punk killed in Russia. My first instinct was bring perspective in on this suggestion, but when you think about it, we’re seeing some grains of truth to it, aren’t we?

It’s an age-old problem, harking back to the days when subculture started. In those days, the mainstream objectors seemed to come from a sector of society, we sometimes termed ‘trendies’. Something to do with them dressing in what was commercially available in shops, instead of creating their own look, as we did. Today, I suppose some call them ‘Chavs’, but either way, their attitude and behavior amounts to exactly the same thing. However, just lately, it seems as though the nature of more recent attacks seems to know less boundaries. For instance, I remember fights between Mods & Rockers; before my day, there were the Teds. There were unspoken rules which excluded women from a beating at least. Violence can’t be viewed as ‘honorable’ but compared with today, it seemed there were at least some principles at play.

Attitudes to punishment and rehab really depend on personal viewpoint, quite apart from the law, really. My own personal beliefs don’t include thoughts of an afterlife. I believe we only have one shot at life. Since Robert Maltby’s shot at true love and happiness with his beloved Sophie was wrecked in losing her and Sophie’s own shot was taken away on a tide of selfish, merciless brutality, I can see no sense whatsoever in giving her killers a shot of anything but a lifetime of incarceration, with no hope of ever mixing again with society. They can’t undo their hideous work by pretending to be ‘good people’ because to my mind, they’ve blown their shot at life and I believe their sentences should reflect this very sentiment as a warning to others. That’s just my own personal view. What others believe is up to them, but to say I’m not alone in my thoughts, would be an understatement.

There are many ways people neglect children but to fail to supply theirs with a moral compass has to be the worst kind ever. It occurs to me, that for those parents NOT to even ATTEMPT to supply a grieving society; fellow human beings, who have been devastated by their own offsprings’ behavior; with statements to the effect they disown them for this... Or even to just to say "Despite our efforts, we have no idea how they turned out this way…" is bad enough… But to sneer at the victims of crimes they are partly responsible for and to be seen openly laughing at times during solemn court proceedings tells me exactly everything I need to know, concerning the deficit of moral fibre in their hearts.

I don’t profess to be a social scientist. But from the point of view of the man in the street and going by a short survey I undertook among Goths, it’s hard not to get the impression certain areas of society are on the moral decline. There is a clear case for calling our government to task over many things, but how far does the responsibility to act like a sane and correct human being fall to authority is the question we have to ask. I think as long as our country persists on its path towards economic recession and an air of authoritarianism which champions rights for the criminal, I can’t see much hope of change on the horizon. However, in times like these, I believe it falls to the people to try and instigate change. Okay, so the S.O.P.H.I.E campaign is just one small group but it’s been gathering weight and momentum lately, propelled by the public outcry for justice. I regard it as just the start, but because so many people regard it as such a good start, a growing number of people feel bound to give it everything they have. Personally, it gives me hope. Whatever the case, I believe hope is important for all concerned – and does seem to concern a lot of people!

Now we’ve reached the closing date, it’s rather out of my hands but we do have a growing number of representatives in parliament towards this cause. People across the country are at this moment writing to their local MPs to gain back up for the petition and it seems to be having an effect. Only time will tell, but I might as well be honest with you and say that although this petition has impacted a sizeable crater of awareness both across the alternative community and the general public, I don’t dream for a second, that a simple change to the Home Office’s Wording on hate crimes will magic the problem away instantly. But to have this poison traced and illuminated while it creeps through our society was a job worth doing. Although I feel like I (along with those who pushed it hard) have succeeded, we don’t stop here. There is a lot more that can be done. Education, for starters. I think it helped in my day, with racism, to some degree, and we can only hope for the same for alternative dressers in future. There’s a lot we can do, if we all pull together. I’ve pledged to work closely with the S.O.P.H.I.E Campaign, after this trial and sentencing is done, to fill any potential vacuum of complacency which might result over time, to keep awareness glowing brightly and come up with ideas to assist people who are at risk, in avoiding danger. So an education drive which cuts two ways – firstly to help minimize risks and more fundamentally, to investigate means of educating children and teenagers on the positive aspects of diversity and difference in people.

[Ade Varney]

Friday, April 11, 2008

This week's news round-up

Johnny Taronja reassesses this week's news

Italy, a country long-known for its fragmented political system, is
hours away from yet another set of general elections. Drawing an interesting comparison with England's own buffoon, Boris Johnson, Today's Independent, with an article by Peter Popham, analyses the phenomenon Berlusconi, a regular feature of the Italian landscape since 1993. But if you're trying to spot any coherent set of policies in his coalition, populism is the only one that spring to mind. And an appetite for power.

We don't quite know how to salute the news that Gordon Brown will not attend the Olympics opening ceremony this summer. As soon as I sat down to praise his balls as an admirable stand against China's dubious human rights record, his office decided to clarify that in no way is that to be seen as "politically" motivated, that "he never really intended to go in the first place" and that he will attend the closing ceremony in Beijing. Lib-Dems' Nick Clegg summed it up alright: "an odd way to go about things". But the most effective was from David Cameron: when he said: "If dithering was an Olympic sport [Brown] would have a gold medal". Doesn't it get worrying when you have to positively quote a Tory? Those who were looking for a firm vision to follow from Tony Blair's footsteps are advised a quick trip to Specsavers.

Our British readers will already be aware of the arrest of Shannon Matthews' mother. Shannon went missing in Dewsbury on February 19. She was found in the base of a bed at an address one mile from her home after a police search that lasted 24 days. Shannon's uncle was arrested. Then it was her stepdad and now, her mum. Understandably, the police are keeping quiet about their findings. But amonst the allegations, there are fears that a tragedy like that of a young girl going missing may have been staged for rather sordid ends.

Though I admit I've been sensitive to rumours of a 9/11 conspiracy, the videos of the Walthamstow suspects confirmed that you don't need shady CIA-run plots to cause mayhem and destruction. Some nutters out there really think that blowing up a plane is gonna do some good. But before I say anything, take a look at the transcript of those "martyrdom" videos as they were played in court. One thing for sure, their constant, vile, reference to "non-believers" is an extra string to the bow of Bush, Blair, Betrayeus and the likes.

Will you leave Ken Livingstone alone??? Five children from three different women seems to have become the most important concern for Londoners. The Pro-Tory press are playing dirty. As low as they can. However, right when opinion polls were starting to look a bit worrying, the best gift to Ken came from the far-right. The British National party called on its supporters to give their second-preference votes in the London mayoral election to the Conservative candidate, Boris Johnson. If that isn't enough to put you off the Tory toff, then please look at the picture above. Hopefully that'll do the trick.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Italian elections

This Sunday the Italians return to the polling booth for the second time in two years. Silvio Berlusconi is running for the fifth time. This time, "he really seems to have broken loose from all restraints", writes Giovanni Parisi from Italy.

In less than a week Italian people will be called to vote for the new Parliament and Government after about two years of Mr. Prodi’s power.

The characters and the subjects of this electoral campaign are very similar to those of the other European countries. We have two main parties, a left-wing and a right-wing, and several other minor parties, usually called “midgets”. The political debate is about the issues that worry all continental societies: economic growth, tax reduction, salary, security, crime, immigration.
However, the peculiarities of the Italian way are not less than the resemblances with other countries.

First and foremost, there is a huge anomaly called Silvio Berlusconi. Head of the “Popolo delle Libertà”, the richest person in the country (€ 139.245.570 income declared), owner of private TVs and newspapers, president of the most successful football team in the world, inveterate playboy despite his 71 years of age, amazingly Mr. Berlusconi still manages to attract a lot of people thanks to his charisma and impudence. In this electoral campaign he really seems to have broken loose from all restraints. In the first meeting with his supporters he tore up the electoral program of the Democratic Party. After that he declared himself worried about the possibility of electoral fraud by his opponents. During a TV interview, when a young unemployed girl asked for his opinion about the lack of stability in jobs, he suggested that she should marry his son or other rich boys like him. Berlusconi’s disdain for the basic rules of fairness in the electoral campaign is well-known, while his never-ending boasts still surprise any reasonable person!

On the other front, the new centre-left Italian Democratic Party is adopting a totally different strategy. Its leader, Walter Veltroni, is having a very serious approach towards voters, trying to focus on his manifesto rather than on unhelpful bickering with Berlusconi. And, believe me, this behaviour in Italy is so unusual! First of all, his choice to “walk alone”, severing the alliance with the communist party, clearly shows his willingness not to compromise with anybody about the contents of his program. His plan is very pragmatic: any ideological approach to the problems is wiped out. He confirmed his intention to keep the Italian troops in Afghanistan while being very critical of Bush’s war in Iraq. As regards internal issues, he advocates tax reduction for small and medium-sized companies in order to help them develop and to boost the economy. At the same time he maintains that salary increases must be promoted and job casualisation eradicated! Challenging commitments, no doubt. What is really astonishing is that, more or less, PDL’s political plan seems to be quite the same, at least as far as internal matters go. Aside from a manifesto about the dangers of communism and an enumeration of Berlusconi’s merits as a politician, basically PDL's core voters agree with PD about the actions to be taken in order to solve Italy’s everlasting problems. So, it’s not as if Italian electors were going to choose among different programs as it should be in a mature democracy: it will be just a matter of trust in the candidates.

In this respect Veltroni could have an edge on Berlusconi thanks to his good management of the city of Rome (he has been Mayor since 2001) and his transparent past as a politician. A very significant act of his electoral campaign took place in Sicily where he clearly took a stand against mafia and camorra. Addressing Mafiosi, he said: “Please, do not vote for us. We do not want your votes!” He’s been the only candidate to speak like that. We know that the votes connected to mafia are in the thousands and, in a very uncertain situation, may be crucial for the election results…And Berlusconi didn’t say a word about that…

(Giovanni Parisi)

Absolut Nut

It's amazing how much resentment a simple drawing can whip up. At Smirnoff they can't believe their luck!

The Americans are pissed off. They're really very angry. And it's not because of a war, a terrorist attack or anti-Yank demonstrations somewhere in the Middle East. Nor has it anything to do with their own internal economic turmoil or even human rights in Tibet. No. The reason why they're so mad is a vodka advert. One that displays a pre-1848 map of Mexico - back to when it incorporated chunks of the current United States.

Little did they know at Absolut that their ad was to turn out the ultimate taunt, a cardinal sin worth the mother of diplomatic rows. You simply can't count the number of forums like this one where all sort of abuse is being hurled at the Mexicans. "Hands off our land", "beaners", "people who don't like their trabajo" and other Mexican-hating gems sat gently alongside calls to "nuke the fuckers". Many even pledged to stay off Absolut vodka for ever. At Smirnoff they can't believe their luck!

The amount of repressed anger that is being unleashed is difficult to comprehend for us limp-wristed Europeans. But it will probably ring familiar to those Islamic fundamentalists who, a couple of years ago, threatened to raise Denmark to the ground because of a comic strip. God and Land, God and Land. Territorial pissing and supernatural worship. It's amazing how much resentment a simple drawing can whip up, the kind that was run of the mill in the days of the Neanderthal and that never went away.

[This picture was brought to our attention by our friend Adam from Wisconsin who was keen to point out that he is ashamed and that not all Americans are like those Gringos].