Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kebab ban in Italian town!

Anyone still of the opinion Italy's not going through a fascist comeback?

This is unbelievable. After a wave of ugly rhetoric and dubious policies, a number of northern Italian councils run by the far-right Northern League (Silvio Berlusconi's biggest coalition partner in government) have gone on the rampage against anything foreign.

Top of the list, the town of Capriate, 20 miles from Milan, where the council announced a ban on kebab and 'ethnic' shops from the town centre. The news hasn't reached the foreign press yet, so you'll have to be able to understand Italian if you want to find out more here and here.

In a nutshell, a council ordinance tabled by the Northern League bans all 'ethnic' shops and businesses from Capriate town centre. Most stunning is the motivation offered by the Chair of Trade and Safety at the local council: "This is not a racist decision [of course, ed.]. The town centre is short of parking space and those businesses would worsen traffic congestion".

The ban is a direct consequence of last June's ruling by the Lombard Regional Assembly (also governed by Berlusconi's coalition) which granted local councils power to shut down businesses that are deemed "incompatible" with the "local context". "We couldn't just sit down in front of the invasion of kebab shops, internet cafes and Chinese restaurants that are sucking the identity out of our town centres", explained Northern League Assembly Members Daniele Belotti and Giouse' Frosio.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Imagine a film that is a cross between Rambo, James Bond, The Thing, Mike Tyson, Bruce Lee, Michael Schumacher, MacGyver and Spiderman, and that also takes itself extremely seriously.

The problem with the Iraq war wasn't that the whole thing was based on shaky foundations or that the conflict started before a second UN resolution. Nor was it to do with funds, bad planning or lack of international cooperation.

You see, if only George W Bush and his team had sent over Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson in the film Taken) instead of the entire US army, the war would have been won within a week tops. And that's without even counting the money that the US government and its allies would have saved.

Because Bryan Mills is, at once, a cross between Rambo, James Bond, The Thing, Mike Tyson, Bruce Lee, Michael Schumacher, MacGyver and Spiderman. Except stronger, better and more agile.

It doesn't matter that there are 20 gangsters armed to their teeth with kalashnikovs, guns and hand grenades surrounding him. He'll kill them all and survive the whole thing without a scratch. It doesn't matter that he's been tied to a metal pole while surrounded by a dozen heavies who are brandishing knives, knuckledusters, chains and more guns. They'll be dust before you can even say the word.

Bryan Mills is indestructible. You can shoot anything at him. In fact, the shadiest, best trained gunmen can have a go. Their bullets won't even brush him.

In Taken, he single-handedly kills an estimated 51 people and injured countless others while completely dismantling (again, single-handedly) Paris' prostitution racket.

Bryan Mills can casually stroll through police stations or private functions. He can catapult himself over yachts and trucks. He also carries medical equipment on him, drips and various medications. As you do. He also has clairvoyant-like powers. In order to understand the dynamics of a crime all he needs to do is stand in the place where it happened. He'll be able to piece it together at the drop of a hat. He can also walk into a flat with people and guess in a moment where guns are hidden.

And so forth, you get the general idea.

is one of the worst films ever released. It rewrites the boundaries of the words 'bullshit' and 'shameless' in one fell swoop. It's an insult to human intelligence.

Everything about it is absolutely ridiculous, unfeasible and naff. As well as badly acted. One of the worst bits was when Liam Neeson (I hope he got paid well for this because he's stooped lower than an underground) exchanges some manly words with some French detective. Neither of them looks at the other. They just stare into space and utter one masculine sentence after the other about how they won't take any shit or similar. Beefcakes.

However, not all is lost. You will like this film, in fact probably really like it, if you're a boy under 12 and you tend to utter sentences like "my dad's car is more powerful than yours" or "my brother is stronger than yours".

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cameron sings 'Common People'

Hilarious Rory Bremner doing an impersonation of David 'Dave' Cameron singing Pulp's Common People.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pubs: evolution or 'revolution'?

Putting a spin on the definition of "dying".

"I evolve but I don't revolve", Alan Partridge once famously said. It's the approach chosen by the BBC's Mark Easton to explain the dying world of pubs. Though he's guilty of textbook newspeak and spin that took a leaf out of Alistair Campbell's book, his analysis and the following online comments are worth a read.

In short, Easton writes that it's not true 52 pubs are closing each week. What's happening, he says, is that many of them "are evolving"- sometimes into restaurant chains, sometimes into trendy winebar chains that sell lager, Guinness and Worthingtons and blast LadyGaGa and Robbie Williams out, sometimes into a boarded up shell.

Each to their own, and if some prefer the 'new wave', then so be it. But in most cases, let's not beat around the bush, Mr Easton - that is no longer a pub. Like the old corner shop that went and then re-opened as a Tesco Express. It didn't "evolve". It shut down and it changed completely.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Hotel worker slavery exposed

Immigrant workers are paid half the minimum wage in some London hotels.

Last Thursday's Newsnight was a stunning piece of investigative journalism. Hotelcare, one of the leading agencies for hotel cleaners in the country, was caught red-handed with serious exploitation of foreign workers at some of London's top hotels.

To say that the revelations were a surprise would be on a par with feigning shock at the recent MPs' expenses scandal. The rumours that some London hotels are paying less than the minium wage had been circulating for a while. Indeed, back in 2005 hospitality website Caterersearch was already pointing the finger at Hotelcare's dubious employment practices but failed to cause the stir that it should have.

This time, the evidence against Hotelcare as uncovered by Newsnight is simply unbelievable - and it may be interesting to see how the greedy ones will wriggle out of it. They may have to do better than cliched press statements about "isolated cases".

Taking advantage of the foreign workers' poor grasp of English and the fact that they're often unaware of their rights, those workers are led to believe that they would only earn the minimum wage (£5-73 an hour) if they clean two and a half rooms per hour.

Except that, in Britain, the idea of linking the minimum wage to piecework, a replica of the old 'sweating system' of the 1800s, is against the law. The BBC discovered that hotel cleaners are routinely shortchanged. In some cases, they are paid almost half of what they should be entitled to, and £120 off an already meagre weekly wage of £250, especially in London, can seriously make a difference.

Hotelcare claims they employ 2000 staff nationwide. Imagine if they were up to the same trick with all of them: that would pocket them £240,000 a week on the back of vulnerable workers who carry out a very physical job on a daily basis. Last year, Hotelcare made £1.5m in profit and the three shareholders paid themselves a total of £1m on top of their annual £500,000 salary.

Following the BBC's revelations, Hotelcare issued a statement saying that they're "concerned and disappointed" and that "it is not Hotelcare's policy to pay staff less than the national minimum wage". And yet the evidence on the programme is embarrassingly obvious.

Similar practices are exposed by a Times investigation revealing that several migrant workers are often cajoled into making themselves self-employed, a situation that doesn't seem to bother Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association. He said that: "if technically someone is self-employed and they wish to pay themselves £2 an hour - you might argue that that is their choice". Of course, Bob. Shall we ask some Romanian chambermaids if it is?

What is clear is that the government is not doing enough to monitor the situation. The murky world of temping staff, agency workers and outsourced services ensures that the culprits are very quick at passing the buck. For instance, while on Newsnight Hotelcare's area manager is seen blaming the dodgy timesheets on the hotel, the hotel itself later issued a statement feigning shock and oblivion.

In this manic quest to drive down costs and raking up more profits, the investigation also exposed dubious hygiene practices, including lack of proper cleaning equipment, a fact made more disturbing by Park Plaza's statement that they "recently had an unannounced visit by the AA Hotel Inspector [...] and received a four star rating" and by Hotelcare's website with its annoying collection of cliches about "quality service" and "ongoing training [to] provide the staff with excellent skills".

Like many times in the past, perhaps the best incentive can come from the customers. The same way many now judge an establishment or a product on the basis of information about customer service as well as ethical and environmental issues, hotel chains could also be pushed to regularly publish external reviews of their employment practices.

And those who appear fond of paying £2 an hour for an 8-hour working day will be quickly named, shamed and hopefully put out of business.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Sun bigs up Baby P's mum

Britain's "best paper" hands unlikely spotlight to child abuser.

How many people out there were gagging to know Baby P's mother's thoughts on Michael Jackson's death? Was there a pressing public demand?

To look at today's Sun, you'd think so. There are two front page pieces about "Baby P's mum plans to party" and "Baby P's mum sobs for Jacko", the kind of treatment the Sun normally reserves for 'national institutions' such as Jordan, Big Brother 's Sophie, or their mammary glands.

Now though, the same Sun that made a national crusade out of Baby Peter's tragic death has decided to hand the spotlight to the same "monster" and "beast" they wanted burnt at the stake. Will they put her on page 3 next?