Monday, November 30, 2009

A week in Dubai? No, thanks.

Some pillock called peaceinmylifetime commenting on this story in the Guardian:
"Consider this: you are offered you a week's stay in the Burj Al Arab Hotel (6/7/8/910 stars - delete as apprpriate) along with your partner (or one can be provided if you so desire), along with as much booze as you could hold, would you definitely refuse it, no regrets???"
Yes! Of course I'd refuse - and ten times over too. And so would you, if you had anything remotely resembling:

a) taste;

b) aversion to slave labour, which in tacky Dubai is available in its most vintage incarnation. In fact if there's anything they managed to duplicate well in Fantasy Island Dubai, aside from artificial islands in the shape of an arse, that's their giant mass-scale replica of early 19th century working conditions. Take a look here and here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cowell Dollar, plastic breasts and old fogeys

Two semi-forgotten legends, Paul Heaton and Brett Anderson, on the current state of music.

It says something when Spandau Ballet getting back together is the most exciting thing the musical press can write about that isn't the X-Factor or Cheryl Cole's eyelashes.

If you recently thought your music sensibility is starting to resemble that of a hut-dwelling hermit in the Outer Hebrides, just remember you're not alone. Simon Cowell's toxic circus and its side effects actually get on a lot of people's nerves.

This is what former Housemartins and Beautiful South singer Paul Heaton had to say on the current state of songwriting and the music business:

"Obviously in these current climes of X Factor domination and Jordan and Andre getting back together for a Christmas single [don't bet against it], we have to be patient. These indeed are low times for a high brow singer and it would be tragic for us to lose home grown artists such as Hawley, Cocker and Heaton, to the passing storm of The Cowell Dollar and the plastic breast. We must cling to the rocks together, safe in the knowledge that this storm, like all those before it, will pass or burn itself out, battering the very rocks we cling to".

And this what Brett Anderson (remember him?) said last month about the way music is increasingly being approached, with the dictatorship of downloads, leaks and torrents:

"Yeah and I think that's bad, I do really sort of regret that without wanting to sound like a luddite or an old fogey, I think it's a shame because there is some beautiful music that is meditative and that requires that you sit down with it and don't just flick through it like channel surfing, and I think it's a shame because people aren't getting as much out of music. I mean there are certain albums that you have to invest time in like you have to invest time in a novel, you have to sit down and give it your attention, it doesn't just leap out at you like an advert or something like that".

Friday, November 27, 2009

The most difficult job in the world

The newspapers don't seem interested in this, but one job is sticking up two fingers at the word 'crisis', and the little people are paying for it.

Imagine you land a job where you get paid £161-50 a day for each day you turn up (even if you stay for, like, 20 minutes) plus £86.50 a day for food, drink and taxis, and an additional £75 for office costs, without producing a single receipt. And you can't resign even if you wanted to. What sort of workplace would let you do that?

Some people would tell you that your boss is either a saint or an idiot of the highest degree. Everyone at work takes the piss and the whole shop functions like a joke, with average attendance rates standing at just over 50%.

Until one day, under pressure from auditors, the board, or sheer financial hardship, your gaffer decides to see sense and announces he's going to tighten the belt.

'Course you'd expect the "reforms" to bring in more scrutiny on costs and expenses (i.e. producing receipts) as well as a wage freeze or even a pay cut.

But no. You turn up to work (it's not even compulsory, there's no attendance levels, you see) and, much to your delight, you find out that the dreaded toughened up rules are so tough that you wage is actually higher - from £161-50 a day to £200!

More, you also get £140 a night for accomodation expenses and you'll still be spared from submitting receipts, as long as you declare you've performed "appropriate duties", whatever that means. Sure, now you'll be required to clock in, but a couple of hours will do, so no worries if you get bored or your colleague's annoying voice is getting on your nerves.

Dream job, right?

Well, welcome to the world of Unelected Peers in the House of Lords. And you know what the Senior Salaries Review Board people said (those who drafted the reforms)? “We are sending a strong signal: if you’re swinging the lead, don’t do it.”

Keep your heads down, little people.

Also see: "Scrap the House of Lords".

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fascists just LOVE the Daily Mail

The love affair between the far-right and the Daily Fail continues.

Same old crap in today's Daily Mail:

"Record number of people leave Britain as Poles head home- but new arrivals increase to half a million". Amongst the best rated comments:

"Only the BNP has ANY intention of sorting this shambles out
- john, france, 26/11/2009 17:59

"roll on elections - BNP your time is coming!!!!!!"
- ymmot, england, 26/11/2009 22:01

"the workers leave, the shirkers arrive"
- rob, an irate taxpayer, chesham, bucks, 26/11/2009 16:46

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Countdown begins for Central Library

The government turned down the application to turn John Madin's library into a listed building.

After a long deliberation, Culture and Tourism Minister Margaret Hodge decided against granting Birmingham Central Library listed status.

This means that the demolition squad are one step away from being given the go-ahead, paving the way for the £600m redevelopment of Paradise Circus, which so far has been fiercely opposed by both the Friends of the Central Library and English Heritage.

It's not yet know what is going to happen at the site. According to the Birmingham Post, "bulldozers won’t be able to move in until the summer of 2013, when the Central Library will be replaced by a £193 million library in Centenary Square", right next door to the REP theatre.

The most likely outcome is that Paradise Forum will be converted into an outdoor mixed development of shops, offices and apartments to link together Chamberlain Square and Centenary Square.

Immigration myths (4): "EU=net migration"

The perception is that it's a one-way issue. It's not a problem if the Brits do the same in reverse. Because they're not migrants. They're EXPATS.

Labour aside, the daily negative bombardment about immigration is also centred around the European Union. Widely frowned upon for its unaccountability, the EU is also routinely slammed for allegedly contributing to wild migration patterns into Britain.

Indeed, it is undisputable that being part of Europe has made it remarkably easier for migrants from the continent to seek work and live in the UK. Since a number of Eastern European countries joined in 2004, hundreds of thousands of workers came in from Poland, the Czech Republic and so on.

But as always, the perception is that it's a one-way issue. It's not a problem if the Brits do the same in reverse. Because they're not migrants. They're EXPATS.

When you read that Britain should put up barriers at the Channel, or indeed leave the EU altogether, as often advocated by tabloids and at least one political party (the UKIP), no-one bothers to explain the repercussions it would have for millions of Brits in Europe.

In 2001 around 771,000 citizens from other EU countries (excluding Republic of Ireland) lived in the UK. No doubt the figures went up significantly since Eastern European countries joined. Sadly there aren't any reliable numbers, especially as most are here temporarily. We know that 56,000 people from eight key Eastern and Central European countries went back in the year to September 2008 and the trend continues in that direction.

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, "a total of around 1 million people had moved from the new EU member states to the UK by April 2008, but that half this number have since returned home or moved on to a third country".

But let's ignore all that and assume that 1 million Eastern Europeans arrived since the 2001 census and never left. That would mean 1.771 million EU citizens currently live in the UK.

Still, that just begins to resemble the number of British migrants to other EU countries.

The figures speak for themselves.

A survey published by the BBC in December 2006 revealed that between 1.7 and 2m Brits live and work permanently in the EU. Spain alone is home to a staggering 761,000 British citizens, and the figures doubled in the last decade. The Brits are "outnumbered as an immigrant population only by Moroccans, Romanians and Ecuadorians", and bear in mind many don't register with the local town halls but still peruse local public services.

The irony is that the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Sun and the Express all have "printed in Spain" editions available. They are the most popular papers amongst expats, so that many can read about the UK being swamped and taken over by migrants while they themselves can swamp and take over (literally) entire areas in Spain with very little levels of integration.

Many are doing exactly what they believe migrants to Britain are guilty of: living together, owning shops and not learning the language.

About 291,000 Britons live in the Republic of Ireland, 200,000 in France, while 115,000 live in Germany. Many more permanently live and reside in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, the Netherlands and so on. The figures are available here.

So what would happen if the tabloids or the anti-immigration lobby had it their way and the UK decided to erect immigration barriers with the EU? Do you ever hear about it? Would 1.7 to 2m Brits suddenly have to rush to embassies or local councils to apply for work permits, visas and various papers in the hope of being spared illegal status?

And, realistically, would the new British regime back home provide for such massive numbers to return home and place a strain on services, the housing system and the job market?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Immigration myths (3): "Overcrowding behind BNP rise"

Part three of our analysis of tabloid-led misconceptions about immigration. Apparently, the far-right is growing because Britain...oops, I mean England, is packed.

When anti-immigration campaigners are presented with comparative figures showing that other EU countries are host to a much higher number of migrants than the UK, they then often resort to the "density factor".

Interestingly, suddenly the focus switches from Britain to England. "We're only a small country", we hear, and the headlines are often accompanied by a picture of a crammed street, better if in Central London. Aside from very small states like Malta, and also the Netherlands, England has the highest density rate in the EU. If you consider the UK, however, Belgium's also more densely populated, while both Germany and Italy are just a little behind.

Yet a man from Düsseldorf will point out that North Rhine, his hugely overcrowded state, is twice more densely populated than Germany and way more than England.

An Italian could say that if you consider Northern Italy only, then the country's density is higher than that of Bahrein. And that if you discount the Alps, which are objectively quite difficult to inhabit en-masse, population density will reach Singapore-levels.

Similarly, a Catalan will tell you that their density is six times higher than Spain's, and so forth. Yorkshire counts more people than Cumbria. Where do you draw the line?

But I'm diverging. The argument you hear is that, while France and Germany have more room, England is overcrowded. Therefore, the rise of the BNP can be explained by this alarming, simple, visible fact.

So let's have a look. Are far-right anti-immigration parties a direct product of high population density? If tomorrow England woke up the size of Russia, would Nick Griffin retire from politics and the BNP die a sudden death?

France, a nation four times the size of England, has long boasted one of the most successful far-right parties in Europe. In 2007, the Front National tallied 11% of the national vote. Its leader Jean Marie Le Pen notoriously qualified for the second round of the French Presidential elections in 2002, netting over 17 per cent of the votes.

Their figures are similar to those of Vlaams Blok, the far-right Flemish nationalists in super overcrowded Belgium.

Italy, the cradle of fascism, is also home to a thriving far-right anti-immigration movement. The country may be getting increasingly densely populated now, but Mussolini's political heirs have regularly won a fair share of MPs since WWII, averaging 6% of the vote at each national election- and that's before, during and after inward migration began in Italy.

Sweden has an incredibly low population density, but with 7.2% according to the latest polls, its far-right party, Sverigedemokraterna, can currently piss all over their German colleagues of the National Democratic Party who scored a rickety 1.8% at last September's general elections.

Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom may have netted 5.9% at the 2006 Dutch national elections protesting that Holland is packed, but Vladimir Zhirinovsky's far-right party in humongous, sparsely-inhabited Russia managed 9.3% at the Presidential elections in 2008.

And back to England (or Britain, depending on the data you're expected to swallow), the BNP gained 192,000 votes at the 2005 general elections, the same as the National Front in 1979, when there were less people and less immigrants around, the EU didn't exist and builders from Eastern Europe were kept in by the iron curtain.

The picture emerging, therefore, is one where overcrowding, population density, centre-right or centre-left governments, the EU and the Muslims all matter very little when it comes to justifying the far-right racist vote.

Read "Immigration myths": PART ONE and PART TWO.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Immigration myths (2): "Immigration is Labour's fault"

Part Two of our myth-debunking series on the tabloid-fuelled anti-immigration hysteria.

Another typical remark you hear is that Labour is almost single-handedly responsible for Britain's overcrowding as "the population has grown by 1.8 million because of immigration since Labour came to power in 1997".

According to Migration Watch UK, one of their SIX KEY FACTS is that "net immigration has quadrupled since 1997 to 237,000 a year".

So let's look at population figures and growth rates in the same period around other advanced countries.

France. In the last ten years, France has overtaken the UK in the ranking of Europe's most populated countries. It is now third. Migrants continue to come in from both former French colonies and other EU countries. From 59.3m people in 1999, the total population surged to 62.2m in 2009. That's 3m people since Labour came to power in the UK. For the record, during those ten years, France has been almost exclusively ruled by centre-right administrations.

Italy. Italy's population went from 57.4m in 1997 to 59.6m at the end of 2007 (also see this), almost an extra 2m people since Tony Blair won the elections back in Britain. 488,000 people alone arrived between 2007 and 2008. The figures don't account for illegal immigration. In the past twelve years, Italy has been run by both centre-left administrations and Silvio Berlusconi's openly anti-immigration coalition.

Spain. According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística de España, under both the conservative Aznar government and the current socialist one, the population of Spain has seen a massive increment of 5m people in less than ten years (2000-2008): from 40m to the current 45.8m. Large-scale immigration from North Africa, Latin America, Britain and Eastern Europe accounts for the significant increment: five times more than the population growth in the UK.

The Netherlands. Despite being one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, Holland has seen an increase of almost 1m people since 2000, but out of a total population which -at 16.7m- is a quarter that of the UK.

If comparative figures from other EU countries aren't satisfactory enough, we can also take a peek at the population trends in other prosperous nations across the planet.

Australia, for example. With their "point system" often cited as a model to imitate, the Ozzies have seen their population increase by 13.6% in the last nine years, mainly under the expert watch of John Howard's ultra conservatives. In 2000 they had just over 19m people. In 2009, the figures stand at 21.6m. That's over 2.6m people since Labour came to power in the UK.

New Zealand, with an open immigration policy, has experienced an annual increase rate of about 1 per cent. In 1997 there were 3.7m people in New Zealand. The current total is estimated at 4.3m. Apparently a new migrant arrives in New Zealand every 17 minutes and 55 seconds.

The United States of America boasts one of the highest migration rates in the world. It is currently home to 308m people. In 1997 there were 276m people. In the twelve years since Labour gained power in Britain, the USA experienced a population growth of 32m people (also see this) - under the watch of both Republicans and Democrats.

Canada, also known for being home to a very selective immigration policy, has seen a population growth of 5.4% between 2001 and 2006. That's an extra 1.6m people. It sounds reamarkably similar to the UK figures "since Labour came to power in 1997".

[Read "Immigration myths PART ONE" here]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Immigration myths (1): "They All Come Here"

How many people know that Britain is actually 10th in the EU league of immigrants as percentage of national population?

A couple of weeks ago, a member of the audience on BBC Question Time (it was the edition from Weston-super-Mare) said something we've heard time and again: "why do all immigrants come here? Can't other European countries chip in and do their bit to take their share?".

Whichever your views on immigration, statements like the one above need challenging in the strongest, most unequivocal way. Simply, because they are ridiculously false.

Like Unity wrote yesterday, "[i]t’s not racist to talk about, and debate, immigration as long as you’re putting forward an honest and truthful argument". And what good can possibly come from perpetrating myths aimed at reinforcing the BNP-friendly notion of a beleaguered little island with hordes of "enemies at the gates"?

And yet the amount of people who think like the chap on Question Time is spectacular. I will never forget the look of shock in one of my colleagues' eyes when I cracked her the news that both Italy and France are home to a vast number of migrants. And yes, as much as -if not more than- the UK. And if you think responses like "REALLY?" and "IT CAN'T BE" are remarkable, surely the following beats them all: "Yeah, but they all want to come here eventually, don't they?"

So, let's just look at the plain facts.

France. Figures published in 2006 indicate that about 5 million people (8% of the country's population) are foreign born. In metropolitan areas the percentage approaches 17%. And no, they're not just walking through France with their evil sight cast on poor little Blighty. About 6.7 million current French citizens were born from immigrant parents.

Spain. Immigration to Spain since 2000 would have caused the Express and the Daily Mail severe apoplexy. In the last few years, foreign population has gone from just over 900,000 in 2000 to 5,268,000 in 2008. That's over 4m extra people in less than a decade. In the same period, the number of Spanish passports granted to foreign-born residents has gone up by 600%. 12 per cent of residents in Spain were born abroad. These include an estimated 761,000 Brits (according to the UK Foreign Office).

Italy. Similarly to Spain, Italy has attracted an enormous amount of migrants in recent years. Between 2007 and 2008 alone, an estimated 458,000 people moved to Italy. The number of legal immigrants in 2008 totalled 4.5m people (7.5% of the population, around 15% in metropolitan areas), yet it is widely accepted that the real figures are much higher due to a significant number of illegal or non-regularised migrants.

Germany. In 2007, just under 9% of German residents were foreign passport-holders. According to official figures, from 1995 to 2004, about 1,278,000 foreigners obtained German citizenship by naturalization. This means, that about 1.5% of the total German population had been naturalized during that period.

According to the International Migration 2006 UN report, Germany is by far the European country hosting the largest number of immigrants (10.1m), with France second (6.5m), the UK third (5.4m) and Spain fourth (5.2m).

If instead immigrants are viewed as percentage of the whole population, at 8.9% Britain is actually well behind Austria (14.9%), Ireland (13.8), Germany (12.3), Sweden (12.3), Spain (12), the Netherlands (10.5), and France (10.1).

This is not to deny the significant increase in migration to the UK in the last decade. There's no question. However, the phenomenon is perfectly in line with migration patterns across Europe, and the population at large could do with things being put into perspective as opposed to hysterical scaremongering.

But chances are the Sun, the Daily Mail & co will be too busy with their headlines about asylum seekers stealing British swans to mention any of the above.

Also read:
Immigration myths PART TWO.
Immigration myths PART THREE.
Immigration myths PART FOUR.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

You cheat, you win

They say football is a reflection of society. It certainly proved so last night.

I made a vow that Hagley Road to Ladywood shouldn't be about football. As tempting as it may be, it just wouldn't particularly fit in with the blog.

Today, however, there's going to be an exception. As you may have overheard already, following yesterday's play-off match against France, Ireland didn't make it to to the World Cup. A blatant handball by French striker Thierry Henry proved crucial.

Henry owned up to it and apologised, which is commendable. Too late, however. France's goal left Ireland little time to reply and proved decisive.

Now, given that the video evidence is blatant and that Henry himself said it was handball, FIFA should take heed to what the Irish FA are saying and order a replay of the match. Surely the French too would rather qualify in less controversial fashion.

Above all, if the result stands and cheating gets the official stamp, any future 'Fair Play' campaign as sponsored by FIFA or UEFA would simply look like an absolute joke. Just look at the official FIFA Fair play webpage.

"The generic concept of fair play is a fundamental part of the game of football", it says, adding that: "The Fair Play Campaign was conceived largely as an indirect result of the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ in Mexico, when the handball goal by Diego Maradona stimulated the admirable reaction of the England coach, Sir Bobby Robson".

Also: "Children need strong values to grow up with, and football, being a team sport, makes them realise how essential discipline, respect, team spirit and fair play are for the game and for life".

Well, then?

Poles Apart

Officially 60,000 Polish people have come to Britain to seek work since 2004. Two British lads, Dan and Mark, reversed the trend to get work in Warsaw; this is their story.

[A guest post by D.Hoffmann-Gill

Last year, sick and tired of the endless dirge of bigotry, lies and anti-Polish sentiment coming from the right-wing press, me and my mate Mark decided to go to Poland. We wanted to get a job; to put our money where our mouth is and garner a small taste of what it means to be an immigrant. We wanted to single-handedly reverse the Eastern European immigration trend.

So we got our CVs and covering letters translated (badly as it turned out) into Polish, put on our best interview clobber and made our way to Poland in a Vauxhall Astra.

We spent over two weeks as immigrants in Warsaw, ate a lot of lard and pigs feet and attempted to get any job we could, whether it be as a lift operator, a porn film star or a guttering and flues salesperson.

It was an amazing adventure that taught us much on the realities of life as an immigrant.

We eventually returned home and made a comedy show about our experiences that covers not only our time as economic migrants but documents the history of Poland, it’s 300 year relationship with the UK and the highly charged immigration debate in the UK.

The show contains Poland’s brightest new stand-up comedy star: Dariusz Drag, with jokes about Russians and Jews, a beginner’s guide to Polish culture, Political Correctness being wrestled to the floor and made to gag, the 1973 World Cup qualifier between England and Poland brought to life in front of your very eyes and Poland’s leading avant-garde theatre cooperative re-creating the invention of the Keroesne Lamp via interpative dance and extensive harmonica use.

Plus, Nick Griffin, avec eye patch, may be appearing to stroke his mandolin and sing his favourite ballad: “I’m Not Racist But…”.

It’s on at The Lowry in Manchester on the 26th November at 7:45pm and the RichMix theatre in London on the 27th and 28th November at 7:30pm, so why not pop along and support us?

Watch the Poles Apart trailer here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jan Moir outMoirs herself. Again!

She sprays insults around, blind to the massive contradictions that stare at her right in the face: Jan Moir is back.

Yes, her. Jan Moir. The tactless grief predator. The one who became an overnight sensation after penning a selection of vile homophobic cliches in the wake of Stephen Gately's death. The one who single-handedly clinched the national record for complaints to the PCC.

Well, Jan Moir is back. And, rest assured, she's still got her blinkers firmly on. Because she's just had a new philippic published that goes under the following headline: 'How much more of boobilicious, publicity-mad She-Chav Katie Price can we take?'

Now, dear Jan. It may as well be that you perversely enjoyed all the Stephen Gately-related backlash, what with being talked about so much and yours turning into a household name. That would explain your penchant for writing things that just don't add up. However, one may suspect you really aren't the brightest of columnists out there and that observation isn't your forte.

Because the same Daily Mail where your column is published - the very same one- sports a big picture of Katie Price at the top with the header 'I thought I was going to drown: Katie Price panics'. And it's been like that for years.

Type in 'Katie Price' in the Daily Mail's own search engine and you are returned with a whopping 796 results since 2001. Do the same with 'Jordan' and you get 3581 results and, no, they aren't about the middle-eastern country. That's almost two articles or photoshoots about "publicity-mad She-Chav Katie Price" a day.

Simply, the Daily Mail are obsessed with Jordan/Katie Price. Obsessed. So when Jan Moir touchingly writes that:
"Both [ITV and Katie Price] are desperate. The TV company needs the ratings fillip that such a controversial contestant will engender, while KP Nutty needs the prime-time opportunity to attempt to redeem her tattered reputation"
the churno may as well be calling her own employers at the Daily Mail "desperate". Why else would they publish pictures of Katie and her plastic boobs almost twice daily? Come to think of it, why else would they employ someone like Jan Moir?

The bigot-of-the-year gets carried away, as usual. Like with the Gately piece, Moir's opinions quickly give way to a torrent of verbal diarrohea. The homophobe just can't help it. Peter Andre is "dim", she writes (pot and kettle!), while adding that "[Katie Price's] mastery of the sordid remains without compare".

Which must be why the Daily Mail decided to pepper Moir's piece with stills from the ITV show where Jordan's cleavage appears particularly prominent. Plus one under the waterfall, with tits firmly on display. Sordid or what?

But Moir carries on:
"In the summer, a stunt cooked up for tabloid newspapers saw a nearnaked Price on a massage table having her bottom fondled by the cage-fighter boyfriend in the garden of a Marbella golf hotel. While children looked on. Classy".
The hack is probably referring to this "shameless" piece the Daily Mail published in August, complete with "nearnaked" photos and the caption: "no regard for modesty". Indeed a "stunt cooked up for tabloid newspapers". Classy, hey?

"[Katie Price]'s torrid attempts to gain publicity have become increasingly desperate as the year has progressed", Moir adds. In which case, rest assured, Katie, there will always be someone at the Daily Mail ready to parade your boobs to the wider public.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Boris Johnson: let the poor pay, not the rich

Kick the poor in the teeth. Make it more expensive for them to go to work. But ask millionaires to contribute a bit more and it's like "Stalin's assault on the kulaks".

Shock. Boris Johnson thinks the 50p top rate of income tax will be a "disaster" for Britain.

Proof of that, he says, are the threats to leave the country made by a handul of millionaires such as artist Tracey Emin, former Formula One boss Eddie Jordan, and actor Michael Caine. Wow.

Suspiciously similar to the good old days when "the top talent" at RBS, Northern Rock et al routinely claimed they'd leave the country if bonuses were to be cut (if only they had).

So just picture what a national disaster it would be if Tracy Everyone-I-Have-Ever-Shagged Emin upped sticks and took Her Tent to France. Devastating, right? You can just imagine people up and down the country crying their eyes out.

Of course, instead, the Mayor of London thinks it's perfectly fair to impose fair rises of up to 20% upon ordinary citizens. They can be milked and kicked in the teeth at will.

They can have bus passes, tube fares and Oyster cards increased savagely year-on-year, because, even if they fancied the idea, they wouldn't be able to "do an Emin" and bugger off to France, would they? How could they, without the cash to shoot off and buy a villa outright on the Côte d'Azur.

Unfortunately for Boris Johnson and the Daily Express though, the majority of Britons are of the opinion that a 50p tax rate for high earners is a good idea.

And anyway, Boris, what are you moaning about? For all your wailing that the 50p tax is like "Stalin’s assault on the kulaks", that cosy payrise you gave yourself last year, from £137,579 to £143,911 (h/t Tory Troll), should cushion you nicely.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Sun: 40 years of goo (PART TWO)

Our second instalment celebrating 40 years of tabloid 'laffs' turning Britain into a nation of mob-lynching paranoid hysterics.

November 1998: "Are we being run by a GAY MAFIA?" is the Sun's headline, the pinnacle of a vicious campaign aimed at 'outing' Cabinet ministers one after the other.

In February 2003, the red top decides to lash out at French President Jacques Chirac. "CHIRAC EST UN VER" (Chirac is a worm) is the rag's headline, along words such as "wriggly wobbler" and "ridiculous". His fault? Opposing the Iraq war, of course, which the Sun and Ruper Murdoch backed like drugged-up attack dogs.

But tact has never been one of the Sun's best qualities. As we saw yesterday, when the bullies decide it's time to go on the offensive, whoever incurs their wrath becomes fair game. And of course it's nothing poisonous, just a bit of 'fun' and a bit of 'teasing', right?

In 1996, Formula One driver Pedro Diniz's car burst into flames after a pit-stop. The Sun's take on the accident? The headline "DINIZ IN THE OVEN".

In 2003, after former boxer Frank Bruno was taken to a psychiatric hospital, the "cheeky" tabloid opted for a bit of geezery fun splashing its front page with the headline "BONKERS BRUNO LOCKED UP" alongside a story that labelled him "a nut".

Only the other day the Sun's bullies decided to pick on the family of government drugs adviser Professor David Nutt. His fault? Having a different opinion from that of the Sun. The punishment? A devastating hatchet job: an article carrying the headline "Off his nut", aiming at destroying Professor Nutt's son Steve with photos and quotes nicked from his Facebook page.

And if you think that's nasty, try the way they covered the killing of innocent Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, "saluted" with the headline "ONE DOWN...THREE TO GO" on July 23. The Sun reported that de Menezes was wearing "a coat like you would wear in winter, a sort of padded jacket". Uber bollocks, as it later turned out.

Then, of course, there's the Wicker Man-style mob lynching rituals. Not many would remember the News of the World and Sun-led campaigns to name and shame paedophiles in 2000. Ignoring official warnings that this could backfire, the foaming-at-the-mouth tabloids decided to press ahead.

The result was that a totally innocent paediatrician was targeted in Wales. Returning home from work one evening, she found the word "paedo" spray-painted on her front door.

Local police explained that the mobs mixed up her job title with the word "paedophile", still though the outcome was that Sun-reading vigilantes ended up driving an innocent person out of home.

Similar incidents were later to be repeated, resulting in libel cases and public apologies, like in 2003, when the Sun "named and shamed" the wrong man as a sex offender.

Indeed the Sun seems to have quite a creepy obsession with "paedophilia". If you type in the word "paedophiles" into the Sun's own search engine, it returns 896 results plus 18 from the Scottish edition and 36 from the News of the World. That's 950 articles since December 2001: if a foreigner grabbed hold of a copy of the Sun you wouldn't blame them for thinking Britain's the capital of pederasts.

The Sun's hysterical ways were the reason for Karen Matthews' fake kidnapping of her daughter Sharon. With the tabloid offering a £50,000 reward, Karen and her accomplice's plan was to release Shannon, drive around the corner to 'discover her', then take her to a police station and claim the £50,000 reward.

And, of course, there's last year's Sun-sponsored witch-hunt in the aftermath of Baby P's death, where the tragic killing of an innocent child was used for an unprecedented campaign against a muddled target comprising social workers, single mothers and the welfare state. "BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS" was the notoriously berserk headline.

Happy birthday, Sun.

[Click here for "40 years of crap" PART ONE]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Sun: 40 years of goo

UPDATE: Check out the "Page 3 Propaganda" video.

A celebration of the rag's glorious contribution to British culture.

"We're celebrating our 40th birthday in style", announces the Sun today.

A series of self-congratulatory quotes (i.e. from people like Simon Cowell), is the way Britain's own bible belters are kickstarting a series of "sparkling birthday features".

It's undisputed that the Sun managed to push its way to the forefront of Britain's contemporary culture. From shifting the nation's attention towards mammary glands, through their contribution to harmony and cohesion, and all the way to reasoned and fact-based news reporting, the Sun has indeed become the epitome of British phlegm, "a national institution" (according to the Sun itself).

But to spare the Sun the risk of sliding into self-important back-slapping mode, which would be soooo unlike them, we've decided to help them celebrate the rag's history with a short roll of honour of some of its most memorable moments.

It's May 1982 and, in the midst of the Falklands' war, it is announced that the British troops have sunk an Argentine ship called General Belgrano, killing 300 people. The Sun's own contribution comes in the guise of a sombre, level-headed headline: "GOTCHA".

In 1987 the Sun completely made up allegations about singer Elton John and rent boys. They ended up paying £1m in libel damages.

The incident looked positively tame compared to what happened two years later. The Hillsborough tragedy became one of Britain's most dramatic moments. The Sun decided to lend a helping hand by publishing the headline "THE TRUTH", falsely claiming that Liverpool supporters urinated on rescue workers and picked the pockets of crushed victims.

Nothing, of course, like the stalking of Clare Short in 2003. The Birmingham Ladywood MP dared to speak out against Page 3- effectively attempting to deprive Britain's lads of their right to access basic masturbating tools. The Sun's response? As they don't do hysteria, they opted for a subtle, discreet and persuasive ploy.

As Clare Short recounts:
"[t]his led to busloads of Page 3 girls parked outside my house all day in the hope of setting up embarrassing photos, and mock-up pictures of me as a very fat Page 3 girl. They even sent half-dressed people to the house I share with my 84-year-old mother in Birmingham and had people hiding in cars and chasing me down the street in an effort to get embarrassing photographs".
And if the word 'bullying' springs to mind, then get a life. The Sun were only messing about. Like when they unleashed a hate campaign against Swiss referee Uri Meier in the follow-up of the controversial Euro 2004 exit of England against Portugal. After urging readers to "let rip" and send him emails, the tabloid stalked the referee's home in northern Switzerland and published his address. Fed up of death threats and afraid for his family, Mr Meier was soon forced to move.

But if that was just a question of sport, no-one can deny the Sun's contribution to community relations.

Like last year's completely fabricated "Muslim terror hit list" story, or the other about a Muslim bus driver who allegedly "kicked passengers off the bus" so that he could pray. In July 2003, the rag's front page sported the headline "SWAN BAKE: Asylum seekers steal the Queen's birds for barbecues". At least on that occasion the Sun apologised. Five months later. On page 41.

[Click here for "40 years of crap" PART TWO]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pay each time you take a dump

You can say what you like about Britain's wealth creators, but you can't accuse them of lacking imagination when it comes down to cutting costs.

Britain's route back to 19th century working practices is looking smoother every day.

News just in is that one of the most successful private-owned companies in the UK, a meat-processing giant with an annual turnover of £466.3m, cut their workers' wages each time they go to the toilet.

Having collected evidence from over 100 workers, Unite the Union has denounced the ongoing practices at Dunbia, where workers are required to clock in and out each time nature calls. According to Cathy Rudderforth, Unite Lancashire official, "it's outrageous that in 2009 workers have to endure the indignity of clocking out for toilet breaks".

Unite have also accused the company of refusing talks with the unions. On their part, Dunbia have come up with the retort that weekly bonuses are paid to compensate for toilet breaks-related cuts. But if that's the case, then what's the point?

And are we right to guess that the policy does not apply to managers each time they take a dump at work?

Let's just hope that Dunbia's appalling practices don't pave the way for Britain's "wealth creators" at large. Otherwise a simple cistitis or spell of diarrohea at work will not just be painful, but costly as well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

1 million affordable homes

The long-term benefits of public intervention in the housing sector.

Most people are aware that waiting lists for council homes have hit an all-time high. Trouble is, courtesy of industrial-scale tabloid bombardment, most people would probably blame immigration and single mothers.

The reality, however, is different.

Here's the facts. It is true that the queues are dramatic. The crisis brought a massive increase in repossessions (65,000 homes this year and 45,000 in 2008). At the start of 2009, 200,000 extra families (not people, families), were added to already long queues: 1,8 million families are waiting their turn as opposed to 1.6m in 2008.

Yet how many people are aware that there are one million fewer homes available for rent from councils and housing associations than in 1979?

Read that again: one million fewer affordable homes than twenty years ago. And don't forget that, compared to 1979, today the UK is home to an extra 4.5m people, which can only highlight the urgency of the issue, especially as construction in the private sector has also ground to a halt.

Earlier this year, it emerged that in Scotland there are fewer council houses for rent now than there were 50 years ago (see here for details).

This is why today UNISON launched a report "urging the government to remove all legal and financial barriers to council house-building", calling for 1 million council homes to be built in the lifetime of the next Parliament.

The benefits are obvious. Along with a new generation of high-standard sustainable homes (learning from the recent past mistakes of estates built 'on the cheap', both in the private and public sector) and the chance to replan and regenerate entire areas according to local needs, the programme would benefit the wider economy. Think of all the jobs and training opportunities that would be created and the impulse it would give to the supply chain.

Yes, it would be a massive public investment, but it's one that would bring both long-term benefits and be definitely in the interest of the wider public.

According to UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis, council housing "can also help to prevent another housing and debt bubble by providing more affordable homes".

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Grief-scavenging and the Sun

Preying on corpses and leftovers. Literally.

That's what the tabloids have always excelled at, from the atrocious "Gotcha!" during the Falklands war, through Hillsborough and beyond.

But the pathetic, grief-scavenging that filled the Sun pages in the last few days sinks to new lows, even for Rupert Murdoch's own brand of gutter journalism.

Let's not beat around the bush. What sort of mother is prepared to hand over her grief to a tabloid for cheap political pointscoring while her dead son is still warm? And if this sounds brutal, how would you describe what "Mum-at-War" Mrs Janes and the Sun have done?

Believe it or not, even the Daily Mail -through Stephen Robinson today- found it distasteful, noting that "it is most unfortunate that [Mrs Janes] has found herself and her son's death open to ruthless manipulation by a newspaper with an axe to grind". Robinson added:
"'Outraged Jacqui, 47, hit the phone's loudspeaker button to record the call,' the Sun newspaper reported yesterday, as though that is the most natural thing in the world for a bereaved mother to have done when the Prime Minister rings, before passing on the cassette tape to reporters".

Free of charge, one hopes?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Was Morrissey right to walk offstage?

Luck is not on Moz's side these days, but the episode highlighted how gigs are often spoiled by aggressive, hyperactive idiots.

You may have heard about this already: after he collapsed on stage in Swindon two weeks ago, mid-way through his second song in Liverpool, Morrissey was smacked on the head by a plastic bottle of beer. This prompted him to say "goodbye" and walk off stage (see video here).

Websites have been debating whether Morrissey was right to storm off or whether he overreacted and let down the thousands who'd paid £35-plus to see him.

The Guardian opened an online thread: "Was Morrissey right to walk off stage after being hit by a bottle?". Amidst trite puns based on Smiths song titles (he obviously thought he was being terribly original), a journo called David Simpson found the time to write that Moz's "refusal to carry on does seem a bit excessive". Some pointed out that it's not fair that up to 8,000 had their night spoiled by a single idiotic bottle-thrower. Others wrote that that's the "spirit of rock'n'roll" and that you've gotta take it on the chin etc.

I say good on you, Morrissey. If there is something I've never understood, it is all those ejits who spend money on gigs only to act like the girl in The Exorcist on speed. Seriously. Fair enough you're excited (that's the whole point), fair enough you feel some adrenalin running. But the moment some people make it into a gig they simply turn into demented juvenile cavemen with little actual interest in the concert itself.

It's always puzzled me. And sometimes put me off going altogether - though luckily only for a few seconds.

I always conceived going to gigs as a rare (and expensive) chance to see your favourite artists in person. To savour their music live. To see how they play those songs without overdubs. To watch them on stage and study their movements, appreciating each moment.

And yet, there's always a sizeable minority that spoils it for everybody else, acting like absolute twats, trampling on people, kicking and pushing Heysel-style, chucking bottles into the crowd and various other acts of barbaric aggression.

And I'm not talking about gigs where you expect this as routine (I expect someone to make the point that old Sex Pistols' gigs were defined by such actions, "rock'n'roll, duuude"). Morrissey live is hardly Napalm Death material.

According to some people, it doesn't matter you've forked out £40 or so. You make it into a gig and you're expected to give up your basic rights not to be elbowed in the stomach, pushed or shoved around like a sack of shit.

And funny how it's always the males, have you noticed? Good old testosterone pumping through the veins, right? Perfectly in line with the old delusion that being manly equals acting like some Hyperactivity Disorder-ridden dickhead with anger management issues on top.

So this time I don't blame Morrissey for getting pissed off. And as for the objection that "it's not fair that Moz let one person spoil it for 8,000 fans": how many would it take then to justify his storming off? Would twenty bottles be acceptable, or would his critics still blabber that 7,980 fans suffered from the action of 20 idiots?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Good Bye Lenin!

Imagine if the former DDR hadn't walled people in.

This film came out in 2003 but I watched it again last night inspired by all the Berlin wall-related news reports. Today is in fact the 20th anniversary of when the Berlin wall opened, kickstarting the process of reunification between East and West Germany and the end of the Cold War.

Good Bye Lenin! is the story of a family in East Berlin. It's 1989 and, in the midst of the popular protests that will lead up to change, Alex's mother (a devoted East German socialist), suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma. By the time she comes round, Berlin has changed at the fastest pace imaginable.

An entire regime has been swept away, a fact rendered most obvious by the most mundane details. Old East German food and drink brands all but disappeared in weeks. Western cars and billboards populate the streets, TV is already radically different and so is a job market where celebrity 'cosmonauts' have to resort to driving taxis to make ends meet.

Afraid that his mother's frail heart may not be able to bear all this, Alex decides to maintain the illusion that nothing's changed and that the wall's still there. The extent to which he's prepared to go is touchingly comical. Alex begs his neighbours to play along and travels the length and breadth of Berlin in search of disused East German goods that he can show his mum. But the best bits are the fake TV broadcasts, which Alex is able to knock up courtesy of his friend Dennis, an aspiring film director.

And here I stop, because it's not my intention to spoil the story. Debates can carry on forever as to whether the sudden end of East Germany was a good thing or not, or whether people's expectations where quickly betrayed by the ruthless but inevitable structural changes.

What's amazing about Goodbye Lenin! though, is how all of the above is depicted at a human level, with a family tragedy centred around our innate fear of change and penchant for illusion and denial. Ultimately, it's a story about the passing of time and society's evolution. Just imagine if the changes that happened to us in the space of forty years were all condensed within a month or two.

Except that this is exactly what happened in East Berlin, where the binge of changes proved so sweepingly exciting that it's almost as though nobody took time to notice that an entire world, the same world millions had grown up in, had slipped away in an instant.

Alex's illusion of an East Germany that is still alive and well must have been the equivalent of us trying to recreate the 1960s forty years down the line- like decorating a house without PCs, microwaves or DVD players and with analog TVs that can only show BBC1 and ITV .

The make-believe world of Goodbye Lenin! is also touchingly political. It dreams up an entire ideology that bypasses the reality of a 40-year-old dictatorship. When Alex plays his final fake news report and Sigmund Jahn makes his imaginary speech as president, this is what he says:

"Socialism isn't about walling yourself in. It's about reaching out to others and living with them. It means not only dreaming about a better world, but making it happen. Therefore, I have decided to open the borders of the GDR".

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Herded into carnage

350,000 British students a year feel the need to hire a specialised company to help them get shitfaced.

I've heard of money paid to personal shoppers to help the wealthy look trendy. I've heard of hired job interview coaches and career advisors; style experts a-la Trinny and Susannah; private remedial teachers and even dog groomers.

But to pay someone to help you knock back shots on a night out is just in a league of its own. £10 for a white t-shirt with the word 'Carnage' on it and the chance of spotting your face amongst the online photos of paralytic young people in nightclubs. Wow. That sounds like fun.

Yet this is what 350,000 UK undergraduates have been doing each year since 2004- securing a company called 'Carnage UK' an annual turnover of £3,500,000.

Which can only be explained by galloping levels of social ineptitude.

I mean, how sad can you get if you can't even get to know people in your course or halls of residence? Is suggesting a night out such a daunting prospect that you've got to delegate Carnage UK to do it for you, in the sad hope that getting wankered on an industrial scale or vomiting all over the pavement may help you make friends and maybe even get a blow job?

And if even the Sun, normally so sympathetic to lairy larffs and tits-out-for-the-boys, finds it so sad (see here and here), then this Carnage stuff really must be loser-material.

Not convinced yet? Take a look at the recent photo (see top) of a shitfaced 19-year-old ex public schoolboy emptying his bladder on a WWI memorial in Sheffield.

*UPDATE- I've just come across a document online (a letter, in fact), written by the Group Managing Director of VLG, Carnage's parent company. Dated, 16 September 2008, it says: "We would also like to state that we currently do NOT operate ANY UK events under the slogan ‘It’s gonna get messy.’" I then checked one of the Carnage UK Facebook pages. It says: "Carnage UK will be gracing the streets of Brighton once again to provide YOU with a night to remember!'s gonna get MESSY!"

Also on the subject: "Retch, student, retch"

Saturday, November 07, 2009

He's not wearing a poppy!

The witch-hunt begins.

Three years ago Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow was inches away from being publicly slain. His crime? Not wearing a poppy on-air.

"There is a rather unpleasant breed of poppy fascism out there- 'He damned well must wear a poppy!'", he said, adding: "Well, I do, in my private life, but I am not going to wear it or any other symbol on air".

On Wednesday, Mark Steel was called a variety of names for pointing out some of the contradictions of the current poppy hullabaloo and, more recently, the Daily Mail went hysterical at the fact that some Premier League clubs are not wearing poppies on their match-day shirts. "Morally bankrupt" was one of the gentlest comments hurled by their baying mob.

And so here we are again. Remembrance Day, something that originally had a meaning, a day to commemorate the dead (soldiers and civilians) of World War I, is drowned into a sea of triviality by the same brand of people who'd look at you in dismay if you dare say you didn't cry for Princess Diana.

A day that was intended to honour those who lost their lives to rid the world of nazi-fascism, a symbol-ridden ideology that imposed the wearing of labels and badges such as the yellow Star of David or pink triangles, ends up being turned into a witch-hunt where symbols are forced down people's throats.

So we learn that you can only remember people and respect the dead if you wear a badge as ruled by Britain's own breed of Bible Belters.

How's this for an alternative: don't buy the Daily Mail, the only British paper that actively supported Hitler in the 1930s. The money you save, hand over to the Royal British Legion.

Friday, November 06, 2009

It's the free market

Why OTT marketing techniques can actually end up putting off customers. A guest post by Nick O'Teene.

This time I'm about to write about the virtues of the free market and how it allowed me to perform the V-sign at the most pestering mobile phone company that ever graced the earth.

I won't tell you who they are, but I will say that they begin with 'V' and that they're also known as the world's dominant mobile phone company, they enjoy over a quarter of Britain's market and last year they made £3.078 billion.

Since I bought a pay-as-you-go with VodaFlick two years ago it's been a relentless bombardment of promotional phone calls and messages. Seriously: on average at least once a day.

Automated calls, gluey customer assistants insisting that you switch to contract, promotions and counterpromotions and - of course- a myriad text messages to remind you of offers, megaoffers, supersales and "hurry-up-top-up-now-and-receive-a-0.5-per-cent-discount" and more.

Piss off! Leave me alone. Stop harassing me as to why I'm not interested. Save your money on this industrial bombardment and use it to pay your call centre staff better.

Marketing may be one thing, but at Vodaflick they crossed the line that says "HARASSMENT" a long time ago and never looked back. Imagine if every single utility company you're signed up to tried to contact you as often as them. You'd need a full-time job just to answer the calls.

In the last few weeks an even higher volume of phone calls and texts informed me that I had to hand in my personal details because I had to- the penalty is that I'd lose my VodaFlick number if I didn't do so. This week I tried to do it. Three times. Once the queue was ginormous and twice the system was down.

So they do your head in about having to do something and when you try they can't let you do it. And if you call them they charge you 25p a minute.

And in the end I thought: fuck you, VodaFlick, cancel my line, get rid of it, stick it up your orifice, it's a free market and I'll spend my money with a company that won't harass you as much.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The downfall of the Attention Span

I'm having problems concentrating. It's been months since I last read anything that isn't online, and I fear I may no longer be capable.

Would it be terribly DailyMail-esque to say that I agree with what

"What the net seems to be doing is chipping away at my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” [Carr] wrote. “My mind now expects to take in information the way the net distributes it: in a swift-moving stream of particles".
Reduced attention spans. And, personally, I think it's true. Which isn't to say that it's all bad, far from it. For one thing, since the internet I've been writing much more often. It's also immensely easier to access information, which in turns means your brain won't sizzle for that long if you can't remember a word, a fact, anything. Whoever missed the penalty at Euro 96...? Just check online and bob's your uncle.
But. But. But. I've noticed I've become less patient with films. I'll be honest. If they don't get straight to the point within ten minutes I get tetchy, which was never the case before. I'm way less patient with books as well. I'm having problems concentrating. It's been months since I last read a newspaper that isn't online, and I fear I may no longer be capable.

I can't read a bleedin thing without my eyes twitching towards the open tabs at the top every ten seconds. And thank fuck I'm not into computer games at all, otherwise you could add another massive distractor to the equation.

And I think this is reflecting at all levels. The way TV programmes are filmed- hysterical, fastforwarded, crammed with pop ups and clipped-to-death, with the longest frame tallying 2 seconds. Almost as though it was assumed that a steady narrative would prompt us to turn over and check another channel. Or go back online.

I have not been bitten by a warewolf; Letter to a film student