Friday, June 29, 2007

Reaching out

... healing the wounds. Gordon Brown promises all that sort of stuff; he'd a damned fool if he didn't.

Gordon Brown set a blistering pace in his first full day as prime minister by totally recasting his cabinet and announcing that the new team will meet today in a special session to discuss his plans to restore trust in politics lost during the last decade.

But before passing judgement on his sincerity or otherwise let's see how he's going to do it. Constitutional reform is one way - with a minister given responsibility for "ending political disconnection" - Jack Straw.

Jack bleeding Straw. For all those disconnected by concerns about the war in Iraq, ties to the US, Muslims feeling singled out for hostile treatment and those worried about sleazy opportunistic politics it's the equivalent of a grunted "have a nice day" from a surly teenager who's just blown his nose on the rancid burger you have, idiotically, just purchased from a well-known chain; equal to a one-night stand getting a taxi home at 3am because of work tomorrow; the offer of your old job for less money - a giant "fuck you" made all the more insulting because of the thread-bare courtesy. (There are also some, erm, interesting rumours which a bit of Googling might lead you to: not gonna take the risk of linking to them directly).

I suppose what with having such giant intellects, Brown and co might well have reached a conclusion that the public are deeply stupid (a look at TV does tend to support that case). But what of all those fierce and principled critics of the war in Iraq - a conflict which Brown passionately supported - who have signed up to the Brown administration. Are they letting bygones by bygones in a bid to sort out the problems we now face, deluding themselves, deeply stupid, or just hypocrites? They're politicians, mostof them, so you might tend towards the more negative conclusions. At least until that nice Mr Straw makes you feel loved and wanted again.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Political light relief

Fed up with what's going at Westminster? Or maybe you're an American in despair at Bush, Congress et al.

To take your mind off it, here are the latest august deliberations from Dáil Éireann in which the new Ceann Comhairle (speaker) does his best to enhance the dignity of the his office by doing his imitation of a supply teacher.

If you're Irish, you might find it amusing. Or you might weep hot, bitter tears of shame. In which case, you probably didn't believe Bertie's explanations for his curious financial arrangements, and squirm with embarrassment at having a government propped up by the likes of Beverly "just stick in an offshore account and don't tell the taxman" Flynn and Jackie Healy-Rae ("the stage-Irish buffoon who is a mere shillelagh away from comic perfection").

If so, sorry; but on the basis that anything which upsets D4s can't be all bad, don't miss these fine comments on the issue. "You can just see parliamentarians in Burkina Faso shaking their heads with a mixture of laughter and shame. Christ that makes Stormont look professional."

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Stupid internet quizzes

not so stupid when you like* the answer. If you don't; elect a new quiz.

You scored as Jeb (President), Dear God, I wouldn't invite you to a party, but you can sort out my finances and MC at a function any time you like.. Mr President Sir..

Jeb (President)


















Which 'West Wing' Character are You?
created with
* No Sam, though? On balance I'd rather be Leo. But the interweb says I'm not, so there.

PS: I may be the most powerful man in the world, but basic html skills baffle me. Sorry. And thanks to the Popinjays, who directed me to it.


Greatest paper in the world

The New York Times on the new PM.

The transfer of power, almost brutal in its brevity

You wha?

Read the rest, if you want. It's so utterly trite and lacking in insight I gave up half-way through.

PS: one prediction. If Cameron ever takes over, I doubt he'll go quoting the school motto on the steps of No 10. Floreat Etona indeed.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

EDW (late edition): Robert Johnson

This is what music should be about – dapper, damned and innovative. One of the earliest and greatest of bluesmen. You probably know the myths about him: sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads down in Mississippi, no one knows where he was buried. If you don't, well you can find them online. There's no reason to believe them, of course, but since they're myths you may well believe they express something that ought to be a greater truth.

I'd be even more surprised if you didn't know some of his songs – Sweet Home Chicago, From 4 Till Late, All My Love in Vain, They're Red Hot, Me and The Devil Blues (and I said 'hello Satan, I believe it's time to go'). It's almost impossible not to lapse into hyperbole, such was his importance in the development of blues and, therefore, modern music. But, since this is something of a quickie, I'll be brief.

The mixture of the profane and profound sense of moral doom is something that has been imitated, but rarely equalled, the same applies prodigious skills and innovative style; all of which the more unimaginative attributed to diabolic influences (like Paginini?). And this is before we even get into such matters as chord structures, subsequent artists who begged, borrowed or stole from him – and the question as to whether he was the first to begin a blues song with the line "I woke up this morning". Even if he wasn't, such woes as the wife leaving you or the dog dying (or, worse, vice versa) are surely a mere bagatelle compared with Satan (surely an EDW candidate in waiting) appearing on your doorstep to escort you in person to Hell or Chicago.

Part of the myth comes from the fact that relatively little is known about him (even compared with his altogether more pious, and much unluckier, namesake Blind Willie Johnson). There are only two known pictures of him in existence. The one you see above, and this one here.

Do you notice a problem with the latter? If not, well consider yourself unsuited to a career in government or, indeed, the US Postal Service. You see, when the spiritual home of the US shooting rampage decided to honour Johnson, the selling the soul to Satan business wasn't really a bar to getting on the stamps (Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom still does the biz). The problem for the American authorities was that he was smoking, and that would never do. So the stamp was produced with the cigarette carefully airbrushed, lest a man who sang about sex, domestic violence, damnation and rebellion set a bad example.

Which reminds me, I should write about... but midnight approaches, I must make the EDW deadline and tomorrow I might hear a knock on my door and come face-to-face with the Health and Safety Inspectorate.

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Totty v Proddy

Iain Dale complains that BBC1 cut off the final few minutes of Blair's final PMQs to go to Wimbledon to watch Ana Ivanovic warming up. I was listening to the radio so I got the full benefit of Ian Paisley's valedictory rather than the young lady you see here.

A tough call from the Beeb – and an interesting definition of public service. A moment of historical importance vs some eye candy skipping around to no especial purpose. This is a democracy after all, so who would you rather see on your screen: Ana or Ian? And would tennis or politics most likely have this effect on you?

More eye-candy here.

UPDATE: Puss asks in the comments if Paisley is my nominee for EDW. That deserves a full-throated 'nooooooooo'. I have an idea for EDW, which I will post if get time in
after something extremely boring and a dinner engagement.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Other people are always the problem

Polly Toynbee, writing in her capacity as Harriet Harman's representative on earth, identifies the problem with society today: the rich. Not, of course, people who are well-off like Polly, but the "Babylonian excess" of people who are earning more than her.

Sweeping aside the urge to make some glib quip about Babylonian excess being more appealing than modern Puritanism, let's look at why this is such a bad thing for society.

It matters because improbable rewards at the top are fracturing pay scales. Senior managers are pulling away from middle managers who have increased their gap with the shop floor. The public sector has to pay more for top talent, so chief executives of small cities are paid more than the prime minister. Other public posts pay eye-watering sums to the profound discontent of those they manage. Yet down at the bottom the chancellor is trying to hold the line on a below-inflation 2% pay deal; unsurprisingly, he is threatened with a massive public sector strike as he moves next door. Meanwhile boardroom pay still rises by 20% to 30%, according to the annual Guardian survey.

Can you think of any other examples of this rising inequality? I can: in journalism - and the Guardian to boot. Editor Alan Rusbridger admits, reluctantly, to making more than half a million last year. Top columnists are very well paid (though we don't know exactly how much Toynbee earns as she refuses to discuss it when the issue of of this apparent hypocrisy over fat cats is raised. I also recall that Private Eye also asked her directly about this and she gave them some flannel about it being irrelevant). However, let's go with the reasonable assumption she gets more than £100,000 a year. Meanwhile, the discontented and poorly paid grunts threaten revolt.

Still, while it might be fun – and right – to mock this double standard, it merely weakens her credibility. It doesn't mean that what she's saying is necessarily wrong. So let's look at her suggestions as to what Gordon Brown should do about this problem. She has a range of solutions, including higher taxes on people earning more than £100,000 a year (to her credit, if we assume she'll be paying more); maybe more tax on the super-super rich; a wealth tax on "more expensive" homes; more public housing, help for house buyers and raising the minimum wage. Okay, nothing that screams "this is a bad idea" here, although a lot of it is pretty vague and full of it-would-be-nice-ifs.

But it's interesting for what she doesn't say. For one thing it seems to ignore the fact that Brown has been chancellor for ten years. But, as such, it's a fair assumption that he decided that the super-rich should be allowed to pay minimal tax; watched blithely as house prices sky-rocketed (unless I missed a lot of Brown speeches about how this madness can only end in a nasty crash]; relied heavily on regressive taxes to raise revenue, kept a tight reign on funds to build more public housing; imposed tuition fees on universities which, she tells us, are increasingly dominated by the middle classes; and the rest. Toynbee's is not a view that is universally held.

Yet, as Toynbee insists "a man can't talk like that [ie about helping the weak] for long and ignore the debauchery of riches at the top." In other words, ignore his record, let's look at what he told the Labour party in a bid to placate the left. She's either trying to shift the blame onto "the government" [ie Blair] – which is implausible given Brown's influence – or else she honestly believes that what a politician says is more important that what he does. If the latter, she really should not be paid for sharing her views on anything.

There's another interesting thing here. Whilst Toynbee is, naturally, concerned about how far the poorest are falling behind, now it's time to act because "as Madeleine Bunting wrote on these pages yesterday, there is change in the air now the middle classes are feeling the mortgage pinch, worried for their children, repelled by excess."

Well this is clearly why the Guardian's top commentators are paid much more than the ordinary reporters and subs – only they could possibly have set Brown right on this vitally important matter. It's curious, though, that it's only the super-rich (ie those richer than Toynbee) that are to blame.

They, according to her, are the only ones benefiting from buy to let. Those who are merely rich – say earning £100,000 a year – have apparently not benefited from rocketing house prices and generous pay rises. To believe this you'd have to believe none of them have cashed in on the house price boom, thereby perpetuating the gap between those who can't afford a place to live; none have second homes; none have bought or enjoyed expensive but non-essential consumer goods and none, good heavens no, have supported the government in creating this situation.

It would be political suicide, of course, for a politician to try and engineer a house price deflation (not least because the people most likely to benefit are the ones most likely to be too stupid and lazy to vote) rather than creating more homes which first time buyers will have to take on eye-watering levels of debt to buy. And hitting the middle classes to help the poor would lead to high fives and smug grins all round at the Tory Central Office. I'm not claiming there's an easy answer to all this (in this regard I'm at one with Toynbee – "none of this would much dent mega-wealth - it would just be a bit fairer") but I would suggest that the super-rich are not the only problem. Unless we're going to take a Toynbee-esque approach and apply that label to anyone who earns more than I do. Because I am pretty sure that Toynbee could look closer to home before blaming all the problems on the fact that the mega-rich have prospered under the party she supports.

There's another thing, too. Apart from a few sort of concrete suggestions, Guardian readers are getting a lot of hand-wringing, selective finger-pointing and partisan elision from one of the paper's most lucratively rewarded employees. And, as I've already noted, this might not be the best or – to take Toynbee's key concern – the fairest use of the Guardian's wage bill.

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Journalists worried about drink

Today's Evening Standard front page screams "Official: We're all drinking too much".

What all of us? Even the non-drinkers? Logically not, of course, but statistically it's... ah not really. Up to two million Londoners drinking a lot - maybe once a week.

But since the headline suggests something better than the reality, if you're a teetotaller and if you die of cirrhosis due to my drinking habits, may I just say how sorry I am.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

So many things to knock one sideways

The middle class smug fest that is Glastonbury. Harriet fecking Harman. Yesterday's brief panic that the Finchley Road Waitrose was out of Observers. The far more profound existential crisis once I realised how stereotypical the preceding annoyance made me.

But nothing saddened me quite as much as getting my hands on the Obs and reading the following.

Comedy double-act David Mitchell, 33, and Robert Webb, 35, stars of Peep Show and Magicians, at the North London Tavern.

David: This is my local pub. I like it because it feels like a gentlemen's club, except when they play the music too loudly, which I'm not too keen on. When I first moved to Kilburn, four or five years ago, this pub was hilariously scary.

I did try and think of a clever way in which I could respond so that I sounded like one of the amusing characters from Peep Show, but on reflection I thought that maybe Mitchell's middle class wuss persona was getting the better of him and decided to keep it simple.

He's talking desperate, irredeemable bollocks. The North London Tavern was an old school Irish boozer which has sadly fallen victim to the creeping poncification of NW6. There was nothing wrong with it in its old guise. Admittedly it might not have been to everyone's taste – but

Very brightly lit, patterned carpet, banquette seating and about six old men sitting on their own drinking half pints of Guinness. On Saturday nights they used to show Casualty on the big screen.

does not constitute an imminent threat to one's personal safety. The ould fellas drinking Guinness might not have been too welcoming to the sort of person who finds that sort of shabby melancholy deeply intimidating, but I remember it from those days and it wasn't the sort of place where they used to pass the hat round "for the boys in Ireland". Nor, for that matter was it as depressingly mired in loserdom as The Cock nor as hostile as The Kingdom (which, the one time I visited was full of identikit middle-aged Irish couples: big, hostile men channeling the spirit of the "ponce" character from Withnail & I and women who were all probably called Mary, and who had the sort of face that only a life-time of disappointment, too many children and domestic abuse can give you. The fact that there is no fancyapint review of the place - largely because I won't go there alone and Venichka is too much of a pussy to accompany me there – tells you all you need to know).

What you did get at the North London on a Saturday was fiddly-de diddly-de Irish music, a man dressed as a Leprechaun dancing along, the only people I've ever encountered using the word "colleen" in an non-ironic fashion and the whole crowd standing for Amhrán na bhFiann at the end of the night. You might find that annoying, ridiculous or simply to not your taste, but whereas gastro-pubs are ten a penny across London (and I'm not knocking them per se – the lack of pubs that serve decent meals is one of the more annoying facets of life in Ireland), I can't help but regret the loss of the old school Kilburn pubs.

The working class Irish emigrants who lived – some of them are still there – in Kilburn and Cricklewood are getting old, their descendants are either Anglified (like me, I suppose. Among other things I'm descended from Irish builders who came to England in search of a better life; it's possible I have the navvy gene which creates an ancestoral affinity to Kilburn pubs) or staying in Ireland these days. North West London is full of nice pubs where timid, middle class showbiz types won't encounter anything too horrifyingly different – damn it Hampstead is 20 minutes' or so walk from Kilburn High Road – but something of the capital's soul dies when the sort of ageing Guinness drinker who can't go back to Ireland, but who is not wholly of England, loses the only place where he feels truly at home.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Muslim world an homogenous mass of seething lunatics

You'll realise, I hope, the irony implicit in that headline. But I add that caveat because so much reporting about 'offended Muslims' seems to work on this assumption.

Yes, I'm afraid it's more Rushdie bollocks. In this case the Beeb reports on a "Day of Pakistan Rushdie protests". So, you think, on reading the headline, tens of thousands of people who probably haven't read the book are going crazy and demanding the blood of the western infidel.

Erm.. Around 300 people in Islamabad chanted "Damn Rushdie" [I do love sub-continent English] and "Down with Britain".

Careful now. But, still, it's the capital. It's a relatively cosmopolitan place. I bet more people turned out in Karachi where all the crazies live.

Yeah: They have held small-scale demonstrations in the southern port of Karachi (pop: 15 million or so).

How small? Doesn't say, but I would be willing to bet more people turned out to complain about the cricket team.

Now, I'm of the view that a demo in Britain should be pretty bloody big before it gets any attention. So why should the Beeb cover the anger of a tiny proportion of Pakistanis (oh and a few attention seeking local politicians whom I will not dignify by quoting here) unless it assumes they are speaking for a silent majority of deranged fanatics?

>>>This is a public service announcement from the Department of Patronising Liberalism: Muslims are so irrational you must do nothing to suggest they are irrational because they will kill you if you do.

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A story and a dilemma

An amusing tale (via Slugger) of how one Irish blogger became embroiled in a dispute with a baggage handling firm. His posts about led to someone, apparently connected to the company, signing him up for gay dating sites. You won't be too surprised to hear that lawyers are now involved as the company flounders desperately in the midst of a PR disaster. There's one line I'd especially like to quote but the problem I face is that it uses bad words.

Now, these words don't trouble me. In fact, I use them all the time. But others are greiviously offended by them (yeah it refers to a part of the female anatomy) and I'm unsure whether I should spring this sort of thing on my more delicate readers. I could use asterisks, but that strikes me as a cop out.

I think there is one possible way round it, however. A word that conveys the visceral contempt and so forth, but is also an easily understood and culturally appropriate synonym: lawyer. Try it, it works perfectly. (Sweaty, lawyered whore; are you calling me a lawyer? etc)

So, as Damien proudly boasts:

It seems Sky Handling Partners have called the Gardai too. They also chastised me on my use of bad language. Yes, really! How many people have ever seen a solicitor’s letter than contains the word lawyer at least three times?

Well, have you?


Thursday, June 21, 2007

If someone's byline picture makes you want to punch them, do it

Julie Burchill quits journalism. Her modus operandi was once summed up as: Julie walks down the street and sees a dog. She doesn't like the dog. She goes home and writes a column saying all dogs should be killed. Result: profit.

Here's Toby Young (even more aptly described as 'wanker journalist'), a former associate of hers bleating about what a tough game journalism is. He clearly feels he hasn't received his fair reward. I agree. If this were so he'd be shuffling outside Bethnal Green tube station in piss-stained trousers hassling passers-by for the price of another tin of special brew.

There's also the argument about how the rigours of journalism. It's true for many: those labouring away in obscurity working long hours for low pay on often tedious topics and little reward. Yet it can be a well-paid, rewarding job for those that land the prime roles. Of course, many are toadies, careerists and well-connected; but at least some get there through talent and they all have to work for their keep.

But in all the halls of the media mansions, the most parasitic, useless and contemptible creatures are those whose living depends on nothing more than having the chutzpah to spout complete bollocks to order in the hope of getting a reaction. Without a remarkable degree of egotism, a congenital inability to deal with subtlety and – often – excellent contacts from family and friends, they would be nothing. At least Burchill got to where she did on her own merits (or otherwise) but you can probably think of plenty of examples to whom all that applies.

The thing is, the Toby Youngs of this world may not be on massive money, but it's a damn sight more than a dedicated and skilled sub or reporter will get. Especially in the case of those who can get sacked, write a 'ha ha, what a twat I am' piece about it and find some credulous star-fucker who'll pay you to carry on in the same vein.

In the unlikely event of me being a newspaper comment editor, I would be sorely tempted to sack almost all my columnists. The internet's full of people who can rant coherently, advance partisan views and so forth. They'd be much cheaper – and every bit as good – than all but a handful of star columnists. But if I were another sort of editor I'd want to make sure that skilled reporters who knew their patch, or the sharpest subs, were kept.

Incidentally, my irritation at this state of affairs reaches danger level when I see journalists described as 'controversial'. It's the most asinine and anodyne of phrases one could use when describing a public figure who takes stances on certain things. And so it was today when, of all the things you could say about the two Hitchens brothers, the Beeb decided to tell us (prior to their stint on Question Time that) both are 'controversial'. Really? It's just as well they're not going to be appearing on Why Can't We All Just Get Along Time. In journalism anyone who aspires to something beyond Lorraine Kelly is controversial. At least with Hitchens, C you know you're getting quality bile.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Almost perfect

One thing jars in this obit:

In what became known as the Orgy of the Year, Immendorff was discovered naked having his nipples licked by a retinue of seven young filles de joie, while 11 grams of cocaine lay ready for consumption on a Versace ashtray nearby.

A Versace ashtray? How incredibly vulgar.


EDW: Omar Khayyam

Remember, the medieval Persians can do heretical Muslim writers every bit as well as the Brits. Of course, the attire helps. I regularly adopt a turban (or fez) plus silk dressing gown when writing these posts – one could scarcely appreciate the havanas and dry martinis which fuel my purpler patches of prose wearing anything less.

You will, I hope, be familiar with Omar's best-known work, the Rubiyat, probably in Fitzgerald's translation. If not please go and read it at once, since before I say more on Omar, there are a few caveats attached.

The trouble is that you really can't win if you try and write about religion in anything other that Madeleine Bassett Bunting-esque terms of gushing idiocy: oh how wonderful you believe that. You attack Christianity, you're just picking an easy target. You attack Islam and you're bullying a vulnerable minority (if not doing exactly, what the Nazis did to the Jews). Attack Judaism and you're a magnet for every obsessive and wanker (pro or con) who hasn't already objected to your less than respectful views on religion. [And yet, you haven't attacked Christians, Muslims or Jews at all; at least not for being such].

Attack Buddhists and they think they did something in a previous life to deserve it and that's no fun... You get the idea. The problem is not belief per se: it's faith – and, allied to that, the idea that someone who believes something is right and true so deeply and strongly that it gives them particular rights and privileges over and above people with less certitude. In its milder form it gives rise to unutterable silliness, such as the Archbishop of York's praise for the fervour with which Iran's clownish president holds his deranged views; but this silliness is what opens to the door to the demand that we show our respect for faith by silencing that which the faithful dislike. And if we don't then... we're back on to Rushdie again, aren't we? Allah be praised that this time, at least one MCB spokesman has had a rare fit of common sense.

For all that, I am instinctively uncomfortable with the Bunglawala mindset that Rushdie's attitude towards Islam is definitely, definitively wrong.* I far prefer the questioning, sceptical attitude of the likes of Omar Khayyam. An astronomer and man of science he preferred reason to blind, unquestioning faith and the things of this world to the promises of the next:
"How sweet is mortal Sovranty!"--think some:
Others--"How blest the Paradise to come!"
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!

And, as his attire would strong suggest, he was a great one for drink.

Then to this earthen Bowl I did adjourn
My lip the secret well of life to learn
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd – "While you live,
Drink! – for once dead you never shall return."


*Lapsed Calvinist, dissent, questioning and exercise of one's own conscience are all part of that. So don't try and pull any silly theological tricks, because I will channel the combined powers of Ian Paisley, John Knox, Lord Byron, William Hazlitt, James Hogg, Wolfe Tone, Van Morrison and John Buchan against you if you do.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Somehow I'll resist the temptation to use the Mao/Zhou En Lai comparison

Gordon Brown on his relationship with Tony Blair: "There's no situation in history where you have the same two people working together for 10 years so something must have worked."

Given Brown's well documented interest in history (and his recent book about inspirational people with whom he would like us to compare him) this is a curious claim. Unless he has some ultra-pedantic "10 years, neither more nor less", definition he was either a little dull first thing in the morning; working on the assumption that GMTV is watched only by thickos (you might think that...); or else he was well aware this is not strictly, or even remotely, true. There are plenty of long-term partnerships in British politics (Derby and Disraeli, for one, Galloway and **** deleted for legal reasons **** for another), but the most apt of these is Churchill and Eden.

Without necessarily wishing to compare Blair to Churchill, you can see why Brown may be a wee bit edgy about making such comparisons. After waiting years for the top job, Eden was not an unqualified success in the job and – despite a close relationship (hell, Churchill was Eden's father-in-law) – the outgoing premier clearly had his reservations: "I don't believe Anthony can do it".

Of course, any politician is going to be selective with their comparisons (few Blairists would compare their man to Lord North, another long-serving PM) hence the afore-mentioned Brown book. Obviously we're meant to note the similarity of Courage: Eight Portraits to JFK's Profiles in Courage and, through this type of casual comparison, deduce that Brown is just like JFK (bar the health problems, mob ties and serial shagging, obviously).

But Kennedy wrote (or rather got someone to write his book) as a sort of penance after a staggering act of political cowardice: he managed to do a disappearing act just before Joe McCarthy (who was very popular amongst Kennedy's Boston-Irish core support) was censured by the Senate.

We should all be grateful, then, that this sort of behaviour is quite unlike our own (soon-to-be) dear leader. I'm sure you won't need me to point you to his unbending, first-into-the-firing-line defence of the government whenever things get sticky, because you'll be familiar with it all already.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Robot is a Czech word, you know

I've been in Prague for a few days, spending much time wandering the streets at random, seeking enlightenment in strange corners in a Quink-style derive or (to be more accurate) bar crawl. I won't bore you with what I did on my holidays stuff or pictures – not least because I must be the last person to visit the place – save for one thing. Whilst browsing in an old print shop I discovered the print you can see to your left here.

I know nothing about the performers, (1920s cabaret/nightclub thing); but doesn't the cover remind you somewhat of Kraftwerk's The Man Machine? It's the way they're regimented and the colour scheme, mainly, although I'd love to have seen Kraftwerk adopting the Bertie Wooster on the golf course look. It does make me wonder, though, if there's some influence there - conscious or otherwise. Just because I don't have a clue who they are, doesn't mean that everyone else is so ignorant, right?

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Journalist likes drink, shock

An enjoyable piece by Alan Watkins in the Sindie today. (I don't read the thing, so I am indebted to Ross for sending it to me).

I concur with his sentiments, and will probably look just like he does in that byline in a few years time. A price worth paying, I think. (Splendidly, it now strikes me that Watkins looks rather like the great Charles James Fox).

I should offer a couple of caveats, however.

He talks about the 'three-bottle' drinkers of the golden age (ie the late 18th/ early 19th century when politicians could be drunks, profligates, whore-mongers, gamblers etc, but also had to be erudite, eloquent and opinionated [okay, the corruption of the time puts modern Italy in the shade, but you get the idea]). However, the bottles of port the 19th C boys enjoyed were somewhat smaller than today's bottles.

Then again, the proper drinkers (eg Fox, Sheridan and Pitt) got through about five a night. Pitt reputedly threw up behind the Speakers' Chair mid-debate on occasion. It was attributed to nerves, but I suspect these nerves were akin to the stomach bug which afflicted Charles Kennedy.

Watkins is also on shaky ground, I think, when he holds up the 1974-79 Labour government as an exemplar of how to do things. (Rather as Jimmy Carter was being somewhat bold in accusing President Bush of being a dangerous religious zealot with a disastrous Middle East policy. As another reliably thirsty hack has entertainingly observed.)

UPDATE: French drinking habits may not be quite so idyllic. According to this report, drunken brawls across the south of France are being disrupted by games of petanque.

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There are exceptions but...

Here's another reminder why people who end up in top jobs do so because they want these jobs far more than the people who would do them best. I could understand why David Cameron* would get annoyed by this, but to get so worked up about this is remarkable.

Relations between the Labour-supporting paper and the Tory leader have sunk to an all-time low following a fiery meeting between Cameron and its editor Richard Wallace last week... He used it to complain about the Mirror's coverage, comparing it to that endured by former Labour leader Neil Kinnock at the hands of the Sun, claiming: 'You're treating me worse than the Sun treated Kinnock in the 1980s.'

After reading the accounts both parties have given, to compare it with a row in a girls' boarding school would be an insult to a girls' boarding school.*

David is upset because a Labour supporting rag (with a core readership of working or, increasingly, lower middle class readers won't stop taking pot shots at him)

Richard is upset because Cameron didn't do enough pandering to his ego and, this article implies, was annoyed when the leader of the opposition went to vote in Parliament rather than waste more time snivelling and grovelling at him.

I suspect you'll already be asking what on earth possessed two grown-ups in important jobs to spin themselves into a position which makes them both look so utterly pathetic, if you care at all, so instead let me imagine a far more satisfying encounter between a newspaper editor and a senior politician. Given what we now know about Tony Blair's filthy mouth, and given that Paul Dacre's morning conferences are amusingly nick-named 'the vagina monologues', one likes to imagine a meeting between the two of them. It would, surely, touch the pure, dialectic heights of Derek and Clive.

* Note to non-British readers. David Cameron is the British equivalent of Daniel O'Donnell. Whilst his jumper-wearing, cake-eating persona is popular with elderly ladies, the younger, more edgy crowd treat him with scorn. Some experts claim he is quite harmless, whilst others believe that the vacuous amiability which is his main selling point helps remove the possibility of meaningful, serious matters becoming properly established within the nation's common cultural intercourse.

* Not that I know what goes on in such places. Some things are better left to the imagination.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Oh no, someone said something I don't like

I demand redress from the appropriate authorities. Here's a BBC thing about the latest Big Brother 'controversy' (which really I don't care about, but I was interested in their policy on bad words - a bit geeky, I suppose, but still...). The first frigging comment includes the phrase 'political correctness gone mad'.

Now, and I am going to swear properly here, I fucking hate that fucking phrase. Yes, there certainly are instances of it happening (remember that guy in the US who got in to trouble for using the word 'niggardly'?) but the phrase itself has become a substitute for thought, the last refuge of the brain-dead, unthinking moron and form of whining arse-holery that allows you to shoot down anything that questions your own little ratty prejudices.

Yes, I really do not like it. For now my policy is: p******** c********** g*** m**. I might throw this one out to all my caucasians and see if you have any other offensive bits of wankerishness you'd like banned.

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Not very bright former royal 'ideal to solve Nothern Ireland problem'

Yeah, good luck with that.

Brown provides details of Diana's detachment from reality, such as telling Brown over a lunch that she thought she could solve the conflict in Northern Ireland.

What's really alarming, though, is that some genius once decided the ideal man to solve the troubles was that world famous diplomat Prince Philip.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

The ultimate means of transport

Cars are so passé these days, aren't they? Instead, I give you The Dog-Powered Scooter. I can't tell if this is for real, but let me propose a few adaptations.

The Toddler-Powered Scooter: this would be a godsend for frazzled parents. All that running about and screaming would be directed in a positive direction. Why, one could even hail the little darlings in the manner of those rickshaws one finds in Soho. Plus, I needly hardly add, it is a an excellent way to cut back on the number of fat kids one encounters.

In fact, the infants would be more or less interchangeable with the dog. So far as I can tell the method of rearing them (a mixture of bribery and threats) is pretty much identical.

However, I can think of one better way of travelling.

The Harlot-Powered Chariot: Yet again, I must call on the wisdom of the ancient Greeks. In this case that of the sadly under-rated philosopher Diogenes the Renegade who devoted himself to a life of pleasure. One story told about him is that he hired a group of women of pleasure to pull his chariot through the agora. This, I think, is such a fine idea that we should overlook the small fact that Diogenes may or may not have been totally made up. It certainly sounds like more fun than first class air travel. Provided, of course, the correct mode of dress is observed.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

EDW: Diego Velázquez

Today marks the birthday of one of the finest of all painters: Diego Velázquez. Tempting as it would be to simply link you to his best known work Las Meninas (a particular favourite of mine) I thought instead to share this self portrait with you.

You will note, with approval I am sure, the way he combines simplicity with grandeur. But there is something else there too; an underlying melancholy, redolent of the empty grandeur and ebbing power of a failing empire. (And just to be really heavy-handed with you, Velázquez was the court painter to Philip IV, under whom Spain's long decline from world power to place where people go to on holiday really set in. This despite the fact he was a cultivated and intelligent individual. Life's like that.)

Yet Velázquez manages to convey all this - and the sense that all his supreme talents are powerless against this decay - in the way he carries off his formal attire. This, I scarcely need add, is a supreme exposition of the art of the dandy. Would that Martin Amis looked so well in evening wear.


Friday, June 01, 2007

The secret of happiness is...

Not expecting to be happy. Because you won't be. At least, not if you're married.

According to the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, we should recognise that family rows and door-slamming teenagers are part of life. It expressed concerns that some modern counselling techniques risk promoting an unhealthy belief in unachievable domestic bliss.

In other words, forget all that romantic mulch and don't hope for too much. Love, at best will give you a few moments of joy, otherwise, it's just another coping strategy as you face the miseries and
vicissitudes of life. Still; better off without a wife?

I must say I find this strangely comforting; after all, there is nothing finer than aiming for the highest things in the certainty you will fail. Anything else involves delusions, mediocrity or dangerous sentimentality.

UPDATE: Quink offers a ringing endorsement of marital life in the comments. It can, he says,
"help both parties fend off total misery".

If I marry, it'll be for money. That will stave off a hell of a lot of misery.

*Not true for Tom Waits. As he freely admits, he'd have drunk himself to death now if it weren't for his current missus.