Friday, August 28, 2009

Behold the future of journalism

One day all reporting content generation will be like this. It meets all the Greenslade criteria: online, multi-platform, bigging yourself up, gratuitous twittering etc.

Small fire in London, no one hurt.

Yay for the future.

Update: Another triumph: Mayor of Baltimore surprisingly well-informed about British politics and Midsomer Murders – it's on the net so it must be true. Still, the ease of correcting stuff (and being laughed at if you get it wrong) is quite handy.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: Won't Somebody Think of the Publicans

This is a story from the Irish Independent: Vintners seek govt action to boost pub trade.

If you were thinking that the fact Irish pub owners need government help to survive it's one of the signs of the apocalypse, you'd be right. Economically speaking at least.

Partly it's just the fact that the publicans' lobby is a pretty powerful and influential one (something to do with Ireland being a small country where much politicking is conducted at a local level and the fact that publicans have lots of dosh and local sway). But the figures quoted don't look good.

The Vintners Federation of Ireland... says 4,800 pub workers have been laid off in the past year.

It says 80% of pubs experienced a fall in profits of at least 10% this summer and half have had to let staff go.

The thing is the loss of the pubs is not going to have much effect on people's drinking habits, but it's damn well going to have a detrimental effect on people's well-being.

Unfortunately the current Irish government is the sort of shower that almost defines the phrase couldn't run a piss-up in a brewery (worse than Brown? I very much fear it is that bad), so I doubt state intervention of the sort they want will really work. The current big economic policy, the National Asset Management Agency, is basically an excuse to dig out the charlatans, chancers, gombeens, spivs and sleveens who colluded in a disastrous debt-fuelled property bubble. As such it is not very popular.

It's not really my business, but a truly courageous policy would be to nationalise the banks, let the developers go bust (and prosecute fraud effectively). Then spend some of the money saved on a giant piss up.

At the very least, the government could try convince people that the patriotic thing to do for the Irish to do would be to embrace the old fashioned image of being always in the pub. Some might feel uncomfortable returning to old, not always wholly complimentary stereotypes, but it would surely be preferable to the crass consumerism of the Celtic Tiger years. Possibly some sort of advertising campaign, with a poster of, some suitably iconic and respected Irish figure (Gay Byrne, say, or Roy Keane or Brian O'Driscoll or Father Jack or anyone really as long as it isn't that utter tosser Bono. Or Michael fucking O'Leary) urging people: I want YOU to go the pub. What do you reckon the chances of success would be?

* You could nick this famous picture of a Kerryman (really), but it might rake up a few of the less pleasant aspects of nationalism.

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You know The Wire...

is no longer cool when the Tories start using it to score cheap political points.

On the downside: few things are more depressing that a Conservative politician trying to be fashionable. If there is one political conclusion that the Wire suggests to me it's that the "war on drugs" and ever tougher sentencing policies are a hopeless, irredeemable failure.

On the plus side: fewer articles in the Guardian banging on about the Wire.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Turning offence into pretence

Sometimes you know you've seen something exceptional, something that surpasses what you had thought possible. For many, Usain Bolt's performances in the World Athletics Championships will have done that.

For me, though, this article on the Guardian's website tops it. It's Brit getting irate, on the behalf of his Ukrainian girlfriend, that a slightly silly advert features a meerkat doing a parody of Russian accent.


The advertisement centres on the word "market" – a word that eastern Europeans/Russians pronounce "meerkat" – using talking CGI-animated meerkats. The sole point of this African animal's appearance is, it seems, to highlight the idea that east Europeans cannot pronounce the word market properly when they speak English. It struck me how racist it was to parody what is now a significant part of the British population in this way. It also occurred to me that were the ad to use stereotypical Indian or Caribbean accents in the same way it would never be allowed on TV.

It is, I think, the Platonic ideal of Guardian style idiocy: the whiny grievance-mongering, the humourless and the overwhelming self-righteousness: all over something that is really rather trivial and harmless.

(I should put in the disclaimer at this point that it could all be a send up of the Graun at its most intolerable. If so, it is so well executed I confess it completely took me in.)

The thing that makes me suspect it is not a spoof, however, is that at a time when there are quite a lot of things people could be getting bothered about, this peculiarly British brand of pompous, right-on censoriousness seems to be enjoying something of a revival.

I blame, well, not one particular group but that vast coalition of the prissy, the self-righteous, self-important – many of them religious and/or a certain type of left-winger it has to be said – who regard their right to not be "offended" as trumping all others. If it does nothing else, the meerkat piece exposes the vacuous and self-regarding nature of that particular argument.

The slightly worrying thing is that this brand of nonsense appears to be gaining traction. You remember all those stories from the Eighties about councils banning songs like Baa Baa Black Sheep because they were racist? And how this turned out to be something of a tabloid exaggeration? Yup. Well, we now have quangos telling their staff not to use phrases like "black sheep" and "right-hand man".

Note there is no evidence of anyone actually being offended. But with the perfect combination of bureaucratic arse-covering and grievance-mongering we get this mildly sinister attempt to enforce correctness in every aspect of the language. Frankly, they'd be far better off tackling the acres of jargon that infect public service literature. There really is no excuse for that.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: Côtes du Clyde

And I'm back. I haven't been on holiday or anything, just a combination of having a lot to do and being bone idle has kept me quiet for a while.

But this is a story that is too good not to share. The world's best wines will one day be made in Scotland.

It's an intriguing prospect. Not just for the thought that the one day a drink that combines wine and whisky might be more than just something you give to friends in Essex as house-warming gifts. Would becoming the centre of the wine-producing world change Scotland profoundly? Rather than seeing its wine industry as yet another opportunity to get pished on the cheap, would it become more like a Mediterranean country?

After all, with the significantly higher temperatures needed for this prediction to come true, there would be ample chances for a passeggiata in the balmy streets of Dundee, to sip a chilled, locally grown rosé in the streets of Coatbridge late at night. It may even induce people in the west of Scotland to stop necking Buckfast in favour of the odd glass of Côtes du Spey, or Château Urquhart. What do you reckon the chances are? Not great, I'd have to say. Unless they come up with a wine that goes well with a deep-fried Mars bar and Scotch pie. Now there's a challenge for even the most talented wine maker.

Not that British wine is itself a joke; so there's no reason why the Scots should not get in on the act. Even the French are starting to concede that some sparkling English wines - such as Nyetimber and Chapel Down – have something going for them. Recently I was introduced to the delights of Cornish wine, Camel Valley Brut, and I shall soon be sampling another English one.

Someone on Mersea Island off the Essex coast has had the splendid idea of having a combined brewery and vineyard. On a recent visit there I took the opportunity to pick up a keg of their oyster ale - fine stuff, though I suspect it will be even better when drunk in autumnal conditions. I also picked up a bottle of their white wine; I shall let you know if it's any good. I suspect, however, that Colchester and environs will remain immune to continental influences for a while longer.

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