Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The art of invenctive

Alistair Darling: Brown's minions unleashed forces of hell on me... yes, yes, but it's hardly news to anyone who cares about these matters. To those that don't, it'll make little difference (bar another dimming of the prospects of them voting for Brown and co).

Still, it's not a bad line in invective - a seemingly dead sheep baring his fangs. But it falls a long way short of a truly magisterial denunciation of an utterly despised and discredited regime. Shelly's Masque of Anarchy is something of a gold standard in this regard. It was written in the wake of the Peterloo Massacre .

Authoritarian and nasty as the current shower are, really they had nothing on Lord Liverpool's regime which, in the midst of the economic and social distress that followed the Napoleonic wars, viewed the majority of the population as the enemy within. (Although it did run up a fairly ruinous deficit and was pretty keen on detaining people without trial. I bet Sidmouth would have loved ID cards too).

Whelan, Prescott and Balls visit the Observer's offices yesterday.

Still, the two aren't really comparable and, yes, Liverpool and co were Tories (that party has a repressive streak embedded deep in its DNA). It's the diabolic invective which that government provoked that really interests me. I doubt any of today's politicos or hacks could manage anything like this.

I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh -
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed the human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Eldon, an ermined gown;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.

And the little children, who
Round his feet played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.

Clothed with the Bible, as with light,
And the shadows of the night,
Like Sidmouth, next, Hypocrisy
On a crocodile rode by.

Castlereagh was so unpopular that when he died (after cutting his throat because he feared being implicated in a gay sex scandal), his funeral was interspersed by frequent cheers and jeers from the mob. I doubt that even G Brown could manage that. Balls might, I suppose.

Other political news: 7% swing to Gang of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Jacqui Smith projected to lose seat to Whore of Babylon. New Jerusalem cancelled due to budget cuts. British public again fail to rise like lions after slumber. Hades Central: Con gain.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Raging against the dying of the light

With those kind souls at the Guardian Media Group spending £100,000 a day so that I can read the fruits of their hacks' labours for free, I rarely buy their products anymore. But I was happy to make an exception for the newly launched Observer on Sunday to read extracts of Andrew Rawnsley's book on Gordon Brown.

One might detect a delightful hint of subversion in Nick Cohen's Twittering (yes, I know) on the subject:

Daring media business model:You must got to a shop and buy an Observer WITH MONEY to read @andrewrawnsley's revelations abt mad Gordie Brown

Admittedly the rest of the (relaunched) Observer seemed rather thin - a shadow of its former self - due to the paper being gutted to fund the Guardian's grandiose online ambitions. Still one cannot but applaud the dying of the light style in making people pay to read a proper, old-school scoop.

As for Rawnsley's story, you've probably noticed the story is
still making waves. Labour's attempts to quash any suggestion of bullying by crushing anyone who attacks the leader is helping to give it legs. The habit of denying specific things - often not things Brown has been accused of - are probably helping this along. One gets the sense that large sections of the print and broadcast media believe they can detect a whiff of dissimulation emanating from Number 10 and will continue to push at this.

For all that, I'm not sure it will make that much difference. A fairly large number of people have already made up their minds about the man from Kirkcaldy. That said if the debate is now being framed in terms of whether the Prime Minister is a bully, or simply boorish and rude to his staff because he cannot cope with the pressure, then it's not the best way to enhance his standing among those voters who haven't made their minds up about him one way or another.

True, there are some who admire, or affect to admire a bit of bullying. It's no secret that the shouting and throwing things at people school of man management is pretty popular in some parts of Fleet Street (look at Andy Coulson's track record); but when you see - to a take a not wholly random example - Paul Dacre's Daily Mail defending this sort of behaviour, it is probably worth remembering this context. And the fact that writers of newspaper opinion pieces of not really representative of most hacks, let alone most ordinary people.

Right, that's enough about the bullies. The Rawnsley stuff won't have surprised that many people who take a keen interest in Westminster village gossip. I was far more interested (and amused) by this snippet:

At one point, the French President said: "You know, Gordon, I should not like you. You are Scottish, we have nothing in common and you are an economist. But somehow, Gordon, I love you." Just in case Brown got the wrong idea, the Frenchman quickly added: 'But not in a sexual way.'

What does Sarko have against the Scots?

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Is Bono a Catholic?

Say what you like about the Roman Catholic church, of which I am by no means a whole-hearted admirer, it has left a magnificent cultural legacy.

But until now Devil's Music has not really fallen within its purview. Until now, when the Vatican's official newspaper has opted for one of those easy space fillers all newspapers reach for from time to time with its list of its top ten rock and pop milestones.

It is as predictably wrong-headed as you would expect from the Vatican. While some of the press commentary has focused upon the marginally interesting fact that the church has "endorsed" a bunch of hell-raisers and drug takers - it has done no such thing of course, no more than my admiration for Dante means I share his religious views - the more interesting is that one could see why many of the artists would appeal to the Roman Catholic church.

The Beatles/Oasis - not nearly as good as their admirers like to think.
Fleetwood Mac/Pink Floyd - have amassed an undue amount of wealth and influence through peddling the most preposterous overblown nonsense to the misguided and gullible.
U2 - same as above but fronted by a man who appears to believe he is in direct contact with God.
Michael Jackson - I cannot think of anything he may have in common with the Catholic Church.

You want a good song about Catholicism? Here's the best.

Get in line in that processional
Step into that small confessional
There, the guy who's got religion'll
Tell you if your sin's original

If it is, try playin' it safer
Drink the wine and chew the wafer
Two, four, six, eight
Time to transubstantiate.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

More on headlines

Via the BBC I learn that 10 years ago, Inverness Caledonian Thistle beat Celtic in a cup match. What is remarkable about the BBC's report is that it omits the one truly interesting and memorable fact about that game.

The Scottish Sun reported it the next day with a true headline of genius:

Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious.

Never mind some Scottish cup match, that fully deserves to be remembered.

It has been claimed that the headline might have been a little more pre-planned that you might think, and had been originally written in the anticipation that "Super" Ally McCoist would score a hat-trick in an Old Firm Game - he never did, of course. Even if this slightly unromantic version should be the truth , the thinking that the idea was too good not to see the light of day was surely correct.

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Trollied Tuesday: Whisky on ice

Good news from the expedition to find Shackleton's lost supplies of Scotch. They've found it.

I don't think anyone would have begrudge the expedition team opening one bottle to celebrate. Of course it would be pretty well chilled, which would not meet with the approval of the purists.

Balls to the purists, frankly. They manage to suck the joy out of things. The sort of mindset the insists whisky must be drunk with a set amount of water and frowns on the use of ice is a classic example of that.

Of course you don't want so much ice that it dilutes the drink when it melts, but I find the combination of fiery spirit and ice to be a pleasant combination, with the cold sharpening and intensifying the warming qualities of the whisky (in much the same way the vodka is so much better out of the freezer). It doesn't work with all whiskies of course, but I reckon whisky and ice would be ideal for the South Pole.

Possibly accompanied by a few songs from Shackleton's native land.

Some men take delight in their carriages and rolling
Others take delight in the hurling and the bowling,
But I take delight in the juice of the barley
And courting pretty fair maids in the morning bright and early.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge, and other classics of the genre

More journalism, this time an appreciation (for want of a better term) of ambiguous newspaper headlines.

Strangely the Times (unlike its New York namesake) omits my favourite. It's from the Second World War and read: "Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans". (Often quoted in the even better form of "British Push Bottles Up German Rear"). It may even have the merit of being genuine.

There are lists of this sort of thing floating around on the internet. One would like to think that classics of the genre such as "Prostitutes Appeal To Pope" or "Reagan Wins On Budget, But More Lies Ahead" are genuine. Certainly I recall a local newspaper (can't remember which one) reporting the case of a person who stole a minibus after a night in the pub with the headline "Man, 23, Took Bus Home".

Of course, I would never admit to having produced anything like that myself. But I have managed to prevent classics such as "Sinn Féin Councillor 'Had Links To IRA'" and "Drivers To Feel Ring Sting From Tunnel Toll" making it in to print. I had to fight very hard to fight the urge to turn a blind eye for the sheer devilment of the thing.

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I've seen the future of journalism, brother, and it's murder

There's a new newspaper in the capital: the London Weekly. It is so bad that the Guardian's blog on the subject includes much speculation as to whether the thing is a spoof.

Apart from the horrible design, the splash has been lifted verbatim from a sub-literate press release (and it's a monumentally tedious story) while the blurb below the masthead includes howlers such as mis-spelling Phil Tufnell's name. It does not get much better on subsequent pages. Nor does the website appear to much of an improvement. ("The London Weekly kept to it's deadline by launching successfully today").

Anyway, the question as to whether or not the thing is an elaborate hoax is almost beside the point. What the London Weekly is is the ne plus ultra of the way journalism has been developing in the internet age: getting your "reporters" to cut and paste and lift things second or third hand; dispensing with production staff (subs everywhere should give thanks for the London Weekly; it is the best possible refutation of the argument that they are an expensive anachronism that must be phased out in the new internet age*) and concentrating on lifestyle tat - and all because it's cheap and allows you to offer the product to a large number of people who won't pay for their news. As such, if it is a spoof it is a very clever and well-executed one.

It may have occurred to many people that it is a little rich for the Grauniad to be mocking others for their typos and literals; but the strategy behind the London Weekly is also something for a warning for those who, like Alan Rushbridger, are systematically destroying the Observer to fund a free content strategy that is costing his organisation £100,000 a day for the pleasure of "engaging" with millions of readers who won't even bring in ad revenue because they are such a diffuse, atomised bunch.

Not that I want to beat up on the Guardian solely: large number of media groups are trying to cut costs and corners while offering a increasingly shoddy cut-price product. I am also prepared to concede that those who believe that trying to charge people to read things online - or getting them to buy newspapers again - is doomed to fail may have a point. (I'd like the opposite to be the case, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be).

The thing is that if those who argue that the only way you'll get readers is to give your journalism away to them are right; I'm not sure that they'll be able to afford to produce anything much better than the London Weekly.

[Then again, the new free Evening Standard is certainly getting the readers even if the quality is not such that one would imagine many people would pay for it now. Let's see how that pans out].

* I'm resigned to the fact that this post is likely to contain at least one glaring typo or literal as usually happens when you start criticising others' errors.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Turn on, tune in and throw up

I know that many of you turn to this blog for invaluable advice on love and romance, so allow me to suggest the perfect way to spend Valentine's Day this year.

Smuggle up on the sofa with your significant other and enjoy an hour-long special featuring Piers Morgan chatting to Gordon Brown. It is bound to change your relationship for good.


As an aside, there was a nice line in the last series of The Thick Of It when Malcolm Tucker was told (more or less) "You've gone from being someone people love to hate to someone people just hate. You've gone from being Simon Cowell to being Piers Morgan".

A harsh, but accurate assessment of the straits into which Gordon Brown has lead his party. (And the weary acquiesance which many show towards Cowell's continued existence neatly prefigures that shown towards David Cameron's progress towards Number 10).

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