Friday, October 31, 2008

The Mirror and Mr X milk the Brand saga

The two presenters may have contributed to the "coarsening and degrading of society", but coming from certain tabloids it sounds a bit rich

The next time someone tells you we no longer live in a male-dominated society, feel free to throw a dirty napkin at them. You have our official blessing. Tabloid reactions to the whole Brand & Ross affair have proved how sexism is firmly ingrained in our two-faced society.

Readers' forums on the Daily Mail website are currently hosting a remarkable collection of men expressing faux outrage at "all the publicity" that "the slut" (Sachs' grandaughter) is now allegedly enjoying off the back of the Radio2 saga.

Then there's the Brand apologists, those who lecture us all on the importance of developing a "sense of humour" (and the worrying matter is they'd probably repeat the same if they saw their favourite playground bully pranking the shit out of a 'school nerd'. You see, if you don't join in and laugh along you're not part of the in-crowd), but that was expected.

But the most disturbing, of course, are the tabloids themselves, oozing oily hypocrisy from all pores. The Mirror is the latest to join in. How can the normally sound Paul Routledge write that the presenters' behaviour "coarsens society and degrades people" on the very same day his paper exposes Georgina Baille's private life in a way that not even Brand did? The Mirror's 'EXCLUSIVE' is just the epitomy of Britain at its worst.

They got this bloke, Mr X, tipping them off on her job as an escort, which she carries out using only her pseudonym. But in a second, her personal life became less worthy than a pile of dung. As they trampled all over it, the Mirror adopted a mixture of high horse posturing and smug amusement wrapped up in phony disdain. "Cor...look! This is the sleazy slut that stirred all this shit", appears to be the tone of their 'EXCLUSIVE', 'risque' photos and all ("Granddaughter in Jonathan Ross - Russell Brand prank call a £110 per hour dominatrix").

And what about the fact that Mr X was the one who paid £110 to be spanked and called names? He may be a respectable family man, who knows, but to the public he'll remain Mr X, whereas Sachs' grandaughter is now the one having her real name and face paraded to the public guillotine, even though, lest we forget, she never asked for it.

So the Mirror's story has to count as the latest by-product of Russell Brand's 'hilarious' prank. It's not just that it was unfunny or inappropriate, it's its far-reaching consequences that Ross & Brand completely failed to take into account. The girl never asked to be branded as a slut on every tabloid front page in the country.

Paul Heaton, The Cross Eyed Rambler

If I had a band these days, I'd want it to sound exactly like this. The return of Paul Heaton is like The Housemartins had never gone away. Or if they had, then it's as if they'd decided to come back with a crisper and more mature sound.

We'll say it loud and clear: disbanding the Beautiful South was the best thing Paul Heaton could have done. After the last few lacklustre releases and the increasing risk of starting to sound like the gifted lyricist to Enya's backing band, Heaton gets back to his roots, both musical and political, with his amazing solo album The Cross Eyed Rambler, positively his best stuff since 1990's Choke.

The first few tracks grab you exactly by the jaffas. There's the gentle gramophone-like opening, strategically followed by the red-blooded pulse of I Do. It sets the pace nicely. With its raw energy, wit and lyrical genius, it could easily give The Housemartins a run for their money. Single Mermaids and Slaves is a snappy, rockabilly-flavoured affair, while The Pub is like Fun Lovin Criminal's better brother, the one who got all the looks in the family.

Things look even better with the caustic wit of A Good Old Fashioned Town, where Heaton wears his political colours on his sleeve as he lashes out at 'badge kissing', 'flag-waving' reactionaries and xenophobes.

Similarly, the fantastic stomp of God Bless Texas, containing vague echoes of Five Get Over Excited, is Paul Heaton's acerbic take on redneck-land and George W Bush's own state: "God Bless Texas, where the only real trace of a black and brown face is in a bird's nest/And they're singing God Bless Texas god knows how".

Everything is Everything, impassioned and heartfelt, is the perfect ending -- Heaton's own vitriolic snapshot of a society where everything turns into a consumption item:

"The Butcher sells you pantihose, the Supermarket sells you land/ the Newsreader likes to read the news but he's also in a band/ And Feminism's fast asleep, with a cock in either hand/ Everything is Anything to Anyone".

Opening gently, it gradually meets an infectious, grinding crescendo, revealing all the inspiration of an artist, singer and lyricist that many had thought past his best.

Wrong. Paul Heaton is back with a vengeance. Now more, please.

[The Cross Eyed Rambler is out now on W14 Records]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Jobs to whites"? Pack it in NOW before it's too late

Today's cliché that we've got to speak the same language as the BNP if we want to defeat them is, frankly, absolutely pathetic.

If you thought "don't we all just adore Girls Aloud" was today's most popular cliché in Britain, then you obviously haven't paid much attention. Try and find, in fact, a single day without an article or opinion column pontificating that "the only way to stop the BNP from recruiting new followers", as the formula goes, "is for the government to stop discriminating against white people". Everyday Labour, Tory or LibDem MPs, pay lip service to the fact that "it's true we just went too far" in trying to accomodate ethnic minorities. "All those jobs handed out to the them", "positive discrimination" and "council homes quaffed by non-whites" - "no wonder the BNP is rising". And if we don't start understanding their language, well then...there's going to be trouble.

Even MPs like John Cruddas, well-meaning and all, universally acclaimed as saviour of the Labour left, are repeating that "The Labour Party too often fails to articulate the concerns of large swathes of its traditional working class supporters" - those allegedly in awe of the BNP. Except that Cruddas hasn't explained what he means. No details, no recipe regarding how to best articulate those "concerns".

So what exactly is this language that would magically win people back from the BNP? Do they mean we have to go down the Daily Star route with its GIVE THE JOBS TO WHITES headline? Do those politicians and columnists really think that if they all decided to write elegies to Enoch Powell, the BNP-voting oik would suddenly go: "hang on, fuck this, I'm Labour through and through"? Does it mean that if all local Councils were persuaded to start advertising for "WHITES ONLY" jobs, the BNP would die a natural death? Or would "No Somali for council homes, we've had it up to here" do the trick? I mean, really?

As if at the height of the tax-dodging non-dom controversy you got politician after politician going: "Let's stop alienating our working class voters. Let's stop licking the arses of Abramovich & co, otherwise we're gonna hand all our voters to the Communist Party of Great Britain at the next council elections". Do you hear Tory and Labour MPs alike wailing that if we don't double cycle lanes pronto the Green Party will clear the tab at the next elections? Or, does anyone ever say, "we'd better not bail those banks out otherwise we're gonna get our own British version of the Red Brigades"? No, something tells me you don't. And that's because for decades now the left and centre-left, both in Britain and in continental Europe, have instinctively felt they had to fight a rearguard battle against the (far) right and its ugly rhetoric.

Today's new obsession that we've got to speak the same language as the BNP if we want to defeat them is, frankly, pathetic. If there ever was one way of vindicating the BNP and its ignorant, racist, nazi, hate-soaked policies, it'd be exactly it: appealing to race resentment -as if your job, your house, your life, were really all about your skin tone, no less, like in apartheid South Africa. A Britain like that would be truly, very, little.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daily Star: "Give The Jobs To Whites"

Tucked beneath a pair of tits, a 'hot babe', a 'video vixen' and a 'celeb woman', the titty rag contributes to the immigration debate.

Speaking to the CBI conference, Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, said that "the economic downturn threatened a rise in right-wing extremism if a perception that migrants were taking jobs gained ground". "In some parts of the country the colour of failure is not black and brown... it's white - especially in some rural areas," he told the BBC.

So what does the supreme Daily Star do? Tucked beneath a pair of tits, a 'hot babe', a 'video vixen' and a 'celeb woman', its headline recites: GIVE THE JOBS TO WHITES. Then look at how they misleadingly paraphrase what Phillips said in order give their own opinion more weight: "Ministers had strayed too far in helping ethnic minorities and immigrants and faced alienating whites". Perhaps they should stick to what they know best i.e. salivating over pictures of mammary glands and jerkin' the gherkin during the toilet break. Spreading themselves too thin doesn't seem to be doing the Daily Star much good...

Ross and Brand: press reaction

The whole world's talking about those funny, bohemian 'alpha males'. In the words of Terence Blacker, "that is how it goes in the jungle. The young and strong urinate on those who refuse to play the game their way".

Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross' prank phone calls have snatched all front pages from Gordon Brown and the US elections. And rightly so. The scandal surrounding the hoax to Andrew Sachs made the public finally aware of how much those two idiots are being paid. This may also mean the death knell for the BBC as we know it. When a bloke's paid £18m to repeatedly shout over the radio that "he fucked your grandaughter" during a prank call to a 78-year-old man, it's no surprise that Ofcom may have decided to launch an investigation and that both the Prime Minister and David Cameron have condemned the presenters' actions as "offensive and unacceptable".

More interesting though is a quick analysis of how neurotic, as always, the British press is. The coverage of the aftermath of the Brand and Ross saga is telling. Enter the Daily Mail, of course, on one hand thundering against the alleged 'comedians' ("An apology from the BBC for those two isn't enough") while, on the other, showing some morbid fascination with Andrew Sachs' grandaughter. Just look at this headline: "Voluptua, the Satanic slut at centre of BBC scandal". They've obviously done their homework, got info on Georgina, and decided to publish a set of sleazy photos. That, of course, in the name of the Great British Empire and its moral values, what else.

You can trust the Sun to squeeze a reference to "the Muslims" even when we're talking about Russell Brand's prank. They would evn if they were talking about raspberry jam. They can't help it. Like an old nan who can't help but stick war references into whatever conversation. In her column, Anila Baig decrees that "Muslims are mocked for having a sense of humour bypass but maybe the truth is we know that not everything is a laughing matter". Enriching, isn't it?

The Telegraph is more factual and it appears the only one to highlight that Russell Brand's supposed apology to Sachs turned out to be, possibly, more offensive than the original prank. "Brand's bizarre apology" is their headline, adding that the former MTV presenter "was grinning at reporters and chanting Hare Krishna". That's only the beginning of what too much money and fame can do to you. In their editorial, the Telegraph also calls for the duo to be sacked by the BBC under no uncertain terms, "the corporation has a choice", they write. "It can treat licence fee-payers with contempt by kicking this issue into the bureaucratic long grass - or it can demonstrate a sense of decency and leadership, and sack these juvenile delinquents forthwith".

Patrick Foster in the Times insists on the financial aspect of the affair: "Jonathan Ross: £18m man likely to suffer a massive pay cut", he writes, adding that, seeing what happened to Carol Vorderman and the current ITV crisis, Jonathan Ross is unlikely to land another overinflated contract like the one he secured in 2006. Meanwhile, Adam Sherwin remarks that "Even a few years ago such a scandal involving Radio 2 would have been unimaginable" and that Brand's recent escapade is in line with the channel's obsession with capturing the "yoof" of today.

Terence Blacker in the Independent has penned the most thought-inducing comment ("When did bullying become acceptable?"), pointing out that the current endemic obsession with celebrity culture largely feeds on bullying, cruelty, humiliation and preying on the weak. "Celebrity-on-celebrity bullying is the sport of the moment", he said, "[...] On a recent BBC radio show, two alpha males of the show-business jungle, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, turned with giggling aggression on an older member of the celebrity pack, the 78-year-old actor Andrew Sachs". Blacker also recalls George Lamb's vicious treatment of Ray Davies on a recent BBC radio programme. "That is how it goes in the jungle. The young and strong urinate on those who refuse to play the game their way. The more distinguished the victim's past, the greater the rage and glee with which they are humiliated".

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Brand and Ross? Sack'em

The most ironic thing is that the BBC is always so desperate to appear middle-of-the-road and watered down, terrified of offending anyone, but they allow bullies to broadcast under their name and pay them millions of pounds each year.

For a normal worker, being caught phoning up a pensioner, leaving an offensive answerphone message and joking about him committing suicide would guarantee prosecution as well as instant dismissal. But if you're a couple of overpaid, tax-payer funded celebrities with inflated egos you can get away with it with a slap on the wrist.

As the whole world knows, Russell Brand and his friend Jonathan Ross spent a charming half an hour last weekend making prank phone calls, one of which was to the great actor Andrew Sachs, 78, and proceeded to leave a disgusting tirate of sexual references and vulgarity about his grandaughter on his answerphone, including how Brand had slept with her.

The prank, was hilariously funny, but only for the two of them. Anyone else who heard the programme or read the transcript must have had images of them patting each other on the back, congratulating themselves on their brilliant little joke, obviously convinced that they were the funniest doubleact since the invention of comedy. The icing on this revoting cake was a comment by Brand, imagining what Sachs might do when he finds out about the fact that Russell had sex with his grandaughter, a mock news report where he jokes, "The main news again: Manuel, Andrew Sachs, hung himself today".

Apart from being as funny as tuberculosis, Russell Brand makes a living from prancing about our TV screens, talking like a 19th century dandy and using 'long words' that most people don't understand to try and make them laugh. A reformed drug addict, he once appeared on a spin-off Big Brother show dressed as Osama Bin Laden days after the 9/11 attacks, and only recently made another prank call, this time to the police.
Even when Brand was forced by the BBC to apologise to Mr. Sachs, he managed to sink even deeper by saying that he ''thought it was funny'' and to add further insult to injury, added ''sometimes you shouldn't swear on someones answerphone. That's why I'd like to apologise''.

Obviously this 'gifted' broadcaster has problems grasping the fact that his borderline Tourettes mouth wasn't really the crux of the matter, and that apologising in the form of a mocking song isn't going to do you any favours. As for 47-year-old Ross, himself a father, one would like to see how he'd react if sex-addict Brand made lewd comments to one of his daughters. I doubt he would act as he did on the show, which was akin to a playground bully, egging Russell on.

This type of so-called comedy can only go one way if it wants to stay afloat. Russell Brand is only one step away from phoning up a person with MS and asking them if they want to go for a run, or asking a blind person if they want to go bird watching at the weekend. No doubt that Brand would justify these things as 'an expression of his art'. Steps need to be taken to sack these overpaid, arrogant little boys and prevent them from broadcasting ever again. It is despicable that license payers money is spent funding these people. The most ironic thing is that the BBC make so much of an effort to appear middle-of-the-road and watered down, terrified of offending anyone, but they allow bullies to broadcast under their name and pay them millions of pounds each year.

Sacking these two pathetic individuals would be firm message to the public and to other presenters that the BBC does not tolerate this kind of behaviour. Sadly though, we all know that the chances are that some producer will get the boot and those two will continue their little boys group.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pressure on Chelsy

Can someone help Prince Harry's girlfriend? She can't cope with the discipline and terrible demands of UK universities.

Warning, you may actually cry a tear when you read about this. First she had to cut down on her 'party lifestyle'. But now...what's going on? How cruel can society be when Prince Harry's girlfriend Chelsy Davy is contemplating jacking in her Uni career "because her workload is so intense"?

British universities are already a notoriously serious, selective, hard-working affair. If you ever went to one, you probably know that partying and drinking are reduced to a bare minimum, submitted work is regulated by extremely tight deadlines and attendance rates are strictly monitored. 'Course, such huge workload is designed to mould you for your future working life, and everybody knows how ready our graduates are when they emerge from their courses. You can only guess how horrible the pressure on poor Chelsy must be. Given the good that the Royals and their fiances do for our country, can't those ruthless bores just turn a blind eye and make her life a little easier?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

This week

↑ UP

The excellent Polly Toynbee in The Guardian. No wonder the right-wing press hate her guts. Heffer, Littlejohn, Letts or any of those self-appointed tell-it-like-it-is spokespeople-for-the-ordinary-Brit could only dream of articulating anything as poignant as this ('Don't expect to find a banker down at bankruptcy court'). Out of all the arsy 'analyses' of the credit crisis and the dissection of 'what's-going-to happen-to-the-City', it's the first time anyone dignified with a newspaper report the massive, forgotten army of bankruptcy and repossession victims. More, Toynbee also achieved the rare feat of not patronising them either.

The Daily Mail. We regularly slate them for being maniacal about immigration. This week, however, Victoria Moore was honest enough to pen a report about the mass exodus of Poles from Britain. When the usual suspects quote apocalyptic figures about Britain bursting at the seams with 'invaders', they often forget that most Poles and Czechs are already heading home. 400,000 are expected to return to their homeland by next year.

Hugo Rifkind in the Times and his spot-on portrayal of naughty far-right leaders ('The dark secret in the far Right's closet'). They no longer make those fascists like they used to, do they? Look at Jorg Haider the much feared neo-fascist, family man model of integrity, the teetotal champion of traditional values, law and order. He shattered hiw own myth in one go. First, we found out he was driving at twice the speed limit totally ratarsed. Now, his gay lover is spilling the beans on their passionate relationship. Apparently, Haider would often leave his wife to sleep alone in the bedroom in order to enjoy his sex romps with his lover Stefan in the study room.


Jon Gaunt
writing the mother of all strawman arguments in Friday's Sun. Chastising Danny James' parents for helping him commit suicide at a clinic in Switzerland, he dubbed it a crime and called for their prosecution. "Why don't we abort all handicapped children [and] exterminate anyone who isn't able-bodied?", he wrote. Textbook red herring there. But aside from his poisoned analogy, how can someone, in all seriousness, preach zealousness and morality from the altar of the Tits, Gossip & Slander Gazette?

Sarah Palin, our beloved 'hockey mum' of firm working class roots, turned out to have spent $150,000 on clothes aimed at boosting her VP credentials. Remember all the stick John Edwards got over his $400 haircut? Now let the Republicans enjoy a taste of their own medicine. John McCain's campaign, meanwhile, appears in total disarray.

British politicians. The last UK general elections recorded the lowest turnout in Europe. Apathy is at an all-time high. And this week's sordid spectacle of self-righteous George Osborne (the Tory Shadow chancellor) and smarmy Lord Mandelson of New Labourshire crossing swords in a lick-the-arse-of-a-dodgy-Russian-billionaire contest is unlikely to make us rush to the polls next time.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Girls Aloud in Sun binge

Cultural illiteracy? You ungrateful rotter, look at what The Sun and Girls Aloud are doing for you

What a match made in heaven, Girls Aloud and that fine purveyors of news known as the Sun. As Murdoch's paper simply strives to bring you the latest about the nation's favourite girls, it also has to fend off some fierce competition. Look at those jackals at the Mirror, for instance. In their constant quest to outSun the Sun, they printed Cheryl Cole's EXCLUSIVE revelations that sex makes her "happy". It begs the question: will the Sun manage to survive the sharpening intellectual tools of its peers? At Hagley Road to Ladywood we still think they will. Who else would otherwise display the investigative skills that are able, for one, to disclose Sarah Harding's capability to eat scotch eggs ("Sexy Sarah scoffs a scotch egg")?

Not to mention the revelations that, after having dinner with her bloke, Nadine Coyle checked into the Sanderson Hotel! And there was even a touch of poetry when The Sun wrote of "why the world is a better place when the sun comes out" as a reference to their Sarah gets her lovely legs out exclusive. But just in case you thought they were turning a little too frisky, note their fine display of balance and professionalism, as they reported Harding's rejection of all those "claims that she leads a promiscuous lifestyle" (Sarah: I am not a slapper).

Or who else would have the audacity to treat the reader with, would you believe it, the news that Cheryl Cole was seen signing autographs (Cheryl Cole shows off signature style)? That may all be quite ordinary. Until you realise that the Sun were there, thank god, when Sarah Harding decided to head for Morrison's down the road (aren't those gals just so full of lovely, bubbly personality?). Otherwise we'd have never found out that she bought "oven chips, chocolate biscuits, crisps and ready meals" and that Jamie Oliver would have a fit if he knew.

And in case you let those malicious thoughts get the better of you, remember why all those articles are so incredibly short. Make no mistake, those Sun journalists would have so much more to opine about, but they don't for the public's sake. By keeping it nice and crisp, in fact, they can devote more room to "stunning pictures" which is all for the readers' visual pleasure.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why statistics don't mean anything

We now learn that crime figures were manipulated to make the Government look pretty.

July was the month the whole nation woke up to find out they'd been wrong all along. All those cries and protestations that crime is rising and is getting more brutal turned out, or so it appeared, to be the product of paranoia. The Government, figures on hand, gave us their smug assurance - it's OFFICIAL: crime is falling. They then proceeded to unleash their own pack of guard dogs, led by chief zealot David Aaronovitch from The Times, lecturing readers on their "moral panic" and instructing the nation that "in so far as we can quantify it - [the problem] isn't much worse than it was".

Which, in turn, triggered waves of questions and soul-searching. How is that possible? Is the perception any different because the press are making a big deal out of it? Do our hysterical TV and papers perpetrate a climate of fear as they 'talk up' knife-crime and street murders? Are we all in the throes of contemporary-style paranoia?

The answer came yesterday and it was a simple one. Another brick in the wall of a political class that is doing anything possible to look supremely detached from the real world. Like in many cases before, from Iraq to the 'benefits' of PFI, from the Bernie Ecclestone saga to tuition fees, the Government lied, opting for their own virtual reality instead. We now learn that "most, if not all" of Britain’s 43 forces had played down the full extent of violent crime. GBH cases had been officially recorded as lesser assaults with the result that official statistics ended up looking positively tame by comparison. In the past year alone, there's been a "22 per cent increase in [the most serious violent crimes]".

I Am Ghost, Those We Leave Behind

In the Eighties it was Factory Records. The 90s kicked off with SubPop and went on to climax with the so-called 'Creation' scene. They all made history. This decade, instead, we'll be remembered for the evils perpetrated by its MySpace acts, often-inflated bands that made it big via the Internet. Californian 5-piece I Am Ghost are exactly that.

Before I even begin I must come clean and confess this is not my cup of tea. Though I can see why some younger listeners and eyeliner-hungry teenagers may fall under the spell of I Am Ghost, it's patently obvious that if anyone older than sixteen find this lot attractive, then their alarm bells should be ringing like a mother.

Right from the start, the intro We Dance With Monsters sounds like the kind of trite vampiresque Halloween genre that over a decade ago won Cradle of Filth (and then A.F.I.) legions of fans. Don't Wake Up, kicks off with a shaking guitar, fairly fierce rhythm section and frantic lead vocals. It's appalling. It soon becomes apparent that the subject matter of each song is the world of the undead and all that stuff. Scaaary. Like their photos.

Come track four, Buried Way Too Shallow, I just gave up. Emo/post-hardcore and horror-tinged pop metal are amongst those 'genres' I may not be able to stomach. But this one in particular is the Guantanamo Bay of teenage 'rock'. Every song sticks to the same formula, and usually the same set of chords and the same melody, along with a sense of contrived emotionality which turns into a complete joke the moment those occult references begin. I mean, look at those song titles. It’s like a cliché competition. Buried Way Too Shallow; Smile of a Jesus Freak, Bone Garden; Rock'n'Roll High School Murder and below.

Parents, confiscate those CDs before it's too late.

[Those We Leave Behind is out now on Epitaph. I'm sure they'll be plenty of copies available]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

No hope for Labour

Lord Mandelson, Geoff Hoon and why there's no hope for the Labour Party

There is no hope. If you ever find yourself feeling slightly queasy at the thought of the Tories returning to power, New Labour will make sure you're put at ease within seconds. Empathy? Siding with working families and ordinary citizens? "We are listening" and all that crap?

Well, look at what Peter Mandelson is doing already. After doing a Lazarus and resurrecting into the corridors of the House of Lords, this unelected, overpaid bloke has already started sniping against the biggest victims of the economic crisis, proposing a u-turn in flexible working rights for 4.5 million parents. In effect Labour are getting an unelected Lord, someone with no voters' mandate, to tamper with the lives of ordinary workers (not to mention that, in the words of TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, "postponing a simple right to request flexible working would not save a single job in the small business sector"). The Tories will have to try really hard to outdo this level of arrogance. In the meantime, it's the ordinary citizens who get it up their bum.

Then you may want to take a look at the Q&A (published on Monday in the Independent) with New Labour automaton Geoff Hoon, a spine-tingling exercise in nothingness. In fact, quite daft of us to even expect any different, as this is the same R2D2 who's toed the party line religiously since 1997, a man so anonymous that you may not even remember he was Defense Secretary at the time of the Iraq War five years ago. His language is just a 'best of' of scrappy sounbites like 'forefront' 'teamwork', 'challenges', 'deliver reforms' and 'tough times ahead'. All that kind of hollow, spurious jargon aimed at fobbing people off. Not that he'd be able to manage anything concrete on his own, because he's the kind who just executes order.

But the icing on the cake came when Hoon was asked about what can be done to stop the obscene train fares the public are currently having to put up with. Here's what he mumbled: "More people are travelling by train than any time since the 1940s, and many of them are paying fares which are good value for money. But passengers can be confused by the number and complexity of fares on offer. That is why we have worked with the railway companies to deliver a simpler fare structure, so passengers can shop for the best deals".

See what I mean?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Glossary of office clichés

A guide to the grating language of application forms, team briefings and office politics.

According to the Cambridge International Dictionary of English it means "taking action yourself, rather than waiting for something to happen". To a normal human being that would be synonym with bleeding obvious, for if you needed a slash you'd evidently get on your feet and make for the loo instead of waiting until you wet yourself. In the world of office politics that's become the equivalent of a religious hymn.

Investing in people
Especially popular in call centres or catering chains a-la McDonald's or Starbucks, "we like to invest in people", is the routine codename for requiring your staff to do unpaid overtime or similar crap and feel good about it. Often coming in the guise of a logo, a free t-shirt, free folder or a glossy "welcome pack" from Head Office, it still fails to halt hair-raising levels of staff turnover.

Think outside the box
Currently fashionable in sales, it's what they require of you when you're ripping off some poor sod on behalf of some loaded, lazy bastard who's going to pocket all the bonuses. If you can manage to glibly fob off the customer without the help of a line manager then you're on.

A fundamental ingredient of the self-aggrandising world of office politics, 'liaising' is deployed to dress up the most menial of jobs as it basically means you can open your mouth and exchange basic information. You may not have been aware, but the last time you said "one, please" to the bus driver and he handed you a ticket, you successfully liaised. Congratulations.

Often used to justify job titles such as "Team Leader", nowadays it's considered crucial even if you're applying to become a hermit. Seriously, gallery invigilators in Museums won't get the job if they don't scribble 'teamwork' on their application form. In practice, if your workmate needs the loo and asks you to cover for five minutes, make sure you don’t turn round and growl "No, just crap yourself you wanker", otherwise you're not a teamworker.

Interpersonal skills
The job advert said "interpersonal skills absolutely essential". No doubt management must have blinked when they hired that moody, socially inept cow at reception.

Cutting edge

A trendy way of saying 'modern', it's routinely used in the world of customer service. It doesn’t explain, however, what an ancient (or blunt) service would look like.

Equal Opportunities
Typical of local authorities and public jobs in general, its actual meaning remains a mystery. Yet rumour has it that even Nelson Mandela, Cheryl Cole or Jamie Oliver wouldn't land that job if they failed to beat their chest and recite "I'm fully committed to the notion of Equal Opportunities". Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Us and Them

How the right is already winning the argument in the crisis

They're already at it. Last week, from the columns of the Observer, Nick Cohen showed he hasn't totally lost it and warned us of the lesson of history. In times of crisis and rising unemployment, it's the far-right that benefits the most: "As the hard times start to bite, the obsession with identity politics will certainly lead to communal groups competing for scarce resources and shouting 'racist' every time a grant application is rejected".

Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail is, along with the Daily Express (who else), wasting no time. Look how the Express is already banging on about "IMMIGRANT JOBS SHOCK". According to their "EXCLUSIVE" revelations: "The figures produced by the Office for National Statistics reveal that the number of British-born adults in work here fell by 365,000 in the past two years. During the same period the number of foreign-born adults working in Britain has soared by 865,000".

And here's were the simple, tribal, right-wing analysis stops. But this is why it is so popular, precisely because it's so monodimensional. "There's too many non-white faces around". Period.

But they don't tell you the reality of what exactly has been happening for the past fifteen years. They don't tell you the story of how a country was ransacked, not by the "immigrants", but by the City and the Corporations successive governments have been sucking up to in the name of blind faith and a certain ideology.
There are three crucial aspects that need exploring.

One. How manifacturing was allowed to kick the bucket. Read: the way the economy has been managed with Thatcherist (monetarist) policies and a total bias towards the City for the past thirty years. A sector dedicated to producing something tangible and generating real, not virtual, wealth was actively made to practically disappear, which is exactly how hundreds of thousands of British (whatever that means) jobs went and entire communities remained crippled. A small example: when Rover was going bust in 2000, Tony Blair went on record as saying that it is not for the state to step in. A rescue package was refused, nevermind thousands of families and the local economy were in for disaster. That is only one example but that's been the undisputed drive since 1979.

Two. The way the much trumpeted '21st century service economy' was allowed to outsource tens of thousands of jobs to other countries. Again, more British (whatever that means) jobs going and nothing there to replace them. You name one big corporation, whether a bank, an insurance or a utility company, that didn't transfer entire departments and call centres to India. They were already making trillions in profit, as they were, in Britain. But this way they thought they could make quazillions. Obligation to the territory? Customer service? UK jobs? Come on, you commie fool! It's the free market! And if you really, really, want to keep us a call center down in Luton, then you have to accept even lower wages and even crappier working conditions. If not, off we go to Bangalore.

Three. The way small business has been crippled by the rise of Clonetown Britain. Now the Daily Mail is wailing that small business is choking, but wasn't their idol, Margaret Thatcher, who in 1989 paved the way for Sunday shopping and massive retail de-regulation? Isn't this how one Tesco megabox after the other was allowed to trample over 'small business' in the name of unregulated free market? Aside from the question of who was more likely to accept whatever anti-social shift was required, when you get a humongous supermarket with their enormous financial means to stay open whenever they can, how on earth are small businesses supposed to hack it? But why should we care? Weren't we told that there's no such thing as society?

So the Thatcherite chicken is coming home full circle and SHOCK HORROR MASSIVE IMMIGRATION is just the inevitable by-product of greed. So who are those 865,000 IMMIGRANTS the Daily Express is ranting on about? The poor souls that you see taking the underground or the bus first thing in the morning to go and clean that office (I wonder how many scrub the floor away at the Express). Or those who serve that extortionate espresso at "costa fortune" for the same wage 'British' people were doing it in 1982. Or a good chunk of the staff fulfilling the rota demands of 24-7 hypermarkets. These are the only people who have accepted some amongst the worst working conditions in Europe (think working hours, casualisation, low wages, non-unionisation).

The Dailies of this world, Express and Mail, need to clarify what they stand for.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rio Ferdinand and other economic variables

Or why we should feel "intensely relaxed" about the minimum wage

Are those stratospheric wages just too much? Nah. Weren't you told to lighten up? You too should feel "intensely relaxed about the filthy rich". Why not cherish the notion that you too could become one of them, holidaying on Flavio Briatore's yacht, spending your days shopping Sex and the City style, shagging a WAG or looking like one, splashing out on your credit card, perhaps even ending up talking about your shopping spree on Heat magazine. Footballers' wives, the Dream Team, Essex Wives, who would not want to be part of that but a few brow-raising tree-hugging losers?

Joan Smith, in yesterday's Independent, nailed it right on the head. Commenting on Rio Ferdinand's recent remarks (in which poor innocent Rio compared pre-Capello England to 'a circus' centred around WAGs and celebrity culture), the columnist reminded us of how the whole past decade has been fuelled by the arrogance and hedonism of a few demi-gods.

We were told that Jonathan Ross's £18m pay deal was justified by "the need for best talents" or that, "sorry but" Ashley Cole earning £90,000 a week was the going "market rate". Now, for the first time in years, a vague notion that absurd salaries should be capped is starting to creep in.

Here's what Joan Smith wrote: "We could start with untalented, overpaid TV presenters, and Premiership footballers whose salaries exceed the health budgets of some African countries", adding -wisely- "I can't see that this aspect of their behaviour is so different from the City culture which has brought one British bank after another to its knees".

Take Ashely Cole's £90,000 (sponsorship deals and perks not included) a week or the £1.29m yearly salary (bonuses not included) for the former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO. Compare them with the minimum wage introduced at £3.60 in 1999 and currently standing at £5-73 an hour. One of the above-mentioned variables, the Tories and the Confederation of British Industry said, would cripple the economy. Which in particular, I'll leave it to the reader to work out.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pull the other one

Gordon Brown, writing in the Telegraph, October 2008: "markets work best when underpinned by an ethic of fairness". "The first financial crisis of the global age has now laid bare the weaknesses of unbridled free markets".

Alistair Darling, Independent on Sunday, 15 January 1996: "It is not up to the Goverment to say that the banks can only make so much profit".
(Note that back then Darling was already Gordon Brown's deputy. He then went on to work with him the Treasury during Labour's first term in office.)

This week's news

↑ UP

The parents of Daniel James, a former rugby player who remained wholly paralysed after a scrum during training. He couldn't take it anymore so his folks granted his wishes and took him to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. Imagine what courage it took them.

On a day when the world learnt that mega-City bonuses are continuing unabated, Josef Ackermann, chief executive of Germany's Deutsche Bank, announced that he's renouncing his bonus "in favour of hard-working staff that need the money more than I do". Rare stuff.

Dereck Simpson, joint secretary of Unite. In response to David Cameron barking that the Tories would sort out the economy, the union's general secretary said: "They had an appalling record on handling the economy, they presided over two recessions, record repossessions and record unemployment levels. The Tories ripped the heart out of our communities".


Robin Harris in The Daily Mail :"Don't blame Maggie! If only we had taken heed of Mrs Thatcher's core belief: you MUST live within your means". A textbook example of toxic ignorance. Harris doesn't know that the Tories' right-to-buy scheme of the 1980s led to an all-time record in repossessions. The Thatcher government also ended the restrictions on lending and those on hire purchases, as Nigel Lawson proudly lists in his 1992 memoir.

The Daily Star. If you're looking for a clear symptom (or cause?) of the country's dumbing down, then you need look no further. This is what that fine blend of pornography and football came up with on Wednesday. "The credit crunch is snapping at our heels. But who cares when we have stunning Lucy Pinder to cheer us up.", and on to photos of tits, tits and more tits. Quality.

Ringo Starr. The Beatles' drummer issued a "serious message" on YouTube to tell his fans to stop sending fan mail. "Nothing will be signed after Oct 20, I have too much to do. Peace'n'love". You've got to watch it. It's hilarious.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

27 months for murder

Lessons in British law

With all that stuff about Madonna's divorce, the plans for fewer immigrants as well as Harry and William's African tour hogging the spotlight, you may not have noticed that a brutal murderer in Hartlepool got sentenced to 27 months and, under current legislation, he will be out in 10.

A yob called Gary Robson, 23, first tried to attack a man and then pushed him from a bus in Hartlepool, killing him. The victim, 60-year-old Stan Dixon, was just asking him to tone his language down as he was being obnoxious to fellow bus passengers.

Incredibly, Judge David Hodson motivated his decision with the fact that "the unlawful act was done without any intention to kill or cause really serious harm" and that the sentence he had to give was governed by rules "laid down by higher courts". You push someone off a bus and that isn't intended to cause harm? What next, kicking someone's brains out to be seen as an act of love?

Stunning. So if you want to murder someone here's the deal. Just don't say "I'm gonna fuckin kill you" or similar banter and you're guaranteed to get away with it. Gary Robson will be out by August 2009 at the latest.


It used to be the country's best paper!

Sorry to return to the subject of The Independent and their "it's official - Birmingham is the UK’s ugliest city" report. But I couldn't resist the temptation. Just look at how those fine minds work. On the same page, they decided to stick this black and white picture of the 60s Bull Ring, a building that disappeared nine years ago. Which is like having a photo of Bobby Moore to go with a piece about last night's England world cup qualifier.

So, either a) they're so inept that they can't even run a Google search to grab hold of a photo of something that is still standing; or b) their argument is so feeble that they had to back it up with a black and white photo of a long-gone shopping centre. Either way, it's lazy, deceptive, manipulative. Proper shit journalism of the worst kind, how else would you call it?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Mandelson, Littlejohn...

...and the aberration of "the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland"

A choice between Richard Littlejohn and Peter Mandelson is like a toss-up between drinking a glass of mouldy orange juice or a bottle of off goats milk. In this article, our uber-opinionated Daily Mail 'columnist' and spokesperson for the you-couldn't-make-it-up brigade confirms that he can't see the wood from the trees.

Littlejohn hurls spite at Peter Mandelson in the wake of his return to the fore of British political life. Last week, the former Labour MP was ushered back in through the back door of the House of Lords and was quickly handed his new title of "Baron Mandelson of Foyin the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham" (no, seriously).

But Littlejohn doesn't tell you (as he probably doesn't even know) that the elevation to peerage of someone like Mandelson is an abuse of power that can only happen in Britain. And it does so thanks to that monstrous machine of medieval-style unaccountability that answers the name of The House of Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland -which Littlejohn defends. As brain cells negotiate past the latest X Factor winner, Jade Goody's ego and another Big Brother bulletin, it is easy to forget that an unelected chamber of Bishops and Barons is, in 2008, still deciding on behalf of the British plebs. You can giggle at the Americans as much as you please but even they don't have that.

So, "the day the House of Lords died", Littlejohn writes. If only.

Kaiser Chiefs, Off With Their Heads

The Yorkshire Five are back

Don't mess with a winning formula. It's with this firmly in mind that Kaiser Chiefs recorded Off With Their Heads, their third album in three and a half years.

Kaiser Chiefs' rise has been meteoric. The extreme hummability of their debut Employment (featuring juke box regulars I Predict A Riot and Oh My God), sealed the band's fate amongst the all-time greats of British pop. 2007's Yours Truly, Angry Mob, the one featuring ubiquitous Ruby, did its job alright, taking no risks and upholding the band's status as purveyors of infectious singalongs.

Let it be said that in this day and age of bands routinely releasing a record every three or four years, Kaiser Chiefs' working pace is to be saluted. Some may be of the opinion that, had they waited a little, Off With Their Heads may have sounded more inspired. However, it's a good album. Recent single Never Miss a Beat follows the I Predict A Riot template, as it revisits the band's trademark woah-woah's. Lyricswise, it's just genius. A spot-on portrayal of today's Britain, it mocks the toxic notion that not being 'bovved' is just so 'wicked': "What did you learn today?/ I learned nothin/ What did you do today?/ I did nothin/ What did you learn at school?/ I didn't go/ Why didn't you go to school?/ I don't know/ It's cool to know nothin/ What do you want for tea/I want crisps".

The band's influences are once again worn on their sleeves. The Beatles, Blur, XTC are still there. But what's good about Kaiser Chiefs is that they're quite candid and humble about it. There are no Damon Albarn-esque pretentions of artistic superiority. Not even the presence of flavour-of-the-month producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen) seems to have altered the general direction. So in the event Ronson's the chief reason for your purchase, don't expect any retro-soul horns otherwise you may want to ask for the money back.

The opener Spanish Metal is possibly the only track coming from a different angle, as it contains a vague flamenco flavour and a progressive touch. The album gets a touch dull when it hits Like it too Much and You Want History as well as Addicted to Drugs, a pastiche of Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love which doesn't quite cut it. However, the whole affair picks up again nicely with Tomato in The Rain and the supremely catchy Half the Truth. Mark these words, that's going to be the next single. The gentler Remember You're A Girl, sung by drummer Nick Hodgson is most certainly a cheesy finale. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, if you're into any of what Kaiser Chiefs have done up to now. Off With Their Heads is a decent album, one that won't make history but that won't wreck Kaiser Chiefs' superb moment of notoriety either. It doesn't have the immediacy of Employment, but then again, most debut albums tend to be in a league of their own.

[Off With Their Heads is out on Oct 20th on B-Unique/Universal]

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Birmingham ugly?...

...take a look in the mirror

[UPDATE- 15:06 GMT - Now the Independent too has picked up on the story. Its online headline reads: "Birmingham named UK's ugliest city". But as yet there's no info as to what was asked in the survey, how it was carried out and who was polled]

Misconceptions and stereotypes are annoying enough. Imagine when they're perpetrated by a public corporation. Yesterday a new low was reached when the ailing BBC, having run out of more important stories, decided to report that "Birmingham has three of the country's ugliest buildings, which include the Bullring and the Central Library, according to a recent survey". Quite obviously, some people have never set foot in London, Newcastle or Liverpool (as well as other cities), each of them home to some seriously ghastly buildings.

To the point, as far as the Bullring is concerned, the 2003 shopping complex is possibly one of the most stylish, futuristic and functional building in Europe. It was set out to solve the planning problems created by its 60's predecessor and, at least so far, it's been a total success. The Central library is a slightly more delicate matter. Currently, there are politics involved including extremely lucrative proposals to have it knocked down and replaced by yet another piece of prefab shopping anonimity. This blog is dead against the library being pulled down. We think it's a unique masterpiece of Brutalist architecture and that its full potential has never been fully realised.
So, leave Birmingham alone, we say, and stop perpetrating lazy stereotypes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bank on the booze

The very British parallel between City banks and alcohol corporations.

Sue Carroll in today's Mirror is quite right in drawing a parallel between the favourable treatment enjoyed by the banks and that of the alcohol corporations in Britain (read her article "Who's sorry now over 24 hour licence to get legless?" here). The last few years saw them both make obscene amounts of money as they both had New Labour wrapped around their little finger. They both damaged the country and in both cases it's now society that has to foot the bill and pick up the pieces.

For years we've been told that the market is second to none in the way it regulates itself. Totally in line with the previous Tory governments, Labour applied the dogma religiously. From the day it took office in 1997, extreme deregulation of the financial markets was implemented, accompanied by a ridiculously supine rhetoric. And, unless you've lived as a hermit for the past few weeks, you know how it ended and how costly (literally) that game is beginning to be for all of us.

"What's it got to do with the booze", you're probably asking. Well, likewise, Tony Blair was of the firm opinion that the best way to sort out Britain's status as the alky of Europe was to let the free-market handle it. That meant, in the face of extensive popular criticism, total de-regulation i.e. 24 hour licensing laws. But as the country's livers grow in size, booze-related violence is increasingly replacing Queen Elizabeth as the international face of Britain, and A&E departments get clogged up at night with pissheads, the Government decided that enough is enough. Hence the extreme measure of banning free-wine promotions in pubs. Wow.
That is the equivalent of trying to stop a hurricane with an umbrella.

When I had a conversation with Francis Gilbert, author of Yob Nation, an extensive research into Britain's ills (which includes the country's endemic use of alcohol), he directed me towards a factor that up to then I had only marginally considered: big business and profit-making. "We've always had a culture of binge drinking", he told me, "something which City banks exploited when they took over the breweries in the early-1990s: they saw a chance for a massive expansion of the industry - it's been expanding by 10% each year ever since, and amounted to 3% of our GDP. The government also felt that it could regenerate our cities and towns by encouraging bars and clubs to open in their centres. This has led to a big upsurge in drinking amongst all ages and classes and to a big increase in alcohol-related violence".

Needless to say, the 24-hour licensing law fits the pattern perfectly. Until that changes, any effort nominally taken by the Government to tackle binge-drinking will simply look ridiculous.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mirror mirror on the wall...

...who's the dumbest of them all?

We really are doomed. The daily menu of news seems to consist of the following rickety choice of two: a) the economic crisis b) Cheryl Cole. It's up to you to work out the most attractive option. Just look at today's Mirror's online main headline "CHERYL'S SEX SECRET- Sex makes me happy, says the stunning X-Factor judge" with, added, "click here for the full incredible story". A shocking revelation, I bet you're thinking just that. One that deserve the top priority news spot so much so that if an alien landed here today to check on the 'credit crisis' he'd heard about back in Jupiter he'd tell us that, quite frankly, we deserve it.

On a different note, if I was Cheryl Cole I'd be seriously crapping myself with fear. Like Katona, Goody, Jordan, Britney, Charlotte Church and any 'beloved' celebrity that enjoyed such levels of press devotion and pampering before her, the British press is uniquely perverse in the way they shove you from dizzy heights to destruction in the space of weeks.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Booze & Britain


You've got to start worrying when there's a Daily Mail article you agree with. Last week it happened at least three times, so I'm officially worried. But this one penned by Sarah Lyall, an American writer, is absolutely bang on. "Why are you Brits such DRUNKS?", it reads. And it's not your usual Daily Mail whingeing. It makes a number of realistic points and, if any of you are even vaguely familiar with Britain, then it should ring a bell. There's even a photo of paralytic people down Broad Street in Birmingham on a Saturday night.

It features anecdotes related to the strange relationship between social ineptitude and binge drinking, adding that: "For the British, alcohol is a relaxant, an emollient, a crutch, a relief, an excuse".

It's not all gloom

What's that stuff about clouds and silver lining? Even the credit crisis has a bright side.

* The end of the all-guzzling property development vortex. No more buildings with history and personality being pulled down to make way for speculative "luxury flats" that look identical from Andalusia to Glasgow. Restoration will be favoured over demolition. Those horrendous turn-of-the-century overpriced plastic apartments that sprung up everywhere in the last 10 years will simply remind us of the "years of greed".

* The end of the Anglo-American fairy-tale culture of debt and buy-now-pay-later. C'mon, that massive plasma screen is not what makes you a man. But if you really feel you can't do without one, then wait a few months, save up, and get it with your own real money.

* More people will clock that self worth has nothing to do with the bank making you feel that you own an overpriced pad. If you desperately want to own a flat, do so when you've put enough dough aside - without relying on legalised 100% mortgage loan sharks. Otherwise, there's nothing wrong with renting.

* House prices actually going back to humane levels. No more obscenely inflated markets. Ordinary people will be allowed back on the property ladder.

* No more mail boxes jammed with leaflets offering loans and credit cards. No more virtual money handed out to students to binge drink and keep the booze industry awash with dividends.

* With less money available to binge-drink your brains into oblivion, people will finally wake up from induced apathy and focus on real problems.

* Unfettered Market does it better? The last thirty years have revolved around the ideological myth that Casino Capitalism is the way forward. No-one could question obscene City bonuses and our financial wizards. Hopefully that stupid, ostentacious, twatty devotion for corporate greed that we witnessed from Tony Blair, John Hutton or Peter Mandelson will pave the way for a little more dignity. The merchants of blind faith may have to watch their mouth for a while. It's already happening, with the Tories (!) calling for a complete ban on executive bonuses.

* Domestic manifacturing may also experience a revival. The days of Thatcher bigging up the 'service sector' and Blair praising the 'knowledge economy' (whatever that is) as the only way forward at the expense of real manifacturing will be remembered as total bull. A country's economy cannot just be about virtual money.

* More people embracing financial savvy strategies. No more splashing out on overpriced microwaveable meals at home and in restaurants. No more uneaten 'Tesco Finest' rotting in the fridge. You'll buy what you need from supermarkets and learn how to make it last. Real home-cooking may experience a revival.

[You can read two articles about the bright side of the 'credit crisis' by Simon Jenkins in The Sunday Times and Vince Cable in the Mail on Sunday].

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The week's news round-up

By Johnny Taronja

Spot-on Brian Reade in the Mirror . As the government have announced measures to right the wrongs of the economic crisis, here's what he suggests: "Devise a new TV reality show I'm A Greedy B*****d, Get Me Out Of Here where tasks include being placed in a glass coffin containing hundreds of real-life gekkos, and having to survive on just Bonus dog biscuits."

In the meantime, Ken Livingstone in The Guardian explains exactly why pouring taxpayers' money into the banking system is just going to be a hideous, useless, loss.

Fair play to the Daily Mail for allowing a sound Amanda Platell to write about about the Royals' "display of contempt for the hardships the rest of us are facing". She adds: "While ordinary people are terrified of losing their homes, their pensions and savings, Charles and Camilla are in danger of behaving like pre-revolutionary French aristocrats, blind to the offence most Britons take at their self-indulgent, plutocratic lifestyle".

Though for once it's fantastic to see a Government telling those greedy dickheads that, if they want the state to chip in, they have to sign up to a code of conduct about inflated dividends and bonuses.

Alas, the Mirror is also home to chief jackass Tony Parsons. "Let Cheryl have a cry", he spurted on his page last week. "Beyond the glamour and the glitz, Cheryl’s brought some honesty and unashamed emotion to Saturday night TV. That is why she is suddenly the nation’s sweetheart, and worth every million that Simon pays to keep her". Good gracious. So what's the going rate for a smile and how much if you let rip live on telly?
It really seems we're in for something serious. Super mega names from the world of finance and business are at risk of going bust and closing down. The Royal Bank of Scotland is one, while in the US household names General Motors (whose empire includes Cadillac, Chevrolet, Saab and Vauxhall) and Ford are in "fear of bankruptcy". Down our High Streets, we may be seeing the last of JJB Sports and Miss Sixty.

BBC Online investigates the possibility of leading a life without a bank account. Wouldn't that be just amazing? Unfortunately, it's practically impossible, as you can read here. Who would otherwise pay for Barclays executives' £500,000 weekend trip to Lake Como?

It's Back to Basics for The Sun a.k.a "the Daily Tit". "I prefer bazookas to burkas", was the headline for a piece by Julie Burchill. Apparently, getting your bazongas out for The Sun is nothing to do with boosting sales by 40%. Nor does it portray women as sex objects or display them like monkeys in a zoo. Instead, it's to be appreciated "in the name of our western values" against the burqa oppressors. What a valiant paper. Thank you.

Leo McKinstry is a columnist for the Daily Express. As he sleepwalks into yet another anti-EU tirade, he shows colossal levels of ignorance. "European inte­gration was meant to be the route to permanent pros­perity across the cont­in­ent. Instead it is fast becoming a weapon of mass economic destruction". And more idiocy about "Europe's financial turmoil", "EU meltdown" and other cliches. But last time I checked the United States of America were not a EU member state. Is the Express so limited that they have no-one around to tell this plonker where the crisis originated and spiralled out of control? And is this moron seriously unaware that Iceland is not in the EU? And has he heard of Northern Rock? Bradford & Bingley? UK debt?

Jeremy Paxman is back in our good books. On Tuesday, he accused the BBC of "fawning over" the Royal family. Totally.

Anyone feeling bad for the death of Austrian neo-nazi leader and hate merchant Jorg Haider?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Anti-fur Leona

The vegetarian star rejects a £1m offer in protest against Harrods' use of fur.

In this grab-what-you-can free-for-all age of self-appointed rockers advertising anything from turd-grinders to industrial polluters in search of an extra couple of quid, it's absolutely unheard of for a popstar to turn down a £1m offer.

But that's exactly what Leona Lewis did, as she rejected a lucrative offer from Harrods to show what she thinks of their use of fur. Leona's stance also goes to show that not all X Factor winners are shallow muppet-heads. She already joined the PETA campaign "I'd rather go naked than wear fur".

Now, as she shuns £1m, she proudly declares: “I’m totally against animal cruelty. I don’t have clothes, shoes or bags made from any animal products". Harrods can stick'em all up their bum.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Big Council Robbery

Cherish British apathy. Because otherwise you'd be seeing riots in the streets right now.

It's at times like these that you actually come to cherish apathy. Because if Britain wasn't the most apathetic country in Europe, right now you'd be quite possibly witnessing riots and disturbances poll-tax style against the terrifying display of arrogance and incompetence from our local authorities. The last few years have seen local councils attempting to slash pay and change their staff's working conditions (look at Birmingham City Council's controversial 'single status' pay restructuring, for instance).

Nationwide, we had rubbish collection switched from once a week to once a fortnight, which is a unique disgrace (don't forget that, in most EU countries, trash is collected from daily to three times a week and their council tax is infinitely lower than in the UK). We had council tax rocketing up year on year with disarming consequences on family budgets. And now we learn that most councils had loads of surplus money. But they didn't use it to provide better or extra public services. They didn't use it to freeze (or reduce) the obscene council tax rates currently forked out by families across Britain. No. We just found out that a total of nearly £1bn of this surplus was INVESTED (Solihull Borough Council was one of them) in Icelandic banks and we don't even know the amounts invested elsewhere.

To many, this is tantamount to criminal behaviour. Council tax was raised -and collected- to have millions of pounds "invested" and gambled around foreign banks. If I wanted my money "invested" I might as well play the stock market myself. The British government is now sueing the nearly-bankrupt Icelandic state, hoping for some compensation by the year 2078 or similar, but the fact remains that taking our money and "investing" it without our knowledge or consent is fraud, pure and simple.

Kings of Leon, Only By The Night

Recorded in Nashville's Blackbird Studios and produced by Angelo Petraglia, Jaquire King and Kings of Leon themselves, Only By The Night is the fourth album released by the Memphis four-piece. It rounds off a spotless career, one that you'd particularly be able to appreciate if you watched them live. Their best merit so far, has been that of making classic rock acceptable again as they brought almost forgotten heroes like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to a whole new generation.

Kings of Leon consist of the three Followill brothers, Caleb (voice and guitar), Jared (bass), Nathan (drums) and their cousin Matthew Followill (guitars). Their debut in 2003 was hailed as "the most important cultural statement since Oasis' Definitely Maybe”. Not necessarily a compliment. However, Kings of Leon managed to become that year's revelation, to the point of being asked by both The Strokes and U2 to open their gigs.

Back to 2008 and we learn that Caleb's painkillers helped him write "the best songs of his career". Crawl is certainly one of their finest, an excellent opener with shimmering guitar and tasteful drums. Then comes the amazing Sex on Fire, the first single off the album and a real high gauge rocker. Manhattan takes the band to U2 territory, a place no longer alien to Kings of Leon as they are now respected festival headliners and consumate stadium rockers. The result is great, especially as they manage to pull it off without sounding pompous. The Cold Desert is the perfect closer, with a sound that is together nightmarish and surreal. A great record.

[Only By The Night is out now on RCA]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Not Aloud... dislike Girls Aloud? Here's to the musical equivalent of Tesco and Starbucks.

Human beings don't like to go against the grain. Fitting in with the general consensus is as natural as cleaning your ears and whether it's about everyday habits, general preferences, collective hysteria or collective mourning, nobody wants to feel like the odd-one out. It's an anthropological fact. So why would music be any different? How many times did I hear "Really? You don't like Oasis?". I still remember sitting in a pub in Moseley around the time Wonderwall topped the charts and heard a forty-something shaz saying how "amay-zeeng" the Gallaghers were. Then there were the Spice Girls. For a brief period of time it looked like they could do no wrong.

Still, nothing like today's sacred cows, Girls Aloud. Unlike the Spice Girls, these are truly revered by everyone. Indie kids or townies, masturbaceous teenage boys or forty-something mothers alike, they all want a piece of Cheryl and the girls. Have a look on Google. You won't find a single negative article, review, interview. The Pop Goddesses seem to have magically eluded any form of critical scrutiny. As far as the press is concerned, it's just an all-round collection of how great Girls Aloud are, how hard they work, how much they love to party, how good they look and more fawning, kowtowing and bootlicking.

Last Sunday's Observer's piece by Sylvia Patterson was a case in point. "Can anyone resist Girls Aloud?" was the interviewer's rhetorical question, followed by the mother of celebratory articles/interviews. The first two lines alone featured the words love, obsessed, amazing, fantastic as well as the ultimate form of life, and that was merely a quote from Coldplay's Chris Martin. The rest was just a cringeworthy exercise in grovelling.

Of course there is nothing wrong with loving a band and writing a celebritarian piece about how superfab they are. But with Girls Aloud one has the feeling new highs are being reached. The Observer's piece, for instance, was the epitome of sanitised, empty journalism, a lengthy celebration of nothingness. There was not a single factual, challenging question. And by that I don't mean Cheryl or Kimberley should have been asked about post-modernist political theory or the Wall Street bailout. But there's only as many paragraphs anyone can stomach about "the girls" saying "how ferociously supportive and protective" they are of Cheryl Cole "the survivor", "how much they love her" and how "she looks more gorgeous than ever". At times it felt like they should be spared any substantial questions or ballsy chat purely because they're pretty, lively, bubbly 'gals'. 'Makes you wonder what a good ol' feminist would make of that.

Like anything written about Girls Aloud so far, the Observer had literally nothing, not a word, about artistic development, or the reasons behind the band's current wave of notoriety and their 'ironic' impact on pop culture, or why their songs have such widespread appeal. Not even on the dynamics of their shows, how they prepare them, how they manage their stage moves, how they pick their clothes. And, of course, less than nothing about how their new album will sound or anything remotely associated with 'music'. Perhaps, just perhaps, because the girls themselves have got absolutely nothing to do with any of it.

Girls Aloud are the musical equivalent of Tesco and Starbucks, the perfect embodiment of 21st century marketing aggression. The songs they're told to sing are clearly infectious; the girls themselves are obviously good-looking and very good at wearing Gucci and D&G. They may also be great at selling themselves as a feisty, "about business" bunch of party gals. And faux-rock chick Sarah Harding is the dogs' at showing she can take a big swig from a whisky bottle in front of the cameras while she tells them to fuck off. But the image of barbie dolls placed on a stage and instructed by a team of marketing buffs and advertising executives about how to speak, what to sing, what to wear and how to dance springs to mind.