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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Crackodile

'A naked man was saved from the jaws of a 12-foot (3.6-metre) alligator by Florida deputies after reports of a man screaming in a lake in the early hours. Four members of the Polk County Sheriff department waded through waist-deep mud in the dark to reach Adrian Apgar, 45, and pull him free from the alligator. Mr Apgar was later described as critically ill in hospital.'

How does that happen, you ask yourself?

'Police said it was unclear why he was in the water in the early hours, but he had admitted taking crack cocaine.'

Ah. Not really so ‘unclear’ then, is it?

Meat. In a tin.



In the name of Lucifer, what the hell IS this stuff all about?

Buckle Up

Seriously though, just how many investigations do they have to hold into the deaths of three people nigh on a decade ago to work out that, actually, they’re all still dead?

‘Mohammed Al Fayed has mounted a legal challenge over plans to make key decisions about the inquest of Princess Diana and his son Dodi in private. He says the initial inquest hearings into the death of the pair in a car crash in 1997 will be held behind closed doors in January.’

Back in September 2005, the cost of what has become an inexplicable series of ‘investigations’ was already put at over £2.5m. Well, you know, I never liked the woman, but I think at this point even she’d prefer to see that kind of money invested in anti-mine or children’s charities, which she apparently supported so enthusiastically in her ample spare time.

Still, if we’re in the mood for calling for public enquiries…

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/tayside_and_central/5376262.stm

How you know when your career’s really in trouble

When Mel ‘Sugar Tits’ Gibson is leaping to your defence, it’s time to just turn in your celebrity dancing shoes, I think…

‘Actor Mel Gibson has said he feels "really badly" for ex-Seinfeld star Michael Richards, who racially abused two hecklers in a comedy club. Gibson, who apologised for making anti-Semitic remarks made after a drink driving incident in July said Richards was "obviously in a state of stress".’

And talking of Mel, I missed this at the time (I don’t wake up to Good Morning America) but I’ve since read the transcript of what was, apparently, his televised ‘apology’ for his not-even-remotely-sincerely-believed anti-semitic position.

It seems that Mel is a Jew-hater because Lebanon and Israel were “at it” the day that he went and got himself utterly spangled on mescal. Confused? Well…

‘Mel told Good Morning America this week that his assertion that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” was “fear related, OK? So, you know, you have your own fears about these things. Since I was a kid in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and now in the new millennium, you can read of an ever-escalating kind of conflagration over there in the Middle East that … I remember thinking when I was 20, man, that place is going to drag us all into the black hole, you know, just the … the difficulty over there. You start thinking will I ever see my grandchildren grow up? … What’s going to become of the world? What’s going to press the button?”’

Yes, that’s right. Wade through that grammar-averse babble slowly, and it appears to suggest that Mel hates “all f**king Jews” because he’s scared of their bringing about the annihilation of modern society as we know it. He was scared, see.

Remember, this is an apology aimed at the worldwide followers of Judaism (not violence-endorsing Zionists exclusively) – which makes it all the more spectacular that he ultimately about-faces and declares that “they’re not blameless”, apparently in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

‘Interviewer Diane Sawyer pointed out there is a difference from feeling that the Middle East is a “tinderbox” to saying that the Jews were responsible for all war. Mel replied: “Well, strictly speaking, that’s … that’s not true [but] it takes two to tango.”
“What are they responsible for? I think that they’re not blameless in the conflict. There’s been aggression, and retaliation and aggression. It’s just part of being in conflict, and being at war. So, they’re not blameless.”’


It’s interesting to ponder whether Mel’s alcoholic sins would’ve been so quickly forgotten, in the current political climate, had he stated on national television that all followers of Islam are “not blameless” for the September 11th attacks, done, as is assumed, in the name of Islamic fundamentalism?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Off the rails

27th November 2006:

'The firm that runs the UK's railway tracks and signals, Network Rail, has made a £747m profit for the first time. The company has no shareholders and must invest profits into the infrastructure.
Network Rail chairman Ian McAllister said punctuality had improved: "From being a basket case a few years ago, rail is now a success story. We've taken over a billion pounds out of the cost of running the railway, which is good news for the taxpayer and the fact that we're now making money means that we can use that to invest in building the railway.”'



28th November 2006:

‘THERE was outrage last night that Britain’s rail chiefs are in line for massive pay bonuses. The rail unions said the revelation that executives of the not-for-profit company which replaced Railtrack could receive bonuses of up to 80 per cent of their basic salaries was a return to the "fat cat" era.
Its chief executive, John Armitt, is receiving an annual salary of £450,000. The other executives entitled to bonuses for the six months to March 2003 are the deputy chief engineer, Iain Coucher (whose salary is £400,000 a year), the group finance director, Ron Henderson (£300,000), the project and engineering director, Peter Henderson (£300,000), and safety and compliance director, Chris Leah (£300,000).’


(N.B: Network Rail replaced private firm Railtrack in 2002 and receives about £4bn a year in government subsidy.)

29th November 2006:

‘Passengers face above-inflation price hikes for rail tickets from January, train companies have announced. Unregulated fares, which companies are able to set themselves and cover tickets such as cheap day returns, will increase by between 3% and 7%.
The Association of Train Operating Companies said the money was needed to pay for ongoing service improvements.
Atoc director general George Muir said: "While no-one likes to pay more for their travel, we need the revenue to pay for the ongoing improvements to the railways that passengers expect. Train operators will continue to raise their game, delivering further improvements to the railway and enhancing the travel experience of passengers."’


If anyone can work out how all these pieces fit together in one neat little “squeeze the punters till their eyeballs bleed” package, you’ll win an annual season ticket for Southeast Trains, now worth £74,600.09p.

Animal Biscuit

There’s a fella, right, called Stephen Clark, who is apparently a professor of philosophy at the University of Liverpool. It seems he has also advised the government on animal testing. Jesus. I read an article by him today (http://education.independent.co.uk/higher/article2005413.ece) and given that I found it in the Independent I’m not convinced that it’s a joke, but I’d bloody hope it is. Otherwise I’m fairly sure Liverpool Uni isn’t becoming a leading centre of excellence in the world of philosophy any time soon…

“People disapprove of causing animals pain, but they think killing animals is OK. We're not remotely consistent about this. If killing animals was morally neutral we wouldn't disapprove of someone killing their pets, but we do.”

Uh huh. Not exactly an earth shattering statement of controversy, that, but fair enough, a valid point…

“We don't need to kill animals for meat. All that is unnecessary suffering. We only do it on the assumption that animals are there for us, material for not just our needs but our wishes, because of a superstitious belief that human life is radically different from animal life.”

Yeah, you’re right there, Stephen. I remember David Attenborough telling me only the other night that, in the animal world, creatures don’t kill each other for meat. His commentary was accompanied by a cute shot of a lion enjoying a banana smoothie on the Serangeti, as I recall.

“The place where there are difficult problems is in the field of medical experimentation.”

Ooh, hello, we’re getting to the heart of the matter now.

“Of course, as members of the first world we've gained enormously from trying things out on creatures. That doesn't mean it's OK. We shouldn't expect disease-free lives. It's a mirage. It's part of a fantasy of immortality. Struggling to get it at the expense of other creatures is silly. As soon as we solve some problems other problems come up… We have to accept that part of living in this fascinating cosmos means having a limited stay. Demanding more is a mistake.”

Erm…eh?

While I don’t have a problem with people’s right to object to vivisection (to be specific, I don’t want to be attacked by the caring, sharing, peace-and-furry-creature-lovin’ grave-robbing, petrol-bombing animal liberation front), but attacking animal testing on the grounds that we have NO RIGHT to attempt to find cures for killer diseases? That's 'killer', as opposed to exclusively 'first world' diseases, by the way. That’s….well, it’s certainly a new one on me.

“Some tests are not necessary, some are dubious. And even if human beings are saved it's still probably wrong. These tests would be done much more effectively on a human. Would you do that? There are plenty of human creatures around that we could forcibly experiment on.”

See, this is where I began to suspect spoofery. Or alternatively, the beyond-the-grave voice of Josef Mengele.

“There are human creatures who are less reasonable than a beagle,” rambles Stephen.

Yep. After reading this gibberish, I’d say that’s true. And you know what? It’s a comfort that, in 500-odd words, I found at least one statement I could bring myself to agree with.

Hold the Front Page

It says something, does it not, when NHS funding actually going where it’s needed is considered a national news story?

‘A detailed breakdown of NHS spending shows money is reaching key health priorities, the government says. Spending is rising in line with the increase in the overall budget for cancer and mental health treatment, Department of Health figures indicate.
The data was compiled last year from spending by local primary care trusts, which control £63bn of spending - 75% of the NHS budget in England…’

A tragedy, definitely, but…

…can you imagine how disappointing it would be to meet your maker courtesy of a giant inflatable?

‘An artist who created an inflatable sculpture that burst free from its moorings killing two people has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.
The 2,500sq m Dreamspace artwork was thrown 100ft into the air by a freak gust of wind. Elizabeth Collings, 68, and Claire Furmedge, 38, died in the tragedy at the Riverside Park, Chester-le-Street, on 23 July. Several others were hurt.’

Madonna and Child, Part VIII

'A judge in Malawi has allowed a coalition of human rights groups to proceed with a legal challenge to pop star Madonna's adoption of a baby boy.
The alliance of 67 Malawian groups lodged a petition before the court last month, saying existing legislation did not allow for intra-country adoptions.
Madonna was granted an 18-month interim custody order which enabled her to take one-year-old David Banda out of Malawi.
The adoption of the boy sparked heated debate around the globe.
Judge Andrew Nyirenda in the Malawian capital, Lilongwe, ruled that the groups could be regarded as "friends of the court" and so could pursue their application for a full review of the interim custody order.
"The applications from both applicants are accordingly granted and they are both joined as amicus curiae," said the judgement, according to the AFP news agency.'


Blimey. Not bad for a country with "no known laws".

Toilet Paper

So this morning, against my better judgement (and due to a criminal and unprecendented lack of a book in my pocket) I picked up a copy of The Metro.
Good god, that’s a depressing rag.

Not only was its full colour, five photograph front page lead essentially a down-page gossip page item (Mick Jagger’s dad’s funeral), but the thing was – in a not especially quiet news week - littered with weeks old, press released pseudo-science guff that they probably got the work experience kid to write in his lunch hour.

You know the kind of thing: ‘Eating rotting celery cures haemorroids’, ‘Euston Station is made from Fossilised dinosaurs’ ‘Cigar smoking latest craze among Pygmy newborns’, and so forth.

Now, I know that the paper is free, and is probably written by a skeleton staff in a portakabin in Stoke, but given that it now has umpteen competitors – you know, the purple-clad irritants that stand in the middle of the pavement, legs akimbo, hurling unwanted newspapers at uninterested passersby, like London’s very own festering human fungus – wouldn’t you think they’d have upped their game?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wedding Belles

You really do have to love divorcing-again Pammie Anderson.

And there was me thinking that Britney Spears won the prize for California’s most blasé attitude towards the institution of marriage. I’m not counting her 52 hour Vegas one (bright lights of a casino, a bathtub full of tequila, could’ve happened to anyone), but the most recent dumping of her husband a positively flippant two months after giving birth.

The news that Pamela has ditched her husband after four months comes as no real surprise; the fact that she got married, bless her, in a white thong bikini and cowboy boots suggested that she wasn’t taking it enormously seriously. (Oh, and then there was the problem of her husband looking like an oversized rodent with bad skin.)
What’s brilliantly mental about it, however, is the fact that they managed to actually have three wedding ceremonies. THREE. In four months.

‘The couple married in July on a yacht in France, and then went on to have two more weddings to mark their marriage. One was held at a courthouse in Beverly Hills, California and the third ceremony took place in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, the former Baywatch star described the couple as "super happy newlyweds".’

They do say that newly-married brides sometimes struggle to adjust to normality after having been in the blinding glare of wedding-related attention for months and months, so maybe that’s what happened. Pam must have realised that simply repeating the experiment every five weeks was going to get very expensive very quickly. Even when you’re only wearing a bikini.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lording it

So, Peter Jackson isn’t going to get to make The Hobbit movie, because he’s in the middle of sueing the studio that’s making the film.

Well, I ‘m not a fan of The Lord of the Rings, and I concede that the news would be considerably more devastating if I was, but what the hell did he expect? Regardless of whether or not he’s in the right over his legal case, as well he might be, did he really think that he was important enough to hold the studio to ransom?

“Jackson refused to discuss working on the Hobbit until a DVD royalty dispute with New Line Cinema was settled. But New Line said it had only "limited time" to make the film and was proceeding without the Oscar-winning director.”

He wanted to make the movie – or perhaps more accurately, believed they couldn’t make the movie without him – but he wants to sue them first, shake hands and then get to work? Hmmm. A touch of the ‘ego out of control’ going on there, if you ask me.

The Lord of the Rings movies were huge, blockbuster beasts that made ridiculous sums of money for all concerned, and while that does give Jackson considerable clout, it doesn’t necessarily make him Teflon-coated. In the modern cinematic landscape – in which, increasingly, you don’t need eyeball-bleedingly huge budgets and internationally known ‘star’ names to make yourself a hit movie – no diva is entirely dispensible. Just ask Tom Cruise.

In a fair and just world…



(i.e. If Sarah Doukas hadn’t been at the airport that fateful day…)

Model Kate Moss has appeared in a stage version of TV comedy hit Little Britain in aid of Comic Relief, playing opposite Matt Lucas' character Vicky Pollard as her sister, Katie.
During the act, Vicky said: "I'm the pretty one."
Moss' character, Katie added: "I'm the easy one."


It's too easy, really…

Spot the Difference II


Oh, for the love of God. How clever this artist is – see, what he’s done is taken Karl Stieler’s extremely famous image of Ludwig van Beethoven, right, and simply superimposed it onto the body of an identically posed ‘modern day’ person, who appears to be wearing Top Gear’s James May’s Sunday outfit along with an extremely Eton schoolboy syrup.
Because, see, that’s how he’d look if he were alive today! Yes!
Or, maybe, no.
According to the wisdom of Gramophone magazine’s editorial department (who obviously thought about this long and hard, for about 12 minutes down the Rat & Parrot), “Beethoven's modern-day equivalent is U2 singer Bono”.

Of course it is. Of COURSE.

I mean, compare and contrast:

Ludwig van Beethoven:

Plays piano for an audience including Mozart as a child
Is widely recognised as a musical virtuoso by his teens
Studies music in Vienna with Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri among others
Begins to go deaf in his mid-20s, to no noticeable detriment to his musical talent or productivity
Is “…generally regarded as one of the greatest composers in the history of music, and was the predominant figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music”

Paul Hewson:

Changes name to Bono, after a Grafton Street hearing aid shop (see, there’s a deaf connection)
Wears silly hat
Gurns
Wears ridiculous sunglasses
Gurns
The End


If this is the best that the magazine could come up with in its attempt to enrage the classical music world and garner itself some delicious 'at any cost' publicity, it's a hideously poor and pathetically transparently effort.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Sporting Lie

"We've cut out all the people who have got a track record in the past of screwing these things up”

So says Ken Livingstone (who is himself still on the Olympic committee), speaking about the London Olympic Games on The Today Programme.

Hmmm.

P.S. “Unforeseen” Olympic expenses apparently (and poetically) include a previously unbudgeted £400m fee to hire a private firm to bring the Olympic Games in on time and within budget,

And

An increase in the cost of transport.
Yes, that’s right: Ken Livingstone, the man who has overseen a teeth-grindingly obscene 200% hike in London Underground prices since last taking the job as “mayor” of London. The man who has single-handedly given London the most expensive city transport system in Europe (with tickets now costing well over double those in the second priciest city). That man apparently did not take into account an increase in transport costs when he first wrote down the Olympic budget.

On the back of an envelope.

In Crayon.

The lowest estimate of what this Olympic farce is going to cost you, my London friends, is £20 a year, for 25 years. The lowest estimate.

Are you really going to vote for this man of the people next time around? ARE YOU?

Ganesh, or Medusa?

This is simply extraordinary.

The woman’s personality defects are none of my concern (frankly, being a ropey-faced, delusional and money-hungry old tart doesn’t exactly distinguish her from the average manufactured girl-band-member or testicle-masticating celebrity jungle-dweller), and the more ridiculous she makes the boggle-eyed thumbs-aloft buffoon that is her estranged husband, the more she will go up in my estimation.
What is slightly worrying however is Heather’s grasp of the basics of medical science…


Heather Mills has said she would rather lose the rest of her limbs than repeat the trauma of her marriage breakdown.
"I would rather someone come up and chop off all my limbs than go through what I went through," she said. "It's a fact because if your limbs are chopped off you ... get another limb and there's light at the end of the tunnel.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

And in further "unexpected" news...

"Tessa Jowell, the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, refused to confirm to MPs that London council tax-payers would have to pick up some of the bill.

Londoners are already being forced to stump up £625 million towards the Olympic venue costs, with an additional £1.75 billion coming from the National Lottery.

Ms Jowell said there under the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed with Mr Livingstone extra cash could be sought from both the taxpayer and the National Lottery, but she refused to give a definitive answer when asked whether council taxes would rise..."


Righto then, I feel thoroughly reassured.

Like most Londoners, I didn't want the sodding Olympics here in the first place, for obvious reasons (if you want to know what happens to these ludicrously overpriced Olympic "regenerated" areas once the steroid abusers have gone home, just ask the residents of Athens, Barcelona, or indeed, the taxpayers of Sydney):

http://edition.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/auspac/07/11/sydney.stadiums/index.html

S'alright, it's only the east end, and everyone knows the east end is a shithole anyway, yes? We didn't actually WANT those green spaces they're planning on bulldozing and covering in concrete, did we? After all, we only ever used them for playing SPORT on, didn't we? Didn't we??

Londoners, don't be fooled. We are now being told by Tessa Jowell - a woman so financially-savvy that she has claimed to be entirely unaware of her own husband's money-laundering and tax fraud activities - that we're going to be personally liable for an even bigger bill for this nonsense than we'd originally suspected.

Well, screw the Olympic torch, get me a petrol bomb and I'll show you what I think of that.

From Russia with...erm...love

I adore this story (much more than I would if I was potentially dying from being poisoned, obviously, but don’t call me callous)…

A former Russian security agent, midway through investigating the allegedly state-sponsored killing of a government-critical journalist, has a RADIOACTIVE poison slipped into his coffee? I don’t even like Bond movies and find that pant-wettingly exciting:

Former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko remains seriously ill in intensive care as Britain's counter terrorism police continue to hunt for the men behind his suspected poisoning.
The 41-year-old is receiving treatment under police guard at University College Hospital in London, three weeks to the day after he was allegedly given the deadly toxin thallium while in the capital.
In a statement on Tuesday, the hospital said: "Mr Litvinenko's condition remains unchanged from yesterday. "He remains in a serious condition in intensive care."
Pictures of Mr Litvinenko in his hospital bed have revealed the extent of his illness. He has lost almost all his hair and is clearly emaciated and weak.


What’s particularly darkly amusing is the Kremlin’s line on the whole matter – it’s “nonsense”, they say. As if radioactive thallium accidentally gets slipped into people’s beverages every day…

Gordon Brown and his “unexpected” VAT

Anyone, anywhere, who has ever had any construction work done by a professional builder knows that you must take whatever is quoted to you at the beginning of the job and double it to get anything close to the real cost of the work.
If you live in London, you can safely treble that sum.
And if you, the client, are a public sector body and need a job finished by a specific deadline, you might as well just print out a blank cheque and hand it over.

So, given how depressingly predictable this story is (is Wembley Stadium even open yet??), why is anyone in the government even pretending to be surprised?

"Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell is being grilled by MPs about the London Olympics, after organisers said costs could rise £1.5bn to £5bn. Ms Jowell is being questioned by the Commons culture, media and sport committee about an unexpected VAT bill for building costs.
The Tories said the budget had gone "disastrously wrong". But Chancellor Gordon Brown said the government was "committed" to making the Games work."

Teenage Fanclub

“An enhanced sex education programme for teenagers has proved no better than conventional teaching in cutting unwanted pregnancies or abortions, a detailed research study said yesterday.”

Well blow me down with a feather, who’d have thought that?

“The programme was based on an intensive £900 training course for teachers that was then delivered to 15-year-olds over three years. The programme and research was devised and supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Education Board for Scotland, now Health Scotland. The study found that one fifth of 15- to 20-year-olds had at least one pregnancy and that one in 10 had at least one abortion. Abortion rates were not significantly different from rates in England and Wales, said Dr Marion Henderson, the MRC researcher who led the study.”

I’m ordinarily the last person to stick up for today’s youth (frankly, if you’re 14 and sitting next to me on the bus, there’s a 95% chance I’m fantasising about stabbing you with a pair of scissors) but I’m tired of the ever-popular Daily Mail-inspired notion that young people are opinion-less, personality-less vacuums.
When I was 16 I didn’t require society’s guidance on every aspect of my life in order to stick to the moral path chosen for me by those in authority, therefore I don’t think that today’s 16 year olds need it either. Teenagers have just as much chance of (and as much right to) get things right and wrong as anyone else, so why the hell they should they be criticised for their f**k ups any more than the rest of us is quite beyond me.

It is human nature to make decisions based on your own views and based on what you feel is right for you, whatever your age. It is also human nature to make mistakes. If a 40 year old man in the desperate grip of a midlife crisis buys himself a Harley Davidson and runs off with the nanny, that’s probably a mistake. If a drunk woman sleeps with her best mate’s husband after a night on the Lambrini, chances are that’s a mistake as well. If a Prime Minister accidentally declares war in the Middle East, that’s almost certainly an error of judgement, but in each of those cases we don’t point at the people in question and hysterically screech about their behaviour being somehow indicative of a collapse of society (OK, maybe the last one we might).

On that basis, if a teenage girl makes a drunken error and either has a baby or (god help us) an abortion as a result, is that not, in the same way, her own business? Is it not just her own mistake? And if we don’t like what the teenage pregnancy figures say about social inequality, surely we need to deal with the causes and realities of that inequality, rather than patronise teenage girls for screwing things up in much the same manner as everyone else?

Could it (whisper it) truly be possible that teenagers and young people are actually capable of making autonomous independent decisions regardless of the opinions of others? And could it be that attending “How to live a blameless existence” class has the same effect on teenagers as it would on the rest of us?

I need a f**king drink


You know those Monday mornings when you get up and look around you and think, “What, really, is the point? What is my purpose? What little can I say I have achieved in my shallow, tiny and inconsequential existence?”
(No? That’s just me then?)…

On such days, you may now be able to take some comfort from the thought that, however pointless your conscious-hours activities, however little you’re achieving during the slow march toward certain death, you’ve NEVER committed any of your precious time to producing ANYTHING quite as pointless and intellectually-flatulent as this….

Scientists believe they have worked out a formula to calculate how "beer goggles" affect a drinker's vision.

An = number of units of alcohol consumed
S = smokiness of the room (graded from 0-10, where 0 clear air; 10 extremely smoky)
L = luminance of 'person of interest' (candelas per square metre; typically 1 pitch black; 150 as seen in normal room lighting)
Vo = Snellen visual acuity (6/6 normal; 6/12 just meets driving standard)
d = distance from 'person of interest' (metres; 0.5 to 3 metres)


No need to thank me.

Countryfile with Ian Brady

You could be forgiven for thinking that the latest series of ‘Celebrities Go Insane in the Jungle’, currently on our screens, marks the point of no return for popular culture. After all, it isn’t just the absolute epitome of bad taste telly, but is the clearest sign yet that celebrity - the very notion of it – is dead. Distorted beyond repair.

After all, this is a programme in which a pensionable inflato-breasted non-entity has been seen whipping the arse off another pudgy non-entity while he whimpers “Yes Mistress” at her in a suspiciously practiced manner (less than a week into the sordid little experiment); in which the image of an unknown ex-children’s television presenter pissing in the bushes is not only televised and cheerfully debated by an off-site audience, but is reprinted in the country’s biggest-selling daily newspaper; which features the crazed half-sister of the spouse of our country’s elected leader (the country’s leader, people) for no better reason than genetic accident, and in which (sweet lord) Liza Minelli’s terrifying, melted-rubber-faced ex-husband is THE MOST LIKEABLE PERSON ON THE SHOW.

You could be forgiven for thinking that.
You would, however, be wrong.

The final apolcalypse for popular culture – now postponed, you’ll be pleased to know – was to come in the form of an (unsurprisingly) Fox Broadcasting-generated vehicle for the ever-cuddly sportsman-turned-film-star-turned-psychotic-killer O J Simpson.

The working title, I kid you not, was “If I Did It”:


"The family of one of the victims in the OJ Simpson murder case have welcomed the decision to cancel a controversial TV interview with the former football legend. The infamous star had planned to describe "how he would have killed" Ron Goldman and his own ex-wife Nicole in 1995. News Corp, which owns both Fox and publisher HarperCollins, said the publication of OJ Simpson's book, If I Did It, had also been called off. Simpson was sensationally cleared of murdering Nicole and Mr Goldman in a case that gripped the world. However, he was later found liable for their deaths in a civil court."

Short of screening ‘Celebrity Supernanny’ with Myra Hindley, or installing Harold Shipman as the presenter of ‘City Hospital’, I really can’t see that there’s anything more offensive left to smear onto our screens.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Crabs for Capitalism

The US government is very upset at the moment, apparently, about the fact that it gave a shed-load of cash to Cuban dissidents in Miami to promote capitalism back home, and they spent it on Gameboys, mountain bikes, crabmeat and chocolate. (Otherwise known as ‘consumer goods’, those many and various shiny things that capitalist culture teaches us is our right to purchase, cheaply, constantly, and in surfeit to our needs).

A scathing congressional audit of democracy-assistance programmes found “questionable expenditure” by several groups funded by Washington in opposition to President Fidel Castro’s rule on the communist Caribbean island. The Miami-based Acción Democrática Cubana spent money on a chainsaw, Nintendo Game Boys and Sony PlayStations, mountain bikes, leather coats and Godiva chocolates, which the group says were all sent to Cuba. “These people are going hungry. They never get any chocolate there,” Juan Carlos Acosta, the group’s executive director, told the Miami Herald.

Yep, sounds to me like a highly “questionable” demonstration of US consumer values, that….

Personally, I don’t see what the problem is. As previously noted (see yesterday’s entry on chocolate covered fat, stale bread, garlic and vodka) Communism is hardly the culinary world’s greatest friend, is it? On that basis, what more effective way is there to show your former compatriots the true value of democracy than by sending them a bit of fresh crab and a couple of boxes of Quality Street?

“Screw the opium of the people, taste that!”

I mean really: what did they want them to do, use the money to produce a lengthy political treatise expounding on the values of capitalism and the free market?
If I was offered a choice between eating Eastern European-style ‘salo’ or seafood salad and chocolate mousse (or let’s face it, even Double Whoppers and KFC) for the rest of my natural, you can be pretty sure I’d be voting Republican before you could utter the words “diabetes” and “cholesterol”.

Rattle & Scum

Unless – and dear God I hope so – there’s a seething, sordid underbelly to this story (the woman possesses photographic evidence of Paul “you can call me Bono” Hewson licking the armpit of Chris “whingeing student” Martin while Bob Geldof dances around them wearing only his underpants and a hat made of Ethiopian Orphan-skin, let’s say), I’d be tempted to call this the most ugly example of celebrity egomania you’re ever likely to see…

Rock group U2 have won a legal battle against their former stylist, forcing her to hand over a cowboy hat and clothes she took from them in 1987… U2 had been fighting with Ms Cashman over the ownership of a Stetson hat, a pair of metal hooped earrings, a green sweatshirt and a pair of black trousers.
They were also trying to retrieve a number of other items which had been seen in her flat, including a video tape and monitor, rosary beads and hundreds of photographs.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6150070.stm

BBC News Insanity

Breaking news from the BBC:

A tsunami is expected to hit the north and east coasts of Japan, the country's meteorological agency says. The agency says the tsumami will be at least two metres (6.5 feet) high and could hit Hokkaido and Honshu islands after 1210 GMT. Warnings are being broadcast on all TV channels and radio stations advising people to move to higher ground. It comes after an earthquake of at least 7.7 magnitude hit the Kuril Islands, north of Japan.

They’ve followed it up with one of their almost legendarily pathetic pleas to their readers for ‘interactive’ content – remember, it’s not lazy but is in fact cutting edge to get should-know-better members of the public to do your job for you:

“Are you in Hokkaido? Have you been affected by the tsunami warning? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below,” begs the newly-graduated internet-yokel being underpaid to churn out this nonsense in between bites of his morning bagel (you can practically hear the choking excitement from here).

Erm, is it just me, or shouldn’t a responsible news broadcaster be encouraging people in Hokkaido to follow the earlier-stated advice to “flee to higher ground”, rather than pleading with them to send pointless “where’s all that water coming from?” emails to the BBC’s website?

If I didn’t know better I’d honestly believe this story was a spoof: “There’s a tidal wave a’coming, folks. Don’t worry about inflating the dinghy, just sit tight and tell Auntie all about it”…

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/6150538.stm

The really rough guide



Northern Ireland has made the grade as one of the world’s top tourist sites, for the very first time since Gerry Adams stopped being voiced by a Yorkshireman:

Lonely Planet co-founder Maureen Wheeler, who grew up in Belfast, was full of praise for her homeland. "I love the city, its grittiness, its resilience and its beauty and I love how Belfast people turn every social interaction into an excuse for a party," she said. "The landscape of Northern Ireland is astonishingly beautiful, the people are warm and genuine, and yet it is still relatively undiscovered which makes it the perfect destination."

All very true. Most of Ireland, truth be told, is worth seeing, and quite frankly, the risks of getting shot in the head (or the more traditional kneecaps, if you like) are probably as great in South London as they are in South Armagh (provided you take the precaution of removing your bowler hat and orange scarf before taking a bracing countryside stroll).

I myself have an unexplainable penchant for former warzones and – in tabloid parlance – ‘trouble spots’: this year alone I have given serious consideration to visiting Sarejevo, Istanbul and Jordan (the latter two a mere day or so after agitated gunmen had taken potshots at tourists. Maybe that says more about the luck of my timing than it does anything else).

In any case, when you find out that Beirut (last seen remodelled, as above, by the not-at-all-reactionary Israeli armed forces) also makes the Lonely Planet’s top 30 of the world’s most desirable tourist locations, you’ve nevertheless got to start wondering what the hell is going on.

What’s next, Kabul? Fallujah?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Yummy




Warming to my theme somewhat, I am rather saddened to see that the latest in Mockney-unfriendly cuisine comes not from Inverness but from Kiev. Tis lovely, mind. 'ave a look, why don't you:

Forget deep-fried Mars bar. One of the unhealthiest snacks in the world can now be found in Ukraine. For years people here have loved pork fat, known as salo. Normally, small slices of the white fat are eaten with black bread, raw garlic and vodka. But this new twist is designed to appeal to Ukraine's love of all things fatty. For the equivalent of £1 you can now get four small sticks of salo covered in chocolate at Kiev's poshest Ukrainian restaurant.

Allow me to reiterate: it's fat, covered in chocolate. Personally I'd be far more inclined to go with the black bread, raw garlic and vodka accompaniment option, but then I'm an anti-social bastard, so that makes complete sense.

Not sure that the sales patter is really as sophisticated as it might be, mind:

"Young girl, come and try my tasty salo, it's super salo," Katya Feschenko shouts to me. Katya is the salo queen at Kiev's busy Bessarabska Market. Slabs of white fat sit next to spare ribs and hunks of bacon on her stall.


Altogether now....mmmmmmmm.

"A fat person in England isn't the same as a fat person in America”

Do you know, sometimes the extent of Mockney Oliver’s wisdom truly surprises.
Oh hang on, it doesn’t, does it…

Not content with patronising and insulting British parents, the teaching profession, people who don’t eat in Fifteen, people who don’t shop at Sainsbury’s (and everyone else left over who has ever had occasion to consume food), Mockney has now taken to lecturing US politicians on their country's impressive lard consumption.

Apparently, according to Jamie, America has something of an obesity problem due to all the fast food and Krispy Kremes that people there shovel into their faces while watching Oprah.
Fancy that! Americans! Fat!

"England's the most unhealthy country in Europe and America is the most unhealthy country in the world”, revealed Jamie breathlessly, with all the purpose and intelligence of an overly exciteable baboon scratching its own arse. (Not ACTUALLY true, but then, Mockney isn't ACTUALLY an authority on the subject, so that's alright.) He doesn’t stop at page one of his manifesto (working title, Stating the f**king obvious) though. Oh no.
Mockney has important advice to offer the hapless low-level politicians who’d been wheeled out to be photographed with the fat-tongued one, all of whom I’d bet were wearing “who in the hell told this greasy Essex boy he could touch me?” expressions throughout the junket.

“Oliver said U.S. politicians should "stop being so subservient" to "junk food companies" and that the country should cut down on junk and fatty foods, which would help reduce future health costs.”

Tell you what Jamie, you’re like a one man public service announcement, you really are.
Oh no, I mean a filthy, shameless one-man self-publicity machine, don’t I?

“Oliver's latest book "Jamie's Italy" was released in U.S. bookstores earlier this month and his television series "Jamie Oliver's Great Italian escape" will debut in the United States this month.”

Maker’s Mark misanthropy

Now, I have been known in my time to enjoy – as I am sure have many others – the odd libation. In so doing, I have on occasion been known to utter (a variation on the theme of) “Goodness, had I not imbibed so enthusiastically yester-eve, I might not now be experiencing sensations of stomach churning and mild regret at this juncture” the following day.

Never, however, have I mused gently on the regrettable demise of slavery and later blamed it on the fact that someone made me drink too much - as did a bunch of South Carolina frat boys stitched up recently in the Borat movie:

The plaintiffs -- listed as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 -- were allegedly assured the film would not be shown in the U.S. and their identities would not be revealed.
They were both selected to appear in the movie and, according to the suit, taken "to a drinking establishment 'to loosen up' and provided alcoholic beverages." They claim they signed the movie releases after "heavy drinking."

The suit claims both men were then taken to a motor home where they were filmed, all the while "encouraged to continue drinking."
The plaintiffs claim they suffered "humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and physical distress, loss of reputation, goodwill and standing in the community..." because the movie was indeed released in the U.S.


Whatever happens to people when they’re drunk or otherwise intoxicated – and let’s be honest, unfortunate things sometimes will happen – alcohol is not, in most cases, capable of performing a total personality bypass on the human brain (although I'm told it can do very odd things when you mess with the air pressure. Stay away from the Gordon’s on longhaul flights, is all I'm saying).
Point is, I simply don’t believe that people start spouting utter drivel entirely removed from their actual opinions when they’ve had a few. There has to be a morsel of truth hiding in there somewhere, even when it is expressed in less than professional terms. On some small level, in other words, what you say when totally poleaxed will be what you think.

These boys essentially made numpties of themselves on film, and that’s nobody else’s fault but their own. Rather than sueing they’d be far better off trying to let the whole affair die down and thereafter go back to their lives. (Even if they have to move to Alaska or Mongolia to do it).

See, that Mel Gibson has a lot to answer for. Not only has he been responsible for such accuracy-phobic, hyperbolic nonsense as Braveheart (Scotland is an independent nation, the English monarch was secretly the illegitimate offspring of William Wallace, and Edward II’s boyfriend was pushed out of a window by his dad? Right you are, then…) and The Patriot (OK, so it was the Nazis that locked the innocents in the church and burned them alive in 1940s France, and nothing to do with the English in the US, but who’s counting?) but he appears to have made it entirely acceptable for people to excuse any manner of putrid xenophobic and generally socially unpleasant nonsense on having swilled down one too many Ribenas. For shame, Mel.

Cold, headless turkey

I’ve been trying to get my fuzzy and unwell mind around the absurdity of this story since yesterday evening, when I watched it break on the evening news, slackjawed in astonishment.
The longer I spend trying to think of something amusing, witty or at the very least cynical and withering to say about it, the harder it gets to come up with something funnier than the bare bones of the story itself in all its unremarked, unfettered glory.
So on that note, I'm just going to copy and paste this from the BBC News website. Remember, that’s the BBC News website, not The Onion, yes?

Payments totalling £750,000 will go to 197 prisoners and former inmates forced to stop taking drugs by going "cold turkey" in jail.
The damages, approved by a High Court judge, follow their claims that the practice amounted to an assault and breach of human rights.

Friday, November 10, 2006

An obvious gag, but I don't care





According to the University of Stirling, which has conducted one of those pointless 'merging of 1000 features' publicity exercises designed to fill pages in toilet rags like the Metro and thelondonpaper, the picture above (left) is the 'ultimate comedy face':

"Scientists have used computer software to come up with what they say is the perfect comedy face. The University of Stirling team blended together 179 different facial aspects of 20 top comedians. They said soft and feminine features, typified by Ricky Gervais, were more likely to make people laugh."


That's told the rest of us who had assumed that such a coveted prize would go to the face pictured on the right.

Brand Awareness

Now, while he does nothing for me, I understand that the shockheaded twiglet known as Russell Brand is deemed attractive by a greater number of women than is strictly reasonable (it’s the mockney shrieking that puts me off – he claims it’s part of some ludicrously constructed ‘Victorian Dandy’ persona, but I’m fairly sure even Jamie Oliver would be embarrassed).

Got no problem with that, or with how many of said women he claims to have bedded (while one does question any man’s need for the world to know how urgently virile he is, it’s still an entirely different topic). I’ve got no problem with him as a radio DJ either: clearly he has the ability to both raise heckles and think quickly, which are obviously key to his kind of presentation style. But he didn’t really translate to TV, did he?

OK, so his Big Brother thing was a success. That is because:
a. to Big Brother audiences (who are so easily entertained that they’re prepared to watch wall-to-wall nightshots of people asleep) anyone who can string a sentence together is practically Chekhov,
b. it was only expected to get about 12 viewers in the first instance, and
c. his competition was Davina McCall.

However, his own show (Russell Brand's Got Issues - oh dear) started with great fanfare but last I heard, E4 had admitted that it was a flop, being beaten by shows on all the main rival channels (most of which hadn’t benefited from expensive promotional campaigns).

So tell me, what’s this all about?

“Comedian and presenter Russell Brand is to go head to head with Jonathan Ross after landing his own Channel 4 show. The Russell Brand Show will feature celebrity interviews, comedy sketches and live music performances. Channel 4's Factual entertainment editor Angela Jain said: "[Brand's] undoubtedly the man of the moment."

Wasn’t Charlotte Church the woman of the moment about 12 seconds ago?

When are television executives going to realise that the reality television they (but seemingly nobody else) are so keen on HASN’T transformed TV into an entirely throwaway medium? That you can’t just transform people into instant television ‘stars’ because they’ve impressed for approximately 3 weeks elsewhere?

Jonathan Ross is, whether you like him or not, an accomplished and at times very funny television presenter. That is because he has been doing it for QUITE A LONG TIME. The early stuff he did was, in all honesty, pretty rubbish, but so what? He was allowed to cut his teeth on the lighterweight stuff, hence he learned, he got better, and here he now is, the highest paid man in British television.

The Brands and the Churches of this world are both clearly talented people, but shoe-horning them into ridiculously hastily put-together and ill thought out formats for which they are inadequately experienced, then sticking them up against a highly accomplished performer is an almost guaranteed recipe for failure which neither of them deserve.

Why can’t we do as we did in the days of Jonathan Ross’s early career and let people develop properly into their personas, instead of setting them up for a slating and a likely future of unjustified television obscurity? In TV-Land as in any other, instant gratification means, more often than not, no gratification at all.

Hissy fits

Why on earth don’t people just admit it when they’ve had a tantrum?

“Actress” Denise Richards – famous, as far as I can tell, only for nicking ‘pop-her-in-your-pocket’ Heather Locklear’s husband – has had a barney with a couple of paparazzi photographers in Canada. She ended up lobbing a computer off a balcony, which hit a couple of women standing below. (They’re not the victims here, obviously, Denise is)…

“While trying to stop the paparazzi, Denise Richards was involved in an altercation. To protect her safety she instinctively knocked the paparazzo's laptops off a ledge. Royal Canadian Mounted Police were called to the scene as a precaution and the case was soon closed. No charges were filed against Ms Richards.”

What the hell were the MOUNTIES doing wasting their time over a bit of kit being “instinctively knocked” off a balcony in an act of self-protection?
Do me a favour.
Is that like when Naomi Campbell “instinctively” punches her personal assistants in the face for accidentally double-booking her AA and NA meetings?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pointlessness

This: neway

What IS that? I see it everywhere on tinterweb, and I have come to the conclusion that it means 'anyway'. I've even seen (shudder) "neways...". Once I even spied "Neways dude hope u aight", but I came to the conclusion that the chap in question was midway through having a stroke, and I don't believe in mocking the injured or otherwise afflicted.

WHY, people? WHY? It's ONE LESS LETTER.

In all seriousness, English is a great language. It's brilliantly expressive and often very amusing. Why butcher it purely because you're a lazy typist?
I'm all for the language evolving and adapting to social change - English as a language has had more foreign influences absorbed within it than any of the world's major languages, after all, and mostly to its benefit. But adapting something is different to diminishing it. 'Neways' does not in any way add anything, improve clarity or alter meaning in a valuable way. Nor does 'nite', u instead of you, b instead of be, or any of the other tedious little text message witticisms.

If you're going to adapt the English language, do so in a way that adds value, rather than in a way that takes it backwards. Otherwise, please, for all our sakes, LEARN TO BLOODY SPELL.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Under the circumstances,

I think this might be worth a repeat airing:

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."

D. Rumsfeld

The Music Man

Oh for god's sake. It may be because I'm feeling sick and grumpy, but reading this has made me INORDINATELY agitated.

Simon Cowell, who is something big in the manufactured music industry (and who looks like an overweight version of the bloke off the Mr Muscle ads, but I don't think the two things are related) recently made me laugh by commenting that he didn't understand how Pete Doherty - singer of the perfectly inoffensive band Babyshambles -has enjoyed any success, on the grounds that he couldn't sing.
"He'd never get anywhere on X Factor", pronounced Simon, sagely. (Or as sagely as one can when one has the vocal range of a castrated rodent).

Very true, Mr Cowell. Very well observed indeed.

Except, when you think through that logic, not being desperate enough to perform like a singing monkey on a rigged TV show doesn't really mean that a musician is "not very good", does it? I mean, let's think about all the people who "wouldn't get anywhere" on X Factor.

Dame David Bowie. Kurt Cobain. The Clash. Morrissey. Iggy Pop (although I would give everything I own to see him try). You see where I'm going with this, Simon, you intellectually-neutered adulterator of popular culture?

And now, it seems, he's at it again.

Apparently, Simon is helplessly incapable of imagining a musical world beyond reality television.
Amost tragically, X Factor - the tedious little bubble of manufactured sub-Eurovision pop poison Simon created in order to line his already-bulging pockets - is all that exists for the raisin-faced talent trampler. If it isn't up to the standards of Michelle McManus or Steve Brookstein (no, me neither), it simply don't exist.

Which is why we get this:

'Simon Cowell has branded the city of Seattle, Washington as "totally miserable." Cowell's talent-finding visit to the city was unsuccessful, with the British music mogul lamenting the lack of decent Seattle-based singers. He tells USA Today, "Seattle is going to be known for something other than coffee this year. They had the worst bunch of miserable singers that I've ever met in my life. It was two days of total misery. And the weather was bad, as well."'

Oh yes, that's right, Cowell. Seattle is WELL KNOWN for it's lack of musical talent, isn't it? Never had anything APPROACHING a music scene, has it? Unless, of course, you count Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney.... Yep. Narry a room-filler among them. None of them were ever any good, were they?

Oh no, wait, according to your logic, they weren't.

What the hell's wrong with a marquee?





Oh deary, deary me.

Tom Cruise is apparently marrying his rent-a-bride at the Castello Odescalchi on the Bracciano lake near Rome.
I know the place. It's lovely. I like it there.

Does this mean that the area (largely ignored, happily, by tourists at present) will be subsequently overrun with unimaginative people taking bridal package holidays as a result? I do hope not.

I love a good castle, me. The two above (Warkworth Castle in Northumberland and Berkeley Castle - site of Edward II's infamous demise) are my favourites. In case you should ever wonder.

It's about time...

"The Democratic Party has won control of the House of Representatives in the US mid-term elections.
The White House conceded the Democrats had picked up the 15 net seats needed to wrest power from the Republicans for the first time in 12 years. The party is also projected to have won four of six target Senate seats - but overall control is too close to call. Correspondents say Democratic gains reflect voter discontent over Iraq, government corruption and the economy."


But, to paraphrase His Mozzness, that guru of sharp social commentary, What difference will it make?

Chortle

"Can I do magic? Certainly not, but I'm very gullible."

Scarlett Johansson, who plays a magician's assistant in her latest film

This is amazing

...Doctors think they might be able - if they get there quick enough - to 'repair' the damage caused by heart attacks, using stem cell injections:

"Doctors are launching a trial to see if patients can be treated using injections of their own stem cells within five hours of a heart attack. Early evidence has suggested bone marrow stem cells can be used to repair the damage to the heart muscle which is inflicted during a heart attack."

Not only that, but:

" ...it could help prevent subsequent heart failure, which is more of a threat than the initial attack itself."

Oh, and:

"Heart attacks kill 108,000 people in the UK each year, and there are currently estimated to be 660,000 heart attack survivors. It is estimated that heart attacks cost the UK economy around £7bn a year."

Furthermore:

"Theoretically, it should be possible to use stem cells to generate healthy tissue to replace that either damaged by trauma, or compromised by disease.
Among the conditions which scientists believe may eventually be treated by stem cell therapy are Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes, burns and spinal cord damage.
Stem cells may also provide a useful way to test the effects of experimental drugs.
It is also hoped that studying stem cells will provide vital clues about how the tissues of the body develop, and how disease takes hold."


Yes, many stem cells are created using scheduled-for-destruction embryos (although excitingly, not those being used in the heart attack trials - suggesting that embryos may not need to be utilised in this research forever, surely?) and yes, there is 'some' evidence that stem cells - as others - may turn cancerous. However, given the enormity of the possible benefits of stem cell research, surely we owe it to ourselves and our society to allow the scientific community to conduct the research it believes may assist, prolong and save (existing fully-formed) lives?

Science is about exploration, as is medicine. Medical advancement is a messy, difficult and, yes, at times, morally ambiguous affair. But such progress is also vital. To allow the ethics of a minority to prevent the development of the cures and treatments of the future would be, in my opinion, a tragedy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"They can't take our freedom"

A recent survey has been conducted that showed that Scottish people want to become independent from Britain (yeah, cos THAT was necessary). They want their own economy, they want their own armed forces, their own healthcare and education system, they want to have absolutely nothing to do with England or the English because, as everyone on the planet knows, they HATE us.

I know bugger all about economics, and very little about politics (clearly), but I can't help wondering: why don't we give it to them?
I like Scotland and Scottish people a great deal - despite the fact that they despise me and all my fellow countrymen - but it is my understanding that we (particularly those of us who live in London) pay rather a lot of money towards subsidising Scotland. The figures on this are not easily found, but what even Scottish politicians rarely dispute is that the Scottish enjoy a number of better living standards than the English, such as a considerably higher standard of secondary education. Moreover, Scotland (which last I knew, insisted that a whopping 85 per cent of its University students were drawn from within its own boundaries) is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not charge students for higher education, while their counterparts in Devon, Belfast and Swansea are busy working on their lifetime of debt.

Well now, I'm kind of old-fashioned in that I believe there should be one rule for all in a 'United' country, so I'm not best impressed by the fact that one group of people should live by considerably different rules to other people - particularly when the latter group is actually helping to pay for that difference in rules.

So for what it's worth, as a taxpayer, I'm more than happy for Scotland to go it alone. If they think they can live without me, I'm more than happy to live without them.

If nothing else, Scottish independence will mean that when Scotspeople the world over whinge endlessly about how hard done by they are, for the first time in hundreds of years, they won't be able to blame it on the English.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6121698.stm

Trrrrrrrr ism

So a would-be terrorist is going to jail for a very long time for planning to do lots and lots of nasty things to British people.

Good to know, as a result, that this is possible:

"Mr Lawson has previously told the court Barot also plotted to detonate a bomb under the River Thames to flood the Tube network and potentially drown hundreds of commuters."

Thanks very much, Mr Edmond Lawson, lawyer for the prosecution and author of 'Tips for Terrorists, Part IV'.

Maybe I'm missing something, but...

....how the hell can you watch and/or control distribution of something that you deny exists?

"A US judge has dismissed a libel action brought by Britney Spears against a magazine that claimed she and her husband made a sexually explicit video. Spears and husband Kevin Federline denied that they had filmed the video and feared it would be made public. They had sought $10m (£5.3m) in damages over the article. It claimed that the couple watched the video with lawyers after a member of their entourage threatened to release the footage."

Answers on a postcard, please.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Splendid defence

A Tory councillor has just been suspended from her job for sending a racist email. She reckons her husband had forwarded the email using her email account. Hmmm. Quite why he didn't have his own account is unexplained. Moreover, why she then blames the Liberal Democrats who reported her for launching a "dirty tricks" campaign instead of pointing the finger at the hubby isn't clear either.
Still, at least the amusingly-named Ellenor Bland herself is blameless in a caring, sharing colourblind kind of way. After all, as she puts it, "I am not a racist. I have many, many friends from various countries."

In other words, some of her best friends are black. So that's alright then.

Joined up government

Hmmm. Something makes me wonder whether these two ought to have had a wee chat about this before they opened their mouths:

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he is "against the death penalty, whether it is Saddam Hussein or anybody else". (Yep, right, gotcha...)

But he told his monthly news conference it was an issue for Iraq, where there were "other and bigger issues" to face. Mr Blair said Saddam's trial had given a "clear reminder of the barbaric regime" he had overseen. (Nope, hang on, you're losing me...)

Earlier, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett played down claims that Iraq's former president could become a martyr for most people in the country. Only those "who had no quarrel with the regime all the way through" would think of the former president in this way, she told the BBC. (Erm...no, definitely not sure what you're getting at now...)

But the UK government did not approve of the death penalty, she added. (Eh? Can we start again at the beginning...?)

During repeated, and occasionally heated exchanges at his monthly news conference, Mr Blair said he would not elaborate on this position. (Ah. Righto. Shaking heads and bemused expressions all round, then. How thoroughly uncharacteristic.)

Guantanamo Bay be damned!

Russell Crowe displays an impressive sense of perspective: he lets us know where the true victims of American legal injustice can be found:

'Crowe, 42 says he regrets throwing a telephone at a hotel clerk last June. In an interview with CBS, the New Zealand-born Oscar winner claims the US legal system is "open to be misused. Where I come from, a confrontation as basic and simple as that would have been satisfied with a handshake and an apology," he said.'

I sympathise with poor Russ and his yearning for the lost art of antipodean gentlemanly civility. Really, hotel staff can be SO uncharitable when violently attacked. Perhaps he and Naomi Campbell ought to set up a support group.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hang em and Flog em

So, Saddam Hussein is to hang. No real surprises there, I wouldn't have thought.

What is perhaps more notable is that, rather than maintaining a dignified and sensible silence on the matter, members of the British government have seen fit to "welcome" the decision.

"I welcome that Saddam Hussein and the other defendants have faced justice and have been held to account for their crimes. Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein's regime. It is right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice."

So speaks Margaret Beckett, our Foreign Secretary. Thanks for that, Margaret.

Far be it for me to point out the obvious, but are we not supposed to be a nation that doesn't...well...believe in the death penalty? Given that we abolished it in this country quite some time ago, does it not seem a tad hypocritical, unnecessary and just plain tacky for us to condone its use by other nations? It is particularly galling given that Amnesty International (a British charity) has just launched a campaign to end the almost arbitrary death penalties being handed down each year in China - with the apparent support of the British government.
What does that say? To me, it sounds a hell of a lot like, "Ah yes, now the death penalty, that's a dreadful thing and no mistake. Oh, unless you're killing someone we don't like. Carry on, chaps".

More to the point, given that they're making smug noises about having brought about Iraqi sovereignty (by having invading the country - interesting tactics), would this not be the first time that Britain has actually spoken out in favour of the death penalty being handed down by another independent nation?

A worrying precedent indeed.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cops N Robbers

I’ve just seen all the newspaper headlines about the Met officer who shot a thief a couple of days ago – and who may or may not have been one of those who shot Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell last July. I can’t help thinking the coverage is deeply unfair, even by tabloid standards.
(Clearly at this stage there may be more to this story so I’m running the risk of being pre-emptive here, but I’m going to say it anyway.)

You’re part of a police armed response unit (the clue’s in the name, I’d have thought). You’re called to the scene of an armed robbery, where you catch a gang in the middle of said robbery. You tell them to put down their weapons and lie face down on the floor, but instead of doing that, one fella jumps up, waving a sawn off shotgun around, with which he then tries to shoot you.

What would you do? I tell you without hesitation that, if I were that copper, I’d do what I was trained for and shoot at him in an effort to protect the lives of other innocent people.

I’m hardly the world’s biggest fan of the police, but I do think that the bloke in question has a right to do his job – and that was what he was doing, end of story. This ‘De Menezes officer murders again’ stuff is completely unfair and completely distasteful, in my view.

What happened to Jean Charles de Menezes was obviously a hideous balls up and is probably one of the worst black spots on the Met’s record – I don’t think many people really deny that. But that is quite clearly a separate issue, bearing no relation to a police officer’s actions when being shot at with a sawn off shotgun.
Moreover, it’s vital that it is treated as such if we are still going to have armed police in operation on London’s streets. It would be nice if we didn’t need them (and plenty of people would argue that we shouldn’t have them, which makes this whole argument null and void – hey ho). Point is, if we’re going to employ armed coppers, we can’t have it both ways: we can’t ask for the security of armed protection on the streets, and then crucify said armed police when they are forced to make the horrible, difficult decisions we rely upon them to make (and in so doing, by the by, routinely putting themselves in the kind of danger we wouldn’t begin to entertain). If we want a worst-case scenario like the one on Tuesday never to occur, then we shouldn’t arm our police and train them to deal with desperate situations in that manner. Don’t give police officers the tools to deal with an armed situation in such a way, and then vilify them on the very rare and extreme circumstances on which they do just that.

The bloke’s a copper, he has a gun and he has been trained to use it. We can’t reasonably question his motivations every single time he takes a shot - particularly bearing in mind that this is the first time he’s been involved with a shooting since the Stockwell killing over a year ago - he’s not exactly been trigger happy, if you consider how many armed criminal situations he will have seen since then. If we do question this individual’s decision at every step then we’ll leave him with no option but to give up his job, and his colleagues with no option but to doubt themselves and the public’s confidence in them. Maybe that’s the tabloid intention, who knows – frankly if it fills space, most papers aren’t bothered about the wider implications of their reportage.
Nonetheless, regardless of your views on what went on in Stockwell, or your views on coppers generally, it ain’t right for anyone in ANY profession to be hounded out of a job via ‘trial by tabloid’.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Good Christ, it's enormous


Seriously though, I know having large almond-shaped eyes is a sexy look, but for f**k's sake, did someone sneeze midway through Photoshopping this?

Bears Defacate in tree-dense environments

And apparently, the Pope (as well as being a Nazi) is a Catholic…..

“The Higher Education Policy Institute survey of 15,000 first-year and second-year undergraduates questions the true value of a degree, showing that some students work far harder than others, depending on the subject.”

Truth Telling

“I found it no more traumatic than any other operation I have ever had, no more psychologically scarring, way less painful than anything involving my teeth and considerably less annoying than anything I have had done on the NHS…”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1932830,00.html


A truly splendid piece of journalism. Very nice, Ms Zoe Williams. Well done.

Bad Science

I read this morning that Reading University is planning to close its physics department, as it is “no longer feasible” to retain it. Eh? Are you quite sure? Last time I looked, physics was… well, you know, kind of important.
More important than a BA in Film and Theatre, or the BA in War & Peace (not the book) which Reading sees fit to continue to offer.
I know I joke about us producing a nation of media studies whores who, like me, reach their thirties knowing absolutely nothing of any value apart from how to write competently about things they don’t care about (coupled nicely with an overwhelming sense of underachievement and disillusionment) but REALLY. It’s depressing to think that semi-useful degrees are being sidelined in favour of the BA in Utter Bollocks, isn’t it? Or is it just me?
The problem is that the life that lots of graduates believe they should have (presumably, in the case of graduates of the above, life as the next Martin Scorcese or as a world-rescuing Superhero) doesn’t – for the vast majority of them – exist, and never really did. Going to University and studying film will not make you a film director, because it will not – pay attention – make you talented. What it will make you is heavily in debt with no meaningful qualification in a jobs market that is already overflowing with similarly underskilled “graduates” who – if they’ve got any intelligence at all – have started to realise that they should’ve done a proper degree (e.g. physics) and got a proper job (e.g. research, lecturing, bomb-making, take your pick). Either that or they’ve been even cannier and gone to technical college and learnt how to be a plumber.
Frankly, if you’re going to end up working in sales anyway, why don’t you just cut to the sodding chase and get paid for working in sales for an extra three years instead of wasting your time at University? Who knows, you might stand some chance of getting a mortgage before you’re 40 that way.
Instead of churning out pointless unskilled individuals with £20,000 of debt and little chance of achieving a worthwhile career, we should have a University system in which a SMALLER percentage of people get degrees. (I know, how thoroughly radical.) Before you think I’m being elitist, I’m not proposing that only RICH people should go to University. Far from it. I’m proposing that LESS people should go to University (with the government insanely but enthusiastically encouraging 50% of kids to go into higher education, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why it has started to cost so bloody much, does it?). WHY should 50% of school leavers go to Uni? What the hell is the point in THAT? (More to the point, since when were 50% of school leavers smart enough to hold a degree? Oh yes - when they made A Levels easier than breaking wind). I know if I had my time again I absolutely wouldn’t bother with University - and I speak as one of those rare beasts whose degree actually had some relevance to my subsequent career, albeit tenuously.
Here's an idea. People who want to work in jobs that don’t require a degree (for that read “most of them, including mine”) shouldn’t do a degree, and those whose chosen path does require a qualification (doctors, scientists, civil engineers, lawyers, etc) should get one. That way, instead of penalising graduates with crippling debt for the sin of wanting to be a GP, we can makes Scots of all of us and give them their education for free. It isn’t rocket science (not that we’d be able to tell, of course, what with physics no longer being “feasible”).

Alternatively, of course, we can stick to a system that lets the offspring of the upper middle classes piss about for three years doing 2.3 hours worth of “work” a week (while nurturing impressive alcohol and drug habits and being condescending to everyone in the service industry) and which will soon price absolutely everyone else out of higher education. Yeah, let’s do that.