Friday, June 24, 2005

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Have you ever had the feeling that you've been cheated?

I was on the escalator in Leicester Square tube the other day and briefly caught sight of a book-ad for a tome called 'Have you ever had the feeling that you've been cheated?' or something like that (A Johnny Rotten quote).

Apparently it's about rebel chic and how it gets hi-jacked. It looks perfect - but I can't find it anywhere.

And t'internet is silent on it as well.

Was I dreaming?

Too much pressure

Not only do we let journalists off too lightly, I think it's time a spotlight was turned on pressure groups.

These people live charmed lives. Not only do they have jobs that rescue them from the alienation associated with work in the commercial sector (or the rank-and-file civil service), they also are under no obligation to stand by anything they say.

They are under no obligation to provide a realistic solution to any problem. They are a bit like John Pilger in this respect.

They just have to create a climate in which it is difficult to oppose them. Andrew Puddephat, Liberty's former general secretary, said:

"Sometimes the human rights movement is like my daughter when she was three years old. I tried to offer her tea and she just kept saying no to every option without ever telling me what it was she did want."

(from Rob Newman)

And often, they have a transparent self-interest that explains their views. In some cases, they want regulators to be nicer to them or governments to cave in on personal injury suits. Sometimes, businesses make up crap like this to discourage us from demanding that they do their job properly.

Where politicians are forever haunted by their opinions, pressure groups can invent almost anything they like in the sure knowledge that the Fourth Estate will print it uncritically.

Does anyone run a blog similar to Mailwatch that monitors these charlatans?

Lobbyists had to establish a kind of professional body a few years ago to counter the worst excesses of the industry (there used to be this company called 'Ian Greer Associates'....). If pressure groups decide to set one of these up, can I be allowed to run it? Please?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Loneliness is a warm keyboard

Q: Does having a weblog make being a revisionist less lonely?

Good post on SIAW on what being 'left wing' means. Since I started blogging, I've noticed that lots of my interlocutors - and the political bloggers I like the most (Norm, Gauche, Harry and SIAW) aren't your common-or-garden lefties.

I'm feeling a bit typecast by the term lefty these days anyway. I've met a few old aquaintances lately. From what they've said to me, I should be...

  • Active in the Stop the War coalition ("I first met you on that big CND march didn't I?")
  • Anti-EU ("I thought you said that it's a capitalist club?")
  • Generally supportive of Irish nationalism ("I remember you taught me the words to 'The Men Behind the Wire' ")
  • Voting Lib-Dem - 'without illusions' ("I figured you'd have left Labour because of Iraq and Kosovo")
  • A crusader (!) against Islamophobia
  • Distainful of mainstream politics ("you always said 'it doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always get in...")
  • Not have a mortgage (q: "didn't you used to have a CRASS album?" a: NEVER)
... and so on.

Perhaps I can keep my radical credentials after this sunny weekend by suggesting tentatively that the Global Warming may actually be happening?

Does anyone keep an index of Global Warming Denial such as this?

Personnel Tick-Box: Taig or Hun?

Good post from Squandertwo (via Harry) who says that all companies with Northern Irish offices are obliged to keep a database of their employees' "perceived religion". Being Norn Irn, there are only two possible options.


"This enforced group identity is increasing resentment — just as Sinn Fein
want it to — but don't expect Whitehall to notice."

"My Muslim colleague reckons she must be a Protestant because she lives in

As Newton Emerson says, "Make History History".

Postscipt - also from Portdown News: the prod / Hun tag is causing confusion.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Google Will Eat Itself (GWEI)

Google Will Eat Itself (via Ivan)

The idea: Use Google click-through revenues to buy Google
Google's response: Stop serving ads to them

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Concious clothing

Have a look at Howie's. They project themselves (probably fairly) as a clothing company with a concience. There are some good anti-American t-shirt designs in there if that's what rings your bell. (But don't tell Norm).

They have a 'rocking chair' test that they apply to their work. When they are older and looking back on their lives (in their rocking chair), how will they judge what they are doing now.

So why is it so tempting to be churlish about 'ethical' trading? For one thing, working for a charity or a company that has a social mission is one of the hedges that some of us have come up with against alienation. I often wonder if this is as much about helping ourselves as it is about helping other people? (note to editor: I work for a 'social enterprise' as well).

It's fairly hard to swallow terms like 'Ethical' and 'public service ethos' when people apply them to themselves though. I think that you have to demonstrate it with reference to the ongoing debate about which structures (market v state, co-op v charity etc) are the most appropriate servants of the public interest.

Update: There is, it seems, a blog devoted to business ethics. It links to a site called 'Hippy Shopper' where you can find out about wind-up TV remote controls.

Housewives and petrolheads

Just because the Tory party is in a mess, it doesn't mean that conservatism is incoherent - or ineffective.

David Willetts MP has been recalling the British Housewives League of the 1940s in a recent SMF speech.

"Labour might believe in organising the economy in corporatist deals with the producers - we are the Party of the consumer. Often, especially in the early days, the consumer was identified as the 'housewife.' She was the person standing in the queue on the receiving end of rationing. Everyone is familiar with the notorious remark that 'the gentleman in Whitehall knows best' but fewer know the full quotation which was: 'Housewives as a whole cannot be trusted to buy the right thing the gentleman in Whitehall really does know what is best for the people than the people themselves.

No wonder the post-War Party allied with that formidable political force, the Housewives' League, and those arguments were absorbed by the Party's youngest candidate in the 1950 General Election - Margaret Thatcher."

Note: The Tories didn't oppose rationing - they couldn't (because there wasn't anything like the CAP in place to protect us from shortages). But they weren't above letting Labour take the blame for it.

We'll be able to judge Michael Howard's piety on global warming by the amount of distance that his party puts between itself and the petrolhead tendency. Come to think of it, weren't the Fuel Protests of 2000 led by Conservative Councillors? Can we now expect the Tories to urge Labour to increase fuel tax in the next budget?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Still out there, you know .... (Norn Irn that is...)

The 'pike up in the thatch' may sound like a nice slip-jig, but the PIRA better not believe that people will fall for it's rustic charms if it's used in any new statement (via Slugger).

In the interests of balance, from UTV's comments box, "b-b-but ... their only crime is loyalty." (again Hanx to Slugger)

Auntie's Soul

Most weeks, the BBC does something that is worth the annual licence fee on it's own. The Soul Deep series that has just finished is no exception.

Only one criticism really. The programme-makers clearly thought they had to have a thesis. I suspect most viewers were happy to be intoxicated by the footage and sounds. It did seem to skip over things that didn't fit in with the story they were telling.

For example, the slick aspirational Soul of the late '70s and early '80s may have been a low-point for the genre, but it still had some terrific moments (though they admitted a grudging admiration for Anita Baker).

And I don't think Prince was mentioned. Even a one-hour documentary on the history of all popular music would be missing a trick if they ignored the little purple chap.

So how could a six-parter on Soul not find at least five minutes for him?

Damon v Bob

It seems that no good deed goes unpunished.

I'm largely on Bob's side on this one, though I doubt if we can forgive him for these bastards reforming.

Meanwhile, we all need a laugh. Oliver Kamm on George Galloway's campaign to save the local fire-station will do:
"I cannot recall ever having heard before the argument "the Iraq War was launched by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority in order to
redeploy a fire appliance to Enfield."

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Mix tape as muse

The Mix Tape book got me digging around for mix tapes at home. I’ve had dozens given to me – and even though they were the most-listened-to sources of music in my flat all those years ago, I clearly placed no value in them. Most of the ones given to me were obviously lent / lost / nicked / given away. Conversely, I have a house full of pre-recorded cassettes that I bought but never listen to now.

In the absence of tapes that were given to me, the most interesting one I found in the end was one that I did. I compiled it for a load of people that I worked with in the late 1980s.

I was leaving the job and it was a going away present (I know you're supposed to get presents when you leave a workplace, but ....). The workplace was a fairly structured, well-managed publishing business. I'd gone there intending to learn the trade and then move on to something I'd be more interested in. I wanted to work for something relatively non-commercial (trans: a bit more right-on) but I knew that some solid commercial skills would help.

It was a career-plan that started to feel contemptuous of the people in the conventional business that I was using as a stepladder. Perhaps I was a bit guilty about that.

The company was at an odd cross-roads. They'd always recruited school-leavers and they had fairly settled group of staff who'd been there for years. All of a sudden, they'd started recruiting graduates - some were vaguely arty types. Within two years, the carnage that went though the publishing industry in the early '90s had shed many of them.

So in a structured suburban company, there were suddenly loads of twenty-somethings all keen to show that they had distinguishing features. (Subtext: "You don't have to be mad to work here - but it helps!!") I chose outspoken lefty-ness and a professed interest in odd music. I took care to build my cover here - I rapidly rose to the top of the Union branch (it was seen as career suicide, but I wasn't planning to stay – I think I was the only volunteer).

And I had been in a band that featured a Uileann Piper. Beat that!

The tape was part of that. I wanted them to like me and remember me as being a bit unconventional. I think I blew it, though, by waving a lefty middle finger on the tape's cover. I printed off a copy of a Paul Hogarth sketch (from 'Brendan Behan's New York') of the Statue of Liberty and called it ....'Liberty.'

Side A
Instrumental intro from 'The Singing Detective' (Peg O' My Heart?)
Instrumental / Singapore - Tom Waits (the instrumental may be from Swordfishtrombones?)
Turkish Song of the Damned - The Pogues
The Two O'Clock Waltz - The Stars of Heaven
Black Widow - Michelle Shocked (from a Cooking Vinyl sampler)
Silas Stingy - The Who
Big Nothing - The MacManus Gang (from the Straight to Hell soundtrack)
Cardiac Arrest - Madness
Baby Please Don't Go - Them (from the Wild At Heart soundtrack LP)
Any Kings Shilling - Elvis Costello
Wendell Gee - REM
Tattoo - The Who
Dem Bones - The Ink Spots

Side B
In Dreams - Roy Orbison
The Boy Named Sue - Mary Mary (from 'Til Things Get Brighter’ a Johnny Cash tribute LP)
The Oxford Girl - Oyster Band
Goo Goo Muck - The Crammps
It Won't Hurt (when I fall down from this barstool) - Dwight Yoakham
Knowledge of Beauty - Dexy's Midnight Runners
And the Dog Was Sleeping in the Corner - John James
My Lord My Lord - Muzsikas
Across the Universe - Laibach
Sunday Morning - Velvet Underground
Summer in Siam - The Pogues
Midtown / 9th and Hennepin - Tom Waits

There are lots of wheezy accordions and suchlike here. The Stars of Heaven song drips with sleepy lust. Black Widow's Hammered Dulcimer is fascinating. It's one of those songs that has you skipping the needle back all the time to listen again. The John James track is a bit of demented attack from acoustic guitars. Tattoo and Silas Stingy are early English psychedelia that is often overlooked.

The Laibach track is a bit scary. The whole tape is quite moody and a bit dark at times.

I put the Costello track on for Davy Spillane's Uileann Pipes but I've gone off the song now. I wish I'd put something from Davy's 'Atlantic Bridge' on instead - but when compiling the tapes, I think I was trying to tell the people who were to listen to it that pipes, accordions, dulcimers and things like that weren't just a bit of quirky anthropology. A bona fide popstar like Costello would show that.

To the same end, I included the Muzsikas track - a stunning Transylvanian song that I first heard while lying in bed during a long night suffering from concussion. It was on a night-time World Service's folky programme (Andy Kershaw I think) and I thought I was dreaming it when I first heard it. I woke up with the name of the song written on an envelope and it took me weeks to find in the shops.

Some of the tape was the mainstream stuff that I listened to at the time. I spent a lot of the '80s replaying Madness LPs - I've got the lot and they got better as time went on. REM went bad about the time of this tape (maybe a year or so before it?) but Wendell Gee is in keeping with the more melacholy songs here.

I spent most of the time that wasn't dedicated to The Pogues and Dexy's listening to country music and it's associates. I was also single at the time and went to the flicks a lot - David Lynch films have a few cameos here and the MacManus (Costello) Gang piece has a Spaghetti Western feel. I was an acquaintance of Elvis's dad (Ross) as well at the time and I met him a few days after he recorded the trumpet part on this track. Looking back, I'm surprised at the lack of any Manchester stuff - Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, or guitar bands like Ride who I liked at the time.

But I really had to play the tape twice because I couldn't believe that there was NO BLACK MUSIC on it. None of the On-U Dub that I was listening to at the time. Not even any Prince or De La Soul. In the early 1980s or anytime after 1990, at least half of any compilation I'd do would be black. Strange. On reflection, the workplace concerned fairly 'white'....

I used the think about music all of the time. Listening to this tape has brought back loads of things I've forgotten. It's better (and cheaper) than therapy. I'll look out some more old tapes soonish. Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Enemy

"The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off."
Evelyn Waugh - Men at Arms

Tim Garton-Ash wonders if the EU Crisis (his cap C, not mine) is a symptom of a fatal decadence. Personally, I think that Europe's success was built on the 'elites' that it's detractors love to castigate: By 'elites', they often mean 'those elected in a representative democracy'.

The alternative - the virtuous opponents are those who see the opportunity afforded by a referendum. The pressure groups with lots of rights and few responsibilities.

Thankfully, this is all becoming clear now. A new Tory ginger-group called Direct Democracy has been launched. It has been so-named for one of two reasons:

  1. Because 'the stupid party' just like the sound of it - they don't really know what DD is and would think of a different name if they did?
  2. Because the new right are coalescing around the view that parochialism - and a lack of coherence - can provide neo-liberals with the breathing space they need. It also hands huge power to press barons (as Will Hutton argues here) who oppose representative democracy precisely because of the way it weakens any progressive consensus.

As long as EU development is subject to local referendums, it will never be coherent. I'd translate 'decadence' as 'a decline of representative democracy.' The case for representative democracy is inseperable from the case for a functioning democratic Europe.

The EU's shortcomings to date - the 'democratic deficit' - have been it's failures to live up to the ideals of representative democracy. Most people that I speak to seem to accept this point - yet I never see it made anywhere. Am I just not reading the right newspapers?

For the avoidance of doubt, advocates of direct democracy should be treated as objective enemies of progress. (I've been dying to use that phrase in public for over fifteen years now). Unless this argument is widely taken up, we can expect a version of Pim Fortuyn in the UK any time soon (to the delight of Simon Jenkins and his proprietor?)

By the way, TGA unearths a fantastic quote in his peice:

[Europe had] what Machiavelli called virtù - "the capacity for collective action and historical vitality".

Referendums remove that capacity at a stroke.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Thought that I would forget you?

Had a moment of peace before I left the house this morning. So I could put a record on and drift for a minute. The back room (with my record player) has been full of clutter for ages and I've not been able to get at my records - but all of that has changed following a tidy-up.

Most of the stuff I've bought for the past ten years has been on CD. Before about 1990, everything was vinyl. And in the late '80s and early '90s, I didn't have a working deck and lived in transit a bit. So I bought a lot of cassettes.

Now I've got my records back, I'm doing a lot of pre-1990 nostalgia.

Today's choice was The Gift by The Jam. It's a mixed bag, but I was always surprised that other Jam fans didn't light upon Happy Together - a great song that sums the band up in a lot of ways.

Many years ago, I was picking at a guitar and started busking Happy Together. A few people who overheard were very nice about it (this is not normal). The thing that they liked was the soaraway vocal variation on the lines...

"Thought that I was the devil?
But I'm an angel waiting for my wings"

It also uses male backing vocals in a way that only new wave bands did - countermelodies yelled in the background. This was a good thing and someone should revive it.

The other un-celebrated standout on this album (for me) is Ghosts. In some ways, it's got 'album filler' written all over it. But - in the same way as Happy Together has - it's got a bit of soaring vocal variation...

"How do you feel at the end of the day
Just like you walked over your own grave"
Reading the lyric sheet on the inner-sleeve, it reminds me of how the snootier competitive kids in my school used to say that PW was 'a pseudo-intellectual'.

Wankers. Posted by Hello

Bookish Game

Saw this bookish game (via Hackney Lookout). In my case, the object of the exercise is to replace all of the female authors (or male authors that women tend to read) with blokes. And not poncey highbrow blokes either. Or anyone called Crispin.

Then - before you hit the 'publish post' button, you think about covering your tracks by changing some of your changes to the names of female authors that you've heard your missus talking about. Here goes:

Who's On Your Bookshelf Meme

Copy the list of 15 authors below. Remove the authors that are not on your bookshelves and replace each of them with an author that can be found within your stacks. Bold any REPLACED author. Pass it on and enjoy :-)

1. Iain Pears
2. John Irving JAMES ELLROY
4. Barbara Hodgson BRENDAN BEHAN
5. Elizabeth George JOSEPH O'CONNOR
6. Nick Bantock JULIE BURCHILL
9. Margaret Atwood
10. Leif Enger GRIEL MARCUS
11. Agatha Christie BRIAN MOORE
12. Graham GreenE
13. Ann Patchett COLIN WARD (the anarchist - not the Chelsea fan)
14. Azar Nafisi BRIAN CLOUGH
15. Donna Leon JOHN FORDHAM

I was going to put Annie Proulx instead of Cloughie, but as I haven't actually read it (Shipping News) yet, it would be a bit previous (though it would make the list a bit more respectable...).

Getting Europe working

I think the EU is a great idea. But lots of people don't agree.

This would change if the EU was a bit more choosy about who it had as members. If they started expelling people, then the public perception of it's value (or otherwise) would improve.

I think that they should start with Italy. For all sorts of reasons. I expect you can guess most of them though.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Friday, June 03, 2005

It's dirty - but you like it...

Poster spotted in New Southgate earlier today. Maybe I'm imagining it, but it looks like Aero have got the fabulous Julie Burchill to model for their advertising. I've just placed a bulk order.

Am I the only straight man who is totally infatuated by Julie? Posted by Hello

You better start swimming, or you'll sink like a stone...

Muriel Gray and Joan Bakewell conspired to ruin a perfectly good breakfast this morning. I'll wait till I leave the house to buy my Guardian in future.

The French referendum result is not a re-run of 1968. It just isn't.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Pots and Kettles

This was used as the cover-illustration in yesterday's Guardian G2 section to illustrate a story about ex-MPs. John Cryer (ex Hornchurch Labour MP) is one of those featured in the article.

I've met John a few times. His politics are quite different to mine (he falls into the 'bit of a tanky' category in my books). But I know that he found any of the junkettering aspects of being an MP embarrasing and I doubt if he ever claimed a penny of expenses that didn't relate genuine out-of-pocket costs. He is one of the most direct people I've ever met. He doesn't have an evasive bone in his body as far as I can tell and I've never heard anyone question his sincerity or independence.

But then - when you think about it - a love of expense accounts and junkets, insincerity, backstabbing, slavery to intellectual fashions and a willingness to prostitute your opinions... sounds like the job description of a journalist to me.
Posted by Hello