Thursday, August 31, 2006

Can I have some More4?

Channel 4 may have been stung a little by Charles Allen's criticism last week, but if this is them hitting back, then let's hope for more criticism. More4 are to show a couple of adventurous, original shows this autumn: The Trial Of Tony Blair stands out among other things and they've already annoyed the USA with Death Of A President, which is about the assassination ofr George W Bush. If it annoys America, it has to have something going for it.
More(4) of this please.

When a child is not a child?

When the child is a celebrity child of course. I had actually forgotten plans to introduce a database of all children in the country. That was abhorrent enough, but now it becomes a two-tier thing it is even moreso. Keep the plebs where they are, keep them under tabs and make sure they know it.
And what defines celebrity these days anyway? If you make it so that you qualify if you appear in Heat magazine, then that covers about 40% of the population.
Stupid idea to implement a stupid idea.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Learn your lessons

Back in the days of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the US backed the local resistance - the Taleban - to oust them. This they did and, with US arms, set about establishing a fundamentalist (with the highlight on the 'mental') Islamist state. The US then went in to restore democracy fighting the Taleban with the same weapons as the Taleban were using against them. It's not exactly been a glowing success.
With the Iran-Contra affair at it's height, the US backed a local opponent against Iran. A chap you may remember - Saddam Hussein. Twice the US have gone in against Hussein's Iraq and again without glowing results.
Now, claims are made that the Venezuelan opposition is being funded by the US are being raised in order to oust incumbent President Hugo Chavéz. This risks irking most of South America and, more worryingly, China.

Plato it was that said "those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it".

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Oh dear, oh dear, Odeon

I resent the day UCI Cinemas sold out to Odeon. This means that the only cinema in town is run by them. It's a relatively new facility in the stadium complex with 10 screens. This should allow a fair amount of flexibility in scheduling. However, there is a startling lack of imagination. UCI would at least put something on a bit out of the ordinary, be it foreign, arthouse, just different. That's gone. Generally, you get a choice of four or five films across the ten screens, all of which fall into a very small band of what gets churned out of Hollywood. A couple of weeks ago, there were four animated films on at once. So for Almodovar's latest offering, Volver, I either wait for it to come out on DVD or go to the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. Oh for somewhere like that nearer home.

That's not my only whinge about Odeon. In York, they have a wonderful cinema. Art deco styled inside and out, it's classic '30s architecture and as such is a listed building. This includes the original 1930s signage on the outside. Odeon had plans to refurbish the place - it needed it - but on being told that the signs had to stay as they are, they shut it down rather than have something not corporately branded on one of their buildings. Tossers.

Why don't you..?

My exasperation with TV continues. I did have a giggle at outgoing ITV chief Charles Allen complaining about standards at Channel 4 the other day - this coming from someone who has overseen ITV becoming what one of their senior executives describes as "unwatchable". He did have a point hidden somewhere beneath the hypocrisy. As for the BBC, then the execrable 'The ONE Show' really does take the biscuit, as does BBC Three's new 'comedy' show Little Miss Jocelyn - one of the ones out of unfunny show 3 Non Blondes with her own show.

And so I find myself turning to radio and the more I listen to, the more I wonder why I stopped. I've just finished reading John Peel's autobiography. This has stirred some latent love for the medium of radio in me. Happy were the days spent taping his late night shows and comparing notes at school the following day. Were it not for him, I wouldn't have half the bands in my record collection that I do - prime among these being two of my all-time favourites; Julian Cope and Half Man Half Biscuit (who I'm off to see in three weeks time!).
Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of crap out there on the airwaves - Radio 1 in general is a massive pile of shite. Heck, anything that Chris Moyles can legitimately be called the saviour of has to be in trouble. Them pushing Mark and Lard out was the last straw for me. Here, though, are some gems:

  • Andy Kershaw on Radio 3.
  • Most of BBC 6 Music; particularly Phill Jupitus, Marc Riley, Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie, Brinsley Forde and, despite me desperately wanting to get riled and annoyed by him, Russell Brand.
  • Martin Kelner on Radio Leeds.
  • Mark Radcliffe on Radio 2.
  • Despite Colin Murray hosting it, Fighting Talk on Radio 5 is always entertaining.

And that's just the music stuff on the BBC. BBC 7 and Radio 2 have loads of good comedy and plays. The Today programme on Radio 4 is a daily listen for me news-wise. And I'm very much enjoying Radio York's coverage of City's magnificent start to the season :)
I think reading Peel's book made me realised that, in music terms, I'm just listening to the same stuff over and again. There is plenty of stuff out there that's fresh, new and different. The Crooked Jades, for instance. Bluegrass in a modern style. Flipping great and I would never have known without listening to Kershaw.

I now know what the 'Why Don't You..?' crew were saying when they told you to switch off your TV sets. Switch on your radios.

Friday, August 25, 2006

My kingdom for a pen

On the way home the other day with a good friend and colleague, we'd been herded unceremoniously into the first class section of the laughably undersized train First Transpennine Express deigned to provide for our journey. On one of the tables was a piece of paper with the company logo on it which reads "First: transforming travel". Independently of one another, my colleague and I wished to add to this something along the lines of "into an utterly fucking miserable experience for anyone with the misfortune to use what they laughably describe as a service". Because that's the kind of subversive, smash-the-system types we are.
But we didn't have a pen, so the revolution is on hold until next time.

Rucksack festival

I travel through Leeds station every working day and, as you would assume for a large and vibrant city such as this, it's fecking busy.
After the London bombings last July, there was an increased police presence in the station and it's not unusual to see police searching someone - 100% of the time someone of Asian appearance and not usually for obvious reasons (bulky packages, unseasonable clothing, that sort of thing). The last two days have seen an increased throughput of people heading to the Leeds festival - a few days of music in a field somewhere in the environs of the city. It would appear that the vast majority of people going to this event are teenage girls who are taking all their possessions in any number of fecking massive rucksacks who like getting in the way of commuters at rush hour. And none of them are being stopped by the police.
So if you want to take bombs onto a train, don a pair of poncy-arsed wellies, get yourself a daft haircut and a striped top and you can take what you like anywhere you want. Above all - and this is the most important terrorism tip - be white.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The BBC's policy of adventurous scheduling

Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, they had one of those station promos after the sport bulletin at around half seven. Banging on about the frankly tedious and unbelievably over-rated Little Britain - which began on Radio 4, in case you weren't aware - being an example of how adventurous and controversial and near-the-knuckle the schedulers can be. I don't think Little Britain is any of that. More like half hour rehashes of the same jokes over and over and over and over and over and over etc etc etc.
That's not my beef. Yesterday, the BBC pulled a new comedy show - The Franz Kafka Big Band - because it was too controversial. They're obviously daring and bold enough to commission endless shows of people saying "I'm a lady" or "Yeah I know", but not something that might actually have something to say.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Nostalgia: not what it used to be

I am a very recent convert to digital TV. With dozen upon dozens of channels, all that airspace takes a hell of a lot of filling so this in inevitably going to largely consist of repeats. I've not got a major problem with this in theory - old Avengers episodes on BBC4 are most welcome - but a lot of the shows I remember from my youth as being must-watch turn out, 20 years on, to be simply rubbish. At this moment in time, I'm thinking of two major offenders in this regard: Monkey and The Crystal Maze.

Monkey felt exotic. The way the mouths moved in different time and shape to the voice was to be recreated in the schoolyard the next day, as was summoning clouds by blowing across waved fingers. But the memory hasn't let me recall much detail beyond the fact that he was, as the theme song went, "born from an egg on a mountain top". We had the theme tune on a 7" single.... So it was that I chanced upon't one evening not so long ago and..... it's rubbish. All of it. It's just bollocks, and badly put together bollocks at that. A childhood memory ruined. Thanks ITV3.

The Crystal Maze is something I remember more vividly as I was older when that was about initially. I'm sure you all know the premise - team of 6 play games to win time that enables them to collect credits, hopefully getting enough for some "numero uno" prizes, normally involving an outdoorsy activity somewhere in the Wye valley. Again, it turns out to be annoyingly awful. You end up screaming at the TV at the random team of bad-haired morons do battle with one of those slidey square puzzles that 3-year olds routinely succeed with in half the time. Contestants routinely waste half the time without achieving anything, which again causes involuntary outburts screenwards. And the team captain will get a 6 stone, 5 foot teeny tiny lass to do the most physical of games. Why..?? The best episodes are when the team of morons are especially stupid and end up with 4 people locked in and only 5 seconds in the dome, get about 7 gold and 84 silver. The only thing then is that they go home with a crystal inscribed with the legend "I cracked the Crystal Maze" when it really ought to read "I was bamboozled by a simple adding up game/jigsaw/logic puzzle/remote control boat* whilst attempting to crack the Crystal Maze".

* - delete as applicable

Coming over here, taking our jobs

According to reports, 447,000 people from the 8 states most recently welcomed to the EU came to Britain to live and work over the past two years. That sounds a lot, particularly on a small island such as this, but that number is only people coming in, not taking into account people leaving.
Usual anti-immigration arguments tend to centre on two things:
  • They're coming over here and taking our jobs
  • They're coming over here and sponging off the state
Surely those two are incompatible and neither bear up to any sort of inspection. The jobs that are being taken are ones that aren't filled by the people already here. That these people are in jobs hints towards the fact they're not taking benefits. I heard on the radio that of this 447,000 people, there were 21,000 applications for child benefit, for example. Unemployment has remained at the same level for bloody ages and this latest influx has done nothing to change that. But this doesn't explain why the next states to accede to the EU - Romania and Bulgaria - seem likely to be barred from the open access policy previously given to all other member states. I can't work out why some member states are allowed some privileges that others aren't. The last I heard, we didn't have a two-tier EU and this attempt to engineer one is simply discriminatory.

John Reid recently said that it's a shame that you can't have a debate on immigration without sounding racist. The trouble is that most anti-immigration arguments simply are racist arguments. There was a UKIP (BNP-lite, remember) chap on the radio trying to explain that, although there was so little benefit being claimed by the last influx of Eastern European immigrants, that would change as a lot are coming up to a year in the UK and would then give up work and start claiming benefit. If that ain't a racist statement, I don't know what is. I wait in hope, but not huge anticipation, for an anti-immigration argument that doesn't sink to rank racism.

Fat Britain

Obesity is a growing problem. I don't think there's much argument about that, and so the government have attempted to launch a new initiative. Noble, I'm sure you'll agree, until you get down to the basic bullet points which are:
  • Eat regular, balanced meals
  • Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Avoid foods that are very high in sugar and/or fat
  • Eat less that 6g of salt/day
  • If you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation
  • For adults: 30 minutes moderate activity five times a week
  • For children: an hour a day of moderate activity
Straight out of page 1 of the "no shit Sherlock guide to politics".
If you want to lose weight, I'd suggest seeing a health specialist rather than seeking the thoughts of the cabinet and their advisers.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Food and drink

The Huddersfield food and drink festival took place over the weekend. I rather overdid the latter to the detriment of the former and as such am feeling a tad delicate today. So if you could keep the noise down in here for the next 24 hours, that'd be cool. Cheers.

I know I ended up debating American foreign policy with a one-legged GI over several buckets of cold Argentinian lager. The rest is a bit of a fug.

Friday, August 18, 2006

"Bush is crap"

So says John Prescott, apparently. And he has a point, I think it's fair to say.

I don't often agree with the mutterings and utterings from Prescott, and I reserve the right to lampoon him as I see fit. However, what I really don't like is people having a go at him simply because he's fat and northern. Those two facts are irrelevant. He could be a smarmy southern git, but he'd still be a contemptible arse that fancies himself as a ranch-hand. I will not be having a go at him for fatness. I will be for his fat-headedness.

The BNP are idiot scummers

I've no real motivating reason for posting this: they just are.

Actually now I think on, I can remember relevant news snippets. 11 of the dickheads were voted onto Barking and Dagenham council by the enlightened populous on the back of the lies and lies and lies and lies and lies printed in their election bumph. The leader of this troupe of fascist twats proposed a motion in chambers and none of the other 10 voted for it, so dumb and not au fait with procedure are they.
Then it turns out that aforementioned leader, Richard Barnbrook, is an interesting chappie. He faces being chucked off the council for giving his address as a derelict house and he also has a history in specialist cinema.

Oh, and UKIP are pretty much as bad. BNP-lite, if you like.

Hysteria continues

Further airport/airline incidents continue to cause knees to jerk all over the media. First, a senior citizen has a panic attack on a plane bound for New York and it's then diverted to Boston. This is standard procedure when there's an incident like this, but the press don't normally start making things up like there being matches, a screwdriver and a note from Al Qaeda involved. The woman had some loose matches, but the rest is totally made up.
Next, a woman is found not to have explosives at a small regional airport. She was of Asian origin though.....
Meanwhile, a holidaymaker is barred from entering the US. Damn right too: after all, he does look a bit swarthy.
Finally, a suitcase is found in Buckinghamshire which contained "everything you would need to make an improvised device". Considering 99% of households - a conservative guess on my part - contain plenty of ingredients for making a rudimentary explosive device, I'm not going to be requiring a change of underwear on hearing this news.

And while all this is going on, the 24 people arrested for not having bombs, bomb-making equipment, plane tickets or, in some cases, passports, are quietly being released without having been charged with anything.
The whole thing's a farce. Still, as long as the general populous are shitting themselves too much to ask any real questions that's the main thing eh? Eh? Oh.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

"These go up to eleven"

America raises it's security level to "severe" - Britain raises theirs to "critical". America raises the level at airports to "orange" - Britain raises theirs to "red".

Anyone else get a mental image of that scene in Spinal Tap with Nigel Tufnel explaining how his amps are louder because the dial goes to 11?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hero #1

No, this isn't about the pisspoor BBC sitcom, rather my new hero of all-time.
I finally got round to reading the excellent Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt with Stephen J Dubner. In it, the tale of Stetson Kennedy is recounted. This is a man from the deep south of America who (to cut a long story short) took it upon himself to infiltrate the KKK in order to bring it down. The most effective way he found of doing this was to supply the Klan's magnificently childish codewords (tavern = Klavern, conversation = Klonversation) to the writers of the Superman radio shows - Superman being devoid of a true enemy once Hirohito, Hitler and Mussolini, who he'd been fighting in the war years, were defeated. That's just a genius idea and one of the many reasons why Stetson Kennedy is elevated to hero status.


Apparently a plot to blow up a number of planes between the UK and the US has been foiled. The nation seems to be gripped in a state of panic and fear. A cynic may say that's exactly how the government want you to feel. That way, you're more inclined to give nodding acceptance to draconian measures that restrict one's basic liberties in the name of counter-terrorism.
I believe it's the duty of the citizen to maintain a level of cynicism about anything coming from official sources - police, government, whoever - and always question the motives for anyone saying anything.
All this will come out in the wash eventually. Actually, if I'm right and the whole exercise is along David Icke's lines about it being an effort to see how people react, it probably won't as restrictions on the freedom of information will no doubt be increased.

I won't be changing my habits in light of this news. I won't be panicking. I won't be changing my cynical stance on anything and everything. And I urge you to do the same.

UPDATE: I hear on the radio this morning reports that the operations yesterday were led by intelligence gathered in pakistan. Given that the Pakistani security forces are known for their use of torture to extract information, I question the veracity of that intelligence.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Holidays in the sun

Good news for travellers! Zimbabwe is now officially safe, according to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. Quite how they've come to this conclusion I do not know, as evidence available in the world's press would suggest it is anything but. Unless of course the lack of news coming out of Zimbabwe, what with the expulsion of foreign journalists and all that, is being taken as a signal that everything is hunky-dory. A misguided notion at best if this is the case.
However, the AIT could never be wrong - course it couldn't - so let's all book on the next easyJet flight to Harare and enjoy the wonderful regime in Zimbabwe


Whilst on his jollies in California, President Blair took time out to refer in a speech to parts of the Middle East as an "arc of extremism". Is this by any chance related to President Bush's 2002 speech branding certain nations as an "axis of evil"? I think we should be told.

Given recent developments in Israel and Lebanon, this satirewire article becomes more pertinent than ever.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

August 1

Happy Yorkshire Day to all (both?) my readers.