Thursday, 28 June 2007

Invasion of the rubber duckies...

I will not attempt to keep up with today's cabinet appointments - I'm sure Gordon's government will contain an eclectic mix of steadfast sensibles like Jack Straw and Alistair Darling and young stars such as David Milliband and Alan Johnson (along with the possibility of a couple of cross-party surprises). I did, however, do a little mental jig on hearing that two of Blair's most unbodacious babes won't be returning to the cabinet - bye Patricia, bye Margaret.

Despite her overbearing, school ma'am tones it's been rather hard for anyone to take Patricia Hewitt seriously over the past months. Heckled by nurses and hated by doctors, she has presided over mountains of red tape, debt, disease and dissent. She was a thoroughly misguided steward of our health service and she knew it, tendering her resignation before Brown could get to her. The best executive decision she has made this year.

Margaret Beckett was seen crying in the Commons yesterday as Mr Tony Blair gave his last speech as Prime Minister. Who says they were tears of sadness? I'd be more inclined to believe she was gushing with relief, seeing her impending sacking on the horizon: "Thank God you're off Tony, I can get the hell out of here". After her DEFRA debacle, ruining the livelihoods of numerous farmers, Mrs Beckett went on to be one of our most undistinguished Foreign Secretaries in recent memory. Ta ta, then.

Around 30,000 plastic ducks are bobbing their way happily towards our shores as I type...US Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking the ducks since they were dumped into the Pacific during a storm 15 years ago. The "friendly floatees" have spent years surfing the world's currents, navigating Japan, America and the Arctic, soon to hit the UK. Pretty plucky if you ask me...Ok, so its not a BMW (re: Napoli shipwreck) but I wouldn't say no (I'd find any excuse to fly Virgin, you get mini-ducks!). Beachcombers lucky enough to spy one can claim a £50 award from the manufacturer. Alternatively they sell to collectors for ten times that amount. But I implore you, don't let these fearless fowl end up in the hands of profiteers, stick them back in the drink and let them roam our seas forevermore.

A woman in Cumbria has escaped jail after racking up £8,000 damages against her partner. Fed up with her fiance's boozing and laziness, Emma Thomason bundled Jason Wilson's possessions into his white van and sent it into the harbour at Whitehaven (presumably whilst he was down the pub). Women, eh? Any interesting revenge incidents out there?

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Another new dawn...

I've just read Quentin Davies' resignation letter, handed to David Cameron yesterday as the veteran Tory MP jumped ship and joined Labour.

Mr Davies has been at odds with much of Dave's policy from the get go and has been in talks with Gordon Brown, we hear, for months. His defection, along with his public letter of resignation are expertly timed and executed. For a brief period Mr Davies will enjoy the spotlight and his very own sprinkling of Labour fairy dust. Gordon may not be the consummate showman that Blair was but as ever it's the quiet ones you've got to look out for. In reaching out to the liberals last week and helping to orchestrate Mr Davies' very public transition, patient Gordon is showing himself to be as politically savvy as his predecessor, with a nasty Machiavellian streak and the determination to annihilate the Tories.

How fast can you dance Dave?

Davies' letter comes across as almost childish, a personal attack on Mr Cameron, couched in one-sided bluster. Though I strongly agree with Davies' general sentiment - that the Conservatives are failing to send out a clear policy manifesto - I do not think that that the party has lost faith in itself or its leader. David Cameron appears committed to giving the Tory party its much needed make over, both inside and out. It's ironic that whilst Labour concentrates on tearing off the facade of the Blair years, the Conservatives are still trying to get cuddly with voters but why should this approach be ridiculed? Our social memory still views the Tories as the outmoded "hang 'em and flog 'em" party, Dave and his cronies have been working hard to catch up with Labour in the spin stakes, who can blame them? As for policy, the Tory line on social cohesion, public services and devolution is sound however their foregn policy and budgeting is anyone's guess.

I take this opportunity to wish both Mr Brown and My Blair well in their new lives. I look forward to a referendum soon.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

You might be famous but...(you're still a nutter)

The German government has banned a film crew from shooting on its soil, not because of the movie's subject matter - the infamous bomb in a briefcase attempt to take out Hitler - but because of the leading man's religious orientation.

Surely not? Why would cuddly liberal Germany make such a show of definitive bigotry? Because the star in question is Tom Cruise and the religion in question is Scientology.

A spokesman from the German Ministry of Defence said that although the Government supported the film and its premise it could not suffer Cruise's involvement, as he is an open, "member of the Scientology cult". As that statement suggests, Germany does not recognise Scientology as a genuine religion, choosing instead to view it as a money making cult.

I agree with Germany's analysis but think it's a tad harsh to prohibit the making of a film purely because one of the cast members is a brain washed moron with more money than sense. But I suppose in weighing it up - Hollywood revenue vs. Scientology infiltration - Germany has decided the risk of promoting the idea that we are descended from a race of persecuted aliens older than the universe, was just too much.

Can't blame them, we've all heard horror stories of innocents sucked into Scientology (a friend of mine has relatives who really were taken in by that lot) and it's hard to feel much sympathy for set of beliefs that have only been around for 50 years. Time to drag out a favourite quote:

"Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion" - Journalist and Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard

There's debate as to the veracity of this quote, I find it too apt to resist.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Fruit tea, anyone?

What is going on with our weather...? I know Glastonbury's just gone (didn't Shirley look great?) and Wimbledon kicks off today (and there's no roof over the main court...But will that deter good old Cliff..? We can but hope..) but still, this is rubbish. I'm getting more annoyed with those ignorant types who refute climate change....I should be jumping out of planes into clear blue skies not stood on the ground getting drenched...(On the plus side I'm off to Spain in September to go jumping for a week, woohoo!)

I'm English - its my default setting to moan about the weather, sorry...

The royal gossip goes that Wills and Kate are on the road to reconcilation...It's just a clever marketing ploy by Woolies to sell more mugs, I'm sure of it.

On doctor's orders I am now on a horribly strict diet that includes no caffeine. I've been having tremendous brain splitting headaches as it seeps out of my's all I can do not to maul my work colleagues before the morning tea run. Am narrowly resisting the urge to go and hold up a Starbucks....Feverish dreams of Machiattos and Rocky Road bars are bouncing round my head - Maybe there's a Caffeine Anonymous group I can go and abuse...(anyone seen Hacker's? Think Joey in custody: "I'm not an addict...Can I get some more coffee?").

Good to see Alan Johnston still alive and well, albeit sporting this year's must have suicide chic...Hang in there Alan, our thoughts are with you.

The amiable Miss Harriet Harman is now deputy leader of the Labour Party after just beating favourite Alan Johnson...How exciting. The press, however, reports that poor Harriet will not have the privilege of being named deputy PM after frustrating Mr Brown with her lefty sentiment and views on Iraq (which have now miraculously shifted). Miss Harman told Jeremy Paxman during election hustings that she thought the Government should apologise over Iraq. This morning she denied the episode...Maybe Paxo bullied her into it, or it was a slip of the tongue but I doubt it...Dancing around the issue Harriet now says that the Government should formally "recognise" the damage it has done in Iraq. Miss Harman has always seemed a solid, centre-left politician but it appears that, after flapping about, she has already subjected herself to Gordon clunking fist.

Gordon Brown has been making a serious effort to distance himself from Blair's NuLabour showmanship, promising a back to basics incarnation of Labour policy. This about turn is working and Labour are finally overtaking the Tories in the popularity stakes. Gordon's confident, there are even rumours of a general election as soon as next year. Lets hope that after such a long handover, Gordon will hit the ground running and stick to his guns, as well as his new deputy. They'll make a lovely odd couple, I'm sure.

Friday, 22 June 2007

And the oscar went to...

I finally buckled and decided to rent The Last King of Scotland. I've been undecided - lured by Oscar glory, repelled by what I knew would be a pretty uncomfortable film. I wasn't wrong.

Set in the 70s, at the start of Idi Amin's terror fuelled rule of Uganda, the film follows newly qualified doctor Nicholas Garragan as he decides escape Scotland and his parent's and head for Africa. Naive and cocky in equal measure, Nicholas is a randy bugger, he's barely settled into his new Ugandan mission and he's after the boss's wife. Expertly played by Gillian Anderson, with a top notch English accent and blonde locks, Sarah is a sensible type who's pain and confusion over her feelings for Nicholas foreshadow the nightmare to come.

It's out of the frying pan...for Nicholas when a chance meeting with Amin takes him from the gritty outback to the luxury of the despot's HQ in Kampala. Amin switches on the charm, wooing Nicholas with ease and the young doctor soon finds himself physician to one of the world's most brutal men. Treated as some kind of curio or pet for Amin's entertainment, by the time the spell wears off, Nicholas is in deep. When Uganda's martial law and mass disappearances finally get through to the young Scot, he's been buttered up with a lavish lifestyle and is once again involved with the boss's wife...

Overall the acting is first rate and the protagonists are superb. McAvoy's Nicholas is giddy and self absorbed under Amin's thumb but when the screws start to turn the man comes around and you're rooting for his survival. Whitaker's potrayal of Amin is nothing short of mesmerising, a well desrved Oscar for that man. You know things are going to turn ugly from the outset but can't help being sucked in by Amin as he mixes commanding rhetoric with affable, fatherly jokes.

The Last King is an excellent study of Amin, his motivations and paranoias but the predictable nature of the film niggled me initially. I knew the set up and that something gruesome was on the way (some scene's are particularly shocking as the film nears its end) but when the gears are stepped up the tension works and you're on the edge of your seat. The 70s vibe contrasts well with the realities of Africa, from the sparse villages to the urban nightmare that Nicholas encounters. Both an engaging human drama and a nuanced historical study, watch this film if you relish taught subject matter and electrifying performances. Do not watch it on a full stomach.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

One week left....then its Gordon a go-go!

Watched PMQs yesterday...Bit of a mixed bag for the venerable quick question about the inequality of private equity fat cats and the issue's all over the morning papers (yes, I know it was raised last week) the city quacking in its boots?

However the revelation that Papa Gordon attempted to woo ex Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown into his new cabinet has made the current incumbent look like a bit of a twit...

Back to the Commons, I was very taken with Mr Blair's red and gold striped tie...which some quick tv viewer thought might refer to the possible Lib/Lab coalition on the cards....or not. The honorable Tony did his usual pantomine of praising Gordon and understanding everyone's views....he failed, however, to answer the primary question put to him by the leader of the opposition. Not once, not twice but three times Mr Blair shrugged off Lord Falconer's ill-fated quote that the early release of thousands of British prisoners would be "seriously wrong". Can't take that one back now buddy.....All Mr Blair could do was apologise for the miscalculation over places...What's new...?

Got home in the evening to sit down with a beer and watch Newsnight (if you're having a bad day just think, "at least I'm not on Newsnight")...Which included a Labour MP and a Tory MP talking about private equity. The transatlantic Tory was prickly, methinks he has his fingers in a couple of ventures. The Labour MP, Angela Eagle, put on a brave face but looked close to tears. I'd probably be the same if I was in her position, charged with trying to crack open a bunch of uncooperative, self assured city bankers, she looked at a complete loss...("What did I do to be treated so by my masters...?"). Especially when asked about a possible coalition government under Brown, though whether she was tight lipped out of ignorance, fear or indignation we'll never know...

I don't know what to make of this bid for liberal involvement...What is Gordon playing at? In doing so he manages to annoy his commrades and offend the liberals...Oh, right. It looks good with the masses and stops the Tories muscling in on middle England...No, really, I love the theory of a coalition government, it might even work. But not in today's political climate, everybody's in the middle of a re-brand, we can't go about mixing mesages now can we....

Speaking of which, the Tories really need to pull their socks up and start solidifying policy. I quite like Dave's shadow cabinet (Willett's, Osborne and Hague seem to know their stuff) but what's the overall message? Political devolution, welfare reform and social improvement, all lovely sentiments but how I say, how?! Oh, they've suggested implementing "health miles" - yes, the Conservatives, not Labour. If you're overweight, smoke, drink too much etc...and cut down on your chosen vice you could then be rewarded with discount veg, gym membership etc...Labour ban, the Tories incentivise...I'm getting my carrots and sticks in a real muddle...

So after that blurb of hot air I leave you with a nice anonymous quote I just remembered...

"Define politics? Sure - 'poli' - many, 'tics' - blood sucking parasites".

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Virtual Insanity

I don't dare call myself a gamer...I quite like running round and shooting stuff on the TV screen for a bit but I have no patience (to be honest I'm a poor shot. Bizarrely, I get better after a drink though). When I was younger I'd spend hours holed up on the PC, lost in Quake, Doom and Lara Croft (laugh it up, I was a trigger happy young girl, to me the buxom Ms Croft was sooooooooo awesome), munching through game after game. (My dad used to come and watch me play, not in the least bothered that his oddball daughter, usually seen with her head in a book or up a tree somewhere, got so much joy out of blowing the crap out of a virtual world).

Now times have changed. I occassionally dust the old XBox off (gaming progression: Nintendo, Sega, PC, XBox. I can't be arsed to keep up with gaming trends anymore, that's what friends are for) and settle down for a couple of hours of panicky shooting, profuse swearing and personal frustration. It's a giggle but then I gather the doorstop up into my loving arms and put it to bed for another month. I no longer have the desire to play until my eye lids itch and droop or I start throwing the controller around in anger. But I do still have the same taste in games. FPS all the way man (maybe a bit of role play in there - if I'm supervised)...My games are all silly no brainers - Wolfenstein, Doom, Vice City, Half Life etc...and the immediate objective is always the same. Kill stuff. Right now (before it kills you).

I've never played Manhunt. My soul is clean. I remember when it came out here, though and the fury that followed. Then Leicester teenager Stefan Pakeerah was brutally murder by 17 -year-old Warren LeBlanc, a fan of violent films and video games, Manhunt in particular. Despite the police citing robbery as LaBlanc's motive the dead boy's parents, along with much of the media and middle England, believed LaBlanc was imitating the heavy content and gruesome gameplay of Manhunt. Quite possibly. "Violent games must be banned", came the cry. I can remember proping up a pint and having quite an animated discussion with friends about the issue. "Leave gamers alone" was the response, "just cos we like a bit of gore doesn't make us all axe murderors". So the game was a bit sick and scary, it was a critical and popular success and there was no crazed killing endemic.

Now that its sequel has been banned from our shores I would like to know what others think. As the first game to be unequivocally chucked out by the British Board of Film Classification in 10 years methinks Manhunt 2 is something special.

BBFC Director David Cooke said: "Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing. There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.

Against this background, the Board’s carefully considered view is that to issue a certificate to Manhunt 2...would involve a range of unjustifiable harm risks, to both adults and minors."

I am no psychologist, I can't say for certain whether or not violent games foster real violence. But I'm no psycho either and I've played violent games (though not the offending article) all my life. I thoroughly understand the risk of such material to impressionable children - all kids play act...But I've always thought that blaming an adult killing on a medium of entertainment is a cop out. I know the difference between reality and the game. I get all pumped and excited and can't wait to butcher some random mutant/Nazi/monster with that controller between my hands. Yet my desires have limits. The thought of seeing whether I could do it in the flesh makes me ill.

I don't doubt the BBFC are making a good decision. The argument runs that surely if the ban stops just one adolescent nutjob from flipping then it's worth it. I agree. It just spoils everyone else's fun. Mind you, it's not like Rockstar needs the revenue.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Dissent and disease - wahey it's Monday...

This year's British Medical Association AGM for GP's saw a practically unanimous vote in favour of sacking Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt. The doctors went on to detail their lack of confidence in the Government. This is no laughing matter... I will therefore restrain myself to pointing and sniggering softly whenever I see the misguided minister...

Eric Rose, the gentlemen who proposed the motion to sort out the health service, said: "the dangers to the fabric of the NHS appear greater than ever. No one is more responsible for this than Secretary of State 'Call me Patricia'". Damning stuff...

Some poor monkey over at the Department of Health issued the official line: "A constructive and balanced contribution from the BMA as to how we continue to improve care for patients would be more welcome". Er....I'd like to think all those doctors who have dedicated so much time and money towards their individual training and their profession as a whole know what's needed to improve care - it's their job (as opposed to some press office oik). The medical profession is loosing patience and is challenging the Government more often than not. Has the DoH become deaf to the clamour of constructive criticism? Maybe its time for a change, Patricia..

40 per cent of hospitals, PCTs etc...believe they are meeting government hygeine standards. Well done. Less encouraging are the 1/4 who admit to inadequate (eep!) infection control, decontamination and general cleanliness. My local PCT is one of the 99 NHS organisations who have owned up to such shoddy standards. As a consequence these sites are happy breeding grounds for those nasty little bugs killing all our old folk....Hmm, 2+2=? It's almost as if they're being encouraged...But seriously, we need to sort this out, compulsory hand washing for visitors would be a start...

Friday, 15 June 2007

Sexed up and clueless

British teenagers are having sex younger and boy do they like it....As a result pregnacy (and abortion) rates are booming and STI's are rife. An adolescent girl has a 50/50 of getting gonorrhoea when having unprotected sex and her chances of contracting syphilis have risen over 2,000 per cent over the past decade. Eep.

And the culprit, according to an independent advisory group? The giddy, glittering, gauche cult of celebrity. Teenagers are swamped with sexual material in magazines and adverts, alongside pictures of pissed popstars and Pete Doherty smoking crack. The result is a growing number of children who define their lives around sex and drugs.

To what extent does the media and it's coverage of the messed-up star antics influence the youth of today? Don't forget that celebrities have been living it up for generations (how many OD's in the '60s and '70s?) but in the digital age there is no escaping the rich and infamous - they're on every desktop and evening telly lineup.

But hey, don't forget to blame the parents, our drinking/eating/dumbed down culture, the Government (any excuse..), the schools and the creeping fug of today's feckless, Godless society. To be fair I don't think this is something that can be pinned on social inequalities - we've all overdone it on the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, or know friends who have, regardless of background or parenting strategies (both liberal and authoritarian attitudes lead to offspring overdoing it).

And never was there a more contentious issue than sex education. By teaching our young people what goes where do we inform and temper them or simply encourage them? I'm very much in the pro-education camp. We live in a world where ideals of morality, marriage and manners seem to be under constant review - I'd rather children knew what the hell they're getting themselves in for. Ha, maybe a Pythan syle syllabus should be adopted (joke...) - all together now: "every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great"...

It doesn't help that we can't even advertise contraceptives properly. We all have a good giggle at wacky Jonny ads from Oz on Tarrant on TV, or whatever but I bet they act as a great reminder.

There is no silly punchline or easy solution to this one, chaps. Mind you castrating a few celebs might make good reality tv, any takers?

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Charity and religion

Labour MP and welfare guru Frank Field has accused Gordon Brown's tax credits system of discriminating against two parent families on low incomes.

His case in point is that a single mother, working less than 10 hours per week recieves just over £25,000pa. Christ, I need to get me knocked up....

Well done to Mr Field for getting out his calculator and challenging Gordon but his conclusions are long overdue. He just had to ask any local authority benefit administrator, unemployment clerk or lacky over at the DWP or Revenue and Customs. Mind you they have their own problems...Top of the list are the relentless performance targets set by central government.

Means tested tax credits are awarded to families and individuals on low incomes, with the intention of reducing child poverty. How much you recieve depends on how many hours you work, your income (which includes any other benefit you may recieve) and outgoings, the number of children you have, their ages etc...(not to mention any small savings you may have which can make you ineligible). It's a complicated calculation, one performed by numerous employees at different agencies and one that is constantly under review, should your circumstances change.

As a result the administration of the welfare state is no easy task and tax credits, highly praised when they were introduced three years ago, have made it a nightmare. I say this with complete confidence, having worked for a local authority administering housing benefit.

Like with every other benefit, the level of overpayment is shocking. £6 billion was incorrectly paid out in tax credits alone in the past year - some as a result of fraud, the rest down to admin difficulties. The subsequent recovery of benefits is often messy and misunderstood, causing families and civil servants serious problems.

Mr Field has believes that single parents are being discouraged from finding partners because of the effect it will have on their benefit. He's refering to the more consciencious claimants out there. Others simply hide their partner's income or existance (resulting in the biggest source of benefit fraud).

The benefits system needs a serious overhaul, targets need to be eased and calculations need to be simplified. Will Gordon get the ball rolling and discipline his baby?

Over at the Vatican Cardinal Renato Martino has called for all Catholics to stop donating to Amnesty International. The human rights charity has recently started supplying abortions to unfit African women and those pregnant as a result of rape and incest. I will personally pay for a (one way) ticket to Sudan so he can hold the hands of all those traumatised women about to go into labour. Bet he doesn't go for it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Normal service is resumed

Right, sorry about that peeps...I'm an idiot, I published when I meant to save and I'm too lazy to lark about cutting and pasting so you'll have to read the second half of my rant as follows....

"Scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down", asserts Mr Blair - er, surely it depends on the event and the paper covering it...? As I said, I'm not denying/defending the sensationalist streak of broadsheets, tabloids, freesheets, whatever, they have to vamp up events to make good copy. Every paper has its own readership to think about - different people want different information from their paper. The Telegraph's mostly middle-class, centre right readership will get stuck into a story about the Government's black hole IT funding, whereas The Sun won't give it an inch of column space. Instead The Sun may run a story on some washed up popstar accused of cross dressing at the weekends. Each story will have a hyped up headline for their readers but the copy will still have to be comprised of "ordinary reporting" - getting the facts and figures right.

Tony goes on to decry the practice of media comment - this has me livid. "The new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself". "Opinion and fact should be clearly divisible." Shall we just shut down the presses and servers and have one universal news outlet (regulated by whom...?), with no opinion? I read comment pieces on a daily basis, if the subject interests me. What's the point of being fed news if you can't put it into some kind of context? How do others feel and how does this affect me? And I enjoy reading an opinion piece that blends fact, the author's personal comment and entertaining prose, even if I don't agree with the argument. I am not stupid Mr Blair, I can work out what is fact and what is subjective journalism.

"Stories, are all black and white", "Some good, some bad" is not the way things are done, everything is critical. Methinks the PM is getting a little over sensitive and perhaps needs to read some more balanced comment, I assure him it's out there.

"Viewers or readers have no objective yardstick to measure what they are being told". Sure but the same goes for official information. Human beings are real buggers, huh? Subjective, biased, always trying to spin the best story they can. Though as a result, we tend to know how much bullshit we can tolerate and are able to make rational choices about what we believe to be true.

I sympathise with Mr Blair's attempt to address the balance between the media and politics (good timing, might I add) but I do not think, "we are all being dragged down by the way media and public life interact". I agree, coverage is often unbalanced, much reporting is critical of politicians and the media can and should do more to get the public involved in the political process. But Mr Blair's protestations and likening of the British media to a "feral beast" are childish. Ultimately, there's no smoke without fire.

Right, I'm off to go and see what today's press has made of the lecture....

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Not done...

I got all excited and posted the following mid-article, more to come....

Tit for Tat

I have just read Tony Blair's lecture on "Public Life", by which he means politics/media relations, given at Reuters HQ in Canary Wharf this afternoon.....

I'm going to compose and post my comment after taking time to compose myself.

Where to start. I'm going to take a very rudamentary approach and cover the bits that irk me one by one. Or I could just express my anger in some other form, I am quite annoyed.

Tony's dissertation covered the changing nature of the media, the proliferation of sensationalist reporting and public perception of both media and politics. All very timely, inter-linked topics but you're not fooling anyone with you're apologetic phrasing Tony..."I've made this speech after much hesitation. I know it will be rubbished in certain quarters. But I also know this has needed to be said". The constant references to politicians afraid of a free/wild press are sickening. If politicians are so scared of backlash, they deserve to be ribbed in the media. Grow up.

But I'm starting back-to-front...Tony kicks off by stating the obvious, talking about the stretched relationship between journalists and politicians, "the relations between politics and the media are and are by necessity, difficult". He goes on to explain to a bunch of journalists the changing nature of their profession, the demands of rolling news and the digital age, as a consquence of which politicians are held to account in real time, as events change. Boo hoo.

Acccording to Tone responsible individuals in all walks of life are scared of the media, it is too vast and fickle to cope with. I think Mr Blair will find that "the media", be it newspapers/magazines in print or online respect public figures who are square with the press. Those who deal with the media in their own way, do not flip-flop about and are not cowed by the potential of bad press, are given the space (and support) to say their piece.

"Most politicians come into public life with a desire to serve". So do most journalists.

Apparently Britian's apathy towards Parliamentary democracy can be put down to reduced political reporting. Charles Moore, ex Telegraph editor and experienced political correspondant, has pre-empted the PM here. On Saturday he wrote an article outlining how coverage at Westminister had become down right dull as MPs are loosing the motivation to debate bills that will sink or float regardless of discussion.

Blair says: "If you are a back bench MP today, you learn to give a press release first and a good Parliamentary speech second". I can tell you without hesitation which the mass media would prefer and it's not the Janet and John style press release.

Then Blair moves to the thorny subject of sensationalism. Shock language is used on a daily basis, making headlines stand out and moulding readers responses. Yup...Sometimes such "impact" is needed, elsewhere it is openly used to spice up stories. Blair talks about the dramatic bent of the media as if its a new thing. Journalists have to eat you know....

"Something that is interesting is less powerful than something that makes you angry or shocked". Not true. Readers soon become attuned to evocative wording (whatever paper they read) . They will only venture beyond the first paragraph if the subject interests them. The power lies in engaging, well written reports.

Paris revealed (no, not like that...)

It was all an act! Who'd a thunk it?! Give the girl an Oscar...

The snot covered Barbie ("Its not fair!") we saw leaving court is no more. From the bowels of an LA jail will emerged a beautifully transformed Paris Hilton, moved by God to pull her socks up, ditch the "it" image and help heal the world - or so the little grub will have us believe.

Speaking to TV presenter Barbara Walters via phone, Paris told the world's press: "I'm not the same person I was..I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute. It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that person for the young girls who looked up to me."

It's lovely to think that Paris has developed a conscience over night, it really is. Oh and it's looking like she's only going to serve half of her 45 day sentence as she's being such a good girl. Well, it'll be straight home for an early night and an Ovaltine (is there a US equivalent?) when she's out then and I expect to see Saint Paris adopting kids and curing AIDs in no time. Am I too sceptical? Perhaps but I bet this butterfly gets her wings burnt before long.

A change in the wind....?

Yesterday our leader-to-be visited Baghdad and spent some quality time with our servicemen and the Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki. Our favourite capable Scot told the world how his future government would "learn the lessons" of the run-up to the allied invasion of Iraq, admitting that the "dodgy dossier" which detailed Saddam's WMDs was, in fact, dodgy. Brown went on to outline the hopefull seperation of intelligence investigations from political agenda's. We can but hope...The funding and management of the security services is not public knowledge, finger's crossed our spooks are in control of their own operations, regardless of political pressure.

Despite distancing himself from Blair's Iraq masterplan, Gordon has deflected the opposition's calls for an inquiry into Iraq, explaining that now is not a good time. He's right, I think, and though my sense of outrage demands more info, I doubt critics, myself included, will ever be satisfied with its findings.

Asserting his authority he said: "I don't want to get into talking about timetables or numbers'', concerning withdrawl. Go Gordon! After Dannatt and Blair's bickering earlier in the year, the remainder of our troops are in Iraq indefinately, at least it's good to see Gordon isn't being baited.

But my faith in the healing power of sensible Father Brown falters over the thorny issue of Parliamentary reform. "I have already said Parliament should have a more formal role in issues of war and peace", he said. I seriously hope so, Parliament has been reduced to nothing but a formal ideal under Blair. It needs an active role. We have representatives who come together at Westminister to argue on behalf of the people but there is little argument, only meek consensus - the line is well manned. There have been calls from a respected collection of "former permanent secretaries, defence chiefs and businessmen" (Telegraph) to restore Cabinet government - something English politics desperately needs - but it was Blair's closed network of entrenched mandarins and business opportunists that allowed the breakdown of Cabinet authority in the first place....

Monday, 11 June 2007

Learning curve or downward spiral?

A leading think tank has accused politicians of trashing the national cirriculum and replacing real learning with trendy civil issues and narrow subject matter.

In today's sensational, The Corruption of the Curriculum, Civitas argues that, "The traditional subject areas have been hijacked to promote fashionable causes...while teachers are expected to help to achieve the Government's social goals instead of imparting a body of academic knowledge to their students,". Nothing like a cold dose of reality....

In the past the government said that half the UK's eligible demographic should go to university... As a result of such thoughtless targets we are no longer able to distinguish between able and talented students, churning out thousands of coddled, aimless school leavers. More kids want to be famous than be doctors (mind you, its a toughie, what's more oversubscribed, Holywood or the English medical field?), urgh. The other side of the coin sees swathes of dropouts and delinquents who'd much rather engage in petty crime than sit through tepid citizenship classes. Don't blame them.

Civitas outlines how History students are asked to write one-sided extremist interpritations of 9/11 (as a history graduate this seriously worries me, what the hell are our kids going to be learning in the future?) and English lit pupils bypass romanticism and get top marks. In science, the Bunsen burners and water rockets have been shelved in favour of theoretical debates on genetics and nuclear power.

I was never particularly good at science but I thoroughly enjoyed lessons at school, from fighting over lab coats and grumbling about goggles (not at all flattering as I remember), to the singed eyebrows and sulphorous smells that (somehow) capped most lessons, be it Chemistry, Physics or Biology. Ethical debate has its place, but I much prefer the memory of Claire Stockard covered head to toe in red dye. Heh.

Coupled with these allegations of mickey-mouse teaching, the General Teaching Council is now advocating the abolition of all national cirriculum tests for children below GCSE. Excessive testing is stressful and unnecessary for both gifted and slower kids, no doubt, but there has to be some way of gauging development. Otherwise we're going to end up with a load of 16 year olds who've never sat an exam and think Shelley discovered Polonium, or something equally ludicrous.

Ocean's 13 - the good, the bad, the mediocre

Howdy people....Another day, another dollar...well, had a mixed weekend, got to jump out of a plane with a pretty lady so it wasn't too bad really...Saw Ocean's 13:

It's an improvement on the self indulgent fluff of the second one but it's no masterpiece...

Yet again it's the George and Brad (and a little bit of Damon) show - no complaints from me - the too cool for school buddies work well together as Danny and right hand man Rusty, staging sweet revenge on Al Pacino's perma-tan casino boss Willy Bank, after Bank screws affable Ocean's veteran Reuben.

Ocean and his gang, with the help of Eddie Izarrd (he turned up in the second one - why oh why...), spend the first half of the movie finalising their plans to break The Bank, Pacino's ultra-yuppy new casino. The set-up chops along at an ok pace but its not really engaging...And there's a wierd scene where the boys contaminate a hotel reviewers room...mind you the brothers in Mexico ('tache-a-rific) is a laugh....

With the second half comes the job - and the audience is safe in the knowledge that, despite a few close shaves, Ocean's team will deliver. And its not badly done (apart from a dodgy parawing jump...urgh), though the smooth ensemble appeal of the Ocean's franchise may wear thin for some by this point....It's fun, it's flashy, everyone knows the outcome...few surprises here...

The acting's not bad, Pacino and Matt Damon are very good, and the movie has some genuinely funny moments (who knew crooks liked talk shows?) - thankfully it is a testosterone only affair (the ladies get cut early on) and has the same 60s/70s background groovyness as Ocean's 11. It's a film that's all about the glittery, yet arid style of Vegas - lightweight fun, no brain power required - though unless you're a major fan I'd probably rent it.

Friday, 8 June 2007

A personal low

The eight strongest economies in the world are trying to thrash out a deal to save the planet, the top lawyer in the land has been accused of hushing up kickbacks to the Saudi's and the war in the east continues...I'm ashamed to say that today, none of this moves me. Instead I've got that Friday feeling and will stretch no further than to indulge in a gripe at Paris Hilton...

I am yet to encounter a Paris afficionado (though should I wish to I just need to trawl the net, I know). This is an adult woman who garners interest because she films amateur porn, appears at premiers and produces disgustingly catchy pop music. She's a millionairess, is she a philanthropist? Has she got a high school diploma? Does she obey the law? Three strikes and you're out Paris.

Her early release from the LA county jail - in which she had her own cell in a "special needs" unit - has caused a ruckus across the pond. Why, civil rights groups ask, should an idiotic young woman like Miss Hilton, who has unequivocally violated her driving ban, be allowed cushy prison quarters and then an early release simply because she's a rich celebrity? She is accountable, she should be fairly punished. Quite rightly, she's back in front of the judge today.

But she's ga ga, on the edge of a breakdown, or so goes the buzz. She's been drink driving (on however many occassions) for months but it's now that she chooses to throw a hissy fit in the clinck and then modestly announce her personal epiphany at a global award show last weekend. She will do her time and learn from it.

Paris' lawyer said of her imprisonment: “She’s using this time to reflect on her life, to see what she can do to make the world better and hopefully, in my opinion, to change the attitudes that exist about her among many people”. Blah blah...Lets see you do the whole stretch (a hardy 45 days away from the lens) and then find yourself a real job darlin'.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

A dedicated follower of Bozzer

I think Boris Johnson is marvellous. This admission may not win me many friends but so be it (this is not helping the affirmation of my political objectivity - I'm not a Tory. Maybe if they dressed a little better...).

The man's a riot. Though full of bluster and bombast, his column is always entertaining. Even if I disagree with some of his more oblique, sceptical ranting, he's not stupid (despite the silly public persona). Today's article on the proposed labelling of alcoholic beverages is a good example of the man's clarity (and I'm petty, I enjoy Boris laying in to a young, attractive Labour minister. Misguided muppet that she is on this one).

Well done, Boris, for bringing attention to the recycling implications of labelling - how ironic.

I thoroughly agree that warnings will serve no purpose (apart from aiding inflation). Do smokers take any notice of the glaring "Smoking causes fatal lung cancer" legends on their packets...Nope...They feel a little guilty and then ignore it. The same will prove true for booze.

Of course I don't mean to be flippant, the unhealthy consumption of alcohol is endemic within the UK, across all age ranges and social backgrounds and is a very serious issue. Wonder what it is that drives everyone to drink.....?

Check out for Boris' piece on labelling.

On a similar note...a friend of a friend (is this true? My friend says so..) - a non-smoker - was crossing over a quiet junction one day and became distracted by a fag packet on the ground. She slowed to read the warning and was hit by a car (minor bruises and a fractured shin). Smoking kills, people.

Mirror, mirror on the wall....

Get this - interactive media wizzes over at Thebigspace have come up with a mirror that gives fashion tips as you try on clothes and requests other styles and sizes whilst you change.

A veritable Godsend to shopaholics and bored boyfriends everywhere, the Magic Mirror is due to hit retail stores next month. It works out what clothes suit you from your mirror image, whilst giving you information on the products you are trying on and displaying fashion adverts. Chaps can happily saunter off to HMV or Dixons or whatever, leaving their other half to while away the hours with their very own clothes expert.

Nifty...But can you imagine the lines of over-excited shoppers after they get installed? Womenswear departments everywhere will be under seige (as if Saturday queues weren't nightmare enough), it'll be carnage! And there are downsides to not having your bloke along for the ride...Underware shopping will loose a little of its kick without those shared blushes and smutty giggles, not to mention the added bonus of having a walking wallet...Will we be able to cope when the mirror tells it like it is? "Where have you been for the past decade, woman? Spandex is not your friend" and the dreaded, "Big? Your arse has its own orbit sweetie". Eep...

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Cash for honours and e-mocracy

Some person/persons within the Labour Party is guilty of handing out peerages in return for much needed dosh...hmm...Who might it be....?

The cash for honours inquiry, Operation Ribble to the fuzz, has been going on for over a year now and so far, nobody's been banged up. Mm, I may be just a little disappointed. Anyway, those pesky journalists over at the Press Association have discovered that Operation Ribble (why do I find that name funny?) is set to cost the taxpayer £1 million smackeroonies...That's quite a bit of money going to the boys in blue to find out whether our trusted leaders really are blase, downright corrupt liars.

Popular opinion has already condemned the party as a whole, well, when I say condemned, nobody's particularly happy to think of such underhand dealings down Whitehall way but, eh, what can you do?

David Blunkett has condemned the Yard's working practices as "theatrical" and close ministerial aides, according to the Torygraph, have suggested the police are leaking their findings...And after a year the public and media don't really have a lot to go on - is this because the Yard are dragging their feet or because the political machinery of Whitehall and party sponsorship is so slippery? Nobody knows...

Investigations continue.

Oh and Davie Dave has been championing the democratic value of e-petitions, with some help from Ken Clarke. The two believe that online petitions should be sincerely pursued in parliament. Yep, that's what the rest of us apathetic, 'floating voter' lot would like to believe. That we can show our support or dislike for serious issues and have the powers that be listen to us.

Downing Street launched an e-petitions area on its website at the end of last year. To what end? In February a massively popular petition against road taxation was ignored. I went to a Hansard debate just after the government set out their response and was horrified to hear e-mocracy joked about by politicians and statisticians. In this day and age when political parties are dramatically failing to convince the public of their worth but the digital age reigns supreme, what's so funny about the idea of virtual voting?

Then I remember the thousands of protesters who have marched through London and elsewhere in the past few years. Demonstrators have braved the fickle British weather to condemn all sorts of government policies, including the management of public services and the decision to go to war. Oh right, I get it - if activists couldn't provoke a change in person, why should online opinion make any difference....

To illustrate a point, the link to the petitions on 10 Downing Street's website has the tag, "Be heard". One of the recently added petitions that greets you on the page is the appeal for webmasters to "Take notice of petitions already on this site".


Forgot to mention...saw Pirates 3 last week...A brief review is in order.

Well, I sat through it all, ignoring the impulse to walk out after about 45 mins...I just kept telling myself, "Don't worry, there doesn't have to be an engaging, continuous plot. It's got Johnny in it and it looks reeeeally pretty. Relax, its supposed to be silly".

It's a narrative mess. My reaction (after sitting through the credits and watching the coda) was, bizarrely, that films 2 and 3 would make better books than films. I'm sure something's being thrashed out by the franchise master minds at Disney as I write...There were so many coincidental references, both mythical and historical - from the portrayal of the East India Trading Company, the legend of Greek sea nymph Calypso, Davey Jones and the many infamous pirates name dropped throughout the films - that it was just too much detail for a kids movie (obviously Gore and co. are very attached to pirating lore - they just tried to cram a couple of hundred years into three hours). Also, the bouts of serious silliness, like Jack's hallucinations, may have amused the younger audience members but they smacked of filler.

All this muddled nautical mayhem was somehow tolerable because the movie's two major pulls - Sparrow's character and the CGI - delivered. Depp's performance is solid, if a little subdued and the special effects are nothing short of awesome (loved the desert crabs..).

The rest of the cast are passable, though I still have problems taking Knightley and Bloom seriously...they can't be mean, they both look about twelve (well, excluding the copious copping off) - their relationship is given alot more weight in this film, which works, I think.

Despite At World's End patchwork plot it is still an enjoyable flick - what other film can offer such sumptuous shenanigan's on the high seas? If you liked the others Pirates 3 will satisfy and there are lots of tie-ins to 1 and 2 - though be warned, its a decidedly darker affair. The opening scene is particularily uncomfortable. Mind you, if nothing else you get a good ogle at Keira. Arrr!

On a side note, work is due to start, fianlly, on '80s feline favourite, "Thunder, THUNDER, THUNDERCATS!" - woohoo!

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Celluloid appeal

Cherie Blair hosted the first of three North American lecture dates last night, speaking about her profession to a 1,600 strong audience in San Jose.

She had stipulated that all questions directed to her after her talk should not raise the Iraq war or her husband's career. None did, however some still had to ask what "QC" stood for and what human rights lawyers actually do. A coherant, informative talk then. Well done, Cherie. Must be all that spin rubbing off....

When asked about Cherie's appeal to an American audience, organiser Chris Di Salvo explained, "I think the movie The Queen was important. People here didn't know who she (Cherie) was until The Queen. And of course Americans really admire Tony Blair".

So Mrs Blair's getting paid around £90,000 on the back of the Oscars (as part of what the Telegraph has dubbed the Blair Rich Project, heh)...? Madness.

A spanking new brand

After its unveiling yesterday, popular opinion has likened the 2012 brand logo to an illustration of an intimate carnal act - what filthy minds the British public have, tut tut. Great, with five years to go the new brand is out in the public domain...It's supposed to appeal to the young, hip "internet generation" (who doesn't use the internet?) - mummy and daddy, however, think it looks like some very "vibrant" polygons doing the dirty...

Religious groups are aghast and have drawn similarities between the new logo and the chunky lightning strikes of the Nazi SS insignia. That's too far into the noir I think, mind you sex and death sells...

The logo has not been public for 24 hours and already 11,000 people have petitioned to scrap it. I don't think they're going to get very far but watch this space...

There is a familiarity to those funky jagged's the kind of design that can be seen on railway bridges all over the capital. The government spent £400,000 on a piece of grafitti so as to be down with the kids. It's a real mixed bag. The outline is almost likable, as is the incorporation of the rings. However the "London" typeface is awful and the colours make me feel a little queasy.

Nevertheless it grows on you...It works with the promo advert, evoking colour, movement and modernity (and vulgarity). But the static logo, despite its attempt at a cool noughties edge, is naff. After such an expensive design process it looks like something from my year 9 art folder or something drawn in Paint, a bright, irreverant doodle. And I'm no Warhol...a load of kindergardeners could do a better job...Or better still, the £400,000 would have been better spent on a load of kindergardeners...

Lord Coe and co. are staunchly behind the logo, gushing over its "innovative" and "edgy" appearance - it's controversial and they're proud of it. Coe, head of the Games organising committee, explained that, "We weren't going to come to you with a dull or dry corporate logo that would appear on a polo shirt and we're all gardening in it a year's time [sic]." I don't understand..Wouldn't he rather it turned up on polo shirts than not...? I'm not sure I understand this marketing strategy...sell to young people only, no gardeners...?

But you have to hand it to creators Wolff Olins: the logo's bright, ballsy and different. And soon it will be everywhere.

Monday, 4 June 2007

A reminder

Terrorism is now an everyday word. The practice is not just on our doorstep, it's already ransacked the fridge and crapped on the carpet. I don't mean any disrespect to any of those who've suffered as a result of home-grown terrorists, far from it. I'd like to think that by now, the Great British public have woken up to the reality of religious extremists but I'm not so sure..

The terrorist threat to this country and our cherished Western, capitalist way of life is very real. Yet life goes on, in the face of extremism we hold our heads up and say, "we are not afraid, we will recover, our system works". Oh the system we take for granted (because it works), so much so that many of us can't even be bothered to vote for it anymore...

The government has got its work cut out - trying to balance security measures and civil liberties and the all important "hearts and minds" pitch against British extremism. Our leader in waiting Gordon Brown yesterday stressed the need, "To show people that we [the Labour administration] stand for freedom and democracy and the dignity of the individual".

It is not difficult to appreciate how passionate young Muslims (along with the rest of us) might find it hard to reconcille this rhetoric with personal experience and media frenzy. Free? What about proposed cameras on every street corner and wheelie bin? Democratic? We're going to have a new Prime Minister, er, but we didn't pick him. Dignity? With underfunded heath and old age care and the need for a "respect Czar" to tell us the proper way to behave...(I'm being sensationalist and overly critical, I know. Its one of the perks of living in a capitalist democracy with a free press...I love my right to a good moan)

So, the Government is busy with hearts, minds and more immediately, holding potential murderers and keeping the country safe.

Just as I encounter the word "terrorism/terrorist" everyday in news reports, documentaries or comment peices, likewise do I hear the most ignorant bluster about Islam from the mouths of otherwise intelligent human beings. Many of my contemporaries understand the literal difference between your "average Akmed" and a suicide bomber but still talk about British Muslims as if they are an unknown entity, a caste apart, wierd.

The rest of us apathetic, irrelgious lot must do our bit. Educate your heart and your mind. If you value our way of life, do not continue to stigmatise Britain's Muslim population en masse. Tolerance and cooperation shouldn't be so hard. Extremists are the dangerous minority, lets not alienate the hardworking, tax paying, very British majority.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Heavy stuff....

Catholic leaders have kicked up a fuss over abortion and put pressure on pro-choice Catholics to reconsider their views, or risk being denied the sacraments. Of course, Catholic Cardinals would never bully and threaten their flock, but this is a definate prod - support abortion and you forfeit Communion and your ritual link with God.

The leader of Scotland's Catholics, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, went on to urge the Scotish health service stop practicing abortion, that medical schools discourage it and that Westminster overturn abortion law (fat chance there mate).

He called abortion a "social evil" and an "unspeakable crime". He likened the abortion rate in Scotland to, "two Dunblane massacres a day" (roughly 35 unborn fetus's are aborted every day in Scotland).

I respect the traditional Catholic view of every human life as sacred. Medical professionals have the same ethos, yet do not view unborn clumps of disorganised cells as living human beings. They are potential lives.

As a secular young women, sexually active and pro-choice, I'm in no position to comment on Catholic doctrine but O'Brien's shock rhetoric and comparisons offend me none-the-less.

What does an aging male ecclesiastic know of being a pregnant women? He paints a picture of thoughtless girls having abortions willy nilly, because they can. I have friends who've undergone one, one for health reasons, the rest because of circumstance. None of them took their choice lightly, part of them died with their unborn child.

The idea of having one makes me feel very scared and sick but should it come to it, I would. Right now I could not give any child of mine the support, stability and complete love it deserves. I do not appreciate being told that waiting until I can provide these things, should it involve having an abortion, would be an "evil", "unspeakable crime".

Catholics are not being chastised for having abortions themselves but for tolerating the choices of others, who for whatever reason, want the proceedure.The Catholic Church, despite recent forays into liberal thought (contraception might not be the devils work after all), now appears as unbending as ever, in fact making a point of damning worshipers and sympathisers. How very Christian...