Tuesday, May 31, 2005

the guardian at hay

The Guardian are blogging from Hay-on-Wye, and doing some pretty typical reporting from there too (although nothing as much fun as their Hay-on-Wye fashion special last year). I find it rather cheering that G2 always splashes on a festival that everyone else ignores, but it's also so nauseatingly worthy and celebratory. But hey, I would like to go to Hay, so I won't complain.

Last night's Channel 4 three-wayer (ooer) between Julian Barnes (polite, wry, charming) Kazuo Ishiguru (polite, mischevious, debonair) and Jonathan Coe (polite, dull, polite) was interesting in places but also distressingly polite, charming and dull. The future of the novel is either (a) such an interesting subject that it deserves better than 3 upper middle classs bores, or (b) so boring as a television set piece that it desperately needs something more than 3 upper middle class bores. Obviously it would have been outrageous to have invited, say, a woman to the table, but couldn't we have had someone excitable, energetic or angry? Or at least someone who - like David Mitchell - might be able to say something we haven't heard before, rather than just warbling on about fiction being the arena of truth? Anyway.

Back to the Guardian - they did at least manage to get the Hitchins brothers together in the same room; although it doesn't really live up to the billing sadly. I liked it best when only one of them was a right-wing bore.

john simpson on europe

Quite an interesting article from John Simpson on the BBC website today, where he draws some interesting conclusions from the failure of France to vote in the new EU constitution. I have to admit that, although I am instinctively pro-european, I really don't know my stuff when it comes to the constitution, so I won't start arguing in its favour while remaining pretty thick on the subject. Anyway, Simpson's analysis of the 'deeper vs broader' argument is one I'm familiar with, but his style is a good reminded. More commentators with a take-it-slow-for-jonathan approach please.

John Simpson What next for Europe?

tractors in ukrainian

I've just finished Marina Lewycka's 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' - my holiday read - and really enjoyed it; it's the kind of book that inspires a sigh of relief after a few paragraphs. You think, "I'm going to like this". It's the story of a elderly Ukrainian who, to the horror of his grown-up daughters, decides to marry Valentina, a woman - 40 years his junior - from his homeland, so that she can obtain a UK passport and an 'Oxfordcambridge' education for her son. And so that he can revel in late-flowering love and her 'superior breasts'.

Of course, in the event, she proves to be a tyrant, the product of a post-Soviet Eastern Europe which scrambles for possessions and status. At first wholly unsympathetic, beating her frail husband and threatening to shorten his life, she emerges as a tragic figure of sorts. Even her husband's daughters - Nadia, the narrator, and Vera, her sister - come to admire this force of nature, this 'fluffy pink grenade' - although not before they have conspired to have the marriage annulled. For Nadia, the left-wing sociologist who has not, at the novel's opening, spoken to her older, infinitely more cynical sister for two years, the story brings about an understanding of her family's remarkable history, an uneasy truce with her sibling and - worst - a battle with her own desire to be 'understanding'. It is not long before she feels herself becoming 'Mrs Hang' Em and Flog 'Em'. Her sister watches approvingly.


The novel's tone is beautifully judged; Lewycka's prose is spare, readable and funny, if littered with stylistic tricks, and the linguistic interplay between the characters, ebbing and flowing between the pigeon-prose of the refugee and the narrator's articulate English, is delightful. In one wonderful scene, when Valentina attacks Nadia (calling her a "she-cat-dog-vixen-flesh-eating witch", no less), the narrator's language inexplicably reverts to it's Ukraininan-English roots. It's a funny moment in a very funny book. Nickolai, the father, is particularly good value, especially on the subject of Russians. When not involved in extricating himself from his disasterous marriage, he is writing a history of tractors; excerpts of which set up the novel's second theme - the uncovering of a personal history which takes in famine, war, imprisonment and no little suffering. Tractors, after all, led to tanks.

"I had thought this story was going to be a knockabout farce," Nadia says, "but now I see it is developing into a knockabout tragedy." These parallel stories seem occasionally to falter, particularly in the book's middle section (which sags a little), and in the penultimate chapter, which seeks to make painfully obvious what was elsewhere intelligently implied, but this is not a book which seeks to confuse or mystify, it is one which sets about revealing the complexities of family, politics and history.

It is both farce and tragedy, a simple story well told.

Buy the book here...

Monday, May 30, 2005


Well, you may have noticed that the lunatics briefly took over the asylum, but order has been restored. I'm back, and experiencing for the first time the odd sensation of reading my blog without knowing what's on it - thankfully talented upstart Dan has done a really great job of looking after things and should obviously get his own blog. I hope he does...

After a week away in the sun a British bank holiday seems especially grey, although I shouldn't knock a further day off work. Last night me, Vic and Andrew (who has revived his Bedsit Bomber blog, good) went to see the latest Star Wars film, and was grudgingly very impressed with it, in fact I thought it was rather brilliant, although that might just be the big-screen effect. The usual Star Wars caveats obviously apply (wooden dialogue, clunky acting - oh no, that should be other way around) and the baddies - the excellent Chancellor excepted - don't really seem all that bad. I thought Darth Maul was laughable in the first film, was unimpressed by Dooku in the second (although it's customary to say that Christopher Lee was brilliant) and the robot baddie, General Grevious (doh!), in this one, was rubbish - kind of like a folding bicycle with an attitude problem. Is he a man, is he a wagon wheel?? What made/makes Vader and the Emperor frightening is the fact that there lurks a human beneath that mask/hood. A robot does not do it for me, however flashy his light-sabre technique.

That said, the film bursts into life immediately and pretty much stays that way. The ending was a bit flat, especially the way that every character is bluntly shoe-horned into his or her starting position in the real Star Wars film, but it's very exciting regardless. I did wonder to what extent Lucas was informed by his viewing of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films (more portentous but fun nonsense) - certainly his closing scenes, where the location of Anakin's descent to the dark side takes place, closely resembles Jackson's denoument in Mordor, and twice - once when the defeated Yoda escapes by crawling through a ventilation shaft, and when Vader crawls from the volcanic lava - I was reminded of Gollum, whose path is a similar one to Vader's; corrupted by evil and dehumanised in the process. Still, the moment where Vader takes his first breath is thrilling, and original.

I kept trying to ignore that the Palpatine/Chancellor/Emperor character walked exactly like Montgomery Burns.

Friday, May 27, 2005

more and better aid

A report published today by the NGO Actionaid highlights what it has termed 'Phantom Aid'. That is aid which governments declare they are making available or transferring to countries in need or NGO's working in areas affected by disasters, but really the majority of it is spent on expenses. You know the score I suspect, consultants, letter headed paper, flights, expenses etc. Well depressingly its real. A lot of aid is spent in the country of origin on goods and services made in that country. According to Actionaid 61% of all aid is 'Phantom' and the stats don't get any better.

For an age now the UN has been recommending that to make a dent in the poverty felt so sharply by most of the worlds population a minimum of 0.7% of a rich nations GDP be spent on International Aid. That most countries aren't even coming close is depressing enough but subtracting this 'Phantom Aid' shows that some are giving as little as 0.1% of their national income.

Britain is a Trillion Pound economy, still the fourth largest in the world. A Trillion in case you are wondering looks like this - £1,000,000,000,000 - a thousand Billions (calculated the American way). At current rates taking into account the actual aid that gets through to those in need (as we now know that so much is lost enroute) Britain gives just 0.2-0.3% of this away.

The politics not to mention the logistics of giving money and assistance to those deemed as needing it is very, very difficult to grapple with. Take my word as someone who currently studies Development. Some countries have become dependant on overseas aid and others such as Cambodia for example have so many NGO's present offering 'assistance' that much of the country is now geared to servicing them and all the admin and internal politics that goes with International organisations. An additional layer of bureaucracy has emerged. Its difficult to see if much overall good is being done.

We then find ourselves looking to those in power. The UK minister for International Development is Hilary Benn. Son of the outspoken Tony Benn, I often find myself wishing he was a little more like his father. Described often as a 'tool' by those who have met him, many think he isn't fighting hard enough. He could do with getting his own house in order according to the Actionaid report: "UK DfID officials posted overseas get allowances for business class flights, which can be transferred towards holiday flights. DfID administrative costs, at 11.5%, are well above the 8% ceiling allowed by DfID in its funding agreements with NGOs."

Careful money management rather than throwing vast amounts of sums of money at the problem is certainly a key way forward. More and beter aid is the current useful mantra to remember. The amount currently being spent on expenses and much lengthy consultation is not what's needed. I hope that the up until now largely ineffectual Mr Benn and his department take note.

[blogging by Dan]

Thursday, May 26, 2005

dear thom

Last night Channel 4 News ran an extensive interview involving minister for the Environment Margaret Beckett, Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. It followed a report on the launch of a new Friends of the Earth campaign to raise the publics awareness of the amount of Carbon that is being released by us all when we do things like for example go out and buy Radiohead CDs.

The use of these 'concerned rock stars' is positive, I think. Chris Martin and Michael Stipe for example have unselfishly raised the profile of Oxfam campaigns on Poverty and Trade. I don't doubt Thom Yorke's convictions or beliefs, but unfortunately last night he failed to show any passion and didn't display much knowledge on the subject. He was left floundering at one stage blurting out "oh alright I haven't started yet...." when Jon Snow quite correctly asked him about the changes he's made to his own lifestyle. It was funny, but as there was a Minister of state present whose government has achieved little in real terms (missing many of its own targets) on Climate change I felt it was a missed opportunity. Mrs Beckett looked relieved and exonerated as the only flak she took was from Jon Snow and she was able for much of the interview to use the old Blair tactic of acknowledging there was still much to do.

Whilst by its nature Climate Change has to be tackled internationally we can only lecture others (the largest growing pollutants India and China and especially the United States) if we lead by example. At the moment we have little to show for all the recent (excuse the pun) hot air. Pointing this out was left to the man in the middle Mr Snow, whilst Mr Juniper prevaricated and Mr Yorke looked ill at ease. More research and conviction next time please Thom!


The growing importance of pressure groups both here and overseas demonstrates the detachment many feel towards politics. More and more of us are getting involved in some sort of direct action in response to the inequalities faced by the majority of the worlds population and the ongoing destruction of the worlds environment. These are weighty, complex, big and scary issues that have to be tackled by all currently enjoying the power and the wealth (that's us) now before irreparable damage is done. The political establishment is deliberately dragging its feet because the solutions to all this are unlikely to win any elections. It means fundamental grass roots change in our lifestyles and societies and who wants to do that after a hard day at the office? The myth that we can carry on getting ever wealthier is about to be exploded. We can't. We, after all live on an increasingly polluted planet of finite recourses and space. This does not fit into the equation of ever increasing economic growth.

So what to do? Well, read up on the situation, find out those who are campaigning for what you think is right, buy the wrist band if necessary and at the risk of sounding like a 1970's student radical, organise and campaign!

[blogging by Dan]

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I feel a brief introduction is needed before I start. I'm Dan, a friend of Jonathan's who has been charged to help keep this popular and entertaining blog running while Jonathan suns himself in the Eastern Mediterranean. I have a tough task master in Jonathan as his observations and criticisms as any seasoned Assistant blog reader will know are always sharp and accurate.

So not wanting to rock this reliable old boat too much I've opted to draw your attentions to an article in.... wait for it... today's Guardian.

Oxford stage type Dominic Dromgoole today opted to draw the readers attention to the plight of the BBC's most listened to Radio soap. No, not the polite and rurally informative Archers but the GP surgery based multicultural touch all bases drama Westway. Not familiar to most radio listeners in this country unless they happen to have a digital set, as it is played on the World Service (in the middle of the night on Radio 4). Insomniacs may well be familiar with it however. I include myself in the number that are. It's clunky Shadows-esque theme music has woken me from near sleep on a number of occasions. Followed by the annoyance I feel at the cheery hammy acting (a tough feat to pull off on radio) which keeps me awake for the next 25 minutes as I seriously consider turning over to BBC Southern Counties Radio in the hope of some sleep inducing stale conversation and hoping that I don't get Phil Collins. So I'm not a fan and admit to feeling pleased when first I heard of its demise. I thought the World Service would be the better for it.

I was however wrong. Not because Westways good. Dromgoole seems to think that just by the virtue of it being Multicultural and being written by 'bright young talent' a great radio show is made. It isn't (think very internationalist daytime soap set in a London GP's surgery and you're someway there). In my opinion its awful but apparently according to Mr Dromgoole 35 Million people around the world disagree and I see no cause to argue.

He also raises concerns about the gradual creep of the World Service turning into a 24 Hour News service. I share his worries, there's no need for another, even with the reach that the WS has. The BBC's bland and unloved News 24 service shows the pointlessness of a public broadcaster going down this avenue. The World Service is strong when it is varied in output and more loved around the world for it. It is a hugely important source of not just news but information and entertainment to people of all backgrounds, languages and nations. Please BBC don't cave into the latest trend statistics of the Islington media set on this one, oh and please keep Westway.

[blogging by Dan]

Friday, May 20, 2005

It doesn’t count if the laughter is sarcastic

A couple of things I didn't get round to blogging for this week...

A fascinating interview with David Mitchell, author of the wonderful Cloud Atlas. This is the second Mitchell interview I've read, and I think I can safely say that not only is he probably the best writer in Britain at the moment, he's also got the most interesting things to say. If you like hearing about 'secret architectures' in fiction, and wanky stuff like that. Which I do. (thanks to Coalescent for the link).

One of the blogs I rarely get round to reading properly is Richard Herring's - what with being a celebrated comic and Radio 4 regular and all, he has plenty of attention already, so I let him be, by and large. It's us mini-bloggers you need to worry about. Well, all the same, I did note a very interesting post from him this week on the losing, and regaining, of an audience. It's worth a look.

Now, I'm going to be away from my computer for the next week or so, so, fearful of losing my audience - and, as ever, keen to entertain - I've asked a couple of non-bloggers, my friends Dan and Sam, to step in and add the odd post while I'm on computer cold-turkey. So say hello to them in the comments boxes, if they show up...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

assistant blog podcast info

Here's a slightly expanded version of the tracklisting for my first podcast; hope this is useful to anyone who enjoyed the show.

Assistant Blog Radio - Podcast One (right click to download)

1. The Fall - Theme from Sparta FC 2. On the podcast I call this the third or fourth iteration of this song. I think it's the third. The other versions are available on the excellent 'The Real New Fall LP/Country On The Click' and on the new Peel Sessions Box Set. The latter sounds like a work in progress, the former a slower, keyboard-led take. The one I play, (which you can(buy here), they re-recorded for single release and did a faster, heavier take. I think this is the best one.
2. Ghostface - My Guitar. This won't ever see the light of day, because like Ghostface's mixtape tracks, he's rapping over something he's not got permission to use. In this case, it's a version of The Beatles' 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. In the show I mention a fascinating article about Ghostface and the use of sampled material in mixtape tracks. You can read it here.
3. New Order - Waiting for the Siren's Call. From the most recent New Order album, this has to rank as one of their best tracks since the Technique era. Quite why they've picked the fairly grim 'Jetstream' as their new single is beyond me (and Ben, too). You can buy the New Order album here, if you like.
4. Assistant - What It Means. This is actually an exclusive, of sorts, in that the take of this song which we put up on our website and distributed was a different mix, which had double tracked vocals and a quieter middle eight. I think this is a slightly better mix, and hope it fits in OK.
5. AFX - Where's your Girlfriend? This is from the recent series of Analord 12"s/mini-albums which are the enterprising Richard D. James's latest cash-cow; I think it's 11 releases planned this year - all old-school acid workouts rather than the blisteringly modern stuff we're used to. His version of Luke Vibert's wonderful 'Yoseph' LP, basically. I think he even nicked the Analord monicker from an old Vibert record, come to think of it. Until Rephlex update their site, you can see 10 of the releases on their frontpage, here. And you can pick up a copy of Analord 01, from which this track comes, here.
6. Section 25 - Looking From a Hilltop. This is from Section 25's 1983 album, 'From The Hip', which you can buy here. Section 25 started out as more of a guitar band, so if you prefer Joy Division to New Order, you might want to start here, instead - 'Always Now', from 1981, is a darker proposition. There's tons of information on the band here - I've not read it yet.
7. New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Fishes Eyes. The New FADS are not, I suspect, remembered that fondly by that many. When I was a teenager and first getting into indie music, I regarded them as also rans, like Northside, Flowered Up, the Paris Angels and the Bridewell Taxis. I remember reading the odd article where they were presented as a bit arty and difficult, but never took the time to listen properly. Their name somehow persuaded me they sounded like Neds Atomic Dustbin or the Inspiral Carpets or one of those stupid-named bands of the time. In fact, they were much better than that, as I discovered when I dug out a couple of old, neglected compilations on which they featured. Further digging has unearthed their first two albums, 'Pigeonhole' and 'Body Exit Mind'. The track on the podcast is on the former, and demonstrates an expressive, funky, slightly caustic energy, as if The Fall played white-funk. Excellent stuff. The albums are unavailable now, but should be easy enough to find. Or ask me to make you a copy, if you like.
8. The Wedding Present - I'm from Further North Than You. Not much I need to say about The Weddoes, surely. If you don't have 'Bizarro', get it. If you don't have 'Seamonsters', get it quickly; if you're feeling in any way lovelorn, then leave the house immediately and get thee to a record shop. Only David Gedge sings lyrics like "And there was one particular glance / that made me afraid / that you were just using me as a chance / of getting laid". Plenty more fabulous lyrics on the Take Fountain LP, which houses this song.
9. Pavement - Fight This Generation. It's Pavement. It ambles hesitantly along, muttering "god damn the guts and the gore" before unleashing one of a hundred perfect Pavement moments; those chords coming in at the song's close and Malkmus's gloriously casual chant. No other band could make a call to arms like 'Fight this generation' sound so half-hearted. This track is from 'Wowee Zowee. The problem with playing this song at the end of the first podcast is that I don't think I'll be able to come across as good a lead-out track again...

Ah well.

our glorious leaders

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

rubbish documentary

I'm watching the C4 documentary on Pete Doherty by Max Carlish - what a lot of ridiculous, sycophantic bullshit. There was a great bit just now where the voiceover described chaos ensuing because of one of Doherty's song's 'incendiary chorus'. Cue a clip of Doherty and forty Nathan Barleys singing 'la la la la la' over and over. Ha ha. I'm off to bed.

podcast post number two

Having gone on about podcasting a bit already today, I'll reveal my ulterior motive; I'm just setting the scene for this, the unveiling of the Assistant Blog Radio Podcast, my own attempt at creating audio content to complement the rest of Assistant Blog. So far I've put together one programme which lasts around 40 minutes and is available to download now, thanks to the assistance of the phenonomally helpful Pete Ashton, who has agreed to host the file for me and provide a web page and RSS feed for the shows, as part of his drive to create a small community, or station, of audio-bloggers and podcasters. For my part, my first show is 95% music, although I like to think that I might be able to offer a little speech content a little further down the line.

Click here to go to the Assistant Blog Podcast homepage, where all shows will be archived...

Click here to access the Assistant Blog Podcast RSS feed (for use with podcasting software)

And right click and save here to download the show as a single, 23mb MP3 file.

If you want to keep up with both my own shows and Pete's (he's currently on Podcast number 9, and plays some great stuff), our combined feed is here. There are countless shows out there equally worthy of your time, but you'll have to look for them yourself - I'm not doing everything!

Here's the tracklisting for the first show:

1. The Fall - Theme from Sparta FC 2
2. Ghostface - My Guitar
3. New Order - Waiting for the Siren's Call
4. Assistant - What It Means
5. AFX - Where's your Girlfriend?
6. Section 25 - Looking From a Hilltop
7. New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Fishes Eyes
8. The Wedding Present - I'm from Further North Than You
9. Pavement - Fight This Generation

Please let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoy it. I'll do another show sometime soon...

podcast post number one

I woke up this morning to the sound of a clearly embarrased Today presenter trying to explain to the Radio 4 audience what a podcast was, seeing as they are now offering the 8.10am Today Interview as a daily podcast. One sensed brows furrowing across the home counties.

Nonetheless, the BBC are slowly, though enthusiastically, extending their online service into the world of podcasting, although they seem to be a bit confused about whether the service just consists of making mp3s available to download or not. For those who aren't yet up to speed, it's more complicated than that. If you want to get the best of podcasting you'll need to download a piece of software which will seek out (via RSS feeds) and download programmes for you. I use iPodder, although there's an exhaustive list of alternatives here. Then you subscribe to the programmes which interest you by loading in the relavent URL. For the Today interview, the address is:


There are plenty of other shows worth a try, obviously not just restricted to the BBC, but for more by the beeb there's a list of programmes currently available here - not all have full RSS access so aren't strictly podcasts, but those that are offer a really valuable service; content when and where you want it. And iPodder interacts directly with iTunes and my iPod, so the next time I plug it in to my computer the new programmes will be transferred over automatically.

If you've not tried podcasting yet, I recommend you give it a go - and I also recommend you consider producing your own shows. It's incredibly easy, and very exciting. Peter Day, the BBC presenter, writes that "anyone can internet-cast, anyone can distribute their words or their movies". He goes on to say that "all the assumptions I have made in 30 years of being a radio practitioner are suddenly up for grabs."

music, illness and identity

Okay, so they weren't exactly the best band in the world, but I liked some of their stuff and took an interest in Craig Nicholls, who it was revealed last year suffers from asperger's syndrome, but I'm disappointed to note that, after promising to retreat and regroup as a studio band when their singer was diagnosed, The Vines seem to be pretty much at the end of the road - according to this report, Hamish Rosser, the band's drummer, has had to advertise his services as a musician-for-hire, such is his financial situation. A shame that the spoils of success don't last longer than they do, and a shame that it sounds like the band have been unable to negotiate their way through this sad situation.

Elsewhere, I'm interested in this 'piano man' who has turned up alone on a windswept cliff on the Isle of Sheppey, and who is only able to communicate through drawing and music - specifically he drew a picture of a piano and, when introduced to one, played splendidly and with a calm at odds with his otherwise panicked persona. He has not spoken, nor been identified, and a nationwide search is on to uncover who exactly he is, and what trauma brought him to his current state of affairs.


What interests me more than anything else, though, is the extent to which such a story catches the public imagination - in pure romantic terms, the story is almost cinematic, so it's not surprise that people have reacted. As an establishing shot, a camera panning accross a cliff to reveal a mute, stricken man dressed in a smart performance outfit walking alone against the elements, it's pretty hard to beat.

But it also says something about how people in this country continue to see music as fabulously romantic; were he not an accomplished pianist (and interestingly the tone of articles I've read has ratcheted up the description of his talents from 'adept' to 'extraordinary') but instead a poet, I wonder if he would have had the same attention. Nonetheless, it's clearly fascinating on a number of levels, and I think we're all a bit compelled by the idea of disappearing, of losing one's identity, which has happened here, too.

I wonder how Craig Nicholls, over in Australia and adjusting to life as an autist (rather than a megastar), is adjusting to his changed circumstances and the anonymity it brings.

Monday, May 16, 2005

likes, dislikes

As much as it's easy to dislike and disparage George Galloway, it's also easy to discover a sneaking admiration for his bullish confidence and conviction, and to develop an irritation with those who seek to paint him as more despicable for saluting Saddam's "courage, ... strength ... [and] indefatigability" than, say, the governments who financed and armed him without the slightest pause for thought while they were going after Iran. Or, indeed, those who apply such judgement to Galloway but would not mention that Tony Benn himself afforded Hussein a tremendously courteous welcome when he met him in February 2003.

Anyway, with Galloway on his way to the US in order to appear before US senators who accuse him of exploiting the oil for food programme, he continues to disappoint his critics by remaining defiant:

"I am going to accuse them of being involved in a huge diversion from the real issues in Iraq, which are the theft of billions of dollars worth of Iraq's wealth by the United States of America and its corporations and the deaths of more than 100,000 people in Iraq, the destruction of the country, the opening of the doors to Islamic extremism of the al-Qaeda variety, tremendous crimes they have committed in Iraq."

As much as I dislike Galloway's conduct in the election run-in, surely I'm not the only one who - in a parallel universe - is cheering him on.

asterix on the web

Well, here's a link you can't help admiring. Some very dedicated individual has broken off a chunk of his life and used it to scan and publish on the web every page of every Asterix comic book ever published. Fantastic. Like JennyCide at GromBlog, I thought I'd read pretty much every one of these little masterpieces when I was younger, but I was obviously wrong. Plenty to read here, then, although I feel a bit self-conscious doing so in a crowded office. Am I childish to even want to?


(thanks to JennyCide for the link)

that's when you're on your own

New Graham Coxon album coming in the autumn, apparently, which is good news, because it's a stone cold certainty that it will contain three excellent tracks, like every Coxon album does. Still can't get into Happiness in Magazines, though, making me the last Blur fan in Britain not to acclaim that record.

The new one apparently, is concerned with "L.O.V.E" and is, ahem, "psycha-sentimental-aladelic", according to Graham. He goes on:

"It’s hugely deep, hugely emotional, unashamedly sneering in places and sarcastic… it sounds really nice"


Friday, May 13, 2005

current listening....

1. The Fall - Peel Sessions box set (words will not suffice).
2. Duke Spirit - Love is an Unfamiliar Name (really liking the singer's voice, fantastic)
3. Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger LP (a much better album than I expected, even after some cracking singles)
4. Clor - Love and Pain (kind of like Bis crossed with the Pixies, and great for it)
5. Gorillaz - Demon Days LP (wow, confusing and brilliant, and really surprising)
6. Electrelane - Bells (from their ace new 'Axes LP')
7. New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Pigeonhole LP (worth seeking out, honestly)
8. The Departure - Dirty Words (or 'All Mapped Out', I can't remember which it is I like)
9. Siouxie and the Banshees - Arabian Nights (from their Ju-Ju LP, which I've just rediscovered)
10. Assistant - Known to Run (sloppy rehearsal out-take which sounds brilliant, though I'm clearly biased).

tories and money

Oliver Letwin, tory buffoon and the former Shadow Chancellor, asked, apparently, to be relieved of his duties because he wants "to return to his £300,000 a year job at the merchant bank NM Rothschild." And when Michael Howard talked to William Hague about a possible return to the shadow cabinet "Mr Hague is understood to have indicated that business commitments would make it difficult for him to take on such a high profile job."

What the fuck is this? How do Letwin's constituents feel about him operating as a merchant banker when he's supposed to be their elected representative?? And what happened to the politician's desire to do good by his country? Desire to make filthy great wodges of cash, more like. With the tories it's always just money, money, money.

Mind you, I do like the fact that their new Education secretary went to Eton. That'll stand him in good stead, then.

tyranny of choice

I've been meaning to link to Pete's excellent post on choice fatigue, feeling as I am the pressure of iPod click wheel syndrome (incessent song-surfing and thumb usage), and particularly as I'm finding it increasingly helpful just not turning the television on in the evenings (credit to Vic for pointing out how much more time one has without the telly slow burning in the corner). Pete writes:

"Seasoned web users figured out long ago that the only way to deal with the enormity of the web is to set it up so you don't have to be bothered. Either stick to your own niche or let others do the aggregating. Check your feeds and when you've read them all then that's it. Once the internet that you can be bothered with has run out, the other fifty-thousand billion pages might as well not exist. Keep everything in manageable packages the parameters of which you have specified otherwise your brain will explode and you'll never read anything."

I just read one paper these days, I just listen to one radio station. My iPod, granted, gives me the option of 7,468 songs in random sequence, but I'd not noticed before that now I've picked out maybe 20 blogs to read (and one aggregator) I don't even do that much web surfing any more. We got freeview the other week but it's hardly been used so far.

Anyway. I was going to post on that but I didn't, because I kept getting distracted, so perhaps I'm not that single-minded. And I just saw this - more4 - a new digital station that really looks quite good. I'm not quite willing to abandon choice quite yet, then.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

direct from popbitch

"The Fall are on Jools Holland's show next week. Mark E Smith is the only artist in the history of the show to have a clause in his contract inserted to state that Jools will not play boogie-woogie piano over any of his songs."


royal jelly in the garden of death

Some wonderful turns of phrase in this article in the Guardian today on the Tory leadership challenge, both from the journalist himself and the unnamed frontbencher that he quotes. Phrases like 'The Notting Hill set have been fed on royal jelly' make my day, to be perfectly honest.

Elsewhere Michael Howard is compared to Blofeld, David Davis is imagined negotiating his way through 'poisonous plants and animals in the Garden of Death', George Osborne is Icarus, whose 'whose waxen wings melted when he flew too near the sun', and Gordon Brown is compared to a 'large bull who gores matadors'. All this in a 600 word news report. Wonderful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

the decline and fall of david bellamy

Back in July David Bellamy wrote an article titled 'Global Warming: What a load of poppycock!', which - despite its faintly endearing title - was itself a load of absolute rubbish (he quoted a petition signed by 18,000 'scientists', whose signatures included, on closer inspection, 'Ginger Spice' and 'Michael J. Fox'). Now he's at it again. He's claimed that many of the world's glaciers

"are not shrinking but in fact are growing ... 555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980".

In the Guardian today George Monbiot deconstructs the 'scientific' data which led Bellamy to this claim, and reveals - predictably enough - that it's a combination of thoroughly bad science, out of date research, invisible sources and, unbelievably, Bellamy's own carelessness.

"While Bellamy's source claimed that 55% of 625 glaciers are advancing, Bellamy claimed that 555 of them - or 89% - are advancing. This figure appears to exist nowhere else. But on the standard English keyboard, 5 and % occupy the same key. If you try to hit %, but fail to press shift, you get 555, instead of 55%. This is the only explanation I can produce for his figure. When I challenged him, he admitted that there had been "a glitch of the electronics"."

He didn't request a correction, however. Not good enough! Bellamy joins the ranks of 'scientists' who have to be thoroughly unscientific in order to justify their opinions about climate change. It is hard to convey, Monbiot writes

"just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in the palm of your hand. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world's most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals".

Read his article in full in the Guardian here, or on his website - with references - here.

i'm just a cross-hair

Now that the election is over it's good to see that we can get back to campaigning on the real issues. And accordingly, I urge you to sign the following petition:

"If you aware of the Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand, you may also be aware of their lead singer's late fringe. The fringe of Alexander Kapranos symbolised a great many things to his fans - freedom, truth, beauty, justice - and he also had to push it attractively out of his eyes in order to see. We liked that. However, it has come to our attention that the much beloved fringe of Mr Kapranos has been cruelly taken from his forehead, to be replaced with a haircut that enables him to see. We find this upsetting, shocking, infuriating and a variety of other words that end in "ing". We have decided that it is necessary to start up this petition, asking for Mr Kapranos to kindly grow his fringe back, so that freedom, truth, beauty, justice and hair-flipping are restored to mankind."

Add your name to the chorus here.

Monday, May 09, 2005

thoughts on where apple goes next

Two interesting thoughts on the evolution of Apple and iTunes courtesy of Robert Cringely. Firstly, Tiger (Apple's new operating system), he says,

"gives us a peek at another evolution of iTunes, which is the inevitable expansion of the system to carry additional audio file formats. Looking at the unused iTunes icons that shipped with your new version of 10.4, you'll notice icons for currently-not-supported ogg vorbis and Windows Media Audio (wma), as well as several others including a variety of video formats, too. With this new information we can make a pretty good guess about the evolution of both iTunes and iPod. When Apple feels that the success of iTunes is absolutely assured, which will be shortly, they'll address the user complaint that iPod only supports AAC and MP3 audio by adding these additional formats, leading to increased iPod sales. And at the same time, the video icons strongly suggest that Apple will also have a video iPod this year."

Thanks to Link Machine Go, which pulled that quote and drew my attention to it. Clicking through, I read Cringely's second prediction.

"Apple's own downward price pressure on portable media players gives us another element of the probable iPod strategy that hearkens back to my question of a few weeks ago whether iPod is the razor or the blade. Ultimately, what Apple wants to do is make its money through iTunes, where the profit margins are better in the long term and the system is easily scalable. It was necessary to create the iPod platform to make this happen. But downward price pressures will eventually hurt iPod profit margins and affect Apple's stock price, so the trick is to know when to switch the business from being a mix of hardware and software to one that is software-only. That switch, which I believe to be inevitable, will happen shortly after Apple begins to license iPod clones.

But Steve Jobs HATES clones, doesn't he? He killed the Mac clones back in the late 90s.

What Steve hates is hardware competition, but iPod clones will only happen at a point when Apple has decided to get out of the business of making its own iPods. Think about it. If Apple licensed iPod technology, the company would receive from its OEMs a per-CPU license fee of anywhere from $5 to $25 depending on how smooth Steve is as a salesman and how desperate the would-be OEMs are for that license. As Apple's profit drops on each iPod it makes, eventually the per-CPU figure will approach what Apple might receive from licensees. At that moment it makes more sense for Apple to license clones than it does to make more iPods. Licensing clones AT THE RIGHT TIME would lead to huge clone sales, effectively killing any significant iTunes competitor. And in the long run, iTunes is where the money is."

Apologies for quoting such a lot of text verbatim; I've not got the time to condense or paraphrase. Here is the original article, where I should probably have directed you in the first place:

Jet Me to Work - by Robert X Cringely.

football and the emotions of men

It was at the Bernabau last autumn that the excesses of spanish racism were so clearly made visible during the England-Spain match, the one where a shocking, salty scale of abuse operated on a kind of sliding scale of application - where England's black players were tolerated to varying levels according to the darkness of their skin pigmentation. Rio Ferdinand got off (comparitively) lightly. Shaun Wright-Phillips did not.

The Spanish FA never really made any serious attempt to disclipine their fans (or their national coach, Aragones, who called Thierry Henry a 'black shit' a couple of weeks earlier). And racist chants continue. Indeed, they are on the increase in Spain.

Now the Observer has published a really excellent, exhaustive article on racism in football, and it's well worth a read:

"Football is the fault line of racism in Europe. No other activity, be it cultural or political, commands the emotion, passion and allegiance, certainly of men, in the same way. Football is the cultural lingua franca of European men. Far from being some kind of hermetically sealed hobby on the periphery of society, a phenomenon only of interest to those who read the sports pages, football is an exemplar of society: it mirrors and gives expression to society's passions and prejudices in a way that politics, for example, is, for the most part, quite unable to do. Indeed, it is about the only activity in which men collectively and publicly express their own emotions. What happened in the Bernabéu exposed, in all its raw crudity, the prejudices that inform Spanish society. Official, polite society - parliament, the media and the rest - contains, channels, constrains and seeks to deny these prejudices. Football reveals them".

Plenty more thoughtful and revealing stuff: here's the article in full.

cheap flights

An interesting (if not actually entertaining) article by Mark Lynas over on his blog today (and in the new edition of New Statesman, too). Lynas calls for the government to turn its attention to environmental matters now, and if they've any sense they'll follow his advice.

Lynas writes:

"'The environment' is still seen as a soft-focus poor relation to the real hard-politics issues such as health, the economy, asylum-seekers, and so on. Throughout the election, it was the issue that dared not speak its name. The problem was not that it was too controversial: on the contrary, it wasn't controversial enough. Green issues are still so unimportant electorally that, last November, Labour admitted quite freely that it would not meet its own climate-change targets. Unlike Iraq, the environment is not even worth lying about.

Our political system is gripped from top to bottom by a peculiar kind of cognitive dissonance, where politicians openly acknowledge that environmental issues are the most important ever to face humankind, and yet even as they utter these words, business as usual hums on in the background."

Reading the article in full has spoiled my day somewhat. I've been looking at summer holidays and marvelling over the cheap flights. Cheap, yes. Impossibly damaging, er, also yes. One of those situations where I won't even pretend my moral side will win out, but that's a shame.


Around about eye level in my company's lavatory (the spacious disabled one at the front of the building) there's a small, blue box made of translucent plastic hanging on the wall. It's been there for the last year or two and I've never really had cause to notice it much before. But just now I nipped away from my desk for a moment and, as I was drying my hands, it spat out a cloud of sweet-smelling perfume, narrowly missing my eyes and enveloping me in a haze of chemicals. It reminded me of the moment in 'Anchorman' when the broadcaster, steeped in a foul-smelling aftershave called 'Sex Panther', has to be hosed down by cleaners, one of whom exclaims 'this is worse than that time the skunk got caught in the photocopier'.

I returned to my desk, coughing and blinking, and realised that I now smell as if I work on the ladies perfume counter in the Kemptown branch of Superdrug. Not an effect I was gunning for!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

old peel shows

Ah, link of the year so far courtesy of Pete Ashton's linklog - he's spotted that "there is, somewhat unexpectedly, a whole arena of folk sharing mp3s of old John Peel radio shows", which is a lovely idea. I had it vaguely in mind that I might have some old cassettes of his programmes lying around somewhere which I ought to rescue and copy, but I never found any (or didn't look hard enough, perhaps). Far easier, then, to download some of the shows available here, on Teenage Kicks 3000, and remind myself how good his programmes were.

Thanks to the ever reliable Pete for the link. Pete's blog, can I just say, is pretty unambiguously the best thing going on the web right now. Take a look - here.

Friday, May 06, 2005

howard quits

Well, that's another Tory leader we've seen the back off. Michael Howard has just done exactly what John Major and William Hague did before him, ie stand down immediately after losing a general election. In this case, hard to understand it as a decision, for the following - fairly obvious - reasons

1. What good did it do the tories when previous leaders abdicated this way? None - it left them directionless and vague when the Labour government looked purposeful after being re-elected.

2. Is there anyone to replace him? No, still not yet. Davis, Letwin or Fox would be a disaster. It's too soon for David Cameron or Michael Gove. Why not stay on eighteen months and 'blood the youngsters' in his shadow cabinet first? And don't get me started on the 'why have they continually sidelined Ken Clarke?' question.

3. What about Howard's credibility. His resigning immediate despite a not disasterous poll is a pretty dishonest action after running a hugely presidental campaign which centred on Howard and his desire to match Blair. If he wasn't prepared to stick it out he shouldn't have campaigned on such a personal ticket. I'd feel pretty let-down if I was a tory and had rallied behind Howard (far fetched, I know).

4. He didn't do all that badly. Candidly, not a single tory expected him to win. It wasn't possible. His campaign may have been despicably willing to appeal to the baser instincts, but you just watch: his successor will do the same. And the fact is that until he resigned this morning it was Blair everyone was regarding as the wounded party after this election, even if he did win. If Howard had stayed on he could have said:

- "We really hit Blair hard and he knows how we feel about him now."
- "We significantly reduced his majority."
- "We succeeded in setting the campaign agenda and may be able to continue to set the tone of debate".
- "We've got plenty of new MPs raring to go against a tired Labour government."
- "Now that his backbenchers have more power we can defeat Blair's agenda more frequently, and enjoy watching Galloway make the PM squirm."
- "Despite their talk of being the 'real alternative', we saw off the Lib Dems too."

Instead, the message he sends by resigning is that he confirms all the alternatives to the argument above - that Blair is the victor, he's seen the tories off, it's still a one-horse race and the tories can't keep up. Four hours ago Blair looked like a weakened PM up against an improving opposition. Now all of a sudden he's the big winner with a reasonable majority - who's seen off his biggest electoral threat.

And the tories are nowhere. Weird.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

too gruesome

Some highlights from the New Statesman's roundup of how their columnists will be voting:

Stephen Bayley, design guru - Tory.
Each party is repulsive in its special way, although the Lib Dems can be dismissed first. As Tom Wolfe said, "a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested". And Charles Kennedy is a sartorial and intellectual disgrace. Howard needs a new pair of glasses. His current pair makes him look specially sinister: he would appear more pleasingly Harvard in an elegant pair of big, round, black frames. As it is, he looks like a psychotic dentist. Blair's fashion promiscuity externalises a fundamental pusillanimity. Howard may say unpleasant things, but he at least approaches a version of honesty, with consistency. But, really, with our politicians we are very impoverished. Rosser Reeves, a founder of modern advertising, said Churchill was unforgettable because he understood the relationship between oratory and image. He was a one-man communications system. With this memory of excellence in mind, I shall vote Conservative.

Ian Jack, editor, Granta - Labour
The candidate in my constituency (Islington North) is Jeremy Corbyn, who seems to care about the people he represents and who voted against the Iraq war. He has at least two other attractive qualities: he rides a bike and I once saw him reading a book in a second-hand bookshop.

Peter Dunn, journalist - Lib Dem.
Because Blair is quite mad. You can tell by the way his speech clicks on and off that he's listening to voices. I don't want him to apologise for Stalinising the public services, or for terrorising travellers on the London Tube. I don't want, ever again, to see him swaggering around NHS premises with his pan-stick make-up and the simian walk he's copied from George Bush. I just want him to go.

Rachel Cooke, journalist - Dunno
Tribally, I am Labour, but I am not sure I can bring myself to vote for them this time. Too gruesome (the war, the general bullshit). But our local candidate is Jeremy Corbyn, who has voted against the government on all the key issues. I can't vote Lib Dem just for the sake of making a protest. Ridiculous. So I may not vote at all - unless I wimp out at the last minute and go for Labour.

Darcus Howe, columnist
- Not going to vote.
I am not a pig to be fattened by a little more swill from the Treasury.

vote swapping

My local MP, Des Turner, voted against Blair's government on the following issues:

- Prevention of Terrorism Bill
- Tuition Fees
- Foundation Hospitals
- Iraq
- new UN resolution
- Emergency Iraq debate
- Incapacity benefits means testing

as well as voting for the abolition of fox hunting. He currently has a majority of 4,922 votes - surely enough to defeat the Conservative in second place. All the same, I can readily imagine 5,000 labour voters in Kemptown voting Lib Dem. I don't want a tory MP.

And I like Des Turner.

But I don't want to endorse Labour.

Anyone live somewhere where Labour have a strong majority, who was going to vote with our lovely party of government? If so, fancy swapping your Labour vote for my Lib Dem / Green one? You can register my dissatisfaction in your constituency and I'll try to hang on to Des in Brighton?

Otherwise, I'll just sit here for the next eight hours trying to work out what to do.

UPDATE: more on Kemptown and Des Turner over at Clagnut, btw.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

fire alarms

We just had a fire alarm at work - not so exciting (we had helicopters last time), but nice to get out in the cool and wake up a bit. That said, there's one aspect of fire drills I really hate, which is the hanging around (in my case, in the space specified for surnames beginning with letters S - Z) waiting to be identified, and waiting for the ringing to stop. Does anyone else feel suddenly very lonely at this point?

It's another thing analogous to the office party or the station platform on the way home - I stand and shift my weight from one foot to another, and scan the crowd for people to go and talk to. But all my friends are in A-E! Everyone else quickly finds a colleague or a stranger that they can comfortably talk to, and I stand just a bit aside, trying to look a bit distracted and thoughtful because I feel embarrassed that there isn't an easy conversational routine I can fall into to look more at ease. I end up standing on the periphery of two people I know vaguely who allow me to join their discussion. I feel better.

But how is it that everyone else seems to know each other? Obviously I know lots of people at work but suddenly I can't see any of them. My fault, I suppose, for preferring people with an A-E surname. As I walk back upstairs I remember my friend, who has an S surname too? Where was he!?? Off at the back laughing with someone else, I suppose. Pah.

When we have office parties here at work, which we unavoidably do every few months, myself and a fellow colleague have identified each other as social shirkers. When festivities begin we seek each other out, and grimace, and feel better.

Sunday, May 01, 2005


I was just in Woolworths, behind two middle yeared, white haired women who I overheard thus:

"Did you see Lord of the Rings last night?"
"Ooh, no. What was it like?"
"Awful. But we all agreed. Gandalf looks exactly like Mike from work".

Funny how everyone knows someone who had their look pinched by Gandalf the Grey.

There's one working in my IT department.