Friday, September 30, 2005

i wanted to like them: the arctic monkeys

Utterly hyperbolic interview with the Arctic Monkeys in the Guardian today. So I just downloaded sixteen songs by them. They're completely shit. Why do I bother?

bookies paying out on chelsea winning title.

How ridiculous! There's plenty of time for an upset yet.

The Premier League title has already been won - according to some bookies who are already paying out on Chelsea. Reports in national newspapers claim Paddy Power is shelling out up to £1m eight months before the end of the football season.With 31 games still left to play, it seems Chelsea have already retained the title.

Two years ago the Irish bookies burned their fingers by coughing up on Arsenal only to pay out again when Manchester United pipped them.

But the head of communications at Paddy Power said: "We know and the punters know the Premiership race is already over."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

america and the missouri breaks

I go through cycles of interest, usually piqued by some random event or article or news story. At the moment, formed out of, I suspect, recent events on the Gulf coast of America, I've become quite obsessed with the geography and history of the US. Yeah, I know, just when everyone was getting tired of me asking 'why is Blair so enthralled with America rather than Europe', I've gone and developed an interest myself.

It's an interest borne out of, I'm hesitant to admit, the realisation of my complete ignorance in the subject. Nodding knowledgeably when someone tells me about a conference they attended in Virginia and commenting, sagely, that New England is very beautiful indeed in the Autumn months only to notice the indecision in their eyes as they wonder whether to tell me where it really is. But the first settlers landed in fuckin' Virginia, I proclaim, later, when I look at a map, and they landed in New England, goddammit. So someone must have moved it about on the map and stuck it down there under Washington DC.

OK, so the first settlers did land in Virginia, but the pilgrims landed further North, yeah, yeah, I've worked it out now. And anyway, by that time the Spanish had already come up through Mexico and discovered the Gulf of California and the French travelled down from Canada and down the Mississipi to New Orleans yeah yeah yeah, I worked it out. I'm piecing things together now.

So, the new, America-friendly me did something the other night which I wouldn't have dreamed of doing at any time during the last five or ten years, which is sit down with a beer on Saturday and watch a Western. Did anyone else watch The Missouri Breaks last weekend? God, if that film is representative of cowboy films (okay, I know it's not) then I'm a convert. It was absolutely stunning, and - as I think I've written about maybe two movies in total since I started blogging - can be elevated beyond my film of the week to my film of the last six months or however long it is since I wrote something derogoratory about the acting in the last Star Wars movie.

Filmed in 1976 and starring a lively, appealing Jack Nicholson acting against a waning, wicked Marlon Brando, and set in Montana - see, they keep trying to catch me out with geography. Not in Missouri, but in Montana - it weaves a slight, stately story of cattle rustlers coming up against Brando's regulator. As often as not content to let the camera wander over the Rockies as follow a chase scene or a gunfight, it's immediately more mature and thoughtful than the typical Western, although what sets it apart is a magnificent display of competitive acting from its two leads. Nicholson pulls out plenty of stops with his portrayal of a charming, lonely outlaw who is almost ready to go straight; underplaying it to turn in a subtle, nuanced performance with just enough flashes of manic energy. But Brando is - depending on your outlook, and this film was savaged on its release - either encouraged to unleash all his wayward genius on the role or completely indulged. Tending toward the former explanation, Brando is just magnificent playing Lee Clayton, the unorthodox regulator brought in to pick off Nicholson and his gang.

When Clayton is first introduced he is a slightly creepy, effete cowboy with a pronounced Irish accent. He is immediately recognisable as Brando, and immediately imbued with the gravity of the actor. So far, so good. But as the film progresses, and Brando ups the ante, he grabs the film by the scruff of the neck and re-orders it around him as if he were a tornado. After the consistency of his opening scenes, Brando plays the character with increasing intensity until he threatens to bring the whole thing down around him.

Stealing every scene he's in, ad-libbing lines, his accent appears and disappears, he appears dressed as a cowboy, a preacher and, ultimately - with no explanation whatsoever - in a white dress and sun bonnet, cacking and calling himself 'Grandma'.

Yet the film retains it's stately pace while Brando causes chaos within. It's remarkable. Unlike, say, Norman Bates in 'Psycho', Brando's pychopath is not isolated and withdrawn from society, not the 'other' hidden away in a darkened motel. He is allowed free rein in a country that knows more lawlessness than it does justice. Somehow, against the cruel rancher that hires him, he doesn't even seem that horrifying. He's allowed to be a man of reputation, admired even. It's this distinction which somehow enables the film to reconcile the depravity of an age with its innate romanticism.

Brilliant, flawed, essential stuff.

This Sceptred Isle

The new series of Radio 4's stunningly ambitious This Sceptred Isle, which now turns it's attention to Empire, began yesterday. With over 90 episodes, it should be a rare and uniquely detailed treat. But how wondeful it would have been if the BBC had taken the opportunity to make it available as podcasts! That would be great. I realise that the tapes and CDs of This Sceptred Isle represent BBC Audiobooks most successful cash-cow and they're anxious not to upset that, but I'd gladly pay a subscription for podcasted episodes of this, or they could just issue low bitrate versions which would be less likely to impinge upon sales. Ah well - just an idea and sadly one they've chosen not to pursue.

You can at least listen back to previous episodes online if, like me, getting to a radio at 3.45pm is sadly impossible - click here to listen to yesterday's episode.

Monday, September 26, 2005

maybe we should run 'em into the sea

What with the War Party being down in Brighton and all, the Guardian's conference blog has moved on from coverage of the Libs in Blackpool to Labour's stint on the Sussex coast; not an awful lot of posts so far but it should prove interesting reading as things shift along. There's an illuminating item concerning a fringe debate involving Clare Short last night where a woman stood up and said,

"I don't want to give my name or where I come from. I've been an activist for nine years and in the CLP [constituency Labour party] I come from, if you have views like Clare [Short]'s, you're shouted at, you're told you shouldn't be in the Labour party ... "

It's pretty astonishing if this really is the case. Despite my teasing, I still believe that the natural home for a reasonable, liberal person is within the Labour Party, even if we're stuck with this appalling government. At the moment the right wing of the party has asserted its supremacy, which is why lily-livered lefties like me have deserted Labour, leaving hardier souls to carry on the good fight while we complain and register our vote with others. But it didn't really occur to me that, far from being encouraged to fight their corner and wait for their day, left-wingers left in the party are being actively marginalised and pressured to leave. If that is the case, then the Labour Party risks making the split between itself and it's traditional supporters not just temporary but absolute.

straw poll

tonight, should I watch:

Documentary on Bob Dylan on BBC2, by Martin Scorcese.
(pros: good reviews, hesitant interest in Bob. cons: likely to be very fawning, already feel like I've watched it after about a million trailers on both the TV and the radio)

Tottenham Vs Fulham on Sky Sports, in the pub.
(pros: beer, it can't possibly get any worse than defeat by Grimsby. cons: it just might).


Votes in the comments box please...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

kyoto: blair admits to 'changing my thinking about this'

Oh for fuck's sake.

"In a debate, hosted by former US President Bill Clinton in New York, Blair said he was not hopeful of another major agreement on targets to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.

Instead, he talked enthusiastically about focusing on technology-led solutions, the process favoured by America, Japan, China and India, but rejected by environmental campaigners and other leaders, including Britain's own minister responsible for climate change minister.

He also back-tracked on his previous insistence that tackling climate change would not damage economic growth, warning 'no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially' - a phrase that echoes anti-Kyoto arguments of President George Bush."

More here

Friday, September 23, 2005

a song for peel

A new version of the Buzzcocks' lovely 'Ever Fallen In Love' is being recorded as a tribute single to the late and even lovelier John Peel: artists contributing include The Futureheads, Hooky, Pete Shelley, Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey. I guess it'll be a kind of 'Perfect Day' style amalgamation, and while it does sound like a faintly silly idea, it's been organised by John's son, Tom, and all proceeds will go to Amnesty International. It'll be released on November 21, so buy it, I guess. If you've stopped laughing after Mark E Smith's performance on Final Score a few days earlier, that is.

disgusting food

Ug, does anyone out there still eat McDonalds after watching Super Size Me? My days of dining at fast food eateries are pretty much behind me, but I just made the mistake of grabbing a quarter pounder with cheese meal from the McDonalds in Chichester for my lunch. I know, but I just fancied it. Mistake. The feeling of lethargy and queasiness one acquires after eating their grub is truly deadening, a quite unmistakeable sensation. Bleurgh.

katrina update

As Hurricane Rita surges towards Texas, now's a good time to get a quick update on the death toll wreaked by Katrina, still thankfully well below the estimates of 10,000 or so which were being discussed in the days after the levees broke. Not that the figures aren't shocking enough already, especially taken with the caveat that they are still expected to rise as crews are only just getting to some of the areas which were most badly flooded.

Alabama 2, Florida 11, Georgia 2, Louisiana 799, Mississippi 219 = Total 1033

Thanks to Norm for pointing me to the CNN report which quoted those numbers.

completely unbelievable news!

If ever there was a time to set the video it'll be on November 17th at 4.45pm, where, astonishingly, Mark E. Smith will read the full time football results on the BBC's 'Final Score'. According to Playlouder:

"A longtime football fan and supporter of Manchester City, Smith will read the results on BBC One's Final Score television programme on Saturday, November 17th.

A Fall spokesperson said that "the programme's producer's are obviously big fans of the famous left fielder."

The band's 'Theme From Sparta FC' has recently been used as the title music on television football coverage gubbins.

The Fall's new album, 'Fall Heads Roll' is out on October 3rd."

Surely not!! They're not going to let him on live, are they???? Talk about a loose cannon!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

labour come to town

One of the oddities of politics at the moment is that you'd think I'd be looking forward to having Labour down to Brighton for the conference next week; Blair and his shoddy government have behaved so contemptibly recently that you'd expect to feed off the groundswell of bitterness and anger that people feel for the Labour party. But instead the conference will most likely go off without a hitch, expertly stage-managed to block too many mentions of Iraq, Bush or Robin Cook. I've not heard of any demonstrations in Brighton while Labour are down here, either. Instead we'll have to watch, feeling sick, as Blair gets his seven minute standing ovation.

UPDATE: My comments above and in the comments section below, by the way, are much informed by Jonathan Freedland's recent article, 'One sentence that tells us so much about Tony Blair', which you can read here. Inspired by Blair's words to Murdoch last week, Freedland is good on our PM:

"[...]We owe Murdoch a great debt. He has given us a single sentence that says so much. It reveals a Labour prime minister whose every instinct is at odds with the movement he leads. The BBC or Fox News? He chooses Fox. The victims of Katrina or the Bush White House? His sympathies go to the White House. German Social Democrat or the Prussian Thatcher? He chooses Thatcher.

This is Tony Blair, utterly out of step with the party he has led for 11 years. There is no outrage, just a shrug of the shoulders. Next week at the party conference he will get a standing ovation, as out of reach as an American second-term president - there is no realistic way of getting rid of him. Instead Labour will just wait for the day he goes, off to meet his inevitable destiny - the US lecture circuit - to earn millions and eat fine dinners with the Kissingers and Murdochs, the Berlusconis and Bushes, who are for him what Labour never was: his natural home."

Friday, September 16, 2005

mexico and hove

Some absolutely magnificent shots of Mexico City courtesy of a local Helicopter pilot, here, and well worth a look - I shan't copy and paste any of the images here because they're, well, not mine; but they're quite stunning. The shanty towns and the modern prefabs an unbelievable contrast to the opulence of the rich half of the city and the stunning scenery, all sweeping curves, blue skies and volcanic promise. Thanks to JennyCide for the link.

Mexico City at Wikipedia

Similarly architecturally, here's a kind-of, sort-of interesting article about the mooted Gehry building in Hove from why-did-you-bother-new-Guardian-columnist Simon Jenkins.

"Walk west along the Brighton seafront. Ignore the horror of the conference centre. Ignore the sad carcass of the doomed West Pier. Ignore the detritus of half a century of dud town planning.

At the old Hove boundary your spirit starts to lift. At stately Brunswick Terrace order is restored. Brunswick Square washes inland on a tide of billowing stucco, one of the noblest squares in England. At Adelaide Crescent is a crescendo of architecture and landscape which surpasses anything in Bath. Hove by the sea is, in Betjeman's words, a rare English town one could safely call "her". It is lush and beautiful."

I hate articles (or books) that quote Betjemen. I'm looking forward to the Gehry building, though, even though it's been watered down a bit from its original design.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

blackmail and the reinforcement of stereotypes

Funny, while I was distracted with events concerning Doonesbury, more important things were happening over at John's excellent Shot By Both Sides blog, which is - now - sadly defunct. Having caused offence with a particularly bleak bit of satire, John found himself in hot water because some scumbag decided to take up the issue with John's employers and tried to get him fired, which is clearly a completely outrageous and cowardly way to behave. Even the more temparate types over at Harry's Place have taken exception to this appalling behaviour. You can see John's goodbye message here, and keep up with him over at The Sharpener. Thanks to Andrew for bringing that to my attention.

With all his archives gone (please reconsider that, at least, John) the only way to acquaint yourself with John's writing (apart from on his new home) is to dig around in the google cache for SBBS, which is what I just did, and which is where I discovered a link to an intriguing article from last week's paper that I missed, which basically suggests that all those horror stories we heard after Katrina decimated New Orleans about raping, murdering and infanticide are largely - so far - unsubstantiated. It doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to speculate that much of the information spread around the US media pandered to two reliable desires; that for a good, gruesome story, and the desire to reinforce the idea that poor people and black people revert automatically to an innate savagery as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Here's the article:
Gary Younge - Murder and rape - fact or fiction?

It's clearly the case that looting and criminality were rife in New Orleans in the days after the crisis (incidentally, hardly anyone mentions how the city's drug addicts were deprived of a fix while they were stranded, which explains much of the looting of pharmacists and hospitals) , and history does has countless examples of how men abandon convention and submit to their basest instincts in certain circumstances (the unmentionable behaviour of Russian troops in the latter stages of the Second World War being perhaps the best example; Anthony Beevor describes them 'regarding women almost as carnal booty'. Abu Ghraib springs to mind, too). But it is shocking how badly and how half-heartedly they attempted to correct the vastly negative impression first given. Which makes you wonder, what do they want you to think about black people?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

charles sings to the seals

My favourite headline of the week (apart from - need I say it - Doonesbury Returning To The Guardian) has to be:

Heidi Klum and Seal have baby boy

You wouldn't think it was possible...

OK, who wants to know what I'm listening to this week? OK then!
1. Xiu-Xiu - La Foret LP (pretty speechless on this one; go get it!)
2. MC DJ - Illin-Noise LP (d'n'b remixes of Sufjan Steven's already pretty good Illinois LP)
3. Kompact - Total 6 LP (awesome minimalist German techno? Yes please)
4. The Fall - Live at the Witch Trials LP (yeah The Fall)
5. Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better With Franz Ferdinand LP (um, anaemic, dreary and one-dimension, sadly, fantastic lead-off single aside)
6. Blackalicious - The Craft LP (give me this over Kanye anyday)
7. Clor - Clor LP (crack, fizzle, pause, etc)
8. Rolling Stones - 'Laugh, I Nearly Died' (off their A Bigger Bang LP, and really good, seriously)
9. Assistant - 'Forgot to Ask' (bright and itchy new song by me)
10. The Streets - 'Vs Bloc Party' (kind of naff remix of Bloc Party's 'Banquet', but fun)

Monday, September 12, 2005

There's still hope...

There's hope yet. Sign up here for the bring back Doonesbury campaign.

Says Ian Katz, editor of G2, "We felt Doonesbury had a small, committed following but was not read by a large readership. If we're wrong about the number of people who read and love it, we may have to think again."

last words on the Guardian...

Still totally perplexed by the lack of Doonesbury in the paper, but calming down about it a bit now. At least it's available online. Of the rest of the issues in the paper, I'm a lot more relaxed - Passnotes had kind of run out of steam (quite unlike Doonesbury, which... OK, I'll stop) and I never read Smallweed much. The main paper does, I think, suffer in a small way from the reduction of size, especially when fairly innocuous articles end up filling an entire page. But this is made up for by the sheer pleasure of that turning that narrower page.

Comments and Analysis, much criticised by the Labour right in recent years, has retitled itself 'Comments and Debate', perhaps appropriately given that they have chosen to give Madeline Bunting first go at the main piece, although she does a decent enough job of it (as she normally does, despite the shrill protests of the warbloggers). I didn't see a space laid out for the Diary, which is a bit concerning, but I don't think it appears on Mondays so hopefully that's not an issue.

The promised daily science page does not seem to have materialised, nor has the recently AWOL Editor page, although they've carried over the 'review of reviews' feature to G2, which is a good move and hopefully something they'll continue with some of the other features. The TV column in the smaller section is retained and expanded but no sign of Nancy Banks Smith in the broadsheet, disturbingly. Sorry, in the Berliner, I mean...

G2 itself is an odd, dinky little pamphlet now. In terms of content, it performs ably enough, with a slight but strong comment piece from Simon Schama and a decent interview with Oona King, who doesn't seem to hold a grudge that the Guardian gave George Galloway significant column inches to persue his agenda in the run up to the election. There's nothing by Laura Barton, Tanya Gold or Lucy Mangan today, so provided their input has not been curtailed it should improve over the week as their contributions appear. Leo Hickman's graphic piece is a nice option although I always fail somehow to read this kind of statistical feature.

Size wise, I find it a bit small and gimmicky, but I'll probably get used to it. It does make me feel like a giant reading it, though, which I like. The TV listings, condensed and thorough, make my head spin a bit, but I expect I'll get used to - and probably eventually prefer - them, although I'd instinctively prefer the back page.

My fingers are a bit inky after reading, mind - anyone else getting that?

Lots of colour throughout, obviously; it's nice to have, but I don't really share the excitement. Until newspapers can reproduce photographs cleanly, I don't care whether they do so in colour or not, really.

So - overall a hesitant thumbs up; it's certainly a pleasure to read a paper where so much thought has been put into the reading experience, and the content is still, as you would expect, streets ahead of that available in its competitors.

No links to articles provided today, as you really do need to go and pick up a copy... Although now I think about it, did I mention that Doonesbury has bee[snip].

I've just got my new, re-sized Berliner Guardian. It's fine. But where's Doonesbury? WHERE'S DOONESBURY!?!?!? Aaaaaaggggghhhhhh!

Fine, cut my favourite part of the newspaper, see if I care.

*sobs uncontrollably*

Friday, September 09, 2005

more on the berliner

Thanks to Steve Miller, who points out that the new Berliner format is previewed on the Guardian website today; I'm unsure, like Steve, about the new masthead, but improbably excited about seeing the whole thing on Monday. Here's an approximation of what it'll look like:


Edinburgh remains one of my favourite cities, although I've just arrived back in Brighton from a trip to Scotland which counts as a work trip rather than a holiday; nevertheless, I find the architecture and the colours of the city utterly fascinating; the dark hills rising at the edges of the city; the jutting, incongrous cliff face at the heart of the city which stands like an ancient plinth for the castle; the view down to Leith from the tip of Princes street. The Star Bar, on the way down the hill, which is my dummy, for it so resembles a Brighton pub that I feel momentarily comforted at being off on work on my own. Meanwhile the monochrome of the massive, endless Georgian terraces transports me into the pages of a Muriel Spark novel and is equally impressive in rain or sun. I spend most of the week, however, sat at a stand or reading books in the pod-like structure of the new building at the Craiglockart campus of Napier University, which is slow going but diverting (the process of running a stand, not the building - the building is fantastic). Being north of the border I convert myself into a Scotland supporter for the World Cup qualifiers, which given England's performance (of which I know nothing until I suddenly get wind of it from merry locals in a late-closing pub), is probably for the best.

Friday, September 02, 2005

fuck off charles clarke

I just read in today's Guardian that:

Today Mr Clarke gave an interview to the Daily Mirror emphasising his personal experience of violent crime, and declared bluntly: "I don't like liberals."

He told the paper: "I am not soft. I am neither woolly or liberal or a woolly liberal.

"I have never been liberal in my life. I don't like liberal with a capital L or a small l."

No? Well, fuck off then.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

something distinctive

excellent; the first sight of the new Berliner-style Guardian format will be a week on Monday; the 12th of September will see a first in British newspaper printing - the mid-sized, or compact, paper. And the G3 to accompany it, no less. Wow, you guys are, like, sooooo self referential.

I know, I get excited about the dullest things.

the place where the bible belt came unbuckled

The situation in New Orleans continues to escalate from the disasterous to the obscene. Things are getting no better. In fact, they're getting worse. First I wake up to an article in the Guardian by Howell Raines, the former editor of the New York Times, who paints a picture of New Orleans, as "a golden bowl of memories, both sacred and profane", before damning the appalling inaction of both local politicians and the US government in the face of a crisis which needed dealing with quickly. There seems something slightly crass about using a disaster such as this as a platform for denouncing Bush, but Raines argues that every disaster has a political dimension. In this instance, he concludes:

"The church-going cultural populism of George Bush has given the United States an administration that worries about the house of Saud and the welfare of oil companies while the poor drown in their attics and their sons and daughters die on foreign deserts."

Since I read that, things have just got worse; to articulate the spiralling chaos, I'll turn to Krishnan Guru-Murthy's message in tonight's snowmail (a daily email from team behind the Channel 4 news):

"The news out of New Orleans is getting harder to believe every hour. The world's only superpower seems to have lost control of the situation. Thousands of people are still stranded without food, water or medicine. Tens of thousands more homeless.

Lawlessness is spreading around the city with police and national guard trying to control things but ambulances and rescue helicopters have been shot at by armed thugs. Those stranded at centres like the sports stadium are in appalling conditions with grim sanitation and supplies. There are attempts to get a few thousand people a day out of the city as the Mayor has ordered the forced evacuation of everyone, but it is pitifully slow and the people have little or nothing to go to. As for the bodies - there is still no reliable estimate of those dead. But now the Mayor and a senator have put it in the thousands.

People are starting to ask whether or not the warning and evacuation was mishandled. If people are being forced to leave now then why not at the weekend before Katrina struck? And there are increasing voices emerging about the warnings that were ignored.

Federal funds were denied to strengthen the levees. Was America so obsessed with fighting terror that it forgot what homeland security really means? And does the demographic breakdown of those worst hit - predominantly poor and black have anything to do with how little was done to help them?"