Friday, June 30, 2006

more on trident

Sorry, more copy and pasting from the paper:

According to the Guardian today:

"The government must explain the purpose of a British nuclear deterrent, something it has failed to do so far, a cross-party committee of MPs says in a hard-hitting report on the future of the Trident missile system published today.

"The most pressing threat currently facing the UK is that of international terrorism," says the Commons defence committee. But witnesses to its inquiry - the Ministry of Defence refused to give evidence - overwhelmingly argued that "the strategic nuclear deterrent could serve no useful or practical purpose in countering this kind of threat".

The MPs say they heard no evidence that Britain faced a current or impending threat from any established nuclear weapons state, and it was not possible to identify future threats with any certainty.


The committee says: "Before making any decisions on the future of the strategic nuclear deterrent, the MoD should explain its understanding of the purpose and continuing relevance of nuclear deterrence now and over the lifetime of any potential Trident successor system."

Any decision to keep nuclear weapons, must be made "only after a full public debate ... It must not be made in secret"."


kicking labour when they're down

It's been a while since Dan has left a comment on my blog telling me off for using too much material cribbed shamelessly from The Guardian, so I thought I'd take advantage of some articles in the last couple of day's papers to string a few points of interest together. Firstly, it's not at all surprising to see a bunch of letters taking that idiot Blair to task for his utterly inane article the other day, something that braggard Neal Lawson has been doing via Compass (click here for Andrew's thoughts on that) doing so, incidentally, with none of Catherine Bennett's panache and style. In her column today she writes:

"It is the best of times, but is it also the worst of times?" Which hubristic Blair ghostwriter decided to paraphrase the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities for the benefit of Guardian readers this week? It seems hard to believe that it was the Blair ghostwriter who, concluded the same piece with the challenge: "If there's a better idea, let's hear it." Nor, for that matter, does it seem likely that the Dickens fan would have contributed felicities such as, "they didn't want less contestability", or "the creativity of the frontline".

Aside from its absolute determination not to discuss, mention, or even accept by implication the existence of war in Iraq, the most striking thing about Blair's article was surely its lurching unevenness of tone. One minute the prime minister was in brainy mode, aligning the achievements of his administration ("it is the best of times") with those of the American and French revolutions, and wearily regretting his critics' habit of "looking back in anger", the next he was reverting to vacuous, conference-speak ("Michelle, a mother of four from Oldham"), or switching to the dead language of Thinktankish ("truly enabling, not controlling"), or making his point in the livelier, chatshow demotic of "flunk" and "dump". Presumably, whichever committee was responsible - it would be too worrying to think that this display of mental confusion was Blair's own unaided work - could not decide whether it was best to appeal to Guardian-based critics in a familiar, one-bien-pensant-to-another sort of way, or to challenge these awkward customers, once and for all, to bring it on if they think they're hard enough.

But that still leaves us with the problem of "contestability". What can it be? Plainly it is a good thing because it is listed along with consumer choice and diversity of provision as something that - though deprecated by his critics - people Blair respects (the voluntary sector, the National Consumer Council) want more of. It is a word that appears to be borrowed from the inscrutable world of Gordon Brown, or insurance - where, I understand, it refers to the conditions under which the insurer may contest or void the life policy. It seems unlikely Blair was talking about that.

So we shall have to guess at his meaning in the context of an article about renewal. Could "contestability" translate as the potential for the provision of a public service - education, say, or healthcare - to be contested, in the sense of competed, or bid for, by rival providers? Which is to say, privatised? At any rate, if there is a better definition, let's hear it."

Maybe the interested reader should take a look at this, at this point. I think it might be contestability in action. Happily, plenty of people have seen it, which is why Patricia Hewitt has just issued a statement saying that the advertisement in question (the govt has been discovered placing an ad in an EU journal inviting companies to begin "a competitive dialogue" about how they could take over the purchasing of healthcare for millions of NHS patients) does "not accurately reflect government policy", and indeed, "contrary to reports in some newspapers, there is no question whatsoever of 'privatising' the NHS".

Right, we'll remember you said that, Ms. Hewitt.

Elsewhere, it's enormously satisfying to see Labour getting a right good kicking in Blaenau Gwent and being told, quite properly, that "You take people for granted at your peril". If you had told me in 1997 that one day the constituency of Nye Bevan and Michael Foot would vote out Labour I'd have called you a lunatic. If you'd have told me I'd be glad to see it happen I'd have said you were a total lunatic.

But I'm not - they got what they deserved.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

time for plan b

I've read a few reviews which marvel over the lyrics on the new Plan B record, particularly his jaw-dropping last verse on Sick 2 Def, so instead of adding to the hyperbole by expanding, I've just typed out the first half of the verse in question as a demonstration of the guy's talent. Maybe you have to know the song to really get the pattern, but even so some of the phrases are tremendous. I'm not sure that the whole album is of a standard comparable to, say, Skinnyman's 'Council Estate of Mind' or one of Dizzee's efforts, but when he's on form then his rapping really soars.

You can hear Sick 2 Def on Plan B's Myspace page...

"The last verse is just as bad as the first,
but compared to the second, yo, it's definitely worse,
cause it's about a guy getting chauffered in a hearse.
Let me do what Nas did and tell this shit in reverse.

The hearse brings the corpse back to the morgue,
the guy from the morgue undresses the corpse,
the embalming fluid goes back out, the blood goes back in,
body goes back to hospital where it comes alive again.

The paramedics walk backwards like an Irish dance,
put the wounded man back in the ambulance.
The ambulance's engine turns back on
and its lights flash, the siren plays his favourite song.

The guy goes back to the exact spot where they found him
and the medics and the passers-by go back where they came from,
'til eventually no-one surrounds him
and the blood pours up him rather than down him.

The man then falls upwards, back on his feet,
stumbles towards a dark figure on the other side of the street,
he walks into the blade, that cut his belly,
then he holds his neck, which was bleeding already.

He removes his hands so that you can see the cut
and as the knife undoes the slice, it closes back up.
He unsays the words he said - which were 'what the fuck?',
and unscreams the scream from the first initial cut..."

Is it just me, or is that pretty terrific stuff?

Friday, June 23, 2006

chichester on a friday lunchtime

Here a few more photos from my new camera. The sun being out is so much of an incitement to take photos; suddenly everything and everyone looks lovely.

the lake house

Agh, busy day today so just time for a bit of cut and pasting; Peter Bradshaw's film reviews in the Guardian are a pretty reliable good read, but his review of The Lake House, which sounds like a particularly inane time-slip love story, wherein Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock live in the same house two years apart but manage to communicate by writing grafitti on the walls for each other to find in the future, is particularly good. It doesn't sound like a film that would hold my attention and it certainly didn't hold Bradshaw's. Before long his mind is wandering....

"There's only one problem with all this lovelorn loveliness, and it's not the plot-holes. Philistine non-romantics, male and female, will see it right away and be obsessed with it all the way through the movie. If you were corresponding with some sweet soul two years in the future, you might well find yourself writing: "Mmm. Yeah, Jane Austen's Persuasion is your favourite book? Oh wow; gosh you've had an unhappy love life, me too; yikes, your relationship with your dad was tough, yeah, me too, hey that's sad, I wish I was there to comfort you properly, NOW TELL ME WHAT THE LOTTERY NUMBERS ARE GOING TO BE. I'll hit the jackpot and leave half the loot in a railway luggage locker for you to pick up in two years' time! Trust me!"

As Keanu and Sandra simpered away to themselves up on the screen in their little 84 Charing Cross Road nightmare, the alternative version unspooled inside my head. Keanu scores a double-rollover lottery payout with Sandra's six numbers and immediately heads off to Acapulco with his secretary, forgetting all about Sandra. She opens up the luggage locker at Grand Central Station, wherein she finds nada. Furiously, Sandra prevails upon an ex-boyfriend, a theoretical physics major, to design and build for her a time machine. It is in this remarkable device, on the top of which helicopter rotors are attached, that she lands on the beach where Keanu is canoodling. She pulls a gun and forestalls Keanu's excuses by busting a cap in his duplicitous ass. Credits. Sadly, all we get in this existing version is slush. What it needed was a bit of realism."

Full review here, but you've just read the best bit.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"a full and frank public debate"

I love that phrase. It makes my life so easy. When I hear a politician say that he wants the nation to have "a full and frank public debate" about something, I know intuitively that I have a moment or two to remain calm, gather my senses and relax. Because in a matter of seconds I'm going to be very angry indeed. Politicians only ever ask for a full and frank public debate when they know that they are going to do something anyway, and hang the consequences.

Of course, because I am angry every time I hear this phrase, this means that I am very angry a lot of the time, and it's getting hard to know what I am even angry about now. Am I angry this morning that, for instance, the likes of Geraldine Smith MP are agitating for a wholly unnecessary further restriction on the Abortion Act? Very possibly. Am I angry about Gordon Brown's announcement that he is committed to replacing Trident, Britain's independent nuclear deterrant? That sounds quite plausible too. Or am I angry because John Reid is considering importing a varient of the US's ridiculous 'Megan's Law'? It could be that instead.

This is getting ridiculous.

- 88% of abortions take place under 13 weeks, 60% under 10 weeks and only 1% after 20 weeks, mostly among the 'very vulnerable'.

I know, let's legislate against that vulnerable percent.

- According to The office of the children's commissioner, Claire Phillips, "Introducing a version of 'Megan's law' in the UK would do nothing to help parents keep their children safe from sex offenders. In fact, it could increase the risk of sexual abuse from strangers as offenders could be forced 'underground' after being released into the community, making it more difficult for authorities to monitor them. And it could encourage vigilante activity within communities.

"We are concerned that a version of Megan's law could detract from the fact that children are most at risk from people known to them. We would prefer to see more efforts directed in this area with further emphasis on early therapeutic treatment for the victims of sexual abuse."

- Meanwhile, don't worry about Trident. Granted, Michael Meacher - worried that Parliament won't be consulted - has tabled a motion calling for a full parliamentary vote on Trident (which has been signed by 122 MPs, including 93 from Labour), but I'm sure this government would never try to bypass the House in this way.

From today's Guardian:

At prime minister's questions in the Commons yesterday, Mr Blair was challenged by Labour backbencher Gordon Prentice to give MPs a vote on Trident.

Mr Blair responded: "There should be the fullest possible debate on this issue. I am sure there will be."

The fullest possible debate! Woo-hoo. So long as it's also frank, I think we'll be OK.

This government sucks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

me in the sun

I've just got a new phone and can finally - due to a freak improvement in the signal I pick up - actually make and receive telephone calls now; a massive plus, when you think about it. I can also, I note, take pretty good photos with the built in camera, as evidenced by the shot below, which, yes, is almost totally ruined by the fact that I am standing with the sun right behind me. But you can't have everything.

Note the pub in the background. I had just walked straight past it on the way home. With the sun out and everything. That's right, you heard right.

Straight past.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

young knives and the immediate in brighton

I think I've probably written enough about the Young Knives recently, but I saw 'em live again last week and they deserve another brief mention, because it was a very different set. It goes without saying that they were terrific, but a few bullet points for things I didn't cover the last time I raved about them....

- After the crowd-pleasing, punk rock set at the Great Escape a few weeks ago, it's good to see the Knives offering up a more varied and balanced set tonight; it's not until around half an hour in that we start hearing anything that's already been released officially - yet the first bunch of songs; 'Part Timer', 'Dialing Darling' and 'Current of the River' all sound super; raw, aggressive and tight.
- And when they do get to the hits... 'Rumour Mill', 'The Decision', 'Weekends and Bleakdays' and 'She's Attracted To' are all blistering tonight.
- The songs they leave out! A stunning set tonight and yet no 'Kitchener', 'Coastguard', 'Another Hollow Line', 'Kramer' or 'Trembling of Trails'. They kept back enough for another set, practically.
- And super to hear them branching out from the super-enthusiastic, aggressive sounds of the singles, too - the best tracks tonight are arguably the beautifully titled 'Loughborough Suicide' and the delightful 'Elaine', which see them wielding pretty melodies and sweet harmonies to great effect. Any fears that the impending debut album might sound samey are fast abating.
- Wow, what a great band they are.

There, I kept that quite concise.

A few words about the support band, then. The Immediate were really impressive tonight, one of those unknown support acts that leave you gaping and grinning and musing on all that is brilliant about pop music. Four young, precociously talented and soft-spoken men from Dublin, The Immediate laid on an inordinately varied and vital set, swinging about musically and swapping instruments and evoking about a dozen great bands in the process, they reminded me most of a slinky, song-led version of !!!, all processed guitars and shape-shifting drumbeats. Then they sound like Radiohead and New Order and some lost 60s psych dudes and, well, they are a band that kind of scarily do their own thing and make it hard to find comparisons. The best I managed, watching the drummer take lead vocals for a track and climb the barriers into the crowd, crooning and pointing, was a kind of 2006 iteration of Orange Juice with four Edwyn Collinses. They were great, seek 'em out before they're huge.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

currently listening to...

1. Br. Danielson - Daughters Will Tune You
2. Dizzee Rascal - G.H.E.T.T.O
3. Taz - Can't Contain Me
4. Count Bass D - Drug Abusage
5. Futureheads - Back To The Sea
6. Wiley - WD25
7. Graham Coxon - R U Lonely?
8. Primal Scream - Little Death
9. Young Knives - She's Attracted To
10. Black Grape - Shake Your Money

Thursday, June 08, 2006

gary hume at the white cube

I hardly ever make it to art shows, but I have been getting quietly excited at the prospect of the new Gary Hume show at the White Cube. Disappointing, then, to see it raising a sigh - if a rather beautiful sigh - rather than a gasp in Jonathan Jones's Guardian review. Yet reading it also makes me feel rather pleased that my gallery attendence has been so poor over the years; I've never identified Hume that strongly with the yba thing, or at least not so much to care about it, and I've always liked his stuff more than his contemporaries because I find it thrilling beautiful, even if it's all gloss paint and surface. Jones writes:

"Whatever emotions are teased into play didn't nourish me beyond the walk back to the tube. As with many of his paintings, the feeling doesn't quite gel. It stays in a shallow part of you and is blown away with the dust of the street. Which, you might say, is how art ought to be. But then why does it need to be so expensive, difficult to make and ostentatious? Hume confuses me. Sometimes he seems to have a direct connection with a place in the collective unconscious where giant flowers bloom. At his best, he beautifully evokes London at a particular moment. Trouble is, that moment was a decade ago."

Perhaps if I had spent my teens in Hoxton rather than Camden I'd feel the same way - as it is, unless his new work is an enormous departure, I still find myself thrilled. And Jones's description is a good one for Hume - the artist of giant flowers.

Suddenly I'm reminded of a moment on (hesitates and then says quietly) Big Brother the other night which would have been unspeakably mawkish in the hands of anyone else, but Pete, who I rather like, said that when he feels free and happy he feels exactly like a bird, and when you feel like a bird you need other birds to fly with you. But the people here, he remarked, are all cats. I know. But I am cheered for a moment by a glimpse into a mind where giant flowers bloom; I bet Pete would like Gary Hume's paintings. Then my cynical self re-enters and the flower-bearers are sent squawking from the room.

The Hume exhibition runs at the White Cube until July 1st, and my bet is on it being a good show.

accidental men

I've just realised why I've been staring, brow furrowed, at my copy of the new Primal Scream single so much over the last week or so, trying to figure out where I know the image from. Apart from the fact that it's one of William Heggleston's - the 70s snapper whose ultra-saturated shots revolutionised colour photography, as well as the man who provided the neon confederate flag on the 'Scream's last straightforward rock n' roll album, Give Out But Don't Give Up - I suddenly realise that it's the second item on my shelves featuring the shot. It's also the picture on the cover of Ali Smith's remarkable 'The Accidental'. Another reason why Ali Smith is increasingly looking - after her recent Guardian revelation that she spent the entirety of a recent Ladytron gig at the bar drinking whisky - like the most unlikely inheritor of Bukowski's rock and roll torch. Oh, well, OK, maybe not. But I'm impressed all the same. You don't get this kind of value out of Ian fucking McEwan.

Although you do if you dig back into the archives for an interview with William Heggleston, the man who single handed changed the definition of colour photography and who answers, when asked how he would like to be remembered, 'as a lover'.

From Sean O'Hagen's interview in the Observer, back in July 2004.

"Though he seems tired of talking photography, I ask him finally if there is an underlying discipline that governs his work. He shrugs. 'Let me put it this way, I work very quickly and that's part of it.

I only ever take one picture of one thing. Literally. Never two. So then that picture is taken and then the next one is waiting somewhere else.' Let me get this straight, I say, astonished: each image he has produced is the result of one single shot? He nods. And what happens, I ask, if you don't get the picture you want in that one shot? 'Then I don't get it,' he answers simply. 'I don't really worry if it works out or not.

I figure it's not worth worrying about. There's always another picture.' He makes his genius sound almost accidental, I suggest. He thinks about this for a while. 'Yes,' he nods, smiling. 'There's probably something to that. The "almost" is important, though.'"

Friday, June 02, 2006

half a bottle of wine is nothing

Shocking news from the Daily Mail today - Keira Knightly, it seems, drinks half a bottle of wine every night!!!! Shock horror!

Sorry, doesn't everyone?

in praise of catherine bennett

The advent of Comment is Free, and blogging in general, actually, has made it very easy to criticise journalists, especially those who specialise in opinion pieces; while the talents of Laura Barton or Lucy Mangan are much praised online, the likes of Jackie Ashley or Madeline Bunting seem to get it in the neck constantly. For that reason it's really not all that surprising to find the odd journalist taking a potshot back, and quite understandable in the case of some critics, who really have to put with up the most tremendous abuse. But the only re-dress of balance which I am intrested in is the appreciation, when deserved, of truly superb writing and in the world of comment writers by far the most luminous in recent months has been the wonderful Catherine Bennett, whose writing is dense, unpredictable and brilliant. She's been on hilarious, unstoppable form recently.

Take her brilliant, acerbic skewering of Prescott a couple of weeks back, for instance.

"Luminaries of New Labour, that most enlightened hammer of sexual and all other forms of discrimination, are defending a man whose lewd approaches to a junior colleague - it will be obvious to almost any other employer or employee in the land - should make him a candidate for immediate suspension. Not to mention an enormous compensation claim on the part of his secretary. A private matter? In a lap-dancing club, perhaps. But this was the civil service. Aside from the choice of locations, a sexual connection this rudimentary, bereft of any romantic trimmings, so closely resembles unpaid prostitution that, given Prescott's public position, the abuse of power more than justifies the public interest. At what point, during this administration, was the propositioning, at work, of subordinates, redefined as an irrelevant and entirely personal peccadillo?"

On macho-blogging, where she (rather unfairly) picks out the Euston Manifesto lot en masse for particular criticism, she is similarly brilliant. Again, her eye for detail and style is unmistakable. Wonderful.

"Today, it is one of the more useful services - some might argue, the single valuable service of the political blogosphere - to afford interested women a similar glimpse of what respectable middle-aged men do when they think themselves unobserved. For although their ranks are penetrable by women, it is obvious, from the prevailing tone of the entries to political weblogs, that most members of the Grand Order of Bloggers believe themselves, no less than any freemason, or member of the Garrick Club, to be addressing male members of a male-dominated community, in which female partners are comedy figures known as "the wife" (or "Mrs Fawkes", or "Mrs Ablution"), breasts are "mammaries", and fellow members can be depended on for companionable chit-chat about music, fallen arches, barbecues, rambling, weights, wanking and all the other subjects that exercise Gary, Steve, John, Dave, Eddie, et al, in the watches of the night."

Week in, week out, her writing is brilliant. Bravo.