Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ta ta for now and Happy New Year

Right, I'm off to spend the New Year in a cottage near Rye with Lady Sane and some friends. Unfortunately, I didn't get time to write that year end round up (that is to say, I spent any spare time playing this on this. Look, I may be 32, be there is part of me that is forever a twelve year old boy). Will be back in a week, so will stick something up then.

Happy New Year to anyone reading this.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

So, that was Christmas. And what did you do?

Well, Christmas has been and gone with its customary six month build up culminating in an orgy of commercialism and over-consumption. Not so much for me this year though, given that I was instead hideously ill all weekend and am still in recovery mode now. As luck would have it, I have gradually shaken off the virus just in time to be strong enough to return to work between now and New Year. So that’s good. I am probably the only person in the Western world to have lost weight over the last week, too, seeing as I had the appetite of a small gosling over the festive period and any calories I did consume were burnt up during bouts of fever.

Our household did not disappoint, however, in terms of consumer indulgence, and many fine presents were exchanged. I was particularly pleased with the gift of a Nintendo Wii from Lady Sane who somehow managed to get her hands on one. She even had the foresight to originally place an order back in September, which basically means she knew I wanted one before I knew I wanted one. Which must make her the best girlfriend in the world by anyone’s reckoning.

And if there was any justice in the world I would be at home right now putting the Wii to good use but, alas, I am at work. Not that there’s much going on. There are things I could be doing, but really. No. It’s not going to happen. Instead, I am writing this little post and will then start working on the Liberal Elite Review of the Year 2006. Look out for that little treat before the end of the week, dear reader, as we chew over the news cutlets of the last 12 months. The soaring highs, the hideous lows, the forgettable in-betweens. You name it. As is traditional, I will also be unveiling the Liberal Elite Twat of the Year. There’s been some stiff competition this year, but we do have a clear winner. Oh yes.

In the meantime, for those of you lucky enough to be at home, enjoy the break. For those of you unlucky enough to be at work, I feel your pain.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A boycott worth boycotting

(Most of this post originally appeared as a comment at PP's blog, but I liked it too much to just let it linger in comments limbo, so I've stretched it out as a post in its own right. I am not treating the subject very seriously at all, instead taking it off on a surreal tangent. If you want to see an intelligent response to the issue, read the whole of PP's piece.)

John Berger (a writer of some repute, apparently - at least, that's what it says on his profile), has written an article on Comment Is Free, calling for a global cultural boycott of the Israeli state due to the 'illegal occupation of the Palestine territories of the West Bank and Gaza'. So far, so Comment Is Free. It's the sort of thing you'd be surprised not to see written on the site.

Anyway, he rambles on and on about who should be joining the boycott, and why, and how. But the most bizarre passage has to be this:
How to apply a boycott? For academics it's perhaps a little clearer - a question of declining invitations from state institutions and explaining why. For invited actors, musicians, jugglers or poets it can be more complicated. I'm convinced, in any case, that its application should not be systematised; it has to come from a personal choice based on a personal assessment.
Yeah, sounds great John. But, err, sorry, can we back up there for just a minute? Jugglers???? Is there a cultural exchange programme for jugglers going on that I wasn't aware of? I'm trying to understand why there would be much demand for jugglers being invited to Israel at all. But the idea of jugglers being invited, but declining for political reasons has flipped my Surreal-O-Meter into hyper mode. I can just picture it...
We proudly present JAZ: Jugglers Against Zionism. A two hour juggling extravaganza highlighting the plight of the Palestinians crushed under the military and ideological weight of Israeli occupation. From the people that brought you Sword Swallowers Against Israeli Aggression and the award winning Fire Breathers For Palestinian Freedom.

"Unquestionably the finest political juggling act I have ever seen." - John Pilger

"The way these jugglers captured the plight of the Palestinian people by throwing three squishy balls up in the air brought a tear to my eye." - Robert Fisk

"Bush and Blair should be forced to watch this brave juggling performance. At gun point." - George Galloway

COMING IN 2007: Midget Pyramids on Motorcycles will push Israel back to its pre-1967 borders. Book your tickets now!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Pop stars none too bright' shock

It’s the end of the year, so I’ve been reading a lot of music magazines to see the end of year polls, catch up on any good stuff I might have missed. I can’t keep up like I used to: I’m getting too old, too cynical and too uninterested to keep my finger on the ‘pulse’ of popular music culture these days. Somebody had to explain ‘emo’ to me the other day. I still don’t understand. Or care. As far as I can tell, it amounts to Green Day with a migraine.

Not that we’re exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to music mags these days. Back in my day (when it were all fields round here), there were plenty. Melody Maker was king for me. I would buy that every week without fail and marvel at the quality of the writing, which was usually far superior to much of the music they were heaping praise (or, more entertainingly, scorn) upon. My own writing style (such as it is) owes a great debt to the likes of Andrew Mueller, David Stubbs, Simon Reynolds, Simon Price, Taylor Parkes, et al. Most of them are still scribbling away somewhere or other. Alas, Melody Maker folded in December 2000, a pale shadow of its former self, with elements of its pages absorbed into its chief rival – the vastly inferior NME.

The NME is actually one of the magazines, along with Uncut and The Word that I bought this week for an annual overview. Much of each paper was filled with Q&A sessions with musicians regarding their thoughts on 2006 and their plans for Christmas. Scintillating stuff, I assure you. However, it was reading these that it struck me how stupid rock and pop stars really are. OK, this is not exactly a revelation, but I’m sure they weren’t this daft in my day. Or maybe they were, my eyes just weren’t open to it in the same way they are now. I thought I’d share some of the highlights with you.

Here’s Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream in The Word, having been asked: What do you have a conscience about?

Man’s inhumanity to man. The annihilation of the Palestinian people on the Gaza strip. It’s genocide. There is murder and destruction going on and it’s being allowed. That’s shocking to me, that pricks my fucking conscience. The Jewish lobby is so powerful in the US government that nothing is being done and nothing will be done. There’s too much power, too much influence, it’s a Zionist Supremacist State – just the same as the Afrikaaners in South Africa.

Quick, somebody, give him a space on Comment Is Free. With opinions like this, he’ll be a natural at The Guardian. Then again, he wouldn’t pass their entrance exam on green issues:

Are you not worried about your carbon footprint?
My what?

Carbon footprint, global warming…
Oh, I don’t give a fuck about that. I have to travel, I’m in a band. I don’t have a conscience for things like that at all.

“I have to travel.” Actually, Bobby, you don’t. And as it’s purely to spread your own version of sub-Rolling Stones rock and roll boogie on an unsuspecting world, I’d rather you didn’t. Dimwit.

From the same magazine, here’s Matt Bellamy from Muse who, against all odds I have to say, made one of my favourite albums this year with the prog-tastic, rifforama rock fest that is Black Holes and Revelations:

You lot like your conspiracy theories about the world at large. What do you think about the state of international politics in 2006?
It’s pretty scary. That’s why we wrote City Of Delusion, expressing what it’s like to live in a world where you have no power or control. December 2000 was the turning point really, wasn’t it? When Bush was elected – well, he wasn’t elected, was he? I don’t think 9/11 would have happened if Bush hadn’t been in power. I think that was all part of a grander plan. We’re going to become a corporate fascist state where big companies define policy if we carry on like this. There are dark people in high power, dark forces out there. God, that sounds a bit Darth Vader.

The forces of intellectualism are weak with this one. Good album or not, he’s in with a shot at the Liberal Elite Twat of the Year competition this year on the strength of this drivel alone. (He won’t win, though. That was decided a long time ago.)

Over to Uncut, where Liam Gallagher (admittedly not renowned for his work in quantum physics) is talking about John Lennon.

There was a story going round that I thought (John Lennon) inhabited my body. I’ve had a couple of out-of-body experiences in my time, and this one I was in Manchester at a mate’s house having a kip. I got out of bed and all this stuff started happening – I remember getting up to turn the light on and feeling really weird, and I turned round and there I was, lying on the bed, and I sort of…fell back into my body. There was a presence there, and it was him. How do I know that? I just do, I just do.

Remember, kids: unless you want to end up as inarticulate and deranged as Liam Gallagher: Just Say No.

Elsewhere, in the same magazine, we come across the musings of Richard Ashcroft. Onetime frontman of The Verve, he released, with Urban Hymns in 1997, one of the albums of the decade. Unfortunately, he’s done nothing of any interest since. Here are some of his ‘thoughts’ on religion:

I believe that someone in the next century will get God through a number code that unites the whole universe. And it will be so incredible, we won’t be able to get around the fact that there is some kind of creator involved.

Well, that’s something for us all to look forward to. In case you were wondering when and how this tremendous breakthrough will occur, Mad Richard has helpfully clarified it for us there. It will be discovered by ‘someone’ in ‘the next century’. I can barely contain my excitement.

Honourable mention also for pop sensation Lily Allen who declares that:

For me, vanity about the way you look, that’s right up there with global warming and capitalism in terms of the evils of the modern world.

So says someone who, as a touring musician (see Bobby Gillespie, above) produces more than her fair share of carbon monoxide and, via the system of commerce, distributes her output to consumers who are free to swap their hard earned cash for her CD should they choose to do so. No doubt the considerable money she has made this year will be ploughed back into charitable causes because, after all, who wants to make money via the ‘evil’ capitalist system? Airhead.

Last, but by no means least, we have Amy Winehouse in the NME dropping into a conversation the following well known fact:

You know how crack and AIDS were generated by the white people to fuck black people up?

Err, say what now? Back to the library, Winehouse. You may do a pretty good impression of classic Motown, but try thinking before you open your mouth in future.

So there we have it: conclusive evidence that today’s pop stars are ideologically incoherent, conspiracy obsessed, new age preaching imbeciles. They might be able to knock out a half decent tune every now and then, but when it comes to the grey matter, they definitely don’t chart very high. Why have I bothered to record all of this and come to such a conclusion? Because I’m bored. And Lord Stevens was too busy.

Facts really are expensive

So, after three years of exhaustive research, consuming £3.69 million pounds of public funds, Lord Stevens and his team have come to the remarkable conclusion that Diana, the People’s Princess™ and self-proclaimed Queen of People’s Hearts died because her chauffeur was speeding while under the influence of alcohol and neither Diana or Dodi whatsisface were wearing seatbelts when the car collided with a support beam in a tunnel in Paris.

What a monumental waste of time and money spent investigating a traffic accident. And ultimately futile, too. It merely underlines the bleeding obvious to most of us, while making no difference to half-wits convinced that they were murdered by British spooks under the orders of (I can barely bring myself to type this) Prince Philip.

People who choose to take conspiracy theories seriously are so up to their arse in half-truths, bullshit-masquerading-as-fact and internet chat room piffle they are not going to believe any other account that pricks the bubble of their little fantasy world. Instead, they will simply view the findings of this report as yet another part of the conspiracy; another state-funded layer in the cover up. Just like 9/11 conspiracy theorists, people who think The Da Vinci Code is based on historical fact and others still obsessed with the shooting of JFK, there is little we can do to reason with these people short of smiling, nodding and hoping that they go away and leave us alone.

Conspiracy theorists everywhere: the world is far more complex than you seem to realise and governments are simply not efficient enough to cover up anything for very long, especially events of this scale. You are vastly overestimating the capabilities of the powers that be. Now please, shut up.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

If at first you don't succeed, Trident again

I agree with the decision to renew Britain’s nuclear deterrent. I don’t know enough about nuclear warheads to make a convincing case for Trident itself - there seems to be a school of thought that the programme is out of date, expensive to maintain and unsuited to post-Cold War military strategy, and that land or ship-based cruise missiles would be better than a roving submarine fleet – but it seems particularly reckless to make the decision here and now that, come 2024, it will suit us to not be a nuclear power. I agree that it is an expensive decision (£20,000,000,000 isn’t exactly loose change), but it’s an insurance policy, plain and simple. Insurance policies are by nature expensive, but not in comparison to the cost of a worst case scenario becoming reality. Reducing the number of warheads by 20% and dropping from four to three submarines strikes me as being eminently sensible, and does not appear to be a breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (for those that care about such things).

“Oh, but it makes the world a more dangerous place!” shriek some. Bollocks. Nuclear weapons have kept the world free from major wars for sixty years. Live with it. What does makes the world a more dangerous place is unhinged totalitarian or theocratic states with access to a nuclear stockpile of their own (North Korea and, perhaps inevitably, Iran, whose deranged ‘president’ has expressed the desire to ‘wipe Israel from the map’ on a number of occasions). This is also, by default, the most convincing argument for us remaining a nuclear power ourselves. As somebody sensible wrote on a post on Comment Is Free yesterday (a rarity indeed, although I cannot find the link to it now): “Let me get this straight: you’re quite happy to live in a world where North Korea and Iran have nuclear weapons, but we don’t?” Exactly.

In fact, it was reading some of the ramblings on that very site that further entrenched my position on this subject – I instinctively needed to be on the opposite side of the argument to these people.

Here are two examples, so typical of the vast majority of comments one reads here every day (from this post):

Imagine if, instead of being motivated by fear, Blair was motivated by hope, and led Britian (sic) to become the first power ever to voluntarily give up nuclear weapons, thus setting an example for the world.

Imagine the boost that would give to non-proliferation. Imagine the energy and the hope from that example and the spread of the realisation that the abandonment of nuclear weapons IS possible.

Yes. And imagine if we lived in a world made of marshmallows where nobody ever got hurt and all our dreams came true the moment we thought of them and everyone had a lovely fwuffy bunny wabbit to play with all day. I mean, just imagine.

When analysing Tony Blair's motivations for an action it is always helpful to ask "How does this help the United States?" since Blair's primary desire in international politics is to strengthen US military and economic power (and concordantly weaken its rivals) whether because he simply has a messianic belief in US manifest destiny or because he is a US intelligence asset.

“A messianic belief in US manifest destiny”? Oh, for fuck’s sake. And heaven forbid that any action the UK decides upon should be in any way beneficial to or convenient for the United States! That marauding, imperialist, despotic nation! I mean, why would we want to be partnered with them, when there are so many other like-minded countries we can work with?

It’s official. Reading the thoughts of Guardian readers made me a committed advocate of nuclear weapons. If the majority of people there are against them, then it must be a good idea.