Sunday, February 27, 2005

satire crucified

Veteran satirist Tom Lehrer said that the world of comedy changed in 1973 when the greatest living war criminal, Henry Kissinger, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 'At that moment, satire died. There was nothing more to say after that'.

Lehrer still stands by his comment.

There are things that oppose him on that, with the consistently brilliant The Onion heading the list.

As part of the Radio Savage Houndy Beasty team, I wrote some satirical comedy. My ability to do so in future was hobbled by the TV show Celebrity Fit Club. It was an amazing idea, much better than anything I was writing. Except it was for real.

Anne Widdecombe and some also-ran from Pop Idol whose name you can't remember were made to perform exercises by a real US Marines drill sergeant. It had that title, even though the premise was to get people who were almost but not quite celebrities, who were not fit and not in a club. Genius.

The cult of celebrity in the mass media is but a pinprick on the map compared to the sweeping plains of satirical opportunity open to those who go for Christianity.

It's such an bizarre, contradictory and blatantly ludicrous belief. As Stephen F Roberts said, 'I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other gods you will understand why I dismiss yours'.

Christianity's absurdity means it not only readily lends itself to ridicule, but the reality easily outstrips the satire.

The popular smiley-malevolent American fundamentalist brand of Christianity is especially deranged and especially well represented on the internet. My favourite bit is the belief in The Rapture.

It's a thing that happens before the second coming proper. Jesus comes in the air and takes all the 'true believers' - just those who believe in the exact brand of Christianity that proclaims the idea - pulls all their clothes off and like a holy coffee percolator physically floats them up to heaven where, as George Monbiot explains,

Not only do the worthy get to sit at the right hand of God, but they will be able to watch, from the best seats, their political and religious opponents being devoured by boils, sores, locusts and frogs, during the seven years of Tribulation which follow.

How soon is The Rapture? Click here to find out. Are you a true believer who'd like an email sent to non-believing friends after you've been divinely hoovered up in The Rapture? Then click here.

The agressively inane nonsense at God's Garden, ('the sunniest spot on the web') features 70 excruciating cheesy midi instrumentals of pop tunes, including Imagine. That would be Imagine as in 'Imagine there's no heaven, It's easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky... No religion too'. Yet it is, as far as I can ascertain, a real Christian site.

The sadly defunct site was also a real one, despite being the rants and ideas of a Christian werewolf. ('Certain werewolves will probably ostracize me for my middle-of-the-road views on vampires').

His explanation of God's invention of Hell seeming to contradict His supposed love for all things was dismissed with 'Mockers are more likely to regret their mistake when the feel their flesh melting from their bones.' He's got a point there.

He unsurprisingly went for that anti-abortion thing too.

If you've been raped, don't take your anger out on the baby. Thank God that you're still living after the attack. That baby didn't rape you - the rapist did. If you want revenge, pray to God for justice. You'll get results. That rapist will go to jail, where HE will be raped - and probably murdered. THAT should satisfy your need for vengeance!

At least your baby will go to Heaven. I don't know about you, though.

If you're a grandparent whose granddaughter has had an abortion and 'your heart still aches for the grandchild you'll only hold in heaven', then why not spend $25 on a Post-Abortion Grandparents' Kit from the same people who bring you the essential book A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.

See what I mean? You couldn't make this shit up could you? They're seriously saying this stuff, agreed with by the people who control the largest stockpile of armaments in history, and we're expected not to take drugs?

There's an essay debating Are cats for true Christians? Is it appropriate for a Christian to own a cat, in light of their past pagan religious affiliation and the medical information that is now coming to light?

It comes out firmly against humano-feline relations, advocating getting rid of them with Old Testament style stonings. Surely a joke, right? I can't be sure. The home page has rather a lot of other material, and most of it not at all funny or weird (except in the usual Christian way).

Mind you, magnitude is no guarantee of serious intent. An enormous amount of work clearly went into the funny not-really-Christian site The Brick Testament (illustrating Bible quotes with scenes in LEGO), and extensive archives exist at True Christian and Landover Baptist Church (and their hefty Bush Administration spoof, all of which certainly are hilarious satire.

I particularly love Do You Have Demons In Your Colon? and the bit in the Christian Kids Want To Know... section Why Did Jesus Have Long Hair Like a Homo?

Jesus had short hair, Billy-Joe... The reason you see so many pictures of Jesus with long hair is because those pictures were drawn by unsaved people. Most of them were drawn by hell-bound, pasta-slurping, Mary-worshipping, hell-bound Catholics.

Rather like the absurd American campaigns promoting sexual abstinence to teenagers, the satire is funnier but not actually any more extreme.

On that particular subject there really is a serious idea called renewed virginity for those who have already had sex.

The abstinence thing is a load of puritanical guff that wilfully ignores the facts. As, again, brother George Monbiot says;

Were we to accept the conservatives’ version, we would expect the nations in which sex education and access to contraception are most widespread to be those which suffer most from teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. The truth is the other way around.

The two western countries at the top of the disaster league, the United States and the United Kingdom, are those in which conservative campaigns are among the strongest and sex education and access to contraception are among the weakest. The United States, the UN Population Fund’s figures show, is the only rich nation stuck in the middle of the Third World block, with 53 births per 1000 teenagers – a worse record than India, the Philippines and Rwanda. The United Kingdom comes next at 20.

The nations the conservatives would place at the top of the list are clumped at the bottom. Germany and Norway produce 11 babies per 1000 teenagers, Finland eight, Sweden and Denmark seven and the Netherlands five.

The idea and its promotion are a real test for satirists. They are just as barking as anything on pisstake sites like boy-abstinence Sex Is For Fags, its sister site for girls Iron Hymen or Technical Virgin which advocates anal sex as an alternative (check out the superb TV commercials!).

Tonight Radio Savage Houndy Beasty has a one-off show on a local radio station, the fab and funky one-week-only Lifeforce FM. We've not come up with any new satirical sketches. I really can't do it any more.

But while satire may be difficult, surreal and weird shit lives on. In that spirit, I'm going to have a T-shirt printed saying Widdecombe's Star Jumps Were My Kissinger's Peace Prize.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

it's a fair cup

I used to have a real block giving titles to articles I'd written. But since becoming a blogger, that hurdle's been jumped. I do like to go for something intriguing and slightly surreal, 'Real Beauty & Noel Edmonds' being a case in point.

So far I'd resisted doing that tabloid/SchNEWS style pun thing. Today I've published an article about Fair Trade coffee and, sorry to say, I couldn't help calling it It's a Fair Cup.

I'd kind of presumed that all coffee, fair-trade or otherwise - was much of a muchness.

Surely the answer is to stop getting vast monocultures of cash crops that ruin the soil, ruin the farmers when the price drops, and then end up with us sending our embarrassing grain surpluses to the starving along with some patronising spiel about how our farming methods are superior when in fact it's the importation of those methods that causes the problem in the first place.

People have spent thousands of years developing crops and farming methods suitable to their region and, with only very rare exceptions, fed themselves perfectly well before the globalised cash economy came along.

But looking into it I found that if we are going to be buying these cash crops at all - and we all do - then Fair Trade really does make a huge difference, not just in terms of the price the farmer gets, but in promoting sustainable agriculture, massively lessening impact on wildlife, and weakening the grip of the multinationals.

The article's online here.

Monday, February 21, 2005

real beauty & noel edmonds

At the moment big billboards and bus-sides are advertising a thing called Campaign For Real Beauty.

It is actually just an extensive ad campaign for Dove soap, but that slight deception is not the real issue.

There's a website,, whose front page says;

For too long, beauty has been defined by narrow, stifling stereotypes. You've told us it's time to change all that. We agree. Because we believe real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and ages.

By 'beauty' they don't mean beauty, they mean the miniscule subsection of beauty devoted to human fanciability.

There are four different posters in the campaign showing the breadth and scope of human beauty, a sweep out to all the contentious boundary areas.

There is a woman with loads of freckles.

There is a woman with grey hair.

There is a woman who is quite fat.

There is a woman who is old.

Do you see an omission yet?

Men, for all their recent targetting by deodorant and hair gel marketing, are still not to be considered beautiful.

The cartoon cliche of a man being shot in the arse and running to the horizon clutching himself would never be tolerated if the victim were a woman.

Men have to be infallible and invincible, accordingly their bodies are meant to be tough. Tenderness is vulnerability, beauty is often delicate; it means you're not invincible. Even when blokes hug it tends to be something not tender, that big backslappy thing, 'I know I'm touching him, but I'm still sort of hitting him'.

I know, I know, another rant about how advertising is such a profoundly damaging activity and, as Bill Hicks said, simply the most evil concept ever. Tell us something we don't know, Merrick.

But this kind of advertising is so crafty and insidious it does warrant special attention.

Rather like the cuddly-sounding Renewable Energy Foundation, it's using the language of wise change in order to prevent that very change.

The REF, incidentally, is actually just an anti-wind turbines organisation masquerading as concerned green energy people. Dig around in their statements and there are phrases like 'in the medium and even longer-term, a non-confrontational relationship with fossil fuels is essential', and they talk with a straight face about pumping CO2 into geological strata gaps as some sort of solution.

It's chairman is Noel Edmonds who, apart from being a twat of the very highest order, has business interests in motor sports, does power boat racing, and organises Helifest, a gathering for people who like him are helicopter pilots and enthusiasts. His personal website biography boasts

Throughout his long and successful broadcasting career, Noel Edmonds engaged in promotional advertising and product endorsement campaigns for many of the UK's most famous brands. He established particularly strong links with not only leading car manufacturers, but also companies such as British Airways, Adidas, Cellnet, BT, Coca Cola and Sony.

The man who races cars at Le Mans, flies a personal helicopter, makes adverts encouraging us to buy more cars and plane tickets is also chairman of the Meeting Without Moving Foundation, which he says is there to promote 'a culture in which unnecessary travel is recognised as irresponsible, undesirable and antisocial.'

More greenwash from the fatuous tosser. His motive for the MWMF is business interests in video conferencing technology and the like. If he were upfront about that it wouldn't be so bad, but this pompous and hypocritical eco-spiel is perniciousness that makes Mr Blobby comparitively forgiveable. Which is not something I say lightly.

Advertising is there to figure out our deepest desires, then trigger reactions from them in order to sell us poison and junk.

Using our firm belief that beauty is not about objectifying women and which cosmetics you use, that it's about things other than glamour and modelling and conformity, they sell us the products and ideas that actually reinforce that lie.

To quote Bill again - and frankly that's something that lets you know you're on the right track with an idea - the marketing people have figured out there's a lot of people who hate marketing and advertising so they're tailoring marketing to them. The anti-marketing market is becoming huge business.

Friday, February 18, 2005

twelve things about me

That last post about dithering over the disclosure of bruised heart ponderings made me realise that I haven't actually written that much about me in the form of personal details.

So, as any good writer should do, I'm going to copy Jim Bliss.

Having read his 'eleven things about me' blog post, I realised that I too tend to talk about music and politics and leave you, my dear devoted reader, a little in the dark about myself.

So let's go one better than Jim. Here are twelve things about me. I'm not necessarily proud of all these, but they are all true. Except one.

  • One:
    The first record I bought isn't entirely known. My brother says it was Remember You're a Womble. I have no memory of this and contend it was a record token spent on Little Does She Know by the Kursaal Flyers.

    My brother thinks I say that out of embarrassment at the Wombles, whereas I actually think the Wombles would be perfectly acceptable for a five year old. Little Does She Know, on the other hand, is inexcusable shite.

    The BBC once ran a late night series called Rock Docs where they repeated a wide range of vintage documentaries about rock bands. I caught one about the Kursaal Flyers. You know the bit in Bad News where the van picks them up to set off on tour and they all live with their mums? Yep. So similar I genuinely believe Bad News just lifted it direct.

    It also featured their seasoned pro sessionist banjo player (banjo player!) downing a pint of beer in one go which the proper members of the band cheered on as a marvel of rock n roll excess to which they could only aspire.

  • Two:
    The only pilgrimages I've made to graves are, in order; Wilfred Owen, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Marc Bolan and George Orwell.

  • Three:
    I was once in a band called Clitoris Allsorts. Although we were a trio our publicity photos had four of us in. The extra person was Bastard Barry Beetroot who wanted to be in the pictures, and on no account did you argue with Bastard Barry.

  • Four:
    I am the executor of my brother's will. It is my legal duty to carry out the instructions therein, indeed it will be illegal for me not to ensure the James Bond theme is played as his coffin is carried into the crematorium, placed on a surfboard, draped in a hawaiian shirt, then when the curtains part and the coffin goes into the flames the Beach Boys Surfin' Surfari kicks in .

    'Let's go surfin' now, everybody's learning how, come on a surfari with me...'

    Reciprocally, my family have instructions to play The Laughing Gnome at my funeral. The Laughing Gnome is a joke record, and life itself is ultimately a joke. We're all gonna die, all things pass, there is no final ultimate meaning.

    Also, it's Bowie, my big musical hero. He made it in 1967, freshly signed to Decca's new hip offshoot Deram. Everything on Deram was being a big hit - Cat Stevens, Procol Harum, even idiotic nonsense like I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman by Whistling Jack Smith (you probably don't recognise the name but trust me, you'll know the track if you hear it).

    Bowie, having flopped on several labels already, was another bright hope for Deram. However The Laughing Gnome made no impact at all. And rightly so, it's rubbish.

    Six years later when Bowie had bloomed into Ziggy Stardust and was one of the great rock artists of all time at the peak of his powers, his old label Deram reissued The Laughing Gnome. It went top ten and sold over quarter of a million copies.

    The moral, as Kurt Vonnegut took a whole novel to make loud and clear to us, is that it's so very easy in this life to do things in all innocence that turn out to be a very bad idea and come back and haunt you forever.

    But beyond the profound element, I just like the idea of a record that stupid being played at a funeral.

    My family are also instructed to ensure everyone present joins hand Auld Lang Syne style and sing Ace of Spades.

  • Five:
    The computer I'm writing this on was paid for by the police. I was arrested because a policeman said I bored him. As being boring is not a criminal offence (and even if it were I can nominate a hefty list of more serious offenders), I got compensation off the cop and not only bought the computer but two weeks in the Caribbean as well.

  • Six:
    I've made a real point of personally meeting artists whose work I really like. If you pick your heroes well they're never a disappointment in the flesh.

    One time I met Marty Willson-Piper out of The Church, my all time guitar hero. Unfortunately I'd been awake for a day and a half and gone into an Amsterdam coffee shop, bought the strongest weed in the house had two hefty bongs and gotten so high that even though I was sitting down I had to hold on to the table. Two minutes later this, in turn, became too hectic and I had to put my face on the table.

    At this point Marty came in, had a half hour conversation with the man beside me, then left. I couldn't move or speak the entire time. I was shunted to the gig round the corner half an hour later which in that state was quasi-religious experience. (The gig, not the shunting).

    Although I've met several dozen of the people whose creative output means the most to me, I've only been tongue-tied and starstruck in front of three of them. They are Patti Smith, Mick Jones out of The Clash, and Jill Bryson out of Strawberry Switchblade. Make of that what you will.

  • Seven:
    Although I'm an eco-orientated anarchist, my close family includes an international arms dealer, a racist copper, a genetic engineer, a marine, a road haulage firm director, a racist immigration officer and a prison adminstrator. All things considered we get on pretty well.

  • Eight:
    At a Mudhoney gig in Bristol I was asked for my autograph by a girl who thought I was Sebastian Bach, the singer out of sub-Bon Jovi wet metal band Skid Row. Being taken by surprise I was, in retrospect, dismissive of her to the point of unkindness. Which as it will have sullied Bach's reputation rather than mine is not necessarily a bad thing, and perhaps I should have been downright cruel.

  • Nine:
    I met my first proper girlfriend at a Pogues gig. My friend Trixie had misjudged his intake of my homebrew and stumbled into a random stranger, whereupon he proceeded to give her abuse for it. I calmed him down and apologised on his behalf. She turned out to be great. She wrote her phone number on the back of my gig ticket, which I have to this day. When she got home she discovered Trixie had vomited all down her back. Despite that we saw each other for several months.

    I recently googled her. She's working for a council making sure kids who leave care get as much help as possible setting themselves up in life. She's written a couple of really good militantly compassionate articles on the subject. I knew I was right to feel like I did about her.

  • Ten:
    Me and some friends once broadcast a radio sketch about a facial dickslapping contest between Ian Brady and the reanimated corpse of Sid James. It got no complaints from listeners at all.

  • Eleven:
    I've been on Top of The Pops. It got more complaints from viewers than any other edition.

  • Twelve:
    I used to work on a farm in Lancashire with people who played a game of cash-based theoretical dare; 'how much money would you need to...?'.

    One day someone said he'd fuck a cold headless corpse on a mortuary slab for three and a half thousand pounds, rebuffing disbelief with 'I could pay off my car with that'.

    This, as it turns out, was a good thing for me; Obviously, I quit soon after, finally completely and permanently free of the work ethic.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

ceci n'est pas un blog post

A few days ago I had my heart wrung through a mangle by a lover dumping me.

A real old-school dumping, straight out of the blue, definite and non-negotiable. None of that adult inklings of something wrong, no mutual agreement that it's really not working, just me ringing up to finalise details for a long-planned date and being told we, ahem, 'needed to talk'.

Talk we did. After that, drink I did. Then dig out several emotionally harrowing records I've not played in years I did also, soundtracking days of moping and phoning up beloved friends to whinge.

And, this being me and now, a blog post was written about what happened and what can be learned. I've ummed and ahhed over whether to publish it.

Part of me thinks, as one friend advised, that it's my true feelings and there's relevant and under-expressed opinions in there, so go ahead.

Another part of me sees the truth in the advice from another friend who once purged herself by writing to her newly ex-lover and saying what she felt. Made everything clear, at the time. And in the long run, for rather obvious reasons, it was a very very bad idea.

As I'm still too close in to the implosion of the affair I don't trust my judgement enough to publish as yet. Whilst there's a lot of truth in the adage that it's better to regret something you have done than something you haven't, there's a flip side for things like this where the wisdom of the thing in question is unclear but is likely to become clear before too long. It says hang on and see.

If you don't do something that's a bad idea you will enjoy being proved right and be very relieved that you didn't intensify awfulness by doing that obviously stupid thing. If it does, however, turn out to be a good idea then you can go and do it later.

So, I'll just shuffle off for now and do some writing about something, rather than writing about not writing.


UPDATE: I decided to publish it here.

Monday, February 14, 2005

margaret thatcher & kenny ball

A friend of mine does a radio show in Manchester, and when I was round at hers the other week she was putting together her two-hour special for Thatcher's death.

This is a really smart move. We know she's likely to go in the next five years or so, and the immediate aftermath is likely to distract someone from doing a thorough job of making a celebratory radio show.

Also, there's inevitably going to be a great deal of 'the great leader' bollocks in the media. Making a show now avoids any tempering such twaddle may otherwise cause.

I know some people will point out that she no longer wields power and that those who've followed her are the problem now. This is factually correct, but misses the point. Her actions have had the entirely predictable consequences of huge numbers of people dying. I'm not just talking about the Falklands, I'm talking about things like the assault on the health service. I'm talking about the privatisation of the railways, selling them off to her mates for a pittance and resulting in the underinvestment that caused the spate of train crashes. She is as wilful a mass killer as her friend Pinochet.

To have a respectful tone when these people die is to say that what they did didn't matter so much. It says to all those who don't remember those times that these people weren't the vicious killers we know them to be.

Any respect given to Thatcher is respect taken from those whose livelihoods, dignity and very lives were taken by her.

So I'm really glad my friend is preparing properly. She was gathering Thatcher songs. She already had most of the ones I know - Elvis Costello's Tramp The Dirt Down, Morrissey's Margaret On The Guillotine, Stand Down Margaret by The Beat (that's The English Beat to you if you're in North America), Dong Dong The Witch Is Dead from The Wizard of Oz - along with a whole load of ones I've never heard of before including Oi Polloi's instantly memorable Fuck Everybody Who Voted Tory.

Class War have, with their characteristically brazen avoidance of any subtlety, already started distributing stickers and posters calling for a post-Thatcher party. Meet in Trafalgar Square 6pm on the Saturday after she croaks, bring fireworks and beer.

Where is Thatcher going to be buried? You know the family are pompous enough to want a burial rather than cremation so there's a proper grave for everyone to see. But they're gonna have to do summat like that Diana thing of an island in the middle of a lake on a vast high security estate. Otherwise it will swiftly become the world's biggest urinal.

Anyway, I recorded one of the little vox-pop anti-Thatcher rants that are going to pepper the radio show, on the musical front I was able to add Marty Willson-Piper's Evil Queen of England, and I've just run her off a CDR with some Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen too.

Kenny Ball hasn't, to the best of my knowledge, ever made an anti-Thatcher track. But he is undoubtedly the man for a post-Thatcher show.

When Diana died I was going to avoid coverage until I heard Elton John was playing the funeral. I just had to see that one. The question was, what to do with the two minute silence. The solution was to open the windows into the street and play Caterina by Kenny Ball fucking loud.

Kenny Ball surfaced in the late 50s/early 60s British trad jazz boom. Trad jazz is the most absurdly and forcibly cheery music yet conceived by humanity. In its original New Orleans form it has a freshness, a crackling momentum and a thick seam of soul that root it in something deeper in the human heart.

It takes a white guy from Essex - superbly able as a musician and genuinely enthusiastic, but ultimately coming from British music hall and vaudeville rather than Deep South cotton fields - to release trad into the arena it was always striving for: ragingly, contagiously energetic and laughably cheesy in equal measure. That guy is Kenny Ball.

The fact that he looks a bit like Stalin and has a really peculiar bottom-lip tash only adds to his merit.

Playing British trad at solemn occasions is way more disrespectful than expressing any anger because it declares a comedic dismissal that refuses to meet the solemnity on its terms.

Oh the joy of the internet. A quick bit of googling and it turns out Kenny Ball is still going. Maybe we could hire him for the Trafalgar Square bash.

Friday, February 11, 2005

urban transport

Most car journeys are under five miles. Most car journeys carry only the driver, no passengers or bulky luggage.

Public transport has some benefits, but it is inconvenient. The car offers freedom from timetables, freedom from timetables being ignored, an opportunity to go directly from A to B when you want without wasting time looping off to stop places you're not going to.

But the car too has its drawbacks. Imagine if it were somehow made so nimble that it could magically jump to the front of the queue at traffic lights and junctions. Imagine if there were free parking outside - or even inside - any building you went to. Imagine if it needed no tax, insurance or MOT. Imagine if it let you do a daily fitness workout whilst driving. Imagine if fuel were free and it never needed refilling. If it had zero emissions. If, whenever anything went wrong, instead of being at the mercy of pricey mechanics you could quickly, easily and cheaply do most repairs yourself. Imagine how much more precious it would be than the cars of today.

That vehicle is here. Prices start at about twenty quid, second hand.

I got back on a bike after an Aspire in 1999. Among the array of gigs, parties and veggie food was a bike repair workshop. It was run by a guy who spent the rest of the time cannibalising knackered bikes into working ones. He gave me one, and I had to force him to take payment of a cup of tea and a fiver. Less than a week's bus fares. It lasted about two years, when I bought another second hand contraption that served me well.

ReCycle Engineering, my local spares and repairs place where I got that next bike from, is great. The way all shops should be; unpretentious, friendly, capable, on first name terms with you, a 'god bless John Peel' poster on the front of the shop and, if you've timed it right, a free veg samosa inside.

But the sturdy urban workhorse they sold me needs to be put out to pasture, the time has come for me to upgrade.

Still, credit where it's due. That last bike was 30 quid and lasted three years including two massive hauls around Cornwall and West Wales. And rather like having a Betamax video, being a gaudy 1980s racer it was effectively theft-proof.

But doing so much cycling, often laden with very heavy stuff indeed, I could do with something a tad more reliable. I've just taken delivery of one of these.

It's in matt black too, making it feel like a Stealth Bomber or something. I'm going to look so swanky at February's relaunched Critical Mass in Leeds.

Riding the thing is amazing, it feels like it's on rails or even like the magic carpet effect as promised on the prickling-with-repressed-sexual-tension cover of Raleigh's 1958 catalogue.

So a warm but necessary adieu to the bike that took me along part of the Tour de France route, through the Preseli Mountains with no front brake and saved me a fortune in bus fares.

Check out the exhilarating vivacity of Gyrus' blog post detailing his redicovery of the joy of cycling, and some further thoughts.

World Carfree Network , an organisation evolved from CarBusters, have a great range of resources and their mail order section is wonderful - loads of books, and the classic ONE LESS CAR! stickers to put on your bike (available in 16 languages!)

The venerable and venereal James Veeb Davies recommended these two links too:

Ken Kifer's Bike Pages and Sheldon Brown's assorted bike writings.

Oh and people, when out on a bike wear a fluoro top and WEAR A HELMET. Not all that stylish or convenient are they, but then again neither is being unable to think or speak cos your brain and face have been pounded into jelly. Two-thirds of cycling fatalities are head injuries that wouldn't be fatal if the rider had been wearing a helmet. Nuff said.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

doubtless he's right again

BBC News, 1 June 2003:

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says he has seen evidence, not yet available to the public, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

In an interview with Sky News, he said he had "no doubt whatsoever" that Saddam Hussein had had nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

BBC News, 29 November 2004:

Mr Blair said all politicians were entitled to a private life and he had no doubt that Mr Blunkett would be exonerated over claims that he abused his position to help to help his ex-lover, Kimberley Quinn.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

BBC News, 8 Feb 2005:

The UK premier told the House of Commons liaison committee on Tuesday he agreed with President Bush's criticisms of Iran.

"It certainly does sponsor terrorism, there is no doubt about that at all," he said.

Monday, February 07, 2005


Warning - anyone under 30 who isn't an 80s pop obsessive will find this post, at best, almost interesting.

In pop music more than most other spheres of human endeavour we often find, in the words of the Swedish bards, that the history book on the shelf is always repeating itself.

In the mid-late 1980s I was a bigtime obsessive fan of T. Rex and also had a rich fondness for the other early 70s glam-rock bands - the sleazy bubblegum metal riffing, big pop choruses and outlandish slender gender benders.

I used to get royally pissed off at the reuse of the term Glam Rock to mean 80s preening po-faced poodle-metal bands with egos even bigger than the root vegetables they'd stuffed down the front of their spandex, widdly-widdlying through guitar solos as long and wanky as a masturbation session with a cock as big as the aforementioned foodstuffs.

Garage was originally named cos its practitioners - MC5, Blue Cheer, The Stooges etc - sounded like they were enthusiatic inept guys rehearsing in a garage. It's a zillion miles from the overpolished production of 21st century garage.

The recent reusing of the word goth is considerably more appropriate. Although the music is a lot rockier and has less of that relentless cold tension that characterised the first goth, the audience nevertheless remain teenagers full of gloom in ill-fitting black clothes and panda eye make-up.

The new definiton of R'n'B is somewhat wider of the mark. It used to mean rhythm and blues, a pretty accurate moniker for the music of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Modern R'n'B certainly has prominent rhythm, usually an overloaded soulless drum program, but it's overlaid with vocal acrobatics that bear about as much relation to the blues as Jim Davidson's version of White Christmas.

(Which does, by the way, actually exist. It was a single in 1980. As a species, we have clearly earned the merciless wrath of any gods that want to punish us).

But now there's a move on from recycling old genre names to recycling the artists names. This is much less annoying and a lot more funny.

Bad Company were an early 70s hirsute rock band. (I think with hindsight we can define a lot of 70s music as 'hirsute rock'). It's also the name used by a current cutting edge kickass filthy drum & bass outfit. Nobody's told this to people who sell records, so Amazon will tell you on their page for scorching D&B classic Shot Down On Safari that 'Customers who bought music by Bad Company also bought music by these artists: Free UFO Paul Rodgers Deep Purple'. Unlikely.

This tickles me a bit, but nowhere near as much as the new phenomenon of reusing the phonetic structure of names.

Busted split up cos Charlie wanted to prioritise his new band, the harder rock guitar power of Fightstar.

If you've only got half an ear turned to the radio or the kettle's on or somesuch then it doesn't half sound like people are referring to Five Star.

It's a surefire quizzical frown inducer thinking you've just heard someone say 'live reviews say that Five Star played a brilliant set; fast, powerful in-your-face rocking from these hungry heads-down guitar heroes'.

Similarly, negligable Fame Academy ponce Lemar is a pox on our airwaves until you mishear the name.

News that Limahl is touring and performing Al Green covers gave me quite a jolt.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

ban these evil peanuts

Another slight return on the theme of inconsistent drug policy.

Mental health charity Rethink has called for a government inquiry into the effects of cannabis on mental health, especially in the light of studies indicating it may trigger the onset of certain mental conditions.

Although, as far as I can see, there's nothing from Rethink overtly calling for cannabis legislation to be toughened, the media are taking that as the implication.

Rethink's Terry Hammond says 'it's Russian roulette' , but this would only be accurate if the gun had one bullet and several million chambers.

Nobody can seriously claim cannabis is entirely harmless for all possible users. But the fact is that it's used responsibly and safely by millions without any harm to anyone, not even themselves.

Still, Rethink are right in one aspect. We really should know the risks of the drugs we use.

Let's say that it is unarguable that cannabis can trigger otherwise latent psychosis in predisposed people. It's still not a reason to ban it. It's a reason to do the research and properly inform people of the risks, and it's a reason to provide health care for the small number of unfortunate people who suffer.

What I do find weird is Rethink's claim that there has been a 60% increase in people who 'smoked drugs' (presumably meaning cannabis) and had mental health problems in the last five years.

On the presumption they're not seriously claiming a 60% increase in the number of people who smoke cannabis, there must be some other factor at work here. Whichever, if it's true it certainly warrants serious enquiry so that others may be saved from such a fate. What else are our representatives for (in theory) if not to facilitate a wiser way of living?

But a better comparison than Russian roulette would be peanut allergy. Millions of us enjoy peanut products every day, but for a few people with undiagnosed latent allergies, peanut use is very damaging, even fatal. There has been a massive increase in peanut allergies in recent years and the government has done nothing, effectively encouraging this dangerous peanut use.

How dare the government be soft on peanuts. How dare these people who use peanuts recreationally - not one of whom truly needs the nuts - want them to be freely available and thus allow those with latent allergies to be exposed to the dire consequences. Pubs and supermarkets across the country are pushing deadly peanuts, profiting from the suffering of innocent children. Those who call for the legalisation of Star Bars and peanut butter M&Ms are calling for peanut-allergic children to fall dead in the playground. Ban these evil peanuts.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

politician nobhead day

What is this, Politician Nobhead Day?

Blair defends the new get-out of the illegality of imprisoning foreigners without trial; indefinite house arrest of anyone without trial.

So the LibDems decry it, with Charles Kennedy suggesting that instead there should be a new crime of 'acting towards planning acts of terrorism'. Er, isn't 'acting towards' an integral part of planning? In fact, isn't it a reasonable working definition of 'planning'?

They weren't just thinking about doing it, they were thinking about thinking about doing it! Can't you see the difference?

Then Michael Howard gets up on his hind legs to say that the house arrest idea goes against 'our way of life'. Why does house arrest do it, but not indefinite imprisonment of foreigners? The only difference is in who he means by 'us' - it might now be British citizens affected as opposed to mere darkies. All the difference in the world to Michael.

We should, of course, expect such warped thinking from the architect of the racist Asylum & Immigration Act 1996 and the man who declared to Tory Party Conference 'PRISON WORKS!'. Although defence of 'our way of life' is a tad rich coming from the guy who gave us the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994 - the single most repressive law in a generation, and the only piece of legislation to give a blanket curtailing of everyone's right to silence.

It looks to me like they sat round and dreamt up Politician Nobhead Day to distract us from Robert Kilroy-Smug's new party Veritas.

Damn him for falling out with UKIP. If they'd stuck together then they might've done for the Tory vote at this year's general election what the Social Democratic Party did for the Labour vote in 1983.

Four prominent Labour MPs decided they didn't like the direction the party was taking ('Commitments to socialism and global peace? We're outta here!') and formed the SDP, a slightly to the right of the Liberals thing, proto-NewLabour.

The resulting struggle split the centre and lefty votes, and so the Tories were re-elected with the biggest landslide in 40 years, despite having been elected four years earlier on a law & order and anti-unemployment ticket yet presided over vast increases in joblessness and the largest spate of rioting in centuries (22 towns and cities in summer 1981!).

The SDP, incidentally, were the first political party to use someone from Monty Python as a serious spokesperson. Speaks for itself, that one.

But as Spitting Image pointed out, not even Cleese himself could compete with the comedy classics the Party's slogan writers came up with; 'we have broken the mould of British politics'. 'The three-party system is here to stay'. They eventually merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988, although a bizarre residual party staggers on to this day.

Given the slow implosion of the Tories since 1997, a crushing defeat against the unpopular Blair regime could really be the thing that tips them out of being the proper opposition. That mean-minded racist far-right voice wouldn't be credible any longer, the grounds for popular debate would have to shift away to the sliver of difference between Labour and LibDem.

Not a great joy in itself, but certainly increasing the chances of ideas other than the present right versus far-right being heard. A step in the right direction, and a liberating vengeant joy for those of us who remember the days of Tory rule.

It may still happen, but Kilroy and UKIP were the guarantee. I hate them even more now. Christ, what an achievement.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

there is continuity, there will be change

Remember when Blunkett resigned, I said I didn't really share the jubilation, as the new Home Secretary would carry on in the same vein?

Here we go, yet more anti-terrorist legislation. Cos the anti-terrorist laws we brought in in the 70s weren't enough. Jack Straw's Terrorism Act 2000 - under which wearing the wrong T-shirt can land you in jail for 12 months - isn't enough. Blunkett's additional legislation - which I thought was extreme at the time - apparently isn't enough.

Given the fact Blunkett's idea of internment without trial for foreigners has been deemed illegal, Clarke has come up with a new plan. Permanent house arrest without charge or trial.

And that bit about it being illegally discriminatory against foreigners? Clarke gets round that by extending the 'control orders' to anyone, whatever their nationality. He's also seriously floating ideas about anti-terrorism courts without juries.

George Churchill-Coleman, chief of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad in the days when there really were bombers at large in British cities, has attacked Charles Clarke's proposed new anti-terrorist laws in blunt language. 'I have a horrible feeling that we are sinking into a police state'.

As I've said elsewhere:

A police state is not a state in which everyone lives in fear of severe treatment by unaccountable police using draconian laws. It is a state in which anyone who does something the government disapproves of lives in such fear. Dramatic and terrifying as it sounds, this is the state we see developing around us. The events of September 11th have been used as an excuse to help a violently right-wing agenda.

I’d like to be generous to Western politicians and mass media and say that the random spinning of their moral compasses is entirely due to the uncertainties in the new political landscape. But I can’t do it. Their explanations are so obviously flawed, the results of their proposals so obviously not what they claim that it cannot be mere confusion and/or stupidity.

So why are they putting in place all the laws necessary for a police state? Because they know we're going to need them. As we hurtle through the last years of cheap plentiful oil, we still cannot accept that the future won't be like now only more technological. We hear the words 'oil is finite', yet we really cannot bring ourselves to act as if it were true.

But once the scales tip and the demand for oil outstrips supply - and that is absolutely imminent - the industrialised nations will fight one another for it, and within societies the rich will secede from the poor who will fight among themselves.

As George Monbiot asserts,

A supply of oil that exceeds demand has permitted us to do what all species strive to do – expand the ecological space we occupy – but without encountering direct competition for the limiting resource. The surplus has led us to believe in the possibility of universal peace and universal comfort, for a global population of 6 billion, or 9 or 10.

If kindness and comfort are, as I suspect, the results of an energy surplus, then, as the supply contracts, we could be expected to start fighting once again like cats in a sack.

There is another way out. Oil fields decline slowly, around 3% per year. If everyone who uses oil decided to use 3% less a year - hardly a lot to ask of anyone - we could simply walk out of the problem (climate change notwithstanding; and even then, once in the swing of responsible conservation, increase on the 3% cut is far from impossible).

Of course, I'm not smart enough to have thought that up myself. The idea came to me from Colin Campbell, who calls it an Oil Depletion Protocol. It would require everyone to admit what is going on (which they'll have to do pretty soon anyway) and decide to do the fair thing, with only a little cost to themselves.

People have sacrificed more for less reward before now. At the end of the day, for all our individual selfishness, we are a social species, we need others in order to survive ourselves, physically and psychologically.

As the unfailingly excellent Jim Bliss says, active, urgent, co-operative compassion is actually our best personal selfish survival strategy.

So really, we've got to fight the repressive laws, the ID cards, the whole kit of the police state, not just cos of the miniscule chance that it could be any of us detained indefinitely without charge or trial, but cos they're the fabric of a society divided which would take us all spiralling down in a vicious suicidal clamour.

Thing is, time is not on our side with this one. As Matthew Simmons, advisor to the Bush Administration on energy issues, says, ‘Peaking of oil and gas will occur, if it has not already happened, and we will never know when the event has happened until we see it 'in our rear view mirrors'.’

Those of us who get the idea that finite resources are, well, actually finite, have a lot of publicity work to do.