Saturday, March 27, 2010

gotta make way for the homo inferior

The Conservatives are the party who, 20 years ago, brought us the infamous homophobic law Clause 28.

Now I'm not being an apologist for New Labour here. Nothing mitigates the Iraq war, nor the ticking financial timebomb of PFI public services that will turn the welfare state to rubble, and that's before we even start to talk about market capitalism, the elitist nature of centralised representative democracy or the literal insanity of basing your society on perpetual economic growth.

But all that said, one of the few areas where Labour distinguish themselves from the Tories is gay rights. They repealed Clause 28, they legalised civil partnerships, they equalised the age of consent, bam bam bam.

The House of Commons is still riddled with Conservatives who fought all three measures. Cameron himself was voting against the repeal of Clause 28 in 2003. But he's subsequently tried to court the gay vote, apologising last summer for the Clause.

This week he did an interview with Gay Times, and began it by agreeing that gay equality is 'a fundamental human right'. Hold on to that phrase as it will help you judge his integrity.

Asked why the Lords weren't having a whip to direct the way they vote on legalising civil partnerships in places of worship, he said that it was right that parliamentarians have a free vote on 'these kinds of issues'.

The interviewer pointed out that if something is about a fundamental human right, surely his party should have a clear policy and vote accordingly.

Cameron flusters and stumbles at this point in a way few politicians ever do, clearly caught out. He mumbles and then admits the inconsistency, saying, 'yes, you're right'.

Challenged about Conservative MEPs abstaining on a vote condemning a new homophobic law in Lithuania, he says

I barely ever issue instructions to my MEPs to vote in this way or in that way

But, again, if he actually felt that gay equality was a fundamental human right, this would be one of those cases.

He tries to wriggle out of it saying that it's not really the Conservatives per se in the European Parliament, but that

They have their own group

But it was a personal flagship policy of Cameron's leadership that decided to change which group they're with. He withdrew them from the mainstream centre-right European Democrats and set up the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, a group further right, united around strong feeling against European federalism. It's brimming with dubious xenophobes and homophobes, but human rights aren't as fundamental to them as Euroscepticism.

He later said the Tory MEPs abstained because they have 'a general approach of not voting on the internal matters of other countries'.

Again, if it were a fundamental human right, they surely would. And secondly, he's just wrong. They do vote about internal affairs of other countries.

Gay Times have stuck snippets up on Youtube, but the Channel 4 News report pulls it together best.

What is perhaps most extraordinary about all this is that he can be so easily caught out. High-level politicians don't go anywhere without a team of advisors. People will have spent weeks deciding what he should say to any given interviewer. They will be stood round the back of the camera, checking he delivers his lines right.

Even without that, his public schoolboy's articulate confidence, augmented by his years in PR, should carry him through. He knows how to trot out the 'well obviously that is an option we will seriously be considering' type stuff.

To be so readily rug-pulled suggests that he really has no grounding in the concept of gay equality as human rights at all, no belief, no grasp of issues or clear thought, just parroted lines and politicianese.

Once again they prove to us that they're the same Conservatives that they ever were.

Friday, March 26, 2010

de burgh: the mao of merseyside

A football team's colours are key to their identity. Fashions have come and gone, hems of shorts have gone from the knee to the crotch and back again, empires have risen and fallen, but the colours remain.

Wearing them to the match is part of the ritual, it declares the wearer to be part of something greater, something that pre-dates them and will live on after they're gone. The unbroken sweep of the same colour is part of the atmosphere in the ground.

So it's a big statement when Manchester United fans abandon their red, black and white and start wearing yellow and green. These were the original colours of the team when it started a over a century ago. They're being worn again as a statement about the roots of the club, specifically against their present capitalist scumfuck owners.

The takeover of top-flight football by Very Big Money Indeed affects all clubs, especially the 'big four' in England; Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

So, where would you go if you were looking for an unwitting army to conscript? If you want unswerving lifelong loyalty in a group tens of thousands strong, where better to place yourself than at the head of a supposed people's revolt in their name?

So it is that we see the recruiting sergeant of totalitarian shapeshifting lizards setting himself up as the Mao of Merseyside, pitting himself against Liverpool's present directors and painting himself as a scouse man of the people.

Laying into Liverpool's owners, Chris De Burgh said

These people are not football supporters, more importantly, they are not Liverpool Football Club supporters and they should go.

As an Argentinian-born Irish aristocrat, Chris De Burgh couldn't mock us more heartily. After the dark day of usurpment we will wonder how we were ever taken in by such talk.

The teams of the Premiership elite have an unmatched devout following, with 50,000 people jostling for tickets at every match, followed by millions around the world watching their every move with awe and adulation. And here he comes riding that focus, the Pied Piper of Argentina, leading us into lizardly dystopia.

If he's being so brazen, he must be confident that there is little time left to confront him. We might have only days to go.

Monday, March 22, 2010

save 6music - get it done

No apologies for a further nudge to save the BBC digital radio stations 6Music and Asian Network.

As I've made clear, I've a huge personal bias for 6Music. Not just for its greatness so far, but for what it promises as a part of the musical firmament.

As Steve Lamacq put it

Don’t scrap it now before its fully discovered its true identity. Instead, in five years time, take the praise for what it will have grown into and achieved: an independently-minded station on the periphery of pop. A station which understands and celebrates our musical history – while always looking to the future.

All our Facebook indignation and sincere bloggery is worthless unless acted upon.

It's easy and fairly quick to fill out the BBC's online survey. Please get it done.

Tom Robinson explains a few key points about submitting your thoughts.

When making your views known to the Trust, here’s the crucial point:

The argument is not about whether Stuart Maconie or Bobby Friction make excellent radio shows. It’s about whether that excellence should be merged into digital offerings from fewer, bigger, more marketable “brands”.

If you are keen that Asian Network and 6 Music should survive as distinct public service offerings, then your best hope is to convince all 11 members of the BBC Trust of their importance. That there’s more to “Putting Quality First” than narrow categories and brand consolidation. And that there’s a place in the nation’s heart (and half a percent of the BBC budget) for these two small, standalone centres of excellence.

We could still win this. Help tip the odds.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

product displacement

Many years ago I was out drinking with someone who worked in a bar. At closing time, it struck me that I'd never heard her call lasties. 'Haven't you noticed?' she asked. I shrugged and waited. Disbelieving that I was unaware, that her bar's policy really was so subliminal, she nonetheless explained.

Ten minutes before last orders, they put on the Jive Bunny CD, but quietly. No matter how drunk the clientele, the place unfailingly emptied within fifteen minutes.

I wonder if this proven idea could be extended. Indeed, I wonder if perhaps it already has. Further to the news that product placement is to be allowed on British TV, are movies still one step ahead of TV in selling opportunities for anti-product placement?

For example, if a movie shows a family getting into a car with the Volvo badge prominently displayed, it means they're about to have a crash but all survive unscathed. Could Volvo instead pay for a death crash to happen in a Nissan? Could Pepsi pay for an obese toothless nerdy diabetic character to drink Coke?

I haven't seen either of those examples in action, but what else other than this principle can explain the excruciating syrupy songs at the end of James Cameron's movies?

I suspect the cinema cleaners' unions realise he runs seven minutes of credits, so they got him to put My Heart Will Go On - a song as tragic as the needless death of 1,500 people - over Titanic's closing credits, causing everyone to run from the cinema clutching their bleeding ears.

Then comes Avatar and he bolts on Leona Lewis' I See You - a song as great an atrocity as the attempted genocide on Pandora - to the end, making all but the severely hearing impaired trample one another in their rush for the exits.

In both cases, the cleaners get in early and have the popcorn boxes gathered up and are out of there, probably before the intolerable aimless forgettable warbling's ended.

And that forgettability is a further achievement of those songs. Like And I Will Always Love You from The Bodyguard, you've heard My Heart Will Go On a squillion times yet you can't really remember how it goes. How hard it must be to write a song so prevalent yet so soluble.

Sure, you think you can remember And I Will Always Love You, but (apart from people who know the Dolly Parton original) try singing anything other than the title line. Go on, really try it.

See what I mean?

The Bodyguard. For fuck's sake. They made that piece of shit whilst the same studios were turning down Tarantino. Top tip kids: never watch a movie where you can tell everything that will happen from the fucking title alone.

My friend Caroline found that out the hard way last weekend with Snakes On A Plane. Sheesh.

Monday, March 15, 2010

i can't believe it's not... a real tv show

Product placement - a company paying to have its product included in a TV show - has been illegal on TV in the UK. But not for much longer. This comes despite the government saying a year ago that it would be a bad idea.

The government said plainly that the morality of the idea is still the same, it's just that as the recession sets in (you know, the same recession they keep telling us is over), the first thing to suffer is advertising revenue. So product placement becomes acceptable because it will throw £30m into ailing profits.

Of course, they phrased it a little differently.

Adherence to our current position in which UK TV programme-making cannot benefit at all from the income potentially to be generated by product placement would lead to continuing damage to its finances at a time when this crucial part of our creative industries needs all the support we can give it.

There will be certain product placement free zones. As children are less able to differentiate between fact and sales pitch, product placement will be prohibited in children's programmes. So as long as children never watch any other programmes everything will be fine.

News programmes and the entire BBC will be safe. Additionally, the government plans to prohibit alcohol and foods high in fat, sugar and salt. For now.

Of course, we've long had product placement on our TV in imported shows, and in a world of increasingly globalised brands it will have had an effect on us.

Additionally, it's existed in movies for a long time. One of the many great things about the Spice Girls movie Spiceworld - genuinely a work of cultural significance and real wit, only dismissed by those who haven't seen it - was the way they exaggerated their product placement and showed how it had already become familiar to us without realising.

So the new laws don't introduce it to us. But they do take a ferociously destructive social force and increase its power and range.

As Bill Hicks said, advertising and marketing is the most evil concept ever.

Monday, March 08, 2010

tories: like the last 50 years never happened

In January, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was on Any Questions. He defended the Conservative plans to give tax breaks to married couples as actually being good for women's needs, saying

there may be women with partners who are given an extra argument for getting a ring on their finger by this. They’re able now to say well here is an incentive.

Because we're still living in the 1950s, a land of stereotypes where women want marriage and men try to avoid it.

Around the same time (the Any Questions show in January, not the 1950s), I plugged the site doing spoofs of the creepy Conservative poster campaign.

There have been several new ones since that tickled me, especially this one

Conservative Withnail poster

The campaign was too alien and faux-presidential, so they've replaced it with ones that have pictures of Ordinary People.

They tackle our visceral hatred head on, aiming squarely at people who've never liked them.

'I've never voted Tory before but...' poster

Straight out of the gate, the spoofers hit back

'I've never voted Tory before but this fox stew tastes delicous' spoof poster

But more interestingly there's another spoofing site that uses 'I've never voted Labour before...'.

Although it's a pro-Tory site, it actually serves to show us what they're really - and always have been - about.

It includes this one.

Because Labour are letting in lots of immigrants, and all immigrants love Labour's policies. And we all hate immigrants.

It echoes the one in the comments on - him again - Daniel Hannan's blog post

I’ve never voted Labour before because I’ve just been granted asylum from Baghdad.

This, even more starkly, shows that for the Conservatives the last fifty years haven't happened - it's just paraphrasing a slogan they used back then. In the 1964 general election, the Conservatives fought for the Smethwick seat under the slogan 'if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour'.

Don't let the young man from the PR firm Michael Rimmer David Cameron fool you. It's still the same Conservatives as it ever was.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

save bbc 6music

Believing themselves to be facing cuts in the years ahead, especially if the Conservatives come to power, the BBC got in there first. They hired one of the authors of the Conservatives' last election manifesto to do a report into the BBC.

He recommended a bunch of cuts, including the axing of two of their digital radio stations, the Asian Network and 6Music. The Director General just said he agrees.

6Music is the only reason I bought a fucking digital radio. If they close it I want my fucking money back.

The station has 620,000 listeners a week and costs £7m a year to run. That's about a tenner a listener. I'm sure half the listeners would pay 20 quid a year to have the station there. I certainly would. It's struck me many times as odd that the American model of small, specialist interest listener-supported stations isn't replicated here.

And just having an absence of corporate propaganda invading your brainspace is well worth coughing up for your TV license, so why not for 6Music too?

By the way, don't think that commercial stations are somehow free. Some time in the 90s I read a study that showed the average family of four paid more for commercial TV than for the BBC TV license, thanks to the extra cost on their groceries to cover the cost of advertising.

The BBC Trust complain that only 20% of adults have heard of 6Music. Well yes. It's a digital radio station. You have to have a DAB, listen online or be one of those people - if they really exist - who listen to the radio on their digital TV receiver. Stick it on FM and watch the listenership ratings balloon.

The Director General's report says 6Music 'competes head on for a commercially valuable audience'. Er, right. So now it's a big, commercially valuable insignificant niche.

Back on Planet Earth, 6Music is not in competition with any commercial station. The BBC Trust's own report shows 82% of listeners believe 6 Music offered 'something that could not be found elsewhere'. It's loved precisely because it appeals to people who want the unexpected, the intelligent and the weird, people who hate the corporate.

Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone plays experimental music from further out than anywhere else I've ever heard, and not as some gimmick but as an envigorated exploration of what music can do to us.

Getting passionate, informed presenters in like Tom Robinson to do the new bands show, or Bruce Dickinson to do the rock show, or Craig Charles to do the funk and soul show, leads to an unrivalled ability to discover new acts.

Tom Robinson's show alone has given the first radio play to well over a thousand bands. People who are now household names like Florence and The Machine or Amy Winehouse spent their early days doing sessions for 6Music.

Craig Charles' show is the most expensive I've ever heard. I can barely get through half an hour without having to go and buy some killer tune he's played.

All across the station's output there's a liberal dose of the BBC archives, a simply unparallelled stockpile of treasures. Every DJ plays Peel session tracks, and Gideon Coe's show is entirely comprised of old sessions, live concerts and other stuff, giving you new angles on artists you know and unearthing tiny greatness from people you've never heard of.

This archive, as Radio 7 also shows, is a gargantuan goldmine. They should stick all those Peel sessions and live concerts and stuff on iTunes, or create their own download platform. The cost of digitising would be minimal.

The Bowie and Queen type stuff would sell by the skipload, but there's something else. Everyone who loves pop and rock music has a few pet favourite artists they adore who are largely unknown. We'd practically soil ourselves at being given their unreleased BBC sessions in clear digital quality. It woulds surely only take a couple of downloads of any given session to cover the cost of digitisation.

Kinnell, there's my second (admittedly implausible, arguably beyond-remit illegal) fundraising idea for the BBC in as many minutes. That'd make more than the savings from closing 6Music.

There is a 12 week public consultation about their plans. The BBC have said they want to close 6Music, but BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons has also clearly said that if there is 'massive public concern' then the station can be saved.

Write to the BBC. It will make a difference. Here is how to do it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

faith in medicine

Last week the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its report on homeopathy.

Its findings were unequivocal, saying 'as they are not medicines' the NHS should stop funding their prescription, and they should not be allowed to have labels claiming medicinal properties. The report is clear in its belief that homeopathy does not work beyond placebo effect.

Supporters of homeopathy counter with the fact that it can't be a placebo as it works for a lot of people. This misunderstands what's meant by placebo.

It's often interpreted as meaning 'you are a gullible idiot' or 'you were making your symptoms up'. The fact is that placebo does produce real, measurable positive results for people with real medical conditions.

The interplay between our individual personal mindset and our physical health is as extensive as it is uncharted and mysterious. All of us have had our demeanour alter our susceptibility to illness. We don't need to know how something works in order to know that it does work.

But that's the thing with homeopathy; whether it works. When you get to the high-quality trials - randomised double-blinds - it is shown over and over to be no better than placebo.

Indeed, this was admitted by Paul Bennett, the Professional Standards Director and Superintendent Pharmacist at Boots the Chemist, in his evidence to the Science and Technology Committee. But he said he sells them anyway because

It is about consumer choice for us. A large number of our consumers actually do believe they are efficacious

A large number of people believe using cola as a vaginal douche prevents pregnancy. If I labelled cola tins as contraceptives and sold them for a tenner each, would Boots stock them?

A far larger number of people - many more than believe in homeopathy, and for centuries longer than homeopathy's been established - get real results from praying to the Virgin Mary. Should Boots be stocking statuettes of the blessed virgin with labels saying 'cures cancer'?

During my adolescent dalliance with Christianity, a man at the church explained the power of prayer. He told of how there had been a sick baby in hospital, but the parents had organised for people across the whole county to pray at the same time. It worked instantly, the doctor says the time of prayer was the moment when the infant's condition started improving.

Leaving aside the unlikelihood of a doctor pinpointing a single instant in which someone started getting better, I love the concept of god the story invokes. God hadn't noticed the sick child already. Or maybe he had, but it didn't strike him as unfair until it was pointed out to him.

Even then, a single prayer wouldn't have done it, it took a synchronised mass effort. Perhaps there are so many individuals praying that there's a sort of indistinct hubub. It's like being in a room with fifty people talking, you can't make out anything, but if ten of them suddenly say your name in unison you hear clearly. 'Oi! God! Over here!'

There are so many contradictions of the idea of an all-knowing benevolent god in there, it makes you rather admire homeopaths for their comparative logical consistency.

Having that memory bubble up in my brain sent me off to dig out an extract from George Orwell's wartime diary. You can never read too much of Orwell's chunky four-volume Collected Essays Letters and Journalism.

Anyway, in March 1941 he was a member of the Home Guard, and says it was 'more or less compulsory' to take part in their church parade and national day of prayer.

Apparently God is expected to help us on the ground that we are better than the Germans. In the set prayer composed for the occasion God is asked to "turn the hearts of our enemies, and to help us to forgive them; to give them repentance for their misdoings, and a readiness to make amends." Nothing about our enemies forgiving us.

It seems to me that the Christian attitude would be that we are no better than our enemies, we are all miserable sinners, but that it so happens that it would be better if our cause prevailed and therefore that it is legitimate to pray for this...

I suppose the idea is that it would be bad for morale to let people realise that the enemy has a case, though even that is a psychological error, in my opinion.

But perhaps they aren't thinking primarily about the effect on people taking part in the service but are simply looking for direct results from their nation­wide praying campaign, a sort of box barrage fired at the angels.