Wednesday 28 March 2007

Who are these people ?

The Advertising Standards Authority have ruled that the Australian Tourist Board's posters with the slogan; "Where the bloody hell are you ?" are offensive and must be taken down. Apparently there have been a large number of complaints.

What a load of bollocks.

Swearing can be a sign of a lack of eloquence or education. In fact in everyday speech it often is, I have worked with people who swear so much that it is actually impossible to follow their meaning. But swearing can also be funny, dramatic and add colour to the language. That's probably why it is used so much in comedy.

And it is as old as the hills. There seem to be two sorts of swearing - religious and sexual. In the west the religious kind obviously comes out of the Christian tradition hence 'bloody hell' or even the now universally accepted 'damn'. The sexual kind such as the ubiquitous 'fuck' and 'bollocks' represent some of the oldest words in the English language and have come down to us from Anglo-Saxon and Middle-English.

Have a look at Chaucer or Shakespeare - there is plenty of swearing, and it forms a vital part of the language of these texts. Unless of course you read the versions of the nineteenth century puritanical prig Thomas Bowdler who made it his mission to publish versions of Shakespeare with all the dirty bits taken out for the benefit of schoolchildren. Nowadays he is regarded as a sanctimonious idiot, and rightly so, but I'm sure he would have been one of the many who have apparently complained to the ASA about the Aussie ad.

Why this obsession with language ? The argument is used that it is to protect children. I don't see this - context is everything and so kids work out very early on that how they behave in the playground is not necessarily how they behave when they have tea with granny. Just as adults work out that language appropriate in the pub may not go down so well at a business meeting.

There are wars going on in this world, people being tortured, children dying in poverty - what small-minded, up-tight morons feel moved to put pen to paper and complain to the ASA about an ad that says 'bloody hell'?

Tuesday 27 March 2007

You can't rebrand a biggoted wanker.

Plenty of photo ops yesterday - 'Dr' Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams sitting side-by-side, to symbolise the power sharing agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Only the most blinded sectarian would not breathe a sigh of relief that this will give some respite for the long suffering people of Northern Ireland. However fragile peace may be it is preferable to the spiral of sectarian killings.

BUT Paisley as First Minister of the new devolved government ? Let's get real - the man is a hate-filled bigotted arsehole not fit for public office.

There's a lot of talk about 'Islamo-phobia' being the equivalent of racism, how then is his 'Catholic-phobia' not the same ? Here's some choice quotes from the man who purchased his quack-doctorate of divinity by post from an evangelical 'college' in the Deep South:

• On why Catholics in Northern Ireland face worse social problems then their Protestant counterparts in terms of employment and housing:"they breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin".

• On the Pope's visit to Ireland: "I denounce you. Anti-Christ"

• On justifying sectarian attacks on Catholics by Protestant paramilitaries: "Catholic homes caught fire because they were loaded with petrol bombs; Catholic churches were attacked and burned because they were arsenals and priests handed out sub-machine guns to parishioners".

• On a Jewish member of the Official Ulster Unionist Party (Harold Smith): "The Unionist party are boasting he is a Jew. As a Jew, he rejects our Lord Jesus Christ, the New Testament, Protestant principles, the Glorious Reformation and the sanctity of the Lord's day. The Protestant throne and the Protestant constitution are nothing to him."

• And finally my personal favourite, on why Paisley is a certifiable lunatic, comic if he were not so dangerous: "Line dancing is as sinful as any other type of dancing, with its sexual gestures and touching. It is an incitement to lust".

Friday 23 March 2007

Bunking off in the name of art.

One of the nicer things about working in the West End is being able to sneak out at lunchtime and go to museums and galleries.

I did this yesterday and spent half an hour in the National Gallery - just about the ideal time I think for someone like me who makes no claim to any particular artistic inclinations. (But as the cliche runs I think I know what I like).

There was an exhibition of Leon Kossoff - an artist and printmaker who makes drawings and prints of pictures hanging in the National Gallery.

He's been going there since he was a kid in the thirties - walking there from his home in the East End. He literally sits down in front of the pictures and either draws or engraves a plate on the spot.

His style has evolved over the years, but to my untutored eyes it looks like a kind of impressionism. In several cases I prefer the result to that of the original.

But that's not really the point - I really like the idea of the process - it seems to be a great illustration of what public galleries are for, and how art can be accessible.

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Dawkins v God (Dawkins wins)

I've ranted enough about religion on this blog, so I am not going to add any comments to these links from YouTube:

• Richard Dawkins' lecture in the USA on 'The God Delusion'

• The question and answer session afterwards.
Just bear in mind that Liberty University is an evangelical Christian institution that will not teach evolution.


PS: By way of balance I feel it only fair to include a view from the other side; this well-reasoned quote is taken from the comments section of the YouTube site:

"This man is so dumb, I wonder how he got to be that old. If he took the time to read the bible it would be obvious to him that it's all true. Science hasn't taught us anything, yet God teaches us everything. At least I take comfort in the fact that this guy will burn eternally in hell."
* I have corrected the spelling and grammar in this quote - it seems unfair to ridicule the hard-of-thinking more than necessary.

Tuesday 20 March 2007


Every year the Oxford English Dictionary adds a few colloquialisms that have become common currency. In recent years they have added 'McJob' , defined as:

an "unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector".

In response McDonalds is now lobbying to have the word removed. Apparently it finds it inappropriate and offensive.

This from just about the most litigious company in the world. The same company that started a libel action against two unemployed anarchists from North London who produced a home-made leaflet about the company.

Trouble is their PR advice was not too good, the trial lasted for a record two and a half years and a string of expert witnesses confirmed that the anarchists' claims about McDonalds' damage to the environment, the ill-treatment of their staff and the general crappiness of their products were all well founded.

This time McDonalds are hitting back with a campaign about the joys of working under the golden arches. They speak of (and you couldn't really make this up) "McOpportunities" and "McFlexi-time".

And they say that the USA is a land without irony.

Monday 19 March 2007

The Independent isn't inhaling anymore.

Ten years ago in a surprising and brave move for a national newspaper, The Independent called for the legalisation of cannabis. The then-editor Rosie Boycott was prominent in a campaign that led to it's legal re-classification from a class B to a class C drug. This Sunday the front page of The Independent (now under another editor) has renounced its former position.

The reason ? Apparently because new strains of (sometimes GM modified) skunk are much more powerful and there is evidence linking them with paranoia and depression.

This shows some typically confused thinking in the 'drugs' debate.

There is a range of quality in the varieties of cannabis and the subtleties of their effects. But then again there are alco-pops and there are fine wines. The fact that WKD is drunk by anti-social binge drinkers whose only agenda is to get pissed as quickly and cheaply as possible, has not led to demands that Chateauneuf de Pape should be banned. Maybe we'll see an angst-ridden middle class campaigning for GM-free weed or Prince Charles setting up a Duchy Original brand.

More seriously though - the Independent's argument makes the classic mistake or confusing the consequences of drug abuse with issues of legality.

There is no doubt in my own mind that people who abuse drugs are a pain in the arse to be around. Likely lads whose every Friday night is given over to necking pint after pint of Stella. Obnoxious city-boys and media-types snorting coke in the illusion that they need any artificial help to be more confident, extrovert and self-obsessed than they already are. Comatose stoners whose idea of a good evening is staring at the teletubbies, collapsing into uncontrollable giggles and eating all your biscuits.

But why the desire to make the use of what we don't like, or don't approve of, illegal ?

By all means let's control, and possibly in rare circumstances prohibit the import and sale of these substances that we believe to be socially harmful (as we do tobacco and alcohol). But to have laws against their possession is something altogether different.

On a theoretical level it is a form of puritanism that uses the state as moral arbiter. On a practical level it has the consequence of criminalising sections of society that are then led into a spiral of petty and not so-petty crime with consequences for all of us.

I find the Independent's back-tracking very sad. It is scarcely feasible that anyone these days under the age of 55 hasn't encountered illegal drugs (I'm ignoring the legal ones). And if they haven't, they must have led such a sheltered life that they shouldn't have a say in public policy. But still few public figures are prepared to talk honestly and sensibly about this and instead hide behind moral platitudes and knee-jerk reactions.

Friday 16 March 2007

What did your Daddy do ?

There's some fuss today about the idea that school leavers should indicate on their application forms whether or not their parents went to university.

This is doubtless a well-intentioned attempt to enable positive discrimination for kids who don't have the advantage of coming from an 'educated' background. And as such I don't have a problem with that.

When I applied for Oxbridge (almost 20 years + ago) there were a couple of questions asking about parents' occupations and what newspapers were read at home. This was little more than a clumsy way of asking 'what class are you from?' At that time I was not at all sure that this was well-intentioned and in fact suspect that it was a mechanism for filtering out 'oiks' like me.

Trouble is that these days although it sadly remains true that working class kids are a lot less likely than middle class kids to progress into higher education, on the other hand higher education now no longer makes you middle class.

In part this is because of the decline of so many skilled working class jobs. I know this from personal experience - in the print industry craftsmen with four or even seven year apprenticeships were once considered to be the top of the pecking order; now a common route into the industry is as a graphic design / media studies graduate.

But also my own family background demonstrates that class and education do not necessarily have an automatic correlation.

My parents could both be considered as coming from lower middle / upper working class backgrounds and both came to higher education through rather indirect routes in their mid-twenties. Dad went into the print industry from school, then went to university, then back to the print industry. Mum went to teacher training college having left school at 16 and doing some fairly odd jobs including working in an admiralty laboratory. Now I too work in the print industry, having also gained a degree in an academic discipline of no relevance to my job.

The result is that my family believe very much in education for its own sake rather than as a means to 'getting on'. Although perhaps not usual, such an idea is not uncommon, particularly in the labour movement. The great socialist educationalist John Maclean spoke about wanting to 'rise with his class not above it'.

So yes by all means let's encourage more working class kids to continue education. But rather than spurious questions about family and positive discrimination, how about the simple expedient of abolishing fees and restoring the grant on the basis that education to the limit of one's abilities is a right for life and not a privilege ? Until then class and education will always be intertwined.

Wednesday 14 March 2007

Marx Anniversary

Today in 1883, Karl Marx died.

His friend Engels said simply and unsentimentally 'the greatest living thinker has ceased to think'.

Marx is not always easy to read and nowadays some of his ideas need qualification and placing in historical context. But ever since I first read the Communist Manifesto aged 15, I keep returning to the simple fact that no other thinker before or since has explained so well how human society works.

In his lifetime Marx said that he didn't have much regard for those who called themselves Marxists. Unfortunately to most people today, their impression of Marx comes from the legacy of those oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe who so distorted his thinking, or from the petty and joyless types who dominate the political sects of the left.

Marx would have recoiled from both.

may not be the easiest of reads, but his writings on the way that capitalist society crushes the human spirit are entirely in the liberal tradition and even border on the poetic. As for joylessness, this was a man with a keen sense of mischief whose idea of a good night out was a pub crawl from Soho to Camden Town, getting arrested on the way for breaking street lights.

Monday 12 March 2007

Well and not-so well read.

A depressing insight – published today are lists of books that are most widely started but not finished.

1 Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
2 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
3 Ulysses, James Joyce
4 Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis De Bernieres
5 Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
6 The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
7 The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
8 War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
9 The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
10 Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

1 The Blunkett Tapes, David Blunkett
2 My Life, Bill Clinton
3 My Side, David Beckham
4 Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss
5 Wild Swans, Jung Chang
6 Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking
7 The Downing Street Years, Margaret Thatcher
8 I Can Make You Thin, Paul McKenna
9 Jade: My Autobiography, Jade Goody
10 Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze?, Mick O'Hare

Are we a society of pseuds who buy books for reasons of conspicuous consumption so that we can be seen to be erudite ? This would explain the sales for just about anything by Stephen Hawking.

Or are we a society of morons ? Looking at most of the titles in the non-fiction list I wonder who actually buys them in the first place. Jade: My Autobiography - for fucks sake this is a criminal waste of good trees.

Personally I have an obsession with having to finish anything that I have started. This has driven me to finish both Hegel’s Philosophy Of Right and a Jeffrey Archer found in a hotel library.

Nothing to brag about in either case.

Thursday 8 March 2007

Our brave boys in blue.

Another great piece of police PR.

Doing the rounds at the moment- CCTV footage of the arrest of Toni Cromer. Toni is a 20 year old black woman who weighs 9 stone and is 5'6''. She tumbles downstairs with a police office and once on the floor after she appears to have gone limp she is punched repeatedly with overarm full-force punches and is then dragged away with her trousers round her knees. The footage of her arrest shows at one point 12 police officers and a police dog in attendance.

Toni has a history of epilepsy and claims that rather than resisting the arrest she was in fact having a fit - she has little recollection of the police assault other than coming round whilst she was being punched.

Her crime by the way - drunkenness in a nightclub and vandalism to a car (which she has admitted).

The police motivation - racism, machismo or injured pride that the police officer couldn't (whatever the reason) subdue a slightly built young girl. It is noticeable that the assault seems to happen after she has been subdued.

But the motivation doesn't matter, the impression of watching the tape is simply that of fascist bullies - those in authority showing naked brutality simply because they have the power and can.

Watching the footage leaves me with a primeval urge to head-butt the next person in uniform I see. It should leave anyone with a sense of justice with the same feeling.

Tuesday 6 March 2007

Murdoch - still bad news

I'm a former Telewest cable TV customer caught in the cross-fire between Murdoch and Branson since Virgin Media took over Telewest. Murdoch has massively put up his price for the use of his channels and Branson won't pay, so we are now without Lost, Nip Tuck and the Simpsons.

As the boss said - 57 channels and nothin' on.

It's not so much that there is less good stuff on TV these days - people who wax lyrical about the golden age of TV when we had I Claudius and Play For Today forget that we also had at the same time Bless This House and The Golden Shot. But the quality is spread thinner over more channels of crap now, so unfortunately terrestrial TV simply isn't enough to capture it.

Even so I can't bring myself to pay anything to Murdoch and his evil empire.

I'm not sure if this is entirely rational, I suspect that Branson may be just better with his PR. But at least he doesn't play the role of a modern-day kingmaker by controlling so much of the media.

And I didn't spend many cold nights with the pickets outside the plant where he had sacked his entire work force so that he could break the union, as I did twenty years ago at Fortress Wapping.

Symbolically my NGA 'Murdoch Is Bad News' mug is chipped and unused these days, but I still can't bring myself to chuck it out and so it stays in my garage for cleaning paint brushes.

Friday 2 March 2007

Education. Education. Education.

D-Day for many families who discover today if they have been successful in getting their kids into the secondary school of their choice. We were in this position last year and happily got the result we wanted - eldest daughter now goes to one of the 'least bad' comprehensives in the borough.

Earlier this week it was revealed that in Brighton school places are being allocated by lottery. Is this a capitulation of the authorities' juggling of parental choice with the engineering of social equality ? Or is it a refreshingly honest recognition of the fact that the whole process has broken down and that an unofficial life-lottery is replaced with an official one ?

Ironically for the people who make the most noise about this, (middle class parents), it actually matters least. Their kids generally seem to do ok in the end, even in the crappiest of schools.

This is certainly my personal experience. At my not-really-so-bad-at-all comprehensive, many kids were failed by the system and did not achieve their potential. Those of my friends who were middle class overcame this by doing re-takes and possibly entering higher education a couple or years late, or just by good career advice. Either way, by their late twenties they has redressed earlier set backs. Not so my working class friends, failure at school pretty much sealed their fate in terms of life chances.

For this reason I can't accept the idea of private education or anything other than a truly comprehensive system. And no faith schools or selective schools either.

Again, this is from personal experience as someone who was the first for over ten years to make it to Oxbridge from my comprehensive. I saw there at first hand the privileged arrogant mediocrities from private schools who had been groomed to consider themselves as an elite.

As a parent I am now a bit less judgemental than I used to be about individuals who do opt for the private/selective sector - it's a bit like private health, the state alternative is so bad you can't blame people who 'can' trying to get something better. But as far as governments are concerned, a flourishing comprehensive education system has to be the only way to go.

Blair was right to say Education. Education. Education. It is probably, for all of us, our first and most fundamental experience of social inequality.

Shame that New Labour has made bugger-all improvement to this .