Monday, May 29, 2006

"Several shags" in recreational malfunction

The question on everyone's lips is:

"If he'd been engaging in a game of footy with a pie in one hand and a bag of chips fried in lard in the other, whilst wearing a flat cap... would anyone have cared he didn't have his head down, vexing over the affairs of state?"

They would?

In which case, does it matter he was playing croquet? Or even wearing white trousers for that matter - hasn't anyone ever told him that white just isn't a slimming colour? I've learnt one thing - I thought the only people who played croquet nowadays were Oxbridge students and characters in Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps Mr Prescott's next role could be as the dodo...

The picture is gloriously captioned "The chief difficulty that Alice experienced at first was in managing her flamingo"

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Now there's a Line of Beauty...

... It's entirely comprehensible why Nick Guest's boogeying on down with the ex-PM Mrs Thatcher has been flagged up as a highlight of the series by numerous journos. It IS the only highlight of the series, except perhaps for the welly-wanging. Question - was that supposed to be humorous? The plot moved with the speed of a toked sloth. It had all the drama, suspense and nail-biting excitement of Gardener's World. The Line MUST have won the Booker prize for its writing style; the plot is about as twisted as a straight line (not an ogee) and it shed all the illumination on the 1980s of a liquorise torch in a sewer. The only plot twist was that Leo had AIDs which we knew last week because his boyfriend coughed. And everyone knows that all AIDs victims cough - otherwise, it might have spread silently and you might have actually needed to take a test to be diagnosed. I suppose they could have gone the whole hog; I recommend huge, pustulous, yellow boils... and drooling. Or perhaps Cybermen.

The rest of the program undulated slowly through ugly old Conservatives standing about and young gay Conservatives who could moonlight as male models f****g. All gay blokes in The Line are gorgeous, sophisticated, thick-haired specimens. Except if they're working class - in which case... they are squat and cough. Oh, and everyone snorts coke... all the time. As raw screen time out of 60 minutes - 15 minutes was young men in speedos, 10 minutes was close-ups of rolled paper shoved in noses or people cutting up coke with credit cards, 5 minutes consisted of coked-out but desperately elegant, perspiring blokes humping each other and the remaining 30 minutes was elderly homophobes with white hairs protruding from their ears saying how great Maggie was. Feel you've missed anything? I could entirely understand why the lead characters wanted to be out of their head all the time. I wouldn't be able to get through one of those dinner parties without 'accidently' switching the classical music for Bob the Builder, 'casually' starting a conversation about obscure and gross-out medical conditions or just saying "SETTEE" really loudly.

The one saving grace was Wani Ouradi, one of the first actors on a TV program that when a character described them as "the most beautiful young man I've ever seen", I could whole-heartedly agree with him. Well, perhaps not *the* most beautiful young man - my BF might get offended but he was flipping hot. This made Martine an intensely sympathetic character despite her not appearing much, I could feel her frustration - just fancy being engaged to *that* and not being able to get a decent firm, enthusiastic shag. But I could only stare mesmerised at Wani's elegance and poise for so long and after 40 minutes, Nick Guest's lurch towards Maggie T. was the grasp of a dying drama for air. I was cheering him on, boinging up and down in my seat. At last, someone would move fast. Someone would do something but grab each others dicks, snort coke, pose in lycra or make droning chit-chat... or wang wellies! Someone would actually dance! Wheee! Subversive!

I'll watch the remaining 1/3rd but I'm not expecting any major shocks.

A triumph for justice and common sense...

I mean, honestly. I wouldn't class it as particularly 'normal' taking the time to video and report the incident. That's before we get onto how 'normal' it is to be 'extremely shaken' by the sight of a nude woman 'walk[ing] back and fore completely naked'. And what's 'normal' got to do with it anyway - has it suddenly become a criminal offence to do something that others might regard as abnormal in your own garden? I could understand it if it were Mark Oaten and a couple of rent boys engaged in full-on action but she was WALKING. I'd recommend Mr Jones avoid visiting Florence - a 5 m tall nude statue of a bloke STANDING might condemn him to years of therapy. Or, in the words of my dad 'I wish the worst thing that my neighbours did was sunbathe nude'. I am sure that there are many others who would agree with that sentiment.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A new liberal future

A liberal goes a long way posts about the new political division between cosmopolitans and chauvinists. And quotes a blog post by David Aaronvitch that makes a similar distinction but uses different terms (progressives -v- reactionaries). David's article echoes the text of a speech he made to the Oxford Alternative Careers Fair.

I've certainly thought about this sort of distinction but termed the groups 'liberals' and 'authoritarians'. And I disagree with David Aaronvitch over who falls into each category.

I could vote for David Cameron, but I couldn’t vote for David Davis or Ken Clarke. I could vote for Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, but I couldn’t vote for Frank Dobson or Clare Short. I could vote for Vincent Cable or David Laws, but I couldn’t vote for Jenny Tonge or Phil Willis.

I'd have Liberals: David Cameron (questionable - but his image is being spun in that direction and Steve Hilton wrote an eminently cool book), Ken Clarke, Vincent Cable, David Laws, Robin Cook (before his sad departure from this earthly plane)
Authoritarians: Frank Dobson, Clare Short, David Blunkett, David Davis, Paul Holmes, Phil Willis [insert any other MP who instinctively wants to *ban* something petty or random], Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (it doesn't matter how much they globe trot and talk about democracy in Iraq, they pushed the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill and Blair employed David Blunkett, who is about as 'Cosmopolitan' as 'Horse and Hound').

These choices are 'gut' and I'm happy to be cited evidence to the contrary, but the crucial thing is that they cross party. Yet the current party system means I can't make choices that way. Perhaps why political parties don't have the visceral distinctions that they used to is that they are broad churches encompassing groups whose world view is different but who identify with the label and not the message. The Lib Dems possibly less so - going on about liberalism means that even the most authoritarian Lib Dems tend to be 'soft' authoritarian, and choosing to support a third party requires a bit more thought about ideas... rather like buying a slightly unusual make of car. But generally, politics for political anoraks is sometimes a bit like a football match - about a sense of belonging and group identity as much as what's happening (read Fever Pitch). Being an Arsenal fan isn't about what Arsenal is doing as opposed to Chelsea; they're both playing football. Football supporting is about having something in common with other people, and the pleasure of cheering on your team. But this isn't necessarily the most conducive atmosphere for sharing and generating ideas, or reacting to changing circumstances.

I don't mean that all political parties *are* the same or are pushing an identical agenda. But if political parties are 'containers' of members then the contemporary divisions in politics could be used to create more sensibly delineated ones. Or rather, if we'd gone from zero to democracy at the beginning of the 21st century then we wouldn't have a 'Labour', a 'Conservative' and a 'Liberal Democrat' party... These are historical labels. The over-arching political debate used to be about public services and heavy industry (like mining). The party configurations were set up for that debate, but now the political mainstream agrees some things can be outsourced, that communism wasn't a good idea and that the 'winter of discontent' was just that. The current debate is all about our increasingly interlinked world - do we try to pull up the drawbridge to immigrants, the internet, McDonalds, global warming, international crime and terrorism at the expense of individual freedom? Or do we embrace the possibilities and swim with the flow?

If we put David Blunkett and David Davis together I'm sure they could find a common answer to that question that they could take to the British public. But it's a policy platform which the people who David Cameron is courting would find repellent. Somewhat radical but perhaps this is a way to get people back to the polling booths...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Stupid Labour idea number... I've lost count

Rule 1 of Labour government: People express concern. Government responds to concern by suggesting something that mentions concern but really either does the f****g obvious OR is unenforceable.

Case study: John Reid suggests victims should have a say in the release date of offenders by being represented on parole boards. Many victims of crime won't want offenders released at all. Isn't this obvious? Does it need them to be there in person to have this opinion aired? Don't victims of crime have better things to do than sit on parole boards? And if they're that keen to sit on a parole board then they're extremely unlikely to be able to make anything approaching an objective or fact-based judgement about the crime in question.

The idea of 'justice' is that someone with no personal connection to the crime and ideally a bit of experience arbitrates on the case as impartially as is humanly possible. Their detachment allows them to think through all the facts and circumstances. Sometimes the outcome isn't what the victim wants. This isn't ideal but the alternative is vigilantism which Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells wouldn't like in the slightest. Or they would until they accidently broke the wing mirror of next door's Porsche and faced summary justice down the barrel of a blowtorch.

Truth, Lies and Conservatism

Another day, another apparently vacuous announcement from Mr Cameron. But, after reading Truth, Lies and Advertising - I've got him figured.

Say you wanted to sell more milk (this really is relevant - bear with me). You figure there are people already using milk, and there are people using no milk. It's easier to sell more milk to people using milk already than convincing people who don't currently use milk to change their habits. But, unfortunately, milk just isn't fashionable. People associate milk with childhood and it's something that they discard in adulthood for fizzy pop, alcohol, etc. Now, what Jon Steel did next was to research with focus groups. He found that people take milk for granted, they associate milk with food products (like biscuits) but running out of milk is a bad thing. So he ran a campaign called 'Got Milk?' which encouraged people who bought milk to ensure they'd stocked up so they didn't run out since biscuits, peanut butter sandwiches and cereal without milk are A BAD THING.

The relevance of milk to the Canadian milk marketing board? Well, voting Tory is socially unacceptable. A bit like going into a trendy bar and ordering a tall milk, shaken and not stirred. But there are quite a lot of people out there who may have voted Tory (obviously) in the past, but don't want to be associated with the Thatcher legacy. It's a lot easier to get those people voting Tory again than it is to convince ferret-carrying blokes wearing flat caps in Burnley to vote Tory for the first time. Solution - get David Cameron to make the Tories trendy. No policies necessary - just get some pop stars and writers associated with your campaign, visit some cool places (literally and metaphorically), drink smoothies publically, talk about music, childcare, recycled nappies and third world action. Hey presto, barrier to Tory voting knocked down. The people who didn't feel comfortable being Tories in a public place can be proud to talk about David Cameron's latest proclamations about work-life balance, happiness and microgeneration. The plan is - at the next election these Tory returners will waft Mr Cameron into office as more and more people get disillusioned with Labour and don't turn out to vote. A triumph for advertising... but not the greatest thing for Britain. After all, would you want the Canadian milk marketing board running your local hospital?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A good night for it...

I was somewhat disappointed with the social commentary and political element of The Line of Beauty. It was as political as any episode of Miss Marple - numerous boring, ghastly old f**ts having dinner in improbably big rooms containing ornate furniture. If it weren't for the disco lights and the cursory mention of missile defence, Hercule Poirot wouldn't have seemed at all amiss - 'period' could have been any between 1900 and present. I'm hoping the appearance of Margaret Thatcher ushers in a penetrating look at 1980s Britain.

On the subject of penetration, the sex scenes weren't exactly graphic either in the same way as one guy giving another the Heimlich maneouvre isn't graphic. That was sex scene 1 which was the epitome of literary sex scenes, i.e. this is just *too* smooth to be real. In the TV drama, the two guys encountered an old bloke walking a dog in a private garden. After a brief discussion of Nick's virginity, they got it together in a bush whilst the old bloke pottered about obliviously nearby. Reality being what it is, one of them would have tripped over his pants and fallen into an ornamental thorn bush. The dog would have almost telepathically noted the incident and pelted yapping into the undergrowth, followed by its bemused owner. Both men would have needed to hurriedly clothe themselves whilst the dog leapt about sniffing Nick Guest's ass. They would have concluded the evening by pretending exuberant interest in horticulture [alert readers may remember that Ron Davies pretended a sudden interest in wildlife spotting following al fresco sex. If just we lived in a society where people could be honest and admit they had gone off for a s**g] "Oh my, I had to just rush and look at that awkwardincidentus bluffonius. I haven't seen such a perfect specimen outside of Kew Gardens. Wasn't that worth the sudden detour into these bushes at this late hour. Look at the leaves on that, Leo. My, isn't it getting late" whilst the old geezer tried to coax his frenetic dog out from under a rhododendron.

But then, being too close to reality is just a bit postmodern for comfort. It's a bit like when Nick met Pete. First rule of film is "If a character has a suspicious hacking cough then it's there for a reason. Characters do not cough as an interesting personality quirk. You may not know what's wrong with him. But it's significant and he's going to KILL YOU ALL by the end of the film. Run, run, run for the hills". But that would require Nick Guest to have known he was in a BBC TV adaptation/book. Which would too frighteningly self-referential.

The second sex scene mostly involved a bit of groaning in a bush. There were tantalising glimpses of Daniel Steven's ass through the foliage but in my entirely objective opinion, this was a sight that couldn't offend anyone. Well, I might have preferred this chap's ass but I'm hoping he's covered more fully in a later episode.

I haven't read the book but so far as I understand it, it's also about Nick Guest's provincial alienation from the privileged world of the Feddens. This was again something I never really felt watching the episode. He seemed to fit right in and the times he seemed to dissent were good manners rather than any sense of cultural and social distance. Nick's character was very much a flaneur but he seemed rather distant from just about anything. He seemed so distant behind his pale eyes that his sexuality also seemed peculiarly detached. Which was why the numerous camera shots of (clothed) groins and backsides were vaguely amusing. It appeared like Nick was pretty asexual and he just had an rather preoccupied cameraman.

As a drama it was incredibly good fun, well produced and Daniel Stevens is an incredibly good actor. Definitely worth a watch, even if just for Catherine Fedden's funky wardrobe.

Friday, May 12, 2006

You can keep links to yourself...

... But isn't it nice to share. Unless you're a woman who wants to pose on the front of FHM since the American Decency Association would prefer you didn't. The question is: since I see a partially nude* female twenty-something everyday, are mirrors promoting indecency?

*and I'd like to think (as one does in flights of delusional optimism) nubile, tempting and an corrupting influence on the hetero/bi male population...

[Hat tip to Guido's comments box and this blog]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dear Britain, I have decided to make 'breakfast'-based policy announcements

[Disclaimer: This is a parody based on the linked BBC article about Mr Cameron's content-filled remarks about BHS thongs for children. He didn't actually say this stuff. This should be obvious but just covering myself... Incidently, is it just Blair who uses 'hard-working families' all the time - Jamie Whyte claims this is now common to all parties].

Some of Britain's best-known businessmen has attacked David Cameron after the Tory leader made a number of "bizarre" public announcements about well-known high-street products. Mr Cameron mentioned his concerns over the quality of IKEA beds and their ease-of-assembly, told business leaders that DFS adverts nearly made him throw his TV through the window and that he thought that there should be better parking at Asda on sunny weekend afternoons. He mentioned these concerns as examples of the frustrations suffered by hard-working families in contemporary Britain.

In a speech to business leaders earlier on Tuesday, Mr Cameron attacked the minor inconveniences faced daily by ordinary Britains. He said protecting "Hard-working families against the inconvenience and frustration of flat-packed furniture" was a cause worth fighting for.

He used the example of a range of commonly available products and services. He said: "My wife and I were chatting over breakfast and we decided that DFS adverts were extremely annoying"

Mr Cameron spoke out during a speech to the "Business in the Community" annual conference in London.

The father-of-three said that like many parents he was "Really lucky that he was so busy being a father and Tory leader that he videod his favourite TV shows to watch for later. This meant he could fast-forward through all the adverts"

"But I remember reading the BBC website where some people were complaining about their least-favourite adverts like Crazy Frog and that M&S food-porn advert where this husky voiced woman tells you it's pert, moist M&S salmon," he said.

"The protection of British people against these sorts of minor annoyances is a cause worth fighting for"

Mr Cameron said: "That sums up why parents are often reluctant to complain - even when they feel uneasy.

"No-one wants to be seen as uptight but these things are really irritating. It may be good for business, but it's not good for families and it's not good for society and we should say so," he said.

He argued that his party would "always stand up for business" and "passionately believed in the dynamism of the free market and the power to do good".

But, he added, this support did not come at any cost.

"You're going to have to listen to me making yet more public announcements about stuff I was discussing with my wife and children in casual conversation", he said.

"I'm not prepared to think about what the Conservative party are planning to do, our ideology or our vision for 21st century Britain when it's so much easier to engage public sympathies by discussing my experiences of assembling flat-pack wardrobes, and parking at supermarkets on a Saturday afternoon", he said.

Remarking on issues that he'd talked to his wife about in the car but which had very little relation to the business of governing the country was "always very much part of my day when I worked in business", he said. "So now I'm leader of the Tory party, I don't see why I should confine my watercooler comments to the office coffee-room instead of sharing them with the nation."

"when I get into a really heated conversation with Samantha about Waitrose running out of mange-tout, I'm going to speak out", he added.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A surfeit of spin

On a recommendation from Samizdata, I purchased A Load of Blair. It's a book about the vacuousness of political rhetoric, specifically Blair's vacuous verbage in the run-up to the last general election. Although the vacuity of political speechmaking is uncontroversial, which is why I remain unmoved by party conference speeches, this book explained the specific reasons *why* political speeches are a content-free area. Each chapter covers a specific trick Blair has used to elevate complete piffle into something epic and history-making. These are:

  1. Suggesting that increased activity is a good in of itself, without reference to how much has been delivered as a result
  2. Suggesting that employment of nurses, etc. is a good in of itself without asking whether this is value for money (what Jamie Whyte calls a benefit-benefit analysis)
  3. Taking credit for things that would have happened anyway, e.g. aspects of economic prosperity or were implemented by the opposition
  4. Suggesting that certain things can happen together without any trade-offs, e.g. that people can be given unrestricted choice and unrestricted access
  5. Pretending that changes in circumstances can lead to changes in principles, rather than just the application of those principles
  6. Pretending that there are only two available options, yours and those of the opposition and then painting the opposition's proposal as being utterly evil. This is a fallacy because if the opposition's proposal is really so bad then your proposal need not be particularly good to be better. This does not mean your proposal is good.
  7. Pretending that the suggested proposal is inevitable and there are no feasible alternatives
  8. Suggesting something is a good idea because lots of other people think it is
  9. Using 'hooray' words like social justice, freedom, equality, democracy, etc. which excite your audience, are impossible to disagree with... and mean nothing
  10. Using slogans that are meaningless but appeal to the emotions of the audience, e.g. 'no rights without responsibilities'
  11. Using terms or words that sound better than others but are actually incorrect. One of the examples given is 'investment' which Blair often applies to spending generally, whether or not this is actually an investment. This is because spending sounds prolifigate, investment does not
  12. Name dropping to historical figures, etc. to give some kind of historical or moral credence to your policy
  13. Placing the idea of trust or morality above ideas. If you disagree with someone's ideas then you will not want to vote for them even if you do trust them
  14. Making obvious statements, e.g. 'rising living standards for all' (does anyone believe in decreasing living standards)

I've missed out a chapter. This was on applying principles inconsistently for political gain because I think Jamie Whyte's view is too absolutist. You can make an reasonably consistent argument that fox hunting should be banned but fishing and shooting should not based on research into animal welfare. You can also make an argument for why smoking should be legal but taking cocaine shouldn't. Jamie Whyte's view on the 'investment' confusion also seems to me too simple. Although you have to keep paying nurses (spending), paying them at an appropriate level keeps them in the nursing profession and maintains the status of that profession. If building a school is investment then perhaps building up the nursing profession is also investment.

Jamie Whyte's response would probably be that although there may be some consistent and well-reasoned arguments linking apparently disparate ideas or for Blair using the words he does, Blair doesn't tell him what they are. So he must assume they do not exist. But this misunderstands the purpose of political speechmaking. Although being logical, truthful and content-rich is important, there is insufficient time to explain all your premises and fully flesh out your argument. It's more like an advert - catch the attention of your audience and convince them of the merit of your position. It is good to have a tangible policy or idea to convince them of (and here I agree with Jamie Whyte), but you are unlikely to achieve your objective if you preceed your policy statement with a lengthy but watertight discourse about your philosophical position and motivations. A speech is more like an lecture than an essay - you want to flag up the main issues so the audience can check flesh them out later in their own time.

But an interesting book, and thoroughly recommended...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

If he wasn't insecure when he started then he sure will be now

In Mark Oaten's Sunday Times write-up he complained that:

“I was turning 40 and I really felt that I was losing my youth. The problem was undoubtedly compounded by my dramatic loss of hair in my late thirties... This really knocked me for six. Any television appearance would result in a barrage of e-mails, not about issues I’d raised, but about my lack of hair. Whether supportive or not, they all asked what had happened to my hair. It’s perhaps not surprising that I became more and more obsessed by its disappearance. For me it was a public sign that my youth had ended.”

If he were insufficiently insecure about his hair then over the last two days almost every news source on the planet (well, maybe not Al-Jazeera) have printed articles about whether mid-life crises are triggered by baldness, whether mid-life crises are triggered by baldness, whether Mark Oaten might be gay rather than just bald (clock the Dr Who references), someone's opinion of their own baldness and the link of baldness to self-esteem. The Grauniad especially seems to be having a field-day; maybe sour grapes. It's at moments like this that I'm glad I'm a woman... although I suppose if Mark Oaten were a woman in public life and had been forced to worry about his dress code (see Pauline Prescott and Cherie Blair) and weight (Cherie Blair) as well as his hairstyle then perish the thought what sort of things he might have got up to.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Britain 'needs compulsory voting' like being beaten to death with a aubergine

The IPPR has decided that we 'need compulsory voting'. Their reasoning (according to the BBC) is to encourage politicians to engage with all of the electorate, rather than just the 'core vote'.

I think Britain needs compulsory voting like it needs carpet-bombing with lead aubergines. I agree with Mr Hoon that we must consider radical measures to renew our democracy... falling turnouts should concern us all but, like all-women shortlists, compulsory voting superficially papers over the problem without actually addressing the causes. It's not only the illiberal 'solution' but isn't a solution at all because it never identifies why people weren't turning out in the first place.

The liberal solution is to introduce proportional representation so political parties have to try to appeal to all voters and not just a small number of floating voters in a few (mostly SE, middle-class) constituencies. This would have four benefits:
  • Votes would count in previously 'safe' constituencies. This would make people more likely to come out and vote
  • 'Safe' Labour constituencies are some of the poorest in the country. Since a turnip in a red rosette (or John Prescott) can get elected under the current system, policies don't need to appeal to the poorest because their votes don't matter. Under PR, their votes would count.
  • The more people who can swing the election, the broader the 'centre' ground. The broader the centre, the more political parties can put clear water between themselves and the other parties. Distinguishing between parties would become about more than management and advertising. Advertising, after all, is presenting an idea - it's not an idea. Turnout would go up since the electorate would no longer feel political parties were 'all the same'
  • If the race to government has more than two horses in it, then political advertising has to be more detailed than "Vote for us, we're not the other lot". Again, more need to engage with ideas and less with who has the most hair.

You know when you read something and you think...

... Do I care? Do I really care? Does anyone care? Has anyone actually cared what's on M&S's shop fronts except to determine it *is* M&S as opposed to Karen Millen or Next or The Discovery Store? Who are all these people who are about to be deeply traumatised by the fact it's not called Marks & Spencer on the storefront when no one EVER calls it Marks & Spencer? It's ALWAYS 'just popping into M&S'.

[*tumbleweed rolls past*]

As I thought... so why does The Telegraph spend 15 lines repeatedly explaining it's just a one store trial to gauge public opinion?

NB: You may be interested to know that George Braithwaite never discovered which was the authentic parrot borrowed by Flaubert... I stopped reading Development as Freedom a while back because although I have the persistence to plod on with thesis-writing and to get to the top of mountains, Sen beat me. His argument was relatively simple, it was covered in his lengthy introduction and the remainder of the book was a turgid expansion of his initial idea. Not as turgid as A Theory of Justice... but sphlegmic enough. The Harvard Business Review on Corporate Responsibility is a far more engaging and fast-moving read - I assume that people routinely reading the HBR see themselves as having better things to be getting on with than wading through miresh outpourings in desperate need of an editor.