Saturday, April 29, 2006

today : live by the sword...

Oh dear. We all hoped it would never happen even though we knew it probably would. The Labour government is looking like any other government: ministerial blunders, the refusal of people to resign, extra-marital affairs, a whiff of scandal.

Much of it is not their fault. For example, policy wise they are being treated rather unfairly. The unions are boo-hissing ministers for reasons that I can't really fathom - boredom maybe. The NHS is having problems, although everyone seems to be measuring its current state to some mythical perfection, rather then the shambolic, underfunded, peeling paint mess of ten years ago. The same goes for education. The NUT is jumping up and down over changes but don't appear to have an alternative of their own. Surely they don't want the status quo?

The donors and loaners scandal is the most disappointing to me. It is simply a case of powerful people manipulating the rules, thinking they can get away with it. Nobody knows if they have actually broken the law, but that's not the point. Dodgy behaviour is dodgy behaviour, even if it stops short of being criminal. We knew they might end up behaving like this, but hoped they wouldn't.

In some ways Labour are simply suffering media karma. If you predicate your government on presentation and media manipulation then it will eventually come back to bite you. There is not a day goes by where politicians don't try and dominate the news cycle. I don't know what happened in the past, but it seems that these days people are never actually left alone to govern. By speeding the appearance of change and improvement they increase the expectations of change and improvement until it becomes an unsustainable treadmill where people want everything to be immediately perfect. Oh, and they don't want to pay for it.

Government is, these days, all about presentation. What Bush senior famously dubbed the Vision Thing. I suspect that governments didn't realise that just what they were playing with when they adopted this apparently simple way of governing and remaining popular on a quick fix short term basis.
Fact is, if the only real contact people have with politics is in the form of a daily or weekly Tv presentation, then politics becomes just that - another Tv show. And the same rules apply. Governments, like Tv shows can jump the shark, lose ratings appeal, or simply run out of plot lines. In reality Tv or drama or soap there have to be villains and heroes. If you set up your government as a Tv presentation then naturally people will assume these roles. Look at any long running drama.Those that survive for several seasons change and refine their set up as well as their plotlines. Others become more sensational by introducing scandal, extramarital affairs and scurrilous plotting. Dramas like ER exhaust their setting and widen out to include the home lives of the characters. There is churn among the personnel. People die. Others arrive. Some Tv shows just have a natural term limit and last only one, two or three seasons.

Tv is governed by rules. 22 episodes per year with a season premiere, a couple of sweeps episodes and a season finale. Real life, in the matters of economy, war, natural disaster and public policy unfortunately doesn't work to such convenient timetables. People are bored by the Iraq War because it has no drama, no highs and lows. It is simply a grind. The economy is a slow moving beast. In fact, if a government tries to contrive a ratings grabbing episode with a big tax giveaway, or some other glossy one-off policy, it just messes with the long game. And if you get it wrong then I'm sorry, but you can't get out of the shower to find it was all a dream.

This is what is causing Labour's current woes. People are just bored with the same old faces and the same old stuff. This is Labour's problem as much as anything. They played the media game and are suffering by it.

Monday, April 24, 2006

today : why letterman is annoying etc

American TV. With the huge growth in digital TV here in the UK we have started to get more and more American TV. I mean, we have always had mainstream dramas, crime shows and sitcoms. But what we're now getting is entertainment shows, talk shows and reality TV. These days I can watch The Daily Show 24 hours after it is broadcast on Comedy Central as well as the mainstream talk shows like Letterman and Conan O' Brien. Of course, they are slightly edited because we have less commercials over here. Turns out that The Daily show, without commercial lead ins and outs, is only two minutes ten seconds long.

Letterman annoys me. In fact, maybe not Letterman himself, but Paul Schaffer. And the format. We get an edited version with only one commercial break and it really shows up the fact that the first sections of the show are simply padding with lots of plugs for the guests. If you watch closely, most of the padding is pauses, pointless musical crecendi and obvious interruptions from 'Artie Fufkin'. It's almost like Schaffer's comments are designed to explain to the everyman, unsophisticated flyover state viewers, the machinery of obscure silliness, irony and sarcasm that makes up most of Letterman's schtick. It seems that you don't have to say much to be funny in New York. Letterman himself spends as much time pausing, mugging and eye-rolling to roars of laughter, as Leno does with his stage-polished and carefully crafted set ups and punchlines. It's very much like the crowd laugh not becuase he is very funny, but because they are in the audience at one of Letterman's shows and look! there he is! in person!

People have tried for twenty years to launch a British Letterman and it just doesn't work. Anyone who's up that late over here is usually watching Newsnight.

We also now get to see American reality shows. Everything from The Amazing Race through the Bachelor, Fear Factor and The Apprentice. We even get the outer limits of reality, shows like The Swan or ANTM.

The daddy of them all, is, of course a British show. Idol. We don't have it any more in the UK. We have variations on a theme. I get to see the Tuesday show and the results show in one Friday Night mini-marathon. And I've watched almost all of them so far. The themes idea is interesting, even though the themes and the star guests themselves are baffling to me. I also like seeing how many new variations on telling people they are safe or in the bottom three they can come up with (Taylor, you sang Bhoddisatva, will you do a handstand against this wall? Kelly you sang Trans Europe Express, make a teapot shape at the far end of the stage). This season has been close. I did start watching the season that Fantasia won a couple of years back. It was scheduled all over the place and was quite difficult to follow. So I gave up. It was also clear that Fantasia was going to win from the very start, so there was no tension.

This year is more difficult to call. I can confidently predict that any one from Taylor, Kat or Kelly could win. And even the others aren't bad and should all get a career out of the show because they can all sing, apart from Ace (is anyone really called Ace, or Bo?) who can become a stand in for that guy guy who used be Chris in the morning in Northern Exposure. In fact Elliott sings the best, but looks a bit odd so he won't win. I also worry about his teeth. They are defiantly non-hollywood and I fear that if he has them fixed then it will affect his tone.

Friday, April 21, 2006

this weeks crap thing on every level is...


They used to foist them upon us at school and to a child we left them uneaten. Yet they still served them.

Later in life people have often said to me: "ooh, they are very nice roasted/blanched/boiled/fried. But they are wrong. Parsnips are horrid. I've never met anyone whom, given the choice between Parsnips and nice vegetables will choose the parsnips.Let's face it, like neocons: nobody likes them.

Today : Support Rummy!

Liberals and anti-Bush folks - Beware. General Clarke has already fallen into the trap and not done his credibility any good. Do not jump on the 'Rumsfeld must go' bandwagon without thinking very very hard.

The reason I say this is that Rumsfeld is being criticised for simply doing his job. Retired generals are, we must remember, army guys. It is the job of the Secretary of Defense to piss them off.

Remember the XTC song? "Generals and majors never seem so happy unless they got a war."

Anyone who doesn't allow generals to blow everything up and commit the entire army to a campaign is bound to piss them off. They want more war, they love war.

And this is just six generals out of maybe two hundred.

Now, everyone knows that Runsfeld is a lunatic. I am not disagreeing with anyone here. He is a mad-eyed warmonger who really shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a government. But he won't resign. And anyway, what do the non Republican folks want?

Bush has a sinking duck administartion, floundering around trying to boost the polls. They are a selfish and incompetent bunch. The longer they stay in charge, the worse things will get and the more chance that people will vote against them. We have to remember that elections are won and lost on swing voters having something to vote against. The more dunderheads and crazed idiots that are in charge at this stage, the better.

I am not really suggesting that anyone actually support Rumsfeld, but beware of coming out too strongly against him. It might be a long-term counterproductive move.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

today : annoyed

I have lots of things to post, except almost all require a combination of pictures and text. The fact that I cannot upload pictures is annoying me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

today : farewell Margaret

I'm sure there is a word to describe feelings of loss that occure BEFORE the loss itself, especially if you know it's happening soon. That's how I feel about the imminent demise of The West Wing. I can't get enough of my friends, knowing that they will soon desert me. I have begun to savour every moment of even the useless scenes and drab episodes. What will I do without them. Who'll run the free world now, when they are gone?

It can't be. History must move on. Surely there are more economic crises to be solved, foreign wars to become embroiled in, close congressional races to fight, meetings to be had, cast members to disappear and re-appear. Now we've had the Josh/Donna consummation(s) we want to see what they do about it. Any chance of a spin off series? It could be like Macmillan and Wife only set within the beltway. They could solve five-term congressman corruption. Toby could be in this, like, Prison drama where CJ dresses as a convict and gets herself put into prison in order to try and help him escape. Charlie could get a job as a guard and be in their plan. Danny could write the book. And now Will and Grace ended they could replace it with Will and Kate.

And Margaret. Poor Margaret. Her name will be forever hollered in syndication. This week we saw her taught, pursed face for one of the last times as she tried to take in the fact that Leo had gone that great extremely dimly lit but sumptuously appointed office in the sky.

Monday, April 10, 2006

this weeks completely rubbish thing on every level is...

...The Mini Metro. I once had one and it was the worst piece of crap ever to be put on wheels. Words cannot describe the terribleness of them. You still see them around and they remind you that Rover cars went bankrupt.

today : on liberty

The thing that I wondered was: why my shoes? They took away not only the laces, but, along with my belt and everything else that wasn't basic clothing, they took both gleaming white trainers and placed them in their own sealed polythene bags. There was an issue here - that with my deformed and arthritic feet, I kinda need my shoes to walk in. I stand in them and they help keep me upright, as well protecting my crooked, calloused soles from touching the floor directly. But what the hell - they already took my walking stick away and plonked it, rubber end first into another sealed bag. It reminded me of the time I witnessed someone getting a bird table as a gift and it was wrapped gallantly and vainly to disguise what it was.

This, because I was falsely accused of a minor crime and had to face an investigation. They expressed surprise that I had never ever been in trouble. In fact I 've never even been looked in the eye by police officer before. 40 years of hardly even driving over the speed limit. I didn't even piss up the wrong wall as a teenage drunk. I was out of place - so out of place amongst these drunk drivers, spouse beaters, drug addicts and other recidivists; many on first name terms with the custody and arresting officers, nodding a hello to passing solicitors and tea-ladies.

Here is what I thought: I have never been denied my liberty. I imagine that plenty of us go through our whole life without even thinking about it. Even when we are alone, we have options. We can call someone, or find something to read or watch. There is always the choice to occupy time with a distraction. Alone, locked in a cold cell, I soon used up the graffiti as reading material, whilst wondering what was used to inscribe it on the ceiling. Like almost all graffiti, it was not the witty aphorisms or political slogans that can be read for amusement or compiled into books. It is the simple act of trying to exist and be recognised as alive. Writing your name on a wall, hoping someone will notice that you were here. "Lonny 05", "Dave", "I woz 'ere". A few days previously I visited my local GP. In the freshly painted public toilets I saw the same thing, only then written in magic marker rather than scraped into the paintwork with the edge of a button or zip, or daubed in what looked like, and probably was, shit or blood.

The cell was painted throughout. Floorpaint reiterated over decades with the same consistency and thickness as the inside of an abandoned can, frugally stored on the garage shelf but three quarters hardened. The window, such as it was, consisted of small, two-inch squares of glass, apparently deeper that they were wide, and set in thick concrete and steel. The glaring, crisp sunlight of outside tried hard to pierce through them but only came out on the inside as gloom. Looking through them made me feel like a diver who could see the surface but knew there was no oxygen left to propel me there, and either way the bends would get me if I tried.

The sounds and smells are real, just like you'd imagine. Year old vomit and disinfectant, solid metallic clunking, like that which accompanies the voiceover at the start of Porridge ('Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have been found guilty...'). But this is not fiction. However hard you try, this is not comedy.

I knew I would be out soon: I was waiting for a lawyer to arrive. Yet for this brief hour I began to understand just a little, I think. It's no accident that, after life itself, liberty comes second.

Alone, trapped, there is nowhere to turn but your own thoughts. There is nobody to punish but yourself. I caught a glimpse of a life not worth living, where everything you take for granted is denied, every one of your desires is unenactable. Where civilisation, socailisation and everything you know is made pointless. They know this: it's part of the deal. The incremental erosion of dignity is, of course, part of the process. That's something I learned when the police offered me an under-the-table and illegal deal that would get me out in an hour, if I admitted guilt in exchange for a tap on the wrist. It was an appeal to trade my innocence against my desperation to get out. But they also know that there is nothing more dangerous than a man turning in on himself. Left alone and without distraction or escape, thoughts will soon turn into the unthinkable. That is why they protect you from yourself, why your belt and shoes are safely encased in plastic and placed out of reach.