Monday, September 24, 2007

today's phrase : "Snap Election"

Process stories are one of the laziest types of journalism. Not only do the people who write them don't actually have to have a basis for them, but they also don't have to leave the office.

A couple of weeks ago there was some real news. Not only is this case something that it worth investigating but (to be cynical) it would have sold papers and pandered beautifully to many of the press's agendae. Yet it happened 300 miles away from London and received only scant coverage. Meanwhile the press are hyped about a snap election. Just to clear things up in case any journalists might want to know, I am not planning to visit Ulan Bator
anytime soon, although I reserve the right to decide to do that if I want; whether in the next few weeks or sometime in the next year or two.

Actually I would not be shocked if there was a quick election. My evidence for thinking it is becoming more likely is that twice in the past month I have received letters from the locval council making sure I was on the Register of Electors. It's as is they are trying to get it done quickly.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

today's phrase : "investor panic"

What is the difference between your credit card company ringing you up and insisting that you give them back some of their money and walking into a bank and asking them to give you back some of your money? What is the difference between people divesting their savings from a bank and city traders divesting their investments in the same bank? Well, according to the talking heads I've seen spread like salmon paste all over the media in recent days there is a difference. Ordinary people who are worried about their hard earned cash are panicking, whereas city investors who are selling their shares are making strategic investment decisions. Credit card companies who get money back from their creditors are simply looking after their interests, whereas pensioners taking their savings and putting them somewhere else are over-reacting.

Since Thatcher's share owning democracy idea took hold (which was a very clever monetarist strategy, combining as it did the two holy tenets of Monetarism, the privatisation of public assets and the control of the money supply by incentivising investment), ordinary people have become a little more savvy about money. The media is packed with financial news correspondents and we can watch Bloomberg or whoever all day. Why is it such a shock when ordinary people start behaving like corporate money men?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

todays phrase : The Dark Arts of The Scrummage

I like watching rugby union. I really do. But the current world cup highlights the two main problems with it as a sport.

The first is the way that it is talked about. It strikes me that it is a relatively simple game. Okay, there are some finicky rules, but no more than in American Football or Cricket. But the correspondents who cover the sport have long had a habit of creating a dense and impenetrable mythology around the playing the game that is wildly disproportionate with the actual game itself. The best example of this is the endless referencing of ' the Dark Arts of the Scrummage'. I have heard this phrase used many many times but never alongside explanation. Dark Arts are, by their nature, secret and hard to fathom. Yet I have played rugby and find that scrummaging is fairly simple. Any 'Dark Arts' are to do with perpetrating violence on the opposition. Similarly, there is a ridiculous focus on positions. A rugby team is separated into three parts: the forwards, the backs and the linking players. Yes, there are subdivisions in these areas and certain players are given specific tasks or possess specific skills, but there is some idea that it takes years, nay, decades for a player to develop in a role. The game has four basic skills, running, tackling, passing and kicking. Some players are there to tackle, some to kick, some to run, some to do combinations of the lot. Yet commentators talk in a jumble of jargon and vague allusion, rather than describing the action and providing insight.

Perhaps the worst habit of commentators and pundits is the absolute refusal to criticise the game or the players. Any given commentary comes across as an awe struck, almost homoerotic paean to the players and the game. Hyperbole is the default setting. Good things are portrayed as marvellous, heroic acts of genius. Bad play is smoothed over with an uncritical eye.

Apart from when a tackle is missed or kick is imperfect or a knock is committed by one particular class of player.

Before I go on I must declare my potential special interest. I am, in the main, a follower of rugby league. For among the commentators and pundits there is a glaring bias against any player who has transferred from the 13 a side game. The current recipient of this vilification is Andy Farrell, the former GB Rugby League captain. Farrell was signed away from League with a silly money offer to switch to Union. From the moment he swapped codes he was pilloried in press box*. The same happened to Iestyn Harris - who is still the most naturally gifted Rugby player of his generation. Wales took him on and then totally failed to play to his strengths - isolating him in the centre position and then slating him when he didn't single handedly win them every game.

In one sense the union folk can't be blamed. They spent a hundred years seeing their best amateur talent poached by the professional game of league. When Union turned professional they enacted some payback. But the pundits need to get over it, and themselves. It's been ten years.

The other day I heard a discussion on the BBC about the world cup. The pundits were talking about how Union defences have improved in the decade since professionalism, and how this can lead to tight, close, games. Scotland were accused of playing a recent match that was boring to watch. Andrew Cotter, a BBC commentator, presented the argument that because Union had drafted in coaches from League (Phil Larder, Sean Edwards, Ellery Hanley and the like) it was their influence that has created this climate in which games were boring. i.e. that when a Union match is so tedious that it is beyond even the weasel words of the commentators, it is the fault of Rugby League.

The basic fact is that Rugby Union, a fine game to play and watch, is spoiled by the fact that it is still utterly dominated by class. The reason former League players are hated is nothing to do with the actual game, but the fact that they are from the North. The reason even the most inept and boring game is talked up into something awe inspiring is because this is a matter of prestige. The boys public schools where Rugby is the national sport are based on the idea of superiority and leadership. They exist to perpetuate privilege. How can they not play the best sport ever to the best ever standard.? They are the natural heroes of the nation.

*Now that injuries have left Farrell playing fly half against South Africa this week, I am prepared for the obvious. If he plays well, it will be down to the team rallying round him. If he doesn't then he will be at fault for any defeat. In fact in the three days leading up to the fixture, I am considering just unplugging all media, given that the usual pundits will spend that time wittering the same old nonsense.

Monday, September 10, 2007

today's phrase is "Feral Beast"... ascribed to the press by Tony Blair.

Whatever has happened to poor Madeleine Mcann, there was an inevitability about her parents being placed under the microscope of suspicion by the press. I was quite surprised that this hasn't happened much earlier. After all, it is statistically acceptable to start investigating the people closest to the crime. If they are the innocent victims of a kidnapper I have boundless sympathy for them. What else could they do but try and keep the search for their lost child alive?

I guess people in the media self-censored and didn't raise any questions about the McCanns' account for a long time. But this was always going to last for only so long. The more time Madeleine remained missing, the less the press had to write about - and a press with no new facts on a story will do one of two things. Either they will drop the story, or they will start searching for (and sometimes inventing) their own new facts. The beast needs to be fed, even if the food is as insubstantial as marshmallow or candy floss.

The moment the McCanns allowed themselves to be filmed lighting candles in the church they were set up for a fall. Perhaps they don't care. Perhaps they are prepared to take the innuendo and potential lifelong stigma for the sake of their daughter. I think I would be. But the press knew that this was potentially not just another sad tale of a missing child, but a truly sensational story (and that however it turns out, they have their story anyway). If the nation has been systematically deceived for four months then the whole thing will simply explode. The press will have a field day. I bet they are preparing for just such an eventuality even as we speak. The beast not only has to be fed, but needs to stock up the larder for lean times ahead.

today's crap record that is quite good is...

Glass of Champagne. Sailor's 1975 hit record was a pretty poor pastiche of early Roxy Music - bascially a re-write of Virginia Plain with most of the edges filed down. It had the Brian Eno style synthesisers, the mannered Ferry-esque vocals and the driving beat - all stolen from Roxy.

As such it was crap inauthentic rubbish. I like it at the time because I was 8 years old, in much the same way as I liked the British Sha Na Na -isms of The Rubettes or Showaddywaddy.

Yet it was still quite good.

today's phrase : 'It should be BANNED!'

The idea of banning stuff has become more prevalent in recent years. The Labour government have retained their 70s and 80s Trotskyite predilection for proscribing things that John O Farrell describes so well in the early chapters of Things Can Only Get Better. Fox Hunting and Smoking are the headline bans, whilst, oddly, Alcopops and Cannabis have managed to escape. I do think alcohol will be the next thing under attack, and predict that it will gradually become taboo over the next decade or so.

But the press and the general public are calling for bans all the time. Whenever a problem arises, much of the 'national debate' is about whether four by fours or knives or cheap flights or swearing or pretty much anything should be banned. Partly, I think, this is a response to the perceived over-liberal mores of modern society. If anything is different these days, it's that change occurs quicker and that people find out about change quicker. It makes them uncomfortable.

When the call for a ban comes from those in power, it is another way for people to try and address complex issues with simple answers that might well play well in the press but become sticky when enacted. When I hear someone wants to ban something I am instantly suspicious. The irony of it all being that the left wing in Britain is not half as liberal as it may seem.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

today's phrase : "Must Have"

To categorise something as 'must see', 'must hear',' must buy' or 'must own' is the derigeur way of trying to elevate whatever money-making product you are trying to flog into something more important than just another consumer choice. To actually make it an imperitive for us to own something requires a level of pretty much 100% cynicism. But then again, who can blame the cynical marketing folk? The level of consent from the buying public is staggering. Consumers do their job for them, by perpetuating the myths of 'must have' amongst each other. Children bully and abuse each other for wearing shoes that are one minute out of fashion. People laugh at each other for NOT spending half a weeks wage on a plain cotton T-shirt made by a three year-old Chinese child but stamped with that crucial deigner label.

Nothing is must have. Houses, clean water, food maybe - and I'm not talking salted lemons, goose fat or fresh cranberries.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

today : Jane as a metaphor

I can't really blame the local media here in West Yorkshire. Today they will offer a mawkfest, after the death of local heroine Jane Tomlinson. It might even seem as if they are relishing the moment - although I am sure that the people involved won't mean it. It's just that they have the professional challenge of covering this particular story.

Jane Tomlinson was a metaphor. She stood for all our wishes that, in the face of pain and death, we might be able to stand up and fight and not give in. She also shored up the nice belief that the power of human 'spirit' can out-wrestle the fragility of the human physique - at least for a time.

Monday, September 03, 2007

today's word is : 'Sexploits'

Whilst every one else in the world has a sex life of varying degrees of mundanity, Big Brother contestants and other minor celebrities indulge in 'Sexploits', which of course is just like the sex lives of everyone else except more exciting and glamorous by dint of them revealing the details in the tabloid newspapers in exchange for a few thousand quid.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

today's phrase: "A Unique Experiment"

Used when describing the latest barrel-scraping, ridiculous, pointless and boring set-up for whichever is the latest 'reality' show to hit our TV screens. You can even apply to join up .

today : orchestral manoeuvres in South Kensington only.

Well done to the BBC again. The fact that it still maintains a commitment to the Prom Concerts each summer is splendid. And of course, now there are loads of Channels they can put on entire concerts for people like me to enjoy watching. However, at a certain point in recent seasons it's become the thing to hold a Proms in the Park event, which happens in several sites over the country.

The problem? Well, the people who organise these things seem stuck in some kind of world where everyone outside South Kensington (or Knightsbridge if you are a pedant) wants their orchestral music to be the 1812 Overture with real cannons, second rate tenors singing Nessun Dorma, some selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber and the odd inoffensive ballad singer like Ronan Keating or Will Young accompanied by violins. In short, outside of London, Orchestral music is a quintessentially Radio 2 Experience rather than a Radio 3 Experience.

Y'see, the common provincial folk Oop North and in the wilds of places like Wales and Scotland still need educating in the high arts. Not for them all this Abstract Art and long pieces of Shostokovich. No. They are simple folk who respond well to Impressionism and Romantic music with tunes and all that - provided they are cut down into nugget size pieces and accompanied by one of them sophisticated picnic hampers.

As a music festival The Proms is peerless in its scope and size. Yet not one of the concerts is held outside the Albert Hall. And if the BBC is to fulfil its remit, then spreading it around a bit is what should be happening. I am not asking for 100 major orchestras and world class conductors playing at the end of my street, but Britain has many fine concert halls and a couple of world class concerts that are accessible for the likes of me each Summer would be nice.