Thursday, July 28, 2011

today : tweet tweet

where do all the tweets and texts go? More and more tv and radio shows spend more and more of their time imploring viewers and listeners to tweet and txt. its a kneejerk part of any show now, despite the context. at the weekend i noticed, in between the uncomfortable and intrusive questions to survivors of the norway massacre (how did you feel thinking that you were going to die? by the way, what was it like to watch your friends be murdered in front of you?) the news folk begged us to send our thoughts by twitter and txt. what did they expect? later on, a couple of comments were read out. people felt sad for the people who died. one or two were angry at the guy who did it. surprise.

If someone did manage to send in a detailed and insightful comment it would never make it to air. ok, i get it on the radio. lauren laverne asks for people to request their favourite recent track. Fine. sometimes a pithy topic of discussion crops up and listener contributions add to the flavour of a show. but asking people to comment on an unfolding big news story with scant detail is just pointless and bizarre. what possible contribution could they make? and what happens to all the tweets and emails and txt that are sent and posted but never make it to air?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

today : instant classic

According to what I read, John Grant almost gave up on music and on life after a crappy run of luck. But he didn't, and his album Queen of Denmark is terrific - not been off my Dansette for months. This song, in particular - especially in its long form, is an instant classic. As good as anything I've ever heard.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

today : twaaannnggg!!! (reprise)

My Semi-Acoustic got a new set up and a set of flatwounds. Money I can't really afford. So sue me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

today : I put a dollar in one of those change machines. Nothing changed.

One of the things, as a Labour supporter throughout the period of the last government, that I was always reluctant to do was to openly criticise them. This, on the the grounds that I knew what the alternative was, and Labour plus imperfection and mistakes always always trumps the Tories.

There were three main areas where I thought they fell down. Iraq, obviously. You can argue they had no choice but to follow Bush but in the end the whole thing was monumentally stupid. Then there was their puppy-dog overenthusiasm for things like databases (I always think the plural should be databii), surveillance cameras and all that stuff. Not only is it ideologically dodgy to go all Patriot Act on the asses of the innocent public, but these things always cost stupid amounts of money and rarely succeed. The NHS database, as an example, was a lovely Utopian idea but was ill-executed and ended up as a hideously costly failure that everybody but the people in charge could see coming a mile off.

But even in the heady days before Iraq, I was always critical of the way New Labour seemed to pander to the media. There was a desperation to control the news cycle which led to many hasty policy ideas and, ultimately a scatter-shot approach to policy that left too much important stuff undone or half-finished. It also seemed to be that lots of more radical and interesting policies were put into turnaround or watered down at the behest of the media. In some ways they can be let off the hook by dint of inexperience. New Labour were the first government to operate in the 24hr media world and also the first to live in the internet age. As the media world expanded so explosively, it looked like they were trying to corral it all. It ended up looking like someone trying to herd flies or someone trying to catch a thousand ping-pong balls and hold onto them. And after 20 years of relentless attacks on the left by the press, who could blame them if they convinced themselves that they needed to court the newspapers.

Recently, some people have been saying that this wasn't necessary, that the Sun never wot won anything on its own. But when you have 6 major newpapers against you and only one consistently for, then perhaps you have to try something to reduce the effect.
In this climate the power of the press expanded to fill the gaps in competence and experience. The problem was that nobody said "Enough", the more the media tried to undermine, the more Labour tried to pander. More than once they back-pedalled. More than once they looked weak and foolish.

The 24hr news media still rely too much on the newspapers. Despite TV having 70% of the news market and the Beeb having 70% of that, even the BBC uncritically follows the front pages of some of the most agenda-driven and politically biased papers. It's not often that the Beeb creates the news agenda anymore. Occasionally they'll do a Panorama that enacts some small change, but even Rough Justice is long gone. Turn on News 24 and there is almost no investigative element to the journalism. They read out the same newswire reports, recycle the same stories as everyone else, and use the same small coterie of experts and commentators.

Knowing that nobody else is stepping up to take the lead puts power in the hands of the newspaper proprietors, whose ultimate job is to sell newsprint, and not really be custodians of balance and democracy.

A great example of this is a kind of non-political story: the MMR/Autism controversy. The newspapers went crazy over the story without ever checking the facts. They know that fear is an easy selling tool. It served their agenda of attacking the government and pressuring Tony Blair. on MMR they could attack at will because no government was going to change their vaccination policy in such circumstances. The Mail and The Express lazily live off health scares and/or miracle cures. But this time, even the broadsheets and TV jumped in, middle class journos caught up in the paranoia of not producing perfect offspring. The result : almost an entire generation of middle class kids unvaccinated and an pointless surge in measles. It's killed some of these very children, whose parents are, in the end, little different from those who swallowed the evangelism and fed their kids the Kool Aid at Jonestown.

The other thing that has happened is that the papers as a whole have enjoyed free reign to bully whosoever they please. Politicians are wary of criticising the papers because they know that the papers have files on them, or might stop at nothing to relentlessly smear them - smears which echo unchallenged across TV and radio channels. Therefore their only option has to cosy up. Keep your enemies closer.

On the surface it seems that recent events have cracked the press/police/politician nexus wide open for all to see. People are calling left and right for reform. But even if Murdoch's influence declines (after all he will retire/die eventually) let's remember to revisit the media/politics/police relationship in a few years time and see what reforms have been successfully enacted, and how things have changed.
After all, three years later and the banks have paid themselves 14 billion quid of bonuses out of our pockets. Whilst surviving on our cash, they still believe they are so clever that they have abolished debt liability, still poise themselves to feed like vultures on the very economies their actions put in peril, and still celebrate their imagined profitability at the end of each day with bottles of vintage Bollinger. Root and branch reform was mooted, and then promised. To qoute George Carlin. We put a dollar in the change machine and nothing changed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

today : The Laughing Policeman

I was thinking about this today. It's funny, sinister and quite bizarre.

today : Go Gordon

I always thought that it was a mistake for the spin-doctors to shackle Gordon Brown's streak of righteous anger. He is always ay his best when raining Presbyterian fire and brimstone on the head of injustice. One of the few politicians who I believe is driven by ideals rather than pure self-regard.

And finally, he looked the bullies in the eye and unloaded. Ironically, his critics are still in the mode where everything he does is worthy of ridicule i.e. the line pushed by Murdoch's press and then echoed by the rest of the kow-towing spineless news community, but he was spot on the target and delivered the kind of missive today that, had it come 18 months ago, might have won him the election.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

today : i visit a farm

So anyway, I started to go to a Farm Shop instead of the supermarket for some things. It is not some kind of trendy Sunday supplement fashion thing - there is a Sunday Farmer's Market near my house, but it's overpriced and attended by people who drive big German 4x4 cars and have nannies for their children. It's my sister's fault. She gave me a slice of pie. It was home-made chicken and ham from the farm shop. Unlike most pies that contain mainly air and a kind of ill-defined reclaimed (now I don't have anything against reclaimed meat on principal. If you eat the rump then you should be prepared to also eat the cartilage, eyeballs or whatever) mush, this pie was stuffed full with big chunks of chicken and tasty pieces of smoky ham (you get a gratis pot of chicken gravy with it too, rather than them put the gravy inside the pie). There seemed to be nothing reclaimed about the meat in the 'Farm' pie. In fact it looks and tastes like the opposite: extra-virgin cuts with proper chickeny texture and flavour.

I am really not a big eater of meat. I can go for days without touching it. I can't remember the last time I ate an actual roast. Occasionally I'll get a lamb chop, chicken legs, a bit of bacon or a steak but I never even did that 100 ways to cook mince thing with mince. One of the main reasons is that meat is so goddam expensive (compared to standing outside the gates of the posh houses and waiting for them to throw pieces of dripping-soaked stale bread). And supermarket meat is often of variable quality. You can get a tasty steak but are just as likely to get a fatty stringy one.
I also never buy cheap cuts of chicken. My strong suspicion is that caged chickens spend all day mouldering in their own shit whilst being pumped full of who-knows-what. And you can tell. Just break the film on a cheap pack of chicken and breathe it in. It's rank. It smells of chiken shit and who-knows-what. And the best flavour you can get after cooking it is no flavour at all.

So anyway, I wanted some eggs and dropped into the farm shop. My first thought was: 'why am I buying 6 free-range locally produced eggs at the supermarket and paying £1-70?' At the farm £1-70 gets a dozen. And they are locally laid in a field round the back by grinning chickens who frolic away in the open air and only go inside to replenish their Pimms and Lemonades.

My second thought was to buy an invitingly crusty chicken and ham pie. But I got 2 because they were very reasonable. Then I thought I might like to do my world famous North African-style lamb with steamed vegetables and cous-cous. Really it was an excuse to buy a couple of lamb steaks, because they were less than half the price of the supermarket. It figures. The local supermarket flies them from New Zealand, which is just about as far away and jet-fuel heavy as you can get. Unless the farm is an elaborate ruse, the sheep bleating away in the surrounding fields were within walking distance. I guess they might not be the actual sheep that I would be pan-frying (why 'pan'-frying? is there some kind of way of frying something that doesn't involve a pan?) the next day, but there's a good chance they are.

Then I spotted some locally made cheese, a freshly baked quiche, a piece of fillet steak, golden brown pork pies, home churned ice cream and myriad other hearty delights. My eyes were bigger than my wallet, but even though I was light on cash I still left with quite a hefty bagful of stuff.

And of course, when I got home there was no room in the fridge or the freezer. I have one of those English-sized fridges that are designed for our miniature over-crowded houses. An average American would spontaneously guffaw at the comic dinkiness of them. Like a fridge, only much smaller. I also have a freezer of similar stature.
So I was stumped.

Either I would have to cook an immediate multi-course banquet of delicious farmhouse fayre, or re-organise things somewhat. After a careful half-hour of ergonomic calculations and selective fridge and freezer rationalisation (bye bye plastic containers of leftovers, undrunk cheap beer, year-old frozen spinach, unused bags of ice-cubes and my trusty 2lb bag of frozen peas that has for two years or more only ever been used as a cold compress for my ailing joints before being returned to its icy home for re-cooling), I'd created enough room for the extensive farm-purchased food. It meant cutting the pies into manageable slices and individually wrapping them.

Later, I concocted my world famous North African-style lamb with steamed vegetables and cous-cous, and the farm-bought lamb took it to another level - inter-galactically famous, perhaps. Don't get me wrong. The supermarket lamb is almost always okay. But the farm-bought lamb was twice as tasty and twice as tender as any I've ever bought from the supermarket. I am very careful to make sure I have plenty of freshly grown herbs and garlic for such a cooking eventuality. I even squeezed fresh lemon juice. So why ever did I cook such a thing previously, knowing that one of my main ingredients was supermarket sub-standard?

I don't think there's a particular moral to this story. Maybe that people who don't personally know me might regret not being amongst my close circle of family and friends who have direct access to my world famous North African-style lamb with steamed vegetables and cous-cous. Perhaps it tells me how easily pleased I am. Maybe it is to re-inforce the truism that quality ingredients are the basis of any quality meal. But in the end it probably says something about how easy it is to be lazy and sloppy about such things as where you buy your food, and the tiniest bit of effort in such areas can increase the quality of a person's life by an immeasurable amount.