Thursday, January 26, 2006

Burlesque & Business

I didn't know there was a second silly season for the media. How else to explain the prominence given to the whale in the Thames & Celebrity Big Brother. Even the "serious" media outlets, such as Newsnight, Radio 4, the Guardian & the Independent have caught the bug.
Meanwhile, Grotesque George Galloway has received the verdict of a different group of voters (,,1695156,00.html ).
Even his Respect acolytes pause tellingly before attempting to defend their leader's exercise in ego stroking & self-indulgence. Many cite Galloway's feline purrings with Rula Lenska & his surreal motions in a red leotard as the moments when the penny dropped, any remaining vestiges of political credibility being brutally torn away. I think that the "Emperor's New Clothes" moment came at the very outset when Galloway entered the Big Brother house, claiming to reach out to young people.
Today's Guardian carried a timely piece by John Lanchester on the Google phenomenon (,,1695200,00.html ).
Unlike some romantics out there in cyberspace, I've always recognised Google to be a business, its "Do No Evil" motto amounting to no more than a hazily recollected phrase from hippiedom.
Google's decision to censor news content on its Chinese service is not surprising. The latest move, affecting the Chinese Google site's treatment of entries such as "Tianmen" & "Tibet" is a logical next step in this regard. Google may feel comfortable striking a "liberal" pose with the U.S. administration ( a stance which is now being dissected in the U.S. media: ). Let's have no illusions, though. Business is business. Google is doing exactly what any other global player would do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hype, hypocrisy & hackneyed images

I've been fighting off a cold these last few days, more irritating than disabling.
Evidence that the Dianafication of British society is still going strong came last weekend with the story of the whale in the Thames. I'll admit that the story initially arrested my attention. Then the tabloids got involved. Feeding on the public's maudlin & lachrymose treatment of most creatures, they duly delivered what the punters wanted.
The tabloids were also on the warpath this weekend over politicians' private lives. Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten was found to have paid a male prostitute. I'm always full of distaste for such scandals. Oaten certainly erred in letting the cameras in to film his family at the kitchen table during his short lived leadership bid. However, he had not followed the lead of other politicians down the years in pronouncing on "morality".
Closer to home, I see that Liverpool's preparations for 2008 (Capital of Culture year, lest we forget) continue to stumble & lurch like a scally on a Saturday night. I've been in two minds about 2008 ever since the city won the bid. Local wags have dubbed it the Culture of Capital, & that tag seems to be applicable with each new development. 2008 could have been a great opportunity for the city of Liverpool & Merseyside. Instead, however, it will be a cringe-inducing endorsement of the stereotypical image the area has nationally; cashing in on the Beatles whilst ignoring the vibrant local music scene is the ultimate in local myopia. The Culture Company (what a jarringly inelegant title) gave a cross between a mini-presentation & a pep talk at my workplace a fortnight ago (my employer is one of the main corporate sponsors). It confirmed all my suspicions that this will be a missed opportunity.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Respect, disrespect.

One thing I normally avoid with a capital "a" is saying, writing or doing anything which could be construed as endorsement for the Court of King Tony in Downing Street.
However, this observation reflects an issue where normality is sadly all too scarce.
Some friends & acquaintances of mine scoffed at the fanfare for Blair's "respect" agenda last week. And I agree with what they say about spin, one eye on the polls, style over substance, double standards, etc. Yes, yes, yes, the man will say anything, but the uncomfortable reality for many on the left is that this issue resonates.
I write with both feeling & personal experience. For some time now I've had problems with anti-social neighbours. The ins & outs of the saga don't bear repeating here (there may also be legal developments afoot).
The wider issue is highlighted by a story on the Guardian Unlimited website (,,1689335,00.html) .
Matt Weaver's article is a typically "liberal" take on an issue where firm & prompt measures take precedence over the muted mewlings of the civil liberties lobby.
Weaver's piece cites a study undertaken by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University on families with members involved in anti-social behaviour.
According to Weaver,
"It found:
. 80% of the families were headed by single mothers;
. a quarter of the families included at least one child with special educational needs;
. 39% had at least one family member with mental health problems, and
. 28% of the households reported a history of family violence."
The first of those four findings is undoubtedly controversial. We all remember John Redwood's question to a group of single mothers on a Cardiff housing estate a decade ago, "But where are the fathers?".
Yet the fact remains that people choose to be parents (with the easy availability of contraception & access, albeit inadequate, to abortion, let's have no more crap about "happy accidents" or surprises).
Becoming a parent is the most important decision anyone can make --it's so axiomatic that I surprise myself making that point--& it therefore requires careful thought, planning, commitment & responsibility. Too many parents, male & female, are failing in their duty. Society pays the price. Before I get deluged by hostile comments, let me say that many single mothers do a tremendous job in difficult circumstances.
Children at primary school need to be told in clear terms what they will forfeit if they have children before they're emotionally, mentally & financially prepared. It also means that there should be no "taboo" areas in reproduction classes.
The remedy, if that's not too grandiose a term, lies in education & the fostering of self-confidence in children as soon as possible.
I'm half-expecting a congratulatory comment from "T.B., Downing Street" soon. Oh well.......

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The really striking thing I've noticed since going online in August 2003 is the way in which the Web has altered the news media. Once upon a time, nearly all of us relied upon the Press, Radio & TV for our news consumption. I can remember the sudden hush in our household when an announcer would intone, "Here is a newsflash".
Nowadays news, like fast food & escort agencies, is a 24/7 option, there to be accessed at any time. We all know the great advantages to be enjoyed from this.
However, the downside is that news has lost its natural importance. It has to compete for people's attention; countless teenagers & twenty-somethings spend hours on the Web without knowing the main news stories of the day (for some strange reason, typing "Angelina Jolie Nude" into Google holds far more appeal for teenage boys than the Guardian or BBC websites).
What's the answer? Ah, that's the $64,000 question for the media. I don't envy them their task.

Wearing my Victor Meldrew hat this morning, I came across Will Hutton's column in the Observer (,69031686659,00.html) .
It is a genuine attempt to retain some Enlightenment values while recognising that anti-social behaviour warrants immediate action. However, Travis Bickle remains a hero of mine. Let Travis loose, armed to the teeth, on your average council estate, & the feral chavs will soon get the message.

Friday, January 13, 2006

I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now

The week stirs sluggishly to Friday, when otherwise sad, pathetic, socially limited individuals convince themselves that they have something witty, original & intriguing about themselves. The booze & drugs help, of course.
However, there are some who act in such a way regardless of which day it is, or how many chemicals they've ingested. I should know, I work with some of them.
They say that every workplace is a jungle; predators, scavengers, runts, the human versions can be discerned after a while. To this can be added venal. I suppose my workplace isn't unique in this regard. There are times, however, when the backstabbing, petty prejudices, stunted horizons & barely disguised shit-stirring move me to muse that some of my colleagues have every negative & hostile trait hardwired in their DNA.
I used to represent these characters as a union rep. Then I got wise. From naive, idealistic visions of sweeping politicisation to giving up on granite-rock prejudices, an almost autistic recall of trivia & deadening defeatism. Since then I've observed some of these characters in an almost anthropological way.
Marx's famous dictum that conditions determine consciousness still holds water. Yet there are added factors these days. Synthetic & shallow trends provide opiates to the masses; role models come from the netherworlds of chavdom, wide boys & uninformed opinion.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Respect & release

Further to yesterday's rumination on George Galloway, an intriguing new website comes to my attention: .
Quite why anyone in his constituency would want him back after his decision to turn his back on them mystifies me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Left behind

Way back in the 1980s (when an ipod sounded like something from a 50s sci-fi movie & mobile phones resembled sturdy bricks), it was still possible to believe in "the socialist transformation of society". That belief was felt fervently by those of us active in the Labour Party during that decade.
A few years' later, the Berlin Wall crumbled & with it, any lingering hopes that capitalism was on its last legs.
When I see former "comrades" these days, we recall that time with a mixture of wistfulness & amusement (did we really swallow that rubbish from Ted Grant that capitalism would never return to Russia?).
All of which brings me to George Galloway. He's been spot on about Bush & Blair's real agenda in Iraq. I also relished his single-handed demolition of the Republican senators in Washington last year.
However, there's long been an ego-driven side to Galloway; not content to be just a messenger, he sees himself as a fulcrum. The term "champagne socialist" is a prehistoric pejorative term in the Right's lexicon. Yet the sad fact is that Galloway's persona openly invites the label.
Some people are appalled by his involvement with Celebrity Big Brother. Not me. It's the sort of thing a person fuelled by large dollops of vanity & chutzpah would do. As for the small matter of what his constituents should do if they have pressing issues, well, that's minor stuff when you realise that George can use the programme as a vehicle for revolutionary socialism.......can't he?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Disorientation & Flashbacks

I've been thinking a lot recently about perception, reality, also that dreaded philosophical word & discipline, existentialism. Reading a Granta special on psychology, psychiatry & other related subjects, I was struck by the meaningless of words such as "reality", "fact" & "commonsense". Whose reality? How do you establish & recognise a fact?
For someone who has spent the first two decades of his adult life basing his beliefs, principles & actions on "uncontested" & "clear" facts, it's a step into unchartered territory.
This preoccupation with such phenomena was intensified this evening while watching two widely different T.V programmes.
"The Root Of All Evil?", presented by Richard Dawkins, presented a characteristically cogent & direct critique of religious belief systems which deny the ability of science to help provide us with answers & solutions to age-old questions. I've been an atheist since my teenage years, so it continues to astonish me that ostensibly reasonable & sensible individuals should lurch into sudden sectarian tirades almost as some sort of default mode.
The second programme was very much fiction. "Life On Mars" is a drama about a police detective who regresses in time from the present time to 1973 when he is struck by a car. What's happened to him? Is he in a coma? Is it a vivid dream induced by the coma? Is it reality, a clear fact that, somehow, he really has gone back in time?
It gives a novel twist to the enlightened, secular view of history, which holds that it's something to learn lessons from, yet accepting that it has only partial relevance to the modern age.

Deja Vu

For anyone out there in the vast blogosphere who may have come across "Maverick Musings", this is the successor to that sadly aborted blog. So many failed attempts to have my password accepted meant that I decided to jack it in.
This blog is not dedicated to one particular topic (there are many excellent single issue blogs out there already). Rather, it is meant to be an online diary, with the interactive element the web offers a very welcome bonus.