Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Sunday- Patronise the Plebs Edition

You Trots just don't understand: This government may be Conservative by name but they are in fact pretty radical by nature. Less than two years into office and they have already enacted major changes in the Education system, raising fees for Higher Education and Academising much of Secondary. For a good year now they've been battling to alter the form of the NHS whilst they also go about attempting to radically overhaul the Welfare system. The ambition may be admirable, but, for many, the ideas sure as hell aren't as they seek to make life harder for those who don't exactly have it easy at the moment. But raise an opposition voice to this Government and be prepared to be smeared, patronised and ultimately ignored by a group of Ministers who consider it a success to have their breeches only part-dampened as they piss into the wind.

Education illustrates this perfectly. When the tuition fees faff was happening there was no attempt to engage with dissenting voices. Opposition was either labelled as hard-left, Commie activists, or condescendingly told that, despite representing this country's intellectual future, they were too simple to understand the benefits of being saddled with three times more debt than the current system. 'But you'll pay less per month' whinnied Nick Clegg, conveniently obscuring the fact that payments will be lasting much longer. Reforms of Primary and Secondary Education are the same. Oppose them and Michael Gove's on his soapbox calling you a 'Trot'. A concoction of condescension, obfuscation and rudeness seems to be the tonic for the government in the face of opposition.

A Tory 'listening exercise'
In the past week NHS reforms and the Workfare scheme have raised issues for Cameron & co. The majority of the medical profession apparently 'don't understand' the NHS bill and thus were excluded from the minority coalition of the willing that was assembled on Monday. Whilst Lansley might have had a few awkward moments on the way in, I expect the government weren't too bothered with the raving former-Union official that accosted him, as it plays into their narrative of their reforms being opposed by outdated lefties, ignoring the variety of professional bodies also standing against the reforms. As for Workfare, oppose the coldblooded exploitation of the jobless and you're a 'job snob' according to Iain Duncan Smith. Sainsburys, Waterstones and others obviously disagree as they pulled out the wrong-headed coalition scheme. Even Tesco's pulled out...when Tesco show more moral conscience than you, you might want to reassess your plans. But it wouldn't appear so. The government seems intent on continuing to kick the shins of those it fancies, resorting to smears, and an explanation that they just don't realise bruised shins are good for them, when they dare complain.

Inland What-pire?: Went to the BFI last night to watch David Lynch's Inland Empire, as part of their David Lynch season. I had heard (though not seen) of Lynch's work before, and was aware it was pretty weird. However, nothing quite prepared me for this.
The film is three hours of indecipherable rubbish. I enjoyed the odd five minutes, but with the film that long it's like enjoying the odd drop as you're waterboarded. Maybe I just don't get it, but you'd have to be some kind of loony film buff to appreciate whatever was going on on screen. Even the A4 sheet that was meant to introduce you to the film made zero sense. And the worst the end as I roused myself from by brain-ached stupor, people clapped. They clapped. What?

Six Nations Update: Just over half-way in and I'm 7-1 for my predictions. Admittedly I've basically picked the favourite in every match so far, with only a late Welsh penalty in Dublin depriving me of a perfect record. No surprises in the the first or last matches of this weekend. The England-Wales match was great entertainment. England have a promising group of players who could be delivering big things in a couple of years if they can stick together. As for Wales, it's all about the present. Victory against Italy will set up a shot at a Grand Slam against a French side coming off three matches in consecutive weekends. Exciting times for the immense Sam Warburton and his crew.

As for next weekends rearrangement:
France over Ireland- I want to pick the Irish as I think they're marginally the better team, but their horrid record in Paris cancels that out. Both teams need to impress next weekend, as England look ready for a scrap in the last two matches.

When the Brits were fun: Some moments from the past, because cutting off a speech because of TV isn't very rock'n'roll.

The obvious
Confusion reigns
They say musics gone downhill
And because I'm a Manics (and Comprehensive School) fanboy, how to deliver an acceptance speech

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Sunday: Falklands Dick Swinging Edition

Colonial Kerfuffle: The Falklands War-like most wars- is really quite a sad event in history. Across 74 days, 649 Argentinians, 255 Brits, and 3 Falklanders lost their lives. For those military personnel that survived, there are the harrowing memories of a brutal combat that shall forever remain with them. It was a war fought out of patriotic passions rather than any more tangible strategic aims, and the resulting nationalistic fervour in Britain helped propel Thatcher to her 1983 election victory. It is an event to be reflected upon with austere remembrance, one that you would hope two mature nations may be able to diplomatically move on from.

Or not... Thirty years on and the Falklands conflict, and the remaining issue of the islands national attachment, appears as a chance for British politicians to undo their responsible foreign policy zipper, whip out their tumescent patriotic credentials, and give the Argies a good slap to the face (similar Female metaphor applies to Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner). While both countries may feel strongly about their respective cause, the nature of the 'debate' is infantile, aimed at bolstering nationalistic reputations in their respective countries.
Spot the British bit...

Argentina seem to have decided to go for the glitz and glamour approach to promoting their cause. It started when they decided to rename their equivalent of the Barcalys Premier League after the Crucero General Belgrano, the cruiser sunk during the Falkland conflict, literally turning the issue into a political football. Since then they've had a celebrity endorsement (from Sean Penn) and a publicity stunt when they reported British actions to the UN. You've got to admire the imagination of the PR guys on the Argentinian side.

On the British side it's been a case of incidental visits to the islands by national public figures. First, Prince William was sent there on a 'routine' posting, a failure to comprehend that nothing an heir to the Throne does is remotely 'routine' in the geo-political scheme of things. Then David Willets popped by on his way to Antarctica, before a bunch of MPs from the Defence Select Commmitee swing by next month. It's all horribly unsubtle and crudely undignified. The Falklanders wish to remain British at the moment, hence the British interest in the islands (oh, and something about oil reserves). But the Government seems to be gambling at the moment that jamming various politicians and royals down their throats won't induce a gag-reflex against the pathetic macho posturing that supposedly represents an attempt at a diplomatic, 21st century, foreign policy.

Six Nations: So as expected, England and Wales took victories last week to move to two wins out of two in this years Six Nations. England have greatly benefited from having the two weakest teams in the Championship in their first two matches. This has allowed Stewart Lancaster to determine who's ready to play for him, and who's repeating the mistakes of the World Cup and are likely to be suffering a similar hangover to the World Cup in the new dawn of English rugby that follows the tournament. Wales looked good again, though the Scottish exuberance at tackling anything in red that moved (an exuberance that stems from a similar tactic used on Saturday nights out in Glasgow) cost Andy Robinson's side a decent crack at the game. Were next weeks match taking place in the Millenium Stadium it would be a no doubt Welsh win. The fact it's not balances the encounter, but enough for an English victory?

Ireland over Italy- Anyone disagreeing here? Outside of Murrayfield, it's hard to see where the Italians can ever pick up away-victories. The French postponement probably benefits Ireland who can play the Welsh match out of their system here, and head back to Paris a restored, more confident team.

Wales over England- Excluding the last five minutes of the first half against Italy, the English defence has been pretty strong so far. Wales, however, present a bigger, bulkier, simply better, backs-unit that the Scots or the Italians have, and one that should be able to cause the English mid-field problems. I expect it to be tight-margin of victory- less than 7 points- but for Wales to edge a victory that sets them up for an emotional charge at the Grand Slam through their last two matches back in Cardiff.

France over Scotland- Scotland does everything right. It's witty, it makes eye contact when it's listening, and it knows all the right flirty body contact. Then it leans in for the kiss and headbutts the girl. France recoils, grabs Scotland by the balls, and twists until it squeals. Minimum 15 point French victory.

Braquo- This week I finished off the last few episodes of the first season of Braquo, a French cops drama shown on FX before Christmas that had been sitting on the old Sky+ since then. I came across it as a TV Pick of the Sunday Times, and there was a lot of acclaim for it being thrown about- even some talk of it in the same breath as (control yourselves) The Wire.

Now I haven't seen The Wire so I can't comment directly on that comparison, but I would suggest Braquo probably isn't the Second Coming. But that doesn't mean it's not good. Eddy Caplan and his gang are cops dealing with the scum of the Paris criminal underworld- they're damn good cops too, if perhaps a tad overenthusiastic. Braquo's driving energy comes from the tightrope that Eddy and the rest of his crew, Walter, Theo and Roxanne, must try to walk as they try to clear the name an old colleague, balancing the need to deal with some bad guys, capture other bad guys, whilst the whole time not turning into bad guys themselves. As the season progresses, all four find themselves drawn further and further into a web of assaults, murders, hostage-takings, drug-dealings, internal police politics, family breakdowns, and sex, a fair bit of it their fault. As the season progresses, it also becomes clear that there's no hole you can't get out of by simply hiring a van, loading up on guns and ammunition and pulling on balaclavas. Easy!

It all threatens to get a bit riotously silly. But the factor that helps pull it off is the French-ness. The show oozes Gallic cool from every dangling-out-the mouth cigarette to every cocked-gun in your face. From the steam of BMWs, to the bar in the Police station, to Eddy's residence on a house-boat, the show feels cool, but more, so looks amazing. It wouldn't have worked in New York, or London, nor Copenhagen (which seems to be the centre of good TV at the moment with The Killing and Borgen). The show works and the reason it works is a French thing. Just don't let that put you off!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Sunday: Banker Hunting Edition

Reclaiming Responsibility: Don your deerstalker and load up your shotgun. The now annual Banker hunting season is in full swing and not a hefty bonus, nor an errant Knighthood, are safe from the foxhounds of Cameroon opportunism or Milibandian rhetoric.

On Monday, Stephen Hester, uberboss of RBS at the moment, decided to waive his bonus worth a little under £1m. Now Hester runs RBS right now, when the bank is majority owned by the Government, from whom the money provided in the bailout kept the bank alive. Whilst it would have been nice if Mr Hester had somehow stumbled across his morals in the pocket of one of his briefcases and chosen to decline it voluntarily, the manner of the decision was somewhat brought on through a public haranguing. And quite right to, for the bonus for Chief of a lucky-to-be-alive bank like RBS was clearly absurd. Things aren't quite as bad as they were at the depths at RBS, but the money machine's certainly not pumping out profits like it used to.

Fred Goodwin was uberboss at RBS when the money machine was lubed up and spurting out profits like mass-produced chocolate biscuits. For that, they gave him a Knighthood. Fred Goodwin was also uberboss at RBS when things got uberbad. For that, on Tuesday, they stripped him of his Knighthood. The fall from grace puts him in the good company of Nicola Ceaucescu and Robert Mugabe in having been demoted from Knight of the Realm. Without wanting to draw a comparison between the scale of destruction caused by these three unhappy musketeers acts, there is a parallel in  the way that the awards were handed out by an easily impressed, cosy cabal of elites at the top of the British establishment, disconnected from both the  troubles and value-system of those commoners in the real world. One could almost say it makes the Honours system appear ridiculous.

Amusingly, both main political parties managed to find themselves straddling the fence on an issue on which there was only one side to be. Labour drew up Hester's Brucie-bonus contract and Knighted Fred the Shred for services to bad nicknames. The situation was basically all their fault. Ed Miliband, however, did a pretty good job of ignoring what he'd been involved in a few years ago and going successfully on the offensive. For the Tories, it provided some good headlines, and whilst some genuinely see the sense in the actions, stripping a rich man of  undeserved money clearly still rankles with many enough to provide some petty, whinging column inches for the Daily Telegraph. It is a strange world. Labour, former members of the Royal Society for Bonues and Knighthoods for foxes, and current members, the Tories, both sit smiling while the hounds tear the beasts apart.

Cool Fact of the Week: (Courtesy of Slate's Political Gabfest- well worth a listen, especially this being an election year) President Tyler, 10th President of the United States (1841-45), born 1790, still has grandchildren alive. Best of all, one of them thinks Newt Gringrich is 'a jerk'.

Setting an example: Seems like this was the week for the great and the good (or the deceitful and bigoted) to fall on their swords.

Chris Huhne has always been a careerist egomaniac, happy to trample upon anything in the cause of self-advancement. That seems to include both his marriage and the maxim that you don't lie on matters of a criminal nature. For the Lib Dems Huhne was like a dodgy kitchen appliance that was broken, but not quite faulty enough to get rid of. Finally, this week, it blew up on its own accord as Huhne was charged with perverting the course of justice by trying to pass his speeding points on to his wife. Whilst the Government made all the right noises about being sad to see him go, one senses that on both sides of the coalition the Champagne corks were hitting the door as it closed behind him.

Just an all-round good guy...
And then John Terry. Sir John Terry of Stamford Bridge. Is it possible to find anyone who isn't a Chelsea fan willing to say a good thing about John Terry? To be fair to Chelsea fans, quite a few of them can't stand him as well. Whether it's taunting American tourists at Heathrow in the aftermath of 9/11, carrying on affairs with teammates girlfriends, or racially abusing fellow professionals, Terry has always done his best to uphold the highest levels of coarseness, degradation and ignominy. This week facing a criminal charge of using racist language, and the terrifying prospect of the FA's justice system (in what othe profession could you make such overtly racist comments and keep your job?) he was this week stripped of the England captaincy. I fully believe in innocence until proven guilty but John Terry puts forward a good case for the opposite.

In related news, Harry Redknapp's tax evasion trial is drawing to a close.. What a wonderfully high moral standard the high-achievers of our society exhibit...

Six Nations Picks: Made before the weekends games

Final Table:
1. Ireland
2. England
3. Wales
4. France
5. Scotland
6. Italy

This weeks games:

England over Scotland: First the history. England haven't won north of the border since 2004. Scotland haven't scored a try against England at Murrayfield since 2004. If Scotland can keep it tight they could edge a kicking contest, but I fancy the new England crew, without the baggage of players of old, to put on a bit of a show and take a 10-15 point victory.

France over Italy: I know Italy won this fixture last year and that the plucky Romans keep improving but at the Stade de France I can't see anything other than a Gallic victory.

Ireland over Wales: Ireland will be out for revenge after their quarter-final defeat in the World Cup. A glance at the Heineken Cup quarter finals would suggest that Ireland have the strongest pool of talent to choose from at the moment, and I expect that to play out over the course of this Championships.

Made after the weekends games

So... were it not for a couple of questionable decisions by Wayne Barnes in the last 15 minutes of a match that brought the Six Nations to light, I'd be a perfect 3-0 after the first weekend. Bradley Davis deserved a red card, and even with a yellow he deserved to cost Wales the game through a moment of brute idiocy. It's a credit to the rest of the Welsh players that they kept at it, dragged themselves back into the game with a 14-man try, before, in a moment of cruel irony, Barnes gave them a penalty for a rather innocuous tackle on the returned Davis. As for Ireland, with eight minutes to go and a penalty just inside their own half against 14-men they should have kicked to touch. Sexton's speculative effort took time off the clock, but provided the Welsh team with a brief rest period instead of knocking them further on to the back foot. If he makes the kick fair play, but in the circumstances the option more likely to lead them to victory was to bury Wales deep inside their own 22.

Anyhoo, on to next weeks picks:

England over Italy: So the English didn't exactly impress the way I though they might at Murrayfield but they ground out the win. After a solid defensive performance, the Italian challenge should allow them to get a good workout on the offensive side of the ball and move to two wins out of two.

France over Ireland: Can't say we really learned much from France's performance on the weekend, but what we learnt from Ireland is that without O'Driscoll the midfield defence is liable to be punctured at any moment. Ireland have a terrible record on French soil, and I think weakness in the centres, along with the blow of today's defeat, tots up to a French victory.

Wales over Scotland- This fixture two years ago provided one of the best matches I've ever seen and on of the biggest sucker-punches I've ever felt. If Scotland could replicate their performance from that game, minus the last ten minutes, then the impotent performance against the English will be partially atoned for. Wales look impressive though. Up front they're solid, if a bit shaky in the lineout, and their backs play with an impressive mix of pace and force. A win in this could set up a cracking encounter at Twickenham in Week 3 between two unbeatens.

Musical Outro: So this Lana Del Rey. She may not be the self-made, self-financed, album recorded in her bedroom, video made on her laptop, story to make a hipster muso wet themselves. Her performance on Saturday Night Live was pretty awful, the majority of her album is pretty mundane, and her lips look like they've been fiddled with on photoshop. But... I really like this song: