Friday, February 29, 2008

A Mute Media

As I've probably commented once or twice since beginning this blog, my view of the royal family is indifferent, at best, & disdainful, at worst. I make no secret of the fact that I'm a republican. All the available evidence points to the conclusion that Britain would be financially, socially & psychologically improved if the Monarchy ceased to exist; it is little more than a feudal relic which somehow managed to survive into the industrial age.
So my take on the admission that Harry Windsor [Hewitt?] has been winning the war against the Taliban single-handed is coupled with my contempt for the UK media for agreeing to a news blackout while he was in Afghanistan.
As Jon Snow remarked bemusedly in response to the news, thank goodness for the Drudge Report ( ). Even though it is a neo-con blog in the States, Drudge followed up the story from an Australian magazine last month with its own account: .
The British media has once again proved itself to be a lapdog for the establishment, happy to roll over & let its tummy be tickled. Sadly, both the BBC & the Guardian were part of the cover-up. In fact, the BBC's coverage last night, replete with fawning royal correspondents & sub Boys Own doggerel masquerading as script, made me question whether the licence fee really is such a good thing after all.
Peter Wilby, the New Statesman columnist, rightly criticises the media for their part in the deal to sit on the story: .
However, I take issue with Wilby's accusation that the media have been "suckered" by the MoD. The media is not a victim in this squalid scenario. Rather, it is an equally complicit partner.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Password Precaution

What's your password, Richard?
Call it serendipity, call it a synchronous phenomenon, call it what you will. Idly thumbing through last weeks Technology section of the Guardian earlier, I came across a piece by Scott Colvey concerning Virgin Media:
Given that the company happens to be my ISP, I read on & it made for alarming consumption.
I've had cause to speak to Virgin over the phone recently over email issues. The Virgin Media call operative asked me to confirm my password. Unthinkingly, & naively, I provided it over the phone. I didn't think twice about what for me had been a purely technical issue until I saw Colvey's article.
Colvey, too, has Virgin Media as his ISP & was phoned by the company, asking him for his password. Alarm bells well & truly rung, Colvey made inquiries & found that the company has been phoning customers for this information as policy.
Colvey notes that the company appears not to have contravened the Data Protection Act per se. However, it could certainly be said that Virgin Media has acted against the spirit & principle of customer confidentiality.
[BBC Radio 4's "You and Yours" programme today covered the story, including a brief interview with Colvey, & quoted an extremely lame excuse from the company ( ).]
Colvey's Guardian piece nails Virgin Media's flimsy defence to the wall of derision thus:
"When asked to explain the company's policy, Virgin Media said that many major organisations call customers and ask them to confirm their passwords as part of Data Protection Act compliance procedures. This review is, we're told, an ongoing process that could involve any customer at any time. The chap at Virgin Media cited his own bank, NatWest, as an example of another major organisation that does this.
"We called NatWest: it doesn't do this. Indeed, NatWest's advice for customers answering unexpected callers is handy: 'Be cautious if you're asked for peronal information. Remember that they have instigated the call and should already know who you are. NatWest will never ask for your security number or password.' Virgin Media, take note. (Spokesman, check your bank account.)"
I'll be posting the Guardian story to Virgin Media in the expectation of receiving a more plausible & credible explanation than that given to Colvey & the BBC. If the reply is as poor as the one already given, well, the blogosphere's an influential force, isn't it?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Walk On, Walk On, Right Out Of The Pub, Mate

A Texan drawl is not often heard in inner city Liverpool pubs. However, in a pub full of Scouse accents it would be just a little conspicuous. So it was at approximately 6.00pm on Saturday afternoon, an hour after Liverpool's 3-2 victory over Middlesborough, that a smiling American entered the Sandon pub.
Tom Hicks Jnr., son of you know who, thought it would be a bright idea to talk to the fans in a pub whose history is entwined with that of Liverpool FC. If it was an attempted PR stunt, it backfired. Badly.
Whether by accident or design, the Liverpool Echo's dedicated correspondent for the club, Tony Barrett, was there to witness the moment that Texan corporate-speak ran straight up against Scouse ire: .
Barrett notes that the "lying bastard" chants directed at Hicks Jnr. aren't warranted, yet points out that "as his father's representative at Anfield on Saturday it borders on the inexplicable that he could have expected anything other than the 'welcome' he was given..........It was ugly and it was nasty. And, perhaps worst of all it was all so avoidable."
Initially, it seeemed as though a penchant for close questioning was to be evident in the pub:
"One fan took it upon himself to press Hicks junior on what was going on and interrogated him Paxman-style for a full five minutes."
However, the mood in the pub soon became aggresive. Somebody spat in Hicks' direction (classy) & a glass of lager was thrown over him (think of the ale, lads!). Whereupon the minders rushed him out of a now seething pub & into his SUV which sped away.
It should go without saying that the actions of some idiots should be condemned. However, Hicks was either dangerously naive, or cynically trying to engineer a situation which would reflect badly on Liverpool fans. If it was the latter, he warrants as much execration as the less than sober individuals wearing red in the Sandon pub.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Gate-Crashing The Party

Much wailing & vitriol emanates from liberals in the US over Ralph Nader's decision to enter the Presidential race ( ).
It's taken as fact that Nader's candidacy in 2000 robbed Gore of the election. Ridiculous. Quite apart from the shennanigans in Florida, where Dubya's brother, as Governor, fixed the vote in that state, the reality is that Gore simply couldn't convince enough voters that he had what it took.
Backers of Barack Obama will spin the line to the media that Nader is a spoiler, even a fifth columnist. Such is their vacuous stance; Obama's speeches are replete with platitudes, truisms & feel-good rhetoric. He is policy-lite & personality-laden. He is a more progressive candidate than Hillary Clinton, but that's not saying much.
Nader represents a large proportion of US voters who are continually frustrated that their philosophy & economic stance is dismissed by the Democrats as dangerously left-wing. He has every right to stand.

A Sclerotic Stalinism

This week's news that Fidel Castro is to step down as President of Cuba was greeted predictably by the US & Europe. The gloating over a relic from the Cold War being forced to acknowledge his own mortality was matched by a sepia-tinted glow of nostalgia from those for whom the fall of the Berlin Wall was a disaster. It was instructive to see George Galloway wax lyrical on Newsnight.
A more nuanced & considered take on the fading force of el Commandante came from Tony Karon on his Rootless Cosmopolitan blog ( ).
The sneaking regard which many Latin American leaders have for Castro (even left of centre figures such as Lula in Brazil & Bachelet in Chile see him as a symbol of independence from the US) is rooted in the perception that "Castro personifies nothing as such as defiance of the Monroe Doctrine, by which the US had defined the continent as its background, reserving the right to veto, by force, anything it didn't like. Get a Mexican conservative politician drunk in a discreet setting, and you'll probably discover a closet Castro fan."
Tony highlights the irony that had Castro held multi-party elections at any stage in Cuba over the last 50 years (an insistent US demand) the Communist Party would most likely have won most of the votes.
Moreover, there was a blind belief among many older Cubans, as well as the Party faithful, that Castro could be trusted to adapt to the end of the Soviet Union & its economic subsidies. How? In what way? Reasons & answers were vague & sparse, rhetoric winning out over reasoned debate.
The tragic truth is that, Washington neo-cons & Miami nostalgists notwithstanding, the Stalinist mindset has been the Cuban revolution's greatest weakness.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fiction & Fact

Taking as his cue Jonathan Margolis' volte-face in yesterday's Daily Mirror, Liverpool-born journalist & author Paul Du Noyer pens an upbeat, though mercifully hype-free piece for Liverpool Confidential:,_reputation,_reputation .
Du Noyer touches on the, ahem, haphazard start to this year of culture (Ringo's paean of praise, which went down like a wannabe WAG in a bar full of footballers) & the civic chaos which preceded 2008, & seeped through into the year itself like a nasty-looking stain.
Du Noyer's missive does contain a few inevitable truisms, but is no worse for that. Most encouragingly, though, he urges Merseyside to respond to unwarranted jibes & hatchet-jobs in the right manner:
"This city is different to other cities, in good ways and bad, and difference will always polarise opinions. Deep down, I think, Liverpudlians enjoy their city's 'exceptionalism'. We don't want to be just like Norwich. But standing out gets you noticed, and to be noticed is to risk attack. If that's the price of our city's individuality, I'd say it's worth paying. We should refute the lies that are told, but do it calmly and with confidence. Let us not seem shrill, defensive or thin-skinned."
Let that be the approach for the rest of 2008.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Act Of Contrition

Being an atheist, I'm not exactly familiar with the actual wording of the line in the Bible about a sinner repenting. However, it came to mind when I was alerted to a piece in today's Daily Mirror by Jonathan Margolis. Name ring any bells? Nope? Let me explain.
Margolis was commissioned to write a feature piece for the Sunday Times in 1993 on the city of Liverpool in the weeks after the murder of James Bulger. However, it was the article's headline rather than its specific content which caused controversy:
"Self Pity City".
The title has morphed into a phrase which has become a shorthand dismissal of Merseyside, & a jibe to be thrown at Scousers. Coming just four years after Hillsborough & the Sun's lies, its effect locally was incendiary. That another Murdoch paper should come up with the headline was also noted.
Margolis has always claimed that he wasn't responsible for the headline. That's true. Journalists don't normally compose a title for their articles, that's the job of the sub editor. The sub editor in question was Simon Heffer, the same Simon Heffer who penned the Spectator editorial on Liverpool & its people in the wake of Ken Bigley's murder in 2004, as a result of which then Tory leader Michael Howard ordered the magazine's editor, Boris "buffoon" Johnson, to make an aplologetic (&, quite frankly, pathetic) trip up here.
Be that as it may, Margolis comes across as a zealous convert to a cult: .
Take this eruption of exultation:
"To be honest, all the stuff I'd read about urban regeneration and the fact that Liverpool had been crowned European Capital of Culture 2008 sounded like so much boring official-ese.
"But what I discovered here is utterly stunning. Trust me, they're building one of the modern wonders of the world beside that grey, choppy old Mersey.
"So much for Self Pity City, for shellsuits, for 'calm down, calm down' and jokes about Scousers nicking your hubcaps. What's happening here is real.
"And it's going to take the world by surprise."
Steady on, Jonathan! Any more of that purple prose & you'll be headhunted by the Culture Company!

Sub Prime Salaries

One of the most risible claims that the city of Liverpool is booming concerns the mania for retail developments. Liverpool One, a major feature of the Big Dig, is due to open later this year: .
According to the BBC report, 5,000 jobs will be created by the development & the city council is keen to see as many local successful applicants as possible:
"Job hunters can now register at the Shop for Jobs premises on Lord Street for upcoming work in the retail, leisure and tourism sectors."
In other words, low-paid, insecure jobs. As the ramifications from the credit crunch inexorably roll out further, these are the sort of jobs which go to the wall first.
Ah, what's this? There's also a golden nugget from Warren Bradley, city council leader (though not for much longer):
"The real regeneration of Liverpool will be seen in the opportunities it offers to the people who live and work here."
Fine words......from one of the clowns responsible for the Matthew Street debacle.

When The Spirit Of Shankly Needs To Be Summoned

They'll need this man's spirit tonight
This evening's home tie against Inter Milan is of pivotal importance. Against the current backdrop at the club, it's no surprise that passions are running high, too high with some.
Graffiti was left at the club's Melwood training ground early today, expressing direct dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs:
"Play ur [sic] best team for f***'s sake" & "[David] Moores greedy bastard" were just two of the carefully considered bon mots.
It goes without saying, of course, that such graffiti is of no help to anyone. However, the anger is to be expected.
I hope I'm wrong, but I can't see anything other than a comfortable Inter win, 2-0 probably.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gimme Some Truth, Yoko!

Lennon with The Quarrymen manager, Nigel Walley on Lime Street in 1958

Yoko Ono is still an easy target for satirists, columnists & bloggers due to her idiosyncratic ways. However, it needs to be said that she has often been her own worst enemy. For a woman who claims to be media-savvy, some of her gestures & pronouncements really have served as the red rag to the media's bull. Last year she opened a Peace Centre in Iceland. Quite what this building is supposed to do is anyone's guess. I'm sure the Icelandic people are a little bemused, too.

Most recently, Ono gave her blessing for NASA to beam "Across The Universe" into space, the notion being that any alien life-forms out there will receive this message as a peace offering from our planet.

The phrase, "away with the fairies" springs to mind.

Ono has carefully & assiduously cultivated an image of her late husband as a latter day saint, a paragon of principle, a cross between the Dalai Lama & John the Baptist. In short, the sort of figure that Bono aspires to be. Today's music blog on the Guardian notes this with a raised eyebrow: .

As the blog's author, David Bennum, notes, "Lennon was a great artist, but his supposed insights into humankind --let alone the universe-- were often banal to the point of fatuity."

Lennon was at his best when he was being a sarcastic bastard; his caustic wit was sometimes priceless. Far better to remember that side of him rather than the hippy-dippy, stoned millionaire who whined, "Imagine no possessions".


Time to go?
Sorry, Rafa, I've stuck by you all along. Throughout the mendacious strategems employed by Gillett & Hicks, I've taken your side in highlighting the farce that now prevails inside the Anfield Boardroom.
Alas no more. Saturday's FA Cup defeat at home to Barnsley lifted the scales from my eyes. It also gives the owners preciously needed ammunition:
Andy Hunter's piece touches upon the debacle brought about in the last year & reveals a nest of vipers turning on each other at boardroom level:
"Gillett is understood to be receptive to the idea of a quick profit on his 12-month investment but Hicks is continuing to make exorbitant demands of the Dubai company, not only financial, and remains a major obstacle to any serious business discussions with DIC."
Thanks for Istanbul, Rafa, but the time is fast approaching when you'll have to admit that you can't take the club any further. Adios, compadre.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Teacher's Travails

Many people I know will be pleased that Gillian Gibbons, the Aigburth teacher who was imprisoned in Sudan last year after the "Mohammed" teddy bear farce, is to take up a post at an English speaking school just outside the Chinese capital, Beijing: .

Word of advice, Gillian: don't name any teddy bears after Chairman Mao.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Editor's Exit

Having been a subscriber to the New Statesman ( ) since 2005, I'm not altogether surprised by the news that its editor John Kampfner has resigned: .
It was inevitable that, sooner or later, Geoffrey Robinson, the magazine's owner & Labour MP, would cease being a benevolent benefactor & morph into a malevolent manipulator.
The usual platitudes & PR buzz words have been uttered by owner & editor alike. However, according to the Guardian's report:

"A spokeswoman for the New Statesman denied that Kampfner had been sacked.
'It was by mutual agreement, a stepping down. It was not a sacking,' the spokeswoman said."

Something about the wording of that statement suggests a desperate attempt to put the best possible spin on Kampfner's departure.
The report digs a little for some background & unearths this nugget:

" understands that there had been longstanding tension between Kampfner and Robinson, a Labour MP, over the magazine's budget.
One source with knowledge of the magazine said the departure had been on the cards since Christmas, after the relationship between Robinson and Kampfner broke down.
'Geoffrey thinks too much money has been spent on redesign and marketing for too little return,' the source said."

The bald reality for political weeklies like the NS is that there will always be a ceiling on circulation figures. The magazine's recent sales had peaked at around the 30,000 mark, & are now declining, though that shouldn't necessarily be a negative reflection on Kampfner, who took over when sales were at 25,000.
The NS has featured some good writers, particularly its US correspondent, Andrew Stephen's dispatches on the Presidential race, & Shazia Mirza's sometimes hilarious column.
However, I recall an interview Kampfner gave to when he assumed the editor's seat in 2005, in which he declared that if Robinson interfered, then "I walk".
Kampfner has now walked, & as a subscriber, I'll be following suit.

From Famine To Finance

BBC Radio 4's "You and Yours" programme today carried an intriguing report on the amount of Irish investment in Liverpool ( ).
The role of the Irish in Liverpool is, of course, well-known to the extent of it being a cliche. However, as the report pointed out, the influx of the Irish during most of the 19th century was seen as adding to the city's social & economic problems. Today sees a 180 degree change in that perception.
One of my great-grandmothers came to Liverpool from Co. Armagh & soon established herself as something of a businesswoman in the city's teeming Irish communities. Despite that, she was subject to the prejudice & hostility which greeted the Irish as a matter of course.
O Tempora, O Mores!

The Futility Of Fighting

There's an overwhelming sense of deja-vu about the decision by Rolls Royce to close their Bootle plant, with the loss of 200 jobs, & the response to it. The company's justification (globalisation, lower labour costs elsewhere, etc.) is pretty much impossible to counter in a world where global capitalism is seen & accepted as the only game in town.
The campaign to save the plant, led by the unions, is laudable. However, I expect it to bite the dust soon. Joe Benton, the local Labour MP, has bleated forlornly about the unfairness of it all for the benefit of the local media.
By all accounts, the government has been drawn into the affair, offering all sorts of sweeteners to the company, but...well, you know the rest.
Rather pathetically, Ian Hernon, Parliamentary reporter for the Liverpool Echo has added his tuppenceworth: .
Hernon naively laments, "On some occasions the supposed power of the ECHO, the Parliamentary lobby and the Press in general seems to count for little."
This is a consequence of economic reality. Wise up, Mr. Hernon.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Even more disorienting for me is a piece in today's Guardian in which Chris Grayling correctly identifies a group of males in society who "lack social skills and a sense of responsibility. They hang around on street corners, and get sucked into crime and anti-social behaviour. They struggle to find worthwhile work, if they are looking for work at all."
( ).
It's woth pointing out that there is nothing new in groups of white working class males who are generally unskilled & have had either a poor education record or a family background whose culture was inimical to educational achievement. Once upon a time, however, such men could be relied upon to do the most basic of manual jobs. Not any more. Most of those jobs died out through a combination of technology & the Thatcher years.
Therefore the males in question are left to their own devices.

Disorienting Dissent

Last week's edition of Question Time ( ) came from St George's Hall in Liverpool. Disappointingly there was no room on the panel for a local voice. Be that as it may, I was struck by one particular moment in the discussion. New Labour minister for culture, Andy Burnham, attempted to defend the Government's inept handling of the economy since the Northern Rock debacle with a dig at the Tory MP on the panel, Chris Grayling, about the Thatcher years & its effect on Merseyside.
Burnham eulogised about the transformation of the city centre (the "Big Dig"). Grayling cooly responded that you only had to venture a mile out of the city centre to witness levels of poverty which make a mockery of New Labour's much-vaunted desire to tacle the issue. I found myself nodding in agreement with Grayling, then pulled myself up in shock. I had just agreed with a Tory on this issue! Ineed to see my GP.

A Welcome Antidote To Junk Journalism

A day or so after reading Martin Bell's piece, I was transfixed by an edition of Hardtalk on (yes, you've guessed it) BBC News24, in which Stephen Sackur interviewed the Chicago writer & journalist Studs Terkel: .
I subsequently emailed the link to Tony Karon, associate editor of Time magazine in New York. Tony is a fellow Liverpool FC fan. More significantly, perhaps, is Tony's writing on current affairs. As a secular Jew, Tony's critical stance on Israel's policies in the Middle East has brought him a lot of crude invective from those in the US & beyond who seem to think that Israel can do no wrong. His blog, Rootless Cosmoplitan, is an excellent read, too ( ).
Terkel is now in his 90s, & his physical frailty was painfully evident in the interview. However, the power of his ideas & observations rendered his physical condition temporarily irrelevant. His belief in the human spirit is an inspiration when mainstream thought renders one jaded.

Here Is The Non-News

"Yea, a Daniel come to judgement!", I thought as I read a piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free pages by former journalist & MP Martin Bell: .
The reason for my quoting the Bard? It was Bell's excoriating assessment of what passes for journalism in the age of 24/7 news channels, as well as the web.
Bell has a neat, telling label for the sort of guff served up on news bulletins, & the 24 hour news channels in particular: "necro-news". He also notes the obsessive, almost purient coverage given to the McCann story.
One particular passage merits republication here:
"So the journalists retreat to fortified compounds, emerging occasionally for 15 minute 'news raids' into the real world. Hence the growing phenomenon of rooftop journalism, in which crisply dressed performers address their audience in front of the two most famous palm trees in the world. They are in the area but not on the scene. It looks like news and it sounds like news, but bears as much relation to news as fish paste does to caviar."
Brilliantly put, Martin.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Roots Revelation

Every so often I hear an album which captures & couples music's aesthetic appeal with a startling innovation. "Raising Sand", by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, is the latest addition to that select collection. Expertly produced by long-time Dylan & Costello sidekick, T-Bone Burnett, it harks back to a period when American roots music embraced both the country & blues traditions: .