Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Justice Delayed Again

A fortnight before the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough, Anne Williams has suffered a set-back in her campaign to secure a fresh inquest into the death of her son Kevin whom, an increasing number of witnesses now claim, was still alive after the "cut-off" time of 3.15pm, as set down by the original inquest (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/03/31/hillsborough-mum-vows-to-keep-fighting-for-justice-for-kevin-100252-23270845/ ).
Both Anne & her solicitor are undeterred by the latest exercise in the bureaucratic moves to constantly shift the goal posts & are determined to keep the pressure on.
Hillsborough Justice Campaign shop:
www.contrast.org/hillsborough/shop.shtm .

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Toytown Revisited

Wayne Colquhoun related a strange & faintly disturbing tale on his Liverpool Preservation Trust blog a few days ago (http://liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.com/2009/03/undeclared-interest-of-jones-vote.html ):
"I stood talking to a man in an antique shop about The Baltic Triangle and about recent developments there. 'Do you know Trevor Jones?', a guy said from nowhere. 'I do not know him personally but I know of him'. 'He sued me,' he said. 'Oh and who may you be?'
'I was the regional editor for the New Statesman.' " [His bold type].
The case appears to date back to the early 80s when Jones was Liberal leader of the city council, prior to the election of the Militant Labour council. He was council leader at the time of the Toxteth riots in 1981 & stuck like a limpet to Michael Heseltine when he visited Merseyside in the wake of the riots.
Jones' business & property interests are alluded to in the post, but in a way which would not attract the attention of the lawyers.

Friday, March 27, 2009

CNBC Still Doesn't Get It

The dust is still settling in the US blogs over the The Daily Show's evisceration of CNBC. Particularly recommended is a post on the Mediamatters blog by Eric Boehlert (http://mediamatters.org/columns/200903240008?f=h_column ). It seems that CNBC either haven't learned their lesson, or are in denial.

Exhuming The Culture Company's Corpse

Those hoping that all the mindless marketing hype from 08 has gone into history could be disappointed. Mindful of culture year's demise, the city council & assorted associates seemingly wish to perpetuate the impression that 2008 was just the start of a glorious future for Liverpool; if Trotskyites are chided for believing in the concept of permanent revolution, the city council should be similarly upbraided for their faith in permanent re-launches (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/7965303.stm ).
The BBC report that there is a 15-year plan to turn Liverpool into "a thriving international city".
Mmm, yes, do go on:
"Its aims include creating thousands of jobs, increasing the population by building more family homes and improving health."
Later on in the Beeb's account the marketing types get to mangle the English language:
"Mike Taylor, director for investment and enterprise at Liverpool Vision, said, 'The new brand builds on the £300m of recognition created by 08 and it represents a focal point for a shared vision for the future growth of the city.' "
Keen to join in the renewed orgy of back-slapping & civic onanism, the Daily Post wades in:
http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/regional-news/2009/03/26/liverpool-reveals-new-vision-to-become-a-thriving-international-city-92534-23235447/ .
David Bartlett story goes into more detail, giving, by Trinity Mirror standards, a ream of statistics to chew on. However, it all adds up to a packaged wish-list, not a clear, costed plan. It ranges from the laudable (education & employment skills, improving the local environment) to the frankly Utopian (making Liverpool one of the top five shopping destinations in the UK, aiming for less than 10% of the city's population to smoke).
City council leader Warren Bradley is in bullish mood:
"Fundamentally, it is about making a step change for everybody in the city, not just the vulnerable, but everybody.
"Too many of our people are without the skills necessary to get a job and we have massive challenges to overcome in regard to poor health."
As Joe Anderson, leader of the Labour group on the city council, notes, the aims are clearly commendable, but the Devil is in the detail.
Colin Hilton, city council Chief Executive, is also quoted:
"We are actually going to compete internationally and grow ourselves.
"We are not saying that as an aspiration, but signing up to a plan to get to that destination.
"For example, we know we need to attract more businesses, at least another one-third more."
Bradley's use of the term "step change" makes the whole enterprise sound like a work-out at the gym rather than a long-term strategy. Hilton doesn't elaborate, unfortunately, on how a city can grow itself.
On his Dale Street Blues blog David Bartlett is keen to highlight the new logo which accompanies the launch (http://blogs.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/dalestreetblues/2009/03/liverpools-new-logo.html#more ):
"It will be freely available for all businesses, organisations and individuals to use.
"The logo forms the basis of rebranding Liverpool as a sparky city that is on the up."
Sparky? On the up? Oh dear.
An altogether welcome note of scepticism is provided by How-Do in its coverage (http://www.how-do.co.uk/north-west-media-news/north-west-marketing-services/liverpool-brand-launches-today-with-%27predictable%27-city-skyline-identity-200903265007/ ):
"The new logo has been shrouded in mystery, with the few privy to a preview being sworn to secrecy.
"One disgruntled insider, though, told How-Do: 'Predictably the logo depicts a Liverpool city skyline viewed from the waterfront.'
"They continued: 'There was going to be an accompanying strap-line reading: "Alive with Imagination", but this has been dropped due to a pretty poor reception from everyone unfortunate enough to have seen it.' "
Since How-Do published its piece the logo has been unveiled, & it's right, the logo is, to this admittedly inexpert eye, cliched, unoriginal & slightly jaded looking (www.liverpoolcitybrand.com ). The image of the waterfront, the sort of thing that's been sketched, drawn & photographed so many times down the years, is bathed in blue. It looks like the sort of thing Banksy would have sprayed on a bad day.
How-Do also reveals how the brand was originally given over to the Finch Partnership company in the city "without it going out to pitch". After the resulting furore Liverpool Vision relented, allowing the second stage of the process to go to competitive tender.
Various local celebs & business figures were at the launch to show their support for the logo & campaign, including Cream boss James Barton & The Zutons' saxophonist Abi Harding. However, one prominent local figure was seemingly conspicuous by his absence, according to How-Do:
"One former advocate said to be missing from today's line-up is Phil Redmond, the self-appointed 'Mr Liverpool' .
"Redmond is believed to have 'taken his bat and ball home' following disagreements over the future direction of the Liverpool brand. Redmond was said to favour greater continuity with the city's 2008 cultural positioning."
Lord Redmond frozen out, eh? Tony, Professor, over to you.

Rent Asunder

It would be churlish to ignore the news that Liverpool One has made it onto the shortlist for an international design award (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/03/27/liverpool-one-awards-joy-100252-23247167/ ).
However, the bigger picture for this cathedral of consumerism remains deeply troubling, & its owners, Grosvenor, find themselves drawn into a national issue which will do nothing to fill the increasing number of empty retail spaces in the development (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/mar/24/retail-recession ):
"Accountants are warning that the quarterly rent bill, coming on top of deteriorating trading conditions, will push many more retail businesses into insolvency -- and those bankruptcies may then hav grim repercussions for landlords, who need the income to meet their own debt repayment demands."
The Guardian report notes that the British Retail Consortium (BRC) want landlords to collect property rent on a monthly basis. The practice of quarterly collection dates back centuries, long before industrialisation. One insolvency specialist is quoted in the article as predicting that up to nine "well known retail chains" will go bust over the next three months.

Stop Press?

I know people who still swear by what they read in the Oldham Echo. They're a dwindling band, admittedly, & tend to be over 45. However, the fact that this particular local demographic is, as the marketing people say, "mature" will give the senior editorial staff on Old Hall Street considerable pause for thought.
Their anxieties will hardly have been assuaged by a post by Roy Greenslade on his Guardian blog last Tuesday (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/24/local-papers-cut-redundancy ).
Under the headline "Do we really need local papers" (inspired sub-editing there, wouldn't you say?), Greenslade remarks that the loudest voices in the calls to save local papers have emanated from newspaper publishers (with an eye on the bottom line) & the National Union of Journalists (concerned about its members' jobs). He goes on:
"It does not mean they are wrong in their substantive argument, but their pleas are unlikely to win wide enough support from a public that I fear has become much more sceptical about the value of 'the press' in recent years. Indeed, therein lies the main problem we face. Added to the absence of concrete evidence about the importance of local papers is a widespread lack of trust in 'the media'.
"It is seen as an institution that is too powerful, too profitable and too pernicious to warrant public sympathy. Local papers, especially those owned by conglomerates, are viewed as too remote from the public they affect to serve. The essential link between people and paper has been lost, even when the staff are drawn from the area they serve.
"Perhaps the hardest task of all is in convincing people what they will lose if they stand back and let local papers go to the wall. How do we journalists substantiate our faith in the beneficial effects of papers and, most importantly, illustrate the detrimental consequences if they vanish? If you want my (admittedly tentative) answer to that, then read my London Evening Standard column tomorrow [Wednesday 25th March]."
Alas, I didn't get round to Roy's Standard piece. Be that as it may, the second paragraph in his quote is particularly germane to the hapless Oldham Echo. Local news is now something of an afterthought for the paper. Instead, puff-pieces, gossip & ill-informed "opinion" columns predominate, demonstrating beyond all reasonable doubt that the Echo is a tabloid, with features & values to match, rather than a "newspaper".

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Aiming High?

In a scene from the brilliant BBC serial drama Our Friends in the North a decade or so back, a corrupt Labour councillor is exposed to the local media. He starts to whimper self-pityingly about what made him get involved with a local property developer, citing his "socialist" beliefs about slum-clearance (this was the early 70s), maintaining that all he ever really wanted was for his voters to have "palaces in the sky". The palaces, however, have become prisons as the reality of tower block existence becomes depressingly stark.
The scene flashed through my mind when I read in the Bootle Times last week of the Stella Nova project on the site of the old Stella Maris building (http://www.bootletimes.co.uk/news/bootle-news/2009/03/19/17m-stella-nova-tower-block-in-bootle-almost-built-97007-23176954/ ).
I'm not insinuating for a moment that corrupt practices are at play between Sefton Council & the developers. I am saying that the road to Hell is often paved with good intentions.
Clearly, the developers, Dreaming Spires, are keen to stress the features of the development (http://www.stella-nova.co.uk/ & http://www.dreamingspires.com/ ), promising luxurious apartments from "only" £395 per month & "stylish" business units to let from £10 per square feet. Other goodies are thrown in, according to Dreaming Spires, including a free gymnasium for all residents & a landscaped roof garden. The development will be 14 storeys high, roughly two-thirds the height of the nearby Triad commercial building.
As a minor title in the Trinity Mirror behemoth, the Bootle Times is an underfunded paper, posted free through most Bootle letterboxes (including mine) & is therefore reduced to reproducing PR & press statements while packaging & presenting them as news stories. This is no exception:
"Nick Kollakis, the head of developer Dreaming Spires, said, 'It is a major catalyst -- a visible catalyst people cannot miss -- to change the perceptions of Bootle, which is critically important.'
"The 36-year-old, who lives with his wife in South Liverpool, added, 'If everyone in Bootle thinks the place they are working in is a dump, then that feeling is perpetuated.' "
The souped-up press release goes on to say that Mr Kollakis "hopes his tower will compete with those in Liverpool city centre for 'white collar' tenants."
There's a few points there for observant readers to sink their teeth into. Firstly, it is undeniable that the issue of affordable housing is crucial not just locally, but nationwide. However, the model to follow in this regard is that of terraced & semi-detached developments built on brownfield sites in heavily urban areas. Changing the perception of areas like Bootle do not hinge on erecting a tower block. If anything, the tower block model has contributed to the post-war perception of Bootle as run-down , blighted by social problems & economically deprived.
That Mr Kollakis lives in South Liverpool is also germane to this development. Bootle has never been a north end version of Mossley Hill, or even Aigburth, when the south end docks meant that it was a largely working class district. Unlike whole swathes of the city's south end, Bootle has always lived in the shadow of the docks, without which the town wouldn't have grown.
Moreover, it would be interesting if Mr Kollakis has been told by Bootle's residents that they view the entire town as "a dump". I very much doubt it myself. Bootle is a (sometimes too) close, well-knit working class area. It still has its problems, which none would dispute. However, to label it as "a dump" perhaps tells us more about Mr Kollakis than Bootle itself.
His hope that the development will "compete" with those high-rise developments in Liverpool city centre may well prompt some questions, not just about the economic viability of tower blocks for "white collar" tenants in a slump, but also about Mr Kollakis' ego.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Demolition Masquerading As Development

There's been a keen & spirited response to Ed Vulliamy's look at his home town in yesterday's Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/22/architecture-heritage-liverpool-hope-street ).
In a curate's egg of an article, Vulliamy takes a trip through the city centre, particularly around the Hope Street area, & doesn't like what he sees. He recalls his family's association with Liverpool Art College (where a J. Lennon, late of this parish, once studied):
"So I went to pay my usual homage. The art college was empty. Through the windows of so much past diligence, exuberance and colour, just a deep, hollow nothing. 'Acquired by the Maghull Group,' said the board on the railing. 'Invest. Develop. Construct.' "
Vulliamy notes that the old art college "has been sold in a package of four buildings by their owner, John Moores University, to the Maghull Group. Maghull's proposal reads: 'The former art college, attended by John Lennon, will be converted into a 48-bed, 5-star boutique hotel. Alternative proposals for the building are for a high-quality residential refurbishment to provide 19 two-and three-bedroom apartments.' Similar plans are also posted for the also listed Hahneman Building."
Vulliamy is to be commended for highlighting the issue, which the local media (surprise, surprise) has largely ignored; where most discerning local observers see civic vandalism & call it so, the Oldham Echo merely wheels out its tired & stale "Jobs Boost" & City on the rise" headlines.
Vulliamy refers to the demolition (or destruction, to give it its proper term) of the nearby Josephine Butler Building, in the name of modernisation. He also quotes the founding director of the Maghull Group, Michael Hanlon, who demonstrates an innate gift for diplomacy, tact & PR when dealing with critics: "Mr Hanlon recalled meeting 'a whole raft of local consultation groups, many of which consist of time-wasting wankers...who seem to think they are experts in heritage...if you don't like our proposals then that's hard lines for you, so why don't you fuck off.' "
What a charming fellow Mr Hanlon seems to be. One of the critics at whom Hanlon directs his Anglo-Saxon advice is local Beatle tour guide Philip Coppell whose knowledge & appreciation of the city cannot be questioned.The same clearly cannot be said for Michael Hanlon.
While on the subject of civic consciousness & the need to preserve & maintain the city's historic buildings, it's worth noting Wayne Colquhoun's blog: http://liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.com/ .

Friday, March 20, 2009

Death Of A Blogger

That repressive regimes around the world should suppress dissent & debate is merely to acknowledge the obvious. However, it's worth highlighting the death of an Iranian blogger while serving a two-and-a-half year jail sentence "for posting comments on his blog about figures including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khatamenei, and the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/20/omidreza-mirsayafi-iran-blogger-rouznegar ).
Omidreza Mirsayafi, whose blog Rouznegar dealt mainly with musical & cultural matters, died from a drug overdose little more than a month into his sentence. He had apparently attempted suicide before.
At a time when the new US administration is, correctly, attempting to revise its dealings with the regime in Tehran (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/20/barack-obama-sends-video-message-iran ), it is worth remembering cases such as this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Statistics & Scapegoats

Today's Oldham Echo is forced to acknowledge the local aspect of the unemployment figures (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/03/18/unemployment-in-liverpool-breaks-50-000-100252-23173032/ ):
"In Liverpool 20,055 are now claiming Job Seeker's Allowance, in Sefton there are 7,641, in Knowsley 5,937, Halton 4,209, St Helens 5,417 and Wirral 9,265."
Putting all those tiresome feel-good Echo stories in their proper perspective, also, is the news that there are 10 applicants for each vacancy on Merseyside.
Enter, stage right, the Right Honourable member for Birkenhead, Frank Field, who summons up a gobbet of crude populism which could all too easily play into the hands of the BNP:
"It [the unemployment figures] is hardly surprising, given that net immigration is now running at 237,000 a year.
"Gordon Brown must deliver on British jobs for British workers."
The immigration figure quoted by Field is open to question. However, it says a depressingly great deal about a Labour MP, which Field still is, his "maverick" tag notwithstanding, that he should invoke the race card when his government's inept & shabby handling of the economy is under the spotlight. As for Field's remark about British jobs & British workers, he should know that Brown's pledge is impossible under EU law. Brown is all to aware that the quote will be engraved on his epitaph. Either the MP for Birkenhead is unaware of EU law, or he is being disingenuous & playing to a baying, xenophobic gallery.

Statistics Reveal Recession's Human Cost

As New Labour finally succeeds in returning the unemployment figures to Tory levels (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/mar/18/unemployment-and-employment-statistics-recession ), the Guardian helpfully provides a constituency-by-constituency breakdown of the figures for those claiming benefit (http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/mar/02/unemployment-and-employment-statistics-economics ).
Simon Rogers' piece explains, "We've gone for claimants rather than unemployed because -- although the numbers are lower -- they are bang up to date and available at a really local level, so you can see exactly what's happening near where you live."
The figures for most of the local seats make for sobering reading (http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=phNtm3LmDZEPe6sWz5-WHNg ):
Bootle: 2,689 men, 767 women. Total: 3,456.
Birkenhead: 2,649 men, 794 women. Total: 3,443.
Crosby: 1,270 men, 360 women. Total: 1,630.
Knowsley North & Sefton East: 2,479 men, 733 women. Total: 3,212.
Knowsley South: 2,662 men, 766 women. Total: 3,428.
Liverpool Garston: 2,416 men, 766 women. Total: 3,182.
Liverpool Riverside: 3,663 men, 1,146 women. Total: 4,809.
Liverpool Walton: 3,416 men, 976 women. Total: 4,392.
Liverpool Wavertree: 2,916 men, 927 women. Total: 3,843.
Liverpool West Derby: 2,963 men, 866 women. Total: 3,829.

Memories Of Hillsborough

Even those on Merseyside who are too young to remember the event know about Hillsborough. In a grimly necessary way it's been passed down from the generations(s) affected to the succeeding ones. The injunction is crystal clear: never forget what happened, never forget who were at fault, never forget the attempts by those responsible to evade action, & never forget the lies & smear campaigns utilised by those culpable & the tabloids to pin the blame on those most affected.
Next month, of course, sees the 20th anniversary. Each anniversary is painful, but this one doubly so.
Last Sunday's Observer ran a curiously-timed piece on the tragedy, carrying descriptions of that day & its aftermath from six people intimately & irrevocably affected (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/mar/15/hillsborough-disaster-survivors ).
One of them notes that the youngest of the 96 to lose their lives, a 10-year old boy, was a cousin of the current Liverpool FC captain Steven Gerrard. The testimonies expose not just the astonishing lack of crowd control by South Yorkshire Police (I'll never forget being told by a constable from the force on the way out of the ground that he had no radio communication), but their callous & indifferent attitude even when the scale of the disaster began to emerge.
The article quotes a woman, "Jenny" (all the names in the piece have been changed for obvious reasons) whose husband "Ian" was behind the Leppings Lane goal. He committed suicide in 2007:
"About two or three weeks before Ian died, there was all this stuff about Kelvin MacKenzie being on Newsnight, and Ian got really angry. I didn't realise just how much it bothered him. His sleep was being disturbed, but he was also worrying about his business. He gave up nursing 10 years after Hillsborough and he set up a computer company. For seven or eight years it went well, then it started going downhill."
The article also features an account from Anne Williams, whose son Kevin lost his life in the disaster & who has campaigned ever since for a new independent inquest into the events of that day.
Hillsborough Justice Campaign: http://www.contrast.org/hillsborough/shop.shtm .

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Meet The President (Well, Sort Of)

Both the local press & the city council have suddenly gone silent about a hoped-for Obama visit to the city next month (I hope Cllr Steve Rotheram, the city's Lord Mayor, is taking the opportunity to read up on American history after blurting out the ignorant nostrum that the entire continent's history owes much to the port of Liverpool).
However, there is a possible Plan B for the local politicos. Stuart Jeffries reported in the Guardian's G2 section last week about the phenomenal popularity of life-sized Obama cut-outs (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/12/barack-obama-cutout ): "Politicos who can't get face time with the real Obama can pose for photo-ops with the cardboard version (see the picture of a grinning Ruth Kelly sucking up to an Obama cutout who seems to be saying, 'Who is this woman?')."
It would be ideal for Redmond, Storey, Bradley, et al, in the absence of Obama himself & then have the pictures published in the Echo to give the impression that our civic un-worthies actually met the US President.

The Leaving Of Liverpool

Given the preponderance of feel-good puff-pieces in the local press, masquerading as news, Marc Waddington's Echo article last week, stating that Liverpool's poulation could fall by as much as 8,000 over the next decade (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/03/09/liverpool-population-set-to-plummet-100252-23098787/ ) must have jarred the casual Echo reader.
Some may see Waddington's report as supporting evidence for the nostrums of Dr (Nice, But Dim) Tim Leunig. However, it's worth reminding ourselves that Leunig's prescription for cities such as Liverpool, ie., that we should all move south, completely invalidated his initial factual analysis.

Read It & Weep

As Tony Parrish & Professor Chucklebutty have pointed out before, one of the few remaining proper hacks at the Oldham Echo is David Bartlett, whose Daily Post blog (http://blogs.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/dalestreetblues/ ) is worth reading. It's therefore a pity to see Bartlett penning the sort of Echo piece which, typically for the paper, eshews journalism for shallow marketing & hype (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/03/12/now-it-s-official-liverpool-is-on-the-up-and-up-100252-23128483/ ).
It seems the city fathers are to re-brand Liverpool in the wake of culture year:
"The news was revealed at the annual MIPIM conference in Cannes on the French Riviera by the city's development agency Liverpool Vision.
"It came as new research revealed how the city is now a very different place in the eyes of the UK following its successful Capital of Culture year."
Note the use of the word "revealed", thus conveying a bogus sense of drama & news value.
It gets better, or worse, if you get my drift; Bartlett pens this almost surreal passage about the city:
"[Liverpool] is no longer perceived to be part of the 'north', and instead is seen as a unique location in its own right alongside places like Edinburgh that have carved out a distinct identity.
"And negative notions like the Militant Tendency, poor industrial relations and unemployment have started to dwindle, according to the data."
One can only surmise that the state of basic geography teaching in schools is seriously amiss if Liverpool is not "perceived to be part of the 'north' ". Additionally, what's all this crap about Militant being a negative notion? Say what you like about Militant, but one thing it certainly wasn't was a notion. The claim that unemployment is starting to "dwindle", just as the biggest slump in the best part of a century kicks in (check out those increasingly empty spaces in Liverpool One) is fanciful, to say the least.
The article states there will be a new logo "and a vision for Liverpool until 2024" from 26th March, leading Bartlett to gush:
"The research was commissioned by Liverpool Vision to ensure the success of Capital of Culture was used as a launch pad for greater things."
(Suppose these findings had not been so rosy. Do you think they would have got the Oldham Echo to splash with the story?)
The methodology employed for the findings is, however, very much open to question; those questioned for this "research" were selected "via a combination of focus groups and online interviews". Focus groups? Online interviews? Where were these focus groups assembled? It wouldn't happen to be, ooh, Merseyside, would it, David? As for the online interviews, we all know about the trolls out there, don't we?
But wait, it isn't milk & honey all the way for the future of the city:
"Although the research was overwhelmingly positive, some businesses regarded Liverpool as a difficult place to operate, which is complex, not outward looking enough, and with too much politicking."
That note of dissention, as you'd expect, comes way down Bartlett's otherwise feel-good piece, which is startlingly similar in tone & content to the blurb on Liverpool Vision's website (http://www.liverpoolvision.co.uk/ ).
An Echo editorial seized on Bartlett's article (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/views/our-view/2009/03/12/much-done-much-to-do-100252-23128034/ ):
"It's official - Liverpool is the new Edinburgh!"
No, really. It goes on rather surreally:
"Instead of being seen as an archetypal stronghold of decay and dissatisfaction, Liverpool is associated with passion, spirit and big investment. And it's up there with Edinburgh and York as a cool destination."
Of course, no-one doubts the city's passion & spirit. But big investment? In the heat of the credit crunch & a global recession?
The Echo editorial contradicts itself in the final paragraph when it thunders rhetorically:
"Because regeneration isn't about research and logos - it's about stretching, meaningful targets and real progress towards them."
Er, hang on, wasn't Bartlett's puff-piece predicated on the glitzy launch of a new city logo? Is the Echo celebrating it even though it doesn't see it as a catalyst for regeneration?
More muddled thinking on Old Hall Street, I fear.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Slave Ships In The Port & A Leyline Down Matthew Street

One of the unexpected charms of YouTube, notwithstanding the pig-headed stance of the Performing Rights Society (PRS) in its self-defeating case against the site, is that you'll find moments that shine out from mundane daily life. A Merseytravel launch sounds like the sort of thing to attract the local media & a disinterested pensioner, but no one else. However, on this occasion, a video camera was on hand to record the launch of the John Peel train at Liverpool Lime Street station last October. Performing an acoustic version of his criminally underrated anthem, "Does This Train Stop On Merseyside?" was a singer songwriter who spans the local music scenes of the 90s & today, Ian Prowse:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdnr03Khxvo .

Friday, March 13, 2009

Shot Down In Flames

Jon Stewart's almost forensic dissection of Jim Cramer's tips & "shenanigans", to use Cramer's own term, made for compelling viewing on the Daily Show, shown on More4 in the UK a short while ago (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/12/jim-cramer-on-daily-show-_n_174503.html ). Stewart was at pains to point out throughout the edited version of the interview that his beef lay not with Cramer himself, despite the crass & inaccurate reporting of the US MSM, nor, indeed, with Rick Santelli, whose "loser" rant in front of wealthy Chicago traders prompted the Daily Show's interest, & whose decision to bail out of an interview with Stewart led to his critique last week. Instead, the problem lay with channels like CNBC, which seem to think that having "access" to business leaders is all that counts. As for the journalism side of things, forget it. The end result of this approach is that CNBC's role is little more than that akin to a fluffer on a porn set.
Cramer squirmed visibly as Stewart warmed to his theme. Indeed, passages of the interrogation were almost Paxmanesque. As some of the posters on the Huffington Post site have pointed out, it could well be that CNBC extricate themselves from this awkward & embarrassing PR debacle by throwing Cramer to the wolves while the necks of all the others, including Santelli's, are saved.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Buy, Buy! No, Hang On, Sell, Sell! Oh, Christ!

Over in the Big Apple Jon Stewart continues to fight the good fight. This week he's taunted CNBC's Jim Cramer, a figure whose stock-in-trade, so to speak, is to urge investors to buy into stocks & businesses just as the market goes even further south.
Now it seems that CNBC is changing tack in its dealings with The Daily Show. Cramer has agreed to appear as a guest on tomorrow's edition of the show (to be shown by More4 on Friday evening):
http://gawker.com/5168076/cnbc-execs-decided-to-throw-cramer-to-the-daily-show .
Gawker notes, "Perhaps the network hopes to put a cap on the 'CNBC was wrong' meme and stop mischievous tape archivists from pulling embarrassing clips of CNBC's pre-bust days. Not likely."
Meanwhile, Salon.com inflicts a sadistic punishment on one of its reporters, Gabriel Winant, by forcing him to watch the business channel for a whole day. By his own admission, Winant finds the experience to be a culture shock (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/03/11/cnbc ).
Winant observes, "I was vaguely aware that [Jim] Cramer's shtick involved high-volume, manic behaviour and sound effects. I did not expect it to involve an confession of fallibility and ignorance. 'My job is not just to entertain you but to educate you,' he says. 'You know what drives market pros and grizzled veterans crazy about this particular market? It's that no pattern that we've had before, ever, nothing that worked before, is working now.'
" 'We're like navigators operating without a map or compass.' Now, with the Dow [Jones] below 7,000, he tells us." (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/03/11/cnbc/index1.html ).
Winant also notes how CNBC's claque of cheerleaders are eager to sing their own praises if any of their tips pay off. If, however, the market, & their tips, tank, it's all the fault of Obama, whom Cramer accuses of "wealth destruction".
Let Cramer's admission that he & his ilk are effectively flying blind serve as the epitaph for the neo-con, free market ideology which has engendered the global slump.
It would also be a delicious moment if Stewart replays Cramer's confession.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Times Up

Of all the MSM outlets, the New York Times (www.nytimes.com/ ) is perhaps the paper currently most imperriled in the US by the rise of the web & plummeting circulation figures in the industry.
It would therefore make sense for the NYT to sharpen its journalistic focus & produce articles which start to revive the dying art of the investigative newspaper piece, wouldn't it?
Well, so far it hasn't. Instead, with the blogosphere turning the heat on CNBC after Jon Stewart's sublime dissection of the channel last week, the NYT has instead decided to run what our cousins across the pond call a softball piece on the station with a rapidly diminishing stock value of its own (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/09/business/media/09cnbc.html?8dpc )
The only note of journalistic verity in an otherwise news-lite article is struck when it notes that "CNBC is now a place for politics, to borrow a phrase from its sister channel MSNBC. The network's journalists have been encouraged to speak their minds, making the line between reporter and commentator almost indistinguishable at times.
" 'When they are all sitting around the table it's hard to tell a business pundit versus a reporter,' said Tom Rosentiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism."
In common with other US titles, the NYT is facing a financial & journalistic crisis. Articles such as this only serve to hasten its eventual demise.

Digging Up The Truth From The Past

When someone expresses remorse or contrition for past transgressions, the usual response is to accept it & move on with scarcely a second thought.
That's the usual response.
However, when a senior Tory figure from Thatcher's government fesses up, my reaction is one of contempt & loathing.
Norman Tebbit, the man who infamously told the unemployed to get on their bikes & look for work, now, it would seem, has qualms about the destruction of the coal industry (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2009/mar/09/tebbit-mining-communities ).
In a post on the Guardian politics blog, Andrew Sparrow writes of a review in Tribune for a book about the miners' strike to be published this week. "Marching to the Fault Line", by David Hencke, of the Guardian, & Francis Beckett, quotes Tebbit:
"Many of these [mining] communities were completely devastated with people out of work turning to drugs and no real man's work because all the jobs had gone. There is no doubt that this led to a breakdown in these communities with families breaking up and youths going out of control. The scale of the closures went too far. The damage done to those communities was enormous as a result of the strike."
Only now, a quarter of a century on, can a creature like Tebbit finally own up to the long-term cost of Tory policies on miners, their families & communities. It's a clear admission from the enemy within (to borrow a phrase from Thatcher) that the current underclass was created as a direct result of the mass unemployment which was the hallmark of their regime. In addition, to pathetically bleat that the pit closure programme "went too far" will be met with the contempt it warrants by those who suffered. It's noticeable that Tebbit still tries to pin the blame on the NUM in the final sentence of his quote. It won't wash. Tebbit's admission merely confirms what has long been common knowledge.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Flying In The Face Of Reality

Those journalists recently made redundant at the Oldham Echo will doubtless be cheered by the sunny optimism of Trinity Mirror's Chief Executive, Sly Bailey (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/mar/05/sly-baily-dont-write-off-newspapers ), insisting that the newspaper industry "is absolutely not facing oblivion. We believe in the future of newspapers. We have an absolute belief in our print brands but alongside a growing profitable digital business."
Bailey made her bullish comments on Jeff Randall's Sky News programme.
She also said something about Trinity Mirror's local papers which will amuse any discerning observers of the Oldham Echo:
"This is not cat-up-a-tree journalism...This is about who turns up to the local courts each morning, who is it who are holding the councils to account, where is that planning application being properly investigated? Local newspapers and we absolutely believe in them."
So the Oldham Echo can hold its head high when it comes to scrutinising the city council & the late, unlamented Culture Company, can it? Hmm, I'm sure that Tony Parrish (http://liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/ ) & the esteemed Professor Chucklebutty (http://profchucklebutty.blogspot.com/ ) would have something to say about that.
In her interview with Randall, Bailey also made a comment which will have Echo editor Alastair Machray squirming uncomfortably:
"Audience [ie. the readership] doesn't pay the wages and what we have to ensure is that we are generating revenue".
As one of the CiF commenters on the piece noted:
"So, as a journalist, will you be put under pressure to write articles that please the advertisers who are keeping your newspapers afloat and ignore your audience/readership because 'they don't pay the wages'! "
Another commenter referred specifically to the Echo, highlighting the contradiction in Bailey's assertion about no lessening of quality & the "terrible headlines and numerous typos" since 40 journalistic staff, many of them sub-editors, left the paper.
While casting an eye over what fate awaits those still toiling away on Od Hall Street, it's nice to see that Echo editor Alastair Machray has started blogging again (http://echoeditor.merseyblogs.co.uk/ ). Alastair, you may recall, last blogged in September of last year, when he indulged in some typical male, middle-age fantasy reverie about getting to know Catherine Zeta-Jones a little too well (http://echoeditor.merseyblogs.co.uk/2008/09/sept-8-2008-10.html ).
The post prompted a number of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission, which has yet to adjudicate on the matter (take your time, guys, there's no rush). Since resuming the blog Alastair has been on his best behaviour. Keep it up, Ali.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Watching Us, Watching Them, Watching You

A major "yes, but" argument used by many still involved in trade unions when listening to seemingly irrelevant debates about civil liberties is that such issues, though important, are couched in terms which are either esoteric, or designed to hit the G-spot of the Hampstead liberals. As the jobless figure hits 2 million (officially), with more to be made redundant over the course of this recession, why worry, say some, about CCTV & speed cameras? It's an argument which has held water. Until now:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/mar/06/data-protection-construction-industry ).
In the week which marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the miners' strike, it's worth noting that the techniques highlighted in the Guardian's report were finessed & professionalised immeasurably during the dispute. Surveillance, of course, has been around since time immemorial. However, the sophistication with which it was carried out from the 80s onwards became a key feature of the UK industrial & political scene.
Inevitably, there's been a human cost in the construction industry's fondness for blacklisting, & it's movingly described in the Guardian's accompanying pieces by those whose livelihoods & family lives were damaged.
Surveillance being the watchword (pardon the pun), it was revealed on the same day that a database is kept on thousands of people who may have been on demonstrations, or been active in campaigns revolving around the environment (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/mar/06/police-surveillance-protesters-journalists-climate-kingsnorth ). The names & personal details of each person on the database remains on file for a minimum of seven years. The Guardian's investigation found that "private information about activists gathered through surveillance is being stored without the knowledge of the people monitored."
Even journalists covering demos, such as the recent one against the third runway at Heathrow Airport, have attracted the Metropolitan Police's attention.
Corrina Ferguson, legal officer for Liberty, was quoted in the article as noting that the police's activities are illegal, contravening Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. Despite this, you may not be surprised to know, there appears to be little or nothing that can be done to halt it.
In a statement which owed a lot to the stilted verbal delivery which has long been characteristic of the police's argot, & an even more stilted attempt to justify illicit acts, the Guardian allowed a senior police officer to hoist himself on his own petard:
"Superintendent David Hartshorn, from the Met's public order branch, conceded law-abiding campaigners were being added to the database. He said individuals on the system included people convicted or suspected of public order offences.
"But he added, 'people we have seen on a regular basis involved but may not have been charged or arrested' were also stored on the database. He added that the data was reviewed every year. 'In relation to what we can keep on databases, we are governed quite strictly on that. Obviously you've got the Data Protection Act but also, interms of intelligence, we have to justify what we are able to keep.' "
Needless to say, Superintendent Hartshorn (who last month seemingly predicted a long, hot summer involving the middle-class), failed to be specific in identifying the body to which justification was required.
I realise that in posting this piece on my blog, Merseyside Police, on behalf of their counterparts at the Met, will take a keen interest in what I have to say. I understand that. I even welcome it. What would be even more welcome would be a post in the comments section from the police, explaining why they are happy to persue this course of action as policy when it contravenes the law. Over to you, chaps.

CNBC Responds (Well, Sort Of)

CNBC have finally responded to Jon Stewart's inspired j'accuse moment on Wednesday's edition of The Daily Show. The channel lamely suggests that Stewart is "bizarrely obsessed" with its Chicago Mercantile Exchange cheerleader, Rick Santelli (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/06/cnbc-jon-stewart-response_n_172654.html ).
If that's the best the channel can muster after a near 48 hour silence, you have to wonder about their PR operation.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Daily Show Par Exellence

I've just watched The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on More4 & cannot recommend too highly the host's magisterial skewering of the US business "news" channel CNBC. As I blogged last week, CNBC maintains a tenuous link with proper journalism; its presenters are either proselytizers for the free market system which is now receiving billions from taxpayers on both sides of the pond, or cute, telegenic female airheads whose only ability seems to be that of journalistic fellatio on the sort of figures whose mendacity in this meltdown has been laid bare.
One of the channel's cheerleaders, Rick Santelli, was due to appear on last night's show, but chickened out. Stewart's revenge is superbly executed (http://www.thedailyshow.com/ & http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart ).
CNBC's response? Silence. They've been rumbled & haven't said a word on-air since The Daily Show was broadcast in the US at 11pm EST last night (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hGbY-3NqKIso6xewHruLLohgRuWQD96O3B880 ).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Media Management

Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the 1984/85 miners' strike. Focusing on the media's handling of the strike, today's edition of The Media Show on Radio 4 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/mediashow/ ) featured a discussion between Nick Jones, a BBC Radio journalist who covered the dispute, & Stewart Purvis, former Chief Executive of ITN.
With the passage of time, guards drop, & Jones certainly dropped his, admitting that the media were cheerleaders for the "Back To Work", ie., scab campaign, the phrase "new faces" being deployed in daily reports to give the impression that support for the strike was faltering in the most supportive areas. Naturally, no evidence to substantiate the "new faces" line was ever produced. Jones adds for good measure that nearly all hacks were "embedded" behind the ranks of riot police; as the Iraq war demonstrated, embedded journalists soon allow propaganda to supercede fact.
Jones & Purvis also speculated on how things would be different for the media today were a major dispute to arise, given the web, the influence of bloggers, text messaging, Twitter, etc.
Well worth a listen.

Adding To The Beatle Industry?

Want to generate more web links than you could, or should, visit? Just Google "Beatles-Liverpool". You'll be confronted with a daunting surfeit of tacky, predictable, cliched & frankly rather pathetic links, however tenuous, to the Fab Four. I've always been wary of celebrating the fact that the band came from Liverpool. It's history; as one who wants to see new, unsigned acts from the area given the breaks they deserve, it's a source of frustration, sometimes exasperation, to be asked about a band which split up 40 years ago. Don't get me wrong, I'm as much of a Beatle afficianado as the next Scouser, & it's impossible to imagine (so to speak) what much of pop music would have been like without their legacy.
However, that's a key word in this context, legacy. It is not of the present, it's part of music's heritage.
Which makes me sceptical of the inherent worth, academic relevance & purpose of a Masters Degree course at Liverpool's Hope University entitled, The Beatles, Popular Music and Society (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/mar/04/beatles-higher-education-liverpool-university ; http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/03/03/liverpool-hope-university-launches-beatles-masters-degree-100252-23047805/ & http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/7921328.stm ).
The Guardian's report notes:
"Among the topics covered on the course, which comprises four 12-week modules and a dissertation, are the postwar music industry, subcultures, and the importance of authenticity and locality........
"As well as investigating different ways of studying popular music, the MA will look at the studio sound and compositions of the Beatles and examine Liverpudlian life from the 1930s to see how events helped to shape the music emerging in the city."
Mike Brocken, a senior lecturer in popular music at Hope University & occasional welcome voice on BBC Radio Merseyside, is defensive in his response when asked in the Guardian piece about the relevance of such a course, given the current job market. He goes a little further down the road of justification in the Echo article, which relates that he "stressed the unique course was anything but 'Mickey Mouse', with serious academic study the order of the day."
I can certainly see the merit in academic study of music from the 60s (not just that produced by the Beatles) & how it shaped or changed attitudes in society. I can also recognise the academic validity of placing the Beatles' music in the context of the different musical genres in the city in the decades leading up to the Merseybeat era. If the course places an emphasis on the latter field of study, it would be of a piece with other valuable aspects of local history. Simply obsessing over the Fab Four's output, on the other hand, serves no real purpose.
Anybody considering the course would do well to bear in mind the likely cost of the MA course: £3,445. Imagine no possessions indeed.