Wednesday, 22 December 2010

I wish it could be Christmas Eve every day

Bill Shankly once said that an FA cup semi final is a football fan’s best day of the season; and so it is with Christmas, as the night before overshadows the big day. Assuming that is, that your team is involved, or you’re not a scientologist.

In each scenario the advantages of the anticipated outweigh the pitfalls of the actual: there is no trophy to pressurise you, no turkey to overcook. Bright spirits are yet to be dampened by irritating relatives and ballsy optimism yet to be crushed superior opposition.

It’s not so much that the day itself is anti-climactic, its more that once its happening you can no longer look forward to it, you can only experience it, and expectation trumps experience, much as dreams often trump reality.

So whether you spend the night before Christmas nestled snug in your bed, or dreaming the night away in the drunk tank, enjoy it, it only happens once a year.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

I used to be apathetic, now I just can’t be arsed.

Received wisdom tells us mass protest died in the 80s, it gave it a good go, but came out second best. Since that time, young people have supposedly lived in a haze of apathy, there only engagement with the outside world being occasional voting on reality TV programmes. Most of us remained to be convinced by this lazy and slightly malicious stereotype, perhaps we used it in jest, perhaps when we were just out of student-hood ourselves. Well now the cat is well and truly out of the bag and the stereotype, sarcastic or not, is no longer tenable. 

So what happened? Why the resurrection? And does this second coming herald a permanent change in the social conscience of young people or have we simply been witness to the fleeting visit of an anachronism?

Well to start with, a given, as is often best: protest didn't disappear between the Poll Tax demonstrations and last week’s furore over the planned increase to university tuition fees, it has always been there in the background, it just didn't captivate the national imagination in the way it is now doing again. The Iraq war for instance saw an estimated 750,000 march yet the subsequent invasion of Iraq, in spite of such voluminous and vociferous opposition, left the protest movement in a somewhat despondent state it found difficult to shake off. 

The protesters of today however, are of too young an age to carry the defeatist baggage of the anti-war movement.  For most it’s their first protest and as such their conviction is clear and their confidence high; still in their teens and putting the world to rights. And if it changes nothing else, which last Thursday’s vote made it like more likely that it won’t, it will at least change popular perception of young people in this country. Although the transition from lazy and apathetic to a disrespectful mob is a somewhat dubious upgrade.

Whilst on this topic it does seem that the achievements of young people are consistently undermined from some sections of the media. Organised 50,000 to march on Westminster? Well then you’re guilty of rabble rousing. Achieved the best ever exam results? Well they must be getting easier. That kind of thing. 

It wasn’t just of the age of the protesters that distinguishes recent demonstrations from those in the past, modern technology also played a critical role in the events of late November and early December. Twitter and Facebook became enlisting tools, the call to arms and preferred medium of canvassing for support took place online, as did the organisation. 

Tweets and status updates, often maligned as pointless and inane by a generation not comfortable with social media, took on a function even their most ardent supporters must have raised an eyebrow to. But whilst much has been made of students’ apparent advantage over the authorities in the technological domain, it was and isn’t a one way street. Police film protesters in the hope that they can identify and prosecute troublemakers at a later date. Although such technology is nothing if not democratic and protesters are increasingly filming police exposing breaches of regulation and, as the linked video shows, outright acts of illegality.  

New language has been necessary to describe this new form of protest: activists “tweet” and police “kettle” and the discrepancy in ages between the respective actors gives this relationship an intriguing dynamic. 

However don’t be fooled. Young people and modern technology doesn’t equal protest, that equation’s most crucial ingredient is a cause. The makeup of protesters and manner in which they have organised themselves may be different, but the reason people protest is the same and in the long quiet days where nobody shouted and nothing burned, was there actually anything to shout about?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

What’s in a name?

We’ve all got one, we may not tell anyone what it is, we may deny it, but we know that if we for some inexplicable reason we were to get the call to headline Glastonbury, the name we would have to give our fictional band be one less thing to decide.  

Concerns such as being entirely tone deaf, completely without musical talent and, primary school recorder concerts aside, having never performed before, may trouble us; but the name of our imaginary band would have been committed to memory well in advance.

Having a name is crucial to this fantasy. No matter how unlikely, implausible and outright insane it would be for Michael Eavis to ask someone who wasn’t in a band, never had been in a band and didn’t even really want to be in a band, to headline the world’s most famous music festival, without that band having a name it is incomprehensible. A name gives the daydream the slightest semblance of reality: no name, no game.

Real, non-imaginary bands, those with actual members and songs, know this more than anyone. And as such they place great importance on trying to devise names that are suitably original, memorable and frequently outright terrible. You only have to hear the words, Gaslight Anthem, The Twang or Test Icicles to think: ‘what a fucking awful band name’ and that’s before you even tackle the unpronounceable and let’s face it, attention seeking, ‘!!!’. That’s not a typo by the way; there really is a group of aspiring musicians out there who thought using the same punctuation mark three times would be a good way to launch their music careers. I’ll go out on a limb here and say they won’t make it!  

Mind you, at least those people have bothered to make the effort to come up with a band name so terrible that people remember it, unlike those lazy bastards on X Factor. Not only do they sing songs written and made famous by other, they now pass of the names of famous musicians as their own. Has nobody told these people that a real person called Cher actually exists and that she used to be quite fond of singing too? Or that Wagner invented modern classical music as we know it?  

These frauds aside though bands can’t put the same amount of creative effort into coming up with the names of each of their songs. Some don’t even bother; they just copy one that already exists. So below, via the most tenuous of tenuous links, are the song titles to have leant their name to more than one great tune. 

Oh and you’ll be pleased to know that none of the bands mentioned above are included, for the simple reason that they’re all rubbish.


Come Together 

Rule number 1 of any kind of music comparison game is you don’t win against The Beatles. However, if you listen to the Scream Team’s Jesse Jackson infused dance anthem, its pretty obvious they don’t play by the rules.


Cast get a bad rep and should easily be considered in the same calibre as the other much lauded bands of the Britpop era as this tune shows; mind you as one hit wonders go, this Red Carpet effort ain't bad either.

Stand By Me

Oasis or Ben E King. They couldn't beat King's classic could they? No, but still worth a listen. 


Kanye's got a 34 minute video for this song. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs haven't. Both good. Although I'm never watching the whole video. 

A mournful lament by Leonard Cohen, made (more) famous by Jeff Buckley and covered by every man and his dog in between, or a acid house rave with the Happy Mondays? Depends what mood your in I guess.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Use your wick

What a bloody kerfuffle hey. What a palaver. What a fiasco. What a…well, you get the picture. WikiLeaks-Gate or some derivative thereof, as it will no doubt come to be known. 

But what should we make of the 250,000 odd US embassy cables detailing the private correspondences of diplomats now made (semi) public?

Well, opinion at the moment is somewhat polarised. Today Mike Huckabee, resident US crackpot and 2012 Republican presidential hopeful (note these two qualities are not mutually exclusive), called for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to receive capital punishment, that’s the death penalty in case you’re confused, not a stern beating with a slipper, cane, ruler or other such item commonly found in classrooms of private schools.

Meanwhile a self-explanatory Facebook group called “Julian Assange for the Nobel Peace Prize” has upwards of 15,000 members. I wouldn’t place too much stock on this however, as it pales into significance against the 70,000 odd members of “I yell at inanimate objects” or even the 83,977 people who believe “Physics doesn’t exist its just gnomes”, who incidentally, can claim Mike Huckabee as a member. Probably.

The media at once complicit and critical of the WikiLeaks saga has certainly devoted a fair few column inches to the matter.

Those stalwarts of sound-minded reasonable thinking, Fox News, demonstrate their famed prejudice-free journalistic style when they describe the suspected leaker of the material, Bradley Manning as “openly gay and half British”. Oh well, that explains it then. Whilst Sarah Palin, master of understatement and intellectual supremo goes one further, billing Mannings as “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands”. This is after all, the same Sarah Palin who declared just last week that the US would stand by its North Korean allies. If I were prone to the same type of hyperbole as her, I would describe Palin as a woman of such incomprehensible stupidity that she resembles in intellect and indeed appearance a bespectacled version of the moose she so loves to shoot. But I won’t.

The Daily Telegraph meanwhile, no doubt slightly smarting from The Guardian’s position as sole UK representative on WikiLeaks “go to” list, offered a refreshingly different take on matters:

“The Saudis would like someone to whack Iran? No kidding. Afghanistan is run by crooks? Really? Hillary Clinton would like to know a lot more about the diplomats she is negotiating against? You surprise me. The Russian government may have links to organised crime? Pass the smelling salts, Petunia.”

And so on.

This article makes the valid point, admittedly through jest, that it is in the interest of certain newspapers to exaggerate the significance of the findings of the wiki-leaked cables, namely those who have exclusive distribution rights. Similarly, those who profess moral outrage at the public hearing what their government actually thinks on matters of global importance, do seem to still write articles based on the content of the leaked cables.

“But I thought that publishing this information endangered peoples’ lives?”

“Well if they’re in the public domain already we may as well cover our backs and try and make a buck or two.”

“Yeah don’t want to fall in the trap of acting on your supposed ethical standards.”


Meanwhile The Guardian’s own take on its role as British ringmaster in the expose in its comment piece The Revolution Will Be Digitised, points to the hypocrisy of Government’s attitude regarding the universal access to important information:

"Politicians, see themselves as parents to a public they view as children – a public that cannot be trusted with the truth, nor with the real power that knowledge brings."

True as this may be, what this metaphor doesn’t explain is the critical reaction to the publication of the leaks by many in the public. There are a number of people out there content with the restriction placed on the flow of information by Governments. I’ve not got a problem with that, call it disinterest, call it hegemony, call it ignorance is bliss; whatever.

It’s just that personally I am of the view that investigative journalism which sheds light on information of public interest is a good thing… Except when it jeopardises World Cup bids of course.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Pens and Swords

Waterboarding: a curious word, which unfortunately, we have all become too familiar with. Imagine though, if you’d never heard the word before, if your first encounter with the word “waterboarding” was now. The word, you are told, refers to either, an “enhanced interrogation technique”, which involves the simulation of drowning; or, a new surfing related extreme sport.

Which meaning would you assume to be correct?

For me, the adoption of a seemingly innocent term as a moniker for an act of extreme violence is indeed curious; but it is no accident.

The flippant, almost playful, relationship between the term “waterboarding” and the horrific act which it describes is just one example of a new and sinister form of euphemism which has entered public discourse. These euphemisms, many of which were born in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, (“the war on terror”) function to conceal the reality they profess to describe.

Take for instance, George W Bush’s recent procedural description of “waterboarding” as an “enhanced interrogation technique”, as opposed to say, the more concise and popularly used term: “torture”. To even categorise this phraseology as a euphemism, is in itself a euphemistic act, given that the term “lie” would be somewhat more accurate.

In the views of some, such nitpicking over the semantics of these words may seem inconsequential, especially considering the seriousness of the actions to which they refer. However, though it may be accepted that actions speak louder than words; that is not to say that words carry no action.

The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, or “the war on terror”, as they are often collectively described, have produced many new words and phrases, which seek to project a particular worldview. Consider for instance the differing ideological connotations in the expression “regime change” as opposed to “coup d’├ętat”; or “torture” versus “enhanced interrogation technique”.

Whatever your views are on these evocative and contemporary subjects, they are likely to manifest themselves in the language one uses to describe them. The much overused axiom of cultural and political relativism: “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, does not just reveal how people see the world differently, but how people champion their particular world view in language. Language is many things, but rarely neutral.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Sick vs [sic]: A regurgitation

Which is more annoying: The colloquial adjective “sick”, used predominantly by sections of the urban youth to convey approval; or the academic (read pretentious) “[sic]”, meaning “thus”, predominantly used by those wishing themselves to appear urbane, often in ‘correcting’ the language of aforementioned youths?

Frankly, I find both vomit inducing, but one slightly more tolerable than the other.

Take for example the great William Blake; an extract from his preface to Milton’s Paradise Lost was reproduced by AN Wilson in The Daily Telegraph as:

"Shakspeare [sic] & [sic] Milton were both curb'd [sic] by the general malady & [sic] infection from the silly Greek & [sic] Latin slaves of the Sword".

Admittedly, Blake should have been able to spell Shakespeare’s name, but whereas today such typos, (well not exactly, but you catch my drift), would be corrected by a keen eyed sub-editor, or, better still, Microsoft Word’s spell-check, now they are preserved only to be flaunted by critics in the literary equivalent of a blooper reel: “Oh look at me; I’ve spotted some spelling errors in the works of the great romantic poet and visionary William Blake.” You know, that kind of thing.

And that’s not even the worst of it. Consider the reproductions of texts, emails, Facebook messages or any manner of privately written correspondences that find there way into the newspaper:

Earlier this year, The Daily Mail reported the story of a British sailor who fell into difficulties off the Caribbean cost and was rescued after sending the following text message to his father:

“I'm between Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, the steering gear is shot and operating (just) on the emergency tiller but only for short periods at a time… My best shot is the US Coastguard as Dominican services non-existant (sic). Position: N 19.22.143, W069.08.921 can you call someone”

Personally, I think the correct spelling of the word “existant” is probably pretty far down the list of priorities of a man seriously contemplating drowning. On the one hand he’s being praised for the quick thinking that most likely saved his life, whilst simultaneously being exposed for the terrible speller that he is. And are we to believe he took the time to correctly capitalise “Puerto Rico” and “Dominican Republic”? The journalist should have either corrected the spelling or reproduced the text verbatim complete with any inaccuracies. I think we’d have managed to figure out the mistake, dreadful as it was, wasn’t his.

Contrast this to the commonly used “sick” in casual speech. As in “What a sick goal!”, or “This tune is sick”. Yes that is so annoying it makes my skin crawl and yes if I ever found the word subconsciously creeping into my vernacular I’d cut off my tongue to prevent it happened again, but it is at least expressive as opposed to malicious.

Obsessively searching for words to sicify [sic] is the worst kind of pedantry, it smacks of pettiness, and is often employed with the intention to belittle. For all it grates, (at least on my ears), to hear “sick” used complimentarily, this change of usage is creative. Admittedly, it can be problematic endorsing or even commenting on the slang terms du jour, especially when doing so in pseudo-academic and occasionally outright pompous language, (du jour, seriously?!).

But a serious point lies at the root of this, I hope. Language which some perceive to be incorrect, colloquial, even vulgar, can serve the purpose of renewing and revitalising our collective vocabularies. If those who seek to enforce some entirely subjective and prohibitive rules pertaining to what is correct and what isn’t, the richness and vitality of our lexicon would suffer. Language needs these colloquial forays into the domain of improper usage and those that feel otherwise would do well to remember that a language that doesn’t evolve, dies.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

An open letter to the staff of Alexandra Palace

Dear Sir/Madam,

I attended last night’s Hot Chip/LCD Soundsystem concert, looking forward to a great evening’s music after paying no small amount of money for my ticket.
Unfortunately, and I know I’m not alone; my viewing pleasure was damaged by what I can only describe as terrible event management. Despite arriving in the queue in plenty of time we were delayed considerably getting in, missing a good half an hour of Hot Chip’s performance.

And queuing seemed to be the theme of the night; for the toilets, for bar tokens and for the bar itself.

To be honest, I’d struggle to design a more ineffective bar system if I tried. One person behind a solitary bar pouring drinks for hundreds of queuing people all of whom have conveniently bought tokens ignorant to the fact that there’s more chance of being struck by lightning than being able to exchange them for drinks.

Indeed, it does seem strange to have such an effective, well manned and competent token queuing system, only to be complemented by a piss poor bar system were staff are conspicuous only by their absence and the service of drinks is rarer than rocking horse shit.

Miraculously I did make it to the front to one of the two bars in the entire venue, only to be told this bar was now closing and if I wanted a drink I had to join the queue at the other bar, which at that time was comparable to the population of Liechtenstein. I won’t go into detail but suffice to say I was a tad frustrated at this announcement.

You seem to have concerts quite regularly at Alexandra Palace; I wonder is last night’s level of chaos the norm or was this just a one off monumental fuck up?

Oh and don’t even get me started on the cloakroom.

Yours sincerely,

Disgruntled, Finsbury Park.