Merry Christmas (War is Over)

So, that is it. The Iraq War is officially over.

Looking at the numbers, the Americans has 4,500 dead soldiers, 32,000 wounded and spent $800bn. British casualties totalled 179, with 5,970 wounded.   It also left a million Iraqis dead. But no-one can possibly argue that the entire adventure has given us safety and security like never before. We no longer have Islamic terrorists threatening violence all around the world and those post September 11th security measures have been lifted. Neither do we have a Middle East country threatening us requiring possible military intervention.

Oh.

Good job we found those WMD, eh? Those mobile weapons labs capable of launching biochemical weapons, that country that was sheltering terrorists.

Oh.

At least people weren’t disappeared into Saddams prisons, instead being disappeared into a global network of rendition and prisons.

Oh.

Lets remember the defining moments, shall we?

  • Abu Ghraib
  • Hostages being beheaded
  • Regular reports on innocent civilians and Western journalists being bombed by their own side

Oh.

Well at least we knew we totally won that war against… those other people…

Oh.

And it is finally all over, as the last troops come home.  America is out of Iraq, leaving only a 10,000 large diplomatic contingent and several thousand mercenaries which isn’t going to end badly at all.

Oh.

And all only 3,166 days after this guy stood in front of a banner that said “Mission Accomplished”.

A war criminal, yesterday

“Good work, everybody! “

Young students? I wish them all dead.

Recovered from the old blog, but still relevant.  The next time someone says “look at those students protesting, with their smartphones and plasma tellies, they don’t know how lucky they are, this is your response.

One of the most common bits of bollocks spouted about students is “they are so lucky these days, they have their contract iPhones and their plasma tellies unlike the lucky buggers in University when I was there”

Well yes, they are lucky. Yet the reason they have iPhones and flat screen tellies and the previous generation didn’t is because iPhones and flat screen tellies hadn’t been fucking invented yet.

The previous generation had phones and colour tellies. And their elders bitched that they didn’t have them, because there was only black and white tellies unlike the lucky buggers in University now…

And the generation previous to that bitched because they didn’t have tellies at all unlike the lucky buggers in University now and had to make do with radios…

And the generation previous to that bitched because they didn’t have radios unlike the lucky buggers in University now and had to deal with being thrashed with a cane twice a week…

And the generation previous to that bitched because they didn’t get thrashed with a cane twice a week unlike the lucky buggers in University now, they got thrashed once a day and they had it easy, probably due to political correctness…

And the generation previous to that bitched that they didn’t get thrashed once a day unlike the lucky buggers in Universtiy because they didn’t go to University as they had been sent to work in the mill since they were seven years old and couldn’t write because the had lost fingers in machinery by the time they were the same ages as the students of today.  Who by the way, are going off to their fancy dan Universities in preparation for being sent off to get shot in a field in France, India, South Africa or whereever.

The whole of human evolution is about making things better for ourselves and especially for the generation coming after it. And for the first time in human history, we have a generation that not only has completely fucked things up for those coming after it, but bitches and moans that they should have it just as tough as they did because, well, they just should, alright? And not only that, but have fucked things up so badly that are actively removing the advantages that they had. You know, like free education, an educative and informative BBC and a supportive welfare state.

The old people of today, eh? *rolls eyes* Cuh!

In praise of The Wire

Well, I have got tremendously addicted to The Wire, the HBO series that ran for five series a few years ago.  Set in Baltimore, it follows the interconnected lives of a huge amount of characters on both sides of the law in a never ending battle between drug dealers and the police.

I’m only up to the middle of series 3, so here are some mild spoilers.

The show takes its own time, it is absolutely the opposite of fast cut, fast action, move the plot along writing.  Scenes come and go at their own sweet time, most of the screen time is filled with silence.  The only incidental music is from stereos in cars or houses.  It is directed, shot and written to within an inch of its life, exploring and fleshing out the lives of its characters.  No-one is good or bad, just all shades of grey – McNulty, ostensibly the hero and the guy we see the story through the eyes of, is an absolute prick at times. As far as I have got, one of the main drug kingpins, Stringer Bell, is more interested in going legit than the street corners of Baltimore like a Mafia don.

The whole thing is Acted to perfection.  Dominic West as McNulty, Sonja Sohn as Kima Greggs and Idris Elba as Stringer Bell are standouts – the latter playing his character as thoughtful, precise and intelligent.  Never so charismatic that you end up rooting for the bad guy, but he does persuade you that he is making himself into a successful businessman – it is just that his product is heroin and cocaine, because that is all he has to offer.  D’Angelo Barksdale was fantastically played by Larry Gillard Jr, the cog trapped between the life he leads and the life he wants.  Also standouts are Bubs, the addict/informant, Bunk, McNultys partner and Levy, the greasy lawyer.

(The brief encounters between Bell and McNulty are absolute delights.)

The show does the neat trick of turning characters you hate into characters you… well, at least understand.  In Series 1, Bunk and McNulty are under pressure from Rawls, the Major in charge of homicide and Lansman, his willing lackey and sergeant.  To be honest, I was wondering how the hell two such obvious arseholes had got to positions of authority, especially as they seemed more interested in playing politics than actual police work.  By series 3, the pair are, if not actually likeable, at least they are justified in their actions -more rounded, and we can understand them.  (Aided by a brilliant scene in S1, between McNulty and Rawls.)

Downsides?  Well, the early shows weren’t exactly a barrel of laughs.  OK, so we aren’t going to get Whedon like zingers and comebacks, but it was slow moving, intense stuff.  As the story has moved on, the humour has revealed itself, in a dark and but dark, I mean utterly and completely pitch black manner.  The slow pace can sometimes be infuriating – series 2 takes 7 hours to do the inevitable “getting the band back together”.  And again in Series 2, Ziggy Sobotka is probably supposed to be a well meaning idiot, but to be honest, I just wanted to go to Baltimore and shoot him in the face myself.

The Guardian, as it often does, declared The Wire to be The Greatest TV Show of All Time and for a while spread it across just about every page it possibly could.  I’m not sure I agree, but that is because such a title is impossible.  I do support its claim to be a fantastic show, though one you have to work at.  It demands concentration and time and effort but what you put in is what you get out. It certainly is a hard watch, but the payoff is worth it.

Lovely wording

Some sports more than others lend themselves to wonderful writing.  One of those is cricket and some of the writing on the Guardian is an absolute delight.  This little piece from Barney Ronay on the Mystery Spin Bowler had me chuckling away to myself.

So it was once with spin bowling, where age conferred legitimacy. But not so in the new era. Narine, for example, has come from nowhere: even now he has just 37 wickets in all cricket, his reputation based around glimpses in Twenty20 of the homemade “knuckleball”, which sometimes nips his flighty off-breaks the other way. The new-age mystery man comes to us like this: ready-made, off the shelf, hungry for a punkish kind of DIY success. There is an arc to his progress: claim a sensational televised three for 12; invent a delivery called the Zangler, the Knucklechuck or the Massive Pie; become the officially recognised next big thing; play a season for the Bangalore Cheesesteaks; get the yips; get no-balled for chucking; have a tantrum while playing for Devon; disappear completely. In favourable conditions there is no reason why all this should take much more than six months.

“The Massive Pie” is going to have me chuckling for days.

 

 

Play from your heart…

I don’t normally write much about the X-Factor and all that, save the odd sneering comment from the sidelines.  The world seems to divide into several categories, those dumb enough to watch it and vote, those dumb enough to watch it and those watching it “ironically” in order to post sarcastic comments online about it.

Anyway, my ire was stoked when I heard that one of the previous winners Leona Lewis had covered “Hurt”.

The reason this sticks in my craw so much is that “Hurt” is a song absolutely loaded with meaning.  The Nine Inch Nails original is the climax of their classic Downward Spiral album, the theme of which is a man heading into despair, with each song building uncomfortably to the next before we reach his own suicide in “Hurt”.

“I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.”

The song was famously covered by Johnny Cash, who imbued it with his own meaning.  It was Cashs final song, and the video is utterly stunning, as it reviews his own life through clips and becomes a reflection on Cash and his place in history.

And then it gets covered by Leona fucking Lewis.

Don’t get me wrong, in the pantheon of X-Factor winners Lewis is probably the most talented.  Which is like saying a sprained wrist is better than a broken leg, but she does have the voice to carry off what she has done, which is build a career as a sort of Mariah Carey-lite. Unfortunately, she has the charisma of a broken bottle combined with the stunning ability to suck all the passion out of whatever song she has been directed to warble.  The girl could suck the life out of Agadoo.

(Which would be worth hearing actually, considering it would follow the standard Lewis pattern of quiet beginning, slow build, massively signposted key change before 60 seconds of belting “Aaaaaaaggaaaaaadoooo, PUSH PINEAPPLE SHAKE THE TREE”)

If that wasn’t bad enough, and on a much more personal note, she has also covered “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls.  Now this one means something, specifically to me, because it was our wedding song.  Without getting into it too much, the lyrics meant something to me and my better half.  If one attempted to measure the irony of a fucking X-Factor winner singing “I don’t want the world to see me”, the resulting number would be so huge it would need Professor Brian Cox standing on a mountain somewhere and going “that’s amaaaaazing“.

In addition to Lewis’ attempt, “Iris” has also been covered by Avril Lavigne and Ronan Keating.  What the hell did the Goo Goo Dolls do to deserve that parade of mediocrity?

I accept that manufactured pop music has to exist.  It always has, and it always will – hell, the Beatles were a boy band.  Part of me actually admires the ruthlessness of the X-Factor, systematically stripping the business of music production down to the bare minimum of effort for the maximum profit.  They have got so good at it, that next year the winners single will be the same song no matter who actually wins the competition, exactly the same song whether it is won by the bloke, the girl or the band – they will just change the JPG for the download in iTunes and it will still be the Christmas Number One.

But I’ll only accept that if it leaves proper, good music alone.  Music from the heart, music by people who understand things like emotion and meaning. Something that is interesting.  If it were comedy, then I’m happy to have Stewart Lee and Gary Delaney and Die Clatterschenkenfietermaus, and you can have the future of comedy, which is Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay, live from the O2, stamping on a human face forever.

“I’m staaaaamping.  Everybody in. Everybody in. I’m staaaaamping.”

Anyway, instead of staying in its own niche, carefully prepackaged and demographically tested to within an inch of its life, X-Factor (or rather the true evil behind it all, which is Syco) get reaching over to “my” side of the divide and nicking songs.  Last years winner, Alexandra Burke, did a cover of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.  A song so full of depth and meaning, that it was best sung by someone the wrong side of 50, who was drunk and going through the end of their third marriage.  (For added authenticity, one of those marriages must have ended because the spouse died too young.)  Jeff Buckley did perhaps the definitive cover of the song and he is allowed to get away with it through creative use of the premature death clause.

So thanks to Syco, it becomes a song sung by a former shelf-stacker barely out of her teens.  Who later said “It just didn’t do anything for me.”

Fuck you, Burke.

So “Hallelujah”, now “Hurt”, and the inevitability of whatever is coming next. Matt Cardle doing “Enter Sandman”, One Direction singing “Love Will Tear Us Apart” or Will Young covering “Paranoid“?

“Oh come on Mike, it is just the X-Factor”.

I know I am standing on the beach, raging impotently at the approaching tidal wave, but some things are important. I’ll leave manufactured karaoke singers alone if they stop stealing the things that are important to me and cheapening them. I wouldn’t mind but not a single person involved in the production of “Hurt” has the slightest possible clue about the ability of music to generate passion, emotion or meaning. If they did, they wouldn’t actually go ahead with it. A legion of singers, producers, auto-tune engineers and a record company that hasn’t the faintest idea about what makes music so vitally important in the first place.

And they are encroaching on those who do care. I’m not asking for much, just to have my little space, free from blandification and turning into commercial product. I just want it to remain special, but they have to try and take that from me as well, my one last inch.

Enjoy your Monday morning.

A day out in Dublin

OK, so I’m in the middle of Dublin on Saturday and just finished off a bit of lunch outside Dublin Castle. Next thing I know, there is a massive protest/parade passing by. The Spectacle of Hope and Defiance, organised by a lot of community groups in protest at the ongoing cuts to funding and budgets in Dublin.

The parade was led by children from the local community carrying tombstones for all the inner city projects that either had been closed or were threathened with closure.

People followed behind with slogans painted on butterflies or with placards. I think that the youth groups in the march had been working on them as projects.

Then we had a couple of floats – I liked the design of this one.

Ex-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who built the Celtic Tiger has retired with an annual pension of 152,331. Although to be fair, he did take a cut in it last week. He’ll really miss that 4,200 they lopped off it.

Of course, no protest is complete without drummers.

And a clown making balloon animals

And the bloody Socialist Worker.

Those stuck in the traffic jam didn’t mind.

The Scales of Injustice, complete with Marie Antoinette throwing cake out to those below.

One of the Marie Antoinettes. Cake not pictured.

Of course, the protest covers all of the people in Ireland. So here is a group of bankers on the way to the golf course.


And a banking fat cat, who threw cake at anyone photographing him (he was a good shot).

One of the EU Bondholders, who handed out Euros to the crowd.

The fat cat makes his way past the Bank of Ireland. The Bondholder shouts at him “Darling, look, it is our cash machine! Do you have the ATM card?”, which I thought was pretty funny.

Finally, the back of the parade was brought up by this huge phoenix.

All in all, good fun and quite uplifting to see the turn out and support, not just from the parade itself but the people it was passing by. Pretty much brought Dame Street to a halt, but it was all good natured and friendly. Special mention to the Gardai, who was more interested in keeping traffic moving – if this was the Met, it would have been truncheons, kettling and nicking of cameras. It really brought home just what a bunch of cunts the policing of protest in the UK is.

New Rammstein single

Rammstein have release their latest single before they start their “Made In Germany” tour and greatest hits album.  And the video “Mein Land” is typical Rammstein, catchy, subversive and utterly hilarious.  What is difficult to get across is that everything Rammstein is shot through with a sense of humour – admittedly a sense of humour that is so dark as to be almost pitch black. They sing about boys meeting girls, but in Rammstein world, boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy kills girl, boy has sex with corpse of girl, girl rises from the dead and chops head off boy, girl corpse has sex with boys headless corpse, and they all (un)live happily ever after.

A rookie mistake

Was pointed towards this by Ben Goldacre.  The Foundation for Future Studies launched a website called United Dreams for Europe.  It would be a social media/crowd sourcing effort.  To quote from their website

Firstly, with the aim of gaining insight into perceptions of and views on Europe, we conducted a survey. In the end more than 15,000 citizens from 13 European countries took part in our quantitative research.

Secondly, as qualitative research, we conducted 27 interviews with members of the European Parliament, scientists and students from different countries to get a cross section of opinions.

The results of this two-sided study will be discussed and presented at an event in the European capital Brussels, hosted by the Foundation for Future Studies in association with the Bertelsmann Foundation.

Furthermore, to enable the European public to access the study, the research will be published in a book of the same name, “United Dreams of Europe” (release date: September 2011), including all the answers and interviews as well as an analysis of the central questions.

In addition, this website has been created to give everyone the opportunity to take part by posting their personal dream for Europe.

So far, so.. meh.

Except… The Foundation for Free Studies is an initiative of British American Tobacco, those purveyors of cancer causing cigarettes.  And more importantly, see that bit about “posting a personal dream for Europe”?  Well, they forgot one crucial thing – to moderate the entries.

Yep, a public unmoderated website feed created by a lobby group for Big Tobacco.

It was never going to end well.  First we start with the obvious:

Then we get to the odd and the funny

Culminating in this work of utter genius.  I was genuinely in tears after reading it.

You would think BAT could afford web designers who knew what the hell they were doing.

Hello World…

OK, so this is the replacement for the blog I used to host.  It was a self built thing that I threw together in about an hour, and it was a pain in the arse to maintain, especially when it came to comments and RSS.  So I’ve moved over to WordPress in an effort to get more writing done, plus I can throw quick thoughts and stuff out there.  So hopefully it will become a mix of a blog and a Tumblr.

We’ll see.