Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Big Brother 8

Well... After being preceded by the Ofcom adjudication forced upon it, Channel Four's Big Brother 8 kicked off with the familiar sight of Davina McCall scaling the steps to house apparently struggling to walk and talk in tandem. She then took us, the viewers, on a tour of the house uttering a string of banal observations. The house has been cunningly designed to cause some inconvenience to the inmates; the oven is in the bedroom, the fridge in the garden, that sort of thing. With each new curious discovery McCall twittered, "kind of annoying". How right you are, Davina.

Fortunately, amusement came in the form of a man in the crowd enthusiastically waving a sign which read, "Happy 10th Birthday, Big Brother".

And then came the contenders:

Sam & Amanda - twins. Giggly but no less sinister versions of the twins in the Shining.

Lesley - retired head hunter. Friends with Charles and Camilla. Assured.

Charley - former lap dancer. Cousin of Man Utd bit part player Kieran Richardson. Told us how wonderful she was in her video profile provoking instant (and probably deserved) antipathy from the crowd.

Tracey - cleaner. Seems to be stuck in a late 80s' Acid House nightmare. Something of a cross between Liam Gallagher and Frank Spencer.

Chanelle - nondescript.
Considers herself a Posh Spice doppelgänger. Told us how wonderful she was in her video profile provoking instant (and probably deserved) antipathy from the crowd.

Shabnam - likes make-up.
Davina thought she looked like Amy Winehouse. Told us how wonderful she was in her video profile provoking instant (and probably deserved) antipathy from the crowd.

Emily - thinks she looks like Peaches Geldof. Considers herself educated. Intends to vote Tory at the next election.
Told us how wonderful she was in her video profile provoking instant (and probably deserved) antipathy from the crowd.

Nicky - her video profile suggests she just been sorely wronged by some incorrigible cad. Hates men "at the moment".

Carole - East Lahnden girl. Geezer. Anti-war former Respect Party candidate.

With each new entrant to the house Lesley's mood appeared to palpably dampen. By the time the last inmate arrived she was sitting quietly on her own downing champagne, perhaps as she realised the full horror of what was in front of her. Davina announced at the end that a man will be introduced to the house on Friday.

On the face of it, it looks like a crude attempt by Endemol to incite some bitchiness and maybe if it's lucky a cat-fight with hair and fake nails a-flying. Or that could be a chauvinist interpretation on my part. I can't see it being pretty though.

Multimillion pound mercenaries

Before I begin this post I must admit to having little idea as to where it's going. I'm hoping someone out there more informed than I might assist in sealing over the cracks in my knowledge.

There are private security firms working in Iraq. This I already knew. In today's Guardian, following the kidnappings in Baghdad yesterday, there was a short article on the work of the security firms. The same sorts of firms that were supposed to be protecting the Westerners spirited away yesterday.

According to the article, ex-soldiers hired by these firms can expect to earn up to £500 a day. I'm not sure that would persuade me. Well, maybe a week but I'd want cash up front. 900 of these "security guards" have been killed in the last three. Guarding the stock at your local Boots, it ain't. The Pentagon estimates there are around 20,000 armed security guards in Iraq. However, I heard a figure quoted on Channel Four news earlier this evening which put the number closer to 120,000.

So, there are anywhere between 20,000 and 120,000 expertly trained fighters marauding through the Middle East answerable to I'm not sure whom and paid for by the same whom. There exist security firms in Iraq, going by such vaguely futuristic Terminator-soundings titles as GardaWorld and DynCorp. Why they are there and on whose say so is less clear to me. Some, however, appear to have been hired by the US and British administrations. But if American soldiers can dole out torture and abuse right under the noses of their commanding officers what conceivable mischief can these soldiers of fortune find to entertain themselves? The article explains:

"It was a controversial appointment as the company was run by the former mercenary from the Scots Guards, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, a central figure in the arms-to-Africa scandal of the late 1990s, when arms were shipped to a Sierra Leone militia leader later indicted as a war criminal. The company (Aegis Defence) has survived a number of further controversies - such as the so-called "trophy video" of its men on patrol shooting at Iraqi civilian cars - and now some of the most senior retired British officers sit on the board."

The article also explains that, "The firm's turnover of £554,000 in 2003 rose to £62m in 2005, 75% of which came from Iraq." War: what is it good for? It's good for business. I'm not going to get into the moral considerations of security firms making vast profits in wartime. But it does seem to me that, like the chap whose name I've forgotten just now (Christian chap. Think he was from Harrow. Pinner, perhaps?), there's a lot of people involved in Iraq who'd be best off out it. Not beautifully put, I grant you, but you see where I'm coming from. The facetious among you will scoff, "Not least the British and Americans" but that's another argument. If I were a British squaddie I might feel a touch aggrieved at people playing soldiers and being handsomely rewarded by my government, who in some way I might be expected to watch the backs of when the going gets hairy.

Lecturers vote to boycott Israeli universities

The new University and College Union today voted for a year-long debate over whether it should boycott work with Israeli universities. The delegates voted to condemn the "complicity" of Israeli academics in the country's "40-year occupation of Palestinian lands".

This is a mistake. It's hardly in the best traditions of academic discussion and debate to sever ties with an entire group of people who must surely represent an entire spectrum of thought, and not one narrowly composed motion for debate. I understand that the UCU's entire membership will be consulted before any such move is taken. But where is the rigour of thought? Direct me to the cogent exhortation. Who are these censors of opinion? Academics thousands of miles from the reality. This restriction on academic freedom should be condemned in exactly the same language as that used to criticise those Austrian law-makers who sought to silence David Irving for representing a view they considered out-of-bounds, illegal, unworthy of engaging with.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Does Littlejohn even believe what Littlejohn says?

Johann Hari took RIchard Littlejohn to task in last week's New Statesman when reviewing Littlejohn's latest book, "Littlejohn's Britan" a collection of his rantings in the Sun and the Mail. The title alone is warning enough; there's no reason to think Littlejohn's Britain bears any resemblance to anyone else's, or indeed the reality.

I'm with Hari most of the way but I really wonder whether Littlejohn is worth expending the effort on. But then, it looks as though I'm about to. The thing is I just don't believe him. And I don't believe he believes what he's saying. He's a highly paid right winger and thus needs to keep up the shtick. It keeps him rolling in money so he plays the bogeyman. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't people out there who cling to every word he says as though he were some portly, badly dressed oracle. And this is why Hari probably feels compelled to fight back and not least because of Littlejohn's playground homophobia. Hari explains:

"There is, however, a core to Littlejohn's humour, to which he returns on almost every page: homosexuality. He obsessively talks about cottaging, lubricants, 69ers - every tiny detail of gay sex is smeared across the pages. He quotes long exchanges from Gaydar involving the MP Chris Bryant ("I could do with a good f***"), and says Peter Mandelson lives on "the Rue Des Jeunes Hommes" (because gays like young boys - geddit?). I think about gay sex much less than Richard Littlejohn - and I am gay.

Every problem circles back to sodomy in his mind, as he panics: "Soon we'll have gay men going door to door, like Jehovah's Witnesses, trying to convince us to convert." This isn't bigotry. It's a psychiatric disorder."

"Rue Des Jeunes Hommes". Hilarious and probably made more so, in Littlejohn's mind, because he's written in in French and they're all bloody poofters. It's laughable only in its utter infantility. Which is why he's best ignored. As Hari himself acknowledges, there are some right wingers who can be funny and he cites Kelvin McKenzie and Ann Coulter. I must say I'm not keen on McKenzie and I've mostly found Ann Coulter to be in less than full grasp of the facts. If I were to pick a right wing writer who has the style to pull off similarly ludicrous rants, it would be AA Gill. His thoughts on Albania were so outré they barely merited serious consideration, yet his mail bag was fuller than ever. Grist to his and Littlejohn's mill.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Parliament

Well, it was Portcullis House I visited which strictly speaking is across the road from Parliament. An enjoyable evening all the same with entertaining talks from Dawn Butler, Sadiq Khan, Tony McNulty, and not forgetting Stephen Pound who took quite a ribbing from the rest of MPs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

McDonnell concedes

McDonnell concedes his leadership bid, describing his search for enough nominations as "mathematically impossible".

I'm going to Parliament

I didn't know what title to give this post. Seems to get to the point though. I've been invited to a 'social event' tomorrow evening in Portcullis House and the following MPs will be there: Harriet Harman,Stephen Pound, Frank Dobson, Sadiq Khan, David Anderson, Tony Lloyd and Hazel Blears. It's an event for trade unionists in the area of London I represent. I've no idea what format the evening is to take but no doubt it will be a worthwhile visit. I expect Harman and Blears will be schmoozing for votes, too. I'm not particularly keen on either so perhaps some pointed questions might be in order.

I'll be sure to report back here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hitch v Rev Al Sharpton

Christopher Hitchens and Al Sharpton debate the ideas in Hitchens' new book, God is not Great. Lively stuff.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

What kind of atheist are you?

This courtesy of the Labour Humanist. My results below.


You scored as Angry Atheist. Whoah! Down boy! It's time to let go of the belligerence and let someone else talk for a while. Even if the religious don't make must sense, you should probably observe the unspoken rules for human interaction and not yell directly into their faces.

Angry Atheist


83%

Scientific Atheist


75%

Militant Atheist


67%

Apathetic Atheist


50%

Spiritual Atheist


33%

Theist


0%

Agnostic


0%

What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

BBC in Scientology row

The BBC has clashed with the high profile cultists of the Church of Scientology. Beeb man John Sweeney was filming a documentary into the church's dubious dealings when he became involved in a shouting match with one of their people. The Church of Scientology has recently begun fighting filming with filming when it finds itself the subject of unwanted attention. In this instance Sweeney was filmed by the church's people as he lost his temper. Sweeney himself said of the episode, "I look like an exploding tomato and shout like a jet engine ... it makes me cringe."

The CoS has posted the video on You Tube and you can watch it below. Towards the end a buzz can be heard, presumably signalling the final brutal implosion of the sound equipment. Most reports describe him raising his voice but it doesn't begin to illustrate the decibels this guy can emit.

The link I've included above gives Sweeney's own account of the sort of harassment he endured at the hands of church officials. At the point of his becoming, let's say, not under-exercised, he had listened to a load of drivel about psychiatrists, who Scientologists say were to blame for the rise of Nazi Germany so you can appreciate how the far-reaches of his tether were exhausted. The church has called for the "global obliteration" of psychiatrists. I think I might be swayed if they focused on more deserving groups, estate agents, for example.

Update 8.32pm: It's interesting that the narrator's voice is British. And I'm sure I've heard him on TV extolling the benefits of Toilet Duck or something. Mercenary bastards these voice-over artists.


Tevez winner saves West Ham

Kinda written in the stars this one, wasn't it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Just shoot it

Hindus at a shrine in Wales are launching a last minute appeal to try and save a 'sacred' bull from slaughter.

The 'sacred' bull has tested positive for tuberculosis and the Welsh Assembly has made clear that infected animals must be slaughtered to protect both human and animal health.

A reasonable position one would readily acknowledge. Unless one happens to be Hindu and quite fond of 'sacred' bulls.

Ramesh Kallidai of the Hindu Forum of Britain

"As a responsible organisation, the temple has sought professional veterinary advice to ensure that robust measures are taken to isolate Shambo and minimise the spread of disease. Killing Shambo will violate our faith, tradition and desecrate our temple. It goes against all accepted norms of our faith."

Hang about, Jim. Minimise the spread of disease? Why not eliminate it rather than be irresponsible and let worshippers who go near it contract the disease.

Will they never learn.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Dinosaur attacks

And the Mike Newell Award for Gender Relations goes to... Sir Patrick Moore. He claims that the BBC is in decline for this reason:

"The trouble is the BBC now is run by women and it shows soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen-sink plays. You wouldn't have had that in the golden days."

Yes, Patrick, the golden days. The halcyon days of Fanny Craddock and Till Death Do Us Part. Nothing like a bit racist comedy in the evening.

Perhaps he should address his complaints to the people in charge whom he blames. These unnamed women. One's called Mark Thompson and the other Sir Michael Lyons.

Northern Ireland Assembly returns

And I hope that it succeeds.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Gawd 'elp us

I'm not sure there's a worse sight than this man with a grin on his swollen mug.