Friday, June 25, 2004

"It must be the flag they are aiming at ..."

"Would it not be wiser to take it in ?"

"Strike my colours!" cried the captain. "No, sir, not I"; and as soon as he had said the words, I think we all agreed with him. For it was not only a piece of stout, seamanly, good feeling; it was good policy besides and showed our enemies that we despised their cannonade.

from Treasure Island, by R.L. Stevenson.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Cultural Suicide

Rasputin is very excited about a new translation of the Bible produced by wadical Chwistian organisation One (their name refers to the total membership). Like all good radicals they value diversity of everything except thought and opinion.

Apparently it's a book of 'extraordinary power' which Dr. Williams hopes will spread 'in epidemic profusion through religious and irreligious alike'.

We're taking optimism into a whole new dimension here. If, as Muslims and some Hindus think, madness is a sign that God has touched you, some people have been well and truly touched.

He also reckons 'we have here a vehicle for thinking and worshipping that is fully earthed'. I wish the same could be said of my old BSA, with its electrics by Joe Lucas, the Prince Of Darkness.

Let's see this work in all its glory, next to the hideously sexist, racist and homophobic version by the late King James VI of Scotland.

Matthew 3:1-3

Authorised version:

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying,
The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
Make his paths straight.


It was the time when John the Dipper started speaking in the desert.
"Change your ways", John shouted. "God's New World will be here any day now!"
Isaiah, one of God's speakers, talked about John the Dipper. He said,
"Listen for the 'Voice' in the desert, shouting,
"Repair the road for God; straighten out the bends!"

Matthew 23:25

Authorised version: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

New version: “Take a running jump, Holy Joes, humbugs!

I'll keep a lookout for it in the bestseller lists.

UPDATE - young Mr Cuthbertson gives it what you might call a lukewarm review.

"The best analogy that comes to mind is of someone scrawling a cheesy grin on the Mona Lisa."

Oliver Kamm's not too happy either.

'Tis Now The Very Witching Time Of Night

When churchyards yawn

And Hell itself breathes out

Contagion to this world; now could I drink hot blood

And do such bitter business as the day

Would quake to look on ...

I suppose it's only a game. But if you try to defend a single goal lead for 80 minutes against class forwards what do you expect ? We'd have been better off going one down after three minutes, then we wouldn't have been able to surrender midfield.

What's heartbreaking, as in 1990 - and 1996 - and 1998 - is that we had the ability to win the game and the tournament.

We could have been contenders. You can moan about a ref and the quicksand round the penalty spot, but we beat ourselves when we chose not to chase that second goal. All we can do now is accept defeat with dignity. Thank God it's a cold night for fighting in the streets.

Rebel Without A Pause

In a hideous act of censorship, DJ Tony Blackburn has been suspended from his Classic Gold radio show - for playing Cliff Richard songs.

On Tuesday he played the singer's 1963 number one Summer Holiday, leading to an e-mail from head of programmes Paul Baker.

"We shouldn't be playing Cliff Richard," Mr Baker wrote. "We might carry out research on him, but for now we have a policy decision that he doesn't match our brand values. He's not on the playlist, and you must stop playing him."

On his Wednesday breakfast show, Blackburn read a print-out of the e-mail live on air. He then tore it up, threw it in the bin and played two more chart-toppers by Sir Cliff - Living Doll (1959) and We Don't Talk Any More (1979).

Now I am not a cruel man by instinct. But it is difficult to imagine the amount of torture which would be too great for a mentally competent adult who is prepared to say in public that something 'doesn't match our brand values'. Such talk should be kept for internal company documents, to be circulated between consenting marketing managers only.

From hip young dude to embarrassing oldie. It's only a matter of time.

PS - for those interested in little cultural signifiers, note Ed Stewart's beard in the Radio London link - a hangover from the beat/jazz days of the fifties (Stewart played double-bass). The goatee was not to be seen again in hip society for another thirty years.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Great Internet Mysteries

The mighty Richard Littlejohn seems to have vanished from the Sun's website. Last week the site carried an 'If you want to read him, buy the paper' banner.

And Harry's Place seems to have disappeared. The site name appears to be available for sale.

Two of the greatest reads on the Web - as one with Ninevah and Tyre !

White Flight

150,000 people a year are leaving inner London. Yet the populations of the inner London boroughs are rising - and getting younger, as immigration continues (immigrants tend statistically to be younger and to have more children). The Greater London population has risen by 627,000 in the last decade.

35,000 people arrived from just one country, Ghana last year.

It's not all white flight, of course. The middle classes of all colours are getting out of the English cities. A few miles away from me is a new edge-of-town estate almost entirely populated by ex-Brummies or Bristolians. My optician, a Kenyan Asian, left Birmingham a few years ago for Gloucestershire, as did a Sikh colleague, who had previously described to me how he heard a noise and opened his bedroom window one evening to be hit in the face by one of the two youths on his kitchen roof. He is stretched to pay the mortgage on his four bedroomed house, bought to house his parents as well as his wife and children - but as he said 'I just couldn't leave them there'.

This isn't good news for everyone. As agriculture declines, council houses have all been sold, and house prices rise, the rural poor tend to end up in the towns - often in the roughest, least desirable council properties. And I can testify that the character of country lanes is changing. The people who twenty years ago would have bought a big suburban house are now out in the sticks. My journey to work starts with 5 miles of back roads, once empty, now made dangerous by the solicitors and sales directors doing sixty in their Mercs and 4x4s. They all live in the converted stables of a local stately home - a development the size of a small village. Affordable housing at £400,000 a pop.

UPDATE - the Countryside Agency's new report is here (5 pdfs - approx 400k each) for those of you with fast links.

And the Indie cover the report well here.

More than a million people every decade are now leaving England's towns and cities to live in the countryside, according to new figures.

Between 1981 and 2002, the rural population grew seven times faster than the urban one, at 81,000 (0.7 per cent) a year, compared to 48,000 (0.1 per cent). Just over 14 million people (28.5 per cent of the population) now live in England's rural districts.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Can We Have Our Boats Back Please ?

Those pesky Persians are at it again. How to put a stop to it ? A cutting-out expedition ? Or do we ram them with our triremes ?

Decisions, decisions.

Shackleton Shot My Cat

Chippy McNeish, the carpenter on the James Caird, the lifeboat which carried the men of Shackleton's expedition 800 miles to South Georgia, is to have a bronze sculpture of his beloved tabby cat erected on his grave. Shackleton ordered the shooting of the cat along with the sledge dogs, after their expedition ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice and the expedition marooned with little food.

Without McNeish's skilful adaptation of the boat for its voyage, the expedition would have been lost. But for questioning Shackleton's authority after the loss of the Endurance, McNeish lost the confidence of his leader, and was not awarded the Polar Medal despite his contribution to the saving of 29 lives. McNeish died in poverty in 1930.

Another feat of exploration was announced today - the first privately owned spaceship flight. Burt Rutan, who designed the first aircraft to fly non-stop round the world, is an engineering genius.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Aristocracy Of Mind

Great Times article by David Brooks, with perfect parallels for Britain.

The percentage of voters with college degrees has doubled in the past 30 years. As the educated class has grown, it has segmented. The economy has produced a large class of affluent knowledge workers — teachers, lawyers, architects, academics, journalists, therapists and so on — who live and vote differently from their equally well-educated but more business-orientated peers.

Quite. We can see the same thing here as a larger percentage head for college each year. The middle class isn't just increasing in size but changing in character, a trend accelerated by deindustrialisation. The BBC's weekly 'Any Questions ?' radio show was known to radical 1970s students as 'Any Fascists ?'. Now the audience are the people who fill the Guardian's letters page. Still middle class, but the middle class has changed.

This phenomenon will be even more marked in the UK, where the state-funded sector is so much larger - all those social workers and healthy eating consultants - and the industrial working class has shrunk more than in America. We saw in the local elections that the anti-war vote was (outside Muslim areas) primarily middle class and that Labour's vote held up in areas with a high number of working-class voters.

As the 'left' middle class expands, so the definition of 'left' changed to reflect the interests of that class. You could call that a Marxist analysis, or a Mandy Rice-Davies analysis. It would, wouldn't it ?
My generation were more interested in sex, drugs and rock'n'roll than in the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. None of us thought we'd do anything like actually making things for a living (alright, I'll except pottery, knitwear and wood furniture). Real working class people, with their unreconstructed views, could be a little embarrassing (too like the parents ?) - although an NUM donkey jacket from Saltley had all the status of Bilbo's mithril coat.

And the definition of 'right' changed too. Fifty years ago a socialist could advocate the nationalisation of 'the commanding heights' of the economy while simultaneously supporting economic protectionism, the imprisonment of homosexuals and abortionists and upholding the monarchy. The grammar school was taken for granted as the path to education for ambitious working-class youth. Now a prospective Labour candidate with such views would be offered counselling for his deep seated problems.

The old working class changed too. It shrank as our industrial base disappeared (started under Wilson, accelerated under Thatcher, continued under Blair) and as the skilled beneficiaries of the Thatcher years moved off the estate. It also lost large numbers to the underclass, the non-working class - many of whom have disppeared from the unemployment figures thanks to the tripling of the long-term sickness and disability figures (started under Thatcher, continued under Blair).

Where America leads, we tend to follow. Blue-collar America has long been more conservative than white-collar. In my youth, canvassing at election time, I remember the warm response of the terraced streets, the coolness on the new detached estates ('You're the scum of the earth !'), the relief at finding the occasional middle class leftie there. Remembering our changing definitions of left and right, how long before it's the other way round ?

NOTE - David Brooks is the author of the wonderful and recommended 'Bohos In Paradise', a book about the people who need a Freelander and North Face jacket for the three-mile commute to the IT centre.

"To calculate a person's status, you take his net worth and multiply it by his antimaterialistic attitudes. A zero in either column means no prestige, but high numbers in both rocket you to the top of the heap. Thus, to be treated well in this world, not only do you have to show some income results; you have to perform a series of feints to show how little your worldly success means to you.... You will ceaselessly bash yuppies in order to show that you yourself have not become one. You will talk about your nanny as if she were your close personal friend, as if it were just a weird triviality that you happen to live in a $900,000 Santa Monica house and she takes the bus two hours each day to the barrio. "

Cash For Good Causes

"An illegal network has channelled hundreds of members of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF party into Britain, a BBC investigation has found.
Birmingham-based Zimbabwean Community UK is thought to have given fake documents to party members and coached them on how to falsely claim asylum."

Zimbabwean Community UK was created last year with an initial £5,000 grant of lottery money.

Not the first time. I thought this story was entertaining - unless you were a victim.

But it all pales into insignificance compared to with the £340,000 given to the secretive John O'Reilly, who from a council flat in Birmingham runs Miscarriages Of Justice UK (no white middle class victims need apply - like Tony Martin) and the National Coalition Of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, a group with [irony]no political agenda whatsoever[/irony].