Friday, February 17, 2006

Leaving On a (easy)Jet Plane... 2

Don't look for me in EC1 or N4 until next Sunday, dahlings, as I'm off on a follow-up fact-finding mission to the beautiful six counties of Ulster for some much-needed R&R.

Essential reading

Hasta luego!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Council taxes going up...

...enthusiasm for 2012 Olympic Games going decidedly down.

Although I don't know where this BBC report gets its figures from. According to the Beeb, the 'average Londoner' will be paying £290 per year in council tax after planned increases to help fund the 2012 Olympics. Last time I calculated, my current council tax bill is costing me closer to £450 per year as it is. Are they really going to try to squeeze even more out of me than that? What about the people who earn even less than me? We all knew this was going to happen - no Olympics have been funded on business investments alone - but on top of how bloody expensive everything else is in London, well... it's going to be painful.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ah, youth!

A propos of nothing, I'm going to share with you a heartwarming experience I had on the top deck of the number 4 bus yesterday afternoon. So there.

We're hurtling along Upper Street, when a boy of about 13 gets on just before Highbury Corner. He makes his way up to the top deck, and grabs a seat right at the front, two seats before me. It's raining outside, and it's made the bus windows fog up with the condensed breath of weary passengers. So what does our hero do but lean forward and start to write something onthe glass with his finger. Not having much else to do, I look up to see what it is. It's his name, or at least I assume it is:


Ahh, I think, how sweet, waiting for the inevitable "woz here". But no. Now, what you have to try to imagine here is the painfully long, carefully considered pause this boy took between each stage of his masterpiece, like he was writing War and Peace instead of schoolboy garbage. It was priceless, especially given the fact that he was on his own, and had no one to be offended by what he wrote. The next bit went:

is GAY

Typical! I think to myself. But after 30 seconds or so of pensiveness, it got even better:

For Life

But will that suffice? How about something more, for extra oomph:

...and beyond!!!!!!

I was openly laughing at this point, although quietly. Nothing happened for about 15 minutes, but then, just before he got off the bus, he wrote one final word, just so that we (and Woodzy) were in no doubt as to the seriousness of his message:


Ah, youth! Can I adopt him?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The horror, the horror

The 2006 Winter Olympics get underway in Torino tomorrow evening. Nothing like an Olympic opening ceremony to get the old national pride going! Waiting for your country to be called into the stadium, feeling the lump in your throat as the crowds cheer, picking out the athletes you can recognise from the team, rubbishing this year's choice of outfits, laughing even harder at those worn by other teams... definitely more than enough cheese to satisfy everybody.

But, as the saying goes, the only thing worse than an Olympic opening ceremony is an Olympic closing ceremony, and in just over two weeks' time, Torino will be no exception. Why, you ask? It's all to do with who's hosting the next Olympic Winter Games in 2010: Vancouver. As per Olympic tradition, the next country to host the games gives a presentation at the closing ceremony, showcasing all their cultural niceties. I remember the Torino showcase at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, all Italian soft-rock and runway models sporting Versace couture. But that will pale into comparison with Canada's offering this year... Celine Dion?, I hear you laugh. No, no, no. Think something far more anaemic, far more pointless, and far, far more embarrassing for the nation at large.

Think Avril Lavigne.

On behalf of my country, I would like to offer my most heartfelt apologies.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Meanwhile, at the Superbowl...

Skipping briefly to the other side of the pond, America has been having its own freedom-of-expression issues to deal with lately, but perhaps none quite so bizarre as during last night's Superbowl half-time show. The Rolling Stones were the main attraction this year, and their three-song set boasted Start Me Up, Rough Justice and (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. A thrilling and unforgettable experience for all those who attended, to say the least.

However, two of those three songs were censored! At the request of NFL management, presumably still all hot and bothered after Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" two years ago, Start Me Up and Rough Justice each had one verse blanked out by broadcasters, thanks to a five-second time delay. And the offending verses were?

From Start Me Up: "You'd make a dead man cum."

Okay, I guess I can see the logic to bleeping that during primetime. I mean this is a continent (Canada is no better, unfortunately) where even words like "gun" or "ass" are dubbed over on the radio.

But for Rough Justice? Get this: "Once upon a time I was your little red rooster, now I'm just one of your cocks."

Um... hello? Are the Americans really so terrified of any hint of sexuality that they'll wipe out clever wordplay like this, which probably passed over the heads of 95% of the stadium audience anyway? This is paranoia taken to new heights, surely. Has the NFL board of directors been taking a cue from Mary Whitehouse? Hell, while we're at it, why not censor the equally (in my opinion) suggestive lyric from the same song: "So put your lips to my hips baby, and tell me what's on your mind." But was that one blanked out? Nope. Even though it screams BLOW JOB, the fact that it didn't include the word "cocks" made it acceptable.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Cartoon chaos

The growing controversy over the publication in several European newspapers of cartoons deemed offensive to Islam has been covered in detail by a virtually every news agency and media outlet there is. It seems that newspapers have become the frontline in the war of ideas between East and West, and free speech has once again become the most fiercely debated topic of the moment. One solid alternative source of information throughout the fiasco has been Mediawatchwatch, which is important to link to, given that all the mainstream UK news outlets are indirectly involved in the story themselves, their editors all having made a conscious decision not to publish the cartoons.

Yet while online message boards have been abuzz this week with calls to "buy Danish" following a boycott by several Muslim countries on products made in Denmark (after the drawings were first published by Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten), one thing that's been puzzling me today is why no one seems to be rushing to the defence of Jihad Momani. Momani is the (former) editor of Jordanian tabloid newspaper Shihan, who was fired by his publisher after having taken the bold step of being the only newspaper in any Muslim country to publish the cartoons. Okay, so he did it "to illustrate the extent of the insult against Islam and Muslims in the Danish cartoons". But even so, surely he must have done so with enough basic trust in his own readers to view the cartoons objectively and form their own conclusions about their original publication? The phrase "don't shoot the messenger" seems pretty apt here. King Abdullah said "Whilst we respect and revere freedom of speech, we condemn needless desecration and injury of Islamic sensibilities, such as the recent cartoons''. This respect and reverence for free speech didn't exactly apply to Jihad Momani, it seems.

That said, was it really necessary for so many papers to reprint ALL of the cartoons in question, when they were on record as being inflammable material and offensive to a large group of people? Free speech deserves to be defended to the hilt, but in this instance I think the point was rammed home a long time ago, and is now being dulled by sensationalism. And before anyone says anything, yes of course the actions of extremist gunmen in Gaza (and elsewhere) are completely unacceptable and so utterly OTT it's almost funny. But in the name of maintaining some sort of fractious entente cordiale, perhaps...? I have a feeling this debate is going to rage for a long time yet.