Thursday, May 25, 2006

Nerd alert!

Wow. With a few notable witty exceptions, most of the offerings on the current caption competition over at Harry's Place are eerily reminiscent of a similar comp held by Vice magazine a few months ago, where the winning entry was great, but all the losing entries were also published just to highlight how incredibly shit/slightly creepy they were. Some people just shouldn't be allowed near the bottom of a photograph.

Still, it's kind of nice to know that the good folks at HP haven't engaged in the BBC website's ruthless editing of entries for their many caption competitions, thereby making the Beeb's target audience seem unnaturally clever and, well, overbearing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thames Water splashes out

Busted! EC1 Cruise Control's spies in Swindon have informed me of a curious vision over at Thames Water HQ recently: Despite the hosepipe ban that has been in effect in much of South-East England since mid-March, a small team of cleaners was spotted over the past weekend, hard at work washing the exterior of the lovely Thames Water building.... with hosepipes.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Killing in the name of...

I'm no fan of the Army, but tonight's episode of Dispatches, entitled Battle Fatigue, on Channel 4 was long overdue. It essentially looked at young British soldiers who had been seriously injured (limbs blown off) while on duty in Iraq, and put forward a compelling case that neither the Army nor the government is lifting a finger to assist with their recovery, rehabilitation and physiotherapy once they've been returned to the UK.

Woefully inadequate military funding given the scope of the "Iraq operation" is obviously the main culprit here, and lucky new Defence Secretary Des Browne (who?) is likely to face some stiff questioning over the next few days. The gist of which will be, presumably, if these people risk their lives in the name of your government, why is your government doing so little in return to protect their lives?

Hosted by Andrew "Sexed Up" Gilligan, this was a solid piece of reporting, but one that I felt could have gone much further in light of the issues it brings up. From the earliest days of the war in Iraq, it was common knowledge that the US soldiers referred to the Brits as "the borrowers", due to their lack of the most basic of supplies. More recently, the widow of at least one British soldier killed in Iraq has made much of the fact that her husband's death could possibly have been prevented had he been given the correct protective gear to wear. Why do the Brits seem to be so terminally ill-prepared? Much was made in the Canadian media in 2001/2, when they entered the sandy brown plains of Afghanistan with a choice of olive green khakis or bright white snow camouflage fatigues.... but for Britain, which has a much bigger Army, the problem is rather less funny, and somehow a lot more disturbing.

'Cause everybody knows...

...She's a femme fatale!

It's a rare thing when your humble narrator gets bigged up anywhere in the blogosphere these days, and rarer still when it's by people who don't even know her. Therefore, it came as a particularly pleasant surprise to discover (three weeks after the fact - oops) that I was listed as one of's Friday Femme Fatales on 6 May. And all because of a post that I almost didn't publish because it might make me look, well, a bit prone to hysterics. Maybe it still does, but at least now I know my oddities are appealing to others. Vindication! (of sorts)

Many thanks for the plug, Natalie. :)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bits and bobs

Awfully sorry for the lack of posts here recently. It's been an emotionally charged week chez EC1 Cruise Control, but here are a few random news items that have filtered through into my sub-conscious over the past few days:

  • Illegal immigrants: I'm as disenchanted with the current government as the next person, but honestly, is it really such a shocker that John Reid has echoed David Roberts of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) in saying that he can't put a precise figure on how many illegal immigrants are in the UK? Isn't the whole deal with illegal migrants that they're, err, illegal, and therefore avoid detection by government organisations? Yes it's far from ideal, but the way this has been portrayed by the tabloids as a huge and unique failure of the British government is - I feel - wildly out of proportion. Every country has this problem, not just the UK. Stop trying to create a story where there isn't one.

  • Melanie Slade: And speaking of non-stories, this one's a humdinger. It's been less than two weeks since 17-year-old Theo Walcott was selected to be part of the England squad for this year's World Cup, despite the fact that he's never even played a Premiership match. So far, so sensational, and with the last teenager to play for England having become something of a prodigy in his own right, I can fully understand why the media have been devoting so much coverage to Walcott. But his girlfriend? I'm not easily shocked, but I have to say that I'm pretty disgusted at the way in which the Sun, Mirror et al have chosen to zoom in on Ms Slade and dissect everything from her looks to her potential PR earning power, even getting the likes of Max Clifford to speculate on whether she could become 'the next Colleen McLoughlin'. All without the poor girl so much as saying a word. At the end of the day, tabloids are only interested in selling units, but to manufacture a person's celebrity status and importance (did anyone care about George Best's string of girlfriends when he was still a teenage player for Man United? How long have Walcott and Slade been together, a month?!) and then disguise it as news in such an overt way is really breathtaking, not to mention insulting in the extreme. It's encouraging to see that she's told the press to leave her alone while she gets on with sitting her exams, but the sweet tone of her statement suggests that she won't be averse to flogging the odd soft drink or ringtone come July. No reason why she shouldn't, but the whole debacle sets a dreadful example to a generation of girls whose sole ambition is to become a footballer's wife.

  • Big Brother: "Hello, my name is Richard, I'm Canadian, and I'm a sexual terrorist." Great, now I have to watch the bloody show to make sure he doesn't make the rest of us look like idiots. Oops, too late.

  • New Statesman poll: So it turns out that Maggie Thatcher has surprised editors at the New Statesman after she bagged fifth place in their readers' Heroes of Our Time poll. From a quick scan, it looks most people voted her in because "she changed everything". Hmm, yes, but not necessarily for the better... Also, the intimation that "Margaret Thatcher told it like it was, in a way that so few politicians seem able to do nowadays" doesn't bode well for the popularity of Labour at the next election, if this is common thinking among NS readers. (Kind of a valid point all the same, though, even though I despise the woman.) Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Bob Geldof and John Pilger round out the top five.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Phones for Iraq: follow-up

Inspired by this post on Harry's Place a couple of weeks ago, I wandered down to the TUC headquarters on Great Russell Street this lunchtime to hand in my old mobile phone. The TUC are scouting for old phones to send to Iraq - where as you can imagine, mobiles are very expensive and hard to come by at the moment - to be used by the leaders of local trade unions.

The TUC says:

Unions representing workers in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan face
incredible challenges in defending working people and rebuilding democracy. One of their requests for solidarity from British trade unionists is the provision of mobile phones - crucial for any union organiser these days, but especially in Iraq where travel can be dangerous and landlines aren't sufficiently reliable or widespread.

Read the full press release here.

People are being encouraged to send in their phones by post, but given that my office is only a short bus ride away, and well, I didn't want to splash out on postage, I decided to hand mine over in person. I have to say, I'm a bit worried that there may not be as many people sending in their mobiles as there could be, as no one at the front desk had any idea about the campaign. A few phone calls settled the isue, and my beloved blue Nokia was handed over to the appropriate person - but yes, all this to say that if any of you have any spare mobile handsets (and chargers) lying about, it only takes two minutes to hand them over to the TUC. It doesn't get much easier to make a direct contribution toward rebuilding some stability in Iraq and promoting solidarity among the country's different religious and ethnic groups.

And, for those of you of the female persuasion who live or work in central London, there's the added bonus of getting to deal with the rather cute floppy-haired guy manning the reception at Congress House. :)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Clarke sacked, Labour stung

Charles Clarke has been axed from the Cabinet following last night's local elections disaster for Labour. I'm not in the least bit surprised. He may not have been directly responsible for last week's cock-up (and am I the only one who thinks that just 38 crims remaining out of over 1,000 in under a week ain't bad?), but this is about damage-control and popular appeal now, simple as that. I said last week that if there was a general election, the Tories would win. They already held a majority of the national vote at the local level, but last night they widened that significantly, and at Labour's expense.

Realistically, with an overall turnout estimated at a mere 36% (down three points from 2004), the Conservatives still have a long way to go before they can be confident about winning the next general election. Nonetheless, local elections are about protest votes, and the general shift towards the Right indicates how deep-seated Labour's image problem currently is. How things change in just under a decade.

Meanwhile, the BNP has depressingly become the second-largest party in Barking and Dagenham, although a recount is currently taking place. The party more than doubled its overall number of seats from 20 to 44 yesterday. While this is a drop in the ocean considering that there are about 22,000 seats in all, it is obviously still a cause for grave concern. After all, a simple protest vote against Labour could have gone to any number of mainstream parties on either side of the political spectrum. A vote for the BNP is a racist vote, and nothing more. What I'm curious about is why such a far-right party is winning any seats in the first place.

I think I am correct in saying that for historical reasons, neo-Nazi political parties have a slightly stronger hold in European countries than they do in North America. From personal experience I can tell you that no party that anywhere near resembles the BNP has won local council seats in Canada during my lifetime, even in immigrant-rich cities like Toronto. Why this difference?

The only thing I can think of is that the existing inhabitants of places like Toronto and Montreal are much better prepared and more willing to adapt to a stream of new people moving in from other countries. Much is made in the UK of the need for immigrants to integrate more successfully into their adopted societies - a point with which I agree wholeheartedly - but less is said of the need to answer the questions and concerns of those people who have already lived in these societies for generations. That ignorance breeds racism is hardly earth-shattering, but it seems to me that if there was some sort of programme in place to dispel the right-wing myths that these people are "taking our jobs" and "buying our houses", and explaning that they are often fleeing the most dire living conditions imaginable, perhaps the whities in Barking and Dagenham would be more inclined to get talking to these new arrivals and include them in their daily lives, rather than hurrying on past and looking at the floor.

A country like Canada was built on immigration in a way that England wasn't, and as such, it's probably had an easier time adapting to new waves of immigrants that continue to arrive. Still, in the globalised world that we live in, immigration has become the best way to support our way of life. Some people are obviously taking more time accepting this than others, but the core reasons for this need to be addressed. Otherwise, prosecuting the likes of Nick Griffin for incitement to racial hatred is simply treating the symptom instead of the disease.

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day Madness

Shame on me for choosing to work on May Day, the holy grail of all workers' bank holidays. Mercifully it was just for the morning, and by 1.00, with everything published, we were given the all-clear to head home. I decided to head over to Clerkenwell Green first, and watch the unions start their annual march on Trafalgar Square.

As these things tend to be, it was populated by a mix of the right-on and the rather creepy. I gave a hearty cheer as the NUJ delegation went by (well okay, I clapped; there were only about three other people around), and was even more pleased to see a group of Gate Gourmet workers, allied with the T&G. The last I heard was that the majority of them had accepted a voluntary redundancy package from Gate Gourmet under an eleventh-hour deal last September. Some stayed on at the firm, but the rest were given "compulsory redundancy". Over half a year later, it is encouraging to see that these few remain undaunted by adversity and continue to fight for workers' rights.


Sticking with the demo, let me throw out a question to all you readers: am I the only one who still finds protest marches to be, well, quite moving? Don't get me wrong, I'm enough of a realist to know that most demos in the capital these days tend not to result in much (if any) concrete action being taken by those in power. But at the same time, I don't know... I've never considered myself to be an overly emotional or naive person, but there's something about seeing a huge crowd of people from different walks of life uniting to march and voice their frustration or opposition that just gets me every time. And when they bring out the kids! Banging the drums! Always a killer. The cynic in me screams out "there they go, like lambs to the slaughter," but the inane optimist beams that there's hope for humanity yet.

As a journalist it's mortifying to have to brush away a tear while running alongside a protest march with a microphone, but I'll admit to it having happened at least once. It's absolutely horrible and totally uncool, and I dread the reaction that I'm going to get from even admitting this publicly, but I'm hoping I'm not the only one big enough to own up to it! Still, the early signs don't look good; I tried explaining all this to my boyfriend earlier today, and his considered reply was "You sound like an Orangeman." Eeeek.

Any other hacks ever find themselves getting caught up in the heat of the moment while on assignment? Be interesting to hear your experiences. We're not machines, after all! Journalists have feelings, too. :)

UPDATE: Gene at Harry's Place highlights the case of protesters who had a much harder time of things on May Day, and whose courage in marching is therefore about a million times more moving that anything I saw yesterday.