Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Bull is dead

...long live The Bull.

We'd heard for some time that our old local, The Bull, had gone downhill lately. We'd noticed it ourselves the last few times we were there before we moved away. And now it is gone forever. Its empty shell stands on the corner of St John Street and Wynatt Street, EC1, covered in scaffolding, with a new nameplate - the Queen's Head or something equally generic - glaring out from underneath.

For some it was nothing more than a run-of-the-mill student pub, with overpriced lager and stale peanuts. For me it was.... well, a run-of-the-mill student pub, but one that you could enter at any given moment and be guaranteed to run into someone you knew, a place where the staff not only recognised you but would tell you if your friends weren't there, so you could go looking for them somewhere else. The scene of many a late-night socialist slanging match. A stopping-off point on the way back home from the market, and the site of one of the most memorable private parties I've been to.

So farewell, then, The Bull.
You were the lounge of my loungeless flat.
But I've since had better pints

at Filthy MacNasty's.

London keeps you thin

Huzzah! Finally, I can ditch that tiresome gym membership and splurge on a quarter-pounder instead, for it turns out that I live in an area which boasts one of the lowest obesity risk rates in the whole of England. Makes me feel a lot better about the hefty gnocchi with spinach and parmesan I had for lunch today at Carluccio's...

Gnocchi aside, it's little wonder there aren't too many morbidly obese people wandering around in Zone 1, what with all the organic tofu, crayfish and rocket, low-fat soy milk, 12-grain bread and other trendy nonsense that's flying about. I'm no expert, but judging from the map on the BBC website, it seems that obesity rates are to a large part influenced by economic prosperity. How else to explain such a strong concentration of the lowest (greater London) and highest (northern England) risk rates?

Of course, the astronomically high price of food in London might also be helping us lose our appetite a bit...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The madness of king George

Have you ever had one of those moments where something you've believed for a long time is suddenly brought home to you again, with a level of understanding so clear it makes you wince?

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail a few days ago with a link to a Google Video clip, but I've been so busy lately that I haven't had time to watch the whole thing through until this evening.

This is the clip.

To paraphrase a quote from Red Dwarf, "Hello, I am George Galloway MP, and I am quite, quite mad."

Looking at the whole thing objectively - if it's even possible to do that - the only vaguely valid point he makes is that the mainstream media has had a tendency to focus on the current conflict between Israel and Lebanon without putting it into much historical context. Fine. But then he goes on to essentially justify kidnappings carried out by what he calls a legitimate political organisation, so you be the judge.

Has it been definitely confirmed that "Gorgeous" won't be running for parliament at the next election? Because political opinions aside, his aggressive barrage of insults at the Sky journalist interviewing him must make him seem, well, pretty mentally unbalanced to the average viewer, and I can't imagine who on earth would want him representing them now.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Race to the bottom

Yes, I'm sure there are probably more important things to write about, but this story picked up by the BBC is so bizarre that I thought it deserved a mention.

If you thought the "controversy" over the voting tactics in Big Brother 7 was bad, wait til you see what they've got coming across the pond. The creators of Survivor, the original U.S. reality TV show, are planning to divide the "tribes" for their next series... according to race.

The Beeb says:
The network [CBS] announced on Wednesday that the 20 "castaways" would be initially segregated into groups of blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos before merging later in the series.

It said the move was aimed at addressing complaints that there had not been sufficient ethnic diversity in previous series.

Now, maybe I'm being thick here, but doesn't the idea of keeping three ethnic groups separated from each other preclude the idea of "diversity" altogether? And when the three groups are finally brought together, surely it'll do nothing but highlight their differences even more? Why does race need to be the big in-joke around which the whole show is based? This is crass, lowest-common-denominator entertainment aimed at morons who are looking for nothing more than a few cheap laughs over ethnic stereotypes. And, if there's any kind of tension that occurs when the three groups are unceremoniously dumped together, it won't exactly do much to help the cause of ethnic minorities in places like North Carolina, where inter-racial dating is still virtually banned, will it.

Or maybe I'm just being overly sensitive? I don't think so, but you tell me.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Faking it

Following the death of American photographer Joe Rosenthal three days ago, the BBC website today has asked the question of whether we should think any less of his famous "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" and other iconic war photos because they were staged. The other two examples highlighted in the piece are Yevgeny Khaldei's picture of a Red Army soldier raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin during World War Two, and the AP photos of the toppled Saddam Hussein monument surrounded by crowds in Baghdad in late 2003.

The BBC is fairly obvious in answering its own question with a resounding "No". As a journalist, and in spite of all my earnest Canadian media ethics training, I'm inclined to agree - albeit grudgingly. Yes it's important to have strong images to capture victory in armed conflict - war is such a bloody business that there will always be a need for moral justification, to ease the collective conscience. But if that's your argument, then isn't it only a short step from restaging events that have already occurred to creating events that didn't happen at all?

And of course, the nature of war itself means that capturing the exact moment when a significant event occurs can be next to impossible if the photographer wants to stay alive. But should the photographer or news agency responsible for publishing the picture be more upfront from the outset about the circumstances in which it was shot - if for no other reason than to avoid being tarnished by allegations of being faked later on?

Finally, I think it's worth pointing out that the last of the BBC's three case studies isn't really directly comparable to the first two in terms of how it was "staged". The two WW2 pics have in common that they were staged recreations of events that already happened, either hours or days earlier. The Baghdad photo was taken as the statue was being pulled down - for obvious reasons it's the kind of thing that can only be done once. While the BBC highlights the apparent addition of Ahmad Chalabi to some of the photos taken on the day, it's fair to say that the most controversial aspect of them is the fact that they crop out a lot of the surrounding area, making it look like a lot of people were there when in fact there were relatively few. Yet one of the first things photojournalists are taught is how to crop a photo to make it as newsworthy as possible. This isn't staging or faking an event, it's simply zooming in on the most interesting thing that's going on, the very core of the story. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if there were only 50 people there instead of 50,000 - what matters is that the statue was pulled down and symbolised the end of Saddam's regime, and that caused Iraqis who were there at the time to celebrate.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Swedish boob

Sweden - what's not to love? Technicians at national broadcaster SVT "accidentally" left a porn flick from a cable network playing on the screen behind their news anchor during a bog standard current-affairs programme, the press had a field day.... and not one single viewer complained.

Contrast that with the 17 people who complained to Ofcom over the "racy" material featured in a late-night Graham Norton (!) show a couple of years ago and you'll find a pretty compelling case to move to Scandinavia.

I'd love to find a YouTube clip of this so I could link to it here, but it will have to wait until I get home - Googling "Swedish porn" at work is probably not the wisest career move.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Here we go, yo

Wish me luck, ladies, I'm off to Stansted to see if Ryanair has got its act together since the madness of last week. Berlin beckons!

See you on Monday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


The sight of the world's media hovering around Boy George like starved vultures makes me sick! Mind you, so does the sight of my (very early) childhood idol and first-ever crush bloated and pasty-looking, picking up trash from a fenced-off parking lot in NYC. How the mighty have fallen... Think I might download "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" this evening for old time's sake - listen to it once - delete it - and never speak of it again.

Guess who's back..... back again.

Bunting's back, tell a friend.

She actually makes a few good points, particularly about the government's lack of ideas on how best to "engage" with the Muslim community. She's still falling into the trap of making sweeping claims about rampant Islamophobia without really backing them up with evidence, though. Oh, and making the Muslim Brotherhood and the MCB seem a lot more cuddly than they really are. But as soon-to-be director of the thinktank Demos, maybe she knows something I don't? Or indeed, maybe not.

And what's up with writing another rant for the Guardian less than two months after having published an emotional farewell piece? Missing the limelight, are we? I'm sure it's not the vociferous critics on Comment is Free that have lured Ms Bunting back to the paper so soon.

* * *

UPDATE: Anderson takes it one step further.

Friday, August 11, 2006


*cue the drum beat from Rock n Roll Part 2*

Ah, the perfect way to end the week - news of an upcoming Tribune piss-up! And an anniversary one at that! Reading Paul's take on events reminds me of why I chose to move to England in the first place. :)

There's a very good chance that I will be attending this, so I'll let you all know how it goes (of course, most of the people who read this will probably be there too, so perhaps not much point).

Have a lovely weekend.

Across the great divide

So it seems the Met have foiled a terrorist plot that could have led to as many as 10 planes being ripped apart by exploding Gatorade bottles halfway across the Atlantic. These are indeed interesting times, although I must admit I could do without the interest of discovering what state the check-in at Stansted will be like next week when I head off to Berlin for a few days. Still, I'd rather the police were over-cautious than under-cautious, given the circumstances.

What I find troubling is that I've noticed a difference in reaction to the "foiled plot" between, one one hand, the white people that I've spoken to, and, on the other, the Muslim and Asians I've discussed it with. In a nutshell, the former are terrified while the latter are completely sceptical that the threat even existed in the first place. Okay, so it was only a straw poll of just a few people, but still.

This is the fallout from the flop at Forest Gate, I suppose. But has that police disaster made all of us equally cynical about surveillance activities into other alleged terrorist plots? Judging from some of today's front pages, I would say no. But has the Muslim community (I hate this term, surely Muslims can be parts of other communities too) disproportionately felt unjustly targeted, to the point that they think it's all a huge conspiracy against them? If so, it's a serious issue that will serve to further divide opinion and alienate one part of Britain from the other.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mark your calendars...

Hurrah! Not one of my usual news sources, this, but I have it on pretty good authority that Ms. Marjane Satrapi will be making her first-ever public visit to the UK in October, as part of this year's COMICA festival. Speaking at the ICA (exact date and time still to be confirmed), her talk will be timed to coincide with the English-language release of her latest book, Chicken with Plums. I highly recommend all of Satrapi's books. Iranian or not, it's such a joy and a departure from the norm to read about contemporary Iran in a way that actually makes you smile, even laugh, that they are well worth a look. Plus, for those of us who don't speak Farsi, it's probably the easiest and most pain-free way around to gain some insight into the lives of ordinary Iranian women.

And in case you were wondering, chicken with plums (prunes, really) is an absolutely delicious dish. :)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Reporting the Middle East

Greetings, my pretties.

I've been away for a couple of weeks on the sunnier side of the Atlantic, and while I've actually been back in London since the 30th, getting back into the swing of things at work has proved time-consuming.


It now seems that one of the most troubling bouts of violence in a while has hit the Middle East, and is not only destroying the lives of many innocent people in both Lebanon and Israel, but also has the potential to destabilise the region as a whole.

Now, there are many excellent news forums and discussion websites for you to talk about what's happening in the Middle East and whether it's the right course of action to take. But for the purposes of this blog, which is ostensibly media-focused, I'm more interested in putting the following question to you:

Where can you go to read balanced, fair coverage of the Middle East crisis that does not
  • focus on one side's suffering while whitewashing over the other's?
  • choose to ignore the root causes or historical justifications for actions?
  • ignore the wider political and social context in which these actions are made?

I welcome suggestions of actual websites, newspapers and television programmes. Like most people, I have been closely following coverage of the events of the past few weeks, but it seems that virtually every TV news report, "expert analysis" newspaper article or blog entry that I read is biased toward one side or the other. Should this be accepted as human nature, "just the way it is?" Do newspapers always need to take sides, or shoud they stick to reporting the facts - all the facts.