Saturday 26 December 2009

Blues 0 Chelsea 0

Football on Boxing Day, always a football tradition in this country. I went down to watch Birmingham at home to Chelsea this afternoon. I took my dad along with me as part of his Christmas present. It was quite a lively entertaining game for a 0-0, but I think we should be beating the likes of Chelsea at home!

But seriously, who would have thought at the start of the season we'd be drawing at home to Chelsea and extending our unbeaten run to 10 games! Good times at Blues!

Chelsea will be disappointed as they had enough chances to have won the game, but we certainly competed with them and had a few chances of our own. Having seen the replays, I'm still not sure why Christian Benitez's first half goal was disallowed for off-side.

I think like most Blues fans I'm amazed at how well the season is currently going. I still look at the League table expecting to see us in 16th spot anxiously looking over our shoulders at the bottom three, but instead we're in the top 10 with 29 points from from 19 games.

I'm not sure whether I should be looking down the table or up, but I'm still thinking that with three more wins that will guarantee our Premiership safety.

There's a whole different atmosphere down at Blues these days, and it all began with the Carson Yeung takeover. I have to admit I was a little wary of what to expect from him when the takeover deal went through, but I think that was more to do with the fact that he appeared to be such an unknown quantity.

Since he's taken over, both he and his management team have made a real effort to communicate with the fans and get them back on side following the rather strained relationship the fans had with the previous owners.

So yes, overall it's a good time to be a Bluenose, in fact it's a good time to be a football fan in Birmingham. I admit I have a grudging respect for what Villa are doing this season as well. (yes you did read that correctly) It's all good for West Midlands football, and hopefully the media can spend a bit more time focusing on us instead of the big clubs in London, Manchester, and Liverpool.

Up the Blues!

Thursday 17 December 2009

The Christmas No 1 battle!

In today's Guardian I've been reading all about the battle for the Christmas number No 1. It's a straight fight between two different music cultures. On the one side there's this year's X Factor winner Joe McElderry and then bizarrely on the other we have the punk, rock, rap combination of Rage Against the Machine!

If you're wondering how an earth RATM's early 90s classic 'Killing in the name of' has suddenly emerged as a Christmas No 1 contender, it's all part of an organised campaign being waged against Simon Cowell and X Factor's recent monopoly of the Christmas No 1 spot.

Despite all of this, and the desire to stick two fingers up at Cowell and prevent McElderry getting to No 1. The campaign seems just as cynical and manipulative as anything that Cowell's previously done with X Factor.

The campaign was started on Facebook by a Tracy and Jon Morter who created a Facebook group entitled 'Rage Against the Machine for Christmas No 1'.

The group soon developed into a rallying cry for those people fed up with X Factor winners claiming the Christmas No 1 slot. The same thing happened last year with people trying to get Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' to No. 1 ahead of last year's X Factor winner Alexandra Burke.

I have to say I find it all a little childish. What's been created is an artificial battle that has nothing to do with people going out and buying a record based on its current popularity but rather a cynical attempt to prove a point to Simon Cowell.

So what if X Factor winners dominate the Christmas No 1 charts, if that's what the buying public want to hear then fair enough. It's up to other artists and record companies to produce and market a record that will appeal to the public for them to go out and buy it.

On a personal level I don't understand why the people behind the RATM campaign even take the charts so seriously in the first place! Again it's just the cliched idea that Simon Cowell is some sort of evil pop music svengali who's dominating the charts and preventing 'proper' artists from achieving success.

This attitude is more reminiscent of a 6th Form Common Room, full of silly students who think their musical tastes are culturally superior to most of the public, but then begin crying when their favourite bands start to become big and everyone including the masses starts liking them. It's time some people grew up!

There's a attitude amongst certain music fans, perfectly illustrated by the likes of the NME who always need something to define themselves against in order to demonstrate their superior musical tastes. These people can never be happy just listening and appreciating their own music. Instead they have to constantly tell the rest of us, just how bad shows like the X Factor are and the negative impact it has on the quality of the music charts.

As someone who has listened to music since the early 80s I know for a fact that there's never been an occasion where the charts haven't been slated by so called proper music fans.

Earlier in the week in an interview with BBC6 Music, RATM's guitarist Tommy Morello was quoted saying:

'I think people are fed up of being spoon-fed some sugary ballad that sits on top of the charts. It's a little dose of anarchy'

Is it really? Is this what anarchy looks like these days. Stopping an 18 year X Factor winner getting the Christmas No 1? It's hardly bringing about a new world order is it?

Besides, I'm not being spoon fed anything! I have my own tastes in music that I'm happy with and it doesn't bother me in the slightest whether what I like happens to be No 1 in the charts or totally obscure to the majority of the population.

RATM's lead singer Zack de la Rocha told Radio 5 Live that the campaign was:

'a wonderful statement... it says something about the real tensions that people are experiencing all over the UK and US as well, as people would love to experience something which reflects this.'

It really does wind me up to read such nonsense as the above statement, it smacks of pretentiousness to such an extent that I now want Joe McElderry to get to No 1 instead.

So for the first time in quite some time I will be eagerly anticipating this Sunday's Top 40 countdown, hoping that X Factor triumphs, something I never thought I'd hear myself saying.

Updated on 20 November 2009

Rage Against the Machine's 'killing in the name of' did become this year's Christmas No 1

Sunday 13 December 2009

Women football managers

Could there ever be a day when a women becomes manager of a men's professional football club? Imagine a women managing a club in the Premiership. It might sound far fetched, but it may well happen sooner then some people think.

I was reading an article on the BBC website earlier this week, about the current England women's football manager Hope Powell who said she would consider coaching a men's team. The question is, would any male professional football club consider employing a women to manage the team?

According to rumours, Powell was in the running to take on the position of manager at Grimsby Town after it was reported that she was seen leaving a restaurant with the club's chairman John Fenty.

Hope Powell

Powell has been hugely successful managing the England women's team, and when I read this story I thought it was intriguing that she was being linked with potentially managing a men's football league club.

If that ever happened it would be such a huge news story and a significant event for football not just in this country but around the world.

As a black women, Powell would be a footballing combination of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton all rolled into one. It would send out such a strong message in terms of equality and diversity within society.

Of course you can imagine the huge obstacles any female manager would have to overcome. I think mainly in gaining the respect of the footballers in the team. Despite her success with the woman's England team, there will still be those that will argue that her experience does not match that of managing a professional men's team.

Years ago, I remember watching a drama series on Channel Four called the The Manageress in which the actress Cherie Lunghi played a female manager of a professional men's football team. It was quite entertaining, but at no point did you ever think it could be a reality.

The programme aired 20 years ago, and since then the only women I can think of to have any real impact on the men's professional game are Karen Brady at Birmingham City, and the TV cook Delia Smith at Norwich.

We're probably still a long way off from ever having a female manager of a men's team, but if more women emerge such as Hope Powell, then the idea might not seem as far fetched as we might think.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Tiger's human after all!

It's almost impossible to avoid Tiger Woods stories at the moment. Everyday there's another revelation about his private life, another alleged mistress comes out of the woodwork. It's amazing that someone who previously had an image of being so boringly perfect and inoffensive has been leading such a colourful private life!

Since the story broke, I've been following the story mainly through the celebrity website TMZ. They seriously know their stuff, and what ever stories they run, seem to get picked up by the rest of the media.

I've never been a Tiger Woods fan. Not because I have anything against him personally. It's more to the fact that I can't stand golf!

I find the game totally boring, there's nothing about it that appeals to me. Following on from that, I've never found Tiger Woods remotely interesting either. If anything I've always found his public persona to be bland, middle of the road and boringly apolitical.

You might think that as the greatest player to have played the game, as well as being the first, and so far only black superstar in what's essentially a white middle class sport, he might have held some appeal to me.

Far from it. I still have no interest in the sport or him as a person!

The thing is, nobody really knows who Tiger Woods is. That's how I feel anyway. He's always come across as some marketing man's dream. The great golfer, who also happens to be black, who's so clean cut and upstanding. Yet behind that manufactured image he was really just some 'preppy fratboy'

I read a great piece on Woods today, by the media journalist Roy Greenslade in the London Evening Standard. He made a really good point about how Woods and other celebrities in such times of crisis always call for the media to respect their privacy.

In Wood's case he's made millions of dollars in endorsements and advertising contracts by promoting and marketing himself as this supposedly perfect, clean cut, no scandals sports star. This is his 'brand' which he's been partly responsible for in creating.

Greenslade's point is that he's traded and profited on his fame and persona, the fact that his personal misbehaviour has now compromised this image, means he can't have too many complaints about media intrusion.

In time this whole episode may do him some good. All that's happened is that we now know he's just like everyone else and isn't so perfect. I'm sure he and his marketing team will be thinking up some new strategy on how he can emerge from this setback, with his brand still in tact.

He might suddenly start appearing on talk shows giving interviews, presenting himself as now an ordinary guy like the rest of us who makes mistakes! I should be some celebrity PR guru myself!

Despite his current problems his sporting achievements will always outweigh anything else he does. All he's done is show he's just another sportsman who likes to sleep around. He's not the first and won't be the last.

Saturday 5 December 2009

World Cup draw

So England will play the USA, Algeria, and Slovenia in the 1st round group stage in next year's World Cup. No England fan can possibly complain with this draw. The game against the USA will be a good test, but overall there's a lot of reasons to be optimistic.

I don't really know much about Algeria and Slovenia, but you'd expect England to be too strong for them. The USA game will be interesting. Already I'm hearing how it will be our chance to avenge our shock defeat to them in the 1950 World Cup finals.

Looking at the rest of the draw, like most people I'm pleased England avoided France and Portugal. I have to say I'm totally bored with playing Portugal in major championships!

Assuming England top Group C, they will face the runner up from Group D which includes Germany, Australia, Serbia, and Ghana. You'd expect Germany to top the group, but any one of the remaining three could finish second.

I'd prefer not to play Australia, purely on the fact that we have such a big sporting rivalry with them. The game would be too much like a derby match, and anything could happen.

As for the rest of the groups the most interesting is clearly group G with Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, and Portugal.

I'm disappointed that Ivory Coast are in such a tough group again, as I had high hopes that they could make a real breakthrough in this World Cup for African nations. Even if they get out of the group behind favourites Brazil, they're most likely to end up playing Spain in the Second round.

With Group G being the most interesting and nearest thing to a 'Group of death' I've decided Groups E and F are competing for the title of 'Group of Boredom'

Holland, Denmark, Japan, and Cameroon in Group E hardly sets football pulses racing, but the winner has to be Group F. In that group you have Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, and Slovakia.

The Italians always have a reputation for being slow starters. If they get off to another slow start it will surely be down to the tedium of the opposition they face.

In saying this, I'll probably still end up watching just about every game in the tournament regardless of who's playing!

Only six months to go, let the count down begin.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

The London Tube - A fight for survival!

A dog eat dog world, everyman for themselves! A Darwinian struggle for survival, where only the strong survive and the weak perish. Sounds like a nightmarish vision of a society gone wrong? Actually it's life on the London Tube according to a report published this week by the London Assembly, which revealed shocking levels of overcrowding on the underground!

Apologies to those of you who don't live and work in London and don't have to use the Tube on a daily basis. But for those of us who do, this report only confirms what we already know!

Perhaps my introduction was a little tongue in cheek, but I think most people will admit it can be a battle some days.

In the report entitled 'Too Close for Comfort' passengers told researchers that they 'suspended normal codes of behaviour' when travelling on the Tube.

One person was quoted as saying 'I'm a different animal on the tube..' All of this said as a result of the stress and challenges of the rush hour commute!

The two worst lines for overcrowding were the Central and Northern, which by coincidence are the two lines I use everyday to get to work!

No matter how stressful and uncomfortable some journeys might be, I can't say that I turn into a completely different person and abandon all my usual codes of conduct.

For me its all about going into your daily commute with the right attitude. Not that you're going to war, but you've got to be 'up for it' so to speak. A certain assertiveness is needed when travelling during rush hour.

I've lost count over the times where I might be running late, the next train is coming in 2 minutes and there's no room on the platform to move. I think to myself: 'I am getting on this train no matter what! This train has my name on it!'

I'm not going to literally fight to get on, but I'm going to do what I need to do within acceptable public behaviour to make sure I'm on it.

At the end of the day despite what the report has said and highlighted, it doesn't mean to say that anything is going to change soon, because it most likely isn't.

Since the first time I moved to London, the tube has always been overcrowded, but you just except it as being one of the downsides and frustrations of London life. London makes up for it in other ways. I also think packed overcrowded transport systems are just part and parcel of modern big city living.

To be honest I've been to other major cities around the world, Tokyo is one place that springs to mind. Overcrowding on their train and metro system is ridiculous, but they do redeem themselves by the fact that the words 'delay' or 'engineering works' simply don't exist.

You'd like to think there's going to be major improvements on the tube network in the next few years, particularly with the Olympics in 2012, but you can't help but be cynical about these things and feel that nothing will really change!

Tech Etiquette

I was sent a link to this article yesterday which I thought was quite amusing! It's called Ten Tips to Tech Etiquette, you can read it here.

I had to laugh and nod my head in agreement with some of the comments!

Having read the article, had to agree with the comment about Google. Office discussions and debates always seem to end these days with 'Lets Google or Wikipedia it!'

Definitely liked the comment on 'Drippy Facebook Losers' I had a bit of a moan the other week about the annoying friends request you get from people on Facebook.

Those requests from people you hardly know, or who you were never friends with in the first place!

The other annoying thing about Facebook is peoples inability to have a private life anymore!

Every personal thought and private details of someone's life, all have to be shared with the rest of the world these days. Lets learn to separate our private and public lives shall we.

Saturday 28 November 2009

It's my birthday!

It's my birthday today, I'm 34! How did I get that old? Happy birthday to me!

I thought I'd have a look and find out some interesting facts about 28 November!

The 28 November is the 332nd day of the year.

I share my birthday with Alistair Darling the current Chancellor of the Exchequer and the shoe designer Manolo Blahnik.

On my birthday in 1975, the only interesting fact I could find was that East Timor declared independance from Portugal! I was hoping something a little more exciting might have happened!

1975 is the year of the rabbit in the Chinese zodiac calendar

On this day in history:

William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582.

Friedrich Engels The co-author of the Communist Manifesto was born in 1820.

John Major became Prime Minister in 1990

The writer Enid Blyton died on this day in 1968.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

David Beckham has asthma.

It was revealed today that David Beckham has been suffering from asthma since childhood. The way it's been reported in some quarters you'd think his career as a footballer was some kind of triumph against all the odds! As someone who's also had asthma since childhood. I can say it's not something that's ever stopped me from taking up sports and leading a fairly active lifestyle.

Asthma has become increasingly more common in the last 25 years, so it's not really a surprise that more and more top sports stars have been revealed to have the condition.

What has slightly surprised me is the idea that asthma is some kind of barrier to sporting success. In the most extreme cases it's a very serious condition, but for most people it's perfectly manageable and doesn't have a huge impact on their lives.

My own asthma is quite mild, and I normally only use my inhaler at certain times during the year, or on occasions when I'm doing sport.

I suppose because its David Beckham, its reported as a major thing when really it isn't. I except that he's managed to play sport at a significantly higher level than myself.

I don't think my Birmingham under 15 and 16 Basketball championship medals quite compare with Beckhams countless league and cup triumphs with Man Utd and Real Madrid.

But having asthma certainly didn't hold me back in my own sporting efforts. I can proudly say I managed to become a black belt in Karate whilst growing up, and today I play badminton to a reasonably high standard.

Looking back to my childhood, having asthma almost made me take up more sports in order to remain fit and healthy. I was always one of those kids that did every sport going, so maybe in some ways asthma was a good thing. It made me take health and fitness more seriously then other people may have done. I certainly don't ever remember thinking or being told I couldn't do something because of it.

If Beckham is seen as a role model for youngsters with asthma then great, but kids just need to be told to carry on doing what they want to do, as there's no reason why asthma should stop them.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Do you believe in climate change?

Last week in The Times they reported on a poll they'd conducted which revealed that only 41% of people questioned, believed that climate change was the result of man made activities! You can read the article here.

I was surprised to hear this as we're always being told by politicians and environmental groups that climate change is one of the most important issues facing the world. Obviously this message isn't getting through according to the Times poll, but why is this?

The report said that only 41% of people excepted established scientific fact that global warning is a man made phenomenon. Almost a third (32%) held the view that the link had yet to be proven. 8% said it was environmentalist propaganda, and 15% said that global warning isn't even taking place!

These finding suggest to me that political leaders and environmental groups are failing to successfully argue the case of global warning. Secondly the consensus view that says global warning is real and man made has a number of sceptics amongst the public.

I don't always get the impression there's a real debate on climate change. The consensus view never seems to be challenged in mainstream media, but the poll by the Times suggests that there's an alternative view out there that isn't being heard.

Another thought I had when reading this report is this. I don't think that climate change is a major political issue for most people. What with the world economic crisis, and the ordinary concerns of day to day living, climate change isn't that big a deal!

I have to be honest myself and say that although I believe global warming is taking place and I appreciate its importance, it's never been top of my own political agenda.

There's so many worthy causes and political issues competing with each other for our attentions. For example I've always been concerned about human rights and I've been a member of Amnesty International for a number of years. Global warning is just as important as human rights but I just feel more passionate about human rights then I do about global warming.

So where's it all going wrong? Why aren't we being convinced by the politicians and environmentalist?

Firstly, the affects of climate change don't have that immediate and direct impact on most people's lives. We hear about how the world will be so many degrees hotter in 100 years time, but the majority of people today won't be around then. It's too far in the future so the dangers don't feel as obvious.

I know environmental groups will argue that this shouldn't matter, but it's still difficult to persuade people that the effects of industrialisation and the increase in C02 emissions will have potentially disastrous effects for future generations when there's so many other issues that concern people.

It's not like for example the threat of global terrorism, whereby people have seen and experienced the attacks of 9/11 in New York, or here in the UK with the 2005 London tube bombings.

You don't have that immediate threat and impact with global warming. I know you can argue that populations in the developing world are already suffering the consequences, but sometimes you have to accept that these people are too far away and distant for us in the West to identify with. I'm not saying that this is right, it's just how it is.

One of the problems I feel is that the threat of climate change has been over played. People have switched off from listening to apocalyptic visions of the future which despite scientific research are often the worst case scenarios

World leaders have a great opportunity next month at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit to convince sceptics that global warming is real and represents one of the world's biggest threats.

This conference will be the biggest climate change conference in history and will look for an agreement amongst the world's major industrial nations to reduce global C02 emissions over the next 10 - 20 years.

There's so many obstacles that need overcoming for the summit to be a success. Firstly world leaders need to convince people in their own countries of the threat of climate change.

Secondly that people in the West need to change and adapt their lifestyles; and finally in persuading growing economic powers like China and India that they need to limit their own economic growth and ambitions to combat against climate change. It's not exactly going to be easy. I'm doubtful as to what will be achieved at the summit.

I think there needs to be a new approach from politicians, scientists and environmental groups. Hearing nightmare visions of the future won't necessarily work in convincing people of the current problems we face.

The consensus of climate change may be universally held amongst these elites and protesters but perhaps a more subtle approach and some new strategies are needed to convince the sceptics out there.

Monday 16 November 2009

Is X Factor killing pop music? No!

On Saturday I was reading an article in the Guardian entitled Is The X Factor killing pop. My first reaction was to think no it isn't! People are just taking the programme and the themselves far too seriously!

The feature reported that the singer Sting believed X Factor had:"put music back decades". This was said in his own words as part of his general attack on the show. I always find comments like this a little bit pretentious to be honest.

In previous years I haven't always been a huge fan of X Factor but to say a Saturday night singing competition is killing the music industry is rubbish!

The article highlighted the current dominance that the show has over the pop charts, and how in recent years the Christmas Number One has been exclusively held by the winner of the show.

Personally I can't think of a time where the charts have been more irrelevant to me. Who actually listens to the charts these days? I barely know who's number one anymore, and to be fair I don't need to know. The album charts are far more important and a more accurate reflection of what the public are listening to.

This type of attitude shown by Sting and other critics is just the same old argument about the merits between manufactured artists and supposedly 'proper' bands/artists. This is where some of the backlash against the X Factor is coming from.

I'm actually quite bored of hearing this argument now. X Factor performs two functions; yes there is the music element of trying to find a new star, and to be fair the programme's record of this has improved quite a bit in recent years.

Firstly with Leona Lewis, and now with JLS and last year's winner Alexandra Burke. The Second element is about providing pure Saturday night family entertainment. How else do you explain the appeal of Jedward?

Clearly you have to except that only a certain type of artist can win X Factor. There's no point watching the show expecting to find the new Blur or Radiohead, that's not going to happen. Bands like that would never go anywhere near X Factor and Simon Cowell wouldn't even pick them.

Why don't people just except that there are different routes to mainstream pop success. There's nothing inherently wrong with becoming a star through an X Factor style show.

If you've got talent and ability then what's the problem? The artists that I've mentioned such as Alexandra Burke and JLS seem to be doing well for themselves. They clearly have a good team of writers and producers behind them who can bring out the best in their talents. This is what you need.

The most successful girl group around at the moment are Girls Aloud and they emerged from a reality TV talent show, but again with good writers, producers and their own talent they've established a relatively long pop career producing good credible pop music.

I get the impression sometimes that people are always looking for someone or something to complain about, by saying this or that is killing 'real' music. It's increasingly boring to hear.

When I first started buying music in the late 1980s, critics always complained about the producers Stock Aitken and Waterman whose records dominated the charts. A certain 'national treasure' by the name of Kylie Minogue emerged from this production stable.

In the 1990s with dance music being quite big, there were too many 'faceless' dance acts dominating the charts and killing pop music! Now people are moaning about X Factor.

It's funny how back in the 90s you had the whole Britpop thing going on, and only a few years ago, you couldn't move for indie guitar bands dominating the charts. Nobody seemed to be complaining then!

I for one was getting tired of indie guitar music dominating, so I don't mind the fact that things seemed to have moved on a bit.

These so called 'real' bands have had their success and haven't been hampered by anyone. It's simply that music goes in cycles. You still have Glastonbury which is now the biggest music festival in the country.

It's now also a mainstream cultural event far removed from its 'alternative' roots! Live music has never been bigger, and many artists old and new make most of their money touring. Is X Factor killing this aspect of the music business? I don't think so.

Much of X Factor is simply Light Entertainment and Karaoke. At the end of it there may be one or two contestants who might have a certain something about them to go on and forge a pop career.

Good luck to them, I don't have a problem with this. Just don't tell me that their success is killing pop music and preventing supposedly 'proper' artists from developing. They're not!

Sunday 15 November 2009

Brazil 1 England 0

After watching the rugby, I moved onto the football hoping for something a little more exciting. Losing 1 - 0 to Brazil is hardly a disaster. It wasn't our strongest team in comparison to Brazil, but if we learned anything it's that if we're going to win the World Cup we've got to hope that our best eleven are 100% fit as our backups aren't quite good enough to beat the very best!

I missed the last fifteen minutes as I had to go out but I think I saw enough to pass comment.

England did ok, without really creating too much. Brazil are rightly ranked number one in the Fifa World rankings , with Spain right behind them, and I think those two teams are setting the bench mark for international football at the moment. England shouldn't be too disheartened.

But it's obvious that to have a genuine chance of doing anything at the World Cup we can't afford to have our most influential players unavailable. This means Rooney up front, Gerrard and Lampard in midfield, Terry and Ferdinand in central defence.

We all have to hope that the curse of the metatarsal doesn't strike again before the tournament begins or another injury crisis emerges. It has to be expected that during the course of a tournament, players will get injured or suspended and some of our second string players will have to come in and step up.

Saturday's game was a great opportunity for some of these players to really stake a claim and to be honest not many of them did.

I think that Fabio Capello knows this and realised from day one when he took over, that England have just enough decent players to seriously challenge the world's best, but we don't have much in reserve.

I have a lot of faith in Capello and I'm confident that he is, and will get the best of the England squad.

In general England shouldn't be too fearful of anyone in International football. Yes there are some good teams about, but with good organisation and discipline England should be a match for anyone.

Anyone that is except Brazil and Spain. I would have included Argentina with them, as I still think they have some really great players to pick from, none more so than Lionel Messi, but Maradona is doing his best to demonstrate how not to manage a major international football team and this is holding them back!

When it comes to England I've said this before, I'm just waiting for the potential World Cup Quarter Final Game. Anything less than that will be failure. The Quarter Final game is a minimum requirement and it's the game that matters. Win that one and we have a realistic chance of getting to the final and winning the World Cup.

It doesn't really matter to much to me what happens at the moment. No friendly game can re-create the tension and pressure of a knock out World Cup match. Everything is about building and developing the squad to take us past that Quarter Final game.

England 16 Argentina 9

Watched the rugby yesterday, pretty uninspiring stuff from England, but I suppose a win is a win . That's really all you can say though, as the performance was nothing to write home about! I can't see where this England team is going, except backwards. It could be humiliating next week against the New Zealand All Blacks!

The problem I think England have is that they don't know whether they're planning for the long term ie the next World Cup in 2011 or the short term, where it's simply about winning matches and building confidence.

If England's management team came out and said the ultimate aim is in building a team to challenge for the World Cup then that would be fine. England fans would know where they stand and what the a long term goal was.

Results wouldn't necessary be the most important thing, as building a team for the future and blooding young talent in the international arena would take priority.

But England haven't done this at all. It's probably too late to start bringing in young inexperienced players as it would only mean that England would potentially lose more matches due to this lack of experience.

On the other hand, the short term goals aren't really working either. I know there's a huge injury crisis at the moment which has weakened the squad for this Autumn's internationals, but it doesn't excuse yesterday's performance which was full of basic errors.

From the games I've watched, and listening and reading the comments of former players and commentators, it seems that England are too conservative and scared of losing.

There's no cutting edge to the play, no spark or imagination from the players. I get the impression that some of the players have been over coached to the point where they don't know how to think for themsleves on the pitch. Nobody wants to take chances or try something out of the ordinary.

At times yesterday against Argentina it was so tedious. Even England coach Martin Johnson admitted it was difficult to watch in places.

In the first half there was too much of an aimless kicking game that was boring to watch and achieved nothing; and if you want to instill confidence in players then a good start would be in playing people in their proper positions. Watching Ugo Monye at Full Back was painful as he dropped one high ball after the other.

It's asking too much to expect England to beat the All Blacks next week, I can't see how that's going to happen. Maybe a crushing defeat would be a good thing to really shake things up, so that major changes could be made. We can then hope that England can realistically compete in next year's Six Nations Championship something I'm not too sure we can. We'll have to see.

Bring on the All Blacks!

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Innocent to remain on DNA Database

It was announced this week that the Home Office will be holding the DNA of innocent people arrested in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for no more than six years on the national database. Why are DNA profiles of innocent people being held for so long in the first place? I'm totally against this decision and see it as another example of this government's attempts to erode our civil liberties.

The Government has introduced this measure following the European Court of Human Rights ruling from last year, which stated that it was illegal for this country to hold the DNA of innocent people indefinitely on a national database.

I couldn't agree more with this ruling. Scotland seems to have the right idea, as they delete DNA profiles of individuals who are not charged with any offence. I don't understand why the Government doesn't apply this to the rest of the country.

The argument put forward in favour of a large scale DNA database is that it allows the police to use DNA to solve crimes. The Home Secretary Alan Johnson was quoted saying:

"It is crucial that we do everything we can to protect the public by preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. "

Well this is obvious. Clearly there has been a number of high profile cases solved through the use of DNA, which has been accessed from the database.

The issue that should be noted is the relatively small number of crimes that are solved through this evidence, in relation to the large numbers of innocent people already on the database. I don't believe it's justifiable.

If you're arrested your DNA will be held under the following circumstances:

Convicted adults - indefinite
Unconvicted adults - six years
Unconvicted, but arrested for terrorism - possibly indefinite
First minor offence - five years
Second minor or first serious offence - indefinite
Unconvicted 16 to 17-year-olds - six years for serious offence, three years for minor offence

In addition to this, people who voluntarily provide their DNA to help with police investigations will also have their details held.

Personally this is something that I'd never do. Not because I don't want to help the police solve serious crimes, but because there's no reason why any government requires my profile to be stored.

The database came into existence in 1995 and to begin with only the DNA of convicted criminals was retained. The government then decided to change the laws in 2004 which meant anyone arrested for a recordable offence would have their DNA details held.

The clock should be turned back to before 2004 as the measures now introduced are a compromise, made to comply with the European Court legislation and appease civil liberty groups. It hasn't succeeded though.

Shami Chakrabarti the director of the civil liberties pressure group Liberty, was quoted on its website saying:

“It seems the Government still refuses to separate the innocent and the guilty and maintains a blanket approach to DNA retention...."

"Nobody disputes the value of DNA and anyone arrested can have a sample taken and compared to crime scenes. But stockpiling the intimate profiles of millions of innocent people is an unnecessary recipe for error and abuse...."

There are serious ethical questions that need to be considered when we think about a national DNA database.

I know it helps in solving more crimes and convicting criminals, but the problem I have is when you have so many innocent people on it. It implies that anyone is a potential criminal. We already have the largest DNA database in the world and I wonder what this says about the type of country we live in?

DNA evidence is mainly used in crimes of a sexual nature or murder, which despite media coverage and public perception are very rare crimes.

Secondly, your DNA profile is a physical part of you. Why should any government hold this information for such a significant period? What reasons do they have if you've never been found guilty of a crime?

Sometimes I think it's good to be a little bit suspicious when it comes to the motives of governments holding too much personal information about you. This probably explains why I was also against the introduction of compulsory ID cards.

Finally, I've discovered that certain groups of people are inadvertently discriminated against. For example, records show that black men are more likely to be arrested then other ethnic groups in the UK. This has resulted in a situation whereby 40% of all black men now have their DNA stored compared to 9% of white men.

To use the word 'disproportionate' is an understatement when you consider that black people in this country only make up 1% of the population!

Your DNA in my opinion should only be held indefinitely if you're arrested and convicted of a crime. If not it should be removed immediately.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Pointless Facebook friends requests

Another day, another pointless friends request on Facebook from someone I haven't spoken to since I was probably 10 years old. Someone who in no shape or form I would have considered a friend. Why are they bothering?

This is one thing that annoys me about Facebook. People who try to add you as a friend just for the sake of boosting their numbers. In most cases you haven't spoken to them in years and you were barely friends with them in the first place.

For me it's usually people I went to school with, or from the same area I grew up in. I log onto my hotmail account somedays to see an email telling me that such and such a person has added me as their friend. Always a name I've completely forgotten, and normally someone I'm not remotely interested in hearing about.

My first reaction is simply to groan, before saying to myself:

If we weren't friends 20 years ago, we're not friends now!

I have a growing list of people who have tried to add me, who I refuse to confirm as a friend. I just don't quite have the guts to press the ignore button. One person tried to add me on two occasions!

Why? Leave me alone!

For a lot of these people there's no reason why they should even want to add me. It's all just a pointless waste of time. Secondly some of my very best friends aren't even on Facebook. It's a joke to not have them on my profile, but instead to have people I last spoke to back in 1991!

One thing that might persuade me to add such people is if rather then just sending a friends request, they actually took the time and effort to write a proper message. Just something saying 'hi, how are you, how's your life going'

One kid I went to school with did this, and I really appreciated it. We exchanged a few emails and it was good to catch up. That's how it should be done.

For those of you thinking I'm being a killjoy, I'm not. I do like Facebook, and earlier this year I was fortunate enough to get back in touch with one of my closet childhood friends.

This was someone I hadn't seen in over ten years. We now meet up regularly when I travel home to stay with my parents and I know we're never going to lose touch again.

Before the internet and the growth of social networking sites, you met people throughout your life. People would come and go, before being lost in you own personal history. Now everyone you've ever crossed paths with is only a few mouse clicks away from getting back in contact with you.

Just move on. I don't need to have everyone from school or everyone I've ever worked with on my Facebook page, and a lot of these people certainly don't need me.

Monday 9 November 2009

Time to pull out of Afghanistan?

I don't know about pulling out, maybe we need to start talking to the Taliban? More British soldiers dying and now more questions being asked about whether we should be in Afghanistan or not.

I wrote about this back in the Summer in a post entitled 'Can there really be a military victory in Afghanistan?' you can read it here.

I think everything I wrote then still applies now.

There's been a real failure by the government to communicate to the public how our presence there is really helping in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

Although I'm not 100% convinced that British troops should be pulled out completely, We may need to redefine our goals and objectives in the country into something that is realistically achievable.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Twenty years ago today the Berlin Wall collapsed bringing an end to the Cold War. I can't believe it's Twenty years as it only seems like yesterday. It's obviously another sign of how old I'm getting; but looking back it was one of the most significant political events of my lifetime.

It's a bit of a cliche, but the Berlin Wall really was the biggest symbol of the ‘Iron Curtain’ and the division between the old Communist East and the Capitalist West.

Growing up in the 80s I thought there would always be this divide in the world. Before the rise of Islamic terrorism, the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries of Eastern Europe were the international 'bad guys', the enemy that was the biggest threat to our way of life.

This is why when the Wall fell, it felt like such an historic and revolutionary moment. For years I'd seen images and read about people who had risked their lives trying to escape across the Wall to the West for a better life.

In 1989 everything suddenly changed and it was all so quick! After growing protests and opposition to the East German government, people were suddenly dancing on top of the Wall, smashing it to pieces and celebrating their freedom.

At the time I remember thinking the world would be a much safer place from now on if our former enemies were now collapsing and embracing our political ideals.

Clearly this wasn't the case. The collapse of Communism ended up creating more new challenges and dangers with the effects still being felt today.

Having studied history at university, and particularly the rise of the Cold War, it seems that in the West we may have overrated the threat that the Soviets actually posed.

The regimes of the old Eastern bloc were not as strong as we might have imagined, and one by one the governments of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany all collapsed like dominoes!

In 1995 I spent a day in Berlin whilst inter-railing across Europe. It was amazing to be standing outside the Brandenburg Gate, to be beyond the 'Iron Curtain' and so soon after the Wall fell. I promised myself I would visit the city again to see how the city would develop after unification.

I haven't managed it yet, but I will make it back there someday.

Thursday 5 November 2009

The white beauty myth!

Earlier this week I was watching the second programme of Channel Four's documentary series Bleach, Nip, Tuck: The White Beauty Myth . It's part of a season of programmes entitled Race: The Last Taboo which the channel is currently showing.

This week's episode was both fascinating and depressing in equal measures. The programme focused on three people, one black women, and a man and women from Indian and Bangladeshi descent who all desperately wanted to change their features so that they could look more 'white'. At various points during the programme I sat there shaking my head at what I was watching!

The purpose of the show was to highlight the trend of supposed 'deracialisation surgery' which essentially means people from non European ethnic groups having plastic surgery so that they can have more white/European features which they believe to be more attractive.

All three thought their ethnic features made them less attractive, and in order to fit into British society and achieve success they had to change them.

The black girl from Essex thought her nose was too black and made her look poor! The Asian women of Bangladeshi origin wanted to lighten her skin as she believed she was too dark, and the man of Indian origin from Kent, wanted more European features so he would get more work as a fashion model.

Watching all of this it seemed obvious that they all had serious self esteem issues, and if anything they needed some form of counselling rather than plastic surgery.

I thought the most depressing aspect was the black girl called Jet, who appeared to want to cut herself off completely from her Afro-Caribbean background. Culturally I'd say she was white and she wanted to be white.

She was a proper Essex girl and at one point whilst being interviewed she had a Barbie doll which she claimed was the epitome of beauty! It was at moments like this that I was shaking my head!

I don't believe that most ethnic minorities given the chance would change their features to look more white, but the programme raised interesting questions about ideals of beauty and what constitutes attractiveness.

Within some black and Asian communities you are seen to be more attractive the lighter your skin and in Western culture the white European aesthetic is held to be the ultimate in attractiveness. Western culture says it is better to have a lighter complexion than a darker one.

All of this has been reinforced for hundreds of years, particularly through colonialism and it's incredibly difficult for such views to suddenly vanish over night.

You only have to look at the fashion industry as another example of the dominance of Western culture setting the bench mark of supposed beauty. The funny thing is, even most white people struggle to achieve this standard in terms of facial looks and physical features.

As an ethnic minority living in the West you have the challenge of being outside of the dominant culture, but you also have to integrate and assimilate with that culture on many levels in order to succeed in those societies. The challenge is to define yourself individually and for communities to define themselves, rather than let the dominant culture constantly define who or what you are.

There is great beauty in all races, but in the West you are exposed to images of one type of beauty dominating over all others.

A few years ago I went to visit my cousin who lives in Japan, before I went there I had never previously found the Oriental (not sure that term is political correct) or East Asian racial features attractive. Once out there I began to see there were loads of good looking women, but then I had to find the beauty in their features as there were no other racial groups out there!

I personally would never have plastic surgery on my face, I'm generally quite happy with the way I look. Thankfully I've got good levels of self esteem. I can fit in and successfully be part of British and Western culture perfectly well without the idea that my ethnic features are somehow a barrier or a hindrance to me.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Rise of the virtual mob!

Last week it was announced that the actor and comedian Stephen Fry had decided to quit the social networking site Twitter, after someone described one of his 'tweets' as being boring! Fry was quoted as saying "there is too much aggression and unkindness around"

The person who made the comment, a Richard Plum from Birmingham soon found himself the victim of a digital hate campaign from Fry supporters.

Talk about over the top! Plum was only expressing an opinion that was hardly that offensive! But it didn't stop a virtual mob posting over 1800 offensive remarks on his blog!

You speak to most people these days, and they're on some type of social networking site; Facebook, Twitter, Myspace are some of the most commonly known.

Overall these sites can be really good in the sense that they can link people and communities together. You can share, interact and express ideas and opinions with family, friends, and people from all over the world, but there does seem to be another darker side to social networking.

The attacks on Richard Plum were nothing more than a form of organised bullying which he didn't deserve. I'm glad that Stephen Fry actually made an apology and said he'd over-reacted, which of course he did. Why should such an innocuous comment generate so much abuse?

It's interesting though that only a few weeks earlier Fry had been on Twitter urging his followers to attack the Daily Mail journalist Jan Moir following her article on the death of the Boyzone singer Stephen Gately. The article was seen as being homophobic, and having read it I do agree that it was a poor article with a lot of innuendo and unfounded assumptions.

I didn't agree with it, but she was entitled to express her opinion. The reaction on Facebook and Twitter again had two sides to it.

On one side you had people mobilising themselves and arguing against what was seen as a homophobic attack on a dead singer which was all very good and commendable. On the hand though, some of the protests against Moir's article resembled an angry mob, shouting down someone's right to express an opinion.

The internet and social media is seen as a great way of enhancing democracy and giving more people a voice and a platform to express their thoughts, but there's fine line when people then join forces to voice opinions and disagreements that quickly descend into a mob rule that tries to suppress the freedom of speech of others.

Well done Boris!

I heard today that London's Mayor Boris Johnson intervened to stop a gang of teenage hoodies attacking a women with a metal bar last night.

I thought fair play to him for stepping in and having a go. As the figurehead for London it shows good leadership and sets an example to the rest of us that maybe we shouldn't always be afraid to step in and help others when they're being attacked or abused.

It made me laugh when I heard he'd chased after the attackers calling them 'oiks' How very Boris! But maybe he was lucky to be intervening in the right place at the right time?

What if it wasn't a couple of teenage girls but a gang of older lads? The story might have been very different. I always think that this is a dilemma that we face.

Sometimes in our hearts we'd all like to think that we'd help out and do the right thing by helping others, but then your head takes the more pragmatic approach and you realise you could just as likely to be on the receiving end of violence if you try and do something. Is it really worth it?

The sad thing is if we all take the pragmatic approach and do nothing, we're just sending out the wrong message. People can act as violently as they like in public and people will turn away and do nothing.

Monday 2 November 2009

Should footballers have a code of conduct?

After the footballer Marlon King was sentenced last week to an 18 month jail term for attacking and sexually assaulting a 20 year old women. There's been calls for him to be banned from football for life. Spending time in prison shouldn't automatically mean that a person can't resume their chosen profession, but I've started to think about whether footballers should have some kind of written code of conduct in terms of their personal and professional behaviour?

Sanctions can be imposed upon footballers relating to their conduct on a football pitch. Players can miss games through suspension if they pick up too many yellow cards or receive a red card for a sending off offence.

I was wondering whether it would be possible for players to be banned from playing as a result of their own conduct outside the game? Should players receive an automatic suspension from the game if they receive a criminal conviction?

When you have incidents of bad behaviour from players, people argue that footballers are role models and should be setting a better example for people. If this is the case, why shouldn't players be banned or suspended from the game if their personal conduct undermines public perceptions of professional football?

I've started thinking about this as I work in the world of medical regulation. For the most part regulating doctors, and more recently a diverse range of health professionals.

In my experience, doctors and other health professionals can be 'struck off' and prevented from practising, if their personal conduct outside of a professional setting falls short of the standards of conduct and performance set out by the regulators.

Could we ever have a situation where footballers are 'struck off' and banned from playing the game because of their personal conduct?

At the moment each individual football team can take their own actions regarding the disciplining of players. Wigan have already announced that they have sacked King, but they still signed him knowing that he had a string of previous convictions . A list so long, you wonder how he hadn't spent more time in prison.

On his release any club will be entitled to sign King. Most clubs particularly Premier League ones wont touch him, but there will be someone out there interested. Under my proposals, nobody would be able to sign him, until his suspension or 'striking off' had be removed.

From what I know, footballers have registrations which are held by their clubs. I know it's unlikely, but maybe the FA, the Premier League and clubs could all agree that a player's registration will be removed or suspended for a period should a player be found guilty of misconduct as a result of an off the field incident.

In the case of someone like Marlon King, once he's released he'd have to demonstrate and explain why he should be allowed to play again. I suppose it would be like parole board meeting. If it was decided that he should be allowed to resume his career then clubs interested in signing him could make their interest known.

To be honest I'm not sure whether any of this could ever really be implemented by any of football's governing bodies and interest groups. But I do believe that some footballers and it's usually a minority, need to take more responsibly for their own actions and conduct away from the pitch and realize the significance and consequences their actions have on their clubs and the professional game in general.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Ever thought about a portfolio career?

I was reading today about a book that's out called And What Do You Do? written by Katie Ledger. Apparently more and more people are developing 'portfolio careers' which involve doing two or more different jobs for different employers. It's a way in which people can develop more flexible or rewarding careers for themselves. They can earn a living doing one job, but at the same time follow a passion in another. I realised this is what I'm doing with my blog!

Hearing about this book made me think I'm already developing a portfolio career for myself. By day I work in the world of medical regulation, but I've always had a passion for writing which explains why I'm studying for my NCTJ in journalism, and why I'm now writing this blog.

In the book, Ledger explains that a portfolio career is not about holding down two or three different jobs. It's more about how each person can find a way of achieving both personal or financial gain in other areas.

Although writing this blog doesn't pay anything, and I'm only part qualified as a journalist. I know I'm doing something that I can say I have a real passion for, and since starting this blog I've been able to develop and learn totally new skills that I wouldn't have had the chance to in my day to day job.

For example, in the last few months. Not only have I been developing my writing skills on a regular basis but I've ended up learning all about online digital marketing techniques and strategies as a way of getting more people to read this blog.

According to Ledger there are more than 1 million people with two or more jobs, with many of these people running new home businesses.

It's funny but in terms of freelance writing I've even begun to see myself as being a little mini enterprise. My blog is all about marketing and promoting myself as a writer and a brand!

I like this whole idea of developing a portfolio career. I've found that trying to develop a freelance writing career has been incredibly liberating!

It's all about you trying to develop a new career that's essentially for the benefit of nobody but yourself!

At times during my working life, I've found there are too many frustrations, too many restrictions in terms of what you want to do. Boring office politics to negotiate or company hierarchies and structures to fit into.

The appeal of the 'portfolio' approach is that it's all about you! I think being in charge of your own career and your own destiny is really important.

At some point I might have to pick this book up, as it definitely sounds interesting.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Is this X Factor Hell?

Can someone please tell me what X Factor's John and Edward are all about?

How have they made it this far? How did they even get through Boot Camp? And what possessed them to do a cover of Britney's Oops I did it Again! What a ridiculous song to choose!

Everything about them baffles me!

I don't always watch that much of X Factor as it clashes with Strictly Come Dancing , but now I have to make an effort to make sure that I watch it, just to see their performance each week.

I know they provide entertainment, but the longer they stay in the competition and those contestants with some talent are forced to leave (What was Danyl doing in the bottom two last week?) surely the show will lose even more credibility?

I reckon they've got two more weeks at best, and then they need to go!

Sunday 25 October 2009

Question Time - Some After Thoughts

Having had a few days to reflect on BNP leader Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time. I've come to the conclusion that although the BBC were right in inviting him on, overall it was also a missed opportunity. Instead of a proper political debate, too much of the show descended into a Jeremy Kyle style slanging match, which when you look back inadvertently made Griffin look like a bullied victim. Last Thursday's show could and maybe should have been so much better!

I mentioned in my previous post that it would have been better and more interesting if the show had stuck to its normal format, whereby a number of different topics are discussed. There was too much focus on Nick Griffin and the BNP.

I've got to the stage now where I don't necessary want to hear about how terrible and disgusting the BNP's views are. I know this already! To be told the BNP is a racist extremist party is like someone telling me the world is round, or that two and two makes four. The debate needs to be moved on.

I want to hear about the BNP's policies on the economy, on education, public services, crime, and of course immigration. In particular I want a debate, whereby the mainstream parties can argue and highlight why the BNP's policies are totally inadequate and unworkable for this country.

Another point about the mainstream parties is that by constantly telling us what we already know about BNP, it lets people forget about their own failures in tackling the issues that have made some people vote for the BNP.

On last Thursday's show it was quite telling that none of the representatives from the three main political parties seemed to have a coherent policy on immigration.

It'll be interesting to see whether Nick Griffin will be invited to appear on Question Time again, but if he does, here's the type of programme I'd like to see.

1. Have the show recorded outside of London - say somewhere like Stoke-on-Trent, Wolverhampton, or maybe one of the big provincial cities like Birmingham or Manchester. Not everything about London life is truly representative of the rest of the country, this was the case with last week's audience. It was a little bit too London at times!

2. Have a normal Question Time format - Lets have the usual discussion on various topics and not just focusing on Griffin and the BNP.

3. Have more BNP supporters in the audience - What! I hear some people say. As controversial as this may sound it would be good for a proper balanced debate. BNP members can put questions to mainstream politicians and perhaps we can further understand the issues which are causing people to vote BNP.

4. More debate and less ganging up on Griffin - As I said previously, at times Griffin was made to look like a playground victim of bullying. Let him express his views and let people see for themselves how ridiculous and stupid they are. Lets not make him look like a martyr for the Far Right!

If anyone has any other views on this, then do leave a comment.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Nick Griffin on Question Time

Well I've just finished watching tonight's much anticipated edition of Question Time with the BNP's leader Nick Griffin. My first thoughts. Overall I'm glad that the show went ahead with Griffin on it. I was all in favour of his appearance to begin with, and after watching tonight's show I'm even more convinced that the BBC made the right decision despite the protests and criticisms that have been raised.

People argue about the publicity that the BNP have gained from tonight's show. That this publicity will only help to strengthen their support throughout the country. I find this argument annoying and to a certain extent patronising towards the public.

It's almost like people are scared to have the BNP's views aired in the open. For me that's where they need to be. I thought it was great to bring the BNP into the spotlight and let people question Griffin directly about his views and his party's policies.

Lets have a proper debate about these things. I don't understand this view that says that if we ignore the BNP and don't give them a platform that somehow they will just disappear, they wont!

If after tonight's show more people started to support the BNP, then that's something I'm prepared to deal with. If I blame anyone for this then I blame the mainstream political parties in this country, particularly the Labour government who have been in power for the last 12 years.

If the BNP are attracting more voters it's directly linked to the fact that Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are not tackling or addressing and in some cases ignoring many issues that are affecting certain sections of society.

In tonight's show, someone in the audience asked Jack Straw whether Labour's immigration policy had contributed to the rise in support of the BNP. It was questions like this that I felt made the programme worthwhile.

There are major issues regarding immigration in this country which need to be addressed and spoken about, and tonight's show tried to do that. We need to have a lot more debates like this. To not do so allows the BNP to spread more inaccurate information.

What I find personally worrying is not only this reluctance and failure by our mainstream politicians to adequately tackle the issues that result in people voting BNP in the first place.

There is also the fact that Griffin presents this veneer of respectability, some of the comments he made tonight about immigration and Islam are views which are held by a lot more people in this country then many of us would like to admit.

You only have to look at the front pages of newspapers like the Express and the Daily Mail on a weekly basis. They constantly have headlines about the threat of immigration or Islam in this country.

As far as I can see many of their headlines and reports actually help to fuel the type of prejudice and discontent, which logically leads some people to vote BNP.

I think the point I'm trying to get at is that politicians, the press, sections of the media, and the public need to be more open and honest about their own failures, their own lack of debate, and actions in creating a climate where the views of the BNPs are allowed to grow. Tonight's show was a good way of addressing some of these problems.

If I could have changed one thing about tonight, I would have liked to have seen a more 'normal' show, in terms of having the usual range of topics and issues to discuss.

At times there was too much focus on Griffin and I would have liked to have heard his views on other subjects like MP Expenses or Afghanistan.

I thought I'd only write a quick post tonight, but It looks like I had far more to say on the matter. I'll probably return back to this subject in the next couple of days when I've read more reaction and opinion on tonight's show.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Far too much stuff out there!

The other week I was reading an article by the writer Charlie Brooker who writes for the Guardian. He wrote an article entitled:

There's too much stuff. We live in a stuff-a-lanche. It's time for a cultural diet.

It was all about how he buys so many books and DVD box sets which he feels he has to read or watch, but invariably never ends up doing so, because he never has the time. Essentially he says there's too much cultural stuff out there for us to consume. Too many books to read, films to watch, and music to listen to. We all need in his words a ‘Cultural diet’. I read this, thinking to myself: ‘This is so true!’

I constantly find myself under pressure to consume and keep up to date with so many cultural topics and activities it's actually quite stressful!

For example, during an average week, my cultural requirements include reading a newspaper everyday!

I can fit in the Evening Standard on the journey home from work, but trying to get through a Guardian or Times on the same day is really pushing it.

If I do, I barely read anything. You can argue I should get my news from the web, but that's just as time consuming.

I still have loads of blogs and websites to read. I’ve recently discovered the benefits of Google Reader which now allows me to read and keep up to date with all my favourite blogs and websites all in one go. If only I’d discovered this sooner, as it's made my life so much easier!

When it comes to reading, I always find that Sundays are the worst. I wake up and look at my clock and see it’s 10:00am I need to get up, I have papers to read!

My schedule is usually News of the World which I begin by at least 11:00am. I then move onto the Sunday Times Sport section, which is then followed by the Culture Section, but recently I’ve been messing with my schedule and reading the main newspaper section instead.

All this HAS to be done by at least 2:30pm as I normally play badminton on a Sunday afternoon at 3:30pm The clock is always ticking!

If I’m not half way through the Culture section by 2:30pm I’m behind schedule. By the time I get home after playing, I then need to get through all the other sections I normally read.

If I’ve not read enough, it potentially throws my entire reading schedule out of sync for the rest of the week!

My bedroom floor is always covered with newspapers and magazines stretching back months that I haven’t got round to reading. I look at them all in despair sometimes and think,

‘Right, I’m throwing all this out into the recycling bin'

Then I have a quick flick through and realise I wanted to read that article about the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, or read about Michelle Obama’s charity work in the ghettos of Washington DC! It means those papers and magazines remain on my bedroom floor for a least another month!

On the book front, I reckon I’ve only read about four or five books this year, but I need to read more. I haven’t read enough novels this year, but where am I going to find the time to keep up to date with latest critically acclaimed releases or the Man Booker Prize winner as well as reading recommendations from friends, and other so called 'classics' that you’re supposed to read!

As well as not reading enough books, there's all the DVD’s I’ve got at home which I never watch and should make more of an effort to. But if you’re watching all the DVDs you’ve already got, where do you find the time to buy and watch new DVDs? I’m already conscious of the fact I don’t watch enough films, but there’s so many comedies and US dramas I need to have!

Finally there's music. I’m always reminding myself that I don’t listen to the radio as much as I used to, or listen to enough podcasts. How am I going to keep up to date with new music or rediscover old classics?

We’ve got to a stage where music has become so accessible, through downloading and sites like Spotify and iTunes it's now so easy to access, you’re almost overwhelmed by the choices on offer to you.

It’s like there’s no excuses anymore not to know about a classic album or some up and coming new band, singer, or music style. It’s all out there at the click of a button.

A colleague from work likes to talk to me about all the latest Urban dance music styles. She asked me a few months ago if I knew the tune ‘Head, Shoulders, Kneez & Toez ? I said no, by the time I discovered it, and felt I was up to date, little did I know it had already been released 6 months earlier!

Due to this sense of shame, I had to do some revision on the latest urban music styles such as UK Funky . I can now thankfully say that I’m up to speed on dance crazes like the Migraine Skank!

I loved Brooker’s comment when he said:

“I want to be told what to read, watch and listen to. I want my hands tied. I want a cultural diet”

I understand where he’s coming from with this so much!

The phrase ‘Less is more’ springs to mind when I think of all of the cultural stuff out there. We need to be more selective but I know this is easier said then done.

I’m not sure how I’m going to overcome this problem, either I need to manage my free-time like clock work (which doesn’t sound like fun) to fit everything in, or just except that I can’t keep up to date with everything that’s out there!

Having thought about it, I think I need to be more ruthless, and say ‘this is want I’m into and interested in, and I don’t have time to focus on other stuff.’

We’ll have to see if I can maintain this stance.

Saturday 17 October 2009

I’m now on Twitter!

A few weeks ago I decided to join Twitter. Nothing particularly unusual about that you might think, but considering that when I first started this blog, I wrote a post about how I thought Twitter was a pointless waste of time, it’s a bit of a turnaround for me.

Over the last few months I’ve slowly begun to change my opinions, and I’ve started to see that Twitter does have many potential good points.

I think the original reason that I wasn’t keen on Twitter was that I couldn’t understand the use or value of it. You can only post messages of no more than 140 characters. What can you say in such a small amount of space?

Secondly, it appeared to be the equivalent of the Facebook updates you receive from people, where they post their own comments, thoughts and updates on what they’re currently doing.

Of course I like keeping up to date with what my friends are doing, that’s one of the good things about Facebook - but I’m not interested in being constantly bombarded with boring, banal comments from people who have nothing of real interest to say. I assumed that Twitter would be exactly like this with millions of people posting irrelevant comments.

My opinions slowly began to change during this year’s Iranian elections. There were huge protests directed against incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following his controversial election victory.

During the protests against the election results, many people used Twitter as a way of communicating to the outside world what was happening on the streets of Tehran. It also allowed demonstrators to communicate and organise themselves.

This seemed a really important development as the Iranian authorities had censored many traditional media outlets. Foreign journalists were unable to find out everything that was happening on street level, but by following the tweet commentary and updates from protesters the rest of the world was able to have a better idea of what was going on.

Despite this I was still reluctant to join up, as I thought I already have my blog, in which I can communicate my thoughts and opinions to the world. Surely blogging is better than Tweeting as you can go into far more detail about stuff.

The reason I started my blog, was that as a journalism student it was important to start writing on a regular basis and have an ‘online presence’. I was told it was all about promoting yourself and your work.

I'm always hearing about how Twitter and blogging are is becoming important tools for journalists and freelance writers to promote their work and themselves as ‘brands’.

I’m beginning to understand this. You have a huge amount of celebrities promoting themselves as brands. The actor Stephen Fry has the most number of followers in the UK, and The Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah Brown is also a big twitterer.

But it’s not just individuals who recognise the value of promoting themselves in short soundbites. Many businesses are seeing that Twitter offers new ways of marketing and communicating with consumers.

In terms of advertising, there was at time when we had to sit through and watch adverts between tv programmes or listen to them on radio. Nowadays we can fast forward the add breaks if we’re not interested. Email adverts that come into our email accounts can be deleted as spam.

The thing with Twitter is that as a consumer we can make a choice as to whether we want to receive messages from a particular company or business. We can also communicate directly back to that company in the form of our own tweets. It’s now more of a two way process.

What I’ve realised is that by being on Twitter I don’t need to post loads of messages everyday if I don’t want to, but what I can do is pick particular individuals, organisations, and publishers to keep up to date on news, gossip, promotions and general networking with different communities.

Already this week, I had my first Twitter follower, a certain Krishnan Guru-Murthy from Channel 4 news! I thought this was a major coup after I decided to follow him, but I soon realised that he’s already following another 1500 people!

So far he tweets about what he’s doing on a daily basis, but also on news stories of the day, political gossip, what’s happening on the show that evening. Seeing as I’m interested in politics, it’s a way of being nosey and finding out little bits of info you might not always hear in a news bulletin or 30 minute programme.

I finally decided about a month ago that Twitter was something that I should at least make the effort to use more, but if I’m being honest, after creating a profile I couldn’t quite think of how or why I was going to use it.

After stumbling across a few other blogs, in which people had attached their own Twitter updates, it occurred to me that I could add Twitter to my blog as well.

During those days when I haven’t written a post, it would be good to have a couple of updated tweets giving my various thoughts and opinions. I can now see that it’s a good way of enhancing my current blog with more regular and shorter updates! Hopefully it will help to push and promote my blog further.

I don’t know what the future holds for Twitter, I read that it’s currently now valued at $1 Billions dollars, but it’s yet to start making a profit!

We'll have to see if it’s just another Internet fad, or whether it's now an essential marketing tool for businesses and individuals. I’ll stick with it as a way of pushing my blog, and putting more of my thoughts and opinions out there into the world.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Pop Life at the Tate Modern

After last week’s visit to the Royal Academy of Arts, I continued my cultural excursions by going to see the exhibition Pop Life at the Tate Modern.

The exhibition looks at the increasing commercialisation of art, in particular the ways in which artists have embraced the world of business and commerce in order to promote themselves and their work as ‘brands’

I thought this was a really interesting idea in which to base an exhibition on, and overall I really liked it; but since it opened last week, it’s attracted a certain level of controversy. There’s a lot of sex, some of it quite explicit and one piece has already been removed. Some of it made me question whether I was looking at art or pornography!

The exhibition is dominated by the work of Andy Warhol, and the exhibition appears to take its inspiration from the quote made by Warhol when he said:

I suppose for purists the idea of art taking on the practices of big business, marketing and advertising goes against everything that art is meant to be about. But having thought about it, why should art be any different to other art forms like music, literature and film?

Before I went to the Tate I wasn’t that familiar with many of the artists whose pieces were on show. Obviously I knew who Warhol was, and he seems to be the founding father of this commercial approach, but since then other artists have come along and taken these ideas and pushed them further.

Of the other artists included in the exhibition, I really liked the recreation of the American artist Keith Haring's Pop Shop. The original shop was opened in Manhattan’s Soho district in 1986 and sold various merchandise like T-shirts, posters, badges and toys all bearing the images of Haring’s work.

Keith Haring

I think this idea of opening up your own shop to sell merchandise, promoting your own work and ‘brand’ style of art, perfectly illustrates this commercial production of art. What I also liked was that besides the cool art work on display, they also played some wicked old skool house and hip hop which made you feel like you were back in 1986!

Another artist featured who has gone on to develop this commercial approach is the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. He's set up his own factory in New York to mass produce cheap art in various forms, such as sculptures, paintings, books, and videos.

There was a separate room with his work in, dominated by a large tv screen showing a video which featured the actress Kirsten Dunst, playing a Japanese anime character 'majokko' a magical princess.

She wears a blue wig and pink tutu and dances in the streets of Tokyo singing the song ‘Turning Japanese’ by the band the Vapoors.

The more controversial pieces were mainly by the artist Jeff Koons, whose ‘Heaven Project’ was being exhibited in a separate room. A room you can only enter if you're over the age of eighteen.

Inside it displays pieces depicting Koon having sex with his former wife the Italian/Hungarian porn star La Cicciolina. I wouldn’t have called any of it erotica as I thought it was too graphic for that. It just seemed like pornography masquerading as art.

I found it difficult to relate this work to the ideas of self-promotion and branding by an artist, unless Koon is simply trying to promote the idea that he managed to ‘pull’ a porn star.

Another piece I wasn’t convinced by was from the American performance artist Andrea Fraser. There was a room showing a film that she'd made, in which she has sex with a private collector. The collector paid $20,000 for the privilege, in order that he could have the opportunity of producing a form of ‘artwork’ with Fraser.

Now whenever I look at art I like to read the commentary and guide to give me some idea of what the piece is all about. I may or may not like the piece, but I still like to have some idea of what the artist is trying to say.

What's inspired the artist? What are they trying to depict or portray in their work?

For Fraser's film I read that:

‘by offering herself up for sale, she pushes….the viewer’s desire for intimacy with the artist to the logical extreme.’

I'm not sure about that! You can look at it as being, either a form of prostitution on her part; or the collector just acting like some kind of star struck groupie, by sleeping with an artist they admire?

The video was boring anyway, and it goes on for a good few hours. When I did have a look, it was just the pair of them fondling each other on a bed. It wasn’t sexy, erotic, or particularly interesting.

By the time I’d seen everything I did think to myself that Pop Life was a good exhibition. I didn’t like everything, some things seemed provocative for the sake of being provocative, but I’d never really given much thought to the idea of artists representing themselves and their work as brands, commodities, but when you think about it, it seems quite obvious really.

They only thing I’m slightly confused about is whether this commercial approach is about producing great art, or rather about promoting the artist as an individual and a brand. I may have to think about that one another time.