Saturday 30 April 2011

What is it that makes our Royal Family so special?

Whether you're in favour of the monarchy or not, it's hard to argue against the fact that the marriage between Prince William and Kate Middleton was a major national event.

I have to admit I was getting tired of the endless coverage in the media before the wedding, but when the big day finally arrived I actually enjoyed the occasion.

This wasn’t just a major occasion for Britain it was an international event, apparently up to 2 billion people worldwide watched the wedding.

It made me think: Why is our Royal family so popular? What is it that the rest of world finds so fascinating?

There are quite a few royal families around the world, but none of them holds the world’s attention like ours.

Nobody cares about the royal families in Holland or Sweden. The Spanish royal family gets a bit of attention now and again but they’re all minor league compared to the British.

I’m not a monarchist and I would never call myself a republican; but I do have a certain amount of respect for an institution that lasted for over a 1000 years.

While other European powers were overthrowing and killing off their royals in wars and revolutions, ours managed to survive. This has made us almost unique and although republicans will hate to hear this, it gives Britain an identity that many other countries simply don’t have.

Americans are fascinated by the Royal family – mainly because they don’t have one, and also because the United States was founded on the principle of escaping the rule of a British monarch in George III. Maybe the look at our Royal family and are reminded of what their founding fathers rejected. As for our European neighbours maybe our royals remind them of what they once had and have now lost.

I think if you’re going to have an institution like the monarchy you might as well have one that’s good. That’s one thing you can say about this country – we know how to do royalty well.

The wedding was impressive, we know how to put on our show, especially when the rest of the world’s watching.

There's always the ongoing debate on the relevance of the monarchy and it's role in British society. I think after Friday's wedding we've seen there's still a deep emotional attachment to the royals. They still manage to help define a big part of Britain's national identity. As long as that remains the case, the monarchy will be around for many years to come.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Well said Obama!

What a ridiculous situation we had today over in America with the release of President Obama's birth certificate, proving that he was born in Hawaii and is an American citizen.

For the last few years there's been various conspiracy theories, the most prominent being the 'birther movement' which claims Obama wasn't born in America and therefore has no right to be US President.

It would be easy to dismiss such theories as the opinions of a few extremists but that's not the case. There's a significant majority of Republican voters in the US that either don't believe or have doubts that Obama was born in America.

I've talked about this in previous blogs and it's quite sad that Obama has had to finally come out and confront this issue head on.

The doubts over Obama's birth certificate reveal a number of things; firstly that many parts of America still have difficulty accepting Obama as President, but not only that they have difficulty accepting what Obama represents.

Related blogs

One in Five Americans think Obama is a Muslim

Obama may be President, but some Americans refuse to believe

The conspiracy theory surrounding Obama's birth certificate is part of a wider movement to undermine and discredit the President.

By arguing that he wasn't born in America, it promotes the idea that Obama is somehow an imposter, and outsider, someone who shouldn't legitimately by President of the United States.

America has never had a President like Obama - the fact that he's black/mixed race is a clear indication of this. For traditional white conservatives, right wing Republicans, Obama represents a different type of America. One that's to put it bluntly more 'browner', more diverse, more multicultural, and more inclusive.

Obama represents a changing America and this is what many on the Republican right and their supporters don't like whether it's at a subconscious or conscious level.

Because they don't like this, they try and portray Obama as being an 'alien' some how un American an 'outsider'. I'm not keen to play the race card but I doubt very much whether these same conspiracy theories would have emerged had Obama been white.

The question now is whether these rumours will now disappear following the release of Obama's birth certificate. I doubt it, but as Obama said today there are far more important issues for both him and America to talk about.

Now Andrew Marr admits to his own super injunction

How ironic that a day after posting my 'nothing super about super - injunctions' blog, the BBC presenter and journalist Andrew Marr admitted that he'd taken out an injunction to prevent reporting of an affair he had a few years ago.

I thought this was already common knowledge within media and political circles. I heard about it a few years ago, which makes you think whether there was much point to the injunction in the first place.

Despite the huge embarrassment to him I think he's done the right thing.

Monday 25 April 2011

Nothing super about the super - injunction

Newsflash! Premier League footballer has an affair with topless model. How many times have we heard that revelation?

This is what we've heard this week, but were not allowed to know who it is because there's a gagging order or super injunction in place. I think I know who it is, although I admit I'm not 100% sure.

You might remember last year the footballer John Terry took one out to prevent reports that he'd allegedly had an affair with the former girlfriend of his ex team mate Wayne Bridge.

The issue that's emerged this week is whether super injunctions pose a threat to press freedom and are they just a way of the rich and famous silencing legitimate press investigation?

From the reports I've seen and read, I'm not convinced they're in the public interest.

The rise of the super injunction began a few years. Originally the media couldn't even report that an injunction existed, let alone the details of the injunctions.

Things have changed since then - injunctions can be reported, individuals involved can be identified, all except those people responsible for taking out the injunction. This usually means those who are rich, famous and powerful enough to do so.

Naturally I'm inclined to be against super injunctions - potentially they do pose a threat to investigative journalism and press freedom.

I have however been looking at the other side of the argument. In recent cases, Judges have ruled in favour of injunctions to protect the privacy rights of individuals.

Everyone's got a right to a private life and just because someone's having affair it doesn't mean the whole world has to know about it, but I don't think it's right that the rich and famous should take advantage of privacy laws to cover up their own misdemeanors.

Last Thursday I was reading the Spanish sports paper MARCA. They claim the footballer at the centre of the allegations is Jermaine Defoe. I doubt that's right - the player in question is meant to be a 'family man'. Jermaine Defoe isn't married.

I've now been reliably informed that it's a Man Utd player, but as I have no money to fight any legal cases I'm not prepared to reveal who it is.

I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for celebrities and sports stars who claim press intrusion into their private lives as as result of their own indiscretions. I doesn’t really mean a great deal if one footballer or another is having an affair.

I do however think there is a public interest in exposing someone’s private life, if their private conduct undermines their public position.

Sports stars like John Terry and Tiger Woods tried to stop the media knowing about their sexual affairs, but they were fair game. They made money and profited from endorsements based upon their image of being family men. The fact their private lives contradicted this means it was legitimate for the media to expose them.

When it comes to the rights and wrongs of super injunctions we shouldn't let the debate be overshadowed by the trivial issues of footballers having affairs.

It's right that the press and other people complain about press restrictions imposed by super injunctions, but we should be looking at bigger and more significant issues at stake then the usual tabloid 'kiss and tell' stories.

It might not be quite as exciting, but if you have major companies, multinationals and other powerful figures using super injunctions to cover things up and prevent legitimate investigate journalism taking place into their business practices then that's something to worry about.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Why do we all love Adele?

Earlier this year I went out and bought Adele’s second album 21. I think I must have bought it a day or two after its release. Little did I know that in buying the album I was helping to create a musical phenomenon.

The album went straight to number one, and after ten weeks she’s now spent more time at the top of the album charts then any other female artist in history.

Today in the Times, I was reading that if sales continue at its current rate everyone in Britain will own a copy of 21 by the end of the year.

So just what is it about Adele that everyone seems to love?

I have to point out, I haven’t jumped on some Adele bandwagon. I bought her first album 19 when that first came out a few years ago.

Ironically enough that’s now back in the album charts and she now has two Top 5 albums. Up until last week Adele still had two top 5 singles – a combination no artist has managed since the Beatles.

I don’t normally expect artists that I’ve liked from day one to become a huge phenomenons. It’s easy to think that if an artist is liked by too many people then there must be something wrong with them. There too safe, dull or unchallenging.

I’m not going get all pretentious about such things. If I like something that I think's good and millions of other people feel the same then fair enough.

The thing is I’m still trying to figure out why Adele? Why now? And Why this album? A lot of 'whys' I know.

I’ve heard various theories – Unlike her females contemporaries like Lady Gaga, Rhianna or Amy Winehouse, Adele seems pretty normal and down to earth girl from Tottenham, North London.

Then there’s the argument that she’s a ‘throwback’ to another era, a straightforward singer where the focus is on the power of her voice and nothing else. Her success is due to her own singing and writing talent. She hasn’t been propelled to fame because of X Factor, or tried to create an image that’s overtly sexual or controversial.

Again I wouldn’t disagree with that, but I’m sure there’s lots of singers out there you can say the same thing about.

With declining record sales and an increasing fragmentation of the music market, a success story like Adele’s does seem even more significant.

The music industry and critics start asking questions on how this success has come about, what’s been the magic ingredients and formula for this success, what does it mean for the music industry.

I like to think that a good voice and strong songs will always go some way in helping to create a successful recording artist, but sometimes you have to accept there isn’t always a logical or obvious reason behind an artist or album selling millions.

Some albums come along and it just happens. Sometimes it’s a case of good timing, but then I think there’s a lot of other unknown factors that can contribute to an artist’s success that no marketing campaign or musical talent can ever account for. I suppose that’s what makes music so interesting.

If you’ve got the Adele album, you should leave a comment on why you think the album’s proved so popular.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Premier League Update

At the end of last year I wrote my half term Premier League report, looking at the season so far for all 20 clubs.

With the end of the season approaching, I thought it would be good to look back on what I wrote in December and see how my thoughts and predictions were doing.

Not exactly a shock but I did say Man Utd would claim a record breaking 19th League title - this despite being one of the most average Man U sides I've seen in years.

No team has really deserved to win the league this year, all the main contenders have serious flaws. It's been at the bottom of the table that's been fascinating with half the division finding themselves in a relegation battle.

Flawed at the top

Man Utd will deservedly win their 19th title, but only because the other main contenders have been so inadequate.

Arsenal have had their usual end of season collapse, which isn’t even a surprise and must be getting quite boring for all Gooners.

As for Chelsea, despite an improvement since Christmas they still look like a team in decline. Too many players past their peak and the transfer of Torres has so far has been a disaster. Hard to tell whether Ancelotti will still be around next season.

I did predict that Man City would finish runners up, but in some ways they’ve been the biggest disappointment.

Mancini is far too conservative for English football, the ‘team’ still play like a bunch of highly paid individuals, and its embarrassing how over reliant they are on Tevez. They’ll do well to hang onto 4th spot, but even that’s not guaranteed.

Spurs are still in the race for a Champions League spot and even though it’s unlikely, a strong finish from Liverpool could still see them scrape in.

Spurs have been so entertaining, but the excitement of Champions League football looks to have distracted them from the bread and butter of the league.

I hope they make it, although the humiliation of their performance against Real Madrid will act as a painful reminder of many of their weaknesses.

Roy Hodgson was still in charge of Liverpool when I wrote my half term report, but now it’s back to the 80’s with Kenny Dalglish returning. It’s good to see him back.

He’s galvanised the club and although there’s still a lot of work to do, they’re heading in the right direction. The signings of Suarez and Andy Carroll will prove good business in the long term.

Excitement at the bottom

Turning attentions to the bottom of the League this has been one of the most exciting relegation battles I've ever seen. There are no truly bad teams this season. For every team in the bottom half or at least the bottom 6 you can argue a strong case on why they'll either stay up or go down.

If you asked me who I think will go down, I’m going to stick my neck out and say Wigan, Blackpool, and Blackburn.

Wigan don’t score enough and although I did think Blackpool would stay up, the amount of goals they let in makes me think its back to the Championship for them. Finally I’ve gone for Blackburn but I could easily have said Wolves.

Blackburn have a tough run in and that’s why I’m going for them over Wolves. Had they stuck with Sam Allardyce they wouldn't be in this trouble.

Wolves still are in big trouble and defensively are a mess. A problem they’ve had for a few years now. With Kevin Doyle out they’ve lost their focal point in attack. He doesn’t score many, but his hard work and link up play will be missed.

Still in the bottom 3 you’ve got West Ham. They’re a funny team. One week you think they’ll stay up the next you think they’ve got no chance. I look at their team and think they’ve got good players, but mentally they're weak. They should have enough to survive though.

Moving up the table you’ve got the two Birmingham clubs. My own team Blues went through a dip after the Carling Cup win, but we’ve refocused now, and although it won’t be pretty, there’s enough grit and determination for the team to just survive.

Across the city at Villa, everyone will just be glad to see the back of this season. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gerard Houllier decided to quit. You just get the impression that he’s the wrong manager at the wrong club at the wrong time.

With the players they’ve got they should have done better, but with Ashley Young likely to leave in the Summer there’s big question marks over Villa's future direction.

Talking about managers who were at the wrong club at the wrong time, what a great job Roy Hodgson's done since joining West Brom.

I was shocked by the decision to sack Roberto Di Matteo, but the chairman Jeremy Peace seems to have made the right choice. After a while there’s nothing exciting about being a yo yo club and it was really important for West Brom that they stayed up this season. With 39 points they’re practically there.

Midtable security? Hardly

And then we have the rest. Teams like Fulham and Sunderland could still in theory go down, but they wont. Don't know what to say about Fulham. Bobby Zamora's back, and they have a ridiculous Michael Jackson statue outside the ground.

Nothing to laugh about at Sunderland. If they had 3 less points and were on 35 and not 38 you’d have to worry for them.

Terrible second half to the season. It will be interesting to see what happens there in the summer, Steve Bruce might be under a bit of pressure.

Stoke are Stoke, horrible to watch but an FA Cup Semi Final to look forward to and another mid table finish. As a Stoke fan can you ask for much more?

Newcastle have had an inconsistent but successful season after winning promotion last year. The sacking of Chris Hughton still looks daft but Alan Pardew’s come in done alright I suppose.

You just know they’ll be more drama at that club, my feeling is that Newcastle fans still aren’t convinced by Mike Ashley’s intentions.

Finally that leaves Bolton and Everton. Everton have had a funny season, looked like it was going to be season of underachievement, but again David Moyes is managing to get the very most out of the squad.

You just wonder with Everton how long Moyes can keep doing this without serious new investment. He can’t take the club any further, but he doesn’t have many other options in front of him.

How about Moyes for the Spurs job, should Harry Redknapp take over England?

Sorry any Bolton fans reading, I haven’t intentionally left you till last. But what a great season for them under Owen Coyle. Playing attractive football, in a Cup Semi Final, top half of the table, it’s good times for the club. I’ve been really impressed with the loan signing of Daniel Sturridge, good bit of business.

So there’s my almost end of season update, I don't think I've missed anyone out. I’ll be back in a few weeks to review the end of the season.

Premier League half term report Part 1

Premier League half term report: Part 2

Sunday 10 April 2011

Is this the end of the phone hacking story?

In today's News of the World there was an apology on page 2 over the paper's actions in the phone hacking scandal.

The paper's owners News International had already made their own public apology on Friday expressing their 'genuine regret' over the incident. I couldn't help thinking that this must be the most humiliating thing that's happened to Rupert Murdoch and News International in recent years.

Reading today's Sunday Times (another paper owned by News International) it was ironic there was no mention on the scandal whatsoever.

So is this the end of the story? There's still the matter of the paper paying out compensation to individuals affected, but I want to know what this apology means for the future of the tabloid journalism particularly at the NotW. Are we going to see a drastic change in the way some tabloid journalists operate?

At the moment I can't seem to find reports asking these questions.

Related blog posts

In the end Coulson had to go

Tabloid phone hacking

Journalism back in the gutter!

Sunday 3 April 2011

At what size do women become 'curvy'?

An interesting question for you all out there.

I'm asking because there was a lot of controversy this week surrounding one of my favourite blogs .

Scott Schuman's The Sartorialist blog is one of the most influential in the world of fashion.

Schuman takes photos of the clothes people wear in some of the world's fashion hot spots, like New York, Paris and Milan. He then includes a few words on each photo, explaining what he likes about the style and clothes of the person he's taken a photo of.

He's caused controversy by describing one girl he photographed in Milan as being 'curvy' and 'sturdy'. Nothing too unreasonable about this you might think, but having looked at the photos, the girl can't be more than a UK size 10!

Have a look at the photos here and see for yourself. You need to scroll down until you reach the title On the Street....Angelika, Milan, it includes over 1500 comments.

Schuman's come out fighting and defended his comments, but for me a UK size 10 is not curvy, size 14 plus perhaps! But not 10.

The comments written have raised a debate on whether the fashion world should attempt to represent a more realistic picture of 'normal' women or not.

As much as I love Schuman's blog the term sturdy isn't appropriate for the girl in the photos.

It's another example of where the fashion world seems to exist in its own little universe, totally out of touch with the real world.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Are you interested in voting reform?

The reason I ask is that on the 5th of May there's going to be a referendum on whether we should change this country's voting system.

Don't tell me you didn't know about this? It's not everyday we have referendums and if we're potentially going to decide on changing our voting system, it's a pretty important topic to think about.

I've been reading a few reports here and there on the vote - the arguments for and against First Past the Post, or AV (The Alternative Vote) My problem is this: When I think about it, the more I realise I'm not really that bothered!

Part of me says I shouldn't think like this, and my attitude does surprise me; but it got me thinking. If someone like me can’t get excited about this vote (and I’m into my politics) does anyone else out there actually care?

If you don't know or you've forgotten why we're having this vote, it's because of the result of last year's General Election.

One of the conditions of the Lib Dems forming a coalition government with the Conservatives was that there would have to be a vote on electoral reform. This is the Holy Grail for many Lib Dems which isn't a surprise as under the current system they have the biggest disadvantage to overcome.

In the UK we use the First Past the Post (FPTP) system. In each parliamentary seat whichever candidate receives the most votes wins the seat. The Party that wins the most seats forms the government.

The problem with FPTP, is that the number of seats won by a Party doesn't always reflect the share of votes received. You end up with loads of 'safe' seats around the country where your vote doesn't count for much.

The alternative on offer is the Alternative Vote (AV) where voters rank candidates in order of preference.

To get elected a candidate has to win 50% of the vote. I this doesn't happen in the first round of voting, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their second choices are allocated to the remaining candidates for the second round of counting.

If a candidate then has 50% of the vote they get elected - if not there's a third round of counting. Still keeping up? Supporters of AV argue that less votes are wasted under AV.

It's important to remember that there's no perfect voting system, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses.

One of the strengths of FPTP is it leads to strong stable government. It's served this country well and for Labour and the Tories its worked in their favour. The problem for the Lib Dems is that they win so few seats in comparison to the number of votes they receive.

I've looked at a few stats, and it shows that even under AV the election results over the last 40 years wouldn't have been that different. The Lib Dems would have picked up more seats but not enough to ever form a government.

Last week, we had demonstrations in London over government cuts, the public aren't demonstrating over the unfairness of our voting system, it just isn't a major issue for most people.

When you look at the state of the economy, people losing their jobs, and the cuts, people have more important things to worry about.

For me it just doesn't seem that relevant at the moment. It's a referendum that's being imposed upon people, rather than something the public are demanding.

I'm still trying to decide if I'm going to vote. I probably will, but for all its faults I'm going to stick with First Past the Post.