Monday, 31 January 2011

Why did police use CS spray on Boots tax protesters?

Police in Britain today, generally speaking, maintain the respect of the populace. They do a difficult, often dangerous job, which for the most part they are underpaid.
The occasions where officers fall short of the standards we expect of them hit the headlines. Thankfully such events are so rare that the contract between police and people remains firm.
This is why I was disturbed by reports that police used CS spray yesterday on demonstrators at a Boots store in London’s Oxford Street, during a protest by anti-tax avoidance campaigners Uncut.
I don’t know the circumstances in which the spray was used (by the way the UK solution is five times the strength used by American cops). But from the press accounts the Home Office’s stipulation for the employment of such irritants might not have been met.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Rampant sexism in modern Britain is a myth

There is an obvious error of logic committed by those women in the media,who have latched on to the recent sacking of two Sky Sports chauvinist dinosaurs; the male sexist conspiracy doesn’t seem to have damaged their career paths.
I don’t care much for the reply to ‘men are sexist pigs’ stories by male writers, who claim women have an unfair advantage in that they can bad-mouth men with impunity.
The truth is sexism has been on the retreat in Britain for the last 20 years, at least. It doesn’t mean it’s dead but not the norm either.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Rep. Kucinich - I feel your pain (well, some of it)

I have developed an aversion to healthy eating. For the third time now I’ve broken a tooth on an olive pit – or stone as we Brits call the little blighters more appropriately.
I was aware there were unpitted olives in my salad but for all my careful scrutiny one must have leapt on to a lettuce leaf just before I shovelled it into my mouth.
Add this latest disaster to a nasty cut thumb while struggling to open a sardine can and recently half-choking on a cod liver oil capsule, I’d have been far safer sticking to an exclusive diet of fish and chips.
America’s blogosphere has been unsympathetic to the predicament of Dennis Kucinich (pictured above). He’s the US Congressman who accidentally bit into an unpitted olive and is now suing a House of Representatives cafeteria for $150,000.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Who's actually offended by Andy Gray's off-air laddism?

Clearly there’s more going on in the Sky Sports affair, which has seen the satellite broadcaster dumping on its middle-aged, laddish presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys, than just the unacceptability of the men’s sudden alleged sexism.
However I want to focus on the main exhibit for the ‘prosecution’ – not the leaked off-camera disparaging banter about female assistant referee Sian Massey and West Ham’s Karren Brady before Saturday’s Wolves v. Liverpool match – but the incident where Gray is alleged to have made a lewd remark to co-presenter and former model Charlotte Jackson (pictured above).
Sky Sports said it had sacked Gray "in response to new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour.” This event took place in December but the tape of the incident – also off-air – had only surfaced after the January 22nd argy-bargy.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Chancellor George Osborne needs divine inspiration

Since retiring as financial editor of a UK national newspaper nearly two years ago, I’ve endeavoured to look at the world beyond my old patch since launching this blog. But today’s fourth quarter growth figures are so awful I feel compelled to share my take on the UK economy with you.
Output fell 0.5 per cent in the final three months of 2010. Stripping out the effects of December’s freeze left the economy marking time.
Another quarter in negative territory will tip the UK technically back into recession and the double-dip bogeyman will be at the nation’s door.
It’s unlikely to happen. Today’s calculation is almost certain to be revised upward and the lower value of sterling should inspire our exporters in the current quarter.
But whatever way you look at it the British economy is groggy and we’ve yet to feel the effects of higher VAT and other austerity strategies of Chancellor George Osborne (pictured above).

Monday, 24 January 2011

Black Swan - Natalie Portman as the Mucky Duck

Natalie Portman is a shoo-in to win a best actress Oscar nomination at tomorrow’s announcement of the Hollywood jamboree’s short list. I caught up with Black Swan at the weekend and, admittedly not knowing the competition, she will take some beating.
Portman is a consummate artist and, as a person, a credit to her profession. If she walks off with the Oscar, however, she will deserve it for passing muster as a leading ballerina, rather than her acting skills in the part of the tragic Nina.
Garden State, Closer, even right back to Leon, commanded more nuanced performances than that demanded by Black Swan, where Portman uses the same tortured expression and hysterical tone throughout – unless she’s masturbating.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Andy Coulson's exit - a storm in a Westminster village teacup

The resignation of David Cameron’s director of communications Andy Coulson today is a storm in a Westminster village teacup.
Last September I wrote: “Making no judgement on Coulson’s innocence or guilt, I expect David Cameron to let Coulson go. It’s that old thing when the press chief becomes the story...”
My conclusion: “I’m certain any departure will have little resonance in the country as a whole” looks about right too. But for yesterday, at least, the story dwarfed more serious fare in Alan Johnson’s resignation and Tony Blair’s second date with the Iraq Inquiry.
The Prime Minister’s judgement in appointing Coulson 3½ years ago is under fire from Opposition quarters. It’s true he took a risk giving a top job to a man who had previously resigned as editor of the News of the World because phone hacking had occurred on his watch.
To be ignorant of how his news staff was illegally breaking stories displays aloofness bordering on incompetence - and that's to give Coulson the benefit of the doubt.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Remembering Robin Cook as Tony Blair prepares to duck and dive at the Iraq Inquiry

At 9.30am tomorrow Tony Blair will be back in front of Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry into the 2003 invasion. Last time round its members hardly laid a glove on the former UK prime minister. There is no reason to expect that ‘Teflon’ Tony will not be able to ride with the punches at a repeat pummelling.
Apart from Blair and a shrinking band of apologists, many in this country believe Britain joined the US in an illegal war on a false prospectus.
But this doesn’t make the man a conscious liar. His sense of destiny and infallibility distanced him from facts that contradicted his own world view.
Blair dreamt of emulating Mrs Thatcher’s Falklands experience – emerging as the strong leader after a brief conflict. The added bonus would be the grateful thanks of George Bush and renewal of America’s abiding support for its old ally. The pity is his delusions of grandeur cost British, American, and Iraqi lives.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Support your local library and help defeat the forces of ignorance

“What have the Victorians ever done for us?” to mis-quote the Pythons. Well, while they were making an Imperial nuisance of themselves around the world and building dark satanic mills, canals and railways back home, they also recognised the need to provide the means of self-improvement for their people.
From this desire sprung better education, parks, the growth of museums, and the 1850 Public Libraries Act that gave birth to modern lending libraries. 150 and more years later I’m one of the millions still benefiting from that legacy.
Libraries have nurtured me at every stage of my life. Whether novels, plays, or poetry for pleasure, reference books for university essays; books on wedding planning, child-rearing, house buying, writing a will. DVDs, CDs; information about local government, medical services, societies; neighbourhood cultural events – I felt the need to join the nearest library where ever I’ve lived.
Now they are an endangered species vulnerable to the Coalition’s spending cuts.
It is to be hoped communities will unite to defend their libraries when councils respond to slashed budgets by cutting local amenities. But the prospects are grim.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Gay rights victory reflects path of social change

Back in 2008 Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy were denied a double room in a Cornish hotel by its devout Christian owners because they were a gay couple. Peter and Hazelmary Bull said the same ban applied to unmarried heterosexual couples. Today Hall and Preddy were awarded damages of £1,800 each by Judge Andrew Rutherford because the Bulls had broken UK equality law. They were, however, granted leave to appeal.
I have no quarrel with the verdict. But I do have some sympathy for the Bulls – it is a fine line between principle and prejudice – and as Mrs Bull said outside the court, Christianity is under pressure in today’s Britain.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Tories can forget about power if David Cameron ruins our health service

With the deluge of new policies almost a daily event, it is odd to recall in the years ahead of last May’s General Election, the complaint was the Tories had no agenda. Or at least not one they were prepared to share with the electorate – in the event of David Cameron becoming Prime Minister.
Wait for our manifesto, they said. History has proven this to be a cruel joke on voters. There was no mention of the three sweeping policy changes Cameron has instigated since coming to power – trebling university tuition fees, raising VAT to 20 per cent, and wholesale re-organisation of the National Health Service in England.
Needless to say this triple-whammy was absent also from the manifesto of coalition partners, the LibDems. Where promises were made, they were broken by both parties.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Bonus-mad bankers know no shame

The astronomic level of bank bonuses unites Brits of every political persuasion in hair-tearing rage. Some of our banks are still part-owned by the taxpayer as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. Even where they aren’t, banks still benefit from state support. Yet bankers are going to pay themselves about £7 billion ($11 billion) in the next bonus season. This is inexcusable greed.
The whole idea that bankers, who already receive handsome basic salaries, need multiples more in the shape of bonuses to incentivise them couldn’t happen in any sane world.
But then a thick skin and a lack of any sense of shame is the mark of the sociopath.
Politicians have consistently pledged to tame the bank bonus culture but these have proved to be empty promises.
Finally, prime minister David Cameron (pictured above) admitted today in a meet-the-people session in Newcastle that while part of him wanted to “tax these bonuses to hell”, it wasn’t feasible to “hammer” the banks.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The wisdom among Sting and Trudie Styler's bedroom frolics

Given the belief by gossip column writers that the public has an insatiable appetite for the bedroom secrets of celebrities, it has always struck me as odd they turn almost prudish when confronted by the obvious lust Sting and Trudie Styler holds for the other.
When referred to separately Sting is an ever-popular rock singer and Styler is a documentary film maker and actress. But together the couple are derided for their marathon tantric sex sessions; the ridicule failing to disguise the envy.
They can expect more of the same after a heavy-breathing interview and saucy Terry Richardson fashion shoot in the current edition of Harper’s Bazaar.
Their ‘offence’ is that both are approaching 60 and though have been together 30 years, married since 1992, and collected six children along the way, they not only love but still fancy each other.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

An apology to George S. on his birthday

January 12th has become a melancholy day for me and not because the 13th is my birthday. The alternative to birthdays doesn’t appeal. As Andrew Marvell wrote: “The grave’s a fine and private place/But none I think do there embrace.” No, the day has come to represent lost friendships and severed family ties.
Today is the birthday of George S. We were together at primary school 60 years ago. Our mothers were friends; the nearness of our birth dates meant that even once we were adults George remembered one way or another to reach me on my birthday.
That was until about 10 years ago. I didn’t realise how much I valued those annual phone calls until they stopped. You’ll notice I made no effort to find George on the 12th. It would be nice to think he’s alive and happy somewhere in the world even though there’s no chance of a call tomorrow.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Jail for Woollard - questions for the rest of us

Every parent’s nightmare – their child commits a spur of the moment act of complete stupidity which is likely to dog them the rest of their lives. Such is the predicament of Tania Garwood. Her son by a previous marriage Edward Woollard, an 18-year-old college student, was jailed for 2 years eight months today after pleading guilty to violent disorder when a protest against higher university fees turned into a riot in November.
Mrs Garwood encouraged her contrite son to come forward when she learned he was filmed pitching a heavy fire extinguisher from the roof of a seven storey building containing the Conservative Party’s HQ after it had been invaded by protesters.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The King's Speech - an appreciation

The King’s Speech deserves the superlatives that have been showered on the movie since its cinema release. It has just arrived in the UK and I watched it last night in a West End theatre where it was treated to loud applause at its close. I cannot remember the last time I witnessed such a warm reception for a movie.
Colin Firth, who plays our present Queen’s father Prince Albert – who became King George VI when his elder brother David abdicated to marry Mrs Simpson – must be a strong contender for best actor come the Oscars.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Piers Morgan - love him or thump him

Around 10 years ago I saw a very drunk journalist try to pick a fight with Piers Morgan. He has that effect on people. The occasion was the black-tie annual British Press Awards and Morgan – who will fill Larry King’s interview slot on CNN from January 17th – was editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper at the time.
I don’t know what had riled the inebriated hack but he was baying for Morgan’s blood. Self-assured to the nth degree, Morgan was completely unfazed by the verbal assault and looked more than capable if it had become physical.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Huck Finn N-word row - the view from London

The motive of Mark Twain scholar Professor Alan Gribben in changing 219 uses of the word ‘nigger’ to that of ‘slave’ in a new edition of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has become obscured in the outcry sparked by news of his misplaced good intentions. But it deserves examination.
Gribben, a dedicated promoter of the American classic, had found the offensive racial epithet a barrier to the book’s continuing appreciation even though Twain had sought to satirise racial bigotry in the 19th century South. Opposition to the repeated instances of the N-word has seen the book banned in school libraries.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

I'd sooner my beer schooner was a clegg

The British pint of beer traces its history back to the year dot but tradition has nothing to fear from the official green light for the introduction of a smaller measure – the schooner. This is one Coalition government pub initiative announced yesterday which deserves to be supported. When the previous lot, New Labour, were in office, its contribution – the relaxation of drinking hours – brought more harm than benefit.
The two-thirds pint (378ml), which has been given the Australian-style tag of the schooner, is a welcome addition to the good old pint (568ml) and the half-pint (264ml).
Goldilocks would approve. The pint is too much; the half-pint not enough. About the only drawback is the schooner’s daft name.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Sleep - the unexpected retirement gift

Two years ago on the brink of retirement I was able to predict reasonably accurately what would be the major changes to my life once I gave up work. As I expected there was a balance of pluses and minuses.
Against the welcome drop in stress levels and long hours has to be set the dip in income and loss of daily social contact in the workplace.
I’m not complaining though. Being freed of the commute into work and the late night return journey home was a yoke from which I was delighted to be freed – and one to which I would never wish to return.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Tea and Christopher Hitchens

The eternal debate about the best way to make a cup of tea has been joined by Christopher Hitchens. He is the controversial English-born, American-based essayist and vociferous atheist, who recently challenged Tony Blair in a public debate about religion.
Unlike most Britons who are wary about discussing their faith or – as in Hitchens case - their lack of it, he does share the national characteristic of being very keen to promote the best way to make a cup of tea.
The only problem is that no two Brits can agree on the winning formula. There are too many permutations – the brand of tea, loose leaf or teabag, the heat of the boiled water, the sequence in which milk is added, and whether it should be sweetened or not. I posted my own views on the subject in A nice cup of tea - an appreciation last April.