Thursday, November 25

Labour Out!


My friend Simon (from Uni) is starting a new site in the run up to a probable UK General election in 2005, devoted to ousting Labour from power. Sadly I can't link to his opening post cos a) I don't know how (it never seems to work for me) and b) His site is password protected ... Although the chances are, if you're a reader of my blog you will quite possibly have access to his anyway ...

Anyway ... He makes a very interesting point about New Labour's legislative agenda, as set out in the Queen's Speech. It seems 'Comrade Tony' is resorting to the kind of tactics that helped Bush finally win the White House for real; by creating fear and then promising a solution to it. As a Labour supporter, it is very worrying to see the party led by people with so much in common with one of the most right-wing US administrations (and the domination of the White House, Senate & House of Representatives by the Republicans will do little to quell the onward march of American interests around the world.) To my mind, it shows what a weak and unprincipled leader Blair has become, and that he has failed to use our close relationship with the USA to be honest with them (as friends should do). Dare I say, it makes one yearn for a bit of "Hugh-Grant-as-the-PM-in-Love-Actually-style-standing-up-for-our-country-our-principles-and-the-wider-interests!"

Whilst I do not relish a Conservative government and I don't think I could ever bring myself to vote Tory, and particularly not with Howard as Prime Minister it is certainly time for Blair to go. Whether the rest of the country agrees, we'll have to wait until next year to see. The ideal as far as I'm concerned would be a much smaller Labour victory in the country, but a slight electoral mishap for young Tony in Sedgefield. If Blunkett, Straw, Prescott and Reid could also be voted out, that would be worth celebrating!

New Labour has taken far too many backward steps in their grandiose plan for re-inventing and renewing Britain ... it's time for some new faces at the helm.

New Labour out!

Saturday, November 20

Band Aid - A Clarification!!!

Ok, it seems my earlier post on the Band Aid phenomena was slightly misunderstood. I wasn't criticising Geldof and co. for being ineffective - I had no access to statistics and so any judgment I could have made would have been uninformed.

My point was criticising the idea of especially wealthy celebrities lecturing the rest of us on world poverty, but even more than that, the perception that a charitable cause in itself is no longer enough to raise money. We see in Comic Relief, Children in Need, Band Aid a huge entertainment show being put on to motivate people to give to starving children etc, with the bait that they're getting something out of it as well. Why can't we give selflessly? Why do we always need something to sweeten the deal?

However (I tried to make this clear) I can understand Band Aid and the like making the most of the existence culture to improve the amounts of money and awareness they are trying to raise, and good luck to them. I just find it sad that for such a rich country, we are often only willing to put our hands in our pockets when we get something in return.

Moulin Poo-ge

I know this post may put me at odds with various friends from Essex Uni, but having listened to them rave for 3 years about how great the film "Moulin Rouge" is, I thought I would see what all the hype is about and watch it as it was being shown on Channel 4 this evening ...

What I saw was quite possibly the most absurd, ridiculous and non-sensical trash I have seen in a while! And that was just the first half hour! Ok, so maybe it's not intended to be grounded in historical realism, but the sheer number of songs appearing in the early scenes was stupid, most 40 to 90 years before they were actually written! What really clinched it was the painful rendition of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ... by the top hat & tails gents and "ladies" of the Moulin Rouge. Ewan McGregor was reprising his horrible put on "Queen's English" accent from Star Wars and ... surprise, surprise - Nicole Kidman was the classy smouldering girl who everyone wants.

I switched off after 30 minutes of this rubbish and whilst some may think this means I'm in no position to judge it, I'm sorry but for me a film must operate in the same way as a book. If it doesn't grab me and interest me from the very start, I won't persist - and filmmakers have it much easier than authors in this regard. Maybe "Moulin Rouge" gets better as it goes along ... but frankly I can't waste time finding out if it ever does escape the absurdity of the opening half hour. As with many things, once you get past the hype, you often find there's only tripe.

As an appendage to the previous post - I thought today - what about the Lottery? That's partially marketed on all the good causes Lottery money goes to support - again an even more blatant example of bribery for charitable purposes! Support these great causes ... but more importantly, you could be very rich if you do!

Thursday, November 18

Band Aids - The Celebrity Solution to World Poverty

So there's a new version of the 1984 Band Aid charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" featuring the likes of Chris Martin from Coldplay, Joss Stone, the Darkness, Busted, Jamelia and many others.

Now I'm thrilled about any project seeking to raise money and awareness of the millions of people suffering in abject poverty and starvation around the world, but there's something about this particular approach that concerns me ...

Given the desperate situation that many people find themselves in - where they struggle for even the basic food, water and shelter and are far more susceptible to fatal diseases, the wealth and plenty of the West is simply obscene! I'm not earning very much by British standards and yet I can afford food, clothing and shelter - even the occasional CD, DVD or computer game - Comparative material paradise!

However, I do feel slightly uncomfortable at being 'informed' of the issue of world poverty and starvation (even if it's through music) by those who must count among the very wealthiest and privileged people in the world. Obviously I can't say what the motives of the individuals might be for getting involved in the project - I'm sure many if not all are genuinely concerned and want to help the less fortunate. But there's surely a hint of hypocrisy in the very wealthiest telling the next wealthiest group that they should give some money to people who are struggling to survive.

It does seem that this is what Charity has been reduced to by the late 20th & early 21st century. It's slightly unfair to beat up on the celebrities over their use of this status for such a good cause, but it makes me wonder ... Have we become such a selfish nation that we will only donate to charity when we receive some kind of entertainment in return?

The culture of celebrity has grown so much that one can easily understand why a charity would want to make the most of star attraction for their cause and we see this with elements of Comic Relief, Children in Need and Band Aid. There's a Charity single, a live TV show with all sorts of novel, comic and dramatic items for our delight; all this interspersed with footage of dying children to 'encourage' us to cough up a little of our hard earned wealth. And then we've done our bit, for the rest of the year we can enjoy life, our conscience pacified because we made that donation. We can switch over at those uncomfortable Oxfam or Christian Aid adverts on TV and stick to the comic, dramatic and musical escapism that dominate the small screen. We can forget starving, dying children for most of the year - after all it's a whole other world. It seems that for us to stick our hands in our pockets, it will take a troupe of BBC Newsreaders embarrassing themselves, or a specially written sketch from a great comedy institution, maybe a stand up routine or a few musical numbers; a night of good entertainment.

I don't blame the celebrities - good on them for using their mouthpiece to such rare good effect!

I don't blame the charities - when everyone else is exploiting the cult of celebrity for financial gain, why not attract celebrities to bring attention and funding to your infinitely more worthwhile cause?

I blame us, as Western society (myself included). We have become so selfish and so self obsessed that we are far more motivated to give to charity when we get something in return - when we are entertained, then we will give. Given this reality, it's no wonder that Comic Relief and Band Aid operate as they do. It does make for a sad indictment of what a self-seeking and introspective nation we've become.

Well done Bob Geldof and others involved in Band Aid (and other charities) for all the hard work you've done raising considerable amounts of money for the poorest people in Africa and around the world. Personally I won't be buying the new single, but making my own donations.

After all a person is for life, not just for Christmas.

Thursday, November 4

A Seasonal Joke

So much for that imminent John Kerry victory! I guess it shows how useful the Washington Redskins are as a barometer for predicting political success ...

Q: What links George W. Bush's head and John Kerry's speeches?

A: A lack of content ...

The West Wing features a great scene in one of the flashbacks that feature in the first couple of episodes of Series 2. It's looking back to the early days of President Bartlet's election campaign and Bartlet is asking his future Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, why he was so keen for him to run. McGarry replies

"Because I'm tired of it - year after year after year after year of having to choose between the lesser of 'Who cares?' - Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences; Of setting the bar so low, I can hardly look at it. They say a good man can't get elected President. I don't believe that."

Sadly the reality seems to indicate that McGarry's optimism is confined to the world of fiction. Whilst I'm hardly a raving Bush supporter, I can't say I saw a lot in John Kerry to cheer about - except that he wasn't George W. Bush! He easly outperformed Bush in the debates, but still didn't strike me as a strong charismatic leader nor of an articulate deep thinker. He was the moderate Democrat candidate with an impressive military record and as the Democrats were desperate for anyone to oust Bush from the White House, he represented the best chance at appealing to moderate America. In my mind, the Bush/Cheney campaign's slurs accusing Kerry of being weak seemed rather cheap and didn't really stick, especially when one compares their military records - Kerry was a candidate that you couldn't really accuse of being soft ... which makes me wonder if that's why he was chosen.

So now to 2008 ... Will Hilary Clinton run? Will Wes Clarke come back for another bite of the Presidential cherry? And, perhaps most sensationally ... Will George Bush Snr. come back for his second term? We could even have a rematch of 1992 - George seeking revenge on the Clinton clan for his shock defeat! Only time will tell.

Of course this is all dependant on there being anything left of the world in 2008 ...

Tuesday, November 2

Announcing the imminent victory of John Kerry

Well, you can forget all that I wrote below ... Forget polls, forget expert opinions, forget the campaigns, issues and even the merits of the individual candidates! The result of the 2004 US Presidential Election is now a mere formality. You can read about how this remarkable event came about below.

Monday, November 1

You give me fever ...

Yes, I have yet another fever ... but not to worry, 'cos this time it's US Presidential election fever! (And just how sexy does that sound? Not in the least bit!)

This is largely in response to Simon's post on his blog (a good friend) about an Opinion poll on the election. I've been tracking the polls for some weeks now and at the latest look these polls show the following ...

CNN/USA Today/Gallup: Bush 46% Kerry 48%
CBS/NY Times: Bush 49% Kerry 46%
ABC/Washington Post: Bush 48% Kerry 48%

As Simon pointed point in his blog, these polls all carry a small but significant margin of error meaning that such marginal leads actually give very little indication of who might win and in any case two of the polls put the two different candidates ahead, whilst the other has them level!

Also, one must take into account the electoral college system. Basically, each of the 50 states have a number of electoral college votes; these are distributed to each state according to the number of federal representatives from that state (Senators - 2 from each state and Congressmen - according to population). The state of Delaware thus has 3 electoral college votes whilst California has 55. The Presidential election is thus a series of mini contests in each state; and if the candidate wins the state (except in Maine & Nebraska) he wins all their electoral votes. In the 2004 election, the winning candidate must have received a majority of the electoral votes (270 votes in 2004) This can be achieved without receiving a majority of the popular vote - which was the situation in 2000. And it's especially likely when the race is tight!

However, some researchers at the Washington Post have come up with 33 different scenarios with 11 swing states (the ones not clearly tied to supporting either candidate) voting different ways that would result in both candidates achieving 269 electoral votes! In this situation, the House of Representatives (lower chamber - like the House of Commons) would choose the President - they would probably choose Bush; however, the vice-President would be chosen by the Senate and there is a distinct possibility they could choose John Edwards, Kerry's running mate. This would be an extraordinary situation in modern times - America's used to having different political parties being in control of Congress, the Senate and the White House, but to have such an ideological division between the President and his deputy would make for a very interesting political landscape.

Anyway, for a political animal like me, it makes it absolutely fascinating ... hence why I'm staying up to watch the coverage as the results come in! I like Simon, suspect that Bush will clinch it ... incumbency is a significant strength, unless you're widely perceived to have had an absolutely disastrous time in the White House, or been so distracted by international affairs, that domestic issues have been forgotten (like George Bush Snr.!) Both Bush and Kerry appeal brilliantly to those who are like-minded and so this is very much a battle for the middle ground ... I think this is reflected in the incredibly tight polls and whatever happens, it's going to be very close ...