Out Now!

Friday, 31 May 2013

Style over Substance

It seems to me that the current attack on the excesses of capitalism is quite 'pick and mix' - a symptom of unclear thinking and thoughtless (perhaps considered) hypocrisy. Over here we are told by our monopoly purveyor of news that the Murdoch Press is a bad thing because it threatens to become…a monopoly.

Margaret Hodge fulminates and barnstorms in her role as chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee against such companies as Amazon and Google who legally avoid tax. Presumably if they didn’t seek legal loopholes to avoid paying tax I would pay more for my Amazon books…hmm. Difficult choice. Besides it’s a bit rich coming from Margaret whose family firm Stemcor also ‘legally’ avoids paying tax in much the same manner. The great majority, denied these opportunities, are encouraged to fulminate against carefully selected scapegoats, presumably to ease the pain and distract us from other areas of the establishment where tax avoidance is common.

Early tax avoidance ‘hate figures’ proved easy enough targets. You could castigate Top Shop and shop somewhere else. Similarly with Starbucks. Plenty of coffee shops. News Corporation proved harder. Its fight to the death with the BBC reminding me of Godzilla Vs King Kong, and the banana skin of an inaccurate report of a murdered girl’s hacked phone.

News Corporation is down but not out. There may be a rematch. But what about Apple? 

Remember the outpouring of adulation and grief when its founder, Steve Jobs, died? Even now Apple is seen as the epitome of cool, its products and outlets temples for the ‘must have or I’ll die’ brigade. It is perhaps why there has been no widespread vilification of Apple as there has been against the Murdoch press. It’s cool to own an iPad, less so to read the News of the World.

But Apple and News Corp share the same shadow. 

An email from the late Steve Jobs to James Murdoch of News Corporation illustrates this:
“Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream e-books market at $12.99 and $14.99.” 
This email is being used by the U.S Justice Department as evidence that Apple was ‘ringmaster’ in a price fixing conspiracy for e-books. Their intent was to force Amazon to raise its e-book price from its standard $9.99 to the higher one favoured by Apple and publishing giants like News Corporation owned Harper Collins. Two days after that email Harper Collins signed an agreement with Apple to force all e-book sellers to adopt to the new pricing model. 

Random House held out so Apple played rough using its power over apps to coerce it.

In July 2010, Steve Jobs told Random House it would suffer a loss of support from Apple if it continued to hold out and threatened to block an e-book application by Random House from appearing in Apple’s App Store
Random House eventually succumbed  and in 2011 ‘Eddy Cue, the Apple executive in charge of its e-books deals, sent an e-mail to Mr. Jobs attributing the publisher’s capitulation, in part, to “the fact that I prevented an app from Random House from going live in the app store.”

Amazon was next, with talks of withholding books from the retailer until they accepted the higher prices. In short Apple were seeking ‘Agency pricing’ allowing a small monopoly of publishers to dictate price instead of the retailer. 

Capitalism is greedy. It's the nature of the beast - just don’t pick and choose - or worse - allow others to pick and choose for you. There are no saints – except perhaps Bill and Melinda Gates - and even they have their critics.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Eurovision...For my daughter who missed it.

My son sits with a bemused smile and a twinkle in his eye, like a courteous Edwardian watching Congolese pygmies performing Wagner. And I sit almost facing him, wondering yet again why we are watching the Eurovision Song Contest.

We have our Pringles. We have wine. We have everything but a reason for watching. It puts me in mind of going to Church as a very young child. The ritual is beyond comprehending but somehow important – we are told and we believe.
We crunch and they vanish, victims of a deep spiritual unease and ennui. The wine is first sipped and then gulped as one meaningless song follows another.

A Spaniard sings about his shoes – one called Love, the other shoe Pain. A Finnish woman sings a formulaic pop song and ends it with an ‘I’m-so-naughty’ lesbian kiss. This has been heavily hyped and as a result Turkey pulled out. Small mercies. 

Another woman, the Ukrainian contestant, is carried into position by a 7’ 8” giant wearing two feathers on his head. He is on stage for about 7 seconds so, if Andy Warhol is to be believed, he is owed another 8 seconds of fame.

All the songs sound much the same, except for the Maltese contestant. He performs a sunny little ditty – but it is pointless – he looks like Nicolas Sarkosy. Some contestants think ‘standing out’ is a good thing however. 

The Moldovan performer grows taller and taller as she sings, her telescopic gown resembling a glowering volcano. 

A Rumanian, looking magnificently savage, sings in a woman’s voice. 

All very bizarre and the choreography  even more so. The dancers resembled mannequins with palsy, though some were inventive. One performer sang on top of a large glass box, his partner miming intense anguish inside it.

Another thing I noticed – the men had the most amazing eyebrows. In all my life I have never seen eyebrows like them, and the farther east their owners came from, the more prominent they were. That well known European country – Azerbaijan – would have won the contest had eyebrows and not singing been the criteria.  But the thing was, all these luxuriant eyebrows were exquisitely manicured, sculptured by skilled topiarists into large but perfect trapeziums. 

Well, you may be saying, this is nothing but sour grapes – Britain coming in 19th out of 26. But this represented a minor triumph, for the previous year we came even lower, and once we scored null points. You might blame the risible voting patterns where neighbourly reciprocity sees Russia and the Balkan states voting for each other, Cyprus for Greece and vice versa –a metaphor for the E.U and why we should get out. Alternatively you might blame a BBC bureaucrat who for two years running chose two pensioners to represent the UK. (Maybe it is time for the Congolese pygmies)  Then again you may say ‘who cares…as long as there are Pringles – plenty of them – and wine, lots of wine.

* For anyone who’d like an analysis of the lyrical absurdities in the songs check out http://wiwibloggs.com/2013/05/14/first-semi-final-your-country-by-country-guide/26338/ It has more wonderful pictures as well as some choice lyrics

Thursday, 16 May 2013


 A series of pictures and testimony from those who were there. Names deleted to protect the innocent : )

                                                               The Aintree Institute


"Weird, just to think I had my 40th in there and not long after it was knocked down :(("

"That's where i saw them, God getting old ///"

"We saw them there it was brill"

"yeh//anyone who saw them knew they would make it big time ."

" Has any one got more pictures of that night I was there"

"We were there fab x"

"We went to brill"

"My aunty went to see them when they first appeared in the Cavern along with many other great Mersey bands. She said John was very rude...found him arrogant, ended up swilling him with a drink later in the night haha,  always been a fiesty lady.x"

"Pete Best on drums too!"

 This pic is of them on the 'Royal Iris'.


" I was there that nite,+ yes John could be very sarcastic..."
"I was there too, it was the first time I saw them with leather jackets as I had one on too. Had a quiff similar to Paul in those days."

"John V Proffitt did you go with our cousin David ? He was always asking me to go but I was too shy then ha ha now I know what I missed.I did see them several times on the Locarno also on the Empire on one show also on the bill were,Roy Orbison Cilla Black and other top artists,that would'nt happen now they would all be on separate bills"

"Hi Dot, I went with another friend, it was the first time I had been to the Aintree Institute or heard the band. Rory Storm and The Hurricanes were more popular around that time and we know what happened from there onwards. Our Gwen went there alot more than I did. I used to go to the Locarno too and saw all the bands in the Walls Ice Cream Contest."

"Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were always on The Orrell Park Ballroom,which was a favourite venue of ours, I wasn't so keen on Rory's group,we used to love Mark Peters and the Silhouettes also Ian and the Zodiacs"

"We went to the Aintree Institute to see them"

"I'm sure this was the night, the girls nearest the stage stood on chairs, I was impaled by a stiletto heel, when one of the girls stepped down backwards on my right foot. I still bear the scar to this day."

 The Aintree Institute demolished. 

Me? I lived two hundred yards away

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Deceit is the way to go

The Longbow Puband Pantry, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn is a British themed pub selling Old Speckled Hen, Fish and Chips, and has a Welsh national rugby shirt over the bar. It shows live British football matches and is owned by Michael Cobert, a former native of Wrexham in North Wales. 

His biggest mistake? A certain reckless honesty. He advertised for a bartender asking for an ‘energetic and enthusiastic’ man or woman ‘with an appreciation of craft beer, good food, whisky and real football….Being British definitely works in your favour.” I would have thought that amounted to common sense rather than active discrimination. The New York City Commission on Human Rights thought otherwise. It accused the bar of violating discrimination law ‘by giving a preference to employing applicants based on their national origin.” The commission offered to settle the matter for $2,500 warning that should the Colberts dispute the issue the fine would rise to $7,500.

The Colberts are disputing the case. They point out that one of their employees comes from Long Island but earned a Hospitality Degree whilst working in London. The Colberts argue they are catering for a specialized market, a clientele for which: “It is essential to know that Wales is not where the Princess is from, why Everton v. Liverpool is an important match, that ‘knocking someone up’ is not about being pregnant, a banger has nothing to do with gangs, black pudding is not a dessert and that the Old Firm has nothing to do with attorneys.” (NYT)

It will be interesting to see how the case goes, but it seems to me that this is another case of bureaucracies choosing soft targets and/or soliciting administrative costs. Bear in mind they’ve targeted a low wage transient sector in the job market. Now look to the other extreme.

Another report in the New York Times examined the 13%  unemployment rate of  African-Americans and suggests not racial discrimination but ‘favoritism’ or ‘inclusion’ as the primary cause of this. Discrimination or ‘exclusion’ is subject to the same legal challenge that the Colberts now face. ‘Favoritism’ or networking gets round this. Family and friends, personal networks and insider information are the new mechanisms of employment. And we’re talking about high end employment.

The report argues you don’t need ‘favoritism’ or a strong social network to find a low wage job at fast food outlets or chain stores, so anti discriminatory legislation ironically makes it easier for African Americans to find low paid jobs in these sectors. It levels an already low playing field. On the other hand the more insidious - “whites helping other whites is not the same as discrimination, and it is not illegal.” The report discovered that higher paid jobs are more usually reserved for ‘people like us’ and people who know about them will tell the people who are close to them or with whom they identify and who might in the future reciprocate the favour. Thus dynasties are born, acting dynasties, media dynasties, political dynasties. You don’t get dynasties in fast food outlets.

That is where the Colberts went wrong. They advertised with a hint based on common sense and pragmatism for a relatively low paid job. I hope they’ve learnt their lesson. Deceit is the way to go.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Pity the lobster

So the last two posts have been about choice. I was thinking about this today whilst swimming. I was on my 45th length and considering whether I should break the pattern and go for 46.

And then wondered whether in fact I had any choice in the matter. 

A woman passed me as I slowed to think about it. She does the crawl and swims like a combine harvester, her arms like scimitars taking no prisoners. Does she have to swim like that? Do I have to swerve and duck?
 And if I don’t was a clipped ear predestined before the Big Bang?

This question of predestination is a doozy, the father of Sci Fi itself. If an omniscient God knows my actions before I am born, then my actions are predestined and thus I am without will. 

But then what sort of Supreme Being would want to know every thought and action of the billions upon billions who have come and gone on this planet? A totalitarian obsessive comes to mind, which, apart from being blasphemous, doesn’t ring true. Maybe we are all quantum entities; life-changing choices made, measured and judged when we are ‘observed’. Then again, maybe not.

I was safe for the moment, the ‘combine harvester’ had gone, endangering others farther up in the pool. I considered Historical Materialism, the idea that only matter exists, so history is merely the account of matter in motion – matter in motion following predetermined laws.

 For the Marxist it is economic forces that drive history. The individual, his life and thought are largely, for some wholly, shaped by these forces. But Marx is not entirely deterministic. He is rejecting ‘free will’ in a vacuum. For Marx, people "make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.”

So there I was, 'matter in motion, but, as far as I could seee, economic determinism  had little direct input on how many lengths I should swim. That was good - but heavy stuff for 7.30 am.  I pulled myself out the pool on my 45th length – calculating that another length would bring me in range of the ‘harvester’ and wondering whether she, too, was part of God’s Divine Plan.

I was hungry and my mind drifted to Lyon and the great food market of Les Halles.

I wanted to eat everyone of these cakes, the thousands of cheeses and oak-blackened hams, the oysters, the lobsters,  the wines but my choice was limited by those dammed economic forces that allowed me only so much money, familial horror and disgust if I’d acted on the gluttonous impulse, and the limited size of my gut.

But pity the lobster, its choice replaced by the choice of others.