Saturday, April 01, 2006


I went to see Syriana on Thursday - very powerful - it makes real what you know abstractly is going on in the world and so it is more shocking than an article in the press. I thought it was a bit unnecessarily difficult to understand - as a lot of people have complained. I think I understood most of it, but often you were shown things happening and then later it was explained why. It wasn't necessary - SOME more explanation could have been given earlier, so that you could focus on what was happening rather than wondering about what you'd just seen. It was all complicated enough with overlapping stories. Apparently the publicity people realised how confusing it was because the press were given far more extensive notes than usual.

Clooney's role was that standard one in so many American films, the aging, experienced guy who doesn't like playing by the official rules and has little respect for his superiors, e.g. Dirty Harry. In this Clooney is warned not to cause trouble at an interview, but, after biting his tongue for a while, can't help telling the youngish black woman some home truths about the situation.

I didn't find it very plausible that, given his experience, he needed advice from an ex-colleague, but it helped with the explanation of what was happening. While Clooney played a less attractive role than many of his films, putting on some weight for it, he was presented as rather heroic, e.g. saying nothing in the torture scene, most people will at least give false information in such circumstances.

But it is great that a film like this is made at all - and in America; it's a powerful criticism of the existing system. All credit to Clooney for using his muscle in the business to help get films like this and "Goodnight and Good Luck" made.

After this I had a meal in Cafe Rouge in Soho, which has French waiters, but I'm afraid the one who greeted me lived up to the stereotype of French arrogance. He said there wasn't a table for one, yet we were standing by two tables for four, one with one guy, the other with a member of staff flipping through magazines! I pointed to the a free place at the member of staff's table and the waiter just wandered off. At the end I didn't leave a tip - and overcame my English tendency not to make a fuss and went up to the counter and in front of another waiter I said to him: "Next time use more imagination when I ask for a table for one, there were six free places there." He just stayed quiet and I walked out, glad I'd spoken out, the wine helped.

Having had a couple of glasses of wine I was into my easily annoyed Englishman mode :-) There was a party of Japanese partly blocking the pavement outside a theatre. I touched one guy's elbow - he was looking at his mobile phone in the middle of the pavement - and said "excuse me". At least he said "sorry" and got out of the way. Further on a group of young Italians was entirely blocking the pavement, so I just pushed through the middle - why should I risk my life walking in the road - some of the girls yelled something in Italian after me - tourists !

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Vote Paxman out ?

My contribution to the blog on BBC Newsnight's site - where they asked if BBC bosses should be elected:

We might be tempted to vote Paxo out, he's getting a bit old bufferish with his sarcastic comments about podcasts: "seems like TV without the pictures to me". That sounds like radio - is that supposed to be an inferior medium? Also his obvious sarcasm about our "invaluable comments" on this site is not appreciated.

Maybe it's time to send him back to somewhere like El Salvador, where he did some valuable reporting - a long time ago. He might appreciate the break from wondering why UK "lying bastards" were lying to him - yet again.

CPE - Villepin losing

Opposition to CPE grows

"A new survey by pollsters CSA shows that 83% of the French are now opposed to keeping the CPE. 42% of those questioned said they wished “the suspension” of the CPE with “time to find a solution”, 41% supported its withdrawal, just 12% backed Villepins wish to keep it as it is and some 5% could not decide.

Most polls to date have not included the option of suspension, so it not easy to compare these results with previous polls. However, a survey by pollsters LH2 for Liberation, taken from the 17 to March 18, had showed 38% favorable to a modification of the CPE and 35% for an abandonment - to reach a total of 73% of hostile opinions to a maintenance of the CPE in the state. Therefore todays poll can be taken to show that opposition is growing amongst the French.
Other results from the poll show confidence in Dominique de Villepin is falling.

58% consider him too authoritative, compared to 46% previously
41% think him qualified, compared to 52% previously
77% think that he is not listening sufficiently to the French, up 5 points"

March 29th 2006 Posted to France CPE

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"New Labour... a dismal, disappointing embarrassment"

A verdict on Blair from an insider, Derek Draper, who was a spin doctor for New Labour, now a new father and with a personal interest in the future of education:

"Exactly two weeks ago ... I realised all the cliches were true. When our baby was born the foundations of our life really did change, she is indeed a little bundle of joy and I would happily lay down my life for hers. You do get completely obsessed.

... My old boss Peter Mandelson attacked Labour's education bill rebels last week from his exile in Brussels, asserting that anyone who disagreed with Blair's approach to reform of the public services is a 'Bennite'. I think maybe Peter's mind-numbing EU trade negotiations have befuddled his brain. It is ludicrous - indeed laughable - to apply that label to, among others, Neil Kinnock. When I worked for Peter he had little knowledge of and even less interest in education - or indeed any other domestic policy. It is a similar focus on foreign policy adventurism and spin that have condemned Blair to end his long spell in office with no domestic policy legacy. That he should even now be flailing around tinkering with the education system when he made it his avowed priority over a decade ago tells you all you need to know. New labour is ending as a dismal, disappointing embarrassment."

Evening Standard magazine, 24.3.2006


Exams cut by third as stress on pupils soars

"The true level of pressure facing children was laid bare last night as Britain's most senior exams official admitted pupils faced a huge and excessive exam load that had distorted the balance of what was taught in schools.
'The assessment load is huge,' Boston said. 'It is far greater than in other countries and not necessary for the purpose. We are pushing for the overall burden of assessment to be reduced.'
For many, the announcement could not have come sooner. Chris Keates, the general secretary of the teaching union the NASUWT, said: 'We don't need Ken Boston to tell us the problem; we need Ken Boston to deal with it. We have been raising concerns about the enormous assessment burden on schools for a number of years.'
James Marshall, head of English at the independent Shrewsbury School, said it was a welcome U-turn. 'The obsession with a culture of targets, bite-sized modules and endless re-testing hasn't benefited anyone. I would welcome any reforms that reduce the amount of needless testing in schools.'"

Anushka Asthana, education correspondent, March 26, 2006, The Observer,,1739868,00.html

The Fighting French

I sent an email to LBC radio station, complaining about Karen ( a member of staff I think), who trotted out the old myth about a search on the web for French victories comes up blank. I asked if they'd ever heard of Napoleon. It took the combined forces of other European countries to defeat him and the French forces.

Then I posted this to about the French and WWII:

'As Janet Flanner (quoted by blogger Maitresse) said: ""Had the young French soldiers fought like rioters against the Germans in June, 1940, Paris might not have fallen".'

Flanner and Maitresse should be ashamed of themselves; this sort of calumny was refuted by the US forces back in 1945, putting right some of their soldiers who'd bought this myth about French failure to fight the Germans:

" No one - least of all the French themselves - will try do deny the enormity of the defeat and the humiliation France suffered in 1940. French military leadership and strategy was tragically inadequate. But this does not mean that the French did not put up a "real fight".

In the six week Battle of France, from May 10 to June 22, 1940, the French lost, in military personnel alone, 260,000 wounded and 108,000 killed. A total of 368,000 casualties in six weeks is not something to pass off lightly.

Yes, the Germans gave the French a terrible beating. But it took the combined strength of the United States, Great Britain, Soviet Russia, Canada, etc., to beat the Germans. It's asking rather a great deal of France to match such strength against hers."

Published in Paris in 1945 by the 'Information & Education Division' of the US Occupation Forces.

Mothers - the dark side

Now that mothers' day is over - the dark side, e.g. apparently Sharon Osbourne was so estranged from her mother that she didn't even go to her funeral. One advantage of the Independent's use of celebs (while the Guardian invited tributes to mothers from readers, meaning that they were all positive), was that we got a somewhat more balanced picture, e.g. Janet Street-Porter had a very bad relationship with her mother and hates becoming more like her:

"Reflecting on her upbringing, she reveals “I went a long time thinking my parents had picked the wrong baby and I couldn’t be related to them.”
From Janet's first happy memories as a young girl in Fulham, to the darker period when she was a teenager, she begins to face up to the unresolved anger that she still has towards her mother."

Then, as Jamie Oliver revealed, there are the kind of mothers who never worried about the junk their kids were eating at school because they fed them the same sort of thing at home; some of them have been on BBC TV's "Honey We're Killing the Kids", e.g.:

"...The family think nothing of spending 150 hours in front of the TV each week. And there are plenty of screens to choose from. They have seven TVs and three computers. The children are couch potatoes, watching hours of TV in their bedrooms and rarely leaving the house to get any exercise. They often go to bed after their parents, which leaves them seriously short of sleep and inattentive at school the next day.

All three children are suffering emotionally from their sedentary lifestyle and Kris worries they’ll grow up lacking in confidence and social skills. Michelle and Michael’s smoking means their children are three times more likely to take up the habit themselves and are at an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

Seeing what their children will look like at 40 is a shock for Michelle and Michael. Both girls are already medically overweight thanks to their unhealthy diet of fast food takeaways, fizzy drinks and sweets..."

That's the slow way to kill kids, cf.:

Pair jailed over sons' fire deaths

'The parents of two children who died of horrific injuries in a fire while they enjoyed a romantic evening downstairs have been jailed for child cruelty.

Lindsey Miller, 33, and her 29-year-old husband Scott were jailed for two years and 12 months respectively when they appeared at Northampton Crown Court.

Their sons, Nathan and 18-month-old Jeremy, suffered 80% burns in the blaze in the bedroom of their Northampton council house in June 2004. Boisterous Nathan, aged two and a half, is thought to have started the fire at the family home which killed him and his brother.

Sentencing the pair, Judge Richard Bray said they had been "selfish" in locking the boys in their bedroom.

He rejected their claims that their low intelligence was a factor in the boys' deaths, saying they had encouraged or condoned Nathan in playing with matches, showing him off to friends as a "party trick".'

Birmingham Mail

You need a license to drive a car, but anyone can have kids.

Rich French dad & brats on CPE

A pathetic piece in the Sunday Times (yes, I shouldn't have bought it) on the problems over the CPE in France. Matthew Campbell, who doesn't seem to want to exert himself, basically spoke to one family. The father, Lionel Lambert, is a financial advisor, guess what he thinks of the demonstrations, and, surprise, surprise, his two children agree with him and disagree with the majority of their fellow students: "...Felix Lambert took to the podium [in the Sorbonne] and said he did not agree. The audience erupted in furious booing and whistling." Poor boy (not financially of course). His sister disagrees with the CPE - because she thinks it doesn't go far enough - but then, apart from having Lionel for a father, she's studying economics and management:"What we need in France is a lot more employment flexibility for everybody, not just the young." She obviously sees herself as an employer - we'll see what her views are if she fails to get a job. But then daddy will always bail her out.

The photographer obviously thought we wouldn't gather that the rich brats were students, so he had them hold lots of books ! Unfortunately the books have nothing to do with the subjects they are supposed to be studying; so instead of philosophy books Felix has books on Louis XI and Lyon 1940-44, while Lily the economics student has a book on counter-espionage. So at least the photo is as accurate as the article.

On BBC TV news last night, a journalist from Le Monde, generally in favour of "flexibility" said that even the employers weren't very keen on this new law, as Villepin might have found out if he'd consulted before rushing it through in order to seem to be doing something and be more right-wing than Sarkozy. Now Sarkozy is calling for the suspension of the law and consultation, thus seeming very reasonable (helping repair his reputation after the racaille remark) and wrong-footing Villepin:

"Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin held firm, but cracks opened in his conservative government as pressure for him to withdraw the contested measure reached unprecedented heights, with unions, students and the leftist opposition joined in solidarity, and more violence erupting on the streets of Paris.

Interior Minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy, in a clear break with Villepin, suggested suspending the new type of job contract for youths to allow for negotiations. With the government in crisis, President Jacques Chirac cancelled a trip planned for later in the week to stay in Paris."

more here

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Barcelona to boot out boozers

I went to Barcelona twice in the late 1980s and didn't see a single Brit stag or hen party; sadly things have gone downhill since then:

"Last summer British, German and Dutch tourists invaded Catalonia, outraging the locals with their all-night partying, promiscuity and uncontrolled vomiting in Gothic passageways and Art Nouveau doorsteps. Residents complained they couldn't sleep for the noise and that their streets were filthy with rubbish and bodily fluids."

How disgusting our northern hordes are and it seems that Spanish youth have begun to emulate them, leading to riots in Barcelona Spanish mass binge. Fortunately the Catalonians have had enough:

"... the authorities have banned street-vendors, skateboarders, jugglers, bongo-drummers, DVD sellers, windscreen-cleaners, beggars, graffiti artists, clients soliciting prostitutes in the street, and anyone drinking in public squares, or dressed indecorously, or urinating (or satisfying other "physiological needs") in public."

Good for them, let's hope that they have more luck than many of our cities, and that this sort of crackdown spreads to more of Europe.

Grumpy old man? No, I'm all for a good party and the Spaniards know how to do that without making a disgusting spectacle of themselves, and I hope to join them again at the Seville feria.

Independent, 28.3.2006

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Boris "guilty" Benn disappointing

Following Johann Hari's mea culpa in the Independent for supporting the attack on Iraq (see earlier post), Boris Johnson admitted he'd been wrong to vote for the war (on BBC1's "Question Time" earlier in the week), claiming he'd been misled (read more Boris), and he said he now felt "guilty".

Tony Benn was disappointing for once; he supported Shabina Begum's campaign to be allowed to wear the jilbab to school, and talked about the need to respect other people's religious beliefs. Evidently he wasn't aware that the school had consulted with the local Muslim clerics and had come to agreement with them about an acceptable uniform, and it was at least not at all clear that wearing the jilbab was required by the religion. It seems to be merely an Arab tradition, but not an Indian one. Furthermore it seems that some of the girls at the school don't want some fundamentalist relatives and clerics to be able to pressure them into having to wear it too. The latter point was made clear by the Liberal on the panel, but ignored by the representative of Liberty, who claimed not to understand what harm it could possibly do.

Quote, unquote

From a programme I don't usually listen to on BBC radio 4: "Quote, unquote"

"If it weren't for quotations, conversations between gentlemen would consist of an endless succession of What-hos."


"I went to my doctor and asked him for something for persistent wind. He gave me a kite."

Les Dawson

"There are two rules to comedy: One, always leave them wanting more ..."

"The doctor said the good news was that I was going to have a disease named after me."

"It's just a job; bees make honey, the sun shines, waves pound on the shore and I beat people up."

Muhamed Ali

"Sure there have been injuries and deaths in boxing, but none of them serious."

Alan Minter

More from P. G. Wodehouse:

"Madeleine Basset laughed the tinkling, silvery laugh that had got her so disliked by the better element."

"Marriage isn't a process of prolonging the life of love, but of mummifying the corpse."

"Has anybody ever seen a drama critic in the daytime? Of course not. They come out after dark, up to no good."

"At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies."

"Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung of the ladder and writes novels."

"I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit."

"To my daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time."

Mums - should rule

The Guardian goes one better than the Independent and, instead of using minor celebs, it invited readers to send in photos and tributes. Again the altruism of mums came out strongly:

"She's completely selfless, making everyone's life easier and asking nothing for herself."

"She's always laughing! Even though I'm in my 30s Mum still worries about me like she did when I was little, and she is so generous with her time and her love. I would be truly lost without her."

"I am in awe of how selfless she is. I draw all my strength and confidence from her because I know she totally loves me just the way I am."

We should hand power over to mums - not to the few who ape the worst in men, like Thatcher. In a documentary on a gangster turned film-maker in Russia, the only person not intimidated by him was his ex-teacher, a female.

Some appreciation is more basic:

"Her pancakes are extremely good. We love her to bits."

While Charlie, 3, just says: "Biscuits!"