Thursday, February 23, 2006


Damien is unwell. He will return to our screens next week.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Don’t shoot José, Mr Cheney, he just wants a chat

Have you ever seen quail? It’s a very small bird – about the size of a grapefruit – and very different from a Harry Wittington, which is a large human with legal training. Harry was shot by Dick Chaney while quail hunting recently, and nearly killed from the resulting heart attack. The visual difference between a quail and a Wittington is about the same as the difference between a grapefruit and a large refrigerator.

You would think that, even outdoors, it would be easy to pick the difference between a grapefruit and a refrigerator. It’s something that most people do indoors quite readily. It is rare for people to mistakenly put the milk back in the grapefruit, and despite eating-out a lot, I have never been served refrigerator in any form: not in a salad, not in a dressing, not cut in half with brown sugar sprinkled on top. Not once.

Now of course I don’t want to trivialise hunting by comparing it to breakfast. Hunting is serious business. The most serious part of the business occurs when the gun is shouldered and prey is in the sights. At that point, if you cannot tell the difference between grapefruit and a refrigerator, you have a big problem. A big problem.

Now whatever your opinion of Dick Chaney, he knows enough about problems to avoid the grapefruit-refrigerator one. He can tell the difference between a quail, which is a small bird, and a Harry Wittington, which is a large human with legal training. This prompts two questions:

1. If this is how Dick Chaney treats his friends, how does he treat his enemies?

2. Are we talking about the right kind of quail?

The second question is more important than it might first seem. You see, although a quail is a small bird, and thus easy to distinguish from a Harry Wittington, a Quayle is a large human with legal training. When viewed from a distance, over the sights of a shotgun, and through a bush, er shrub, Dan Quayle and Harry Wittington are largely indistinguishable without the aid of a spelling bee. Depending on Dick Chaney’s opinion of the Quayle, this may answer the first question.

Knowing Dick Chaney’s opinion of Dan Quayle is probably of paramount importance to Mr José Bové, a French farmer turned away from the US last week. He was detained at JFK airport, en-route to a speaking engagement at a conference organised by Cornell University’s Labour Institute (Reuters, in The Guardian, 10 Feb 2006, p7). Mr Bové appears to have been a threat to the USA since one of his anti-GM food protests resulted in him wrecking a McDonalds Restaurant – show me a seven-year-old that has not tried that one – earning him a six week prison sentence. And as if that was not enough, he wantonly destroyed a field of GM corn in France, and served four months! (Foolishly, he did not follow Michelle Shocked’s lead and write a song about it – though she burned a barn too, which may improve the audience appeal.)

So Mr Bové was refused entry to the USAbecause he doesn’t like GM food. That means Gwynneth Paltrow is not returning, because we saw her down at Fresh & Wild the other day, which will surely get her banned. (We were there too, but we didn't inhale.) Or would she be allowed into LA, but banned from the East Coast?

Honestly, what possible threat could Mr Bové be to the American way of life? (How could I be so stupid? I realised as I typed the question that he might encourage people to eat less refined food and reduce their sugar intake leading to the destruction of the doughnut industry, the sugary drink industry, the Twinkie industry, the diabetes treatment industry, the heart disease industry, the sitting on the couch chugging down beers and burgers industry – it could stop the world turning.) It also threatens Monsanto – the world’s main proponent of GM cropping.

What sort of power does Monsanto have? A lot. The Australian -US free trade negotiations faltered when Australia wanted to label GM foods so that consumers could chose for themselves. Anti-competitive, said the US, despite most of its agriculture being GM free – only Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Soy Beans were seriously threatened.

Roundup, of course, is an outstanding herbicide – unless you want to kill Roundup Ready Soy Beans. It would have removed those pesky bushes, er shrubs, that caused the Quayle-Wittington mishap. Maybe Monsanto should ship a drum of Roundup with its next round of political donations. Oh yes, Monsanto and Dick are good friends, which makes me glad, because with friends like Dick, Monsanto will be taking a bullet any day now, and bio-diversity can slowly return to normal. Which brings me to the final question:

3. What is normal?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Is Britain showing signs of a leisure lifestyle?

Over the past five years, Britain has been coping with the highest level of obesity in its history. Perhaps a combination of following American consumption trends and a pen chance for becoming thoroughly involved with one’s life-work, inclining (declining??) towards too much tv (Corrie/ East Enders, and celebrities in jungles, on islands and in endemol) and a keen habit for elevenses (Walkers’ crisps, Mr Kipling’s cakes and a bit of Tunnock’s Mallow).

It is February 2006. The days are becoming longer, the television has finished with Pete Burns and the average British armchair viewer is currently besieged by sport, sport and more sport. We’ve seen the results of this year’s Superbowl, the football season is coming to a heightened climax, the Winter Olympics have started and the 6 Nations rugby is upon us. And we’re in the process of developing our new year’s resolutions (which I am willing to bet would have a high chance of critiquing one’s fitness levels for the year ahead).

However, I am also willing to bet that this year the average British armchair viewer will have more determination in getting up-and-out to pick up a little heard of concept called lifestyle. In essence, a lifestyle is all about you organising your life, rather than it manipulating you. And I am willing to raise this bet so that one’s lifestyle focus moving forward will include the focus of leisure.

UK gym members have grown from 5.3 million in 2002 to 6.1 million in 2004 – a 15% growth. 42 public leisure centres opened in 2001. This number rose 300% to the 124 centres that opened in 2004.

It is only 2 ½ years until the Beijing Olympics, and 6 ½ years until the London Olympics. The London Olympic committee is reviewing the possibility of achieving a similar Gold-medal target to that which the Australians achieved with the Sydney Olympics – which means that sport infrastructure over the next few years will grow exponentially in the UK. Powerleague, Goals and JJB now have close to 50 separate venues for grass-roots football.

In the past 6 months alone, Andy Murray has set up Raw-Tennis, David Beckham has set up football academies and Manchester (remember the Commonwealth games) continues its push towards eternal fitness orientation by hosting this years badminton championships. American Express has joined a local government initiative in upgrading run-down tennis courts around the UK. Today, the Daily Telegraph looks at a growing trend to use sports psychologists in the corporate sector to help staff perform better at work. And olympic rowers are taking on the high seas and rowing in the nude to the Caribbean for 40 days and 40 nights.

Our culture is changing. Thornton chocolates, Big Macs and clotted cream with scones seem to be becoming a thing of the past. Personally, I feel it is about time.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

False idols, graven images, cartoons and Snickers pie

There has been much talk of fame lately. Annie Lennox started it. She said, in a pre-Christmas interview in the Sunday Times that we don’t have famous people any more, only infamous people – and thus we value misdeeds over good deeds. Big Brother took it all mainstream and now the hubbub is chattering about chavs and wondering when people will stop being famous for getting their baps out and start being famous again for doing good things, like discovering Penicillin , and inventing TV so that people can get famous by getting their baps out on it.

But has fame ever been louder than infamy? Sure, the Logies are world famous in Australia as the local TV awards, but outside that hallowed land, how many people rate John Logie Baird, Karl Ferdinand Braun and Guglielmo Marconi over Pamela Anderson, Jodie Marsh, Dolly Parton, Lara Croft, Jessica Rabbit, Janet Jackson and other famous wearers of breasts.

It is easy to stay infamous and hard to stay famous. In the short term, infamous people become the but of jokes, and urban myths and remain the currency of conversation for generations – it’s easy to joke about Pete Burns and his gorilla coat, but hard to joke about Christiaan Barnard, or the Dalai Lama – famous people just get respected into irrelevance. In the long term, the misdeeds of the infamous - the genocide of Hitler, the violence of Genghis Khan and the blowjobs of Cleopatra – carry them into legend.

Of course the Christian Right is about to say, “Jesus is famous for being good!”, but is he? Moses, Jesus, Mohamed so famous that they are almost as well known as Ronald McDonald (Who I would discuss, except that he is too powerful). But are they famous for being good, or were they infamous first?

They were rebels: Moses led the Jewish slave rebellion against the Egyptian Pharaoh, followed immediately by the Great Running Away (or Exodus, to use the professional term); Jesus drove the merchants from the temple (and inadvertently started the Zionist domination of commerce conspiracy theory) and put the Pharisees offside by being more holy; and Mohamed rebelled against the corruption of God’s word by Jews and Christians by presenting a revised edition – a very nice re-branding effort there. All three were infamous before they were famous.

One of Mohamed’s key sticking points was the worship of graven images. He accused Christians of being more interested in worshiping statues of a crucified Israeli and his mother than the God they represented. That is why Muslim zealots are so touchy about representing images of any of God’s creations – especially people – and the stated reason for Arab countries' impressive performance in geometrically based decorative arts. (Although I do have a private theory about an advanced knowledge of geometry and a need to show off, which I may expand in the future.)

Given this background, you can see why Muslim scholars, over the years, were particularly averse to having images of The Prophet around. They would hate to be accused of worshiping Mohamed, when they should be worshiping Allah. And so it became accepted that you didn’t depict The Prophet, and in a way, that became a kind of worship in itself.

So all those riots about the cartoons that depict The Prophet – the murder, the screaming, shouting, hared and bile – comes from the fact that a bunch of people who have not seen the cartoons are upset that good Muslims everywhere may be corrupted into worshiping a pencil drawing of a bearded man. In my limited experience of these things, satirising something rarely leads to us believing init, but you can judge for yourselves, thanks to Tim Blair. As for the murder and mayhem, it is being whipped up by a bunch of irresponsible imams who gave up on Allah long ago, ignoring the message and worshiping the book - just worshiping another graven image of God’s creation.

Of course religious zealots are not the only dangerous ones. Now our tastebuds are threatened by food fascists attacking Anthony Worral Thompsons’s Snickers Pie. It is a monumentally unhealthy, but it’s just a dessert. It’s not meant to be the cornerstone of your diet, just some party food that you might eat once or twice, then never touch again. That might be enough for normal people, but like all zealots, the food fascists have a weak resolve. They know that they will be the first to crack (if they haven't already) unless any temptation is legislated out of existence. Of course it makes the zealots easy to spot: they will be the ones walking out of the supermarket with organic mascarpone and a roll of puff pastry hiding the five snickers bars at the bottom of their shopping bag.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Why is Western government keen for our society to be continually focussed on spending?

I belong to that group broadly brushed as middle-class-Generation-X (born 1970), a child of an early Baby Boomer couple (born 1941 and 1943). Ever since I could remember, I saw my parents work hard to save, save, save as interest rates were high, high, high. Growing up, we scrimped and saved. My brother and I had paper routes from the age of 8 and we learnt the value of working hard to achieve one's goals. We went to university and it was there I majored in Economics and Marketing - discovering a love for macro economics.

In this week's news, Mr Brown is commented as being keen to close the productivity gap, that is, bringing the UK productivity in line with the US. Apparently us UK workers (I visaged the word 'drones') are being destined for digital lifestyles; software developers for mobile communications and digital tv technology within various sectors.

This strikes me as being odd for few reasons.

Firstly, why is the US's productivity being established as a benchmark for the UK to compete with? Would not the China's productivity be a more realistic target if we were to raise the bar here? The US is apparently growing at the slowest pace in three years. In addition, the US have a new Federal Reserve Chairman for the first time since 1987 which I feel may bring in some higher interest rates again - does this make the US an easier target for Mr Brown? China's GDP, on the other hand, has grown from 8% in 1973 to 19% in 2004 (on a par with both US and Europe). If we are compete effectively with our GDP, should China not be the ideal target?

Secondly, if GDP is THE tool for an objective comparison between countries the world over, shouldn't there be a more efficient government system than changing the ways we manage our infrastructure every time a new party comes to power? Understandably a country's population votes for a change of party every several years, however constantly changing party policies could be argued as being detrimental to the GDP.

Thirdly, I caught a show on BBC2 on Thursday 8pm called "How to pay off your mortgage in 2 years". It occured to me that those clever old souls over at the BBC were on to something. For the last decade we have been subject to the concept of 'credit is good' - this month saw the release of a debit-card for kids, and we have seen every facet of the plethora of tv shows and consumer magazines on constantly better homes and gardens. Suddenly we are back to the ways of the 70s and 80s where saving seems to be the way forward. In 2004 the US (the country of true consumerism - emulated in all good west societies), had mortgage debt levels over $8billion, consumer debt has quadrupled since 1987 and credit card debt levels are on average over $8,000 per family. We have seen the tell-tale signs of tighter money over the past couple of years - it is not often that retailers put up signs that say "70% off SALE". Keeping interest rates low has encouraged consumer spending. Are we in for a return to double-digit interest rates again?

It just stuck me how an interesting phenonema this was for the world over.