Monday, March 26, 2007

On Englishness

(Photo "Come on England!" by Lisa Connolly - via Flickr and Radio Open Source.) I'm dead chuffed: Open Source from Public Radio International in the U.S. has picked up my show idea and are developing it for future broadcast. My idea is to look at Englishness and see if, in the post-devolution UK, there is any reality to the idea of a "new Englishness", representing a more progressive and diverse idea of nationality. I wrote quite a lengthy comment on their thread today, which I will paste in here. Anyone with their own thoughts should join the discussion on the Open Source website.

It’s very interesting to see how many Americans look at this through the idea of heritage: “where my people came from” etc. I guess that’s very much a country of immigration response. Many Aussie friends are similar and have a much better sense of their family history than most British people will. If there is a “new Englishness”, I would argue that it is absolutely the opposite to this. Scottish nationalists, with a very few exceptions, tend to be quite embarrassed by the Hollywood-Braveheart-paint-your-face-blue-and-wear-a-kilt type of nationalism. I don’t think Alex Salmond, longtime leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), has ever been seen in a kilt. That’s for the tourists. The new Scottish nationalism is in many ways a conscious attempt to reconstruct Scotland as a Nordic social democracy. They look to the Norwegian “oil fund”, set up to endow the Norwegian welfare state into the future, for inspiration. Or to the Finnish or Swedish parliamentary proportional representation systems. It’s a conscious effort to recreate Scottishness as citizenship, not an ethnicity, so that being Italian-Scottish, or Pakistani-Scottish makes sense.

The devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament, Stormont in Northern Ireland and the Welsh Assembly, has forced this issue onto England. If “the UK” means less and less, “English” needs to mean more. In 2000 I was tutoring political science groups at a university in Manchester. One class I remember of about 15 students was very diverse: students whose families had come from Pakistan and India, Ghana and Jamaica, Poland and Ireland. We were discussing national identity and it was interesting that most non-white students tended to see English as ethnicity. For them, to be English was to be white. Their multiple identities tended to be local: Mancunians, Brummies, Liverpudlians, etc.; National - British; and ethnic: Pakistani, Afro-Caribbean etc. “English” didn’t make it - after all no one has a passport saying they are English. Post-9/11, “Muslim” has probably been pushed onto some of them as an additional, and at times over-riding identity.

But have things changed in the last 7 years? I’m not sure. Anecdotally, people say that the following of the English football team abroad in recent years has become much more multiracial (as well as more women and families supporting). The fact that football is played by the sub-nations (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all have their own teams), unlike for example the Olympics where the team is “Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, has pushed this issue. There are lots of black players who proudly represent their ‘country’ in the English team. So this is why last summer’s world cup brought discussion of this to the fore.

I think the idea of a new, positive, English nationalism faces some structural problems: a) “Cool Britannia”, although rather sneered at now, the late 90s idea was that Britain was cool again - booming economy avoiding some of the difficulties faced by continental Europe, the music, the diverse young creative hip spirit of London etc etc did have some resonance - but it suggested being British was cool, not English. b) That the capital of the UK is also the capital of England: why does England need a parliament say, when it already has a perfectly good one in London? In Scotland people now look to Edinburgh, in Wales to Cardiff, but in England there is nothing new - the UK institutions seem to basically be also the English institutions. The government had the idea of regional parliaments in England, that would devolve power away from the London a bit like the States in the US, but when the voters of the North East were asked first, they heavily rejected it as it looked like just more bureaucracy. The idea got shelved.

I suspect that a new Englishness will probably only come about if really forced onto people by Scottish independence. This looks unlikely now, but isn’t impossible. Until then, those of us who think of ourselves as British but come from England, will probably keeps saying when asked: “I’m English, eerrrrrr…. British; I come from England, errrrr…. you know - the UK, ummmm… Great Britain. You know what I mean?”

Anyway, British, UK, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, whatever - we do have the best beer.

Friday, March 23, 2007

DJ Besho

So the FT isn' t the most likely place to find tips for cutting edge hip hop, but I just read an article in their weekend magazine on DJ Besho, Afghanistan's preeminent MC. As ever, he's already on YouTube:



I think the song is called "Shoma Afghanistan" ("You're an Afghan") and if you listen carefully you can hear him name check all the provinces of the country. According to the FT it's a song about peace and an end to fighting between Afghan brothers. He's got the Hummer in the video - of course - (actually - there are Hummer's in Afghanistan that aren't full of US squaddies?!) but no women. As Besho told the FT: "In Kunduz there were more than 1,000 people in the audience but no women. This is a problem for Afghanistan". I don't think he means just at hip hop concerts.

Nevertheless there is something quite heartwarming about, pro-peace Pashtun hip-hop.

In your best Westwood accent: No doubt, no doubt. Maximum respect to DJ Besho. Peace, out.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Phrase of the day: Push-Polls

Whilst we're on the subject of oven-chips (see below), lets talk about John McCain*. I've noted before that he has hired for his campaign team some pretty dodgy geezers, but McCain has been sinned against more than he has sinned in terms of hard-ball electioneering. McCain's attempt to the be the Republican party candidate for the Presidency in 2000 faltered during the South Carolina primary against the then Governor Bush. This contest was notoriously spiteful with the Bush campaign being accused of various dirty tricks, most famously spreading rumours that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. Even though this wasn't true, the fact that it swung the primary in Bush's favour perhaps says a lot about the type of people who vote in Republican primaries in South Carolina; Strom Thurmond country after all.

I've always wondered how you spread a rumour like that. Did Karl Rove sit in lots of bars saying "Pssst! Buddy! Have you heard John McCain..."? Nope. As I heard yesterday via Radio Open Source, the way it was done was via "Push Polling". I wasn't familiar with the term so looked it up:
A "Push Poll" is a telemarketing technique in which telephone calls are used to canvass vast numbers of potential voters, feeding them false and damaging "information" about a candidate under the guise of taking a poll to see how this "information" effects voter preferences. In fact, the intent is to "push" the voters away from one candidate and toward the opposing candidate. This is clearly political telemarketing, using innuendo and, in many cases, clearly false information to influence voters; there is no intent to conduct research.

In the South Carolina case, McCain's campaign manager writing in the Boston Globe described the process as:
the "pollsters" asked McCain supporters if they would be more or less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate child who was black. In the conservative, race-conscious South, that's not a minor charge. We had no idea who made the phone calls, who paid for them, or how many calls were made. Effective and anonymous: the perfect smear campaign.
Mother Jones has a good article on push-polling here.


*As segues go this is a bit lame and might only make sense to Brits. If you don't get it (and/or don't have anything better to do with your life for 45 seconds or so)
click here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Stupidnomics

Finest frozen Euroshopper oven chips in my local supermarket


A one kilo bag of which cost 0.75 EUR, or as the little figure helps the terminally stupid work out: 0.75 EUR per kg.


A 2,5 kg bag of which cost 1.95 EUR, or as the other figure more usefully shows 0.78 EUR per kg.

What's going on there then? My economics training might not have got beyond GSCE level (pretty basic to the non-English/Welsh out there), but it appears that Finnish supermarkets still haven't quite got the idea of bulk buy discounts (this isn't the only product where I've noticed they try to charge you more if you want to buy larger amounts of it). Besides being crap in the range they offer and prices they charge, they actually want to charge you more if you have the temerity to buy more from them?!

Monday, March 19, 2007

A new extreme right: Dinesh D'Souza and the theocons

It's an old cliché that when the extremes go far enough to the political right or left, they end up meeting around the back. How really different were Nazism and Stalinism? Or indeed your skinhead neo-fascist football hooligan and the masked, Starbucks-smashing, anti-globalisation anarchist? But Andrew Sullivan, reviewing The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 by Dinesh D'Souza in The New Republic, demonstrates a new version of this - where the American (and this is predominantly an American phenomenon) religious right, the theocons, have fetishized their social conservatism to such a degree that they starts to see the up-side in the fundamentalist Islam of the Saudi Wahhabis or international Islamists more generally.

Sullivan argues that D'Souza is, like the Islamists, actually more interested in the earthly, political structures that he feels his religion requires, than in the actual religion itself.
In the goal of maintaining patriarchy, banning divorce, outlawing homosexuality, and policing blasphemy, any orthodoxy will do. D'Souza's religion, in a sense, is social conservatism. He is not going to let a minor matter such as the meanings of God get in the way of his religion.
Sullivan accuses D'Souza of then cynically sugaring the Islamism-isn't-all-bad pill for his fellow conservatives by saying that it was the actions of American liberals/progressives/lefties/what-have-yous who are responsible for making the Jihadis hate America by producing an ugly, morally repugnant and vacuous culture, and therefore bear ultimate responsibility for the attacks.

It would be comforting to say that D'Souza is just plainly f**king nuts. But he isn't. Nor is he stupid. He does though have a very, very weird outlook on the world. It would also be comforting to call him a marginalised extremist, but this doesn't appear to be true either. Although the book has taken some stick from many conservatives, other serious conservative figures have defended him and it has serious publisher and D'Souza himself is all over the media. Sullivan lists D'Souza's recent speaking invitations, and the one that jumped out to me was the U.S. Air Force Academy. For those who take an interest in the Christian Right in the US, that the Air Force Academy had invited D'Souza might not come as any great surprise after the scandals of recent years where cadets who weren't fundamentalist Christians claim to have been made to feel unwelcome by other students and members of the faculty. Nevertheless it's seems slightly alarming that an extremist like D'Souza gets to lecture the future guardians of the US nuclear forces.

I've often wondered what some on the politically active, religious right really have against Islamism. If we ignore bin Laden and co. and their violence aimed at the US, the more politically-inclined Islamists, be they the pro-monarchy Wahhabi sheiks of Saudi Arabia, or the more televisual Aljaazera imams of the Muslim Brotherhood, seem to be on the same wavelength when it comes to social policy. For example, the American politicization of homosexuality is particularly striking to Europeans; many argue that gay marriage was the issue that swung the 2004 presidential elections. D'Souza is with the Islamists on this issue; Sullivan's argues that D'Souza is unique only in having both the balls and gall to openly admit it. I've mentioned Ted Haggard on this blog before, and D'Souza thanks Haggard in the book (I wonder if it had gone to print before Haggard's gay-prostitute-crystal-meth-party fall-from-grace had hit the headlines?), but in an interesting radio show last autumn on Haggard's scandal, the journalist Jeff Sharlet noted:

Now the other villain, of course, for most of twentieth century evangelicalism was the communist…And then in 1992, in the early 1990s, the communist very quickly disappeared as a viable enemy…I noticed that a lot of these chastity organizations had all started, in fact, in 1992. And then as I started talking to them, they were quite plain that they felt that with the Cold War over, there was now room to focus on sexual issues. And, at the same time they felt that gay liberation had had some success and so they felt like suddenly, the gay man, and I always say the gay man singular, sort of an archetype, because they’re not really talking about real people…The gay man sort of rose as this looming figure who could be anywhere, just like a communist. Looks like us, moves among us, is in our schools…And so it’s an omnipresent threat that you have to be constantly on vigilance for. And this is a great organizing tactic, this is the ultimate fear tactic.
Sharlet went on to note that there is actually discussion within certain parts of the religious right, post-9/11, as to whether Muslims or gays are more dangerous for America. D'Souza appears to have taken a very public stand on this issue and is clearly more scared of gays.

Sometimes you are just left shaking your head at the utter weirdness of all.

(See also this earlier post.)


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hurrah for Ireland! Happy St. Patrick's

I'm not a big cricket fan but underdog stories are always the best, and as underdogs go Ireland vs. Pakistan is about as far under as it gets. Think Portugal beating Finland at ice hockey. In fact think Senegal beating Finland at ice hockey. The BBC reports:
Ireland produced one of the greatest victories in cricket's rich history by beating Pakistan on St Patrick's Day amid unbelievable tension in Jamaica. Led by their brilliant wicket-keeper batsman Niall O'Brien, they reached a rain-adjusted target of 128 with three wickets remaining in near darkness.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Renewing Trident: good, bad, or indifferent?

So, despite some last minute shenanigans that make it look like Her Majesty Government are kicking Trident down the park (don't actually try this at home, you'll either hurt your foot or start WWIII...) for the next Parliament to really deal with, Blair got the vote to renew the UK's nuclear forces, embarrassingly having to rely on the Tories to do so. A couple of colleagues had asked me what I think about the issue and despite having written about UK nuclear policy in the past, I've been somewhat sitting on the fence. We have been having a good discussion on UKclimbing about it, so I will nick what I wrote there and post it here:

I've been trying to work this one out in my head over the last few days and to be honest, beyond the cost issue, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. Firstly I should say that nuclear weapons are, I think, inherently immoral devices that should never have been invented in the first place. But having said that I see the question of if, how and when to disarm now we do have them in utilitarian light - the greatest good for the greatest number.

If we disarm what happens? Nothing really. Blair might get an award from some very worthy arms control group that 99% of people have never heard of, but beyond him being smug in his memoirs, not a lot else would result. A question for you all: name one country that independently built nuclear weapons and then unilaterally disarmed?* Some people will know without googling but I suspect not many. The leaders of that country were known for the moral courage in other fields. Unilateral disarmament was by-the-by over all. It was a great act of moral and political courage, but one that had very little impact on the world.
No other country around the world sees the UK nukes as a threat, so us getting rid of them will change nothing. Pakistan isn't suddenly going to say "look at those Brits disarming! What a great idea!" because their missiles are aimed at Delhi not London. The Israelis and the Iranians will continue to glare at each other and rattle sabers, regardless of what is bobbing about in Faslane docks. Exactly the same argument applies to keeping them. It won't change the security situation anywhere else directly. If we keep them we have to find 20 billion quid over the next twenty years. It sounds a massive amount, lots of schools or hospitals, but Googling "NHS budget" I found that according to the Adam Smith Institute, the NHS got £68.7 billion in financial year 2003/4. Anyway - would the money go to schools and hospitals or just other bits of the military? On the other side, if we do keep them it remains a very important tie to the US. It doesn't really matter if you think US international policy is awful or wonderful - being able to at least get yourself heard in Washington is important and the closeness of the US and UK militaries due to the nuclear ties helps this. Is it worth twenty billion quid though? Who knows... Finally, if we do keep them, we have something to negotiate disarmament with at some point in the future when hopefully the world looks better. At the moment we should be focusing on diplomatically stopping the next round of proliferation. Maybe in future years the UK and France could set an example to say the middle east by disarming? You pay your money (or not); you take your chances.

*The answer is South Africa.

Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Guiliani, former mayor of New York, is currently the front runner for the Republican party nomination to contest the 2008 presidential election. He is currently leading John McCain by 25 points in the polls. Yet he remains plagued by suggestions that his convoluted business and personal life will eventually catch up with him. Lexington - the Economist's US editorial page - has this great comment on Rudy:
"Absolutely not," was the response of Ed Koch, another former New York mayor and a political rival, to the suggestion that Mr Giuliani is a racist. "He's nasty to everybody"
The Economist March 10th 2007 (p.52)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What a difference a week can make

Me, seconding. Thanks to Little Toni for the excellent pic.

Jody gettin' it on

One week later: big Toni on warm dry rock

Two weekends ago (3rd March) we went ice climbing, and although it was slightly soggy with the temperature hovering around freezing, there was still plenty of ice. This weekend just gone (10th March), we went rock climbing in the sunshine and the rock actually felt warm to the touch. In the mountains you can do this just by changing altitude, but all the cliffs in southern Finland are basically at the same altitude - not much above sea level! At the end of past seasons I have ice climbed one weekend (pick a north facing crag that stays out of the sun) and then rock climbed the next weekend (go for a sunny south facing cliff obviously), indeed one year I remember climbing ice in the morning and then swapping crampons for rock shoes and going sport climbing in the afternoon, but the speed that everything has melted this past week has been really noticeable. Normally at the end of a winter you get some good ice conditions when everything melts during the day only to freeze hard with night frosts. This washes unwanted snow off routes and builds solid, smooth reliable ice that is a pleasure to climb and just feels 'safe'. But in the past week, just like earlier this winter, the temperature has stayed above freezing both night and day. Also noticeable is how early this thaw has come. I can't remember a year when I haven't ice climbed until the end of March, and the icefalls still being climbable at the end of April isn't particularly unusual.

From our London correspondent: Tony loves WMD

If you are going to make a point, you might as well do it clearly.
Thanks to our man in London for this dispatch from our Westminster bureau.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Things I didn't know last week:

1) Nicholas Sarkozy, possible future President of France, is teetotal (From Our Correspondent, BBC).

2) The Cherokee native American tribe used to own slaves (NPR).

Unusual objectives dangers

"Objective dangers" is the term used by climbers (mountaineers in particular) to describe climbing risks that don't come from your own behaviour but rather from the environment you are in. OK - so as a climber you choose to put yourself in that environment, but beyond that you take my point... Hence, falling off a badly protected route is not an objective danger, but rockfall or avalanches are.

Anyway it appears yesterday we were climbing a few hundred metres away from a mad man with a number of automatic weapons. We even drove past the numerous police vehicles and said - "I wonder what's going on there? That's a lot of police." I think I'd prefer to take my chances with rockfall.

Finnish attitudes to these events can be almost jocular - "crazy drunk guy shoots up a load of cars! There's one in every village eh? Ha ha." but the cop who got injured had a bullet graze his head. A few inches from tragedy I would say. I'm pretty liberal on most things, but I still just don't see why the public should have the right to own weapons that have no purpose other than for killing other people.

Bullingdon Club Matching Pairs

At least a few minutes ago I was top of the leader board for the lowest number of flips to find Boris, Dave and their mates on the Bullingdon Club Matching Pairs game. There is a minute and a half of my life that I'll probably regret wasting when I'm lying on my death bed, but I bet you still want to see if you can beat me don't you?

More on Bullingdon for those who don't know.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sporks

For all you spork fans out there. You know who you are.

My spork, pictured here in action in Arctic Norway last summer, is "designed especially for Light My Fire by Scandinavian designer Joachim Nordwall." They come in a range of attractive colours to fit your mood and so as not to clash with the rest of your camping cookwear. The Light My Fire Spork is quite clearly the Ipod Nano of camping cutlery market.

The wacky world of Sy Hersh

Read Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker here.

I've heard him twice in the last week on the radio, once on Radio OpenSource and once on Fresh Air. He is famous for getting stories right and first - My Lai and Abu Ghraib being the most stunningly obvious, but he also says many other things where it is hard to know if they really are true. As he said himself on Fresh Air, he has been playing chicken-licken about a US attack on Iran for a long time now, but despite all his warnings of covert ops teams 'in country' and advance war planning, the sky still has fallen on our heads - perhaps it is just an acorn after all. In this sense his high level sources are both his strength and weakness; his strength because he is told things no one else is, but his weakness because all these insiders stay anonymous and the reader is left to trust him and the (famously stringent) fact checkers of the New Yorker who are told who his sources are, to be certain amongst all their agendas they are still telling him the truth.

Also on some rather specific issues that I actually know a little about, he either doesn't quite have all his facts in order, or more likely, he lets a good story steam roller the nuance. For example on OpenSource he was talking about US covert support for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Syria, saying this was ironic because the Brotherhood was in the past "very violent" including assassinating Sadat. This is actually mixing various different things up. The MB in Syria has had a violent history staging an armed insurrection against the (immensely oppressive in its own right) Assad regime in the early 80s. This insurgency was crushed by the government, culminating in the Hama massacre of 1982 where the government killed anything up to 25,000 whist razing the city of Hama. The original MB in Egypt have dabbled in violence in the past, but it has never been mainstream since, if I remember correctly the 1950s. It is a fundamentalist, Islamist group that has an ideology that is incompatible with universal human rights, but it is a political party working through the political system. Brothers in Egypt have tended to leave the main MB and set up smaller, more radical groups after becoming frustrated by the Brotherhood's pursuit of non-violent methods aimed at Islamizing the society and state. Sadat was murdered by Islamic Jihad, not by the MB, and the Egyptian situation is only tangentially linked to the Syrian situation. On top of that, we are talking about events from over 20 years ago. That's all quite a mouthful to explain in a soundbite on a radio programme, but Hersh didn't really try, rather going for the cheap(-ish) political point.

The most interesting point I think from his New Yorker article, which he emphasized on both radio appearances, is that there are radical Jihadi groups in Lebanon, and that Lebanese government is actively conniving with them because their number one target is Hezbollah. Additionally he says that the US government know this and supports the policy as they see Hezbollah as the greater threat. For anyone who doesn't get this, it's simply because Hezb are Shiite, whilst the Jihadis are Sunni and see the Shiites as a threat - shades of the Iraqi civil war of course. One of the best open source analysts of Jihadi discourse, Dr. Reuven Paz at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Israel, wrote a very interesting paper on what the Jihadis were saying about Hezbollah last summer, which the following quote sums up:
"Hizballah was permanently named “Hizb al-Shaytan” (Party of the Devil) or “Hizb allat,” after the pre-Islamic idol of the Arabs in Mecca. Hasan Nasrallah was named only Hasan Nasr, in order not to add Allah to his name."(p.7)
This makes Hersh's assertion, including that Nasrallah believes the jihadis present a greater risk to his personal security than the Israelis, easier to believe. Another irony though that he fails to mentions is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni organisation, came out in support of Hezbollah last summer, to the anger of the Egyptian government, who were very quietly hoping for an Israeli victory, as well as against the salafi-Jihadis to whom some commentators often try and associate the MB.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Killing of Stringer Bell

R.I.P. String; we thought you were smarter than that. But, like Omar says, the game is the game.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you obviously haven't seen the best TV show of recent years, the third season of which has just finished on Finnish TV. God knows why, but MTV3 saw fit to bury it at 11.30 pm on Saturday night. Presumably the core audience was made up of young parents like myself who no longer have social lives, and hence nothing better to be doing on late on Saturday nights? I guess we have disposable income to attract advertisers now we no longer go to bars, clubs, cinemas, restaurants or indeed any other form of non-domestic entertainment...

I think in the US the fourth and final season of the Wire has recently finished. At least I've got ten hours or so still to go with Baltimore's finest and slightly-less-than-fine. Now with String gone and Avon facing 7 to life, the only question left is who is the coolest of those still standing: Omar or Brother Mouzone? I've gotta go for the brother with the twelve-guage. Y'feel me?

The Wire - TV don't get no better.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Photos on Flickr


I've finally set a Flickr account to do something with at some of the hundreds of snaps I seem to be taking all the time but never doing anything with. If anyone is interested they can visit here. So far I have only one picture set up - a visit to Suomenlinna - but will be adding more over time.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The politics of Eurovision

I can't believe I'm writing this, I'm sorry - I really am. Anyway, Eurovision and Israel, here we go...

So after putting up Teapack via YouTube yesterday I noticed someone had come to this blog after doing a blogsearch for them. I followed the link to see who else had blogged about the song and near the top was Little Green Footballs. Wanting to test my theory that generally one of Little Green Footballs' more moronic commenters will suggest nuking Mecca within the first ten comments on any post, (I'm slightly disappointed that they didn't this time - the level of bile being spouted on LGF can't be moderating can it? They are laughing about Palestinians shooting themselves by about comment 12, although I have to admit there is some dark comedy value in anyone shooting themselves) I followed the link. Anyway, according to LGF, one comment made by some Eurovision bod that the song is too political and won't be allowed is yet more damning evidence of European antisemitism, the collapse of Western civilization, the arrival of the rapacious barbarian hordes at the gates of Vienna- you know, the normal kind of stuff.

There are two things to point out about this, firstly - according to the Jerusalem Post - it's not true: the Israeli TV channel have checked the rules and with the competition organizers and they have nothing against the song. And secondly, even if the song was seen as being too political there is nothing anti-Israeli about that as it has happened in the past to other countries. The last case being that of the Ukrainian entry, Razom Nas Bahato, Nas Ne Podolaty, in 2005 by the rap outfit GreenJolly. GreenJolly were propelled to fame by the Orange Revolution of 2004 as the above mentioned song became the anthem of the protesters, including the snappy refrain:
No to lies!
Yushchenko - Yes! Yushchenko - Yes!
This is our President.
Yes! Yes!
Or in the original Ukrainian if you prefer:
Ні брехні!
Ющенко - Так, Ющенко - Так!
Це наш президент!
Так! Так!
When they tried to enter this song as the Ukrainian Eurovision entry for that year's competition in Kiev, it was deemed too political. GreenJolly, obviously not wanting to miss out on their moment of Euro-fame, re-worded the song to be a general celebration of revolution and not telling fibs, rather than specific ode to President Yushchenko. The 2005 competition was held in Kiev after Ruslana of Ukraine won in 2004. I tell you this only as a rather lame reason to add a picture of the lovely Ruslana in her cave-girl outfit (see right) to this post. Sadly, GreenJolly came a rather poor 20th, gaining only 30 points, suggesting that we Europeans prefer cute cave-girls to vaguely political Slavic hip-hop. It's a language thing I'm sure. The competition that year was won by the also unfeasibly attractive Elena Paparizou of Greece (but you'll have to google her yourself chaps if you want eye-candy).

The Guardian arts section(oh, the irony!) in 2005 had a brief discussion on the GreenJolly incident, along with many other Eurovision oddities and trivia; read it here. The article mentions the gently anti-American sentiment to the Russian entry that year and that Norway once entered a song about hydro-electric power - can this really be true? Knowing Eurovision - probably, and it's almost certainly on Wikipedia, which seems very strong on Eurovision! If anyone can be bothered to look it up, I'll blog it. Promise.

Toby's Eurovision-politics trivia contribution: Lulu's "Boom Bang A Bang" (joint first place 1969), was deemed unsuitable for airplay by the BBC during the 1991 Gulf War. If I remember correctly though, they forgot to put The Cure's "killing an Arab" on the list. Doh.

Toby's rather pitiful Eurovision claim to fame: I've met one of this year's presenters, Jaana Pelkonen, at a mate's party. She seemed very nice and is just as pretty as she looks on the telly, but she is very very small. Pocket sized really. I hope her co-presenter isn't too tall, or older British viewer at least might be reminded of the immortal 1989 Brit awards, with Sam Fox and and that tall bloke from Fleetwood Mac - the worst awards ceremony ever?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The power of the news: more from Marr

On average, there are less people dying in wars than before; there is less inequality as more poor people are lifted out of poverty; and people are living longer than ever before. Nevertheless everyone tends to think that the world is going to hell in a hand basket (listen to AC Grayling discuss this with Andrew Marr and others on Radio 4's "Start the Week" here). Could it be that we just know more about all the crappy stuff that happens to other people in other places than before? It doesn't mean that this crappy stuff didn't happen in the past; it did and probably to a greater extent. It's just now we can watch.

That is the power of the media, and my second quote from Marr's "My Trade" sums this process up perfectly:

One story saying killer French bees are coming to get you might make you laugh. A dozen, over a few days, might make you scared. If you hear people have indeed died, and this is repeated, and similar stories recur the next spring, and the next, then you come to believe in killer French bees. Multiply that a thousand-fold to account for all the running stories in different papers and one begins to understand the power of the news. It takes a heroic, or insane, mind to stand outside it. (p.62)

Israel for Eurovision 2007?



Yeah! Push that button. If Lordi can win it, why not? Although they aren't as attractive as the Croatian woman last year who garnered much more attention for her leaked Paris Hilton-style video than for her singing...

You've gotta love Eurovision, and it's even in my hometown this year!

Thanks to Charly for the link - he's obviously a big Eurovision fan...

Vaguely amusing sub-news story for the day

The plane that Vice President Cheney was using on his visit to Afghanistan (the visit became news mainly because of the suicide bomb attack outside of the base - i.e. kilometers from where the VP actually was) is called "The Spirit of Strom Thurmond"!

That is quite some spirit.
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