Monthly Archives: July 2008

compulsory purchase order

If your property is in the way of something important, or standing on land needed for the ‘common good’, the government can force you to sell it to them with a ‘compulsory purchase order’. What about doing something like this as a solution to the power companies? Today, looking at domestic fuel price-hikes, alongside massive profits, people are finally beginning to nervously debate a windfall tax.

But fuck that, what about a compulsory profit reclaim? Or better still, let’s just renationalise the fuel companies and remove the profit element altogether from what is a basic essential? Then our fuel bills would just be running costs, with any surplus being plowed straight back into the system. This would also remove any need for corporate heel-dragging on greening their systems. Just a thought.

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Ruar Juar

It’s just music.
Charlie Parker

Never go with a hippy to a second location.
Jack Donaghy

Three episodes into Generation Kill. See it if you can, it’s outstanding – feels to me like one of the truest TV or film accounts of war I’ve ever seen. Thank-you Deano! Drastically better than BBC2’s disappointing Burn Up, which even Bradley Whitford’s tour-de-force neocon couldn’t rescue. In fact, Whitford’s part is so enticingly written compared to the dramatic-pause obsessed liberals, it almost upsets the intention of the show and makes you long for climate catastrophe. Stop flagging up your message or trying to direct our emotions and just tell the story! That’s what Burns and Simon do for HBO and it’s fucking wonderful.

Interesting that everybody is (finally) talking about The Wire in the UK (see previous blog) because Season 5 has hit the FX Channel, yet nobody is mentioning the team’s newer work, even in passing. 

I am not enjoying Jury Service.

Last week we sent a Nigerian man to prison for a minimum of 10 years, for smuggling cocaine. He was caught in a random check at London City Airport, where they found nearly 3 kilos sewn into his luggage. In his customs interview, speaking in Ebo through an interpreter, he claimed to have been under duress, saying that back in Nigeria two men and a woman had threatened him and his pregnant wife, forcing him to carry the drugs. A likely story! But… that interpreter was bloody rubbish – and the interview was badly transcribed as well – making the whole document hard work. And then the defendant decided (at the last minute, it seemed) not to take the stand and speak under oath in his own defence. 

Meanwhile the prosecution used a forged business email found amongst some genuine ones, along with a few suspicious (though in no way smoking gunnish) texts to make a liar of our defendent. Without knowing anything about what really happened in Nigeria, or what had happened to his wife and family during the year he’d already spent on remand in a UK jail, we convicted.  

Even though the duress claim stank and he probably did it, in retrospect I feel well uncomfortable with the guilty verdict. The defense was poor at clarifying their version of events, so much so that, throughout the trial, I actually assumed they felt they didn’t really need to build a case – with the burden resting on the prosecution to disprove duress.

There were also delays and logistical fuck-ups. We lost half a day’s court time because the agency supplying an interpreter had only booked the woman for the first day and had to bus a replacement down at short notice. At another point we were sent out because a photocopied document had a page out of order. Given what people involved in the court system earn, perhaps their shit should be smoother? With hindsight I’m shocked the prosecution didn’t need to do more and, honestly, I assumed the judge was going to direct us to aquit, until I found myself in the jury room.

Anyway, then I needed an easy ride for the second week but I’ve been dumped onto another stressful case and wasn’t able to slide out the back door.

Last time I made this particular contribution to society, in the late 1990s in Wood Green Crown Court, it was a great experience. The case I sat on then was short, painless and fascinating. My day job agreed to pay me, so I didn’t have to faff around with claim forms and I spent most of the period at home, being told I wasn’t needed, day after day. This spare time was so unexpected (and uncommitted to other stuff), I finished writing and recording the bulk of Beatverse during those two weeks. This time around no music is being made and I think I’ve just lost the Cambridge Folk Festival trip, thanks to the second case. Boo hiss.

Culture Show… oh god.

Quick preamble because it’s a red letter day: Monmouth Coffee has finally reached Brighton, albeit in a small way. Coffee@33, so fresh on Trafalgar Street they don’t have a business card or website yet, is using Monmouth’s espresso blend and – joy of joys – they reckon they can sell me a kilo of any Monmouth single estate beans/grind without a mark-up, if I give them a week’s notice. Trafalgar Street is notoriously tough to crack, so if you’re a Brighton coffee ponce and want to taste something to compete with Red Roaster (well, better than really, though in not such nice surroundings), check it out and, once you’ve seen the light, encourage them to train down the whole range.

I know I’ve got on the Culture Show‘s arse before in The Morning Star about their overall turdiness but this week takes the fucking biscuit. I was so excited about the David Simon interview. The Wire sits alongside The West Wing as my favourite TV ever and those in the know will agree, Simon is not only one of the finest television writers but has revitalised the whole art. Well…

“…he now stands accused of breaking the laws of writing for TV. David Simon has been detained by The Culture Show for questioning.” 

Geddit!?

Yes, Lauren Laverne does the eight-minute interview (with heavy clips, so less than two minutes of actual insight from the subject) in a mock-up Police interview room, using a cassette of ‘controversial’ statements and challenging him on ‘breaking TV writing laws’. For fuckedy-fuckedy-fuck’s sakes!

Laverne: “We’ve intercepted a few of your communications… That is your voice on that tape… Can you explain yourself?”

Cripes chief, can someone put the programme-makers out of my misery?

Simon patiently plays along (“This may be something you’ll have to lock me up for…”) but, Christ, I wish he’d pulled rank and told them to fuck right off. The man had fascinating, probably important themes to develop, if they’d only let him.

“Wherever an institution has been given free sway, it has devoured individuals.” 

Yesterday I watched the first episode of Generation Kill, new HBO mini-series based on the book by Rolling Stone journo Evan Wright, who was ’embedded’ with US marines during the invasion of Iraq. Adapted by Ed Burns and David Simon, it is vivid, downbeat, realistic, without over-embellishment and, so far, bloody brilliant. They are reaching toward truth – and can TV drama do any more than that? 

Surprise, no mention of this series in the interview. And since the only actual Wire plug was Season 5 starting on the FX Channel, it makes me wonder if the BBC has bought the rights to show the whole of The Wire from Season 1 in the near future and was getting some early familiarisation in, without telling us. At least that would be cash well spent.

The thing is, like Mark Kermode, who is one of the best critics on telly, Lauren Laverne’s no gimp, she can run a show and pull off a heavyweight interview when needs be. The Chris Addison chat in the same show is absolutely fine. Now she has to face whichever monkeys are throwing out shit idea after shit idea and stand them down. It’s time to climb off the gimmicks. This was the first time I’ve seen David Simon on British TV, though admittedly I haven’t gone looking. Now wouldn’t it have been fantastic if it was a straightforward lengthy and detailed interview. I’m tired of your weak shit!

By the way, same programme: if you take a talented folksy sounding new band (Clare & The Reasons) and give them their first TV exposure, please give us a teensy bit of background and PLEASE let them sing one of their own fucking songs, instead of a Tears For Fears cover given a sub Michael Andrews acoustica treatment. And could we have more homegrown bands please, instead of obsessing with already-signed American acts?
Honestly, someone should give me a TV channel.
 

ETS CEO Kurt Landgraf

After yesterday’s blog I got an extraordinary email from a friend, who is working as a temp at the coalface of this disaster – he’s responding to enquiry phonecalls from teachers who’ve had problems with their exam results. Because he’s signed a confidentiality agreement, I’m not putting his content in the blog but it is seriously shocking what has gone on at ETS. So, a bit of digging and…

Since the news agencies haven’t put any faces or names to the ongoing exam results fiasco, here you go, this is the man to ‘talk to’ if you see him:


“Tests and quality go hand in hand. At ETS, we’re doing our part.”
Kurt Landgraf, President and CEO, ETS

Read HERE what Angelfire.com said about him as long ago as 2003. 

And an excerpt: “…In 1997, the parasite was investigated by The New York Times over concerns about the fairness and interpretation of its testing products.  In the articles emerging from that investigation, Nordheimer and Franzdelivered a stinging condemnation of ETS for its failure to correct profitable misconceptions about the meaning and precision of the tests, and for concealing the incidence of cheating.  In 1999, Education Week reporter David Hoff released details of the “non-profit’s” burgeoning wealth in an article entitled, “Testing ETS.”  Earlier, in 1985, David Owen had lambasted the company in a bitingly negative review (None of the Above).  The media has had nothing good to say about ETS, because there is nothing good to say about ETS.”

Perhaps the idiot Brits hiring ETS should have done a bit of background, say, a Google search, before selling out our education system to money-grubbing super-rich Yank corporation pretending to be non-profit.

Matt’s blog & kids let down by ETS

One of Rifa’s friends, Matt, is an IT guy in the Sussex area. I’ve not met him but he’s always been a fascinating blogger. However, he’s now started to address something in his life in detail that I think makes his blog absolutely essential reading. Over the last couple of years he was put on trial under serious charges, which he had nothing to do with – and his innocence was eventually proven. But of course, his whole life was turned upside down. He’s now addressing this experience in blog installments and I think he has a lot of importance to say about the rough end of the current British justice system. Read him HERE and I’ll stick him on my blogroll.

In other news, surprise surprise, ETS, the pathetic bunch of numpties hired to mark schoolkids’ SAT exams have utterly fucked up the job, leaving tens of thousands of children without their results. Teachers and experts had warned for months that the promise of delivering all the results by the 8th July deadline was unrealistic. But the company kept insisting they’d make it, until as late as 26th June, when they finally admitted they were a heap of shit behind. Now they’re even missing the back-up deadlines and the result is chaos.

They’d left 10,000 email enquiries from their own exam markers unanswered.

Interestingly, although the fuck-up is primarily the private company’s responsibility, the face shown on the BBC story here is of public regulator, QCA boss Ken Boston. Of course he bears a fat chunk of blame and needs a good smack in the chops – but where are the names and faces of the actual ETS bosses? Why do the bleedin’ corporate cowboys themselves get such an easy ride from the Beeb? 

One big mistake everyone is making in exam marking is the belief that on-screen marking is an improvement because theoretically it speeds things up. Any media sub editor will tell you (what you probably know instinctively anyway): you simply can’t read as carefully or as focusedly onscreen. It is standard practice in newspaper and mag offices that you do your final proof-reading and assessments on paper printouts, because you catch stuff you miss onscreen. And we all know reading anything onscreen over a period of time (like, um, thousands of the same exam) is far more tiring. Given how important these ludicrous exams have been rendered by our test-obsessed society, why on earth aren’t we thinking logically about marking them!?

Any sane government would take this opportunity: sack Ken Boston (with no fatcat payoff), cancel ETS’ contract (ideally without paying them – or at least make the fines decently large) and then get rid of the useless fucking SATs altogether. They’re not fit for purpose, make kids waste good education time preparing by rote for a bunch of inane questions and overhype the supposed value of test results. They border on evil, since kids get so pent up about them. Yet they don’t even assess individual children at all – just allow schools to compare themselves with eachother. Lunatic.

euch

At 2000 Trees Festival, Manx Stef and I had lunch with a bunch of Gloucestershire guys. Inevitably conversation slid its way around to last year’s floods. The issue the lads wanted to make clear was how poorly their local community had responded to the disaster, especially in terms of cliched assumptions like ‘pulling together’ or ‘uniting in the face of adversity’. Mains water was switched off and everyone suddenly relying on huge water containers placed in the street. Instead of polite queues and convivial atmosphere of Brits under duress, there were a lot of rows and fights about where the water should be, and how much water each person/family could take. They said a lot of people stole more than their fair share, without any media coverage, until an Asian bloke took too much, at which point he was plastered across local press and scapegoated. They also said people were very thuggish, some posting ‘guards’, some even pissing and throwing rubbish in the water containers. Their account chimes with other things we’ve heard around the UK about the flooding. 

The other day, I saw an internal email which had been sent around a small company in Lewes, warning people to keep the door shut and on latch when they went out for lunch, because of the annual visit of travellers to the area. Transient people have a negligable effect on crime rates in that town – just as many crimes take place when they’re not there. Meanwhile, the company in question trades with multinational corporations selling arms, oil and pharmaceuticals, that make thousands upon thousands of peoples’ lives drastically worse across the world in the name of profit. Sometimes, when their suppliers (designers and web programmers) find out who they’re being asked to work for, they back out on ethical grounds, despite the loss of income. 

I think the people who shout about the ‘broken society’ – the right-wing media and its frightened readership, socially conservative pricks and anti-immigrant fact benders – are the very people who caused it in the first place, with their money-grubbing, greed-oriented divide-and-rule sleight-of-hand strategy where money is more important than people.

Anything to distract from the Grand Evils of the multinationals and corporations, manipulating this unsustainable oil economy to make as much personal profit as they can, before the whole thing collapses.

On Mauritius, variants on the phrase “You eaten yet?” are standard greetings, as commonly used as “Hello!” because, during historical periods of extreme poverty, it was a way of making sure your neighbours didn’t go hungry, without them having to beg. It’s obvious that what we’ve lost through the rise of Greed Culture and Debt Culture is far, far greater than what we gain by being able to watch a massive television or drive a landrover around the city.

We all deserve to be stabbed by a hoodie.

I realise I’m struggling to be coherent on this issue but I’m trying to write something more useful and it’s not coming together yet.

slow news day

It’s nice to have the attention… Drowned In Sound turned last week’s blog entry (which mentioned them) into a news story.

Read it here. And I found out today I got a good review in Bizarre, of all places. I’m even more famous than I thought!