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Last Night’s Newsnight…today (21.10.10)

Newsnight is already late tonight because bloody Bono wouldn’t shut up on Jools Holland. Shh, B-Dawg. You’ve done enough damage. Cue embarrassing Beach Boys BBC Music advert. Yes, yes, we know you do music but if we’re honest, BBC 6 Music is the only one that really does it right.

Ok, we’re here. So’s Evan.

Deficit getting you down?

Borrowing is on the way up, a worrying trend reversal for our government. Duncan Weldon, our fave economics reporter, is here with a montage. According to a graph, borrowing is up 10% on last year. Gemma Tellow tells us tax receipts are up. The real problem is a lack of wage increase, so despite a “healthy” economy, people still need to borrow. We are not where George Osborne wanted us to be, put it that way, and while this is usually a good thing, now it’s a bit worrying. The reason for lack of high wages is an increase in self employment and shorter working hours. Gemma’s back to warn us that this might be a permanent issue. There’s a flashback to 1997 when we were in a similar position (is this real?), and Evan was economics editor.

Robert Chote, Chairman at the Office for Budget Responsibility is in the studio. He accepts Duncan’s argument but says we also have to look at GDP, which is doing well. But profits, tax receipts and other gubbins have not been so positive. Robert says the key issue in terms of how much of the borrowing is cyclical (as in how much will just disappear) and how much is structural, is to do with how much damage has been done. If this sounds a little vague, it is, because nobody really knows the answer yet.

Evan is suggesting a pay rise for the UK! Think a march of some sort may have been saying a similar thing the other day…Robert says this is a difficult solution as productivity is ever so weak. The spending/cutting on public spending bears the burden when it comes to recovery: it is the only thing the government can actually plan and control at the moment. This is pretty bleak to be honest.

Paralysis beaten?

This is to do with the great news that a man who had been paralysed is now able to walk, and drive, with the assistance of a frame. Evan is asking how this news affects others with similar conditions. He’s talking to Melanie Reid, of the Spinal Column column at the Times. She has very bad spinal problems. She welcomes the news, but suggests it doesn’t provide much comfort to those who are in wheelchairs right now – they want to avoid false hope. Evan asks whether people in wheelchairs should strive to return to normality, of just learn to cope with the way things are. Melanie says there is a division in attitude, particularly between paraplegics and tetraplegics (the latter face paralysis of the upper as well as lower body). Melanie herself still yearns for hope: she is not ready to resign herself. She says this should provide hope, especially for younger people.

Tories and the immigration question

We all know that UKIP are posing a real threat to the Conservatives – but should they move even more right and play UKIP at their own game when it comes to immigration, or go to the left and “refrain from competing with bigotry” (Ken Clarke)? Cue a Simpsons clip. You know, the one with the lobster and the fish in the tank – lobsters need salt water, but the fish don’t! What to do?? I love #newsnight. Nick Hopkins is here. He says that Tories don’t really have a clear policy at the moment when it comes to immigration. He’s got a document from the Conservative Councillor’s Association telling prospective Tory counsellors what to do if facing a UKIP or BNP threat: they are told “not to pander” to their rhetoric. But also do not highlight their own policy…basically do not highlight immigration as a core concern. Hmmm. Avoiding the elephant in the room.

Rick Nye (Populus guy) and Tim Montgomerie (The Times) are in the studio. They are talking about the recruitment of Andrew Green to the House of Lords – he set up Immigration Watch. Is Cameron, who nominated Green, playing to those who are scared of immigration? Tim says Andrew was a pretty big deal and deserves his position. Rick says the debate is a missed opportunity – he says people right, left and centre are worried about immigration – you don’t alienate a chunk of people by talking about it. Cameron need to address voters from everywhere in the spectrum. Tim says voters don’t believe politician’s promises. Astute, Tim. He also notes the “historic” split of the right, and considers it a tricky issue, and that immigration is not the only answer to drag the UKIP leaning Tories back to the centre right. Rick says that Cameron should pick his horse and ride it, cowboy. Tim notes that there is panic and the Conservatives are not acting rationally. Hear hear.

Panic at the Opera

The controversy surrounding ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ at the Met in NY has made headlines. It’s about the highjacking of a plane by Palestinians in the 80s, where Klinghoffer was shot in the head. People have called it anti-Semitic and there have been protests outside the Met asking for it to be withdrawn.

Evan is joined by Peter Gelb, General Manager at the Met. He says the opera does not glorify terrorism or espouse anti-Semitism. The opera was well received (in the theatre itself), and he is very glad they were actually able to show this. They cancelled the screenings at  cinemas in a gesture to their sponsors who said it might spark anti-Semitism in parts of Europe.

Oslo Freedom Forum – An organised revolution.

Human rights activists gather to learn about how to be a good activist. Laura Kuenssberg is there. They organise revolutions – Hong Kong demonstrators are there, as are escapees from North Korea and deportees from the UAE. The Hong Kong demonstrators learned how to protest here – they learned how to respond if arrested, to water guns, how to get food and drink – as Laura says, “it’s meticulous!” But there is still work to do. Many still live in undemocratic regimes. Information is shared over canapés and champagne – Pussy Riot are there!

Evan is hungry for a Norwegian canapé, with the news that Russell Brand will be on the show on Thursday. Yipee.

Closing with some nice pictures of animals. They really are lovely, to be fair.

Last Night’s Newsnight…today (Weds 15 Oct, 2014)

Want to sound informed, but just couldn’t find the energy or inclination to watch the BBC’s Newsnight? Well, no worries because I’ve done it for you. Here’s a recap of last night’s Newsnight, this morning. Kirsty Wark was presenting yesterday.

 “Not worth the minimum wage”

Lord Freud made some very ill-advised comments at the conservative party conference fringe meeting two weeks ago. Laura Kuenssberg takes over: Freud was asked if an employer could pay less than minimum wage in order to tempt and them to employee disabled people. It was a public meeting, but he was unaware that a mole was in the meeting, filming. This is what he said: “There is a small…there is a group, and  I know exactly (who you) mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage and actually I’m going to go and think about that particular issue..there is something we can do nationally….if someone wants to work for £2 an hour and it’s working…” (my bold). Laura calls Freud clumsy. Yep. In the commons, Ed Miliband quotes Freud’s words in the chamber, and David Cameron is furious. He shouts that ‘these are not the views of the government’. No 10 hopes they can move on from the issue because Freud said sorry quickly, but this all adds to the impression that the Tories “let down” people and “look down” on them as well.

In the studio, we have Penny Pepper, a disability rights activist: she’s understandably offended and alarmed, and says this highlights the way the government addresses disability rights. Freud’s words “goes against all kind of social conscience”. Sam Bowman, Adam Smith Institute, is also there: he says this addresses the huge problem of lack of disabled people in work – only 12 % of people with learning disabilities in work. PP hates the idea that some people are worth less than others in the work place, however obviously some people are less suited to jobs than others. Sam suggests a lower minimum wage rate for disabled people, topped up by the state to reach the minimum wage, as in America. He asserts that he’s not talking about the value of the person, but their labour. Markets don’t have a conscience – Sam thinks that this issue lies with the state completely; Penny says this leaves room for abuse.

Libya’s civil war.

The newly elected parliament has been forced out of Tripoli. Tim Whewell is in the studio: he says it’s amazing how much we’ve forgotten about Libya. It’s now almost a failed state – there are fierce battles on the streets of Benghazi. No journos are there; it’s just too dangerous and hard to get there. Tim’s been, though. Cut to VT: he’s in a boat with Colonel Mustafa, who is wary of militants. They’ve made it to Tobruk, where the elected authorities have fled to. Most of the rest of Libya’s key states are in rebel hands. The MPs are in a 1970s hotel, and Tim interviews a recently reunited family who have fled rebel occupied territory: they feared their lives. Then Tim speaks with a young engineer who protested about unemployment, and was taken to Gaddafi and his tent. He describes it as a terrifying experience. There’s an old tape of Cameron in Libya after Gaddafi was ousted, celebrating the bravery of the rebels. But these rebels are now a problem, reigning in terror in Benghazi and other Libyan strong points. They deny being terrorists, but they work alongside known terrorists, and have joined the “IS” caliphate. The elected government are struggling to regain control – Tim says they are ‘in denial’ over their lack of power in Libya: it’s all talk, no action. Salah Sobhi, of the House of Representatives, says if the Islamic militants take over Libya it will signal trouble for the whole world – Crete can be seen from Libya on a “nice evening”: Europe is seriously threatened if Libya falls. But the focus is on Syria and elsewhere now – Libya lies forgotten. It’s an excellent piece and worth a watch – there is a longer documentary on the News channel at the weekend at 9.30.

How do you like your eggs in the morning?

Apple and Facebook are offering a new kind of employee perk to women: “harvesting their eggs and popping them in the freezer”, as Kirsty puts it. Some are describing it as the biggest ‘death in reproductive freedom since the pill’. It costs $20k. However, freezing your eggs is no guarantee of having a family – only 21 babies have been born so far from frozen eggs. Kirsty is joined by Catherine Rushton, US Business Editor for the Telegraph, who’s in NYC. She thinks the idea might come over here at some point…but not any time soon. She believes it does provide a better choice for women, and addresses the conflict between successful careers and the dreaded biological clock. Viv Groskop is in the studio with Kirsty, and she’s a writer, broadcaster and comedian. She thinks this is just another form of control against women. Kirsty notes that this has bearing on promotions – if you say you’re in for the freezing, is it more likely that you will be promoted? Viv says this has a whiff of eugenics, hence the negative reaction from British women. Catherine says it is liberating. Viv is adamant that this is a false promise – it is a “fallacy”, it hasn’t even happened yet.

Labour Market

Duncan Weldon tells us five things we need to know:

1)      6% level of unemployment (for the record, I am still unemployed.)

2)      Productivity: we’re getting better! Finally, some output!

3)      Self employment – there was a rise, but now that trend is reversing.

4)      Wages: wage growth is very, very weak. The changing mix of industries is to blame.

5)      Spare capacity: interest rates are unlikely to rise

German Identity Day

25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the British Museum is celebrating. 600 years of German history, from Bauhaus to concentration camps.  Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, is exploring the complexity of German history, and gives us the history of Germany in five objects. Five is the magic number tonight.

1)      German currency

2)      A Meissen Rhinoceros. It’s porcelain. It’s imaginary.

3)      Tischbeine’s Goethe

4)      Buchenwald gate – a concentration camp, chosen because it is from the same city as Goethe

5)      Barlach’s Angel. Germans put up monuments to their own shame: it’s a grieving mother searching for the dead, a monument from WW1.

Aaand finally, Ed Miliband researches Eastenders online, but doesn’t actually watch the show. So Newsnight has done a humorous piece summarising elements of British TV and making it relevant to Labour. Cue comparisons with the Mitchell brothers and the MIlibands, etc.

The end. Editor Ian Katz.

Last Night’s Newsnight…today (Tues 14th October 2014)

Want to sound informed, but just couldn’t find the energy or inclination to watch the BBC’s Newsnight? Well, no worries because I’ve done it for you. Here’s a recap of last night’s Newsnight, this morning.

Is inflation getting stuck in reverse?

Turning good news into bad news, heralding the information that inflation has lowered to 1.2 %, Evan tells us “Britain is sliding into deflation and stagnation”. Newsnight illustrated that by showing a clip of George Osborne announcing the happy news. BUT IS IT HAPPY? Trying to make economics fun, Duncan Weldon goes to the mall with cheery backing music. Apparently, the UK aims for an inflation target of 2% because anything below that starts having a bad effect on households, because people stop spending. A handy graphic shows us that in Sep 2009 inflation fell to 1.1% - and that was not a good time. High inflation has its own problems, such as people asking for higher wages, but now we’re at the other end of the spectrum.  Experts talk about cutting wages, a problem which has clearly been highlighted with recent, fully justified NHS strikes. This is happening on a bigger scale in the Eurozone, where inflation in countries is all below 1%. Inflation is low because spending is low.

Evan asks whether we should be pleased or peeved. Thanks Evan.

In the studio: George Magnus (columnist and author), Zanny Minton Beddoes (business affairs editor of The Economist) and Stewart Cowley (Investment Director, Old Mutual Global Investors). Zanny is worried. George is also worried. We don’t enjoy “good deflation” anymore, because we have a chronically deficient demand. Basically, we are all tight wads. Stewart says the balance is off – the real economy is far removed from the new money, such as financial assets, which are rocketing. George who explains ‘secular stagnation’ it for us: a condition in the economy where we are stuck with low interest rates. This happens for a number of reasons – everyone’s saving money, and people get used to this. We get stuck in a vicious cycle. Zanny stresses this is happening all over the world. She blames austerity – politicians are sending fiscal policy in the opposite direction of the market. George is concerned that we will get stuck down here and there will be no sign of escape. Evan’s using some top metaphors, as per – referring to the economy as a dog barking. Zanny is being very pessimistic. She basically says we’re going to create a deflationary world for ourselves. George absolutely concurs. Stewart looks uncomfortable.    

Western Strategy in Iraq and Syria

Is there one? Nick Hopkins says there is. There was a meeting regarding this yesterday – Phillip Hammond has hinted there might be a little more British aid on the way: we are prepared to provide specialist roles for training but NO COMBAT LEAP. Nick says that Britain is training Syrian rebels and Iraqi security forces in Saudi Arabia or Jordan. The West has already spent quite a lot on training the Iraqi army, but apparently there are only 3 battalions that are up to scratch. A soldier told Nick: “For want of a better phrase, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. The Iraqi army need the backing of the people of Iraq…they need something worth fighting for.” This is something worth fighting for. Nick concludes that Britain has slowly been drawn into the conflict evermore…”Mission Creep”.

The Man Booker Prize winner

Richard Flanagan’s ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’. Kirsty Wark is at the Prize Winning dinner with Richard. It’s a book about the building of the death railway in Japan, about his father. Richard describes it as the “book he had to write” and could “not escape from” the novel. Threw away 5 books before writing this, and felt he had to write the book before his dad died. The book and the experiences of those working on the death railway sound incredibly harrowing. Richard is also an environmentalist, so Kirsty asked him his reaction to Tony Abbott’s words that ‘coal is good for people’. He’s very angry, and claims to be ashamed to be Australian. He wants to preserve the beautiful places of Australia, and believes that the majority of Australians feel the same way. He’s a very gracious winner and is proud to be amongst the other Booker nominees.

Evan wants to know what Richard would do with the money. Typical.

The Need for Speed is Evan’s bizarre segue into Cameron’s English Votes for English Laws spiel. Where is he going with this? Seriously. Laura Kuenssberg is here. She says the Tories think the current situation is very unfair, but really they want to beat UKIP to tackling the issue because then there will be no hope. Laura says most of us don’t care about it. Speak for yourself, Laura. Labour don’t think that it’s worth taking seriously…they don’t want to piss off the Scots, and don’t think they’d win a load of votes from actually talking about it. There’s another debate on Thursday…

…But first there’s a debate in the studio, with Peter Oborne and Sue Cameron of the Telegraph. Peter thinks that Cameron being a bit rash – this is a very important issue and they are putting it in the hands of William Hague, what a joke! Peter says Hague knows nothing about the constitution and calls the Tories’ committee “grubby”. Sue Cameron (relation?) thinks this is not true and it won’t make a big difference either way. She thinks they should just get on with it and not bother taking a great deal of time over the matter. Peter obviously disagrees…he asks if we have EV4EL, will we need a separate PM for England and not Britain??  It is getting feisty between Peter and Sue. Peter wants to safeguard the constitution while Sue thinks it is not a big deal at all…I think Peter called her a proto-fascist?

Ched Evans

He was convicted of rape in 2012 and sentenced for 5 years in jail. Evans is being released on parole three years too early, and he wants to start playing football again for Sheffield United. However, around 150,000 people have signed a petition to tell SU not to sign him. Evan is joined by Polly Neate from Women’s Aid, who says employing a convicted rapist would not do wonders for Sheffield’s reputation. She says rehabilitation into society is important, but as a footballer it’s a different type of integration – he is held up as an idol, being a footballer, and SU has shown little remorse for the situation. Evan is also joined by Shehneela Ahmed, a Football Agent. She also says that the fact he’s a footballer makes all the difference – he’ll be earning a whack and is a role model. She points out that little is being said of the victim. Evan asks whether the nature of the crime makes a difference, and Polly notes that for any serious crime a similar approach would be taken. It’s important to protect the principle of integration after a release, but both Shehneela and Polly agree that the fact he’s in the public eye, the very nature of his occupation, is the key factor.

We finish with John W Kempster’s photo album of the Olympic and the Titanic. Very nice pictures, you can see some here at The Guardian:

And that’s it from Evan and the team, Editor Ian Katz.

The Cost of Unpaid Internships

              ***also on my new style blog***

Internships and the “working classes” is a subject close to my heart. I was prompted to write this article after reading David Morrissey’s comments in the Guardian about the struggles working class actors face in the industry, with the current pool of British actors hailing mainly from posh schools (Benedict Cumberbatch, Damien Lewis, Dominic West…) I then read in the Times (not a Tory, honest) about Labour’s plans to “force all public-sector organisations to declare the class make-up of their workforces”. This is a bloody good idea. It comes after the shadow women and equalities minister Gloria De Piero revealed that fewer than 4% of grads recruited to the fast-track civil service were from working class backgrounds. She also promised to address the toxic prevalence of unpaid internships. I really, really hope they do.

Full transparency alert: I am a very recent graduate of Oxford University in English Literature. Upper-middle class as you get, you might, quite reasonably, assume. However, my dad works as a Technical Support lab assistant at Southampton University, and my mum is unemployed, struggling to find work that allows for her leg, hip and back problems. I am entirely state educated, and not from one of those places that masks itself as a state school with private school pretensions. I received full whack student loan/maintenance grant and a very generous bursary from my university. I’m not working class, but I know how it feels to be poorer than the vast majority of my acquaintances.

There are a wealth of reasons why abolishing unpaid internships is so important. Degrees in art and humanities subjects lead into industries which are firm believers in the work experience lackey. Journalism is my poison of choice. Morrissey covered the acting profession, and there are wannabe lawyers, civil servants and film directors who’s only shot at success will come at the end of many arduous, unrewarding and ultimately unpaid internships. This is just fine for those who can live at home in London with Mummy and Daddy, with their generous handouts for Tube fares and latte runs. So, yes, these obviously put the poor at a disadvantage, and this is the crucial flaw of the system.

But there are other problems. Background and upbringing are also factors which place the working class at a huge disadvantage. We might be lucky enough to grow up in a loving family who do their very best to provide – or we may not – but a frequent affliction of working/lower middle classes is a disengagement with more “prestigious” or vocational careers. When you have to spend as much of your time working, are you really going to encourage your child to be a writer, a journalist, an actor or a politician when these people represent everything that is wrong with your world? My own parents have very little interest in politics or news in general, and my desire for a career in journalism stems entirely from my own engagement with the world. There is nothing wrong with this attitude, it is understandable, but it can put someone who has aspirations outside of their social and familial circle at a huge disadvantage. Your success rests entirely on your own back.

This, of course, makes entering your dream profession even harder. Careers advice at school was an attempt to dissuade from pursuing such a dishonourable career, and advised a harder focus on maths. Googling “How to be a journalist” can get you only so far, but I had a couple of sympathetic teachers in college who took me seriously and put me in contact with journalists they knew so I could hound them for advice. The advice is always the same – you need experience. How to get experience? Contacts. Now, I have been incredibly lucky whilst at university, and I would be entirely stuck without the generosity of my boyfriend’s dad who has got me some valuable work placements. This is my point. I went Oxford where, by the nature of the beast, you meet people who know people who know people. For those who don’t have this opportunity, getting contacts is bloody hard work. There aren’t any family connections: no Uncle Bertie who is director of RSC or a godmother big in publishing.

Schooling is a help or hindrance – depending on what sort of institution you went to, you will have different information about the world. This may seem a banal and obvious point, but it was something I repeatedly ran into at university. I got onto my course because I was good at English, not because of what I knew about Culture. As such, I didn’t get many of the references people would make in tutorials and at the pub, and half of my first year involved frantic Wikipedia-ing to keep up with conversations about Schrödinger’s Cat and Israel and Palestine. It makes you feel stupid. And this feeling of stupidity can make you feel worthless and undeserving of these careers that often depend on cultural awareness – you know what you’re up against. Furthermore, there is that sense of confidence which is gained by a certain type of upbringing; I do not want to further stereotypes, but it cannot be denied that self belief is more prevalent in the upper echelons of society. Fake it till you make it, they say, but what if you don’t think you can?

All these factors can make it harder for working class people to aspire and succeed to such careers, meaning that the people that shape our society are frequently from similar backgrounds with similar bankrolls. This leads to further stagnation, where the majority of people feel even more disconnected from their politicians, from their press, and with hardly a hope of changing that. I have been accepted for some work experience with Sky New in the New Year, with the promise of some cash to cover expenses which is certainly a step in the right direction. More places need to do this. Being expected to work for nothing, sometimes for months at a time, is frankly despicable, as it severely limits the type of candidate on offer. I don’t want to live in a society represented by the rich, when there are so many voices out there with so much more to give. Don’t get me wrong – individuals should be deserving of the posts they hold. I’d rather be turned down from a job because I’m not suited to it – not because I can’t afford it.

Guardian article:

Guardians of the Galaxy - late to the party.

 I am going to be entirely honest.

I did not want to go and see Guardians of the Galaxy. I have long been a fan of the Marvel franchise (comics included), and when I saw the trailer for this film, I was apprehensive. “They’re taking the piss!” I sanctimoniously thought, tutting disapprovingly to my long suffering boyfriend and long term cinema companion, “How could they debauch the brand in this way?”

Yeah, turns out I was not getting it. Think finals robbed me of my sense of humour. How I managed to miss the point so impressively is, frankly, humiliating. Even among the most serious Marvel comics and films lies a humourous heart, an entertaining streak of irony which makes them such a joy. So how could I think that a Marvel film fronted by Parks and Recreation's glorious Chris Pratt would fail to fit this tone? This ain't DC. Marvel has embraced the wisecracks in a way which makes Iron Man look dull as death by comparison.

Read on as I continue to swallow my pride and eat my snobby little hat. 

The film is based on a lesser known Marvel comic from the 60s, so this film was a real risk compared to the stalwarts of The Avengers/Iron Man/Hulk etc, and the lack of huge stars means pressure was off for director James Gunn. He was clearly able to have fun with it, and his creative licence really shows through in a film which is unique in terms of Marvel offerings, and, dare I say it, the best yet. 

Wannabe space playa Peter Quill A.K.A Starlord AKA Chris Pratt has a huge bounty on his head after nicking a mysterious space orb. He’s some sort of a space pirate, a deviant from a motley group of scavengers called Ravagers. He ends up being chased around the galaxy by a terrorist named Ronan (he’s Kree, not  IRA) and his former Obi-Wan Kenobi pirate master, picking up members of the ragtag Guardians on the way.This film has a rich set of characters, and Pratt translates his humour (a blend of witticisms and slapstick) throughout, making Quill a very endearing protagonist. He’s got a tear jerking back story which manages to avoid the saccharine despite the lighthearted tone of the film. The other characters are great too: Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, a green girl on a mission, and while her arc is fairly typical, its still enjoyable to watch - there’s a great scene involving her discovery of soul music. Bradley Cooper plays Rocket, a cynical raccoon hybrid, who is best friends with his bodyguard Groot, who happens to be both a tree and Vin Diesel. Finally there’s Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, who spends most of the movie getting beaten up.

I’m not going to give the plot away for obvious reasons, but know that if you haven’t seen it already (and you probably have), Guardians is well worth a watch. It’s basically a Marvel B-movie, drawing clear influence from Star Wars, other 70s sci-fis and The Goonies. It has fantastic sets and costumes, a witty screenplay and actors which are successful in pulling it all off. And if you thought you could never be moved to tears by a giant monosyllabic tree, think again.

If one meets a powerful person - Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler - one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.
Tony Benn

hear hear

The Wire - finishing for the first time. spoilers may occur.

i’ve nearly finished the wire and i can’t quite believe it. i started watching a yearish ago, on the strong recommendation of my boyfriend joe. he started watching it in the first year of uni, spending freshers week ensconced in his room watching back to back episodes, he would walk around with his hood thrown up and his cans on, listening to the beats of baltimo’ hiphop. says it made him feel “street”. it’s his fault i watched it, so, props to joe. (thank you, thank you, save the applause).

i’ve never quite seen anything like the wire before. its a bit of a disconcerting mix between dark, brutal reality of the streets of baltimore, maryland (by this i mean drug dealers, hookers, dysfunctional families, desperate dock workers and immoral hacks) and the light humour of human reality. one of my favourite scenes is when omar little, one of the big and terrifying names of these mean streets, goes off in hunt of breakfast for his current squeeze. they have no honey nut.

the wire is endlessly quotable, and can make even the most white, middle class girl feel like a ghetto mama from murderland. it took me a while to get into, because let’s be honest, those unused to the african american dialect used gets some getting used to. i’ve heard those who NEED to have to have the subs turned on when they watch the wire - pussies, yo. that’s the thing with the wire - it takes effort. i should say now i was so determined to get to grips with it i did my second year coursework on it - i do english lit and lang, and spend 2500 words analysing the dialect used in episode 1.

you have to sort of force yourself through the first series (i’m not going to pretend i wasn’t bored to tears at some points, probably because i had no clue what was going on)

because it’s moments like that which make the wire a bloody good watch. people die all the time, some when you least expect it. some of those deaths just happen and you become a bit immune to them, but others are completely heart wrenching because you don’t realise how much you liked a character till their brains are in a bloody pool on a corner shop floor.

it’s subtle, the wire, and it doesn’t talk down to its audience. you have to be a bit clever with it, that’s why watching it and getting it feels like an accomplishment. so i’ve got two episodes left. there are five series in all, each focused on a seperate bit of society, but a central bunch of characters running through them all. i’m talking about mcnulty, bunk, lester, kimi et al - the latter’s character arc particularly interesting. i don’t know exactly what is coming, would be a bit shit if i did, but i can tell you now my heart is in my mouth.

you got to play the game. this america, man.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (or is that Smorrrg?)

So, it’s been a while - despite the fact that I saw it on the day of release (ok, day after), I’ve only just got round to penning my thoughts. Ah well. It’s taking Peter Jackson three 3 hour films to translate a 200 page book, so I’ll not beat myself up too much.

Right, so down to business. I’ll be straight with you and admit that I liked the first one a lot. I know there were many naysayers (“More like Bilbo BAGGY”, “Too much kitchen sink drama”, “What the fuck is Radagast on”, blah, blah, blah) but I found it a rollicking ride. Yes, it was too long, yes, there was too much slapstick and no, it didn’t compare to the orgasmic masterpiece that is LOTR, but I thought Jackson done good. We know it’s pretty much his personal wankfest, that’s why it’s so long, but still. It’s set in Middle Earth.

Bearing this in mind, I wasn’t one of those who was expecting the worst. 

But I got it.

Nah, just kidding. It was great! I have a couple of problems, which I will address, no fear, but overall it beat the first one hands down. We got great landscapes, great action, ok dialogue, and a nice bit of Jackson Added Backstory, which I quite enjoyed. I liked the inclusion from the appendices when Gandalf ran off to Gol Guldur and saw Sauron blossoming into being (although I take the point of a valued critic who dismissed the FX as a bit eighties). Beorn and Bard were highlights - I liked the way they did Lakeland, it made me want to visit. Stephen Fry was suitably grim as the Master, and Richard Armitage was nicely grumpy as Thorin. He did dragon greed good. I was also a fan of the opening scene in Bree, the young Barliman Butterbur was a nice touch. Martin Freeman did his thing, looking baffled but brave, and I wasn’t the only one to squeal when he spoke to Smaug  for the first time (ermagerrrd, Sherlock and Watson, willtheywon’ttheyyyy). Overall, the arrival at Erebor was decent, if a little overlong - the cinema was freezing and I needed the loo, so by then I was ready to take what I had and leave.

As a whole piece then, it was good but long - a familiar criticism. And it’s not as long as Gone With the Wind

My issues, then.  

The inclusion of fantasy she-elf Tauriel has definitely split opinion. I wasn’t particularly against her, Evangeline Lily was pretty good and I liked seeing Legolas again (although Orlando Bloom was once again beaten in the looks stakes by a rugged brunette: Bard) - I knew that PJ had put his stamp on it so I was prepared for these additions. Mirkwood was done well, and Legolas’s dad was a miserable fucker. So all good, fine, let’s have a new elf and bring back blondie.

The love triangle. Ouch. I detested this, I’m not sure why, maybe I’m just jealous of Tauriel (gotta love Aidan Turner) but I just did not like that whole thing between Kili and Tauriel. It just felt a) forced and b) unnecessary, and distracted from the rest of it. Time was being wasted, and if you cut that whole palava we could all go home a bit earlier. As standalone characters, they’re fine, but it didn’t seem to click in The Hobbit. Sorry.

Also, the Pale Orc thing again I am a bit tired of. He’s a scary villain, yeah, but do we need him as a threat when we have Sauron, a dragon and the impetus of returning to the fatherland to get our heroes going? I feel not. 

But in all honesty, these are pretty mild criticism - I liked this installment, but again am wondering what PJ is going to do for There and Back Again. There isn’t a whole lot of material left - but I trust him. If Return of the King is anything to go by, Jackson does third parters with style.

(Forgive the title - I’m just fed up of hearing radio pundits debate how to pronounce the bloody dragon’s name)

So, in case you were unaware, Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013. I heard in an Oxford pub, just after buying an overpriced (yet delicious) mulled cider. A headline update from the Guardian buzzed through my phone; I was shocked, and immediately told all my pint-toting peers, who were equally dismayed.

But we knew it was coming. He’d been ill for months, was 95, and had even been medically dead for a short amount of time. The world had been on tenterhooks for a good few months (my boyfriend’s Dad works for the BBC, and they have someone whose job it is to rebook the plane tickets to SA in case of emergency), yet when it happened we were all gobsmacked.

Reading the coverage, of which there has been a lot, I was mainly struck by those journalists from the generation who actively protested against apartheid, who were hollering ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ when it came out, who rallied at the Springboks match at Old Trafford. They can write about Mandela’s death now, knowing the contemporary situation and reception. They can record their own personal feeling about him, knowing how it felt to see him radically change the face of South Africa. They, to use that awfully clichéd term “were there”.

I’m jealous.

Honestly, the most I can know about Mandela is from books and the interweb. The most I have discussed Mandela with friends it related to the fact that Wadham college play The Specials at every bop. There are those who will come to know him by Idris Elba’s portrayal. It all seems a bit…lacking.

This, however, isn’t a piece about Mandela. I write, wondering whether there will ever be a figure like Mandela again. Students followed and lauded Mandela so much because he was an icon separated from them – he represented a wild struggle against a white, oppressive authority. That’s what students dreamed of doing, but from their enclaves in Bristol, Leeds or Manchester, such cause was hard to find. Mandela encapsulated that rebellious spirit, fighting in righteous anger. So students could rally behind a man who was fighting for human rights so ferociously.

I don’t think we’ll have that again. I think the comparable, current cause is sexism – women and men are swept in a gallant fight against misogyny, and it gets us riled. Comparable, too, are the fee hikes and cuts to education – I recently covered a march through Oxford which culminated in an occupation of exam schools. Admirable, but slightly laughable, as I saw young protesters shouting angriy whilst the university staff looked nonchalantly on.

That’s about as radical as it gets, nowadays. Who was the last individual political icon our generation fought for? All our politicians are either evil Tories or slightly uninspiring quasi lefties. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ed Miliband and his love for Robbie Williams, but he’s not going to have me marching in his name.

I guess I’m sad that we’ll never have someone like Mandela to watch with awe. Furthermore, even if we did, it may escape our notice. We’re in an age where we’re bombarded with so much news and so many people it’s hard to process it, let alone care about it, all. I love that I can get news wherever I want, in that little Oxford pub, but because I can, I wonder if it becomes part of everyday life all too easily. It’s harder for things to stand out anymore.

We need something or someone to care about. Let’s get angry.  


This can’t be said enough

my new simile for everything

Learning How to Listen

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to spend some time at the BBC, working on a show called ‘World Have Your Say’. Now, those familiar with the World Service will also be familiar with the ground breaking programme. For those that aren’t, here’s a brief. It pioneers collaborative journalism, gathering voices from around the world to comment and debate upon a topical story. These voices aren’t necessarily specialist or connoisseurs, but those who are affected or react to a world news event – as the show’s editor, Mark Sandell, told me, it has been criticised for not having enough experts on. He made the point that they are all experts, ordinary people with something to say.

WHYS “reacts” to the news, it doesn’t make it, and that’s what made the program so interesting to listen to, and to work on. In those few short days, it helped to broaden my world view, as I was surrounded by opinions that differed from my closeted, liberal English eyes. Why is there such a high culture of rape in India, for example? Not because Indian men are lawless animals, but, according to one speaker, the economical situation is so dire. People can’t afford to get married, so they get sex in other ways. Of course, I have my own opinions on the matter, but the point is there are a million others out there, and who am I to say which is right, which is wrong? People think what they think for a reason, and until you know those reasons, there’s no judgement here.

It was the topic of vigilante justice that led me to one of the most moving and illuminating conversations of my life. Given recent events in Mexico, with “Diana” the alleged bus driver hunter killing men in vengeance of those women raped and killed, we led with cases of vigilantism in general. Is it ever right to take the law into your own hands? In India, amongst the Pink Saris and Red Brigade, one woman who did was Suzette Jordan. I called Suzette to ask her whether she would like to appear on the program. She graciously accepted, and went on to tell me about her story.

Suzette had been enjoying a night out in Kolkata, when she became friendly with a man who started chatting with her. He offered her a lift home, and given they had got on well throughout the night, Suzette accepted. However, the night turned when he, instead of driving her home, took her to a hotel room. He was soon joined by several of his friends. They proceeded to torture and gang rape Suzette, before throwing her out on the street.

Feeling ashamed, she reported her ordeal to the police, where she was met with disrespect and humiliation. They didn’t believe her, and blamed her for the rape as she had agreed to accept a lift. Later, after encouragement from her aunt, Suzette approached the press, who helped publicise her story and went again to the police. She was then seen by a female officer, who listened and, after a long 13 months, two of her perpetrators were charged with gang rape.

This is not enough. Suzette’s point was that the authorities, there to protect and support women, do nothing of the sort. They ignore their pleas, and at worst, debase and disgrace them.  Suzette was only taken seriously when another brutal rape case reignited the debate, and she revealed her identity to the media, something unheard of in India. Suzette stood up against the police, told the world she had no shame, and that women should not live in crippling fear. She stresses that there is a very long way to go, and a war to be fought – but it can be won.

Hearing Suzette’s story was transformative for me. Speaking to her from an office in the middle of London, we couldn’t be further apart, yet she shared with me an intimate and distressing experience. In the end, we are both women who want justice. I was so humbled by that twenty minute conversation, and whilst I know I’m pulling out all the clichés in the book, I felt changed – and I told her that. Perspective is a valuable thing, and I feel I gained plenty with my conversation with Suzette, and the others I had during my time at the BBC. I learned that broadening horizons is essential if you want to understand the world and fundamental if you want to change it. The more people who hear stories like Suzette’s the better. We spend most of our time in a solipsistic bubble, and while I get how that can sometimes be necessary to function in everyday life, it can lead to a selfish immunity. Now and again, listen to something you know you’re going to find hard. It’s the least we can do.