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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Frank Skinner compares the Queen to 'football fans wrecking towns'

The comedian Frank Skinner has launched a savage verbal attack on the Queen, likening her to English football hooligans wrecking towns. 

In an extraordinarily outburst prompted by Her Majesty’s reaction to a recent portrait gift, the Room 101 presenter said he was now “finished with the Queen” and accused her of being “rude” and “deliberately low-brow”. 

The 58-year-old funnyman launched his scathing assault on the monarch during his show on Absolute Radio

Co-host, Alun Cochrane brought up the presentation to the Queen by the German President Joachim Gauck of a modernist portrait during her recent visit to Germany. 

The acrylic painting – entitled Horse in Royal Blue - depicts a young Princess Elizabeth on a blue pony, with her father George VI holding the reins. 

Horse in Royal Blue by Nicole Leidenfrost

Her reaction was cool to say the least. She said: “That’s a funny colour for a horse.” 

This was too much for Skinner who could barely conceal his contempt for a royal who is held in almost universal high regard by her subjects, including many republicans. 

He said: “I’ve always had a soft spot for the Queen, as you know. To me I’m finished with the Queen now. To me that is like…that’s up there with English football fans wrecking towns and stuff.” 

And he wasn’t finished. He said the Queen was guilty of the “sort of deliberate celebration of ignorance that you normally associate with The Only Way Is Essex”. 

“I honestly thought it was a terrible, terrible moment,” he added. 

Even that wasn’t enough. The Three Lions and Fantasy Football League star appeared to be livid because, as he saw it, the Queen had “had a go” at the artist, Nicole Leidenfrost, and not appreciated the questionable merits of her work. 

He said the Queen's comments were “rude and deliberately low-brow”. And this from a man who has sung a duet of Da Do Ron Ron with Mr Methane, a lycra-clad so-called ‘Performing Flatulist’ whose act revolves around breaking wind to order. 

Skinner went on: “It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened. Don’t mention the Queen to me. She doesn’t mind a blood-covered stag being the wrong colour.” 

One listener to the show said: “Frank Skinner is one of the funniest comedians of the modern era and he often makes comments that are a little extreme to get a laugh - but this was different. 

“He considers himself a bit high-brow these days, something of an intellectual and culture-vulture and the Queen’s reaction to this artwork had clearly annoyed him greatly. 

“He’s entitled to his opinion I guess but I reckon he’s blown any chance he may ever have had of being recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours. 

"And, to be fair to the Queen, that painting was rubbish.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

When will we learn not to trust politicians on education?

The ban on parents taking their kids out of school for holidays during term time is a classic Tory divide and rule tactic. It is wrong, unfair, and a risible example of the sort of collective punishment we seem to lap up in the UK for reasons that defeat me.

As we, the 'plebs', argue about the rights and wrongs of the issue (and quickly start throwing accusations about poor parenting at each other), the Tory toffs remain immune to their own divisive dog-whistle politicking.

Taking kids on holiday abroad - or indeed in the UK - is a costly business at any time of year. But outside of term time prices leap up thanks to our wonderful 'free' market system that allows companies to profiteer whenever the inelasticity of demand increases.

These rocketing costs hammer the least well off but have zero effect on the rich. If you earn a six-figure salary and have a heathy sum in the bank, a few hundred quid extra means nothing to you. You can afford to go on holiday whatever the bill, wherever the destination. But if, like most people, you're on a regular wage, the difference can determine whether you actually take a holiday or not.

Supporters of the ban point out that going abroad is not a human right and education is more important. But since when did travel not represent education? Are we really saying a week in a foreign country has no educational benefits to a young mind? Really? Is it better to learn about, say, Spain from a book - or to go there?

And since when did our state system get so good that missing a week or two made a massive difference anyway? Be honest: would a fortnight out really be impossible to catch up on for an averagely bright kid? I really doubt it.  

But here's the other key point. This ban is a blunt instrument that hits all parents when in reality the problem of repeated pupil absences is down to a minority of problem families. Most responsible parents want their kids to go to school and don't want them to miss classes unnecessarily.

However it's true that in life there are, sometimes, competing needs, pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages (you get the drift). A short vacation that expands a child's horizons might only be affordable in term time and financially unreachable during the official school holidays. In such a scenario, is it really in the kid's interests to force them to remain at school doing their times tables instead?

The bottom line is this: if the politicians want to ban parents taking their kids out of school during term times, fine. But make it fair. Regulate to ensure holiday companies can't hike their prices to exploit the situation. Or, better still, invest sufficient money into state schools so they have the same resources and garner similar results as the exclusive private sector educational establishments that most of the Cabinet attended. 

They won't do that though because the last thing they want is for the oiks like us to have what they have: power, money, and real freedom. And the cash to pay for such an investment isn't available in the Treasury in any case - it's in the bank accounts of the multi-national corporations that refuse to pay taxes on the vast profits they make in Britain.

If people were really concerned about the education of their kids they would demand real change and an end to the obscenity of rich politicians sending their kids to private schools (thereby entrenching nepotistic power structures) while the rest of us have to move house to get our kids into schools that Ofsted optimistically deems not to be complete shite.

In the end it comes down to who you think knows what's best for your children. Our deceitful, hypocritical, well-off politicians - or you. You don't need to have gone to school to work that one out - it's a no-brainer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Piers Morgan is 'with the science'. So why aren't you?

Piers Morgan has declared he is “with the science” on the issue of climate change.

The journalist and broadcaster’s response to a question posed by this blog on Twitter seemed unambiguous.

But it wasn’t long before some people opted to interpret his answer to match their own skewed views.

It seems that while Piers is able to accept the science, many others would rather trust their own bizarre prejudices, or the propaganda of the organisations that make vast profits and wield huge power through the control and sale of fossil fuels.   

Despite human-caused global warming being “the ruling paradigm of climate science” (see here for more on this), there are still countless bar-room experts, contrarians and conspiracy theorists who refuse to accept that it is happening.

Many of these individuals base their denial on the belief that a so-called 'green blob' has some sort of sinister agenda and therefore must be making the whole thing up for their own mysterious ends.

What these ends could possibly be isn’t clear. What is glaringly obvious though is that any accusations about the propagation of agenda-driven pseudo-science should surely be leveled at those who are really pedaling misinformation about climate change.

As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out on an edition of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher last November (2014): “The truth of the matter is that the oil companies and the coal companies have spent tens of millions of dollars on a disinformation campaign.”

And the top climate scientist James Hansen told the BBC: “The deniers want the public to be confused.”

Watch #GreenCrap NOW!

Why is it that so many people believe that reasonable, rational guys like these are wrong at best – or liars at worst – when they should be aiming their scepticism at the obvious target: the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel industry that has so much to lose from a major switchover to clean, renewable energy sources.

This issue is really a no-brainer. Even if you disregard the science, it surely stands to reason that we should be looking towards a future that minimises waste and pollution; a future in which we develop and use clean energy and fuels that don’t have damaging by-products.

There is another well-worn point to raise here. If those who are campaigning for drastic action to halt climate change prove somehow to be wrong in the future, what exactly will we have lost by switching to renewable energy sources and creating new green industries? Nothing. We’ll have built a sustainable future for our children, created new jobs, protected biodiversity, and emasculated regimes whose appalling human rights records are wilfully ignored by Western nations desperate for their oil supplies.

On the other hand, if the deniers are wrong and climate change accelerates, as predicted by James Hansen and many others, where will we be then? We’ll be living on a planet that becomes increasingly uninhabitable. Ocean levels will rise, severe weather will become the norm, flooding and famines will devastate vulnerable communities, governments and economies will buckle under the strain.

Why would any sensible person take a gamble on those outcomes? They wouldn’t. So, like Piers Morgan, I’m with the science. 

You should be too.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BBC Breakfast and the Blurred Lines of celebrity journalism

It’s bad enough to conduct a lame, sycophantic interview with a high-profile celebrity on what is supposed to be a news programme. It’s much, much worse when the issue at stake is so important.

But the BBC’s dismal Breakfast programme managed to pull off a rare achievement on Wednesday morning (28/05/14): handing Pharrell Williams valuable publicity and allowing him a free hit to somehow depict himself as a feminist.

Williams was one of the unholy trinity behind 2013’s ‘Blurred Lines': the Horst Wessel song for misogynists. In a pop video of astonishing cynicism, a fully clothed Williams danced around half-naked young women singing the toxic line he wrote: ‘I know you want it!’

Described as ‘rapey’ by critics, Blurred Lines caused a storm of protest. There were plenty of apologists but whatever the intentions, the song and video served only to objectify women and undermine the concept of sexual consent. 

When it comes to sex, no must always mean no; Blurred Lines suggests otherwise, an appalling message. The power dynamic in the video is also clear. The clothed men are in charge, the women merely playthings.

So BBC Breakfast’s Sally Nugent had plenty to go at when she was put in front of Williams. What would she ask him about Blurred Lines? Did he regret the controversy? Was he ashamed of himself?

No Nugent – or Nugget as she will henceforth be known – said the following: “The thing that I notice from your latest songs is you really love women.”

You may need a minute to digest that statement. I did. Even Williams looked a bit taken aback. His eyes said it all. He looked at Nugget and seemed to think: ‘I know she wants it.’

Williams then went on to paint himself as a tireless campaigner for women’s rights.

He said: “There's a lot that women go through that us, as men, that we just will never be able to understand. We can read about it, we can study it as much as we want but until we walk in your shoes, we won't know what it's like.

“And so, for me, I intended to talk about that a little bit and spread some of that message in my album and just try and push your fight.”

Nugget leapt on this, demanding to know how exactly Blurred Lines had pushed the fight for women’s rights. Except she didn’t. She continued to fawn as Williams said how he would ‘love to see’ a female US President and would be supporting Hillary Clinton if she made a bid for the White House.

Williams said women were “not treated equally in politics...(and) definitely not treated equally in society”.

Again, Nugget sensed the blatant hypocrisy of this statement and almost shouted at Williams to explain how on Earth stripped, mute women dancing around clothed men singing ‘I know you want it’ helped women get equal treatment in society. Except she didn’t.

It wasn’t in any sense journalism. It was unabashed PR. It was shameful.

Maintaining a professional distance: Nugget and Williams.
It’s an unfortunate irony that it took a male journalist to make amends for Nugget’s embarrassing capitulation.

Channel 4 News’ Krishnan Guru-Murthy did what she should have done in an interview held with Williams directly after he had spoken to the BBC.

Williams did his best to justify Blurred Lines. Ultimately he came across as intelligent but wholly disingenuous: a man content to enjoy the financial rewards of chauvinism but unwilling to hold his hand up and admit to it.

As for Sally Nugget, perhaps she could conduct her next interview with Williams stripped down to her smalls.

Perhaps then she might feel the sense of sinister intent inherent in Pharrell Williams’ famous lyric and realise that when it comes to intelligent, responsible journalism - and women's rights - there are no blurred lines.