Movember 2010 – Please support the cause

My default setting, face-fuzz wise, is an disorganised goatee. The last time it was just the soup-strainer, I was still at school, and look what good that did for me….

This Movember, the month formerly known as November, I’ve decided to donate my face to raising awareness about prostate cancer. My donation and commitment is the growth of a moustache for the entire month of Movember, which I know will generate conversation, controversy and laughter.

((Given the speed and thickness with which my facial hair grows, I am expecting much laughter. Lots of it. Belly laughs of it throwing up all over the place))

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men.

One man dies every hour from the disease in the UK.

This is a cause that I feel passionately about and I’m asking you to support my efforts by making a donation to The Prostate Cancer Charity.

To help, you can either:

• Click this link and donate online using your credit card or PayPal account .

Or,

• Send cheques and CAF vouchers (made payable to ‘The Prostate Cancer Charity Re Movember’) directly to The Prostate Cancer Charity – First Floor, Cambridge House, Cambridge Grove, London W6 0LE. Be sure to include my name on the back of the cheque. (It’s at the top of your browser if you have come here via Twitter and wonder if I’m a real Doctor….)

The Prostate Cancer Charity will use the money raised by Movember for the development of programs related to awareness, public education, advocacy, support of those affected, and research into the prevention, detection, treatment and cure of prostate cancer.

For more details on how the funds raised from previous campaigns have been used and the impact Movember is having please visit the Movember Foundation

Thank you in advance for helping me to support men’s health.

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i whirl

Ten years ago, as a mere pup in media studies tutorials, the perceived wisdom passed down through my scrawled handwriting was “Newspaper industry in bit of a bind, internet threat not serious enough to change things around”.

This was the year 2000, within touching distance of Diana’s death but prior to 11th September 2001, when the Internet’s news coverage grew in depth and stature, a development which has continued largely to the detriment of the printed word. At the turn of the century, Internet news coverage was rudimentary, basically computer versions of the printed editions without the foresight (or frankly the bandwidth) to allow readers to comment and feedback. Without blogging, Facebook or Twitter, the news agenda was considered safe from virtual attack, with the world wide web considered largely benign, as much a companion as the radio.

Following the conclusion of my studying years, the relationship between newspapers and the on-line world has drastically altered. All but one broadsheet has changed shape, Rupert Murdock now locates his newspapers’ on-line content behind paywalls, while the Evening Standard is now a freesheet. Amongst the shapeshifting broadsheets in the UK is The Independent, famously regarded by Tony Blair as a ‘viewspaper’ for its sidestep away from mainstream current affairs in favour of one-story front pages and increased commentary. Certainly distinctive – the front page is meant to resemble a computer desktop – the Indie would divide more opinion were it enjoying comfortable readership figures. It ain’t. Sales have been plummeting for years. Lord only knows what the former Prime Minister makes of what the Indie has done now…

Today saw the launch of i – should that be “i”? Or i? I notice housestyles across the web cannot agree – the new 20p-daily for busy people who need to be tempted back into ‘quality’ journalism. For the same coverprice as a redtop, i is a similar digest model as those compendium Guardians or weekly Telegraphs available to ex-pats on the Costas. Except the latter probably would not splash “Is Bert Gay?” on the front page of the launch issue….

On the whole, i seems to have been well received on its first day. I gave up with the Independent many moons ago, finding its tone to have become increasingly preachy and most of the commentators indistinct. i features a piece on Obama by Johann Hari, who has reverted to the intelligent young thing who impressed before turning into the very worst kind of rent-a-quote reactionary. The new take on TV listings – ranking suggestions by genre – uses the lack of space very well, and I suspect many a student household will welcome bookmark recipes for reasonable cost. Sport coverage, for a weekday, seems reasonable although the test will come on Monday. Will the PoliticsHome style ‘matrix’ manage with a full weekend of football to review? Should the decision be made to provide only pencil sketch articles on the big games to show the distinctive move away from traditional newspaper ‘norms’, I would be impressed all the more….though would obviously have to find my fix of sporting headlines elsewhere.

i has already made its mark on the timeline of newspaper history. Although newspapers still make and break the news agenda – when was the last time you watched a ‘review of the morning blogs’ on breakfast television? – sites such as Guido Fawkes, Huffington Post and The Daily Beast have proven tails can threaten to wag their respective dogs. i therefore has to be considered a remarkable gamble, launching a print newspaper in a climate seemingly set against the market even existing in 2020. There are too many safe and familiar choices – oh look, Su Doku hasn’t died – and yet its approach and agenda appear interesting and relevant. The proof, of course, is within all those exceptions which prove rules. “Commutersheets” like Metro are free; how i copes amongst the platform market in 12 months time will be the guide to how long there is left amongst the business model as a whole.

Tomorrow is the biggest test of the tiny life of i; how many curious readers from today will part with their coffee machine money tomorrow? It seems to have Twitter largely on its side, the reviews have been pretty positive, and even my office kinda liked it….So here’s to i lasting at least until at least the new year, ten years on from the event which altered media completely, one tiny British newspaper possibly changing the industry in its own little way…

Foreign Office – "On Repeat"

Readers of a certain vintage may know Chikinki, bright young things with the sharpest indie-melody ears for some time. From deepest Hackney come the first band of a similar bias who could give the Bristol outfit a run for their money.

Foreign Office is the least search engine friendly band name since The Music but at least the end product is worth the hassle of going beyond the first page of results; “On Repeat” is as much Razorlight as it is 60s soul and MOR classics and for the dangerous proximity towards trendiness it rises above the merely fashionable.

If post-rock ambitions are travelling anywhere, it is slowed down, influenced by funk and disco, an obvious sidestep away from the corner into which the neon kids painted themselves. It’s as sharp and short as a comprehensive spending review, two curiously abrupt verses bookending the most effective repetition since Hall and Oates.

With more smarts than the smack of a wielded passport, Foreign Office could well be guaranteed an income stream far less uncertain than that of their governmental namesakes.

Released 8 November (Quiet Life)

http://www.myspace.com/foreignofficemusic

We’re all in this forever

James Bond and Victoria Coren make gambling look sexy. George Osborne has spun the Roulette Wheel with all the allure of knitting phlegm. His Spending Review was sprinkled with good news, in the same way a paper-cut finger wafted around a bit splatters blood on the walls.

(There will be blood on the carpet following the SR. If any LibDems are pushed into on-coming traffic there is still a chance Charles Kennendy could be called upon to top-up Osborne’s water with Islay Malt. Or cyanide).

Such is the breadth and depth of the SR that the reaction has seems breathless and confused. The BBC having its life effectively guaranteed for 6 years is news nevertheless greeted with utter incredulity. “Save The BBC!” doesn’t sound quite so logical when the review has done just that. Over the six years, a freeze is as good as a cut, so expect Match of the Day 2014 to feature unrivalled coverage of the Zamaretto Midlands League.** But still they shout it, like football fans cheering for a player they hadn’t noticed substituted (which, incidentally, reminds me of a recent Burscough game which involved a young fella continually cheering a player who wasn’t even on the bench. Oh how we laughed…).

Much as been made of the (pre-announced) proposal to remove child benefit from higher wage earners. Cue the most bizarre through-the-looking-glass political arguments in modern times. “The lowest earners in society should not fund the child benefit of the well off!” cries David Cameron. “The most well off are entitled to handouts no matter how middle class they are!” bellows Ed Miliband. If Gordon Brown’s removal of the 10p tax rate made you question the known-knowns of British politics, welcome to Kafka Plus…

The SR was neither rape upon the nation or reasoned treatment for an ill patient; the truth lies somewhere in the muddle. Over 100 pages of mindgasm explain each Department’s budget in terms Sir Humph could not disagree with. Everything is covered; from a new suspension bridge over the Mersey to a Universal Benefit (one handout to unite us, etc. and so forth). In truth, of course, no politician truly denies the scale of the problem faced by the Chancellor; the nation is in mammoth debt, and so are its people.

The Osborne Agenda is pithily labelled “ideological” by critics who, on the whole, are exactly as ideological. Union leaders dust off their placards, Labour members fill up with nostalgia for childhood lost in demonstrations and marches. Thought ideological divides in politics were dead? Welcome to the most significant divide between sides since the introduction of the Community Charge.

The review comes at the very end of what could be called “the age of entitlement”. With a benign economy, low interest rates and banks throwing mortgages and credit cards around like samples at a supermarket, it is little wonder so many millions of people took advantage. I certainly did, maxing out the credit card on long weekends and (most shamefully of all, perhaps) Domino’s pizza. But years of 100% mortgages, holidays and flatscreen televisions did not build the debt mountain bequeathed by Labour; the two tales of national and personal debt run parallel, and one is disguised as an elephant. The demise of Woolworths, near demise of Wedgewood, epic scales of economic catastrophe across all the professional football leagues; they too wore the elephant suits. There are only so many ‘known knowns’ we dare acknowledge, no?

The review touches us all. With such drastic cuts in local council funding – council tax frozen for at least one year, though not necessarily across the country I suspect, notice the Sir Humph lexicon in the Report – every library, swimming pool and elderly care centre will suffer from the sharp pencil. Councils may learn from this sharp slap across the buttocks, scrapping the ‘non jobs’ which soak up so much money. “Audience development officer” for £30 grand a year? £19,000 a year is a decent enough wage for anyone – but for a “street football co-ordinator”? Does it sound patronising to draw attention to these jobs, or instructive? Is this another trip through the looking glass? When the Daily Mail covered the “non-job” story, a council spokesperson explained that money was spent on “everything from lollipop ladies to librarians”. Good, how it should be, and unfortunately such roles may be curtailed by the council funding slash-and-burn. There is something rotten with the system if – and, alas, I am not making this up – “teeth cleansing instructors” are on the Town Hall payroll.

Within the lifetime of this fixed-term parliament – if we ever get there – the Spending Review will soak into our wallets, our skin, get under our hair, interrupt our phonecalls with a high-pitched noise like a cat being tickled by an ovengloved hand. The size, depth and generosity of the welfare state must be tackled. Ditto the inexorable pouring of Government borrowing. And the size, nature and behaviour of our police force in their ‘war with fear’ must be altered. In short, the Coalition are tasked with achieving reform through force; it doesn’t make me feel easy or comfortable, but neither do Northern Rail’s damp and frosty Pacers and I have to put up with them too….

**You thought it didn’t exist, eh?

paradigm of enemies/friends

Almost every morning, Nick Griffin sends me an email. Styled “Chairman Nick Griffin” – maybe other titles for far right leaders didn’t work through the focus groups – these emails are usually donation requests or tirades against various equality groups and broadcasters. The most recent email, pushing the British National Party’s ‘troops out of Afghanistan’ policy, asks for £7,500 to help “expand” the policy for next year’s elections in Wales and Scotland. Any “generous gift” has to be submitted to the Party within the next seven days…

Griffin dragged the BNP from no-hope sloganeers to the European Parliament, and yet the Party finds itself today with all the splits and internal strife of a Student Union council. The only electorally successful far-right party this country has known has been rolling downhill like a cartoon avalanche, with all the high-profile expulsions and suspiciously organised party leadership elections characteristic of Cold War communist rulers.

The BNP had high hopes for this year’s General Election, with Griffin’s candidacy in Barking receiving the same early online bookies odds as Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion to win; Lucas did so, Griffin finished third. By the end of the week, all the BNP councillors on the Borough Council of Barking and Dagenham had been defeated, LBBD now consists of 51 Labour Councillors.

The General Election result was a complete disaster for the BNP, a failure to capitalise on the sense of apathy towards the mainstream parties, a ‘barn door with a banjo’ approach which Griffin has struggled to smooth over since. Council by-elections following the election – more adequate a guide to peoples opinions than YouGov polls – show a continued collapse in BNP support. Voter loyalty to the BNP brand is hemorrhaging at a time when their only specialist subjects of immigration and asylum remain contentious subjects. Invited onto BBC Question Time, Griffin was woeful, his prepared rants cut down and curtailed, his backpedaling became breathless, embarrassing, desperate. His credibility shot-to-pieces – by a Polish Spitfire? – Griffin has spend the subsequent months trying to piece together any remaining strips of credibility with the success of wallpapering with cling film.

Whilst the BNP undergo their internal Streit im Führerbunker it can not have been missed that the High Streets of many provincial towns have become meeting places for the English Defence League. The EDL are a throwback to a different kind of far-right protest group, where the BNP started out when electoral participation was considered the activity of ‘the establishment’ – a trait the far-right and far-left share. EDL supporters and their behaviour should fill older readers with nostalgia – the shaven haired drunken small town vandalism of yore was mistakenly believed to have faded out with SodaStream and dial-up internet connections. Chanting “You’re not English anymore” at anyone who dares question the ‘logic’ of the EDL is my current Favourite Punchline Of The Year.

Unfortunately, the EDL appears to have captured the imagination of the Professionally Disgruntled, more so whilst the Hamley/Gormenghast malaise infects the BNP. Consequently it has become far more difficult to measure and predict the next steps of the far-right – though it is easy to recognise the next steps, they’re usually very heavy and within knock-off Nikes. EDL supporters don’t do public meetings or electoral candidacies or reasoned debate. They prefer the 1980s Hooligan approach – turn up drunk, kick up merry Hell, scrap between themselves, leave on the next cheap coach home. There is no accountability for their actions, no justification for spreading untruths or subscribing to hyperbolic Islamophobia. Rather than “defending” England, the EDL promote an image of ignorance which is utterly alien to what it means to be English.

And this is why the BNP, with or without Griffin, needs our support.

Electoral democracy is the ‘tip’ of the activist iceberg. As any good Marxist will tell you, there’s only so much people can do within the constraints of democracy. From the ground up, that’s where you find people wanting action and results in their lives. But nobody can leave electoral politics to one side, it is within the fabric of our lives. BNP candidates within electoral politics provides a target for debate and discussion, however shallow and misinformed. If the trouble within the BNP splits the party into smaller, irrelevant splinter groups – look at the Left for what happens here from their perspective – the alternative is “debate by EDL”.

As ever with most things life, “be careful what you wish for”. Debate the occasional BNP councillor or deal with onslaught of bottles thrown by shaven haired drunk yobs with their faces covered by scarves? Deal with the BNP through public meetings, or suffer the violent rampages of the EDL’s ‘street justice’ ?

Battling and defeating the BNP should be the priority of anyone who considers themselves a democrat. There is nothing British about the BNP.

However, the demise of the Party has many negative consequences. They may have the credibility of a bunch of pub bores, but at least we know who they are and where to find them. Griffin could well be trying to herd cats at the moment, but the alternative is far-right mob rule and lynching justice.

So support the existence of the BNP. Keep enemies closer. The real threat – to Griffin and the BNP and to the wider strength of British democratic debate – is from the rabble who form and fester beyond them.

open market universities

Lord Browne has released his recommendations for higher education funding, largely covered by the press as ‘the tuition fees increase plan’.

Tuition fees, as a policy, in addition to the 50% “application aspiration” created a trap for successive governments, effectively “locking in” future administrations to the model of an education free market. Remove tuition fees – as Liberal Democrats have campaigned since their introduction by Labour – and the gap needs to be filled by some payment structure of at least equal value. I remember the “march forth on March 4th” anti-tuition fee protests of the time, just as I had started College. I was against tuition fees as much then as now.

Graduation tax, as favoured by Vince Cable and new Labour leader Ed Miliband, would be an additional layer of income tax introduced into an already complex tax regime. Although it seems fairer to reflect immediate earnings in repayments, graduates would pay back money from the moment they earn more than the current income threshold (just shy of £6,500 at the moment, £7,500 or thereabouts next year, aiming for the £10,000 pledged within the Coalition agreement by 2015). Lord Browne suggests removing the tuition fee cap with a minimum “payback level” of £21,000.

Even with this “minimum level”, potential or existing students must see the future of learning as an arduous and expensive ordeal. Those with a level head realise that, as with many investments in life, the initial outlay must be the toughest part. Only education is not – or was not until 1997 – supposed to lie in parallel to buying a house, car, or taking a holiday. Suddenly the University dream became an economic nightmare, one in which those who could afford top-up fees and repayment rates felt marginally less uncomfortable than those who simply could not. Having had the encouragement to apply for Uni – not least through the Labour Party’s 50% “application aspiration” – students should not be forgiven for thinking they have been invited into the educational equivalent of timeshare apartments.

There’s no credible University funding argument anymore, trapped as we all are with a student-focused repayment plan created in 1997 from Lord Dearing’s report and continued by Lord Browne. The market for education has been firmly tied into the fabric of education reform.

Some level of realism needs to sink into this debate. Uni is not for everyone, but neither should it be restricted to the academically able who just happen to be economically restricted. The depressing manner in which Uni as a gateway to mega-bucks jobs and economic stability has been accepted without question is perhaps the more vital question. When did education for the good of the mind become unfashionable? It is this question which has been forgotten by almost everyone involved in the debate.