Obama on the Home Straight?

With nine days still to go before the American Presidential election, many are already calling this a one-horse race.
On Roy Greenslade’s Media Guardian blog today, he highlights that Alaska’s biggest newspaper title, The Anchorage Daily News, has ditched Sarah Palin and formally endorsed Barack Obama as the best man for the job.
Yet, Roy also points out that Alaska is still seen as a Republican stronghold, so maybe this will make little difference on November 5th. Do local newspaper’s editorial stances really hold that much sway over their areas?
Newspaper endorsements aside, can anyone really see Obama losing from such a strong position?
Not the BBC.
Today they published 5 expert projections, all predicting an Obama win.
Ben Macintyre from The Times suggests the Tom Bradley effect could come into play, but many discredit this idea, calling it outdated.
For my part, I’m looking forward to a historic election result, but can’t rule out the off-chance that Americans will side with an experienced conservative in these times of high economic crisis.

Where Have All The Lefties Gone?

You can’t move in the journalistic world at the moment without being faced with worrying questions about the credit crunch, but no-one seems to have any definite answers. It’s particularly daunting for someone such as me, who has no formal economic education, so I readily bow to those who know their FTSEs from their Dow Jones’s.

Take to the streets!
Take to the streets!

The Times’ daily columnists have been doing a great job of making the credit crunch more comprehensible, and today the BBC chimed in with this helpful article.

But I am quite surprised that no-one has risked taking a Marxist view of the situation, even ironically. I consider myself to be a closet Lefty, fairly convinced by Marx’s ideas, but not educated or confident enough to walk down Farringdon Road waving a Red Flag, burning £10 notes.

No matter what your political stance, it must seem unusual that as the capitalist system falters majorly, there is a great dearth of left-wing criticism. Nonetheless, I found this article from the Guardian particularly interesting.

Unquantified though it may be, I think it’s wonderfully ironic that the Germans (who are stereotypically aligned with fascism) should look to their estranged son Karl for guidance during this time of severe economic turmoil. Perhaps I should look to the Guardian more often to indulge my quasi-Marxist tendencies…

Now Playing: Frank Turner – Love, Ire & Song

UPDATE 13/11/08: Don’t despair, some would argue you can even benefit from the credit crunch. David Christopher blogs that a reduction in house prices can only be good for those hoping to get on the property ladder for the first time.

How To Lose Friends…

[Originally posted on 7 October, 2008]

I saw Simon Pegg’s latest film on Friday night and although I wasn’t blown away, I’d recommend it for a fun hour and a half. For those not familiar with the book, How To Lose Friends & Alienate People is the personal account of Toby Young, a celebrity journalist who struggled for five years trying to make a name for himself while working for Vanity Fair, shooting himself in the foot at every social opportunity.

Clayton Harding (Bridges) grills Sidney Young (Pegg)
Clayton Harding (Bridges) grills Sidney Young (Pegg)

In the film version, Simon Pegg is very funny as Young, and much of the humour is startlingly relevant for a  journalist-in-the-making such as me. Megan Fox and Kirsten Dunst play the chalk and cheese love interests, and Jeff Bridges is fantastic as the top dog editor, Clayton Harding.

Don’t expect anything groundbreaking though, this is essentially a romantic comedy with a very contrite ending, but it’s still well-worth seeing and there are several great slapstick moments which are sure to raise a smile. How To Lose Friends… has been labelled ‘The Devil Wears Prada, with balls’ and that’s a fair description – you get the same heady mix of glamour and ruthlessness.

How To Lose Friends & Alienate People is now showing and cost me the princely sum of £6.65 at Islington Vue Cinema.

The Ironing Is Delicious

[Originally posted on 26 August, 2008]

Okay, let’s start with a joke.

A man goes to the doctor, doctor tells him he has cancer. The man is obviously quite miffed about this, but goes on to take the usual treatment; chemo, radio etc. After months and months of therapy he finally is given the all clear and goes out to celebrate. He does what any man would do and goes down his local for a few pints with his mates.

At the end of the night he walks home and gets run over by a car. Life’s a bitch, ain’t it?

That is a fairly basic example of an ironic joke, or of black humour. Not uproariously funny, but you get the idea. It could quite easily be used in a rather edgy sketch show.

Now, what if I told you that’s a real story?
The man was called Barrie Neville, he was 59, a father of one and he died last year.

Not so funny now.

Or is it? I read this in the papers today and it still raised a smirk around the office. It seems the sheer irony of this man’s appalling luck overrides any sense of tragedy and compassion, and that got me thinking about the nature of laughter.
Quite a lot of the time, laughter is cruel. I spent a good amount of last weekend telling some pretty sick jokes at Reading Festival.
I think this one from Jimmy Carr gets the tone across best:

The King Of Straight-Faced Comedy
The King Of Straight-Faced Comedy

Q: What is worse than finding a worm in your apple?

A: Aids.

So often the funniest jokes are the cruellest, we skirt around topics that are taboo and have to judge what is funny and what is just plain offensive. It’s the best way to get people to laugh: by challenging their standards or making them confront the scariest things in the world and conquer them by laughing about them. Jokes just aren’t as potent when you play it safe. What’s the funniest inoffensive joke you can tell? I bet it’s not that great…
Henri Bergson once said that “laughter has no greater foe than emotion” and I think that is spot on. The story above is less funny when you can attach a name to it; give it a face, and a grieving family. The details make it all the more real, all the more painful.
The same works with celebrity jokes, we laugh about them because we disassociate ourselves from the victim. They lead a privileged life, so they are fair game for cruel jokes. To quote a friend of mine:

“Apparently Jade Goody’s got cancer. All I need now is for Amy Winehouse to catch AIDS and my life is complete!”

Now, I find that funny. If my friend was talking about someone I know, then I’d probably hit him, but since we are so distanced from Jade Goody, we smirk and think: “That’s what you get for getting rich and famous without having any talent, you pig-faced bitch.”
Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you see where I’m coming from.
But take our man with cancer – there is no moral to his story. The car that hit him wasn’t speeding; the driver wasn’t drunk, so there’s no scope for The Daily Mail to have a rant about how Britain is full of binge-drinkers and hooligans who need to be rounded up and shot. The simple truth is that the car’s brakes failed. It was just, quite simply, a very unfortunate accident.
The irony could not be more acute here, so part of us laughs, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. These things have a way of coming round and biting you in the arse, though. One day the joke will be on us, to some extent, and when it is, the best thing to do is to see the funny side and take solace in the fact that someone else is laughing just a little bit.

Now Playing: The Smiths – That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

UPDATE – 26/11/08

Today I spotted a joke that made my jaw drop.

I’m not going to try and moralise, this is the kind of ‘edgy’ joke which many would secretly find funny without considering themselves to be racist. If someone told this joke down the pub, would you criticise them for it?

118 118 took a risk by putting this in their joke text system, and it backfired spectacularly. In this case the context of a joke is crucial, and you have to admit they have crossed the line. I hardly think the two young Asians who read it found it funny at all.

There is a place for racism in humour; when it serves to ridicule the mindset which brings about such judgements. But 118 118’s gaffe simply perpetuates an existing mindset and further entrenches the imperialist idea that Britain is only for white Caucasians.

I’m Off To Bedfordshire

[Originally posted on 07 August 2008]

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with sleep.
This oscillates every 12 hours or so.
It goes back to when I was 8 years old, when the two times a day I moaned the most were:
‘Muuum, just let me sleep 10 mins more’
‘Muuuuum, just let me stay up 10 mins more’
I’d like to think that both those parts of me are still very much alive.

A Teenage Motto
A Teenage Motto

Sleeping is essentially boring: it’s drifting into unconsciousness; it’s a lack of activity; we just do it because we have to. And yet, waking up in the morning can be so damn hard in the face of sheer laziness and inertia.  Lie-ins are tempting, sometime irresistible, but when you think that all this dozing takes up around 1/3 of our lives, this suddenly seems like a massive waste.

I’ve certainly had many times at Durham when I thought ‘I wish I just didn’t have to sleep’. It gets in the way when you’re really busy, so wouldn’t it be great – never sleeping? If you could have all that extra time back, there are so many more useful things you could fit into the time – learn a musical instrument, a language, catch up on work or just organise your life. It’d be fantastic. But in real life you can only cheat fatigue for so long before you go insane, or, in extreme cases, after about ten days or so, you die.
Maybe I’m an optimist, but I imagine a nice hospital-bed death as being a bit like falling asleep: giving in, drifting off, letting go of consciousness. Apparently 53% of us are fortunate enough to die in this way, but would that make it any less scary?

Nodding off on the job
Nodding off on the job

Of course we could die every time we fall asleep, but it’s not something we worry about. When you’re asleep you’re at your most vulnerable, completely open to attack and abuse and so sleeping next to someone else is the ultimate sign of trust. You are showing that you are 100% comfortable around them, and you trust that they won’t hurt you. Effectively you are putting yourself entirely at the other person’s mercy, which makes it such a big stage in any relationship, even if you’re not going to have sex.
Also, pranks on sleeping people are really quite damaging – you may laugh it off at the time, but it majorly dents any sense of trust. A friend of mine recently got robbed whilst he was in the house and asleep, but to be honest I’m not sure it would have been much better to be awake!
I could ramble on about this subject for ages, and there are so many ways of exploring it, but basically I think that sleep is at once our best friend and a necessary evil. It is the most boring thing you can do, from an exterior perspective, but it is also meant to burn more calories than watching TV!
But that’s another rant for another time.

Now Playing: Reuben – Good Luck

A To B Via Claustrophobia

[Originally posted on July 8, 2008]

I am a commuter.

This service is now calling at Chaos, where this train terminates. All change please, all change.
This service is now calling at Chaos, where this train terminates. All change please, all change.

Horrible thing to say, but as of last week, I joined the thousands of Surrey-ites who commute to work in London on South West Trains, and it got me thinking: Is this the future for many of us? Huddled in a corner of a train at 8am, sealed off in your mind from the swathes of business-folk that surround us? Totally closed off from the outside world, focused on your iPod/BlackBerry/Book?
Public transport has certain codes of conduct, and if you break them you run a very high risk of being labeled as a weirdo.

Rule #1:
Absolutely no talking to strangers.
Spontaneous social interaction marks you as either a desperate eccentric trying to make friends on the way to work, or a twisted, potential sex-offender. Heaven forbid that we should interact with each other. Even if you are lucky enough to have a friend in tow, you should keep your conversation to a whisper.

Breaking rule #1 will result in people immediately assuming you are a bit odd.

Rule #2:
Keep physical contact to a minimum.
This is a tricky one given the proximity of your person to complete and utter randomers. Maintaining a polite social veneer whilst being unable to cross your legs without thwacking someone else in the shins, is a challenge. In fact, if you find yourself next to a more portly member of the commuting undead, then this contact rule is basically void. I spend two hours a day so close to complete strangers that I wouldn’t dream of talking to.

Any breach of this rule must be atoned for with an apologetic nod and a mumbled ‘sorry’. This is the only acceptable exception to rule #1.

Rule #3: No noise pollution.
Commuter trains are eeriely quite, mainly due to rule #1. The only noise you will hear is the faint buzz of music from inside someone else’s ear-lobes. Those who try to pump tha noize, are glared at with disdain and mentally labelled as yobs.

So, armed with the above three rules, it shouldn’t be hard fitting in. And it isn’t.
It’s pretty damn depressing tho.

I’m not trying to curry sympathy here, I’m well aware how lucky I am to have a job in such an exciting city, and I could have it much, much worse. But the whole commuting mindset seems to be quite alarming. Is this what we really think of others? Closed off drones who we must respect but never interact with?

My way of combating the commuting depression/claustrophobia/irritation is to try and section off an area of my own. I place my bag on the chair next to me, my blazer on the chair next to that. I hope, upon hope, that this will secure me a disproportionately large area in which to spread my gangly limbs, and recline in the comfort of being a clever commuter. Paranoid that every passing train passenger will try and claim the seat next to me, I develop a sense of bubbling resentment for anyone who throws a glance my way.
Of course they do, and I am obliged by the above etiquette to yield bashfully and cosy up for an intimate journey. Does this make me selfish? Does this make me anti-social? Or is this just the normal development of dealing with the stress of commuting?

At this point I’m obviously becoming far too cynical. This refined atmosphere of mutual respect and acquiescence to the social codes, makes for a quiet atmosphere wherein people can read, listen to music, and even sleep. Maybe everyone needs this type of environment to make the commute bearable.

Maybe some of them even like it. Maybe if I put my mind to it, I could learn to enjoy this.

But maybe it’s just how I get to work.

Now Playing: Million Dead – Smiling At Strangers On Trains