Monthly Archives: January 2004

Still repulsive after all these years

The Fall were a kind of mysterious, twitchy, paranoid fixture at the edge of my early adult life – at least once I’d sold all those Genesis albums. I’ve got a lot of their records (can’t play them any more, of course) and they were all thrilling but also impenetrable and often repulsive. I seem to remember thinking this meant they must be proper art – unlike, say, Tears for Fears, who were just repulsive.

From The Guardian I learn that scary, driven founder Mark E Smith has chewed up over 40 band members in 25 years – some of them leaving and rejoining the band half a dozen times. Also, I learn that old codgers’ label Sanctuary Records – home of King Crimson, Joey Ramone and Kiss – has picked up The Fall’s early back catalogue for re-release (here’s a handy Fall timeline).

Davies gets his retaliation in first

Meaty and coherent preemptive strike from BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies on Hutton (although last minute delays to the report may make it a bit more preemptive than intended). You’ll need an subscription to read this (for you foreigners: a judge, Lord Hutton, is conducting an enquiry into the circumstances of the death of a Ministry of Defence weapons expert fingered as a BBC source. Here’s The Guardian’s Hutton backgrounder).

George W Bush makes good decisions

Listen, I don’t mean that they’re all good (or even that many of them are), I mean that he just made two big ones that practically gave me goose bumps they were so good (one of them actually did give me goose bumps – but you shouldn’t let that affect your judgement).

First, he decided to get with the programme in a properly pragmatic and American way and give illegal immigrants permission to stay provided they’re working (which, of course, they all are) and, second, he decided to send astronauts to Mars and put a permanent colony on The Moon. Allow me to repeat myself: “send astronauts to Mars and put a permanent colony on the moon”. Don’t tell me you didn’t get goose bumps when you heard those words.

The trouble with getting old

If you’ve got an subscription you should read Martin Wolf’s article about population and pension provision from 6 Jan. He nicely lays out the main issues (with charts) and illustrates a) that we need to make some really bold changes if we’re going to avoid pension meltdown and b) that no single measure will solve the problem – we need to raise the retirement age, get more women into the workplace, boost the birthrate and increase immigration.

The main problem with these tough decisions is that politicians can’t (I mean just can’t) make them because they fall into that category of decisions that have really big benefits in the long-term but are really unpleasant in the short term. Long-term: the next generation (or the one after it) all get adequate pensions for twenty or thirty years of healthy old age. Short-term: our generation has to work until we’re 70 and have more kids while we’re at it and the usual suspects will get hot under the collar about a larger immigrant population.

My conclusion is that political short-termism means we’re going to have to go quite a long way into our own National pensions crisis (a lot of people – mostly poor, under-insured people – will have to suffer) before we’ll actually do anything about it. Meanwhile, go and talk to your pensions advisor about boosting those contributions (if you don’t want to subscribe to, Brad DeLong provides more quotes – because he is a good person and can be bothered).

Best book this Xmas

We’re huge fans of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler round here. Their The Gruffalo is one of our favourite picture books and was turned into the best bit of children’s theatre I’ve ever seen by Tall Stories Theatre Company last Xmas. This year’s favourite Xmas book (with Olly, 5 and Billie, 4. Rosie, 8 months, likes books – but mostly for chewing) is their latest: The Snail and the Whale which is written (like The Gruffalo, Monkey Puzzle and Room on the Broom) in verse so effortless and so enaging that you’ll barely notice it rhymes and illustrated with the same kind of deceptive ease – immediate, friendly, open – that the kids love. Donaldson and Scheffler prove that kids’ books can be important books. My kids take this magical stuff for granted but I really wish there’d been such great picture books when I was a kid, instead of the crop of dry-as-dust improving yarns and patronising illustrated rubbish that we had to put up with in the Sixties.

A proper innovation from The Guardian

I’ve finally got around to trying The Guardian’s digital edition and I’ve got to tell you it is absolutely brilliant. In fact, I think it might be the first proper innovation in online newspapers since – ooh – well, the web I suppose (is that overdoing it? Can you think of anything else?).

It sounds like it shouldn’t work: shrunken JPEG facsimiles of every page in the print edition with simple left-to-right navigation and headlines pulled out and presented to the right. Clicking on a headline or on a story from within the page itself loads the text of the story which you can, of course, cut-and-paste or print. Not a plug-in or frame or gnarly proprietary doodad in sight.

It’s all in the execution, though – it’s just seriously slick and satisfying. There really is hardly a wrinkle in the UI – and there’s presumably some pretty heavy-duty inegration with production systems humming away under the hood – not bad for a beta. Everything works as it should. The structure of the physical newspaper is retained and, to my surprise, really works online. It makes look bloated and inaccessible and the other UK papers are obviously years behind. I think this is the first online paper that might actually persuade me to stop getting the print edition. Simon Waldman, Emily Bell and their team should be proud of themselves (Emily Bell, editor in chief of Guardian Unlimited, writes about their plans for the product, pricing etc. here).

I think I invented Reality TV

At the end of 1996 I made a presentation to a TV conference and I filled it with screenshots from a new webcam site that everyone was talking about called Jennicam. I told the conference that I was pretty sure we’d soon see lots of TV shows influenced by web sites like Jennicam and that we were all going to have to get used to watching people eating, scratching and shouting at each other on primetime TV.

Jennifer Ringley, Jennicam’s creator and sole star, became pretty famous because she left her webcam (seven of them, in the end) running twenty-four hours a day and didn’t seem to mind people watching her watching the TV, cleaning her teeth, plagiarising her college essays and (mostly) sleeping. Anyway, according to, Jennicam is no more – killed off by Paypal‘s policies on web site nudity.

Pop culture gewgaws

Over in Hackney (London’s Brooklyn), at the trendy Transition Gallery they’re developing a nice line in twenty-first-century wise-ass barrow-boy pop culture irony. In fact, I think Transition is likely to become the epicentre of London’s emerging twenty-first-century wise-ass barrow-boy pop culture irony scene. They even have some handsome merchandise, including some lovely ‘car collector plaques’ by Paul Murphy (pictured). I don’t know how you actually buy them – I couldn’t find anywhere to enter my credit card details. They should accept PayPal.

Borrowed beliefs

So it turns out that Michael Howard’s ‘beliefs’ weren’t borrowed from a tea-towel or a greetings card motto or the dreadful ‘desiderata‘ at all, but from the grimly pompous words of robber barron/penitent philanthropist John D Rockefeller Jnr, from 1941. Although the content has been changed, the structure is identical and Howard’s designers even chose that unlikely classical typeface to match the one used to carve Rockefeller’s message in stone.