Friday, 30 December 2011

The Times Square 2012 New Year's Eve Ball

Saturday, 24 December 2011

COMMENT: The SPL wants to re-introduce standing at football matches...

The SPL wants to re-introduce standing at football matches - are their memories really that short?

OPNION: Racism in the UK

Along with many of the population, I was glad to hear that Luis Suarez, the Liverpool footballer, was to be banned for 8 matches by the F.A. for racially abusing Patrice Evra. The F.A. has long campaigned to "Kick Racism Out If Football" and this sent a strong message to the remaining Neanderthals associated with football, as well as the wider society. It also thumbed its nose at Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, who, early this year, made the rash and, quite frankly, ridiculous claim that there is no racism in football. He said any "bad words" should be forgotten in a handshake.

Similarly, I was very glad to hear that John Terry, somehow still the England football captain, was to be charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.

See that Mr. Blatter, racism is alive and well and not just on the terraces, on the pitch.

Now I realise that racism is the wrong term for bad-mouthing based on skin colour. We are all humans. We are all part of one race, the human race, but it has come to be used as the terminology for ethnic hate derision, so I'll use it too!

So where are we with racism in the second decade of the twenty-first century? Is it still a problem?

Well, along with various premiership footballers, and any number of offensive chants at football grounds up and down the country, I believe racism is, sadly, alive and well throughout huge swathes of society.

A couple of years back a couple of Tory MPs got into hot water for telling racist jokes at dinner parties. I know a number of people who felt that, because they were at private events, they should be allowed to say what they want. It was all very 1984 and "Big Brother" and the Political Correctness brigade "picking" on "ordinary people".

Yes, really, supposedly educated people, some who are teachers, who, basically, defended the right to be racist as long as it was done in public.

To me that's appalling, and I told them so.

But, I guess, the problem is that we live in a society where the blatant racism of the monarchy's husband is laughed off as "eccentricity" and he's lauded as a "British institution" and a "National Treasure". Well, he's an ill-informed, ignorant racist and he should be pitied and/or prosecuted for his disgraceful comments.

It's only 30 years ago that sitcoms like Mind Your Language were broadcast in prime time. A sitcom whose only "humour" was racial stereotypes. Today, I'd like to think, such a programme wouldn't be made, though racial stereotypes can still be found on British television.

The brilliant sitcom character Alf Garnett should have put an end to racism. He showed how idiotic his views were and how mid-placed his fears were but, sadly, the far right saw him as a hero and not simply a buffoon.

One thing, however, niggles in the back of my mind. As a kid, I was taught "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" - should it really be an offence to call someone a name? Any name?

Nobody would end up in court for calling someone "four eyes" or "porky", both physical attributes, but use a racial term and there's the full weight of the law to punish. Is this right? Does it make sense?

Surely, the use of such name calling shouldn't affect the person being called but merely demonstrate that the caller is a bit stupid?

Surely, showing everyone that you're a pathetic, ignorant idiot is sufficient? Should verbal racism really be punishable? It is, after all, just name-calling.

Perhaps people from ethnic minorities need to get a thicker skin? After all, many black people happily use the term "nigger" to describe themselves but feel pain if a white person uses it. That surely can't be right. Words are words and they should belong to everybody. Would it be right is homosexuals were the only people allowed to use the term "gay"? I think not.

I think it's right that racists aren't allowed to hold positions of power and responsibility because their use of racially divisive language might suggest they will show preference to certain racial groups, but, if it never goes beyond words, should the law really be bothered?

I certainly don't want my country, or any country, represented by someone who uses racist language and, as such, I hope that, if found guilty, John Terry should never be selected to play for the national team again but I don't see any reason why he should go to jail. We can all mock his stupidity, his ignorance, how pathetic he is and, as such, hope his employer will educate him to understand that his racism is unacceptable and that is, probably, as far as things should go.

Maybe, now that it's over 50 years since the mass immigrations of the 1950s from former empire countries, it's time that all ethnicities learnt to live with each other and, as long as it is just words, maybe they should be laughed off?

Is it time for ethnic minorities to man up? Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.

I'm undecided.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

OPINION: Cinemas need to learn from rail companies

Today, I went to the cinema to watch Another Earth - a movie I really enjoyed. However, the whole movie going experience wasn't good - and this is often the case.

Sat behind me was a man who rattled a bag of popcorn for, probably, 80 minutes of the 92 minutes of the movie, and, at moments of real tension on screen, decided to chomp extra loud on his snack.

Over the aisle from me was a man who HAD put his mobile phone on silent - however, he had left it on vibrate. At least half a dozen times during the movie, his phone vibrated very loudly 8 times then, after a slight pause, it vibrated again after a voice mail had been left. I could have forgiven this happening once, but he did nothing to turn off the vibrate, or turn off the phone, after the first occasion.

Now, I enjoy going to the cinema a lot, and, over the past few months, have been to see a range of movies at a variety of cinemas. Today I was in the Cineworld at Valley Centertainment on the edge of Sheffield - but I don't blame Cineworld, Centertainment or even Sheffield. It's pug ignorant people who, really, should know better.

On trains, I am a fan of "Quiet coaches" in which mobile phones and leaky headphones are banned. It's true, sometimes quiet coaches aren't quiet, things go wrong, but we must remember they are QUIET coaches, not SILENT coaches.

So why don't cinemas have special "Quiet screenings" - no food, no drink and no mobile phones (I know it's actually illegal to block phone signals but there must be a way round the law - a lead-lined screened, perhaps?).

I realise that cinemas make large profits from their unhealthy and, more importantly, noisy food and drink sales. I'd happily pay 50p more to attend a screening in which there was no popcorn being crunched, no sweet wrappers being rustled, no pick and mix being chomped, no crisps being eaten and no sugary, saccharined water being slurped. The rest of the "lost income" would be saved by not having to clean the cinema after the popcorn/sweet eaters and the detritus they leave behind them.

And anyone who breaks the rules of the quiet screening should be banned for life from all cinemas.... worldwide!

VIDEO: Apple's Big Brother Ad (1984)

I'm watching Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy on BBC2.

Here is the full "Big Brother advert" from 1984.

New Banksy found in Liverpool

A new piece of street art by Banksy has been found in the Rumford Street Car Park, Liverpool. It depicts a biplane leaving a trail of smoke that has formed a heart.

3 Classic Comedy Sketches

Three of the funniest sketches ever written:

TIME Magazine Person of the Year: The Protestor

Ealier Today, Time Magazine announced its Person of the Year in an annual tradition that has dated back to 1927.

1938's Man of the Year cover

This year, a year which has not only seen the Occupy movement around the world but also the Arab Spring, the magazine decided to have "The Protestor" as the Person of the Year. This isn't the first time the magazine has given the nod to a non-specific person - notable mon-specific people of the year include, in 2006, "You" as the winner in acknowledgement of the spread of the Web 2.0 and, back in 1950, it chose to honour the American Fighting-Man. In 1982 and 1988 the "Person of the Year" was a non-human - the computer and the Endangered Earth!

The full list of winners of the Person of the Year (originally the Man of the Year) makes interesting reading - take a look at 1938, 1939, 1942 and 1979 for instance!

1927 Charles Augustus Lindbergh
1928 Walter P. Chrysler
1929 Owen D. Young
1930 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
1931 Pierre Laval
1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
1933 Hugh Samuel Johnson
1934 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
1935 Haile Selassie
1936 Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson
1937 Generalissimo & Mme Chiang Kai-Shek
1938 Adolf Hitler
1939 Joseph Stalin
1940 Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
1941 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
1942 Joseph Stalin
1943 George Catlett Marshall
1944 Dwight David Eisenhower
1945 Harry Truman
1946 James F. Byrnes
1947 George Catlett Marshall
1948 Harry Truman
1949 Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
1950 American Fighting-Man
1951 Mohammed Mossadegh
1952 Elizabeth II
1953 Konrad Adenauer
1954 John Foster Dulles
1955 Harlow Herbert Curtice
1956 Hungarian Freedom Fighter
1957 Nikita Krushchev
1958 Charles De Gaulle
1959 Dwight David Eisenhower
1960 U.S. Scientists
1961 John Fitzgerald Kennedy
1962 Pope John XXIII
1963 Martin Luther King Jr.
1964 Lyndon B. Johnson
1965 General William Childs Westmoreland
1966 Twenty-Five and Under
1967 Lyndon B. Johnson
1968 Astronauts Anders, Borman and Lovell
1969 The Middle Americans
1970 Willy Brandt
1971 Richard Milhous Nixon
1972 Nixon and Kissinger
1973 John J. Sirica
1974 King Faisal
1975 American Women
1976 Jimmy Carter
1977 Anwar Sadat
1978 Teng Hsiao-P'ing
1979 Ayatullah Khomeini
1980 Ronald Reagan
1981 Lech Walesa
1982 The Computer
1983 Ronald Reagan & Yuri Andropov
1984 Peter Ueberroth
1985 Deng Xiaoping
1986 Corazon Aquino
1987 Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev
1988 Endangered Earth
1989 Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev
1990 The Two George Bushes
1991 Ted Turner
1992 Bill Clinton
1993 The Peacemakers
1994 Pope John Paul II
1995 Newt Gingrich
1996 Dr. David Ho
1997 Andy Grove
1998 Bill Clinton and Kenneth Starr
1999 Jeff Bezos
2000 George W. Bush
2001 Rudolph Giuliani
2002 The Whistleblowers
2003 The American Soldier
2004 George W. Bush
2005 Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, & Bono
2006 You
2007 Vladimir Putin
2008 Barack Obama
2009 Ben Bernanke
2010 Mark Zuckerberg
2011 The Protestor


Brit Marling is a name to look out for. I expect big things from her in the future. Not only did she co-write the screenplay of Another Earth, but she stars in it and produced it. She clearly has the skills and, ahem, the looks to become a major name in Hollywood over the next few years. Mike Cahill, who co-wrote and directed this, is another name to watch out for. This is their third joint venture, after the documentary Boxers and Ballerinas (2004), and Sound of My Voice (2011).

Another Earth is a science fiction adventure based on the premise that a new planet is discovered, Earth 2, that completely mirrors everything here on our earth. Rhoda (Brit Marling), a bright young high school student, has always wanted to explore space and is accepted into the astrophysics programme at MIT. John Burroughs (played by William Mapother) is a talented composer is at the top of his profession. He and his wife are about to have a second child. On the night that Earth 2 is discovered a dreadful accident happens. Rhoda and John begin as strangers but, after the accident, their lives become intertwined.

Another Earth was made on a budget of just $200,000 - nothing in today's world of mega-million movies, and picked up the Feature Film Prize and Special Jury Prize at Robert Redford's influential Sundance Festival.

It's a very good movie, very atmospheric, and well-paced, and there are moments of romance and suspense. The basic premise is interesting and dealt with in a much more subtle way than, say, Doctor Who does!

A movie that's definitely worth going to see - and names to keep an eye out for!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

COMMENT: The Portas Review - what nonsense

Mary Portas has, today, published her plans to save the "traditional high street" after many months of consultation.

Her suggestions include less regulation for high street traders and a National Market Day. If we follow these, apparently, we will have a thriving high street.

I think the term that comes to mind is "poppycock"!

We don't have a thriving high street because shoppers, in their droves, have turned their back on them. They, generally, offer a smaler range of goods at more expensive prices than out of town centres and, when car park charges are included, there seems little to recommend the high street.

My objections to her proposals are numerous, because her report is fundamentally flawed.

We live, rightly or wrongly, in a capitalist system. It is not for the government to be manipulating the marketplace to favour one type of shopping outlet over another. Businesses fail because they fail to find customers and fail to move with the times. It is right that bad businesses fail - and no good business fails, ever.

Portas' suggestion of a "National Market Day" is silly style over substance nonsense of which Barack Obama, the ultimate style over substance politician, would be proud. Yes, events can help drive business, but they have to be events with a purpose and, probably, a local focus.

In our already overly consumerist society,do we really want another day to celebrate shopping and consumerism? I'm sure Hallmark are already planning on printing "Happy Market Day" cards that they will sell... In their out of town mall outlets!

Some towns do manage to have thriving and successful town centres and high streets. If some can succeed then it is only incompetence that makes others fail, and location is a factor. Many thriving high streets are in places where lots if peope visit, there is a tourist pull.

And isn't it right that everything, including the way in which we shop, evolve? Some may not like shopping malls but they are what the majority of people choose to use. Why should they be penalised because some monstrous woman, and some idiots on the Tory right, have a rise-tinted view of what shopping used to be like.

Things change. Live with it.

Yes, I agree that out of town shopping centres have an unfair advantage when it comes to parking, and that parking charges in some towns is quite expensive, but aren't we meant to be discouraging car use, for the sake of the environment? I'd favour all shops, malls and out of town retail parks having to charge for their car parking - and probably at a higher rate than at present. Certainly, it's wrong that the likes of the Trafford Centre and Meadowhell can offer free parking all day - but it is equally wrong that car parking charges in small towns are reduced. Look at the big picture.

Now I agree with Portas about reducing red tape - but not reducing it for the sake of it, only when it is not necessary - again, ths should apply to all businesses, not just high street shops. And ket's not forget, some red tape is essential.

Ultimately, shoppers will go where they will get the most convenient value for money. The high street has had it's day and, apparent from in tourist towns, I suggest it has died - and so be it.

As my wife will attest, I'm not a fan of big shopping malls, but I won't shed a single tear for the death of the high street, andI think it is wrong that any public money is used to keep this dodo on a life support system just to appease those who haven't moved with the times.

The high street is dead. So what?

2011's major news stories - in Lego

I love this:

Click here to see all the major events of the past year recreated in Lego!

A Christmas tree, made entirely from Lego, at St. Pancras station

Monday, 12 December 2011

OPINION: Skeptics - stop preaching to the converted

Over the past few years, the rise of the skeptics, and the acceptance of rational thought as the norm, has slowly been witnessed on tv, radio, best-selling books, magazine articles and, of course, in theatre shows (mostly, it seems, hosted by Robin Ince and featuring Brian Cox). This is good; it is right and proper that science and fact and knowledge should be given more coverage.

Robin Ince and Brian Cox

There is, though, a little problem.

I think I've witnessed this change not because there has been a widespread media change but only because of the types of television programmes I watch, the brand of newspaper I get my headlines from and the books I read.

I fear that skeptics and rational thought are becoming ghettoised - and largely of their own making.

When Richard Dawkins writes a new book or fronts a new television series, who watches it? I strongly suspect that most of his audience is made up of people who already agree with him. I very much doubt that many creationists tune in to watch RD rip their beliefs to pieces.

And the same can be said of the "Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless people" and the "Uncaged Monkeys" shows - the audience is made up of those for whom rational thought is, well, rational! These events are, to all intents and purposes, rallies of supporters.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a bit of self-congratulation at times, but there comes a point when it becomes, well, pointless.

Stephen Fry has become, in recent years, a "National Treasure" as well as a "professional skeptic", and there are many others, some of whom I've already mentioned. They address meetings of skeptics, they write articles that get published in the more intelligent magazines and periodicals that tend to be read by skeptics, they... well, quite simply, they make a good living from being a skeptic.

I'm not going to protest at writers earning an honest crust from their views - far from it - but I do wish the skeptic movement (if there is such a thing) and the school of rational thought would stop contemplating its own belly button and smugly slapping each other on the back in congratulations.

Yes, we're right.

No, as the London Bus said, there almost certainly isn't a God.

Yes, Creationism and Intelligent Design are both nonsense.

Yes, homeopathy is a con.

The list could go on and on.

It's time to stick our heads above the parapet more. It's time to help others understand why we're right and why they're wrong. It's time to challenge the lies put out by religion and the anti-science lobby, not just in an amusing panel game shows that can be considered a bit naught and a bit tongue-in-cheek, but in a more serious way, and in more prominent fora.

An amusing panel game show

We need skeptics on BBC1 and ITV1, not just tucked away on BBC2 and Channel 4. We need to find ways of making rational thought attractive, interesting and entertaining. We need easy to understand articles in the red tops and in popular magazines. We need to achieve a balance.

For every "my house is haunted" story in a popular magazine there really should be something publilshed pointing out that ghosts don't exist, that they defy the laws of thermodynamics and, to be honest, there is always a better and a more obvious explanation.

For every documentary about extra-terrestrials visiting earth we need a programme that shows that, while this is an interesting and comforting idea that we're not alone in the universe, the chances of aliens from other planets having visited earth is just not worth the time calculating - they haven't visited, it's fun in a science fiction novel but it must be remembered that it's fiction.

There are many other things we, as skeptics, need - some are significant changes to the constitution of our country, others require the media to ensure a proper balance.

For starters, we, as skeptics, should demand that church and state are separated and that the head of state isn't the head of a established church. We need to rid the House of Lords of the unelected bishops. We need religion of all hues removed from state affairs and the official public arena as is the case in both France and the USA. In the 21st century there is no reason or logic for any nation to be anything other than secular.

Schools in England and Wales are still required BY LAW to have a daily act of worship of a largely Christian nature and the teaching and study of R.E. is compulsory up to the age of 16. R.E. in the curriculum does cover religions other than Christianity but the is little time for rational thought. Why do schools have to help the churches recruit?

A school assembly

The school curriculum should, instead, have philosophy or a study of world cultures rather than the horrendous child abuse that is R.E.

And yes, a daily act of worship? That's blatant indoctrination. The times I've taken assembly there have been no prayers involved. I guess there are militant Christians who think I should be locked up for that!

Anyone or any company who make a scientific claim should be forced to publish the science behind that claim in peer reviewed publications. That would, instantly, put homeopathy out of business. Or homeopathic treatments should carry large warnings on them: "YOU MAY AS WELL BE FLUSHING YOUR MONEY DOWN THE TOILET AS TAKING THIS SNAKE OIL"

Then there's smaller things. Balance in the media. Here's an example:

It is time that BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day had regular atheist, or antitheist, contributions. On the Today Programme, of which Thought for the Day forms part, it would be expected that political coverage is balanced, so that when a government minister appears saying me thing, a member of the opposition can give their view too. Why doesn't his apply to religion, faith and rational thought?

Radio 4's The Today Programme

I cringe every time that breakfast television shows or other daytime television give over airtime to a priest - they get to say their piece but there is never (well, very rarely) a balance. If a priest is allowed on, given soft questions and able to get away with saying anything he wants, the a skeptic should be allowed to challenge every point and show what rubbish the priest is saying.

The problem is that the establishment as is relies on the lies and superstitions of the majority. Without the blind faith of the masses that inexplicably support church, monarchy and quackery, the current kakistocracy would collapse. We need to help that collapse.

I'd strongly support a more militant skepticism.

Why should "faith" be respected? Surely such lunacy deserves pity but nothing else? Those with "faith" should be considered mentally ill or poorly educated. When someone spouts nonsense they need to be challenged - and not in an apologetic way, using simple facts that demonstrate the error.

The judgmental so-called "moral majority", all wrapped in their New Testaments, have happily protested outside Jesus Christ Superstar and, more recently, Jerry Springer - the Opera - why don't skeptics protest outside some churches? Protests could highlight the church's hypocrisy with its huge investments in stocks and shares, or the massive wealth the church accrues but still has exemption from paying taxes.

Jerry Springer - the Opera

I find it sad how many people will be attending church over the next couple of weeks and genuinely think that there is any evidence of any part of the nativity story. There is barely an iota of truth in it (there may well have been shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem, but that's it). And those who justify Jesus as "well, I'm sure he existed but was probably a spiritual leader" - no the is no contemporaneous evidence of any Jesus within two generations of his supposed existence. Jesus simply didn't exist, and those writing about him were, attest, grandchildren of eyewitnesses but, in reality, were religious activists out to prove a point and gain notoriety - and, of course, like the current religious leaders, power.

I would like to hope that, in 2012, we witness the rise of rational thought and skepticism beyond the back slapping of those who already accept science and fact and into the mainstream.

I fear that the frauds that control society will get in the way, but it is a battle that is worth fighting and it is a war to which all skeptics should subscribe.

Stop the back slapping and self congratulations. Stop being nice to the frauds and con men of anti-science and religion. Start fighting for what is right on a bigger scale.

Friday, 9 December 2011

OPINION: Cameron and Hague's "Them and Us" politics is bad for everyone

The emergency talks about new treaties and potential re-organisation of Europe has really highlighted the "Them and Us" politics of David Cameron, William Hague and the rest of their Little Englander Tories.

At the time of the 2010 General Election and all the "I agree with Nick" nonsense, there was talk of, and hope for, a new politics. A politics of consensus, co-operation, of mutual benefit and of a brighter and better future for all.

Yes, I accept that was all election claptrap and, along with various other "promises" that all the parties made which they had no intention of fulfilling. I very much doubt that Cameron had any idea that having "agreed with Nick" he'd end up sharing a cabinet table with Clegg and a bunch of his Lib Dem mates (certainly not while Clegg was still a Lib Dem anyhow!).

But Cameron and Hague, and just about every British Member of Parliament in the history of Westminster, are all masters of "Them and Us" politics - it's what they do best: Divide and rule. Whether it's rich against poor, town against country, pro-nuclear against anti-nuclear, left against right, our politicians have always exaggerated difference of opinion to divide society instead of using a difference of opinion, sharing common ground and developing a consensus that is to everyone's mutual benefit.

Such "gang politics" are why our current system doesn't work properly. We elect our MPs, more often than not, by the colour of their rosette and not by their intellect, abilities or experience. In the UK we have, to all intents and purposes, a kakistocracy; agivernment of the least well qualified, because they are passionate about their gang and will always work to benefit that gang, and, therefore, disadvantage those not in the gang.

Over the past few days, it has become apparent that Cameron and Hague are now exporting their "Them and Us" politics to Europe on a stronger, more petulant way than ever before.

Yes, of course the Tories have always had a "Them and Us" approach to Europe, and it's served them well, dragging along with it large numbers of vile racists and xenophobes. Thatcher, whilst signing the Maastricht Treaty that welcomed greater European integration, continued to play the rabid bulldog for the domestic market because she knew that, not far below the surface of so many of our poorly educated masses, lies a rampant racist - someone who sees the term "Churchillian" as a positive rather than a description of a tragic and dangerous buffoon.

The issue of Europe could well tear the Tories apart again, much in the way it destroyed John Major's premiership in the early 1990s, but, today, the main beneficiaries wouldn't be Labour, or even theLib Dems. The danger is that likes of the far right would gain strongholds at Westminster and as the nation's representatives at the European Parliament. Can any person with a fully-functioning brain really want the racists and xenophobes of the BNP, UKIP and the EDL representing the UK in Europe? Do they really want the UK internationally isolated in the way heir diatribe suggests? They seem to forget that the world has changed, Britain no longer has an empire and people are no longer judged by the colour of their skin.

So, what do Cameron and Hague hope to achieve by ripping apart Europe? A few extra votes at home, maybe? Stop a few of their supporters drifting to UKIP and the BNP? Maybe even prevent some of their backbench MPs switching to other parties? Or simply some back-slapping congratulations from right-wing extremists?

The UK needs to look carefully at how well served they are by the "Them and Us" society. Do we really want to be divided so clumsily? Is it because we hope that we'll be in the lucky "Us" group? Is it simply down to greed, selfishness and racism?

Sadly, I think it is; too many Britons vote for themselves personally and don't look at the bigger picture that might, and probably would, benefit not only everyone more but, consequently, them too.

"Them and Us" politics is no different from West Side Story's Jets and Sharks. In the end, no one benefits and there are tragic casualties on the journey.

In reality, there is no "Them and Us" - there's only "Us". We need to work for the common good. We are the human race and we need to cooperate to achieve goals of mutual benefit.

It's time for a change.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

VIDEO: Nativity Play Star Dance

This is the "Star Dance" from Martha's Nativity Play.

It's the Foundation Stage of her school, so all pupils are aged 4 or 5.

She's on the extreme left of shot at the beginning.

And here's the grand finale!

Merry Christmas!

TOP 10: Favourite Christmas Songs

Here's my Top 10 Christmas Songs - there were plenty of near misses but, eventually, I plumped for this selection!

1: I Believe in Father Christmas - Greg Lake

2: River - Robert Downey Jr.

3: It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas - Pet Shop Boys

4: A Snowflake Fell (and it felt like a kiss) - Glasvegas

5: Feels Like Christmas - The Feeling

6: What's This? from The Nightmare Before Christmas

7: Christmas is All Around - Billy Mack

8: What If - Kate Winslet

9: Not Tonight Santa - Girls Aloud

10: Happy Xmas (War is Over) - John & Yoko/The Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir

Radio Times Christmas Covers over the years..

You know it's nearly time for Santa's visit when the Radio Times Christmas edition hits the magazine shelves.

Here are a few selected covers from the Radio Times of Christmas past including the first Christmas edition from 1926!













OPINION: FA wins Rooney appeal

This morning, the FA won its appeal and had Wayne Rooney's three-match ban at the Euro 2012 tournament reduced to two matches.

This means, assuming that Capello selects Rooney, he will be available t play in the final group stage match against the co-hosts, Ukraine.

But what sort of message does this send out to youngsters, as well as other players?

At best, Rooney's tackle was petulant. At worst, it was thuggery of a type Rooney regularly exhibits. He'll feel he's got away with it to some extent.

Rooney, and all other footballing thugs, should be banned and fined far more dramatically. When Eric Cantona Kung fu kicked a fan in the crowd he was banned for the rest of that season. That is the sort of punishment that Rooney deserves. And, if there is a repeat (and there have been many repeats from this dullard yob) he should be banned for life.

He is a danger to himself, to the teams he plays for and, more seriously, to the opposition because, the chances are, his violent tendencies will, one day, lead to a player being seriously injured.

Today, UEFA lost my respect. The FA, by appealing the original decision, had already lost my respect. Rooney is scum, sporting detritus, and should not be allowed to play again, in any competition, until he cleans up his act and learns how to play within the rules ofthe game.

OPINION: And the winner of the X Factor 2011... has ALREADY BEEN ANNOUNCED!!

SPOILER ALERT: this blogpost includes the name of the winner of X Factor 2011.

It's been a turbulent season, to say the least, for the X Factor. No, not the stage managed, and almost certainly scripted, fallings out of the judges, but the frauds and cons continue.

And, after Tuesday's revelation of the winner, four weeks BEFORE the final and the public's chance to vote, surely ITV, OfCom and the viewing public have had enough of this tawdry and tired format?

This season, heralded a fresh start with new judges, has already courted controversy with a public phone-in quiz in which the options changed between commercial breaks. That's been followed by Tulisa (who many must wonder why she was a judge as her singing ability and charisma would, surely, have seen her not make "boot camp") using the show to get free advertising for her own perfume - even in last week's semi-final she was still doing her one-armed salute, prominently showing off her tatto with the product name on it (had the only Bazis thought about it they could have used their sown one-arm salute and conquered Europe with crass consumerism and over-priced fragrance instead of bombs and the Final Solution).

There's also been the fuss about Frankie being thrown off the show, and him being replaced by Amelia Lily, who had already been rejected in the first live show.

Now, I do wonder whether Frankie was a stooge, a fall guy, set up to generate column inches in the red tops. He really couldn't sing (go to YouTube, there are many examples) but he was prepared to make himself look an arse and a manwhore. The producers needed Frankie because, let's be honest, very few of the other acts have any signs of stardom, and ever fewer have a personality. He may be an arse but, having done their dirty work, I hope the show sees Frankie right somehow.

Then there's Amelia Lily. In the first live show, in a "dramatic twist" (!), each judge had to get rid if one of the acts they were mentoring. Kelly Rowland, mentoring the girls, chose Amelia Lily. No one thought anything if it - she seemed, like her mentor, rather vapid and had, being generous, an average voice and limited stage presence. Then, when Frankie was chucked out, they allowed the public to vote one of the first show rejects back. However, well before the phone vote closed, the STV website announces that Amelia Lily had won the public vote and was overjoyed! Whoops! The public vote had been a scam.

In the few weeks since her return it's apparent that Amelia Lily is a changed performer and has undergone some major voice coaching and styling.

The X Factor final is this Saturday evening. (There's hours of it!). The public phone vote for the final won't close until something around 10 p.m. on Saturday. Odd, then, that the HMV website had Amelia Lily's winner's song for sale on its website on Tuesday.

Yes, four days BEFORE the public vote, Amelia Lily knows she's the winner of X Factor 2011.

I wonder how the other contestants feel about that? They've been so blatantly robbed - or, let's hope not, they're all in on the scam.

Sadly, fans of the show will make excuses for this situation. They'll blame errors. They'll say she deserves it. They'll excuse the show and Simon Cowell because, deep down, lots of the wish they could be in her shoes and signing a £1 million recording contract.

I just wonder WHEN she signed that contract. Was it back in the summer?

I really hope this is the end of the road for the X Factor. I'm not anti talent shows per se, but when the public is being conned like this and there is no real contest, just a fix, it has no place on our tv screens.

The immediate problem for the producers is that if Amelia Lily is announced winner on Saturday, will anyone believe it is anything but a fix - even though she is probably the strongest contestant left (well, after a couple if months of intensive training she ought to be!)?

The longer term issue, though, is that this should lead to some criminal charges.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

VIDEO: What a Wonderful World - David Attenborough

The BBC ended the series of Frozen Planet with this tremendous music video which includes David Attenborough performing What a Wonderful World.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

10-Day Music Challenge: the final scores are in!

Over the past couple of weeks I've been doing a 10-Day Music Challenge - below is the final list click on each day to see what made the cut!

It's good fun. If you do decide to do one please let me know.

Day 1 - My 10 favourite albums
Day 2 - My 9 favourite songs
Day 3 - The first 8 songs to come on shuffle
Day 4 - My 7 favourite bands
Day 5 - My 6 favourite song covers
Day 6 - 5 Bands for my dream gig line-up
Day 7 - My 4 guilty pleasures (artists or songs)
Day 8 - My 3 favourite vocalists
Day 9 - My 2 favourite music videos
Day 10 - My all time favourite gig

OPINION: How dare Liz Windsor not attend the Royal Variety Performance

Yesterday, the Queen refused to attend the Royal Variety Performance in Salford. She wasn't sick and she didn't have other state appointments to fulfill that were more important. She just said that she wasn't going to attend.

It turns out the reason was that her husband, Philip, had said that they had travelled to Liverpool last week and weren't going to travel to Salford this week.

Hang on a minute! The nation pays well in excess of £200 million a year for this woman and her family to do a few tasks. How dare she refuse to attend. If anyone else in the country refused to carry out their job they would be disciplined and, quite likely, sacked?

Now! I know she is getting on, she's a few months older than my mother, and her husband is older still, but if you're not up to the job you should, surely, retire?

Liz Windsor carries out somewhere between 300-400 official engagements each year - often they are lunches or dinners (so very taxing) and many work days will have 3 or 4 engagements on th same day because they aren't arduous or long. So, in reality, she only works for about a third of the year.

Even if her husband wasn't prepared to travel, even though he benefits from the millions spent on the monarchy each year and has lived a life of luxury at the taxpayers' expense for decades, old Liz should have turned up.

Sure, she sent along her daughter. So what? Clearly Anne is underemployed in the family firm if she can drop everything and pop to Salford a short notice. Or did Liz and Phil never intend to attend?

The Queen has, generally, attended every other year of the Royal Variety Performance, and attended her first while still Princess Elizabeth in the late 1940s. The Royal Command Performance, as it was originally called, started nearly a century ago, in 1912. The 2011 RVP was the first to be held at The Lowry, Salford - what message does this send to the North of England?

Surely an evening at the theatre, some bland comments to toadying celebs and some handshaking isn't a lot to ask in return for her salary?

If she's too old to do the job, or too frail, then she should retire (abdicate); if she's too ill then a regent should be appointed in her place; if the Windsors have decided they can't be bothered to carry out their duties then it is more proof that it is the time for a republic.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

OPINION: Councils and prayers

This week, the National Secular Society has taken a case to the High Court calling on Bidedord Council to end its practise of having prayers before council meetings.

I just had to check my calendar - it is the 21st century and not 1511. What on earth is any state, government or council institution doing having prayers before meetings?

It's bad enough that their are elected officials who believe in such superstitious nonsense and believe that praying to a fictional super being will help them, it's another matter entirely that the concil endorses such behaviour by making time for it.

Sure, Bideford Council doesn't "take a register" until after the prayers are over, attendance at them is not compulsory, but what a waste of time and what an awful and bigoted message it sends out to their constituents.

The can be no justification for maintaining this tradition - and saying its a tradition is. I defence, traditions and customs change over the centuries.

In France and the USA, to name but two nations, the state and education has, by law, to be secular. "Faith" and all religious mumbo-jumbo isn't allowed. Schools aren't allowed to indoctrinate children with the daily acts of worship that we, in the UK, have by law; state occasions don't have priests, vicars, rabbis, etc. at them; and council meetings don't have prayers before them.

France and the USA, both very religious countries, realise that "faith" is a private matter and has no place in state or educational matters.

It is time we left the Dark Ages and moved to having a secular society - and when that's achieved we can look more closely a why so man still believe the lies of the churches and see if improved eduction might cure them of their "faith" illness.

OPINION: Merging the Olympics and Paralympics

SCOPE, the charity for people with Cerebral Palsy, has called for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games to be merged. The logic is that it will improve the status of the disabled in society as awhile, improve the way that disabled sport is viewed, and stop people looking down on the Paralympics as they may currently do.

All well and good, maybe.

The problem comes in the practicalities of merging these two quite separate events.

In reality, the media coverage would still, in all likelihood, focus on the able-bodied sportsmen and women who will be running faster, jumping higher and setting records that the vast majority of paralympians can never ever dream of achieving.

Oskar Pistorias, the "Blade Runner", is actually being allowed to compete in the Olympics against able-bodied athletes - maybe that's a way ahead? Or will the advantages/disadvantages of special equipment simply nullify the sports?

The next problem comes with how to merge the events - the Paralympics has man more events than the Olympics because it has different "classes" for each slight variation in disability. This means that, if all events are maintained, a joint Olympic/Paralympic medal table would be heavily weighted in favour of the countries with more disabled athletes competing. So the disabled community, a small minority of society, would occupy the majority of medals - that is, surely, a nonsense?

It would, of course, be totally unacceptable to everyone for a Paralympic Gold to only be worth, say, a tenth of an Olympic gold, so that problem is insurmountable.

The next problem comes with the staging of the combined games - having all the facilities available at the same time for both events and the time to do it. The combined Games would, I suspect, end up running to a month or more - unless a swathe of events were scrapped - and I thought the point of this was inclusion and acceptance?

I guess SCOPE are generating publicity for their cause by linking themselves to the Olympic Games but there suggestion, perfectly good on the surface, doesn't hold up to close scrutiny and, in fact, might end up doing disabled athletes a dis-service in the long run.

10-Day Music Challenge: Day 10 - my all-time favourite gig

And so to the last day of my 10-Day Music Challenge - my favourite gig!

There have been many fantastic conchs I've been to including: Meat Loaf at the NEC in themid-90s; Peter Gabriel at Earl's Court around the time of his Us album, and again, in Sheffield just a few years ago, for his Up album; Hothouse Flowers at the Apollo Theatre, Oxford when they didn't seem to want to leave the stage; Squeeze at Keble College Ball back in the mid-80s (yes, I'm starting to show my age), Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells II at the Royal Albert Hall, and the world premiere of Tubular Bells III in the rain at Horse Guards Parade; Blur at the NEC...

And, of course, I've performed in many concerts, or had pieces I've composed played in concerts, and, to me at least, these were unforgettable moments. I will always cherish the performances of In Memoriam by Nottinghamshire Education at the Albert Hall, Nottingham; the concert at the British Music Information Centre in London, given by he Holywell Ensemble, to mark my 30th birthday; and the premiere of Kitty - the diary of Anne Frank at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford particularly stand out.

There is though, one concert that will always stand out for me, and I make no apology for choosing one of my own performances (at least I'm not like Elizabeth Schwarkopf who, when invited onto the BBC's Desert Island Discs, chose 7 of her own recordings plus the prelude from an opera that she was the star to keep her company for all time!) - in 2005, I conducted the Lady Manners School Orchestra for the finale of the Schools Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London. We played music from Jurassic Park followed by Elgar's Pomp & Curcumstance March No. 1 ("Land of Hope and Glory"). I very much doubt anything will top that for me in terms of a live performance but, who knows, there's still time!

Here are both performances. Yes, there are odd mistakes but, please, don't forget, as Howard Goodall points out in the introduction to Jurassic Park, this is an 80-piece symphony orchestra from one state school.

This is the plan of my 10-Day Music Challenge - this is the 10th and final day!

Day 1 - My 10 favourite albums
Day 2 - My 9 favourite songs
Day 3 - The first 8 songs to come on shuffle
Day 4 - My 7 favourite bands
Day 5 - My 6 favourite song covers
Day 6 - 5 Bands for my dream gig line-up
Day 7 - My 4 guilty pleasures (artists or songs)
Day 8 - My 3 favourite vocalists
Day 9 - My 2 favourite music videos
Day 10 - My all time favourite gig

Friday, 2 December 2011

EURO 2012 Draw

Euro 2012 takes place in Poland and Ukraine between 8th June and 1st July 2012.

There are 16 competing nations:

Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland (co-hosts), Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Spain (Holders), Sweden and Ukraine (co-hosts)

The Group stage sees 4 groups of 4 teams compete against each other On a round robin basis, the top 2 from each group qualifying the the quarter finals.

The 4 groups were drawn, in Kiev, on 2nd December 2011:

Group A
*Czech Republic

Group B

Group C
*Republic of Ireland

Group D

MUPPET OF THE WEEK? - Dave Prentis

I'd like to nominate Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, the biggest trade union in the UK, as a contender for "Muppet of the Week". After all, he's had a stinker.

Not only did his hopes of bringing the nation to its knees on Wednesday, with the strikes that got minimal support from UNISON members let alone the rest of the population, he then went on to make a big fuss about a joke made by Jeremy Clarkson on The One Show that has spectacularly backfired (clearly he hadn't watched while clip because if he had he would have seen it was a joke about balanced journalism on the BBC and Clarkson makes it clear he presented two contrasting opinions, not his own). Still, Prentis in his wisdom (lol) threatened legal action against Clarkson and wanted him sacked by the BBC.

Comrade Prentis gets paid nearly £100k a year for leading UNISON through gaffes like that, plus various benefits, expenses and generous pension and, while encouraging the low-paid to give up a day's pay just before Christmas, Prentis won't, of course, have lost a penny of wages.

Surely there's no one else who's had a worst week?

Still, things could get worse for Prentis, maybe his members will realise embarrassing them twice in one week doesn't justify such a huge salary and get rid of this Calamity Jane.

Everything you need to know about the Katla volcano in Iceland

The Katla volcano? That's not the one that spewed forth ash clouds last year and caused air traffic chaos across Europe is it? Nope. This one is much bigger and, if seismologists are correct, looks like to burst forth soon. Things could be much worse this time!

*Katla is derived from the word Ketill meaning "kettle".

*Katla is one of the largest volcanoes in Iceland.

*Its peak reaches 1,512 metres (4,961 ft) above sea level

*It is partially covered by the 595 km² (230 sq mi) Mýrdalsjökull glacier.

*The caldera of the volcano is 10 km (6 miles) across, and covered with 200–700 metres (660-2,300 ft) of ice.

*The volcano normally erupts every 40–80 years.

*The flood discharge at the peak of an eruption in 1755 was comparable to the combined average discharge of the Amazon, Mississippi, Nile, and Yangtze rivers.

*Last major eruption began on October 12th 1918 and lasted 24 days. This is one of the longest periods of repose between major eruptions.

*The 1918 eruption registered 5 on the VEI scale (0-8).

*Small eruptions in 1955 and 1999 didn't break through the ice coverage.

*Other major eruptions occurred in: 1860, 1823, 1755, 1721, 1660, 1625, 1612, 1580 and 934.

*The eruption of 934 released 5 cubic km of tephra and 18 cubic km of lava and was one of the largest lava eruptions in the past 10,000 years.

*Signs of unrest since 1999 and increased earthquake activity in recent months.

*After the Eyjafjallajökull eruptions of 2010, Ólafur Grímsson, President of Iceland, said "the time for Katla to erupt is coming close ... we have prepared ... it is high time for European governments and airline authorities all over Europe and the world to start planning for the eventual Katla eruption".

Nando's ad pulled in South Africa

"At this time of year, no one should have to eat alone..."

Well, it might be tasteless, but I think this deserves a lot of credit!

COMMENT: Cutting diplomatic links with Iran

Things have been hitting-up with regard to the West's relationship with Iran (well, now that Iraq and Libya are "solved", Obama needs a new war to help his election campaign). The West keep saying that Iran shouldn't be developing nuclear weapons while Iran point out the hypocrisy of the nuclear powers telling them they can't join the gang!

Earlier this week, the British Embassy in Tehran was attacked and taken over. The UK government's response was to withdraw all from the embassy and order all Iranian diplomats out of London. Diplomatic links are cut.

At a time of trouble and disagreement isn't that the worst and most idiotic thing to do? When there is disagreement that is the time when diplomats should be doing their job: talking, negotiating, working out a peace, keeping the peace.

Cutting diplomatic ties is like taking your ball home and ending the game. Worse, it's more akin to preparing for war. And what will this war achieve? Nothing.

Sure, there will be Americans who see it as an heroic struggle against the Iranians and, I'm sure, it will bolster Obama's presidency (and his lack of substance continues to be exposed - he, more than anyone, needs another war if he is to win a second term in the White House).

Cameron, the British PM, probably hopes it will be his Falklands - Thatcher, deeply unpopular after cuts, riots and rising unemployment sent forces to re-capture a few bits of rock we'd been trying to get rid of for decades in the early '80s and, therefore, romped to a second election victory in 1983. And, of course, another big war would be just what Cameron's mates in the Arms industry want (he's recently been campaigning to end the treaty that banned cluster bombs).

Also, Cameron has been sidelined in Europe and has lost a platform where he might have been able to be seen as statesmanlike. He wants, very much as Blair did with GWB, to radiate in the glow that is emanating from Obama. Obama is, now, one of his only international friends left.

After the "dodgy dossier" and the lack of WMD in Iraq, should we take Iran's claims, and the West's concerns, with a pinch of salt?

So, what if Iran IS on the verge of having nuclear weapons? What if they actually already have them? Should I bother buying any Christmas presents or will the world have come to an end in the next few weeks?

Hopefully, that's unlikely, but, and there is no doubt, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President is both unstable and unpredictable. Is that the sort of man who should be let loose like this?

Cutting diplomatic links is a truly idiotic thing to do with any nation - but particularly any nation that could be considered a "rogue state". It is political posturing on a level to which the likes of the unions normally only ever sink. It is dangerous and Cameron is gambling on what might happen next.

Grown-ups discuss their problems. Grown-ups negotiate and compromise. This week Cameron, yet again, has shown himself to be a schoolboy in short trousers when it comes to the world stage.