Don't Panic
  • Does anyone remember the band ‘Vanilla’? They were a girl group from North London who released the single ‘No Way No Way’ in 1997 – reaching number 14 in the charts.
    Still no? Let me jog your memory with some of the lyrics:
    ‘No way, no way
    Ma na ma na,
    Don’t get fresh with me’
    STILL no? Oh well – they did only have two singles, after all.
    The song was released when I was 13 years old, and I remember thinking ‘Surely this is some kind of sick joke – unleashing such revolting dreck on us teenagers and expecting us to lap it up’. It promptly won the dubious title of "Worst Music Video Ever" on the 1997 ITV Chart Show end-of-year special.
    Years later, I was bickering with a guy about his jukebox choices in a London pub and the subject of Vanilla came up. He told me that he’d actually been the sound engineer for the song, and claimed that the whole thing was a bet between two established music producers for who could produce the worst pop video.
    I was right! My 13-year-old brain had cracked

    Read More »from The political genius of Ben Elton
  • In a Washington press conference this week, US President Barack Obama broke his long silence on the Guantánamo Bay (‘Gitmo’) complex - an American prison camp situated in Cuba.

    It’s about time. Since February, detainees have been hunger striking, and according to military officials, 100 of the 166 prisoners are now refusing to eat in protest over their incarceration without trial. Many have been in custody for more than a decade, and for these individuals there is zero prospect of release.

    Guantánamo Bay is a revolting remnant of former President George W. Bush’s counter-terrorism policies. Outside of US jurisdiction, the compound clings to America’s international reputation like a fetid stink, and is - in every conceivable way - immoral.

    Now, Obama has gone on record to decry the institution. Indeed - he made its closure part of his 2008 election campaign, and yet it remains open. The reason? Congress - his initial attempt was blocked by the USA’s legislature, and the same thing may well

    Read More »from Close Gitmo? It's about time!
  • Crowd-sourcing is an operation that utilises mass behaviour to get things done. The most high profile charity example is probably Cancer Research UK’s Cell Slider project.

    At the moment, cancer samples are given special stains that highlight certain molecules as part of research. These molecules could reveal how a patient will respond to treatment. Thousands of CRUK supporters have logged on to help assess photographs of these samples.

    Using this form of crowd-sourced research, CRUK have saved a huge amount of money and time. It is also likely that the work done will lead to lives being saved in the future.

    Thus, into this new and exciting arena step internet forums 4Chan and reddit. After the appalling Boston bombings, users decided to apply the same model in order to identify the terrorists.

    These sites are essentially discussion forums. reddit, which calls itself ‘The front page of the internet’, is a global platform for dialogue on just about any topic you could imagine (and some you

    Read More »from Is crowd-sourcing the future of counter-terrorism?
  • Working in advertising, it’s easy to become flippant and cynical.

    But I must say; if there’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed in the past two weeks, it has been the spicy political discourse surrounding Thatcher’s legacy.

    In an era of evasive, centrist rhetoric, it’s been great to see people getting really wound up about the £10m funeral, the effect her premiership has had on the British character, and... anything else for that matter.

    For me, it actually illuminates the irrationality of hatred aimed at David Cameron. I'm alarmed by his creeping privatisation, but ultimately he’s a moderate who flip-flops on hotter policy points.

    So when a red-faced ranter derides the coalition in this way, I think it lacks perspective. Get a grip - try living under Thatcher!

    Now there was a politician you could get your teeth into. She was a union bashing, poll taxing, milk stealing power-haircut. Looking back, it seems like everyone hated her, and yet she kept winning elections!

    Actually, in Read More »from After Thatcher, it’s back to business
  • In case you’ve been living on Mars (or down a coal mine), former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died this week after a long illness.

    She was 87. Every corner of Westminster and Fleet Street has rung out with the condolences, anecdotes and opinions marking the occasion and despite calls for respectful, bleached eulogies, there has been a distinctive tone of for or against.

    A picture dated March 29, 1987 shows Margaret Thatcher greeting curious Moscovites who gathered to see her in Moscow, during her official visit in USSR.This should surprise nobody. Thatcher was a politician who polarised opinion; winning three elections on a hard Right agenda, whilst calling dictators such as Augusto Pinochet her friend. That her death provoked street parties is disappointing, but little more.

    Actually, I can see a similar phenomenon should Tony Blair perish in the next 18 months or so -  but not in 20 years' time. The entrenched hatred of Blair comes from a different place - not only by those calling him a war criminal (a criticism not thrown at Thatcher) but from old Labour purists who saw him drag his party to the centre - a position in which it

    Read More »from As a nation, do we want more 'conviction politicians'?
  • This week it emerged that the 47-year-old Labour MP for South Shields and former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband was quitting politics to run a charity in America. The news comes two and a half years after his brother, Ed beat him narrowly in a Labour party leadership run-off, leaving his ego severely battered, and his political capital spent.

    His non-election was a refreshing piece of substance over style for the Labour Party; Ed is the less glamorous and urbane sibling, and his politics are more aligned with Gordon Brown than Tony Blair. Because of this left leaning approach he’d earned  he alias of ‘Red Ed’ - a moniker he has worked hard to kill off.

    It is probably the case that Ed is the right man for the job available. On most policies, the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition is thoroughly centrist, so a more leftwing opposition has additional credibility and is more likely to deliver viable and genuine alternatives to the government. The fact that Labour have struggled to

    Read More »from Look Inside America: David Miliband will be back
  • Budget: George Osborne Defends Economic PlansRecently I went on my annual Twitter cull. It’s similar to a Facebook cull - where you delete dormant connections - only without the terrifying potential to bump into one of them, and be forced to explain yourself.

    Among some sporting scalps; Kevin Pietersen (fatuous) and Rio Ferdinand (too blasé), several politicians got the boot. Tory chairman Grant Shapps was culled alongside Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg. The reason was the same for both - they were boring.

    So with the entry of Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne to the social platform, is it really worth following him? I mean, I tuned out during his budget speech and had to rely on newspaper bullet points to summarise its implications. The economy is something that makes my brain ache and while I feel duty-bound to stay aware of what’s going on, a triple-dip recession is so dire as to actually appear tedious.

    Despite this, I am genuinely interested in the person holding the reigns to the UK economy. The choices he makes on a

    Read More »from Is it worth following George Osborne on Twitter?
  • Have you heard of the Onion Man?

    The Onion Man sits at the end of your bed after a night out and tells you what a failure you are. ‘Your friends hate you’ he says. ‘You made an absolute fool of yourself.'

    When you’ve done nothing wrong - that is - no embarrassing stumbles or crass jokes, he will simplify his pointed criticisms: ‘Think of all the money you spent.'

    Now, I should clarify - the Onion Man is a figment of my imagination, but the feeling of guilt and shame is very real and is almost a fixture on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

    Therefore, when it emerged this week that the plan to set a minimum price of alcohol at 45p a unit will probably be axed from next week’s Budget, I must admit, I did a little fist-pump - Henman style.

    However, having sat with the news for a while, I’m actually not sure that such a minimum price would make any real difference to our drinking habits.

    Alcohol prices have been rising aggressively for the ten years I’ve been allowed to drink, and while I don’t think

    Read More »from Why alcohol price restrictions wouldn’t work
  • Everyone loves an underdog, right?

    Well, the Venezuelans certainly do, having declared seven days of national mourning following the death of their President, Hugo Chávez.

    For 14 years, the underdog Chávez puffed his chest out in defiance of what he called the "Yankee empire".

    But was it worth it? Is it really important to defy America if it means toadying up to questionable states such as Syria and Iran? And does it position Venezuela well going forwards, now that that this hugely charismatic and versatile leader is gone?

    Chávez’ supporters will point to the fact he removed tranches of government corruption and poured billions of dollars of oil money into social programmes intended to help the poor of his country. They will say that his unique brand of Latin bravado positioned Venezuela - one of the U.S.'s largest suppliers of oil - as an noteworthy voice of dissent.

    But his detractors - many of whom have fled the country - will talk of government cronyism, amateur economics and an

    Read More »from Death of Hugo Chavez: So, what now for Venezuela?
  • 'Italy, and the Spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy'
    - Bertrand Russell

    ‘Italy is a divided country with no centre’
    - Christian Lacroix

    We often forget that Italy - the modern nation state - is no more than 160 years old. Only proclaimed as the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, this country finds itself younger than much of the ‘New World’ - places such as the USA and Australia, which are sometimes considered immature in their political modes, operations and rhetoric.

    The regionalism that permeates Italian society is akin to what we might perceive in the UK with Scotland, Wales and Northern Island, however there are additional layers of complexity born out of comparatively recent internal strife, abortive dictatorships and a degree of Catholic fundamentalism.

    So the recent goings on with Italy’s government - or lack thereof -  can be explained more clearly when considering this pseudo-youth.

    The centre-left coalition should have won this election

    Read More »from Just what is going on in Italian politics?


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