The Snow In The Summer or So-So

12/18/2006 - 12/24/2006

Mon 18 Dec 2006

L'ancien regime

More sucking-up from Het Graun, where there's an interview with the Fecking Arsehole (yes, it's a change to the Search Engine Bomb, thanks to the Profanisaurus) and Andre Wanker, Six Apart's leading liars.

The Fecking Arsehole said, I don't think anyone thinks that as a company we're pushing a French political agenda. Well, that's arguable; M. Lemeur is certainly using company resources to push his domestic agenda, so it's a credible charge. On the other hand, she goes on, Loic's [sic] a very large personality, but we trust our team members and groups to act independently, and that feels like a slight disassociation from M. Lemeur's actions. On the other other hand, Six Apart as a company has been pushing a right-wing, ultra-capitalist, screw-the-users approach to business from the moment it was set up, one that dovetails neatly with the pop-up policies of M. Sarkozy.

Anker said, we don't mind what people say, good or bad, as long as they're using our tools to do it. Does customer retention mean nothing to you? Does it help to employ a malicious liar? What about honouring your promises? I've seen LiveJournalers worried that we're going to ... plaster their sites with advertisements. (We're not going to do this).

Perhaps the most interesting part is Anker's blathering about the future of Six Apart's latest shiny new thing, Vex. The telling line seems to be, one of the things we're going to do is let partners offer private content to their community members, so for example a TV company could push video into the library of everyone who was part of the group. Users are happy because they get new content, and companies are happy because they're building loyalty. It makes absolutely no sense to me, but the growing army of Sixapartologists might be able to get something out of these statements.

Anyway, danah boyd has her own thoughts on the pop-up politician, M. Sarkozy, French politician's attitude proof that they were just as clueless as American politicians. They know that this tech thing is important but they don't actually understand it, and still they want to find a way to manipulate it to make them look good.

We may as well sound the death knell for Tech Crunch UK, killed by its publisher's arrogance. Remaining employee Mike Butcher said, I feel that this is a case of censorship and You asked my colleague and co-editor Sam Sethi to remove the comment in what appeared to be a personal favour to [Loïc] Le Meur. While the idea of Tech Crunch UK - a clearing house for dotcodotuk startups and investors - was sound, the whole project followed the Tech Crunch Com model far too closely, and was insufficiently localised. The heavy-handed tactics of publisher Michael Arrington only served to kill his brainchild.

And finally, we note that Livejournal is beginning to serve images and code from its Russian partners, SUP, to European readers outside Russia.

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posted 18 Dec 2006, 14.52 +0000

Six Apart Is Useless
Two Songs a Week 53 - Tonight is the night

Ten years ago this week came a couple of defining moments in popular culture. Emma Forrest, the rising young star of the journalistic firmament, wrote a think-piece for Het Grauniad about a charity record. This pre-dates the newspreap's webties by a couple of years, so I'm reprinting a condensed version below.

As anyone who has seen the British tabloid press in full cry might expect, any criticism of the Dunblane project would meet with a vociferous, short-lived, and ill-conceived, backlash. Dylan fans completely missed the point, and one tabloid printed some fairly nasty stuff, enough to excite Living Marxism into writing a stern defence of Miss Forrest.

From the viewpoint of ten years on, it really does seem like a storm in a tea-cup. The Dunblane campaigners had already entered into a Faustian pact with New Labour; give us your support, and we give you the ban you crave. It was an early example of New Labour's hallmark - populist government, not good government. Emma Forrest moved to New Amsterdam, thence to PdLA, published four versions of three novels, with another on the way, and wrote many landmark pieces on movies and the people who appear in them. New Labour aged less well, and was last seen talking to a policeman down a blind alley.

The other key event from ten years ago was an interview in The Spectator magazine. The Spice Girls, the biggest popular music act of the time, are interviewed by a moderately influential news weekly. Geri Halliwell states that ancien prime minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, and pays tribute to her can-do attitude.

To everyone, not least interviewer Simon Sebag Montefiore, this was a mind-bogglingly odd piece to run, but it certainly achieved its aims. The Spices suddenly had a depth about them, they were capable of more than the most vapid thought. Here was a group that was capable of talking with clarity and conviction, and that wasn't afraid to alienate some of their audience - it's hard to imagine now, but at the time, there was an assumption that no Conservative could possibly do anything right.

The Spice Girls' interview was, originally, timed to coincide with the release of their third single, Two become one; the release had been delayed by a week in order to allow the Dunblane record seven days at the top before being thoroughly squashed by the New Fab Five.

And let's make no mistake: if the Dunblane record was - on an artistic level - amongst the most toe-curlingly rubbish ones ever, the Spices was amongst the greatest. The moderately unusual 2/4 time signature, and some major key magic, is not enough to make a classic single. The sparse vocals - indeed, the quiet nature of the whole song - weds with a remarkable video, featuring the Spices in front of time-lapse footage of night streets. For my money, this is the greatest festive number one single of the past ten years.

Here's that piece from Emma Forrest.

The people who put together these records always mean well. People mean so well that they don't stop to think about the forum they are using. On the one hand, pop reaches millions of people and anything that keeps the gun control issue in the headlines must be good. On the other, there is the simple truth that pop is notoriously ungentle.

This record is always going to be sandwiched between two other songs on the radio. I imagine all the parents gave there support or it would not have gone ahead, but there are still average members of the public who just don't want to hear this song in the background at work or in a shopping mall.

The idea that this is a Christmas record is repulsive. The senseless murder of 17 innocents in a primary school gym is something that will be with us forever. Dunblane as a Christmas cause can only appeal to the same people who don't realise there is a homeless crisis until the fortnight before Christmas. The Dunblane single is symbolic of the blurring of lines between what's real and what's not real, between society and popular culture, between Casualty and the 9 O'Clock News.

How can you contain something so unimaginable in three minutes? What happened in Dunblane beggars words, so why try? It is part of the human condition to try to understand everthing; but it is also part of the human condition to say that some things are impenetrable. Pop is what it is. That's what it should be. But because it is no more than that, the tragedy of Dunblane is inevitably cheapened. It may reach millions of people, but it also reduces the slaughter to something that comes with a PR contact number.

It is so crass, you can't help but feel it corrupts the innocence of the children involved. It is tabloid - in fact, the single has heavy backing from the Sun. It is not a good record and it is not a fitting memorial. Pop is by its nature disposable, but it is being used to contain something we will never forget. The song is performed by the community that was truly affected by Dunblane, and they have the right to react as they choose. But I wish they had raised a statue instead.

As for highlighting the issue - true, if sports enthusiasts, weapons salesmen, jaded politicians and potential psychopaths were watching Top Of The Pops last Friday and said, 'Look, the people from Dunblane are singing Knockin' On Heaven's Door, only they've made the lyrics worse - hey, they have a point, let's ban all handguns,' then it may be worth it. But if what happened at Dunblane has not convinced the Government to place a total ban on handguns, why should a pop song?

In the end, everyone got what they wanted. Thanks to the Spices's astute piece of public relations, the Dunblane cover spent a week at the top of the charts, before making way for the Spice Girls' work. Geri Halliwell's support for Mrs. Thatcher was so strong that she appeared in a Middle-Aged Labour re-election commercial in 2001; three years earlier, Newish Labour had passed a law to ban pistol ownership. Only Emma Forrest's point remains unanswered; the ten years since have seen an upsurge in pop stars trying (and failing) to do well: witness Paul Hewson and Bob Geldof's nauseating attempts to sell themselves as social engineers.

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posted 18 Dec 2006, 18.33 +0000

Two Songs a Week

Tue 19 Dec 2006

Wholly innocent

Rashid Rauf has been cleared of terrorism charges. Mr. Rauf was arrested last August in Pakistan, sparking off a massive flap about an alleged plot to bring down aircraft using nail polish, caustic soda, guesswork, and blind luck. Police in High Wycombe have closed their search of woods, without finding anything more than some dead rabbits. They wish to return to their day jobs, picking up motorists for speeding on the M-40. Wills, allegedly put together by would-be bombers, were actually from soldiers who fought in Bosnia in the early 1990s. A map of Afghanistan was photocopied as part of a school project. Many of the 26 people arrested in a blaze of publicity in August have been freed, without a blaze of publicity. The others now face far less serious charges.

Rashid Rauf is still detained in Pakistan; he is wanted in Birmingham in connection with the murder of his uncle some years ago, and an extradition request is now before the court. The war against un-noxious substances continues, and John Reid has inflicted his arrogant nonsense on the rest of Europe. I would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused by this nutter, and hope that he returns to his level of competence as soon as possible.

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posted 19 Dec 2006, 18.22 +0000

News
A tale of shoddy service

Some would argue that it is a bit pointless having a Search Engine Bomb on this blog, for we quite deliberately turn the largest advertising agency search engine away at the door. Not that that's going to stop us from spreading the tale of the terrible service one of our readers received from B&Q Appliance Warehouse. Itchy bought a washing machine, which quickly developed a fault. We'll let Esther Rantzen doing her synchronised teleprompters pick up this one.

Esther Rantzen: B&Q Appliance Warehouse said they would deliver on a day.

Keiron Prenderville (for it is he): They failed to deliver on that day.

Esther: Then they said they would call to arrange a new delivery date.

Keiron: There was no call.

Esther: On the day, B&Q Appliance Warehouse said that the washing machine was in the delivery lorry.

Keiron: The washing machine was not in the delivery lorry. It was not in their warehouse. B&Q Appliance Warehouse had no stock again.

Esther: Itchy asked for a full refund.

Prendervill: By a complete coincidence, B&Q Appliance Warehouse found that they did, actually, have some stock, and a replacement would arrive within a week.

Estooth: There was no phone call.

Prenderghast: And, at the end of the week, no washing machine.

Rantzen: So Itchy asked for a full refund.

Ghastly: And B&Q Appliance Warehouse promised a full refund within three days.

Ranting: On the basis of this, Itchy ordered a replacement from John Lewis, a reputable and decent store.

Gherkin: Though the new washing machine did arrive, and the old one left on the back of the same van, the refund did not.

Ranting: B&Q Appliance Warehouse said that they could only authorise the refund when they received the old machine back.

Prenders: At this point, Itchy realised that B&Q Appliance Warehouse was prepared to lie in the morning, lie in the afternoon, and lie in the evening.

S-FOR: The gas board said... oh, hang on...

(With apologies to everyone on That's Life.)

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posted 19 Dec 2006, 19.20 +0000

Annoyed

Wed 20 Dec 2006

Euro if you want to

In 2002, President Sadaam Hussein of Iraq announced that his country would, in future, sell its oil for euro and not dollars. In 2003, President Sadaam was visited by the storm-troopers of the Dollar Defense (sic) Fund, who seized the Iraqi oil fields, and started selling them for dollars once more.

On Monday, Iran announced that she would be selling her oil, and calculating foreign trade revenue, in euro rather than dollars. The change will come into effect at the start of the new financial year on 21 March next. Iran will also divest her dollar holdings into a basket of other currencies. The European Commission has declined to comment on this news. The dollar has dropped by almost 10% against the euro this year, and Bloomberg reports that it may weaken further as oil producers - including the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Indonesia - plan to put more of their funds into the European currency. All of this will serve to make the euro a better reserve currency, and one can expect it to rise further against the increasingly friendless dollar.

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posted 20 Dec 2006, 19.15 +0000

News
How Oyster Prepay Works

The theory:

1. Card-holder touches in at a tube station, to open the gates.

2. Their card is debited with £4 (or £5 if they're at certain mainline stations.)

3. The card-holder makes their journey on the comfortable, clean, punctual, and efficient trains.

4. Upon arrival at their destination, the card-holder touches out, to open the gates.

5. This completes their journey, and their card is re-credited with the correct balance for the journey.

The actuality:

1. Card-holder touches in at tube station. The gates remain closed. Card-holder touches in at three different gates to find one that will open.

2. Card is debited with the gross national product of a small African nation.

3. After struggling down to the platform, card-holder has to let four trains pass before one arrives with enough space to breathe.

4. Card-holder is turfed out half-way to their destination, and would like to continue their journey on the overground railways, as these are actually running. Owing to non-interoperability between Oyster and BR, this is not possible, and card-holder must wait for service to resume.

5. Upon arrival at their destination, card-holder tries to touch out at seventeen different gates, before giving up and going to the manual gate.

6. Their card is charged with the gross national product of the Baltic republics. This money is transferred to Ken Livingstone's drinks fund.

7. Ken is drunk. Card-holder must secure a second mortgage in order to return home.

Of course, if you have a travelcard, and validate either in or out in your valid zones, the system will be dumb enough to assume that you've remained in zone all trip. Outside of zone, the travelcard-slash-prepay ticket will be charged £1 (£1.50 in zone 1) with any additional fee due on exit.

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posted 20 Dec 2006, 20.05 +0000

Entertainment

Thu 21 Dec 2006

News of the week

What's wrong with this article? A misleading newspaper story gets a thorough fisking, and is left staggering on the side of the road.

Why the monoglots of England are missing out.

When theatre critics dress up.

The demise of the intellectual audience. I can't help but think that this would be less of a phenomenon if there wasn't constant pressure to level down.

Parties would benefit from less money, says John Redwood. Spend less on market research, computers and fancy campaigning, and get back on the streets with a volunteer army.

Max Hastings on why Gordon Brown should pull troops from Iraq.

The probabilities for last week's European League draw.

That new Radio 3 schedule in full*. Rob Cowan to breakfast, Artist Focus at 10.30 - sounds very dodgy. The Essay goes out at 11, and I repeat my call for this to be a podcast from the get-go. Music and Words appears on Sunday evenings - the Words being poetry. Jazz Library replaces Mixing It, a show that really needs to turn up on 6 Music. Music Matters shifts to Sunday lunchtimes, Andy Kershaw to 11.15 Monday nights. Again, a programme of world music on 6 Music is the least they can do.

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posted 21 Dec 2006, 19.19 +0000

News

Fri 22 Dec 2006

The Last Post (2006)

Time to update The Last Post, with the last posting dates for 2006. Even though the 25th falls on a Monday, the most awkward date for the delivery operation, dates were ludicrously early - 19th December for first class, and the 16th for second class. When the 25th last fell on a Monday, back in 2000, the corresponding dates were the 18th and 21st. To put it another way, the first-class posting date in 2006 was the same as the second-class date in 1998. Truly, the Royal Mail is achieving less, and charging more.

But you're not here for the commentary, merely the pretty graphic.

Last posting dates, 1996-2006

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posted 22 Dec 2006, 16.58 +0000

Intellectual
Two Songs a Week 54 - All alone

Just a quick one, for my favourite festive song of the 90s. It's recorded by Darlene Love, who had already been a name on the Broadway stage for three decades, and continues to act today. In 1992, she agreed to record a song for a movie. Though the motion picture has been completely forgotten, the song has not; it was a deliberate re-creation of Phil Spector's famous Wall of Sound, with just enough seasoning to make it sound modern. All alone on christmas retains its magic, and just drips with festive spirit.

To all our readers, whichever season it is, may we take this opportunity to wish you a happy and pleasant season. We'll be back soon...

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posted 22 Dec 2006, 18.35 +0000

Two Songs a Week

Sun 24 Dec 2006

Charts in week 51

Another week, another new number one in Germany. Monrose is a five-piece girl band, put together on the Popstars casting show, and their debut single Shame comes crashing into the charts at number one, outselling the rest of the top ten put together. No major changes elsewhere.

North Europe's Top Twenty

 20 19 Faf Larange - Pas de temps
 19 10 Myslowitz - Nocnym prciogien uzdo konca suiatzon
*18 18 Fratellis - Whistle to the choir
*17 NE Sarah Connor - The best side of life
 16 11 U2 / Green Dull - The saints are coming
 15 14 Depeche Mode - Martyr
 14 20 Feeling - Love it when you call
 13 15 Nadiya - Amies ennemies
*12 13 Faudel - Mon pays
 11  8 Silbermond - Das beste
 10  9 Justin Numberwang - My love
  9  7 Akon - Smack that
* 8 12 Fatal Bazooka - Fous ta cagoule
  7  6 Snow Patrol - Chasing cars
  6  5 Seizure Sisters - I don't feel like dancing
  5 re Wham! - Last christmas
  4  3 Razorlight - America
  3  4 Clitring Aguilera - Hurt
  2  2 Take That - Patience
* 1  1 Nelly Furtado - All good things

One new entry, Sarah Connor, who always racks up a sizable hit with every release. Wham!'s re-entry comes on the back of renewed success in Germany, Sweden, and from being bloody ubiquitous on British radio.

A quick throw back to last week: Cliff Richard did have a number one single, albeit on physical sales only, 21st century christmas entered the download charts at position 131. That's still two places ahead of Lazy Town, whose Bing bang made number 4 overall on 10 December in spite of missing that week's top 200 downloads.

Wham! and Mariah Cantsing should be in the top ten this week, but are removed for not having a physical version available. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl should also be removed this week, but ROPRA has - correctly - decided that it would make the charts look a complete farce to disqualify the title to-day, and allow it back two weeks hence.

None of this affects the biggest-selling single in stores, Leona Lewis's version of A moment like this. 571,000 copies shifted in the first week of release, including 150,000 downloads. It's the single biggest weekly sale of the year, but she will have to move half as many again next week to overtake Gnarls Barkley. The song itself was a best-seller in the Colonies back in 2002, when it was the debut hit for Kelly Clarkson. By a complete coincidence, A moment like this was released after Miss Clarkson's appearance on Pop Idle Us.

On the grounds that we disqualify first-week releases from television programmes from the festive number one spot, this year's honour goes to Take That, their fifth week at the top of the charts. McFly finish in the runner-up spot with the entertainingly up-tempo Sorry's not good enough. Nineteen years on from the original, the Council Estate Slappers cover I think we're alone now, and are left for dead by Tiffany.

Razorlight have two singles in the top 25 - the old America should also be excluded on the deletion rule, but ROPRA has finally said nonsense to a stupid rule. Their newie, Fall to pieces, climbs to 17, and sounds a bit like all the others. Ditto James Morrison, who has been grouching about being rejected from Star Academy some years ago. We'd sooner be listening to Dogsby and Kielty going hammer and tongs than his tedium.

Another one bites the dust comes back in a remix, about ten years after its popularity on Gladiators. Mary J Blige reflects on her career in MJB da MVP, a song done with all her usual wit. Sharam's Party all the time charts on downloads - the only song to so do. It's a cover of an early-80s tack. Simon Cowell also has a hand in the lowest new entry, All Angels' cover of Angel at 48 - the Sarah McLachlan number was to have been Pestside's festive release in 2001, but was pulled late in the day, and remains one of the best songs never to have been a UK hit.

Lower down, Shakira's new single is being outsold by her own single after just one week. Nothing much to note on the albums - it's Take That, Pestside, Oasis, Ill Divo, Yog in the top five. Akon climbs eleven to 45, the Carpenters' hits collection takes a 70-place leap to 67, one ahead of a new album from Nas.

It's a shame that Radio 1 aren't giving much time to next week's top 40, preferring to concentrate on the chart of the year. I'm expecting huge climbs for the High School Musical songs, after its performance on BBC-1 this Friday. Last year also saw some massive climbs by old songs - Shakira back into the top 20, three Razorlight tunes in the 40, two Feeling tracks in the same place. And don't forget, utter chaos on 7 January when the no physical rule kicks in. May you live in interesting times...

Here's the good stuff on the singles listing:

 3 NE McFly - Sorry's not good enough
 6 10 Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
  - Fairytale of New Amsterdam
15 11 Nelly Furtado - All good things
17 46 Razorlight - Fall to pieces ^^
21 23 Slade - Merry xmas everybody
23 22 Razorlight - America
26 18 Andy Abrahams - December brings me back to you
28 21 Lily Allen - Littlest things
33 NE Mary J Blige - MJB da MVP
38 19 Matt Willis - Don't let it go to waste
41 37 Feeling - Love it when you call
42 32 My Chemical Romance
  - Welcome to the black parade
45 34 Shakira - Illegal
49 49 Shakira - Hips don't lie
54 47 Killers - Bones
58 58 High School Musical OCR - Breaking free
59 44 Muse - Knights of Cydonia
61 56 High School Musical OCR
  - We're all in this together
62 31 Fratellis - Whistle for the choir
67 59 Damien Rice - 9 crimes
69 66 Pink - You and your hand
70 75 Razorlight - In the morning
71 54 Lemar - Someone should tell you
73 re Kasabian - Shoot the runner
74 68 Lily Allen - Smile
75 65 Panic At The Disco
  - I write sins not tragedies

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posted 24 Dec 2006, 19.12 +0000

Entertainment
Weather in week 51

The cold weather persisted all week, with fog becoming a particular problem from Tuesday evening until Saturday daybreak. Heathrow airport was operating on reduced capacity for three days, causing one airline to cancel domestic flights, and one wag to write to a national newspaper, How nice to see the climate wrecking flights for a change, rather than, as usually happens, flights wrecking the climate.

18 Mo drizzle, fog         4/ 7, 1.0
19 Tu cloud to fog         4/ 6
20 We fog, sun            -1/ 2
21 Th fog, sun            -4/ 1
22 Fr mist                -4/ 3
23 Sa cloud                0/ 2
24 Su cloud                2/ 6

Rainfall notches up to 71mm, the month's average 62.5mm. Degree heating days soar by 56 this week, the winter's total now 165, compared with 228½/808, and 197½/677½ in the past two winters.

Though it's moved away to the continent, the high pressure will persist until mid-week, ensuring mostly cloudy conditions for most parts. A front will pass through during Thursday, bringing a brief sunny interlude before showers and much warmer weather, so do wrap up.

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posted 24 Dec 2006, 19.58 +0000

Weather

older writing... write to