Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Review - Shrooms

I was optimistic about this film, as I thought it could be a big step forward for Irish cinema, alas, it is not. The producers wisely tried to engage the American market by funding a film about a group of travelling American teens. This is another of those teen slasher horror flicks from a genre that should have died in the eighties, a sure thing for the box office, perhaps, but it isn’t real horror, and it isn’t even any good.

They make the best of what appears to be a very low budget by shooting in some very atmospheric locations, with some interesting shots, and a well paced introduction but the characters are the same boring stereotypes I’ve seen a million times before, the jock, the slut, the blonde catholic girl with psychic inclinations. They are led by an English guy to some woods in the Irish countryside, where they pick and eat magic mushrooms, and learn that the woods are haunted by the ghosts of some catholic monks who ate some special mushrooms with black nipples which give them psychic power and immortality. Plausible? No. Entertaining? No.

The idea of a horror film based on hallucinations come to life intrigued me, but this was just a thinly veiled attack at Catholicism, containing some very negative portrayals of rural Irish communities. The monsters are essentially just men in black cloaks, so clich├ęd I nearly fell asleep. The special effects for the hallucination scenes feature some interesting blurring effects, but nothing that spectacular. The speeded up frame rate used in films like ‘The Ring’ was effective in the first few films I saw it used in, but it is tedious to see it used over and over in the numerous scenes in which the blonde catholic girl has psychic fits. The film ends with a twist that is obvious to anyone who has the ability to maintain concentration on something so mundane. I love horror, and psychedelic cinema, I thought this could be a brilliant union of the two genres, I was wrong. Avoid this film.

ID Cards are still go!

25 million people's details lost! Your personal details are not secure! The evidence is there for all to see! The tabloids express their discontent and lack of faith in the bureaucratic system that is in place, but when the time comes will they or more importantly their readership speak out before a similar disaster can occur on a much larger scale? No! They will continue with their lives, filling in the forms, staying behind the ropes, keeping between the lines and keeping their heads down until the evening when they can either drink their livers into cirrhosis or absorb mind numbing distractions beamed into their brains through modern communication technology.

Journalist Henry Porter says a mass movement is needed if we are to stand a chance of slowing down the gradual erosion of the liberties our ancestors fought for. The scandal of 25 million people’s details being lost should serve as a fool proof argument that the government is not competent enough to be responsible for a centralized database containing so much personal information and the power that goes with it, but then a mass public march the like of which history has never seen should have been sufficient to encourage the new labour government not to pursue an illegal war for which we are yet to see the remotest shred of justification.


Some labour ministers are backing out of the ID card scheme after this scandal. But the pressure from the party leaders will soon change their minds. If new labour has taught us anything, its that incompetence deserves a second chance, and maybe a third, hell as many chances as they want! Tony Blair can have an illegal war, Sir Ian Blair can have innocent civilians shot on public transport and who is responsible? No one seemingly! They make their excuses and continue with their dream of ‘transformational government.’ I am getting increasingly concerned as to what exactly the government intends to transform Britain into.

Supreme ruler, Emperor Brown will soon continue with his pursuit after every dictator’s dream, total state control. Your finger prints, iris scan, DNA and every transaction, medical history and legal procedure in your life will be recorded onto a pocket size card. Your identity and history and your very genetic coding will be reduced to nothing but numbers in a database to make sure you obey the will of the government. I fear that to believe the proposed system will prevent identity theft is naivety. The fact that a chip and pin code will be introduced makes it fairly obvious even at this early stage that far from protecting us from ID fraud, the new database will leave us more vulnerable than ever before.

Our movements will be monitored far more closely in the future as well, it seems we are on a one way freight train to absolute civil subordination, Jacqui Smith will take away the freedom of movement that British citizens have enjoyed since the Second World War by continuing with her plans to demand 53 pieces of information from people before they travel abroad. And even travel within Britain will be closely monitored, the roads and streets are already littered with surveillance technology and now bags are to be screened on trains in the name of terrorism.


Besides the obvious problems this will create for the punctuality of the rail service, there is the humiliation of rail travellers to consider, particularly ethnic minorities who are likely to suffer most after these new measures are put in place to battle this elusive and mysterious enemy – international terrorism.

How can we go about making some change? After all the government ignore lobbying and protest marches, and refuse to admit they are incompetent despite the fact it has become painfully obvious to the rest of the world, which is a terrible embarrassment to the people of Britain. Write a letter! Tell your friends and family to get involved. Visit http://www.no2id.net/ to find out about local campaigns. Your time and contribution could make all the difference in the fight for freedom.

contact your local MP here


and let them know how you feel!

Letter to my MP - Francis Maude

Dear Francis Maude,

I am writing to ask that you make two very important contributions to the argument in favour of civil liberty in parliament. Firstly I believe that you should vote in favour of a transparent government, it is becoming increasingly obvious to the British public that the activities of the government shielded from public view are hidden in the interests of those in office as opposed to those they represent. There is a conflict of intent between the Freedom of Information bill and the Official secrets act and it is your responsibility to ensure that the people of your constituency are able to see how their country is being run, and on what their tax is being spent.

Although the prime minister has said he will reinstate certain liberties that have been taken away since 2001, it is clear from the fact he continues to argue the case for mandatory ID cards and a state database that he intends to jeopardise the relationship of trust between the people and their government. Jacqui Smith will take away the freedom of movement that British citizens have enjoyed since the Second World War by continuing with her plans to demand 53 pieces of information from people before they travel abroad.

As well as the ethical questions that the introduction of a national surveillance database containing the transactions, medical history and a whole myriad of other private information on civilians, has on the integrity of our democracy, there are the economical ramifications of such an expensive proposition and questions of public safety, which have recently gained more significance after the recent scandal involving the loss of 25 million people’s details. I have no confidence in the competence of the government to maintain the security of the database once it has been constructed, even at current Home Office estimates, the additional tax burden of setting up the scheme will be of the order of £200 per person, and if this expense does not wound the nation significantly, it is likely that the expenses incurred in the following increase in identity fraud will.

Please speak out against the introduction of ID cards and also in favour of a transparent government so that those in your constituency can be sure their freedom and their identities are safe.

Yours sincerely,

Thomas Rowsell

Dear Mr Rowsell

Thank you for your email.

I fully appreciate your comments about the importance of having a transparent government. You make a number of interesting and valid points which I will bear in mind in discussion with colleagues.

Conservatives are firmly opposed to ID cards on a number of grounds. The cards will not work, they are a waste of money, and an invasion of privacy. My colleague David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, has made it clear that, if the conservatives win the next election, his first act will be to scrap the scheme. He has written to the cabinet secretary to inform him of this.

The former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, has admitted that ID cards would not have prevented the 7th july 2005 bombings in London. In Spain, ID cards are compulsory, but did not stop the Madrid bombings in 2004. People who work for Microsoft and the FBI have warned they will not prevent identity fraud, and may in fact, increase it.

According to Government estimates, you will pay at least £93 for a combined ID card and passport package. Given this Government's appalling record of implementing IT projects, this figure is likely to go up. Also, if your ID card is stolen, or you lose it, you'll have to pay £30 for a replacement. If you change your name when you get married, you'll have to pay for a new ID card. If one of your relatives dies and you forget to return their ID card you could be fined £1,000. While the government claims the scheme will cost £5.6 billion of the tax payers' money, the independent London school of economics estimates it will cost up to £20 billion.

Your ID card could hold almost 30 separate pieces of personal information on you, including your name, date, and place of birth, gender, previous addresses, photograph, signature, fingerprints, and other biometric details. All this information will also be stored on a massive collection of databases, called the National Identity Register.

Following the astonishing loss of data by HMRC it has become even clearer to me that this government cannot be trusted with our personal information. I think they must now reconsider their plans.

For all these reasons , I believe that this is an extremely poor scheme, and i urge you to visit www.conservatives.com to sign our petition calling for the plans to be scrapped

The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP

Journalistic Objectivity

Most journalists consider neutrality to be a valuable and crucial component of their profession. “The high priests of journalism worship ‘objectivity’; one leading editor called it the ‘highest original moral concept ever developed in America and given to the world.” (Mindich, 1998, page 1)

It is in a journalist’s best interest to remain impartial in their broadcasting. Their reputations depend on them being perceived as unbiased and unaffiliated with any parties relating to the story, as this would diminish the perceived reliability of their work.

“The media must inform us about significant political matters, criminal proceedings, social affairs, corruption and vicious hypocrisy. Thus, in covering such matters appropriately, it seems to follow that the media must be impartial in their approach in order to arrive at and report upon what is, in fact the case. This explains precisely why, above all else, journalists prize their reputation for impartiality.” (Kieran, 2002, page 23)

It is my opinion that regardless of circumstance or associated social responsibility of potentially dangerous information, a reporter or journalist should always tell the truth, without exclusion of any relevant information and from a neutral perspective. However there is an argument against freedom of the press. Many believe that just because something is true, doesn’t mean that it should be broadcast from an unbiased point of view. The argument is essentially between responsibilities of the press to use the power it has wisely versus complete freedom of the press.

“There are some people and organizations who insist that their information and their interests be protected from disclosure in the news media. The challenge that journalists face, therefore, is whether to cover any subject and how to cover it. They are concerned about facts and sources as much as they are concerned about how they gather those facts and how to link them together. They are concerned about the ethics – the ‘oughtness’ – of their decisions and their work.” (Gordon, 1999, page 33)

I support an individual’s right to privacy and to press charges against a media institution for broadcasting information that they feel is unfair or libellous. However, when authorities attempt to impose legislation to prevent media institutions from broadcasting information in an irresponsible way, there is a great danger of impinging on the rights of free speech.

“In a democratic society, the people are given the ultimate power to decide and they retain that power even when a large majority of the people think the decisions are wrong…the antidote for wrong, dangerous or offensive speech should be more speech by those who disagree with the original statements, rather than restrictions on the original speech.” (Gordon, 1999, page 29)

The Guardian Newspaper allowed the independent news critique company Media Lens to include an article on the guardian website criticising the liberal press (including the guardian) for failing to challenge the government sufficiently regarding its reasons given to invade Iraq. Media Lens is sceptical about the authenticity of supposed media neutrality. “We believe that media 'neutrality' is a deception that often serves to hide systematic pro-corporate bias. 'Neutrality' most often involves 'impartially' reporting dominant establishment views, while ignoring all non-establishment views.” (www.MediaLens.org) In their article, Media Lens explain how they feel real neutral perspectives are excluded from media broadcasts as they are considered radical and that the modern media owned by wealthy industrialists restrict certain opinions from being heard by the public.

“We would argue that the media's failure on Iraq was not really a failure at all, but rather a classic product of "balanced" professional journalism. The modern conception of objective reporting is little more than a century old. There was little concern that newspapers were partisan so long as the public was free to choose from a wide range of opinions. Newspapers dependent on advertisers for 75% of their revenues, such as the Guardian and Independent, would have been regarded as independent by few radicals and progressives in, say, the 1940s. Balance was instead provided by a thriving working class-based press. Early last century, however, the industrialisation of the press, and the associated high cost of newspaper production, meant that wealthy private industrialists backed by advertisers achieved dominance in the mass media. Unable to compete on price and outreach, the previously flourishing radical press was brushed to the margins." (Edwards/Cromwell, 2004, The Guardian.)

The concept of objectivity is difficult to define, as to adopt a neutral perspective, a journalist must consider every possible viewpoint imaginable and somehow report without favouring any of them. This is clearly not achieved by the mainstream press, as they consistently broadcast from a pro-industry and pro-capitalist stance. Outside views are treated as such and are speculated on from a biased perspective. With the definition of objectivity being so elusive, the integrity of communication professionals depends on their ability to report as many facts as they can in a way that does not distort the reality of an event. If a journalist focuses primarily with getting to the truth, then it is less likely that the report will be biased.

“Good journalism aims at discovering and promoting the audience’s understanding of an event via truth-promoting methods….A failure of impartiality in journalism is a failure to respect one of the methods required in order to fulfil the goal of journalism: getting at the truth of the matter.” (Kieran, page 35)

The problem with communication professionals achieving a neutral perspective is that they are subject to the same pressures and prejudices that everyone else is. Where there is no solid truth, they fill in the gaps with perceived truths, which are influenced by the fact they have to please “the boss” and also by their own individual beliefs and experiences that shape the way they perceive a person or event.

“But, reporters, like everyone else have their own axes to grind. A reporter, after all, lives a life outside of the newsroom. He or she may be a liberal, a conservative, a feminist, an environmentalist, or a racist…On any day a reporter may get up on the wrong side of the bed, may allow personal impressions of events or subjects to colour what and who is reported.” (Gordon, page 83)

  • GORDON, AD.,KITTROSS, J.M, and REUSS, C., eds. 1996, Controversies in media ethics. White Plains, N.Y.:Longman
  • KIERAN, M. ed., 1998, Media Ethics. London: Routledge
  • MINDICH, D.T.Z. ed., 1998, Just the facts, how “objectivity” came to define American journalism. N.Y. New York university press
  • The Guardian Newspaper Website
  • Balance in the service of falsehood article, 2004, David Edwards and David Cromwell
  • (http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1373913,00.html)
  • Media Lens website: What is media lens?

Monday, 26 November 2007

Qatar, the least corrupt Middle Eastern Nation?

Like many young people in England, I recently completed a degree in media studies. It is a popular area of study with very few opportunities for those in pursuit of work. After trying unsuccessfully to get some work experience with a British production company, I decided to pursue an avenue of experience over seas. So off I went to the Middle Eastern Islamic nation of Qatar. Recently declared by Transparency International as the least corrupt nation in the Middle East, whatever that means.

I am by no means a man of the world (yet) and all aspects of Islamic culture save what I had learnt in school or through the reactionary British media were new and exciting. My work experience was with Smart Global, a production company which was in fact an off shoot department of a construction company, what I learnt very quickly in Qatar is that most businesses are in fact just departments of far larger businesses, almost exclusively oil and gas companies run by Arabic families. Nepotism is the rule for recruitment, manual labour and the service industry being the only exceptions.

My work with Smart Global illuminated the influence of English culture and language on Middle Eastern business. They were in the process of shooting a documentary sponsored by the fifth largest enterprise in the world, RasGas, who had organised a trip for a group of young Qatari girls to visit England and learn our language and culture. English is the language of choice for many companies including RasGas.

“It was therefore highly appropriate to support students in their English language skills” RasGas said in a statement to The Gulf Times. The documentary was a way of using education as an investment for the future of the energy business and also as a means of rallying public support for their friendly energy companies. Not that this is necessary, the public are grateful for the changes that are occurring as a result of their energy industry.

I was foolish enough to make the mistake of visiting during the month of Ramadan, although I knew the locals would be fasting, it hadn’t occurred to me that I would be unable to eat in public until nightfall not to mention the fact I’d have to endure desert heat without so much as a sip of water. I couldn’t bare the thought of going a single day without lunch, so I scurried off to the cinema every lunch time, which was empty on nearly every occasion, so that I could smuggle in crisps and sandwiches, which I attempted to eat without alerting the attention of the ushers.

Qatar had once been an almost uninhabitable desert whose residents could only make a living using the resources of the sea, primarily fish and pearls. This all changed when it became clear that Qatar was home not only to a healthy supply of oil but also was situated atop an enormous bubble of natural gas, and so Qatar has become incredibly wealthy, enough even to buy out 24% of Britain’s stock exchange. Last year it was predicted that by 2011, the Qatari people could be the richest in the world.

So what is this gem of the Middle East like? How un-corrupt is it? Well most of the population all live in the rapidly expanding city of Doha and only a third of the population are actually Qatari, the rest are comprised of a few Arabic immigrants mainly from Iran and Saudi Arabia, wealthy Westerners out on business and the remaining majority are the imported labour force from India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. The country is owned and run by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and his family, power is inherited or bought in this nation; there is little evidence of immigrants working their way up the ranks. In order to work in Qatar you need to get sponsorship from a native Qatari who is then responsible for you.

The country is governed by a somewhat liberal version of Sha’riah law, there is no way to vote a new Emir into power, and it doesn’t seem any one would want to, the locals claim to love Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani who they believe has rescued the nation from poverty and brought it into the world of 21st century international business, although the lack of human rights laws may cause some of the Indian immigrants to express a quite different opinion. The women of the country are currently gaining more and more power, they are now allowed to work with men, vote and even hold parliamentary office, Doha also has female ambulance drivers (although only women are required to have lessons in order to get a driving license) When contrasted with Western values of gender equality and democracy, however, Qatar like many Islamic nations falls far short. The Emir allows parliamentary elections, but his own power will only be relinquished when it is passed to his son. He claims he wants Qatar to be democratic, and the Americans champion the nation as an example of democracy in the Middle East, but despite this he arrests those who even speak of a coup like the one he instigated to take control of the nation away from his Father.

The fact that America has moved all of it’s military capabilities from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, making it the military headquarters for America in the Middle East, may cause friction between Qatar and its neighbour Iran. As political tensions between America and Iran threaten to lead to another war the future of this industrious and rich nation is uncertain.

Constructing Identity through Music



Class Position



Shifts in post-war hegemony



Unskilled working class


Rock and roll

The construction of consensus Macmillanism





Middle class

Duffle coats, beards






R’n’b/ Tamla

The construction of consensus Social Democracy





Rock and roll



Middle class/student

Long hair/ hallucinogenic drugs

Progressive rock

Dissensus Protest and Revolution


rude boys








Boots ‘n’ Braces




Working class


glam rock

The Law and Order Society


And working class resistance



Black underclass





Working class?


Punk rock


Mod, Ted, Skinhead Revivals

Music and Identity

Thomas Rowsell

Chronology of Subcultures. Source: Middleton and Muncie (1981:90) Pop Culture, Pop Music and Post War Youth: countercultures. Unit 20, Popular Culture Milton Keynes: Open University Press

The table above illustrates how different cultures and social identities have been associated with different genres of music in Britain. The social and political landscape of an era create youth movements and counter cultures, each of which has its own particular style and music associated with it. The clothing and music of each subculture corresponds to the time of its conception and also to an extent the conventions of the subcultures which preceded it.

“Indeed, as much as the word ‘identification’ seems to imply a sense of belonging, perhaps more it describes a process of differentiation. As Laclau and Mouffe state, ‘all values are values of opposition and are defined only by their difference’.(1985,p.106) Senses of shared identity are alliances formed out of oppositional stances” Kruse (1993, page 34)

Rock and Roll comes from America, ska comes from Jamaica, but in the post war era, British youth identified heavily with each genre, and as subcultures emerged and associated themselves with the music, the music developed over time and became Anglicized. In this way the music assumes a new identity while still retaining recognisable elements of the genres original conventions.

“Reggae and ska had been popular with young white people in the late 1960s in Britain, and the more developed, politicized and Rasta-influenced reggae was popular in the late 1970s with the followers of punk. Early ska records were reinterpreted by the 2-tone bands in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a process which led to the blurring of the edges between punk and reggae.” Longhurst (page 143:1995)

Ska was reinterpreted with a far more British sound, through vocal style and lyrical content in the form of 2tone. The identity of ska fans therefore shifted from Black Jamaicans to British whites encouraging a revival of the 60’s skinhead movement, as skinheads were among the few white people who listened to Jamaican music in that time.

Other styles of music from foreign cultures have also been adapted in Britain so that they assume a new identity often in the form of cross-over genres. When this happens there is usually a new and separate image associated with the reinterpretation and also a unique variation of the original sound. This is the case in the 1980’s when 1950’s American Rockabilly was reinterpreted in Britain by being combined with punk and being renamed Psychobilly. Also more recently when the American hip-hop and rap movements have been reinterpreted in the forms of Grime and Garage, which feature variations in pace and style with the addition of a very English vocal style and lyrical subject matter.

“Laclau and Mouffe (1985) suggest that social identities are not fixed, but rather are articulated within a structure of social relations that causes every social agent to occupy multiple positions at once, through identifications of race, gender, class, ethnicity, occupation, educational level, tastes and so on.” Kruse (1993, page 34)


Longhurst, B 1995 Popular Music and Society.Polity

Kruse, H 1993 ‘Subcultural Identity in alternative music culture’ Popular Music 12

Middleton and Muncie (1981:90) Pop Culture, Pop Music and Post War Youth: countercultures. Unit 20, Popular Culture Milton Keynes: Open University Press