Monday, October 30, 2006

Virgin shame

News from The Guardian this week:

"Virgin has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn after a new viral advertising campaign backfired spectacularly.

"The company had asked readers of, an online community known for bad taste jokes, to create a new advert for the Virgin Money brand. Hundreds of entries were submitted, but last week the company pulled the competition from the internet after concerns over some of the submissions.

"Among the entries were doctored images of Virgin's founder, Richard Branson, in compromising situations. A spokesman for Virgin Money said the company had become concerned that some of the images were "a little bit illegal", and had decided to shut down the competition to prevent further transgressions.

"But members of the site, which has a reputation for anarchic humour, are unrepentant. Rob Manuel, one of the site's founders, refused to comment when contacted. However, he told the site's subscribers that Virgin was warned to expect the worst. "I think the whole thing is funny," he wrote."

Ironically enough, I've met Rob Manuel a few times, as he happens to be the partner of a friend of mine. Haven't heard from him direct, though, on this.

For those who want the "shiny" version of Branson's background, check out his autobiography, Losing My Virginity. And for anyone who wants the "darker" side, view Tom Bower's exposé, Branson.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Record Year for Journalists Killed

I like my 'Heat' magazine as much as the rest of the population (i.e. on the crapper), but few seem to realise that beyond the celebrity-obsessed walls of the UK, there are many journalists paying with their lives to report on human rights and other abuses.

This year, the World Association of Newspapers notes, has been among the most dangerous ever to be a reporter. Seventy five (75) have been killed so far. Last year, 63 were killed in total. Hundreds more remain in prison, or are forced into exile.

Anna Politkovskaya, a famous Russian reporter, was recently found shot dead in a lift in her apartment block. She was one of the best-known Russian journalists here in the West, exposing corruption and a fierce critic of the Kremlin's actions in Chechnya. Sadly, she is merely the latest in a long line to die in the service of Truth.

In my time, I have met writers persecuted in Algeria and Turkey, in Kosovo and China; one of my friend's fathers has been forced into exile from Iran. So please, those who delight in calling us "the liberal media", open your eyes and see there is more to this profession than gossip and towing the government line. Some have paid with their lives so that you can say that.

Several other IFEX (International Freedom of Expression eXchange) members keep records of journalists killed worldwide. Visit:
- International PEN
- International Press Institute
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Reporters Without Borders

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Writing or 'writing'?

Just read this story up on The Scotsman newspaper:

"While celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Jordan have cashed in by selling their life stories, consumer demand is fuelling untold riches for the little-known ghostwriters who penned their books.

"This month's Bookseller magazine has revealed that of the 10 bestselling non-fiction books so far this year, half were written by so-called ghosts. Mark McCrum, ghostwriter of Robbie Williams' autobiography Somebody Someday earned a £200,000 advance, plus a share of the profits. The sum dwarfs the £20,000 to £25,000 a talented literary novelist can earn in advance of publication..."

I always meet folks who seem to think I, and my fellows, earn millions from our trade. Well, here is the truth: some do. Only trouble is, I don't...

Eid Mubarak

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has ended. The iftar meals have been taken; the faithful moved closer to tawhid; the pious completed their 10-day i'tikaf in masjids around the world.

Yet as celebrations ring out, everywhere I go I see confusion about this religion. On internet message boards; among friends; in pubs; on estates; in universities; it seems we draw ever further apart. Here in Britain, the head of the race relations body warns of race riots like France last year.

The debate rages, too, about the role of the 'veil' in oppressing, or not, Muslim women. Most non-Muslims don't seem to realise there is more than one covering: niqab, hijab, chador, burqa and more, many defined by the regions in which they originated. Yet all the Qu'ran defines is for men and women to dress modestly; hijab itself means, literally, to 'cover up'.

My travels bring me into contact with people who believe; people who separate themselves out by knowledge of who they are, but also, who they are not. When young Muslim reverts (converts) who have flocked to maverick anti-war MP George Galloway tell me: "He's like you, man, he's one of you, a replica of one of you! An old version with a cigar, yeah?" I fear for their understanding, and integration, into a wider society.

Islam is a fascinating faith, but holds itself to be the perfect religion - the perfection of the path the Jewish and Christian prophets once trod. It cannot be altered. It has redemptive qualities, but fundamental views, too, on marriage, adultery, homosexuality and other issues. I have seen "sisters" unable to shake the hand of a male colleague, thanks to the strict confines of mahram. Barely a few miles away, I have spoken to white working class English who want to burn all immigrants.

The pace of change is accelerating. Global economics throws the stability so many yearn for into chaos. Traditional communities crumble. As they do, we seek out new forms of identity - identities which, all too often, separate as much as unite us from one another.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Goodbye miss jen

A sad farewell to my friend 'miss jen', who died on the weekend from a brain aneuryism. We miss you. You truly were a larger than life character. I can think of few people who filled so many lives with laughter; few who will be so sorely missed.

RIP Jen, if there is an afterlife, may you reap the rewards you so rightly deserve. We will remember you.

Cable Street - London remembers

October 4th marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Seven decades to the day when hundreds of thousands of Jews and trades unionists gathered to battle off the fascists of Oswald Moseley's "blackshirts" in the East End of London.

For months previously, Moseley's British Union of Fascists had been targeting the area, attacking the many Jewish immigrants who had flocked to the East End of London, fleeing pogroms and repression in Russia and Eastern Europe. The pubs they once gathered in are now wine bars; the area long since populated by Bangladeshi and Somali immigrants, and yuppies moving in amidst regenerated squalor.

Yet with the rise of the British National Party (BNP) - an extreme right racist movement - only four miles away in the suburb of Barking and Dagenham, the political future is uncertain in east London. This despite the arrival of the London Olympics in under six years and massive regeneration and rising property prices.

History teaches us all where we are today. We should never forget the lessons of the past. Never forget what Cable Street came to represent.