Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Oscars ... my Predictions

Feb 25th is the 79th Annual Oscar ceremony. As a bit of a film pundit I'm making my predictions before the lobbying begins for individual movies. Shame Rocky Balboa wasn't in the best picture. "It's not how hard you hit but how hard you can get hit" - line of the year in any movie.

The Crucial List Of Nominations:

Best Picture:
The Departed
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen - It shouldn't but it will (please let it be Ms Sunshine)

Best Supporting Actress
Rinko Kikuchi - Babel
Cate Blanchett – Notes on a Scandal
Abigail Breslin – Little Miss Sunshine
Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls - Oscar loves musicals it worked for Zeta Jones
Adriana Barraza - Babel

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin – Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earle Haley - Little Children
Djimon Hounsou – Blood Diamond
Eddie Murphy – Dreamgirls - Eddie it's going to be Eddie
Mark Wahlberg – The Departed

Best Actress
Penelope Cruz – Volver
Judi Dench – Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren – The Queen - I think this is as certain as you can get.
Meryl Streep – The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet – Little Children

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio – Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson
Peter O’Toole – Venus
Will Smith – The Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker – Last King of Scotland - Legendary performance

Best Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu – Babel
Martin Scorsese – The Departed - If he doesn't win it he never will, Marty! Marty!
Clint Eastwood – Letters From Iwo jima
Stephen Frears - The Queen
Paul Greengrass – United 93

Best Original Screenplay
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine Great movie worth a consolation Oscar?
Pan’s Labyrinth
The Queen

Best Adapted Screenplay
Children of Men See above
The Departed
Little Children
Notes on a Scandal

Best Animated Film
Happy Feet It's got singing and tapdancing penguins
Monster House

Achievement In Cinematography
The Black Dahlia
Children Of Men
The Illusionist
Pan's Labyrinth Beautiful simply beautiful
The Prestige

Foreign Language Film Of The Year
After The Wedding Days Of Glory
The Lives Of Others
Pan's Labyrinth A masterpiece

Death, interns and super Casino's

I must make mention of the passing of the former MEP David Morris (Dai), I won't pretend I liked him, indeed I opposed most of his motions and views that he bought to the GC.
We did agree on one thing though and that was getting young members into the party.
Since his passing I've heard a lot of really positive things that Dai has contributed to the party over the years that I was totally unaware of, that was my fault and I regret not getting to know the man better.

Interns what can you say they're trouble, I appreciate the warmth I have received from the Conservative intern Stephen Spaulding. I don't agree with nearly all his views he is a scary Neo Con. Nuke iran? yup, Nuke Iraq? Yup, follow Dubya anywhere? Yup?
Scary.. still nice lad :-) On social legislation I seem to be winning him around.
Had drunken fun last night with the interns, htey're a good laugh :-)

It's been announced today that Swansea is to be allocated a mini-super casino. I'm against this in principle Swansea already has 2 casinos we certainly don't need a third regardless of the limited jobs it will create. This the wrong kind of investment for Swansea.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A bright Afternoon in Wolverhampton

What can I say when two age old rivals meet each other in a tense cup game...
Yesterday I was recieving messages that said
"You dirty sandwell boys are going down. The city is bouncing, there could be trouble today"

Followed quickly by:
"My god this is crazy. Cmon!"

Yet strangely after the third West Brom goal went in past the flat, insipid defence (I'm being kind) the text message I recieved read:
"Don't even talk to me".

Another West Brom game against the Wolves another victory, I would like to say it was fair fight, a good game, evenly matched with rare displays of skill on both sides.

It wasn't ... West Brom destroyed them.
Wolves were poor, beleagured, bitter, weak, slow, boring, inadequate and outclassed.

It also equalled our widest margin of victory in a quarter of a century. Sweet!!

Still at least the home fans had a pie and pint courtesy of jez Moxey.

I cannot begin to tell you how smug I am.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A matter of Principle

I'm quite as avid reader of Nick Robinson's Blog and I often disagree with his comments but I have to highlight his recent entry and emphasises what is incresingly beocming clear that Blair is allowing religious opinion influence a basic call for equality, I'm becoming increasingly disappointed in Tony.

The Church versus the State, gay rights versus religious rights, Tony Blair versus most of his Cabinet... The row about adoption is a combustible mix. The curiosity is that it's been coming for months and that it's been allowed to reach this pitch.

When the Equality Bill was first being drafted the prime minister proposed an exemption for Catholic adoption agencies. The minister then in charge, Alan Johnson, resisted. A reshuffle led Ruth Kelly to take over control of the Bill. She joined Tony Blair in pushing for an exemption. Johnson now found himself responsible for adoption agencies as education secretary. He continued to resist. He was joined by Lord Falconer who - as the minister in charge of the law - argued that you simply couldn't have a law banning discrimination which allowed some people to go ahead and discriminate.

Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, also joined in as he was facing down protests in the Lords and Northern Ireland over their own version of anti-discrimination legislation (he has not, it should be noted, yet tabled specific proposals for adoption agencies). Others, including Jack Straw, joined the fray. Many around the Cabinet table see this as a core test of principle. Just as there could be no exceptions to laws banning signs declaring "no blacks" (or, indeed, Catholics) they argue that there should be no tolerance of policies which declare "no gays".

Downing Street now says the PM is looking for a "way through". There is no legal "way through" which I can see which does not risk either a Catholic or a Cabinet revolt. The government either has a ban on anti-gay discrimination or it does not.
So, what is he up to?

Ruth Kelly is looking for a practical way to avoid the loss of adoption services on April 6th when the Equality Act comes into force. She believes that the Catholic adoption agencies want to find a way through and are desperate to stay in business finding homes for some of the hardest children to place (although they only handle 4% of new cases, I'm told that they take on around a third of all the toughest cases). She is examining a long transition period to allow Catholic adoption agencies to change policy, merge with other non-Catholic agencies or to close in an orderly way.

What's striking about this row is how it is driven by a clash of principles and not by practical problems. There are relatively few gay adopters and only a tiny number choose to go to Catholic agencies (more, of course, might come forward if they were confident that they wouldn't be discriminated against).
However, both sides are determined to assert their rights and to go straight to the courts to test them. What's more, a newly-assertive church is, I sense, planning other stands to defend its rights.

The tension between religious views and political principles is embodied in the prime minister himself. It is a sign of how serious this argument has become that he is being condemned by some for putting his own beliefs and those of his Catholic wife, Cherie, before Labour's commitment to equality.

It's a sign too - yet another one - that he no longer provokes fear or loyalty in a growing section of his party.

Nick Robinson

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Board Free - The Mighty Dave Cornthwaite

Skateboarder sets epic Oz record

Dave Cornthwaite reached the finishing line after almost five months A man from Swansea has skateboarded his way into the record books by rolling his way right across Australia.
Dave Cornthwaite, 27, reached Brisbane the end of his marathon 3,638 miles (5,820 km) foot-propelled trek in Brisbane early on Monday.

In five months boarding across the continent, Cornthwaite has become an unlikely celebrity Down Under.

After crossing the finishing line to a rapturous reception, he said he was "elated but exhausted".
He said: "I've not really had any time to myself to really realise what has happened.
Cornthwaite only started skateboarding in March 2005, commuting to his job as a graphic designer in Swansea.

"It's an unusual idea but the Australian people see this normal bloke like me pushing myself to the limit for good causes "

But the craze soon got to him and he gave up his nine-to-five job to raise money for charity.
He first skateboarded the length of Britain - from Land's End to John O'Groats
On Monday more than 200 well wishers the British High Commissioner to welcome Cornthwaite on his battered skateboard Elsa across the finishing line.

His Australian marathon started out in Perth, Western Australia on 30 August last year.
Since then he has skateboarded through Adelaide, along the scenic Great Ocean Road, through Melbourne in Victoria and Sydney in New South Wales to finally reach Brisbane.

Along the way he has smashed the record for a skateboard journey, set in 2003 by an American who skated 4,830 km.
During his Australian journey Cornthwaite has notched up an average of 40 miles (60 km) a day and so far raised £16,400 for three children's charities.
He has set up a website charting his trek and aims to reach £50,000 eventually.

Cornthwaite skateboarded an average of 40 miles (60 km) each day.

During his voyage he has become so well known with the Australian public that even coach travellers would wave when they overtook him and his board.

After crossing the finishing line, he said; "Since the end of August I've just been so focused on reaching Brisbane and now I've finally done it, I can't quite believe it.
"Since I started in Perth it really has snowballed as I travelled across the country, and it could only have happened in Australia.

"It's an unusual idea but the Australian people see this normal bloke like me pushing myself to the limit for good causes and they've run with it."

The skateboard said crossing Australia's vast Nullarbor Plain was one of his greatest challenges.
He said he was now looking forward to the day he was able to walk without the pain of "more blisters than most people get in their lifetime."

Cornthwaite now plans to write a book but he also said Australia will not be his last adventure.
"The website is called Boardfree , so whether that means a surfboard, snowboard or perhaps back on a skateboard, I don't know."

Go Dave!!!

Everyone loves an Intern

The interns are back in the Assembly and they're a good bunch. my particular fave is a guy called Stephen, the most right wing repressed, outrageously shocking politicio I've met - yum!
Seriously though he has some seriously hard core views, indeed his genuine belief is that Iraq and Iran should be Nuked.

Scary but he has a level of charisma that is appealing that's what's really frightening.
We won't even go into his views on immigration, and the Democrats.

I see Blair is wobbling on the gay legislation issue allowing possible opts outs for religious groups.

Do that Tony and you're done in my eyes.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brown and the BB debacle

Earlier in the week Gordon (I want to be PM so bad it hurts) Brown sets off to India, he has a shopping list of issues: meet Manmohan Singh, discuss improving relations with Pakistan, trade talks, oh and Celebrity Big Brother!?!

It would be funny if not so sad and serious - I'm not sure what irritates and concerns me more. The fact that their is clear ignorance, racist undercurrents, on a primetime T.V. show that is watched by millions. That the show is getting worldwide publicity, or that Channel 4 are rubbing their hands with glee at increased ratings. Argh!!

If it were up to me I'd have the show removed permanently, trash T.V. at it's worst.

I feel sorry for Brown his big chance to shine abroad and they are burning effigies of Channel 4 producers in the streets. At least when they were doing that with Blair it was over an ill-faited invasion.

The PM must be grinning from ear to ear at Brown's predicament, in fact I half expect Tony to come bursting out of the fat suit of Jade Goody.... maybe then I'd tune in.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Great new for Wales with the creation of over 5,000 jobs

Well it's not every day that I can honestly say that Wales has something to really, really shout about but as I write this Des Browne is about to announce that St Athan has won the contract for the Defence Academy. I cannot over emphasise how big this is....

It will create in the region of 5,000 high skilled high paid jobs, it will be the single biggest investment ever in Wales and create in the region of £58million per year for the local economy.
In scale it's about twice the size of the Olympix London bid.

I also have to acknowledge that my boss AD and his department are responsible for delivering the project. congratualtions all around.

An amazing achievement.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

If the neocons think 24 is working for them, they don't know Jack.

A great article from Time about Jack Bauer and the series 24 which is often ctiticised for being republican in nature (despite the fact they've had a black President and an evil Republican President).
One of the best television shows anywhere and will be looked upon in decades hence as genre defining.

Jack's about to have another very bad day....

The Evolution of Jack Bauer
By James Poniewozik

Last June in Washington, the conservative Heritage Foundation held a forum on terrorism with a panel of august authorities. There was Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. There was a pair of think-tank terrorism experts. And naturally, there were Chloe, Tony and the evil President from 24.

The panel--"24 and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction or Does It Matter?"--was not exactly Foreign Affairs journal material. Moderator Rush Limbaugh planted a full-on mouth kiss on actress Mary Lynn Rajskub (a.k.a. tech geek Chloe), and actors and producers took softball questions as audience members cheered what Limbaugh called the show's "pro-America" stance. (Among the crowd were pundit Laura Ingraham and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.)
The weird spectacle put a point on a raging question in pop culture: Is 24 just a TV show or right-wing propaganda? Or, to turn Jack Bauer's frequent refrain on him: Who are you working for?

Certainly 24, which debuted just weeks after 9/11 and returns Jan. 14, comes as close as anything has to being the Official Cultural Product of the War on Terrorism.

Co-creator Joel Surnow is a rare Hollywood Republican, and John McCain has done a cameo. Dick Cheney is a big fan too, and you can understand the Administration's wanting to associate itself with Bauer's badass competence. (He nabs nuclear masterminds; we get Jose Padilla.) Most damningly to critics on the left, Bauer's means of gathering intel (grab terrorist's finger, snap, repeat) make 24 a weekly rationalization of the "ticking time bomb" defense of torture.
So is 24 a conservative show?

Yes, in the sense that the thriller is a conservative genre.
Ticking time bombs and pure-evil bad guys make for exciting TV. Working patiently to improve America's image in the Muslim world--not so much. (Maybe Aaron Sorkin could spice it up with an office romance and lots of walk-and-talks.) Muddy a terrorism thriller with liberal concern over root causes and you get Syriana, whose plot audiences couldn't follow with a GPS device. "The politics of the show," says executive producer Howard Gordon (a registered Democrat), "are narrative politics."

But beyond that, things get more complicated. As the war has dragged on and become less black-and-white, so has 24. In 2003 it featured a conspiracy to provoke a Middle East invasion using bogus WMD evidence. (Yellowcake, anyone?) Last year's villain was the President, who had his predecessor assassinated. In the new season, a string of suicide bombings has led, chillingly, to federal "detention centers" for Muslims, much like in the liberal pre-9/11 movie The Siege.

Then there's Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), who has seen his wife killed, executed an innocent man to stop an attack, tortured people (sometimes mistakenly), been tortured and spent two years in a Chinese prison. Unlike James Bond, who just gets younger and tougher, by the new season Bauer is tired, disillusioned and wondering how much longer he can fight the Long War. His scars are not only physical; his work has cost him relationships and perhaps some part of his humanity. He has been changed and damaged by every compromise he has had to make. By extension, he forces us to ask if we have too.

He keeps fighting, of course (he has 24 episodes to fill), but for people, not politics. 24's ideology--Jack Bauerism, if you will--is not so much in between left and right as it is outside them, impatient with both A.C.L.U. niceties and Bushian moral absolutes.

This season, Bauer allies with Hamri al-Assad, a (putatively) reformed terrorist leader, to stop an attack. He thus displays a better grasp of realpolitik than has the Bush Administration, which resisted the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to work with Iran and Syria. A fellow agent asks Bauer if it matters that al-Assad has murdered hundreds of people. "I don't know what means anything anymore," he answers. "The playing field has changed."

That playing field can change again, and probably will. On 24, there are a few very good people, a few very bad ones and in between, a lot of question marks who can upend the plot (and the political analogies).

That may be the biggest lesson of 24 in the Iraq era: don't stubbornly hang on to your preconceptions when the facts on the ground change. Undoubtedly, Bauer will continue to give liberals and libertarians conniptions before his latest day is over.

But if conservatives and neocons think 24 is working for them, they don't know Jack.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth a review...

On Saturday following a return to Birmingham I saw the film Pan's Labyrinth, recommended to me by a number of people here's my review...

In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) to stay with her new stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi López). As Vidal hunts diehard anti-fascist rebels, Ofelia discovers a magical labyrinth in the forest and is given a series of tasks by mysterious faun Pan (Doug Jones)...

A young girl draws a magic chalk door on her bedroom wall and pushes it open. She steps into a banquet hall, where a slumbering monster sits at a table loaded with food. The Pale Man (for that is his name)doesn’t notice her; his deformed, domed head has no eyes, just a bloody mouth and two gaping nostrils. The little girl approaches, terrified but brave. Forgetting every warning, she steals a morsel of food. The Pale Man jerks awake, picking up his eyeballs from the plate in front of him. He inserts the peepers into the palms of his hands and chases her through the corridors...

Guillermo del Toro has created his masterpiece of cinema, Grimm for grown-ups, even us big lugs need bedtime stories..

The film is a disturbing mature movie of two distinct parts - a fantasy consisiting of truly evil, monsters, bewitched trees, repulsive toads and fairies and a brutal depiction of the burning embers of the Spanish Civil War.

Imagine Return to Oz mixed with Alice in Wonderland, spinkled effortlessly with Tim Burton and David Cronenberg. The director known for more recent Hollywood fare as Hellboy, Blade 2 and Mimc has returned to his passion, the Spanish civil War first encapsulated in his original spanish movie the Devil's Backbone.

Viewing the bloody aftermath of the war from the point of the child heroine Ofelia , del Toro splits the action between reality and fantasy.
When she is lead to an abandoned labyrinth hidden in the forest, by a cricket turned fairy.Ofelia finds a faun, Pan, who tells her she’s a princess from the underworld. Like any self-respecting fawn (hello Mr Tumnus I'm talking about you), he can’t be completely trusted – his attentions laced with threat and menace.
Ofelia accepts the series of tasks he gives her to complete.

The fantasy world created is simply astonishing and you're left at the end with a sense of bewilderment much like the fantasy world Ofelia inhabits. Every moment of the fantasy world is dripping with vivid, intoxicating colour, slime and a rich depth that is unsurpassed.

Pan’s world is a dark malevolent fantasy, but it’s nowhere near as dark and disturbing as the world Ofelia’s trying to escape from.

There, her stepfather Captain Vidal rules his military post with vicious violence as he tries to stamp out left-wing guerrillas hiding in the woods. The irony being that in a world construted of monsters, creatures and predators, the true monster is set firmly in reality a fascist ogre stamping on anyone or anything in his way.
You are left with the question who is the most vile of creatures? Which world is the most horrific? Spain under the guise of fascism, or the underworld manipulated by the guise of Pan?

The FX and fantasy are superb but it's the politcal conscience of the real world as seen by Ofelia that is the central conceit.

I was expecting more Labyrinth and less historical dissection but on reflection the film's strength lies in the evil that men do.

Stark, disturbing a fairy tail for adults with a delight in the macabre. Its provocative vision of the monsters of fascism and a childhood imagination is chilling.
While not quite essential viewing it's close and lingers in the mnd longer than most.

Pan's Labyrinth Trailer

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Gay rights laws challenge fails

An update on my previous post - something I'm sure won't be credited to the Government but a good victory all the same...

The rules force a choice between church and state, peers heardNew rules outlawing businesses from discriminating against homosexuals have been upheld in the House of Lords.
A challenge led by Lord Morrow of the Democratic Unionist Party failed by a margin of three to one.
He had argued that the rules forced people to choose between obedience to God and obedience to the state.
But Northern Ireland Minister Lord Rooker said it would be "quite wrong" to elevate the rights of one group above those of another.
Lord Morrow's call to annul the regulations, which have applied in Northern Ireland since 1 January and are due to be implemented across the UK by April, was defeated by 199 votes to 68.
The Sexual Orientation Regulations have been criticised by some religious groups who say people will not be allowed to act according to faith.
Christians...cannot and must not be forced to actively condone and promote sexual practices which the Bible teaches are wrong

Hundreds of Christians demonstrated outside Parliament, but gay rights groups say no mainstream religious groups supported the protest.
Critics say the new rules mean hotels cannot refuse to provide rooms for gay couples, and religious groups would be obliged to rent out halls for "gay wedding" receptions.
They also argue a Christian, Jewish or Muslim printer could be forced to print a flyer for a gay night club, or a teacher would have to break the law to promote heterosexual marriage over homosexual civil partnership.

Tory peers were allowed a free vote but the Liberal Democrats supported the government, whose Labour supporters were whipped to attend and vote.

Lord Morrow told peers: "The regulations make it possible for homosexual activists to sue people who disagree with a homosexual lifestyle because of their religious beliefs.

"They require religious organisations to choose between obedience to God and obedience to the state."

He added: "The regulations threaten to override the conscience and free speech of Christians and others who object to homosexual practice."
Conservative Lord Tebbit said: "Black is about being. Sexual orientation is about being.
"And we would not wish to discriminate against people for being black nor on grounds of their sexual orientation.

"The concerns which are being expressed this evening are primarily about sodomy rather than about sexual orientation - that is doing, not being."
But Labour's Lord Smith said: "I am somewhat puzzled by the arguments that have been advanced.

"It seems to me, in my simplistic way, that what they (the opponents of the regulations) are arguing for is quite simply the right to discriminate and the right to harass.
"And those arguments are being made in the name of Christianity."

One of those taking part in the demonstration outside Parliament, Ralph Brockman, a Baptist from London said: "I'm concerned that the Biblical laws should be upheld.
"People may have different orientations but we need to have laws that will fence in our behaviour, as it were."
John Studley, a Christian from London, said: "This government is placing sexual rights over religious rights."
But Neil Partridge, a gay Christian man, said: "Everyone has a right to their faith but is it fair to say to someone 'you can't share a bed in our hotel because you are gay'.
"A hotel is a business, surely. I just think some of the people at this demonstration need to listen to the other side of the argument."

He added: "Recently British Airways was criticised for not allowing staff to wear crucifixes and now some Christians are advocating this policy. I think the recent law is a good thing."
Supporters of the regulations say they simply extend to gay people the same rights that had been granted to people of different faiths in 1998.

Ruth Kelly from victim to villain??

I was all ready yesterday to ride to the defence of Ruth Kelly over Dyslexogate and slam some Labour MPs for their approach and attack on Ms Kelly. My views on private education are well known amongst my friends and it would be hypocritical of me to have any other in light of my education.

I will repeat the above comment I was going to defend Ruth Kelly, pah!! must have been having an off day. It has been her delaying tactics on the sexual orientation regulation which mean it might not get approval form the Commons and lords in time for the planned introduction on April 6th. The reason given is the volume of responses to a consultaion form last March, she
has just three months to publish her department’s formal response, release the regulations in draft form and secure the approval from the Commons and Lords in time - responses to consultation I know what that is code for.

The Beeb ran with this story yesterday and for once I completely agree with former MP Peter Tatchell...

"The Sexual Orientation Regulations have been criticised by some religious groups who say people will not be allowed to act according to faith.

They are planning a rally later outside Parliament when a peer makes an attempt in the Lords to scrap the regulations.
But gay rights group Outrage's Peter Tatchell said no mainstream religious groups were supporting the protest.

The regulations came into force in Northern Ireland on 1 January and the government is planning to introduce them in England, Wales and Scotland, by April.

Critics say the regulations would mean hotels could not refuse to provide rooms for gay couples, and religious groups would be obliged to rent out halls for gay wedding receptions.
Some also argue a Christian, Jewish or Muslim printer could be legally forced to print a flyer for a gay night club, or a teacher would have to break the law to promote heterosexual marriage over homosexual civil partnership.

Christians...cannot and must not be forced to actively condone and promote sexual practices which the Bible teaches are wrong Thomas Cordrey Lawyer's Christian Fellowship
Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow has put forward a motion calling for the Northern Ireland regulations to be annulled and amended - to be discussed in an hour-long "dinner debate" in the House of Lords on Tuesday evening.

Barrister Thomas Cordrey, from the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, which has organised the rally, denied the group was homophobic, saying the regulations did not "strike the correct balance".

He said: "Christians have no desire to discriminate unjustly on the grounds of sexual orientation, but they cannot and must not be forced to actively condone and promote sexual practices which the Bible teaches are wrong."
He is backed by Bishop Michael Reid, founder of the Christian Congress for Traditional Values, who said discrimination was wrong, but so was discrimination against Christian values.
Religious freedom

But supporters of the regulations say they simply extend to gay people the same rights that had been granted to people of different faiths in 1998.
Labour MP and Equality Act campaigner Angela Eagle told the BBC's Today programme: "We're not curtailing religious freedom, people can argue against the practice of homosexuality if they must.

"What this law does is say it's wrong to put a sign outside a pub or a hotel saying 'no gays'...That is right, proper and moderate."
Some of the things that we've come across are where schools aren't tackling homophobic bullying properly, where people have been struck off by GPs because they were gay. Alan Wardle Stonewall

The National Secular Society accused religious groups of "gross exaggeration" to get the law annulled. President Terry Sanderson said: "Parliament must not pander to their bigotry."

And Alan Wardle, spokesman for gay rights group Stonewall, told BBC News: "Some of the things that we've come across are where schools aren't tackling homophobic bullying properly, where people have been struck off by GPs because they were gay.

"These laws will prevent that kind of discrimination - not some of the lurid things that have been said about forcing people to promote a gay lifestyle."
In a statement on Tuesday, the Board of Deputies of British Jews distanced itself from the protest, saying the regulations would "provide a further platform to combat discrimination in this country".

But it said it hoped the regulations would be "framed in such a way that allows for both the effective combating of discrimination in the provision of goods and services whilst respecting freedom of conscience and conviction".

A High Court judicial review against the regulations in Northern Ireland, brought by the Christian Institute, will be heard in March."

I'm surprised Ms Kelly was not outside Parliament herself...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Superheroes and homosexuals..

Interesting insight into how the media and specifically comic books are dealing with developing social culture.. below is an interview with Chuck Dixon a comic book writer who had written nearly every major superhero and thn some:

Beginning in March, Wildstorm Universe mainstays Midnighter (The Authority) and Grifter (Wildcats) team-up (or is that face-off, or both?) in the six-issue limited series Grifter and Midnighter, by writer Chuck Dixon and artist Ryan Benjamin.

Newsarama recently chatted with Dixon to discuss the series, and the action-packed adventure he has planned, as well as his views on his starring characters. Dixon’s attachment to this series has raised some eyebrows in fandom because of public comments the writer made in the past regarding the portrayal of homosexual characters in comic books, and the fact one-half of this series’ main cast is in fact, homosexual. Dixon handles the topic head on, as well as discusses Midnighter’s “left wing rage”.

What can you tell us about this adventure?Chuck Dixon: First off, it’s a crossover and, to my way of thinking, has to have certain elements that readers expect in a crossover. Then it has to exceed those expectations. The first issue establishes who Midnighter and Grifter are for those who are fans of either or neither and sets up the adventure to follow.

NRAMA: Would you consider this more of a team-up? A face-off? Or an old school face-off leads to a team-up?

CD: I’m not gonna blow smoke here. It’s old school. Both of these characters have a long history of expedient violence and I’m not going to hold back on showing them go mano y mano when they first meet. Given the twisted and Byzantine backgrounds for these two it’s no kind of contrivance to have them start out at odds. And Midnighter did kill Grifter once. So there’s some payback involved.

NRAMA: Give us a short description of each of your main characters here? What about them appeals to Chuck Dixon and led to you thinking of teaming them or putting them together in this story?

CD: Grifter is a covert operative for a shadowy intelligence organization known as IO as well as being a founding member of WildCATS. He’s got all kinds of wild psi-powers from when he was purposely exposed to DNA-altering elements back when he was a part of the para-military unit Team Seven. He’s a soldier who often questions his orders.Midnighter is a tough, street-level brawler with astounding healing powers and extra-human levels of physical strength along with other abilities that make him a dangerous fighter. He’s a former StormWatch member and now forms part of the core of The Authority. He’s the significant other of Apollo, a god-like super-being who also belongs to the same team.

The best way to describe his personality is that he embodies left wing rage.

NRAMA: Ooh, that begs for some follow-up… can you give us more insight into that particular element of his character? What is “left-wing rage”?

CD: That’s my read on the character. There are scenes in his own book and in Authority where he’s seen murdering right wing caricatures. He also seems very frustrated with social injustice. But rather than hold a sign in front of an embassy or organize a boycott, Midnighter tears someone a new one. There’s a lot of liberal wish-fulfillment wrapped up in the character.

NRAMA: So pardon the phraseology, but as you’ve identified yourself as clearly not coming from the left, do you think you can present Midnighter’s views in a “fair and balanced” manner?

CD: I absolutely can. I’m neither gay nor a liberal. I’ve never fought crime on the rooftops of a major city or traveled to distant worlds to battle aliens. But a big part of my job is to put myself in the place of the characters I’m writing. To me, that means being true to the character’s established personality and not bringing them into line with my beliefs. I’ve written anti-gun screeds for Batman.
I wrote Oliver Queen as a stone McGovernite. I wrote an anti-death penalty story even though my views are the polar opposite. Why? Because it made for a great story for that character.
While I’m extremely (and often unwisely) vocal about my views on my website I don’t present those views in my work. When I’m writing Connor Hawke or Alien Legion, the folks that buy it aren’t picking it up to hear my opinion on school lunch programs. Their not even picking it for me. They want to read stories about the title character.
That said, Midnighter wears his politics on his sleeve. By “liberal wish fulfillment” I mean that he does what a good liberal could never do but probably wishes he could. Midnighter embodies the rage and fury I see coming from the anti-Bush crowd.
There’s no denying this. No one who’s written him this way would try and distant themselves from that description any more than I would deny the Punisher serving the same purpose on the opposite of the scale.And there’s nothing fair or balanced about Midnighter’s views. He’s a sociopath.

NRAMA: So you think it’s your job to write the characters as you would a non-fiction biography? No creative interpretation involved/allowed?

CD: I’m going to write him exactly as he’s been presented up till now. I have no desire to change him. Don’t look for Midnighter to be reading National Review in the quiet moments. If I wrote any quiet moments for him.Any changes I might make to that part of his character are not a matter of interpretation. Any changes would be wrong and a disservice to the writers that came before me and the readers who enjoy Midnighter’s antics.

NRAMA: A few years back you were publicly critical of not only Marvel’s handling of their Rawhide Kid character in the series Slap Leather, but you reputedly were critical of other writers – namely Judd Winick and Grant Morrison – as well for using familiar characters as platforms to present homosexuality in comic books.
We say reputedly because the message board your comments were posted to no longer exists, and we’re going by second hand accounts of your comments at that time.We could ask a million and one detailed questions about this, but maybe it’s best and more fair to simply ask you to speak to the fact that Midnighter is homosexual, how you feel about that, and if your earlier thoughts have any effect on your regard and approach to this character?

CD: Midnighter will indeed be presented as gay. After all the mis-quotes, hate posts, and misrepresentations of my opinions, you bet your ass I won’t be shying away from that aspect.I was critical of Marvel’s presentation of Rawhide Kid as a homosexual.
I thought that the limited series was done as a stunt and wound up demeaning both the Kid (a childhood favorite of mine) and the homosexual community. I committed some unforgivable sin by suggesting that perhaps a Howard Stern staff writer would not the ideal candidate for a sensitive portrayal of a gay western hero and that it was a mistake to retro-fit an established character rather than create a new one.
The Perpetually Outraged instantly labeled me as a homophobe and the label became permanent when I weighed in on Judd Winick’s introduction of an openly gay character in Green Lantern. My suggestion was that superhero comics are, whether die-hard fans like it or not, ostensibly children’s comics and perhaps not the forum to be informing children of homosexuality, heterosexuality, or sexually transmitted diseases. I think I incensed some people by saying that I didn’t want my kids receiving their sex ed from Judd Winick in the pages of a superhero comic book. I still don’t.
I’ve never backed away from my disdain for agenda-driven comics in what should be the medium’s primary escapist, mass appeal genre. Stand on your soap box all day long. But don’t stand on the shoulders of household-name icons. Write the characters in character and don’t write your world-view through them.And the introduction and retro-fitting of gay characters into established series has become an instant cliché. It’s done in a cynical manner strictly for marketing purposes in a way that should offend everyone.I don’t recall criticizing Grant Morrison on this particular issue.

NRAMA: So noted. You say you don’t want comics to be a forum to be informing children of homosexuality or heterosexuality. There is the POV that things like Bruce Wayne’s Billionaire playboy bachelorism, and the relationships between Lois and Clark, Peter and Mary Jane, Reed and Sue, their weddings (all turned into respective events in their series), and the relatively innocent but at times quite obvious sexual banter between these characters is “informing” readers of their heterosexuality. Do you agree?CD: I’m no more in favor of a frank sexual discussion between Reed and Sue or Lois and Clark than I would be were it Gay Character A and his partner.When I was writing Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s romance I stayed away from stating that they were in any kind of sexual relationship. You could absolutely imply it. But you could just as easily tell yourself they were saving it for marriage. Is this method naïve? In movies made before the 60s it was the norm to present characters as romantically involved and then leave clear indicators that they were getting it on between scenes. Clark Gable and Jon Crawford go into a hot kiss and we fade to black. Cut to next morning and she’s making him breakfast and dressed in a different nightgown. Now they could have kissed one and then played Monopoly until dawn. The audience was left to choose what they wanted to believe and there was no need to explain the facts of life to the kids after a Cary Grant movie. We used to call them “air force” scenes. Whoosh! Right over the kid's heads.So Clark and Lois can be seen kissing and being affectionate and there’s no need to explain it. The sexual aspect of their relationship doesn’t have to be explored. But if Wonder Woman and Supergirl are seen kissing then that does call for an explanation. The sexual aspect of a relationship like that will call forth questions from the kiddies.Maggie Sawyer, in Superman, was obviously being portrayed as a lesbian. But there was a level of deniability because she wasn’t always being shown in romantic clinches with her girlfriend. Astute readers picked up on it. Others either didn’t notice or chose not to. Maggie even appeared on the cartoons with her girlfriend. I much prefer this kind of characterization over Northstar’s “I’M GAY!”The important thing, for story purposes, was that Maggie was a good, three-dimensional character first and a lesbian second.

NRAMA: That all said, Sue Richards has been pregnant three times. That could certainly lead to a life/sex discussion among kids. To play devil’s advocate, one could argue kissing and hand-holding and marriage – i.e. romantic love – does not necessarily equate to explaining a sex act of a homosexual character any more than it would a heterosexual character.And to go a step further, certainly some people would argue explaining to a child why a woman and woman would kiss should be no more extraordinary than explaining why a man and a woman would. Little girls often say they want to marry their fathers. The difference between love, romance, and sex is learned for everyone. Couldn’t one argue that the path for romance between same sex characters to be something that children do not regard as unusual and intrusive to the story is for society to become more accepting of it?

CD: You bring up issues that carry us away from my initial opinion. It’s all about context. There are a million different ways that the issue of sexuality of any kind can be introduced to children. But why can’t some comic creators resist the urge to do so in the pages of a superhero comic? It’s a genre where people wear capes and masks and have magic rings and lift buildings up over their heads. And no matter how much you wish the genre could grow old with you, these are still characters for children. They’re on pajamas and backpacks. They’re Legos, for God’s sake.Sure, your kids might see two dogs screwing on the sidewalk and you have to either brush it aside or have a “talk” about it. But that’s up to you as a parent. I really wish that superhero comics could be left to be about adventure and heroism and suspense. Why does Ant-Man have to be a wife-beater? Were the writers that much at a loss for a story?And does anyone really suppose that the first time a child sees a pregnant woman is in a comic book? I’ve never proposed sheltering children from real life. But let them have the funnybooks, okay?Will the inclusion of gay characters in mainstream comics make homosexuality more acceptable? I haven’t seen a mainstream comic story yet with a gay character that wasn’t loaded with stereotypes and clichés. A wise editor I used to work with cautioned his writers, “don’t write about human relationships unless you’ve had one.” Most of what I’ve seen of the conscious-raising variety of comics on this subject has been dismal and pandering. Loaded with mock outrage and received wisdom and very little honest human interaction. It’s dealt with an in-your-face issue rather than a story.They’re no different than the embarrassing attempts at inclusiveness in 70’s comics. All those white-guilt driven stories about battling The Man. Ugh.Having it all laid out in that kind of ham-handed way is far more harmful than the kids wondering why Uncle Jimmy never got married.My opinions on this have never come from a position of intolerance. It’s all a matter of context. Sure, the kids are gonna have to learn about love and sex and relationships. But why can’t that be outside the pages of a superhero comic? Why do comic writers have to take on the mantle of social engineer? I haven’t met a comic book writer yet I’d let talk to my kids about sex. Why would I want them doing it as part of a story about super-powered men and women in tights?

NRAMA: And on the topic of introducing and retro-fitting gay characters into established series, again, to play devil’s advocate, you mentioned the attempts at inclusiveness in the 70’s. Arguably the biggest comic book success story of all time was when Marvel completely re-invented on a dime what was a team of all white characters by instantly replacing them with cast of multi-racial characters, which at the time was very uncommon and arguably influenced by and promoting a social agenda.Do you regard the introduction of the All-New, All Different X-Men as you do the introduction of a gay character in the pages of Green Lantern?

CD: That’s not the same issue at all. Marvel was just following a trend that started with Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos and that found its source more in Kirby’s old kid gang stories than it did any kind of ideas of social engineering. The new X-Men line-up wasn’t the first time racial diversity had been introduced to comics. Saturday morning cartoons had long become integrated. And re-casting X-Men was probably done for reasons rooted in Marvel’s tried-and-true tradition of throwing things against the wall and seeing if they’ll stick. The X-Men was a loser title that was always at the bottom of the sales numbers. Shaking it up with a new cast and making that cast diverse turned out to be a smart move. I’m not convinced it was done to advance civil rights and heal the racial divide. After all, we have a Canadian, a German, and an Irish guy added to the cast. If anything, it was an effort to make the cast more international to appeal to a broader global audience. The only actual American minority in the group got kakked in the opening issues.And had one of the new X-Men been presented as gay (like that could have happened in the 70’s), at least he or she would have been created as gay rather than outted later to create buzz.In any case, the equating of sexual preference with race always strikes me as reaching.NRAMA: So just to be crystal clear, will Midnighter’s sexual orientation play a role in your story in any significant way?CD: Sure will.Midnighter was firmly established as having a homosexual relationship with Apollo and that’s the way I’m writing him. The Authority was always a mature readers book and I don’t have any problem with the frank presentation of sexual relationships there any more than I would in a movie or television show intended for the same audience.

NRAMA: So just t be sure to represent your position clearly, you objected to Slap Leather because even though it was a MAX title was and audience appropriate, it “retro-fit” a character. Grifter and Midnighter on the other hand is audience appropriate and it is consistent with the origin and established profile of the characters?

CD: It’s the retro-fit that bothers me. The MAX versions of Nick Fury or Luke Cage were just as annoying to me. Particularly the implications that Luke Cage’s story could now be properly told without restrictions. That’s insulting as well as being artistically bankrupt.I’m sure you could get a lot of press with a Donald Duck book that showed sex, drug abuse, and domestic violence. But, in the long run, you’d have poisoned that franchise forever. Some publicity is bad publicity. And you can go broke underestimating the taste of the American public.Let’s be honest, “maturing” an established character is a hedge against poor sales. X-rated Nick Fury will sell a few thousand more copies than X-rated Double-0 Generic Spyguy. Creating a new womanizing super-spy or gay western hero is harder than re-jiggering an old one. It requires marketing and creativity and a level of earnestness that no one was willing to bring to it. Better to titillate hardcore fans or turn it all into a cynical joke.Look at Vertigo’s success with creating brand new mature reader characters. Preacher and Constantine and the others populate the line with new, vital creations rather than simply doing a dirty version of Batman. In the long run this has paid off with a strong backlist of trade paperbacks, movie deals, and TV deals that could not have happened by simply making mature imprint doppelgangers of DCU’s icon characters.Everyone says that the future of comics is in the bookstores and libraries. It’s of paramount practical concern that the comic companies guard and shepherd their franchises even more carefully than before. They’re being seen more and more by audiences of casual readers who have an expectation of who these characters are. This is no longer the sub-culture hobby that it was even ten years ago.NRAMA: Okay then. Finally, in general, any last thoughts or first impressions you want to leave readers with over the next couple of months while they await issue #1?

CD: Despite all of the brouhaha over me writing the limited series, this is the kind of story I’m known for; visually-driven, fast paced and violent with a few laughs thrown in. Ryan Benjamin has been around for a while but he really shines on this project and I predict he’ll soon be too damned good to answer my emails.

Interesting take from a good writer I pretty much disagree with his point of view, a) comics are not just for kids. b) by including homosexual characters, hell for that matter latino characters or disabled characters, the comics industry is just trying to make itself socially responsible and relevant. Society moves on but taking CD's view then every television programme, movie, comic book would consist of white middle aged men in every role.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Peter Parker vs George W. Bush

Loved this...

Spider-Man lassos White House in his web

It’s hard not to think of the Bush administration when thumbing through the latest “The Amazing Spider-Man” comic (#536).

First, some background (and you probably don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see the parallels):
In Marvel Comics’ — ahem — “Civil War” story arc, the U.S. government passes the “Superhuman Registration Act” after hundreds of innocent American men, women and children become collateral damage in a superhero-related tragedy (the president of the United States even swings by the disaster site to assess the damage).
The act mandates registration of all superheroes with the government. Spider-Man initially supports the act but then grows suspicious after discovering that unregistered captives are being held without civil rights at an off-shore prison called “the Negative Zone”.
Detainees will remain there for life if they don’t register.

Now, to the present: In this latest Spider-Man comic, America’s favorite swinging web-slinger takes to New York City’s airwaves to publicly denounce the act.

“I’ve seen the very concept of justice destroyed,” Spidey begins (as written by J. Michael Straczynski).
“I’ve seen heroes and bad guys alike — dangerous guys, no mistake, but still born in this country for the most part, denied due process, and imprisoned, potentially for the rest of their lives. … But there’s a point where the ends don’t justify the means, if the means require us to give up not just our identities, but who and what we are as a country.”

David Cassel, a Spider-Man fan and editor of 10zenmonkeys.com, said in response, “In thirty years of reading Spider-Man, I’ve never seen an attack so direct.”

No word yet if the Bush administration is actively courting the Batman vote in response.

January Blues and a Bonkers ex..

The two weeks holiday have flown by and I find myself on day 2 of the countdown to May 3rd.
I had a great Xmas, one of the better in recent memory, probably because I needed the break that much more.

The excellent Christmas was followed by a very quiet but very drunken New Years Eve with Ian in Birmingham. The atmosphere was bizarre, i have never seen Brum so quiet, there was just no one around. Nevertheless Ian and myself had an excellent time, and saw the New Year In courtesy of the Tap and Spile next to the canals.

By 2.30am we were truly hammered and following a brief foray into the wilderness of "Missing" :-) we caught a Taxi home.

New Years Day was punctuated with games of Trivial Pursuit with my parents and a quiet evening chilling out. The result by the Baggies was horrendous and you'll no excuses for their performance on this blog. Mowbray needs to kick their asses, to lose to the bottom team of the table is inexcusable. they should have their wages docked.

Back here in the Assembly, I think it is an understatement to say many support staff are dreading the May election, understandably the atmosphere has already started to become suitably more tense than last term. These four months cannot be over quick enough as far as I'm concerned.

Welsh Labour needs to come out strongly this term, building on the demolition job that the opposition inflicted on each other last term over the budget. It is essential we take the fight to them and highlight the massive achievements that Welsh Labour has had in Swansea and Wales.

Finally had a good chat with my friend Nic last night about the instability of a former Mrs Bradley. I unfortunately uncorked the insanity just before Christmas and it seem that big B has really gone loopy - indeed so much so that he believed the reason I had a Muppet Xmas Carol movie on when he visited was to imply that I still loved him.

yes - or I could just have had the Xmas movie playing on Channel 5 in the background.

Bonkers!! - I think my time has come to leave well alone and I know 'Oh my god Nic' would be grateful.