Saturday, January 03, 2009 

Weekend links.

The main story remains, quite rightly, the assault on Gaza, with ground troops now apparently entering the Strip. Reports on the demonstration on London are coming in, with Lenin being quick off the mark as usual, followed by Socialist Unity. Some after the end of the main rally split off to protest outside the Israeli embassy, where it appears that they were charged at least once by riot police, with the Stop the War Coalition claiming three times and that they intend to register a strong complaint. Karma Nabulsi in the Graun paints a picture of a society under siege, burying its dead while trying to continue with everyday life, in one of the strongest and most vivid pieces yet published. Howard Jacobson in the Indie writes a somewhat conflicted piece, as if he doesn't know whether he's against the attack on Gaza or for it, feeling the pain of Palestinians and mocking the overreactions while saying that Israel had to do it even while its action is neither right nor wise. Sitting on the fence, plague on both your houses type thinking is all very well, but achieves even less than taking sides does.

Elsewhere various bloggers respond to the latest conclusive study that shows
the white working class feel betrayed by politicians over immigration. Few bother to mention that the report for Hazel Blears' community cohesion government department interviewed just 43 people, or if they do, don't make much of such a ludicrously small sample, but thankfully Dave Osler, the Daily Quail and Anton Vowl all do have a say.

In general miscellany, Tom Freemania notes
that inflation no longer exists, Marina Hyde mocks the latest idea for the great unwashed to get involved with active citizenship by rating their doctors like a book on Amazon, Clive Stafford Smith says we owe the men in Guantanamo a reprieve from hell, which is quite right when we ourselves have been involved in their detention, but for the most part it should be the US itself which takes in those it has imprisoned and held without charge for up to 7 years, and Matthew Parris writes of how Obama will handle a declining superpower, namely his own. Paul Linford asks whether Brown can survive 2009, which is what many were asking at the beginning of 2008, while Stephen Garrett puts in a contender for worst tabloid article of the weekend even though he's writing in the Indie, demanding new laws now to protect his cash inflow from the likes of Spooks, threatened by the hordes of illegal downloaders.

The worst award though must go to this lionisation in the Daily Mail of the loathsome Liz Longhurst, successful in her campaign to make the viewing of "dangerous pictures" a criminal offence which carries a potential 3-year prison sentence. It's instructive to learn this of Longhurst:

Until her daughter's untimely death, Liz knew little about pornography. She didn't even watch TV soap operas, thinking they were too violent.

Not because they're shit then; because they were "too violent". Who could possibly be surprised that such small-mindedness and already established resistance to anything "different" would go hand in hand with the "ban it!" tendency, regardless of the impact it will have on the lives on others?

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Friday, January 02, 2009 

The status quo ante returns.

When did we hear this before?

The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, called for a "durable and sustainable" ceasefire - one which should "not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza".

"We cannot return to the status quo ante," Ms Rice told a press conference. Lebanon had to have "one authority and one gun".

For those that have been suffering from an outbreak of deja vu before Rice's comments, it just further establishes that this is little more than a rerun of the 2006 summer Lebanon-Hizbullah-Israel war. The difference is that this time round Israel has even less justification for its actions in Gaza: then Hizbullah had attacked a IDF patrol and kidnapped and killed soldiers, and even if the subsequent action across Lebanon by the IDF was similarly indefensible, Israel had the right to try and get its soldiers back. This time round the justification is the "incessant" rocket fire - but this was at similar levels to what it had been since the 6-month long ceasefire had broken down, if not lower. The real reason appears to be not Hamas provocation but electoral politics from a party that fears it is about to be turned out of office, combined with the IDF itself trying to shake-off the humiliation it suffered in 2006 by re-establishing the fear that other armies and militant groups had of it since the 1967 and 1973 wars.

Rice's remarks show that the despite the Quartet's call for a ceasefire, the US is adopting the exact same position as it had in 2006 - giving Israel room to do whatever the hell it likes until they decide that the calls for a return to some sort of "peace" become too much to resist. In actuality, Rice's statement in effect gives Israel carte blanche to continue its siege of Gaza indefinitely, as Hamas and the other militant groups in the Strip will always have the materials to make their crude home-made rockets, even if they run out of the Grads they have recently obtained. The only solution to the rocket fire is a peaceful one, as all sides realise however much rhetoric they deliver, yet as Ehud Barak said earlier in the week, there is a time for peace and there is a time for fighting, and at the moment Israel seems determined to not stop its attacks until a distinct part of the Strip has been reduced to rubble.

It's difficult to know if what has become known as the "Dahiya doctrine" is in operation yet in Gaza, although as the bombing continues and the supposed "Hamas" targets dwindle it must be getting close to it. Named after the Dahiya district of Beirut which was Hizbullah's erstwhile base in Lebanon, it was ostensibly completely decimated by Israeli airstrikes during the 2006 war. In interviews last year, the IDF's Northern Command Chief Gadi
Eisenkot referred to Dahiya, with his remarks built upon by the columnist Yaron London:

In the next clash with Hizbullah we won’t bother to hunt for tens of thousands of rocket launchers and we won’t spill our soldiers’ blood in attempts to overtake fortified Hizbullah positions. Rather, we shall destroy Lebanon and won’t be deterred by the protests of the “world.”

We shall pulverize the 160 Shiite villages that have turned into Shiite army bases, and we shall not show mercy when it comes to hitting the national infrastructure of a state that, in practice, is controlled by Hizbullah. This strategy is not a threat uttered by an impassioned officer, but rather, an approved plan.

This goes beyond "disproportion". This is an out and out call for crimes against humanity, of the sort which ought to see those who authorised them brought up at the Hague. As the rockets will undoubtedly continue to be fired, as long as Israel continues a siege which the UN is now describing as a "critical emergency", the full implementation of such a policy surely approaches. Can we depend on our government, let alone any US government, under either Bush or Obama to stand up to such an onslaught, should Israel decide the time has come? Again, we have to ask, who exactly are the terrorists here?

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Thursday, January 01, 2009 

Happy new war.

I was intending to write something more substantial today, but considering my head is pounding like a motherfucker and I wasn't even out on the raz last night I'll just direct you to the In Gaza blog, which is providing a superb service in where the missiles are being dropped, along with the casualties involved.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008 

Playing dead with wingnuts.

Do you know what those dastardly Palestinians are doing now? They're only pretending to be injured or dead! David Frum (he came up with the term "Axis of Evil") quotes Barry Rubin:

And the casualties are disproportionate: Hamas has arranged it that way. If necessary, sympathetic photographers take pictures of children who pretend to be injured, and once they are published in Western newspapers these claims become fact.

Rubin of course has absolutely no evidence whatsoever for such a claim, and even if it was true, Western newspapers are unable to verify the facts because Israel isn't allowing any foreign or Israeli journalists into Gaza. Here for example is a child just pretending to be seriously injured:

While here's one of Lama Hamdan pretending to be dead while her family bury her:

Back in reality, al-Jazeera has footage of what it's like to be right next to an Israeli missile strike:

While Flying Rodent has a comprehensive round-up of the various torturous justifications for Israel's action.

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Best music of 2008 part 2 / 16 best albums of 2008.

16. The Young Knives - Superabundance

Having been Mercury nominated for their debut, the Young Knives were always likely to face a "difficult" second album; having failed to breach the mainstream, they went with the good old concept of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and while Superabundance is not as stripped back as Voices of Animals and Men was, the quality especially of the singles was as good as not better. The real highlight though was "Counters", quite possibly the most upbeat and happy song about committing suicide that has ever been written, complete with dog barks.

The Young Knives - Counters

15. Benga - Diary of an Afro Warrior

With dubstep making its major breakthrough as a genre with Burial's nomination for the Mercury prize showcasing the "downtempo" crowd, Benga catered for the rave crew with an album which along with the works of Skream is some of the best that it has to offer. "Night" was the crossover smash, but "26 Basslines" is the one that has delivered for those with a more acquired taste.

Benga - 26 Basslines

14. These New Puritans - Beat Pyramid

Although 2008 has been far from a seminal year for music, These New Puritans along with a few other bands on this list were doing their best to buck the trend. Clocking in at just half an hour, Beat Pyramid is a whirlwind which if you blink you might miss it, but alongside the experimentalism which permeates it is the utter brilliance of "Elvis", the superb "Swords of Truth", and lyrics about Michael Barrymore masturbating in the suburbs of Milton Keynes.

These New Puritans - Elvis

13. Johnny Foreigner - Waited Up Til It Was Light

2008 saw a revival in indie-pop breeziness which Johnny Foreigner were at the forefront of. Featuring male and female call and response type vocals, their songs may have not been about much in particular but sometimes they don't have to be, such is the catchiness and brilliance of the hooks on offer. "DJs Get Doubts" served as one of the few downtempo by comparison numbers, while single "Salt, Pepper and Spinderalla" and "Eyes Wide Terrified" with its great big riff after the breakdown showed the further potential they undoubtedly have.

Johnny Foreigner - DJs Get Doubts

12. Late of the Pier - Fantasy Black Channel

Another of the dance music influenced indie bands to have emerged this year, along with Friendly Fires, Late of the Pier made the wise decision to get in Erol Alkan to produce. While he scored a miss with his work with the Long Blondes, who sadly broke up after their guitarist and song-writer suffered a stroke, his knob-twiddling with LotP was perfectly judged. "Space and the Woods" and "Focker" were obvious stand-outs, but it was the older "Bathroom Gurgle" which still packed them in with its stand-out brilliance. Where they'll go from here is anyone's guess, but Fantasy Black Channel is still one of the year's finest albums.

Late of the Pier - Focker

11. British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?

When it's as exuberant and extrovert as parts of British Sea Power's ouerve is, while always providing introspection such as "Canvey Island", it's almost impossible not to. While their debut is still probably their best work, the decision to work with Efrim Menuck of GY!BE and A Silver Mt Zion fame at his studio in Canada, as well as with GY!BE's producer undoubtedly coloured it, and not just with Efrim's dog's barks being audible on "No Lucifer", which he also provided an alternative mix for. There is no getting away from the absolute stand-out, the single "Waving Flags", which I rather overlooked for yesterday's best song of the year. How many other bands would write a paean to the drinking prowess of the Eastern Europeans moving here to work and turn it into a hit?

British Sea Power - No Lucifer (Efrim Menuck Mix) (No Lucifer B-Side)

10. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

It wasn't the greatest year for post-rock, an genre that does seem to have finally run out of steam, with A Silver Mt Zion's average at best 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons, Errors' debut and Mogwai's The Hawk is Howling the best other efforts, but Street Horrrsing, if indeed it can be classified as post-rock beat them all. Combining the best of post-rock with pure noise, hardcore screaming buried under static and synthesisers and the sheer beauty and clearness which gradually builds into the deafening crescendos which seem familiar on even the first listen, Fuck Buttons more than punched above their weight.

Fuck Buttons - Sweet Love for Planet Earth

9. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

As indeed did Crystal Castles. Their brand of music simply shouldn't work: glitches, bleeps, beats and 8-bit core combined with Alice Glass's shrieks and screams, all designed to only appeal to the nerds that have long occupied their rather insular scene. Instead the glorious technicolour of the music when all combined together produced a crossover hit that no one expected, lest of all Crystal Castles themselves. Again, it's difficult to see how they'll progress, but that's for another day.

Crystal Castles - Xxzxcuzx Me

8. Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful We Are Doomed / Hold on Now, Youngster!

In a year in which Guns 'N' Roses finally released Chinese Democracy, the fruit of 14 years of labour, Los Campesinos! made not just one but two albums, both so perfectly judged, infectious and filled with chanty vocals combined with perfect musical accompaniment that you just wanted to applaud them for the effort alone, without even considering the music itself. When there are such witty and sarcastic scenester songs as "My Year in Lists" and "You! Me! Dancing" though, they more than deserved it.

Los Campesinos! - You'll Need Those Fingers for Crossing

7. Bloc Party - Intimacy

Last year's effort by Bloc Party nestled the number one slot, quite possibly ranking far too high for what was a great follow-up album but one which still lacked something. Perhaps influenced by the fans of Silent Alarm's unhappiness at the production of Jacknife Lee on AWITC, Okereke and co split their third album between Lee and the debut's Paul Epworth, creating a balance that worked for the most part. "Mercury" as a stand-alone seemed nonsensical and like "Flux" unnecessary, but when compiled with the rest of the album it took on a new lease of life. Built around lyrics inspired by Kele's break up with his partner, there is still the odd clunking line like "Trojan Horse's" opening "you used to take your watch off before we made love, you didn't want to share our time with anyone", but for the most part the music made up for it. Opener "Ares" "Setting Sun" like drums heralded what was to come, and "TH"'s riff was beyond sick. Combined with the downtempo, poignant brilliance of "Biko", the combination of dubstep and choir on "Zephyrus" and the building "Ion Square", Intimacy was a far better follow-up than many expected.

Bloc Party - Idea for a Story (Mercury B-Side)

6. Mystery Jets - Twenty One

Along with Late of the Pier, Mystery Jets employed Erol Alkan in a bold and inspired move, reinventing their indie-prog sound and fusing it with 80s indie pop. At times it seems absolutely effortless, and the song of the year "Two Doors Down" is the centre-piece. Along with "Flakes" and "MJ" Mystery Jets were the most improved band of the year, as well as the least expected.

Mystery Jets - Man in the Corner (Demo) (Two Doors Down B-Side)

5. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

What else is there to say about Elbow and the Seldom Seen Kid which hasn't already been written? Constant articles relate how winning the Mercury prize couldn't have happened to either a nicer guy in Guy Garvey or a more deserving band, having had to record the album themselves after they were dropped by V2. While I would have preferred Burial to have won, the Seldom Seen Kid is still undeniably a triumph which they should have been rewarded for long ago. "One Day Like This" is an anthem from a band that doesn't try to write them, and with it Elbow helped to soundtrack the summer, or what there was of it.

Elbow - The Fix

4. Foals - Antidotes

Supposedly involved in a spat with other bands over how "middle class" they are, Foals were with the exception of the number one in this list the breakthrough of the year. Combining the aesthetic and time signatures of math-rock with straight up indie, fantastically hummable guitar lines and riffs with the almost at times deadpan vocal delivery of Yannis, the hype was more than deserved.

Foals - Unthink This (Olympic Airways B-Side)

3. Portishead - Three

How many other groups could be away for so long and still turn in such an utter sonic masterpiece as Three? Beth Gibbons' vocals are just as anguished and chilling as before, while the music itself was at times so jarring yet compelling that you had to wonder if you speakers were malfunctioning. If they weren't, they might well have been after "Machine Gun", as punishing a track has been released in a long time. Here's to hoping they don't leave it so long again before releasing a follow-up.

Portishead - We Carry On

2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science

There is something deeply unfair in how TV on the Radio, despite delivering three utterly superb albums have still not achieved cross-over success. Certainly, the critics themselves and indie snobs have been wetting themselves over them now since they first emerged, yet it hasn't translated into sales. If any album deserves to, it's Dear Science, which takes the rough edges from both previous efforts and turns them into second finest record of the year. DLZ was the stand-out, which hooks you in from the very first listen.

TV on the Radio - DLZ

1. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

In the beauty stakes, not a single record this year came even close to topping the majesty of Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut. The harmonies, orchestration and arrangements are not just meticulously organised, but even when on album closer "Oliver James" Robin Pecknold is left singing acappela it feels as if there is more warmth and depth than a lone single voice should offer. A record which combined so many influences was still so simple and refreshing that it could be used in any mood, or any time of day. Perhaps 2008's only true masterpiece.

Fleet Foxes - Oliver James

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008 

Best music of 2008 part 1.

Best Song
Mystery Jets - Two Doors Down

In what was a poor year for singles generally, Two Doors Down by Mystery Jets just about edged out One Day Like Today by Elbow, either Geraldine or Daddy's Gone by Glasvegas or any of the singles released by Foals for the best 2008 had to offer. Having started out as an indie group with a inclination towards progression, for their second album they ditched both one of their dads and their original sound, and brought in Erol Alkan and plenty of 80s influence. The results were astounding, with not just Two Doors Down but also Half in Love with Elizabeth and Young Love featuring Laura Marling just a sample of one of the most well-judged follow-ups of the year. Surely overlooked for the Mercury prize, Mystery Jets deserve far more attention than they have received.

Best Remix
Adele - Hometown Glory (High Contrast Remix)

Having just branded Adele one of the worst artists of the year, it's nice to show just what can be done with even her brand of affection. Taking the acoustic emptiness of the original and turning it into one of the undoubted drum and bass tracks of the year, High Contrast sped up the vocals, kept the piano for the breakdown and dispensed with much of the rest. There's even an instrumental version lest Adele's warbling start to get on your tits.

Best Cover
Lightspeed Champion - Back to Black

AKA Dev Hynes, Lightspeed Champion emerged from the ashes of Test Icicles and went from one extreme to an apparent other. While his album was mainly disappointing after the strength of his demos and first couple of singles, it was his cover of the much covered Back to Black which took it back to the basics and was all the better for it. Other contenders were Mystery Jets' version of Somewhere in My Heart by Aztec Camera and Guillemots' Live Lounge version of Sam Sparro's Black and Gold.

Best Reissue
Mogwai - Young Team

Just over 10 years on from the release of the 'gwai's debut, a properly mastered version was finally issued, making Like Herod even more punishing than ever. Along with the excellent Hawk is Howling, 2008 was easily their best year since the release of Happy Songs for Happy People.

Tomorrow, or sometime - Best Albums of 2008.

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Most disappointing and worst music of 2008.

New Order - 80s Album Reissues

When CD sales are dropping off a cliff, you would expect that one of the corners of the market that record companies would be going out of their way to cater for would be the obsessive fan, the type that buys remasters and expanded reissues. When Rhino announced that New Order's five 1980s albums were to be given just that treatment, as Joy Division had been last year, those self-same fans presumed that all the stops would be pulled out, and the tracklists suggested that they had. The horrible revelation only occurred once those suckers actually purchased them: far from going back to the original masters, a good number of the tracks on the bonus discs had been sourced from vinyl, and not pristine mint vinyl, but vinyl which had decidedly seen better days. Although for the most part the albums themselves had been properly re-authored, the bonus discs were littered with errors, with some online posts suggesting that in total the set had over 300. Faced with those they had aimed to please raging at the lack of effort, Rhino has said that the reissues will be, err, reissued in 2009. How the replacements will be sent out has however still yet to be explained, and considering that your humble narrator bought some of them from Zavvi, some will doubtless have to buy them all over again. It does almost make you understand why some record companies deserve to go under.

The Courteeners - St. Jude

When the Guardian had the audacity to only award the Courteeners' debut album one star, with the reviewer Maddy Costa suggesting that singer Liam Fray's lyrics were misogynistic and that he came across as "sneering, arrogant and aggressive", Fray became the first badly reviewed personality to take to the paper's response column to right the wrong. While Costa got the wrong end of the stick over "If it Wasn't for Me", which is clearly about a male friend who only hangs around Fray to get the "average girl with bad teeth", she wasn't far wrong in her other analysis. Fray doesn't just come across as sneering, arrogant and aggressive, he also seems to be self-obsessed and, like all the best artists, to hate his own fans. The songs which aren't about him, his band and his mates are about the other damaged individuals surrounding him who he also seems to loathe. Hence "Kimberley", in which he hopes "Cocaine Kim" is treated nicely for the two remaining days she has to live.

Fray isn't to blame, incidentally, he's just hopefully one of the last sufferers of "Libertines" disease, which infects those who think they can write lyrics while playing rudimentary music which otherwise would get them absolutely nowhere. Good can come from "Libertines" disease: see the Arctic Monkeys' last album, having got self-obsession, clubbing and pubbing out of their systems with their first, as well as the misogyny of "Still Take You Home". Fray however can't even begin to hold a candle to the Monkeys' worst lyric, and neither Pete Doherty or Carl Barat at their worst had the arrogance to tell a fan out of their head to get their "hand off of my trouser leg" as Fray does on Cavorting, a whole song dedicated to him sneering at the drug-addled that had to get themselves in such a state in order to enjoy his band's show. Probably as a result of the band's outraged fan base, all two of them voted repeatedly and succeeded in winning the Grauniad's inaugural "First Album" award, even when 50% of the votes were with the paper's critics. Nothing quite like consistency, is there?

The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name

Like some of the other artists featured here, the Ting Tings are not completely irredeemable. Their song "Great DJ" for instance was pleasant enough, and succeeded in not being too grating. Apart from their dreadful moniker and their biggest hit, "That's Not My Name", what really stands them out, or rather doesn't, is just how average they are. Their album title owns up to this, called "We Started Nothing", and they sure didn't. When a band is so average, it does however make you wonder how they got "big" in the first place, and the Ting Tings were helped along by the BBC, who inexplicably at Glastonbury last year featured them as "one to watch". Probably far more influential is the fact that singer Katie White is, as Alexis Petridis described her, "so pretty that you feel like giving her a round of applause just for existing", which always helps.

However much you might want to not hate them, That's Not My Name was a song both so ubiquitous, so jarring and so completely dreadful that it's impossible not to. Shouted rather than sung, with a vacuity which would make most of our politicians blush, it informs us that Ms White doesn't like being called "bird", "darling" or "Stacey", and that they are "not her name". The one consolation is that whenever someone recognises her she probably finds herself being subjected to a even worse rendition, or at least you hope so. The other silver lining is however indirectly I was introduced to the idea of getting your rat out via them, when one of my friends who had free tickets to see them was pleased to note that a drunk guy at the end of every song ordered White to do just that.

Katy Perry - I Kissed A Girl

The music industry is a cynical business, but the cynicism and marketing behind Perry is even by their standards approaching breath-taking. Plucked from obscurity, having previously recorded a Christian gospel album, I Kissed a Girl was a song so terrible on so many separate levels that it seems incredibly fitting for 2008 as a whole. It wouldn't be so bad if Perry, or at least those who write her songs weren't so intensely hypocritical, yet one of the other songs on her album is "Ur So Gay", which denounces a boyfriend for being effeminate. Whether this is the same boyfriend which she then hopes on "I Kissed A Girl" wouldn't mind her indulging in some bottom-level lipstick lesbianism is unclear, but it seems to sum up the entire conflicted nature of much of the mainstream towards homosexuality. After all, let's face it: a song by a young man about wondering what it's like to kiss one of his peers, especially when it "felt so good, it felt so right" with him liking it seems to have been unlikely to have topped the charts in a similar fashion. Perry hardly improved matters when she said of "Ur So Gay":

"It’s not a negative connotation. It’s not, 'you're so gay,' like, 'you're so lame,' but the fact of the matter is that this boy should’ve been gay. I totally understand how it could be misconstrued or whatever...I wasn’t stereotyping anyone in particular, I was talking about ex-boyfriends."

In other words, phony lipstick lesbianism makes money, as does insulting former boyfriends by calling them gay. No contradictions there whatsoever then.

Adele / Duffy

2008 has not been an exactly stellar year for music, with a few notable exceptions. In fact, it's hard not to suggest that the musical apocalypse seems to be fast approaching. The only music that seems to sell physically is either Take That, Abba or by artists endorsed by reality television, and with it the album as we previously knew it seems to heading for demise, as do the shops that stocked them. The one bright spot for the "old" music industry is that it's hit on something that is making them some easy money: give the public what they already like in ever decreasing quality. Last year we had Kate Nash, the low-rent Lily Allen, if there could be such a thing. The biggest artist of last year though was undoubtedly Amy Winehouse, before she went completely off the rails. Hence the search was on for the new stars that sound like her but are less likely to inject crack cocaine into their eyeballs. Quickly found were Adele and Duffy, producing much the same sounding material as La Winehouse but without the key factor that made some of Winehouse's songs so successful: soul.

Rather than Back to Black and Love is a Losing Game, both veritable masterpieces of the genre by comparison, Adele and Duffy have served up Chasing Pavements and Warwick Avenue, the video for which featured Duffy in tears throughout, although not apparently at the triteness of either the song's contents or her own performance. Again, the machinations of the industry itself were obviously at play: Adele was on Later with Jools Holland before she had released a thing, supposedly because of her undeniable brilliance rather than because of bungs changing hands. It wouldn't matter if no one bought the damn things, but Duffy has unsurprisingly became the biggest seller of the year. Take the unpredictability out of Winehouse and you have nothing except music for your bourgeois dinner party, which is the niche which both Adele and Duffy have filled.

Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah

Complaining about the X Factor or Simon Cowell is utterly pointless, such is the stranglehold that both seem to have not just on the nation's psyche but on music apparently itself. The problem is that after however many series' of first Pop Stars, Pop Idol, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, the number of artists waiting to be discovered has almost certainly been fully mined. Last year's BGT "discovered" Paul Potts, who had despite his evident talent not got far in making himself a career as a tenor. With even him gone, this year's decided on George Sampson, a teenager who could breakdance. Badly. Likewise, this year's X Factor had a paucity of real star talent that wasn't related to someone who had already been successful or who you didn't want to strangle on sight. After the ritual humiliation of those stupid enough to imagine they can sing in tune, it was narrowed down to an Irish kid with a ridiculous name, a boy band ripping off Boyz II Men and Alexandra Burke, who just happens to be the daughter of a former member of Soul II Soul. Hardly a complete unknown then. Predictably, having won and stretched her mouth to proportions the average human can only dream of, Cowell's shit machine took to massacring Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which his record company happens to own the rights to. Burke's version isn't just the worst cover of this year, it might well be the worst cover version of all time. Not content with changing the lyrics, destroying all the tautness, tension and heartfeltness of the original, there just has to be a choir brought in at the end to finish the job. Every cliche box was ticked, every amount of warmth rung from it, all ready to be delivered to the nation to devour as only the truly brain-dead could, selling 900,000 copies within two weeks of its release. You couldn't even escape and stick up two fingers by purchasing Jeff Buckley's cover, the rights to which were also owned by Sony BMG, as the clever dicks on Facebook thought they were doing. The message is obvious: resistance is futile.

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Not concealing their enjoyment.

One thing I've noticed over the last couple of days is that despite the predictable calls for revenge from ordinary Gazans, none have been openly celebratory about the prospect, or felt that such actions would be completely praiseworthy, let alone worth cheering. If anyone has, drop them in the comments.

How different this seems to be to quite a few Israelis quoted, not to mention some newspaper editorials. We've had the woman from Sderot who said what was happening in Gaza was "fantastic", the civil defence official that said he would "play music and celebrate what is happening" and Yoei Marcus in Haaretz who writes

I will not conceal my enjoyment of the flames and smoke rising from Gaza that have poured from our television screens. The time has finally come for their bellies to quiver and for them to understand that there is a price for their bloody provocations against Israel.

This is without mentioning comment from Yediot Aharonot which was ecstatic about how the element of surprise meant that the number of people killed was increased, and Ma'ariv, which borrowed from the US lexicon and said, to paraphrase slightly, that "we shocked and awed them". Not the most neutral source, but Angry Arab has also posted saying that Al Arabiya played footage of Israelis "dancing and cheering" the attacks. It's reminiscent of the children who wrote messages onto the shells that were to be used in Lebanon in 2006.

One can only speculate as to the differences in response. From a psychological point of view, you might put it down to the Palestinians of Gaza being in shock at the suddenness and vehemence of the Israeli attacks, especially if the rumours circulating that there was in fact an informal 48-hour truce in effect between Hamas and Israel are substantiated, which Israel breached with over 100 tons of explosives. Their anger and need for vengeance might come later; at the moment their first instinct might well be to survive. Why though are some of the Israelis so ecstatic at the violence being meted out? It's not as if Israel has been under siege from suicide bombers now from a number of years, and the rockets, feeble as they are, only affect a tiny proportion of the country. We often hear about how the Palestinians are taught hatred for Israel from an early age, and how such violence against the Jews is normalised, yet strangely they don't seem to be baying for blood in the same way as the Israelis are. It would be very easy to put it down to the bullied becoming the bully, or how Israeli blood is deemed to be worth far more than Palestinian blood, yet what other explanations are there? Can it all be frustration at the impasse between Hamas and Israel, and the failure by Kadima to stop the rocket fire from Gaza, even while blockading and trying to starve the territory into submission?

It's perhaps instructive that it's taken four days for the "Quartet" to call for an "immediate ceasefire". Instructive in that it probably means that Israel has already run out of things to bomb, or at least things that can however vaguely be linked to Hamas, as the US was until today completely supportive of Israel blowing the living fuck out of anything while placing all the blame on Hamas, much like it took the best part of two weeks for them to do anything in Lebanon, while they waited to see if the IDF could strike a knockout blow against Hizbullah. Further evidence was the apparently positive response by Israel to a French call for at least a temporary ceasefire, although it could well be waiting to see whether Hamas has many of the apparently advanced Grad rockets it's obtained, which have hit the farthest into Israel those fired from Gaza have ever reached. Again, it shows that Hamas, however many people want to paint them as lunatics dedicated to the destruction of Israel, does show restraint: it's only used the more advanced weaponry that has come into its possession when such destruction has been unleashed against both them and Gaza. One suspects however that the current conflagration has further yet to run, and that more Palestinians will be killed before Kadima decides that its electoral prospects have been improved.

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Monday, December 29, 2008 

We are all Gazans now.

To call some of the language used by Israeli leaders and others to defend the mass murder being visited on Gaza sickening is to not even begin to do justice to the immense suffering of the people of that benighted territory. Some are more coy than others, trained over years to be more sensitive towards those who might not understand just how dreadful things are to be an Israeli when suicidal terrorists fire rockets at you every day. When one citizen of Sderot then calls the 320 and rising deaths in Gaza "fantastic", we somewhat accept it, knowing that she herself has suffered from the rain of missiles which often fall on her home town.

Israeli officials themselves cannot be quite as honest, nor quite as cruel. The closest they have come is Ofer Shmerling's remarks to al-Jazeera that he would "play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing." The same men and women that wax lyrical and play imaginary violins about how Sderot is under constant siege, how Israel disengaged from Gaza and all it got in return was rocket fire think nothing of openly celebrating the death currently being unleashed from the sky. One drop of Israeli blood may as well be worth one Palestinian life, such is the disparity between the two.

Most enraging and troubling though are the euphemisms, the distortions of language, the unmitigated Unspeak being directly practised by the likes of Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak. Livni talks of "changing realities" in Gaza; what she means is destroying every single thing that has a connection to Hamas, however slight. In practice, what this "changing of realities" means is the targeting of a single police officer with a Hellfire missile. As most of the police officers in Gaza are members of Hamas, this apparently makes them, at least in Israeli eyes, completely legitimate targets. That most of them have nothing whatsoever to do with Hamas's security apparatus is irrelevant, that some of them were traffic cops and that some of them were only in training also makes no difference. They are therefore not considered to be civilians, so according to the UN "only" around 70 have been killed so far, although they call it a conservative estimate. At least seven civilians were killed in that strike at just one police officer, yet this is not regarded as a terrorist act. When a Palestinian stabbed three settlers in the West Bank, almost certainly as an act of revenge for the on-going operations in Gaza, the Israelis wasted no time in describing him as a terrorist. Both acts are equally indefensible, yet the international community, especially the US, goes out of its way to condemn Hamas while not even so much as chiding Israel for the way it has decided that all-out war against an elected party of government is a perfectly acceptable course of action. Livni's "changing of realities" means that Gazans will loss relatives, friends, brothers, sisters; a very brutal changing of realities. Yet she hides behind her words, condemned by no one outside of political commentators.

Ehud Barak, the "defence" minister, made a highly similar and familiar comment. He said their "intention is to totally change the rules of the game". Tony Blair said almost the same thing after the 7/7 terrorist attacks in this country, leading directly to the government's attempt to introduce 90 days detention without charge for "terrorist suspects". Yet Israel's rules of the game have not changed: just like in 2006 when ambulances, airports, power stations and the Beirut suburbs were all legitimate targets, in Gaza today universities, mosques, police stations and lone officials that may or may not be connected with Hamas can be either obliterated or smeared across the pavement with impunity. The only thing that has changed is that the Kadima government has decided that with six weeks to go before an election that Likud, its right-wing rival is likely to win, now is the time for all-out war against Hamas. For the Gazans, this changing of the rules means that the slow stranglehold they live under has been transformed into one where more than 0.2% of their population can be wiped out without anyone hardly batting an eyelid. 0.2% of the American population would be 61,011; more than 10 times the 3,000 deaths which were enough for a war on terror to be launched that is without apparent end.

When attacks on the person are being carried out so brazenly, attacking the language which justifies it might seem perverse. It is however the twisting of language, the refusal to spell out what such spinning means in the "reality on the ground" that helps stop those responsible from being held to account. War crimes, like in Lebanon in 2006, are being committed by both sides. It just so happens that the war crimes of only one side are, as then, being denounced.

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