The Null Device
In what could be a blow to the cause of international xenophobes' solidarity, the far-right bloc in the EU parliament looks set to collapse after five Romanian nationalist MPs threatened to quit over remarks by Italian member Alessandra Mussolini. Ms. Mussolini (the grand-daughter of the Fascist leader) described the Romanian people as "habitual law-breakers", and perhaps more damagingly, claimed to see little difference between them and the Roma (Gypsies), a group which the Romanian nationalist group despise. Oops!
A new rail company with a whiff of eccentricity is soon to start services in the UK. Grand Central Rail, founded by third-generation railwayman and former British Rail manager Ian Yeowart, who had been planning to run his own railway services since John Major privatised the railways. They will initially be running services from London to Sunderland, in refurbished InterCity 125s with Monopoly and Cluedo boards printed on the tables and Marilyn Monroe posters (part of their branding) at the ends of carriages. That is, assuming that they get their trains back from the refurbishers:
"The problem with the railway industry, particularly on the engineering side, is that it's agricultural," says Mr Yeowart - referring to the workshops where the trains are being refurbished. "It's like going back 50 years."
Despite the years of under-investment followed by a cack-handed privatisation process; despite the utilitarian, pile-'em-high ethos of many operators and the cattle-truck morning commutes; despite Paddington and Hatfield and Potters Bar, the romance of the railways remains hardwired into the national soul.
It looks like Facebook (the social network site which promoted itself on being less jarringly obnoxious than MySpace) may soon explore new frontiers of annoyingness:
"Evil is deeply embedded in Facebook's corporate DNA," said Umair Haque, a strategy consultant who covers digital media and innovation on his blog, Bubblegeneration.com.
As Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, wrote in his blog: "It's a nifty system: First you get your users to entrust their personal data to you, and then you not only sell that data to advertisers but you get the users to be the vector for the ads. And what do the users get in return? An animated Sprite Sips character to interact with."
In describing Facebook's new advertising system at a US conference this week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made it clear there would be no avoiding the onslaught of advertisements and viral marketing on Facebook. "There is no opting out of advertising," he said.I don't know about you, but I don't want little animated M&Ms characters doing skateboard stunts in the corner of my personal messages or sentences announcing the latest iPod or trainer auto-edited into comments I make on people's walls. If Facebook gets annoying, I'll stop using it, and I won't be the only one.
St. Et's Bob Stanley writes in The Times about music critic Sasha Frere-Jones (the one who denounced Stephin Merritt as a racist for not putting any black artists on a playlist he picked for the New York Times) and his one-man crusade against the white-supremacist tendency in indie music:
In a feature published last month entitled A Paler Shade of White, Frere-Jones recalled an Arcade Fire show, which he said was enjoyable, but not exactly funky. “Why did so many white rock bands retreat from the ecstatic singing and intense, voice-like guitar tones of the blues, the heavy African downbeat . . . that characterised black music of the mid-20th century?” he asked.
The question seems anachronistic, and oddly myopic, and, like an inverted Alf Garnett, he has unsurprisingly caused instant offence. Playboy wrote: “Frere-Jones has demonstrated himself every bit the racist for buying into this pathetically regressive set of ideas.” The more gracious Arcade Fire sent the writer an MP3 of chunks of their music to prove that they “steal quite blatantly from black people”.
Frere-Jones’s New Yorker article harks back with fondness to the blues-wailing Seventies rock of Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad, with Mick Jagger lauded as “an original” and “a product of miscegenation” with apparently no equivalent today. He believes that the intermingled blood began to separate in the Nineties, an argument that would put him at loggerheads with almost any British writer.
“It’s complicated even there,” Tyondai Braxton [of Battles] says. “White America, white Europe, has had no problem assimilating. This is great, but it can be dangerous. You have to remember that this is still a sensitive issue. We are talking about one of the most displaced cultures in the world, trying to create its own foundation. It created blues, funk, hip-hop, and, with hip-hop especially, it’s saying: ‘You can’t copy this ghetto life, this is real truth.’ It’s a flag. Right now I think black culture is going through a preservational state.”