GTA: Helping Our Messy Universe Make Sense

It’s 1986. I’m cruising down to Ocean Beach in my super car and it’s a pandemonium of bikini wrapped honies on the sidewalk and the sun is all superstellar orange above the still palms. Judas Priest is blasting out of my car’s massive sound system.

 It’s also 2003 and I’m ten years old and sitting on a boxy blue beanbag in front of the TV. I get out of the car and stick a chainsaw in a bloke walking his dog along the beach front just for the sheer hell of it.

 Those were the days. Those are probably my strongest early memories of video games, chasing wumpa fruit like a maniac in Crash Bandicoot aside. The world has completely changed since GTA: Vice City came out, since I sat on my beanbag all day hitting people with a golf club and then running away from the cops.

 We live in an invisible, non-linear universe with a galaxy sized attention deficit. It’s almost tediously pregnant with contradiction. Ease and speed of use makes the Internet one of man’s most impressive social lubricants and one of it’s most alienating. The whole thing is ostensibly transparent, almost platonically so and yet the network is controlled by shadowy security agencies and fantastically large private corporations, both following their own secret agendas.

 It makes a perverse kind of sense that the only product capable of gathering these broken shards of culture and forming a fearful symmetry out of them is a video game series.

 When the historians of America put pen to paper in a couple of hundred years (well not pen to paper probably but you know what I mean) they may ask who best satirized the hegemony. The novels of Philip Roth or Jonathan Franzen perhaps? Jon Stewart’s Daily Show? The life and times of Paris Hilton (an unknowing satire, that one)? The Simpsons?

 No.

 The most adroit skewering of life in the American empire is to be found in a Scottish video game series. One wonders if Alex Salmond realizes that the most valuable export his country has isn’t whisky or North Sea oil but a game that revolves around robbing banks and pimping out hoes.

 I don’t really ‘do’ games either. I would usually much rather slop around with a book or go and shout obscenities at overpaid footballers down in Shepherds Bush. I haven’t read anything about GTA V; I’ve ignored the trailers, the reviews and the accompanying moral outrage (I am going to assume it exists).

 Nevertheless I have ordered it. Of course I’ve ordered it. I am after all a male under the age of 45.

 Without knowing anything about it I know that this ‘game’ will not only meet but better my wildest expectations.  It will be like swimming through a kaleidoscopic dream demulcent poured out of the minds of Richard Nixon, Hunter S. Thompson and Tony Montana.

I use the future tense because my copy has not arrived. My current most hated phrase in the English language is ‘NOT YET DISPATCHED’. 

Frankly Vulgar Introduces The 9 People You WILL Meet At University

1)  The Wierdo

The weirdo inhabits a tragic Quasimodo-ish world of social anxiety, unwanted reclusiveness and permanently bad hair. I can guarantee that one of the first people you meet will be a weirdo and they shouldn’t be as easy to identify as they are, because there is usually nothing that physically identifies them (admittedly they often smell pretty bad). But identify them you undoubtedly will. The real mark of the weirdo is their ability to kill conversation stone dead simply with their presence. You could have a room with four best friends enjoying some high level roistering until the sudden appearance of the weirdo dissipates all the joy in the room. Large parts of your first year will revolve avoiding roaming weirdo’s who will attempt to befriend you inappropriately.

Famous Example(s): Dementors, Uriah Heep

2)  The Wasteman

(via The Telegraph)

(via The Telegraph)

There is a strange paradox at the heart of the wasteman. Wastemen literally do nothing at all: they don’t do any work but they don’t go out and have a good time either. They are just sort of there like that unshiftable antique armoire in your great aunt’s house. This raises the paradoxical question: surely the absence of effort requires effort to maintain? It can’t be easy to do no work at all and get away with it can it? Plainly the vast web of lines constructed by the wasteman means that he might be less of a waster than he appears. If only he could use that energy for good eh?

Famous Example: Nick Clegg

3)  The Northerner

It's cold 'oop North (via www.fanpop.com)

It’s cold ‘oop North (via http://www.fanpop.com)

As a Londoner, pretty much anyone who hails from north of Watford is both a strange and fascinating creature. Imagine my delight then, when the first person I met at Uni came from the barren post-apocalyptic wastelands that surround Leeds. Seriously though, northerners are great and by far the best kind of people on this list. Raised on a diet of glassing each other, wearing shorts in winter and pronouncing bastard as basss-ted. Northerners are not only generators of pure mirth but also make handy bodyguards when you start a fight in the local takeaway. Keep them close at hand because they are destined to eventually die in one of Blair’s oil wars.

Famous Example(s): The 9th Doctor, John Snow and DCI Gene Hunt.

4)  The Gym Guy

The reason you go to the gym is to do this one day.

The reason you go to the gym is to do this one day.

One of the more boring brute facts about the slow Americanization of our culture is that everybody has to look like a fucking Californian nowadays. The only way to do this is to sweat it out at the gym, which used to be the sole preserve of those fat public school boys whose latent homoeroticism leads them to beat each other up ‘playing’ rugby. Now we’re all in there, although beyond being relatively healthy I’m not sure I understand why. All gym guys seem to want to be, in Clive James’ imperishable phrase, ‘brown condoms stuffed with walnuts’. The paranoia and lack of basic satisfaction with life that the gym guy has is all a little bit sad really.

Famous Example: James Haskell

5)  The Toff

Draco finds out that Daddy just lost his job. (via harrypotter.wikia.com)

Draco finds out that Daddy just lost his job. (via harrypotter.wikia.com)

Toffs are incredibly defensive nowadays. Speak to any of them (they’re easily identifiable by their large jowls and un-ironic presence in the VIP areas of the worst clubs) and they will reveal this. It’s not fair whines the toff: Not fair that my parents have more money than yours! Not fair that people hear my accent and shout ‘rich nob’ and ‘wanker’ at me! Not fair that nobody takes my subscription to the New Statesman seriously! It’s just so tough for them. I guess the toffs will have to console themselves with all their money, their country hunting lodges (hurrah for killing small animals!) and their inevitable invitation to Prince Harry’s wedding to whatever Tattler-fodder he ends up knocking up.

Famous Example: Draco Malfoy

6)  The Private Schoolboy

The most slappable face in show business. (via www.mirror.co.uk)

The most slappable face in show business. (via http://www.mirror.co.uk)

Social status, shit loads of money and the far-reaching benefits of nepotism aside, all private schoolboys know that they are basically fucked. They are doomed to one day wake up aged 50, look glumly into the mirror and see Nigel Farage staring back at them. Unlike the toff who welcomes this fact (and has a hard on just thinking about it) the private schoolboy spends his time at university trying to hide from the inevitability that their career will involve fixing the stock market and fucking over ‘povo’s’. All the retro 90’s gear, the ‘Urban Renewal Trucker Mesh Snapback Hat’s’ and the pointless drug habit can’t obfuscate the bottom line here: privately educated men are c***s (trust me I’m one of them). Most private schoolboys have supported Chelsea since 2007.

Famous Example(s): Chris Martin, David Cameron, Michael McIntyre

7)  The Poser

Arguably the most dangerous character on this entire list and not just because they are the hardest to spot. The poser is that person who comes to university to finally be a proper ‘grown-up’. This results in a slew of tawdry certainties: drinking shit white wine makes you better than people who drink lager, incense is brilliant and anything French is the height of sophistication (I reckon this is how the poser justifies serial infidelity). Slightly less knowing than hipsters, the poser is mired so deep in self-parody that his/her life is nothing more than an unceasing satire, like the violence in a Paul Verhoeven movie. The poser usually studies languages or the humanities because those are the subjects with the most space to emit their special emulsion of bullshit and self-delusion. As comfortable in their own skin as a miniskirt salesman is in Tehran.

Famous Example: The guy with shit hair in the clip above who gets his ass whooped by Matt Damon.

8)  The Alternative Sports Guy

A classic case of a guy who enjoys alternative sports.

A classic case of a guy who enjoys alternative sports.

Before I arrived at University I thought that the only people who actually played darts were born before the start of the First World War but apparently this isn’t the case. You’re highly likely to meet alternative sports guy, a man who can only be dubbed ‘insane’ at pointlessly shite pseudo-sports like pool, table tennis and squash. Alternative sports guy’s ability in any given sport is in direct proportion to just how unpopular said sport is – the more shunned it is, the better he is at it.

Famous Example(s): Jesus Quintana, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ronnie O’Sullivan

9)  The Stoner

Arnie loves a spliff. (via marc.perkel.com)

Arnie loves a spliff. (via marc.perkel.com)

Christ stoners can be boring if they want to be. Seriously only when gym guy starts banging on about his dietary plan and how ‘whey protein isn’t what it’s cracked up to be’, does shit get as boring as when stoner’s tell you about how the hemp industry will change the world one day. Fuck off. And I don’t want to discuss the hidden symbolism of ‘Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle’ either because there is no symbolism in it. The best argument for the legalization of cannabis is that it will stop these guys from droning on about it sub specie aeternitatis.

Famous Example(s): Stone Cold Steve Austin, Steve Stone, Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone, Emma Stone

About Reading

It’s a strange condition of the world we live in that art requires almost constant justification. Especially the humanities.

“Reading doesn’t prevent genocide bro. Reading won’t stop the climate from changing, you know what I’m saying? The humanities are useless mate, they don’t teach you anything important do they? What kind of job are you going to get with a history degree?”

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Film director Steven Soderbergh gives a far more eloquent defence of art in general than I:

Art is simply inevitable. It was on the wall of a cave in France 30,000 years ago, and it’s because we are a species that’s driven by narrative. Art is storytelling, and we need to tell stories to pass along ideas and information, and to try and make sense out of all this chaos. And sometimes when you get a really good artist and a compelling story, you can almost achieve that thing that’s impossible which is entering the consciousness of another human being – literally seeing the world the way they see it. Then, if you have a really good piece of art and a really good artist, you are altered in some way, and so the experience is transformative and in the minute you’re experiencing that piece of art, you’re not alone. You’re connected to the arts.

The reason we need the humanities is because we are human. That ought to be enough.

Yet the art of reading is under a seemingly inexhaustible attack, like the Roman Empire it is overwhelmed; fighting a Sisyphean battle against everything electronic. A National Literary Trust study in 2012 surveyed 21,000 children and teenagers and found that they read less of everything. Comics, books, and magazines – all crowded out by the increasing pressure that the voltaic world is putting on the physical reality of young people. 17% said they would be embarrassed if a friend saw them reading a book. Three in every ten said they choose to read every day in their spare time. A third of UK households don’t have any books in them.

There is a magnificent paradox here however. The ‘Millennial’ generation is far from illiterate. In fact it may be the first generation in history that is entirely composed of authors, albeit not particularly skilled ones. For what are Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and Tumblr if not a form of publication, a forum for micro-fiction, instant information exchange and a kind of personal open wound style storytelling? Every precious thought or observation or opinion (especially opinion) is broadcast for consumption within the infinite milieu. Every email, tweet and post is validation of our existence, we need to be seen and we need to be heard – all the time.

To write well obviously requires literacy. It requires the ability to read and to have read well and yet Samuel Johnson’s aphorism that ‘what is written without effort is in general read without pleasure’ has never been more relevant. Tweets and posts are generally stacked like so many rusting cars in an endless scrapyard because they are instantaneous, utterly ephemeral and often just bursts of emotive flatulence. As the sender of nearly 12,000 tweets in the space of around 18 months I can vouch for how entirely pointless the vast majority of my little leakages are.

Some people refuse to see this. Within the Internet lies a utopian future. They almost always point to the Arab Spring and the ‘Twitter Revolution” in Iran circa 2009 as examples of the first flexing of the teeming sinews of a profound new Net-centric power that is a ‘Good Thing’ for literacy and truth and liberty. Many historians of the printing press strike similar notes. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, the historian who has done the most to trump up the ‘profound’ effects of the advent of printing in the 15th century, often does her utmost to downplay the invention’s use for ignoble purposes.

It goes without saying that the press soon reflected the worst of human nature. Almost as soon as it was invented it was used to publish superstitious nonsense like the Malleus Maleficarum, a text found in the libraries of good 16th century witch hunters everywhere. More often that not radical technological innovation will be used to support the ossifying structures of orthodoxy – not to bring them down. Filippo di Strata wryly observed that whilst the pen is a virgin, the printing press is a whore.

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What does that make the Internet? Iran had just twenty thousand Twitter subscribers in 2009 – there was no revolution there. The elite will tolerate limited dissent as long as it remains profitable and limited in its effects – exactly what cyber dissent is. Note that a far larger percentage of all posts on Twitter discuss association football than politics. Marx told us that the philosophers had just interpreted the world; the real purpose of our lives was to change it. This will not happen on the web, a realm of the emotionally incontinent and a place for entertainment not activism. The internet is a province of stupefaction beyond Aldous Huxley’s wildest nightmares. The digital utopians who place their faith in the ‘transformative’ aspects of the web are the new historicists, trying to find a laws and trends and generalizations where only singular and specific events exist.

Within Twitter and Facebook and all the other networked dives and virtual saloons that are beamed around the world a problem is revealed. People can’t actually write anything that will last longer than five minutes.

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It seems like a lingering truism to suggest that one cannot simply put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard and create something worthy of consumption without first reading widely and diligently. In a recent article for the Los Angeles Review of Books William Giraldi discusses the writer as reader with specific reference to Herman Melville the author of Moby Dick. He quotes Hershel Parker (author of a vast two-volume biography of Melville):

“Melville was not reading in order to acquire knowledge for its own sake, his evident purpose in reading the epics of Western Civilization was to learn how to write.”

Melville’s vigorous reading of the epics, especially Milton’s Paradise Lost, is according to Giraldi, what injects such compelling potency into Captain Ahab, “the most compelling quester in the American canon”. The tradition of ‘proper’ reading retains its importance across literary culture. Just as there could be no Ahab without Milton’s Satan, without Ahab there could be no Judge Holden (arguably the single greatest evil imagined in 20th century literature) in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. McCarthy both acknowledges and rejects a comparison between his own creation and Milton’s Satan or Melville’s Ahab within his own work by saying of the Judge:

“Whatever his antecedents he was something wholly other than their sum, nor was there a system by which to divide him back into his origins for he would not go.”

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McCarthy is doffing his cap at readers familiar with both Moby Dick and Paradise Lost; in a rare interview for The New York Times given in 1992, McCarthy baldly acknowledges a truth that is disturbing for both undergraduates and academics who live cowering in fear plagiarism:

“The ugly fact is books are made out of other books.”

Without reading and the conversation that has existed since the first story was told around a fire in some dismal encampment or daubed on a primordial rock face, there is no writing. Reading must happen so that we too may participate in this authorial dialogue. We must struggle against the limits of our life span and perception in order to perceive this ceaseless, ever varying and overlapping emulsion that can carry us to the shores of the past and the future.

There ought to be shame and handwringing about the failure of publishers and educators to inspire the next generation of readers. It is not just a case of the Millennials consuming ‘trash’ entertainment either. We have noted the pitfalls of the Internet but that does not mean that the literary world is an exclusive and privileged ghetto where the best stories reside.

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People increasingly turn to television for the best stories; Game of Thrones (that rare beast that supersedes and improves its source material), Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Mad Men and The Wire have initiated a halcyon era of programming where storytelling and complex characterization is key. The appetite for great stories exists. What are the literary phenomena of the past decade? Unctuous and turgid tales like Fifty Shades of Grey and Harry Potter.

Henry Miller observed that ‘nothing is proposed that can last more than twenty-four hours,’ and ‘we are living a million lives in the space of a generation.’ Miller was writing in the 1930’s, before the present era of instant gratification and communication. Somehow in a world where we can live a million lives in a week and nothing that is proposed can last more than an hour before it lies dissected and cold, our l’angoisse de la mort is heightened and amplified. With each added demand on cheapened time it becomes more precious. It is not a question of why we read then, but why should we continue to read?

John Williams gives a lyrical answer in his novel Stoner by evoking the mysterious gestation of a true reader, that magical process shaped by both circumstance and that spark of the imagination each of us holds, in a truly mesmeric way:

“The past gathered out of the darkness where it stayed, and the dead raised themselves to live before him; and the past and the dead flowed into the present among the alive, so that he had for an intense instant a vision of denseness into which he was compacted and from which he could not escape and had no wish to escape.”

That is the transformation that occurs in all who learn to love literature and it is why those that do will always read.

On Batfleck and Superman

(Warner Bros)

(Warner Bros)

I can’t have been the only one.

Walking out of the cinema with a huge grin on my face, still reeling from the formidable slice of cinema that is Man of Steel, to say:

“Boy, they could only better that if they had Ben Affleck as Batman in the next one!”

Batman totally breastfeeds now, didn't you hear about it?

Batman totally breastfeeds now, didn’t you hear about it?

I am of course being facetious. Man of Steel was not a terrible film but no one actually walked out of it with anything other than a headache and slight motion sickness, let alone a demand that the star of Gigli should don Batman’s famed cape and cowl.

Indeed the very idea of a Batman/Superman smackdown seemed strange even before Affleck was cast as Bruce Wayne. The presence of two iconic characters in one film demands that the principle question of why they are together is answered with panache.

I fear that this fundamental imperative will be ignored. I fear that it is economic considerations on the part of Warner Brothers that are driving Batman/Superman towards its July 2015 release date, instead of what ought to be the prerequisite of making such a picture: a great idea for a story.

Films have to make money – I get that, but cherished characters like Bats and Supes have to earn that showdown, just as Marvel did with The AvengersMan of Steel certainly did not lay the groundwork for such a clash and director Zack Snyder and studio Warner Bro’s have not yet created a cinematic universe big or interesting enough to explain the presence of these two icons in one movie. This is the equivalent of making The Avengers after the first Iron Man

Marvel’s massive success at universe building has probably disturbed the suits at Warner. It ought not to though. They are after all the studio that gave us Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the only sequence of films in the whole superhero genre that might be called definitive, thematically interesting and perhaps even imperishable.

The reason the announcement of Affleck has been met with such consternation across the internet is because it is very difficult indeed to imagine anyone playing Bruce Wayne other than Christian Bale. The latter was an utterly ferocious Batman imbued with a physical and emotional intelligence that will be hard for Affleck (or any other actor for that matter) to emulate. God help them when they try and cast a new Alfred after what Michael Caine did with the part.

This doesn’t mean casting Affleck was wrong. Or that nobody can ever be cast as Batman again. On the contrary, he may be a good Batman. The decision to put Bats in the next Man of Steel is wrong though, simply because instead of respecting both the work of Nolan and the intelligence/wallets of cinema goers, Warner are content to chase the quick buck that Batman/Superman represents. I guess some men just want to watch the world burn, or they’re really, really impatient. For me the whole thing stinks of desperation.

The aforementioned Mr. Caine has a very wry observation on Batman and Superman:

“Superman is how America views itself. Batman is how the rest of the world views America”

In other words if Superman was an American politician he’d be a bullshitting and mythologised emulsion of various founding fathers and Batman would be Richard Milhous Nixon, a man with a crozzled and blackened heart whose very existence taints the American dream.

Good luck Ben, I think you’re going to need it.

England 3 – 2 Scotland: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #3

Rickie Lambert, pictured here with giant tracksuited owl behind him. (Photo: Telegraph)

Rickie Lambert, pictured here with giant tracksuited owl behind him. (Photo: Telegraph)

Alan Partridge would describe this as a ruddy good football match. Thankfully for both you (the reader) and I (me), I’m not Alan Partridge, so I will have to spend the next 5 paragraphs describing this match without recourse to the word ‘ruddy’. Partridge aside, this was a bloody good football match and arguably the most entertaining friendly England have played in a long time. Much of the match was defined less by England than by their Scottish opponents who gave a seriously pugilistic account of themselves here at Wembley. In fact, I’d written a long and elegiac match report about just how great Scotland were.

Then Rickie Lambert went all Roy of the Rovers on me.

Rickie Lambert scored his first goal, a powerfully directed header, for England yesterday with his first touch after coming on as a second half-substitute for Wayne Rooney. Rickie Lambert is 31 and not long ago had a job screwing lids on the top of jars of beetroot.

“I couldn’t get a club anywhere, I was training at Macclesfield without a contract and I didn’t have any money so I had to had to earn some by (working in) a factory. It was a beetroot factory. I don’t even like beetroot!” – Lambert

Now he is winning matches for England. Stories like Lambert’s are why football is the most popular sport in the world. Now before I get even more sentimental lets talk about Scotland, a country which is pretty difficult to get sentimental about unless you are noted ham actor and fascist, Mel ‘FREEEEEDOM’ Gibson.

International friendlies are usually an exercise in pointless corporate bullshit and incredibly boring football. The clear animosity felt by Scotland and their fans towards the English lifted this encounter into a far less dismal realm.

Manager Gordon Strachan who on the night looked like a cross between Boris Becker’s nan, a glazed ham and a giant walking wasp sting, has reinvigorated Scotland since he took the team over in January and this progression was clearly shown against England. Captain Scott Brown was a study in ferocity, bald and snapping like a turbo-charged turtle alongside his more cultured midfield partner James Morrison. Both were particularly dynamic and assertive in the opening half-hour, when Scotland had their best period in the game.

Joe Hart, clad in an embarrassing kit that made him look like an irradiated banana, was almost entirely at fault for Scotland’s first goal. It has to be worrying for both England and Manchester City that high-profile mistakes are becoming increasingly common for Hart. The aforementioned Morrison received a clearance from a Scottish corner and with Theo Walcott failing to even flail in the way of him, took a fairly straightforward shot from the edge of the box, straight in the direction of Hart who had to fuck up spectacularly in order to allow the ball past him and into the net. Which is exactly what he did.

The 20,000 Scots in Wembley duly went completely batshit, fuelled not only by the joy of taking the lead against the hated English but by an afternoon well spent doing this to Trafalgar Square:

BRokHZOCYAAU1Mu ay_116240618 ay_116240572

Furthermore those 20,000 Jocks present yesterday managed to unequivocally shut that shite brass band up for most of the match – I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them on behalf of all right thinking English football fans everywhere for this unassuming service.

England started poorly and looked toothless, unable to make use of some intelligent running from Theo Walcott or Jack Wilshere’s ability to turn and beat players in tight spaces. Instead they relied on the rapidly calcifying Steven Gerrard to spray and wedge pointless sideways passes to Kyle Walker or Leighton Baines in areas where neither was able to threaten Scotland.

Gerrard might have his uses as a leader and a deliverer of lavish set-pieces but the fact he was made to look so unauthoritative by Scotland’s midfield may give Roy Hodgson doubts about whether Gerrard ought to automatically start for England should they qualify for next year’s World Cup.

England’s Lazarus act began in the 26th minute when a neat exchange between Rooney and Tom Cleverley fashioned a first proper chance for the home side. Moments later it was Cleverley’s supple pass that put Walcott in behind Steven Whittaker and despite a dodgy succession of touches, the Arsenal forward was able to finish smartly past McGregor.

England’s leveler was an injunction that ignited Rooney’s interest in the game, after he spent most of the opening half hour looking as angry as an old man who’s golfing holiday had been interrupted by his teenage daughter’s unplanned pregnancy. A clever interchange with Welbeck led to a shot that almost crept past McGregor, and a dubious offside decision late in the first half prevented him from scoring his 9th goal in his last 10 England appearances.

Kenny Miller’s turn and surging dispatchment gave Scotland the lead and hope of a profound victory in the second half; a goal notable for the dummy Miller sold Gary Cahill, a dummy that the Chelsea centre-half bought so thoroughly that he probably didn’t even ask for a receipt.

England were roused by this affront, like some great cantankerous sea beast brushed by a school of fish. The response was swift – Welbeck heading a classy Gerrard free kick into the net within five minutes of Miller scoring. England continued to clank through the gears, threatened occasionally by the running of Naismith and Miller, until Lambert got his improbable debut goal twenty minutes before the end to give England a tenuous win.

Promising for the Gordon Stachan’s men; Roy Hodgson will be hoping that his side can improve before the crucial World Cup qualifiers they face before the end of the year.

Manchester United 2 – 0 Wigan Athletic: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #2

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There are very few photos in existence that show the new chairman of The Football Association, Greg Dyke, looking this happy.

 

These big showpiece FA events are about as much fun as watching a ‘classic’ (e.g. a repeat) edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and generally about as memorable as the last thing Justin Bieber tweeted (incidentally his last tweet was this: “WE ON A BREAK!! #restandrelaxation – #unlessIhitthestudio” – I’m sure historians everywhere will be scrabbling to note that down for posterity). 

Today’s Community Shield match between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium wasn’t much of an exception. A few old guys (who on this occasion looked a bit like the Chuckle Brothers) shuffle past the players offering weak handshakes, presumably just before being ushered to a euthanasia booth somewhere. Then the national anthem (that po-faced hymnal to our pointless monarchy) is sung, not by the fans, but by some opera singer who thinks she’s at the Super Bowl. If you happen to be on Twitter when one of these things starts brace yourself for the only actual legacy of the Olympics: a barrage of somnolent “jokes” about when Emeli Sandé will turn up to belt out that bloody Professor Green song

The actual match was decided by two goals from Robin Van Persie, underlining just how important he will be to ‘Man Yoo’ as they get ready for a post-Rooney future. The first, a languid header sent past Scott Carson just inside the right-hand post, was a typical example of his superb technical ability and his ghostly accuracy. The second which came just before the hour, was a scrappier affair. After some neat build-up play from United, Van Persie received the ball on the edge of the Wigan area, dropped a shoulder and shrugged the ball past Carson with the help of a deflection off James Perch. 

Looking at the starting teams I had a masochists excitement when I saw that Phil Jones and Grant Holt would be having what can be described as a fugly-off with each other. Such a clash would not be out of place on a mud-sodden battlefield during the Wars of The Roses, given the mutual, lumbering Englishness of their styles. Alas the promised confrontation never really arrived, principally because Wigan (unlike Holt’s former team Norwich) have not yet adjusted their game to get the best out of the big lad. 

New look Wigan are a very different prospect from the silkily doomed side managed by Roberto Martinez last term. Owen Coyle is building a side as British as getting savagely glassed on a freezing August evening in Leeds City Centre after a big night of binge drinking. His approach is typified by summer signings like Holt, Crainey, Perch, Carson and Barnett. Pick of the bunch is young James McClean, freshly arrived from Sunderland,  an Irish pugilist who specializes in running in straight lines and pushing people, qualities which ought to lead to great success for him in English football’s second tier. 

In fact, Wigan’s best chance of the game was created by McClean, who fired the ball dangerously across the six yard box after Smalling misjudged a long pass from Crainey. The cross/shot couldn’t be met by Holt, when only a touch would have plundered a cheap goal for the Latics. Set-pieces, long balls and looping crosses, nothing too fancy for Coyle and Wigan. 

United’s win was merely whelming. 39-year-old Ryan Giggs started here, still astonishingly pert and wiry, still urbane in his passing and movement, still inevitably amongst the best players on the pitch almost every time he plays. Ostensibly this is good for United, but it is also symptomatic of their weaknesses in midfield that their best player in that area (beige pass-o-meter Michael Carrick aside) will be 40 in November. It is actually difficult to imagine United not having a crap midfield, and even more difficult to imagine a player as accomplished as Cesc Fabregas taking touchline orders from new assistant coach Phil Neville. 

These pronounced weaknesses in midfield are a gnawing problem that David Moyes will have thought about long before the short period on either side of half-time when Wigan’s tinpot midfield was on top of United’s.

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David Moyes and Malcolm Tucker (above) have never been pictured together. Coincidence?

 

 

With the amount of opprobrium and obloquy that surely lies in wait for Moyes this season I almost expected his shirt to be blood red, prepared for all the knives and arrows that will be aimed at him, waiting for the first inevitable slip-up. As soon as that first fuck up comes I fully expect some clichéd American army guy (played by Stephan Lang) to appear at any moment just to fatuously utter in Moyes’ ear: “Davey, you ain’t in Kansas anymore.”  

Right now he is the mini-Ferg, the diet-Ferg – same stripey tie, same gum but will there be the same results, the same relentless ability to win that characterized real-Ferg? A look of distinct discomfort was briefly visible on Moyes’ face as he lifted his first trophy, before he returned to looking like a slightly healthier Malcolm Tucker. 

 

QPR 2 – 1 Sheffield Wednesday: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #1

Joey Barton. A triffic lad and the right sort by all accounts.

Joey Barton. A triffic lad and the right sort by all accounts.

Is it possible to make a triumphant return to the Championship? Surely such wordplay is an oxymoron, particularly given the circumstances in which QPR sunk to English football’s second tier last season. This quibble about words is nothing more than a thought experiment anyway, as QPR’s win yesterday was not particularly triumphal. A performance marked by some promise and a little awkwardness is unlikely to have the likes of Wigan and Watford running scared just yet.

In a packed and surprisingly jovial Loftus Road there was initially little sign of the trepidation that might be expected given that on the last two opening days Rangers managed to concede an impressive 9 goals without reply. The faithful even managed to loudly cheer the odious Joey Barton’s name from the outset. Nobody even having the temerity to abuse Joey for the rather Tevez-ish alice band he was sporting (clearly he feels entitled to such a dismal accessory after spending some time as a ‘continental’). They were rewarded with a reserved sort of sub-Beckham display from his position tucked in on the right wing, where he delivered a succession of ruminative passes and crosses until he was substituted in the second half. There was even the bizarre sight of Barton and the man he once described as a ‘pub player’, new signing Karl Henry, chatting happily with each other during a break in play. A forgiving mood was indeed abroad.

A mood punctured when Wednesday’s large and menacing striker Atdhe Nuhiu opened the scoring in the 19th minute. I feel a great deal of responsibility for the goal itself, due to a perverse, reverse curse of the casual commentator. As Nuhiu picked up the ball on the edge of the box I noted what an impressive start to the game he had made, he then of course spiralled the ball past Rob Green’s paw. Oh dear Will. There followed a pregnant twenty minutes that seemed to promise the rebirth of all the ugly feeling that had festered at QPR in previous months. As Barton and Alejandro Faurlin sent overly lavish passes into the stands one could sense the pressure of the previous season on all involved at QPR. ‘Arry Redknapp’s face was the colour of a slowly setting Hawaiian sunset and this condition was not just down to the heat of such a fine summer’s day.

Thankfully Rangers picked up and scored two quick goals to take the lead, first was Nedum Onuoha’s tap-in, celebrated with all the panache of a man wandering to the fridge to see if there is any milk left, and followed by a neat strike from the lesser-spotted Andy Johnson. The latter looked sharp throughout the match giving his best impression of an angry gnome chasing confused mammalian intruders from his favourite garden patch. Johnson, with his tendency to make Louis Saha look like the patron saint of physical fitness, will be an important asset to QPR if he manages to stay on the pitch and out of the physio’s room.

I’m required in the interests of fairness to say something about Sheffield Wednesday. Their wonderfully priggish and priapic away support was certainly refreshing after two seasons of mostly crap fans from The Best League In The World™ – good effort gentlemen. What was less refreshing was the return of the lamentable former Cardiff boss Dave Jones to Loftus Road. Jones, his fat face now resembling a cross between the owl that adorns Wednesday’s crest and Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, used his post match comments to make dubious remarks concerning two “penalties” he felt should have been awarded to his side during the game.

“It’s an embarrassment for the officials to miss two clear-cut penalties” blathered Jones. “We’ve been told by the League Managers Association and the Referee’s Society not to talk about it but something has to be done. How does he miss it?”

It’s safe to say Jones is one of those perennial Championship annoyances that I have not missed. A decent if unspectacular start for QPR though, although far better teams than Jones’ tinpot outfit lie in wait.

Star Man: Chris Kirkland really stood out. I read before the game that Wednesday’s keeper had almost single handedly kept them in the division last season and on the basis of this display it was easy to see why. Junior Hoilett impressed for QPR, looking particularly spritely in the first half.

Papiss Cissé and The Hypocritical World of Buffet Religion

Papiss has been rolling the dice with his Newcastle future during the off-season. (Photo: Guardian.)

Papiss has been rolling the dice with his Newcastle future during the off-season. (Photo: Guardian.)

Papiss Cissé is a striker for Newcastle United and he is a muslim. He could also probably apply for an honorary doctorate in hypocrisy if such things existed. Newcastle’s new shirt sponsorship by the pay day loan firm Wonga has conflicted with Cissé’s belief, common under some interpretations of Sharia law, that Muslims must not benefit from lending money. The row has reached a stage where the player left the club’s pre-season tour of Portugal as he continued his anti-Wonga stance, although he’s clearly not anti-wonga per se as he earns a not undismal £40,000 a week.

Cissé has already been accused in some quarters of a cynical attempt to force a move from Newcastle for two reasons: Firstly he had no problem abnegating his religious beliefs before when the club strip was branded with financial services like Northern Rock and Virgin Money (he wore both kits). Secondly all the other muslim players at Newcastle of which there are quite a few, like Hatem Ben Arfa, have no problem wearing the new kit.

Then it was revealed that old Papiss enjoyed doing stuff like this in his spare time:

Papiss, pictured here in the fetching black gilet, fingering some chips.

Papiss, pictured here in the fetching black gilet, fingering some chips.

 

A spokesperson for Aspers Casino described Cisse as “an occasional visitor” who was “very well behaved and very welcome”, but would not confirm whether or not he placed any bets.

In Islam gambling is an even more grievous sin (or so I’ve been told anyway) than money lending. In the Holy Qur’an it is labelled as “Ithm al-kabir”  or “a very great sin”, a description incidentally only used elsewhere for the practice of drinking (not rape or slavery or murder eh?) It is probably for the best that Cissé hasn’t been papped sporting a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale in the city centre somewhere.

The player’s actions have of course been granted with all the usual vehemence you’d expect. Newcastle city councillor Dipu Ahad had this nugget of wisdom to share with us:

“People will say, ‘look, this is Islam they can pick and choose whatever they want’, and Islam isn’t about picking and choosing”

Ahad is of course utterly wrong. Life and by extension, religion is about picking and choosing things, and the process easily makes hypocrites and liars of us all.  A short quote from Dostoyevsky ought to be sufficient to cool the councillor’s umbrage:

But,  finally, there are things that man is afraid of divulging even to himself and every decent man has quite an accumulation of them.

I’d love to find someone who could honestly say they were not the same as the above. We all do things we shouldn’t sometimes and often these are not things we want to share with anyone else. It is easy (and will no doubt be commonplace) to argue that Newcastle deserve better than such duplicitous treatment from one of their star players. The football cliché of choice would be that he has ‘sullied the shirt’ or whatever. Personally I’d argue that Cissé’s objection to Wonga is not entirely without justification as by all accounts they are a horrid company. Yet it is Cissé who has been damaged most in this affair, simply because he now appears a hypocrite to all the world, however noble his original intentions.

Papiss is no different to the vast majority of religious believers on earth. Only by being a product of Catholic education was I able to spend a great deal of time observing this ‘pick and choose’ phenomenon first hand, and in my time at school contradictions such as the one so aptly displayed by Newcastle’s want-away striker were as common as rain in Wales.

I’ve met many inspirational and intelligent Catholics and to a man and to a woman they were just as flawed as me, except that the flaw was dug even deeper into them by their poisonous subscription to a pointless faith. Some of these people, who professed to love everybody equally, would happily envisage condemning homosexuals to fiery torture sub specie aeternitatis. Religion makes it easy to believe and espouse two completely contradictory notions at the same time. Confront any believer with whatever obvious discrepancy of their faith you can find (there are thousands in Christianity alone) and you will be confronted with some wretched theodicy or breezily unsatisfying explanation. They may as well be as mute as a stone.

This kind of thing is not a good symptom for us humans. Samuel Butler claimed that life is a bit like playing the violin in public and learning the instrument as you go on. If we attempt to be the best we can be without recourse to the blood-flecked codicies and manuals of laughably primitive tribes, hypocrisy won’t disappear, but it will certainly be less pervasive as it is now amongst the parties of God. If Cissé had the good fortune to be an atheist he wouldn’t have been able to undermine his own cause quite so easily.

The Horror of The House of Windsor

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What right-thinking person thinks it possible to have a “famous” baby? For that is what our future King will be, famous before he even does anything. At least by the time Mozart was eight he’d had the temerity to compose a symphony. This ‘famous’ baby, I confidently predict, will do nothing worthy and nothing important enough to earn all the simpering adulation it will be received with. And that is the way it should be. Babies shouldn’t be famous because that is an absurdity. It is a fiction.

The Royal Family makes me embarrassed to be British. The pretence that we are a democracy, that this country is egalitarian will melt away when this baby is presented to the fawning blimps that constitute a minority in these isles and the global media gathers to celebrate the continuation of the hereditary principle. Why not go and celebrate infanticide, incest and bestiality then – the other trappings of a medieval society. In fact, when pageants such as this one occur we are all reminded of our place: we are subjects not citizens. This child will be the gilded strut that props up our unlovely system of class distinction and hierarchy.

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The House of Windsor are the great progenitors of our culture of surface-fetishism, our worship of the unimportant lives of unremarkable people led on by the evermore vulgar media inculcated impulses of cheering and jeering.  Yet conversely they have managed to insert themselves into a mysterious and parochially exotic world. The world of national tradition; and when she dies our current monarch will find herself a symbol of the nation as much as Dickens, or the paintings of Turner and Constable, or the sound of Big Ben tolling in sodden London.

This group of mammals does not deserve to be part of this tradition and their place there is an invention. Cameron, Miliband and Salmond were eviscerated for attending the Wimbledon final as it was seen by many as an example of political opportunism – what then of the Royals presence at the Olympics and all the other great circuses of our island. As William Cobbett remarked, you can tell a lot about a country that refers to the Royal Mint and the National Debt.

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Fun fact: Charles first met Diana when she was 13 and he was 19! LMFAO

What then will become of our little royal superior? Perhaps he will be a fetid creature like Charles, a man so unctuous that he makes one tempted to believe Mohammed Al Fayed’s moonshine afflicted and thoroughly off the wall story that Diana was assassinated. It may be that the kid is more like it’s raffish uncle Harry, a man who enjoyed blowing up Afghani peasants from the seat of his attack helicopter so much that he participated in not one, but two tours of bloodslaked butchery.

Isaac Deutscher once said of the old Soviet Union, as the great clanking beast rusted and died, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose.” No axiom is more appropriate for the toxic reality of deficit Britain, where the money spent yearly on the Royals could pay for 9560 nurses or 8200 police officers.

The Windsors and their army of adulators await the annunciation of the child with the same atavistic fever as those who yearn to see the slick of virgin’s blood on a white bedsheet at some barbaric wedding ritual. There won’t ever be an honest discussion about these people and their role in our country. We are too inured to them now, for where they tread we are but supernumeraries in this dream of life.

From Hope to Fear: The Obama Obfuscation

It is going to be one of the Great Questions of the era we currently find ourselves in.

How did this guy:

tumblr_md31dmr7aq1qzupj0o1_500Turn into this guy:

BMaF3jqCMAAGZSpSince the start of the year Obama’s administration has been deluged with a series of quasi-Nixonian scandals: a two month phone tapping exercise led by the Department of Justice on Associated Press journalists (the AP responded by calling it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion”) and the news that the IRS targeted a number of right-wing campaign groups in a move that might at best be described as “dodgy”.

Then came the revelation that US government was basically spying on everyone through PRISM, a top-secret surveillance program that gathered intelligence from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley giants.  Obama’s response to these exposures was a study in intellectual dishonesty that you really ought to see here:

Really watch Obama in this video. Note the slight hunch, the greying hair and his unsmiling minders behind him. He waves away the greatest denouement of government intrusion into the private lives of its citizens in history with a flippant conveyor belt of platitudes and blandishments. Observe adages as tired as his body language, 58 seconds of crap like ‘trust’, ‘oversight’ and ‘bad guys’.

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You cherish the constitution? Bullshit. PRISM and its associated programs take the 4th amendment, hose it with gasoline and light the bastard thing up. Obama, lest we forget (or try and make excuses for him) is a constitutional law professor who knows exactly what it is that he has helped to dismantle. He is up there with this guy now:

I didn’t want to believe that Obama was just another political hack. Back in 2008 he seemed like a radical departure from the stuffy, fed on lies and bullshit world of Clinton and Bush. Obama graced paragraphs with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and yeah, you know what, it felt right. Obama seemed to be the promise of America made flesh. Anything could be projected onto Obama and the Brave New World we hoped he represented. Obama the apotheosis of progress. Obama the harbinger of a new age of racial harmony that would spirit us away from old dysfunctions and conflicts, Obama the story: his journey from the working class to the White House was Gatsby-ish in its scope and emotional resonances. This was before he was even inaugurated, before he even fucking did anything at all – the guy was an action figure before he was the President. Seeing the name of Dr King or Ghandi or Mandela in the same paragraph as Obama’s brings home the nauseous realisation that they don’t have anything in common at all.

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No one cares though. No riots, no demonstrations, no real outcry outside of the Guardian comment section/stoned guys on Reddit strata of society. The American public actually seems to love being spied on and here in Britain there is one CCTV camera for every 14 subjects (we’re not technically citizens in the UK). Voltaire reminds us how dangerous apathy is:

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I find myself watching Obama on television and not really recognising what he has become. The firebrand from 2004, the avatar of hope in 2008 has become the dull diet Bush of 2013. The only real ‘change’ Obama has wrought has been in this transformation, this sacrifice of his values. It is hard not to feel angry, hard not to feel betrayed at some personal level. View his metamorphosis here:

I haven’t even mentioned his failure to close Guantanamo Bay prison, his use of a fleet of robotic aerial drones to hose liquid metal death on third world shepards without recourse to international law. These facts, and every scandal of the last few months are symptomatic of a flawed and dysfunctional administration.

Christ, I’m starting to sound like FOX news.