Monday, 27 July 2015

Glamour: Offering relationship advice for the terminally stupid, the chronically immature and the eternal doormats...

Ah, Glamour magazine. How cute of you to try and outdo Cosmo for truly stupid relationship advice. Click here to see the original or read below if you're worried you might be fooled by such idiocy...

1. Stocking the fridge with his favorite drinks. Bonus points: Bring him back to his fraternity days by handing him a cold one as he steps out of the shower.

Yes! Get him drunk before work! Render him unemployed! Superb!

2. Making him a snack after sex. It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal—a simple grilled cheese or milk and cookies will do.

Or sleep. Sleep will do too.

3. Emailing him the latest online gossip about his favorite TV show. You don’t have to have a BFF at HBO. Just share applicable links from your Twitter feed and pat yourself on the back.

And wait for the "Why are you spamming me with this shit?" email in return.

4. Bragging about him to your friends, family, the stranger on the street corner—whomever. Proclamations of pride will make his chest puff out and his heart swell.

Yes, that random person at the bus stop is simply dying to hear about how he has been promoted to second in charge of the accounts department.

5. Answering the door in a negligee—or, better yet, naked.

Ideal if your front door opens directly on to a busy street!

6. Being open to what he wants to try in the bedroom and out. An open mind is attractive no matter your playground.

Try that in the playground and end up on the sex offenders' register.

7. Letting him solve your petty work problem. Many men don’t do gossip, but they do like to fix things.

Alternatively, do your job yourself like a grown-ass woman.

8. Spitting out sports stats for his favorite team. Showing an interest in his favorite players will earn you points on and off the field.

Oh yes! Faking interest in something will always win a man over!

9. Making a big deal out of his favorite meal. Does he like hot dogs cut up into his boxed mac-and-cheese? Serve it on a silver platter to really see him smile.

If he likes hot dogs cut up into boxed mac-and-cheese, call a cardiologist.

10. Treating his friends as well as you treat your own. If you win their affections, you’ll win his heart.

Er, this is just a good rule for life in general.

11. Sitting side-by-side while he vegs out to the TV. It may not feel like quality time to you, but it’s the best time to him.

Even if it's a programme you have zero interest in and you'd rather be elsewhere in the house doing something productive.

12. Giving him a massage—happy ending completely optional. In fact, a foot rub works just fine.

Or flick his earlobe. Or run your finger down the length of his nose in an alluring manner. These are good too...

13. Taking him back to third grade with a gentle tease over anything from how you’ll dominate him on the basketball court to the weird way he just styled his hair.

Nothing says "Sexy!" like behaving like a child. If this does say "Sexy!" to the man in question, call yourself a taxi.

Photography by Vojko Kalan

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Why the Ashley Madison hacking matters

"These lying cheats look like they'll get some of their own medicine now." (Daily Telegraph reader)

"I didn't used [sic] to believe in karma, but this, honestly is making me question my doubts. This totally made my Monday. I hope they totally out everyone on that site. ;)" (Huffington Post reader)

"I think the hackers should publish the whole damn lot, regardless of whether the site is taken down." (Guardian reader)

And so on... It was inevitable that the hack on Ashley Madison, a website aimed at people who want to discreetly cheat on their partners, was not going to generate much sympathy for the victims. But the pearl-clutching outrage and sanctimonious gloating over the unfaithful masks the bigger problem here.

Melanie McDonagh, Moral Guardian in Chief for the Evening Standard drearily, predictably wrote yesterday that she would be "even more inclined to cackle if the Impact Team was a group of evangelical Christians anxious to put people out of the way of temptation."

Sadly for St Melanie of the Marital Bed, the real story was not a moral crusade with the potential to destroy millions of lives and provide a bonanza for divorce lawyers. Instead, it seems the Impact Team hacked Ashley Madison as disgruntled customers - they were outraged that the company would only permanently delete details of membership from its servers for a £15 fee. Given the nature of the site and the desperation of people not to be found out if they decided Ashley Madison's human smorgasbord was not to their taste, this would be an easy money-spinner. Welcome to free market capitalism, cheaters!

But it is the fact that such a devastating hack can happen on websites that claim to have the very best security that is the real worry for everyone. How many websites have your personal details? How would you feel if someone wasn't happy with waiting all day for an Argos delivery, hacked into their database and threatened to release the information? Obviously, being outed as an Argos customer is marginally less embarrassing than being outed as an Ashley Madison customer, but the breach of privacy is still completely unacceptable.

What if the government decided that a website you'd signed up to was not to their liking and they wanted to find out the details of everyone involved? David Cameron's speech this week about dealing with radical Islam is a case in point. Maybe you signed up to a website for some information about Islam for any number of reasons, none of which involved terrorism. But this is a government that is becoming less and less libertarian about your online privacy - do you trust this government to not obtain personal information from sites they deem to be "of interest"?

How relaxed and comfortable would you feel if you discovered you ended up on a watch list for no good reason? Maybe you'll get stopped from boarding that flight to Turkey, even though you were simply hoping for a Kate Moss-style rampage on a beach in Bodrum and weren't using the trip to enter Syria and join IS.

But, hey, it is far easier to moralise about the lives of people you don't know. Never mind that with 70% of Ashley Madison members being men, the chances of feckless husbands actually getting laid via that site are not brilliant. Never mind that it's the kind of site that plenty of people probably join for a bit of a nosy around before logging off and never logging back on again. Never mind that there might be people on that site desperate for some attention because they are in an abusive relationship or a relationship they don't feel they can leave for any number of reasons.

No, let's just get the pitchforks out instead and affect an attitude that leads to execution in Saudi Arabia! Yeah! Well played, people!

Nobody is denying that infidelity can destroy relationships and that it usually ends up being deeply unpleasant for all concerned. But if all you're getting out of the Ashley Madison story is an excuse to get on your high horse about other people's sex lives, you're not paying attention.

Photography by Circe Denyer. Picture posed by models in no way connected to this blog post.

What would happen if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour leader?

The Honourable Member for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, could end up as the leader of the Labour Party in September. If this happens, delight and horror will ring out around the country, possibly in equal measure.

This week's vote on the welfare bill may well be the nail in the coffin for the leadership campaigns of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, all of whom abstained with the hope that a bunch of amendments will get through. It's a risky strategy because, aside from the amendments not dealing with some of the more awful aspects of the welfare bill, Labour will be left in an awkward spot if some but not all of the amendments are passed. What then? Do they go ahead and vote for a bill with a few tweaks or vote the whole thing down if they can't get all the amendments passed?

If the majority of Labour's MPs let a slightly tweaked bill become law, that is not going to placate the people, both in and out of the party, who are siding firmly with the 48 MPs who voted against the bill this week. Corbyn was among the 48 rebels and this has given his campaign for the party leadership new vigour.

Nobody seems more surprised than Corbyn himself that he is now a realistic contender for the Labour Party leadership. By his own admission, he threw his hat into the ring to reinvigorate debate rather than with any real hopes of winning the damn thing outright.

The fragmentation of Labour and the resulting arguments the leadership contest has spawned has led to much speculation over whether the party can ever win again if it shifts too far to the left or the right. Tony Blair was a master at finding the middle ground. He then took the party possibly further to the right than it had ever been before, but he is still hailed as an electoral hero by many.

But since Blair's time in office ended, there have been growing murmurings about whether there is an appetite for a centre-left party to govern the UK. Some will say the Green Party is the obvious choice and will despair that more people don't vote Green, while others find aspects of Green policy, such as their war on air and road travel, to be a leap too far to the left but they would rather like to vote for a party that preserves things like the NHS, the BBC, state education and housing benefit for under-25s. Some would deride these people as champagne socialists, although they are more likely to simply be realists who happen to own a car and like to take a holiday abroad once in a while.

A sober analysis of this year's election results is needed. The numbers reveal that 36.9% of all votes went to the Conservative Party. Of these, there would be lifelong Tory voters, people who figured there was no point voting LibDem, swing voters, voters genuinely convinced that the Conservatives can manage the economy properly, and UKIP supporters who thought better of it in the privacy of the polling booth. Labour trailed in second place with 30.4% of the vote.

It is the rest of the results that make for interesting reading. UKIP were a distant third with 12.6% of the vote - as well as the stereotypical UKIP voters, plenty of disillusioned Labour voters went purple this year. Some are Eurosceptics - and this is a significant element of the population that Labour will need to consider if they are serious about winning the 2020 election - and some ex-Labour-now-UKIP voters genuinely think Nigel Farage's party supports working class people in a way they feel Labour does not.

Meanwhile, the hapless Liberal Democrats managed 7.9% of the vote and the Greens 3.8% - if Labour were able to better appeal to these left-of-centre voters, they probably could have won the election, albeit by a tiny margin given the first-past-the-post system. But seriously, the craven pandering to the Tories by the LibDems in the last Parliament should have been a gift for Labour.

Then there is the loss of Scotland, formerly safe Labour, to the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon led a highly effective campaign to appeal not just to Scottish nationalism but also to sell the party as a way more credible, anti-austerity opposite than Labour. Now Parliament is back in session, it is hard to deny that it is the SNP that looks like the strong, coherent opposition party right now.

On top of all this, while the 66.1% voter turnout was considered high, that means 33.9% of eligible voters didn't vote. This can be arrogantly dismissed as an acceptance of the status quo or it can be a sign that a large proportion of adults in Britain did not see the point in voting. Would anything change, regardless of how they voted? Was there any real difference between the major parties?

On balance, it appears there is a not-insignificant number of people in Britain who don't want to see the country resemble East Germany but would welcome a credible centre-left alternative to the current government.

The NHS is a good case in point for a desire for sensible centre-left policies. Poll after poll shows that people from across the political spectrum are keen to keep the NHS free at the point of use. The need for reform in the NHS is also widely acknowledged and accepted, but Labour has done an appalling job of showing people how the ongoing reforms of the NHS by the Tory-LibDem coalition and now the Tory majority government are doing more harm than good and have made the NHS less cost-effective and more bureaucratic than ever. Like the LibDem failings, this should have been a gift for Labour at the last election. Hell, ex-Tory leadership prospect Michael Portillo is on the record back in 2011 as saying that David Cameron and Tories lied to the people of Great Britain about their intentions for the NHS because they knew it'd be electoral suicide.

If Corbyn can provide a compassionate and cost-effective alternative to the destructive Health and Social Care Act of 2012, that alone would make him a very popular Labour leader. And the same goes for the welfare bill - it is one thing to take a stand with 47 rebel MPs against what is largely terrible legislation but it is quite another to put forward a bold new proposal that doesn't throw the vulnerable under a bus, doesn't penalise the millions of people in work who rely on benefits, and shows a genuine commitment to job creation.

Would it be so terrible if Corbyn led the Labour Party? Or would it be like Michael Foot all over again?

What I do know is that the left can be easily disappointed in their leaders. There is a tendency to place heroes on pedestals - so ironically anti-egalitarian - and this gives them a long way to fall for even the slightest transgression. Barack Obama, Ed Milliband and Julia Gillard are examples of heroes of the left who, despite varying degrees of success, have invoked serious disappointment among some of their supporters. If Corbyn, as Labour Party leader, shows any signs of compromising with the centre-right factions of the party - even if this means preserving his leadership - I predict he will face a barrage of criticism from people who hitherto supported him, just as surely as he would be crucified if he released a manifesto that the mainstream media deemed to be too socialist.

Corbyn will face a delicate balancing act if he becomes leader of the Labour Party. How he manages to walk this tightrope might ultimately depend on how much he wants to lead the party more than how much his party want him to win an election in 2020.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Queen is probably not a Nazi but I am still a republican...

For The Sun, it was mission accomplished.

Step 1: Stoke up outrage over photographs and a film from 1933 featuring the Queen Mother and Uncle Edward apparently teaching the Queen and Princess Margaret how to do a Nazi salute. Put said photo on the front page with a Nazi-pun headline.

Step 2: Wait for the inevitable media outcry whereby other news outlets, both within the Murdoch stable and outside it, won't stop banging on about it so the front page gets a ridiculous amount of free publicity. No need to pay an ad agency this week.

Step 3: Weather the storm of criticism about The Sun being a republican newspaper that just wants to cut down "hardworking royals" and piss on British traditions.

Step 4: Bask in the increased sales and website clicks safe in the knowledge that, if anything, running an 82-year-old photo as "news" has probably increased support for the monarchy.

The Sun loves the royals and would be lost without them. They love a good royal scandal because they love the revenue but they will always join in the media forelock-tugging whenever there is a royal wedding or birth that demands pages and pages of fawning coverage. If you don't like it, don't buy it.

Firstly, the Queen probably isn't a Nazi. She probably isn't a rampant lefty either, but I am pretty sure she found the wholesale slaughter of millions of people by the Nazis in WWII as abhorrent as any reasonable person would.

However, that's not to say the photograph is not newsworthy. It's not newsworthy as an exposé of Her Maj as a fan of Hitler but it is newsworthy from a historical viewpoint. It's a story that would be better placed in a history magazine rather than The Sun's front page but it is still interesting to consider how close Britain came to having a serious Nazi sympathiser on the throne before Edward abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, a woman whose support for Hitler is hardly a state secret. The British monarch is meant to be apolitical but only the seriously naive believe that royals have no opinions and have never tried to influence the government of the day.

The Queen was six years old when the photo was taken so it is ridiculous to think she'd have any idea what the Nazi salute stood for any more than I knew what I was talking about when, aged four, my party piece was to inform houseguests that the Australian Prime Minister of the time had a face like a bum. I've since revised my views on Malcolm Fraser just as the Queen, in all likelihood, didn't cheer on Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939.

But it is certainly absurd to think that the Queen Mother had no idea about Nazi ideology in 1933. Mein Kampf was published in 1925 and by 1933, it had been translated in English and The Times ran excerpts to expose Hitler's racist agenda. She was not living in a vacuum. An ivory tower, yes, but not a vacuum. It would be unbelievable to think she was in blissful ignorance about Hitler's ideologies. She would not have been aware of the full horror of the concentration camps as those horrific places were in their nascent stages in 1933 but she must have had some inkling about his views on race.

The Sun probably knew that running this story on the front page was not going to damage the monarchy - and that people would indeed rush to the defence of the Queen. I am an avowed republican but I do not think this story is necessarily the best way to argue for a British republic. There are plenty of great arguments for a British republic and it would behoove British republicans to share them rather than feeding the troll that is The Sun.

Picture by Karen Arnold.

Australia! Land of the kitty killers!

The Australian government did something this week that actually makes sense. Plans to cull two million feral cats over the next five years were announced. The internet, predictably, reacted with a barrage of uneducated horror. The way people were carrying on, one could be forgiven for thinking Australia was about to morph into a nation of psychotic kitty killers, with gangs of rogue marksmen taking pot shots at pet shops and beheading much-loved house cats as they slept peacefully on their owners' beds.

People who'd never been to Australia, much less seen an Australian feral cat in real life, were typing in capital letters, such was their fury. And naturally the arguments against the cull were, overall, daft and ill-informed.

Ironically, there were calls for a tourism boycott of Australia. That was particularly idiotic because Australia's amazing natural environment, including native wildlife, is one of the main reasons tourists visit my home country. Feral cats have been linked to the extinction of 28 native species and are threatening at least 100 more. These cats do not belong in Australia. Along with foxes and rabbits, they should never have been introduced by the British in the 1800s. The problem is being dealt with more than 100 years too late - but at least it is being dealt with.

"But humans are the worst destroyers of the planet! Leave the cats alone!" was another wail from the peanut gallery. True. We humans are doing a pretty good job of polluting the place when we're not busy killing each other for stupid reasons. But because we humans have the ability to think rationally and examine scientific evidence, we are best placed to solve our problems, including what the hell to do about a country that is overrun with an estimated 18-20 million feral cats.

The calls for a trap-neuter-release programme are well-intentioned but still misguided. The size of such a task with so many cats in a country the size of Australia would be gargantuan - and completely and utterly ineffective. The neutered, released cats would still kill native wildlife. And when they're not killing native wildlife, they are killing and injuring domestic cats and contributing to the spread of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus as well as diseases among livestock.

To support the cull is to support the survival of native Australian wildlife and responsible cat ownership. Feral cats have been breeding rampantly for generations in the wild and sometimes domestic cats end up going feral too. Cat owners need to get their pets neutered and microchipped and bring them inside at night to be part of the solution.

But if you don't want to take my word for it, click here to get the views of scientists on this issue. Feral cats are not cute kitties. The cull has to happen.

Photo courtesy of the government of the state of Victoria

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Oil, gas and Greek salvation

Imagine this: A country is on the skids economically. The reasons for this crisis are myriad and blame is not limited to one person or one group of people. Corruption and tax evasion have been rife for years. Governments of different shades have been incompetent. Attempts to solve the economic problems have not worked.

But for the last five years at least, the country's energy ministry has known about significant offshore oil reserves - some 22 billion barrels to the west and a further 4 billion barrels in the waters to the east. Surveys have also estimated that the country may have natural gas reserves worth $9 trillion. Further exploration of the country's coastal waters could reveal even more oil and possibly natural gas reserves too. There may be enough to cover at least 50% of the country's oil needs. The country already has some oil and natural gas production but this has dropped sharply between 1990 and 2000 and has continued to fall ever since, dwindling to no gas production and barely enough oil production for one of the salads the country is so famous for.

This country is not hypothetical. This country is Greece.

Exploiting its oil and gas reserves alone won't solve the country's economic problems but it could make a massive difference.

Fuel would become cheaper - it is currently at around 1.59 per litre - and this would benefit everyone from struggling taxi drivers and farmers to the people who live on and visit the islands, where prices are higher for the many goods that need to be shipped from the mainland. There may be enough oil and gas to not only fire up power stations and further develop the petrochemicals sector. The government could remove bureaucratic obstacles to the development of renewable energy, so oil and gas-fired power stations are used in conjunction with renewables. This would mean a more reliable supply of electricity for the country. This is a minor bummer when the lights go out while you're enjoying a pint of Mythos in a Cretan taverna and it is an ongoing pain in the arse if you live in Greece.

Fossil fuels won't last forever - the clue is in the name - but we need to use them for now alongside renewables because the technology for solar, wind and tidal energy still needs work. A thriving oil and gas industry would be a fiscal multiplier and a creator of jobs.

As a bonus, Greece's heavy reliance on coal and imported hydrocarbons from such bastions of freedom as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya and Kazakhstan would come to an end.

Imagine that: Greece could be one of the few countries in the EU to get off the Russian gas teat and tell the Saudi government to go pound sand.

But will this happen? Probably not, especially if the IMF and EU governments succeed in getting Greece to sell off assets such as ports and public companies, in particular the national energy companies, to reduce the debt. But who the hell is going to buy these assets at this time? Realistically, how much money could be made from such a fire sale?

Joint ventures between Greece's national energy companies and foreign investors would make more sense. Keeping the ports for the transport of oil and gas and the development of LNG terminals would also make sense. LNG - liquefied natural gas - is a growing sector of the gas industry and one of its benefits is that it eliminates the need for pipelines with other countries, thus reducing the risk of geopolitical dramas, especially with nearby Turkey.

Additionally, LNG is a great way to store gas for domestic use and transport it for export. Remember exporting? A way that a country can make money! Exporting! Part of a sensible, steady economic recovery for Greece rather than the current debacle. It'll never catch on, especially if the Greek government eliminates tax breaks for the Greek islands. Yeah, what a great idea. Let's make it harder for the Greek islands to attract tourists! We're only talking about places so damn beautiful that all the advertising they should need is a Google image search. It's not as if tourism is a revenue-raiser for Greece or anything...

There is a lot of love out there for Tsipras at the moment but if he succeeds in raising taxes for the islands while not properly reforming the whole country's taxation system, and if he doesn't do a damn thing to push for oil and gas development, he is completely short-sighted. Equally, bullying tactics from the IMF and EU governments are not conducive to getting Greece back on its feet and five years of austerity in a vacuum where there have been no real plans to grow the economy haven't solved a damn thing either.

TLDR version? It's a bloody mess and I'll be stunned if anything improves any time soon.

Photography by George Hodan