Thursday, July 31, 2008

CSB 1980-2007

Be happy, young man, while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you to judgment.

Ecclesiastes 11:9 (NIV)

A year ago today I was driving home from work and found that one of the roads I normally use near Cannon Hill Park had been closed by the police as a result of a road traffic accident. In the past week I found out that the person who had died was an old school friend of mine.

When I knew him, CSB was a down-to-earth guy. An optimist, he believed Roy Evans was the man to bring back the glory days to his beloved Liverpool. He knew about value-for-money, once reading my mind when discussing how remakes of classic cars such as the Mini and the Beetle were expensive, and baulking at the cost of a Ferrari cap when I told him it cost £20. As we neared the end of our school days together, he had just started taking part in a Bhangra dance act, telling me how much he had moved on from a wedding he had gone to where he had only known one move.

In Year 8, there was a plank of wood that crossed our rather disgusting school pond. While he was on it, I went on as well and playfully tried to push him in. Of course, i was the one who ended up amongst the mud and the coke cans. If he were around, I would probably comment how ironic it was I outlived him after falling into that mess.

In A House for Mr Biswas, we are told how the main character strives from his humble beginnings to build a life for his family, culminating in him buying his house which he cannot believes he owns. At the end of his book, the character dies, and you are left with a sense that life is futile; after all our strivings, we can take nothing with us.

This post is a tribute to a guy who most of the world will never know, but lives on in the minds of those who did.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Control Our Borders (Sensibly)

I think this story demonstrates just how confused and pathetic our immigration policies have become. Far from becoming a free-for-all, the reality is that our immigration policy for citizens outside the EU is far too harsh in some misguided attempt to compensate for the fact that we cannot control how many people come to this country from the rest of the EU and in particular the new Eastern European member states. We are in desperate need of an immigration policy which not only controls the number of people who enter the country as many people wish, but is also sensible and sensitive to the needs of non-citizens who have a good reason to be here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Birmingham Media

The Stirrer is reporting that Equity is launching a campaign to save the BBC Drama Village in Birmingham as another decision to move the programmes to Salford has been put off. Most of my criticisms of the BBC are not the usual nonsense one will find in the blogosphere that it is biased to the left and the Labour party, but that it fails to represent all of the country in its programming and opinions, a position which is hard to justify because we all pay the same license fee. While I welcomed the move by the BBC to create a new major centre away from London in Greater Manchester, I do not think it is fair that programmes made in smaller BBC centres such as Birmingham and Bristol are being moved to justify its cost; the programmes should be moved from London and more smaller regional centres built. The way things are going, there will be very few BBC programmes produced outside London, Salford and Cardiff. This is hardly representative broadcasting.

Another thing about the BBC is the way it has bought into Brand Manchester, and often refers to its proposed Salford facility as "Manchester" rather than referring to the City of Salford in which it is actually located. On Radio Five Live the other day, they even asked whether the newly promoted Salford City Reds would be changing their name to Manchester! I am confused as to why the BBC want to promote geographical counties rather than proper cities; perhaps many of them are still confused by living in London.

The BBC's proposed flight from Birmingham is not the only one, however. Adrian Goldberg has consistently reported on his Stirrer website how local radio stations are shunning locally produced programmes to broadcast networked shows from London (even BBC WM moved a late night show from the city to Nottingham; Radio 2's late shows which were produced in the Mailbox have moved to London, as has the One Show despite the fact it was successfully piloted in Brum). Birmingham has always been very bad at promoting itself outside the region and the moves over the past few months seem to confirm that the city is seen as a broadcasting backwater.

It is not all bad news however. The steady stream of blows to Birmingham's media has led the creative community to look at the creation of a new radio station in Birmingham, Rhubarb Radio, which is probably going to be loosely based on Resonance FM in London and is hoping to start broadcasting soon from the Custard Factory. And Channel 4 will be opening its new digital media HQ in Birmingham. It seems that while the traditional media may be shunning Birmingham, new media looks set to embrace it. Whether this is the way forward remains to be seen.

Monday, July 14, 2008

TB or GB?

Mike Smithson wrote an article today at today asking the question whether Labour would be doing so badly in the polls if Tony Blair was still leader.

I think it is an interesting question. Personally, I fail to see how they could be any worse, but I struggle to square this with the fact that I much prefer Gordon Brown's inept leadership to Tony Blair's arrogant premiership. In my opinion, Brown's ratings have plummeted not because of the General Election that never was, but because of the 10p tax-rate debacle which goes against everything the Labour party stands for - a policy he more than anyone else was responsible for.

Along with the Iraq war (amongst the liberal wing of the party), and the failure to deal properly with the question of immigration (amongst sections of the white working classes), the 10p tax rate has led to many of those who lean Labour to look elsewhere instead. I remain to be convinced that there is a clamour for a Conservative government, and I would not rule out a 1992-style surprise where the electorate hold their noses and vote for Labour because there is no real will for a Tory administration, although I suspect this may just be wishful thinking. However, unless something changes soon, it is likely that Britain will be heading for a re-run of 1997 in reverse where the Government collapses at the polls leading to at least two terms of a Conservative government. Like 1997, the spread markets are not convinced - but there is a killing to be made if one believes the polls.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Jewish Schools

A judge ruled this week that JFS, a Jewish school in London, was not guilty of racial discrimination when it refused to admit a Jewish boy because his mother was not born a Jew (she was a born a Catholic but converted before he was born). The judge claimed that the kind of admissions policy in question was "not materially different from that which gives preference in admission to a Muslim school to those who were born Muslim, or preference in admission to a Catholic school to those who have been baptised."

I think this is questionable. There is nothing in Islam or Catholicism (or indeed many strands of Judaism) that requires the mother, father or child to be "born" into that religion on some kind of ethnic basis. After conversion, or reversion, whatever that person used to be is irrelevant and they become a fully paid up member of the religion who in theory at least cannot be discriminated against. I tend to agree with the parent position that the school admission code contained a test "not based on faith but wholly or partly on ethnic origins" - something which is surely against race discrimination legislation?

Of course, it may not be that simple. Unlike Islam and Christianity, which seek to convert all of humanity to their cause, Judaism tends to be a religion one is born into rather than converted to, and has a history based around the ethnicity and traditions of a people. If we considered the refusal to admit a person with a non-Jewish mother as unlawful racial discrimination, we would be attacking the Orthodox version of the religion itself.

My experience of Jewish schools is shaped mainly from the excellent nearby King David Primary School in Birmingham, on which Jeremy Jacobs has written an excellent article on here. My mum always used to tell me that they did not admit Catholics into this school, not for any religious reasons but simply because there were so many Catholic schools in Birmingham to serve the Catholic community, but they welcomed applications from other religions and not least Muslims who were more than happy to apply in the absence of any Islamic schools which only became available relatively recently. I remember going to this King David's on a visit from my Catholic primary in order to learn about Jewish traditions, although to be honest at that age we tended to be more interested in having running races with the pupils of that school during break time than learning the traditions of Passover. Boys will be boys.

The admissions policy of King David Primary probably put a seed in my mind that Jews and Muslims make natural allies, something I still tend to believe and promote today, a position which has become more entrenched as I learn more about the history of Europe and the Middle-East. While there is no doubt the issue of Israel has sullied relations between the two religions in recent years, and there have been periods of intolerance between the religions before then, I believe that these positions tend to be promoted by certain groups for short-term political gain, and are not an accurate reflection of the much more complicated relationship that has existed between the two religions.

Do people have any thoughts on this? Is King David the exception rather than the rule and do I have a warped understanding of the relationship between Islam and Judaism as a result. And is JFS discriminating racially by not allowing in children born to non-Jewish mothers even when they have converted. I would be interested to know what you think.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hell On Wheels Premiere

You know when you have made it when you get invited to UK film premiere's... sort off. The following popped into my inbox with the words 'Please forward' so i thought I would give it some publicity.

Birmingham does not often host film Premieres of any kind (George Clooney's 'The Perfect Storm' opened in Star City, while Will Smith set a new record by attending three premieres in one day, including one on the UGC on Broad Street for his film 'Hitch') so supporting even smaller films like this is a worthy endeavour.


Hell on Wheels

Fresh from Official Selection screenings at festivals across North America and Australasia (including the South by Southwest Film Festival and the San Francisco DocFest), Hell on Wheels is the ass-kicking documentary film telling the story of a group of Texas women who band together to resurrect roller derby for the 21st century. Emerging from the Austin music and arts scene, these women create a rock and roll fuelled version of all-girl roller derby that has spawned the derby craze that's sweeping the nation.

Now the UK ’s own Roller Derby league – the Birmingham Blitz Derby Dames – present the first European screening at Britain ’s oldest functioning cinema: The Electric Cinema, Birmingham , UK .

Premiere date: 5th July 2008

Screening times: 1pm and 11pm


online press kit and links to images and trailers at:

2001: The birth of an all-girl roller derby revolution begins in Austin , Texas .

Starting a revolution ain't an easy affair. After overcoming countless hurdles to organize, recruit and train, the rowdy rollergirls known as Bad Girl, Good Woman (BGGW) enjoy a smashingly successful first year, only to find a rift forming among the ranks of the 80 women. Polarized by issues of insurance, finances, and the direction the league should take, disenchanted skaters pull together and collectively bring their grievances to management. Accusations fly, and emotions run high as the two camps face off.

Ultimately, 65 of 80 skaters walk and form their own player-run league. Dealt a near fatal blow, management doesn’t give up. Instead, they recruit and rebuild their league to rebound in dramatic fashion. What emerges from the near-disaster are the Lonestar Rollergirls and the Texas Rollergirls. Both leagues pioneer a modern era of roller derby and inspire thousands of women across the US to follow suit.

Shot over a four year period and utilizing both verite footage and interviews, Hell on Wheels documents the creation of modern-era roller derby’s first two leagues.

The success of the Texas leagues has inspired hundreds of women across the world. Leagues of rollergirls are currently organizing or operating in Los Angeles , New York City, Seattle , Phoenix , North Carolina , Houston , Nevada , Tucson , Kansas City, Dallas , Madison , New Jersey , Pennsylvania , Australia , England , New Zealand , Canada and beyond…