Thursday, November 02, 2006

Show No Mercy

Equal opportunities and discrimination policy has gone over board. And yes, I mean that how it initially sounds, that there is such a thing as a discrimination policy. Obviously everyone should be afforded the same opportunities and treatment regardless of such unimportant things as gender, age or race, but it's become apparent to me that being an idiot doesn't mean you're out of the running for jobs with decent organisations. Particularly if, as well as being an idiot, you happen to be of a Black or Ethnic Minority (yes, that is the politically correct term), female or Polish. As such, the policy seems to be "let 'em in anyway, we'll look like we're handling diversity". That's been going on everywhere for years. Now we're getting specific recruitment drives for particular ethnic backgrounds. Automatically discrimating against all the others, just because some study or other has shown that the percentage of employees from that particular group is lower than some others. What if that's the percentage of applicants that were actually capable of doing the job? So now we're going to recruit sub-standard employess just to fill a quota?

If that weren't bad enough, now they're talking about bringing in some sort of ethnic quotas for our schools, meaning there are going to be targets for schools who must enrole a certain percentage of pupils from a defined set of ethnic backgrounds. Even being dead doesn't rule you out, given the number of zombies that seem to be employed in London after leaving school.

Isn't all this just completely wrong? Why doesn't employment selection just come down to the best candidate, who is qualified and capable of doing the job and who can string a few sentences together without sending the listener into a coma. And for schools, it's the best and most academic pupils, if it's a school with selection criteria. The rest have to go to the schools that don't select the best pupils. Simple as that. If you're not good enough, you don't get in. Kids need to get used to this concept earlier than they do, otherwise adult life is going to come a tremendous shock to them, especially given the phenomenal lack of social skills and wider-World knowledge many of them seem to have as a direct result of little-to-no parenting.

Then there's the whole asylum-seekers/immigrants issue. We're considering a block on unskilled immigrants now, after we've been flooded with unskilled immigrants. Go England! Isn't that always the way we do things? Change the rules after something's happened instead of forseeing the problem and preventing it? This, of course, has the potentially-freeloading Romanians and Bulgarians up in arms. With their respective countries joining the EU next year they were rubbing their hands together at the prospect of leeching the English system in the same way that the Polish have done in the last couple of years. Apparently, we're not being fair. Because coming to our country, putting thousands of our skilled workers out of work by undercutting their salary and claiming free English lessons at our expense in the process is perfectly fair.

I stand by my long-held belief that we need sentry towers at all of our ports and we need to shoot illegal immigrants on site. That'd begin to solve the problem.

"They come to your country and think they'll do as they please"

Monday, October 09, 2006


I thought today was going to be a pretty run of the mill day. Having made my usual journey to work, listening on this occasion to the latest three Nevermore albums (how downright amazing is this band?) on shuffle and arrived in the office as normal. First thing's first, check emails for lame queries from stupid people. None. Not bad. What I did have was something I wasn't expecting at all. An email forwarded from Vikki.

You might not think this particularly strange. We are, after all, partners at Jukebox. And on the face of it, no, a forwarded email from Vikki isn't something to bring the Earth to a standstill. But the contents took a second read before I could fully comprehend what was going on. The message was from someone at Fire Records, regarding Vikki's latest review of the new CD by Virgin Passages. Apparently this person, who we believe to actually be a member of Virgin Passages, doesn't feel we have the right to give something a negative write-up. And as such the one-star review Mandalay received didn't go down especially well. His chosen method of expressing his disappointment was to email Vikki explaining that he felt that people who don't understand music and don't like a CD shouldn't review it. Where he got the idea that reviewers don't publish bad reviews escapes me at this point. Equally how he came to the conclusion that we don't understand music, given the frankly unparalleled range of styles we tackle on Jukebox, is equally bemusing. Apparently, "no sense of timing or key" and "barely tuneful" aren't accurate because, and I quote, "it's about deconstruction". So perhaps what she should have said was "it sounds like crap, but it's OK because they meant it to". Dress it up as pretentiously as you like, but if it sounds like disjointed rubbish, reviewers are going to say so.

This clearly came as quite the shock to him. He evidently isn't prepared for bad reviews. Yep, you read it right; he's sending CDs to reviewers and isn't prepared for bad reviews. Genius, huh? He even offered a quote regarding the music from someone else. It came from a website I've never heard of and went "it's like a constant LSD trip". I am assuming for the sake of argument that this was a compliment and that is why he quoted it. To me, that statement suggests incoherent nonsense. I've not heard the CD, but that would certainly seem to fit with Vikki's analysis.

One of the (many) things Vikki pointed out about the album was that the vocals are almost indistinguishable from the music, meaning the whole thing may as well have been instrumental. The guy in question replied "we can't do that?" Well, yes, of course you can, it just sounds pointless and boring, so why would you want to?

I can only imagine what the future holds if he is going to react to every bad review he receives in the same manner. He's in for a very stressful time in the music industry if he's going to cry over every negative word journalists have to say. Apparently, everyone who doesn't like this guy's music is an "idiot". What a pro.

"Don't damn me when I speak a piece of my mind"

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Running Wild In The Streets

Paying to get into a club is a situation that completely bemuses me. A gig, yes, that makes sense. A band or two are putting on a show to entertain. Theatre, yes. Cinema, yes. Although in the case of the latter two we shouldn't be paying anywhere near as much as we are. But a club, no. No one is doing anything more to entertain you than every pub and bar in the country. And we don't pay to get into those. There's music playing and a bar selling drinks. That's everything. In fact, it's less than most pubs and bars. Pubs and bars generally serve food, don't turn the music up so loud you can't converse with anyone and allow you to sit down. All clubs do is take most of the seats out to provide a dance-floor and provide less of a service. So what are we paying for?

And what's triggered this? Spending Friday evening in Covent Garden's Gardening Club, basically. Although it's an attitude I've held for many years. In this instance we seemed to be paying for an utterly pathetic DJ who's mixing ability consisted entirely of pressing 'stop' on one CD and pressing 'play' on another, and who's track selection was erratic at best, veering wildly from James Brown to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Generic Pop Dance Song to Michael Jackson to Reef. This left me reasonably certain that I have grandparents with a comparable level of dance-floor management skill. A thoroughly disjointed and wholly unsatisfying experience. It's now two days later and I've yet to work out why we all paid our £5 each to enter this cellar of tedium, gaining us no more than the right to pay a bare minimum of 25% more than normal for all of our drinks, and losing our right to have a conversation in the process.

Equally bemusing are the people that do this every week and consider the "club scene" a life. How is it that more people don't see that there's something fundamentally wrong with paying to get into somewhere purely so you're allowed to then pay over-the-odds for alcohol? Many go for the dancing. Well, aside from the fact that you can dance in many infinitely more pleasant places for free, I've seen dancing, and flapping about like a rubber band in the wind to a string of songs that have each stolen the bass-line from Another One Bites The Dust ain't it.

It should come as no surprise then that Saturday evening was a thoroughly more entertaining and enjoyable period of time. And I didn't even do anything remarkable. I stayed at home and watched V For Vendetta on DVD, the movie based on the DC Comics story created by writer Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd and starring Hugo "Mr Smith" Weaving, Natalie Portman, John Hurt, Stephen Rea and Stephen Frye. Despite the negative press, low viewing figures in England and denouncement by Alan Moore, it's an awesome movie. Aside from a small amount of unconvincing portrayal from Portman in the slightly more demanding scenes, it is flawlessly acted, written and generally executed. The script for main character "V" (Weaving) is mesmerising on its own. Undeniably worth my £6 outlay.

"This city life is one big pain"

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Damnation Angels

I've often wondered, do hardcore Christians understand how unutterably lame they are? We're talking the real fundamentalists here. Regardless of agreement on the grounds of belief, the way they go about... everything, is so incredibly kitsch. They also seem oblivious to the things they do that to a regular person would be on a Monty Python level of mockery. It could perhaps be said that they do it on purpose to pre-empt such ridicule, but I highly doubt that. For example, I was recently forwarded an email that was circulated to the members of the Christian association at work (by the line-manager of someone who has left and whose mail is forwarded to him). Aside from this months focus being on the "fundamental truths" of a core part of the bible (I don't think the stupidity and ignorance of that statement needs highlighting), they are also running the next meetings of the Bible reading group and the prayer group.

These groups are obviously something that most Christian associations etc have, but it's the names - names chosen by themselves - for these groups that, were they to appear in a Python sketch, would not seem out of place and would likely be regarded as genius level comedy. The reading groups is called B.I.B.L.E. This raises a slight chuckle in itself, but isn't particularly riotous. The prayer group is called P.U.S.H. Which isn't funny at all, apart from the obvious connotations of indoctrination.

But when, further down the email, these acronyms are expanded, I am left to wonder if those responsible fully comprehend the level of self-derision they've achieved. Apparently, B.I.B.L.E. stands for Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth. Surely this needs to be the name of a book mocking the Bible. My personal favourite however is the definition of P.U.S.H., which stands for Pray Until Something Happens, like it's some kind of distant hope that God, who we're so often told sees everything that goes on around here, will actually get off his lazy, non-existant backside and do something.

I'm not tarnishing all Christians collectively at this point. Some are very cool people. After all, we all know a good 50% of the people that claim to be Christian aren't really. If you don't go to Church, don't pray, don't read the Bible and don't follow all the other parts of the belief then you aren't Christian. Attending the carol service every Christmas just doesn't cut it. But this really highlights the farcical nature of a religion that allows people who don't follow the faith in any way to still claim "membership".

How is it, while I'm here, that preachers and so forth that sit on street corners raving about how great God is, and the ones who come knocking on your door in an attempt to convert you are exempt from the same disrespect as door-to-door salemen etc? Jahovah's Witnesses go knocking on doors and no one bats an eye-lid. Cleaning product sales people start doing it too often and suddenly we have a problem. Why does the fact that they hide under the impenetrable umbrella of "religion" make what they're doing so different? We seem to have this predefined set of people for which it is acceptable to go around bothering everyone, and all others are firmly in the wrong if they do the same thing for other reasons/causes.

At least most double-glazing sales people have the common decency to accept "I'm not interested, thank you" as a signal to go away. The door-to-door God Squad seem to hear that as a call to arms.

I'm looking forward to reading Rich Hall's Things Snowball even more now.

"we're lost in the Garden of Eden"

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Torture Never Stops

So, Saturday night which, after my obligatory catch-up of sleep in the morning/early afternoon, was spent at The Comedy Store with my brother. A night of pure hilarity courtesy of Americans Rich Hall and particularly Dave Fulton, MC for the evening Alun Cochran and headlined but the always-outstanding Simon Evans. The disappointment of Marcus Brigstocke's cancellation was washed away by Evans' and Fulton's brilliance, Cochran's expert hosting and all the comics' ability to destroy the 50% of the crowd too stupid to understand the majority of the gags. Evans' "that was just a noise, please articulate your arguments better or be quiet" was priceless.

The night was to bring more middle-class English idiocy our way before it was over. It has to be said, of all the useless phrases modern society has currently latched on to, "at the end of the day" has got to be the most pointless. Coming back from the Comedy Store, we're waiting for the next train home, and a train going in the opposite direction pulls in on the other side of the platform. At the same time about eight police officers, with a dog, come running up the steps from the underpass onto the platform and tell the driver to hold the train. They then go marching down to look for some group of youngsters they'd obviously had some report or other about, and some bright-spark says to her boyfriend, "that's not what you need, at the end of the day". Really? Presumably at the start of the day it would have been fine. In the middle of the day, perhaps a mild irritation. But at the end of the day it's very definitely not what you need.

Boarding our train when it arrives a couple of minutes later leads to a whole new league of irritations. We carefully select a carriage away from the lanky nerd who's been pacing the edge of our platform mumbling to himself for the last 15 minutes and find ourselves some free seats. As per the usual layout of seats on trains in our part of the World, one side of the aisle has a set of six seats in rows of three facing each other, the other side has four in rows of two. I take the end seat of a row of three, next to a middle-aged couple, with another middle aged couple opposite them. They don't appear to be travelling together. My brother takes the end seat of a row of two, next to the male half of a young couple. The female half sits opposite. Yeah, weird huh?

It turns out the couple I'm sitting next to are each a pair of hicks short of a line-dance, and numerous repetitions of phrases like "ooh, it's raining now!" begin to wrangle. After a short while the women, who I'm sitting directly next to, sneezes. Fair enough. Ten seconds later she sneezes again. And again. And again, every 10 seconds for the next 15 minutes. I'm starting to think my jacket is made of cats' hair or pollen or something.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the train, the young couple sitting oddly opposite each other are being suitably affectionate leant across the gap in the middle. Not something that in itself is particularly annoying, but the stupidity of the situation certainly is. A few stops (and sneezes) down the line one particular town seems to be the popular one at our end of the carriage, and every bastard in the vicinity elects to be as awkward as they possibly can, squeezing past everyone else to get to the door furthest from their seat.

At least they've all gotten off, leaving us in peace. Or so we thought. It turns out the incessant squeaking from the pair on my side had been drowning out the loud group of drunks discussing football at the far end of the carriage. Their favourite phrase proving to be: "at the end of the day".

Makes me proud to be a southerner.

"I think you're one big joke"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lake of Fools

I love power metal. I think we all know that. And that now includes Blind Guardian, after last night's awesome show at the Koko in London with Astral Doors, who I already knew I liked. But, power metal fans seem to be the biggest collection of nerds and losers I've come across since the flute-playing, ballroom-dancing, church-going supernerd student that recently left the office at my day job.

Seriously, if you go to concerts brandishing plastic swords and axes you've got to start asking yourself serious questions. Have you ever spotted someone in the street that looks like a reject from an '80s b-movie and wondered what these people do? I can tell you now, ladies and gentlemen, they were all at last night's Blind Guardian show, including that one guy who doesn't realise the '80s really did end quite some time ago and still has his perm. David Hasselhoff would look like a contemporary trend-setter amongst this lot.

Sometimes there are those surreal moments that not only cause you to double-take, but confuse you for the rest of the day. Many of the losers at the gig last night could account for several such moments, but today, I had one that topped them all. I'm sitting in a meeting to discuss data quality with about 13 other people. It was thrilling, let me tell you. But half way through, and I think only a couple of us noticed it, a procession of people, walking single file, trooped past the door and into one of the meeting rooms next door each carrying a life-size, naked, plastic baby. Some carrying them vaguely as you would carry a real baby, others just by their side by a foot, as you would carry a sliced loaf. Then they all trudged back to whence they came, sans dolls. I still can't begin to imagine what kind of training was going on in there. We don't employ many infants.

Back in the office one of the guys in my team asks "are you sure they were plastic?" Now, I'm no expert, having no children of my own to compare to, but I am fairly sure that if you carried a real child at your side by one foot it would be reasonably likely to complain in one form or another. Or at the very least move a little and not quite reflect the light so much. Perhaps he wanted to clarify they weren't made of porcelain, or potato or something.

"the devil hates a loser and you thought you had it all"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Last Command

Ok you guys, let's keep the energy levels up, and not lose focus. We'll have a meeting tomorrow, informal, just to discuss having a brief wash-up on Friday, to share our thoughts on how this is going and suggest some development points for the future. I've been getting lots of positive feedback from everyone, and what I'm picking up is that something needs to move forward. In the mean time can we all please make sure we deliver all the points discussed to those that haven't seen all of this yet and make sure that handshake goes smoothly. Thanks.

What did I just say and what did it have to do with anything? Fuck all in both cases. This is what I've come to term "new-age" management. This pretty much consists of over-use of briefings, directionless meetings that cover nothing more than the obvious and constant references to the workforce as "you guys". It's a type of management that's all talk; lots of snappy phrases and buzz words, and very little action, and generally the people in these positions create an awful lot of the unnecessary work and meetings to give people the illusion that they're doing something pro-active.

It's almost like the politically correct form of management. You get a lot of "tying in with the point you just made..." before they say something either completely unrelated to the point you just made, or the complete opposite of the point you just made. But they made sure you were aware that they'd taken your views on board. If you get asked to design/come up with something, the chances are that, unbeknownst to you, the decisions have already actually been made and they're just making you feel like you've been part of the process. Of course when the end result is nothing like what you came up with, their cover is kind of blown, but it's too late by that point. It's covert management, is what it is.

"Old at heart but I musn't hesitate"

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Inside The Electric Circus

Somehow it's been a long day already. It's 11am. The new Burn (12) hasn't even gone to print yet and I'm already planning and working on stuff for the next one (yes, 13, well done). I always thought with a monthly publication there'd at least be a week off between completing one issue and starting on the next, but that's becoming less and less realistic the bigger we get.

The work proper begins tonight. Swedish power metallers Hammerfall need talking to on Saturday afternoon, so questions need writing. "What the hell is with the outfits?" isn't going to fly, so what do you ask a band that's done nothing more remarkable than make their next album? I might open with that. "What should I ask you about?" That'd throw 'em.

I might ask them why everyone's so bothered about the new iPod range that's just been announced. The big one's got a little bigger and now you can download movies and games for it. The small ones have gotten physically smaller, but expanded in capacity. That's it. Hang on a second. Back the monopoly truck up. Downloadable movies? Yes indeed. Apple have struck a deal with Miramax, Disney, Pixar and Touchstone to sell download versions of their DVD releases for playback on computers (in iTunes, presumably), the new iPod and ultimately the iTV box they're bringing out.

The big question is, what in God's underwhelmingly short name is the point? The films are set to be priced at $12.99 when pre-ordered and $14.99 thereafter. They come out on the same day as the DVD equivalent, are unlikely to include all the DVD special features, and you can watch them on a device already capable of playing DVDs (computer), a device that is essentially a set-top box that plays through a TV (like a DVD player) or a 2.5" screen with earphones. If anyone can spot an advantage in any of this, please do let me know. Can you say "gimmick"?

There are too many gimmicks around now. They're squeezing out anything of genuine worth, and it's happening in pretty much every facet of life. There are no decent TV shows anymore because all the studios are too preoccupied with the reality TV thing. Finding decent music is getting harder and harder as well. We're alright because labels are only too keen to send the stuff that won't sell. But for your average consumer it's getting near enough impossible to find out about the good stuff. We're drowning in a deluge of shite and there's very little we seem to be able to do about it.

Of course, if the act of actually looking for things wasn't such a challenge to most people it might be possible to overcome all of this. But who goes looking for a new band these days, picks up a new mag or goes to see a new film that's not been trumpeted by the mass media? Or even tries different mp3 players? No one. The one that's been pushed down our throats must be the best. We're far too content to wait for these things to drop into our laps, or allow people on the TV and radio to force their way upon us. When TV Evangelists do it we get annoyed. How is this different?

There must be a solution. And Hammerfall will know what it is. After that much conversing with wizards and kings, some of the wisdom of the ages must have rubbed off.

"I only wanted you to see things for yourself"

The Big Welcome

So, with the boss starting up a Burn Magazine blog, and turning into a full-blown internet nerd over night, he suggested all the editors start one. Unfortunately he only suggested this to me, so the other editors may not catch on just yet.

Something I've never been able to understand is the point in having a blog when you've got nothing to say. Let's face it, your average web-surfing pleb has nothing to say. No one cares what you had for breakfast this morning, what you watched on TV last night, what your mate at school did today or what tid-bit of utterly useless nonsense you found on some back-water gossip site. Seriously, no one.

Does this mean there are worthwhile blogs? Well of course. There's a worthwhile version of everything (except TV soaps). For instance, a band or musician's blog about the progress of a new album. A technical faults and fixes blog for a new piece of software. A tour/travel blog by someone people actually care about. All good stuff.

This of course begs the further question, why are Burn Magazine editors' blogs worthwhile? Well, I can't speak for all of them, because most of them don't know this is on the table yet, but for myself and Sion: I guess people read our stuff. What they get to read however, is the finished, (mostly) polished front-line stuff. They don't get the reasoning behind things, they don't get to know what we left out or elected not to cover in favour of the bits we did do and they certainly don't get to know what else we're up to that isn't directly related to the published content of the mag.

So that's what these are for. Potentially interested readers. Does that put us above the internet plebs? Well, probably not. But there's actually a chance people might care about what we have to say. It's not much of a chance, but it's a tangible possibility.

"I ain't got time for this game"