Category Archives: Politics

Burqa/Niqab/Hijab/Shayla/Al-Amira/Khimar . . . To ban or not to ban?

First of all, what’s the difference?

The burqa is the most extreme form of the veil—the full body cloak covering everything from head to toe, with just a piece of gauze to see through. The niqab is very similar, minus the gauze over the eyes. These are not to be confused with the hijab, shayla, al-amira, or khimar, which are all various forms of headscarf that shroud the hair and neck but leave the face uncovered. So as not to get lost and confused in Arabic nomenclature, from now on I will refer to the burqa and niqab as a ‘veil’, ‘full veil’ or ‘full Islamic veil’ – even though, that in itself is a misnomer . . . but we will get to that.

Belgium has banned the full veil and France is moving towards the same position. Both countries warrant the ban on two main grounds. The first being public safety and security. This I can fully understand. There have been a number of incidents of criminals committing crimes or eluding capture behind the oblivion of the veil – most notably one of the 21/7 bombers who initially evaded arrest by wearing a full veil. Completely concealing your identity in public places poses a genuine security risk (you wouldn’t after all be allowed to wander around the Louvre in a cloak and balaclava) and I can’t see how anyone could argue that is doesn’t.

Where both countries have blundered though is through voicing their second point: The argument that the veil is a breach of women’s human rights, dignity, freedom etc, and, therefore – in the words of Daniel Bacquelaine, the MP who proposed the bill in Belgium – “not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society.”

I could quote Sarkozy on it too, although he says much the same thing. And I can see why they have said it. It’s perfect for political point scoring. By banning the veil on the grounds of security, you appeal to the right wing contingency of the country, keen to see something being done to combat the more extreme forms of Islam; but by also saying that you are doing it in order to ‘liberate women’, you score with the left wing liberals. It’s rare in politics that a decision can win you support from both sides. However, in trying to ‘have their cake and eat it too’ both countires have unwittingly waded into a quagmire of conjecture that has marred their decision and hindered sensible debate on the issue.

What is the appropriate stance on the full Islamic veil? Let’s start with the basics. Is it even Islamic? This seems to depend on who you ask and how you read the Qur’an. The text, like most religious texts, is open to all manner of interpretations and even Islamic scholars and Imam can’t agree on the position of the full veil within the religion. So aside from the religious aspect, which is tenuous, we then have to ask: Is it an oppressive device imposed upon women, stifling their freedom and severing them from mainstream society? Or, is it a reaction by Muslim women to the rampant Westernisation of the world and their personal stand against it’s intrusion into their faith? Again, depending on who you ask or what you read, it can be either.

What should become fairly obvious from these contradictions is that banning the veil on the spurious grounds of freedom is foolish and unnacceptable. What is needed is a sensible and open debate about the security dangers and practical implications of wearing a veil in public (the necessity of non-verbal communication, the dangers of hindered peripheral vision when driving and the concealment of injuries beneath the veil are all valid, logical points that warrant discourse), because a liberal, tolerant society, no matter how well meaning, shouldn’t impose it’s version of freedom on anybody else.

 

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Well hung?

You would never have a ‘hung X-Factor’ or a ‘hung Britain’s Got Talent’, where Piers Morgan invites Stavros Flatley to form a coalition group with Susan Boyle. In fact, if there’s one thing that these shows are good at, it’s explaining, often ad nauseam, what’s happened, what’s happening and what’s going to happen in unnecessarily simplified detail. 

We could do with that in politics. But unfortunately it’s the polar opposite and it’s the reason that so few people are actually interested in it.

If you want to know the exact shade of vomit of Nick Clegg’s tie or the intricacies of Sarah Cameron’s tattoos then switch on the news or flick through a paper, but if you want any actual information about, say, the ramifications of a minority administration, or coalition government, then forget it. 

I don’t consider myself a moron, yet over the past few weeks I’ve come to feel that I’d have been better equipped and informed to vote in the Star Wars Galactic Republic than in the 2010 UK General Election. As I’ve said before, it’s impossible to get any real information or facts. We’ve already been made aware by the media that we will be financially shafted by whoever is elected, yet none of them will admit it. No wonder the average voter is so disaffected; I’ve only had the pleasure of voting a few times and I’m already considering a permanent move to North Korea. 

Politics in Britain (perhaps everywhere) holds little appeal to the average person because it is unclear in every vital area. We are all very aware of every politician’s latent ability to reel off an endless stream of baffling and often contradictory diatribe that we’re encouraged to believe is too complicated to be understood (even Brown has his own curious ‘stat-man’ version—reciting facts like a ticker-tape); frequently they bamboozle us with fabricated nomenclature that they never fully explain (Did you ever find out what ‘quantitative easing’ meant?); and they spend the rest of the time skirting round their flaws while sniping at their opponents. They drip feed us enough bullshit to keep us interested enough to trudge over to the polling station, without ever supplying us with enough actual information to know who or what to vote for when we get there. I expect it’s because if we did know we wouldn’t bother voting, but turn up at Whitehall en masse—a motley pack of rabid Dimblebys and Paxmans with pitchforks. 

Policies and politicians aside however, what has also become startlingly obvious in this particular election – and more interesting than the usual concoction of lies and spin – is the flawed way in which our electoral system operates. As the predictions for a hung parliament abounded I found myself asking questions . . . How on earth can a party win more votes but retain fewer seats? How can a party win fewer seats but remain in power? How can two parties that have both failed to win the majority coalesce to form a ruling government? Is any of this fair? Is it even democratic? 

It certainly doesn’t make any sense. 

If we’re to believe the news today then some of the political flotsam should coagulate to form a sort of government by the end of the weekend, and whatever else they choose to do, it is likely that they will reform the ‘first past the post’ electoral system to make way for a fairer, clearer structure, which should at least allow the voice of the people to be heard, even if we still have no idea what we’re voting for. 


“The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting.” Charles Bukowski

  

 

 

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Ash Clouds

Oh the volcanic ash cloud. What will holiday makers do? They’re stuck in Madrid. They can’t get a flight, they can’t get a boat. Oh, the horror of it—the horror!

Now some of those people have managed to get on coaches and now they’re all arriving at Calais. There are too many people at Calais. THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE AT CALAIS! There will surely be crime. They’ll be mugged and robbed and buggered for all they’re worth. Oh, the treachery of that volcano! Oh, the misery for those poor people.

I’ve been stuck in an airport overnight in Menorca; I’ve slept in a train station in Malaysia; I’ve been marooned in places where no one can speak English with no feasible method of exit for a prolonged period of time; and I’ve taken a plethora of 15-25 hour coach journeys all over the world in vehicles you wouldn’t even deem roadworthy (sometimes while also suffering from diarrhoea); yet, even without someone bringing me blankets and cups of hot tea, I am alive and not horrendously scarred by these experiences, because, honestly, they weren’t all that bad.

But maybe I’m wrong. I am, after all, just one man with one opinion. Perhaps the reality of the grounded flights is truly dreadful. Let’s watch the BBC interview the people involved and listen to their tales of woe.

“Hello Sir, how are you bearing up?”

“Not too bad.”

“Hello there, how has your journey been so far?”

“Long, but pretty good to be honest.”

“How have you been treated by the embassy?”

“Very well.”

Right, so even the majority of the people experiencing this catastrophic humanitarian disaster first hand seem to be ‘bearing up well’ as one reporter put it. But still the media insist on portraying the ‘inconvenience’ as a challenge akin to Cook’s endeavour voyage.

Impossible to get the facts these days. Even at the source they try and warp it. And so this brings me, by a knight’s move, to the 2010 General Election.

Last night saw the three main parties tackle foreign affairs. I’ve recorded it with the vague idea of watching it at some point today, but already, having watched just a snippet of today’s television, I’ve had the whole thing summed up for me from multiple angles by multiple people. Not the party policies on foreign affairs though. I’m still no clearer on them. But I do know that last night’s debate was more evenly weighted than the first one, with none of the three men emerging as the clear victor, which apparently heightens the prospect of a ‘hung parliament’. Is that good? I can’t find a conclusive answer. This morning I read contradictory pieces in the Times and the Telegraph, one of which expounds the virtues of such a parliament and the other lambastes it as sure fire economic disaster for Britain. It’s all conjecture and, as such, I have no way to form an opinion on which outcome is the more likely.

I’m told that a vote for Nick Clegg is pretty much deemed to be a vote for a hung parliament, which means that I’m not actually voting for a man, I’m voting for a government coalition that I don’t fully understand. Understanding the implications of these things is important if we are to make reasoned, logical decisions, yet all we are really told about is how tall or short the three party leaders are; how garrulous or reticent they seem; are they posh or common? What are their wives like? The real information – the party politics – is shunted behind a layer of spin and treachery and, as voters, we must grope through this oomska to find out what the difference is between them. And when you do, guess what, it’s virtually nothing.

The difference between Barack Obama and John McCain was the difference between black and white (and not just in looks). What’s the difference between Nick Clegg and David Cameron? They could practically be brothers. Gordon Brown could be their weird uncle. The three men are virtually indistinguishable (and not just in looks).

I keep waiting for someone to say or do something that I consider worthy of a vote – something bold and brave – but it’s not forthcoming. So then, on the flip side, I wait for someone to blunder in epic style so I can write them off. Holiday pictures of David Cameron shooting White Rhino’s with an AK47 would work, but, to date, that hasn’t happened either.

A friend of mine recently summed up the reason for this similarity between the Lib. Dems, Labour and Tories by stating that, although Britain had problems, they are not problems major enough to warrant radical reform and, therefore, the main objective of the three parties – as they were so closely matched in polls – is to seem more appealing than their rivals in order to edge the votes in their favour.

It’s not a new thing; the politics of appearance has always been important, but today it seems to dominate. How you look is more important than what you have to say. Style over content. Celebrity politics. And the media continue to play it up. The papers take sides. Impossible to get the facts these days. Ah, the news is on . . . The stranded Brits are coming home on a luxury cruise liner . . . The volcanic ash cloud has blown away from Britain . . . But I can still see a haze in the air. I can’t see clearly. May 6th. All will be clear after May 6th . . . But will it be better?

 

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Tower Block of Commons (Monday 9pm Ch4)

Pick people that are easy for the public to hate and make them live with people that are impossible to hate. This is a new format for documentaries currently doing the rounds, examples of which include: Blood, Sweat and Takeaways, which followed a group of solipsistic, mollycoddled twenty somethings, leaving their throw away, carefree existence to experience the real cost for those who make their bargain buckets a bargain; Famous, Rich and Homeless, went a step further by throwing various celebrities out on the streets to live with the homeless, shattering their preconceptions that all homeless people are lazy, work shy, freeloaders blocking the door to M&S; and 7 Days on the Breadline, forced the company of several celebrities on a few poor families (in both senses) in Leeds, so that they could learn that some people in this country don’t have enough money. Gasp!

Tower Block of Commons is the latest take on the theme, which sees four (that soon became three) politicians move in with families in dilapidated, poverty stricken council estates across Britain. They are: Austin Mitchell (the fat, old, loud one), Mark Oaten (the one who had the rent-boys), Iain Duncan Smith (the one who quit after a day following his wife’s cancer diagnosis), Tim Loughton (the one who looks like Richard Nixon might have if he wore glasses).

What becomes abundantly obvious early on – as with any of these shows – is the dichotomy between what the politicians hope they will achieve and what the producers know they will achieve. It is a sad irony that the politicians who opted to take part in this show probably did so due to a staunch belief that they were a bit more streetwise than their peers – after all, most middle class people would break out in a cold sweat if a tradesman asked them the time – and by broadcasting themselves side-by-side with the poorest in society they would improve their standing among the electorate, their colleagues in Whitehall and perhaps even change the zeitgeist of negative feeling towards MPs in general. This optimism serves to highlight their naivety in two primary ways.

First and foremost is the delusion that going to live on a council estate with those less fortunate is going to prove that you are fundamentally the same as them and, as such, they will respect you for it. This conviction is rooted in the politicians’ misguided belief that the poorest people in society will be equally interested in politics and as responsive to their policies as the richest. They won’t. The richest tend to get what they want and the poorest tend to get what’s left. The people they are staying with will more than likely have lived a life where politics has had little or no impact on their day to day activities, aside from the constant and belligerent anti-politician propaganda that they read in the tabloids. This engenders a deep seated mistrust in politicians, which is unlikely to be erased over a cup of tea, or a rational debate – such as Tim Loughton attempted with a group of youths outside a shop – because, since when did The Sun give a rational balanced point of view? In Parliament, arguing that MPs should be held accountable for fraudulent expenses claims is a sure to be an argument clincher. On a council estate, “What the fuck are you gunna do about it?” is a winning retort.

The second big mistake – and it’s more stupid than the first – lies in trusting that the programme’s producers have set the show up with the politicians in mind, as a vehicle for their political resurrection. This is an obvious blunder. Television portrays things as it feels fit, and in most cases, this is in the simplest and most shocking way. Tower Block of Commons could have been used as a vehicle to show politicians in a better light, connect them with the electorate and hopefully reinvigorate a lost generation of voters – which, judging by the enthusiastic opening monologues, was what the MPs had hoped for. But why put the effort in to do that when you can just make a 75 year old back bencher dress in a gaudy tracksuit and mock his gaucherie when confronted by the horrors of heroin addiction?

TV in this form is reductive. It doesn’t try to find meaning or solutions, it aims to belittle and humiliate. It follows the current capricious wave of public feeling and in this instance that means creating a show with the express intention of making politicians fail and look foolish.

Sadly though the programme is a double bluff. The politicians are the easy butt of the joke, but ultimately it is the poor families they stay with that suffer the most humiliation; the humiliation of having to live a life limited by poverty, poor health care, lack of education and job prospects. At a time when the focus is on filling the void between rich and poor we aren’t half bad at digging.

As David Cameron says, staring intensely from his poster, “We can’t go on like this.” . . . But what the fuck is he gunna do about it?

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Visions of doom

Ashley left the office at 5pm on Friday and went out with some friends. They drank a lot, ate a kebab and went home late. Ashley moped about all Saturday with a hangover. On Sunday, Ashley went shopping for Christmas presents but ended up buying new shoes instead. Ashley ordered a takeaway on Sunday night and sat down to watch the final of the X-Factor. Olly should have won in Ashley’s opinion, as he had a greater stage presence, more of a fun attitude and was generally a livelier entertainer than Joe, although Joe did have a nice voice. Ashley woke up Monday morning to discover that Ryan Giggs won BBC Sports Personality of the Year. This was a surprise to Ashley, who admires the Manchester United veteran’s longevity and ability to stay at the peak of his game long after his prime, although felt that perhaps Andrew Strauss deserved to win it for his unsung triumph at the Ashes just months after the England side crumpled in the Caribbean. Ashley left the house and drove to a doctor’s appointment, running from the car park to the surgery through the rain. This was Ashley’s exercise for the week. Sat in the waiting room, Ashley realised in annoyance that the new shoes had got wet and dirty in the rain. Ashley was called into the doctor’s office for the results of the tests. It wasn’t good news. The doctor told Ashley that the results pointed to an illness that, if left untreated, would be fatal within a decade. The doctor stated that the illness was almost certainly caused by Ashley’s unhealthy lifestyle, although it was also possible that predetermined genetic factors could have played a part in its manifestation. The doctor explained that although there is no specific remedy for the illness, if Ashley could change and live a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise, the effects of the illness could be reversed.

Should Ashley . . .

A) Change for the better as the doctor suggested – join a gym, eat well, live healthily and continue to check in with the doctor; accept responsibility for past lifestyle choices, try to turn things around and hope the illness abates?

B) Make promises and plans to change, but keep putting them off because it seems so hard; live in hope that the illness is not as bad as the doctor predicted?

C) Ignore the doctor’s advice; Seek second opinions that reinforce the doctor’s suggestion that the illness is genetic and uncontrollable and then continue to live as before, until certain death in the near future?

Option A offers hope, option C doesn’t and option B seems depressingly pathetic. We would hope that Ashley chooses option A, although you probably couldn’t give a shit, because Ashley is an androgynous, make-believe character who is neither well developed nor appealing. Nevertheless, we should all care about Ashley’s fate, because despite the fact that Ashley is a faceless imaginary character and the unnamed malady equally fictitious, the tale is an allegory of our collective fates which isn’t faceless, unnamed or fictional.

Ashley, or at least the notion of Ashley as a potentially doomed human being, is every human being on earth; the decision he/she must make is in the hands of a clutch of representatives from governments around the world; the unnamed malady is climate change.

I can envisage our generation as old people of the future, and I can envisage the grandchildren and their questions.

“Grandma, why didn’t you or anyone in your generation do anything to stop global warming?”
“Well, when they were deciding what to do I was talking to my friend about the X-Factor – that was a show where people sang old songs like karaoke and if you liked them you phoned up and voted to keep them in – or, come to think of it, it might have been the other one . . . There was another one about dancing where newsreaders and soap actors danced the waltz and one with celebrities eating maggots in a jungle and umm, sorry, what were you asking about?”
“GLOBAL WARMING! Look around you. The water’s up to my knees you stupid bitch!”
Susan Boyle! SuBo, the papers called her and there was another one JedWard. Susan Boyle was from Britain’s Got Talent. That was a show where. . .”

Although spliced with humour to keep you from crying, it is a bleak vision. But most of my visions of the future are pretty bleak – especially if I appear in them as my future self, who is even more sardonic and miserable than my present self as a result of the ever nearing Armageddon.

Obviously politicians don’t have these visions or they wouldn’t behave with such staggering indifference when it comes to confronting the most pressing matter to face mankind. Or perhaps they do, but all their visions are of drug fuelled romps in the newly built chalets of the post Ice Age ski resorts of Bristol. Whatever the case may be, the fact that they aren’t all madly agreeing immutable treaties to stop the inevitable demise of the human race makes me want to weep into my cheap mass produced clothing, although I can’t for fear that the tears may damage them and the poor, low-land dwelling residents of the Bangladeshi factories may be wiped out before I can buy any more.

For all the belligerent rhetoric at Kyoto in ’97, essentially fuck all has changed and, what’s more, most people don’t care, or at least don’t realise the gravity of the situation. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), greenhouse gas emissions will need to peak and begin to decline with the next 20 years if the average global temperature rise is to be limited to 2C – a rise that, fingers crossed, shouldn’t provoke a massive catastrophe such as the halting of the gulf stream, which would instigate an Ice Age. If we are to manage this then developed countries need to agree an emissions cut of at least 25% by 2020.

Still, with Barack Obama’s hands tied by Congress and Senate and the hackers responsible for ‘Climategate’ identified as probable Russian secret service, it seems that, despite these dire warnings, it is quite possible that little more than well meaning rhetoric will come out of Copenhagen. We are still somnambulistically staggering towards our collective doom, with the hope that if we keep on ignoring the issue, option B will turn up trumps. Perhaps our only hope of raising awareness and making a change is a Climate Change reality TV show. Who would have thought that Simon Cowell would be mankind’s last hope? The visions get worse.

 

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Am I bovvered?

Write something. Anything! It’s come to the point where it would be less detrimental to write 500 words of completely inane stream of consciousness crap than nothing at all. It’s been over a month since I last wrote this blog, which has led people to speculate that I may have died, or worse than that, entered the Big Brother house. It was this final and horrific assumption that stirred me from my ennui and resulted in me writing what you are now reading. I can cope with being assumed dead I thought, but I’ll be damned if people assume that I’ve taken to spending my time with that horde of bastards.

The real reason for my lack of activity is because of bother, or specifically a lack of it. And not just on my part, no. Of late, I’ve realised that no one and nothing can be bothered.

They can’t be bothered to make good television shows. The last thing I watched was a program called ‘Young, Dumb and Living off Mum’, which in short, involves a group of spoilt insufferable brats whining about the difficulties of existing. It’s almost exactly what I and the other two million nine hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine unemployed people don’t want to watch; a show where those with everything moan about how difficult it is to do nothing. What next? . . . A man dousing couture gowns with 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, whilst eating fistfulls of £50 notes?

The news can’t be bothered either. Rather than giving you information about events from around the world, it chooses to provide updates on MP scandals and a death count of troops in Afghanistan. Unnecessary deaths in a futile and unwinnable war is nothing to sneer about in a blog, and MP scandal is so boring and tired that I wouldn’t even feel incensed if it transpired that Gordon Brown had claimed a million pounds a month for renting out headspace to his ears.

My personal life can’t be bothered. The most interesting thing that has happened to me of late was an argument with a bus driver that resulted in me leaving the bus a pound poorer and him being called a fucking prick. I won’t go into the details of the incident as it is long winded, boring and, most of all, I can’t be bothered. But rest assured that I was right and he was a fucking prick.

I even found out this morning that the weather can’t be bothered. August, at first predicted to be swelteringly hot and lovely, is now being described as ‘unsettled’.

So, there you have it, I’m not dead and I’m not in the Big Brother house and what’s more, I bothered to write something that, provided no one from Transport for London reads, will have proved less detrimental than writing nothing at all. I only hope that you lot can be bothered to read it.

 

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Brown’s got talent?

The media must be gutted now that Britain’s Got Talent is over. It’s gutter press gold. Even Gordon Brown has muscled in for some scraps. Just like last year, when he sent extremely widely known personal letters to all X-factor contestants, now he has made a statement congratulating the public on their decision to vote for Diversity and earmarking it as a harbinger of doom for the BNP. It’s a statement so obviously meant to assure the public that “Hey, I’m just like you guys!” that you can practically see his disingenuous smile looming out of the words on the page, like a horrifying magic eye.

Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if they erect a commemorative Britain’s Got Talent plaque on Fleet Street, or create a bank holiday to mark the ending of the show. It’s so rich in people to venerate, mock and taunt, it’s the literal equivalent of throwing fistfuls of filet mignon into the mouths of hungry wolves.

The danger with creating such a media feeding frenzy though – as any ex Big Brother housemate will tell you – is that the rising bloodlust can only be driven so far, before the frenzied wolves turn on the feeder. Susan Boyle is this year’s meat feeder; ridiculed and revered in equal measure – built up to hero status and now driven to check-in at The Priory.

This is the general pattern in which the media treat all pseudo celebs. But never before have we seen the sharp rise from obscurity and subsequent descent into oblivion happen in such a short space of time. Susan Boyle’s story of destruction at the hands of the media is so clear cut and absolute that it could be considered a parable, which, if I were Secretary of Education, would be circulated throughout primary schools to highlight the dangers of the press, fame, fortune and Simon Cowell.

By now, most of us know Boyle’s life story better than that of our own parents; she is a dumpy 48 year old woman, who lives alone with her cat in a small Scottish town and, just to make her seem even more pathetic and parochial . . . she has never been kissed. Boyle was sneered at by Cowell et al, when she first appeared on stage, only to silence them as it became apparent that it was possible for this unattractive, lonely woman, from a small Scottish town to have a nice voice. Much Amanda Holden gaping and Cowell/Morgan wide eyed smiling supplication later, she leaves the stage to rapturous applause and is then subjected to an avalanche of world wide media pontification, which has possibly damaged her irrevocably.

For me, the shock was not that a woman of Susan’s appearance could possess a nice singing voice, but the fact that half the world found that it was shocking. I’m amazed by such a profound level of attention, generated from nothing more than the simple incredulity that this woman is ugly and can sing. It beggars belief!

More unbelievable though are Gordon Brown’s ill advised interjections into these matters. He may think that his little speeches help engage him with the public, but it just strengthens my opinion that he is as stupid as they are. Any sane voter would want to elect the Prime Minister – the person who will run the country – on the basis of talent for the role, which should definitively eliminate all but a handful of people with the bounty of skills that make them apt for the job and, therefore, those people will be more than an average man. By commenting on a show where a panel of millionaires critically appraise the ludicrous displays of the country’s underclass and project it for the amusement of the rest of us, Brown shows himself to be both a fool and, more importantly, devoid of the acumen required for leadership.

It’s a recession, everything is fucked. The US has Barack Obama – a forthright, commanding President – and Britain too needs a decisive leader. A leader who, through courage in his convictions, can forge a road in one direction and stay with it – however that road may turn out. Brown, by governing to the meandering whims of the media and trends of the masses, is no better than a Britain’s Got Talent hopeful standing in front of us and hoping we’ll like him. Cracks are appearing in his performance though and when it does all break down he will find himself at the mercy of the media wolves, wondering where it all went wrong, just like any other pseudo celebrity.

 

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