Friday, October 31, 2008

Insulting your customers

Thirteen cabin crew staff have been sacked by Virgin Atlantic over their use of a social networking website, it has emerged.

It launched disciplinary action last week following claims staff had used Facebook to criticise its safety standards and call passengers "chavs".

It's a shame such standards aren't applied to the BBC, where complainers are routinely dismissed as "old", "kneejerk", "Daily Mail readers".

And, indeed, where no one is ever sacked.

Jonathan Ross will be filled in for on Radio 2 by...

George Lamb.

You couldn't make it up.

Edit - this doesn't seem to be the case any more... it was reported on last night's BBC News at Ten, but it doesn't seem to have been reported anywhere else. This morning's edition appears to be fronted by someone called Richard Allinson. Maybe someone realised what they were doing...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guest blog: Ed Reynolds (2 of 2)

The US campaign is very frustrating to me.

Eight years ago, McCain hobbled out of the GOP primaries utterly disspirited with politics after one of the most savage and shameful campaigns in modern history -- you know, the one where the bully-boys bankrolled by Bush 41 spread it about that McCain had a 'black baby' (the kid he adopted) and that he was mentally unstable after his incarceration. I don't think he expected to run again and I'm sort of surprised that he has.

I don't agree with McCain on a slew of issues from the EU to abortion rights but I do think he would have made a decent president once. His judgment on the surge was impeccable, and he think his views are in general more reasonable than it's prudent for him to say. As a one-term president, not accountable to a party machine, or even a two-term president bold enough to try and forge a personal following that would allow him to give two fingers to the corrupt party machine -- lot of potential.

But it's creepy to see him now in the pocket of these people who slandered him, these people who behind close doors utterly despise him, paid for by a sitting president who has more than once used him as a punchline. I just kind of wish now they'd chosen one of the suicide candidates like Huckabee. The party deserves to melt down, it deserves to have to rethink itself from first principles and see Bush's fiscal irresponsibility and social tub-thumping as the cause of its ills.

Instead, McCain will lose the election by being 8 years late, the lesson most likely won't be learnt. And I think Obama will win.

Now, Obama in office doesn't fill me with enthusiasm. I think it will be great for America's self-confidence to have a black president and put some sense of closure on a history of terrible race relations in America; it sounds airy-fairy, but confidence and optimism are powerful things particularly in a depression when gloom can breed caution and caution can breed more gloom.

But as far as I can tell his economic policies suck. A windfall tax on oil -- watch as the companies pass this straight onto consumers; effectively, it's a tax on the poorest disguised as a tax on the richest. He plans reforms to make America more protectionist -- a catastrophe. His labour initiatives sound great in a recession but will discourage employers from employing and expanding and so will worsen the downturn. Roosevelt managed to kickstart a short-term revival in the 30s with tax and spend but the "spend" has just been spent and I don't think "tax" is a great stimulus package. Besides, what ultimately cured the US under FDR was WW2 bolstering the army hugely while acting as a global advert for American products.

My expectations are low, but I just hope he seizes the mantle on social issues and gets a good shot at some Supreme Court nominations so he can secure abortion rights for the next generation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Guest blog: Ed Reynolds (1 of 2)

Gordon Brown has declared that he must act with "vision and courage" (no really) to end "The Age of Irresponsibility".

But Gord, who was it who:
- Put taxes up to record levels.
- Borrowed at record amounts (10-figures).
- Presided over a boom built on debt (10-figures).
- Has the biggest budget deficit in the G8 and almost all the developed world.
- Sold our gold reserves at the bottom of the market.
- Taxed to oblivion the pension fund which in '97 had more than the rest of Europe put together, sending many private funds broke and leaving people destitute in retirement.
- Clobbered students.
- Masked unemployment by rapidly expanding the size of the state, put everyone on final-salary pensions worth 5x that of those in the private sector.
- Spent the fund to pay public sector pensions!

It's unbelievable to me that he's got away with this. Well, now of course, it's too late. He hasn't just spent the money, but he's spent the money for nearly a century to come.

Just think about the enormity of that. Everything of value he's cashed in; every bill he's shoved under the mat for the next guy.

He's hardwired poverty into the British national DNA for generations.

Bush is nearly as bad -- his only saving grace is that at least the American stock market grew under him so there was some money being generated to make up for the money he was pissing up the wall; and he offered a timely tax rebate. But he's carried on like a big government maniac on his tinpot projects to socially engineer a country full of right little Bushes and Dicks.

See, suddenly everyone is talking sagely in revential tones about the failure of the free market. No. This is on governments.

We expect bankers to behave like, well, complete bankers because that's their job to be ruthless to generate money -- money which as well as lining their bonuses also ultimately pays for health and education and so on. I didn't see the Senate Banking Committee grumble as they were cut all those hefty cheques for their election campaigns from the mortgage giants. Nor did I see the Senate Banking Committee tapping their generous benefactors on the shoulder and saying "oi, oi" BEFORE the thing collapsed. I'm sure of course, that bail-out they arrange for their benefactors is going to be quite the slap on the wrist...

But obviously everyone screams "regulate!" as though this is a magic bullet.

Regulating the market into oblivion didn't help after Enron -- it just pushed business out of the USA. Gordon Brown's corpulent FSA, in eye-poppingly lush Canary Wharf offices, do nothing but regulate. Their last go at "pensions simplification" increased the size of the rulebook. But did it do any good? No -- our stockmarket has more or less flatlined for the last 11 years.

The FSA spent millions on thousand-page rulebooks but still couldn't tell Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley that 100% mortgages are a colossally stupid idea.

The problem is the culture, the lack of integrity, the "spend today, worry tomorrow" attitude and that comes from the top, from both Bush (where are the GOP's budget hawks?!) and Brown.

The free market works because bad businesses fail and good businesses survive. Regulation, which will clobber everyone, is counter-productive and largely pointless without a culture of integrity and responsibility from those at the top. It's for the government to say, in effect, "you break it, you buy it" way ahead of time.

When people actually carry the can for their failures, it concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen... drive-through voting.

From Yahoo:
SANTA ANA, Calif. – There were no burgers, car washes or lattes at this Orange County drive-through — just democracy.

Eager voters pulled their vehicles into the county registrar's parking lot on Monday to either register or cast ballots at an electronic drive-through poll station.

The one-day-only offer came on the last day of voter registration for Californians. Only Orange County was offering the drive-through electronic voting service.

Some registrar offices across the state held late-night hours and set up drop boxes to receive voter registration forms before the midnight deadline.

Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley noted that voter registration is up 15 percent in Orange County from four years ago, and the electronic early voting was a chance to lessen the crowds next month.

"I know it is going to be busy as heck," he said of Election Day. "We're preparing for heavy turnout."

Although Kelley said he believes the drive-through is the first one to use electronic voting, the concept of casting ballots from a driver's seat is not new to California or the nation.

Sonoma County, for example, has long had a drive-up window where voters can drop paper ballots. A town in Vermont offered the same opportunity in 2006.

In Riverside County, voters can cast ballots this month from a roving "votemobile" that is traveling across the area.

An observation

Gordon Brown, so they tell us, is the man to steer us through a crisis. But he was absolutely hopeless when we weren't in a crisis, and when we were simply on the verge of one. It's therefore in Gordon's interest for Britain to constantly be in crisis. (In fact during the YEAR between the collapse of Northern Rock and this current financial crisis he failed to legislate ANY financial regulatory reform which could have prevented the hole from becoming so big - presumably he was too busy "surviving from one fortnight to the next".) Is this really something we as a nation can sustain, for the sake of one man's ego? Wouldn't it be better for all of us to have leaders who can keep us from getting us into a mess in the first place?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How not to interview

See this interview with Brian K. Vaughan. (File size approximately 60MB.)

Midway through the interview, artist Pia Guerra appears and Vaughan pushes the microphone in her direction so she can answer some of the questions. However the interviewer virtually ignores her throughout the rest of his interview with Vaughan, pretty much shutting her out. He doesn't ask her a single direct question, and doesn't even include her on "what are you working on now", to which I'm sure she would have screamed "DOCTOR WHO!!!".

I've met Pia Guerra before and she's an absolute chatterbox. That guy could have asked her anything and she'd have given him great value for money. Personally I was disappointed he made such poor use of her time.

It's a great disservice to the industry that most of these "comic book media" types seem only interested in the writing and don't really have a clue what to ask the people who actually do 90% of the work in them. It gravely concerns me that this may simply be the attitude of comics fans in general...

And if that isn't bad enough, they don't even spell "Vaughan" correctly in the headline. How unprofessional can you get?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Was devolution constitutional?

When Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were devolved, in each case the referendum was put to each individual country, rather than the United Kingdom as a whole. Yet, as we have since seen, this is a matter that affects the whole of the UK rather than just each individual country - so why was it never put to the people of England? Particularly given the wafer-thin majority it won by in Wales...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Where's the wally?

hint: he's the only one facing the camera, wondering if he's ruined that guy's shot... (click for bigger)

Courtesy of the wonderful D'Israeli.


I finally caught up with the first two issues of this.

I can't figure out whether Terry Moore is a bit of a mismatch for this series; despite his credentials as an artist these issues are suspiciously verbose. Most of issue 2 is just an interrogation. Still, he does deliver a strong degree of intimacy with the characters, and he's plentiful with the cultural gags the series is reknowned for.

Anyway, the big selling point for this new volume of Runaways, for me, is Humberto Ramos' artwork, and he doesn't disappoint. This guy is absolutely a perfect match for this series, and after a few kinks in the first issue, he absolutely nails the right amount of energy, pathos and humour for each moment, ably assisted by inker Dave Meikis and the awesome colourist Christina Strain (the only one who remains from the very first volume of Runaways).

I'm cautiously optimistic about where the series is heading. Dunno why they had to restart the series again though; the latest issue (#2) is actually the fiftieth issue of Runaways (not counting Runaways/X-Men, or the two Runaways/Young Avengers crossovers). Some anniversary!

Monday, October 13, 2008

E-mails from the agents of comic book writers...

First, from the agent of the very well-known Stan Lee to the less well-known web site:
So I once more politely declined Stan's request for money (via his agent, Roger).
"We" are a bunch of guys who love Spidey. The site is 100% non-commercial and generates zero revenue.
Look, don't take this the wrong way. But much as I love Stan, I don't love him enough to give him money out of my own pocket. There are far more worthy charities out there.
Roger's reply was:
It's clear you don't get the intention of this web cast. It's not a charity. Some of the more savvy fans and dealers understand that this is Stan's way of getting closer to his fans in the Web 2.0 media.
They are gathering together in a semi-private audience with one of the top 100 brilliant people on earth (who else do you know who has 5 feature films in production) and count it a privilege. If you don't want to sponsor that for you and your clients-fine. You lose.
And secondly, from the self-proclaimed future superstar Chau van Truong to the completely unknown Chris Weston:

"It is I, CHAU VAN TRUONG, who ask you to illustrate COPYCAT & THE NAISA MAFIA into a comic book format. I like to get unknown or aspiring talents an opportunity to do something great, to be part of history, and to grab fame internationally in these stories which will soon be feature films. You don't have to believe me and I do not care. There will be no payment until I personally approve of your drawings. If a contract is made, I will contact my entertainment attorney, MARK STEINBERG, to draw it up for you. Do not ask ALEX NGUYEN for compensation when you might not even be picked to be part of this great endeavor."
More fun past the links...

Spider-Girl is cancelled again! But not really...

I'm getting nostalgic. We haven't had one of these for a while! From Tom DeFalco...
All good things come to an end and that includes AMAZING SPIDER-GIRL.

I was informed earlier this week that our last issue will be AMAZING SPIDER-GIRL #30.

On the good news front, there is talk that Spider-Girl will become a regular 16-paged feature in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN FAMILY. (I've been told conflicting things about MR & MRS so I don't know if that feature will continue.)

To those who predicted that SPIDER-GIRL would never last, you were right. (You were off by a little over 11 years, but you were right.)

I'll give you guys more news as I hear it.
Meanwhile, on Tom Brevoort's blog:
I’m not sure whether we’re going to be offering a subscription to FAMILY just yet, but we’ve been talking about the possibility of having the book come out monthly, and if that were to happen, the odds for it getting a subscription push would improve.
So I presume the idea here is to get the readers who were paying $2.99 a month for Spider-Girl to move over to Amazing Spider-Man Family and pay $4.99 a month for a slightly shorter version of the same thing (plus other Spider-Man material).

Overall it's a smart way of resolving the "Spider-Girl dilemma": a choice between publishing this unprofitable book every month or risking a small internet community going into a massive sulk. (Mind you, having gone through last year's reaction to ONE MORE DAY, that probably isn't high on their list of concerns any more.)

(NB. Spider-Girl was relaunched as "Amazing Spider-Girl" after #100, so the title has actually run a whopping 130 issues. It's never been a big hit, has always languished at the bottom of the charts, and been announced as cancelled at least three times before - but revived every time, usually in light of a heated internet-based fan campaign.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why is Gordon laughing?!?

Meeting Russell T Davies (warning: contains deeply unflattering photograph)

That went by a lot more quickly than I expected - I needn't have bothered turning up half an hour early, I could have popped along at 1pm and been in and out in half an hour. (I suspect that the requirement to buy the £25 book put a lot of people off - lucky I got it as a birthday present last week!) Still I met a nice young lady in the queue, we chatted about RTD's various works, the book, and her favourite show Torchwood (?!) before she had to dash back to HBOS of all places - to be honest I'd expected to be waiting a lot longer, I was quite underwhelmed with the brevity of the hour-and-a-half wait!

Russell T Davies was bubbly and charming - he looks about fifteen years younger in real life! The camera really does pile on the years. I blurted out (lacking the time to say the million profound things I'd learned from or wondered about his many works) that I loved his cartoons in the book, and that he could have had the career as a comic book artist he'd wanted in his teenage years. I think he was pleased with that(!) Benjamin Cook was also very nice, I told him how much I'd been enjoying the book (so much that I missed Sarah Jane the other day!), he says they might be doing another one(!), and he almost stole my camera!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Writer's Tale

I meant to do other stuff today but spent all the daylight hours devouring this gorgeous book. And then holding myself back because I don't want to run out of fresh stuff to read in it. It's simply magnificent, far from the fluffy vanity project you might expect for this kind of thing, it's a proper 500-page tome that gives you a genuine insight into the writing process (a little pet hobby of mine), the day-to-day trevails of running a show like DOCTOR WHO, and the life and (incredibly filthy) mind of its writer Russell T. Davies. The presentation is perfect; it's just a raw series of e-mails between Davies and the book's editor, interspersed with script extracts (usually as part of the e-mails) from virtually every stage of the writing process (including deleted scenes such as the origin of Davros!), production notes, screen captures, on-set pictures (all on glossy paper), and - best of all - lots and LOTS of Davies' own cartoons, all of which are BRILLIANT! He mentions at one point (I can't remember where, I've flicked up and down this book so many times that I've no idea where anything is in it) that he was dead set on a career as a cartoonist for Marvel or DC when he was a teenager, but was turned off the idea when his careers advisor told him he had no chance because he was colour blind (?!?) - a grave error judging by his work in this book, which is largely of a professional standard; he clearly has a great mind for visual cues. In fact I'd love to see what he'd do with a full-fledged comic book product (either writing or drawing it!).

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK. RRP £30, but Amazon offers it for about fifteen quid (at time of writing, anyway). Don't wait for the paperback, it needs that hard cover. The two authors are signing across the country next week. I've barely even read very much of it but I already know it's a wonderful product, well worth having.

UPDATE: you can read a fifty (!!!) page extract HERE.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Giant-Sized Band Thing

Featuring Liam Sharp, Phil Winslade, Charlie Adlard and Paul H Birch.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lord Baron Mandelson

Has the world gone mad? Brown hates that guy. In fact, everybody does. Still he was, we are told, instrumental in Labour's 1997 victory. Doesn't this just smack of desperation?

And who's going to replace him as EU Commissioner? Gordon surely doesn't want to risk a by-election given his state in the polls? But who else is there he could appoint? Blair is surely out of the question. I hear Tamsin Dunwoody is out of a job. Baroness Ashton's got it. That was a close one. ;)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Broadcast reaction

I've got to say the BBC's local regional TV news coverage (Midlands Today) has been absolutely glowing for the Tory conference, they are absolutely bursting with pride (rightly) that it's being held in Birmingham (just up the canal from their studio), it contrasts well with their national news coverage - what a pity Midlands Today is not broadcast nationwide!

ITV's Central News was similarly thrilled about the £20m just one week of conference has thrust into the Brum economy - what a pity half their staff are being axed thanks to the government's moves against regional broadcasting...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Instant speech reaction

A perfectly tailored, wide-ranging speech in a perfectly chosen venue. Hit all the right notes. Serious and straightforward without being dull. The funny lines were few and far between but were genuinely humorous and perfectly timed. It contrasted well with the vacuous diatribes given by party leaders last week and the week before. It was clear that everyone in that enormous hall was impressed.