Of Protests and the Media

With Ukraine, Thailand and now late entrant, Venezuela competing for the title of World’s Shoutiest Nation, the manner with which their anger is disseminated to the wider public has come under scrutiny. Framing and bias are all words that are thrown about with abandon in blogs and the media but usually only to describe the other side’s media logic. The hypocrisy goes unreported.

Happy Protestor

To look at Venezuela, la protestation de la jour (pardon my French), it seems as though the majority of media coverage so far consists of commentary than actual reporting. Facts, like international organisations, seem to be scarce on the ground but that will not stop the news machine whirring into action. In a sharply local dispute, the anger from both sides is being directed toward the Western media. The ‘opposition’ decry the mainstream media organisations for ignoring their demonstrations and subsequent government crackdowns; of course, as the protestors need the oxygen of publicity, they would never argue against more coverage. However, I have a hard time understanding their argument, especially considering the US favours and supports the opposition movement. Why would American media resist the opportunity to show the Venezuelan government as corrupt and stopping democratic protests with truncheons? And yet the government say the media coverage is biased and influenced by right-wing propaganda. Both can’t be right.

For those not on the ground, the question is of who to trust. Even in the past few days alone there have been mountains of reports: news coverage of the protests; commentary bemoaning the lack of international media attention in the face of beatings and killing of demonstrators; and further words about how the many reports filed are all supporting the rich, anti-democratic opposition (though this seemed almost the dictionary definition of ‘apologist’).

What should we do: placard up and join the protestors against the elected dictator, shake our heads at the anti-democratic action as after al, it was an election; or sit idly by and watch as the death toll rises. Once again, international spectators are left in a morality play with no clean resolution and a heck of a lot of misinformation to guide us.

Bagels, Bagels, Bagels!

Bagels, the staple of American sandwiches and four times winner of the bread shaped most like a monocle, have often left me cold: chewy, dense and quite tasteless they never quite seemed to deserve the adulation they garnered. My internal bagel-bashing opprobrium was even more sharply focused on the whole hole affair; why has a bread with it’s own filling escape route been twinned with the most liquid of cheese?


This opinion held firm until a recent trip to New York, where I had a life-changing bacon and cream cheese bagel. Even with sticky, cream cheese fingers I could appreciate why bagels were a ‘thing’ and as such, the best ‘things’ deserve to be made. So, onwards……

One bagel

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet of fast action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 15g honey (or malt extract if you have it)
  • 250g of water
  • bicarbonate of soda (for boiling)
  • poppy/sesame seeds

1.  Rub together the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl. Like bouncers in a nightclub, you have to keep the salt and yeast apart, otherwise it slows down the reaction. Add the honey and water to the mix and combine.

2. Knead well for about 10-15 minutes, until it is stretchy. You’ll know when it’s ready. Cover and leave in a lightly oiled bowl at room temperature to prove for 1-2 hours.

3. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and roll into a sausage shape. Divide the dough into twelve portions and shape them all into a baguette shape. Loop each piece into a ring and pinch the seam et voila you have a bagel.

4. Prove on a baking tray for 30-40 minutes. Pop a big pan of water on and add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda when at a rolling boil. If using seeds, get a dish ready for them. Whack the oven on at 240°C/gas 9.

5. Place each bagel into the water for a minute and turn over halfway through. Use a slotted spoon to take them out of the water, dip them into the seeds and set them down on baking paper (seed side down) to air dry slightly.

6.  After a few minutes transfer the boiled bagels onto a greased sheet of baking paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, but it’s best to check them halfway through.

7. Eat them.

Bagels, bacon and cream cheese

(Modified recipe taken from James Morton’s book Brilliant Bread)

EU’ve got to be kidding me

Yes, I couldn’t resist the title, it is like a headline from The Sun but that is probably the only positive contribution they make to the debate.

Like a farter on a roundabout, the debate over the EU smells and returns all too often. Migrants this, straight bananas that; only negativity makes its way through. Of course a few of the thousands of EU employees do something stupid once in a while, but it must be said that Westminster doesn’t manage policy roll-outs all that much better. Yes, the EU has a tendency to over-reach and develop it’s own governmental logic, but resolving that can be achieved by active collaboration with other member states, rather than cutting off your nose to spite your largest trading partner.

As the Eurosceptics grow ever more feverish, like Gremlins after midnight, those that are pro-EU need to step up and be more than mere Euro-apologists. There needs to be a proper articulation of why membership matters, especially as it isn’t a difficult case to make. For a long while, politicians have been content to be led rather than lead public opinion and yet we still wonder why our public sphere is weaker. Elected officials have to counter the lazy claims of UKIP and use facts (sadly a rarity in this debate) to trump scaremongering.

The EU isn’t a perfect democratic vehicle, but it would be hypocritical to criticise it from our beaten up banger.

Gag Reflex

Billed as the ‘fastest gameshow in the known universe’, Reflex’s running time of 45 minutes is therefore a perpetual disappointment and from watching it, a slap in the face to literalism. Failing in only the way that BBC gameshows can, it strikes an uneasy and unwise balance between the futuristic severity of The Cube and raucous family fun of The Generation Game; a dystopian hellscape with Radio 2 on in the background *shudder*.


The show hangs it’s hat on the use of slow motion cameras to capture the super quick tasks the teams are set. Sadly, it is in this that the problems lie, as there is about 1 minute of actual action stretched beyond breaking point with replays replaying ad infinitum. One task involved the contestants lying on a large balloon which is then popped and upon landing on a crash mat they have to hit out a light; in real time, that would last 2 seconds but with Reflex it was:

Slow motion balloon popping *cut* slow motion balloon popping *cut* slow motion balloon popping *cut* slow motion balloon popping *cut*  person falling *cut*  person falling *cut*  person falling *cut*  person falling and on for three more minutes.

I was trying so hard to stop myself from screaming that I burst a blood vessel in my eye, so desperate was I to be rescued from the tyranny of slow motion (those who have walked behind tourists on London streets will know exactly the problem). Effects like these are meant to accentuate the details of the games rather than provide the context of it; viewers need to get a sense of how quickly these games are over to appreciate the use of the slow motion cameras as opposed to be given blunt force trauma by them.

Then there is Shane Richie, who doesn’t need to have a ‘slo-mo’ camera to make time feel like it is standing still. His jokes are older than the tired polo shirts they make the teams wear and all delivered with the cheeky insouciance of that person in the pub who you wish would choke on a pork scratching.

In all, Reflex is like a man on a rack being slowly pulled apart. And when it happens, I’d love to see it in slow-motion.

The Life of a Crab

Sideways, sideways; always sideways.

Sideways is a essential for a goalkeeper, or a boon for a farmer working the seabed, but I’m a salesman;

Sideways enslaves me to the horizontal. Yes, I don’t have to turn 90 degrees when squeezing past people, I can sidle past

Sideways. But when you have the Atlantic Ocean to contend with, space is not a problem.

Sideways stops me cuddling my crablets when they have a cut to their claw.

Sideways prevents me from scuttling into the arms of my amore.

Sideways on stairs is not straightforward. Yes, we’re not fazed on a skyscraper’s ledge, as we slide

Sideways by default; but we also don’t have the height to be able to see how far up we are.

Sideways isn’t a choice that we make, but a lifestyle we are forced into

Sideways. This may be mordant, but being a crab means you learn to see the world slightly



My Mustache brings all the Girls to the Yard

Moustaches are all well and good but certain wearers can look like a 1980’s pervert.

Coffee Shop Confessions


Here we are in one of the most magical months of the twelve month cycle. It’s a season of pumpkin pie consumption, alluring red coffee sleeves from Starbucks, and being thankful for gluttony. But more than any of these reasons (Because I’m American, and am therefore allowed to arbitrarily rank things however I wish) is that we get to enjoy the preferred nut of cultured men everywhere, the mustaccio.

A brief walk through history is all one need take to see the warmth of the mustache fire which men are inexplicably drawn to. It is a transcender of race and culture, bringing people together across borders and even oceans. Just look at photos of the Big Three from World War II – Stalin, FDR, and Churchill. Of the three of them, who looks the most comfortable and friendly? Stalin. Would we make a deal with an angry communist? I think…

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Fireworks and Freeloaders

As a child I wasn’t a fan of fireworks; you had to be outside IN THE COLD and they were exceptionally loud to my small delicate ears. And as an adult I am agreeing with my younger self. For the first two or three pops, bangs and/or whizzes the ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahhs’ cannot be suppressed and merrily escape from one’s mouth, bringing us one step closer to the little green aliens from Toy Story. Yet fireworks have a very steep boredom gradient ([Repetition x Frequency]/Temperature) and by the fiftieth explosion you have developed a crick in your neck and cold eyes.

– I hate cold eyes. I have always wanted to lift my eyelid up and blow a hairdryer underneath, yet I doubt its efficacy and I am sure my optician wouldn’t recommend it – 

These slight medical maladies can also be coupled with the expense of fireworks regardless whether you buy them yourself or go to a public display. The latter has confused me for many years: why pay £5 to enter a park when I can get exactly the same show for free by standing the other side of a fence? Probably that is the killjoy-freeloader aspect of my personality coming to the fore and really you are paying for the atmosphere of having many people around you saying ‘Ooh’ and ‘Ahh’.

But by sitting in my freeloader’s ivory tower, I can get the best view of all the fireworks. And I didn’t spend a penny.

Replicating Bad

With about two-thirds of the world population in a post-Breaking Bad slump, I have come up with some ideas (all tenuous, all horrible, all will be on Channel 5 within a year) to postpone the realisation that it has finished, just that little bit longer.

  • A former hitman (Nicholas Lyndhurst) who, on his last job was shot by his own ricocheting bullet re-evaluates his life and turns to teaching Biology at a local high school. He uses his intimate knowledge of the human body and the natural world to become a ‘hit’ in the classroom and in society, but can his past stay away?: Breaking Good
  • Alan Titchmarsh looks at poor soil management and how that may have affected farmers in the past: Raking Bad
  • The history of inefficient limestone chemical reactions is examined by Professor Brian Cox: Slaking Bad
  • People with a host of dermatological diseases talk to Dr Christian Jessen: Flaking Bad
  • Robert Peston sets out the ways in which trends come and go and whether the internet age has increased the speed of the cycle: Making Fads
  • To raise awareness of testicular cancer Mary Berry tries to break the world record for making the most genital shaped cakes in a 24 hour period: Baking Nads
  • Tommy Walsh smashes central heating units: Breaking Rads
  • A new drama starring James Corden who plays a man pretending to be a father so as to gain the affections of his next door neighbour: Faking Dad

Of course the list can go on, but I will spare you from the deepest pun-generating recesses of my mind.

Here’s what’s wrong with hijab tourism and your cutesy “modesty experiments”

Interesting -though it misses the point of the articles on ‘hijab tourism’. The value of these articles IS that they are written from an outsider’s perspective; it helps us Western dunces understand these things.

Ms. Muslamic

Hijab: sometimes, it feels like everyone’s giving it a try. Lauren Shields is just the latest feminist to embark on a ‘modesty experiment’ based on the veiling traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Last year, a teenager on Tumblr wore hijab to the mall and ended up with 200,000 reblogs. In 2010, a young journalist went ‘undercover’ in hijab for a month to find out what it was like. Liz Jones wore the burka in 2009; Danielle Crittenden over at HuffPo wore it all the way back in 2007, like some kind of Cultural Appropriation Hipster. Over at Vice, Annette Lamothe-Ramos wandered around New York in a burka and then wrote a really insensitive article about the experience. Apparently if you’re stuck for ideas for content, a reliable fall-back is to dress like a Muslim woman for a day or so and then bang out…

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