Friday, 30 April 2010

This is for shooting, this is for fun

One of the big political issues currently facing Barack Obama is the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. The legal equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and looking the other way, DADT was introduced by Bill Clinton as a way of circumventing the restriction on gays and lesbians serving in the US military.

Although the policy forbids the military from investigating the sexuality of anyone in its ranks, it also bars anyone openly gay, lesbian or bisexual from serving. LGBT military personnel are expected to keep their lifestyle a secret, or face a dishonourable discharge - a punishment which has seen thousands of highly decorated soldiers kicked out, despite their otherwise exemplary records.

Obama seems keen to overturn DADT, but it's yet another divisive issue where the Christian Right is willing to exert its considerable influence. Part of the problem is the fact that there's still a great deal of intolerance within the military, with only 26% of personnel in favour of gays and lesbians serving, compared with 37% opposing the idea.

Despite regularly-voiced concerns that group morale may be negatively impacted by having openly gay people in the unit, there seems to be no empirical data to support these claims. A study by the American Psychological Association found that "when lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are allowed to serve openly there is no evidence of disruption or loss of mission effectiveness."

However, I believe their is evidence that closeted gays can cause extensive disruption. The video below was recorded by a group of US soldiers stationed at a military base in southwest Afghanistan, and graphically illustrates the impact that closeted behaviour can have on group cohesion and operational focus.

The all-male cast from the 82nd Airborne Division have clearly spent hours carefully practicing their elaborate reconstruction of Lady Gaga's video for Telephone. Already one of the most imitated videos of all time, despite only being about three months old, the nine-minute epic inspired Aaron Melcher, a married 24-year-old soldier, to choreograph his tribute to Jonas Åkerlund's masterpiece.

The big question here, is where does a soldier, stationed in Afganistan, find a glittery 'Drama Queen' sash?

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Laying down the Laws

I'd like to introduce you to my new hero, Lord Justice Laws. Despite looking like Elton John (albeit with a slightly more convincing wig), the man speaks common sense, and has no problem ruffling the Daily Mail's feathers.

In the High Court today, he ruled against Gary McFarlane, who was appealing the decision of an earlier tribunal which had dismissed his claims of religious discrimination. McFarlane had been sacked for refusing to work with same-sex couples in his capacity as a therapist.

Whilst he had no problem helping straight couples overcome their issues with sexual intimacy, he drew the line at encouraging gays to light the scented candles and practice their sensual touching. Because that went against his religious beliefs.

Lord Justice Law threw out McFarlane's case, stating that "We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion - any belief system - cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other... The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself."

Sadly, logic and organised religion are all-too-often mutually exclusive. Which is probably why former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, weighed in on the debate, appealing for "a specially constituted panel of judges with a 'proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues' to hear the case."

Carey feels that recent court decisions involving Christians had used "dangerous" reasoning, which might lead to civil unrest, arguing “The description of religious faith in relation to sexual ethics as ‘discriminatory’ is crude and illuminates a lack of sensitivity to religious belief.”

The problem is, McFarlane worked as a sexual therapist. Applying a highly subjective Biblically-inspired 'code of ethics' to this kind of a role is an attempt to legitimise intolerance.

So we should all be thankful that Laws put the needs of society above the personal preferences of any special interest groups. He said "In a free constitution such as ours there is an important distinction to be drawn between the law's protection of the right to hold and express a belief and the law's protection of that belief's substance or content."

Science has yet to isolate the cause of homosexuality - even confocal microscopy isn't sophisticated enough to identify the leather-clad gay gene. But it's generally agreed that same-sex attraction is biologically ingrained, rather than the result of one too many mojitos. Religious belief, on the other hand, is most definitely a lifestyle choice.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

McCready, willing and able

It's not easy being a celebrity. There's the constant pressure to look your best, a hungry fanbase demanding access to every aspect of your life, and unscrupulous paparazzi always on the lookout for unflattering shots.

These days, you can't even film a couple of hours of homemade filth without it falling into the hands of a ruthless video producer who wants to make a buck out of your pornographic professionalism.

It's a lesson that's been learned the hard way by Mindy McCready. Originally billed as 'Country Spice' when she burst onto the music scene back in 1996, Mindy chalked up an impressive run of hit singles on the Billboard country chart, until a series of troublesome relationships and an addiction to 'hillbilly heroin' managed to derail her career.

Now she's battling to prevent the release of an amateur porn film involving her and an ex-boyfriend identified only as 'Peter'. Mindy claimed that she couldn't even be sure that it was her in the video, even though she spends much of its running time discussing her famous exes, baseball player Roger Clemens, actor Dean Cain and country singer Alan Jackson.

Speaking to the press, Mindy said “It has nothing to do with me. I had nothing to do with this tape. And whoever releases it is going to get sued.” I'm not sure what the protocol is for suing yourself, but you can bet that Mindy's legal team are working on it.

Because it turns out that the distribution company releasing the video is also in possession of a notarised consent form signed by "Malinda G. McCready". That's Mindy's real name, by the way.

If the idea of seeing a washed-up country star "eating dinner, relaxing and having sex" sounds like a fun time, you're not alone. Vivid Video boss Steven Hirsch was just as excited by the prospect of this latest celebrity scoop: "It was a very appealing package to us because not only is the footage exciting with very hot sex, all of the paperwork was in order." Mmmm, paperwork.

The idea of Mindy instigating the release of her own sex video is depressing enough. But when the 'as seen on TV' flash on the DVD cover reads "Now on Celebrity Rehab Season 3", you know you've really hit rock bottom.

Then again, needs must. And as Mindy once sang, 'A Girl's Gotta Do What A Girl's Gotta Do'.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

He's no friend of Dorothy

As the other-worldly hero of the longest running science fiction show of all time, Doctor Who has faced his fair share of unbelievable nemeses. Over the years he's done regular battle with the Daleks, who manage to pose a threat to humanity despite looking like giant cruet, as well as fighting all manner of weird and wonderful beasts.

But even gastropods, sentient trees and blue gaseous life-forms are nothing compared with the time-traveller's latest foe - a little gyrating gay Irishman.

Last week's episode featured the long-awaited return of Alex Kingston's character River Song, but the show's exciting climax was tarnished with the appearance of a pop-up trailer for Graham Norton's latest West-End casting-call talent show 'Over The Rainbow'.

Viewers still trying to get used to new Doctor Matt Smith were treated to the sight of a cartoon caricature of the Irish comic wiggling his hips all over Matt's face. There are some things that even a sonic screwdriver can't fix.

Doctor Who might depict other-worldy invasions on a weekly basis, but this was clearly a step too far. Fans were suitably apoplectic about the interruption to their favourite show, with Matthew Graham, who also happens to be the executive producer of Ashes to Ashes, tweeting his disgust at the intrusion: "Please BBC - you're not a US network, you're so much better than they are. Don't cheapen yourself. The public know what's up next."

The Daily Telegraph later reported that the BBC received 5,583 complaints about the trailer, and apologised for its unfortunate timing: "The Over The Rainbow trail in Doctor Who should not have been played out on Saturday and we apologise to all Doctor Who fans whose enjoyment of the show was disrupted."

With attention spans diminishing, and audiences needing recaps and teasers every few minutes, it's hardly surprising that the BBC has started creating mini-trailers for upcoming shows. It's just unfortunate that they opted to interrupt a show with a notoriously loyal fanbase.

Most Saturday evening shows are so stultifyingly unwatchable that audiences wouldn't even notice if Graham Norton crawled out of their screen, like the lank-haired ghost in Ringu, and slapped them around the face. And even that would be preferable to sitting through 'Over The Rainbow'.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Small two-bedroom starter

Naomi Campbell must be thanking her lucky stars for Gisele Bündchen. Just days after she mistakenly let her guard slip during an interview , along comes Gisele to redirect the bad buzz away from the Streatham stunner.

Naomi's contretemps with a reporter from ABC occurred when the brave (some might say suicidal) journalist decided to question her about her taste in jewellery. Ignoring the fact that Naomi's fiery temperament would put most Greek gods to shame, the intrepid inquisitor asked Naomi whether the allegations were true that she had received a blood diamond from former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.

Naomi rocked her best 'bitch face' and stormed off, slapping the camera on her way out. Perhaps she thought she'd recognised an old assistant. Hopefully, the TV crew had been smart enough to hide their iPhones before the interview began.

Still, once again Naomi's bad-girl antics have been gobbling up the column inches. So heaven be praised for her old mate Gisele, who has selflessly (and unwittingly) given the press a great new supermodel slip-up story to focus on.

The Brazilian beauty and her husband, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, have announced plans to build their new family home in Brentwood, California. The problem is, at 20,000 square feet, it's going to make Heathrow's Terminal 5 look like a potting shed.

As well as a covered bridge, six-car garage, butler's quarters, wine bar and lagoon pool, the vast property also features an elevator, despite the fact that it's only two stories tall. And that she's tall enough to crawl through an upstairs window without a ladder.

OK, it's their money and they can spend it how they like. And maybe they need a little extra space now that little baby Benjamin is growing up fast.

Unfortunately though, it's not the best example to be setting when you're a United Nations environmental ambassador. Critics are concerned about the amount of materials needed to develop, build and maintain such a gargantuan property, with one architect arguing "A 20,000 square-foot house - the resources that it takes to put it together and the land that it needs, this just can't happen anymore."

Gisele and Tom aren't the first golden couple to build a house that can be seen from space, and they certainly won't be the last. It's just a shame that Gisele didn't take her ambassadorial responsibilities more seriously. It looks like the easiest gig in the world - turn up, smile for photos, look ravishing in a slogan-covered T-shirt and offer a few choice soundbites about deforestation. The hard work comes in living the values that you're supposed to be endorsing.

With climate change possibly the most contentious issue in American politics today, this is precisely the kind of hypocrisy that Republicans will use to smear the entire environmental movement. And all for the sake of a kitchen that's an hour ahead of the bedroom.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Feathering his nest

In amongst all the multi-million dollar blockbusters lining up to fill your local multiplex is an all-action thriller made on a rather more modest budget. And yet, whilst the other movies jostle for attention in another crowded summer schedule, this little film has already notched up quite a cult following, not to mention some unbelievable reviews.

Originally intended for the Sundance Film Festival, James Nguyen's opus was rejected by the festival's selection committee, so the industrious auteur decided to screen the film independently. The film fans who stumbled upon 'Birdemic: Shock and Terror' couldn't quite believe their luck.

Inspired by Hitchcock's apocalyptic adaptation of Daphne de Maurier's The Birds, Birdemic portrays a horrifying attack on a small town by a platoon of eagles and vultures, leaving the townspeople with no choice but to fight back.

Movie studios have always been happy to quote film critics out of context, turning non-committal reviews into glowing recommendations, simply by virtue of the bits they leave out. So Nguyen should have no trouble creating some truly spectacular posters featuring quotes like "it's like nothing you've ever experienced. Words completely failed me by the film's end." Now who wouldn't want to see a movie with the power to make that kind of an impression?

Unfortunately, the quote continues "I was sure of only one thing - I had just had the funniest, most awesomely bad experience of my entire life." Maybe not quite what Nguyen had intended.

Not that you'd know from his reaction. Speaking to the New York Times about the surprise success of his avian shocker, he said “A few people... were laughing at my movie. But I think the majority who were there really laughed with it. That’s the risk that I take in making a movie, to be judged, to be reviewed — the good, the bad and the ugly."

I'm not sure if there's anything inherently 'good' about Nguyen's film, but bad and ugly seem quite plentiful. The actors could take lessons from porn stars on convincing line readings, and the CGI eagles wouldn't look out of place menacing Horace as he goes skiing. The birds don't so much attack people, as hover threateningly in front of them, before inexplicably exploding.

According to the Times article, Nguyen spent $10,000 and seven months (weekends mostly) bringing his singular vision to the screen. And although audiences are hyperventilating at his staggeringly inept handiwork, Nguyen may have the last laugh. His dream was to make a film that would find an audience, and he's certainly achieved that.

Considered by many to be the worst director of all-time, Ed Wood died penniless and forgotten, several years before his films were rediscovered and celebrated on the midnight movie circuit. With many people marking him out as Wood's logical successor, Nguyen is fortunate enough to be around to actually enjoy his fame and notoriety.

He's found a medium that allows him to express himself. And the great thing is, his work is engaging people and eliciting an emotional response. Ultimately, isn't that what all artists crave?

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Modern life is rubbish

According to a February 2009 edition of the US News & World Report, Gallup conducted a poll that found 66 percent of Americans believed in creationism. They reject Darwin and his theory of evolution, preferring to side with the notion that the Earth was created just 6,000 years ago.

To a secular nation like ours, that's a pretty astonishing statistic. However, there's an amazing video which I believe confirms the possibility of 'Intelligent Design' - since it shows how everyday human behaviour negates the very concept of 'survival of the fittest'.

If this compilation of clips is to be believed, humans are simply too stupid and accident-prone to have evolved at all. We lack the basic motor skills and powers of comprehension to maintain the most basic of existences.

It's a troubling thought, but the facts simply speak for themselves. So our thanks should go to the brave writers, directors and 'will-work-for-food' actors who make up the informercial industry.

Their willingness to place themselves in harm's way proves once and for all that we are barely sentient. Furthermore, each of us is just a couple of steps away from poisoning ourselves with undercooked eggs, slipping a disc whilst trying to scrape brownies from a baking tin, or accidentally garroting ourselves on a discarded length of garden hose.

The fight or flight instinct has no place in the modern world - instead our very survival depends upon the innovative products designed to help us as we shamble perilously through our lives.

So here's to the makers of the 'Slap Chop', the 'Potty Putter', the 'Wearable Towel' and the 'Double Chin Toner'. Without them, we'd all fall prey to those invisible toxins and pools of grease that threaten to wipe us off the face of the planet.

It's a miracle we lasted this long...

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Teenage kicks

It's the ultimate modern accessory, even more indispensable than the iPod or Sky+. These days, if you don't have a gay best friend, you might as well lock yourself away with a DVD of Harbour Lights and a wholesale crate of Muller Fruit Corners.

Even the Riverdale gang have their very own GBF now, and they're about as cool as David Cameron performing Fuck Tha Police on a karaoke night. If you're not familiar with Riverdale, allow me to be your guide.

It's the generic everytown, home to permanently priapic redhead Archie and his friends. As the stars of one of the longest running comic books in history, Archie and friends have been part of the pop culture firmament for almost 70 years.

Unless you're a fan of tooth-achingly clean-cut American kids, you're probably only aware of Archie's musical output. In 1969 he and his white-bread cohorts scored a number one hit with Sugar Sugar, even knocking the Rolling Stones' Honky Tonk Woman off the top-spot.

Like Fleetwood Mac, but without the coke and paranoia, the three-guy-two-girl combo was rife with sexual tension. Lead singer Archie was constantly battling with beefcake Reggie for the attentions of blonde Betty and brunette Veronica. Fifth wheel Jughead was the Mick Fleetwood of the group, and seemed to be more interested in hamburgers and his weird crown-cum-party hat.

Although many decades have passed since Archie and his friends first appeared in all their four-colour glory, they've remained trapped in a snapshot of nostalgic Norman Rockwell innocence. They may have the internet and mobile phones, but they're still living it up in a small-town utopia of malt shops and 'jalopies' (although, to be fair, Archie finally traded up to a 1960s Ford in the mid-eighties).

The humour is similarly old-fashioned, as Archie constantly fends off sand-kicking bullies in his pursuit of sweet Betty and spoiled Veronica. If this was a realistic portrayal of teenage temptation, Archie wouldn't be trying to choose between the two slices of cheesecake, he'd be coercing them into a vodka-fuelled threesome.

So it's particularly surprising that Archie and co have welcomed a real-life gay into their gang with nary a whisper of controversy. In the comic, due to be published in September, we're introduced to handsome Kevin Keller who has recently moved to Riverdale. When Kevin catches the eye of fickle trust-fund slut Veronica, Jughead encourages Kevin to lead her on so that he can revel in her ultimate disappointment.

Cruel mental torture and humiliation aside, the most surprising thing about this whole storyline is the fact that Kevin's sexuality is never portrayed as any kind of an issue. Then again, the Riverdale gang always reserved their enmity for the student body of Central High.

The fact that Archie Comics have made a "commitment to keep Archie properties reflective of the current world of teens" is entirely positive. It's just sad that the gang's tolerant approach may ultimately prove just as fantastical as the rest of their time-warped existence. In a week when it emerged that two teenaged girls attempted to push their openly lesbian classmate off a cliff, we might all wish the world was a little more like Riverdale.

On the buses

If you've never seen Channel 4's Coach Trip you're missing a treat. Like a weird cross between Come Dine With Me and Airport, the show fills a bus with mismatched miscreants and shuffles them around Europe, accompanied by the campest holiday professional since Jeremy Spake hung up his ball-gag.

At the end of each ruthlessly stage-managed excursion, the bitterly resentful holiday-makers vote for the couple who got up their nose the most. Once a couple has received the most votes twice in a row, they're left at the side of the road with their Matalan luggage and sunburnt shoulders as the bus heads over the horizon.

The couples tend to be cast according to easy stereotypes - shrieking gays, shag-happy lads, father-son combos, "we're crazy, we are" older couples, and constantly tutting middle-Englanders. It's an unpleasant soup that makes three years chained to a radiator in Beirut seem like a more preferable holiday option.

You'd think that most contestants would be glad to get off the coach, but two recent participants are finding the aftermath even more intolerable than a sightseeing trip around the south of France just inches from a chemical toilet.

Nathan Evans and the hilariously named Romane Hole have been mischaracterised as gay following their appearance on the show. The two men thought it would be funny to hold hands when they first got onto the coach, and were surprised to find that they were subsequently depicted as a couple.

Evans told the Bristol news "We had no idea how gay we were going to look by holding hands. Then all the way through the series [it] seem to have been edited to make us look as if we are a homosexual couple, rather than a pair of straight friends."

Since the shows aired, Evans and Hole (stop it) have suffered all manner of homophobic abuse, ranging from verbal attacks to thrown bottles. The flipside is that the boys have also won a few fans in the gay community - Hole maintains "We have also become sort of gay icons. I’ve been inundated by homosexual men who have contacted me via Facebook, to ask for casual sex and to make other indecent proposals."

The boys may argue that they have "nothing against gay people" but their actions and comments suggest otherwise. The fact that they are now experiencing the sharp end of homophobia has a poetic justice to it.

In the 1982 big-screen adaptation of The Twilight Zone, tragic actor Vic Morrow (who was killed in an on-set accident during filming) played a racist businessman who found himself trapped in a time warp where he had to relive the experiences of Jews and blacks. Maybe the twist in that story's tale wasn't so far-fetched after all...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

A hole by any other name...

Apparently, Courtney Love is dead.

But before you break out the crack pipe and have a commemorative toke, bear in mind that it was Courtney Love herself who broke this astonishing story.

Rather than a Tweet from beyond the grave, which would actually be pretty cool (and might even be grammatically correct for once), this was Courtney talking to music mag NME.

She's finally woken up to something that everybody else realised about fourteen seconds after she first stepped into the limelight - we're all sick of Courtney Love. So she's decided to make a change and say goodbye to her old self.

That might have worked for David Banner, who could just throw his denim jacket over his shoulder and thumb a ride into the next town, but Courtney's no Incredible Hulk.

As a way of distancing herself from her previous life, Courtney's already adopted the third person when talking about her destructive impulses: “We love her when she goes onstage, but I don’t need her in the rest of my life." From now on, she wants a new name for her new start - “Courtney Michelle. The name Courtney Love is a way to oppress me.”

This may all get rather confusing for her fans, especially since Courtney has reteamed with her old band Hole, ahead of a new album called Nobody's Daughter this month. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In addition, she's also said that she no longer wants to answer questions about her husband Kurt Cobain, who shot himself back in 1994, “I am not his spokesperson on Earth. I don’t know what he’d be like now, he could be into society girls, he could be into fat girls, he could be homosexual. We don’t know, he died at 27.”

It's a noble aspiration, but I wouldn't be too surprised if Courtney finds it hard to lay those old habits to rest. Just try asking artist, musician, author and peace activist Yoko Ono what she's famous for.

She's still Dirrty

It's nice to know that some things never change. She may have started out as a fully paid up member of the Mickey Mouse Club, but little Christina Aguilera wasted no time growing into a dirrty young madam.

By the time she got around to making her her second CD, the relative innocence of her debut single 'Genie In A Bottle' was left lying in a ditch with its shirt over its head. It's customary for young people to explore their sexuality as they advance into adulthood, but Christina stopped just short of squatting over a hand-mirror and inviting the world to have a look.

When Madonna released Like A Prayer back in 1989, the CD insert was scented with patchouli oil for extra exoticism. I'm just thankful that Christina didn't follow her idol's example - Stripped would have smelled like used kitty litter trampled into damp carpet.

With her new CD just weeks away from release, Christina has been telling the press that she's not mellowed with age, marriage or motherhood. Speaking to an Atlanta radio station, the platinum powerhouse said "I'm more confident and comfortable in my own skin. I think I'm even a more sexual Christina."

Even more sexual? At this rate, anyone who listens to Bionic will need to be given a doll and asked to show where Christina touched them. And it probably won't be the ears that get fingered.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Don't panic - nothing to see here

A good gossip story used to take weeks to surface. Now the whole scandal can be posted, shared, denied and forgotten in about as much time as it takes to close the Norton pop-up telling you your virus software has expired.

This is David Archuleta, the ever-grinning runner-up from American Idol's seventh season. With his softly soulful voice and family-friendly Mormon upbringing, he's like a less-threatening version of Zac Efron.

He's been in the news this week because he was spotted at a New York gay club on Saturday and didn't want his young fans to get 'the wrong idea'. As soon as the story broke, he took to Twitter to post a frantic series of messages denouncing his choice of venue and claiming he was only there to see his friend Charice perform.

Unwittingly dissing the lifestyle of much of his fanbase, Archuleta tweeted "Mental note to self: always ask where before you go! Wasn't my kind of place lol, and I had no clue! I guess you live and learn. Been seeing some of the tweets.. sheesh! Can get crazy quick. NO worries all, I wouldn't get into things like that intentionally haha. Hope you guys have a good Sunday!"

Being a gay runner-up on Idol can go either way. Adam Lambert may have triumphed over red state small-mindedness, but Clay Aiken was dropped faster than a pair of leatherette disco shorts when he revealed his sexuality to his fans. So it's understandable that David would want to distance himself from those rumours.

But sensing that maybe he'd been a little too vociferous, he took to Twitter once again to retract his rebuttals and downplay his disgust: "I have friends who are gay, and they're great people. Whether they're gay or not doesn't change how I think of them. I have nothing against anyone, I'm sorry if that's how it came across. I'm just not into the partying scene lol."

But no-one's LOL'ing. The homophobic haters have nothing to pin on him, gossip columnists have a perfectly reasonable alibi, and the gays can't even get riled by the fact that he doth protest too much.

Mental note to self - Twitter is killing the art of celebrity tittle-tattle. Come back Katie and Peter, your people need you.

Something's burning

British firefighters have something of a love/hate relationship with the gay community. Whilst their uniform is long-standing favourite for many a stripper, a number of firefighters find 'community outreach' a little upsetting.

In 2006 nine firemen in Glasgow were disciplined for refusing to staff a 'fire safety' stand at a gay pride event - probably because they anticipated a day spent turning down requests to see their hose.

With this in mind, Hertfordshire County Council is hosting a conference called 'Looking Out, Looking In' designed to look at the dangers faced by the homosexual, bisexual and transgender communities. According to a spokesperson for the council, the conference will "identify some of the risks they may face so that we can design our preventative measures to meet their needs and ensure their safety".

All very noble - after all, I'm sure it's no coincidence that gay men are called 'flamers' in the US. Unsurprisingly, the firefighters of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex are dubious about the conference, with one anonymous Richard Littlejohn fan simply commenting "You couldn't make it up." They may scoff, but let's not forget that amyl nitrate is dangerously flammable.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Pick 'n' Mix Part One

OK, I'm going to try something different. We're now up to 400+ posts and the blog seems to be ticking along nicely, but I think it's time to change things up a little. So rather than one long post, today's update will be a collection of bits and pieces. If you like it (or not), don't be shy...

First round's in me

First up is my favourite new bar concept, based on the human digestive system. Based in Vienna's Museum Quarter, the eye-catching drinking hole's key feature is a giant puckered anus. If you've ever wandered into a nightspot and thought "Well, this a shithole" you've obviously never downed a bottle of Schnapps in Austria. It looks perfectly comfortable inside, but I don't imagine the bar snacks are up to much.

History repeating itself, again

Paul Hardcastle, pioneer of electro-funk hip-Hop instrumental music, is hoping to storm the charts again with an updated version of his stuttery classic 19. The original version, which topped the charts for five weeks in 1985, was all about Vietnam and focused on the average age of US soldiers. His new version, 19: Boys To War, has been rewritten to reflect the current military situation in the Middle East.

Hardcastle says "There's a parallel between Vietnam and Afghanistan. I looked around and thought, 'This is basically happening again'. I wish I hadn't had to make this kind of record." Unlike some of the young men and women serving overseas, no-one's holding a gun to Hardcastle's head. He may feel that the Vietnam war is 'repeating itself' but that doesn't mean he has to.

Lindsay's gag reflex

She may have spent the last 12 months dabbling in lesbianism, abusing foot powder and struggling to remain upright, but Lindsay Lohan may finally heading back in front of the movie cameras, instead of the paparazzi. According to reports, she's being lined up to play Linda Lovelace in a new film called Inferno.

Lovelace's notoriety came from her starring role in Deep Throat, where she demonstrated the most flexible epiglottis the world has ever known. It's nice that Lindsay is finally looking for work again (standing behind a mixing desk or appearing at parties isn't exactly gainful employement), it's just a shame that this sounds like some serious miscasting. After all, unless Lovelace's story is drastically rewritten to showcase her skills for sticking things up her nostrils rather than down her neck, this is never going to work.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Is that a stump in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

Whichever way you plan on voting next month, you can at least take some solace in the fact that the three main parties seem to be running on sanity-based platforms.

Sadly, mental health doesn't seem to be quite so important for people pursuing political careers across the pond.

Last week, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, played host to The Awakening, a two day conference for ultra-right-wing activists. Unsurprisingly, it didn't seem to take them long to get around to their favourite topic - the gays.

On the agenda for the conference was the proposed ENDA bill, which aims to prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Now, you don't exactly need a haemophiliac heart to recognise that eliminating discrimination is a positive step forward, but the Freedom Federation sees things differently.

In a session entitled 'The LGBT Agenda', Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition, managed to keep a straight face whilst proclaiming that ENDA would protect people with stump fetishes who want to molest injured war veterans.

No, seriously.

Describing a scenario that would give David Cronenberg and the Farrelly brothers nightmares, Lafferty argued "You can be aroused by stumps of amputees. And we brought that up during the hate crimes thing because what if you have an employee working at the VA and someone has just come back from Iraq and they have this orientation. You can't fire them. What about the family that's upset that they've been aroused by their family member? It's disgusting. And it's tragic for the victim. Um, men that want to rub their bodies up and down women. That's on the list, that might become a protected class."

All absolute bullshit, but then, you didn't really need me to point that out did you?

So how do they get away with the kind of foaming-at-the-mouth insanity that would have made them prime candidates for electro-shock therapy forty years ago? It's all part of twisting the truth (AKA lying through your teeth) to avoid sounding like the bigot that you are.

Andrea's group is desperate to maintain the illusion that outlawing discrimination would open a sexual hellmouth of biblical proportions - trapping innocent children in the classroom with drag queen teachers, and forcing employees "to work alongside individuals with bizarre sex fetishes." But since the facts don't actually back up any of their claims, they decided to make up their own.

By erroneously repurposing the term 'sexual orientation' to include the 30 sexual paraphilias identified by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, they are alleging that ENDA will normalise “all of these philias and fetishes and isms".

In fact, the APA only recognises three orientations - homo, hetero and bi. And they're the ones covered by the ENDA bill.

"Fecal matter. Their involvement with fecal matter." Oh Christ, she's still running through her entirely fictional list... "Or urine. Transvestism. The list goes on, I'm not naming all of them. Children. Animals. And so we really need to draw a line in the sand."

I'm not entirely au fais with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but I'm curious to know whether there's a name for the pathological obsession with aberrant sexual behaviour. If so, Lafferty may come to wish that she was protected by ENDA after all.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Oh Mandy

If the name Mandy Smith has you scrabbling for the Wikipedia shortcut, let me help you out. At the age of fourteen, the fame-hungry starlet and her sister started hitting the London nightclubs in search of glamour, notoriety, and someone who could buy their vodka and cokes.

It was at one of these clubs that Mandy met Rolling Stone bass-player Bill Wyman. The two dated for four years, eventually marrying when Mandy turned 18. Thanks to her tabloid notoriety, she soon found herself modelling and even tried her hand at pop-stardom.

No strangers to flash-in-the-pan celebrity (having worked with more flavours-of-the-month than the Covent Garden Soup Company), Stock, Aitken and Waterman found a few old demos down the back of their couch and decided to loan Mandy their already overworked Calrec Soundfield Microphone. The singles barely scraped into the charts, and the album did even worse, meaning that her music career was over almost as soon as it had begun.

Her relationship didn't fare too much better - Rolling Stones and monogamy are like nature and vaccuums. It probably didn't help matters that Mandy's mother started seeing Wyman's son, making for the kind of tangled family situation that even Stephen Hawking would have trouble figuring out. Sometimes I picture Mandy, standing sobbing outside Clinton Cards on Mother's Day, not knowing where to begin.

Mandy and Bill went their separate ways in 1991, only for her to enter into another ill-fated marriage two years later with Belgian footballer Pat Van Den Hauwe. Fifteen years have passed since that relationship hit the crossbar, and now Mandy's happily settled in Manchester, where she runs a PR company with her sister.

So why is Mandy on my mind today? It could be that I'm excited about the imminent arrival of her lovingly remastered CD (available to order here), but it's probably because she's done a big interview with the Mail today, reflecting on her years with Wyman.

Mandy became a born-again Christian several years ago, and puts her past experience to good use by counseling young women. But I'm not sure she's quite got the hang of it. The passage of time has clearly affected Mandy's memory: "I wanted a better life, but I saw that in terms of getting a job, a house, a husband. [Girls today] want to be Jordan. They dream about being with footballers and rock stars." Does Mandy even remember what her two husbands did for a living?

It's a classic case of 'Do as I say, not as I do' - Mandy says "I don't think most 16-year-olds are ready [for sex]. I think the age of consent should be raised to 18 at a minimum, and some girls aren't even ready then. I know, I know. People will find that odd, coming from me."

I think what's really odd, is the fact that Mandy's revisionist sense of history places a little too much emphasis on sex, and disregards all her other troublingly precocious behaviour.

Mandy may believe in retrospect that she wasn't ready for sex at 16, but she was ready to dress up as someone twice her age, lie her way into nightclubs, drink vodka and smoke. How much adult behaviour can one person indulge in before they start being treated as an adult?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Mayor apparent

It's political correctness gone mad I tell you. These days, an elected official can't even post offensive remarks on facebook without those bleeding-heart liberals getting their organic cotton, ethically-sourced knickers in a twist.

Poor old Sue Mills, Mayor of Torrington in Devon, made a perfectly innocent joke about illegal immigrants in her corner of the social networking site, only for easily upset constituents to complain.

As a consequence, Sue has had to issue a formal apology, expressing her deep regret: "I accept the comments on my page were out of character and never intended to cause offence. It was intended as a bit of fun and not designed to upset anyone. As soon as I realised that the comments might upset some people I removed them."

Well, you can't say fairer than that. Except that maybe you can.

The thing is, the comments she'd made had already upset people, so the damage was done. And she took them down because she was worried about losing her job, not to spare the sensitivities of the local population.

So what exactly did she say to cause such a kerfuffle? Her original facebook post read "Illegal immigrants are like sperm - millions of them come in but only one works." I'm sure Frankie Boyle is feverishly scribbling notes for his next tour.

But hang on a minute - if you're going to make a racially inappropriate comment on the internet, shouldn't you at least make sure that it makes sense first.

For a start, there's the issue of the sperm analogy. Presumably, Sue has never heard of dizygotic twins. These occur when a pair of eggs are fertilised at the same time by two different sperm cells, creating twin zygotes which then implant themselves in the uterine wall.

And what about the incisive commentary she's making about the immigration issue - a major discussion point in last night's pre-election debate? The problem is, illegal immigrants do work. They work without the necessary permits, usually for irresponsible employers who are looking to exploit their desperation, pay under minimum wage and dodge any National Insurance contributions.

Sue argues that the comment was "out of character", but she's made no effort to portray any other kind of character, besides the ignorant, bingo-winged shithead that her facebook profile portrays.

Too harsh? Not to worry - I apologise for any offence caused by my comments, which were, of course, made "as a bit of fun".

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Time for a little 'Bayhem'

For the last ten years, TV fans have been blaming the popularity of Big Brother for the never-ending succession of reality shows, coming at the expense of more established programme genres. Writers and actors are missing out, and increasingly the TV schedules are filled with hour-long shows depicting minor celebrities learning how to grout tiles or manually masturbate farm animals.

Hoping to bridge the gap is Michael Bay, who's taking time out from his busy schedule of 'blowing shit up' to develop an exciting new reality TV concept that will see contestants compete against each other in extreme conditions and hostile enviornments. This 'game with no rules' is described as a cross between Survivor, The Mole and The Amazing Race.

In this mash-up of previously flogged concepts, One Way Out will show "just how far people will go when they are stripped of their bare necessities and forced to do whatever it takes to survive."

Bay's spokesmonkeys have claimed that the show will "remain true to the filmmaker's signature style" meaning that it will be overlong, incoherent and featuring more sweaty, exposed flesh than the inside of one of ASDA's rotisserie ovens.

Interestingly, this new TV concept is being billed as 'Bay's first foray into unscripted TV', although based on his past form he's proved himself more than capable of working without any kind of a script. Don't forget, this is the man who gave the world clanging Transformer testicles.

As much as we might scoff at Bay's bold claims, there will be many people who'll be welcoming his promise of "unique twists, death-defying challenges and stunning visuals". Looks like the producers of Pineapple Dance Studios and Muslim Driving School may need to raise their game.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Au naturel?

Move over Jean D'Arc. Shift your keister Emmeline Pankhurst. There's a new symbol of female empowerment in town, and she's taking no prisoners.

In the last few years she may have seemed about as stable as a wobbly bar stool, but Britney Jean Spears is finally back in control. She's cleaned up her act and decided to do something nobody ever expected. Besides singing live, of course.

When it was first revealed that Britney was going to be advertising a new range of Candies clothing for Kohl's department stores, preliminary artwork for the campaign was released to showcase the expensive-looking photography involved. But commentators were more interested in how much Photoshop had been employed, given that Britney looked about as realistic as Heidi Montag.

However, nobody was expecting Britney herself to decide to release the un-retouched photography alongside the actual campaign images. Despite a career built on artifice and image over content, Britney is apparently concerned about "the pressure exerted on women to look perfect" and wanted to show that she's "proud of her body - imperfections and all."

It's a bold gesture, albeit one that was probably easier for Britney to make given the fact that the original images were pretty complimentary. Sure, her legs are a little chunkier, her waist a little broader, and there are some unattractive bruises on her thigh. But given the fact that she's wearing an unforgiving hot pink swimsuit and heels, she's still got plenty to be confident about.

The idea of Britney striking a blow for female empowerment is a troubling one. If we're going to willingly accept this brave new world, maybe we also need to reappraise Britney's previous misadventures. Perhaps she's been sending out positive messages all along?

When she shaved her head, it was a gesture of sisterhood for women with alopecia. Those mimed concert appearances - an exposure of the artifice of the recording industry. And when she attacked that photographer's car with an umbrella she was making a statement about the impending threat of climate change.

The other explanation is that she was sitting in Supercuts, waiting to have her weave re-glued, and decided to flick through the new Marie Claire. Incensed by Jessica Simpson's unretouched, make-up-free cover image, she vowed not to be outdone by a pretender to her throne.

Whatever her motivation, it's clear that Britney wants a fresh start. And the fact that she made this decision indicates that she's running her own career, rather than relying on an ambulance chasing 'manager'. Looks like our girl is now a woman.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Revenge of the nerds

When Apple first introduced the Apps store back in July 2008, no-one had any idea just how influential it would become. In fact, industrious developers and tech-hungry users have joined forces to turn this gimmicky notion into a multi-billion dollar industry.

The apps themselves vary in quality, from the absolutely ingenious to the bewilderingly pointless. Does anyone really need a virtual carp pond, pretend pint or a fart-o-meter?

Thankfully, many of the widgets that have been developed over the last couple of years do more than simply provide users with an amusing way of checking that their phone's accelerometer is still working. You can check local traffic cameras, get real-time Tube updates or even track down your phone if it goes missing.

Back when mobile phones were the size of a shoe-box, the closest technology came to helping people locate their missing valuables was a voice-activated key fob that beeped when you whistled for it. Nowadays, it's a very different story.

This fourth-year computer sciences student put one of these apps to the test recently when his flat in Acton was burgled. In a fairly lengthy post on his brand new blog, he details how he was able to lock his phone, track down his stolen goods and get the police involved.

Using WaveSecure, plus Google Maps and Street View, he found out that his missing technology was being sold in a shop on the High Street just half a mile away. The stolen goods were successfully recovered (although they're still in police custody) and his inaugural post scored him over a million new readers.

In a display of ingenuity and real-time crime solving that would have the cast of 24 hanging up their electrodes in shame, our industrious hero was able to disable the threat in less time than it would take Chloe to chew her lip and triangulate Jack's phone signal. As a result, he'll soon be reunited with his purloined particulars and has ably demonstrated that these applications can actually be put to productive use.

It's just a shame that, even as this story was breaking about Street View helping to solve a crime, the innovative location software was being fingered by a somewhat less-informed source in another theft. Gordon Rayner, a milkman from West Yorkshire, has been telling the press that his mountain bike was stolen because Google's widget enabled would-be thieves to peer inside his garage.

It doesn't seem to matter that even the most eagle-eyed web-watcher would only be able to identify an old washing machine inside his garage. Or the fact that imagery on the site is at least six months old - Rayner seems to think that Street View works like full-colour CCTV.

Still, if West Yorkshire police need any help investigating this particular theft, there's a ComSci student in Acton who might be able to give them some pointers...

Monday, 12 April 2010

Putting it all behind her

And it was all going so well...

Jennifer Lopez had only recently been talking to the press about her 'vocal graduation', telling Access Hollywood that she had a new confidence in her singing skills. She felt particularly proud of the fact that she had sung an old Barbra Streisand song called 'My Man' for her man, husband Marc Anthony, and reduced him to tears in the process.

Beaming with pride, she claimed "I sang a song for Mark's 40th birthday... I was like, 'I can't believe I'm trying to sing a Barbra Streisand song, this is insane!' but I sang it and it was almost like I graduated. I sang it and he had tears in his eyes and we were both like, 'what was that?' and I was like, 'finally, I am a singer, this is what I do!'"

You might scoff at J-Lo's claims of disbelief and tears, until you consider the evidence that recently emerged, courtesy of some pissed-off sound engineers. Tired of La Lopez's diva antics, an irritated studio employee has apparently leaked a recording of the multi-hyphenate laying down some sounds for her forthcoming comeback album.

Biting her thumb at the naysayers, the Latino lovely has gamely taken on one of pop musics biggest targets - Enough Is Enough. Originally recorded in 1979, this epic duet between Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand made Alien vs Predator look like a mild playground scuffle, and featured two of the world's biggest voices, going at it hammer and tongs.

It's not so much a case of the song 'being too big for her' (critique appears courtesy of American Idol) - more the fact that she simply can't sing. At one point in the excruciating recording, the Bronx-born beauty laughs and apologises that the notes she hit were painful for her too. If only she knew how much.

According to the NY Daily News, this audio leak couldn't have come at a worse time, with an unnamed source (aren't they always?) claiming “People are saying that Jennifer is past her prime and her best work is behind her.” With an ass that was rumoured to be insured for $1 billion, it's safe to say that all of Jennifer's highpoints are behind her.

At least Jen can always count on the gays' support, even if all her other fans develop a debilitating case of tinitus. She told The Advocate this month that gays make the best audience ever: "You guys enjoy the music, you get into it, and you’re not afraid to let go and express yourself. That’s what I want from an audience. I recently did a show where the crowd was just standing there, staring at me with their camera phones up, YouTubing me or whatever the heck they do now. I was like, ‘This is crazy! I need vibe!’ I’d so much rather have you guys jumping up and down, waving your arms in the air.”

Chances are, all those people 'YouTubing her or whatever' were actually hoping to score some footage for 'Funny Or Die'. She might also want to check whether those guys in the audience were genuinely waving or simply begging her to stop.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Know thine enemies

It looks like the Vatican is going to need to do a little more than issue a glowing review of the new Harry Potter movie or compile a list of the best rock albums of the last 50 years, if it wants to remain popular.

Pope Benedict XVI is currently under fire for his dubious role in blocking the defrocking of a US priest accused of molesting children in his care. According to a 1985 letter that Benedict signed when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican advised the bishop overseeing the case "to consider the Universal Church" before deciding to sack Father Stephen Kiesle.

Outspoken opponents of organised religion, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, are currently investigating the possibility of a legal ambush when the Pope arrives in the UK in September. Their plan is to charge the paedophile-protecting Pontiff with 'crimes against humanity' for his part, and are consulting with lawyers about initiating criminal proceedings.

As two of Britain's most recognisable atheists, Dawkins and Hitchens have their fair share of critics too. But they're not the only controversial figures gunning for the guy in the big hat.

An unusual cartoon character was recently stenciled onto a billboard in Malta announcing the Pope's imminent arrival on the island, with the local press assuming it was some kind of panda. However, eagle-eyed websperts were quick to point out that the illustrated figure was actually Pedobear.

This dodgy little ursine icon is used as visual shorthand for "You're being creepy about children" when users on imageboard websites like 4chan start to show a preference for underage imagery. Although no-one knows who originally designed the anthropomorphic kiddie-diddler, he's turned into something of an internet legend.

Since his first appearance, Pedobear has popped up on YouTube, and even been misinterpreted by Polish news sources as one of the Vancouver Winter Olympics' official mascots. Online jokers also campaigned for Pedobear in a recent competition to find pop jailbait Miley Cyrus' number one fan - winning with over 15,000 votes.

Dawkins and Hitchens are certainly well-intentioned in their legal battle to keep the spotlight firmly trained on the church's systematic abuse of children in its care. But since they're known primarily for their religion-rattling viewpoints, it will be easy for defenders of the faith to argue that they're simply drumming up publicity for the atheist cause.

Could it be that a crudely drawn cartoon bear might ultimately offer a more impactful critique on the Catholicism's abuses than two of our biggest brains?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Momma don't preach

Pop culture critics are rubbing their hands together with glee at the news that Madonna is concerned about her teenage daughter's mature dress sense. Although she's only 13, Lourdes has a wise-beyond-her-years sense of fashion, so much so that she and her BFF mum have co-designed a new clothing range.

The Material Girl collection includes “jeans, shoes, fingerless gloves, necklaces and other accessories” and was inspired by Lourdes' passion for fashion. Given that Madonna now describes her own sense of style 'boring' she's happy to turn the design work over to her mini-Madge.

According to the yoga-loving Queen of Pop, young Lourdes was even a 'dresser for the dancers' on her last two tours. It's a lot of pressure for someone who still wears braces on her teeth, but she seems to like it that way.

Despite her happiness to indulge her daughter's artistic instinct, Madonna did admit “If anything, I wish she’d dress more conservatively. How’s that for irony?” Actually, it's not ironic at all. Madonna doesn't want Lourdes dressing too far beyond her years - which is perfectly understandable.

Missing the point completely, a number of commentators have been happy to shoot Madonna down for her double standards, pointing out "It is a bit hypocritical. After all, Madonna was barely 20 when she posed for her first nude photos, and she’s made a career out of pushing buttons." However, there's a big difference between a 20-year-old exploring her sexuality, and a 13-year-old exploring the dressing-up box.

Nonetheless, this is seen as 'the chickens coming home to roost' for a woman who has inspired several generations of young women to express themselves through fashion, music and dance. Madonna may have made some mistakes in her past, but she's smart enough to recognise that and make sure her daughter learns from them too.

In fact, the biggest worry about this whole story is the idea that fingerless gloves and leatherette bangles might yet make a comeback. Those who forget the fashions of the past are condemned to repeat them.

Comedy reaches Boyling point

In between making the classic Blazing Saddles and the slightly less auspicious Dracula: Dead And Loving It, Mel Brooks once defined his art by saying "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." In his mind, comedy is all the bad things that happen to other people.

So it's a shame that comedy fan Sharon Smith didn't brush up on some of Mel Brooks before going to see Frankie Boyle in concert at Reading's Hexagon theatre. It's also unfortunate that she thought front row tickets might be a good idea for a comedian known for tearing strips off his audience.

Sharon's experiences have been thoroughly documented in the nation's press, since she wrote a lengthy blog post to describe her upset over what happened when Frankie started joking about Down's syndrome children. You see, Sharon's daughter Tanzie has Down's syndrome, so she and her husband Keiron found themselves squirming uncomfortably as Frankie made his characteristically controversial comments.

To make matters worse, Frankie saw the couple talking through his set and put them on the spot, leading Sharon to take the comedian to task for his insensitive comments. According to Sharon's blog, Frankie derided the unhappy couple saying "This is my last tour. I don't give a fuck what people think."

Unfortunately, since much of Frankie's act seemed to be ad-libbed, it's hard to know exactly what was said. Sharon's account seems to suggest that much of Frankie's tirade was aimed more at the parents of Down's syndrome children than the kids themselves. Either way, the couple got what they paid for - edgy comedy that isn't aimed at the easily offended.

By their own admission, the Hampshire couple went in knowing what to expect: "One of the reasons that we wanted to see Frankie Boyle was that we have seen him on shows like Mock the Week and have loved his humour, how dry he is, how nasty he is, how clever he is. We wanted to see him out of the confines of a TV editing suite, to hear him say things he could not get away with on mainstream TV."

The problem is, they're happy laughing at 'nasty humour' that goes beyond what's deemed conventionally acceptable, just as long as they're not the ones in the firing line. Frankie may well have made a bunch of crass and offensive comments (no-one really knows since the show wasn't recorded) but that's his act. It's a little disingenuous to laugh along with the jokes at everyone else's expense, only to become indignant when you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end.

Comedians like Boyle and Jimmy Carr have carved a niche for themselves by tackling issues that people are uncomfortable with. It's not always pleasant, and sometimes it's downright offensive, but it provokes discussion and encourages people to think about where our societal taboos come from.

The other alternative would be a world full of Russ Abbotts and Joe Pasquales. And even Frankie Boyle would have trouble finding humour in a nightmare scenario like that.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Your parents 'like' this

Is facebook a force for good or evil?

On the one hand, it's a great way to keep in touch with all your friends at once without having to spend half the day composing emails to everyone in your address book. The flipside is that it's like a digital crack pipe, sucking you into its vortex of sheep throwing and 'like' tagging.

The Daily Mail has never been in any doubt - accusing the social networking phenomenon of everything from wrecking rental properties and driving people to suicide, to causing cancer. More recently, they ran a bogus story suggesting that young teenage girls could fall prey to predatory paedophiles before they've even uploaded a profile picture.

Since the journalist who penned the inflamatory article hadn't even been using facebook, the social networking giant was quick to respond with the threat of suing the Mail for the "brand damage that has been done".

So they're probably relieved to be able to report that facebook is figuring in another lawsuit - this time one that doesn't involve poor journalistic ethics. Instead, it's a court case focusing on the biggest problem currently facing most facebook users: oppressive parenting.

16-year-old Lane New is taking his mother to court for accessing his facebook account and snooping on his private life. As his mum Denise rightly points out, this is really just the 21st century equivalent of reading your child's diary or peering under their bed.

Of course, it doesn't help that Denise changed the login details on his account so he couldn't access his own page, and posted comments which he considered to be slanderous. Bizarrely, prosecutors have sided with the aggrieved teen, charging his mother under the state's harassment laws, which cover "conduct or... acts that alarm or seriously annoy another person.'

The problem with this, is that annoying one's children is every parent's prerogative. How else would children ever remember to do their homework or eat their greens? facebook has simply given the older generation a new way to show up and embarrass their offspring.

There's a whole subcategory of lamebook dedicated to overfamiliar parents who don't know when to but out of their kids' business:

The curse of interfering parents is now so commonplace that it's even inspired its own music video.

According to a recent report in the Guardian, more young people are living at home with their parents than in the last 20 years. So next time you complain that your parents are exchanging pleasantries with your friends on facebook, just remember that it could be a lot worse. They could still be telling you to wash your hands before dinner.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

It shouldn't be Aloud

Everything comes at a price, just ask Girls Aloud. Sure, they've got the famous boyfriends, fabulous frocks and all the lollies they can grab from a bathroom attendant, but their fame isn't without its downside.

In the eight years since they trounced Pete Waterman's hopeless 'vocal harmony group' One True Voice in the race for Christmas number, they've found themselves constantly scrutinised by the press over their ever-diminishing weight.

They might have scored more hits than Mike Tyson, but all anyone really cares about is their dress size. Being in the country's favourite girl band means there's an expectation that the five of them will never weigh more than their own carry-on luggage. But each time they stage another sell-out tour there's a worry that the audience might mistakenly applaud the microphone stands before the girls even take to the stage.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Nadine Coyle (the one who sounds like Rev Ian Paisley with a mouthful of marbles) was splashed all over the tabloids as she negotiated some steps in a pair of uncooperative shoes. The pictures made her look like an ungainly cartoon ostrich wearing heels for the first time.

Nadine was quick to respond that, contrary to journalistic opinion, she'd actually put on weight whilst recording her debut solo album. Understandably, the press scoffed at this, given that she could feasibly double her BMI by simply putting on a hat.

Cheryl Cole has also been steadily shrinking, even as her celebrity continues to expand. By the end of 2010, it's likely that she'll be so famous that people will be seeing her face on burritos and pizzas, but she'll be small enough to borrow clothes from her own doll.

When they first auditioned for Popstars: The Rivals, none of the girls were concerned with anything other than securing a place in the band. At no point did any of them express a desire to play role model for a generation of girls. Unfortunately, it's a responsibility that comes with the territory.

So it's disappointing to see Sarah Harding, who has the voice of a diva and the liver of Oliver Reed, advocating weight loss, so soon after her band-mates have been hauled over the coals for their shrinking statistics.

Then again, maybe the coals were her inspiration, since it turns out she's been munching on charcoal to help her shift the weight. Unwittingly confirming every worried parent's fears about setting a bad example, Sarah says "I crumble it up and put it on my food. I found out about it on a fashion website. It has a strange texture, but it doesn't taste of anything and apparently absorbs all the bad, damaging stuff in the body." Well, that certainly sounds scientific to me, even if parmesan is easier to grate.

It might sound extreme, but Sarah knows what she's doing: "It's not the regular charcoal you put in fires, though - I'm not that mad! I get it from the health food shop and I think it's good for hangovers, too." Suddenly, her bizarre diet makes a lot more sense.