Formula 1: End of Sector Two

Long story short, most of the trends I had spotted back in June have continued.

I suggested in the first report that Lewis Hamilton was his own worst enemy in his quest for the 2014 title, but now it seems his own Mercedes team are most likely to deny him the title now. He hasn’t had a sound qualifying since the Spanish Grand Prix, which he won. To recap – first there was “Mirabeau-gate” in Monaco, which cannot be proven as intentional by Nico Rosberg, but meant that Hamilton could not challenge him for pole either way. He made an error on his best lap in Canada and had to settle for second again. A spin on his last attempt in Austria, which may have been a brake bias problem or his own undoing, left him ninth. A misjudgement of weather conditions in Britain left him sixth. Brake failure resulted in a crash and starting at the back in Germany. And a catastrophic engine meltdown in Hungary resulted in a fire so severe that literally everything behind the front axle had to be rebuilt or replaced, not to mention a pitlane start.

Yet from those lowly starting positions in the last four rounds, he has clawed his way back to second, first, third and third respectively. True, Rosberg did have his own mechanical woes that led to his retirement from the British event, but it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that Hamilton would have clear air between himself and his teammate in the title race without these mishaps.

Red Bull’s Daniel “The Teeth” Ricciardo remains best of the rest, and a Pretty Cool Guy; he wears a honey badger on his helmet and doesn’t afraid of anything. Both his Canadian and Hungarian GP wins only came after daring overtaking manoeuvres in the dying laps, so you can never say he hasn’t worked for either. He also continues to be the most universally likeable bloke on the grid, which is perhaps even more remarkable than his winning ways alone – usually the two are mutually exclusive features. Sebastian Vettel (that’s quadruple reigning world champ Sebastian Vettel) remains winless, and more significantly, can’t seem to hold a candle to his new rival either in qualifying or in race craft.

Fernando Alonso is now the only driver maintaining a 100% pointscoring record in 2014, after Nico Hülkenberg’s run came to an end in the tyre wall at Hungary. Alonso came agonisingly close to a heroic win at the Hungaroring, and the fact that sixth place at the same event for Kimi Räikkönen was the Finn’s best result of the entire year speaks volumes for the chasm between the two Ferrari men in the drivers’ standings. Räikkönen is lucky still to be driving for the Prancing Horse for another reason – his 150mph spear into a bridge support on the opening lap at Silverstone measured a wincing 50g impact, enough to puncture through the Armco barrier and require the race to stop for an hour to repair it (the right call, whatever nonsense Niki Lauda cares to spout otherwise).

Williams still have the uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were the first and thus far only drivers to break Mercedes’ stranglehold on qualifying when they locked out the front row in Austria, yet they still ended up fourth and third at the flag without having looked like trying to take the fight to the Silver Arrows. Massa has also shown an unfortunate propensity for being involved in blameless collisions with other drivers, whether on the last lap in Canada with Sergio Pérez, or on the first laps in Britain and Germany with Räikkönen and Kevin Magnussen respectively. The car is clearly very, very good indeed, but it seems to be in the hands of a team who are so used to being backmarkers that they don’t know quite how to handle their sudden return to success.

Force India have made significant strides in the wrong direction over the summer months. From being podium finishers in Bahrain, they now struggle for top-10 results; things hit a nadir in Hungary as Hülkenberg and Pérez collided on track, before ending their races in separate accidents. Happily for fans of McLaren, meanwhile, they have gone on an upward trend, to the stage where they sit a single point behind Force India in the standings, and look set to surpass them at the next race. Magnussen and Jenson Button seem fairly evenly matched, which doesn’t bode well for the Englishman, given the vast difference in their levels of experience at the top of the sport.

Jean-Éric Vergne hasn’t exactly been awful this year – it’s just that Daniil Kvyat has been marginally better, and with two years’ less running than the Frenchman. Both, however, have been frustrated by chronic reliability issues with their cars. It might be a sign of my own growing old, but my initial reaction to the news of Toro Rosso signing nappy-dweller Max Emilian Verstappen (his full name, no joke) to replace Vergne for the 2015 campaign was one of jaw dropping and guttural choking. The day I became older than a current driver on the starting grid (to wit, when Sauber signed Esteban Gutiérrez at the start of 2013) was bad enough, but Verstappen is 16 years old. Sixteen! He can’t even legally drive a road car in the UK and he’s a frickin’ F1 driver! For his sake I hope he doesn’t score a podium finish in the first year, because it’ll just be embarrassing for all when the police confiscate his champagne on the rostrum and slap him with an ASBO.

Closer to the present day, two abrupt driver replacements at the back end of the grid have left everyone scratching their heads. Max Chilton vacated his Marussia seat over “contractual issues” for American racer Alexander Rossi to make his début, only for the team to reverse their decision a few hours later. Chilton’s accountant later apologised for being late to write this month’s cheque. Kamui Kobayashi, meanwhile, has made way for Germany’s Andre Lotterer – a 32-year-old former Le Mans winner with precisely zero F1 experience. Quite where the demand for Lotterer’s presence in the team came from is a bit of a mystery, though his manager did recently adopt a position as an “adviser” to the Caterham executive board…

Still, anything could be worth giving Caterham the surprisingly realistic chance to catch any of the three teams immediately above them in the championship table. Lotus’s woeful season continues to be an unfunny joke for Romain Grosjean’s frittering talent, while Pastor Maldonado continues to be an unfunny joke to the entire paddock – I’ve seen the crash he had in Belgian third practice three times, and short of actually having his eyes closed coming towards the Pouhon corner, I can’t work out how he managed to screw up so badly. Erstwhile respectably mid-grid Sauber are having a quieter, yet equally desperate year – still planted on nul points after eleven rounds, they face their worst showing in over two decades as a constructor, unless Gutiérrez or Adrian Sutil can better one of their many 11th or 12th places into the top-10 result they so desperately need.

Right, Spa kicks off in under half an hour. Once more unto the breach!

 

Adam

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“Guided By The Blind” – Scary People

Someone high up in the music industry must have forgotten the memo to Scary People that they are yet to face the awful tribulation of completing “That Difficult Second Album”. Their new single Guided By The Blind, unleashed on 28th July, shows a confidence and distinction that demonstrates the meteoric progress they’ve made in the space of less than a year, and two EPs.

The Dundee group’s debut release Smoke came in September 2013. In these early days they come across as somewhat generic at times – if you were to turn the radio on partway through opening track Smokescreen, it might take several seconds to recognise the band. It’s good head-bobbing fare nonetheless, and the overlay of synthesised effects and crooning backing vocals add flavour to the solid rock beat. Dreams of Gold, while starting in a similar vein to the previous song, descends into chaotic, overlapping lyrical reverbs as it approaches its frenzied climax. Third and final piece I Don’t See The Light rises noticeably in tempo and pitch – a little closer to indie than straight rock, it zips along with fewer plosive moments, the emphasis more on cymbal riffs than on whacking snares.

Flash forward a mere seven months to April of this year, and their follow-up Chicago! appears. A far cry from Broadway, the title piece thumps and grinds along with a powerful musical engine at its core, as the drums rumble happily beneath. Second and fourth tracks Giving Up Guns and Crush The Bug are not as memorable, with less perceptible development throughout, albeit they remain perfectly adequate rock songs. However, in between, (It’s Never Calm On The) Western Front captures you with a strong Arctic Monkeys-like guitar refrain from the off, and the structure of repeated crescendos gives equal credence to both vocal and instrumental parts, a feature that is perhaps not so balanced in other material.

Three months after this, we come to their latest single, and it’s a world apart from the music that precedes it. Guided By The Blind opens with a guitar riff more in the style of T-Rex than a contemporary indie band, while the lead singer’s full-bodied sputter has softened into a sullen, understated drone with more than a hint of Ian Curtis about it. As the song reaches the chorus it grows in stature, the rock element returning with a vengeance in walls of sound akin to Feeder or Weezer. This track possesses a far more distinctive style than prior releases, and better still, each part has more room to breathe and to show each member’s abilities to the fullest in turn.

Growing ever more accomplished with each new piece unveiled, not to mention performances at T In The Park and Wickerman Festival, a third EP from this group, or even a full-length album if they dare, may just be the record that launches them to the big time.

Adam Learmonth

August 2014

Oor Ain Wee Spot

The second weekend in June played host to the Selkirk Common Riding, the oldest of the Ridings events in the Scottish Borders. For the uninitiated, this centuries-old tradition incorporates a series of festivities in the town, the centrepiece of which is a cavalcade of several hundred horses galloping around the perimeter of the Royal Burgh, ensuring the town’s ancient boundaries are in good order (i.e. no pesky Sassenachs have invaded the territory).

Despite being raised in the nearby village of Ashkirk and attending Selkirk High School, I was never interested in the Common Riding myself. Even in primary school whilst being taught the lyrics to “Auld Selkirk” and “Hail Smilin Morn” it didn’t seem relevant – I only went to my first ride-out last year because my Polish girlfriend was intrigued. That’s when the penny dropped. After the Standard Bearer returns, having found the town’s boundaries to be unsullied and free from English intrusion, the ceremony concludes with, erm, a Union Flag being hoisted, and a rendition of “God Save the Queen”. I realised it’s not the irrelevance that bothers me now – it’s the rank hypocrisy.

 

The Royal Burgh Standard on its way around the perimeters of the town. Photo by Walter Baxter, used under Creative Commons licence.

A cursory poll of my Facebook friends reveals that at the latest count 22 are followers of Yes Scotland, and 28 of Better Together. Two, one a Borderer, have joined both, but of remaining friends from the Borders alone, just four are Yes while a whopping 15 are No. It’s hardly a rigorous scientific analysis, but it certainly seems to reflect the leaning of the region (it’s worth noting that the wealthy rural constituencies adjacent to England tend to be Scotland’s Tory havens).

I was inspired by my good friend and neighbour Gabriel Neil to contribute to this site my own experience in becoming an independence supporter. Being a few years younger than Gabe, my own earliest recollections of international affairs include Princess Diana’s death, the Good Friday agreement, and the “beef on the bone” scandal. With the World Cup under way, another memory coming to mind is of a television being wheeled into the primary school classroom so we could watch England games at the 2002 event. Again, despite being but a wee lad, I had the inkling that something wasn’t quite right about this arrangement. I don’t go proactively against English sporting endeavour (the media hype surrounding said endeavour is another matter), but why were we to assume support for them in Scotland’s absence? Why not Ireland, or France, or, I don’t know, Sweden? Costa Rica? Each seemed to make as much sense.

I’ve always been a bit obstinate when it comes to trends, a hipster before hipsters were cool, so in my teens I decided that I wanted to add to that by being a political rebel. Approaching the 2005 election I took a partiality to the Tories on the sole premise that Labour had taken us into Iraq, and they were the vessels making the most audible noise against the Labour government. I was also a great fan of Boris Johnson’s wittering ways, and made the semi-serious point of penning “Vote4 Boris” on my knuckles the day he was elected Mayor of London. By the end of high school, having actually looked at their policies, I realised the foolishness of my ways, and went for the safer option of backing the Monster Raving Loonies for a while.

My time at Abertay University has probably shaped my views more than anything else. I dabbled in student politics, advocating a friend’s campaign for the Student Association’s vice-presidency, and ran for the executive committee myself. But more than this, I was able to experience a diversity of cultures, nationalities and backgrounds far beyond anything I had encountered at home. I’ve made friends from all areas of England, Ireland, Spain, Finland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Cameroon, India, Russia and the USA, and many other places in between. I’ve met a few people with money to lavish on owning cars and frequenting expensive nightclubs, but I’ve met many more who worship at the altar of reduced-price supermarket shelves, and scavenge furniture from second-hand traders, or even pick up thrown-out items from the street.

 

Image

In my first year of student living I worked out how to produce a three-course dinner for two for 96 pence. Thrift is sexier than you’d think.

The independence debate crept up on me gradually over the last couple of years. I guess a part of the initial appeal of Yes for me, as described above, was the unyielding dissident within – the chance to be part of a seismic revolution in history. A wise man once said that if you can’t figure out what to do in life, find something bigger than you and devote yourself to it. Other than some global catastrophe (or world peace) I can’t imagine a much bigger change in my or anybody else’s life on a macro level than the redrawing of international borders.

Since graduation, I’ve spent stints of varying months in the dole queue, in a bank, in a call centre, as a charity canvasser, and volunteering with homeless organisations. I come from a relatively affluent middle-class family, but I’ve been made starkly aware of the tribulations of being unable to find work in 21st century Britain, and the London-centric nature of the jobs market. Fellow alumni of Abertay – bright, intelligent, assiduous people with good degrees – have taken almost a year to find even short-term contract jobs; others simply gave up on Scotland and moved south. Then there’s the plight of homeless people in every other shop front, and the prevalence of food banks. Sites like Wings and National Collective, not to mention Private Eye and some of the mainstream media, have opened my eyes to the imbalances and injustices entrenched in an ostensibly equal union of nations.

I don’t advocate change for change’s sake, but what real alternatives are there to the flagrant right-wing authoritarians of Westminster? Being a typically fresh-faced and optimistic student, I too voted Liberal Democrat at the 2010 elections, and the rest of that tale is history; they are discredited beyond repair as long as Nick Clegg is at the helm. The Conservatives are the Conservatives. Labour have the ineffectual Ed Miliband leading them, and in any case daren’t go any farther left of the Tories than they need to in order to challenge for the pivotal Middle England seats. And UKIP are just plain terrifying.

 

Image

Exhibit A.

 

I am one of those creatures deemed a myth by many in the No camp – an independence supporter who does not blindly follow the SNP. I’d say my politics sit somewhere between the Nationals and the Greens, which is why I have no desire to become a subscriber to either party – neither alone matches my views closely enough. Ironically, a Scottish Labour with traditional working-class values in its veins would probably be more appealing to me than either of those. A pity that such a thing doesn’t exist.

Having said all this, I remain a sceptic by nature, and until I’ve marked my X on the ballot paper, I will never say my position is absolute. There are poor and fallacious assertions and shouting, stupid voices on each side. “Impartial” statistics and “expert” analyses are rallied back and forth amongst the mudslingers, confounding even the most hardened of debaters. But in most cases I have found the final undisputed word has come down on the side of favouring independence.

Moreover, Yes commentators frequently cross into No territory to dispel arguments, whereas the converse is far more rare. Some undecided friends have expressed concern that the Yes campaign is “aggressive”, and that it is going to create “partisanships” among the Scottish populace. Unfortunately for them, the fact we’ve reached a referendum in the first place means divisions are inevitable, and in any given debate the side promoting change from the status quo are the ones who need to be forceful, almost polemic, to overcome the apathy and reservation they meet by default.

If it’s a No vote on 18th September, I think I may emigrate to Poland and become an English teacher. Even if mój polski nie jest bardzo dobra it’s a wonderful place, and the prospect of staying looks ominous whoever gets into Westminster in 2015. But if there’s a Yes vote, I’ll be more excited than I can ever recall to engage with the cultural scene in my country and the world at large – be it in politics, in poetry, in philosophy, wherever. A totally blank sheet would be daunting, but with strong foundations from the existing country in place we don’t even have that to worry about. It’s more of a paint-by-numbers thing, where all we have to do is decide on the colours. I can feel it – this is the start of something good.

 

EDIT: changed the first image by request of copyright holder. My apologies to him again.

F1 2014: End of Sector One

Circumstances (read: incompetence, laziness, occasional lack of internet / interest) mean I have yet ever to follow a full season of Formula 1 racing through to its conclusion in any blog. I’ll try to address that this year by reducing my ambitions to general segmented reviews when I see fit – or can fit.

 

The obvious story of the year has been the meteoric speed of Mercedes. One of their two cars has topped fourteen out of eighteen practice sessions. Neither has qualified off the first two rows, Nico Rosberg’s fourth on the grid in China being the “worst” performance. What’s more, a Mercedes has led every single lap of every race this season, at times scarpering into the distance two seconds per lap quicker than the other twenty entrants.

 

All this means the Silver Arrows leave the first three months of the season with five 1-2 finishes in six rounds, the only blot being Lewis Hamilton’s early exit from the Australian race with a misfiring piston. In 1988 the McLaren MP4/4 took fifteen poles and fifteen victories from sixteen rounds, and has been roundly considered the most dominant car ever produced, including Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari years. With a 100% rate in both categories thus far, there is every chance the Mercedes W05 may topple it.

 

Better still, it doesn’t equate to the supremacy that Sebastian Vettel enjoyed over the past few years, as neither Hamilton nor Rosberg has been able to establish himself over his most important rival. I waived supporting Hamilton before the start of 2014 – year after year of disappointing near-misses, car failures, driver errors and a poor attitude with the media were irritating, but his outspoken admiration for (convicted rapist) Mike Tyson was the final straw for me.

 

Jenson Button's pit radio in Melbourne: "What are the laptimes that the leaders are doing? ...obviously not the Mercedes, but the rest..."

 

[hover over pictures for captions]

 

Naturally, he has thrived since I disowned him, taking four wins on the trot and generally enjoying faster pace than his Teutonic teammate. However, Rosberg maintains his slightly fortuitous championship lead, and Hamilton’s well-publicised retorts after being defeated in, ahem, debatable style over the Monaco weekend highlight an emotional fragility one would have hoped he’d be well clear of by now. Ultimately, for all the media play up a head-to-head rivalry, I think the only man who can deprive Lewis Hamilton of his second world championship title is Lewis Hamilton.

 

Behind the runaway Mercs, the order has changed from track to track. Firstly, McLaren achieved a double podium finish at Albert Park, their first for over a year; debutant Kevin Magnussen remains the only non-Mercedes driver with a top-two finish so far this year. Since then, though, their performance at more traditional purpose-built circuits has left a lot to be desired – as well as a slow car, Magnussen has had more than his share of opening-lap bump and grind, whilst Jenson Button is just… going steady, to put it nicely.

 

Instead, Red Bull have usually taken over the mantle as best of the rest, but the real talking point is Daniel “The Teeth” Ricciardo’s apparent superiority over Vettel. I’ll concede that the reigning title holder has assumed levels of misfortune comparable to his erstwhile teammate Mark Webber, with turbo failures in Melbourne and Monte Carlo, and also gremlins in qualifying for Spain. But the Australian has outqualified the quadruple world champion four times out of the other five too, and is still outscoring him despite suffering a disqualification and retirement himself in the first two races. What’s up, Seb?

 

Anyone whose crash helmet has a honey badger emblazoned on the back with the caption "What Would He Do?" is already a winner in my book.

 

There’s little of great interest to say at Ferrari, meanwhile – Fernando Alonso continues to draw reputable results from the car like blood from a four-wheeled stone, and sits third in the standings as a result. Kimi Räikkönen, bar a good opening stint in Monaco, has underwhelmed, even in terms of producing amusingly sardonic soundbites. Team boss Stefano Domenicali was replaced after the Chinese race with Marco Mattiacci, though it remains to be seen whether this brings an upturn in fortunes. The Prancing Horses have now gone since 2008 without a constructors’ championship, and Räikkönen took their last drivers’ title in 2007; impressively, however, the last time they went an entire season without a single race win was way back in 1993. Chances of that particular streak surviving this year, though…

 

Of the habitual midfield teams, Force India have undoubtedly had the most success in the early part of 2014. Sergio Pérez achieved their first podium for five years with a jubilant third place in Bahrain, but it is the performance of Nico Hülkenberg that has stood out – an unbroken string of top-6 finishes lifting his team as high as second in the constructors’ standings at one stage. Hülkenberg himself is above both McLaren drivers and even Vettel, renewing the interminable murmurings about why he isn’t in a championship-contending team by now. Also, his pass of Magnussen going into the tunnel at Monaco is probably the boldest overtaking move I’ve yet seen this season.

 

On pace alone, the Williams cars should be beside or even ahead of Force India, but a number of driver errors and poor strategic calls on occasion have deprived them of several points opportunities. Matters were not helped in Malaysia when, whilst running seventh and eighth respectively, Felipe Massa refused to allow the faster Valtteri Bottas through to have a crack at Button’s McLaren ahead – echoes of his Ferrari days perhaps ringing a little too close to home. The team assure that there are no creeping interpersonal dramas, and they certainly can’t afford to have their drivers trip one another up if they are to take the results the car deserves.

 

Hitting a kerb during Bahrain practice is the closest Maldonado has come to "flying" all season.


I’ve never considered myself superstitious, and it bothered me for my whole F1-watching life that a sport associating itself with science, progression and modern thinking insisted for decades on no driver using the number 13 on their car. So when Pastor Maldonado chose the portentous figure for this season, for all I dislike him, I hoped fervently that he would defy the convention and prove the auspices incorrect. His first six results of 2014 have been: non-finish, non-finish, 14th, 14th, 15th and a non-start. Granted, the sinfully ugly twin-tusked Lotus car has been very unreliable throughout the early races, but he has only himself to blame for spearing Esteban Guttiérez’s Sauber into a somersault at Bahrain, spinning in first practice at China after being distracted by his steering wheel, clouting the pit wall in second practice of the same event, and another collision with Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham on the opening lap in Spain.

 

It doesn’t say much that Maldonado’s teammate Romain Grosjean is outperforming him, but I still feel for the Frenchman who, after a notoriously crash-filled 2012 season, had shown a genuine burgeoning talent in 2013 that is currently going to waste again. Unlike Maldonado, he at least has points on the board, thus keeping Lotus in touch with Toro Rosso in the standings. The “Red Bull B-team” began well with a double score in Australia but, like McLaren, have trailed off since. Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat are on an equal footing in terms of points scored, but while the former is technically ahead by grace of the higher finish, his rookie teammate has taken more points finishes, and on the whole looks the quicker prospect.

 

Down at the back, the once proudly midfield Sauber team have had a miserable opening to the season. Their best chance for points thus far was Monaco, and both Guttiérez and Adrian Sutil ended their weekends against the Armco barriers, a particular shame after Sutil had made some excellent passes into the Loews hairpin. Caterham are still Caterham – even the hiring of “Krazy” Kamui Kobayashi can’t seem to help them secure that first elusive top-10 result. And both have been completely overshadowed by Jules Bianchi’s meritorious ninth-place finish at Monaco, the first point-scoring result for Marussia at their 83rd attempt since joining the sport in 2010. It’s like Rochdale qualifying for the Champions League. Nothing else matters after an upset like that, although kudos must continue to go to Bianchi’s teammate Max Chilton, whose unblemished record of completing every race he has started has stretched well into his second year. Sometimes he doesn’t even finish last, either, and he has managed to out-qualify Bianchi twice.

 

The Marussia team's entire parts upgrade between Spain and Monaco cost a total of £2000. They reportedly celebrated their points milestone with ONE bottle of champagne between all 194 crew members. That's Yorkshire for you.


Of course, relative performances of drivers and teams are all well and good, but it matters squat if the racing isn’t up to scratch. What a relief, then, that the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix was the finest Formula 1 race I’ve seen since… oh, Canada 2011? Maybe even better than that – a sumptuous treat of wheel-to-wheel racing all the way through the field. I can watch the video highlights over and over and still not get bored of it. If the eleven minutes below are not enough to convince you of the excitement of open-wheel racing, I’m not sure anything will.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/26913387

 

But enough of looking to the past. Qualifying in Canada has concluded (a Mercedes 1-2 at the top of the timesheets, quelle surprise) and the race commences in mere hours. I’ll probably report back next during the summer break.

 

 

Vroom vroom,

 

Adam

Hello, Norma Jeane.

You know what grinds my gears?

Last Sunday would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 88th birthday, born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926. This much we can establish as a fact. She was an enormously famous model and actress, married and divorced three times, sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy, and is immortalised (among other places) in one of Andy Warhol’s most famous pop-art canvasses. These are also indisputable actualities. But there’s one quote, ostensibly taken from Monroe, that seems to take centre stage on every other woman’s Facebook profile descriptor:

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

I know, I know, this topic has already been done to death by countless others, but it’s better to have something written at all than something truly original and insightful. That’ll come with time, hopefully.

Anyway, I’ve seen these words take pride of place on several friends’ “About Me” sections over the past few years. But the evidence for Monroe having said this at any point in her life is… tenuous at best, non-existent at worst. In a relatively brief Google search I can find no source for it, even as something said in character from a film. But it’s all over fan pages and blogs, some of which already discredit it. Allow me to add my not entirely original voice.

Firstly, the quote itself, regardless of to whom it is accredited, is obnoxious. It encompasses a tacit assumption that a woman reserves the right to be neurotic or downright unreasonable without expecting repercussions. And what is “at her best”, then? The woman described gives no allusion as to this. It leaves the uncomfortable conclusion, in my mind at least, that a man is supposed to desire a woman no matter how unscrupulous her behaviour, no matter how fundamental her personal flaws. To play along for a moment with this notably sexist notion – if a man were to describe himself as above to a woman, would it resonate the same? Or would she tell him that he can take a hike until he addresses at least some of his unscrupulous behaviour and/or fundamental personal flaws?

Secondly, why is it fashionable to attribute this to Marilyn Monroe, of all people? She was, it is fair to say, renowned for a lack of punctuality and cooperation on set, but she was also a perfectionist, insisting on multiple takes for even single lines. Her mother was forcibly sectioned when she was a child, she suffered multiple alleged sexual assaults as an adolescent and multiple miscarriages as an adult, and she had frequent public disagreements with her spouses. So is it really likely that she would have proclaimed herself to be “insecure” or “out of control” like some kind of battle scar? Would anyone? It smacks far more of an immature person attempting to justify their own insecurities by attaching them to a successful public figure’s name. Which is fine if it helps them through their own problems, but it’s disingenuous for everyone else.

Even – or, perhaps, especially – fifty years on, most conversations regarding her that I come across come to the depressing lowest-common-denominator of her looks. One side of a social media argument presents her as an example of “curvy” girls from ye olden days being more attractive than “skinny” celebrities of the present, or simply that she had more “class” than any of the “whore” modern celebrities, provoking overheated exchanges about body image whilst completely ignoring her as a personality altogether. (At least it is no longer a common piece of “trivia” that she had eleven toes – a rumour by any other name, it is derived from a single photograph in an early modelling shoot on a beach, in which a tiny clump of sand resembles an extra digit on her left foot. A cursory look at any other photos from the shoot would dispel this urban myth altogether.)

What of Marilyn Monroe as a human being, then? Would it not be inspiring to the modern woman to know she worked in a munitions factory during World War II? Is it not elevating to learn that in her later career she controlled her own production company, negotiating profit shares from all of her movies, excluding herself from single-studio contracts, and invoking the power to reject any directors or scripts she did not want?

Then there’s her literary interests. Ulysses by James Joyce is a tremendous book, one of the most densely woven and challenging texts of the 20th century, if not ever. Even hardened bookworms find it tough going – I’ve made it through five hours of the audiobook and find it tortuous. Marilyn Monroe read the entire thing, cover to cover. Maria Popova of the website Brain Pickings illustrates the disparity between public persona and private personality that Monroe struggled with on a near-constant basis:

“She took great pains to be photographed reading or holding a book — insistence born not out of vain affectation but of a genuine love of literature. Her personal library contained four hundred books, including classics like Dostoyevsky and Milton, and modern staples like Hemingway and Kerouac. While she wasn’t shooting, she was taking literature and history night classes at UCLA. And yet, the public image of a breezy, bubbly blonde endures as a caricature of Monroe’s character, standing in stark contrast with whatever deep-seated demons led her to take her own life.”

The stinging irony of Marilyn Monroe is that the trait that made her famous is the very same she riled against being characterised by. As a counterbalance to some of the nonsense put about, here’s a quote that we can definitely say came from her during an interview for Life magazine, published just two days before her fatal drug overdose:

“That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing… I just hate to be a thing”.

If you’ve read this and you have the faux-Monroe quote in your profile, do yourself, Marilyn Monroe’s memory, historical pedants, and womanhood at large a favour by removing it immediately.

Adam

Abertay Independence Referendum Debates

3rd Feb: Jenny Marra Q&A

The first event of Abertay University’s Scottish independence referendum sessions was an intimate Q&A session with Jenny Marra – Labour MSP for North-East Scotland, Shadow MSP for Youth Employment, and Deputy Finance spokesperson. In an opening speech, she talked of her Irish ancestry, past generations of her family working in the jute mills, and of how their memberships of the respective trade unions influenced her Labour roots. This led on to her argument for retaining the union: that it has survived for over three hundred years, that a larger economy allows us to share risks, and that there was no benefit to building borders.

The Yes campaign, Ms Marra said, whilst “compelling”, failed to tackle important questions regarding Scotland’s finances, and the many negotiations it would face in establishing itself on the world stage; balancing this, she suggested “poverty” in the quality of political debate surrounding the referendum from both camps. She continued by criticising the SNP as being “consumed” with treating illness in the NHS, and with building new infrastructure (as opposed to monitoring finances). She indicated that many of the problems that independence is alleged to solve could be addressed with existing devolved powers, currently unused by the current Scottish Government, before concluding by returning to her theme of borders – pointing out the issue of Scotland joining the EU and thus the Schengen Area, meaning passport checks and patrols along the Scotland/England border.

The first question put to Ms Marra from the audience was concerning the currency Scotland would use. She argued the “Sterling zone” proposed by the Scottish Government in the event of independence was a risk; when pressed as to why, she maintained that Alec Salmond’s claims that currency could still be shared were unfounded assertions. A second question raised the issue of divergent policies such as the “bedroom tax”, opposed by Scottish MPs but imposed anyway, and Ms Marra responded that it was a Labour push that had coerced the SNP to combat this particular policy; moreover, a UK Labour government would abolish the tax altogether if elected in 2015.

Further discussion leading from these questions considered the financial sustainability of an independent Scotland. An audience member referred to the possibility of the Barnett Formula being revoked in the near future, thus affecting Scotland’s finances even in the event of a No vote. Ms Marra replied that devolution was “not a full stop”, and that the constitutional debate was a distraction from other issues; in any case, she continued, an independent condition for areas such as welfare would not be delivered “before 2020”.

Moving on, Ms Marra asserted that Scottish independence would hurt the remaining United Kingdom as well, insinuating that the current desire for independence was based on anti-Tory posturing, and assuring that the referendum is, or should be, “above party politics”. In further exchanges with audience members, she alluded to the Scottish banking bailout as an illustration of the security offered by the existing union, as well as the protection offered by the UK’s armed forces and nuclear weapons. In her closing remarks, Ms Marra repeated her desire to see a more “progressive” government, preferably Labour, working within the present United Kingdom infrastructure. 

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3rd Feb: Education Debate

Held in the Main Lecture Hall of Abertay University, this panel debate was chaired by Abertay’s Debate Society president Neil Cole. The panel comprised Jenny Marra from the earlier Q&A; Robert Foster, Vice-President of the Scottish National Union of Students; Shona Robison, SNP MSP for Commonwealth Games and Sport; and Debora Shepherd, a member of the University and College Union.

The opening question, submitted beforehand by an audience member, regarded the state of tuition fees for students from the rest of the United Kingdom in an independent Scotland. Ms Marra, initiating, said independence would have bad consequences for universities and colleges – Scotland, she argued, would be forced either to waive tuition fees for rUK students, so as not to contravene EU regulations, or to raise fees for all non-Scottish students accordingly. Either course of action would ostensibly result in a loss of billions of pounds for such institutions.

Conversely, Ms Robison maintained that there was “objective justification” for a continued disparity between rUK and EU fees, given the unique nature of the countries’ proximity and shared culture and resources. Mr Foster pointed out that there is some precedent for discrepancy in fees for different nationalities, referring to a legal case in which a French student campaigned to pay the same fees at a Belgian university as Belgian nationals – he was unable to give precise details of the case or its outcome, however. Ms Shepherd raised the query of whether tuition fees structure might have to change anyway in the event of a No vote, to which neither of the MSPs had a certain answer.

Mr Cole followed up this question by asking what solution there might be for the shortfall in money if charging different fees were deemed illegal. Ms Marra suggested having fees means-tested, and giving “enhanced support” and putting “progressive” measures in place for those unable to pay comfortably for their further education. Ms Robison, meanwhile, proposed a higher graduate “endowment”, or tax, would cover the potential losses incurred.

The second audience question asked whether a degree from a Scottish university would have the same worth were it an independent country. Mr Foster was the first to respond, telling of Scottish NUS discussions to bring in an American-style grade point average to Scottish higher education, replacing the current First, Upper Second, Lower Second, Third tier system. This, he indicated, would allow a better evaluation of the merit of each individual’s degree, thus potentially improving the prestige of a Scottish qualification.

Ms Marra claimed research funding would suffer in Scotland, due to the lack of support from charities based in the UK. To the original question, Ms Shepherd simply answered, “Of course it will [be worth as much]”, before adding to address Ms Marra, “Research knows no borders”. Ms Robison further criticised Ms Marra’s point, stating that comparing the present balance of Scottish charity research contributions to research revenue, the total subsidy from the UK is a mere £4million; furthermore, cutting out the costs of administering these funds via the UK treasury could yet make Scotland better off in any case. Mr Foster concluded with the assertion that there was no discernible reason why researchers would exclude Scotland as a place for undertaking projects, regardless of the referendum outcome.

At this point, the debate was opened to general audience questions, and the subject changed to EU membership. Again, Ms Marra was the voice of caution, warning that the conditions desired by the Scottish Government could not be guaranteed in negotiations, and that membership of the UK brings many privileges that Scotland stands to lose by leaving. A fairly heated back-and-forth ensued between the two MSPs. Ms Robison assured that the White Paper answered most of the No campaign’s questions, and that the UK Government offered no equivalent plans should Scotland remain in the UK. Ms Marra indicated that the UK had already conceded on issues such as national debt and passports, but that “Devo Max” was still the best option for the Scottish people, to be delivered by a progressive Labour government.

Ms Shepherd interjected at this point with a cutting remark on “democracy” in the UK, indicating that the three major UK parties were three shades of the same right-wing policies. Mr Foster concurred, adding that there are no absolutes in either event, and that the No campaign could not rely on uncertainty as a reason to side with them. Ms Marra attempted to counter these arguments, drawing parallels between Labour and Nelson Mandela in terms of protecting vulnerable members of society, but as the debate was drawn to a close, she looked the most uncomfortable of all the panel members, having listened to a trade union member vilifying the party supposed to represent the working classes.

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7th Feb: Employment & Economy Debate

Again held in the Main Lecture Hall and chaired by Neil Cole, this panel comprised Tony Banks, founder of Balhousie Care Group and Business for Scotland member; Lesley Brennan, Labour councillor for Dundee East; Stewart Hosie, SNP MP for Dundee East; Gordon Maloney, President of the Scottish National Union of Students; and Jim McGovern, Labour MP for Dundee West.

The first question put to the panel concerned the effect independence might have on people from the EU working or studying in Scotland. Mr Hosie gave the first answer, stating that there would be no negative effects on the ability of EU nationals to come in; Mr Banks concurred, suggesting that independence would bring new opportunities for European workers. Mr Maloney added that he is “terrified” at the prospect of the UK withdrawing from the EU in a proposed 2017 referendum, due to the consequences this may have on EU workers. The Labour members did not share the optimism of the previous speakers, reflecting Jenny Marra’s words from the previous debate; Mr McGovern questioned whether Scotland could maintain its current tuition fee model independently, while Ms Brennan expressed doubt about Scotland receiving “automatic membership” to the EU. Mr Hosie responded in turn that the fear of UKIP and their policies was “palpable” in Scotland, and Mr Maloney agreed this was more concerning than the independence referendum, though Mr McGovern interjected that UKIP were unlikely to win anyway.

The debate advanced to a discussion about which currency an independent nation would use, and this time Mr Banks went first, describing it as a “non-issue”: Scotland would obviously keep the pound Sterling, as it makes no sense to hinder the £60bn trade market with rUK, especially when they have “convergent economies”. Ms Brennan stated in response that, historically, monetary unions have not panned out well, possibly alluding to the Euro-zone crisis. There would be higher levels of taxation, she continued, using the word “unpalatable” before retracting it, and saying the economies of the two countries might become divergent after independence, requiring “serious negotiation”.

Mr Maloney queried whether higher taxes were necessarily a bad thing if wages, services et cetera were also improved accordingly, before asking the councillor whether Labour would stand against a currency union (since this debate, Labour has officially stated it will refuse such a union if elected in 2015). Mr McGovern referred to a recent speech by the Governor of the Bank of England, saying Scotland would “cede sovereignty” if Sterling was kept. Mr Hosie cited Belgium and Luxembourg’s historic sharing of the franc as a successful currency union outwith a political one, and stressed that both Scotland and rUK would adhere to the same rules of “parity” for inflation, assets, deficits etc. Mr Banks summarised the currency debate by pointing out that if you were to ask fifty economists a question on finances you would get “no straight answers”.

The conversation moved to a more general overlook of Scotland’s potential socio-political future. Ms Brennan spoke with some vacillation, describing the independence process as to “break away” or to “separate”, that the SNP promised a “land of milk and honey” that could not be delivered, and that the true solution to the current problems facing the UK as a whole was not independence, but combating neoliberalism. Mr McGovern made passing reference to a speech (possibly by SNP MP Pete Wishart) in parliament earlier in the week, and indicated that the SNP values businesses over the working classes and that Alex Salmond has the “lairds in his pocket”.

Mr Maloney exclaimed at this point that it was a “frustrating” debate that “makes me cry”, though his remarks were somewhat tongue-in-cheek. He asked what the No campaign had set out as a vision of Scotland’s future, before rounding on Mr McGovern’s comments by saying all parties were pro-business to some extent, and adding that, compared to other European countries, the United Kingdom is an outlier due to its relatively strong right-wing leanings. Mr Hosie reasoned that Scotland was “broadly to the left” politically, and used the resentment caused by the poll tax as one example of the difference in Scottish attitudes to those in Westminster. He further claimed Scotland was better for “valuing public services”, and echoed Jenny Marra’s description of “progressive” government being needed; however, unlike Ms Marra, he believed only independence could achieve this.

Mr Banks suggested that an independent Scotland, if as successful as hoped, could be a catalyst to drive positive change in the remainder of the UK. He argued that devolution has shielded Scotland from the worst excesses of neoliberalism, and that the greatest need was for education and jobs. He further stated – as a man with “no vested interests” – that the referendum is not, and ought not to be, a vote taken on political party lines, and the public may feel disenfranchised if it is treated as such.

Unfortunately, little time was left in the debate for audience questions. The first was a young woman castigating the Labour panel members over the Iraq war, to which Ms Brennan mentioned she had voted against going to war. The second questioned Labour’s hypocrisy over politicians’ business interests, citing Johann Lamont’s endorsement of the head of BP, who opposes independence; Mr McGovern dismissed the point impatiently. Mr Hosie explained that being pro-business does not necessarily mean also being anti-socialist, provided the state maintained ultimate control instead of a corporate oligarchy.

Mr Maloney referred to Scottish tycoon Andrew Carnegie in his response; while he appreciated Carnegie’s philanthropic work, he was less enthused by the man’s anti-union stance. However, he continued, the focus must be ensuring an independent Scotland’s economy is not at the mercy of stock markets. He then returned to the topic of unions, describing the recent disputes at the Grangemouth refinery plant as “punitive”, and insisting on not allowing businesses to become bullies.

Mr Banks claimed that we are approaching a “classless society”, far away from the social structures of the 1980s and before – a remark Mr McGovern was quick to contest, taking the need for food banks as evidence of class disparity. The final word in the debate was an Irish audience member, addressing Ms Brennan’s earlier remarks. He claimed Scotland could be a “shining light” to Northern Ireland, by achieving the sort of sovereignty via peaceable means that some Northern Irish have only ever imagined.

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14th Feb: Stewart Hosie Q&A

The final event of the Abertay’s referendum sessions mirrored the first – an intimate Q&A with SNP Treasury representative Stewart Hosie, hosted by David Clegg of the Scottish Daily Record. In his opening speech, Mr Hosie made the case for Scotland being financially viable after independence, the economy being the most important factor to many voters. His points aimed to disperse the “myths” that Scotland could not leave the UK for a variety of reasons such as welfare, public sector jobs, oil revenues, and surpluses. Respectively, he outlined that 77% of Scottish workers are in the private sector; twenty-three billion remaining barrels of oil worth £1.5tn would gain the Scottish economy £400bn by his estimates; and Scotland’s finances have run “in the black” for 32 consecutive years, even as the UK’s have not.

Mr Clegg then turned the conversation to his earlier years as a politician, and Mr Hosie revealed he had joined the SNP in 1983, because of a shared interest with the party in pursuing anti-nuclear policies, both as an energy source and as weaponry. He pointed out that it was still a highly relevant topic today, even if “not a top priority”, and that some voters might be swayed depending on whether the nuclear submarines at Faslane would be kept or removed from an independent Scotland.

Mr Hosie then moved on into an attack on the negativity of the No campaign, its reliance on creating uncertainty, and asking questions on practicality and “forms to fill in” (quoting Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie). He concluded that the Scottish Government White Paper answered most of the questions presented, and that the UK Government was in a position to answer the rest, for example on EU membership, if it were only prepared to ask; the No campaign only keeps asking to pretend that the answers are not there.

The inevitable debate on currency followed, and much of this exchange is accurately portrayed on the Daily Record’s website*. Repeated probing from Mr Clegg did not, indeed, reveal any so-called “Plan B” from Mr Hosie. He did say that Scotland could implement a new Scots pound and “peg” its value to Sterling, but was adamant that it is in everyone’s best interests to continue using Sterling as is. Echoing the words of Tony Banks from the economy debate, he asked why rUK would risk damaging the £60bn of trade within the British Isles by refusing a currency union. He dismissed the words of George Osborne et al as “rhetoric”, and assured that their attitudes would change after a Yes vote. When Mr Clegg attempted to refer to the part Scottish banks played in the recent fiscal crisis, Mr Hosie indicated that the remaining debt was at the door of English-based banks such as Bradford & Bingley and Northern Rock. He further said that financial forecasts from the Westminster parties were “predicated on failure”, and when an audience member asked how he would rank the alternative currency options in terms of desirability, Mr Hosie simply replied that there was no need to do so – Scotland will use Sterling.

Mr Hosie then began to outline the SNP’s own vision of an independent Scotland – no bedroom tax, a higher minimum wage, better security for pensions, and salaries designed to rise with inflation. When challenged as to how the government could expect to pay for these policies, he replied “The numbers speak for themselves”. He continued with a criticism of Johann Lamont’s “something for nothing” adage, implying it abandons traditional Labour party values on welfare. Scots are also more sympathetic regarding immigrants than the “visceral” tabloids, he said, recognising their necessity to combat “long-term economic challenge[s]” as well as the need to convince existing Scots not to emigrate. Finally, Scotland would have a “massive” increase in childcare funding, to allow more women back into the workplace, thus contributing extra tax revenue to pay for said childcare.

Mr Clegg offered the notion that these ideas could be realised through further government devolution instead of full independence, but Mr Hosie insisted “no more powers” are coming Scotland’s way after a No vote. He also refuted the suggestion that independence support was short-term and/or “radical”, describing how Scotland as a small country could be more flexible and implement its own policy choices more quickly as a result.

The floor was opened fully to audience questions at this stage, and the first asked how the SNP planned to increase employment in Scotland. As well as the aforementioned childcare plan, Mr Hosie mentioned corporate tax incentives, a new tax code system, lower air duty, and a drive to advertise the Scottish “brand” to export markets. When Mr Clegg suggested Scotland would remain “tied” to the UK tax system, Mr Hosie said it was “not insurmountable”, and that major changes would follow a 2016 Scottish parliamentary election.

In response to a query about benefits and income support, he suggested reforming welfare to focus more on singles and couples than on families. Another questioner then returned to the issue of currency and debt share, asking if the disagreements between the various political leaders were basically a matter of calling bluffs and “raising the stakes”. Mr Hosie disagreed, stating that it was a simple binary choice: either Scotland takes on the UK currency asset, and its appropriate share of the UK deficit, or it leaves the Sterling and walks away from its liabilities simultaneously.

Another audience member went back to the topic of Faslane, asking what would happen to the thousands of workers that rely on nuclear weapons being stationed there. Mr Hosie conceded that hundreds – not thousands – of jobs would go, but that the UK military is cutting tens of thousands of jobs anyway. Scotland would also require its own independent armed forces, he added, reallocating a large number of those leaving Faslane jobs. The final question put to Mr Hosie, closing the session, called for him to admit one advantage of staying in the United Kingdom, and one disadvantage to separation. His answer was straightforward – “Ask Better Together”.

*http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/alex-salmond-insists-no-plan-3147426

EXCLUSIVE: “Batman” Shooter’s Acceptance Speech

J—- H—–, yesterday

 

Thank you, thank you. Wow, it’s… [deep breath] It’s so good to finally be here. When I began this project of chaos and destruction I could only have dreamt it would kill and maim so many people… it’s truly beyond my wildest expectations.

 

Of course, I couldn’t have done it without the help of many people. First of all, of course, I have to thank America itself, and especially the NRA. The wonderful, bloody cycle of money between arms manufacturers and senators allows them to glance over finer details of the Second Amendment’s consequences. For instance, a gun in the home is forty times more likely to kill a member of the family than an intruder*, but don’t let that put you off purchasing one for your little tykes! And I couldn’t have done this in, say, Japan, where handguns cannot be carried by the public and the homicide rate per capita isn’t even one-tenth of what it is in the good ol’ Land of the Free**. Best of all, one of your members has made the glorious argument that my actions prove MORE guns are needed in the hands of the general public***. So, NRA, a twelve-gun salute to you guys! [cocks finger gun, winks, chuckles]

 

I also have to give due credit to the tabloid media machine. CNN, CBS, the Daily Mail – all kneel on the ground with their arms aloft, crying out “WHY?! Why would a man perpetrate such a hideous crime?! Read more after this un/flattering picture of Nicole Scherzinger’s cleavage?!…” Of course, they don’t really want to know and only pretend to care; all they desire is the debate. After the reporting there is only leering speculation to shift papers. Therefore, it is clearly essential they ask people with the vaguest of connections to me probing questions about my inner psyche, and focus on arbitrary points of my life that bear zero significance to anything related to the event itself. Am I a cold-blooded plotting genius? A hot-headed loose cannon? Was I politically motivated? Bullied, depressed, off my face on those darned “bath salts”? Did I disagree with Christopher Nolan’s direction? Nobody knows – that’s half the fun of it!

 

On that note, I must also thank the giants on whose shoulders I stand. A—– B——, the perpetrator of Utoya Island. S——– C– at Virginia Tech. E— H—– and D—- K—— at Columbine. Without them, I would never have realised the oxygen of publicity that could be granted to mass murderers like myself. If the audience is there, why not perform to them? Knowing that I could be stood up here, famous across the world, is half the reason I worked so hard to achieve this… [sniff]

 

Right, it’s getting near my five minutes. So most of all, I want to thank YOU, the people who viewed my atrocity from every angle. In the next few days, the internet will distend under the excessive weight of coverage, virtually idolising me. I bet you’ll know more about me than about any of the people that died. Fantastic – that’s exactly the way I want it to be.

 

Consider this: at the end of the film Pan’s Labyrinth, when C—— V—- is facing execution at the hands of the rebels, he says, all statesman-like, “Tell my son the time that his father died. Tell him-“

“No,” interjects one of the rebel leaders. “He won’t even know your name.”

A look of utmost horror on V—-‘s face.

BANG.

 

It sounds so glib, but all you’d have to do is treat these incidents the way an adult treats a toddler throwing a (particularly violent) tantrum – don’t give him attention – and all of my hard work would be greatly diminished. So I implore you – keep reading these insidious articles detailing every aspect of my life. Turn me into a superhuman monster. Elevate the importance of my life above that of all of my victims put together. Other lonely, miserable, mentally unstable people around the world will perceive my martyrdom and maybe, just maybe, will be inspired enough to try a shooting out for themselves, and our blossoming mass-murder industry will be perpetuated to ever greater- [timer buzzes]

 

Thank you again, I’ll see you all at the post-awards party. Remember the name: J—- H—–! Thank you, guys, thank you… [is escorted from stage, sobbing, by men in white coats]

 

*http://www.azdhs.gov/plan/report/im/im/im08/7/pdf/7-7.pdf

**http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/homicide.html (in the UK’s case, it’s one-quarter of the US rate)

***http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/denver-batman-massacre-an-argument-for-more-guns-says-nra-member-16187894.html