Richard Branson has spoken in support of employers hiring ex-offenders:
Sir Richard Branson might not immediately spring to mind as someone prepared to stand up and champion a positive attitude towards ex-offenders. But he is actively encouraging his Virgin group of companies to employ people freshly released from prison, and even some who are still inside and working towards release. “Everybody deserves a second chance,” he says, speaking by phone from Necker Island, his private Caribbean hideaway. “A lot of people end up in there [prison] because they’ve had a lot of bad luck in their lives.”
For the last two years, one of the UK’s wealthiest and most high-profile businessmen has been suggesting to the managing directors of hundreds of Virgin companies that they take on ex-offenders. The numbers are sketchy – “It’s early days”, says Branson – but in the UK, the charity Working Chance has placed female ex-prisoners with Virgin Management. Virgin is also taking on male ex-offenders.
On the problem of disclosing a criminal record – very few people get an interview once they have ticked the criminal convictions box on a job application form – he says: “It sounds like something we should look at, perhaps we should have a clause in our applications stating that Virgin does not hold a criminal record against applicants and that, on the contrary, we will try to help where that is the case. I’d be very happy to go that far.”
I couldn’t agree with him more. Whilst there are voices very much in support or opposed to the diversity agenda, there are woefully few which speak up in support of ex-offenders/people with criminal records. As he says later in the article there is untapped potential being wasted in the British economy because so many employers rule people out arbitrarily. It’s also unfair – do we want to be a society which says you make any mistake once, and you’re excluded from employment and other vital areas of civic society for all time? It’s so helpful hearing words like this from Branson, a man who many people idolise. I’d like to hear a lot more, not just from him but from other high profile CEOs.
Highlights from Occupy London protest issues demands to democratise City of London | UK news | guardian.co.uk
- An end to business and corporate block-votes in all council elections, which can be used to outvote local residents.
- Abolition of existing “secrecy practices” within the City, and total and transparent reform of its institutions to end corporate tax evasion.
- The decommissioning of the City of London police with officers being brought under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police force.
- Abolition of the offices of Lord Mayor of London, the Sheriffs and the Aldermen.
- And a truth and reconciliation commission to examine corruption within the City and its institutions.
I agree with them, but fear they’ll be outmanoeuvred by an increasingly belligerent Church of England, aided as it is by the right wing press and other apologists. Giles Fraser is gone, edged out by a Church completely indifferent to its scriptural objectives. The organisation which repeatedly bleats about losing its influence and how it faces ‘persecution’ by no longer being able to discriminate against whomever it pleases, is going to show just what lengths it’s prepared to go to to protect its privilege. Inequality? Who cares. Corruption in the City which is its home? Not a problem, because they do very well out of not challenging the neoliberal status quo.
We are at a crossroads. Our economies were broken in 2008 by a reckless banking elite, who have never been brought to account. Our neoliberal governments capitalised on the economic crash to force through the standard model of what Naomi Klein labels ‘disaster capitalism’, forcing through (with the right wing media’s help) economic and social changes which would have made Thatcher or Reagan blanche. We have a situation where the poor are being made to pay the price for the abuses of the rich, who are being allowed to pay themselves outrageous bonuses with our tax money. The Occupy movement is taking a stand against this calamity, and are under regular attack by the police in whichever Western country demonstrations begin. Everyone needs to watch this video and to learn how vital it is that we hold our leaders to account. ‘Yes we can’ said Barack Obama that very year – now beholden to the very interests he said he would hold to account (and then didn’t), the US President, British PM and others need to be shown how true that tagline is (and has to be).
I’m writing this blog post, as I now always do, on my iPad. It’s a typical piece of technological brilliance by the man who co-founded the computer company I have been spellbound by since I was a boy, the man who ultimately led it to world domination, and who is now gone. I wasn’t surprised to hear Steve Jobs had died – when he retired from Apple it was clear the cancer had returned and wouldn’t go away again. My sadness at his passing though is based on two things: his premature death at a still youthful 56, and the terrible loss of a creative genius who changed everything. I have it on reliable authority that he was monstrous to work for, Apple on his watch had very little regard for the environment, and there are suicides of Chinese workers whose blood is very much on Jobs’ hands. I can’t forget either that the App Store is highly censorious, nor that the corporation’s product PR campaigns had most recently become so manipulative they’d almost lapsed into self-parody, and increasingly to the detriment of their customers.
Yet I am writing this on an iPad, some of you may read it on an iPhone or an iMac or MacBook, and pretty much all of you use iTunes now. I may talk about this post later on with my partner on FaceTime, and I’d like to invite as many of you as would like to come to an photography exhibition I’m taking part in later this month – all the photos were taken on iPhones. Jobs revolutionised music, film (Pixar was his baby), home & mobile computing, telephony, photography and countless other means by which we now relate to each other. Almost every aspect of the digital age you’re taking part in now had something to do with him. His detractors clearly make valid points, but I choose not to eulogise a person merely by the bad choices they made in their lives. He had blood on his hands, yes, but Steve Jobs also made countless people very happy indeed, and it wasn’t down to the self delusion often cited by his detractors (yet never really proven).
His Commencement address to Stanford University in 2005 has been widely quoted in the last couple of days. You can read the transcript here, and can see it all in the video at the top of this piece. I’d like to offer this quote:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Despite your failings, thanks Steve for bringing some joy and innovation to a disenchanted world.
Last night G and I went to a free gig by ex-Busted frontman Charlie Simpson. I bought his first solo album ‘Young Pilgrim’ some weeks ago and have loved every minute of it, but still wasn’t prepared for such a superb show – live in St Pancras of all places. Listen for yourself – it’s an assured blend of 70′s Americana, folk and a bit of rock, and he sang it pitch perfect, with the band you see here (who are really good), attitude (and monitor) free. I can’t help but believe he’s seriously going places – he wrote the songs himself and played all the instruments you hear apart from the drums. It was G’s and my first gig and it couldn’t have been cooler. Check the album out.
The answer is not very much, but that’s not to say there isn’t radicalism there. The point of the DC Comics reboot last month was purportedly to inject an entirely new approach to existing properties – largely by embracing greater diversity in order to woo audiences into comics who had thus far been alienated by the same old, often sexist, super human punch ups and endless events. In order to achieve that they needed to take some huge risks, and balance competing demands from licensing (which won’t stand for, say, Batman no longer looking like Batman), existing readerships (who were loyal although not growing), and a potential audience they knew was there, but of whom they knew very little. What got was this:
- DC’s more adult orientated characters and ethos are now at the heart of the superhero line. Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder doesn’t alienate long-term Moore and Veitch fans, and offers an extremely dark tone by the American Vampire writer, right alongside Superman, Batman et al. Animal Man, Justice League Dark, I, Vampire and other books are also taking a much more mature and far darker look at the DC Universe. So far this appears to have been a triumph, and an unexpected one – generating huge word of mouth online.
- Refreshed books. Batman, Flash and Aquaman are notable (very) high points in this strand. Their continuity may not be fully intact from before the relaunch (minor but significant changes), but Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis have distilled the essences of their characters into fantastic first issue reintroductions to them. All characters now have more potential than they have had in years, scribed by writers who clearly adore them, and depicted by artists raising their game to the very top flight.
- Unchanged books. Green Lantern most notably hasn’t discernibly changed at all. It probably made sense, given DC/Warners’ eagerness to exploit the property in films, but Green Lantern #1 continues right where #67 left off, with writing and art team intact. Given that this has recently been the company’s highest seller, why mess with it?
- Wildstorm properties are folded into the DCnU. Voodoo, Grifter and Stormwatch aren’t taking strident risks, but, as after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, they are examples of properties acquired by DC being brought into its shared line. No Captain Atom or Blue Beetle, rather co-publisher Jim Lee’s creations; they’re symbolic books, likely to have wildly differing sales and lifespans.
- Pandering to the crowd. Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws most notably aren’t offering anything new at all. Judd Winick and Scott Lobdell are, for the most part, delivering 90′s comics to a 90′s audience. There’s bound to be a hardcore who’ll buy it, but you have to wonder what the point of the reboot was if you’re going to continue, even in part, with a strategy which wasn’t delivering sales to rival Marvel’s. Both books represent retrograde steps for their principal characters (Selina and Koriand’r) who have previously worked terrifically well, with genuinely innovative takes by Ed Brubaker and Marv Wolfman.
- Ultimisation. Hardly a surprising tactic, given the way Marvel refreshed Spider-Man under Brian Michael Bendis in 2001, and DC have essentially tried the same with a number of their properties. Teen Titans is a case in point, offering little genuinely new, other than having a blank slate with which to define the characters as writer Scott Lobdell sees fit. None of them are doing anything different though, and it’s bizarre commissioning Lobdell to write it – it’s like asking Chris Claremont to reboot the X-Men now. Jim Lee and Geoff Johns’ Justice League is also a clear case of ultimisation, and will sell terribly well, but for how long after they leave? Most strangely Superman has also fallen under this strategy (at least in his self-titled book). George Pérez may be an all-time great in the industry, but has only offered meta textual musings about the media, and nothing whatsoever new about Clark in his first issue. Mark Waid didn’t need to invent Kryptonian armour to sell truckloads of books about Clark Kent in the 90′s – Kingdom Come sold because of superb writing and art.
- Some genuine risks are also being taken. Batwoman and Wonder Woman are good examples of something genuinely new at DC. JH Williams III & W Haden Blackman offer us an out lesbian superhero, with very non-traditional artwork and a world unlike any other female DC character’s, whilst Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang reboot Princess Diana into a horror-based pantheon of Gods and noir storytelling. These are prime examples of what I was expecting from the line-wide reboot – aiming existing and new characters at entirely new audiences.
So it’s a mixed bag. Stormwatch may be a good book, but Warren Ellis & Bryan Hitch took dramatic risks with the book 10 years ago, the likes of which Paul Cornell is unlikely to match. Firestorm, Nightwing and Legion of Super-Heroes aren’t offering anything whatsoever new, whilst Batwing, Demon Knights, Men of War and OMAC are unlikely to develop sales high enough to keep them afloat for more than a year. The question also remains about how long writers like Snyder and Lemire can remain at DC without being poached by Marvel. I’m not thoroughly convinced the experiment will deliver the results they claim they were after, at least not long-term, and certainly not line-wide. Marvel properties tend to be inherently more popular than DC’s, and I don’t get the sense that they’re prepared to take real risks where it matters – Pérez for example is already off Superman, to be replaced by Dan Jurgens, the man who killed him in…the 90′s. I thought the reboot would be a case of all-or-nothing, but it’s clearly not. Bob Harras has clearly recruited a surprising number of his allies from his time as editor-in-chief at Marvel, but even sales successes like Heroes Reborn weren’t successful for more than a few months on his watch.
It’s great that they’ve brought an excitement long missing back to the comics industry, and there’s no denying it’s having a powerful effect on sales and the industry, but I don’t see much that will keep the long-missing new audience there. A new costume for Superman won’t impress new readers and will alienate the existing base. Having far too few women writing and drawing their books won’t bring women in, and there’s a real risk that Scott Lobdell is, without irony, going to write a stereotypical gay man into the Teen Titans. Marvel, itself taking very few risks right now with its mainstream books, most recently found sales success with 5 Ronin – books which offered vastly different takes on existing top flight characters. Wonder Woman and Batwoman desperately need to be accompanied by other titles by unexpected creators, offering something genuinely new. I acknowledge that Scott Snyder is innovating in Batman, offering a highly engaging experience to a more adult, cinema-aware audience and his existing Vertigo fan base alike, and Grant Morrison may be making waves with his take on the Superman origin in Action Comics, but the ‘new 52′ line as a whole though isn’t sharing this ethos equally, and unless it does, the excitement outside of this handful of notable exceptions is likely to fade.
Comments more than welcome.
So we’re done with another season, Moffat’s second as showrunner, and it looks like I got a fair bit right in my assessment last week.
The point of this year’s story was to cut the Doctor down to size. He’s now invisible to the Silence and his principal enemies, who now think him dead. His future incarnation knew who the Impossible Astronaut was, and so did River’s. And the ‘Doctor’ who ‘died’ was indeed not him, but it wasn’t a Ganger – instead it was a robot body provided by the Teselecta (although as I’ll get back to this creates more problems than it solves).
I have to say I loved the series but I’m no wiser to what’s going on now than I was at its outset. Series 6 pretty much answered its own self-contained questions, but the outstanding questions from series 5 were bafflingly left hanging. Why was the Tardis blown up and the universe rebooted? I’m no clearer to what the point of series 5 actually was – was it jus another assassination attempt or was there a deeper purpose? Worse, was it another ‘Bad Wolf’ moment – a great idea by the show runner, who never gets about to explaining it?
I’m enjoying the sophistication, but I’m getting worn down by subplots taking too long to resolve. Moffat may have budget problems with the BBc, but why do we still have multiple, poorer quality filler episodes, which could be used to tell his story? RTD’s series finales tended to be poorly written but at least he gave us a start, middle and end for each series!
High point for series six though were plentiful: Neil Gaiman’s episode, River Song every time she turned up (but especially in her origin episode), and the unexpected gems like ‘The Girl Who Waited’. Matt Smith sure raised his game, now fully comfortable in the role, but who though Karen Gillan would do the same? I’m now hoping she returns in 2012, which I couldn’t say this time last year. There were down sides too of course: Mark Gatiss’ episode (again), that godawful pirate story, and the whole ‘big reveal’ about Melody/River was handled kackhandedly, but these were mostly unimportant, and anyway RTD had more than his fair share of clunkers on his watch.
I would sway though that Moffat needs to have a think about how he approaches series 7 in the coming months – if the only thing he has to say about Who is the River Song/Silence saga maybe he needs to leave the stage soon. He’s written the best stories I’ve seen in the current era, but has largely side stepped the needs of RTD-era fans for straightforward resolutions to grand plots. I wish I knew what the current plot is ultimately all about. The answer to the question ‘Doctor Who?’ surely doesn’t need three years to resolve. And for that matter can someone please tell me how th Teselecta robot managed to mimic a Time Lord’s regeneration?!
Our lovely Prime Minister, who had the temerity to suggest the summer’s riots had nothing whatsoever to do with poverty, is now going to tell the poor it’s time to pay their debts:
In a delicate balancing act, he will try in his closing speech to the Conservative party conference on Wednesday to re-energise the country by insisting that despite the pessimism over the economy, politics and society, “the country’s best days are not behind us”. “Let’s bring on the can-do optimism,” he will say before claiming that his “leadership is about unleashing your leadership”.
But despite the efforts to lift the mood of the country, Cameron will also provide a frank admission that the economy is not going to be fixed quickly. His aides openly admit that the country’s finances are in worse state than they had expected – a fact underlined by repeated downgrading of official growth forecasts.
At one point he will even urge households to clear their debts: “The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills.”
What an utter, insensitive moron. What the country needs is jobs and investment, not a contraction in public spending (entirely on ideological grounds) as a way out of a financial crisis caused by his banker friends, coupled with an (ideological) assault on the benefits system. Where’s a Robin Hood tax? Nowhere. Where’s reform of the banking system? Nowhere. What about forcing corporate Britain to pay the massive amounts of tax it owes? I don’t think so. Instead we get Cameron blaming the poor for their poverty – an act of spin the likes of which even Blair would haven’t stooped to. George Eaton points out:
If we are to avoid an economic death spiral, we need people to spend, not save. Keynes’s paradox of thrift explains why. The more people save, the more they reduce aggregate demand, thus further reducing (and eventually destroying) economic growth. They will be individually wise but collectively foolish. If no one spends (because they’re paying off their debts) then businesses can’t grow and unemployment willl soar. The paradox is that if everyone saves then savings eventually become worthless.
This is the reason why the comparison I repeatedly hear that household finances can be compared to a country’s is so utterly wrong. Tory supporters please read this and learn. John Prescott summarises it best on Twitter:
So millionaires with inherited wealth order working families to pay off their debts whilst freezing pay & cutting benefits
I’ve rarely enjoyed a film as much as I enjoyed ‘Drive’.
Is it down to Ryan Gosling’s beauty? Yes. Is it down to the taut writing, the 80′s stylings which magically fit perfectly well into the present day? Yes, yes. What got me above all though was just how perfect a noir thriller this was, fulfilling all the conventions with grace, attitude and dark humour. The scenes of ultra violence will without question offend some (I was genuinely shocked twice in this film, and I’m hard to shock), but I loved every minute of it; as far as I’m concerned it was note perfect.
Car mechanic Gosling works part-time as a film stunt driver, but at night he acts as getaway driver for criminals. It’s easy money for someone emotionally detached from the world around him, but his priorities change when he falls in love with his neighbour Carey Mulligan, single parenting while her husband is in jail, and the two of them enjoy a brief period of happy ‘family’ life. Enter her husband Oscar Isaac, free and contrite, but in hock to gangsters he owes protection money to for keeping him alive in jail. With Mulligan and son Kaden Leos under threat Gosling joins him on the heist he’s being blackmailed into holding, to ensure their safety. But it all goes horribly, violently wrong.
Rooted firmly in pulp noir territory the ending is never in doubt (and no that’s not a spoiler), but director Nicolas Winding Refn has you rooting for the stunt-driver-with-no-name (toothpic permanently in mouth and everything) to defeat villainous Ron Perlman (chewing every single scene he’s in right up) and Albert Brooks, who delivers such an accomplished performance as a villain you’re left wondering what he was doing wasting a career in comedy. Gosling may be a crook but is without doubt the hero, and the tension in this dichotomy gives the film its energy (and the actor has no difficulty at all balancing his character’s criminality and heroism). But every performance is sublime, from Mulligan’s bad boy magnet single mother, to Gosling’s likeable but desperate boss Bryan Cranston, through to Gosling himself, owning the screen with just a look more convincingly than anyone since Clint Eastwood; this really is a classic in the making.
Screenwriter Hossein Amini delivers a highly emotional and challenging film by steadfastly refusing to adhere to a single Hollywood convention – it’s an intelligent film, which presumes its audience has a brain and wants to use it. Unashamedly minimalist from start to finish, with only sparse bursts of dialogue, the moments of extreme violence (which those fazed by that sort of thing should consider before watching) carry disproportionate weight because Refn and Amini make them so unexpected. It’s proof that thoughtful, old fashioned storytelling still very much has a place in modern cinema; even the car chases which happen service the story rather than the other way around. In a fair world it would win a clutch of Oscars, but what it will (rightly) do is propel Gosling and Mulligan right to the top of the ‘A’ list. More like this please, a lot more.
Oops I swore. Boris wouldn’t like that:
Action will be taken so that police can arrest members of the public for swearing at them, Boris Johnson has promised.
The London mayor attacked police guidance advising officers not to try to arrest those who verbally attacked them on the basis that police should have thicker skins.
“I reckon we need to get back to where we were before some judge given law of 1988 and be clear that if people swear at the police, they must understand they will be arrested,” Mr Johnson said.
“If people feel that there are no comebacks and no boundaries for the small stuff, I’m afraid they will go on to commit more crimes.”
What a complete load of shit. He and the police can…FUCK OFF. Such poor, timid things. There are so many things wrong with London, and all this Tory moron can do is collude with the new Commissioner Hogan-Howe to protect his own interests. It’s pathetic; it’s even more pathetic though that he’s likely to be returned to office next year.
What bullshit to say that more serious crimes are perpetrated by people who swear at the police. What about reforming the fucking police, Boris?! You know, the organisation which in the last month decided it could attack the freedom of the press itself? And people wonder why I resent Tories…
America is going completely mad. We have a Democrat president who is right wing in most of his approach, but is called a socialist and the Antichrist. We also have a Republican Party which has lost its way so fundamentally its main candidates to challenge the incumbent next year are outright, batshit crazy morons who campaign against gay people and call climate change a lie. The country is screwed. I’m not really in any doubt that Obama, despite waging war at least as gleefully as Bush, is going to be re-elected next year, but you’d have to wonder, given the way these nutjobs have strangled the political system around him, why he’d want to.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association argues civic participation isn’t the preserve of the religious:
This point was demonstrated yet again last week by the latest figures from the government’s citizenship survey. In terms of civic engagement and formal volunteering, the figures show no significant difference between those with a religion and those with no religion (57% and 56% respectively). There is scarcely any difference in participation between those with no religion and self-described Christians (56% and 58%). At 44%, the proportion of Hindus and Muslims participating in civic engagement and formal volunteering is actually lower than the proportion of non-religious people doing so, and the lowest of all groups. This is no flash in the pan – it is a continuing feature of the figures over a number of years.
The figures supplement other data that makes the same point, not only from previous years’ citizenship surveys. In 2007, Faith and Voluntary Action, from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations found that “religious affiliation makes little difference in terms of volunteering”, and as a matter of simple numbers, the overwhelming majority of the voluntary, community and charity sector in the UK are secular.
I’m not sure if this is the right point to make in response to the claims religions are currently making. Christianity’s current round of sanctimony suggests it’s the sole repository of morality itself. The figures Copson quotes are only a small portion of that issue, and although he’s clearly right to say the religious and non religious are equally likely to engage in areas they think are likely to better society, I’d say that the figures mask a whole lot of other data. Just focusing on civic engagement lets religion off from having to take responsibility for the bigotries they promote at their cores. I’m not clear as to the point of the article – is it in response to the Tory claims that religious charities should be picking up the social slack, the ‘Big Society’? Or is he merely trying to show evidence for atheistic good, when there’s so little empirical data for it? As he says the pious love to bleat endlessly about their good works, when everyone else just tend to get on with things.
It feels like he’s beating around the bush, and not coming out and standing up for good, non-religious social deeds when even the science is on his side. It would of course be wrong to say that good wasn’t done in the name of religion; it just doesn’t need religion for that to happen. As a social species we”re inclined to preserve the gene pool by working together; we even care for our young (for the most part) right up to adulthood. Religion these days would like us to believe it’s because of deity A or B – after all they have their Bronze Age scriptures which prove it, right? Yet the non-religious do good (and always have) because we can figure out for ourselves that it’s a rational thing to do for everyone’s benefit. Copson is right when he says atheists don’t go on and on about their volunteering, but that’s because it’s not being done under the threat of eternal torture. He’s right to bring up the issue for discussion, I think, but it isn’t much more than a potshot against the religiously zealous. The example of good done by the non-religious will always carry more weight by not being trumpeted, and non-zealous followers would probably be sympathetic to that.
New Labour is perfectly alive and well, whatever else they’d like you to think. Ed Miliband may preach the opposite, but his party is more authoritarian than ever. From Cory Doctorow:
The UK Labour party’s conference is underway in Liverpool, and party bigwigs are presenting their proposals for reinvigorating Labour after its crushing defeat in the last election. The stupidest of these proposals to date will be presented today, when Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, will propose a licensing scheme for journalists through a professional body that will have the power to forbid people who breach its code of conduct from doing journalism in the future.
Given that “journalism” presently encompasses “publishing accounts of things you’ve seen using the Internet” and “taking pictures of stuff and tweeting them” and “blogging” and “commenting on news stories,” this proposal is even more insane than the tradition “journalist licenses” practiced in totalitarian nations.
I don’t honestly know how people feel they can vote for this party anymore. The state does not have all the answers to everything, and a lack of obedience to the state wasn’t the problem at the heart of the #hackgate scandal; the NUJ code of conduct is already a perfectly appropriate means of holding professional journalism to account. Let me remind you News International is a union busting organisation, entirely disinterested in ‘leftie’ good practice, and they were entirely supported in this by Tories and New Labour alike. Lewis’ moronic proposal comes across as an attempt to avoid his party’s share of the blame and recast all journalists as the enemy. In or out of office, he mustn’t be allowed to succeed.