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I blame the scapegoats, p.25

I blame the scapegoats, page 25


I blame the scapegoats

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  The multi-nationals who run the music industry have obviously made this announcement in the hope that it will help turn public opinion against the digital music pirates. Imagine the scene outside the courtroom: with a blanket over his head the defendant is rushed between the crash barriers as he is jeered and spat at by the angry mob, who are filled with hatred at this flagrant breach of copyright laws.

  'You bastard! You don't even care about Time Warner's profit margin! You should rot in hell!'

  The trial itself will go on for months. First the jury will have to listen to all the music on the defendant's computer, doing their best to tap their feet cheerily and gently sway in unison to the DJ Hype remix of 'Smack My Bitch Up'. Then in order to verify a particular song's composers and its year of release, the judge will be passed a copy of the Guinness Book of Hit Singles. This is guaranteed to waste hundreds of hours of the court's time.

  'Goodness, I never realized The Troggs had a number one hit with "Girl Like You".'

  'Yes, if you could just turn back to the song in question, your honour . . .'

  'Well I never - Smokie got to number five with "Living Next Door To Alice" . . .'

  The greedy record industry only has itself to blame for the current situation. By forcing us to switch to CDs and buy our albums all over again, they laid the foundations for music's digital revolution, which they now find themselves unable to control. Did they care about the death of the vinyl LP and those millions of pounds of student grants that we spent in vain? Did they think about the dilemma of forty-somethings, faced with nowhere to store their old album collection now that the loft is being converted? And just what are young people supposed to roll their joints on these days?

  Of course, music piracy has been happening ever since the very first teenager got out his crayons to try to recreate the cover of Dark Side of the Moon on a little piece of card to slot inside the plastic cassette case. So let he who is without a compilation tape throw the first stone. But the problem for the record companies is that now it's got so quick and easy. All you have to do is log on to the internet, go to one of the music-sharing sites and run a search on the track you want. Oh hang on, it's saying do I want to download kazaa media desktop v2.5 or v2.2 - what does that mean? 'Windows Media Player Not Configured' - well, how do I do that? I'll look in 'Help' - 'Ensure file extension is specified'? Good point. Er, what the bloody hell are they talking about?

  The legality is a little easier to understand. The record industry are correct when they describe this practice as theft. And yet it's hard to feel even the mildest pang of sympathy. Perhaps it might be different if they'd ever shown any qualms about ripping off their customers or indeed any emerging musical talent.

  If the record companies do win their first lawsuit they'll expect to be awarded millions of pounds of damages. But if there was any real justice they would then be handed a cheque for a mere hundred quid.

  'What's this?' they'd say in astonishment.

  'Ah, yeah, well, we had to deduct the money for your limos, publicity expenses, hotel bills, agents' fees and everything, and this is all that's left, honest. Now don't make a song and dance about it, guys. Because we held on to the copyright.'

  The plane to Spain flies mainly over Staines

  I July 2003

  After September 11th no planes flew over Britain's cities for three days. Nobody was woken up at five o'clock in the morning, and then again at 5.17am, finally drifting off only to be woken at six by their partner elbowing them in the ribs and saying, 'Listen to that one, that's the loudest one yet!' In all the theories about September 11th no one seemed to consider the possibility that maybe Osama Bin Laden lived in Hounslow and was just that desperate for a few nights' decent kip.

  After a ruling this week in the European Court of Human Rights, the millions of Britons who live under the major flight paths will no longer be woken up by jumbo jets at 5.30 in the morning. This is because they won't have got to sleep in the first place; the planes are going to be allowed to roar overhead in the middle of the night. The court ruling agreed with the British government that to block the increased demand for all those businessmen who want to land at British airports would be detrimental to our national economic interest. Yup, it is simply vital to Britain's prosperity that there is no reduction in the number of blokes flying off to Dublin for stag weekends, drinking too much and then puking up in O'Connell Street. Air travel is simply too important to our economy for us to limit the number of flights for lonely middle-aged men going to Bangkok.

  It's only a hundred years since the Wright Brothers first got a rickety plane off the ground, while their sister wheeled the drinks trolley down the aisle and offered them the chance to purchase a duty-free teddy bear pilot and a giant Toblerone. Since then, air companies have become big business, with no government having the courage to clip their wings, as it were. Chris Mullin said that when he was at the Department of Transport he learned two things. Firstly that the airlines' demands are insatiable and, secondly, that they always get whatever they want. There was actually a third thing, but no one could hear him because a plane went overhead. When flight paths are drawn up they make sure that the planes go out of their way to disturb the maximum number of people possible. 'This is your captain speaking; time in London is 5.23am and we're just passing over Barnes. Unfortunately we did spot one or two homes where people didn't switch on their bedroom lights as we passed overhead, so we're going to have to go round again just to make sure.' Next there'll be a camp air steward ringing on every doorbell, waking us up with a little tray of congealed egg and two button mushrooms.

  The skies have got so busy that now the radio traffic news has someone in a car looking up and reporting where the worst congestion is. The burning of aircraft fuel is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, but unlike petrol it remains untaxed. Next time you're in the duty-free shop trying to find a present for grandma that doesn't look like you got it at the airport on the way home, look out for that pilot buying a thousand gallons of duty-free aircraft fuel. Ever-increasing air travel means more noise, more pollution, more runways and, worst of all, more opportunities for Richard Branson to get his face on television.

  The Minister for Transport should be meeting up with his opposite numbers across Europe to find ways to reduce the amount of traffic in the air. It'll mean dozens of ministers, with all their civil servants and translators, flying to Brussels on a regular basis - hang on, that's not going to work. If the government are not going to dampen down the demand for air travel then we will have to do it ourselves. Next time you are on a plane and the air hostess gives the safety demonstration, put your hand up and ask questions. 'Yeah, just going back to that bit about "in the event of an emergency landing on water ..." How does that work exactly then? 'Cos you'd think the plane would just sink, wouldn't you?' Or when she demonstrates the oxygen masks dropping down, say, 'But what if we are all on fire? Wouldn't oxygen just make the flames worse?' Or before you get on the plane, when hordes of anxious travellers are lining up at the check-in desk, try walking along the queue shouting 'Anyone here flying to Marbella?' while dressed as the Grim Reaper.

  Somebody has to stand up to the air companies. Whenever they look like they might not get everything they want, they either use 'Britain's economic interest' or, failing that, they'll play the 'safety' card. No wonder every passenger is supplied with a sick bag. They are interested in profit above all else, however much pollution or misery they cause to millions. I don't know how those airline bosses sleep at night. I suppose their answer would be simple: 'Well, we don't live under the flight path, obviously.'

  Independence Day

  4 July 2003

  Among the brightly coloured bits of plastic at the bottom of a toy box in my house I recently came across a little plastic doll. It was a miniature Barbie that had been free at McDonald's, and in tiny writing on the back it said 'Made in Vietnam'. It sort of left me wondering who'd actually won the Vietnam War. One generation endured th
e heaviest bombardment in history and succeeded in driving out the world's most powerful army in order that their children could be free to sit in a sweatshop making little Aryan Barbie dolls to be given out free with a McDonald's Happy Meal.

  Today is Independence Day in the United States, when Americans celebrate the day that they broke free from Britain. The final straw had been the enforcement of the Penal Acts, which had been passed so that two hundred years later teenage boys would giggle in history lessons. If today's British government had found themselves at war with the Americans they would have been very confused. 'Er, right, but can we still be on the same side as you anyway?' Re-reading the famous Declaration of Independence makes you realize what far-sighted men those first American politicians were: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Oh and the right to put American bases in over a hundred independent countries, organize fascist coups to install pro-American puppet regimes, stifle free trade if it's not in US economic interests and force children everywhere to watch a schmaltzy purple dinosaur called Barney'

  But American imperialism is a lot more complex and subtle than the version that they themselves threw off a couple of centuries ago. For example, they have ruthlessly taken over our cinemas with the calculated and cynical trick known as 'making better fdms than we do'. And the British computer industry could never really compete with Microsoft; tragically, that abacus factory has closed down now. Sharing a language means our culture is even more open to colonization. My laptop tells me 'Your battery is running low' in an electronic Seattle accent. If French and German computers have their PCs talk to them in their own tongue, we should insist on no less. Computers sold in London should be programmed to talk like Cockneys: 'Do wot mate, yer bleedin' battery's running Barley Mow innit?' Dublin computers should say, 'I'd say the old battery's running out there, but I shouldn't worry about it.' And on the Isle of Wight, well, it's not an issue because they haven't got computers there yet.

  The US fashion industry spotted a gap in the market and put a Gap in every high street, Nike have got a big tick against every country in the world, and if you have a coffee machine in your home, then expect Starbucks to open a branch in your kitchen any day now. Indeed, with coffee being the second most important trading commodity after oil, how long until anti-war protestors are chanting 'No Blood For Cappuccinos'?

  American interests are advanced by NATO, the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank and dozens of multi-nationals whose turnover is greater than the GDP of most countries. Indeed it won't be long until an American company organizes the first leverage buy-out of a sovereign state. 'Ladies and gentlemen of the board, following a successful takeover bid, this company will now be known as Glaxo-Smith-Kline-Belgium. It gives us a seat in the European Union, a small army and an almost unlimited supply of yummy chocolates.'

  There is a certain irony that today the American Empire is celebrating an essentially anti-imperialist event. But outside the States, July 4th is now becoming the focus for a new campaign - a declaration of independence from America. Today at US bases in Britain, such as USAF Fairford in Gloucestershire or at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, parties are being held to celebrate the idea that maybe one day we could live in a country that did not automatically assist in the star wars programme, did not send British troops in support of US foreign policy and were not forced to call Marathon bars 'Snickers'.

  But being against US government policy should not be lazily extended to a general anti-Americanism. If you're a US citizen, please do not think I bear you any personal ill will (unless you yourself happen to be reading this, George W., which let's face it is unlikely given the absence of pictures). So Happy Independence Day, America; you did a fantastic job throwing off the hereditary monarchy of George III. But now would it be okay if we declared independence from the hereditary presidency of George II?


  As ever I would like to thank Mark Burton and Pete Sinclair for permitting me to recycle the occasional line that we wrote together back in the golden age of the Home Service wireless and I am sure that they'll be particularly delighted that one of the old gang is being paid for their repetition (i.e. me). I'd also like to thank my agent Georgia Garrett, and Bill Scott-Kerr who edits my material so carefully and and glberdg

  Although one or two pieces in this collection are published here for the first time in the UK, the vast majority of them originally appeared in the Guardian, for which I would like to thank Seumas Milne, Becky Gardiner, Stephen Moss, Joseph Harker and everyone else on the comment pages. Writing under the headline 'Comment and Analysis' has meant having to pretend to offer an opinion from time to time, so where I did not have the faintest idea what I thought about an issue I simply found out what Frederick Forsyth's angle was and then plumped for the opposite point of view.

  But most of all, for warning me against the dangers of making an acknowledgements list a thinly disguised attempt at name-dropping, I would especially like to thank Philip Roth, Sting, Nicole Kidman, Bill and Hilary Clinton, the Dalai Lama and, of course, little Brooklyn Beckham.

  Table of Contents

  Tories in turmoil (Part 7)



  John O'Farrell, I blame the scapegoats



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