Weirdest book review ever

There are, obviously, strong historical connections between Australia and the UK. These have created cultural similarities – probably more and closer than most Australians would be willing to admit. The two countries are diverging as time passes, but Australia’s still culturally closer to the UK than anywhere else I’ve visited outside of the British Isles.

However, it still strikes me as very strange, bordering on lunacy, for a US reviewer to take an Australian book by an Australian writer set in Australia about Australian suburban life, and use it to hang the conclusion:

The Slap’s the work of the moment for a nation that I met more at the pubs and picnic tables of England than in any other book I’ve read. It’s the book of the great muttering resistance of England, a dark-witted, vote-nay group who could rival the American Tea Party for influence if they could only agree on a bar at which to meet.

Read the whole thing, if you’re also in the market for bemused American reflections on how Cheryl Cole sounds like Dick Van Dyke (this may explain his difficulty in telling Brits and Aussies apart), and how Londoners are violent, Friends-obsessed drunks who sound like Liam Gallagher making a cameo in Trainspotting. Alternatively, don’t.

A gift for old times’ sake

The Awl, which is still excellent, has a poem purportedly in the style of Philip Larkin on the UK cuts crowdsourcing farce:

An Elegy For England

We sold the swans for meat and all the toffs came ’round to feast
Big Ben went to a very wealthy sultan from the East
The price we put on Stonehenge didn’t make Boone Pickens blanch:
He bought the lot and now it sits on some West Texas ranch

We made the Queen redundant and we put the corgis down
We shopped her jewels to Beckham’s wife, who also bought the crown
The London Eye, the London Bridge, the Angel of the North
Have all been shipped to Tokyo, as will the Tate henceforth

Most prisoners went to China, where they perished in a quake
The rest were leased Down Under, as a gift for old time’s sake
We melted down the Dome and used the leftovers for scrap
We tried to sell Lloyd Webber but, well, who would buy that crap?

We hawked the best of what we were and went on with our lives
And look at us, we’re now bereft: there’s nothing left but knives

Well, quite.

Update: @anattendantlord on Twitter points out that the poem isn’t actually very Larkin stylistically – the rhyming and scansion are too simplistic, even though the subject matter and sentiment are right. I agree, and reckon that maybe Chesterton’s a better fit; he reckons Kipling. Somewhere between the two. This probably reflects the Awl’s limited poetry skills, rather than a deliberate attempt to channel earlier, more populist poets and label their work as Larkin-esque…

Good answer to a rhetorical question

On a fairly standard CiF article about the death penalty (the Americans are planning to execute a woman who was involved in a plot to kill her husband, but who was demonstrably too stupid to have led it; everyone sane disapproves; everyone evil and vindictive approves strongly), the standard liberal joke question came up:

i’ve never understood how someone can be pro-life and in favour of the dealth penalty.

Obviously, lots of right-wing idiots came up with failed answers. But a liberal commenter called LinearBandKeramik (no relation) actually came up with an excellent one:

Pro-life individuals are not primarily opposed to abortions because of a concern for the unborn child. It is more about maintaining a social structure in which women’s independence is circumscribed by their ability to give birth. If the choice to give birth or not isn’t fully under the individual control of the women concerned then it allows others (other women, men, the church etc.) to have greater power over them. In other words they’re not really pro-life, they’re pro-control.

Such individuals simultaneous support for the death penalty flows partly from a lack of compassion and also from a belief that violence should be the remedial option of first resort, regardless of the problem.

Pretty much 100% on, there.

Easy answers to simple questions, #423

From the comments on Charlie Brooker’s excellent Guardian piece on the insane fuss over the not-a-mosque not-at-ground-zero:

How many Saudi’s would object to a Church being built in one of their cities if they were asked and polled? How many Americans object to a mosque? How many in Switzerland recently voted against minarets? Are they are all reactionary, sexist, homophobic, racist, xenophobic, nationalist, fascist, intolerant bigots?


Well, except for the ‘sexist’ and ‘homophobic’ bits – while those are closely correlated with the other attributes listed, they aren’t directly relevant to the case in hand.

Bonus extra stupidity:

One never knows, there is a definite possibility that an Islamist atrocity may once again occur on UK soil and also an outside chance that a member of Charlie’s family is in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wonder if Charlie, or any of the others supporting this prospective mosque near the Ground Zero site, would have such a positive attitude to this proposed development, if this came to pass.

Yes I bloody would. Because I’m not an appalling, stupid bigot, I’m fully aware that moderate Sufis would have had absolutely nothing to do with such an attack, that Islamist extremists hate moderate Sufis even more than they hate America, and that the best way to combat the ideology that created Al Qaeda is to build bridges with moderate Islam.

Digressionally, Cordoba House would have been a good name for the mosque, given that the Andalusian caliphate was the most religiously tolerant government the European world had ever seen at that time (or indeed, at any point before the 19th century). It was replaced by the genocidal mania of the Spanish Inquisition – a welcome reminder that anyone claiming Islam is inherently less liberal than Christianity is deeply, deeply stupid.

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-08-22

  • I've eaten more Subway and KFC on this trip than in the previous 2 years combined. Curse, and yet bless, Finchley. #
  • Excellent hangover day with family. Impressively, I wasn't even the most ruined, despite being highly ruined #welshgenes #
  • LHR T3 isn't a great terminal, but the champagne bar is jolly enough. Next stop: Hong Kong! #
  • UK trip was brilliant, reminded me how much I love my friends… but also how it really isn't my home anymore. #
  • Hong Kong: beautiful. My brane: fuxxored. Valium didn't help this bitch. Well, it shortened this bitch's flight I suppose… #
  • Jesus but HK is beautiful. Green mountains WIN. #
  • Don't take valium and champagne on long haul flights. #donttakevaliumandchampagneonlonghaulflights #
  • I keep pressing the "what's happening" button on snaptu, but it doesn't seem to tell me. #whatshappening? #
  • Fantastic view of the Macau hydrofoil from my hotel room. It is a silly vehicle. HK harbour is cool. I wish I didn't feel like death… #
  • Sun setting on the harbour. Looks amazing. I refer readers to my previous tweets about my unfortunate headstate… #
  • Free gift for spending gbp20 in pharmacy was 3 750ml boxes of, erm, something Cantonese. Possibly cat litter? May not make it home with me. #
  • Now I has toothpaste, bed. Tomorrow will be Much More Excellent. #
  • Bloody jetlag. Should've stayed up all day, got drunk and gone to bed at 2am, instead of dozing/passing out all day and soberish bed by 10. #
  • What's the difference between Spurs and the Catholic Church? Spurs got buggered by Young Boys… #
  • Had a fucking excellent daytime with @emeraldbile (and I like walking round graveyards with sweaty birds). Hong Kong is awesome. #
  • Then had an awesome night out with non-tweeps. Jesus. I could seriously live in this town. Would need a silly job / rich missus, though… #
  • In other news, I'm amazed you can buy a really quite decent camera for HK$1390 = GBP139. GBP175 for same chap at duty free. #
  • I recognise I was still probably extorted, but needed a camera for the bus home from Stanley. Views is amazings. #
  • Apparently, nobody's retweeted me since Jan 2, 2010. Would be reasonably if so, but nonetheless #twitterfail #
  • Apparently, nobody's retweeted me since Jan 2, 2010. Would be reasonable if so, but nonetheless #twitterfail #
  • And that, Tony Harrison, is why we don't fly on recently-invented-airlines named after ropy 1970s rock bands: #
  • I'm not normally up for hanging, but hanging this truckie would be fair play: #
  • For those of you (ie, 95% of geeks who use Twitter) love Dr Who, I need to take a photo of the "Ood Jewellery Shop" I passed today… #
  • This is bad. I've finally managed to make my phone and Mac talk to each other, so online feels like normal. Except at $15/mb. #mustshutup #
  • Internet browser writers: if people write 1000 heartfelt words of email, why not randomly delete it if the connection fucks up? @viztoptips #
  • In a very Cantonese cafe indeed. Have ordered some food. Have absolutely no idea what it will be. But it only costs USD2, so that's OK… #
  • Well, let's be honest, I've ordered *something*. I'm hoping it'll be food. #
  • Hooray: it is food, and it's quite good. If Snaptu wasn't made of pants, I'd stick a photo on Twitpic for y'all… #
  • Literally everything is sold in HK backstreets – except noise-cancelling earphones. I guess silence is a concept nobody here understands… #
  • Just went into Chinese medicine shop, asked if they had anything for jetlag. They sold me extract of pineal gland. I *am* Dr Raoul Duke.. #
  • Am glad that @chrissiem's excited that I'm home tomorrow. I'm excited too. Although kind of sad to leave HK. Will definitely be back! #
  • Having almost used up the (good value) HK PAYG SIM I bought today with a few hours' Snaptu, I'm dreading my next UK mobile bill. Eek #
  • Yes, I know that using a non-local SIM for data connections abroad is INSANE, but my brain wasn't working properly when I arrived. #
  • Immi cleared, now in the quarro queue. So I might escape the airport by lunchtime… #
  • And quarro cleared in under 10 mins, thanks to @chrissiem's lollies. JB is back…! #
  • I iz on ur eastern distributor, distributing ur eastern. In a cab, obviously – am not feeling suicidal right now… #
  • So, I've been out of the country for 2 weeks – am I right that if the ALP lose, it'll be pretty much Kristina Keneally's fault? #ausvotes #
  • If anyone knows a commercial building that's more full of WIN, don't tell this one. #
  • Crikey on #ausvotes: "The culture war has become personified. The candidates represent something not by what they do, but by who they are." #
  • I'd agree with that. And I'd add that for all JG's flaws, if you don't identify with her more than with mad Tony, you ain't my friend… #
  • Aww. @firstdogonmoon's "the federal election" cartoon today is terribly sad and sweet. #ausvotes #
  • Christ on a bike. The area of the Pakistan floods would cover pretty much the whole habitable area of Australia: #
  • (yes, I know people claim to live in Adelaide and Perth, but you don't really believe them, do you?) #
  • More Pom accents in Bondi Jn Westfield than in bloody London! #sendusback #
  • RT @drueyjay: RT @anildash: Because of their track record of killing Americans, I can't support the construction of a Ground Zero McDonald's #
  • Freaky. Just minutes after that last tweet, I got an (apparently unrelated) email from Westfield Bondi Junction… #
  • Support Democracy! Vote 1 Bandicoot, add a #twibbon to your avatar now! – #
  • The biggest population of illegal migrants in Australia by nationality is British @roooney83 @TimMav27 #
  • NB I won't *actually* be voting Bandicoot, as I'm a wicked job-stealing foreign & don't get a say. Even though you lot can vote in the UK… #
  • "The great Labor party machine has failed", says Joe Hockey – I'd love to see @firstdogonmoon draw this occurring… #
  • #ifabbottwins I'll probably be deported… #ausvotes #
  • If Labor lose because of the swing in QLD, then Mr Rudd will be Australia's Smuggest Man… #ausvotes #
  • Gash FOR THE WIN #gilmore #ausvotes #puerilejokes #
  • Labor retain #Batman. Coalition retain #CaptainAmerica #Ausvotes #
  • Glad I researched the independents last week – assuming the two NSW guys'll support Labor and the QLD guy will support Coalition? #ausvotes #
  • Pleased to see the Libs have put up a redhead candidate in Lalor #battleoftherangas #notaveryconvincingbattle #ausvotes #
  • When @chrissiem says 'election party', she's not being euphemistical. We really are that geeky. #ausvotes #
  • #unlikelycouples Farmer & Ewan McGregor #
  • Diane and Tony Abbott #unlikelycouples #ausvotes #
  • Bandt wins. #melbourne #fuckyeah #itspronouncedthesameandhasthesameroot #ausvotes #
  • OMG! Poor hypothetical Mischa… RT @manipillai: #unlikelycouples Mischa & Joey Barton #
  • RT @nickjbarlow: The and John Band? #unlikelycouples #
  • If my calculations are correct, @beaugiles can just about beat Wyatt Roy to youngest ever MP at the next election. Bring it on, Mr G… #
  • This is the best election night party EVER. And not even the worst election result I've experienced this year. #ausvotes #dualloyalties #
  • According to @chrissiem's mum, 6.5% of votes in Lindsay were informal. The current split in Lindsay is 50.3/49.7. You stupid cunts #ausvotes #
  • 100% true -> RT @krs133: The ABC coverage urinates from a great height on any of the broadcasters' coverage of UK elections. #ausvotes #
  • My and @chrissiem's election party now on bottle 2 of tribute wine – we've finished White Australian and movingon to Ranga (well, Rose) #
  • LIES! RT @theday2day: plenty! > RT @spikester: what's wrong with drinking alone? #
  • YES WE CAN RT @politic_animal: Can we now tell ppl who said Gillard shows UK Lab shld have dumped Brown for D Miliband to shut up? #ausvotes #
  • This is sport! RT @hungbunny: Lots of political tweets coming out of Australia today. Why? Is there no sport on? #ausvotes #
  • Some people say 'individual votes don't count;. LIES. Am hugging the person whose 3rd-preference vote could decide the election. #ausvotes #
  • 69/69 ALP/LNP. Australian Sex Party sadly not on 69. jb78 and @chrissiem election party briefly distracted #ausvotes #toomuchinformation #
  • .@michaellund coalition is a massive improvement on majority Tory (=L/NP) government, which was the UK's only real alternative #ausvotes #
  • Hockey sticks #obvious #ausvotes #
  • Ashamed to read so many leftwing tweeters rating "obvious vile conspiracies" vs "must be PC about all rape lies" and coming down for #2. FFS #
  • Woohoo, the racist party probably wins, but at least we've got a token blackfeller in the house. Representing the racist party #ausvotes #
  • Dr Kelly killed himself; people who believe otherwise are loonies. The government did, however, kill thousands of Iraqis based on lies. #
  • #whilenooneisincharge let's promote the irresponsible service of alcohol. DRINK LOTS OF GIN THROUGH A STRAW! #
  • "Rather than a climate change denier, the bogan is simply a change denier." < @thingboganslike describes the entire CC 'sceptic' mindset #
  • Re the #BirminghamThree: if 3 BNPists were sacked for not being bigoted tits, saneworld's reaction would be 'welcome to saneworld'. #

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Finding a new Foster home

So there’s an interesting piece on Bloomberg quoting the Sunday Times saying that Fosters Group, the Aussie wine and beer company, might sell its beer operations (branded Carlton & United Breweries, confusingly enough) to SABMiller.

This makes sense. Since I was working as a drinks industry reporter getting on for ten years ago, I’ve been saying Fosters should flog off the beer business. They’re a combination of a global premium wine company, a low-margin domestic beer business, and one mysteriously popular global beer brand – which, oddly enough, has almost entirely disappeared from their home turf. Being a global wine distributor, while providing a global beer company with a global brand, and an opportunity to distribute their other brands into Australia, was always going to be a better call.

I’d always taken a British take on ‘appropriate buyers for CUB’, on the basis that Heineken (formerly Scottish & Newcastle) owned the EU rights. Obviously, that would’ve been a good fit. But I’d forgotten the fact that the USA is the world’s largest beer market, that Foster’s is a popular import brand in the USA (“throw another shrimp on the barbie”, etc), and that Miller owned the US rights to the brand.

Meanwhile, SABMiller – which, like Kraft Foods, is part-owned and heavily cash-backed by Altria (= Phillip Morris) in a desperate attempt to stop all their shareholders’ money going to compensate lung cancer victims – has fallen way behind Anheuser-Busch Inbev in the “being a serious global brewer” stakes.

A leading position in a mature but profitable beer market (yes, oddly enough, selling beer to Australians is popular. See: selling crack in Baltimore; selling expensive houses in Mayfair) is nice from a cash-generation point of view. And for some utterly mystifying reason Foster’s is a much-loved beer brand everywhere except Australia, and as brand promotion becomes global it’s becoming important to have the rights to your most important assets, rather than having them owned by some comedy convict jokers [*].

So if the news is true, then it’s a good call on SABMiller’s part, as well as a bloody relief to Fosters Group (who’ll presumably have to rename themselves to ‘Australian Wine Company’ or a made-up name like Geadeo or something). And some kind of deal with Heineken to sort out the global rights would probably also be sensible.

And no, none of my alcoholic drinks market wisdom would have made the slightest difference to share-tippery at any point ever. If you want to make money on markets by thinking you know more than people about fundamentals, horse-racing is still a better bet. Stock analysts are still voodoo-merchants; my skills are only worthwhile if you actually want advice on what to do if you’re trying to market grog.

[*] dear the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship: I don’t believe that all Australian businessmen are comedy convict jokers. As the owner of an official certificate of being an Australian Businessman, I take Australian business very seriously. And mentioning Alan Bond and John Elliott at this point would be deeply unfair, and the fact that Mr Elliott used to own CUB isn’t even slightly relevant.

And the JB returns

Apologies for complete lack of recent content: I’ve been assortedly in the UK and Hong Kong, trying to squeeze a year’s worth of catching up with people, a wedding and a stag do into two and a half weeks.

I’m now planning to chain myself to the desk for a couple of weeks and do some fairly serious work. This will almost inevitably lead to bloggage; aren’t you lucky?

In other news, Cathay Pacific are an excellent airline in economy as long as you have short legs, which luckily I do.