Breakdown on the Northern line

It was around the time someone mentioned rats that I started to worry.

We had been stuck on the tube for more than half an hour by this point, lodged uncomfortably on the northern line in the tunnel between Camden and Chalk Farm.

The driver, helpfully, informed us over the tannoy “that we aren’t moving at this time”. Really? Hadn’t noticed.

Oh Tfl, what a time to have a power failure. Saturday night, with Halloween upon us. It wasn’t the last train but it was close enough, and there were dozens of worse for wear passengers including an inebriated ‘priest’. A few of the brighter sparks decided it would be a great idea to go to the back of the train for a cigarette, at which point a conscientious woman in my carriage decided she didn’t want to “testify in the inquest” and went to inform the driver.

Some 20 minutes later, our fate would be revealed. Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s down the train tracks we go. Ever planning on walking down a London underground tunnel? I’d recommend you don’t do it in heels. These boots were not made for train breakdowns.

Eventually back to Chalk Farm, hoisted up with the help of some friendly Fire folk (not on strike this week). Out the station, into a chaotic world where the night buses were so full they weren’t up for stopping, and where taxi drivers turned down a group so desperate for a ride they’d have paid well above the odds for the privilege.

Just another Saturday night in London, really.


Kendrick Meek, Ken Livingstone and the Tea Party

All politics is, to some extent, tactical. It would be nice to think campaigns could be run, elections could be won and things got done on the basis of ideology alone.

 But as Nick Clegg could probably point out, power invariably involves settling.

America goes to the polls this week, to choose a third of its senators and all of its congressmen. Two years after Barack “the Messiah” Obama swept into the White House, the Democrats are set for major losses and a likely return to a Republican majority in the House.

This is not actually as bad as it seems; it’s astonishingly rare for the incumbent party to come out of the mid-terms with more seats than they had (when Clinton did in 1998 it was the exception, and more a reaction against Republican machinations than the start of a new political tradition). Still, it’s not great that the Democrats are going to go kaput, especially when you consider that a good number of losses are likely to be at the hands of Tea Party loyalists like Christine the not-so-teenage-witch O ‘Donnell.

Still, given the polls and predictions, it’s surprising to see that efforts to secure a non Tea Party outcome in Florida have failed so miserably – and even more so that a Democrat is the one responsible.

The situation is this; Until a year or so, Governor Charlie Crist was something of a golden boy in the Republican, even tipped as a potential 2012 contender. But his support of such abomination as the stimulus, plus an Obama shaped hug, led to a challenge from the right by Tea Party king Marco Rubio and Crist striking out as an independent.

Mr Rubio is an unreconstructed right-winger, fond of soundbites like this one: “The problem is that when government controls the economy, those who can influence government keep winning, and everybody else just stays the same.”

Paranoid? Him?

Of course, there’s still a Democrat hoping to steal the crown, the wonderfully American named Kendrick Meek (can you imagine, President Meek…it’s like a bad spoof film). Meek is drawing about 15 per cent in the polls, Crist around 35 per cent and spades ahead is Rubio, with 42 per cent.

So the choice is this – moderate voters can go for a Democrat with very little chance, or an independent with not much more. Whether the former or the latter, the likelihood is that Mr Rubio will be off to the Senate.

Unless, of course, tactical voting comes into it. I’m no mathematician, but the combined moderate vote is more than a match for the Tea Party support. Surely, it would make sense for one of Mr Crist or Mr Meek to step aside so that, in Chuchillian terms, the best-worst candidate can prevail.

Makes sense, right? Good tactics? Bill Clinton certainly thought so, which is why he tried to broker a deal to get the undeniably weaker of the two, Meek, to do the gentlemanly thing and depart the race. Allegedly there were promises of a good DC job for Meek in return for giving up on a dream that has no chance of being realised anyway.

But while politics is about tactics, politicians are often more about ego. Ergo, Meek refused. Meek, indeed.

Madness. Meek must know that by refusing a deal he boosts Rubio immeasurably, when having Crist in the seat would do far more to prevent the Republicans blocking Obama’s legislative programme in the next two years.

Maybe two years ago, in the giddy rush of “Yes we can”, principle could come first. But Obama’s approval ratings are plummeting, and the prognosis for the next two years isn’t good. What a shame Meek couldn’t act tactically, just this once.

Not that I’m suggesting he should have actively campaigned for his opponent. Supporting another party above your own. That would be absurd, certainly not acceptable behaviour for, say, Labour’s mayoral candidate for 2012.

Oh, but wait. Apparently that’s exactly the sort of behaviour one can expect from Ken Livingstone, who was spotted on the stump for new Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman last week – despite the presence of one Helal Abbas, Labour’s candidate.

Yes, politicians should be pragmatic and tactical. But while Mr Meek doing the gracious thing would have had a purpose, Livingstone’s support of a Respect-backed politician had no such point.

It’s ironic to think, then, that tactical “anyone but Ken” voting was so key in Boris’ victory last time.

Gossip Girl recap: Easy J

Last time we saw little Jenny Humphrey, she had wrecked Blair and Chuck’s relationship and was being shunted out of New York city faster than you can say “bad hair extensions”. The good news is, unless they kill you off on teen TV (maybe even then) there’s always the chance to come back.

In an episode perfectly timed for Halloween, Little J and her ludicrous witchy eyes are back in town and haunting Blair’s dreams. Blair, because hello, she totally rules Manhattan, banishes the blonde menace, but gives her a stay of execution until midnight. Plenty of time for Jenny to wreak havoc, which she does splendidly. Well, actually, Chuck does, as part of his convoluted Blair takedown project, by making her dress collection a cheerleading sign for moral turpitude.

Ultimately it backfires – Jenny dashes back to Hudson, because apparently she only has a soul when she’s by the river. Blair and Chuck have a touching “all we have left” tete-a-tete, set wonderfully to the domestic-violence infused tones of Rihanna and Eminem. Adorable.

 Meanwhile, Blair discovers that Serena has “showed” (taxi guy). “We just talked”, protests Serena.

 Yes sweetheart, we all know what a legendary reputation you have around the city for “talking”.

 But in very Serena twist of fate, it  turns out she’s managed to “talk” to her professor before term begins. Taxi man is actually teacher. But, of the nonsensical course “the psychology of business”, which means he’s allowed to “talk” to his students as part of a clever educational device.

 So, naturally, Serena agrees to accompany him to a partaaay, with her educational devices on most-prominent display. Lily realises her darling daughter isn’t quite as focused on college as she had (rather naively) dreamed and reverse-psychologies Serena right into dumping the dude (until term ends, anyway).

 Thing is, haven’t we been here before? I know all teen dramas are effectively one recycled entity with ever-changing hair, but come on. Remember Teacher Rachel and Dan. Or Serena van der Lewinsky last season?

Er, been there, “talked” about it.

But actually, improper teacher-student shenanigans may be the least of her problems, since it emerges that taxi-man is in cahoots with Nate’s stalker blonde. Their romance appears to be on the rocks, as a dismayed Nate wails to Dan about why Juliette isn’t cool with skipping class.

 Obviously, in Nate’s money-can-buy-success, brains are just ear-space-fillers and books for putting drinks on world, the fact that a student might actually want to GRADUATE doesn’t cross his mind.

 Now, Archibald, some people can’t rely on their dimples. Some people have to stu…Oh, look, why do I bother? He’s never going to understand.

 Turns out though, she really doesn’t want to go to class. Remember Nate’s white collar criminal dad? Well, in a “s*** we need a strange coincydinc to bring those two together” plot twist, Nate has suddenly remembered his existence, and runs into Juliette outside jail. Her puppetmaster Ben is inside, and sends a charming message to remind Juliette not to get too close to Nate via a black eye for Archibald senior.

 Essentially, light on the reality, but heavy on the intrigue. Though if we don’t find out what’s up with Juliette et al soon, we might have to set “Ben” on Josh Schwartz for some answers.


Millennials Magazine

I’d like to draw attention to a great new (and new media) project over in (where else) America. It’s a web venture called Millennials Magazine – an internet only publication for, about, and by, twentysomethings.

Since launching – just a few weeks ago – they have already produced some fascinating and insightful content about Generation-whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-us. Their mission, so to speak, is this:

“… to give millennials a chance to speak independently, to begin to define ourselves against an avalanche of polemical articles defining us as a generation “victim to the recession” and “stupefied by technology.”

Ok, it’s a pretty ostentatious way of describing something that is essentially a glorified blog. But contrary to what Andrew Marr believes, blogs can be interesting, innovative and powerful. There’s plenty out there on the web that isn’t worth reading, but some of what’s on Millennials Magazine definitely is.

I can direct you to a letter from someone serving as a soldier in the United States Army, a comment on the myth of the plugged in youth and a great rhapsody about the joys of The OC.

If that’s not enough to pique your interest; it’s already got a mention on culture bible Slate Magazine.

Plus: As of today my work is on the site; an article about the trials and tribulations of living at home in London, which you can read here.

The Facebook generation

The Facebook film goes on release across Britain this weekend, and if US box office figures are anything to go by, it’s going to do pretty damn well. 

 You can read my interview with Ben Mezrich (author of The Social Network’s literary inspiration, The Accidental Billionaires) here. But the arrival of the film in cinemas got me thinking; Has it really been only six years since Facebook was created?

 I am undoubtedly a member of “The Facebook Generation”. I joined the site in May 2006, on the recommendation of American gap year friends. Initially i liked it, but I was also a MySpace member at the time and had no inkling of how important the site would become. Very few of my British friends were on it; it was fun, but limited. A passing craze.

Then I started university in September 2006 and suddenly everyone in my world was on it. Suddenly every party was organised on it, every morning spent studying Tagged photos. We wrote on people’s walls, we poked them. A birthday was no longer registered by text message or phone but by a generic Facebook post. Now everyone Facebooks (verb). Even my octogenarian grandpa announced recently that he had inadvertently joined.

It’s crazy how short a time it has taken for the vocabulary of Facebook to enter common usage, for the etiquette of the site to become part of normal behaviour. As a journalist, my job has been made far easier by the availability of private data, by the erosion of the personal into the public.

It’s funny, because I remember when I gained my first email address (age 12, on the school computer, under the questionable moniker of littlemisschatterbox2001) and boy did I think I was cool. But entering the email community, while exciting, wasn’t lifechanging. It became a feature of my life, but only gradually.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article marking Google’s 12th birthday. I had been surprised that the web emperor was still a preteen, so comprehensive is its involvement in our lives. But Google simply streamlined a process already in existence; it did what Lycos and Yahoo already did, but better.

You could say the same about Facebook, that it just improved the MySpace, Friendster and Friends Reunited mould.

It didn’t. Those sites were, variously, uncool, awkward, messy and limited.They were about utility, about practical pursuits; MySpace for music, Friends Reunited for high school reunions.

Facebook’s primary purpose was never to help people live more efficient or productive lives – it was the exact opposite.

Its agenda was gossip, snooping, Schadenfreude.

Facebook was from the outset geared towards replicating the best parts of social life on-screen. Not only could your internet alter-ego be a photoshopped fantasy, but you could use the site effectively to find out about friends, partners and anyone you damn well pleased.

Think back. Can you count on one hand the number of paper invitations you’ve been given this year? When was the last time you went to a party only to recognise half the guests from the dubious practice of stalking? How often have you messaged a distant acquaintance with a favour you’d probably never dare email or phone?

And even more importantly, can you believe you lived a large part of your life without being able to do those things?

There’s a wonderful moment in the film when Mark Zuckerberg (played disarmingly well by Jesse Eisenberg) comes up with the “Relationship Status” feature. It’s a stroke of genius, a lightbulb, a great scene.

But it’s also a pointed reminder of how one website can change the world.

Gossip Girl recap: Goodbye, Columbia

Serena is late. For class. The fact that college is about academic study, and not based around the brimming social calender of a Manhattan party girl, has apparently escaped her notice.

“If only there were a device of some kind to keep the time,” riffs Blair.

Nate and Dan are friends again, in that “put all the issues behind them” way that women are incapable of. But Nate reveals that he and Juliette have only made it to the “scrabble and talking” stage of the relationship.

In prison, we learn more about Juliette’s plot to take Serena down (we now know shaved-head-dude has some kind of vendetta against her).

Presumably Juliette is the one behind the SvDW STD rumour. And the resulting Serena-lurgy check that Nate heads over to the student health clinic. Although even if Serena is lurgy-free, one imagines Chuck’s Little Black Book has less to recommend it.

Said trip ends with Dan papped in the clinic and Vanessa in a degree one freak out.

Nate, by now thinking entirely with something other than his brain, agrees to steal Blair’s phone (with the help of a panicky V, whose morals apparently don’t apply when it comes to her love life). The big email fakeout leads to an email to angry-lecturer (from Serena) offering sex for grades. Obviously, Juliette is behind it.

Although, thinking about it, it’s not entirely improbable to imagine Serena sending such a missive.

Juliette (who should really be in the CIA, she’s such a capable crazy) manages to frame Vanessa. The scandal, Blair notes, will only raise her social status. Anyway, Vanessa is off to stay with her parents (Hello? College? Classes?) And Dan and her appear to be over, at least for now.

Blair, meanwhile, is having course trouble. In the ridiculous world of fake-Columbia, Chuck, who you’ll recall declared war on her, has managed to block her from a key class on powerful women. He even becomes the assistant to her favourite lecturer.

HELLO. He doesn’t even go to Columbia. This takes implausible to the next level.

So Blair counters by playing Yentl. Only Chuck enlists one of her minions, beckoned over to the dark side, to take her down and the blind date has better taste in scarves than most intellectual property lawyers.

However in bragging about who can out Blair the other, the lecturer quits. “These students are psychotic” she complains. Uh, because the previous favours they did for you didn’t point to that.

Oh, and Serena is about to have a fling with weird taxi-dude from Mad Men.

Aaron Sorkin vs. Andrew Marr

After Andrew Marr registered his dislike for bloggers – calling them “socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting” – it’s good to see that one prominent public figure considers them worthy of engaging with.

 Aaron Sorkin, writer of the West Wing and more recently The Social Network, was so upset by remarks below a blogpost about the so-called Facebook film that he responded in the comments section.

After facing criticism by “Tarazza” for “the lack of a decent portrayal of women” in the film – they “were basically sex objects/stupid groupies” – on the blog of Emmy winning writer Ken Levine, Sorkin wrote back:

 “This is Aaron Sorkin and I wanted to address Taraza’s [sic] comment….

“….Tarazza–believe me, I get it. It’s not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about….

Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Aaron Sorkin, Justin Timberlake (Photo: J Lipman)

 “….More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now.

 “….I wish I could go door to door and make this explanation/apology to any woman offended by the things you’ve pointed out but obviously that’s unrealistic so I thought the least I could do was speak directly to you.”

Having seen the film, I’d agree to an extent with the complaint that there are very few positive representations of women in it. But to my mind, that’s more about how male-dominated the web/tech world is than any failure on Sorkin’s part.

Nevertheless, all credit to Sorkin for taking the time to talk – and for doing it in the forum of his fans, rather than via a press spokesperson.

 I wonder if Marr would tell Sorkin his comments are simply “the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.”