Friday, June 23, 2006

Oh stop your w(h)ining!

Europe is producing too much wine for which there is no market resulting in an enormous wine surplus (leading to the rather delicious-sounding ‘European wine lake’) and an increased reliance on ‘crisis distillation’, whereby wine is turned into industrial ethanol.

The EU’s 'crisis distillation' measure was supposed to be for exceptional circumstances. Regrettably, it has now become a regular tool of market management and is even being used for so-called 'quality' wine. This is an unsustainable - some might say crazy - way to spend taxpayers’ money. We are paying huge sums to distil wine, store it, and in some cases turn it into bioethanol for use in cars and factories.

Yesterday Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development announced a range of measures to reform the EU wine market.

Ms Fischer Boel said the distillation schemes made no economic sense. "Distillation is supposed to be a crisis measure, instead it has become a way to regulate the market," she said. "It is a ridiculous way to spend taxpayers' money."

She called for an end to rules that forbid EU winemakers from blending grapes of a single variety, such as chardonnay, from more than one region, and selling them under simple, self-explanatory labels like "2005 Australian Chardonnay".

Instead, European labelling rules are unhelpful to many consumers, focusing on telling them which "château" or "domaine" a wine is from, and whether it is an "appellation contrôlé", a "grand cru", or a "crianza". Instead, the commission wants to have just two categories of wine: wine with geographical indication and wines without.

Stopping the “crisis distillation” and reforming the labelling are plain common sense. Protectionist labelling has obviously backfired. Although I fervently hope that Europe doesn't resort to making dumbed down Esperanto wines to compete with Australia and California.

But other measures include grubbing-up incentives which see the EU financing 'uncompetitive producers to leave the sector'. Brussels is looking for 400,000ha of vines to be pulled up over a five-year period.

You what? They are uncompetitive so we will PAY them to go out of business? That makes sense in what place other than the EU?

Basically we are awash in bad wine. My solution?

Let the producers of bad wine go out of business all by themselves. Putting the varietal type on the label, won’t sacrifice the individual personalities of the great wine regions for goodness sake! And keep the price of decent wines within the reach of ordinary people’s pockets

So pour the damn Chateau Protectionism 2006 down the drain and let market forces re-invigorate the sector. Thus saving the tax payer a considerable sum. No that's far too obvious for the EU!

Oh dear, The Telegraph Leader writer agrees with me! How disconcerting.!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

English Warrior

Wayne Rooney, fists clenched, arms outstretched, celebrating a goal (or being crucified) while covered in white and red paint (or is it blood?) forming a cross on his body. Wow what an image!

Predictably, The Daily Mail has its little England knickers in a twist at this already iconic Nike ad: Nike attacked over Rooney 'warrior' picture. Then runs ANOTHER image of it as columnist, Stephen Glover, tuts and is revolted by the crusader connotations.

“This is a depiction of primitive, violent man — a bloodthirsty barbarian lifted from the dark ages.

There is an echo too, surely deliberate, of Christ's crucifixion. Rooney's arms are outstretched, as those of Christ on the cross, and his hands are half clasped, as Renaissance painters often showed the nailed hands of Christ. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nike has cynically mixed up its theology. Rooney is part Woden, the Norse god of war, part the suffering but triumphant Christ.

Why does the multinational sportswear manufacturer Nike choose to depict him in a new poster as a vicious bloodstained warrior and a sort of primitive Norse god?”
Well really Mr Glover, if you have to ask! Such shameless dissembling!

Nike is all innocence, obviously. A Nike spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the ad was not intended to have religious connotations.

"Absolutely not. It's just a celebration of Wayne and the unique way he celebrates when he scores a goal, with his arms outstretched and his fists clenched. That suggested England's flag to us. It's not intended to have religious connotations at all," she said.
Yeah right

Frankly I think it’s a damn fine "tactical execution" created by Nike's ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. The Independent calls it “the most graphic use of blood in an ad since Benetton's newborn baby", I’d agree with that and concur that it conjures up all the powerful imagery that the Mail pretends to be offended by.

As Stephen Brook in the Guardian asks “what of the official sponsorship partner? At this stage of the game they are pretty much invisible. The score is Nike 6 Adidas 0.”

Top work chaps! And where can I get a poster for the kids?

Monday, June 19, 2006

National Anthem

Following the Olympics, the world and his mate appeared to be labouring under the misapprehension that Land of Hope and Glory was the national anthem of England.

Now that we are well into the World Cup Group Stage, the nation has had to witness the England team mouthing along to the dirge that is ‘God Save the Queen’, twice. Now don’t get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with ‘God Save the Queen’ apart from the fact that it is the British anthem; the musical equivalent of the Union Flag, not the cross of St George. When the Scots and Welsh sing their anthems with gusto and then boo ‘God Save the Queen’, it really is time for England to settle the issue and pick an anthem for England. I am pleased to direct you to the Anthem 4 England website, for a lot of info and interactivity on the subject.

However, I was musing on this yesterday as France prepared to play South Korea, and by heck that Marseillaise is bloody good, isn’t it? Not least because it is a Chant de Guerre, a battle song, a marching song, a song to carry you to war.

When in April 1792 the French Revolution declared war on the two powerful German monarchies, Habsburgs and the Hohenzollerns, Frédéric de Dietrich, the mayor of Strasbourg, was concerned. In a conversation with Joseph Rouget de Lisle (a captain and engineer in the French army), de Dietrich expressed his desire motivate soldiers and the citizens to defend the city and the country. De Deitrich implored the captain to write a song to rouse the people.

La Marseillaise was composed in one night, 24 April, 1792. It was played at a patriotic banquet at Marseilles, and printed copies were given to the revolutionary forces then marching on Paris. They entered Paris singing this song, and to it they marched to the Tuileries on August 10th.

Ironically, Rouget de Lisle was himself a royalist and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the new constitution. He was imprisoned and barely escaped the guillotine.. Originally entitled Chant de guerre de l'armeé du Rhin (War Song of the Army of the Rhine), the anthem became called La Marseillaise because of its popularity with volunteer army units from Marseilles.

The Convention accepted it as the French national anthem in a decree passed July 14, 1795. La Marseillaise was banned by Napoleon during the Empire, and by Louis XVIII on the Second Restoration (1815), because of its revolutionary associations. Authorised after the July Revolution of 1830, it was again banned by Napoleon III and not reinstated until 1879.

Just listen.

It famously became the anthem of anarchists and revolutionaries everywhere, but I defy anyone to demonstrate a more powerful usage of the song than the "duel of the songs" in the film ‘Casablanca’ when Victor Laszlo (the Resistance leader played by Paul Henreid) exhorts the band to play La Marseillaise competing against the Germans singing " Die Wacht am Rhein".

This is what Lazlo says to the band.

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In Casablanca, La Marseillaise represents a free France, and, by extension, the Allied side in World War II. The song plays many times throughout Casablanca, most significantly when almost all the patrons at Rick's join in a stirring rendition intended to overwhelm the sound of the Nazi anthem that a few German soldiers are singing.

In this dramatic scene, World War II shifts from geopolitical contest to ideological and cultural battle. The war is not only between the Allies and the Axis, but also between the ideals of the French Revolution, liberté, egalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, brotherhood), and the rights of man, and the darker obsessions of the Nazis, including evil, tyranny, and death. In this scene, the patrons of Rick's show themselves to be fiercely pro-Allies. Even the cynically promiscuous Yvonne, who just that evening has shown up with a new German lover, sings with passion and conviction.

Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé.
Contre nous, de la tyrannie,
L'étandard sanglant est levé,
l'étandard sanglant est levé,
Entendez-vous, dans la compagnes.
Mugir ces farouches soldats
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger vos fils,
vos compagnes.

Let us go, children of the fatherland
Our day of Glory has arrived.
Against us stands tyranny,
The bloody flag is raised,
The bloody flag is raised.
Do you hear in the countryside
The roar of these savage soldiers
They come right into our arms
To cut the throats of your sons,
your country.

Aux armes citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons.

To arms, citizens!
Form up your battalions
Let us march, Let us march!
That their impure blood
Should water our fields
All that talk of watering the fields with impure blood is not exactly PC but blimey, it's dead good, innit? Come on England! Altogether now, "Vindaloo, Vindaloo, Vindaloo nah na na nah"....