Saturday, January 31, 2009
Now the Beeb have found another way to save money. BBC 1's "Total Wipeout" is "presented by Richard Hammond and Amanda Byram" insists the Radio Times. But while Byram swans off to Buenos Aires for the programme, Hammond sits alone in a broom cupboard in White City verbalising his input.
Private Eye continues:
"The whole point of this is that I'm very much watching this with the audience at home," a bashful Hammond told website "TV Scoop". "I've just never been given the call to [go to Argentina]. I just have to literally present it to a viewer and say: "Have a look at this, it's hilarious'".
Should the economic downturn continue, expect one of the highlights of the BBC's 2010 winter season to consist of Hammond sitting in a darkened studio watching ITV1 and turning to the camera while pointing and laughing.
Well, it tickled me.
Friday, January 30, 2009
If Al Franken survives a court challenge in Minnesota, the Democratic Senate caucus, including two independents, will have 59 seats.
However, there is a little twist.
Following Bill Richardson standing down from his nomination as Commerce Secretary, it seems highly possible that Republican Senator Judd Gregg will be chosen for that role. This would mean him standing down from the Senate and his replacement being chosen by the New Hampshire governor.
The New Hampshire governor, John Lynch, is a Democrat.
Now, it is often the norm that a Governor appoints someone from their own party.
So if Lynch chooses a Democrat for the Senate role, then the Democrats are at 60, if Franken prevails.
There is a twist to the twist, however.
Governor John Lynch is one of the most bipartisan Governors in the US, so it seems likely that he will appoint a Republican to replace a Republican.
So the filibuster-proof majority slips tantalising out of reach again, perhaps. But then again, that is probably best for American democracy.
There is, however (wait for it) a twist to the twist to the twist. Any Republican chosen by Lynch could well be very well disposed to voting fairly often with the Democrats anyway - that's New Hampshire politicians for you.
Judging from this video of his mobile interrupting his press statement at
I was hoping his ring tone would be a little more interesting. Perhaps "Bonnie bonnie banks o' Lomond" or something like the Foo Fighters' "Long road to ruin" would have been nice.
The BBC Breakfast team accordingly got out their best "chinky chonky" music to accompany the report of this - a bit like a sort of Eurotrash report.
But behind the bizarreness, there lie a few of serious points.
First, the kindness of the Icelanders who clubbed together to donate loads of jumpers in a few days is genuinely touching. One nine year old girl gathered 37 jumpers and brought them to the radio station for the Hull pernsioners. Thank you Icelanders! We love you!
Secondly, their jumpers really are proper thick woolly jumpers. Perhaps we need reminding what a real jumper is in these days of central heating.
Thirdly, how come Iceland can have a much lower rate of death of the elderly from cold than us? Katharine Whitehorn, on BBC Breakfast, reckons it is because their homes are much better insulated and have big stoves for burning wood. The cost of fuel relative to the pension in the UK, has to be the crux of the matter, though.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.
“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”
Thus did an ironclad rule of the George W. Bush administration — coat and tie in the Oval Office at all times — fall by the wayside, only the first of many signs that a more informal culture is growing up in the White House under new management. Mr. Obama promised to bring change to Washington and he has — not just in substance, but in presidential style.
Although his presidency is barely a week old, some of Mr. Obama’s work habits are already becoming clear. He shows up at the Oval Office shortly before 9 in the morning, roughly two hours later than his early-to-bed, early-to-rise predecessor. Mr. Obama likes to have his workout — weights and cardio — first thing in the morning, at 6:45. (Mr. Bush slipped away to exercise midday.)
He reads several papers, eats breakfast with his family and helps pack his daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, off to school before making the 30-second commute downstairs — a definite perk for a man trying to balance work and family life. He eats dinner with his family, then often returns to work; aides have seen him in the Oval Office as late as 10 p.m., reading briefing papers for the next day.
“Even as he is sober about these challenges, I have never seen him happier,” Mr. Axelrod said. “The chance to be under the same roof with his kids, essentially to live over the store, to be able to see them whenever he wants, to wake up with them, have breakfast and dinner with them — that has made him a very happy man.”
In the West Wing, Mr. Obama is a bit of a wanderer. When Mr. Bush wanted to see a member of his staff, the aide was summoned to the Oval Office. But Mr. Obama tends to roam the halls; one day last week, he turned up in the office of his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who was in the unfortunate position of having his feet up on the desk when the boss walked in.
Last night's Newsnight contained quite a spectacle.
Michael Crick was on the case of the Scottish non-budget with his usual terrier-like determination, charging round the Scottish parliament with his microphone to prick the pomposity of Messrs Salmond and Swinney.
What saddened me greatly (and I had to get a box of Kleenex out) was to see poor old Alex Salmond being forced to comment as he waited impatiently for the doors of his lift to close. "It's a bad day for Scotland" he was forced to declaim, through pursed lips.
Poor, poor Alex Salmond!
I thought it was particularly hilarious that Salmond blamed those who voted against the budget for jeopardising Scotland's public services.
Nothing to do with him then - throwing together last minute changes to the budget by the seat of his pants to try and squeeze it through.
Of course not.
Would it be totally un-called for to mention that Alex Salmond was once described, by a fellow Scot, as "a man who is so pleased with himself, he'd drink his own bathwater"? (And that's the clean version).
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Wicksie as the lead PC.
Mr Derek as a young sargeant.
Then Mr Derek as an old sargeant.
Then Mr Derek as an old landlord.
Then Greengrass' brother, the bloke from Corrie.
Then Greengrass' distant cousin, the woman with the awful teeth (onscreen that is - not in reallife)
And that Lord fellow.
And of course, the key star of the whole lot - Ventress.
And the Yorkshire Moors of course. And Trish.
And all those women doctors who fell in love with the lead PC and then died.
And the fact that hardly anyone ever died (except the women doctors after they had fallen in love.....).
Dear me, we will miss you all!
And let's not forget The Royal which is also going. Wendy Criag. Dear, dear Wendy. And of course, dear dear Ian Carmichael. Dear Ian!
And she's lining up a book deal which has been estimated as being worth anywhere between $7 and 11 million.
No chance of the cult of personality sweeping away rational debate, here, is there?
Ego. Ego. Ego.
What will be interesting will be to compare the quality of Palin's prose with that of Barack Obama. I have just read a passage in "Dreams from my father" which is simply one of the most beautiful passages of prose I have ever read. It is where he describes a run-down African American estate in Chicago at the time he was a community organiser.
It will be interesting to see how Palin's prose (if she actually writes the thing, that is) measures up to Obama's.
I can hardly wait.....not.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The 99p shop
(Thank you Letters from a Tory for those last two)
Any other offers?
On a recent visit to Reading I noticed a new shop in Friar Street, one of the two main streets in the town. Cash Converters. It took me a while to realise that this is a pawnbrokers. They don't have the balls over their door any more. Business for them is booming, apparently. A bit sad, that. I can remember the old pawnbrokers in Reading which had the three balls above its door. It closed down many years ago.
Can I say: "Thank God!"?
At last, the BBC has a cool, sensible voice in its finance team. I have just had it with Robert Peston. (Knowledgeable, yes. Authoritative, yes. A pain in the neck, yes.)
As well as providing a clear, cool economics head to the BBC output, Stephanie Flanders also brightens up my day. Whenever I see her on the screen or read her writings on the web, my mind echoes with the strains of:
Mud Mud glorious Mud - nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
I'm a gnu—spelt G - N - U - I'm not a camel or a kangaroo
'Twas on the Monday morning the gasman came to call
Have you ever tried to have a **** on a train?
Sorry about that. She's the daughter of the Flanders half of Flanders and Swann. (The last quote is from Armstrong and Miller's affectionate send-up of that famed singing duo - see real and send-up clips below.)
Any road up. Stephanie Flanders has written an excellent piece on whether or not we are likely to go bankrupt with the falling pound and all. (David Cameron has been saying that Brown is danger of driving us into the hands of the IMF as in the Seventies with Denis Healey).
Stephanie Flanders writes in great detail about the precise position with the banks etc and concludes that the answer is "no", we are not in danger of needing to go cap in hand to the IMF:
Indeed, you can take some heart from the fact that senior French officials have been publicly fuming about the fall in sterling. They're not worried about Britain going bust. They're worried about British exporters doing rather too well out of a weak currency.
So, we won't be calling the IMF any time soon. And good thing too, because I suspect we'd be put on hold. These days the IMF doesn't have nearly enough money to help us out. It's also being run by a Frenchman.
I've been guessing recently as to which country that will be. The current stakes are:
Indonesia 5/4 Favourite
(he was partly brought up there, he speaks Indonesian, it is the world's most populous Muslim nation and Ben Smith says that he told supporters in 2007 that he would visit Jakarta first in his presidency).
Saudi Arabia 30/1
Monday, January 26, 2009
Mark Thomson, the BBC DG, gave a tenable defence of the BBC's decision this morning on Today. He said that due to the contentiousness of the aid situation, it would compromise the BBC's impartiality if they broadcast the appeal. With great passion, I don't agree with his view, but I can understand, it given his position.
The BBC, and Sky (who have also decided not to broadcast the appeal) are in a position not completely shared by ITV, Channel 4 and 5 (who have agreed to air the appeal). The BBC and Sky are international broadcasters. And given the amount of criticism the BBC has already attracted on its Gaza coverage, I can understand their sensitivity.
There comes a point where you have to allow the BBC to make up its own mind.
Otherwise, there is no point in having a BBC.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
My own view is that I think it is an insult to the viewing public to suggest they can't distinguish between the humanitarian needs of thousands of children and families in Gaza and the political sensitivities of the Middle East. It's a distinction which anyone can make and to suggest that the BBC should somehow not allow people to show their compassion for that human suffering because of the wider controversies in the Middle East I think, I am afraid, is a case, in this instance, of the BBC totally getting their priorities upside down...The most disquieting aspect of this was, I think, in a news report yesterday from the BBC itself it was said that the BBC felt they couldn't let this appeal come onto the television screens tomorrow on Monday whilst the story was so high up the news agenda as if the humanitarian suffering of people in Gaza has to wait until the Middle East somehow goes down the news agenda on the evening news. That, I think, is almost cynical."
When presenter Andrew Marr mentioned that the fact that while comment and presence in Gaza is still there that there might be feeling that getting to close to that is getting the BBC too close to people who are on one side of an ongoing conflict, Clegg replied:
I just don't think people look at it that way I think people quite clearly understand that they want to help particularly the children - thousands of children whose lives have been very seriously blighted - destroyed - by the level of violence, without making judgments about the wider politics.
Co-guest Paul Gambaccini (for it was he) then reminded Nick Clegg about Live Aid, when people gave money without taking into political sensitivities, Clegg added:
No conflict is without political sensitivities.
You can see Nick Clegg making his remarks on Sunday AM here.
This situation is akin to that of British military hospitals who treat prisoners of war as a result of their duty under the Geneva convention.
They do so because they identify need rather than cause.
This is not an appeal by Hamas asking for arms but by the Disasters Emergency Committee asking for relief. By declining their request, the BBC has already taken sides and forsaken impartiality.
On Tuesday, speaking from a pulpit in Westminster Abbey, the director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, paid tribute to one of the corporation's greatest journalists and broadcasters, Charles Wheeler, who died last summer at the age of 85.
Thompson spoke in reverential terms of Wheeler: his independence; his dislike of authority, any authority; his relentless search for the truth, in postwar Germany, in the United States of the 1960s and 1970s, LBJ, Vietnam, Nixon; in India, Kuwait, Kurdistan. Thompson was right. Wheeler was a giant among BBC journalists, rightly hailed as one of the best of his generation.
But even as Thompson spoke, the corporation was traducing every tradition that Wheeler, and many of us who still work for the BBC, have tried to live by. The corporation's chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, had refused to allow it to broadcast an appeal on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee for Gaza. She said that one reason was that "the BBC's impartiality was in danger of being damaged". Could the BBC be sure, she added, that money raised for this cause would find its way to the right people?
How is the BBC's impartiality to be prejudiced by asking others to raise money for the victims of an act of war by a recognised state, an ally of Britain, using the most lethal armaments it can against a defenceless population? What sly little trigger went off in her head when Thomson questioned whether the aid would reach the right people? What right people? Hamas, the elected representatives of the Palestinian people? The hospitals and clinics run by private charities and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? The mosques? The citizens of Gaza, persecuted beyond measure not only by their Israeli enemies but by the western powers who arm and sustain Israel and defy the democratic vote of the Palestinian people?
Is Thomson more fussed about some imaginary "war on terror" that even the new White House is shying away from than she is about upholding the free speech and freedom of action of the corporation?
This pusillanimous obeisance to some imagined governmental threat has aroused unprecedented anger across the BBC. Reporters and correspondents still on the staff, and who will not name themselves, are beside themselves with rage against a corporation that is traducing the very ideals it is supposed to uphold, and for which the director-general seemed to speak in Westminster Abbey.
This is what one former BBC World Service current affairs producer wrote to his colleagues yesterday: "... I am rarely moved to comment on aspects of the BBC I can no longer influence. But I confess I am deeply saddened and confused - and frankly pleased to be distanced from such decisions - after listening to Caroline Thomson's obfuscating defence on Today of the refusal to broadcast the joint charity appeal on behalf of the suffering in Gaza. The question of partiality is a red herring. It is for the general public to respond to a humanitarian disaster as they choose."
....BBC journalists, extant and retired, not the "usual suspects", not disaffected radicals and high-octane lefties, are incandescent with rage over this extraordinary piece of institutional cowardice.
The episode makes a travesty of the institution's posturing in Westminster Abbey last week, and discredits the honest reporters the BBC still has on its books and in the field.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The Committee decides when to launch a combined appeal in times of extreme need in the world.
In short, the DEC is a bit like the Queen Mother figure of the aid agency world.
Up until now, no one has questioned its impartiality. The DEC declares an emergency appeal and the BBC, and other broadcasters, launch an appeal. (Indeed, the BBC normally mobilise a real "Queen Mum" type national treasure figure to present the appeal, like Stephen Fry or Jill Dando when she was alive.)
Except now, with Gaza.
The DEC has declared an appeal for the acute humanitarian disaster in Gaza.
But Mark Thompson, BBC Director General has refused to broadcast an appeal on the grounds that it might compromise the "impartiality" of the BBC.
What a numpty!
Even ITV and other broadcasters have now agreed to broadcast an appeal.
Listen to people who know Paterson well, and it's hard to believe they're talking about the governor of the country's third most populous state. They describe a man who is witty and charming, but stunningly, maybe dangerously indecisive. "He cannot make a decision," says someone who has watched the process close-up. By his own admission, Paterson didn't decide to appoint Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat until 2:00 a.m. this morning, just hours before he was scheduled to announce the pick at a televised press conference.
So, to my mind, Caroline Kennedy now remains notable mainly for inspiring the names of one of the greatest radio stations in the world, and this great record:
We begin this year and this Administration in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action. Just this week, we saw more people file for unemployment than at any time in the last twenty-six years, and experts agree that if nothing is done, the unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four. And we could lose a generation of potential, as more young Americans are forced to forgo college dreams or the chance to train for the jobs of the future.
In short, if we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse.
That is why I have proposed an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan to immediately jumpstart job creation as well as long-term economic growth. I am pleased to say that both parties in Congress are already hard at work on this plan, and I hope to sign it into law in less than a month.
It’s a plan that will save or create three to four million jobs over the next few years, and one that recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment - the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there’s so much work to be done. That’s why this is not just a short-term program to boost employment. It’s one that will invest in our most important priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century.
Today I’d like to talk specifically about the progress we expect to make in each of these areas.
To accelerate the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy like wind, solar, and biofuels over the next three years. We’ll begin to build a new electricity grid that lay down more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines to convey this new energy from coast to coast. We’ll save taxpayers $2 billion a year by making 75% of federal buildings more energy efficient, and save the average working family $350 on their energy bills by weatherizing 2.5 million homes.
To lower health care cost, cut medical errors, and improve care, we’ll computerize the nation’s health record in five years, saving billions of dollars in health care costs and countless lives. And we’ll protect health insurance for more than 8 million Americans who are in danger of losing their coverage during this economic downturn.
To ensure our children can compete and succeed in this new economy, we’ll renovate and modernize 10,000 schools, building state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries, and labs to improve learning for over five million students. We’ll invest more in Pell Grants to make college affordable for seven million more students, provide a $2,500 college tax credit to four million students, and triple the number of fellowships in science to help spur the next generation of innovation.
Finally, we will rebuild and retrofit America to meet the demands of the 21st century. That means repairing and modernizing thousands of miles of America’s roadways and providing new mass transit options for millions of Americans. It means protecting America by securing 90 major ports and creating a better communications network for local law enforcement and public safety officials in the event of an emergency. And it means expanding broadband access to millions of Americans, so business can compete on a level-playing field, wherever they’re located.
I know that some are skeptical about the size and scale of this recovery plan. I understand that skepticism, which is why this recovery plan must and will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my Administration accountable for these results. We won’t just throw money at our problems - we’ll invest in what works. Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made public, and informed by independent experts whenever possible. We’ll launch an unprecedented effort to root out waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending in our government, and every American will be able to see how and where we spend taxpayer dollars by going to a new website called recovery.gov.
No one policy or program will solve the challenges we face right now, nor will this crisis recede in a short period of time. But if we act now and act boldly; if we start rewarding hard work and responsibility once more; if we act as citizens and not partisans and begin again the work of remaking America, then I have faith that we will emerge from this trying time even stronger and more prosperous than we were before. Thanks for listening.
Last night's special episode about the Scilly Boys is worth seeing again on iPlayer. Four lads (although one looked about my age so perhaps "lads" is a misnomer) decided to raise money for the RNLI by rowing across the Atlantic from America back to their home on the Scilly Isles. Easy eh? People are doing it all the time, aren't they.
Well, actually no. After two years of preparation they left New York on a glorious day and had 13 days of good rowing to get seven hundred miles off the coast of the USA. Then a storm came, their boat capsized and didn't re-right itself (which it should have done) so they had to get into their lifeboat, phone Falmouth International Rescue (Scott Tracy to the rescue) and then they got picked up by a tanker.
Sounds pathetic doesn't? Only got 13 days into their row, first whiff of a storm and they chicken out into the lifeboat.
...Until you watch the programme and you understand the amazing grit and determination which the Scilly Boys displayed to survive. Rowing the remainder of the Atlantic would have been a breeze in comparison. They had to cower in two hatches with the boat capsized. Their radio didn't work so one pair didn't know if the others were alive. Their sateillite phone didn't work at first. Their radio beacon (EPO) worked but then detached itself from one of them in the water. On of them was buck naked so hypothermia was fairly certain in a matter of minutes for him. When they got out of the boat they couldn't detach the lifeboat from the boat frame. One of them managed to cut it out with a last gasp attempt, after much diving. Then when they got into the lifeboat it had lots of water in the bottom and they couldn't bale it out effectively because of the storm. Then they realised the lifeboat had become detached from the lifeboat and the esential "grab bag" with food, water and radio had washed away.
When they were finally lucky enough for a tanker to arrive near them, two of them almost got killed going up the rope ladder to the huge ship because the ladder was banging up against the side of it.
So, in the bravery department, those Scilly Boys really kick ass. They really demonstrate the sheer guts of the Scilly Islanders, which has been demonstrated over centuries.
So, Tim Garratt, Joby Newton, Chris Jenkins and Wayne Davey - well done lads!
(Two bits of humour in the programme: When one the boys finally got through to Falmouth Coastguard he said "It's Wayne here, we've capsized". The coastguard thought it was a lad who'd capsized in Falmouth harbour, not 700 miles out in the middle of the Atlantic. And when the lads were in the water, clinging to the capsized boat, one of them, in the words of one of the others, "At that point Joby decided to announce that he couldn't actually swim")
In the end, I thought he got the balance right and his "pulling power" with guests suggests that his career is very much alive and kicking. Tom Cruise! (There must be something wrong with Cruise, by the way. No one can be that perfect!) And that ever-gushing and ever-reliable geyser of the British chat show Stephen Fry. Lee Evans. And. of course, what chat show would be complete without raising Archduke Franz Ferdinand from the dead for a quick pow-wow ("Did you make sure the engine of your car was checked before you went out in it in Sarajevo?"...that sort of thing)
An earlier programme on ITV (Is TV too rude?) had a jury looking at questionable clips to decide on the line between taste and comedy. They judged that Ross' question about Margaret Thatcher to Cameron (about self-gratification in his teenage years) was OK. But they decided that the Little Britain in America sketch about the two gym buddies was not OK. The daft thing is, however, that when they showed the "jury" the gym buddy sketch, they smudged out their proesthetic "genetalia". But the genetalia, which were utterly minute on huge prosthetic gym-toned bodies, were the whole point of the comedy of the sketch.
What a pillock!
He just doesn't get it does he? There is a simple one-word reason why an airport in the Thames Estuary is a complete non-starter:
More specifically, over 200,000 wild fowl and wading birds which overwinter in the estuary, plus thousands which visit there while migrating.
A report by the Central Science Laboratory stated:
It is difficult to envisage a more problematic site anywhere in the world.
Perhaps Boris should read this article from his own newspaper, the Telegraph:
One recent headline – London estuary airport best for environment, says Johnson – suggests he has a double problem: memory loss and a lack of news cuttings, not only from the 1960s and 70s, but from as recently as six years ago.
Had this not been apparently the case, he would have been well aware of the outcome of past proposals for Thames mouth flight terminals. One reason they failed was the environmental damage they would cause.
There were other considerations – notably danger of aircraft colliding with flocks of birds. As opposition mounted in 2002 to plans to build an £11.5 billion airport on Kent's wildlife-rich Cliffe Marshes, conservation hopes were boosted by a Central Science Laboratory report.
It notes that 200,000 wildfowl and wading birds overwinter in the Thames estuary, plus thousands on migration – and the obvious way to protect aircraft would be by not developing there.
As the report put it: "It is difficult to envisage a more problematic site anywhere in the world."
Something else the London Mayor has not mentioned while enthusing over his idea for a man-made island for international air traffic is that the whole area is covered by the EU-backed Thames Estuary and Marshes Special Protection Area.
That means extra economic drawbacks and other headaches highlighted during the Cliffe controversy by Sir Martin Doughty, chairman of the what was then called English Nature.
He said: "Under European law, new land would have to be set aside for the migratory birds affected. The cost of this task would be huge and there simply may not be enough land available in the southeast to achieve it."
Proposals for the Cliff Marshes airport were in due course dropped – just as the case for a Third London Airport on the brent goose-haunted Maplin Sands, Essex, didn't survive the vigorous opposition 30 years earlier.
Mr Johnson's argument on the lines of "if Hong Kong can do it, why not London" has a big flaw. In the Far East, internationally important environments have been destroyed by major engineering projects repeatedly, with scant regard for the views of conservationists. Here the approach is very different.
He can be sure of a battle with the country's leading conservation bodies, which are ready to go for a "hat trick" of victories. It has already started following the recent launch of Waterbirds in the UK 2006/2007, a report stressing the international importance of UK wetlands to 43 wetland bird species.
The report stems from a continuous study which has its roots in the Third London Airport row that began in the late 1960s. It rates the Thames Estuary in the UK's top five out of 143 sites nationwide due to the high number of waterbirds found there during winter or migration periods.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been quick to point out that "this is further confirmation that the idea of an international airport anywhere in the Thames Estuary is a complete non-starter."
Chris Corrigan, RSPB South East's regional director, prominent in the campaign that helped kill the Cliffe Marshes project, said: "If ever Boris needed proof of the environmental cost involved in building a Thames Estuary airport, this report – which actually came about in response to a past airport proposal – is it.
"For years we have been pointing to the estuary's importance for countless species and here, in black and white yet again, is proof of just how remarkable the area really is for wildlife.
"The nearby Swale and Medway Estuaries, similarly recognised by this report for their international importance, will also lose out if an airport went ahead. If Boris thinks building an airport anywhere in this area is viable, this report shows he needs to think again."
Friday, January 23, 2009
President Obama signs an executive order to close Guantanamo camp on Day Two in office. Note that behind him are US Flag Officers who campaigned for the US to return to its core values in detaining and interrogating suspects.
I have long believed that Guantanamo was a disgusting stain on the reputation of the USA and of Western civilisation in general. So to see this move made by Obama so promptly after he came into office is cause for celebration IMHO.
Never heard of her? Shame on you. (Mind you, nor had I)
Caroline Kennedy's last minute withdrawal from the replacement stakes is reported to have involved tax and personal problems.
My own take is that Kennedy did not deserve to be a Senator at this stage because, quite frankly, she was useless. You only have to count the number of "ya knows" in the interview below to realise that.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.
Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive Presidential terms and is therefore counted as US President number 22 and number 24.
Well on Day One and a bit, Obama has already reversed one of those stupid rules by sitting at the Oval Office desk without a jacket.
It is possible that they are trying to be a bit too clever though. On the website we are told that "President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and their families spent the day (Martin Luther King Jr Day) honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. by serving others."
One slight snag.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was on January 19th this year.
Barack Obama didn't become President until January 20th.
The whole occasion was electrifying. I could feel that - even in semi-rural Berkshire.
What I found remarkable was that, after all the run-up, the swearing in was all over in a few seconds. Never has "So help me God" evoked such a tidal wave of relief. "Congratulations, Mr President" Wow! Ding dong the Bush is dead. A new era brought about in a few seconds with a slightly dodgy swearing-in.
Aretha Franklin? What is she like? I don't deny she was one of the two or three singers who deserved to be on that stage. But could anyone understand a word of what she was singing? It all seemed a bit odd. I wonder how many people thought she was singing the British national anthem. (It's the same tune.)
Cheney in a wheelchair? How emblematic was that? He shot himself in the foot, presumably. Mark Cole put his finger on it: Dr Strangelove without the humour.
I thought Obama made a remarkable inauguration speech. It was extremely sure-footed and had several very soaring passages. What a sense of history the guy has!
Above all, it was impeccably delivered. I am of the belief that Obama could read out the New York phone directory and make it sound like an historic mould-breaking speech. (I also believe that Rod Stewart could sing the New York phone directory and sound like an angel, but I digress).
One aspect which struck me was that Obama really laid into Bush and thereby marked a very clear break indeed with the last administration. To a large extent, the speech restored some of the world’s faith in the fairness and justice of the USA.
A few people said that the speech had no memorable "Ask not..." or "Fear itself.." phrase. I disagree. Both those phrases emerged as famous well after the original speeches. There were plenty of poetic and powerful phrases in the Obama speech. I expect an historic keynote phrase to emerge in good time.
Bush's face was a picture. I remember seeing his face as he waited to swear in during the 2001 inauguration. He looked like the cat who had swallowed the cream. He was clearly looking at Gore/Clinton with a "I beat you - so there!" grin on his face. So, after eight disastrous years, it is not gratifying to report that yesterday he looked like he'd lost a dollar and found a cent. He was not pleased. He looked a bit bitter, it would not be an exaggeration to say.
I was rather intrigued by the media coverage of the inauguration and its run-up, compared to the campaign coverage. Yesterday it was 99% "I never thought I would see an African American President.". During the campaign, that played about 5% a part of the coverage. For example, when Obama won the Iowa primary, how much of the coverage was people saying "I never thought I'd see a African American winning the Iowa primary"? Not much.
Surely the point is that race did not play a big part of the campaign because Obama's appeal is aracial. He straddles the cultures.
I would have preferred to see a little bit more of the coverage centering on the fact that, after eight years, the USA finally has a President with a brain.
By the way, you know when you're getting old, when even the Chief Justices look like thirty year olds.
Monday, January 19, 2009
1. Not enough experience. Bring in Mr Experience, Ken Clarke.
2. Too much "Bully" - Bullingdon club types. Bring in the very antithesis of the Bullingdon club type, Eric Pie & Pickles and replace the awfully posh Grieve (who was a bit of an emergency promotion in the first place) with the slightly less posh and certainly sure-footed Grayling.
Hat-tip: Nick Robinson.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
It all came home to me at church this morning. Our Rector has very sensibly created two main services on Sundays. The 9-15 is for people who like hymns with "thy" and "thee" in them. The 11 o'clock is for people who like clapping. The 9-15 congregation has a bit of grey hair but still, I would say, quite a lot of vim. The 11 o'clock congregation sometimes includes people with a "coffee to go" in their hands. Nuff said.
For some strange reason I straddle both services. I was brought up on hymns with "thees" and "thys" in them. But I am also a very keen fan of Graham Kendrick. (He wrote "Shine Jesus shine", the anthem, if there is one, for "happy clappy" Christians.)
Indeed, today I attended both services. I don't mention that in order to go into "goody two shoes" overdrive. I had to because of rotas clashing. Ah, yes. The dictatorship of R-O-T-A-S.
(This Chilean wine (Isla Negra - Cabernet Suavignon Red) I am drinking is far too good, by the way - I thought I would mention that by way of a warning. This posting will go downhill from here on in).
Anyway, at the 11 o'clock service something revolutionary happened. A very brave soul proposed that we went into three corners of the church led by a "Moses" carrying an emblem of the subject of our prayer: the local papers, a globe or a first aid kit.
Yes. It sounds very complicated and totally unnecessary but... It worked.
Any road up. I ended up in a corner of the church with someone very bravely acting as "Moses", holding up a globe. I was quite astounded by the very large number of people who also flocked to the globe to pray about world affairs, in preference to praying about local matters or people who are sick.
It was quite a "moist" moment, I have to say. And I don't mean to sound fascetious. I was genuinely moved by the prayers and the sincerity of the gathering. But what moved me most (perhaps even disturbed me a little) was the strength of the hope which is riding on the shoulders of one Barry Obama. (For it is he)
There are many, many people who are devoutly looking to Barack Obama to put things right and, at last, make a world we can at least be a little bit proud of.
All a bit dangerous, actually.
How the heck can a Harvard law graduate fix the globe?
It's not going to happen.
But perhaps the awareness of the hugeness of the challenge is so massive that even if he does a little bit, he'll be praised. Perhaps. One commentator was asked what Obama had to do. His answer was silence. In other words, he thought Obama doesn't have to do much at all because what preceded him was so dire.
I have to believe that having Hilary as Obama's SoS is a major step forward. I am expecting great things from Hilary Clinton as US Secretary of State. Henry Kissinger, eat your heart out!
Oh heck. She's got two "L"s. I always forget. Sorry.
I tend towards the Andrew Rawnsley view, expressed in today's Observer. It's summed up by the title: Don't drizzle your pessimism on Obama's grand parade.
Indeed. And on that note may I say that I am looking forward to attending a little Obama Inauguration party myself. I might even cook something American for the occasion. That would be a first.
No, to hell with it. I am an optimist. Sod it. Obama is great. It's fantastic. Goodbye to the affable tosspot, Bush. Hello to hope.
Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Ashi is a Palestinian who works in Israeli hospitals and lives in Gaza. He is very well known in Israel and, in more peaceful times, was embraced by the Israeli Army soldiers as he crossed into Gaza. He has been reporting each day into an Israeli television programme, telling of the reality in Gaza. Then Israeli viewers heard as he spoke live on television as his three daughters were killed by an Israeli army strike.
"No one can get to us," he screamed in Arabic on a live phone call with a channel 10 anchor.
"My God ... My God ..."Dr. Ashi told the anchor his family had just been killed, and that he was "overwhelmed." "My God ... My girls ..." he cried. "Shiomi ... Can't anybody help us please?"
The news anchor asked Dr. Ashi where his house is, and cameras followed as the journalist frantically tried to employ his network of contacts to send help to the doctor. Shortly thereafter, the Israeli Army allowed a Palestinian ambulance to speed to his location. Only one of al-Ashi's daughters survived.
"Everybody in Israel knows that I was talking on television and on the radio," said Dr. Ashi. "That we are home, that we are innocent people. "Suddenly, today, when there was hope for ceasefire, on the last day I was talking to my children ... Suddenly, they bombed us; a doctor who takes care of Israeli patients. Is that what's done? Is that peace?"
Eyewitnesses denied Israeli claims of sniper fire in the area. "But over 90 percent of Israelis still support the war on Gaza, while hundreds of other tragedies remain just a number in a rising Palestinian death toll," reported Al Jazeera's Roza Ibragimova.
Al Jazeera's English service has the full story here:
A very simple example is this one. At American political rallies after the roar of the crowd settles down, there is always someone, just before the speaker starts, who shouts "We love you XXXX".
When this happened, Barack Obama's first instinct was to say: "I appreciate that".
Terribly leaden footed, that. I hear him say it at one rally, and then, realising that he was using the wrong language, he said what he know always says, without fail:
I love you back
Saturday, January 17, 2009
He publishes a selection today.
Some of the things people write in the Round Robins are unbelievable. One Yorkshire family wrote:
In February we bought an annual tax disc to exhibit on our car.
Thanks for telling us. Did you also remember to put your clocks back...and forward?
And this excerpt from one family's bulletin tickled me:
Poor Harry has had an awful year. He got bronchitis which he left too long; he needed two lots of antibiotics and steroids to clear it up. This in turn gave him piles, and the creams he used gave him peri-anal dermatitis and it all turned into a chronic anal fissure. I would like to say that his troubles are behind him....
Friday, January 16, 2009
No pies are kept in this van overnight
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I notice that Chris Grayling, on Question Time, last night distanced the Tory party, again, from Boris' idea of an airport on the Thames Estuary. The party policy is a high speed rail link as an alternative to the Heathrow third runway, he insisted.
The Conservative party really have got a bit of a problem, haven't they? Their one example of wielding big power, Boris, is completely at odds with his party on a major plank of policy.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
David Bowie is to blame for the recession and the current credit crunch, the U.K. press reports today. According to a BBC Today host, it was the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust himself, who opened the flood gates for the current economic problems, all thanks to his “Bowie Bonds.” Back in 1997, Bowie issued “Bowie Bonds” as a way of getting his royalty money up front. He sold bonds of his future royalties to his fans for an immediate sum of money, figuring they’d be more patient about waiting for the royalties, plus it’d give them a stake in Bowie’s catalog.
Economically, the term for this action is “securitization.” The article speculates that banks were inspired by Bowie’s foresight and started to do the same thing, except with mortgages instead of Hunky Dory. The plan was so successful for banks that they lowered the bar on who got loans, figuring a deadbeat would be the problem of whoever scooped up the security, or the bundle of mortgages. Repeat this and multiply it by several thousand and you’re faced with one of the main reasons for the current recession.
But Rolling Stone rejects this preposterous suggestion:
We asked a friend of ours who works in real estate — and knows a lot more about these economic matters than we do — and he insists that “securitization” was taking place on Wall Street way before David Bowie masterminded his supposed scheme to cause a worldwide recession. In fact, the practice dates back to the 1970s, when “the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development created the transaction using a mortgage-backed security.”
In short, our Wall Street source says, “There is no chance in hell that David Bowie inspired banks to package loans into securities, have rating agencies rate them AAA blindly and sell them off to high leverage hedge funds.” We don’t know what any of that means, but it takes the blame of Bowie’s shoulders. Blame Bernie Madoff instead or something. Plus, keep in mind, the accusations against Bowie were printed in the U.K.’s infamous Mirror, proud authors of articles like “Michael Jackson is dying” and “Student puts her virginity up for auction.”
A driving instructor who was punched and robbed as she was giving a lesson was left furious and disappointed after a judge told her she was “too believable” to testify against her alleged attacker.
Instead, the judge awarded Denise Dawson £250 from public funds and acquitted the man accused of the robbery.
Judge James Tabor, QC, told the 35-year-old mother of two that she was “honest, utterly decent and brave” but her “impressive” performance in the witness box could sway the jury unfairly.
The case against Liam Perks collapsed because the judge felt that Mrs Dawson’s “three-second” glimpse of the robber was insufficient to ensure a safe conviction.
Well, at least Cameron is not ashamed to demonstrate the real Conservative party before the election - that is the Conservative party where the politicians fill their pockets first and work for the voters second.
Monday, January 12, 2009
The BBC has some remarkably heard-felt tributes here from several notables from the world of Snooker, with which "Viney" had a particular affinity.
Non-fact machine questioning Update: Walt Disney corporation owns the fifth largest navy in the world
Original post 11/1/09: I just thought I'd mention that. It was yesterday's fact from the 3.15 Fact Machine on Nihal's Radio One show. So it cannot be questioned. Fiona Bruce says so. And she's a BBC newsreader.
(Actually on this occasion I think the 3.15 Fact Machine should be questioned. "Boasts" the fifth largest navy in the world, would be more accurate. I can't find any independent verification of the boast, which seems to be exclusively carried on Walt Disney websites).
Sunday, January 11, 2009
I should preface all this by saying that I am very loyal Guardian reader. I lapped up every word of the long series of articles about the excruciating demise of this ex-Tory cabinet minister, and his imprisonment for perjury eight years ago. (Indeed, I suspect that my drooling over his political end was certainly indecent. I enjoyed msyelf far too much. Almost as much as when Jeffrey Archer was put in the slammer. Sorry.) He is now a preacher and spiritual writer.
First of all, it ought to be said that Aitken should not be described as a "born again Christian" who "saw the light" in prison. He was a long established member of the Church of England and, indeed, a church warden at St Margaret's Church Westminster, well before his imprisonment. So one has to say, if he had stuck to the basic tenets of his faith all along, he wouldn't have ended up in prison. Following commandment number nine, "do not give false testimony" would have kept him out of a lot of trouble.
Having read Aitken's book "Pride and Perjury" which details his fall from grace, I am still very puzzled as to why he lied about who paid for his wife and daughter to stay in a hotel. In his book he says it was something to do with pride, I seem to remember. But it still is confoundedly perplexing. He really wasn't going to end up in a lot of soup if he had just said who had paid the bill (some Saudi fixer) in the first place. He certainly wouldn't have ended up in jail. So what on earth did he have to hide? That is the question that remains in my mind.
Anyway, LibCync reports that his (LibCync's) wife sat through a recent sermon in which the priest asked especially for prayers for Jonathan Aitken. It all sounds rather bizarre.
Mr Aitken came to our church a few years ago to preach. He also gave a talk to the men's group. He has a few entertaining tales to tell about life in prison. I can't say that he is a particularly charismatic speaker. He is a rather stiff and aloof. Someone once said that is a result of his height. He is about three miles tall. I suspect it is a result of his background as well. He is a great nephew of the first Lord Beaverbrook.
I've listened to a lot of religious speakers in my time. (Lord Soper stands out as my favourite.) I can't say that Jonathan Aitken is likely to set many people on fire.
I chatted to him after the service at our church. Bizarrely we were watching Esther Rantzen arrive and be photographed for a christening. (It wasn't just any old christening. It was the christening of triplets who had been born to a surrogate mother in America and flown across to live with their father in Newbury.) We speculated about the thickness of her make-up (about twelve inches). He seemed a nice enough fellow.
So should we forgive the man? I would say so. It is not our job to judge people, especially after they have done their time. The Lord loves a sinner who repents. He has brought a lot of pain on himself, as well as other people. We've all done things we shouldn't have done, and gone astray somewhere along the line.
Should we pray for him? Well, yes. There are many subjects and people to pray for, and if someone thinks he is in pain, then yes, we should pray for him.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
She was fired for gross misconduct after kicking tenants out of their post-war housing.
The site had been earmarked for demolition to make way for new homes, but the properties were then advertised in a council newsletter.
Ms Reeves and her boyfriend moved in to the building along with a number of other employees from the housing authority.
How utterly staggering! Apparently, according to the BBC, Ms Reeves and the other council employees were allegedly paying less rent for the bungalows than the OAPs who were kicked out of them. £46.89 per week, to be precise.
But another Tory big beast, this time of the fairly crucial financial donor-type variety, Stuart Wheeler (a record £5 million cheque writer for the Tories in the past) says he doesn't want Clarke on the front bench because of his Eorophile views. Mr Wheeler is a jumping Europhobe.
So that's it then. No Clarkie.
You have to wonder about the leadership of the Conservative party. They organised a hugely high profile "away day" to study the effects of the recession. All the big guns from the shadow cabinet were out on the road looking at businesses with one exception.
Only their shadow Business Secretary.
And where was he?
Skiing in Klosters.
(He said it was a previously arranged commitment but even Caroline Spelman managed to squeeze in the "away day" before jetting off to join Duncan's party.)
Where the Sam Hill is the discipline in the Shadow Cabinet if they can't do better than that?
I don't think Caroline Kennedy should be the next US Senator for New York. I don't think she will be either. She hasn't got sufficient experience of public office. Quite frankly, having seen this interview with her below, I think she is hopeless. H-O-P-E-L-E-S-S
PS She says she was "dismayed by" her voting record. What? Was she unconscious for several years and then woke up and was dismayed by the fact that she hadn't voted for years? What planet is she on?
And after having several months to think about it, she has finally come up with the names of two newspapers she reads: USA Today and the New York Times.
She was exploited by Katie Couric, Tina Fey and others.
And the scrutiny of her candidacy was a "class issue" apparently. She hints that she reckons that Caroline Kennedy won't get the same bashing, presumably because Kennedy is "high class". Perhaps Palin should actually read the interview with Kennedy in the New York Times, which she allegedly reads. They mercilessly printed the transcript including Kennedy's repeating of the words "ya' know" 142 times.
Now the Sun has entered the fray on the side of us dewy-eyed idealists who want to see a mass conversion to low energy light bulbs. In a subtle riposte to the Mail's idiocy, the Sun have a very large splash on their front page saying "Free Low energy light bulb". You can claim yours at Asda apparently, if you are a Sun reader, today, at least, presumably.
I never thought I'd say this, but "Hurrah!" for the Sun!
I bet whoever it was who dressed up as Baby P, at the same party, is currently keeping a low profile and thanking their lucky stars.
Friday, January 9, 2009
The Times has this photo of David Cameron pictured with the Maddie "sick joker", Matt Lewis (left foreground), at the recent Crewe and Nantwich by-election. As I write, this is on the official Staffordshire Conservative Future website which still lists Matt Lewis as its "Area Chairman" (see snapshot below). They ought to contact the website webmaster to correct that. The webmaster is...er....Matt Lewis. In fairness to Matt Lewis, he is very apologetic. The BBC quotes him as follows:
I unreservedly apologise to Mr and Mrs McCann for my actions. I completely regret my behaviour that night and since, and cannot express how sorry I am for the incredible hurt I have caused. Whilst my actions were not meant to be malicious, I fully understand the pain they have brought.
Well said that man. We've all been there (Or somewhere like it anyway).
UPDATE 20:50: Someone has been very busy this evening. The Cameron photo is no now longer on the Staffordshire Conservative Future site, but is, as I have now mentioned above, on The Times website. Sky News also have it.