Saturday, August 29, 2009

Superb eulogy to Ted Kennedy

I've just watched President Obama's eulogy at Senator Ted Kennedy's funeral. It's not often you see a standing ovation at a funeral, but on this occasion it was perfectly appropriate. Obama gave a moving, dignified and informative tribute which was superb in summing up the remarkable life of this towering figure.

Here it is on YouTube:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Isn't it great to have a open mind?

Here's a great quote from Oklahoman US Senator James Inhofe on the embryonic Health reform bill:

I don't have to read it, or know what's in it. I'm going to oppose it anyways.

From the Express-Star with a hat-tip to Tagean Goddard's Political Wire.

These exam results are the first for children educated solely under a Labour government

The exam results we are seeing come out at the moment are historic. The children who are getting their exam results this summer are the first set of children to be solely educated under a Labour government. They would have started school aged four (or shortly afterwards) in 1997 and are now sixteen.

That's the first time that has happened - a full school career under a Labour government.

I know. I am a member of the last generation which was largely (but not entirely) educated under a Labour government. I went to primary school aged five in 1964 when Wilson's government came to power. I left school in 1977 during Callaghan's government. Unfortunately, Heath's pesky Conservative government from 1970 to 1973 ruined everything, but did mean that I enjoyed school during the three-day week including black-outs from 8pm onwards. (So we had early cocoa and I ended up making friends with a boy who happened to have a torch - a useful alliance, that was.) I also ought to mention that I went to a public school for my secondary education, so the link to the Labour government was somewhat indirect perhaps. But then again, I think the Labour government in those days encouraged a generous "Direct grant" system for pupils whose parents could not afford the full fees, from which I benefited (as I also did from a jammy scholarship examination. My benevolent primary school Headmaster helped me out with the first question on longitudes and latitudes - which was nice of him. The lad who I beat into second place never let me forget that.).

Tributes to Ted Kennedy

The best tribute to Ted Kennedy I have read is this one from Michael Tomasky in the Guardian, entitled, simply, "Ted Kennedy made the US a better place":

There are and will be more Kennedys, but the Kennedy era is over now. Teddy was imperfect enough that some Americans will say amen to that. Let them. The rest of us know what a dramatically better place this country is because of him.

The Boston Globe has an excellent series of videos on You Tube which relate Ted Kennedy's life story. The series includes this video about the 1980 CBS interview with Roger Mudd, when Ted Kennedy had trouble answering the simple question: "Why do you want to be President?" It is perhaps an object lesson in how to get the truth out with a simple question:

Here also is the text of Kennedy's superb speech from the 1980 Democratic convention (thanks to Tony Ferguson for the link). You can hear the speech in two parts here , here, here and here. It is covered in a Boston Globe video here:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy RIP

I was very sad to hear of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. He achieved more as a Senator than some US Presidents achieved in office. A towering figure in the US. He was a benchmark "liberal". In the USA that term is often used an insult but Ted Kennedy gave it a proud respectability by doggedly but eloquently holding his views, while, most importantly, working "across the aisle" to achieve progress. His was a great example to us all of a life of distinguished public service based on rock-solidly held principles.

Daily Kos gives this excellent tribute:

Kennedy was a liberal fighter in the old mold. The plethora of legislation he helped pass made life better for children, for the poor, for African-Americans, for immigrants, for workers. He didn't just give lip service to the rights of workers, he stood in their corner. He fought for access to health care and for quality education. And he opposed the likes of Robert Bork and others who wanted to trash the gains American women, workers and minorities had made over the years.
He will be sorely missed.

The Financial Times has a obituary here.

On BBC Breakfast their US correspondent suggested that Kennedy lost the 1980 Democratic nomination race against Carter due to the spectre of the Cappaquiddick accident. However, the more immediate cause was Ted Kennedy's disastrous interview with Roger Mudd of CBS, which Kennedy embarked upon without aides. Even the easy question "Why do you want to be president?" met with a response which was variously described as "unprepared", "rambling", "incoherent", "vague" and "repetitive". After that interview, it was down hill all the way as far as Kennedy's battle against Carter was concerned.

Indeed, Wikipedia observes:

Broadcaster and blogger Hugh Hewitt and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson have used the term "Roger Mudd moment" to describe a self-inflicted disastrous encounter with the press by a presidential candidate.

Monday, August 24, 2009

And finally Esther...#2

A couple of straws in the wind regarding Esther Rantzen:

Linda Jack tweeted at the weekend thus:

At Love Luton Hate Racism - Esther Rantzen spoke - vry short sed nothing at all, not even 2 condemn fascism!

And from last night's Jam and Jersualem comedy drama, spoken by David Mitchell as Dr James Vine (who is a budding Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in the story):

If the only alternative to politicians is Esther Rantzen then God help us all.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Oh go on then...

There is a disadvantage to going on a camping holiday to the most beautiful place on earth (Fowey, since you ask). Or perhaps I should rephrase that. There is a disadvantage as a Vodafone subscriber going on holiday to the.... One likes to keep up with the news. But with Vodafone, one finds oneself holding up one's phone just to get one bar for two minutes to surf the interweb thingey. Then you go into the local garage and the girl behind the counter says: "Oh no, you need Orange for Cornwall". And you go into the Fishing tackle shop and the bloke behind the counter says "Oh no, you need 3 here". And as you leave their premises you can hear their snorts of derision.."Another Emmet who thinks Vodafone will do in Cornwall".

This is by way of an extended apology for missing Jo Swinson's excellent article on "Real Women" on LibDem Voice. Jo has provided all the argument and links to evidence (mainly from GirlguidingUK) which I need to now wholeheartedly support the 'Real Women' proposal to "Protect children from body image pressure by preventing the use of altered and enhanced images in advertising aimed at under 16s, through changes to Advertising Standards Authority rules. We would work with industry regulators and professionals to find ways to ensure that children have access to more realistic portrayals of women (and men) in advertising."

Well done Andrew Strauss and team!

Many congratulations to the England cricket team on winning back the Ashes! I can hardly believe it! I had to ignore this particular match because I was afraid of disappointment. Special mention must go to Andrew Strauss who has proved himself as a superb captain. Also well done Monty Panesaar for his last stand at Cardiff which was perhaps the most crucial point of the series.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Danyl Johnson X Factor sensation

Many congratulations to Danyl Johnson from Arborfield, who is a teacher in Reading, on his breathtaking debut on X Factor this evening. It's not often that the words "Arborfield" and "Showbiz" go together, but on this occasion they indubitably do. Mr Johnson looks like he'll be the biggest thing out of Reading since the A329(M) Ricky Gervais. Here is his fantastic audition and below:

A scorecard to die for

....But I think I will be avoiding any contact with the TV or for the next day or so. I can't take the suspense....

Simon Cowell's mirrors

I preface this with the usual disclaimer. I did not buy the Daily Mail today but I did read it using a free copy helpfully provided at the excellent Victoria Park cafe in Newbury. Say what you like about the Mail's political rantings, its coverage of celebrity nonsense is without paralell. Today I became engrossed in a report of the minutiae of X Factor, several juicy bits of which I read out to my fellow cafeists.

This was the clincher:

Simon also requires lots of mirrors. Louis says: 'He has mirrors everywhere, and he looks at himself, and he's making eyes at himself, and he's frowning at himself.'

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.

Red Arrows under the rainbow

It is heartening for Fowey Regatta to feature prominently in several of the big circulation papers today. Well, not actually a report on the winners of the Troy class sailing race or anything like that. Several papers have pictures of the Red Arrows display at the regatta, mainly because it coincided with a rainbow. As the Mail puts it: "Plane beautiful: The day the Red Arrows were upstaged by Mother Nature". The Mail report features a superb photograph by Tim Bullen.

The Real Tory party #9934 - a real corker

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Almost everyday (indeed several times a day, sometimes) we are reminded that David Cameron seems to be very unsuccessful at taming the beast which is the Tory party.

At times it is ridiculous how he smarms his way around pretending to be "liberal" and progressive, while his party behave in the opposite way. The Daniel Hannan episode, and its subsequent revelations, was an excellent case in point.

Today there is another absolute corker.

You would have thought someone would have briefed Alan Scard. He is only the Chairman of the Association charged with finding a replacement for one of the most high profile casualties of the MPs' expenses scandal - Sir Peter "In the Duck House" Viggers.

But, oh no, he helpfully provides us with a real insight into the Tory party with this gem:

During the Channel 4 News interview, he was asked about David Cameron's push to get more women elected.
Mr Scard said: "If they are attractive, yeah, I would go for it.
"I know it's a sexist thing to say but you could get the blokes saying, 'Oh you know, I would vote for her because she's really attractive', but then the other women say 'Oh I don't like her, she's too attractive'."

He thought the interview was over, apparently. Perhaps all Tory party chairs should take lesson one in broadcasting, which is:

If you are near a microphone, assume it is live.

Meghari release - don't forget Ernest Saunders

In the context of the Meghari release, it is worth recalling the case of Ernest Saunders, who was one of the "Guinness Four" in the trial involving that company.

I quote from Jeremy Warner in the Independent:

In an appeal, the judge reduced Mr Saunders' sentence to two and a half years, after hearing evidence that Mr Saunders was suffering from pre-senile dementia. With parole, Mr Saunders qualified for almost immediate release, having served just 10 months. As soon as the former Guinness chairman was free,...(Gerald) Ronson (in his auto-biography "Leading from the front") recalls, "Saunders miraculously 'recovered', apparently the first person in medical history ever to do so."

Coming round to "Real Women"

On A week is a long time, Jo Angelzarke has written an excellent post about the 'Real Women' document. I did see my role as that of Devil's Advocate when I posted about this earlier.

As a standalone policy presentation document aimed at increasing the interest of women in our party, 'Real Women' is excellent. However, in the context of a policy paper for the conference (which I assumed it is - but perhaps there is something else in the offing for that purpose - in which case apologies for the criticism) it is indeed skimpy on rationale and background facts.

Having said that, I have been doing a bit of reading and I am coming round. I am now persuaded of the case for nameless job application forms. It seems to me to be a refreshing way of ensuring that employers are clearly blameless when it comes to short-listing. As someone who occasionally sifts CVs for interviews myself, I would welcome this. It would take a load off my mind, as well as introducing a fun element of surprise when people finally walk into the interview room!

I am also beginning to think that "preventing the use altered and enhanced images in advertising aimed at under 16s" might not be a bad idea, if only because it would give a valuable "steer" from our party, as an opinion-forming group, that the level of enhancement of images has gone too far and that, as a society, we should be introducing less idealism in images portrayed as desirable, especially considering the clear link to eating disorders. It would be only addressing the tip of the iceberg, but it would be a valuable and refreshing totemic "steer" as a society-leading group.

My concerns are, however, that this might be a tad tokenistic as it would only apply to advertising and not the main bulk of the editorial photographs including those front page photos of a stick-thin Victoria Beckham which Jo mentions. Also, I believe that there would need to be far more definition about which forms of "alteration" and "enhancement" would be 'prevented'. I don't think straight forward colour balancing or brightness/contrast adjustment should be 'prevented'. But obviously, wholesale alteration by, for example, cutting off whole chunks of flesh to make someone look slimmer, ought to be prevented. (By the way, several early pictures of The Queen Mother (when she was Queen Elizabeth) were altered in such a way, so this has been going on a long time).

Lastly, I am rather nervous of "preventing" certain things in advertisements. If people respond to a certain style of adverts by buying products, then 'good luck to the advertisers', say I. But obviously there is a line to be drawn as to when advertising can be harmful or are misleading/false, and repeated use of unnaturally enhanced, idealised images may be a case in point.

By the way, as a footnote, even Perez Hilton has picked up on the "ban airbrushing" idea and supports it! He has compared pictures of Twiggy with and without airbrushing. Just to make us all feel better (or certainly those of us possessing more anno than domini), I have posted below the picture of Twiggy without airbrushing.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vibrant 'Real Women' launch

Updated at the bottom

The attractive Real Women web site and the magazine-style policy proposal document are in grave danger of making Liberal Democrat policy making popular.

In general, I have a major concern about the document in that it is full of proposals but has very, very little in the way of evidence and preamble to explain why those proposals are needed. Most Liberal Democrat policy documents do set out ample evidence as background to their proposals. In this document, there are a few snappy bullet points and a couple of women's stories. But apart from that, the document takes the need for its proposals as read. I find that very concerning. Why? Because I enjoy criticising Women Liberal Democrats? Well no, actually. I think this whole policy initiative is excellent and exciting. I want it to succeed and I am afraid that, to succeed, it has to convince the cynics of the need for its proposals. And, yes, most of those cynics will be men I am afraid.

But apart from that, the light nature of this document (and I am thinking primarily about the paucity of back-up evidence and rationale, rather than its style) seems to be saying “We’ll only get the attention of women if we produce a sort of Hello-style magazine instead of the normal weighty policy document.” It’s not for me to say, but isn’t that rather patronising to women?

Taking each area in turn, the pay equality section contains some excellent proposals and certainly hits home with its statistic about the UK being behind Sri Lanka and Syria in terms of pay equality. I notice that the pre-trailed "no name" proposal for job applications is included. In one sense this is a good, clear policy that will take away any suspicion of equality in some people's minds. In practical terms I think it is quite bizarre. Just imagine a job application form, if you will. It starts with name, address, age, marital status etc etc. First of all, I am not sure that someone could not guess the sex of the applicant from the details on the form. Hobbies for example. OK, there are, quite rightly, many excellent women with a passion for Rugby, Body building and Formula 1 car racing (Hello Caron, in the latter case). There are also many excellent men who like Lacrosse, flower arranging and Take That. But some form of surmise, perhaps even the wrong one, could be made. A single sex school in the education section, might be a give away. It just seems very strange to have someone's address and their age and marital status, but not their name. Apart from anything else, it would be relatively straight forward to find out the sex of the applicant. Look them up in the phone book, electoral register etc and then make an educated guess from their job history.

And, all this focus on the application sifting doesn't take away any absence of gender evidence from the most crucial part of all job selection processes - the interview. I would also like to see evidence of the proportion of women making it to the interview stage. Many companies now make sure that interview lists are gender balanced. Where is the evidence that women are under-represented in interview lists? To what extent is it a problem?

Despite the attractive magazine nature of the document, there is a need for explanation of many of the measures. For example, what the heck are "hypothetical comparators" in equal pay claims? I think I can guess, but it would be helpful to read more explanation.

There are some very good proposals in the document, including a lot of existing LibDem policies. The question: "How will you pay for it?" is bound to come up for several of the proposals - for example: increasing the number of midwives and health visitors and providing free childcare for 20 hours a week from 18 months to school starting age. The latter is one heck of a commitment. I'd like to see costings and some explanation as to how it would be paid for.

'Paid parental leave for up to 19 months'? That sounds very expensive indeed. So expensive, indeed, that it is likely to be laughed out of court. I am sorry but I have to ask, is this a serious proposal? "Paid parental leave" is that fully paid or similar to the Statutory Maternity Pay at the moment?

I thoroughly support the proposals for more flexible working.

The body image section is where my blood pressure starts rising. How's this for a rag bag of non-sequiturs?:

Media images of women are often unrealistic and unattainable with little room for a range of body sizes and shapes- the problem of representation is worst of all for older women and disabled women. A Grazia survey of 5000 women found that a third worry about the way their body looks “every waking minute”, and just one in 50 is happy with her body. This pressure has a negative effect on women’s wellbeing, and research increasingly shows that it creates body image issues and can contribute to eating disorders. Perhaps most worryingly of all, there has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of girls under nine who are being treated for eating disorders.

That paragraph actually doesn't relate any of its assertions to evidence. The quoted survey says that women worry about their body shape. But that survey doesn't say that this is caused by "media images".

So, there has been an increase in eating disorder treatment. But "media images" have been around for over a hundred years. Can that increase be linked to some form of increase in the prevalence of harmful "media images" ? Or is it possible that there are other factors at play? To those questions, this document gives the answer of "??????????????????????????????????" What also isn’t mentioned is the frightening rise in obesity. So, if “media images” are impacting people’s behaviours, surely it could be argued that, put simply, pictures of thin people are causing people to become obese? That’s how ridiculous the attempted connection is, in the absence of any evidence.

Is Liberal Democrat policy now to be dictated by surveys in Grazia? Being flippant, if a Grazia survey says a third of women worry about their body every minute, then surveys in GQ and the like have said that men think about sex every ten seconds. So it would seem that men have all the fun don’t they?

In 1917, the physically perfect woman was about 5ft 4in tall and weighed nearly 10 stone.

On what evidence is this based? (I couldn't find anything on the Social Issues Research Centre (creditted at the bottom of the paragraph) web site about it). And what is this nonsense about "physically perfect"? Isn't the document itself guilty of imposing the very idea of "physical perfection"?

Protect children from body image pressure by preventing the use of altered and enhanced images in advertising aimed at under 16s, through changes to Advertising Standards Authority rules.

I really do think this is very impractical in terms of its implementation. You can achieve a great deal with superb lighting, make-up and a bit of Vaseline on the lens. Would these be banned? And would simple contrast and brightness changes to photographs be banned? And surely a ban related to advertising only, would leave intact the main culprits - the front page and editorial photographic spreads.

Otherwise there are some good proposals in this section, such as advertising the success rates of cosmetic surgery operations, increasing education in body image, health and well-being and giving reduced sports club membership to the young.

The document has some excellent proposals concerning violence against women such as more Rape Crisis Centres and Sexual Assault Referral Centres. The paper quite rightly highlights the problem whereby women entering refuges are often forced to give up their work.

All in all, this is one of the most vibrant policy launches in years, but it needs more back-up.

Update: After receiving welcome feedback on another forum, I have been doing some research on Eating Disorders and would recommend these web sites: Disordered Eating, Beat, University of Maryland Medical Center, Eating Disorder Expert, BBC News article, and NHS clinical knowledge summaries. The Beat site is linked from the Real Women site, and has some very poignant survivor stories.

I would like to emphasise that I accept and recognise that there is a link between media images and eating disorders. I haven't said otherwise. What I am saying is that the Real Women document presents no evidence to connect media images and eating disorders (other than mentioning an only indirectly relevant finding from a Grazia poll) - which is very strange given that the document does present links to evidence for other proposals which it makes. All I am after is a mention of a relatively scientific study or survey. I am also saying that the prevention of enhanced images in advertising aimed at under 16 year olds will be ineffective in that it will be easily circumvented through non-digital means and leave intact the main culprits - editorial photographs including glossy front page photos. My main concern here is that the Liberal Democrat party may well get slated for what may be seen as a "knee-jerk tokenistic nanny state ban" proposal which diverts attention from, and reduces the credibility of, real solutions (many of which are presented elsewhere in this document) and may do the party, the 'Real Women' initiative and, most importantly, those with eating disorders no good whatsoever.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

When big ships pass celebrity pads...

Here are a series of shots which show the entrance of the ship Nordland (with accompanying tugs) into Fowey harbour on 12th August, with Point Neptune House (which is owned by a celebrity couple) in the background. On the face of it, Fowey can seem a rather twee up-market yachty "posh place" these days. But about a thousand large ships like this one enter and leave the harbour every year. So this is a reminder that Fowey is serious working harbour.

Iain Dale gets Paddy fever!

I've just finished Barack Obama's "Dreams from my father"! Hurrah! It only took me eight months!

It is reassuring to know that I am not the only "three pages and then nod off to sleep" a day reader. Even a distinguished publisher such as Iain Dale is in the same boat, it seems. But it was worth waiting for his excellent review of Paddy Ashdown's auto-biography "A Fortunate Life". It really did put an extra surge of energy through my veins reading Mr Dale's enthusiastic write-up of this excellent book. My humble little review is here.

Prince Andrew - reassuringly good at golf

As a tax payer, it really is comforting to know the following:

Prince Andrew could attempt to become a professional golfer after managing to get his handicap down to four.

The fourth in line to the throne could now apply to the Professional Golfers Association to take up the sport full-time, to become either a teaching professional or to compete on one of the professional circuits.

...Andrew's love of golf has drawn criticism in the past. Labour MP Tony Banks called him a "useless, overweight parasite" for hiring a private jet to attend The Open, while he once asked the RAF to fly him to St Andrews at a reported cost of £32,000.

Lockerbie bomber decision was right....and wrong

Caron's Musings has an excellent posting on the Megrahi case. I totally agree that compassionate release, based on the short prognosis from three doctors, is the right way to go. This sort of decision is a sign that we are a civilised country. I think that Hilary Clinton and the seven Senators who pleaded for Megrahi to die in jail might have had a leg to stand on if their own country didn't have 3297 people on Death Row at the last count.

But it is very interesting to read Caron's commentary on the way this decision has come about:

...boy have the SNP completely cocked this up. If he was in a room with a locked window and an open door, it seems like Kenny MacAskill would choose to go out the window. This is where I totally agree with Tavish Scott. MacAskill took his decision from the judicial to the political the moment he set foot in Greenock jail. No way should that ever have been allowed to happen. I can't imagine what on earth he was thinking. When do Ministers ever go and visit convicted murderers in jail? There was no need for that. All MacAskill needed to have was the report from Megrahi's doctors.

Where there's brass...

This tickled me. It's takes a fair amount of brass to set up your HQ for a Regatta week in a pub. It takes even more brass to put your big sign up almost covering the name of the pub, as if you have comandeered it. Full marks to Fowey Town Band! In fact, I think I witnessed one of their "committee meetings" in the lounge bar on Tuesday night.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Strange old tunes popping up in the most unexpected places....

Well you can slap me down with a kipper. I never expected Percy Faith's Orchestra's Theme from a Summer Place to resurface. And here it is in a very punchy (literally) slow-mo trailer for the newly ballsed-up Bill. You can see a wonderful film below from You Tube which actually shows dear old Percy conducting his orchestra playing said tune. Marvellous!

Talking of which, I never expected an old Gilbert O'Sullivan track Alone again, Naturally to be unearthed for Ice Age 3, but it was.

Sometimes it is a bit of a burden actually remembering these tracks the first time round....

When banks get something right....

I had to ring my bank last night because they had put a stop on my card. What's more, I had been receiving funny automated phone calls asking me to reveal all my personal details (which, needless to say, I red buttoned immediately).

It turns out that my bank's system detected a change in my habits. For years they have seen expenditure on my account from places like Waitrose in swanky Berkshire.

Then all of sudden they saw spending in places like Cost Cutters in darkest Manchester (not normally a holiday location in their eyes, I suppose).

So they put a stop on the card. Fortunately, all was well after I explained that I was indeed that Manchester Cost Cutters customer.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rupert Murdoch is not daft

Whereas the decision to ask for payment for reading The Times, Sun and News of the Screws website will doubtless reduce readership of those websites, I am sure the modelling has been done to indicate that it would boost profits (or reduce losses) for News International when compared to the current (virtually) all-advertising model.

Even if a relatively small number pay for some services, it could make the whole thing profitable. Remember, Rupert Murdoch and his company are very experienced at managing subscription services via Sky.

And it is surely inevitable that eventually more and more newspaper websites will require money in the meter to read. We are kidding ourselves if we think we can go on enjoying free access to such enormous banks of crafted journalism. Push will soon come to shove. It must be hurting their sales of hard copy papers.

That could mean some pay-for-articles (as the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal have had for some time) or paying subscriptions for entire sites.

But I do think we need to remember that there are different tiers of newspaper quality.

At one end you have simple ticker tape news services, giving basic news stories. I suspect such services will remain free.

At the top end you have beautifully crafted (or indeed not-so-beautifully crafted) opinion pieces and highly researched journalistic exercises, which I think we will increasing see becoming pay-for services.

The problem for newspapers is likely to be for those in the middle: offering not basic wire services but not particularly well crafted journalism that people will pay for.

By the way, this dilemma facing newspapers is not new. If you take my local newspaper the Newbury Weekly News, they have never allowed some of their "crown jewels" to appear on the internet. For example, the only way you can read their letters pages (which I have heard are very popular) is by buying the physical newspaper.

By the way, I can't imagine myself paying to read Murdoch papers but I have paid a very small amount (a couple of quid) to use an existing pay-for Murdoch service, which was to delve into the absolutely superb Times archive, which goes back about 20-30 years. I found some very rare articles which were from well before the advent of the full-on internet.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Well done Billy boy, half centurianship and the new £10 poms

Due to being very kindly accompanied into the first minutes of half centurianship by some very nice friends offering excellent food, wine and conversation, I enjoyed the company of that excellent journalist, Katie Couric, on CBS Evening News this morning via Sky. Well done Billy Boy for hopefully shock-thawing US-North Korea relations and allowing us to sleep a tad more soundly in our beds at night. As we picked our way through Manchester in the early hours we chanced upon some spirited youngsters queuing up amidst tents and sleeping bags to become new "£10 poms" courtesy of an enterprising travel agency. Good luck to them and thanks and love to everyone who has helped me along the way to my big 5-0.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The majesty of Manchester

I'm spending a week in Manchester for various reasons - both business and pleasure.

On Saturday I had sufficient time to stroll around this august city and breathe in some of its history and architecture. Standing at the site of the Peterloo Massacre (right) was a particular, poignant, highlight.

I also enjoyed visiting the magnificient Museum of Science and Industry and the People's Museum. The latter is currently being hosted by the former, during refurbishment (of the latter).

For a namby pampby Southern wimp such as myself, it was wonderful to imbibe the majesty of Manchester's architecture and the grit and achievement of its history.

I took about a thousand pics with which I will not bore my reader. But here are just a handful which came out well:

A nice set of arches near St Peter's Square

The wonderful Manchester Town Hall. I was lucky enough to be able to sneak inside and enjoy its gothic splendour!

An example of Manchester's vibrant modern architecture.

The glorious Midland Hotel, at which my wife and I once stayed at the expense of Granada Television (a long story involving an appearance on a very short lived peak hour ITV game show. Do you remember "Perception" presented by Alison Holloway? Of course, you don't.).

My favourite. A building near the Midland Hotel which looks like a particularly neat cake.

Specially for @allanmknox , the banks of the Ribble near Clitheroe, Lancashire.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Stop this airbrush ban nonsense

I agree with Tom Papworth on Liberal Vision. Banning airbrushing of models in adverts when they are aimed at minors? Come off it. It's silly. Really silly. (Please read Tom's piece for a more thoughtful discussion of this, and read on if you want an ignorant and confused rant).

Whether or not to ban something is not a simple judgment, of course. There is a case for banning when, for example, public safety is badly and clearly at risk (and I accept in the case of the young and image sensitivity, it is). Ralph Nader's advocacy of the automatic window stopper in the US, is an example. And yes, I once got drowned in vituperative vitriol when I suggested pointy knives should be banned (I'm still licking my wounds on that one, a year later). Same argument. If a product is outlandishly unsafe, there's a potential argument to ban it.

And, of course, there is evidence that the whole model/advertising industry creates very unhealthy pressure on youngsters which can exacerbate depression and other mental illnesses which sometimes endanger life. I welcome the policy paper on this whole subject (and hope to read it to reduce my ignorance as soon as I can find a copy). It certainly initiates a discussion which is healthy. I particularly welcome the proposal to make cosmetic surgery businesses publish their success rates. The whole cosmetic surgery industry drives me relatively crazy. The risk of death under general anaesthesia is so great that no civilised country should have such a general casual attitude to cosmetic surgery, as ours does.

And I am all for discounted membership of gyms and other methods to encourage physical exercise, as the paper proposes. Bring it on.

Ban airbrushing? So should we also ban skillful lighting? Nice clothes? Soft focus lenses? The old technique of Vaseline on the lens - should that be banned? Glossy TV programmes which use digital video techniques to improve the picture quality? Should we take the gloss off the paper of magazines aimed at youngsters? Twiggy refuses to be photographed before 12 noon because she's wrinkly in the mornings. Should we ban afternoon photos of Twiggy?

And how do you police a ban on airbrushing? How can you prove whether or not a picture has been airbrushed? And is there not an easy way to get round it with other digital techniques such as adjusted brightness, contrast, colour saturation, hue etc etc? Or indeed mechanical devices such as filter lenses?

Banning of such a narrow technique is not the answer. Education of youngsters and parents might be. Exposure of such techniques might be. But we really do risk making a laughing stock of the otherwise, no doubt (reading from a summary only at the moment) laudable paper "Real Women" by having such a risible suggestion within it.
For goodness sake, Jo Swinson has singled out (as well as a picture of Jessica Alba) a Twiggy advert picture for Olay. Are 16 year olds really swayed by Twiggy?! She's over sixty! And in her Olay photo (above) even after airbrushing - she looks it! What 16 year old uses Olay anyway?! It's unmitigated nonsense!
...And if you don't believe me here's a comment from experts: A spokesperson for the Advertising Standards Agency said it would be difficult to intervene and control airbrushing. They said the agency only intervenes if advertisements are misleading:
We received more than 26,000 complaints last year and could probably count on one hand the ones that had anything to do with airbrushing. General enhancement of images does go on - whether it's better lighting, fake steam added to hot food - but the majority of people are aware of it. If it comes to being misleading, like wrinkles being removed from an advert on wrinkle cream, then we could intervene.
Just to prove that I did try to find some background info on this, despite not finding the actual conference document, I did find the discussion document from the last conference on which it is based. There's no mention in there of airbrushing, but it does pose these questions:

20. How can we encourage women to have a more healthy body image? What role could the media and advertising play in generating this change of attitude?
21. How can we as society rebalance our ideas about female physical ‘perfection’ and challenge current trends in critiquing the female aesthetic? How can we ensure that models are healthy and maintain a healthy body weight?
...and contain this statement:

There is evidence that media portrayals of the ‘perfect’ female aesthetic is a driver in
eating disorders and psychological problems, however as a society we must take responsibility for the part we play in fuelling this industry – the popularity of magazines carrying commentaries on the physical appearance of celebrities leaves us in no doubt that there is an appetite for such critiques of the female aesthetic.

Patel XI

A classic. Dewsbury Young Stars Cricket team all have the surname Patel. Even the scorer is called Patel. Excellent! One wonders how Brian Johnson would have handled a commentary on a game involving them. One suspects that some hilarious commentarial cock-up would have ensued.

Quad erat demonstrandum

I was rather disturbed by suggestions in the media today (try as I might I haven't found evidence that the Liberal Democrats' favourite minister, Phil Woolas, has said this) that involvement in the sort of demonstrations we saw against soldiers parading in Luton earlier this year would lose people points if they were trying to become or remain British citizens.

Come off it. The right to protest is an integral, traditional part of the British way of life. By definition, everybody is not going to approve of, and agree with, every protest.

If we all agreed with everything everybody wants to protest about, there wouldn't be any point in protesting about it.


Did anyone's Grandma's tits ever get caught in the mangle?

I'm beginning to wonder. For many years, I was told by one of my vast panoply of brothers that our grandmother got her (see title) caught in the mangle. They even showed me where it happened and described it in excruciating detail.

Then I met someone else who said the same thing happened to their grandmother.

Then another.

Then another.

Um. I was then beginning to wonder whether there was some catastrophic failure in the health and safety features of mangles. Then I googled the title phrase and found out that it is an expression.

I haven't laughed so much since grandma got her tits caught in the mangle.