Odds and Sods

March 10, 2011

It’s been a quiet week on the blog. I’m still not over a cold which has transmogrified into an ear infection, and Fairer Votes campaigning is taking up more and more of my time. This weekend I plan a mammoth blog-writing session, but for now here’s a few things I’ve found interesting.

1. I’ve been reading The J-Curve by Ian Bremmer, which is brilliant. More on that at a later date. For now, I want to share with you a fact I found when reading it. 

In 2005 China launched its version of American Idol. It was called the “Mengniu Yoghurt Super Girl Contest”, apparently after the brand of yoghurt that sponsored the show.

What a fantastic name for a show! I don’t know about you, but I feel a much happier, more fulfilled person for knowing that fact.

2. David Cameron was asked on the One Show “how do you sleep at night”?

It’s brilliant telly. The gasp from Alex Jones, and the fact you can see her hands on head reflected behind Cameron, is great entertainment. Her expression clearly distracted Cameron from answering the question too. Marvellous.

3. An MP played air guitar in the Commons this week.

Apparently it’s all the Labour Party’s fault.

“I think this shows Labour’s lack of substance on defence these days, if their only line of attack is about the subconscious finger tapping of a backbench MP,” said Mr Evans.

It was just “subconscious finger tapping” apparently.

4. I’m slightly addicted to this song:

5. Also there is news on what disgraced former MP (gosh it feels good to write that) Phil Woolas is doing now. He’s written a chapter in “The Prime Ministers Who Never Were”, due out soon, about J.R. Clynes.

Secondly, there’s this from Monday:

[L]ast week, Mr Woolas was spotted outside a Westminster pub.

Eagle-eyed Richard Kemp, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at the Local Government Association and Inside Housing columnist, said: ‘The last time I saw Phil, he was standing outside a bar with a fag hanging out of his mouth and a pint in his hand, and today I saw him with a fag hanging out of his mouth and a pint in his hand and I thought I’d find out what on earth he was up to’.

The answer? Apparently Mr Woolas is selling feed-in tariffs to councils and social landlords. However, no renewable energy firm has seen fit to list him on their website, and he wasn’t contactable to discuss his new job. Odd, that.

So now you know.

Fantastic Headlines 24-28: Animals special

January 17, 2011

A bumper edition of the Fantastic Headlines series today. We have five of the cheeky beggars, and what’s more, they all involve animal stories. Harold Evans, when he was editor of the Sunday Times, said that “News is people.” Here are some examples of news stories that challenge that assertion.

24) Another often-used quote about the nature of news is that “Dog bites man” isn’t news, but “Man bites dog” is. By the same token, “Man shoots fox” isn’t a story but

Fox shoots man

Most definitely is.

25) You would have thought that the German government had better things to do in 1941 than investigate whether Hitler was being mocked by a performing dog. Apparently not though, judging by this from the Jewish Chronicle:

“Hitler” the insubordinate Nazi-saluting dog

What’s even stranger is that there are more recent cases of dogs being trained to make Nazi salutes.

In 2007 a German pensioner was jailed for five months for teaching his dog called, er, Adolf (they are all given such imaginative names) to make a Nazi salute.

26) Let’s face it: willies make good headline material. Call me immature, but the chances are you’re going to chuckle at a headline which has “penis” in it. Add in the fact that there’s litigation and a hungry rat involved, and you have the gem of a story. This next headline is a classic example of the school of thought that says you should just pile every random fact into the headline and implore the reader to read more:

Judge rules inmate ‘bitten on penis by rodent’ may sue 

You’ll be grateful to know I haven’t got a picture for this one.

27) We end this bumper edition of animal headlines with two examples from the Metro. For Paperback Rioter’s overseas readers all 4 of you,the Metro is a free paper given out to commuters on trains, buses etc. Its soul purpose is to print nonsense headlines to brighten up the terrible journeys of commuters, but I found these two wonderful headlines and couldn’t resist. First, is this:

Olly the stray cat bombarded with postcards by admirer 

Well, who hasn’t had a stalker secret admirer sending postcards from all around the world? I demand to know who the anonymous postcard-writer is!

”We suspect it could be someone who has visited one of the companies with an office in Olympic House, although with 19 million passengers a year and 20,000 people working on site, I suspect we’ll never find out.”


28) Lastly, but by no means leastly, is this gem. This time I’ll just let the headline do the talking:

Dog eats man’s ear after girlfriend bites it off

As ever, if you have any Fantastic Headlines please let me know through the usual channels, and thanks to Richard, John and Charlie for making me aware of some of the headlines I used in this post.

Something to read

September 5, 2010

Sorry it’s been a bit slow here recently – I’ve had a spot of conjunctivitis and some thesis work to catch up on.

Here’s something good to read though, from Jane Watkinson, which could easily fit in with my occasional series of “How life imitates Yes, Minister”.


Guest Post – Iraq: The End?

August 20, 2010

Hannah might be on holiday at the moment, but her dedication to Paperback Rioter remains. Here’s her take on the American withdrawal from Iraq:

I’m on holiday in Paris at the moment.  So far we`ve managed to visit most of the main sights associated with a trip to Paris: the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Seine.  One of the other stalwarts of any foreign holiday is the reassuring presence of the BBC World Service on the hotel cable TV.  It was from this source, this morning, that I learnt that the last US combat troops are leaving Iraq

So ends the seven-and-a-half-year long occupation, and the formative geopolitical event of the new millenium.  It was also one of my formative political moments.  I was 14 when the “Coalition of the Willing” invaded Iraq in the March of 2003.  I woke up, got up as I would any other morning, made my breakfast as usual and turned on the television to see the Americans’ “Shock and Awe” raining down on Baghdad, lighting up the night skyline.  At school assembly, our Head of Year lead prayers for Iraq; she may have lit a candle – my memory isn’t clear – but it was a sombre moment; but in truth, not entirely unexpected.  While the moment the war began came as a surprise, it had been foreshadowed by a long and fractious political process.   Several members of my school year had attempted to organise a walkout in protest, and not those you would have imagined as tuned in to politics.  In the end the teachers got wind of it and put a stop to the idea, although they bought us with for the opportunity to write letters to the Government in school time.  I enthusiastically joined in, as did a great many others in this country.  Around 1 million people demonstrated in London, out of a normally politically sluggish population.  It did nothing.

So what has this year’s long conflict achieved?  The other thing about BBC World is that, released from the watchful eye of the government and querulous and organised conservatives, it is free to drop the pretense that, to the extent that there is objective truth, it always lies equidistant between opposing positons, on any given topic.  I’ve therefore been able to watch the BBC’s finest telling it like it is, on Iraq.  The report opened with an American soldier speeding out of Iraq in convoy crying, “Wooh!  It’s over! We won! America, I love you!  We’ve brought democracy to Iraq!”

The report then cut to BBC correspondent, Hugh Sykes, who called this “triumphalism” and told us that 100, 000 Iraqi civilians had been killed; that Iraq now had a chapter of al Qaeda, which it had never done previously; security was low due to the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army in the wake of the invasion; even those Iraqis who do not want Western troops to leave didn’t want them to come in the first place; finally and most, damningly, Iraq, far from being a successful democracy, is now completely without a permanent government

What he did not say is that, however much its apologists resist their classification as such, this conflict has brought civilian casualties on the other side as well, with 191 people being killed in Madrid, in 2004, and 52 in London, in 2005.   

 Jeremy Bowen was even more blunt, on the main 10 o’clock evening bulletin.  It was “impossible”, he said, “to call this a victory.”  4,500 American troops had been killed and 30,000 injured; “huge mistakes” had been made in the execution of the occupation. “We don’t want them” said a representative Iraqi.  It was, the report summed up, “one of the most damaging military adventures in (US) history.” 

They are right.  Judged by any of its publically stated aims, the occupation has been an utter failure: the WMDs Iraq was, ostensibly, invaded to contain never existed and to say that its citizens are better off now is to conjure up this absurd image.   

This news comes the same week that fresh suspicions emerged over the death of WMD inspector and whistleblower, David Kelly.  Truly, this whole period was a shabby, shameful episode of British history. 

Sadly, some mistakes cannot be fixed.  Western forces may be able to extricate themselves from Iraq, but the hundreds of thousands of dead will remain dead and democratic Iraq is unlikely to survive its internal struggles.  To quote Hugh Sykes: “It’s over? We won? No and No.”

Some TV recommendations

August 8, 2010

First, if you haven’t watched Sherlock. Do so, now. (well, at the end of reading this, obviously). Benedict Cumberbatch auditions for the part of Doctor Who, and succeeds amazingly.

A thought-provoking documentary was Our Drugs War, shown on Channel 4. I do intend to blog on it, but not before I’ve watched all of them. For now, watch the first episode and be sure to watch the second, which is on tomorrow.

Have a good week, and may your God go with you.

The Lib Dems in government (part 1.5)

August 1, 2010

I spent tonight catching up on some television. Nick Robinson’s “Five Days that Changed Britain” is an enjoyable, breezy tour through the coalition negotiations. I’m not sure it tells us anything we didn’t know already; for me it confirmed the views I put forward here.

Given the unattractiveness of the other options, I don’t think Clegg had any choice but to enter coalition with the Conservatives. Anyone who keeps bleating that the Lib Dems entered the coalition seems to ignore this simple point: what else would you have done in Clegg’s position? None of them have a convincing answer.

I must admit, I had no idea how cack-handed Labour’s coalition arrangements were. Here’s my transcript, from about 22 minutes in:

Nick Robinson: The Lib Dems must have seen an extraordinary contrast. The Tories had presented them with a detailed policy document with 11 separate policy positions with a series of compromises, whereas the Labour Party came in with not very much.

Peter Mandelson: Well, they may have been prepared for the possibility of a hung Parliament and coalition, which we were certainly not prepared for.

Sometimes you have to love Mandelson’s sliminess. He is obviously trying to imply that, “we didn’t prepare for a hung Parliament because we were confident of winning the election”.  In actual fact, as he later “revealed” in his memoirs, they may not have prepared for an entirely different reason.

Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, proposed at a cabinet meeting last October that the party should fight the election around the three Fs of Future, Family, and Fairness.

Darling suggested the campaign should be dubbed “fucked”, Alexander proposed “futile”, and Mandelson opted for “finished”.

Ed Balls, part of the negotiating team, also confirmed that Labour prepared nothing in advance, had no negotiating document and didn’t even know who would be in the room with him. These facts just confirm what I’ve been driving at since the coalition was formed: Labour was not, and is still not, fit to govern.

On this theme, Ed Miliband was on Newsnight this week accusing Lib Dems of reneging on some pre-election promises. Amongst these was the VAT rise (fair enough) but he also claimed that the Lib Dems said they wouldn’t “prop up the Tories”.

I’m not quite sure what he is getting at there, except incoherent spluttering. Seeing as Nick Clegg was quite clear that he would first open negotiations with whichever party had a popular mandate, what else was he supposed to do? Ed Miliband, and Labour, needs to grow up.

Five Star apology

July 28, 2010

You will have to excuse my light posting. As I mentioned last week, it’s a busy time. But I do want to follow up on my post about bad journalism. The Daily Star have had to apologise for their non-story about “GTA Rothbury”, which was a pack of made-up nonsense. I found this apology curtesy of Tabloid Watch. It’s absolutely brilliant. It feels like the humiliation of the school bully. Making me read it now makes me cackle with sadistic laughter. Especially this bit:

We made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication and did not contact Rockstar Games prior to publishing the story.

There’s other good stuff as well. But this is gold. Sadly – and sorry to spoil everyone’s good mood – not checking stories is hardly the preserve of the Daily Star. It’s also become a worrying trend in political journalism, especially at the BBC.

Daniel Kawczynski MP, chairman of the all-party FPTP group, was interviewed on Today a few weeks ago. You can read his arguments for keeping FPTP here. John Humphrys, after asking whether the chair of the FPTP group was totally against electoral reform, spent most of the interview asking whether Mr Kawczynski would vote against a referendum bill put to Parliament. After briefly addressing how AV works, Humphrys concluded by asking whether Kawczynski thought David Cameron would campaign for or against AV. Rather than challenging Mr Kawcynski on the policy and debating the merits of AV versus FPTP, three out of Humphry’s five questions (by my reckoning) were not about the merits of AV versus FPTP, but about the politics of the policy. You had an odd situation where the politician wanted to talk politics and the journalist wanted to discuss behind the scenes bickering.

Even the BBC’s political editor seems to think he is above checking facts. He blogged a few months back on the coalition government possibly replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. After filing his copy, he was actually told the details on European Law rather than finding out himself with this wonderful reverse-ferret:

The issue of human rights and terror suspects is even more complex than I thought.

If Nick Robinson was writing for the Daily Star, he may well have said this:

I made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication

Or as the wonderful Flying Rodent wonderfully put it:

The BBC’s premier political correspondent Nick Robinson finally bothers his arse to find out what the Human Rights Act is and what it does… when somebody explains it to him.

All those boring “first-split-in-the-coalition” posts seem to not be factchecked either. This is one of the first of those stories, by Michael Crick:

I understand that the Liberal Democrats will have representation in every government department.

On the question of how ministers can be sacked, I am told they can only be dismissed by the leader of their own party. So Vince Cable, for example can’t be sacked by David Cameron, only by Nick Clegg.

We then had this, a few hours later:

Oh dear, my previous blog on the procedure for sacking ministers in the new two-party government has caused a spot of bother.

Indeed, if I was being mischievous I might claim it as the first small split in the new coalition.

My report that only the respective leaders could sack a minister from their own party (and Cameron couldn’t therefore sack Cable, for example) was based on a briefing this afternoon with two of Nick Clegg’s senior aides.

“That’s not true,” one of his spokeswomen has just rung to say.

“The ultimate responsibility for the hiring and firing of ministers, regardless of which party, lies with the Prime Minister.”

Oh, please. If I was being rude (which I suppose I am) I’d say this is a prime example of lazy, bad, fetid journalism. YOU DIDN’T CHECK THE STORY! Speaking to only one interested party at an unattributable briefing doesn’t count as doing research. Surely you’d check with the Cameroon’s before you filed such a story?

This is classic churnalism, as highlighted by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News. What’s the point of journalism if you can’t be bothered to check facts? Just lazily report bullshit and innuendo, and pretend you’re doing a job if you want to. But then, as in Animal Farm, the pigs shall look at the journalist and the blogger, and back again, and realise they’re both the same. When they shouldn’t be.


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