Monday, 31 May 2010

Culture wars at Al-Jazeera

The Arabic news channel, Al-Jazeera, has got its knickers in a twist over its female presenters, accusing them of not wearing enough clothes: not in the Naked News sense; more like Burka News.

The presenters have quit.

Is this modest protestation going to make any waves in the Arabic world? I doubt it, somehow.

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BP: for their next trick ...

BP is the oil-industry's equivalent of Tommy Cooper: except that the failed conjuring tricks they have been performing on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico not only don't work, they aren't funny.

So far BP has tried the 'top kill' approach to stopping the oil flow. This consists of trying to plug the gap with all shades of rubbish and capping the pipe: they have tried drilling fluids, mud, tyres, golf balls and cement. BP has also tried closing safety valves.

Now they are going for the grand finale: cutting the pipe in half further down its length to get a clean break,  and then trying the capping procedure all over again.

The tension is palpable. A good outcome, and Hollywood producers will be primed with chequebooks for an action movie starring Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman and Angelina Jolie (Deepwater Horizon, anyone? No pitch required, ho ho); fail, and BP will be writing the cheques to the US Government and reading said writing on the wall. The directors may even be reading it on the wall of a prison cell if recent applications of the Anglo-American extradition 'treaty' are applied (e.g. Gary McKinnon, austistic hacker extraordinaire; the Enron bankers from NatWest).

If the above scenarios may be fantasy (for now), one thing is for sure: either way, BP will be picking up the tab. Barack Obama needs someone to blame, even if the disaster wasn't strictly his fault. Laissez-faire policies with respect to big oil are ingrained on the American psyche: the Bush presidencies of father and son need particular highlighting.

And Michael Moore won't be far behind with his particular brand of TV Nation reportage: Obama and Me; Fahrenheit 494.6 (the temperature at which gasoline burns); or perhaps even Slicker Uprising. All bets are off.

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Sunday, 30 May 2010

Musical chairs at the Treasury

If John Paul I was the Pope of the moon (he died in office after 33 days), then David Laws was the Cabinet minister of the honeymoon: he resigned today after 18 days over an expenses claim blunder masquerading as a privacy issue. It was the Telegraph wot dun it.

Welcome to the political pleasuredome. Life in power can be nasty, brutish and short, although with the swiftness of Mr Laws' departure, he may well be back after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has had a rake over his rent arrangements.

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Friday, 28 May 2010

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie; in, out, shake it all about

Maggie's club on the Fulham Road is a hit with the Sloanes and Hoorays. Apparently the venue is themed to the 1980s 'glory years' of Margaret Thatcher: memorabilia, speeches, the works.

Actually, the operative word is hit. Apparently, the owners have had to replace three sets of speakers from clubbers unappreciative of the Iron Lady's classic riffs: party-goer have punched out the woofers and tweeters. There is still no such thing as Society.

Will David Cameron be inspiring nightlife entrepreneurs in 2040, I wonder? It is very early days. 'Stand down, David, stand down, please' is not yet a pop-pickers rallying cry.

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Thursday, 27 May 2010

Saving Facebook?

Facebook has been shamed into reviewing its users privacy policy. Settings are now one click away, rather than needing a IT qualification to tick the correct boxes hidden deep with the site's infrastructure.

Will this work? The jury is out. Most people probably won't even notice the change (they like the openness of the web) or, even more likely, there will be ways determined hackers can find cached material or crack the new privacy arrangements.

The challenge of breaking into private areas might attract new hackers, as will all the inherent publicity Facebook has drawn to its new policy. Hopefully, though, the new plans will improve on the free-for-all of the status quo.

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Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Queen's Speech: libel law to be reviewed


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Sarah Ferguson and the toe-curling sting

The News of the World does it again. English 'royal' gets entrapped taking the cash and sipping the booze.

Still, look on the bright side: the Duchess of York didn't use the old Russian mafia excuse.

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Laws of diminishing returns

David Laws and George Osborne announced the first £6 billion cuts to tackle the UK budget deficit today. One of the casualties is the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority [QCDA], a quango that maintains the national curriculum and acts as an umbrella to public examination boards.

Hmm. It will be interesting to see what they put in its place. Someone will have to run the national curriculum, and GCSEs and A-Levels will not disappear anytime soon. Either the QCDA will be reborn within the Department for Education [DfE] or the national curriculum itself is about to be revamped.

Looks like this won't be much of a saving, having to reinvent the wheel; and the consultants will resurface to help whichever new body takes on the responsibilities to navigate a smooth transition.

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Sunday, 23 May 2010

Pentecostal muscle: a hip-hop career launched?

Scorchio day: made for lazing around, sunbathing, swimming, seeing off local vicar to pastures new with hog-roast buffet and the help of the BBC's Songs of Praise, and introducing a new performer to national consciousness: Forgive, known in civilian life as Toby Butler.

Performing the topical track, 'Straight Fire', for a live broadcast from All Saints, Peckham, Forgive is soon to hippety-hop into a professional career as a musician in a niche market: UK Christian rap. In a world of rampant illicit downloads, tanking niche distributors and retailers (e.g. STL, now under new ownershipWesley Owen), difficulty in standing out to mass audiences through the white noise of the internet, and shrinking offline media platforms for original music material, how does a new artist like Forgive make a mark on the culture?
While the field is narrow, talent one hopes will out. Hopefully Forgive will not be forgetten in a hurry: he might even get name-checked in Rapzilla's next video roll-call ...

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Friday, 21 May 2010

Play nice with Synthia

Dr J Craig Venter is at it again. Ten years ago he was trying the trademark the human genome like the antithesis of Tim Berners-Lee. Now he has 'created' the world's first organism not created by natural selection.

Synthia is a synthetic single-celled creature, a new kind of bug. Like any stride into the scientific future, the good side can be contrasted with the bad: is this a road humankind wishes to rush down, or a dangerous cul-de-sac.

The achievement is startling, but the conversation has just begun.

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Thursday, 20 May 2010

Kylie - the musical

Ever since Mamma mia! stormed the West End (and then Hollywood) showcasing Abba's sizable output within a silly yet heartwarming script, this particular route to El Dorado has been well mined: witness We will rock you [Queen]; Jersey boys [Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons]; All the fun of the fair [David Essex], to name but a few shows treading the boards at the moment.

The latest pop icon off the blocks is Kylie Minogue, but which of her hits will be the title of the probable forthcoming show?
Who knows? But the title probably won't be Shocked (too generic); Where is the feeling (too negative); Chocolate (too distracting); Slow (too soporific); or Kids (too much information).

Olympic dash to trash mascots

The case for the prosecution: the internet art-hackers have already struck.

The case for the defence: previous Games avatars have had an airing.

The rush to lampoon Wenlock and Mandeville is no bad thing: the mascots have struck a chord, and will presumably any time soon be guest-appearance in a new episode of The Simpsons.

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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Wedlock and Mandible

The new London 2012 Olympic mascots are a bit of a tongue-twister and have the look and feel of a children's focus group. Say hello to Wenlock and Mandeville, for the Olympics and Paralympics respectively: cuddly, one-eyed steel-girder off-cuts from the Stadium.

The reaction, from adults, will be harsh initially, who will hark back with nostalgia to unreconstructed furry icons like World Cup Willie.

The children, however, should love them, especially with the four-minute Michael Morpurgo scripted animation. The mascots are inked in to earn £70 million from merchandising, and websites like Facebook and Twitter will be bombarded with interactive opportunities to engage with the dynamic duo.

Give it a few weeks and everyone will have come round to the concept. Two years to go, though, so Wenlock and Mandeville will have their work cut out to stay relevant to the news agenda.

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The torture defence

Hmm. Immigration policy may be tricky to implement this new parliament. Two Pakistani students, alleged to be linked to al-Qaeda, have been judged to be dangerous but impossible to deport due to the threat of torture or possible execution back in the old country.

Western values trumps the law of the jungle in this case. Perhaps there ought to be counter-madrassas, teaching against fundamentalist religion, here in the UK and perhaps in the USA? But who would teach the curriculum? Presumably moderate Muslim clerics?

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Gallows humour at the Treasury

A comparison of Reginald Maudling and Liam Byrnes' respective notes to their successors in Government is illuminating.

In 1964, Reggie M greeted James Callaghan, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the immortal words: 'Good luck, old cock. Sorry to leave it in such a mess.' The incident only came to light in subsequent memoirs.

Liam Byrne's letter to David Laws read: 'I'm afraid there's no money -- good luck.' A missive made public within a few days at a press conference.

Fifty years is clearly a geologic era in politics. The striking contrast is in media deference to politicians and the need to feed to 24-hour news cycle. In future, retiring politicians won't publish memoirs, they will launch retrospective vlogs on YouTube; and the 30-year rule that embargoes official secrets will be the exception rather than the rule.

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Sunday, 16 May 2010

England are the new Australia

A moment has arrived when an English sports team defied its stereotype to actually play like world-beaters, looking strangely like Australians.

The English men's cricket team has actually won a world cup by consistently playing better than the opposition.

No one is suggesting Paul Collingwood is the new Bobby Moore or Martin Johnson, but winning the World Twenty20 competition in the Caribbean is likely to scoop the team award at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award ... unless another English team defy the odds to win a different World Cup in a few weeks' time.

But the likelihood is that the English disease will reappear, and we'll go out on penalties well before the final.

MBEs all round for the cricketers, then, except that many of them already have the gong for winning the Ashes in 2005.

It's all a far cry from England's efforts in South Africa in 2007, particularly against India's Yuvraj Singh ...

Search for Twenty20 cricket

Friday, 14 May 2010

Political knife crime

Stabbed in the front: Stephen Timms, the safest Labour MP in the country, gets it in the stomach.

Stabbed in the back: senior Tory and Labour dinosaurs are already sharpening the cutlery already regarding the coalition Government.

The flashpoint is the mooted new rule about needing a 55 per cent for a 'no confidence' vote to succeed in bringing down the Government.

The press honeymoon, at least, is over.

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Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Oh alright then, Prime Minister

The British way of changing the guard may not be written down, but the constitution works like clockwork once set in motion.

No interregnum, no handover, no training manual, nothing.

Gordon Brown resigned outside 10 Downing Street, went to Buckingham Palace to 'kiss hands' with the Queen, and David Cameron followed in reverse order to take on the post. The whole kaboosh was over within about an hour, and Mr Brown will probably give up his seat to go into academic and/or global political life (perhaps with the United Nations or World Bank).

After all the wrangling, the end was brutal. The PM is dead, long live the PM.

And the press and the markets should be satisfied by the time being; well, at least until tomorrow morning.

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Monday, 10 May 2010

A nation holds its breath

Meanwhile, away from the election, Wayne Rooney's groin injury is not a problem. He will be available for the World Cup.

A nation breathes a sigh of relief, and places unrealistic expectations back on the heads of the England football players.

'We're going to reach the quarter finals' may not be a rallying cry, but anything more concrete is wishful thinking because sport, by it's very nature, is unpredictable.

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The only story in town

The news agenda has been hijacked for almost a week by the election aftermath. It's almost as though a senior member of the royal family had died, a terrorist attack had succeeded in causing casualities or a photogenic child had been kidnapped.

The 24/7 news services are in their element, the journalists are like pigs rolling in muck: they love it.

While the developments keep unfolding like a William Golding novel, the coverage is compelling: we watch while people under stress in claustrophobic buildings negotiate hard but communicate nothing. But it won't be long before 'nothing happening' becomes boring without an outcome: a case of Waiting for Gordo.

No predictions about who will be Prime Minister, except to say the bookies won't yet have paid out to punters.

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Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Premiership result

The football result was decisive, with Chelsea beating Wigan Athletic 8-0 to waltz off with the title ...

So far, well into the second half, the Cameron County versus Clegg City fixture is still goalless, with extra time looming. The markets have the final whistle, and they may impose a penalty shoot-out.

Who'll end up with the PM trophy? Will they toss a coin? And will the fans be buying their season tickets for the next general election, which may turn out to be sooner than everyone hopes.

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Friday, 7 May 2010

I wanna be elected

'I'm your top prime of meat, I'm your choice,' screamed Alice Cooper.

Is David Cameron 'a yankee doodle dandy in a gold Rolls-Royce'?

Do the 'kids need a saviour, a fake Gordon Brown'?

Are 'we all gonna rock to the rules Nick Clegg makes'?

We don't know yet, but we might know by the beginning of next week.

The LibDems and the Tories are playing footsie this evening talking about how the things they have in common might outweigh the things that keep them apart.

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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Cameronman: he needs no sleep

What possessed Big Society Dave to burn the midnight oil in mad dash for votes?

Surely not the business of actually meeting anyone.

It was a time-lapse photo opportunity to prove that Mr Cameron has stamina superpowers and, presumably, a perchant for caffeine.

Whatever the outcome of the election, Red Bull should sign him up for their next ad campaign.

Search for stimulants and hallucinogens

BNP goes 404

Talk about taking your ball home with you before the end of the match.

Simon Bennett, the British National Party's head of online operations resigned spectacularly on the eve of the general election and took the website with him.

Visitors to the party's site were treated to a personal message about why people shouldn't vote for the BNP: an acronym that perhaps should now stand for Barely aNy Policies.

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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The mutt pack

As Andrew O'Hagan launches his novel The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and his Friend Marilyn Munroe, George Clooney is already touting for the role of Frank Sinatra even though film rights have yet to be discussed.

Should this positioning of actors for choice roles based on historic be given its own syndrome?

Freud and Jung would have a field day.

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Blowing their own trumpet

Nellie the elephant packed her trunk and said hello to the Circus: that's Piccadilly, Oxford and Cambridge Circuses, among others.

All over London, arty elephants have landed like a jumbo treasure hunt. It's not some much 'Where's Wally?' or 'Where's Waldo?' but 'Here's Barbar!'

It's all in the name of Elephant Parade, a campaign to highlight the loss of habitat for Asian elephants. The artworks will be auctioned at Sotheby's in July with a view to raising £2 million for the cause: all assuming trophy hunters don't cart the artefacts off to the black market before the game keepers can react.

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Tactical vocalising

What a lot of noise. The end of the campaign is a confusing cacophony of shouting about the perils of voting for the other, whether a party or a hung parliament.

Will Gordon go for a 4-4-2, will David stick with a lone striker up front, and will Nick try playing in the hole. Only PollZone on Thursday will show us how the tactics have worked.

It's still all about marginal seats, getting the vote out and waiting for David Dimbleby et al to announce the exit poll results. Then the wall of sound will start up again.

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Monday, 3 May 2010

Drill, BP drill?

President Obama has a problem, now, getting his climate reforms through the Senate with the BP oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

But this pales into insignificance alongside the travails of the Republican party on this issue.

Whither Sarah Palin? Should baby still be drilling? She has been more muted since the crisis began, apart from tweeting her condolences to the families of the dead oil workers.

Hmm. I suppose much rests how how much the American people will take when it comes to increased gasoline prices. Voters can have short memories, when environmental catastrophe comes up against people's personal budgets.

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Sunday, 2 May 2010

Beware of Greeks bearing IOUs

Poking through the continuing blanket election coverage a story with the potential to derail the incoming Government: the devastation being wrought to the reputation and viability of the Euro by the tribulations of the Greek economy.

Years of laissez-faire and low-level corruption are coming home to roost in Greece. The ability of Eurozone countries to support the Greek economy is complicated by the markets threatening to downgrade the status of economies of Spain, Portugal and perhaps Ireland and Italy. Especially when the likes of Goldman Sachs start betting on the outcome.

Hmm. The day after the election will include focus politicians minds on how to keep Britain's economy out of the gathering vortex and avoid going down the plug-hole, irrespective of the specific fiscal tools the Cabinet may have at at its disposal.

A corollary to this is the lack of funds the Greeks are currently investing in its ancient treasures like the Acropolis in Athens. To be blunt, its national heritage is crumbling and international help may be needed to shore up the monuments.

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In off the black; snooker bribery claim

John Higgins, the former World Snooker champion, has been suckered by an elaborate News of the World sting to throw some frames at a tournament later in the year and has been suspended from the circuit.

Great excuse, though. He thought he was in a meeting with the Russian mafia and 'agreed to their proposals' simply to get out of the situation 'alive'.

It remains to be seen if the enquiry into the sting justifies his behaviour. The problem is that smears of this sort are hard to expunge. When an allegation is made but then followed by a correction, research shows that people who believe the original charge will be even more convinced by the subsequent rebuttal on the grounds that there is no smoke without fire.

If Mr Higgins is telling the truth, he will have to sue the News of the World and lobby the Press Complaints Commission into muzzling the tabloid's so-called 'investigative journalists'.

Search for investigative journalism
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