All entries for November 2006

November 28, 2006

You are an arse and a wife–beater…

...and not only do you smell, you also beat your children.

What ya gonna do about it???

Well, the director of the Press Complaints Commission, Tim Toulmin, says you should be able to go to a Blogs Complaints Commission which acts as a regulator over libelous and nasty comment on the internet.

Like the PCC, it would be self-regulating and have no real bite behind its bark. You’d have to apologise publicly on your blog, retract the original comment and look very very sorry.

But it’s a non-starter. There are far too many blogs for any independent body to be able to oversee them. Even if done in the style of Wikipedia – so the job of regulating blogs was shared between many people – I can’t imagine that a body of work so huge could be adjudicated fairly. Mr Toulmin also seems to ignore the widely-held view that the PCC doesn’t work, so why would a blogging equivalent?

It might work as a voluntary scheme, adding greater credibility to the creme de la creme of blogs. But who would sit on a Blogs Complaints Commission?

I applaud Tim Toulmin for rejecting the idea of strict regulation, governed by law. But I challenge him to come up with a way of making this work.


Michael Who?

What will Michael Grade’s departure from the BBC mean to Auntie? Well, I don’t think she’ll have been crying into her cornflakes when she read the Daily Telegraph this morning.

Michael GradeCertainly, Grade has steadied the ship through two very turbulent years, and nearly negotiated a licence fee for the next five years, but as Chairman his role wasn’t crucial to the BBC’s future direction. It seems he was lukewarm about becoming Chair of the BBC Trust (which takes over from its Board of Governors on January 1st). In fact, he was a slightly odd choice for Chairman in the first place, as he’s a producer at heart and will have missed not getting his hands dirty.

His new job at ITV allows him to do that, and comes with a hefty payrise too. It’s a massive boon for the ailing broadcaster as he’ll effectively be Chairman and CEO for the next two years, before appointing someone to take over as Chief Executive. It might be a more worrying appointment for BSkyB who since last week own 17.9% of ITV. He doesn’t like them, they don’t like him, and he won’t take any interference from them if he doesn’t like it.

But for the BBC, Grade himself accurately described the effect his leaving will have:

The BBC’s bigger than one person. People leave the BBC and a hole opens up. It’s amazing how quickly that hole fills up. Yes there’ll be a few days where they sort themselves out. But I can guarantee you by Monday it will be: ‘Michael who?’

And who will fill it?

David Attenborough probably won’t be interested now. David Dimbleby probably didn’t get the job last time for reasons which will still be the case now. Which leaves Richard Lambert, Baroness Jay and anyone else from the ether. After last night’s scoop, I can only really predict one thing: expect the unexpected.


George Osborne is a pathetic playground bully

Writing about web page http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,17129-2475122,00.html

According to today’s Times, the shadow chancellor George Osborne has had handwriting analysis carried out on Gordon Brown which found:

The writer is not shy. The writer shows unreliable and poor judgment. The writer was not in control of their emotions and instincts at the time of writing. There are signs that the writer is someone who does not like to give a clear-cut image of himself. There are signs that the writer can be evasive.

Pathetic George Osborne

If this is the level to which Mr Osborne has sunk, is he really a credible Chancellor of the Exchequer? Not in a million years. Two months ago he called the Chancellor “autistic”. He’s making Punch and Judy politics look good.

The article later points out that Mr Brown can only see out of one eye and that the person who carried out the analysis said that the 14 words she saw were “insufficient information” to come to any firm conclusions.

Didn’t stop The Times toadying to Osborne’s pathetic excuse for news though, did it?


A good old conspiracy theory

The horrible death of the former KGB and FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, has kicked up a good whodunnit for the Met, Home Office and even the government’s emergency COBRA committee.

The finger is easily pointed at President Putin, and given the appalling record of his government, it wouldn’t be a great surprise if forces working on his behalf had done it.

But… There’s something so tempting about the idea about a greater conspiracy. I find myself agreeing with the right-wing American Pat Buchanan who says:

In an assassination, one must ask: Cui bono? To whose benefit? Who would gain from the poisoning of Litvinenko? Certainly not Putin. Litvinenko’s death puts him, the Kremlin and the KGB, now the FSB, under suspicion of having reverted to the terror tactics of Stalin, who commissioned killers to liquidate enemies like Leon Trotsky, murdered in Mexico in 1940.

Why would someone working for the Russian government want Litvinenko to die slowly and in front of the Western (notably not the Russian) media? It’s incredibly embarrassing for the Kremlin on the international stage, although Putin’s stranglehold over the Russian media means it is not likely to be a domestic issue for him.

Unless someone in the Russian secret forces royally cocked up, the finger of suspicion surely has to point to someone who has a grudge against Putin and wants to set him up.

So as much as we’d like to put the blame at Putin’s doorstep, we must be open to the idea that it is only his unpopularity which is to blame for Litvinenko’s death.


November 27, 2006

British Sport: An Annus Horribilis?

Name one British sportsperson who has had an outstanding year.

You can’t, can you? Looking down the list of contenders for BBC Sports Personality of the Year, you begin to realise that there’s either been a dearth of major sporting events this year, or we’ve just been crap at them.

  • According to the betting, Darren Clarke is the current favourite. This is the golfer who, in the four major tournaments this year, came 22nd, 56th, didn’t make the cut in the third and didn’t play in the fourth. Yes, he won the Ryder Cup, but aren’t we making more of that tournament than is appropriate? I think his nomination is only because of the death of his wife, which while tragic, surely isn’t reason enough to give him this award?

  • Zara Phillips is second favourite. She’s now the Eventing World Champion, but aren’t we clutching at straws to say that’s the best achievement of the sporting year?
  • Joe Calzaghe is third. He added the IBF Super Middleweight Championship to his WBO title. Whoop-de-do.
  • Beth Tweddle is fourth. She’s the World Champion at “Uneven Bars”.
  • Andy Murray is fifth. His main achievement is being more exciting than David Coulthard. But that’s not hard.
  • Monty Panesar is sixth. He wasn’t good enough to be picked to play in the Ashes. Steve Harmison was. Enough said, I think.

But my personal choice for sports personality for 2006 is….... David Walliams at 40/1. Which I think says all you need to know about the state of British sport at the moment.


Magazines: the new wave

Magazines, like newspapers, are making the move online. Paper is beginning to look seriously unfashionable (did you know 200,000 trees are chopped down to make Britain’s Christmas cards each year?), and the old media is becoming the new.

But unlike in newspapers, there has been a trend towards online-only publications sprouting from unusual quarters, challenging the traditional magazine industry before they can get their feet under the table.

So how do these young pretenders rate?

British-based The First Post is, as far as I know, a relatively recent entrant to the online journalism race. As with any start-up, it’s slightly lower on content than some others, and the articles are very brief. But this makes the site quite endearing. It’s proud of the fact that its opinions are “ill defined”, meaning they’ll publish just about anyone reasonable. Navigation is fantastic, much simpler than other offerings, and the home page is brilliantly un-fussy.

There’s better use of photos than seen on the American sites, and a good mix of contributors from the old media world to the new. Well worth a look, The First Post feels a little like one of those ultra-small handbag-sized magazines, full of little gems.

Slate isn’t especially young. Created by Microsoft in 1996, the magazine was designed to provide content for MSN. Two years ago it was bought by the Washington Post Company, home of Woodward and Bernstein.

The design of the site is quite busy, with plenty of scrolling to be done on the home page. Being American – and broadly liberal – there’s plenty of news articles on Iraq and the ins and outs of the Democrats. In fact as an outsider looking in, there’s little to distinguish the magazine from the New York Times or the Washington Post. Unlike The First Post, the articles are newspaper-length, which is maybe a little long for the internet. But the sheer breadth of material makes it a valuable resource.

Salon.com

Another offering from the United States, Salon.com is probably the pioneer in the field (starting in 1995). They’ve gone for a more intrusive advertising policy (making you watch an ad before entering the site), but it’s got better over recent years. Based in San Francisco, there is a slightly heavier bias in favour of the entertainment industry, although there are a number of political commentators who’ve spread their wings (such as Sidney Blumenthal, who also writes for the Guardian).

It got caught up in the dotcom boom, making horrendous losses when the bubble burst. It made its first profit in 2005.

So…
If this short snapshot of the online magazine industry is anything to go by, then the lighter, British newcomer is beating the weighty, over-the-top offerings from the other side of the Atlantic. Having said that, its coverage of foreign affairs is a little loose, and sometimes a bit simplistic. But if you’re looking for something off the mainstream news agenda, any of these three are worth checking out.


The White Van Man

What is it about people – it seems to be mostly men – when they get behind the wheel of a white van?

It seems only to occur when it’s a van and when it’s white. Yet there seems to be no logical reason for this phenomenon. They bear down on cars in front, they flash their lights at people, they never do any favours to other vehicles, and they generally hog the fast lane on the motorway.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether they are a white van man or just someone who’s hired the van. They’re still evil…

So how about some punitive measures? We could do something obvious, like tax them, or we could just launch a campaign to write nasty things about them in the dirty exterior of their bastard wagon. Here’s some suggestions:

Drive Carefully! Paedophile on Board!
WIDE LOAD (and that’s just the driver)
I read the Daily Mail
Chelsea FC
I’m a Racist, Sexist, Homophobe


November 24, 2006

The tosser within

The TosserIn their breathless search for new approaches to ‘doing’ politics, the Conservative Party have launched a viral ad campaign (see video below) about rooting out your ‘inner tosser’.

It’s caused a lot of bemusement and some mild anger from the old guard Tories who find the use of the word ‘tosser’ offensive. But arguably it’s those who the campaign is aimed at who should find it offensive.

But I’m trying really hard to find something I hate about it. It’s very classily produced, and luckily is quite funny. If they’d missed the punchline it would have been incredibly embarrassing.

Norman Tebbit predictably finds it ‘a mark of the permissive society which has been lauded by the Labour Party’ but Iain Dale is amongst the moderates who note this is not aimed at us. But I’m not sure he’s right about that.

Because ultimately, while the advert is quite amusing and makes a good point, it does so in a way which isn’t very likely to have much effect on the ‘tossers’. Instead, it’s probably aimed at potential Tory voters, who might see the party as witty, clever or having unique ideas about how to solve the nation’s debt problem.

The trouble is there’s a fine line between all of that and seeming like a smart arse.


November 23, 2006

Who do you think you are?

Who reads this blog? Well, you clearly do. But who are you?

I’ve been playing with my hit-counter and finding out an awful lot about you. The civil libertarians will just love that!

First up, you’re a technologically advanced bunch. Only 61% of you are using Internet Explorer. I’d recommend joining the 32% using Firefox! In fact 10% of my readers are on Firefox 2.0, which only came out this month. Well done to the one guy using ‘Konqueror’ – you really are cool…

Only 91% of you are using Windows.

98% of you have English as your first language (which is handy).

Over 90% of you have broadband (that means more video and audio then…)

31% of you got here from Google.

Your favourite entries this month were about the Muslim veil, oral sex, the Queen’s speech, and the Leamington Bar and Grill, an entry which I wrote over a year ago but which is quite popular on the search engines! Lucky I wrote them a favourable review – I reckon I must have given them several tables full of customers!

You read pretty damn quickly! On average it takes you 3.06 seconds to read each post which is very clever of you! (I suspect people read the first three words and give up).

If I write a serious, intellectual post, you’re much more likely to read something else on my blog. But if I write something flippant, you’ll probably carry on browsing elsewhere… My most flippant entries this month have been my review of Borat and an old one about BBC Radio 1. Which probably says more about the attention span of Vernon Kay fans.

63% of you are reading this blog for the first time ever. The rest are regulars.

Top referrals this month have come from Google, Technorati, Cardiff Journalism School, Bloggers4Labour, Adam Westbrook, BBC News, Counterspin, Dave Sheffield, Blamerbell, Facebook, The Stage magazine, Iain Dale, the Student Radio Association and The Times (in descending order).

I have more readers from Israel than from Palestine.

Two of you are reading this via satellite (I didn’t realise I had such a following in the Tora Bora caves!)

You’re reading this in Khorasan and Bakhtaran in Iran, Tamil Nadu in India, Sao Paulo in Brazil, Primor’ye in Russia, Al Qahirah in Egypt, Ar Riyad in Saudi Arabia, Cundinamarca in Colombia, as well as Bahrain, Guam, Tanzania, Panama, Bosnia, Monaco, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Croatia and Fiji.

All of which is a fantastic advert for Google Analytics which is probably the most interesting thing you can do with you blog.


The smoking ban is going to put thousands out of business

Cardiff Central MarketThe smoking ban comes into effect on April 2nd in Wales, and small businesses are saying they’re not ready for it.

While larger hotels and restaurants are backing the ban, and expect to do quite well from it, places which have traditionally attracted smokers could lose a substantial number of their customers.

In Cardiff’s Central Market, the Bull Terrier cafe is one such business. Around four in every five customers go there specifically to smoke, but from April, they will have to go elsewhere.

I spoke to the cafe’s manager Sam Maher and asked her about the future of her business once the smoking ban comes in:

The Welsh Assembly aren’t willing to offer financial assistance. In Sam’s words “they don’t care, they’re not bothered at all”. So while many food outlets will see their custom increase thanks to the smoking ban, places such as this which have for decades attracted people because of smoking, look to have a fairly bleak future.


The real future of newspapers

An old edition of the Newbury Weekly NewsLast week I wrote a slightly controversial article titled You’re Buggered, Deal With It. It was a post aimed at those who deny the reality of the declining newspaper industry.

Well today I heard from Sarah Radford, who seems to be one of those at the forefront of Newspapers 2.0 (to use a very hackneyed phrase). She’s an online journalist at Newbury Today which was recently named the best weekly newspaper website by the Newspaper Society.

What interested me most about the site was that the newspaper behind it – the Newbury Weekly News – is one of the few independents left in the country. Most local newspapers are owned by one of the conglomerates like Trinity Mirror or Newsquest. So it’s refreshing (albeit not surprising) to see that it’s the independents who are being the most forward-looking and innovative.

And why?

Well, probably because they don’t have to worry about shareholders. If the success of Newbury Today proves anything, it’s that newspapers and stock markets should only meet in the business pages, and shouldn’t be the overriding business model.


Nick Clarke

Nick ClarkeThe presenter of Radio 4’s The World at One Nick Clarke, has died of cancer aged 58.

I never really heard his programme – I’ve only recently started switching between Radios 1 and 4 – but from the number and level of tributes to him, it’s clear he was a journalist to aspire to.

Tony Blair, Margaret Beckett, Jack Straw and all of the names from journalism have paid tribute, only half an hour after his death was announced. Listening to a special edition of The World at One this lunchtime, their respect for Nick makes it pretty clear he was a fearsome journalistic opponent who didn’t go in for some of the ‘nasty’ tactics of his fellow broadcasters.


November 22, 2006

What should Ian Thorpe do next?

Ian Thorpe, Synchronised Swimmer?The five-times Olympic Gold Medallist, Ian Thorpe, has announced his retirement at the age of 24...

So with all those years left to fill, what should he do next?

  • Synchronised swimming? Judging by the photo on the right, he’s got the legs for it and might just be able to make it cool.
  • Penguin lookalike? With his size 17 feet, he could definitely pull it off.
  • Broadcasting? Arguably he’s a bit of a pretty boy…

Any other ideas?


Wi–Fi – The New Mobile Phone?

We’ve been here before. For years people have been complaining that mobile phone masts have been making them ill. We’ve even heard it from people who live near overhead power lines. But now there’s a new way of killing us wirelessly.

Wi-Fi.

According to The Times several schools have been dismantling their wireless networks over fears that schoolchildren may be becoming ill because of them. Some of the testimony from children and teachers is quite damning:

“I felt a steadily widening range of unpleasant effects whenever I was in the classroom,” he said. “First came a thick headache, then pains throughout the body, sudden flushes, pressure behind the eyes, sudden skin pains and burning sensations, along with bouts of nausea. Over the weekend, away from the classroom, I felt completely normal.”

Today’s letters page in the paper features more complaints from people worried about the health risks.

This news is even more worrying because of plans to create Wi-Fi bubbles (also known as Wi-Max) which cover entire cities in a cloud of wireless. If the health claims are well-founded, this news could well scupper these plans.


*Featurama

Question MarkAs part of the online journalism course at Cardiff I have to write an online feature about journalism, citizen media, futurology, design or ‘online life’, whatever that may be.

I also have to write a post – yes, this one! – explaining what I’m going to do. The trouble is… I’ve already done it. So please carry on reading but ignore the fact that everything is written in the future tense.

I’m planning to visit 18 Doughty Street, the online political TV station run by Iain Dale and a number of other right-wing bloggers. I’m interested in how this original venture might affect political broadcasting – and politics itself – in the future.

I’ll interview some of the faces behind the channel and observe what they do before writing a witty and informative piece about the station. I’ll add some photos and maybe even get an interview with Iain Dale and Donal Blaney where I might ask them all about their venture and put across some searching questions. If I’m really lucky I might even be able to interview the Shadow Home Secretary David Davis and perhaps include some photos of him too. I bet you can’t wait.

Which is a shame, because I’ve not written it yet.


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