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February 24, 2009

Jack Bauer – A shadow of his former kick–ass self

Oh Jack Bauer, how much I loved you in the old days when you were blonde and had a daughter that kissed you goodnight and a wife who wasn’t, you know, dead.

Jack Bauer. Half the man he used to be.

I started watching Season 1 of ‘24’ again yesterday. The wave of nostalgia emanating from the TV screen was awe-inspiring. Remember the days of Standard Definition? Of dodgy sound editing? Of bad haircuts?

Remember when 24 was actually good?

The experience was depressing. Because it made me remember just how face-crunchingly abysmal 24 has become. We’re now on Season 7, and the show should be on a life-support machine.

Every plot twist is recycled from an earlier season. Even characters Just. Won’t. DIE. and keep making miraculous returns, presumably to cut down on the need for casting directors.

But worst of all, the show just doesn’t know where it’s going, what it’s doing or what it’s about.

Villains come and go faster than Jack can say ‘sonofabitch’. Their dastardly plan changes from one minute to the next. Civilians die in their hundreds and the fictional CNN seems to forget about it ten minutes later. And Jack has to defeat his arch enemy Every Fricking Hour just to keep the audience happy.

Well I’m not an American simpleton with a thirst for blood and a desire for Jack to win every round.

There is literally a scene in the first episode of that first season when a character tells Jack exactly what will happen for the whole season. Terrorists will try and kill a Presidential Candidate. That’s it.

Now, the writers would be hard pressed to sustain an idea that simple for ten minutes, let alone 24 hours.

In Season 1, Jack had a team. Yes, two of them were moles, but he had relationships with people. Now he is, to quote Judi Dench’s M, a “blunt instrument”.

24 was revolutionary, and not just because of the way it was told in real-time. It led to hundreds of drama serials which rejected the traditional one-episode, one-story format of CSI, ER and Law & Order. Lost and Prison Break were just two of the more successful attempts to tell one story across six months of television.

And it was also the show that gave us hacksaw decapitations.

24’s not just a lurking shadow of its former self.

It’s as blunt as a spoon.


January 28, 2009

Obama copying Brown's economic plan?

Writing about web page http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/27/AR2009012700457.html

This article in the Washington Post (signup required) might provide some rare good news for Gordon Brown.

The U.S. Treasury is planning to help America’s banks in much the same way as Gordon Brown has in the UK.

On the table are several approaches, which officials have begun to experiment with on a smaller scale. One would give the firms a federal guarantee protecting them against losses on assets that are backed by failing mortgages and other troubled loans. Another would set up new government institutions to buy these toxic assets. A third would inject more money into financial firms in exchange for ownership stakes, perhaps ending with nationalization in all but name.

Pretty much entirely the British plan then, and the piece also goes on to say how the whole project will rely on ‘trial and error’ and ‘a combination of initiatives’.

For the ‘Saviour of the World’ (© All Media Outlets) to be considering exactly what Gordon Brown has been often criticised for will surely give the PM something to smile about.

He might be under fire for having caused the problem, but if Obama’s economic team is in complete agreement about how to fix it, Gordon Brown might just come out of this with his head held high.

Either that or the UK and US are both doomed.


January 27, 2009

Doing things differently… some of the time

Writing about web page http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2009/01/27/intv.obama.arabiya.alarabiya

President Obama is certainly doing things differently. His first broadcast interview was with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, one of the most watched TV channels in the Middle East.

Watching it though, there were a few parallels with the past.

He often listens to a question, and begins his answer with “Well what I think is important is this…”

Mr Obama’s message to the Muslim world is that America’s now listening.

As an interviewee, not so much.


January 20, 2009

This historic day

There is something more to today than the inauguration of the first mixed-race President of the United States.

When Barack Hussein Obama is sworn in at 5pm (GMT) tonight, he’ll assume responsibility for the greatest country in the world.

Its economic, military, social and cultural impact is immense. And its reputation is in need of salvation.

President Obama has been hailed as the Saviour of the America many want the country to become. Yet that task is so great, imbuing responsibility for it in one man has never been as risky.

Two wars, a failing economy, a crumbling infrastructure, a woeful health system and an underperforming education system. These are each difficult crises, just one of which can sink a President.

President Obama does appear to have a once-in-a-generation chance to solve some of these.

But to solve them all – and to simultaneously repair the country’s image, particularly in Latin America and the Middle East – will require a miracle even greater than President Obama’s election.

He begins his term of office with majorities in the House and Senate. With millions of supporters ready to jump in front of traffic for him. And with the goodwill of most of the Western world.

All of these things make it more likely he will let some of us down.

But there will be achievements to savour during the 44th Presidency, and we should appreciate each of them, even if President Obama fails us at times. He is, after all, only human.

It’s been a while.

But today, at last, we’re jealous of America, hoping that the stardust will fall beyond the country’s borders.


December 03, 2008

The Obama backlash begins

They like him, but not that much.

President-elect Obama has been thwarted in his attempt to get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

In a run-off Senate election in Georgia, the Republicans won 60% of the vote after their candidate, Saxby Chambliss (what a name!) campaigned on the basis that a Democrat victory there would be like giving Obama a blank cheque.

Georgia agreed with him.

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise – McCain won the southern state in the Presidential election by 52 – 47%.

But the bigger margin of victory in this Senate race suggests the country might just be hedging its bets after months of Obamamania.


November 23, 2008

Breaking from the script

I thought Barack Obama was supposed to be The West Wing v.2? I mean, he even appointed Josh Lyman as his Chief of Staff.

Now he’s got elected, the script’s got jumbled up.

His weekly radio address yesterday was headlined:

Obama seeks to create 2.5m jobs

Come on, neither Jed Bartlet nor Matthew Santos were centrists, but they knew full well the adage that governments don’t create jobs, businesses do.

Has the U.S. gone socialist overnight?


November 18, 2008

Where will you be on 20th January?

Cartoon: Tom Toles, Washington Post

An incredible four million people are expected to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as President in January.

That’s more than 1% of the country’s population.

Websites like this one will help you get there, but warn that journeys to D.C. will begin a whole day beforehand!

There’s been increasing talk of the media loving Obama just a bit too much. As one commentator put it, journalism is ‘on hold’.

Does the media lead, or is it led by the public? On this one, I think the people are putting their foot down.


November 06, 2008

John Bolton: Diplomat

I quite like Rajesh Mirchandani – he’s got a brighter future than David Dimbleby after Tuesday night anyway – so I found this rather upsetting.

Remember John Bolton was the United States representative at the UN. This is diplomacy for you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiPuqvO6qT8


November 04, 2008

Bated breath

The U.S. Election, after about six billion years of waiting, is finally upon us. It seems to be an almost unbloggable subject now. There’s little left to be said.

It’s been the most fiercely contested election in history – anywhere. Never before has there been such interest in a electoral battle between two people.

The internet’s been a big winner of 2008 – there’ve been few arguments overlooked, barely a minute without another revelation about McCain or Obama’s policies.

But has this been the most transparent election ever?

It’s hard to think so.

To some extent, the media’s role in all of this has been devolved for the first time to the people who upload and comment on videos on YouTube, to college campuses and to the writers on Saturday Night Live.

But there’s been a dearth of hard, investigative journalism since the primaries ended. Perhaps the bitterly fought preliminaries meant there was little to discover about the two candidates once they’d fought off the might of the Clintons or the Christian right.

There were raised eyebrows at some stories – Obama’s choice of church and McCain’s choice of running-mate. But we didn’t learn very much about the candidates that we didn’t already know two years ago.

Some journalists were burned by the 2004 cockup in which CBS News wrongly presented controversial documents as fact. Respected journalists lost their jobs over it.

Maybe that’s put the media on edge in 2008. Also, job cuts in virtually every U.S. newspaper group have made investigative journalism harder. (1) (2)

So I can’t help feeling that whoever wins tonight (or tomorrow), we might need to expect the unexpected. Neither candidate’s biography seems to have been finished yet.


October 31, 2008

Another reason why I love being a Brit

Yep, spreadable bacon. And just to reassure you even more, it’s 100% meat-free!

Sadly only available in the U.S.. And long may that continue.


October 29, 2008

Race for 2008: Is tonight when the tide turns?

Thank goodness for our election laws.

Tonight, Barack Obama will straddle three national TV networks to tell the American people what he will do for them.

It’s an interesting idea, but could it spectacularly backfire?

The backlash has already begun, with Obama’s ten-year-old daughter Malia. She asked her mum: “Are you going to interrupt my TV?”. She was reassured the broadcast wouldn’t be going out on the Disney Channel.

But it will be going out on Fox, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, Univision, BET and TV One.

Fox has had to push back a major sporting fixture to avoid a clash with the Obamathon.

He’s also appearing on tonight’s The Daily Show – an appearance I’ll definitely be checking tomorrow on More4 – as well as doing several big interviews over the next couple of days.

Obama isn’t so much going for blanket coverage, as suffocation.

There’s a real danger that the 30-minute broadcast will come across as arrogant.

McCain’s already jumped on it, saying: “No one will delay the World Series with an infomercial when I’m president”.

The piece is apparently high on ‘Americana’ – flags, strings and Presidential imagery.

But why’s he spending $6m on broadcasting it when it’d still get millions of views if he stuck it on YouTube?

The polls are apparently beginning to tighten – could one last burst of arrogance pop the bubble?

(He’s already joked about his face being on Mount Rushmore!)


Race for 2008: Is the media rooting for Obama?

The Republicans have been facing an uphill battle ever since George W. Bush won the 2004 election.

The media hunt as a pack, and the collective pendulum has been swinging towards the Democrats for the last two years.

I might have called it just a little bit wrong when I said of Joe Biden: “[calling Obama ‘clean’ will] probably be his only notable contribution to the campaign”, but I wasn’t alone when I predicted whoever won the Democrat primary would take the White House.

But the ease with which Obama has got this far is starting to worry people.

Michael Malone writes that as a journalist, he’s ashamed of the bias shown towards Obama.

While the media has gone through Sarah Palin’s bins, trashed John McCain’s wife Cindy and given anything John’s said little serious attention, Obama and Biden have had it easy.

Malone says it’s not because of journalists, but because their editors have only been selecting – and commissioning – stories which help smooth the wheels of the Obama campaign, and perpetuate the narrative that appeals most.Obama worship

Why?

The media pack loves a good story. America’s first mixed-race President is an incredible one, which everyone (including the British media) have got caught up in. This is only the biggest, most expensive, most anticipated election in decades because of Barack Obama’s colour.

There’s also a slightly more sinister side to this. McCain dying in office would be an enormous story. Obama dying in office would make the death of Princess Diana look like a footnote in history.

No matter what happens, an Obama presidency will bring with it more drama than President Bartlet managed in seven seasons of The West Wing.

A changed dynamic in Congress also appeals to their instincts. It’ll give them a common enemy in just a few months, and a filibuster-proof 60 seats for the Democrats in the Senate means the effective opposition isn’t the Republicans, but the media.

Put simply, if Obama wins next week, it’s the end of business as usual.

And that’s why virtually every newshound is rooting for him.

News coverage of George Bush – in fact his lame duck status – has come about because the media got bored with him. The war in Iraq isn’t working. The war in Iraq isn’t working. The war in Iraq isn’t working. Say it several times, and people get bored of that story. You can change Iraq for ‘financial stimulus package’, ‘healthcare’ or really any other Bush policy, and it becomes tiresome pretty quickly. News coverage of the White House has been minimal since early 2007, when the race for 2008 really began.

The narrative of the past six years has been full of failure. Obama might not have intended to woo the media with it when he came up with his slogan, but change is exactly what they want, never mind the electorate.

The bias in the coverage of this election looks more than likely to help bring that change about.

> Politico in the States defends itself against pro-Obama bias


June 11, 2007

I'm a Journalist, Get Me Out of Here!!!

A reality TV show in the States is to give a swimwear model a job as a TV journalist and see how she gets on. She’ll start by anchoring the main news bulletin tonight.

[Insert predictable joke about Natasha Kaplinsky]

Locals are up in arms about the affront to their local broadcaster’s integrity. But then this is a news station that apparently has “Stormy the Weather Dog” every day. I think the integrity boat has set sail.

Perhaps the show will reveal how hard it is to be a journalist. I might even give it the benefit of the doubt if it was a British show. But I’ve seen loads of American TV shows before. They’re going to make the locals look stupid, the job look easy, and the swimwear model look like Ed Murrow.

But if you’ve seen local TV news in the States before, you’ll realise that not even a bikini-clad model can dumb down the news.

Only some people will find this funny, but the model’s name is Lauren Jones. I kid you not.


March 22, 2007

An Embarrassment of Riches

The Riches

Take a troubled family of Irish travellers, kill two innocent rich people, and you’ve got a TV show that looks like being the intelligent Desperate Housewives, but with more endearing characters and greater potential for plot development.

The Riches is a new show on the U.S. network FX, and stars Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard – who also acts as Exec Producer and writer on the show. The two Brits may not seem the obvious choice for their roles – nor indeed the perfect on-screen couple – but from the evidence of the pilot, they really work.

The story begins with Izzard and three children travelling to pick up Driver, mum of the ‘household’, from prison, where she’s been doing two years for crimes yet to be revealed. Inside she’s picked up some atrocious braided hair and a nasty drug habit. And they’ve been running the family business, which might be described as “back-pocket cash repository retrieval”.

They travel back to their community where the self-appointed ‘leader’ of the clan wants Izzard’s daughter to marry his son and Izzard to be his bitch. It’s a neat way of forcing the family out of the community and out onto the road. Izzard steals the community’s cash and a chase – of sorts – ensues. This results in a car accident that has far-reaching consequences for the family, who for reasons that become obvious near the end of the episode, become The Riches.

Izzard is, thankfully, brilliant, and the show feels very much his own. His contribution to the writing of the show helps, as he inserts dollops of the comic insanity present in his stand-up shows. Driver, too, is a far more mature actress than the annoying, stiff Brit she was in Good Will Hunting.

I forced two of my housemates to watch the first episode with me, and after their initial reluctance they were won over by its “unpredictability” and “convincing performances”. Izzard’s accent slips occasionally, although from a Brit’s perspective this doesn’t bother me very much.

There’s real potential for this to be a great TV show. I hope the series can live up to its witty and warm pilot.


February 17, 2007

A small irony

I’ve just noticed that when Americans refer to the War on Terror in the “post 9/11 era”, they actually pronounce the words as a “post 9/11 error”.


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