All entries for January 2009

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.


Recognition = £££?

The Consultative Group on the Past of Northern Ireland is publishing its final report today.

Clearly the most contentious part of it will be the suggestion that victims of the Troubles’ families (both terrorists and those killed by terrorists) will be eligible to receive £12,000.

The co-Chair of the group is adamant this is not ‘compensation’.

This is ‘recognition’ of people’s loss, given in answer to people’s complaints that recognition is lacking.

But I can’t help thinking the Consultative Group has added two plus two and got five.

How many of those asking for ‘recognition’ specifically asked for money? I suspect the bureaucrats have completely misconstrued what they were asking for.

A quick glance at the Consultative Group’s website suggests many people are unhappy at the £12,000 idea and wanted recognition of another kind.


January 27, 2009

Pluck off, Tesco.

Not everything about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Chicken Out” campaign is perfect.

Getting people to pay more for the same amount of food is a tough ask, especially in a recession.

And he’s only ever persuaded the ‘working class’ to swap to better quality chickens by showing them the inside of a chicken shed.

But last night’s one-off update on his campaign made me pretty angry at my own supermarket-of-choice, Tesco.

Anyone who watched the original series will know they were less than helpful in providing an on-screen interview.

Last night, he finally got one, but it was with Tesco PR woman Darshini David. A former BBC business presenter, she came across abysmally. I suspect her job is mostly to be Tesco’s TV ‘face’, and if last night was anything to go on, she’s rubbish at it.

She claimed Tesco are ‘leading the way’ on chicken welfare.

No, they clearly are not. Sainsbury’s, the Co-op and Waitrose are light-years ahead of them, and it’s clear for anyone to see.

Why won’t Tesco admit on its packaging that chickens are grown indoors (instead of using subtle, yet blatant, marketing speak to imply otherwise)? Darshini: “We don’t want to patronise them”.

Is the nutritional information section patronising? No.

Is it patronising to give us a choice between ‘Free Range Eggs’ and ‘Barn Eggs’? Apparently not.

Is Darshini David patronising? You betcha.

The point Hugh F-W should have made in the interview (but sadly didn’t) is that many people are only aware of Britain’s chicken welfare standards because they’ve seen his show or read newspaper articles related to it.

Unfortunately that’s a very small majority of the British population. Only 2.5 million people watched last night’s show. I would imagine more than half of last night’s viewers were middle-class people who probably read The Guardian or The Independent.

So what of the other 57.5m people in the UK? Tesco doesn’t want to patronise them, but they don’t mind if they’re in complete ignorance either.

I’m seriously tempted to shop elsewhere having seen last night’s arrogant and disgraceful performance.


In Your Face

Mentioning Joe Cornish (of Adam and Joe) in my last entry sent me on a whirlwind tour of their various websites. I found this, and given it’s only had 80,000 hits so far, thought it deserved a reshowing here.

Genius.


Êtes–vous un rire?

TintinI always found Tintin a bit creepy. He just looked odd in the cartoons, and there was something… French about him.

But my interest in a film version has been twinged by reading who’s involved.

Directing: Steven Spielberg, and then Peter Jackson in a sequel.
Starring: Jamie Bell (a.k.a. Billy Elliott, albeit that’s unfair as he’s been in loads of things now)
And: Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Andy Serkis, Mackenzie Crook
Written by: Steven Moffat (the new man behind Doctor Who), Joe Cornish (of Adam and Joe) and Edgar Wright (of Hot Fuzz).

Now, that sounds like a film!

The first installment’s not out until 2011 though.

P.S. Bonus points if you can translate the title (or what Google Translate tells me the translation is, anyway)


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.


January 17, 2009

Problems for LabourList

This is pretty funny.

A Labour Party apparatchik called Derek Draper set up LabourList as a counter to the wildly successful Conservative Home last week. The only trouble, he’s very close to Peter Mandelson, and unlike the Tory version, LabourList is seen as being too close to the party’s leadership.

Derek’s other problem is a dislike for humour or dissent. He’s been accused of heavily censoring comments left by members of the public, and generally treating the site’s users like poo.

So someone’s set up Labourist. Lacking a certain, er… ‘L’, the site is identical to LabourList, but anyone can leave comments.

It seems completely legal at the moment – LabourList encourages people to use the data on the site elsewhere.

It’d be pretty funny if Labourist turned out to be more popular, made more money from advertising and had more of an effect on the party than the original version – very “bottom-up”.


What is Emma Thompson talking about?

Actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson seems to be such a fully signed-up resident of la-la land, she’s got me agreeing with Geoff Hoon.

Blimey.

I think I’ve made clear I’m no fan of Heathrow expansion (or Heathrow generally, really – I think it should probably be on the other side of London).

But how can Emma Thompson be one of the leading voices in the anti-expansion campaign while simultaneously hopping across the Atlantic whenever she fancies?

Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, a man with whom I rarely seem to agree, has pointed out this contradiction between fighting climate change and causing a fair bit of it at the same time.

Thompson fought back: “Get a grip Geoff. This is not a campaign against flying – we’re trying to stop the expansion of Heathrow in the face of climate change. It sounds like the transport secretary has completely missed the point. Again.”

If anyone’s missed the point here, it’s not Geoff.


January 16, 2009

Searching on Google about as damaging to planet as farting

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jan/16/carbon-sunday-times-google-clarification

Last week’s Sunday Times ran a prominent story explaining how two “typical” Google searches use produce as much CO2 as boiling a kettle, due to their enormous (and secretive) data centres.

But now, according to The Guardian, it seems that’s not entirely accurate.

The figure for each individual search is actually closer to a whopping 0.2g

Which is… er… not very much.

Here’s the clarification on the Times website:

A report about online energy consumption (Google and you’ll damage the planet, Jan 11) said that “performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle” or about 7g of CO2 per search. We are happy to make clear that this does not refer to a one-hit Google search taking less than a second, which Google says produces about 0.2g of CO2, a figure we accept. In the article, we were referring to a Google search that may involve several attempts to find the object being sought and that may last for several minutes. Various experts put forward carbon emission estimates for such a search of 1g-10g depending on the time involved and the equipment used. (emphasis mine)

How many times has Google taken two minutes to answer one of your searches?

And here’s the top two paragraphs of the original story:

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.” (emphasis mine)

According to The Guardian, the Times is sticking by its story. Hmm…


Possibly the coolest invention since the gramophone*

My advice to you if you own shares in Apple:

Sell, Sell, Sell.

No, not because Steve Jobs is stepping back from running the company for a while (I reckon it’s permanent, myself).

But because iTunes’ business model is about to be trounced by the Swedes.

I’m a little behind the curve here, but Spotify is quite simply brilliant.

It’s the kind of invention that only requires around twenty seconds to appreciate, which is a strong indication of its simple genius.

Imagine your hard-drive being linked to the catalogues of the major record companies. And you’ve got free access to all of it. Yep, free. You can stream as much music as you want, and the only down-side is the short advert every 30mins or so.

Oh, did I say it’s free?

So you can’t download the music to your MP3 player… yet.

But this bit of software is so cool, you won’t care.

Hilariously, the Americans can’t get their hands on it yet without being nice to people or handing over some cash.

We Brits on the other hand just need to click here.

Hat-tip: Matt

* P.S. I might be exaggerating a little


Slumming it with the best

This piece might come in handy if you’re thinking of placing a sneaky fiver on the winner of the Academy Awards this year.

Slumdog Millionaire looks like it’s going to sweep all the big awards. BAFTA will almost certainly go for it (Frost/Nixon a likely second-place). The Golden Globes have already bestowed their stardust on the film.

Now it’s down to the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. And according to the New York Times’ film blog, it’s running away with it.


January 15, 2009

The wacky world of newspaper ownership

Ordinarily, the news that a Russian billionaire is buying one of Britain’s best-known newspapers, the Evening Standard, would be cause for surprise, and maybe even concern.

But Alexander Lebedev is no ordinary Russian billionaire.

True, he is ex-KGB, as almost any successful Russian seems to need to be nowadays.

But Lebedev also owns Novaya Gazeta – the newspaper that Anna Politkovskaya was reporting for before her assassination in 2006.

Lebedev’s fought back against a suffocating regime in Russia – he should have no problem dealing with City Hall and Westminster.

His bigger challenge will be trying to make money out of the Standard, whose finances apparently resemble a leaky bucket.


Maybe we've got this transport thing wrong?

Forgive me a bit of a Clarkson moment, but maybe all this third-runway, High Speed Train news is a mistake.

I’ve come to this conclusion for one reason: Look which mode of transport is seeing the greatest improvements in energy efficiency, and is closest to becoming CO2 neutral.

Tesla RoadsterIt’s the car.

Planes look likely to pump out greenhouse gases for another 100 years or so – there’s no realistic alternative to kerosene. Its high-altitude dispersion of those chemicals also makes them even more dangerous.

High Speed Trains run on electricity. Which comes from power stations. Most of this, in the UK, at the moment, means coal or gas. And if you think the future of electricity generation is totally green, well, just look at Kingsnorth.

Fast trains also use a lot of electricity. Existing cars are arguably about as green as high-speed trains which run on coal-supplied electricity.

So to cars… hydrogen models are a reality and electric ones are there as well (albeit with the same problems as trains.)

The next five years are likely to see enormous growth in the number of CO2-free cars being produced. While I wasn’t blown away by the new Prius (a measly 50mpg) there are models like the Tesla and the Bolt which might actually be the future.

Greenpeace would choke on their organic muesli, but maybe the long-term eco-friendly choice is to build better motorways with less congestion?


Is Labour too scared of business to say 'No'?

Finding a good reason to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport isn’t hard. The trouble is, there’s only one.

It’ll apparently be good for business.

Some airlines argue that it’s good for passenger equality too because more ‘slots’ means more cheap flights for the lower-middle class. The only trouble is that it’s not true. George Monbiot estimates more than half of Ryanair’s adverts are placed in the Daily Telegraph.

Put simply, a bigger Heathrow means more flights for people with second homes in the Med.

The strangest thing about the whole Heathrow argument is who is opposing it.

Heathrow AirportThe Mayor of London, the Conservative Party (their leadership, at least) and the Liberal Democrats. All in unison.

For Labour to be left on the other side with the CBI suggests the government’s reasons are skewed somehow.

I think they’re scared.

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling know that in the current economic climate, the economy is their soft spot. Any decision they make that could be seen as damaging to business is, right now, potentially fatal.

What’s strange is that the government hasn’t – until now, at least – taken high-speed rail more seriously. Spain is throwing 220mph lines across their country like confetti. France has had the TGV for years. We’ve got… er… the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Eventually.

If you’re flying from London to Scotland, the plane is a) cheaper b) quicker and c) more convenient.

Perhaps allowing a third runway is just politically easier. If flights are delayed, airlines get the blame. If a high-speed rail link is delayed, the government is blamed by association.

But by the time a new rail line is built, or a new runway is constructed, Gordon Brown will be gone and forgotten.

This is a long-term decision being taken for a short-term reason: Fear.


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