All entries for February 2007
February 28, 2007
I've invented a new sport.
Details will be released once patents are in place. All I’ll say is that it’s like domesticated volleyball.
The cost of democracy = £10m… So why won't the government pay it?
Freedom of Information is about as sexy as a soggy ham sandwich. And yet it’s really important, and under threat.
Since being introduced by the government in 2000, it’s allowed journalists and members of the public to access huge amounts of information which was secret before.
Examples include a league table of the UK’s worst polluting companies. Details of nuclear power plant faults in Britain. Lists of post office branches due to be closed. MPs travel expenses. Countless stories in local newspapers.
None of these stories would have become public knowledge if it wasn’t for FoI.
But the government thinks the £10m cost to public services of having to deal with Freedom of Information requests is too high. Which is another way of saying that it’s been too effective and the government are running scared. The Department for Constitutional Affairs proposes to make FoI more expensive and would see fewer requests complied with.
Everyone should care about this, and everyone should be complaining. £10m is nothing.
A series of Big Brother? £60m
Liverpool Football Club? £450m
Freedom of Information?
A list of stories that originated in FoI requests (pdf file)
Guardian stories obtained under FoI
Labour's scared of hearing 'I Told You So'
Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke will today launch a bid for the Labour Leadership. They’re not standing. But they are bidding to make it an open, transparent and useful process with debate about the direction of the party.
Thinly veiled, it is a challenge to Gordon Brown’s “hide behind the curtains” strategy.
I’ve always thought Brown would need a kick up the rear in order for him to be honest about what his government would provide, other than more of the same. And so I’m pleased to see Milburn and Clarke push for this so publically. I think their intentions are honest and neither would want to be PM themselves. But the behind-the-scenes briefing seems to be saying this isn’t enough. They want a heavyweight to run against him. And their preferred heavyweight is David Miliband.
None of this is actually likely to make Brown open up and deliver a lecture on anything more useful than ‘Britishness’, his favourite vacuous subject.
But something else might: Polls.
Brown is thirteen points behind David Cameron according to the Independent – which is even worse than Tony Blair at the moment. Mr Brown isn’t stupid, and knows he’ll have to do something about this.
The trouble for him is that the Labour Party members might ‘do something’ before he gets the chance. But something is likely to stop them. Echoing in the back of their minds is the thought that in 2009, under someone else, they’ll hear four eery words from Gordon Brown…
I told you so.
Keele Uni better than Warwick
It’s true. Well, it must be. Why else would their Vice-Chancellor award herself a 31.7% pay-rise this year? Maybe it’s because they had the UK’s fourth steepest decline in UCAS applications last year? Aw bless. At least they top a league table now.
February 26, 2007
Blair's final snub to the Commons
Last week, Margaret Thatcher was given the rare honour of having a statue placed in the Members Lobby of the House of Commons. It was an even rarer event as she’s still alive.
It seems unlikely Tony Blair will ever follow her.
While she was recognised as one of the greatest parliamentarians of the century, Blair has begun to indicate (according to the News of the World) that he’ll leave his Sedgefield constituency this year, causing a by-election.
It’s proof – if it were needed – that he has little time for parliamentary democracy. He’ll always prefer ‘sofa politics’ to the green benches.
My Oscar Predictions – How did I do?
Winner: Little Miss Sunshine
Winner: Paul Greengrass, United 93
Winner: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Winner: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor:
Winner: Honestly don’t know.
Best Supporting Actress:
Winner: Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Best Animated Feature:
Winner: Happy Feet
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Best Original Screenplay:
Winner: Children of Men
Didn’t I do well…
Bloody hell, I didn’t think University Challenge could have you on the edge of your seat, shouting at the television. Well done to the four in Paxman’s firing line.
February 25, 2007
I was on a Virgin train on Friday afternoon, travelling up the West Coast main line. Only as far as Preston thankfully, and several hours before a crash on the line. But at the start of the journey, a precocious kid had been asking his parents why trains don’t have seatbelts. His dad’s answer? Because trains don’t crash.
I bet they had an interesting conversation yesterday morning.
Anyway, the crash is proof that these new trains really don’t need seatbelts. I was amazed that the train will probably be repaired and sent back out onto the tracks. It is, as Sir Richard Branson said, “built like a tank”. In fact we should sent them to Iraq – they’d probably do a better job than many armoured personnel carriers.
Branson has gone up in my estimation since the crash. He might be a publicity-seeking maverick, but he’s not afraid to show his face even when things have gone wrong. Many people would have shied away.
According to the News of the World, the driver may have paralysed himself by staying at the wheel and wrestling with the train’s controls until the last second. Little kids might be afraid of the fast speeds that trains manage – but with drivers like him and trains as sturdy as Branson’s, they shouldn’t be.
February 21, 2007
Heather Mills – Saint or Sinner
It’s becoming increasingly hard to know whether Heather Mills (formerly Mills-McCartney) is a psychotic witch – as some newspapers portray her – or a hard-done-by model who’s the victim of her ex-husband’s PR agents.
This afternoon it’s been revealed she’ll be a contestant on the U.S. version of Strictly Come Dancing. Presumably she’ll complain that she’s been given little choice because of her financial woes, but it’ll probably leave many people aghast at her willingness to do anything to stay famous.
Remember that Ms Mills only has one leg. It’s not quite like she’s making an appearance on a cookery programme. You have to hand it to the producers of this show (the BBC, ironically).
I’ve always thought she was probably the innocent party in this spat. Naive rather than vindictive. But when she goes and does something stupid like this, even if it is for the money, I can’t help thinking she’s just a bit mad. Surely if she’s had serious death threats and constantly fears for her safety, wouldn’t it be better to lie low?
Or, heaven forbid, she could go and get a real job.
Update: Ha ha ha, it gets better. The producers of the show describe her thus:
HEATHER MILLS – United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, activist for Adopt-A-Minefield and advocate for animal rights, Heather Mills will be the first contestant to compete with an artificial limb. She will be partnered with JONATHAN ROBERTS who returns for his third season.
Do you think they intend to tell the U.S. audience who she really is? Or is there something in her contract saying “Don’t mention the husband!”?
February 20, 2007
An English Parliament? No–one cares.
At the time of writing, 1,128 people had signed a petition of the Number 10 website for the creation of an English Parliament. It’s a popular idea with a few Tories, who know they’d probably get a permanent majority in such an assembly.
But it doesn’t seem the public care…
21,445 people want census data to be made available earlier
10,984 people want St David’s Day to be a Welsh national holiday
5,649 people want Ruth Kelly to give up her job
4,228 people want to replace the national anthem with ‘Gold’ by Spandau Ballet
2,033 people want to ban the sale of “puppy farms”
1,781 people want to “save Suffolk middle schools”
1,214 people want to prohibit the sale of fireworks
1,148 people want the government to give Blackpool the super-casino
In the light of which, it seems that people really aren’t fussed about England getting its own Parliament. Unless, of course, their wages are likely to come out of it.
OFCOM: Capitalism at its stoopidest
They lurve ‘market forces’. They like auctioning off radio spectrum to the highest bidder and “letting the market decide”. It doesn’t quite work like that, of course. If Rupert Murdoch wanted to launch an unprofitable right-wing opinion station, he could. And he could outbid anyone. But OFCOM wouldn’t care that much, because “the market” would have decided.
Well now they’ve outshone themselves.
They want to auction off the spectrum currently used by those nasty socialist theatre performers and broadcasters. They tend not to make a profit, so rather than bleed them dry, OFCOM’s just going to make life really hard for them.
You see, radio microphones use the spectrum inbetween other channels. They don’t take up much space, but OFCOM doesn’t mind that, because they’re just worried that the commies are getting away with something for free.
They’d quite like to auction that small bit of space off to mobile phone companies or broadcasters. Even though it would make virtually every theatre production in the country practically unworkable.
They’ve already said they won’t ring-fence any space for High Definition TV services on Freeview. Instead we’ll have to pay – you guessed it – Rupert Murdoch for the privilege of shiny picture quality on our TV sets.
OFCOM’s policy on “letting the market decide” is complete madness. Hopefully even they’ll see sense on this one and realise that theatre companies aren’t going to pay millions of pounds for a tiny bit of the radio spectrum.
February 18, 2007
Very hot fuzz
Hot Fuzz is the funniest film I’ve seen in a long, long time.
I was unimpressed by the trailers. I didn’t like Shaun of the Dead. And yet it’s utterly fantastic. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are brilliant. The direction (Edgar Wright), editing and music (David Arnold – he does the James Bond films) are all brilliant.
The pop-cultural references are excellent: Judge Judy gets an honorary mention. Police officers’ rank is determined by the seniority of the actor playing them. At the start of the film you have Bill Nighy outranking Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman. Jim Broadbent runs the local police station. Bill Bailey is the desk sergeant. Even Gwyneth Paltrow makes a clever – and semi-secret – cameo.
It’s set in the sleepy Gloucestershire town of Sandford (actually Wells in Somerset). It could so easily be my home town of Tetbury. A shoot-out in a branch of Somerfield is beyond hilarious.
It’s so good, even my mum would laugh.
How to kill a mouse
Which of the following do you think is most effective for killing mice? I’ve tried all of them today, but only one worked.
c) badminton racket
d) screaming at it
e) covering it in a plastic bag
I Hate the Welsh…
I’m settling down, eagerly awaiting tonight’s Top Gear. It’s the best thing on television in Britain.
BUT IT’S NOT FRICKING ON!!!
BBC Wales, in their infinite wisdom, have replaced it with sodding snooker. It’s not on until 10pm. It’s a Sunday night. I quite fancied an early one. I also wanted to watch the show that’s on afterwards. And they’ve gone and buggered up my evening. And my housemates’ evening. Top Gear is the only thing we all watch.
SO THANKYOU BBC WALES, YOU STUPID IDIOTS. THERE’S A RED BUTTON ON THE REMOTE CONTROL. IT’S THERE FOR A REASON.
And you thought I was going to write some general slur against the Welsh people.
EDIT: It’s getting silly. It’s 10.40pm, Top Gear’s supposed to be on by now, and we’re being treated to A RUDDY GREAT BIG END-CREDITS SEQUENCE!!!! I HATE YOU, BBC WALES.
February 17, 2007
I’m watching a BBC News report on 0870 numbers and how much they cost. It’s awful.
Check out this bit: “But at over seven pence per minute they can be a very expensive way of complaining… They can be expensive. More than a national rate call. And the longer you’re kept on the call, the more you’re spending.”
Erm, no kidding.
The report then goes down a strange route, meeting a vicar “who spends much of his time flying to Eastern Europe to help children who’ve been abused…”
He spends lots of money booking flights on British Airways. This is bad. But it seems so much worse because the bastards are taking money from a man who’s helping abused kids! It’s very odd, especially as the report admits the BBC is just as bad as BA in using these phone numbers.
The report has a few other clangers in it. Like introducing an interview clip by using the same words as the interviewee. They must think no-one’s watching cos it’s the weekend.