All entries for November 2008

November 26, 2008

What the f**k?

Check out tonight’s Inside Out England on BBC iPlayer later.

How many people must have watched the programme through before broadcast without noticing the ‘f’ word, clear as day, five minutes in?

Lesson One: If sampling Fatboy Slim songs, don’t use this one. (They used the first five seconds of it.)


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 22, 2008

Return of the 'P' word

Tomorrow’s Sunday Times leads on details of Alistair Darling’s planned spending cuts to boost the economy. From the article:

Cuts in Vat are to form a key plank of Gordon Brown’s emergency economic rescue package to be unveiled tomorrow… A 2.5% Vat cut would cost £12.5 billion a year, making it by far the biggest element of Brown’s £15 billion-plus “fiscal stimulus”.

But it’s further down the article that the bigger story could lie.

Officials are drawing up plans for a sale of government assets including the Met Office, the Ordnance Survey and thousands of acres of Forestry Commission land.

Using this image probably breaks that Crown Copyright. But ho hum.It’s strange that this green-light for new privatisation is given no further comment in the article. Not only is it a change of tune for New Labour, but the choice of government agencies in the firing line is bizarre. The sale of all three would constitute minimal short-term gain in return for extraordinary long-term pain.

Firstly, with the Met Office. Selling off this public service (for never was the term more apt than in predicting the country’s weather) is bound to lead to a rush to commercialise forecasting. Don’t worry about the BBC having to pay more for weather data, that’s irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. If the Met Office is put in private hands, it’s sure to lead to big price increases for farmers, fishermen and aircraft pilots, all of whom rely on weather forecasting much more detailed than you find in a TV bulletin.

Secondly, Ordnance Survey. OS already behaves like a commercial company in many ways, demanding licence fees for almost any map of Britain. They’re currently in a scrap with Google over Google Maps, and this week tried to tell the Home Secretary what she could and couldn’t do. The Register has been pushing for the government to make OS’s data more freely available. A key point they make is:

The government argues that businesses and individuals who use the data should contribute to the cost of collecting it. The counter-argument is damning: Ordnance Survey makes a profit for the Treasury, but locking down its maps suffocates a potential boom in Geographic Information Services and other businesses, that would funnel much more back into the economy.

The government should be using Ordnance Survey as a tool to unlock some new economic potential (see this brilliant idea as just one use of the data that relies on it being cheap), not as part of a short-term fire sale.

Thirdly and finally, Forestry Commission land. If this isn’t a shortsighted idea, I don’t know what is. Selling it off for commercial gain means only one thing – the environment won’t be the main concern any more. We’re unlikely to see the land stripped for palm oil but any commercial use will conflict with the current limits on what Forestry Commission land can be used for.

The article has the whiff of being leaked by a naive junior government minister who hasn’t thought any of these things through yet.

Let’s hope the rest of Monday’s pre-budget report isn’t so half-baked.


November 21, 2008

Is it 'cause he is French?

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/a/arsenal/7741430.stm

So it looks like William Gallas has been stripped of the Arsenal captaincy after publicly questioning the courage of his teammates.

My main problem with this is… wouldn’t Roy Keane have got away with it?

Keane, in fact, criticised several of his team-mates shortly before quitting Manchester United in 2005 – but it was a combination of that and other factors that led him to leave a few weeks later.

Keane also criticised the ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade, and made similar criticisms of his Ireland team-mates. Admittedly, that one got him shown the door.

And so I wasn’t surprised to see Keane stand up for Gallas.

But the Gallas affair just feels different. I think it comes down to a few factors:

  1. He’s French. Roy Keane’s outbursts could, to a limited extent, be put down to his slightly more charming Celtic manner and longstanding ‘cheekyness’. Gallas doesn’t have that luxury.
  2. Gallas hasn’t been at Arsenal for that long – even Arsenal supporters probably thought giving him the captaincy was a bit premature.
  3. Attitude – Gallas has been an abysmal captain in the last twelve months on the pitch. He’s shown babyish tendencies that David Beckham even at his worst moments would have been embarrassed by.

(It’s to football’s credit that ‘race’ isn’t a credible reason nowadays.)

So I’m torn. Part of me thinks Gallas’s outburst should have been taken more lightly. The other part thinks he’s had this coming for a while.


November 19, 2008

If Charlie Brooker was a newspaper…

...it’d probably be the best newspaper in the world


Should we believe reviews of Baz Luhrmann's Australia?

Reviews started leaking out yesterday of Baz Luhrmann’s long-awaited new film, Australia.

And the first ones were all very positive.

The Sun, The Times and the Herald Sun in Australia all broke the apparent embargo which said reviews shouldn’t be published until after last night’s premiere in Sydney.

So what links the publications who published early, and who all found the film to be “perfect”, “beautiful” and a “love letter to Australia”?

They’re all owned by Australian Rupert Murdoch.

Who, coincidentally, also owns the film’s production company and distributor.

Naturally, being the first available reviews, websites that publish reviews of reviews all used the Rupert Murdoch-owned ones.

Funnily enough, the reviewers who waited for the embargo to be lifted found the film to be ‘not the masterpiece that we were hoping for’, ‘not a bad film… But far from a great one’ and a word that crops up in most of them is “cliched”.

The bias is so obvious, even Homer Simpson would notice it.

EDIT: Even members of the Murdoch stable seem to realise the film might not be the masterpiece they first thought.


Someone needs to consolidate…

Dizzy has found some great quotes from recent budgets.

“borrowing for this year and future years is therefore £27 billion (2003), £24 billion (2004), £23 billion (2005), £22 billion (2006) and £22 billion (2007).” - Budget 2003

“borrowing for this year will fall to £34 billions (2004) and in future years fall further to £33 billions (2005), falling again to £29 billions (2006), then falling to £28 billions (2007), £24 billions (2008) and £22 billions (2009). - Budget 2004

“[it] will be £34bn (2005) this year falling to £32bn (2006) next year, then falling again to £29bn (2007), falling to £27bn (2008), then to £24bn (2009) and then £22bn (2010).” - Budget 2005

“[borrowing] will be £37bn this year, £36bn next year, then £30bn, falling to £25bn, £24bn and £23bn in 2010-11” - Budget 2006

“the figure for [borrowing] this and future years will be £35 billion (2007) – over 1 billion less than forecast at the Pre Budget Report – then 34 (2008), 30 (2009), 28 (2009), 26 (2010) and 24 billion (2011)” - Budget 2007

If Gordon Brown were a normal person, would he need a) advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, or b) sectioning?


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.


Street sweeping

The government’s pledged to end homelessness in London in time for the 2012 Olympics.

I suspect this should be added to a long list of promises that almost certainly won’t be kept.

There’ve been great strides made in getting people off the street over the past ten years – the number of people living rough has dropped by 70% in the last ten years.

But whenever I’ve interviewed homeless people – and those who work with them – they all acknowledge there’s a hardcore who actually prefer life without a roof.

More importantly, they’re not all beggars, drug addicts or troublemakers. Many are the victims of crime themselves as people hurl abuse, or worse, at them on a Friday night.

This bid to ‘clear the streets’ is a noble aim, but it’s futile. And more than that, a little bit of London might be lost if this crackdown becomes too severe.

One of my former colleagues, Emily Tolloczko, did a really good piece on homelessness which you can hear here:


November 15, 2008

Pudsey's crying on the inside

Children in Need: Great cause. Appalling television.

It really is cringeworthy. It has the feeling of a show that hasn’t budged an inch in twenty years. From dancing newsreaders (I feel sick just remembering it) to D-list soap stars singing worse than Daniel off of the X Factor, it’s a constant stream of bilge.

One of the better segments – Childrens’ Masterchef – was so rushed you didn’t have time to remember who was cooking what or even who the contestants were. But of course there was time afterwards for Terry Wogan (please put him out of his misery) to patronise the children and the two judges.

The Strictly Come Dancing segment was twenty minutes of ‘so what?’ and the only real highlight – Doctor Who was over so quickly you missed it when you blinked. Merlin was unspeakably bad.

I’m not a cold-hearted old sod – the actual charity bits inbetween were as moving as ever and were far more likely to get people to pick up the phone than celebrities defecating all over their careers.

Next year, can we not have some real entertainment? Does it even need to be a studio show? And for goodness sake scrap the local segments – I don’t think anyone cares what nonsense is going on in the ‘local’ (i.e. thirty miles away) shopping centre.


Daft or desperate?

I sometimes wonder if George Osborne is making calculated decisions to try and put himself out of a job.

Whether it’s because he doesn’t really want to be Chancellor, or because he knows someone else could do the job better and he doesn’t want to admit it, the Shadow Chancellor seems to be digging his own grave as fast as he can.

After accusations that he’s been too soft on the government’s handling of the economic crisis, he comes out with this:

Britain is heading for a collapse in the pound

You bet it is when the Shadow Chancellor predicts it. Just watch the price of Sterling collapse on Monday morning. I’ve always thought Osborne came across as incredibly naive – this is the best example so far.

There are a million ways to tackle Brown and Darling on the economy. The Tories’ chosen ones haven’t been working. Labour is gaining on them in the polls, and the Lib Dems have been making the running on the issue for months.

Opinion is split on Conservative Home, between those who want Osborne gone (probably in favour of David Davis) and those who defend him mainly because he’s a Conservative. The Telegraph’s opinion of Osborne is pretty rock-bottom, with countless critical pieces written about him this week.

There’s no way that David Cameron can win an election and then keep Osborne in the second-most important job in the government. He might as well make the switch sooner rather than later.


November 13, 2008

Only the dotty buy into new technology

I bought a new phone on Monday. I didn’t have much choice. Sunday had seen me take it out in the rain shower to end all rain showers, and despite wearing a waterproof coat and, you know, trousers, it’s dead.

I went first to Argos. I hadn’t taken leave of my senses, but this was the geographically closest shop that sells mobile phones. They were, predictably, overpriced. There was also no chance of negotiating – buying a mobile is a lot like buying a car. Don’t pay the sticker price, or you’re a mug.

Then I tried the Orange shop, which helpfully seems to have a policy of not displaying its prices ANYWHERE. Not next to the phone, not on a poster, not even in the catalogue. As much as I love to strike up a conversation with a twenty-year-old man with a bit too much facial grease, I moved on.

I went next to O2, which happens to be the network I’m on. Here there are still prices on display (what an old-fashioned idea). I was courted by a very good salesman (i.e. he didn’t get told to bugger off like normal) and soon I was under his spell.

There’s just one thing… I had no intention of going on a contract. I didn’t want a Blackberry. I don’t need an iPhone, nor am I stupid enough to pay several hundred pounds a year for something that costs £80 to make.

No, instead I spent the grand total of £4.

Yes, there was a half-hour period where I thought “What have I done”? That quickly subsided. Not only was this a financially miniscule gamble, but the Nokia 2630 (right) is, for £4, an absolute miracle.

First, I should explain how I came to pay £4. You see, the phone costs £30 on Pay as you Go. But thanks to my loving relationship with O2, I got a £26 discount on any phone I wanted. Naively, the shop assistant was hoping this might help trim a little bit of money off a Nokia N96. No, not so stupid. I bought the cheapest phone they had.

And yet… it still does everything! More, in fact, than the £120 phone I destroyed while doing a raindance.

I can check my e-mails on it by pressing one button! It doesn’t push my e-mail like a Blackberry does, but I can get it to check it every 5 minutes if I’m feeling especially lonely. Two buttons gets me to Twitter or Facebook applications. I can read blogs through Google Reader too.

It has an FM Radio which the dearly departed phone couldn’t even manage.

True, it doesn’t have an MP3 player. I, on the other hand, do. I actually saw someone with one of those Nokia Xpress Music phones the other day. She was texting with it while listening to her iPod. There’s a lot of wasted electronics going on there.

What I’m saying is, while I love new stuff, a) do I need it? and b) is it worth paying 5000% more for?

When I eventually ruin this phone, I’ll shed a brief tear for the £4 it cost me. And then go and buy another one. For roughly the same amount. Give it a year and that £4 phone will probably levitate.


November 06, 2008

Child–free films – How did it take this long?

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7713781.stm

Vue Cinemas are to start running adult-only film screenings at their cinemas. Initially I thought they were going to start showing pornography, but further reading revealed this to be an even better idea.

From tomorrow, certain screenings of PG, 12A, 15 and 18 films will be for over-18s only.

Mark de Quervain (I kid ye not) from Vue said: “These screenings have been launched in direct response to overwhelming positive customer feedback obtained from extensive research studies and trials carried out over the past year.”

Hallelujah!

This rivals the election of some black guy as the best news I’ve heard all week.

The curse of the yob/chav/townie seems to be geographically-biased to the shittiest parts of Britain (I’ve lived in some of them, you see), but nevertheless I think this nationwide ban on yoof is generally a good thing.

All we need now is aptitude tests on entry so that adults-who-behave-like-children receive similar treatment.


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


A List

I’m going to start a list. In fact, it’s more of a league table of moronism. Added to it will be MPs who jump on a ludicrous bandwagon.

1. Chris Mole

Chris Mole is the Labour MP for Ipswich.

He’s called on the BBC to sack Jeremy Clarkson for comments he made on this weekend’s Top Gear.

Clarkson was driving a lorry, and in a moment of humour suggested that lorry drivers might occasionally kill a prostitute.

Ipswich, of course, is particularly sensitive to the killing of prostitutes.

There’s only one problem – the Ipswich murders were carried out by a forklift truck driver. Which last time I checked, was quite different.

Anyone with a modicum of a smidgen of a sense of humour would realise Clarkson was taking the piss – even lorry drivers found it funny.

This is obviously all to do with the Brand/Ross, and if Adrian Chris Mole thinks this will get him taken seriously, he’s quite a bit wrong.


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