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Monday, 28 February 2011

What The Fox – Update

Not everyone agrees on the state of play there, but there does seem to be a consensus on one thing: Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) is worth covering in its own right, such are the goings on at the broadcaster.

One happening recently was the move to Fox of former CNN man John Roberts, who is so far loving his time there, enthusing “This is really a terrific place to work”. He does, though, also say “It’s really interesting to work for a place that has the vision of one person that immediately gets disseminated to everyone across the board”.

That one person is of course Roger Ailes, whose potential upcoming legal trouble I considered recently. What that vision is, Roberts doesn’t explore in so much detail, but he does add “Everybody gets the message”. I’ll bet they do.

On the outside, the view of Fox is not so enthusiastic, and certainly not over at rival cable news channel MSNBC, whose top rating host Rachel Maddow has confirmed in an interview with Howard Kurtz at Newsweek, where she described Fox as having “become a McCarthyite chamber of horrors ... You can’t call yourself a news channel if that’s what you broadcast”.

And one Fox host who Maddow might just have had in mind as an example of such a horror show could well be the increasingly wayward Glenn Beck. Ratings for Beck’s show, as I noted recently, have been falling, while his ranting has been getting louder and more eccentric.

This has been discussed by MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough, who, unlike Maddow, is a conservative and was for six years a GOP Congressman for Florida’s first district. He recently concluded that Beck was not only “losing it before our eyes”, but was also “bad for the conservative movement”.

It’s potentially bad news for the Beckster if even his fellow conservatives are worried about him. Plus, of course, it’s bad for Fox. All this and Ailes’ possible indictment: hardly a “terrific place to work”.

Supermarket Sweep – The Invocation Of Tescopoly

Last September, I discussed the stand-off between Sainsbury’s and Tesco in Crewe, where the former were intent on “redeveloping” a site on one side of Vernon Way, literally across the road from the latter’s largest local outlet. Both had gained planning consent for their plans: both proposals were to flatten the existing store and build a bigger one in its place.

But Sainsbury’s have hit a snag: they need to find another site for Dunelm Mill, who are occupying part of the building to be demolished as part of their scheme. Rumours persist that a large unit on Grand Junction Retail Park may be the solution, but no firm date has been set, and the planning permission will run out later this year.

Dunelm Mill - not moving yet

So it might be thought that Tesco would sit tight, but that would be to misunderstand the empire which Terry Leahy will exit today. Tesco don’t just want to keep up with Sainsbury’s, they want to bury them – along with Asda, Morrisons and the rest. Thus the announcement that the store Tesco inherited from Safeway would close, well, today.

Not long for this world - the former Safeway store

It didn’t happen, but it will, after the latest planning application gets approval: with almost indecent speed, a “temporary” Tesco has appeared literally across the tracks from the existing store. This is ready to go, and will make sure the company keeps hold of much of its customer base while the building work is in progress. That work should now start in May, so the new “Extra” branded Tesco will open next year.

Ready to open - the Temporary Tesco

Does the area actually need this store? Well, no it doesn’t. There is no campaign for more supermarkets, no food or drink shortage, and plenty of choice: as well as Tesco, there is a large Asda in central Crewe, plus a Morrisons, as well as an Aldi and a smaller Sainsbury’s. And there are freezer shops and specialist food outlets in town.

Because, with Tesco, it’s not really about choice, but about grabbing more of the market. Hence their holding over 30% of that market already. Might this new store squeeze other retailers to the extent of putting them out of business? Whether or not it does, that isn’t Tesco’s concern. They’re going to do what they’re going to do, and everyone else has to deal with it. End of.

Express Race To The Bottom

Today, it is hard to believe that, back at the end of the 1940s, the Daily Express was selling four million copies a day. The mainstay of what was then the Beaverbrook press was run from its own landmark headquarters on Fleet Street – later dubbed the “Black Lubyanka” by Private Eye – and its investigative journalism was respected, and even feared, by the rich and famous.

How are the mighty fallen: nowadays, the Express sells around 650k on a good day, much of its content taken from the PA wire or often (a day old) from other papers, or blatant churnalism, the recycling of press releases. In today’s edition, the lobby group press release has been promoted to main story on the front page.

So, while other papers talk about last night’s Academy Awards ceremony (Mail and Telegraph, for instance), or discuss the situation in Libya (Guardian and Independent), Richard “Dirty” Desmond’s flagship title is reduced to headlining a press release from yet another Astroturf lobby group, this time Open Europe.

Who they? This Economist article calls them “the most influential Eurosceptic campaign group”. Apparently, Open Europe very much want the single market part of the EU, but none of the rest, managing not to notice that you only get the single market with some cohesion of law and other regulation.

This is a most convenient fit with the agenda of the Express, which devotes a disproportionate amount of its copy to Europe bashing, and is campaigning for the UK to leave the EU – a campaign that will last a very long time, as it isn’t going to happen. So the front page is given over to an agenda item, rather than news.

It gets worse: the paper’s Oscars coverage is relegated to a supporting role, so readers will be behind the curve compared to those who read the Mail, and for those looking for news from Libya, this too is given minor status and looks suspiciously like old copy. One could not devise a better way to drive away readers.

Other papers are driven by their own agendas – the Mail being typical – but there are times when even the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre knows that his readers want news events to take priority. That’s why, whatever one may think of the Dacre agenda, the Mail is outselling the Express by around four to one.

What would Max Beaverbrook have thought? How are the mighty fallen.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

What May Yet Ail Ailes

Coming out of the USA over the weekend has been the news that an indictment may be imminent against Roger Ailes, the head man at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). The case stems from an allegation by Judith Regan, fired by Murdoch subsidiary Harper Collins in 2006, that Ailes pressured her to mislead investigators over an affair she had had with Bernie Kerik, formerly commissioner of the NYPD.

First to the story, last Thursday, was the New York Times, not exactly Rupe’s best media pal right now: the NYT has also been looking across the North Atlantic of late, investigating Phonehackgate. And the NYT also revealed that Ms Regan had taped the phone conversation between her and Ailes, during which the Fox head man supposedly suggested she tell the Feds a porkie in order to protect the nascent Presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani.

Given that, even if there is no attempt to prosecute Ailes, the tape of this conversation could prove highly embarrassing to Fox and the wider Murdoch empire – especially with Phonehackgate coming to the boil in the UK – the rest of the media Stateside has wasted no time in picking up the news.

The HuffPo has reported the story, as has the WaPo, and not to be left out, the folks at MSNBC have also run it – unsurprisingly, given that many of their hosts take great pleasure in putting the boot into Fox at every opportunity (and vice versa). It’s a hot topic right now, especially with Fox expected to robustly support whoever is the GOP Presidential nominee for 2012 while bashing Barack Obama.

Except that one news source is keeping uncharacteristically quiet about the whole affair. Who might that be? No prizes for guessing that the source is Fox itself. And there can be no excuses: as the copyright line at the foot of the MSNBC report confirms, the story came off the PA wire, so it’s not as if Fox didn’t see it.

Perhaps this is the Fox way of being fair and balanced. Or maybe not.

Del Boy And The Next Dodgy Citation

Having already found adversely on the intelligence of anyone disagreeing with him, advocated the extraction of shale gas on the say-so of a lawyer, and played the Third Reich card, Maily Telegraph blogger James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole has now decided to throw his support behind a liberal who backed Barack Obama in 2008.

Yes, the author of “Welcome To Obamaland: I’ve Seen Your Future And It Doesn’t Work”, and who despises the current Prez, has in his latest post quoted at length Freeman Dyson, veteran theoretical physicist at Princeton. The reason for Del Boy’s admiration for this distinguished Obama supporter is that Dyson has been critical of some of the climate modelling performed of late.

Sadly though, Del has once more failed to do his homework, a most unfortunate omission for one who is so quick to sneer at others’ intellectual abilities. In selectively quoting an email exchange between Dyson and the Independent, he manages to miss the odd fact, such as Dyson’s admission that warming is happening. Moreover, Dyson admits he does not know much about what he calls the “technical facts”.

Indeed, in the exchange from which Del quotes at such length, Dyson states “I do not pretend to be an expert about the details”.

And, in an interview with Yale Environment 360, Dyson says there is “No doubt warming is happening ... I have been to Greenland a year ago and saw it for myself. And that’s where the warming is most extreme. And glaciers are shrinking”.

He goes on “I am not an expert, and that’s not going to change. I am not going to make myself an expert”.

So when Del Boy asks the question “hell, what does he know about AGW” under a photo of Dyson, the answer, in the latter’s own words, is that he is “not an expert”.

Which means that James Delingpole, who has said that he doesn’t have time for the science, is relying on someone who is “not an expert”, adding to his previous reliance on a lawyer and a Nazi obsessive.

But he’s cleverer than everyone else, so that’s all right, then.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Kicking The Guardian – 3: The Reason Why

Before the 2010 General Election and the advent of the Coalition, many in the right leaning part of the blogosphere had only known a Labour Government. Those blogging in the early days of the genre railed at Tone; those who came later cut their teeth kicking Pa Broon. Here was a world of certainty, where everything was directed to the offensive nature of the conflict.

Then came a Government in which many of those practitioners had invested some measure of capital, and the game changed, more or less overnight. Now there would be decisions and policies not to attack, but defend, even against popular opposition. In this newly changed game, any part of the print or broadcast media critical to the cause could not be laughed off or waved away.

Into this heavily charged atmosphere came the first supposed opportunity: the renewal of the BBC’s Licence Fee agreement. A new Tory dominated Government would surely see off the hated Beeb: The Inquisition of Pax Jeremiah would vanish, the Today programme could be more like a radio version of Fox And Friends, and Andrew Marr might be replaced by someone who could reliably channel Bill O’Reilly.

It didn’t happen: Jeremy Hunt played a straight bat, holding the Beeb to a tight license fee settlement, yet leaving their editorial independence well alone. The argument had hardly started. This left many utterly deflated: there had been so much hope that the BBC would perhaps be broken up or otherwise sold off, and a Tory led administration had failed to deliver.

Maybe, just maybe, right leaning bloggers would have to turn their own chorus into something more effective. With a whole host of those “events” coming up - the AV referendum, local elections, indifferent economic news, impending job losses, and potential fractures in the Coalition will all feature in the coming months – new targets had to be found.

And so we come to the Guardian. Although this paper sells only a fraction of tabloids like the Mail and Sun, its reportage carries greater weight because it is held to be that much more reliable. So the attack, as typified by Paul Staines and Mark Wallace, has begun. As with the supposed Spectator “exclusive” on the Yes to AV campaign, the line is to rubbish the target, make accusations of dishonesty, then claim victory because that target is busted.

As an exercise in theatricality and hyperbole, this approach has novelty, but there is little substance. Few outside the echo chamber of those doing the attacking will be converted. Ultimately this is a waste of time and money.

And I, for one, am all in favour of that waste continuing. More fool them.

Alternative Vote, Same Old Choir

Sometimes the choir is so well coordinated that it makes one wonder if the response is really spontaneous. Yesterday, the right leaning part of the blogosphere all came running at once, and by sheer coincidence on exactly the same subject, as if to show that spontaneity is not the name of the game.

Well, not when there is more than a little desperation in the air: the campaign to persuade the electorate of the merits of moving Parliamentary elections to the Alternative Vote (AV) system is gathering momentum, and for the No side, is not developing necessarily to their advantage.

So the appearance of a claimed exclusive on the SpectatorCoffee House” blog, under the by-line of Ed Howker, asserting that the Yes campaign was concealing the source of donations, and alleging a conflict of interest by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), was music to the ears of many. Iain Dale, a compliant and reliable conduit for Tory propaganda, made it Number One on hisDaley Dozen” blog recommendations.

He was joined in the chorus of approval by Mark Wallace, former stalwart of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which has seconded Matthew “Gromit” Elliott to the No campaign. The enthusiastic chorus was joined by Phil Hendren, who blogs under the alias of “Dizzy Thinks”, a misnomer as he is not called Dizzy, and frequently shows little evidence of thinking before posting. Dear Tim Montgomerie at ConHome was also a happy chap, even though Young Dave is still not listening to him.

Rounding off the right leaning chorus of approval for Howker was Paul Staines, who blogs under the alias of Guido Fawkes. The general tenor of those blogs passing comment was that this proved the Yes campaign were the most crooked and deceitful of the two: Hendren was particularly scathing, although his analysis did little more than copy large chunks of Howker’s article, then adding “me too”.

But this is old news: the assembled hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre ran it last Saturday. Howker’s “exclusive” is nothing of the sort: moreover, the Yes campaign website tells visitors who is backing it (the ERS is shown, along with a link to its own site), while the No campaign does not. This latter should surprise no-one familiar with the hypocritical stance of the TPA.

And the No campaign did not fare well in a C4 FactCheck piece today, which concluded “No to AV needs to keep the fight for voters clean”.

So why the uncritical chorus of approval to a story that is doing little more than recycling a five day old article from the Daily Mail? The reasons for that are not unlike those for the Guardian bashing previously noted. More on both soon.

Yikes Readers, I’ve Not Cleared The Square!

Much righteous indignation has been poured out by the right leaning part of the Fourth Estate, bloggers and politicians about the supposedly unsightly protesters on London’s Parliament Square. And, not about to pass up a chance to maintain his high profile, occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson vowed to clean the place up.

And so Bozza got his court order, and the square was cleared. Except that it wasn’t: even after more court action, this time by Westminster Council, many protesters remain – not just Brian Haw, who has been there since 2001.

This was the scene yesterday afternoon on the east side of the square, with Churchill and Lloyd George looking out over the tents and banners, and otherwise scanning an empty open space, which has been blocked off with unsightly metal fencing.

It seems that Young Dave would like the square to be cleared of all those jolly unsightly oiks before Prince William of Wales marries the future Princess Catherine of Berkshire round the corner in Westminster Abbey in two months’ time. But Cameron’s pronouncement was a month ago, and it hasn’t happened.

One would hate to be so vulgar as to accuse Bozza of being, as they say in Yorkshire, “all wind and piss”, but he and his old mucker from the Buller haven’t cracked this one yet. Will they ever?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Kicking The Guardian – 2: Mark Wallace

Joining the latest bout of Guardian kicking yesterday was Mark Wallace, former stalwart of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which claims to represent all taxpayers, but in reality does not speak for 99.9% of them. Wal is deeply distressed about the behaviour of the paper, and in particular, its reporter Robert Booth.

Clearly, all that time spent at the TPA has left Wallace unable to correctly identify factual reporting when he sees it: he asserts that “the Guardian ... has been making up stories about the TPA”, then cites two articles authored by Booth. Wal states that the first piece made an allegation that the TPA was in breach of charity law. It did not.

He then suggests that, although the second article didn’t make any specific allegation, it was part of a smear against the TPA. That must be different to the welter of dubiously sourced copy coming out of the TPA which smears its targets, making allegations based on dodgy figures and false assumptions (see HERE, for starters). Two cites, and no stories made up: not a good start, Wal.

So it will be no surprise Wallace’s suggestion that the Guardian should apologise for its behaviour has not enjoyed the desired result. Worse for the former TPA front man, the paper has published another article today, also under the by-line of Robert Booth, which anyone interested in the relationship between the TPA and the Politics and Economics Research Trust (PERT) would do well to read and then put alongside Wallace’s selective and clearly partisan view.

Moreover, as Booth notes, the investigations into PERT may not yet be at an end. But this has not stopped the fan club rallying in support: the blog of Iain Dale, a compliant and reliable conduit for Tory propaganda, has made the Wallace post number one in its latest “Daley Dozen” blog recommendations.

And the only conclusion that can be reached by putting Wallace’s assertions alongside the series of Guardian pieces is that his allegation that the paper has printed “lies” is not true. What that makes Mark Wallace I will leave to others to deduce.

Why he, and Paul Staines, are carrying on this dubiously researched campaign, I’ll consider next.

Kicking The Guardian – 1: Paul Staines

Over the past week, there has been some remarkably coincident activity in one of the right leaning part of the blogosphere’s favourite pastimes, the mystical art of Guardian bashing. Out of the traps with uncharacteristic speed on this occasion has been the increasingly tired Paul Staines, who blogs under the alias of Guido Fawkes.

Staines, aided by his tame gofer Henry Cole, has been laying in to the paper since it published an article discussing the corporate tax paid – or not – by Barclays Bank Group. The level of accuracy in Staines’ and Cole’s rant is established at the outset, where they assert “the Guardian decided to give UK Uncut a front page boost”.

The article mentions UK Uncut just twice.

There then follows a stream of pejorative language: “shabby ... hatchet job ... beyond contemptible”. It will not come as any surprise to know that the Staines blog is no stranger to all of these terms: it has been carrying on a campaign against Foreign Secretary William ‘Ague for several months, which bears all the hallmarks of being “shabby ... [a] hatchet job ... [and] beyond contemptible”.

So far, so hypocritical, but Staines has been unable to leave matters there: yesterday he returned to Guardian bashing, this time over a piece that reported the level of City involvement in funding the Tory Party. Staines has tried to compare this to the Guardian Media Group’s investments. Is the paper donating to a political party? Well, no it isn’t: the comparison is a non sequitur.

This attack was followed in sharp order by an “open letter” to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who has been more than ready to discuss the paper’s finances. Staines is clearly fishing for information about offshore assets, but here he is skating on very thin ice: his own assets are parked offshore to the UK, and Global And General Nominees, the company that publishes the Staines blog, is registered in Nevis.

Moreover, Staines is deploying the same tactics as his pals at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA): demanding transparency in others while not doing so himself. It should surprise no-one, therefore, that the Guardian bashing is also coming from a former TPA stalwart.

I’ll look at that strand of the attack, and consider the motives for this behaviour, next. But the examination of Staines’ conduct this past week cannot be concluded without another look at his letter to Rusbridger, where just before signing off, he observes hopefully “I look forward to lunching with you another time soon”.

As the TV show title puts it, Paul Staines, Who Do You Think You Are?

Gaddafi – The Flatulent Facts

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has long been rumoured to be the bearer of appalling flatulence. But what of the evidence? Well, here it is, three different kinds of it.

Anecdotal evidence: the Maily Telegraph’s Con Coughlin reported back in 2008 that Gaddafi “displayed the ... habit of breaking wind loudly – and for extended periods”, and observed “it’s something to do with the bean stew that is a staple of the Libyan diet”.

Circumstantial evidence: Gaddafi, as with others in the Dictators’ Club, can pick and choose the style of his accommodation, but still lives in a tent. Why else would he do that, except to disperse the pen and ink from the constant blowing off?

Was that YOU?

Photographic evidence: here is Gaddafi with Italian PM Silvio “Duce” Berlusconi, taking the salute. One look at Berlusconi’s face is all you need to know.

Gaddafi’s bodyguard, standing next to “Duce”, is clearly unmoved. But then, she’s probably heard it all before.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

TPA – Non-Job Talks Non-Jobs

Another week brings another exercise in knocking copy by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), this time demonstrating another classic false assumption, something that lazy hacks reprint without questioning.

The article, “The War On Non-Jobs And Waste”, authored by non-job holder Andrew Allison (job title, job description and salary level not disclosed), tells that the Government is going to get tough on “non-jobs”. Sadly, he is unable to give a cite for that assertion, but this kind of detail never detains the TPA for long.

We are assured that there are 750,000 of these “non-jobs” in Local Government. It sounds like A Very Big Number. The TPA also assures us that these “non-jobs” are just waste, and that they are not “front line jobs”. So how do they reach their conclusion?

Simples. The TPA have sent out lots of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to local authorities all over the UK – a tried and tested way of wasting public money – asking after certain job descriptions (“report” HERE [.pdf]). The job titles that cause the TPA the most significant distress are Political Advisors, European Officers, Diversity Officers and Climate Change Officers.

Then, the amounts paid to the holders of these positions are totalled up, and the grand total is held to be waste. But there is a leap of logic in play here: a job title is not always indicative of what the holder actually does. What the job holder does is more likely to be revealed by their job description, or most likely by some idea of everyday tasks and duties performed.

Sad to say, the TPA and its own ranks of non-job holders make no effort in that direction, and that is because they already have their conclusion written. Anything that might cause the analysis to come out the other way does not enter.

And the TPA might come across as more credible if they were as transparent as the targets of their incessant knocking copy. When are we going to see those accounts, together with a full list of donors, and salary and retainer payments?

Together with job descriptions, of course.

Libya, Manchester, And The Media

Last Sunday, there was a demonstration by Libyans outside the BBC. How so? Well, this happened in Manchester, which has the UK’s largest expat Libyan population. Several hundred turned up at the Oxford Road site, an event recorded by the Manchester Stop The War Coalition.

Not surprisingly, the national media were looking elsewhere, and even the folks at the Beeb seemed not to bother looking out of the window, so the expats made their point again yesterday. That being a weekday, the Beeb finally woke up and gave the protest some coverage, as part of a story on one expat whose brother had been killed in Benghazi.

This was in contrast to the Manchester Evening News, which was more interested in Wayne and Coleen Rooney. Priorities, priorities.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Mail Hypocrisy – And Howlers

An apparently sympathetic tone has been struck by the Daily Mail today: the paper has returned to the severe sexual assault on CBS reporter Lara Logan in Cairo recently. The piece tells that Logan was “stripped, punched and whipped with flagpoles” in Tahrir Square on February 11.

Some in the crowd called Logan a “spy”, possibly a reaction to local media coverage hostile to Western journalists. That coverage also suggested that Israeli agents were using journalism as cover, which would not have been helpful.

But, having read this article, another thought entered: this is the same paper that gives a pulpit to the appalling Peter McKay (aka Peter McLie, the world’s worst columnist), who contributes the tedious Ephraim Hardcastle column. And McKay’s take on Ms Logan’s experience was rather less kind.

Indeed, the piece, which included the nasty and now infamous “Nothing excuses the ... attack ... but she does have ‘form’ for dressing provocatively”, has generated a significant amount of uniformly hostile comment, not that McKay would be fussed while the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre is keeping him in drink vouchers.

And the elementary error at the top of the column, where McKay refers to David “Shagger” Mellor as “Richard Mellor”, has yet to be corrected. It’s not the only howler on view at the Mail right now: in today’s article on the Logan attack, “Daily Mail Reporter” tells that “Days before her attack, Ms Logan had been held in Alexandria on suspicion of being foreign spies”.

Clearly, you’ve got to be exceptional to get in at CBS.

The Dwindling Beck

Cable news channels across the USA have experienced a reduction in viewer numbers since the period running up to the 2008 elections. But some hosts have seen greater reductions than others, most significantly the increasingly wayward Glenn Beck, “star” of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

Time was when Beck could lay claim to pulling in around three million viewers to his 5pm ET weekday show, making him one of Fox’ highest rating hosts. Not any longer: the only show on that network that now regularly draws three million plus is at 8pm ET weekdays, and is fronted by old pro Bill O’Reilly.

Small wonder, then, that Bill-O is the go-to man for talking points and rebuttals, which take up a part of almost every show. But while O’Reilly has maintained his Number One slot at Fox, Beck has slipped. Second place is now shared between Sean Hannity, who follows Bill-O at 9pm ET, and Bret Baier, whose show airs directly after Beck’s.


Last week, the Monday to Thursday numbers show that Beck did not pull in even two million viewers on any of those days. On all four days, Baier did better, and on Tuesday, even Shep Smith’s 7pm ET show beat Beck. It must concern Fox management that Beck has shipped 39% of his viewers in a year, with the loss rising to 48% of the 25 to 54 year old demographic.

Elsewhere at Fox, there is scepticism towards Beck, as shown by his recent appearance with Bill-O, where O’Reilly didn’t buy the apocalyptic Beck view on Egypt and the Middle East. And the eccentricity of Beck has recently spread to apparent paranoia over Google, as I noted recently.

The effect has been to cause the media world to cast Beck as a figure of ridicule, as shown by this piece on the HuffPo, a send-up titled “10 More Websites Glenn Beck Doesn’t Trust, Other Than Google”.

Glenn Beck – not just Barking, but halfway to Upminster.

Kicking In The Rotten Door – 2

Events in the Middle East did not stop with Egypt: now the island kingdom of Bahrain is on the brink, after a series of bloody confrontations between popular uprising and security forces. There is unrest in Yemen and Algeria. Most disturbingly, the demand for change has reached Libya, for over forty years ruled over by the increasingly eccentric and legendarily flatulent Muammar Gaddafi.

The problem for many outside Libya is that access for media organisations is nothing like as good as it was in Egypt: much of the time, second and third hand information emerges from the country after the event. But what is coming clear is that Government forces have been turning their heavier weaponry on protesters, with appalling loss of life.

Governments maintain control partly through the acquiescence of the people: there will never be a security apparatus large enough to suppress genuine and widespread dissent. That the Libyan authorities have tried to brutalise the people, and apparently failed, means the game is up for Gaddafi. Moreover, that brutality makes it virtually impossible for the authorities to row back the hostility: the end is now likely to be very nasty for the current incumbents – think Romania, only worse.

The rambling but defiant broadcast by Gaddafi’s son Saif yesterday evening will only make matters worse: his assertion that his father – earlier rumoured to have fled the country – would fight to the last man, and the “last bullet”, will stiffen the resolve of protesters to get rid of him. Corruption, lack of economic progress, and repression have failed the people, and made change inevitable.

And what of the West? As with Egypt, the UK, the wider EU, and US are caught in No Mans’ Land: we wanted the stability of Mubarak, and now we want the oil from Libya. But we don’t like being linked to Governments that practice casual mass murder of their own people. And there is widespread embarrassment at all the military aid that has been thrown at Gaddafi over the years.

Once more, this is a matter for the people to sort out. Libya is another example of the rotten door being kicked in: for Gaddafi, whatever the defiance and brutality, the game is up, and he must go. If he wants to enjoy his retirement, he would be best advised to go sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Don’t Panic Hacks – Meteorology 101 Is Here

It is February, and some snow has fallen on England’s northern hills. Film at 11, one might think, but that is to reckon without the Corporal Jones brigade at the Mail and Express, who have been caused to run around in headless chicken mode by a mere transient weather event. Let’s look at some reasons for that snowfall.

One, we have a kind of battle going on between drier and colder air coming in from the east, and more moist and mild air from the west. All that moisture means what the forecasters sometimes call precipitation: whether it comes down as rain or snow depends not only on the temperature in low lying areas – like cities and large towns – but how the temperature falls as altitude above sea level increases.

Two, this fall in temperature is called the Lapse Rate, and in average conditions it falls by 0.65 degrees Celsius per hundred metres. So a temperature of, say, four degrees on Merseyside (and rain) could mean less than one degree in parts of the Peak District, the latter being cold enough for the precipitation to come down as snow.

Sunday noon chart from the Met Office

Also, a look at the synoptic charts published by the Met Office show that the weather pattern is set to change over the next few days. The chart for noon today shows the circulation around a High pressure area centred over Scandinavia: this is bringing colder air to Eastern areas. A Low pressure area with a centre to the SW of Iceland is bringing frontal systems eastwards – but slowly.

Equivalent forecast chart for noon Wednesday

Now look at the same chart, but with the forecast for noon on Wednesday. The Low pressure area has intensified, and the High over Scandinavia has retreated a little. The Low will drive eastward, and those frontal systems, together with a steepening pressure gradient, will mean a combination of rain and wind, but with the prospect of milder conditions to follow.

Getting knowledgeable about meteorology is not difficult, well, not unless you’re a Mail or Express hack, that is.

Maddie’s Back – Almost Everywhere

Since her abduction from an apartment in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz in May 2007, Madeleine McCann has been a favourite source of copy for the Fourth Estate. The disappearance of this little girl has helped editors and owners to increase sales during a period when print media has been experiencing an otherwise steady decline.

So it will surprise no-one when the smallest scrap of new information in the still unsolved case generates yet more column inches, the latest of those scraps coming in last Friday’s papers. Claiming the exclusive were Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, under the headlineMadeleine McCann is in America – and I know who took her”.

The allegation has been made by an amateur investigator, but the only other facts known are that his information has been passed to the police, and that parents Kate and Gerry McCann, who might just be suffering from Advanced Maddie Sighting Overload right now, have told via their spokesman that putting the matter in the hands of the authorities is the right way to proceed.

But for the press, no Maddie story goes to waste, and so this latest development was picked up by the Daily Mail, the assertion being scaled back to “may be in America”. And the more highbrow papers weighed in too: the Guardian also used the more cautious line of the Mail, as did the Maily Telegraph, which carried video from the McCann’s spokesman.

But one family of papers has been absent from this round of Maddie news: no prizes for spotting that the absentee is the empire of Richard “Dirty” Desmond. No headline appeared in the Daily Express, or in the Daily Star, neither on the day when the rest of the pack published, nor on Saturday.

This is a far cry from the early days of the case, when the Express gained the temporary nickname of the “Daily Maddie”, such was the amount of coverage it gave over to the investigation. But maybe there is a more pressing economic reason for the apparent volte face.

After all, the Desmond press had to pay out around 550k to Kate and Gerry McCann in libel damages, followed by part of the 800k paid to Robert Murat and two of his acquaintances, and 350k paid to the “Tapas Seven”, the group who had shared dinner with Kate and Gerry McCann on the night Madeleine was abducted.

In addition to these payments would have been legal costs, probably more than doubling the amounts paid out. Either the absence of the story in the Desmond press is mere coincidence, or the word has gone out not to cover the case again. Who would do such a thing? Desmond wouldn’t, because he said so in court. On oath.

Unhappy With Jamie’s Jodrell

The legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre’s obedient hackery hates the BBC. But sometimes there isn’t sufficient Beeb bashing material around. What to do? The favoured solution to that problem is to kick Channel 4 instead: after all, it is a public sector outfit, even if it does run adverts.

So it is no surprise to see the Mail laying into C4 over Jamie Oliver’s new show, Jamie’s Dream School, which tries to enthuse teenagers who have fallen through the education net into giving learning another chance. Those roped in to be teachers included Alastair Campbell (who blogged about the experience HERE) and historian David Starkey, who reflected on the exercise HERE.

Both those accounts make for fascinating reading, and so it’s probably no coincidence that Dacre’s finest looked elsewhere when searching for their customary faux outrage. Their chosen target, Robert Winston, is a Labour peer, so he is clearly A Very Bad Person. Moreover, he devised science classes designed to engage his new pupils, which must come over as suspiciously progressive to the Mail hacks.

But it’s when those hacks spew out their outrage that the hatchet job becomes unintentionally hilarious. Winston got two of the male pupils to leave the classroom and return with samples of their sperm, as part of a biology lesson. Written consent had been given by parents, and the boys were happy with the idea.

The Mail, deploying a straight bat, commented “A Channel 4 source insisted viewers would not see the samples being collected”.

Thus ended my taking this piece seriously.

The Mail even secured this gem from a spokesman for Mediawatch UK: “From our point of view it’s condoning a form of behaviour in a classroom situation”.

It would not surprise me if Jamie Oliver, having seen this guff, were to characterise the Dacre hackery as a bunch of ... you figure it out. I believe Kenneth Williams used to use the term “Barclays”.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

TPA – Treading A Narrow Path

Recently I continued my examination of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) regarding their opposition to high speed rail, and the potential for their preferred solution to significantly worsen the rail service to the town of Northampton, together with knock-on effects for commuters around Milton Keynes.

On the TPA’s urging, the Fast lines on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) would have to be given over exclusively to InterCity type trains – and that’s all the way from London’s Euston terminus to Rugby. There would be up to 16 of these, all hour, every hour, which is potentially better than a train every four minutes.

This would need careful consideration given to what is called pathing: in other words, ensuring that there is a clear path for the train along a potentially congested stretch of track. Running trains at this frequency would be fine if none of them stopped until they had passed Rugby, where some would head for the West Midlands and some for the North West.

But that would remove key services from Watford Junction, Milton Keynes and Rugby itself: travelling north by fast train from these stations would become more or less impossible. Some revision of the layout at Rugby may allow trains to stop there and not get in the way of those following, but without major – and very expensive – remodelling of Watford Junction, and yet more work at Milton Keynes, only recently rebuilt, stopping would potentially disrupt the service.

This one won't be stopping

Alternatively, some trains could be slowed down to maintain a reliable timetable, but the Benefit/Cost Ratio (BCR) of the service would suffer accordingly – something that rail industry group Greengauge21 has been trying to point out. So could the trains run at shorter than four minute intervals, given they travel at 125mph for most of the time?

The answer is that they could, but that running half a dozen trains at (say) three minute intervals, to generate one path allowing a stop at Watford Junction or Milton Keynes, would require heroic levels of exact schedule adherence to keep everything running as advertised. At present, three or four trains may run close together, but every so often there is a gap in the schedule – just in case.

The service level envisaged for the WCML by the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), and backed by the TPA, would remove that contingency. And there would still be no benefit for freight traffic, commuter services, or the conurbations of South and West Yorkshire.

The TPA and HS2AA give every appearance of putting forward a false prospectus.

Jealousy Meets Hypocrisy

One of the USPs of the Daily Mail is its ability to implant the feeling of jealous rage in its target demographic, the idea that someone else is doing better than you, although by inference they don’t really deserve it. And it’s no coincidence that those “doing better” invariably work for some part of Government, or the Mail’s most hated media outlet the BBC.

So today’s shock horror splash from the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre’s obedient hackery, targeting Andrew Marr (who hasn’t exactly hit it off with the blogosphere of late), should come as no surprise. It seems that Marr’s pay advice (note to Mail hacks: freelances aren’t on the payroll and so don’t get payslips) was misdirected and opened by someone else. From the information on that advice, Dacre’s finest have reckoned that Marr is on 600k a year.

But just the one big number is not enough: for the Beeb’s nose to be properly rubbed in the dirt, another “name” has to be excoriated. Thus we also learn that hosting The Inquisition Of Pax Jeremiah is worth 800k a year to Paxo. At this point, Mail readers are no doubt expected to be truly enraged at seeing their money expended on these presenters whose shows they pretend never to watch.

The thought may not occur to those readers that they have also paid over their paper money to fund the trousering of wads on a far more generous scale than that seen at Auntie. It’s not too difficult to find two counter examples from the Mail: for starters, there’s Fat Dick Littlejohn, reckoned to be closing on a round million a year, just for recycling his minimally researched rantings with their feeble “jokes”.

And the Beeb’s finest are not even close to the remuneration package of Dacre himself, now revised upwards to a colossal 2.8 million a year – every year. Proof that there’s money aplenty in effing and blinding.

When Hardcastle Got Castled

There has been much adverse comment in both print media and blogosphere on a characteristically nasty piece in the Daily Mail’s Ephraim Hardcastle column, written by appalling old hack Peter McKay (aka Peter McLie, the world’s worst columnist).

The column, which starts by calling former Tory minister David “Shagger” Mellor “Richard Mellor”, tries to infer that CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was the victim of a serious sexual assault in Cairo recently, was somehow partly to blame for her predicament, because she was a “former swimwear model” who “had ‘form’”.

The reaction to McKay’s typically Neanderthal hackery was summarised by the excellent Tabloid Watch blog, and also by the Grim Reaper (the strong language being justifiable in this case). Sad so say, however, that the McKay approach is unlikely to change while his editor, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, keeps him on board.

Moreover, it’s not just his attitude to women that characterises McKay’s columns: he was roundly excoriated for calling Graham Norton “a bottom feeding nonentity”, and more recently he referred to Elton John’s partner David Furnish as his “wife”. The homophobia was still there in late 2009 when McKay made a sneering remark about Iain Dale which resulted in a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

But it’s not all bad news for those wanting to see McKay on the wrong end of things, as Private Eye editor Ian Hislop recalled when looking back on his first 20 years at the magazine. When Richard Ingrams nominated Hislop as his successor, two Eye regulars took majority shareholder Peter Cook out to lunch in order to try and get the decision reversed.

The two were Nigel Dempster and Peter McKay, and their ploy backfired spectacularly. Cook returned from lunch refreshed and happy, and welcomed his new editor on board. Hislop, as he later recalled, “then ... sacked both McKay and Dempster”.

Paul Dacre could now do himself and his readers a favour by following Hislop’s lead.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The New Chairman Is A Good Pick – Or Is That Bad?

So the BBC Trust is getting a new chairman, and it looks like it’s going to be former Tory minister and last Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten. What’s not to like? Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary (note correct order, Reverend) is pleased that Patten has form as a Tory in “Shagger” Major’s cabinet, and Labour are hardly going to kick up a fuss as he wasn’t exactly out on the right.

So Hunt has put Patten’s name forward for Young Dave’s approval, and in the current climate, the PM has better things to do than expend his increasingly valuable time on arguing the toss. So next week the former MP for Bath will be in the Beeb’s hottest seat. What does the Fourth Estate think about this?

The Guardian appears relaxed about the appointment. The Beeb’s own website doesn’t seem up to speed thus far, but the Maily Telegraph is not happy. Although the title has reported the event in a news item, the true editorial view is advanced by the scary looking Damian Thompson, editor of Telegraph Blogs.

Thompson, in a comment piece titledChris Patten to be new chairman of the BBC Trust? Oh, for God’s sake”, tells that this is a “wretched failure of political imagination”, that “News and current affairs will carry on slanting their broadcasts in favour of the European Union and the bien pensant consensus”, and that Patten is a “most agreeable supper companion for liberal broadcasters”.

Aw diddums!

Express – Making Your Mind Up

If ever a topic generated column inches in the modern era, it had to be the supposed link between mobile phones and cancer. From cheapest tabloid to most upmarket quality, the Fourth Estate has gone to town on the subject. And one paper that needs to fill those column inches more than most is the Express.

Problem is, the Express seems to have trouble making its mind up as to whether mobiles cause cancer: over the past three years, they have pontificated on the question many times. The majority of the pieces that are shown here are in the Yes camp, but the latest says No. And one of the paper’s hacks manages to get a foot in both sides of the debate.

So do mobile phones cause cancer? Back in July 2008, the verdict seemed to be Yes, as reported by Victoria Fletcher, Express Health Editor.

But by the following February, the answer was a reassuring No, according to hack Louise Barnett.

However, over the next year and a bit, opinion had moved back to a worrying Yes, in a piece by-lined by Donna Bowater.

And by the beginning of this month, there was yet more concern, as that Yes verdict was extended specifically to the youngest mobile users, in an article authored by Consumer Affairs Editor Dana Gloger.

But all is now well: today, the Express reports a firm No, as told by the paper’s Health Editor. That’s Victoria Fletcher ... who, er, was saying something rather different back in July 2008.

That, of course, is consistent not with any kind of editorial line, but the re-hashing of press releases, together with a shortage of sub-editors. More evidence, if it were needed, of the cheap and nasty nature of the Desmond press.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Beck Barks At Google

Do you have a problem with Google? You may not think the organisation particularly threatening, and I certainly don’t, but mention of the G-word is unsettling the increasingly wayward Glenn Beck, “star” of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

Beck is worried about Google’s association with a number of groups and individuals that he has previously demonised on his show: the company’s former CEO has shared a platform with George Soros, whom Beck has accused of a litany of crimes, including involvement in the Holocaust.

Google’s charitable work has also fallen foul of the Beck check: he has managed to find a tie-up with the Tides Foundation, another regular target. And what he isn’t about to let slip is that, following a media diet heavy in the Beckster’s rantings, one Byron Williams set out to kill Tides’ head people.

Not only that, but Williams confessed his admiration for Beck to a local reporter, after he had been detained following a gun battle with the police on Interstate 580. But Beck is more than willing to smear Tides, and a variety of other organisations he doesn’t like, as “far left”, although being far to the left of Fox and Beck may not look so radical to others.

And just to round things off, he clearly leaves the impression that Google are messing with folks' privacy, and they are somehow involved in US foreign policy. Can the conspiracy theory be far behind?

Be afraid, Fox viewers, be afraid, even of your PC.

TPA – Lost Near Northampton

Today has brought yet another salvo from the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) on the subject of high speed rail. Now devolved to non-job holder Charlotte Linacre, the latest attack brings no new evidence or even new figures, save for more bluster by HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) spokesman Bruce Weston, and the TPA’s “rail expert” Chris Stokes.

Actually, Weston brings himself to utter one word so far missing from the TPA propaganda, and that word is freight. However, he does not address the freight capacity issue, as I’ve pointed out several times already (HERE and HERE, for example), and neither does he explain the potential worsening of services to Northampton that would result from the approach he is championing.

Statue of Robert Stephenson outside Euston station

And here a little historical context is in order: when Robert Stephenson built his London to Birmingham railway in the late 1830s, he decided not to serve Northampton, as the distance penalty would have been too great. After all, his remit was to connect, well, London and Birmingham, and the best route passed to the south of the town.

So Northampton was only served later, and the line carries not only a distance penalty, but also is twisty and slow. When BR first modernised the line in the 1960s, InterCity services were directed to the fastest route, and Northampton was left with what was effectively a commuter service: trains to Birmingham used the Fast lines and did 100 mph, while those to Northampton used the Slows and did 75.

Thus it was that, in the early 1970s, it took more than ten minutes longer to travel the 66 miles from London to Northampton than to do the 85 miles from London to Rugby. Things have improved recently, but this is generally because the fastest Northampton bound trains use the Fast lines out of Euston.

Adopting the package of improvements advocated by the TPA and HS2AA would move those trains back to the Slow lines and therefore decelerate the service, unless the fifteen or sixteen proposed InterCity services an hour included some running via Northampton, and that would make those services slower, reducing the Cost Benefit ratio on which the TPA and HS2AA analysis relies.

Moreover, the reduction in capacity for local and regional services that the TPA approach implies would worsen overcrowding not only for Northampton passengers, but also those using Milton Keynes and stations further south. It is therefore no surprise that both the TPA and HS2AA make no mention of commuter services generally, nor of Northampton specifically.

But they do maintain their negative attack on high speed rail, so that’s all right, then.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Del Boy And The Dodgy Citation

Mike Godwin, who devised the law known to countless participants of Usenet groups, might have wondered at the desperation of the climate change denial lobby, in which the N-word (as in Nazi) comes so readily to so many. And at the forefront of labelling his opponents as Nazis is the sneering and superior Maily Telegraph blogger James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole.

In his latest blog post, “Why do I call them Eco Nazis? Because they ARE Eco Nazis”, Del Boy attempts to pin the N-word on those concerned about climate change. His key witness this time is a Stateside commentator called Mark Musser, who has contributed an article to American Thinker (a suitably right wing online publication) in which Musser links fascism to climate change science through an Austrian called Guenther Schwab.

Because Schwab was a Nazi, and wrote a fictional work about the consequences of runaway warming, Delingpole concludes that Nazis and anyone majoring in climate change are pretty much interchangeable. Sadly, however, Del Boy has once again failed to do his homework. Musser cannot even get Schwab’s year of birth right (it was 1904, not 1902), which might have made a more diligent reader wonder.

But Del would at least make sure his source was suitably qualified. After all, he rails against “non-subjects like ... media studies”, and tells of being at Oxford “in an era when they weren’t giving away degrees free with packets of cornflakes”. So Mark Musser’s first degree is a ... “Bachelor of Liberal Arts” from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Not exactly Ivy League, is it, Del Boy?

And Musser’s back catalogue of articles doesn’t exactly exude moderation, with titles such as “The Green Nazi Hell”, “Hitler’s Green Killing Machine”, “An Ecofascist Crescent Moon near Ground Zero”, “Prince Charles and His Green Islamo-Fascist Paupers”, and the subtly named “The Original Green Nazis Were Nazis”. Oh, and, like Del’s pal Christopher Booker, Musser believes in so-called “Intelligent Design”.

In among all this ranting, Musser finds time to smear Susan Sotomayor as a racist (thus obediently following the deeply unsavoury Rush Limbaugh), tries to connect Barack Obama to some Marxists he invented along the way, and even gets the Weather Underground into his meanderings.

And this is James Delingpole’s sole source for his latest ham-fisted post. The same Del Boy who tells “I was taught to write with a certain rigour and to choose my words carefully”. It’s a pity for Del that the rigour and care seems not to have applied to doing his homework on the reliability of his sources.

The Alternative To No

The UK record on the referendum is that there has only been the one. That, in 1975, was ostensibly a vote on continued membership of the (then) EEC, though in reality it was a device enabling Harold Wilson to keep some measure of control over an increasingly fractious Labour Party.

Yes, despite all the baying for referenda, we don’t actually do them – much. But in May, our experience of these events will double up as the country votes on a change to the voting system. The proposal is the adoption of the Alternative Vote (AV), and so the electorate is being offered two campaigns, Yes to AV, and No2AV.

So far, so straightforward, but here the shadow of the Astroturf lobby group appears: the No2AV campaign is being fronted by former stalwart of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) Matthew “Gromit” Elliott, who has brought the TPA’s tactics and lack of transparency with him.

Elliott has asserted that AV will cost the country a whopping 250 million notes, and trowels on his preference for the money to be spent on nurses, thus completing a deft manoeuvre by calling for more public spending after all his years at the TPA railing against it.

However, anyone wise to the TPA and its appetite for creative accounting (the recent “reports” on the ECHR and local Government exposed HERE and HERE) was also wise to this ploy: Elliott had reached his headline figure by assuming the change to AV would mean the adoption of voting machines, this being half of his 250 million.

But countries such as Australia, which has AV, don’t use machines. Elliott’s inclusion of that cost is there just to bump up the total, so it appears that much more scary. Added to this is his lack of candour over who is bankrolling the No2AV campaign, which also mirrors the TPA, who want everyone else to be transparent bar themselves.

Finally, the No2AV campaign is resorting to playing the man rather than the ball: Elliott, knowing that the Lib Dems are unpopular right now, is characterising the poll as “Nick Clegg’s Referendum”, which suggests, when taken with the fraudulent costs and lack of transparency, that he is getting desperate.

So the Yes campaign has plenty of opportunity to push back against this attack: highlight the dodgy figures, keep asking who is funding No2AV, and expose the flimsy “kick Clegg” line for what it is.

And keep mentioning the TPA and their litany of dodgy dossiers. Because Elliott doesn’t want you to.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Koo! Fat Dick Gets Fisked

Victim of a personal recession

Today’s Daily Mail, apart from the usual welter of agenda-fitting copy from the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre’s obedient array of overmonied hacks, contains another minimally researched column from the increasingly folically-challenged Fat Dick Littlejohn.

And, among the routine selection of targets for the Gerald Ratner of tabloid pundits is former sleb and royal squeeze Koo Stark. Sadly, Ms S has fallen on hard times recently, but then so have many whose fifteen minutes ended many years ago: few folks will be interested.

This minor problem does not trouble Fat Dick, who asserts “We are invited to feel sorry for Koo Stark”. We are? You and who else, Dicky boy? Whatever. There’s more: “the former squeeze of the Duke of Pork, who is reduced to claiming housing benefit”. Cor! That’s a larf, innit?!? York ... Pork ... geddit?!?

Er, sorry to rain on your slow moving parade, Dick, but accusations of freeloading coming from someone who trousers close to a mil a year just by churning out recycled bigotry means you’re standing in an awfully large greenhouse, so think on before you start the brick chucking.

But the alleged humour continues: “Koo appears to be skint, despite a couple of divorce settlements, including one from a Green Shield stamps heir. Maybe he paid her off in stamps. Only another five million and she’ll have enough for a toaster”. Laugh? I thought I’d never start. Is that it?

Oh dear, he’s not finished.

She was living in a suite at the Carlton Tower hotel, in Knightsbridge, for the past couple of years. I thought that level of accommodation was only available to Afghan asylum seekers”. Woah! E’s a dahmond geeza eh? Ass tellin’ them poxy forners innit?!?

Thus the truly liberating effect of Grubstreet’s finest learning how to copy and paste. Cuts out thinking.

So Was It OK! For You?

It’s not uncommon to see two different parts of the Fourth Estate having very different takes on events. But to have almost diametrically opposed takes on a mere 35 minute TV show is unusual.

Yes, we’re back in the wacky world of Richard “Dirty” Desmond, and the re-launch of Channel 5 yesterday, which featured OK! TV, a spin-off from Desmond’s tacky sleb and goss magazine. As I’ve already observed, the launch of this show has not been free of incident, despite the Express advertorials, as Des managed to alienate prospective presenter Denise van Outen last week.

So what was the verdict? Ah well. Here we find that difference in takes. The Express, in whose running Desmond does not interfere (because he said so in court, on oath), today ran a puke-making puff piece titledOK! TV Kicks Off With A Celebrity Scoop”, with the fawningly desperate observation that the show came from “a patriotic red, white and blue studio”.

The fawning, as can be seen, extended to a distinctly creepy promo photo showing unfortunate stand-in presenter Kate Walsh having to sit next to Dirty Des himself, something that those still wondering why van Outen thought better of the gig might like to take on board.

As to the show’s content, even the fawning Express advertorial could only manage one throw-away line from guest (and X Factor judge) Louis Walsh, on his wish list for future X Factor judges. And any member of the public with a life should waste 35 minutes of it for that?

Not surprisingly, the remainder of the press has had better things to do than give Dirty Des’ cheap and nasty new show the oxygen of publicity, with the long straw being drawn by the Guardian’s Stuart Heritage. His headline sums it all up: “OK! TV. It’s neither: Channel 5’s new show aims low and misses”.

Just in case anyone fails to get the hint from the headline, Heritage ponders “It is hard to know who it is aimed at. Animals? Sock puppets? Piles of dust?

Looks like another “Benchmark Of Excellence”, then.

TPA – High Speed But No Progress

There is, out there in cyberspace, a small area where a heated debate is raging. Sadly for those producing most of the heat, not very many others have noticed. Welcome to the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) and their increasingly shrill campaign against High Speed Rail.

As I mentioned recently, the TPA have failed to address three key points in their attack on the High Speed 2 (HS2) project: more network capacity for freight traffic, the fatuous use of the Eurostar service as a comparator, and their inability to assess HS2 in its entirety. There is at least one further issue that the TPA has ignored, and I will consider that later.

In the meantime, TPA non-job holder Charlotte Linacre has put together a “holding” post in the TPA’s “Campaign” strand. That strand has the strapline “Fighting For Taxpayers’ Interests”, which is routinely fraudulent, as the TPA do not speak for 99.9% of them: they are the ultimate in unelected busybodies.

In the sights of Ms Linacre is Greengauge21, which the TPA calls a “taxpayer funded lobby group”. A word in your shell-like, Charlotte: the TPA is a lobby group, and would be much more credible if it were as transparent about its funding as Greengauge21.

Ms Linacre asserts that there has been “a lot of support” for the TPA “campaign”, but manages to cite just one MP, whose constituency is on the proposed HS2 route, and a local paper. She cites the TPA’s “rail expert” Chris Stokes, and the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) pundit Bruce Weston separately, but Stokes’ copy is hosted by HS2AA: they are effectively one and the same.

So much for the apparently wide coalition fighting for taxpayers’ interests, and their less than comprehensive coverage of the issues. Moreover, as I noted earlier, there is yet another issue that the TPA have not addressed, and that mainly concerns the town of Northampton.

I’ll post on that later.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Annie Gets Her Gun

The way that many on the right in the USA are moving to oppose democracy in Egypt has been demonstrated at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) by the increasingly scary Ann Coulter, author of such riveting tomes as “If Liberals Had Any Brains, They’d Be Conservatives”.

Coulter, who is all in favour of democracy in the USA, Europe, and even Iran, clearly does not believe that this particular US export should be shipped to Egypt. In her Q&A session at CPAC, she does not tell her audience that Egyptians are unworthy of such benefits, but her answers on the subject are unequivocal.

When asked why elections were desirable in Iran, but not in Egypt, Coulter answered “You don’t go around disturbing countries where you have a loyal ally”. So whatever Hosni Mubarak was up to is OK by Our Annie.

Moreover, when asked about journalists and dissidents that had been jailed in Egypt, Coulter replied “I think there should be more jailed journalists”, a remark that brought her thunderous applause.

So there you have it – democracy is fine, except where there are friendly despots, in which case the locals can go hang. It will surprise no-one that Coulter can be seen regularly on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

[The comments start just before the two minute mark on the video]