The Snow In The Summer or So-So

Knowledge is liberation


MaryRobinette: It's not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it's about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism. #

10 January 2017
Stormont on the verge of collapse

Siobhan Fenton penned a substantial piece, which we collect here.

Conservatives are handling this very badly. DUP steered talks away from their role in the current crisis and how they lost 490m. Instead, the DUP played on Conservative MPs lack of knowledge of NI & cheap nationalist sentiment about soldiers, to distract.

And it worked. Instead of talking about austerity, poverty, peace or security in present day Northern Ireland, we got ill-informed bluff about The Troubles.

It's extremely disappointing because Northern Ireland is experiencing major social issues which need resolved - poverty, crime, human rights. And all the Conservatives are giving us is cheap sentiment about national identity. It just means Northern Irish people are failed long term.

I've been nervous about Northern Ireland for a while but seeing how badly that just went, I think things could be about to get a lot worse. The Conservatives have just confirmed they lack interest, ability or awareness of basic facts to resolve the Northern Irish political crisis. With Northern Ireland already facing uncertainty over border with Republic after Brexit, we're now in a very worrying period of instability.

This could all come back to bite Theresa May badly if Northern Ireland then blocks Article 50. But she doesn't seem to realise. The Supreme Court is currently deciding if Stormont is also entitled to a vote on Article 50 - this could be significant.

If they rule yes, one of two things could happen - Stormont is still collapsed and unable to vote either way, which banjaxes Brexit further. Or Stormont is back, but after tense elections in which Brexit will have been a main election issue and parties will have had the chance to put blocking Brexit in manifestos and now say they have a mandate to vote against Article 50 when it comes to Stormont for approval.

And if Northern Ireland manages to stop Brexit happening that is going to put the UK in one hell of a constitutional crisis.

So if the Conservatives won't get their act together because they think Northern Irish people are citizens who deserve better, then perhaps Theresa May will at least decide to intervene when she realises it could be the biggest threat to her Article 50 plans yet.

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7 January 2017
Back at Number One

Top of the Pops from New Year's Eve 2016.

Kicked off with Anne-Marie Alarm, pacing the stage like she owns it. Then to Kideko/George Kwali/Rose/Irie and Crank it (woah). Loud and bangy and we still cannot see any merit in this track. Gold glitterfall near the end.

It gets better. Tom Odell performs Silhouette at his electric piano, with a backing band (and the string section miming on a remote stage). Later in the song, Tom moves out into the main crowd. With slightly better shot direction (no shots of the drum mechanism, purlease) this could be epic.

(More: Great performances from Alan Walker and Zara Larsson, and Nathan Sykes advances his case for the Eurovision Song Contest.)

Louisa Johnson does Tears. A performance with Clean Bandit, which we suspect would have had them namechecked, except they're back to number one. Rockabye comes in with a caption, and it's a repeat from last week.

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28 December 2016
Look Back at Correspondents Look Ahead to 2016

Every year, the BBC's international correspondents try to predict what will happen in the coming year. Every year, we look back at the prognostications, and see what they got wrong, and if they got anything right.

The 2015 edition had been a Red China special, going on and on and on about the communist country. We named Bridget Kendall the winner, and The Listener as the loser.

We're using the 2016 edition as broadcast on Radio 4 at 8pm on 1 January 2016. A slightly revised version aired in the World Service that weekend. Owen Bennett-Jones hosted, with a fearless foursome:

James returns after a year off, Jon makes his debut.

What will 2016 be remembered for? Bridget said a woman would be UN Secretary-General. Wrong. Lyse called "the year of wreckoning", but from her optimistic tone, it may have been "reckoning". ISIL to lose territory, she reckoned, picking up a point.

James saw "a year of sound and fury signifying little"; a very bad year for the poor, a good year for the haves. Jon prophecised slow progress over Syria, as ISIL fell apart under its own uselessness.

(More: ISIL, Afghanistan, the Year of Silos, EU referendum, Yankee election, oil prices, and artificial intelligence.)

We're going to give the win to Bridget Kendall, primarily because specificity is the right approach, and also because it bloody well was a Year of Silos.

Correspondents Look Ahead to 2017 is scheduled to air on Radio 4 at 8pm on Friday 30 December, repeated at 1.10 on New Year's Eve. It's in the World Service at 0900 and 2300 Friday.

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27 December 2016
It's Still Number Two

Now the BBC's second-biggest weekly music show (behind the CBBC Chart Show), Top of the Pops is hosted by Reggie Yates and Ferne Cotton. Again. Neither of them has been on Radio 1 for a couple of years, and frankly we'd rather have Clara Amfo and Greg James and Cel Spellman. Maybe they'd be allowed to lead into Queenie; a news bulletin at 14.50 meant this edition began at 13.50.

Anyway. Louisa Johnson performs So good, her top ten hit from November. Great voice, great song, but the combination doesn't quite work. DNCE have dropped by with Cake by the ocean, a number 4 hit from early summer. Lively performance, the sort of speed we got from Busted in the day, the quiet bit in the middle is used for the afternoon's first glitterfall.

(More: From Louisa Johnson to notorious homophobe James Arthur, via dancing, balladry, bad staging, and worse vocals)

And there's no place for the Christmas number one from Rag 'n' Bone Man. We finish with the yuletide number two from Clean Bandit. Rockabye bored the pants off of us by the end of November, but here it is. And there we are. Jane Hill is up next with the news, followed by a Party Election Broadcast on behalf of the Monarchists. We'll be back next week with a review of TOTP New Year.

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19 December 2016
Puzzled Pint for October and November 2016

October and November puzzles were linked on the themes of "elections". We're going to take them together, and score as a long set.

Mark scheme: we give a base mark of 6, deduct 0-2 points for unclear answers, deduct 0-2 for cultural specificity, and add or remove marks for style (usually -2 to +2). Average these together - meta counts double - and award an Oxford degree. We mark harshly.

(The twelve puzzles range from very good to very bad.)

For the two-month set overall? Third-class puzzles, let down by not caring for the international audience. One month of election puzzles would have been OK, two months is overkill.

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10 December 2016
The X Factor: a certain bet?

Writing earlier in the week about tonight's final of The X Factor, Quirks the Magpie noted that Matt Thingummy is widely available at 2/1 and greater.

An implicit probability of about 30% in a three-horse race? Says that the money hasn't decided which way to go.

The good news: reduces the chance of a betting coup perverting the result, like Helen Woods on Big Brother the other year.

It's clear that The X Factor is failing to connect with Tumblr contributors. They've literally stopped posting. About a dozen posts from yer average Saturday, a few more because of the guests on Sunday. (Last week, all the attention was on Zara Larsson's duet with Bagpuss.)

This year, a fan (singular) of Ryan-and-Emily, and that's about it. Two years ago, there were screensful of posts: Fleur East and Only the Young caught the imagination of fellow young creatives.

And that's what Tumblr is: young creative people. The X Factor fails to inspire the peers of the performers, it isn't tickling next year's contestants. The show is for the CD generation, for Radio Active listeners, for the people weaned on Robson & Jerome and S Club. It's for Twitter and The Face Book, mass appeal generality.

Has Simon Cowell been tilting the field towards Matt? We know that Simon Cowell is more subtle than Richard Park. We know that Simon Cowell's attempts to force behaviour sometimes work, and sometimes don't. We know that Simon Cowell feeds people what they know they want. And we know that Simon Cowell has a massive ego (see the decorations in the Headmaster's Study: pictures of himself).

Put these together, and Simon appears to be nudging the audience towards something safe and bland and milquetoast. Something in Simon's comfort zone.

But he's nudging, he's not forcing. If the audience prefers Saara or Five After, it will challenge Jonathan Shallit's abilities as a manager, and we likely get a winner who will be dropped in early 2018.

Before jumping in to bet, remember this. The programme makers have access to the app votes. They will know how many people are voting as soon as the lines open, without hearing what they perform on stage. They know how many people are power-voting for a single pawn, and how many split their votes across performers.

They know the demographics who are voting for each pawn, and maybe can see that Matt's not picking up the target market. They can likely trace vote flows from week to week, and see that Ryan's vote didn't transfer to Matt as much as they'd like.

In a fair fight, and given the facts from last weekend's voting, we'd put Saara 5/4, Matt 7/4, Five After 5/2. But this isn't a fair fight, it's television entertainment, and gamblers are also fighting against the script.

Watch, if you wish. But don't bet. The winning move is not to play.

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5 December 2016
BBC Sports Review of the Year awards

Nominations for the BBC Sports Review of the Year Sports Personality of the Year Award are out. Who have the BBC's panel of the great* and good* selected. In alphabetical order:

(More: Looking at all the nominations, and why they might win) And a quick look at RTÉ's awards.


Clearly the best in their fields: Nicola Adams, Mo Farah, Andy Murray, Adam Peaty. With a bit of squinting, we can include Sarah Storey, Max Whitlock.

In the words of the citation, which is the sportsperson "whose actions have most captured the public's imagination"? We will confine discussion to those six.

Murray is the man to beat. His two biggest wins - Wmbldn and the season-ending championships - were on the BBC, and it's clear that he's producing superlative athletic performances, week in week out. He's held back because he won this title in 2013, and again in 2015.

Farah and Adams are also unbeaten in their seasons, and neither has won the award before. Both have public profiles, and evidence to say they've inspired others to take up their sport.

Crucially, all three have the media on side. BBC coverage of tennis and athletics, the dead-tree press has an obsession with boxing that Adams can use. Peaty, Storey, Whitlock all suffer from how the media ignore their sports for most of the year.

We expect Bale, one of the Kennys, and Skelton to be promoted by their interest groups. Sports Personality is easy to rig, and the BBC doesn't ensure that it's a representative vote.

Must we declare for one of the candidates? Nicola Adams. But we expect it'll be Murray-Farah-Bale.

Other awards

Team (domestic) likely to go to the Wales men's football side, over Leicester men's football.

Team (international) is resurrected for the Fiji men's rugby sevens, the best in the world and a cracking story.

Personality (international) lacks standout candidates. Katie Ledecky has a strong claim, so do Usain Bolt, Jordan Speith, Novak Djokovic. We want it to be Serena Williams - she has never won the award, has done enough, and this could well be her last chance.

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22 November 2016
One Hour With... 102.9 Hot Tomato

First in a series of brief engagements with stations up and down the Gold Coast radio dial. We're not planning any of these, just filing them as and when.

Hot Tomato bills itself as "the best music from the 80s to NOW!" 4HTB came on air in 2003, and appears to make all its weekday shows itself. It's top of the local radio ratings. In earlier years, Hot Tomato never played more than two adverts in a row; in this hour, it seems to play three but no more.

We caught the web stream in the 7am hour on Thursday 17 November (9pm on Wednesday evening here). Here's what we heard:

(More: The full aircheck details)

We've a couple of problems with this sample. The second half-hour was rambling: they've got a big name who wants to promote something, three big egos "interviewing" him, and the whole segment came across as a disjointed and quite painful mess.

The anecdote about "children" / "references" was a waste of a talky bit: they could have used it to spill some more of the facts about Kurt, prep the listener and help to make the later interview better. In retrospect, we wonder if the interview was being taped at 7.45 for broadcast at 7.55. That would explain the non-sequitur anecdote.

Doesn't excuse it: they'd been ramping up the big announcement, made the big announcement, and in the next link they forget about it. Signal to the listener - that's done, we've moved on, nothing more to hear here. If they wanted to keep momentum going, recap the news, throw in some of the stats they've prepared, and then throw forward to the interview in ten minutes.

But, on the positive side. The station sounds like it does a lot of things right, and the vibe is difficult to get right: informal without being laidback. The competition was for money without ever being bone-crushingly tense. The adverts fitted well into the station sound.

We can see why this station is big: it's inoffensive, it feels good, it's something mothers and daughters can hear together. This wasn't their finest hour.

Breakfast isn't a good time to test music selection, so we looked at music logs from their overnight hours. Kate Bush and Madonna from 1985 seem to be the oldest, mid-90s songs from Live and Matchbox 20, recent hits from Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, and a selection of hot tunes that won't scare the adults - Justin Timberlake, Calum Scott, Dua Lipa.

The music side appeals greatly: these six records were a bit more modern than overnights, still explore the station's depth. The news was enough for a pop station, we felt sufficiently set up for the day. But the presentation wasn't actually much good. We can't grade this above C+.

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