The Snow In The Summer or So-So

Week of 1 November 2010


The Snow in the Summer or So-So wishes all our readers a happy new year.

2 November 2010
Cricket's no fix

Cricket in September and October saw Ireland's successful tour to Canada, and the end of Pakistan's ill-starred tour of England. Bangladesh claimed their first major scalp, beating New Zealand in a one-day series. India had the better of two Tests against Australia, and won the only one-day match to reach a conclusion. Afghanistan won the Test in Kenya, but the hosts won the one-day series; they'd go on to pummell the UAE 4-0. Pakistan are playing South Africa in Dubai; South Africa won the 20/20 matches, the one-dayers were split. Australia suffered their first home 20/20 loss, to Sri Lanka.

(More: The tables in full - Australia, Sri Lanka, and South Africa lead the various strands)

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3 November 2010
The end of comprehensives

It slipped our notice, but the recent Spending Review [1] committed the government to actually filling its targets on international aid - 0.7% of GDP by 2013. Slipped our notice, but not that of the Dily Express, which has been bleating all week about other things that could be done with this money. We're unimpressed, not only with successive governments since the 1970s for failing to meet this very modest aim, but with the newspreap for its blinkered and unfeeling attitude to the world. It's false superiority, an air of moral smugness that we find totally repugnant. The Daily Pronographer's Rag is the sort of organ that wouldn't mind living under a bridge in a tatty cardboard box, so long as the person under the next bridge had a tattier cardboard box. Far more appealing, because it's got some vague approximation to optimism, is John Quiggin's pre-alpha draft of cosmopolitan social democracy.

Another interesting point from the Spending Review is that the government is, ever so gently and ever so slightly, deflating the housing price bubble. By refusing to fund housing benefit above a certain level, they're saying that rents (and by extension house prices) are far too expensive for what they are, and that society isn't prepared to prop them up quite as much as they already do. The reaction of the Daily Hell to this has been interesting: by couching this deflationary rule in terms of benefits, Mr. Alexander has pulled the wool over a critical opinion-former. Good work, sir!

[1] Spending Review. Not Comprehensive Spending Review, because the C-word assumes that all government spending is directly controlled by whichever third-former is looking after the tuck shop this week.

Received from the email pile:

Dear Weaver,
The ConDems [....]

At this point, we switched off. Like Bliar before it, this wordplay might have been mildly amusing when it was first coined, but has long since moved past its chortle-by date. It's become symptomatic of a weak and vapid lack-of-argument. If you have a strong case, you will be able to make it and give respect to your opponents. If you have a weak case, you will need to distract with shrill words and glossy imagery.

An unusual perspective on the airport security nonsense, arguing that the price to pay for zero losses may be too high for society to bear. In August 2006, we ran a piece considering the cost-benefit analysis, and suggested that the price was awfully high. Of course, since the speech was made last week, there's been another incompetent bomb plot exposed. Curious timing, that.

Incidentally, just below that thinkpiece from 2006 was a set of values from the Conservative Party. What happened to the commitment to do more for drug addicts? Better water use? Integrated transport? An arms trade treaty? That said, most of the proposals made it through to the programme for government.

Tower Hamlets elected its first mayor recently, and it's an IND GAIN for Lutfur Rahman. Mr. Mayor was a member of Labour until he was suspended for arbitrary and unclear reasons, and received support in his campaign from Ken Livingstone. Mr. Livingstone has recently been adopted by Labour as its official candidate for the 2012 mayoral election, but campaigning for any other candidate is a clear and blatant breach of the Labour group's rules.

Better Nation asks which parties are important? In the UK, clearly the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are, because they combine to form the government. In Scotland, the SNP are, because they are the government, but then so are the Tories, Lib Dems, and Labour, because at least one of them must agree for the SNP to pass business. In Wales, Plaid Cymru join with Labour; in Northern Ireland, a coalition of DUP, SF, UUP, and SDLP is in effect. The English Democrats rule Doncaster, independents are in charge of Tower Hamlets, Hartlepool, and others. The Alliance Party and Green Party have MPs, the UIP have MEPs, and all represent a well-defined opinion group; the BNP have MEPs but appear to be falling apart under a Marmite overload.

Speaking of Northern Ireland, Nicholas Whyte nails a myth, concluding that the apparent drop in Unionist turnout was actually caused by Naomi Long's success

Antony Green raises an interesting point on the single transferrable vote: once you get a three-party contest in a seat, who finishes third will determine who wins. He's talking mostly about seats in central Melbourne, where Labour, the Greens, and the Liberals are all at it, with the Libs expected to be the kingmakers.

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev says that the Poutineists are enemies of democracy. The respected leader said, There are still many people in our society who fear democracy and would prefer a totalitarian regime.

The following is not political

Suede are promoting their greatest hits album, with some group interviews.

Matt Deegan compares Radio 1 and Capital Radio, and finds which is more distinctive than the other. If Mr. Trebor wants his station to be different from the opposition, he can change his channel.

There's some bad feeling towards G****e in Ireland at the moment, for its tax dodges. There was a critical report last week, and that's led to commentators saying another lorry-load of slurry has just been dumped on us by G****e, which is using [Ireland] to help it avoid paying tax on profits made elsewhere. Watch this space...

Bad feeling towards 'em in this country, too, where the Data Protection Commissioner has reversed its previous position, and said that going round the streets stealing people's passwords and email data is, in fact, a bit naughty.

Explaining the internet to a Victorian street urchin is the latest flowchart fiction. Oddly enough, we thought all Victorian street urchins knew all about the internet, and certainly enough to publish poetry on it.

Laurie Penny on The Female Eunuch

, pointing out that it's just a starting point, Greer is not to be treated as a sacred cow. Feminism can advance past that. See, for instance, Katherine Nash on the sexism still implicit in the world o'rock. We never got this vibe from Popworld, Simon and Miquita were unstinting in their equal-opportunity snark. Incidentally, we rather liked the opening episode of Popotron last Saturday (BBC2).

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5 November 2010
Right out of order

An occasional round-up of shows on television and radio.

Lip Service (Kudos / BBC Scotland / BBC3 from 12 Oct) telegraphed most of its plotlines well in advance. Of course Frankie's going to have a quickie with Mortuary Attendant Girl. Of course Tess's acting career involved a role on Casualty, every aspiring thesp pays a few bills that way. Of course they're going to re-use the stalking line. And everyone's going to get completely drunk at some point. Motifs of Skins floated past, especially when Tess was underneath her ex's bed. The first episode was ho-hum drama, but it set up an ensemble cast (the show isn't entirely going to revolve around Frankie and Cat), and plenty of plotlines to keep us going for the six-week run.

Inevitably, After Ellen has been giving long and extensive photo-recaps, which contain some significant spoilers. (The ones in the paragraph above? Immaterial by the end of week two.)

To the wireless, and the New Amsterdam Review of Books has been considering the new type of speech radio, with a story to tell. (See also: Metafilter discussion) According to the NARB, the voguish style is for radio verité, people telling their own story without mediation, the programme has a narrator to link scenes rather than a presenter to drive a particular story. Heard it all before? That's been the sort of thing Radio 4 has done from time to time since the late 1980s, some years before the invention of This American Life. Indeed, we would recommend Radio 4 as a home for general speech radio. We also recommend RTÉ's best bits, particularly the Documentary on One / The Curious Ear double-bill.

Just make sure to avoid What Went Wrong with the Olympics? (Radio 4, from 27 Oct). The first thing we ask of a radio comedy is that it's funny. We don't much mind if it's a series of one-liners, if it's a panel game, if it's a drama building up to a chucklesome reveal. Just, be funny. Somewhere. Ian Hislop's extended polemic against the crass spectacle set to dominate London for most of the summer after next fails to be funny: the jokes are cheap - organising committee called COCKUP - and the format of an after-the-fact investigative documentary just doesn't gel.

We caught Petrie Hoskin (LBC) talking about vaccinations. Readers with long memories will recall how the previous occupant of this slot proved herself incapable of broadcasting without a responsible adult present, and led us to tune away from LBC for eighteen months. Would Miss Hoskin prove less incompetent? Of course she would, it's really very easy to be better than Jeni Barnett. Margaret Moran cast aspertions as to the safety of vaccines, and the host pointed out that that wasn't the matter under discussion. The nominal subject was consideration of pupils' vaccination status when schools are oversubscribed; we strongly suspect that LBC was taking one factor and presenting it as the only consideration, but that is a problem for the station's director of programmes.

Back to the telly, and The Taking of Prince Harry (C4, 21 Oct) was a straightforward documentary about the taking of hostages in Afghanistan, with a clumsy dramatic bolt-on about Mr. Henry Windsor having that fate. There were valid questions asked about the special risks from having such a well-known name in battle, but this didn't excuse the particularly hammy acting.

We mentioned it earlier in the week, but Popatron (BBC2, from 30 Oct) really is hitting good notes. It's a sitcom in the offices of a daily television pop music programme, and benefits from some particularly sharp and topical writing. We had Joe McElderry in last week, thought he was the work experience boy.

Power Snooker (ITV4, 30 Oct). Colour us unconvinced. For all the trappings of modernity, all the claims that this was fast-paced whizz-bang snooker, it dragged far more than we'd expected it to. The changes are to reduce the number of red balls from 15 to 9, and make one of them the Powerball - when potted, it and everything else for two minutes counts double. Shots made with the cue ball behind the baulk line are also doubled, and there are slight changes to ball-in-hand and the break-off. Each shot is limited to 20 seconds, the game is timed at 30 minutes, and the highest aggregate score wins. And yet it's no more fun than the main game. The 20-second shot clock doesn't really speed up play all that much, and the doubling of points introduces only slight tactical nous. The clock stops during each re-racking, while there are television commercials.

For our money, we'd do things a bit differently. Keep the double rules, and the double-double rules. Do away with the ref announcing the break after each pot, just let them re-spot the colour. The shot clock can stay, but reduce it to 10 seconds, with a 1-point deduction for each second longer. (Or borrow an idea from competitive backgammon: 10 seconds per shot, plus 2 minutes for the whole game, then a forfeit if that's exceeded.) Don't stop the clock while re-racking. And the killer: reduce the game to 20 minutes, so that each round can complete in a TV half-hour with no ad breaks. Four hours of telly is enough to have an eight-player knockout, or a four-player round robin plus final.

Ultimately, the problem is that this whizz-bang sport is no more whizz-bang than NCAAball. Indeed, the whole event rather reminded us of an NCAAball event, complete with the tedium and temptation to zap to something else during the interminable commercial breaks.

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This week's news

Two large killings in Iraq: 52 were killed in Baghdad when a church was stormed by radicals, and at least 62 were killed by car blasts in Shia areas of the capital city. These came after an unusually quiet October in the country.

The government of Kosov@ fell, after losing a confidence motion in its national parliament.

Britain's business secretary referred to regulators a bid for News International to take full control of British Satellite-Sky Broadcasting. At present, News International (prop: Rupert Murdoch) owns about 40% of BSSB (prop: James Murdoch, Rupert's son).

An election court found that Phil Woolas (Lab, Oldham East and Saddleworth) had lied to voters about his opponent during campaigning for May's election, and that this untruth had materially affected the result. The judges ordered that the poll be re-run; Mr. Woolas said that he would appeal, and Commons speaker John Bercow will make a statement of Monday. Mr. Woolas has been suspended from the Labour whip, the third member to be removed in the last six months.

The Unitedkingdom Independence Party has a new leader, Mr. Nigel Farage (UEN-UK: South East England). He beat three other rivals in an all-members ballot after Malcolm Pearson resigned. Mr. Farage led the party between 2006 and 2009.

We regret to report the death of Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russian prime minister 1992-8 and bane of every radio announcer's life. He wanted it to be better, but it turned out like always

Westminster (05NOV): C 305, Lab 251, LD 57, DUP 8, SNP 6, SF 5, SDLP 3, PC 3, Ind Lab 3, APNI 1, Ind UU 1, G 1, Spkrs 4. C + LD majority 80 (effectively 85).
Holyrood: SNP 47, Lab 46, C 16, L Dem 16, Scot G 2, Ind 1, Spkr 1. SNP minority 34.
Cardiff: Lab 26, PC 14, C 13, L Dem 6, Spkr 1. Lab + PC majority 21.
Stormont (03JUN): DUP 36, SF 28, UUP 17, SDLP 16, All 7, G 1, Ind 1, Ind PUP 1, Ind UU 1.

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In our private journal this week

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On this week's Blue Peter

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Mild southerly air dominated the week, with cloud and rain never far away. A front introduced clearer and colder conditions during Friday night, and these will lead to some showers or longer spells of rain, particularly during Monday. Temperatures will be around normal, picking up towards the weekend, so do wrap up.

01 Mo cloud               6/12
02 Tu cloud              11/13
03 We sun to mist        10/14, 0.5
04 Th drizzle            13/15, 1.0
05 Fr sun to rain        14/14, 5.0
06 Sa rain o/n, cloud     8/10, 4.5
07 Su sun                 2/8

Rainfall in November: 11mm; monthly average: 84mm

Degree heating days: 73
2009-0: 18/1098
2008-9: 69/927
2007-8: 38/810
2006-7: 16/499
2005-6: 1/684
2004-5: 18/556
2003-4: 64/754

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