The Snow In The Summer or So-So

Week of 25 July 2011


Eliza Dolittle is bearable in doses as large as her shorts, and the ones she has on now are miniscule....

25 July 2011
Reading and writing

We begin with an entry into Horrible Headlines. Texas man executed despite shooting victim campaigning for his clemency. A man in Texas has been killed. Are we to read that he shot someone who wanted him to go free? Crazyness.

We heard a spokesman for Fitch Ratings on The World at One last week. He compared the Greek debt crisis to a fire in a house at the end of the street, and all the firemen had turned up but were talking amongst themselves about how to put it out, while some of the other houses were beginning to singe. The presenter failed to mention the role of the ratings cartel, whose sole purpose is to go round the houses, scattering some rolled-up newspaper and petrol-soaked rags.

An eye-opening adventure in socialised medicine. The cost of calls to my insurance company to get permission to see an NHS doctor who didnít charge me a penny will be six times what I paid for the medicine that cured my infection. But that, I suppose, is the cost of living in a free country.

That Test Your Vocabulary test. We got 404 Javascript Not Found. Anne Robinson never had to put up with this.

Who is harmed by a "real names" policy. Geek Feminism counts the ways. We'll add Prince William, who doesn't technically have a family name; yes, he's listed in some places as William Wales, but that's administrative convenience. And it's a shame that Geek Feminism doesn't have a working RSS feed; those of us who take privacy seriously have to remember to visit the page, which is hardly the most reasonable thing to do. People, don't use Feedbu**er.

"If your website is full of assholes, it's your fault", writes Anil Dash. Really, the jokes write themselves. This blog briefly wonders what chocolate teapot Mr. Dash is shilling for this week, and points to Mr. Dash's prior history of malicious falsehoods, and researches some more. I don't think that's what you aspired to - to grow into a paid liar. (And if you still harbour some resentment to the giant waste of space that is Six Apart, read the comments. Then laugh like a drain.)

Do remember, there is a world outside the internet is the thrust of Mary Dejevsky's piece. This was a classic example of quite a closed, specialist group believing that, by simply projecting itself over the internet, probably on its own website, it is reaching the widest possible audience. Your website + The Facebook + Tw*tter != Ubiquity.

An advocacy group for middle-aged gay men in London has published a guide to university LGBT* groups. It's generally been dismissed as a complete load of cobblers - all they did was cut 'n' pasted what's on the interwebs. This may be acceptable for dossiers about Iraq, but not for things people are meant to take seriously.

From a neighbouring universe, what if Hermione were the hero, and actively chose to be the hero.

And Alex Petridis on the upside of metal being snubbed for the Twenty Quid Music Prize (album version): metal is about being an outsider, and if it achieves recognition, it's stuffed.

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26 July 2011
Down Your Doorstep

Some local news. Our local Conservative councillor has suddenly realised that he's in danger of being voted out next May, and has been taking action, in the hope of raising his profile. He's sent round a survey, asking for our opinion on how well the builders at the Longbridge plant are dealing with the dust they kick up. From the tenor, it's clear that he wants us to say that there's too much dust. and that Something Must Be Done about it.

He's also been campaigning against a mobile phone mast that someone wants to put up. We have a little sympathy with this campaign, because the city planning board met and said no, but the mobile phone company are refusing to take no for an answer. Such time as we have for the councillor quickly runs out when he claims that the mast would be too close to schools, naming institutions at distances of about 500m and 700m. Not only is the councillor peddling the myth that mobile phone masts present a health risk, against all scientific evidence, but he's claiming that this woo can take effect at great distances, and in one case on the other side of a hill. It's unscientific nonsense, it's scaremongering, it's outright twaddle.

While we criticise the Tory for talking rot, at least he's talking to us. Neither of the Labour councillors, nor anyone working on their behalf, has yet put anything through our doors, neither a leaflet nor a foot.

Over in Sparkbrook, we hear that Salma Yaqoob has resigned as councillor, and as leader of the RESPECT party, owing to ill-health. Assuming that her party loses the by-election, RESPECT will be reduced to a single member on Birmingham council, and effectively continues only in Tower Hamlets.

And more plans are emerging for the New Longbridge Town Centre. If we're to believe the publicity photo, it'll contain a Top Fashion store, a branch of M&H, a WS Smitts, and a Habita. Spectacular brand displacement, there. (Picture links to enlargement.)

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29 July 2011
PORTNOI, Gerson - The Story of Talk Sport

Or: Will-this-do AM

There is a great book to be written about INR3. This is not the book. The first half of the book could almost be a biography of Alan Brazil; only when the book reaches UTV's ownership do other contributors get much of a look-in. In spite of the author's efforts to portray him as a populist hero, the station's previous boss Kelvin MacKenzie comes across as volatile and irredeemably selfish. As tittilating as anecdotes about punch-ups or non-stop drinking sprees are, there's very little substance to the book. That much is forgivable.

Unforgivable is the way the book is sometimes painful to read. Early in Chapter 13 is this paragraph:

[George] Galloway has been the first aboard the good ship Talk Sport in March 2006. His public profile grew considerably from his appearance on the TV show Celebrity Big Brother. However, Sean Dilley, Talk Sport's senior current affairs producer, had suggested bringing Galloway on board the previous year after his famous oratorical masterclass in front of a US Senate permanent sub-committee, but his recommendation had fallen on deaf ears.

That's one error of fact - CBB is generally regarded to have cost Galloway such credibility as he had - and one very dubious statement - Galloway's profile had risen following indefatigable repeats of his salutation to President Hussein, his unexpected victory in Bethnal Green, and a successful libel action against the Daily Fairygraph. Portnoi's writing style confuses referants (who's that last "his" about, Galloway or Dilley?) and "however" is superfluous at the start of the sentence.

We could critique almost every paragraph in this manner. It's slapdash, imprecise writing. Subjects are chopped and changed, tales are repeated, nicknames are used and then introduced. The book lacks critical distance - it's perennially upbeat about the radio station: we're constantly told that it produced excellent radio, or that such-and-such a presenter was on top of his game, and not until the last few chapters is there any external validation of these claims. Nor is there much on station perpetuals Hawksbee and Jacobs, or on the solid evening line-up since the UTV buyout.

All of this is a fair reflection of Talk Sport's broadcasting style. It doesn't care to make polished radio, not when it can make reasonable radio. It doesn't care to make thoughtful radio, the sort that makes people stop and listen to a tale being told, not when there's a lowest-common-denominator rant it can air. The station doesn't care about anything but football - even in the middle of June, Wimbledon and the cricket were put aside in favour of a discussion about Brighton and Hove Albion's transfer targets.

As we said, there's an excellent book to be written about Talk Radio UK and its successor stations - the shock jocks, the celebrity station, the actually quite decent frivolous talk station of the sort the BBC could never match. This is not the book. The best we can say about Portnoi's book is that it could serve as an in-group ethnography of the fourth and fifth incarnations of the frequency, when it was a station for male football fans under the autocratic Mackenzie and the laissez-faire UTV. Even then, we have a nagging doubt that there's a better one to be written.

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This week's news

Coo! That's the Libyan government! said the British government. Prior to this week, it had recognised that body as the rebels in Libya. The remaining handful of diplomats loyal to the Gadhafi regime were told to leave London. Rebel leader Abdel Fatah Younes was killed by rebels within the rebellion.

Terrorists in North America proved incapable of working out whether they should allow themselves a larger overdraft. International financial institutions said they were worried; the chief lawbreaker said this was a manufactured crisis.

Some useless bloke in Norway appeared in court, where the judge decreed that he should keep his silence. If only that applied to other commentators, even those with a record of standing up against the nonsense peddled by this maroon.

The cabinet in Cyprus resigned, after an explosion at an arms cache damaged the Vasiliko power station.

Reports from Syria suggested the government was shelling civilians, hoping to end the ongoing insurgency.

Westminster (01JUL): C 305, Lab 252, LD 57, DUP 8, SNP 6, SF 5, SDLP 3, PC 3, Ind Lab 2, APNI 1, Ind UU 1, G 1, Spkrs 4. C + LD majority 80 (effectively 85).

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TV and radio notes

The Space Shuttle's Last Flight (C4) was a potted history of the programme, told in almost a chronological order. Less than five minutes on the final flight; indeed, the whole programme after 1995 was glossed over. No such problems for Space Shuttle: The Final Mission (BBC2), Kevin Fong goes behind the scenes to talk to the people worth talking to on this last flight. Remember it this way.

The Hour stopped poncing about getting itself set up, and actually made some programmes. Cue culture-clash between out-of-his-depth avuncular interviewer, and young thrusting thing who knows a huge amount. And some feminist thinking from the producer / editor character, who suggests that the assigned secretary is better than Econowife™ material.

The Code was Marcus du Sautoy explaining the maths behind nature. And taking forever to get not very far.

On this week's Top of the Pops: Sunfighter, who looked remarkable and sounded less so. Ruby Flipper miming to The Beatles, and Bobby Goldsboro making us wonder where we'd put the sick bag. Dr Hook lose ground from one of Noel Edmonds' most rubbish links (and this is Noel Edmonds we're talking about); the song hasn't aged that badly. One Hundred Ton And A Feather were missing in action*, and Glamourpuss ... well, the song was there, for values of there that weren't so far from Black Lace a few years later. Status Quo appear on film, the song hasn't changed at all. Ruby Flipper miming to the Tavares was also missing, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds was the jaw-dropping performance of the week, and the best bit about Demis Roussous's song is the introduction, Little Noely getting in a slight against the BBC canteen. It was an inside joke common to every BBC programme until the late 1980s. See also: slices of BBC coffee.

* This blog has always found Jonathan King's convictions worthy of a number of raised eyebrows; we also understand that he will be taking them to the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week's Feedback spent half its time airing a puff-piece for The Quotidian Toady Programme, glorifying the culture of speculation and pomposity at the expense of hard news. There's also praise for the NUJ strike, and reflection on cuts at the World Service. Peter Horrocks gives a warning that he wants to put commercials around the World Service's foreign-language services. No! No! NOOOOOOOOOOOO! This is the BBC, not the fucking Coola-Cola service. We've already seen blogs truncated to drive visitors to the news website (this matter is the subject of a formal complaint with the BBC Trust). Ahem. Let's calm down and listen to Kerry Thomas blether on about the minutiae of The Quotidian Toady Programme, of which he's the current editor, while not being asked the question about why his programme is so dominated by the conventions of Westminster, all men shouting at each other. Oh, he addresses the lack of women, and the way they try to cram four hours of broadcasting into three hours of airtime, but no-one suggests they only do two hours of broadcast.

Game showery: it's Improvisation M and Silent Library in this week's Week, and a review of Queen Victoria Ate My Hamster for the A-Z.

Next week...

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In our private journal this week

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High pressure remained in charge for much of this week, bringing settled and summery weather. Much of the week had winds from a broadly northerly quarter, but the airflow turned southerly during the weekend. That's brought warm and humid air, and thunderstorms are likely in the coming week, particularly in the south. There's likely to be cooler weather spreading in from the north-west next weekend, so do wrap up.

25 Mo sun                 8/24
26 Tu sunny ints         12/22
27 We cloud              14/21
28 Th sunny spells       10/24
29 Fr cloud              14/18
30 Sa sun                 6/23
31 Su sun                10/25

Rainfall in July: 62mm; monthly average: 69mm

Degree cooling days: 88
2010: 120/135
2009: 60/79
2008: 90/114
2007: 44/91
2006: 279/360
2005: 143/238
2004: 88/198
2003: 160/328

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