The Snow In The Summer or So-So

06/28/2004 - 07/04/2004

Mon 28 Jun 2004

Easily offended?

The new OFCOM report is out, and here are the Moaning Minnie Scores On The Doors:
Big Brother trailer: 27
Dead Ringers: 1
Distraction: 1
Harry Hill's "There's Something About Jesus" sketch: 1
The ITV News Channel: 1
Memory Bank: 2
Richard And Judy: 1
The OC: 1
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: 1.

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posted 28 Jun 2004, 19.46 +0100

Entertainment
Cricket round-up

Thu, in Manchester: England -v- New Zealand -v- the rain. Rain 100, no-one else got a look in.

Sat, in Birmingham: New Zealand -v- West Indies -v- the rain. Rain 58, so it's a TwentyOne21 battle. Windies make 125/6, the Kiwis are motoring at 91/2 off 13 overs when the rain comes down. Match drawn.

Sun, in Nottingham: West Indies -v- England -v- the rain. England skittled out for 147, Windies knock off the runs by 4pm, ahead of a shower at 6. West Indies 6, England 0.

Standings after one of three full rounds: West Indies 9, New Zealand 6, England 3.

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posted 28 Jun 2004, 20.43 +0100

Sport
Elsewhere...

Those illegally detained at Guantanamo will get the chance to challenge their detention, but will not have the full habeus corpus rights accorded to most defendants. Nor did the bunch of lying cretins on the "constitutional" court rule against the gross violation of human rights being conducted in their names.

Jose Manuel Durao Basso is currently the prime minister of Portugal. In October, he'll become the new President of the European Commission.

In Serbia, pro-Western reformer Boris Tadic will be the new president, defeating the hardline nationalist candidate. Negotiations on EU entry look set to continue.

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posted 28 Jun 2004, 20.52 +0100

News

Tue 29 Jun 2004

Europe. It's good.

So says arch-Thatcherite Niall Ferguson. "The constitution changes very little about the way the EU works," he says, and he says completely accurately. And he spots an extra reason why the constitution is good for the UK: it gives her more of a say in European matters, not less.

Until now, only 34 policy areas have been subject to the weighted system known as qualified majority voting (QMV) on the council of ministers. New legislation in all other fields has been subject to veto by as few as one of the member states.

The crucial change is that QMV will now apply in 70 areas, including immigration and social policy. This gives substance to the constitution's assertion that the EU is supreme when it comes to "coordination of the economic and employment policies of the member states". But, as Blair has insisted all along, the national veto will remain in three crucial areas: foreign policy, defence and taxation.

The new constitution does not significantly change the nature of the EU - it will enable it to do more of what it already does to integrate the European economy, national taxation apart. It represents a far less radical reform, in fact, than the Single European Act (which we Thatcherites supported) and the Maastricht treaty (which a Conservative government also signed).

The key question now for British voters is simply how the new constitution will benefit Britain. The point most commentators seem to have missed is that by changing the system of QMV, the constitution is actually quite advantageous to us, as it is to Germany, Britain, France and Italy - which, together, account for around 70% of the enlarged EU's GDP and 57% of its population.

Under the old system of weighted votes, the big countries were disadvantaged. Take Germany. In the pre-enlargement EU it accounted for around 22% of the population but had just 11.5% of votes on the council of ministers. Under the constitution, by contrast, any EU measure subject to QMV will be passed if it has the support of 55% of the member states, provided they represented at least 65% of the EU's population. The effect of this modification is significantly to increase the representation of the "big four" countries. From now on Germany has, in effect, 18% of council votes, Britain 13%. Therefore, a measure could have the support of all 21 of the other members, but it would fail if the big four opposed it.

Under the old arrangements, EU institutions under-represented the big four. That enabled the small countries to vote for subsidies that disproportionately benefited them and were disproportionately financed by the bigger countries. The new system is not ideal, but it is certainly an improvement.

Here, then, is a possible starting point for the apparently doomed campaign for a Yes vote. The reality is that without the new constitution, European integration will continue to be distorted by the self-interest of the smaller European states.

The new EU constitution may be as clumsy as the US constitution is a thing of beauty. But precisely that fact should endear it to British sceptics, for it really is not a blueprint for a USE. A vote for the constitution will be, as Blair rightly insists, a vote in Britain's national interest.

More reasons for supporting the constitution will follow when we see them.

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posted 29 Jun 2004, 21.01 +0100

Politics

Wed 30 Jun 2004

By-election watch

Just 15 days until voting in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill. Just 14 days until the publication of The Butler Report. Lord Butler is investigating the pisspoor state of "intelligence" services, and questioning how they were so wrong that the Rev Blair (leader of the free world) was able to take his parish into an immoral war. "Fight the bad fight" and all that.

Meanwhile, psephologists will be interested in Anthony Wells' ometer of swing based on the recent European Elections. Stuff the "if this swing were applied nationally" that lesser commentators adopt. Mr Wells has analysed the results on a borough-by-borough basis, and come up with this seat distribution:

Conservative 300
Labour       269
Lib Dems      37
UIP           20
Scot Nats      8
Plaid Cymru    5
Greens         1
RESPECT        1

Sadly, we've not got full seat-by-seat breakdowns (and we know how political geeks would salivate over this prospect), just that

The fate of the Liberal Democrats is particularly interesting - in their South-West heartland they lost 12 of their 15 seats, half their London seats would have been lost, four of their 8 seats in the South-East would have been lost; rural seats in Scotland and Wales would also have fallen. At the same time as they were sustaining heavy losses in the suburbs though, the Lib Dems would have been making inroads in the cities. They would take Islington South and Hornsey & wood Green in London, and took seats in Manchester, Leeds, Gateshead and Newcastle.

Two themes emerge in the comments to this article: the possibility of a minority Conservative government (something that will bring a smile to Bob MacKenzie's face, just like Monday's return of a minority Liberal government in his native Canada); and the emergence of the Lib Dems as an anti-Labour party while not challenging the Tories, and possibly encouraging a minority Labour government as a bargaining chip for PR.

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posted 30 Jun 2004, 20.08 +0100

Politics
ID cards, my arse

Thanks to the power of blogging, an anotated counterblast to Plunkett's ID card mania. We want Plunket to resign. Now.

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posted 30 Jun 2004, 20.26 +0100

Intellectual
Godwin's Law Watch

In the latest television campaign advertisement, Republican party Candidate X compares his main opposition Democratic Party to the German Nazis under a Herr A. Schichelgruber. According to those who know their political history, this violates Godwin's law, and can only mean that Candidate X and his Republicans have lost the argument.

Move on, there's nothing to see here.

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posted 30 Jun 2004, 21.04 +0100

News

Thu 01 Jul 2004

It's raining outside...

..so it must be cricket season. Since we last met, England lost to New Zealand at Chester-le-Street in a day-day game on Tuesday. England were dismissed for 101, the Kiwis knocked off the runs by seven o'clock.

Another day-day game at Headingly to-day. The West Indies were dismissed for 159, Harmison and Anderson taking three each. England knocked off the runs with seven wickets and 28 overs remaining, in time for eight o'clock. The Kiwis and Windies play in Cardiff on Saturday, with England meeting the Kiwis at Bristol on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Midwinter Tests have begun in Darwin. This year's winter warmers pitch the Aussies and Sri Lanka into pitched battle. Vaas took 5/31as Australia were dismissed for 207. In response, the visitors made 43/3 at stumps.

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posted 01 Jul 2004, 20.00 +0100

Sport
What would happen...

...if lsomeone asked Candidate X some tough questions. Thanks to the miracle of proper journalism (in this case, practised by Irish media network RTÉ) we can find out.

So, George, what's your name?

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posted 01 Jul 2004, 20.07 +0100

Entertainment
Chart watch

One of the running features here was the Chart Of The Year, which we watch for British acts (listed here in bold), who are eligible for the Best Single BPI award, and for ITV's Westlife Record Of The Year. Records still selling at 500 copies a week are marked with a *. At the half-way mark, here's the top end...

1 Fuck It - Eamon 530,000*
2 Cha Cha Slide - DJ Casper 346,000
3 Yeah - Usher 294,000*
4 All this Time - Michelle McManus 292,000
5 Mysterious Girl - Peter Andre 259,000
6 Toxic - Britney Spears 259,000*
7 Left Outside Alone - Anastacia 256,000*
8 Milkshake - Kelis 226,000
9 Take me to the Clouds above - LMC vs U2 224,000
10 Fuck U Right Back - Frankee 224,000
11 My Band - D12 202,000
12 Thank you - Jamelia - 173,000
13 I Don't wanna Know - Mario Winans 172,000*
14 Hey Ya - Outkast 167,000
15 In the Shadows - The Rasmus 161,000*
16 Mad World - Gary Jules 149,000
17 Somebody to love - Boogie Pimps 149,000
18 5 Colours in her Hair - McFly 145,000
19 Changes - Ozzy & Kelly 130,00
20 Dip it Low - Christina Milian 116,000*
21 This love - Maroon 5 113,000*
22 Trick me - Kelis 100,000*
23 Hotel - Cassidy 98,000*
24 Amazing - George Michael 96,000*
25 Breathe Easy - Blue 94,000
26 Britney Spears -Everytime 92,500*
27 I'm so in love with you - Sean Paul 92,000
28 Slow Jamz - Twista 91,000
29 She likes to move - NERD 91,000
30 With a Little help - Sam & Mark 90,000
31 Red Blooded Woman - Kylie 89,000
32 So Confused - 2 Play 87,000
33 Baby I Love You - Jennifer Lopez 85,000
34 Come with me - Special D 83,000
35 Your game - Will Young 80,000
36 Not in love - Enrique ft Kelis 77,000
37 Leave right now - Will Young 75,000
38 Dude - Beenie Man 73,000
39 Katie Melua - Closest thing to crazy 71,000
40 Who's David - Busted 69,000

Last year's top seller by the Black Eyed Peas shifted around 780,000 copies during 2003. Eamon's total is already enough to be #3 for 2003, and given that he's also getting royalties on the Frankee record, he's going to end up with the top songwriting credit of the past two years by the end of July.

Other thoughts... By my reckoning, Michelle McManus sold around 8000 copies of her second single. If there's no follow up, she'll have equalled Heraset by selling half her career singles in the first six days. At the current rate, Anastacia could easily pass Andre, McManus, and Usher, and perhaps Spears, without being a single week's best-seller. Outkast split their sales almost equally between 2003 and 2004; Jules made 65% of his last year, and Will Young's "Leave Right Now" shifted 80% last year. George Michael hasn't made an annual Top 40 since putting two into 1996; Britney hasn't missed a year since her 1999 debut. Last week's best-seller, McFly's second single, had barely half the number of sales required to make the annual top 40.

On the far side of the pond, Pop Idle PDRUP Ill winner Fantasia Barrino equals the feat of Clay Aiken by charting at the top of the Hot 100 in her first week. On sales of 142,000, she also topples Elvis Presley from the sales chart #1, and is #12 on the R&B charts. There's a new leader in the Digital Downloads chart, as Usher's Yeah topples Hoobastank's long-running champion; The Reason is perhaps the most unlikely hit at Adult Radio this year. Toby Keith's Whiskey Girl takes over the Country top spot, and it'll be interesting to hear if Paul Gambiccini will break format and play this record next week-end. Velvet Revolver's Slither is top of both Modern and Mainstream Rock charts.

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posted 01 Jul 2004, 20.36 +0100

Entertainment

Fri 02 Jul 2004

What I did in my degree

Virginia Postrel tells all about combinatorics (or operations research as they call it over there.)

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posted 02 Jul 2004, 19.47 +0100

Intellectual
They'll do anything to win this by-election

In the latest desperate moves to win the Hodge Hill by-election in thirteen days time, Tony Blair has made an impossible campaign pledge.

"We'll rebuild New Street station!" claimed the Vicar of All England. It's a case of "when and not if" the concrete black hole was overhauled, he said. "We know New Street station does need to be rebuilt and we are, of course, putting substantial extra investment into transport. The only reason why we're being coy is that until we publish the final plans, we can't give a timetable on that. But I've got no doubt at all that New Street has to be given a proper rebuild and that's been an issue for some time."

No timetable at New Street? Shome mishtake, shurely!

Elsewhere, a Labour supporter who claims to be against mobile telephone masts, has confronted the Lib Dem candidate in the election. According to the hysterical protester, the third-placed party's candidate will - and we're not making any of this up! - "put masts on every street, your property prices will fall, your children will get cancer." And, presumably, she'll then come round and suck the blood out of your diseased body then stuff a bat up your nightshirt. Nicola Davies is in favour of more planning controls on phone masts.

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posted 02 Jul 2004, 20.00 +0100

Politics

Sat 03 Jul 2004

"I think he's a tosser. You're welcome to use that,"
Some comeback on last week's points about Lynne Truss's Amazing Success.

Andrew Franklin, Truss's editor at her publishers, Profile Books, is happy to answer back. "If you have no sense of humour", Franklin thinks, the success of Truss's book will be a mystery to you. Misunderstanding the purpose of her book, which is not a style guide but an entertaining "call to arms", Menand has pedantically reached for a non-existent rule book. "I think he's a tosser. You're welcome to use that. I'd never want to spend an evening in his company."

Why should it have so provoked one of the New Yorker's leading writers? "A twisted colon" is one of Franklin's explanations, but he also has a weightier cultural analysis. The attack is "deeply xenophobic". An American critic who is used to his readers having their eyes only on American culture has seen them reach for an idiosyncratic English book for a discussion of grammar. So far the book has sold 800,000 copies in the US, about as many as it has sold in Britain. For the arbiter of matters literary and linguistic in the New Yorker chair, it is, Franklin guesses, just too much.

I still don't like the volume, mainly because I find Ms Truss's prose style to be turgid and tedious, and the extracts I've seen confirm that her book is just as exasperating as she's ever been. She must be hitting a market somewhere, but I'm darned if I know where.

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posted 03 Jul 2004, 11.26 +0100

Intellectual
Today's news-o-rama

Seeds of civil war in Iraq - and it's all the occupiers' fault. "Though varied in political and social outlook, the opposition to the US-led presence, and the armed resistance (as distinct from terrorism), have been supported by most Iraqis and by the mosques."

So much for disestablishmentarianism. Why the Republican candidate X is relying on the religious reich for votes. "I have a church and I'm supposed to have tape over my mouth."

Today's reason to download Firefox: it can't change your internet settings to dial a premium rate number, costing you upwards of £1.50 (€2.25) per minute. "There is nothing further Icstis can do to help you obtain a refund."

The mouse sleeps uneasily to-night. The Dismal Corporation is being sued over its use of Wimoweh (which you'll know as The Lion Sleeps Tonight) in it shit musical The Lion Kink. A copyright expert has found that the tune remains under copyright in the composer's native South Africa, and his estate can and has detained other Dismal Corp iconature (such as Michael Mouse, Don Duck, and the elephant thing) until settlement can be reached.
The ultimate irony: the copyright only holds because of extensions the Dismal Corp itself has pushed through a pliant PDRUP legislature over the years. If they had let things be, Mr Mouse would have fallen into the public domain in 1978, and Wimoweh would have followed ten years later.

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posted 03 Jul 2004, 11.46 +0100

News
Spam-tastic

This one didn't get through my filters, and if I hadn't checked the log to-day, I'd never have seen it. Words in red are flagged as spam words.

I have rece<YVNZM/>ived your morttgage in<WRJNF/>formation and will begin pro<UJHNXT/>cessing it.<BR>We will forward on your info<JUUBTL/>rmation to one of our professional<BR> esta<UESJTI/>te planners and they will be in co<CLKCI/>ntact with you shortly.<BR>But first, to en<BYNTV/>sure the best re<WUKVW/>sults, we'll need s<UMCEKH/>ome more in<BANWA/>formation.<BR>Please f<HUOAOO/>ill out the final de<GPTIW/>tails we need to co<BDHDZ/>mplete the process:<BR><BR><A HREF="http://www.nomeksdn.biz/">ZH: F<YLSVAC/>inals De<HXUUG/>tails</A><BR><BR>
Regards,<BR>
Timmy<BR>
<BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR>
khrrqj eyqmxuuuh wepxikci fobltrwrg. hshlmc zlkvt<BR>
(continues in this vein for about 30 lines.)

What does this tell us? 1) Even when restricted by lots of bogus HTML tags, a decent Bayesian spam filter will still have enough information to work on.
2) By confirming this one message is spam, I've trained the program to treat <BR> (as opposed to the strictly-compliant <br />) as a spam entity.
3) Some eedjits can't spell "mortgage".

Next!

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posted 03 Jul 2004, 19.15 +0100

Intellectual

Sun 04 Jul 2004

Sports desk

Cardiff, and the Kiwis bounce past the Windies by a comfort. The Windies were dismissed for 216 (Lara 58, Sarwan 54, Cairns 3/29), losing the last seven wickets for just 36 runs. The Kiwis picked off the required runs with half a dozen overs to spare, Marshall finishing on 75*.

Tennis, and Maria Sharapova downed Serena Williams to win the Wimbledon ladies' title. It's been an odd tournament, missing the two Belgians Henin and Clijsters to injury, and suffering from out-of-form Williams (V) and Williams (S). Venus fell in the round of 64 - one can argue about umpiring cockups as long as one likes, but if she were on form, it wouldn't matter at all. Serena looked unstoppable when she ousted Jennifer Capriati in a quarter-final that lasted about ten minutes, but Amelie Mauresmo - who never performs well at grand slams - was a far more taxing prospect in the semi-final, and would probably have beaten Serena were it not for injury.

In the bottom half of the draw, Sharapova benefitted from the early exits of Venus and of Daniella Hantchukova, her prospective semi- and quarter-final opponents. Ai Sugiyama proved no opposition in the quarters, while the semi against Lindsay Davenport turned out to be the match of the tournament, with Maria coming from a set down to end Lindsay's career. The final was surprisingly one-sided, with Serena seeming to have played a match too many in her comeback.

For the gentlemen, the sentimental match was 2001 champ Goran Ivanisevic playing the 2002 winner Lleyton Hewitt in the third round. Hewitt won, but it was a wonderful way for the old Croat to end his career. Within days, he'd been replaced by the new Croat, Mario Ancic, who ousted the last Brit, Tim Henman, in the quarters. Ancic put up a good fight against Andy Roddick, but it wasn't enough; Ancic will still be the breakthrough of the men's tournament. In the top half, Hewitt fell in a tense quarter-final to top seed and defending champ Roger Federer, and he downed Sebastian Grosjean in an easy semi.

The European Nations' Championship of football also ends to-day. Shock finalists Greece have been the surprise package of the tournament, not only by actually winning a match (which became a team best) but by beating everyone in sight to make the final. It's a surprise to everyone who doesn't follow the Eurovision Song Contest, because Greece has been consistently strong over the last few years. The only country stronger than Greece was Russia, and they defeated the finalists in a meaningless rubber. However, that Eurovision analysis falls flat with the other finalists, Portugal.

Semi-finalists Netherlands will be reasonably happy, Czechia might be a touch disappointed. France and England's quarter-final exits proved how over-rated the sides are. A decent side had to fall in the NL : Sweden match, and Denmark can be happy to get this far. Spain, Italy, and Germany all fell in the opening round - Spain lost to Portugal and drew with Greece; Italy couldn't beat Sweden or Denmark, and could only down Bulgaria in injury time; and Germany drew with Latvia. Croatia played attractive football in defeats to France and England, Switzerland were outclassed, and Latvia took the lead against the Czechs and drew with Germany - two results that had to surpass expectations.

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posted 04 Jul 2004, 12.31 +0100

Sport
Time is money

Recommended reading: OfÖ on the trade-off between money and time. Confirmation, as if we needed it, that people put an unreasonably low value on their leisure time, and think they have more time away from work than they really do. It's a short step from there to the long-hours culture that's so prevalent amongst modern industrialists, and it only works because people over-value money.

Summary: people are a bunch of Anyankas.

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posted 04 Jul 2004, 13.56 +0100

Intellectual
Three for to-day

Rather than give yet another precis of the charts, here's something you might find useful: three of the tunes that are filling my head at the moment.

Rave Of The Week: Float On - Modest Mouse. Once you've heard this piece of crunchy rock from California, you're never, ever going to forget it. It's a sing-a-long, crunchy little song, and it's going to be the indie anthem of the summer. The sheep in the video - well, that's obvious, non?

Daft Tribute Of The Week: I Could Be An Angle - Eighties B-Line Matchbox Disaster. Any song that dares to take a line out of Melanie's "Brand New Key" (or, in this case, the Wurzel's "Combine Harvester") is worth at least two listens. The EBLMD are known for their love of Britkitsch, as exemplified here.

Topicality Of The Week: Independence Day - Gretchen Peters. Or Martina McBride, if you must. The First Lady of Country Songwriting came up with a mighty good record about battered wives getting their revenge, and it's rather apposite to-day of all days.

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posted 04 Jul 2004, 20.10 +0100

Entertainment
Weather for week 27

A north-westerly airflow led to frequent showers across the week, especially on Wednesday and Friday. Where there were prolonged spells of sunshine, as we saw on Tuesday and Sunday, temperatures rose to the dizzy heights of 21 degrees C. We got a whole one degree cooling day, on Tuesday, taking the summer's total to 58.

Next week: the nor-westerly continues, with the prospect of more rain coming up in midweek.

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posted 04 Jul 2004, 20.13 +0100

News

older writing... write to