The Snow In The Summer or So-So

08/07/2006 - 08/13/2006

Mon 07 Aug 2006

Two Songs a Week 19 - FF

Another in the short series on Great Songwriters Of Our Time, and the attention turns to Kimberley Rew. He was, of course, the songwriter for Katrina and the Waves. The group was responsible for the world-wide smash Walking on sunshine in 1985, and for winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Love shine a light in 1997.

Either side of those hits, Rew was a spectacularly good, and almost completely under-rated, songwriter. He wrote Going down to Liverpool, a minor hit for the Waves and for the Bangles. There was a cheery drinking song, Sun Street, the Red Box-covered Heart of the sun, and the politely mournful Red wine and whisky.

The song I've picked for to-day, almost at random from the Rew repertoire, was going to be the group's big comeback in autumn 1989. That's the way is another joyful celebration of life, and one that deserved slightly better than its number 94 hit status in the UK. Something far less obscure on Thursday.

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posted 07 Aug 2006, 18.44 +0100

Two Songs a Week
Flying the flag

A day of mixed fortunes for British competitors in sports. Andy Murray lost his tennis final, clearly wilting in the extreme heat of the Chesapeake Drainage Basin. Some of you may not find 32°C extreme, but you've not tried to play top-notch tennis for two hours straight.

England's cricketers managed to turn a promising situation into a first-innings parity - a stand of 363 for the third wicket gave Pakistan a 23-run lead after first innings, which the England side extended to something over 300. With a day to play, the match is probably heading for a draw.

In games we don't much care about, Jenson Button drove a car faster than any other driver who bothered to finish their race. And in the judged pastime of swimming, the British women's relay are the fastest in Europe.

Scottish football, and after Hearts beat Celtic, the top of the table has an unfamiliar ring:

1 St Mirren 6
2 Hearts    6
3 Falkirk   6
4 Rangers   4
5 Celtic    3

Hmm. Rangers for the Intertoto has a certain ring about it, non?

And finally, the BBC really needs a better commentator. "Have you ever seen three British athletes competing for Britain?"

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posted 07 Aug 2006, 18.52 +0100

Who pays the polluter?

MPs have slammed into the government over its fatalistic attitude to transport emissions. The Transport Committee wants motorway speed limits cut, or properly enforced, and for taxes on aeroplane flights to reflect the damage the cause to the environment.

That's a tax per-flight, rather than per-passenger, and must be a good idea, because Stelios Harfajnador doesn't like it. "Low-cost airlines are the solution, as they are equipped with the quietest and cleanest aircraft and fly directly to their destinations," says the orange-faced spokesmodel. Bunkum. Low-cost trains are the solution; one aeroplane flight churns out as much atmospheric crap as many hundreds of train trips.

Easypollute moans on, "The idea to price the most price-sensitive and less affluent customers (i.e. the poorest in society) out of the sky as the means to reduce emissions from aviation is not only a blunt and unimaginative measure - but it is also unnecessary." The tax will be moderately regressive, true, but it ensures that the real polluter pays at the time the pollution is created, rather than leaving other people and other generations to pick up the bill - a particularly regressive (not to mention expensive) method of accounting. Lest we forget, this particular airline has built its business on providing the cheapest possible way from A to B, a model that only works if someone else picks up its environmental crap. Such free-riding has no place in a responsible society at all.

Back with the MPs, who endorse a proposal to charge £1800 per year for the most polluting cars, and £300 for even slightly polluting vehicles. And, just for good measure, they want Gordon Brown to swallow his pride and re-introduce the fuel tax escalator, killed in the wake of an organised protest in 2000.

Here is an opportunity for both major parties to really prove their eco-friendly credentials. Charging the thick end of two grand in tax for owning a car is a step-change in thinking, but it's a step-change that the populace needs. Otherwise it'll just carry on in the same-old-same-old way, sleepwalking into potential oblivion. Of course there will be a storm of protest, but it is the corageous thing, the right thing to do.

Are the parties prepared to fully tax the gross negative externalities of the car and aeroplane, and re-invest the proceeds in greatly improved public transport? Had the fuel tax escalator continued, the treasury would have had 25% more in fuel duty this year, perhaps £1 milliard. Over the course of the last six years, that's maybe £5 milliard in foregone revenue - enough to make significant improvements to public transport - perhaps funding light rail projects in various cities in England. (Yes, 5% + VAT compounded over six years is 40%, but I'm assuming a certain level of price elasticity results in a drop in consumption, hence deliberately under-stating the foregone income.)

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posted 07 Aug 2006, 19.34 +0100


Tue 08 Aug 2006

Patrick Allen

So, farewell then,
Patrick Allen,
Voice-off man of doom.

"When you hear the gravelly voice,
The end of the world is near."
That was your catchphrase.

And now the end.
Is here.

(With apologies to E.J. Thribb)

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posted 08 Aug 2006, 18.49 +0100

Our racist home secretary

John "Oh fuck" Reid is sounding awfully racist in his old age. Well, he's always sounded awful...

Mr Reid, who is the interior minister this week, reckons that there's a "daft notion that anybody who talks about immigration is somehow a racist." So far, so good, but then he couches the discussion in terms of "sustainable and beneficial immigration". If that's not a clear code for "limiting the number of darkies who come here and steal our wives and marry our jobs," I don't know what it is.

To suggest that a single committee can determine the "optimal" level of immigration is an eyebrow-raiser. Indeed, the committee's job is rather predicated on such an "optimal" level existing in the first place, but Mr Reid blithely waves his hands about and assumes that this is a given. Different people will put the bar at different levels - my view is to have the borders as open for people as it is for capital, less liberal viewers will restrict by health, age, area of origin, or eye colour.

Het Graunias'd Philippe Legrain goes further, comparing the panel to Soviet-era labour planning, trying to micromanage the number of painters in Cookham, the number of chefs in Rainham, the number of weather forecasters in Redcar, and the number of Ferrari drivers in Paignton. That may be a tad over-the-top, but the overall point is made. It's folly for the government to try and predict the market. If you're going to have a capitalist market, and there's every sign that the current government is completely wedded to the idea, then you've got to allow people to go wherever they want to go.

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posted 08 Aug 2006, 19.08 +0100


Wed 09 Aug 2006

Digital penetration

Ben Metcalfe talks about the e-society survey, exploring just how comfortable the UK is at using modern technology.

My neck of the woods comes out at the second-highest rank, and is (apparently) similar to the following districts:

NN3 - Weston Favell, NW Northampton
M25 - Prestwich, S Manchester
WD19 - South Oxhey, S Watford
SO16 - Rownhams, EW Southampton (Thanks, Quirks)
EH52- Broxburn, just N of Livingston
G83 - Alexandria, just N of Dunbarton
SG6 - Letchworth
BD22 - Oakworth, SE of Keighley
SE9 - Blackheath, London
LS19 - Apperley Bridge, NW Leeds

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the claim, for I know nothing about these areas.

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posted 09 Aug 2006, 18.47 +0100

A voting system, probably

M'learned friend Mr. Jumbach points out that Arizona wants to make voting even more of a lottery. Everyone who casts a ballot in one of the province's many elections will be entered into a draw to win One Million Dollars, Cash.

This reminds of an idea to introduce proportional representation by the back door. Probabilistic representation would involve one ballot being picked out at random, and the candidates voted for on that paper would be deemed the winners. It's moderately simple to determine that the chance of candidate G winning the seat is directly proportional to the number of ballots cast for candidate G. If the government were so minded, it would be possible to reward the person who cast the winning ballot with a prize - say, One Hundred Euro, Cash.

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posted 09 Aug 2006, 19.12 +0100

History To-Day

Ye Telegrapphe has some remarkable scoops to-day. ITV loses viewers, says the media correspondent, evidently unaware that the commercial channel has been losing viewers since 1956. There's no news on the lavatorial habits of bears, but apparently Kate Moss is losing her edge.

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posted 09 Aug 2006, 19.17 +0100


Thu 10 Aug 2006

Terrorism To-day

Those of you reading this post in colour may remember the icon to stand firm against those who would terrorise Britain. I rather hoped to have put it away, barring one, last, ironic use in many years.

The traditions of the British summer are being upheld. Two days of sun lead to twenty zillion people trying to squeeze onto Brighton beach. There's either been too much rain and floods, or too little rain and hosepipe bans. The cricket squad is busily losing to Sri Lanka. And there's utter chaos at the nation's airports.

Usually, such queues are the result of air traffic controllers in Spain striking for a longer siesta, or for British Hairways workers striking for half-way decent pay and/or conditions. This year, the responsibility for the total collapse of Britain's airports is from an unusual source.

Yesterday, John "oh fuck" Reid made a speech claiming that basic human rights are negotiable in the face of a made-up terrorist threat. Mr Reid continued his carping against the checks and balances of a democratic society. The requirement for proposals to have proper scrutiny, media commentators who give fair representation to other points of view, and judges who dare to hold the government's proposals to the not-particularly high standards of the ECHR. Het Grauniad puts Mr Reid's argument in a nutshell, missing the inherant irony.

The European human rights convention had been drawn up 50 years ago to protect against fascist states but now the threat came from "fascist individuals" unconstrained by such conventions, agreements or standards.

That was yesterday. Overnight, the police arrested twenty-one people, all born in the UK. Officials close to Mr Reid have intimated that these people were plotting to blow up aeroplanes in flight, using a liquid explosive. This claim has not been examined by an independent authority.

We must remember that last Hugely Dangerous Plot of this ilk to face a court and jury was the notorious Ricin Plot, which, it eventually emerged, was a complete fiction, and even if it had been implemented, would have been slightly less effective than a parasol against an autumn gale. There was the Old Trafford bomb plot of 2004 (there was no Old Trafford bomb plot). The Red Mercury case in 2005 (there was no case, not even anything called Red Mercury). The last high-profile raid - against some football fans in Forest Gate a couple of months ago - turned up nothing more incriminating than a few West Ham shirts. "I'm forever blowing bubbles" may be a criminal record, but hardly worth getting shot over.

In spite of this very spotty track record, the interior ministry's intelligence department has taken the claim at face value, and appears to have rather panicked. They've implemented Operation Hands-Free, under which air travellers are not allowed to take hand luggage of any description aboard the planes. This has, inevitably, caused utter chaos at the nation's airports, with queues round the terminals and out the door. Heathrow put up the "House Full" signs before 9am, asking aircraft to land on the M4 instead; other airports have also been more closed than open.

It is a huge co-incidence that this disruption should follow within 24 hours of the current interior minister making such a provocative speech. It is another huge co-incidence to find that courts will shortly rule on the legality of "no torture" memoranda of understanding. The case pertains to an un-named Algerian, who the interior ministry believes to be a threat to national security. The UK government has negotiated with its Algerian counterpart, and agreed that UK deportees will not be tortured. Based on the poor record of the Algerian authorities, the person involved believes that this agreement will not be properly honoured. By yet another remarkable co-incidence, it's believed that the person involved in this case is one of the people cleared of involvement in the spoof ricin plot.

This is the substantive threat to Britain. It does not come from scare stories against aeroplanes. It comes from the hunger of Labour politicians to scare the country into thinking that they, and only they, can handle the trumped-up terror threat. A threat that is, in no small part, of their own making. No matter how much Mister Tony Blair may wish to deny it, the invasion of Iraq has been interpreted as a War Against Islam, and has pushed a non-trivial section of islamic youth into the arms of the lunatics.

The current Labour government has a long history of pandering to the populist concern, of playing to the tabloid agenda. Playing populism ensures that the freedom of the minority is no longer protected, and that kills a liberal democracy even faster than any islamic nutters.

In the best analysis, the government is to-day erring on the side of caution - if it ever existed, the plot appears to have been stopped. While making it impossible for liquid bombs to be in the cabin is a failsafe measure, it has had the very unfortunate side-effect of killing the aviation sector for to-day, and denting confidence for some time to come. I'm already looking to spend my autumn break in Europe, rather than Canada, because I can't be bothered to fly nine hours without even knowing I'll have toothpaste at the other end. In the worst case, the government is pulling threats out of its backside for naked political gain.

Labour has been so deceitful, so mendacious, towards the British public that nothing comes as a surprise any more. That, I suggest, is the reason why conspiracy theories have taken root so quickly. That is why my gut feeling is to give the intelligence services the benefit of the doubt, take the presence of some form of plot as a working idea, but figure that Labour will exploit this event for its narrow political gain. Such behaviour is completely in character for the party.

Just to cheer everyone up, soon to be former prime minister Mister Tony Blair is now talking to angels at Cliff Richard's villa in Barbados. In an effort to inspire confidence, the UK is now being run by -- John Prescott. Who, curiously, didn't chair the COBRA emergency committee of cabinet ministers and civil servants; instead, the job was left to John Reid. Wondered what happened to the twenty-one packets of 72 raisins...

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posted 10 Aug 2006, 18.46 +0100

News you may have missed

Now, what news is being missed because the media's concentrating on the usual sort of bomb scare?

* Levant: Israel suspends military pusch. Ehud Olmert wants to give diplomatic forces the chance to resolve the crisis, says local newspaper Mariv.

* Levant: Air attacks in southern Lebanon continue; a tower block in Mashgara was felled overnight, killing at least seven. Other attacks have continued throughout the day.

* Westminster: Jim Sheridan Lab, Paisley and Renfrewshire N has resigned as PPS to the Ministry For War. Mr Sheridan, who was on the lowest rung of ministerial office, objects to the current conflict in the Levant, and the marginalisation of the Palestine problem. Reading between the lines, he appears to be saying that Mister Blair is out of touch with reality.

* Westminster: Approximately 130 MPs have indicated that they wish Parliament to be recalled so that it may discuss the middle east. Foreign office minister Kim Howells (filling in for the caravanning Margaret Beckett) said that it was a bit of a pointless idea. Leader of the house John Straw has not commented.

* Spain: Forest fires continue to rage in Galicia. Prime minister Zapatero broke his holiday to visit the region, and has requested assistance from Portugal, France, and Italy.

* Australia: A bill to dump all refugees on the converted dung-heap of Nauru has passed the Lower House, but only after four government MPs rebelled.

* Baghdad: The city's morgue says 1815 died in the city in July, about 90% of whom had died violently.

* Coventry: Labour's petition to overturn the result in Foleshill has been lost. The Labour candidate lost by 6 votes, and claimed that some votes had been cast in person by people out of the country. The petition was lost on a procedural technicality, without judging its validity.

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posted 10 Aug 2006, 19.37 +0100


Fri 11 Aug 2006

End of the flightpath

Two points from Quirks' comment last night. A brief style point first. The use of "islamic" with a lower-case initial is deliberate. Either all religions should be capitalised or none, and as I don't wish to cause offence by questioning the status of some belief systems, it's easiest to say that they all take the lower-case.

The other point deserves longer examination. Is it a good thing that some of the flights yesterday were cancelled? On the overall picture, it's a drop in the ocean - a 20% cancellation rate for one day is barely one flight in 1800 for the year as a whole, and accounts for perhaps 0.06% of the annual emissions from UK flights.

However, there's a bigger picture here. The airline industry, like all modes of transport, relies upon a trade-off between convenience and security. It is possible for aircraft to be utterly secure from damage, but only if the passengers are restrained to their seats, stripped naked, and forced to sleep through the entire journey. This would not be a particularly attractive or convenient method of travel.

At the other extreme, it would be possible to allow anyone to take anything onto a plane. Convenient, but - as the 1970 Zerqa event proved - this presents a significant security risk, one deemed unacceptable by society.

A side-bar to give proportion. The number of people killed in the UK by action described as terrorist in the ten years since August 1997 is approximately 150 - 52 from last July's bombings in London, 29 in Omagh, and other more isolated killings. The number of people killed in the UK by terrorist action from August 87 - July 97 was approximately 1000, mostly related to the guerilla campaign in north Ireland, but including 270 killed by an aircraft bomb at Lockerbie. Here endeth the sidebar

Somewhere in between total security and total convenience lies a happy medium. But where? As anyone who has ever been on a long-haul flight will know, these are experiences to be endured, not enjoyed. Nine hours in a small metal cabin is not particular fun at the best of times. Nine hours in a very small seat, breathing low-pressure, low-humidity air, with rattles and bumps, and with two hundred strange people around, requires the patience of a saint at the best of times.

Anything to ease the journey is going to help - a couple of snacks, a book, some quality entertainment, even the calming assurance that there will be a change of clothes and basic toiletries even if the hold luggage goes missing. It's not much, but it allows people to feel more relaxed, less tense, and that little bit more in control of their time.

At the moment, none of these things can be taken on board, owing to unsubstantiated but detailed claims of a plot against the integrity of certain aircraft. It's a clear strike for security, but may be a tipping point against convenience.

Suppose, for a moment, that this ban is made permanent, and hand luggage as we knew it is effectively outlawed. Where does this leave the airline industry? Far less convenient, for starters. The need for a passenger to create his own space on a short-haul flight is far less than on longer trips However, if business people are no longer able to tinker on their laptops while in flight, they will think twice about the value of the aeroplane against other methods of transport. Lose the business custom, and bang goes your profits on the route.

Already, the London-to-Birmingham air route has been closed thanks to speedy train links - from Charing Cross to the Bull Ring can easily be done in two hours by rail; someone trying to make the trip by air would probably still be in the bowels of Birmingham Airport. London-to-Manchester, perhaps two-and-a-half-hours by air, takes almost exactly the same length of time on the train. If business travellers can't piddle about on their laptops, or scribble on papers while flying, they'll decant to the train. And if the business market goes, expect the route as we know it to go.

Longer distance routes, like London-to-Glasgow, might retain some air custom, but less than we currently see. Routes inadequately served by other modes of transport will retain more of their custom - Charing Cross to the centre of Dublin takes perhaps two-and-a-half hours by air, six hours by train or coach and ferry, maybe five hours by car and boat. Where time is money, the inconvenience of not working for 90 minutes on the plane is counterbalanced by being able to make the return trip in one day.

The big question is how this will affect the leisure carriers, the likes of Steliosjet, O'ryanair, and the others. These companies seduce people with low initial fares, then charge the earth for food, drinks, wheelchairs, and for the honour of putting bags in the hold. If there is no cabin luggage, then their pricing structure is FUBAR. Not to say they'll go out of business, but the charges will all have to go on the initial ticket price. Will this deter people from travelling? If they're operating utterly rationally, probably not, but people are not always utterly rational.

If these restrictions are going to be permanent, and it currently looks like some of them will be, then there are going to be profound changes to the transport infrastructure over the coming years.

We may date the era of convenient air transport in a number of ways; perhaps the single best watershed was 2 May 1952, when the BOAC introduced its first commercial jet service. Restrictions imposed yesterday, 10 August 2006, may yet come to mark the end of the era.

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posted 11 Aug 2006, 18.46 +0100

Two Songs a Week 20 - Say cheese

Lily Allen gets the nod this week. Readers from the UK can probably skip on to the next article, there's nothing you've not lived with for the past couple of months here.

For the benefit of our overseas readers, Lily is the daughter of Keith Allen, a part-time comedian who is usually at his funniest when a television camera isn't pointing his way. Keith also has a profitable side-line in songwriting, being responsible for the singlarly rubbish football anthem Vindaloo, and the singularly brilliant Worldinmotion...

Now, Allen's daughter has got in on the act. She's not quite twenty, and is your stereotypical celebrity daughter - a little bit spoiled, a little bit bratty. She's not as tabloid-beautiful as (say) Bologne Hylton, but has enough presence to make herself the centre of attention. Rumours of drunken debauchery abound, and she's certainly got a popular Monespace place.

The songs on Lily Allen's debut album are light reggae, laced with some laconic lyrics. She claims to be writing from experience, and has cultivated an image to add credibility to her claims. Lead single Smile charts the relationship with an ex-boyfriend. It's going to be the sound by which the hot summer of 2006 is remembered.

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posted 11 Aug 2006, 18.52 +0100

Two Songs a Week

Sat 12 Aug 2006

RAJARs for Q2-06

A little later than I'd planned, here's my analysis of the RAJAR listening figures for the second quarter, released last week.

National stations

Radio 2 remains the nation's favourite for the thirteenth quarter, with an annualised figure remaining at 13.2 million listeners, and 3h25 per head. Radio 1 is back above 10 million for the quarter, the annualised figure creeps up to 10.2m / 2h01. Radio 4 is down a third of a million year-on-year, 9.3m / 2h25.

Slightly surprisingly, Radio 5 drops listeners during the World Cup, remains over 6 million for the quarter, but drops below 6m on annualised - 5.99m / 0h58. Classic FM has recovered a little ground from a very poor first quarter, but remains clearly fifth - 5.90m / 0h54.

Kiss should not be panicking as much as it is, it remains the second biggest national commercial radio brand in the UK - 2.32m / 0h15 represents more hours. Talkshit (2.17m / 0h23) put on some listeners, but remains behind.

Radio 3 loses the ground it gained last time, dropping a quarter of a million listeners (12% of its audience). 1.97m / 0h15 there. Virgin continues to lose listeners, but it's 100,000 this quarter - now down to 1.76m / 0h13. World Service (1.25m / 0h08) is scarcely changed.

Xfm continues to defy analysis, this quarter includes the first results from the new Manchester station. 780,000 / 0h07 represents a continued, but gradual, improvement. BBC-7 continues to come on by leaps and bounds, adding another 7% to listeners and 15% to hours (611,000 / 0h04). The Asian Network gains a few listeners, but hours have shot up by almost 50%, calling into question the reliability of the survey. (439,000 / 0h03).

Of the digital-only stations, Planet Rock suffers its annual spring slip, but is still up year-on-year. (366,000 / 0h02). 6 Music lost listeners but gained 20% hours (326,000 / 0h02). Oneword (128,000 / 0h01) has benefitted from a few Channel 4 Radio programmes, and may yet be turning the corner. Core (111,000 / 0h00) increases its hours by 70%. Life (73,000 / 0h01) lost half its audience and hours; there's now just 200,000 hours across the nation per week, compared with a million this time last year. The Arrow (72,000 / 0h01) holds steady. Cube (50,000 / 0h00) is slowly moving up; the last two stations have incomplete coverage on digital.

BBC local radio

A general reversion to the mean this quarter, with most stations coming back from poor first quarters. Shropshire (29% / 3h26) loses a further four minutes, Hereford & Worcester (26%, 2h43) gains nine minutes and 2% share. Leicester (22%, 2h24) is down a couple of minutes. Oxford (18%, 1h46) regains five minutes. Gloucestershire (17%, 2h08) adds another 1% and eight minutes; it's up almost 50% in hours over the past year. WM (16%, 1h46) posts another good figure. Phil Upton will take breakfast next month, but we won't properly measure that until February's figures. Coventry and Warwickshire (14%, 1h20) loses a further 13 minutes, and is well down on last year. Analogue Asian Network (4%, 0h17) remains low.

Commercial local radio

Starting with the regionals, and Heart 100.7 (24%, 2h09) is holding in place - a slight audience drop doesn't affect its hours. Saga West Mids (12%, 1h25) is also holding position, as is Kerrang (9%, 0h39). In the East Mids, Heart 106 (16%, 1h29) looks to be holding after the re-launch from Century last year, Saga East Mids (12%, 1h22) loses a little more.

Of the heritage ILRs, Fox (32%, 3h10) is still a mile ahead of all competition. Mercia (27%, 2h00) has lost almost a quarter-hour since the autumn survey. BRMB (25%, 1h57) is also coming down, dropping seven minutes as the station loses a little of its lustre. Wyvern (23%, 1h50) recovers somewhat from its disaster in the winter survey, adding half its lost listeners and most of its lost hours. Beacon (20%, 1h44) is slightly down in hours, as seems to be the way.

Rugby (41%, 4h05) remains the leading incremental station. Fosseway (18%, 1h29) also loses hours, Galaxy (17%, 1h27) puts on hours, and The Wolf (15%, 1h03) holds rock steady. The stations formerly known as Kix 96 and The Bear now combine to report as Touch Warwickshire, combining to (20%, 1h50). KIX's last report was 20%, 1h07, The Bear left on 25%, 2h41. Looks like the KM group has rather botched this job, especially as Centre (19%, 1h37) loses audience as it's re-branded Touch Staffordshire.

Finally, the AM services. Mercia-AM (5%, 0h29), Xtra-AM (3%, 0h16), and WABC (3%, 0h16) are all down a little.

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posted 12 Aug 2006, 10.39 +0100


Sun 13 Aug 2006

Short cuts this week

It's a dark, grey, depressing day. I'll come back to the airports crisis to-morrow, there's enough YUCK in the world right now.

The BBC reports on the rise and rise of sterling, indicating that central banks are selling the dollar to diversify their foreign currency holdings.

Language Log: On the rise of the asterisk, and on how Bostonites cannot spell "councillor". The word takes two Ls, as in LLanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

Do No Evil, my arse. G****e climbs into bed with the Dirty Digger. The two companies are a fantastic fit for each other, both having absolutely no regard for any form of ethics, honour, or truth.

John Reid's racist speech deserved greater attention than a Pollyanna article.

One from the stream-of-consciousness file: Would anyone mind if I punched a charity collector in the nose? Yang to that underwear song's yin.

Google remains a steaming pile of dung. Just to-day, it's in the firing line for collaborating with the repressive regime in Red China. And ZD-Net examines the information behemoth's claim that its commercials have "value in and of themselves". The conclusion: Google ads are run by idiots, for idiots. The unstated conclusion: Adblock is your friend, as is diverting to the bit bucket.

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posted 13 Aug 2006, 14.51 +0100

The Secret Radio Project

Over in one of Birmingham's twin cities, there's a plan to open up the radio airwaves to all-comers.

From next April, WBEW, which broadcasts to much of Chicagou on 89.5 MHz, will let hosts loose on the airwaves for two hours at a time. In theory, they'll be free to play anything that strikes their fancy. The station will also run listener-generated content, a best-of Amateur Hour if you will.

From the sounds of it, this will be completely unpredictable radio, a distinct paradigm shift to allowing disparate voices to be heard. There's very little new under the sun: see also London's Resonance FM.

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posted 13 Aug 2006, 15.01 +0100

Music in week 32

The artist airplay list, then.

1. - kasabian         5
2. 1 lily allen       5
3. - kelly clarkson   4
4. 7 lostprophets     4
5. 2 automatic        4
6. 8 kooks            4
7. - mcfly            4
8. 5 feeling          4
9. - veronicas        3
10 - orson            3

Germany has a new number one, Xavier Naidoo (the local Will Young) hits with Danke, the first non-football topper since May. Sebastian Harmer and Reamonn both hit the upper reaches. A new number two in France, Facon sex, performed by Tribal King, does exactly what it says on the tin. And a new number one in Sweden, where Helena Paparizou - last year's Eurovision winner - has Heroes. Not entirely sure if this is a David Bowie cover...

North Europe's Top Twenty

 20 17 Sportfreunde Stiller - 54 70 90 2006
 19  9 Pink - Who knew?
*18 NE Kasabian - Empire
 17 re Keane - Is it any wonder?
*16 NE Cascada - Everytime we touch
 15 18 Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway
 14 14 Infernal - From Paris to Berlin
*13 15 Depeche Mode - John the revelator
 12 10 Plage - Coup de boule
*11 11 Lostprophets - Rooftops
*10 13 Basshunter - Boten Anna
* 9 16 Paris Hilton - Stars are blind
  8  7 Kooks - She moves in her own way
  7  8 Feeling - Fill my little world
* 6  6 Muse - Supermassive black hole
  5  5 Gnarls Barkley - Crazy
* 4  4 Automatic - Monster
* 3  3 Lily Allen - Smile
  2  1 Nelly Furtado - Maneater
* 1  2 Shakira - Hips don't lie

Two new entries this week, both sizable hits in the UK. Kasabian's pomp rock is taking off in a big way, and Cascada's is the cheese-dance hit of the summer. Shakira returns to the top for an 11th week.

Shakira remains top of the charts for an umpteenth week, but the trancey-dancey nonsense from Cascada advances to number 2. It's not that it's rubbish, it's just not particularly interesting. With very few records moving up or down beneath, the highest chart entry is right down at number 15: View were the support act on the recent Babyshambles tour, and might have hoped to do a little better. For the two or three people who need a new mix of Mousse T's hit, or who haven't got sick of Bohemian like you after Vermin radio played it twice an hour for a year, Horny as a dandy lands at 17.

Orson are in trouble - the full release of Happiness can only make position 27. Looks like they'll go down in history as this year's Babylon Zoo. Highest proper new entry comes from Chamillionaire (19, downloads, shite). Also new: Cassie (23, downloads, dull urban). David Guetta (28, downloads, dull dance). Tom Novy (31, dance). Peter, Björn and John (35, beat-rock). Panic At The Disco! (39, excruciatingly long titles). Primal Scream (40, deserved far better). Seth Lakeman and Cerys Matthews both miss the top 50, and there are download entries for Choclate Puma and Beenie Man. Deletion of the week belongs to the Automatic, whose Monster should still be tickling the top 30.

On the album list, James Morrison remains on top for a second week, with Orson climbing back into the top 10. Pink, Feeder, the Feeling, and Nelly Furtardo climb into the 20. Fastest climber honours go to Ronan Keating, whose biography says he's 31. Twelve earth years ago, he was 21. Highest new entry - indeed, the only new entry - goes to Chamillionaire, at number 33. One place lower is Pink Floyd's 1994 Pulse album, now reduced to tuppence-halfpenny. And, as we suspected last week, the Journey South album really was being sold off at two quid - this week, it's up from 53 to 43.

Here's the good stuff on the singles listing:

 1  1 Shakira - Hips don't lie
 7  7 Lily Allen - Smile
11 14 Kooks - She moves in her own way
15 73 View - Wasted little deejays
16 10 Kasabian - Empire
17 42 Mousse T / Dandy Warhols -
  - Horny as a dandy
24 12 McFly - Please please
27 52 Orson - Happiness
30 24 Zutons - Valerie
32 26 Pink - Who knew?
35 NE Peter Bjorn and John - Young folks
39 NE Panic At The Disco -
  - Lying is the most fun a girl can have
   without taking her clothes off
40 NE Primal Scream - Dolls
41 36 Feeling - Fill my little world
42 38 Kooks - Naive
43 30 Captain - Glorious
44 34 Muse - Supermassive black hole
50 43 Lostprophets - Rooftops
51 29 Raconteurs - Hands
52 NE Seth Lakeman - Lady of the sea
54 55 Orson - Bright idea
55 NE Metric Monster - Hospital
58 33 Holloways - Two left feet
59 50 Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway
63 41 Pet Shop Boys - Minimal
64 48 Keane - Is it any wonder?
67 40 Frank - I'm not shy
68 63 Jose Gonzalez - Hand on your heart
71 67 Primal Scream - Country girl
72 44 Boy Kill Boy - Civil sin
74 69 Raconteurs - Steady as she goes

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posted 13 Aug 2006, 19.33 +0100

Weather in week 32

The week began with continued southerly air, but they drifted on to the continent during Tuesday, replaced by a northerly airflow bringing colder weather, though still very little in the way of rain.

07 Mo cloud to sun        15/24
08 Tu bright              12/26
09 We sunny spells        14/19, 0.5
10 Th drizzle             13/19, 1.5
11 Fr cloud               13/20
12 Sa cloud               12/19
13 Su drizzle             11/15, 7.5

Ten degree cooling days this week takes the summer's total to 305. The last three years were 161/237 last year, 152/184 two summers ago, and 233/310 in 2003. It's almost certain that this summer will become the hottest of the century - the last hotter summer was that of 1997, 337 DCDs. Not if we have any more days like to-day, the coldest since (checks records) 30 May, and colder than eighteen nights since, including a run of seven nights from 18-24 July, the height of the canicule.

Next week may not bring all that many cooling days, though. A series of low pressure areas will pass over the UK, bringing rain to most parts. From mid-week, southern areas might well experience warmer conditions, with the winds feeding up from the continent. Expect the most significant rainfall in the west on Tuesday, and showers - possibly thundery - in the south-east from Wednesday. No areas will be immune from showers, so do wrap up.

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posted 13 Aug 2006, 19.37 +0100


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