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Mon 12 Jun 2006

Something to read

One of m'learned friends asks for some good modern reading.

What I'm really looking for is a magazine / periodical that does essays and analysis on politics, culture, philosophy, art, etc. However, most magazines that seem to cover this ground are rooted in current affairs (and are rather parochial), and I'd rather read something that's original than just a better-researched newspaper article.

Good question, and I'm not sure I've found anything that quite fits the bill. The issue of Prospect magazine I read in March was worth reading, filling up a long train trip to Middlesbrough, and a good part of the return, but it's not something I'd particularly expect to read under more normal circumstances.

Many people mention the London Review of Books. The sample issue I picked up over Easter seemed obsessed by a hair-splitting argument about the Israeli lobby, a correspondence that still seems to be preoccupying the letters column. When things have quietened down, I may well pick up another copy and review properly.

The weekly thinkmags - the New New Statesman, the New Spectator, and the Not New At All Economist - have traditionally failed the news test. I've not yet seen a New New Statesman or a New Spectator, but other commentators suggest there's little change there. Similar arguments, particularly about the parochialism, extend to Timeless and Newsweak.

Wikipedia's huge list of magazines includes such delights as the Big Issue (absurdly difficult to get hold of, though I understand the crossword is reliably good), the bi-monthly Philosophy Now, and the Times Literary Supplement.

Compressed versions of existing reports, such as The Week and the Reader's Digest fall foul of the current affairs and depth rules, respectively. A similar argument prevents a rec for Private Eye.

From the overseas list, such titles as The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers' Magazine, the New Amsterdam Revue of Books, and New Amsterdammen. Import costs and postal delays will weigh heavily, even if the periodicals themselves don't.

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posted 12 Jun 2006, 19.42 +0100

Wed 21 Jun 2006

State of failure

It is, of course, a fact that the collective nation proposed by our North American Colonies is a failed state. The individual provinces are generally working, roughly in proportion to their proximity to Lake Erie, but the attempt to pool sovereignty is a blatant failure. Noam Chomsky has reached similar conclusions in his book Failed State. The Observer, the Sunday wing of Het Grauniad, and no friend of Mr Chomsky, has slammed his work. Correspondents to the ObsBlog have filled a very, very long page with their comments. A more sober (and briefer) meta-review comes from the unlikely place of Lenin's Tomb, short enough to read in less than a day.

Speaking of failed states, Simon Jenkins has something to say on how Catalonia could provide a blueprint for British devolution. Alice Thompson's proposal - to end the Barnett formula by which England bribes Scotland to remain in the union - has a clear logic, but it's only a baby step down the path to true democracy. Seperate UK and English parliaments would be better; seperate parliaments for the true regions of England would be even better.

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posted 21 Jun 2006, 19.39 +0100

Tue 18 Jul 2006

Newsmagazines

It is a cliché of the first order to review the New Statesman and the Spectator at the same time. Still, why not? The magazines are meant to be the two arts-and-news publications, a bit like the good bits of a Sunday paper boiled down to 64 pages. Both face competition from the news-only Economist, and the no-new-content The Week. Both have been re-launched in recent months. Are they any cop?

The Speccie is currently comparing itself to champagne - potent and effervescent, according to publisher Kimberley Quinn. The edition I saw, from late-June, was utterly vapid in the news section. A portrait of David Davis told me nothing, the columnists advanced no argument at all. However, the arts reviews were informative, witty, and honest, particularly an attack on the back-slapping nature of book awards. I also liked the games page, which treated the world cup with appropriate irreverence.

The Staggers says it will expand minds and change worlds. The news section certainly does that - coverage of the Taliban and the failure of feminism in North America was a fresh perspective, and the columns were mostly informative. Kevin Maguire was particularly vapid, though. The magazine's arts coverage lacked a cutting edge, and - books aside - seemed to be fitting a quart into a pint pot. The magazine ends on a low note, with a navel-gazing column from Julian Clary - another engagement where he's not making a good fist.

Both papers have political leanings - the Spectator's editors include Nigel Lawson-Badger and Boris Johnson, while the Statesman is owned by Blairite cabinet minister Geoffrey Robinson. It's the Statesman that suffers from its view, rarely straying from safe ground for a left-wing publication, and this becomes stifling after just one read. The Spectator tries to give some balance to the other side, and even though it doesn't do the job well, it deserves some credit for trying - I found the magazine to be refreshing.

The magazine's layouts are also vastly different. The Statesman uses a lot of photographs, thrown onto the page in a particularly modern manner. It looks and feels like a magazine of this age. The Spectator, in contrast, has three columns on every page, with photographs and cartoons fitting exactly into this grid. The result there is a very old-fashioned magazine, almost a throw-back to the fifties.

Ultimately, I think the perfect magazine would be the Statesman's news coverage coupled with the Spectator's arts pages. Later this year, the BBC will launch itself back into this market, fifteen years after The Listener printed its last. I would hope that the new magazine will pick up where its predecessor left off, giving support to broadcasts on the Third and Fourth, coupled with some news-and-arts coverage. There are high standards out there, but no one mag yet covers it all.

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posted 18 Jul 2006, 19.06 +0100

Wed 09 Aug 2006

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

Sun 27 Aug 2006

Paper round
papers

Another day, another opinion poll. YouGuv for the Torygraph group has:

C   38 (nc)
Lab 31 (-2)
LD  18 (nc)

That set of figures suggests the Tories are picking up votes almost equally from Labour and the Lib Dems. The make-up of parliament:

C   297-322
Lab 258-277
LD   35- 45

In short: Conservatives the largest party in a hung parliament.

The front page of the Sindie goes on about new rights for parents - they'll be entitled to work part-time, and to call off work because their kid is sick. Isn't this all rather selfish from the child-bearing, forcing those of us who do not have offspring to do all the work while they go off and do their business? Already, there are huge tax breaks and cash, a six-figure handout to each child. This is manifestly unfair, and it's creating an unnecessary gap between the breeders and the workers.

Not entirely convinced by to-day's Sindie. It uses the Loaded Word™ inappropriate to trail an article on tweenagers. The I-word passes a moral judgement and surpresses all subsequent debate. Nor do we like the hand-wringing Daily Hell approach to crime.

Front page of the Obs is David Cameron calling former British prime minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher "wrong" over South African apartheid. Blimey, he'll be suggesting that privatising everything in sight was an error next.

The Sunset Times leads with ten million wanting to leave the UK. In a breath-taking leap of logic, the paper claims that this is all because of, er, high taxes. The poll was carried out for a low-tax pressure group, a fact hidden in the eighth paragraph.

Top of the Torygraph is a claim that NHS errors kill thousands each year. How many more lives are saved by good work? Buried inside is a statement from Jimmy Carter, in which he says soon to be former British prime minister Mister Tony Blair is compliant and submissive, and is to blame for the messes in the world.

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posted 27 Aug 2006, 15.58 +0100

Sun 03 Sep 2006

The news to-day. Hoo boy.
papers

In the papers to-day: Armando Iannucci reveals Tony Blair's plan to expand the year to 68 months. And Patience Wheatcroft reckons the supercasino is a stitch-up and it's going to the Millennium Doom. Dr Fox says that Turkey should join the EU, Peter Taylor wonders why the west won't talk to al-Qaeda. The Sindie says that Blair will be served notice to quit by his cabinet next week. And in the tabloids, more lies.

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posted 03 Sep 2006, 14.28 +0100

Sat 09 Sep 2006

That's the price of newsprint
price-of-newsprint

Newspapers are going up in price. Boo. The Sunset Times increases its price to £2, the Sunday Torygraph also moves up 20p to £1.80; the Obs and Sindie remain at £1.70 for the moment. Edit - the Sindie increased to £1.80 on 17 September.

Saturday's Torygraph moves up 10p to £1.40, level with the Indie; the UDRtab also goes up 10p to £1.30, on a par with Het Graudian. Even the daily editions of the T and T are up - the Torygraph advances 5p to 70p, the UDR up 5p to 65p. The Indie and Graun are both 70p. The Financial Times remains at £1 on weekdays, £1.20 on Saturday.

A little piece of historical context. Page-counts have barely changed over the last five years, when the Sundays cost £1.20 (the Torygraph was 10p cheaper). Saturdays were 75p, weekdays 50p (Times 40p). Ten years ago was the height of the cost-cutting circulation war, when one could pay get a whole week's newspapers for about two quid.

Fifteen years ago, the Sunday editions all cost 80p (up from 60p at the start of the year); all but the Sindie have roughly doubled their page count since - allowing for the conversion to tabloid, the Sindie is up barely 40%. The Saturday editions were 50p a pop, but have increased by roughly three-fold since; the weekdays (then 45p) have typically increased by about 50%. The FT has increased its page-count by about 30% in all editions.

And twenty years ago? 50p for the three Sundays (the Sindie didn't launch until 1990), 25p for the weekday press, the Indie charged 30p for Saturday, the FT 30p all days. All editions roughly doubled in size between 1986 and 1991.

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posted 09 Sep 2006, 11.03 +0100

Tue 19 Sep 2006

If this is the first prize, what do the losers get?

The local rag is giving away tickets to see Herr Plunkett on his hector tour late this month. To win the tickets, people must answer the following question:

Which was David Plunkett's last cabinet job before his resignation?
a) Prime minister
b) Foreign secretary
c) Home secretary

The correct answer - Secretary of State for Work, Pensions, Getting the Taxpayer to Pay For Your Girlfriend's Train Tickets, Lying to the Press, Ignoring People Offering Honourable Advice, and Generally Being a Cad - was noticeable by its absence.

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posted 19 Sep 2006, 18.43 +0100

Wed 11 Oct 2006

Writing like an economist

The Economist style guide in a nutshell:

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posted 11 Oct 2006, 19.52 +0100

Sun 10 Dec 2006

Sports Poisonality of the Year

Exceedingly sour grapes from the Sunset Times about the BBC's Sports Review of the Year broadcast to-night. According to the World's Biggest Tabloid, people are alleging that the BBC has somehow rigged the selection process to ensure that it's not won by an unfunny comedian who swam the Channel in the name of charity.

The shortlist of ten individuals was compiled by votes from journalists, experts, online, and postal voting. Thirty-seven sets of votes were contributed; twenty national newspapers (nothing from the FT, or from the Racing Post), twelve regional papers (a heavy bias towards the West Midlands, and against the M62 corridor), and two comics joined the two public and one staff vote. M'learned friend Mr. Pokery reviews the complete set of nominations, and profiles all those who received at least two nods.

The Sunset Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and hence will never pass up an opportunity to bash the BBC. Even when its attacks have no base in reality, the organ will still bash the broadcaster. In that light, it's interesting to review the ten names it sent to the nomination process:

Joe Calzaghe (boxer, 31 noms)
Dee Caffari (sailor, only nom)
Nicole Cooke (cyclist, 20)
Matt Hampson (rugby, 1)
Monty Panesar (cricketer, 33)
Zara Phillips (eventer, 27)
Graham Poll (comedian, 2)
Hope Powell (footballer, 1)
Beth Tweddle (gymnast, 25)
Ian Woosnam (golf captain, 10)

Two points; Woosnam was one of four people with ten nominations chasing three places on the ballot, and was the one left out of the final ten. Hampson was left paralysed by a training accident in March 2005, and has not played since.

If the Sunset Times wanted David Walliams to win the title, surely the organ would have nominated him? The two nods came from the Daily Tabloid (another Murdoch organ) and the Evening Substandard (certainly not a Murdoch publication.) He didn't appear in the top ten of either public vote, which shows the depth of the well of support from which he's supping. The Sunset Times drones on:

When the shortlist was announced last week Walliams’s name was missing. Instead Phil "the Power" Taylor, the darts player, was said to have received more nominations.

There's no said to about it. He did receive more nominations. Eight more, in fact. And, even though Taylor wins the "world" championship shown to almost two people by Murdoch's local station Staines-Kingston-Yeading Television, his nominations include the BBC Experts Panel. The Sunset Times continues,

Viewers have claimed that if it had been left to the public vote Walliams was a certainty to be on the shortlist.

Er, no. Here's the Online Vote:

Joe Calzaghe
Darren Clarke (golfer, 32)
Nicole Cooke
Peter Crouch (footballer, 4)
Mick Gault (shooter, 1)
Monty Panesar
Steve Peat (downhill cyclist, 1)
Zara Phillips
Phil Taylor (dartist, 10)
Beth Tweddle

And here's the Postal Vote:

Jenson Button (car driver, 10)
Joe Calzaghe
Darren Clarke
Nicole Cooke
Darren Kenny (cyclist, paralympics, 1)
Monty Panesar
Zara Phillips
Shelley Rudman (skeleton bob, 7)
Phil Taylor
Beth Tweddle

The public did not vote for Walliams, it's that plain, it's that simple.

Ultimately, the Sunset Times is annoyed that the BBC can actually get the public to interact with its programmes. Channels like SKY, which subsist on a diet of parks football and watching grass grow, can only dream of audiences in single figures, never mind the millions who will tune in to the BBC presentation to-night.

Further reading: the top threes for 1954-2002.

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posted 10 Dec 2006, 12.06 +0000

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