Thursday, August 10, 2006

There will now be a short intermission

Places to go, things to do, people to see, holidays to be had and so on. So not much likelihood of any more postings here for a month or so, bet you can hardly wait, eh?

Au revoir et bonne chance mes amis.....

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

WF Deedes

It’s a while since this article in celebration of WF Deedes’s 75 years in journalism appeared in the Telegraph. But I’ve only just been given the cutting by my mum having not seen it myself being a very infrequent Telegraph reader.

I warmed to ‘Bill’ Deedes when I was listening to Test Match Special in northern Brittany a few years back. He was the Saturday lunchtime guest and I was rather disappointed that it wasn’t raining in England so he couldn’t stay on for longer.

In my view he’s more of a old-fashioned Whig than a Tory even though he’s been a Conservative MP. He’s distinguished by being the only person to be a cabinet minister and edit a national newspaper (although not at the same time). He’s lived through two World Wars and fought in one so “nothing much shocks” him.

His younger colleagues may rail at the state of the world, but Deedes never sees the handcart, and he has already witnessed a sort of hell, while serving in uniform.”

He is restrained in criticising contemporary politicians because he reported on the utter mess that they made of the world in the 1930s.”

We ignore our wise old buffers at our peril......

Party members – what are we for?

At least one blogger was miffed by my comment on another site in which I suggested that "Labour members should have, at most, no hand in policy and decision making!". I made it apropos the NEC elections and the election of a bunch of wishful-thinkers to that august body; it was intended to be a little tongue-in-cheek. Actually the vast majority of Labour members demonstrated a sensibly mature attitude to their representatives on the NEC by abstaining.

Some members think that payment of their subscription entitles them to huge input over party policy. This seems to me to be fairly close to an attempt to buy influence. It is quite right that those dedicated souls who have been prepared to work for years to establish their positions and to build up alliances should have the greatest influence over policy.

The great bulk of members can hope, at best, to provide encouragement to those senior party members who best represent their views. It cannot be otherwise, there are so many of us. If the party leader were to spend just five minutes discussing policy with each member and did nothing else it would take him more than eight years to complete the task!

And members should always keep in mind that they almost certainly don’t represent the views of ‘normal’ people, those tens of millions of strange Britains who don’t want to join any party. They are likely to find our obsessions and our certainties a major turn off.

There’s a nice little comment piece by Alice Miles in the Times today about the problems David Cameron is having with Tory members and associations. "Sometimes a little less democracy is in order" she starts, "Mr Cameron ought to recognise, as Labour once had to, that trying to persuade local parties to change has failed." Some of her words about Tory bigots might equally apply to a few members of other parties "They put off any voter not one of theirs already. ..... Yes, they pop leaflets through doors, but .... they have an immeasurable negative [effect], every time they knock on a door, appear on television or select another candidate just the same as the one before him and the one before him".

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Surely, not another TV review?

British politics being in limbo and there being little to write about save wars that are far too complex and depressing for a blog such as this, all that can be mustered is another TV review. Rob Brydon's Annually Retentive on BBC3 makes buying a freeview box worthwhile (not all programmes are available in all areas).

Stoppers don’t like to be ignored

On the same page as my letter today the Guardian carries one from two members of the Stop the War Coalition. They are annoyed that the paper, along with most others, carried no news of their demonstration in London on Saturday. They sound like petulant children showing off in the park who have been ignored by the grown ups.....

I have no doubt that most people who went on the march were well meaning but what did they think they’d achieve? I’m sure it got even less attention in Israel or the Lebanon than it got in Britain. Perhaps they should have given the money they spent on bus or train fares to UNICEF or one of the other charities working in that troubled region. But that, of course, wouldn’t have been such a grand empty gesture.

John McDonnel MP who wants to lead the Labour Party seems to be a fan of empty gestures. A Councillor Writes wrote quite convincingly about why he won’t be voting for John....

Truth, what is truth?

There’s another letter of mine to be read in the Guardian today. It’s a comment on David Clark‘s piece on Saturday and attempts to counter his rewriting of history.

His piece occupied the place which usually carries Martin Kettle’s Saturday thoughts which are usually scrupulously accurate and fair. So I was surprised to read distortions and half-truths in it this week. I hadn’t noticed the change of author; perhaps Mr Kettle is on holiday as, it seems, are British politics and political blogging.

It’s odd that Tony Blair’s most noisy opponents such as Mr Clark seem to think he possess almost magical powers to control the world and its leaders. Perhaps they read too many James Bond books when they were young. Only they and a few sad old jingoistic saloon-bar buffers seem to imagine that Britain still commands huge influence.

Pontius Pilate is rumoured to have said “truth what is truth” when questioning Jesus, although some translations change the second ‘truth’ to ‘that’. But, as it was probably said in Latin but recorded many years ago in Hebrew or Greek and then translated a few more times until it got into the book of Bible stories used at my Sunday School, it's hard to be certain. When I was Very Young I thought Pontius was an adjective to distinguish the bloke from other Pilates, which I took to be a job title. But I didn’t know what Pontius meant; important but a little pompous perhaps. It’s a wonderful name.......

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Fame at last

My blog, or at least this post is getting an intermittent mention on the BBC Two television web site. Perhaps I should do some more pithy TV reviews. Did anyone spot my attempted hommage to Clive James (the subject of my previous review) and his masterful ‘it's a human interest film, it makes you concentrate on the usherette’? No; wasn’t much good was it?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A columnist writes about newspaper columnists

Ian Jack, in the Guardian Review, is a favourite Saturday read for me. His column today is about newspaper columns. He points out that “until the late 20th century a column in a newspaper .... was a rare ornament to the plain stuff of news”.

Today they’re as common as something that there’s quite a lot of (sorry similes aren’t a strong point for me). But he wonders how long the form will survive: “Anyone can write a blog, and even some newspaper columnists write them. If informality is one of the aims of the column, then how does it differ from a blog?

In his early days as a journalist he was told by an early exponent of the form that "the trouble with columns is that you have to keep on doing the bloody things". As Alan Bennett’s character, a sermonising ineffectual curate, might have said ‘some of us think that [blogging]’s a bit like that’.

At the end of the column, Mr Jack makes a Terrible Revelation but I won’t spoil the surprise in case you, too, are a fan of his.......

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tories turn chicken in London shock

The farce around the (rather premature to some) selection of a candidate to lose the next London Mayoral Election for the Tories has taken another turn according to the BBC.

I wonder how long we’ll have to wait until they decide to drop their plan “to give Londoners the final say over their candidate in a series of X-Factor-style public votes designed, in the words of leader David Cameron, to "fire the public's imagination".”

Are you feeling lucky?

My blog comes first in some Google searches! What a bummer, imagine pressing the "I’m Feeling Lucky" button and ending up here.....

The miracle that is StatCounter lets me see how some of my readers have found their way here (except of course those smart-arses and/or paranoids who know how to hide such information). Unlike newly A-listed Iain Dale with his 292,613 hits a month (about 10,000 a day) I usually get fewer than 100 a day and can have a quick look to see from whence people came (if I’ve nothing better to do after switching off the telly to avoid Armando Iannucci or similar).

But what, I know you can’t wait to find out, are these searches? They both seem to work on both the version and the .com ditto of Google. One is about bird flu. The other combines Shirley Williams with Alexei Sayle (as with John Major and Edwina Currie, I don’t think I’d know which of them to feel most sorry for).

So there you have it. If you’re desperately in need of my wit and wisdom but can’t remember my URL, two more quick ways to find me.....

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet

My second TV review this week and it's still only Thursday. Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet is the sort of programme that makes you want to hug the man who invented the off switch.

Further to my previous post.....

..... I was surprised to find that the Guardian had printed some of my letter on the same topic today. Surprised because (a) I didn’t think it was one of my better ones and (b) they often ring up before publishing to check that the letter comes from who it says it comes from, but they didn’t this time.

Here’s the full version:

Dear Sir

By all means let's be "In praise of ... solar power" (Leader - Tuesday August 1, 2006) but, in the immortal words of the Who, let's hope "we don't get fooled again". Solar panels have to be manufactured and installed; this requires energy. Purchasers should ask how long will it take the gizmos to produce as much useable energy. Until that time is reached their output can't be considered to be 'green'. Unfortunately the answer both for solar panels and for domestic windmills, like the fashion statement which David Cameron is having installed, may well be longer than their expected lifetime.

yours faithfully.

Shame that they missed out the quote from the Who.......

Wide boys, fashion gurus and renewable energy

I wonder how the slightly new-age, mildly hippy folk who have dominated the ‘green’ movement are reacting to the entry of renewable energy into the mainstream. Large scale businesses are cashing in on people’s real concerns about climate change and, hey presto, along come the sharp salespeople always ready to spot a new opportunity to pick up some easy commission.

This morning our postman delivered one of those unstamped letters. This one offers us the chance to participate in a renewable energy programme and dangles massive discounts to those few carefully selected households willing to be part of it. The blurb is almost exactly the same as letters which promised cheap exterior painting or double glazing in exchange for taking part in some, probably non existent, special promotion.

I’ve no doubt that the salesperson’s patter would be almost the same as in those scams.

Now I’m all in favour of renewable energy but, as someone who long ago trained as an electrical engineer, I’m aware of some of the realities particularly around domestic installations.

The gizmos such as the wind turbine which David Cameron is famously having installed on his house are rapidly becoming fashion statements. But are they any good? In particular will they help at all in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

I have my doubts. The kit has to be manufactured and installed. This takes energy and raw materials and, as a consequence, produces greenhouse gases. I fear that present generation domestic wind turbines and solar panels may in their lifetime produce less useful energy per kilogram of greenhouse gas than could have been got from a gas power station or domestic gas boiler for the same amount of greenhouse gas.

Ironically many of the green lobby have used big business’s domination of conventional power plants as an argument against them. Big business = wicked capitalists = nasty profits = corruption and spin in their eyes. But now, are the bad guys moving in on their patch?

Ironically also, it’ll only be large scale industrial size developments that will provide real solutions to the problems....

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Clive James talks to Mark Lawson

One of the downsides of a free society is that there’s bound to be lots of things you don’t like in it. Not sure if that’s quite what he said but I think I’ve caught the gist of one of the gems from this BBC4 TV programme. It’s on again at midnight tomorrow so, if you’ve missed it, set your recorder now.

It’s odd to review a programme about a man who made his fame as the Observers TV critic in the 1970s. Odd and pointless, he had a readership tens of thousand times the size of mine. Because there were no VCRs he had to watch all three channels at once and scribble furious notes. I watched him from my VCR.....

He says he works too hard partly he thinks because his father was killed in a plane crash at the end of WWII and Clive has a compulsion not to waste his own years.

He’s done a lot but managed to remain worth listening to. He saved his money and doesn’t have expensive toys he says which is why he could retire early. On a more modest scale, so have I. But he’s still very, very busy. Some of what he’s up to is on his web site.

Go on, watch the programme.....

Tony Blair, Palestine and the struggle for tolerance, freedom & respect

The Prime Minister’s long Speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council is worth reading in full. In it he asked, "What are the values that govern the future of the world? Are they those of tolerance, freedom, respect for difference and diversity or those of reaction, division and hatred?"

He concluded by saying, "Our values are worth struggling for. They represent humanity's progress throughout the ages and at each point we have had to fight for them and defend them. As a new age beckons, it is time to fight for them again."

I have no doubt that Tony Blair’s detractors will continue to blame him for all the ills of our world. But I hope that less biased people will acknowledge the power of his analysis and his genuine desire to make the world a bit better. I have to admit I’m not unbiased; I’ve long had a huge respect for him and am unlikely to be shifted in my view that he’s an exceptional man, the finest PM we’ve had for decades and a skilful international diplomatist.

I’m sure he’s correct to put the Palestinian question at the heart of his speech. I’m pleased that he seems to be using his influence in the US to drive them faster towards playing their key role in finding an end to this festering sore in the Middle East. People are still living there in refugee camps that were set up before I was born; children are being born to parents and grandparents who have never know a life outside. A solution must be found.

On this topic, earlier on in the speech he said, "unless we revitalise the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade, and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to making peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win. ...... I want, what we all now acknowledge we need: a two state solution. The Palestinian State must be independent, viable but also democratic and not threaten Israel's safety. This is what the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want. Its significance for the broader issue of the Middle East and for the battle within Islam, is this. The real impact of a settlement is more than correcting the plight of the Palestinians. It is that such a settlement would be the living, tangible, visible proof that the region and therefore the world can accommodate different faiths and cultures ..... this progress will not happen unless we change radically our degree of focus, effort and engagement, especially with the Palestinian side. In this the active leadership of the US is essential......"

Go on – read the whole thing, you know you want to.....

Slow Down

The Government will order local authorities to reconsider the limits on all roads this month, particularly rural ones, where 63 per cent of road deaths happen”, reports Times Online.

Good, I’ve long thought that 60 mph is way too fast for many of our local roads. I expect the neanderthals in associations for drivers or motorists will scream that their human rights are in jeopardy. They seem to believe that the right to speed is enshrined in Magna Carta or some such.

It’s odd that speeding and tax evasion seem to be respectable crimes; normally law abiding people seem happy to boast about committing them. Curious that putting lives at risk or stealing money from the rest of us should be thought to be fine, upstanding behaviour.......

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Castro not in power shock

Times online reports that Fidel Castro has relinquished power in Cuba for the first time in 47 years. Crickey, like heavy man; this guy’s been running the place on, like, true communist lines for, like, all but eight years of my life.

Possibly the second most frightening day of my life was back during the Cuban missile crisis which got a big mention in our school’s morning assembly.

It was quite scary again a couple of years later when the four minute warning emergency sirens were tested in the middle of a French lesson. I didn’t know it was going to happen and our numptie French teacher (he was a teacher of French but English and with a worse accent even than mine or Edward Heath’s) didn’t bother to say anything but just went on trying to teach us an irregular verb or two. I guess a lot of us wondered why but, being boys, even on the brink of possible oblivion we couldn’t show any fear......