Saturday, June 28, 2008

Nothing to say on this one, David?

So far not a word from David 'Freedom Fighter' Davis on the emergency legislation to allow anonymity to witnesses in trials, in response to a Court of Appeal judgement that ruled this practice illegal.
Yet this is as much a fundamental legal principle as habeas corpus - that you have the right to know the identity of people making accusations against you and that, unless you do, you cannot defend yourself adequately.
For a long time we have concealed witnesses' identities in court where necessary and had Witness Protection Schemes in the most severe cases. I have no problem with that. But the current argument is about concealing the identity of a witness from both the defendant and the defendant's counsel, making it impossible for the latter to mount a defence or to properly cross-examine.
This will inevitably lead to miscarriages of justice. Accusations and false statements will be made from malice or, as has often happened in the past, by fellow prisoners doing a deal with the police.
But this policy stems from the 'convictions at any cost' mindset which is now so prevalent and is supported by all political parties.

People get particularly exercised by the low conviction rate in rape cases. Here, by the way, you have the illogicality and unfairness of victims getting anonymity but defendants not.
The problem with rape cases is that, where there is no other evidence, it is one person's word against another's. Inevitably, it is difficult for a jury to make a decision that is 'beyond reasonable doubt'.
But many people are reluctant to accept this intrinsic and insurmountable difficulty and call for more people to be convicted.

Let me put two propositions to you:
a) "We should try to convict more people who have committed rape."
b) "We should try to get more convictions in rape cases."
(a) is a laudable ambition.
(b) is nonsense and also dangerous because it can lead to reducing the burden of proof and thereby lead to the conviction of the innocent.

We have had a similar approach to child abuse cases, with campaigners like Esther Rantzen claiming that children never lie and should therefore be spared rigorous cross-examination. When it's pointed out that nobody lies more than children, they say "ah yes, but they don't lie about sexual abuse." Sadly, they do, sometimes without realising the implications.
I knew a woman who was a court reporter who told me a harrowing tale of a gang of young kids who lied about sexual abuse. By the time they admitted they had lied, the unfortunate man they accused had killed himself following coverage of the case in the local press.
Last week the Court of Appeal heard the extraordinary and shocking case of a 14 year old girl who falsely accused her brother and his friend of indecent assault when she was nine. The two boys were 11 and 12 at the time. Her brother was taken into care and both boys suffered terribly as a result of the false accusation.
Unfortunately, these are by no means rare examples of lives destroyed by false accusations. Making it easier to convict would lead to many more.

Many people seem to take the view that if we can convict more guilty people the conviction of a few innocent ones is a price worth paying.
I take the opposite view. I would rather that some guilty people went free than see innocent people locked up for many years.
And I would say to those who disagree with me: would you offer yourself up as part of 'the price worth paying'?
If you were wrongly convicted because fundamental principles of justice had been weakened and the burden of proof reduced, would you sit in your cell for ten or twenty years saying "Ah well, this is all in a good cause. I was unlucky but a few more guilty men are also behind bars"?

In the meantime, I await a ringing declaration from Mr Davis of the right of an accused to know the identity of his accuser.
I suspect I may have a long wait.

It's 12.30am and Willie is in the Diary Room

I've seen very little of Big Brother (although even if I'd watched all of it I probably wouldn't admit it).
But last night I flicked over from the Nelson Mandela concert when Amy Winehouse appeared because looking at the poor girl makes me feel queasy. And, if I dare say it, I'm rather disappointed with Mandela: when he finally spoke about Mugabe he referred to a "failure of leadership". That sounds rather like a comment that might be made about a Team Leader in a call centre in his annual appraisal. Taking our cue from Mandela, we could perhaps say that Hitler was well-meaning but misguided?

Anyway, I was in time to see Big Brother's annual Big Row, without having a clue what it was about.
I had seen part of the first programme and decided that these were possibly the most obnoxious group of housemates thus far, apart from Luke who, for some mysterious reason, I quite like. Luke has a strong Lancashire accent so in the profile of him the accompanying soundtrack was, naturally, a song by George Formby. Yet housemates from London are not normally introduced to a soundtrack by Chas and Dave. That's because Northerners talk with funny accents but Southerners don't. It's the patronising, infantile southern prats who need to grow up.

I don't like getting on my high horse about something as trivial as Big Brother but watching this year's Spitting Row (an odious, flouncing, gay dance teacher called Dennis spat in the face of someone called Mohammed and, following the usual script, Dennis was expelled and the police are now investigating....) I felt that BB is probably the most debased form of television we have had. That it continues to be one of the flagship programmes of Channel Four, a public service broadcaster, makes it even more shocking.

It's the hypocrisy of Channel Four and Endemol that really rankles. They put a collection of stupid and/or dysfunctional people in a high-pressure, claustrophobic environment to provoke conflict (conflict being essential to the programme) and when it all gets out of hand they wring their hands, the participants are crucified in the media and Channel Four get masses of free publicity.

When BB first began it had the virtue of novelty and could just about be justified as an interesting experiment in individual and group psychology. Today it is so sordid that you feel like taking a shower after watching it.


A highlight of my viewing week was the Parliamentary Awards on the Parliament Channel. If you missed it you'll be grateful to me for telling you that the coveted Select Committee of The Year award (sponsored by the Royal Chemistry Society) was won by the Treasury Select Committee.
Don't worry. My therapy starts next week.


The most shameful thing on TV this week, apart from the BB Spitting Row, occurred during the Euro Semi-Final between Russia and Spain.
No, not Russia losing; that was just deeply depressing. It was our old friend commentator Clive Tyldesley who not just ignored the anti-racist messages that were read out before the game but talked over them, including the English language version. I don't know whether this was down to his stupidity, which I've often drawn attention to, or whether he held the whole exercise in contempt.
In the previous Semi-Final, John Motson had at least summoned the will power to break off from his historical anecdotes to explain EUFA's anti-racist campaign. So for the first, and probably the last, time, I have to give credit to Motson. As for Tyldesley, he deserves to be banished to the same wilderness as Ron Atkinson.


A familiar voice emanated from the radio yesterday morning. A voice that began sentences with "Look!" and "Y'know..."
Yes, it was Phoney Tony.
Was I the only person to rejoice that Gordon Brown was now Prime Minister?
In the present climate, I probably was.


Tony Blair was talking about what Count Arthur Strong in his radio show this week called "globular warming".
I still haven't learned that when listening to Arthur Strong the rule is 'Nil by mouth'.
As a result, I had to spit a mouthful of tea into the sink to avoid choking.

What's more worrying is that I seem to be unconsciously imitating Count Arthur in my daily life. A woman phoned and asked me to do a survey on property prices. I heard myself saying "that's the most ridiculous question I've ever heard!" followed by "I haven't got time for this nonsense!"
Then, in response to the boy in the newsagent's polite enquiry after my health I heard myself say I was as fit as a greengrocer's cat.
Actually, I think someone called me 'Count' the other day. Then again, my hearing isn't what it was.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More On David "Freedom" Davis

I'm grateful to Mike for drawing my attention to David Davis's new website where he has posted a reply to critics of his support for detention without charge for 28 days but not for 42 days.

Before coming to that argument, I have to say that the website made my blood boil.
Firstly, there's the arrogant title: Davis For Freedom. Then there's the banner showing a cross-section of the public against a backdrop of the Houses of Parliament. Are there any gay people amongst them, do you suppose, given that Davis opposed every extension of freedom and equality to gay people?
When I was a teenager I was travelling to London to the Annual General Meetings of the NCCL (now called Liberty). When Davis was a teenager he was ascending the rostrum at annual conferences of the Tory Party, a party whose only genuine commitment to freedom is to free markets and the freedom of the rich to get richer.

That's the ad hominem stuff out of the way. Back to the argument.

One glaring inconsistency in Davis's argument is that he says that the police convinced him of the need for 28 day detention. Yet those same police are now arguing for the need for 42 day detention. So he accepts their expert knowledge in the one case but not the other.
Davis says they were able to show him concrete evidence of the need for 28 days based on a particular terrorist plot but they would obviously show him the evidence that they wished to show him and which supported their argument.

We are told that it is the complexity of these cases that makes detention without charge necessary but terrorism cases are not uniquely complex.
Harold Shipman murdered far more people than the current crop of terrorists have so far done - more than 200. The investigation was extremely complex, involving exhumations and computer analysis. Admittedly, the latter was not particularly challenging because Shipman was unaware that system files record the actual date you enter data on your computer regardless of the date you put on a document. But despite the complexity of the investigation, no extension of detention was either used or called for.

Computer analysis is not a unique feature of terrorist cases. It applies equally to many child pornography cases and many fraud cases. So if the need to analyse and decrypt hard disks is the key argument, why is the change of law applicable only to terrorist cases?

Davis describes 28 day detention as "a necessary evil". But as I wrote previously, once you accept a 'necessary evil' or 'the end justifying the means', you are just quibbling over details, not defending fundamental principles.

Those of us who defend fundamental legal principles have to be honest and say that it's possible that some people will die because the law was not draconian enough. (But that's not nearly as probable as the proponents of 42 days suggest).
No politician will have the courage to stand up and say this because they believe it would be unpopular with the public.
And the reason so many politicians are willing to trash civil liberties is because (a) they wish to avoid blame for any future attack and (b) they are more vulnerable to terrorist attack than the general public, in some cases living in a world of armour-plated cars and 24-hour personal protection.

Is it defensible to cling to ancient freedoms if there is even a possibility that some people may die as a result?
Well, British soldiers are dying every week in defence of those freedoms, or so we are constantly told by politicians. The deaths of civilians at home, who unlike the military have not volunteered to lay down their lives for freedom (any more than the civilians in Iraq whom we massacred), is seen as much more terrible and unacceptable. Yet it is interesting that so many surviving victims of 7/7 in London have stated their opposition to measures like detention without charge.

I was going to put some of these points in the comments on David Davis's blog. But then I looked at the Terms and Conditions on his website. Here's an abbreviated version:

"By posting messages, uploading files, inputting data or engaging in any other form of communication (individually or collectively "Communications") to or within the Site, you grant to David Davis for Freedom a perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable, unrestricted, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use (including use for promotional and advertising purposes), copy, license, sublicense, adapt, distribute, display, publicly perform, reproduce, transmit, modify, edit and otherwise exploit such Communications and any ideas or original materials contained in such Communications, in all media now known or hereafter developed.

You waive all rights you may have to inspect and/or approve of any use by David Davis for Freedom of any material or idea submitted by you in any Communications or receive any compensation for such use. You waive all rights to any claim against David Davis for Freedom for any alleged or actual infringements of any proprietary rights, rights of privacy and publicity, moral rights, and rights of attribution in connection with such Communications
." [My emphasis]

Waive all rights of privacy?
Waive all moral rights?
Oh, sod it! Just bang me up for 28 days, why don't you?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Good Moaning

I was shocked to find that at my local library the rantings of Jeremy Clarkson rub shoulders with the non-fiction works of Alan Bennett, the writings of John Betjeman and even a biography of Shakespeare.
That Clarkson has produced books at all would seem to lend credence to that old theory that if you left a monkey with a typewriter for long enough it would produce the works of Shakespeare. The timescale for this has never been specified. But if the monkey fronted an infantile and irresponsible motoring programme, it could probably produce a slim bestseller once a year.
The Dewey Decimal System has served us well but, if it results in Clarkson being on the same shelf as Betjeman and Bennett, maybe it's time for a new system of classification.
In the meantime, I think I'll have to surreptitiously move the Clarkson ephemera into the children's section.


Why does no-one today seem to know the difference between 'latter' and 'last'?
I base this criticism mainly on articles in the Guardian where even some of their highly-paid, Oxbridge-educated columnists put a list of four things and then say "the latter....".
I'm sure I learned this basic rule at primary school.

I suggested to them a long time ago that this rule should be included in their Style Guide but the error continues to appear at least once a week. I thought sub-editors where supposed to correct that kind of thing.
Some style guides recommend that 'latter' and 'last' never be used at all, suggesting it's less confusing to the reader to repeat the name or noun in question. Personally, I think every case has to be judged individually. If you think the reader will be forced to return to the previous sentence to find out what you mean when you say 'latter' or 'last' (or 'former' or 'first') then it's probably best avoided. It depends on the length of the sentence and how far back the reader has to look.
Like most grammar and punctuation rules it's about courtesy to your readers.


On the subject of courtesy, or lack of it, an article in today's Guardian reveals Ronaldo's disruption of a press conference that was held to commemorate the Munich disaster.
Reading this, I thought how unfair it is for people to continue attacking Beckham who, whatever his faults, would never behave in such a way.

Marina Hyde was at it again in the Guardian this week, deriding Beckham for opening one of his soccer academies in Brazil. She implied that Brazilian boys are doing world-class keepy-uppy within moments of emerging from the womb.
Next she'll be telling us that all black men have a great sense of rhythm and that all gay men are a great source of fashion advice.
Sneer by all means, Marina, but engage your brain first.


EURO 2008:

All I will say about last night's quarter final between Croatia and Turkey is that it provides a good explanation for football being the only sport to have conquered the world.
For here was a scrappy, tedious match with only occasional flashes of genuine skill.
Yet in the final minute of extra time Croatia broke the stalemate and scored what was surely the winning goal. Then, in the final seconds of injury time, Turkey equalized with almost the last kick of the match. Then followed the tension of the penalty shoot-out.
Nobody will remember the first 119 minutes. But nobody will forget the last 15 minutes either.

There was some surprise when Melvyn Bragg included the rules of Association Football in his list of the world's most influential books. Yet there is something of genius in the way that those rules - and the time-limited nature of a game - can often produce sudden drama and excitement from disappointment and tedium.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Curious Significance of the 29th Day

Question Time (BBC1) usually generates more heat than light. But David Davis was on the panel last night and the discussion made his position on civil liberties clearer and reinforced my belief that his libertarian stance is bogus.

Like many others, I have previously pointed out the inconsistencies in his position and his dismal voting record where individual freedom is concerned.
But it emerged last night that he has no objection to detention without charge in principle, despite his constant references to Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus.
He supports detention for 28 days and voted for that.
But for some reason, being banged up for a month is OK but six weeks is so heinous that it's worth sacrificing your career for.

Of course, it's perfectly reasonable to debate the respective merits of 48 hours, 42 days or 90 days once you surrender the principle of no detention without charge. But if like Davis, you run around screaming Magna Carta! and Habeas Corpus! and talking about centuries-old inviolable principles of justice, it seems a bit bonkers if the actual battleground is over 14 days difference and if freedom only expires at 00.01 hours on the 29th day of detention.
This is not an argument about fundamental judicial principle but a quibble about precisely how long a fundamental judicial principle should be breached.

One further point: I think many people do not understand that detention without charge doesn't just mean that a suspect is not brought before a court and charged. It also means that the suspect does not have to be told what offence they are suspected of committing or what evidence against them exists.
One of the reasons for having to declare to a court "I have a body" and say why you are imprisoning that body is because it is impossible to defend yourself against a charge that is not revealed to you.

As Davis rightly says, at least 50% of suspects in terrorist cases are completely innocent of any crime. The question for those who support such legislation is whether they themselves would be content to be dragged from their beds in a dawn raid and incarcerated for a month or six weeks or three months (as Blair wanted) without any explanation of why this was happening.

That this argument seldom convinces authoritarians is down to 'It couldn't happen to me' syndrome (although that's not their mindset when they buy their Lottery tickets).
It so happens that I was told a story yesterday of a blameless Middle Englander who drove to a local beauty spot hereabouts to enjoy the view and have half an hour's peace and reflection.
The police arrived and, for no apparent reason, removed him from his car and made a thorough search of the vehicle, even removing the battery.
From what I was told, his reaction was not one of pleasure at assisting our boys in blue in the fight against terrorism and drugs crime, assuming that's why they did it. No, his reaction was one of indignant fury.
The end justifying the means isn't the first thought that pops into people's heads when they themselves get caught up in the means.

Euro 2008: Another Win For Northern Europe

We can't say that Germany's defeat of Portugal last night has wiped the smile of Scolari's face because that obnoxious man scowls most of the time.
He's also one of the great whingeing managers, blaming everyone and everything for defeat except himself and his players.
Scolari once stated that he would never allow a gay footballer to play in one of his teams. Yet even after this remark, the FA tried to make him the England manager. What makes that worse is that the FA has a campaign to eradicate homophobia from football. It's not as high profile as its anti-racism campaign but it exists nonetheless. Can you imagine the reaction if Scolari had said he would not have a black player in his team? As it is, he will now be welcomed to the coach's job at Chelsea.

Will anyone thrust a copy of Chelsea's equality policy under Scolari's nose? This states:
"Chelsea is committed to providing each employee, potential employee, customer and service users equality of opportunity in all the things we do.
We will ensure that equality practices are integral to every process and create an inclusive and positive environment for all. Chelsea is a diverse organisation that values difference and recognises that people with different background, skills, attitudes and experiences bring fresh ideas and perceptions.
Chelsea is an equal opportunities employer and views all diversity as enriching the organisation and value the independent knowledge and experience that this delivers
That seems pretty clear to me. I can find nothing that excludes sexuality from this policy. So unless they have told Scolari to leave all his bigoted, Catholic baggage at Terminal Five, this equality policy is just hot air.

Ronaldo did not, as I predicted, sit down and cry last night. But I wasn't entirely wrong because he strode off the pitch and immediately started hinting to the media that he'd soon be off to Real Madrid. He did almost nothing of note during the game apart from a BAFTA-winning performance where he implied his foot had been stamped on and writhed in agony for a few seconds.

But an even more shocking example to the millions of young people watching was provided by the German manager. In the tense, final minutes of the game he actually lit a cigarette.
He could do this because he was confined to a private box in the stands following an earlier indiscretion. But in the present climate, smoking a cigarette will probably see him banned from the ground completely for the semi-final.
If so, touchline duties will again be in the capable hands of Herr Flick. Yes, that really is his name which may cause as much amusement in Germany now that German television has bought 'Ello, 'Ello.
And if the Germans can now laugh at wartime stereotypes, I needn't have worried about commentator Clive Tyldsley saying last night that the Portuguese needed to dig an escape tunnel from the Germans.
I'm now off to have a German Salami sandwich in tribute to our Anglo-Saxon cousins. The Queen is probably doing the same now that her country are in the semis.



We're not done with wartime references because following my father's appalling teatment by Nationwide which I wrote about on Tuesday, he told their head office that had he been shot down over Germany he would have been treated better by the Gestapo.
He was subsequently welcomed back to the Nationwide branch, offered coffee and biscuits and invited to withraw as much money as he wished without any proof of identity whatsoever.

Meanwhile, on I have managed to increase my vocabulary level to 54, spurred on by those clever clogs who said they had beaten my score.
It took me bloody ages but over 7000 grains of rice were donated in the process and that doesn't happen if you're playing Scrabble.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Euro 2008: Heroes of Russia

With the fickleness of the neutral, this blog has transferred its Euro 2008 allegiance from Holland to Russia. If Holland beat Russia in Saturday's quarter final, we'll return to the Dutch fold and say we never really thought that Russia had a chance.
But in last night's match against Sweden, Russia were a joy to watch, chasing more goals right up to the final whistle.

They also have a tendency to try and play their way through the penalty area, something you rarely see these days. I remember being shouted at by the Games Master at school if I attempted to do this. "When you're inside the box, never dribble, always shoot!" he would scream at me. It was good advice but in today's game dribbling in the box un-nerves your opponents because if they so much as breathe on you, you'll get a penalty (or a 'pen' as they now say on Radio 5 phone-ins).
Although missed chances, including hitting the 'woodwork', mean no more than no chances, the Russians could easily have beaten Sweden 6-0 last night. They're the youngest team in the competition and play with real hunger and enthusiasm and with their confidence now sky-high, Saturday's match against the brilliant Dutch team promises to be well tasty.

There was much rejoicing that Arshavin returned to the team last night and scored one of the goals. Before the game, Andy Townsend told us that Arshavin "plays in the hole", whatever that means. They cut to a live shot of Arshavin warming up on the pitch. Unfortunately he was vigorously tugging at his willie at the time, a gesture that would have been far more satisfyingly apposite by Zhirkov. (The commentators are now carefully pronouncing the first syllable with a 'Z' rather than a 'J' sound).
The picture (top) shows Arshavin in his trademark finger-to-lips pose. It was probably an historically common gesture in Russia, meaning either "Pssst, want to buy some cheap razor blades?" or "Be careful, the bloke on our left looks like KGB."

Also pictured is Roman Pavlyuchenko (try getting your mouth round that when you've had a few vodkas; David Pleat couldn't do it sober last night) who scored the first goal last night - or "opened his account" in commentator speak.
Pavlyuchenko may well become my player of the tournament. Not because he's the most gifted player but because - like Ronaldinho - he always plays with a smile on his face. Not a smug smile of self-satisfaction but a smile that says I'd rather be doing this than anything else in the world, even when my shot hits the crossbar.

Prediction for tonight's Germany v Portugal game: if Germany win, Ronaldo will sit on the pitch and cry like a baby. Then he'll remember that if he does go to Real they'll pay him £300,000 a week and he'll feel a little better.

I once drew attention to the fact that Ronaldo was the only player in 'the wall' who puts his hands over his face rather than his genitals. But recently, he's become more ambivalent about which is his most precious feature and he now puts one hand over his face and the other hand over the organ which - if the tabloids are to be believed - is such a rich source of earning power to "ladies of the night" (allegedly). If Ronaldo's agent has insured those twisting spaghetti legs for millions of pounds, perhaps the Manchester sex industry has taken out a hefty insurance policy on his cock.

Having uncharacteristically descended into the gutter of tabloid tittle-tattle, I must also mention the curious allegation that the so-called greatest player in the world has a preference for ladies wearing Tesco knickers. Can this really be true? Does he inspect the labels before going for goal and opening his account?
It gives a whole new meaning to Every Little Helps.
Not to mention: You Shop, We Drop.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Adwatch: Getting It Wrong

When I was a child there was a lot of talk about 'subliminal advertising'. This was mostly a concern that advertisers were flashing up subliminal messages in commercials without our knowledge, although it was probably an urban myth that this was actually happening. Today it is something that is expressly forbidden.

But some current commercials make me think that advertisers don't appreciate that viewers absorb commercials at both a 'subliminal' and 'liminal' (?) or conscious level.
To put it another way, we know at a rational level what the commercial is trying to tell us but because of the way it has been produced it can convey a quite different message, particularly if we are not giving it our full attention.

Exhibit A is the commercial for British Telecom IT support.
It features dozens of dancing gremlins wreaking havoc on an office full of computers as Peter Jones (the entrepeneur from Dragons Den) tears his hair out. It's a beautifully made commercial although the choice of Peter Jones is questionable since most viewers will be hoping that the gremlins will tear this most loathsome of the 'Dragons' limb from limb and put a stake through his heart.

My problem with it is that it shows only the negative of computers crashing and then, in the final seconds, shows the message 'BT 24/7 Support'.
If you are watching it with one eye whilst scanning the Radio Times the association of ideas is 'PC Hell' and 'BT'.
Of course, unless you're an imbecile, you know that's not what it's trying to tell you.
But to work at both a cognitive and emotional level, it needs to end with a positive and not with Peter Jones slumped over his desk with his head in his hands.
We need to see the friendly, smiling expert from BT quickly repairing the IT system. If they want to continue the sci-fi theme, the BT engineer could appear as a superhero and zap the gemlins with a laser gun.
Too corny? Maybe. But a TV commercial has only 30 seconds to convey a message to people who, if they haven't left the room to put the kettle on, may be talking or checking their email. Saying 'this is what will happen if you don't buy our product' is not enough. You need to show the trouble-free Nirvana they will enjoy if they do buy your product.

Exhibit B is the series of Nationwide commercials starring Mark Benton as the slobbish bank worker who brazenly explains to a customer the devious methods they use to entice customers and then rip them off.
In the final seconds, the customer leaves and is seen walking into Nationwide which, we are told, is completely different.

So, if I grasped the message, what's the problem?
Well, for 95% of the commercial we see a customer in a bank or building society being treated appallingly. The last few seconds show an external shot of a Nationwide branch. If I switch off the reasoning part of my brain (or am not fully concentrating) I assume that the encounter we've just seen took place in a Nationwide office.

I would love to see some objective, rigorous research on this commercial. I'm sure it has a high 'recall' rating, not least because Mark Benton is a popular and recognisable actor. And I'm sure that, shown a still from the commercial, a high percentage of people would say 'Nationwide'. The crucial question is how many people would say "He's the bloke who works for Nationwide'.
(If you read my last post, you may think that the commercial is conveying the accurate subliminal message that Nationwide are unprincipled bastards).
The Nationwide ad is at least 95% 'knocking copy'. It gives a long and detailed account of the devious practices of their competitors but tells us almost nothing about their own services or products.

Even if you give short shrift to my own amateur psychology, aren't these commercials ignoring some of the fundamental principles of advertising?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Identity Madness

My father, now in his 96th year, took a bus into the neighbouring town to transfer some money from his Nationwide Building Society account.
He has done this many times before when that branch was previously the Portman Building Society.
In the spirit of the times, he was asked to prove his identity.
He produced his bus pass which includes a photograph. This was not sufficient so he walked to his bank at the other end of town and they provided him with a bank statement.
The Nationwide also refused to accept this, saying they needed something with a signature on it.
He then conceded defeat and returned home, having made a fruitless journey and with his arthritic knee much the worse for wear.

He'd provided photo-ID.
And a solicitor recently accepted equivalent documents from myself as proof of identity.
He had told them he was over 95 and had made a special journey. But still they turned him away as a possible criminal. If he were indeed a fraudster he would surely be the oldest fraudster in Britain.

In case you wonder why I am blogging about this rather than speaking to Nationwide myself, it's because by now my father will be hammering away at his ancient typewriter and sending a strongly-worded letter to Nationwide Head Office. Despite his age, he's more than capable of fighting his own battles.
But it dissipates some of my own anger to put this into the blogosphere:
Nationwide are stupid, cruel, heartless bastards.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Quote of The Day

The Rev Martin Dudley, who is in hot water for conducting a church ceremony for two gay Anglican priests:
"It may be that this ceremony had rather more knobs on."

Well, he's not wrong.
We can expect to see that one widely quoted on programmes like The News Quiz.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Euro Babble 2008

Let's get the name checks out of the way first.
If only Portugal's Pepe's parents had named him 'Tio' and Portugal's Deco's parents had named him 'Arthur', we could have had the intoxicating football of Tio Pepe and the elegance of Art Deco.
We mourned the fact that Russia's Arshavin was absent from the side this week. Maybe he cut himself shavin'. Ouch.
But Russia's Zhirkov (pronounced Jerkoff) was upstanding on the pitch and seminal in their victory over Greece.

Commentary analysis has logged several recent re-appearances of "the dying seconds of the game" which we thought had indeed died and been laid to rest in the cliché cemetery.
We now await the return of teams "setting their stall out" which, once ubiquitous, has now been off the radar for several years.
Players continue to be "caught in possession" which, for the uninitiated, has nothing to do with drug offences but simply means they've been tackled and lost the ball. Is it possible to be "caught out of possession"? If not, the expression is balls.

At tomorrow's clash between Austria and Germany in Vienna, expect to hear a lot of "It's Goodnight, Vienna". I've already heard it once on Radio 5.
It reminds me of an old actors' joke. One actor asks another which was the most disastrous play he was ever in. "It was when we played Goodnight Vienna in Croydon. What about you?"
The other actor replies: "It was when we played Goodnight Croydon in Vienna."
You may recall that Rigsby's cat in Rising Damp was called 'Vienna'. I'm sure the writer, Eric Chappell, only did that so he could do some 'Goodnight, Vienna' jokes.

And so to tonight's (Sunday) incident-rich game between Turkey and the Czech Republic.
At kick-off I wondered whether commentator John Champion would be able to resist a reference to "bouncing Czechs."
No, of course he couldn't. To be fair, he managed to stave off the pun until the 36th minute.
His greater achievement was managing not to tell his sidekick Jim Beglin to shut the fuck up. Jim ("that wasn't a foul") Beglin has never quite understood action replays. "He hesitated before he fell" and "he went down in stages" is his constant refrain. But you see, Jim, in slow motion replays people do appear to fall down in stages. When one of your co-commentators chins you, you'll fall over in stages if the tape is run at half speed. He'll be able to say that you dived. Hoist with your own petard, motormouth.

The match was delayed because, for reasons still unknown, a Turkish player was made to change his boots three times before kick-off.
In the second half, the linesman's flag broke in half and, near the end, a player on the bench was summoned to the touchline by the referee and given a yellow card.
Despite these strange events, I must still give John Champion the award for the Overstatement of the Tournament so far:
"If a spaceship full of Martians landed now in the centre of the pitch, it wouldn't surprise me."

In the dying seconds of the game, the Turkish goalkeeper walked across to the Czech Koller and pushed him in the chest, knocking him to the ground, for which indiscretion he was sent off.
But for Koller, this was as nothing to the indignity he had suffered in the first half.
Andy Townsend, in his half-time analysis, described Servet's marking of Koller during a corner kick thus:
"Servet was literally right up his backside."
I think we can all agree that the last thing you want when trying to make contact with a cross from the corner is a hairy Turk up your arse.
Metaphorically, you could probably live with it. But literally!
Sometimes it's not such a beautiful game.

Turning Words Into Food

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could donate food to starving people without any financial cost to yourself - especially if you don't have much spare cash to donate to charities?
Well now you can, thanks to a website called
The site tests your vocabulary with multiple choice definitions of words. For every word you get right, 20 grains of rice are donated to the World Food Programme. The rice is paid for by the site's sponsors.

I spent just a few minutes on the site yesterday and today and clocked up 2000 grains of rice. So I reckon if you have a good knowledge of words and spend a few minutes each day you could easily donate up to 10,000 grains of rice a week.
If you go to the Options page, you can ask the site to keep a running total of your scores at each session.
It also shows your skill level, with 60 different levels and with few people going above level 50. I'm currently on level 45.
If you can get higher than that I'll hate you forever.

Help end world hunger

Thursday, June 12, 2008

David Davis Resignation

It tells you something about our politics that when I saw the headline that David Davis had resigned, I assumed he was embroiled in some sexual or financial scandal.
In fact, he intends to fight a by-election on the issue of 42 day detention without charge and the wider erosion of civil liberties.

As a campaigning tactic by a leading politician, I think this is unprecedented although I stand to be corrected by someone with a greater knowledge of political history than myself.
Michael Crick, Newsnight's political editor, whose default position is that all politicians are unprincipled bastards, has said that Davis must be completely mad. And, following the clearest explanation from Davis himself, James Landale, the BBC's political correspondent, said "we still don't know the real reason."

I don't usually blog immediately after an event but my first reaction is favourable to Davis. It became even more favourable when the Government put up imbecilic junior Minister Caroline Flint, whose only argument was that forcing an unnecessary by-election was a shocking waste of public money. This from a Government that has squandered billions on an illegal and disastrous war.

That said, one should be wary of first reactions. And, whilst I agree with Davis on this particular issue, I thought I should take a closer look at the record of this brave champion of civil liberties and campaigner against the "intrusive power of the State."

In December 2004, Davis voted in favour of the Identity Card scheme.
Along with the rest of the Conservative Party, he later reversed his position on this but if his objection to it is so fundamental, how was he ever in favour of it?

Davis voted against an equal age of consent and supported the intrusive power of the State to poke its nose into people's bedrooms and prosecute same sex 17 year olds who slept together.

He voted for the intrusive power of the State to prevent gay and unmarried couples adopting children.

He recently voted for the intrusive power of the State to force IVF clinics to consider the need for both a father and mother and thereby deny fertility treatment to unmarried women.

He also recently voted for the intrusive power of the State to deny abortions to women after 22 weeks instead of the current 24 week limit.

So, like so many people and like so many Tories, Davis's commitment to civil liberties is highly selective.
I wish him well in his campaign on 42 day detention and commend his change of mind on ID cards.
But this is a man who is happy to use the intrusive power of the State to enforce his own view of personal morality on others and who has never developed a coherent and consistent theory of individual freedom untainted by party politics.
Until he does so, it's too early to add him to the list of libertarian heroes and very tempting to append his name to another list - that of cherry-picking, maverick ego-trippers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Those Lazy, Crazy, Frog-Watering Days of Summer

As though I don't have enough to do, watering my many patio pots, I now have to water the frog who lives in my garden.
On a hot day he likes nothing better than to stand and enjoy a cold shower from the watering can.
I've named him George, after Britain's Got Talent winner George Sampson*, because he likes dancing in the rain. Well, hopping anyway.
But physically, he looks more like the bastard child of Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden.

I'm not sure whether George is fearless or stupid. To take close-up photos like the one above, the camera was only inches from his face but he was happy to pose for them. Perhaps he likes being papped.
But how does he know I'm not a predator? A Frenchman, for example, looking for a free hors d'oeuvre.

I last mentioned seeing him almost three years ago to the day and thought he might have croaked it. Of course, this may not be the same frog although they can live for up to fifteen years, especially when a kindly landlord provides them with en-suite shower facilities.
Maybe his reappearance is related to the fact that 2008 has been designated The Year of The Frog.

He's just lucky he didn't encounter the 12 year old Willie Lupin, for he would have joined the countless amphibians, reptiles and fish who perished in tanks in my bedroom. It may have been this unintended animal genocide that led me to reconsider my ambition to become a naturalist.


I've remarked before that because radio is often the background to noisy daily chores, it's easy to mis-hear things.
The other day I was startled by the statement that fewer men are wearing tights to work. I had no idea that this fetish had ever been so common. Pressing my ear to my tranny, I found that 'ties' were the garment referred to.

Then I heard that the Tory Chief Whip in the European Parliament, one Ben Dover, had resigned.
Now 'Ben Dover' is a well-known British pornographer (although I'm unfamiliar with his ouevre). Surely this was taking Cameron's liberal Conservatism a little too far.
And making him Chief Whip was piling innendo on top of innuendo.
But it turned out that the man in question was called 'Den Dover', although that sounds equally like a made-up name.

Finally, I thought I heard that last night's Euro 2008 football match was being played in a stadium called Wankdorf.
Oh, hang on.
It really was at a stadium called Wankdorf.
And so we had the glorious aptness of commentators Clive Tyldesley and David Pleat ensconced in a building called 'Wankdorf''.
Maybe next week they'll be at the 'Twatsgrund'. We can but hope.


*Someone's done a terrific video mix on YouTube of George Sampson and Gene Kelly dancing together.
Not having watched the Gene Kelly version for a long time, I was astonished to find that George had incorporated some of the same moves into his up-dated version.
Here's the link:

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sun's Soaraway Lies

In the unlikely event that any of my readers buy The Sun, could they tell me whether a clarification similar to that below has appeared in that paper?

"Monday's front page stated that the winner of Britain's Got Talent, 14 year old George Sampson, has been told by doctors that he must never dance again, owing to a serious spinal condition.
Some readers may have concluded from this that George Sampson has a serious spinal condition and has been told by doctors that he must never dance again.
To avoid any misunderstanding, we must make it clear that the 14 year old break dancer does not have a serious spinal condition, has not been forbidden to dance and is as fit as a butcher's dog.
Furthermore, he is about to top the bill on a national tour where he will perform back-flips, spin on his head and land heavily on his back on a hard surface.
We trust this clears up any confusion."

The tabloids.
Dontcha just love 'em?

Piers Morgan - Clown Prince of Wankerdom

In Piers Morgan's latest book (Don't You Know Who I Am?), there's an exchange between him and his young son after a man has called Piers a wanker at a football match.
Piers explains that this is one of the consequences of having been a tabloid editor.
But, says Pier's son, everyone in America thinks you're a wanker too and they don't even know that you were a tabloid editor.
As Morecambe and Wise used to say: there's no answer to that.

I found Piers Morgan's first bestseller, The Insider, quite enjoyable light reading when I was sitting in the garden a couple of years ago. It covered his period in journalism and included the revelation of the extraordinary number of times Blair invited him to Downing Street when he could have been doing something more useful.
But this follow-up book of diaries is simply dreadful: intensely irritating and atrociously written.

The trick Piers tries to pull in both books is to say 'Yes, I've been an idiot and done some stupid things', hoping this honesty will endear him to us. It doesn't really work because idiocy is usually irritating even when it's not combined, as in Piers' case, with gargantuan arrogance and conceit.

Actually, he's more likely to call himself a 'chump' than an 'idiot'. It's a very John Major-ish term, but I think it comes from his years as a tabloid journalist. As Keith Waterhouse pointed out years ago in his book 'On Newspaper Style', the tabloids use a language that nobody uses in everyday life. Few people today say 'chump', just as nobody calls a prostitute a 'good-time girl', though for all I know the tabloids may still be using the latter expression.

Piers is also a master of the misjudged simile or metaphor. Take this example, where he's describing his son waiting for his exam results:
"Spencer was pacing around like a hyperactive caterpillar, slithering from one group of friends to another..."
Has Piers ever seen a caterpillar? Was Spencer 'pacing', 'slithering' or down on the floor undulating like a caterpillar (or a break dancer)?
I write duff similes like that every day but when I read them back and realise they don't work I hit the Delete key.

In Piers' book people rarely 'laugh'. They always 'cackle'. There must be several hundred cackles in this book. 'If I read the word 'cackle' again, the book goes through the fucking window', I cackled last night.
'Cackle' is not a synonym for 'laugh'. It refers to a specific type of laugh. Is it possible that virtually everyone Piers meets 'cackles'? Well maybe it's the effect he has on people, just as the word 'wanker' seems to spring from most people's lips within a few moments of encountering him.
I suppose, given his tabloid background, it's a miracle that nobody ever 'quips'.

Piers' sons are sent to Prep School and then, in one case, to Charterhouse. Remember that the next time you see him playing the Leftie on Question Time and lambasting the Old Etonian clique who run the Tory Party.
When the young Pugh-Morgan (yes, the ex-Mirror editor has bestowed upward mobility on his kids with both barrels) is being packed off to boarding school, Piers' ex-wife is in floods of tears. There are few people I despise more than those mothers who sit weeping as they choose to abandon their young children to the care of people they hardly know. They should think themselves lucky they are not working class, for then they would have Social Services knocking on their door.

To be fair, if I must, there's an interesting insight into the strange world where celebrities and politicians inter-mingle at Notting Hill parties. At a Christmas drinks party at Matthew Freud and Elisabeth Murdoch's 'sumptuous' Notting Hill house, David Cameron and George Osborne rub shoulders with D-list celebrities.
A very drunk Jamie Theakston relentlessly pursues Piers' girlfriend. An enraged Piers storms out and walks off down Ladbroke Grove. Then his girlfriend runs after him and drags him back. There's an altercation between Piers and Theakston. "Go on, hit him!" screams Gordon Ramsay. Piers says to Theakston: "If you touch her one more time I'm going to touch you, and not in a way that you'll enjoy. Comprende, amigo?"
It's somewhat different from the threats you'd hear outside The Dog and Duck on a Friday night, especially that foreign flourish at the end. And it's not recorded whether Celia, Piers' girlfriend, said: "Leave it Piers. He's not worth it."
But what does this remind you of? Yes, a bunch of teenage kids at one of those parties at a parents' house that they've organised on Facebook.
I wouldn't mind - we've all been there - but these are the Pontificating Classes, forever telling the hoodies, the hoodlums and the underclass that they drink too much and fight too much.

There are countless tedious pages of Piers agonising over his new TV career and celebrity status. He desperately wants to be recognised in the street but is irritated when it happens. It's Simon Cowell who gives him his big break as a judge on America's Got Talent. He then inflicts him on the British public on Britain's Got Talent, where he can never decide whether to be Mr Nice or Mr Nasty. He desperately wants to be loved but also craves the attention that comes from being controversial. So everthing he says is transparent and calculated. Now ITV are paying him megabucks to host a chat show, which is extraordinary given that Piers is the exact opposite of a 'TV natural'.

Behind his cold, dead eyes is a fiery ambition unsupported by any particular talent. But when you see a smug smile spread over this chump's chops, it's because he may be a wanker but he wanks all the way to the bank.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

George Sampson - The gentle rain that falls from heaven

I don't know which surprised me more: that the final of Britain's Got Talent (ITV, last night) had only one duff act or that the public vote chose the same three top acts as myself and had them in the same order.

For the past few days I'd had a gut feeling that George Sampson would win.
I'd seen the number of viewings of his videos on YouTube soar into the millions. And when the competition is so close, the likeability factor can be decisive. Also, the public may have felt it was time that someone other than a singer won one of these shows.
Then there was the 'backstory'. A young boy busking on the streets of Manchester because his single mother couldn't afford the £15 an hour for dance lessons, then getting kicked out of last year's show and coming back with a steely determination to win.

And without detracting in any way from his extraordinary talent, one has to acknowledge the importance of the gallons of warm, stage rain that the boys up in the flies poured down on George's head.
It's reassuring that, in an age of blue screens and CGI, we could still be blown away by the spectacle of someone dancing in a shower of water.
(I should explain for anyone who didn't see it that this was a funked-up remix of Gene Kelly's Singing in the Rain).

Can you imagine the Health and Safety audits that are going on in theatres all over Britain as the finalists prepare for their nationwide tour? Pouring gallons of water on to a stage covered with electrical equipment is a risky business. And when last night George did his final performance, there was a tense moment when it looked as though it might not rain and that the stage crew had forgotten to re-fill the tank. As someone said afterwards, you can never trust the English weather.

I think George will be stuck with this routine for years to come, just as Tony Bennett could never perform without leaving his heart in San Francisco. But nobody will tire of seeing something so inspiring and joyful, just as nobody will ever forget the extraordinary impact of that first performance in the semi-final.
And it probably will have boosted the career of Mint Royale (also from Manchester) who did the remix of Singing in the Rain.

I wonder how many people are going to download it and give it a go in their shower at home?
I'm very tempted myself.
So if I don't blog for a while, it will be because the back-flip went wrong and I've broken my fucking arm.

Link to George's semi-final performance on YouTube: