Monthly Archives: April 2005

Oh God…

The tension is unbearable. People (like Brian Walden in his Radio 4 essay) are saying that this is a dull campaign but I disagree. Could it be less dull? Blair’s Nixon moment will affect the outcome not at all (hardly anyone knows who the Attorney General is, let alone what his contribution to the conduct of war could possibly be) but the steady erosion of Labour’s position is going to make the last week almost unbearable for the Howard-averse (and the Kennedy-phobic).

Anyway, since I reckon there’s a reasonable chance that you Googled your way here, searching for ‘Hertsmere election‘ or similar, I need to make sure that if you have any interest in getting rid of James Clappision, our third-rate Tory MP, you need to vote Labour. Voting Liberal won’t work. In fact, according to Tactical Voter, if enough of you Liberals tactically switch to Labour, we’ll be rid of Clappison all together, which would be nice. Come on guys, do the right thing!

Life after iPod

The night before I left for NYC my iPod died. It’s four years old so I suppose I should be grateful it lasted this long. It went to consumer appliance heaven with a horrible grinding and whining noise, finished off by the sort of goose-sucked-into-jet-turbine howl-and-crunch that you’d think would require an actual goose. Standing in the kitchen at 2 a.m. it was quite frightening…

Anyway, a return flight on a 25 year-old, filled-to-capacity Air India 747 (me: ‘what’s the capacity of this plane?’. Stewardess: ’411′. Me: ‘how many on board today?’ Stewardess: ’412 [giggles]‘) with nothing to listen to (except the fascinating but inaudible Indian music coming though those crappy plastic tube headphones) left me with plenty of time to read.

So I read: the mighty Paul Johnson on the wickedness of the Darwinian fundamentalists in The Spectator. Simon Hoggart on Paxman vs. Blair in The Guardian (incidentally, Hoggart has Blair winning this particular punch-up, unlike some other outlets). Michela Wrong on The Pope (“He did more to spread Aids in Africa than prostitution and the trucking industry combined”) in the New Statesman.

From the same issue of The Spectator – and this time FREE – Germaine Greer’s entertaining invocation of Shakespeare as inventor of our shared fantasy of Englishness and Daniel Hannan’s provocative but authoritative analysis of French reasons to vote ‘no’ to the Euro constitution. Fred Vogelstein’s detailed analysis of Google vs. Gates from Fortune. Philip Roth’s unpublished interviews with Saul Bellow from the late nineties (this is what you buy The New Yorker for. Dazzling and inspiring). The Economist’s really quite persuasive special report on flat tax (plus the in-flight magazine, the menu, the emergency card and the Daily Mail – but I’ll keep those to myself).

Well, I’m enjoying it…

Labour's 2005 General Election ManifestoThe Liberal Democrats' 2005 General Election ManifestoThe Conservatives' 2005 General Election Manifesto
The prevailing mood of high cynicism makes it hard for me to say this but I have to say that this is a lively, fascinating, scrappy and wide-open election campaign. It’s exciting (tell me Sedgemore and the Oona and George Show and The Heckler and postal votes and all the other brilliant sideshows haven’t got you glued to your favourite news source!) and combative and fun.

Opinion polls aside, the three parties have a kind of parity of presentation that’s really quite impressive – they’re all doing an effective job but by sharply different methods and with intriguingly different results. Lay the three manifestos out on a table and you have a snapshot of a rich and intelligent political process.

If this campaign (which is the best I can remember) doesn’t revive interest in politics by at least a few percentage points then it’s probably not possible to do so (maybe we should just accept that). I don’t (can’t) admire the Tories’ mean-spirited effort but I have to say that, together with their opponents, they’ve produced an election campaign that’s a testament to this country’s vigorous and healthy democratic culture.

[Insert ethnic group here] hysteria

Good to know that the Daily Mail‘s stand on refugees and immigrants is at least consistent. From an excellent and moving BBC 4 documentary I learn that the Mail campaigned vigorously for the expulsion of 4,000 kids brought to Britain for safety after the bombing of Guernica in 1937.

The Basque children deserved better but, because of the Government’s reluctance to ‘intervene’ in the affairs of a sovereign state (which, of course, also led pretty directly to the fall of the the Spanish Republic to the fascists), they were taken care of by an entirely voluntary committee of ordinary families, many of whom subsequently adopted those kids orphaned by the fighting and subsequent purge, and who received no state aid at all.

The 1937 headlines (wish I’d noted them down) read strikingly like the Mail’s latest crop of [insert ethnic group here] migrant scare stories.

24 hours in New York

Brad Bowers, Black Inc. Ventures, in NYCMatt Comyns, Black Inc Ventures, in NYC

I know. I know. I didn’t even see The Gates. I was in town to conclude a deal with my new friends Brad Bowers and Matt Comyns from Black Inc Ventures. Brad code-named our joint venture ‘Whiplash’ and, for the time being, that’s all you’re getting…

Matt and Brad took me for a proper American breakfast at The Pershing Square Cafe opposite Grand Central Station and then to a friend’s groovy West Village apartment to sign our agreement (cue Gillette moment: slow motion high fives, back slapping etc…) and get some brainstorming done. It was the first time we’d met, after four or five months of discussions in email and Skype and on the phone.

Of course, I’m pathetically excited by this new opportunity and generally stunned by the Americans’ readiness to trust a virtual stranger to run their precious business – the business equivalent of those women who befriend their death row pen friends and then marry them sight unseen. Anyway, watch this space.

I may have been there for less than a day but I did, you’ll be glad to know, manage to take a couple of hundred pictures.

Pope Idol 265, day two

Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the day of his appointment by the conclave, 19 April 2005
The second day of Pope Idol 265 saw the first eviction and… er… a winner. Not sure if I understand these rules (and not very happy with the TV coverage either. As far as I can tell there were precisely no cameras at all in the house the entire time, despite the killer interior).

Anyway, the winner, it says here, is the first German for a thousand years and his stage name is going to be Benedict, which is a bit 1970s but has to be better than ‘Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’. Luckily he’s only 78 so the Catholics won’t have to do this again for a while (hopefully they can improve on the ‘light a fire and produce some nice white smoke’ task a bit in the meantime: the housemates cocked it up again and loads of people thought they’d selected a new Pope hours before the final decision).

Howard returns to type

Nice to see Howard’s disreputable move into immigration and asylum come back and bite him but his campaign is still flatlining (I do like that phrase) and his team rebelling so, let’s face it, we’re going to see more of this ugly stuff in the next week or two. After all, if the Tories’ share of the vote does come out at the wrong end of the 30s as the polls almost universally predict, the blood-letting within the party will be spectacular and immediate: Howard will be spending more time with his family so quickly they’ll barely have time to get the kettle on. With his campaign in such trouble, any incentive he may have had to run a respectable and positive campaign has evaporated so I think we’ll see a strong return to type for Howard.

Remember, Mr Howard has form. His stock-in-trade while in Government was the slick and effective delivery of some pretty ugly politics: saloon bar nastiness like Clause 28, the absurdly bulging prison population and, of course, the pointless and divisive poll tax. Hold on to your hats.

Ivor Cutler

Ivor Cutler
When I was a kid (this would be about 1970), I discovered, in a cupboard at home, a huge open-reel tape recorder, bought by my Dad in the 1950s. I can’t remember the manufacturer but I seem to remember him telling me it was German (or maybe Swiss). The thing was the size of a very large suitcase. It was made of black vinyl-covered wood and it was too heavy for me to carry.

It was a massive treat to get it out and set it up on the bedroom floor. Its valves produced so much heat and so much light that you could do without both while listening. In fact, I remember the thing keeping me warm on cold nights in our badly-heated house. It was engineered like a Motor Torpedo Boat, detailed like a Messerschmitt and was so tough it would certainly have survived a parachute drop. It had a tiny splicing gadget built-in at the front of the machine, so you could edit and repair tapes as you listened.

Dad had quarter-inch tapes recorded mostly from the radio in the 50s. I listened to The Goons, Tony Hancock, Round the Horne, Dylan Thomas, John Betjeman, Lonny Donegan, Tom Lehrer, (and other exotic American comics) plus others I can’t remember now (Tommy Steele? Joyce Grenfel?) and, without a doubt the strangest, Ivor Cutler. Lots of Ivor Cutler. All of this came back to me while watching BBC4′s terrific, affectionate Cutler profile the other night (they’re bound to repeat it). Cutler, perhaps Britain’s strangest and loveliest man, is a sort of gentle Scottish Ginsberg or like one of those happy Swiss Dadaists or your oddest and happiest uncle – but also a proper artist and a great poet. Brilliant.

While you’re at it you’ll probably want to be looking at this obsessive and brilliant museum of old audio gear.

Protect your family…

Best spam this week
Best spam this week… Easily. In the picture, that’s a model, right?

“Armored Vehicle protection. So you have it covered, finances in place, investment portfolio don’t stable, don’t under control… Terrorist target. You know as well as I do the scum bags that under control want to work for a living, just want to steal what you have, car jack your vehicle, extortion, kidnapping. So… Protect your family.

Click the pic for the whole, glorious thing.

Murdoch gets religion (finally)

In 1995 I tried (for about ten minutes) to persuade Rupert Murdoch to give the keynote speech at the Internet World London conference that year. In my address book (which is a huge and largely pointless guide to what people’s telephone numbers used to be) I’ve still got direct lines for his various PAs. Of course, that’s as close as I got to Mr Murdoch back then. I might as well have been asking him to address ‘Fruit World’ or ‘Top Hat Expo’… You see, Murdoch’s purchase of pioneering ISP Delphi the year before fooled me into thinking that he might actually be interested in the Internet. He wasn’t.

He is now, though. In a speech to a newspaper industry conference in the US Wednesday he called the Internet “a fast-developing reality we should grasp” and said “The trends are against us… so unless we awaken to these changes, which are quite different to those of five or six years ago, we will, as an industry, be relegated to the status of also-rans.” So what’s happened to finally get Mr. Murdoch’s attention? Well, it could be the unstoppable expansion of the blogosphere or the arrival of RSS as a serious news distribution platform or – more likely – it could be the research he’s commissioned that shows only 8% of 18-34s find newspapers useful. Ouch. The Newspaper publishers have got the fear because of the real possibility that their almost universal gradual decline (at least in Western economies) might turn into a collapse as the news-reading public ages. Could the newspapers turn out to be the Internet’s first real Old Media victim?