Monthly Archives: August 2005

Katrina journalism

I don’t know if there’s a name for this kind of journalism but it’s special: written quickly and by the old rules of American journalism. Simple, percussive, emotional and direct. And, of course, written right in the thick of ‘the big one‘ by someone who lived through it. We don’t do journalism like this in Britain any more. Broadsheet irony and tabloid cynicism put an end to this kind of honest, uncomplicated description decades ago.

A Twentieth Century leader for a Nineteenth Century party half way through the first decade of the Twenty-First. Perfect.

Go Tories! Don’t dawdle! Pick Clarke! He’s just what you need. I’d love to see you elect the shambling jazz buff: a thoroughly unreconstructed and entirely fossilised political force – and he’ll be practically 70 by the time he meets scary, chromium-plated dynamo Gordon Brown at the next election. Wonderful. You’d better get on with it, though. If you wait for Cameron to get back from his holiday you’ll have missed your chance. Stage a coup or something. Ask one of those ’22 guys. They’ll know what to do.

Do something to improve your sad little life

A page from the original 1963 Canon Canonet Cine 8 brochure
Listen you slippery media smartarse, you trendy, ipod-shuffling, probably-up-in Edinburgh for the TV Festival (“Easyjet? Don’t make me laugh. You get a proper breakfast on BA…”), doing a bit of development work for Living TV, got a bid in for some lottery money, your stupid blog’s on Richard & Judy and your paralysingly boring video diary will probably win a Golden Bear. Do me a favour. Don’t let me sell this very cool old 8mm cine camera for A QUID to someone called davidarsenal (11) who’s probably slurping a vanilla latte while listening to Joss Stone on the terrace even as I write…

Parking people

Why are 80% of Central London parking attendants from West Africa? Terrific Radio 4 programme (MP3) by Ade Daramy. These guys take terrible stick from God fearing Londoners who think it’s OK to throw dog shit, darts and racist language at them because they fight the good fight against out-of-control traffic congestion and antisocial motorists.

My solution? Give them all the status (and the uniforms) of Community Support Officers (junior police officers – one of Blunkett’s better ideas). Give them police radios, first aid training – all the duties, in fact, of Community Support Officers. This should give them the protection afforded to the police and their witless abusers can go straight to jail…

Unaccustomed calm

Park Road, Radlett, Herts, 21 August 2005
We live on the main road through our village (we like to call it a village. It is, of course, a twisted suburb – with good access to the M25). Anyway, our road is closed at the moment for resurfacing which explains why I’ve been lying on the white line looking up at the August sky quite a bit lately.

The whole experience has left me feeling quite light-headed. It’s so quiet. I feel like doing something crazy: taking a football out there for a kickabout or throwing a street party or even making the acquaintance of the people who live over the road (except they look a bit weird).

Quite a long time ago, Jane Jacobs did some research on the effect of traffic speed on the likelihood that you’ll ever cross the road to talk to the people who live there. It’s quite simple: the faster the cars are going, the less likely you are to cross the road. Traffic calming does more than improve safety, it makes us more friendly.

I can’t find a decent reference to Jacobs’ research on traffic speed and sociability but The Death and Life of Great American Cities is where she first wrote about it and here she is back in New York. And this is what my street looked like in about 1900.

What should Bush & Blair do for an encore?

Invest in Gaza. I mean really invest in Gaza. Invest like nobody else has ever done. Reopen the airport, build a university, build two hundred schools, build a proper public transport system, a hospital. Better yet, build a health service. A modern harbour and freight handling facility, a solar power grid and a hydrogen distribution system (for the future). Be really ambitious and make no demands. Be as generous as congress will allow and apply no conditions. Don’t be timid. Apply new-era American foreign policy thinking to Palestinian nation building. Be as bold and as implacable as you’ve been in Iraq. Do nothing covertly. Fund nothing secret or divisive. Send no troops or spooks. Send only engineers, administrators, geeks, entrepreneurs and educators. Spend a tenth (or even a twentieth) of what you’ve spent in Iraq and transform life for Palestinians in Gaza.

Don’t be shy. Do it publicly and openly and enthusiastically. Plough money into Gaza in a smart and aggressive way. Set up a task force and put an office with a shop-front in every town. Of course, you should televise the whole thing in real time. Win the hearts of the donors as you empower communities and individuals. Don’t pay for a single fighter jet, Hummer or cruise missile. Don’t waste your money, employ it cleverly. Fund research, technology, IT, medicine, social capital, open media, agriculture, water conservation and education.

I’m 100% serious. This is your big chance. If you’re smart and generous and trusting, Gaza will be your first big foreign policy success story. Hamas and Al-Qaeda, the Iranians and the Saudis – they’ll all be irrelevant. Gaza will thrive. You will leave behind a permanent record of your generosity and engagement. It’ll be like the Marshall Plan meets Reality TV. Don’t hang around – get on with it. You won’t regret it.

The eBay effect

As I keep saying, eBay makes a previously illiquid asset (the contents of your loft) marvellously, improbably liquid. According to a report from a consultancy called The Centre for Economic & Business Research written up by the FT, in fact, the average household could easily free up three grand by unloading all that old junk on eBay. This could produce the same kind of boost to the overall economy as the building society demutualisation windfalls of the nineties and might, one hopes, help to counter the grisly retail crunch that’s ripping up the High Street right now.

A choice of viewing

Osama Bin Laden's lieutenant Ayman al-ZawahriSTS-114 astronaut Soichi Noguchi waves from the Shuttle payload bay
If you’ve been glued to your PC lately, you’ve probably been watching the thrilling and moving live coverage of Discovery’s return to flight or you might have been watching miserable old git Ayman al-Zawahri justifying the unjustifiable in one of those horrible backroom video nasties that the jihadists specialise in. So that’s hope and curiosity and ambition vs despair and ignorance and indifference: I find myself wondering how things are going with the jihadist space programme (oh. Hold on. They haven’t got one)…

So it’s depressing that George Bush, leader of the nation whose extravagant optimism and breathtaking resourcefulness got those people into space in the first place, seems intent on closing the intellectual gap between America and the jihadists. He wants American schools to teach ‘intelligent design’, a kind of intellectual jihadism – a primitive effort to burn down modern thought and replace it with a simpler, more righteous picture of the world.

This, by the way, is why I don’t buy the clash of civilisations argument: atavistic suspicion of the modern is present (and powerful) even in the world’s most advanced economy. Bush and his pious friends may not be burning libraries just yet but the generation of zealots coming out of the various fundamentalist Christian ‘madrasas’ all over the Southern States just might.