Saturday, May 01, 2004

Guestblogging

Dave pulls off a coup by getting Melanie Philipps to guest blog on Backword.

Not down yet

17-0 victories against Newcastle and Spurs while Man City lose their last two games? Easy!

"Stop winning all our prizes"

It's the end of my night shift, so blame sleep deprivation, but I can't help wondering if these prizes included a large number of pies.

Damage

Via The Great Communicator, here's some satellite imagery of Ryongchon, North Korea, before and after the explosion last week. Comment seems superfluous in the light of the level of devastation revealed by the pictures.

Sammarinese

I realised that I hadn't written the promised review of the Sammarinese Grand Prix. This may well be due to the fact that apart from the first few laps, when Button held out the tantalising prospect of a race being led from start to finish by someone named other than Schumacher, it was all rather dull. So, here's the quick version of the Good/Bad/Average ratings and if you want a full review, then try F1 Rejects, who know much more than me. Today's gratuitous Rocky Horror Formula 1 Show song: 'Let's do the qualifying Timewarp again' by Baum'n'Gartner.

Good Race: Ferrari, BAR and Renault
Average Race: Williams, Sauber, Jaguar
Bad Race: Jordan, Minardi, Toyota, McLaren

Interesting rumour of the week: Jacques Villeneuve to return for Williams in 2005. Interesting, but not likely. With Ralf Schumacher looking like he'd rather spend his time counting Toyota's money rather than being competitive, it does seem that Williams will be looking for two drivers next season (barring Juan Pablo Montoya discovering a 'if the car stays this rubbish, the deal's off' clause in his McLaren contract) but my guess is that Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli will be their drivers next year. Webber because he's the best of the next generation drivers who's available (I doubt Alonso, Raikonnen or Button will move) and Trulli because I suspect he's starting to get a bit frustrated at finishing every race behind Alonso, no matter what he does.

Williams have also in the past shown a penchant for promoting test drivers (Damon Hill, David Coulthard) so Marc Gene could be in with a chance, especially as he didn't embarrass himself in his one drive for the team last year. Recruiting an Indycar driver, as they did with Montoya and Alex Zanardi, may be an option as well - as the most frugal of the top teams, both of those options seem to me to be more likely than Villeneuve, though he is a possibility, especially if Bernie Ecclestone thinks that having another former champion in the field is a good idea.

Non-story of the week was the Button to Ferrari 'revelation'. Yes, apparently when Michael Schumacher retires, Ferrari want to replace him with a potential champion. That's not to say that Button isn't one of the drivers Brawn and Todt have their eyes on, but I suspect he's just one of five they're keeping tabs on along with Raikonnen, Alonso, Webber and Montoya. Button is actually in a good position amonst those five (Montoya may be too mercurial for Ferrari, Raikonnen has to prove he can come back from a poor season, Webber has to prove he can race as well as he qualifies and Alonso - while probably the quickest of the five - may find his ties to Flavio Briatore are a bit of a red flag to the red team) but for now he seems happy at BAR, and given the usual cyclical nature of F1, by the time Schumacher retires Honda could have returned to the position of dominance they enjoyed in the late 80s and early 90s.

In case you missed it

Unbiased BBC! (found via Doctor Vee)

The devil is in the details

You know, back when Bernie Ecclestone was still in the business of giving the Labour Party large sums of money, I wonder if he was giving them advice on spin as well? They could certainly learn from him and his way of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, especially given today's news.

All the headlines today are saying that Formula 1 teams have agreed to Ecclestone and Mosley's proposed changes to the Concorde Agreement (the rules that run F1) and that these changes could now occur in 2006 rather than 2008. Yet, when we look at what's actually been agreed, it seems that the teams haven't actually agreed to much beyond a single tire supplier and coming back later to talk about a potentially reduced engine specification. Oh, and Ecclestone giving them what they really wanted (and the basis behind the formation of the GPWC potential breakaway group) - a larger share of the money.

So, Bernie's given up large amounts of cashflow, in exchange for not much more than progressing on a little from what diplomats like to call 'talks about talks'. They can present a single tyre supplier as being a major breakthrough, but it isn't really, given that in recent F1 history there's never been more than two suppliers in any season and at least two seasons I remember when there was just one - it was all Bridgestone a couple of years ago between Goodyear's withdrawal and Michelin's entry, and all Goodyear not long before that after Pirelli pulled out and before Bridgestone came in. There's lots of agreement that something must be done, but no actual agreement on what this something will be. But, this'll get presented as big triumph for Ecclestone and Mosley, when it's anything but.

Maybe that's what Alistair Campbell's doing with his spare time nowadays?

Friday, April 30, 2004

Look, I was joking, OK?

My 'real life is starting to feel like The Onion' idea has just taken on more evidence with this Washington Post headline (registration may be required):
Patriot Act Suppresses News Of Challenge to Patriot Act
The story itself isn't a barrel of laughs, as you might expect, but it's probably amusing the people in the parallel universe. (found via Blogdex)

Feeling unusual

I can't really add much to Michael's appreciation of Withnail and I, except to say that the section on the filming of it in With Nails - Richard E Grant's film diaries - is perhaps the most interesting section of the book as it covers his incredulity at being a virtual unknown in such a good film.

I can remember a few years ago having a pub discussion with some friends about film - all men, so in our best High Fidelity style we were discussing bests and favourites - and the topic of 'Best British film ever' came up. The answer from everyone was Withnail And I, which may well say more about me and my friends than it does about the film.

Thought for the day

When even the Daily Mail criticises your prison regime for being too harsh and too degrading, you might want to admit you have a problem.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Dream on...

I was just looking up some information on the IMDb and noticed an advert for Wanadoo Broadband, encouraging people to sign up for it so they can watch Euro 2004 goals on the web. (I'd presume the same ad can be seen on various sites using the same advertising server as IMDb, as well)

Part of the advert is a scrolling ticker at the bottom giving some Euro 2004 results. I reproduce them here just in case hell freezes over, pigs fly and their predictions turn out to be accurate. Well, there's only one match where they seem to be stretching probability and possibility more than a little - can you guess which one?

Group A
Portugal 2 Greece 1
Spain 2 Russia 3
Group B
Switzerland 3 Croatia 1
France 1 England 5
Group C
Denmark 0 Italy 1
Sweden 1 Bulgaria 2
Group D
Germany 0 Holland 1
Czech Republic 2 Latvia 1

I can't help wondering if there are some bad feelings amongst the employees of the company formerly known as Freeserve after they were taken over by the French-based Wanadoo.

The very strange career of Mr Lincoln

Anthony discusses the life of John Stonehouse, referring to him as 'the (most) conspicuous case of an MP going doolally in recent times', which is probably accurate but prompted me to dig out my copy of Matthew Parris' excellent (and soon to be republished in an expanded version, it seems) Great Parliamentary Scandals to remember the career of Trebitsch Lincoln MP. Those bloggers who like to blame the Liberal Democrats for everything may want to take notes, as Lincoln was a Liberal MP.

Parris introduction is worth quoting in full, as it gives an idea of the man's career:
Fraudster, spy, Anglican curate, German revolutionary, journalist, secret agent, international outlaw, Chinese cult leader and - in 1910 - Liberal MP for Darlington, Trebitsch Lincoln was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Hungary in 1879 and died, perhaps poisoned by Nazi agents, in a Shanghai hospital in 1943.
The story of his life is so incredible that one suspects it's a fictional creatio accidentally given factual status, though a quick search seems to suggest that he was real enough. Yet again, we find that truth is stranger than any fiction.

Lincoln was born (as Ignatz Trebitsch) in Hungary. After being expelled from the Royal Hungarian Academy of Dramatic Art for petty theft, he then trained as a Christian missionary in England, then went to proselytize amongst the Jews of Canada then returned to England (in unspecified 'disgrace') where he hoped to become a vicar, but failed his exams. Instead, he became private secretary to Benjamin Rowntree (of the famous Liberal Rowntree family) and travelled across Europe, supposedly researching Belgian land-management for Rowntree (though he claimed to have also been working as a German double agent at the time) during which time he provoked an international crisis in Paris by insisting that the French Government should pay for his book purchases.

He was only an MP for a short time - Rowntree's influence got him selected as the Liberal candidate for Darlington in the first election of 1910 (he won by just 29 votes on a platform that included stating that Unionist tariff plans would force the people of Darlington to eat their pets) but his profligacy made him virtually bankrupt and he was forced to resign the nomination a week before the second election of 1910. Bankrupted, he then attempted to set up a series of oil companies - all of which failed - and when war broke out in 1914 he briefly found a job censoring mail to Hungary, but was fired because he wrote comments on the letters. He then turned to fraud, stealing letters from the National Liberal Club and using them to get money transferred to his account.

The War Office then failed to emply him as a spy which led to him travelling to the Netherlands and presenting himself at the German consulate to volunteer as a spy for them instead. They did take up the offer of his services and sent him back to London, though he went further and ended up in New York where he wrote newspaper articles outing himself as a German spy which managed to get his brother - who had volunteered for the US Army - sent to Alcatraz for sodomy when he, under surveillance because of Trebitsch's actions, was caught in bed with another man. Finally, the British managed to get him arrested and - after a brief escape, including a press conference while on the run - extradited back to Britain where he was imprisoned until 1919 after being found guilty of fraud.

After being released from prison he travelled to Germany, promoting the restoration of the German monarchy and becoming involved in the Freikorps coup which led to him being a member of the German government for five days and meeting a young Adolf Hitler. A couple of years of involvement in Eastern European nationalist movements followed until, fearing for his life, he fled to China in 1922. More strangeness followed, and by the early 1930s he had become a Buddhist Abbot - the Venerable Chao King - and then became involved with the Japanese and German secret services in Shanghai. Finally, it seems he exasperated one person too many, and died in a Shanghai hospital in 1943, shortly after he'd written a public letter to Hitler denouncing the extermination of the Jews.

And that's really just skimming the surface of his career - Parris has one of the longest entries in his book about Lincoln's life. So, the next time you're watching Parliament, cast an eye over the green benches and wonder just who out there has the potential to be a failed missonary, bankrupt oil speculator, German spy and Buddhist monk. Or just think that Peter Cuthbertson has a long way to go before he can become the most notorious politician from Darlington.

For a bit more on Lincoln, this page on espionage films suggests a couple of characters he may have inspired including Peter Lorre's character in Hitchcock's The Secret Agent. The same site also has a biography of him, concentrating on his espionage work.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Ow.

I went to the gym for the first time in a few months yesterday. While I'm waiting for my muscles to stop aching enough to allow for prolonged typing, why not go and Help Beat Howard?

Sunday, April 25, 2004

When choosing headlines, think carefully

Unless you really want your readers to get the wrong end of the stick...

The Sun, noticing that Delia Smith has criticised Ron Atkinson, decided to go for a cooking related headline for the story, completely forgetting that one of the words may have another context when used in relation to football: Big Ron Roasted By Delia

Now there's an image I didn't want in my head. (via Gert)

Blessed are the um, the, um, ah, um...badgers!

Via Jade comes the most important question of our times: Is Boris Johnson the Messiah?

Personally, I think the King, the Boris and the Holy Shatner are the Trinity for the next millennium.

Beating Michael

So, the rise of BAR - which has been one of the few spots of brightness in F1 this season - continues as he not only gets his first pole position but becomes the first driver to beat Michael Schumacher in anything this season. Let's just hope he gets a better start in the race than Mark Webber got when he shared the front row with Schumacher in Malaysia.

It's hard to say what Button's chances may be in the race itself right now - the BAR has been quick this year, and reports from recent testing say it may be quicker (Honda are reported to have developed a more powerful engine for it as well) but the 1.2 second gap between Button and his teammate Takuma Sato - who's not been a slouch this season - make me wonder if perhaps he might be running a slightly lower fuel road than the others. That may not be so bad, of course - similar strategies worked well for Fernando Alonso in the early races last year - but I think Dave Richards and the BAR team will be looking to push for a third onsecutive podium finish, rather than a first win.

Still, as Murray Walker never tired of reminding us, in Formula 1 anything can happen (where 'anything' doesn't include a Minardi victory, of course) but the other teams seem to be closing the gap to Ferrari and I doubt that the team in red will be able to match Arsenal and go through an entire season unbeaten.