Saturday, May 22, 2004

Iraq: The opera

Josh Marshall nails it again, and this I'd pay good money to see:
Who could miss the duet between Chalabi and Ali Khamenei in which the dark secret is revealed or Richard Perle's haunting, despairing aria at the beginning of the final act, in which this hawk of hawks, friend of Israel, swordsman against terror, and deacon in the high church of moral clarity confronts the shattering truth that he's played the cat's paw for what the Defense Intelligence Agency, according to this just-released article from Newsday, has determined was (horribile dictu!) actually a front for Iranian intelligence.

New Freeview options

For those of us with Freeview, it looks as though there's going to be a new channel available in a few months - and it's not just another shopping channel! Disney is planning to launch a British version of the ABC network, likely to be called ABC1.

It'll be interesting to see which programmes from their schedule make it over the Atlantic, and what effect it has on those ABC shows that are already on British networks.

Inspiration for another 714 blog posts

Blogger's new look lets you know the total number of posts you've made to your blog since it was created, which means I now know for a fact that this is entry number 1412. (It can also let you know the total number of words you've written - 211,170 - and links you've made - 3175 - so should you be interested in averages, get your calculators out)

Any doubt that I would ever reach 2,000 posts has, however, been completely dispelled (celebrate or commiserate at that as you will) by my discovery (via Green Fairy) of a list of 714 things to be cynical about. Each one could inspire a post by itself, so it should prove a decent source of inspiration should one ever be needed. Rejoice or be saddened by this news as you wish.

People who think I'm already far too cynical? You ain't seen nothing yet, though I still maintain that I'm a cynical optimist: I firmly believe that everything will work out for the best, until someone comes along to mess it all up again.

Gardening leave

One interesting point about Mark Thompson's appointment as BBC Director-General: he has to give Channel 4 six months notice of his reisgnation, meaning he might not be taking up his new post until November. It'll be interesting to see which option Channel 4 takes: letting him go early, perhaps even immediately; insisting he works out his notice for the full six months, or until a new Chief Executive can be found; or, telling him to not bother coming into the office on Monday, as he's going to be running a competitor, but forcing him to take six months of gardening leave before he can legally work for the Beeb. It could be interesting to see what emerges from the negotiations that have no doubt already begun between Michael Grade and Luke Johnson, Channel 4's chairman.

About a Bout

I really should remember to read the Yorkshire Ranter more often - hence, his addition to the blogroll to try and remind me.

Anyway, he's been doing some interesting research into Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer and 'a former KGB agent with a record like looking into the abyss' who's been having his assets frozen around the world because of his various unsavoury activities.

Now, that doesn't make Mr Bout too unusual - which is a sad reflection of the world we live in - but there's some other factors that make his story slightly unique, namely the fact that the British government is supporting the US in its attempts to prevent him having his assets frozen. This may be not entirely unconnected to the fact that one of Mr Bout's many companies is involved in the logistics for operations in Iraq.

The Ranter's research starts here ('from Air America to Air Taliban'), and continues here (including pictures of some of Bout's planes) and here, with some rather confusing corporate structures:
British Gulf International Airlines appears to be based in Sharjah, but registered in Kyrgyzstan (does this sound ominous yet?), and was formed from the assets of a company of the same name registered in Sao Tome of all places, but interestingly also based in Sharjah, in the Sharjah Airport Free Zone. (Its phone number is 06-5570316. Isn't the net great?) It would appear that the owners of BGIA folded their shelf company in Sao Tome and formed another with the same aeroplanes. It apparently operates some four Antonov 12s, of which at least 2 and possibly another were originally registered to old BGIA. The old version of the company possessed some four An12s and an An26. AeroTransport.org lists one of those An12s as "ultimate fate obscure" but does reveal that the An26 was given its registration, S9-BOV. Oddly enough, although as far as is known the "new" BGIA took over the "old" one's entire fleet, this aircraft is still listed as being with the "old" firm. Another An-12, S9-CAQ, is in storage in Sharjah under the "old" company's name. This stored ship, serial number 3341408, has a past. Its last owner was an outfit called Savanair based in Luanda, Angola. There, some five of its sisters were leased from none other than the Bout company Santa Cruz Imperial. Its friend S9-BOT (serial 5343305) was last registered to a "private operator in Angola". Who could that possibly be?

Friday, May 21, 2004

Funnier than God. And more corporeal.

The Poor Man watches PBS so you don't have to. Or something like that:
4:00 AM - Woozle Toozle Too Incomprehensible rubbish about a pirate captain and a dragon who sing awful songs about God knows what. When you let your kids get up at 4:00 AM, you have no right to complain. You are a terrible parent.

5:00 PM – BBC World News News sounds better with a BBC accent. This show is filmed in Boise.

8:00 PM – Antiques Roadshow This is porn for my parents. This and the real estate channel are like porn with crack on top as far as they're concerned. “Oh, can you believe how much they want for that?” “Oh, I’d like to have one of those!” And then they scrape around the attic, and wonder aloud if their old Ricky Nelson records might be worth something. I don’t want to get old.

Great disclaimers of our time

I've just seen a TV trailer for The Day After Tomorrow which, the trailer reliably informs us:
contains extended scenes of peril

Which makes me wonder - is there a special department in either the BBFC or the production company that decides whether scenes are 'peril', 'danger' or even, for extreme circumstances, 'jeopardy'?

Bad, bad things

There's a new collection of worst (worster?) album covers on display here (found via Gene at Harry's Place). These remind me of two things:

1) I once had a letter in Kerrang! sometime in the late 80s about how bad Manowar were. While I made some dodgy musical choices in my teenage years, that's one I still stick by.

2) I wonder if my friend Andy still has the Roy Castle Favourites album we bought him as an ironic birthday present sometime in the early 90s. If so, how do I go about getting a track from an LP into an MP3 so I can share with the world the delights of Roy Castle doing a jazz-style introduction of his band while sainging 'One, Two, Buckle My Shoe'.

And that second point reminds me that we once had a pub quiz team called 'Roy Castle Stole My Fags'. Yes, in the unlikely event that there is a hell, I'm going there, but you'll ll be there to keep me company.

That was quick

Just a couple of days into the job and Michael Grade's BBC has a new Director-General: Channel 4 Chief Executive Mark Thompson. The speed at which the appointment was made makes me think that Grade had already decided Thompson was the man for the job before he officially started the job and the Governors, eager to get the BBC back on the front foot, agreed. Mark Byford, who's been acting DG since Greg Dyke resigned, probably gets a little footnote in broadcasting trivia as the shortest-serving BBC Director-General.

Not much more in the various BBC statements. Here's some of Grade's to BBC staff:
The Governors have completed their search for the next Director-General and, on behalf of the Board, I am delighted to announce we have today appointed Mark Thompson.

I am sure everyone will want to join the Governors in welcoming Mark Thompson back to the BBC. The Board is delighted he will lead the BBC into the future.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Mark Byford for leading the BBC over the last few months. He has done an outstanding job in very difficult circumstances and all of us owe him our thanks.

And here's the press statement:

The Board of Governors has today concluded its process to select a BBC Director-General by appointing Mark Thompson. The decision was unanimous.

In considering the requirements of the role, the Governors sought a candidate with unquestionable public service credentials and commitment to the BBC's editorial mission. They also required a candidate with the qualities to lead the BBC successfully through the Charter review process.

Speaking on behalf of the Board, BBC Chairman Michael Grade said: "We were impressed by Mark Thompson's analysis of the challenges facing the BBC, and by his track record. We concluded that he was the right person to lead the BBC at this important period in its history.

"All the Governors wish to place on record their immense gratitude to Mark Byford for his outstanding stewardship of the BBC over the last few difficult months."

And my audition piece will be...

Reminding John Kerry that he's still available to serve in any capability, though I suspect he's looking at Vice-President or Secretary of State, Wesley Clark has an interesting piece in the Washington Monthly (the same magazine that carried his earlier must-read piece An Army of One) entitled Broken Engagement about democratisation in the Middle East:
Democracy and freedom have been ascendant in most parts of the world for at least the last 15 years, and it's hard to imagine that they aren't also destined to take root in the Middle East. But to play a constructive role in bringing this about, we must understand the facts on the ground and the lessons of history clearly. Our efforts should take into account not just the desire for freedom of those in the Middle East, but also their pride in their own culture and roots and their loyalty to Islam. We should work primarily with and through our allies, and be patient as we were during the four decades of the Cold War. More than anything else, we should keep in mind the primary lesson of the fall of the Soviet Union: Democracy can come to a place only when its people rise up and demand it.

Instead of brandishing military force and slogans about democracy, we must recognize what our real strengths and limitations are. In this part of the world, American power and rhetoric tend to produce countervailing reactions. Demands and direct action are appropriate in self-defense, but in a region struggling to regain its pride after centuries of perceived humiliation by the West, we should speak softly whenever possible. If we really want to encourage forms of government to emerge which we believe will better suit our own interests, then we have to set a powerful example and act indirectly and patiently--even while we take the specific actions truly necessary for our self-defense.

We should also recognize that it is not merely democracy itself--a popular vote to elect a government--that we seek for the Middle East, but rather more enlightened, tolerant, and moderating decisions and actions from governments. The tolerance, aversion to aggression, and openness which we hope to see emerge from a democratic transformation in the Middle East will require much more than just censuses, election registers, polling booths, and accurate ballot counts. We must avoid what Fareed Zakaria calls "illiberal democracy," governments which are elected but which routinely ignore constitutional limits on their power and deprive their citizens of basic rights and freedoms. Only by creating a system of pluralistic and overlapping structures and institutions that check the power of their leaders can the nations of the Middle East avoid this fate.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Getting a bill through the House of Commons is like making love to a beautiful woman...

Is it just me, or is anyone else reminded of Swiss Toni from The Fast Show whenever they see Peter Hain's smarmy permatanned face on television?

It's a long shot but it might just work

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Bad designs

Taking a cue from Matt's complaints about his bank, let's make this a Complaint Day, shall we? Or, I'll just use that as justification for this bit of self-indulgent whinging:

I had to go to Heathrow this morning to pick up a friend. It's been a few years since I've been there - the only flights I've made recently have been from Stansted or Gatwick - and I'd forgotten just how terrible the whole place is. A horrible maze of roads with confusing signs and then when you get to the terminal itself (Terminal 4 in this case) you're in a horribly dingy, dark, low-ceilinged building that feels like it's just escaped from a BBC Four documentary on 'bad ideas of the 1970s'.

There was one thing, though, that really seemed like some kind of gratuitous bad planning - the way passengers come out of arrivals. Now, at any other airport, it's usually quite simple - passengers come out of a door and then all walk down past the waiting crowds so people can see them easily. Not at Heathrow (or T4 anyway) where there is a walkway for arriving passengers, but it runs perpendicular to the doorway, meaning arriving passengers have to decide whether to turn left or right and people waiting for them have to choose which side to wait on. Of course, what it actually means is everyone stands and waits right in the front of the door, causing a big crush and passengers coming out of the doors instantly freeze thinking 'which way should I go?' and big jams form.

OK, it's a rather pointless complaint, but when you've been through an airport that's as well-designed and planned as Stansted, you really notice just how user-unfriendly Heathrow actually is.

Oh well, complaining over, time to go and play tour guide now.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Envy keeps you going

You know, I'm beginning to hate Dave Weeden for his uncanny abaility to read my mind, work out what I've been thinking, and then put it into words everyone can understand:
World War II was not fought for the Jews in camps, but for Hitler’s expansionist policy. We had to fight to survive. And we kept our humanity. We didn’t need to fight in Iraq. But we lost what made us us.

Luckily, Dave proves his mortal, fallible, human side by still not having working comments at Backword.

In cinemas somewhere, whenever

BBC News have a review of Michael Moore's new film, Fahrenheit 9/11. It sounds...interesting, and using Moore's usual scattergun approach appears to have as many hits as misses, but a couple of the bits the review mentions as being new information I've known about for some time. The fact that a Bush cousin (John Ellis) called Florida for Bush while working for Fox before any other network did has been news since about, ooh, November 2000, and the film of Bush sitting in a children's classroom doing nothing on 9/11 has been out on the net since last year sometime. I mentioned it last June, for instance.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Piers' next job

Now that Piers Morgan is looking for new opportunities, and has been linked with doing more television, isn't the obvious role for him to guest host Have I Got News For You? sometime in the future?

Of course, he could be doing it this Friday. Although my paper says Alexander 'permanent host except when someone else is doing it' Armstrong is listed as host, and will probably be sitting in the chair, we could all agree that he's just represting the essential truth of what it would look like if Morgan was to host the show.

Welcome Michael

Today was Michael Grade's first day as BBC Chairman. Here's what he had to say to BBC staff in his first message to them on his return to White City:
It was a thrill to walk into the building this morning, part of the BBC team again. All I need to feel fully at home is my ID badge.

Like everyone who starts a new job - especially in a big organisation - I must admit to moments of feeling slightly daunted; so thank you to those I've met in my first couple of hours for the warm welcome. One of my first priorities is to get around as much of the BBC and meet as many of you as possible, as soon as possible, and I don't mean just the London part of the empire. Do give me a shout if you see me walking around, I'm the one with red socks (but no cigar these days).

Preparing to launch our contribution to the debate about our future, Charter Review, is something else I need to focus on immediately. I am reassured that work is well advanced and am pleased to be joining the team as we move to finalise the documents before publication.

We cannot take our privileged position as a 'cherished institution' for granted; we need to make a compelling case for the BBC to be allowed to continue as the unique, vibrant and creative organisation we know it to be. I look forward to leading the defence of the licence fee and the debate about our future - but I do need everyone who works for the Corporation to play their part in helping me to get that message across.

Once we launch our Charter documents at the end of June, I and others will be out on the road a lot, talking to various partners - existing and potential, members of the public and local politicians - so I will make sure I combine those trips with visits to regional BBC locations and talk to more of you face-to-face about this and anything else you want to raise.

Meanwhile, the very first priority for the Board of Governors will be to recruit a Director-General. All I can say today is that we are determined to announce the appointment as soon as possible.

I do not underestimate the effect of the recent difficulties on staff and I would like to thank Caroline Thomson and Stephen Dando for carrying out a sensitive task with integrity. Those difficulties are now behind us. But it is worth emphasising that some good came out of the storm, namely that the independence of the BBC, when tested, enjoys widespread and vocal public support. That is most heartening.

I commend everyone for maintaining the level of commitment throughout all parts of the BBC. My objective is to focus the Corporation on the future and the future for me starts today. I relish the prospect, and I know you will all strive to make my job that much easier by continuing to deliver the fullest public service of programmes available anywhere in the world. I am more thrilled than I can say to be part of the BBC's future.

Michael

Probably exclusive to this blog, in the sense that nobody else could be bothered to track it down and copy and paste it.

Pop video question

So, I was watching The Hits this morning (yes, I'm sad, but we'll leave that discussion for another time) and noticed something in two separate videos that confused me. I can't remember the names of the songs but videos from Evanescence and Avril Lavigne there was a scene featuring a woman punching a mirror and breaking it. The strange thing was that both of them have been partially censored - the scene stays in the video, but the moment of fist/mirror contact has been digitally smeared so you can't see it, though you still see the moving fist, the mirror breaking etc, making it quite clear what has happened.

My question is why have just those little bits of them been changed? Neither seems to stop anyone with an IQ over about 5 working out what's happening, so what's the point? To make people think that mirror-punching causes fist smearage, or something?

Strangely, those two videos were on almost back-to-back and were then followed The Rasmus' 'In The Shadows' video which features a woman being pulled through a mirror. Mirrors are clearly influential in videos this year.

Update: Will's comment below reminds me that I completely forgot the existence of the word 'pixellated' while writing this post. I do like the term 'digitally smeared', though.

Labour-saving devices

Matt has come up with something to make political blogging so much easier. I have been wondering recently if there's a special warblogger MT plugin that automatically generates a paragraph of text based around the theme of 'Saddam was a bad bad man'. It would explain a lot of posts.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

famous eBay complaints, number 23

I think the term is caveat emptor, isn't it? And if you can't see what I'm talking about, check the feedback.

Dude, where's my taste?

OK, I know I've just been watching the Eurovision, but the sounds of the bottom of the reality TV barrel being scraped are very loud on the other side of the Atlantic.

Casting news

Probably old news to some people, but new to me. The TV adaptation of Quite Ugly One Morning, Christopher Brookmyre's first novel appears to be coming some time this year, with James Nesbitt as Parlabane and Daniela Nardini as Sara. Could be good, though I'm still hopeful for someone taking a risk on a film version of One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night.