Rather heartening

Looking back on the since 9-11 it is interesting to see how the political atmosphere in the States has been transformed.

There was a time when it was considered “un-American” to criticise the Bush government. The TV networks tip-toed around anything which might be seen to compromise the “War on Turrur“.

Now, of course, times have changed. George Bush’s ratings in the US are only slightly higher than Osama Bin Laden’s. There is an alleged “new Dawn” and it is OK to lay into the Bush regime.

So it is fascinating to see the start of Dan Rather’s lawsuit against his former employers, CBS. The lawsuit is born out of that previous period of awed respect towards Bush. Rather (right) was allegedly sacked for reporting on some documents which were said to prove that George Bush barely turned up for basic duty when he was in the National Guard, avoiding the Vietnam draft. Also within the lawsuit is an allegation that CBS unreasonably suppressed the story about abuse at the Abu Graib prison.

One hilarious aspect of the lawsuit is that Rather alleges that the panel set up by CBS to investigate his report was stacked with right wingers. It included Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, two extreme right wing broadcasters. You begin to wonder how CBS had the cheek to do that. But as I say, such was the prevailing mood in the US at the time.

Tory tax U turn

For months the Tories have criticised Gordon Brown for the odd so-called tax cut to allegedly help to “bump start” the economy. They have seemed to have very little alternative to offer except “do nothing”.

Well now it seems they are about to a complete U turn and offer tax cuts after all.

Confused? I think they are.

Woolies: they’re flogging the fixtures and fittings now

I wasn’t intending to visit Woolworths this month. It seemed a bit of a ghoulish thing to do.

However, we had a bit of an emergency. We were going through some old note books on Chritsmas Day (as you do) and found a Woolworths gift voucher! Could we still cash it in? How much longer did we have? Would they be open tomorrow? Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring!

Anyway, after wiping away the film of nervous sweat from one’s brows, we successfully entered Woolworths Newbury first thing on Boxing Day. The gift voucher was still valid and, given the ‘up to 60% sale’, we were able to buy a very nice half price CD, which pleased us. There seemed to be lots of good bargains still there. The staff were mainly very young and all smiling, which is brave of them – bless them.

I was very taken by the sort of “fire sale” feel of the place, lent particularly by this display of Woolworths’ own fixtures, furniture and equipment for sale at bargain basement prices:

Safe £300

Cage £50

Warehouse racking £15

Staff lockers £30

Warehouse shelving £20

Step ladders £20

Trolley £30

Filing Cabinet £20

Office swivel chair £10

Office chair £10

Has the ethnicity of London changed at a faster rate than Ann Leslie can cope with?

Dame Ann Leslie (for it is her) made an interesting comment on BBC News 24 this morning. Referring to this (I think) photo she said that it had not been noticed that the shoppers queueing at the sales were mostly “foreigners”. In keeping with the renowned impartiality and fairness of the BBC, the presenter pointed out that “they could be British”. Leslie ploughed on saying that Britain’s “ethnic population” is about 7% and that there were far more than 7% of “ethnic minorities” in the picture. (the figure is actually 7.9%)

Indeed, the Sun reports that many people have flown in specially to take advantage of the favourable exchange rates and the sales:

Sun reporters even came across shoppers who flew in especially from South Africa, Jordan and Ireland, aiming to fill empty suitcases.

However, I think Ann Leslie should bear in mind that the photo concerned was taken at Selfridges in London. London has a far higher proportion of people of “ethnic origin” than the UK average of 7.9% (it’s actually 30.65%), as Ann Leslie should know, as I suspect she lives there.

Undaunted Leslie pointed out “Taiwanese” and “Indian” people in the photo, implying that they must be “foreigners”.

Ahem. There are 1.6 million – British – people in this country who are of Indian or Chinese “ethnic origin”. 600,000 of them live in London.

So 999 years of journalistic experience must have given Ann Leslie insight unknown to the rest of us which allows her to tell whether someone is a “foreigner” just by looking at them. Has she got X-ray eyes that allows her to see their passport neatly positioned in their inside breast pocket?

Red carpet treatment

In 24 years of living in the Newbury district I have never had occasion to visit the main council offices as a “punter”. This morning came the first occasion as I had to enquire about a council tax matter.

Consider my surprise when I was greeted by the Chief Executive of West Berkshire Council, Mr Nick Carter, who was seated at the receptionist desk, acting as receptionist, and who handed me my “cheese counter” numerical ticket and invited me to take a seat.

If I knew this was the sort of red carpet treatment that enquirers to the council offices get, I would have gone down there earlier in my 24 years here!

Dr Jan van Strabismus Whom God Preserve of Utrecht and other curiosities

My cultural education is benefitting from avoiding the Steve Wright programme, on the way home from work, from 4.45pm to 5pm by switching to Radio Four.

I have an in-built aversion to Radio Four too – thinking it is generally as dry as a dry thing.

But I am gradually warming to the intelligent programmes of which I get a little burst while in Wright exile.

Last night there was a fascinating discussion chaired by Matthew Parris on his generally most fascinating Great Lives series. The programme was about Beachcomber (aka J.B.Morton). The blurb states:

Raymond Briggs chooses Beachcomber, the Daily Express columnist who inspired both Spike Milligan and Private Eye. Richard Ingrams and the current Beachcomber, William Hartston, join Matthew Parris for a lunatic half hour’s celebration of Dr Smart-Allick, Mr Justice Cocklecarrot, and Dr Jan van Strabismus Whom God Preserve of Utrecht.

It really is worth listening to this discussion.