Don’t vote for me

For the second year running I’m asking Iain Dale of the Total Politics Blog awards and the organisers of the LibDem Blog awards to exclude this blog from consideration. I am delighted for people who find these awards fun. I don’t. I blog for fun, I don’t blog to not win awards. I find the whole apparatus of Blog awards completely odious. Blogging, for some reason, is the most overly awarded endeavour in the entire field of human activity. There’s a whole tedious awards season which seems to last six months of the year. It’s quite pathetic given the titchy readership of even the most overblown blogs. And the awards encourage the most silly preening and stupid egotism. They also leave many people feeling very disappointed.

So “round spherical objects” to blog awards, say I.

(And yes, before someone says so, I did organise a little exercise called the “Good Egg Awards” last year (sorry I didn’t realise it was a racist phrase until this year) but the astute amongst you may have realised that these were “anti-awards” designed to reward people who flog away day and night at blogging but never get recognised.)

Cameron: Who’s the tw*t?

It is interesting that David Cameron hams it up to try to please particular audiences. It so transparently contrived. Just after elected Tory leader, he appeared on a London community radio station for the “young”. When asked to give a message to the audience he said “Keep it real”.

Come off it. This man was brought up amidst antique family furntiure in one of the poshest parts of Berkhire -Leckhamsptead. I’ve been there several times. “Keep it real” is not a phrase you hear in the Stag pub there. “Yah”, “Ew” and “Tally Ho” you might hear. “Keep it real” – no.

So today he tries it again. He’s on with zoo radio expert Christian O’Connell, so he swears. “Tw*t” and “P****ed off”, he says. Oh yes. He’s really down with the kids. And Ew, marvellous, some excellent press emphasising his street cred.

Except there is a fly in the ointment:

Asked whether he used Twitter, Cameron said: “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat.

Do you see what he did there? He’s a tw*t because he hasn’t used Twitter and obviously has no idea what it is, and, let’s face it, expecting him to use it would be like expecting Her Majesty the Queen to use the iPod that Bazza gave her and load it herself (I love to think that she has “God Save Oneself” loaded onto it, but I fear not).

But he’s turned it round and called all us Tweeters tw*ts, effectively.

That will come back to haunt him.

The twit.

Obama’s honeymoon ends in Cambridge

It’s all a bit weird really. It is a gaffe from which Barack Obama is using his considerable reserves of “cool” (“Fancy a beer with Bazza, Sergeant?”) to extract himself. But gaffe it, undeniably, is. And end of the 44th Presidential honeymoon it should be, but it’s not as simple as that. Which makes it all the more fascinating. In fact, there are a number of fascinating aspects to this…and ironies (but perhaps not in the strictest sense – my offspring asked me what irony is the other day and I had to finally admit (after several attempts) that I really don’t have a clue).

First, what on earth am I on about? – asks half of my reader.

Well, on July 16th a Harvard professor was coming home, in Cambridge Massachusetts, a stone’s throw from Harvard square. His driver dropped him in front of his house and then assisted him in trying to get into his house because there was a problem with the door opening. A lady saw this and was alarmed. She called 911 for the police. A policeman arrived. Versions differ, but suffice it to say that it appears that said professor kicked up a bit of a fuss about being challenged for trying to enter his own home. Race was mentioned. Reports of the extent of that fuss vary (but, let’s face it, professors generally are very good at kicking up fusses – particularly, I should imagine, Harvard ones – oops – sorry, prejudice and surmisal coming out there) but the policeman decided it was necessary to arrest the professor. Charges were later dropped.

(The incident is reported by the BBC here and Colin Powell reflects very sanely on it, from the point of view of a black man, here.)

The chain of command of the police in the USA is a bit different from the UK. After all, they fought and won a war to kick us out – so they’re entitled to do things differently over there. However, it appears that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts come under the command of Comissioner Robert C Haas. He’s a man with a very distinguished record of public service, who has been in post since April 2007. He’s the man who should tackle any reports of misperformance by the police. Indeed, he has been so doing in this case.

My knowledge of US structures is a bit hazy after that. But I assume that the state police of Massachusetts comes under the control, eventually, of the Governor. Here’s the first irony. Well actually it’s probably not a true irony, but it is a little twist. The Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, is black. Indeed, he is one of the only four black Governors there have been in the history of the USA (New York Governor Patterson is one of the others, and he’s also the second legally blind Governor in the US). There is nothing greatly significant there. It is just interesting that this episode has been ignited in a state with a Black governor and a country which now has its first Black President. I just mention it en passant.

So Deval Patrick is entitled to make some comment on this situation, I suppose. I am not quite sure why. These sorts of incidents happen all the time. Danders rise, charges are dropped, dogs bark and the caravan moves on.

So why on earth did President Obama get involved? It’s a fascinating question. What he did was to say that police “acted stupidly”. Why? I mean, why did he even comment on a very minor alleged neighbourhood infraction of the law?
A minor fracas, indeed. I realise the irony of me jumping to conclusions here, but Obama himself has now admitted that the professor may have over-reacted. Well, in an amateur photo (right) of the incident he has his mouth wide open and looks to be in the throes of a full-on diva strop – but that was after he was handcuffed – allegedly (and I hastily mention that, of course, having a diva strop, full-on or otherwise, is not necessarily against the law, nor should it be. And if you are arrested for entering your own home, it is fair to say that it is justifiable to throw a diva strop.). But, as I say, I am jumping to conclusions just like B. Obama, who I am criticising for that very reason – but then I am just a one-handed blogger, while he is the most powerful man in the world.

Here’s another irony or twist (choose your own degree of lexicographic pedantry there) – Obama was editor of the Harvard Law Review. Wouldn’t holding that post entail him taking a cautious approach to local incidents? Allowing due process and all that? Isn’t that what they teach you at the most minor college in America, let alone Harvard, Alma Mater of virtually the entire senior legal profession in the USA?

And, my goodness me, I am pinching myself here, but can anyone remember….I can hardly write this….George Bush (there I wrote it) piling in on a minuscule neighbourhood incident like this? I can’t. …And I tend to remember anything George Bush did which I can hold against him. What I do remember is that Bush hated getting involved in any legal cases and restricted his pardons to a very small number. The mere fact that I am harking back to George Bush’s presidency with something approaching a favourable tinge, is testament, if any is needed, that this Cambridge incident really is a serious one for Obama. The gilt has been well and truly knocked off his gingerbread.

And here’s another twist/irony. WTF is Obama doing making a comment without an autocue? Remember, this is Mr Cool. This is Mr Autocue. He doesn’t do unprepared comments much. Even his off-the-cuff remarks are scripted. So what the heck is he doing making any unprepared statements? And on Race?! It beats me.

And having said all that, I should say that the police did seem to overact here. Prof Gates provided his university ID card and his drivers licence but, even then, the police still handcuffed him – on his own front porch!

But anyway, Obama has belatedly switched on the cool override. He appeared unannounced at a press briefing and said he’d spoken to police officer involved and invited him and the professor (Professor Henry Gates, by the way, who is a personal friend of Obama – which partly explains the President’s involvement – as does the involvement of Governor Patrick) for a beer at the White House at 6pm EST on Thursday. Discussions are currently taking place as to whether the event will be marked by one of those uber-cool Presidential behind-the-scenes still photos or whether there will be the full “Press Spray”.

Which brings us to the nub of this. A few silly commentators in the UK (mainly) questioned whether Obama is the first black President of the US. ‘He’s mixed race” they said. Yes, they are right. In the UK we call someone with mixed race parents “mixed race”. Obama’s mother was white. Fine. But hang on. Those silly commentators were ignoring a massive Elephant sitting in the corner of US History (probably somewhere in Virginia). It’s called the “one drop rule”. Even if your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was black and the rest of your ancestors were white, you are “black” under the “one drop rule”. (One drop of blood, that is). So OK, Obama could have gone round constantly telling people he was “mixed race” – just like Lewis Hamilton and Theo Walcott. But, spine chillingly, the “one drop rule” in the US means and meant that he is black.

So why did Obama comment on Prof Gates and his encounter with Sgt Crowley? I still don’t know. Sorry. But it does confirm that those silly commentators were wrong. Obama is black. He knows, from experience, what it is like to attract undue suspicion and hostility just because of the colour of your skin. All of us who have built up Obama into a great calculating cool machine have had one thing confirmed. Barack Obama is human. He has passion. And good for him. On this occasion his passion is genuine and, on a general level, absolutely right. (There is ample evidence to suggest that black men tend to be disproportionately given the attention of the police in the USA.) It’s just that he needs to remember he is President a bit more.

(And having said all that, I have a sneaking suspicion that Obama, apparently clumsily, may have done a bit of good. Should anyone be arrested on the basis of allegedly attempting to break into their own home, even after they provide ample evidence of their identity? If they kick up a bit of a fuss, is it really necessary to cart them off to the local nick, stick them in orange overalls and mug shot them? Are over-dramatic Harvard professors a threat to US peace and security? Shouldn’t police officers in Cambridge, Massachusetts be ready to encounter the odd adacemic diva? Do real-life Inspector Morses in Oxford go about arresting professors who start spurting Latin at them in a bit of a strop?)

So, goodbye honeymoon. It was unrealistic to expect it to continue, anyway. For goodness sake, Obama is fighting the worst recession which any incoming US President has faced since FDR. He is currently trying to untangle the gordian knot of US Health Care. That, we should remember, is a task which completely, and dramatically defeated Bill Clinton, the biggest policy wonk and behind-the-scenes schmoozer ever to enter the White House. Our man Obama’s ratings are going to travel south. That’s inevitable. There was only one FDR.

It’s a very good year indeed for cherry plums

Before today, I had never seen a cherry plum. Indeed, I was blissfully unaware of their existence on this planet. But, within the space of an hour today, our house has been inundated with several bucket loads of cherry plums coming from two different hauls from two different counties.

Here are just a few of them – from East Berkshire on the left, and from South Hampshire on the right:

So I think I can safely conclude that it is a very good year for cherry plums. Indeed, there appears to be a glut of them, as confirmed by this foodie blog. I don’t know what climatic conditions or whatever have led to this.

They are the same size as cherries and look more or less like cherries, but they are plums. They are absolutely delicious and very easy to eat.

I am now on chutney making detail for tomorrow evening.

Thoughts on the LibDem blogosphere

Stephen Tall, Head Boy of the LibDem blogosphere, has asked for thoughts on the state of our little corner of the interweb. Here goes:

What are the greatest successes of the Lib Dem blogosphere?

1. The LibDem aggregator. It’s simple and very effective and I am yet to see anything even approaching it from the other parties. In particular, the democratic egalitarian nature of it is a wonderful re-statement of the spirit of our party.

2. LibDemVoice is excellent

3. Lots of new blogs are starting all the time. Some go quiet, some suddenly have a growth spurt, but it all gets reflected in the aggregator. I see lots of youngish people blogging, which is good.

4. I think the greatest success of the LibDem blogosphere is to give like-minded people, scattered all over the country, and the world, a sense of community and identity. It is marvellously identity-reinforcing to be able to share views with people you know will broadly agree but also take issue as necessary.

What are we, collectively as bloggers, failing to achieve?

Well nothing really. It’s crazy to see this as some sort of competition. We all have busy lives and families/partners. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about something which, in its proper place, is just a hobby.

How does the Lib Dem blogosphere compare with those of the Labour, Tories and other parties’?
I can’t really say. I don’t read them in large quantities.

How helpful is blogging as a campaigning tool (are there examples of it making a real impact)?

Unless you get up to the DailyKos levels, I don’t think it has a great impact but it is important that it is there. It is a supplement to other forms of campaigning and can often spearhead campaigns.

What do you think the next year holds in store for the Lib Dem blogosphere?
More blogging. Very often blogging tends to get more exciting when there are exciting events happening – e.g the expenses scandal. With the election coming up, things should get interesting. I hope we can dissect the vacuum at the heart of the Tory party (if it is technically possible to dissect a vacuum, which I doubt) and display the truth of what is there (again, if that is possible). Cameron’s statement that he would like to clear Parliament Square of protestors to make it look tidy suggests that a Tory government will be the opposite of liberal and allow plenty of mileage for exposure.

The glorious twitterfication of the Norfolk Blogger

Many congratulations to Nich Starling, the Norfolk Blogger, for his excellent coverage of the Norwich North by-election.

The by-election seemed to come as a remarkable piece of serendipity for the NB. You only have to go back to 16th April and he was thinking of knocking blogging on the head:

Oh I just can’t be bothered

I am wondering if it really is time to knock this whole blogging business on the head. After 30 months, thousands of postings, lots of ranting, and lots of time wasted, I really am finding it very difficult to summon up the energy to write anything that is not only interesting to someone else, but is of interest to me…

But, along came the by-election, bang on cue, and the NB was on the spot at the right time…there followed a glorious stream of posts. Every piece of literature was photographed, every twitch of his letter box chronicled, every Tory car drawing up outside noted. Wonderful!

And what is even more wonderful is Nich’s Pauline conversion on the Twitter front. As recently as February, the NB was referring to Twitter as “Tw*tter“. I wrote at the time:

The dear old Norfolk Blogger really has got a starling in his hard drive over Twitter. His site now has a “Tw*tter” box in the sidebar with these updates:I am using my computer (1 day ago)I ate my tea and went to the toilet (3 days ago)Are you really that sad that you honestly want to keep track of everything I do ? (About 38 years ago).

Nich has also done a posting entitled Twitter? Get a life! When I suggested he would be using Twitter soon, Nich replied:”Paul, i won’t be twittering for one very simple reason, I have a life ! All the reasons people have given for using it so far centre around the fact that they seem not to have a life an like knowing the laundry details and habits of people are really are unimportant”….You know, I think he’s coming round….

Well, with the onset of the Norwich North by-election, the Norfolk Blogger is now a fully fledged Tweeter. It’s a remarkable turnaround! He’s now got 216 followers and has tweeted 68 times with such updates as:

Am sitting 3 yards from Anita anand and 5 from John pienaar. from TwitterBerry

And try as I might, I can’t find a single Norfolk Blogger tweet about going to the toilet and having tea.

There’s a wonderful tweet from Nich this evening:

The one big pautive of the campaign ? I am enjoying politics again and want to be politically active again.


Those Captain Pugwash schoolboy urban myths

I note the sad passing of the highly talented John Ryan, who created the charming Captain Pugwash series. It is perhaps a good opportunity to repeat that the stories about smutty names in the series were completely untrue. As the BBC states today:

Contrary to popular myth there was no Master Bates or Seaman Staines and the cabin boy was called Tom, not Roger.

Wikipedia adds:

There is a persistent urban legend, repeated by the now-defunct UK newspaper the Sunday Correspondent, which ascribes sexually suggestive names – such as Master Bates, Seaman Staines, and Roger the Cabin Boy (meaning to have sex with) – to Captain Pugwash ‘s characters, and indicating that the captain’s name was a slang Australian term for oral sex. John Ryan successfully sued both the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian newspapers in 1991 for printing this legend as fact. [1]
In a stage show in Frome on 5 June 2009, Richard Digance claimed to have originated this urban legend in a 1970’s sketch. A 25-year injunction preventing Digance making any further references to Captain Pugwash expired at the end of 2008 and the material is now part of his act.

Nostalgia blast: Soap

It’s a long story but I alighted upon the following intro to “Soap” on YouTube today. It made me go all gooey, so here it is in case it causes some small pleasure somewhere in the world.

The intros to “Soap” were utterly hilarious. Like this one – narrated by the late Rod Roddy (who was a very famous voice-over man in the States – he did “The Price is Right” for many years) it weaves a maddeningly complex web of plot intricacies and then ends with the familiar line: “Confused? You won’t be after this week’s episode of Soap”. As often is the case, the wonderful theme music makes the whole thing (and I have embedded the unadulterated theme music below the intro clip).

“Soap” was, of course, a spoof of daytime US soaps. It was the launchpad for Billy Crystal’s career.

The conundrum behind the stocks rally

It’s been heartening to see the rally in the stock market over the last week or so. Even the BBC have been giving it a bit of fanfare, as they did on BBC1’s Breakfast this morning. Hurrah!

If you go to the heart of the recovery in the States, however, there is a bit of a conundrum at the centre of it.

As CNN’s The Buzz explains, by enlarge, the shares are rising in response to good profit statements from companies such as AT&T and 3M. However, those profits are being obtained by companies reducing costs rather than increasing revenues. Indeed, sales are dramatically down, generally (with some notable exceptions such as Apple).

And there’s the rub. You won’t get a full recovery from recession until sales start rising. Companies are pushing share prices up by making profits through reducing costs. The main way they have reduced costs is by laying off staff. People are unlikely to go out and spend oodles of money if they have been laid off, or if their friends or neighbours have been laid off, frightening them into penny-pinching.

So, the rally is a bit deceptive and unlikely to be followed by a proper recovery until sales pick up and they won’t pick up… get the picture.

When a s**t sandwich finally comes unstuck

It’s worth reading this Time article, which chronicles the last hours of the Bush administration in regard to Dick Cheney’s obsession with getting a pardon for Scooter Libby. This is quite an historic thing. George Bush and Dick Cheney were stuck together like a …….ahem…s**t sandwich for eight years. And yet, George Bush, in this episode, finally proved himself capable of taking a decision without Dick Cheney’s acquiescence. Incredible.