30 August 2008

Where am I?

There is an attempt to modernise the image of the London Tourist Board, captured in a new advertising campaign. In a departure from the traditional shots of Beefeaters, Changing of the Guard and punks with mohican hairstyles, it uses the distinct U-bend shape of the river Thames as a visual leitmotif in a variety of settings, and carries just two words: visit London.

Yesterday I saw one of these ads on a train on the London Underground. I am not sure exactly how attention-deficient the average visitor to London is, but if people do find that particular ad useful or well-placed, I'd wonder how on earth they managed to tie their own laces, never mind negotiate the interchanges on the Central Line.

26 August 2008

Shooting fish in a barrel

Carol Thatcher revealed yesterday that her mother, the former British Prime Minister, has been suffering from dementia for 7 years.

Too easy, I'm afraid; you can fill in the punchline yourselves.

Spot the difference, part two

One is a country persecuted for the ethnicity of its majority population, which must be recognised as an independent state in record time by the Russian Duma. The other is an illegitimate polity run by criminals and terrorists. Or is it the other way around?

22 August 2008

All that glitters is news gold

The news that pop star-turned-sex-criminal Gary Glitter is heading back to the UK has been met with undisclosed glee by the reptiles of fleet street. Even the normally sober 'Today' programme on Radio 4 was reduced to tracking his progress though the airports of Asia and into the UK, as though they were expecting him to violate a child halfway through the flight.

I was left to reflect on the irony of the situation when my son was left confused by this news story that was apparently just about someone travelling on an aeroplane. Without some heavy censorship of the news by me, the feverish speculation ahead of Mr Glitter's arrival was much more of a threat to my son's mental well being than anything 'The Leader of the Gang' was likely to do.

Too much information

The government has outsourced its data-losing responsibilities to a company called PA consulting, who have 'mislaid' a memory-stick containing the personal details of 84,000 people. This is clearly a much more efficient way of lose information, rather than the recent spate of laptops left on trains in the Surrey area; memory-sticks are small enough to fit into a pocket, or down the back of the coffee machine, which means it's extremely unlikely ever to turn up again. Presumably this will be the next line of defence the Home Office will try, to reassure people the data won't fall into the wrong hands, once it has stopped shouting "IT WAS ALL THE CONTRACTOR'S FAULT" at any journalist who'll listen.

Anger seemed to dissipate once it turned out the data lost was the private addresses of the entire UK's prison population. As audiences warranting public sympathy go, banged-up criminals would rank pretty low, somewhere just ahead of Gary Glitter. But in an attempt to keep the story alive the Conservative Party has been keen to imply that this exposed the government to being sued by those affected, which seemed a pretty desperate take on the facts. After all, last year the government lost even more sensitive personal data belonging to me, along with about 25 million other people, when two CD-ROMs went missing in transit between London and Newcastle. At no point did anyone imply, let alone advise me, that I might be entitled to sue the government for negligence and claim compensation.

To me the most surprising thing is not that data gets lost - given the numbers of people who come into contact with sensitive personal data held by the Government, it is inevitable. Rather it is the dizzying quantity of bytes that seems to go astray on every occasion. Why on earth did the worker in question need the personal data on every prisoner in the UK? What was he doing - compiling an HMP Christmas Card list? It's like the stationery manager of the Bank of England taking the entire national gold reserves to the corner shop, in case he doesn't have enough cash for a packet of paperclips.

20 August 2008

Meddling at the games

The Olympic Games in Beijing has seen a new intransitive verb creep into the English language: to medal, meaning to finish in the top three places in an Olympic final. So when an unfancied Lithuanian takes bronze in the syncronised underwater hurdles, Gabby Logan turns to Michael Johnson and says: "a surprise there in third place - she wasn't expected to medal in that event".

It certainly confused me when I first heard it, as the idea of "medaling" in anything sounded very rum, as a homophone for illegal interference. To my traditional ear, for example, medaling with the Women's Beach Volleyball Team would earn a slap.

Someone else earning a slap, at least metaphorically, for the other form of meddling was Liudmyla Blonska, a Ukranian Heptathlon silver medalist who tested positive for banned substances. This brings the total of doping cheats caught at this games to five. Amid the usual cyclists and weight lifters was a North Korean shooter, Kim Jong Su. Quite what competitive advantage a shooter would gain from a dose of anabolic steroids I can't quite imagine.

Unless the North Korean food shortage has reached such heights they are feeding people on steroids to keep them going. It would certainly make for an original explanation amongst the litany of excuses usually offered by offenders.

11 August 2008

Faking Peking

Sighs of relief all round in London, as it seems the impressive opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, was not all it seemed. Just as the London Organising Committee was scratching its head about how to top the Chinese efforts, it emerged, first, that the "firework footprints" that travelled across the city were actually filmed in advance. And today it was admitted that the nine-year-old girl featured singing "Ode to the motherland", Lin Miaoke, was actually miming to another girl's voice.

The Chinese authorities have been very matter-of-fact in their admittance, excusing the voice substitution: "The girl appearing on the picture must be flawless in terms of her facial expression and the great feeling she can give to people", the musical director of the opening ceremony explained. Quite what this will do for the self-esteem of the 'flawed' little girl was not mentioned.

The fireworks sleight-of-camera was provided to broadcasters for "convenience and theatrical effects", according to Wang Wei, Beijing's Organising Committee's executive vice-president, to counteract the effects of "poor visibility". That's 'pollution' to you and me.

This has given a new angle on Olympic Cynicism, a syndrome that sets in sometime between the optimism of the opening ceremony and the first positive drugs test of one of the weightlifting competitors. Now we can speculate whether, in fact, a result will be invalidated not by an injection of nandrolone, but for convenience and theatrical effects of the host nation. Look out for the first Chinese winner of the Men's 100m Final.

Spot the difference

One is a persecuted minority fighting for self-determination in armed defence of their nation. The other is a bunch of terrorists committing an act of treason.

Or is it the other way around?

10 August 2008

If I should die, think only this of me...

The conflict in North Ossetia between Russia and Georgia has caught everyone off guard - the most serious news story of the year right in the middle of the silly season, the classic example of the place "far away about which we know little". While all reportage of bombardments and refugees fills the airtime, it seems even the "serious" journalists have been so busy trying to work out which side is The Good Guys, everyone seems to have overlooked a salient point:

Georgia is an "accession" country to NATO - on the threshold of joining the biggest military coalition since the great alliance between France, Britain and Russia in 1914. And we all know what happened then. So, if we had accepted Georgia's entry when it was last mooted at the Bucharest summit last April, we would technically find ourselves at war with Russia right now, under the protocol of mutual security.

As NATO seeks to expand ever eastward, under the principle of Annoying The Russians, the potential for embroiling ourselves in ever more obscure ethnic conflicts multiplies almost exponentially. There may well come a time when there's some corner of Kamyanets-Podilsky that is ever England.

06 August 2008

A feel-it of fish

A week's leave, so I went to the London Aquarium today. One curiosity was the fact that every sign in the place was also written in braille.

Who exactly was that for?