Monday, 22 January 2018

The Open Thread With The Gigantic Hare


Yes, I know it's a rabbit, but if it was good enough for the creators of Bugs Bunny...

Thank you all so much for your comments. Please keep them coming.

And if you prefer reindeer to rabbits, please read this from News-watch's David Keighley:


It tells of how Lord Lawson achieved a victory against the BBC over inaccurate reporting and how the BBC then mangled their 'apology' so much as to make it seem like a Pyrrhic victory. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

I'll be in Morecambe afore ye

High Road and Low Road.

With reference to Craig’s eulogy to Morecambe, (wine, women and song and a fantasy about Rob Burley) I see both Guido and Steerpike have done what 'the left' are wont to do, i.e., make a mountain out of a relatively small “gotcha”.  
I’m talking about “lynch-gate”, a case which I think Rob Burley has, somewhat undeservedly, lost. (in the court of Her Majesty’s disloyal Twittersphere.) 

No. John McDonnell, odious as he is, didn’t “threaten to hang Esther McVey”.
Yes, I do think John McDonnell should have apologised, if only on behalf of the person who originally made the offending remark, but I doubt whether Andrew Marr would have extricated an apology from John McDonnell for “lynch-gate”, either way, clip or no clip. The laughter on the recording came from the auditorium and, in my humble opinion, listening again wouldn’t settle the matter definitively. Was McDonnell approving or disapproving? Was he sniggering along? Anyone video it?

In general, people are apologising for saying things that, if the world hadn’t gone bonkers, they shouldn’t really have to. The ‘right’ should stop behaving like the ‘left’, or to coin a phrase, when the left go low the right should go high. By pouncing on this modest “gotcha” and acting rather disingenuously as if it was much more serious than it really is, Guido and Steerpike are behaving  like a bunch of lefties. So, the verdict is: John McDonnell should indeed say sorry, but Andrew Marr needn’t.

********

It’s a funny business, this apology malarky. 
On our local Sunday Politics a very contrite Anne-Marie Morris MP had been made to apologise profusely and most humbly for being racist. In the context she used it,  the phrase (nigger in the woodpile) was much more of a gaffe than an intentionally racist remark but she was “made to rethink”. She’s washed her mouth out with mustard and will be good from now on.

And it’s hard to tell how sincere an apology is. Look at Naz Shah. It seemed heartfelt at the time, then she went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid, like, I don’t know, practically everything.

+++++++


Interview about the Ginger Pay Gap

Concerning the topical matter of hair. and the fuss about Prince William’s £180 Grade One, which has miraculously turned him into Stephen Kinnock. 
People are scratching their heads over how a simple head-shave could cost that much. Must be the overheads. Anyway, I wondered if Jo Coburn’s hairdresser charges much for gradually nudging her hairdo away from the slightly  powdered-wig effect towards new, shinier, Television Hair?

Are you saying that all wimmin must ….?

No, but, I prefer…. 

That’s a bit divisive isn’t it?

Well, Caitlin Moran isn’t on view very often, and her matted locks don’t look very nice. It’s like, radio hair.

So you’re saying that people with ginger hair should be discriminated against?

No, Caitlin Moran doesn’t even have ginger hair as far as I can tell but I prefer hair not to look stiff.

That sounds discriminatory. Doesn’t it bother you that you’re drawing attention to a physical disability attribute?

Yes, but it was Ms. Moran herself who drew attention to her barnet in last Sunday’s paper (£) 
“Caitlin Moran: why I love big hair” Hers is big because she back-combs it mercilessly, obviously. She sees it as a statement because she believes giant hair gives the ambitious working-class woman substance and presence. Weaponising huge hair is not new. Malia Bouattia, Mona Chalabi and Ahed Tamimi  for example. And that channel 4 anchor person. Why else would Rachel Johnson and Claudia Winkleman sport below-the-eye length fringes to peer out of? Why indeed, but has famous red-head Mary Portarse  been held back by her hair? Non! Not in the least.

You think—— hang on, let me get that straight — straight means, what?

Straightened, probably. Ann Widdecombe has been at the tongs,  which clearly demonstrates something.

Are you in favour of equal pay for equal hair?

This is largely Donald Trump’s fault, and Boris Johnson’s. I don’t actually care about the ginger pay gap. Or Frankie Boyle.

What gives you the right to take that view?

Because this is the only website on the entire interweb that hasn’t blogged that interview. Police protection applied for.



******

The Big Questions was fun. They had a discussion about Trump. Roughly three and a half people supported Trump’s achievements (if not his personality) in the face of about seventy people who thought Trump was a racist and a lunatic. However, the former were more effective speakers than the latter, which evened up the score somewhat.  The worst case of hypocrisy came from Nicky Campbell himself.

After his anti-Trump rant had been rather forcefully debunked by the aforementioned three and a half, he said plaintively  “I’m only asking the questions!” 

If only.


An impartial Nick Robinson joke


Very droll (and impartial) Nick!

James Naughtie gives us his impartial view again (sic)


A typical Trump supporter

I had to grin near to the start of Jim Naughtie's Trump-focused documentary on Radio 4 this afternoon, Is Trump Remaking America?.

Very alert regulars may remember this ITBB post from November 2016 (though I'll forgive you if you don't):



Well, can you guess what sort of 'typical' Trump supporters Jim began with today? Oh yes, once again it was rootin tootin countryfolk attending "a gun and knife show" with guns of every type, plus barbed-wire-covered baseball bats and samurai swords. 

At least the BBC is consistent!

And then it was onto Uncle Jim's commentary, which was about as 'non-aligned' as Cuba during the Cold War.

It began with: Trump's "lurid brand of politics", "an unforgiving political discourse", "a time of conspiracies", "the American zeitgeist is wild", "Trump is the emblem of an attitude unleashed". And that was just its first few sentences...

...and on it went down the usual routes, with lots about racism, anger, melodrama. 

Jim may think of himself as nobly impartial but this wasn't anything like impartial reporting. [Ed - You'd have to be severely cloth-eared (no offence!) not to hear that.] His disdain for and disapproval of Donald Trump oozed through in virtually every sentence and choice of word he uttered. 

Uncle Jim's cast of 'talking heads' - Trump critic Philip Bobbitt (a constitutional expert who keeps predicting Trump will have to resign), Trump critic Paul Bledsoe (a partisan Democrat), Trump supporter Diane Katz (from the conservative Heritage Foundation), Trump critic Hawk Newsome (from Black Lives Matter) and Trump critic Shira A. Scheindlin (a liberal {in the American sense} judge) - was about as balanced (4:1 against Trump) as you'd probably expect from an impartial James Naughtie documentary...

...and Jim's impartial sympathies weren't hidden from view. Diane Katz got the roughest ride; Hawk Newsome the softest ride. 

I won't say any more about this programme other than to say, if you hate Trump you'll love it and (knowing the way people are) also more-likely-than-not think it wholly fair and reasonable...

...just as (I bet) James Naughtie thinks it was wholly fair and reasonable too.

But it really wasn't wholly fair and reasonable. It was strongly biased. 

Post-Morecambe Hotel Dinner (With Wine) Ramble


Better than any eating place in Blackpool

I went for a meal out today at Morecambe's magnificent Morecambe Hotel. 

It's a classy, friendly, not-too-pricey place with spectacular views of the road leading to the Bingo hall. 

It's the kind of place I can easily imagine meeting Rob Burley, editor of The Andrew Marr Show, for a meal, lots of wine and a friendly chat. 

I very much like Rob. I think he's funny and charming and kind, and I'm very firmly of the view that Rob is one of the good guys when it comes to BBC bias and an absolute credit to the BBC - and to what the BBC is meant to be. 

He tries to live up to the ideals of BBC impartiality and usually succeeds, and The Andrew Marr Show is careful about being fair in its guest selection as a result.

He's also usually spot-on when it comes to batting off criticisms of his programme, and his willing engagement with the twittering public is second-to-none (as befits the editor of Newswatch). 


He was defending a sticky wicket, panicked, and got bowled out. 

He loves the BBC. But the BBC isn't always right (to put it mildly!!). I'm not always right either. And neither is he, or Andrew Marr.

Sigh, accept, embrace, admit, and move on. And please come and meet me in Morecambe!

Here endeth the ramble.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...



The action began early today....

*******

ErodedPebble88‏: Allowing the Deputy Chairman on to review the Tory press... with a *** coincidental*** story about Momentum on the front page of the Times... and no Momentum spokesman on with a right to reply... #marr editor Burley shows CCHQ that he's still their main man at the BBC.....
Rob Burley: Get a grip. John McDonnell is the main guest.
Brian Tomkinson: Scraping the bottom of barrel with him as "main guest". Best to expect little of significance from this programme, that way never disappointed.
Hitesh Punja: Yes and Andrew Marr is not supposed to be one of them, nor is his editor supposed to be championing dross & drivel like the @DailyBeast. MARR is incapable of arguing from the Conservative perspective because he's a Lefty. Even Piers Morgan can do that.
Rob Burley: So here's the thing, sometimes people you don't agree with will be on TV.
Duncan Hess: ..and that, in one sentence, is precisely what's wrong with the Biased Broadcasting Corporation. What an absolute disgrace. I do not pay my licence fee to be disagreed with. I get enough of that at home, for free.
Charles Boxer: Reading the responses to this , I am in awe of your patience and resilience. Whether left or right, those that remain open to contrary opinions without vomiting vitriol seem in worryingly short measure. Thank you for fighting the good fight.
Rob Burley: Thanks Charles.
Duncan Hess: Always difficult to know if the responses to @RobBurl are ironic or from the genuinely deranged. I fear the latter in most cases.

*******

Helen: Ahhhh ok. The paper review has now turned into a PPB by the Chairman of the Tory party. #marr
Rob Burley: John McDonnell is the main interview Helen, so massive bias obviously.
Helen: Then have him on as a guest or get an opposing view on the paper review section?
Rob Burley: The Guardian tend to take an opposing view to the Conservatives...
Helen: Methinks thou doth protest too much. Did you forget to book an official Tory guest or did they decline to come on to talk about actual Tory policy?
Rob Burley: I just love "protest too much" - you make a charge, I respond and then you drop that hilarious charge.

*******

Richard Byatt: Bizarre choice of paper reviewers this morning @RobBurl #marr
Rob Burley: There is no Conservative interview in the show this week.  So there's a Conservative in the papers. John McDonnell is the main interview. He's not a Conservative.

*******

Rob Burley: So, here's the thing, people you don't agree with will sometimes be on TV.
Rubymalvolio: In Farage's case, he's on the BBC constantly, far more than people from the greens or other parties with very small number of MP's.
Rob Burley: Well, he has been on Marr once in 14 months. And UKIP at their peak in 2015  came third with 3.8m votes, way ahead of the Greens. So that determined their coverage then. These are facts.
Tom Green: We don’t have proportional representation in the voting system.
Rob Burley: Thanks for that bombshell. We explicitly do take into account vote share which, in you think for a moment, is only right.
Tom Green: I know you do, but vote share is irrelevant to power. Are you saying the voting system is wrong?
Rob Burley: No, I'm saying that when you try and gauge support for a particular political party and - partly on that basis - how much they should be on TV, the number of people who vote for them is relevant, however that translates into seats.
Tom Green: I understand. I’m just interested in how that came to be the BBC’s policy. The main two parties probably support it also, given that it deflects away from them. Remember the 7-way TV debates were Cameron’s doing, for example.

*******

Rob Burley: Get your telly on!
Peter Martin: Not connected to an ariel, mind (just in case your lot send the boys round).
Dean MOP: Cricket is on.
Rob Burley: oh come on Dean.

*******

John Savage (Jan 7): Interview with May on #Marr is far too regal in setting and reverential in style. I must have missed why it wasn't conducted in the studio. (Kettle duties) @RobBurl
Rob Burley (Jan 7): Oh John. The setting is a hotel with some chairs. Brown and Cameron both did pre-recs on occasion. The questions are the important thing and they are tough and fair. Mine's a tea, milk no sugar.
John Savage (Jan 21): Interesting exercise in #semiotics. Macron sits on the strong side of the screen but made to sit on a hard chair. May is on the weak side in a comfy fireside (low) armchair. #Marr.
Rob Burley (Jan 21): This might be the most bonkers tweet of 2018 (so far).
John Savage: Bit of a rough reply @RobBurl. Most media producers (inc. me in a small way) think about where they put the camera and how they dress the set. Are you saying no thought goes into the production of #Marr? Good interview with Macron by the way.
Rob Burley: Sorry if I misjudged. Sounded like a theory about favouring one interviewer over another through the medium of chairs. Often - chair and locationwise - you get what you are given and make the best of it.
John M: It is ridiculous. But, I’m sure I’ve read it’s traditional to have the dominant figure on right of screen. I disagree but it is prevalent on most tv shows especially brekkie TV.
Rob Burley: Our cameraman did it. because it was the best shot. It never occured to me.
Gerry Moore: Agreed. Congrats to @RobBurl and @AndrewMarr9 on fine programme today.For sure the Macron interview will be used in media training master classes in answering excellent questions.
Susan Bruce: It is true that the May pic is more ‘domestic’ but impossible to tell from this juxtaposition alone whether this is intention, accident or #unconsciousbias.
Rob Burley: It's mainly about a hotel in Maidenhead tbh. #unconsciousbias ? No... #crapsoftfurnishings - yes.

*******

liarpoliticians: A longer (zzz!) version of @EmmanuelMacron is on at 1130 on the News Channel... so during the Sunday Politics. Great schedule planning there @RobBurl @MarrShow! #marr #marrshow
Rob Burley: It's also on at eight thirty tonight so. . .

*******

Sam Jones: #Marr wearing a red tie clearly biased. Oh Sundays wouldn't be Sundays with out the weekly bash @RobBurl for bias.

*******

Alex Cadier: Like all of you, I've fangirling hard on Macron's #Marr interview - but it was followed by a brilliant and robust interview holding John McDonnell to account on PFIs & Esther McVey - masterclass all round by @RobBurl & his gang (namely @bienbutcher) - what a show!
Rob Burley: Thanks Alex!

*******

Dan Hodges: Marr asks McDonnell is he wants him to play audio or video of his attack on McVey. McDonnell says he doesn't. So Marr doesn't. Unbelievable. Hi @RobBurl. Why did you let John McDonnell take the editorial decision on whether to play the Esther McVey audio or not?
Rob Burley: I think that's a distortion of what happened. We raised the EM comments - as we have on numerous occasions - and asked him to clear them up once and for all. As part of that we wanted to see whether the audio was something he wanted to call in evidence. He didn't.
Proud member of #TeamTory‏: Disgraceful. You let him off by giving him a choice. Why is he making your editorial decisions?
Rob Burley: I just explained what we did. I stand by it and don't accept your characterisation.
Sergei Walenkov: The Q remains 'why' you wanted to do that, surely it was evident that he wouldn't want to listen. However, the 'viewers' (remember them) wanted to watch him listen (& squirm) & then attempt to explain.
Rob Burley: That's one way we could have gone. The obvious way. It might have been better, but this was a more subtle approach and was interesting in my view. It's ok, obviously, if you disagree.
Dan Hodges: Right. So you’ve confirmed it. You gave McDonnell editorial control over what was broadcast to your audience.
Rob Burley: I've explained what we did. I stand by it and I will leave you to carry on shouting.
Dan Hodges: Not shouting. Just pointing out you gave John McDonnell editorial control over what was broadcast on your program. Which you then confirmed.
Rob Burley: I did no such thing, I explained the rationale, I accept you might disagree but you don't do agreeing to disagree, just denouncing. Which presumably you enjoy.
Rob Burley: It's not an actual court Dan.
Dan Hodges: You're going to continue to try and defend a decision to give the people you interview editorial control over what you broadcast. You're actually going to do that. Re-the Marr/McDonnell interview. I don't think decision to cede editorial control was product of bias, but a product of fear. I've noticed, and commented on, this before. For some reason Marr producers especially sensitive to social media backlash from Corbynites. BTW, genuine question. Did you insist @RobBurl gave you editorial control over broadcast of the video, or did he just offer it to you.
Rob Burley: Implying deals and conspiracies like the most extreme on here. We just took an approach you didn't like. And disagree with. That's fine but this stuff. Lately it's been the left on the attack, so I guess the right is having its day.
Dan Hodges: Rob, I'm not entirely sure what you're trying to argue here. You have now confirmed twice you left the editorial decision on whether or not to show the video to McDonnell himself. There is no dispute - even from you - of that basic fact.
Rob Burley: After your conspiracy theory tweet I'm done with this. I explained the approach we took, it was meant and wasn't about giving any editorial control. But as I say, conspiracy theorists are where I draw the line.
Dan Hodges: Sorry, but what is the conspiracy. You have now confirmed to me twice that you gave McDonnell editorial control over whether they video was shown. I can send you a copy of your tweets if you like.
Rob Burley: You're conspiracy theories send to McDonnell's assistant implying we did some sort of deal. Outrageous and revealing.
James Ball: They made the editorial decision to give him an option, so that he couldn’t claim “context” etc. Him refusing to have the clip played meant he couldn’t claim ambush, and couldn’t claim context. I don’t see that as giving edit control to him.
Rob Burley: Here's the verdict from a journalist who understands it's not always sledgehammer. Thanks James. Or it reveals something more than simply the bludgeon approach.
Dan Hodges: Rob, even I'm getting bored of this now. You handed editorial control over your program to your guest. You admitted it. Twice. Why not simply hold up your hand and say "fair enough, we got that wrong".
Rob Burley: Because we didn't. Unlike your frankly bonkers conspiracist stuff. I'm so bored too.

...and on it will doubtless go... 

and did...

Tory Generation: Rob really sounds like he’s panicking now. Getting more & more defensive. Perhaps it wasn’t a decision he wanted to make & that’s why he’s so uncomfortable having to defend it. Truly awful letdown for viewers to see such a total caving in to the Left’s intimidation/threats.
Rob Burley: No. All this my call, no caving, no pressure, just a more subtle way of doing the question and people who can't abide nuance heads hurt because of that. And this is also a conspiracy theory! It's incredible.
Tory Generation: It’s not an ‘it’s not fair’ argument. It’s an ‘it’s not ethical’ one. It’s a well known fact now that Labour has been ringing every show which mentions the McVey comment to demand they clarify John ‘was only quoting someone’. They’re trying to intimidate & it’s working.
Rob Burley: So intimated we raised the issue!
Tory Generation: And then backed down as soon as you were told to.
Rob Burley: "told to" - get a grip.
Dan Hodges: So, a Corbynite troll with a monkey as an avatar, and nine followers, tweets "Dan makes up his own truth, because he doesn’t like facts". And @RobBurl, who is Editor of the Andrew Marr show, favourites it. What is going on over there. Utterly bizarre.
Rob Burley: So, I have withdrawn my like for that comment because it overstated the case and has upset you clearly for which I apologise. I think you are wilfully misrepresenting what happened on the programme but suppose this is the role you choose on here.
DiX Governmental: Will you two pack it in, it's frankly getting ridiculous. Dan, you are seeing things that aren't there, but your point is valid. Rob, you dropped the ball when you didn't just play the audio, otherwise good show. Argument over. Now watch dancing on ice and have a beer.
Rob Burley: I'd like this tweet but Dan would misinterpret it!
*******
Daniel Davenport: How many times do you have to count to 10 in a day.......
Rob Burley: Lots on Sundays.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Of George Villiers, Charles I, Donald Trump and Andrew Marr


Charles I (l); Charles I (c); Charles I (r)

Andrew Marr has a startling piece in the Evening Standard headlined 'Basic civility and respect must prevail over the rule of the mob'. 

In it he argues that we are now approaching the same situation that prevailed in the reign of Charles I in the years leading up to the Civil War thanks to social media. 

Back then it was inflammatory words on pamphlets and ballads and cartoons and news sheets inciting the mob; now it's inflammatory posts on Twitter and Facebook. Back then it was the Duke of Buckingham; now it's Jo Cox. Fake news then; fake news now. Polarisation then; polarisation now. 

The piece ends:
And it’s dangerous. In a new book about Trump’s America, two political scientists from Harvard, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, discuss “How Democracies Die”. In it they emphasise the importance of not just political rules but how we behave. These “soft guard rails” include mutual toleration or “the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals”. Got that, Donald? 
So yes, we need basic civility and some mutual respect even when we disagree. This is going to be a difficult year. The last thing we need is a spitting arms race of abuse. History, as so often, tells us why.
I very much agree that basic civility and respect are very valuable things, but I think his historical analogy-drawing is overblown. We do need to tone it down but we are not in a pre-Civil War situation. 

(Or am I being too blithe? After all we could have a government headed by Marxists and near-Marxists in the not-too-distant future - and no one was expecting that a couple of years ago, or for much of the past century).

Naturally Donald Trump is Andrew's main present-day bogeyman here.

The funny thing is that, at work, I keep hearing friends and colleagues openly hoping for the assassination of Donald Trump. The constant demonisation of Donald Trump is something that might lead to a Duke of Buckingham type of situation too (and one that one Brit has already tried).

Has the BBC exactly covered itself in civil, respectful glory on that front, Andrew? 

Plants


Becca. Not from Hereford

It's not news that Question Time audiences are like gardens - i.e. they tend to contain plants - but it remains a fascinating feature of the programme that political parties of all stripes are stilling trying to stack its audiences in their favour, bussing in loyal activists from across the kingdom. 

The next step happens if and only if 'the plant' is called to speak. Then 'the plant' quickly gets 'outed' on Twitter for being a political insider and not just an ordinary member of the public. 

The viewing public, of course, remains blissfully unaware that they've been duped.

(Or do they? Won't many viewers suspect that these people might not be quite what they seem?) 

This last edition of Question Time from the strongly Conservative seat of Hereford featured a young woman denouncing the Conservatives over the NHS, to rowdy applause from swathes of the audience. 

It turns out that she's called Rebecca Shirazi, a Labour Party candidate for Camden council and a party activist in Tulip Siddiq's Hampstead and Kilburn constituency.

Why was she in faraway Hereford that evening? (Hmm. Not so tricky, that one!)

What can Question Time do, if anything, to stop this kind of thing happening? 

Does it matter? Should they even try? Isn't it part of a vibrant democracy that political parties will try to rig audiences on the country's main TV political debate show? 

All Roads Lead to Morecambe


The 'For Sale' sign makes it even funnier

Apropos of nothing, just some interesting facts about roads I learned today the way the BBC so often 'learns' things - by reading someone else's article!....

According to the Ordinance Survey Open Names database there are 788,340 roads with a name in Great Britain. Alphabetically, these range from Aachen Way in Halifax to Zurich Gardens in Bramhall.

'Road' is the most common suffix for road names, accounting for some 20% of the them, beating 'Close' at 15%, 'Street' at 10%, 'Lane' at 8%, and 'Avenue' at 6%.

The most common road name is 'High Street' (there are 2,453 of them). 'Station Road' is second, followed by 'Church Lane', 'Church Street' and 'Mill Lane'.

For those with a low taste in humour, there's a Fanny Hands Lane in Ludford, Lincolnshire and a Burnt Dick Hill in Boxted, Essex.

Oh, and 30% of the road names in Blackpool are 'Avenues' - a shocker given that Blackpool never really strikes me as being particularly tree-lined. 

(Blackpool, incidentally, is a seaside town which truly merits a Trumpian epithet - unlike its more northerly rival Morecambe. I suspect the US President would, in contrast, find Morecambe great, so great.) 

All credit though to Ed Jefferson for this fine, not-at-all-geeky piece of research. I love this kind of thing. First-class-travelling Trot Michael Rosen and his 'Robin' Dr Laura Wright will surely be inviting you for a chat on Word of Mouth soon (or should be doing)!

[P.S. As this is the internet and you never know who's watching: This post doesn't commit a hate crime against Blackpool. It was a joke. I don't really think it's a s*i*h*le, though others are free to disagree!].

Recommendation Time


"How YOU doin'?"

Simon Evans, the only right-wing comedian in the BBC Radio 4 village (and, no, unlike Daffyd from Little Britain, he's probably not imagining that!), has a new series of Simon Evans Goes to Market going out at the moment on Radio 4. It's not your run-of-the-mill, predictable BBC comedy show. I came away having laughed a bit and having learned a lot, this week about the big social media corporations. It was genuinely illuminating. Very good!

I'd also like to recommend this week's The Infinite Monkey Cage on 'The Secret Life of Birds'. (Forget your 'hatred' of Brian Cox and Robin Ince please!). Yes, the 'secret life' turned out to be mainly the 'sex life', but this programme is so valuable for giving voice to some wonderful scientists. This week it was the University of Sheffield's Professor Tim Birkhead, who did himself great credit, especially for his bit on male ducks - particularly the Argentine lake duck (a veritable Peronist duck if ever I've heard one)..

I'll summarise:

Not many bird species have a penis, but male ducks (including the mallard) have. Their penis isn't like ours though. It's a spiral, explosive structure powered by lymph rather than blood. The male Argentine lake duck (about a foot in length) has an 18-inch penis. The female duck has a complex vagina to match - at the most extreme, three side branches and a very vigorous spiral. The female's vagina spirals in the opposite direction to the male's spiralling penis. If a female is forced upon (raped) she can close her ovary duct and send the male's penis off down a blind alley.

One for Jane Gravy that!

Can you believe your eyes?


Over at Biased BBC, there's a discussion about a BBC video about the 'child refugees' Mrs May had agreed to take from France at M. Macron's behest:

deegee
Was whoever edited the video told this would be a piece about immigrant ‘children’? There is a distinct lack of children in the footage. I counted three in the 3:12 minute piece. Two, were carried by an adult [0:09 & 0:15]. (Accept the child – reject the father?) The other was riding a bicycle while photographing?/video calling? from his mobile phone [0:44]. (Bought the phone – carried it from Africa?)
I guess ‘late teens (to give benefit of the doubt) refugees heading to the UK’ would be a less sympathetic headline. Mostly the footage showed adult men.
There was nothing (Did nobody think to ask?) about checking whether the children were actually children as claimed. Nor was there any definition of a child. From the POV of the British government is a 17 year old a child? Surely there are different problems than when dealing with a 5 year old.
BTW what’s with the blanked-out faces [2:57]?

It really is striking just how un-childlike the 'children' in this video look. They look like adult men to me or at best, as deegee says, like boys in their late teens, and it's very disconcerting watching the images of them whilst simultaneously hearing a commentary that repeatedly refers to them as "refugee children". Your eyes aren't seeing what your ears are hearing so your brain (rather than you nose) smells something funny. It's the kind of thing that understandably and rightly breeds cynicism.

Now, reporter Emma Vardy does say in her report that "some newspapers" have previous raised concerns about the age of the children and that other concerns about the legitimacy of their claims to be Syrian refugees have proved justified, but the overall tenor of her piece - and her talking heads (one Conservative, one Labour) - did give the impression of accepting that these people are children. It isn't just "some newspapers" that doubt the age of these adult-looking men, Emma.

As to deegee's final question, "BTW what’s with the blanked-out faces [2:57]?", well, I think we were being shown the famous first batch of 'children' - the batch that proved so controversial in "some newspapers" because of the fact that some of the 'children' looked as if they were in their late twenties, never mind their early twenties or late teens (and, it later turned out, many of whom were men in their late twenties). 

The reluctance to question whether these 'children' are children looks set to be a permanent part of UK public policy and the BBC again looks set not to raise any difficult questions about that.

One who looks on and watches



My copy of The Spectator awaited me when I got home from work last night and, beginning at the beginning, it was interesting to note just how much 'BBC stuff' there is in it, starting with Justin Webb's 'Diary' in which Our Justin pays a handsome tribute to his friend John Humphrys, describes his (partial) fondness for his  regular Twitter critics - especially the astrology correspondent of The Lady - and talks about CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who (as you may recall) recently co-hosted Today. Our Justin deliberately let slip an interesting nugget about the CNN star: "When she guest-presented the Today programme recently, she came with a helper who carried her jacket to the studio". As Justin said, she's now "terribly grand".

Then came Charles Moore writing about Sunday evening's The Coronation on BBC One and how "it never explained or even mentioned that the ceremony in which the anointing and the putting on the crown were framed was the communion" and didn't tell viewers that the Queen's taking of communion during her coronation was considered "too sacred a moment for the cameras to film", thus meaning that "the shape of the service could not be understood". Why did the BBC omit those facts? Mr Moore speculates that one reason could be that "the wholly Christian (and specifically Anglican) nature of the entire thing" might have been "considered a slightly tricky subject" by the BBC - which, if true, would be quite something.

And then came Ross Clark registering some qualms about the possibly highly dire unexpected consequences of concerted action to tackle "the great plastic panic" - a 'panic' provoked by distressing scenes involving albatrosses and whales on Sir David Attenborough's landmark BBC One series Blue Planet II. If nothing else this demonstrates the remarkable power of a BBC programme to rouse certain sections of the public (including me via Springwatch) - and, even more so, politicians (following those sections of the public) - into a determination that 'something must be done' and that 'lots must be said' about doing it. 

And finally (so far, as I've not finished reading it yet) came Rod Liddle discussing BBC Women, via a brief review of a science fiction BBC drama called Hard Sun "where the head of MI5 is a Nigerian woman and everyone else in it lives in a mixed-race family". Rod says this is typical BBC "PC social engineering". Worse, it has an "imbecilic plot". He's not tempting me to watch it. As for those revolting BBC Women, he hasn't any kind words for them either, particularly for the way they tried to get John Humphrys sacked. 
Listen, very stupid BBC Women: simply because you believe something, it doesn’t make it the truth. Other people are still allowed opinions, even if they dare to counter your own. My view about people who work for a news organisation yet have a totalitarian approach to diverse opinions is that they should be sacked immediately. That probably includes one of the leading lights of BBC Women, Jane Garvey. It is fine for Ms Gravy to subject the nation to the outdated, boring, misandrist, middle-class moanfest of Woman’s Hour (which she does on those days when her domestic schedule allows), but heaven forefend if someone challenges the tendentious victimhood rot her show puts out every day. Sack him!
Isn't "the outdated, boring, misandrist, middle-class moanfest of Woman’s Hour" such a good way of describing it? 

The Strange Case of the Missing Retweet


Tweet Queen, Samira Ahmed

I read a comment somewhere this morning saying "Newswatch is just a way for BBC News to just take the subtle piss out of any complainers". 

Unfair or not, cynical or not, Twitter was certainly full of people extracting the not-so-subtle urine out of the first featured complainer on this week's edition

Here's the section in question:
Samira Ahmed: First, it's not always what you see on the news which captures the attention of Newswatch viewers, but when you see it. On Wednesday evening, a football match was showing live on BBC One. If you're interested, an FA Cup third-round replay between Chelsea and Norwich City. Unfortunately, not everyone was interested and when the broadcast overran because of a late start to the game and they go into extra time and then a penalty shoot out, some of them were pretty angry, as the News at Ten became the News at 10:45pm. Here's Deborah Toulson:
Deborah: Last night, my husband and I got home after a long day at work and we do like to sit down and watch the Ten O'Clock News. But it turns out a football match was overrunning and the news had to be displaced by 45 minutes. I just don't think somebody's got their head screwed on. If the football match is that important, put it on a different channel. But I feel news comes before football. 
(A mild example of the Twitter response: "She’s got a whole bloody news channel to watch 24 hours a day! Why cut off sporting drama just because she isn’t a fan of the sport? Hate idiots like that.")

One of the politer Twitter comments telling Deborah where to go (to the BBC News Channel in this case!) was actually retweeted by Samira Ahmed - something that took me by surprise. 

I should have screengrabbed it because it's gone now. 

I believe that she subsequently un-retweeted it. 

If she changed her mind about the wisdom of retweeting a comment attacking a Newswatch viewer, I can easily guess why. It's not a good look for the presenter of such a 'watchdog' programme, is it? It speaks of disrespect for the complainer.

Two views on Trump



John Simpson's talk on yesterday's The World at One ran as follows:
When American presidents speak as forthrightly as this - that was Donald Trump at his inauguration - people assume they mean what they say. But President Trump is different. 
It's taken us a year to understand that when he speaks it's more likely to be mood music than US policy. He's talking not to ambassadors and foreign governments but to the people who elected him. 
Those people believe that what we used to call 'the Third World' habitually takes America for a ride, hoovering up Washington's money and then ignoring what Washington wants done.  
On the first of January this year Mr. Trump tweeted that America was "foolish" to have given Pakistan 33 billion dollars in aid. Cue fury in Pakistan. The President wasn't really thinking about Pakistan. He was thinking about his own followers. Maybe he will cut US aid to Pakistan but that's not at all certain yet. His followers are sick of "political correctness". He was just showing that he knows it.  
The same goes for the remark, assuming he made it, about "shithole" countries. More outrage. But there's no real sign that he's going to change US immigration policy radically. And he won't need to as long as his faithful supporters think this is how he feels.  
Some governments seem to have spotted this. Germany, for instance, believes that US policy remains pretty much what it has been, even over Russia - which was an early worry. So the real problem for the German government is coping with outraged public opinion at home.  
And the most important foreign government of all in this context certainly seems to have realised it. The Chinese government, hosting Donald Trump there, winced a bit when he talked about stopping China taking advantage of the US but it's also noticed that nothing much seems to happen as a result when he speaks, so it's decided that the best thing is to say "We don't agree" and then get on with business as usual.  
And even when Mr. Trump actually does something, leaving the Paris agreement on climate change for instance, he is perfectly capable of musing, as he did the other day, that the US might possibly rejoin it.  
The trouble is, whether or not he thinks this kind of thing matters other people do. Moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for instance. For the first time since 1956, because of this, the US is no longer regarded as a neutral arbiter between Israel and the Palestinians.  
It's only one issue but it's symptomatic. America's soft power, which used to be dominant in the world, is slipping. Country after country polls show that the perception of the US is turning negative thanks to Donald Trump's unguarded words and tweets.  
But the people who voted him in don't know much about that, or care about it either.
Well, that's one way of looking at it. 

Another is to say that Mr. Trump has been following through aplenty, as in a piece at US News and World Report by a strong Trump critic Liz Mair

According to her in just his first year as President, Donald Trump followed through on his election campaign promises and got a major tax bill passed, rolled back lots of government regulations, achieved some reforms to the Affordable Care Act, pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate deal, pulled the U.S. out of Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, (contrary to what John Simpson said) followed through on promises to vastly increase deportations of unlawful immigrants and curb legal immigration, got a revised version of his Middle East travel ban through, moved beyond rhetoric to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and got numerous conservative judges appointed (including a Supreme Court judge).  

So is Donald Trump merely a blowhard, as John Simpson argues, or is he a someone, as Liz Mair contends, who successfully follows through on his promises (whether you like them or not)? 

Racism at the BBC


What Paul says:

No more late nights for James



A swallow I thought I spotted in May last year actually does now make a summer. Newsnight came to its senses after all:


If you want a reminder of the sheer awfulness and partisanship of JO'B's attack on Asra Nomani please click here.  

I wander if the decision to drop James O'Brien came before or after Ian Katz's departure from Newsnight back in October last year? His last gig on Newsnight was on 26 October. Did acting editors Jess Brammar and Daniel Clarke make that wise decision, or was it a parting gift from Mr Katz? Twitter suggests it was around 30 October that JO'B was requested to step aside, one day before Ian Katz's departure was formally announced

Hugh Pym and the BBC's NHS coverage


For anyone who's interested, here's a transcript of the main part of this week's Newswatch

Hugh Pym

Samira Ahmed: Now, not for the first time, we are in the middle of a winter of difficulties and challenges for the National Health Service. BBC News has been reporting them with considerable attention. 
BBC NewsreaderTonight at 6:00pm, an apology from Theresa May after new figures reveal pressure on the NHS this winter. From ambulance transfer delays, unprecedented calls to the helpline and operations postponed. BBC Newsreader: A stark claim by doctors: Winter pressures have left patients dying prematurely in hospital corridors. They say safety in A&E units in England and Wales has been compromised at a sometimes intolerable level. 
Doctor: There is a clear emergency and what a number of other observers have clearly described as a crisis. 
BBC Newsreader: One in ten nurses is leaving the NHS in England every year, as the gap between those leaving and joining the profession widens. BBC Newsreader: Hospital consultants in Wales say patient safety is being compromised and that the NHS and social care are chronically under resourced. 
Consultant: We've got patients that are in the department where we don't have space to see them and then we are coming back the next day and some of the patients are still here. It's getting worse every winter, but this is the worst we have seen it. 
Samira Ahmed: Viewer Mike Hill reacted to the coverage he'd seen by writing, "Every year the BBC in January encourages public hysteria by sensationalist reporting - an open door is offered to every medical group, trade union, charity and politician with the same crisis message." And Robert Glassborow put it like this: "I am tired of hearing the scurrilous comments on BBC News programmes running down the NHS, and the annual pressures they are coping with admirably. The nursing staff are demoralised as a result". Meanwhile, Brian Megson declared himself a fan of BBC News, but he echoed those reservations. 
Brian: What I don't enjoy is your constant commentary about the NHS. You start off in December and then you really let rip in January. Every day there's a report about how bad it is, people dying in corridors, not enough nurses, not enough doctors. There's always something wrong with the NHS every day for you guys and you really should stop it. It's a wonderful organisation, why can't you let it be? It's a very big, tough organisation to run for those who are running it and I wish he would stop this obsession and fixation with it. 
Samira Ahmed: Well, Hugh Pym, the health editor for BBC News is with me now. Thank you for coming on Newswatch. There is a sense that the 'NHS in crisis' story comes around each winter. Are you too negative in how you focus on it? 

Hugh Pym: Well, Samira, there's always a balance to be struck, we are very aware of that. The balance between recognising that the NHS does a fantastic job throughout the year and that it's a very popular and well-regarded institution, the staff work extremely hard, but also recognising that if it's under great pressure and staff are feeling the pressure, and that's often what we're being told, then we need to report that. We need to hold the government to account on the performance of the NHS and the management of the NHS in different parts of the UK. Now, this winter, it's been made abundantly clear to us by many people on the front line that the pressure is greater than they've known before, even worse than last year. Many of them think the NHS is underfunded. We've had stories from patients, as well, about very, very long waits in ambulances outside hospitals, and we have a duty to report that. 

Samira Ahmed: You've absolutely made the journalistic case for why this is news. It's about what's abnormal. But is there enough consideration of the cumulative effect of all the stories, that they might actually be hurting people's confidence, and undermining staff morale, which is what some viewers are concerned about? 

Hugh Pym: Well, a couple of the stories that we did, just to highlight, as we've seen just a few minutes ago, the letter from 68 leading A&E consultants, again, on the front line of the NHS, writing to the Prime Minister, saying they have very serious safety concerns, that people could be dying prematurely because of waits in corridors - that letter echoed by consultants in Wales, writing to the First Minister - If that's how they feel in the NHS, then I think we have to report that. And, when it went out on social media, there were a lot of tweets from people in different parts of the NHS, welcoming the fact that senior clinicians were speaking out like that. So, in terms of the negative impact, it's hard to tell with morale, but we have done positive stories about the role of nurses, for example, a whole day of coverage on the very valuable role they play, and also positive stories about how some hospitals, in the face of great pressure, are coping and are having to devise ways of streaming people through A&E. I highlighted a scheme in Ipswich. We've looked at the performance of Luton's A&E, hitting all the targets. A video on our website on that. So I think we do always try to highlight the steps which have been taken to mitigate this pressure. 

Samira Ahmed: It is interesting you mentioned there the day focused on nursing, because it was Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, tweeted that while the BBC's focus was good, he accused the BBC of underplaying the increase in nurse training places. Does he have a point? 

Hugh Pym: Well, we were highlighting the story, which was that last year, the year to September 2017, more nurses had left the NHS than joined it in England. And there was a 3,000 gap, and that hadn't been seen at all in recent years. There was a small gap in the previous year, but it had been positive a few years before that, highlighting the real recruitment and retention challenges the NHS has. Now, the Government's line is, new training places have been set up for a future flow of nurses and we did report that. But they're, in a way, different stories. Yes, planning for the future is one thing, which the Government is trying to do. What was the situation last year? That was illustrated by the facts we quoted from NHS Digital. 

Samira Ahmed: Well, it is very clear from our conversation so far that there is a real political issue in how the NHS is being reported, given the Government and the Opposition say very different things about the funding going into the NHS, and how it is being spent. How much of a challenge is that for you reporting it? 

Hugh Pym: It's a great challenge, because the flow of funding is very complicated. Yes, the Government can say that they've put more money into the NHS, and others can say, including Labour, that it's not enough, and that's of course, in some sense, is a value judgment, but there's an increasing view across different parts of the NHS and royal colleges, trade unions and think tanks, saying that, in England and also the UK, spending is lagging behind what it might be as a share of national income. So getting that balance right and also highlighting the need for the NHS to be efficient, and how it can save money, is always quite a difficult thing to get right. But there is now an increasing debate about the need for a cross-party view on this, involving everyone across society -How do they want the NHS to be funded and social care? Where's the money going to come from, does it need more tax?- on this, of course, the 70th year of the NHS. 

Samira Ahmed: What's interesting is we started off talking about viewers' concern that the BBC is being too negative. But it has also been striking that the BBC's logo for this story is 'NHS Winter', whereas in the past it has been 'NHS Crisis' which the BBC also got criticised for. Some might say, is the BBC being too shy of being as hard as it needs to be on this story? 

Hugh Pym: Well, we've been very careful in our reporting not to use the word 'crisis', and not to brand it as 'a crisis'. It's for others to make that assertion. Many are. Many clinicians as well as politicians are saying it is an NHS crisis. I think the best we can do is state the facts, state what is really going on in hospitals, GPs' surgeries, community health, mental health, right around the UK, state it as it is, make the debate about funding as clear as possible and then leave others to judge how serious it is. But I think no-one can be in any doubt, we have laid out there for viewers and listeners that there is a very serious state of affairs in some parts of the NHS, currently in January, with flu being a major problem. But we need to judge things in the months ahead as to where things go from here. 

Samira Ahmed: Hugh Pym, thank you so much. 

Friday, 19 January 2018

The Supplementary Opposition

Different version 

"You’ve miscalculated on this one, haven’t you? says Tim Willcox as he begins his hostile questioning of Tzipi Hotovely, aired on BBC World news last August.

What was he talking about this time? you ask. Oh, just a little matter of the Palestinians going ape-shit over metal detectors being installed to obstruct would-be terrorists who need to take weapons inside the Temple Mount compound. 
“We found dozens of knives, slingshots, cudgels, spikes, inciting material, unexploded munitions, stun grenades, binoculars — but we haven’t yet found caches of live ammunition.”
So, just props used by Palestinians for one of their traditional rituals, ‘resistance’. How dare the nasty Jews interfere with a Palestinian cultural practice in their thirdest  mostest holiest site?
“All you’ve done is create and provoke the Palestinians and now under international pressure, had to remove these metal detectors. “ 
says Willcox indignantly. 
“The Palestinians say you are trying to increase your control over the compound, they want the status quo to be continued. Jordan is in charge of it, they want those cameras removed along with every other security measures, they say you are deliberately provoking and taking control of the site which has been managed and run successfully by Jordan for the last fifty years”  
Willcox intones furiously, waving his arms around. How dare you obstruct the Palestinians’ when they feel a little frisky. The Jordanians let them, so why don’t you? What are you? Racists?
It’s not the first time Tim Willcox has paraded his pro-Palestinian proclivities in front of the world, though is it? Even though he had to apologise (must have been under international pressure) when he attempted to justify  another spot of terrorism not so long ago.

The Palestinian cause seems to have become his specialist subject in the eyes of the BBC editorial team.The Israelis have done something controversial, they must be saying. Let’s get Tim Willcox in, he’s the expert


Here he goes again. This time it’s Trump, and his controversial plans for UNRWA
"This is pretty counter-productive, isn’t it? It could actually cause you more security problems"
Hotovely patiently sets out the case against UNRWA, even inventing a new word ‘registrated’ into the bargain. She explains that their (the Palestinians') great grandparents started the war (of independence) and lost ….Willcox is not impressed. 
“Different versions of history of course…. different.." 
Hotovely Interrupts: ”No no no! There’s only one”…. they both talk at once..
Ah. So the BBC does know that there is a version of history other than the “Palestinian” version. That’s something at least. 
“Could you just answer the question though? Of radicalising people, Are you concerned about that?
Why am I mentioning this? you ask. Well, only to  reinforce Jon Sopel’s observation that some journalists see themselves as the opposition. The BBC sees itself as the opposition to lots of things. Particularly Israel. 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Flake news

Retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona speaks out about the many and varied flaws in Donald Trump’s personality. He makes some excellent, but rather obvious points. Maybe Trump’s core supporters are being wilfully blind when they defend the most blatant examples of Trump’s narcissistic weirdness, but Flake hasn’t mentioned the benefits that have accrued from Trump’s recklessness. Maybe it takes a madman to shake things up in a way that a politically correct, measured, apparently rational personality could never do. 


Stupid boy!

The Today Programme featured Trump’s Fake News Awards.
Anyway, it amused me so much to listen to Jon Sopel (another beauty) demonstrating a staggeringly un-self-aware analysis of the fake news phenomenon, and for your enjoyment I give you this transcript:

Think of the Oscars, think of the Grammies, it wan’t anything like that! Donald tTump put up a Tweet, linked it to the Republican Party website and you couldn’t find anything out - you got an error message initially, so social media went into meltdown and this was instructive in itself of the whole fake news debate. 
Because the trump detractors said ‘look what a shambles, what chaos and the Trump supporters were saying the site has crashed because there was such huge interest in it.
I’ve spent the last hour, two hours watching the TV - Fox News which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, very right-wing and supportive of Donald Trump has been covering the fake news wars extensively, CNN, MSNBC barely mentioned them and NY Times next to nothing and the Washington Post are reporting it as a total flop. 
The specific incidences are journalists who have got things wrong, and let’s put our hands up, who hasn’t at times made a mistake. The number one on the list of things that Donald Trump found most egregious was from Paul Krugman, known well prizewinning economist who predicted that there would be a stock-market crash when Donald Trump became president. Now, that’s a prediction. Is that fake news? I mean, you know, again, if you are asked to look into a crystal ball there is a 50/50 chance you’re gonna get things right or you’re gonna get things wrong. But this to Donald Trump was the most egregious example because the US Stock-market has gone up 30% in the past year, and Donald Trump, over the past year, a phrase you hear again and again is fake news fake news, you’re all a bunch of liars, it’s untrue. Is that having an effect? Yes it is. if you look at polls a lot of people don’t trust journalists. 
Republicans take the harshest view, they say 68% have a less favourable view of the media compared to 54% of Democrats. 4/10 Republicans say that reports painting politicians in a negative light should always be deemed as fake news. That’s alarming.
I think, in America there is always the post Watergate, post Nixon effect, where every journalist looks at himself/herself in the mirror and thinks I could be Woodward or Bernstein and bring down the president. I think that has changed slightly in the Trump era. To some journalists no longer seeing themselves as holding power to account, speaking truth to power, they see themselves as the opposition. I watched, to my astonishment, a rally that Donald Trump gave, and at the end of it the TV presenter, in the studio, it cuts back to him and goes “Man! That was unhinged! What an embarrassment to have him as our president!” This is mainstream media. Now, could you imagine, Sarah, you coming onto the Today Programme and saying ‘Theresa May, she’s unhinged! What an embarrassment to have her as our Prime Minister” By all means invite guests on who might make that point, but when the news organisation itself is saying that I think it is starting to see itself, not just as holding power to account but as the enemy and I think that plays into Donald Trump’s hands as well. 
So is this all down to editorial decisions then? (said Sarah Montague) 
No. There is commercial element to this too. There is money. Because actually in this present climate, CNN’s audiences, for example, and it was a CNN presenter who talked about the president being unhinged, their audiences are up! Their advertising revenue is up! They are trying to ‘marketise’ the unpopularity of Donald Trump among certain quarters. The NY Times! Their digital subscriptions are going through the roof! Because they are getting more and more people wanting to subscribe to the NY Times. Does that mean they are widening their readership in terms of are they reaching pockets of Republican supporting kind of mid-west America? No, they’re not. What it is, is that more and more liberals think this is the constitution under threat, we think we must subscribe. And so you have people living ever-more in an echo chamber, where the news that they read in the newspaper or they listen to on the radio or they watch on the television are just their own views coming back to them. And fewer and fewer Americans are hearing anything other than what they already believe.