February, 2010

Vancouver A Sell Out?

According to the Vancouver organising committee, all 1.6m tickets for the Winter Olympics are expected to sell out.
I’m always very suspicious of claims like that. Especially as I watched the USA v China Women’s Ice Hockey last night, and there were plenty of seats available. And I don’;t just mean a couple of no-shows at the last minute, I mean rows of empty seats. Now considering that the USA have demolished China on every occassion they’ve met on the rink, that’s perhaps not surprising – most of us prefer not to see one-sided contests.
I’m sure the Vancouver games will be very well attended, but making claims that can disproved simply by turning on your television does nobody any good. Even the commentators highlighted the empty seats.

Premier League Commentary

Ashburton Grove
A good night last night at Arsenal watching them beat Liverpool. And the other results were excellent too.
So I’m really excited that today, Absolute Radio (my employer), has announced that it has won rights to live commentaries from a 3pm Premier League fixtures for three years from next season.
Read more at the One Golden Square blog, and on MediaGuardian.
Disclaimer: I work for Absolute Radio. And I am really excited about this.

Newswipe on the Iraq Inquiry

I love Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe.
It’s simply one of the best things on TV anywhere.
Anyway – this week they covered the ongoing Iraq Inquiry, and in particular coverage of Blair’s appearance at the Inquiry.
Except, the programme couldn’t show any of the the Inquiry. This is because television programmes can’t show clips of Parliamentary procedings and I assume that this Inquiry, which was announced by the Prime Minister last year is considered to fall within that arena (NB A tweet from Matt Wells says that the contract to take pictures eplicitly prohibits satirical television. I’d add that Brooker uses most of his footage without permission – hence the credits throughout).
I talked about this a little last year, in relation to Have I Got News For You. Those rules say:
no extracts of Parliamentary proceedings may be used in any light entertainment programme or in a programme of political satire
It’s worth noting that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart did show Blair’s appearance at the Inquiry. And in a satirical manner – the segment was entitled “Faulty Powers” (see what they did there?). And that show was then broadcast on More4. The Daily Show took their footage from CSPAN who evidently rebroadcast it in the US.
Indeed, the programme has only just dropped off the 4OD player – otherwise you could watch it right now.
Yes – that was probably an editing oversight on C4/More4’s part. But it just shows that we’re still ridiculously prevented from showing footage in a free manner.
Anyway – go and watch this week’s programme, if only because it has another one of those mini-documentaries from Adam Curtis.
Oh – and if you want to search for Blair featuring in The Daily Show’s coverage, it’s the Feb 1 2010 edition you need to find on the internet. To be honest, it’s not actually that good.

The Chalk Circle Man

As I mentioned previously, I’m going to try to get around to talking more about what I’m reading here.
I picked up The Chalk Circle Man, because I’d not previously read any Fred Vargas novels, but had heard good things about her, and I found myself in town at the weekend without anything to read (the last thing I really needed was to buy some new books).
It turns out that, typically of the way that any translated fiction reaches the English language, the publishers have been releasing her books out of sequence. So this book introduces the reader to Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, a detective with an especially unusual manner of solving crimes – using divination as much as anything.
The tale is curious, and is told from a few different viewpoints. But I immediately liked the both straightforward and incredibly complex Adamsberg. Someone is leaving curious blue chalk circles surrounding random objects on the pavements of Paris. How long before it becomes something more fiendish? I’ll let you decide.
I have the feeling that I’m going to enjoy catching up with the rest of the series. And I’ll have the luxuary of reading the books in order. Well – aside from the graphic novel and three novellas, neither of which seems to have been published in English yet.

US Sport v European Sport

I stayed up late last night to watch the Superbowl. I like American Football, and once you get over the inordinate number of breaks in play it’s a fine sport. I suggest that you either diligently us your PVR in live pause mode, or do as I did last night and decide that it was the perfect time to install Windows 7 on my netbook (it went fine on my Samsung N110 thanks for asking).
But there are a few other differences. The actual game seems to be very low down the order of importance surrounding the whole thing. It’s all about the specially made ads (somewhat disappointing by all accounts this year, although the Dave/Oprah/Jay promo was funny), or the half-time show (The Who playing a poor medley of CSI theme tunes. I think I’ll stick to CDs thanks).
One thing I can never get over is how unexcited the commentators seem to be. I know they’re professionals and they have to bring that special gravitas to the event, but a bit more life in their voices wouldn’t go amiss. Sometimes Motty might be a little over the top, and Sky will make a deathly-dull game sound more exciting than everyone watching knows it is, but at least they try to convey some of the excitement. Even the sound mix seems to minimise the crowd noise. Of course the fans don’t tend to songs, and it being the Superbowl, actual honest to goodness fans are few and far between since the world and their mum has bought tickets. And they’re not cheap.
But the real difference comes at the end. For a country who presents sport with enormous professionalism, the scenes at the end of a regular season game are frankly chaotic. This is only increased in the Superbowl where there are already several hundred player, coaches, officials, journalists, cameramen, photographers and others prowling the touchlines.
At the final whistle all hell lets loose. Everyone brings their families on too.
Yet it’s at the presentation that things really change. With the FA Cup or the Champions’ League, journalists are kept in roped areas. A stand might be built, or the steps are ascended at Wembley. And then the players go up to collect the trophy. You know – the guys who’ve been running around and entertaining us for the last couple of hours, plus all those weeks and months leading up to the final. The team Captain receives the trophy and raises it aloft. Then the rest of the players will get a go, and among them, the manager will bashfully accept it too.
At the Superbowl, a small podium is built in the middle of the pitch. The trophy is brought out to the middle of the pitch and players try to touch it as it goes by. Just as well, as for the time being, this is the closest most of them will get to it.
Then the trophy is presented… to the team’s owner. Yes the “franchisee” is the person who accepts it. Yes – he pays the bills, and without him or her, there’d be no team, but it wasn’t him (let’s face it, it is a “him”) running around out there. Next the head coach of the team – the manager figure – gets his turn. Finally, the MVP (Most Valuable Player) gets a turn. And that’s it.
And all around, everyone’s wearing slightly tacky T-shirts or baseball caps proclaiming the winners (another box, should the other team have won, is quietly boxed up and recycled or sent to Africa for charity), while the local newspaper distributes copies proclaiming the winners.
As I say. I like American Football, and enjoy the spectacle and the occasion. Perhaps the charm of it is the lack professionalism at the end. The memorable images tend to be grabbed from the midst of a scrum of cameramen with the camera pointing upwards. But it could be better done.

Transatlantic Sessions

Transatlantic Sessions-3
Transatlantic Sessions is one of those TV programmes which you may have seen if you spend any time watching BBC Four, BBC Alba, or (I guess) BBC Scotland.
Jerry Douglas hosts a variety of musicians from Scotland, Ireland, the US and elsewhere as they record – well, sessions – which are then broadcast in a very lush manner. Anyone and everyone seems to get involved.
As Celtic Connections has just taken place in Glasgow, a Transatlantic Sessions “band” was put together and last night in the Royal Festival Hall was the last night of their short tour. I got a late ticket when they put the Choir seats on sale. As is obvious from the picture above (and below), that meant I was sitting behind the band. Fortunately, the sound was fine with the RFH thoughtfully placing some speakers pointing backwards.
The set-up was fun in that rarely were all 17 singers and musicians playing simultaneously, so there were a couple of sofas just below where I was sitting for everyone not playing in a particular song to “hang out.”
So who else was there? Well lots of people.
Cara Dillon; fresh from winning the Best Album award at the BBC Folk Awards.
Dan Tyminski; the “voice” of George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou, and who is part of Alison Krauss and Union Station (when it’s not on “hiatus”).
Sara Watkins; part of Nickel Creek who I once saw play live at work, and now performing solo.
Eddi Reader; once of Fairground Attraction fame.
And plenty more.
Lots of original work and more than a few covers. I fear that I’ll be looking out a few CDs in the coming weeks.
Transatlantic Sessions-4


Most of my thoughts on RAJAR today are published on the One Golden Square blog. So I won’t bother repeating them here.
I needed a photo to illustrate RAJAR on the blog, so I took the one above. Although RAJAR’s mostly electronic these days, printing a copy of the summary PDF is still useful.
But of course I’ve previously taken a very similar RAJAR photo. And wouldn’t you know it? The Radio Four Blog used it to illustrate its piece about that station’s RAJAR figures using the Creative Commons licence I apply to nearly every photo I place on Flickr.
Note to self: must think of some different illustrative photos of RAJAR.
[I’d put a disclaimer on this post, about these being my thoughts and not those of my employer, but that’s a bit redundant in this instance. And in any case, the thoughts published on the One Golden Square blog, do actually reflect those of my employer.]

The Dying Light

I’ve been frankly awful detailing what I’ve been reading recently. So let’s try to right that wrong in 2010.
The book I’ve most enjoyed recently – if enjoyment is the right word – is Henry Porter’s new novel, The Dying Light.
Porter is British editor of Vanity Fair, but more relevant is that he was one of the people behind last year’s Covention on Modern Liberty and as well as writing for The Observer, he blogs at The Guardian’s Liberty Central Blog.
The Dying Light takes place in a post-2012 Britain in which we’ve moved on from Blair and Brown to a new Prime Minister, John Temple. The book opens as one of Temple’s previous aides, David Eyam is being declared dead – killed in an explosion in Colombia.
We follow Kate Lockhart, an old friend and lover, who’s catapulted into a Britain where our liberties have been evaporating in a slow but steady manner. Citizens are tracked and watched in a manner that Ceausescu might only have dreamt of.
What had Eyam uncovered? Who’s in on it? How can an overbearing State be defeated.
The themes of Porter’s novel are clear, and he paints a vivid picture of a world not far from our own. To that extent, his is the best fictionalisation of that fear that I’ve come across recently.
There was 2008’s BBC1 drama, The Last Enemy, that was ultimately unsuccessful. Given the propensity of Hollywood to take British political thriller TV series and remake then as films, this would be a good candidate for dramatising?
The book did have a stark reminders to me. Some of the action in the novel takes place in Chequers, the Prime Minister’s “weekend retreat.” The Prime Minister and his press secretary take a walk while they’re there to Cymbeline’s Castle, an earthwork on Beacon Hill. As it happens, I walked up that very hill last year and took this photo from that very spot.
25 May 2009
Clearly, the camera is placed there, because it’s on the edge of the Chequers estate, but I think it’s somehow indicative of the society we’ve become, and we’re becoming.
The other aside in the novel that resonated was when one character, who studies Middle Eastern history in his spare time, talks about what a Sumerian astronomer was able to record with the help of a planisphere in 3123 BC. An asteroid hit the alps.
A very similar example appears in the current edition of New Scientist, relating to the Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa from about 700 BC but recording events from 1000 years earlier.
In both the novel and the New Scientist piece, the gist is that much of our knowledge is stored in an ephemeral manner, and writing it down (or engraving it!) ensures that the knowledge lasts many thousands of years.
In these instances, the language was cuniform, and Radio 4’s fabulous new series, A History of the World in 100 Objects examines cuniform this Friday.
Anyway – I’m straying. This book is a real page turner and well worth reading.