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Recently Observed (11)

Celebrating Alistair Cooke

Facebook & Journalism


A few changes round here - I've decided to throw everything in a few boxes and move my blog to a new address and new platform.

The new address is:


Please update your bookmarks/RSS/ - you wouldn't want to miss out on a minute of this stuff!!

Come visit - bring wine and flowers!

Saving snail mail

I still stop what I'm doing when I hear the rattle of our letterbox. For some reason I'm compelled to have a look to see what Royal Mail have served up, even though I know it will be either a bill or something completely unnecessary. While there are a couple of magazine subs I look forward to and Lovefilm when they get their act together, much of what comes through our letterbox goes straight to the blue-box which is emptied into the big yellow recycling van every Thursday. Junk mail does not describe some of the rubbish we get - how many takeaway menus for the same Chinese restaurant could a house this size possibly require?

The wonderfully named Perry Bible Fellowship cartoon strip by Nicholas Gurewitch captures it perfectly. Sadly PBF is no longer published in the Gurdian, but the PBF website has a huge back-catalogue for your amusement.

Thankfully I have recently witnessed some encouraging moments in the fight to save snail-mail. Down with digital sent us a wonderful postcard from west (or is it east?) of the Bann, of course I can't overlook birthday my cards (hundreds!) from late October and best of all this week edunny.com sent me some Obama souvenirs! So it's not all bad.

Happy Friday - send someone a postcard this weekend!

Must be qualified and squeaky clean?

The NYT is describing it as possibly the most invasive application form ever. Along with questions seeking to dig out any conflicts of interests, team Obama want to know it all! Those applying for senior Obamajobs face a questionnaire that includes "63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants’ spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps."

Question 63 asks: “Please provide any other information, including information about other members of your family, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the president-elect.”

What's on your Wall?

Hopefully people applying for senior posts with team Obama won't have posted pictures of them drunk and disorderly in DC on their wall, but according to the NYT "they must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their facebook pages. The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.” I wonder what happens if you threw a zombie at John McCain during the campaign?

Alaska is bigger than Palin

Sarah Palin was bad enough - but we also had to put up with the UK media and their ill informed and lazy depictions of Alaska. I'm not sure if this was an international phenomenon, but according to our press Alaska is populated by moose-burger eating, gun carrying and snow blowin Palin fans. Stereotypes and caricatures galore. I've only had one brief visit to Alaska, but it was an incredible place of wild beauty and wide open spaces populated by generous and friendly people. I had a friend at St Andrews from Fairbanks and he was wihtout doubt one of the most interesting and intelligent people I've ever met. I'm sure Alaska has its quota of crazies, but don't we all? I should know, I live in Belfast!

Good to see some fightback in today's Guardian. Clare Chesher, a Brit living in Alaska responds to an earlier piece by the Guardian's Ed Pilkington.

Alaska is bigger than Palin. I'm sure, like me, many people in Northern Ireland would strongly object to being understood with reference to some of our politicians! Oh dear just thinking about that makes me cringe!

The image above is my favourite souvenir from the trip to Alaska always paddle and myself enjoyed a few years back. It currently has pride of place in our living room. Oh and before you ask, it was purchased in a General Store somewhere along the Alaska highway and not purloined with a screwdriver in the dead of night!! 

macs ruling the world?

Barack's got one

So does Dimitry Medvedev

Via: Boing Boing & cultofmac

night shots

Always paddle was out last night so I hit the streets and skulked around Belfast in the dark...taking pictures of course! I'm new to night photography so it was fun to experiment - here are a few of last nights shots:


The Spinning Wheel


More on flickr

It sounds a bit like Gladiators

Here's a little advance help for your next pub quiz or perhaps Trivial Pursuit's 2010 version. Here are some highlights from a list of code names the US Secret Service gives to those they protect. Don't you think it sounds like a roll call for Gladiators?

The Obamas:

President-elect Barack Obama: Renegade

Michelle Obama: Renaissance

Malia Obama: Radiance

Sasha Obama: Rosebud

The Bidens

Vice President-elect Joe Biden: Celtic

Jill Biden: Capri

The Bushs

President George W. Bush: Tumbler

First Lady Laura Bush: Tempo

See the full list here

Oh and since we are on the theme...the Daily Telegraph publishes '50 facts you might not know about Barack Obama.'

Here's a taster:

He collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics.

He won a Grammy in 2006 for the audio version of his memoir, Dreams From My Father.

He can bench press an impressive 200lbs.

He was known as Barry until university when he asked to be addressed by his full name.

He applied to appear in a black pin-up calendar while at Harvard but was rejected by the all-female committee.

He doesn't drink coffee and rarely drinks alcohol.

He wears $1,500 (£952) Hart Schaffner Marx suits.

Read more Obamafacts here

Big Wheel reflection at night

I was in Belfast tonight and snapped a few shots of the big wheel on the way home.

Click here for the large version

Recently Observed (10)

...This just in. I'm in the money! "You have just been awarded of the sum of £1,000,000.00GBP Pounds which was won by your E-MAIL Address in our Monthly Promo.You are to contact Mr Pinkett Griffin For More Details."

...the pros of working from home include all day slipper wearing, the cons: one-sided conversations at coffee break.

...churches with doors on the end of pews scare me. Why?

...right now I feel our window cleaner has the worst job in NI. His hands must be freezing.

...amazing shots (as usual) from the Big picture. Enjoy

Review: The Brass Verdict, Michael Connelly

A new book from Michael Connelly is an event for the crime fiction world. With a reputation built on a stack of bestsellers Connelly is without question one of the big dogs of the genre. Continuing to take a break from LAPD Detective Hieronymus Bosch, The Brass Verdict is the second in the series about cynical and troubled LA lawyer Mickey Haller who first appeared in Connelly's 2006 The Lincoln Lawyer.

I've mentioned previously that I was eagerly awaiting Connelly's Brass Verdict and James Lee Burke's Swan Peak. I'm still anticipating the delights of Swan Peak, but I'm sad to report that, for the first time ever, I'm a little disappointed in Michael Connelly's latest offering.

The Brass Verdict follows Mickey Haller as he inherits the caseload of a fellow lawyer who is gunned down in a parking garage. The inherited caseload fast-tracks Haller's recovery from a spell in rehab and re-entry to legal practice. The 'Lincoln lawyer' is back! Amongst the cases the murder trial of a powerful LA film mogul has the potential to make or break Haller. The breakage may be professional or it could be that Haller ends up outlined in chalk like his dead benefactor. As usual with Connelly there are a number of clever twists in the long tail of this case. Also present is Connelly's distaste for the usual suspects. That unholy trinity of crooked cops, slippery lawyers and wealthy rogues are all targets for Connelly's admirable ability to find dirt, corruption and hypocrisy under the nails of even the most carefully of manicured hands.

With an eye on fans of Bosch the blurb for The Brass Verdict hints at a Haller and Bosch double-act and for me this is part of the problem. Readers of Connelly will know Bosch as a powerful and dominant character. It's true, in Harry Bosch the cliches of crime fiction are writ large. A lonely, rebellious, complex, brooding and violent man stalking LA working out his demons and breaking rules in the name of justice. But I have no problem with cliche in crime fiction as long as the writing is strong and Connelly's is first class. There are few writers who can capture movement, speed and intensity in a narrative like Connelly. Reading a British 'police procedural' after an outing with Bosch is like swapping a Porsche for a bike with a flat tire. However, in giving Bosch a supporting role in The Brass Verdict Connelly makes, I believe, an unfortunate error. Bosch is a ghost in this novel - he's here and there, but has little substance, dropping in and out of the narrative, but never fully part of the story. Aside from a suspiciously 'tidy' denouement one wonders why Connelly decided to include Bosch in The Brass Verdict at all.

Typically Connelly produces a book that will keep you up in the small hours, thoughts of sleep and an exhausted tomorrow not intruding on what is usually an exhilarating experience. The Brass Verdict was just not up to the usual Connelly standard. Perhaps it was just me, but it just didn't have the same power and felt a little tired. The surprises weren't too shocking and I'm not quite sure how I feel about the main protagonist of Mickey Haller.

So the xetera verdict on The Brass Verdict is that, sadly, this is a below par offering from Mr Connelly. Don't get me wrong, it's still a decent read, but just not quite as good as some of his previous work. Here's hoping his next offering will be a return to form.

It's time for some warming winter fuel

If winter is not upon us, it's certainly pretty close. It won't be long before sunsets at 3pm will join the blasts of cold winds and hats and gloves that have suddenly become part of life in the past couple of weeks. Winter brings its own particular miseries, but many delights. Cosy nights in with candles and hot chocolate, Christmas lights rather than bedraggled flags decorating the streets near our house, winter cooking and the strange pleasure of a bracing run on a crisp and clear winter's morning.

But let's not forget one of winter's Princes: Whisky. Yes, that's right, Scotch Whisky, not it's Irish cousin Whiskey. When it comes to malted barley and water my heart remains in Scotland.

I'm sure distilleries across Scotland would want to challenge my winter/whiskey correlation and yes, whiskey is good irrespective of the month. But a wee dram on a cold winter's night is an absolute delight. Improved only by a roaring open fire and the company of friends.

In years past I've switched between three choices for my warming winter fuel: Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and the Balvenie Doublewood 12 yr old. Now I reach the point of decision. Break with tradition and select something new, or make a choice from one of three tried and tested faithful winter companions? Decisions, decisions!

Another addition to the 'things I miss about Scotland' is the paucity of a good bottle shop. Tescos & Sainsbury's may offer an attractive price, but there is just something wrong about buying single malt scotch three aisles up from the toilet paper. Luvians in St Andrews or Edinburgh's specialty Whiskey shops are sorely missed.

Recommendations, opinions and tasting notes welcomed.


Hug it out...!

My sources bring me exciting Obamaish news. We all know by now that Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, was the inspiration for the West Wing's Josh Lyman. Today the net is a flutter with the discovery that his brother was the basis for Entourage's Ari Gold.

What a family! Inspiration for two of the greatest characters from two of the greatest TV shows of the past decade!!

If you are interested in the fascinating Mr Raham Emanuel - Comment Central has collected a huge list of articles about him.

I want my MTV

This morning I was briefly excited to discover that MTV have launched a portal called I want my MTV where you can watch almost all the videos they have ever played. Sweet!

What should I try first? Hmmm. Well I have a vivid memory of being in someone's house in New Jersey back in the mid 90s and watching the Gus Van Sant directed vid for Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers - so I went for that.

Sadly a chili peppered memory lane was not to be. Instead of Anthony, Flea and co I got this message:

Oh well over to Youtube... errr not quite. You see Warner Bros have pulled the same trick over there:

Oh dear. This is all very old school music business if you ask me. If I didn't already own it, perhaps my trip down a chili peppered memory lane would have prompted a walk over to itunes where I would have bought the track (79p) or perhaps a Greatest Hits album (£7.99).

Instead I found this absolutely hilarious "literal video" version of Under the Bridge. Very, very funny! Enjoy!

US election in red, blue and purple

Some post-election mappery of the US

The standard red/blue

A cartogram showing results with states scaled according to their population

Cartogram showing percentages of votes in blue, red and purple. This helps to see whether counties went strongly for one candidate or the other or a relatively even split.

Fuller explanation and more maps here

A little over the top?

Thankfully Obamamania saved those of us in UK from the really big story of the year. Yes Jonathan and Russell's lewd phone calls to Andrew 'Manuel' Sachs. Apparently the good people of Edenbrige, Kent don't feel enough has been done and will burn this huge effigy of Ross and Brand at a fireworks display on Saturday night.

The likeness is pretty good, but perhaps a little over the top? They behaved badly, no doubt about it, but it's not quite the same as trying to blow up Parliament?

Those nasty bloggers

This is not a political blog, but seeing as it's wall to wall politics at the moment here's another political post, this time non-obama!

Reports are circulating about Hazel Blears MP's speech to the Hansard Society on the subject of political disengagement. As well as getting the boot into politicians who have CV's that read: "party activist, policy wonk, MP" (like a lot of her cabinet colleagues??) she has some thoughts to share on political blogs.

The PA advance Press Release includes the following: "Ms Blears, who had a career as a local government solicitor before becoming an elected politician, will also complain about a "spreading corrosive cynicism" in political discussion. She will point the figure at political "bloggers" - accusing them of seeing their role as "unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy".

She goes on to say: "Until political blogging 'adds value' to our political culture, by allowing new voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair."

I read a lot of political blogs and find Blears' comments baffling. One theory is that she is trying to pick a fight with right-wing bloggers who so far have managed to create the most successful blogs on the UK political blogosphere. However, this doesn't explain anything and only prompts one to ask why she would pick this particular fight?  Other recent reports about senior Labour figures eying up the UK blogosphere clearly demonstrate that the lack of a strong Labour voice out there is a source of some concern.

But for Blears to get the boot in and accuse UK political bloggers of somehow contributing to political disengagement demonstrates a breathtaking lack of understanding and worse a unbelivable absence of imagination or curiosity about the meaning of the internet. In the US the Huffington Post and Drudge make their mainstream rivals look like pretenders. Andrew Sullivan is doing his daily dish, daily kos is massive for democrats. In Canada I've recently discovered Warren Kinsella  a rare combination of political insider and born blogger. In the UK Iain Dale and Guido rack up as many page views as main stream newspaper sites. Setting aside the fact that many of these are pretty basic operations, surely their success points to a high degree of engagement in the political process. People are hardly disengaged from politics if they are reading these blogs in their millions.

There are lots of people blogging about politics out there, but some of them are attracting huge numbers of people on a daily basis. What Hazel Blears and her advisers should be asking is Why? Rather than complain about content or accuse bloggers of feeding a culture of cynicism and despair our political leaders should be asking why it appears there is a culture of cynicism and despair? Does this have anything to do with a new form of communication? Surely the heart of the matter is more worrying than the anarchy of political blogging? Perhaps it's the memory of a year of revelations about financial impropriety and downright criminal behaviour by MPs? Perhaps people haven't forgotten the story of major figures in British politics cavorting on the yacht of a Russian business man who has been denied entry to the USA? People are clearly frustrated and pretty fed up with UK political culture, but I would suggest this has more to do with our politicians and the current political culture than anything written by a blogger. Don't shoot the messenger Hazel!

Political blogs, youtube, twitter, facebook - people are on the web having a big debate about politics and a million other issues. New media reflects old media, especially when blogs become successful enough to make money for advertising,  so like some of the rubbish we print on paper there's a lot of nasty rubbish out there  that should be ignored. But don't we do that everyday whether it's on TV, in a newspaper or on a blog?

I'm worried that Blears sees a problem rather than a massive opportunity. Concerned that she somehow thinks it's worth having a crack at a few bloggers rather than realising that every sordid tale of corruption or story that doesn't sit well with 'ordinary people' is the drip, drip that is corrisive to political engagement.

Hold the front page

There's only one story on the front pages today - although in Belfast, this morning's Newsletter ran with:

"Linfield Player struck by Firework" - somebody please tell them!

Thank goodness for great rhetoric

Well - what a night! I gave in to sleep after listening to McCain's gracious concession speech. Woke up a few hours later, surprisingly fresh, to the sound of Obama's acceptance speech on Radio 4. It's interesting to listen to this morning's analysis and see how Obama's victory becomes a launch pad for a discussion for...well...just about everything.

One of the most astonishing criticisms of Obama during the campaign was the 'mere rhetoric' line that even last night, as the electoral map of America changed before our eyes, was still in the mouths of his critics. Both speeches last night demonstrated the importance of political rhetoric. McCain showed true character and grace in defeat. Obama, once again, delivered a stunning speech that found words that not only celebrated the moment, but mined its significance. The climax of the speech weaves together the life story of one individual woman, 106 year old Ann Nixon Cooper, with the story of modern America. A moment of rhetorical beauty. Rhetoric matters because ideas matter. Most politicians would happily settle for a mere dusting of Obama's ability to tell a political story and use words to inspire and create change. Here's hoping he continues to raise the bar for political discource.

Here are some extracts from Obama's acceptance speech: (see below for video of complete speech)

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference."

"It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states."

"It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America. It’s the answer that led those who’ve been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day."

"But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.
I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington. It began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston. It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give $5 and $10 and $20 to the cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy…… who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep.

It drew strength from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on doors of perfect strangers, and from the millions of Americans who volunteered and organized and proved that more than two centuries later a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from the Earth. This is your victory."

"This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight’s about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons — because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin. And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can. At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can. When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.
Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves — if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made? This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America."


BBC coverage - the best bits

Fun moments from the BBC coverage:

...John Bolton calling for a BBC reporter to be sacked immediately.

...Simon Schama giving Bolton a run for his money.

...Eddie Izzard and Ricky Gervais sharing their thoughts on US politics.

...Nick Robinson, clearly having had a few jars, doing a 3am live link from Downing Street.

...John Bolton refusing to concede...anything!

...Christopher Hitchens doing what he does best.

...Jeremy Vine with his fancy map in London.

it ain't over till it's over, but it seems like it's over already...

it's 133am. Lots of cautious talk on TV - too close to call etc. But the numbers are starting to come in and it appears that it's in the bag for Barack Obama. The conversation is slowly switching to talk of Obama as a leader - McCain is slipping away, at least in the minds of the talking heads.


Like any big sporting event - the election coverage starts with commentary on commentary. BBC2's Newsnight had Paxman in Washington with Mark Penn (trying to imply he always knew it would be Obama), John Zogby and a McCainiac who is still a true believer.

Google has a great 'real-time' election results map

For now I'm sipping a Corona and waiting.


coffee & tribes = good times

So we've reached the big day. Right now the American people are deciding who will be the 44th President of the United States of America. I can't wait for the BBC coverage to begin.

Has there ever been a more talked about, analysed, debated and reported electoral contest? How do you top this? Now it's down to the people: ordinary voters, activists getting out the vote and those people who claim to be 'undecided'.

As much as any election is about a set of policies and party affiliation it is also surely about leadership. Who do I want to lead me? I'm currently reading Seth Godin's new book Tribes and this morning came across this passage on page 126:

The Elements of Leadership

Leaders challenge the status quo.

Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.

Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the word they're trying to change.

Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.

Leaders communicate their vision of the future.

Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.

Leaders connect their followers to one another.

More on Tribes soon...

**There's a free audiobook version of Tribes available @ Audible - go get it...now!!

latest photos

coffee cup, the yard gallery, holywood

kinnegar, holywood

bottle floating in belfast lough

golden leaves

graffiti, college court, belfast

More on flickr

I know you're busy...

I know you're busy running a campaign, but you'd think someone might have tried to make sure that the guy who claims to be President Nicholas Sarkozy is indeed President Nicholas Sarkozy!

A National Treasure - no doubt about it

Ok. So old Russ and Jonathan were seriously out of line. I think we get the point. But more offensive than their lewd behaviour was the way the BBC haters got their knives out, barely concealed under a gossamer cloak of hypocritical moral concern. These nasty people want to see an end to a national treasure, not for one second considering the cultural significance of this incredible organisation. The BBC is not perfect, but it is probably the greatest media outlet in the world.

Say no to mediocre TV & Radio; love your BBC!!