Radio 4

More Saturday Night Live

The Saturday Night Live spoof of the VP debate is online. Tina Fey does not have to do much spoofing, Palin spoofs herself. I had to grin at the 'Due the historically low expectations....'

In the UK, 'The News Quiz' has a nice take on Sarah Palin. Every time she is mentioned on the show we get a burst of 'Halleluia!' from Handel's Messiah - It's Sandi Toksvig thanking the Gods of Comedy for such a rich source of new comedic material.

Toksvig now finds herself "terribly grateful to Sarah Palin. For comedy writers, she’s just heaven."

(Source)

Paxman and Humphries

Jeremy Paxman and John Humphries in the same room at the same time.... Humphries is interviewing Paxman about his recent lecture about the demise of TV. For the record, I'm in agreement with Paxman on much of what he says - I can't remember the last time I saw a decent documentary which didn't have a made-up play to illustrate it's point. It's also all too rare that an interviewer listens to the answers they're given, and responds to that answer - the number of times which I've listed to an MP or minister waffle repeatedly without answering the question and have the interviewer let it slide has been frustrating.

... that said. I do like the concept of the BBC, and generally it's a good thing - but it has got rather too audience-chasey. Witness, for example, the 'reporting' on the BBC news website of the happenings on 'Big Brother' (a production of a rival broadcaster).

For the record: my most used BBC outlets are: BBC News website (and BBC Sport/Weather etc) BBC Radio 4 BBC2 TV BBC4 TV BBC1 TV (this moves up a bit at certain times of the year)

The BBC outlets I wouldn't miss are: BBC Local Radio BBC Radio 1 BBC Radio 3 (though I'd hate to think it wasn't there) CBBC CBeebies Any of those saturday night things involving dancing and ice skating.

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act - discussed on Law in Action, Radio 4

On the 21st at 4pm, on Radio 4, 'Law in Action' discussed the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill which I have written a lot about in recent weeks. To clarify, this is a bill with a boring name, but it is worth knowing about - and writing to your MP about.

The programme should be available on the BBC Radio 4 website for the next 6 days or so (a shame there is no version to save to the hard drive). Here's the direct link to the audio (but it will no longer be correct after the 28th March 2006. A brief overview may be seen here.

I wanted to be sure that I had a record of this conversation, so I trust that the wonderfully marvellous 'Law in Action' team (Radio 4, 4pm, tuesdays) will look kindly upon the following transcript. Of course, it's not a substitute for listening to the programme itself.

Time into program: 21:50

PRESENTER: Like almost everything else Parliamentary Democracy has it's knockers. Most people do seem rather attached to the principle that if the government want to change the law they have to put their proposals before parliament and have them scrutinised. But that could be under threat from the little noticed 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill'. One of those who thinks so is Daniel Finkelstein, the comment editor of 'The Times', and it's been keeping him awake at night.

DANIEL FINKELSTEIN: No-one wants to be thought of as a nutter, so it's best to keep quiet about your nightmares. But I have to admit, I've been having a nightmare in which the government of the country decides one day that it's fed up with passing legislation. It can't be bothered to put its bills through the house of commons. So one day when no-one's looking it passes a piece of legislation that allows it to just to change any bill it likes without consulting parliament through the normal bill process. And it does that without anyone really objecting, it sails through the house of commons by a whip system, and before we know it the house of commons has given away its power to the executive to change laws at will. The problem with this nightmare is actually true. I wake up sweating to discover that the government has actually introduced a legislative and regulatory reform bill which does, almost unbelievably, abolish the Magna Carta rights and make it possible for the government to change any law it likes at will.

PRESENTER: Daniel Finkelstein. But is it really so drastic?After all, the government says the bill simply streamlines the regulatory reform act of 2001. Does Cambridge Professor of Law, John Spencer QC, agree with that interpretation?

PROFESSOR JOHN SPENCER QC: Absolutely not! It goes far beyond that. (and I still don't see this issue in the evening news... Murk) If enacted in the form in which they introduced it it would give the government the power to rewrote almost any legislation on almost anything with hardly any limits.

PRESENTER: Give me some examples. What sort of things could the Government do, theoretically, if this bill becomes law?

JOHN SPENCER QC: Well, theoretically it could, for example, rewrite the legislative and regulatory reform itself to remove all the safeguards written into the bill for the exercise by the ministers of the powers contained in the bill. Or it could rewrite all the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 so as to give itself the power to do the things that parliament wouldn't let it do in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

PRESENTER: And just to be absolutely clear about this it could do any or all of that without bringing those proposals before parliament?

JOHN SPENCER QC: Without bringing them before parliament in a bill which would then have to be voted through as an act. They'd have to proceed by way of an order, and there isn't the possibility for debate and amendment, of course, when you proceed by order rather than by an act of parliament.

PRESENTER: What the government would say, of course, is look yes, okay, but there are so many safeguards built into this bill that there aren't going to be any abuses.

JOHN SPENCER QC: If they say there aren't going to be any abuses, why have they written the powers in such wide terms? It wouldn't be difficult to amend this legislation to give themselves just the powers they claim that they actually need. If that's all they need why don't they reframe the powers which they propose to give themselves in such a way that it couldn't do, even theoretically, the sort of things they say they don't want to do?

PRESENTER: Is this another example of us not having a written constitution and therefore the government being able to, effectively, to tinker with the constitution?

JOHN SPENCER QC: It's exactly what the problem is. It's high time we had a written constitution in which the basic structure of legislative powers of the country were laid down in a document which can't be altered by parliament itself under the ordinary procedure.

PRESENTER: I presume that what you would like, if this bill is going to go through in any form similar to the one in which it's presented, is that you would like a parliamentary veto added to it.

JOHN SPENCER QC: I absolutely would. I would like something added to this under which any 50 MPs, preferably drawn from different parties would have the right to veto the use of this procedure and put the proposed legislative change along the normal track of bill leading to an act.

PRESENTER: Why haven't we heard opposition parties on the news and over the news media beating their drum, and why aren't people marching in the streets about it?

(Damned good question, it's something that's frustrating me no end - Murk)

JOHN SPENCER QC: I think first of all, the opposition hope they'll win the next election and may be thinking to themselves 'jolly good, we'll be able to use this when we're in power' (Edit: You cynic... I must admit to sharing similar thoughts - Murk). I think secondly people just haven't noticed. This is wrapped up in something soporifically boring, the removal of red tape around the regulation of business, and nobody's really noticed.

PRESENTER: So how dangerous a precedent is this for our parliamentary democracy?

JOHN SPENCER QC: It is unbelievably dangerous. It means potentially marginalising parliament. It moves us a big step toward the elected dictatorship every five years, it's a step toward a system under which the only break that we have on our ministers is the fact that there's a general election every five years. (He seems to overlook the fact that even this may not be guaranteed, as, if I recall correctly, the five years is set by the parliament act, which is itself changable by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act - Murk)

PRESENTER: Professor John Spencer QC. We asked for an interview with the minister piloting the bill through the commons, but he was unavailable. (Coward - Murk). We were given this statement by the Cabinet Office.

CABINET OFFICE: We will continue to listen to the views of parliament. It's vital that we get this bill right so that the government, in partnership with parliament, business, public sector and voluntary workers can get on with saving businesses time and money, and freeing up public and voluntary sector staff to deliver services of exceptional quality.

PRESENTER: And it you've got any statements of your own to make, do put them into an email and ping them over to us at lawinaction (that's one word) at bbc dot co dot uk.


To take action, please write to your MP, especially if they're a 'usual suspect', and kick up as much fuss as you can. If you have a website, refer to this bill. You can also link to the Save Parliament website, or to one of the posts on the site you're reading now!

According to Spyblog, Jim Murphy who is the one in charge of all this, has only had 50 representations on this matter. Let's put aside the issue that this is not a well known bill (despite the dangers it presents). Let's also put aside that it's not made clear what proportion of those representations are for or against the bill. Let's also ignore the issue that we do not have a sense of how many representations are usually received on a particular topic. Putting all of this aside, it's clear that he needs to get more mail.

Spyblog has helpfully done the research, which I'll present below

I sent this to 'Law in Action':

I was so pleased to finally here the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill discussed on the Radio (there was a brief mention on the Today program on something like the 22nd Feb).

I was very disappointed not to hear this picked up in later news programmes.

Please, keep up the good work.

Online, people have been campaigning against this bill, I first posted on it back in early feb, and have posted lots since then:
My first post on this topic

There have been several sites set up especially about this bill. Most notable are these:
Save Parliament
Campaign Against the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill
Rightlinks

Spyblog is also very good:
(Link to Spyblog)

Coming back to how to contact Jim Murphy (the guy responsible), with thanks to Spyblog:

Send the Minister your views about this wretched Bill::

Jim Murphy MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State
Cabinet Office
70 Whitehall
London SW1A 2AS

Switchboard: 020 7276 1234

Astonishingly, the Cabinet Office does not seem to have a central email address for general enquiries from the public, or one for contacting the Ministers or their staff, unlike other Government Departments.

In theory Jim Murphy's email address is:

jim.murphy@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk

It may also be worth sending a copy of you letter or email to:

Regulatory Reform Bill Team

Better Regulation Executive
4th Floor
22 Whitehall
London SW1A 2WH

Tel: 0207 276 2155
Fax: 0207 276 2138

regulatoryreformbill@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk

Lord Falconer's 'English Parliament' Interview

Scotland Act, Donal Dewars Copy.This was the Interview from Friday 10th March 2006 on 'The Today Programme'. Apologies for any transcription errors - please comment if you find any! I've taken the time to transcribe it as I plan to quote from it when I write a letter or two in the future.

I previously wrote to Harriet Harman (no reply received), and Number 10 who referred me to a vote in January 2004, where a particular solution was rejected, but the problem remained.

Anyway, on to the interview.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: 10 past eight. When historians judge the Blair Government they'll certainly consider devolution. Scotland has it's own parliament, Wales it's own assembly and the United Kingdom is demonstrably different because of it. But England is unchanged and that raises profound constitutional questions, not least why should a Scottish MP be able to vote on English matters when a English MP can't vote on Scottish matters, and a Scottish MP can't vote on Scottish matters, devolved matters, himself unless he's a member of the Scottish parliament. The solution many believe is a Parliament for England. The Scots, the government, have never been keen on the idea but now it's about to rule it out forever. "Not today, not tomorrow, not in any kind of future we can see," that's what The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer will say today, and he is with me. But let's hear first from his shadow on the Conservative benches Oliver Heald, good morning to you. OLIVER HEALD: Good Morning.

JH: Er.. English Parliament?

OH: Well we've gone erm, we haven't gone in that direction...

Comment: This reveals an error by the BBC, which could leave them open to allegations of bias - they did not have anybody on that supports an English Parliament. Personally I see that as nothing more than oversight.

OH: ... but we have said that members in English constituencies should decide in the House of Commons what happens in England about the issues which are devolved in Scotland, and the Lord Chancellor is talking later today to a conference of the ESRC who've done some very interesting research...

JH: (interrupting) The SRC?

OH: Yes. And er...

JH: The SRC being?

OH: Er, oh, the Economic... The Economic and Social Research Council.

JH:Right.

OH: And er they they've found four very interesting findings which I think help our argument. The first is that there's a strengthening in the feeling of English identity since devolution. The second is that the English have different policy agendas from the Scots in areas such as Health and Education and next week in the Education bill we may well see it go through because of the votes of Scottish, er, members of Parliament. The third is the failure of English development policy and they're making the point that there hasn't been a proper look at England as a whole, with London and the South East going ahead, but the rest of the country having disparities. And then the thir - the fourth point that they make is there is a lack of proper arrangements between the UK government and the nations of the UK. So what we're saying is 'look, let the English Members of Parliament from the English constituencies sit down together and decide together what's best for England in the context of the issues dissol-devolved to Scotland'.

JH: But wha-wha what could they decide? I mean what powers do you think they or wha (stumbles) What changes could they make?

OH: Well, for example, I mean, on development we've set up this week a, a task force under Michael Heseltine that's going to look at the way in which in our English cities, and we would hope to develop this in other parts of the UK with agreement there, but er, how we, how we make our cities work well for those who are still disadvantaged there.

Comment: This is completely missing the point

JH: But that's still pretty modest stuff and it doesn't address this fundamental issue.

Comment: Well spotted, John.

OH: Health and Education. Both issues which are dealt with in Scotland and Wales er, where we think that, er, there are different policies in England. I mean, for example, the research shows that a lot of the English are prepared to look at ideas of independent, not for profit, er, solutions in Health and Education where as this is not popular in Scotland and Wales, and so I think there is a distinctive English agenda which we could develop together.

JH: All right, thank you very much for that. Lord Falconer...

LORD FALCONER: Hello

JH: Lord Chancellor, Good Morning.

LF: Good Morning.

JH: A distinctive English agenda, do you accept that that exists?

LF: Yes, I can see that there could be a distinctive English agenda, and indeed the effect of devolution has been that in Scotland and in Wales different policies have been pursued because that's what devolution has allowed. But I think the criticial question is what most preserves the Union. The reason for devolution was that the Scots and the Welsh felt that policies could be imposed upon them for which there was little or no support in Scotland or Wales, that's why devolution was popular. Once you create..

Comment: And we now have a situation where a government which, like it or not, earned fewer votes than the Conservatives in England - but a majority of seats, can impose legislation where there is little support in England. It can do this with the help of Scottish and Welsh votes where such legislation may not have an effect. (I am not referring to a specific piece of legislation, but rather to the principle).

JH: Up to a point popular, let's be clear, it only just got through in Wales,but anyway alright...

LF: It just got through in Wales in a referendum, it got through very very substantially in Scotland, the effect of devolution is to allow a distinctively Scottish and Welsh agenda to be pursued. In England there's 80% of the population, there's just over 80% of the members of parliament. There is absolutely no need for the sort of protection for England which comes for the Scots and the Welsh by having their own parliamentary assembly.

Comment: Until one remembers that Scottish MPs and Welsh MPs can hold the balance of power, and that they're overwhelmingly labour.

JH: But if they feel there is a need, and if for instance, you say there's no need for protection, but if we find the education bill going through bec.., an education bill that affects English voters in a way that it doesn't affect Scottish voters, if it goes through because of Scottish votes, that's a democratic - not just democratic deficit, a democratic absurdity.

Comment: Well done, John, let's see how he answers THAT!

LF: I think the one thing that one can be sure of is that the education bill will not go through only because of Scottish votes.

Comment: Ah, the crystal ball response. Denying the possibility will occur, and sidestepping the general point.

JH: Well you can't be sure of that, we've had legis (inaudible)

LF: (interrupting) I can't be completely sure but I.. but I... but I....

JH: (speaking over LF) Absolutely not, but that's the point.

LF: Well anyway, let us see what happens next week. That seems to be the least likely of all alternatives.

Comment: Choosing to ignore the point completely

JH: Nonetheless it remains a possibility and that is the point, it's the principle involved.

Comment: Quite right

LF: (Speaking over JH) It certainly remains... It certainly remains the possibility that bills could go through with Scottish votes and Welsh votes and a minority of English MPs supporting it,

Comment: Well said, Lord Falconer. Can you please address this issue now?

LF: but because so many of the population and so many of the MPs are from England it is inconceivable that political parties would not pitch their appeal to the English. Therefore the chance of it happening is very, very slight.

Comment: Shall I take that as a 'no'?

LF: That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues.

Comment: This is a clear nonsense, given that for the statement to be disproven there would only need to be one voice demanding devolution for England - and he had just followed Oliver Heald demanding English votes for English matters. As I write the BBC poll on this page has had 2559 votes, with over 71% voting yes. If he claims a slip of the tongue, meaning to say 'little' demand, then I'd want to see evidence - perhaps a referendum. Citing the rejection of the elected regional assembly in the north west doesn't mean that the English don't want a parliament, it can be taken to mean that they simply don't want to be sliced up into regions.

JH: (Interrupting) But you would accept...

LF: There was real demand for, for example, a Scottish Parliament. No such pressure in England.

Comment: Even if such a statement is correct - which I doubt - the problem of the anomaly remains, and this can only make the pressure grow with time.

JH: Yeah, but, but you're ignoring the anomaly, and it is a clear anomaly isn't it?

LF: It is a clear anomaly, yes,

Comment: Well, it's progress from Harriet 'What Anomalies' Harman's position last year. Does that mean you're going to address it?

LF: and I think the right question to ask yourself, how do you deal with that anomaly in a way that most promotes the Union? And I believe if what you have is two tiers of MPs, some only entitled to vote on English and others not entitled to vote on English Issues, what you do is promote seperation. It's one step toward an English parliament.

Comment: That's a no, isn't it?

JH: Well then you'd... well why NOT have an English parliament?

LF: Because England is 80% of this country it would be by miles the most powerful institution, more powerful almost than any national parliament.

Comment: This is patent absurdity - the westminster parliament would be more powerful than the English parliament, as it is more powerful than the Scottish parliament. Also, comparing the English and Scottish parliaments is not meaningful as they would have different spheres of influence.

JH: Well but you'd still have a federal parliament, you'd still have a federal government. I mean...

LF: You'd have, you'd have a federal government dealing with certain issues, you'd have a parliament for 80% of the population dwarfing all other institutions.

Comment: There he goes again. I fail to see why that is, in and of itself, a problem.

JH: Does, does it not bother you that the notion of Britishness, and I use the word advisedly because it is a word that was used on this programme by Professor Charlie Geoffrey who carried out research for this very organisation, the Economic Research Council, that that is disappearing?

LF: I don't think it's disappearing. I mean, I'm Scottish, I feel Scottish. I don't regard that as remotely inconsistant...

Comment: This doesn't address the question at all.

JH: (interrrupting) Well you live, yeah, you're Scottish, you live in London you are a member of this government, you are a very senior member of this government, I mean, yeah, of course....

LF: It doesn't prevent me feeling Scottish...

JH: No it doesn't prevent...

LF: Nor does it in any way diminish my commitment to the United Kingdom, you're Welsh!

JH: Yes?

LF:You don't feel remotely incon... there's no inconsistency in your feelings by feeling both Welsh and British.

JH: But I don't feel able to speak because I feel a certain way on behalf of the population as a whole. And the fact is if...

LF: (inaudible) you don't you don't

JH: If the English are beginning themselves to feel less British, that's the important point. Not whether you as a Scot or I as a Welshman feel less British. It's whether the English feel less British and more English because they resent the fact that they don't have what the Scots and the English (sic) have got, which is their own parliaments or assemblies

LF: There's no evidence that they resent the fact that there is no English Parliament, indeed quite the reverse. Equally feeling profoundly English or Scottish is not remotely inconsistant with having a strong feeling about the need to continue the Union.

Comment: This is silly on so many levels. Firstly the pedantic point - I resent it, I'm English - point disproved. ('Little' evidence would require a survey and would not be so easily refuted... absolutist statements are easily disproved unless they are 100% correct). The BBC poll on the topic is running at over 2 to 1 in favour. Putting this to one side, the point about continuing the union is not relevant to the English parliament. Falconer has NOT demonstrated why and English parliament is necessarily bad for the Union whereas a Scottish parliament is not. Indeed, to my mind it should be parliaments for all the countries of the Union - or none at all. Inconsistency can only damage the Union in the long term. It also is putting up a straw man, the main point cannot be defended, and so a false premise is presented which is knocked down in the stead of the real argument. I support an English parliament because of the Union, not in spite of it. I would be strongly opposed to breaking up the Union - however, I don't think that within the Union we should have disparities in terms of representation. This is why I do not support the existence of the Scottish Parliament (for example) if there is no English Parliament - it should be both, or neither. In the same way, this is why I support electoral reform - someone living in a safe seat has a less important vote in an election than someone in a marginal. Indeed, in every election I have ever voted in, the local result has been a foregone conclusion, I have always lived in safe seats - and I have never been courted by candidates.

JH: All right. This is one of the things that you changed, one of the big things that you've changed. Something else that you said you would change fundamentally is the House of Lords, the way it's made up, and indeed you have made changes. One of the changes you've made, it now seems, is that if you want to buy a peerage you can do so, under this government.

LF: Abolutely not. No.

JH: Well...

LF: And indeed what we've done in relation to the Lords, or the... and with the agreement of the Lords is that there's an independent committee chaired by Lord Stephenson who is a cross bencher, not Labour or Conservative, though every political party is represented on this committee and they vet all those people who may come into the Lords and that's an entirely appropriate way of determining whether or not propriety is observed in relation to people going to the Lords.

JH: Let me give you the findings of another independent commission, the Power Enquiry, chaired I believe by a Labour person if I'm not mistaken, indeed a Scot!

LF: (snorts)

JH: ..and er. and this

LF: Baroness Kennedy

JH: Indeed. This pointed out that every donor who had given more than one million pounds to Labour had received a knighthood or a peerage.

Comment: I think the rest of this will speak for itself - Lord Falconer has not done himself any favours. I wonder if any big labour donors are going to NOT get a peerage or honour in the immediate future as a reaction to this? In this Times article the author writes 'In the first place he stated that it was "absolutely not" possible to buy an honour from Tony Blair. It is. I know people who have. The late Lord Montague of Oxford boasted the fact to me.'

LF: Well, as far as the propriety of going to the House of Lords, as far as the propriety of getting honours is concerned there are independent bodies that scrutinise whether or not it's a proper appointment, and that is how it should be.

JH: But it is the perception of the thing. If I know that I can get a peerage by bunging you a mill.. I might do it! I.. I'd rustle up a million pounds from somewhere and buy a peerage!

LF: I don't take the view that making a contribution to a political party in which you believe debarrs you....

JH: No

LF: ... from any honour.

JH: Ah

LF: And if you accept that, and you seem to accept it because you just said 'Yes'

Comment: At no point did he say 'Yes', let's not let facts get in the way. Carry on.

LF: .. then what you need is some body to ensure that there is propriety in the honour or the appointment to the Lords, but you should not be prevented because you, for example, believe that Labour should be supported over the years it was in the wilderness.

LF pauses.

LF and JH speak simultaneously. LF: That should not debarr you in any way at all... JH: ... but does it not bother you... doesn't..

LF: ... from being a peer.

JH: Doesn't the perception bother you that here we have a situation that if you give a million pounds to the labour party you're guaranteed a peerage or a knighthood? Guaranteed! This is what the Power enquiry itself has said.

LF: You are not guaranteed a peerage...

JH: Every single donor who has done it... let's not look at what you believe to be the case, let's look at the facts of the case, as you as a lawyer might say. Every single donor who's given more than a million smackers to Labour has got either a peerage or a knighthood.

LF: Well, there are independent bodies that look at the proprieties of it. You agree, we both agree, contributing to a political party should not debarr you from an honour or...

JH: And it doesn't bother you that, to go back to the question, that everybody who's doled out a million has got something as a result of it? That doesn't bother you?

LF: Well, it's right across the political spectrum, people who contribute to political parties...

JH: The perception of it?

LF: Well...

(Simultaneously) JH: The people out there.... LF: You have a choi...

JH: who say all I've got to do to get into the House of Lords is to give Tony a million quid and I'm in.

LF: You have a choice, John. You either say people who give money to political parties can't get an honour. And I don't think that'd be right or sensible.

JH: What about erm, the... and I don't want to talk about Tessa Jowell because that as far as you're concerned, you'll say that's done and dusted. But what about the fact that it's not right for the Prime Minister to be judge and jury in his own court?

LF: Well, he is the person that appoints ministers. He is the person accountable to parliament. There is no possible basis for any suggestion that somebody other than the Prime Minister should decide whether a minister should stay or go. Of course, he can seek aid from the Cabinet Secretary in relation to the facts, but ultimately he is responsible. Look at what people said when the independent standards board decided that the democratically elected Ken Livingstone should be suspended from office for four weeks. Ultimately it is the electorate who decide. That means the Prime Minister must decide who are his ministers and who are not.

JH: Sir Alastair Graham, Chairman of the standards committee wants an independent official to advice ministers on their code of conduct. Surely in the interests of transparency that's what should happen.

LF: There is an independent official who can advice on those matters that is the cabinet secretary, but ultimately the decision must be taken by the Prime Minister or there isn't proper accountability.

JH: Alright, let us leave these very very weighty issues and turn to something that's even weightier...

They finished the interview with a discussion about the story of the man that was fined 50 pounds for dropping junk mail into a litter bin.


This interview prompted several posts:

Stunts and Science

This morning I woke up, as usual, to the Today Programme on the radio. I heard a discussion about the proposal to play golf on a spacewalk (as a stunt for a commercial) whilst at the same time long promised research is being cut:

Interviewee: This just shows that stunts are more important than science.

Cut to Nasa Spokesman: No-one is saying that stunts are more important than science....

"He just did!" I screamed.

It's terrible waking up when you're feeling pedantic.

In Our Time

This week, the excellent BBC programme, In Our Time, focuses on Human Evolution. An mp3 download is available for one week. A podcast for In Our Time is available. Next week the programme turns to Catherine the Great.

For more information on podcasts, see this BBC page. For information about RSS and XML in general, see my page on the subject.

Radio 4

An old article from Andrew Marr, but a wonderful quote:

But if British-Americanism is intense, it also offers an interesting lesson for the rest of the world: for the corollary seems to be an equally intense desire to assert a different identity, too.

You find it in humour, in sport, in the monarchy (far stronger than most people would have predicted a decade ago). You will see it in Britain's newspaper culture; in soap operas and the tone of British television news; in the mere existence of Radio 4, which is perhaps the most un-American act carried out daily in English; and in the generally far less religious atmosphere of modern Britain, a secular, indeed godless place by American standards.

Radio 4 is arguably the height of modern civilisation, even americans (poor dears) can get it via the wonders of the interwebsuperhighwaynets. Need not fear, my merkin chums, by un-American, the author means unashamedly British.

My personal recommendations, the comedy, the current affairs, and occasionally the 'magazine' programmes. Desert Island Discs is good, and Woman's Hour is listenable even for blokey blokes. I tend to steer clear of the drama, not my thing on the radio.

For the Comedy, look for 'The News Quiz', 'The Now Show', 'Just a Minute' and 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue'. Other stuff can vary in quality, but these are universally excellent, the latter two are possible quite gentle for some tastes.

For politics, look for 'The Today Programme', 'Any Questions', 'Any Answers' (if you listen to Any Questions), 'PM' oh, and 'The News Quiz'!