In which I look at the New Years Honours List for 2008/09 - with specific reference to Chris Hoy and Terry Pratchett.
In which I talk about arson and giant straw goats
On Bush's surprise visit to Iraq, an Iraqi Journalist threw his shoes at him.
In the middle of the news conference with Mr Maliki, a reporter stood up and shouted "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog," before hurtling his shoes at Mr Bush, narrowly missing him.
"All I can report is a size 10," Mr Bush said according to the Associated Press news agency.
Surprisingly witty for dubya - and also good reactions on display. He waves off the security guys who were about to bundle him out. Honestly, this is probably his most impressive performance of the whole presidency.
There are huge queues in the USA - four hours or so. To someone on this side of the Atlantic, that seems positively third world. When I vote, I nip in on the way to work, 30 seconds and done. Why does it take so long in the states?
Because the ballots are usually long... and contain many issues. The example here is just one page of a multi-page ballot.
If you listen to Obama's reply - I don't think 'Joe the Plumber' was a major problem - and truly can't understand why the McCain campaign has made so much of it.
I put some cash on an Obama win back when Clinton was still in the running - unfortunately I didn't get great odds as I was rather late to the game. With the polls due soon, and Obama ahead by a significant margin, the concern is that people won't turn out as they see it as a 'done thing'.
If it had been McCain-Kerry, I would have been fine with it. But out of the two on offer, Obama is the guy. Prior to this campaign, McCain has always come across well for me. However, this campaign has got dirty. The low spot was lots of (admittedly disavowed) comments that Obama sounds a bit like Osama. McCain should have gone nuclear on his 'supporters' who did that...
To be honest, Hillary Clinton should've been less negative too - negative campaigning always makes me think worse of the person doing it.
Obama does have an air about him which is inspirational - it's Kennedy-like (and I know Kennedy had problems). It doesn't feel like 'just another candidate'.
Obama's campaign may not have been beyond reproach - but it has (at least from this side of the Atlantic) been the only one from the start which achieved, and maintained, a presidential air.
Much more so that the incumbent - but that isn't hard.
I don't want a president who knows everything. I do expect a president to be able to hold more than one thought at a time. I want a president who takes expert advice, processes it and is able to weigh the pros and cons.
In his response to Joe the Plumber, Obama showed that he knows you can't please all the people all the time - but what you do have to do is try and get a 'best fit' given the conflicting demands and restraints.
Sometimes - or more likely often - this won't result in an optimal solution for most of the people. An 'almost best' solution for most is better than a perfect solution for some.
You can't please all the people the time - and if you try, you'll please nobody.
Via Dave Gorman, who asked 'Where does the money come from?', I find a link to a video which explains how banks work. I warn you now. If you'd like security in learning where your money comes from - don't watch it.
If you want to understand why we're in a banking crisis right now, here is your answer.
The real Sarah Palin shows up for Saturday Night Live in the USA. It's scary how much Tina Fey looks like Sarah Palin, and how little they have to spoof....
Politically, it's about the only thing the McCain/Palin camp could do at this point with the Tina Fey impersonation, self-deprecate and show 'we have a sense of humour here'.
Is this the real one?.... (yes)
Of course, Palin looks very comfortable - but then, she has had some experience.
None of this is a recommendation for potential Commander in Chief (I know she's not running for president, but the job of VP is to be 'President in waiting'). Personally I want much more substance than being able to read an autocue (though given the last eight years, even that is an improvement).
I wonder, can she say 'nuclear'?
The Al Smith Dinner is a fundraising event for Catholic charities. The candidates are invited to speak, and in recent years it has been a humorous address. Obama
The Al Smith dinner was directly referenced in 'The West Wing', in the prescient in-so-many-ways campaign between Vinick and Santos.
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."
Another sketch has Clinton (Hillary) and Palin jointly address the nation.
'I can see Russia from my house!'
On the basis of these sketches, it looks like SNL have a running gag whereby 'The Bush Doctrine' is an 'adult movie'. This phrase did stump the real Sarah Palin... at least until it was defined for her.
James Nactwey, a photojournalist, recently won a prize of $100000. He decided to reinvest this money into a special story which he needed to tell - and which he could not get funding for. The story has been released, it's about extreme drug resistant tuberculosis.
Several have been arrested following an alleged assassination plot on Barack Obama. I find it amazing that someone planning to assassinate a US Presidential candidate would precede that by loading their car with weaponry and then going drink-driving in the early hours of the morning. Surely, surely, this might have seemed to be 'not according to plan'.
Barack Obama might view this as a positive, when they want to kill you, you're probably doing it right.
John McCain meanwhile continues to promote his 'home fry oven chips' message. Looking at the election from this side of the water, John McCain is looking quite preferable to the current incumbent, and Obama has an energy about him which is refreshing. The big problem the democrats have now is the Clintons - if Hillary gives anything less than her full-throated support to Obama, she is playing right into John McCain's hands, and the democrats won't forgive that. Ever. The trouble with the nomination process in the US is that it can go negative; this is a massive own goal when the election proper comes along.
The Barack Obama campaign is seeking to highlight that John McCain is essentially an extension of George Bush's term, and those associated with McCain are saying (in a deniable way) that Obama is a muslim (which they're trusting equates with terror in their swing voters - despite the references at urbanlegends, 38% visiting believe he's a 'stealth muslim' - tragic on many levels). At the same time the official campaign is trying to imply that Obama likening himself to Jesus.
I tend to find 'attack ads' are offputting, they tend to make me think the campaign producing them has nothing to say themselves. They strike of desperation. Unfortunately - they often work.
Recently, both Barack Obama and John McCain appeared on a show answering questions which seemed to have a 'christian-right' type of slant. They were asked about marriage, abortion and some other issues. John McCain responded as expected for the republican candidate. Obama handled himself well, but saying what he personally believed (e.g. marriage is between a man and woman) but going on to say that historically these matters have been settled at state level, and by saying that he was pro-choice, but not pro-abortion as he didn't believe that women took these matters lightly. I'd much rather see the US president able to see different sides of an argument - so this was quite hopeful.
Similarly, I've seen John McCain (prior to his candidacy) equit himself well in interviews with regard to complexities - so this could be quite hopeful. The trouble with the campaign is that simple messages play much better in the soundbites that passes for journalism.
Of the two, I'd rather see Barack Obama win the presidency. However, compared to Bush, John McCain is looking good too. Compared to Bush/Kerry and Bush/Gore - there's a lot to be gained here for the USA as a whole if both sides can rein in the attack ads and actually debate the issues, not just the soundbites. I can't see it happening. I'd love a modern day presidential campaign to resemble the Santos/Vinick debates!
The company that manufactures the Oyster cards for London has lost its contract due to its connection with the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. The Spectator (obvious Boris link alert) says: "This is welcome news, companies that work with the Mugabe regime should pay a heavy price for their actions."
The Evening Standard (linked above) reports:
Human rights campaigners War On Want urged the millions of Londoners who regularly use Oyster cards to boycott them until the contract comes to an end next month.
Charity spokesman Paul Collins said: "For those who can afford it it shows empathy with the people suffering in Zimbabwe...
This might have been worthwhile whilst the contract was up for renewal, but right now, it seems rather self-defeating.
In other Boris News, there were reports a couple of weeks ago that there are plans to raise London's lost rivers, as well as creating cycle superhighways. To me, the first sounds pricey (but very cool) - lots of buildings in the way! The second sounds much more achievable - that's a matter of some signage and bollards).
I'm sick and tired of reading sites in the US complaining about how expensive 'Gas' is. Just over 3.50USD per US gallon is cheap by the standards of basically everyone else in the non-OPEC world. Crikey, even their pumps are wearing out! I wonder what will happen when the petrol price approaches that which I'm used to, maybe they won't be able to afford the bun for their burger? Update: As if to make my point about the zeitgeist in the US at the moment, in sweeps the excellent Yehuda.
In the UK, the price is about 1.20UKP per litre (it's changing right now), that's 9.7 USD per US gallon. When I started driving (mid nineties), the price then was 4.50USD per US Gallon (at today's currency rate).
Granted, much of that is tax - which (alledgedly) is a green tax designed to try and shift people onto public transport. I might believe it if public transport was more ubiquitous and less expensive (if you're in London, fine... but otherwise...)
If people in the US didn't seem to put such a premium on driving cars that do 12miles per gallon, then they might have a point. I get about 40 miles per imperial gallon (about 35 miles per US gallon), and there are several cars out there that do better. We do see vehicles with such SUV-like poor fuel economy this side of the atlantic, but they tend to either be the exception (people with more money than sense). Alternatively they are used in particular circumstances - e.g. for driving around a farm, not nipping to the shops.
Stop whinging, yanks - your prices may look high to you, but they're still cheaper than I've ever had to pay (except when I visited the US in 2002). Your country is the biggest producer of CO2 per capita in the world (both per capita and in total) - from the point of view of everyone else, something which improves your fuel economy could well be a good thing.
The oil may look pricey, but oil is a finite resource - you ain't seen nuthin' yet. That's even if you decide to take the short term fix of drilling in new areas, like Alaska (or using the increased price to make it economical to extract that 'hard to reach' last drop from an existing field).
What we really need is serious research and serious funding for technologies which are oil free. If we wait until we need these, it's too late, and that's world war three right there. (I remember saying this back in the 1980s, when I was a teenager - that's twenty years of research down the pan right there).
In the meantime: 'High' petrol prices? Drive less. Swap to a motorbike. Use public transport. Ride a bicycle. Walk. Don't take pride that your car does 12miles per gallon - that's just moronic.
For Governments, we need public transport that's cheaper than cars, and certainly trains that are cheaper than planes (especially when travelling as a couple or as a small family). In the UK, we need a more connected system - e.g. train routes that bypass London (an M25 for trains), if you will.
At least some folks over the pond 'get it'.
In short. Higher oil prices are something we will all have to get used to - it's a fact of life. In the UK we've recently had protests on the matter - and I can understand this, livelihoods are at stake. The French fisherman have been protesting too. Whilst accepting that, do realise, USA, that your prices are not high by the standards of everybody else.
The sad thing is that the electorate over there (and to be fair, in most places) respond to short term thinking. A recent example was people talking about 'tax holidays' on fuel, this is one area where Obama gained lots of credibility with me, and Clinton (in particular) lost all credibility by totally ignoring all expert opinion.
What we really need is the new President to 'do a Kennedy'. JFK stood up and said that by the end of the decade Man would be on the Moon. They went all out, and they did it. Admittedly, they then dropped the ball (where is my space elevator?) - but they did it.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the new president, be it McCain, Clinton or Obama, said 'By the end of the next decade we will have developed technology to remove our dependence on oil.'?
They could cite reasons including energy security ('The Arabs have the Oil'), the environment ('Save the Planet'), and sheer economics (rising prices). As long as the first reason didn't become 'The Arabs have OUR Oil'....
The authorities say they do not believe there is a connection between the death and the illnesses.
That's a statement which doesn't hold true. It would be more credible to say 'we don't believe there is a connection, but we are investigating the possibility on the precautionary principle'.
Update: The semantic issues above aside, the train has been given the all-clear.
I was about to post on the topic of Clinton talking about making a virtue of ignoring expert advice, but just as I sit down to gather my sources, I find it's been done.
The tragedy is that Hillary Clinton understands perfectly well that this is a stupid policy. (If you actually wanted to save people $40 over the course of the summer, you would just give them $40.) She is embracing it anyway. Her campaign is pushing it as a purely symbolic gesture, attempting to take the side of “real people” against elitist snobs with all of their “education” and “expertise” and Ivy-League degrees.
I personally don't understand when politicians seek to distance themselves from expert opinion. Surely a politician, and certainly the so-called 'leader of the free world' should be able to say 'this may seem a good idea, but it's actually a bit of a con, and these guys will explain why'. I want a president who will act on an evidence base.
I don't understand why people want to vote for a president who is homely, who will tell them whatever they think they want to hear. I want to see a president who is the smartest guy (or gal) in the room, and part of being smart is knowing when you're out of your field and recognising when other people have expertise - be that in matters scientific, military, economic, whatever.
It's not about snobbery, it's about being fit to hold that office.
If I could vote, I wouldn't be casting that vote for Clinton right now. Not because she's trying to be populist, but because she's seeking to cast expertise on the fire of her electoral success.
She may as well be sitting in a room reading about pet goats.
Referring to this idea, originally from McCain, Obama makes a considered response. (via Inverse Square)
Now, that's a man who has listened to advice, thought about it and made a sensible (if on the face of it, unpopular, call)
He's the only guy who seems presidential in this race.