Monthly Archives: June 2004

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What makes Wimbledon Wimbledon 

The Guardian: “The lawniness of the lawns, no less than the Pimm’s and strawberries, are what make Wimbledon what it is. The perfection of those [grass] stripes, for instance, is no accident. Even with a state-of-the-art machine, every mower operator has his own distinctive style of overlapping — therefore each court is mown by the same man for the duration.”

Excellent advice 

Jay Rosen has a wonderfully perceptive analysis of what would be valuable about a Bill Gates weblog:

“An original weblog by Bill Gates — rich, famous, powerful, controversial person — could be a fourth way a business titan deals with the press: as author and critic, reading the headlines, putting certain ideas at risk, inserting himself into public conversation as a citizen of the planet, a reader of the news, (a sharp, funny person) editing the Web like all good weblogs do, and finding a honest voice in which to speak. Cure your blog of public relations, every hint and drop, or don’t do it at all.”

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Foreign Affairs flop 

When I was running World Link, I’d describe it to people (somewhat grandly, I admit) as Foreign Affairs meets Harvard Business Review. But I’d be unhappy to compare anything I produced to Foreign Affairs if this is how they behave in the face of pressure from Henry Kissinger.

Not something the far livelier and fresher Foreign Policy would ever do.

The red button 

Steve Bowbrick is excited about the Glastonbury festival coverage he gets by pressing the red button on his television remote, but I can hardly get over the BBC’s use of interactive broadcasting for its Wimbledon coverage.

Press the red button and you are presented with a selection of five different matches to watch. What a wonderful liberation from being chained to the vagaries of BBC producer choices.

Quiz night 

As a lover of the arcane and odd, I set our local school’s quiz night on Friday. My favourite of the 100 questions was: “What did Henri Matisse like to do for up to two hours a day to limber up his fingers before painting?”

Answer: play the violin.

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Feckless, corrupt, decadent 

Brad DeLong, summing up the inadequacies of the press corp:

“I have not yet figured out why so much of our elite press is so… what should I call it? Feckless. Corrupt (in the sense of well-rotted). Decadent. Why does William Saletan find it funny that Kerry tries hard to give nuanced, reasonably-complete answers to questions about issues with nuances? Why do Weston Kosova and Michael Isikoff cover the government — rather than, say, cover something like advances in bartending — if they find debates over policy the equivalent of crossing the Gedrosian Desert? Why does Michiko Kakutani think it pointless and boring to wake up early to watch the inauguration of the first democratically-elected president in sixteen years in a country of 130 million people?”

Incidentally, even the best of the British media are not immune on this score. In his Panorama interview with Clinton, David Dimbleby persisted with questions about the Lewinsky affair. Clinton’s reply was, I think, devastating:

“Look, you made a decision to allocate your time in a certain way, you should take responsibility for that, you should say ‘Yes, I care much more about this than whether the Bosnian people were saved, and whether he brought a million home from Kosovo… [or] than whether we moved a hundred times as many people out of poverty as Reagan and Bush’.”

Definition of autobiography 

Russell Beattie, in the midst of reading Clinton’s My Life: “Are autobiographies just after-the-fact weblogs?”

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Predicting the weather 

Play is meant to start on centre court at Wimbledon in 15 minutes. So of course the rain is chucking down here in south London. We’ve had about six weeks with virtually no rain until yesterday. Wimbledon is a wonderful harbinger of rain.

For what it’s worth, here are my tennis predictions, rain permitting. Men’s semifinals: Federer v Grosjean, Henman v Roddick. Finals: Federer v Roddick, Federer champion (I will note, however, that the last time the men’s top two seeds reached the final was in 1982). Women’s semifinals: Serena v Mauresmo, Venus v Myskina. Finals: Serena v Myskina, Serena champion.

Given my past record, whatever you do, don’t try to make money betting with my predictions.

The pacifist bull 

In a step out of the ordinary, I’m the narrator in a performance of Ferdinand, written for solo violin and speaker, at my son’s school this afternoon. Krysia Osostowicz, leader of the Dante Quartet, will be doing the more difficult work on the violin.

I remember my parents reading me the original Ferdinand when I was a child, and it’s a favourite of my two children now. Forty years ago, however, I don’t think I picked up the strong pacifist theme in Munro Leaf’s book.

Apparently, Hitler ordered the book burned while Stalin allowed it to be the only non-communist children’s book published in Russia. Gandhi called it his favourite book.

Straw in the wind 

I don’t place a lot of stock in the predictive power of crosswords, but Saturday’s Guardian prize puzzle had an encouraging clue: “Kindest characters go wrong in quarry, possibility for next year? (9,5)”

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Better than the A to Z 

Springfield map: The Simpsons: find your way around Springfield (but don't ask which state it's in)

And while I’m on maps, this is essential viewing.

Another great interactive map 

Spanish speakers in Illinois: Generated by the MLA's interactive language map based on census data

The Modern Language Association has launched an extraordinary interactive map that displays language use in the US. You can generate maps by language for either counties or zip codes for the entire US or state by state. Above is the map for Spanish speakers in Illinois by zip code. A wonderful plaything, and a great educational resource. (Via Language Log)

What was Newsnight thinking?  

Following the report that there was no evidence linking Saddam and al-Qaeda on the 9/11 attacks, the BBC’s usually admirable Newsnight made it their lead story last night.

Who did they get to link up for the debate? In the blue corner congressman Jim McDermott. In the red corner… the totally discredited Laurie Mylroie.

Anchor Gavin Esler expressed incredulity at Mylroie’s continued insistence (à la Dick Cheney) that there was firm evidence linking Saddam to 9/11. When he pressed her, she seemed to be flustered. When he then turned to McDermott there was some noise in the background before Esler informed viewers that there seemed to be technical problems with the connection to Mylroie. I strongly suspect she walked out of the studio rather than be subjected to further questioning from Esler.

At some levels, this was amusing. But surely the Newsnight producers should have put up a credible conservative voice (assuming there still are some).

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At last 

Apple has finally opened its UK iTunes store. When I opened iTunes this morning I still received a message that it wasn’t available in my country. But, lo and behold, by lunchtime it was.

The pricing isn’t the usual $1 = £1 ripoff, but 79p (which is what songs cost) currently translates to $1.44, which is a lot more than 99 cents.

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MP stands for McDonalds’ patsies 

Fourteen British MPs have flown to Portugal courtesy of McDonald’s to play a football match against Portuguese politicians. This is shortly after a damning select committee report on the dangers and costs to society of increasing obesity. Courageously, none of the MPs would agree to be interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

Doubly benighted  

I didn’t think it could get worse than being a Cubs fan, but I now find that cheering for England’s football team may impose even greater pain.

Perhaps rashly, I told my son this morning that even if he lives for another 100 years, he’ll never see a team lose a game so spectacularly as last night.

Totally irrationally, I’m beginning to wonder if my absolute confidence that Labour will win the next general election may be as ill-placed as my belief at 90 minutes that England would hold on for the win. Fortunately, politics doesn’t have the wild swings of sport. I hope.