Saturday, April 30, 2005

Many thanks to Dr Robert.

You know why.

Scratch beneath the surface of anyone who works in radio and chances are you'll find a closet anorak lurking beneath.

Most of us developed a passion for the medium at an early age that's never completely died out.

For those of us in the UK, it was Radio Luxembourg, early Radio One or the pirates of the 1960s that first kindled our love of the wireless.

For many listeners in the US, though, it was the high-powered "border blaster" stations based in Mexico in order to evade American broadcasting regulations.

Border radio was the subject of a great interview on NPR's Fresh Air recently.

Bill Crawford, author of a book on the subject, discusses the colourful history of these renegade stations.

After listening to the interview, and the excerpts from shows by gravel-throated DJ Wolfman Jack, I immediately ordered the book.
It's a big Bank Holiday weekend of sport.

Tomorrow starts early with a novice duathlon -- a gentle introduction to multisport.

Then on Monday it's the Watford 10k -- my second of the season in which I'll be aiming for a new PB.

I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Anyone able to translate this?

Thursday, April 28, 2005


The Media Guardian's (reg required) report on the way the media handled the leaking of the Attorney General's memo on the war in Iraq omits a number of key facts.

Its headline, "Delays cost BBC Iraq scoop," is just plain wrong.

My understanding is that the Guardian and Channel 4 News received the leaked memo more than 12 hours before the BBC, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The memo was leaked to the BBC in the middle of yesterday afternoon and was received in a form which required extensive further checks to establish its credibility.

Once the leaked document was received, a small team of some of the most senior figures in BBC News convened to try to authenticate it, aware that at any point an injunction could have been issued preventing its publication.

With no way of knowing whether the memo was genuine or a hoax, the BBC -- quite rightly -- did not immediately rush the story to air.

But thanks to their head start of more than 12 hours, Channel 4 News and the Guardian were able to stand the story up at 7pm.

Did the BBC break the story first?


Should the BBC have gone to air with a story it had not checked out thoroughly, especially in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry?


Better to be second and right than first and wrong.
Up to now, the British general election campaign has been about as compelling as the BBC Test Card.

But a week before polling day, the election campaign has finally sprung into life following the leaking of a memo from March 2003 by the government's top legal adviser, Lord Goldsmith, raising serious questions over the legality of the impending war in Iraq.

Crucially, the memo was never seen by the Cabinet -- and differs markedly from the parliamentary answer issued by Lord Goldsmith 10 days later, in which he insisted it was "plain" that Iraq was in breach of its obligations to disarm.

Once the row has subsided, the emergence of the memo is unlikely to sway many voters.

Those who originally believed the war in Iraq was justified have already had plenty of opportunities to change their minds.

But is it any wonder so many voters regard Tony Blair as a slippery liar?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Wise words on the events of the past few days from Hoder, who e-mails to say:

"Never give up blogging, unless you are arrested in Tehran and tortured because of it."

Over the past few days I've been thinking long and hard about whether to carry on blogging.

Monday's hacking incident left me shaken -- not because I genuinely feared for my safety, but simply because it made me question whether it was worth continuing to share details about my life and work online when a tiny minority of vindictive, criminal people will seek to destroy the trust and friendships I've built up over more than two years of blogging.

It showed a puerile and imbecilic side of the internet that I've never encountered before -- and hope never to again.

Our Romanian hacker friend has had his fun and made his point. Perhaps he'll now scuttle off and bother someone else. I hope the hacking community will condemn his actions as I'm sure this more than anything else will serve to discourage him.

But should I throw in the towel because of the actions of one idiot?

No -- and the many e-mails and phone calls I've received since Monday have convinced me of that.

If it happens again, the chances are I'll finally lose patience with the trolls and thugs lurking in the nether regions of the internet and shut up shop.

This blog has always been a sideline to my real job and I haven't got the time or the inclination to continually fight off the weirdos and members of the green ink brigade who think I should be publicising every grievance, gripe and injustice in the world.

But, for the moment at least, service is resumed.

Oh, and note the new e-mail address. The old one is now obsolete. E-mails from FBI cybercrime agents and internet security experts particularly welcome.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Given the events of the past 24 hours, I found the following quote from Reporters Without Borders regarding the Romanian hostages just a little ironic:

"By demanding the withdrawal of Romania's troops from Iraq, kidnappers are once again putting journalists at the center of an unbearable act of blackmail," the statement, faxed to The Associated Press, said.

I know what it's like to be a journalist at the centre of an act of blackmail.

Monday, April 25, 2005

As many of you will now know, today I was paid a little visit by a hacker.

I've removed some of the more personal information from the previous posting to protect the innocent but I've left the rest of the posting intact so that you can let "Daster" know what you think of his actions.

Without wanting to sound over-dramatic, I think it's fair to say that over the past two years I've been through a lot. Few things, however, have been as upsetting as having my personal space invaded in this way. Thank you to everyone who's got in touch to offer their good wishes.

I feel angry, violated, and very, very sad.

The Metropolitan Police Computer Crime Unit are on the case, but in the meantime I'm going to have to think long and hard about whether I want to continue with this blog.

I set up the blog to highlight the issues I'm interested in, to encourage debate and dialogue. But if it's going to be abused by thugs then frankly I'm not sure it's worth the hassle.

Daster has made his point.

There are far easier ways to get a message across -- a polite e-mail usually does the trick -- but if it means he'll move on to terrorise someone else I'm prepared in this instance to highlight his concerns.

Call it blackmail, but in the circumstances I feel I have little option.

So, in what could be my last posting, I'm drawing attention to the plight of three Romanian journalists - Sorin Miscoci, Marie Jeanne Ion, Ovidiu Ohanesian and translator Mohammed Monaf, who have been kidnapped in Iraq.

Their captors are threatening to kill them if Romania does not withdraw its 800 soldiers from Iraq by Tuesday.

The Romanian president Traian Basescu has said officials are working to win the journalists' release but neither he or the prime minister has commented on their captors' demands.

Read reports on their plight here, here and here.

But if Daster thinks his hacking -- or the public protests taking place in Romania calling on the country's government to pull its troops out of Iraq -- will succeed in bring about the freedom of the hostages, he's likely to be very disappointed.

No government will allow itself to be seen giving in to the demands of terrorists -- even if that means sacrificing the lives of innocent civilians. Anyone who's read their Machiavelli knows that.

Delicate negotiation -- and if necessary the quiet payment of a large ransom (remember Simona Torretta and Simona Pari?) -- are far more likely to bring about the release of the Romanians.
Daster again! I told you to help our romanian journalists hostages in Iraq and you ignored me! That's mean you don't care about them......ok...this is an Ultimatum! If tomorrow our journalists will die, i promise you that i'll distroy you!!! I have all your accounts. I'm not a bad guy but if you'll ignore me again i swear i'll distroy you!!!I hope that you are sure now that's not a joke....don't make me angry...

All i asked you was to publish about that three journalists kiddnapped in Iraq for sensitize public opinion, and trying help them......This is your job again! Or you can suffer.....

You can contact me at

If you are not worried about you, or your family...ignore me again...Anyway next time (wich means tommorow if you don't publish any thing about journalists) i'll block your credit card, your cell phone ,and your access to internet......see you soon!

Romanian hacker, DASTER!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

With the barbecue season just around the corner, I thought it was time to turn the cupboard under the stairs into West Ealing's first microbrewery.

I've ordered in the simplest just-add-water kit I could find, added 40 pints of Eau de Thames and chucked in the yeast.

If all goes well, the first batch of Old Stumpy's Legless Ale should be ready in 21 days.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Two Iranian car firms are reportedly expressing an interest in buying the corpse of the British car industry that is MG Rover.

Let's increase cultural understanding between the Muslim world and the west by organising a swap.

Iran can have MG Rover -- if the UK can have the Paykan.
The British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles has caused a diplomatic incident by suggesting that Nottingham Nottingham is "far more dangerous" than some Saudi cities.

I'm sure Frank Gardner would disagree.

Hoder dropped by at BBC Television Centre yesterday and the two of us finally got to meet face to face.

For those who don't know about Hossein's place in blogging history, he single-handedly created the Persian blogosphere by developing a way for internet users in Iran to write blogs in their own language.

The revolution he began has enabled Iranians to circumvent the restrictions on free speech in their country, allowing them to discuss politics, culture, sex and other subjects that are taboo in Iranian society.

During Hossein's visit I recorded a long chat about blogs, Iran and censorship which I'm uploading in full in three parts.

Listen, copy, share, discuss.

Hossein Derakhshan Interview Part 1 (6m49s 800Kb)
Hossein Derakhshan Interview Part 2 (8m12s 960Kb)
Hossein Derakhshan Interview Part 3 (6m30s 760Kb)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

James from Clear Path International e-mails with video that graphically highlights the real impact of landmines and UXO on innocent civilians.

24-year old Nguyen Van Chung was killed when he accidently set off a device while hunting for scrap metal in Vietnam.

AP reports that the new Pontiff has a new e-mail address:

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Got a prayer or a peeve for the new pope? No problem - now you can e-mail him.

Showing that Pope Benedict XVI intends to follow in the footsteps of John Paul II's multimedia ministry, the Vatican on Thursday modified its Web site so that users who
click on an icon on the home page automatically activate an e-mail composer with Pope Benedict XVI's address:

No doubt the man formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger will be inundated with spam offering him Viagra and penis extentions along with the rest of us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Hossein and I have made contact -- so tomorrow it's Hughes meets Hoder!
For anyone despairing at the Catholic church following the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the following figures may restore a glimmer of hope:

Hans Kueng
Matthew Fox
Anthony de Mello
Oscar Romero
The Liberation Theologians
Amputee marathoner and (I assume) fellow Cheetah-user JP Theberge gets a write-up in the Union-Tribune.
The bike's back.

The owner of Ealing Cycles may be one of the grumpiest shopkeepers in Britain, but he sure knows how to tune a pushbike.

I pedalled to work this morning in record time.

Even at the age of 33, there are few things in life more pleasurable than cycling down a hill very fast.
The new Pope is German.

Germany is hosting the 2006 World Cup.

Federal elections are looming in the country.

I know, let's downgrade the Berlin bureau.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


We have a winner. The new Pope is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Ratzinger has campaigned against liberation theology.

He has described homosexuality as a "tendency" towards an "intrinsic moral evil".

He has called for pro-choice politicians to be denied Communion.

He has argued that Turkey should not be admitted into the European Union.

And any lingering possibility that I may return to the Church I grew up in in the foreseeable future has just evaporated.

For some inexplicable reason, if you're gonna cover the election, you gotta have wheels.

BBC News has a bus.

Newsnight clearly has far too much money because it has ditched its camper van and hired a helicopter.

The Politics Show is putt-putting around northern England in a narrowboat (not exactly wheels, I know, but the principle's the same.)

And, best of all, Radio 1 Newsbeat is on the campaign trail in a white van.

Clearly, someone in a suit has decided that if you want to make the election more "relevant" and "engaging" to the public you have to ponce around the country in a gypsy caravan/articulated lorry/horse and cart (delete as applicable).

Here in the foreign news department we have no general election to cover and, frankly, we're feeling rather left out.

I'm lobbying for the Global News Push Bike to be made standard issue for all producers on overseas assignments.
If anyone sees Hoder, tell him to e-mail me.

He's in London -- and I don't think he got my e-mail before he left Canada.
The Evening Standard profiles double amp Clare Forbes, who lost both her legs to meningitis, spent six months in a coma -- and completed the London Marathon in 19 hours.

The Vatican TV remake of Andy Warhol's Empire is gripping the newsroom.

While the Conclave is taking place the news agencies are providing a locked-off shot of the most famous chimney in the world for three hours, twice a day.

The nail-biting wait for that waft of smoke has become compulsive viewing.

It's like sitting on a river bank with a fishing rod, anticipating the slightest twitch from beneath the water.

Follow the action live here.

The first puffs are the most confusing.

As the furnace fires up the initial smoke is a nondescript grey colour -- and leads to a flurry of speculation over whether the new Pontiff has been chosen or not. It seems to take a few seconds for the true colour -- so far black -- to become clear.

And considering that Vatican chimney is being so keenly watched, you'd have thought they'd have made more of an effort.

The rusty tin contraption they've constructed looks like it has been stolen from an Indian slum.

I'm not generally one for sporting heroes, but Lance Armstrong -- who has announced his retirement from competitive cycling at the end of the season -- is definitely up there with my personal greats.

The way he's overcome adversity has been a real inspiration -- and in a vain attempt to copy him I'm following his training programme as I prepare for my first duathlon.

This morning I took my bike in for its annual service -- meaning I had to take the tube into work.

It was a rude reminder of all the reasons I cycle instead of taking public transport.

Smelly, sour-faced tube rats muttering inanely into their mobile phones, packed train carriages knee-deep in trash and general commuter misery.

Give me two wheels every time.
Frank is the subject of a heart-wrenching cover story in today's G2.

I wouldn't begin to compare what I went through with what Frank's endured, but the final quote in the Guardian piece rings very true with me:

"I want my life back.

"I accept it's never going to be the same as the life I had before injury but I'm determined to make the most of it.

And one day I'll go off and do something completely different."

Monday, April 18, 2005

We warmly welcomed Frank Gardner back to the office this morning.

Surrounded by cameramen, snappers and press officers he was every bit the returning hero.

Frank recalls his shooting 10 months ago here.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

While out on my Sunday morning run this morning I listened to an interview that put my one-legged shufflings to shame.

The always-excellent To The Best Of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio featured mountain climber and double AK amputee Warren MacDonald, who has written a book about his journey.

The programme also features a fascinating interview with Bill Siemering of Developing Radio Partners, a non-profit organisation which supports independent local radio stations in the developing world.

It's the best hour of radio you're likely to hear this year.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Never mind the FA Cup semi-finals, the Embassy World Snooker or the India v Pakistan one day internationals.

The newsroom hacks are placing their bets on who'll be the next Pope.

When the white smoke wafts over the Sistine Chapel, we'll be praying our man wins by a nose.

I've got a fiver on Dionigi Tettamanzi, with Claudio Hummes as a side bet.

Gill Blog remembers the courage of Terry Fox, who had the twin disabilities of being an above-knee amputee and Canadian.

Fox began his Marathon of Hope 25 years ago this week (thanks Nic).

Thursday, April 14, 2005

At the editorial meetings this week, the consensus is that the General Election campaign is not setting the voters -- or the journalists -- alight.

The nearest the parties have got so far to a good, old-fashioned scrap was the row over Margaret's shoulder -- and that was well before the election was announced.

With the winner a foregone conclusion, the only question over how much Labour's majority is eroded on May 5th -- and that hardly makes for a riveting campaign.
My amputee athleticism is nothing compared to this bloke (thanks Lynn.)

Those of you who are invited to my wedding are likely to see a performance not dissimilar to this one as the evening wears on.

After almost a year of rehab, I'm delighted to announce that Frank Gardner will be back at his desk on Monday.

Frank is also subject of a BBC profile which will be broadcast next Tuesday evening.

He'll be complaining about management and the crap sandwiches in the canteen within days.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Sunday, April 10, 2005

After today's 10k, how about joining Paul Martin and having a crack at the Ironman?

I did it!

I completed the Wimbledon 10k in 56:37.

I achieved my personal goal of getting round in less than an hour and -- more importantly -- I wasn't last.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The MIPSY awards have a winner.

From before sunrise they began streaming towards the Blonie field on the western outskirts of Krakow, to join those who had braved the cold and discomfort to keep vigil all night.

Some had camped out in tents, others had slept in their cars to secure the best positions in front of the giant television screens erected to relay Pope John Paul II's funeral from the Vatican.

Many had spent the previous evening at this same spot, taking part in a huge march and open-air Mass in memory of the man they regard as the greatest Pole of all time.

Karol Wojtyla was ordained in Krakow, celebrated his first Mass here and was archbishop of this former royal capital from 1963 until his election to the papacy in 1978.

Tens of thousands of Poles had made the long journey to the Vatican, travelling by plane and train, coach and car, in the hope of catching a final glimpse of their beloved countryman.

But for those unable to get to the funeral, this was the next best thing.

Wojtyla celebrated Mass at the Blonie field four times after becoming Pope.

"We camped out here and spent the night singing hymns and praying," said Mieszko Podlesny, 18, a student from Katowice.

"We just want to be together with friends and say our last goodbye to the Holy Father.

"It's a very difficult moment for me, but John Paul II told us not to be sad."

"It's almost as if a member of our family has died," added Rafael Kelm, 17.

"He was like a father to us and his death has affected us all but we must be strong and pray that one day soon he'll be made a saint."

Normal life in Poland was suspended for the day.

Factories, banks and schools remained closed to enable the public to watch the funeral, either at home or on the outdoor screens erected in Krakow and other major Polish cities.

As they watched the service, mourners at the Blonie field lit candles, bowed their heads in prayer or embraced silently.

Some held Polish and Vatican flags aloft. Others carried banners proclaiming "Farewell Holy Father" and "John Paul II: We want our lives to make you proud".

The Papal chair used by John Paul II during his visits to Poland sat on a specially-constructed altar - only this time it remained empty.

In June 1979, shortly after becoming Pope, John Paul addressed the largest crowd in Polish history - up to three million people - here at the Blonie field.

On that day he described this city as "my beloved Krakow, where every brick, every stone is dear to me".

26 years later, as Poland joined the world in bidding farewell to John Paul II, hundreds of thousands of Krakowians returned that love.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

By plane and train, coach and car, hundreds of thousands of Poles are heading to the Vatican for Friday’s funeral of their beloved countryman, Pope John Paul II.

Latest estimates by Poland’s Foreign Ministry suggest that a million Poles will attend the funeral.

Extra services to Rome laid on by Poland’s national airline and railway companies are completely sold out.

With tickets on public transport in such short supply, church and community groups from across Poland are organizing their own charters.

400 pilgrims from Krakow’s Catholic Cultural Centre have bought tickets for one of 3 special charter aircraft to Rome -- even though the fare costs more than half the country’s average monthly wage of 2200 zlotys (US$700)

“We are very, very busy here,” said Przemyslaw Pawlik from the Centre.

“The seats on the first plane are mostly taken by priests from Krakow.

“The charters will be leaving late on Thursday afternoon.

“We’ll get people as close to St. Peter’s Square as we can and they’ll stay there until after the funeral,” added Mr Pawlik.

John Paul II was born in the southern town of Wadowice. For many in his homeland, he was quite simply the greatest Pole that ever lived.

“The Pope has always been the greatest authority and guide in my life,” said Maria Deskur, a book editor from Krakow who is heading to the Vatican with her husband.

“In difficult moments I asked myself what the pope would have done in my situation.

“The funeral will be a great religious experience and a moment of history.”

At her office in central Krakow, travel agent Anna Cios has been deluged with inquiries.

“The phones have been ringing non-stop since Monday,” she said.

“This is a very special situation, though. We don’t want to profit from pilgrims and we’re offering the lowest possible fares.”

Poles seem undeterred by the shortage of hotel beds at their destination, the massive queue lining up to see the Pope’s body lying in state and the crush of fellow pilgrims that will greet them on their arrival.

“I feel it is the last time I can do something for the Pope,” said Maria Naimska, 19, a student from Warsaw.

“I’d rather be just a few miles away from the funeral than here in Poland, hundreds of miles away.”

In this deeply Catholic country, many feel their lives are closely intertwined with John Paul II’s papacy.

“I feel a special relation with the Pope as I was born in 1977,” said Krzysztof Lapinski, 28.

“He was there throughout my whole life.

“I want to be with him on his final journey.”

The police expect traffic to be heavy on Poland’s western and southern borders from Wednesday evening onwards.

“We’ve increased the number of officers on the border and we’re easing procedures for travelers, especially for the elderly and disabled,” said a police spokesman, Jaroslaw Zukowicz.

None of those traveling from Poland to the Vatican expect their pilgrimage to be easy. But for hundreds of thousands of Poles it’s a journey they feel they must make.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

AFP reports on how Smart Mobs are emerging here in Krakow in reponse to the Pope's death:

KRAKOW, Poland (AFP) - More than 150,000 young people marched through the streets of Krakow Monday in an impromptu tribute, organised with the aid of modern technology, to Pope John Paul II.

"I got a message by Internet telling me to come and thank the pope for his pontificate, for all that he did for us students," Rafal Gajeweski, a student at the technical university of Krakow, told AFP.

Others, like high school student Kasia Fronczyk, who was carrying a banner in the Vatican's white and yellow colours, draped with the black of mourning, had learned of the event by another technological medium, the mobile telephone text message.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Columbia Journalism Review has launched the MIPSY award for the most inane Pope story reported in the news.

It's going to be a keenly fought contest.

It’s Stuart’s first law of blogging that the number of things worth blogging about is inversely proportional to the time available to write.

So it has proved to be over the last few days.

I’ve spent more time in church than a nun over the last couple of days as I shuttled from one mass to the next gathering material for reports on Poland’s response to the Pope’s death.

The affection with which the Pope is held in his home country has led to some rather ghoulish suggestions, none more so than the call by some senior Polish church leaders for the Pontiff’s heart to be removed and buried alongside medieval kings and saints at Wawel Cathedral here in Krakow.

There is a precedent here for dismembering the bodies of great figures so their remains can be venerated. Frederic Chopin’s heart is kept in an urn in a church in Warsaw, while the rest of his body is buried in Paris.

Many here would dearly love a relic from the Pope’s body to rest on Polish soil.

“That would be, for us, the most precious treasure,” said Janusz Bielanski, canon of Wawel Cathedral.

But it seems extremely unlikely that Father Bielanski’s wish will be realised.

“There was once this Romantic custom that after death parts of the body of known and loved people be placed in important places,” said Cardinal Franciszek Macahrski of Krakow.

“This tradition is no longer ours. Respect for the human body says that it ought to be laid in a grave.”

Pope John Paul II will almost certainly rest in peace, in one piece, at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Minutes after I filed last night's audioblog the Pope died and we began a night of rolling news. The work continues as we gather reaction from Poland.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

this is an audio post - click to play

Friday, April 01, 2005

Going to Krakow -- more from there.
Pope still conscious - Vatican.

Blood pressure unstable but Pope remains lucid.

The Vatican says the Pope is "extraordinarily serene." He's about to get even more serene, I suspect.
Needless to say, there are mounting unconfirmed and increasingly authoritative rumours here in the newsroom from Catholic sources that the Pope has already died.

None of these can be confirmed -- but a Vatican statement is expected shortly.
Vatican Radio is playing classical music.

Italian media say Pope is in a coma -- reports denied by Vatican.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls will brief reporters on the Pope's health at around 1030-1100GMT.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who is traditionally charged with breaking the news of a papal death, has arrived at the Vatican.