Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Following Sunday's racing scrapes, perhaps I should limit myself to this marathon instead.

For the past five years, summertime has meant just one thing. Big Brother season.

I've been a loyal viewer of Channel 4's televisual valium since Craig, Nasty Nick and the rest entered the house in July 2000.

This year, though, something has changed.

Seeing desperate wannabes like Derek and Kamal playing to the cameras feels like watching a stinking tramp shitting his pants in public.

You feel embarrassed and want to look away.

The BB format is worn out. It should be allowed to die with dignity.

Monday, May 30, 2005


While walking along the Thames Path from Hampton Court to Kingston this weekend (a note to tourists -- this is one of the best walks in the capital, and it's great to catch a boat back to Hampton) I spotted a small green parrot sitting in a tree on the riverbank.

A parrot -- in west London?

Actually, I've seen these birds in various places recently -- including Richmond Park and at Aileen's parents near Leatherhead -- so I decided to do some research.

Articles here and here explain how these green feathered friends got here.

According to which urban myth you listen to, the parrots escaped from Shepperton Studios during the film of The African Queen or else arrived as stowaways in a cargo container at Heathrow Aiport.

But ornithologists believe these theories are far-fetched.

The parrots were most likely deliberately released from homes and pet stores and, once free, began breeding.
Hoder gets a write-up in Wired.

I am the scabmonster.

I scare children when I go out in public.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


I've got a few more war wounds to for my collection.

I was up at daft o'clock this morning for the latest Summer Series Duathlon -- a 6km run followed by a 25km cycle.

I put in a good performance (for me) in the run and slogged along 15 miles of country lanes on the bike.

The finishing line was in sight.

The final stretch of the course was a long, steep downhill zig-zag.

I folded myself down into an aerodynamic tuck and thundered down the hill.

And hit a patch of scree near the curb.

And lost control.

And flew over the handlebars, dive-bombing into a bush on the side of the road.

Thankfully I suffered nothing more serious than cuts and bruises and, most importantly, the bike escaped unscathed.

It was infuriating, however, to watch riders I'd been holding off for miles whizz past me as I fought to get my chain back on.

I lost about a minute but I managed to get back in the saddle and complete the race -- thus avoiding the ignominy of seeing the words DNF next to my name.

When I got home I checked the data on my race computer.

I was doing 32mph when I came off.

Serves me right for breaking the speed limit.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Good sense has prevailed in the BBC strike, with the unions agreeing to call off next week's planned 48-hour strike while talks with management continue.

For us worker bees, it's good news. We now don't have to cross a picket line or absorb the hit of losing two days pay.

Among the boss class, there was an almost audible cheer when they realised they wouldn't have to scrap their half-term holiday plans and child care arrangements in order to cover for striking staff next week.

The marathon talks have created a breathing space which will hopefully lead to a resolution of the dispute.

And best of all, the Costume and Wig section will not be sold off, which I'm sure is a relief for all concerned.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Woof woof bang.
Big boss BBC blogger Richard Sambrook has caused a stir between unions and management with his use of the politically-charged word "negotiation" on his intranet blog.

The word was later removed.

Sambrook explains why in an updated entry:

"When the above entry was written, ten days ago, the differences between "talks", "discussions" "consultation" and "negotiation" - as they apply to the different positions in the BBC dispute - had not taken on the significance they've acquired in the last few days.

"So the astute among you may notice I have removed the word "negotiations" in order to be clear about which side of the line I'm standing on....I've always been clear that I support the change programme - and the BBC approach - and believe it is unrealistic for the unions to try to rule out any compulsory redundancies.

"However the general point - that channels of communication - whether arbitrated or not - are essential to resolving disputes remains valid whatever word you choose to adopt...I'm sure we all hope ACAS can help find a way forward."

UPDATE: Media Guardian correspondent John Plunkett obviously doesn't read this blog because he doesn't have the new Sambrook line in his story.

You read it here first.
US Sponsored Television in the Middle East is Cheaper than an Invasion.

And a lot less effective.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I'm no Liverpool fan, but even the most neutral spectator couldn't help being swept away by the Reds' Champions League victory.

To bounce back from 3-0 down at half-time to win on penalties was sheer magic -- and Jerzy "slippery Pole" Dudek's theatrics will go down in history.

Tonight's game will be remembered as one of the greatest football matches of all time.

Cue gags about the team driving through Liverpool in an open-top bus because some Scousers nicked the roof.
Closet geek that I am, I'm excited about the possibilities that BGAN communications and store and forward technology open up for those of us in the foreign newsgathering field.

With a lightweight digital camera, a laptop and a notebook-sized satellite dish, it's now possible to feed edited TV pieces from almost anywhere in the world.

A fully functioning radio studio can be set up in a hotel room, a vehicle or a mud hut within 10 minutes.

The technology still has some way to go.

High quality live TV broadcasting still requires bulkier equipment, but it's surely only a matter of time before we're using mobile phones instead of sat trucks to uplink.

But it's not just the major broadcasters who are harnessing the wonders of Inmarsat.

Human Edge Tech offers packages of relatively low-cost hardware and software for climbers high up mountains, sailors in the middle of the ocean and explorers on ice shelves.

I came across the company via Annabelle Bond, who I'm sure is all over the media today because she's a fine mountaineer -- and not simply because she's posh climbing totty.

One person has benefited from a career boost thanks to the industrial action that crippled BBC News output earlier this week.

Smooth-talking strike breaker Stephen Cole has leapt from being "Mr Nobody" (according to the Times) or "one of the best known faces of international television news" (according to the BBC World website) to the front page of the Telegraph thanks to his ratings-winning performance on Monday.
Thanks to Marc for this link to a report by PRI's Katy Clark on teenage double amputee sprinting sensation (and fellow Cheetah wearer, natch) Oscar Pistorius.

Monday, May 23, 2005

It's the first BBC strike day and I, like thousands of other employees, am staying away from work.

With so few journalists reporting for duty, the news output I've seen and heard this morning looks and sounds pretty pathetic.

I voted against strike action.

No-one could claim the BBC is most streamlined organisation in the world.

The way Mark Thompson presented the job cuts was clumsy. Even so, change and, sadly, job losses are a necessary part of the Charter Review process.

But despite my misgivings, members of my union -- the NUJ -- voted overwhelmingly in favour of a walk-out.

The union was there to advise and support me after my accident, and I see it as my duty to return the favour. For me, reporting for duty on a strike day would be like joining the army and then refusing to go to war.

So I won't be manning the picket lines -- but I won't be crossing them either.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

It looks as if our Romanian hacking friend has cause for celebration this afternoon.

Friday, May 20, 2005

"Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity." Article 13, Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War

Double standards abound following the Sun's publication of photos of Saddam Hussein sporting a fetching pair of Y-fronts.

Freddie Ljungberg he is not.

When Saddam was captured in December 2003, the Department of Defence released its own video showing the dishevelled dictator undergoing a medical check-up.

Yet when unauthorised snaps of Saddam washing his socks, walking in a prison yard and sleeping in his cell leak out, the DoD suddenly develops a concern for his Geneva Convention rights.

They can't have it both ways.
Reopening yesterday's posting, it looks as if BD's got issues over his benefit entitlements as well.
This morning's New York Times leads with an important piece of investigative reporting which is sure to reverberate as the day progresses.

The Times claims two detainees in US military custody at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in 2002 died after being severely beaten as part of a pattern of abuse by young and badly-trained soldiers.

With anti-American sentiment already running high in Afghanistan following Newsweek's erroneous Koran desecration report, these new revelations will raise tensions still further.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A new study by the Council on Foreign Relations highlights continuing anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world.

The study pins some of the blame on the hostile reporting of regional broadcast networks that are the main source of information for many -- and says expensive US-funded propaganda machines like Al-Hurra TV and Radio Sawa have been largely worthless in winning hearts and minds.

A little humility from Uncle Sam could go a long way, the authors say.

Change will require "listening more, a humbler tone, and focusing on bilateral aid and partnership, while tolerating disagreement on controversial policy issues."

We can hope.
The Mirror reports on below knee amputee Barbara Bowers, who has had her benefits reduced because she is "not disabled enough."

I've never received disability living allowance because it was clear from the application form that the benefit is intended for people with much more serious conditions than mine.

And I'm certainly not going to complain about being "not disabled enough."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Another BNI exclusive.

The identity of the "mystery piano man" -- revealed.

Matthew Syed writes a thoughtful piece about last weekend's Paralympic World Cup (which I've so far shamefully neglected to mention) -- but then blows it all in the final paragraph.

After rightly noting the single-mindedness and competitive nature of Paralympic athletes, Syed pats the crips on the head with the old patronising line that "elite sport for the disabled merits funding because it provides the most vivid manifestation of the indomitable nature of the human spirit."

Monday, May 16, 2005

More fantastic news.

French firm Sema World has offered to join the list of corporate sponsors for my planned cycle across Death Valley.

I'm just finalising the details of the project with MAG before moving forward with the official launch.

Much more to come...
The Media Guardian reports on an employment tribunal I'll be following closely.

Former London-based ABC News correspondent Richard Gizbert claims he was sacked after he refused to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is claiming £2.2m for unfair dismissal.

ABC denies the claim.

"All assignments in harm's way, in a war zone, are completely and totally voluntary," it says.

My hunch is that Gizbert will lose his case -- but the tribunal will decide.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Careless reporting costs lives.
I didn't just beat my 10k PB this morning at the Leg It For Lifeboats run in Wimbledon -- I spanked its arse.

A flat, fast course, fine conditions and Hal Higdon's training plan came together to knock more than 2 minutes off my time. I went round in 54:25 -- and I'm fairly confident I can shave another minute or so more off before the end of the season.

The only downer of the day was experiencing my first Go Gel, which I gulped down after four and a half miles. I've just bought a box of them. They're akin to swallowing a sachet of tepid snot. I can sympathise now with women who insist on spitting.

Ah well, there's only 29 of them left in the box.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A feisty performance from MAG's Executive Director Lou McGrath in this week's Money Programme, which examined the finances of the Diana Memorial Fund.

The Fund blew millions of pounds fighting a protracted court battle with American tat-peddlers, Franklin Mint.

MAG's work in Angola was affected by the freeze in grants caused by the court case.

The Diana Memorial Fund was funding the clearance of landmines to provide assistance to people living under the most severe conditions, Lou said, and lives have been lost as a result of the ill-fated legal action.

Friday, May 13, 2005


Just back from a quick visit to Manchester for the launch of MAG's new advert and meetings about the planned Death Valley cycle ride (of which much more later).

The talk of the city was the takeover of Manchester United by American tycoon Malcolm Glazer.

Emotions are running high among United supporters, with effigies of Glazer being burnt outside Old Trafford, season tickets being torn up and the Manchester Evening News devoting front, back and centre pages to the story.

As an outsider, it's a fascinating affair to watch. It displays perfectly what happens when passion triumphs over logic.

"Man United is not for sale," insist the fans, who fear Glazer will do their beloved club what he did when he bought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ten years ago -- blitz the stadium with advertising, raise ticket prices and....er....turn a laughing stock team into Superbowl winners.

But this, of course, is nonsense.

When Manchester United floated on the stock exchange as a PLC it became a commodity to be bought and sold like any other.

John Magnier and JP McManus are reckoned to have netted a profit of £80m by selling their 28.7% stake in the club.

Good for them. That's not betrayal -- it's good business, as this article explains.

And even if Malcolm Glazer doesn't care about football, has never been to a Man U game or stepped inside Old Trafford -- so what?

In my portfolio I've got (albeit miniscule) stakes in dozens of companies. I've never walked the shop floors of a single one of them -- nor do I want to.

In the business world, it's profit that matters, not passion.

So if the fans from Shareholders United want to "save their club," as their naive rhetoric insists, they won't succeed by burning effigies and tearing up season tickets.

They'll do it by kicking Malcolm Glazer where it hurts -- in the balance sheets -- by boycotting games and refusing to buy merchandise.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I've just received the most fantastic news.

Those fine people at Ossur not only make the best artificial limbs in the world -- they've also pledged £1000 in corporate sponsorship to get my planned ride across Death Valley for MAG off the ground.

This goes a huge way towards putting the project on a firm financial footing (no pun intended) and turning it into a reality.

Ossur have got the ball rolling in fine style.

Now's the ideal time, dearest blog readers, for you to play your part (come on -- you're reading this for free after all. What sort of a business model is that?)

One or possibly two more corporate pledges will be enough to make the trip happen.

Own a company? Get involved.

Know someone who does? E-mail them.

Incentives and PR opportunities can be tailored to your needs. I'll do the cycling -- all you need to do is write the cheque and sit back in the warm glow that'll come from helping to rid the world of the scourge of landmines.

Dust off the donkey jacket and fire up the brazier -- we're walking out.

The cover story in the latest Columbia Journalism Review -- charting the rise of Christian news operations -- is well worth a read.

Frank Wright from the National Religious Broadcasters organisation attributes the success of Christian news to the biblical certainty it provides in a time of uncertainty and threat.

"We don’t just tell them what the news is," Wright says, "We tell them what it means. And that’s appealing to people, especially in moments of cultural instability."
Reuters reports on the latest mine clearance technology -- a system that burns landmines instead of blowing them up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I'm aching like a dog.

After failing to come up with a decent enough excuse to pull out, I took part in the Hillingdon Summer Series Duathlon last night.

Surrounded by lycra-clad gym bunnies, all tight calves and shaved legs, my main goal was just to get around the course without throwing up -- preferably in under an hour.

Even though I was at an obvious disadvantage on the runs, I was moderately pleased with my time for the cycle.

Hard work -- but I survived my my toughest race to date.

A great idea for anyone who, like me, is getting married but has been living in sin for years and so has a bottom drawer full of towels, bedding, frying pans and cut glass.

Give It allows friends and relatives to donate a sum of money to a good cause instead of buying a shoddy piece of tat that's destined for the charity shop.

MAG is one of the charities involved in the scheme.

£15 buys a Vietnamese deminer for the day. £30 pays for a childrens playground in Cambodia to be demined. Both of which are infinitely preferable to a deep fat fryer or a Royal Doulton china dog.
As the New York Times moves to build the confidence of its audience and close the gap between reporters and readers, Adam Cohen suggests that bloggers should also be taking steps to raise standards.

Times editor Bill Keller responds to the report here.

Friday, May 06, 2005

After all the preparation and a three-day round trip to the Highlands of Scotland, my input into the BBC’s Election 2005 coverage came down to one frantic forty minute burst of activity at a quarter past three in the morning.

It was entirely as expected.

Election night programmes are such gigantic beasts that each of the hundreds of OBs scattered around the country play just a tiny part in the overall operation.

Considering the distance we’d travelled to see him, the Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy didn’t exactly go out of his way to help the media pack.

A quick soundbite to the assembled hacks as he arrived with his wife and baby son at Dingwall Leisure Centre got the evening off to a good enough start.

His acceptance speech after a comfortable win in his Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency was dutifully beamed down live to London.

But then things went down hill.

We’d agreed with the Lib Dem press team that after Charles Kennedy’s acceptance speech he’d step forward to a pre-agreed spot, say a few words and take a few questions. Microphones and lights were set up and cameras positioned in readiness.

It all looked very orderly and efficient.

In the event, however, Kennedy decided to bolt off in completely the opposite direction to the one we’d agreed.

A minor ruck broke out as he was pursued by several dozen journalists trailing leads and equipment, tripping over each other and blocking each others’ camera shots.

A collective grumble to the Lib Dem head of press brought about the desired outcome.

An orderly “doorstep” was arranged and as Charles Kennedy left the count he gave us the soundbite we were waiting for, although his comments were partly drowned out by the sound of wee Donald crying.

A press scrum is no place for a new-born child.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Scientists claim this ugly bugger could hold the key that'll one day enable us amputees to regrow our missing limbs.

The planarian worm can regrow its entire body.

In a new study, scientists say they've identified the genes that allow the worm to regenerate -- raising the prospect that the process be replicated in humans in the distant future.

It's an enticing idea, but if I woke up one morning to find a flatworm growing from the end of my stump I'd be rather alarmed.

To the Highlands of Scotland tomorrow (thereby stretching the definition of world news) ahead of Thursday's election.

I'm producing the Outside Broadcast at the Ross, Skye and Lochaber count -- the largest constituency in the UK and Charles Kennedy's seat.

Deep fried mars bars and pints of heavy await.

If election night turns out to be as dull as the campaign there's always the election party pack to liven things up.
As Reporters Without Borders calls the Iraq war the worst for the media in terms of casualties since Vietnam, journalists around the globe are marking World Press Freedom Day.

At the Journalists Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, the name of our own Simon Cumbers has been added along with 77 other media workers killed in 2004.

Monday, May 02, 2005

An undulating, multi-terrain course with some boggy patches and steep downhill stretches (which are tougher to negotiate with the Cheetah) meant I didn't set a PB at the Watford 10k, which I completed with my mate Yolande.

Still, I was moderately satisfied with my time of 56:56 -- especially as my aging bones were aching after yesterday's exertions.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Completed the duathlon successfully -- and the results have just been published.

My splits were:
1 mile run -- 7:17
8 mile cycle: 24:12
1 mile run -- 7:55
Total -- 39:24

I'm never going to win an Olympic gold but, as always, the most important factor is that I didn't come last.

Just the Watford 10k to go.
Captions please....