Sunday, January 28, 2007

Taking a mini-sabbatical

Sunday 18th March

Yesterday I explained how I was able, in principle, to track down the anonymice and other pestilential pseudos who were leaving obnoxious comments on blogs within our small community ( at any rate, those using a certain hit counter). I mentioned (in passing )that since announcing what I was doing, the problem has disappeared, although that did not stop Bill Taylor and Richard of Orléans claiming I was the perpetrator, and was simply "covering my tracks". How charming, especially as we now know that Bill Taylor was all the time trolling under the name of "Lacombe Lucien", and remaining quiet when Richard of Orléans accused me of being "SH", "anonyhamster," and, guess who, "Lacombe Lucien". For the record, I repeat, once more, that I am none of these, and have not used a pseudonym at all in 2007, except for the one occasion on Sarah's blog (already mentioned) when I entered a conversation on "toxic relatives" as "Anonymous" to encourage (successfully I might add) a particular anonymouse to reveal themselves, long enough to track them down (to Ottawa), and to announce their cover was blown. We've seen no more of that particular presence , whom I suspect (but cannot prove) to be using the same computer as "Anne Gilbert". He/she too has been making themselves scarce since I've been tracking.

Hopefully, the malicious type of anonymouse is now a thing of the past. But for me, that is academic. I myself have withdrawn from personal blogging. Why ? Because I don't take kindly to having my protestations of innocence thrown back in my face. I don't like being stitched up. I don't like being demonised. I don't like the community remaining silent when Bill Taylor and Richard of Orléans spread their malicious lies and poison. In short, I consider the blogging community that developed initially on Colin Randall's Telly blog to be dysfunctional, and no longer wish to be associated with it. Sorry, but that's the naked truth, and there's no sense beating about the bush.

So it's now for others to take the baton where self-policing of blogs are concerned. Here, for convenience, are the links to use if you want to monitor who is visiting two of the blogs, Sarah's and Louise's . If a hostile comment appears, then by looking at the time, and referring to the visitor log, you can usually pin it down, if not on the first occasion, certainly after two or three when a clear unequivocal pattern is established.

I have added my own to the list, purely for archival purposes, but it no longer accepts comments, for reasons stated, although I'm still contactable by email at

I emailed Colin Randall, a while ago, suggesting that he should install the same hit counter on Salut, or make his own "open access", since I suspect that it offers the same features. I have yet to receive a reply.

Saturday 17th March

Last updated 13:20

Today's posting will be built up in stages. Hopefully it should not take more than a day, but I shall make a start now while most folk are in their beds (apologies though to N. American visitors).

The first thing to notice is that there's a new graphic at the top. It's a log of visitors to this site, up till about 40 minutes ago, when I did a screen capture, and then cropped to size.

I would draw your attention to No.5 in the list, "", who logged on to Dreams & Daemons at 10.25 pm French time. I shall be having quite a lot to say about that particular visitor. It's the computer belonging to Bill Taylor, aka "Lacombe Lucien".

It's largely on account of the hostile comments appearing on blogs from "Lacombe Lucien" , as well as the activities (at least in the past) of the pseudos and anonymice, that I have felt obliged to track visitors not only to my site, but to others that have the same embedded tracking software. Yes, some of you may not be aware, but simply by installing particular brands of hit counter on one's computer, one can track visitors to one's site, and also allow others to do so, if left in open-access mode. I first spotted one these enhanced hit-counters on Sarah's blog, when clicking on her Stat counter. It's still there (please don't uninstall, Sarah, at least not yet). I then installed it on mine - it's the plain yellow one at the bottom of this page. And I notice that it's recently appeared on Louise's blog too. Again, please don't uninstall Louise. I'm trying to perform a public service, whatever others might say ......

Click on the counter and up pops a simple summary sheet. But for real detail, click on the items in the margin, under the heading "Recent Visitors" and you get the graphic shown above. To find out more about each visitor, click on the number that shows their ranking in the list, eg 5 for You'll be amazed at the amount of information there, right down to their ISP and operating system.

To be continued

Update: Saturday 17th March 15:20

Having signed-off (so to speak) on Louise's blog earlier today, reiterating that I have now withdrawn completely from personal blogging, the following comment was added by Bill Taylor:

"My only comment here is to repeat something I said a couple of weeks ago: This guy has problems. He'll be happier behind his own little Iron Curtain. But I wonder who else will fail to re-emerge? "
3/17/2007 1:34 PM

Here we see the Toronto Star journalist in his Mr. Hyde mode, deploying his Joseph Goebbels-like skills to the full.

"The guy has problems" is the classic retreat for someone who's bankrupt of arguments. The reference to the Iron Curtain is also revealing (almost Freudian one might say, while we are in this psychiatric vein): the old Soviet Union did not pack its political dissidents off to jail. Oh no, far too crude. They admitted them instead to psychiatric wards.

Yes Bill Taylor: it's clear that you are now in full ex-tabloid journalist mode, lacing your prose with the weasel words. But let's not dwell on this aspect of your craft. It's the last comment that needs addressing briefly: "But I wonder who else will fail to re-emerge?".

This is your dog-eared old trump card, isn't it: that all the anonymice/pseudos that were plagueing blogs until about a month ago ( which promptly ceased when I announced I was tracking) were me, yours truly, even the highly malicious ones that were making threats, notably against yourself. And while I was rushing to your defence, what were you doing, Bill Taylor ? Why, you were posting hostile comments to my blog under the pseudonym "Lacombe Lucien".


Lacombe Lucien said...
THIS SITE TO BE DEMOLISHED Tenders are invited to pull down this unsightly eyesore
28/2/07 8:59 PM

And when your side-kick, the Toxic Anglo-Saxon , picking up your refrain, accused me of being said Lacombe, you remained silent, a clear attempt on your part to stitch me up, the pair of you.

I'll deal with that pathetic warped specimen of humanity later. It's you I'm focusing on right now, given your shameless weasel words today on Louise's blog. You are a very clever, calculating , sinister operator, Bill Taylor, accusing others of the very anti-social thing in which you yourself are engaged. You try to present me as an internet troll, when all the time it's you who's been engaging in the cloak and dagger stuff. What does that make you, Bill Taylor ? I'll tell you: a schmuck and a hypocrite to boot.

Is there anything you would like to say now in your defence, Bill Taylor, while I take a break and compose my thoughts on the sheer obnoxiousness of your internet presence ?

Here again is my email address:

2nd Update: Friday 16th March

Blogger is playing up: this is the second attempt to update, having lost everything last time !

Robert Colville's Telly blog is entitled "Why laziness rules the world". Skipping the lost intro, here's my tuppenceworth:

"Estate and letting agents are my particular bugbear. I once switched estate agents after the first one, with sole agency, kept telling me the market was slow, and not to expect obtaining my full asking price. The new agent agreed to me RAISING the price substantially, and, guess what, found a buyer within days !

But we weren't so lucky 3 years ago. The sole agent - a national chain- said the property had stuck, and finally found a buyer who offered a price at the bottom of our range. But we later learned that the agent had provided the buyer with a mortgage (no doubt earning a nice introduction/administration fee at our expense). What is more, our suspicions that the buyer was a speculator were confirmed in short order: the new owner did an immediate loft conversion, and sold the property after less than 2 years to a buy-to-let merchant. There are now 5 different residents in the one building, with no parking space for at least two.

So despite paying my agent thousands of pounds to obtain the best price, I suspect the house was sold to a known speculator for far less than its true value.

What is more I know three people, two of them close relatives, whose houses have stuck, and who finally caved in to proposals from the agent to "take it off their hands" for a fraction of the asking price. In two cases, the areas then immediately became property hotspots due to big redevelopment plans which probably only the estate agent knew about at the time.

Moral: if you think your house is taking too long to sell, and you are being asked to lower your expectations, then smell a rat, and be quite ruthless in dumping the agent, and finding a new one. Just watch the tie-in period that you sign up to. If they say three months for sole agency, tell them 6 weeks maximum, or you will look elsewhere.

Letting agents? I'll save that one for another day, once I can find the blood pressure pills."

Update: Friday 16th March

Your View in today's Telly invites views on Tessa Jowell's confirmation that the cost of staging the 2012 London Olympics has now spiralled to well over £9 billion - three times what we were originally told when the bid was entered. That's unbelievable - even for this bunch of incompetents and shysters who rule over us. Here's what I've just submitted:

"We the taxpayer/London Council Tax payer/ National Lottery player have all been conned, big time. So scrap the London Olympics NOW. Give the Games to Paris, while there's still time. Spend the 9 billion pounds where they are needed - hospitals, schools, Armed Forces, transport. Anywhere except speculators' paradise, north of Stratford. When will this squandering of billions of taxpayers' money end ?"

Third Update: Thursday 15th March

As previously flagged, I have now decided to withdraw completely from personal blogging. Dreams & Daemons is now intended purely as a personal archive of my submissions to MSM blogs and the like. I am blocking the Comments facility to this blog immediately: apologies to those of you like Loui, Sarah, Louise and others who have been welcome here in the past. I hope you will understand why it's now time to stop providing a soapbox to those unwelcome visitors whose only interest is in badmouthing, or pushing their own agenda.

I am also renouncing a lifetime of adherence to humanism. The behaviour of certain individuals on the internet has completely changed my views on the nature of the human condition. I now realise that certain people behave in a manner that can only be described as robotic: the gap between man and machine is much narrower than I thought, especially with recent advances in cybernetics, fuzzy logic etc. Quite what will fill the gap vacated by humanism remains to be seen. It won't be a weird cult, or extreme politics, but it will definitely be something that fits with my growing right-wing tendencies. "Live and let live " is no longer a viable option in a world in which everyone thinks it OK to do their own thing, making up rules as they go along, or thinking that life can be lived without rules, whether self- or externally imposed.

I shall post something shortly , probably tomorrow, on how bloggers can monitor unwelcome visitors to their sites. The general principles will already be clear from those following Louise's and Sarah's blogs, but I may have one or two observations that folk may find useful.

I am still contactable by email:

Dreams and Daemons now ceases to be an interactive blog. Goodbye everyone.

Second Update: Thursday 15th March

David Bond's Sport blog (Inside Football) is entitled "Strange Ideas in the World of Football". It centres on Brian Mawhinney, now Football Association Chairman, but better known in his previous existence as a member of John Major's government. David Bond finds it strange, first that Mawhinney should have taken that job, and second, that Mr. Big is now pushing to have penalty shootouts as a means of avoiding drawn matches in the Premiership.

It's rare for this blogger to venture into an area about which he knows little. But having once had dealings with Mawhinney ( I needed to borrow an oxygen electrode from him, round about 1976 when we were both at Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine - he as a Reader, and me as a humble Postdoc' Fellow/ Honorary Lecturer) which meant an initial audience with his eminence, and then having to fight of his acolytes who kept coming to reclaim it before I had finished what I needed to do):

Here's my comment - first to go up:

"Like you, I was puzzled by Mawhinney's career move. The man has always impressed me, ever since seeing him perform prior to his entering politics. He was a Reader in Medical Physics at the London Medical school at which I did my PhD, and was highly impressive in the way in which he chaired Senior Common room meetings, like the hustings for a new Dean. Later on, I ran into a civil servant at a dinner party who served under him in Northern Ireland. He was known as someone who was highly focused, but did not suffer fools gladly.

He and John Major were close friends, representing adjacent constituencies (Peterborough and Huntingdon), so it may well be that with Major's departure from politics he felt he had lost an ally, and was probably more temperamentally suited to Government than Opposition.

Penalties ? I detest them, and don't understand what possessed so sharp a mind to suggest this method of draw-breaking.

My own solution, more to prevent goalless draws, is to abandon the practice of a single over-proficient goalkeeper: players would take it in turn to defend the goal. The appearance of a player known to be weak in goalkeeping skills would signal an intensive effort to net one or more during the 'window of opportunity'. "

Update:Thursday 15th March

There's an article in today's Telegraph entitled "Brown's tax increases hit family incomes".

My comment was the second to go up:

"It's interesting that the rise in National Insurance contributions some 4 years ago has been singled out as a major factor. Yet press comment at the time was fairly muted. A typical headline would have read " Budget special: Brown puts an extra penny on NI contributions".

NI contributions used to be levied at a rate of about 10p for every pound of eligible income, and that was raised to 11p. What's an extra penny ? For someone earning, say, £20,000 of eligible income, their NI deduction increased from £2,000 per year to £2,200. That was a whacking 10% increase, but the press reports of "an extra penny in the £ " made it sound like a mere 1%.

Thanks to lack of media vigilance (a reflection perhaps on poor numeracy) Brown was allowed to get away with an iniquitous stealth tax, and one moreover that was index-linked: his take increases year on year with rising incomes. But he stubbornly refuses to increase our tax allowances in line with inflation, and it's the same with the ceiling for stamp duty on houses, such that 'fiscal drag' nets him extra billions each year. My son has just bought his first house, and has had to pay the Chancellor some £5000 for the privilege.

A Chancellor who operates in this mean, grasping underhand fashion, is not someone I would wish to see become PM. The man's a creep, and gives me the creeps."

Second Update: Wed 14th March

Melisssa Whitworth has just posted in the Telly's blogs on a US-authored book entitled "The Evil Empire". Star Wars revisited ? Nope. It's us he's referring to, or what he calls "the English". Seems we're responsible for all that's wrong with the world. No, it was not written by Richard of Orléans. This guy has at least a scant regard for the facts. Mine is the first comment to go up. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be ....

"Sorry, not personally complicit in getting China hooked on opium ( blame my great great grandfather instead), but I accept that it was not Britain's finest hour. But we gave them back Hong Kong, and cheap Chinese goods have saved the UK economy from the rampant inflation that should have resulted from Gordon Brown's spending spree. So they can't hate us too much.

Not guilty either to creating slums (but my desk is a small contribution to that retro genre).

But I plead guilty to having helped take the soul out of rock-and-roll ( like attending those post-Bill Haley/Presley gigs at Eel Pie Island with ne'er a teddy boy in sight), and am still a fan of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and that entire 60s thing that originated on Merseyside, and which musically still leaves one reeling with its sheer inventiveness).

Oops - forgot about Buddy Holly, and one or two others Stateside, who preceded and possibly inspired them. But US druggie-influenced flower-power killed the Beatles and the life-blood of 60s music, so let's hear no more cr*p from across the pond, NY Times included, if you don't mind, about the Evil Empire.

Occasionally I think there's no God, but then I ask myself "Who do I thank for creating the Atlantic Ocean ?"

Update: Wed March 14th : Hey, guess what ? Shane Richmond has just issued an invitation to meet his team of Telly bloggers at the new Victoria HQ. It's down for the evening of April 12th. After a quick check with easyJet, and a headstrong flash of the plastic, I have just shot off this reply:

"Nice one, Shane. I must hand it to you folk at the Telly - when it comes to the human touch you are streets ahead of the competition.

I went to a similar hospitality "do" quite recently at the headquarters of Nice Matin, on the outskirts of (not surprsingly) Nice. That was most interesting - I've been meaning to post my video, complete with noisy soundtrack, but with my own modest blog in semi-hibernation mode, I have not got round to doing so yet.

Have just this minute booked my flights - in on the 12th, back the next day. I look forward to meeting you and your splendid team. PLEASE don't change your mind ....."

Is anyone else I know likely to be there ? Louise ? Sarah ? Let us know if you are.

Second update: Tuesday March 13th, 19:05 French time

There are now 283 comments on the Telly's Cameron thread. Most say the same as me: in becoming a born-again eco-fundamentalist , Cameron has deserted traditional Conservative thinking, and is becoming harder to distinguish from the Liberals/Greens in both Gnu Labour and the Lib Dems.

Here's my second contribution to the thread that has just appeared:

"Carbon dioxide is not a classical pollutant in the sense that sulphur dioxide is, which, incidentally Phil S. is the main culprit where acid rain is concerned.

CO2 is not toxic to human life per se, but is instead suffocating - depriving one of oxygen. But then the same could be said of any other gas that is not oxygen.

Carbon dioxide is only a pollutant in the sense that it is a greenhouse gas. But then so is water vapour !

Personally I dislike hearing carbon dioxide referred to as a pollutant as if it were sulphur dioxide.

OK, so we have probably overloaded the planet's mechanisms for removing it through excessive burning of fossil fuels. But that's because there are billions of us who expect to live in comfortable surroundings.

But while keeping warm or running a car may be personal decisions, there are vast amounts of CO2 poured into the atmosphere from industry, power stations etc where we as individuals have had no say, even when those same processes have produced classical pollutants that have caused acid rain, bronchitis, attacked buildings etc.

So it's a bit rich for someone whose party traditionally allied itself with the captains of industry to now turn on ordinary working folk, essentially making them scapegoats and thence tax fodder for their next Chancellor, simply because they/we want to holiday in the Maldives instead of Margate.

Living on planet Earth has always been a risky business - especially for those living in regions prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis etc. It is pathetic to see Little Englanders becoming doom-mongers purely because of a risk - still theoretical - of rising sea levels.

It is arrogance of the highest order to imagine that we can fine-tune the composition of Planet Earth's atmosphere to suit our own comfort and convenience. Our first priority should be dealing with consequences, not causes, of climate change.

Sorry polar bears - you will have to take your chances. I'm more concerned about the Maldive and Canvey islanders ! "

Posted by Colin Berry on March 13, 2007 5:29 PM

Update: Tuesday March 13th

"Are Cameron's Conservatives still Tories?" is the question put in today's Your View in the Telly. Our Dave's predicament is admittedly not an easy one - political realism means one having to accept a degree of pandering and opportunism if he's to prevent Gnu Labour winning a fourth term of office. But his latest proposals on taxing air travel seem to me to show he's away with the eco-fairies, and unfit to be PM. My views on the man and his eco-religion suddenly crystallized yesterday, with this missive as a result, which appeared in the first crop of comments:

"What a disaster ! We have this execrable Government of ne'er-do-wells, addicted to self-serving spin. Yet the only realistic alternative is a motley crew of nonentities in thrall to gimmickry. And the particular brand of gimmickry - micromananging our use of fossil fuels - is one that will make increasingly greater inroads into our quality of life, since the proposed levies on air travel are clearly just for starters.

There is an opportunity right now for a brand new political party to replace the main Opposition party, the latter having been progressively sidelined by a succession of wannabee PMs with no real sense of political conviction.

The new party should be called simply The Low Tax Party. Lowering tax is just a means to an end - the creation of a society in which folk are less dependent on the State for handouts and encouraged to fend more for themselves. It's a concept that used to be called Conservatism, before the party was hijacked by the eco-freaks and lifestyle micromanagers.

On your bike, Mr. Cameron. You and your ilk are not what the country needs."

Second update: Monday March 12th Still on the subject of Telly blogs in general, and Christopher Howse's "language" blogs in particular, his latest post has a comment from the redoubtable "Dr. Deipnosoph". One or two other regulars (eg Ped), as well as myself, have tried in the past to blow the whistle on this superb piss-taker, but to no avail. Anyway, he appeared again today, and here was my reply:

Title: Fly -by- night character

Now there's a coincidence ! I was at the very same soirée in 1957 as you Dr. Deipnosoph, where I was seconded as part of my Grade 1 Guest Filtration Certificate (aka Bouncer's Stripe). We had been warned that you might try to gatecrash, but your arriving disguised as Charlie Chaplin had us all completely fooled: it just never occurred to us that you would assume the persona of a slapstick comedian - we are filled with admiration at the sheer audacity of your double bluff.

There was just one moment when a sliver of doubt entered our minds, which was near midnight when you slipped on a somewhat grubby raincoat, and did a circuit of the buffet area, grabbing all the uneaten caviar canapés, which you stuffed into a Tesco's carrier bag. But being the fools that we are, we just put it down to harmless eccentricity. But I'm broadminded: pinching the hors d'oeuvres is surely no worse than taking le pisse, if you see what I mean (as I'm sure you do).
Colin Berry at 12 Mar 2007 16:43

Updated Monday March 12th Have just got back from visiting relatives in the UK, and am catching up with my favourite blogs. Christopher Howse does one for the Telly, and his most recent topic is one that this iconclast could not resist: spoof publishers' rejection letters.

He provides two, the first addressed to Shelley, the other to Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Here's one I submitted an hour ago that has just appeared:

Title: Dear JRR

Dear Professor Tolkien

Further to my letter of 5th May inst, I have now heard back from my contact at the Institute of Vulcanology. He assures me that temperatures of magma close to the surface rarely exceed 1500 degrees Celsius. If that is the temperature needed to "unmake" the special ring around which your tale revolves, then there is an obvious objection: your "hobbits" presumably had blacksmiths, who with their bellows-assisted charcoal furnaces should have been able to achieve a similar temperature, thus negating the need for Frodo and his companions to embark upon so long and perilous a Quest to Mount Doom.

I fear the willing suspension of disbelief will not be achieved in your otherwise splendid trilogy.

Perhaps you should consider condensing your tale as a boys' adventure yarn, eg the kind that Eagle does in comic-strip format. Would you like me to drop Marcus Morris a line ? He's the editor, and a reverend gentleman to boot. He is always on the lookout for heroic adventures that have a hint of religious allegory.

PS I thought Gollum provided a welcome touch of light relief ....

Colin Berry at 12 Mar 2007 09:17

Updated Monday March 5th About those apples: did you know that apples can grow well, even in cooler northern climes. Take Canada as a case in point: until recently I used to think that there was only 1 variety of apple in that country - a red one from the Toronto area. Then yesterday I learned there's another, a green one, closer towards Ottawa. I won't bother you with their names, since I've learned that the names change, depending on where you are.

If you're really interested in the whole range of Canadian apples, good, bad or indifferent, here's the link:

Canadian apples

But if you're like me, you'll just concentrate on the ones you know best, in my case those two Ontario varieties, less than 250 miles apart.

BTW: Did you know that if you wish to enlarge a picture, like the one above, all you need to do is point and click ?

Updated Sunday March 4th Yes, the picture's been changed. Louise (see comments) was fed up with sight of those socks, so here's something a lot more sober, about which I'll say something later.

Sorry, " Lacombe Lucien ", as you presently like to be known - both here and on other blogs in the family - this site is not ready for demolition just yet. There are still those issues that need to be discussed, like moderation, censorship, self-policing etc etc. Oh yes, and how to behave like a decent human being. Incidentally, Lacombe, your location is shown clearly on the graphic, which may make you see red.

But it's European locations that are my chief interest at present. What's that Sinatra line about "little green apples" ? Your days are numbered, anonymouse/anonymice.

It's said that if you invent a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. I wonder if the same is true of making folk aware of one that's been hidden at the back of a cupboard all the time, without anyone noticing it was there - until yesterday, that is.

More to follow.

ed: updated Tue Feb 13 at 21:15 French time (scroll to end, new text coloured in red for ease of locating- no flagging of emotional state intended, preferred colour blue being used already for links) : re Shane Richmond's latest Telly blog entitled "When is a blog, not a blog ?"

Here's a picture of the more photogenic end of my body, and yes, I've decided to put my feet up for two or three weeks, possibly longer.

Maybe it's a reaction to Will Lewis's description of bloggers as geeks who need to get out more*. Lewis, just in case you didn't know, is Editor of the Daily Telegraph.

But he discovered himself last week how handy it can be to have a blog at one's disposal, and used it to lambast BA for attempting to bump him off his flight to the Davos junket. Of course, once informed (or reminded) who he was, BA found him a seat in short order.

But there's a simpler explanation for my absconding: I just don't like treadmills, including self-created ones. With things being pretty quiet in these parts, I decided now might be as good a time as any to take a mini-sabbatical.

It'll be a chance to go out and explore the Greater Blogosphere, post a comment here and there, maybe get some new entries in those Links (aka Escape Routes) in the sidebar.

But don't drop your guard, Richard of Orléans. I'm still on the lookout for displays of Brit-bashing/quasi-racism/ hypocrisy/inconsistency and plain simple getting-your -facts wrong.

As for that Bill Taylor (Toronto Star): there's only one way to deal with a self-confessed wind-up merchant. Just don't give him the time of day. Pretend he's not there. Walk on by. Walk on byeeeeeeee.

* Re which I posted an unflattering few words to Julian Glover's thread in the Guardian's Davos coverage in its "Comment is Free" section.

ed: update Monday 29 Jan . Have just posted the following to Wordblog ( "MSM bush telegraph 2" in the Escape Routes) re the steady decline in the quality of reporting in the Sunday Times over many years.

"I still buy the ST, but I no longer read it with the same confidence and pleasure that it gave back in the 70s and 80s. In those days the articles were well-researched and authoritative. Then the rot set in. There were the instant post-mortems on every airline crash, pointing fingers of blame, that were not subsequently confirmed by the painstaking official enquiries. What gave the ST the right to sit in instant judgement on so emotive an issue as human tragedy ?

The ST then used to reveal astonishing ignorance in matters of personal finance, like not knowing the way building societies had long calculated interest on an annual basis.
I once wrote to them showing how as a result of this tradition, early repayments could earn one no credit in reduced interest for up to a year. The letter was acknowledged, shelved, and then the comments reappeared weeks later under a journalist’s byline with no mention of my tip-off.

They then got rid of Roger Anderson, the consumer champion, who won redress for many victims of scams etc (including someone in my own family). He was never replaced. Why ? Was he upsetting too many advertisers with his growing impatience and contempt for industry malpractices ?

Recently I wrote to the ST Letters editor, pointing out that their so-called Facts feature on carbon monoxide in the aftermath of the Corfu tragedy was entirely wrong in suggesting the gas was heavy, and would sink to floor level. Link to earlier post. It was weeks before a correction was made, and then it was placed in the most inconspicuous place on Page 2 instead of appearing as a letter.

Years ago, there was a entire feature in the Magazine on Watson of “Watson & Crick” DNA double -helix fame, presenting him as an expatriate Briton who had been forced to desert his home country. I pointed out that he was a Chicago man. At least that made the letters column. But I now see so much ignorance and superficiality that I frankly don’t take a thing I read in the ST at face value.

Given the existence of Google and search engines, there really is no excuse any longer for this continuing sloppiness.

Given this paper now costs £2 in Britain ( and a skeleton version where in live in France is €5), I think we are entitled to better than this.

My wife is furious because they have suddenly stopped doing the national sections (Welsh, Scottish and Irish) , which she used to access online. At this rate, we’ll stop buying the ‘dead-tree’ version altogether. What price customer loyalty when one is taken for granted in this way ?"

ed Update Jan 29, 18:30. Yesterday the Sunday Telegraph ran the following article:

Profile: Britannia By William Langley
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 28/01/2007

A trident in her hand, a lion at her feet, and a nation on its knees. Is the lady for returning ?

I posted a reply mid-afternoon, but no new comments appeared after 1pm yesterday - most infuriating. Finally, a new batch of comments did finally appear today. But that's not much good, coming a day late !

Here, purely for the archives, was my contribution:

"Last November, I posted on my blog an article called "Re-discovered- our Britannian heritage". link It was a response to Stephen Oppenheimer's genetic studies, showing a large common gene pool between English, Irish, Welsh and Scots, derived he believes from Basque settlers arriving some 15,000 years ago. He is pretty dismissive of claims that the Celts were the original settlers of Britain, or that the English are of predominantly "Anglo-Saxon" stock arriving after the Roman occupation. I've always hated official forms on which one has to state nationality. Should one write "British" (too vague), or English (too specific). In future I shall write "Britannian" and see if there's any come-back....Posted by Colin Berry on January 28, 2007 2:59 PM

ed update 18:40 French time

Telegraph blogger Andrew Gimson has just posted on "Education and Class Angst":

Here's my comment: Look, I think what you guys have to realize is this - and, OK, I know what you're going to say, that here's a privately-educated man pulling up the ladder after him, but, seriously, under New Labour, it's something entirely different now from what existed under the Conservatives. Forget about these labels - Comprehensive, City Academy, Faith School, Independent, what you need to understand is that our modern society no longer works on the basis of how or where you were educated. It's WHO you are that counts, and what you can GIVE to society that matters. Believe me, I know, through meeting people in all walks of life who have made it in life without going to Eton or Fettes - pop stars, computer billionaires, friends of my wife, celebrities in all walks of life, just ordinary everyday folk, like you or me. As I was saying just the other day to Lord Adonis, or was it Prince Charles, bla bla bla bla ..........bla,bla,bla bla bla bla bla ..............

Posted by Colin Berry (on behalf of Tony Blair)

ed: update Tuesday 30 Jan at 12:10 French time:
Second contribution to the "Education and Class Angst thread:

Big Talk

OK, I hear what you guys are saying. It's clear from many of your comments that 10 years of New Labour have finally began to restore some much-needed confidence in the State system that suffered so much under Tory misrule. If I hear you correctly, what we now need to do is beef up the system a bit, so that brighter kids are not held back, and parents don't have to bankrupt themselves in putting their children into private schools(much over-rated in my opinion, having seen one at first hand).

Perhaps what's needed is a cautious return to an element of, let's call it talent-spotting, at the crucial pre-teen/teen interface. So children who are deemed to be academically-inclined would go to a dedicated kind of school, suited to their aptitudes.

They wouldn't be exposed to a lot of boring stuff, like grammar, that us previous generations suffered, so I thought of calling them "Non-Grammar Schools". There they would be freed from the constraints of the National Curriculum, and be able to study traditional subjects, like History, Modern Languages, Latin, separate Sciences even. Much greater emphasis would be placed on terminal exam, instead of Parent/Sibling/Internet/Teacher/Private Tutor -assisted coursework.

What to call the exam ? How about Optimum Attainment Level, or simply O-Level for short ?

Colin Berry (on behalf of Tony Blair) at 30 Jan 2007 10:54

Updated again, Tuesday 30 Jan at 16:00 French time

Shane Richmond's Telegraph blog is devoted to today's launch of Microsoft Vista. Yours truly decided to add his nerdish tuppence worth to the Comments with the following:

Let the buyer beware

One of the main determinants of a computer's performance is the available system memory (physical RAM). The one I'm using at present was recently upgraded from 256Mb to 512Mb, with a marked improvement. Despite that, there is still only 101Mb available physical memory when booting up, which reduces further to 72Mb when going online - barely adequate for anything involving multi-tasking.

When I discussed this with the chap in my local shop, he said I should have bought a laptop bundled with Windows XP Professional rather than Home Edition, but this was not offered as an option at the time. Given that XP Home edition can take such a big bite out of one's system memory, I, for one, will not be rushing to buy Vista, even on a new laptop with 1024Mb, until I know what the drain will be on memory.

For those not au fait with checking for working, as distinct from installed memory, one can find available RAM by going to Programs-Accessories-System Information, and then waiting for the table to come up, which may take a few seconds.

Colin Berry at 30 Jan 2007 14:32

Updated again, Tuesday 30 Jan at 23:55 French time

Andrew Gimson (Telegraph blogger) has just opened a new thread on Alec Douglas-Home who served briefly as Prime Minister before Labour won the 64 election, ending "13 years of Tory misrule".

I was working on the University newspaper at the time as News Features editor. Together with a colleague, we talked the new Education Minister Michael Stewart ( later to become Foreign Secretary) into letting us interview him at his lair in Curzon St. His manner was cautious and headmasterly, but then we were full of suspicions about Labour's real intentions. We even tried to sound him out on the possibility that grants might adjusted up or down to favour subjects that Labour considered fashionable ! The thought that they might one day be replaced with loans, and students charged top-up fees on top, never entered our heads ! Innocent youth !

Anyway, here's what I have just posted. It was delayed for several hours, presumably for legal clearance ( maybe the Telly moderators were worried about the unflattering references to Private Eye, but it's the Eye of the 60s that's being referred to, not today's relatively strait -laced offering).

There's one small error: Alec Douglas -Home was the 14th, not 13th Earl . Memory plays tricks after 40 years !

A man to be reckoned with

"Modest, maybe, but Alec Douglas-Home was no wimp or easy push-over. Let's not forget that this was the man who in 1971, as Foreign Secretary, decided the Soviets were becoming too brazen with their spying activities in Britain. His response: he expelled 105 of their diplomats, just like that. Everyone was gobsmacked, us, the Soviets, and probably his wife as well.

The crisis in Anglo-Soviet relaions blew over very quickly, perhaps giving the West its first real hint that the Soviets, for all their bluster, were pragmatic realists. Some might argue that John F Kennedy had maybe shown as much during the earlier Cuban missile crisis. Or was he just lucky ?

Private Eye was merciless with the so-called 13th Earl of Home. His was, after all, a surprise appointment, in the aftermath of Profumo, in the days when votes were weighed instead of counted. Everyone thought Rab Butler would succeed Harold MacMillan, but was later to become known as the "The Greatest Prime Minister We Never Had".

Incidentally, I went right off Private Eye magazine during Home's brief tenure at No.10. Admittedly he was not the most inspiring of figures physically, but constant reference to him as a "cretin" or "cretinous" when he was clearly a gentleman of the old school finally persuaded me that satire without fair play was the stuff of 5th form school magazines."

Colin Berry at 30 Jan 2007 19:21

Latest update: Wed Jan 31 13:40 French time

Toby Harnden has just posted on his Telegraph blog under the title "Obama and the racist smear campaign" ( accessible from my Links in the sidebar -"Escape Routes").

I have just posted the following comment, which will hopefully disabuse Bill Taylor (Toronto Star) of his bizarre idea that I am a closet racist.

"It's that last but one sentence which betrays the email for what it is: malevolent propaganda.

"Obama joined the United Church of Christ to help purge any notion that he is still a Muslim."

Note the use of the loaded word "purge".

Reading the email, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Joseph Goebbels School of Propaganda has been re-established, using ever more subtle techniques for controlling the "minds" of impressionable folk.

It was probably this kind of stuff, or the prospect thereof, that frightened off Colin Powell, making him arguably the Greatest President that America Never Had.

So are Americans going to let it happen a second time? What will the rest of the world conclude about America, given the common factor of neither of them fitting a white Anglo-Saxon template ?

Or is it really to do with religion rather than skin colour? If so, how happy is America with the perception that McCarthyite paranoia and witch-hunting are in the process of being reborn, albeit directed this time against an imagined taint of Islam ?"

Updated Wed Jan 31 a second time at 23:30 French time:

Submitted this second comment to the above thread (Toby Harnden) in response to a ferociously PC comment from Maddie.
"And every headline that asks 'Will Barack Obama Be The First Black American President?", is racist !"

So we are now required to pretend we're colour-blind, to avoid Maddie's charge of racism, even though we may detest discrimination on the grounds of race or colour, in any shape or form.

Being aware of colour, noting society's responses to it, positive or negative, is something entirely different from discrimination.

I agree with Maddie on a lot of things, but not on this one ! Preserve us from this kind of sanctimonious PC !

Would she brand as sexist a headline that asks "Will Hillary Clinton be the First Female American President?" ?

Update: 23:45

Oh dear. Egg on face time. Having re-read Maddie's entire comment again, I realize she was being ironical , so have had to send a quick chaser asking the Telegraph to cancel it.

I've moaned before about the Telly's policy of moderating Comments in reverse chronological order (last come, first served), but for once that may work in my favour, if they see the request for withdrawal before posting that misjudged comment!

ed: updated Thur Feb 1 at 08:40 approx French time

The Telly has just opened a new thread on "Your View" re William Hague's call for a reappraisal of our "special relationship" with the US. I have previously stated my own non-dewy-eyed views on this subject. here was an unmissable opportunity to put them into the public domain.

"It would be better, William Hague, just to concentrate on winning the next election, and then just doing it quietly, without fanfare (ie laying sentiment aside and going our own way).

The special relationship has always been an embarrassing media myth, one that will only be laid to rest when Britain is SEEN to act independently of the USA.

Yes, America came in on our side during WW2, but only after the fall of France and the Low Countries, after Dunkirk, after the Blitz and after the Battle of Britain. In fact Uncle Sam only remembered the so-called special relationship after Pearl Harbor, and the formal declarations of war by Japan and Nazi Germany on the United States. Up to that time, Britain had stood alone for over two years. And then, as the price of Anglo-American victory, our gold reserves were transferred to Fort Knox, and we were saddled with long-term debt. We have only just paid the last instalment.

The only thing special about the special relationship has been its durability, given its amazing one-sidedness.

The important thing in future when, hopefully, we once again plough our own furrow in world affairs (assuming the present Government can be dislodged) is to keep our senior Western partner in the loop, to avoid a repetition of Suez.

I like the emphasis on forging relations with India, China etc. If an economic realist wins the Presidency in France, and the new members like Poland pull their weight - and stay democratic - maybe Europe will be worth another look - but not before."

Second contribution to same thread at 11:30

Britain has the 4th (or maybe 5th) largest economy in the world. It's a hub for air-travellers, the City of London is a pre-eminent financial centre, we have some superb and varied scenery in a remarkably compact area, attracting tourists from all over the world etc etc . The population is 60m and growing. In what way is Britain a "small insignificant island" off the coast of Europe, "Grateful Expat" ? Have you looked at an atlas recently ?

Posted on February 1, 2007 10:22 AM

PS This will probably be the only addition today, since I'm off on a visit to Nice -Matin (newspaper) today to see how it's produced. J and I are going with our local Antiboulenc society. First, I need to brush up on some journalistic lingo !

Updated Fri Feb 2 at 11:40 approx

Roy Hattersley, one-time Deputy Leader of the Labour Party has some advice in today's Times for the present holder of that post, the hapless and wayward John Prescott.

John Livesey with his useful perceptive eye queries the sense of Hattersley putting his advice to Prescott into the public domain, but wasn't terribly precise in the reasons for his misgivings. Here's what I said:

"John Livesey has hit the right button, but understated the full implications. This article will make it harder for John Prescott to do the necessary, because Prescott will anticpate the retort: "Let me guess: it's Roy who's been putting ideas into your head, is it John ?

But I enjoyed hearing you speak, Mr. Hattersley ( Birmingham University Union, circa 1965 !)"

Last night's visit to see Nice-Matin and its sister papers (Var Matin etc) being produced was highly successful.. I was allowed to take photographs everywhere we visited, from the Pre-Press room, where the final decisions are made re layout, to the printing presses. And all preceded by an excellent supper in the staff "canteen". (There has to be a better, more upmarket word for a French "canteen", which is closer in its ambiance to a University refectory). The visit will be the subject of a future post, post-sabbatical that is. ated Feb 13

Updated Feb 13, 21:15

For those of us who like to philosophise about the meaning of life, and all that, there's a new post from Shane Richmond on the Telly blogs, entitled "When is a blog not a blog ?".

Yours truly, aka me, has already put up a couple of comments, the first directed to Shane, the second at some know-all /put-downer, aka Tim. Isn't it just like the good old days - attack, then watch your back......

There's a price to be paid, these days, for analysing. It's to be called a pedant. Musn't be judgmental: if I'd been born 20 years ago, and had attended a modern comp', I'd probably be saying the same thing, while watching the clock ( so as not to miss BB).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Those special relationships

Here's a picture of one of the recent additions to the seafront-furniture at Antibes.

ed: for full screen enlargement, just "point and click" on the photo

It really speaks for itself. It's a weather-resistant reproduction of a painting by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier , dated 1868. The plaque (see close-up below) reads "Antibes, la promenade à cheval, l'artiste et son fils Charles.

How's that, then, for a self-portrait ? To put yourself in centre picture, astride a horse, and then to fit in two family members as well . Yes, two: his son, who's also mounted, and his pet dog, by the looks of it, leading the way . It could be someone else's dog, I suppose. Or a private family joke !

But from a casual tourist perspective, the genius is in the siting of the picture. Not only is Antibes' fortified headland in the background, with those two iconic Saracen towers, but the picture is sited at or very close to where the artist must have sat when he painted it. Even for a first time visitor, it's fascinating to do a before -and- after comparison.

For local residents like ourselves, there's the extra interest from seeing precisely what used to be there, before most of the ramparts were knocked down in the late 19th century. It was felt, probably correctly, that Vauban's fortifications were a noose around the town, acting as a stranglehold on development.

It's fascinating to think that when it was painted, some 138 years ago, the hills behind Gourdon and Grasse were visible. They are now blanked out by the 20th century apartment blocks.

Sometimes pictures that I post to this blog enlarge when one "points and clicks" . Sometimes they don't, and I haven't yet figured out why. If this one enlarges (and I can't tell until I hit the Publish key) then you'll probably find that with this one, there's a real sense of being there.

ed: Glory be, the first one does indeed enlarge ! But not the second. Weird ..... But the second was dragged and dropped. Maybe that's the explanation .... Any ideas, you Blogger techies ?

That's despite the non-designer clothing etc. Some artists just have that knack, would you not agree, of making their pictures forever fresh and immediate ?

There are now at least 5 (and allegedly 6) of these repro' art features in Antibes. There's another just a few feet away which is by Claude Monet (1888, Antibes, effet d'après midi) , and almost identical to the one in my margin display, and from the same series.

Others include the charming and whimsical Raymond Peynet (1985, Les Amoureux aux Remparts), again, strategically sited to reproduce the artist's vantage point, with his behatted delicate-looking shoulder-length hair hero and bride in the foreground. His work, which is perhaps a little dated now ( that clothing again) is displayed in a dedicated museum in the centre of Antibes). And there's a pure town/seascape by Eugène Boudin, 1893, Le Port d'Antibes.

Further along, near where the pétanque is played, there's another by Henri-Edmond Cross , 1908, in pointilliste style, called simply Antibes . I used to be a dab hand myself (literally) in that genre, when marker pens first appeared on the shelves at WH Smith, but my work from that era, done during long and often boring biochemistry lectures, has now been sadly and irrevocably lost.

For the reasons mentioned earlier, I shall hold back from posting all the pictures now. If the present ones "enlarge on demand" then I'll try cautiously adding others later.

All are of the same design: enamelled (?) on to a sturdy lava base. Or maybe the artwork is a modern baked resin. Irrespective, one just hopes it will be spared the attentions of the spray-can vandals, whose handiwork is visible on the neighbouring public safety notices etc. How I wish the media would drop the term "graffiti artist". Anyone who blights the environment does not deserve to be dignified by the term "artist".

How good it is to see this civic pride, in what is admittedly an exceptional location that has captivated artists and vistitors alike for centuries. If Antibes can't get it right, who can ?

One of the things I like about France is the way in which art is integrated into everyday life. One sees it so many different ways - street furniture, such as lamps, fencing, barriers, things that in Britain would be seen as utilitarian, and done in the cheapest way possible.

It's the small details that make all the difference - bevelling an edge here, decorative perforation there, angling instead of boring right angles, out-of-plane alignment of slats, hexagonal setts in retaining walls, and so it goes on. Loving detail, and realization that there's more to life than keeping proletarian noses pressed against grindstones. even if that does ensure a continuing flow of billions into Treasury coffers, occasionally to be spent wisely, but as often as not, squandered upon one misguided pet project after another .

Note a touch of disillusionement with UK politics creeping in there. Beware, there's more of that to come. It 's possibly the imminent coronation of Gordon Brown which has a lot to do with it. I made my views on the brooding hermit of No.11 a while ago in a submission to the Times's debate

I used to think he ought to get out more. Well, now he's out, in Africa, India, promising to underwrite their education and infrastructure problems with UK taxpayers' money.
One hesitates to remind Gordon that charity begins at home. But his munificence with our money will sooner or later rebound on him. How long before we hear the inevitable charges of neocolonialism again ?

Visiting my old haunts in the Home Counties there's a roundabout that's been planted out, but the whole effect is destroyed by a collection of hurdle-like, foot-high advertising signs. They were installed presumably at the behest of the local insurance firm that paid for the so-called enhancement. But why be so crass as to advertise their sponsorship in situ, largely counterproductive in terms of aesthetics ? And why use private money anyway for something so public ? Just to save a miserable fraction of a penny on the rates when vast amounts disappear elsewhere into blackholes, (eg like my index-linked public service pension ) ?

Heathrow Airport is not Britain's greatest national asset, but at least it used to greet one, with a sign over that tunnel entrance (next to where the Concorde mock-up is parked) . The sign "Welcome to Heathrow Airport" disappeared sometime in the aftermath of the Thatcher era, and is now replaced with some smug self-satisfied advertising, again, for some financial services company, like Quickfleece and Partners (Bishopsgate).

Driving up the M1 over Christmas , it was depressing to pass under the same old concrete bridges that were there in my student days, en route to Birmingham on that pre-Honda but nevertheless nippy, BSA motorbike. Except those bridges used to be fresh grey concrete, not pretty, but at least new-looking . Now they are dirty yellow-grey, reminiscent of those wartime pillboxes, some with graffiti old and new. Those mean, penny-pinching bridges, totally devoid of grace or style (unlike the later ones on the M6) , just add to the monotony of having to grind up and down that dreary stretch of highway.

So why don't they replace them ? Where does all the taxpayers' money go, apart from the obvious, like machine-gunning Afghans in their own country. Oh, but one musn't be cynical : you see, they are the wrong kind of Afghans. They're the ones of a traditional mindset who have yet to grasp the subtleties of the western democratic process, like having to be governed by someone you didn't vote for.

But we don't normally go into countries that have what is now referred to in media-talk as an "insurgency campaign" . But this one is special : it's to do with GWB's misdirected and ruinously expensive War on Terror. And it goes without saying that we're expected immediately to spring to America's side. A post-9/11 loyalty test , to stand four square with America, Stars and Stripes fluttering, in her hour, correction, decade (or maybe century ?) of need, because we owe the Americans for coming in on our side in WW2 .

Well, yes, but only after the fall of France and the Low Countries. And only after the Dunkirk evacuation. And only after the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. In fact they waited until after Pearl Harbor, and Japan and Germany's formal declarations of war on the USA. That's when our so-called natural allies suddenly remembered that "special relationship" (if you'll excuse the anachronism, given that the term was not coined until Churchill's post war Fulton speech) .

So Britain became America's springboard for Europe. A kind of offshore aircraft carrier. How convenient. And kindly Uncle Sam gave us long -term loans that allowed us to spread the cost of Anglo-American victory over 60 years (the last instalment having just been paid). No wonder my father had to decline even a few weeks of ruinously expensive home-help in 1951, immediately after my mother died, and my grandmother was subsequently robbed of her retirement. And (back to topic) having to settle for those cheap and nasty bridges on the M1 in 1959.

Special relationship ? The only thing special about it is that we're supposed to be feel privileged and honoured having these back-slapping, arm-twisting , gold-reserve gobbling, long term loan shark -providing , other folks' future-mortgaging cousins as our friends and allies.

Frankly I don't care who wins the next Presidential election. The so-called special relationship will remain what it has always been: a marriage of convenience. America's convenience.

Just think, if we weren't so dewy eyed about the special relationship, we could pull a few battalions out of Afghanistan, and replace all those M1 bridges, and allow the Afghans to decide their own destiny by their own means, even if it meant having the" wrong bunch" in power from time to time.

But from an admittedly hard-nosed military perspective, isn't it a lot easier to let the wrong bunch in, and then target that country's military, all conveniently ensconced in their cosy barracks, than to deal with hit-and-run insurgents, sleeping rough under the stars ?

As for that lost cause called Iraq , well, I just hope the roofs of the US and UK embassies are strong enough to take those helicopters, needed for Saigon style evacuations when the time comes.

Here and there, along the M1, there's been some belated planting of saplings , presumably areas deemed to be environmentally sensitive for one reason or another. It'll be years before a softening effect is achieved, but it will be worth it when it comes. Why is this not more widespread, perhaps as part of a carbon -offsetting project ? But that's a subject on which I have mixed views, certainly different from those voiced on some linked blogs, and one on which I shall be posting shortly. In the mean time, I recommend Anatole Kaletsky's recent tour de force in the Times, which got some backs up, though not mine, as I made clear in some two or three comments.

PS Some may wonder why I have a "meegle" link in the margin, ie Google search for "Dreams and Daemons" . Well, there's some narcissism there , obviously. No sense in denying that. But it's also interesting to observe the new entries, and changes from one day to the next. Thanks to it, I discovered an update in the Guardian's OrganGrinder on Toby Harnden's brush with the wild men of the blogosphere.

More fascinating is the sudden appearance of two posts written weeks ago, one on our "Britannian heritage" the other on the struvite deposit that builds up in loos, often called "limescale" by those keen to sell harsh cleaning agents.

Why those particular posts should have re-surfaced is anyone's guess, but I like to think that at least a handful of folk coming to this blog , following links to my Toby Harnden "scoop" ( in saving to hard drive part of the Telly's blog before they pulled it) roamed around in the archives before moving on.

That was always the intention: to build up some serious content that would always be there, accessible via search engines etc.

I continue to be taunted on Colin Randall's Salut by the intelligent but belligerent citizen/journalist blogger Bill Taylor, a self-confessed wind-up merchant. It's for what he sees as the limited interest in this blog, based on an alleged paucity of comments. Yes, you guessed it. There's history, and it goes way back. And the backbiting continues, despite my abandoning Colin's blog in despair. More about that another day ( if it doesn't stop).

As mentioned before, comments, while generally welcome (provided they are courteous and constructive), are not the be-all and end-all of a blog, certainly not one in its early days.

There is probably no scientific yardstick for measuring the success of a blog, but interlinking with other blogs, as measured by Technorati, is a start. On that criterion, D&D is progressing nicely. Two weeks ago, it had more than a million more highly-ranked (ie linked) blogs. But that is currently down to 340,000, and dipped briefly below 250,000 last week, when the reaction to Toby Harnden's journalist's candour was at its height. Well, thanks Toby ! Your comments may not have done you any favours, given the amount of naivety that's out there about how the dead-tree press operates against deadlines. But you've certainly helped put D&D on the blogosphere map, albeit the equivalent for now of Easter Island. BTW, I know you weren't altogether happy about some of my wording, but the furore seems to have died down now: it's what my grandmother used to call a 9 day wonder.

Monday, January 15, 2007

What Toby Harnden actually said....

ed: Wed 11th April 2007: if you have arrived here from Bryony Gordon's blog ( more correctly, Toby Harnden's comment), then there's a better link. Here's the blog - or rather the incendiary comments it attracted- that the Telegraph later decided to remove. Link to blog

(ed: go to end of post for last update: added Monday Jan 22) .

If you are a return visitor, and simply wish to add a comment, don't waste time scrolling down. Simply click on this green LINK.

Yes, following an email from a clearly beleaguered Toby Harnden this morning, I am pleased to reproduce here a verbatim report of what he filed initially.

(afterthought added Tue Jan 16 am : to avoid giving any wrong impression, I should perhaps add that Toby and I have previously exchanged emails , long before this present business arose. One was briefly mentioned at the end of a previous blog post. In fact, I'm presently toying with the idea of writing a blog post called "We're all journalists now", inasmuch as private citizen bloggers have the ability now to generate secondary news by what they say about journalists and their reporting !)

I may tack something on later as to why this document, so crucial to his reputation, has been slow to surface, and which, up till now, has been difficult to locate (though it has to be said that Toby has not done himself any favours in this respect). But first things first. Here's what the guy said:

ed: Warning: with all the copying and pasting there have been formatting conflicts. Thus the empty box symbols where there should be quotation marks etc. I shall complete the spring-cleaning later...

"SADDAM Hussein will spend his last moments hooded as he is led up the steps to a steel scaffold and a waiting hangman who will order him to stand over a hatch above a 15-foot drop.

The former dictator's final hours will begin with him being transferred from American custody at Camp Cropper outside Baghdad to the aegis of a panel of three of four judges who will tell him of his right to make a will and pen letters to bid farewell to his loved ones.
American officials indicate the hanging could take place at Camp Cropper itself rather than the Iraqi prison complex where about 90 condemned prisoners have met their end since Saddam's regime was toppled. Flying him there by helicopter could prompt an insurgent attack.

According to Iraqi officials, after being given the opportunity to beg forgiveness or confess to his crimes he will be led to a special cell, bare except for floor cushions, where he can pray, read the Koran and drink water as he prepares himself for the end.

He is expected to be dressed in green prison overalls rather than the traditional Arab dishdasha robe he was allowed to wear in prison.

He has already issued a letter to what he still considers to be ' his' people of Iraq.

"I call on you not to hate because hate does not leave space for a person to be fair and it makes you blind and closes all doors of thinking," he wrote. But he added: "Long live jihad and the mujahedeen."

At the appointed time, a black cone-shaped hood will be placed on his head and will be taken to the gallows chamber by several Iraqi guards. Iraqi and American officials were due to be witnesses and the hanging was to be videotaped. It was unclear when, if ever, the footage would be broadcast.

Once on the scaffold, the hangman will place a noose made of one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick hemp rope around Saddam's neck before pulling two heavy levers that will pull the trap door open.

The clang of the metal door will be accompanied by a clunk as the weight of the tyrant's body pulls the rope tight, breaking his neck and killing him instantaneously.

A doctor will then listen for a heartbeat to establish that the former president is dead before his corpse is lowered, covered with a white cloth and taken away.

A degree of American supervision is likely because not all Iraqi hangings have gone smoothly. In September, when the 13th or 27 condemned men were hung the rope snapped and the prisoner landed on the concrete floor and shouted: "God saved me!"

He lay on the ground praying and shouting while prison guards and the hangman discussed whether there had been divine intervention and the execution should be halted.
Eventually, they agreed that a new rope should be rigged and the man was dragged wailing up the steps once again. The second time, the rope held.

It is not known where Saddam's body will be buried. One possibility is beside his sons Uday and Qusay, who were laid to rest in the family's tribal cemetery near Tikrit after they were killed in an American military raid in July 2003.

Iraqi officials contemplated holding a public hanging at the Shaab sports arena in Baghdad, allowing tens of thousands of Iraqis to attend and satisfying the public demand for revenge as well as certainty that the mass murderer's demise was final.

But such an event would be extremely vulnerable to attack by Sunni insurgents who still swear fealty to Saddam as the rightful president of Iraq. American officials also believed it would inflame the Muslim world and prompt unfavourable comparisons with the Taliban regime of Afghanistan.

When the hood is placed over his head, it will be the fist time Saddam has experienced darkness for many months. His whitewashed cell at Camp Cropper has been kept lighted 24 hours a day so that he can be monitored via the video cameras placed in each corner. Each wall of the cell measures 15 feet � the length of the rope from which he will hang.

Known as prisoner HVD-1 � High Value Detainee One � Saddam has slept on a narrow metal bed and been allowed to choose from a traditional Arab breakfast of yoghurt, toast and tea or American cereals.

According to soldiers from the Pennsylvania National Guard who guarded him in 2003 and 2004, Raisin Bran Crunch was his favourite cereal but he objected to the sickly sweet Froot Loops."

Toby Harnden at 10 Jan 2007 18:55

Posted to the Guardian's Organ Grinder (see Links at right : "Quick Escape Routes") by "Handyblogman "on January 12, 2007 05:28 PM.

Update Monday 08:00 London time : Read what Stephen Glover of the Independent had to say on the subject (whose sub has clearly decided not to compete for Best Headline 2007 award ) :

Not so much a case of Harnden as hard done by

Extraordinary - and very damaging - items appeared last week in diary columns about Toby Harnden, The Daily Telegraph's US editor, who is based in Washington. They claimed that Mr Harnden had written a blog confessing that he wrote a story about Saddam Hussein's hanging (published in the issue of 30 December) before he was hanged.

In something of a panic, The Telegraph has reacted to the Media Guardian story by removing Mr Harnden's "confessional" blog, as well as comments from readers, some of them vituperative, from its website.

Case proven? I don't believe so. The original piece is very clearly written before Saddam's death. It begins: "Saddam Hussein will spend the last moments of his life hooded as he is led to a steel scaffold where a hangman waits with a noose." The word "will" appears very often in the piece. He "will be led to a cell". He "will be led along a corridor".

Why, then, did Mr Harnden (whom I have met once, but do not know) half-apologise in his blog for this story, which was plainly written before the event? Perhaps he is a man of honour, and regretted saying that Saddam would be hooded, which he was not. But for the most part it was an accurate forecast of what happened at 3am our time on the morning of 30 December. Final editions of The Daily Telegraph carried the news that Saddam was dead, with Mr Harnden's name as one of two above the story.

Mr Harnden's error was to write in his blog that the first story was not his "finest hour". This suggested that he had done something of which he might have cause to feel ashamed. He hadn't. Unfortunately, by removing the blog The Telegraph has added credence to the idea that he had. "

Update Monday 10:05 (London)

Haven't we been here before with those Telegraph bloggers, and the near-invisibility of their so-called 'back-up' editors when things go wrong ? I refer to the occasion back at the end of August when Melissa Whitworth, the New York-based Society blogger, found herself in a predicament that now seems uncannily similar to that of Toby Harnden's.

It's what she described at the time as "A Terrible Misunderstanding", and probably won't thank me for reminding her of it. But if I tell her that the "James " in the comments who sprung quickly to her defence was a pseudonym for this blogger, then she'll understand perhaps that defending journalists is not something that I normally do for a living: it's a response to seeing a fellow human being instantly pre-judged and found guilty on the basis of unproven charges - which in in Melissa's case were indeed shown quickly to be spurious, but not before a lot of damage had been done, for some weeks at least, to her credentials.

(In passing, some of you reading this may wonder why a blogger feels the need occasionally to adopt a pseudonym. If you read that Whitworth thread carefully, especially towards the end, then you will get a clue. Switching, if only temporarily, to a pseudonym is a defence against a certain type of PITB that stalks the blogosphere, about which nothing has yet been done - at least not on the Telegraph, where there's no simple facility for reporting abuse. Nuff said on that score for now. )

Anyway, here, from recollection, is what happened: (details to follow)

Update Monday 14: 30

It began we are told with Melissa being sent a spoof "blog". It had been written by Claire Zulkey, she of the mischievous sense of humour, and was a send-up of an all-too familiar example of the blogging genre - rambling, aimless, unstructured- we've all met it (indeed, some of us have even contributed to it on off-days).

Anyway, she thought her colleagues in London would be amused, and forwarded it. I don't suppose we'll ever know how it happened - since London has maintained a grim silence - but it was assumed to be her blog post for that week, and given the house-style treatment , eg the usual eye-catching graphic etc. But Zulkey's original title "Five Signs Your Blog Post is Going Horribly Wrong" was dispensed with. In its place went "On blogging and cucumbers". Which is a rather like replacing a Stop sign with one that reads "Expect Some Light Traffic".

Shortly after "Cucumbers" appeared, some aghast individuals ( including myself) who had taken it at face value began bemoaning the terminal state of popular culture in the USA. I posted a comment to the effect that Melissa had been too long in New York, and had "gone native" in the worst sense of the term.

But things suddenly took a differerent and sinister turn. The word plagiarism began to appear on American blogs and websites, and amazingly ( in retrospect) the charges began to appear on Melissa's own blog.

Was this the Brave New World of MSM blogging, one wondered, where one's alleged sins not only find one out, but result in a welter of recrimination appearing under one's own byline? In the meantime, all that individual could do was watch helplessly from the sidelines, wondering whose side their London colleagues were on, and how long their savings would cover rent or mortgage repayments. Thinks: I'm starting to get into my stride: maybe I should start a Society for the Protection of Ethically-Impugned Journalists. I think I've got at least one subscription so far.

Anyway, to end this story, Melissa's "Cucumber" blog post suddenly disappeared from our screens (yes, we've been there before) and in its place came her brief apology, under the title
" A Terrible Misunderstanding " explaining how something she had intended as an office joke had terribly misfired.

Some of us accepted that immediately. There was no other rational explanation. Surely no-one, least of all an on-line journalist, would imagine that 3000 miles of ocean would allow them to get away with plagiarism on the internet. But other less -charitable souls refused to accept M's apology, leaving me to wonder about the mental state of that fringe of Internet users which always looks for, and finds the Dark Side.

Why am I relating the story of Melissa's Grey August, when it's Toby's Black January that is the topic of the day? Because I think there are some close parallels between the two that need to be explored, in particular the fact that in both cases the journalist has been left to fend for themselves. Curiously, the only visible gesture on the part of the editorial bosses has been to withdraw the post, without explanation, serving only to increase the fever of speculation.
Why this reticence to spring to the defence of their staff, especially given their high-profile, and consequent vulnerability ?

Well, time to break off and raid what's left of the Christmas goodies (that's my prerogative, since no one pays me to write). But expect another free-wheeling instalment later, possibly about 20.00 hours London time.

Update: 20.15 London time.

Yes, isn't it odd how the tailored shirts at the Telly's Victoria/Canary Wharf suddenly go to ground whenever their protegés find themselves in the firing line ? Isn't it a given of good management that while you expect high standards from your staff, you rally to their side when things go wrong ( as they tend to, from time to time, even in the best run organizations).

And you really didn't need a Nobel prize in rocket science to forsee that signing up your liveliest journalists to the blogging A-team was a risky step into the unknown, full of challenge, adventure, excitement, all those things, but equally fraught with peril.

Any reasonably sentient organization would have put in place a contingency plan for dealing with pear-shaped scenarios.

By the same token, any seasoned observer/reporter of this wicked old world of ours would have appreciated the need for safeguards before signing up to so risky an enterprise, putting their reputations and careers on the line .

So where are the safeguards, they should have asked ? Where are the lifeboats if our magnificent Titanic-full of nouveau blogging celebrities should suddenly up-end ?
Strange, isn't it, how that most hard-nosed of professions should have allowed itself to be sweet-talked into taking so exposed position in the blogosphere, where there are no rules, no respect.
Especially when all you have behind you, at least where the Telly is concerned, is a passive referee, at peace with the world, prepared to avert his or her rose-tinted gaze away from one foul after another, operating on the precept that the key imperative is for the punter to go home feeling they have seen a good fight, with real blood, and had value for money. Welcome to the 21st century.

Update Tue 16 Jan 08:15 The splendid Technorati trawl that runs day and night in the background has just thrown up a blog called The Goss, with a real pro look about it. Here's what it has to say that strikes a chord or two with this private citizen blogger:

Telegraph US editor Toby Harnden better still have that badass flak jacket. He's enjoying a flurry of abuse after an article he filed about Saddam Hussein's execution appeared to describe details of the scene that never happened -- particularly, Saddam wearing a hood on the gallows. After the obvious inaccuracies in the December 29 article were called out by readers, Harnden obtusely admitted on his Telegraph-sanctioned blog that the article had not been his "finest hour." This pseudo-admission of kinda-guilt inspired a bloggy uproar among the gotcha crowd, which in turn caused the Telegraph to panic and yank Harnden's blog entirely. But it appears the real culprit in this teapot-tempest might be Harnden's editors.
The Dreams and Daemons blog claims that Harnden sent them a
copy of the story as originally filed. It's written in journalistic future tense, i.e. "Saddam Hussein will spend his last moments hooded" etc. The barely unstated accusation turns round on Telegraph editorial, making it seem as though they rehabbed Harnden's article into authoritative past tense, complete with inaccurate headline ("Humiliated and hooded, the tyrant faces his fate on the steel scaffold"). Rather than answer resulting questions, the Telegraph instead issued a memo instructing staff not to blog about the paper or their jobs. Unfortunate memo phraseology alert: "Think carefully before blogging about journalistic 'tricks of the trade'." It's a little gauche to file a forward-looking "this will happen thus" story just to beat a deadline, but it's naive to think yanking an "incriminating" in-house blog post looks any less contemptible than yanking the actual news story that spawned it."

ed: Anyone know what the etiquette is re reproducing someone else's blog post on one's site ? Should one merely provide a link, or restrict oneself to quoting selectively ?

More to follow

Comments are always welcome, but I realise that is not easy when the system is set up to accept Registered users only. So, for an experimental period, the block will be lifted, as of now, but if the Tedious Time-Waster comes back, then regretfully it will have to be reinstated.

Latest update ( Jan 16th 13:30): amazing, isn't it, how these howling dust storms erupt in the blogosphere, and a day or two later, it's as if nothing had happened.
Toby Harnden is now blogging away again on the Telly about whether Condi Rice is being written out of the script as a possible contender for the Presidency on what seems to be sexist grounds, although given Laura Bush's comments, patrician grounds would seem a more apt description.
I myself have posted a contribution to that thread entitled "Bushocracy". Ugly word for an even uglier scenario: one Bush after another pops up on the time-line creating a kind of stroboscopic Royal family.

Ardent followers of this blog (my wife mainly) will know that I announced before Christmas an intention to ration future posts here. It was with a view to escaping a self-imposed treadmill, and getting some other projects underway.

Just a quick word, then, about the immediate future, to spare you unnecessary returns to this site. There will be a potboiler tomorrow about today's recent artistic additions to the promenade at Antibes, which I spotted this morning, and photographed.

But the real effort will go into Friday's post, probaby to be entitled : "The so-called obesity epidemic". The idea came to me as I strolled along that promenade this morning, enjoying what must be one of the planet's most stunning panoramas.
Whenever I'm short of ideas, I walk the walk, and it has never once let me down. And I mean never. Ideas (whether good or bad) just start tumbling out when I look across that Baie des Anges towards Nice, against that stupendous winter alpine backdrop. So remember that, all you budding writers: Antibes works better than any mood-enhancing substances - and no after-effects either.

It's not just the view that put "obesity" into my head. It's the comments at the end of this post from an individual who initially, at any rate, put me on the defensive (apologies for the coarseness) but who finally helped my thoughts to crystallise on the question of obesity. Some of those, to appear here in "print" , are likely to be controversial. Please return Friday.

Update: Friday Jan 19. See Jemima Kiss on Organgrinder on the strange, some might say, wooden response by Canary Wharf/ Victoria (wherever) to Toby Harnden's difficulties.
Here's what I added to the Comments thread:
"What's curious about the whole Harnden business is the behaviour of the Telegraph's moderators, which mirrors precisely what happened last August when Melissa Whitworth found herself in a similar situation.
What makes the parallels even closer is that in both cases, it would appear that it was the editorial team in London who failed to spot the little giveaway lights that warned of an approaching express train. But that's by the way. It's what followed that matters.
In both cases, the moderators then allowed the most defamatory comments to appear on the journalists' own blog, effectively hanging them out to dry. They then set alarm bells ringing across the blogosphere by the sudden withdrawal of the blog. But neither Shane Richmond nor Ceri Radford stepped in with any word of explanation:it was left to the journalist to do their own explaining on their next blog post as best they could. Melissa went for the direct approach (sorry folks, there's been a bit of a cockup, or words to that effect). Toby seems to be adopting a more subtle approach by choosing topics, whether by design or accident, I wouldn't care to say, that have a whiff of allegory.
Somewhere recently I read an industry-insider comment to the effect that it's high time that Shane Richmond took a leaf from the BBC and created an Editors's blog to do the firefighting. His own IT blogs are cutting edge and informative, but he could easily delegate that and start to look less like a techie, more like a manager, to us outsiders. Personally if I were a Telly blogger I'd be demanding it right now. Or is it the Telegraph's policy to let its bloggers carry the can whenever something goes wrong ?

Thanks, by the way, for the credit in your intro. "


Colin Randall has also alluded briefly to the Toby Harnden furore in his latest (Jan 18) post, but my own difficulties with one of the two resident rottweilers have now rather taken centre stage. So much so, that as a change of plan ( see above) my next post will catalogue my own Melissa Whitworth/Toby Harnden experience at the hands of journalist/citizen blogger Bill Taylor (Toronto Star).

The difference is that MW's and TH's torment lasted just a few days . In my case, I've been used as an Aunt Sally on and off for for several months now, and this goes on whether I'm contributing to the blog or not. So advice from well-wishers to simply walk away does not wash. I've tried it (since before Christmas) and still the snide remarks continue.

I didn't plan or intend for this blog to be used for getting back at people. But Bill Taylor has now been asked several times to retract his latest insinuations that I am a liar, and a serial liar to boot. Even in the no-holds barred blogosphere, that kind of slight on one's character cannot be shrugged off, not when one operates under one's real name . The whole question of Internet free speech/character defamation will be the subject of my next post.

Update Saturday Jan 20 09:31 London time ; 03:31 Ontario (Eastern Standard)time

This post has been up for some time now. Some of you may be thinking it's time to tackle a new topic. Indeed, yes, I could not agree more. But the recent intervention by one "Anne Gilbert", a regular on Colin Randall's blogs, and occasional one here, has created a bit of a side-show. But it's one that impinges on the serious matter alluded to in yesterday's update, namely character attacks. For latest developments, go the end of my comments section here, and then to the comments on Salut, presently standing at 4, the last two of which I have just added.

So what's this guy burbling on about, you might well ask ? Well, there's a lot more to "Anne Gilbert" than meets the eye. But then we have suspected as much for some months now .......

Update Jan 22nd Toby has put up a new post in the Telegraph entitled "Hillary Dreams".
I sent the following at 13:51 today, London time:

It begins with a verbatim quote of Toby's introduction (bolded):

"Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton announced she was pregnant. After the press conference, I rushed over and quizzed her about her progeny's sex........ "

Oh my, you do like to live life on the edge, don't you Mr.Harnden ?

Assuming, that is, you're aware that Technorati and the other feeds give just the opening words of a blog as a taster.

As I'm sure you are !


What's the bet that it won't appear ?

One can't but help wonder if Toby's not trying to pack his midlife crisis into a couple of weeks, just to get it out of the way ..........

Update 15:15 London time: my comment has just appeared !