Stormont on the verge of collapse

January 10th, 2017

I've been nervous about Northern Ireland for a while but seeing how badly that just went, I think things could be about to get a lot worse. The Conservatives have just confirmed they lack interest, ability or awareness of basic facts to resolve the Northern Irish political crisis. With Northern Ireland already facing uncertainty over border with Republic after Brexit, we're now in a very worrying period of instability.

A report from Siobhan Fenton.

Back at Number One

January 8th, 2017

Top of the Pops from New Year's Eve 2016. Tom Odell performs Silhouette at his electric piano, with a backing band (and the string section miming on a remote stage). Later in the song, Tom moves out into the main crowd. With slightly better shot direction (no shots of the drum mechanism, purlease) this could be epic.

(More: Great performances from Alan Walker and Zara Larsson, and Nathan Sykes advances his case for the Eurovision Song Contest.)

Louisa Johnson does Tears. A performance with Clean Bandit, which we suspect would have had them namechecked, except they're back to number one. Rockabye comes in with a caption, and it's a repeat from last week.

The Year of Silos and Wreckoning: Correspondents Look Ahead to 2016

December 28th, 2016

Every year, the BBC's international correspondents try to predict what will happen in the coming year. Every year, we look back at the prognostications, and see what they got wrong, and if they got anything right.

What will 2016 be remembered for? Bridget Kendall said a woman would be UN Secretary-General. Wrong. Lyse Doucet called "the year of wreckoning", but from her optimistic tone, it may have been "reckoning". ISIL to lose territory, she reckoned, picking up a point.

James Robbins saw "a year of sound and fury signifying little"; a very bad year for the poor, a good year for the haves. Jon Sopell prophecised slow progress over Syria, as ISIL fell apart under its own uselessness.

(More: So-Called Islamic State, Afghanistan, the Year of Silos, EU referendum, Yankee election, oil prices, and artificial intelligence.)

We're going to give the win to Bridget Kendall, primarily because specificity is the right approach, and also because it bloody well was a Year of Silos.

Correspondents Look Ahead to 2017 is scheduled to air on Radio 4 at 8pm on Friday 30 December, repeated at 1.10 on New Year's Eve. It's in the World Service at 0900 and 2300 Friday.

It's Still Number Two

December 27th, 2016

Top of the Pops is hosted by Reggie Yates and Ferne Cotton. Again. Neither of them has been on Radio 1 for a couple of years, and frankly we'd rather have Clara Amfo and Greg James and Cel Spellman. Maybe they'd be allowed to lead into Queenie; a news bulletin at 14.50 meant this edition began at 13.50.

Anyway. Louisa Johnson performs So good, her top ten hit from November. Great voice, great song, but the combination doesn't quite work. DNCE have dropped by with Cake by the ocean, a number 4 hit from early summer. Lively performance, the sort of speed we got from Busted in the day, the quiet bit in the middle is used for the afternoon's first glitterfall.

(More: From Louisa Johnson to notorious homophobe James Arthur, via dancing, balladry, bad staging, and worse vocals)

There's no place for the Christmas number one from Rag 'n' Bone Man. We finish with the yuletide number two from Clean Bandit. Rockabye bored the pants off of us by the end of November, but here it is.

Puzzled Pint for October and November 2016

December 19th, 2016

October and November puzzles were linked on the themes of "elections". We're going to take them together, and score as a long set.

(The twelve puzzles range from very good to very bad.)

For the two-month set overall? Third-class puzzles, let down by not caring for the international audience. One month of election puzzles would have been OK, two months is overkill.

The X Factor: a certain bet?

December 10th, 2016

Why you might think twice before betting on ITV's singing show, and what we can draw from Tumblr deserting the format.

BBC Sports Review of the Year awards

December 5th, 2016

Nominations for the BBC Sports Review of the Year Sports Personality of the Year Award are out. Who have the BBC's panel of the great* and good* selected?

Looking at all the nominations, and why they might win

In the words of the citation, which is the sportsperson "whose actions have most captured the public's imagination"? We will confine discussion to those six.

Murray is the man to beat. His two biggest wins – Wmbldn and the season-ending championships – were on the BBC, and it's clear that he's producing superlative athletic performances, week in week out. He's held back because he won this title in 2013, and again in 2015.

Farah and Adams are also unbeaten in their seasons, and neither has won the award before. Both have public profiles, and evidence to say they've inspired others to take up their sport.

Crucially, all three have the media on side. BBC coverage of tennis and athletics, the dead-tree press has an obsession with boxing that Adams can use. Peaty, Storey, Whitlock all suffer from how the media ignore their sports for most of the year.

One Hour With… 102.9 Hot Tomato

November 22nd, 2016

First in a series of brief engagements with stations up and down the Gold Coast radio dial.

(Here's what we heard)

The second half-hour was rambling: they've got a big name who wants to promote something, three big egos "interviewing" him, and the whole segment came across as a disjointed and quite painful mess.

They'd been ramping up the big announcement, made the big announcement, and in the next link they forget about it. Signal to the listener – that's done, we've moved on, nothing more to hear here. If they wanted to keep momentum going, recap the news, throw in some of the stats they've prepared, and then throw forward to the interview in ten minutes.

The music side appeals greatly: these six records were a bit more modern than overnights, still explore the station's depth. The news was enough for a pop station, we felt sufficiently set up for the day. But the presentation wasn't actually much good. We can't grade this above C+.

Choices…

November 2nd, 2016

There's a balance to be struck between careful reconsideration and fighting last year's battles. We reflect on that balance, and on the exceedingly narrow mandate handed by June's referendum.

#lsebrexit

October 22nd, 2016

Some brief words on the LSE's "what the hell do we do now?" conference on 8 October.

Ash Sarkar and Zoe Gardner provided a one-two speech on how borders are futile. That was worth the price of admission. Owen Jones spoke with his usual passion, his usual eloquence, and his usual complete lack of substance.

Lots of politicians gave lots of speeches, long on bluster and anger, lacking in concrete ideas.

It became clear that the meeting was to plot for a socialist nirvana. This blog would rather take tactical steps towards a broad consensus goal, and shift that goal by small and imperceptible increments. The strategy worked well for the isolationists.

Puzzled Pint for September 2016

October 5th, 2016

The theme for September was rats. It produced a solid Second Class set of puzzles, and we found them all enjoyable. No particular weak spots, and a few highlights.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

September 22nd, 2016

Cursed Child. What's it like for people who don't know much about the Harry Potter canon? We'll answer that question. We'll also give some sizable spoilers, so if you don't want to know anything about the production, look away now.

Cursed Child is a "short" story by Jack Thorne. Like any number of fan fictions, it draws on the characters created by JK Rowling. Unlike any other fan fiction, it has been written with input from Rowling.

The story claims to be short. This is not true. It is, in fact, very long. You might think it's a long way to the end of the universe, but that's naught compared to the length of Cursed Child. Across its various parts, the play runs for over five hours.

More: We consider the production from all angles: effects, plot, stagecraft, acting, all the business of show. (2000 words)

Puzzled Pint for August 2016

September 2nd, 2016

Star Trek the theme with puzzles of very mixed quality.

Popular in late 2001

August 19th, 2016

In this half-year: we remember the So Solid Crew, pass judgement on Bob the Builder versus DJ Ötzi, and describe someone as "wants to be Donna Summer, but is more Done Autumn". But who?

With number ones for Roger Sanchez, Robbie Williams, Atomic Kitten, So Solid Crew, Five, Blue, Bob the Builder, DJ Ötzi, Kylie Minogue, Afroman, Westlife, S Club 7, Daniel Bedingfield, Nicole Kidman.

Sixes and sevens

August 18th, 2016

The seven sacraments of Harry Potter, life in a glass jar, punctuation, Romeo + Juliet, the Crass Spectacle, and which way is due up?

Puzzled Pint for July 2016

August 12th, 2016

Secret Societies was the theme; we reckon it was a Third Class set of puzzles, experiments don't always succeed.

Dixie Chicks lit

August 10th, 2016

In today's sixpack:

  • a long history of the Dixie Chicks and their relationship with Dallas.
  • disputing arguments against Irish passports.
  • wedding tips
  • teletext lives
  • sports graphics from 1972
  • a cheap air-conditioner

The New European, same as The Old European?

August 3rd, 2016

Comparing Archant's "pop-up" newspaper against Robert Maxwell's The European of the 1990s.

More Or Less United

July 28th, 2016

"More United", Paddy Ashdown's campaign group, was launched on Andrew Marr's show last weekend.

As we see it, "More Utd" asks candidates to support some milquetoast ideas. Nothing on the sample policy lineup is going to trouble a Sensible candidate from any tradition. Indeed, we can almost say that any candidate supporting these principles is a Sensible candidate, and anyone opposing them is a Silly candidate.

(Behind the cut: Useful contributions from Andrew Hickey, Caron Lindsay, Yellow Submarine, and Nick Barlow.)

Nick Barlow concludes with a "what if" argument,

Let's be prepared to reach out and play a role in building the common ground, instead of standing on the sidelines and complaining that we weren’t included when someone else builds it without us. The old ways of doing politics are dying all around us, and we need to have the courage to try and shape the new.

Stand about while other people speak for us? Down that road lies an unrepresentative group, Labour's problems.

The barrier to entry is low, and the possible gains are great. So this blog's supporting the group, in a nebulous "we support this group" way.

For now, that's all we expect to do.

What is a referendum good for?

July 18th, 2016

Reflecting on Danny Finkelstein's claims that It was simply right to ask people whether they assented and This was a reasonable way to make a difficult decision and A referendum is the right way to decide a narrow constitutional question, but not to determine broader national policy.

We don't believe that all three can be true at once.