Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Here's a review of part 1 of Rick Stein's journey through Spain, covering the food of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria. Albeit briefly, it seems. And here's where you can watch the program itself, I believe.

Did you know that 85% of the all the emails in the world is spam? And that there are now companies you can pay to ensure Google doesn't track everything you do? Not quite what the early web dreamers had in mind, I guess

In a recent post, I used a word – Band-Aid - which I knew was a trade-mark and which I should have noted, so as to protect the intellectual property of (?)J&J. I mention this because I read today that each of these had lost this protection because of abuse – butterscotch, trampoline, escalator and zipper (or zip in British English). I was only aware of the last.

Here's Pontevedra's latest roundabout, possibly the 100th. I'm pleased to see this emerging as this junction has seen many confusing shapes over the last month or so, as they worked their way toward this outcome. I'm guessing they'll remove all the traffic lights when it's finished, though one can never be too sure. And that's when the accident statistics will rise at this spot.

It'll come as no surprise to anyone with a bank account in Spain – where the only thing free in a bank is the air you breathe – that we rank only behind Italy in the annual cost of an account. In the UK one pays nothing; here one pays an average of 178 euros a year. Well, someone has to fund all those unnecessary branches that blossomed during the bum years. The European average is 111, euros by the way.

For all football lovers, here's something you shouldn't miss. And it might raise a smile for those who hate the sport as well.

Over in the UK, it was the afternoon the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks appeared before a parliamentary committee. Sadly, the proceedings only became interesting when some joker tried to push a custard-pie into the face of Murdoch Senior. They all lived to lie another day. I do mean 'joker', by the way. As he claims to be a comedian.

The ex Labour Leader (”the Welsh Windbag”) Neil Kinnock has reacted to events in the UK by suggesting all the papers should be regulated like the BBC, so that they're all neutral. Or soft Left as would happen in practice. As Daniel Hannan has put it “How depressing to listen to Neil Kinnock, who once saw himself as a British radical, an heir to John Milton and John Wilkes, calmly proposing that the print media should be controlled by the state.”

So it's good to be able to leave you with this article from a well-respected figure of the Left, Austin Mitchell. Who feels that “In their excitement at Rupert Murdoch’s discomfiture, some Lefties are over-reaching badly” and so some perspective is required:-

Every couple of decades the House of Commons goes Hogwarts. The last time was when Margaret Thatcher was driven out. Huge excitement, until John Major emerged as the great anti-climax. The same may happen now, as Rupert Murdoch appears today before Parliament.

I doubt that the stars of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee will get behind his apologies and charm to discover whether Mr Murdoch remains a media genius or is a desperate, failing oldie ready to cut off his arm (or, in the case of the News of the World, some other part of his anatomy) to save his American empire.

Life here at the (anything but) Fun Factory is usually dull duty. A few stars twinkle unseen, the ambitious build personal pedestals, we oldies play Perry Mason upstairs in committees and the chamber is left as a playground for keen new chums who find custard-pie politics satisfying. It becomes exciting when big characters enter our gates, as we get the opportunity to kick around those who have been kicking us for so long.

People in Grimsby are not particularly interested in the hacking issue, except when it involves relatives of the dead or crime victims. They see celebs and politicians as fair game. Hogwarts is excited because revenge is sweet (and rare) and this is a taste of real power.

Everything a deferential nation has deferred to for so long is mired in discredit. The City and the banks blew themselves up; politicians and parties were damned by the expenses scandal. Now the press, which took over Parliament’s role as forum of debate and invigilator of the Executive, has blown itself up. What’s left to respect?

We cannot repair the situation by prolonging this bout of Murdoch- bashing. This overexcitement springs from a hatred of Rupert Murdoch that you find especially on the Labour benches in the Commons. It is as visceral as it is silly. I felt the weight of this when I went to work for Sky. Then it was heightened by the Wapping print dispute, but since then it’s been compounded by Tony Blair’s servility.

I’ve always viewed Mr Murdoch as the pirate king, the great innovator and risk-taker, a good populist ready to take it out on the Poms and their class system and a great supporter of print. Yet now, as his sole surviving admirer, it’s hardly politic to say that, or to mention the pleasure of meeting millionaires at his parties and board lunches, before Tony Blair replaced me as News Corp’s channel of influence into the Labour Party.

I cut short the pleasure of bashing the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority on the Public Accounts Committee last Wednesday to go to the debate on the takeover of Sky because it looked as though all the parties would come together on their pathetic knees to beg Mr Murdoch not to do what we have given up the power to stop him doing.

Excitement has mounted every day since, with further arrests and resignations. Yet it cannot be sustained. The parliamentary select committees are now piling in, in the hope of emulating the grown-up committees of the US Senate. But they are more machines for making noise than for trenchant inquiry.

So we are in for the great anti-climax, rather like Iraq after cheering crowds pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein only to find that there were years of fighting, death and torture ahead. Instead of the prevailing mood of self-congratulation we should seize the moment to strengthen media regulation. My bet is that we won’t, preferring instead to run round like Indians attacking a wagon train.

We need to treat media takeovers as different because they are more important than, say, taking over Cadbury. Plurality must be paramount. We must give Ofcom the power to demand increased British content, check concentrations and create a “fit and proper person” rule; any rule that allows Richard Desmond to own Channel 5 is itself unfit and improper.

Most of all we have to make some amends to the BBC, which was deeply damaged by an impossibly tight licence fee increase. Ed Miliband would do far better to fight to save the BBC than banging on about breaking up the Murdoch empire. Remember, Ed, if you succeed, the first bidder for The Sun will be Mr Desmond and look what he’s done to the Express.

Labour should work with the Lib Dems to seize the opportunity to set our media house in better order and stop this happening again. That job can’t wait for inquiries that will take minutes — and waste years. Nor can it be kicked into the long grass where David Cameron might like it to go.

Rupert Murdoch made his decision when he set out to be an American mogul, part of that small coterie of politically prejudiced, powerful, rich men who are such a drag on American democracy. His fate will be decided in the US, not by us, and by markets, not politicians. Our bleatings and rediscovered virtue are largely irrelevant.

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