Sunday, 12 April 2009

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Some solutions-focused beaconicity from SDLP

Just checking out the SDLP New Priorities document.

It’s a curious creature. Like a platypus. And interestingly, just like a platypus, the SDLP economic paper provokes the same question:

‘How could it happen and who is responsible?’

In the case of the platypus, people like Mervyn Storey blame God. In the case of the SDLP position paper on the depressed economic situation, people like Mark Durkan but they’re going to blame him anyway.

As a rule, you know you’re in the Northern Territory when you see the Uluru and Kata Tjuta rock formations rising majestically out of ancient desert sands sacred to Aboriginal peoples.

And as a rule, you know you’re in Mark Durkan territory when you see clunky, malformed syntax impersonating bad poetry and desperately craving rhythm:

Doing nothing is not an option. More jobs, more houses, more nurses mean a stronger economy.

Living organisms are at the heart of the cheese making process. You could find that out, either by reading (as I often do) the essential, or... by watching the living organism Mark Durkan produce cheese like this:

Throughout our history, where there have been problems the SDLP has been close by to offer solutions. Some others do problems. We do solutions.

SDLP – purveyors in finest beaconicity and economy-focused solutions. It’s all a bit 1990s.

But we soon learn the top priority from the paper:

1. We must stimulate economic activity protecting businesses and jobs from the impacts of the recession.

Hooray! Then the paper goes on to list the following demands:

The Construction Sector

Reconfigure the government’s capital investment strategy to prioritise those areas of planned capital expenditure that have a high labour content.

Ensure that the Capital Programme gets delivered on time.

Bring construction projects forward.


Developing our Tourism Potential

Tourism Marketing –directed to Tourism Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board using the pull of an affordable currency zone.

Tourism Product Development through the physical development of the signature projects.

Hooray! Then the paper goes to suggest:

Harbour Commission voluntarily fund Titanic Signature Project from cash reserves freeing up allocated Executive funds.

Hoor... eh? So the SDLP want to cut government funding on the Titanic Project? But hang on, according to one MLA, this is the kind of project to be welcomed because it will:

  1. create construction jobs
  2. alleviate the worst effects of the current economic crisis
  3. benefit our local tourism.

Isn’t that right, Alastair McDonnell! The SDLP deputy leader so thoroughly backed the Executive’s spending plans last November that he claimed it was ‘good to see our message getting through’. So it must be bad to see that the SDLP’s message is no longer getting through to the SDLP, right Alastair?

But won’t the Titanic Project’s creating hundreds of jobs for the construction sector and helping to developing our tourism potential meet the stated aims of the SDLP paper? Surely this would mitigate the worst impacts of the recession by reordering public expenditure to achieve maximum short term stimulus to the local economy (page 3)? No?

Enough talk. This is my initial take on all this: dumb courage.

Great to see someone putting substantial proposals into the public domain. But why include stuff like the above and potentially controversial proposals on Sunday opening for bookies when it will suck attention away from decent and popular proposals (eg. surrounding Assembly costs)?

Their policy people will be busy on Euro manifestos and assembly business. Drafting together a paper of some depth was going to be difficult – which is why it’s got lots of clunky stuff and proposals that just don’t match up. But they’ve started the ball rolling on what constructive, intelligent politics can look like.

So they don’t go down in my estimations for producing this, or even for producing the dumb bits. Going back to the ugly platypus simile (the platypus, not the simile), this ugly jumble of forest and car park fire-sales (which will net little value), PFI schemes for the Housing Exec HQ (anyone told John Dallat) and tired old guff about comfortable old Sir Humphrey may not attract admiring glances from policy wonks. But I’m more struck by the SDLP’s courage of articulating a constructive alternative vision.

So where does this debate go next? How will the SDLP win consensus on the really good bits?

Monday, 30 March 2009

Square peg, round hole...

What does David Ford mean here?

This Burnside/New Century/Goodwin story must have looked like an easy shot to Ford. But alas, he’s taken some disconnected and unrelated information and biffed it all together like it was Play-Doh. D’oh!

There is no guilt of admission, or even guilt by association. In fact there’s no guilt of anything. With the possible exception of Fred the Shred, no one has done anything wrong. What we have is the most amazing contortions from Fordy as he desperately tries to link everyone together. God, it’s like reading the back of the ‘Days of Our Lives’ boxset.

So what’s going on here? Well, for one thing, The Observer has gone on a whistle-stop tour of the theory of six degrees of separation.

  • David Burnside knows Reg Empey.
  • Fred Goodwin might know David Burnside.
  • Therefore Reg Empey must explain Fred’s behaviour.

It then builds the case, not painstakingly, incrementally with evidence - but by great leaps and bounds.

So, here goes: The Tories and the UUP recently agreed to cooperate at the next election. David Burnside has always been in favour of Tory link up. Therefore Tories approach to banking abuse is hypocritical.

So they’re all in on it!

Let’s take this from the top. David Burnside is a PR guy. He’s a PR guy that supplies services to the marketplace. Because the marketplace is kinda big, he'll necessarily represent a wide range of people, organisations and interests. As do a lot of other consultancies.

So here comes Fred Goodwin. No one would deny that he is clearly in need of some professional advice. So he is in the market for a PR company. And, erm, that’s it.

David Ford slams the relationship that has yet to be confirmed and suggests Burnside’s work as a private individual – whatever it actually might be (as there’s no hint from the story) – reveals hypocrisy behind the “high-profile stand that the Tories have taken against abuse of the banking system".

But surely it doesn’t? In fact it has nothing to do with the Tories or anyone else for that matter. Explain yourself Fordy!

He explains: "Mr Burnside played a key role in bringing the Tories and the UUP together. So perhaps it's as well that he is standing down from the Assembly."

So in the political sphere, and for a period of some considerable time, Burnside has argued for the UUP and the Tories to work together. In the business sphere, and within just the past number of months, Burnside may represent Fred Goodwin. So why does he need to stand down from the Assembly?

Addressing the UUP leader, Ford said: "Perhaps Sir Reg should be clarifying the Ulster Unionist position on the behaviour of those associated with the RBS, given the bank's ownership of the Ulster Bank.

"The Ulster Bank has behaved completely honourably but it was plunged into danger by the behaviour of the likes of Goodwin and others."

Why does David Burnside’s refusal to deny that Fred Goodwin is a client in his private consultancy present complications or implicate the UUP Leader in explaining Fred’s behaviour or Party policy? So how many filters should be applied to business development at New Century, and how many statements like this need to be issued for a position to be considered clear? This particular thread to the Fred Goodwin story lies beyond what any right-thinking person might expect to lie within the competence of the UUP (and the Tory Party for that matter).

The fact is that this story is recycled. This particular piece of churnalism could have come from this particular diary piece in The Daily Mail. Should McDonald now go to Rupert Murdock, as Phil Hall's former boss, and suggest News International clarifies its position on Fred Goodwin?

McDonald has a story, but without confirmation or meaty quotes from main players he’s got a flat, speculative one that's at least three weeks old. So to lend it all some currency and spark he tries kindling a political row between 2 rivals in South Antrim. Understandable, but it's just a bit desperate and forced. And from David Ford's point of view, this all serves to illustrate how some ‘media opportunities’ should be politely declined.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Chuck Norris fights insomnia!

Some people like to counter insomnia with warm milk and a banana. Me? I like to combat my insomnia with Chuck Norris!

So here goes: my definitive Top 10 Chuck Norris-isms...
  1. Chuck Norris once had a bachelor party. He ate the entire Cake before they could tell him there was a stripper in it.
  2. If you can see Chuck Norris, he can see you. If you can’t see Chuck Norris you may be only seconds away from death.
  3. The reason newborn babies cry is because they know they have just entered a world with Chuck Norris.
  4. Chuck Norris' calendar goes straight from March 31st to April 2nd; no one fools Chuck Norris.
  5. Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
  6. Chuck Norris is the only man who has, literally, beaten the odds. With his fists.
  7. Chuck Norris is not Politically Correct. He is just Correct. Always.
  8. Death once had a near-Chuck-Norris experience.
  9. If you have five dollars and Chuck Norris has five dollars, Chuck Norris has more money than you.
  10. Superman owns a pair of Chuck Norris pajamas.

Right. That'll be me off to bed then...

How deep is your love?

Jeez, the years haven't been kind to ol' Barry Gibb. Check him out at that link, then come back here and look at the photo below (... if you're not humming How Deep is Your Love? softly while you look at this photo it means you don't love him like I do).

So altogether now!! Ta-ada-dah-wacka-wacka-How-deep-is-your-love-ta-dah-dah-ta... etc

PS. Oh and in case you missed it, here's an invasive down-the-front-shot of the nice Kate Moss who stupidly got into a car and ceded the advantage of height to paparazzi. But who in the post-Diana era of self-regulation would encourage the paps to take such modesty-revealing pics by paying out wads of cash for same?

Step forward family newspaper and great defender of traditional British values... The Daily Mail! I think this goes beyond the cheeky snap into something more prosaic.

PPS. Or perhaps there really is nothing more British than a 'Coor blimey Missus' ganders at a young lady's Bristols.

Napoleon said we were 'a nation of shopkeepers'. Even then I suspect those shops were thoroughly well stocked with gentlemen's pamphlets. The Daily Mail has clearly disembarked the newsstands and is making a dashing assault on the commanding heights of pornography's last bastion amid the upper-shelves. ABC figures will tell us if its a good thing or not (ie. a desperate ends-justifying-the-means ploy that paid off).

Thank you Wired... thank you

It's the newsstory intro that we prayed for, but never truly believed could happen.

*clears throat* According to Wired *drumroll*:

Huge news for real-life ray guns: Electric lasers have hit battlefield strength for the first time -- paving the way for energy weapons to go to war.

Great! Lasers are now over the 100-kilowatt threshold for weapons grade awesomeness! Then that must mean I can go git me a Star Wars-style blaster and go git some! Right, Noah?

That much power won't get you a Star Wars-style blaster.

Well that's f&^%$£g useless then, isn't it? Bah. Shouldn't have got my hopes up. After all, could anything really top CNN's Stars-Wars-style-anti-mosquito-blasters-mounted-to-the-tops-of-lampposts-in-African-villages-story?

This, remains for me, the quote of the decade. Dr Jordin Kate, the man who invented the Stars Wars anti-mosquito laser defence system, said:

There is no such thing as a good mosquito

True. No arguments there Dr Evil, sorry, Dr Kate. (And is 'Dr Kate' pronounced like the girl's name or as in the martial art - Karate? Can the man who harnessed the terrible lethality of the laser blaster really be named after a girl? For the sake of clarity, 'et's just call him Dr Jordin Karate.)

Ah well. Best to contemplate the awesome destructive power of weapons grade lasers with nice a cuppa tea and a sit down. Oh yes...

Has it been that long?

And I only nipped out for a pint of milk. Tsk.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

‘Stops’ and search at Stormont shocker!

Staff at Bobballs are admirers of power-sharing. Devolved government should be about trust. Yes, it’s about building consensus and going the extra mile to make accommodations. It’s about conducting open dialogue in an environment that promotes mutual exchange...

... oh, and it’s also about having officials following a predetermined route of ‘stops’ to inspect your room every hour of the day to see what people are doing!

That’s according to a strangely imperious internal admin email that’s circulating around Stormont at the moment. Things are getting a bit intense on the hill. Email as below...


Strategic Accommodation Review
You will be aware that Properties Directorate have begun a strategic review of the accommodation needs of the Assembly. The space utilisation study will begin on Wednesday 25th February and continue until 10th March 2009. The study will look at the working life of the organisation following a predetermined route of 'stops' to look at rooms. Observers will walk the route and check rooms every hour (sic) during the 10 days. An information sheet giving further details of the study can be found by clicking on the link below

Observers will be as unobtrusive as possible and will knock before entering a room.

Information about the review will be updated regularly on AssISt but if you require further details please speak to your directorate/business area representative on the steering group or contact David Lynn on 21346.

Issued on behalf of Properties Directorate

So the plan is, in effect, to have civil servants walk around in circles for 10 days?

Stern officials with clipboards roaming the maze of administrative corridors – this has got a kind of Kafka-eqsue tinge to it. And I love the Birt-speak murkiness of it as well: ‘Space utilisation study’ (human translation: ‘A Big Hoak!’)

But can someone tell us why this intensive/invasive approach is necessary? What are they looking for? But, more importantly, what are the costs are behind this ‘space utilisation study’?
How many man hours are to be expended by civil servants on walking around in circles for 10 days? And what is the opportunity cost of having them employed doing this – or in other words, are there no actual jobs that these guys could be doing which will now be left undone while they perform the essential task of knocking on doors every hour?
Sadly we can’t access the AssIST links as these are from the Assembly intranet – but I’m sure someone in the building could enlighten us.
In fairness, the poor gits who get sent off to walk around Stormont for 10 days would probably want to be better employed. Is this really the best, most efficient use of resources? Is this really great management? I doubt it on the basis of this email.
But, of course, we accept there’s more information to which we’re unsighted. Perhaps there’s a perfectly rational explanation for what looks like an old-fashioned case of wastage and logic-bending Sir Humphrey-ism?
PS. This job description offers details on where the directorate fits into things. [And I can't bear the way blogger flat out refuses to format posts properly. There ought to be lots of pleasing par breaks in the above, but darn it if blogger won't play ball...]

Monday, 23 February 2009

When lot'sa dough goes into the pizza...

Haven't had a chance to flick through the Irish News yet, but I see from the Press Gazette that the paper will have to stump up £25k to cover its legal bill despite having won an appeal in a libel trial stemming from a restaurant review it published almost a decade ago.

Yes, the Irish News should be lauded for fighting and defeating a writ which could have had such a detrimental effect on newspaper and free speech.

But not awarding costs to the Irish News creates a thorny issue, surely. Could a Mourne Observer or Fermanagh Herald afford to defend such a case if the best case scenario (being right!) results in serious financial losses?

No sum is insignificant in these times of wilting advertising spending. And more costs could be coming downstream at a retrial.

I trust the £25k costs won't effect the freelance budget in there. Would be a shame if any part of journalism (jobs!) suffers over this case.

One thing's for sure though. The guy behind the libel writ has done more harm to his own business that the original article could ever possibly have created. Almost 10 years on and the press are still carrying details of the poor meal Ms Workman felt she was served up at this restaurant. Ho hum.

Surely Mr Convery must be being advised to step away, save his money and not risk his reputation still further.


Another week and another comedy triumph from our super-soaraway Ballymena Times.

The paper is in pun-tastic form this week with the story of deviants who helped themselves to some footwear from a local store.

First up, the headline:

Cowboy thieves ride out of town with ladies boots
Then the pic alongside to illustrate aforementioned footwear and... WHAMMY! Here comes the caption!

Cowboy boots WALK from Ballymena shop (BT's capitals)

It's gone a bit Spagh Western, and bit 'Good the Bad etc' - so altogether now: Aaiii-aaiii-aaah-whah-whah-whah!

Lassie go home...

Here Lassie, here boy! What's that Lassie?

Barking, occasional yelp, slurping.

The Alliance Party and UUP take their competition for votes to new heights and Sean Neeson and Dermot Nesbitt have been caught slugging it out?

Barking, occasional yelp, slurping.

What's that boy?

Barking, occasional yelp, barking, slurping, slurping.

Only the Belfast Telegraph have got the incredible inside scoop?


Show me the headline Lassie, go on boy!
Jeez, hat-tip there Lassie! Great spot! Let's tell everyone...

Growling, occasional yelp, phutt.

Wait, hang on...

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Twitter wars!

Two among the Pantheon of Twittering Olympians are going at each other. Veronica Belmont has been accused by Robert Scoble of chucking filthy lucre at Twitter organisers so as to get into the recommended users section of the site. (The Tech News Blog has the story.)

Maybe, maybe not. Or maybe Scoble is making a point to Twitter organiser's that he's a big player and deserves a seat at the top table alongside, erm, Britney Spears, Tony Robbins and Bobballs! All right, not Bobballs...

Seconds out, Round Two!

Japan really knows how to polish a turd...

Way to go Times Online for this revelation!
You know the economy has gone down the pan when our crap is worth its weight in gold.
Great article!