Archive for the 'Journalism' Category

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Surfing at 33

There are many reasons why people don’t surf. The biggest is probably that very few people live close to an area of sea that produces waves that can be surfed on. But there are others: it’s bloody hard work; it requires a significant amount of co-ordination; you are guaranteed to take in at least three pints of saltwater; you have to carry around a huge stick.

At the moment, the main reason why I don’t think I’ll be getting on my new surfboard again tomorrow morning is because my ribs are killing me. I forgot how punishing surfing was. I haven’t surfed in four years, not since I lived in the one part of the UK where you can: Cornwall. Exhilarating but exhausting.

Yesterday afternoon at around 4pm though, prodded by my work colleague inquiring what I was doing on my birth-day-off tomorrow, I decided I was finally going to take advantage of living right on a surfing beach. So I called up my landlord (well, building supervisor) who is a surfer dude, got a recommendation, and rode at full pelt to Horizons West on Main St, Santa Monica, where I spent a bloody fortune on a surfboard, lead, wax, wetsuit, board jacket and something else.

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US news rant: the video evidence

I forgot to add that I also found two fantastic video clips that demonstrate the sheer madness of the TV news in the United States.

One shows the mindless self-absorption the media has with itself in such an extraordinary way that it could easily be mistaken for genius satire.


And the other is John Stewart doing what John Stewart does best – despairing but in a very entertaining way.

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US news rant on Guardian comment site

Forgot to say last week that the “US news: utter utter rubbish” rant I wrote a fortnight earlier appeared in a slightly more professional format on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site on Wednesday under the headline: Why TV news in the US is utter rubbish.

The title I sent them was: “Why TV news in the US is utter rubbish (blows big time)”. I still like that, although it is, admittedly, too long. Anyway, I was asked to reprise my original post and so I did by pulling the first person out of it (I *hate* comment pieces with constant “I”, “me” and “my” inclusions – in fact as an editor I would fire anyone that used the word “I” in the first three paragraphs); by adding some examples of the different traits I’d noticed; and by adding a bit on other news options at the end.

It’s not a bad piece. And even though it was swiftly off the front page of the Guardian site, it was the number six most-read piece all through Thursday, dropping down to #7 on Friday, and finally falling off the top ten on Saturday. Not bad considering the competition: John Pilger, Russia and Georgia, and John Edwards being caught with his pants down.

I also got 133 comments on it last time I looked. Hardly any were actually that useful, but then the site option becomes a place for other commenters to argue with one another rather than an extension of an article – such is the Internet way. Alot of other bloggers appeared to agree with my analysis – but then who exactly is going to stand up for the US news stations? They’re so dreadful even the Yanks can’t get patriotic about them.

Anyway, you can read the whole piece in glorious Technicolor here, or put up with my site below:

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Social networking poll result: Wasting time with old friends

I haven’t had a new poll for a very, very long time. So, sort-of inspired by my pseudo rant last week about TV news in the United States, I have knocked up a new one. It’s on the right-hand side and included below.

That means that I need to review the results of the previous poll. An impressive 215 people bothered to vote on the value – or lack of value – that social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and so on, possess.

I posited that I might actually just be wasting both my time and everyone else’s time by using these sites to spread little more that shallow tidbits of my life.

It’s a creeping cancer too – when I wrote the post I despaired at having 26 “friends”. But last week I passed 100 on Facebook, even accidentally making someone I have never known, seen, nor heard of in my life before, my friend temporarily by clicking the wrong button.

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Giles Coren – fantastic twat

Giles Coren - twatA very funny example of journalist ego gone mad is zooming around media circles at the moment. And at the centre of it, designer-stubble dork Giles Coren.

Coren’s not a bad writer and he used to write very funny pieces, but over the past year/two years it was clear his ego was getting out of control and I stopped bothering looking up his work. Well, the Guardian has gone hold of a furious email he sent to the Times’ sub-editors excoriating them for changing his copy in an April restaurant review.

What is so terrificly funny about the email is that the abusive rant is over a single letter. The letter “a” in fact. It’s so ridiculous you could mistake it for sensational satire.

This is an excerpt – but I encourage you to read the full letter:

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US news: utter utter rubbish

I am working from home today which has given me the rare and entirely unsatisfactory opportunity to watch the lunchtime TV news in the United States of America.

People often say that the news in the US is terrible – and it is, it is appalling. But it hit home this lunchtime when I flipped between different news channels while eating lunch. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and god knows how many other channels. And all of it absolutely dreadful. I know for example from listening to the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme first thing this morning that one of the world’s most wanted war criminals Radovan Karadzic was arrested late last night. I also know that a possible huge breakthrough has been made with prostate cancer.

What else do I know from this morning? Well, that India’s government may have survived a vote of no confidence; that Mugabe is talking with the Zimbabwe opposition about possible power-sharing. I know there has been some kind of attack in Israel.

Having watched an hour of lunchtime TV news in the US I know that: there are two US presidential candidates and one of them is abroad at the moment; that people have made video parodies of the two candidates and posted them on the Internet; that a TV news host appeared on a TV chatshow last night; and that someone made a stupid comment about autism on some other TV show.

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My Eclipse email address is now dead

My computer was shifted to Outlook Exchange yesterday with the result that this morning I have had to re-input all my email account passwords to get at my email.

I knew most of the passwords but the more important ones I have very complex passwords for and rely on accessing my domain accounts directly to recover them. I have been able to do this for my personal domains – this one,, for example – and I have tracked down the others. But one has been lost.

I haven’t used Eclipse as an ISP since I left Oxford in October last year, although my email account – – was still running and a number of friends continue to use it. While the account is still live, Eclipse has killed my access to their website so I can’t recover the password. It was a purposefully complex one as well. So, the upshot is that I am killing it off. By my rough estimates, this is the sixth email address I have killed off. Not including those like university and work email addresses that are ended for you when you leave.

I would say that I will keep “” for a very long time into the future, so if people want to be certain of getting me, then kieren [at] that domain is going to be best long-term way forward. So sayonara Eclipse.

iTunes blog post

I wrote a quick 800-word blog post for the Guardian’s Comment is Free site on Sunday on the fact that iTunes has now become the number one music retailer here in the United States.

It felt good to have a bit of a think and a type. I still amaze myself that I buy any iTunes songs at all. And I also bought some CDs for the first time in nearly a year this month – but only because my van only has a CD player at the moment, my iPod radio thing doesn’t work in the van, and Los Angeles radio is absolutely dreadful. Even then though, I hesitated with buying a CD. Now I have to rip the tracks – what a pain.

Digital downloads *are* music from this point on. But because of that iTunes needs to make sure it doesn’t rest on its laurels. Anyway, you can read my blog post on the Comment is Free site here – complete with argumentative and aggressive comments from members of the public who have only read the headline and sub-head.

The US tax system and collective American madness

So I filed my first US tax return yesterday, and it was pretty good in two senses. One, I used this great online tool provided by H&R Block that did it all for me, walked me through, provided useful pointers, calculated the tax and sent it to the IRS within an hour – very impressive. Secondly, and rather wonderfully, I have actually been granted a tax rebate, or refund. And it is a HUGE one – $8,000.

I’m going to put the money aside and into my van and helicopter lessons. But hang for a second. How come the government is *paying me* such a huge sum of money. All the Americans think that this refund – nearly four thousand pounds – is terrific. “Aren’t you lucky?” And it seems that getting a tax refund is a very common event. The systems are all in place and look extremely efficient – a sure sign in government that it happens alot. It seems talking to people as well that many of them actually wait for their refund – even look forward to it – in order to do something special. There is the sense that this is somehow free money. That you’ve lucked out.

Which is quite clearly collective madness. Having a massive refund doesn’t mean I have massive amount of cash to spend – it means I have been hideously over-charged on my taxes through the year. It means I have effectively given the US government a huge interest-free loan. And it means that the systems my company has put in place is taking, completely unnecessarily, more money out of my wage packet than it needs to – a LOT more than it needs to. It means that those months in which I have had to judge how much of my credit card I pay off, and figure out when my wages will appear in my account, have been completely unnecessary.

And yet somehow I am supposed to be overjoyed about this and go spend the money handed back to me on pumping up the failing US economy. Talking of which – another really odd thing. President Bush has given everyone – or appeared to give everyone – $600 direct by simply taking it off their tax bill. Or, if your tax bill is under $600 (which still strikes me as crazy) GIVING people money. I don’t understand – isn’t this direct manipulation of the economy by the government? Doesn’t that go 100 percent against the concept of the free market that is held is such enormous regard here in the United States of America?

Considering this is the most capitalist society on the planet, I simply can’t understand these two interventionist economic policies – holding your money interest-free for a year, and directly injecting funds using the tax system. I may have to read up on this. In the meantime, because I don’t know any better, I will have to simply enjoy the fact I have a big chunk of cash I wasn’t expecting.

Me new camper: fulfilling a 16-year dream

This is a picture of a beautiful 1966 split-screen VW camper can that I have just bought on eBay for $10,000.

Me new camper

I am currently arranging for some mechanics to go check it out, and if it’s all good will head down to Poway, California (near San Diego) to go pick it up possibly this weekend.

What you need to know about the split-screen VW camper van is that it is one of only two cars I have ever really properly desired. The second is the Citroen DS. It made sense to get the camper while I’m living in California because the climate is fantastic for curs not rusting, which means the cost of campers from 1960s is much lower as it hasn’t needed a complete rebuild.

In the next 10 years or so, the only split-screens available will be those lovingly restored (at great expense) by enthusiasts. Anyway, I am fulfilling a dream of nearly 16 years with this camper and I intend to drive it up and down California, checking out the coastline, the vineries north of Los Angeles, and north of San Francisco, the Joshua Tree national park, the Grand Canyon, Tijuana, and whatever else springs to mind.

Anyone that fancies jumping in the back and coming along for the ride, you know where to find me. Plenty of room.