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28 February 2007

Deborama's WWW Number 14 - Radio Wrap-up, NPR vs. BBC

So Deborama's WWW has featured two sites from NPR (National Public Radio). I thought I could find some good sites within the vast and lavishly funded BBC empire to give a bit of transatlantic balance, but you know what? I just couldn't. So the website of the week is the homepage for NPR. Compare and contrast with the radio homepage of the BBC. Do you see what I mean?
I don't know what it is about the BBC, but I feel a rant coming on. They have some wonderful shows on radio. DH and I are addicted to The News Quiz, The Now Show and Dead Ringers (which has sadly migrated to TV and pretty much never looked back.) DH loves and I can enjoy the priceless and matchless I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, the source of that wonderful game Mornington Crescent. I am not quite so taken by Just A Minute. But they also have a few features that cause us both to reach screaming for the dial, not the least of which is the Archers. While most people have a fond chuckle about the occult lingo of The Shipping Forecast, and recognise its vital importance to a minority community, the Thought for the Day comes in for rather more cruel yet well-deserved send-up, and the community that it is aimed at becomes ever more a minority each year. Other special-interest shows make no attempt to appeal to a wider audience; Gardener's Question Time springs immediately to mind.
The BBC does not play to their strengths. Perhaps it is part of the "tragedy of the commons", and the need to be all things to all people, when some of those people have regrettably low tastes and expectations. I think their website illustrates the problem very well. It hardly draws you in, does it? If you were not looking for something specific you would click away with a yawn, and if you were looking for something specific, well, good luck. The radio-player features, for podcast, listen-again, etc., are so infamously hard to negotiate that numerous third-party feed sites have sprung up to fill the gap. Their attempts at involving the public are laudable and sometimes innovative - such as the provision of a blog platform called backstage.bbc.co.uk, but since they are dealing with licence fee money here, it is all very over-designed and top-down. Like most outreach efforts in the UK, whether from the government or a quango or a charity, I just find it baffling and pointless. Some of the public-involvement schemes are just ridiculous, as if they were saying, hey, we don't have a British Rush Limbaugh, maybe the BBC can fill that gap! And some of them start out clever but then get beaten to death, like the thousands of Best of British contests.
So let me turn my attention to NPR. National Public Radio has spent the last 26 years of its almost 40 years of life struggling for survival, as its already meagre public funding fluctuated between a trickle and a locked-shut tap, depending on the ill-winds of Capitol Hill. It is the ultimate political football. You might almost say that the BBC has a duty of excellence, so that it will not be used as a morality lesson by the neo-cons about the pernicious influence of public money on the arts and the media. Despite all this, NPR's programming is almost all of an excellent calibre. It is open to the charge of elitism, but most people ignore that, because God knows, intellectual elites have few enough havens in the US as it is. One of the things I have always loved about NPR is its serendipity. This American Life, which I featured last week, is all about serendipity and good story-telling. I knew if I went to the site and clicked on something, I would strike gold and I did. I found this. Again, compare and contrast with the insipid "Thought for the Day" from the BBC. Why do they have to get it so wrong?
And what else has NPR got? Car Talk! (How I miss it.) Hearts of Space. And of course, All Things Considered, the best news programme anywhere ever. From Minnesota Public Radio, two of which have been syndicated by NPR, A Prairie Home Companion, St. Paul Sunday and The Morning Show (another one I miss terribly.) (I see from the MPR website that This American Life is coming to the Twin Cities.)
In addition to its excellent programming, NPR's use of the web really puts the BBC to shame, in all areas except perhaps news coverage, where I cannot fault the BBC at all. But where in the Beeb's vast empire is anything to match the simple but incredibly useful Books page, which I like so much I have added it as a feed on my Google homepage? No, I'm afraid I have to say that NPR wins hands down, delivering so much more with so much less to work with.

27 February 2007

Not at all funny, but weird

Today a man was critically injured by a bull in Rugby town centre. The bull escaped from the cattle market in Rugby and after injuring the man, rampaged through the streets and at one point caused the train station to close down as it scattered passengers waiting on the platform. The injured man is still in critical condition with a head wound.

24 February 2007


I have another post on Deborama's Book Reviews and Store, inspired by a Guardian article on the question of Britain's GLA (greatest living author).

21 February 2007

Deborama's WWW Number 13 - NPR's This American Life

I tell you what, in this fast-paced multi-media plexiverse we inhabit, you have to move fast. I announced last week that I was going to start a run of radio-themed WWWs, and at the time, I was planning to save This American Life for a couple of weeks. But I went to the website, and darn me if it hasn't morphed itself into a TV show! It has not emerged for its close-up yet but is just a month and a bit away from a debut on American public television. I will definitely have to catch it when I am over there.
Oh, and by the way, I have to thank my son Carey for introducing me to TAL; he is a massive fan as evidenced by this old blog post. He says it might make you feel sad, but it made me weep and haunted me for days. Unfortunately, the link to the audio of the episode, "Other People's Mail" from 25 July 1997, does not work, but check out Carey's profile for a permanent link to TAL and you can find it in the archive. Or not. They're all good.)

Iraq in Fragments

I promised another blogger, who was involved somehow in the film documentary, Iraq in Fragments, that I would mention it on my blog; I made this promise months ago so I am a little late. But at the time it was not playing in the UK and now it is.

14 February 2007

Deborama's WWW Number 12 - NPR's Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!

With number 12, Deborama's Wednesday Website of the Week is going to enter into a series of radio-themed website links. Since moving to the UK, I have listened to far more radio than at any time in my life. I came over here just before the explosion of digital radio and many new stations coming online so that is part of it. But another part is that DH loves Radio 4; in fact, it's one of the reasons he refuses to leave the country! And one of our favourite programmes on Radio 4 is the News Quiz. Well, apparently while I was away, NPR (almost the only network I used to listen to) has launched a similar American version, called "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!". I am sure it must be good because it has Paula Poundstone on the panel.

11 February 2007

My life

So I went to see Cats, with my friends from a local Meetup.com group. There were five of us; we all loved it. I have had "Memory" going through my head all day. While I was out the ceiling fell in in the spare bedroom, ruining a few books and getting a whole bunch of books, clothes and other items damp and dirty. The house is a tip. Oh, well, c'est la vie.
So Haloscan has a wonderfully easy interface for adding your comments into your New Blogger (formerly known as Beta) format. It didn't entirely work, but I think that's my fault not theirs (and partly Blogger's) because I kept changing whether or not Blogger comments are allowed and/or shown, and Haloscan says that there is an incompatibility with Blogger comments and other third-party comments. So old comments show with the posts starting about 4 months ago and before; for the last 4 months, some have a link so you can add comments and some don't. However, there are old comments for some of those posts, which I can access on Haloscan's site, so they're still there, they just don't display on the posts. I think there may be a laborious manual way to get them back, but I am not promising I am ever going to do it.
Blogkeeping alert: I have actually put up a new post on Deborama's Book Reviews and Store! I am ashamed to say, I have not done that for well over a year. It's not a book review but at least it's a post.

10 February 2007


So, have you noticed the change in Deborama? Yes, I have finally siezed the nettle and converted my blog template to the new Blogger "page layout" format. I did not like any of the Blogger-provided templates, though, but through a Google Group dedicated to sharing info on using the new Blogger I found a site selling very reasonably priced and attractive templates, so I bought one. (Link at the bottom of the page, as per T&C.) I used the same font and a roughly similar colour scheme to try to ease the transition, but I really like the ease of "adding widgets" and I especially like the three column format. So I'm pretty happy with it. Feedback would be appreciated. Oh, yeah, the Haloscan comments are absent, I hope only temporarily. As soon as I have time. . .
I'm off to see Cats in Nottingham now.

08 February 2007

Deborama's WWW Number 11 - Landover Baptist Church

My Wednesday Website of the Week is a little late this week. But here it is nonetheless, the one and only Landover Baptist Church website. Hours of fun. As Swami Beyondananda says, it puts the "fun" in "fundamentalism".

03 February 2007

Bird flu comes to the UK

It was always just a matter of time. I feel guilty. A former vegetarian, who even attempted to be vegan for three years, I have been making free-range poultry a big part of my diet in recent years. (The loud chattering of the budgies and cockatiels in the background doesn't help either. Yeah, I hear you, guys.) Bird flu has hit, hard, striking a turkey farm in Suffolk.

02 February 2007


Check out the new look at Deborama's Kitchen or just the latest post there, on the economics of fine restaurants in small markets (it's more interesting than it sounds.)
I am still laboriously going through my old posts (I've got nearly four years of them) and titling and categorising and deleting dead links. When I finish this, I am changing to a new Blogger template and the archives will (hopefully) re-appear, along with a category index.

01 February 2007

We've lost Molly

I am very sad to post the obituary of this wonderful woman, one of my greatest heroes in all the world. Molly Ivins, as remembered in The Nation. I seem to remember she was the one who coined the suitably contemptuous nickname "Shrub", and she was never so funny, or so impassioned, as when she was ripping a new one for some neocon, or consigning a wishy-washy Democrat to her own region of hell for failing to stand by principles. I was looking for some good quotes, and found this excellent article I will not support Hilary Clinton for president, and also the inimitable Cow Whisperers Against the War, both of which I urge you to read, because there ain't gonna be any more of this priceless stuff.

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