Wednesday, February 28, 2007


All hail Lucozade, sweet nectar of the hangover gods.

I spent last night rediscovering the simple pleasures of Medcalf on Exmouth Market, and between sips of my new favourite drink, Leffe Brune, got onto a topic which seems to be in the news a fair bit lately. To wit: Blair, when will he go, who will take his place and who will make up the new cabinet. El Gordo is still the consensus choice for next PM, but he will look extremely cowardly if he doesn't agree to a leadership contest with other interested Labour contenders. Balls, Beckett and Milliband should all get prominent cabinet roles, but as for the others... I reckon that we need to see some new faces pronto if Labour is to avoid extreme voter apathy. However, what are the chances of that happening? I don't think Labour realise just how old and tired they've become, and we can resign ourselves to a reshuffling of the usual pack of suspects.

As such, now seems as good a time as any to resurrect the BBC's Fantasy Football-style Dream Cabinet widget from last September... This would've come in handy last night down the pub, come to think of it. Anyway, enjoy! And let me know who your best picks are, Labour or otherwise.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What's in a name?

I was ten when the first Gulf War broke out. The grainy, green-and-black nightvision news footage of missiles raining down on Baghdad is one of my strongest memories of that time, when war was still too big a concept for me to fully appreciate. Another memory of that time is imbued with childish wonder, taking the form of a question repeatedly asked, but for which adults seldom had a satisfactory answer: "Why do newsreaders always call him Saddam, but they call all the other leaders by their family name?"

This post has very little, if anything, to do with Iraq, but the curiosity over the use of names in the media shown by my ten-year-old self has been spiked again in recent weeks, albeit in a completely different context. To wit: the competing Democrat candidates for the US presidency. Okay, the two who are currently garnering the most news coverage. I speak, of course, of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Barack Obama's political star has risen at an appropriately meteoric pace over the last three years, and much has been made in the press of how atypical his background is for a potential US president: half Kenyan, half Kansan, with formative years spent in Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim nation, - and having had the gall to actually inhale (shock!) while smoking pot as a teenager... Still, among all this, the one thing that journalists refuse to let die (apart from his unfortunate penchant for immediate troop withdrawal in Iraq) is the ever-hilarious resemblance between his surname and the first name of you-know-who himself, Osama bin Laden.

Having grown up with a "weird" foreign first name myself, I can imagine that I wouldn't particularly enjoy being of schooling age in the US over the last three or four years with a surname like Obama. But for presumably adult journalists to still find the resemblance worth sniggering about, and to assume that American voters would be so stupid and reactionary as to vote against Barack Obama purely because of a passing similarity in names is insulting to everyone involved.

(But hey, while we're on the topic, why has no one picked up on the fact that Barack's first name sounds remarkably like the surname of a recent Israeli prime minister? Not as schoolyard-catchy as Osama/Obama, perhaps? The mind boggles.)

Next up, Hillary Clinton. The former First Lady turned heads and raised eyebrows in equal measure, taking a more active and visible role in public life than virtually any presidential consort before her. She also gained a massive amount of public sympathy during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and was the only person to emerge from the affair with any real dignity. Possibly to elicit empathy from American wives, but obviously also to differentiate between her and husband Bill, the first female Democrat presidential candidate is almost exclusively referred to in the press by the more intimate, friendly-sounding "Hillary".

Putting herself on an approachable first-name basis is great PR for Hillary. It makes it sound like she's your friend, that she's someone you can depend on to do the right thing. It's not formal, impersonal or intimidating. But most of all, it deflects attention from the surname Clinton, a name second only to Bush in recent US history in terms of being politically charged.

It doesn't take a genius to see that Hillary is using her first name instead of her full name in order to keep her politics and leadership campaign at arm's length from those of Bill Clinton. It also creates distance for those who hear "Clinton" and immediately think of cigars, blue dresses and innovative ways to pass time in the Oval Office. Not to mention that awful saxophone.

At the end of the day, each candidate's adopted moniker will be small potatoes compared to the real issues surrounding the next US presidential election: Iraq, defence, Medicare/Medicaid, immigration and the environment (ha!). Still, in a country where appearance is everything, it's kind of heartening to see that Senator Obama hasn't shied away from his decidely un-WASPish surname, and that he has even created a catchy slogan for it: "My name is Obama, not Yo Mama".

Friday, February 09, 2007


So not only do I not get an invite to the launch of What's Left?, but now Blogger is forcing me to sign up to their beta/ Google/2.0 bullshit? Not cool, not cool at all.