Lord Coe for Prime Minister

by Nick  

So, I wrote a tweet at the end of the Paralympics the other evening:

After ages of not blogging, I thought there was enough of a point in that flippant tweet to be worth expanding on.

The London 2012 Games have been a spectacular, and profound, success. After the shadow cast by the 7/7 bombings, there were years of questions about the logo, the spiralling costs, and whether we'd even be able to build the venues on time. In the past 12 months, there was cynicism about the ticketing process, the impact of Zil lanes and overbearing corporate sponsorship. In the immediate run-up, there was the diplomatic gaffe by Mitt Romney and the failure of G4S to provide the security staff they'd promised.

But that cynicism was largely swept aside by Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony. For the people with whom I spoke, and saw writing on social media, the reaction was near universal, spontaneous, and immediate. Britons have a tendency for self-deprecation and cynicism, but the ceremony managed to combine an unashamed positivity with an honest representation of where our nation have come from. For me, it was like seeing a reflection in a mirror for the first time, and truly loving what I saw. Far from leftie multicultural crap, it accepted that Britain's past is not blameless, but said that we have a lot to be proud of, from universal suffrage to James Bond, from the NHS to the World Wide Web. It also managed to avoid many of the clichés of Olympic ceremonies, with a staging that successfully managed to span the theatrical and the televisual. By comparison, Kim Gavin's closing ceremonies and the Paralympic opening ceremony, directed by Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, were much more traditional in structure and form, and correspondingly less epic.

The opening ceremony set the stage for a Games which exceeded all expectations for British sporting achievement. The ticketed audience was vocal and engaged, and thanks to the BBC, viewers at home in the UK were able to explore sporting events with unparalleled freedom, both on- and offline. The sun came out after a washout early summer, enhancing a feel-good factor which was already growing after the Diamond Jubilee and the Torch Relay, which saw people take to the streets across the country in a way which I don't remember since the Silver Jubilee of 1977. It was the perfect precursor to the Paralympic Games, which saw unprecedented numbers of visitors, and coverage which was nearly the equal of the earlier Games. I was lucky enough to get tickets to two days at the Paralympics - one at the Olympic Park, and one at the Excel arenas - we saw wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis, boccia, and wheelchair fencing. All were great sporting spectacles in venues which managed to avoid theme park tackiness. Transport was seamless, fast, and well organised, and the volunteer 'gamesmakers' lived up to their reputation for making the whole experience fun. Among all this, the fact that the athletes had disabilities was frankly irrelevant, and I suspect this was true for many, if not most, of the spectators.

Which brings me back to Sebastian Coe. I tweeted after the Opening Ceremony that they'd have to make him King - as he's already a life peer and KBE, there's no higher honour  for him to get (yes, I'm deliberately ignoring Knight Grand Cross - after all in reality, he could conceivably become GCMG, or possibly even KG). After the close of the Paralympics, it feels to me that the office of Prime Minister might be better suited.

It's a challenging position, providing leadership to the country, whilst having to respect and command the confidence of the broad  spectrum of peoples that make up our nation. Whilst not directly elected, as would be a head of state in a republic, it is a political role, which means that the incumbent must also command the respect of our elected representatives. Too often though, we seem to expect our Prime Ministers to be more than this - people who command all the decisions that affect us. This is plainly ludicrous, yet we (well, the media, and us by extension) chastise the politician who fails to master every brief and every piece of news. Even in good times, this is difficult - consider the 'golden' premiership of Tony Blair in a time of economic boom and humanitarian intervention of NATO in Kosovo, which became mired in Iraqi WMD and Afghanistan. Yet in difficult times - and these are certainly difficult economics times - the job is tougher still.

Which is why I find myself looking at Coe. He has political experience as a former MP, and can evidently schmooze with the best of them, as evidenced by his success in the initial Olympic bid. As a former athlete, he is clearly driven, having won four Olympic medals, including two golds, and set eight outdoor and three indoor world records. He is an accomplished orator, having spoken eloquently to billions in the Games ceremonies. He is respected nationally and internationally, with an aura of statesmanship, despite being unafraid of the vernacular. Britons have given him enormous personal credit for delivering the Games, particularly given the cynicism at the outset. And evidently, he did not achieve all this by himself. He is clearly capable of leading a team which can deliver. And for a leader to be effective, he or she must be ready to give direction and take counsel in equal measure.

Coe is a leader of people. And leadership is what we need now. Economically, the western world continues in a bubble of denial, which may only need a small shock to cause an even worse slump that we've seen in recent years. The coalition government is in a state of tension which throttles sane policymaking. As a Lib Dem supporter, it's depressing to see that the current government is only marginally less half-baked than the Gordon Brown administration. The Opposition is in the wilderness, with a 'leader' who unfortunately suffers from a yawning charisma deficit, and no clear policy for change - after all they recognise the truth that the economy remains precipitous. The depth and breadth of cuts we've faced has failed to drive growth in the way it was promised by Cameron and Osborne. Personally, I fail to understand why we haven't used low-cost sovereign debt to jump-start infrastructural investment, and thereby create the growth environment that will increase tax revenues and reduce structural deficit by increasing income rather than solely cutting expenditure. Talk in recent weeks about the construction industry and Heathrow may mean the tide here is changing, even if the specific proposals are not necessarily the right ones.

And this is where we need leadership. I don't see it coming from Nick Clegg - his decision to join the coalition was toxic to his personal brand, and his position as Deputy PM means he will not be taken seriously. In the Conservative party, the prospect of Gove is almost as terrifying as Osborne, and whilst Boris would undoubtedly be entertainingly charismatic, he lacks the statesmanship and gravitas that a PM needs. Cameron has been a reasonable caretaker (given the rabidity of many Tories), but I'd argue that it's time for a person that people across the country and around the world will respect. So, let's have a nice, British, bloodless coup, where the cabinet choose to step down in favour of someone who can assemble a government to take the country along with it, in unity through challenging times. Arise Lord Coe!

(and yes, I know he's standing for the BOA instead...)

My favourite russian word

by Nick  

My favourite russian word is that for hat, which is pronounced (and transliterated) shapka.

In the cyrillic alphabet, it's Шапка...

Hello Eleanor

by Nick  

Well, I seem to have been remiss. I announced it via facebook and twitter, but neglected to share here. So, belatedly, welcome Eleanor Jasmine Kaijaks, born at home on 17 March 2010, at 8.18pm. She was 8lb, and lovely.

Hello Eleanor (20 of 97)
Creative Commons License photo credit: dr-nick

Eleven weeks on, and she's thriving. Healthy, nice smiles & coos, and mostly sleeping through the night, which is pretty much all you want from a baby. Jess loves her lots, although she can be a bit heavy handed at times. :)

Hello Eleanor (89 of 97)
Creative Commons License photo credit: dr-nick

Eleanor (57 of 63)
Creative Commons License photo credit: dr-nick

Kids (20 of 116)
Creative Commons License photo credit: dr-nick

Kids (63 of 116)
Creative Commons License photo credit: dr-nick

Kids (70 of 116)
Creative Commons License photo credit: dr-nick

The Digital Economy Bill

by Nick  

There is currently a Bill before Parliament, the Digital Economy Bill. In among the DCMA-like elements and changes to broadcasting is a clause which could harm both amateur and professional photographers.

It permits the use of works, including photos, where the author cannot be identified by a "reasonable search", simply by registering the work as an "orphan" and paying a fee to a quango. Since metadata about things like authorship is so easy to strip from a digital image, this has the potential to become a publishers' charter for online image theft. If you find someone has stolen your image by claiming it's orphaned, you can claim a fee, and apply to have the orphaned state revoked.

You can read more from Copyright Action. I've written to my MP; my own letter is on the next page. You should write too. It doesn't have to be as long - but they need to know that clause 17 takes away too many rights from the individual photographer.

Personal Information Online Code of Practice

The same article refers to a code of practice for collecting personal information, drafted by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). The code doesn't actually mention photography. However, the contention of Copyright Action (actually in the clarification on p2 of the comments) is that the ICO would now view it as a breach of the Data Protection Act if you took a photo, even in a public place, with someone who did not want to be photographed. This follows the High Court ruling under the ECHR that a photo of JK Rowling's son in a public street was an invasion of privacy.

In my view, this is less of a real threat at the moment, but is certainly one to watch.

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My mobile life

by Nick  

We were talking in the office a little while back about mobile phones, and I started to try to work out what phones I've had. I was kind of surprised how quickly you forget. So, for posterity, here's the list:

  1. Motorola mr30
    Back in the day this boasted "an astounding 40 hour battery life", support for fax and data (up to 9600bps). "Also, for the first time with an Orange Motorola, the phone supports a proper battery life indicator." It could store up to 190 names and numbers. This would have been in around 1995, when I signed my first 12 month contract with Orange.
  2. Motorola cd920
  3. Ericsson T28s
  4. Nokia 8210
    Ah, properly dinky. Nice Nokia menus. Must have been around 2001?
  5. Ericsson T610
    Wow! Colour! 128x160 pixels! 2MB memory! This was the state of the art in July 2003 (or at least heading in that direction). I left Orange after all these years, taking my number to Vodafone. At the end of that contract, I got it unlocked at Banbury market and switched to a better contract with T-Mobile.
  6. Motorola RAZR V3
    Sticking with T-Mobile, I got an upgrade to this handsome little flip phone. Excellent design that (visually) stands the test of time in 2010.
  7. Nokia N73
    Big upgrade here, to something which probably just about counts as a smartphone. I got it on the 3 network, who were excellent, until I tried to leave them, when they tried to invent all sorts of exit fees and notice periods which were never part of my contract. Grr.
  8. iPhone 3GS
    So, here I am now, with a phone that is a very welcome companion. I'll freely admit that I didn't buy into the iPhone hype for a couple of years - when I used the iPhone 2 I wasn't that blown away by it, and couldn't see much gain over the N73. But when the 3GS came out with the new OS, I compared it (specs, size, design and usability) to the N95, Blackberry and first gen Android phones, and the advantage was clear. So I bit the bullet, handed over the cash, and signed the contract with O2.

    I use it more as a pocket computer, calendar, map, and web tool than I do as a phone, but it's probably the mobile I've valued the most. It's got 16GB, 95 apps across eight screens, and the same phone number I started with 14 odd years before.

(Edit 8 Feb - managed to forget the RAZR!)

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