Life on Mars, intelligent life on Earth?

NASA have (excitingly enough) discovered that Mars was once drenched in water, further raising the possibility life could have been sustained there once. Unfortunately NASA’s rovers are designed to look for water, not life, so we’ll probably have to wait another few years and another set of probes (like Beagle 2) to look specifically for it.

Meanwhile back down here there may be exciting news of intelligent life in David Blunkett, as he announces dropping the ‘Crown’ from the Crown Prosecution Service. It’s not yet clear whether he’ll change ‘The Crown’ as the prosecutor in indictments yet, which would be a more important step, but it’s good to see another small bit of progress in removing the monarchy from the legal process. We may yet become a modern democracy…

More on Campbell

Just a few extra interesting things from last night…Campbell mentioned he is (or at least was) good friends with Gavyn Davies, he approved of Prescott punching that bloke, his timing for jokes and stuff was quite good (I reckon he could have become a miserable Jack Dee type of comedian had he failed as a journalist), and he only mentioned Gordon Brown by name once, and that was only very briefly while talking about the Euro.

Oh, and I forgot to say, as mentioned in the news this morning, he did get the odd heckle, someone calling him a ‘scumbag’, although Ross Kemp managed to tell them to go away without too much trouble – as a whole the audience were quite polite and deferent throughout, I think the news stories are giving the hecklers undue prominence. Just another case of the evil media spinning the news to their advantage, as Alastair might say…

An evening in the company of Cynical Ali

As I said earlier, tonight I went to see “An Audience With Alastair Campbell” at the Royal Festival Hall in London with Hugh and Susie. Lots of media celeb-spotting in the foyer beforehand (saw David Yelland, Quentin Letts and John O’Farrell, who sat right in front of me). He was, slightly bizarrely, introduced by Ross Kemp (who is nowhere near as hard and cockney as his TV persona), and he spent an hour reflecting on his past, recounting stories from his life, before answering questions from the audience.

Having heard very little of the man himself speaking and interacting up until now, and relying on what you read in the papers, it was really quite an interesting evening seeing him in the flesh. His recounting of his life was interesting and interspersed with anecdotes (such as about his writing of erotica for Forum magazine and John Prescott’s punching that Welsh bloke with a mullet), and touched on some personal issues (his best friend dying of leukaemia, for example) but didn’t really go on others (his nervous breakdown or alcoholism, for example) although his kids were in the audience, so maybe he didn’t really want to go there. Still, we didn’t get much of Alastair Campbell the human being (if there is one), which was disappointing.

He went on at some length about the negativity and hatred in the media today (picking out the Daily Mail in particular, although not The Sun, not least because the editor’s husband was on stage with him) and said his use of the arts of spin was a way of reacting and dealing with it, although I’d be more inclined to say it actually fed the cynicsim in the media and in turn the media fed off it, creating a vicious circile and the situation we have now.

As he went on it was noticable that his language moved from that of a journalist to that of a spin doctor, but then on towards that of a politician – if you’d come in halfway through and didn’t know who he was, you’d have thought he was Prime Minister. He defended a lot of the Government’s policies (from the minimum wage to top-up fees) as if he was the power behind them, not Tony. A bit chilling.

The Q&A session was a bit of a mixed bag. I didn’t expect a lot of candour and on some subjects such as Hutton and Iraq he brushed off the questions with a lot of sidetracking, and some questions (like why didn’t he attack the Sun, a question I dearly wanted to ask but someone beat me to it) he didn’t answer at all. But when he did reply, his responses were clever and smooth, and when he did foul up he blamed it on the fact he doesn’t read the papers any more.

There were some moments of near outright lying, not least when he said he favoured a strong and independent BBC, and when he claimed Tony Blair was a totally honest man. There was also a good deal of spite directed at Clare Short.

So what do I think of him? He’s obviously a very clever man and I can see how he became so adept at scheming and spinning. His delivery and demeanour means he could and perhaps should have become a politician, (in fact he spoke more on democracy and progress than I have heard from Blair recently), rather than the journalist and then powerful apparatchik he was – perhaps this is why he came to dominate the Government so much, his wannabe attitude just got the better of him. I still dislike him for the way he has managed to cynicise politics so much (for all his talk of progress and there being good people in the Government, his track record suggests otherwise) but I have a new respect for just how talented a spinner and political manipulator he actually is.

Blogging Number 10

Ooh, politics and blogging together in one neat bundle. Downing Street Says is a neat little site that takes the daily Prime Minister’s lobby briefings and converts them into weblog format, with nice features like RDF feed and a chance to comment on the issues raised.

You might ask what’s the point, all we’re getting is the spin, which is partly true, but with this we’re bypassing the spinning mechanism that is the mainstream press, the civil service-led briefings are less spun than most other politically-arranged speeches and briefings, and the news is given to us in a neat and easy-to-access format. Additionally, there is a nice point they are trying to make, as the site FAQ puts it:

Running a website, contrary to what most highly-paid Net consultants will tell you, can come in very, very cheap. If you can get enough people to volunteer their time and expertise, you can create even quite complex internet projects in double quick time for almost no money. A large proportion of the Internet consists of volunteer projects like ours.

Given the vast and needless expense and tardiness of many Government IT projects, this shows there can be a grassroots alternative. More of the same can be found from their affiliate organisation,