Sunday, March 30, 2008


Tree in Herne Hill

Tried out a newish tapas bar in Herne Hill for the first time, and this tree is right outside it.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The building!


Tuesday, March 18, 2008


News coverage

Comment on a recent BBC blog about the comparative media coverage of two missing children, Shannon Matthews and Madeleine McCann. As usual, someone claims this is a class issue, and that the huge support and profile in the McCann case was due to the family being middle-class. The BBC is taken to task for not being even-handed.

Nothing changes. I remember a few days after the stabbing of headmaster Phillip Lawrence in 1995 and the media storm that quickly elevated him to a sort of sainthood, a young black boy went to the aid of his father who was being attacked in the street in London. He too was stabbed to death. Although his act was in many ways more heroic, he wasn't the "right" choice for journalists and editors to build a story around, so his death received a few lines of coverage only.

In such a cynical age, the media feed on what fits the bill for their audience, and the McCanns were able, willingly or unwillingly, to provide just that. Sweet little girl in peril, a very photogenic mother with just a hint too much self-possession, foreign police to criticise, a suspect with a strange name, Club Med subtexts, all these were ideal, titillating media fodder. The fact that the McCanns also were media-literate enough to know how the system worked and to exploit it gave the case a huge profile, but also, when as was almost inevitable they too became suspects, made them a "legitimate" target.

The media are not by and large allies in some great cause of rescuing missing children. They are in the business of winning audience numbers, and they will use, or ignore, stories depending solely on whether they will sell. It would be nice to think that the BBC was above all this, but a) it's as obsessed with ratings as anyone else, and b) sometimes the extent of coverage elsewhere defines expectations of how much coverage the BBC should give. Is it a class issue? Only to the extent that some people will be smart enough to play the system, and desperate enough to accept the possible consequences of supping with the media. Otherwise, it's all about what turns an editor on, sad to say.


Sunday, March 16, 2008


Sheep on a rainy day in Syria



Marqab Castle, near Banyas

On the coast overlooking the Mediterranean is Marqab Castle, not as well preserved as Krak Des Chevaliers, but well worth a look. Some fragments of frescoes remain in a chamber off the chapel, but this is a site that needs some good restoration to bring it back to life. What should be a stunning prospect out over the sea is marred by a giant chemical factory and acres of poly-tunnels.
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Countryside on a grey day

One of the many unexpected things about Syria is how wet the climate can be in some parts, and how green the countryside is. The weather here was just clearing after torrential rain the previous evening. This is around 50km or so inland of Tartous. Could be Italy or Scotland, couldn't it?
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I found this article very uplifting. It does indeed reflect the reality of what i experience here in Syria, and the Grand Mufti, whom I have met on several occasions, is an extraordinarily enlightened man.


Friday, March 14, 2008


The step up to management

While here I have put a number of people into management positions, often for the first time in their careers. Two aspects of the transition to management appear consistently, and have to be talked through. One is that achieving a management position does not mean that "now I've made it"; the journey is really only just beginning at this point, and is likely to be extremely challenging along the way.

The second, which I suspect is more common here than it might be say in the UK, is the need to shift perspective from activity to output. The job of a manager is to achieve the task, to get the job done. How many hours a day people work is in most respects incidental. I have had many comments come back from new managers to the effect that "it's not finished, but they have worked really, really hard". To which I have to point out that if it's not finished it's not finished, and that is the important point. The analogy I use to illustrate is a common one round here, that of a cleaner. Wiping a surface is not the same as cleaning it. The activity of wiping may look busy, and may take hours, but if the cloth is unhygienic or the surface left covered with smears, the task - cleaning - is not complete, however much elbow grease is put into it. It's the ability to distinguish between wiped and clean that new managers need.


Monday, March 03, 2008


Lazy thinking

Endemol’s new CEO Tim Hincks decried “an awful lot of lazy thinking around Big Brother”, in an interview in the Guardian today. Hincks then provided his own analysis that “Big Brother is broadly hated by a certain section of the population because it has working-class kids having a good time on it.” Point about lazy thinking well (albeit inadvertently) proved.


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