News from North Korea

There’s been a small amount of coverage in the US and UK media over the last few days of the press release put out by the North Korean News Agency condemning the new James Bond film (or “burlesque”) for being insufficiently polite about the great achievements of North Korean socialism, or somesuch.

It is a shame, however, that the Western media only pays attention to the official news from North Korea when James Bond films are involved. Already in December there have been any number of good stories which deserved a wider international airing, including Revolutionary sites visited by many people, Pyongyang Catfish farm commissioned, Slogan of Kirgyz party organ changed, or US urged to drop its brigandish logic (a variation on a theme, one suspects).

Most interestingly of all, “Chicken Farms Rebuilt on Modern Basis” was published on both 7 December and 12 December. And then every few days or so there is a story with the same headline, “Anecdote about Kim Jong Il” (try here, here and here).

I’ve always assumed that the reason why the site is hosted in Japan owes to the fact that the internet doesn’t yet reach North Korea – but I’d be happy to be corrected.

Self-Parody Alert

I don’t usually like to reproduce items from other people’s weblogs in full, but Junius today raises a good question:

I wonder who selects the titles for the Independent‘s debate section? A few weeks ago they had “Stoning: Is it ever justified?”, today’s offering is “Saudi Arabia: It is [sic] democratic?”

Self-parody through headline writing seems to be quite a common phenomenon these days. I spotted a copy of Vogue the other day whose cover proclaimed, “DISCOVERED: Traffic-Stopping Trousers”. (But, sadly, they were very dull).

John Craven’s Newsround

An excellent birthday yesterday — the 30th anniversary of John Craven’s Newsround, the people’s panda propaganda machine. Excitingly, John Craven himself was back to co-present the programme yesterday, for the first time in thirteen years — which induced me to watch for the first time in almost twenty. (It’s still very good). And they played the original theme music, which they seem to have jettisoned at some point with the passing of the years. The BBC website has its own tribute pages, from which this fine image from 1978 has been usefully culled.

Finis Terrae

I’ve just read the very sad news that, as of twelve and a quarter hours ago, the Met Office got rid of Finisterre. There’s a useful page of links over at the Guardian‘s website about this change — apparently now we are supposed to call it FitzRoy.

Non-UK readers of the weblog will not have the slightest idea what this is about, but BBC Radio Four (the worthy, news-heavy, not-terribly-exciting British equivalent of NPR which the educated middle classes listen to fairly religiously) carries the Shipping Forecast a few times a day. The Shipping Forecast gives detailed weather reports for the various chunks of sea off the coast of Britain and Ireland, which, although of no direct relevance to those of us in landlocked university towns, provides a fixed reference point for, a set of shared understandings in, a calming influence on our busy, fragmented, postmodern lives. “Finisterre” was one of the bits of the sea, off the North-Western corner of Spain, and apparently as part of some international coordination exercise, we’ve agreed to get rid of the name, one of the most evocative names in the litany of the Forecast.

Here’s the press release from the Met Office, issued on 31 January:

At noon on Monday 4 February 2002, listeners to the Shipping Forecast broadcast by the BBC will have a new name to conjure with. The area Finisterre is to be re-named FitzRoy after Admiral Robert FitzRoy, who was the first ever professional weatherman and founded the Met Office in 1853.The change has become necessary following an international agreement that Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco will use a co-ordinated set of sea areas in forecasts for shipping. In the discussions, Spain requested that the area that they have called Finisterre be retained in the co-ordinated set of areas.

The area Finisterre used by the Met Office is a considerably larger area than that defined by the Spanish Meteorological Service (Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia), and, as the area is not strictly in the United Kingdom’s area of responsibility for the issue of forecasts and warnings, a new name was required.

Some 53 years have passed since the name Finisterre was first heard on the shipping forecasts; the familiar rhythmic pattern will no longer be Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Finisterre, Sole, Lundy, Fasnet� as FitzRoy replaces Finisterre.

“The Met Office operates on an international scale; by working with the meteorological services in other countries we are making it easier for listeners to interpret shipping forecasts,” explained Martin Stubbs, specialist consultant in marine matters at the Met Office.

“The last major changes in sea area names was in 1984 when the countries bordering the North Sea agreed a co-ordinated set of areas. These changes demonstrate the effectiveness of the World Meteorological Organization in bringing countries together and ensuring the best possible services for the mariner,” added Mr Stubbs

The Shipping Forecast is a British institution broadcast by the BBC four times a day and also disseminated via HM Coastguard Stations and other marine communication services attracting many thousands of listeners.

FitzRoy is set to become a household name both in and outside the sailing fraternity.

This is no good. How will future generations make sense of the splendid poetry of Carol Ann Duffy?


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer —
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

No-one will be writing poems about bloody FitzRoy in years to come, I can tell you. Please send your protests and reminiscences to the weblog.

Katherine wrote [7.2.2002]: In my A-level Italian oral, I was asked what my favourite radio programme was (this now seems to me to be a suspiciously Radio 4 type question, indeed) and I got into all sorts of difficulties trying to explain the shipping forecast. I now explain to my own language students that it is important to lie in such situations.

Jess wrote [8.2.2002]: As a lover of the shipping forecast for nineteen years, I join you in mourning the passing of Finisterre. The forecast won’t be quite the same without it — though Admiral Fitzroy deserves a sea area named after him if anyone does. (I still regard North Utsire and South Utsire as upstart interlopers…)

I asked Jess to elaborate on this last, slightly worrying thought, and got this reply [8.2.2002]: North Utsire and South Utsire were born on 1 August 1984, at the instigation of the Scandinavian countries. Previously the adjacent sea areas (eg Viking) extended right up to the coast. The list of the coastal stations has changed beyond recognition since I began listening in ’82 – remember Sumburgh, Bell Rock, Goeree Light Tower Automatic Weather Station…?


There’s some entertainment over at the ever-dreadful CNN:

“A gaffe,” Michael Kinsley once observed, “occurs not when a politician lies, but when he tells the truth.”

CNN made a terrible gaffe over the weekend and told a terrific truth.

It was refreshing to see somebody finally spit out what we all know but what the networks go to ludicrous lengths to deny: They hire and promote news stars based on looks and sex appeal.

About 10 times over the weekend, CNN ran an ad promoting Paula Zahn’s new morning show, “American Morning,” with a male announcer purring, “Where can you find a morning news anchor who’s provocative, super-smart, oh yeah, and just a little sexy?”

The word sexy then flared onto the screen, accompanied by a noise that sounded like a zipper unzipping.

The ad’s naked truth stunned television insiders. “If they’re sexy, so be it,” said Don Hewitt, executive producer of “60 Minutes.” “It ain’t necessary to say it. It’s undignified.

“Whatever Paula brings to television,” he said, “it’s despite the fact that she’s nicely put together. It diminishes a first-rate woman journalist to label her sexy. Why doesn’t CNN say that Wolf Blitzer is sexy? He must be sexy to somebody.”

On Monday the embarrassed CNN chief, Walter Isaacson, yanked the spot. “It was a bad mistake,” he said. “I’m really sorry. The promotion department didn’t get it cleared. You can say sexy about a man but not about a woman.”

A CNN spokesman explained that the noise was not supposed to be a zipper sound, but more like a needle scratching across an LP record — a sound effect sometimes used on “Ally McBeal.” …

From Maureen Dowd’s column, in yesterday’s New York Times.

Save Pacifica!

Is victory in the long-running battle over the future of the progressive Pacifica Radio network in sight? The Save Pacifica! campaigners seem to think so: they’ve just sent round this message —


An agreement was reached today between plaintiffs in four lawsuits against Pacifica and the foundation’s board of directors, whereby official control of the network will return to community radio advocates.

The agreement calls for an interim board, controlled by the current minority, to serve for fifteen months while new, democratic structures are implemented for an elected national
Pacifica board.

The agreement brings to an end two and a half years of legal, political, and community struggle following an illegal change, implemented under former board chair Dr. Mary Frances Berry, in the method of selecting Pacifica’s directors, who had formerly been elected by the local station boards.

During that time, Pacifica has banned and fired dozens of broadcasters, and incurred millions of dollars in expenditures, due to high fees paid to corporate attorneys, public relations companies, and security firms.

Pacifica’s finances have not been disclosed to either board members or donors in over a year, but at the last board meeting in Washington in November it was reported that the foundation has over a million dollars in unpaid current accounts in addition to two million dollars in pending legal fees.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw will retain jurisdiction over the settlement, and has promised to quickly rule on all disputes that may result from the agreement’s implementation.

The text of the agreement can be read here.