15 July 2011

Rebekah Brooks - clever or not?

In her first statement on the phone-hacking - actually an email to staff - Rebekah Brooks said:
I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations.
Various commentators jumped on this, saying that of course she didn't sanction the allegations. The allegations (made by others) are that she sanctioned the alleged actions. There's a difference. What she said is nonsense, but it isn't a denial of that.

And in her resignation letter today, there's another odd turn of phrase:
Therefore I have given Rupert and James Murdoch my resignation. While it has been a subject of discussion, this time my resignation has been accepted.
This has been interpreted (eg by the Guardian, here) as implying that she had previously offered to resign. It doesn't say so though. It would have been easy to be clear, if that was the case. Instead she uses a civil-service impersonal formulation. Her resignation has indeed "been a subject of discussion", but nothing here confirms that it's been a subject of discussion between her and Rupert Murdoch.

Is this deliberate or careless? One of the striking features of News International's response to the allegations has been their unwillingness to face direct questions. No press conference, no media interviews - only occasional written statements. Perhaps they are concerned that Brooks might repeat the error she made in admitting to the commons committee that the NotW had paid police officers.

So they restrict themselves to short written documents, which are presumably legally and managerially checked. Which must mean that any meaningless or vague sentence is deliberately meaningless or vague.

I don't know exactly where this leaves us. It's not surprising that NI should avoid saying anything clear that might be prejudicial but I'm not sure the media are quite grasping that they're playing a cunning game, with aims that aren't yet clear.

04 July 2011

Hardcore in Rochester

Sorry to disappoint, but when I say hardcore, I mean hardcore quizzing. Saying this now, however, won't stop spambots from following me on twitter, and won't - oh so unfortunately - retrospectively take away any hits this blog gets.

So I have to say clearly right now that if you've come to this blog looking for details of how to find hardcore in Rochester, you've come to the wrong place. Maybe you should just go to Rochester. I'm fairly sure you can buy all the hardcore you need there, should be be wishing to undertake some building work: a hardstanding, for example.

I went to Rochester on Saturday to take part in a quiz organised by the British Quiz Association. This is the first time I've done this. The BQA does what it says on its tin: it organises quizzes and keeps score of who's best. Rather grandly, it calls its monthly quizzes "Grands Prix". Each one is held in a different part of the country and people travel enormous distances to get to them, pay a £25 entry fee, and often stay overnight before or after. It can be quite an expensive day out.

But Rochester's not that far, so it seemed like a good one to try. The quiz was held in a United Reform Church building and when I arrived to sign in at 11 there were already plenty of people there. The final total of participants was 69.

Some of the faces were slightly familiar: a lot of these people have been on television. There were three Eggheads, for a start: Kevin, Pat and Barry; and several others have been on Mastermind or Only Connect. It was no surprise that contestants were overwhelmingly white middle-aged men, but it was striking how many were, to put it bluntly, fat. I'm not thin, but I began to feel as if I was.

For your £25 (£10 for debutants) you get an individual quiz in the morning, lunch (unsurprisingly including unlimited sausages), a team quiz in the afternoon, and tea (unlimited doughnuts).

The individual quiz is the serious business. Forty written questions on each of six subject categories (so that's 240 questions in all). You have 90 minutes in exam conditions ("you may turn over your paper .... now!")* to get as many as you can. Maximum possible score is 186 because 60 of the questions are "tie-breakers", which are only worth 0.1 points each, because they're much harder. (Yeah, I know. I don't understand that bit either.) Oh no, actually the max is 155 because you drop your lowest scoring category to get your total. (Don't worry. It's not important.)

It was a hot day on Saturday, and a crowded room. People who've recently done their GCSEs probably wouldn't think this was any kind of fun at all.

After the 90 minutes is up, you pass your paper to a neighbour and the answers are given. I was marking the paper of someone who seemed to have done pretty well. I later found out he's in the top ten, and has been in a Mastermind final. You get the paper back, check the score (if you can be bothered) and put a summary of your scores into a basket, so that the organisers can add the scores up while you have your sausage-based lunch. My score was 82.2. I'd no idea how that compared with others, but the paper I'd marked had a score just over a hundred.

In the afternoon you're allocated a place in a team of four. The teams are chosen to balance good and bad players. So it's a welcome insult when you find you're in the same team as Kevin Ashman. For me, then, the afternoon largely consisted of watching him fill in the answer sheets. I was certainly beginning to feel stupid now. We won the first half of the team quiz, but post-doughnut we didn't. There's another bizarre marking system applied, but I'm sure it worked out properly.

The day closes with the announcement of the winners. They get a round of applause and a book. There was an opportunity of going on to a pub for the evening. Tempting - there's real ale and a curry - but there's also an informal quiz. I'm quizzed out, and get the train home.

Next day, the full scores are published. Turns out my 82.2 puts me 37th out of 69, which I'm happy with. It gives me 296 ranking points. I've no idea how these are calculated. But if I go to more "grands prix" I can accumulate points and - I think - if I get enough I can attain the rank of Sage, rather than Novice (and beyond that one can aspire to be a Candidate Master, Master or ultimately a Grand Master).

Will I go again? Probably. I liked the indiviudal quiz and I'm obviously at a reasonable standard. The team quiz got a bit boring, and I'd rather be in a team without a dominating player, even if it means we lose. But the next grand prix is on the first day of the football season, when Charlton are at home, so that's out of the question.

But, disregarding all the flimflammery of points and rankings, it largely was fun, so next time it's somewhere I can get to easily - why not?

* This is a Johann Hari-style quote, and may bear little relation to what was actually said.