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Dobie Gray obituary December 11, 2011

The American singer and songwriter Dobie Gray, who has died of cancer aged 71, was best known to a general audience for his 1973 hit Drift Away, which sold more than a million copies and represented a perfect synthesis of soul, country and pop elements. He was held in special affection, however, by Britain’s legion of Northern Soul fans, for whom his 1960s recordings provided a series of anthems.

First among them was The “In” Crowd, released in 1965. Written by Billy Page, brother of the better known arranger Gene Page, it was an up-tempo song in a quasi-Motown style, its brassy fanfares setting the scene for a memorable lyric celebrating the singer’s membership of a fashionable clique. “If it’s square, we ain’t there,” Gray sang, immediately striking a chord with Britain’s young mods, who were soon singing along to other verses: “We make every minute count / Our share is always the biggest amount / Other guys imitate us / But the original is still the greatest.”

The “In” Crowd reached the top 20 in the US and the top 30 in Britain, and was covered by many artists, with subsequent hit versions coming from the Ramsey Lewis Trio, who did without the lyric in a 1965 live recording, and Bryan Ferry, who replaced the brass with a menacing guitar riff in 1974. But the follow-ups released by Gray were to remain virtually the exclusive property of the Northern Soul audience, particularly See You at the Go-Go and Out on the Floor, both of which reprised the style and even recapitulated some of the phrases of the initial hit.

Out on the Floor became a particular favourite at major Northern Soul venues such as Wigan Casino and the Blackpool Mecca, achieving such popularity that it eventually earned the scorn of hardcore aficionados to whom rarity and exclusivity were crucial components of a record’s appeal. In a list of the top 500 Northern Soul records, compiled by the Wigan disc-jockey Kev Roberts in 2000, it appeared at No 2.

Gray’s origins have always been the subject of debate, but it seems most likely that he was born Lawrence Darrow Brown in Simonton, a small town near Houston, Texas, to a family of sharecroppers and Baptist ministers. It was through his grandfather’s influence that he developed a love of gospel music and singing in general, and in his early 20s he moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of a show-business career, either in acting or singing. He met Sonny Bono, then a well-connected hustler in the Hollywood music business, and it was with Bono’s help that he made his first record, To Be Loved, which appeared on the small Stripe label in 1960, under the name Leonard Ainsworth. Other recordings appeared on several small labels and there was a minor hit in 1963 with Look at Me on the Cor-Dak label. By that time he was recording as Dobie Gray, a name suggested by a popular TV situation comedy, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, whose cast included Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty.

The success of The “In” Crowd, released on the independent Charger label, whose only other artist of note was the Chicago singer Barbara Mason, led to appearances on such national TV shows as Shindig!, but he was unable to build on its success in the short term. Instead he took acting lessons, appeared in productions of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, and spent two years in the Los Angeles cast of the hippy musical Hair. He then joined a funk group called Pollution (which also featured the future disco star Táta Vega) and moved into music publishing, working for the successful Almo-Irving company, where he met the songwriting brothers Mentor and Paul Williams.

It was Mentor who wrote and produced Drift Away, a song with an irresistibly infectious chorus: “Give me the beat, boys, and free my soul / I want to get lost in your rock and roll / And drift away.” To get the feeling they wanted, Gray and Williams recorded the song in Nashville, at Quadrafonic Studios, owned and run by the session musicians known as Area Code 615, whose own album had included an instrumental titled Stone Fox Chase, the signature tune for BBC2′s The Old Grey Whistle Test. For Gray’s session, the musicians were augmented by the Memphis-based guitarist Reggie Young, formerly with the Bill Black Combo, who provided a memorably plangent country-inflected accompaniment to Gray’s soulful delivery. Released on the Decca label, the song reached No 5 in the US.

Encouraged by this new success, Gray moved permanently to Nashville. Once again the follow-ups achieved disappointing results, Gray’s version of Loving Arms, Tom Jans’s ballad of longing and regret, in particular deserving a better fate than its failure to crack the top 50. While continuing to record, he struck up a songwriting partnership with Troy Seals, a gifted but underrated member of a notable musical family, who had played rhythm guitar on Drift Away.

Gray’s songs, written in collaboration with Seals and others, were recorded by a variety of artists, notably George Jones, Tammy Wynette, John Denver, Conway Twitty, Don Williams, Julio Iglesias and two black singers who could be said to have pioneered a country-soul crossover, Ray Charles and Charley Pride. In the 1980s Gray signed with the Capitol label, for whom he recorded country material with moderate success. He continued to tour in the US and abroad, notably to South Africa, where he created controversy during the apartheid era by insisting on performing to integrated audiences. He also recorded TV advertising jingles for companies including Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and McDonald’s.

In 2001 the bass-guitarist and producer Norbert Putnam, whom he had met at Quadrafonic, supervised an album titled Soul Days, in which Gray’s readings of soul standards such as When a Man Loves a Woman and People Get Ready demonstrated how comfortably his voice could locate the middle ground between country and RB, with a warm tone and a delivery that was undramatic but heartfelt. That same year he released a set of Christmas songs, entitled Songs of the Season, on his own label. He returned to the US charts for the last time in 2003, when he appeared on a remake of Drift Away, singing with the rap-rock star Uncle Kracker.

• Dobie Gray (Lawrence Darrow Brown), singer and songwriter, born 26 June 1940; died 6 December 2011

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US to support gay rights abroad December 8, 2011

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Hillary Clinton: “Being gay is not a western invention, it is a human reality”

The US has publicly declared it will fight discrimination against gays and lesbians abroad by using foreign aid and diplomacy to encourage reform.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience of diplomats in Geneva: “Gay rights are human rights”.

A memo from the Obama administration directs US government agencies to consider gay rights when making aid and asylum decisions.

Similar policies already exist for gender equality and ethnic violence.

“It should never be a crime to be gay,” Mrs Clinton said at the United Nations in Geneva, adding that a country’s cultural or religious traditions was no excuse for discrimination.

Her audience included representatives from countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence.

Many ambassadors rushed out of the room as soon as Mrs Clinton finished speaking, the Associated Press news agency reported.

In October, UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s suggestion that aid could be cut to countries that did not recognise gay rights was condemned by several African countries where homosexual acts are banned, including Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Last week Nigeria became the latest African country attempting to tighten homosexuality laws, with the Senate passing a bill banning same-sex marriages. Before it becomes law, it must be passed by the lower chamber and then signed by the president.

‘Human reality’

The announcement, described by the White House as the “first US government strategy to combat human rights abuses against gays and lesbians abroad”, is also being seen as part of the Obama administration’s outreach to gays and lesbians ahead of the 2012 election.

The official memorandum does not outline consequences for countries with poor records on gay rights. But it allows US agencies working abroad to consult with international organisations on discrimination.

“Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world,” Mrs Clinton said in Geneva. “Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality.”

Correspondents say the new policy could pose awkward questions for US officials formulating policy towards some regular allies and regional powers.

In 2011, the state department’s annual human rights report cited abuses against gay people in Saudi Arabia, an ally of the US that bans homosexuality outright.

Afghanistan also prohibits homosexual activity, and the same report found that authorities “sporadically” enforced the prohibition.

In the US, Republican presidential candidates criticised the administration’s decision, with Texas Governor Rick Perry saying in a statement that “promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money”.

Mrs Clinton acknowledged the US had its own mixed record on gay rights. As late as 2003, some states had laws that made gay sex a crime.

Earlier this year President Barack Obama signed into law a bill repealing the “don’t ask don’t tell” law and allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the US military.

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GOP presidential debate in Washington – as it happened November 23, 2011

7.00pm: The GOP presidential race is finally coming into the home straight as the Republican candidates gather for tonight’s debate – with just 42 days and only three more debates to go before a real election takes place in Iowa.

Tonight’s debate, hosted by CNN and the right-wing Heritage Foundation think-tank here in Washington DC, also sees a novelty on stage: Newt Gingrich, presidential frontrunner.

Yes, the man with more baggage than Dulles airport, whose opposition research department needs its own opposition research department, now sits atop of the latest opinion polls of likely Republican voters.

As someone once said: if Newt Gingrich is the answer, then what on earth was the question?

Let’s go back in time to the heady days of January 1997 – nearly 15 years ago – when Celine Dion was top of the charts, and recall this item appearing in the Washington Post:

The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to reprimand House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and order him to pay an unprecedented $300,000 penalty, the first time in the House’s 208-year history it has disciplined a speaker for ethical wrongdoing.

But it is sign of the weakness of the current field of Republican candidates – and conservative disenchantment with the most obvious presidential nominee, Mitt Romney – that Newt has floated to the surface like … well, supply your own simile.

What can we look forward to tonight? The subject is “national security,” the moderator is Wolf Blitzer, and according to CNN the themes include “national defense, the economy, international relations and terrorism”.

Obviously, Rick Perry and Herman Cain will be looking forward to sinking their teeth into substantive matters of foreign policy such as … oh no they won’t. Both Cain and Perry will be concentrating so hard on not sounding stupid that it will be a miracle if they open their mouths. Although Cain may attempt to silence the voices in his head by shouting “9-9-9″.

The question is how the other candidates react to Gingrich’s sudden rise in the polls. Will they take shots at him – or will Gingrich’s reputation as a formidable debater scare them off? Most importantly, will either Romney or Gingrich have any appetite for picking a fight? If not then it could be a dull debate of non-stop Obama-bashing.

We’ll be live-blogging here from 7pm ET, with the debate starting at 8pm and being live-streamed by video on

Leave your comments below or follow me on Twitter.

7.13pm: Steve Brusk of CNN’s political unit is watching the candidates arrive at the hall in Washington (where it is a miserable, damp, almost British evening). He says that Rick Sanotorum arrived in a pick-up truck, although “a very nice pick-up truck”.

He tweets Herman Cain’s arrival:

Herman Cain arrived with his new Secret Service detail, complete with DC Metro police cruiser at front and back

7.24pm: Speaking of Herman Cain, we know he has a problem with women – allegedly! But he also appears to have a problem with Muslims as well.

In the campaign so far he has said he wouldn’t appoint a Muslim to a Cain cabinet, and that he has been told by a secret unnamed Muslim that many Muslims are fundamentalists.

Now it seems he got worried when his doctor looked a bit Muslim-y. Chris Moody reports on a Cain appearance at something called “The Holy Land Experience, a Christian-theme amusement park in central Florida where visitors pay $35 to watch a re-enactment of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ”.

Cain told the crowd:

He did have a slight worry at one point during the chemotherapy process when he discovered that one of the surgeon’s name was “Dr. Abdallah.”

“I said to his physician assistant, I said, ‘That sounds foreign – not that I had anything against foreign doctors – but it sounded too foreign,” Cain tells the audience. “She said, ‘He’s from Lebanon.’ Oh, Lebanon! My mind immediately started thinking, wait a minute, maybe his religious persuasion is different than mine! She could see the look on my face and she said, ‘Don’t worry, Mr. Cain, he’s a Christian from Lebanon.’”

“Hallelujah!” Cain says. “Thank God!”

7.32pm: Intra-mural Mormon political in-fighting here, as Jon Huntsman has a go at Mitt Romney for talking nonsense regarding China in the last debate.

So maybe there will be some fireworks tonight? The trouble is, Huntsman’s poll ratings are like the Chinese economy pre-1987: dire. But as Huntsman old friend Deng Xiaoping used to say: “Black cat, white cat, it doesn’t matter so long as it wins the Iowa caucuses”.

7.32pm: Calling Newt Gingrich fans! Or even, Newt Gingrich enemies! See if you can answer the first quiz question here:

Which one of the following Members of Congress was disciplined for ethical wrongdoing while serving as Speaker of the US House of Representatives?

7.38pm: So if you’ve been in a coma for a week or two – and this news may make you lapse back into it, so if you woudldn’t mind signing a disclaimer releasing the Guardian from liability etc – then the big surprise is that Newt Gingrich is ahead in the opinion polls.

Here’s the latest from Gallup: “Among Republican registered voters, Gingrich is at 22% and Romney at 21%.”

There’s also a national poll out from Quinnipiac:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich more than doubles his share of the Republican presidential vote to lead the presidential pack with 26% and in a head-to-head matchup tops former Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney 49% – 39%, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

7.52pm: In case you missed it, here’s my debate preview from earlier today:

Once the shock of applying the words “hot” and “new” to the veteran Gingrich wears off, it’s no surprise that the former Speaker of the House has thrived during a presidential nomination campaign that has been dominated by debates.

7.53pm: My colleague Ewen MacAskill is at the Daughters of the American Revolution [DAR] Hall in downtown DC where the debate is being held, and he passes this along:

Security is surprising tight round the DAR hall. Police cars have blocked off all the roads round the debate venue, fences cut off the sidewalks and there are police in force at the handful of entrances for guests, politicians and journalists. There was nothing like this at the other ten debates round the country where life continued as normal in the streets round the venues.

Maybe the police are worried about terrorists because it is DC: but terrorists could just as easily have targeted Nevada or Iowa. Or are they worried about Occupy Wall Street which was not a force in the early debates? Or is it something to do with Herman Cain, who got secret service protection as of last week? ,/endquote

My money is on the Secret Service explanation. Everyone knows terrorists don’t target Iowa – we’ve all seen the movies. Do they have a sinister typewriter noise playing over a caption that says “Des Moines, Iowa. 08.00 hours”? No.

7.54pm: Ok, 15 minutes to go until we start. I want you all the close your eyes and say out loud: “President Gingrich”. How did that feel? Scary, huh.

7.59pm: OK, this is getting serious now. After this there are only two more debates before the 3 January Iowa caucuses. So time is running out – although sometimes it feels as if these debates will go on for ever.

According to the polls, Iowa is up in the air. The Los Angeles Times reports this nugget on how influential social conservatives in Iowa intend to vote:

The Family Leader, a leading group of conservatives hoping to play kingmaker in the Iowa caucuses, announced Tuesday that it had narrowed its endorsement choice to four of the Republican presidential hopefuls: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum.

For any of those four, the group’s endorsement before the leadoff nominating contest could be a significant boost given the outsized role religious and social conservatives have in the Hawkeye State.

Just as notably, the organization’s board said it never even considered Mitt Romney, long among the national frontrunners for the GOP nomination.

After Iowa we have New Hampshire a week later, then two weeks until South Carolina – where Gingrich has spent a lot of time campaigning and as a southerner might be expected to do well. Then it’s Florida, and that could be 2012′s make-or-break state.

8.01pm: Here we go then … oh and the Iowa caucuses are six weeks away exactly.

8.02pm: Now CNN’s playing the Hollywood-style montage intro that we have come to expect/endure in these debates. Clips of FDR, Reagan … and Jimmy Carter. Can you spot the odd one out there?

8.05pm: According to CNN, Herman Cain “worked for firms with a global reach”. Is that the best they could do?

Oh, it’s Wolf Blitzer. “Every US president since Calvin Coolidge has been inside this historic hall,” says Wolf. Yeah, well, Calvin Coolidge would probably be leading the current Republican field if he was running, which says something. A lot in fact.

8.07pm: Newt wanders on stage. I hadn’t realised before just how … big boned, as my mother would say, Newt is.

Rick Perry
does a pistol-finger pointing thing at Wolf Blitzer as he walks past him on stage.

8.11pm: “Please rise for our National Anthem.”

Got to say, that guy from the cast of Jersey Boys kind of massacred it. But it is a devil to sing.

8.12pm: Right. Seconds out. Wolf is now telling them what a big deal being president is. They probably realise that. Maybe not Herman Cain.

Now the candidates are introducing themselves. Ron Paul uses it to talk about fighting “unnecessary wars”. Rick Perry uses it to introduce his wife.

8.12pm: Mitt Romney says: “I’m Mitt Romney and yes Wolf that is my first name.” No it’s not! Mitt Romney’s first name is in fact Willard. Flip-flop! His first of the night.

8.14pm: Man, Mitt Romney can’t even get his own name straight. But I’m sure he’ll explain it away, that sure yes his first name used to be Willard but that was because… something.

Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, shake hands prior to a TV debate in Washington, DC. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

8.20pm: The 120-year-old Ed Meese asks a question. He was Ronald Reagan’s right-hand man when the former president was governor of California. He’s now on the staff at the Heritage Foundation, co-sponsors of tonight’s debate.

Newt bangs on about how he has studied national security for forever, and the Patriot Act is fantastic and he plans to marry it as the fourth Mrs Gingrich.

Ron Paul has a nice line: “the Patriot Act is unpatriotic”. Now they are having an argument about the Oklahoma City bombing, with Gingrich saying it justifies the surveillance of the Patriot Act. “This is like saying we need to have a policeman in every house,” says Ron Paul, who is calling Newt Gingrich as a big government stooge.

First black eye for Newt there, among conservative Republicans. Interesting.

8.24pm: The debate about the Patriot Act burbles on, and turns into a discussion about TSA patdowns – this a reference to airport security, which gets a lot of conservatives bothered.

Romney is now hair-splitting about the difference between criminal law and “the law that applies to those fighting America”. Uh. At issue here was the application of the Patriot Act domestically.

Rick Perry says he would privatise airport groping, and gets a big round of applause.

Republican operative Mike Murphy tweets: “Look on Perry’s face watching Romney do his Harvard law school bit is priceless.”

8.29pm: Rick Santorum wants the TSA to grope anyone who looks like a “radical Muslim”. Ron Paul asks: “What if they look Timothy McVeigh?” He then attacks the “careless use of words” about America being at war. “I don’t recall voting on America going to war,” says Ron, who is on a tear here tonight.

Awesome peroration there by Ron Paul. Yikes.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain shakes hands with former house speaker Newt Gingrich as Michele Bachmann looks on at the CNN Republican debate in Washington. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

8.30pm: Now it’s Herman Cain. He wants “targeted identification,” which is basically racial profiling. “Is it OK for Muslim Americans to get more intensive patdowns when they go through airports?” asks Wolf Bltzer. “Now Blitz, that’s over-simplifiying it … I’m sorry Blitz, I mean Wolf,” says Herman Cain.

“Thank you Cain,” deadpans Wolf Blitzer. Audience laughs.

So Mitt Romney can’t remember his first name and Herman Cain can’t remember Wolf Blitzer’s first name. Well, that’s an improvement I suppose.

8.36pm: “Pakistan has been at the epicentre of dealing with terrorism,” says Michele Bachmann, before breaking off to say for no particular reason: “I’m answering your question, this is a dual answer.”

Bachmann does get off a good line: “”Pakistan is too nuclear to fail.”

As in the last debate, Bachmann gives an impression of actually knowing what she is talking about regarding Pakistan.

8.37pm: Asked about Afghanistan, Mitt Romney runs off a bunch of numbers, showing off really, but sounds like the management consultant that he is.

Now he’s using Indonesia as an example of what to do in Afghanistan. As if there is any comparison between the two countries. Other than they are actually countries.

8.45pm: Romney and Huntsman go at it over US forces in Afghanistan. Romney tries to drop the to-and-fro, showing some bad body language here by turning away from Huntsman and lecturing Wolf Blitzer about the crusty old “listen to the leaders on the ground” line.

Huntsman comes back at him. “At the end of the day the president of the Unites States is commander in chief,” and mentions Vietnam.

Romney is still being fluent but there’s no substance there. Newt Gingrich: “Wolf I’m a little confused about what we are debating,” doing his loftier-than-thou act. Now he’s doing one of his lists-of-all-the-things-in-my-brain things.

Rick Santorum: “I agree with Ron Paul.” Awesome. His subsequent answer doesn’t suggest he does.

8.47pm: OK, this is a remarkably substantial debate so far, or maybe the other 10 debates have lower the bar so far that a child could step over it.

8.46pm: Yikes: “We’re going to come to Congressman Cain in a moment,” says Wolf Blitzer. Is that Wolf getting back at Cain for the “Blitz” stuff earlier?

8.48pm: Ad break! Phew. Ah, so where are we? It feels like trench warfare so far.

Jon Swain, Washington correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, thinks via Twitter all the name-mistakes are the result of low blood sugar: “I’m blaming hypoglycemia. There’s no food here.”

8.53pm: And we are back – and whoops! a question from the audience – but there is no question from the audience! Oh dear, oh dear.

Here’s he is. It’s about supporting Israel in a strike against a nuclear-armed Iran. Herman Cain says yes he would if the Israelis had a well-thought out business plan including franchise openings throughout the Middle East. I’m joking but not by much. Cain would expect Israel to share its plans with the US. Maybe not.

“Ron Paul, would you support Israel in an attack on Iran?” “No,” says Ron Paul. “They are capable of taking care of themselves…. the whole thing is going to backfire when we go bankrupt and withdraw all our troops.”

Hardball from Ron Paul there.

Now Herman Cain is banging on about the “mountainous terrain” in Iran which would apparently make bombing its nuclear facilities more difficult. Seriously.

8.55pm: Another Iran question: could any sanctions work against Iran? Suprisingly good question.

Rick Perry says sanctioning the Iranian central bank will do it. Ad he wants a unilateral no-fly zone over Syria. Doug Mataconis skewered that idea:

There’s only one problem with Perry’s idea. Unlike Libya, the majority of the action by the Syrian military against rebellious cities has been on the ground. A no-fly zone would do nothing to stop that and expanding a no-fly zone into something larger would essentially make us a combatant in what may be turning into a Syrian Civil War.

8.57pm: Newt Gingrich says America can bring Iran to its knees within a year by cutting off its gasoline sources. Yes, as always with Newt’s brain, it is really that easy. Sabotage an Iranian oil refinery? Sure, piece of cake. And we all know how much Newt likes his cake.

9.00pm: Hey, Paul Wolfowitz has been let out of his lead-lined cell to appear in public once more and ask a question here. He looks in good shape.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney listens to Texas governor Rick Perry during the CNN Republican debate in Washington, DC. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

9.05pm: Now Mitt Romney is giving Ron Paul a lecture about cutting government spending. Bad move Willard Mitt Romney: Ron Paul has been trying to cut spending since when you were a quasi-Democrat.

9.05pm: Mitt Romney is now bravely attacking the White House, doing his inevitable-nominee bit. “If I’m president of the United States my first trip, my first foreign trip will be to Israel,” says Mitt, reaching a new high in American political Israel-love.

9.12pm: I love the way Rick Perry says “leg-is-late-ors”.

Actually Perry having a good run here on the effect of the defence cuts coming under the automatic trigger following the failure of the supercommittee this week. He’s actually having a good debate tonight. Probably won’t last long. He’ll trip over his own shoelaces in a minute.

9.15pm: More from my colleague Ewen MacAskill, embedded within the debate venue armed only with his wits and an iPhone:

I am always being badgered by Ron Paul supporters after debates for not mentioning him enough, or even at all.

I suppose it had to happen sometime. Ron Paul has had a good debate, at least the first 45 minutes. Describing the Patriot Act as the UnPatriot Act and unconstitutional, and insisting that existing criminal law is good enough to deal with terrorism.

Michele Bachmann is guilty of excessive hyperbole in suggesting Obama has changed the course of history by not confronting Iran. Tehran was developing a nuclear programme throughout the entire eight years of the Bush administration, which pursued the same diplomatic route as the Obama administration, even considering reopening the US embassy in Tehran.

9.21pm: Now we are back on the economy, which is odd given this was supposed to be a “national security” debate. But then as Ron Paul points out, if the country is bankrupt it makes national security hard to pay for.

Michele Bachmann is very excited at the thought that since China owns US government debt, it earns the interest from the debt. And it (maybe) uses that money to pay for its military! So, according to Michele Bachmann logic, the US should just save time and bomb itself now.

9.23pm: A powerful moment: CNN cuts live to a shot of Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Clashes raged in Tahrir Square between police and protesters. Photograph: Mahmud Khaled/AFP

But then it’s another ad break. Way to spoil the mood, CNN.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting tonight, with far more meat in this debate. Maybe the candidates have run out of soundbites? Or maybe they just have new and improved soundbites.

The mystery of the night is how little screen-time Herman Cain got in that last section.

9.30pm: So far – as Texas Republican Josh Trevino points out – no questions on: the euro-zone crisis, Iraq, India or world trade.

And the first question after the ad break is … the border with Mexico. Rick Perry wants a “21st century Monroe doctrine“. He says “we know that Hizbullah and Hamas” are operating in Mexico. Do we know that?

Ron Paul wants to end another war: the drug war. Forget the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, says Ron, how about the border with Mexico? It’s the welfare state that draws them here.

“I think the federal war on drugs is failure. You can at least let sick people have marijuana if its helpful,” Ron Paul expands. “I fear the drug war because it undermines our civil liberties … and the kids can still get the drugs.”

All this common sense talk from Ron Paul, no wonder he hasn’t got a hope. In fact he’s getting more air time tonight than he has … ever that I can remember. Odds on a Ron Paul upset somewhere? Iowa?

9.32pm: Ah, here’s Herman Cain back again. And what a loss he has been to the nation’s gaity: “We know that terrorists have come into this country from Mexico.” Do we? I have no idea.

9.38pm: Ah, Newt Gingrich’s brain is on fire explaining his multiple choice ideas about immigration, with one of the many being handing out work visas to overseas students who gain a PhD in science. “Einstein came here as an immigrant,” says Newt. Ah, no he didn’t. He was visiting the US when Hitler came to power and as a Jew with a teaching job in Berlin he had no incentive to go back, especially after the Nazis attacked his house.

Republican presidential candidates during a Republican presidential debate in Washington, DC Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

9.40pm: It’s the magnet/amnesty/illegal immigrant part of the Republican debate, in which the candidates say they want to encourage some people to emigrate to the US and throw out the rest.

Newt Gingrich actually stands up for “illegal immigrants” who have been here for 25 years, saying he doesn’t believe the American people want to throw them out. That’s pretty brave of him in the current climate of the Republican party on immigration.

9.44pm: Romney says of 25-year illegal immigrants, “that’s the extreme example”. So will you throw them out, asks Wolf. “I’m not going to draw lines on who gets to stay and who gets to go,” replies Romney and retreats into blather about sealing the border.

Once again Mitt doesn’t want to be pinned down to actual things, like his first name. Mitt? Willard? Who knows, he just doesn’t want to be pinned down.

9.50pm: Larry Sabato, the political sage of Charlottesville, tweets:

Uh oh, Newt. Even PERRY has come across as tougher on immigration than you. Blue State Mitt strikes toughest pose of all.

Ha ha, “Blue State Mitt,” very good.

9.51pm: Now it’s a question from famous torture-enabler David Addington. Is the Heritage Foundation some sort of retirement home for ageing neo-cons?

Cute. They ask Herman Cain what he thinks about a “no-fly” zone against Syria. And he even answers, saying he’d “talk to our allies in the region”. Sadly, no one asks the obvious question: which allies in particular, Herman? Turkey? Denmark? Madeupistan?

9.52pm: Jon Huntsman is asked a question and he annoyingly pops the “sanctions against Iran” panacea that everyone else is so keen on, since China and Russia won’t play ball.

9.54pm: Question on Somalia. Ask Herman Cain, ask Herman Cain, please!

Dammit, they ask Ron Paul. “What if we had China put a no-fly zone over our territory, I don’t think we would like that,” says Ron Paul, sounding disarmingly like his Bad Lip Reading video.

In conclusion says Ron Paul: “Why don’t we mind our own business?”

On Somalia, Mitt Romney makes a generic attack on Barack Obama based on crappy misquotes. Why do the moderators let him get away with this nonsense? But Mitt doesn’t want to do anything about Syria other than what the Obama administration is already doing, which invalidates his previous line of attack.

10.03pm: Now Rick Santorum says he would also make his first presidential trip to Israel. Too late Rick, Willy Mittard Romney beat you to it.

Now there’s some silly open-ended “what’s the big threats out there?” question – and of course Newt mentions a massive electro-magnetic pulse that would destroy all of America’s electronics. Yes! Why has no one else mentioned this made-up B-movie sci-fi nonsense? Anyway it’s easily fixed by Will Smith armed with an Apple laptop, as I recall.

10.07pm: And that’s it! Phew. My colleague Ewen MacAskill has this instant reaction:

The story of the night is probably Newt Gingrich taking a gamble in advocating “humane” approach to illegal immigration. Perry was sunk by that in September but difference is that Perry characterised Republicans who did not agree with him as heartless. Maybe Gingrich will get away with his brave bout of honesty.

Yes, that might hurt him with conservatives, although he did make it sound so inconsequential that he may be able to explain it away. And there’s the difference between having an idea, as with Gingrich, and having a policy, as Perry had to defend.

Now the Bachmann campaign is accusing Gingrich of “amnesty,” a poison word for conservatives.

And Gingrich may have made it worse by saying in a post-debate chat just now: “There will be millions that will end up staying.” Millions of currently illegal immigrants? That will go down like a bucket of cold sick with many conservatives.

As usual with Newt, if you let him talk for long enough he’ll say something dumb.

10.17pm: On CNN now, Michele Bachmann is accusing Newt Gingrich of the A-word – no, not that one, but amnesty. “If you are legalising 11 million workers it sounds like amnesty to me,” says Bachmann.

Something tells me Newt will be rowing this one back in the next couple of days.

10.41pm: Larry Sabato agrees that Newt stepped in it over immigration, describing the former house speaker’s comments as “the mistake that mattered from this debate”.

Prof Sabato gives the following grades for tonight’s debate: Gingrich and Ron Paul: B+, Romney and Huntsman: B, Bachmann B-, Perry and Santorum C, Cain D.

10.49pm: Here’s the transcript of Newt Gingrich’s answer on the immigration question that has caused such a stir:

I did vote for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Ronald Reagan, in his diary, says he signed it – and we were supposed to have 300,000 people get amnesty. There were 3m. But he signed it because we were going to get two things in return. We were going to get control of the border and we were going to get a guest worker program with employer enforcement.

We got neither. So I think you’ve got to deal with this as a comprehensive approach that starts with controlling the border, as the governor said. I believe ultimately you have to find some system – once you’ve put every piece in place, which includes the guest worker program, you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here.

If you’re here – if you’ve come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. period. If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.

The Krieble Foundation is a very good red card program that says you get to be legal, but you don’t get a pass to citizenship. And so there’s a way to ultimately end up with a country where there’s no more illegality, but you haven’t automatically given amnesty to anyone.

Later Gingrich added:

I do suggest if you go back to your district, and you find people who have been here 25 years and have two generations of family and have been paying taxes and are in a local church, as somebody who believes strongly in family, you’ll have a hard time explaining why that particular subset is being broken up and forced to leave, given the fact that they’ve been law-abiding citizens for 25 years.

And later Gingrich responded again:

I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them.

I do believe if you’ve been here recently and have no ties to the US, we should deport you. I do believe we should control the border. I do believe we should have very severe penalties for employers, but I would urge all of you to look at the Krieble Foundation Plan.

I don’t see how the — the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving
them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.

It is actually quite a weird answer. Setting up a government board to vet who should stay and who should go? For millions of people?

It seems vague enough to let him out if he wants to back away from it. But it is also dangerously vague in terms of giving his rivals ammunition.

11.00pm: In summary: it looked for a while like Newt Gingrich was having a good night and living up to his front-runner status. But his open-ended answer on immigration hits a nerve inside the modern Republican party. It is one of the litmus tests applied by conservatives, perhaps more than even gun control or abortion, since those are now so settled within the GOP that there is practically no controversy over them, even at the margins.

But Gingrich has walked back from embarrassing positions before and he can do it again. And probably will.

One thing Newt did do well: adapt to the debate. Gone was the snippy, snide attacks on the moderators. And he even edited himself down a little, surprisingly.

For the others, Ron Paul had a stand-out night. He got some serious airtime, for a change, and he used it to challenge the party orthodoxy, the only one to really do so. I also thought Jon Huntsman had a good night but not enough to dramatically change his trajectory.

Was there a loser? One obvious one: Herman Cain. Cut off from his 9-9-9 tax reform lifeline he struggled like a drowning man looking for a lifeboat. He has nothing of interest or insight to add on national security, and it showed. He repeated his silly non-point about the mountainous nature of Iran making it resist attack. And he even got Wolf Blitzer’s name wrong. The Cain Train is officially off the tracks.

The other loser, less obviously, was Mitt Romney. He failed over his own first name, which was amusing. But more to the point, his carefully calibrated, focus-grouped answers generate no enthusiasm. With others getting more of a share of the limelight, and with his big policy plank on the economy taken away, Romney didn’t do much to build himself up.

Now there’s a break, until two debates that come close together: 10 December and 15 December. Both in Iowa. Not long to go now.

Finally, at last CNN runs a half-decent debate, it’s been a while. On the other hand, the list of huge foreign policy topics that weren’t questioned left some gaping holes: Euro-zone? Trade? Nothing. China even? Barely a mention except in passing.

What was easy to miss in this debate is that it had by far the lowest quotient of Obama-bashing by the candidates, for the simple reason that his foreign policy is the president’s one bright spot. Whoever wins the Republican nomination is going to find it very difficult to take on Obama on foreign policy outside the GOP echo-chamber. Luckily for them, there’s the economy.

Good night and happy Thanksgiving.

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Lee Serle: following in the footsteps of Trisha Brown November 16, 2011

On Sunday night the young Australian choreographer Lee Serle premiered his new dance work, POV, in the Astor Hall of the New York Public Library. The work had been made specially for the space: the grid-like patterns of the choreography referenced the marble patterned floor, also bringing a party atmosphere to the Beaux-Arts grandeur of the hall, with its sweeping stone staircase, vaulted ceiling and giant candelabras.

Most of the audience were seated around the edges of the hall, or standing in the upper galleries, but 30 of us were seated on swivel stools in the centre of the space. We’d been put there as kind of stage furniture, fixed points around which the dancers moved, but also as sitting targets for performer-audience interaction. At various points, the dancers engaged us in conversation, sang to us and, in a couple of cases, persuaded us to get off our stools and dance (not me, I hasten to add).

What made the evening unique, however, was not the audience participation but the audience itself. Unlike any experimental dance work I’ve ever seen, this one had among its first night public Peter Hall, Jessye Norman, Fiona Shaw, Trisha Brown and Brian Eno, with Peter Sellars perched near me on one of the stools. If I found the experience surreal sitting in the middle of it all, Serle as choreographer admitted to me later that he had found it all “pretty intimidating”.

This unlikely constellation of stars had been brought together by the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, a funding scheme set up in 2001 to revive the traditional relationship of master and apprentice by pairing young professionals with established masters and funding them for a year to engage in a shared conversation, creative process or working relationship. The mentors this time were Eno, Sellars, Anish Kapoor, Zhang Yimou and Hans Magnus Enzenbeger. Serle himself, a freelance dancer and choreographer from Melbourne, was paired with veteran choreographer Trisha Brown, co-founder of the experimental 60s dance collective Judson.

It’s easy to be overawed by the level of genius that Rolex has managed to harness to this scheme (previous mentors have included William Forsythe, David Hockney, Jessye Norman, Pinchas Zukerman and Martin Scorsese). Easy, too, to feel wary of the kind of wand-waving magic that Rolex can create in the lives of young artists. Yet the scheme is pretty much unique in the funding world, and just as it elicits passionate endorsement from those involved – Sellars wept openly when he spoke of the relationship he’d formed with his Lebanese theatre protege, Maya Zbib – it also raises intriguing issues about the ways in which the arts are best supported.

Serle is based in Melbourne, which for all its thriving dance community remains relatively isolated from the variety of training and performance that’s taken for granted in cities like London or New York. That matters: despite the global reach of the internet and YouTube, dance as an art form remains profoundly local, dependent on the physical transmission of knowledge, the hands-on process of teaching. Elements of Brown’s style featured significantly in Serle’s own training: her through-the-body flow and weight and ease of movement; her emphasis on human simplicity and scale. Yet inevitably it had been diluted though its dispersion through other teachers. He had never seen her work performed live.

The Rolex Initiative funding – no sums are announced publicly, but money is given for seemingly unlimited travel and costs, as well as replacement of lost earnings (plus the mentors get a Rolex watch to keep) – changed everything for Serle. He spent a year in Brown’s company, learning and performing her repertory, collaborating in the creation of new choreography, having her in the studio with him as he created his own new work. It was an astonishing, profound absorption in her style and practice, into a history of dance-making that spans 50 years. As he says, “it was like going back to the source”.

All Serle learned was evident in POV, which he created partly as homage to Brown: its meticulous structure, its loose, witty movement, its animation of the building all references in her work (Brown, as recent London seasons on the South Bank and at the Barbican have reminded us, was a pioneer of site-specific dance, with pieces like Roof Piece and Walking on the Wall).

But POV was also Serle’s own piece, especially in the skill with which he folded an exuberance of physical detail into the linear structure of the dance. Now that he’s back in Melbourne, he plans to develop it into a large work. Yet what he will also be bringing back to Melbourne is the body of knowledge he picked up in Brown’s studio. Teaching his own dancers and students, Serle can bring the dance community of Melbourne that bit closer to “the source” than it has previously been.

This has also been the case with previous Rolex dance proteges like Junaid Jemal Sendi, who returned to his native Ethiopia after a year with Saburo Teshigawara, and Sang Jijia, who is back choreographing and teaching in China after an inspirational period with William Forsythe in Frankfurt. It was these proteges’ good fortune to be chosen for the one-on-one intensity of the Rolex scheme, but their luck was then spread around, often to a degree that it’s hard precisely to compute.

For the next funding cycle, the dance mentor will be the Taiwanese choreographer Lin Hwai-min, director of Cloud Gate dance theatre. Lin is likely to have an equally powerful effect – Sylvie Guillem spoke of him reverentially as a “master teacher” while collaborating with him on the choreography for her duet Sacred Monsters with Akram Khan. When I asked Lin how he envisaged his role as mentor, he said he didn’t want to have someone coming into his company as Serle did with Brown: he was more interested in having a young choreographer with whom he could talk, exchange ideas. In fact, he laughed, he was seriously considering taking his protege mountain hiking, or on a pilgrimage.

Certainly it’s the intensity the Rolex conversations that seems to count most among many of its beneficiaries, as well as the fact that they continue long after the cycle has finished. They multiply, too – creating what Sellars pointed out was an unprecedented global network of artists, larger and freer than any institution.

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Democrats can take a weird sort of comfort from the GOP debates | Ana Marie Cox November 15, 2011

The popularity of the Republican primary presidential debates this cycle – they’ve been drawing viewership in the 8 million range – has been attributed to their resemblance to reality television. Of course, between Rick Perry’s alluding to campaigning while armed and the allegations against Herman Cain, this season of American political idol has more sex and violence than its TV rivals; but the race has had the same tumult and rapidly emerging (and vanishing) champions, the same breathless commentary (leavened with portentous disclaimers of “so much more to come”), and the same unself-conscious grubbing about in the lower reaches of human desires. And all this is without Donald Trump in the race.

Whether or not the participants realise it, they’ve been drawn into a pantomime that rewards drama over lasting influence. This is something that their audience may be unaware of as well – how else to explain the strange bifurcation of desires that puts Cain at the top of the polls even as GOP voters (again and again) say they want to increase taxes on the richest Americans?

To be very clear about this: Cain has proposed a tax plan (the advertising-jingle-level-annoying “9-9-9″) that would be, in the words of a former Obama White House economist, “the most dramatic and regressive shifting of the tax burden in the history of our nation”; a policy that would effectively cut taxes for the top 0.01% of Americans by about half. This is at the same time that two-thirds of Republicans say that income inequality is a problem in the US – and that the Occupy Wall Street movement can claim 26% of its membership is conservative.

So, on economic policy, at least, what the Republican-voting public says it wants does not fit comfortably with what its leaders propose to give them. I suspect the same is true when it comes to less concrete policy questions: questions of torture and nationalism, for instance. The audience physically present at this past weekend’s debate hooted its approval for waterboarding and pre-emptive military action as a majority of the candidates competed for the Dick Cheney memorial throne of blood seat.

Political analyst Craig Crawford noted on Twitter: “There’s nothing like torture, death and gay soldiers on videotape to turn GOP audiences into ancient Roman mobs.” To which I ask, why modify “mobs” at all? But here’s the thing: Americans – even Republicans – don’t like Dick Cheney. In a 2009 Washington Post poll of 804 “Republicans and Republican-leaning nonpartisans”, just one person cited Cheney as the best example of the party’s principles (you read that correctly: a single individual, not 1%).

Politics has always been at least partially about entertainment, and winning polls has always been at least partially about sheer popularity; and that observation is usually the source of pundit handwringing. But in this GOP race the gulf between what putative leaders say they stand for and what voters say they actually want gives me a weird sort of comfort.

To be sure, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the eventual GOP nominee won’t thunder into the fall full of threats to invade Iran, electrocute immigrants, and provide fluffy pillows and turn-down service to Wall Street executives … that is exactly what Democrats are hoping for, in any case. That nominee would almost certainly lose; both moderate observers and anyone clinging to the idea that the Republican party can be a force for anything besides marginal obstructionism should hope that the loss is devastating.

Whether they knowingly cite Joseph Schumpter or not, smug free-marketers (looking at you, Mitt Romney) blanket the misery of our current economic climate with the soothing thought of “creative destruction”. Lost jobs, empty houses, desolate outlooks: these are the necessary ashes out of which the free market creates future prosperity. This is bullshit, usually – simply the justification not for the evolution of markets but for the stagnation of income inequality. But the Republican party ideological imagination is a pretty bleak landscape in its own right – Cain, Bachmann and Perry, in the context of the roiling populism shown in polls, look like they’re clinging to the husks of a weedy field. Meanwhile, in the background, people like Jon Huntsman are hunkering down, guarding a couple of small but powerful ideas.

I’ve never been good at picking the winners in reality television, even aside from the debates – but I have forgotten the names of enough contestants to know that simply being famous doesn’t always count as a win.

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Theresa May is fallible. We must allow her to admit that | Jenni Russell November 12, 2011

Bill Clinton has a new mantra. Once a day, as he told an audience this week, he makes it a rule to find a reason to say “I didn’t know that” and “I was wrong”. He takes it so seriously that if the opportunity doesn’t come up naturally, he creates one.

Clinton is doing this because he is ferociously curious. He’s a man on an intellectual journey, and he wants to understand a complex, constantly changing world, rather than being trapped by limited, outdated interpretations of it. He’s trying to challenge the mind’s natural inclination to jump to conclusions about a subject and never question it again. He says he wants to be a learner until the day he dies, and that the only way to achieve that is to have an open mind.

Put that way, Clinton’s approach sounds like eminent good sense. It’s more than that. It’s difficult and remarkable. We don’t tend to do it ourselves, preferring to stick to a set of certainties we happened across some time in the past. And we certainly don’t like it in our leaders. Statements that sound like a charming admission of intellectual humility from an ex-leader come across as dangerous weakness in current ones.

Just consider the wall of criticism that met Theresa May this week because she was unaware of an element of how her department was operating. Not knowing something nearly finished her. If she had dared to add to that by saying that she was wrong, she would have been out. Think of the jeering David Cameron has been subjected to whenever his government has changed its mind: on privatising forests, on the NHS reforms, on Ken Clarke’s sentencing proposals.

The media gloats over U-turns, changes of direction or apologies as signs of frailty, not as possible signs of sense. Imagine the response George Osborne would get if he stood up and said that he hadn’t realised how badly the economy would respond to an austerity programme, and that he had been wrong to drive one through. Suppose Barack Obama confessed the same doubts about the massive stimulus package that isn’t delivering growth in the US. Our reaction would be fury and scorn. We demand omnipotence, certainty and results from the people at the top, rather than an intelligent willingness to change their minds as the facts change too.

This would be reasonable if certainty and conviction were correlated with success. They aren’t. We would like to believe that they were, because we’re always looking for guidance from people who tell us they have answers, whether they are politicians, doctors, economists, financial advisers or business leaders. The evidence shows how feeble the link between confidence and judgment is. Even worse, the more powerful individuals become, the more likely they are to trust their own instincts, to ignore information brought to them by others, and to end up making mistakes.

We’re surrounded by proof of how badly leaders and organisations read reality, from the financial crisis to the euro and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This month, research in the journal Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes shows how powerful people end up making less accurate decisions than less powerful ones. Merely being reminded of a situation in which they once had power is enough to make people more dismissive of others’ input, and they are wrong to do so. Outside information helps to smooth out the distortions that result when people give too much weight to their own opinions.

Leaders rarely understand this. They learn the opposite lesson. Since confidence is seen as an important attribute of leadership, most successful people come to see taking advice as a sign of weakness. That confidence is good for them individually – it means they are more likely to be trusted and promoted – but bad for the organisations they work in, which are more likely to commit themselves to poor decisions.

That pattern of confidence being good for individuals’ careers but bad for the accuracy of their predictions is a common one. In 2005, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Philip Tetlock, published a long-term study of the predictions made by 284 political and economic commentators. He had asked them to make predictions about the likelihood of wars in the Gulf, the survival of Gorbachev, the future of emerging markets. The results were devastating. The commentators performed worse than basic computer algorithms, and the more famous and in demand the respondents were, the more flamboyant and overconfident their forecasts.

The Nobel prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in a book out this month, Thinking, Fast and Slow, shows how unwittingly flawed many professionals’ judgment is. The chief financial officers of America’s largest corporations turn out to be unable to predict the stock market: several years’ research showed that if they thought it likely to go down, it was more likely to rise. Highly regarded traders turn out to have had good results purely by chance. Even doctors are not immune. Autopsies show that doctors who described themselves as completely confident of their diagnosis while their patients were alive were proved to be wrong 40% of the time.

Changing cultures in which individuals are rewarded for their overconfidence while the rest of us suffer the consequences of their decisions is extremely hard. In the political hierarchy, some people know it’s needed. This week, two Downing Street advisers told me they’re frustrated by the civil service’s reluctance to challenge the potential weaknesses in government ideas. They’re looking for criticism. A former adviser to Labour, Geoff Mulgan, believes it’s essential to puncture the bubble of shared assumptions in which ministers and special advisers live. He thinks one solution is to ban advisers from departments on a Friday to allow ministers direct access to outsiders and independent thinkers instead.

At this miserable moment in 2011 we need to demand sober, solid, more broadly based judgments from the powerful. But we also have a role. We should be more willing to admit that the complexity of the world means those leading us will make mistakes. If we want better decisions, more honesty and a swifter correction of errors, we must stop being so childishly unforgiving about our leaders’ fallibility. President Clinton isn’t unique. We can be wrong too.

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Rick Perry forgets which agency he wants to scrap in Republican debate disaster November 10, 2011

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry‘s campaign is facing meltdown after one of the most humiliating debate performances in recent US political history.

His chances of securing the Republican nomination slipped after one painful minute in which he could not recall the name of a government department he is planning to kill off.

Perry reeled off two of the three departments he wants to axe, but could not remember the third. Some Perry supporters declared his campaign over and suggested he head back to Texas to focus on his job as governor.

Perry, conscious of the damage he has done to his chances, came out to face the media in the spin-room immediately afterwards rather than leaving it, as is normal, to his press staff.  “I’m sure glad I had my boots on because I sure stepped in it out there,” he said.

The Republican presidential debate in Rochester, Michigan, had been predicted to be dominated by the sexual allegations against one of his rivals, Herman Cain. Instead Cain escaped unscathed and all the focus was on Perry’s gaffe.

Perry’s moment of embarrassment came when he was asked about one of the main planks of his policy for cutting federal spending, the elimination of three departments.

“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: commerce, education, and the uh … what’s the third one, there? Let’s see.” He went on to say: “The third one. I can’t.” He made it worse by adding: “Oops.”

Fifteen minutes later he attempted to undo the damage, saying: “By the way that was the department of energy I was reaching for a while ago.”  But it was too late.

Although he has millions of dollars in campaign funds accumulated it will be hard for him to recover.  A Perry donor sent a tweet to the Washington Post: “Perry campaign is over. Time to go home.”

Larry Sabato, profesor of politics at the University of Virginia, tweeted too almost immediately on seeing Perry stumble. “To my memory Perry’s forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary.”

Perry’s brain freeze, reminiscent of some of the awkwardness associated with George Bush, was shown live on television nationwide and will be shown repeatedly over the next few days.

He was already struggling in the polls, having dropped from frontrunner status to single-digit figures. He alienated many Republicans when he described as heartless anyone who did not agree with his relatively liberal approach to the children of illegal immigrants.

He had been talking before this debate about pulling out of future ones, an acknowledgment that he is a poor performer.

Cain, asked afterwards if Perry was finished, was charitable. “I would not say that. The American people can be very forgiving,” he told NBC, which hosted the debate.

Cain acknowledged the last 10 days had been rough as he faced allegations from four women of sexual harassment.  Although the debate bad been billed as primarily about economics, one of the journalists on the panel asked him about the allegations.

The mainly Republican audience booed the journalist for raising the issue and applauded Cain when he complained of being tried in the court of public opinion.

There were further boos from the audience when the journalist asked Mitt Romney, the former government of Massachusetts, about the allegations. He sidestepped the question, to applause from the audience.

Romney gave another confident, calm performance that will have cemented his frontrunner status. With Cain facing the sex allegations and Perry’s campaign in deep trouble Romney’s chances of securing the nomination increased on Wednesday night.

Although  there is resistance to him among rightwingers, he is doing much better and is more relaxed than he was in 2008 when he lost out in the race for the nomination to John McCain.

The former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at present in third place in the polls and could face scrutiny over his role as a consultant to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the organisations that provided the mortgages to those with poor credit ratings, precipitating the economic slump.

The organisations hired consultants and lobbyists to avoid federal regulation.
During the debate Gingrich claimed he had warned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac against giving out such mortgages. He received $300,000 in 2006 for his consultancy role.

The other candidates on the stage failed to make any significant impression.

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Google+ launches Pages service November 8, 2011

Save the Children charity is one of the first organisations to sign up to the service

Google has started allowing businesses and brands to set up their own pages on its new social network.

The US firm says the Google+ Pages facility will help companies and campaigns engage with their audience.

Organisations will not be charged to use the scheme and Google says it will not put adverts on their pages.

It is a further challenge to rival network Facebook, which offers its own Pages service allowing businesses to promote themselves.

Burberry, Barcelona football club and the Muppets are some of the organisations taking part in the launch.

Google says the service offers more than a shop window.

It says organisations can benefit from adding a “+” link to one of the adverts listed on the firm’s results or to another marketing campaign. The page owners can then monitor how many people are clicking through to their Google+ page and where they clicked from.

However, Google says it will not pass on individual IP addresses or any other personal data.

Organisations will be able to use the site’s Circles facility to match different information to different groups. They can also set up video chats with up to nine other users using the network’s Hangouts service.

“Companies like being on social networks, it allows them to have a two-way conversation with their customers and get to know more about who they are,” said Professor Jeremy Baker from the ESCP Europe Business School.

“It’s a very persuasive and intimate atmosphere as the sites are seen as trusted places to be.”

Google says more than 40 million people have already opened an account with its network

“Facebook still has more than 10 times the number of users,” said Ian Maude, head of internet at Enders Analysis.

“Google+ is growing very quickly. However, there is an awful long way for it to go before it becomes a major threat to Mark Zuckerberg’s business.”

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Band plays for festival victims October 30, 2011

Sugarland asked audience members to contribute to a relief fund for victims

Country music duo Sugarland have played a free concert in Indianapolis, two months after seven fans died when a festival stage collapsed in the city.

In August, high winds blew the stage over as the crowd waited to watch the group at the Indiana State Fair.

On Friday, they performed at the Conesco Fieldhouse venue, five miles from the site of the accident.

The crowd included some of those who were injured. Singer Jennifer Nettles said she wanted to “celebrate healing”.

“It was an emotional show, as well as a celebratory show, celebrating life, and music, and healing,” the band wrote on their website.

They thanked fans for “singing and dancing and raising your voices to the heavens”, adding: “We know that they were heard.”

Crowd members were asked to donate to a victim relief fund, which already has raised almost $1m (£620,000).

More than 50 people have filed claims alerting the state to possible lawsuits for a share of a $5m (£3.1m) state compensation pool.

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Online news sites are not all about journalism October 19, 2011

As we all know, the problem of running not-for-profit news outlets is that they have to be funded. If journalists want to eat, then their journalism – no matter how good it might be – is not enough.

Two writers with the US-based Knight Foundation, Mayur Patel and Michele McLellan, argue that non-profit sites “have to act like digital businesses”. In other words, they must introduce a measure of entrepreneurship in order to survive.

They have carried out a study, Getting Local, into some of America’s leading online local non-profit news ventures to see how they obtain their funding.

Conceding that none has yet to develop “a clear business model”, they believe that “some of the key ingredients needed for success are becoming increasingly apparent.”

Here’s a three-point rundown of those so-called key ingredients:

1. A business development strategy and the capacity to execute it

A news organisation may start with foundation (philanthropic/charitable) support. But, from the outset, it must experiment to discover other sources of revenue.

Foundation funding should be treated as equity rather than as an ongoing revenue stream. Philanthropic support is likely to diminish over time and needs be supplemented with new sources, such as memberships, advertising, sponsorships or events.

Example: MinnPost, a news outlet serving Minnesota, which was launched in 2007 with foundation and donor support.

By last year, it drew more than a third of its $1.28m (£820,000) revenue from non-charitable sources, including corporate sponsorships, advertising and its MinnRoast annual fundraising event.

2. A high level of audience focus and innovative approaches to build community engagement

A team of journalists creating a web newspaper is not a sustainable proposition. In addition to business expertise, such outlets need to understand who they want to reach.

They also need to experiment with ways to engage those communities in order to have an impact on civic life.

Example: The Voice San Diego regularly analyses data on the more than 6,500 subscribers to its morning report – a daily email with article excerpts and links to full content – to gain a deeper understanding of its audience.

Earlier this year, the site launched a major community event – Politifest 2011, which included a mayoral debate and an “idea tournament”, much like American Idol, to discover the best ideas among residents for making their region better.

3. Technological capacity to support and track engagement

A higher expectation of interactivity and a goal of strong engagement require technological capacity that sits outside the experience of many journalists.

Example: The Texas Tribune, has devoted significant resources to technology – developing innovative interactive features and highly searchable public databases, which have become a significant draw to the site and helped drive deeper audience engagement.

The average time people spent on the site in early 2011 was nearly four minutes.

Patel and McLellan conclude: “There are many unknowns in the emerging field of non-profit news organisations. But it is clear that successful ventures will aspire well beyond producing high-quality journalistic content.

“Entrepreneurial revenue development, audience focus and a mission of engagement, and technology to support that mission, are essential components of a sustainable not-for-profit news venture.”

Source: Knight Foundation blog

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Michele Bachmann preaches to the converted | Ana Marie Cox September 29, 2011

Michele Bachmann has two main skills: the ability to generate news coverage and the ability to deliver a pitch-perfect message to an audience of supporters. When she practices both talents at once, she is a credible presidential candidate, if not always credible. When she just hits a single, she is a more-talented-than-most orator from Minnesota with a conspiracist streak.

This morning’s address to Liberty University students showed her ability to connect and inspire like-minded people; a trick that is more difficult that you’d think – viz Mitt Romney. Unfortunately for reporter-type folks, she said nothing crazy … or at least, any crazier than the beliefs held by millions of Christians around the world. She talked a lot about God’s plans for us, for the country, and presumably for herself – they fit nicely together, according to her, what with her information that God wants more capitalism and less regulation, and favors people who will “stand up to the federal government taking over private companies”.

[Full disclosure: I believe that the Big Guy in the Sky has a plan for me, too; I do hope it includes healthcare.]

Bachmann’s knowledge of fundamentalist theology and the Gospel can only go so far in propelling her toward the GOP nomination, but when she expresses it – and identifies with it – with the eloquence she did today (historically, even her crazytalk has zing), one understands why she remains in the fray and excites such passions.

It’s unfortunate, probably for the country’s political dialogue as much as it is for spreading the Word, that she’s going to need to get back to talking about “slitting wrists” and vaccination causing “retardation” again, if she wants the media coverage to match the intensity of that support.

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Roman Polanski gets Zurich film festival award after two-year wait September 28, 2011

The film director Roman Polanski collected his lifetime achievement award from the Zurich film festival on Tuesday night, two years after he was arrested over child sex charges on his way to accept the prize.

“What can I say? Better late than never,” he said, laughing as he took to the stage after sustained applause and a standing ovation from the film festival audience. “It’s a very moving moment for me.”

Polanski was unexpectedly detained on an American warrant when he landed at Zurich airport on his way to the film festival in September 2009.

He was jailed and then placed under house arrest at his luxury chalet for more than six months while Swiss authorities considered whether to extradite him to the US, where he is wanted over a conviction for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He was released in July last year after Switzerland finally refused the extradition request.

“It was not only a blow to me, but also to my family and the festival itself,” he said of his arrest in 2009. “I would in particular like to thank the prison staff who tried to make my stay as bearable as possible, including the head of the prison of Zurich.”

There was loud laughter in the audience, but Polanski interjected: “This is not a joke.” He said he was “too touched by the situation”.

After being presented with the award in Zurich, Polanski was expected to present a documentary detailing his side of the story. The festival announced only a “surprise film” giving no details. The British actor Alice Eve told Associated Press the documentary was a series of interviews with Polanski.

The 78-year-old Oscar-winner, who is best known for his films Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist, is still wanted in the US for sex offences committed when he was 44. He was accused of drugging, plying with alcohol and raping a 13-year-old girl during a photoshoot in 1977 at the Hollywood home of the actor Jack Nicholson.

Originally charged with six crimes, including sodomy, child molestation and rape by use of drugs, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse and fled to France in 1978 amid a legal dispute over his sentence.

Polanski’s fugitive status means he limits his movements to countries where he cannot be extradited to the US, such as France. He holds French-Polish citizenship. He did not attend the recent Venice Film Festival premiere of his new film, Carnage, as Italy has a long history of judicial co-operation with America.

He was said to have used his time under Swiss house arrest at his luxurious Gstaad mountain chalet to work intensely on the film. The well-reviewed, claustrophobic black farce starring Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz is set in Brooklyn, but was shot on a Paris sound-stage as Polanski risks arrest if he travels to the US.

The director’s detention in Switzerland two years ago prompted an outcry from many leading figures in the film industry with directors including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard expressing support along with some French politicians.

The Zurich festival organisers said they were especially proud to have him return to receive his award. “We have always been tremendous admirers of his work.”

At the time of his arrest, the Swiss Association of Film Directors and Script Writers called the move “a slap in the face for the entire cultural community in Switzerland.”

In his acceptance speech, Polanski said: “I love coming to Switzerland and I’m happy to be here.”

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Radiohead deliver a few surprises on The Colbert Report September 27, 2011

“If you were real fans, you’d be watching this on vinyl … Prepare yourself, Radiohead – you’re about to meet Televisionface!”

With that introduction, Stephen Colbert’s hour-long special of The Colbert Report featuring Radiohead (“presented by Dr Pepper, except for Radiohead who present themselves because they’re nobody’s corporate tool”) began very much in the vein as it went on for the next hour, oscillating between genuine geeky fandom from Colbert the man, balanced against the comedy obligations of Colbert the conservative pundit persona.

Despite the Bill O’Reilly-esque character that he plays, Colbert has often used the Comedy Central show to indulge his very un O’Reilly-esque love of music and certain musicians. The Cars’ Ric Ocasek has become a near-regular guest and, more recently, he did several shows with Jack White. But only Radiohead got a full hour, a first for the show itself, too.

“This is going to be a mindblowing event for the music nerds. So in the event, I have hipster paramedics standing by,” said Colbert, pointing to a particularly sarcastic medic slumped to one side of the stage.

But despite the jokes, Colbert was sweetly visibly thrilled to have the generally interview-averse band on his show. But the band-members themselves looked even more thrilled to be there.

Thom Yorke in particular – not a man famed for his sense of humour – was clearly having the time of his life, being ribbed by the comedian and even making some jokes back.

“Why do Americans like you?” demanded Colbert.

“We don’t know. Not a clue,” replied Yorke, looking slyly out towards the audience.

When Colbert suggested it was just a hangover from Beatlemania, Yorke countered that they were “still waiting for the greeting off the plane with all the crowds and shit”.

“Well, maybe if you were lovable moptops … but you guys have this totally indie ragged kind of quality.”

Yorke burst into laughter while Jonny Greenwood behind him could barely sit up for giggling.

“How old are you?” continued Colbert. After some umming, Yorke, sporting a grizzled beard, replied that he is 42.

“Grow up, man,” Colbert spat out. The band laughed delightedly.

Later when Colbert interviewed Yorke and Ed O’Brien about the band’s commitment to the environment, Yorke managed to get in some digs about Rick Perry’s eco-scepticism (“Let’s say in order to be elected you need funds so you accept money from companies and some of those companies are oil companies”) before giving it up for Colbert’s comedy. When asked if Dr Pepper could ever become Radiohead’s official soda, Yorke replied that it tasted like the stuff you swill in your mouth at the dentist.

“Well, it is a Dr,” replied Colbert, much to Yorke’s delight.

Otherwise, Yorke was in recognisably Yorke-ian form, from erring ever so slightly on the hectoring side when talking about the environment to twitching around in that now familiar way, like the man’s never heard of self-consciousness, during the closing song The National Anthem.

That, along with the other three songs the band performed over the hour – The Daily Mail, Bloom and Little by Little – sounded nothing like what is generally played on late-night US talk shows, with more of an emphasis on haunting beauty than power rock (“Wowee!” cooed Colbert after Bloom.) Each performance was proof that a long relationship doesn’t have to lead to fatigue and infighting for all bands but rather, in the case of Radiohead, tight, elegant and sympathetic performances. Not all of the songs were Radiohead classics (The Daily Mail, while a funny idea, barely touches its nigh on unmissable target) but they all – as is always the case with Radiohead – simply sound like nothing else.

And now it looks like the band might have one more unique quality: social consciousness but also a sense of humour.

“Who’s better at saving the world, you guys or Bono?” asked Colbert.

Without even a pause, and looking the opposite of a tortured artist, Yorke replied, “Bono, definitely.” And then he grinned at the audience one last time.

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GOP presidential debate: Rick Perry struggles in the spotlight September 23, 2011

Texas governor Rick Perry struggled to reply to his critics in the latest debate between Republican contenders, revealing an Achilles heel that is undermining his march towards the party’s presidential nomination.

As in the two previous debates since he entered the race, Perry’s hesitant performance saw him bested on stage by his main rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who twice shrugged off Perry’s garbled efforts to attack his record, saying dismissively: “Nice try.”

Despite nine candidates on stage before a rowdy audience in Orlando, the interplay between the two men dominated the debate, with both accusing the other of changing their positions.

For Perry, the lacklustre performance raises fears among Republicans that he would fail to dent Barack Obama in the high-profile presidential debates during the 2012 general election.

Romney, though, was polished and more fluent, especially as the debate wore on, although he avoided making detailed responses.

The Texas governor also saw his otherwise impeccable conservative credentials come under fire, over his policy of allowing the children of illegal immigrants to benefit from cheaper in-state tuition fees to attend university.

Perry hotly defended the policy, accusing critics of seeking to punish children for the sins of their parents.

“If you say that we should not educate children that have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought here by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” said Perry – an attitude unlikely to go down well with the Republican base he is seeking to win over.

Perry said Romney was guilty of supporting the Obama administration’s flagship “Race to the Top” education programme, saying: “Being in favour of the Obama Race to the Top – that is not conservative.”

The debate again revealed an ugly side of the Republican party, with at least one audience member loudly booing a member of the US armed forces who appeared on video to ask a question.

The soldier, who revealed that he was gay, asked the candidates how they would respond to the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the US military that ended this week.

The booing followed similar scenes in the previous debates, when audience members applauded Perry’s tally of executions as governor and another shouted “Yes!” at the prospect of the uninsured dying from lack of healthcare.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman joked that Romney and Perry were bludgeoning each other but the other candidates failed to make much of their opportunities in the third debate within three weeks.

The most memorable line of the night, though, came from former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. Discussing the Obama administration’s attempts at economic stimulus, Johnson said:

My next-door neighbour’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this administration.

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