Latest from Birmingham Post news...
You can prove anything with statistics. 58 per cent of people know that.
So perhaps it wouldn't be right to read too much into the Birmingham Post's timeline of knife and gun killings in the region over the past year.
But on the other hand, what else is there to go on? And if it suggests anything it's this: gang crime is more of a problem than many people might think in this city.
I've been cancelling appointments left right and centre over the past few weeks as I worked with the other editors to put together our plans for the changes we announced last week.
We simply didn't have the time to attend the outside meetings and network events that are an essential part of any editor's life. Despite the easy jokes about free lunches, I think it's vital that we're out meeting readers and advertisers - and are seen to be doing so.
With all the understandable reaction to Trinity Mirror's announcements of job cuts and title closures last week, I have been somewhat distracted from the job of preparing for the relaunch of The Birmingham Post in October.
John Major had his soapbox, but David Cameron has his webcam.
The Tory leader is reviving the traditional public meeting with an appearance in Worcester, where 200 members of the public will have the chance to ask him questions. Anyone can apply for a ticket, the Tories say.
You might expect politicians to do this regularly, but it occurred to me that I couldn't remember the last time a Labour or Conservative leader actually let the public quiz them in this manner, unless it was in a debate organised for television.
Tony Blair held a series of consultations with "ordinary people", which Labour called the Big Conversation, but they took place behind closed doors.
The nearest thing I can remember is John Major getting on his soapbox in the 1992 and 1997 General Elections and facing down hecklers.
For today's Tory Party, a soapbox would never do. The Worcester event, on August 29, has been branded "Cameron Direct" by the Conservatives, and the whole thing will be broadcast live on the internet.
But the 200 people gathered in Worcester's historic Guildhall will be far more important than the internet viewers. They will undoubtedly form an opinion of Mr Cameron, good, bad or bemused, and tell their friends and family.
Even in the internet age, no form of communication counts for more than word of mouth.
Blogger and ex-Post journalist Paul Groves asks if the price of change here in Trinity Mirror Midlands will be worth it.
My response to that is to ask: "What is the price of doing nothing?"
It all started on 08/08/08 at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 pm (China local time) and for Michael Phelps it ended with 8 gold medals and 8 new records. It seems that 8 really IS the magic number!
Let's consider the evidence: In China, 8 is most definitely considered to be a lucky number. The Mandarin pronunciation ('bÃ?') sounds similar to the word for 'prosper' (which he did) and wealth ($1 million dollar Speedo bonus, anyone?). The symbol for the number 88 looks remarkably similar to the 'shuang xi' which is a popular design meaning 'Double Joy' (he broke 7 world records for speed, AND Mark Spitz's 7-medal Olympic record!) We're not the only ones who see the correlation either. A shrewd businessman once sold the telephone number 8888-8888 for $270,723 in Chengdu, China.
Oh, and that swimsuit Phelps was wearing was created by a brand involved in the sponsoring of 8 Olympic sports, by the way!
For years no one believed Mark Spitz's record would ever be broken. On Sunday, no one truly believed it would not. I think it's probably one of the greatest things that the world of sport has ever seen! It was hugely emotional to watch and I felt very privileged to be able to say I played some small part in the event that was Michael Phelps: Swimmer becoming Michael Phelps: Olympic Legend.
In a stadium packed with Chinese, Americans, Aussies and Europeans, it didn't matter who you were there to cheer on - the reality spread through the stands like wildfire. It felt like such a massive celebration of achievement and I could tell everyone in the stands knew that they just had witnessed history in the making. He's now the most decorated Olympian of all time. I find myself wondering if I - or indeed anyone - will ever witness a sporting achievement of this magnitude ever again. Incidentally, more people watched Michael go for gold than watched the last episode of Friends. That's a lot of memories.
We know there was so much more to Michael's big win at the Games than good fortune but let's face it, a little bit of luck never hurt anyone. Although I bet the airport's metal detector goes bananas when he leaves!
Paul Phedon works for Birmingham-based S&X Media and is representing Speedo at the Beijing Olympic Games.
One story I haven't written this week is the intervention by Birmingham MP Liam Byrne into the debate about Labour's future.
Mr Byrne is the most high-profile in Birmingham, as a Minister in both the Treasury and the Home Office as well as the Minister for the West Midlands.
He is also part of the Miliband-Purnell gang, which means anything he has to say should provide rich copy.
But his article for The Spectator about Labour's future path - championing "fraternity", apparently - carefully avoided controversy.
He did namecheck a Miliband, but it was brother Ed rather than the troublesome David, the Foreign Secretary who did journalists a favour in the silly-season by appearing to set out his stall for the Labour leadership.
Of course, we do report on serious debates as well as mischief, but this particular article just wasn't newsworthy. I don't think he'll mind me saying that. I suspect that, in the current circumstances, he'll be pleased.
But hopefully, Mr Byrne's upcoming pamphlet for think-tank Demos will provide more ammunition for people hoping to stir up trouble (political reporters).
Well who would have believed our Tuesday story about Birmingham City Council accidently printing a picture of Birmingham Alabama on its recycling leaflet could have recieved so much attention.
News of the blunder, first discovered by Kings Heath resident Jon Cooper who contacted The Birmingham Post about it, has appeared on national news and is zooming across the blogosphere.
Here is just a taste of what people have said:
The CCTV Building
Since the swimming started 6 days ago I've been heading to the National Aquatic Centre, aka the Water Cube, to go to work.
In the hustle and bustle of an Olympic working day in Beijing I try to afford myself a moment to take it all in.
But it's hard - I'm going to work in one of the most awe inspiring and innovative buildings in the world!
My good friends in RailFuture are getting hot under the collar about the New Street Gateway project. It's certainly open to criticism because it concentrates on delivering better facilities for passengers on the station but will do little to create more train capacity at the heart of the City. So rail supporters say scrap Gateway and go for a new station at Eastside, the so-called Grand Central.
But how realistic is this? While we need people to make the case for rail and to dream the dream, don't we have to start from where we are? And where we are is cash available from Government for the New Street make-over, plus City Council backing and likely buy-in from commercial interests. ÃÂ£600 million quid on the table is a reality, Grand Central is just an idea.
Its day 10 for S&X in Beijing and day 4 of the swimming! We're having a fantastic time but there just aren't enough hours in the day. We leave our apartments at 7am to get to the Water Cube in time for the warm-ups and don't get back 'til after the evening heats finish at 10 o clock at night!
As you'll know by now, Michael Phelps is well on his way to achieving 8 gold medals after having just taken his fifth in the 800 metre freestyle relay this morning. He actually won two medals in under an hour before it was time for elevenses. I think I was still on my second cup of coffee whilst he was winning his second gold medal!
Talking of medals, since we got here we have been fielding calls about how swimmers wearing the Speedo LZR Racer have broken 48 world records since its launch in February. I know it's a bit of a shameless plug but since the games started 4 days ago, that number has shot up to 62! Fourteen records in four days? That's good going!
We recently worked the Speedo 'Meet the Parents' event where we gave the media exclusive access to elite swimmers' families. Access Hollywood's Billy Bush, George Bush's cousin, came along, who I'd met previously at the USA swimmers' press conference - he almost sent me flying in the scrum to get to Michael! He absolutely loved meeting Debbie Phelps, Michael's mum because she's so friendly and chatty, she's a dream interviewee for the press because the pride she has for Michael and the enthusiasm she has for swimming as a sport is so obvious. The press scrum for her was almost as mad as the scrum for Michael.
American swimmer and US Playboy model Amanda Beard's parents put in an appearance and Natalie Coughlin, also American, had her parents come along as well. Australian Grant Hackett's parents are really nice too; they are all so enthusiastic about their children's achievements. They mostly watch the events from the Speedo Sports Club on the huge plasma screens so that they don't get hassled by the media but sometimes they come and sit with us in the Water Cube. We sat with Australian swimmer Bronte Barratt's parents the other day when she came fourth in the 200m freestyle semi-final and we really felt for them, but she still clocked a qualifying time for the final!
Despite the fact that everyone covering the Games has been here for a week at least, ourselves included, everyone is still a tad 'lost in translation' from time to time. I'm still at the point where I'm finding it fun and interesting although it's not much fun trying to translate your destination to a taxi driver when you've got a story to file!
It's been a real buzz to go to the Water Cube to work for the last 5 days. The foyer is seriously impressive with the bubbles that crown the building forming the windows. The poolside is really light and airy without a strip light in sight and a sea of bubbles adorns the ceiling. Though I have to admit, when US swimmer Ryan Lochte's in the pool I'm not exactly looking at the ceiling!
The swimming ends on Sunday and then we are managing a Meet the Coaches event and looking after media on the red carpet at the Athlete Wrap Party, so I'll be back to bring you the news from there as soon as I have it. Zai Jian for now!
Initial reaction at Westminster to the prospect of yet another by-election is that this could finally do Brown in.
John MacDougall, whose death was announced a few hours ago, represented Glenrothes, a constituency neighbouring Gordon Brown's own seat of Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath.
Losing here, when Labour gained a 10,000 majority in 2005, would make it very clear to members of the governing party that none of their seats are safe.
But Brown is planning to put off the day of judgment for as long as possible - and there will be no election until after the Labour conference, in late September. (It is possible to move the writ for a by-election even when Parliament is not sitting when an MP dies).
This gives him time to begin to turn things around. Mr Brown's best hope of ending leadership speculation is to deliver a cracking speech to conference, reassert his authority by reshuffling his Cabinet and make a success of his Cabinet meeting in Birmingham, which will be presented nationally as part of his efforts to listen to and understand the concerns of ordinary people.
Things could change before the by-election takes place. Still, people are wondering whether he could survive another by-election loss.
China's embrace of the spin machine could be seen as further evidence that it has moved further into the 21st century.
Not only were some of the fireworks for the opening ceremony computer generated, but one of the child singers was actually miming - because the girl with the singing voice wasn't deemed pretty enough to appear on the world's television screens.
Sadly, we Brits are in no position to mock, following the revelations about fakery in various television programmes. The Chinese are just doing it on an even bigger scale.
But it reinforces the idea that we shouldn't try to compete with China when our own Olympics come around in 2012.
Let's not worry so much about the glitz and just do it in our traditional under-stated manner. It may not impress the world quite as much, but it's what we're good at.
Citizens of Birmingham Alabama we thank you.
It seems you have been integral to Birmingham UK reaching its 2007/08 recycling targets.
I've just been writng about Tory plans for their party conference, in Birmingham next month.
Instead of sticking to the conference venue as usual, they're planning to get out and about with public debates which anyone can take part in. Members of the Shadow Cabinet will also get stuck into a bit of DIY, rennovating community facilities in Edgbaston.
Now word reaches me of plans to raise some extra cash for the project - called We Love Welsh House Farm - with a sponsored relay bicycle ride from London.
The relay part means shadow ministers will take it in turns to do a leg each, but they can hardly be faulted for that. Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is the man behind the bike idea.
The swimming finals began today and excitement in the Water Cube reached fever pitch with the 11,000 strong crowd cheering on our Speedo sponsored athletes!
A shot from the Beijing Opening Ceremony - (I wrote about it in our first post).
Jo Green and Paul Phedon from S&X Media in Beijing
"Ni hao Birmingham, Jo here!
Paul and I are in Beijing and the word of the day is HOT!! As in temperature AND the spectacle that was the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony. We have had a hectic few days here in China.
Every year it's the same but today the annual reminder, from a PR agency, that it's time to start a "pre-Christmas detox" never fails to astound me.
But for some reason preparations for the impending festival of gluttony and drunken joy seem to get going in August rather than on December 1.
Is it not possible for us sun-starved Brits to enjoy our all too brief fling with summer before being reminded we will soon have to don long sleeves, coats and hats?
Although this is becoming a ritualistic rant, I am sure I can't be the only person in Britain who finds the whole countdown to Christmas a tad cynical and untimely?
I have no intention of detoxing or even starting my Christmas shopping - 137 days to go, which is plenty of time, right? - before December 1.
Christmas may be coming and Britons are probably getting fat, but why do we need to know about a week-long detox while we're trying to enjoy our summer holidays!
In fact, after running the Las Vegas Marathon on December 7 this year, I shall be looking forward to re-toxing in celebration of my achievements.
Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and all that it stands for, I love shopping for gifts and the social whirl of it all... but not until December 1.
Here endeth the lesson.
Just what is David Miliband plotting? One story doing the rounds is that he is already drawing up plans for his first Cabinet - with former Health Secretary Alan Milburn as Chancellor.
But friends of the Foreign Secretary have denied this - apparently - and claimed it is a "smear" invented by Downing Street to make him look treacherous.
A third version of events has it that he is actually conspiring with Culture Secretary James Purnell and others to walk out of the Cabinet if a reshuffle takes place in September, potentially plunging the Government into meltdown.
Meanwhile, Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, has been taking up Pilates.The message? He's not going to retire on "health grounds".
This is politics as a game of Chinese whispers. As I said before, the longer this goes on, the more I find myself sympathising with the Prime Minister.
Ladywood MP Clare Short claims that David Miliband would be a lousy choice for Labour leader, partly because nobody has ever heard of him.
But nobody had heard of David Cameron before he stood for the Tory leadership. It was probably an advantage, as it helped him to present himself as someone who was changing his party.
If Labour does ditch Brown, or, indeed, if it keeps him but goes on to lose the next election, I think its best bet is also to go for a new face. Miliband's problem might actually be that he is too well known, and too associated with the current regime.
For example, there's Culture Secretary James Purnell, who I imagine can walk down the street more or less unrecognised.
Or how about a Minister who's not in the Cabinet? He won't thank me for this, but what about our very own Minister for the West Midlands, Liam Byrne (Hodge Hill)? Just throwing it out there . . .
Incidentally, although Clare Short has resigned the Labour whip and is not a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party, I think I'm right in saying that she is still a member of the Labour Party. If so, she'll get a vote in the leadership contest.
I see the Conservative Party has taken up the fight against the inequality gap within our schools.
Hardly surprising really, given the sad vacuum left by New Labour in this area. Gordon Brown's problems are not just about his unexciting public image. Nor do they stem completely from his dithering over holding an Election or the failure of his "safe pair of hands" to save us in the teeth of a recession.
So Gordon Brown is to come to the West Midlands in a bid to prove he understands what ordinary people are going through. As well as a meeting of the Cabinet, there will be events where Ministers "listen and learn from the experiences of people in this country," to quote Downing Street.
I kind of wish him luck. Am I the only one who feels he doesn't deserve to be stabbed in the back by his colleagues? It's only 18 months ago that they were claiming he was the best thing since sliced bread.
But I'm not sure this listening and feel our pain business will be enough. What's been most surprising about the Brown premiership is the relative paucity of big ideas.
There have been some constitutional reforms, but mainly technical stuff which doesn't mean much to most people - downgrading the Royal Perogative (taking some power out of the hands of the Prime Minister and giving it to Parliament), abolishing regional assemblies and that sort of thing.
It's reported that some former Cabinet Ministers are planning to publish their own policy proposals, presumably in an effort to promote a more Blairite agenda. This will be seen as another effort to destabilise Mr Brown and perhaps it is, but I think the Prime Minister should consider saying thank you, and stealing their best ideas.
Someone once asked me what I did during the recess - the long holidays MPs take, which more or less follow the school holidays.
I think it was the editor, when he first came to the paper, probably trying to find out if I ran away to a beach.
What I always say is that the recess is actually harder than "term time", as the MPs are away, the Government does very little, and it's more difficult to find stories.
But although this is true, I do look forward to the recess. It's pretty hectic working at Westminster, and the prospect of writing slightly fewer words each day for a couple of weeks is very welcome.
But once again, the politicians are ruining my plans. Two years ago, we had the coup which forced Tony Blair to announce a departure date - masterminded by West Midland MPs.
This time, it looks like we may get something similar with Gordon Brown. And even if he hangs on, there'll be no stopping the flow of copy as the media scrutinise every detail of Labour's leadership crisis (which is what it is). David Miliband has seen to that.
I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE MAN.....
How many Liam Byrnes are there? The Minister for the West Midlands attends so many local conferences (despite having a couple of other small things to do, like run the national immigration service) that some think he's got a twin.
He was at Worcester Rugby Club earlier this year leading a discussion amongst the region's transport movers and shakers (sounds like some of the trains I've been on...).
At this gathering Mr. B mentioned new ways of raising cash locally for better transport. The hidden message was: with ÃÂ£400 millions coming from Government for the New Street Station makeover it's going to be hard wringing much else from H M Treasury.
Much as I'd like to see Government blank cheques with the West Midlands name on the pay line (provided they didn't confuse Geordie Newcastle with Newcastle -u-Lyme again), it would be much more grown up if we had the ability to raise local cash for better buses, trains and trams. Going cap in hand to Whitehall isn't good for the region - neither is it efficient.
Unfortunately with our local politicians bottling out on congestion charging - unlike the Greater Manchester council bosses - we have no alternative way of obtaining extra local funding. Centro, the transport authority for the old WM County does a major fund-raising job already. But don't we need this for the whole region, from Hereford to Leek, from Oswestry to Stratford?
ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH?
Have you lost out on compensation in recent rail changes? New local operator London-Midland/London City who took over from (unlamented) Central Trains is required by Government to run a new compensation scheme for late running. Called Delay & Pay, overall it's a better scheme - but only for longer distance passengers. You have to be 30 minutes delayed to get a discount on your season ticket. This means Centro area commuters will generally see their past 10% lateness discount under threat as most will not (hopefully) meet the new delay level. But while we all want the trains to run to time, why wasn't this mismatch spotted by the brains at Department for Transport who set up the new rail franchises and ordered the compensation changes? In the East Midlands there were talks about easing in the new scheme to minimize loss to users. Why didn't that happen here?
ARISE SIR FAT CONTROLLER?
The Queen recently knighted Network Rail boss Ian McAllister. This was not long after NR management failures disrupted the West Coast Mainline and forced thousands of New Year travelers (at Rugby and elsewhere) onto buses, when they'd paid to use the train. Even now there are still major West Coast line closures planned by NR to meet their ambitious programme of engineering improvements up to January 2009. And 3 top NR bosses still got their over the top bonuses despite passenger misery.
When HMQ gave McAllister his K my (entirely fictional) spies tell me it went like this:
HMQ: Mr McAllister I've some bad news and good news
McA: I'll have the good news first Ma'am
HMQ: Arise Sir Ian - the bad news is that Network Rail has just been fined ÃÂ£14 million quid....
Passengers' Chorus: We Are Not Amused.......by Network Rail's failure to get its act together.
The six-month delay in appointing what's rather grandly being described as the concept architect for the ÃÂ£600 million New Street Gateway scheme has thrown up new information about the complex management arrangements for what, in essence, is only the refurbishment of a railway station.
Officials at Birmingham City Council are said to be tearing their hair out at Network Rail's failure so far to sign-up Foreign Office Architects to design the station exterior and new passenger concourses. Contractual difficulties and uncertainties over costs are being blamed for the delay.
It is unclear whether Gordon Brown pays any attention to the expensive media experts hired by Labour in an attempt to make him appear half normal.
If he has been listening, then he should seek new help judging by the bizarre newspaper pictures over the weekend of the Prime Minster and his family on holiday in Norfolk.
You'll know the shots I am referring to. A handful of chavs leer into the camera while Gordon and his wife, Sarah, take their baby son out in his buggy along the sea front at Southwold. Mrs Brown looks, well, as if she would rather be anywhere in the world than this rather staid outpost of East Anglia, while Mr Brown tugs nervously at a shirt cuff inside his jacket in the manner of the Prince of Wales.
Labour has lost its third safest seat with a devastating defeat in Glasgow East.
The result means all eyes will be on Gordon Brown when he makes a keynote speech in the Midlands today, Friday, at Labour's National Policy Forum, at Warwick University.
His party had a majority of 13,507 in Glasgow East in 2005, but lost the seat by 365 votes this morning.
Despite the tight margin, the result will be a bigger psychological blow to Labour than losing the Crewe by-election, where the party was defending a majority of 7,078.
To make it worse, the Labour candidate, Margaret Curran, is widely agreed to have run a good campaign, so the blame can't fall on her.
The SNP is claiming that the vote represents growing support for Scottish independence. That's probably wishful thinking, although it clearly suggests people have some confidence in the SNP.
The real question is whether the vote reflects general disillusionment with Labour, or with Gordon Brown in particular.
Latest gossip in Westminster is that the SNP is ahead in the Glasgow East by-election.
Of course, I have no idea if it will prove to be true when the result is announced about nine hours from now.
But it will be a disaster for Gordon Brown if his party has managed to lose a seat where it had a 13,500 majority - to the SNP, which is actually in power in the Scottish administration and shouldn't be receiving the type of boost opposition parties normally enjoy in by-elections.
Last night I predicted that Mr Brown would remain Labour leader until the next General Election no matter what.
My opposite number on the Liverpool Daily Post has a different view, and reckons Mr Brown will be out by the end of this year if he loses tonight.