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March 30, 2005

Flashman in Ethiopia

Flashman on the MarchGeorge MacDonald Fraser's latest novel Flashman on the March has its "hero" Sir Harry Flashman, V.C. marauding through nineteenth century Ethiopia. He takes part in the 1868 battle of Maqdala, when British troops invaded Ethiopia to free a bunch of European captives imprisoned by Emperor Tewodros II. (The soldiers also stole lots of Ethiopian treasure while they were here - read all about it at AFROMET.) I have read quite a bit about the battle of Maqdala. Can't understand how I missed all those passages on "leather-clad nymphs with a penchant for torture" and "de-ballocking Amazons". Sounds like a good read.

Here is the Amazon synopsis:

Celebrated Victorian bounder, cad, and lecher, Sir Harry Flashman, V.C., returns to play his (reluctant) part in the Abyssinian War of 1868 in the long-awaited twelfth installment of the critically acclaimed Flashman Papers. Many have marvelled at General Napier's daring 1868 expedition through the treacherous peaks and bottomless chasms of Abyssinia to rescue a small group of British citizens held captive by the mad tyrant Emperor Theodore. But the vital role of Sir Harry Flashman, V.C., in the success of this campaign has hitherto gone unrecorded. Flashman's undeserved reputation for heroism renders him the British Army's candidate of choice when it comes to skulking behind enemy lines in Ali Baba attire. After all, who but the great amorist could contemplate navigating a land populated by hostile tribes and the lovliest (and most savage) women in Africa, from leather-clad nymphs with a penchant for torture to de-ballocking Amazons and a voluptuous barbarian queen with a reputation for throwing disobliging guests to her pet lions?

Posted by aheavens at 3:52 AM

March 24, 2005

Online obelisk

Axum's soon-to-be-returned obelisk has its own website imaginatively titled www.thereturnoftheaxumobelisk.com.


You will notice that the "event" page is still blank. That is because, amazingly, people are still not sure exactly when it is going to come back from Italy. From what I have heard, the first tentative date of March 31 now looks very unlikely. Early April is more like it.

Posted by aheavens at 4:35 AM

March 22, 2005

Working the phones

At least someone knows how to get the most out of the phone system in Ethiopia:

Peacekeepers cheat UN of $500,000 in phone fees

UNITED NATIONS, March 21 (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers enforcing a December 2000 peace accord between Ethiopia and Eritrea defrauded the world body of more than $500,000 in telephone calls, U.N. auditors reported on Monday...

U.N. soldiers normally have to pay for personal calls while on a mission but the troops serving in Ethiopia and Eritrea used stolen personal identity codes or abused a grace period to place calls without paying for them in 2003 and 2004, the U.N. Board of Auditors said.

Users at the time were given a one-minute grace period before billing began, to ensure a connection was made.

Some soldiers abused the system by dialing as many as 100 consecutive calls within a single hour, each lasting less than a minute, to escape billing, the board said in its latest annual report on the finances of peacekeeping operations.

Posted by aheavens at 4:27 AM

March 21, 2005

The SIM card stampede

Set70_01The crowd started forming at dawn. By 8.30am they had started jostling against the armed guards outside the Ethiopian Telecommunications branch office. When I asked someone what was going on he said two words - "mobile phones".

Later in the day, I watched a similar crowd gathering outside the main telecoms office on Churchill Road in the centre of town (see pic). The young men - and in both cases it was mainly young men - had got up early to push and shove to get hold of one of the 200,000 new mobile phone lines that have been offered to the public over the past few weeks.

Those lines have been a long time coming. For years there has been a huge backlog in the SIM cards distributed exclusively through Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), a state monopoly. Until recently, the only way to get one was to go one a two-year waiting list, rent one by the week, or get a letter from some ministry pushing you ahead of the queue. (As a registered journalist I got to use the last technique with the help of the Ministry of Information).

The recent rush for SIM cards highlights two things. First, and most obviously, there is the huge demand for mobile phones in Ethiopia and beyond that Africa as a whole. The second is the inefficiency of leaving the state to run a country's telecommunications industry. There is a huge demand for mobile telecoms in Ethiopia and - in the worldwide market - there is a huge supply of mobile handsets and services. But, for some reason, over here supply is so limited that the arrival of some SIM cards starts a stampede.

Last week's Economist had some interesting facts and figures in their lead article The real digital divide:

Instead of messing around with telecentres and infrastructure projects of dubious merit, the best thing governments in the developing world can do is to liberalise their telecoms markets, doing away with lumbering state monopolies and encouraging competition. History shows that the earlier competition is introduced, the faster mobile phones start to spread. Consider the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, for example. Both have average annual incomes of a mere $100 per person, but the number of phones per 100 people is two in the former (where there are six mobile networks), and 0.13 in the latter (where there is only one).

Ethiopia's mobile phone story took an interesting twist in last week's Fortune, one of the country's two Sunday business papers. Ayenew Haileselassie reported on the paradox that while thousands were queuing to snap up SIM cards, the country's officially-licensed mobile phone shops were doing very bad business. The reason, of course, was that Ethiopia's new mobile users were taking their new cards down to the markets to put them into a flood of much cheaper, illegally imported handsets. Customers had found a way to get round at least one state control.

Ayenew visited an official Siemens dealer in the Piazza:

Their best daily sale over the past three weeks since the ETC started doling out 200,000 lines to subscribers has been five phones. Their worst sale, which could happen once or twice a week, amounted to zero…

"Sometimes we get our salary a day or two late," said Tariku [one of the salesmen]. "We feel embarrassed to remind our employer, for we know we have not made many sales."

ETC, by the way, is going through a process of gradual privatisation.

Posted by aheavens at 5:34 AM

March 18, 2005

Ethio forum, the new merkato and Taiwan

Anyone in Los Angeles tomorrow (Saturday Mar 19) can turn up to a free "Special Forum on Contemporary Ethiopia" organised by the UCLA International Institute. The talk that looks most interesting to me is "The Paradox of Ethiopia's Under-development" by Berhanu Abegaz, professor of economics at William and Mary College. If anyone out there is going, it would be great to get some reports.

Contemporary Ethiopia: Revolution and Transformation?

What is the status of Ethiopia, 20 years after famine relief? Why hasn't Ethiopia progressed as predicted? Former Clinton advisor for Africa, Gayle Smith, along with leading Ethiopian scholar, Edmond Keller, lead a panel discussion focusing on the state of Ethiopia. Where were you when "We Are the World" dominated the radio waves? Marcia Thomas of USA for Africa discusses the 1984 famine relief effort and pop culture.

I still need to find my way round the old lay-out.

City Admin Approves New Design for Merkato, Half a Million Birr Needed

The Daily Monitor - The Addis Ababa Tourism Commission in association with the Addis Ketema Sub City have launched the first step of redesigning Merkato, the biggest open air market in Africa.

The people of Taiwan will sleep a little less easy in their beds tonight.

Ethiopia's parliament speaker supports China's Anti-Secession Law

ADDIS ABABA, March 16 (Xinhuanet) -- Ethiopia's parliament fully supports China's adoption of the Anti-Secession Law, which is intended to prevent Taiwan's secession from China, Speaker of the Council of People's Representatives of Ethiopia, Ato Dawit Yohannes, said Wednesday.

Posted by aheavens at 6:08 AM

March 17, 2005

No1 in Ethiopia - No 243 in the world

forbes_120_160.gifThanks to Nazret.com's EthioBlog for pointing to this entry on Ethiopia's richest man in Forbes's annual listing of the world's richest people. Mohammed Al Amoudi came in 243rd place.

Mohammed Al Amoudi

Source: oil

Net Worth: $2.5 bil up

Country of citizenship: Saudi Arabia
Residence: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Industry: Oil/Gas
Marital Status: married

Born in Ethiopia and now a Saudi citizen, Al Amoudi made his fortune in construction and real estate before expanding into oil refineries in Sweden and Morocco. Now he's plowing refinery profits into his native Ethiopia buying assets and bankrolling the national soccer team. His Sheraton Addis Ababa Hotel, which hosted U2 front man Bono when he toured Africa, faces new competition from Saudi Arabia's richest man, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who is negotiating to buy the once-grand Ghion Hotel, built by the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.

Posted by aheavens at 4:26 AM

Sir Bob and The Sun

Amber interviewing Bob Geldof at the Commission for Africa meeting in Addis Ababa in October 2004Sir Bob Geldof has been having a rant at the UK papers over their coverage of Ethiopia and Africa. According to the Guardian's media section, he used the British Press Awards to lay into the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror and the Independent.

His only words of praise were for The Sun - Britain's best-selling daily tabloid newspaper famed for its pictures of topless models on page three and its alarmist coverage of the country's immigration "crisis". (Its current anti-gipsy campaign also makes interesting reading.)

According to the Guardian:

Geldof made his remarks at the British Press Awards after being invited to take to the stage by the Sun's associate editor, Dominic Mohan, and reporter Oliver Harvey, who had just been given the Hugh Cudlipp award for their Band Aid campaign for Africa...

Geldof went on to describe how Sun reporter Harvey had tracked down 1984 Ethiopian famine survivor Birhan Woldu and introduced her to an unsuspecting Tony Blair.

This type of journalism, he said, can help save a continent that is in danger of sinking into oblivion, he said, adding that everyone in the room had a duty to see that the G8 summit in July made a difference to Africa.

I love the bit about The Sun tracking down famine survivor Birhan Woldu. It creates an image of Wapping hacks trekking through Tigray, knocking on the door of every tukul they pass to find their woman. What actually happened was they phoned a stringer over here who phoned up a Leicester-based charity called A-Cet. A-Cet has been supporting Birhan's education ever since she sponsored by Brian Stewart, the Canadian camera man who filmed her during the 1984 famine.

By the time The Sun "tracked her down" she had already appeared in a string of follow-up TV documentaries in 1988, 1995, 2003 and 2004 as well as a number of other newspaper articles.

Here is the AP's version of Birhan's admittedly amazing story.

Posted by aheavens at 3:16 AM

Ethio briefs

News for the Tigrinian farmers who only had about a third of their usual rain last year.

Shift of Time, Not Lack of Rain Cause of Drought: Expert

The Daily Monitor - Addis Ababa March 16, 2005 - It is the lack of time concept or shift of time and not lack of rain that is causing the recurrent drought in Ethiopia, a Professor from the University of Ferrara in Italy told The Daily Monitor. The shift of time, as explained by Professor Paolo Billi, forces the delay of the rains in the rainy season thereby misleading the farmers to plant the seeds and expecting the rainy season earlier. "Though late, the rain will come. After several studies it has been proven that there is no change in the amount of rainfall in Ethiopia. It is just a lack of time concept," Billi said.

Another story; another Italian expert. This is bound to be seen as a delaying tactic by campaigners over here. But these professors are right to worry. Apparently, more than 95 per cent of the archaeological sites in Axum are unexcavated, including a lot of tombs said to be hidden under the obelisk site. It would be a huge shame to re-erect one national treasure only to accidentally destroy another.

Safety First for Re-Erecting Axum Obelisk: Experts Warn

The Daily Monitor - Addis Ababa March 15 - Italian experts working on the return of the Axum Obelisk from Italy to its original place have come up with a new controversy saying it could be dangerous to re-erect the obelisk exactly where it was before being looted by Italy in 1973, though facing some stern disagreement from Ethiopian engineers.

You see a shockingly high number of blind, often very young, people on the streets of Ethiopia's main towns. I have done no research on this. But I have been told that many of the cases are easily preventable.

Over 2,000 people regain sight

Walta Information Centre - Jijjiga, March 15,2005 - The Karamara Ophthalmology Program said over 2,000 people in Somali state have regained their sight through eye operation conducted over the past eight months.

An interesting scheme which The Economist covered in December. "Famine insurance," it said "could offer more than a Band-Aid for the poorest."

Workshop discussing a "weather indexed insurance" approach for drought intervention

Ethiopian News Agency - Addis Ababa, 3/14/2005 - A one-and-a-half day workshop discussing a new approach to saving livelihoods through the concept of weather indexed insurance was opened here on Monday. The new approach is jointly initiated by the World Food Program (WFP) and the World Bank, with a view to implementing a timely intervention based on objective assessment of weather risks and ensuring the availability of funds.

Posted by aheavens at 2:20 AM

March 12, 2005

Tumeric the wonder drug

This story was on SciDev.net - so it must be true.

Turmeric can combat malaria, cancer virus and HIV

Indian researchers are saying that turmeric, a yellow spice used in many national dishes, has shown potential as a weapon against malaria as well as promising effects against HIV and the virus that triggers cervical cancer.

Posted by aheavens at 12:12 PM

Meles takes the test

Tony Blair's Commission for Africa launched its long-awaited report in Addis Ababa yesterday. The report was basically a 400-page blueprint for pulling Africa out if its continued downward spiral into deeper and deeper poverty. It has more than 80 recommendations for African countries and the governments of the developed word. Here is the full PDF download.

Quote of the day came from Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's Prime Minister:

The report does clearly indicate that we Africans have made a mess out of our countries. It does not mince words about that. But, unlike most other reports, it says that we had partners in making a mess out of our countries. And these partners happen to be the developed world.

Most of the speeches and presentations were too general and polished to be actually interesting. But the PR sheen cracked once, during a question and answer session between the press and, once again, the Ethiopian Prime Minister.

A reporter from The Reporter newspaper asked him whether Ethiopia was going to take up the recommendations of the report and improve its own governance. (The Reporter reporter said some had described recent legislation controlling the charity sector and the press as "draconian" and "against the letter of the constitution".) He went on to ask the Prime Minister why he hadn't taken a lead in the fight against HIV/Aids by taking a test.

Here is Meles's answer:

Well the report will have dividends in terms of improving governance in Africa and therefore in Ethiopia. We can have our differences as to what we specifically mean. I would for example dismiss completely the premises behind your question. But that's not the point. The point is that the Africa Commission recognises that there has to be dramatic improvements in governance everywhere in Africa and everywhere in Africa means Ethiopia also...Now, with regards to HIV/Aids, I believe we are doing very good job. I do not believe in personalising issues. I believe in working through institutions. That has been my life over the past 30 years. There are others who would like to take personal as opposed to institutional leadership. One can argue both sides. My inclination is to let institutions provide the leadership and not personalise issues. I have not personalised any issue including HIV/Aids. But as far as tests and so on are concerned. I have done what is expected of me. I have also been tested. If I have not been marketing it perhaps I need to market it better and perhaps you can help me in doing it.

Posted by aheavens at 11:47 AM

March 8, 2005

Plasma problems

Two months ago, I walked into a remote school in southern Ethiopia and was amazed to see the children being taught via a plasma screen at the front of the class room. Lessons were being beamed in via satellite. I was told that every high school in Ethiopia was getting these screens.

At the time, it all seemed amazingly positive - an exciting and imaginative use of cutting-edge technology in a developing country.

If only things were so simple.

Two days ago, an Ethiopian student commented on my post about the screens.

At school the English in plasma is not good for me , It is too fast and too short, the supporting materials are not easily available particularly for those of us out side Addis. My teachers are not some times sure of the subject may be because of the English like my self. Most students are not happy with the plasma. We would like to get copy of the CDs so we could study at our own time. Please help us.

Then today, the Rev Andrew Proud, vicar of St Matthew's Anglican church in Addis Ababa, had this to say on his weblog Arat Kilo.

There have been two major impacts of this technology here so far: only those who have good English are able to keep up with the lessons, most students are beginning to feel left behind; and the teachers have become supervisors and technicians, turning the equipment on and off at the beginning and end of each session. The students even refer to them as DJs.

It is a useful cautionary tale for tech cheerleaders like me who automatically assume that hi-tech advances are good things in themselves. It is also something that Bono might want to consider before pushing on with his plan to connect every Ethiopian school and hospital to the internet.

Maybe we should be looking for something lower-tech, something that actually works.

Posted by aheavens at 6:56 AM

Democracy is good for you

Researchers from the London School of Economics set out to discover whether African democracies behave differently from their authoritarian counterparts when it comes to public services. Apparently, they do:

Dr. Stasavage covered the education spending of forty-four African countries from 1980-1996 using data compiled by UNESCO. He concludes, "…while the move to democracy has not triggered a wholesale turnaround in economic policies, the evidence does show that multiparty electoral competition has been associated with greater government spending on education, and on primary education in particular."

This reminds me of another defining characteristic of democracies identified in Amyarta Sen's great book Development as Freedom.

Democratic governments ... have to win elections and face public criticism, and have strong incentives to undertake measures to avert famines and other catastrophies. It is not surprising that no famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy..."

Posted by aheavens at 6:14 AM

Bono the hologram on Ethiopia

bono.jpgHere is a recording of Bono addressing the recent Technology Entertainment Design (TED) conference in Monterey, California via some kind of hologram display. His speech was all about Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular.

He talked about his first encounter with the country. During the 1984/5 famine he came here with his wife to work in an orphanage for a month. For some reason, the children called him "the woman with the beard" - probably something to do with his 80s hairstyle. After that visit he decided to become "that worst of things - a rock star with a cause".

It is easy to be cynical about these rock stars with causes. Sting in the rain forest is the obvious example. But there is something compelling about the way Bono talks. It is so similar to the rhetoric used by Ireland's other campaigning singer Bob Geldof.

There is the same resigned drone in the voice, the casual swigging from the water bottle, the same self-depreciating smile at his own jokes. There is the same ability to come up with a speech that is basically one long, long quotable soundbite - if that is not a contradiction in terms. The same disconcerting switch between hip rock star talk and campaigning vocabulary - "I'd like to hard cut now from the moral imperative to the strategic..."

They are also good at breaking through the generalisms of development talk to make strong, pragmatic appeals. Bono was talking to an audience made up of Silicon Valley boffins and other cutting-edge entrepreneurs from the tech and pharmaceutical sectors. He pointed out that America's global reputation was a little tarnished at the moment. "Wouldn't [the widespread release] of anti-retroviral drugs be a great advert for Western technology? Doesn't compassion look well on us?"

Bono was granted three wishes by the organisers of the TED conference. His third was "I wish for you to show the power of information - its power to rewrite the rules and to transform lives - by connecting every hospital, health clinic, and school in one African country, Ethiopia, to the Internet." TED participants are now supposed to help him make the wish a reality.

I suppose one obvious question is whether every school and hospital in Ethiopia really needs to be connected to the internet.

Posted by aheavens at 4:39 AM

March 6, 2005

Very big ant

bish_6I was sitting out on the veranda at Ethiopia's amazing Bishangari Lodge when this monster wandered on to my shoulder. I know it is small fry compared to most African wildlife encounters. But, any experts out there who can help identify it? At the moment I am sticking to the classification "very big ant".

Bishangari, by the way, is Ethiopia's first eco-lodge - a tiny, beautiful place to stay about four hours drive south of Addis. It is an 'eco' lodge because the electricity is solar powered, cars are banned and the whole place is a nature reserve. It is the closest thing that Ethiopia has to those luxury lodges you find throughout Kenya.

If anyone is interested in visiting Ethiopia, Bishangari comes with the full Meskel Square seal of approval.

Posted by aheavens at 3:55 AM

March 3, 2005

Edinburgh refuses

A small sad note amidst all the celebrations over the imminent return of Ethiopia's looted obelisk.

Edinburgh University - the place where I studied - has just refused to return four manuscripts in its collection that were looted during the British invasion of Ethiopia in 1868. The refusal came despite a string of requests from academics, "ordinary" Ethiopians and senior politicians.

Read all about it here on the website of AFROMET - the Association for the Return of the Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures.

The saddest thing for me was Edinburgh's quote that "It is the considered view of the University that conservation of the documents is of primary concern." The implication is clear. Africans are not capable of looking after their own national treasures. Some colonial attitudes take a long time to die.

Posted by aheavens at 4:02 AM

Italy forgets

Yesterday was Battle of Adwa Day in Ethiopia. Just in case you don't know:

adwa.jpg"The battle of Adwa, in which [poorly armed] Ethiopian forces under Emperor Menelik II united to defeat an invading force of [very well armed] Italian troops, was one of the most significant turning points in the history of modern Africa. It occurred, in 1896, when the "colonial era" was well advanced on the African continent, and it served notice that Africa was not just there "for the taking" by European powers." - Xinhuanet 02/03/05

Read more about it here.

This was a day off for everyone - except, perhaps not so surprisingly, for those who work at the Italian Embassy in Addis Ababa. I heard last night that even the Ethiopian staff were made to come in. I guess it must be a bit like being English on the 4th of July - or German on VE Day.

The picture is from the Africana Collection in the US Library of Congress. You can tell the Italians are the bad guys because they are painted in profile with only one eye showing. The saintly Ethiopians stare straight out of the canvas with both of their eyes. (Click on it to make it bigger)

Posted by aheavens at 3:22 AM

March 1, 2005

I Didn't Do It For You

i_didnt_do_it_for_you.jpgA quick recommendation of a book I've just read.

I Didn't Do It For You, by Michela Wrong is an excellent history of Eritrea which, inevitably, pulls in lots of fascinating facts about its neighbour Ethiopia. The subtitle 'How the world betrayed a small African nation" says it all. The whole story is there, from Italy's taking of the port of Massawa at the invitation of the British in 1884-5 to the brutalities and betrayals of its current regime. In between there are the shockingly ham-fisted interventions by Italy and the UK (again and again) alongside the US, the UN and successive regimes in Ethiopia.

I especially loved it for its portrayal of the remarkable Pankhurst family. Sylvia Pankhurst, the famous UK suffragette, campaigned against Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in the build-up to World War Two and eventually moved here. Her son, Richard, is still here. We have both got to know him and his wife Rita - and Michela Wrong's portrait is spot on.

Now 77, [Richard Pankhurst] is recognised as one of the world's leading authorities on Ethiopia. Author of more than a score of ground-breaking histories of the country, founder of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University, his expertise has made him a regular contributor to international symposiums and research journals so obscure, he wryly observes 'they are probably read by no more than twenty people'.

[He] could really be no other woman's son. His face has the same droop as Sylvia's: gravity working overtime. Like her, he seems more at ease in the realm of the concrete than the emotional. Discussing Ethiopian history, he rattles off thoughts at machine-gun speed, but ask him about his mother's frame of mind on moving to Addis and he flounders, suddenly lost, as though the question has no meaning. He has inherited her capacity for the dogged campaign, sustained across the decades: the most recent has been the fight to return to Axum one of the great obelisks Mussolini seized as war booty and used to decorate a Roman square.

There the similarities begin to peter out. Richard, one suspects, is rather more fun than Sylvia can ever have been. Endowed with the blinking diffidence of the shy Englishman, he has a habit of twitching his lips spasmodically, as though controlling an urge to laugh.

I have heard that Michela Wrong's book on the Congo - In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - is also worth a read.

Posted by aheavens at 9:22 AM

Broadband in Addis

I have not missed broadband in Addis Ababa up to now.

Most of my news and online reading comes through Bloglines – an RSS aggregator that strips out all that cumbersome page design from sites like ft.com, leaving just the lean content behind. Other news updates arrive in the body of email messages. When text is the only thing that matters, a 52kbps dial-up connection from Ethiopian Telecommunications is plenty.

It has made me realise just how much of the broadband-powered stuff I did in the UK was unnecessary. Did I really need to watch a CNET news report or interview via a video feed? How often have I actually listened to those poorly-recorded Stone Roses bootlegs that I downloaded through BitTorrent? Did I really need to tune into obscure radio stations online when I had more than enough free audio blaring out of our real-life digital radio set in the kitchen? It was all great fun – but almost all of my high bandwidth surfing amounted to procrastination and time-wasting.

I have occasional mild hankerings for something faster here in Ethiopia. My wife Amber is a radio journalist and it takes ages to send her MP3 audio reports back to Blighty via email or FTP. It would be nice to download a few of the latest music releases via iTunes. But, up to now, that has been about it in terms of missing our expensive, high-speed service.

This morning, however, I found another more substantial reason to regret the slowness of our connection here. It was the news of the upcoming release of Odeo, a service that aims to simplify the process of "podcasting" - which according to Wikipedia is "making audio files (most commonly in mp3 format) online in a way that allows software to automatically download the files for listening at the user's convenience". People download radio and other audio on to devices like Apple's iPod and listen to it at their leisure, in the same way that people record and watch TV shows through TiVo.

ct-weblogo.gifIt reminded me of the one piece of high bandwidth content that I would love to get hold of over here and download on to an iPod or any gadget that can take it. It is something that I will never be able to get to via my weedy dial-up line or listen to through our crackly shortwave radio set.

It is, of course, Car Talk, probably the best radio show in the world and available only to listeners of the USA's NPR radio network or owners of broadband internet links.

The show is basically two Boston men giving car advice to callers from across the US. Just like UK blogger Stuart Hughes, who loves it as well, I have no interest in cars. But it is still amazing - "a hugely entertaining hour of radio" in Mr Hughes' words.

For me it is nothing less that a one-programme justification for the broadband revolution.

Posted by aheavens at 8:53 AM