Ha'aretz is running this intriguing tickertape newsflash banner this evening:
U.S. to send badminton team to Iran as part of bid to engage Iranian people
Well, I know President Obama's keen on that sort of high energy team sport. The clip above tells you more than you probably want to know about the centrality of basketball in his life story. And he's said to have asked for a basketball court to be installed in the White House so he can go on playing.
I wondered if badminton had been chosen instead of basketball so as to make this breakthrough gesture look less like a bit of US cultural imperialism.
Then I found the full AP storyfrom which Ha'aretz' headline was taken.
What do you know? It seems it's a women's badminton team which is going to be sent out to engage the good people of Iran. Is this a masterstroke, a superb bit of cultural finessing by Obama, in which he sidesteps potential accusations of sexist sports orientation by showing that both US and Iranian women can excel in the most macho of court sports?
Er, probably not. Because what's clear is that these exchanges have been going on since January 2007. That's right, since deep into the presidency of-- George W. Bush, the supposed pariah of the old politics which Obama Is going to sweep away with Change We Can All Believe In.
What's more, during this period of the Bush presidency, 32 US athletes were sent to Iran and 75 athletes brought to the US, including weightlifters and wrestlers, basketball, table tennis and water polo players, all organized by the supposedly neo-con dominated Bush State Department in co-operation with the Iranian authorities.
But the spin being put on this latest exchange is that it's part of a broad bid to engage the Iranian people through cultural and educational exchanges. I can't quite work out what's meant to be different about this particular trip that'll engage the Iranian people in a way they weren't previously engaged before.
And still it falls, and the sky is that solid muddy grey that signals another thick blanket ready to descend.
Here's my road, with a bunch of teenagers out enjoying their day off school and the unprecedented opportunity to toboggan down the middle of the road on a tea-tray.
Out on my deck, there's an almost silence. Usually I can hear a distant constant humming, the sound of the North Circular, the busiest road in London. Now, there's almost nothing. Just wind sighing in the trees and the occasional flop of a fistful of snow falling off a vine.
I've only seen one intrepid milk float on the road since eight this morning. Nothing else on the move. All the buses cancelled. Almost all the schools shut.
Last night, I drove home through a blizzard. I emailed my daughter to say that was the first time I'd done that since the time I lived out in rural Berkshire, before she was born. Then at half past one in the morning, she emailed back to say she and her husband (both aged 23) and a bunch of their friends had just come in from being out playing in the snow. Cambridge snowbound at midnight. It must have looked stunning.
I do realise this must make Canadians and most northern USA folk laugh their socks off. Five inches of snow can be almost guaranteed to shut everything down in the UK.
There was our Mayor, Boris Johnson, on Radio 4 at 1pm, valiantly inventing new verb conjugations to convey the frantic intensity of the London gritting team's unsuccessful efforts to get the roads cleared:
We gritted, we grat, we grut, he said. But when you get that much snow, there's just nowhere to put it.
Sending up the notorious "leaves on the line" British Rail apologies for the regular breakdowns of service every time the first major Autumn storm brings the fall, he also said
This is the right kind of snow, it's just the wrong kind of quantities
You have to give the man credit. He'd actually cycled all the way from Highbury to his mayoral office. And the dreaded Red Ken would never have carried off that apology for failure with such charm and good humour.
Hmmm. Weather forecast on Radio 4 just said we're due for another foot of snow in the next few hours.