Saturday, May 17, 2003

IN'S AND OUTS
I've tidied up the links a bit today and will do some more spring cleaning soon. I've added Au Currant, Natalie Solent, Samizdata, Laurence Krubner and Brendan O'Neill to the weblog list but I don't want one of those huge long blogrolls that just get ignored so I have had to axe a couple. 'Biased BBC' has gone along with Andrew Sullivan. I can't remember why either of them were ever there in the first place.


posted by BA on 2:58 PM link
CRASS

I'm reading The Road to Nab End by William Woodruff at the moment, a beautifully told account of his childhood growing up in one of the poorest of Lancashire's milltowns. What I like about the book (so far) is the way he describes a working class community and the misery of (real) poverty with humour but at the same time avoiding the sentimentalism that accompanies so much writing about the textile towns. Then I saw this .

Could there be anything more crass?

posted by BA on 2:25 PM link
FIVE THINGS I COULD HAVE BLOGGED ABOUT
I’ve been very busy with work recently and had to leave the blogging in the capable hands of the new partner in the firm. But there are a few things I would have liked to have blogged on – here is a brief run-down of them:

1. The reconstruction of Iraq is off to a terrible start. But at least Bush realised and sacked Jay Garner and his under-prepared team. The issue of development in Iraq can’t be left to drop off the radar like Afghanistan though and I don’t think it will. But I am still not interested in hearing complaints about reconstruction from people who demanded we left Saddam to continue his looting – they don’t have a leg to stand on anymore.

2. No weapons of mass destruction have been found yet. I still think it is early days but it must be starting to get worrying for the politicians now. The real danger of not finding WMD’s in Iraq is not the political consequences though. We know there were WMDs and if we don’t find them it means they went somewhere and we don’t know where they are – that is worrying. As far as I am concerned the mass graves are enough of a ‘smoking gun’ to justify the war on the terms I backed it. They are also damning evidence of the moral bankruptcy of the old approach of co-existence with dictatorships and the reactionaries who wanted to continue that cold war approach.

3. Should we go for it with the Euro or not? Call me a fence-sitter but is obviously an economic decision and I’m not an economist. Like an awful lot of people, I really don’t have any strong feelings one way or the other. But why does this debate have to become a debate about whether we should be in the EU or not? That argument was decided years ago. It is perfectly possible to be against a single currency while being ‘pro-Europe’ and it is also reasonable to be in favour of the euro while not buying into the Common Agricultural Policy. I suspect any referendum would avoid the real and probably quite dull economic issues. Meanwhile the No Campaign – like the anti-war campaign will bring the far left back into alliance with the far right. Of course this is not a reason in itself to vote in favour of the euro but it is another sign of the bankruptcy of the old left.

4. Are Foundation Hospitals a good idea? If they are why haven’t I heard/read a convincing case for them yet? Why do we need them? Of course we need reform of the public services including the NHS but the specific case for Foundations has not won me over yet. However after they have cried wolf about so many issues I find myself highly sceptical of the hard left/soft liberal claim this is ‘privatisation’.

5. Is Tony Blair becoming 'too Christian'? That’s his problem. As long as he keeps his beliefs personal and out of policy then I have no problem with having a believer in Number Ten. However with ‘Faith Schools’ he has crossed the line. I am with the fine people of the National Secular Society on this one.


posted by BA on 1:04 PM link
NO HYPE PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH
One of the many irritatations of the US 'blogosphere' (as opposed to our own little UK/European bloghamlet) is the tendency to blog about blogging. I like reading US blogs that have something fresh to say about the news or politics but I press the back button as soon as I see an article about how blogs are changing the way we think about news, 'revolutionising journalism' etc etc.

However I am going to break my ban on addressing the issue for once.

Why does this hype annoy me/amuse me so much? Well firstly I can't escape the impression that the excitable kid is getting a bit carried away. Blogs are fun to create and run, blogs can be interesting to read and above all they can be a useful tool to discussion and finding articles you wouldn't otherwise have discovered. Full stop.

They aren't journalism - indeed to be quite frank we bloggers parasitically feed off traditional journalism don't we? Most of us have day-jobs and rarely have time to sit down and write a 1,000 word analysis. Instead we link to someone elses and add our own comments.

That makes blogs a useful democratic add-on to traditional media but the idea put around by the likes of the ultra-hyped and over-rated Instapundit and the pompous Andrew Sullivan that blogging presents a revolutionary challenge to what they calls 'big media' is just tosh.

Instapundit clearly loves his ego being messaged by his many media appearances which he always posts about and that tells you everything you need to know - big or old media matters, it has the kind of credibility and import that a link on another blog just can't match. Maybe the fools who give him money to blog haven't realised but Sullivan writes his best articles for real media who pay him properly. The scraps and leftovers go on the blog.

I'd carry on but to prove my point about how we need real media Brendan O'Neill, a teacher of online journalism and assistant editor of Spiked, has already said it all in this excellent article."I actually like blogs. Really I do. Some are funny, some alert me to interesting articles, some even say original things. But the biggest revolution since the birth of the printing press? Blog off," says O'Neill. He has his own blog here by the way which is worth a look.

I found O'Neill's piece via a link on Cinderella Blogafeller slagging this rather confused Spiked article by Bill Thompson which complains about the alleged power of libertarian US bloggers, what he calls (and I hope he is trying to be funny) the blogeoisie . I find lefties moaning about how popular right-wing US blogs nearly as dull as right-wing US blogs moaning about the liberal media. If you don't like it - challenge it. To be fair Thompson does have his own site and blog.

Thankfully there isn't much of this self-obsessed hype that O'Neill ciriticises from us Britblogs - we just tend to quietly go about our business with little or no attention paid to us by either the US uberbloggers or the UK real media.

OK, Reactionary Pete Briffa had a column in the Times the other week but that 'historic moment' wasn't followed by a series of posts about how Briffa is breaking down the traditional barriers to non-PC views in the mainstream media was it? Why? Probably because Peter knows we would rip the piss out of him if he even hinted at such nonsense - call it a 'check and balance'.

Yes there is a difference in size and influence between the UK and US blog scenes but I suspect there is also a cultural difference too. Americans feel much more comfortable selling themselves, they thrive on hype. On this side of the Atlantic we might overindulge in cynicism but we do have highly-tuned bullshit detectors.







posted by BA on 10:19 AM link

Friday, May 16, 2003

RIYADH BOMBINGS

This article from Lebanon's Daily Star speaks for itself.

posted by marcus on 10:02 AM link
SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE ?

The British Medical Association want a total ban on smoking smoking in public. They include offices, factories, pubs and restaurants in their definition of public spaces and cite as support for their proposed measure the fact that 17000 children small children are hospitalised every year as a result of passive smoking.

A large-scale Californian survey, the results of which are published today in The British Medical Journal has shown that not everyone agrees that passive smoking is a as bad as the British Medical Association would like us to believe.

Wherever the scientific truth lies surely it would be more sensible for pubs and restaurants to decide their smoking policy themselves. Those which wanted to attract smokers would allow smoking while those which didn't wouldn't. Setting aside spaces in offices and factories for those who wanted to smoke would also seem to be a better solution than an outright ban. I'd be interested to know from our US readers how the total ban on public smoking in New York is going. I suspect it is being ignored on a large-scale and people's respect for the law is diminished.

I also want to know what thousands of small British children are doing in offices, factories and pubs.



posted by marcus on 9:35 AM link

Monday, May 12, 2003

I'LL HAVE THE LANGOUSTINE

The Scottish Socialist Party have a campaign to provide free school dinners for all children in the state education system. They state that a poor diet kills people prematurely. I won't argue with that statement.

I do have a problem with extending free school meals from those who presently receive them (the children of the poor and unemployed) to every child in the state system. Unlike in the English home counties, where the middle classes send little Tarquin off to public school while the working classes are left to educate Tracy at the local Comprehensive, the Scottish middle-classes are, for historical reasons, generally perfectly happy to send their children to the local state school.

I have a number of questions I'd like The Scottish Socialist Party to answer: Why should middle-class children whose parents can well-afford to pay for school-meals be subsidised by the Scottish tax-payer ? How much money is this proposed plan going to cost ? Who came up with this stupid idea anyway ? The caption under the photograph on the link states "Our kids need free, nutritious school meals". The ones who need it get it already, those who don't shouldn't. Any extension would be a collossal waste of money.

posted by marcus on 4:25 PM link
IT'S All ABOUT OIL

Seeing as oil is the natural resource du jour I thought these findings by Christian Aid might be of interest to readers. Christian Aid note that the discovery of oil in a third world country isn't neccessarily a good thing for the people of the country in which it's found for the simple reason that local elites tend to pocket the profits from the oil and then don't bother to encourage any other economic development. Having been involved in legal cases involving oil money in Nigeria and the Arab world I can only agree with their conclusions. In my experience without an accountable government, functioning civil society and widely-observed rule of law the discovery of oil (or any other natural resource) encourages corruption and graft.

It is not considered the done thing to say this in polite society (which is overwhelmingly behind the Drop the Debt campaign) but the problems of much of the world are less to do with the legacy of European imperialism than with the massive corruption endemic in many of the world's poorer countries. That's not to say that the legacy of imperialism is not a factor but it's not the whole story by a long way. The best example of a country which has successfully developed from third world to first world status is one with neither natural resources nor colonisation by Europeans - Japan.

If we are really interested in helping the developing world (and we should be for all sorts of reasons) we've got to drop the self-hating "guilt" which blames the failure of the third world solely on the first world and instead point the finger locally when it's appropriate to do so. It's what those who live in the third world have been doing for decades as they watch the economic performance and the living standards of their countries slip down the tables further every year.




posted by marcus on 10:12 AM link

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