October 31, 2004
Introduction and Reviews.
Welcome to the blog of THE BOOK, "2005 Blogged, Dispatches from the Blogosphere".
The book is an anthology of blog posts from the UK and Irish blogosphere over the time period November 2004 to October 2005. An attempt to show the diversity of voices, viewpoints, opinions and styles on offer, the reason for the book form to try and show them to those who do not normally read blogs. Or, in this version on the web, to those who do not normally read British or Irish blogs.
This blog contains the full text along with links to the original homes of each of the pieces. If you want to explore what the blogs are like in these isles then this would be a good place to start. Simply skim through this, when you find a piece you like go to the original blog and then wander from there. You’ll certainly find more that you enjoy.
If you should feel compelled to purchase a hard copy version you can do so via Amazon.co.uk and I believe that Waterstone’s and other good book stores might have stocks. Unfortunately it is only available in the UK so don’t bother trying Amazon.com.
Of course, I’m going to say it’s a fabulous book but then, similarly of course, it is also true. Not because of my linking notes, nor because of my uncanny powers of perception or taste in what I’ve chosen to include but simply because there is so much wonderful writing available to choose from. The real problem was limiting myself to a book length offering (and even then I was 40 pages over what the publishers asked for).
There have been a number of reviews and of course you can findthem all via Google or your favourite engine. Here’s just a sample:
Perhaps I should point out that this is not really a "best of" collection. "Best" in itself is a horribly subjective concept, how can we compare a political rant with a comic essay, a short aside or apercu with a detailed deconstruction of some piece of newspaper idiocy? Think of it more as a taster, not a definitive ranking exercise.
Most of all I hope you enjoy this ramble through the minds and interests of my fellow countrymen, what gripped the individual and collective attentions over the year.
I certainly enjoyed putting it all together, being able to tell my wife that yes, reading 5,000 blogs was indeed work.
The blog is arranged in chronological order, not the more usual reverse one.
November 02, 2004
The House of Dumb
A consistent theme,
from both right and left, is the way in which the BBC is biased.
Usually, it has to be said, away from whatever cherished beliefs held
by the speaker a station or channel has been discussing. Dumb Jon
takes this only as his starting point:
Oldest Enemy Returns
thing about living in a bubble is that there are no normal people
around to point out even the most absurd contradictions in your
position. Take the Beeb's efforts last Wednesday - on the same
channel, on the same night, the Beeb ran both The Power of Nightmares
and a supposed expose of the evils of the booze industry. So the
people flying airliners into buildings aren't a threat, but the
brewers are going to kill us all.
The program itself, The Booze Business: Consuming Spirits, was a masterpiece of the Beeb's po-faced, finger-wagging moralising. The program tracked a group of young ladies out on the town. Now take a wild shot in the dark which town it was filmed in ? Yep - Newcastle. Let no man say the Beeb is obsessed with stereotypes. The actual report was a perfect example of the 'gorillas in the mist' style Beeb reporters adopt every time they pass the Watford Gap, combined with the aforementioned sermonising, and no little humbuggery. The voice-over informed us that the ladies had spent over £100 on booze - no, actually they'd spent £20 on booze and £80 on tax. Hearing a whiny Liberal complain that people are spending too much on booze when it's people like him who have driven prices up in the first place is like hearing the guy who killed his parents lay claim to the sympathy of the court because he's an orphan.
November 04, 2004
The US election saw George Bush back in the White House. In general reaction was as you might think, those on the left wanting Kerry, those on the right, Bush. Harry’s Place showed a little more nuance, or, if you prefer, used it as a club to beat their anti-war left opponents over the head with:
I've been trying not to chuckle at some of the stuff I've overheard in the past few days because, after all, I didn't want Bush to win the election and I was disappointed Kerry failed.
I really liked the idea of the US and UK both being governed by centre-left leaders committed to defeating Islamist terrorism and winning the struggle for democracy in Iraq. I was happy to save my schadenfreude for when the anti-war crowd and the European illusionists slowly woke up to the fact that their new friend in the White House really meant what he said about Iraq and about fighting Islamist terrorism and wasn't just trying to steal a few Republican votes. Or at least I hoped that was going to be the outcome.
So when one Stopper, whom I have the misfortune to have to listen to on most days, had an emotional How Could It Happen? moment on Wednesday, I just kept out of it. No votenfreude from me.
But they are pushing it.
I mean it is hard to read this without at least having to supress a slight smile or a chuckle:
We went to bed daring to hope and awoke to the crushing news. And ever since we've been swapping emails and texts about how miserable we feel. Emma Brockes on how George Bush’s victory catapulted liberal Britain into Collective depression [from The Guardian...Ed]
I woke up on Wednesday morning (not having stayed up late) and found out that America still had a right-wing president (as it usually does). Not the result I wanted but hardly a surprise and certainly not a depression-provoking shock.
November 05, 2004
was another election as well, the referendum on the North East
Assembly. The No Campaign was a grass roots one, largely run by Neil
Herron (of Metric Martyrs fame). Given the result they rather had a
right to crow:
The people speak
(posted by our own correspondent)
"A decisive defeat". That was the verdict of the BBC at just gone one in the morning, with 78 percent of the votes cast recording a "no" to elected regional assemblies against a pitiful 22 percent "yes", with 893,829 votes vast, a "turnout" of 47.71 percent.
Not a single one of the 22 electoral areas votes for the proposition, with Newcastle (the area thought to be most in favour) recording 75 percent against, Sunderland, 80 percent, Tony Blair’s Sedgefield 72 percent and Alwick 81 percent.
Earlier that evening the BBC showed how out of touch it was, from its coverage of the NE referendum. Just after eleven, BBC News 24 interviewed political analyst Tony Travers from the LSE who spoke of the result being "very close", with the possibility even of a very narrow "yes" margin. All that was on the basis of a prediction from John Prescott, that totally objective observer of events.
By then, I had already received unofficial reports from the count indicating massive support for the "no" campaign, with some areas voting 5:1 against Prescott’s folly.Minutes later on BBC News 24, we had reporter Richard Moss confirming an unofficial "no" victory, without giving any indication of the scale, against a higher than predicted "turnout" approaching 50 percent.
Campaign for an English Parliament.
was also evident at the Campaign for an English Parliament, their
preferred solution being reasonably evident from their name:
THE NORTH EAST OF ENGLAND VOTES NO TO A
From Michael Knowles, Chairman of the Campaign for an English Parliament:
The Campaign welcomes the overwhelming vote of the people of the North East of England to reject a Regional Assembly. The early hours of November 5th 2004 Guy Fawkes Day, is a historic moment in the history of the English people. The people of the historic northern English counties of Northumberland and Durham and of Tyneside, Wearside and Teeside have spoken for all of England in repudiating the Govenment's plan to partition their country into competing regions. The vote of over three to one, of 700,000 to 200,000, is massive. In no way can Mr Prescott, the minister who has been campaigning for the balkanisation of England, now defend his proposals. No rejection of them could be more decisive. No spin can explain this huge vote away. A referendum was held, the outcome was decisive. The vote of the people must be respected in all its implications.The North East has seen through the government's regional assemblies for what they are: an attempt to partition England into competing regions, into what the economist Will Hutton well described as "a veritable witches' nest of internecine rivalries"; and it has rejected them.
November 12, 2004
The media discovered
the chavs and Johann Hari in the Independent was unhappy at the way
they were being portrayed. Squander Two put him right:
Johann Hari is wrong.
The angry young man’s latest diatribe. It's about as insightful
Mr Hari's argument can be summed up thusly:
All poor white people are chavs.
All chavs are poor and white.
It is wrong to hate people for being poor.
Therefore, anyone who criticises chavs is a hateful elitist classist bastard.
Assuming The Independent pay by the word, they should hire me instead.
Now, I don't call them "chavs". I lived in Glasgow from '96 to '03, and Scots call them "neds". In fact, when I first moved to Scotland, the Scots had the word "ned" while the English simply didn't have a word to describe them at all. I don't know why they eventually chose "chav", but I prefer "ned". I'm now in Northern Ireland, where they're called "steeks" and "spides". "Spide" is pretty good: it just sounds inherently derogatory.
November 13, 2004
The Yorkshire Ranter.
The decades long slow
motion train wreck that was Rover finally came to a shuddering halt
this year. The Yorkshire Ranter was providing detailed analysis 6
months before the final end:
MG Rover - How John Towers Made My All-Time Shit List
Back in early 2000, if you had barged
into Tommy's Bar at Royal Holloway, University of London, and
demanded of me who had most impressed me in the last six months, I
would have unhesitatingly told you that John Towers, the former
production director of Rover Group who had just saved the Rover plant
from closure, deserved all our congratulations. The previous owners,
BMW, had wanted to shut down the car plant and flog the land. That
didn't stop them wanting to hang on to the profitable bits - the Mini
production line, the Rover 75 line and the Midland Powertrain gearbox
plant - of course. But the core business and thousands of jobs would
go. Nobody, at first, looked like doing much. Although the tabloids
worked themselves into an anti-German froth, they didn't feel at all
certain in arguing for government intervention. After all, that was
exactly what they opposed, no? The Trade and Industry Secretary,
Stephen Byers, seemed at first to agree. A small, boutique, New
Labourish sports car business might - might - survive. But nothing
As the complicated negotiations went on, though, it became clear that something might yet be saved. There were doubts about the numbers. There was a growing critical mass of anger in the Labour Party and, most of all, the trade unions. And then - there was action. A group of former Rover executives were backed by an odd coalition of interest to put together their own bid. Much of the cash came from rich franchise dealerships, with more from companies involved in supplying the plant, and quite a bit from the unions and their members. On the way, some of BMW's claims about Rover inefficiency turned sour - after all, if BMW's management were so great, surely they would have been able to know how many unsold cars they had in stock? But the potential buyers found themselves forced to buy satellite photos from Russia to discover how much inventory was parked on the two and a half mile runway of Bruntingthorpe airfield, depreciating peacefully in the wet winter. Armed with a figure for the car mountain, they finally raised the rest of the funding from a provincial US bank. There was a gap in the plan of around £10 million, but in the end the state coughed up.
Under the final agreement, the New Mini tooling would be handed over to BMW's ex-Rover plant at Cowley, the Rover 75 tooling going the other way. The car pile would be handed over to the North Carolinan bankers in return for working capital. BMW would lend some £425 million to the new firm at a zero interest rate. Many people thought it would never work, but the first few sets of figures were encouraging. An arbitration resulted in the Powertrain plant also being handed to Rover, which gave them the capability to build whole cars. There was talk of joint ventures with other car makers to develop a new range. You'd have doubted that Towers would ever have got on my shit list back then. But, so far, none of the foreign deals have worked. The new cars have not happened, but something else has.
That something else recently got Towers called by a name which has iconic status in British language - the unacceptable face of capitalism. The phrase was first used by Prime Minister Edward Heath, speaking of Lonrho mining boss Tiny Rowland. The next man to be the unacceptable face was Robert Maxwell, not long before his death. It is a serious thing to say, even if the man to say it was the head of BMW in Britain, who might not be entirely neutral. Towers and the four others who became the new firm's directors have gripped the headlines by organising a trust fund for their benefit that receives substantial sums of money from the firm. But it's not only that. They also gave the firm a new and bizarre corporate structure. Their own holding company (Techtronic), the final owner of the whole firm, owns the various business units. So far, so straightforward. They include the group's property assets, its brand, a luxurious country-house conference centre, the profitable Midlands Powertrain and parts units, and a financial unit that owns the portfolio of loans offered to customers who bought on credit. They also, though, include a shell company that owns their controlling stake in MG-Rover Group, the actual car manufacturer.
They don't own the whole of MG Rover Group though. Remember the employees who bought shares back at the time of the firm's rescue? They own the remaining minority. But they don't have Techtronic shares, and hence no interests in the totality of the group. Their shares are in MG Rover Group - that is, Rover less its more profitable assets. Another interesting fact is that BMW loan. The loan was made, free of interest, to Techtronic. Techtronic disburses it as required to MG Rover. But Techtronic charges MG Rover interest on it, interest that presumably benefits only the Techtronic shareholders. The comedian Tony Hancock, according to my dad, once portrayed a con-man who started a company with his straight-man. He explains to the mark that there are two classes of shares, A and B. The dupe opts for the A's and Hancock's character gleefully accepts the B's. The sting? The A shares entitle you to put money into the company, but only the B's let you take it out.
November 22, 2004
The rights and wrongs of the Iraq war have been hugely
controversial everywhere this year as in that before it. In the
blogosphere the bitterest arguments have been between the pro- and
anti- war left. Norman Geras has been one of the stalwarts of the
pro-war left. Here he takes issue with the way a Guardian piece
assigns moral responsibility:
The war has two sides
In Friday's Guardian Ian Brown, who has worked for various NGOs,
says about the murder of Margaret Hassan that 'the failure to close
the Care office in Baghdad has had appalling consequences'. On the
question of why Care didn't suspend operations in Iraq, he believes
the answer lies in the trend among international aid organisations
and NGOs to be increasingly dependent on government funding:
In many countries, close links to the US government go unnoticed. Not so in Iraq. And there are clear indications that Care's operations in Iraq were compromised by links to the US and UK administrations.
In addition to the funding situation, he goes on to observe that Care didn't come out in opposition to the Iraq war. They joined the protest march on February 15 last year 'only "to raise awareness of the potential humanitarian consequences of war in Iraq"'.
Potential humanitarian consequences? After the devastation of Afghanistan, there could be no doubt that the invasion of Iraq by the world's most powerful army would trigger a humanitarian disaster. Were Care and many other aid organisations... more concerned about a cut in funding than the consequences for the Iraqi population?
Margaret Hassan, as the director of Care in Iraq, was caught in the compromise NGOs make when they rely on western governments for their funding. No matter her vociferous condemnation of the invasion, no matter her genuine dedication to helping those in need, Iraq is simply too dangerous a place for aid workers.
She may have been abducted by gangsters in a plot to extort money which went tragically wrong. The more likely scenario, I believe, is that she was killed because she was considered to be collaborating with the enemy. Indeed, elements within the Iraqi resistance have long since called for all foreigners, except journalists, to leave the country.
Note first, here, what Brown, concerned for the independence of humanitarian NGOs from government, understands by independence: not just that they shouldn't rely on government funding, but that on a major and very divisive political issue they should not be neutral.
November 23, 2004
Jonny B’s Secret Private Diary.
Not everything in blogging is about politics or economics, much of it is about the really important things in life as Jonny Billericay points out.
Thursday evening. Next door.
I don't believe a word of it," I snorted, as I weighed up
whether to be satisfied with conquering the continent of Australia or
whether to mount a sneaky additional raid on Madagascar. "I have
never heard of this 'Virgin Vie' party thing."
Big A rolled the dice and annihilated my armies. We agreed it was highly unlikely that the girls' evening really involved demonstrations of cosmetics and face creams. I poured another large glass of wine.
"Let's face it. It's an Ann Summers party, isn't it?" I observed.
We nodded angrily, the undoubted truth dawning on us. We are unaccustomed to being lied to by our spouses. Short Tony attempted to sweep his armies into Europe via Iceland, but was repulsed.
"Well I just hope it doesn't go on too late," I stated. "I have a Very Important Meeting tomorrow, and the last thing I need is the LTLP crashing home in the early hours carrying all sorts of probe implements and demanding to be pleasured."
"It's disgusting," agreed Short Tony.
Big A handed in a set of cards, and proceeded to destroy my African presence. Despite some canny dice rolling my interest there was at an end. We reflected on their sad evening, as we enjoyed our board game.
"Even now, she is probably parading round your living room in a rubber basque." I shook my head in annoyance. "Like a common whore."
We were now extremely annoyed by their behaviour. I made an abortive raid on China. We poured some more wine.
November 26, 2004
The Edge of England’s Sword
Perhaps the one issue that united
bloggers over the year was the assault on civil liberties, ID Cards,
the Religious Hatred Bill, and here, the Civil Contingencies Act.
From “The Edge of England’s Sword”, this is quite mild by the
standards of other commentators. One writer at the same blog, in
October, compared it directly to the Nazi’s Enabling Act of 1933.
A lot of comments were generated by my post on Hunting the other day, and a number of topics came out of it for further debate. The first of these that I want to cover is the Civil Contingencies Act (yes, it went through). A number of commenters suggested that Blair might suspend elections (one of the powers covered in the Act), but others made the point that Mr Blair wins elections, and therefore has no reason to suspend them. Another point being made was that politicians are in politics to do what they think is good, and talk about dictatorships was unreasonable. I think both of these arguments have merit...to a point.