The Obscurer

Month: February, 2005

Blogs And The Blogger

Just as novelists have a nasty habit of writing novels about novels and novelists, so bloggers have a tendency to write blogs about blogging and bloggers. And I don’t mean people mention another blog as a starting point to go on to discuss another subject; I mean the subject is blogging itself. This is not meant as a criticism, just an observation. I’ve done the same myself; in fact I’m doing it right now.

Blogging about blogs has gone into overdrive the past week or so; everywhere you go you can read discussions about Iain Duncan Smith’s article in the Guardian concerning blogging as a political tool, about the Backing Blair campaign by bloggers to affect the result at the forthcoming general election, about the new list of Top 10 British Blogs. Everyone seems to be talking about blogs.

Through all the articles written this week concerning blogging, I think the best was by NoseMonkey at Europhobia; he pretty much hits several nails right on the head in this post. I particularly empathise with him when I read that he thinks, “around 80% (of bloggers) seem to be either single-issue obsessives, vindictive arseholes or nowhere near as educated or clever as they think they are. The remaining 20% is made up of people – like me – who really just want to be columnists on a national newspaper. Why the hell do our opinions matter?”. He believes that relatively few bloggers are like him and just want to “think about the issues a bit and work out where I stand”.

But a particular mention must go to Tim Worstall, and his idea of publishing a weekly roundup of the best posts across a range of blogs. The idea is that everyone nominates one post each week, either from their own or someone else’s blog; you email the details to Tim, and those that he considers to be the best will be listed on his blog each Sunday. This really is a cracking idea, and could act as a great introduction for people new to blogs, and to showcase blogs different from those you would normally read. The first roundup was posted last week, and was terrific. There were some blogs I especially enjoyed reading (Nick Barlow, Liberal England) and I will visit again; others blogs (no names, no pack drill) I won’t; but that is as it should be. Tim’s intention is to select differing, contrary and wide-ranging viewpoints, which is admirable (That said, I won’t be nominating a post entitled “Why all Libertarians are wankers”; but then again I wouldn’t write one).

I will probably pop in a few suggestions and submissions of my own, from other blogs, and from The Obscurer when I think I have written something half decent; but more than being a just a way to publicise my own writing, and the writings of others I admire, I like the the way the weekly roundup could act as an invaluable summary of the best writing from British bloggers.

As I have said before, I feel weak and ill when I see how regularly some bloggers post; every day, or even several times a day. I really don’t know how they find the time; I will never be so prolific (perhaps I just don’t get bothered by so many things, or I don’t have as much to say). But at the same time that I find it difficult to spare the time to write, I find it difficult to spare the time to read half the stuff out there, particularly by the more prodigious writers.

When I first started reading blogs I could lose hours flitting from one to another, following a thread from blog to blog; but since my son has started referring to the dog as “daddy” I have realised I am unable to spend as much time sat at the PC. There are more important things to do, which I enjoy doing; such as talking to my wife, that sort of thing.

So a concise list of highlights each week is a great idea. I hope Tim’s roundup takes off, and given the mild egotism inherent in most bloggers souls I guess submissions aren’t going to be a problem; the biggest threat will be if Tim is swamped with suggestions and is unable to wade through them all. But for the time being the BritBlog Roundup is with us, and I am looking forward to the second instalment.


The Other Sudan

How often has the situation in Darfur dominated news coverage? I know it has been mentioned, and has even been discussed in some detail on Newsnight and Channel 4 News; but has it ever been the first item on all the main news bulletins, and had lengthy and detailed in-depth analysis devoted to it across all channels? If it has happened, then I don’t remember it. But Sudan did briefly take over news broadcasting last week; only it wasn’t Sudan in Africa, but the health scare caused by the toxic dye Sudan 1 being found in a range of foods across the country. Has the media lost all sense of proportion?

Now of course, I am not suggesting that the issue shouldn’t have been covered, but wouldn’t it be nice if the media showed the same zeal in trying to discuss Darfur? And just how did they discuss Sudan 1? First of all, the media were angry that we weren’t informed of the threat sooner. When the Food Standards Agency explained the detailed action they had taken, they were then accused of over reacting and panicking the British public. When the media weren’t complaining about the speed of the FSA’s response they were bemoaning the fact that it had taken the Italian authorities to discover the problem; why did we have to rely on the Italians? Perhaps it is just me, but surely someone has to discover the problem; why not the Italians? But as usual, the media are too busy analysing everything to death and looking for someone to blame.

It seems to me as if the FSA acted about right. They had to pass out the information and products have to be recalled; fine. Sorry though; perhaps I will live to regret this, but I’m not too concerned. Let’s face it; how much Sudan 1 do you need to consume to be in any danger? I can’t imagine much red colouring is needed to go into red chilli powder to make it redder. I don’t think a huge amount of chilli powder goes into making Worcester Sauce. Then, how much Worcester Sauce goes into the food products themselves? I would imagine a dash. So even if you have eaten a contaminated product, you have probably ingested a little of not a lot of a smidgen of Sudan 1.

Is eating burnt toast or sitting in a smoky pub more carcinogenic? Because I did both things last week (although not at the same time; I’m not mad). As the supermarkets clear their shelves of Beef Pot Noodles they are still happily selling tobacco products. And what if you drop your last chip on the floor in a restaurant, and sneakily pop it into you mouth (while no one is looking of course); if that floor has been polished with a product containing Sudan 1, are you getting a more concentrated hit of the toxin?

This story screams of over-reaction on all sides; my Mother-in-law even sent us a frantic text message warning us not to eat at McDonalds. We followed her advice, but for different reasons. No; if it’s all right with you I will reserve my concern for the people of Darfur.

The Law's A Fox

The debate on fox hunting has moved on from the parliamentary stage and through the legal challenges; now all the discussions are about the role of the police and their enforcement of the law. The earlier stages of the debate have been characterised by people talking a right load of bollocks on all sides, and this stage of the argument is no different.

I have read conflicting stories about whether a greater or lesser number of foxes were killed on the first day that hunting was made illegal. There are also a number of claims that not all hunts stayed within the new law, and that some foxes were killed unlawfully, apparently in mockery of the new legislation. Well, it may come as a surprise to some people, but the law is being broken all the time, even as we speak, in a huge variety of ways; this in itself does not affect whether a certain law is worthwhile or not.

I don’t want to get into the guts of whether or not the hunting ban is a good or bad thing, just to comment on some of the recent criticisms. For example, it has been suggested that the police have more important things to do than chase after huntsmen, as if this is reason enough to argue against a hunting ban; but the police already have a wide range of incidents they have to deal with, from the trivial to the serious, and they prioritise accordingly. Murder is a more serious matter than shoplifting; but that doesn’t mean the police shouldn’t bother with shoplifting, does it?

Another complaint is that it is pretty difficult to assess whether or not anyone is in fact breaking the new law, and so it is a tricky thing to actually bring charges against anybody. It is argued that if it is difficult to bring a prosecution then the whole fabric of law and order falls into contempt and disrepute. But what are burglary detection rates at the moment? Around 17%? Lower? Following this logic we shouldn’t bother with a criminal offence of Burglary either, because it is so difficult to get a conviction. It just strikes me that these are poor reasons to oppose the new law.

According the The Times, everyone is dismayed by the way the police seem to be handling this. Anti-hunters are reported to be upset by Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting of Dorset Constabulary, due to his statement “that illegal hunting (is) much less important than letting off a firework after 11pm”. Pro-hunters “fears that police will rely on ‘vigilante groups’”.

The simple fact is that the police will respond, or will not respond, depending on the information they are passed by the general public. If they are informed of a breach of the law while a hunt is in progress, then they will attend to see if any offences are being committed, but only if there is an officer available; they won’t be dragging someone off an armed robbery to investigate, however. If someone makes an official complaint after the event and states they have evidence of an offence then the police will assess this evidence and see if a crime has been committed and whether or not anyone can be charged. If they feel there is enough information to charge an individual then they will present the evidence to the CPS who will decide if they think there is a case to answer in court. If they decide there is then the case will go to trial where a jury can decide. It is not rocket science.

Will the law be broken? Yes. Will people get away with breaking the law? Of course. Will the standing of the justice system suffer as a result? Not unless people want it to. When my car was broken into a few years back, an offence had clearly been committed yet no one was caught for the crime. Actually, I didn’t even bother to report it; not because I had no faith in the police, but because realistically nothing could be done by anyone to trace the offenders. I didn’t curse the police, or wail that there was no point in there being a crime of criminal damage on the statute book and the law may as well be repealed; I just got my brother to bend the passengers door back into place and carried on driving it (until it got nicked a month later!).

Which reminds me; if you’ll excuse me I am off to break the law myself. I will do what millions of people do every day and commit an offence. I will break a law that I agree with, and which I do not wish to see repealed. Even though I am going to wilfully and happily commit an offence, I do not feel the law itself is being brought into disrepute. I am about to get into my car, and historically I think I have broken the law every time I have driven. And no; I don’t mean I am intending to run over a fox.

Update 25/2/05: Last night on Question Time, Anne Atkins said she had been hunting mice around her house this week, in defiance of the hunting ban, to show how foolish and unenforceable the new law is. Roger Scruton has been doing the same. Is the new legislation any more foolish than hunting mice just in order to prove a point? I doubt it. Whatever, most of the points I have made above apply to Anne’s revelation; she may have broken the law (Alun Michael said she hasn’t) but it seems a pretty trivial breach, and if she keeps quiet about it then the police will be none the wiser, and she can continue to break the law to her heart’s content.

The thing is that Anne is publicising her criminal activities; she says she wants to go to prison for her actions, and the fact that she is still at large proves that the law is unenforceable. Well it doesn’t. If she really wants to be arrested, then rather than mouth off on TV she should present herself at a police station and admit her crime. I suspect the police will try to talk her out of the action (they do have more important things to deal with, you know), but if she insists and signs a confession then she can have her day before the magistrates. Well done. However, if she thinks she will have proved that the law is a waste of police time, then she will be wrong; she personally will have wasted police time, through her own stupidity and childishness.

Uranium To Spare

I haven’t watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire regularly for quite some time; I preferred it when it was on every night for a fortnight or so, and everybody watched it and talked about it the next day. Nowadays it is just another quiz show.

So I was as surprised as anyone when I found myself watching it yesterday; and I was even more surprised when Alistair Campbell and his partner Fiona Millar turned up as contestants. Regular readers of this blog will know that Campbell is something of a bete-noir of mine, so I was interested to see how they would fare.

What was initially noticeable was just how nervous Campbell seemed; he was grinning uncertainly throughout the first few questions, a bit like a Cheshire cat trying to gauge the mood of the audience. Perhaps he was aware that he was in a position to get his fingers burned, like his boss Tony Blair seems to have done by appearing on just about every TV programme under the sun last week.

But it really got interesting when he was asked a question that went something like “Finish the title of the following television programme; ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You With…’” An easy enough question you would think? The programme makers obviously thought so, which is why it was only a £2000 question, or thereabouts. But Campbell and Millar were completely stumped; they started muttering something about ABBA, but they really had no clue at all.

Now this is fine I guess; I don’t expect everyone to have the same knowledge of sit-coms that I do. But isn’t it amazing that two prominent figures – one who was Labour’s director of communications, the other the former adviser to Cherie Blair – are apparantly unaware of a landmark television programme that ruthlessly mocked the pretence and pretensions of the media? Is it any wonder, then, that when Blair cranks the cheesy insincerity up to 11, Campbell is unable to tell him how stupid and Alan Partridge-like he seems?

In the end they asked the audience, and 91% gave the correct answer; an indication of just how out of touch the contestants are.

But worse was to come. A few questions later the duo were asked “Which country launched the Skylab space station in 1973?” with the options of Great Britain, France, the USA and Russia. Again, an easy question? Perhaps; but even if you don’t know the answer, there is surely only one guess you could reasonably make, isn’t there? I mean, Skylab doesn’t sound very Russian does it, and the British and French space agencies have done very little individually, whilst their most famous collective effort is currently littering the Martian landscape.

Well, apparently it isn’t that straight forward. Campbell and Millar ummed and arred, they thought and re-thought, they just didn’t know, and couldn’t even make an educated guess. To compound the offence, Millar wondered out loud “what year was the Apollo moon landing,” to which Campbell replied, “oh, 1970-something I think.”

1970-something? For Christ’s sake; doesn’t everyone know it was 1969? No pub quiz in the land would demean itself by asking when man first stepped on the moon; neither would any school quiz. It was, quite frankly, an astonishing display of ignorance.

Well, it barely matters what happened next I suppose. Our heroes got it into their heads that the most likely answer was Britain, but they asked a friend (no, not Tony) who thought it could be France. They went 50/50, and were astonished when Britain and Russia were eliminated, making it a straight choice between the United States (who have been responsible for the first space walk, the moon landings, the space shuttle) and France (their Ariane rockets enable us to watch satellite telly).

They went for France, and that was the end of their stay on the programme. £1000 went to charity though, so it’s not all bad news.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised at the fallibility of those who seek to rule us, but it is scary to think that Campbell was, at one time, probably the second most powerful man in the country. He still has the ear of the Prime Minister, and remains hugely influential within Blair’s cabal. If such people don’t even know in which year Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, then no wonder they don’t know if there were any WMD in Iraq, or anything else for that matter; yet these are the very people who make wide ranging decisions on our behalf. I was laughing when I watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire last night, but the more I think about it, it really isn’t a laughing matter.

Tsunami Seamonsters

Welcome to the website that is the number one hit on Google for tsunami seamonsters. Not for “tsunami seamonsters” as a single phrase mind you. Inexplicably there are no hits for “tsunami seamonsters”; until now that is. But if you want to know about tsunamis and seamonsters, then Google believe this should be your first port of call.

But not just Google; AltaVista, Yahoo!, Lycos, A9 and the BBC all place me in pole position for such a search. On Info I have been pipped into the number two slot by something called Neptune’s Web, while MSN leave me languishing way down, just sneaking into the top 10. I wonder what I could have done to offend them?

Now there is no mystery as to why someone typing tsunami and seamonsters into a search engine will get to my site. I wrote a post a few weeks back about the Asian tsunami, or rather about peoples’ reactions to the tsunami. I also update the Listening section on my sidebar quite regularly, and recently The Wedding Present’s CD “Seamonsters” has been on my turntable (or at least it has been in my CD player beneath my turntable) and so has been mentioned on this site.

No, the real enigma is why two (yes two) people have found their way to The Obscurer by typing tsunami seamonsters into a search engine. Is there something we don’t know? Is there something we aren’t being told? Are we unwittingly enjoying the twilight of the human race as we know it, unaware of the threat to our very existence posed by these frightening creatures? Could it be that only two people in the world, one from from Fenton, Missouri, the other from Willboro, New Jersey, are aware of this danger, and desperate for further information they both made their way through cyberspace to this website, and presumably were somewhat disappointed to find the meaningless ramblings of a nearly middle-aged Briton, droning on about football and television, about the perils of de-icing cars and the parking problems in Stockport town centre.

Well allow me to make amends. Could the next person to arrive here looking for tsunami seamonsters please avail themselves of the comments facility? Please, reveal what the concern is; what have we to fear? Leave your details in case any further seamonster hunters pass by; that way you can get in touch with each other, and perhaps I can play a small part in kick starting the action required to save mankind from this maritime menace.

I don’t want any thanks for this service, or any form of reward; although a blue plaque on my house would be nice; I know just the spot for it. Nothing fancy, just so long as it mentions “saviour of humanity”; something like that.