Monday, February 28, 2011

Blue Sunday and A High Wind

I was on Lazy Sunday duty again yesterday, with some Chet Baker, Scott Walker and even Erasure.

And today I spend a penny and review the extraordinary, neglected classic A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Glencairn whisky glass - an object of desire

Over at the dabbler I interview Andy Davidson and write about the extremely desirable Glencairn whisky glass.

We're getting some lovely Dabbler-branded editions, and you'll be able to get your hands on one later....

Fanatics (revisited)

Yesterday evening, after a long day’s roaming, I was relaxing with a pint in the Bonaparte bar at Bristol Temple Meads rail station when in walked Caroline Lucas MP, flanked by flunkies. She was there, it eventually became clear, to be interviewed by a national newspaper journalist whom I recognised but can’t for the life of me name (poss early 60s, genial but jowly, white hair, black eyebrows.) They sat together at a table for two; she iterating sincerely-held beliefs in a series of firm finger-jabs, he generously indulging this with the honed eyebrow-raised superiority of the senior hack.

But what a curious entourage it was, fussing around the UK’s sole Green MP. Ranging in age from adolescent to decrepit, and clad in alarming garments including a bright purple fleece and a tattered tweed blazer, they really did look like the sort of oddball assortment that you might find, as I previously speculated, meeting in the backroom of a public library to discuss the workers’ revolution. Caroline, it was clear, is the acceptable telly face of the Greens.

Easy to sneer at that lot – as I’ve just proved above – but I suppose they do at least they add a bit of variety to the political landscape, otherwise now entirely composed of identical PPE graduates.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sir John Soane

Keen TofE followers may recognise today's Dabbler subject - the wonderful Sir John Soane's House museum.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Scarlett Johansson and Diana Dors

That got your attention, didn't it? Today I set the latest fiendish Dabbler quiz.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The King’s Speech

We don’t get out to the cinema much at the moment so it’s vital to pick a movie you know is going to be good. And what a wonderful film The King’s Speech is, fully deserves the acclaim. The most gripping film I’ve seen since No Country for Old Men.

It’s very often the case that telling a Big Story (in this case, two Big Stories: the abdication and the declaration of war on Germany) through the prism of a small human story, such a man trying to overcome his stammer, is incredibly effective. See also Cabaret, Life is Beautiful etc.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Harry Beck

Over at the Dabbler I write about Harry Beck, designer of the Tube map.

I love the Tube map, it's one of the best things about London. I have a print of Simon Patterson's Beck-inspired artwork The Great Bear at home. It's a nice piece, but I think now I'd prefer to just have the real map on my wall.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Henry Hitchings

Another great guest on The Dabbler today. Author and critic Henry Hitchings (The Language Wars) provides an exclusive post looking at blogging and language.

Musical evening with the Captain

Yesterday I was on Lazy Sunday duty, and picked out the best bits of the Master and Commander soundtrack (Corelli, Boccherini etc.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

King Kenny - a victim writes

Occasional dabbler James Hamilton publishes on his own blog a really rather brilliant piece on the return of 'King' Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool, from the perspective of a Man Utd fan.

Important announcement concerning San Miguel beer

Have you noticed that San Miguel four-packs are nearly always on 'special offer' in the supermarkets? And yet it's one of the best bottled (non-Czech) lagers, isn't it? Got a bit of taste to it, unlike the only one that's usually cheaper, Brahma, which, it seems to me, tastes of absolutely nothing at all.

So, I declare, importantly, a four-pack of San Miguel beer is a sensible purchase. And that concludes my important announcement concerning San Miguel beer. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

More fiendishness

as I set the latest Dabbler Round Blogworld Quiz.

Arianne Huffington and Nick Cohen

I have been having an exchange with Nick Cohen about the sale of super-blog The Huffington Post to AOL for $315m. Nick argues that any bloggers who provided free content to Arianne Huffington over the years ought to feel aggrieved, even humiliated in the light of the sale, on the grounds that she has exploited their labour to get rich – ‘ripped them off’.

I don’t know what agreements Arianne Huffington had with her contributors, but Cohen wants to make a wider point so we’ll assume she didn’t make false promises or mislead them, merely asked them if they’d like to contribute free material. Assuming that, she’s done nothing wrong and they have no right to feel aggrieved. They might even feel proud to have been involved in such a success story. They’ve almost certainly made friends, had their horizons immeasurably broadened and gained a degree of status that would have been impossible without the Huffington Post.

The Huffington Post started from nothing. Entrepreneurs sell the businesses they’ve created for fat sums all the time, and nearly of them relied on favours and payments-in-kind when starting up, simply because they lacked the capital and income. It’d be nice to think that once they’re in a position to reward those who’ve helped them along the way, they will do so, but there’s no contractual obligation and only an ambiguous moral one. To say that Huffington gave her writers nothing in return for their copy is nonsense - she gave them what virtually all writers crave: an audience.

Nick Cohen is a professional writer who, it seems, insists on cash payment for everything he emits. Fair enough, but his argument that everyone else who wants to write ought to think the same doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. You can justifiably make a case for news reporters, staff copywriters, sub-eds etc being ‘labourers’ in the same way that widget-makers are labourers, but when it comes to opinion columns, movie reviews, fiction, poetry, memoirs etc, the line between professionals and hobbyists is extremely fuzzy and has always been so. The blogosphere didn’t create this fuzziness, it merely proved it was there and vastly increased the number of outlets beyond fanzines, local mags and diaries.

Cohen sneers at ‘dilettantes with day jobs’ but the line between pros and hobbyists is not defined by talent and there are many reasons why talented writers might choose to stay amateur: top of the list being the freedom to write about whatever they like while paying the mortgage. Turning pro would force them instead to write whatever they can sell. Then at the other end of the scale are the pros who write free bloggery in addition to paid work because they want things from blogs that paid work can’t give them: instant commenter feedback perhaps, or, such as in the (extreme, compulsive) case of Norm Geras, the freedom to write about whatever pops into his head from moment to moment – very often instant responses to other bloggers.

The most interesting thing about Cohen’s argument is that it reveals why he still considers himself a man of the ‘Left’ despite rejecting so much of the off-the-shelf ‘leftist’ package of contemporary views on America, Israel etc. (See his excellent and highly recommended book 'What's Left?' - available online for 1p, funnily enough - welcome to the modern world, Nick.) The idea that Huffington has ‘exploited’ workers, in effect stealing their surplus value, looks like old-fashioned Marxist economics.

Cohen says I wouldn’t make a very good financial adviser. I’m not sure anyone makes a good financial adviser any more, but I can at least claim to be able to read a basic set of business accounts. The Huffington Post’s $315m might be an extreme example of the value of ‘goodwill’ – ie the difference between the purchase price of a business and the book value (sum of the net assets) – but nearly all businesses have some sort of difference because goodwill (generally meaning a readymade customer base) is usually what bigger businesses want to buy. AOL have bought Huffington’s goodwill, which consists of its name, URL and audience. Its current roster of writers are a fair way behind these lot in terms of significance (even lower than its turnover, whatever paltry sum that might be), just as The Guardian or Spectator’s writers of the moment make no difference to the value of those organisations. Writers come and go, the Guardian endures.

Huffington created this value through her own energies, luck, acumen, organisational skills etc. Sure she will have got people to help her along the way by writing for free, but let’s not pretend their copy wasn’t interchangeable with any number of other writers prepared to work for fame and glory rather than dough – the supply hugely outweighs the demand in that commodity. She owes them nothing; but she can reward them now if she chooses. Had the Huffington Post never sold out, the writers would still have nothing, and she wouldn’t be able to make that choice.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Hard Times

Over at The Dabbler I spend a penny and review Hard Times by Charles Dickens. Includes relevant footage of John Cleese and Marty Feldman.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Frogs and Rosbifs

Think of England readers will enjoy today's guest post at The Dabbler - Stephen Clarke on 1000 Years of Annoying the French.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Beer and Valentines

I write a guest post about what men want for Valentines Day for the Bath Ales blog here.