Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dilettantes with day jobs

Popping over to Nick Cohen’s place I notice two things. First, that he’s had a redesign (a significant improvement, too). Second, that in the process he’s cut Think of England from his list of ‘Comrades’. Such are the thanks one gets for buying his book twice and pointing out the mini-roundabout in Upper Street, Islington.

This cruel, cruel snub I’m sure has nothing to do with the argument we had over the sale of the Huffington Post, in which I criticised Nick for his, with hindsight, quite indefensibly absurd argument that Ms Huffington ripped off those people who blogged on her site for no pay. I say ‘in hindsight’ it was ‘indefensibly absurd’, because I have since realised that she could easily have actually charged amateur bloggers for the privilege of using her platform to find an audience for their twaddle, and made money from them that way before even coming to selling out.

During the course of this ‘debate’ Nick rather childishly busted my pseudonym, but since my 23rd year when I suddenly grew two inches and started ‘filling out’ I’ve generally been the bigger man in most company, so not only will I keep Nick on my list of ‘Friends and Foes’ (right), but I will even go so far as to dedicate to him the following random list of Dilettantes with Day-Jobs.

Matthew Arnold – school inspector
Charlotte Bronte – governess
Anton Chekhov – doctor
TS Eliot – Colonial and Foreign Accounts Clerk for Lloyds Bank of London
William Faulkner – Postmaster, University of Mississippi
Henry Fielding – Magistrate
Nathaniel Hawthorne – weigher and measurer at Customs House
Franz Kafka – Chief Legal Secretary of the Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute
Philip Larkin – librarian
Baruch Spinoza – lens grinder
Henry David Thoreau – tutor, repairman/gardener
Anthony Trollope – Postal Surveyor

Royal Wedding on The Dabbler

Today Jonathon Green kicks off The Dabbler's Big Royal Wedding Jamboree with an eye-watering dictionary of nuptial slang...

Frank Key, Susan Muncey, Worm and Mahlerman will also be contributing special Wills'n'Kate related posts over the weekend...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Alternative Vote – who cares?

It’s virtually impossible to find any sort of meaty arguments for or against replacing FPTP with the AV system, principally, I now suspect, because being a compromise system that nobody really wants, there aren’t any.

I’m opposed to pure proportional representation because it produces corrupt, irremovable coalition governments and severs the already often weak link between the MP and his local constituents. But AV isn’t a proportional system, merely a more complex version of FPTP which might or might not be marginally better than the simple system we have at the moment. Some argue that the simplicity of our current system is itself a virtue, others complain about the ‘wasted’ votes in very safe seats (which as a complaint has some legitimacy, but there is a difference between having your preferred candidate lose and ‘wasting’ your vote, and anyway it’s still a lesser problem than those produced by proportional representation).

There’s no real reason why the usual progressive London suspects (Fry, Izzard etc) should be particularly keen on AV, other than that they just like making constitutional changes. And there’s no real reason for conservatives to vehemently oppose AV, other than that they dislike making constitutional changes.

On balance I think AV is probably a slightly better system than the current one; but if it’s supposed to be, as Lib Dems hope, a ‘step towards proper PR’ then I have a stronger reason to oppose it. The conclusion being, I don’t really care much either way, and will probably decide at the very last minute. Which apathetic attitude captures the general mood, I suspect.

So long, predictive text

On my new phone (Nokia N8 – the camera is amazing, 12 megapixels!) I write text messages with a qwerty touchscreen, and it suddenly occurred to me that I might never use the predictive text number-pad method again.

I liked predictive text a great deal. First, it worked against yoof ‘txt-speak’, which was supposed to be about to wreck the language (Shakespeare rendered as '2b or nt 2b' etc) and instead encouraged you to write in proper full English words which you had to know how to spell. Second, it facilitated amusing mistakes, especially for people’s names. 'Anna' always came out as 'Bomb', for instance.

But now that the seemingly-indestructible qwerty has already rendered it obsolete, it may be that my generation will be the first and last to have mastered the skill (older people were generally terrified of its interfering ways; younger people will not need it).

To preserve its memory for posterity, therefore, I have composed this short poem.

So long, predictive text

So long, predictive text,
Ingenious but short-lived tool.
You’re gone, and whatever comes next
is unlikely to be as book.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Greens versus Israel, BBC versus UKIP

Norm Geras has been running a series of posts about how Greens are instinctively anti-Israel. There's further evidence today that anti-Semitism is now a left-wing thing as the Scottish Green Party launches its manifesto and, on page 25, announces that it will seek to boycott Israel but mentions no other countries as being problematic.

Greens are fanatics unable to think clearly and are therefore dangerous. They're also London. UKIP (who are ridiculous but less so than the Greens) are Not-London. This is why the BBC - being London - thinks that UKIP is a small bad party in the same bad, Not-London category as the BNP, but the Greens are in a different, essentially good, London category.

As Daniel Hannan observes, you will frequently hear BBC reporters make throwaway remarks that are variations on: "...minority parties like UKIP and the BNP", but never " the Greens and BNP".

This is odd considering that the Greens and the BNP have similar support in most opinion polls (4%) whereas UKIP is at 8%; and at the 2009 European elections, UKIP came second behind the Tories with 16.5%, whereas the BNP (6.2%) and Greens(8.6%) got two seats each, making them very comparable 'minority parties', in that respect at least.

Fiendish quiz

Over at The Dabbler I set the latest fiendish Round Blogworld Quiz.

London and Not-London

Rod Lidl writes a lot of sloppy, pointlessly provocative tosh (as Nick Cohen knows, it's not easy to keep generating controversial angles and moral outrage to deadline), but this is very good:

Not-London does not think like London; it has its own ideas. And these ideas have diverged from those of the capital over the last 20 years; they were always a little distant, but never so much as they are now. Economics is, as ever, at the heart of this widening chasm.

It is often said, by its critics, that the BBC has an inherently left-wing bias across its output. I don’t think this is correct. It is certainly biased, but it is not, to my mind, a left-wing bias: it is a metropolitan liberal bias. It is not noticeably biased on issues such as the minimum wage, or redundancies, for example, or the need for the government to invest in industry, which you might expect if its bias was truly from the left. Its bias is that of London’s: a sort of mimsy faux-leftism based on economic self-interest. We are ruled by the ideas of London — or, to be more accurate, a certain affluent and arrogant part of it. A gilded crescent that stretches from Ealing in the west to Hoxton in the east, south to Dulwich, Greenwich and Wimbledon, and north to Hampstead Garden Suburb. From within this place emanate all the shibboleths of Politically Correct Britain, and its epic sense of rectitude that no person in public life dare challenge.

Evangelistically secular, socially ultra-liberal and unwilling to allow even the mildest challenge to its political hegemony. And you can see why; for the London middle class, immigration, for example, means nicer food on the high street, much cheaper nannies and plumbers and mini-cab drivers and so on. (But this is just the London middle class: to be sure, there are plenty of parts of London that should also be designated Not-London; the poorer, nastier bits, where these views do not hold sway). Beyond London, out in the desolate wilds of Not-London, ie in the rest of England, the economics do not work in quite the same way.

(from a duelling article with AA Gill about the BBC move to Salford, alas behind the paywall)

Monday, April 18, 2011

We’ve all been there

Via Nige I discover this riveting BBC article about cardboard boxes, which includes perhaps the greatest introductory paragraph ever written:

We've all been there. Surrounded by clutter, left with nothing to house the mess. Enter the cardboard box.

I’ve been trying to come up with an homage that might do justice to its majesty (see the comments). Alas my imitations are pale, the best I’ve managed so far being:

We've all been there. Holding a bowl of soup, left with nothing to somehow transfer it into our mouths without creating a mess. Enter the spoon.

Can anyone come closer to the original’s thrilling perfection? What about something like…

We’ve all been there. Standing on the first floor of our houses, wondering how to safely reach the ground floor where we might find the kitchen and other useful rooms without actually plummeting from a window and in the absence of an elevator or fireman’s pole. Enter the staircase.

No, I just can't seem to get that je ne sais quois...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Any excuse

Has anyone yet managed to see a single story in any paper or media outlet about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal that doesn't feature a large image of the lovely Sienna Miller?


Over at The Dabbler I review Spiral (BBC Four). It's being hyped as 'the new The Killing', but in fact this is the third series. I provide the complete lowdown on it thus far.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Over at The Dabbler, I write, in conjunction with Jassy, about Sipsmith Gin and Vodka.

A remarkable little operation. Two extremely well-spoken CamCleggy types called Sam and Fairfax operate out of a small shack in Hammersmith, which contains this bloody fantastic gin-making machine called Prudence.

London really is an endlessly amazing place.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Name-drop Nuclear Option

Whenever I encounter such shameless name-dropping as this, I simply end all competition by stating the fact that Terry Nutkins once came to my house.