Saturday, July 29, 2006

That McKeating is rather good on newspaper columnists, blogs and the like. I may expound on this myself at some point, beyond my mere interjections in the comments there.

From what I can tell, we're beginning to see a new phase emerge in the media's response to blogs. From "hey, cool - blogs prove that EVERYONE wants to be a journalist, and therefore we're skill", they're beginning to realise that us bloggers could be a threat. Not to newspapers or TV news, obviously, but to the vastly overpaid opinion-mongering columnists, who rake in £100k+ per annum while the lowly staff journalists who do all the legwork of bringing us actual NEWS are lucky to hit the national average wage, despite infinitely longer hours and far high stress. Bloggers will never be able to do the latter better than the proper media (although there's no reason why an online-only newspaper couldn't work, given enough funding in the set-up phases) - but opinions are ten a penny, and there are already hundreds of bloggers out there who I'd far rather read than a Polly Toynbee or a Simon Jenkins.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Subsidy abuse

The Department for the Environment, Foor and Rural Affairs (Defra) under Margaret Beckett - now off fixing the Middle East as Condoleeza Rice's bitch Britain's Foreign Secretary - has repeatedly cocked up farm subsidy payments through an ongoing mismanagement that could yet bugger up the struggling agricultural sector even more than did the same department's balls-ups over BSE, Foot and Mouth and Bovine TB.

Which makes me wonder how Britain has managed to get away with just €2.39 million in EU-imposed agricultural penalties - none for mismanagement or poor payment systems - when Greece has been told to pay back €6.46 million for "various weaknesses in the system for management", Ireland €0.17 million for "administrative deficiencies" and Spain €4.99 million for "non-respect of payment deadlines". This all part of the European Commission's attempt to reclaim subsidy money via a system of penalties for dodginess - 7 out of 25 EU member states being penalised.

The country with the largest penalties? Let's think - which country is likely to have abused the farm subsidy system the most? Which country can possibly be responsible for more than half of the €161.9 million the Commission is claiming in penalties?

Yep, step forward France! €87.97 million in total, of which €77.13 million is for giving subsidies out for "ineligible land". Yep, France has been claiming farming subsides for non-arable land.

This is where we've been going wrong - don't stick to the letter of EU law, hustle. Work it. Let's learn from our cousins over the water, and start scamming. Let's claim farm subsidies for Hyde Park. Hell - let's claim them for the Bluewater Shopping Centre's car park...

Of course, the only trouble is that as long as Defra's in charge of managing the things, they'll end up stuck in some kind of managerial limbo, only to emerge in some dim and distant future where all livestock and crops have died of bureaucratic oversight and mankind has devolved even further into some kind of feral rodent hybrid, subsisting purely on alcopops and knife fights, and incapable of movement without the aid of an undersized BMX powered solely by envy and rage.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

We must ban Britain's most popular daily newspaper, and we must ban it now: Sun kills 60,000 a year, says WHO:
"Laura-Jane Armstrong, cancer information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This report provides clear evidence of the dangers of over-exposure to the sun".

Rachel's had more bad luck, seemingly losing or having her passport stolen at the 7th July memorial service (which she attended, if you're coming in late, due to being only a few feet away from the King's Cross bomb) - which she's only just discovered, meaning she's likely to miss her long-planned, long-overdue holiday.

Justin's had an idea, Mat's provided a template (though better to come up with your own as identially-worded letters/emails are instantly ignored) - email Home Secretary John Reid, who has met Rachel and is in charge of passports, and ask him to abuse his position to allow her to go overseas. Try Write to Them or email

No, this isn't likely to happen - Rachel isn't, after all, John Reid's mistress' nanny and Reid can hardly be seen to be fiddling the system (for what would be seen as little more than an attempt to generate positive PR) so soon after slagging his department off for being rubbish. Still, no harm in trying, eh?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Is Poland going potty?

OK, so they've got a set of identical twins running the country - unusual, but not necessarily mad - yet they do seem to be ushering in some potentially worrying electoral changes and acting somewhat vindictively towards political opponents.

Now Poland - the largest and likely most important of the new EU member states who joined two years ago - appears to be shifting away from Brussels. This despite the Prime Ministerial Kaczynski twin's vaguely pro-EU tone on his coming to office a few days ago. Now, however, the twins have launched a purge of pro-EU officials, apparently being pitched as an attempt to clamp down on communists. (And no, my anti-EU friends, this is not an excuse for you to churn out the usual tedious "EUSSR" rubbish and claims that the EU is a communist plot in the comments.)

Is this part of the rightwards shift (NYT reg req.) in the country, as seen in the rise of the skinheads in anti-Gay riots and racially-motivated attacks both in Poland and in Germany during the World Cup? Is there something even more sinister at work in this country with a history of, shall we say, "strong leaders"? Or is it merely a childishly petulant toys out of pram moment prompted by those potato jibes from Germany?

Of course the question is, if this right-wing sibling pair move away from Brussels and simultanously start persecuting former communists, where are they going to look for allies? I can hardly imagine Russia's ex-KGB President being too pleased at teaming up with a country trying to remove his former secret police colleagues from positions of influence.

But then again, I'll freely admit to knowing next to nothing about Poland. Some blogs that may help include that of the Economist's Edward Lucas, p3, The Beatroot (currently on holiday), Our Man in Gdansk, and Polish Police and Administrative Corruption. Any others you know of, let me know. Something odd's certainly happening over there, and it will have serious implications for the rest of the EU if Poland goes mental...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A meme

I've been tagged to list my five favourite "social media" sites. These are, apparently, "the online tools and platforms that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives with each other. Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video." As such, and largely because of that New Media Awards thing I went to last night meaning I've been vaguely pondering the merits of the web and such, I'll go for the following:

Ain't it cool: not that I visit much (if ever) these days, but this was the first site - really a grandiose blog before the term was even invented - on which I actually bothered interacting with other interweb types, back in the heady days of 1997 when I first dipped my toes into the online waters. At the time one of the few sites where you could get decent info about upcoming films (even the indispensible IMDB was rather shaky back then), it made my task as a budding film journo a hell of a lot easier, and the film geeks in the talkbacks and chatroom were, back then at least, surprisingly entertaining, intelligent and civil. It was also the first website to have the joy of some of my writing published on it, if I recall correctly. I used a different pseuonym then and it all went downhill after about 1999, mind. (Update: Just remembered - they were also sweet enough to review my first book, largely positively, so I ought to be nice...)

b3ta: How can I not? That's where the "Nosemonkey" pseudonym originted, it's where I taught myself photoshop, and it's what kept me sane during long hours of tedium before I took up blogging. I'd been lurking for about a year and a half before I joined - which was apparently 2 years, 10 months ago today. Haven't been on in aaaages though - no photoshop any more, the talkboard took too much time, and you can see all the best images ripped off without credit in the Daily Mail these days.

Blogger: Simply because it was one of the first free blogging tools (and the only one I'd heard of when I first tried blogging back in around 2000, hence still using it now). It's a bit crap, but it's easy, and it got me quoted in the papers and some free booze and a small amount of money and stuff, so I suppose I ought to be grateful despite the lack of automatic topic archiving and daily frustration of dodgy HTML... It's a love/hate thing.

Wikipedia: Again, simply can't be ignored. Yes, a lot of its articles are still riddled with errors, but it's still just about reliable enough to save a hell of a lot of time running to the library for some quick research. Supposedly it should simply keep on getting better through self-correction and constant expansion - though when it's already got articles on this lot I begin to wonder if they haven't already covered everything there is to know...

Erm... That's it, I think. I'm meant to do five though, so I'll say mininova - only recently discovered BitTorrent site which is very useful for... erm... sharing files and TV shows and suchlike entirely legally... Honest...

I'll tag Justin, Chris, Chris, Jonn and Alex, because they're all more geeky than me and may come up with some more obscure ones than those on offer in my defiantly mainstream (aka unimaginitive) selection...

New Statesman piss-up report

(Although I think that should technically read "New Statesman New Media Awards report", but that contains rather too many "New"s, especially as neither the magazine nor the awards really are.)

Anyway, as Guido's still hungover, Paul got lost, Katie vanished, Tim missed his train, Recess Monkey seemed too busy with his ethics advisor (yes, really), Alan is no doubt busy with "work", and Jonn hasn't got anything up yet, it's doubtless time for me to add my tuppence worth to that of Clive - who has proved that these northerners are better drinkers by already having something up despite having missed his train back to the sticks.

Other than the bloggers, who won lots of free booze but very little else, MySociety deservedly done good, with awards for Contribution to Civil Society for Write to Them and Advocacy for Pledgebank, other awards going to OpenDemocracy (Independent Information), Derek Wyatt MP (Elected Representative), BBC Backstage (Innovation), Love Lewisham (Modernising Government), The Commission for Social Care Inspection (Accessibility), and Sonic Postcards (Education). Nope, I hadn't heard of most of them either.

Still, "blogging" minister David Miliband was on hand to dole out the pieces of plastic (insert ID cards joke here), and was actually rather impressive. Kept up the standard "make a joke to get the audience onside" thing for a good five minutes before moving on to the tedious stuff, and gave me a good idea of why he's being talked of as future leadership material. Despite me despising a large chunk of what he stands for, he managed to seem likeable. (The fact that he quoted extensively from Devil's Kitchen's insults to him - "That David Miliband has lost his fucking mind... batshit mad" - as an example of the kind of nutters he's had to put up with since starting his blog almost got me wanting to buy the man a pint...)

Gossip-wise, there was surprisingly little that's juicy - although I was present for the historic meeting of Guido and Georgina "Why do they all hate me?" Henry, I'll leave it to the bearded one to give his version of events, as his account will doubtless be far more amusing (if also significantly less accurate...)

As can no doubt be gathered from the utter tedium of this post, I'm still feeling a bit delicate. Good amounts of alcohol and very few nibbles combined with the heat of an awards ceremony conducted in what appeared to be a giant condom outside the Serpentine Gallery has caused a level of dehydration that will doubtless soon be patented by some Californian plastic surgeon as a revolutionary new weight-loss technique. If I remember anything worthwhile, I shall update.

Update: Oh yes, and Peter Tatchell needs Google-juice. He's got a new campaign starting up revolving around former workers at the British Embassy in Baghdad who, despite having received death threats from "insurgents" for "collaborating" have been refused asylum in the UK. Sounds like a worthwhile one to me - though there's less than no info out there. (And yes, I did try and convince him to start a proper blog, rather than merely list his recent articles and hope that the occasional piece for Comment is Free will attract notice...)

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