Saturday, May 13, 2006

Welcome to Europe's newest nation - Nymark (United Nations recognition pending). Still - it's bigger (and slightly more attractive) than the Principality of Sealand...

Friday, May 12, 2006

A handy round-up of what's been going on in Ukraine since the elections back in March. It's not exactly stable over there just yet, what with them still being without a Prime Minister and all...

You'd have thought that now they've got the ID cards bill through parliament they'd shut up already with the nonsense scare-stories about identity theft. Either that or, if it's currently so leniently punished as is being claimed, you'd think they might try the cheaper option of increasing fines and sentences before forking out several billion on a technological white elephant that won't even solve the problem. Ho hum... (You might also ask how centralising all your eggs this information in one basket on one centralised database will make it more secure, but still...)

Elsewhere, a government minister demonstrates, as if we needed any more proof, that using Star Trek as the basis for currently available crime-fighting technology is not a good way to formulate policy. They simply have no idea what is possible.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

This deserves more than just a short post, but sadly I'm rather busy.
"Angela Merkel has said that Europe needs a new reason for its existence"
Merkel's election always had the potential to be significant. Is this the first sign that she may actually be about to start shaking things up? From today's speech to the German parliament it looks like it may well be:
"We absolutely need the constitution to ensure the European Union is effective and capable of action... We need to think about how we make the constitution a success. I want the constitution, the German government wants the constitution and I think a majority of this parliament wants it too... If it's not tackled before, you can be sure that the German presidency will focus on this."

Europe runs on beer

Hardly a revelation, if you've ever been into a bar in Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, etc. etc. etc., but it's nice to have some figures at last.

"Europe’s beer brewing industry refreshes the EU economy to the tune of €57.5bn every year"
That's apparently around 1.2% of all people employed in the EU who owe their jobs to booze - of which Germany has the highest share of brewery workers (20% of the total), followed by Britain (13%) and Poland (9%).

Beer is also responsible for €39 billion of European government's tax income, and Europe is the largest Beer-producing region in the world - churning out 416 million hectolitres (whatever they are) of beer annually - 200 million more than the US or China, the next two highest. (Which sort of goes to show that those Communists can't be all bad, eh? And Chinese beer beats the American stuff hands-down and all - give me a Tsingtao over a Budweiser any day.)

To put it into some kind of perspective, €57.5 billion is approximately France's annual defence budget (no sniggering at the back - they haven't surrendered in ages), about half the value of Turkey's annual trade (again, shush, now - they're doing better these days) and more than the annual government expenditure of both Poland and Finland (this is the point when I should give up with the comparisons, isn't it?).

Either way, beer's great and it's good for the economy and stuff. Hurrah! It is now our solemn duty to drink more beer to help the economy and preserve all those jobs, so get down the pub sharpish - considering how hot it's been today, mine's a pint of IPA, ta.

(Don't trust that EUpolitix report linked above, by the by, it appears to have been written by someone on work experience and all the facts are wrong. Instead check out the executive summary .pdf)

Still don't understand Italy? You're not the only one. Thankfully, Phil Edwards does, and explains it really rather well.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

So, about those libel laws...

Seeing someone arrive at this blog (at least, while Blogger was working) via Cafe Babel was rather nice, at first. It's a decent site with regularly interesting content - nice to be noticed by them at last. Or so I thought.

As it is, in an article on the European blogosphere I find myself viciously libelled as "Eurosceptic" and "a declared anti-European".

Then again, considering that according to the article I started this blog a year ago (try three - with continuous daily blogging for the last 20 months solid), and came 156th in the 2005 British Weblog Awards (try 12th in the UK section of the 2005 Weblog Awards), so maybe I shouldn't take anything the article says too seriously. Especially as it states that "On average, about 40 people per entry vent their Euro-frustration on Margot Wallström’s blog" - the figure is nearer 100... (I'll forgive them for thinking that my surname is Matthews, as everybody does - including the TLS, judging by my last piece in there.)

Still, is this seriously the level of research these things require? The only other blog, beyond me and Margot, to get a mention is the Brussels Journal - if you want good examples of EU-sceptic blogs what about EU Referendum, EurSoc or our man Worstall (who also has something to say about this)? All of them have been going longer than me, and are ACTUALLY EU-sceptic. And where's the mention for A Fistful of Euros or European Tribune to balance it out a bit?

Admittedly, the Anglophone Euroblogosphere is heavily weighted towards frustrated Brits ranting about Brussels being bollocks, but what about the Frrancophone blogs, which did so much to raise the debate in the run-up to last year's referendum? How about a mention for the likes of Netlex, Publius, Ceteris Paribus or Versac? And that's before you even get started on blogs in languages I can't read. This is especially bizarre as the article appears to have originally been written in German.

Note to Cafe Babel: if you want an article on EU blogs written by someone who knows what they're talking about, I can offer relatively competitive rates. In the meantime, I may get in touch and ask for a retraction...

As an opinion poll shows Blair's Labour party to be as unpopular as Thatcher's Tories in late 1981 (following mass unemployment and tax rises during a recession, giving Thatcher personal approval ratings of just 23%, 11 points lower than even Blair's currently stand), Gordon ups the ante, announcing that Blair will hold talks about a handover. Has Blair actually agreed to this, or is Brown using the same tactics that Charles Clarke tried, following the advice of Yes, Minister? In politics, if you announce something to the press, it becomes true...

Where else but UK Polling Report for more? (Actually, Political Betting, now you come to mention it - and again on the bad news for Gordon from the poll.)

Nothing nicer

Than early morning rumours of bombs on the Underground again... No idea yet if genuine, mind, so I'm probably just scaremongering here.

Update: Looking like just rumours. Can't find any confirmation at all - probably people jumping to conclusions because (due to the wonderful efficiency of the London Underground) this morning the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Circle, Northern and Jubilee lines all had major delays - a combination of broken signals and knackered trains, apparently...

You see, terrorists, this is the trouble with attacking the Underground - we're so used to delays that unless we're caught up in the middle of it we'll just swear for a bit, get pissed off with our fellow commuters, and then find alternative routes.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The importance of grammar, part 4,673: At today's press conference (amid much guff), Tony Blair commented on the 7th July bombings:
"He said he knew of 'nothing that would indicate [the security services] should have known or been able to prevent the attacks"'"
Which, of course, strictly speaking means he knew of nothing that would indicate the security services should have been able to prevent the attacks. So if the security services don't need the ability to protect us from terrorists, why the need for all this new, intrusive legislation, eh?

(And here the pedantry ends, for the time being - although I might ask why, if Jack Straw's Foreign Office policies won't change under Margaret Beckett, there was any need to remove him? Couldn't she, as "a safe pair of hands" - despite the lack of evidence of this from her time at DEFRA - equally tackle Lords Reform, Straw's supposed new task as Leader of the Commons?)

Superb reshuffle analysis from Tim Hames in The Times (neither a columnist nor a paper that I normally find myself in agreement with):
"This reckless reshuffle has thus imperilled the Prime Minister to an extent that five Conservative leaders and a few overseas dictators never managed. It steers me, at least, to ponder a personally painful question: 'Has Mr Blair become a menace to Blairism?'"
Read the whole thing. Top notch.

Confused by what's been going on in Italy?

Same here. Luckily, The New York Review of Books has a handy overview:

"A close outcome was not only predictable but actually planned by Berlusconi during his government's twilight as a way of lessening the impact of possible defeat. A few months before the election, Berlusconi studied polls that showed the center-left winning a substantial majority in parliament with the country's winner-take-all electoral system. He decided to change the election system...

" In a moment of candor, Berlusconi's minister for reform, Roberto Calderoli admitted, 'The election law? I wrote it, but it's a porcata>,' a vulgar term that roughly means 'a piece of pig shit.' Clearly it was intended to make the country ungovernable for Prodi and his leftist coalition."
As the latest Italian elections (this time for president) get under way, though Berlusconi may have finally resigned (if not actually conceded), the only thing that seems certain is that we haven't seen the last of him...

The dilemma of the xenophobe (in this case, Roger Knapman, leader of UKIP): you don't want foreigners in your country, you don't want to allow their home country to join the EU, but your pathetic stereotyping means you'll still happily hire them to perform manual tasks, because "they work so much harder". Much akin to "I'm not racist - some of my best slaves are black..."

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The best political allegiance test I've ever taken - are you left-wing or right-wing?

A blogging questionnaire

Every now and again for the last year or so, I've had random emails from people "studying blogging" - normally as part of some kind of journalism course. (Advice, guys: learn QuarkXpress and InDesign, pick up a bit of photoshop, learn how to proof and sub, perhaps learn shorthand - all the theoretical stuff they teach you on those things is an utter waste of time, just stick to the practical.) In case they're of interest, here are my answers to the latest:

What are the factors that have driven you to blog?

Initially it was simply a convenient way to work out my opinions on a range of political issues, started to keep my brain ticking over during a period of fairly mind-numbing work. Since then it has become a handy outlet for developing / practising my writing, gaining feedback, and building a reputation in an area of journalism into which I had not previously ventured.

How much time do you spend blogging a day/week/month?

Depending on how busy I am with things that actually earn me money, it's usually between 10 minutes and a couple of hours a day. I'll also normally spend an hour or two reading blogs and news sites, which may sometimes feed into pieces of my own - but is mostly done thanks to being a news junkie.

To what extent, if at all, do you consider yourself to be a journalist? Why? Why not?

I am a journalist - my day job is as a writer and editor, and I do a fair amount of freelance writing. That's pretty much all on other subjects than those I blog about, however. Blogging-wise, what I do is usually more comment than reportage - although occasional ventures into live-blogging (the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the 2005 UK General Election, the London bombs of 7th and 21st July 2005 and a few others) have become much more like proper reportage journalism, bringing together hundreds of different sources to try and provide a coherent overview of events.

What are your criteria for editorial process?

On Europhobia, practically none, other than being grammatically-correct - almost everything on there is a first draft, written without any real pre-planning. On The Sharpener, I'll generally spend a bit more time on articles, and re-draft a couple of times to get them slightly closer to professional standard. But there are few things I've written for blogs that I'd consider as good (in terms of fact-checking, structure and coherence of writing style) as my professional work.

How would you differentiate blogs from traditional journalism?

Depends what you mean by traditional journalism. In terms of content, most political blogs are little different to the comment / opinion pages of any major newspaper. Of course, most (but by no means all) bloggers are less talented at writing and less knowledgable than their professional counterparts, plus have fewer incentives to make a serious effort. But blogging success relies on building and maintaining a good reputation - so more successful / serious bloggers will often have their online reputations to think about, which can be just as much of an incentive as a paycheque.

What particular sources do you rely on? Can you please list them? Any websites or web tools?

The BBC and Guardian are often the main ones, simply because with those, you know that any links you make will remain current for years to come. Most other online news sources allow old articles to go offline after a few weeks. But I'll hunt around hundreds of others during the course of the average month - Google News and are handy for hunting down specific stories, is superb for official newsfeeds, plus all the ones listed in the "Resources" section of Europhobia's first sidebar. Other blogs can be handy at pointing the way to new sources - be these blogs I'm already aware of, or ones found via the likes of Technorati (which is now rather rubbish, but still probably the best blog search engine I've found). I haven't yet worked out how to use RSS readers...

I treat source-hunting for blogging the same way as I used to treat writing a history essay while at university - follow the footnotes (links) to find more info - and try to credit everything all the time to back up the authority and allow me to trace my train of thought and research at later dates. Having an historical background (up to postgrad level) is ideal training for blogging.

What are your thoughts on citizen journalism? Do you think that bloggers could be considered as some kind of citizen journalist?

As with much of the terminology of blogging, "citizen journalism" a stupid phrase, thought up by professional journalists who assume that everyone thinks that journalism is glamourous, and that anyone who writes must want to be a journalist. It doesn't actually MEAN anything. It's a nonsense.

In the sense it's normally meant, most bloggers couldn't be considered citizen journalists, because they don't go out and hunt down stories by themselves - they generally rely on online sources, unless an event is happening right outside their window (as some of the Ukrainian bloggers found during the Orange Revolution).

But if you're going to dismiss bloggers purely for relying on secondary sources (as normally seems to be the case), you could likewise dismiss all those journalists who spend all day sitting in their newsroom watching the BBC, Sky, and reading the wires from Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. By the same criteria bloggers are disregarded as journalists for their lack of primary investigation, those journalists aren't journalists. Which is obviously stupid. As I say, it's largely journalistic self-satisfaction that has given rise to the term in the first place.

Is there a special technological requirement for doing blogging? Who can afford it?

A computer and internet access. That's it. There are any number of free blogging packages available now, from Blogger and WordPress to a bunch of new ones I can't remember the names of. If you've got a computer and can get online, it's completely free.

I've been blogging on and off for about five years now, and blogging seriously for a year and a half. In that time I must have published well over 500,000 words online on various blogs. So far it hasn't cost me a penny. - although I am fully aware that if I'd written similar amounts professionally I'd have earned about £50,000 - instead, I've got little more than a few free drinks and about £250 directly from my blogging to date. A bit of extra freelance work, perhaps, but it's hard to tell.

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