Archive | April, 2006

Saturday Reading | Gernika

29 Apr


The Basque cultural legacy is complex. On one hand, it is a deeply nationalist culture that has preserved an ancient language and sense of identity; on the other, because of its prosperity, its openness to France and to the sea, it has long been a most cosmopolitan society. It is no mistake that the playful new museum made to house the best of international art was designed by an outsider, or that the wonderful new bridge in Bilbao was designed by Santiago Calatrava, also an outsider.

Novelist and broadcaster, Colm Tóibín, writes in The Guardian, here, on the history of Guernica, Picasso’s abstract portrayal of the savage bombing of the Basque town in 1937.

British Intellectualism: An Oxymoron?

28 Apr

Timothy Garton Ash wrote in defence of British Intellectualism in yesterdays Guardian, here. His description of an intellectual was fairly generalised:

“It is the role of the thinker or writer who engages in public discussion of issues of public policy, in politics in the broadest sense, while deliberately not engaging in the pursuit of power.”

Surely this description would include most serious political bloggers? Few bloggers seek real power, much less, actually gain any. And we do debate issues relating to the socio-political sphere. Agreed we often descend into pointless, incessant feuding, but European Intellectuals are hardly above lengthy bitchy grudges either.

Here in Britain we have always suffered the ‘arm-chair’ pundits, uncles who bore you to tears with political and cultural musings, philosophising taxi drivers, and opinionated pub regulars, but they rarely – a la the French – sit around in Cafés smoking strong Turkish cigarettes, and name-dropping Czeslaw Milosz or quoting Sartre. The British, as Garton Ash explains, consider such conduct “airy-fairy,” and not something an Anglo-Saxon would be caught doing, lest he be branded a Catholic or a “cheese-eating surrender monkey.”

Of course I’m stereotyping, as well as enjoying some mild Francophobia, but Garton Ash is right when he argues, that the British consider the term somewhat pejorative. While reading the article I began to consider my own position. I have a literature degree, several professional qualifications, and I waste far too much valuable time discussing politics, history, and culture. While I have never smoked a Helmar, I do enjoy a glass of single-malt, while I argue long into the night, with anyone unlucky enough to be cornered mid-rant.

So am I an intellectual?

I don’t think so. For a start I’m not bright enough; I’m much better at bluff than delivery, and my knowledge of most subjects is incomplete, which often leads me to conclusions I am soon forced to abandon. I also tend to believe the last book I read – although the same could have been said of Adam Smith. And my blog, while occasionally a source of mild titillation, is hardly the London Review of Books. But I guess these are value judgements, and the thrust of intellectualism is in the endeavour, not the conclusion.

Garton Ash argues that Britain is a hotbed of intellectualism, and that our dislike of the classification belies a genuine cerebral rigour in British culture: –

There are probably more genuine, substantial, creative debates about ideas, policies and books – and reaching a wider public – in Britain than there are in France, the homeland of les intellectuels. The south bank of the Thames is less elegant but more intellectually alive than the left bank of the Seine.
Nowhere else outside the US has such an array of thinktanks. Every month seems to bring a new literary festival, with large audiences queueing up to hear eggheads and boffins galore. We have the best universities in Europe, and some British academics still manage to escape the ghastly, Soviet-style clutches of the government-imposed Research Assessment Exercise, and other bureaucratic nightmares, for sufficient time to share their knowledge with a wider public. We have the BBC, especially BBC radio, to help them do that, in programmes such as Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time and Andrew Marr’s Start the Week. In laying out his vision for the future of the BBC earlier this week, its director general, Mark Thompson, reaffirmed his commitment to the third leg of the Reithian tripod: to educate, as well as to inform and entertain.

I would agree with this sentiment. Radio Four is an oasis of wisdom; our newspapers and magazines are informed and aware. And with channels such as More Four and BBC4, even our television is becoming seriously intellectualised.

But in my opinion it is the blogosphere, and the freedom of self-publication, that will offer the greatest source of new debate, and probably, will allow the next great wave of thinkers to find a voice.

Blair on the ropes

27 Apr

The more insider-gossip I read of John Prescott’s affair(s), the more I feel there is a political motivation for the timing of the revelations. Yes, yes, I know that the Daily Mirror broke the news, and for all intensive purposes the paper is Labour through-and-through, but whatever sources prompted the running of the story, their timing was not a coincidence. Whatever ideological motivations the Mirror may have for protecting the government, the chances of missing out on a titillating exclusive, weigh heavier on the ambitious newspaper editor.

The troubles in the Health Service, the Home Office, and recent pressures on Ruth Kelly, and Tessa Jowell, have compounded this week, with the first Tory demands for resignations. Has the Prescott story been slipped out, to further undermine Labour’s chances, in next Thursday’s local elections?


Rumours are rife that the bigwigs at Labour HQ are hysterical, and that they predict major loses in traditional Labour wards, chiefly in London, wherever the Lib Dem’s are organised. And news that two major urban Labour leaders have written to the PM to demand he steps down, will certainly add pressure. Add into this combustible mix, the fractious musings of progressive thinktanks, such as Compass, and you have Red Indians in every direction.

If Thursday’s elections are particularly disastrous for the party, it’s hard to imagine Blair surviving untill the Spring Bank Holiday at the end of May.

One of the more interesting absences of the past few weeks has been that of the Chancellor. Blairites are more than aware of Brown’s penchant for disappearing when things get tough, not wanting to be exposed to the indelible taint of the Court of Tony. Commentators would be wise to draw conclusions from Brown’s utter lack of solidarity with his cabinet colleagues, and his inability to share criticism. Abdication is not exactly a leadership quality now is it?

Where was the perspiring Chancellor, when Blair needed him? Having an important conference call with pregnant Hollywood sexpot, UN goodwill ambassador, and sometime Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie. Comparisons with Mr. Blair’s predicament, could hardly be more stark

Next weeks local elections look set to be far more inflammatory, than last year’s general election, so expect some blood on the carpet in its wake.

Competing against Dell

27 Apr

An interesting post on The Guardian’s Technology blog, here, highlights one of the realities of globalisation: it’s cheaper to buy a PC from Dell, than to construct one yourself from the constituent parts.

The article explains some of the factors, that contribute to Dells low cost:-

Dell certainly isn’t paying $111 for a Pentium 4 and $89 for a copy of Windows XP. And it doesn’t only get discounts for massive volumes, it probably also gets advertising support payments for mentioning Intel and Windows in its ads.
Finally, Dell bundles a bunch of stuff that people pay it to install on new PCs, such as links to ISPs and trial versions of anti-virus programs. These payments could even provide the majority of Dell’s profits. Home users, of course, generally don’t get paid to install stuff when they build their own PCs.

A bird for each Jag…UPDATED II

26 Apr

Is the third woman in Prezzer’s life Rosie Winterton MP?



Someone has also added this gossip to her Wikipedia page, at 18.10 today!

Finklestein on the Euston Manifesto

26 Apr

Danny Finklestein, whose performance on More4’s excellent The Last Word show, have been very balanced and informed, has asked, ‘what’s the point of the Euston Manifesto?’

Fox News viewers, may not be Fox News Viewers after all

26 Apr

Fox News presenter John Scott, on the announcement that former Fox News presenter Tony Snow, will replace outgoing Press Secretary, Scott McClellan:

[Tony Snow] a face familiar to many of you, if you’re a Fox News viewer.

Clearly, some Fox News viewers resent being referred to as ‘Fox News Viewers’. Remind you of a certain tabloid, here in the UK, that shares the same proprietorship as Fox News?