spiked-geist, 14 February

Twelve days in the life of a born-again blogger.

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

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Forget those God-awful ‘personal sites’ that used to clutter up search engines in days gone by. Weblogs (or ‘blogs’) – diaries made up either of personal experiences or links to interesting things you’ve read on the web – are in.

In the interests of research and vanity, I have now launched my own. Like thousands before me, I went to the website Blogger, typed in a few details, and there it was. Neat and unpretentious with a clear style of presentation. Much like me. It started on 31 January with the now legendary words ‘Hello, welcome to Neocontrarian’, launched to a waiting world of precisely nobody. Now my workmates and girlfriend have been forced to love it, here are some of the highlights so far:

01/02/02 – Moral values taken to heart

The BBC reports today that heart disease deaths in the UK have fallen. This is due to the improved ability to treat heart disease. Great news? Well, tinged with regret because apparently we are all a bunch of fat, lazy good-for-nothings and if heart disease increases again, it will be our own fault.

‘Medical research can do so much to save lives, but in the long run people must take responsibility for their actions’, says Professor Sir Charles George, medical director at the British Heart Foundation. ‘If the sedentary population (37 percent of UK adults) were to do 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week, coronary heart disease deaths could be reduced by around 10 percent. It is time for the government to step in and set targets to get Britain’s sedentary people off their sofas.’

So, yet another opportunity for the government to moralise about our smoking, drinking, consumption of fat and lack of exercise. Thing is, we really do have to die of something. Now that infectious disease kills practically nobody, most of these heart deaths are really deaths from old age. Exercise might make us feel better and more energetic but it won’t keep us alive very much longer than we would be anyway. So exercise if you want (I feel better for my new gym regime) but you can stick your preaching where the sun don’t shine.

05/02/02 – Honey, I shot the good guys!

MSNBC notes reports from Afghanistan that families of people shot by mistake in a raid by US forces have received $1000 in compensation. US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted for the first time that it was possible that a US military assault on two compounds on 24 January resulted in ‘unfortunately killing or wounding some individuals who might have been friendly.’

The problem with parachuting in from nowhere into a country like Afghanistan is that unless you (a) really know what you’re doing and (b) have the best of intentions, then you are going to end up making things a lot worse. Unfortunately, the US and UK are (a) clueless and (b) self-serving. I guess their motto is ‘One dead towelhead is as good as another’. What’s even more bizarre is that the compensation culture has reached Afghanistan. What next – ambulance chasers in Kabul?

07/02/02 – Happy birthday to me

I’m 34 today. My workmates gave me the traditional chorus, singing so badly they must surely all be contenders for Pop Idol. Then Tony threw all the cakes on the floor. Accidentally, I’m assured.

According to Famous Birthdays, I share this happy occasion with Charles Dickens, Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe (aka the original Flash Gordon), Chris Rock and Garth Brooks. Oh, and Eddie Izzard. Lucky me.

It’s also Grenadian independence day. Is that after 1974 or 1983?

11/02/02 – Nobody loves us no more

The image of UK politicians definitely seems to have hit rock bottom. So much so that Tory and Labour apparatchiks are getting together to promote MPs’ rights. ‘I think there is not sufficient respect given by the system to members of parliament’, says Charles Clarke, prime minister Tony Blair’s new ‘cabinet enforcer’ in an interview in the Guardian. He’s getting together with Tory chairman David Davis and has already fired off one letter to BBC chairman Gavyn Davies.

‘I think there are too many civil servants who believe that politicians are a kind of sub-species who are venal in some respect’, he continues. But in an atmosphere where broad political ideas are dead in favour of technical fixes, why would you bother being a politician? To change the world? Hardly. People are far more inclined to vote in Pop Idol than elections because they actually think they can change something when they vote in Pop Idol. Perhaps it is for individual gain? Ah, yes. Venal seems a very good choice of phrase.

12/02/02 – The Jonathan King thing

Jon Ronson’s documentary The Double Life of Jonathan King was shown last night on Channel 4. For those who’ve never heard of him, King was an ex-public schoolboy turned pop star (one of the cheesiest pop stars ever) and impressario (he claims to have discovered Genesis and 10cc – like we don’t hate him enough). He went on to host TV shows like Entertainment USA. He was convicted in 2001 of sexual offences against teenage boys and given seven years in prison.

What comes across in the programme is a man who is easy to dislike, arrogant and possibly delusional. He was convicted for picking up teenage boys and using his fame to manipulate them into having sex with him. The thing is, much of what he did would be legal now, as he does not appear to have actually forced anybody to do anything and no violence was used. While he was selfish and manipulative, and the boys who went with him regret what happened, the fact is that a lot of people have sex before they’re 16 and with older people. Does this really justify seven years in prison? (As it happens, at least one of the cases against King was dropped when the complainant admitted he was 16 when it happened.)

The excessive sentence was justified by the emotional scars suffered by the boys. It seems to me that this could be a case of reading your life backwards and finding a bad sexual experience as a hook on which to blame other failures in life. Moreover, should the courts really place so much emphasis on the psychological effects of crime?

Ronson’s documentary was pretty anodyne and a great disappointment by his usual standards. There may have been legal reasons why he couldn’t go further in questioning the whole thing on screen. However, he previously wrote a fairly long and much more interesting article in the Guardian, which is well worth reading.

And finally – EU gets up musicians’ noises

I know it might be one of those ‘Look at the latest farcical thing the EU is doing’ articles that British newspapers produce from time to time. But this is still quite funny. The Times reports that the EU is currently debating whether to introduce maximum noise levels for workplaces. Good idea. Unfortunately, some orchestral pieces are just plain loud. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, for example. If the rules were applied strictly, many standard classical pieces would not be played, or would have to be played quietly.

Libby MacNamara, director of the Association of British Orchestras, said: ‘It will virtually stop us playing any loud repertoire whatsoever.’ The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in turn expressed sympathy for musicians and entertainers if the European Parliament’s amendments go ahead. But a spokesman said: ‘Noise is noise. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Tchaikovsky or a power drill.’ Good to see that the subtleties of high culture haven’t passed the HSE by.

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Topics Politics


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