Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saddle sores and drug wars

One of the least appealing aspects of Gordon Brown's government has been the pusillanimous pandering to puritanism. The sacking of the government's drugs adviser for daring to advice ministers that scientific evidence and what the Daily Mail would like to be true are not the same thing is a classic example of this failing.

Admittedly, there is a counter argument that David Nutt's job was to advise rather than criticise ministers who failed to take his advice. In any case, he might have expected the flack that his observation that horse riding was more dangerous than taking ecstasy would attract.

That said, I am not aware that anyone has actually refuted his comments about horse riding, which does rather suggest he was correct. Not that drug policy should be based on bare statistics like that. If we are to have a mature and sensible debate about drugs we need to know how enjoyable each activity is so that we can evaluate the risks and rewards attached to each. I would also like to know whether anyone has ever died after riding a horse under the influence of ecstasy. If not, it might be worth trying.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Dear Sir, I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms

SIR – I find it intensely humiliating to be asked by airport security staff if I have packed my own bag. This forces one to admit, usually within earshot of others, that I no longer have a manservant to do the chore for me. Gentlemen should be able to answer such questions with a disdainful: "Of course not! Do I look like that sort of person?"

Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume, Guildford, Surrey

This letter was even good enough to make it into the Telegraph's letters page; but fear not. There's a book out of unpublished letters to the editor.

The thing I like about letters to the editor is that they are an early example of what is know called "user generated content" - a phrase beloved of the spivs, charlatans and bullshitters who distressingly dominate the debate about how the media can adapt to new technology. It's also a good way of building a community and enhancing the value of your brand and all the rest of it.

There's a paradox at the heart of the letters page: one the one hand the wit and intellect of the readers can vastly surpass that of the journalists. On the other hand, the enormous number of cranks, nutters, bigots, bores and weirdos there are out there: you need to ruthlessly filter them all out; which is why the letters editors' job is such an interesting one. To use Private Eye shorthand, the Guardian needs to dilute the Dave Sparts and Mike Gigglers to a palatable level; ditto the Sir Herbert Gussets and Thatcher worshippers in the Telegraph.

It's a good example of why you need people to edit stuff, even online. You'd have thought that some of these skill can be brought to bear on internet journalism; they probably will be as soon as people learn to ignore the utopians who believe the internet will change everything. You don't want everything to be like Twitter, after all.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Getting it right

Reading a news story about the JFS, formerly the Jews' Free School, it struck me that the institution's original name is the perfect indication of the vital importance of correct punctuation. It is also a good example as to why you should think carefully about word order, but still.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: Fancy a pint?

This is as good a time as any to wish a happy 10th birthday to Fancyapint. If you wish to know what it is that makes the London pub great, look around.

I am not an unbiased source, of course, since I write the odd review for the site. And it is in this capacity that I shall be attending its annual awards bash tonight. Winners to be put up here when I get home/sober up sufficiently.

I might mark this auspicious event in a suitable fashion: visiting and reviewing the Lucky 7 in Cricklewood perhaps. (As the adage as it, anyone can get banned from a pub, to get banned from the Lucky 7 takes something special).

In the meantime, let me urge you again to help save the Great British pub by going to one.

UPDATE: A full list of the winners on Londonist. May I especially commend a couple of long-term personal favourites: the Jerusalem Tavern and the special award winner, the Colton Arms. The latter is not for everyone, but in a wholly good way. I might elaborate in a future Trollied Tuesday.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Over-vexed and over there

I am back in Britain; you don't want me to bore you with I did on my holidays stories, do you? So I will not tell you about the bizarre roadside encounter with a Bangkok lady boy in what appeared a simple case of sexual battery turned out to be a an attempted robbery (luckily I was able to convince the little bugger to return my wallet forthwith); nor will I relate how, owing to a misplaced sense of politeness, I became complicit in the ongoing corruption of Cambodia's state institutions and saw a graphic illustration of the shambolic state of that country's military.

But permit me one observation that I think has immense geopolitical implications: as American power and influence wanes, the Chinese appear to effortlessly taken on the role as chief provider of coachloads full of overweight, overbearing, loud, badly dressed and unsympathetic tourists.*

* I am aware that other countries provide badly behaved tourists; luckily for me Britain's lager louts steer clear of the sort of places I was visiting.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

No smiling

It's as well my posting here is usually erratic, otherwise I might have to explain the latest radio silences. As it is, I have been off to places where you can see signs like this.

The sign isn't as silly as you might think, nor is it really neccesary. For it comes from Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh's museum of genocide. The tens of thousands who died there were a tiny fraction of those killed by the Khmer Rouge in what is, I think, one of the very few examples of a group committing genocide against their own people. (Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar was worse, killing half of her population albeit over a much longer period.)

Anyhow, even a snapshot of what Pol Pot and co got up to in that one corner of their Khmer agrarian socialist paradise gives the strong impression that - despite some pretty strong competition - they were the most inhuman of all the many despotic regimes that disfigured the last century (I mean, even Kim Jong Il lets people watch the odd sports match or artistic performance; there was nothing except subsistence farming under Pol Pot.) On the other hand, they've just started the trial of the chap who was in charge of Tuol Sleng, it might even finish before he dies of old age; I think that sends out a firm message to anyone contemplating something similar.