Archive for June, 2009

The anonymous blogger.

June 18, 2009

I’ve never been tempted to blog anonymously, but I can very well comprehend why there are bloggers for whom anonymity is not just desirable but essential.

There are, for example, good reasons for thinking that the tearing away of that veil of anonymity from blogger Detective Constable Richard Horton from the Lancashire Constabulary, who blogged as Nightjack, served no useful purpose. The Guardian, leader writer, commenting on Justice Eady’s ruling that   Detective Constable had “no reasonable expectation of privacy”, in a nicely judged aside observes the decision in this case resulted only “a blow to new media, on behalf of the old.”

No right-minded person would take issue with the Justice Eady’s argument that “blogging is essentially a public not a private activity”, or would want to suggest that Mr Horton, just because he wrote on the internet, should expect special protection. The Guardian concedes all this, but it also recognises that there are people like Mr. Horton whose anonymity is central to what they do and can do. If they lose that anonymity, as Mr. Horton now has, they can no longer operate effectively.

With it will vanish some of the more fascinating and useful online writing. Mr Horton’s blog expanded the public’s understanding of policing, as he could not if he had told his employers what he was up to and published a sanitised account of life on the beat. At their best, blogs such as Nightjack, or the Civil Serf who revealed life in a Whitehall office before also being exposed, made the public services more open, and improved debate about how they should run. Anonymity was essential to their ability to do this.

So the problem we are now left with is whether or not we can ever have any bloggers who can operate anonymously. If we can’t, then there is a big problem, that might appear to be just a local one now, but is an iternational one by implication.


Michelle Obama and all that jazz.

June 17, 2009

This report by Mike Maddenof provides with further evidence – if further evidence were needed – that the current White House occupants are about as cultured as any who have taken up residency in place. The Kennedys made a great show of being cultured, but, to my mind, the Obamas are cultured, and they do it with real style.

File this remark by Michelle Obama today as yet another in a series of lines you hadn’t heard from the First Lady before Barack Obama became president: “I brought my own family with me today because I want to keep them alive and aware of all kinds of music other than hip hop.” If Laura Bush (or Hillary Clinton) was concerned that her daughters were letting hip hop crowd out other genres in their personal music libraries, she certainly didn’t say so at the time……….

Of course, this, as you’d expect, was to be no ordinary lesson. It was a lesson organised by the First Lady, and it showed. Who else – without a small fortune to spend – could have the America’s first family of jazz, the Marsalises, to pop around for an afternoon’s jamming with each other and with a group of young students?

The highlight was in the East Room, where a band of Marsalises — trumpeter Wynton, saxophonist Branford, trombonist Delfeayo, drummer Jason and their dad, pianist Ellis — was teaching a lesson for high school-aged musicians from New Orleans. Fourteen students from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz had come to Washington for the event. Paquito D’Rivera sat in on clarinet and saxophone with the Marsalis family. Leading the session, Wynton Marsalis had the students come up on stage and play a chorus each with the band. Some of the kids had dejected looks on their faces after they finished playing, possibly because they missed notes. But Marsalis told them afterwards they had to keep a positive attitude. “You played good,” he said. “Sometimes the people who played the best had the worst attitude.”

Then Marsalis started playing riffs on his trumpet, which he had Branford Marsalis repeat on his sax; Delfeayo Marsalis and D’Rivera did the same thing, with Branford Marsalis copying them note for note each time. The students then came up and tried the same thing, with the sax players following Branford Marsalis and D’Rivera, the trumpet players following Wynton Marsalis and the trombonists following Delfeayo Marsalis. If any of them were intimidated, they didn’t show it — instead, they ripped through the jam session with confidence, smiling more than they had the first time they played……

If  Sasha and Malia Obama, who were the main targets of this afternoon’s lessons,  think that jazz not worth checking out, they will get a chance to check out something else later in the year.

The next music lesson, sometime in July or August, will focus on country music.

Happy Bloomsday.

June 16, 2009

Bloomsday is a commemoration observed annually on 16 June in Dublin, Ireland and elsewhere to celebrate the life of Irish writer James Joyce and relive the events in his novel Ulysses, all of which took place on the same day in Dublin in 1904. The name derives, from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Joyce’s novel, and 16 June, it is said, was the date of Joyce’s first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, when they walked to the Dublin village of Ringsend.

Simon Caulkin bids farewell…

June 14, 2009

I’m sorry to hear The Observer , after 16 years, has decided to drop  Simon Caulkin’s Observer Management column.

The bankers have claimed another victim – this column. Cost-cutting as a result of the worst media recession in a lifetime means that Observer Management will disappear next week.

I wish I could say the job was complete. When I joined the paper in 1993, the brief was to make visible and discussable something that was intangible, taken for granted, and, for better or worse, affected us all. That was the easy bit. The column instantly drew a rich and argumentative response that ensured a constant supply of issues to address that meshed directly with readers’ own.

But from this exchange emerged a second agenda item that soon overtook the first. Across both public and private sectors what readers experienced as “management” was pervasively problematic. It just wasn’t what it said on the tin. Wherever they looked, readers found a glaring discrepancy between “official” and “unofficial” versions, between talk and walk.

At a time when sanity is more than ever needed when it comes to talking about how modern management behaves and should behave, and when it comes to putting awkward questions to those who run both industry and the public services, The Observer, decides that one of its most sane voices and trenchant critics of current management practice is to be silenced. Am I the only one to think that this piece of cost-cutting is also a piece of value-cutting?

There were about five good reasons for buying The Observer on Sunday, and Caulkin’s column was one of them. Now that he’s gone, there are probably only four left. If I ever have to do some cost-cutting of my own, I think that remaining four may hardly be enough for me to continue suscribing the paper.


Link to some of  Simon Caulkin’s Observer columns

Clive James & newspapers. (The Word)

June 12, 2009

Clive James, in an interview for the June edition The Word, is asked about his website . When is asked,“assuming this is the future, how do you think someone like you will get paid?”,  James replies that  he thinks that  “you don’t”.  There are, he says,  “going to be some brilliant young people who aren’t going to eat very well. But the same question is facing the whole of the printed media.”

 “The papers are the ones that are in trouble – the things I want from the papers will go into the magazines. How much of the paper do I read? How much of the paper do you read? You might make two or three stops through the whole paper, and whole sections get thrown away, right? So the question of ‘why should newspapers survive?’ starts to pop up.”

The question of “why should newspapers survive” is one which has been popping up increasing frequency over the last decade or so. It’s a  a good question to which I really do not have a satisfactory answer, except to say, as John Naughton has said recently in his blog, that the only papers  I would care to see surviving are those which add value to that which we already know.

 James, in the same interview,  highlights an area where he believes the web fails:

 “There are things the web can’t do. It’s very bad at people collaborating together to produce a rich result; it’s much better at individuality.”

In last Sunday’s Observer column, John Naughton expressed ” scepticism about the prospects of something this complex becoming a mainstream”,  but that’s not to say that Google Wave might not prove to be the “ useful tool for collaborating together to produce a rich results ” that James has said does not exist at the moment.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Form


The Word is not available online.

The Word June 2009

The Word June 2009

Clive James – The Revolt of the Pendulum 5

June 12, 2009

In her review of The Revolt of the Pendulum for today’s Telegraph Lynn Barberwonders “why the distinguished polyglot Clive James blows his own trumpet so incessantly”

 Non altogether unexpectedly, this is just another version of a question that has been raising it’s head since the book was published.

 Why isn’t he more famous? Why isn’t he more adored? Why isn’t he still on television? Why doesn’t his website make any money? Why is he so neglected as a poet? (Why isn’t he Oxford Professor of Poetry?) Why aren’t his books displayed in the window of Sonia Rykiel’s shop in Paris the way Bernard-Henri Lévy’s are? These are just a few of the burning questions Clive James addresses in his latest book of essays. You would think, to hear him tell it, he was starving in a garret somewhere, still struggling to get his first slim volume published – the fact that this is his 30th book is testimony, if nothing else, to the rich rewards of logorrhoea.

Barber notices something about James’ craving for attention which, because I have been reading him so long, had escaped my attention.

He needs you to know that he is a polymath and a polyglot, because “we ought to expect from any critic a reading knowledge of the standard European languages”. And James can speak Japanese as well. He is truly a citizen of the world. When in Paris, he heads for a café in the rue de l’université to read Witold Gombrowicz. When in Buenos Aires to practise his tango, he likes to sit in a café in the Avenida Corrientes reading Sabato, Bioy Casares and Cortázar. (Me neither.) What he gets from these authors remains a mystery because he never tells us: it is enough that we should know that he has read them, and shake our pretty little heads. But what is the point of criticism that neither explains nor illuminates? It is name-dropping tout court.

It may look like “name-dropping tout court” now, but in the early days, when both James and his audience were a lot younger and had more time left to look forward to, it stood a challenge. The point then of “criticism that neither explains nor illuminates” was simply to get readers to imitate. To some extent, the reader who saw James’s reasons for liking the poetry of Yeats, Larkin, Auden, Heaney and all those poets James wrote well about in early essays did not have to be given reasons for his liking for Verlaine  or any of the many tout court names he dropped then. The reader took it on trust that if James, with his track record, found someone interesting enough to read, then that someone had written something worth reading.

What rankles with Barber nowadays – and it rankles with a lot of us of a certain age – is that we simply have not got the time left to read everything James has read and therefore, like Barber need to see on the page  ” what he gets from” reading Sabato,  Bioy Casares or Cortázar.  Otherwise mentioning them can indeed seem like name-dropping tout court.

What James needs is a firm editor who will tell him he is not allowed to write more than 2,000 words a week and even then he should think twice before publishing.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Form

File-sharing myths.

June 11, 2009

Thank God for Charles Arthur, The Guardian’s technology editor. His regular column is always worth reading, but never more so than today when, in a piece that builds on Ben Goldacre’s column of last Friday, he puts paid to the much touted myth that file-sharing is music business’ biggest foe.  

 In his column, Goldacre had shown that some statistics as to what creative industries had lost to file-sharing bundled into a report written by was written by some academics you can hire in a unit at UCL called Ciber, the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (which “seeks to inform by countering idle speculation and uninformed opinion with the facts”) and commissioned by a government body called Sabip, the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property, were very questionable indeed

On the billions lost it says: “Estimates as to the overall lost revenues if we include all creative industries whose products can be copied digitally, or counterfeited, reach £10bn (IP rights, 2004), conservatively, as our figure is from 2004, and a loss of 4,000 jobs.”

These “estimates” had, as Goldacre was to find, come from an unreliable, though, buy no means unsurprising source.

What is the origin of this conservative figure? I hunted down the full Ciber documents, found the references section, and followed the web link, which led to a 2004 press release from a private legal firm called Rouse who specialise in intellectual property law. This press release was not about the £10bn figure. It was, in fact, a one-page document, which simply welcomed the government setting up an intellectual property theft strategy. In a short section headed “background”, among five other points, it says: “Rights owners have estimated that last year alone counterfeiting and piracy cost the UK economy £10bn and 4,000 jobs.” An industry estimate, as an aside, in a press release. Genius.

In his article, Goldachre, shows how these, and many of the other calculations used to work out how much file-sharing is costing, just do not make sense.

Arthur, taking the argument a little further, questions the assumption that every download is really a lost sale.

…… I decided to start from the premise that downloads are not lost sales; that instead there’s only a limited amount of short-term spending cash available to people (which remains true, generally, despite credit bubbles). That instead of buying music, they choose to spend it on other things.

What other things might they spend it on? Here’s a thought: people who spend on recorded music (CDs, the occasional music DVD) are also very likely to spend on things such as games and DVD purchases or rentals. They are all discretionary purchases. So I dug up the figures from the UK music industry: the British record industry’s trade association (the BPI), and the UK games industry (via its trade body, Elspa) as well as the DVD industry (through the UK Film Council and the British Video Association). The results are over on the Guardian Data Store (, because they are the sort of numbers that should be available to everyone to chew over.

Christine Tobin’s Irish tour.

June 11, 2009

I’m pleased to note that some of my Irish friends will at long last have an the opportunity of seeing Christine Tobin perform at venues near them later in the year.

I don’t believe that Dublin-born Christine has ever toured Ireland before.  So this is a first for her.  It’ll be interesting to see how this award-winning singer is received in the country of her birth.

Jun 20 2009 8:00P
Jul 25 2009 3:00P
Jul 31 2009 8:00P
Aug 22 2009 8:00P
Sep 12 2009 8:00P
Sep 27 2009 8:00P
Oct 1 2009 8:00P
Oct 2 2009 8:00P
Oct 4 2009 8:00P
Oct 7 2009 8:00P
Oct 8 2009 8:00P
Oct 9 2009 8:00P
Oct 10 2009 8:00P
Oct 11 2009 8:00P

Clive James – The Revolt of the Pendulum 4

June 9, 2009

In an review of Clive James’s Revolt of the Pendulum for a recent issue of The Spectator the literary editor of The Telegraph and omnipresent columnist, Sam Leith, agues that James, “starting to hear the guy with the scythe and the persistent cough”, has become overly concerned with just how he’ll be remembered

Leith offers the suggestion that he’ll “be remembered as a pompous, brilliant old thing with a big, prickly ego” which the reader could “see in the temperament of the man that gauche, ambitious child so lacerating evoked in his first volume of memoirs.”

 There is something in what Leith says. James has shown, over and over again, especially since he stepped away from television stardom, that he now is just as worried as some early admirers used to be that his entry into the world of televisionhis damaged his reputation as a serious man of letters. Much of what he has done in the last decade is designed to prove that he was still capable of work as good as, if not better than, that which he did in the early 70s when in the guise the “cosmopolitan critic” , and attempting to don the mantle great American critic, Edmund Wilson,  he was offering something that was as good as – and certainly altogether more entertaining than – that which was being produced by the establishment or the men and women of letters who worked ii academia.

I’d argue that while the years devoted to a television career did not do irreparable his damage, it in the end probably did mean that as a critic he achievement will fall sorth Wilson’s.

At this stage, one feels that Leith is right saying that James is spending too much time – his own, and, more annoyingly, ours,  worrying about all this. Readers must feel that the most appropriate response to all this obsessing about posterity, and its judgements, is so distracting as to be off-putting, especially to someone coming to James for the first time. Leith is rather good on where James’s strengths lie, where they have always lain.

James is a good hop and a skip ahead of most literary hacks in terms of stylistic verve and scholarship alike. If only he’d stop worrying about it and let other people say so……

He has a fantastic range and depth of know- ledge. He is, at times, miraculously funny. He writes knowledgeably and with passion about literature, and especially poetry. His opinions are his own — and he has cogent praise for Camille Paglia, John Bayley and Dennis Healey. His take-downs are decisive too. John Ashbery produces ‘an avalanche of verbal hamburger’. Elias Canetti is ‘a posturing snob’. Of Carl Sandburg: ‘His prose was bad poetry, like his poetry.’

He knows about classical music, show-tunes and pop. He knows about politics and history. He’s fierce in the defence of, and humble in his identification with, what he calls ‘the liberal democratic mentality’: ‘the ideas constituting that mentality were hard won by people who paid a higher price to hold them than I ever did’

What Leith does not say is that James has always had one damaging weakness, and that is a craving to be recognized as a star in whatever field he enters. His early literary efforts were, as Karl Miller once observed cabaret turns, as were his TV columns for The Observer, as again were most of his appearances on television, and what he he now wants is that his life work to be remembered as one big star turn. For him, in the end, it not just enough to be taken seriously, as he is; he has to be recognised as a star turns of seriousness.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Form

None but the unwise.

June 9, 2009

There was a time when women who worked in the arts or media kept a lid on their private lives. Not any more, it seems. Of late, people who might once have been expected to know better are rushing into print to reveal who they’ve slept with, for how long,  and why these affairs turned sour in the end.

A few days ago, while I’d got unedifying spectacle of Julie Kavanagh’s revelations about her love affair with the novelist Martin Amis in mind, along comes Emma Soames who, not to be outdone by Kavanagh, revealed that she too had an unsatisfactory relationship with Mr. Amis.

As if that were not more than a sensitive soul could take, over the weekend the in a revelation to the Melbourne newspaper, the  opera singer Ann Howells topped everybody by revealing that she had  –for a while – been mistress of a famous Australian TV personality called Clyde, a pseudonym that did little to disguise the fact that the objects of her affections was  Clive James.

One can only wish that all three women had more sense than, with no discernable purpose in mind other than to reveal their pasts top full public scrutiny, to reveal themselves the way they did.

I have no doubt that all three women would probably resent being lectured by a mere man about what they should, or should not do. For that reason, and for that reason alone, I recommend that they all three read Liz Hoggard’s  opinion piece for today’s Independent, in which she tells them,  exactly what a sensible person –man or woman – might have told them before they started blabbing to the press, or committing  themselves to print.

Every day I open the newspapers to another female writer revisiting her romantic pain. Last week Martin Amis’s ex-girlfriend, Julie Kavanagh wrote in great, agonised detail about her love affair with the novelist, 35 years ago.

Not only was he serially unfaithful, he left her for her best friend Emma Soames. At the weekend, Soames gave her version of the love triangle with the “scribbling dwarf” (as her brother, Tory MP, Nicholas Soames, dubbed Amis). And now we’re agog to hear that opera diva Anne Howells has written about her affair with a famous, chunky Australian critic for The Oldie (widely assumed to be Clive James).

What makes a clever, sane woman bare all? Revenge? A desire to pre-empt the male version (Amis is of course bringing out a book he calls “blindingly autobiographical” next year). Or to kickstart a failing career?

Kavanagh and Soames are great veteran journalists. So I can’t help feeling protective. We all love a bit of confessional. But my problem with these stories is that the woman emerges fatally diminished. Either they’re just come across as an acolyte to a Very Significant Man (he’s smouldering, Byronic; she washes his socks). Or else they steal the headlines but it colours everything else they ever write again. “Never become the story” is a pompous mantra. But it holds true.