By the way…

image ? Inspiras Photography
Postman’s Park in the City is a reminder of London’s continuing power to surprise. A 50ft long ceramic tile memorial in a quiet park buried amongst the commercial buildings – established in Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year 1887 – to ordinary people who gave their lives to save others. That London had (and still has) the energy and invention to produce such beautiful and moving diversions from the daily grind makes me happy.
(thanks to Inspiras Photography for the the image).

On Sontag

The Guardian ran an extract from Susan Sontag’s new book ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ (itself an edited version of a New Yorker article – how’s that for repurposing?). Sontag is an icon of a certain kind of politicised thinking about culture. So she’s come in for a lot of knee-jerk demonisation as the intellectual pendulum has swung back towards reaction, introversion, rejection ? especially post-9/11. It’s a relief that the piece is beautifully written ? discursive, tough-minded and poetic. I’m looking forward to the book.

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Our hero

By train to Farringdon, then a beautiful walk through the City – past Smithfield and St Paul’s, through Postman’s Park – to meet Michael Thompson, a partner at Steptoe and Johnson, a big City law firm. Michael was the man we relied on to burn the midnight oil on‘s various deals, fund raisings and partnerships. The kind of hard-working corporate lawyer who’d still be at his desk if you called him at 11 pm. Heroic.

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31p per day…

Steve Barnett is a media academic and a prominent defender of British broadcasting’s mythic quality and distinctiveness – and, of course, the licence fee. In his response to Barry Cox’s provocative free market demolition of the BBC’s protected status Barnett clings to the status quo. Since digital TV is a mess and analogue switch-off now in doubt, maybe we can leave everything exactly as it is:

“Should we really dismantle a whole regulatory and funding system in anticipation of technology take-up which is at best optimistic and at worst unfeasible?”

The tapestry of public service communications is worth defending but, if we’re going to sustain it into the digital and networked era we’ll need to do better than keeping our fingers crossed that it never happens!

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Azeem alerts me to Tony Perkins’ latest project. Perkins is an interesting figure: a glamorous member of a Sand Hill Road tech VC dynasty, founder of the Silicon Valley bible The Red Herring (and certainly the most prominent supporter of Steve Forbes for President that I can think of). Always On is in trendy blog format and apparently intends to combine useful tech investment analysis with air-headed nostra like:

“The Semantic WebThe next generation web will be programmable and will search, process and transact for individuals and businesses 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People will benefit by this increased network efficiency, but it will mean consolidating your personal and business life on to the Web.”

What are they on about? Still, if The Herring in its heyday is anything to go by, we should probably give these guys the benefit of the doubt.

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Vàclav Havel

If you were brought up in Britain and on the left, like me, the Vàclac Havel of Soviet-era Czechoslovakia was an exotic and quite difficult figure. By the time I became aware of him, at the tail end of the cold war in the 1980s, it had long been impossible to defend the Eastern bloc regimes – even the hardcore (we used to call them ‘tankies’) had moved on to a sort of queasy “yes, but…” accommodation with ‘actually existing’ Communism. But Havel didn’t make it easy, even for soft lefties like me. He was an artist and a humanist and… well, a bit decadent.

His lyrical and humane and non-doctrinaire breed of subversion was impossibly glamorous – I seem to remember an enthusiasm for floppy haired American art rock and French situationists – especially in contrast to the humourless posturing that passed for opositional politics in Britain at the time and it was obviously real and brave because its context was the cruel and arbitrary and lethal Czech Communist regime. Then, in 1989 – almost over night – the most amazing, spell-binding thing happened. They made him President. In The Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash remembers six meetings with Havel spanning his years as a persecuted dissident and prisoner and those utterly unlikely thirteen years at the top of Czech political life.

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