Monthly Archives: May 2004

Franz Schubert vs George Formby

This is why a public service broadcaster needs a stable online archive. A year ago I blogged a really lovely Radio 4 programme about Schubert’s C major quintet and linked to the show’s RealMedia stream. I assumed at the time that the stream would be overwritten in a week or so and, sure enough, if you follow the link now you’ll hear a pretty good programme about George Formby (which will, itself, be overwritten by something else next week). Ten years into the Internet era this kind of license-fee funded vandalism can’t be explained away. I hope the Thompson-era BBC will behave more like the guardian of an important national asset and promise not to trash gigabytes of valuable, accessible content every day (which really winds me up).

Fantasies of control

Does anyone know how much David Blunkett’s ID cards are going to cost? No. Doesn’t look like it. There are no costs in the draft bill (PDF) and only some misleading estimates of how much you’ll have to pay for a biometric passport and driving license on the otherwise excellent Home Office ID cards page. So, in the absence of any idea what it will cost us to get to perfect, compulsory, irrefutable ID, we can only wonder what we could achieve if we spent the same amount on cheaper, low-tech programmes to boost social cohesion, trust, transparency and education. I wrote about this in today’s Guardian.

The food industry is not the enemy

Gary Lineker in a Walker's crisps ad
Ad people are clever – problem-solvers by nature. Stopping them from using celebrities to promote food to kids is dumb because it’s just another creative constraint and ad people eat creative constraints for breakfast. Likely net effect on the sales of high sugar, high fat food to kids? Zero. A clever approach would exploit the collective brains of the marketing community by setting them a huge, industry-wide challenge – one with some measurable goals: increase take-up of municipal sports facilities amongst kids by 15%, reduce the incidence of early-onset diabetes by 5%, grow sales of ‘green light’ foods through fast food outlets by 10%… that kind of thing. The ad industry doesn’t need a bunch of clueless and ineffective new rules – they just need a good brief.

Their clients are a different matter, though. Manufacturers and retailers need different incentives – some real legal constraints: mandated reductions in salt and sugar content and scary labeling for ‘red light’ foods, for example. Once the new constraints are in place, though, the creativity of the industry should take over. Look at McDonalds. The nasty prospect of commercial annihilation at the hands of next wave outlets (from trendy soup-in-a-hurry merchants to cool ‘third place’ coffee lounges) has produced a flurry of changes to the menu: from the cosmetic and largely pointless (organic milk, free range eggs) to substantive dietary novelty (salads, fruit happy meals). McDonalds is a brand in transition – I’ll bet you a Big Mac you won’t recognise The Golden Arches in five years. Call me credulous but I think the food industry, given some smart guidance from legislators and some help from their creatives, could surprise us by helping to deliver a healthier population sooner than we think.

Some links: opposition to regulation from a Times leader, remarkably comprehensive obesity briefing from The Daily Mail, on Lord Tebbit’s hilarious buggery gag on The Today Programme. Chairman of the Food Standards Agency on the obesity crisis.

Abu Ghraib Reading

Susan Sontag on the Abu Ghraib torture pictures: “The torture of prisoners is not an aberration. It is a direct consequence of the with-us-or-against-us ideology of world struggle with which the Bush administration has sought to change, change radically, the international stance of the United States and to recast many domestic institutions and prerogatives.”. Mark Danner on reports from the Red Cross and the American military: “dispatches from the scene of a political disaster“. The man who built Abu Ghraib (and was subsequently gaoled there) thinks it shouldn’t be demolished. Update: I missed David Aaronovitch’s reply to Sontag’s piece (thanks to Stephen Newton).

Ivan lives

Ivan Pope at Blacks
Ivan and I were partners for years – we started a web site design firm called Webmedia together. Later he went mad and spent three or four years in a bath chair spitting and making inappropriate suggestions to the nurses. Apparently the electric shocks have been working, though, because he made it to Blacks for lunch a couple of weeks ago. Still crazy, though, as you’ll see if you play the video (1.7MB Quicktime)…

Staff development

One of the Mirror's hoax Iraqi abuse pictures
The thing about those Mirror photos, I think, is not that they always looked like fakes (which they did) but that they really looked more like pages from a training manual: fig. 12a: (humiliation) correct technique for urinating on detainees, fig. 22b: (coercion) use of rifle in producing confession, fig. 31f: (disorientation) use of hemp/hessian sack in interrogation…

Invisible content

Try this simple test. Go to the BBC Radio 4 web site and find the RealMedia streams for Misha Glenny’s excellent series of talks about European expansion, Brave New Europe. Start with the alphabetical list of Radio 4 shows. Now try browsing to the right section of the site (news? Factual? History?). No luck? Now try the search function. Try some keywords. Or the programme’s name. Give up? Now try Google. You’ll need to use the ‘sitesearch‘ syntax but that just means typing something like this: ‘ glenny brave new europe‘ into the search field. Bingo. Glenny’s series is in the number 1 spot. Cool.

This is no big deal I suppose. Everyone knows how to use Google these days, right? And the BBC will get search working sooner or later, I suppose. It’s too important to leave to chance, though: sponsoring the creation of wise, informative material like Brave New Europe is admirable but effectively hiding it away behind a wall of information after it’s been broadcast sharply diminishes its value and, more importantly, damages the BBC’s claim to privileged access to public service status and inflation-protected funding. Good material like Glenny’s series has a substantial half life and, provided it’s not allowed to fade away, should continue to exert an influence on the European debate for a long time. In the networked era, making content visible (as well as accessible) is as important as creating it. Maybe we should reserve some public money for Google.

You can find Glenny’s Brave New Europe here.

Passenger information

Paul complains that I don’t provide a link to a timetable in my entry on The North London Line – so I’ve added one (although the Silverlink web site is a framed nightmare and Paul would certainly be better off using Matthew Somerville’s excellent accessible version of the stupid National Rail timetable). Of course, since I wrote it, nearly two years ago, someone’s added a long and interesting entry about The North London Line to Wikipedia, surely the most marvelous publication of any kind available anywhere?