Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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11 August 2008

Britain From Above seems to be more than usually focused on cross-platform consumption, divided into two minute chunks with pictures and extras online as well as being available on HDTV. Alas two minutes isn’t enough to really dig into any one item but some are interesting – I was intrigued by this glimpse of Lord Abercrombie’s well-meaning but disastrously ill-conceived vision for post-war London:

9 July 2008

I have been listening to the first part of a two part BBC World Service series, Policing the Poppy Fields. It mentioned in passing that Helmand province in Afghanistan produces half of the world’s opium. The number of specialist anti-drug police there? 32. And most disturbing – Afghan production has greatly exceeded global demand for some years. As a result even if the country stopped producing opium entirely there are stockpiles (somewhere) of around 3000 tonnes of the stuff…

15 June 2008

The author – now in video! I’m not sure I’ll do this again though unless video editing tools become a lot more sophisticated and I become able to remove all the glitches…

2 May 2008

An extraordinary untold story unearthed from the archives by BBC Radio 4 – how British fascists released from internment after WWII started up again and were fought in the streets of Dalston (near where I used to live) and elsewhere by Jewish militants who styled themselves the 43 Group. The initial group included (mostly) ex-servicemen, five women, and a 17-year-old Vidal Sassoon. That fascists in Britain continued to spout poisonous anti-semitism (extracts were included on the program) even after the details of the holocaust began to be revealed is truly shocking to me.

7 January 2008

I recently got five free tracks from iTunes (Londoners with Oystercards see here) and thought I would buy Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Unfortunately, on some CDs it is divided into lots of tracks < 1 minute long, each costing £.79, while on other discs it is on a single track... but because of its length you can only download it if you buy the whole album (£7.99). Bah!

18 November 2007

Sesame Street doesn’t broadcast in the UK but they have a Sesame Street Podcast, it seems. I am a little concerned that according to iTunes, “listeners also subscribed to Abigail’s X Rated Teen Diary” (fortunately that programme isn’t what it sounds like).

I have to say that the sample I saw didn’t really impress me with the Sesame Street magic but I figure there must be some reason why it is the ‘gold standard’ for educational television in US studies.

28 October 2007

I have been listening to a free audiobook version of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and finding it curiously compelling – not for its plot or characters but because of the intriguing social attitudes revealed in the book (also available free to read online or download via Google). It starts as a conventional Austen-like romantic novel of manners. Then the heroine’s father, an Anglican clergyman, has a crisis of conscience (bizarrely, never explained in detail) and decides to leave the church and move from the (beautiful) South of England to the (smoky, ill-bred) industrial North (hence the title). To my surprise the daughter’s concern is not primarily over the loss of income or the change of location but over his leaving the faith – it’s hard to imagine now people teetering on the edge of modernity taking their Anglicanism so seriously.

When the action moves to the North, the mannered novel swerves Dickens-wards with a (rather generic) depiction of the suffering of mill workers but is much more directly politically-engaged than I remember Dickens being. It lays out three broad positions on the industrial revolution.

  • Nicholas Higgins, whose daughter died from work-related illness and whose union struck to get enough food for its workers to eat, exemplifies ‘labor’ – worthy of compassion but misguided in his attempts to change the immutable system and prone to drink and violence.
  • John Thornton, a mill-owner, represents capital. While he is seen as lacking compassion, there is evidently a strong if unwilling admiration by Gaskell of his (and capital’s) ruthless drive and enthusiasm and he is given some speeches which remind one of those uttered by Ayn Rand heroes to the effect that he only wants to leave his workers alone (to starve) and be left alone himself.
  • Gaskell’s heroine, Margaret Hale, and her family take a hand-wringing Christian liberal position which I think we are meant to share – it’s too bad that the market crushes the workers in the North but it’s unavoidable and they should take up Christianity to help them bear their troubles without disturbing the social order.

I haven’t reached the end yet but I have a nasty feeling that with the marriage of Ms Hale and Mr Thornton we will be offered a sentimental ending wherein Thornton, influenced by his new wife chooses to help out the deserving poor among his grateful workers without altering his or his fellow mill owners’ Darwinian struggle to keep their profits up. Then again the novel has already contained a few surprises for me…

4 September 2007

I just tidied up the links on the right and added one you might want to use yourselves – an RSS feed for the links I have publicly added to the shared bookmark service I use – Netvouz. They are probably the most frequently updated part of the site these days. There are also a few more podcasts listed (wish there was an easy way to output my iTunes podcast library as a list of links!) and I hope I managed to fix the RSS link for this weblog and for the (computer-read) podcast version.

PS Doesn’t anyone want to send me an audio message? I always thought that it would be nice to hear my readers rather than just reading your comments…

6 August 2007

Some musings of Alan Watts, an English populariser of Eastern philosophy, on the temptation to concentrate on the destinations in life – must… finish… PhD! – rather than on the journey – entertainingly accompanied by animation produced by the creators of South Park. Five other such animated musings are also available online.

25 June 2007

As Fuhnie observes, the band Sprites have come up with what sounds to me like the ideal blogger anthem ‘I Started A Blog Which Nobody Read’, which starts:

“I started a blog, which nobody read
When I went to work I blogged there instead
I started a blog, which nobody viewed
It might be in cache, the topics include:

George Bush is an evil moron
What’s the story with revolving doors?
I’m in love with a girl who doesn’t know I exist
Nobody hates preppies anymore…”

It’s well worth a listen – you can hear the song while watching this (rather poor) fan-made video:

I am surprised there aren’t more songs about blogs or about social network software – or am I just not aware of them? Comment with any entertaining ones you have found…

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