‘Civil liberties groups have condemned an arrangement between Microsoft and Chinese authorities to censor the internet,’ writes today’s Grauniad.
‘The American company is helping censors remove “freedom” and “democracy” from the net in China with a software package that prevents bloggers from using these and other politically sensitive words on their websites.
‘The restrictions, which also include an automated denial of “human rights”, are built into MSN Spaces, a blog service launched in China last month by Shanghai MSN Network Communications Technology, a venture in which Microsoft holds a 50% stake.’
Following a moan by a New York Times journalist about the exposure Google gives blogs in its page rankings, John Naughton writes a defence of bloggers in the Observer, pointing out that the contempt held for blogs and their authors by experienced journalists is misplaced. “Journalism has always been, as Northcliffe observed, ‘the art of explaining to others that which one does not oneself understand’,” explains Naughton. Let’s hear it for Northcliffe! Wasn’t he the chap in Wuthering Heights?
Elsewhere in the Observer, it is reported that the producer of Big Borether, Peter Bazalgette, modestly asserts that the way to get more people interested in politics is for Westminster to adapt to the voting methods used in his “reality TV” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) programme. I somehow have my doubts that MPs in the House of Commons will agree to let themselves be nominated for eviction by each other on a weekly basis and then have their political future determined by text message. And who could be bothered to sit through 659 sets of nominations every week? In any case, Bazalgette is missing the point completely to infer that politics can only be made more relevant and interesting to “the masses” with the use of such trendy techniques. What people would actually respond to are some politicians who capture their imaginations, and above all, who they can trust.
“New writing is blossoming on the internet”, writes Ben Hammersley in the Guardian, listing a dozen sites that promote fiction by obscure and/or unpublished writers. Anything that encourages writing has to be a good thing, but I have my doubts about whether, as he optimistically maintains, the next Dickens will be discovered online. It’s not that the quality of some web writing isn’t good – although a lot of it is, frankly, crap – but more that anything that is good enough to be published in conventional paper form surely will be. Also, the author of a real book actually gets paid for his or her work, and rightly so, whereas there don’t seem to be many instances of new writers making money publishing exclusively on the web – even Stephen King couldn’t do it with his online-exclusive serial The Plant. I do have a general fear that people are becoming too conditioned to the accessibility of the web, both in the sense of anyone being able to write almost anything on it and, by and large, not having to pay for any of it. Is it just a conspiracy theory that the world is being groomed by big business to become used to not having to pay for web content, only for us all to be royally shafted one day when the same businessmen demand payment for something we now can’t do without? Er, okay, it probably is actually.
* * *
A lovely interview with comedian, writer and actor Dylan Moran in the Independent today. I especially liked his rant against the current swathe of reality-meets-personal-improvement TV shows: “There is a constant Gatling gun of nitwits being fired at you, programmes where they come and tell you you’re fat and your house is shit. Where else can it go? Celebrity critics turning up at Margaret Atwood’s house and telling her to write better novels?” Moran himself adds that he has been working on some prose. “It could turn out to be a novel… or a long and difficult-to-follow laundry list.” Sounds a bit like the thing I’m writing at the moment. Incidentally, there is a rather eccentric Atwood site at http://www.owtoad.com/ which features, among other items, an interesting piece aimed at potential authors called “The Road to Publication”.
* * *
The Guardian reports that Stephen Glass, a 25-year-old journalist who was sacked from New Republic magazine for making up websites, conventions and companies to back up his stories, is to publish a novel about a young journalist called Stephen who works for a New Republic-type magazine and, er, makes stuff up. The Fabulist is published next week by Simon & Schuster.
The discussion I started on the Guardian yesterday has notched up 34 posts, thankfully some of which are somewhat more inspiring than the first few. The best one quotes several ideas from Michael Moore’s website. Even so, I have to say I’m disappointed with the feeling that there’s no one thing that any one person can do. It’s not as if this sort of situation lends itself to a Bob Geldof figure who can rise up and capture the public’s imagination: with a famine, all you basically need is enough money to buy the food and ensure it’s distributed in an effective way; with Band Aid and Live Aid, Geldof achieved that and much more. But with a war, you can’t just throw money at the situation.
In a state of desperation I started a discussion on the Guardian’s “International” talkboard entitled “What could an ordinary UK citizen do to stop this war?” Suggestions so far include “nothing”, “top urself”, “mail Saddam a parcel bomb” and “join the Peace Pledge Union”…