Why are Italians so cowardly?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

“Jokes about cowardly Italians,” says Christie Davis, at the University of Reading, “Are of French origin and can be traced back to a medieval comic image of the Lombards, the gibes of the disgusting Rabelais and the cold wit of Montaigne.

“This kind of French humour survived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and then emerged as a cycle of narrative jokes after the humiliating French defeat by the Axis powers followed by occupation in 1940.

“The jokes are thus a statement of the self-image of the French as the warrior nation of Europe, an assertion of la gloire de la France.”

Come off it, love. Jokes about chicken-shitted grape-stompers abound because at the slightest whiff of trouble they head for the hills faster than you can say arrivederci.

 

Review: The Iron Lady

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Margaret Thatcher is a divisive figure, it is true. There are normal people who stand in awe at the enormity of her accomplishment, the depth of her integrity and sincerity and the strength of her resolve as a fearless woman in a cruelly misogynistic world. Then there are the whingeing fuckwits who say they can’t stand her as a way of courting popularity with their mates.

But whatever your view of Britain’s greatest peacetime Prime Minister – actually, let’s make that greatest ever Prime Minister – if you have an ounce of human sensibility in your body you can’t but be appalled at the callous abuse of a woman in her twilight years for such shallow dramatic purposes.

I say shallow because there is no artistic purpose whatsoever to the depictions in this film of Maggie as an aging half-wit. They only serve to reduce the time available to its admittedly sublime highlights: those moments during Thatcher’s leadership – her triumphant acceptance speech on May 3, 1979, her fearlessness and clear thinking during the Falklands conflict – that the film manages to re-enact with almost their original grandeur.

 

Stephen Lawrence: a spectacular victory for the Daily Mail

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The guardians of Britain’s social conscience have had a confusing week. Two of the killers of Stephen Lawrence have been given life sentences, thanks in large part to the crusading bravery of a newspaper determined to expose the racism that inspired the crime.

Our moral arbiters have been forced either to concede, through gritted teeth, that without that other newspaper’s brilliant campaign to bring Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice that all five of the thugs would still be swaggering around south-east London or, perhaps worse, shut up entirely and miss the best opportunity in a decade to trash the working classes they despise so much and take up their harps for the causes of diversity and multiculturalism.

Had the paper not published that front page, and taken up a ferocious campaign thereafter to bring the killers to justice, the extraordinary chain of events that followed would never have come to pass. Stephen’s parents would never have had justice for their son’s brutal stabbing.

It was, of course, that paper’s valiant gamble on 14 February 1997, when it branded Gary Dobson, Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight and David Norris as murders, that gave the case a new lease of life after an initial failure by the police to secure a conviction.

And, as the paper’s editor said this week, it was an enormous commercial and editorial risk. Had the any of the five won a legal action against the paper, it could have landed him in prison and cost the owners vast sums of money. So, under normal circumstances, the paper would now be the toast of Fleet Street.

 

The pitiful cult of ‘data journalism’

Friday, 30 December 2011

Originally posted at Blottr.

Times were that you could pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and be simultaneously educated and entertained by their informative infographics, which were lovingly crafted from authoritative data and accompanied by judicious analysis. The key to success with these graphics was that they explained something about the data you might not have gleaned simply by looking at a column of numbers. The Economist, too, was pretty good at revealing trends and interesting correlations with clear, unfussy graphs.

Then something odd happened. The nationals started getting a taste for these fancy ways of explaining data. But in imitating the method, they forgot the purpose, and began to drizzle their pages in useless, stupid pie charts that added nothing to the written stories beside them. Were they just filler, to paper over declining ad sales? The question was asked at the time, and continues to be pertinent.

More likely is that the hubris of the newsroom – the “Who can do me one of those?” you so often hear from editors – led to generalist publications over-reaching themselves. Pick up any newspaper today – particularly, in the lst half-decade, the Independent, and you’ll see that the results can be gruesome.

The apotheosis of the trend toward explaining everything as if to children is seen on the BBC, particularly during elections. You might think it normal that a broadcast medium would rely more heavily on visual help, but, apparently, the population of the United Kingdom is now so breathtakingly stupid that they cannot digest even the simplest percentage or set of figures without a gaudy illustration of it looming over the presenter. The visuals are rarely instructive, and usually distracting.

 

Network Rail

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

I’m coming to the end of a restful long weekend in the countryside, riding horses, shooting small animals and drinking real ale. (OK, just kidding. Obviously I don’t drink ale.)

A few yards from the bottom of the drive to my mother’s house, in the no man’s land between east and west Kent, there’s a railway crossing. For three days, a silver saloon has sat at the crossing. The car has a single, hi-vis jacketed occupant.

When we returned from the East Kent hunt meet in Elham on Boxing Day, my mother wondered aloud who he was, and what he’d been up to. A curious type by nature, this morning I decided to go and ask him.

The chap’s name is Jerry. “I work for the railways,” he says. “Testing the line.”

I point out to Jerry that my mother has quite a good view of his car from the first floor of the house, and that she’s never seen him get out of it, except to use the portaloo that has been unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road. “Well, I’m on triple time, see,” comes the cheerful reply.

Jerry, along with many other employees of Network Rail, does this six times a year. While he is sat in his 2008 Nissan, smoking and listening to Radio 1, no trains can pass that signal point.

I ask Jerry whether the majority of engineering work closures were down to “testing” or whether there were serious bits of remedial work being done. “Out here? Nah, we just come and hang about for a few days.”

Doesn’t he get bored? “Not really.”

What about all the people whose travel will be affected at weekends? Jerry shrugs. Some of them are travelling to and from work, I point out.

“Gives the coach drivers something to do, dunnit,” he says, absent-mindedly.

I wanted to get the train back to London today. I couldn’t: the line was closed. The minicab would have cost me £180. Merry Christmas.

 

A young bald monarch – just what we need

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Originally posted at Blottr.

No sooner has he acquired a cool wife than Prince William risks falling back into the tragically uncool bad habits of the Windsor family. One of which – as observers of Prince Charles will be painfully aware – involves “spontaneous dancing” with young women, usually of a different ethnicity.

One likes to think that Prince William, at the peak of his sex appeal as an Eton sixth-former, watched in horror as his father swayed uncomfortably in some tribal township, patches of sweat clearly visible under the arms of his Anderson & Sheppard suiting.

But the photograph of William dancing with Vanessa Boateng, 18, at a charitable shelter makes me worry that the Windsor impulse to make an awkward fool of oneself in public is overtaking him.

 

Introducing The Kernel

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

From an in-depth examination of how technology is reshaping our lives, to rumours on the entrepreneurial social scene, The Kernel will take on every question in business and technology.

On Monday, the first issue of The Kernel will go live. I say “issue”, but as a digital magazine we’ll be publishing articles throughout the month. Our big pieces and many of our features – the flagship essay, interviews and our digital “agony aunt” column – will, however, appear monthly. In the intervening periods, you can look forward to sharp, entertaining analysis from guest experts, who will attempt to explain how technology is changing our lives, and pieces by our regular columnists. Don’t expect a packed publication schedule right away: we’re about quality, not quantity.

Breaking news isn’t really our thing, which is why you won’t see a news section on the site. We think that market is crowded enough already. Instead, The Kernel will offer comment, reports, analysis and thoughtful and amusing writing about technology, media and business: long-form, high-quality content that gets people thinking. Some of our content is for those in the technology industry; other pieces have more general appeal. You can help us as we find our voice by letting us know which pieces you’re enjoying and which you’re not.

We’re big on entrepreneurs. Not just those in the Silicon Roundabout beauty parade – though we’re certainly covering them too, with tongues planted appropriately firmly in cheek – but the businesses and inventions you don’t hear so much about that promise to revolutionise industries, and the social, political and personal ramifications of technological innovation. We’re also about the people, places and ideas behind the headlines, which is why you’ll find a cheeky and irreverent Scene section about the individuals and events helping to usher in those disruptive ideas and products. There’s also an Editors’ Blog – a place for snappier, short-form content which will be updated more regularly by our senior writers.

The Nutshell

But the website is only half the story. Our email bulletin, The Nutshell, is where much of the action will happen. What were the biggest stories this week? Who’s had a good week? Who’s had a week they’d rather forget? Who was spotted where, and with whom? The Nutshell comes out every Friday afternoon and contains intel, rumours, tips, sightings and speculation, as well as a round-up of the best content on the web, our own and from other blogs, newspapers and magazines.

There’s nothing else like The Nutshell in Europe. We think it’ll rapidly become the must-read weekly bulletin for anyone working in or interested in technology in Europe – which is why, in the future, The Nutshell will be a paid subscription. But if you sign up now, you’ll get it for free for the first three months and you’ll get the option of a discounted rate when we switch to a paid subscription model. We’ll also keep you posted on developments back at The Kernel. There’s no obligation beyond your first three free months, so go ahead and pop your email address in the box below.

You’ll be able to submit tips for inclusion in the newsletter if there’s something you’d like to see appear, whether it’s a brilliant article you’ve read this week or something juicy you’ve overheard at the office. Look out for the tips box on the website on Monday. Of course, everything you submit to us will be treated with the utmost confidentiality.

Mission statement and values

We believe that much of the purpose of journalism is to hold the powerful to account and to reveal facts and express opinions about which those in authority may be apprehensive or uncomfortable – not to act as a mouthpiece for others or a redrafting service for corporate press releases. We will scrutinise those in power, fairly and without fear or favour, but always with a consideration of public interest.

We will be transparent about our methods and honest about our mistakes. Our deep and excellent connections in the emerging technology industry mean that writing about people we know will be unavoidable, but we will disclose relevant conflicts and let readers decide whether our opinions are trustworthy. We encourage you to write to us, to comment on what we publish, and to write responses of your own, which we will point readers to if we consider them valuable contributions to the debate.

We also believe that scepticism and rigorous enquiry are central to the practice of journalism. Some of our writers hold very strong opinions. We see no shame in occasional contrariness when it is thought-provoking and well-argued, so we will encourage them to make their case forcefully, but with care, supported by appropriate evidence. No single writer or column should be interpreted as reflecting the opinion of The Kernel, and no writer is exempt from our exacting editorial standards and processes.

That doesn’t mean The Kernel has no opinions of its own: where there is consensus among our editorial board on a particular issue, we will use leading articles and editorials to express our view.

Finally, we believe that having a sense of humour is important. You can expect send-ups, satire, gentle teasing and even the occasional bit of coarse language from our columnists and on the Editors’ Blog. Technology is often not, in itself, a particularly enlivening subject, but we aim to make our writing entertaining as well as informative. As Kingsley Amis put it, “There’s little point in writing if you can’t annoy somebody.”

What you’ll see at kernelmag.com on Monday is a snapshot of the kind of content we think is lacking elsewhere. Much remains to be added and we look forward to soliciting the advice and contributions of our readers. Over the coming months, we will be adding new columnists, more staff writers and we will be listening to readers’ responses to our content. We are open to critiques of all kinds and we will be responsive to them.

So dive in on Monday, take a look around, and let us know what you think. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook to be kept up to date. And if something inspires you to write an article of your own, do get in touch.

Stephen PritchardManaging Editor
Milo YiannopoulosEditor-in-Chief

The Kernel

 

Tech City has spent £1million on admin in one year. Where will it end?

Monday, 12 December 2011

It’s the object of widespread ridicule from those not endlessly flattered and sucked up to with invitations to swanky drinks parties. It spent £55,000 on a website everyone hates and which fails to meet even the basic standards of modern web design. It is coming under increasing fire for shameless appropriation of others’ achievements.

But Tech City, the wasteful pet project of trendies in Downing Street that has so successfully used internet businesses in east London as PR for the Government, has already burned through at least £1million.

I was surprised at how small that number was, initially. But of course it doesn’t include all the other bits of Government chipping in to help, the extensive schmoozing going on overseas and God knows whatever else they’ve charged to someone else’s budget. Nor does it include the investment fund. So the real total cost is probably something like three times that amount. Think what three million quid would have done if simply given to Seedcamp to invest in start-ups!

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request I submitted in November, the annual budget of Tech City has been revealed today as well. £150,000 is set aside for marketing and communications. £250,000 for events. £220,500 on employing civil servants elsewhere in Government. And a little under £1.2million in staff and consultant costs.

These are staggering sums. How much of that is chief executive Eric van der Kleij’s salary, I wonder? (Tech City wouldn’t say: they’ve come up with an ingenious way to dodge FoI requests, and public accountability, by muddying the employment arrangements of their staff with contracts from PA Consulting and Grant Thornton.)

I ask again: what, precisely, has been accomplished with this massive splurge of cash?

 

My new magazine launches 19 December

Friday, 9 December 2011

My new online magazine covering technology, business and innovation from a European perspective will go live to the public on Monday, 19 December 2011. We’ve assembled an excellent set of writers and commissioned some fascinating and thought-provoking content from entrepreneurs, investors and academics.

We’ll be in open beta until January, at which point more content will drop, we’ll announce the full line-up of columnists, the design will be finalised and we’ll have a party. That’s all for now. See here and here for background.

 

Competitive Daily Mail hating: the most tiresome game on the internet

Thursday, 8 December 2011

In offices up and down the country, there is one newspaper that invariably goes missing long before the others. It’s the one you hear people asking after; the one you see secretaries stuffing into their handbags on their way out the door. It’s not the Express, the Mirror or even the Sun. It’s the Daily Mail.

Now, you might say that the Mail appeals to the worst side of human nature. That it plays on our jealousies, our insecurities, our most antagonistic impulses. But that, of course, is precisely what makes it so fabulously readable. That, and the fact that the comment pages are packed with some of the best writers in the country. Who in their right mind would sneer at a full-page op-ed by Max Hastings, one of Fleet Street’s most distinguished editors? Or the eminently readable Stephen Glover? Who can resist a glance at Ephraim Hardcastle? And who can read one of Quentin Letts’ fantastically bitchy Commons sketches and not quiver with delight?

It is, by a considerable margin, the best serious newspaper in the country. (Indeed, one of the reasons the Telegraph’s news coverage is so good these days is that the paper is run almost entirely by ex-Mail executives.) And yet, if you spend any time at all on the internet, you’ll know that this marvellous organ, this brilliant commercial product, this superbly well-crafted and expertly targeted editorial proposition is the subject of the most appalling daily abuse.

 

Is Simon Kelner throwing a lifeline to Johann Hari with his new journalism foundation?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Even though I made fun of it in my last post, I’ve heard there could be a serious purpose to Simon Kelner’s new journalism foundation. Unbelievably, it seems that Kelner’s new enterprise may be Johann Hari’s route back into British journalism. The Independent has not sacked Hari, despite steadily growing evidence of his malicious lies, fantasies and character assassinations.

Current Indie editor Chris Blackhurst would like nothing better than to sack Hari – but his hands have been tied by Kelner, who apparently promised Hari that he would be welcomed back after “retraining”. Matters weren’t helped by Andreas Whittam Smith’s geriatric “inquiry” into Hari’s behaviour, which appears to have overlooked any piece of evidence that might force the star columnist’s dismissal.

Kelner’s foundation could well be in a position to employ Hari, thus allowing Blackhurst to quietly let him go. It’s no secret that, if the editor does welcome Hari back, he’ll have a newsroom mutiny on his hands. The real mystery is why figures as self-regarding as Baroness (Helena) Kennedy would allow themselves to be associated with a venture run by someone as discredited as Kelner.

Let’s see how long this silly venture lasts – and what use Johann Hari makes of it.

 

Revealed: The first ten lectures to be given at Simon Kelner’s new journalism foundation

Monday, 5 December 2011

Simon Kelner, the editor who so shamefully covered up Johann Hari’s lies, has launched a journalism foundation. Sorry, yes, let me repeat that. Simon Kelner, the editor who so shamefully covered up Johann Hari’s lies, has launched a journalism foundation – with money from the Lebedev family.

I guess you’re wondering about the principles and philosophies behind this esteemed new organisation. Well, thanks to my trusty spies at the Independent, I can exclusively reveal the first ten lectures to be delivered to lucky grant winners:

1. Covering up for sociopaths: an editor’s perspective

2. How To Succeed In Left-Wing Journalism Without Ever Really Telling The Truth

3. A Rose by any other name: choosing your sock puppet

4. They’re coming to take me away!: How to work the crowd for sympathy about your fragile mental health

5. Rose-tinted spectacles: how playing to the gallery over Israel and gay rights gets you off the hook for serious breaches of professional standards

6. The Liar, the Witch and the Orwell Prize: calling on influential friends in times of need

7. Gone with the Wind: basic sanitation for recently suspended hacks

8. Black Beauty: spice up your day off by penning racist gay incest porn

9. Headless: how to create harrowing but falsified narratives from war zones

10. The Joy Of Sex: how to seduce imaginary Nazis and Jihadists

Seriously, though: do Baroness Kennedy, Lord Fowler and Sir John Tusa – all listed as trustees of this new foundation – realise what they’re getting themselves into here?

 

‘Racist tram woman’, the glorious product of thirteen years under Labour

Thursday, 1 December 2011

This week we were afforded a terrifying glimpse into the real Britain – the one that lurks menacingly on council estates, in northern cities and across the poorer London boroughs, and which normally rears its head in the safer confines of The Jeremy Kyle Show. “Britain is nothing now. Britain is fuck all. My Britain is fuck all,” bellowed Emma West, 34, of Croydon at the start of a foul-mouthed racist rant directed at her fellow passengers on a London tram. Unhappily for her, a black woman sitting opposite recorded much of the outburst: West has since been charged with a racially-aggravated public order offence and will appear in court on Tuesday. Now, forgive me for being opportunistic, but I think I might take the opportunity here to explain why this incident speaks volumes about the country in which we live.

It goes without saying that West’s toxic outpouring was reprehensible, and that she deserved to be silenced. But that, I think, is all she deserved. Because, while there’s no doubt that West was obnoxious, it’s worth considering the environment that produced her – and the millions of people in Britain who feel resentment at being unable to find a job – and to ponder what might make a young mother feel so angry that she would direct abusive language like this to strangers in the presence of her own child. (And don’t say alcohol: there’s no evidence she was drunk when the video was filmed.)

 

Towards a virtual cartography of real-world relationships

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sometimes it helps to make a list of your friends and close contacts and rank them. I’ve been doing this for years. It really helps you prioritise. If you do it in a spreadsheet, you can colour-code them by friendship circle, which makes it easy to sort your friends for party invitations. I don’t know about you, but my personal friends and professional contacts are extremely similar lists. I guess that’s the case for most people these days. I actually use a database to manage this list now, so I can perform more complex sorting operations. You may like to consider that if you have lots of friends in overlapping circles. I can also categorise them by age, gender, sexuality, geography and income, which is also helpful for planning tables at dinner parties.

But recently I have been thinking about a more complex system that will enable me to define clusters of friends and their relative closeness to each other. A 3D rendering of my friend network would help enormously: I could pick particular geographies on the network for individual events. I imagine flicking between friend cluster view (in which I do not feature), which would appear like a spider web, and a flat spine-based layout with connections determined by, say, my ten closest friends. This isn’t another social network: more like a guest list tool on steroids. You’d have to enter a lot of data initially, but think how amazing the result would be. For example: when I fell out with someone, I could demote them or pull them from the network entirely and watch the whole map adjust in real time. Likewise, after a holiday that brought me closer to a particular person, I could up their ranking and the spine-based view would change.

This all sounds a bit high school, I know: but isn’t that how we all still operate really? And what a brilliant way of never forgetting important people, which those of us who plan lots of dinners and parties do all the time. Note that this web is created manually, by me, so I have control, unlike Facebook and the associated attempts which try to infer relationships and always get it hopelessly wrong. It’s more than worth my while to keep something like this up to date, and I’m willing to bet plenty of people would do it for the sheer hell of it. So why does this not exist? If it does, who’s building it? Do you want to help me put this together? If so, get in touch. The first network we build can be mine and I’ll happily publish it here as a social experiment.

 

When criticism turns to hate: the case for unfollowing @TechShitty

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Who am I to talk, right? I mean, who’s been more of a thorn in UKTI’s side than me, with the embarrassing Freedom of Information requests, the patronising “how it could have looked” pieces and the cattiness on Twitter? While my colleagues and friends got invited to swanky dos at the palace, I stayed home, uninvited and unloved because – as I imagined – I was the only one with the platform and temerity to say: hang on a minute. Is this really what Silicon Roundabout needs? It’s a shame UKTI don’t deal well with criticism, but given the awful circle-jerkery of European technology journalism, I can’t say I blame them for being a bit shocked.

But here’s the thing. While few have been more vocally critical of the Government’s Tech City Investment Organisation, its Tech City-branded website and events, the people, economics and philosophies behind it and the amount of money it spends, I have at least done so in articles published under my own name – even though it has not served my interests to do so. I don’t point this out to be self-congratulatory (as if!), but to make a point.

Yeah, I’ve been tough. I’ve been bitchy and sarcastic, too, because I think some of the claims made by UKTI are risible. That 600 figure is a joke, and it deserved to be mocked. But the bile streaming out of this new, pseudonymous @TechShitty account, set up last night, of which I am but one of many victims, is neither constructive nor even entertaining. It’s just trolling, from someone with neither the wit and wisdom to make devastating critiques, nor the courage to identify themselves. The tweets from this account are sufficiently wide of the mark that you can tell this person doesn’t really know any of the people or businesses he’s sniping at. Thus, while some valid points might be made about the Tech City initiative, gratuitously vicious remarks like the one above render the whole account impotent.

So, if you give a damn about making things better, about reducing unnecessary Government expenditure and dialing down the media spin, overblown rhetoric and outright lies through constructive – even if sometimes harsh – criticism and dialogue, do what I just did, and unfollow @TechShitty. Then log in to your own blog, or Tumblr, or whatever, and write something that expresses what you really feel. Because only when we’re more honest about what the Government is really achieving with our money in east London, and have the courage to put our own names underneath what we write, is there any hope of change.