Not a book review, of Naomi Wolf – Vagina, barely coherent

Suzanne Moore, who also writes for the Mail on Sunday (I added this bit in because I have a very negative view of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday), has written her opinion of Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina*, on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free. It’s an emotional piece full of sarcasm and mockery. She details her dislike of Wolf and goes on to pour scorn on bits and pieces of the latter’s writing.

This isn’t a book review. Even if Mail-on-Sunday-writer Moore is right, I wouldn’t trust this article at all. One bit that I did find even more redundant than the personal bitterness that Moore expresses was her insult at Wolf, calling her an apologist for Assange.

The above phrase, and “rape apologist”, have now become the new comparison with Hitler. Conversation is meant to stop afterwards. It is a very sad state of affairs when it is men and not women feminists who have to remind us that men who are accused of rape don’t normally have their names in headlines and are not usually extradited so they can face questions about their actions (Why the US is out to get Assange).

If in doubt do take a look at the Women Under Siege Twitter timeline to read about all the rape cases which are not being pursued across international borders.

Anyway, a very Mail-on-Sunday piece on the Guardian. It tells you a lot more about Moore than it does about Wolf’s Vagina.

*I keep meaning to check whether other headlines about book titles would have contained the word book: i.e. I expected to write Naomi Wolf’s Vagina in the same way that I would write Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot but that would probably be misleading. I’ll check common practise.

A suggestion for independent bookstores

There is an article in the Guardian about how independent bookshops face a crisis because of ebooks. The Bookseller association quotes figures of declines in paper based books and an increase in ebooks.

Here’s a suggestion that may help. Sell access to the ebook along with the tangible paper copy of the book. I prefer to buy a book so I can lend it and have it on hand when required. At the moment, however, I don’t have the time or the ability to read a paper book. I read on the train, while out with my daughter when she is sleeping, and while I am nursing. So, when given the choice between paper and electronic versions, I will choose the electronic one because I have more of a chance of reading it.

I read on my phone either through the Kindle app or through an e-reader. I buy the content of the book so why can I only have it in one format? The cost to release the ebook must be minimal when also publishing a paper book.

Sell the rights for all formats of a book and paper copies will start to sell again. That’s my suggestion.

Rendition, a Guardian report

There is something quite dedicated and admirable about those journalists who go out of their way to write about some of the most horrific incidents taking place, and doing it in a lucid and articulate manner.

I was reminded of this by Ian Cobain’s piece in the April 8, Guardian titled Rendition ordeal that raises new questions about secret trials. “He reports on the trail of evidence linking the UK to a couple’s rendition to Libya and its implications for British justice.”

Cobain writes:

Just when Fatima Bouchar thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Americans forced her to lie on a stretcher and began wrapping tape around her feet. They moved upwards, she says, along her legs, winding the tape around and around, binding her to the stretcher. They taped her stomach, her arms and then her chest. She was bound tight, unable to move.

Cobain goes on to describe how this four-and-a-half-month pregnant woman was left with only her right eye unbound by her balaklava-concealed captors on her 17-hour journey. She describes it as agony.

She was tortured for months and at one point thought she would give birth to her first child in her prison.

What makes Cobain’s reporting so important, however, is not just his telling of Bouchar and her husband’s story.

He writes of evidence linking the rendition operation to British intelligence officers,

“Documents discovered in Tripoli show that the operation was initiated by British intelligence officers, rather than the masked Americans or their superiors in the US.”

And the link between government vested interests and the use of people as pawns whose human rights could be disregarded:

“The US and UK governments were beginning to repair their relations with Gaddafi, a rapprochement that would soon see him abandon his WMD programme and open hid country’s oil and gas reserves to western corporations.”

This is some excellent reporting and a great read. Some journalists should stand out for the effort they put in, but with respect and not in the headlines of their own papers.

Maybe journalists should just talk to themselves

Woman journalist goes on a one-day course to find out whether she can learn to code. By the end of the day she thinks she can. Mostly because she knows nothing about programming.

Software developers and others who program for a living point out in the comments that she actually does not now know how to code. She also did not create an app.

Male Tech journalists yells at the commenters for picking on the woman journalist who may not know that she cannot code but who did gain satisfaction at producing something that worked.

Note that without the comments, readers who were ignorant of programming would not have been aware that what the writer was doing was shallow and quite poor in terms of learning.

I was alerted to the article by a Tweet from @mjrobbins:

Guardian Tech writer (@currybet) loses patience with “smug know-it-all patronising killjoys” – bravo, sir.

@mjrobbins applauds the Guardian Tech writer @currybet. I am on the side of the people who know programming and realise that the article is misleading.

Update: As Martin Belam points out in the comments, he is not a writer at the Guardian. Apologies.

Preview: Guardian Open Weekend

The one event this year that I would love to attend but can’t afford to, is the Guardian Open Weekend. On March 24-25, the Guardian newspaper is opening its doors and holding a host of sessions about its operations and general newsy stuff.

There is a session on gender inequality and more importantly two of your favourite crossword setters will be there on the Saturday to talk and answer questions: Paul (John Halpern) at 12.30pm and Araucaria (John Graham) at 1.45pm (details at and respectively).

Actually, I only have one favourite and it’s Araucaria.

So catch it while you can. There are only 2500 passes for each day.
Saturday £40;
Sunday £30;
Weekend pass £60.

Follow them on Twitter, @GdnOpenWeekend, and if you go please take a photo of Araucaria and post it to me.

Charlie Condou, the three of them

There is a new column in the lifestyle section in the Guardian by Charlie Condou where he writes about his family. This family is a minority one, where he and his male partner are raising their children, and will raise their future child, with single mother Catherine. There’s something about it which feels quite personal because it talks about a single parent and a couple.

My little girl is being raised a little like that at the moment but not quite. There are two of us in my household but we are not a couple. Her father and I are single parents, separately.

The second column was published on Saturday and I had been looking forward to it all week. I realise that they also have an unorthodox setting but it feels more normal than mine does. Their babies have been planned and born into loving households. The babies have been living with the two sets of parents from the start.

There was a paragraph in the second column which stood out for me.

Today was the all-important 20-week scan, the one where we find out if everything’s OK. This is the pregnancy halfway point where we get to check that everything’s developing normally and, should we choose, to find out the baby’s sex. We all went along, Catherine lying on the examination table while my partner Cameron and I squashed into the space that would usually be occupied by just the one loving husband, taking it in turns on the single chair.

That sentence seemed to say that they were unorthodox compared to the typical family which consists of a husband and wife. He was right to the extent that the most common type of household in the UK is the married couple (68%), this still leaves a lot of unmarried people. In fact the percentage of married couples fell from 72% in 2001. 15.3% of couples cohabit and 16.2% of families are lone parents.

I thought it was interesting that the ‘other’ to which Condou compares himself is a married couple while for me it is any loving couple. I went to my 20 week scan alone (with the baby for company, of course) and I thought how wonderful their visit sounded with the three of them together.

Either way, the column is fascinating no matter what family situation you are experiencing.

The Three of Us by Charlie Condou in the Guardian.

Too many Oxbridge graduates at the Guardian?

There is a Guardian article about too many Oxbridge graduates at the Guardian. 600 or so employees or so are questioned on their higher education ‘pedigree’. 167 responded. A majority attended Oxbridge, a fair amount did not attend.

This purportedly thoughtful piece of self examination is a bizarre little report. Oxbridge graduates are asked to comment and ‘the rest’ of the graduates are also asked.

There is a notion set forth quite unproblematically:

Yes, Oxbridge is an elite – but, in theory, it should be an elite selected by ability. To object to Oxbridge graduates having places in government/media/academia should, in theory, be like objecting to the fastest runners getting all the places in the Olympic team: absurd.

Out of 2,720,498 applications to full time degree courses in higher education through UCAS, only 16,225 (0.6%) were made to Oxford. Out of those, 3,378 (0.7%) were accepted.

Is it even realistic to believe that the ‘best of the best’ are the only ones that apply and get accepted? There are applicants with 11 A grades at A Level who are left without a place. All of those who apply to Oxford and Cambridge (which has a similar number of applications / acceptances) have the grades to get in.

The problem is that there are qualified applicants who wouldn’t apply. There are those who don’t believe they fit in, don’t think they can live that far from home or a myriad other reasons why they don’t apply. Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol, told a host of attendees at a widening participation conference that there are qualified students who refuse to attend the university. That they just can’t get them to accept. They are all qualified, they just don’t want to go to Bristol. The University of Bristol is a selective higher education institution which is one of the Russell Group and one of the Sutton Trust 13.


“I would guess that over 50% of managers at the Guardian attended Oxford or Cambridge, but perhaps this is because the brightest and most ambitious go there, and subsequently succeed in their chosen careers.”

The number of applications is quite small at Oxbridge (half of what the University of Bristol receive) because it is a self-selected pool of applicants  who already know that selection is difficult. The Guardian doesn’t even acknowledge any of these issues. Instead they briefly address and smugly close the question of whether there is a bias.

Not impressed.

[I can provide many references for all the points I’ve mentioned, just ask]

Masterclass In Food Writing, Interesting?

The Guardian has started to present masterclasses in various topics and one of the first ones is about food writing. £500 for two days sounds a little steep for me but the description of the contents is well worth an inexpensive visit.

Tom Parker-Bowles leads the course and his credentials include being an award-winning food writer, a Contributing editor to GQ, as well as the author of three books, E is for Eating – An Alphabet of Greed; The Year of Eating Dangerously; and Full English – A Journey Through the British and Their Food.

The course aims to provide a brief history of food writing, as well as practical advice on everything from attracting the eye of the commissioning editor, to restaurant criticism, blogs and self-publishing.

The main parts are as follows and knowledge of these should be an asset to any food writer:

History of food writing – reading and knowing about food is seen as important. The course discusses all the greats apparently, from Apicius and Acton through Glasse and Grigson, via Liebing, Trillin, Davidson, David, Fisher, Meades and Slater.

How not to write about food – there will be an examination of bad reviews filled with cliches and pointless adjectives I presume. This will be useful in finding out which “clichés, words and phrases to avoid at all times”.

Writing the food review – during the course there will be an opportunity to enjoy a specially prepared lunch, write about it and then discuss it.

20 books to trust and love with your life – the students will be told about some favourite books.

Blogging and self-publishing is a session that provides advice about how to get on with practical matters and grander visions of setting up your own magazine. What are the pitfalls? How much cash do you need? And are you mad for even contemplating the idea?

The last parts are about a passion for food and ending with an open discussion “food writing, contacts, and the best places to work.”

Please note that this isn’t just a promotional piece on the Guardian’s masterclass. Instead, I’d like to use the contents as a starting off point for interviewing food reviewers. Based on the above I would ask the following questions:

  • Who do you consider to be the greats in the history of food writing?
  • Which are your current top five books about food?
  • What are some of the worst cliches and pointless adjectives you avoid in your writing?
  • Which is your favourite review that you have written?
  • What advice do you have about food blogging and / or selling reviews?
  • Which has been your favourite place to work?

If you have any suggestions for further questions then please let me know. On my side, I will let you know how I get on and you will hopefully see the results on these pages. If you are a food reviewer and want to send me your replies, then please comment and I will be in touch.

Love Food

Data: Is It All Useful?

The Datablog on the Guardian website posts stories along with the data behind them and some news items don’t get any more interesting with this inclusion.

The headline: Hunting Act convictions at their highest. Get the figures here

The story: Hunting Act convictions are at their highest yet according to new figures out with 57 convictions alone in 2009. Animal Safety legislation usually has very low rates of offences and convictions, for example the Deer Act 1991 had three offences and two convictions.

The Data:

More Data:

Convictions of the Hunting Act from 2005-2009 can be found on the spreadsheet alongside a comparison with other animal legislation convictions. The Guardian asks “What can you do with this data?”

My lack of creativity could be at the forefront but I can’t see what else I can do with this data. I am impressed that an article could be written on such few figures, barely a description really, with the most important part being the headline. I do see, however, a starting off point for some further questions.

There are three comments that follow the article in the Guardian and the third one by Sparclear seems the most useful.

“Pathetically low figures considering the widespread flouting of the Act.”
=> How much flouting of the rules has there been?
=> Is there a source of data for how many hunts go on? how many are illegal?

Many subsidiary industries evolved to thrive on the Hunt. As well as all the folks who look after the horses (and their vets and saddlers and livery stables and fencing and feedstuffs) there’s a whole class of outdoor workers, kennel keepers, beaters, gamekeepers, gunsmiths, types of forester whose winter economy is dictated by bloodsports. There are clothing shops and pubs and B & B’s, hotels, and farm kitchens which book the catering for particular events a whole year ahead.

=> What information is available on these activities? where would we find it?

Some information is available on the Guardian’s Hunting site but not all of it, especially not related to the extra activities. The additional data would be most useful for providing a context to the numbers provided. 91 offences and 57 convictions do make for the highest figures in the last five years but without any further context they are still quite meaningless.

Comparison to other animal related Acts may be a useful way of pointing out that this is not the same type of story.

Israeli Commandos Attack Aid Convoy, Bristolians On Board

At 4:51 in the morning, Israeli commandos attacked an aid convoy on its way to Gaza, killing at least 10 activists and leaving the fate of others unknown. According to Bristol Indy Media, two Bristolians, Sakir Yildirim from Fishponds and Cliff Hanley from Southville, were on the convoy. They are both members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and as yet there is no information on their whereabouts. In Bristol, England, a crowd of around 100 people had gathered from 3pm on St Augustine’s Parade, outside the Hippodrome.

Along with civilians being killed in international waters, Israel states that five personnel were also injured. Today’s deaths and injuries were condemned by the UN, EU and other countries. Public protests have been organised in countries all over the world. Greeks, on Facebook and through other online means, have been invited to gather outside Israeli embassies.

The online world has been actively tweeting the #freedomflotilla hashtag making it the third most popular trending topic. Gaza Flotilla is second. Al Jazeera shows the live storming by Israeli Commandos and the Guardian has a link to the video as well.