New Year, fresh blog and good intentions

Like many of us, I hold good intentions for the year ahead.

One of these is to blog more which is why starting today/tonight and happening (hopefully) regularly I intend to bring you the best of the web or at least what I consider to be the best from the web.

Those who follow me on Twitter will know that I post a lot of links to various articles that I have read online. They range from quirky stories from Ireland to sometimes obscure political matters in the US, with a bit of UK, world and Liverpool FC related news in between.

The intention of the ‘News Picks’, as I have decided to call them, will be to bring all these links together under one blogging roof. It will consist of stories you may have missed or that you may not have heard about. It may be an alternative view on a story you’re familiar with or it may be totally useless.

In any case I hope it is a fun, quick read that enlightens your day.

Wikileaks diplomatic files not as shocking as we’re being told

We may have been shocked by the revelations of the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs and the brutality of war that was laid before us in a way we’ve never seen before.

But the initial revelations of Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables are not as shocking as many in the media are having us believe. Embarrassing for sure but not shocking.

Channeled through those doyens of investigative journalism The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times the leaks reveal a lot of honest and forthright views of mainly US diplomats about their foreign counterparts.

But looking at the BBC’s useful breakdown of the main “revelations” there’s nothing truly groundbreaking. Instead much of the releases so far confirm what any of us who have an interest in international affairs probably already expected was going on.

The US has many concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear activity and the level to which they may be exposed to nuclear terrorism. Whilst on the other side Pakistan is reluctant to allow the US to establish any more interest in their domestic affairs than it already holds for fear of a backlash from their own people. This has been widely reported for many years.

The Chinese government engages in computer hacking…as if we haven’t heard that before.

The US looks to tap the sensitive biometric details of those within the UN. Not specifically something reported before but allies spying on allies and involving the Americans is nothing new.

There are also a selection of strong and honest views about various world leaders.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described as “Hitler” by one diplomat. Given Ahmadinejad’s views on Judaism it is hardly an extraordinary leap to associate the two.

Italian president Silvio Berlusconi described as a “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader”. As if we didn’t know that already given the string of embarrassing revelations in recent years.

Russian president Dmirty Medvedev a “Robin” to Vladimir Putin’s “Batman”. Many analysts said as much when Medvedev was “elected” in 2008.

And Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe,  a “crazy old man”. It would be funny if it wasn’t for the plight of the Zimbabwean people.

So there is little that shocks as much as Wikileaks most explosive leak to date – Collateral Murder

But needless to say it’s embarrassing for the US and all the other countries implicated. And the news coverage over the next few days will remind us of that as well as discussing the wrongs and rights of Wikileaks releasing such material. Simon Jenkins in The Guardian puts that argument to bed in my view.

Perhaps the real story here is not the sheer quantity and seriousness of some of the information released but the extraordinary story of a 22-year-old US army private from Oklahoma, Bradley Manning, who has changed forever the way in which wars and diplomatic relations are conducted.

Twitter and the Twestival

TwestivalBack in February users of the website Twitter gathered in Liverpool for the first ever ‘Twestival’, a very alternative festival.

In case you didn’t know, Twitter is a micro blogging website where you update the world, or at least those following you on the site, on your latest activities in 140 characters or less, similar to your Facebook status.

It has gained notoriety thanks to its famous British users. Actor, comedian and author Stephen Fry ‘tweets’ about his latest activities on a daily, sometimes hourly, almost unhealthy basis as does Jonathan Ross when he’s not offending the nation.

 From Twitter emerged the ‘Twestival’ an idea hatched by a group of ordinary London based Twitter users with the idea of bringing ‘twitterers’ worldwide together in order to raise money for Charity Water which aims to supply clean drinking water to the third world.

So on February 12th, 185 ‘Twestivals’ were held worldwide from Dubai to New York. Liverpool was just one of the venues where organiser Mandy Phillips got a surprisingly positive response: “I’ve been amazed by the generosity of people on Twitter from the Liverpool area,” she said prior to the event.

“It’s about that community thing but it’s also about that virtual network where your talking to people who you wouldn’t know if you met them on the street and then making that real. I can’t describe how important that is.”

Around 80 people attended the event at the city’s Leaf Café on Parliament Street with live music, DJ, auctions and raffles helping to raise over £500 which will contribute to the cost of building a well in the third world.

Stephen Fry even contributed some of his own personal belongings in aid of the event as Phillips explained: “He sent me an Oscar Wilde book that he wrote the foreword for and signed and he also sent me two pairs of his socks. I think they were used, they’re not smelly but they’re definitely worn!”

As for the chances of Fry giving up his used socks up for another ‘Twestival’ next year, Phillips added: “We’ll see what Twestival decides to do because it might be a one off from their point of view so we’ll just wait and see.”


Meet the Twitterers

Adam Yaffe, photography company director, on Twitter’s addictiveness:

“I didn’t realise it would become an addiction but it has! Because I have the application on my iPhone I use it more and more. Suddenly I’ve realised that I need to keep using it in case I miss something so it’s become part of my life.”

Kieran Lamb, librarian at Liverpool Primary Care Trust, on Twitter in the work place:

“We use Twitter in work to send messages to the users about what we’re doing during the day so it can be a good work tool but it can be a bit of fun as well. It’s one of those things that you go through phases with it but I think we’re increasingly using it as a way of communicating with other library folks.”

Dominique Aspay, a Twitter newcomer:

“Only in the last week or so have I started getting into Twitter, just out of curiosity really. Now I use it every day. I find it’s getting addictive with my updates becoming more and more inane!”

Thom Shannon, media company director, on Twitter’s news value: 

“I’m on it all day. It gets addictive, it depends who you follow but it can become a feed of information you can’t get anywhere else. Most of the breaking news I find out on Twitter before anywhere else has it.”