Archive for October, 2007

Defend abortion

October 31, 2007

Tessa Kendall of the National Secular Society’s Facebook group has drawn my attention to this hatchet-job on Dr Evan Harris MP from the Daily Mail.

‘Unmarried and without children…’

‘Though of Jewish origin, he is an aggressive secularist…’

‘In Oxfordshire he lives like the eternal student bachelor, which has given rise to baseless rumours about his sexuality…’

‘As he has slid away from the establishment, he has eschewed the suit in favour of a more proletarian jacket and odd trousers’

Okay, I know it’s the Daily Hate-and-Fear – but this is still nasty stuff.

Harris’s real crime, aside from not being married, religious or well dressed, is of course that he supports a woman’s right to choose, and is standing up to the faith-based pressure groups who are campaigning to reduce the time limit for abortions.

It’s common now for advocates of faith politics to dress their prejudice up as science, and these week the Guardian reported that many medical experts who submitted evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into abortion did not declare their memberships of various anti-abortion and pro-abstinence groups. (One of them, John Wyatt of the Christian Medical Fellowship, has his arguments taken apart by Ben Goldacre here).

The debate is ostensibly about reducing the 24-week time limit. For what it’s worth, this isn’t a good or necessary measure. The foetus cannot feel pain until 26 weeks (that’s when the cortex develops) and babies can’t survive under 24. It takes weeks of post-test agonising for a woman to even make the necessary call to the doctor – abortion is not an easy decision to make. I’ve had female friends sob in my arms, after having terminated something the size of a tadpole.

Once someone has made their mind up, it can be weeks or even months before the procedure happens. Abortion requires the consent of two doctors – the only medical procedure that does so. The process can also be delayed by pressure from family, peers or anti-abortion medical staff.

Let’s take it, for the sake of argument, that every unborn child represents a potential human life. The Mail’s piece on Harris is astonished that a quarter of all pregnancies end in medical termination; what it doesn’t say is that almost half of all pregnancies end in spontaneous termination – and this can happen before the woman even realises that she is pregnant. The body simply rejects the pregnancy. If women who abort are guilty of murder, are women who miscarry guilty of manslaughter?

And – come on, guys – what about masturbation? How many Holocausts of potential lives can be blamed on pornography and idle fantasisation? (This argument has never been adopted by the ‘pro-life’ lobby, perhaps because its members may be the most prolific mass murderers of all in that respect).

Yet all this is academic. Saturday’s demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the 1967 laws who marked by the UK Life League, a major voice on the anti-abortion side. This is from its mission statement:

We are absolutists. We can never subscribe to the popular ‘gradualist’ approach, which is infecting the other Pro-Life groups. We will never tolerate a wee bit of abortion, LifeLeague campaign to stop all abortions, to criminalise the act and to hold to account in law, (not the mothers) all those who perform, assist or are in any way connected to the promotion of baby murder. Until abortion is outlawed completely, the LifeLeague will campaign to defend our unborn brothers and sisters with every means at our disposal.

The UK Life League not only opposes abortion but contraception and homosexuality. Under the ominous heading of ‘Contraception – It’s [sic] Implications for Society’ the website has this to say:

In addition to promoting abortion – widespread contraception has (in the popular mind) produced ‘sex without consequences, accountability and responsibility’. This in turn has spawned:

(1) The Rise of Feminism: By breaking the central role of motherhood, and thus facilitating non-appropriate economic and social roles.

(2) The Rise of Extra-marital sex: Facilitated by contraception removing any ‘unintended consequences’ from recreational sex.

(3) The Rise of Homosexuality and perverted lifestyles: Once it is accepted that sex is for pleasure, base lusts cannot be refused.

(4) The Rising Divorce Rate: Resultant from the breakdown of the family order and greater potential for promiscuity (see points 1 and 2).

(5) The Decline of the Family: Brought about by points 1, 2, 3 and 4. Once the family goes, society does also.

If you are single, abstinence is always your best and only morally acceptable choice. It is not always easy, but it always works.

Now, do you think these people will be satisfied if government reduces the deadline to 13 weeks?

Make no mistake – these people are fundamentalists. They hate the free society. They hate the idea of pleasure without a price. They also hate women. As Tessa says: ‘I’m still waiting to hear the Church condemn vasectomies. Oh no, wait, that would affect men’s bodies. Silly me.’

The right to abortion is yet another battle of the Enlightenment that is going to have to be fought all over again. Given today’s liberal equivocation over basic human values, I am not optimistic. Maybe I should be. Here’s Polly Toynbee:

The hall was packed with old campaigners from 40 years ago – Wendy Savage, Diane Munday, Annie Marjoram among them – and, mercifully, plenty of young, indignant women, too. The Abortion Rights meeting began with Mike Leigh (son of a GP and a midwife) showing his movie, Vera Drake, on the dread and danger of illegal abortion days. It ended with David Steel and others ready for the fight in the forthcoming vote. (No, he has not back-slid.) Some of us had to pinch ourselves, time-warped back to old 1967 arguments against women’s same old enemies.

Forty years on – are we really back here again? Old campaigners and young women alike at the Abortion Rights meeting were stirred by this wake-up call to remember other half-won battles. Why tolerate women still being paid 17% less than men, and worse for part-timers? October 30 is the Fawcett Society’s No Pay Day. The current pay gap is the equivalent of men being paid all year while women work for free from October 30. How on earth have we still not done what Barbara Castle thought she’d fixed back in 1970? Then there’s still no childcare for many, poverty for single mothers, no maintenance from fathers and 40% less for women’s pensions. This is indeed still only a half-made women’s revolution.

New stockists

October 29, 2007

There’s a lot of great things about being a regional editor, but distribution is not one of them. Running around Oxford Road with invoices and copies of Succour has not been the highlight of the creative process for me.

So I’m delighted to announce that Succour magazine now has a distribution deal with Central Books – which means that the new issue, out on November 1, will be available not just in Blackwell’s and the Cornerhouse but also in Waterstone’s, Borders and other independents.

How cool is that!

Imaginative cop-out

October 28, 2007

Over at the Guardian’s boring and irrelevant Face to Faith column, Mark Vernon asks: ‘Do you need to be religious to truly experience wonder at the world?’

Here’s a hint, Mark: the answer is ‘no’.

He continues:

Nevertheless, is that the final word on the matter? Think of our primitive ancestors on the savannah, watching a thunderstorm approaching across the plain. As the dark sky splits with light, and the turbulent atmosphere howls with thunder, they feel fear. For in an enchanted world it makes sense to connect events in the natural world with those in the human and divine. Hence in King Lear the “deep, dread-bolted thunder” signals Lear’s own demise.

In the scientific age the intrinsic meaningfulness of the natural world is lost. We no longer interpret the thunder; we understand it – as massive discharges of electricity. It is still spectacular but no longer mysterious, let alone portentous. The world is a little less awesome, if also less fearsome, as a result. When scientific knowledge is thought to be effectively without limit there is nothing much to stop contemplative wonder dissolving into instrumental wonder too. This must be what people sense when they fear that science is unweaving the rainbow. The worry is that it leaves nothing sacred.

His argument as I understand it is this: because science has explained everything, the universe is a much more boring place – E B White’s dissected frog. So it is better not to know how things work, because that makes life seem more interesting and mysterious.

But what Vernon does in his example is confuse wonder with fear. The man quaking at the door of the cave does not want to unravel the mystery of the storm; he just wants the storm to end.

Secondly, I don’t recall any scientist saying that his or her field can explain the entire universe; whereas religious leaders have claimed that they can do exactly that on an almost daily basis for thousands of years.

And does something have to be sacred to inspire? Can’t we appreciate the mortal beauty of the physical world without having to pretend that there is magic clockwork behind it all?

I tend to agree with Schopenhauer: that humanity has an innate metaphysical need to consider the big questions: Why are we here? Is this real? What’s the point?

What religions do is respond to that capacity for wonder with a bunch of easy answers: a quick-fix for the soul. Believe in this system or ideology, and you’ll never be bothered by those troubling metaphysical conundrums ever again.

Faith is the existential equivalent of a Big Mac. It cuts off humankind’s imagination at its source.

Losing a deposit near you

October 27, 2007

Laughter echoes across the blogosphere at an electoral venture by this character David Lindsay:

The British People’s Alliance is an emerging new political party which we will certainly stand a candidate in every constituency throughout the United Kingdom at any General Election from 2009 onwards. Ours is a One Nation party, with an equal emphasis on the One and on the Nation: a pro-life, pro-family, pro-worker and anti-war party of economically social-democratic, morally and socially conservative British and Commonwealth patriots. Below is a Statement of Principles to which candidates and Party Officers must subscribe, as they also must to the explanations to follow of how the British People’s Alliance is the party of conservative values (British independence, the Union, real education, the countryside, agriculture and small business, law and order, family values, energy independence, and co-operation with Russia on the basis of shared values deriving from Classics and the Bible)

We are the restored party of ardently Unionist Labour MPs from Scotland, Wales, and their adjacent areas. Of Roy Hattersley sending British troops into Northern Ireland in order to defend the grateful Catholics there precisely as British subjects defined by their liberties under the Crown (whereas citizens are defined by their obligations to the State and to the government of the day). Of Roy Mason running Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom, with terrorism treated as a plain and simple security problem. Of Harold Wilson guaranteeing the Anguillan people’s right to be British, explicitly outside the American hegemony that had wanted to re-create there the brothels and drug dens of old Havana.

We are the restored party of those Labour MPs (mostly Methodists) who resisted relaxation of the laws on drinking and gambling. Of those (mostly Catholics) who fought against abortion and easier divorce. Of those who voted in favour only after warning against exactly what has come to pass: abortion more common than having a tooth pulled, and one in three marriages ending in divorce.

The British People’s Alliance believes, first, in the conservation or restoration (as the overwhelming majority of Britons wishes) of such good things as national self-government (the only basis for international co-operation, and including the United Kingdom as greater than the sum of its parts), local variation, historical consciousness, family life, the whole Biblical and Classical patrimony of the West, agriculture, manufacturing, small business, close-knit communities, law and order, civil liberties, academic standards, all forms of art, mass political participation within a constitutional framework, and respect for the absolute sanctity of each individual human life from the point of fertilisation to the point of natural death, all of which “free” market capitalism corrodes to nought, both directly and by driving despairing millions into the arms of equally corrosive Jacobinism, Marxism, anarchism or Fascism.

There cannot be a “free” market generally, but not in alcohol, gambling, drugs, prostitution or pornography; therefore, there must not be a “free” market generally.

The British People’s Alliance is also determined to expose, to halt, and to reverse the deliberate importation of a new working class whose members understand no English except commands, know nothing about workers’ rights in this country, can be deported if they step out of line, and (since they have no affinity with any particular part of this country) can be moved around at will, so that the old working class can be told to go hang, taking with it its unions, its minimum wage, its health and safety regulations, and so forth. The British People’s Alliance is determined to expose, to halt, and to reverse the enforced bilingualism or multilingualism that transfers economic, social, cultural and political power to a bilingual or multilingual elite, so that those who are or will be excluded are or will be the English-speaking working class, black and white.

Liberty, equality and fraternity are inseparable from nationhood, family and property, since liberty (the freedom to be virtuous, and to do anything not specifically proscribed) is inseparable from equality (the means to liberty, and never to be confused with mechanical uniformity), thus from fraternity (the means to equality), thus from nationhood (a space in which to be unselfish), thus from family (the nation in miniature, where unselfishness is first learnt), and thus from property (each family’s safeguard both against over-mighty commercial interests and against an over-mighty State, and therefore requiring to be as widely diffused as possible), which is the guarantor of liberty as here defined.

Marxists, including neoconservatives, are correct that the family, private property and the State have a common origin, with each absolutely necessary in order to maintain the other two; but Marxists, including neoconservatives, are wrong to see this as a bad thing, and therefore to desire the withering away of the State, which they know would be the withering away of the family and of private property, and which they want precisely for that wicked reason.

Neoconservatism is in fact a Marxism which has merely changed its ending so that victory belongs to a bourgeoisie stripped of all its best characteristics (and thus to an America, that most bourgeois of countries, likewise so stripped). It retains intact its Marxist dialectical materialism, its Leninist vanguard elitism, its Trotskyist (specifically, Shachtmanite) entryism and belief in the permanent revolution, and yet also its Stalinist belief that the dictatorship of the victorious class should be built in a superstate and exported (including by force of arms) throughout the world while vanguard elites owe allegiance to that superstate rather than to their own countries. Whereas the British People’s Alliance rejects Marxism root and branch, including in the form of neoconservatism.

The British People’s Alliance is determined to expose and to oppose the alliance between neoconservatism and Islam in 1980s Afghanistan, in 1990s Yugoslavia, and in today’s Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Chechnya, Kosovo, Iraq (where it has removed one of the Arab world’s two principal bulwarks against Wahhabism and against the culturally related expression of Shi’ism), Syria (where it is threatening to remove the other such bulwark), Turkey (which once and future Caliphate it welcomes into NATO, and would welcome into the EU), among other places.

And therefore, the British People’s Alliance will resist root and branch, tooth and nail, any admission of Turkey to the European Union, itself a key neoconservative project, and indeed now headed by a former Maoist who became the rabidly “free”-marketeering and pro-Bush Prime Minister of Portugal before attaining his present position. We call for the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, for the use of this provision to restore Britain’s historic fishing rights, for no EU legislation to apply in the United Kingdom unless and until passed by both Houses of Parliament exactly as if it had originated in either of them, and for the House of Commons to have the power to disapply by resolution any ruling of the European Court of Justice (mirroring the power rightly enjoyed by the German Constitutional Court).

If you agree with any of the above views (none of which is currently represented within the political process); if you experienced exclusion from “sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll” in the 1960s or since; if you suffered as a result of the decimation of Britain’s manufacturing base and of her public services in or since the 1980s; if you believe in political parties capable of being told apart, and in politicians with minds of their own; then we implore you to join, and to support in every way, our and your pro-life, pro-family, pro-worker and anti-war party, the British People’s Alliance.

This goes on for ages – I’ve just quoted the silliest bits.

Anti-abortion, anti-intervention, against social freedom and immigration, pro-colonialism, puritanism, faith and nationalism – it’s almost handy when everything stupid and nasty in British politics is wrapped up in one neat little package.

David Lindsay describes himself as ‘pro-life, pro-family, pro-worker, anti-war.’ A fan of Peter Hitchens and Neil Clark, he nicely illustrates the ugly terminus where the reactionary right meets the reactionary left; where isolationism meets pacifism, where pub bores who bang on about immigration meet the pub bores who bang on about Iraq. A rejection of Enlightenment values, and a return to the cult of purity.

Here he is on fertility:

The war against fertility is, and has always been, the war against the working class, the war against the poor at home and abroad, the war against the electoral base of the Left, the war against the social provisions for which the Left exists, and, above all, the war against women.… The idea of fertility as a medicable condition, requiring powerful drugs or even surgical interventions to prevent a woman’s body from doing exactly what it does naturally, is basically and ultimately the idea that femaleness itself is such a condition, a sort of XX Syndrome. I can think of nothing that is actually more misogynistic than that, although some things are equally so, notably the view that the preborn child is simultaneously insentient and a part of the woman’s body. Is it the whole of a woman’s body that is insentient, or only the parts most directly connected with reproduction?

He adds:

I want action against poverty, sexual promiscuity, exclusion of people with disabilities, pornography, and everything else that gives rise to abortion.

Here is Lindsay in combative mode:

Well, if the Henry Jackson Society, the Euston Manifesto lot, and the rest of the neocons love America or Israel quite that much, then they should go and live there. The rest of us could then get on with being British.

Well, that’s us telt!

Seriously, though, Lindsay does seem to be worried about the Euston Manifesto:

We are living under a junta which goes by such interchangeable names as the Henry Jackson Society, the Euston Manifesto Group, “the Centre for Social Cohesion” (the mere person of the otherwise inexplicably ubiquitous Douglas Murray), New Labour, the Cameroons, the Orange Book Tendency, and so forth. The self-aggrandised and utterly unaccountable power of the Jacksonites and Eustonites ([Oliver]Kamm is, of course, both even on paper) is eye-watering.That junta has been electorally irremovable, as such things are.

Until now.

Now, it’s news to me that the Euston Manifesto runs the world.

So I’ve drafted this email to Harry Hatchet, one of the main writers behind the manifesto.

Dear Harry

I’ve been informed by David Lindsay that the Euston Manifesto group is a ‘junta’ with ‘unaccountable power’ that is ‘electorally immovable’.

As one of the first people to sign the manifesto, why is it that I’m still a temporary worker renting a loft in Salford?

As the member of the Euston junta, I should have power, wealth and some sort of control of the world’s media, as well as domestic and foreign policy.

Unless you award me the riches that are mine by right, I’ll have to consider withdrawing my signature.

Mina Ahadi: Secularist of the Year

October 26, 2007

The Iranian dissident Mina Ahadi has just won the Secularist of the Year award.

Mina Ahadi started her serious political activities when she was 16 and living in Iran. She was at university in 1979 in Tabriz at the time of the Iranian revolution and she began immediately to organise demonstrations and meetings to oppose the compulsory veiling of women. This courageous dissent got her noticed by the Islamic regime’s authorities and soon she had to go underground to avoid retribution. At the end of 1980 her house was raided by the police and her husband and four of their comrades arrested. Mina escaped only because she wasn’t at home at the time. Her husband and the four arrested were all executed by firing squad soon after. She lived underground for some time and then fled to Iranian Kurdistan in 1982, where she continued to struggle against the Islamic regime for the next ten years. In 1990 she went to Vienna. She moved to Germany in 1996 and has lived in Europe since then. In all that time, Mina Ahadi has struggled mightily for the rights of women. She founded the International Committee against Stoning – which now has over 200 branches throughout the world. She also heads the International Committee against Executions and is the spokesperson for the newly formed women’s rights organisation, Equal Rights. She formed the Central Council of ex-Muslims in Germany early this year to help people renounce Islam and religion should they so wish. This brilliant idea has now been replicated in several other European countries, including in Britain by our own Maryam Namazie.

Undeterred by the inevitable death threats, Mina has pressed on, determined as ever to protect women from the ravages of Islam.

Apostasy, of course, is forbidden in Islam and in some Islamist states it carries the death penalty – including in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and Mauritania.

At the awards ceremony, Richard Dawkins commented:

I have long felt that the key to solving the worldwide menace of Islamic terrorism and oppression would eventually be the awakening of women, and Mina Ahadi is a charismatic leader working to that end. The brutal suppression of the rights of women in many countries throughout the Islamic world is an obvious outrage. Slightly less obvious, but just as outrageous, is the supine willingness of western liberals to go along with it. It is worse than supine, it is patronising and condescending: “Wife-beating is part of ‘their’ culture. Who are we to condemn their traditions?”

Johann Hari has more:

She decided to seek refuge in Austria, because she read in a book that women’s life expectancy there was higher than men’s, “and I thought – that’s my kind of country!” But she was amazed to find that even in Europe, Islamist groups were being treated as the respected spokesmen for all Muslims by politicians and journalists. Even here, the extreme wing threatened her with death for forming the International Committee Against Stoning to save women, and the police did little. On her visit to Britain, they offered her no protection at all.

If Christian fundamentalists were doing this – as they used to, and would like to again – none of us would hesitate in erupting in rage. But because Islamic fundamentalists are doing it, we feel awkward, and fall silent. The difference is the colour of their skin. There’s a word for this: racism.

I have a couple of thoughts on this.

Firstly, being an atheist in a relatively tolerant country, like this one, might earn you funny looks or a good argument. In countries with faith-based regimes, it could get you killed.

To carry on your dissent for so many years, under such dangerous conditions – the word isn’t atheism, it is heroism.

Secondly, Dawkins is right. As Nick Cohen said, the only successful revolution of the twentieth century, and the best hope for change in the twenty-first, is the emancipation of women.

We forget that Britain didn’t become a true democracy until 1929, when women got the vote. The lasting social reforms – the contraceptive pill, gender equality, the right to abortion, sexual and LGBT freedom – flow, arguably, from that moment.

Women in the Islamic world are in the same position as black people were under apartheid. They are governed by a theocratic leviathan of repressions and prejudices, and tortured and killed if they step out of line. If the majority of women in the Islamic world are to enjoy the equality and freedom we take for granted, we must support and protect dissidents, feminists and secularists like Mina Ahadi.

It’s a shame then that much of the Western ‘left’ spends its time attacking Muslims who criticise any aspect of Islamic thought or government.

The Pages

October 22, 2007

This is nice. My short story ‘Learning to Breathe,’ – not online – is one of the runner ups in The Pages short story competition.

As Dr Alan Statham would say: ‘One hundred per cent!’

Centre for Inquiry

October 22, 2007

My editor at Butterflies and Wheels, Ophelia Benson, has just informed me that the article I linked to below has been sent out on the Centre for Inquiry’s mailout.

Now, I’ve never heard of this organisation, but apparently it is an American secularist thinktank that campaigns against creationism, claims of the paranormal and religious influence in public life.

This is what the centre does:

Paranormal and Fringe Science Claims

Through its Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) , the Center for Inquiry evaluates claims of the paranormal (phenomena allegedly beyond the range of normal scientific explanations), such as psychic phenomena, ghosts, communication with the dead, and alleged extraterrestrial visitations. It also explores the fringes and borderlands of the sciences, attempting to separate promising research from irresponsible pseudosciences, such as “creation science” and astrology. The interdisciplinary research conducted by CSI has shown that such pseudosciences have not applied the methods of rigorous scientific inquiry and have often violated the standards of confirmation and corroboration. For example, astrology is considered a pseudoscience because its claims are not clearly formulated in testable form, its theories are often internally inconsistent, and its results have not been empirically corroborated. CSI research fellows are sought out by journalists and producers worldwide. CSI monitors and reports on the irresponsible promulgation of pseudoscience, hoaxes, and urban legends within the pages of its flagship publication, Skeptical Inquirer and associate newsletter, Skeptical Briefs, on the Internet, in the mass media, and through conferences, workshops and related events. CSI maintains an educational program and online resource for educators, parents and young people entitled Inquiring Minds, a collection of subject-specific web sites, as well as an online Skeptiseum, housing the collections of paranormal investigator, Joe Nickell.

Religion, Ethics and Society 

 Matters of faith and values are not immune from the implications of the scientific outlook, and a conception of our selves and our place in the universe can never be intellectually viable while it resists integration with the best knowledge of the day. The Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) promotes naturalism and secular values to the public, and stimulates critical inquiry into the foundations and social effects of the world religions. The Council stands up for the dignity of those who dissent from today’s reigning orthodoxies, and assists secular humanist community groups across North America. Different divisions focus on issues specific to the African-American and African experience, and to Islamic societies, with pioneering Koranic criticism and advocacy for separation of mosque and state. The Council’s peer-reviewed journal of academic philosophy, Philo, specializes in the articulation and philosophical defense of naturalism in metaphysics, epistemology, and moral theory. The Council also keeps alive the history of nineteenth century American freethought through its Robert G. Ingersoll Memorial Committee, which operates a museum in Dresden, New York.

Medicine and Health

Western medicine and mental health practice have advanced alongside the advancements in natural science. Yet the widespread embrace of “alternative and complimentary medicine” and herbal and homeopathic remedies contemporary would sever this anchor to the naturalistic outlook. Meanwhile, dominant substance abuse recovery programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, invoke the reliance on “a Higher Power.” The Center for Inquiry stimulates critical scientific scrutiny of New Age medicine via its Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health Practice (CSMMH) , publisher of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. CFI supports thoroughly naturalistic addiction recovery practices through Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS). Hundreds of SOS groups in North America convene weekly on and off Center premises; and the movement has spread to countries as far and wide as Great Britain, Israel, Italy, and Russia.

This is all good stuff, and with friends like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Ibn Warraq, the Centre is a body I’m happy to be associated with – however tenuously.

The Cliche That Won’t Die

October 21, 2007

My article of this name is up on the Butterflies and Wheels site now.

Who are you, and why are you here?

October 21, 2007

As I’ve said before, I have never taken blogging seriously. There are people who think that blogging is a revolutionary new medium. The Manchester Literature Festival featured blogging masterclasses and blog award ceremonies. At a debate I went to, the writer Kate Feld said that no creative writing student should leave university without a blog. She went on to declare blogging as a vital marketing tool that is basically a stepping stone to publication.

I don’t know. Agents are hellishly busy – do the guys at Curtis Brown really have time to meander around the net, surfing for undiscovered new talent? Does the head of Random House get to his office and say, ‘Right, the first thing I’ll do today is plough through thousands of web logs written by frustrated call centre workers in Barnsley.’

And blogging takes up time that could be spent writing. As so often happens, the marketing tool becomes less about the fiction and more about the marketing. It’s a diversion, a distraction – ‘more fucking about in the garden,’ as Helen Garp put it.

‘Of course,’ Feld added, ‘there are some people who enjoy it.’

That’s my attitude. Bloggers are derided as Nathan Barley type pub bores – and the insult is more often true than not. I have my obsessions and obscurities, and it’s better to write them down here, so that I don’t end up going on about them in pubs, and losing all my friends.

I also blog for the best and first reason I write anything – because it’s a damn good kick.