As this has been my week in Hong Kong, and as I hate air travel so much, I decided to spend some time on choosing a book to read on the plane, in the hope that if I chose carefully I might not end up as a neurotic, claustrophobic wreck by the time I arrived. I had heard of Tom Wolfe’s new work Back to Blood and, having read some promotional interviews with the diminutive, irascible gadfly of a writer, was inclining towards buying it. But before taking the plunge and shelling out yet another $39.95 on yet another book for which I do not have any space, I decided to do the sensible thing and see how it had been reviewed in the New York Times. The Times told me that Back to Blood was pompous, reactionary, predictable, glib, preposterous, flawed, full of ‘shameless stereotypes based on ethnicity and class’ and, in substance, no use to man nor beast. That was good enough for me, so I immediately rushed out and bought it. The Times test will never fail you. If one of its depressing acolytes condemns a book or film, I always find it is first-rate, stimulating, witty and a valuable social commentary. And so it has been with Back to Blood. Wolfe takes a scalpel to Miami as it is today and extracts for inspection the vulgarity of new money, the awful people who flaunt it, the excesses of the modern art racket, the phoney pretence of racial equality, the dashed hopes of white do-gooders slumming among the blacks and the fear that all in authority have of falling victim to the excessive sensitivities of race and class. A provocative read, highly recommended.
You have heard of the Magnificent Seven, the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. Well, I am the South Yarra One. Why? I seem to be the only one not doing handstands over the peace deal between Israel and Hamas. I have always been a supporter of Israel, as it is the only democracy in its part of the world and because I am appalled by the thinly disguised anti-Semitism of the dreamy Left. But, as I argued here a fortnight ago, the clash with Hamas was a good opportunity for Israel to neuter its enemy in Gaza and achieve something like long-term peace and security for its citizens. This chance has now been thrown away and we have been given, instead, another dubious compromise accompanied by Hamas gloating over its victory and enhanced status as a force to be reckoned with in mid-eastern politics. The justification for this deal is the convoluted argument that Israel will need Western support if and when it attacks Iran and that this support would not be forthcoming if it were locked in a ground war in Gaza. The argument, of course, is nonsense. Hamas and its offsiders do not understand the subtleties and sophistications of that sort of argument. Their motivations are much more basic and dangerous: they hate Jews, want the whole of Israel, and regard every compromise and goodwill gesture as a sign of weakness and a chance to regroup.
The reason for my trip to Hong Kong was to speak at a conference on internet domain name arbitration and, in particular, on the vast range of new domain name spaces that will soon become available. This promises to be as revolutionary an expansion of communications as we have seen since the internet was born. ICANN, the non-profit company that runs it, will shortly allow approved names or concepts to be used as vehicles for supporting virtually unlimited numbers of new domain names, gathered together in categories like dot music, dot Sydney or dot Ford. Obviously, there will be disputes about who gets what and arguments about how those disputes will be resolved; that was the subject of my conference. You would think that after a couple of years telling the rest of the world how good we were in opening up the internet by spending billions on the NBN, Australia would be at the forefront of supporting its expansion and encouraging Australian companies to get a share of the action. But no. Right on the eve of the conference, Australia, in the form of Senator Conroy’s department, dropped a bombshell and announced it was opposing many of the proposed new domains and, in an Orwellian tone, invited those who have applied for them to come round for a ‘discussion’. Not only that, but Australia lodged more objections than any other country and more than half of all governmental objections. It seems Australia is opposed to ‘tunes’ and ‘tennis’, the occasional ‘song’, ‘baby’ ‘book’ and ‘beauty’ and, naturally, we would not allow a ‘gripe’ on the internet. Even such anodyne words as ‘accountant’, ‘app’, ‘book’, ‘charity’ and ‘city’ have failed to escape the eagle eye of the Australian censor. The big question hanging over this intervention is, of course, why has Australia rushed to the forefront of those who want to see more government control of the internet? The twittersphere may have already provided part of the answer by suggesting that it fits neatly into the government’s avowed attempt to censor the internet by means of filters, the cause so dear to Senator Conroy’s heart that he was reluctantly forced to abandon. But I wonder if it goes even further than that. After all, we live in an era where the government is salivating over the prospect of controlling the media through a tribunal of one sort or another, regulating content and introducing a ‘fit and proper person’ test for ownership of media assets. Why stop there? Why not use this chance to get more government control of the internet, the way people use it and use ordinary words in the English language? What a pity that no one applied for ‘misogynist’; the government could then have applied to control that word as well.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.