Friday, November 10, 2006

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part XVI: Tom Freeman

(Tom Freeman)
Tom Freeman, 29, grew up in a Labour family in Cambridge. Following a degree in psychology and philosophy, he now works on the editorial staff of a medical research charity in London. He started blogging this summer, at Freemania, and also contributes to Fisking Central.

What made you decide to start blogging?

Politics really grips me, but most people I know don’t feel the same way. So I wanted some way of venting all the stuff rolling around my head, and a blog seemed a good way of forcing myself to beat it into some sort of coherent shape. It means I don’t risk forgetting ideas I’ve had, and I get to find out whether they make sense to anyone else as well. Plus I like to be able to go through a more detailed argument than is usually feasible in conversation. The guys at Fisking Central can take a lot of credit (or blame) for getting me started.

What is your best blogging experience?

I can’t single out any one moment, but it’s always nice to get comments, and even more so when other people pick up on my posts on their own blogs. Ranting into the darkness has its attractions, but the feeling of being involved in a discussion with smart people is great.

And your worst?No disasters yet, but it’s still early days. It’s a constant source of frustration that I don’t have internet access at home. This means frantic typing during lunch breaks and spare moments at work, as well as trolling round coffee shops with my laptop, looking for some WiFi. Plenty of times I’ve wanted to blog about something interesting I’ve seen, but just not had the opportunity.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

Tough call. Of my more serious analytical-type stuff, I’m still pretty pleased with this one on why the right doesn’t understand how vital the state is for a healthy, thriving society, as well as
another on how Labour should take on the Cameron Tories. But one that still really makes me smile is a post from my first week about my inept attempts to buy some sunglasses.

Favourite blogs?

That’s even tougher if you don’t just want a huge list. Normblog and Temperama have enough politics to draw me in, but enough other stuff to remind me that there really is more to life. Stumbling and Mumbling is a reliable source of bright ideas that would never have crossed my mind, and Butterflies and Wheels mixes intellect and invective very deftly. And Bloggers4Labour is indispensable. But there are many others.

Given your view of tabloid newspapers, which do you rate as the worst and how do you rate the others in comparison?

I try to ignore them! In terms of the blurring of news and comment, and the obsession with celebrity trivia, they’re all fairly rotten, really, including the Mirror (which does at least come nearer my own views than the others). I’d say that the worst are the Mail and then the Diana cult that calls itself the Express: they take themselves seriously in a way that the Mirror and the Sun don’t (their content is a bit weightier than the unashamed red-tops but it’s still pretty trashy). They have delusions of quality but they’re just lowbrow peddlers of hate, fear and consumerism – without even a sense of fun.

Do you feel blogging has changed anything in the world of media and politics?

In that it is a new medium and that many blogs are political, certainly. But I don’t think it’s yet had a huge influence on other media. Some stories have originated and then spread on blogs, working their way into the mainstream media with political consequences – the recent spat over Bernard Jenkin and Tory candidate selection, for instance. And it’s true that many traditional media outlets have set up blogs, the Guardian being a prime example. So as well as affecting their content, blogging is making them diversify what they do.But the beauty of the blogworld is the massive diversity of content providers, and as a result the major media players can’t really take it over as they might like to because there are so few of them. Sure, Comment is Free is worth a look, but it’s just one of 20 or 30 blogs I regularly check. Also, for a blog to be successful, it has to have an individual (or small team) who are personally committed to maintaining it – just commissioning online pieces from your regular columnists isn’t the same. I hesitate to class CiF as a blog as such.Blogging’s also having some effect on political campaigning (if not policymaking): you have David Cameron and his daft webcam, and John Cruddas seems to have cultivated an early following among Labour bloggers. But a good online operation is still not nearly enough to succeed – look at Howard Dean. Also, blogging is a very useful networking tool for activist groups, whether party-based or single-issue. (Who knows, it may play a part in democratising China in years to come!)

What’s the aim of Fisking Central?

I can’t speak for the others involved, but my attitude is that there’s a vast amount of sloppy, lazy, self-serving, dishonest, ill-informed, badly argued, rhetorically obese and morally malignant writing out there, much of it from sources that really ought to be able to do better. It’s a personal pleasure (and perhaps even a public service) to take a scalpel to it, cutting away the excess fat and the cancerous tissue until there’s nothing left. FC is the operating theatre. And now and again we try to be constructive as well…

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

Well, I’ve never been much of a traveller, but enough people I know have raved about Cambodia to whet my interest. And south-west Ireland sounds pretty good.

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

The first place I ever went abroad was Montaretto, a tiny little mountain village on the Gulf of Genoa. I was ten and I loved it. I could very happily spend a couple of weeks in that area again.

Do you have a favourite political figure in history?

Not really – partly because my Thatcher/Major education left me historically ignorant. But for demonstrating human fallibility and the limits of power (whether in fact or in legend), King Canute is well worth remembering.

Which figure has been your greatest inspiration?

I’m a magpie: I take bits of inspiration from all sorts of people, so there’s no single figure (and heroes will always let you down in some way). At various times, for various reasons, I’ve been inspired by Neil Kinnock, George Orwell, Tony Blair, Polly Toynbee, Robin Cook, David Aaronovitch, Amartya Sen and the ‘tank man’ with the carrier bags in Tiananmen Square. But most broadly, for encouraging me to think for myself and passing on an instinctive concern for the state of the world, my parents.

Favourite Bond movie?

I’m not a massive Bond fan, but I guess The Spy Who Loved Me (despite the naff tune) is great value for giving us Jaws.

Favourite Doctor Who?

Tom Baker: the scarf, the hat, the hair, the voice… the jelly babies!

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?

Chocolate. Rich and dark.

Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

Pulp, circa 1996.

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?

I’ve spent most of my life in Oxford and Cambridge – put me down for Barsby. (Is there a pub?)

Favourite national newspaper?

Over many years, I’ve developed a mental blind spot that prevents me from blaming the Guardian for the quality of many of its commentators. I feel at home there.

What would you say your hobbies were?

When I’m not armchair politicking, I like to go running in the evenings (or, given my current dodgy knee, gentle walking). Films, books… look, I’m easily entertained – a pint with a few mates and I’m happy.

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

I reserve the right to change my mind, but today I think:Songs: My Baby Just Cares for Me by Nina Simone, The Warmest Room by Billy Bragg, and on the third Beatles Anthology there’s an early version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which is much simpler and purer than the White Album cut, and with an extra verse – hauntingly beautiful.

Books: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

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