The internet is a great big electronic reference book. But as with paper-based books, unless you have a reason to look for something, you might get bored flicking aimlessly through undifferentiated information. Worse still, because the Internet is still so massively dominated by American universities, American interests and, well, Americans, its relevance or usefulness to the UK or European chattering classes can seem a little obscure. Help is at hand in this column. Prospect will track and report developments on the Net which touch the world of politics and current affairs and which may be of interest to our readers. Feel free to contact us with anything you want to pass on-our e-mail address is:
politics uk-Punch this into the search section of your web browser and follow some of the hypertext links to see what’s there. Initially you will probably be taken to that great big Internet index known as Yahoo. Don’t be alarmed when you see that the first UK entry is for An Phoblacht, the newspaper of Sinn Fein. Don’t be alarmed either, when, inexplicably, you stumble over a reference to “polyarmory and polyfidelity: new approaches to multiple relationships,” described in an accompanying comment as “a fascinating and provocative look at a neglected aspect of sexuality.”
www.open.gov.uk-This is the main site for our own dear government’s presence on the information superhighway. Lots of ministries and government agencies are represented. You can find out all sorts of information and statistics. Pity they all say the same: things are bad and likely to get worse. Here you can read minutes of the meetings between Ken Clarke and Eddie George. Read them and marvel at the fullness and length of the economic review which the Governor delivers to the Chancellor. Sympathise when the Governor says it is not easy to put all this information together. Or you can electronically nip over to the Foreign Office and see a picture of that nice Douglas Hurd visiting Estonia, or look at the most recent speech given by the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, one Jonathan Aitken, on March 22nd 1995. Open it may be, up-to-date it isn’t. Anthony Barber didn’t feature, but I’ll bet it was a close thing.
www.whitehouse.gov-Despite my earlier strictures about the American domination of the Internet-the main site for the US federal government is definitely worth a visit. It is stacked with information and statistics about government activities, grant programmes, regulations and the like, but you can also tour the White House, meet the Clintons and even their cat, Socks, who says “miaow!” And if you’ve ever wanted an aerial photograph of your street, or the country estate, stay tuned to the CIA’s home page. On it it has announced that it is declassifying and putting up for sale a whole heap of photographs taken by its spy satellites.
www.bbc.co.uk-Westminster on-line helpfully provides a list of all known e-mail addresses for MPs. So far we have 19, and counting. When Parliament is open the site provides a range of other political information too.
www.diamond.idbsu.ed/gas-If late-20th century politics on the Net is getting too much for you, why not step back an age and visit the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive. It’s looking for help with completing the collection, but the stuff it hasn’t got I’d never heard of.
You are taken ill in a foreign country. You are convinced it is something serious, but your grasp of the local language is not up to technical descriptions of your condition. If you’re lucky, a telephone call back home to your GP or a medical acquaintance may (or may not) help set your mind at rest, but this may not be possible. Meanwhile you are in a blind panic, and this is not helping you get better. That’s what happened to me this summer.
Step forward the Internet. Within 30 minutes of discovering the name of the illness (Bell’s Palsy) which had turned me into a passable double for Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame I had also discovered it was caused by a virus, was not a stroke, and would almost certainly go away within 4-6 weeks. I was also able to confirm from one of the many medical databases in cyberspace that the treatment prescribed by the doctor who had attended me accorded with current UK medical practice-somehow this too was reassuring.
I began my quest for information about Bell’s Palsy by just typing those words into the search facility on my web browser (Netscape). The amount of information which came back was overwhelming. It seemed preoccupied with discussing the various things which could go wrong-not what I wanted to hear. In the end I found that in-house medical databases fitted the bill much better. Someone had edited the information and provided it in a compact readable format. It cost a few dollars, but it was worth it to discover that drinking alcohol would not prevent recovery. At least I think that’s what it said. n