A snapper up of unconsidered trifles

By | 9th June 2010

Autolycus, in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is described as a roguish peddler, vagabond and pickpocket who steals the Clown’s purse, pilfers a lot, but ultimately helps the lovers Perdita and Florizel to escape. Autolycus describes himself as a “snapper up of unconsidered trifles” – a description that can be applied to me as I squirrel away bits and pieces of news, seemingly unimportant snatches of overheard conversations and random observations of what is going on around me, just in case they may prove useful at some later stage.

One of the more recent trifles I snapped up concerned the developing horrors as a result of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China. There are reports of landslides, earthquakes, mysterious cracks in the roads as well as the fact that the local government says that 300,000 more people will have to be moved in addition to the already mind boggling 1.4 million already evicted to make way for the dam to say nothing about the farmland, villages and pagodas already submerged beneath the waters.

In fact it was not so much what was said about this developing ecological disaster but the description of the person saying it which caught my eye. Huang Lu, 64, (why is a person’s age considered relevant to his comment or indeed in the vast majority of news reports?) was described as an itinerant seller of cigarettes and sex potions along the river.

I do not mean in any way to denigrate what Huang Lu does for a living and he is entitled to his view as much as the next man (or woman), but it is an unconsidered trifle that his job description made it into this gruesome report. I have to say, however, that on this occasion his views were trumped by his occupation!

Sundays are all the better for the tenacity of the journalists who unearth these “trifles” and turn them into something more considered.

Under the heading ‘Napoleon’ Sarkozy pushes Paris to the sea, Matthew Campbell in the Sunday Times of May 30th reported that the French President is seeking to emulate the expansionary vision of his equally vertically challenged predecessor as Head of State and create a marine metropolis stretching from Paris to Le Havre. I am not sure what the inhabitants of North Western France will think of that or whether the upheavals along the Seine will be on a scale similar to those on the Yangtze River, but it probably does not matter any more there than it did to the authorities in China, given the French planning laws which appear to be drafted with only developers in mind. When it is a matter of a huge nationalistic project, pour La France, the people come second.

At least they are open about this sort of thing in France. Things are very different in North Korea. My old university chum, Sue Lloyd Roberts, recently presented reports on Newsnight and in the Sunday Times from that benighted country which appears to have taken 1984 to extremes the likes of which Orwell never dreamed. During an interview with Ri Ki-Song, the economic adviser to the government in Pyongyang, Sue was told that North Korea had “reached new heights of economic achievement”.

Wryly, Sue commented that the blackout which followed hard on the heels of this surprising statement, described as one of the city’s daily power cuts “might have cast a shadow on the country’s “new heights of economic achievement””. Certainly the spirit of Edward Heath and the 1970s hovers over Pyongyang! And despite his public persona, I had never thought of Sir Edward as Dear Leader!

If these items are unconsidered trifles, what can we make of reports that Facebook’s time in the sun is beginning to end just as some companies are getting to grips with the phenomenon which is social networking. Facebook has reportedly taken on board increasing criticism that it makes available all too readily material which its adherents would prefer to keep secret. The social networking industry is not going to disappear overnight or any time soon but while newspapers (sometimes) report only what their interviewees tell them, social media is often a shade cavalier with what it allows others to read.

Google is also in trouble over its retention of data on individuals. This is proving to be a difficult time for Google with claims in the US that the company harvested wi-fi data in Oregon just as it had done in Germany where it had got into trouble for so doing. The street view service used cars and cameras travelling along streets taking photographs and whereas action against the company in Germany for breach of data privacy laws is one thing, moving the whole thing into the jurisdiction of the US State or even the Federal Courts may prove to be something completely different, to coin a phrase.

We live in interesting times. They are also fast moving and the developments in e-discovery have been chronicled here previously and, if you missed it, you can access the “All you need to know… ” material from the right hand side of this page.

It seems that the world outside this, to some, arcane area is also moving on apace. The watchwords to be applied in the world of e-discovery as much as in the wider world are openness, transparency, cooperation and are directly opposed to wilful ignorance, apathy and disregard for the truth.

If, like some MPs and even Coalition Ministers, you don’t get it right, you will come unstuck either at the bar of world opinion or in court.

With that kind of disregard for your own well-being, your departure from the scene could be rather like that of Antigonus, in that memorable stage direction from the Winter’s Tale –

Exit, pursued by a bear.