Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shh... it's planning season at Stafford Friends of the Earth

Tuesday night I went to help the Stafford group plan their activities for the year ahead.



This might not look like the notes from a coherent discussion ... but trust me, it was ace. It looks like the group's priorities for the next six months are (in approximate order)
  • The Bee Cause: sorting out some wildflower planting, inviting their MP's along to lobby for a national Bee Action Plan, promoting workshops with Bridget Strawbridge
  • Energy Bill: collecting signatures for the decarbonisation amendment, hopefully lobbying their MP's about this face-to-face
  • Local Plan: working with other groups to respond to the Council consultation.
Also, gratifyingly, there were nine (nine!) people there for the meeting. What a lovely way to start the year.

If you're interested in resources for planning your group's activities for 2013 together - whether it's Friends of the Earth or something else - check out this How To Plan Ahead resource. Open source organizing at its finest (and no, I didn't write it).

Monday, January 28, 2013

Six steps to must-see, creative, interactive online content

Last year, I wrote some guidance for people responsible for promoting discussion spaces for particular issues on Friends of the Earth's Campaign Hubs. I think it stands up pretty well whether you're thinking about a website, a Facebook page, or a blog like this one. 


So, I've rewritten it slightly to make it more universal and presented it below. Like any guidance, it's a work in progress, so do let me know if you have any thoughts.

Step one – What is your site or space trying to do?

 
If you can answer the question ‘what would I like to happen if I could talk with 50 friends in a room interested in my issue?’, then you probably know what you’d like to do with your online space. 


It’s useful to be able to translate this into some general content aims - you may even want to create more detailed objectives depending on how serious you are.

For example, I don't have a detailed plan for this blog, other than use it as a space to write and promote my writing - but I have made significant strides in bottoming this out a bit in these posts earlier this month (see Auditing My Blog part one and part two)

Step two - Easy wins for getting your site space going

 
Post often
 

To get the momentum going you should be aiming to post at least two or three times a week. This is consistent with research on growing social media. If it's timely content - i.e. your latest news - then so much the better.

Don't reinvent the wheel
 

If you're stuck for time for adding new posts, just link to stuff you've written for other purposes - you have anyway. If you're in my line of work, you might take advantage of that regular flow of press-releases, campaign actions, new publications, photos, videos etc. that you either create or that crosses your desk. 

For example, here's a photo of a stunt I took part in for our climate campaign in November. Why I didn't post it here at the time, who can say?


The fact that you've created something new - even if it's just a terrible pun - is worth telling your contacts about.

Ensure you're not infringing copyright or privacy, or inadvertently sharing things that aren't yours to share. 

Potentially identify at least 1 or 2 other people who can help
 

Whether friends, guest posters, other staff, local group members or office volunteers, this stops your site looking like a one-person show and takes the burden off you, even if it's intended as a very personal site or space.

For example, I'm in the process of sorting out a week of guest blogs, Room 101 style, on things people would like to see expunged from their lives. Like, er, sporks.
 

Step Three – Ask people to check your site or space out
 

If you’re getting content up onto your space, then chances are you’ll want to tell people about it and encourage them to check it out. So, link to it from Facebook, from Twitter, pass it around e-mail networks or get it linked from other sites.

Not forgetting of course word of mouth – tell people about how awesome what you work on and write is!

Step Four – Encourage sharing


This is possibly too much sharing

Getting a group of people to contribute is the basic building block of online networking, helping to create communities of practice - networks of mutual learning, support and action.

So, for example, start discussions! If you were working on a campaign you could ask people to: feed back their experiences; how many petition signatures they obtained; how their lobby went; and many other questions besides.
 

Alternatively, start a photo or video thread asking people to submit their photos, of stunts, say. Almost everyone is a potential photographer these days, with access to stand-alone digital cameras as well as camera-phones. Adding a photo or linking a video from a post is not only an easy win, but provides unique, exciting content.

Step Five – “Conversation is king – content is just something to talk about” (Cory Doctorow)
 

After sharing, the next step in building that community of practice is conversation. ‘Talking shop’ builds trust, facilitates the exchange of ideas, and inspires and supports others.
 

For example, sharing your latest policy initiative, press release or politico-cultural musings is valuable in itself, but if you want more people to interact with what you’re telling them, then make it more engaging. Top or tail it with some personal commentary – let them see the woman or man behind the paperwork.


Planning is fun and attractive! Honest...

Bear in mind also that conversation is a two-way process. Ask people for their thoughts and opinions. Encourage them to ask you questions.
 

Simple netiquette is also important to bring the community together. Every discussion forum worth its salt has an introduction thread where people can introduce themselves and be welcomed. And even a blog or Facebook page can approximate this function through open discussion threads. 

And a healthy online community actively thanks people for their contributions.
 

Step Six – Problem-solving and crowd-sourcing

If people are sharing, in conversation with each other and trust and personal connections have been built up, then many of the prerequisites for solving problems together are met.


So, post questions and ask for help! These could be problems to solve, requests for instant feedback on a suggestion, even a little crowdsourcing of ideas for a campaign. That you are taking risks and asking users for their opinions – will encourage others to do likewise.


That's all for now

But if you've got any good examples of the above that have worked for you, or other tips that you think I've missed, please comment. And thank you for commenting. :-)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Terrorizer: take a stronger stand on racism

One of the things that puzzles me about metal is the willingness in magazines and blogs to give certain musicians' decidedly unsavory political opinions a pass. 

To be clear - I don't believe you have to take an explicitly political position when you're writing about music. Even for me, someone who lives and breathes the bigger picture, at least seven or eight times out of ten it's superfluous.

But an apolitical stance has consequences  when it means you can't - or won't - keep artists' self-serving cant or the indirect promotion of hate speech out of your pages. 

Let's take the interview in Terrorizer #231 with Metatron from pagan metal project The Wolves of Avalon, on the reissue of their Carrion Crows Over Camlann album. 



Terrorizer is the perfect example of the "I'm listening to the music not the politics" position: it'll run articles and reviews on anyone from, say, Cattle Decapitation on the left to Burzum on the right. 

If it has any ideology at all, it's a live and let live rugged individualism and respect for the artist. Perhaps too much respect, as I've previously observed.

And I'm going to be careful here to say that Metatron from the Wolves isn't racist either - he's on record in other interviews as making this very clear. If anything it seems like his personal politics are secondary to his spirit of provocation.  

But - and here's where the problem starts - Carrion Crows Over Camlann features a guest spot from Polish Black Metal artist Rob Darken, whose reputation in the scene might as well as be that Nazi racist Rob Darken

Although to be fair to Rob, he doesn't call himself a Nazi, he just possesses what 'most people would call extreme right-wing National Socialist convictions.'  

Er....

The point of this distinction eludes me, at any rate.   

So how does Faye Coulman for Terrorizer report this?
"Shocked fans and critics alike condemned this questionable collaboration."
Good so far..
"But as the mists of confusion and media hysteria began to lift in the months that followed, increasing attention around this undeniably blistering full-length soon warranted a reissue."
[Headdesk] 

If you can't beat 'em, dismiss them as confused hysterics, eh?

This sets the tone nicely for Metatron to embark on a series of dubious arguments for the inclusion of Darken on the record.
 “Over the years, I think Rob has distanced himself from the daft things I think he's said in the past.”
If anyone can point me towards a sincere recantation, I'll gladly rewrite this piece. Google, however, says no.
But I believe that he once said some pretty naughty things about Jews because national socialist black metal is basically anti-Semitic.”
Note to Metatron: naughty is how you describe a kitten that's just 'adorably' clawed your sofa. Anti-semitism and national socialism, not so much.
It's very difficult to understand the Polish mindset on all things like that, because, when the war ended, the West seemed to integrate with all the immigrants that were coming to and fro. But Eastern Europe never had that, so if you go to Poland now, it's pretty much full of Poles and their mindset is difficult to grasp.”
So, supposedly racist Poles should get a pass on being racist, because history? Isn't that a) a trifle insulting to the Poles, b) illogical? c) irrelevant to deciding whether or not to work with Rob Darken?
It's pretty much the mindset we would've had 300 years ago, when that kind of national embodiment of spirit existed.”
Here, Metatron manages to make the Poles and their 'national embodiment of spirit' sound, hey, pretty cool compared to us Brits with our more cosmopolitan, rootless, urban ways. 

Reads to me like a dog-whistle message for cultural conservatives. And that's being generous.

Also, I missed the memo where we were told that we were taking Fichte seriously again. 
But, apart from Rob's inclusion, the Wolves of Avalon and this album are in no way affiliated with all that because it's [the album] in an era that literally predates anti-Semitism.”
No. You could have roped Rob in for a black metal re-imagining of Ice Age and the critics would have still been entitled to call you out for collaborating with him.

By the way, I would pay to see a BM re-imagining of Ice Age, if anyone's reading this. Heck, I'd settle for The Land Before Time. But I digress...

Needless to say, none of  these bogus reasons for deploying the Darken get challenged in the article, although it's hardly difficult to do so.

So, let's recap. 

Try to think of Rob Darken as a small racist matroshka doll. Work with me on this.


Image by Fanghong and used here under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

1. Rob contributes to an album by the Wolves of Avalon - not racist but decidely unwise in their choice of collaborators. 

[places Rob doll inside slightly larger provocative pagan metal WOA doll]

2. The Wolves then attempt to justify themselves in Terrorizer and don't really have a leg to stand on.

[places WOA doll inside the protective metal mutha doll of Terrrorizer]

3. Terrorizer scribe fails to challenge either the decision to include Darken in the first place or the non-arguments being used by the Wolves to defend themselves.

Result: Rob Darken and hate speech are brought more within the pale of what is permissable in metal culture. Everybody loses.

Why this matters?

I'm not sure I even need to say this, but out there in the real world, we have enough of a problem with racism without it being russian-dolled into the pages of Terrorizer. There were 12,711 racist attacks in the UK in 2010/2011 - that's around 35 every day of the year that actually get to court. Never mind the ones that don't get that far or that aren't even reported.

It's not about whether anyone who listens to Rob Darken then goes off to commit hate crimes. It's about whether we are willing to accept the creeping legitimation of racism in our culture which underpins these attacks. And Terrorizer is on sale in W H Smiths so, like it or not, it is hardly as marginal as it might think.

And I'm not saying that racism is a big part of metal life as a whole. It's great that critics and the public did call the Wolves out on their decision to work with Darken. 

So Terrorizer doesn't need to suddenly start consulting Dave Spart on all its editorial policy lines.

It needs to show some journalistic backbone and come off the fence when confronted by prejudice. It needs to realise that sometimes the message outweighs the medium. It needs to challenge the position of bands who might - intentionally or otherwise - be sanitising the far right. It needs not to accept what they say as gospel truth.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Congratu-wub-wub-wub-lations - Cliffstep is a thing

I thought I'd invented the idea of mashing up Cliff and dubstep over Christmas. I was simultaneously disappointed and gratified to discover someone had gotten there first. 

Disappointed to find I wasn't quite a pioneer. Gratified as I wouldn't have gotten any further than singing the chorus of Devil Woman and adding "Wub-wub-wub!"





Thursday, January 24, 2013

Auditing my blog - five tips from Blogging Heroes for improvement

So, having surveyed my blog to date, what does Blogging Heroes recommend me try to increase my readership?


1. Share your experience, expertise and insight in your line of work

I have to confess, I've held back a little from this, if only because Friends of the Earth has sufficient official channels for communication that I didn't want to muddy the waters. But ... it's the advice from Chris Anderson in Blogging Heroes that's stuck with me here. 


Chris Anderson (by James Duncan Davidson from Portland, USA)

Despite serving as the Editor in Chief of Wired while writing The Long Tail, he maintained a separate blog for a variety of good reasons. Not least of which that it allowed him to express his own thoughts and ideas independently as opposed to doing so entirely via the collective platform of the magazine. 

Also important: the majority of things that I'd want to write about in relation to my work wouldn't necessarily be covered through official channels - the joys of playing around with social media, the art of grassroots organisation, despatches from the frontline of environmental and social justice campaigning around the Midlands. 

This is something that I'm relatively uniquely positioned to comment on, as opposed to, say, the joys of the Hobbit, which I enjoy doing but make me only one voice among many. This can be the USP of the blog.

Finally, there's the argument that everyone working for an organisation should be blogging about their work anyway if they feel the calling - if it works for Microsoft as a form of advocacy, then why shouldn't I?

So, I'm still going to post about films, books and anything else that interests me, but stuff I encounter through work is going to be woven in there too. Above all else, I'll follow my passions.

2. Go to other blogs and sources, engage in discussion with them, link to them. Specifically, I'm going to:
  • Do Follow Friday on Twitter
  • Review and recommend some of my favourite blogs (once a month, say)
  • Set-up a blog reading list on my dashboard (I read a lot of blogs but I don't do this)
  • Add a blogroll of links to the side of my blog.
This might all seem fairly self-evident, but a confession: I've never been that great at the whole mutual promotion thing. This is not the post for putting myself on the couch, so I'll acknowledge that I could get a whole lot better at this and move on.

3. Write lots of posts in one go and schedule them over a period of several weeks. 

I'm doing this now - the weekend of the 20 and 21st of Jan, as @rae102011 and I are, if not quite snowbound, more or less stuck in the house unless we want to get snowed on. What else is there to do, now that we've watched the Lion King, save to write, cook and eat?

Some of these posts - like the Storification of HMV's bankruptcy or my report from the Birmingham anti-cuts meeting - have quite a short currency. Others, like my investigation of Cliff-step, the new musical movement which is sweeping the nation, could be dropped in any time or bumped forward if inspiration strikes in the interim,

But this means that I'll - hopefully - have a treasury of posts built up for leaner times. Daily posting is something to aspire to, even if you don't manage it consistently.

4. Get feedback!

Asking people for ideas, thoughts and drollery is something Blogging Heroes' interviewees recommend pretty consistently.And the most successful sequence of posts I've ever run with were the ones for the Butcher Babies caption competition

So, remembering that asking people a question rounds off a post nicely, but also could be a post in its own right could be a really good idea.

5.Tweeting smart and other self-promotion

A good friend (Hi @onlystephan) reported that the best response he ever got for one of his blog posts was because he proactively @tted the corporate subject of his post in a tweet. I haven't really gone out of my way to do targetted promotion like this, but if done judiciously I think I might be quite a good strategy to try. 

So, there you have my five point strategy for ramping up my blog this year - wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Auditing my blog - my top ten posts

This week just gone, I've been revisiting Blogging Heroes by Michael A Banks. It's a swift, helpful set of interviews with some of the world's most-read, most prolific bloggers with lots of helpful advice for those people like me who are ... not quite in that league, to put it mildly.


I've drawn on its advice to do a very helpful audit of my blog; while I keep it mainly as an ongoing exercise in writing and collecting my thoughts, I would like it to gain a broader readership than at present and begin to cover aspects of my professional life as well as my personal interests.

After all, when I sit down and think about it I do have a pretty awesome job helping to support a wonderful environmental volunteer movement.

Tune in tomorrow for the advice I took from Blogging Heroes, but here's the current state of play.

The state of play

Last year I managed a grand total of 72 posts - an average of one post every five days or so. Typically each post gets between 5 and 20 views, and at least 2 or 3 of those views are probably me.

Occasionally, I do a little better, and here's my top 10 most-viewed posts since the blog began. Amusingly, if you google Butcher Babies poster I'm in the first page of Google results, which perhaps explains why I got 9 new views of a six-month old post over the past month.

97
97
85
81
69
65
64
64
57
39
 So, that's:
  • Four posts about metal (and the gender politics thereof)
  • One piece of creative writing
  • One promoting a Valentine's fundraiser I was involved in
  • Three bits of general cultural/political musing
  • One personal update
 What they have (broadly) in common are:
  • Some of my better writing
  • Photos
  • An explicit invitation to comment ... or at least an opinion to challenge
  • Original content
  • Have often been retweeted or Facebook-liked at least once
 Other types of posts which haven't cropped up in the Top 10
  • Videos (I've been running a video of the week feature since November of last year)
  • Recipes
  • Photos
  • Storifications
  • Film and book reviews (generally SF, fantasy, arthouse)
  • Examining social media and online tools in my campaigning or personal life.
  • Round-ups of links, news etc
Some of these are good for as external memory, as opposed to necessarily must read posts. But, those are the kind that I don't tend to Facebook, Tweet or send around e-mail lists, in any case. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Obama commits to action on climate in inaugural address

With thanks to @chilledasad100 for the tip-off.
Thoughts?

"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.

But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.

That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."


 Image copyright the Obama-Biden Transition Project

Monday, January 21, 2013

Environmental groups should support anti-cuts coalitions

See first  It’s Time To Shut The City Down” – Packed Meeting Vows To Fight Council Cuts from Birmingham Against The Cuts.

Plus - for added context - tweet by tweet report from @BrumProtestor

I could only attend for about an hour and fifteen minutes of the two and a half hour meeting, but I'd gone along to pursue my survey of signs of hope for the future in 2013.  

First up, the turnout. I'd seen 180 positive replies on Facebook, so I'd gone expecting a good number of people but know from personal experience that you can't always rely on FB -RSVP's. I was very pleasantly surprised to see a packed meeting of 100-150 people.

I recognised some of the usual suspects - student activists, trade unionists, socialists, clerics  - but even to get these people in a room together in numbers is promising. And with the numbers of attendees the meeting had, there had to be a fair proportion of the unaffiliated and curious, like me.

Second, the quality of the conversation. More often than not, it was a meeting guided by radical realism, by tactical considerations and by an awareness that in a city the size of Birmingham the support of a lot more than 150 people was required

And the conversation had solid conclusions at its end – not only "there will be a demonstration and lobbying of the Labour Group on the 4th February when they meet to agree internally their budget proposals. Further to that will be a demonstration and direct action day on the budget day itself, which will either be at a special council meeting at the end of February, or at the usual council meeting in March."

...but the creation of a long-term strategy working group among many set-up that night.

It's my opinion that local enviromental groups should definitely be involved in supporting the legal actions of anti-cuts campaigns. There's the obvious threat to cuts to environmental services to oppose, but we should also bear in  mind that other cuts may affect the ability of communities to make green choices. For example, they may mean  people having to travel further to access council facilities.

Then there's the danger that environmental considerations will go hang in decision-making processes like planning given the need to save-save-save. Finally, there's the ethical duty to act in solidarity with suffering - we cannot save the planet if we're not standing up for the rights of others.

It would be great if staff and volunteers in The Warehouse - a wider cross-section of groups than just Friends of the Earth - could come out in solidarity with some of these upcoming actions.

Looking at the matter more strategically, the challenges for the anti-cuts movement seem to be to build on a short-term consensus and a) develop and enact a medium term strategy for broadening the movement and staving off the cuts as well as b) decide how to be the change - how to transform society for the better now. I found the level of honesty about this at the meeting gratifying.  

Perhaps what we need at this juncture is a highfalutin' conversation about the future. But what we want is also for our short-term needs to be met. And that's where the link between challenging political decisions politically and bettering people's lives now must be struck.

Postscript: there appears to be no anti-cuts platform in Cannock Chase at the moment - the presence of the food bank in the Methodist Church down the road attests to the fact that austerity is biting there too. Perhaps this is something for me to look into?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Video of the week: The Art of Noise - Close to the Edit

It's rare that you'll find a video which acts as a perfect expression of a band's aesthetic, but it's unsurprising that The Art of Noise - a band that had pop theorist Paul Morley as a member and chief ideologue - is one of them.


In a post-industrial wasteland, a deserted railway station, classical instruments are destroyed by demolition tools, wielded by a trio of sinister figures and overseen by a small child. All in time to crushing mid-80's synth beats. It's the filmic equivalent of musique concrete gone pop, which was what early AON were all about.

Props to director and proper serious film-maker Zbigniew Rybczy.

Although apparently, as the following quote from Morley shows, the band didn't like it, which shows what I know.

"Sometimes you had video art directors get excited about how they were going to present Art of Noise, and in that particular case, he interpreted it as a strange young girl with Huey Lewis & The News. Half of it was fun and half of it was slightly sad."

And for a bonus Art of Noise video, here's Paranoimia, featuring the unique vocal stylings of Max Headroom - the world's first computer generated TV personality. :-)

 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

William Gladstone: the Batman of nineteenth century politics.


Think about it  - he's the serious going-on grim scion of a family of wealthy industrialists, who stalks the night trying to fight crime persuade sex workers to reform, who receives little or no thanks for his life's work as a grim avenger of the night four-times Prime Minister. 

Benjamin Disraeli was more the Adam West-era Batman of nineteenth century politics - there was a man who knew how to have a good time.



And the Duke of Wellington was, of course... 



the Iron Man of the Regency period. 

Any more convoluted assignment of superheroes/villains to major Victorian figures most welcome. Karl Marx as Magneto, anyone?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Recipewatch: Cheese and onion pie and onion gravy



This weekend we made Rach's family cheese & potato pie (see above) with honey roasted vegetables and my favourite onion gravy recipe. Very tasty, even if we do say so ourselves.

The cheese did provide enough sauce, so the gravy was then combined with left over pastry to make mini-tartlets. Nom!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Round-up: job centre flash-mobs and saving Newcastle's libraries

Via The Atlantic

"To cheer up the crowd at a one of the country's very full unemployment offices, Spanish radio program Carne Cruda 2.0 organized a flash mob of musicians to come and play a version a version of the Beatles classic "Here Comes the Sun." Just try not to feel moved." 



Via Coalition of Resistance report of mass public meeting against threatened closure of 10 of 18 libraries in Newcastle. Stand out quote from Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall.

 “We do not have a right to stand by and let them do this. These things have been fought for tooth and nail for generations and generations … by little pit laddies in the dark and all those generations of people who were exploited by commerce, who were deprived the right to read and learn and share the very basic things of life that are just normal for the rich and cultured."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Storifying my away days with work earlier this week

An interesting experiment with Storify at my staff away days earlier this week. It's interesting to see how people respond or don't respond to an initial Twitter prompt. Absence of smartphone, reluctance to editorialise? Hmmm

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Video of the week - Supermen Lovers: Starlight

The track is a piece of guilty pleasure mid-90's disco, the video is a marvellous bit of animation with a surprisingly great narrative about the pitfalls of the music industry on this and other planets.


All the Man wants is the same old skeletons in sombreros.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review: with great Hobbit film comes great excitability

I did not have particularly high hopes for The Hobbit; the division of the book into yet another trilogy did not bode well. Advance word on the frame rate also raised the prospect that we might be disappointed by the FX - something that you'd think Peter Jackson would have absolutely nailed after the Lord Of The Rings films.

And so it was that I went on my ... ah... expected journey into the cinema with middling expectations at best, and found myself very pleasantly surprised. And, so @rae102011 informs me, I grinned like an excitable child throughout the entire film.



All the usual Jacksonian virtues are in place - excellent script-writing, a first-rate cast, spectacular effects (frame rate, pah!), New Zealand landscapes - and combine to create something unabashedly epic. Most action films I see these days tend to undercut their heroic dimension with a hefty side-order of irony or self-deconstructing humour. The Hobbit, like the Rings films before it, is curiously old-fashioned in its refusal to apologize for or undermine its epic status.

The new casting is excellent - Martin Freeman is well-cast as Bilbo and equally convinces as the English country gentle-hobbit and the reluctant action hero. His face-off with Gollum is a tour-de-force by him and Andy Serkis and the heart of the film.

Richard Armitage manages to capture the twin dimensions of Thorin - the guerilla warlord his followers would go with into the jaws of death and the way his bravery and pride undercut his competence as a leader. Seriously, I can see why Gandalf chooses to hang out with hobbits.

We're still having difficulty pinning character traits onto all the dwarves, but that's an even bigger problem in the book*

The additional material the writers have added generally amplifies what's already provided by Tolkien rather than feeling like an ungainly modern graft. So, Thorin gets a backstory and an orcish nemesis in hot pursuit to add underlying tension to their travels across Middle Earth; Radagast provides additional comic relief; and the appearance of Galadriel and Saruman for an impromptu Council of the Wise at Rivendell serves to reinforce the maverick and marginal status of Thorin's mission to the Lonely Mountain.

There's the odd flourish too many - the battle under the Goblin Mountain is like Moria stacked on top of the Temple of Doom on top of the Goonies in some crazed attempt to topple the very gods themselves, but it's so endearingly deranged that I'm half tempted to forgive it.

They have Bilbo pick up on exactly the same notion of everyday heroism that I did when providing a quote for my employers on the Hobbit in the summer of last year. He goes questing for excitement, but also and more importantly to give the dwarves what he has but they lack - a home. And Bilbo does this despite his lack of experience and self-confidence, because he understands this as a moral imperative.

In short: Peter Jackson knows what he's doing, as ever. Go see.

*The merchant one; the one who looks like a Warhammer Troll Slayer; the Jimmy Genghis Nesbit one; the devilishly handsome Being Human one; the glutton; the other young one; the mystic and the slighly pathetic one with the catapult. Sigh, only 8 out of 11 dwarves identified. FAIL.

I should be using this handy flowchart from Wired to identify my dwarves, it seems.