Monday, December 26, 2005

Blunt instrument

A man called Abu Baker Mansha has been convicted of conspiring to kill or harm an off-duty soldier in order to make a telling Islamicist point.

All of this in the same week that President Ahmadinejad is banning Western music from Iranian radio. Apparently the 'easy-listening' genre will be particularly hard hit by this purge.

James Blunt's combination of a military and ... er ... musical record may make his next tour problematic. I also don't think it would be fair to the staff at Woolworths to insist that they stock his next release, do you?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

7/7 public enquiry? Blogging as therapy?

Rachel from North London was one of the people who was caught up in the London bombings last summer. Her blog digs around a lot of the issues - those of forgiveness and attempting to understand what happened - why it happened, and reflections on the 'victimhood'.

She posted a on December the 14th supporting calls for a public enquiry about 7th July bombings. I've disagreed with her in the comments thread if you're interested. But, among her many posts (and I think she is one of the most prolific bloggers I've come across for a while), she links to a piece about blogging as therapy.

"About one-half of bloggers (48.7%) keep a blog because it serves as a form of therapy, and 40.8% say it helps them keep in touch with family and friends. Just 16.2% say they are interested in journalism, and 7.5% want to expose political information. Few see blogging as their ticket to fame."

I'm surprised no-one answered that, if they didn't blog, they'd probably go out and throttle some one who has a deep-seated need to be throttled.

Tumbleweed

More on the Radio 4's 'Today' programme 'Who Runs Britain' discussion (see NTaH passim here here and here).

Judy (Adloyada) notes Amanda Platel protesting that the press aren't as powerful as they seem.

But they are a lot more powerful than they should be. And there is a sizeable lobby that would like to quietly create a situation in which they were even more powerful.

Now, dear visitor, how many times have you been to this blog? If the answer is 'more than once' you will have probably have read a posting about my fears for representative democracy and the rise of 'direct democracy'.

There are a least a dozen such posts (in nine months) on this subject. I don't think any of them have ever had their comment boxes darkened. I never hear anyone actually disagreeing with my views on this when pushed. But I never read anyone else saying similar things either.

Am I....

a) A lone voice for sanity?
b) A monomaniac fuckwit?

When I started this blog, I was hoping to get a discussion going on a subject that worries many of the people I speak to.

Should I just stick to Football in future?

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm prepared to argue that people who advocate more direct forms of democracy are a greater threat to liberal democracies than a bunch of religious fanatics who have control of a load of passenger aeroplanes over Manhattan.

There. Now, for the love of Jaysus, tell me if I've lost the plot or not. Please?

(... and Radio 4 had the cheek to run a piece saying that Bloggers run the country today! Well, this one certainly doesn't. But if he did, there'd be a few blindfolds and final fags handed out, let me tell you...)

, , , , .

Constituency, Party, Concience.

Political parties want their members to keep their views to themselves. We've known this for a long time, but it is being foregrounded by the fact that a growing number of party hacks now have their own websites.

One Lib Dem has just had his membership revoked. Quoting from the letter from party HQ:

“The main arguments in favour of the motion related to postings on your website and letters to the press regarded as illiberal & irreconcilable with membership of the Party.”

The whole story is here. (via Tim Worstall)

Elsewhere, Gareth Davies, a Labour councilor in Durham had his candidature reviewed in the light of his (largely loyal) weblog.

“the Regional Party insisted I be re-interviewed for the local government panel this December because I was viewed by some county party members as a 'loose cannon'.”

Again, the rest is here.

I know I've referred to this before, but it is worth saying it again; Roy Hattersley's is absolutely right in his formulation on the responsibility that an elected representative bears to their political party. Once elected, they must represent their constituents, their Party and their concience in no particular order.

The same must surely also be true of rank-and-file members? Any sensible observer knows that (beyond the world of socialist realism) political parties are an alliance of competing interest groups. If parties continue to try to pretend otherwise (and bloggers will make it increasingly impossible to do so), they will look more and more ridiculous.



Short of Xmas cheer? Well, Tim Worstall's comment box is probably filling up with a debate about 'being sacked for illiberalism.'

Why not check, just to be sure? Ho Ho Ho.

Tags: , , , .

Seasonal

Want to wreak vengence on Amazon and listen to the best Xmas song ever? Then visit this page.

Then watch 'Barcode Jesus'

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Presidential?

More on 'Who Runs Britain?':

Oliver Kamm says:

"Complaints of the accretion of prime ministerial power are nothing new. Forty years ago Richard Crossman maintained that “the post-war epoch has seen the final transformation of Cabinet government into Prime Ministerial government”. This was nonsense then and is nonsense now.

Discussions of the power of the executive relative to other branches of government and other institutions make little sense apart from the character of the office holders. It so happens that two of the last three prime ministers have been singularly successful, for better or worse, at dominating their respective parties. This had little to do with the power of office or the size of government majority, but was related to the sway that each personality had within the party system and the Commons.

Consider a wider historical perspective. Britain has had ten prime ministers since 1945, not counting Tony Blair. Only three held office for longer than five years, while the outstanding counterexample, Mrs Thatcher, was removed from office by her colleagues with such ruthlessness that it has caused ructions within the Conservative Party ever since.

The Prime Minister has a contingent and sometimes precarious constitutional position in which he is unable to direct policy on his own and may face vitriolic public criticism. Tony Blair has dominated the political scene for so long first because of the political weakness of the Old Labour cause that he supplanted, and secondly because the Conservative Party has for well over a decade declined to behave like either a party of government or a serious Opposition."


I think Oliver is ignoring something here. The massive change wrought by the emerging power - and omnipresence - of the media. Of course, this brings a sharper focus on the Prime Minster, resulting in a Presidential outcome. But, more importantly, it has provided the PM with the means and ability to control policy across departments.

Joe Haines, Bernard Ingham and Alistair Campbell must surely provide a highly visible peice of evidence for this? And this modern tendancy towards presidentialism is very distinct from way that the PM was a player in previous governments. I remember John Cole's story of how he got an interview with Atlee by ...

a) finding out that the PM would be driving (alone!) along a road (in Ulster!!!)
b) waiting and flagging him down, getting in the car and conducting the interview*

I doubt if Prime Minsters can be effective today unless the character (that Oliver alludes to) is one that will take advantage of the change brought about by the increased power of the media.

That John Major or Ted Heath hadn't the strength and confident backing of their party makes the point all the more strongly - and that they were both ultimately undone by a faction (Mrs T's faction in both cases!) that understood the importance of an agressive approach to media relations.

Moreover, if there is one minor criticism I'd make of Oliver's wider perspective (particularly the 'muscular liberalism' adopted by a wide section of the thinking left), it is that I'm not as confident as he is that politicians are ever allowed the luxury of doing the right thing for the right reasons.

I like the outcomes - don't get me wrong. Elections in Iraq, an increasingly settled Afghanistan, a positive intervention in Sierra Leonne and so on.

But an individual Prime Ministers' character has little to do with it. The British constitutional settlement (that shadowy set of wires and levers) tends to often provide situtations in which Prime Ministers are able to assert themselves with confidence. It will also find people that will do this, and appoint them as Prime Minister.

And that is proof of a structural tendancy towards Presidentialism in this country. On balance, I'd say it is regrettable.

*this is a half-remembered anecdote from John Coles' biog - I read it years ago, but don't have access to it now to fact check. But you get the point, don't you?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fracas in North Finchley

Apropos of the previous post, anyone visiting Waterstones in North Finchley should hurry to get a copy of Tim's excellent book, containing a few paras from yours truly.

Be quick though. I only managed to sign a few of them yesterday before they rumbled me and called the rozzers.

Oxymoron

I'm in the mood for a rant. Rants aren't always entirely fair, but they are cathartic, and they sometimes contain a grain of truth. So here is today's rant.

I'm not sure if Tim Worstall and I are from the same part of the political spectrum, but I identify with his general view that the term 'civil service' is something of an oxymoron in this country.

While it is hard for me, as a socialist (cue; self important pose) to agree with his view (in an older posting) that "there is never a situation so bad that bad Government action can’t make it worse", I'd be happy to negotiate. I'd replace the term 'bad Government action' with 'British Civil Service'."

I rarely see a newspaper article that states the obvious on this - how low the quality of service the public can expect from senior civil servants. BBC Radio 4's Today programme is running a feature entitled 'Who Runs Britain' - something I've posted about before. As far as I can see, they have no plans to include The Civil Service as a candidate. Yet this is precisely who runs the country.

Our 'generalists' who are 'independent' and 'impartial'.

Let me rephrase that.

Our amateurs who don't give a damn about how well the country is run because Politicians will always take the blame, so that when they bugger the country up, the voters demand a change of government and vote in a new one, the same people can continue to bugger the country up with impunity.

The political ecology of this country means that these people are above criticism. The government won't criticise them because their opponents will ensure that it is shifted onto a political plane. Similarly, the opposition will always seek to characterise bureaucratic incompetence as a political failing.

I suspect where Tim and I diverge, is that - rather than arguing for smaller government and an increased role for other sectors, I'd make the bastards eat their own dogfood. I'd state-fund political parties. Get them to develop their own rival bureaucracies and make elections meaningful. In Tim's fine book, he has kindly included a piece of mine dealing with the incompetent and self-interested way that IT procurement is done.

There is a widespread view that the problem here is that the Civil Service need to learn more about how to deal with the private sector (the underlying assumption being that the private sector will be more efficient, effective and bidable).

I think that the real problem is that - far from exposing the public sector to competition, oursourcing simply allows them to find an external scapegoat for their own incompetence.

Parkinson's Law is fairly clear on this: Bureaucracies don't shrink - no matter what you do, they will continue to grow. I'd suggest that the kind of 'in and out' system that they have in France or the US would, at least mean that they had some pressure to behave reasonably.

Next time you hear one of our Sir Humphrey types eulogising the impartiality of 'the hidden wiring of our constitution', think on it.

Think on.

ps: This rant is entirely aimed at senior civil servants. In my own experience, whenever I dig around a piece of civil carelessness, you find a dedicated and hardworking individual who has been systematically defeated by their management. Lions led by donkeys. I repeat something buried in a previous posting: I'd like to see a Labour government do to this lot what the Tories did to the NUM.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Does the US run Britain?

On this mornings 'Today' programme, they discussed 'Who runs Britain'. They've discussed a number of possibilities so far, and this morning, the candidate was 'The United States.'

A variety of explanations were showcased, including

  • The power of US corporations,
  • the US control of the Nuclear deterrent,
  • the 'Americanisation' of politics (presidential politics, the proliferation of lobbyists),
  • the fact that our cleverest thinkers are attracted over the pond to better paid jobs
  • the personal 'special relationship' (Thatcher / Reagan, Bush / Blair etc)
  • our ability to influence US politics means that a convergence is in the UK's interest

Charles Powell was more relaxed that I would be about the influence of the US. He concurred strongly with the last of the bullet points (above) - that we leverage our influence and it effects our positions accordingly.

But he also took the view that the UK agreed with the US about Iraq - and that it wasn't an instance of the UK being forced to swallow the US line - a view that I'd largely share.

Our own Mark Seddon disagreed, of course. He believed that the UK would become closer to European foreign policy - particularly following an apparent divergence over issues like the alleged plan to bomb Al Jazeera, or a perception that the US is more relaxed about the use of torture in intelligence gathering.

Powell was very interesting though. He explained - almost as an aside - that the links at different departmental (as opposed to ministerial) levels have been very deep for a long time.

While he didn't say it specifically, I think he was disagreeing with Seddon about our prospects of moving closer to Europe. To my ear, Charles Powell’s explanation was very compelling.

And, for those of us that would like to see the UK move closer to our European partners than to the US, I think Powell (inadvertently?) made the case for a more sophisticated politics. One in which politicians – and their independent sources of intelligence and policy-making – will need to be promoted.

The huge conservative power of the civil service in this country is massively underestimated (IMHO) and largely ignored in political debate. It is a shame that the people who make the most noise about radical change spend so long focused on the drama of ‘politics’ as it is presented by Westminster village-bound journalists. On Bush and Blair, rather than Sir Humphrey and the in-and-outers of the Whitehouse.

(You can here this recording for yourself – click on the ‘Listen Again’ link to the 16th December programme on the Who Runs Britain page of the Today programme site)

Dangerous?

Radio 4's consistently excellent 'Analysis' programme is worth a regular visit.

On this week's show, 'Generation Hexed' , David Willetts said:

"What amazes me, to be honest, is how passive the younger generation have been in the face of these social and economic changes. I think that they have made the terrible mistake of walking away from conventional politicians and giving up on us rather than trying to influence the political debate so that the political parties respond to them. All the evidence is that people in their twenties, they’re much more likely to be sort of members of an environmental pressure group than trying to shape the policies of the Conservative or Labour parties. And I think that’s bad all round. It’s certainly bad for conventional politics and I think it’s bad for the younger generation as well.

And the danger is that at some point they find a voice that isn’t incorporated into mainstream politics, but so far that voice has been surprisingly mute."


You can see the whole programme's transcript here.

A few observations:

I know of almost no-one outside of the revolutionary left or right (and they appear to be converging) these days who will make the case against liberal democracy. 'Rational Choice' theorists of the free-market right sometimes prefer market mechanisms to ballots as a way that the public can register 'choice'.

But, broadly, there is a mainstream consensus here.

Similarly, within this consensus, I know of almost nobody who will make the case that Direct Democracy is more attractive than Representative Democracy. Every now and then, people* forget the virtues of Representative Democracy and make crude 'people-power'-type demands - but when challenged, they usually back off and change the subject.

Yet I have only ever heard small handful of high-profile politicians make the case for Representative Democracy. And never in an overt way as part of a message to a younger audience. There appears to be a view that to do so would make them look arrogant.

Am I alone in thinking that this is quite a dangerous situation?

*I'm particularly thinking of Simon Jenkins here.

The right thing to buy for xmas 2005

Mrs NTaH has the opportunity to castrate me any time she likes. So she will be getting an Xmas present that would probably not be described as 'tightfisted.'

Everyone else's gift will fall into the 'pocket-change' price range. And - to cut down on hassle, I usually pick a book, buy a dozen copies, and dish them out to anyone who buys me something.

This year, Orhan Pamuk's 'Snow' will do. I've started reading it, and -as it happens - it looks OK.

But, comrades, Mr Pamuk deserves our solidarity. An upsurge in sales will send the right message.

So make Orhan Pamuk's 'Snow' your default Xmas present. And if you have a blog, tell everyone else to do the same.

A christmas present for the obsessive in your life

Our Seán is putting together a Xmas CD for another Forest fan. He e-mailed a few of us for suggestions.

His initial ideas included the obvious - Paper Lace with the Burns / Gemmill / Robbo / Shilton team singing 'We've Got the Whole World in Our Hands' (and the old Trent End singing our version of 'Mull of Kintyre' as an outro).

Also featured: 'You Lost that Lovin' Feelin' (a current anthem) and 'Land of Hope and Glory' (again, we have a version).

So, with only three songs on the CD, we were stuck. Then Seán suggested 'Sunday Girl' by Blondie (Number One in late May 1979)

He also suggested 'something with Robin Hood in it' though NOT the Bryan Adams one.

Then 'Give him a ball and a yard of grass' by The Sultans of Ping FC was suggested. It's suitable because the singer supports Forest and the title is from a comment by Brian about John Robertson (and the song also includes a reference to The Son of God as well).

Because Phil Chevron of The Pogues is a Forest fan, I suggested 'Thousands are Sailing', but that was dismissed as 'tenuous.'

Colin (someone else in the loop here) suggested 'Please Don't Go' by KWS (a Nottingham band - the song was written - unsuccessfully - to persuade Des Walker not to go to Sampadoria) and 'Insomnia' by Faithless as it is the current five-to-three standard at The City Ground.

In fact, Colin deserves further discussion here.

A quote from Colin: "I've got a CD with a recording of Brian Clough doing a Shredded Wheat advert." (he also has the Paper Lace song as an MP3). Colin's two kids have 'Brian' and 'Pearce' respectively as middle names. Thankfully, they are both boys.

Redeeming himself, he also has a punk song about Stuart Pearce on a compilation which will feature on the CD. Probably.

Psycho is a well-known Stranglers fan. I suggested 'Something Better Change' or 'No More Heroes' to reflect the current ignominy. I also mentioned that the singer from The Manic Street Preachers is a Forest Fan. Colin suggested 'Everything Must Go' or 'A Scream to a Sigh'.

But his best one was 'If you tolerate this, then your children will be next'.

How apposite. (in case you missed me bragging about this earlier, this was picked up here and here).

While we're on the subject, does anyone have a copy of the original 'Robin Hood' ("...Robin Hood, riding through the glen")?

More celebrity Forest fans here.

Update: Seán says "Bizzarely you can get "Robin Hood" sung by a very diverse bunch of artistes, ranging Ocean Colour Scene, to the amusing Goons,the twee Irish band Clannad and lots of other "folk" groups. There is a jazz version by Louis Prima, a heavy version by D.O.A. and one by the Moscow Symphony."

He has settled for Hector Cortez and his Formation from the "You Reds" 1996 classic football album (which is a new one on me).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ken Livingstone: advice to readers.

Just in case you are wondering what to think about Ken Livingstone, here are a few handy pointers

q: Was Ken right to gratuitously insult a journalist who works for the Evening Standard?
a: Yes. He would be able to say almost anything he likes to anyone who works for either The Standard or The Daily Mail. This should bring no condemnation of any kind from the good people of London.

q: What about drawing a parallel between the journalist and a concentration camp guard?
a: Pootergeek, he say that we all reach for a Nazi analogy whenever we want to finish an argument. Ken is only human. And he was a bit tipsy at the time. This is not, technically illegal at the moment. If it were illegal to express opinions while under the influence, this posting wouldn't have been written in the first place.

q: The reporter said that he was Jewish and that he found that comment offensive. Is Ken still in the clear?
a: Evening Standard journalists aren't beyond fibbing at the best of times, so Ken could have reasonably suspected him of making it up to be awkward. Maybe Ken should have raised this propensity for duplicity and then said "but in the unlikely event that you are telling the truth, then I apologise for any offense caused." But I repeat, he was a bit tipsy at the time. And the Standard have been running a long vendetta against him anyway.

q: Does this mean that Ken is beyond criticism?
a: No. He's been a complete prat about Qaradawi, suicide bombing in Israel and stuff like that. His response to the London bombings could be read as being a suggestion that, while ordinary working-class Londoners didn't deserve to be murdered, others may deserve such a fate. Though he didn't actually say that.

But ultimately, he's the Mayor of London, and not a bad one most of the time. And we won the Olympic bid on his watch (yay!).

q: So what about this enquiry then?
a: It is a farce. The Standards Board is an affront to representative democracy and it should be closed down IMHO. Harry's Place is absolutely right about this. Unless he's actually taking bribes or pinching money, the voters should be the ones who should decide his fate.



I hope this clears everything up satisfactorily.

A prediction

This probably makes me sound like turned into a fully-fledged Old Git, but W.T.F; I predict this:

Following the Buncefield oil depot fire ...

....Within three months, a pressure group will have been established to support the claims of people who think that the pollution has made them ill. It will have a name and a logo. At least one of the organisers will own a shop that sells vitamin supplements. At least one national environmental pressure group will provide support services.

Within six months, that pressure group will have decided that this illness has a name, or it is a named 'syndrome'. The reason I think the naming of the syndrome will happen after the pressure group is founded is that the organisers know that they will need a publicity 'hook' to keep the momentum going.

Numerous disabilities and possibly a few fatalities will be ascribed to it. None will be proven.

They will make claims of a clear medical link. This link will remain unproven, and it will be treated with loud scepticism by the medical establishment (and the vast majority of qualified doctors).

The pressure group will have lawyers involved and they will demand that public money is spent on an enquiry to establish this link.

A seven-figure sum will be spent, the link will still not be established. They will continue to campaign with increased bitterness and the Daily Mail will support them all the way.

Loads of quack doctors and ambulance chasers will make a killing, and very few people will actually suffer any real lasting harm, apart from the kind of illnesses that usually afflict the suggestible.

And i'll throw at least three wirelesses through closed windows during this time...

Friday, December 09, 2005

A shafting has now been scheduled...

Remember what happened to Mo Mowlam after she gave an impressive Conference speech?

Well, if Antonia and Tom aren't careful, they could be lining poor Hillary Benn up for more of the same.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Too many Chiefs

I’m not quite sure by Tom at Lets Be Sensible is annoyed that filibustering was used to defeat bad legislation. The blockheaded use of the Party whip makes filibustering an essential parliamentary counterbalance.

If Parliament listened to reason, tactics such as this wouldn’t be needed.

But, on another subject, Tom makes a detailed argument where one isn’t needed against the loathsome Simon Jenkins.

Jenkins lists a set of government posts (Chief Economist, Chief Scientist etc) and argues that we need a Chief Ethicist as well.

I’d go the other way and sack the Economist, the Scientist, and the rest of them. But the reason that Jenkins wants all of these un-elected Chiefs is because he is opposed to Representative Democracy. He prefers referenda and populist demagogues such as the late Pim Fortuyn.

As Roy Hattersley told the Nolan Enquiry*, the role of the elected representative is to represent their constituency, their party and their conscience – in no particular order. The conscience part deals with the ethical issues much better than any Chief Ethicist could.

*This quote is from memory. As far as I can see, the text of the Nolan Enquiry is not available on line. It should be. The summary that is pointed to by the Hansard website is a dead link.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bits and bobs

Channel Four: "Tossers" - the evidence mounts

Pootergeek knows how to tell Channel Four what a shower of tossers they are. Better than I did here.

Poo

Scatology blog.


On my side of Nottingham, kids refer to a turd as a 'Bob' (e.g. "Mam, the dog has done a Bob on the carpet.") Is this term used anywhere else?

The bold Fenian men

And Gavin reads the Economist so that you don’t have to. Here’s what he’s found about Sinn Fein’s prospects of being in a coalition partnership in Eire.



Tsars Epidemic: An open letter to David Cameron MP

Now we have this posh git running Her Majesty’s Opposition, here is a bit of unsolicited advice for him.

Dear Mr Cameron,

There are a number of open goals that you should be shooting at if you want to show that you can run the country properly.

The first is the epidemic of Tsars that is infesting my newspaper. Now I know that the Tories had their own versions. But, as you’ve shown with your apparent disavowal of the Daily Mail, I hope you realise that all of these nasty embittered reactionaries are not the candid friends that your party thinks they are. Disown Chris Woodhead immediately.

You should start attacking these ‘Tsars’ as the PM’s stooges. Tell them to shut up. Tell them to offer their advice to the Prime Minister privately and leave the kite-flying to him. It will result in fewer idiotic initiatives and the public will thank you for making it safe to turn the radio on and buy a newspaper again on a Sunday.

If you want some opportunities to take this advice, have a look at the weblog of a Mr Shuggy in Scotland. He isn’t very keen on these people.

A while ago, for example, Mr Shuggy amplified Sir Ian Blair’s request for the public to tell him what kind of police force they want. I suspect that the aim here was to ensure that Sir Ian’s request wasn’t treated as a rhetorical question.

Mr S also lands a well-aimed dig at another Tsar who is spending public money to ask children what she should be doing. And there are plenty more unlovely Tsars where they came from.

Attack them all Mr Cameron. Ad hominem Mr Cameron. Be savage. Like you were to your fags at Eton.

Say to them; "Shut it you nonces." Say “Let the public hear the facking organ grinder, not the facking monkey.” This will also give you the common touch that you lack.

And tell them all to shut up about ‘stakeholders’. Tell them that they will all get their cards when you sweep to power. Tell the public “if you vote for me, the Government won't get in for a change.”

Tell the Tsars that they are just flunkeys paid from the public purse. Tell them to stop being rude to people who have been elected. Tell them that they should take direction from people who have been voted for. Tell them that, as Prime Minister, you will do your own dirty work.

The second open goal you should shoot at is ‘Evidence Based Policy.’ Say that you aren’t stupid, and that you propose to base your policy on evidence. But say that you also plan to base it on principal. Say that you will stand up and make your own arguments for your policies.

Say that you will hold yourself accountable for those policies and not shrug the responsibility onto statisticians and think-tanks. In fact, Mr Cameron, get yourself over to the website of a Mr Will Davies (of the IPPR!) and read this post. - or at least read this excerpt:

“In politics, it is not enough for something simply to be the best option; people must reach agreement that it is the best option, a process which then becomes constitutive of that option’s value.”

You may even chose to use the following soundbite by way of summarizing your new sensible approach to policymaking:

“Democracy must show that it is not just the fairest way of doing things, it is the best way of doing things. Vote for me, and I will take personal responsibility for the improvement of the way that Government does its business.” (I said that).

And finally, Mr Cameron, you should show the clear water between yourself and Tony Blair by standing for something that you believe in, but that your opponents and the newspapers do not.

In 1997, Mr Blair believed in a Single European Currency, a European Constitution, Regional Government for England and enforceable limits on CO2 emissions. He now no longer believes in these things because they would involve him doing some persuading.

I suspect that none of these things will fit into your agenda, but for the love of Jaysus, find something that does and show the public that you will no longer allow government to drift along, pandering to the prejudices of voters.

Most people know, deep down, that the country will be run more effectively if their views are ignored. Remember that Mr Cameron.

And, when you’re taking this good advice, don't attribute it – you’ll get me thrown out of the Labour Party.

Now get out of my sight.

Yours etc

The SMERSH laugh

Brendan O’Neill on Spiked, writing about Muriel Degauque (Belgian suicide bomber who recently dismembered herself and those around her in Baghdad). He claims that…

“Both the pro- and anti-war sides try to force this new and peculiar form of violence into old categories where it simply doesn't fit; they try to render explicable what often seems like inexplicable behaviour by labelling it 'fascism' or 'resistance'. In fact, contemporary Islamist violence - whether it's of the al-Qaeda, Iraqi insurgency or four-men-from-Leeds variety - is far more diffuse than that. It is less the expression of any clear political ideology than it is a loose collection of often disaffected and middle-class individuals who want to lash out against something, anything. And it has its origins as much in the West as in the East.”

The only thing I find odd about his article is the opposition that Brendan sets up. A lot of people that I’ve spoken to have commented on the ‘identity politics’ angle – particularly where Westerners become involved in this sort of extremism. His is not an original or new observation, but one that I've found very commonplace in discussion.

As Brendan says, this violence is often unfocussed. Or often an expression of a more unfocussed anger. Two British suicide bombers were, after all, West Indian converts to Islam. We can only speculate of course, but when two (out of nine) British would-be Islamists are from a section of society that is not usually Muslim, it could be a bit more than a co-incidence.

Was this a fury that was created by something other than religious zeal - the expression of a wider disaffection of some kind?

I’ve posted in the past about how political extremism is often partly a vehicle for narcissism – and this is as true for that video that Mohammed Siddique Khan (the London bomber) made prior to his ‘martyrdom’ in July. If the results of his posturing hadn't been so serious, they would have been comical.

The only think missing from MSK's video was a SMERSH laugh ("mwah ha ha ha") at the end.

(Pootergeek's regular use of the SMERSH laugh helped focus this post)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Inna diddly diddly stylee

If you like Irish music, and you like Dancehall, then you’ll LOVE Eek-a-Mouse jamming with Irish trad musicians at his 50th birthday party.

The way that Irish musicians use triplets (the rhythmic variation that puts the diddly-diddly into a tune) means that there is a bit of a synergy with reggae.

Examples:
  • Sharron Shannon had a not-bad example about ten years ago with her Out the Gap album (Amazon has samples)
  • Young Ned of the Hill (Dub) on the b-side of the Pogues 'Misty Morning Albert Bridge'

I'm sure there are plenty more examples, but this should do for now.

(*via dev/random who got it from Boing Boing)

Friday, December 02, 2005

The best Irish song ever written

If there's one subject about which I know more than I probably should, its Irish songs. I used to play in a band called The Pioneers of the Sacred Heart in the late 1980s (more about this anon), and it was a struggle to keep the more moronic of Irish rebel songs out of our set-list.

The chief offenders on this score were a band called The Wolfe Tones. They were - in almost every way - the worst example of Irish balladeers. A dumb commercialised Irish National Republicanism with cod-trad arrangements and four vocalists singing in unison.

But they had one song - The Streets of New York - that is fabulously written and arranged. And it's all about the sorrow of immigration.

Here's the plot (full lyrics here, but this is a condensed version):
Fathers brother (a New York Cop) phones father in Ireland and says 'send the lad over'. Father weeps, gives son the best wishes of poor dead mother, sends son on plane to New York. While son is actually on the plane over, the Cop brother is shot and son arrives to the news that 'poor Bengy was lying in a cold city morgue'.
Son gets a tough job, then hears of fathers death. Flies back to gaze on 'the poor wasted face of my father'
Ends thus:

"I sold up the farmyard for what it was worth
and into my bag, I put a handful of earth.
Then I boarded a train and I caught me a train
And I ended up back in the US again

Now it's twenty two years since I set foot in Dublin
My kids know to use the correct knife and fork
But I'll never forget the green fields and the rivers
As I keep law and order on the streets of New York"

Now Shane, Brendan and Dominic may have had fine moments of their own, but oddly, none of them will match one song by The Worst Irish Band In The World Ever.

Tap Natch Poet

Andrew Motion's poetry site - recordings of poets reading their own material.

Have a look - there's some 'historic recordings' including 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' read by Tennyson. Patrick Kavanagh won't be on if for a while I suspect - I heard that his estate was subject to a bitter copyright dispute (unless it's been resolved?)

A few years ago, I was driving along and I heard Linton Kwezi Johnson reading 'If I woz a tap natch poet' on the radio. It nearly caused a car crash, and if that's a recommendation, then you can either search out the 'A Capella' CD that it came on, or ask Mr Motion to talk to Mr KJ's people about adding it to his site.

In the meantime, I hope LKJ doesn't mind me posting a taster for you:

"If I woz a tap-natch poet
like Tchikaya U'tamsi Nicholas Guillen ar Lorna Goodison
an woodah write a poem soh beautiful dat it simple
like a plain girl
wid good brains
an nice ways
wid a sexy dispozishan an plenty compahshan
wid a sweet smile an a suttle style..."

"...mi gat mi riddim
mi gat mi rime
mi gat mi ruff base line
mi gat mi own sense a time ..."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why they invented the Internet

Lest we forget; I know I've signposted this before, but it was the site that proved that the Internet could generate better content than the more traditional media;

From Portadown News in December 2002 - context: communal rioting in Nigeria



Depressingly, Portadown News was decommissioned last summer, but you can see Newton Emerson's magnificent back catalogue here. Bookmark it and dip into it daily. Its worth it.

New Unaffiliated Volunteers

New Unaffiliated Volunteers

"The phenomena we are now seeing is that today’s volunteers are going to do what they want to do, regardless of official channels for doing it. They are taking matters into their own hands, creating ad-hoc organizations, or finding personal ways of doing what they want to do. Years ago volunteers would not so readily have worked outside of the system. That is no longer the case."

This concept is illustrated here.

I do hope that this doesn't lead to the spokepeople of our esteemed charities, NGOs and pressure groups being labelled as 'self-appointed'...?

(Hat Tip: Techstrategy)

Also, I don't know how I missed this. Cllr Andrew Brown in Lewisham used a weblog to host a consultation on the arcane by-laws on his patch. Nice idea. Unfortunately, this isn't the sort of blog that will attract much traffic in the way most blogs build their visitor-numbers.

But in principle, it's a very good idea. It would be very good if someone were to build a site linked to a post-code search that had every set of relevant bylaws laid out in a way that people could comment and argue about them.

I'd be happy to do this if I could find someone to fund it...

Have a look...

The other day, I mentioned some of the little rewards associated with running a blog.

Here's another one: BBC Nottingham have picked up on this and reprinted it here.

I often hear people saying that running one of these things is a waste of time. I always answer that the only way you will find out why blogging is worthwhile is to do it yourself for a while.

Surprisingly though, the link from the BBC has only brought me two visits so far (and it went on the site at about 3pm yesterday - and it is now 11am).

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pools-uh Panel-ah update

Apologies for slightly misleading you all. Mark E Smith did not read the results on Radio Five Live. I've just found out that, instead, it was on BBCi digital. You can see it here (a Real Media file).


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

Navel gazing

Very flattered to be included in Tim Worstall’s ‘Blogged 2005’ anthology.

It’s a very good read. And a fantastic piece of pyramid selling. This explains why it was published before Xmas – every blogger published in it will probably buy half-a-dozen copies as stocking fillers.

Yet, whenever I talk to someone else who runs a blog, I get a puzzling cynicism. Comrade Rubbish says:

“….7 percent of online adults have blogs and 27 percent read them... mostly their own.”

So why do we bother?

Well, I reviewed a 'Five Corners Quintet' gig a while ago, and the band concerned referred to it approvingly. I’ve seen things defined in Wikipedia that were either lifted from articles I’ve written or show evidence that other people believe the same things that I do using the same words.

A while ago, I posted on how the Smoking ban in Ireland was getting smokers laid a lot more. This idea arose on a drunken night with some Dubliner friends, but it seems to have grown legs.

Now, I’m sure this meme didn’t spring from this blog, but it is one of its tributaries.

But most of all, I don’t know what I think until I read what I’ve written. And I write more carefully if I’m writing for an audience. And I'm even more unbearable in the pub now - I've actually got my arguments prepared in advance.

So I’m glad I started this blog, even if you’re not…

Memory Lane

Rullsenberg links to a great guide to The Pride of The Midlands / Cock of The North (note to self; redouble efforts to move back to Nottingham).

The elitism of Selectadisc and The Playhouse Bar of the early 1980s is spot on. I was back at The Playhouse last Saturday (taking the kids to see Jack and the Beanstalk). The Blitz Kids aren’t there any more.

Past glories:great photos – and the original Rock City opening schedule.

The bouncers wouldn’t let me in to the opener Undertones gig – said I didn’t look eighteen (I was sixteen and looked fourteen). They relaxed after the opening night though.

Bastards.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Embarrassment

For Nutty Boys and Modettes everywhere:

"She's gorgeous now," says Lee of his now grown-up niece. "Intelligent, attractive, you wouldn't want to change a thing."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Shame of Channel Four

The trailer prior to tonight's (UK) Channel 4 Dispatches programme ‘America’s Secret Shame’ (part of a series of programmes about the war in Iraq) featured the series’ money quote. It was spoken to camera by one of the more right-wing correspondants on the Westminster beat (can't remember his name). He said:


“Iraq is the worst foreign policy disaster since Munich.”

(update 23.11.05: It was Peter Oborne of The Spectator)

What a great juxtaposition. Munich - a capitulation in the face of Fascist aggression. Surely Rwanda or Darfur could provide a more obvious comparison?

Hitchens says this better than I can
of course. But back to tonight’s Dispatches. It offered a largely one-sided narrative that focussed upon US casualties and used them to amplify calls for such a withdrawal from the grieving parents. It didn’t bother with any of the issues around the war - the controversy around it’s instigation, the weighing of the positive and negative consequences for the Iraqi people.

It ignored the consequences of withdrawal almost entirely. It’s only focus was upon how far America was achieving it’s own security goals and what the cost was in American body bags. Given the complexity of the arguments, it was the most one-sided agenda-led programme I've ever seen on TV in the UK.

Not only was It the very cheapest of journalistic currency, it offered an argument that can only ever make the case for isolationism and a rejection of any Internationalism. In short, it made exactly the same shameful case that Neville Chamberlain and the guilty men of Munich made.

And if the moral consequences of this unholy alliance between the ‘anti-imperialists’ of the left and the isolationists of the right is not enough, the practical political consequences of doing nothing - or it’s latest incarnation - unconditional withdrawal of Coalition forces from Iraq - are equally worrying. As Norm points out,

“Is it now the case that the Western democracies cannot fight wars unless these are short and very sparing of the lives of their own soldiers? That any war that becomes too long and too costly in these terms will quickly lose support within an electorate whose impulses become more self-centred (in the national sense) the more badly the war goes? If so, then the outlook is not at all good for the future of humanitarian military interventions where the circumstances are difficult.”

Channel Four should be ashamed of themselves.

Tags: , , , .

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Friday, November 18, 2005

Blackmailing your child

Norm, he say:

"It is an unwritten, though binding, law of life that one does not change one's boyhood sporting allegiances..."

For some reason, it is important to me that my seven-year-old son should follow in his father's footsteps. I don't care if we live in London. I can't face him nagging me to go to White Hart Lane.

It will be hard for the boy to obey his father on this. Following Forest was easy for me. For one thing, I lived in Nottingham. And I was ten years old when God appeared to many at the City Ground. I still wonder if what followed really happened. I sometimes expect to wake up and find my teenage years ahead of me.

It would be fair to say that no other British team has ever enjoyed the kind of fairytale that Forest enjoyed in the late 1970s.

Living in London, with the temptations of Chelsea and Arsenal (technically, Arsenal are the Forest B-Team), I've placed a heavy burden on the little lad's shoulders.

I've had to take drastic steps. He needed to be lied to. Lie after lie after lie. The first step was to seize on the wonderful news that my namesake had been signed. Then, when the tooth fairy made his first visit, he didn't bring a sixpence. He brought a kit instead. With 'Evans - 8' on the back. For a while, the poor boy actually heard radio reports in which his dad played - and scored - for Forest.

The gap left by the tooth that was swapped for a shirt (that he's wearing)

Obviously, this wouldn't be enough. A carefully chosen introduction to the City Ground backfired. Cardiff were inept opposition as expected, but Forest failed even to match them. The rest of last season was spent explaining that the Championship was upside down and Forest were to be promoted with Rotherham - to the First Division!

Relegation was followed by defeats to Woking and Yeovil. A near miss at Weymouth, and now, my namesake is training with Rotherham awaiting a permanent move there.

Still, the boy tells the kids in his school that he's a Forest fan. But I wonder how long it will be before it he's old enough to read the papers. How long before he learns that his dad is a liar?

So there's no time to waste. With a tape recorder, I now have all of the blackmail material I will ever need. Tomorrow morning he will be told that he is on The Internet - singing. He'll be so proud of himself. Here it is (you'll need your PC's speakers on).

But for the rest of his life, he will know that he has sealed a pact with cyberspace. There is no going back. He will never be able to pretend that he always followed Arsenal.

Maybe I should have gone the whole hog and named him Sue?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

French rigidity, Italian corruption, British probity...

.... all bad things.

Samizdata found this in either Time or Newsweek (not clear which)

“An Italian analyst argued that riots were far less likely to occur in Italy as the country was too corrupt and everyone was working in the black economy. Whereas the French state prevented immigrants from making any money at all and destroyed their aspirations, Italian graft was far more amenable to the hard graft of immigrants.”

The comments on the site bring the subject home to the UK to discuss whether British officialdom’s reputation for probity is a good thing.

Henry says:“I don't think every single state employee is trying to swindle me out of the services I've paid for with my taxes, but the system does nothing to weed out inefficiency and obstructionism.”

I expect that we all pay for Italian corruption though...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ruffled dreams

One night, about fifteen years ago, I went to sleep with the radio on (BBC World Service) and was awoken by a piece of music that was so striking that IÂ’ve never really had it out of my head for very long ever since. It was called ‘My Lord My Lord by a Transylvanian band called Musikas.

The other night, the same thing happened. This time, it was a track called Shrewd Woman from a CD called Journey to the Centre of an Egg by a Lebanese Oud player called Rabih Abou Khalil.

It's marvelous. I'd get a copy if I were you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bunfight revisited

I've said before, I can't understand why anyone takes the SWP seriously - or gets involved in the bottom end of the dialogue of the deaf between 'stoppers' and 'revisionists.'

But, while looking through the higher end of that discussion - a bunfight between Norman Geras and Ken MacLeod - Ken said:

"During the Cold War, the Communist Party had, as was often remarked, an influence out of all proportion to its size. The same could be said today of the Socialist Workers Party, but in reverse. Its influence is smaller than its membership."

It's certainly true that, if you are involved in a campaign, and the SWP decide to support it, your campaign is truly fucked from that point on.

Interesting times

I've had a few digs aimed at me for my support for the Swedish safety net the other day (buried in this post).

Observations like "if the place is such a frozen paradise, why is the suicide rate so high?" and "only a truly sick national character could create IKEA - no wonder they all kill themselves" etc.

None of these are too fair, but at their root, they all share the view that stable times aren't interesting ones. It reminded me of this quote (Harry Lime speaking in Greene's 'The Third Man')

"....in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

And then, by chance, I saw this (via):

"Resurrection of the spirit. On the political sickbed a people is usually rejuvenated and rediscovers its spirit, after having gradually lost it in seeking and preserving power. Culture owes its peak to politically weak ages."
Nietzsche - from 'Human, all-too-human.'

Either way, it provides another sobering thought: No matter how good the case for the Swedish social model is, there is no imaginable roadmap that could get the UK (for example) to adopt it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Martin Pipe conspiracy

I know you didn't come to this blog to read about Horse Racing. So if it bothers you, look away now. Also, bear in mind that this is my first year blogging during the National Hunt season, so there may be more to come.

Still here? OK. Do you suffer from the "(insert trainer's name here) inverse success ratio syndrome"?

I've bet my children's life savings at various times on Martin Pipe horses. If I bet on them, they rarely even finish, never mind get placed. And if I don't get to the bookie in time, they skin the field.

This never happens with any other trainers. For me anyway.

So, I was delayed on my way to the bookie to back the relatively unfancied (but triumphant)Contraband in the Arkle last year. I backed Azertuiop against Pipe's 'Well Chief' with confidence at Sandown in April only to watch it trounced.

And on Saturday, domestic duties stopped me from backing Our Vic (the disapproval in which betting is viewed in our house means I often can't fabricate circumstances that leave me unattended near a bookmakers on a Saturday morning).

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There's money to be made by anyone who can work out whether I've bet against one of Pipe's horses / not got to the bookie in time to bet on one of them.

Academic excellence

This posting officially empathises with Pootergeek about the incompetence of academic bureacracies.

What utter wankers they are. With very few exceptions.

I don't know if this will cheer PG up, but it could be worse for him. He could take his sanity into his own hands by joining me in my job as a salesman, selling to the public sector and voluntary sectors and suchlike.

If he did, he'd see the inability of these sectors to do anything with a fraction of the competence that they demand from their suppliers. And when you look at the way the public / voluntary sectors outsource their work, its always done with the maxim from Parkinson's Law in mind:

"An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals"

Apropos of this, here's another contribution to the 'Best Societies in the World' series that this blog is perservering with:

The best societies in the world have a high safety net. It reduces the defensiveness of bureaucracies. (I know the linked-to article appeared a few weeks ago. I missed it at the time - sorry).

I know I bang on about how the root of most of our problems is a lack of respect for representative democracy. But the question of how bureaucracies of all kinds can be motivated to do a decent job runs a close second.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Posh People's Disease - latest

From the Daily Telegraph (7/11/05)

“Political correctness, dumbing down and teachers’ worries about being charged with sexual harrasment are crippling young British ballet dancers’ chances of reaching the top.”

Come the revolution, who gets the blindfold / last fag treatment first? The prick that the Telegraph are quoting, the arsehole who wrote the peice, or the editor who commissioned it?

Let’s have a heated debate!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Does it matter if people don't vote?

I’m about to write a piece called ‘why vote?’

I reckon that it doesn’t matter if a lot of people don’t vote. I’d prefer the lazy, indecisive and fickle not to have the casting vote in elections.

What do you think?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Pools-uh Panel-ah

On the 19th of November, Mark E Smith is (allegedly) stepping into James Alexander Gordon's shoes reading the football results on BBC Radio Five Live.

*lie-dream*: "Chelsea-ah One-uh, Nottingham Forest-ah Four-uh"

*reality* "Nottingham Forest-uh Nil-ah, Southend-ah One-uh"

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Posh People's Disease (continued)

Nick Cohen is bang on the money as usual. Well almost.

In my experience, Kimberly isn't an archetypal posh bird name. It's usually the opposite.

As Nick says...

"Class hatred once provided the “Stop!” signs of the left. If you were
invited to entrust your money or your heart to someone who was rich, you would
know to make an excuse and leave, because tradition ruled that no good could
come of the relationship. The gut reaction was based on three arguments whose
wisdom had been proved by long experience.

1) Economic. Excessive wealth leads its holders to expect to get their own way whatever the rules say and whatever damage is done to others.
2) Political. No just country can be created while extremes of wealth persist. It is wrong to allow the wealthy to believe that the rest of society finds their existence desirable or even tolerable.
3) Aesthetic. The wealthy are vulgar. They waste their money on the art of the Chapman brothers or the fashions of John Galliano and use their domination of taste to silence the little boy who says the emperor has no clothes, or, rather, has gauche and ill-fitting clothes."

So, continuing this blog's 'Best Societies in the World' series, the best societies in the world don't have posh people in them. Or unearned wealth (also see the comments on this post of Shuggy's).

*Update: I've been contacted by someone very well placed to interpret Nick's article. I've been advised to re-read it, and I now see that his point was that Kimberly is a daft name. Not a posh one. Personally, I think that Kimberley is a very good name for a beer....

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Got ten minutes to spare?

Then go and have a look at Jahsonic.

I know that I've got it in the blogroll already, but last night I had to keep watching a computer that was running boring procedures (don't ask). Jahsonic is a place to learn things that you didn't realise you wanted to know.

In the meantime, someone sent me a link to American Samizdat. Is this a rationalist contempt for all religions (yay!!) or an anti-semitic blood-libel (boo)?

You tell me.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Still left wing then?

A few random peices from the arguments around the UK & US involvement in Iraq:

Hak Mao on the moral racism - the different standards that are applied to human rights issues. I made a half-hearted attempt at excusing this here a few days ago, but I shouldn't really. There's no excuse for making the wrong arguments - especially if you make them for the wrong reasons.

Related to this, in the same way, so much of what passes for protest isn't about identifying the real causes of a problem, being a victim isn't about identifying who the perpetrator is - it's identifying someone who can be sued.

Comrade Rubbish on the cost of the war. You can argue that it was done in the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons, or at the wrong time. But to argue that it shouldn't have been done at all - or to bleat about the cost - then
you lose the right to be called an Internationalist.




I can understand scepticism about the war in Iraq - I've plenty of it myself. But the way it has been opposed - and the reasons for a lot of that opposition - has helped to define a completely worthless section of the left so clearly. When the term 'left wing' lumps me in with objective allies of fascism, I'm not sure that I want to be part of it any more.

London flix

From the Film London website:

"A reader's poll was conducted alongside this industry poll. There were some rather interesting results, so we count down the top ten for you here:

1. The Long Good Friday
2. Blowup
3. Wonderland
4. Withnail & I
5. Performance / An American Werewolf in London
6. Mona Lisa
7. The Last of England
8. Naked
9. Notting Hill
10. The Ladykillers / 28 Days Later"



So. no 'Passport to Pimlico' or 'Lavender Hill Mob'? And no 'Robbery'? (if only for the scene on the terraces at Brisbane Road (Leyton Orient) where the blag is planned.

Posh People's Disease (2)


He's been outside ..... in the wain ....

.... AND HE'S BEEN CWYING!

What works for you

As usual, just after I've posted something, I find someone else has made a similar point and done it more effectively. Yesterday, I posted on the subject of utilitarian policymaking. This morning, I read Butterflies and Wheels (via Norm as usual). on the religious equivalent.

B&W is tilting at the view that "it may be bullshit, but it works for you, so it's fine."

Personally, I don't care what religion works for anyone - as long as they don't bring it into the street to frighten the horses.

Political realists will tell you that you should be prepared to go along with a view that has been advanced to get it's proponent over a pragmatic hurdle because "it works." This makes life very easy for people with power. It is usually calculated to stick to an electoral path of least resistance.

It also results in shoddy policymaking. There's nothing wrong with pragmatism of course; but incoherent or unprincipled pragmatism is a different matter.

As luck would have it, this was also excercising Roy Hattersley in yesterdays Guardian (via his rant on the smoking ban). He notes that we are being asked to go along with the partial ban - because it works. Well it works for the people who matter, and that's all that counts.

Again, I'm neutral on where and when people should light up. The side effects of the ban will be interesting though (I'm convinced that I'm the first person to actually write about this - The Observer appears to have picked it up now).

But I think that you either do it, or you don't. There isn't even a veneer of principle behind the fudge that is going to be sold to Parliament. An over-centralised political settlement always allows the executive to make everyone else do their work for them.

If ever you need an argument for bicameralism, this is it.

Sight Savers

On TV last night (BBC 10 o'clock news) Al-Amin, a young Bangladeshi boy, was shown before and after routine surgery was carried out to remove cateracts from his eyes.

The look of pleasure on his face as he was able to look at his mother had to be seen to be believed. He is told that he can now start going to school. "Doctor! I want to be a doctor" he said.

Have a look at the full story. And stop by the Sight Savers International website, why don't you?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Utilitarianism

Like Clinton’s “it’s the economy….”, there are some arguments that really need to be suffixed by the word ‘stupid’. Like “eating people is wrong, stupid!”

In one of the best blog postings I’ve read, Shuggy reminds us that torture is wrong and the use of evidence obtained under torture is barely any better. This is where weblogs can come into their own. Newspapers are often too focussed on current concerns to step back and make these kind of arguments.

I’d suggest that a similar argument can be made about what passes for political realism. The view that ‘perception is reality’ in political communications. On the one hand, you are more likely to succeed in politics if you take focus group findings seriously and if you don’t pick a fight with any identifiable interest group (particularly one with media support). On the other hand, this hardly fits within the model of representative democracy – one where you govern with the interests of the nation as a whole. It hardly makes for optimal policy-making either.

I’d urge anyone who wants a successful career in politics to read Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to win friends and influence people’ In it, he outlines a view of the world that is both misanthropic and generous – depending on your mood when you’re reading it.

Misanthropic in that it focuses upon a very pessimistic view of human nature – one that is fickle and overwhelmingly self-righteous and self-centred. Generous in that it urges us to go out and find out more about the perspective of others, and to challenge our own lazy assumptions.

I’d also urge anyone who wants to live in a country that is well-governed to find a way of providing a political counterweight to anyone who has adopted Dale Carnegie’s views.

This, I would suggest, is a useful mission for Labour’s internal opposition. Where the Labour government has failed, I would argue, is when it has felt unable to challenge vested interests – particularly those in the media. Labour appears to have taken the view that it can get a lot done as long as it follows a path of least resistance. I’d suggest that it should have tried to do less, but to do the things that it does more effectively. This would involve more fights, but it would result in better policies.

Shuggy is probably a bit closer to the well-trodden paths of political science than I am (I last studied it about ten years ago), but I’d be interested to see if there is anything about utilitarianism in political communications out there?

PS: A few weeks ago, I said I didn’t agree with Trevor Phillips assertion that "Pim Fortuyn's anti-immigrant movement flourished in the Netherlands because the centre and left refused to acknowledge that their laissez-faire attitude to integration had failed." This is exactly what I mean here. I doubt if Trevor actually does think that the way that the UK has absorbed millions of immigrants over the past fifty years is really anything other than a remarkable success – one that few would have predicted.

What he really means, I suspect, is that the more relativist extremes of multiculturalism have been found wanting. That an unattractive bit of territory has been vacated by most politicians (with the honourable exception of people like Ann Cryer MP).

This has allowed gutter-rags like the Daily Mail and the Express to generalise this into an all-round failing. For Trevor, perception is reality. The media and the political class are elemental forces.

PPS: Also worth a look - Shuggy’s observations on consociational democracy in Iraq

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

From Rulsenberg (I know it's not Friday, but...)

Rulsenberg Rules links to the 'What Classic Movie Are You' test. And the movie 'link anyone to anyone' site.

I'm Schindler's List, it seems.


When I went to see Schindler's List (at the Phoenix in Finchley), me and the missus did the short dash to the White Hart as soon as the credits started rolling to catch last orders. As we opened the door, we were faced with a stand-up comic saying "... anyway, there was this Jewish bloke....."

No beer that night then.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Expel Italy Now!

Though I'm what you might describe as 'fanatically pro-EU', to my inexpert eyes, the whole project looks a little stalled (to put it kindly).

A while ago, I linked to a good piece in the FT (subscriber only - sorry) about the potential for a new 'variable geometry' within the EU. Wolfgang Munchau thinks that core countries will increasingly develop smaller multilateral agreements to ensure that the Eurozone (at least) can be dynamic and effective.

I'd argue that the European ideal is one based on solid democratic foundations. You have to demonstrate reasonable standards of governance to get in, after all. The problem is that, once you're in, you can abuse the privilege. I'd suggest that the only way that Europe can renew itself is by a process of continuous improvement. One in which the member states set each other improvement goals.

So, take all of the indicators of good governance that there are, for instance.....
  • The rule of law
  • Independent judiciary
  • Bicameralism
  • Strong regional and sub-regional government
  • Representative democracy
  • Low levels of media concentration
  • Freedom of expression
  • Equality
... and so on (go on, add your own!)

Continued membership of any internal sub-club should be based upon continuous improvement on all of these. This would in turn provide a democratic core that latecomers like the UK, or still-developing East European newbies could aspire to in the medium term. Europe could, thereby, continue to develop in a dynamic way.

The problem with all of this (and thus my pessimism) is that Italy is a member of the Eurozone. If it were applying for membership of the EU today - never mind the Eurozone - it wouldn't get in on almost any of the criteria I outlined above. That the inner core have included Italy among their number speaks of a moral vacuum at the heart of the European project.

Removing Berlusconi would only be the first step in rehabilitating the Italian state. Assuming Prodi wins next spring (no certaintly) he will find it a quagmire to reform. And to win and govern, he will have to rein in a political left that is about as narrow-minded and infantile as anyone could possibly imagine.

I argued a few weeks ago that, if you campaign against something in an incompetent way, it will be your own fault when you are defeated and the policies you oppose are implemented. Well Berlusconi's success - and the unreformable nature of the Italian state - is a testimony to the idiocy of the Italian left.

Update: there's a piece in today's Guardian sketching out Berlusconi's alleged plans to spend a million Euros in every marginal constituency in the run-up to the election next April. It's here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Opinion Changing?

There's an interesting thread on Eric the Unred asking people if blogging has changed their opinions (please give examples).

I'm proud to say that it would take more than a feeble army of bloggers to change my mind on anything.

But bloggers have helped to clarify something for me. Particularly some of the morons in Harry's comment boxes.

Here's how. In my teens, I was quite sure that I was a socialist (no change there). So I detested Mrs Thatcher, natch. And when she declared war on the Argies, I was opposed to it.

The logic was simple; opposing the flotilla would give us another chance to show Mrs T in her true light. A socialist nirvana would follow as night follows day.

In my calculations, I didn't really give a toss about the poor Falklanders. So what if a military dictatorship over-ran a bunch of sheepshaggers? And so on.

I met a dishy young woman from the Falklands a few years later so, obviously, a new position had to be improvised quickly. I discovered muscular liberalism for the first time.

Age (and the pull of hungry gonads), not bloggers, showed me the error of my ways here. But I think you can explain a lot of the idiocy on the left in the same way that my oppositon to the Falklands expedition can be explained. They think:
  • America is a (sort of) democracy
  • The UK is even more of one
  • Activism can change democracies
  • You can't change dictatorships
  • So being more critical of democracies than of dictatorships makes sense
This recent blog posting illustrated this very well, I thought. So often, every new phenomenon is co-opted to support a pre-existing argument. For me, the Falklands was only about Mrs T. Even issues like the opposition to war in Iraq are more about 'Bliar' than they are about ... say, the Kurds?

While I doubt if mere argument ever actually changes opinions, Blogs can assure you that you're not alone in your views. They can offer a perspective.

Le panique Attaq

I can’t understand the widespread distain in this country for the French approach to culture. Especially from lefties.

We Brits tend to delude ourselves into beleiving that we’re roundheaded free-traders in the film / TV markets. If you listen to the middlebrow consensus on this, you’d think that we don’t do cultural protectionism in this country - and that we don’t need to. The consensus appears to be that, unlike the Frogs, we don’t have snobby cultural policement picking winners and shovelling massive subsidies into flicks!

Well, wrong on every count. We subsidise our audiovisual industries more than the French. We do it by applying cultural standards - not ones that are dominated by market values.

And why shouldn't we? We could stop it, of course. If you’d be prepared to put up with the consequences.

What bothers the French is that the US has a huge comparative advantage in film-making. In a market that involves high levels of risk and enormous investment, a prosperous country with a large single-language domestic market and receptive foreign markets open to a bit of lucrative dumping, the US is always going to enjoy massive advantages. In many ways American-English is the lingua franca of film-making. Even stridently ‘local’ non-American films adopt many of the narratives, characterisations and structures of American films.

So when the world wants to watch a new film, it first checks the in-tray for anything American.

Should this bother us? I’d say so. I’d have no objection, for instance to (scrabbling for an example) importing all of my rice from Asia. Or all of my coffee from Kenya and Columbia. But the idea of importing all of my culture - or all of my TV and film at any rate - from one country? Well, I’ve countless objections to that. But I’ll restrict myself to one basic Marxist one: No-one should let another social group have a monopoly on interesting work.

The reason that we think that the French are barmy about subsidies is because we don’t see the consequences of not doing the same. We have an effective and popular public service broadcaster in the UK. The last time I looked (I went over this in detail about five years ago) the BBC provides more investment for dramatic productions than the entire European film and TV industries put together. This includes France.

As a result, we have a constant stream of popular high-quality TV production. The majority of TV content in the UK is originated in the UK with British investment. It’s written and produced for British audiences.

The French didn’t have the foresight to establish a public service broadcaster as good as ours. In the dim-and-distant, it became a political football, and the only area that receives any subsidy to match our TV production is their Film industry. It benefits from an investment quota from Canal Plus (at least I think it still does) and a bit of box-office protectionism with it’s European film quota.

So if you go to the flicks in France, you can enjoy a reasonable selection of European-originated films to go with the usual diet of US blockbusters.

And what would happen to TV if our crafty little subsidies were removed?

Go and pick up your local cinema guide. Look through the review section first and see if there are any British (or any other non-US) films with good reviews. OK? Now find them in the listings. Are they on at the local multiplex?

Usually not.

Where then? Well, there are a couple of screenings at that coffee-and-carrot-cake place on the other side of town...... for a few days only.

I routinely miss films that I want to watch because they are on for such a short window (as they call it in the trade). My local multiplex with about a dozen screens regularly shows American crap across all of their auditoria because of the marketing muscle that anyone who is dumping comodities has - and way that distributors throw their weight around.

And unless something major has changed since the last time I did the sums, around 98% of films shown in British cinemas are of US origin. Read that figure again: 98% of films in British cinemas are American.

Everytime I use this argument in conversation, people don’t beleive it at first. Then they check it out and they’re astonished. Why it isn’t a major public policy issue is a mystery to me.

And if English wasn’t your first language, wouldn’t you be particularly glad about your subsidies?

(Note; the Wallace and Grommit film probably makes this an unusually bad week to make this argument. But over time, it's fairly insignificant.)

Friday, October 21, 2005

NTaH - latest

It turns out that ‘Zak’ Goldsmith is a Tory.

Who would have thought it?

London venues

The forthcoming London Jazz Festival looks as appetising as usual (on paper). The McCoy Tyner Trio and Bill Frisell are both playing the Barbican.

Archie Shepp and The Branford Marsalis Quartied (performing a set entitled 'A Love Supreme') are both playing the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The brochure I've been given omits the ticket prices. Poor communication - or embarrassment? You decide.

I'm sure that the musicians will all put everything they've got into their performances. But both of those venues will suck the life and soul their respective shows.

Shame, really. I'd love to see all of these acts. But not this time.