Friday, September 30, 2005

Not in my name?

Neil Kinnock was in charge the last time I didn't go to Labour's annual conference.

Apart from the bloggers4labour get together, I don't think I missed much. Tom Hamilton gives a good flavour of the conference though.

His focus is on the sheer weight of counter-productive and self-indulgent campaigning that goes on around the fringes.

Now I don't really care if they ban smoking or not. But if the right to light up in pubs is a civil liberty that should be defended, then liberty's enemies are it's incompetent defenders.

One of the most important rules of successful campaigning it to make sure that nutters don't get involved. So, for instance, if you're promoting a cause with lefty credentials, once the SWP decide to support you, you're stuffed. Firstly, they are intentionally terrible campaigners. Their objective is to prove the futility of constitutional politics. Successful campaigns do the opposite.

Secondly, they usually hi-jack one campaign to support another. Realistic campaigns always get sucked into being part of a range of impossible demands.

Now I know that none of this is new. So where is it leading? Like most political observations these days, it's about the war in Iraq.

Whatever you think about that war, you must admit that it is a very poorly-opposed government that is able to send troops off to die in a distant land about which the public care little - particularly at the behest of the Americans.

If the leadership of the anti-war movement was united in the sole aim of actually stopping the war, they could have created a lot more problems for the government than they did.

But that isn't really the aim of a lot of them. In the same way that a low-tax low-welfare economy was partly attributable to Labour's political incompetence in the 1980s, the inability of opponents of the war to make their case effectively is one of the reasons that it happened.

Remember that slogan - 'Not In My Name'?

It's bollocks, isn't it?

Hit parade

A while ago, a 20th Century history programme on TV mentioned somewhere (can’t remember where) that the army were able to round up Communists for execution because they’d all worn a particular neckerchief during an attempted uprising.

The dye had run and you were toast if they found a red smear on your neck.

When I come to power, convictions will be just as simple because suspects will refer to the worst album ever released simply as ‘Exile’.

‘Exile on Main Street’ sounds like what happens when you invite a bunch of amateur musicians around to your next door neighbour’s house to jam over the worst songs you’ve ever heard. And then you record them through the wall.

And because it isn’t included, I’ll be boycotting BBC 6Music’s ‘Most Overrated Album’ poll.

All units have been instructed accordingly.

Note: ‘Dark Side’…. isn’t on there either. It gets worse.

(the poll ends tomorrow afternoon)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Repeat linking.

I've linked to these in the past, but they deserve regular reminders.
  1. Some bloggers can write. Some have the material. 'Random Acts of Reality' has both. Especially this post.
  2. Going on a long train journey? Want to piss yourself laughing all the way? Then print off the entire Religious Policeman blog and pop it in your bag.
Other stuff:
The Religious Policeman would probably enjoy this: The electric guitar is un-Islamic.

Punks in Hijabs - an antidote to both the self hatred of some lefty columnists - and some of our more hysterical denunciations of multiculturalism. (via Norm again).

Hadil's not much more than a snotty teenager really. I hope she grows out of it soon though.

And finally....

Fear-driven research on Black Triangle. Have a look.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Badly governed

I’ve always voted Labour, and I doubt if what follows here will change this much. But my newspapers tell me that all of the money spent on reducing truanting has been a complete waste. There are also few journalists who see the passing the Council Tax chalice as anything other than political cowardice. Paul Anderson sees it as a harbinger of an almighty unravelling. He's probably right.

Most of us ‘continuity Labour’ types would agree with these assessments. We'd mutter something about middle England, focus groups and pandering to Murdoch. None of us are very surprised by the way things have turned out either.

So far, no-one has really noticed glaring examples of poor government because the economy has been OK. Some of us even think a bit of reckless goverment spending is a step towards the kind of Keynesianism that we've been asking for.

But now it seems that Gordon’s forecasts are looking genuinely dodgy for the first time.

Has cash blinded us from seeing just how badly a country can be governed? Has the case for high public spending been fatally undermined by the inability of a socialist government to spend it sensibly?

I think Martin Kettle is broadly right about this. It's a massive failure in public policy. But for some reason, he shies away from a solid conclusion.

Allow me: There are three reasons why new Labour are mismanaging the country:
  1. Our civil service are amateurs. They have neither the expertise or conviction to pursue policy goals. Instead, high government spending has created a mushrooming and incompetent bureaucracy.
  2. Our political culture is in freefall. Centralisation, the power of pressure groups and the media have all been growing for decades. But that growth has accelerated rapidly since 1997. We are becoming a direct democracy because this is an ideological blind-spot that Labour politicians have. They actually don’t understand that it’s a bad thing.
  3. Professionals have never been held in such low esteem. Not only are we seeing a micromanagement from the centre, but that micromanagement is carried out at the behest of fickle politicians and executed by incompetent civil servants.
So a competent professional teacher is forced to jump to every new populist tune that an airhead minister whistles - and that tune comes with fifty new forms and procedures courtesy of Whitehall. Labour was so defensive about public sector reform that they didn't think it was worth learning to distinguish between 'producer interest' (alive and well in Whitehall) and professional expertise.

If Labour had wanted to, it would have been able to get away with wholesale administrative reform in 1997. A politicised Civil Service has never done the French or the Yanks any harm.

It could also have got away with significant media reform at that time.

That’s why new Labour has always been skating on thin ice.

Postscript: More in the 'Best Societies in the World' series. The best education system in the world (Finland); No league tables, no Sats, long holidays. (from todays Observer)

I just don't know

I missed this piece of agnosticism a while back. So I'm linking to it now. It's worth a look.

In summary, it's author, isn't interested in bickering about foreign affairs because he can't find a level playing field to argue about it on. It's not that he doesn't care. Just that he doesn't know.

I've had my own versions of it here and here.

When Zhou Enlai was asked his views on the French Revolution, he's supposed to have replied that "It's too early to say." I'm constantly amazed at the trenchant views that I see expressed on political questions - particularly ones that have so many controversial dependencies.

I've been thinking of a few exam questions that I'd like to see a lot of the blogging oracles answer before they carry on explaining what's happening in Iraq, Palestine, or even London.

Here's some examples;

  • The pre-2003 government in Iraq has been characterised as brutal and corrupt. Was there a moral obligation on other countries that have the ability to replace that government to do so? And if so, is there any ceiling on the number of casualties that can be incurred in achieving this?
  • It has been widely argued that the US was primarily persuing it's own economic self-interest in invading Iraq. Is this fair? And does this undermine the wider cause of democratisation in the Middle East?

I've got loads more questions where those ones came from.

Personally, I don't think anyone has a responsibility to come up with their own coherent positions on either side of these big arguments.

That's part of the beauty of representative democracy.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Godhead

I can't believe that I missed His anniversary on Wednesday. The other day, I remembered a joke that everyone had heard about thirty years ago - one that, for some reason, no-one told when He died. It went something like this:

BC dies. He arrives at the pearly gates, and is rapidly brought to judgement.

God: Well Brian, I'm glad you're here because I need some advice from you....
BC: Sorry son, I didn't catch your name, but I think that's my chair you're sitting in.

He always used to tell His players to "love the ball - treat it as a friend." I went up to see Forest beat Rotherham last weekend (and we followed it up with another home win on Wednesday against Bristol City). An end to the tide of defeats is good. A few wins will help build confidence.

But Forest look like a team that have been bollocked solidly for the last six months. I've never seen so many thoughtless and hasty clearances. No-one wanted the ball.

Sgt Major Megson could benefit from a bit of bedtime reading.

Guilty desires, revisionism, sectarianism, Shakespearianism.

A few diverse things today:

  1. Thought was needed. Here is the delayed response to Pootergeek's challenge: Weirdly hot: Kirsty Wark and her sticky-out ears. Or Victoria Beckham - anyone that gossip columnists are so spiteful about just needs some lovin'. Strangely not: Norah Jones. Come the glorious day, she gets the blindfold / last fag treatment along with James Blunt, Jamie Cullum and Pink Floyd.
  2. Democratiya - http://www.democratiya.com/ – have a look and tell your people (via Hak Mao)
  3. Comrades Reunited – Deaglan calls them old farts. Very harsh, Deaglan. Harsh, but probably fair.
  4. Today’s Independent (my newsagent had sold out of my usual choice of papers – honest!). How’s this for unequivocal? It’s either a fabulous book or an over-egged review.

“You will not find a better book on Shakespeare. Peter Ackroyd, one of the wonders of the scholarly world, has done it again. Our greatest biographer has once more put the academics to shame. You might have thought it impossible to write a book on Shakespeare that did more than repeat what we already knew. Ackroyd does not have any rabbits to produce from the hat - Shakespeare does not turn out to be a woman or an Arab - but this is the first really plausible account that situates our greatest writer in his time and place.

Were this the product of a lifetime of scholarship one would still be astonished by the reach of its historical knowledge and the depth of its literary understanding. But Ackroyd has not spent his life as a Shakespearean scholar…….”

Read the rest (you might need a subscription once it’s a few days old though?)

That should be enough to be going on with.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Apostasy

There used to be two products that I’d do free promotional work for. One is Resolve. The other is Apple Computers.

Beechams are still free to use my image in their ads. Apple can get stuffed. Now that they’ve turned against the son of God.

Northern Exposure

You know that TV programme, Northern Exposure? You know the narrator bloke? Well, if he was locked in a room with a few Marxist texts for a while, his blog would start to look like Troutskys.

And So1976's moderation over at the Popinjay collective is refreshing as well.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Balance and the BEEB

Everyone seems to be debating the balance of BBC reporting these days.

A lot of the same people get very worked when Bush / Blair / Israel get singled out for criticism. Calling Guantanamo a 'gulag' is - indeed - wildly disproportionate.

But the reasons that pressure groups use such hyperbole about democracies is because hyperbole can change the way democracies behave. Amnesty knew they were wasting their time running up petitions to protest against the pre-2003 conditions in Abu Ghraib.

I'm not defending the lack of proportion. It would not be fair to cast me as a defender of our dozy pressure groups. I'm just comparing this lack of proportion with the sense of proportion shown by the BBC's critics.

By volume, the BBC is the most consistantly reliable news source anywhere in the world. It sometimes catches colds from the wider cesspit of journalism. But it is the only news source that offers any real level of accountability. It's orientation is constantly debated. It was decapitated last year in a row over it's reporting.

It's also the only one that makes a real substantial investment in the quality of it's journalism. Imagine being able to call the editor of the Daily Hell to account for anything in his pages. Or any of the other shit-sheets that pass for newspapers in this country (poss. exception - the FT).

I've nothing to add to Pierre Bourdieu's views on TV journalism in general. When I'm installed as chairman, I'll sack all of their celebrity reporters -Jeremy Paxman, John Humphries and their ilk. But I'm bored of the way that everyone singles out the BBC. When you do, you join the dark side.

(Footnote: the Biased BBC site is trumpetting a story about product placement at the BBC. The source? The SUNDAY FUCKING TIMES of all places. Eye Sky with My Little Eye... and all that.)

e-voting

They've postponed the e-voting trials again. (I know - I'm a bit late noticing this one...)

They should seize the moment and scrap the whole idea.

It's a complete waste of money. It will have a marginal impact on take-up - and even if it does, I don't want the deciding factor in any election to be the handful of people who are too indolent to get off their arses* and walk down to the polling booth.

This is another example of politicians not knowing what they're for. And politicians being hoodwinked into more job-creation schemes for civil servants.

(*People unable to get to polling booths are catered for already by postal voting. All of the major parties will be happy to offer a lift to anyone who forgets to register for this in time. So don't give me any bollocks about e-voting enfranchising anyone).

Thursday, September 15, 2005

You’re beautiful! You’re Beautiful!

Regular readers know about my particular talent – that I’m good at recognising the ideology behind any piece of music that’s played to me. It's the reason that I have to keep my identity secret.

It’s a powerful insight, and it confers a heavy responsibility. But if you ever want to know if a tune is any good, just ask me. I know about these things.

Take Phil Collins for instance. Or James Blunt. See what I mean? Blunt went to a posh school and was in The Guards (as Pootergeek points out, he was NOT a squaddie).

What’s more, Blunt’s favourite band is Pink Floyd.

It’s all dropping into place, isn’t it? It’s like that David Yallop book about the death of Pope John Paul I. If you look hard enough, the connections just keep appearing. A crypto-Trot paper called ‘Labour Briefing’ used to have a regular ‘Class Traitor of the Month’ feature. If they were less sectarian, they would have focussed on Class Enemies like Blunt, Collins and the Floyd.

And to prove my point, this morning, the wireless said* that another complete James Blunt, the revolting Jamie Cullum has been sending free copies of his vile new album to the Head Girls of posh schools.

In our new ‘classless society’ these little bitches are the new cool-hunters.

One day, a rain will come. A sweet rain. It will wash them all away…

(*I can find no corroboration of this on t’internet anywhere – even the Today Programme website – obviously they’ve been told to take it down. It wasn't a dream though).

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bastards

There's a good letter in yesteday's new-look Guardian from a Mr Nick Hipkin. He says:

"The perception of tax as having your money taken, rather than it being your contribution to your country, needs to change."

As always, this begs the question: Who is to do the persuading? Will the public sector Unions do it? No. The Unions have too much to protest against to get involved in anything so constructive.

There are any number of pressure groups that have a profound interest in progressive tax reform. They can either offer...
  1. oppositional campaigning,
  2. smarmy lobbying, or
  3. actually going out and changing the public's mind

Only option three has any chance of working in almost any political situation. But they can earn their salaries by being seen to do the other two, so why bother getting your hands dirty, eh?

And another thing. We are - I'm told - about to be held to ransom again by the Forces of Conservatism. Government will, of course, face these bastards alone and be roundly blamed by everyone. Where are Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth while this is going on?

Counter-demonstrating? Making the case for fuel tax? Fat chance.

Greenpeace's UK website has decided to focus on GM and the usual diet of rainforests. Inside the site, we are urged to "send a Fax to Tony Blair" demanding higher taxes on gas guzzlers. Friends of the Earth's site offers an entirely different angle (they blame Gordon Brown).

That will really help deal with the protests, won't it? I can hear the crash of stout parties collapsing under the weight of public arguments up and down the country.

I'll say it again. Pressure groups are not accountable to anyone. They pontificate without any responsibility and their basic premise is that someone else should be forced to make their arguments for them. Most of them are a job creation scheme for the self-righteous.




(*hic*) Of course I know how many fingers you're holding up. Four .... er ... three....

The Five Corners Quintet

Last night, I saw Helsinki's FCQ at Camden Town's Jazz Cafe. If you've got any sense, you'll look out for them too.

It's the first time in a long while that I've seen a band use such a classic formulation (the basic boppy backline with two horns) playing the same Straight Ahead Soul-Jazz - yet sounding like a fully contemporary dance act. This wasn't an attempt to marry up Jazz with modern dance music by the way - they were just timeless.

There was nothing retro about this lot. If the Something Else or Acid Jazz labels had known about this approach fifteen years ago, they could have saved us all a lot of frog-kissing. They used a double-bass, but it was tighter and more driving in the way you'd normally expect from the electrified variety. They even brought a (name unknown but v.g) vocalist on to make a cover of The Stylistics 'People Make the World Go Round.' Reverse-engineered Soul Jazz. Yet, for some reason, I kept thinking of Mingus. There was swing in there as well.

I couldn't remember (or pronounce) any of the musician's names, so Google's found this: it's a reasonable review. The trumpet player is clearly quite a prodigy (the bloke I went with talked about Freddie Hubbard a lot on the way out), but I thought the drummer was quite something. Visually, he summoned up every nightmare associated with the term 'Scandanavian Jazz'. But he was the polar opposite of the very lovely Tommy Chase - another Soul-Jazz revivalist. Where Tommy was tight, this man was untutored and instinctive.

Look out for the Five Corners Quintet. Suits from the Freemans Catalogue...

(Tom unwittingly helped me write this. Ta Tom.)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Random Acts of Reality

Quite a post here. The rest of it is worth a read as well.

(via The Unbearable Shiteness of Being)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"I think they must have made a mistake"

Too right they did.

The most irritating singer alive wasn't nominated. But the Mercury Prize is no longer worth bothering with after this travesty. I don't think Antony is British, so he probably didn't go to Marlborough. But he still sounds like a bedwetter to me.

The Coral weren't even nominated. They should have won it - and been allowed to keep it.


(Can I stop apologising for this now?)

Blaming Bush

Pootergeek links to Tim Newman (an engineer - so he should know about these things) who has a really good bit of perspective on Hurricane Katrina on his site. The blame is being distributed faster than drinking water has been in New Orleans.

He says.

"Does anyone realise that Hurricane Katrina was the 3rd most intense hurricane on record and the fiercest in 35 years to hit the US? Does anybody actually acknowledge that this is an extremely rare event? The whirlwind of bullshit emanating from the media and blogosphere since Katrina's passing ...." etc. You can almost work out the rest for yourself

Read the whole thing.

And now I'm going to slightly contradict him by agreeing with one of the points that he derides.

Point 10: "This is all the fault of Small Government. Only Big Government can handle such emergencies."

I doubt if 'Big Government' would have differed with the risk-assessment that Local Government made. But I do think that the variable geometry of US federal Government makes for sub-optimal policy-making - and an inability to respond as well as they could.

Wolfgang Munchau had a good piece in the FT saying exactly this a few days ago (you need a subscription to read it though). He takes the work of Mancur Olsen as his text and writes about the variable geometry of the Eurozone and the Schenegen countries. But this lesson could equally apply to Katrina, the FA or the UN.


Things we can't study

I recently wrote a post about a recurring dream that I used to have in which aliens invaded the earth, killed most people, and conducted behavioural experiments on a small number of people.

If ETs invaded earth, and plundered the wealth of academic behavioural research, I wonder what gaps would they find? I suspect that they would notice that some interesting avenues had not been fully explored because to do so would be inhumane?

There must be experiments that behaviouralist would be interested in carrying out, but can't because they know that it would be ethically impossible. A bit like the kind of research that the Nazis were supposed to have done.

If anyone knows a behaviourist, could they ask them?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Going up the Oxo Tower

Like the (s)wanky buisnessman that I am, I had lunch today at the OXO tower. I'm not much of a judge, but the food seemed OK. The view was good and the service was leisurely, but we wanted it to be like that.

But thoughout the meal, my 'dad-joke' side was not able to forget this:

I know a lot of people have seen the (now deleted) OXO tower review from the London Eating website - I got a few e-mails pointing me to it at the time - but if you didn't, it's here (a quick Google found it copied onto someone's blog):

"When my boyfriend told me he wanted to take me up the Oxo Tower for my birthday, I was a bit hesitant at first because I didn't really think it was my scene. How wrong I was! I mean, yeah, so it's a bit of a strain on the old back pocket, and I admit I did feel a bit uncomfortable initially.

But a couple of cocktails helped me relax and soon I was really getting into it - we carried on well into the night. It was a great experience and I really loved it - so much so that I won't let my boyfriend take me anywhere else now! So if anyone ever wants to take you up the Oxo Tower, just throw caution to the wind and go for it!"

Anyway, that aside, I'm not sure I quite fit in at places like this. As I said to the waiter, "do I LOOK like I'd prefer brown bread?"

Sense-Data

There's a good post of James Hamilton's blog about the Flying Spaghetti Monsters - a rival 'Intelligent Designer'. Like the modified God of post-Darwinian creationists (see Stephen Jay Gould's tale of Adam's navel), the Spaghetti Monsters have taken the trouble to fabricate evidence in order to dupe faithless sceptics.

All of this reminds me of a set of malevolent omniscient beings that I dreamt up in my teens.

I had a persistent idea for a novel or a screenplay or something at the time. A sci-fi story in which a teenage boy (obviously) is enjoying a reasonably uneventful life until he starts to have paranoid suspicions about things that happen around him. He believes that his life is a fiction. He believes that the human race has largely been wiped out and that he and his family are the only survivors. The extra-terrestrials who have destroyed humanity spared them alone for study purposes.

So this family have had part of their memories largely wiped and have been placed artificially constructed town populated by convincing androids. All of the things that happen around them are things that the ETs have made happen in order to study the way that humans respond in a controlled way.

Eventually, our hero rumbles the plot by doing things that aren't predictable. For example, he walks around a corner and after a few steps, the runs back - retracing his steps - to find the scene he has just left being dismantled like a stage-set. The 'people' he just spoke to being taken to bits and re-skinned to resemble the people he is just off to meet. He does this a few times without the ETs noticing. So, for the second half of the story, he KNOWS, but is keeping up the pretence that he doesnt

I hadn't decided how to develop the story at this point, but the broad aim was for him to tell his parents, who then react with a disbelief and suspicion that he may be right.

Right at the end of the story, he finds out that even his 'parents' are androids and he was the only real person left all along.

I'm almost certain that this isn't an original idea and it may even have been based on some b-movie that I'd seen and largely forgotten.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Age of Consent

A few weeks ago, I implied that sleeping with an adult who routinely reads children’s literature is comparable to paedophilia.

I know that the argument is contentious, but I broadly stand by it. After all, the main moral objection to adults having sex with children is that - like victims of date-rape drugs - kids aren't thought to have the ability to fully provide ‘informed consent’ to an amorous overture.

Surely someone who keeps themselves in a permanent state of kittenhood by reading of witches and hobgoblins is equally vulnerable? I suppose they can’t actually be prevented from having sex, but surely it’s worth considering some kind of sterilisation programme? Failing this, we should all do our bit by slipping bromide in their tea.

All of this finds echoes in a little spat that appeared in the Guardian last week.

In a good silly-season article, Zoe Williams despaired at the number of politicians who told a survey that they were taking either The DaVinci Code or a Harry Potter for their holiday reading.

“They choose these books for the same reason that they occasionally yearn out loud for Big Brother-style phone-in voting, or praise Coronation Street, or claim to have drunk 14 pints in one go. They do it to make themselves sound more human, more accessible, more Joe Public.”

She went on, .... “...there is nothing shameful about intellectual sophistication - even if we were all as dumb as the focus groups seem to have put about, we would not necessarily recoil in horror at the idea of being represented by people who were cleverer than us.”

Every now and then, a ill-considered comment foregrounds something that should have been obvious all along. In a letter to the paper, Sophie Coulombeau of CommunicateResearch (who published the findings) supplied it:

“MPs are supposed to be representative, so why the shrill outcry because they enjoy the same books as the vast majority of us?”

Perhaps this is the reason that so many people declare themselves ‘disillusioned’ with politics?

Perhaps this misunderstanding of the application of ‘representative’ in the term ‘Representative Democracy’ is one of the causes of the alleged ‘disengagement’ that we keep reading about?

It could so easily be put right if MPs were to stop trying to ingratiate themselves like trendy vicars. It should almost tempt us to revisit John Stuart Mill’s suggestion that people should be have to pass some sort of intelligence test before being allowed to vote. Either way, there is a case for taking Sophie off the electoral roll. And DON’T try to sleep with her unless you want the News of the World on your case....

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Best Societies in the World

The best societies in the world are secular secular societies. Argued by Pam Bone (via Norm).

The best societies in the world are ones with powerful elected politicians: (from the Wikipedia entry on 'Public Choice Theory'):

".... Mancur Olson was an important contributor to public choice theory, as well as an advocate of strong government. In his books, he analyzed the development of Japan and Germany after the Second World War, and came to the conclusion that their economic success owed a big part to the fact that there were few or no political interest groups lobbying at the time, and that the politicians had free
hands to implement policies as they saw fit."

This 'best socieities in the world' may become a continuing theme on this blog. We'll see.