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).