Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Further to this post last week, and this fine example of nonsense, (via Pootergeek, ages ago)I'm not sure I can stand the way that politics is reported any more. So I've put a little badge together using Microsoft 'Paint'. Very professional, isn't it?

Use it if you want. I expect to return to my PC and find it on every decent blogger's lapel - like those 'Euston Manifesto - signatory' ones.

(what, haven't you signed it yet?)

Context overlooked

Not being any kind of expert on the middle east, I think I should stick to my policy of being agnostic when posting on issues that I'm not qualified to comment on. I reckon that I'm allowed a few questions though.

Further to this article by Fred Halliday on OpenDemocracy*
"As we looked over to this Israeli town [from across the Lebanese border], with people clearly visible walking in the streets, the chief guide turned to me with an unambiguous message: "It took us twenty-two years to drive them out of here [Lebanon]", and it may take us up to forty years to drive them out of there [occupied Palestine]".

I long ago decided, in dealing with revolutionaries and with their enemies, in the middle east and elsewhere, to question their motives and sense of reality, but to take seriously what they stated to be their true intentions. Those words, spoken on the hill overlooking Metulla in 2004, were sincerely meant, and carried within them a long history of fighting, sacrifice and killing. In light of recent events, it would be prudent to assume that much more is to come."
.... and this quote from Hassan Nasrallah ('glorified' by George Galloway** - see here)
"If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide."
Hassan Nasrallah (leader of Hezbollah), quoted in the Lebanon Daily Star, October 2002
... and, of course, President Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be 'wiped off the map', and the ample evidence that Hezbollah are funded and directed from Tehran....

.... would it be fair to conclude that a large proportion of Israelis believe that Hezbollah - backed by Iran - are persuing a strategy to destroy the state and kill any Jews that they find there?

If this is the case, surely every journalist should be prefacing any discussion about a 'proportional response' with this fact?

*or should I say, the award-winning OpenDemocracy site - yay!
**Is George Galloway qualified to glorify anybody?

Friday, July 21, 2006

TV Without Frontiers

The EU's 'TV Without Frontiers' directive is being revisited again.

This is, IMHO, a very important piece of regulation. It's one that largely elicits bafflement in the UK, as - like so many EU regulations - it is completely unreported here.

Yet, it would be reasonable to hold up TVWF as being the reason that TV in Europe is not the same as TV in the US (and it's proponents could claim that the fact that original TV drama is made in the EU at all is thanks to TVWF)

I say that it's important. Perhaps, I should be asking if it is still important? I'm wondering if it is still needed, and if it is appropriate to regulate to 'strengthen Europe's content industry'.

You will see that the new revision is concentrating partly on the creation of harmonised rules on product placement and upon the other restrictions that EU states tend to put on TV advertising. The underlying assumption is, probably, that they are not placed upon broadcasters in the US.

There's an FAQ here and a summary here:

Certainly, in the mid-1990s, when multi-channel TV was an unknown quantity, there were legitimate worries that new broadcasters (a euphemism, usually, for BSkyB) were claiming that regulation would be impossible in a multi-channel broadcasting environment - and that, consequently, it should no longer be attempted. Sky particularly had in mind the rules that say that 51% of broadcast content should originate within the EU*.

Words like 'dumping' were wheeled out all the time. And, of course, this debate provided the perfect cockpit in which to rehearse the opposition between Froggy cultural fragility and their apparent nemesis, our crass Anglo-Saxon values. Not only did it encompass cultural interventionism (something that the French have never pretended to undervalue) - it also touched on the deregulatory agenda.

It was certainly hard to make the case for regulation in British circles at the time. Yet, though this debate was often portrayed in this way (with the UK, as ever, held up as a Yankee Trojan horse), there was a minor problem with this:
The UK is, in fact, not only the most heavily regulated broadcasting market in the world, but it also shows signs of benefiting enormously from this state of affairs.
In terms of home-grown content on TV, we produce more for our own marketplace than anywhere else in the world apart from the US. At the same time, we don't have the clumsy regulations that used to apply to French radio and that still apply to French Cinema (I say clumsy, but their cinema regulations seem to have the desired effect). In short, we have out-froggied the Frogs without even having to make ourselves look like them.

As long as viewers in the UK can have a wide choice of new original content (particularly drama) from a diverse range of sources, I for one will be happy. But I'm not sure how far either the 'public service broadcasting' intervention that we have in the UK or the other EU models can be applied in the future.

I'd be interested in anyone's views on this though.

*This is a crude rendition of the rules, but I think you get the picture.

Interlopers and counterjumpers

Brown Bread. Hell hath no fury like a social class facing the nemesis of history.

Chris's recent post reminds me that there is one side of the class debate that always eludes even the most historical of materialists: It is the way that - at times of social change - a declining social caste has always left booby traps for interlopers and counterjumpers.

The classic example of this is, of course, Opera. During the early 19th Century, when the landed classes found themselves in the coarser company of industrial capitalists, they noticed the habit that social climbers had, of imitating those that they aspire to join as equals.

When mill-owners took up hunting and Anglicanism, the nobs thought to themselves, "if we are about to be knocked off our pedestal, the least we can do is to shit on it first."

So they came up with a spiffing wheeze: Pretend to like Opera.

As no-one in their right mind can really enjoy this charmless Eyetie cacophony, Opera provided the perfect poison for a well that was being abandoned to the enemy.

The upper-middle classes did exactly the same thing in the mid 1960s to the first beneficiaries of the 1944 Education Act. This time, their weapon of choice was brown bread.

And shortly, I will explain (for those of you that are too thick to work it out for yourselves) how The Rolling Stones were conceived specifically to turn middle-brow radicals into political cabbages.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Deputy heads must roll

Most Villa fans (and especially this one, I think?) would have sacked O'Leary AND Doug Ellis.

Personally, I'd have hung on to O'Leary. When chairmen hire the wrong manager for the wrong reason, they should resign with them. But there's no real evidence that O'Leary was the wrong man.

In Ellis's case, however, the evidence is overwhelming.

Yank pick

Dr Dre. He walks on, with hope in his heart...

More on Americans and football. A US columnists decides which English side he is going to support this season.

He reaches a terrible conclusion. The worst possible.

Hat tip: Anthony - again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hot weather update

While I was away
"Pretending that the Conservatives are the "nice party" will not work. It is not true. And many Conservative members will not even try to counterfeit love for people they believe to be their social inferiors."
(via Cllr Bob)
"Class divisions scar us from childhood - more so, arguably, than paedophiles do."

Let them eat carrot cake

The film of the best book I've read during the current century is now on at your local flicks.

Actually, that's probably not true. Pirates of the Caribbean II is almost certainly on at your local flicks. But finding a cinema showing Atomised probably involves a long bus ride and having to eat carrot cake instead of popcorn.

Still. It's worth the bus ride.

Roller coaster

  • The good news: Javier Solana is going to bring about peace in the middle east.
  • The bad news: It turns out that he is able to do this because he is actually the antichrist.
  • The good news: It's all in hand.


via Anthony.

This kleptocracy we live in

Just catching up:

Martin Kettle says....
"It is beyond argument that the award of peerages has always been a cynical business. Ditto that Britain's party-political funding system is unsustainable. And also that John Prescott is a busted flush. All these things are true and, in context, serious. But there is much more to politics and government than this. Yet our political culture doesn't want to know. It seems incapable of getting out of second gear.

This has been a week, after all, in which politics has emphatically not been about games but about the real thing. The Middle East has taken a sharp turn for the worse. What appears to be Islamist terrorism has been brutally unleashed on a country with impeccable anti-imperialist credentials. And the UK government has announced a major strategic rethink on the country's long-term energy needs.

And yet what, for most British journalism this week, has been "the question that just won't go away" - aka the question we prefer to go on asking anyway? Not the Middle East, Islamist terrorism or whether the lights will stay on. Instead you have a choice of: "Why didn't John Prescott declare the gift of a stetson?", "Who else has he slept with?" or "Are the police going to question Tony Blair about Labour loans?" In this political culture, the closest we get to putting it all into perspective is episode 952 of the "When will Blair go?" saga.

Yet to pretend that Prescott's foolishness, Michael Levy's fundraising or even Blair's hold on the prime ministership are the biggest questions currently facing this country is pathetic. None of these things is remotely the case. Britain is not a country in political crisis. This is not a nation governed by incompetents. Our political system is not corrupt."
Absolutely right. And from the pen of a journalist as well. He'll be drummed out of the union shortly I expect. And I like that 'political culture in second gear' image as well.

Now, if you still DO think that this country has a corrupt political system, could I respectfully suggest that you fuck off to ... er... Belgium, France, Italy or the Republic of Ireland to name but a few neighbouring states where things are a good deal worse. Or almost anywhere else in the world come to that?

(BTW, Martin Kettle has been very good on the subject of 'campaigning journalism' lately, hasn't he?)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Last weekend; update

Col has an update here:

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Serious Golmal

"So, as a Bangladeshi living in the comfortable West, do I align my political compass to the plight of Muslims in Iraq/Palestine/Chenchnya or use my time to work with a group of Bangladeshis and actually be part of force for change?"
Read on:

Another quick one

On reflection, was National Service such a bad idea?

When someone uses the word 'holistic', are they always a charlatan? Or just sometimes?

And how come my breakfast cereal claims to be 'ethical'?

Doing stuff

Stuff doesn’t just need to be done. It needs to be seen to be done apparently.

Shuggy on the rozzers:

“Although Levy complained that the police had 'over-reacted', I was wondering on what basis could a New Labour believer possibly have for complaining about this? If indeed a crime has been committed, is this not the very government who would insist that we should be tough on it? And further, if the police are somewhat over-enthusiastic in their investigation of it, this is a price worth paying to ensure a wider justice is served. Is this not the sort of thing we are continually being told?”

Chris Dillow on threat levels:

"…the Home Office isn't an unbiased judge. It's got a bias to overstating the level of the threat. One reason for this lies in the economics of bureaucracy (pdf), as pioneered by William Niskanen. Bureaucrats want to expand their budgets. They do so by exaggerating the importance of their work.

To see another reason for bias, just imagine what would happen if there's a terrorist attack after the government announced, say, a "moderate" threat. Every knobhead dead tree will accuse the government of understating the threat, of being complacent. The criticism for appearing to overstate the threat will be much smaller. So there's another incentive to overstate the danger."

Politics v Democracy

An e-mail from Tom Steinberg of mysociety reminds me of a conversation I had a while ago with a few people about how new media can improve the quality of public life.

I thought that there was an interesting difference among those present when political questions came up. Some people were very keen on the various parliamentary-focussed sites from the MySociety team. Personally, I think that these sites are of questionable value to civic society.

I’m not saying that they are a bad thing exactly, but I’d suggest that the real challenge that the notion of ‘e-democracy’ presents is how the quality of public interaction can be improved. Politicians are very strongly influenced by the more noisy aspects of public dialogue – and that conversation is, I would argue, becoming more debased in a number of ways.

Projects that reinforce the view that ‘politics’ and ‘democracy’ are largely the same thing don’t – in my view – contribute much to the improvement of civil society. I think that the most valuable thing that could be done would be something that would allow politicians to explain how they serve their constituents, exercise their conscience, and how their relationship with their political parties and the other groupings that they owe loyalty to effect the way that they make policy.

For the most part, the climate in which this fundamental issue is discussed often leads to the conclusion that politicians are blinkered / sleazy / lazy / stupid /incompetent.

And this, I would argue, is another example of fundamental attribution error. We get the politicians we deserve. Or, more to the point, we get the politicans that our dumbfuck media deserve. Any innovation that were to create a more suitable climate for this discussion would be an innovation indeed. I think that, in this climate, the exposure of politicians to the unfettered 'wisdom of crowds' would prove to be a cruel and unusual punishment. In the case of football referees, it certainly doesn't improve the quality of their decisions, so why should it result in better government?

I should add - less what I've said here appears churlish - that MySociety (and the various groupings close to MySociety) is one of the most impressive ventures I've come across. When they do a project, they do it fantastically well.

Pledgebank, for example, is an inspired idea that has endless posibilities. They way they created a forum to discuss the Power Enquiry was an example of how all of these reports should be discussed in public. And the voluntary nature of MySociety provides a model for social innovation that required a level of management that I know I'd not be capable of.

The idea of hacking out information from official sources and presenting it the way it should be done (as they do in 'They Work For You') is an idea that has endless possiblities. There are dozens of ways that this concept would improve the transparency of government - and make officialdom more accountable.

I just worry that everyone is keen to put politicans on the spot, while many of the other forces that dictate the course of modern life go largely ignored.

So for the avoidance of doubt, any criticism of MySociety here is heavily qualified.

As an example of how public debate is becoming gradually more debased, a while ago, a left-liberal columnist arguing that Judges should be subject to the kind of popular oversight that Murdoch’s rags are demanding.

I link to the rival case (not for the first time). It is important to recognise that the concept of duty is erroded when those entrusted with a role in public life become accountable for their personalities.

If Freedland and The Sun want to see judges (and every other class of official) grandstanding like Sir Ian Blair, I wish they’d say so.

Oh, and one more thing. Tom Steinberg's e-mail was requesting feedback on ideas that they have solicited over the past few months. I think that this one is a really excellent idea.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Service announcement

There will be thin blogging here for a few weeks now. The wedding is on Sahurda and there's not much time to think about anything else.

As a sign of the times, there were FOUR bloggers at the pre-nup piss up in Co Mayo last weekend. Only one of them has even alluded to it so far because the other three can't recall much of it.

So in the meantime, I'll fall back on You Tube again to fill this space. Here's a masterclass.

Hippy watch

Someone said that the Beatles are dying in the wrong order.

I don't know about that, but it could be true of Pink Floyd.

Now could SOMEONE PLEASE find a film clip of Keith Richards falling out of that tree and put it on YouTube?

In the meantime, what's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Q & A

Pay attention.

Whatta guy!

Iain Dale. Thank fuck for him! What a great bloke.

I think that Iain Dale's blog has really made the world a better place. I really do. Thank fuck there is a voice of sanity to preserve us from a world infested by point-scoring agenda-driven newspapers, populist politics and shoddy sensationalist journalism.

Where would we be without the likes of Iain Dale? Good old Iain!

(I think I've said this before)

Public and private

"More and more I think of privatisation as being not just about the takeover of resources and power by corporate interests, but as the retreat of citizens to private life and private space, screened from solidarity with strangers and increasingly afraid or even unable to imagine acting in public. This is how human beings get downgraded from citizens to consumers."
Rebecca Solnit

She's right, dammit...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ticket to ride

Richard Branson - a codpiece of the highest order. He inspired the title of this website you know?

Quick question: Is there any 'service' that is as unbelievably irritating as the automated voice ticket booking system that Virgin Trains offer - as the only alternative to their poxy useless website (the site that is always more expensive than the ticket counter at the station)?

The English Disease

McLaren. Absolutely 100% certain to bring home all of the silverware next time*.

It must be somebody's fault that England are out of the World Cup. Sean Og reviews the credentials of the various candidates for The Blame. Rooney, Ronaldo and Robinson all make reasonable candidates. But he settles on Sven.

Chris Dillow argues (indirectly) that we should blame whoever takes the role of settling upon the right motivation for Sven. Implicit in his argument (I think) is that we should blame whoever gave Sven the job in the first place.

The same people that have hired McLaren in such an impressive way.

The same sort of no-brainers that didn't (thankfully) hire Him (pbuh).

This is the English disease. Get used to it. They will have to....

*supply your own punchline.