Friday, March 31, 2006

What we're good at

I don't think I'm alone in arguing that the blogosphere is not very good when it focuses on the court politics of Westminster, or on party-political bunfights. Invariably, its like being in a room full of tedious Rory Bremner impersonators.

But we are good when we campaign on, and try to develop an intelligent policy discussion. The achievements of Slugger O'Toole, for instance, speak for themselves. Slugger has created a serious and civil space for the discussion of policy in Northern Ireland. Anyone who can read without moving their lips in aar wee pravance is no longer discussing the next election solely in terms of the question "are there more Catholics than Protestants yet?"

If anywhere needs its democracy rescuing in this way, its Northern Ireland.

Now, while our democracy may not the the sick old man that we are often told it is, there are plenty of improvements that could be made. Take the question of Thames Gateway. The government are planning to build upwards of half-a-million new homes there over the next twenty years. These will not, by the way, be the palaces of the wealthy. Words like 'affordable' and 'key worker' are regularly used. The latter term may be replaced by 'sink' by 2025 unless we're careful.

If ever there was a case for consulting people, this is it. Hana has touched on this on her old blog and tells me she may return to it on her new one. But meanwhile, as the government chuck £Squillions at fruitless 'e-democracy' exercises and projects designed to get 'social entrepreneurs, 'community activists' and 'volunteers' to take on the role of the state, the lack of real belief in this kind of decentralisation is evident.

Because most people aren't in a position to comment on big policy issues - and certainly not in the terms that Government will ever discuss them in.

But they are very good at planning how their schools should be rebuilt, how their neighbourhoods should be designed and developed and so on. Cllr Brown's experience in Lewisham shows what can be acheived here:

We - the blogosphere - should be demanding that the planners should be obliged to develop a lively and constructive conversation with the millions of people that they are going to move in the new massive Thamesmead planned for the Thames Gateway. It is something that we - the blogosphere - would be good at fomenting.

This is what Civil Blogging and Citizen Journalism should really be about. And we should do it before its too late, because the consequences for millions of people could be terrible.

If anyone can get this kind of conversation going, it is the collective blogosphere.

Synchronicity

Forest managers share the League One manager of the month award.

The Son of Man shares the Conference manager of the month award.

Forest: Seven points away from the play-offs with hope in our hearts.

Burton Albion: Seven points away from the play-offs with hope in their hearts.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Constipators

Ken Livingstone has got right up my nose lately. I voted against a Labour candidate for the first time in my life when I voted (and campaigned) for him as an Independent. If he stands as a Labour candidate next time, I may cast only my second-ever vote against my party.

But, once more, I feel the need to come to The Martyred One's defence. Ken has been reported to The Standards Board again. This time, it is for referring to Robert Tuttle, the US ambassador in London, as a "chiseling little crook".


Now m'learned friends have pointed out that I should make it clear that in no way do I endorse this slur on the pristine reputation of Mr Tuttle. But that's the point, isn't it? If someone were to call me a "chiseling little crook", I'd probably be able to wallpaper the West Wing of NTaH Towers with the proceeds.

Mike Tuffrey, a Lib Dem on the London Assembly has gone one step further. Keeping an elected politican tied up, answering stuppid questions for the worthless Standards Board is not enough. He also wants a two-term limit to be imposed, so that we won't even get the opportunity to vote against Livingstone next time around.

I don't know about you, but I'm sick of all of these prats who think they've nothing better to do that come up with ways of gagging, regulating or even disenfranchising people who have been elected. There are the army of 'monitoring officers', paid by the public purse to undermine democracy. They think that it's their job to stop Councillors saying practically anything.

And there's the loathsome Standards Board and its despicable adjunct, the Adjudication Panel.

There is also whichever class of bureaucrat who wrote the guidance to David Milliband telling him that he can't even allow other people to make political comments on his blog (never mind that David himself can't say what he thinks on a ministerial blog).

And now there's Mike Tuffrey with his ‘even more smackable than David Cameron’ face.

Comrades! This has to stop! There are some people who are paid to constipate public life. There are others who are prepared to connive in this idiocy to make a cheap short-term point. But we should know them for what they are. They are constipators.

And we will have to deal with them sooner or later. Would for their sake that it happens soon, before the sensible people of this island turn nasty. I hope never to see the day when dozens of bureaucrats can be found hanging from lamp-posts with a huge clay models of an enlarged human stool stuffed into each of their mouths.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Passing notes

Up to my eyes in it today. But have a look at these:
  1. David Milliband wants to know what ward Councillors are for.
  2. Perhaps all politicians should be more touchy-feely?Is this a version of 'Dianaficiation'? Or is it the antidote the communicative constipation that infects every corner of public life? You decide.
  3. And have a look at Socialight: (hat tip Cloud Street)

That's all. Now be off with you!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

À La Recherche du Temps Perdu

A few years ago, I sat on a bus one Friday evening, among the usual tired going-home crowd.

In full view of every passenger was a teenage boy, on his way out for the evening, kissing his pretty girlfriend. And the whole bus groaned with envy.

I thought about it afterwards, and it occurred to me that the groan was nothing to do with sexual jealousy, but more to do with remembrance. Like many of those travellers that night, I have kissed pretty girls on buses. And I'd done so, oblivious of the scarcity of such moments. It was less the envy of the onlooker, than an empty feeling of loss.

You never know what you have...
and so on.

**********

Tonight, I was on my way into London on the Piccadilly Line. The tube was full of happy chatty Arsenal fans on their way to the Juventus game. I made eye contact with a few of them, and the excitement was palpable.

I thought about times long gone - the short trip from town to Trentside to greet Cologne and Puskas' AEK Athens side, the fabled trip to Anfield in 1978 for that finest of all hours (yes - I WAS there...).

I know that I should have felt happy for those Gooners. Outwardly, I joined in the party mood as the train sped towards Finsbury Park.

But deep down, I felt alone. Like a bereaved child in a room full of happy families.

Inside, I was weeping like a baby.

Monday, March 27, 2006

WDDWW

This morning's newspaper gives some fleeting hope to everyone who wants things to end as they should.

Naturally, if Forest get into the play-offs this season, promotion is 100% guaranteed. But making the top six is pretty far from certain at the moment. With seven games to go, we are currently seven points adrift and without a competitive Goal Difference.

There are all sorts of ways of projecting our position at the end of the season. Given that our recent form is quite good, I've seized on the idea of taking our points average over the last five games and assuming that this form remains consistent to the end of the season.

Here's what I worked out with my slide rule;

On the form of the last five games (WDDWW - as good a run as any that Forest have enjoyed this season), we've taken eleven points from a possible 15. On this form, we can expect to take 15 or 16 points from the remaining seven games, finishing on 70 or 71 points.

Our nearest rivals (Swansea in 5th on 63 pts, and Barnsley and Oldham in 6th and 7th respectively, both on 62) have better goal differences. So, if we are to make the top six, we will have to match Swansea's points at least.

So, on my logic (last five games form) Swansea have had a bad run (6 points from five games). If this average is played out over their last seven games, the will get 8 or 9 points. They finish on 71 or 72 points.

Alternatively, (clutching at straws) Barnsley are having an even worse end to the season than Swansea (four points from five games). Extrapolate this form over the last seven games (5 or 6 points) and they will finish on 67 or 68 points.

The blot on this landscape, though, mere existence of the loathsome Oldham Athletic. 12 points from the last five games - better than the rejuvenated Trees. Wankers!

This should give them 16 or 17 points at the end. On this form, they finish the campaign on 78 or 79 points.

So, the end-of-season placings on current form...

5th - Oldham - 78 or 79 pts
6th - Swansea - 71 or 72 pts
----------------------------
7th - FOREST - 70 or 71 pts
8th - Barnsley - 67 or 68 pts

Not a bad projection to the perennial optimist. Only a slight variation to this projection gives us the absolute certainty of Championship football next season, and a trip to Old Trafford in the Premiership year later. If Forest's wins are particularly high-scoring (which I think we can all agree that they're bound to be), this could even dispense with the poor Goal Difference problem.

And Oldham have had a spectacularly good run, haven't they? They're bound to come a cropper soon, aren’t they?

The post-Megson winning run ended with an away draw at Bristol City and a home draw to Gillingham (for fuck's sake, Gillingham! At home!), and the final six points in that sequence were taken from Doncaster away (good!) and MK Dons at home (surely points that were nailed on at the start of the season?).

So that '11 points from 5 games' is probably flattering in reality.

We're staying down, aren't we? *sob*

Update 1: Col is keeping May Bank Holiday free for the play-offs. Bless!

Update 2: Wikipedia on Forest's current management. Am I alone in suspecting that some people are starting to treat Wikipedia as a surrogate personal blog?

Lost mind latest

Arentya sick of the way that Shuggy just never says what he thinks?

On the subject of the latest 'watch sites' (covering Harrys Place and Tim Worstall respectively)...

"Now, can I make a suggestion? If you have 'watch' at the end of your blog's title, I really think you should consider the possibility that you've lost your goddam mind*."

Note: Tim Worstall edits collections of Blog posts. In sucking up to Tim, Shuggy is making a pretty astute career move (if blogging can be called a career move...).

*loss of damn / goddam minds is a recurring theme of his.

Note to 'anti-imperialists'

"Democracy is not Western"

Amartya Sen in the Wall Street Journal:

"When it is asked whether Western countries can "impose" democracy on the non-Western world, even the language reflects a confusion centering on the idea of "imposition," since it implies a proprietary belief that democracy "belongs" to the West, taking it to be a quintessentially "Western" idea which has originated and flourished exclusively in the West. This is a thoroughly misleading way of understanding the history and the contemporary prospects of democracy."

(via An Insomniac signposted indirectly by HakMao).

A few weeks ago, the good Prof Norm had this to say, having read Madeline Bunting in The Groan:

Bunting: 'This callow arrogance about the political cultures of other countries, more than any other issue, prompted my opposition to both wars.'

That's an indirect way of saying (since it's a tough number to actually say it) that, in relation to Afghanistan and Iraq, projects of regime change and democratization were inevitably doomed because the indigenous cultures aren't receptive to democracy. No word about the millions in both countries who have come out to vote, under threat of violence against them if they did, showing every sign of a hunger for democracy. No word about the forces in those countries, trade unionists, women's groups, civic organizations, battling as best they can in desperate circumstances. No word. From someone as quick as Bunting is to impute Islamophobia to others, her 'political cultures' allusion might be thought in any case to make an incongruous theme.


I wonder if Ms Bunting reads the Wall St Journal?

Update: 28th March: Democracy is not everyone's cup of tea. And more Maddy in a similar vein (via Comrade R).

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Buck Owens RIP

Like a lot of people under 42 years of age, I found out about Buck Owens through Dwight Yoakam - who idolised him.

And, it turns out that he was right to do so. In the late 1980s, DY's first two albums rarely left my deck - songs like Little Ways, (a song that lifts loads of Buck's vocal trademarks) and covers 'Smoke Along the Track' and 'Heartaches By the Number' were among the standout tracks.

Yoakam went on to duet with Buck on 'The Streets of Bakersfield' on the Buenas Noches from and Empty Room LP.

For years, I was never that curious about Buck - until I saw Dwight talking about him on a documentary. And it turned out that Dwight owed much of his success to the fact that the world had stupidly forgotten about Buck.

Aidan has a good post with more on Buck here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Retro-blogging latest

First Pepys. Now Chaucer.

(Hat tip: Islingword St)

Open source? Open schmourse!

I know that I'm probably whacking a hornets nest here but.... here goes:


*****
Health warning: This posting represents a viewpoint that I think I sincerely hold. But it also is a defence of a strategy that has been adopted by the company I work for, so draw your own conclusions: Is it possible for someone to sincerely beleive in their commercial strategy?
*****
Some people I know really take open source geekery very seriously. I've even heard it described as an article of faith - as an integral part of any definition of socialism - as some kind of cornerstone of common ownership. I really don't get it though.

Now, I have to declare an interest here: We (the company I work for) work in a way that has some of the characteristics of open source - we have a programme by which all of our clients are able to share the developments that we do for them - and we specialise in 'joint procurements' - where we find a number of clients who broadly want the same thing, and we manage their projects in a way that they can share costs and benefit from economies of scale - sharing a core system and customising it to meet everyone's desired end-result. Our clients work with us to upgrade their system jointly and to share in the benefits.

But we usually use MS technologies (particularly SQL Server, and IIS).

And we (my company) are - after all - a Co-operative. To adapt Herbert Morrison's claim that "socialism is what Labour governments do", perhaps open source is what co-ops do?
So we feel alright about it on balance ;-)

But I've never understood how something as pragmatic as tech strategy could get mixed up with ideology in this way. I do understand that the general concept that knowledge should be shared at the earliest possible opportunity - and that restricting access to, or hoarding of knowledge is ultimately counter-productive - even anti social.

Bill Thompson has always had a downer, for instance on Digital Rights Management - and as I've got older, I've come to understand why. I understand why the Guardian's open-handed approach to its content is not just socially responsible, its also commercially astute.
I've never believed that 'home taping is killing music' either.

But I don't understand why this worldview translates to technical strategy. Some organisations really would not benefit from having their systems built using open source technologies. Because it's harder to build up a sustainable company developing using these technologies (it self-selects the type of customers that will be promiscuous, and results in an unstable network of suppliers - therefore a lack of suppliers with well-developed procedures or cohesive teams of developers).
And In the sphere of website development, it is not even as portable as some of its advocates claim. So the fashionable preference for this approach results in sites that are actually NOT future proof, ones that really need rebuilding from scratch every few years, and a lack of commercially stable suppliers to meet the needs of any sectors that are smitten with this semi-rational desire. The suppliers regularly go bust, abandoning any warranty they may have signed, and the rebuild that is needed doubles the cost of the project over any medium term that you'd measure (in this case, say, a five-year project lifespan).
Chosing this strategy can give an organisation the worst of all worlds.
One consultant I spoke to said "it is possible to move a content management system developed using open source scripts to another team of developers, but when you do, it arrives in caravans, and the instructions are usually gobbledygook."

Part of me suggests that there is a link to Parkinson's Law here. Some of the most territorial and bureaucratic organisations I've come across have techies that can't be persuaded from open source strategies. They all have really REALLY shit websites by the way...

(n.b. the Wikipedia definition of 'open source' is tagged as follows: "The neutrality of this article or section may be compromised by "weasel words".")

More medicine

Yet more stuff that bloggers don't yet realise that they want to know.

Look at this trick (using AJAX) to provide really detailed info on exactly how a page that you have created has been used. In minute detail.

First read the article, and then hit alt-X on your keyboard to see how it works.

(from Ben. Hanx Ben.)

Little bastards

Dave found this in The Independent.

"...nice, well-adjusted kids grow up to be lefties, while the insecure ones turn into Tories."

As Dave says, "this is news?"

Demo placard idea

There has been a the call for participants in Saturday's March for Free Expression to leave any of the MoToon images at home. From the comments, not everyone is impressed.

But surely there is a difference between defending someone's right to be offensive and actually being offensive yourself?

I think that pornography featuring consenting adults should be largely uncensored. But I wouldn't go on a march with a high-resolution picture of a cluster-fuck on a placard......

Or perhaps its worth considering... ?

Cornerstones

I don't know about you, but every now and then, someone articulates - and reinforces - something that is a cornerstone of your worldview. It doesn't happen very often, but like buses, two of them have come along at once:

Shuggy on why anti-semitism matters:
"...isn't it a legitimate source of dismay that what could reasonably be considered one of the oldest and enduring, most sophisticated, elaborate and organised human prejudices ever known still persists, despite the experience of the 20th century? .... if we [can't] learn this lesson from history at least, what hope is there of us learning any others?"

... and Tim Garton Ash on why the EU matters so much that it is central to any pro-democracy positon that I can think of:
"There are many reasons for the different paths followed by Belarus's western and eastern neighbours since the end of the cold war - the Polish way and the Russian way - but one of the most fundamental is this: that the Poles wanted to join the EU and the EU made it clear the Poles could join if they met certain standards of democracy, the rule of law, market economy and so forth. Now it's the Poles - and Slovaks, Czechs, Lithuanians and other recently self-liberated Europeans - who, as new members of the EU, are saying we must do more to sustain the cause of freedom in places such as Belarus. Besides direct support for independent media, civil society and the democratic opposition, and pressuring the country's leaders, the most important thing we can do is to offer that long-term European perspective.

They are right. This is the corner of Belarus's reality we can directly and legitimately change."

Unsettling. And settled scores.

Here's one rather worrying unsettled score.

Megson will seem like an ineffectual hippy schoolteacher by comparison.
And on the subject of settling scores, I've always had trouble finding the stats to settle arguments about end-of-season footie league table placings.

But they are now in Wikipedia (probably been there a while, but I found them today) I've had to make a few corrections already though....

And I predict that Forest will hammer Spurs at White Hart Lane in the Premier League in the 2008-9 season...

Soulwalking

Soulwalking - soulboy heaven. The links are worth a visit on their own.

Increasing Blog Traffic Seminar


From Samantha Burns.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Medicine time again

Now I know you're not here to be bored by techie stuff, and I know I did this a few days ago as well, but there really are some developments in the way that information is managed and shared that everyone should know about. Particularly anyone who blogs, or wants to understand how the Internet is going to change the way we get information and interpret it.

Here's someone called Scott Rafer on 'Web 2.0' (with a hefty contribution in the comments from yrs trly).

"In short, XML does the logical thing. It allows programmers to separate information from the way that information isstored and used. Digital music is an appropriate metaphor. When audiocassette recorders became in the 1970s, suddenly you could have your favorite band on-demand in the car and in your Walkman.

With the rise of the MP3 standard, even those limits are erased. Music can be easily stored all over the Internet, moved on and off audio players from hundreds of manufacturers, and syndicated as podcasts. As XML becomes universally applied over the next decade, all digital information and most of the applications that manipulate it become as flexible and transportable as every song on your iPod.

The implications of” XML everywhere” are as tough to grasp here in early 2006 as the implications of music stored on computer hard drives were to grasp a decade ago."


Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The problem, in a nutshell

From Stuart's Soapbox
"Young people in the UK are the most detached from politics with just 23% feeling close to a political party compared to 71% in Italy and 68% in Finland (the two highest). In fact the UK comes off worst on nearly all of the indicators as just 11.3% follow the news on a daily basis compared to 38.4% in Italy.

Everyone who cares about democracy needs to think deeply about this and about what we can do to combat it. The problem with trusting NGOs is that single issue pressure groups are very dangerous as they simplify and distort facts and arguments to suit their case. It is this simplification that is appealing as it is far easier to get a simple message across than it is a complex one. The problem is that these are complex issues that demand complex solutions."

MoToons latest

Mick Hartley on The Church in Wales and the draft UN report on how the Danish government must take responsibility for the consequences that arise from the anti MoToon demonstrations. That the violent demonstrations have caused any 'Islamophobia' to arise is, it seems, the fault of the Danish government.

"The Danish government’s first reaction – refusing to take an official position on the nature and publication of the cartoons while referring to Freedom of Speech as well as refusing to meet with the ambassadors from the Muslim countries – is symptomatic not only of the political trivialisation of Islamophobia but also, due to its consequences, of the central role those politically responsible have for the national extent and the international consequences in the shape of demonstrations and expressions of Islamophobia."
I can't see how this conclusion can make anyone very happy. While it's obviously unfair on the Danish government, it also suggests that Muslims are an elemental force that are unable to respond to any perceived insult in a reasonable way. That they can't be held responsible for their own actions. It reminds me of the isolationist's objection to interventionism. That 'over there' is 'a hornet's nest', 'best left alone' .... 'a distant land of which we know little'. If we're chucking 'ophobias around, it strikes me as a profoundly xenophobic way of looking at the world.

Now, in law, I understand that a child would be absolved of the consequences of something that they have done. But are we to understand that the UN would like all Muslims to be treated in this way?

Googlebomb time

Got a blog? Then link to the dodgy magistrate....

That'll teach him to complain about search engine results. That dodgy magistrate.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Minister blogging - yet another viewpoint

As you've probably heard, David Milliband is blogging now.

I suspect that the blogging minister is going to be a mistake. When institutions follow where dynamic individuals lead, it always backfires. A few days ago, I drew the 'Good Morning Vietnam' parallel. But the trendy vicar in the 1970s, thinking that folk masses would bring the kids flocking back - it's another example of the same mistake.

And if you want evidence, here it is: Young David says:
"A note on comments - as this is a Government website I'm afraid I can't publish feedback which makes party political points."

I expect his Civil Servants drafted that one, in reality. You know me. You already know that I've posted the following comment:

"David. You are an elected MP. You have been appointed as a minister by an elected Prime Minister. Any idea that you are not a politician - and can't respond to party-political points in a party political way, is ludicrous - and the advice saying that you can't is mistaken. If you really think that you will manage an effective blog without saying what you think - and justifying Labour's position in contrast to your political rivals, you are mistaken. This is a misreading of the relevant legislation and of the custom-and-practice that governs these issues.

More to the point, you will defeat the object of blogging. We want to know who you are, what makes you tick, why you think the things that you do. We want to know where your concience puts you at odds with the political line that you often feel obliged to take. We want to know where the public perception differs from the reality. We want to know about how you resolve the tensions between the direct interests of sections of your constituency and the nation as a whole. We want to know why you sometimes feel the need to compromise with other MPs, ministers, your party as a whole - and even the political parties you don't belong to. We want to hear your version of the issues that cross your desk every day. We're sick of seeing all of this through the distorting prism of the mass media.

In short, we want you to be honest and thoughtful with us. And if you can use blogging tools to do this, you will do a huge favour to everyone who believes in representative democracy in this country.

The reason that so many people are sceptical about politics today is that they don't understand that these tensions arise and that they have to be resolved.

Therefore, the idea that you can't respond in a political way is an absurd reading of the rules. I'd suggest that you challenge the civil servants who have told you that you can't be 'party-political' on this blog. Inform them that giving a politican a platform to be candid is not the same as giving them a political asset at the taxpayers expense.

Inform them that it is often the opposite. Inform them that their interpretation of this rule has no basis in law, and ask them to demonstrate why you should have such a restriction placed upon you by unelected officials. And if they persist, please feel free to contact me, and I'll set you up with a blog - at no expense to me or you - that you will be able to say whatever you like on."


I'm baffled by Manic's attitute to this. He quotes, (with approval, it seems) someone called 'Harry' saying:
"If you intend this to be a personal blog why are you using your Government Department's website? How much civil service time is spent drafting/vetting your 'personal' comments? Doing this via a Government website is a misuse of the taxpayers money and also renders the claim of it being a genuinely personal blog suspect. If you want to run a blog why don't you sort it out for yourself like everyone else rather than scrounging one off the taxpayer?"

If a minister needs the help of the civil service in fostering a dialogue with the public, then it is an exceptionally good use of public money and should be encouraged. It could do the minister more harm than good, by the way. I don't suppose I'd need a long discussion to pin someone who thinks that this is "scrounging off the tax payer" into the kind of corner where they'd admit that they don't really think that liberal democracy is that much better than any of the alternatives.

Call it a hunch. But I don't think it'd take long to get them into that corner.

Test it if you like Harry? I have a comments box.

Postscript: I've just re-read that comment on DM's blog. Not only is HE not allowed to be party political, his blog can't be a conduit for party political comment from others?

David: It's so simple: Either
  1. Sack your officials (or at least tell them to get stuffed)
  2. Set up your own blog without them and turn the official one off
  3. Don't bother blogging in the first place.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Come and join us (as long as you're not a journalist)

Now that the Groan has it's own blog, we can have a more realistic discussion about how the mainstream media can adapt to this new media.

The doctor thinks that they can adapt it to their purposes. I'm not convinced yet though.

For the same reason that police authorities can't do this, so it's true that newspapers can't either. A lot of journalists, in particular, don't like the 'line-by-line' dissection that they get from bloggers. Robert Fisk has an aversion, apparently. After all, blogging threatens the gentleman amateur nature of some schools of journalism.

Good.

As bloggers, we play out our obsessions, and we can descend on our prey in a feeding frenzy. Have a look at Harry's Place whenever the benighted Madeline Bunting writes anything. I doubt if journalists ever have had their work as comprehensively and righteously trashed before blogging came along.

But most importantly, writing your own blog helps us (the royal 'we') to develop our ideas. I take RSS feeds from about three dozen blogs and skim them every day. I'm interested in local democracy from both a professional and personal point of view.

As I often don't know what I think till I read what I write, my blog helps me to direct my work. It's changed the way that I approach the business that I'm in. I've met new people as a result. It weeds out all of the people that actually have something to say, and I find that bloggers are often quite substantial people.

Having substance is not always a good career move: Perhaps blogging will even change this in the fullness of time?

I'm also interested in the re-alignment of the left that is happening post 9/11, and the detailed arguments that bloggers have provided has allowed me to trust my own instincts more.

Whereas I often kept quiet because no-one was stating what I thought to be the obvious (I thought that I must be wrong for a reason that no-one had told me), now I'm involved in a dialogue with people who share - and are helping me develop - my views.

And, as a Nottingham Forest blogger, I'm increasingly privy to discussions that I was unaware of beforehand.

Go on. If you don't blog already, start. You won't realise how beneficial it can be until you do.

Here's a blog software comparison chart. Go figure.

Clueless

The Electoral Commission: Anyone with a clue need not apply.

Go and read...

Do irrational beliefs harm economic growth?

Chez Shuggy.

Knowledge economy

Have you seen Google Answers yet?

As described by the beeb....

"Google ... has its own answering service - in which questioners can set a price, between $2 and $200, that they're willing to pay for an answer. And looking at the current crop on Google Answers, it's information that wouldn't exactly fit on to a text message.

For instance, someone is offering $2 for the wiring diagram for a 1994 Honda Accord. Another questioner is offering $22 for detailed information about front-loading washing machines. It's a kind of eBay for information."


Hat tip: Señorita Cano.

I have a question: What will it take to get Nigel Clough to take the manager's job at Forest?
"He will come again, in glory, to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end"

Col prefers John 3:16 (via e-mail)

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his (only) begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Sarah Connor

Nosemonkey is sceptical about Jo Twist's line of work.

He shouldn't be. I'd suggest that e-democracy will not take the shape that any of us suspect that it will. Using games as a way of getting people to deliberate in new ways is as good an idea as any.

And if e-democracy takes the direction that the current Wikipedia definition says that it will*, I for one will be arming myself and awaiting the final showdown.

A bit like Sarah Connor in the Terminator films.

David Wilcox (again) shows how gaming can add value to policymaking.

*Note to self: Must get involved in the editing of Wikipedia. E-democracy does NOT equal Direct Democracy.

Neighbourliness


A while ago, Kevin Harris commented on the virtues of the cul-de-sac in cultivating a balance between neighbourliness and the desire for privacy.

A more recent post on his blog reminds me of the time that I lived in a kind-of cul-de-sac.

It was a little close that featured a couple of blocks of early-1960s Council flats and some semi-detached houses. The only traffic was to-and-from those dwellings and they all overlooked a large round green patch - about 30m in diameter. It was great for people with kids - they could let them out to play in a place where there were no fast-moving cars, and they would always be in view. A reasonable game of footie or cricket for 4-5 kids could be played.

But then, one day, a few vocal old gits complained to the Council. Shortly afterwards, a bit 'No Ball Games' sign was erected on a metal post in the middle of the green, effectively making most games impossible.

I know that it's impossible to prove this, but my perception of the area is that it went downhill after that. There was less of a sense of neighbourliness and it felt less safe. Parents were no longer keeping an eye on the whole close and the sense of desertion was apparent.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Top o' the mornin' to ya!

Today (St Patricks Day) will probably go down in my dull biography as the most embarrassing day of my life. I will explain when I get more time, but here's a clue:

  • Nottingham now hosts an annual St Pat's day parade
  • My mother is on the organising committee
  • They need someone to present the commemorative video that no-one will ever watch
  • The person who is the presenter most years won't do it this year
  • The committee thing that they need someone with an Irish background, Nottingham origins, and 'the gift of the gab'
  • My mother is very good at getting people to do things that they don't want to do

    While I'm away (and there better be a few drinks in this for me, otherwise someone is going to get a slap), read one of these to your children (via Slugger, as ever).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lucky Col

Col has joined the world's 30 million bloggers.

There's Nottingham pubs there. There's Forest. There's Rebus. There's even Dexy's Midnight Runners.

Go and see Col then.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The semantic web

If you're not here looking for blog posts about e-democracy and suchlike, you are probably not from the part of NTaH's readership that would know what the 'Semantic Web' is.

But really, you should. The New Statesman New Media site has a report of a Tim Berners-Lee speech in which he says:

"The whole value-added of the web is serendipitous reuse..."
Again, if you've heard the term 'semantic web' before, this will strike you as a clever (if ungrammatical) thing to say. But if you aren't, it will probably sound a bit pseudy.

My mate Ben reckons that this (old) article is still the best he's seen on the subject. Read it. It's worth knowing about.

(Modesty should forbid me from linking to the New Statesman New Media Awards judging panel, so I won't).

Sweaty socks

Shuggy:

"Scotland regularly tops international comparisons - only it's never for anything good. Just off the top of my head, we have the highest blocks of flats in western Europe (and they're not nice); more strokes and heart-attacks; more drug abuse; more murders; Glasgow City Council, before it got rid of them, was the biggest slum landlord in western Europe; we have the lowest life-expectancy, and not just in western Europe; surely the most goddamn expensive regional parliament on the face of the planet; I think if I remember rightly, one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world - and even this can't halt population decline; and now we're making a bid to have the crappiest teeth in Europe.

Do pop into the comments box and tell me that it's all the fault of the English and this wouldn't be happening if only the Jacobites had won...."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

They're all at it now...

Apropos of the previous post, the Coppers Blog highlights what happens when a public sector body tries to blog.

Why does this remind me of that scene whe Lt Hauk takes over the broadcast in Good Morning Vietnam?

Ho ho ho Frenchy!

(update: Tim's found the soundtrack. Ta Tim).

A call to arms

Comrades! An outrage has been committed. A good man has been gagged.

Take that pike down from the thatch! Light your torches! Assemble in the courtyards and squares for we march on London tonight!

*****

Some background: The other day, I posted on 'copper blogging' and the amount of time that officials spend (at the public expense) drawing up rules that itemise what can't be said.

Random Acts of Reality reports that one such peeler has stopped blogging as a result. It can only be a matter of time before some pen-pusher drafts rules to gag the Diary of a Criminal Solicitor, the Magistrate's blog, and indeed, Random Acts of Reality itself - among other professional blogs.

There are over 400 local authorities in this country, and the vast majority of them actually pay someone to keep the lid on their elected Councillors (I've covered this before here) alongside the obnoxious Standards Board (moaned about here).

For everybody who has ever campaigned in favour of open government, freedom of information or democratic renewal, this surely is a cause that should stir the blood?

"The great appear great to us only because we are on our knees. Let us rise."
With apologies to James Connolly

Meeting notes

What you can find when you are sitting in a meeting 'taking notes on a laptop' and no-one can see over your shoulder.

For optimists:

For pessimists:

and The Osborne Effect.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Social software update

A willingness, or an ability to 'blog offers an insight into the way that organisations can relate to people. Now, I thought that a lot of the argument for handing over public-sector roles to the voluntary sector was that they were less bureaucratic, more 'folksy', more people-like-you-and-me than the rigid old civil service.

As someone who does a good deal of work with both sectors, I can tell you that this presumption is often complete bollocks. Every day, the voluntary sector seems to be morphing into the Department for Administrative Affairs on stilts.

See 'how the voluntary sector blogs', here.

Other news:

Games to help deliberation:

... and another area where consultation could work: Shaping youth services:

(that last point is further to this post, and those linked from it).

The wood and the trees

Matt (in the comments) argues that the reason that it is tempting to focus upon Guantanamo Bay while leaving the butchery in Darfur uncommented on is that an elected Government can be lobbied, but there is no point in commenting on the activities of unelected ones as there is little that can be done to alter their behaviour.

This, to my dull eye, explains the difference between the 'pro-liberation Left' and the rest of the left-liberal consensus.

I thought I'd do a quick bit of research on this. The search function on Blogspot sites is a bit flaky, so I can't do this test on them. Ditto Typepad. But I've found one site that takes a critical view of the current Government's foreign policy. I don't mean to particularly pick on Bloggerheads, but - well, when your search function works properly, you open yourself to all sorts of criticism:

Here are some search results:

Search term: Guantanamo: 33 results

Search term: Darfur: .....

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Renaissance Man

Colm Tóibín on Sean O'Casey:

(Some background: before his first play was published, the formally uneducated half-blind O'Casey had staged plays in his own home, sold newspapers in the street, worked for years on the railways, become an accomplished player of the Irish pipes, had done a spell in the IRB and had been a General Secretary of Jim Larkin's Irish Citizen Army. Beat that.)

At the start of his career as a playwright:

"O'Casey, at the time, was 41. Having worked as a labourer, he had been involved for a period in the Irish language movement and the Labour movement in Dublin and had written a history of the Irish Citizen Army. By 1921 he was deeply embittered at the way in which Irish nationalism had hijacked and consumed radical forces in Dublin."

And

"Yeats, when he saw Juno, remained his lofty self: "Casey was bad in writing of the vices of the rich which he knows nothing about, but he thoroughly understands the vices of the poor." This use of "Casey" rather than "O'Casey" was an unsubtle put-down, used regularly by both Yeats and Lady Gregory, the dropped "o" suggesting a lower rung in the social ladder, as though O'Casey were someone who delivered coal to the basements of their grand houses."

And
"The Shadow of a Gunman played first in a city in the throes of civil war, with an armed guard at the door. O'Casey was forcing himself to make his characters larger than his own ideology, but it was the combination - his own sharp and passionate involvement in the politics of his time and his talent for creating memorable characters - that gave the plays their immediacy and their power."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Guantanamo and Darfur

I don't think I've met anyone who doesn't think that the Guantanamo Bay camp should be closed, and that the inmates should be tried or released (of course, there's a 'but' coming).

But while I don't have a team of researchers to do this for me, I bet that - if someone were to do a comparison of column inches and the viewership concentrated on Guantanamo compared to those covering the genocide in Darfur, ...... that is the detention without trial of 650 suspected combatants, compared to the murder of around 200,000 people and the ethnic cleansing of around 2 million people, along with the attendant brutalities, rapes, destruction and theft....
.... I think I know which has had more coverage.

As Nick Cohen puts it,

Why isn’t every liberal newspaper and liberal party fulminating? Because genocide is out of fashion, dear. It may make a retro return in 2008, say, or 2009. Books called We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed will win literary prizes. Lachrymose documentaries will appear on BBC2, probably narrated by Fergal Keane. The Church of England will apologise, as it invariably does. They will all cry: ‘Never again!’ And at that precise moment, it will be happening again.

One click each to make the Internet a slightly better place

From Harry's Place (obviously)

"Harry's Place readers who share our admiration of George Orwell-- or those who would like to know more about him-- should pay a visit to Charles' George Orwell Links, one of the oldest and finest Orwell sites on the Web.

Not least among the reasons for visiting that site is that when you do a Google search for "Orwell" now, a thoroughly nasty site-- full of conspiracy-mongering and antisemitism-- gets a higher ranking. Far better that Googlers get their first impressions of Orwell from a site like Charles'."

Charles links to The Lion and the Unicorn. Every schoolchild should be asked to read it and then tested on large parts of it. You may have read it a dozen times yourself - if so, apologies for the presumption. But if not, read the whole thing.

However much one may hate to admit it, it is almost certain that between 1931 and 1940 the National Government represented the will of the mass of the people. It tolerated slums, unemployment and a cowardly foreign policy. Yes, but so did public opinion. It was a stagnant period, and its natural leaders were mediocrities.

In spite of the campaigns of a few thousand left-wingers, it is fairly certain that the bulk of the English people were behind Chamberlain’s foreign policy. More, it is fairly certain that the same struggle was going on in Chamberlain’s mind as in the minds of ordinary people. His opponents professed to see in him a dark and wily schemer, plotting to sell England to Hitler, but it is far likelier that he was merely a stupid old man doing his best according to his very dim lights. It is difficult otherwise to explain the contradictions of his policy, his failure to grasp any of the courses that were open to him.

Like the mass of the people, he did not want to pay the price either of peace or of war. And public opinion was behind him all the while, in policies that were completely incompatible with one another. It was behind him when he went to Munich, when he tried to come to an understanding with Russia, when he gave the guarantee to Poland, when he honoured it, and when he prosecuted the war half-heartedly. Only when the results of his policy became apparent did it turn against him; which is to say that it turned against its own lethargy of the past seven years.

Thereupon the people picked a leader nearer to their mood, Churchill, who was at any rate able to grasp that wars are not won without fighting. Later, perhaps, they will pick another leader who can grasp that only Socialist nations can fight effectively.


*sob*

Swallowing Sixpences

I’m amazed that no-one else has picked this up - it's been a week now, I'd I almost forgotten that I heard it.

On BBC Radio 4 Question Time last Friday (3rd March - transcript here), when a question was asked about Gordon Brown’s support for ‘votes at 16’ ….. well, read the transcript of Steve Richards' response:

RICHARDS Well I - to address that part of the question - I can exclusively, or almost exclusively, reveal that Gordon Brown himself doesn't support reducing the voting age to 16. A newspaper reported that he did based on something that he didn't write on the Monday. And I saw him on the Monday of this week and interviewed him about it and he told me that that wasn't the case. So there you are that was - for those of you who didn't read that interview, which I did with him in the Independent - Gordon Brown is not in favour at the moment anyway of reducing the voting age.
DIMBLEBY He was very widely reported as so being and you've now said he isn't.
RICHARDS I can assure you ...
DIMBLEBY That he's not.
Now, I hate to say “I told you so***”, but when the report came out, I said:


“I can't remember who it was that said that Harold Wilson could "swallow a sixpence and shit a corkscrew", but it came to mind when I saw Gordon Brown's acceptance - in parts - of the conclusions drawn by the Power Enquiry.”
***This is a lie. I love saying “I told you so.”

*****

MySociety and Open Democracy have provided an online tool that helps you to comment on The Power Enquiry.

Copper blogging

The Long Arm of the Law has been given guidance on blogging. Aside from the usual list of risk-aversion (who pays for these rules to be drafted?), there's this:

"Serving staff should not seek to profit from their experiences of working in the Met and therefore should not accept payment for anything they write or produce."
I wonder if Google Adword-type revenue comes under this?

From a list of points made by said peeler:

"....thirdly, most police bloggers could give official police press officers a lesson or two in connecting with the public."

Absolutely

Service industry update

In a bind?
Way behind?
Willing to make a deal?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Having problems with the Comments Box?

I've realised why this blog isn't getting many comments. Originally, I thought that it was the monomaniacal nature of the postings, the tediousness of the content, or the general charmlessness of the overall tone of this blog.

But Anthony offers me a brief delusional reprieve (by e-mail). Apparently the comments on blogger has been a bit flaky lately. If you want to post as 'other' (as opposed to an 'Anonymous' commenter or with a 'blogger profile', it chucks you out.

Has anyone else been having problems? Let me know willya?

What Anthony was going to say (and he's resorted to e-mail) was:

"...how pointless most desert island disc selections are because they're actually more about projecting a particular, carefully chosen, image than anything else. Forget Captain Beefheart if I was on a desert island i'd just want a few AC/DC albums."
Well, it was Rullsenberg's idea, and she anticipated Anthony's objection. That’s why she said that people only had two days to complete it – so that we'd not have time to construct a manicured version of our tasteless selves.

Of course, anyone with a decent-sized ego can still construct a fairly shiny self-portrait when they're given two whole days. The only way to do it properly would be to do it with a five minute phone call and then transcribe it.

Anyway, I don’t know if it’s not missing the point of pop music to say that you have to make a choice without any regard to how it will effect your credibility. I’d argue that we listen to music in a slightly narcissistic way. People mime guitar playing or drumming don’t they?

If you have, for some reason, a guilty secret about, say, Gilbert O’Sullivan, part of it would involve you putting the record on and making a codpiece of yourself miming to an air-piano.

I don’t think I could like a record that I wouldn’t be prepared to put on in front of my hippest and most intolerant friends. As a kiddie, I used to find a really hip LP and take it into town two or three times (in the old yellow Nottingham Selectadisc bags, natch) so that anyone I ran into would be able to see the LP that I ‘just bought’.

White Light White Heat and The Human League’s Reproduction are two LPs that I recall doing this with.

Perhaps that would be a better task for Rullsenberg to be demanding of us?

Eight LPs that the reflected glory of owning them eclipsed the pleasure of actually listening to them.

PS: I can understand Anthony's comment about Beefheart. I think that if anyone told me that they'd take something of Trout Mask Replica to a desert island, they'd just be showing off. But some of Clear Spot is actually quite sweet and accessible - in a similar place to some of Tom Waits' early stuff.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Trotblogging evolves!

Dave Osler is now blogging.

This is good news. I know people who have worked with Dave, and whenever they gather to drink, they always get the evening off to a good start with 'Dave Osler stories'. Like the time that ..... no. Better not.

But he's very far from the mould of most writers on the far-left. He can write for one thing. And his politics aren't based on the kind of Straussian opposition that he writes about on the article linked to below.

Without endorsing Dave's perspective on pretty-well anything, or agreeing with all of his conclusions, this piece on Neoconservatism and the war on terror is worth a read.

Lots of detail, and well argued.

"But in the final analysis, whether America’s post 9/11 foreign policy can be labelled distinctively neoconservative or not is a point of crucial importance to perhaps two groups. The first is the hardened factionalists jockeying for position on the US right. The second is that section of liberal opinion that - to invert a Straussian idea - needs the neoconservative threat as a ‘necessary myth’ to rally its forces.

It is far more important to determine whether or not it is a just policy, or even a policy capable of achieving its stated ends. Seen in that light, it must be harshly judged."


NB: Look for the para in which Dave uses the word 'epiphenomenon'. Popinjays such as Hak Mao may have something to add to it?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Speaking up for the powerless!

Why 'Never Trust a Hippy'? Well, I've never trusted people who present their idealism as somehow courageous or morally superior. Like Gary Younge does regularly (and has done so this week).

Shuggy explains this better than I could (again). Look away now if you don't like the sight of someone being (metaphorically) kicked senseless.

London at bursting point

The capital has lost up to 40 percent of its public toilets in the last five years – the biggest decline in the country – a report by the London Assembly has revealed. An urgent need can be downloaded here (PDF).

(this post has been nicked wholesale from Governance Notes - thanks GN!)

Is there a church dedicated to The Blessed Grassroots Activist?

Robin Hamman says (on the way that Wal-Mart recruit sympathetic bloggers to their cause)

"Whilst I'm no fan of Wal-Mart's business practices, I don't find myself particularly offended by this approach, a technique I've long thought charities and grassroots political campaigners should do more of. The idea is to build relationships with friendly bloggers and feed them exclusive content, letting them use that content to build support for your cause, if not for your organisation, from the ground up."

Just a question really: Why is everyone so determined to see charities and grassroots political campaigners empowered?

I'd sooner see the people that I vote for in elections empowered for a change.

Designing libraries

I'd suggest that the real value that the burgeoning consultation industry can add to public life is in getting people to have a bigger say in the design of their local services. Don't get the public to set policy by acclaimation. BUT get them to design their schools, their housing, and - as Kevin Harris suggests - their libraries.

Kevin Harris on community involvement and public libraries:
"...people now expect comfort in semi-public and public places and will vote with their feet unless the library offers some other unrivalled attraction for them. But there's a shortage of unique selling points. Wherever they are perceived to have a role - information, entertainment, place, expertise - libraries seem to have a decreased market share. Too few services are working this out, I fear, and their failure to do so continues to jeopardise the public realm."

I knew that I'd return to one of my earliest (unfocussed) blog-posts again. Sometimes, you have to use your blog to set down a marker, think about it, and return to it at a later date.

Hah!

David Wilcox says...
"With formal democracy in such poor health, and a Government Minister calling for double devolution of power to community groups, you might expect local councils to be desperately keen to encourage active citizens to drum up interest in elections...."

Predictably, David's post shows that the reverse is true.

David, take it from me. There is a significant percentage of Councils in this country- perhaps the majority - that have never considered that they have any role to play in reinforcing or enhancing local democracy.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Limited liabilities

Notification and take-down keeps e-Bay out of court.

.... and if you wrote it, do you own it?

(both from Cybersoc)

Where blogging works

Ken the Militant Moderate on politicians and blogging (from observations on the Lib-Dem leadership contest)
"...the British blogosphere is at its best when it is debating policy. It allows the exploration of ideas in much greater depth than that afforded by the broadcast media, and it introduces a vitality into the blogosphere that is greatly needed - especially in a medium that all too often can appear as if it suffers from major groupthink."

"...the question remains as to how candidates might utilise the blogosphere more effectively. My conclusions here are tentative, but I will offer them anyway (did you expect anything else?). Firstly, I think there must be a move away from using campaign websites purely as spinning devices. Voters want a more honest approach to politics - that might mean opening yourself up to some more criticism than otherwise, but blogs are supposed to be interactive in stimulating debate and in having vibrant comment sections. Sterile cheerleading .... is, quite frankly, boring."
(via Mat)

I'd agree with all of this. I'd also add that the blogosphere manages the remarkable achievement of actually being worse than the mainstream media when it's trying to provide early reaction to current affairs or covering political gossip.

Something other than Fascism

Paul Ginsborg in yesterday's Observer writing about Berlusconi:
"However, this is not Fascism. It is something else, still to find its name in political science. A new Fascist regime would receive short shrift in Italy today. The whole point of the sort of regime Berlusconi has tried to install is that it is based on formal political liberties, on continuing freedoms in everyday life, on spaces left open for opposition in the media system, even on satire aimed at the leader on his own television channels."

and then....
"On a global scale, Berlusconi is also not alone. There are many other figures in Latin American, Mediterranean and North American politics who resemble him in one or more ways - none more so than the present leader of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra. Behind Berlusconi there lurks a central and increasingly dramatic problem for democracy: the relationship between media and politics. Modern democracies have been very slow to see the dangers inherent in this relationship, and their collective myopia is reflected in limited and often reluctant regulatory procedures. Indeed, de-regulation has been the order of the day, often replacing a system of safeguards that had been introduced at an earlier date.

We now face a striking paradox - of much less control being exercised by the state at precisely a time when the media system has become much more powerful and all-intrusive. The result is to facilitate the connection of business interests, especially media interests, with the political sphere, and to increase the spaces for manipulation. Nobody knows this better than Silvio Berlusconi."

Desert Island Discs

Rullsenberg rules - don't argue. Here are the desert island discs, compiled while stuck in a room with a puking child, after we'd watched Forest hammer Bristol City 1-1.

Note to any non-Brit visitors: Desert Island Discs is a BBC Radio 4 format of long standing.

The Pogues - The dark streets of London
One of their earliest utterances, and their best. It's a statement of intent from MacGowan, that Pogue Mahone (as they still were) had more to offer than punky belligerence set to polka-time. The rambunctiousness drifts off into a dreamy wistful outro. It reminds me of a Kavanagh poem 'If ever you go to Dublin town'
"On Pembroke Road, look out for my ghost
Disheveled with shoes untied
Playing through the railings with little children
Whose children have long since died."
I was brought up with Irish music. When I heard the way that The Clash took 'Johnny I hardly knew ye' and re-worked it into 'The English civil war', I figured that there was a gap in the market and I'd spent a few years trying to talk people into forming a band that would re-work those ballads into something more noisy and contemporary. Of course, I got no takers. Then I heard 'dark streets' on the radio in the morning half-light of Bermondsey while I was working on a delivery van, and it set me on a trail around London's pubs, catching the Pogues wherever they played. I soon lost count of the times I saw them...

The Reverend Gary Davis - Hesitation blues
In the mid-1980s, I shared a flat with a hippy called Stu who could make an acoustic guitar talk. He used to pick out Gary Davis tunes, and I've spent years trying to play them half as well as Stu could. I'm getting there, slowly. The original recordings add a real sense of urgency to them though, and this is one of the best.

Errol Dunkley - A little way different
This one has everything. A message of tolerance, a great lazy vocal part, a lovely dubby interlude. Kids! Don't do drugs! But if you must, stick this on while you're doing them.

Craobh Rua - The Narrow Gauge Railway Jigs
I've got a house-full of Irish music tapes. The Bothy Band, Planxty, Jackie Daly, Stockton's Wing, the Sweeney's Men and so on. And I've always liked the way that these acts update and rearrange traditional themes. But over the years, I've come to prefer a more contemporary and purposeful arrangement of new tunes. The combination of whistle and guitar here is a great example of what can be done with Irish music. The accordion is alright as well.

Captain Beefheart - A blue million miles
I've only really got into Beefheart properly in recent years. This is one of his more accessible tracks, (from 'Clear Spot') but one that is hard to get out of your head. Or out of mine, anyway.

Dexy's Midnight Runners - Plan B (probably the Too Rye Ay version).
There are two versions of this. One was a brass-laden b-side, and this fiddle-driven version appeared on the second album. Until the Pogues came along, Dexy's were ... er ... my bombers, my dexys, my high. I played their first LP so much that I had to replace it. Twice.

I still play them all the time, and on another day, I could have picked any one of about a dozen tracks of theirs for this list. I met Kevin Rowland once and told him that I listened to 'Stand me down' every day. This was an exaggeration, and I don't know why I said it, apart from to be creepy. He gave me a look of mild disgust: "Every day?!!?!" he said.

Gil Scott Heron - Gun
My old mate Tom lent me a load of GSH. I loved most of it instantly, but this one grew on me the most. It's less outspokenly political but more focused on the human condition. And the arrangement is a perfect blend.

Sister Nancy - Bam Bam
Effortless dancehall reggae. I've never seen a pictue of Sister N, but in my mind's eye, I imagine a femme fatale. Disdainful and slightly bewildered in the way Billie Holiday was, or like Netta in 'Hangover Square'. Gorgeous, unreachable. And singing in an echo-chamber.

Book:
Apart from the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare (which everyone gets already), this is a tough one. I like to think that I'd take something that I've always meant to read properly (Ulysees or Don Quixote) or something I've largely read but want to remind myself of (Orwell's collected non-fiction). But seeing as I've got Shakespeare already, I'd take that Peter Ackroyd biog that's been reviewed so generously - as a companion to the set.

Luxury:
If you take a musical instrument, can you take a pile of sheet music with it? If so, I'd take an acoustic guitar and a bundle of sheet music I've built up over the years - fingerstyle blues, jazz and ragtime, flatpicking (especially bluegrass), a load of DADGAD Irish harp pieces, Richard Thompson and Nick Drake transcriptions etc. And loads of spare sets of strings (Martin Bronze 12s). If I'm allowed to take the piss, I'd also ask for a Tin Whistle (a 'D' whistle) er... to help me tune up. And a harmonica as well (same reason).

Friday, March 03, 2006

Pass the bucket...

Both of my kids and Ms NTaH have got a stomach bug at the moment. I've been spared so far.... *gulp*

Click here for an idea of what things are like chez moi....

(hat tip: Popinjays)

A lot of people who are paid to commentate on political issues are ignorant of the basics of political science

Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve argued that there are a surprising number of people who think that the only argument against Direct Democracy (and in favour of Representative Democracy) is one of practicality. That we are a representative democracy because we are not yet able to upgrade to ‘real’ democracy.

My copy of Public Finance has a perfect example of this.

Writing in this week’s edition, ex-New Statesman editor Peter Wilby reports on a conversation he had with a Minister a while back:
“(the minister argued) …that voters should, for example, get the right to call a referendum. So what, I asked, if people wanted a referendum on capital punishment and duly voted in favour of it?

There was a brief pause and a prolonged clearing of the throat. Well, said the former minister, the result of a referendum would not be binding on Parliament. MPs would naturally decline to act on the result.

I hasten to add that I am not in favour of capital punishment. But that compels me to admit that I am not always in favour of democracy.”
Were Peter in front of me, I’d say “No it doesn’t Peter. It compels you to say that you are not in favour of direct democracy, and you understand why we've opted for a representative democracy in this country.”

This is a very simple piece of political theory that even appears to be lost on one of our leading political journalists. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the very basics of our liberal settlement are being quietly discarded – not because they are unsuitable, but because important people have quite forgotten stuff that they learned at school during their puberty.

By way of illustration, have a look at Tim Garton-Ash’s recent piece in The Groan.

It is one of the blandest pieces of writing I’ve seen in a long time. I mean that as a compliment, by the way. I printed it off, started reading it, and when I got to the end, I had to check that I hadn’t left a page on the printer. The whole thing reads like the kind of throat-clearing that you expect before a writer makes a serious point.

Yet this dull statement of left-liberal values needs to be made more than the more adventurous propositions that litter most op-ed pages. Because writers are expected to make striking and original observations in their allotted 1200 words, the basics are often glossed over. Because they remain implicit, there is a danger that they will become neglected. Or in some cases, the writers have mastered the trick of looking like they can run when they actually never learned how to walk.

Both writer – and a portion of the readership – assume that the basic enlightenment values of tolerance are the basis for all sensible discussion in this day-and-age.

But during that last month alone, the MoToons / Pro-Test / David Irving / Livingstone stories have shown that – while these values are far from universal, the political class are so complacent about them that something as bland and obvious as Tim’s article needs to be written.

Candid friends tell me that this blog has an unhealthy obsession with another value that I’d regard as fundamental – that of representative democracy. In future, I’ll refer them to Tim’s article.

Secondly, Bob Piper has also picked up on this article and questioned the role of political parties in this context. I’d suggest that the answer to this is very simple. If candidates can develop a healthy dialogue with voters at election time, political parties will become more of a value-based club rather than the mandated centralised leadership cult that they have partly become at the moment.

This lack of communication (whatever it’s causes) can explain why pressure groups are so powerful, and that parties appear to be so dreary at the moment. And politicians like Bob are the ones who are doing something about it. If I lived in the Abbey Ward of Sandwell, I’d be able to vote (for or against) an articulate Councillor who wears his values on his sleeve.

I can’t do that where I live – I’ve met all of my local Councillors and it’s very hard to find out what their position is on anything, or what they stand for – beyond the rigid manifesto that they stood on (but weren't consulted on beforehand). That’s why I have to vote for a Party or not vote at all.

Citizen journalism

We are the middlemen:

"...a win-win situation for everyone: old media gets the views of bloggers whilst, at the same time, the blogger gets traffic and kudos from old media. News and media organisations can't afford to ignore audience created content but, at the same time, can't afford to sift through, moderate, manage, and store all the content that's already coming in."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The electors of Bristol

This is a bit of an odd one; Bristol City Council are planning an event entitled: "Activists and Authorities: Can Councils and Community Activists Work Together Effectively?"

The publicity starts thus:

"Should local authorities encourage grass roots campaigns, or by doing so are they simply creating sticks with which to be beaten?"

One part of the publicity stands out: Among the list of speakers, are there any Councillors? Or anyone who has been elected?* You would have thought that this may be a priority for the e-Democracy team at Bristol?

So. No Councillors. Maybe they're all busy? And who does the e-Democracy team at Bristol want to facilitate a dialogue between? Answer: "..Councils and the Communites."

Not Councillors specifically. They can watch I expect?

Back to the blurb: Without prejudice to any conclusions that people may draw from this discussion, it goes on to say:

"The conference will also include the national launch of CampaignCreator, an online campaigning toolkit which is to be available to members of the public for free. Aimed at encouraging community campaigning, CampaignCreator offers advice on all aspects of campaign management.

Users can also create their own campaign websites, produce their own posters and manage their own mailing lists. The scheme has been piloted in Bristol and achieved 160 registrations in the first three months. "

I suppose the 160 in three months figure should give some cause for comfort. Publicly managed websites often aren't very good at getting people to actually use them - with a bit of luck, CampaignCreator won't buck this trend.

But the conclusion would appear to be that the Council should be handing out the sticks to all and sundry. I wonder if a speech made a while ago - in Bristol, as it happens - will come up at all during the day?

(*OK, I admit, I've nicked this line of criticism from Cllr Bob's post on The Power Report).

Involving people in the detail

In Lewisham, the public do the procurement. They've chosen a developer called 'Family Housing' to redevelop local housing.

I know that this is not a particularly new development, but Cllr Andrew Brown says:

"....its clear (the residents) are really looking forward to working with Family Housing to get the best they can for the estate.

Its also clear that Family are going to have to keep every promise they made in the bidding process. Some of the residents were telling me that they had been round visiting estates that the bidders run to see what they are like and to get a sense of what residents in those areas think of them ...."