Thursday, November 30, 2006

Devolution v independence

Shuggy on Simon Jenkins:


"As for his cant about the 'will of the people', I can't bring myself to discuss it except to insist that this writer who is so fond of quoting De Tocqueville and Burke should cease to do so forthwith because clearly he has understood neither. That he has found a home in the Guardian is entirely fitting."
Read the rest.

If Jenkins wasn't such a Tory populist, he'd benefit from a glance at this post on The New Economist about politics and fiscal decentralisation.

So, Simon, devolution is the answer. Not independence. Oh, and that's what a Labour government has done - up to a point, anyway.

All of this reminds me of another draft post that I've not published because the world isn't ready for it yet. It's entitled "Why the Republic of Ireland should be invited to rejoin The Union on new terms."

There is a case to be made for this.

Restatement and throat clearing

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

For a while now, I've had a post in my 'drafts' folder that I'm unusually nervous about. Not because it's got much in it that I wouldn't be prepared to defend, but because it is an argument whose time is yet to come.

I promised a 'defence of boss politics' a while ago.

But my experience on the wireless the other day reinforced something that has bothered me for a long time. If you say - in public - that "this country isn't particularly corrupt", you will be greeted by a gale of incredulous laughter.

Or at least you will from the chattering classes. From the watching Newsnight classes. From the audience for 'Have I Got News For You' or the people who still buy newspapers for anything other than the TV listings and the racing page.

Yet, if you look at the Transparency International Corruption Index, you will see that the only places that are perceived to be more corrupt than the UK are places where there are actual recorded clinical cases of people dying of boredom.

And, as the survey is based on perception, if you were to cross-reference this with any index that someone could draft showing how negative, dishonest and cynical journalists are in particular countries, I expect that it would be reasonable to conclude that this table actually exagerates the UK's corruption.

Yet, if you were prone to conspiracy theories, you could, particularly in a moment of feeble-mindedness, be convinced that a steady programme of brainwashing has happened in this country. By a drip-drip process, the public have been convinced that we are politically corrupt.

But why would anyone do this? Why would any bastard child of P2, Opus Dei and ZOG go to the trouble of deluding an entire (chattering) population in this way?

Well, a conspiracy-buff could surely suggest that the brainwashing has been done by a vile alliance of civil servants and management consultants? Because, as long as we are all watching little Nick Robinson with his silly glasses and childish narratives, we are ignoring the log in the lavatory.

This is, by the way, not just a beef with the mainstream meeja. It's also a challenge to comrades on the blogosphere - to Recess Monkey, Guido, Tim, Iain, and sites like British Spin to name but a tiny percentage of blogs that are ignoring the wood because of their focus on the trees.

They are missing the unavoidable fact that, at every level, we are subjects of a deeply incompetent bureaucracy that is getting worse by the day. That any of us that do still beleive in progressive taxation and a welfare safety net have had our fox well and truly shot, buggered and wee-weed on by the way that huge increases in public spending since 1997 have done little to diminish poverty or improve public services.

And if you don't beleive me, have a look at what Bryan Appleyard has found ...*drumroll*... that when you pay someone to tell you the time, they get to keep your watch.

The £70 billion figure quoted here itself sounds like a bit of demagogic simplification to me. But, even if the real figure is a fraction of that, it blows all of the arsewipery about 'cash for peerages' / Cowboy Suits out of the water. For ever. If there is a real scandal in this country, it is that the incompetent fuckwits in Whitehall are handing over public goldmines to incompetent fuckwits in management consultancies, under a largely silent blanket.

Note, by the way, that Appleyard's article (primarily about the way that the arse-covering from senior civil servants' conspires with territorial ambitions of useless consultants) is entitled 'Blair's Barmy Army.' He can probably blame the sub-editors for this.

Sub-editors are, of course, a weather-vane on matters such as this. And this begs the question: Is this obsession now so endemic in the media that they are no longer capable of observing any phenomenon without making it primarily a Westminster issue?

Either way, the perception that we are corrupt is feathering a lot of pretty worthless nests. And because I beleive in cock-ups and not conspiracies, I'll not be suggesting it to Dan Brown as a plot-line.

But surely there must be a case to made that the obsession with graft in public life is cruelly undermining any pertinent discussions about how the country should be run? Is the world ready for a 'Defence of Boss Politics'?

I wonder.

(Hat tip for Appleyard's article and sundry encouragement to S&M)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Packing up

Allen Carr is dead. From lung cancer of all things.

His book is the only decent self-help book I've ever read. It's virtue is the way it's written - badly. You have to go through the frustrating process of reading him say something he's already said rather clumsily a few times to get to the end of the book.

This is an experience that visitors to this blog will probably have experienced a few times. By the time you've finished, his message has dripped into your soul.

It worked for me, anyway.

When I smoked, I detested sanctimonious ex-smokers, and his book makes the case that it is counterproductive to moan at smokers anyway. And that there's no point in trying to convince someone to stop smoking in the first place. And that patches and chewing gum are all a waste of time and money.

I stopped because I wanted to. I always seemed to have a cold, and the constant urge to light-up was just getting too inconvenient. When smokers ask me about packing up, I always say that you should only pack up if you really want to.

If you don't want to, you can't anyway. So why bother?

Artpod

Artpod
Via Ivan

To whom it may concern

You've heard of green-ink letters? Here is the hypertext equivalent.

And here is the autobiography. And here is a remarkable account of Mrs Thatcher's time in office.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The right to bear arms

The Uzi 'Decentraliser'. With any luck, Gordon Brown will agree to issue these to regional assemblies shortly.

Dizzy is not happy about the cost of Regional Assemblies that aren't directly elected. It's not far short of £20m per year apparently.

I reckon that they are cheap at half the price. They could do with a bit more power and a higher profile, of course. They should be told that they can keep 50% of the money that they save by abolishing quangos and 50% of any money they can save by making local authorities procure things jointly.

And 50% of any money they save by poaching activities from central government. I say this because, as a rule of thumb, surely, local democratically elected assemblies (even constituent assemblies) are better than quangos or central government?

Oh yes, and they should be armed as well. With knives. And guns - like this nice little Uzi.

As the man said, guns for show, knives for a pro.

An Beal Bocht

Today's new blog of the day is The Poor Mouth. Good blog. Good name. Here's why.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Argue. Like crazy. With everyone. And never stop. Ever.

Peter Withe (pic from Uglyfootballers.com). Bob Piper thinks he is the best striker that Forest have ever had. This picture gives you a clue as to why.

Move your bookmarks. Bob Piper has re-done his blog and moved it to his own domain - www.bobpiper.co.uk -

If anyone has the 'inner blogger' it's Bob. I agree with about 50% of what he says most of the time, but I'd sooner have someone like him as my Councillor - or MP for that matter - than some smarmy buttoned up poker-face who tries to create the impression that they agree with everyone about everything.

There's an old rule-of-thumb that I apply. It is an inversion of the commonplace that - whenever you hear someone slagging someone else off behind their back – the same person will probably slag you off as soon as your back is turned.

In my case, whenever I meet someone who seems to agree with me about everything, they will probably create the same impression with everyone else. Which means that they'll never really be prepared to stand up for anything they do believe in.

So. Earn the trust and respect of the next person you speak to. Tell them that they are talking a load of bollocks. Like Bob is about Peter Withe.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Who appoints?

As I've said before, the New Generation Network's rejection of communalist politics is a good thing. And their distain for 'community leaders' is particularly welcome.

But how does one attain the status of 'community leader' in the first place? What is the process whereby someone qualifies for the status of a 'representative' because they take the most uncompromising and incendiary positions in public debate?

The communities concerned are probably not to blame. And politicians are fairly venal types - they tend to deal with people that they perceive as having power, of one kind or another. So who provides these people with the power?

Answers on a postcard please to the Society of Editors.

Follow the links


Not having looked at a blog I used to check regularly, I missed this - until now.

A Bang and A Wimpy from 'Pillows and Prayers' at the Ingrate. Have a look and follow the links.

Also from there, 'Buy Nothing Day'. Are there any exceptions for Forest v Millwall tickets?

Grist for the mill

Eric has found some demagogic simplification on Radio 4. On the Moral Maze! Who'd have thunk it?

Friday, November 24, 2006

God, books and juggling balls

Just when I finally give up checking Tom's blog for new content, he's back with a bang. Have a look at this post on Richard Dawkins, the alleged uselessness of religious studies, and how substituting the word 'literature' for 'theology' foregrounds stuff.

The only thing I have to say on the subject is that Dawkins proved he was a philistine when he said how much he admired 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.'

Possession of this book is a bit like owning a copy of a Scissor Sisters CD. On the day of the revolution, it will get you shot. And you will deserve it.

Apropos of nothing, (apart from the link being in Tom's comments) Wongablog is right. Watching someone juggling balls in an inverted glass cone is strangely soothing.


Collective nouns and 'regendering'

The Thimble has a 'collective noun campaign' going on.

Here's mine:

"A whinge of teachers"

(Via Freemania)

Meanwhile, I saw this on Stroppybloke ... er, sorry, Stroppybird's site. Some people really have got too much time on their hands.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Your descent

Is The Skids' 'The Saints are Coming' the finest post-punk moment of them all?

It's hard to say. But it's possible.

And is it annoying that U2 and Green Day have done a supergroup charidee cover of it?

The answer to that question is a bit easier. Here's the original on TOTP.





That's Stuart Adamson in the background with one of those Yamaha SG1000s. Oh yes.

Against ID cards?

For me, the acid-test that most 'anti' lobbies fail is their ability to answer the question "what are you in favour of then?"

I'm not suggesting that every proposal should be met with a coherent and workable counterproposal on day one. But some evidence of a debate would be nice.

Take ID cards: This debate seems to generate a lot more heat than light. The starting point for many people appears that we have a fairly satisfactory settlement around privacy at the moment. When pressed, those same people will acknowledge that this is not really the case.

Any fule kno that The Man, with a bit of time and energy - would probably be able to piece together your movements, phone calls, personal finances and transactions, and use it in evidence against you. CCTV and imaging software combined with other commercial data can complete a detailed (in my case, tedious) picture. Put together with similar data about alleged associates of mine, then this could provide the kind of info that the Stasi would have envied. And if legal failsafes continue to be eroded and a more pernicious government were to succeed this one, this could form the thin end of a wedge.

Personally, I'm just as worried by the way that non-state actors can access this information. The Man isn't always The Man From The Ministry.

So, with ID cards, while all of my instincts tell me that, as a scheme, it should be opposed, I can't think of any other way to assert privacy rights over my identity. Unless it is defined in a robust and secure way, then we have something that is actually worse than the state having a monopoly of power. We have a situation in which anyone with a budget and a few lawyers can know anything they need to about me.

Sure, privacy campaigners will say that they can keep fighting on all fronts without any consolidated personal ID to protect. But that hasn't been the case so far. Generally, most of us don't seem to be able to identify and stop the initiatives that continue to cause our privacy to leak further. Or when we do, the utility - say, of having a cashpoint card, a mobile phone, e-mail or an Oyster card - over-rides our objections. The slowness of legislative processes mean that the law can provide little protection either.

As it happens, I'm inclined to think that ID cards may, eventually, have a similar appeal to the general public as mobiles / cashpoints / Oyster Cards have. Having one would probably save us all a lot of time and grief.

The man from the ministry who is in charge of this project says:



"Maybe we should start arguing the case that ID Cards will reduce the threat of the Surveillance Society and help safeguard civil liberties."
Maybe he has a point. I just doubt that this has entered the government's thinking yet. The first part of that sentence provides the clue:

"Maybe we should start arguing the case that..."

My mama always told me, "Son. Beware of post-hoc rationalisations."***

But if we are opposed to ID cards, what should we be in favour of instead?

(Via Europhobia)

*** This is a lie. She just told me to get to Mass on Sundays.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ken and the Olympics

More and more, Ken Livingstone gets on this blogger's tits in so many ways. But, apropos of my post about Arsenal v the FA yesterday, I think that he showed a lot more commonsense than most bureaucrats seem capable of in his plans for the Olympics, as outlined in an interview on the wireless today. He was particularly good on the way that government risk-aversion provides an open charter for public and private-sector incompetence.

I don't know how long this link will work, but I downloaded it as well, so if you need to hear what he said and can't access it, let me know.

Ken seems to know how to handle 'compliance' so that it doesn't turn into a blank cheque for the private sector or a job creation scheme for civil servants.

That said, I've just completed a piece of documentation that his office require me to do before I can apply for the privilege of working with the GLA, and it contains more irrelevant and onerous questions than you could shake a stick at.

New Generation Network

A good idea. A bloody awful title though. For some reason, it evokes images of '80s 'power-baladeers' such as Bonnie Tyler.

But, despite that minor criticism, it will be interesting to see how it develops. The stuff on representation is absolutely excellent, of course.

1) An end to communal politics
As Britons we want to be treated not as homogenous blocks but as free-thinking citizens with diverse views. So-called community leaders and race-relations experts should be seen as lobbyists not representatives. They do not have a democratic mandate to represent anyone.

I'm not sure that I agree with everything in the preamble. One person's 'dog-whistle politics' is someone else's fair comment. I'd like to see an acknowledgement that communal politics excites reactions that are hardly surprising from mainstream politicians. Having said that, I doubt if I'll ever spend long defending John Reid from any charges anyone wants to throw at him.

And I'd be interested to see how points four and five .....

4) We believe in freedom of speech
Enshrined in free speech and free expression are the same civil liberties which have allowed minorities to sustain and develop their cultures, wear what they want, go on public demonstrations and challenge laws.

We call on the government to support freedom of speech in situations where extremists threaten artists and writers with violence. Its failure to do so is state multiculturalism at its most unpleasant and should be viewed as collusion with extremists. To tackle extremism we must allow diverse voices to speak out.

5) We are for respecting people's multiple identities
The right to combine mixed identities, which include culture, faith, ethnicity, religion and more is the essence of an open society. These rights must be underpinned by a common citizenship which protects our rights.

We call on government to fund programmes giving new immigrants the language skills they need to participate in civic society and be more self-empowered. This is the primary way to ensure gaps can be bridged between different communities.

Proud of our strong identities, we aim to be free in voicing concerns about repressive cultural practices, corruption within religious institutions and forced marriages.


... will be interpreted the next time a classroom assistant is asked to remove a veil, or a newspaper decides to print a cartoon featuring The Prophet.

Perhaps these questions are left open for now by point six?

6) A new national conversation about race
Media organisations need to do considerably more to inform themselves about and to tune into the debates going on within multi-ethnic Britain today. Too often, extreme and highly unrepresentative voices are presented as authoritative or representative in part due to the shock value they provide.

All broadcasters have a particular responsibility to create the space for the much richer national conversation that we need.


The conversation is an important one. Probably the worst time to discuss the Mo-Toons or the veil is when events turn the heat up under the subject.

Watch and learn.

'Free Jimmy' - the trailer.

Ta Charlie.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

And another thing...

Well, going on Resonance FM was good knockabout fun. As ever, I managed to make every point that I intended to perfectly.

To myself, on the bus home.

On this blog, I routinely use the term 'clown' to refer to those who are obsessed with Westminster gossip. I should explain this properly, in case anyone mistakes it for an insult. In rodeos (or is it bullfights?), whenever some rampant animal looks like it is going to knock anything over, a bunch of clowns are paid to run out and distract it.

And this is the role that the lobby correspondents (and my two colleagues on the show) fulfill.

The one point that I probably did get across - in a roundabout way - is that anyone who believes that this is a particularly corrupt country is probably - clinically - bewildered. We should be offering them our pity, not our scorn. But if we have one major problem in this country, it is not corruption - it is official incompetence. Incompetence on a massive, profligate scale. It's the old cock-up v conspiracy theme - and the smart money is always on the cock-up.

Exposing bureaucratic incompetence is a lonely task. As Gilbert & Sullivan put it, 'a policeman's lot is not a happy one.' It is hit-and miss, and few newspapers will ever fund the necessary investigation when they can sell papers with cheap gossip. If anyone were ever to put the work in, they would be sure to find Guido, the Monkey, or one of the usual suspects jumping up and down, screaming "OO-oo! Over here! Look! An irrelevant Lib-Dem is being pooed on by a rent-boy! John Prescott is playing Croquet! In the afternoon! And he's been given a cowboy suit!!!" Whenever a massive cock-up could come to light, there's an army of little beasties crawling around looking for a conspiracy.

That's what the clowns are for. The unwitting pawns of civil misdirection. And they don't even get paid for it!

Heh heh.

**********

Another one of the regular themes on this blog is the way that, when people are given a bit of space on the media, they simplify and overstate their arguments in order to attract attention to themselves.

Annoying, isn't it?

The Voice of NTaH

This evening, I will be arguing with Guido and Recess Monkey about this on the wireless – Resonance FM 104.4 at 6.30pm today.

There will be a podcast available afterwards as well - here.

Tune in, one way or the other whydoncha?

Does 'public accountability' rule out win-win negotiations?

How come Arsenal can build a lovely stadium for £357m, have it ready on-time and on-budget (as far as I know) within a fairly short period of time, but the FA can't even guarantee that the 2007 FA Cup Final will be played at the new Wembley Stadium - nearly seven years after the (now) £757m project was commenced?

Is this because....

  1. No-one really beleives the FA when they say that they can't bail a project out - after all, they will never go bust. So suppliers will always take the wee-wee out of clients that have some kind of public status
  2. Businesses are a just lot better at managing projects such as this than public / quasi public bodies. Full. Stop.
  3. Public bodies are subject to a standard of accountability that stops them from negotiating win-win contracts.

Are there any other common explanations that I've missed here? And is no 3 (above) a common explanation?

I ask this, because it strikes me as a very credible one that is rarely discussed. Tim Worstall is usually very entertaining on the subject of public-sector incompetence, but I've not seen him discuss the win-win issue before. Maybe I missed it?

Monday, November 20, 2006

FOI fisking

A quick question.

Should judges use Freedom of Information legislation to fisk ministers?

I'm not sure what I think about this yet.

Taylor - not that little

A cyberpunk yesterday. All of us 'net-heads' look like this y'know.

Apologies in advance for the following screed. There are a lot of internal links to previous posts. It's just that a senior public figure has decided to touch on a subject that I've wanted to see aired for a while.

Chris is wrong. Matthew Taylor is not an arrogant little twerp. He's actually quite tall.

And Iain Dale says, in response to Taylor, that he is shrill and proud of it. This is because he is as wrong as Taylor is about how the internet is impacting upon politics.

Dale and Taylor are both hostages to the farcical perspective that the mainstream media take on public life. Dale is simply engaged in a race to the bottom with the the Westminster lobby, promoting the blogosphere as some kind of online version of US Talk Radio. And I don't believe that Taylor's view is based upon any immersion in the blogosphere either. I suspect that the nearest he gets is the odious 'Comment is Free' project.

My experience of the blogosphere is one of finding perspectives that are entirely unrepresented in the MSM - and ones that Taylor would be very glad to see discussed in the irrelevant newspapers that he reads.

Perspectives such as that found in the Euston Manifesto - surely* the first effective political movement to grow out of the blogosphere (apart from those that have an obvious tech perspective such as the anti-RIP bill / ID cards lobby).

If Taylor wanted to look at the place in the UK where politics can quite literally be a matter of life and death, he could look at the way that Slugger O'Toole has created a space that none of the newspapers would be capable of occupying.

Or on a mass-organisation front, he could look at the pro-immigration marches in the US earlier this year.

And if he wants an example of shrill public discourse, he can look at Talk Radio, the BBC Question Time, lots of Newsnight's 'specials' or any of the idiotic phone-ins on daytime radio. When he complains about 'incommensurate' demands from an infantilised public, he can reflect on who is doing the infantilising here. It isn't the blogosphere - it's the unholy pact between centralising politicians and the demagogic simplification of the national press. It is what passes for satire these days. All of these are well-established forces.

It seems that he doesn't realise that his time at No.10 may have been wasted. He could have been arguing for the destruction of this pact. Again, there is a programme that could be followed which I should be too modest to link to. Anyway, I've said this plenty of times before.

But one interesting feature of Taylor's perspective is his caricature of libertarianism. It seems to be one that is more based in fiction than in any real observation. He conflates the term with a Stirnerite version of 'individualism' and then draws upon stereotypes that appear to owe more to cyberpunk novels than any real observation.

Individualism and libertarianism are not the same thing. The internet is not necessarily a cause of increased individualism either. When I get a moment, I'll try to compose a post about individualism in dystopian literature. It can encompass cyberpunk and the work of James Ellroy - both of them feature stock characters that are brutal, physically robust, amoral and very clever indeed.

Ellroy's lot are situated in the 1950s and 1960s. The small amount of Cyberpunk that I've read tends towards a period about 50 years hence. And it's all bollocks. At least Ellroy writes compelling bollocks. But this vision of the future is one that is no more realistic than the novels themselves.

*Pootergeek said this first, though not online I think?

Update: One other thing: George Osborne MP has the text of a speech up on this subject. It's the standard fare for a political speech - fairly directionless and idealistic. But it's got some very useful data in it if you're ever looking for some shorthand ways of explaining this subject.

Friday, November 17, 2006

What words please YOUR blog-traffic fairy?

McG has finally got a visitor from outside the small group of people that he has personally invited to view his blog, thanks to the wonders of Google.

A post that I had on the site a while ago - a tribute to Tony Banks - is one of my biggest sources of random traffic from search engines. Particularly from Google.de - it seems that the words "facking machine" have a particular appeal for our teutonic cousins.

Anyone speak German? Let me know what this means, could you?

A question for other bloggers then. What is the most serendipitous words that you have ever used on your blog, as far as search engines go?

The day that Puskas met me


Old Man Puskas' gave everyone his autograph, it seems.
RIP.

I got his autograph when he was manager of AEK Athens in 1978. They came to the City Ground and got hammered 5-1.

Those were the days.

Next time I'm in the attic, I'll dig out the autograph book and the picture that the Long Eaton Advertiser took of Ferenc and I. I'll scan 'em and put them on my blog so that you will know I'm not making this up.

I'll really miss him.

Abroad

Cloud is quoting from Ambrose Bierce's 'The Devils Dictionary'. And a good quote it is too.
The version he links to seems to be missing my personal favourite:

"Abroad, adj: At war with savages and idiots. To be a Frenchman abroad is to be miserable; to be an American abroad is to make others miserable."
Disclaimer: This does't mean that I've turned into some class of Pilge-simpleton. It just made me laugh, thassall.

Friday catblogging


From here. Ta Oliver.

Connolly film for 2007 release

Connolly: More than just an Irish Rebel.

Tom in the comments remiinds me about the impending release of a film about James Connolly.

It's pencilled in for the spring.

There's also a good fictional account of the Irish Citizens Army in Roddy Doyle's excellent 'A Star Called Henry'. Yes, that Roddy Doyle.

If, like me, you read his Barrytown books (The Committments / Snapper / Van) and you resolved never to read anything else of his, I urge you to revise that view. 'A Star Called Henry' is a very lovely novel in so many ways.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Persuasion

Brian Appleyard seems to object to the one of the only things that I like about Tony Blair -namely that he believes that he can persuade people to come alongside him in almost any debate.

Of course, there are bits that are irksome. In the first few years of his premiership, his office believed that people were persuaded by the image of him speaking to an appreciative audience of clones in suits and pinkish twinsets. This was a mistake.

His decision that God will be his judge on Iraq, is another example of how this conviction can be a bit annoying.

But if you substitute 'history' for God, I'd be happy with it as a statement. Indeed, wouldn't it be nice if a few more politicans had the guts to say something like that.

Rampant self-belief is never a particularly attractive characteristic. But objecting to it in a political leader is, surely, absurd? It is better than the standard charge that was levelled at him before 2003 - that he simply followed the dictates of focus groups and his private polling.

Blair appears to occasionally stand on his principles these days. I suspect that a lot of the real objection to this is based upon a disagreement with those principles.

To my mind, the real problem lies elsewhere. It is that Blair is complicit in the maintenance of a political ecology in which there is only one persuader. One in which elected politicians are a very diminshed force, and one in which their rivals (pressure groups, the media, bureaucrats etc) are in the ascendency.

If every MP and local Councillor believed that it was possible to test themselves in front of the public in the way that Blair does, the country would surely be a better place?

It may also be a country that was run by the people that are elected to do so. And that would be a change for the better.

Protectionism and exceptions - a few questions

I'd say that I'm fairly opposed to protectionism in general, and I'd go along with Chris's position (that Shuggy amplifies well in the comments).

Two questions though.

Firstly, should there be a cultural exception to this general principle? I'd have no objection to Asian countries having a comparative advantage in, say, rice - to use an obvious example. But the US has a large, prosperous, consumerist marketplace for audiovisual content. It's a marketplace that even largely shares a common language, and one that some would say has the ability to use subtle forms of conditioning to overcome some rational choices that consumers may otherwise make. They have a comparitive advantage, and it's hard to distinguish between their approach to foreign markets and the traditional pre-digital economist's concept of 'dumping'. Should we object to the prospect of TV and cinema being dominated by US exports?

Secondly, are there cultural reasons to see 'comparative advantage' as a form of the 'objectification of Labour' on a grand scale? Whole economies just making t-shirts to use Shuggy's example. Not being a Marxist scholar, I don't have the answer here - but one of the more appealing things that I found in my limited reading of Marx was his critique of the way that mass-production reduced human creativity.

Is there a downside to workers focusing purely in one industry - even if it results in immediate and substantial material improvements in their lives?

I don't know the answer to these questions. I used to think I did though. Any comments?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bestie Banknotes

Norn Irn currency. To replace the ones that were pinched a while ago.

Via Slugger.

Politics: Not as relevant as it could be.

The Royal Mail's Adam Crozier: Britain's second highest-paid civil servant. He used to run the FA you know. The FA is a model of managerial excellence.

The Taxpayers Alliance are absolutely fantastic people in every way imaginable.

That said, they have their uses, I suppose. In between their plaudits from the Express and the Mail, they've published a Public Sector Richlist.

Hop over there for a sec and read it. Or if you'd prefer, read this summary*:

    • There are 3 people in the public sector who earn more than £1 million a year.
    • There are 14 people in the public sector earning above £500,000 a year.
    • There are 46 people earning above £250,000 a year.
    • Tony Blair is only the 88th highest paid person in the public sector.

    Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers will be shocked at the scale of these massive pay awards. Large numbers of people in the public sector are effectively being paid City salaries. It is not surprising that taxes keep going up when the salaries for the public sector's top executives keep rocketing.”

So, now we've established who runs Britain, and in whose interest, can we finally banish these idiots to the dustbin of history?

I'll start buying a daily paper again once they decide that they have a duty to educate the public about the City and the Civil Service. And when they decide to start covering League One football / Forest get promoted to the Premiership**

(If this post sounds like a bit of a rant, it's a development on some previous tangential posts)


*And read this disclaimer while you're at it: "Note to editors: We are clearly not responsible for the accuracy of information contained within official reports, but we are happy to take any corrections from anyone named in the Public Sector Rich List after publication."

**Whichever comes first.

The non-ubiquity of Co-ops

As promised, here is an explanation for the failure of Co-ops to take over the world. Or at least one that sidesteps the bigger question of investment.

As you already know, the forces that aspire to exert any control over society have to ensure that they are they are deployed appropriately, and they have to hope that the historical trade-winds are blowing in the right direction. So big and small business, the police, the various professions, social classes and bureaucracies all have their ducks lined up to defend their interests.

If I had any clout, or a largish audience, I’d probably have the CBI on my ass every time I offered evidence that their members were a shower of leeches. Similarly, if I were to question the handouts that support small businesses, or if I were to suggest that there are better ways of managing the economy than promoting them, I’d probably hear from the FSB sooner or later.

Critical of your quack? Not if the BMA have anything to do with it. Whenever a journalist has a dig at the quality of senior civil servants, they can expect a stiff letter to their editor from the FDA. Anyone of any substance who slights Inspector Knacker can expect a stiff rebuttal from The Police Federation. Other professions have their Unions and trade associations. And journalists have ... well... the media.

And so on.

Now, I’ll admit that some of these organisations are more protectionist than others. Some have a regulatory role that insists upon a degree of neutrality, but generally, they offer protection to a particular grouping. If you wanted to really challenge the power of big business, you would have to outmanoeuvre the CBI, and if you want to do that, you’ll need to be up quite early in the morning.

But which organisation takes up cudgels on behalf of Co-ops? Who insists that this business model is cultivated and evangelised? Who rebuts slights against Mutualism? Who hires lawyers on behalf of Co-ops and Mutuals to do a line-by-line reading of upcoming legislation? Who focuses and builds the voice of those of us who work in the co-operative sector?

Well, if you wanted to raise a laugh, you could say that there is Cooperatives UK. And then there’s The Co-op Party. Now, in my experience, the Co-op Party is primarily a route to Parliament. If you want a safe Labour seat and have no Trade Union connections, the Co-op Party can offer an alternative. For years it has had most of it's funding from the big consumer Co-ops and, sometimes, when some contentious project that has a Co-op veneer emerges, (Foundation Hospitals was the most recent) then the Co-op Party is wheeled out to support them.

But neither the Co-Op Party or Co-operatives UK are much of an asset to producer co-ops, small consumer co-ops, or Mutuals as far as I can see.

I say all of this, by the way, not (just) to have a dig at either the Party or Co-operatives UK. I say it because I think that there is a fatal flaw in the pro-Co-op argument. None of us generate much of a surplus. We reinvest profits or - in the cases where we are very profitable - we distribute a portion of them to staff. Staff who may sometimes be even more short-termist than conventional investors.

Co-ops are often structured to supply 'at cost', or to provide services that the market can't incentivse itself to provide otherwise. We don't have the motive to grow that other businesses have. We have no shareholders yapping at our heels, and there is insufficient motive for us to fund an aggressive trade association.

However, if we were to develop a powerful voice, I suspect that these two organisations could be morphed into something useful. And of the two, the Party is the most likely candidate. It would take a good deal of restructuring and a shift of focus, of course. And it would need to disincentivise people from getting involved in order to further a parliamentary career.

Anyway, they’ve set up a blog now. It’s here. Go and guide them in the right direction if you like? In the meantime, if you’re just into uniforms, have a look at this (work-safe but maybe embarrassing) instead.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Civic hacking redux

I’ve banged on about (my day job, partly) accessible websites before. But I’m going to do it again.

If there ever were a website that SHOULD be accessible using a GPRS phone, you’d think it would be the National Rail website. There is no site that I need to access through my phone more.

Of course, they’ve tried to cover there arses by saying that it is accessible on a phone. But it opens in frames! With the even-more-useless ‘Trainline’ website sharing half of the tiny screen on my phone. So a just-about functioning website that works through a PC browser is replaced by a horrible one for your phone. And there's no reason for it to be like this if they hadn't hired whoever they hired to build it for them in the first place.

It’s pathetic. But..... *drum roll* some decent geezer called Matthew apparently (who doesn't even go to the lengths of taking credit for the fact that he has hacked out a much better site. Bookmark it! The beautifully named Train Times dot org dot UK. That someone can do this speaks volumes about the way that large organisations approach IT projects.

And another thing. If you look at the poxy 'Trainline' site - the one that you're supposed to use to book tickets online, it usually offers much more expensive tickets than the ones you can get if you turn up at the railway station or book over the phone.

And, while we're on the subject, follow that link that I posted above to Mathiew's MP comparison game that he has hacked out of www.theyworkforyou.com - I've outlined my reservations about this kind of thing before, but, again, you can't help but admire the cleverness. And look at the bookmarkable URLs on the traintimes site as well. Kewl.

(Hat tip to Ben for showing me the http://traintimes.org.uk and finding out who built it)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Axis of Evil Mutherfuckers!

Time to get the band back together.

From the Voice of Korea

"If you are a band playing any kind of rock, including heavy metal, then you can participate 'ROCK FOR PEACE' in Pyong Yang, the capital city of North Korea. This is the very first time in history that North Korea allows western musicians in the heart of DPRK territory to play capitalist popular music.

There are few restrictions and conditions on participation but any band will be considered even though you are from USA. The lyrics should not contain admirations on war, sex, violence, murder, drug, rape, non-governmental society, imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-DPRK, and anti-socialism. "

Non-governmental society? What if it's not based in DPRK? Anarchy in the UK, for example? Would that be OK?

Via I hate my neighbours

Defence of Boss Politics: A prelude

Chris Dillow has a long-running thread in which he promotes co-ops as a form of ownership. He argues that they are likely to promote a better quality of service.

This recent post is a good place to start, and, when you follow his link about how schools and hospitals can be turned into co-ops, you will find this as one of his arguments.

"Groups of like-minded teachers (say, according to their views on different educational theories) would bind together. The resulting difference in teaching methods would let us see what works and what doesn’t."

Now, I don't want to give any of you who have actually met me horrible mental image that will ruin your day, but the first time I read that line, I was a bit like Meg Ryan in that scene in 'When Harry Met Sally'.

I think you get my drift, don't you? Hold that image..... 3 - 2 - 1 *click*.

You're back in the room.

We can continue once you've had a wash. Where were we? Oh yes.
  • Like-minded groups, form co-ops and compete in the public interest.
  • Ideas tested!
  • Better attitude to customers!
  • All the benefits of competition, none of the downsides of unfair and exagerated hierarchies!
All good so far.

Two questions:

Firstly, why can't political parties do this as well? It would make elections really meaningful for the first time. The big barrier is, of course, the obsession with 'graft' in public life. At the moment, the public sector have to make services openly contestable. They have to go through a process whereby contracts are awarded* subject to 'sealed bids.'

Anyone who has ever been involved in this process knows that it's a farce. Surely, when you win an election, you should be able to replace the top level of civil servants with your own people, and you should be able to award contracts to the businesses that you choose.

If you win an election and then hand all of the business to your brother-in-law's outfit, that will undoubtely be seen as corrupt. But that is unlikely to happen because you will be judged on your results next time, surely? And anyway, corruption doesn't always - everywhere - equal inefficiency, does it?

So watch this space for more posts entitled 'In Defence of Boss Politics'

Secondly, I think that Chris has now established beyond any reasonable doubt that only a cretin would object to the replacement of all other management / ownership structures with some kind of co-op model**. So why aren't they ubiquitous?

A question that I will answer shortly. Don't move that dial!

*OK. I know it's a lot more complicated than this, and that the 'sealed bid' process actually masks a different sort of graft - the one whereby management consultancies with no expertise always win bids against companies that actually understand the prospective clients' needs. But lets not open that can of worms today, OK?

** This may slightly overstate his positon, but, again, bear with me.

Mrs Beckett's dignity defended

As you know, I dislike the way that politicans are lampooned.

So it is with a heavy heart that show you this picture.



From The Spine via ├čench

Gillett plugage

Aynur. Stunning.

One of the benefits of insomnia is that I rarely miss Charlie Gillett's show on World Service in the small hours.

Last night, the show was particularly spectacular. It featured the electrifying Aynur (a Turkish Kurd singer) and Chango Spasiuk, an Argentinean accordianist with Ukranian roots.

You will be able to listen to it until the next show supercedes it.

You should.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Graven image

A fund, to raise money for a statue. A graven image.



Let's see what the scriptures have to say about this sort of thing:
Exodus 20:2
I am the
LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

So, ask yourself: Feeling blasphemous, punk?

If so, go here for more info. As a lapsed Catholic, this shouldn't bother me as much as it'd bother other people.


Via Col.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Doughty Street goes in to bat ... for itself

Meet the new thrusing whizzy Web 2.0 / new kid on the block / weightless economy press gallery. Same as the old clowns.

Iain Dale's 18 Doughty Street project are today leading on the fact that EU broadcasting regulation doesn't suit... er... 18 Doughty Street. Indeed, their top two stories today - the day that the political map of the worlds only superpower may have been transformed were....
Leaving aside the issues on both sides of the argument about whether internet broadcasters can / should be regulated, surely it is not the role of the media to focus on it's own interests in this way?

A sure case for regulation in my book.

By the way, remember that one of the arguments for gambling tax reform was that, in a globalised economy, it will never be possible to regulate gambling.

Never.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Profiled!

Paul Burgin at Mars Hill is asking bloggers about themselves. Hard to resist, I know.

I didn't. Have a look. And have a look at the rest of his site while you're there.

One correction: I'm NOT a Londoner. I just live here for now.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Orientation

You may have come across the political compass? Everyone I know who took the test found themselves strangely close to Ghandi.

There are plenty of other political orientation projects around, and most of them appear to be fairly ham-fisted taken on their own. Ages ago, there was the 'who you should vote for' website. I was sceptical about that one at the time as well as I was about the Political survey 2005.

In an interesting twist, an organisation called 'the Democratic Society'* are doing some calibration of a set of indices before they start asking you where you stand. They want you to go to their website and answer some questions.**

They aren't asking you for your opinion on some subjects. But, they do want you to express an opinion about where someone who makes a statement would sit on a particular axis.
So, is someone who believes that flogging will reduce crime a believer in small or large government?

Go and have a look, and then - if you want to - come back here and discuss it.

In nearly every case, when answering the questions, I had to suspend some part of my judgment. I decided to think of the people that I've encountered recently holding the views outlined - and then placed them on the required axis. Really,'neutral' is the most defensible answer to many - if not most - of these questions.

It does raise a few issues. For instance, in the past, I used to conflate 'internationalist' with 'left wing', but I'm increasingly conscious that large slice of the left are anything but. So when asked ...

Think about someone who might strongly agree with the following statement:

"Trade unions are essential to protect workers' rights."

(and then being asked to place a person expressing that view on a scale between
nationalist at one end and 'internationalist' at the other...)

.... in the recent past, (say, pre-9/11), I would have made the connection:

Internationalist = Socialist = Trade Unionist.
I would have been prepared to defend this view on the basis that the anti-European left had largely been defeated and sidelined, and with it, the Bennite link between Socialism and protectionism.

But, again, I'd now say that a very large proportion of the most active advocates of Trade Unionism are definitely not Internationalist.

*As it happens, I know one or two of the people involved in this project, and as far as I know, they don't have any particular political agenda. It seems a respectable and objective project as far as I can see.

**The site could do with a few usability improvements. For instance, it doesn't tell you how many questions you have to answer - I've now answered dozens and the end it not in sight. I'm beginning to think that they just want you to keep answering as long as you like.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A class apart

Brian Appleyard has plenty to object to in the reports about alleged BBC bias. But the thing that he choses to be annoyed about says quite a lot.

“Richard Klein, commissioning editor for documentaries, says, 'Most people at the BBC don't live lives like this but these are our licence payers. It's our job to reflect and engage.'If Klein is being quoted correctly here, he is suffering from a degree of arrogance that would glaze over the eyes of mad King Xerxes.

Note that he does not say, "Most people at the BBC don't hold these opinions...', he says they 'don't live lives like this...'. The BBC's obvious bias has never angered me as much as it does others. But, if these people really think their lives and not just their opinions are better than ours, then the problem is far worse than I realised.” (my emphasis)


What Appleyard appears to be saying is that, if there is a representative perspective, and a set of values that the British people as a whole can identify with, then this perspective and these values are the same as Appleyard’s but not those of the thought-leaders within the BBC.

I’m on Klein’s side here. At least he appears to be acknowledging that the ‘chattering class’ are indeed a social class. The perspective that they promote can be explained by their social class. A social class that has been anatomised by better sociologists than I will ever be*.

And while we’re on the subject, I resent the implication that the prevailing position within the BBC is ‘left-wing.’ It isn’t. It is, instead, the negativist pessimistic defeatist pseudo-left that increasingly slipstreams the position of well-placed upper-middle class middle-brows. Perhaps Appleyard's opponents in the school debating-society?

But it is not a perspective of the left. Indeed, it could be slowly stripping the left of any sense of purpose that it ever had.

*I will never be a sociologist.

Via S&M

London You're a Lady

I've lived in and around London for more than twenty years now. And sometimes I wonder why I stay here. I've never been able to find a job that I've wanted to do that would let me live anywhere else, so I'm still here.

But during the first week in November, London is the best place on earth. For some reason, the same people who seem incapable of making eye-contact or speaking to a stranger in the street become friendly and communicative. They seem to look happier. The light is better than at any other time of the year. And maybe I'm imagining it, but the place even smells better.

And here's Route 79 - my favourite London blog.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Whither...

If you don't already have it in your RSS reader, can I urge you to subscribe to Dave Osler's blog. I usually keep an eye on it, but I missed this first time around.

Broadly, he's listed what he thinks the big questions are that the left needs to answer.

It's a good post as well, and the fact that it's coming from someone of Dave's perspective is very refreshing. I've been reading him on-and-off for at least fifteen years - probably longer - either in Tribune or latterly in Red Pepper, and he's always started from the opposite position to the one I prefer.

I don't know if he'd argue with my description, but I'd say that he is a revolutionary by preference and a reformer by necessity. And there is no reformer more reluctant than Dave. But he outlines some very good questions at a time when the left is as rudderless as it's ever been.

I'd suggest that this is what the blogosphere is for. It rewards critical thinking, and the left have the most to benefit from this. Why anyone (including Dave) continue to think that the right are somehow 'better at blogging' mystifies me. They have bloggers that are better at playing the idiotic games that Westminster hacks play. But that's about it.

I think that he could consider adding a few other points to his list.

Rapid change. Technological change has had a massive impact on the way that we form and exercise preferences. It has implications for everything you can think about - but the left seems to regard it as a neutral issue. You can have a view on technology that is vastly different from people who otherwise share your views on lots of thing. Like having political allies who support different football teams. This really shouldn't be the case. Every individual that takes part in any debate should, surely, have a view on the current torrent of developments? And this understanding should, surely, provide us with the basis of how we see society going, and what impact that we (the left) should have on it? So, is 'Web 2.0' a scam or an earthquake? Discuss. If you don’t agree with someone on this subject, it’s hard to see how you could agree on much else.

Hegemony. Chris Dillow has a very challenging line of thinking about managerialism among other things. What are the forces that are so omnipotent that no-one notices or discusses them? I'm not sure I agree with Chris's entire argument, but it is an interesting starting point to discuss the power-relations that drive society along. I reckon so anyway. I've also been working on a line of thought that I can never get any response on about the way that the structure of the media is hardwired into central government in a way that we have stopped noticing.

Democracy. What sort of democracy do we really want? What are the threats and the opportunities that democrats face?

Liberalism. Personally, I regard liberalism as an essential stepping stone to any more meaningful democracy. Annoyingly, liberals appear to have lost any interest in defending the gains or the principles of liberalism. Does liberalism create a population that are so solopsistic that they will eventually turn on liberalism in a fit of pique? Is liberalism wasted on liberals?

If you regard liberalism as instrumental, should you be a liberal-perfectionist? Or should you just be defending the key achievements and not worrying about the rest of it? This leaves scope for a debate on everything from smoking-bans to ID cards. It’s one for Shuggy.

I'm going to try and post on his questions of common ownership and Unions in due course. I've had a draft on the role of working class politics on my desktop for about nine months now, and it still needs a lot of corners knocking off it before I could post it with any confidence (which says a lot in itself).