Monday, January 29, 2007

Three signposts elsewhere

Once again, too busy to do anything substantial here. So a few signposts off instead,

Firstly, I saw this in my copy of Chartist – Jean Seaton asking "Whatever happened to investigative reporting?"
“…the emergence of opinion over reporting. But it is opinion that is devoid of political ideology. This twenty year old print media trend has been followed by television news, that has become more opinionated in a narrow sense too – now celebrity reporters ventriloquise politicians. Secondly, there has been the development of 24-hour news - a sadly repetitive and empty, format. Thirdly, has been the pursuit of detail without context as a substitute for ‘investigative’ journalism. So, we have become accustomed to getting our news on the cheap, which serves the purposes of elitist politicians well.”
And

“There is a stealthy, swift, revolution taking place in the media, in politics and in the public: we must all self-consciously begin to ask what we can do to sustain our capacity to discuss together, in public, in a rational way, things that matter. Good reporting – however it develops in a brilliant moment of technological innovation – will keep the public whether local or international alert. It will hold governments, businesses and international agencies to account.

It will also nurture intelligence. We have to get the right policies in place for ourselves and for the world. And our lucky, comfortable children will need every source of intelligence and reflection, and every skill to assess what is happening if they are going to tackle the future problems we leave them with – and all of the ones we have not yet imagined. Getting the media right is not a luxury. It is a necessity of everything else we have to do. The world is too dangerous a place – and the opportunities too exciting – for us to continue to censor thoughtfulness. But are we willing to pay the price?”

Also, a prejudice alert:

I’ve only seen brief reviews of this book on why homework for kids is a bad thing. I’ve not read it yet, but I’m already fairly sure that I agree with it. I found homework soul-destroying and demotivating, and I’m determined to help my children avoid it if I can.

And finally, I just enjoyed this article by Sean O’Hagen. Mix tape nostalgia is an old chestnut here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

To Stamford Bridge

As Gram Parson sang, It’s been a bad, bad day.’

Erstwhile NTaH guest-blogger, James Hamilton told the BBC what the worst-case scenario could be, and today’s result was not far off.

I had a last-minute freebie in one of Chelsea’s posher ends (ta Ben) otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gone.

The game was pretty awful. Forest just seemed overawed. None of them wanted the ball, every clearance was hasty and I don’t think I saw more than two passes ‘to feet’ in the whole 90 mins. Julian Bennett played like he had his hometown in his knuckles, but that was about it.

If you watched it on TV, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Forest were at home though. The pathos was there for all to hear:

“We went to Europe, we won the Cup twice.”

"Champions of Europe! Champions of Europe!"

and

“Where were you, where were you, where were you when you were shit?”
I’m sure that James would have something to say about how far a standful of supporters with grandiose delusions can lift or sink a team.

I didn’t take the boy, but after the final whistle blew, the phone rang and he was distraught. Apparently the BBC commentators were comparing Forest to a team called Yeading (who they were forced to play in the cup a few months ago).

“Who are Yeading?” he asked.

“They’re a bit like Bayern Munich” I replied.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

Roundheads

Here, Peter Wilby illustrates the gulf in understanding between journalists and politicians.

Writing on a subject that I've been onto a lot here (the mutual contempt that appears to have grown up between politicians and the more vocal sections of the public), Wilby covers his arse by name-checking the usual explanations. Among them, he has:

"...it is not quite enough to say that our politicians turn out to be rotten leaders and bad people, always letting us down. Other explanations for our hatred make more sense. A fiercely competitive media, dedicated to cheap theatrical thrills rather than sustained policy analysis, has induced profound cynicism in the population, which grows further when leading politicians themselves play the media game.

You could argue, too, that the constant scrutiny of 24-hour news makes us over-familiar with politicians. Just as no man can be a hero to his valet, so no leader can be a hero to a voter who, almost daily, sees him (or her) sweating under the TV lights."
Being a journalist, of course, this explanation only has to be put on the table briefly before it can be mysteriously withdrawn. Once that's out of the way, he turns to the real explanation.

In his view, 'nannying' - the way that politicians tell us how to conduct our lives while noticeably ignoring their own advice - explains most of it.

And there is something in this argument. I'd agree that the role of politicians should usually be to pull big levers rather than to micromanage. But there is a particularly influential group of them who believe that they know otherwise. And Wilby would need to come up with better arguments than he has done to contradict them.

When I was a lot more actively involved in the Labour Party in the mid-1990s, there were loads of MPs, candidates and part-builders who used to breeze in and out of the London HQ. There were the dilettantes, the careerists, the lobbyists, the Union hacks, the crypto-trots and hippies, the wonks, and many other subgroups thereof. There were quite a lot of plain nutters as well. Not that I want to generalise or anything.

But the one that everyone watched their backs around were the roundheads. The ones that took grassroots work seriously. Siobhan McDonagh MP was always thought of as one of the high priestesses here. From memory, Luke Akehurst (who blogs here) was another.

According to them, the local party needed to be built. Doors needed to be knocked on, databases updated, core-voters targeted and dragged out on election days. It was a big, painstaking job that involved doorstep work, and a willingness to be seen to take the known concerns of those voters seriously.

Prospective MPs needed an army of dedicated activists knocking on doors. Theirs was an inelegant and unfashionable voice that is almost unheard outside of HQ, but one that dominated and shaped the party at a local level. A voice that also had a significant say in the distribution of political patronage, and all that flows from it. 'Want a safe seat? Forget that Fabian Pamphlet and knock on some fucking doors then!'

A large section of the party were weary and wary of the roundheads. Theirs was a relentless logic. The policies that they advanced were – they claimed - shaped by talking to Labour's core voters (they didn't waste as much time canvassing areas that didn't have a high Labour turnout).

And – even more annoyingly for the Labour’s liberal-left, this realism was hard to dismiss. Because new Labour had another – less respectable – shaper of it’s message - the Focus Group.

Focus Groups were a more sophisticated and savvy way of finding what key voters really wanted - particularly the crucial ones who lived in areas where there was a lower concentration of prospective Labour voters. The ones that would decide the election. Focus Groups were needed because, as any fool knows, people don't tell you what really bothers them. They tell pollsters and canvassers one thing and the ballot box another.

And the received wisdom was that focus groups were evil. They were lazy, dishonest and unprincipled. Their use made Labour worse than a bunch of populists – a party with no principle other than simply gaining power and holding it. Not only that, but they were delivered by people who worked in advertising!

And the reason that the Roundheads were so awkward, was that they were the real viable alternative to focus group-led politics. The Roundheads went and talked to ‘real people’. The kind of people that Labour lefties always said that Labour should be listening to.

And those real people wanted something doing about the noisy threatening twat with the nasty dog who lived two flats down. Those people wanted things banned, and they wanted people locked up. They wanted something to be done, and they read newspapers that wanted action as well.

The Roundheads were happy to recruit them in a campaign against the liberal bourgeois sentimentalism of the more Fabian elements within the party. The ones that dragged out CLP meetings with tedious discussions about Nicaragua when they could be arranging leaflet-drops, ‘blitz’ canvassing and street-stalls.

The Roundheads were prolier-than-thou, and their moral clout grew with every strip of shoe-leather that they went though.

The Focus Group wonks and the Roundheads combined to quieten that large midriff in The Labour Party that thinks of itself as ‘value based’. The one that doesn’t really have a clearly-identified agency, a programme or any credible connection with the people that they claim to represent.

This is what new Labour is. Peter Wilby offers no evidence that his irritation for ‘nannying’ is shared by a wider section of the public than the people that he rubs shoulders with himself. He cites a Private Eye column’s perspective in his defence. He should bin The Eye and watch the more widely-read sections of his own lousy profession. If he did, he’d know that they – and their readers - don’t want politicians who just pull levers. They want someone to do something and quick.

Politicians do have a huge problem in this country. There is no valuable dialogue going on that they can tune into or participate in. They are stuck between what the more outspoken constituents tell them on the doorsteps, and what the alchemists of public opinion analysis will have them believe. Or they can watch the Newsnight Specials, Question Time or even start reading a few of the more popular political blogs!

But, in the meantime, don’t be surprised if they keep ‘nannying’ until that particular problem is fixed.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Put out more flags


One day to go. Unless I eat rice pudding all day today, I may die tomorrow during the celebrations.

As Willie Nelson sang,
"Every time I hear his name
I just can't keep from crying."


Norm the Papist?

Discussions such as this are normally out of my league. But 'who dares wins' eh?

Here goes.

Am I alone in saying that I have a small number of 'cornerstone' beliefs that shape the other things that I comment on? In revealing them, we reveal our weaknesses, biases and prejudices. Regular visitors here can guess my own line on almost anything once my simplistic preference for representative democracy is understood.

The other one (that I usually sidestep) is the question of 'evil'. FYI, it doesn't exist. Nurture obviously has the whip-hand over nature in this respect. As a teenage Catholic, I thought that there were four things that we should always remember; death, judgment, heaven and hell and that despair is the worst sin of all. If there has been one defining moment for me, it was when I rejected this view for something equally contentious. After reading the classical psychological myths, it was easy to conclude that cruelty is fueled by peer-pressure or somesuch. If someone is bad, it's someone else's fault. Concentration-camp guards were the real victims! Etc.

Norm is reviewing a Theodore Dalrymple review of a book on Rwanda (that I haven't read). The outstanding piece of evidence, for him, is that - in Rwanda - victims didn't cry out at the extreme point at which they were murdered.

For the sake of argument, let's leave aside the dangers of totemic illustrations such as this (another error-prone 'concentration-camp guard' illustration). Norm is - I think - making an observation that most Papists would agree with: That evil is something that can't be negotiated with. There is, implicitly, a 'sin of omission' here. In killing someone, the most sinister aspect of it is not that you do the deed, but that your demeanor convinces your victim that you are impossible to reason with - and thereby, you leave them no alternative but to commit the worst sin of all - the abandonment of hope. An impassive murderer is, by definition, evil. Emote at bit - snarl, and so forth, and you communicate a dubious reasonableness to your victims. It's all relative, of course, but there is - by Norm's logic - a distinction, isn't there? Norm doesn't seem to be making a distinction between someone with a hugely distorted perspective, and someone for whom their perspective is irrelevant as they are being driven by a larger - more pernicious - animus.

Norm can only infer that this sin of omission is - in fact - a sin of commission. Something implicit. Evil. I'd suggest that a catholic would be nodding at this conflation between the two and saying "at last! A materialist finally understands us."

You see, 'evil' must always be a conscious 'sin of commission', but the notion of evil suggests that there is something atavistic in it as well. Something casual. That the nightmare in Rwanda arose from resident 'evil' as opposed to some cataclysmic cultural misunderstanding. Not an elegant argument, I'd agree. But one that it you could only refute by drawing arbitary lines.

I know little of the tensions that caused the butchery in Rwanda. But - unless Norm can illustrate that the murderers and their victims shared exactly the same data, and perspective on the situation that they found themselves in - I don't see how he can have the confidence to describe it as 'evil'. Could he be saying that most of us would be able to respond to the most extreme perceived provocation without reaching for a machete - and that the lack of restraint in Rwanda arose from something that most of us are not infected by?

I'm not convinced that I share his confidence. Or to invert his own argument, I'm not sure that I share his optimistic view of the human nature of non-murderers.

On another subject, Norm is right about right thinking people. In fairness, Norm is right more often than he's wrong, bless his little cotton shorts.

Edwina Currie - against decentralisation.

Watching (why, as it is so annoying?) BBC's Question Time, Edwina Currie is moaning about how, in Scotland, there are is a different settlement on higher education funding for one of her great granddaughters than there is for another in Derbyshire (or some other such shithole), and this is, apparently, unfair.

Everyone, she says, should be able to benefit from exactly the same settlement. There are far too many politicians..... etc.

This illustrates why Tories are the real agents of centralisation.

Firstly, they're opportunistic enough to whinge about 'postcode lotteries' in order to discredit services that they would have underfunded in the first place (as a backhanded way of undermining public funding for those services in the first place).

Secondly, they dress up their version of 'small government' as a demand for fewer politicians.

If you ask me, smaller government can be achieved with more politicians and fewer bureaucrats.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hard as fook

Still busy. Have a look at this:

Spam and Vista - a good introduction to Spam is in LRB.

And, if you've not seen this yet, here is a rabbit that will not take it any more.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why oh why?

According to Adrian Hamilton, Tony Blair has four 'rhetorical tricks' that he uses:

"The first is to say that the problems presented to the Government at any one time are entirely new and more terrible than any that have gone before. The call on the health service; the environmental challenge; the nature of terrorism; you name it and he will paint it in the most lurid colours as if our forefathers didn't face the same and far worse in time of war."
Adrian doesn't stop to ask why a politician may wish to engage in this kind of demagogic simplification. Tony probably does it because he lives and works in a kind of vacuum. Probably. There is no other possible explanation.

"The second is to define the choices in terms of entirely artificial opposites - those who object to privatisation of the health service want patients to die waiting for operations."
Yes. It's a shame that he does this, isn't it? Because journalists will never do anything to punish any politician that offers granularity of any kind or anything in terms other than of simple opposites.

"The third is to propose that the nation needs to have a full public debate on the challenge and the measures needed to tackle it and this particular report or speech is to open up that debate, not close it down."
Yes. Why does he keep doing this? The quality of public debate in this country is so spectacularly high, Tony's missing a real trick here! And there's no danger that it will be orchestrated by generalist fuckwits either, is there?

"The fourth assertion is the accusation that decisions are being made immeasurably more difficult by the media - the demands of instant response and the growth of global communications methods."
This really is the limit. How could anyone accuse our Fourth Estate of being anything other than constructive partners, working in the public interest to build a better deliberative democracy?

Adrian has upset me so much, I'm going to have to lie down.

Flying rodent

Further to the previous post about devolution, Shuggy linked to a funny site that is a worthy addition to the blogroll.
As I've said before, I'm agnostic about independence. I can just imagine my Granddad's response though, he doesn't have much time for nationalists.

"I didn't fight for Britain in World War II so that a gang of porridge-munching wankspanners could break up the nation," he'd say. "If I'd known then what I know now, I would've fought for the Nazis."

A man of strong opinions, my Granddad. We have to buy him a new TV every time he catches sight of Terry Wogan, it's amazing the damage a double-barrelled shotgun can do at close range.

Constitutional question

Shuggy on the the Scottish UDI (or lack of it). Todays press coverage offers a different impresson though. If you believe opinion polls tell you anything useful or if you place any store by the way that they are reported, then you may be under the impression that everyone in Scotland is about to vote for the SNP but not for devolution - and that the English all want their own Parliament.

Funny. I can't remember the last time I met anyone who cares one way or the other about an English Parliament, so the riot police can take the weekend off. If only the fuckwits who report opinion polls would do the same.

The thing is, quite a high proportion of the people who think that opinion polls tell us much about what people want also think that referendums are a useful way of making decisions on big issues. They're not, and they aren't.

Since 1997, Labour have established devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales, London and (up to a point) in Northern Ireland. Yet they now seem to have lost interest in it as their weak response to setbacks in promoting regional government in England. Here's how the logic worked:
  1. In a country without a constitution, they were prepared to accept the argument that regional government is a constitutional issue.
  2. They then accepted that - in order to bring in regional assemblies, that they would need a referendum to provide a legitimate view of the will of the people.
  3. When they lost the first one, they decided that the whole 'constitutional' reform programme was officially derailed for good.
There is a better alternative that they should have taken - and given expectation of a new broom shortly, perhaps it's not too late. They could establish indirectly elected regional assemblies (properly this time, with, say, fifty Councillors chosen by all of the Councillors in the region) to oversee regional quangos and manage a fairly minimal definition of regional government. This would have two benefits:
  1. It would make people pay more attention to local elections. Local Councillors would have a bit of leverage that may allow them to demand a little more power for themselves.
  2. Once a bureaucracy was established to support the indirectly elected assembly, you can bet your life that - as sure as bureaucrats create work for themselves, that they will start competing with Whitehall for power.
Once that's been achieved, all of the political parties will probably put direct elections in their manifestoes and forget about referendums.

I understand that Gordon Brown is in favour of decentralisation.

Like he's in favour of votes for 16 year olds.

Like he's in favour of electoral reform.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Marking time

Busy. Go look at Dialectics for Kids (via aGToR).

Then change the subject and find out all about electronic music. Even if you didn't think that you wanted to know about it, you'll like this wonderful site. You will need the speakers on.

You may wish to look up what these terms mean:
  • Casiocore
  • Gabber
  • Turntablism
  • Glitch
  • Synthtron

Monday, January 15, 2007

Blibbettyblob - it's here! Rejoice!

A few days ago, Norm linked to a nice piece by Fred Halliday.

From a list of ‘worst ideas;
"In the modern world, we do not need utopias:

Dreaming, the aspiration to a better world and the imagination thereof, is a necessary part of the human condition."

Subsequently, Norm has been able to pick up, critically, on some interesting responses to it.

There are a few double-negatives in there, so think about it before you go on.

I always find discussion of utopianism - for and against - a little hard to take seriously though, because there seems to me to be a contradiction within the idea of 'utopia' that makes it largely redundant.

The oft-quoted observation from Milan Kundera about utopias always coming bundled with a gulag is not my only objection either. Utopias, you see, are an end-point. A point at which things cannot get any better.

And my idea of hell is living somewhere in which there is no prospect of things getting better. One of the most troubling things about a lot of the negativism in public debate is that one worries how the poor fuckers that engage in it are able to even get out of bed in the morning.

For example, I think that it has been amply demonstrated that an absence of scarcity in any good thing is not enough to satisfy many people. Wealth, after all, is positional thing as much as it is a thing that can be counted in stacks of banknotes. I suspect that other benchmarks that we can use to measure quality of life are similar. And it’s not for nothing that John Donne used to pun around orgasms and death. Orgasms or foreplay? It’s ‘the getting there’ that’s all the fun.

This doesn't mean that I don't largely agree with Fred Halliday's view that there is something worrying about an absence of aspiration.

Indeed, if you wanted to come up with a new word - call it anything you like - how about 'blibbettyblob'? - A Utopia - but one in which there is no gulag and a reasonable a prospect for improvement. I'd subscribe to it. Here's what it could look like:
  • A liberal democracy in which a large and growing number of people are able to participate in decision-making - and one in which there was an agreement that this decision-making should strive for optimal policy outcomes (not purely a representation of the public will or some crude version that privileges 'fairness' 'sustainability' or 'efficiency', but instead an agreed synthesis of the these metrics).
  • A successfully evangelistic liberal democracy that is promoting democratic renewal and improvement in existing democracies and one that is recruiting new nations to the club every year
  • An international community that benefits from a legitimate version of international law - one that is more firmly binding and is only framed - in a weighted way - by liberal democracies that have demonstrated their credentials.

And when would this happen, ideally? This blibbettyblob would be arrived at during a football season not unlike the 1977-8. It would happen in the pre-Xmas run when we were pretty sure we were the best side that the world had (or would) ever see – but we were looking forward to the satisfaction of seeing it being proved.

Is this all too much to ask for? On the first two points, above, I’m not even sure that this is asking for something that we haven’t already got. Obviously, the 1977-8 bit is the really improbable utopia here.

Perhaps there is a better name for it than blibbettyblob as well. How does 'democratic socialism' sound?

Naff-blogging update: I admit that I re-read about an hour after posting it and noticed a major omission. I've corrected it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Honourable exception

As this is a regular theme here, most regular visitors here would expect me to agree with almost every word of Terence Blacker's tilt at our complacent satire industry.

"....the view of political leaders is identical and largely based on cliché. Blair is opportunistic, Prescott inarticulate and stupid, Campbell a bully, Mandelson smarmy, Darling a dalek - on and on it goes. These stereotypes represent more than mere lazy writing and second-hand observation; they are an expression of an easy, cynical assumption, which the audience is invited to share, that every politician is contemptible, is less moral and more greedy than, say, a writer, a comedian or a director."

I still think that 'The Thick of It' is an honourable exception though.

It would be easy to note the Bloggers4Labour link on this site, see the Euston Manifesto badge and just assume that any objection that I have to criticism of politicians springs from some devotion to The Third Way.

This is not the case. I've no objections to politicians being ridiculed - as long as the ridicule acknowledges the circumstances that help them look even more ridiculous than they already are. I'd never discount the posibility that they are stupid, devious or malicious in one way or other - and in ways that they don't always need to be. I doubt if many of Blackers 'writers commedians or directors' would be able to put up with the bullshit for long enough to get themselves into a position whereby they were ridiculed.
A friend of mine is quite a senior civil servant in Whitehall, and he assures me that The Thick of It isn't a satire at all. Apparently it's a documentary. From what I've seen, I'd be inclined to agree.
On the other end of the scale, do you remember when Rory Bremner did that sketch in which Tessa Jowell was played by a blow-up sex doll?
What a complacent tedious cunt that man is.

Pacifism

Terry Glavin, normally here and often here on non-violence:
"...non-violent resistance to oppression is always right, proper and necessary, but sometimes it must also be accompanied by force of arms. Against certain kinds of enemies, non-violence just isn't enough.

However unpleasant this might be, it's the way the world is, and to pretend that it isn't is to harbour something the great British essayist and novelist George Orwell,
writing in the Partisan Review in 1942, succinctly described as "a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reductionism

Worth a look: Adrian Monck on reductionism in science and journalism, and what the consequences are for citizen participation.

"If we understand journalism as the marketing of information then arguments about reductionism become less meaningful. The content of the information in the market matters less than its availability and the fact that it obeys the formal rules of the genre (facts are correct, etc.). If we appreciate journalism as a branch of rules-based non-fiction then it has its own enjoyment."

And, as far as it goes, this is all OK. In the paragraphs preceding the one quoted above, Monck outlines the dilemmas that journalists face in wanting to communicate accurate and valuable information to an indifferent and time-poor public. He concludes that that journalists should relax, not worry about the dilemmas and concentrate on making the best of it.

The juxtaposition with science that he draws is an interesting one. If, for instance, I were to decide to research some sort of cure for the case of galloping knob-rot that I may or may not be suffering from at the moment, what should I be advised to do? (I'll ignore keeping-trousers-on suggestions, so save your comments).

Would I look to a good punchy summariser for advice? Or would I go and find someone with a few letters after their name and a bit of a reputation for reading fat books entitled 'An Advanced Medical Approach to the Treatment of Galloping Knob-Rot'.

I'd probably do the latter. And, as the medical profession and their various professional bodies have done a very good job in ensuring that it is not very respectable to consult quacks, I will choose a proper doc - as will most people.

When journalists are as good as doctors at promoting best practice and professionalism among their colleagues - in peer review and the harassment of charlatans, I'll be as relaxed about trusting what I read in newspapers as I am about my little rash. Until then, can we stop discussing anything other than ungarnished reporting in newspapers as if it carried any weight?

Flagging Vs

Chancing on David Lipsey's latest in Public Finance, it reminds me that it is easy to assume that many people share your views when they don't.

I agree with every word that he's written here. I'd go further. It is a terrifically banal article. It says nothing that I would normally think controversial or even particularly interesting. But since I've started saying similar banal things rather a lot, I've been quite surprised to find that only a small proportion of those who choose to comment on the government of this country actually agree with this article.

Here's a sample:

"Brown’s inscrutability is a matter of choice. Although he is determined that his premiership will be very different from Blair’s, he is equally determined not to show his hand too clearly. Indeed, his more recent tactic has been to suggest that he agrees with the present prime minister on everything (replacing Trident, for example) on the grounds that the more Blair can be convinced that Brown is his clone, the sooner he will leave Number 10.

What has been less noticed, however, is that the same choice — inscrutability over transparency — has been made by practically every would-be prime minister before he got the job."

And...

"the capacity of prime ministers to shape events is limited. They are leaders of a medium-sized power in a world dominated by globalisation and big international companies. They are blown about by forces outwith their control; in particular today a press that is powerful, ignorant and vicious. They have their party to consider as well as their country.

And anyway, beyond all this, they are largely the creature of the electorate, who have either voted them in or will get the chance to vote them out."

The interesting question, to me, is this: Is Lipsey's article really an accurate reflection of how government works? And if it is, is it a satisfactory state of affairs that we - as a society - are increasingly prepared to allow people think / pretend to think otherwise to shape public debate in the way that they do?

And do the political class / chattering class have a role to play in providing a counterweight to the idiotic generalists that make up the paid commentariat? Or should they just sit on the sidelines, gloating about it, blaming everyone else, and flicking random V-signs instead?

It's a tough one, innit?

The Standards Board (again)

One omission from an excellent post by Bob Piper:

The Standards Board are the tip of the iceberg here. They are the APEX organisation for an army of local officials who are financed - out of public money - to supress the debate of local issues. Rather than restate this, I'll link to an earlier post a previous post rather than repetition here).

Permanent officialdom now has more power than ever before to silence elected officials and professionals. This (for the avoidance of doubt) is a bad thing.

And they aren't just spending public money in surpressing Councillors either (again, a link to a previous post rather than repetition here).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ervine the optimist

Fans of political positivity everywhere will be sad to hear that David Ervine has died. Northern Ireland will be a poorer place as a result.

Ervine tried, and, despite a number of setbacks, he proved that it was worth trying. He provided a classic example of political leadership, making the journey from violent Loyalism to democratic politics.

He may not have intended that it would be quoted as an epitaph, but he won't get a better one than his own view about the current situation:
"The next phase of the process is parliamentary democracy."
Not just in Norn Irn David.

I met him a good few times over drinks, and - while it was hard to agree with everything he said - his passionate Socialism always shone though. He was good company as well.

Mick of Slugger has a good tribute with some excellent quotes from the man on Comment is Free. It's well worth the read (but don't look at the comments underneath, obviously).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Long-running blogs

I expect you've seen these already, but I was speaking to a couple of people the other day who ought to know (but didn't) about Samuel Pepys blog. Neither did they know that Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog.

Either way, you know now.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Related items

UK teachers union slashdotted.

Brazilian judge defends damsel in distress.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

All that fuss....

... and he's not even dead!

http://www.saddamisnotdead.com/

I did a quick WHOIS search. The domain was registered on 30 Dec 2006 at 12:49:17 - about eight hours after the faked necktie party in Baghdad.

Pretty fast, eh?

Counting down to the big day

Debts of gratitude should always be paid. So after a quiet Xmas, I've been lining my stomach for the main annual celebration in our house.

Sixteen days to go before Robbo Day.
How will you be marking it?

Keegania

For some reason, Victor Keegan's best stuff (from his technology column in The Guardian) has avoided the death-trap that is Comment is Free.

If it is a deliberate strategy on his part, he's a wise man. I've said it before, but CiF really is a shithole. Everything that goes into it gets swarmed upon by a bunch of nasty shit-for-brains. It provides a kind of therapy for the green-ink merchants who've spent their whole lives writing letters to newpapers without ever getting them printed.

The tragedy is, of course, that lots of people who only dip their toes in the blogosphere think that CiF is a representative sample.

Anyway, the last last couple of Keegan's non-CIF articles are worth a look. Try how the BBC drives innovation for a start.

And today, he's looking at CCTV + audio.

"We have forestalled the onset of a governmental Big Brother by meekly accepting surveillance and even doing much of it ourselves."

Sov posters

Busy today. Why not look at some Sov poster art?

Financing disruption

MMR doctor given legal aid thousands

“These figures are astonishing,” said Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.

“This lawsuit was an industry, and an industry peddling what turned out to be a myth.”


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New years resolutions from elsewhere

I've spent about 25 posts trying to say what Eric has managed to get into one. And then he uses it as a suffix to his announcement that he's going to shut up. Wanker! Come back, Eric, and I'll retract the insult.

And Polly's got some as well. There's nothing very surprising there. But look at how many of the comments that have the following phrases in the opening para...

"Naive, sentimental twaddle"

"Her political reform proposals are largely a joke"

"You complete idiot."

"Poor old Pretty Polly, parrott-like she rattles off a wish-list with the same old left-wing (or is it just novel-reading) problem - she hasn't thought it through."

"Oh Dear - a crop of New Resolutions that, far from being NEW are both ridiculous and belie a naive understanding of politics and the way the world works."

Excellent. The 'Comment is Free' project has been a complete success in every way imaginable, hasn't it?

The Incredible Tenor Banjo of Tom McAnimal

Tom McManamon.

The Tenor Banjo (the four-stringed variety) is a great instrument. The fact that it has often overlooked tells a story of it's own. Like the tin-whistle, a Tenor Banjo can cut through a noisy pub and add a dimension to familiar tunes that few other instruments can. It babbles along - often slightly beneath a tune - changing the whole emphasis, the phrasing and everything.
It brings a rhythmic zest to traditional music that - in its absence - can make those tunes almost incomprehensible to newcomers. Listen to the more rambunctious Dubliners stuff and you may see what I mean.

In recent years, as many traditional bands have benefited from less rowdy, more attentive audiences, (and recording technology) they have preferred Bouzoukis and various variations on the Mandolin theme. Bit I'd argue that it is almost impossible to understand why traditional Irish music is worth listening to unless you've heard it played in a noisy pub by a decent Banjo and Whistle combination. A piano, side-drum and accordion accompaniment helps as well, of course.

Alongside The Dubliners' Barney McKenna, there was a fantastically talented London-based exponent of the Tenor Banjo. His name was Tom McAnimal (nee McManamon) and I first saw him playing in an excellent pub-band called Dingle Spike in the mid-1980s and later for a band called Storm. I used to help small venues book bands every now and then and I booked Dingle Spike a few times. They always tore the place up.

Tom also used to occasionally turn out in the Sunday sessions at Camden's Stags Head, and he was, allegedly, a favourite at The Favourite – London’s seminal venue for traditional music. He reached a wider audience, though, with Shane MacGowan and The Popes.

The first Popes LP - The Snake - was (IMHO) as good as almost anything Shane was involved in with the Pogues. It offered a glimpse of what The Pogues could have been without the more ostentatious productions that marked their later years. The songs on The Snake provide a continuation of MacGowan's better songs - particularly on Aisling, or The Donegal Express.
And The Song with No Name, in particular, stands on Tom's flowing, skipping banjo. It's a great song with a great tune played underneath it. Go here and have a listen if you like.

I only met him a few times. He was an inspirational musical figure. Everyone who saw him play wanted to have a few drinks with him. In recent years, a hard life had taken it's toll though.
I have, hanging on the wall in my spare room, a Tenor Banjo. I can pick out a few tunes, but that's about it. But I bought it with a dream. I wanted to play even a fraction as well as Tom McManamon could.

I don't suppose I ever will. It's a shame he's gone.
It says here that he will be buried with his Banjo on Friday.