Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy new year

Looking for a babysitter tonight?

Good luck. I'm staying in again with Mrs NTaH, some Doritos and a few gassy bottles of beer. Probably watching Jools' Hootenanny as usual, and swearing about the Kaiser Chiefs as usual.

Could watch the One From The Heart DVD that Santa brought instead? Gimmie a film suggestion someone?

Staying in too? Here's a few suggestions from the archive.

Update: Here's the 'May Contain Notts' 2007 awards.

Meantimes, here's a Yootoobe clip of Mick O'Connor (banjo) who used to play at a session that I used to sit in on in the mid '80s. I haven't seen him since, until I ran into him on the tube this morning. He's at The Crown Moran Hotel in Cricklewood most Sunday afternoons (3.30pm - 6pm).

Hello again Mick.

Wedding furniture

A heated debate.

Vote early, vote often!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eight for 2008

OK. I've not been tagged with anything for a while, so here's one from Shades:

Eight 2008 wishes (Iain Dale’s Meme) with a likelihood in brackets after it (no particular order). Here's a stab at them anyway:
  1. Forest to finally escape from the nightmare that is the Third Division (35%)
  2. A significant improvement to the house (lots of stuff to do - rewiring, etc) (50%)
  3. (Don't laugh) - my tenor banjo playing is getting there. I'd like to get over the final hurdle and up to performance standard (60%)
  4. I know this is a bit odd, but I'd like all of my techie things to work the way they are supposed to (40%)
  5. Find more time for music in general - practice, playing recording (35%)
  6. Nigel Clough to be appointed as Forest manager (2%)
  7. Finally escape from my childish attitude towards food - my kids have got a more mature attitude to food than I have - at least a half of most restaurant menus is off-limits to me. (5%)
  8. Find five new CDs that I'd really recommend to others. And five novels. And a handful of non-fictions as well. (65%)
There's a few wishes that are a bit too nebulous. The 'work' wish is so thoroughgoing that it could use up all ten of my wishes - so I've not bothered with it at all.

I'd like Labour to have learned where it's gone wrong and - as a result - to have better-than-evens odds of winning the next election (I'd settle for 'in coalition with the Lib-Dems at a stretch). A respectable mid-table position for Forest in The Championship is a qualification to wish No.1 but it would reduce the likelihood to a dispiritingly low 10%.

Wish No.8. could include actually listening / reading stuff I already have properly. For example, I've dipped into David McLellan's 1973 biography of Marx a few times in the last few years and each time I do, it looks more like a book that deserves proper study.

OK. Five people to pass this one on too: Jon, Jams, Matt, Col, and - you never know - Shuggy may finally remove his digit from his fundament for this one?

Power corrupts

... and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Elsewhere: The Schengen Archipelago.

And, finally, if there's one thing that blogs are useful for, it's arguing about what's wrong with Government IT projects (procurement, management, quality, overarching philosophy, etc). For some reason, there are lots of semi-anonymous IT contractors haunting the blogosphere.

Leaving aside the usual cruft that crops up in the comments boxes, this post - like many others - should be archived somewhere. If there are any bloggers with time on their hands, and a lack of direction in their current blog, this would make a useful project.

Any takers?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Subordinating the state to the general will

I saw this just before chrimbo (via DSTPFW) and I've tried half-a-dozen times to write a post about it for here because it doesn't have its own comment thread.

There's far too much meat there for one comment. For fuxake, go read it yourself.

A few times in the last few years, other bloggers have pointed to something that has already arrived at the conclusion that they have been striving towards. The conclusion that they were never likely to actually articulate properly.

Like whoever it was who said that they found out that they'd been writing prose all along, this post pulls together so many themes that I've been niggling around for so long. I'd never have got there though.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The heart of the matter

Another rushed one: Reading Tristram Hunt’s lament about the continuing phenomenon of departmental capture of ministers at the various transport departments that we’ve had in recent years, I can’t help wondering if this would be the case if we had a stronger link between politicians and their own civil servants – in-and-outers?

If we didn’t have a media that is prepared to connive with mandarins and pressure groups in search of a story, instead of in search of a government with some sense of direction?

If we had more politicians with their own personal profile, people who originated in local government, people who could sit around a cabinet table and decide whether they were going to keep the current PM – rather than the other way around. Politicians with many (but not all) of the characteristics of Comrade Ken?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yuletide cheer

Christmas greetings to Popinjays everywhere.

Also, there's a Forest blog that I didn't know about until now. Follow that link to Russell Brand's article in last Saturday's paper (saying that England should hire Mourinho as a penance for not having hired God in the late 1970s.

There are two sorts of people in this country. Those who like Russell Brand and those who don't. I'm in the former camp on this one. I particularly liked this:

"In his pomp Clough would’ve been a marvellous England manager - he vibrated on a plane of consciousness that made him a formidable leader but unnerved administrators. It is widely assumed that the reason he didn’t get the job is because the FA didn’t think they’d be able to control him - and they probably couldn’t have. That’s one of the reasons he’d've been bloody good.

If you have not yet guessed that I’m building towards a rather grand fanfare in support of the appointment of Jose Mourinho then you don’t deserve a newspaper and I suggest you take this copy of the Guardian, God’s newspaper I call it, and thrust it into the palms of an orphan who will be grateful of the nourishment. I think that by appointing Mourinho we can as a nation atone for the criminal neglect of Clough’s talent."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nope. Nowt new here.

I'm so busy at the moment. But what do you care? You want something to read? Go here to find out who is to blame. And the Left Lion blog is still making me homesick. This dig at Gordon Ramsey is very good.

I will be doing an unusual bit of work in the new year that will involve a slight brush with Northern Ireland politics, so I'm keeping more of an eye on Slugger at the moment.

Belfast Gonzo has done a few really good bits of analysis in the last few weeks, including this one about the DUP and his relationship with non-Unionist parties elsewhere, this less serious one on the Welsh admission to the Union Flag, and another one about the DUP / UUP relationship.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Civil Service numbers

Gordon Brown isn't Stalin, it seems.

This is worth a read.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Privacy and websites

Have a look - over at OpenDemocracy - privacy and facebook (among others)

Bloggertarian Round Up

This is a round-up on the fallout from my original poke in the general direction of bloggertarianism a while back.

It’s been fairly exhausting. It’s even been bad tempered at times. But I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time in the comments boxes of others over the past few weeks. Regulars here will note that I'm generally not that rude to people normally, and I've slightly adjusted my normal tone in these threads. The reason for this is that one of the early postings featured a particularly obnoxious bloggertarian calling me all kinds of c*nt. And lots of angry libertarians weighed in supporting him in doing so - and some of them were very upset when I replied in kind. So I've conducted this argument on other people's terms.

A few commenters have raised the question with me about Citizens Income and ID Cards. I’ve not been ignoring it – I didn’t really get around to answering it until this week – in the comments here.

Here are some other threads in which the whole thing has been discussed: Feel free to pick up any loose ends in the comments here.

Easily the thickest bloggertarian that I’ve found anywhere is regular Liberal Conspiracy troll, Roger Thornhill. Now I’ve been accused (sometimes with a modicum of justification) of constructing Strawmen here. But Roger is the real deal. He is not capable of exhaling, it seems, without accusing someone of being a fascist.

You’ll find him here initially noting the discussion (I’m a sociofascist, apparently) and here as the first commenter under Devil’s Kitchen’s rant. Apparently I’m a “Left-Fibbernazi.” (WTF??). His site is called “Neue Arbeit Macht Frei” – New Labour Sets You Free … not!

Perhaps I’m investing too much in this, but this outlook is so comprehensively offensive and stupid that it does need pointing at repeatedly.

I understand the libertarian notion that taxation is theft and any state imposition – even from a liberal democracy – is on a continuum that leads to totalitarianism. I’d even acknowledge that these claims make you re-examine your own views about democracy in a sixth-form sort of way. But Roger takes all of this to a new level. His remarkable bit of photoshopping, and this gem:
“If you think New Labour is, erm, what is that term you used? … ‘a social democratic party in an age of network governance’…then you really need to look more carefully at what they are doing and also more carefully into your sources of fatuous newspeak.”
So a fairly respectable term in social science isn’t just questionable. It’s ‘newspeak’. It’s Orwellian.

In one of the many arguments this has led me into, I was thinking about why I’ve bothered with all of this. It certainly has caused lots of arguments. Here’s my explanation (cut and pasted from elsewhere):
I think that libertarianism is extraordinarily rife on weblogs and discussion forums in a way that it isn’t in any other sphere. I’m not alone in this observation either. Aside from people I’ve met through blogging, I’ve only ever met one person who describes themselves with any conviction as a libertarian in the way that I think I’ve been discussing the term here.

And because of this, I think that libertarianism has a gravitational pull on online discussions that makes those discussions less of a deliberative tool than they could be.
For this reason, I think that it needs challenging - which is what I’ve been doing.

Something for the weekend, sir?

A blogger's manifesto at Dave Cole's blog.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Labour of love

I joined that 'blogpower' group recently - I like the idea of a network of blogs more than I like the idea of big group blogs.

Anyway, one of their number - JMB - has performed what can only be described as a labour of love. He's read an awful lot of weblogs and signposted the interesting bits.

He did this for you so that you don't have to do it yourself. Be grateful.

Dirty Santa

On The Register.

See the update: "Merry Christmas, especially to all my friends in the UK!"

Monday, December 03, 2007

What does the left-blogosphere really need?

Health warning: I blog as much to help me organise my own thoughts as I do to provide readers with worthwhile content. Many posts here are largely signposts to previous things that I've written. It also repeats - for the umpteenth time - things I've said before, so regulars here can skip this post. I understand that I could edit myself far more fiercely, and if anyone is daft enough to give me a book-advance, I will do. Until then...

Ashok – in the comments here – has picked up on my scepticism about the value of The Liberal Consipracy weblog. He’s asked for clarification, and - as a few good mates are LC contributors - I should provide it so as to avoid any misunderstandings:

I think that the basis upon which the LC site has been established is faulty. There appears to be a widespread view that the political right have stolen a march on the blogosphere, and that the left needs to do something to counteract this. I disagree, on a number of levels.

In the first place, I don’t believe that political blogging matters much in campaigning terms. Jag Singh of MessageSpace (in the comments here) informs me that his stats reveal a total of between 50,000 and 80,000 ‘absolute unique visitors’ to the highly visited ‘political blogs.’

I’m even sceptical about that figure – the blogs that I visit can get a unique user session from any one of four PCs that I have access to. I’m sure that many blog-addicts record more than one visit a day to particular sites on different machines.

So bloggers aren’t reaching large numbers of the public – and the small numbers that they are talking to are probably fairly politically entrenched in the first place. Blogs are not directly effecting elections very much.

Where they are having something of an impact is in their ability to give personal smears about politicians sufficient momentum in a way that the MSM can’t. Hopi Sen outlined how an asset like this can be very useful to the political right (see ‘Point Two: Focus on Personality’ – here).

And this is useful in the US, in the way that Howard Stern and Matt Drudge have proved useful assets to the Republicans. But this is not the case here. Our equivalents – Scallywag magazine in the 1990s, and Guido more recently – are not really that much of an asset to the Tories. In some cases, the Bloggertarians don’t claim to be such an asset – but that is largely beside the point. Sure, they may give legs to a few stories, but they also display the Conservative Party’s ‘id’ for all to see.

I would suggest that the Tories will not look upon the Bloggertarians with much more affection than many lefties reserve for the 57 varieties of Sparts that we had in the 1980s. The Bloggertarians may ultimately bring the greatest curse that it is possible to bring upon any political movement: A lively internal debate led by people who are plainly barking mad.

Another short-term benefit that right-wing bloggers are providing to the Tories is the wanton and willful way that some of them are attempting to sabotage public debate. There are obvious right-libertarian benefits for doing this (preferring markets to rational debate), and I’ve argued before that it’s one of Guido Fawkes’ main aims.

But this is something that newspapers do far more effectively. Bloggers may be increasing the number of spiteful Kremlinologists, but they only appear to be further exaggerating an existing phenomenon.

So, I don’t buy the dangers created by right-bloggers. They are – in some ways – a useful asset to us. A Petri-Dish that we can draw conclusions from.

Which brings me to the Liberal Conspiracy. I’ve blogged loads here about how weblogs could foster a more deliberative space (this subject has a tag here all to itself) that would improve the quality of democracy. But a largish-readership website that focuses significantly upon party-politics is not one of those sites.

Lots of low-ish readership blogs that aren't primarily about politics is - as far as I can see - where the real political blogosphere is. Not wishing to repeat myself, it's all in this post here (referring back to Ashok - where today's post started).

And finally, I'm not keen on the ingrained negativism of the Liberal Conspiracy site. It appears to adopt a fundamentally journalistic perspective. It is Against Bad Things, and For Good Things. It's the extension of the BBC anchorman's 'Man In The White Suit' complex. It has caught the same cold that liberal journalism seems to have done. I've posted on this as well before, so apologies for sending anyone who has got this far off to read another screed - but it saves repetition, doesn't it?

The only group-blog that I really like is the only one that will have me as a contributor - The Popinjays. This blog is often acerbic and not always hospitable to it's political opponents. But it is - as far as I can see (I expect a very bad-tempered email shortly correcting me on this) - agit-prop. It's contributors are uniformly for things rather than against them. It largely ignores Westminster gossip and it doesn't set itself up as an online home for assorted trolls. It doesn't seem to attempt to colonise any wider space in the way that LC, Crooked Timber and The Sharpener do. I particularly like the fact that I learn a fair bit from reading the comments.

At the Liberal Conspiracy - and many of the high-volume sites - I rarely learn very much. All you get to see is a range of fairly well-established positions being rehearsed in the most predicable way.

(This post was dashed off in a hurry, so apologies for any typos or poor drafting. On the one hand, I'm too busy for this now. On the other, I wanted to write this, and it is only courteous to Ashok that I should reply fairly sharply).

Update: Gracchi has picked this post up on Liberal Conspiracy (cross posted on his own site). There will be more comments there than here, I guess...