Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Not a fantastic position to be in, but better than we could have hoped for even a few weeks ago.
I'm going with The Boy Named Sue on Saturday.
If you pray, say one for us?
As Bill reminds us all.
I've been working full time on web-related projects for about nine years now, and I spent a good deal of time on web-stuff for the three or four years preceding that.
As someone who has tried to develop and supply new services in this area, I never cease to be amazed at the speed of innovation and the hunger among users for the very latest stuff. They want it all, and they won't pay for it - and they often get it as well, blast them!
In so many ways, that CERN release has changed so many aspects of our lives, our work and the economy in a way that would have been impossible to predict.
When it gets to 20 years, maybe there should be some big public holiday to mark it, or something?
OK. You can go back to moaning about politics and stuff now.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
Every day has seen fresh 'revelations', smears and innuendo. And - as I've pointed out myself on a number of occasions - Ken is pretty far from being the ideal Labour Party candidate for this job. But there is reporting, and there is smearing. And The Standard dived over that line a long time ago.
The result appears to be too close to call.
But if Ken Livingstone loses, there will be no doubt that the Evening Standard's relentlessly negative targeting of his campaign has been the decisive factor. It will be a display of political muscle-flexing that hasn't been seen since notorious 'it woz The Sun wot won it' crowing of the early 1990s - a tabloid campaign that resulted in five calamitous years of John Major's government.
If Ken Livingstone loses, the only realistic winner will be Boris Johnson. And it would be reasonable to assume that The Standard will be in no position to criticise Boris for any failures that are likely to happen on his watch. Londoners would have an obvious riposte if they did: "But you told us to vote for him!"
And those mistakes WILL happen .... be in no doubt about that one.
So, one newspaper may be able to exercise enough power to gift the management of a city to a pet politician. And if that happens, that same newspaper will be in no position to scrutinise one of the EU's most powerful men.
For far too long now, the Standard has been allowed to avoid measures to break its monopoly. There is barely a position on the political spectrum that would not agree that this monopoly is bad for London's politics, bad for consumers, and bad for jobs. And just to illustrate how much of a monopoly it is...
- London has a larger population than at least ten of the twenty-seven EU member states.
- It only has one paid-for newspaper covering the whole city.
- The Irish Republic - a nation with only a bit more than a half of London's population - has ELEVEN daily paid-for newspapers.
But it's the right thing to do. And it needs to be done. Badly.
Everyone who wants to stop smoking should read it. I did. It helped me do it where lots of other methods failed. But there I go again! Passing the buck from meta-ethics to meta-epistemology!
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Eric has nodded me towards this one:
I'm rushing to get to this before Norm does. He's going through Simon Blackburn's list of myths and commenting on them. Things aren't looking bright for Blackburn so far (look at Normblog entries for today - the final tally is still being completed). But - as I type - Norm hasn't got to democracy yet.
6. The myth of democracy
Politicians preaching democracy as a value forget the two things wrong with democracy: the "demos" bit and the "cracy" bit or, in other words, the people and the system whereby they are supposed to govern themselves. By and large, even in systems with advanced educational resources, the people cannot do better than take their news and opinions from the likes of Rupert Murdoch (and according to Nick Davies's Flat Earth News, the British Government employs some 1,500 press officers whose job it is to manipulate the people). This is when things are going well. When they are not going well people naturally suppose that disagreement deserves death. It is tempting to think that the only solution is the Hobbesian sovereign with his monopoly of power, but as John Locke said: "This is to think that men are so foolish that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by polecats or foxes, but are content, nay, think it safety, to be devoured by lions."
For Icelanders, Scandinavians and Europeans, with our long parliamentary traditions, democracy may be the least bad system of government, but it is a long way from being any use elsewhere.
Blackburn seems to be making three fairly fundamental errors here:
- In his first sentence, he's assuming that democracy = direct democracy. It's interesting that he presents democracy as some myth that is preached by politicians here. A fairly basic understanding of the distinction between direct and representative would dissuade him from writing that sentence.
- His highlighting of Rupert Murdoch's influence, and the claims - interesting as they are - of Nick Davies in Flat Earth News - would suggest that media distortions make any effective democracy impossible. He doesn't recognise here that this is a continuing dialectic in which things are getting better. People are more sceptical of the accuracy of news reporting than they ever have been. The barriers to entry are lower than they ever have been, and the kind of real monopolies that the Citizen Kanes of this world can enjoy are very much a thing of the past. Just to clarify this, I'm saying monopoly in business terms. There is no question that commercial monopolies are as strong - and getting stronger - than ever before in this sector. But there is a level of pluralism in the media (and you're looking at a small limb of it here) - the real issue here - that could only have been dreamed of a fifteen years ago. This should not quieten any demands for lower levels of media concentration, or for more public service standards in the media. But things are getting better, not worse.
- The final para is probably the most annoying though. In 1974, Portugal, Spain and Greece were all military dictatorships of one kind or another. Today, we Brits look at some elements of their democratic settlement with envy. Eastern Europe was not a democracy in any recognisable sense of the word, and even at the most basic - visible - level for us Britishers - this country was a great deal less democratic than it is now. Institutions have had to respond to inexorable demands for accountability, and for the application of basic liberal standards. And I've not mentioned anywhere beyond the boundaries of Europe yet.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
But I thought Peter Wilby's argument yesterday was a very odd one. Yes - of course WWII was largely a continuation of the 'great powers' struggle that had dominated Europe since before Westphalia, with the new complication of the emerging United States as a dominant actor in the European stage. And there is the limit of my willingness to say anything authoritative on the wider historical context.
But the one lesson of WWII that surely unites almost everybody was that the rearmament limitations and the curtailment of Germany's expansionist ambitions that were imposed at Versailles should not have allowed to become a matter for pragmatism or flexibility.
That the international community as it was composed at the time - the League of Nations - needed to be able to assert itself effectively. It failed to do so and the result was a catastrophe.
In the run-up to 2003, Iraq was able to repeatedly frustrate attempts at weapons inspections - a demand that the UN was making unequivocally. Close observers of Saddam regularly reported that he believed that liberal democracies weren't capable of asserting themselves in this way.
I understand (and largely agreed at the time with) the argument that "...invading Iraq is a mistake because it probably won't be the success you think it will." It's a view that I held - and hold - with little enthusiasm.
But the experience of the WWII provided a justification for over-reaction in the face of suspicions - not inaction. It weakens - not strengthens - Wilby's anti-war position.
"We're coming to the end of the show, and Samantha has to nip off now. She's off to meet her new Italian gentleman friend who works in an ice-cream shop.
So, while she's licking the nuts off a large Neapolitan..."
Friday, April 25, 2008
He's alright, Terry is.
Q: What would you do with the UN?And....
A: No men allowed for five years.
Q: Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind?And....
A: It would appear that capitalism will not soon collapse under the weight of its own contradictions after all.
Q: What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger?But, best of all....
A: 1. Blog about things that you actually know about and that no one else blogs about. 2. It's not necessary to have an opinion about everything. 3. Don't hector me about not taking my own advice.
Q: What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate?
A: Social-democratic internationalism.
1. Pick up the nearest book.Nearest book: Birthday by Alan Sillitoe
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.
P.123 - sentences 6, 7 and 8 read as follows:
"An open grey cardigan showed a white blouse buttoned to the neck with a purple brooch, a grey skirt below. He focussed on her face, uncertain why such coercion was necessary, noting the serene aspect of someone who had come through the test of a lifetime, a glow of innocence yet authority from a person few in the room could finally know.(The length of Sillitoe's sentences, it's not always certain you will find an eighth one on any given page!)
After the first surprise she liked what she saw, as if part of getting back into a world which little resembled what she had known before, which she had inhabited for as long as many people in the room had lived, to go by stones near George's grave, of those who had been born and had died in the time spent caring for him."
Who to pass this on to? Well, let try...
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Summary: The democrats may be fighting like cats and dogs, but the result is a huge turnout - so the 'fractious' downside is more than cancelled out by the 'wide awake' upside - and whichever Democrat candidate goes forward can expect their voters to turn out.This raises an interesting question about the conventional wisdom on political unity. Voters, we are told, don't like divided parties. They want
But have voters expectations changed in recent years? In the same way that they have become more demanding consumers, expecting more by way of interaction and response from the suppliers that they choose, is it also the case that they are less likely to be the passive consumers of politics that conventional wisdom has cast them as?
Also, the past decade has seen a huge transformation in the way that advertising works. I've commented on this before: Advertising has to be much more subtle these days. The kind of media virus approach outlined by Douglas Rushkoff increasingly has seen corporate bodies abandon their adherence to the corporate message.
(OK - I'm not that much of an expert on the ad industry, so I'll stop there: But you get my drift?)
But all of this raises the question: Is Labour's disunity going to be an electoral disaster? Or is it the case that a public - disenchanted with the nuanced and opaque alternatives that they are being offered - could be seduced by a movement that offers a good old blood-and-guts argument?
In terms of 'Labour Hold' messages on election night, could the rising tide of public interest float more boats than the stormy waters sink?
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
"I wish Brown would stop trying to make himself media friendly and stop listening to the spin doctors. The guy is never going to come accross as one of the lads, or the life and soul of the party and the spin machine should stop trying to portray has somebody else.My id agrees with all of that apart from the certainty of Labour's defeat.
He should just forget about publicity stunts and be the quiet introverted "intellectual" he seems to really be. In fact he should just stick 2 fingers up at the media (literally actually, he should go on the TV and say that the press can go fuck themsleves), accept that the media has already decided King David should be crowned the winner of the next election.
He should spend his remaining time in office carrying out as much of the constitutional reform he probably secretly knows is necessary as it is possible for him to do so in 18 months."
And in the Guardian today, John Harris - in an uncharacteristically 'not-bad' article says...
"...stepping back from received opinion, perhaps the public hasn't come to quite the swingeing conclusion on the Brown government that so much of the commentariat would like to believe."Meanwhile, if you want to lay against the Tories, have a gander at Political Betting. I'm of the slightly unformed opinion that the bookies are more worth listening to on how the next election will go than the pollsters.
According to these figures, here are the probable outcomes of the next election:
43.7% - Tory winOn balance, I'm glad I'm not going to be a Tory on the evening of the next election.
29.9% - No overall majority
26.5% - Labour win
However, much less pleasant reading can be had looking at the League One promotion odds. Swansea are up already. There is one other guaranteed promotion spot up for grabs, and then one promotion slot for the winners of the play-offs.
Forest are three points off the guaranteed slot with two games to go (though the recent formbook is on our side). Betfair are offering about 13/8 on us. But Leeds may have the 15 points that were quite rightly docked at the start of the season given back to them.
The White Shite.
Well, now it's Bertie Ahern's turn...
(You may have seen this already - it's a few weeks old - if so, apologies).
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Monday, April 21, 2008
- If lots of other people are saying it, it probably isn't worth saying. I don't think that politics is a suitable setting for the development of a personal social circle or peer group, and the most annoying blogs and bloggers that I've found tend to be the ones who try and cosy up to like minds. There is no fun in discussing anything with people who agree with you very much, and groupthink is a poison. So the more 'apostates' the better, I say. Oddly, the Euston Manifesto decent left association seems to be widely misunderstood, (if sometimes amusingly and weirdly obsessively by
Flying RodentMalky Muscular). I've never met a group of people who vary as widely on so many things, apart from broadly agreeing with the statement that they signed.
- It's really annoying when someone urges you not to argue a position because solidarity demands that you shouldn't. Solidarity is where you do something together. Like strike, or some other direct action where unity is a tactical necessity. Arguing is completely different. Rival social forces respond to concerted actions. Arguments are, in themselves, feeble things - until they help to shape some social force that can actually carry out an effective direct action. Groupthink, and me-too arguments (I'd include joint-letters to newspapers or petitions in this) actually delays the shaping of such social forces.
These are probably slightly daft arguments that I'll regret making once I read the comments. But I'm making them anyway. Whaddaya think?
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Having worked around politicians and civil servants for a long time (admittedly, often at a distance), I've always been surprised at how much they believe this to be the case.
As Chris says, it isn't.
Next week: Why getting more signatories on a letter to the editor weakens the case that is being made by the letter - while at the same time, it increases the likelihood of the weakened case being published.
I suppose it's a bit like that 'look away now' warning they give you on the Saturday evening news, before Match of the Day.
Well, last time, I think I enjoyed The Orphanage a lot more than I would have done if I'd read the review before going to see it.
And, yesterday, I think I enjoyed 'Son of Rambow' in much the same way. It was a complete surprise, and a very good one.
Two out of two. It works. Try it yourself.
I'm very much on Gracchi's side of this argument, but I think that there is a much more powerful argument that he fails to make:
Our constitution, such as it is, specifies MPs as being the people who should make the big policy decisions that will effect us all. They get their legitimacy from us when we vote for them, and they need our approval every 3-5 years to continue in that post.
Politicians have rivals. People who we would probably prefer not to supersede politicians, but people who don't really care what we think. They are, in no particular weight or order, commercial vested interests, professional commentators, minority groups within the general population, bureaucrats, and representatives of foreign powers.
These people often conduct themselves in highly complex sub rosa ways. They hire deniable PR companies, they attempt to influence people in subliminal ways, they commission dubious research, they are able to call upon sympathetic journalists to distort issues massively. This paragraph could hextuple in length without even scratching the surface of the kind of latitude that non-elected political influencers enjoy in their daily competition with politicians.
But here's one example that I've not seen articulated in the blogosphere before - until I visited the absolutely bloody excellent Labour and Capital blog, that is: The way that fund managers make decisions about their shareholdings. Often decisions that can be made off-the-cuff without any accountability or scrutiny - and decisions that act against the public interest (or, indeed the interests of those shareholders). Just one example.
So, call for more scrutiny of politicians - their private lives and their decision-making processes - if you like. I'm in favour of some improvements in the transparency and quality of parliamentary decision-making myself.
But, if you make those demands without making commensurate demands upon the many rivals that politicians have, you need to remind yourself which side you are on.
And, like Tim M, and Matt S, and the many liberals that ignore the narrative of history as a clash of social forces, it is not on the side of democracy.
Within liberal democracies, it is the real dividing line between the left and the right. Am I wrong?
Friday, April 18, 2008
But, every now and then, I see something that everyone interested in web-design should look at.
And this site about how CSS can re-clad the same content in different websites is very nice. The 'under the sea' design is really worth a look.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
You have a paragraph to make a convincing case to the contrary. To show that you understand the nature of the social problems that you think need confronting, and an idea of how those problems can be addressed.
Would it be this paragraph?
There are plenty of things wrong with the existing order here in the UK, and plenty of worthwhile fights left to fight. We need, for example, to free people from the oppression and misery of living on sink estates; break the hold of crime and violence over our young people; restore their belief in the value of education and self-improvement; provide child-care for single mothers to enable them to work; provide homes for all our citizens and residents; integrate all our ethnic and religious minorities into our citizenry; and so on. My personal belief is that the UK’s social problems are caused more by lack of education and opportunity for those lower down the social ladder, and by deficiencies in popular culture among the population at large, than they are by poverty or inequalities in wealth. I view, for example, the fact that our Labour government is committed to the target of half of all school-leavers going to university as more inspiring than any number of radicals writing about public ownership of the means of production. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush…My paragraph would be very different. More to the point, reader, what would your paragraph look like?
Sunday, April 13, 2008
F'rinstance, there's this on politicians pay. Bit of a curate's egg. If you've been here before, you'll know what I think.
If you haven't .... sorry. No time at the present.
And this (also via Stumbling and Mumbling) is very good too. Broken families and the failures of modern liberalism. Or why those failures are overstated.
My mild disagreement is located in his point no: 1 (most of the others are fine).
"Hoare argues that democracy is a necessary precursor to the establishment of social justice through the introduction of a welfare state. Fine, but it isn’t a sufficient condition. There has to be a left party prepared and able to take power to implement measures and that has to be built, it won’t just emerge because of the existence of liberal democracy. And, even if a left party gets into power, it can be constrained by the power of other institutions, such as big business, and by international politics and economics."I'd argue that the trajectory of liberal democracy (as long as there is a common and widely held view that this democracy should be strongly representative in character) is to ultimately constrain those forces that compete with those representatives.
A left party can be reasonably effective if it's focus is upon improving the quality of democracy at home, mainly because most of the left's aims will be achieved - as long as our democracy deepens. And when I say 'deepens' I do stress that this means that it deepens while the representative character grows stronger at the same time.
This independent representative group is - I would say - also more likely to make the right decision on behalf of the whole country when it thinks (as Gadgie wants it to) about the kind of globalism that it supports.
My worry is that liberal democracy isn't deepening in its representative quality, and that this needs to be something that the wider left needs to recognise and focus upon - a lot more than it does at the moment.
The Labour government since 1997 hasn't done anything that would suggest that it acknowledges this, and the Tories - in their current incarnation - are even less .... er .... Burkean. They would take us back to the pre-1997 stalemate over the EU, and they would capitulate to the demands of commercial publishers by disembowelling public service broadcasting.
That makes for three factors that should concern us all:
- A hyperactive and over-responsive government that is prepared to promote sub-optimal policies (and legislation) in order to retain the image of forward motion
- An even less responsible and accountable media, and one that is even more poorly resourced than it is currently - thereby strengthening what is easily the greatest centralising factor in the modern state.
- The withdrawal of one of the largest players from what has been the most successful supranational democratic institution that the world has ever seen. Anyone who thinks that the impoverished moral resolve of the UN is a cornerstone issue (and I think that this is one issue that largely unites us decents*) looks to the EU as a model for what is possible in the long-term.
JW puts it another way:
"...the term “homogenous citizenship”, when defending his vision of an egalitarian society. Homogenous? Hoare’s support for an “ultra-liberal immigration policy” aside, this reeks of the aculturalism that I associate with Burkean liberal-conservatism. The last thing I want to see is a homogeneous society. It would be the social equivalent of thermodynamic heat death."That focus on political and cultural pluralism neatly sums up everything that I think socialism is about. I'd just prefer it if more democratic socialists saw it that way. Currently, this perspective seems to be the sole preserve of a fairly small subset of the more extra-parliamentary left.
*I hate that word too.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
So. In preparation for hours of shitwork, I nipped out to the nearest supermarket and came back with a selection of bottled beers. A good while ago now, I posted a round-up of bottled beers here, and I picked most of today's stock from the better bottles on that list.
However, I also got a bottle of something called St Edmunds by Greene King (4.2% abv), and it's good enough to warrant a displacement blog post. It's unusual in that it's an English ale that has been developed specifically to be drunk colder than room-temperature. And it's very clean and drinkeable. It's fresh and not as bitter as almost any of the others. It's also less gassy than almost any bottled ale that I've tasted. I
Here's a reminder of the others:
- Fursty Ferret; OK. Not bad. Slightly too bitter - noticeably bottled taste, but OK. 7/10
- Rebellion; red colour, hint of bonfire toffee. Hard to drink more than one bottle. OK. 6/10
- Spitfire; Good. A bit dry and bitter, could have a fresher finish, but quite drinkeable. 8/10.
- Waitrose 'Green Man' Organic Ale; Quite light. Good taste, whiskyish hint, a bit gassy, but drinkeable enough. 8/10.
- Timothy Taylor Landlord - 'stong pale ale'; Actually only 4.1% and nothing much wrong with it. Maybe a bit gassy, but maybe all bottled beers are gassy? 8/10.
- WychCraft; 4.5% from Wychwood. Hoppy smell. V.good. 8/10.
- Marstons Single Malt; 4.2%. Nice, beery taste. Slightly smokey - noticeably nice after the WychCraft. 8/10.
- St Peters' Organic Ale; 4.5%. The king of bottled beers. Clear, bright and drinkeable. Just the right balance of bitterness, sweetness and dryness. 9.5/10
- Marston's Pedigree; 4.5%. Darker than most, heavier than most, not as good as the draught version. Not very drinkable. 5/10 at best.
- Badger 'Golden Glory' - 4.5%; Very fruity & sweet, peach aroma. Delicious on first taste. Probably couldn't drink too much though, but if you plan to have only one bottle, this is it. It's a bit acidy, but if you worry about after-effects, you'd never drink any beer in the first place. 9/10.
Friday, April 04, 2008
I hope it works. I hope it isn't another Lt Hauk moment.
Personally, I'd say that this is something that government shouldn't do - and shouldn't be seen to be doing. It's the role of civil society to create a civil conversation that government can eavesdrop upon.