Monday, June 30, 2008
Today they offered me an easy free solution for building websites for your Christian ministry.
I suspect anyone that doesn't have aetheist or agnostic in their profile gets them.
Someone should explain to them what Pastafarian - Flying Spaghetti Monster means.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
One think that our thick Kremlinologists have managed to do over the last few years is to remove all context and meaning from the word 'sleaze' - in itself, a fairly worrying development, don't you think?
On the wider point of this (Wendy's resignation) being another straw that is close to breaking Gordon's back, a few of my Labour-supporting freinds are beginning to smell a rat about Labour's unwillingness to even defend itself at the moment.
Have Labour decided that there is nothing they can do at the moment that could make things any better for them? Because, as they may be perceived as sleazy. they are also being perceived as incompetent at the moment with about as much fairness. Neither charge seems to take account of the most important counterfactual here - what would the Tories do differently?
I remember, somewhere, Evelyn Waugh explaining being at boarding school in terms such as (paraphrasing) “..usefully putting someone through a few years of hell at a time of life when it was going to be hell anyway..”
Is it the case that any government at the moment – what with the credit crunch, the fuel prices, the general global downturn – are going to be hugely unpopular whatever they do? What if Brown was a charismatic leader, one who know how to feel the public’s pain, one who made prompt firm decisions while – at the same time – was able to involve those around him in an even handed way?
I ask this because the Tories haven’t really managed to stick much of substance on Brown. The best they seem to come up with is that he didn’t ‘put money aside for a rainy day’ – hardly a strong suit for them given the pre-1997 record?
The arguments on civil liberties are being played without much confidence or consistency, and I don’t see any substantive counter-narrative being offered to nail Labour on its undoubted weak-suit: It’s inability to run a piss-up in a brewery – it’s failure to grasp that the 20-year-old assumption that the public and private sector can’t be managed in a similar or interchangeable way. This is, after all, an idea that they chose to inherit from the Tories.
If Labour weren’t run by someone as awkward as Gordon Brown, would they be much less than 20% behind in the polls?
And, more importantly, are Labour just playing dead? Have they deliberately decided just to lie back and take it for now?
Are Labour adopting Cloughie’s rule: Soak up pressure if you know how to do it. It only takes a second to score a goal...
Friday, June 27, 2008
In Nottingham's Irish Centre, from about 1982 onwards, we used to say 'Tiocfaidh ár lá' - and we weren't spouting Republicanism either.
It's just that none of us knew how you'd add the word 'again' at the end of the sentance.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I suppose that the strongest point to make in defence of my position here is to point to the comparative opacity of MP's rivals. Take Tom's point about fund managers (one of many on his blog - it prompted this post now).
And how about a gynecological-standard of forensics on pressure groups and lobbying firms? And advertising agencies? And 'reputation management' companies? And who could forget journalists? Surely we should be told how much advertisers are paying newspapers - so that we can understand how far journalists are being boundaried by their proprietors?
And Think Tanks. Where are they coming from, and why? Follow the money and find out! Oh - you can't! No-one as built a WeThinkForYou.org website yet - and there isn't any data for it to scrape in the way that TWFY scrapes Hansard.
And what about those submissions to public consultations? I've just finished writing one to OfCOM outlining a position that is, I believe, plainly in the public interest. I don't mix work and blogging, so I'll not go into it here. But I do know that a public-interest position will always be trumped by an impeccably researched, carefully argued, heavily pre-spun, beautifully presented response from a commercial lobby.
So, should commercial lobbies be obliged to name all of the researchers that they use, and detail the amount of money that they've spent on their response? I think they should. And you're right to laugh at me for thinking that it's possible.
MPs get scrutinised because they are scrutinisable. Every time we demand more scrutiny of MPs while not expecting commensurate transparency from elsewhere, we are undermining parliamentary democracy. We are offering a relative promotion to MPs rivals.
While I'm on the subject, I wish I wish I wish I could find a recording of a BBC Radio programme (one Saturday or Sunday night a few months ago) where the decision to broadcast Parliament was evaluated.
It's conclusion was that all of broadcasting's opponents worst fears were realised (along with many fears that hadn't occured to them at the time) .....
So, as Firefox is out of bounds, I tried using Safari (which Apple have now provided in a PC version).
Look at that Atheist post - below. Horrendous - and too time consuming to fix.
Don't even think about using Safari with blogger. It's worse than IE.
He's promising a round-up of select committee news. I reckon he may come to regret such a commitment, but good luck to him.
"...select committee work, which is probably the least appreciated part of an MP’s job."
It's amazing how many other areas of public life have their own 'watch' websites - but select committees don't.
There's probably some Moynihans Law type explanation for this: That parts of the state that function very well never get noticed or discussed.
Have you noticed how the political commentariat hates elections? It regards them as vulgar, foreign, exhibitionist and unpredictable. To those without any responsibility for anything, they are mere concessions to everything that we have learned about what makes for a legitimate democracy. If journalists did not insist on them, referendums would have been abolished long ago as demagogic gimmicks to appease populist sentiment.
There is no other explanation for the commentariat's reaction to Ireland's weekend vote on the Lisbon treaty and to David Davis's resignation over 42-day-detention.
OK, OK, I've changed a few words here and there. The Guardian's subs had clearly taken the day off when Jenkins submitted this. There can be no other explanation for not changing the last word of the first sentance from 'elections' to 'referendums' which is what Jenkins' article is actually about. It is an outrageous thing to let him get away with.
It is the Fortuynist Jenkins that hates elections, hates politicians, and hates the institutions of liberal representative democracy. If every day were a referendum, then we'd be governed by newspapers and well-heeled pressure groups. We'd have closed borders, capital punishment for minor offences and a thousand other liberal delights.
By the way, his appropriation of Bernard Crick in the later paragraphs of that article - in support of referendums - is just outrageous. I hope Prof. Crick has been informed?
Jenkins the Fortuynist has form for this as well.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
[an exchange] ...on the day of the Referendum count between Damien Mulley and Richard Delevan:
Damien: “The No victory is refreshing in that it shows the main parties do not have a complete stranglehold over mass manipulation.”
Richard: “No, Mass manipulation has been privatised!”
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Tagged by Shuggy with this one. Three of the questions have gone AWOL somewhere along the line though.
Q1. How would you define "atheism"?
Well, I’m an agnostic, not an atheist. I’d say that pronounced atheists are religiously certain that there is no god of any kind, and are probably a bit tone-deaf (using Terry’s phrase) to anything that sounds like it has a religious root. I’ve gone through phases myself of discounting things out of hand because of the kind of fallacies that religion is full of, and I think we all sometimes reject our own previous positions a bit too strongly, so I’m probably being a bit unfair to atheists here.
Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?
Yes – Catholic. We went to Mass every Sunday and sat behind a large family of Italian girls. I found this very inspiring and it caused me to dwell upon just how well those six days of creation were spent. My parents are still quite Catholic. They sent me (briefly) to a ‘Junior Seminary’ instead of the usual state school. I was ‘asked to leave’ after a short while for a combination of chippiness and truancy, and I went to a Catholic comprehensive school instead. I’ve argued before (in the comments on Shuggy’s site, agreeing with him) that schools with wide catchments have some positive unintended benefits, so I have no regrets about having been brought up a Catholic.
Q3. How would you describe "Intelligent Design", using only one word?
Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?
I think the crab-wise way that we are edging towards an understanding of lots of aspects of human behaviour is exciting - the patient persistent march of reason. When I hear religious people talk about the wonders of creation, I agree with them about how huge, spectacular and fascinating it all is. I just get really impressed by the way that we are learning to conceptualise and document it all.
Q5. If you could change one thing about the "atheist community", what would it be and why?
Well, we always think of those who hold the anti-god view extremely and loudly as ‘the atheist community’, don’t we? Most non-religious people I know hold the view lightly, with a modicum of wit and a twinkle of charm. I should add that – though I’m an agnostic - I’m pretty certain that almost every religious explanation for anything that I’ve heard so far is nonsense. So I’d not change anything.
Q6. If your child came up to you and said "I’m joining the clergy", what would be your first response?
My kids wouldn’t stick at it for long, I don’t think, so I’d be fine about it. Organised religion has a real crisis on its hands here – ‘the vocations’ (as we Papists used to call it) have a similar problem to political parties. People are less willing to paint themselves into corners in the way they used to.
Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?
I’ve always been very influenced by a lot of Catholic custom. I like the concept of ‘examination of conscience’ and ‘a good confession’. I like the idea of preparing yourself for death so that – in a crisis – you will know how to react. “Between the stirrup and the ground, he mercy sought and mercy found.”
It is a useful moral exercise and it discourages lazy equivocation and buck-passing (or ‘negativism’ as I’d call it). The message that “if you die in a minute, would you want a very perceptive judge to measure your worth by your most recent actions?” is a good one to think about.
I think religious people are very good at reflecting on their faith and rehearsing their arguments. Catholics have the Nicean Creed – a simple statement of the components of their belief – I like the constant return to the fundamentals for the purpose of examination (this blog does this at tedious length).
The difference between me and a Catholic is (apart from the fact that the beliefs themselves are very different) that if the facts change, my creed does too.
Q8. What’s your most "controversial" (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?
Shuggy’s own answer to this is really very good, as I don’t have much to add to it. I suspect that most of my other answers here would be ‘controversial’ with lots of other atheists.
Q9. Of the "Four Horsemen" (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?
Hitchens is a really good writer and the most ruthlessly compelling debater of these points. I liked Richard Dawkins’ famous article (about fifteen years ago now, I think?) about how religion behaves like a computer virus, and I think that the whole ‘meme’ idea is a very instructive (if slightly ungrounded) notion. But I’m really not interested enough in the subject to read much further. I’ve barely read anything by Dennett and I’m not even 100% sure which Harris we’re talking about here.
Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?
If my mum were to have some sort of agnostic epiphany, then maybe she’ll stop trying to de-lapse me. The idea of giving some religious nutcase an epiphany by waving a magic wand is quite a funny one. Imagine Osama Bin Laden – half way through one of his videos – saying “... er ... hang on a minute...”
Monday, June 16, 2008
"Vice President Lewinsky" but, sadly, it doesn't.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
It's a good question, and I suspect that I'd disagree with a lot of the positions put forward by bloggers on that site. Firstly, I don't think that building communities of like-minded bloggers will have the slightest impact. Mutual affirmation isn't that valuable, I wouldn't have thought, and I think that the concept of solidarity is entirely misplaced when it's applied to the blogosphere.
Me-too campaigns are, I think, hugely over-rated. I do think that left-wing bloggers can make a difference though. Right wing bloggers have succeeded in some ways because they are capable of choosing to believe a position that suits their ends, not one that makes them look good down at the health-food shop.
So, every time you meet a Tory these days, you hear that they are now 'libertarians'. Apparently, they've always been libertarians - didn't they mention it before? Oh yes! Always uncomfortable with Michael Howard's dog-whistle politics, dontcha know?
Of course, they were very unhappy at the time of the old Criminal Justice Bill - you know, the one that made it illegal for two hippies to go into the same field within ten days of each other? (OK, there were bad things in it as well..). For a Tory, pretending to be 'libertarian' is a way of never having to say 'fuck the poor' again. It's a way of never having to give anything back as your side of the social contract. All you have to say is how everything would be alright if the beastly state were just to get out of the way. You can even pretend that you give a shit!
The Tories have always managed to do this in a way that the left hasn't. On the left, I think, we are more concerned with up-our-own-arses consistency in all things. Being correct, and having an audit trail to show that we were on the side of the angels all along.
Ask these latterday libertarians about how inheritance and meritocracy are on a collision course, or ask if this new-found liberalism has any impact on their views on border control, and you just get a quick change of subject.
Here is a more detailed take on how the Tories are able to behave politically, while we are mired in our own elegance.
Right-wing bloggers understand that there are untapped anti-democratic forces that can be dog-whistled any time they like. Guido gets it. But there isn't a commensurate understanding on the left about how the way politics is discussed needs to be changed.
We need to value elected politicians ourselves. The right have worked out that 'direct democracy' is a very handy banner of convenience. Where is the left's defence of representative democracy? Democracy is unequivocally a project of the left, yet we can't even be bothered to pull up the drawbridge on our own castle.
Now, I recognise that no-one will listen to us singing the praises of politicians, of course. We can, however, get an audience that will listen to us attack the lobbying industry, that will slag of saintly pressure-group spokespeople - expose them for their inconsistency, name their donors, and so on. We can identify the senior civil servants that couldn't run a piss-up in a brewery, and we could highlight the demagogy of many journalists.
It is not enough to identify the BBC as a bulwark against the Thatcherite right, the BBC's rivals need to be attacked. BSkyB are the BBC's enemies. Where is the equivalent of 'Biased BBC' - demanding that the programme-making rules that apply to every other station should be applied to BSkyB? Nowhere. That's where.
When we can come up with an equivalent of the odious Tax Payers Alliance - something that can campaign in a concerted way against...
- Supermarket chains - they strangle small businesses, drive out local craftsmanship, drive out small specialist shops that care about what they sell and know what they're talking about, increase local traffic, drive prices down artificially at the expense of people who work in the supply chain. Anti-supermarket campaigns have to be formed on local alliances, and not on greenie principles. It's not that the greenie principles are wrong - it's just you get tuned out as soon as you start spouting them. A concerted anti-supermarket focus from left-bloggers - one that reaches out to non-lefties and develops the arguments and the memes that will change things - would be a useful exercise for left-bloggers. A hatred of monopolies used to be a key feature the left. It's time this were true again.
- The causes of centralisation - an acknowledgement of those causes and a willingness to attack them. Rather than forever focussing on the Westminster Village sideshow, that would be an example of left-bloggers behaving politically and doing something useful. We need to articulate a new understanding of a public-sector ethos and lead a call to break the link between the 'producer interest' and a legitimate shared understanding of what public-sector professionalism is. The Unions won't do it.
- The City: What about the disgraceful pro-capitalist (as opposed to pro-market) arguments about how shareholders run companies, when .... they don't. Go and ask Tom what we should be saying.
- The BBC's enemies - as I outlined earlier.
There are more, of course. But that's enough to be going on with?
All politics is local. But what does the left blogosphere major on? Pissing and moaning about politics and what so-and-so said to thingumyjig at some poxy wine bar in St James' Park. It's time to ignore the Kremlinologists and start being political again.
Like the Tories are.
I've never read it cover-to-cover, but dipping in to it works.
A friend of mine who knows about these things said that listening to Ulysees as an audiobook was a revelation. He'd struggled to read it for ages until someone lent him the box-set on CD. He loved it, and said that it was surprisingly accessible.
Another thing for the to-do list then...
I wrote a post about it here a while ago. This implicit rejection of representative government was, I believe, easily the biggest mistake that the Labour left made in the 1980s. The unpopular policies, the wrong ones, the poor presentation, the inept campaigns, the tactical mistakes - they were all a consequence of the huge tactical victory that opposition-minded activists enjoyed when they pushed for MPs to be directly accountable to their CLPs on detailed matters of policy.
That the Conservatives generally seem to be increasingly captivated by the idea of plebiscites can only be a good thing.
Now this, from Friday's Guardian letters page:
In a democracy members of parliament are accountable to the people from whom their authority comes and to whom they are ultimately accountable.
Apart from the broad political choices that have to be made in a general election, issues sometimes arise where it is right and proper that MPs should take the opportunity of consulting their own constituents formally on major questions.
Legislation that would allow people to he imprisoned on suspicion without charge for 42 days repeals Magna Carta, and could easily be extended to cover anyone whom it was claimed might threaten national security.
The parliamentary vote in support of this was only won after the whips had imposed the most rigid three-line whip upon Labour MPs who, in a free vote, would almost certainly have defeated it.
David Davis's decision to take this issue back to his own constituents and ask for their support for his stand against this law is absolutely right.
Cynicism about politics is now widespread, and the Haltemprice byelection, fought on the question of civil liberties, will restore public confidence in parliament, which increasingly seems separated from the people it was elected to serve.
I've boldened the bits that are, to me, obviously wrong. The first two bits would not, I think, make a satisfactory sentence in an undergraduate essay entitled "What should an MP do, and how should s/he do it?" It would need some further qualification, I think?
The third bit is so plainly obviously wrong, I really can't believe that anyone would seriously write it down.
Also, before Benn descended into this madness, he used to have a reputation as a competent minister. As Hopi points out, he was a minister in the government that really did repeal Magna Carta, but he didn't resign then, did he?
All of this reawakens an old conspiracy theory that I used to nurse...
Saturday, June 14, 2008
I'm all over the place on business at the moment, so podcasts are a bit of a lifeline. There was a very enjoyable programme on probability recently on In Our Time.
This weeks one on The Riddle of the Sands and Britain's convoluted relations with The Boche was good as well. RotS author Erskine Childers Publish Postbarely credible life-story is also worth a look.
Which three bloggers do you agree with on almost everything? Pick one that most closely mirrors your own personal philosophy, one that most closely mirrors your politics and one that offers the most consistently attractive analysis.
- Philosophy: The Democratic Society blog seems to have been set up to offer a sober reasoned version of my permanent obsession. I don't think I've ever seriously disagreed with anything there
- Politics: Paul Anderson's Gauche. I admit, I've known Paul since before the old King died, and I probably think what I think because of a two-year period in the mid 1990s when I got shitfaced him every night without fail. Reading his latest is the thing that made me come up with this meme thingy today.
- Analysis: Freemania. Usually funny, usually right, always perceptive.
Three to pass it on to? How about...
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
"Newton Emerson is arguing that what the Beeb really needs to do in an era when we can get our news from a variety of sources (many free) is to get back to first principles and report facts, instead of present the national news as a magazine-style show that barely scratches the surface."
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
There's no better example of the way in which success in football depends on management than Clough and Taylor. Clough and Taylor - who, remember, took a backwater Second Division club, and made them into League champions, not once but twice, with players, for the most part, that no-one else wanted or could do anything with. No accidents, no luck, this was real sorcery, not hocus pocus.
No player was a greater testament to their approach than John McGovern - who makes a brief, sad appearance in The Damned United, the time and the place not right for him. McGovern seemed destined to be a middling journeyman professional, but with Clough and Taylor's help he cheated that destiny and ended up winning two league championships (one with Derby, one with Forest), and two European cups. No accidents, no luck.
Being a good manager is about being an engineer of collectivity; not about assembling the best players but about getting the best out of the ones you've got. There's nothing supernatural about esprit de corps, although any team that it has it will seem to have (at least one) extra player. Compare Smith's remarks on the England team again:
"The way the England team is now is ridiculous. A team of superstars is like a supergroup. It's like picking the best guitarist in Britain, the best drummer and the best singer, and expecting them to produce something that isn't prog-rock mush. It doesn't work: this England team will never work at the highest level. I know that. See, Sir Alf Ramsey - people never liked him for it, but he'd always have the full backs from the second division. He took players and moulded them, like I do with musicians. Gordon Banks, the goalkeeper, was from Stoke City, who were bottom of the first division."
*Almost pathetic gratitude to Will for pointing me to this.*
Monday, June 09, 2008
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Martin Kettle: Politicians overestimate the importance of newspapers.
My quick reading of it suggests that he may have missed something here. Firstly, politicians - like anyone else - will put efforts into things if they think that they will get some change out of it.
Sure - Labour voters may read the Daily Mail and still vote Labour, and newspapers don't dictate what their readers do in the polling booth. But newspapers can change the way some people vote. Not all of their readers, obviously - and maybe not even most of them. But they can change some of them. It may even be the case that newspaper editors can change more peoples' minds than anyone else. Not with one editorial, but with a sustained strategic deployment of news values.
Courting a newspaper editor may result in them being less willing to change the public's minds - and editors do like to think that they can do this as well. It is the one thing that politicians feel that they can do with concrete results.
Politicians will note that changes in voting intentions are not always linked to their own performance as well. Labour's unpopularity at the moment, for example, can be put down to lots of different factors, many beyond their control. So, they will focus on the things they can influence - and the disposition of a newspaper editor is a lot more likely to respond to a bit of cajolery than a price-setting oil cartel.
Only a fool would say that newspapers have absolutely no influence at all on politics, or say that there is no reason whatever why politicians should try to get good coverage in newspapers. But the rewards to politicians from such efforts are marginal at best, even in elections.And he's right. But all of the other options before them have benefits that are even more marginal. Anyone with any sense just fixes what they can fix, and they let the rest go. A problem you can't do anything about isn't a problem, it's an aggravation. Politicians think that they can fix the problem of hostile journalism by a bit of crawling to the editors. That's why they do it - and the ones that don't are less successful than the ones that do.
Update - 8/6: I've just seen that Chris has posted on a similar subject. He's drawn different conclusions, but then he's not as keen on politicians as I am.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
The thing is, Peter Robinson's success as First Minister in Northern Ireland (now it's all settled) is almost entirely bound up in his ability to not be photographed smiling in the same shot as Martin McGuinness.
And the photographer that can get them giggling will be able to sell the snap for a fortune.
It doesn't bode well...
I like articles like this, though I think that some of the conclusions are over-egged.
Not so long ago, every couple of seasons, a club would tweak the design of their new shirt and expect the usual suspects to buy it.
Now, there's speculation and even a mock-up of what it could look like - based on hints the club have dropped - linked to from the Forest Facebook group.
NB: This is NOT the new Forest shirt. I wonder how close it will be to the real thing though?
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Monday, June 02, 2008
It's what night-time radio does best. I wish we could still tune into the similarly eclectic Ross Allen, but a schedulers' whim means that we can't. Annoyingly, he doesn't have any podcasts that I can find anywhere for you.
Still, he's got a night on soon...