Thursday, July 31, 2008

Intrusion, interference, and deception

Been busy today. Saw this though.

In the battle between TV stations who want us to pay more for TV by watching more of their poxy adverts, and those of us who would be happy if all TV stations were subscription funded, subject to Public Service Broadcasting obligations, and ad-free, it's an interesting development.

Where will it all end, I wonder?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Lord's Burning Rain

One day, our sweet Lord's burning rain will come and wash them away forever.

I lasted 34 seconds. How long could you stand it for?

Will Davies seems to have managed the whole thing. A brave man. He did this for you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thinking of forming a rock band?

Don't bother. Someone's already done it better than anyone else will be able to.

A Quick One While He's Away - The Who.

And here's Pete on his own a good deal later - English Boy. Aging with a bit more dignity than most of his contemporaries, I reckon?

Transparency - a few questions

Here's ArsTechnica on US congressmen using social media. The people who make the rules are not happy about the general subject.

Two questions that don't seem to be asked here:
  1. Building a site that allows you to upload a video file to a codec that turns it into a *.flv file, and displays it in the way that YouTube does is no longer rocket science. Congress could consider building one of these if it wants to avoid positioning next to adverts.?
  2. 'Bloggers' are - it seems - universally against restrictions on web-access to congressmen. But has anyone asked the question: Does greater exposure and interaction with elected representatives improve or damage representative democracy?
Let me amplify q2 (apologies to regulars here - I'm going over old ground):
  • Politicians have rivals. Those rivals have more resources to throw at social media. Is this an invitation to race in which politicians are always going to carry a handicap?
  • An increased ability to compile data about politicians and voters makes it easier for pressure groups to bully politicians on single issues. It also hands more power to party managers and other centralising forces. This has hugely illiberal consequences. It will also force politicians and civil servants to be more routinely opaque in their dealings. Has this crossed the minds of any of our transparency crusaders?
  • Are the same bloggers calling for similar levels of scrutiny for the forces that rival politicians? Can we expect calls for every meeting between a lobbying company and their clients to be YouTubed and twittered? What about the strategy meetings of pressure groups? Or their fundraising reports?

I'm still trying to track down the Radio 4 programme about how broadcasting parliament confirmed the worst fears of its opponents. When I do, I'll let you know.

More adverts

You will have to watch more advertising on TV.

(Trans: You will have to pay more to watch TV).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lost proverb

There is a Russian proverb - from memory, it goes something like this:

"Don't think.
If you think, don't speak.
If you speak, don't write.
If you write, don't publish.
If you publish, don't be surprised...."

It was used by The New Statesman & Society back in the mid-1990s as part of their campaign against the libel laws. I've been Googling for the correct text and can't find it anywhere. Has anyone else heard it before?

Political axis - a few alternatives

Lady Antonia Fraser was on the wireless yesterday, saying how surprised she was when her husband - Harold Pinter - was awarded the Nobel Prize a few years ago. She had assumed that his outspoken politics would get in the way.

I'm not sure what the most deluded assumption behind this statement is. Is it that Pinter's self-serving blend of idealism and cynicism (Will always points out that the two are indistinguishable) is courageous, or some kind of a career-limiting liability?

(update 29/7: Will has provided some detail in response here).

Is it that she believes that Pinter is some kind of thorn in the side to the establishment with his sclerotic ranting? Does Whitehall quiver under his rhetorical blows? Or does it notice them at all? Or - better still, does it look forward to them?

Perhaps she believes that he is a threat of any kind to anyone in power, and that they would normally seek to contain him by lobbying against the Nobel Prize?

And thinking about Pinter and his fellow-travellers, I have to admit a prejudice. I tend to automatically disagree with any argument that comes wrapped in idealistic or cynical packaging.

I'm saying this as a prelude to a question about the various political axis that I've seen pedalled in recent years as an alternative to the poles of left and right. Personally, I'm quite wedded to left / right, though they seem to becoming more and more fuzzy and unreliable.

The most common alternative is the alternative poles of 'libertarian' and 'authoritarian' - (generally as a cross-cutter to the left/right axis) - one that is championed by (amongst others) the Political Compass application. I have problems with this one, not least because of the fairly subjective notion of the two words. I draw the same conclusions about most of what passes for libertarianism these days that others drew in the 1980s about Lord Hailsham's 1970s Tory notion of 'an elective dictatorship'.

Hailsham curiously forgot all about this liberalism when Mrs Thatcher carried out the most sweeping acts of political centralisation that the British state has ever seen. David Davis can be expected to do the same if the Tories end up in power. Show me a self-styled libertarian and - nine times out of ten - I'll show you a closet Tory (and usually a right-wing outlier).

Other work on political axis includes one of the best political uses of the web that I've seen is the clever, late, Chris Lightfoot's opinion-plotting application. Chris chose a much more complex set of axis, but the resulting graphic is the most valuable output of the whole thing. It's very good because it tells us a great deal about democratic politics. The lessons include...

  1. Almost no-one agrees with you about very much, even though you think they do

  2. When politicians don't say what you'd like them to say, they are doing it for a damn good reason. They're not saying anything that many people agree with

  3. If you think that unelected individuals should be able to directly influence legislation, then you should also know that you are arguing for a lifetime of utter repression.
The 'everyone agrees with me' fallacy is - I suspect - one of the biggest causes of disillusionment with government by the elected, and the perceived disconnection between politics and the general public. The recurring question is often 'why can't they do what we want them to do?' Sadly, the answer is that they often try to do exactly that - and they really shouldn't be doing so in the first place.

So, for most of the time writing this blog, I'd be prepared to advocate set of oppositions that ignore left and right for the most part, and concentrate on 'pro-direct democracy and pro-representative democracy axis.

I could back this up with the argument that illiberalism and a general retreat from social-democratic principles can be largely explained by the fact that elections are much less a measure of partisanship, and much more a complex set of auctions - the kind that Burke warned against. Thus the kind of triangulation that Shuggy touches on in this great post here. If politicians feel forced to trade specific policies with the tiny fraction of the electorate that have the outcome of the next election in their hands, the outcome will always be a more reactionary and authoritarian set of policies than those proposed by politicians who see themselves deliberating in the interest of the general will. For this reason, I've often argued, (and sometimes believe!!) that this is the almost only really relevant axis in the modern politics of a liberal democracy.

Other axis that I've seen recently include Marko Atilla Hoare's very flawed decent / indecent opposition. Chris Dillow has a much more interesting variation on the bland 'authoritarian / libertarian' opposition here with his cosmos v taxis opposition.

For me, returning to my original point, I'm beginning to suspect that the most important one is not the direct / representative split, but the opposition between idealist/cynics and those of us that cringe or weep every time we hear them.

For some reason, being a cynic / idealist appears to be very attractive to the popular culture of advanced democracies. As James Hamilton argued a while back, it certainly helps to get you laid. It gets you on the telly, and it is vary rare to find a satirist that doesn't dive into this pit.

Marcus Brigstock sometimes avoids it, much to his credit, and watching Have I Got News For You, I deceive myself that Paul Merton silently detests Ian Hislop for it. Its ubiquity, I suspect, led the likes of Bob Geldof and Bob Marshall-Andrews (both idealist / cynic pin-ups) to back David Davis recently. It appears to be the key motivator for Simon Jenkins, Rod Liddle and Steve and Martin Bell. It seems that you need to demonstrate a command of this particular nasty little art before you can get a job anchoring a news programme anywhere these days.

It makes for lazy journalism, self-righteous commentary and cheap comedy. If Trevor Griffiths were ever to revive his very good 'The Comedians', he could replace the old 'alternative comic / racist club comic' opposition with this one in an attempt to define a comedy that avoids the cheap shots and gotchas that often pass for satire.

None of this would be hugely damaging if it weren't for the fact that the idealist/cynic hegemony didn't make life so awkward and unattractive for elected politicians. The 'man in the white suit' commentator will inevitably eventually force representative democracy to recast itself as either a judicial or clerical function - not one that either proposes or revises in the way that legislatures are supposed to do. Judicial and clerical politicians can only follow - they can never lead. Henry Ford famously said that - if he'd just given his customers what they said they wanted, they would have all got slightly faster horses.

The only way to avoid ridicule or censure in such circumstances is to find a way of getting the lowest bidder to supply these nags to the general public. This is no minor transgression on the part of idealist/cynics. Making things difficult for elected politicians without doing the same to their rivals is the same as setting yourself up in direct opposition to representative democracy.

For this reason, I'm tempted to contact the good people at Political Compass to see if they would consider replacing the 'authoritarian / cynic' questions with ones that identify either idealism / cynicism or something that works out just how deluded you are about the fairness or usefulness of referendums and the need for politicians who are more 'mandatable'.

I suspect that either would be a good deal more useful than the 'authoritarian / libertarian' opposition.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bookies wrong?

Just browsing, it looks like Obama's Presidency is being cast as a near-certainty now.

Am I the only one that thinks that McCain at 5/2 today is a very good price?

Bookmark that link. I forecast a steady shortening. Admittedly, I've been wrong before....

14 days to go

Gawd, I hate this time of year. No football on TV. No football on the radio. Nothing in the papers about football.

Andy Cole, Robert Earnshaw, Joe Garner, Mickael Darnet and Guy Moussi have all walked in the door at the City Ground over the summer. Everton were held to a 1-1 draw last week, and we've had a string of wins in the pre-season friendlies.

It is now beyond doubt that we will be playing Premiership football in 2009-10 (and in the Champions League a year later).

14 days to kick off - Reading (h) - 10/8/08. 1.15pm.

Can't wait.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Liveblogging for a change: On the wireless, they're talking about how micro-donations (Barack Obama appparently have over 1.7m relatively small donors, while Hillary relied upon the traditional High Value Individual route, and ended up in schtook) could change politics.

The obstacles so far:

  1. Politicians only seem to do it if they are in tight marginals
  2. Unions / Big business donations should be banned (according to the talking head)
  3. Even in the US - where parties are less controlled - they are finding that support networks can be organised to oppose individual policies
  4. The Internet has the potential to degrade politics (passim here) - though Obama was able to spend half-an-hour getting his message over on YouTube
  5. Single issue pressure groups and petitions (trans: applied idiocy)

The view that a move towards microdonations would improve the quality of public life was largely uncontested. I'm not sure I'd contest it myself - but I think it needs examining a bit more.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Off elsewhere

More Sadie - this time, the Normblog profile.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to
I'm not sure it's a philosophical thesis as such (given that its standard-bearers appear to be such intellectual colossi as David Davis, Henry Porter and Shami Chakrabarti) but I think the emerging 'liberty' narrative is something that requires a little more examination than it's currently getting in our principal organs of record. In the wake of 7/7 and 42 day detention, there has been a growth in the popularity of what I consider to be a destructive form of negative liberty which holds that 'The State' should be rolled back to allow people to be truly free.

I guess there are arguments to be had in favour of that - if you happen to be a Tory - but a distressing number of people on the left hear the word 'liberty' and start charging to the fore shouting banalities about 'police states' and 'George Orwell'. Contend that it's a bit more difficult than that as there is no one liberty but rather a clash of different liberties and you're labelled 'worse than Hitler'. The dumbing down of the liberty discussion at a time when more than ever we need to be debating it with at least a modicum of intellectual rigour is something that brings my inner Ted Bundy roaring to the surface every time I read Porter's weekly 'Brown: biggest dictator EVAH' articles in the Observer.

... and this:

If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime
Minister, who would you choose?

Bob Geldof. I would then make it my life's mission to hold a yearly concert in a field and denounce him as a 'typical politician' to a bunch of wristband wearing teenagers who have a vague idea that they are doing their bit for world peace/climate change/Make Poverty History by turning up to listen to Natasha Bedingfield and waving their lighters in the air. My version of 'Tell Me Why / I Don't Like Mondays' isn't bad either.

... and then she goes and ruins everything:

What is your favourite song?'
Glory Box' by Portishead.

How can that happen?

Elsewhere, more power to the call for a more symmetrical level of public scrutiny over at L&C.

And, finally, the fat man joins all decent people in objecting to the very principle of workfare.

Should Gordon Brown go now?

Luke Akehurst thinks not:

“Last night's result was very, very bad. But it actually just confirms what we already knew about the current state of public opinion - people are hurting economically, they are angry, and rightly the Government has to take responsibility for the state of the economy. If we sort it out and the economy recovers before the General Election we will likewise take the credit. I don't think it's all about Gordon. I think it's all about rising prices and the credit crunch.

Switching leader might achieve something if we had a British Barack Obama waiting in the wings. But we don't - we have a bunch of people who are either not quite yet ready for the top job, or are just as much associated with eleven years in power as Brown is. The PM we've got, for any flaws he has, is the best one Labour has available.”

Neither does Conor Ryan. But Conor identifies the hole in Labour's communications. The need for a Blair-esque narrative:
“That's where the big change is needed. Tony Blair was very good at developing and disseminating a clear political narrative. With Gordon Brown, there is no such narrative, so nobody from the commentariat to the common voter can understand what's happening. This failure may owe something to the schizophrenic attempt to create novelty in the first months of Brown's tenure. If so, the time for real clarity is overdue. That means selecting half a dozen very clear goals for the government, on which Brown devotes most of his energy.”

It would be a reasonable point to make, I think, that - while the opinion polls showed an increasing rejection of Blair himself towards the end, that it was a rejection of the man, rather than his communications approach.

Paul Anderson, on the other hand, has been saying Brown should go for a while. But his immediate reaction to last night's defeat is to highlight Labour's long-standing complacency in it's heartlands:
"I remember reports of safe Labour constituencies in Glasgow with tiny inactive Labour parties 30 years ago. The story of the sitting MP who tells the keen raw recruit: "Don't worry about canvassing round here, laddie. We put out an election statement then I do a tour on polling day in a loudspeaker car," might well be apocryphal, but it's not far from the truth as it has been most of the time for several decades: Labour's desperate high-profile campaigning efforts in Glasgow East were notable largely because they contrasted so dramatically with the norm."

This, I think, highlights a bigger gap between the Tories and Labour. Labour has - traditionally - not been hugely interactive. The Tories have always had the benefit of being more relaxed in the way they communicate.

In our defence, we've always had a good deal more to contend with than the Tories. We are a marriage of a tiny but hugely influential group of metropolitan Fabians and a generally materialistic core working class vote. To complicate things, due to relationship between that core vote and it's 'official spokespeople' - the trade union movement, their political weight - that which is applied by a pressure group - has increasingly disengaged with policy, preferring occasional disconnected political interventions.

The cement in the Labour Party has always been it's 'fixers'. Look at the CVs of most senior Labour parliamentarians if you don't believe me. The energy Labour has to devote to this task is routinely ignored and misunderstood. Labour's hidden wiring is it's tough diplomats - the ones that can do Beer and Sandwiches with the unions while being able to share a glass of wine with The Great And Good.

A while ago, I had a post here about how the Tories seem to be hardwired for a surefooted (if technically inconsistent, and fundamentally dishonest) engagement in public life. There is nothing uneasy about the Tory alliance by comparison to Labour.

Labour, on the other hand, will always be nervous and clunky in places that the Tories can swashbuckle. It could be the case that this makes the Tories the 'natural party of government' and all of the Blairite hubris about changing that with five uninterrupted terms was for nothing. Perhaps we will only ever govern when the Tories spectacularly drop the ball after a long period of Tory rule?

It really does underline the wasted opportunity of the last decade. For all of his achievements, Blair never really believed in political decentralisation. His failure to follow through on regional government, the strengthening of local government or the cementing of bicameralism and cabinet government in Westminster has left us in a position where the Tories will continue to enjoy decades of untrammelled power, punctuated only be short periods of better government when they really balls up (see The Guity Men, the disgraceful governmental incompetence of the early 1960s, the ERM crisis of the mid-1990s).

So, back to the question: Should Brown go now? On reflection, he probably can't. But he needs a challenge. A credible one, from someone who has an interest in rebuilding the party as an interactive conversational entity. One that doesn't only engage with the public in the rigid way that we have done to date.

In an age where politicians come under more scrutiny than ever before, Labour's faith in it's fixers is starting to look very hollow. I believe that there is a workable, credible vision of how politics in the UK can be transformed without too much blood being left on the walls.

One that says: "All of our political structures need mending." One that involves political decentralisation and a reassessment of what the role of politics is. Because we are in a period in which we can't do right for doing wrong, now would be a good time for it to happen.But this is Labour's real problem.

There is nobody near the top of the Labour Party that has ever given any of this much consideration. To the question 'where can this challenge come from?', there really is no answer.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Unfamilliar ground

Er.... Simon Jenkins has written a quite-good piece on local democracy. I missed it a few weeks ago, but in the interests of balance, I should add it here.

I suppose the only major criticism (there are a number of minor gripes) I can have of it is that it can't have been written by the author of this. However, back to the current piece. Jenkins says:
British people still regard their local council as their first port of call for public services: by two to one, compared with central government (according to Mori). Yet these councils are, to the centre, mere agencies. Their elected representatives are superfluous as conduits of accountability, and their voters not to be trusted with policy, taxes or priorities.

Empowerment is empty without accountability, and accountability is empty without fiscal bite. There is no communal governance in Britain at present and no intention, on the part of either big party, to introduce it.

To the government, Britons are considered incompetent to shoulder the democratic responsibilities considered normal elsewhere. Ask why, and ministers all give the same reply: "But have you actually met any councillors? They are useless." Were it true, which it is not, they do not ask what has made them so.

When Jenkins says "..were it true, which it is not..." he is at least half-wrong in my experience (and I believe that if any commentator were to do any field-work on this, they'd agree with me rather than Jenkins on this). By way of credentials, I'd say that I've met a great many councillors in recent years - probably a good many more than Jenkins, or indeed, most journalists.

He either knows he is half-wrong or he hasn't done much field-work. Interestingly, we see no mention from Jenkins about the quality of local public sector management - another elephant in this particular room.

A better question would be to ask what can be done to change this? Because, being half-wrong on that point, Jenkins would like to see power handed to a group of people who simply would not exercise it very well. That would further damage the case for strong local representative democracy. Is Jenkins arguing, for instance, that .....
  • Councillors should be given resources and assistance with research in order to frame policy more effectively
  • Councillors should be given assistance in publicising themselves, their work, and in meeting the public in a way that they can benefit from the undoubted wisdom that the general public can impart to elected officials
  • Councils should go out of their way to make standing for the council an attractive and fulfilling civic duty
  • Council officials should be trained to understand that councillors are the most important people in the local government decision-making chain - and that the democratic services team within a council should generally have a pro-councillor (rather than a pro-Chief Executive) orientation
Certainly, there are very few local authorities that have any record of doing any of these things - even though none of them are problematic under current legislation. Would Jenkins, for instance, ask that the odious Standards Board should be scrapped so that councillors are not subjected to petty humilliations every time they have the nerve to remind an unelected local government officer about who should really be in charge in the Town Hall?

Reading him is a bit like playing Mornington Crescent. You always end up back in the same place. Jenkins has something of a track-record of using dishonest arguments in support of direct democracy and in opposition to representative government, so ... he's still the most objectively reactionary columnist writing in any British newspaper.


Kindred spirit

I've been blogging since 2005 and I don't think I've read a post anywhere else (apart from the near-daily ones here, obviously) that goes out of it's way to make the case for politics.

Never - that is - until today. Here's Sadie. Magnificent Sadie. Tearing a strip of Iain Dale for this, Sadie (Magnificent Sadie) says....
Iain might say - and forgive me if I am wrong - that people should not have politics forced down their throats, that they can engage over the internet or through newspapers with political arguments. That may be so if you believe in what Berlin termed "negative liberty," the desire to be "free from" rather than to be "free to" which is, in essence, the philosophical thesis behind Cameron's Conservatives (and finds its chief proponent in that tedious old high Tory, Henry Porter). But who does this benefit really? Politics for a select few, that's who: people who have the leisure time and education to get involved in the political process, people who can afford the time and money to attend meetings of political parties that are held in camera and not subject to public scrutiny.

What of the money spent on MPs salaries and second homes? Whilst undoubtedly some of our elected representatives do indeed extract the Michael in this regard (cf. Derek Conway [Con], the Wintertons [Con], and Caroline Spelman [Con] inter alia) the reason such expenses exist is to allow the democratically elected who lacked the foresight to be born rich like Osborne or in line for the throne like Cameron to hold office. I'm not going to make the argument that MPs aren't paid enough (they are) but they are paid for a reason: so that politics is more than just a playground for the wealthy who can afford to "do" Westminster when they are not managing daddy's estate, or "Kent" as it's sometimes known.

And she detests Henry Porter as well! This is probably a bit harsh of her. Porter suffers from Posh People's Disease - PPD (passim). It's a terrible illness (hereditary) and it's sufferers deserve pity, not scorn. Pity, and a spell in a workhouse, mind....

(hat tip: Mick at Brassneck)

Twittering into the void

I'm trying out Twitter. It only gives you 140 characters per post - which is quite a good discipline for me.

Earlier, I asked this:
Has interactive tech increased the capacity for wasted interactivity because it also provides a better hiding place for people who aren't?

As soon as I posted it, I realised that Twitter is going through one of it's regular hangtimes - all of my just-started 'follower list' had disappeared so all Twittering today is pointless. Which kinda adds a further dimension to the observation, dunnit?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Slow catching up

Government communications - getting better, but still miles behind the meeja.

(Sorry - I'm using my blog as a kind of social bookmarking tool at the moment, building this asymmetry theme at the moment).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Two unlinked tunes

The very special Ernest Ranglin doing Surfin' live (Surfin' can be found on the faultless 'Below the Bassline' LP).

... and a no-video copy of Grover Washington Jr's 'Sausalito which has always reminded me of Ranglin for no good reason that I can think of (apart from the general understatement, that is).

Free-riders and sociopaths

Brother Rubbish points me to a post at Counago and Spaves - worth a look. There's good stuff in the links on co-operation and free-riders, with references to the work of Mancur Olsen, and an interesting question: Is a free-rider a sociopath?

Sociopaths are "....incapable of cooperation with others beyond short-term exploitation.."

Ring any bells?

Brother Rubbish also posted this a few days ago on a tangential theme.

Lost archive discovered

Only just seen this:
"Do you know what cured me in the end? Homeopathy. Homeopathy and the Dialectic."

Glasgow East: Papes v Prods?

Very over-simplified, I'm fairly sure, but worth a look anyway. I'd be interested in reading a version of this article that wasn't commissioned by The Independent's comment editor....

Pay and conditions

Snowflake on civil servants and politicians - a variation on my own staple - the asymmetry theme.

Friday, July 18, 2008

At long last...

... politicians are properly accountable.

The quality of governance can only improve if this carries on.

< / sarcasm >

Friday night Karaoke!

Have a little gargle, warm up those vocal chords and try this one:

'There is a light that never goes out':

... and 'How Soon Is Now' (the setup takes a while, but it's worth it)...

Know a good tailor?

Will somebody please deliver some white suits to this address?

The vision thing

While I'd agree with Cassilis here, for the most part, there is perhaps something in the equation ....

Falling crime + increasing alienation = a perception of higher crime

...that the 'retreat from the public arena' mentioned by the Tory blogger he points to could be symptomatic of whatever our pet cause for the current spiritual / moral malaise is. My personal favourite would be political centralisation, or possibly the near-disappearance of a competent public sector.

But that's the point of the Blair / Cameron project, isn't it? The use of mood-music to create a problem for which 'vision' from a carefully presented public official is the solution.

It's a shame that the words Blair and Cameron don't fit together like Butler and Gaitskell did, innit?

Downloading ideology directly to the cerebral cortex

From here:
".... education well understands that its role must be purely formal, and must avoid engaging the subjective will of its pupil under any circumstance: keeping the communicative, linguistic and numerical capacities ticking over, but for God's sake, don't put anything in there - what if they start making comparisons between the past and the present? The present and the future? The 'competencies' they're supposed to possess and the structure of the job market?"

(Via K-Punk)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"A culture of Fascism"

With it's dysfunctional legal system, the rampant corruption, the omnipresent criminality at all levels of society, it's disgraceful victimisation of minorities, and its police force with a 'culture of fascism', Italy would not be allowed to join the EU if it were to apply to join today.

It's time for Italy to be kicked out of the EU.

There's a Facebooky group thing you can join if you agree with this.


Not terrific sound, but a good-enough video I think? It is possible that you've reached ... whatever age you've reached .... without hearing Bettye Swann's 'Make Me Yours'.

Wait no longer. It's not very often I'd answer the question "what is your favourite record?" with the same answer a couple of years apart, but this is an exception. Every time I hear this heartbreaker, I like it more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Don't forget

... the Brand New Heavies. This is 'Stay This Way'. This was seventeen years ago.

Christ, I feel old....

Other accountability bugs

Here's Black Triangle on rate-ur-doc.

Communities in control?

The more I've got used to blogging, the more I've learned that it's not really wise (or very respectable) to use your blog to advance a business project that you are involved in. So I'll do this carefully:

The LGA have responded to the Empowerment White Paper - a document that has lots of sensible stuff in the body text, and lots of rather flaky ill-thought-out stuff in it's executive summaries and the 'for emphasis' sections.

And there's this in the LGA response:
On the 'duty to promote democracy', Sir Simon said:
"Ensuring that people participate in local democracy is healthy, legitimate and must be encouraged. Greater participation brings more diversity and encourages a much fuller local debate about issues that affect all our lives.

“It is councillors that know their local areas and the people who live there, so it is good news that proposed legislation allows the necessary flexibility that will allow them to respond to local circumstance and residents’ wishes and concerns. Any guidance on this provided to councils in the future must avoid prescription."

I'd disagree with this last sentence. Council officers (with notable exceptions) in my experience, detest the idea of helping Councillors communicate with the public. Unless they are told very specifically how they are to do this by HMG (with worksheets and publishable benchmarks), they simply won't do it.

I could tell you some stories, believe me. But I've probably used this blog to advance a business project I'm working on more than I should do already, so I'll stop there.

There are other interpretations, of course.....

Monday, July 14, 2008

No news

Why do local authorities spend a fortune advertising their jobs in local newspapers that have all-but abandoned the job of providing coverage of local issues?

Someone is starting to ask, anyway...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bloggertarianism in excelsis

The US is on the final leg towards Communist totalitarianism.

Oh yes. No, really....

(a longer, funnier version of this post is here).

Oil consumption

Numbers crunched over at Snowflake.
"From a European point of view, it's rather depressing. We didn't cause the problem and are already doing everything we can to reduce oil demand, so can't really do much more to solve the problem either. We can only wait on the rest of the world to see sense, and do what we did 25 years ago, which is to take steps to reduce oil demand using the tax system. Our only consolation is that by acting early, we have made our economies less dependent on oil and therefore more resilient to the shock than other economies."
Via L&C.

Friday, July 11, 2008

In thought, and in deed. In what I have done and in what I have failed to do....

Last week, I ran into Bill Thompson and confessed that I was his digital stalker. By this, I mean that I subscribe to the RSS feed from his page - if Bill posts anything there, I go and read it. Usually worth a look.

Today, Bill brings this. Generally, an interesting piece, but as I've argued before, I'd totally disagree with this statement:

"As technology evolves, the same public information laws create novel and in some cases previously unimaginable levels of transparency. In many cases, particularly those related to the conduct of top public officials, this seems to be a clearly good thing. In others, particularly those related to people who are not public figures, it may be more of a mixed blessing or even an outright problem."

Now, I've plucked that para from a much more agreeable article, and the context moderates that paragraph considerably. But the next line para offers something interesting:

"I’m reminded of the “candidates” of ancient Rome—the Latin word candidatus literally means “clothed in white robes,” which would-be officeholders wore to symbolize the purity and fitness for office they claimed to possess. By putting themselves up for public office, they invited their fellow citizens to hold them to higher standards. This logic still runs strong today—for example, under the Supreme Court’s Sullivan precedent, public figures face a heightened burden if they try to sue the press for libel after critical coverage."

I'm still trying to find that radio programme that underlined what an unmitigated disaster broadcasting Parliament has been for representative government. But the assymetric scrutiny genie is now well-and-truly out of the bottle. The upside is that - soon - the gynacological scrutiny on public figures will run it's course, and the logic of Googlisation - that all data will become more accessible and more subject to scrutiny and analysis - will start to undermine the standing of those who rival elected politicians as well.

But - in the meantime - is it the case that politics is to become a latterday version of The Priesthood? Are politicans going to have to be seen to be living in a garret with only a frumpy housekeeper for company, (oh, do your own equal-ops equivalent, willya?) subject to only regulated influences in the way that jurors are (I've been over this one before here), earning less than they would do with similar qualifications in civvy street?

Are we to expect them to turn the other cheek, as that quote suggests? Should we be looking for people who are willing to be seen to work long hours, and expected to perform public acts of goodwill - attending irrelevant meetings late into the evening, pretending that they can deal with problems that are really beyond their means, and so on?

Is such a representariat in the post to us already? And will we be glad when it fully arrives? And is such a caste capable, collectively of exercising what Tony McWalter called distributed moral wisdom?

I don't think so. With poverty and chastity comes obedience. And obedience - in this case, groupthink - is the enemy of everything that makes democracy really work.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The question that the Irish should have been asked

While referendums are a hugely anti-democratic feature of public life, wherever they occur under whatever circumstances, you'd think that those who advocate them would at least have the brains to ask the question properly. For intance, why weren't the Irish asked ... "Lisbon .... or Nice?"

The answer is, of course, that referendums can only ever be used to ask stupid questions.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Three days to go to OrangeFest '08!

For some reason, Chris Donnelly is sceptical....

Paying the piper

Calling the tune.

(ta Padraig)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Percussive guitar

There are no (other) percussion instruments being played here apart from the guitar. There's more here, and here's the lesson:

Monday, July 07, 2008

Paskini's Law of Pamphlets

"When a campaigning group makes claims which they can't back up it's usually because the actual facts don't support their case."

Different understandings of the word 'choice'

Here is an emerging bit of 'clear blue water' between Labour and the Tories.
In recent weeks, Andy Burnham - the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport - has been atoning for the mortal sin of being rude about a sainted pressure group celebrity by taking a stand against product placement, bulwarking earlier ... er 'nannying' rules on what can be advertised on children's TV.

The Tories are not impressed.

Moral virtues and practical wisdom

From here:
"How are the moral virtues and practical wisdom acquired? Aquinas’ answer is a remarkable example of his attempt to synthesize philosophy and Christianity. One way to acquire these virtues is, as Aristotle recognized, by habituation and practice. For instance, one can become courageous by doing brave actions in the face of danger and thereby habituating oneself to feel fear and confidence in appropriate ways. Similarly, one can become temperate by acting temperately in the face of tempting pleasures, and just by acting justly in one’s dealings with others."

Question of the Week

Question of the week: Should politicians have radio shows?

Answer of the week: No.

(In fairness to Ken, he's no longer an elected politician).

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Benford's law of controversy

One for Chris (in the unlikely event that he hasn't heard of it already...)

Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available. (detail)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Side project

This bloke - born in 1836 - built Le Palais idéal in his spare time. Here's some Flickr pics. There's a video.

He was a postman.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

How much spam can the world offer?

Ars Technica - a US techie website that differs from the others by hosting good writing and understanding non-tech cultural issues. It doesn't come from the usual slightly autistic techie libertarian POV, and it's a good addition to your RSS feed if you're interested in that kind of thing.

In one of it's lighter pieces, there's a report on an experiment to find out just how much spam you can get if you try.

While I'm on the subject of site recommendations, Tom over at Labour and Capital is reaching out more and more towards something interesting. Here he is on 'Investor Suffrage' endorsing what looks like a good idea.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


This post on a realignment of book-buyers is worth a look.

Counterintuitive epiphany

As Margaret Prosser put it, Gordon Brown's problem is, at least partly, that he is "not a sunbeam."

Interestingly, it seems that the problems that The Reverend Doctor Paisley had this year were partly down to the fact that he IS a sunbeam.

I met him once in Brussels and - surprising as this sounds - he was quite witty, and he was instantly and slightly infectiously likeable to everyone around him.

Paul McCartney once phoned me up by accident as well once. I shit you not....

Unsustainable local media

No time at the moment to make much of this, but here's a notepad to work from:
  1. Local radio is crap
  2. Ad revenue is falling for local media
  3. The BBC is squeezing local media (and given the lack of investment from local media outlets, can the BEEB be blamed for bridging this market failure?)
  4. Local radio stations are being hit by the increased level of regulatory oversight - can they afford the fines that national media shrugs off?
  5. Journalists value national exposure and aren't interested in even writing up local stories for local audiences
  6. Regional news on TV is underfunded
  7. ITV is even prepared to abandon it's privileged status as a public service broadcaster because it's PSB obligations (local news included) are perceived to be too expensive.
  8. Local journalists being squeezed and further disintermediated by a fatal combination of big media and local bloggers.
'Parochial' is a dirty word. Local issues go unrecorded and unexamined. It seems that almost no-one wants to be a local journalist.

Does this combination of circumstances fatally undermine all other projects that are intended to improve the quality of democracy?


One of the enduring traits of Irish Republicanism is a long memory where turncoats are concerned.

Here we have the Broy Harriers redux.

Democracy and world government

A good round-up here.

It is amazing to me that anyone would be paid to write about democracy without having read a first-year undergraduate primer on the subject. You know, a basic round-up.

If you're feeling generous, it's £5.49 + p&p. Annoyingly, he doesn't publish his address here, but I'm sure if you send it to The Guardian, they'll forward it.