Sunday, August 31, 2008

Another meme

Bob Piper has tagged me with this: What was I doing when I heard about....

1. Princes Diana's death: At home, in my old flat watching 'Reds' on TV. It was quite a late showing, and when it finished (about 1am?), there was a newsflash saying that she'd been involved in a serious accident. The way they reported it made it sound like they thought it was fatal but it hadn't been confirmed.

2. Margaret Thatcher's Resignation: I can't remember which order now - maybe it was her actual resignation that I heard about on the tube - the tube driver announced it and it was one of those rare moments of eye-contact with everyone on the Underground. Everyone was very happy about it. But one of the final stages, when it was all getting inevitable, I was on the phone to Sarah Baxter (the Political Editor at the New Statesman & Society - I worked there at the time selling adverts) and she was at the House of Commons giving me a running commentary - she got all excited and had to hang up to go and get the details.

3. Attack on the Twin Towers - September 11th 2001: I was at the TUC congress in Brighton and it was on all of the TV screens in the exhibition area. Everyone was milling around just after the first plane hit the building, and I was watching he screens as the second one hit (as was everyone else). It was a weird moment (understatement of the year?). A few things stood out for me. Firstly, my massive underestimation of the consequences. Being a pathological optimist, it actually occurred to me that it may be possible to rescue the passengers on the plane and that hopefully, very few people were in the parts of the building that the planes had hit.

Remember, when the first plane had hit, there was a widespread uncertainty about why it had happened - was it a freak disaster? It took the second crash to absolutely confirm that this was design rather than accident. Big events bring out odd things in people (or they do in me, anyway). I couldn't accept that I'd watched thousands of people being killed - I was treating it like any big event that everyone was talking about. Others there that day were really weeping - but they were in the minority. I remember a lot of people's reaction was amused fascination.

The other significant thing: Tony Blair was due to address the TUC a few hours later. His office had already briefed that - because he was already in Brighton - that he'd make a short appearance, but only to say that his planned speech would not be appropriate and that he was going back to London forthwith. Knowing he was going to speak, and - by then - knowing that it was a deliberate attack, I made a hasty calculation: If there was any building that was likely to be subject to a similar attack in England, it was going to be the one that the PM was giving a pre-advertised speech at.

So I watched his one-minute speech from a pub up in The Lanes. It really took a day or so for the whole thing to sink in - the collapse of the buildings helped, I suppose....

4: England's World Cup Semi-Final v Germany 1990: In a pub on Liverpool Road with Paul Anderson I think? At times like this, he pretends to be Scottish. I've never shared the big interest in Internationals, I share Chris' ambivalence (and I agree with his reasoning) on the subject.

Correction: Gah! It was the Euro 96 that I watched in Islington with Paul (Psycho in excellsis). I probably watched the 1990 game in a pub in Battersea, and I vaguely remember being completely smashed before kick-off.

It was our Psycho who missed the penalty though, so I would have been very upset. My calculus on international games is that I offer a fairly even support to all of the British Isles sides, but any Forest connection can turn me into a screaming patriot for whoever the side is. In 1978, Ally's Army had Archie Gemmill, John Robertson and Kenny Burns in it. (I thought that John McGovern went as well, but I'm told otherwise).

5: President Kennedy's Assassination - 22nd November 1963: I had been thought of, but wasn't born at the time. Mischievous relatives have speculated that I'm probably properly half-Irish having been conceived on the ferry in late summer of '63.

To pass it on? OK. Paul can contradict me about number 4 (above) if I've not remembered it correctly. Terry, Peter, Adrian and Steve can do it if they want to?


.... here. Image bookmarking site - worth a look.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Secular sermon

I often find that the most interesting discussions of the whole notion of liberty arise when the there are conflicting understandings of what liberties are. Northern Ireland's various parades, for example. And moreso when you get onto the less clear-cut issues of Northern Ireland FC, GAA identities, or the status of Northern Ireland's official flag.

It's much more interesting than the whole 'is the Union flag a BNP symbol' question that came up all of those years ago when Morrissey waved one about in Finsbury Park.

Brian Walker is really worth a read here on this subject:
"Max Weber’s definition of the State applies: it is the monopoly provider of legitimate force. In fact, we are getting there (probably) but have not yet arrived, in terms of consent and in fact on the ground. This will be a remarkable achievement ( and it will be accomplished, I believe). It will serve as a rare example of the political class leading opinion."

... and...
"... what NI needs is .... a sense of common purpose, a developing sense of a shared future. In falling turn-outs at elections and in Life and Times surveys there are some signs that some of the public are wearying of the old disputes.While taking care to protect new-found and long overdue rights and freedoms, we should surely do all we can to encourage this trend."

But do read the whole thing.

Missed the 15th this year :-(

I'm off to Ireland shortly, on the annual pilgrimage that we have in our family instead of a holiday.

This year, events have conspired to keep me out of County Mayo on the days surrounding the 15th of August - usually, and consistently, the best part of the year for me. The 15th is The Feast of the Assumption - the 'Lá an Logha' (pron: lawn laower) and is a big fairday in Belmullet.

The town is blocked off and packed in a way that I somehow doubt would be legal in the UK. It teems with kids running around with the water pistols and pellet guns (again, illegal, even in Ireland) that are sold at the fair.

Every pub is packed, spilling out on to the crowded streets and a couple of them have live music from the Comhaltas-Nashville continuum. It's one of those days that shows how the body can cope with more booze if you're in the right move.

Like everyone else, I suspect, I have a usual limit that determines when I get uselessly drunk / destined for an unbearable hangover. For some reason, on the 15th, that limit doubles.

At around the same time, Geesala festival is going on, with the day of horse-racing on the beach at Doolough. Doolough races happens every day in heaven.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sandi Sheldon

From Ian Levine's YouTube page:

If the honours system was a sensible thing, it'd be Sir Ian Levine. Ian, and people like Ady Croasdell have spent years trawling through out catalogues, tracking down tunes - for you.

Don't hold your breath

More on this business about class and sports, here is Freemania on the way that Britain's Olympics successes make the case for public investment.

Being a relentlessly positive son-of-a-bitch, I've really not wanted to piss on the collective sense of self-satisfaction that we're having at the moment, in third place in the medals table, but it has occured to me that most of the sports we seem to have done well in are ones that involve privileged access to equipment, and that it's not GBR that is doing so well as much as posh people within GBR.

Freemania is kinder to Boris Johnson that I could be. But at least he quotes him saying...

"Imagine if we stamped out the last vestige of the politically correct nonsense that for so long dominated the educational establishment, and militated against competitive sport, and its indispensable concepts of winning and losing."

This is the sort of parallel universe that Tory columnists (and he's not a Mayor yet in any real sense of the word) live in. One in which the poor prole serfs are oppressed by social workers and do-gooders, and not by a conspiracy of over-privileged inbreeds and useless bureaucrats. One in which they've had their competitive instincts forever quenched by bossy harridans.

Misdirection, that's what it is.

Kevin Harris here touches on one kind of investment that is needed, but that's not really enough, is it? A powerful sporting presence is not just the product of access to equipment. It isn't just a zeitgeisty thing that arises from a competitive ethos. It's about social capital. It's about a high level of civic involvement.

Living in a London suburb, I wouldn't take my kids to the local park looking for a game of football (or anything else) to get them involved in because it would involve a long walk through a traffic rat-run to a big empty unloved green space. GBR's Olympic success underlines the importance of social capital. Posh people have it in spades, and it's the product of a conscious - if carefully ringfenced - collective effort.

Maybe this is the sort of delusion that we lefties have, but I think that this has got worse (for the non-posh) as a result of the increased privatisation of public life.

This is what Boris needs to reverse. See these blue blokes down there? They're the one who have been holding their breath waiting for this to happen...

Monday, August 18, 2008

More ragtime

Looking around for the next thing to try learning, I love these Scott Joplin arrangements for guitar. Nice and whimsical.

... and this is one that I half-learned years ago from someone that I lost touch with. I've wanted to know the name of it so that I could get the sheet music. Found it today on YouTube. This is the Reverend Gary Davis:

Funny bastard

O'Leary: Telling everyone to fuck off, endlessly.

Michael O'Leary really is a pain in the arse, isn't he? Treats his workers badly, is very combative towards anyone who tries to regulate his business activities on the flimsy grounds that they've been elected, and so on.

But ..... but ..... he's quite something, isn't he? This interview is a combination of 'annoying' and 'compelling.' There's probably a better word, but I can't think of it at the moment. He's almost Cloughesque if that weren't an insult to memory of a great socialist.

His sheer contempt for his adversaries is always very entertaining. This, for instance, is a minor example, but it shows the lengths he will go to:
2004: Buys taxi plates for car to make use of Dublin's bus lanes.

(h/t Brian at Slugger)

Five things that are linked....

.... but probably only in my head? All of them class-related.

Here Shuggy talks about the link between piety, environmentalism and sufferers from Posh People's Disease (PPD).

I had a post a while ago asking if modern liberal democracies (or more specifically, the vicarious British chattering classes) were demanding a more clerical type of representation.

I'm against this, for reasons that I don't think I've fully formed in my own head yet, but Shuggy is getting me nearer to the answer.

And then, reading a very good instructive post by FMoaK a few weeks ago about the class roots of Rugby League may get me even nearer.

I'm nearly finished reading a very very good book by Gary Imlach at the moment about his father - a professional footballer at the tail-end of the old feudal maximum wage / retain-and-transfer system.

So there is a Nottingham Forest link there as well. That should help.

And finally, the question of nepotism in the media and the arts. There should be a fantastically written call to arms on this subject somewhere - something that identifies this - alongside FMoaK's other obsession, the need for a wide provision of good adult education - as the cause that should unite all good people.

I've not written it yet, and it's probably arrogance on my part to believe that I will be able to.

But you know what I mean, don't you? Or do you?

Clone Wars. How did this happen?

Here’s Will Davies thinking aloud about how mobile phone companies ...

“...look set to be the oil companies of the twenty-first century: vast, arrogant, lumbering businesses, that make money without even trying, and colonise virgin territories without much permission. Long before the Jont Orange horrors, there was the sickening O2 Wireless Festival (featuring a VIP platform, open only to O2 customers) and the invented Vodafone Live Music Awards, whose main award appears to be 'Best Live Return', thereby offering centre stage to some Richard Ashcroft tribute act known as The Verve.”

In a similar (though less informed and conclusive) way, I spent a while in a darkened room this afternoon, trying to make sense of a whole cornucopia of phenomena, sparked off by the latest in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, ‘Clone Wars’. I had to take my son and a couple of his mates, and it being a PG, I had to sit through it myself.

A quick pre-trip glance at Wikipedia shows the relationship between existing video games and the planned TV series spin-off. But it still leaves a few unanswered questions for me.

It’s very disappointing as an instalment in the Star Wars franchise (though the boys liked it well enough). I didn’t particularly care for it, and poor reviews suggest that it doesn’t have the broad appeal of its predecessors. Bad reviews don’t always = box office failure of course, but the Star Wars brand is a big valuable one, and they must worry about how opinion-formers can damage it in the long run.

There must be a reward to compensate for this risk? I’m sure that there is a half-decent book in print somewhere that pulls together an explanation for this, but here as some questions I have in lieu of reading it.

  1. Will Star Wars make absolutely tons of money by getting a film out – any film – at the moment? Are we in a short-term ‘window’? Or do the studios think we may be in a short term window and are they prepared to put a certain amount of chips on this square? By this, I mean, did they say “we can’t assemble the cast or do the production on a new non-animated Star Wars film in time for summer 2008, so we will make do with an animated substitution”? I don’t completely buy the ‘we were going to make an animated TV Star Wars serial and we kinda decided to make a film as well on the spur of the moment’ explanation.
  2. If so, is this because the knock-on sales of videogames (Nintendo / Playstation / X-Box etc) and other promotional activities are so huge at the moment that the studios can’t afford not to have something out? And if this is the case, has this reward become more pronounced in a fairly short time? Was it the case that – in 2005 (say) they didn’t regard a summer 2008 release (of any standard) to be essential, but now they do? And if so, just how has this changed?
  3. Again, related. The film is nearly all animation, and that that isn’t is CGI that is made up to look like animation. Now, my very limited knowledge of this tells me that the two are more and more indistinct these days anyway, but is it the case that advances in video-gaming technology means that it is now a lot cheaper to produce something like this at low-ish cost?
  4. Another question: Artists rights. There are animated characters that are very clearly based upon the Star Wars actors. Some more recognisably than others. How do the rights work? Ewan MacGregor is fairly recognisable, Samuel L Jackson is moreso, and he was even prepared to do the voiceover (as was Christopher Lee). Other characters are less firmly based upon the actors. Was this all done by negotiation? Did Ewan hold out for more and make ‘looks exactly like Ewan’ the high-paying option with ‘could be Ewan, but there’s quite a lot of differences really’ (the final outcome) as one that he got paid less for. Or does he get paid at all? And what happens if you’re dead and they base an animated character on you? (This hasn’t happened here, but they could have done an Alex Guinness avatar, for example).

As I said, thinking aloud rather than anything else....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ronnie Drew

Very sad news. The most unmistakeable voice in Irish music is no more. Not only distinctive, but a hugely original individual by all accounts.

Here's a link to a YouTube of him from the 1960s doing 'The Old Alarm Clock'

Here he is doing Dominic Behan's rebel song (in the real sense of the term), McAlpine's Fusiliers.

And here's Patrick Kavanagh's Raglan Road:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Found in translation

(ta Ben, again).

Dunleavy on changes to the party system

Just catching up, further to the posts earlier this month on political parties, I found this paper by Patrick Dunleavy subsequently and should have pointed to it at the time. It's a fairly uncontroversial run-through from what I can see, but worth looking at all the same.

Ragtime, bluegrass and roots

I've just been looking around YouTube for some nice examples of ragtime guitar. Here's how sweet guitar playing can be. A Scott Joplin rag transposed.

And another nice short rag by a masked man:

On a different subject, here's Steve Earle and the Del McCoury band reviving the old time single mic recording. Mix? Sod that, bring it up in the mix by standing closer!

And finally, bringing it all back home, Steve Earle again with Galway Girl

Clairvoyant blogging

How does she do it?

Just so that you'll know

Little Atoms is now available through i-Tunes, so you never need to miss it.

And anyone who wants the really good stuff can 'subscribe to all.'

Also, Bobblebrook is quite addictive. Have a look. (ta Ben)

Friday, August 15, 2008

When apples still grow in November

Mick on the future of nationalism in Ireland. Very comprehensive, nothing that isn't very obvious really, when you think about it, but something that appears to have eluded the green part of Northern Ireland's political class for a long time.
"If the limit of Sinn Féin's ambition ..... is to simply to be the bigger fish in the smaller of two Northern Irish ponds, then adopting a Millwall-like "Everybody hates us and we don't care" attitude, may be sufficient to get its short term troubles over policing and justice and assorted other "house-keeping" matters pertaining to the past.

Yet it will not take nationalism over the win line on the one issue that apparently matters most. For that they will need willing Protestant votes from willing Protestant people. But, as Bertie Ahern argued towards end of his term as Taoiseach, that requires the willing civilisation of what remains a profoundly uncivil space..."

It begs the very real question: What, exactly, motivates politicians in Northern Ireland? And is - as Peadar Kearney's lament implies - Irish nationalism partly dependent upon long term failure for its survival?

Captchas into text


Not forgotten

Here's a question: Are there any TV shows that you loved that everyone else has forgotten about?

I loved Private Schultz - from 1981. I've never heard of it since but always hoped they'd repeat it.

Have you got any?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The public - picking good politicians?

Two more social bookmarks. Firstly, Daniel Finkelstein: The voters always get it right. Cue a learned debate.

Exhibit A: The final Tory government of the 1951-64 period. Had Harold Wilson been able to call in the cops to deal with the outgoing Tories for what amounted to criminal incompetence without triggering a crippling flight of capital and a premature sterling crisis, he would have done so. The 1959 voters got it pretty badly wrong.

Exhibit B: The 1992 election. Even the Tories thought the voters had rather dropped them in it then. To elect a devided party was one thing. To elect a devided party with a stupid eurosceptic rump was another. To do so allowing the UUP to to dictate terms was about as far from government in the national interest as we've had since 1959-64.

Secondly, Pootergeek e-mails me this: How satirical TV shows impact upon political fundraising.

There is something about the way that comedians create the zeitgeist that damages governments (the Tories in the mid-90s were quite literally an unelectable joke) but the way that it would affect a political model that relied upon individual fundraising is quite another thing.

At the moment, it seems to give an advantage to a liberal-elites demographic, though there is doubtless a right-populist alternative in the post already. I'm not sure what I think about the candidate that can build their success on an appeal to that emotional response in the tiny proportion of voters that will fund the whole shooting match. Worth pondering though.

It raises further questions about the desireability of the Obama model of political organisation (smaller donations, lots of donors) that I touched on here a few weeks ago. Is this a process that is more likely to lead to good policymaking than our current model?

All roads lead there

Olly is backing Seamus.

And here's a good commentary on the Tories interest in 'Nudge'.

Worst EU Lobbying Awards


After Brown?

Just a few pointers elsewhere: Snowflake 5 does the figures on any leadership challenge.
  • Alan Johnson - not as popular with the Unions or CLPs as you'd think.
  • John Cruddas - not as popular with the PLP or the CLPs as you'd think.
The Labour coalition isn't really very sure what it wants if it doesn't want Brown. As Mike Smithson points out, the voters may not be very interested in any Labour tickets either. And a few days ago, he asked 'Will Milliband be Labour's Nick Clegg?'


I've been looking for a good guide to the non-league pyramid for ages.

If my local team can win every game for the next eight seasons, they'll be playing Forest in the Premiership.

(Update: Should have looked at Wikipedia as well).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wholly humble heart

It's raining so hard here it's set off a car alarm in the street. Funny - when it went off, the rain immediately subsided. It cleared up like a robber would clear off at the shrieking sound.

Rain always puts me in a Daintees mood. Dunno where this vid came from, but it's a fine song, innit? That's Virginia Astley singing, y'know?

Workplace democracy

Here's Fatman with two very good posts about management. The conclusion of the second one calls Labour's commitment to social democracy into question.

Tomorrow, he will question the Pope's commitment to promoting rubber johnnies.

Michaela Breeze

I hope that someone posts a YouTube of Michaela Breeze's performance soon.

Pure courage. (And I suspect that her coach could have regretted slapping her as well....)

You think that YOU'VE got it bad?

There's usually someone who is having a worse time than you.

(ta Joanne)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Inconsequential blogging

This post is a social bookmark more than anything else. It's to point to two more items on the question:

"Should politicians blog?"

Mick linked to Italo Calvino's unfinished six memos with a brief comment here a while ago. (BTW, do read that article about Calvino - it's worth it).

And a Lib Dem WAM, Peter Black, (his own site proclaims that his is 'The longest running blog by an elected Liberal Democrat politician') has a good evangelistic article here.

This line is particularly striking (referring to an old article about blogging WAMs):

" total 12 AMs keep a blog, the other 48 are fairly sceptical about the concept. Alas in the seventeen months since the article was written the dozen has dwindled to six, whilst I am aware of only four Welsh MPs who blog and one of those has not posted for nearly a year. What Ciaran's article reveals is an anti-blogging trend amongst some politicians, who view the medium with suspicion and would rather it went away:"

I'm not sure that I'd agree with his conclusion there. I'm with Mick on his 'not all of them should do it' line as it happens - as I said here a while ago (summary; there are some politicians that have the inner blogger, but it's not an essential - or even always a good - trait for an elected representative). Perhaps Peter's colleagues are simply behaving rationally?

It is one area where a lot of politicians would be well advised to cast themselves in the role of a jurist. Watch and listen intently, then go and reach their own conclusions. After all, politicians have to answer for the consequences in the long run - long after a feud in a comments thread is forgotten.

It adds a dimension to the word 'inconsequential'. Blogging - as a way of presenting arguments or deliberating on them - is quite literally inconsequential (or inconsequential in any direct way).

The parliamentary process is very different. For one thing, it isn't inconsequential. I suspect that a lot of us would like to write a post, and defend it in our comments thread so perfectly that a Prime Minister would one day swing by and say...
"I believe that I can speak for a majority in Parliament in saying that the conclusions drawn in this post are so perfect that they can be cut-and-pasted directly into the statute book without any further amendment."

But - let's face it. It's never going to happen, is it?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Two days to go

Only two more days before the slight nagging sense of incompleteness that has been around since May evaporates.

My cousin is having his wedding reception at the Forest ground tomorrow as well, so it will be like the last couple of tedious months had never happened.

Nothing now can stop us.


A few months ago, (early Jan, to be precise) I found out - quite by accident - that I own shares in a publicly-traded company. It turns out that I didn't open any of the letters from Standard Life when they demutualised. I have a pension scheme with them that I was enrolled in against my better judgement a long time ago, and now I own a few hundred shares in the company.

I've never watched share-values before, but since this discovery, I've been keeping an eye on them, and the effect that they've been having on me goes somewhat beyond the fluctuations in their value. None of this was expected or wished for. It's an intrusion.

Prior to this, my moods had their own tracker-index - technology. For some reason, whenever the low cards were being dealt to me in other parts of my life, my PC / PDA / websites went through a rocky period. A virus got through, an expensive piece of kit (one whose purchase was opposed by the wife, and the warranty was waived to keep the price down) packed up. This always happened at the same time as a big business-project that I'd been working on collapsed spectacularly and embarrassingly.

So the month that I had to spend all day explaining why I wasn't going to deliver on the grandiose personal commitments that I'd made to customers (all of them deserving types, naturally), I also had to spend all night using the old Windows 3.11 PC (dug out of the attic) to surf the support forums (over a dial-up, natch) looking for answers on motherboard / soundcard / OS / router incompatibilities on the shiny new XP box.

You know the sort of thing. The coincidence was so uncanny that it made me adopt all of those biases that economists warn you against. Biases of the post hoc ergo propter hoc variety. And it's made me over-invest in computer hardware. Now, I don't only think... "must be careful not to lose those files and contacts", it's also "must make sure that I don't get all depressed." There's a lot more riding on it than my PC.

But I digress. Since I got the shares, all of my technology has been working fine. Everything I buy installs perfectly and doesn't slow anything else down. But I still have those offline ups-and-down like anyone else does. And now they track - almost perfectly, the list price of Standard Life. My shares add up to about £1,000 on a good day, but there have been plenty of not-so-good ones. The little widget on my screen is green on days that I've got loads done, and red on days that dreams have turned to ashes.

But simply watching the dynamics of how they go up and down - and me wondering what makes them change - has been fascinating. I want to learn more, without actually buying any shares myself.

Has anyone seen a good web-based share-dealing game that mimics the market? I'm going to try this one unless someone tells me there's a better option. One where you can start off with - say - a 1000 points - and muck around with them? I reckon it would be very instructive. From what I can see, it lets you compete against people who you know, so if anyone is interested - let me know?

Getting rid of Gordon

... is not actually going to be that easy. The early-1990s rule changes saw to that, but I'd forgotten the exact details. Paul hasn't.

There was a time when it was worth understanding the party's standing orders. Every now and then, a politial anorak could pull the odd stroke and upset a few carelessly-laid plans.

These days, it's simple. If the party leadership don't want you to do it, you can't. Reading the rules is, under these circumstances, fairly pointless.

The Virtual Stoa covered this here a few days ago:
"One of the reasons quite so much happens in smoke-filled rooms, unattributable briefings, behind-the-scenes shenanigans these days is that the Party rules make it quite so difficult to mount a formal leadership challenge to an incumbent Prime Minister. When the leadership is obviously hopeless, therefore, backstairs channels are often the only ones available. I’ve just been re-reading Machiavelli’s Discourses, and one of the points he makes very early on is that you want your political institutions to be such that formal public challenges to authority are very easy, precisely in order to discourage what he calls calunnia, “calumnies”, or doing everything in semi-private unattributable ways through insinuation and rumour.

Both parties (sorry Lib Dems, you still don’t count) have tightened up their rules over the last fifteen years or so, in order to make challenges to the leadership harder, but the not-especially-unpredictable result of all of this is that we’re likely to get more rather than fewer episodes like Duncan Smith (2003), Blair (2006-7) and Brown (2008) over time than we would otherwise, and it’s at these moments that party democracy gets sidelined in favour of the demi-semi-public machinations of political elites."

Tune in

Julie Burchill is on Little Atoms tonight, in case you don't know.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Julie Burchill was on BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday. She was asked if she had ever been a hypocrite. She replied (words to the effect) "No. I've done lots of bad things but I've always boasted about them afterwards."

On that tenuous link, here's Mick reviewing Ferdinand Mount reviewing David Runciman on political hypocrisy.

Labour and tax

Snowflake5 on Labour's tax record.

Two from PR Watch

Bought and paid for: One in five US Chief Marketing Officers "...say their organisations have bought advertising in return for a news story."

'Scheduled departure': "...a happy face on what have been really brutal actions."

Campaign finance

$8.32 needed. Just re-reading though, I've seen this:

"Donations cannot be accepted from non-U.S. citizens."

(pointed to by Mat)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

More on Nudge

Tom has found another review of Nudge. I'd point directly to it, but Tom's commentary is worth looking at.


More Than Mind Games has moved, apparently. It's now here. A good excuse to go and have a look for any Cloughie updates.

(Refound by one of Laban's commenters. Ta for that).

Moral experts

Philosophers as moral experts:
"We thus have a place for philosophers as advisers of individual clients. But I would stress their role as theorists even more, in which they would advise legislators on what the public policy should be on such things as abortion law, the use of extraordinary medical measures to prolong the lives of deformed babies or the terminally ill, etc. It is outrageous that national commissions on “ethics” and “morality” often consist mostly of unqualified laymen: physicians, priests, lawyers, etc., rather than professional philosophers (see Singer 1976)."

(h-t S&M)

The new school? Or the old one?

John over at Counago and Spaves has written up the kind of pop-economics books that you find in airport lounges. Being a bit busy at the moment, I've not paid as much attention as I could have done to all of this behavioural economics business.

This observation of John's is quite amusing:

"The most interesting finding from this experiment, however, was that when it was carried out amongst students, the most selfish behaviour, the behaviour regarded as most rational by classical economics, was exhibited by those students studying Economics. In other words, being taught to perceive the world through the goggles of classical economic theory, altered the way students conceptualized their relationship with other humans and with the world as a whole."

I'm surprised, though, that behavoural economics being seen as a new thing (it is being touted as a new thing, isn't it? That's the impression I'm getting....).

I remember - years ago - reading another pop-economics book (bought seconds before a train was leaving, as usual) - Paul Ormerod's 'Death of Economics' (which is widely reviewed on this link). I thought it was very good, by the way. Then (from memory - my copy was long-since loaned out) Ormerod made the point that econometrics were almost worthless from any practical point of view and that studying behaviour without forced templates was where it was all at.

I'd question one thing though. Behavioural Economics seems to offer something fairly interesting as far as I can see. Sure, some versions are better than others. I tried with Freakonomics and was irritated by about five things in the first five minutes reading it, so I put it down. But I'm only just getting into Nudge at the moment, and I've been dipping into Yes! a fair bit, and they both look quite good so far. Working out how to motivate people to do things is of interest to people other than ad agencies and marketeers, surely?

Monday, August 04, 2008

More on political parties

Further to the previous post about political parties, one of the reasons that these are interesting times for psephologists, is because the accelerating processes of political dealignment that have taken place over the past forty years.

It's a long time since I studied this now with footnotes, but my recollection of it is headings such as 'class dealignment' and 'partisan dealignment'. Ford workers in the late 1960s starting to say "We'll still vote Labour because we think they will stick up for us better than the others - but we're open to offers."

Previously, the link to class and other caste-esque issues was incredibly strong (some deferential Tory voting from churchgoing working class voters, Orange Scousers and Weegies, no third party to speak of, etc). I've shown some of this evidence to younger friends of mine and they almost refused to believe it, so much has voting patterns and loyalty changed in the intervening years.

Political parties could survive easily as long as there were a large number of people using those reflexive big-party decisions. Politicians knew that they could have a fair crack at running the country for a bit and they would be judged on whether or not they completely ballsed up.

The Tories in the 1950s got the formula just right. They managed to remain in government on a relative shoestring, and they only fell down in 1964 because it finally became in inescapable conclusion that Conservatism was naturally unfit to manage a modern state for any length of time. After over a decade of wrecking British industry and squandering privatisation revenues and North Sea Oil money on dole payments, we reached the same conclusion in the mid-1990s and will do so again if the current lot ever get a look-in.

It was always the case - as Stephen Tall remarks in the post that I commented on recently - that getting involved in a political party was a bit geeky. But now the geeks have to work harder, look more desperate, try to get involved in persuasive processes that are way way beyond their competence. They are not capable of swinging voters (they probably never were) but voters are more and more inclined to swing themselves - all over the place.

Getting involved in politics is - more than ever before - a way of being made to feel stupid an ineffectual. And - if you read the newspapers, tune in to TV and radio debates, or the blogosphere, you are also in a unique position, in that all of the evidence that you are being urged to take seriously is entirely misleading - and for the most part - irrelevant. Things are more unpredictable than ever before.

Things are different - but the logic remains the same. The least-worst form of government is the one in which representatives exercise all power, and those representatives are aggregated into parties so that people know what they're voting for. This is the only electoral settlement that delivers a tolerant and liberal society. It is the only one that even gives a toss for the question of equality - however you define it. It is the least corrupable, and most effectively rational form of government known to man. In the history of the world. Ever. The more we move away from this model, the worse government and society will get.

But, for all of this, political parties and politicians in general haven't really fought back at all. In the same way that a large slice of new Labour is losing patience with Gordon Brown for not coming up with a narrative, personally, I'm losing patience with politicians and their unwillingness to stand up for parliament. To acknowledge that they have undeserving and malignant rivals that want their powers.

The question is not that *only* 177,000 people still hold Labour Party membership cards. It is that you could fill Wembley Stadium twice over with Labour Party members and still have Bolton Wanderers average home crowd locked out - despite all of the near-universal anti-politics propaganda that we have to put up with.

It's not that *only* about 61% of the population voted in the last general elections - it is that over 27 million *did* vote, even though so much positive reinforcement was being offered to abstainers. So take you million-odd petition about road-pricing and fuck yourself with it, please?

And the lesson of this surprisingly good book is that the public mimic the people that they are described as. If you take the book's thesis, you could say that - in a country in which public debate has told us that....
  • there's no real difference between the parties
  • they're all in it for themselves
  • they're all greedy / dodgy
  • voting is a waste of time
  • we're more interested in Big Brother, innit?
... and so on, the fact that *anyone* voted at all is something of a miracle.

The processes of dealignment that really started in the late 1960s have accelerated rapidly over recent years - I'd give it close-to-top-billing in the explanation of why Labour can build up a 20-point deficit in the polls without there being that much evidence of them being a poor government (and none whatsoever that the Tories wouldn't bugger things up as they always have done).

But my main point is this: The fact that 61% turned out shows what is possible if politicians in general were to put up a bit of a fight on behalf of representative government.

I don't think that it is overstating the case to say that absolutely nobody is doing so at the moment, and this - not a decline of political parties, or an allegedly apathetic public is our problem.

Political parties - on the way out?

Stephen Tall - here - provides a summary of how UK political parties have declined, and asks if British voters would embrace the kind of almost spontaneous organisation that has characterised Barack Obama's party building.

Obama's model is that of a charismatic campaigner who is able to capture the imagination of a sizable percentage of the population in order to attract small-scale finance. Lots of donations that run between tens and hundreds of dollars rather than a smaller number of big donations from aggregates - single issue pressure groups or 'castes' of different kinds.

Personally, I doubt if Obama's organisational model is a desirable one from a democratic point of view. Sure - it helps him escape from pressure groups, though I'd still wonder if the still-tiny % of the population that are prepared to donate will expect one kind of politics, and the electorate will expect another? And how will our precious disillusioned-with-politics diddumses cope with yet another disappointment? How can the world be this cruel??!??

In Labour's case here, the Unions donate a substantial slice. But they also corporately want to win the election, and may be prepared to stay in for the long haul in a way that Obama's donors won't as soon as he has to make his first inelegant decision.

And Stephen Tall appends a further question: Are the British public too cynical for this kind of thing anyway?

In this, I think he has his diagnosis wrong. The public aren't cynical. They may appear so because there is a noisy fraction of the public that engage in the mass debate of radio phone-ins, political panel shows, letters to newspapers, blogging and blog-comments, etc.

As I was trying to say a while back on the subject of bloggertarians, it is a mistake to regard the noisy fraction of the public as either a sensible or worth-listening-to section of the population from a democratic point of view.

They won't give politicians a useful conversation to eavesdrop upon, and they won't provide anything like the kind of rationalising processes that could be plugged in to any policy-making system without making it very much worse than it is at the moment.

The most interesting aspect of David Davis' recent exercise is that it really didn't chime with the public in any way. Davis left Westminster - all lathered up, with Magna Carta in his knuckles and the furious rants of his favourite columnists ringing in his ear only to meet blank looks on the doorsteps of a Yorkshire Tory enclave.

The noticeable 'public debate' is only as relevant as the visible tip of the iceberg - and I think that Stephen Tall's conclusion is only based upon only what he can see. And while this perceptible tip is cynical, the iceberg is, I would suggest, simply just sceptical. They are, I believe, fairly detached and ironic in their decision-making. As the Nudge thesis explains quite well, I think, they make voting decisions based upon 'Automatic Systems' as opposed to the reflective ones.

I'm going to post something more in a bit about this 'automatic' decision-making that 'Nudge' identifies, and what it means for political parties. In summary, though, I think that political parties have been declared dead prematurely - and that no-one has come up with anything that we would prefer to them anyway. And - more importantly - they don't need to do very much to fight back - though it's hard to find anyone that is even prepared to do the fighting at the moment.

Sub judice

Norman Fowler says that politicians shouldn't use the private lives of their opponents against them in the way that they do. Fair enough.

If they wanted to, they could go further. They could recognise that a lot of allegations of impropriety (bribery, favouritism, etc) are wheeled out strategically. They should agree to park and refuse to comment on a story once it's been referred to an investigating authority. They could even see if the press could be coerced into doing the same.

All new allegations against the person concerned should be submitted in private. An informal version of sub judice. It would reduce the number of vexatious and petty allegations and it would help to improve the standing of politicians in the public's eyes.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Blogroll addition

Say hello to Clawsfour.

That's all.

Oh, Claws, if you see this, your blogroll has a distressing lack of Bob Piper about it. And no Labour & Capital either. And I'd get rid of that Southampton FC site as well if I were you?

And I think I'll nick your 'Obama Countdown' widget and reconfigure it so that it shows how many minutes there are between now and Forest playing Champions League football (roughly 750 days according to my calculations, but I'll tighten that up in a bit).

Application for funding

I've just decided that I want to go to Nottingham with my daughter on an impromptu visit, but I'm not looking forward to having to go all the way into London (at least 40mins) and then pay a fairly hefty train fare to do it.

I now have over 170 friends on Facebook (or 170 people who pretend to like me but secretly hate me, as I like think of it). Now, if you were to take just one degree of separation (I'm no mathematician, by the way) I suspect that there are at least people 10,000 who are friends of friends on Facebook.

At least one of them is probably driving between up the M1 from London with a couple of spare seats in their car in the next hour or so. If I could pay them, say £15 for the lift, it would be good for them and good for me. They would be able to contact our mutual friend and verify that I'm not unhygienic / psychopathic / boring ...

OK, my plan has a flaw. But let's just pretend that I'm none of the above for a minute.....

I could also check that - in return for my £15, I won't have to listen to The Scissor Sisters or The Rolling Stones on the car stereo. I could even have a set of ground-rules on my Facebook profile that would outline my preferences, and my driver could do the same.

I think that this plan could save the environment and earn me an OBE. Can I have a load of cash to develop it please?

Hobbling rivals with transparency

The BBC is being fined £400k for the unfair way that it has managed phone-ins. This is, as has been remarked, a fine on licence fee payers, and this just isn't fair.

So should the fine be taken out of the well-stuffed pay-packets of the people who made the mistakes? You can find out whether people object to the principle of public service broadcasting by their answers.

If it is ....
a) It should be a rule that all broadcasters personally fine naughty programme-makers. The BBC should apply this rule in the same way that other broadcasters should be obliged to...

Then you can reasonably say that this is not - objectively - an anti-PSB position.

If it is ....
b) The BBC is a public corporation so we should apply vengeful rules to it's employees but we should leave the BBC's private sector rivals to make their own decisions

... then you are essentially saying that anyone with any sense should stop working for the BBC and go to work for it's rivals because they will find quiet sneaky ways to difuse their fines. This postition is profoundly anti-PSB.

If you call for a level of transparency for one body, but not for it's rivals, you are doing so because you wish to hobble that organisation.

Is this not obvious?

Pressure groups: The basics

Like last week's show, today's Beyond Westminster is worth listening to. It's nothing more than a basic run through the most simple questions in politics - how should people be able to influence government and how should government respond to demands.

It really is very simple. Yet most political commentary that I read in the mainstream media ignores these fundamental observations.

Why does this happen? Why do you, readers, allow it to happen without any comment? Why don't I see those who wilfully over-simplify politics being massacred in comments threads everywhere?

Just asking....

Oh, there's a podcast of the programme you can subscribe to.

And, changing the subject, does anyone know why Internet Explorer is aborting halfway through loading this blog? I'd like to think that it is because capitalism regards me as a thermonuclear threat that needs to be silenced by whatever means necessary, but I suspect that it's just some dodgy script in my sidebar. I'm fine in Firefox, by the way....

Friday, August 01, 2008

Catalyst Records

Gary Bartz - JuJu Man
I know this probably makes me guilty or repetitive pluggage, but you really should - if you haven't already - subscribe to the fantastic Gilles Peterson podcast. The last-but-one is just staggering - a compilation from the short-lived Catalyst label (discography here).

Soul-jazz and fusion at it's finest - and personally, I was only dimly aware of a lot of it before hearing this show, but I'll be doing a whip-round here later to raise some funds for my trip to the second-hand bins.
The 'Gilles Peterson at the Movies' podcast from last April is also very good, as is the Medi one that he ran in March.
Go on - subscribe. You know it makes sense....

King Bees

I was talking to someone about David Bowie the other day. They had loads of his records, but were unaware of Love You Til Tuesday (the template for The Jam's Dreaming Of Mondays) or The London Boys.

Here is the latter now. Now I'm off to a meeting in Wardour Street.