Sunday, September 28, 2008

Overheard and reported

It's late, I'm in a hurry, but I thought I'd get this question out.

Ruth Kelly's leaked resignation - leaked it seems by a pissed bag-carrier at Labour Conference. Similarly, a few days earlier, David Milliband was overheard saying something that confirmed that he may be harbouring leadership ambitions, and it was gleefully reported as the day's big story.

Now, I've been to dozens of party conferences, and heard a fair few rumours and indiscretions. And maybe these ones here were more verifiable, but I do think that there has been a change up. In the past, hacks would have asked if they could use the stories, or would have tried to corroborate before using them.

Now, do they ask themselves this: If I don't run with this, a bloody blogger will?

Has this really changed?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A statue to put near the one of Cloughie in Nottingham

Jimmy Sirrel RIP. The 'Pies most successful manager.

Frabjous day!


Forest's season isn't getting off to (ahem) the best of starts. Still, there's some great news to chew on elsewhere. I'm not far from Dublin a-week-on-Thursday. I've always wanted to see Forest playing the Republic of Ireland.

The Great Schlep

Everyone apart from me (until now), it seems, has heard of Sarah Silverman.

Here she is.



The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

(hat tip: Faisal)

Conviction or gambit?

In a post about Downfall parodies, Justin has reminded me about the scene in the film where Magda Goebbels murders her six children.

I've watched that film probably half-a-dozen times on Film Four, and it's pretty grim throughout, but I always have to leave the room when that scene comes on. It's spectacularly horrible even in the context of the rest of it all, and I found that when I watched it the first time, I couldn't think of anything else for days afterwards. That, and the line Goebbels gives to one of the bunker's staff on his way out: "The game is up."

The thought that the whole thing could have been - at least in part - a gambit - is almost more chilling than the idea that a group of people could attempt to do what the Nazis did in the conviction that they would succeed.

Even thinking about it is like hearing 'Careless Whisper' on the radio - once it's in your head, there's almost nothing to can do to get it out.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Asymmetrical information? No information!

I meant to point to this ages ago, and it seems that I forgot (see point 4).
Good financial innovation ...... has been lacking because it’s very difficult for anyone to own its beneficial effects; it’s a public good. By contrast, the gains from “bad” financial innovation - overly complex mortgage derivatives - are more appropriable. So we get more of it.

The whole thing is worth a look.

Funny, today none of the banks look like they're prepared to lend to each other because none of them has a clue about how over-extended the others are. Or even how over-extended they are themselves.

More on how blogs aren't always a useful political tool

Sunny Hundal said this: A while ago, I said pretty-well the opposite here and followed it up a few months later here.

I do think that Sunny labours under a misapprehension about what 'winning the debate' is all about. Is it about being right among your peer group? I think that one of the most common misapprehensions around is that people believe that their political peer group is much much bigger than it is. I think such groups rarely number more than two or three people in reality.

The 'everyone agrees with me' fallacy.

Winning arguments? Nah. Only convincing yourself. There is the other sort of 'winning arguments' - appealing to your opponents fears, mustering forces that your they can't resist, and so on. This doesn't happen in blog comments boxes, and activists don't usually do it by 'winning arguments' or 'having a debate'. And if this is true, I can't see that Sunny has any points left.

Another thing: There are loads of Tory bloggers, all creating a cacophony. The moment that the Tories find themselves in trouble with the pollsters, these bloggers will become a liability. We, in the Labour Party once had a 'lively internal debate in which activists could Have Their Say. It was in the 1980s. I was there. It was absolutely fucking awful.

Labour does not need lefty bloggers to achieve what righty bloggers are achieving. Quite the opposite. There *is* a role for the left-blogosphere though. It's based upon an understanding of how political parties should organise themselves in the context of strong independent representatives.

Our role should be that we can provide a good, high-quality conversation that elected Labour representatives can eavesdrop upon. We don't have to involve the party in this or discuss it with them at all. It is, actually, what we are doing at the moment (when we aren't twatting on about the irrelevances of court politics).

And this - twatting on about court politics - is largely what Tory bloggers are doing - almost exclusively. Lefty-bloggers will do a better job than their opponents - as long as they don't heed siren calls to somehow imagine that a blog can be a useful activist tool.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why do people allow themselves to be called 'politicians' in the first place?

I've been meaning to post on this for a while, but I've not got round to it. So here is an abridged version to be going on with.

We commonly conflate the term 'elected representative' with 'politician'. So an MP, MEP, councillor, regional assembly member, cabinet minister and so on, are all politicians.

With me so far? OK.

Now, let me ask you this. Is this the problem? The world 'politician' is a bit like the word 'diplomat' innit? It's loaded. Diplomacy is about putting ticklish situations into a context in which they can result in agreement. It's about fixing things. Getting two or more parties with conflicting interests to accept a compromise without them every having to appear to have done so.

Diplomats necessarily have to do their business in private. They say different things to different people, oil certain wheels - and sometime grease certain palms. The term Chatham House Rule originates in the location of the 'Royal Institute for International Affairs.'


The word politician is similarly loaded. It carries lots of the elements that are also found in the word diplomat, though those elements are often cast in a less flattering light. The word politician carries an additional veneer of coercion, scheming, and underhandedness (if that is a word).

It's seen as being more nakedly, personally aspirational than a diplomat. You promote yourself, and not the interests of your Prince. Think 'office politics'. It's about manoeuvring and shafting opponents. Sometimes, the word 'politician' is taken to mean 'person who places short-term personal / partisan interests above those of the national interest.'

Now, is this highly loaded word a fair one to use about elected representatives? I've worked with a fair few of them, and the term in it's most unpleasant light would be a very mild one to use about, say, Margaret Hodge.

But someone like Stephen Timms, for example? I've never heard anyone suggest that he wouldn't give almost everyone a fair hearing, and offer them a kindly candid response to any issue that crossed his desk. Friends of mine who have had close-ish dealings with both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the past have surprisingly put Blair firmly in the two-faced-bastard-politician rank, and Gordon in the decent-geezer-in-the-flesh camp.

I'm told that the other parties have similar poles within them (London Labour is my personal backyard here).

Which brings me to my question: Should ... er .... politicians .... start to look at re-branding themselves in some way? Is there a need for an explicit debate, a draft 'code of conduct', some kind of collaborative 'reputation management' scheme where they get 360 degree appraisals from those around them?

Because some would not deserve the opprobrium that they routinely accept when they allow themselves to be cast as politicians.

And this raises yet another question. What sort of qualities do we want? I'm not convinced that people really do just want elected representatives to reflect their own views, as the evidence that Freemania pointed to suggested. I'd like to see more evidence before I believe that conclusion.

Most football fans will accept a side that can win dirty every now and then. Forest, in their glorious late '70s one-touch pomp won their first European Cup Final in a dour match against Malmo, and the second partly as a result of a concerted campaign to intimidate Kevin Keegan out of the game.

Did we moan? Did we fuck! So, making the easy translation from the stadium to the parliamentary chamber, do we want people who will win dirty on our behalf once we've voted for them?

Or do we want the people we elect to behave like clerics, jurors, bosses or well-briefed advocates?

I can't see how it can be made the subject of an entertaining bit of reality TV, but this is a question that needs to be put to the public properly. What do they want? Because at the moment, all I can see is a very edgy relationship in which the servants don't know what the masters expect of them - and they resort to odd dark arts to find out.

This seems to me to be a massive question, and I wonder if I'm a little bit bonkers to be asking it - because I can't think of anyone else who seems to be at all bothered about it.

The Debatabase

Seen this?

I is published in Eyetie

This is a first.

I'm going to ask Mick to do it out as Gaelige next. It's make my Mum proud.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This blogging business

A while ago, I posted a short personal notice here about a change in circumstances. I was going freelance and didn't know how it would affect my blogging.

I now have an answer to my question though. It's this:

"...more likely option. I get tons more work than I can do, and end up posting here as a displacement activity."
And how! I'm working my balls to peanuts at the moment. Going freelance - all of that organisation, bookkeeping and grief to do with setting up and understanding crappy rules about VAT and registering for this-that-and-t'other, sorting out mobile phone contracts, deciphering all of the various stealth-charging models that almost every service involves.

And I seem to be blogging more than ever. And do you like my new template? I spent two hours doing it last night when I should have been doing the book-keeping.

I'm seriously thinking of getting someone change my password and then telling them that they have to keep it secret until Xmas.

Oh, on the subject of stealth charging and stuff like that: Why doesn't someone start a campaign for some kind of regulatory regime on this? The amount of time and energy it takes to just keep your wits about you when you're getting a mobile phone ....

I'm too busy to do it myself, mind....

Whither the left: part 791

This probably comes under the 'restatement of core message' heading for this blog, but looking at Mike Killingnorth's whither the left post, I think that there is something of a problem with this way of addressing things.

Mike comes around to endorsing co-ops. Now I've worked in co-ops for a number of years. I helped to set one up was a director for five years before it all started to crumble. One thing I found to be almost non-existent was a debate about the scientific management of co-ops.

How is ownership distributed most effectively? How far is there a tension between 'fair' and 'effective'? How much control should ownership confer (an echo of the control by representatives v direct input into day-to-day policymaking argument that has turned into an obsession around these parts). How do you reward initiative? How do you strike the balance between being orderly and being competitive? And what about the unfraternal reality that sometimes, to survive, you have to shaft your rivals?

Brian Clough (pbuh) used to fill out his various biographies with entreaties to keep it simple. Football, he argued, was about getting the basics right. Don't obsess around the details of how you are going to take on a particular opponent. Just make sure that your players are familiar with the ball.

Make sure that you have the right configuration of players with particular characteristics. Make sure that they are happy. Don't bore people with flipcharts, videos and organograms, because every plan has to be revised upon first engagement with the enemy. Plans don't work. In short, get the basics right and keep it simple.

Before the co-op, I sold ads for a well-known lefty magazine. I used to go to the editorial meetings on a Monday morning, and it was like Groundhog Day each time. There was always a 'whither the left' feature in the pipeline, usually reacting to the shortcomings of the previous one. Each one had the usual suspects demanding the usual prescriptions. And because this was the standard fallback and filler for the title, no-one seemed prepared to state what now seems to me to be the bleedin' obvious: That we need to keep it simple.

Mike's co-op example is a case in point. Firstly, co-ops are just one form of collective action. Why endorse this particular model at all? Why can't we just endorse collective action? This is what distinguishes us from the right.

We, on the left, are in favour of collective action. The right are against it. Most of them are against it for entirely dishonest reasons - when they call themselves 'principled libertarians', you can usually see - beneath the surface - nothing more than a defence of hereditary wealth and ancient power-relations, combined with a determination to co-opt those who manage to naturally-select their way off the lower social tiers.

There is a minor disagreement on the left about how collective action should be directed. The older left tend towards the state, and the newer left (of which I hope I'm one) tend to prefer it to be organised in a much more dispersed and spontaneously directed way - with strong voluntary, local and regional structures that are capable of taking on and beating more central ones.

The beauty of this, of course, is that the left have always had this argument in their peripheral vision. We have won huge victories while no-one was looking - often with Tory governments in power. European social legislation has delivered many of organised Labour's demands - safer workplaces, a defence against discrimination (however imperfect it still may be) and so on. Bafflingly, this has often been done in the teeth of left-wing demands for EU disengagement. These are the result of the one unqualified victory that the left has unwittingly enjoyed: The triumph of post-war European representative democracy. All of those awful elites in Brussels have achieved more that the Labour Movement could ever have dreamed of.

Court politics - the Westminster Village - are not that important in all of this. The left can make it's biggest strides by having an open neutral debate on how best to promote collective action - and to act on the conclusions of that debate. For my own part, I think that the conclusion will be that we should only focus upon improving the quality of representative democracy and upon promoting decentralisation, bicameralism, a reassertion of elected officials over permanent ones, and so on. How these principles translate downwards will give the answers that anyone involved in a co-op, social enterprise, ethical business, and so on, will ever need.

Demanding particular socialistic structures is for the fairies. If anyone wants to go off and set up a co-operative, they are more than welcome. But they will find that they are working with people who have no opportunity to take part in a lively debate about collective action.

Co-ops can only really succeed if there is a consensus on this subject - and as far as I can see, the left hasn't even started talking about it properly yet. This is what the left is for. It is the only thing that the left is for.

You wouldn't think so though....

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I did not know this

Freedom of Information requests are sometimes freer with information than they should be.

Batchelor-catcher

In Nigeria, it seems they have a festival in which batchelors are ridiculed and bullied into getting married.

It sounds a bit like my extended family. Last weekend, I went to Sunday dinner in Dublin with a few third or fourth cousins (we take keeping in touch very serious in my clan). All but one of a huge family of siblings there is married.

The offending bachelor is in his 40s now, and - in his case - I'm pretty certain that there is no repressed gay subtext. Very far from it.

He spent the afternoon explaining how picky he is. It's just that he can't find a blonde woman with her own pub near to a racecourse, but when he does, she'll make him the happiest man alive. He says.

As we got more tipsy, we were talking about the women of our age that we grew up with (I spent a large part of my mid-teens in County Mayo). One got mixed reviews. She used to work in a chippy, and the smell of cooking oil was generally thought to be a minus-point for her with most of the brothers.

The bachelor was different.
"Some people would say that it was a very romantic aroma."

Cyprus Avenue

I'm in a bit of a Van Morrison mood at the moment. Today has been one of those good 'Days Like These' days so far (touch wood).

I went for a walk down Cyprus Avenue in Belfast last week.



It's worth writing songs about, if no-one has done already.





Totalitarianism

This is a very good post.

Pete does a lot of them, you know.

Pinched from Tim's comments

That declaration a few days ago is bringing more traffic here than I'm used to (hello everyone!).

Tim Ireland, in particular, knows how to send little armies off around the blogsophere. In this post linking here, there's a bit of discussion around plagiarism (it's bad, it seems), so it is with hesitation that I nick this from one of his commenters, one John Eatwell:
Reminds me of that John Kenneth Galbraith quote: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

And while we're on the subject, I'd take issue with B4L's endorsement of this:

On greed.... If unusually many airplanes crash during a given week, do you blame gravity? No. Greed, like gravity, is a constant. It can't explain why the number of crashes is higher than usual.

If you reward greed, and create channels in which people can exercise and perfect greedy behaviour, greed is liklely to be more prevalent and more effective at buggering up the lives of innocent onlookers.

Ask yourself this: Look at a Sunday newspaper. In it, you will find examples of reporters doing utterly disgusting things to people in order to get a story. Horrible things, done in public, in the knowledge that the punishment will be tiny compared to the reward.

If these people were not incentivised to do so, would they have published Kate McCann's diary without her permission, (or done any of the things that the Express group did to that unfortunate family) for example?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Time to listen and learn

spEak You're bRaines has been observing (scroll down...)

“I am registered blind and rely on accurate weather reports. I live in Stevenage, but it was not stated that it would rain today on any BBC weather forecast. So, I decided to put my washing out as it would be dry, only to return to my washing line hours later and find my clothes had been drenched. Thanks for ruining my wardrobe BBC.”


SYB's response is worth a look:

"Perhaps you should register as stupid instead. To be honest, I’m a little worried that you might just have had your balaclava on back to front all these years."

But the whole post is worth reading. Off you go!

The 'Everyone Agrees With Me' fallacy

Here's Freemania, taking liberties on my manor.

Worth a look though...
"I’d expect a very strong correlation between thinking one’s own views are in the majority and wanting government to follow public opinion."

And mainly for purposes of my own indexing, I said a similar thing to Tom in a slightly different way here a while ago.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What should the left do now?

I was going to post something on this subject here, but I've said it in the comments box over there instead.

A declaration - draft 1

If Ronald Reagan were still alive, there would be plenty of interviewers that would like to ask him if he still thinks that....
"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
And, up to $700 billion later, reading this and this, I thought it would be asking you - my readers - to help me compose a certificate that could be sent out to every Thatcherite and right-wing libertarian that you have contact details for.

I'd like to write it up in a nice font, give it a pretty border, and turn it into a pdf that can be printed off, signed and framed, and hung over a well-appointed desk as an acknowledgement of recent developments.

The wording I've got is as follows - let me know what you think?
An Acknowledgement: Draft 0.9

For much of the past thirty years, there has been a consensus that deregulated capitalism provides a just moral framework. One that promotes fairness, efficiency and social progress.

I have been a vocal supporter of this position. I have opposed improvements to welfare safety-nets on the grounds that they would interfere with the workings of the markets. I have advocated a 'meritocracy' in which we all enjoy the rewards of our enterprise and take the consequences of our mistakes.

For decades, I have stood by while millions of people who were not born with my material advantages have been forced to bend over and take it like a man while I have continued to enjoy the fruits of my advantaged start in life. I have always argued that poverty is, at least in part, the consequence of irresponsibility and poor judgement, and that to relieve that poverty would be to reward these shortcomings.


I have always reassured myself that the iron laws of the market show that there is no fairer way of organising human relations.

Furthermore, I have argued that taxation is, somehow, almost a form of theft, and that no situation is so bad that it isn't made worse by government intervention.

I am now happy to concede that the leading lights of modern capitalism are the more deserving of the label 'thieving bastards' than anyone else alive. In a month in which people such as myself have received the kind of bail-out that I have refused to countenance for others who are less advantaged than ourselves, I am now willing to concede that I am - and have for a long time been - a worthless cheating parasite of the highest order.

If the families of the unemployed have suffered terribly over the years for their relatively minor lack of responsibility or good judgement, then in a fair world, I would be spending the next couple of decades up to my eyeballs in raw sewage for the wanton irresponsibility and stupidity that I have long advocated.


If I had even an ounce of honour, I would retire to my study with a generic bottle of blended scotch and a revolver in order to relieve those around me of the burden of having to gaze upon my hypocritical countenance for a moment longer.

But failing that, I now, at least, have the decency to acknowledge that a generous universal safety net funded out a general taxation would be a minimal concession to make given the huge bailout that democratic governments have handed to the leading institutions of capitalism.

Furthermore, I am now prepared to accept that the kind of market liberalism that I have advocated for many years is entirely impractical in a modern democracy - and that effective liberal democracy is that only thing that stopped the entire population of my country, and it's neighbours, from suffering the consequences of my long-standing stupidity, greed and dishonesty. I now concede that elected governments, and not larcenous shitheads such as myself, should drive public policy for the foreseeable future.

Signed: ...............................................

Name: .............................................. (block capitals please)

Date: ...............................................


Whaddaya think? Does it go far enough? Or should I make it a bit more penitent? And let me know (Shuggy) if there are any shortcomings in the grammar and punctuation and stuff? I've probably overdone the split infinitives and that.

(Cross-posted at The Trots)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Word to the wise

Oh, and another thing: Mick Flannery - Tomorrow's Paper - worth a listen.

Buy it here.

More eponymous?

Songs, that is. I can only think of ....
  • Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath
  • Madness by Madness
  • Living in a Box by Living in a Box
I'm sure there are more though?

Update: Silly me. Should have used one of those new fangled search engines before posting. I'd have found this. The comments make the nearly point with recent NTaH YouTube featured Stray Cat Strut. And, how could I forget Mr Blobby by Mr Blobby? Gah!

A reply to my dad

Nearly thirty years ago, when I told my dad that I'd quite decided that I was a Communist, he told me that 'it's a nice idea in theory, but it'll never work in practice son. Look at Russia...'

Capitalism. It's a nice idea in theory, but it'll never work in practice. Look at Russia.

(notices via the Democratic Society blog)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Labour - the party of over-reaction

I noticed this a while ago. John Cruddas’ reaction to Labour’s current trials is all of a piece with the way that Labour has developed over the years. For all the talk of a progressive party with a crusade of one kind or another, Labour’s curse has always that it has been shaped only by negative reactions to perceived prior failings.

Take ‘The Third Way’. Anthony Giddens, John Rentoul and Phillip Gould have, with varying degrees of success, tried to nail the term down. But as sympathetic chroniclers, they all ignored the plainest truth about the post 1997 government: It was almost entirely shaped by an over-reaction to previous defeats.

Its attitude to the Unions – fairness, not favours – was shaped by a perception that ‘producer interest’ was a brush that serious voters took seriously. They worried about the question: “How can a government frame good policies on the part of the country as a whole if it’s in hock to vested interests?” More crucially, it was shaped by a perceived need to recruit powerful allies for whom union militancy was a non-starter.

Instead of using the space that a huge majority created to move the unions to another place in which a notion of service was agreed, New Labour simply sought to sit on them while throwing them juicy fish in the shape of public spending hikes and the Union Modernisation Fund.

The Unions could have been Labour’s sounding board. Instead, they became another pressure group to be managed – like all of the others.

Its approach to policymaking and governance – it’s managerialism – again was shaped by a need to manage risk without upsetting noisy interests. To square opponents within a big tent. This needed a dissolution of a viable political class and its replacement with a well-organised and entirely victorious cadre of management consultants. The result has been a frankly awful – almost larcenous - standard of public management.

Similarly, its attitude to party democracy was shaped by a need to suppress the dissent that it believed made the party unelectable in the preceding years. The combination of infuriating Bennite political illiteracy (I’ll go no further because I can’t bring myself to endorse conspiracy theories) and Trot entryism led the party to nail down its internal conversation, creating a glass ceiling for all but a handful of toadies with disastrous consequences. We now have a hollowed-out party that lacks the self-preservation mechanisms it so desperately needs.

The correct reaction to the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy direct-democracy episode should have been a reassertion of parliamentary democracy. The 1990s reforms could have created a party that selects candidates and creates a space for them to deliberate. Instead, it created little more than a highly centralised affinity group.

Labour could have used the space that it created itself (and make no mistake, that space could have been created with or without the Blairite over-reactions) to come up with a sensible social democratic articulation of how it reaches policy decisions. Instead, Labour has continued the Thatcherite trajectory of political centralisation to a point at which even it’s less critical supporters (*clears throat*) have to acknowledge that the party either needs to change or we may have to regard a period of opposition as a necessary evil.

But, if you’ve got this far, you’re wondering what my point is. It’s this: Reading John Cruddas and looking in my crystal ball, I foresee a few years of recrimination – like the ones we had in the early 1980s. New Labour’s failure to adopt a statist and Labourist programme will be blamed for everything and there will be calls to recast the party as a reaction. It will see the Unions making the remarkable claim that the government should have listened to them and that it would have better policies as a result. Similarly, activists will be drawing similar conclusions in the belief that they somehow now have some kind of moral authority.

Most damagingly, Labour will enter a period of bloodletting in which different policies are scrapped over.

Mass parties just can’t set policies. You can come up with all of the arguments you like supporting specific positions, but I’d defy anyone to give me an example of a solid party that has been built on a compositing process.

Labour – if it is to renew itself – must not allow itself to get into a debate in which its most vocal members are allowed to give their old agendas a run-out. Instead, Labour has to recognise that its failure in recent years has been a failure in grasping the link between political progress and democracy.

A solid articulation of the values of representative democracy would fix the Labour Party and it's lack of internal democracy. It would create a context in which it could again attract members. It would fix the quality of policy formation. It would attract the most intelligent, capable and articulate people to the party. It would fix the perceived disconnection between politicians and voters. It would fix the old ‘forward march’ problem – Labour undoubtedly could have been more noticeably radical in a way that would have pleased its core supporters – both its heartlands and its chattering classes.

Most importantly, it would give Labour a platform on which to build for the next election victory. A decentralising social democratic platform is one that we have let the Tories cherry-pick from.

It’s our hand. We could play it very well if we wanted to.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Proleface

I forgot to link to K-Punk's piece on Mike Leigh when I saw it a few weeks ago, so here it is now.

Leigh's films have nearly always really annoyed me* but I could never put it together properly. I once met an actress who often plays a working class woman on TV - in real life she's awfully terribly dahling but when she's on screen, she plays her part by going all slack-jawed and pretending she's got no teef.

It's the sort of misanthropy that you often get in other discussions. You know, the ones where the term false consciousness is reached for a little too easily?

*Like K-Punk, I only really liked Naked.

The game invented by Cookerlane

If you've ever watched the TV on a visit to Ireland and wondered about Hurling, (common questions - how come there's a game as good as this and I've not watched it before / what sort of idiot goes anywhere near those swinging planks / can you see the ball? I can't... etc), you could do worse than go to the Today FM site and subscribe to Ian Dempsey's breakfast show podcast.

A few days ago, there was a good one entitled 'Gift Fox Hurling' - the ancient history of the game as explained by Fox News. Roy Keane's regular guest-spots are worth tuning in for as well. Go on - subscribe!

On a more serious Irish note, here's Brian Walker rounding up the question about nationalist / unionist vetoes in Northern Ireland's politics - again, worth reading and following the links.

Which network would you subscribe to?

A smaller cycle between the discovery of malware and it's neutralisation is on the cards, it seems? (That's a very interesting peice behind that link - do go ad read it before you become absorbed in this fascinating post here!)

It makes you think, doesn't it? Other feedback loops could be narrowed in this way, but - as with McAfee, there needs to be a certain amount of trust involved. By subscribing to a 'cloud' that we have no control over, as opposed to installing instances of software on a network that we do control, we are further placing ourselves in the hands of others.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that anti-virus programmes of the sort that we use already are ones that we really exercise too many preferences or options over, but this 'cloud' model seems more based upon our willingness to provide even-more instant anonymised access to information that is at our disposal in order to sharpen a feedback loop that we mutually benefit from. In theory, you can choose not get your updates from McAfee at the moment. In the future, the cure is administered without you even knowng about it.

Were it transferred to other fields, it may be something that we'd like more control over - and the potential for abuse is huge. The market possibilities spring to mind. I'm no medic, but there is a sci-fi world in which anonymised instant readings of our responses to drugs or stimuli followed by instant near-unmediated treatment comes a step closer once the ethicists have managed to bottom-out the tension between scientific advancement and privacy.

But the bottom line is that much faster, more efficient feedback loops such as this - diagnosis >> fully implemented solution of a problem has the potential to make an enormous positive difference to many different aspects of our lives - whatever our misgivings may be about the process.

My question is this: For intimate data to be respected, and reliable responses to it administered (ones that can make the difference between life and death / wealth and penury) what structure would you trust to deliver it? A state body? A semi-state body with an independent management (the BBC?). Or a co-operative / mutual body? A PLC? Or a private equity firm? How about a Trade Union-type body or a charity? Or a spontaneously-created affinity group of some kind?

It kind-of defines the big question of trust, doesn't it?

Making democracy work?

(Warning: this post is rich with links to other parts of this blog. Sorry about that now...).

Channel 4's chairman, Luke Johnson, has a piece today in the FT that seems to have all of the shortcomings that the article sees in others. He outlines a variation on the problems that Mancur Olson enumerated in his 'Logic of Collective Action.' Democracy is often mired in consensus and vetoes.

He urges us to read a book called The Gridlock Economy (which I haven't read yet) and assures us that it has the answer to these problems. If it has, Luke doesn't offer much of an inkling. If I do get hold of a copy though, I'd be interested to see if the Ken-model of politician features as part of the solution as I outlined here (Ken without the idiotic posturing, that is...).

And I'd be interested to see if it addresses the problems with the cloying ultra-scrutiny (and the clerical representation end-point that it leads to is addressed. I'd be interested to see if he's looked at judicial decision-making models to see if it makes for a better democracy. Or if a new variation on Boss Politics, or strongly resourced individual MPs (as opposed to MPs that are cowed by all of their odious rivals) provides the answer?

When I read reviews like this, I never bother buying the books because they always seem to suggest that 'if only the country was run the way that I run my business...' is the answer to everything.

And, as I think we've established this week, capitalism is a nice idea in theory, but it will never work in practice.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Political advertising on TV / lump of power?

Thankfully, I'm too busy to write my entirely predictable responses to these questions about the rules on political advertising and TV.

I am, however, working on a new theory - and perhaps a tool that can answer all of these questions.

You know the 'lump of labour fallacy'? Well I'm kinda wondering if there is a 'lump of power'? An indivisible figure that various groupings compete to exercise.

Is there a fixed amount of coercion in any state - where we seek to defend ourselves from manipulation while pushing others around as much as possible?

And does this exist at a state level? Do...

  • lobbyists / pressure groups,
  • individual MPs,
  • civil servants,
  • Parliament as a whole,
  • House of Commons / House of Lords
  • media-owners,
  • private individuals,
  • foreign powers,
  • Select Committees,
  • political parties,
  • journalists,
  • trade unions,
  • management consultants,
  • Cabinet Ministers,
  • Prime Ministers,
  • PMs flunkeys,
  • 'the core executive',
  • councillors,
  • councils,
  • local government officers
....and so on (have I left any out? And I will delete any tosser who puts a comment to the effect that "it is very telling that you have omitted ..... from this list...").

It would be a very interesting 3-D organogram that would show these relationships - and how they have shifted in recent years. It would be a very useful thing to whip out and slap on the table every time you overhear a conversation about 'liberty'. And surely Chris's regular thesis would show that management consultants have engineered something of a coup d'├ętat lately?

Waddaya think? Am I on a hiding to nothing here?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Wait for it, wait for it...



Porridge - still the finest product of British broadcasting. (Discuss)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Rationality and consistency

Two posts on related themes, both worth a look:

Chris and Tom.

Why the Mail hates the BEEB

Go and read why the Mail hates the BEEB

(via Matt)

RVW

The invention of Podcasting was designed for people like me. I've always wanted VCR-recording functionality for my radio, and this is even better.

The BBC Radio 3 'Composer of the Week' programme is particularly good for me (chippy inferiority complex because I think I should know more about classical music than I do).

Last week, driving around on long work-journeys, I listened to the programme on Ralph Vaughan Williams a few times. Much to my surprise, I liked him - and stumbled upon a new notion of the 'democratic personality' (one that I'd probably contest, but it's worth thinking about).

And I didn't know that he did an (admittedly, bloody awful-sounding) opera version of Playboy of the Western World author, J.M.Synge's Riders to the Sea.

Er.... that's it. Carry on with what you were doing....

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Community leadership

I was talking to a local councillor (a Tory or a Lib-Dem, I think?) yesterday, and he was fulminating about the whole concept of community leadership.

He'd been at a seminar at which this role was being urged upon him, and he mentioned that he believed that it cast him almost in the role of a Nazi-style Gauleiter. In fairness to him (and I intend to be fair - I completely agreed with him) he was quick to point out that he wasn't doing a 'NuLab = Nazi' comparison, but I think his point was well made.

As he explained it to me:

"If I went on the doorsteps and said 'vote for me and I will lead you for the next few years', I would hand a safe council ward to my opponents very quickly. I can only ask to voters to pick me as a representative - not a leader. If that's what they ask me to do, that's what I should do."

I think that the Gauleiter comparison is very apt given local government's role in delivering (yuk!) central government priorities, and that this concept is a horrible symptom of the centralising approach to local government.

That the concept of community leadership is being imposed without comment from any of the main parties illustrates very clearly the leap in democratic literacy that is needed before we can take any meaningful programme of political decentralisation of the kind that all of the parties claim to want to promote seriously.

Like the phrase 'postcode lottery', the term 'community leadership' is a standing obstacle to any meaningful reform of local government.

And another thing - again, suggested by the term 'Gauleiter', that role of 'community leadership' seems very close to the outrageously-named community representatives that proliferate in Northern Ireland - often surrogates for paramilitary groups. Community leaders would be a better term for them, I think?

Leadership doesn't imply an election, after all....

Class and US politics

Nothing much here for the time being (bit busy), but there are two good posts about the US presidential race.

Firstly, here’s Shuggy on class, prejudice and ‘culture wars’ (“it’s the economy, stupid”).

And secondly, Snowflake 5 has a really good post that re-casts the US elections in an interesting way. I’m not sure yet whether I agree with his line, but it’s really well written and worth thinking about.

In summary....
  • Mrs Palin has recast the whole race.
  • She represents what America really is while Obama represents what it aspires to be
I particularly like his point about the Democrat ‘gender solidarity’ (and the lack of it in Palin’s house).

Also, his observation on how American blue-bloods present themselves. As Freemania implies, the small-r ‘republican’ nature of the US. I’ve often used the word ‘aristocratic’ quite approvingly as a way of characterising European representative government – and Freemania’s administrator / figurehead divide in the US illustrates why it is a good bit more problematic across the pond.

It also begs the question: Who is the most stupid? Dubya? Or someone who thinks that Dubya is stupid?

I remember in the early-1990s. Westminster was full of smartarses who liked calling Blair ‘Bambi’. They spent the second half of the decade sleeping with one eye open.

So Snowflake’s post is a good answer to Platty’s question here.

Oh, did I mention? Apart from these few posts, I’m finding the American elections to be really tedious, and the kremlinology that is easy to find on a lot of political blogs tells you all you need to know about their UK-facing kremlinology.

But Snowflake is right: Mrs Palin has given it the universal interest of a soap opera for a while.

Update: More on the 'guys like me' problem here.

Policy proposal

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures


(Blogger compatibility fail)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Mix tape generator

Mixwit

And apropos of nothing, this is for Pete:



(It's a reward for writing one of the best posts I've seen anywhere in a good while).

... and on a vaguely Rockabilly jag this still sounds as good as ever. Great arrangement.

Architecture and film

Two blogs from the same author. Both worth a nosey round.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Pete on Marquand on Cameron

Well worth a look.
"I would argue that Labour needs to recover its social democratic, or even democratic socialist, traditions. These saw the need for strong collective action to ensure economic security, health care and universal education. The state was also there to rescue people from market failures. What they didn't include was rampant managerialism, target setting, central control, recording of personal data and the imposition of mountainous bureaucracy in an attempt to impose pseudo-markets on the public sector.

The problem with New Labour is not statism per se, but that it is being applied in policy areas in which it should have no place, just as anti-statism is similarly misused to justify de-regulated markets and a public sector reform agenda centred on privatisation and consumer choice. Instead of using collective action to, however imperfectly, ensure that capitalism at least contributed to public needs, they decided to regulate people to ensure that they could serve the private wants of capitalism, hardly the historic role of Labour."

The case for direct democracy

This is the only good argument for direct democracy.

Jackeens

I saw this while I was away in Ireland.
"As so often in the past, national pride was salvaged by those of whom the nation generally feels least proud: young, working class men from marginalised communities. While the horsey set, with all their money and self-regard, were making a show of us yet again, the competitors who demonstrated honesty and discipline, pride and passion, were from the invisible Ireland that is represented only in court reports."

I like articles like this. While it's a bit hard to take too seriously, it appeals to all of my prejudices.