Monday, December 29, 2008

The confidence needed for collective action

Healey: Not ideologically neutral.
While trying to keep my head down over the Xmas period, a few posts have been brought to my attention by Dominic:

1: Why doesn't government have reservists?
2. Would social entrepreneurs make better politicians than politicians do?

I think that the answer to both questions, sadly, is in the negative. The reservist question rests on a few implicit assumptions that I'd challenge. That....

a) the public sector would be better if it could only mine the skills of the private sector
b) it is possible and desirable for professionals to move between these two sectors.

I've argued here that both of these arguments are mistaken. And I've argued here that the left needs to get it's finger out and start answering the big questions about what collective action could look like. And even the Labour Party is starting to define itself (in opposition to its rivals) as the party that believes in collective action. As John Healey says (in the PDF behind that last link):
"We believe in an active state. This doesn’t mean the state can and should do everything, or even most things, but we are not ideologically neutral on the role of the public sector. The present problems underline the need for active government and responsive public services to protect the poorest, correct flaws in the market and secure the proper role and contribution required from the private sector in our society."
In the constipated crabwise reversion to Labour's traditional position, this is a great leap forward. Nearly a decade after the promise of traditional values in a modern setting, Healey is setting it out. As Matthew Taylor says, it's all up for grabs at the moment. These are exciting times.

On the question of social entrepreneurs, this is a term that I would suggest has become so hollowed out as to be meaningless these days. It's just been a last resort for politicians who wish that the public sector would just go away. It's a response to the experience of what happens when public services are privatised to PLCs who make their margin from wriggling out of their contracts while ticking as many boxes as they need to.

It's an investment in an idea that, somewhere, in a capitalism that is dominated by monopolies, that there is a wellspring of experience in non-monopoly situtations that can be drawn upon. The successful social small business is as rare as rocking-horse shit, and that will still be the case in twenty years time.

Time to bark up a different tree. There's that old one, over there - the one called Social Democracy.... ? Turns out it was more fruitful than all of the other ones all along....

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The coming of the son of God?

Is it time for Him to come among us?

Happy Nigelmas to all NTaH readers.

UK PLC

Robert Peston:
"....the balance sheet of the British public sector can be seen as the aggregated balance sheet of some substantial banks"

Conservative in tooth and claw

For some reason, I completely missed this story about the Torygraph-owning Barclay brothers and their advocacy of democracy on Sark.

Vile shitheads.

If only this plan worked

Dilbert.com

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Digerati's white collar populism

Here's Matt Garland's crit of 'The Personal Democracy Forum':

"But the more I read it, the more clear it is that the professors, bloggers, campaign consultants, journalists and good-government activists behind the site are motivated by an anemic, professionalized kind of populism. This digerati hope that the web, blogs, instant messaging, and other interactive technologies will deepen democracy by increasing the quality and quantity of citizen participation, but their notion of that participation is narrow."


Quite perceptive, I reckon?

New voting forms

On behalf of everyone who is interested in the process of voting, I'd like to thank the BBC, and the producers of other reality programmes for the continual farcical fuckup that their respective voting systems involve.




Thank you - and a very happy Winterval to you all

Paskini's Second Law of Pressure Groups

"Paskini's Second Law of Pressure Groups, which runs as follows: Any organisation which spontaneously comes up with the example of the objectivist pensioner who resents the need for the state pension is not one which can credibly claim to speak on behalf of ordinary taxpayers."

(The first law is here).

Blogroll addition

Brian Barder - stick him up your RSS reader, if you get my drift?

Brian, more than most bloggers (and certainly more that your truly) adds yer actual content to the blogosphere. Brian has a CV that has allowed him a tour of the kind of things that you and I never get to look at.

This recent post is a good example of what to expect.

Resemble

Last night, over the traditional festive skinful, I was told that I closely resemble a younger Peter Sellars.

I've had this comment made to me often over the last fifteen years or so. There seem to be two kinds of people - those who think that the resemblance is uncanny (about 15% I think) and the remaining 85% who can't see any likeness at all.

I'm in the latter group and I don't know whether the 15% intend it as a complement. As you can see here, it's a comment that could be taken in a number of ways.

Anyway, here are the great man's two finest hours - filmed (I think) at the same time.






In both cases, the show was stolen by the very marvellous Lionel Jeffries.

1945 and all that

Via Bill on Facebook, here's a parody of a Downfall parody.



And, elsewhere, Tim Almond asks about The Pope's homophobia. Perhaps it's true that political Homophobia is often a sign of closet Homosexuality? Buried pleasurable memories?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sounds alright to me?

Had this lot - Spencer McGarry Season - recommended to me. What do you think?


The bass player is 'Sweet Baboo' - very well thought of in Cardiff I'm told.



This recommendation comes from Anthony who sent it instead of an Xmas card.

Two possibilities

1. Met Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick is a paranoid nutcase
2. The Tories are prepared to go to any lengths to discourage Constable Quick from asking his questions.

If number two is correct, why the desperation?

Here is The Mail - the paper where grovelling apology = talking to my lawyers tomorrow about taking this matter further.

In the meantime, I wonder how long it will be before the Tories start to acknowledge - in public - that the offence that a number of their senior figures appear to be implicated in (and for which there appears to be a good deal of prima facie evidence) is serious enough to torpedo their claims to be a fit party of government?

Unless they are prepared to condemn the co-ordination of informers within Whitehall (a significant step-up from what Gordon Brown allegedly did in the 1990s), there is no reason why Labour shouldn't run that ad.

Could any party govern effectively under such circumstances?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Missing action

For some reason I must have accidentally deleted Andreas from my RSS reader. I've fixed it now, and during that time, I missed some very-good posts. Here he is digging into the nauseating Taxpayers Alliance and their ludicrous line on education. And there's plenty more worth a look as well.

Incorporation at last

In principle, this is very good news; MySociety's FixMyStreet site has made it's way into the DirectGov family of website offerings.

But .... it was launched bloody ages ago. How come it took so long?

The dividing line?

Between Greens and the left?

Not being listened to

One thing leaped out to my oddly-tuned eye from this verygood post over at Don Paskini.

"When developing policies to reform the social fund (or any other anti-poverty policies) people on benefits and those who are working on low incomes should be recognised as the experts and involved right from the start, rather than treated as unskilled victims in need of educating."
This is exactly where deliberative models of government are needed. All too often, as far as I can see, demands for more participation come from the more active sections of society who demand the opportunity to have their say in one form or another. As Chris put it so sweetly a while ago...
"Opinions are like arseholes - everyone has them, and I don't want to hear any of them...."
Surely, the real question is how you can idiot-check ideas with the people who understand the circumstances in which they can be applied better than anyone else? And how do you move this on from getting those people to peer-review your ideas to getting them to suggest their own - to take the running themselves?

One thing does occur to me: If you think that politicians or journalists are actually listening to you, it may change the tone or content of what you say - and not for the better.

I'd also suggest that there's another variation on Moynihan's Law* here: If you say you aren't being listened to by the government, the Government are listening to you more than they should be.

*Someone has deleted the Wikipedia article on Moynihan's Law. Here's some quotes that sort of sum it up though:
  • If the news papers of a country are filled with good news, the jails of that country will be filled with good people.
  • The amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there. The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country.

Moderation and 'ought'

I don't think I've ever linked to a specific post on Guido's site before, but this one on the economics of blog-comments is worth a look.

He's planning an experiment in the new year:

"....you will still be able to say what you like (within somewhat arbitrary inconsistent limits) without pre-moderation or registering. However there will be incentives for those who produce better quality commentary based on a new element of co-conspirator community rating. Good comments will be more prominently displayed, disliked comments will be less prominent. The biggest innovation is that it will be possible for readers to set their own tolerance thresholds. Poorly rated comments will be invisible to those who set their preferences accordingly. If you only want to see comments judged by co-conspirators to be witty, amusing or illuminating, set your threshold to "Recommended". Don't want to read foul language? Set your threshold to "U". Want to see all and any comments no matter how foul? Set your threshold to "XXX". If your commentary is consistently recommended your comments will automatically be more prominent in the future and may even get highlighted on the frontpage. Will it work? That is up to you."

On a related issue, here's a not-very-bright article about something called the 'ought' factor. Is this one of the divides between the left and the right? Do we - the left - think that people ought to behave in certain ways - towards some kind of common purpose?

And do the right think that it's foolish to even try to pinpoint that purpose - never mind attempting to achieve it in some hit-or-miss, bound-to-have-unintended-consequences sort of way?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It seems that...

... corporations sometimes turn up to take part in exercises in deliberative democracy.

Two RIPs

I've been all over the place for the last few days and haven't had the opportunity to mention just how the world has lost some of it's intellect and charm recently.

Conor Cruise O'Brien was a fantastic man with an inspirational fury. It was the Cruiser who cured me of my ambivalence about Irish republican violence, and I know I'm not alone in this. If I wasn't so flat out, I'd be tempted to try and pull together a proper obit, but I can't at the mo.

Davey Graham was probably the first exponent of what became known as 'world music' - I can't think of anyone who took a popular idiom and charged around hammering new musical forms from around the world into it with Davey's verve - and certainly no-one before him did it. I was driving along one day and heard his version of Art Blakey's Moanin' - I had to pull the car over until it finished to avoid killing someone. If there is anyone you truly love, buy them Folk Blues and Beyond for xmas this year. Lots of records get called seminal but few with the justification of FB&B. Listen to Maajan to see what I mean.

Just on a personal note, I'd been playing guitar for years before I heard Davey. After hearing him, I retuned my guitar to a DADGAD and now prefer this setup a lot of the time. It makes it almost a different instrument.

This YouTube is worth a listen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

K.D.

A bit melodramatic for an Xmas number one perhaps? Forget Jeff Buckley's version. Here's K.D. Lang:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Civic renewal and decentralisation

This is a good post. Go and read it.

A 'hard reset'?

Garbage in / Garbage out. The consequences?

That's a link to a bit of a worrying article on the verygood ArsTechnica site. It's an interesting analogy - the one between a computer programme and an economy. Squillions of transactions resulting in a defined outcome. The difference being that a programme has been designed for a pre-determined purpose and an economy has evolved.

Is a game a better analogy?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Improvement - FAIL!

For over fifty years, all electric rock guitar has featured an attempt to improve upon Carl Perkins' Rockabilly twang. In over fifty years, no-one has succeeded.



On the subject of which, here is Brian Setzer providing an important guitar lesson:


The lesson is as follows: Give up. No matter how much you practice, you'll never be as good as Brian Setzer :-(

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Canaletto


London as a gorgeous city. More here.

John saw this first

I met John (that John) the other night from whom this pic is nicked.

John is also a co-defendant in the current libel action that is threatening Dave Osler and Alex Hilton. For some reason, I didn't include John in that post. So, let this one be a bit of additional solidarity to add to that offered to the other two.

Is this an ideology yet?

I've always thought that the sociology of politics - the associations and backgrounds of the people who are politically active and influential - is more relevant than a lot of political theorists are prepared to admit. And I wonder if an important development in the sociology of politics is being overlooked at the moment?

Writing on 'The Liberty of Thought and Discussion', John Stuart Mill made what is, I hope, a fairly uncontroversial claim by today's standards. Mill argued that the a vibrant free market of ideas, uninhibited by excessive censorship, was a public good by anyone's standards. That the more people wrote, thought, argued, debated, and so on, the better.

The collaborative authorship of the Internet has given a new impetus to this idea. Whatever people said about e-commerce removing a lot of the inflexibility that impeded the development of the free market in goods and services, it would be a great deal easier to argue that this is true in the market for ideas. So we have Open Source development and the Open Rights Movement. We have Wikinomics. We have The Wisdom of Crowds, The Long Tail and all sorts of other fashionable nonsense interesting new ideas.

We have a demand for more transparency in policymaking and governance - a demand that I think could do with more examination than it gets among advocates of web-influenced democratic renewal. The demands for a more direct democracy are getting gradually less crude and are beginning to become more worth a look. Ideas like particpatory budgeting and crowdsourcing policy for example.

Regulars here will know that I'm on the small-c conservative end of these discussions. But the question I'd like to ask is this: Are these ideas now beginning to coalesce into something that you could begin to call an ideology? There is no question that the Internet offers new possibilities to transform the way that democracy works, and that many of these approaches will undoubtedly be finessed into something that is good, coherent and usable in a reasonably short time-frame.

But this seems to be something that cuts across political boundaries. Daniel Finkelstein is engaged in this discussion, for instance. And though he sits fairly firmly on the centre-right of British politics, I find him to be a more interesting commentator than most others in the MSM - mainly because he gets this stuff. The same could be said - up to a point - about Bryan Appleyard.

Is there an identifiable body of developing thought that is being led by bloggers and the writers who are engaged in this particular space? Is anyone taking it seriously? Has someone written a book about this that I've missed?

And if someone hasn't already come up with a name for it - or should I say us, has anyone got any suggestions?

And do people who use Twitter have a near-religious belief in interactivity? Are those who don't misguided - even to the point of a modern-day heresy? Do we have a duty to convert them? Or should we just burn them at the stake?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

School curriculum in dire need of reorganisation

That Shuggy has finally yanked his idle digit out of his fundament and started posting something every now and then is a reminder of better times and a blessing to us all.

Here's something that will cheer him up a bit.

Via Matthew Taylor.

Oh, and if Santa is passing, here's Shuggy's ideal present....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fishwrap

Well, the glaciers are arriving on Grub St. Dave Osler has a very good post up on why the decline of the print-media will leave us all poorer.

Social clothes


Social clothes
Originally uploaded by dominiccampbell

Dominic saw this.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An apology

If you have ever emailed me, or been e-mailed by me, you probably received an invitation to join Bebo a few days ago. Please ignore this - I don't use Bebo myself really - I was just evaluating it as a social network - call it professional curiosity.

I wanted to see how the 'invitation' system worked so I let it see my Gmail address book, and - you know how it is - when it offered me the option of mailing everyone or just picking one or two people, I somehow managed to reverse it. So one or two 'evaluating for professional curiosity' types didn't get invited, and about two thousand people - many of whom I had emailed once more than ten years ago - did.

I'm really crap at gardening my personal address books....

There are some things that you just end up doing aren't there? No matter how hard you try to avoid doing them. Thankfully, this image is disembodied from the sound...


Monday, December 08, 2008

VoD & filtering

The BBC Labs are road-testing an extension to their iPlayer that allows for collaborative filtering. This means that you can not only watch 'video on demand' (VoD) programmes that you want to - when you want to- you won't even need to think about what you want to watch, because they will make recommendations based on your known preferences and those of like-minded people. And the lack of thought will actually make the viewing experience better.

It has the potential to change the way that everyone talks about 'choice'. There's nothing new about collaborative filtering of course, but applied to web-TV, it has the potential to dramatically downgrade the importance of TV channels.

And it may work better than most attempts at this kind of thing, because the BBC may be less tempted to interfere with the collaborative filtering. Amazon simply use it in a very risk-averse way - to push stuff to me that they're *certain* that I like so as to maximise the short-term profit.

I'd pay attention to what they pushed at me if there were any danger of a bit of serendipitous uplift -but there isn't, so I don't.

This may mean that different types of TV will be commissioned - aimed significantly higher than at the consumer reflex.

These are interesting times.

(ta Nico)

Smoking and violence

The Philippines has enacted a law that treats the exposure of women to secondhand smoke in the home as a form of domestic violence punishable by law.

Activist state, protectionism and the cultural exception

Here's Andreas on the Activist State/Protectionism.

A good time to point to previous posts here advocating the cultural exception - and one about how now would be a good time to start pressing the case for this with some vigour.




Commentariat online

Is this post optimistic or pessimistic I wonder?

Plane Stupid latest

Here: Hippies Annoying.

h/t Will

Keeping it simple

Looking around the interwebs for examples of toilet door signs (don't ask), I saw this post:

Here's the sign for the gents (from Switzerland, apparently):



... and here's the ladies:


Sunday, December 07, 2008

From those that you wish to hobble, you first demand transparency.

This is an odd post over at the Ideal Government site. It has - it has to be said - the very reasonable contempt for civil servants that everyone who has ever been a supplier to government has. This bit...
"For years I told suppliers to think very carefully before taking on the business and political risk of dealing with people who didn’t know what they were doing and were wilfully blind to how unpopular it would be. I should have added: the suppliers should also expect to be treated with contempt, corporately and as individuals.

There’s a dark humour in this. The more the control model fails, the more desperate the attempts to exert more control. It’s well worth a read, and it does make for desperate reading.

If a court requires disclosure about the Benighted Scheme (think BAe/Saudi Arabia, illegal immigrant security guards in Home Office etc) suppliers are required by the NDA to be as uncooperative as possible with the request. Instead they must co-operate with Home Office/IPS agencies to challenge the validity of any requirement to disclose. This sums up the Home Office’s open government philosophy.

The Home Office will pick up half the tab of the legal challenge. Who cares? It’s only taxpayers money, and what better activity to spend it on than contesting legalistic do-gooders trying to be open about the Benighted Scheme?

Company premises, and the premises of individuals working for the companies, can be searched without warrant on the sayso of the Home Secretary. Who cares? These are but filthy profit-grubbing private sector people, barely worth getting a proper pension. They take the generous patronage of the Home Office IPS, and can expect to forego some basic rights for 25 years.

Too true. There are people who work in the public sector whose job it it to manage procurement, do the project management with selected suppliers and be responsible for producing the end result.

Now I don't like to go off the deep end too often**, but I've never been involved in a project like that where the 'client' (the civil servant) isn't a incompetent, obnoxious shithead who wouldn't be able to run a bath, and wouldn't give two fucks if it ran over because the blame can always be shovelled off onto someone else.

So, I'm with the Ideal Government blog so far. But earlier in the post, there's this:

How will the porous information-sharing made possible by the internet affect those in power?

To put it differently:

As we increasingly get our act together by self-organising, how are we going to coexist happily with the legacy of coercive control freaks?

Again, it seems to me that there is a presumption in favour of making government ministers conduct every transaction and conversation in public. I don't believe that it's possible to take this position and be in favour of representative democracy at the same time. When you win an election, you surely deserve the opportunity to govern without a running commentary from everybody who has a vested interest in taking a course of action that you wouldn't choose?

Certainly, looking at the list of like-minds further down the post (Henry Porter! Simon Jenkins! Oh-noes!), I doubt if this transparency would be expected to stop at incompetence in procurement and delivery of government projects?

Either way, wouldn't all of these people be better off arguing for in-and-outers? That may be a far more effective way of dealing with bureaucratic incompetence and indifference? I doubt if there are many government ministers that aren't close to despair every day at their impotence in the face of central government.

I've titled this post similarly to one I wrote a while ago about the BBC - from those that you wish to hobble, you first demand transparency.

It doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always gets in. This truism reflects a very well defended set of bureaucratic interests. Their chief battle cry? An impartial civil service!

I'd love a Labour government to take on the FDA and defeat them in the way that the Tories took on the NUM.

Won't happen, will it? :-(

** Ok, ok, that may not be true

Should Labour stand in Northern Ireland?

In principle, the answer should surely be yes? And as a lightly-held view, I think it would be good for Northern Ireland's politics. There is the old 'how do you get from here to there' questions and the unintended consequences.

But still, David Cameron's dance with the UUP begs the question. Here's an interview (via Slugger) with Labour's Boyd Black who is in favour of it.

Changing the way you listen to the radio?

The Pure Evoke Flow that is. James Cridland reckons so anyway...

Changing the subject, there's this 'Vision of Britain' site - historical mapping, census reports and travellers accounts.

(ta Kathryn C)

And other stuff on the Internet, Musicroom's digital download sheet music service is really good - you can find the guitar tabs you've been looking for for ages - and not the legally dubious (but very welcome OLGA 'by ear' variations that lawyers have been playing cat-and-mouse with for years.

I got the tab for 'Stray Cat Strut' which I've been trying to get for years - and the software even plays the tune for you the way that the tabs are laid out - if you're not that proficient with guitar tab. You can change the tempo and everything.

£0.99p a go. Bargoid.

The only downside is that it's got a fussy DRM interface that will probably be cracked in the not-too-distant. DRM and print: Will it ever work? I've always had a suspicion that it might.

Bill has always assured me it won't and he's usually right about this sort of thing. We'll see.

Carl Froch



(pic nicked from TTSBU who I hope won't mind?)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dave Osler, Alex Hilton and Councillor Maria Gatland

Dave Osler and Alex Hilton are - quite rightly - enjoying the support and solidarity of bloggers everywhere in response to the legal action that they are currently involved in.

I'm with Dave and Alex on this as much as the next man. But I think that there's an interesting contrast between this case and that of Croydon Conservative councillor Maria Gatland and the disgusting campaign that was waged against her by a nasty little shithead called Peter Latham.

I know that 'defend the Conservative councillor' isn't a rallying cry that would get most of this site's visitors to their feet, but for me, the contrast between the blogging solidarity that Dave and Alex will enjoy, and the tumbleweed that provided the soundtrack to Cllr Gatland's treatment is telling.

This is an *elected* representative who was subject to personal bullying with a view to making her change a policy makes this (with all due respect to bloggers) a significantly worst case than Dave & Alex’s travails.

I think that it’s something of a sickness that our political culture doesn’t regard this as being similar to jury-tampering. Playing the ball and not the man is to be expected in the wider cut-and-thrust of public debate, but there comes a point at which it debases one of the most fundamental aspects of a democratic constitution - and the Maria Gatland example illustrates this with unusual clarity.

It’s quite telling as well that low-level politicians would not be able to look anywhere for the kind of solidarity that Dave and Alex will rightly get because they are well embedded in the blogosphere. When the blogosphere can bring itself to defend elected representatives, then I promise you, I'll close my annoying blog down.

(With apologies to Justin - I composed a bit of this post in his comments box then decided it was a point that needed making more fully here)

Better off not knowing

Ben Goldacre of MMR reporting

On Tuesday, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Mirror, the Express, the Mail, and the Metro all reported that a coroner was hearing the case of a toddler who died after receiving the MMR vaccine, which the parents blame for their loss. “Toddler ‘died after MMR jab’” (Metro), “‘Healthy’ baby died after MMR jab” (Independent), you know the headlines by now. I wouldn’t want you to think the MMR story had died, just because a few kids have died of measles.

On Thursday, the coroner announced his verdict: that the vaccine played no part in this child’s death. So far, of the papers above, only the Telegraph have had the decency to cover the outcome. The Independent, the Mirror, the Express, the Mail, and the Metro have all decided that their readers are better off not knowing.


I doesn't stop there though. Oh no. None of the above will be much of a surprise to anyone who has followed this story. But the next bit of Ben's article has some surprises in it....

Via Tom Watson

Norberto Bobbio

I missed Alan (not the minister) Johnson's obituary for the great Norberto Bobbio at the time, but I've just seen it and it's worth a read. Bobbio represented quite the most important strand of 20th century socialism, both in terms of influence, and in being proven to be right by the current of events.

He once asked "what does [Marxism] have to say [about] the permanent debate on the relationship between parliamentary committees and parliament; between parliament and executive power; between the head of state and his or her powers; between the administrative state, including the State Council, and the State Audit Court; between local power and central authority, between electoral systems and democratic power and so on ad infinitum and ad nauseam?" Marx's brief comments on the Paris Commune, he said "for the last century have been repeatedly squeezed dry to extract some vital juice".

"....the various centres of real power of a modern state, such as big business, or the most significant instruments of real power, such as the army and bureaucracy, are not subject to any democratic control". And "as for the right of dissent, this can only operate within a highly circumscribed sphere".

"....Bobbio advised socialists to turn to the liberal tradition and adopt it wholesale; democracy was the only possible framework for the transition to socialism. And liberal democracy was the only kind of democracy there was. Talk of "direct democracy" as an alternative (rather then supplement) to representative democracy was utopian for large complex societies. Democracy is a set of rules and procedures.

Perry Anderson notes that there are four "rules of the game" for Bobbio: equal and universal adult suffrage, civic rights which assure the free expression of opinions and the free organisation of currents of opinion, decisions taken by a numerical majority, and guarantees of the rights of minorities against any abuse on the part of majorities.

Democracy is this set of procedures. It establishes who is authorised to make collective decisions and through which procedures. Questions of participation, rotation, accountability, and of the extension of democratisation to ever-new areas of social life (for which he passionately argued) should only be posed within this procedural framework."

Do read the whole thing though. Alan (ntm) asks: "How should we democratic socialists respond to Bobbio's challenge?"

If you're a regular here, you will know that one of the answers that he offers should get brushed aside as a bit of an irrelevant parlour game. Which one do you think I mean?

Gated communities

A small token of respect from the locals.

And, changing the subject, but from the same site, here's a really good take on a slightly disappointing bit of BBC research on loneliness and isolation (not the same thing).

Sometimes flawed research foregrounds what the real questions are.

I really *really* rate Kevin Harris' Neighbourhoods blog very highly. It's something of a yardstick for superego blogs to be measured by (I'm not being rude there, by the way).

Disillusionment watch

Apparently Obama's network of supporters are, in part disappointed by .... "an often secretive debate ... among top campaign staff members over how to refashion the broad network of motivated volunteers into a force that can help Obama govern," and by a seeming focus on more trivial goals.

This is not a minor skirmish in local government

There are times when I wonder if I'm the only person alive who thinks like this:

  • A Conservative councillor in Croydon grew up in Belfast, and in her youth became tangled up in the IRA. Something that she regretted, repented and took action to redress. She wrote a book. She lived under a death threat.
  • Later on, she is elected and takes a position on education. Her past life had no bearing on this, and her mandate was to bring her judgement to bear on behalf of the people she was elected by
  • A pressure group threatens to publicise her past in order to bully her into changing her position
  • She feels she has to resign.
Her youthful mistakes have no bearing on the case in point. Her repentance and redress for those mistakes is total and she deserves to be chaired through the streets of Croydon for her courage rather than to be hounded out of elected office.

It should be a point of principle that people who attempt to bully elected representatives in this disgusting way should be bullied back with infinitely more vigour by the combined forces at the disposal of all people who hold elected office. Party politics should be above this.

That my own party - Labour - connived with this disgusts me. That the Conservatives didn't stick up for Maria Gatland is equally disgusting. It used to be the case that the Tories were defenders of *representative* democracy. This is clearly no longer the case.

This is the degree to which local democracy is being debased in the UK. If such a thing could happen, another Irish Tory, Edmund Burke, would be bouncing of the sides of his coffin in rage.

And he'd be right to do so.

Patrick Fitzgerald

Paul Anderson has an obituary of his close friend Pat Fitzgerald up here.

He was an audacious and effective anarchist who (on the few times I met him) always told me something that I didn't know, that I found hard to believe, and that turned out to be true.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The real thing

Do brace yourself before you click on this link.

Random Acts of Reality is about as near to the knuckle as blogging gets in this country.

(Via CivicSurf)

Cover story

Here.
(ta Sean)

Sacking civil servants

Here's Newton Emerson talking us through Parkinson's Law in Northern Ireland.

Can Labour win next time?

Just seen this (a bit late): Luke Akehurst was taking notes on John Curtice's talk to the IPPR.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

What sort of blog have you got then?

As I said earlier, this is an 'Id-blog'. If yours is one, and you want to say so, feel free to nick the image from that post.

And if one of the other options is closer for you, here are the images.




Wearing t-shirts is enough

Santa has brought me my Kautsky t-shirt a bit early. And a flyer fell out of the parcel telling me it will give me a £5 off the Cuba Solidarity Campaign's new year party if I wear it.

I'm not sure how well we Kautskyites will be received at that one, but I haven't seen Hank Wangford playing for years, so I may well brave it.

All in all, as an evening, it has a satisfying 1980s 'wearing badges is not enough' feel about it though.

See ya there as long as we can get a babysitter?

Echoes elsewhere

HP is testing a similar set of conclusions to mine about civil service neutrality.

Blogging - the Id, the ego and the super-ego

A while ago now, a few people suggested that blogs should have a code of conduct of some kind. It caused a fairly predictable spasm of indignation and imagined victimhood (I have a few posts here about it at the time)

And, more recently, Andy Burnham decided unilaterally that he will imprison, torture and then execute anyone who says anything that he doesn't like online.

So, without using the word 'ought' or 'should', I'm going ask a question and follow it with a suggestion.

How far does your blog reflect your personality and opinions? Mine doesn't do so particularly accurately. Or perhaps it does so too accurately for my own liking? Who knows.

I certainly express views with a good deal more certainty online than I would verbally. I'm a great deal less likely to call someone a c*nt when I argue with them offline. I'm prepared to concede points and argue in a different way face-to-face (yay!) and will often back away from a position that I hold with some conviction in order to rub along nicely with people (boo!).

On my blog, I sometimes deliberately provoke people who probably don't fully deserve the rudeness that they get (I don't lie awake at night about this because I'm rarely that rude to anyone who can't take it), and the opinions expressed here are as much 'from the hip' as from the head.

In short, this blog corresponds quite closely to the Freudian notion of the 'Id' as opposed to the Ego or Super-ego.

I've recently gone freelance, and part of my game plan is to use blogs to drum up business for myself, and to help me to the work that I'm planning to do in a professional responsible manner. Blogs are becoming an indispensable tool for all sorts of work. And you can bet your life that they will be very different in substance to NTaH.

They may include some recycled content from here, but if you notice a familiar post in your incoming links, you will notice that the bit that said that you were a shithouse will have been modified slightly. Your "f*cking stoopid f*ckwitted idea" will have been changed to "an interesting - but perhaps challengeable - suggestion."

The one that is there to drum up business will be the Ego blog. The one that explores best-practice and is used to express high ideals - the 'blue skies thinking' will be the Super Ego blog.

And this one will remain the Id blog. I expect that a lot of bloggers could, in all honesty, write a similar post to this. And if that is the case, they ought to ... er... should .... er may wish to consider adding a badge like this one to their side bar?

Hostage-takers issue new demands

As I said,

"....meeting the terms of blackmailers.... is a strictly one-way street. Pay today? New hostages tomorrow! New, greedier demands the next day."

Now this (via Anton's comments - that post is worth a look, by the way).


I know that, unlike Russell Brand, Chris Moyles is a dickhead, but that's not the point.



Why posts are too long here

An observation (a remembered quote) from Damian that explains why posts are often too long here:
“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales, XVI.

It's one to add to my other favourite line that applies to blogging:
"I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say."
Flannery O'Connor

One day, I'll boil them all down into digestible lumps. NTaH is just the first draft. Sorry about that now....

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tribalism and groupthink

This is a good post about the difference between the best sort of economists' thinking-out-loud, and politicians or journalists.

Does politics and journalism have to be like this though? Is there a way that both could be structured so that groupthink is chastised and tribalism is punished? Is there a way that it could become more conversational? Where apostacy is less of a sin and where lightly held - almost playful - views can be traded?

Surely a Parliament with hundreds of members reflecting diverse and creative thinking of the kind that Chris is asking for here would result in a very high quality of policy-making? The kind of 'distributed moral wisdom' that Prof McWalter mentioned (quite a while ago now.....)

What would need to change?

Co-ordinating leaks

While Unity has shown a possible example of how strategic leaking can be used in an unprincipled and damaging manner, I've not really seen anyone make the case about just how damaging the active co-ordination of informants within government departments is to our political settlement.

So let me illustrate it like this: If this is just a storm in a teacup - the warp and weft of modern political life - then would it be OK for Labour to run an ad like this in a newspaper tomorrow?

(Click on this image to enlarge it)



Inside the terror camp - latest pictures

Prisoners of concience.

Captives being forced to read enemy propaganda for the benefit of their gaolers.

Via Luke.

Hugely damaging if proven

Why is the offence that Damian Green is charged with is a serious one?

Well, Unity wins two prizes today. The first one is for writing even longer posts than I write here, and secondly - more importantly - for illustrating why there is a huge moral difference between the traditional whistle-blower / opposition relationship:

It doesn't seem to me that the Tories were using Galley's leaks, not to expose mendacity or incompetence. Unity seems to have evidence that requires answers on how the Tories have been using Galley's leaks purely for cynical political purposes. Is the government going to announce a particular policy on Monday? We'll offer a slightly more populist variation of it on Sunday!

That's the essence of it. If this is what the Tories game is, and it can be proven, those concerned are finished.

If they've been doing this to the Treasury - at a time like this - then there is a very real case for some of them to be shot.....

(Via Tim, who has a round up of other relevant material here).

Update: On the question of getting tame tory journalists to report how the cops are in full retreat, who else would you expect to have joined in?

Why the desperation?

Why are the Tories trying to up the ante? Why are they trying to get the police to back off?
  • Why have they released a film showing the cops arriving at Damian Green's office? What does it prove? What is their motivation for releasing it?
  • Why have they massively overstated (and misrepresented) the case that their MPs have some kind of immunity from investigation on the grounds of Parliamentary Privilege?
  • Why have they used the shrillest language (Stalinesque / Terror Police) to describe an investigation that - as far as I can see - has been conducted scrupulously?
  • Why have they spun the line of questioning to make it seem abusive and impertinent ("grooming") when it is the kind of treatment that any suspect would expect to have in a recorded police interview?
  • Why are they getting tame journalists to position David Davis as someone who would be OK refusing to co-operate with a police investigation?
Nothing in Christopher Galley's press conference has suggested that there aren't legitimate grounds for an investigation. And if Galley was being encouraged to leak things with a view to political embarrassment rather than to salve a crisis of conscience, we are not just in the ballpark of 'justifiable illegality' - we are in the ballpark of something that is an offence against Parliamentary democracy.

Something that no-one who is involved in it will be able to survive.

If they've done nothing wrong, they should chill out, co-operate, look a bit bored and annoyed by the whole thing, and wait for it all to blow over.

But they're not doing that, are they? Begs the question: How far up does this go? And are they right to panic....?

David Davies - refusing to co-operate?

There is an old adage that you've probably heard. A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. And a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.

And, by Christ, we've seen the Tories chopping onions up to create the desired liberal effect in the last few days. They are actually now seem confident enough that they can spin the cops into soft-pedalling the Leaky Galley investigation! It's working!

For all of the attack on 'Labour spin' over the past decade or so, this weekend has given us a master-class in the creative running of a story.

When all of this started, like a lot of pro-Labour people, I was outraged by the lack of respect for Parliament. But the degree to which the Tories have been gaming it is beginning to look like the worst construction open to us may have some substance?

Damian Green's arrest, we've been told was a 'Stalinesque' spectacle carried out by 'terror police' - at Labour's behest and in 'contempt of Parlaimentary privilege' (and they totally called him a paedo!!?!?!).

The usual useful idiots have chimed in on cue.

These people aren't liberal. They aren't even close, and all of this nonsense about aynchunt liberties has been a huge smokescreen designed to take things back to the 1980s - when the cops were a good deal more circumspect around politically sensitive investigations.

And the latest? Well, why - in this fawning 'do you have a message for the nation' interview, is a Tory columnist from a Tory newspaper (the most uncomplicatedly Conserative newspaper that has taken no steps to conceal it's role as a political instrument to the party) asked David Davis.... (paraphrasing)

"Mr Davis, after this awful anti-democratic spectacle, surely the NuLieBoreNazi terror police will now not have the audacity to ask someone as squeaky as yourself any impertinent questions"

....to which Davis (now mysteriously transmogrified into 'friends of Davis') actually feels emboldened to reply (again, paraphrasing)

"Yeah! And if they do, I'll tell 'em, 'you ain't getting nuffink out of me copper! I know my rights!'"

(Do read it - it really isn't very far off). Money quote:

"Of course, it would be a rather dim copper who decided to gift the Tories a chance to turn Davis into even more of a civil liberties martyr."

Waugh's story in The Standard reeks of a put-up job. Why the suprise at the likelihood that the Rozzers may want a word with the former Shadow Home Secretary? Why is he discussing it and getting his answers in early? Note more cut-out 'liberal' outrage by the way:
"I have to say in all my four and a half years as Shadow Home Secretary, it is something of a novelty to hear police speculate about who they intend to question next..."

Because it is not out of the question that, in his former job, he knew Mr Galley's identity, is it? Correct me if I'm wrong here?


And it is not out of the question that he may have wished to use Mr Galley's ability to 'find' all sorts of awkward things? Again, do tell me if I've missed summink here?

Davis is - pre-emptively - saying that he will not answer questions because it would violate his 'Parliamentary Privilege'. Balls.

The cops may - and I stress, MAY have reason to beleive that Mr Davis commissioned the crime that Mr Galley stands accused of. The public interest defence on material that is widely acknowledged be be primarily embarrassment material is non-existent.

You watch over the next few days. Watch the useful idiots line up behind this rubbish. But remember, if it turns out that more than one Conservative frontbencher was actively soliciting Mr Galley to find politically embarrasing materials in the Home Office in order to pass them on, we are then in very serious territory.

Perhaps Mr Davis audacity here isn't a confidence that the papers will help him avoid answering these questions, but the worry that Plod won't play the game? Either way, the stakes are now somewhat higher than a few Tory frontbenchers' careers if the line of enquiry that the police seem to be following have any substance.

In the meantime Mr Davies, you should co-operate with the police fully, no matter what your stooges on The Standard think you should be allowed to get away with.



Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Keyboardr

Nice homepage for your browser here.

And, apropos of nothing, isn't this recession (or 'recession') weird?

Thomas Cook confident on future.

Disgusting blogging

That Anton is really disgusting you know? He wrote this post crouched with his lad - his throbbing manhood, his beef bayonet (that's enough of the euphemisms - Ed) clutched in his non-typing fist.

He was cracking one off! (STOP IT! - Ed)

Just because you didn't furnish us with the grim details on a 10 megapixel 10X8 Anton, it's no defence. I'm going to start a petition against this sort of thing.

The thick end of the wedge

Just popping back to add a quick observation on all of this 'police state' business: The sheer ludicrousness of most claims (and Henry Porter on Damian Green really does just show how wind-up-and-go this rubbish is) masks a more serious charge.

In the absence of much by way of yer actual totalitarianism, it seems to me that most of it is less a complaint about any actually existing illiberality, and more the question of how apparatus is being put in place that could be abused by a future government. None of this stops current ministers being written up as though they were in the KGB.

That a police state is being constructed in the wings, and once it's been completed, it can be wheeled on centre-stage so that someone can crank it up. The upside to all of this is that Henry Porter does, indeed, get arrested and has his fingernails pulled out.

The downside is that Parliament would jump in and reverse unacceptable legislation (as it did, unwisely in my view, on the 'right' to protest outside Parliament).

The thing about these 'thin end of the wedge' arguments is that you'd take them seriously if they weren't written from the thick end of it.

The Terror NuEuLieBoreNazi Police know where you live

I'm bowled over by the bravery of some writers. I mean, Olly shares Henry Porter's grave concerns about the terror police. At times like these, dissident writers must live in fear of the nightly knock at the door. The foot on the stair. Being dragged off to face god knows what grisly fate.

And when you want appeasment and spin, you always turn to ZaNuLab apologist Will Rubbish who offers a pathetic alternative definition of the term 'police state' - here.

I don't know if I've ever linked to this piece by Conor Gearty before, have I? The memory is a bit flaky since I had my head caved in by rozzers during that Poll Tax demonstration back in the day. At least they didn't ask anyone in Trafalgar Square that day about 'grooming'!

Police states ain't wot they used to be, gawd bless 'em.

Petition successful

Well, the Currant Bun has got it's way and Ms Shoesmith has been sacked. My understanding is that she offered to resign, was told not to, and then Ed Balls sacked her live on TV. Lovely stuff.

There's a gloriously long unreadable post to be written about how the cathartic sacking of a few named officers does little to solve a problem, but seeing as I have family working reasonably close to this case, I better keep my trap shut.

Here's a very good post by Anthony on populism and good judgement though. Only tangential, like.....

What do you think?

Here's some interesting research on the question of identity in Northern Ireland.
"According to a Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, almost one in four Roman Catholics are willing to be tagged under the Northern Ireland banner. A total of 26 per cent of Protestants chose the label of Northern Irish over the more familiar option of British."

I've not had time to check this interpretation, and The Newsletter isn't a source I'd particularly respect: But the findings don't surprise, do they?

Seen via O'Conal Street who links directly to the research and adds this:
"Ram a term down someones throat and they will reject it. Use a term as a political tool and you will loose support for it."

This is certainly worth bookmarking along with the earth-shattering revelation that being of Catholic extraction does not force you to be a nationalist in Northern Ireland.

Democracy: It's what you think that counts. Often forgotten, innit?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Was Christopher Galley given specific tasks to do?

The plot thickens further.
"Sources "close to the investigation" - i.e. the detectives working the case - claim that Green was not merely "inducing" or persuading Galley to leak documents but may have set him specific tasks, suggesting more detailed allegations yet to emerge."

Green and Brown: Time to move to a less 'impartial' civil service?

There's a 'support Damian Green' Facebook group. But there isn't a 'Find Christopher Galley's mates and see if he said anything about being promised a job' group. Yet...

Seeing as the Tories think that Home Secretaries should interfere in police investigations, it raises a few questions. Hopi asks them here.

Either way, there seems to be a fair bit of misdirection going around on this Damien Green business. As synthetic outrage goes, the objection to the word 'grooming' has a hint of desperation about it:


"As details of the investigation emerged, the shadow Immigration minister told friends he was livid that detectives resorted to "provocative" language used to describe sex offenders and suicide bombers."
(Iain Dale: "According to an internet dictionary, grooming means....")

Desperation tells it's own story.

For me, one of the big problems is the way that it isn't leaked to the media as a conscientious objector would do, it's the way that it was leaked to Damian Green for a clear political advantage by someone who had also stood as a Conservative candidate, had asked for a job, and clearly wanted to get some sort of career in Conservative politics out of it.

Brian Barder put it quite well in response to Iain Dale in Toby Harris' comments:

"...it appears that the home office official concerned worked, or had worked, in the home secretary’s private office; that he has been arrested and bailed on a charge of leaking official documents without authority to a Conservative front-bench MP; that he has applied in the past for a job in the same Conservative MP’s office and has stood as a Conservative candidate in a local council election; and that the purpose of the leaks has been purely (or impurely) to provide the Opposition in parliament with ammunition to use against the government which employs him — not to blow the whistle on any injustice, impropriety, corruption or dishonesty on the part of his ministers, nor even to sabotage some aspect of policy with which he personally has a moral or ethical objection. Might Mr Dale not agree that this combination of circumstances makes these ’systematic’ leaks notably different from the ordinary run of leaks that we have seen in the past and that at the very least it calls for a mighty thorough investigation, even if a few sensitive political toes get trodden on in the process?"

Daniel Finkelstein puts the case for the (Tory) defence very well here:

Labour generally - and Gordon Brown specifically - did very well out of leaky bureaucrats for a long time - and though there's no commensurate suggestion (yet) that inducements were offered then, there's not a huge amount of daylight between the two parties.

The row seems to boil down to two arguments:
  1. Green's informant appears to be less of a conscientious objector and more of a young careerist - which may make Green's receipt of material slightly less defensible that Brown's.
  2. There is a constitutional problem with plod investigating this the way they would investigate a crime committed by an ordinary member of the public.
The latter point doesn't stand up at all - thus - perhaps - Dale / Green's desperate reaching for the 'grooming' smear?

If The Guardian's suggestion of a mole at the treasury were found to be true, however, this would up the ante very significantly. At a time of economic crisis, if the Tories were shown to be running interference on government announcements, the whole issue goes nuclear.

But for now, I still think that this whole story is very important. It's important because it foregrounds the role of MPs and Parliament, and for a change, the commentariat seem to be upset about a disrespect for elected representatives. But it also makes the case for more in-and-outers - the fetish for civil service neutrality in the UK is one that desperately needs puncturing, preferably cleanly in legislation, rather than damagingly, by stealth - as happens at the moment.

The reason that I say this is because there seems to be a quarter of this argument that is implying that this is really not that big a deal - that it's part of the warp and weft of politics.

If this is the case, then let's formalise it?

Marker-upper

Mick has been shown an instant fisking tool.

It's a good idea, though when I tried it, it was still very clunky. But it offers lots of 'instant rebuttal' possibilities, dunnit?

Think you're clever?

Answer this one then?