Saturday, December 26, 2009

Work made by the devil

This is easily the most entertaining blog post I've read in a long time.

Does kinda make me wonder if people have a cognitive bias that tells them that they have more time on their hands than they really should have though...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Noddy Xmas

The continuing ubiquity of Slade's xmas hit shouldn't be allowed to obscure what a good pop band they were in their time.

A few years ago, Noddy had a bit-part in a sitcom called The Grimleys. He did a few cameo slots with his guitar as well. The best one was a genuinely soulful rendition of Mama weer all crazee now. It's not on YouTube sadly but this less-good version of Cum on feel the noize gives a flavour of it.




Here's the original of their best hit though:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Royal neutrality

I'm definitely warming to this whole transparency lark. I wonder how long it will be before the content of Prince Charles' letters to ministers are revealed? Apparently the argument against this is that doing so would compromise the neutrality of the monarchy.

Perhaps a better way to express this is that it would expose the falsehood of that neutrality?

Here's a good post that Anthony wrote a while ago on The Democratic Society blog.
"...who needs politicians with their silly “democratic mandates” and their facile “years of experience hearing and channelling the views of voters”? If you really want to know how things are, you need to ask a man who was brought up surrounded by servants in a world of nearly unimaginable luxury.

It’s a strange fallacy, the idea that a hereditary monarch is going to be better at understanding the people than their elected politicians. There’s something disquietingly blood and iron about it – the idea that if only these footling politicians got out of the way, the true spirit of the nation would be revealed."
(I've used that quote before, in this post)

The Adams family

If Anthony McIntyre's understanding of Gerry Adams' conduct in recommending his brother for a seat in the Dail in 1997 in the context of
"...his knowledge of child sex allegations against [his] brother – allegations which Gerry Adams claims to have believed from ‘the very beginning’ - for over twenty years without having brought them to the attention of any authority North or South..."
.. then it's hard to see how even a low-level politician would survive such a revelation - never mind the President of a political party.

On a lighter (!) note, it raises a point for me about the way that a rejection of civil society on political grounds - i.e. 'we won't co-operate with the police in any way because we reject the flavour of government that the policing is grounded in' - highlights the fundamental problem with the IRA rejectionism: That it is unable to reject the social contract in part.

In practical terms, you either take the rule of law or leave it. There isn't a practical way of going halfway. When Irish Republicans chose to leave it, they ended up countenancing something far worse than British rule. They countenanced a pragmatic alliance with drug-runners, protection racketeers and local vigilantism in all of it's nasty glory. Their political actions carried disproportionate levels of violence, they covered up their own 'accidents' and left bereft families without answers. It created a fractured society - and one, ironically, that no 26 county government would ever wish to absorb.

If these allegations are true, Gerry Adams chose to leave a known child abuser to his business. There is a warped sensibility in Irish Republicanism that may understand that action in the context of an inability to involve the RUC. To promote the same brother as a potential elected representative, however, must surely be unforgivable for even the most stubborn Republican.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Want for Xmas


K-punk's Mark Fisher has a new book out - Capitalist Realism.

I want a copy almost to the point of actually paying for it. Here's a review.

"If there was any doubt that capitalist realism has survived the bank crash - or that capitalist realism has nothing to do with 'realism' as such - one need only look at the recent (entirely predictable) display of government cowardice in the face of the RBS directors.

All that hot air about the threat of "talent" leaving the bank if they are not paid bonuses.... Such rhetoric played a crucial role in the ludicrous overinflation of business and managerialism over the last thirty years which served as an ideological cover for capital accumulation.

(That the adjective "talent" should ever be applied to bankers is condemnation enough of neoliberal culture.)"

I noticed that it's had a good write up from Will Davies - one of (IMHO) the most perceptive left-wing writers around. Will has become part of 'ResPublica - the new think-tank home of 'Red Tory' / 'Tory Philosopher King' Phillip Blond.

This is one of those little facts that threatens to make your head explode - unless you've read (many years ago) Paul Addison's excellent 'Road to 1945' in which he made the case that Harold MacMillan (someone who - in the mid-1930s -was strikingly similar to Blond in terms of personal positioning) helped to create the political dynamic that enabled Labour to acheive what it did in 1945.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bloggers4Labour iPhone app

Here.

Check it out.

From what I gather, you can mash up any combination of blogs and do something similar, so it's a short step to being useful for any combination of bloggers. Apart from Tories, obviously....

No conoces la diferencia entre el bien y el mal

There's something a bit incongruous about a Spanish subtitling of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. At least Spaniards won't spend the entire film moaning about how the Nottingham accents aren't right though....

Monday, December 14, 2009

Positive censorship?

Thinking about Isiah Berlin's notion of 'positive liberty', it occurs to me that this framework could be applied to a number of other areas of thought.

Take, for instance, the question of censorship. I think that most of us can agree that negative censorship - particularly the state or other powerful individuals stopping the rest of us from speaking our minds or bringing evidence into the public domain - should be kept to a minimum.

There is, of course the 'shouting fire in a crowded theatre' defence of censorship. Then there is the apparent rights that we all have to be free of damaging defamatory attacks that are based upon fiction. Other areas where we accept censorship - however grudgingly - are the D-Notice-type censorship in which the state protects it's ability to act against it's enemies or to defend itself and it's officials from personal attack.

I don't think that there are many of us that don't accept - in principle at least - the need for any of these forms of censorship - and I'm sure that there are others that I've missed along the way that we're all happy with.

However, all of these forms of censorship are rightly contested. They can often be abused to silence people who reveal something that we all really ought to be told. They can be used disproportionately, used in a way that has undesirable or unexpected consequences, or they can be used to mask instances of where the state - or other agencies - are doing something that they shouldn't be doing in the first place. Thus, I suspect, 99% of public debate on the matter.

But what about the question of positive censorship? I find that most of the discussions about censorship are grounded firmly in the view that we should be free from any impositions placed upon us by the general will. It's sterile ground and it often silences what are - for me - the big questions:

  • Should powerful or wealthy agencies be allowed to drown out rival messages by using hefty advertising or PR budgets?
  • Should we collectively be taking steps to ensure that there is a well-funded ecology of people who are researching the claims of commercial organisations and governments and providing commentary and counter-evidence?
  • Should people with money or time-resources be able to use the libel laws more effectively than the rest of us?
  • Should any business own media interests - particularly in proportions that suggest the word 'monopoly' - that allow them to amplify or promote their commercial interests at the expense of their rivals?
  • Should any organisation, business or government body be allowed to get itself into a position where it exerts a monopoly over the way it is described? Government departments and civil servants certainly have this in a way that gadget manufacturers don't.
  • Should anyone be able to monopolise the indexing of other people's content in a way that undermines their ability to produce it?
In a knowledge economy - one where we increasingly acknowledge the value of the 'hive mind', these appear to me to be key issues. It raises question that could - in theory - transform the economics of information sharing. It seems to me that the reason that content is being undervalued and unfairly appropriated in so many ways is because of Google's monopoly in indexing and carrying advertising alongside the indexes of other people's content.

If there were five equal-ish competing Googles, each of which wanted to build the best permissive index of particular pieces of content while providing us with tools that allow us to determine how our content is indexed, I doubt if broadcasters or newspapers would be laying any journalists off.

Quite the reverse.

I could go on and on thinking aloud about this one, but I'd be interested to know if this is something that anyone else has done any work on?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Spontaneous organisation

From the every-good Counago and Spaves:
"No modern factory could function for twenty-four hours without [the] spontaneous organization of work that groups of workers, independent of the official business management, carry out by filling in the gaps of official production directives, by preparing for the unforeseen and for regular breakdowns of equipment, by compensating for management's mistakes, etc."
From "The Proletarian Revolution Against the Bureaucracy," by Cornelius Castoriadis, in the December 1956 issue of Socialisme ou Barbarie.

(The whole post is worth a look)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Biter bit

According to the very lovely Ars Technica site, it seems the record companies have their own version of illegal filesharing....

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Stupid Party - a litmus test

If there is a god, surely s/he will give Dan Hannan a fair wind. They really need to fully understand the many benefits that direct democracy can bring to a political party.

I mean, just ask Tony Benn about how the CLPD made Labour stronger and more electable.

And the Ulster Unionist Party are the force that they are today because of this.

Please please please god, turn the Conservative Party bloggertarian?

(Tony Benn pic from here).

Population growth explained

Really interesting explanation of a problem:

What stops population growth? from Gapminder Foundation on Vimeo.

Good night. God bless. Safe home.

There are only a handful of recording artists that I've listened to more often than the great Liam Clancy who died yesterday:



I saw this YouTube on Dublin Opinion, but if I hadn't, it'd be the performance I'd have looked for myself.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Transparency now!

Yes!
"Extend the Freedom of Information Act to all bodies undertaking public services, including private contractors and Private Finance Initiative providers. Private companies that provide public services receive taxpayers' money and so should be subject to the same scrutiny as public sector bodies. In particular, private contractors should not be able to hide their operations behind 'corporate confidentiality' clauses."
Read the whole thing over at the Other TPA.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hello! Hello! Good to be back! Good to be back!

Forest started the worst nosedive in their history in late 2004 (though it had been in the post for over a year before that) and I started blogging in earnest shortly after (I'd experimented with the idea a few times but never with any conviction).

It was a time when the only thing Forest knew how to do was to make pretty girls cry.

It would be fair to say that a lot of posts here were at least spiced a bit by the fact that I've had a mardy on about football during all of that time.

Blogging has been light here for the last few months though and it gives me great pleasure to show you this image - one that offers a possible explanation:

Quid pro quo: Time to remove restrictions on industrial action.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post elsewhere on, among other things, the social contract and the automatic assumption that we are all included in it - the alternative being Hobbes' notion of the state of nature. Because the alternative to living according to the rule of law is nasty and brutal, we are all deemed to have accepted it - something that should temper any resentment that we may have towards the general concept of law.

A few of the arguments that came out in the threads were that the notion that an action of a state is 'not in my name' is not a sustainable one.

This is the reason why we are right to take an instinctive liberal suspicion with us whenever we encounter the state. If we don't engage fully in elections, our right to moan about governments diminishes - as Steve Earle put it, 'if you don't vote, don't bitch.'

This stood out from yesterday's letters page in The Guardian:
"It is now impossible to live without a bank account, so we have no choice but to put our money in their hands. The fact that they can decide for themselves how much to charge and then to help themselves to it is a scandal. The law must be changed to stop this: not allowing them to take money from our accounts and forcing them to send us a bill first are just two of the changes necessary."
How have we allowed commercial organisations to have the same purchase over us as the organisations that we elect? 'Too big to fail / our grandchildren will be paying for their thieving' isn't the only charge to hold against the banks.

Larry Elliott was right:
“But there is a motley band of discontents for whom business as usual, in whatever form, means that another crisis will erupt before too long. They argue that the exiguous nature of current reform proposals is explained by the institutional capture of governments by the investment banks, the world’s most powerful lobbying groups.”
More than ever, the cornerstone of any liberal concerns we may have must be a determination to neutralise the lobbying power any organisation that is capable of raising a louder voice than any individual. Until that happens, there is no reason that I think of that the right to collectively withdraw labour should be restricted in any way.

I understand the argument that industrial action can often be self interested blackmail. So let's abolish self-interested blackmail across the board? We can start with the most active culprits. By the time we work down to the minor transgressors in the unions, I doubt if organised labour will have any objections?

Updated 17:23, 28/11/09 - redrafted for clarity (!)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Watch and learn

Pretty impressive, eh?



I'm not really sure of the provenance of this music - I heard an Oud player in Tunisia once using a few similar moves and techniques, and of course, there's the fabulous Anouar Brahem with a less flamboyant percussive technique, but I don't know as much about arabic music as I'd like and I'm not sure if this even draws anything directly from it. Here's Anouar though - for reference.



I did have a post up here pointing to another bit of percussive guitar playing a while ago and I've just enjoyed the videos again, so if you have a bit of time to kill, do have a look?

Compass Xmas Party

Time to consider Xmas parties again. Being a freelancer, a lot of the invites I used to get working for a company have dried up, and besides an impromptu drinkup that I'll organise using Facebook, the pick of the crop would appear to be something that combines odd music, poetry and a bit of multimedia.

So a German Oompah band explaining the crisis of capitalism, or the words 'Lo-fi ukelele jazz' don't send shivers down your spine, then the Compass Xmas Party on the 18th December could be for you, as it probably will be for me. (You might have seen Tricity Vogue in 'Blow Up - The Credit Crunch Musical at the Edinburgh Festival over the summer?)

It's in Old St, London and the whole shebang is being put together by Philosophy Football (tel: 020 8802 3499) and details are behind that link. Get your finger out, by the way - my snouts tell me it will sell out shortly.

See you there?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy birthday


The Other Tax-Payer's Alliance is one year old today. No expense has been spared in the celebrations (see pic).

There's a handy comparison sheet for you to follow if you want to work out whether the TPA or the OTPA is your preferred source.

If I had more time, I'd love to curate a project whereby every month an award is given to the journalist who uncritically uses one of the TPA's routinely dishonest press releases.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

James, Janes, Jones and Muphry's Law

So The Sun have had to apologise to Mrs Janes about mis-spelling her family name - after putting the PM through the wringer for exactly the same discourtesy.

They have, it seems, violated Muphry's Law.

(It seems that when you write a post about it you put the wrong links in as well! Apologies for that.)

Two posts by people called Davies

1. Will Davies: Digital exuberance in space. The revealed dissatisfaction of people futzing with their iPhone.

2. Tim Davies: The myth of easy engagement - decisions are made by people who turn up.

Both very very good.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Favourite Football Fact


Here is the badge worn by players of Barrow AFC - currently mid-table in the Blue Square Premier.

Note the Bee with an arrow through it. Bee-arrow .... geddit?

Sadly, their near-neighbours, Cockermouth FC haven't followed Barrow's inspiration.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Captain Robert Nairac


Kevin Crilly has been charged with the abduction and murder of Captain Robert Nairac. Nairac's Wikipedia entry is here.

It was a particularly Gothic episode from the troubles in Ireland in the mid-70s that was the subject of Eoin MacNamee's novel The Ultras.

If you like David Peace's Red Riding novels, you'll like this one. 'Like' may not be the right word though....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stopped clock. Twice a day.

I've not said it before and I'll probably never say it again, but George Monbiot is absolutely right here.
It's true that the vacuity and cowardice of the local papers has been exacerbated by consolidation, profit-seeking, the collapse of advertising revenues and a decline in readership. But even if they weren't subject to these pressures, they would still do more harm than good.

Local papers defend the powerful because the powerful own and fund them. I can think of only two local newspapers that consistently hold power to account: the West Highland Free Press and the Salford Star. Are any others worth saving? If so, please let me know. Yes, we need a press that speaks truth to power, that gives voice to the powerless and fights for local democracy. But this ain't it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

White male grievances

He's not saying much hat you won't have read elsewhere (including on this blog) but the freethinking economist does it with a bit of kerpow in this post: Clarkson, Dalrymple and the patriotic urge to leave the country.

He links to this one by Chris about subjective well-being that I missed because it's been frantic here lately.

Should Irish Republicans wear poppies?

I've argued - over on Slugger - that it would be a good idea. Have a look?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Notverygood PR for Goldman Sachs

You'll have probably modified your own view of Goldman Sachs over the last year or so, but whatever it is, whoever does their PR may be thinking about this para from Rolling Stone a few months ago and wondering how it can be dealt with:
"The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Crime statistics

From Counago and Spaves quoting Laurie Taylor:

"....smiling white collar fraudsters who during the course of their everyday jobs steal massive amounts of money from banks, pension funds, corporations, government and private individuals.

According to even the most conservative estimate £20 billion was stolen in 2005 and City accountants believe such fraud figures may treble as a result of the current recession.

And how much of that fraud will be detected? One leading police fraud officer told me that the figure was probably no more than five per cent. Cases of financial crime are complex, but can that really be sufficient explanation for the news that the Financial Services Authority failed to initiate a single prosecution last year?"
A tip of the broadest-tipped titfer to Wilbur the blogless.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Carve his name with pride

I didn't think the roundup would start this quickly. Nosemonkey was the first one to smuggle out news. He even managed this detailed transmission before he breathed his last.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

State-subsidised journalism?

From The Washington Post (hat tip: Damian)
"The value of federal journalism subsidies as a percentage of gross domestic product in the first half of the 19th century ran, by our calculations, to about $30 billion per year in current dollars. It is this sort of commitment, established by Jefferson and Madison, that we must imagine to address the current crisis.

That level of subsidy to journalism is found in Scandinavian nations, which are among the freest and most democratic in the world."
This bit is particularly striking:
For the first time in American history, we are nearing a point where we will no longer have more than minimal resources (relative to the nation's size) dedicated to reporting the news. The prospect that this "information age" could be characterized by unchecked spin and propaganda, where the best-financed voice almost always wins, and cynicism, ignorance and demoralization reach pandemic levels, is real. So, too, is the threat to the American experiment.

Our Constitution is, the Supreme Court reminds us, predicated on the assumption of an informed and participating citizenry. If insufficient news media exist to make that a realistic outcome, the foundation crumbles.
Sorry to repeat this, (it's not in that article, but it's pertinent):
“If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.”
Thomas Jefferson


(Update: the blogger software appears to be dropping hyperlinks for some reason - no idea why. If it does it again, the Washington Post article is here):
http://tinyurl.com/yhjcsj4

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wuthering Heights

I can't think of a song that's more conflicted than this one. The video helps here.

Great song. But completely bonkers. They must have done something in Kate's house to damp down her self-consciousness.



I think I linked to this one before, but its the song without all of the histrionics:

Friday, October 30, 2009

BNP and YouGov

Last week, Nick Griffin was very pleased about the visitor-numbers on his website. I'm sure not all of them were well-wishers though. Here's something I noticed while having a little poke around:
If EVERY BNP supporter joined Yougov, we could put our support on a par with the Lib Dems and possibly higher! On top of this we could actually raise money for the Party via Yougov as you actually get paid for participating in surveys.
In short, if they don't tell YouGov that they are BNP members then the only way BNP 'over-representation' would get filtered out is by comparison with other data-sets. YouGov should be able to spot outliers.

I made a call to a friend in the polling industry and his view is that this could mean that YouGov are subsidising knuckledraggers and getting their data wrong - over-estimating BNP support (though they do, I understand, weight their conclusions on the understanding that some people don't even admit to pollsters that they vote for the BNP).

Of course the other issue is that - if the BNP have a demographic significantly different from the broad swathe of UK nationals - it is possible that YouGov's 'normalisation' would sideline BNP-members opinions.

Now, if it turned out that BNP members have a dramatically untypical British demographic, even amongst 'ethnic whites', then this would be quite telling - wouldn't it?

Citizens' Coalition for Public Service Broadcasting (CCPSB)

A public service message:

The CCPSB is to be launched at the House of Commons on Monday evening. I would urge you strongly to visit their website, tell the good people there that you support their excellent statement and then go and join their Facebook group as well. I would also ask you to get all of your friends to do the same, and if you have a blog of your own, please write a similar post to this one.

And twitter about it as well, I suppose.

You know that this makes sense.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Evidence-based bullshit generators

Matthew Taylor's potentially catastrophic 'nighttime flatulence' confession comes bundled up in a post that points to a very worthwhile essay - 'On bullshit in cultural policy practice and research' (pdf)
"At the heart of the notion of ‘performance paradox’, thus, is the baffling observation that measures such as the imposition of targets, performance management, evidence-based policy-making, pressures to evaluate the extent to which arts project have the socio-economic impact that policy makers presume they do - or in other words a whole range of measures introduced with the aim to improve transparency and accountability in the public sector - might have resulted, in reality, in more bullshit being produced and injected in public discourses around policies for the cultural sector, and in opaque political messages amounting to little more than doublespeak."
It is widely observed that means-testing and other ways of assessing tax / benefit outcomes simply encourage gaming and dishonesty (this is one of the arguments for the Citizens' Basic Income - an idea that seems good in principle but one that currently lacks an accompanying implementation manual).

Surely the same is true of bureaucracies and politicians? They have to answer for outcomes. If they are micromanaged and subject to extraordinary demands for accountability and transparency, they will simply 'game' the system or circumvent it.

And they will often get caught doing so.

And when this happens, everyone will throw up their hands in despair at how terrible politicians are.

The thing that a lot of transparency campaigners don't seem to have understood is that this is the desired outcome on the libertarian right - where many of these demands for transparency emanate.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Led by donkeys

Here's Pete on the posties.
"Most of the people who work on the front line are not obstacles, they are experts. Their knowledge is far more valuable than the snake oil of management theory. The denigration of the workforce and the elevation of the great talents who brought us the credit crunch into superheroes is one of the more unlikely episodes in a class war, one being waged, increasingly successfully, against workers, rather than by them."
Leaving aside one's ritual allegiances, if anyone is in any doubt about which side to take in this dispute, just go to your local town-centre post office and make a judgment on the quality of management behind it. The Post Office has been willfully mismanaged for a long time, and I can only see it as some kind of softening-up exercise for privatisation.

Prepare to *facepalm*

I think that this website illustrates the pros and cons of direct democracy quite well, don't you?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Knuckledragger latest

Anton is taking us down memory lane with this post on tabloid reaction to Question Time.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Himself

For some reason, I've never seen this one. Giving Motty a drubbing, and just picking a fight for the sake of it.

Again, enigmatic and fascinating.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A litmus test for Question Time

Justifying the decision to allow the leader of the British National Party to take part in BBC1's Question Time, it is Mark Thompson's contention that...
"...It remains the BBC's obligation to scrutinise and hold to account all elected representatives..."
Fair enough. There's a significant body of opinion that believes that this programme has done nothing of the sort for many years. Our argument will gather real data tonight to support it.

Nick Griffin will tonight present a series of malicious falsehoods and evasions to the audience and call them arguments. We will see if he benefits from doing so or it it damages him.

If his reputation and electoral standing are damaged as a result of this programme, Thompson's point will be proven. If the reverse happens, there will remain no justification for keeping Question Time on the schedules of a public service broadcaster - unless they decide to move it to early evening on a weekend and rebrand it as entertainment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Price of everything. Value of nothing.

Dixons ad campaign is oddly candid about something that - for some reason - no-one writes about very much.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just seen....

The Pub Philosopher left a comment here, I visited his blog and saw this:

What passes for independent journalism at a Murdoch title. Could you imagine the BBC being allowed to give a BBC senior officer this obsequious ride?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Small states and nationalism

Tom Harris says that 'nationalism isn't a philosophy, it's an emotion.'

Bearing that in mind, BBC Radio 4's Analysis programme on 'small states' is really worth a listen - a very good scene setter for the questions that define the limits to the decentralisation of power.

BBC, BNP and 'balance'

Nick Cohen on Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time later this week:
A media interested in nothing so much as covering media stories will make the programme an event. Dozens of press articles and radio debates have already analysed the BBC's decision to allow the British National party on to its best current affairs show. The London media barely cover the ugly problems of Stoke-on-Trent, Burnley, Oldham, Dagenham and the other depressed areas where the BNP has made gains, but justifies its current focus on itself by insisting that Dimbleby's rigorous interviewing and the tough interventions of the mainstream panellists will expose the BNP.
Most of the other things worth saying about this have been said, but Nick's right here: The stupidity of the BBC allowing this knuckledragger onto their schedules is a symptom of a wider failure of journalism and commentary. An inability to challenge. A lack of self-confidence, and - yes - a moral re-lah-tiv-ism.

And this point:
"I speak from experience when I say that outsiders – journalists, comedians, celebrity dons – have it easiest. We can engage in a little rabble-rousing, while politicians know that the Westminster press will accuse them of a "gaffe" if they accidentally deviate from the party line. Griffin, who has been practising his sales pitch since he addressed the Ku Klux Klan leadership in 2000, will be composed. He may be surprisingly popular because Question Time cannot just be about racism, antisemitism and links between rhetoric and violence."
It'll be a car-crash, and it will highlight the fatuous nature of the BBC's notion of 'impartiality' - and especially the damage that it does today when there isn't a counterweight of balanced pluralistic journalism and commentary from other sources.

A present you could buy for me?

Here.

Go on. You know it makes sense.

The need for a party of small businesses

In the last couple of weeks, I've had a problem buying a couple of fairly ordinary things. Specifically, a very standard part that would fit on any car and a very standard external door for my house.

In both cases, I asked people who knew where I'd be likely to get them, and in both cases I was told that - until recently - there were one or two local shops where I'd have found what I wanted.

In both cases, I now had a simple choice - with the car part, the only shop within miles was the Halfords on a local retail park about two miles away. I go. The thing I need is out of stock. I make a few phone calls to people who know where to go and my only other option is another Halfords on another retail park about five miles away - somewhere I'd never been before. I go there (this is now approaching three hours to buy a very standard car-part) and luckily, they are in stock and - admittedly - it is very keenly priced.

We used to have a really good friendly and helpful local small retailer, but they closed down in the last year leaving Halfords with total control of this retail market.

With the door, it's a similar choice. Either B&Q or Wickes. And the standard model that Wickes provide for this door had something about it I didn't want (opaque rather than clear glass). So B&Q it is then - no option. After all, you can't go into Wickes and say 'take that glass out and replace it with the other type for me, will you?'

I call numbers in the catalogue for local shops and don't get answers. Then I call the head office number and they tell me the door I want is in stock at one of the local shops. I go to that store and they tell me they've never stocked it. So I go to a few other local branches of B&Q armed with a catalogue. In both cases, the items are out of stock - though in both cases, it took ages to find this out because no-one who worked in these shops had much of a clue about anything that they sold.

At the moment, I'm struggling to work out how I'm actually going to get this door without spending a day driving around on the probably futile task of looking on the shelves of each branch in a 15 mile radius myself. I live in one of the most built-up areas of the country. I'd understand if I lived in Little Piddling and had to go all the way to the big town to get it.

All of this is anecdotal, I know. But the ability of these companies to keenly price objects has enabled them to shut down all of their smaller competitors. They do this and then drive down every other element of their service to the minimum offering low staff numbers and expertise, milking out the profits for their shareholders.

Now I'm no economist, and I'm not a regulator either. But it seems to me that both of these examples reveal a clear monopoly situation. I'm told that we regulate to prevent monopoly situations from arising, and I wonder why the small business lobby are so quiet about this?

I suspect that it's a combination of two things:
  1. An outdated political cleavage in which small businesses haven't adapted and looked for a party that is more likely to represent their interests. For some reason, my limited experience of small business people is that they imagine that the Tories are their party.
  2. The importance of pressure group politics and the need to ensure that well-funded lobbies aren't the only voices at the table. The Federation of Small Businesses don't seem to be using their website to complain about the free reign large retailers are given and I wonder if this is because they're badly funded or managed?
It's a sign of how political parties have failed. They now almost exclusively organise themselves to meet the needs of established well-funded lobbies rather than those that are underrepresented in the national debate.

As far as I can see, though, there is a gap in the market for a political party to promote itself as the party of small business.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

In the stocks: Latest

One of the more ridiculous elements of the latest round of the MPs expenses soap opera:
"Mark Durkan's letter asked for a payback for half a £136 bill for three nights in a Paddington hotel in 2005. He'd got a double room you see, and only used half of it himself; his wife had come over from Northern Ireland to see his maiden speech."
Mark Durkan was choosing to stop in a £45 a night hotel in Paddington - WTF? How do you find a £45-a-night room anywhere in London in the first place?

Extreme forbearance

A glance across the Irish sea really does illustrate the level of corporate welfare that the modern state is prepared to offer. Here's Karl writing about NAMA on the Irish Economy blog:
"It is with great reluctance, then, that I have to say that it’s now pretty hard to see this plan as anything other than a deliberate decision to show extreme forbearance to the property developers who got us into this mess in the first place."
Don't just read that bit though. (Via Mick)

And when you've finished, here's NAMA explained in golfing terms (MP3) by Padraig Harrington (from Ian Dempsey's breakfast show podcast).

On the same show, Padraig Harrington, Michael O'Leary and Declan Ganley explained the Lisbon Treaty a few weeks ago here (MP3). Ronan Keating knows how the Boyzone and the Eurozone compare.

Wobblies

Dewi's got a good post about The Wobblies up on Slugger. Go have a look - and as he says, be careful not to get sucked in.

This is what the left-blogosphere is for

Yesterday, the despicable Jan Moir was slapped from one side of the media bubble to the other and back again. Anton has as good an account of this as any, and watching his blog, I suspect that he was somewhat instrumental in brewing up this storm. All of this in a week when the blogosphere - and even the right-wing blogsophere to some extent - leaped to the defence of Parliament for the first time in a while - creating the kind of weather that Parliamentarians everywhere would like to see more of in making the Trafigura injunction unsustainable.

All of it, however, points to the left-side of social media beginning to find a real purpose.

All political movements have a strain of thought that cuts across the actual issues that they care about. The most obvious example of this is within the Green Party - the 'Realos' and the 'Fundis'.

In summary, the Fundis believe that you should walk around looking like a sack of shit, farting like a regular vegan, refusing to compromise with the electorate in any way and using election literature to lecture everyone about how bad they've been and why the ought to vote Green. The Realos think you should say anything you need to do to get elected and not do anything to annoy powerful vested interests once you win so that you will win next time.

OK - there may be a couple of bits of caricature in there, but you see the point? Personally, I'm often accused of being too far on the Realo side of the political left. I'm told that I'm quite far out to the left in terms of a lot of the positions I take but the Realo perspective often gets me into arguments where I get accused of political machismo and 'why don't you just cut to the chase and vote Tory.'

Again, broad strokes. And I don't want to rehash the argument now, but my fairly consistent position has been that - if you want to diminish this - you have to make an impact upon the climate that politics works in. There's no point in moaning about Tory Bliar when public debate is tuned and moulded by right-wing media monopolies and over-powerful pressure groups. This week has seen social media being used to crowdsource hostility towards these forces. It's been a good week.

But where next? Well, our line of attack on the right is one that can be as concerted as their attack on us has been. They have focussed upon civil liberties and this imaginary political corruption as a way of recruiting large active numbers to a highly individualistic campaign. It has has done real damage to Labour's ability to govern, it's electoral prospects next year and its activist base. There are people that won't knock on doors for Labour next year because they imagine that their government has turned this country into some kind of police state.

Now, there is no reason why the stakes can't be raised on lazy journalists. Those who simply reprint the press-releases of the Taxavoiders Alliance. We can look at ways of toxifying the brands of newspapers and attacking their advertisers. We can start demanding the levels of transparency from corporations that the right had demanded from their enemies - a too-powerful Parliament and BBC. This week, we've stopped big vile corporations from burying their bad news. We've damaged the Daily Mail's brand and hit it where it hurts.

We can pick up Tom's lead and start demanding more transparency in corporate governance, and more responsibility to be placed upon shareholders of companies. The one thing that we don't yet have - even in a social media-type decentralised way - is any co-ordination on this.

There is, I believe, a need for a concerted attempt to create frameworks that will consistently damage the brands of media interests and provide channels for those that will expose the anti-democratic practices of monopolistic corporations.

It's been a good week and there's a bit of impetus that can be picked up here. I reckon so anyway...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Anti-liberalism

Here's a new blogger with something to say. Go have a look.

Labour's biggest mistake?

It seems that the Tories are considering not making the mistake that Labour did in 1997.

The tragedy is that they will do it in a uniquely Tory way:
"Francis Maude, the Shadow Cabinet Office minister, has drafted proposals to let ministers, rather than the 28 permanent secretaries, chair boards in Whitehall departments if the Tories win power. Mr Maude is planning to fill these boards with non-executive members from the private sector and, for the first time, give them powers to recommend firing permanent secretaries. The most senior civil servants would be put on fixed-term contracts and the salaries of the top 35,000 officials would be published online."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Participation and collective action

From TechPresident:

Indiana Univeristy's Elinor Ostrom focuses her work on how people can go about creating rules for transactions around shared resources, or "commons," that make collective action rewarding (enough) for everyone involved. And where she added a particularly new way of thinking to economics was to zero in on the economic transactions that take place in ad hoc organizations. Her work is part of a body of knowledge that underlies what people are looking for and considering as they design Gov 2.0 systems of participation and new models for democracy, which makes her of particular interest to those of us interested in thinking through a distributed view of the world.

More nudging

Stairs and Nudge:




(ta Vic)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I want YOU to shaft OfCOM

Further to my two recent posts on Left Foot Forward, there's this from Beau Bo D'Or.

Thing is, there's nothing wrong with shafting OfCOM - for being too light touch in their regulation. But that's not what they're going to be shafted for...

What I meant to say earlier....

... about the Tories was this:
"What I'm concerned about is that they are the tip of an iceberg that reveals underlying determination to embark on a Nozickean vandalisation of public services, using the state of the public finances as an excuse to do so."
There's more.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Passive aggressive notes

I'm guessing you've seen the passive aggressive notes site? If you haven't, go and have a look for a laugh.

It slightly reminds me of my dad. When he was an apprentice, he was told not to leave his pint behind if he needed to go for a piss in the pub after work. If he did, he was told, it'd be gone when he got back.

He had a better idea. He wrote 'do not drink this - I've spat in it' on a bit of paper and left it beside his half-finished glass before he went to the cawsy.

When he got back, there were a list of additions to his note;

So have I
So have I
So have I
So have I
So have I

Tories and the economy

For a party that are expecting a shoe-in at the next election, there's a surprising degree of consensus among economists about what a disaster such a victory would be for the economy. Freemania offers an entertaining summary here, and Chris outlines what he believes to be a view of the deficit which is reasonably mainstream among economists:
If the economy does grow nicely, the deficit will take care of itself. And if it doesn’t, we’ll need a deficit to support the economy, and the chances are that global investors’ demand for government bonds will stay high, so we can continue to finance the deficit easily.

Either way, there’s no point jeopardizing people’s jobs through spending cuts that might be unnecessary or perhaps even counter-productive.
Former MPC Member David Blanchflower says:
"Lesson one in a deep recession is you don't cut public spending until you are into the boom phase. Keynes taught us that. The consequence of cutting too soon is to drive the economy into a depression. That means rapidly rising unemployment, social disorder, rising poverty, falling living standards and even soup kitchens. The Tory economic proposals have the potential to push the British economy into a death spiral of decline that would be almost impossible to reverse for a generation.

The debate at such times is not about big government versus small government. It isn't about moving this service from public to private sector because the private sector can do it better. The debate here is about maintaining levels of aggregate demand. In a deep recession the choice is: the government does it or nobody does it; it is public spending v no spending. You don't worry about paying off debt when you are at war: you have other priorities. Win the war first."
We're six or seven months from a general election and it's hard to imagine that Labour won't be able to portray the Tories as seizing upon the opportunity presented by the credit crisis to implement their old programme of spending and tax cuts then, as Tony Blair once put it, if we can't beat these Tories we really don't deserve to be in government.

But then there's the confidence factor isn't there? Labour may have a more effective position on silly little questions like 'how we will avoid totally schtupping the economy for generations to come', but at least the tories know how to work a pocket calculator, so maybe a change of government won't be such a disaster after all?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Dave Osler & comrades

I can't imagine that there are many people who write for - or enjoy reading - political blogs that won't be wishing Dave Osler and his comrades all the best in his forthcoming legal action.

A good deal is riding on the outcome of this case.

Reflections on Tory Conference weak

How to behave like a 'government in waiting' - three steps;
  1. Leave political grouping in the European Parliament to form a new one based on Euroscepticism in general and having a bit of a fit about the Lisbon Treaty in particular
  2. Get joined by a shower of goosestepping fruitcakes
  3. Find out that the new leader of this group you've set up is in favour of the Lisbon Treaty
It's a good job that no-one who knows anything about it thinks that the Tories might completely fuck up the economy, innit?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Will Davies on the 'post-bureaucratic state'

This is a cracking post - really, do go and read it. I've got a few comments that I'll come to in a moment, but Will picks up Tom Steinberg's 'capture' by the Tories.

I think I'm almost alone in this one, (Will articulates it better than me though) but I've never found MySociety's work to be politically neutral, and the way that others seem to have done so has bothered me for a while. Their work could be described as audacious and capable, but not neutral.

Tom Watson raises some questions of his own and I'd add to them:

I've always found the concept that politicians work for us to be slightly fatuous in the same way that the concept of politicians 'spending our money' doesn't work. It's not our money, it never was. It never will be. No amount of minarchist fantasy will ever change this.

Politicians don't work for us. They work for the interests of the nation as a whole. We live in that nation and every few years have the option to pick better politicians.

This is a question that should divide the left and the right. It may be the case that a lot of the left is intellectually impoverished to the point of not realising this, but large sections of the political right understand it very clearly.

If I could take issue with one aspect of Tom's justification of his position, it's this one:
I am not a political partisan - party politics bores me rather. I'm not a member of any political party, nor have I ever been. I've worked for the Institute of Economic Affairs, and I've worked for the Blair era Strategy Unit, as a civil servant.
The IEA coupled with Will Davies observation about...
"...the paradox of the neo-liberal state has always been that it is managed by self-loathing bureaucrats. It has conducted a recurring rationalist critique of its own rationality, constantly restructuring, reinventing, reimagining its own loathed inefficiencies, but never being able to settle on anything that can be agreed on as efficient."
... doesn't suggest any kind of political neutrality to me.

Back to the post though. Reading it, I was hoping that Will was going to get onto the question of pluralism. I agree with pretty-much everything he's saying here, but would suggest that the answer would be to work towards a range of crowdsourced adversarial poles of 'distributed wisdom' (if that's not too jargonny?)

In less geeky terms, I mean political parties and the way that they form policy. But not political parties entirely in their current form. I'd argue that the changes in the way that we process, share and aggregate information means that political affinity groups can have more capacity than they used to - as long as they can evolve into less hierarchical structures - in the way that Wikipedia or Mixed Ink's contributors are.

And in crudely political terms, I mean local franchises based upon such clubs - ones where the political centre has the option to withdraw the right to use that franchise under certain circumstances, and local groups are feeding back on the dirty old stuff about what you need to say and do to actually win elections.

It also raises the old question of a more politicised civil service. The way that inner-and-outer relationships between civil servants and parties work is, surely, more appropriate if we want to come up with an alternative to the Hayekian nightmare that Will sketches out.

But, as I said, these aren't quibbles. It's a really good post - go read it.

Eurosceptics

Nosemonkey sez:
"Every time you make such wild claims – and they turn out to be unfounded – you are alienating potential allies. When Lisbon comes into force and life in the EU continues much as before, proving all the claims that this treaty is in any way significant to be objectively false (because no matter what many eurosceptics claim, Lisbon *is* just a tidying-up exercise) – when member states continue to run themselves, when the threatened abortion clinics and enforced involvement in military campaigns fail to materialise – then anyone with half a brain will be able to see that the claims of the eurosceptics were false, and so stop paying them any further attention."

With the greatest respect to him - and he is one of the best political bloggers around - he's really underestimating the willful mendacity and stupidity of of the large majority of Eurosceptics.

The same lies will just resurface next time and the same fuckwit journos will repeat them and the same idiots will believe them all over again.

Berlusconi bollixed

Good news.

Now this question seems to be a perfectly sensible on to me, but I never hear it asked by any mainstream political grouping, or by the media:

If you have to achieve standards on human rights, corruption and democratic practices to get in to the EU, what happens when your country dips below them or fails to keep pace with the standards required by membership?

When will Italy be expelled from the EU?




From here.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Elsewhere again

Wondering if The Sun have made a mistake dumping Labour.

There - not here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Qualifications

You'll have heard the old gag about ....
Those who can, do
Those who can't, teach
Those who can't teach, teach gym...
My wife informs me that this isn't funny.

Well, how about "those who absolutely fuck up everything they touch end up editing a newspaper?"

Synchronicity


Just re-reading American Tabloid.

Then saw this Facebook poll.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lost footage

My friend, Alan, has found some YouTubes of his dad.



... and



... among others.

Alan Snr was a highly rated Bantamweight boxer in the 1960s - famous enough to be the subject of an episode of This is Your Life with Eamonn Andrews

Tragically, the tapes have been lost and Alan and his family don't have a copy of the programme. I say 'lost' though I suspect that 'not looked for thoroughly' would probably a better description? On the huge off-chance that an ITV archivist is reading this blog, any help gratefully .... etc etc.

Update: It was on the 15th March 1972 - the week after Gordon Banks was on.

And while we're on the subject of 1960s boxers, this is a blog, innit? Search engines like blogs, don't they?

If I mention Vic Andretti, you never know, he may find this. If you do, Vic, and you're ever back over from Florida, get in touch will you? It'd be good to see you again after all these years (hint: The Ringside 1990-5? You gave me enough drinks on the house to have Brenda giving me daggers whenever I walked in....)

Bikes at stations latest

This is not so much a good idea as a bleedin' obvious idea.

The Department for Transport has announced which rail stations will accommodate 10,000 extra cycling parking spaces across the country.

The £14m scheme will see cycle hubs introduced at 10 stations, including three in London, Leeds, Grimsby, Hull, Liverpool, Scunthorpe, Sheffield and York. The Leeds hub will be completed by next May, and the others will open within the next two years.

An extra 4,500 cycle spaces will be created at nearly 350 stations, and four train operators will transform their cycling facilities on their networks to become flagship ‘Bike ‘n’ Ride’ companies,
Why does this need such a fuss and why should it cost so much money? Creating a safe place at local railway stations and tube stations to leave bikes would get loads of traffic off the road.

Probably wouldn't be enough for me though. As Alan Partridge once put it, "there's a time and a place for cycling. The time is summer, and the place is Center Parcs."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Paulie elsewhere

I posted this earlier on the new Left Foot Forward blog. Have a look?

Shorter version:
Rupert Murdoch's co-operation with new Labour didn't just buy a policy-veto. It cemented a regulatory free-ride for his companies that have earned him £billions.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Freedom

Whatever you thought about new Labour in the 1990s, they seemed to be cresting a wave, in shallow public policy terms. The Third Way appeared to be a reasonably worthwhile punt, given the perceived failure of both the market (Liverpool) and the state (Berlin Wall).

But this is the kind of language that Tory think tanks are still using:
The answer to higher education's funding crisis is neither higher fees nor higher taxes, but liberation from state control.
And....
"Taxpayers – including the middle classes – are already rebelling. They may flee elsewhere as the global economy allows them to transfer jobs and investment."
And....
"If the government wants to help the universities, ... it should also rethink its economic role and learn from two lower-cost economies: Switzerland and the US."
If I were a Tory, back in the mid-1990s, I would have been depressed out of my gourd, given Labour's ability to hit the right notes, both in terms of short-term electoral advantage, but also in terms of a pragmatic approach to the big issues.

As a Labour supporter now, I must admit that I'd be reluctant to let my bookmaker profit from my wishful thinking. But I doubt that any bookie would be too offer attractive odds on Tories for more than one term if this is what passes for thinking in their ranks.

Impartiality v plurality

Tory Culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt has surely got a point here about the BBC:
"I wish they would go and actively look for some Conservatives to be part of their news-gathering team, because they have acknowledged that one of their problems is that people who want to work at the BBC tend to be from the centre-left. That's why they have this issue with what Andrew Marr called an innate liberal bias."
All of that said, it's an odd observation to make at the moment. Nick Robinson - the chief BBC political correspondent - is the most overtly partisan journalist to hold that position in my memory (and I suspect, the most partisan since the post was created). His Tory credentials, and the bias of his reporting is barely veiled.

There's clearly a case for the BBC to abandon their quest for impartiality and embrace pluralism instead, as I argued here a while ago.

The biggest bias that they need to address is the metropolitan ex-public school Westminster insider one. The quality of political commentary would improve massively if they could deal with that....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Zer0 Books

Saw this via the verygood Dublin Opinion blog:
Zer0 Books

Contemporary culture has eliminated both the concept of the public and the figure of the intellectual. Former public spaces – both physical and cultural – are now either derelict or colonized by advertising.

A cretinous anti-intellectualism presides, cheerled by expensively educated hacks in the pay of multinational corporations who reassure their bored readers that there is no need to rouse themselves from their interpassive stupor.

The informal censorship internalized and propagated by the cultural workers of late capitalism generates a banal conformity that the propaganda chiefs of Stalinism could only ever have dreamt of imposing.

Zer0 Books knows that another kind of discourse – intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist – is not only possible: it is already flourishing, in the regions beyond the striplit malls of so-called mass media and the neurotically bureaucratic halls of the academy.

Zer0 is committed to the idea of publishing as a making public of the intellectual. It is convinced that in the unthinking, blandly consensual culture in which we live, critical and engaged theoretical reflection is more important than ever before.
Mark Fisher of K-Punk is published by Zer0 which should give you some idea of what they're about. K-Punk's latest post may get me reading Robert Ludlum's 'Bourne Identity' (which I think Mark is implying, isn't as bad as the film).

And here's a Kraftwerk video nicked from there as well:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lib Dems 'mansion tax'

Bad Concience thinks it's politically astute on the Lib-Dems part. I reckon it's a bit of a tragedy that it is seen as being a bold attention-grabbing move that a lot of Lib-Dems want to row back from.

(via S&M)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Datecheck

Further to that iBuilder / reputation management post yesterday, now there's datecheck.

I suppose that there's an argument for being able to check people out before you take them home with you, but this is a bit too creepy, surely?

Election advice


From Irish Election.

Blogger of the year: New candidate

I must admit, I thought Roger had this title in perpetuity with David Lindsay in close second. But it seems that they both have a worthy rival.

In fairness, Roger and David have both actually been involved in the setup of a political party, and this should give them the edge. Probably only one of these parties is destined for a thousand year hegemony and I'm not certain which one ... yet.

Neil hasn't set up his own party, though this quote....
"... LibDems expelled me, officially on the grounds that I approve of free markets (which in their Orwellian world is now officially "illiberal")"
... suggests that he may be a worthy addition to Roger's lot?

However, Neil's shortcomings on the 'setting up your own political party' front are counterbalanced by the way that he offers us a lengthy post containing all of the rejected letters that he's written to newspapers.

As a single post, it just gives and gives. Roger. David. Time to get your fingers out. Your reign may be close to an end....

(Hat tip: Matt Wardman)

Update: This Blogger software is serving up ads based upon the post that you submit to the site. When I added this post the first time, I was offered a link to this site. I hope that at least one of their founders is a blogger? Please god.....

Meet the opponents...

.... of US healthcare reform.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monopolies, market research and reputation management (branding)

4iP have invested in a site called MyBuilder. It's designed to make it easier to find a good builder without being ripped off.

I'm only pointing to this because it is sort-of related to an observation that I made here recently (in a longer post) about how monopolies are sustained by their superior market research - and that the way that they keep this information to themselves could be seen as an appropriation of information that - by rights - belongs to us.

We may not have made a fully-informed decision in which we allowed them to use our judgement in the first place.

As a result, monopolies can fine-tune their services to make theirs the least uncompetitive one on offer. The result is not necessarily good for the consumer and it creates a high barrier to entry that excludes genuine entrepreneurs.

Market research also informs brand development. If you've stumbled across the concept of the 'market for lemons', one of it's corollaries is that - with imperfect information or understanding of various market options - we undervalue products. Brands allow large companies to circumvent this and be able to get higher prices for their goods and services.

So, MyBuilder - by promoting reputation management - will allow smallish builders to develop a reputation independent of large brands. Admittedly, it's not a market that is particularly dominated by these brands anyway - but I'd like to see similar projects in markets that are more dominated in this way.

Rhyme, rhythm and reason

A good while ago, I pointed to a great LKJ poem called 'If I Woz a Tap Natch Poet'

Philosophy Football have taken the refrain from this as the title for an event that they're helping the TUC out with - Rhyme Rhythm and Reason - featuring Linton Kwesi Johnson on a rare London appearance.

I saw LKJ at the Meltdown festival a few years ago (curated by Lee Perry if that isn't too alarming an idea) and he was very good. I was half-expecting it to be a nostalgia-fest, but it turnd out to be very contemporary.

It's all part of the TUC's support for the World Day for Decent Work - see you there if you're going?

Here's Tap Natch Poet again for you:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Karma

You don't have to be that interested in Gaelic games (and I'm more of an interested bystander than any kind of expert) to enjoy this bit of slagging:



And what goes around comes around. Probably the most dated bit of conventional wisdom in Irish football is the advice to 'never bet against Kerry.'

(Ta Vic for the video)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Broadcasting levies

There is, to my mind, an unassailable case for the application of industry levies in order to secure the future for public service broadcasters, and to ensure a future alternative to what passes for non-PSB reporting in this country.

Jeremy Dear of the NUJ makes that case here. I would read it if I were you.

Update: The BBC have finally decided to defend themselves. About time too.

When Rupert send Mini-Murdoch in to bat for him last month, he really did send a boy to do a man's job, didn't he? I don't usually go a bundle on attacking Labour ministers, but Ben Bradshaw is a complete waste of space at the DCMS.

A former Corporal at the BBC, he's entirely immersed in a universe where we don't even pretend that policy-prescriptions can't be vetoed by powerful media interests.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Still mourning for the holiday


English countryside - summer evening (near Ridgeway hostel)
Originally uploaded by Paul L Evans

When I got back from Ireland a few weeks ago, I had another quick trip - this time to Wiltshire for a weekend. While I was there, I took this.

The English countryside is a funny place isn't it? The people are a bit odd, but it looks quite nice.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

FIle under 'just give up trying'

The tenor banjo is one of about half-a-dozen instruments that I'm trying to master without much success at the moment.

Here's Gerry O'Connor with a couple of reels - the second one is New Copperplate - one I tried learning but won't bother with any further after hearing this rendition of it:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Down the tubes

September the 11th is supposed to be a good day to bury bad news, and Iain Dale has chosen today to publish his top 100 Labour blogs. NTaH is down from a heady No30 (I think - I can't find it now) to a lowly 74 this year.

I'm trying to put a brave face on this, but if I'm honest, I've let you - my readers - down a little bit in 2008 by somewhat neglecting this blog in favour of my far-more-boring-if-that's-possible Local Democracy blog - a site I confidently predict will slip beneath Mr Dale's radar (it's much more non-aligned than NTaH is, that's for sure).

I notice that the Virtual Stoa - so good they ranked it twice - is bookending this blog at both no 67 and 86 - surely grounds for celebrations in the Senior Common Room at Scone College?

Dave Osler isn't there at all - wtf? And I don't know how Bloggerheads or Chicken Yoghurt will console themselves with dropping off the list entirely.

How the mighty are fallen.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Old instincts

Here's another post that I've had sitting in my drafts folder for a while - I've decided to finish it and get it out rather than ponder on it any longer:

A few weeks ago now, Dave Osler had a really good post up about the failure of the left to take advantage of the worst crisis of capitalism since the 1930s. Luke Akehurst also appears, thankfully, to be back on his feet and he had a typically pugnacious post up here that (oddly) chimes well with Dave.

Despite their differences, they appear to agree on two big things:
  1. They're both pointing to a genuine crisis facing Labour, and one I'd agree exists. I suspect that you could get reasonable odds on the party not existing in it's current form within the next decade or so - the French Socialists may currently be describing Labour's future, and social democratic parties elsewhere have disintegrated in a way that should prove to be a warning to all of us.
  2. They are both appealing for fresh thinking. I completely agree with Luke about the need to avoid the siren call of betrayal as an explanation for Labour's current problems. New Labour's rise can be explained, at least in part, by the sterility of centre-left thinking in the 1990s
However, I really can't endorse Luke's highly defensive 'we'd do it all exactly the same way if we had our time again' approach (I met Luke back pre-1997 and he is nothing if not consistent).

I think that there are a lot of very old left approaches that Labour could take - ones that would make electoral sense while advancing a left-ish agenda. In many cases, I think that they involve a return to values that existed in the British labour movement during the late 19th and early 20th century.

I've posted most of them in the past (thus the links) but I'd suggest that it may hint at directions for an electorally successful alternative to the current position that the Labour Party is taking - without asking the party to really change it's clothes too much. One qualification: All of these posts are about a long-term re-orientation of the Labour Party and the left in general. They're not really intended as short term policy proposals:
  1. A more aggressive critique of monopoly capitalism - position the left closer to genuine enterprise. I banged on about this a while ago here. One of the best posts I've ever read on a British blog - this one by Pete Ryley - covered the backstory to this.
  2. A more aggressive attitude towards the state bureaucracy. New Labour's single biggest failing has been in the quality of public management. The higher-paid public sector workers and the management consultants who often replace them are probably the less likely to vote Labour than their underlings, yet they've been huge beneficiaries of a Labour government. These people are the enemy. Allowing the Tories to gain points by attacking them is just potty, and I suspect that when Gordon Brown asks them to be a bit restrained in their demands, he'll just make himself look even weaker than he already is. Even I'm tempted to vote Tory next time when I read stories like this one.
  3. The creation of a client group of public sector workers. Having chucked money at the public sector, Labour has managed to persuade public sector workers - including many on the lower pay-grades - to vote Tory. Again, it's not the first time I've made this argument. It's time that public sector workers saw their bosses get a bollocking and a few small high-profile gestures on pay and conditions wouldn't go amiss either. Recruit them to appraise their bosses and the stupid agency arrangements that drive them all nuts. Matthew Taylor's view that public sector-led innovation could even result in cost savings is worth a look again. We should be inviting Inspector Frost to moan about Mr Mullet.
  4. A concerted attack on agencies that do public sector work. They do it expensively, badly, and none of the people who make a fortune out of the whole shooting match will ever vote Labour. Fuck 'em! This is one of those issues where a spot of good old transparency would work wonders. How much do they get paid to do their work? How much do they pay their staff? How much do they pay themselves? How much are we paying for middlemen who enervate the people they should be motivating to provide good service? We need to know.
  5. Co-operatives - both consumer and worker varieties. There is almost nothing by way of a well-resourced discussion about the scientific management of co-ops. Again, this is an old theme here. A cross-party commission on co-ops including the Lib-Dems and The Greens would be very useful here.
  6. Adult education. The emphasis on 18+ education has, I would suggest, gone ahead of the real demand for it. Don't get me wrong - increasing those who go through third-level education is an admirable aim, but I'd suggest that people returning to education in their late 20s and 30s (or later) would be less content to compete for the places on Applied Madeupology courses that seem to dominate large slices of the curriculum (self-organising and informal education has to be an important part of this). An offering to fund people who've been in work for years to take time off and study something that they really want to, would be electorally attractive as well as being the right thing to do.
  7. Political decentralisation. The Tories have been allowed to steal these particular clothes - and they've done it easily. The Labour Party - perhaps in partnership with the Lib-Dems and the Greens - needs to establish a commission on how a higher quality of candidates can be found for council elections. How can these people be handed more power at the expense of upper-middle managers? How can they improve their relationship with voters and reputation at a local level? There are implications from any likely conclusions such a commission would draw for regional and national government. There's even an efficiency argument for it.
  8. Democratic renewal. The moment you mention democratic reform, the left gets itself stuck into a tedious pointless argument about voting systems. Yet there seems to be little or no interest in things like co-design - involving people in design and build of their own environments, schools and transport systems, etc. There are many other areas of democratic renewal that can be discussed and acted upon without touching on different flavours of PR. What about participatory budgeting or a better use of social media by elected representatives? What about MPs taking a more active role in public enquries? They could start by spending the last six months + of a Labour government getting Labour MPs to cross examine bankers on TV - an inquiry into the current crisis. Here's an argument for this from the Irish Republic.
  9. Open Source - again, I posted recently on this one. By promoting collaborative information sharing, both small businesses and consumers could benefit at the expense of larger businesses.
  10. Can't think of a tenth one now. Nine's enough to be going on with, innit?
New Labour grew up, at least in part, out of the observation that a small-c conservativism in the British people was offended by the the posturing of New Left-influenced elements within the party. I'd suggest that all of these ideas - outlined above - avoid this problem.