Friday, January 30, 2009


Seeing as there's no shortage of 'transparency campaigners', here's a suggestion:

I'm completely flat out at the moment, but if you've got time, why not go over to the Taxpayers Alliance hagiography Wikipedia page and add a bit of detail.

Here's what's missing:
  • Details of who funds them - and we want details - details details details!
  • How much tax those who fund them pay
  • When their tax freedom day is
  • Details of their dishonest campaigning and the comprehensive rebuttals that they have been given
  • Who works for them - everyone - details. Who else they work for, what evidence we have of their other personal agendas, etc
  • Which lazy stupid journalists re-print their press releases uncritically- details of their other stupid lazy journalism as corroborating evidence
A fair bit of this can be moved over from the Other Taxpayers Alliance website, but if you want to dig, feel free.

If there is any information that is not freely available or in the public domain, ensure that the Wikipedia page lists it all.

Every trade union should commit some of it's research, campaigns and press time to this information gathering. Every local authority and governmental body that has it's message disrupted should ask it's press officers to contribute any information that crosses their desks.

Because we deserve to know. It's our right! Transparency is a wonderful thing!

Next off: Media owners, their commercial interests and how it correlates with the editorial line that their organs adopt.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Voting on how to spend £25,000

This story is really interesting. Well, it is to me anyway.

(Backstory: Ebbsfleet Utd was bought by a consortium of small-shareholding fans last year following an internet project to gather interest in the whole thing. Now the fans get to vote on how to spend the money.)

I hope they do well, and I think that it could just work.

Blow the whistle

The NUJ have a 'Blow The Whistle' campaign running.

You should support it. Tell them about shoddy cheap journalism wherever you see it.
It'd be really good if Councillors - in particular - could turn up a bit of heat on local papers and their refusal to report local government with any accuracy or sense of responsibility.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Simphiwe Dana - a reminder

Fafuxake, I bet you didn't do what I told you last week, did you?

You didn't go and listen to Simphiwe Dana, did you? As I said, Zundiqondisise is the standout track, but they're all worth a go.

Why? Why is it not available for legal download here?

Guess what?

The way that the BBC understands it's 'impartiality', there is an argument that it is right to balk at running the DEC Gaza appeal.

Whatever. It should run it if it can find a way of doing so anyway, though I suspect the publicity the appeal has got as a result has outweighed any benefit it would have got from an airing on the BEEB.

But - guess what - it may go against the BBC's rules on impartiality. But if they had my definition of the term, they wouldn't be in this pickle in the first place.

There's nothing wrong with taking sides. It's just wrong to stop others from doing the same thing.

The House of Lords

Too busy to say much today, but if this story about peers taking cash from anyone hoping to influence legislation (and if it's even half-true the only question we need to ask is 'how high a cliff should they be thrown over') has reminded me just how quiet everybody (including yours truly) is about reform of the House of Lords.
  • Who - exactly should they represent? (By this, I mean should they have constituencies / regions?)
  • How should they be elected? What voting system? And are indirect elections necessarily a no-no? (Councillors could select them?)
  • How should candidates be selected by parties?
  • Is there a democratically acceptable mechanism that would either force political parties to select candidates to reflect their internal diversity - or even to encourage non-party candidates?
  • When should the elections be - and how often?
  • What role should a reformed Lords play? What powers should they have?
  • What relationship should they have with regional assemblies, local government and the EU?
  • What sort of allowance / facilities should they be given?
  • What sort of people are likely to make such a structure work?
And most importantly, how do you get people who will have some of their powers supplanted by these people to vote for anything that you or I would find acceptable? And by this, I don't just mean the House of Commons - I also mean the Cabinet and the PM's office.

I dunno about you, but this seems to be a huge issue, but no-one is talking about it.

Oh a follow up question? Are you surprised that this story has come out today? I'm not - I'm only surprised that it didn't appear sooner.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Destroying your Twitter brand

This is quite funny. I'm a bit suspicious about whether someone had actually nicked his passwords. Someone I know regularly updates Twitter by sending texts from his mobile. 

He walked back into the room yesterday when I'd managed to get as far as thumbing the following SMS to his phone:

"I've just laid a huge stinky turd the size of a rounders bat - Christ it made my eyes wate..."

He snatched the phone off me just before I hit 'send.' So, kids, whatever you do, don't save your Twitter phone number in your phone under the name 'Twitter' - whatever you do...

That's how you destroy a Twitter brand....

Friday, January 23, 2009

Public spirited

Shuggy is prepared to sacrifice himself for science.

Allegedly, it's the size of your wallet that matters, according to someone with space to fill.

I would be willing to offer myself in a research capacity with a representative sample of women and do a before and after thing; we go once as I am now - i.e. fucking skint - and again after I've been given a huge amount of dosh and see if there's any difference. If the experiment fails, I think I could live with the disappointment. Exactly the sort of hard work, sacrifice and commitment to the primacy of science that Obama was calling for in his inaugural speech, I feel.

Kick? Or something more serious perhaps?

Matthew Taylor says:

"I defy anyone to read the following without wanting to kick something or somebody."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ad hominem argument fallacy

I've been teased in another thread for an alleged use of this fallacy.

So it is with some reluctance that I link to this endorsement of the Henry Porter Movement Convention on Modern Liberty.

Talking to neighbours

I can't help thinking that this 6% figure (non-neighourly attitudes) that Kevin has unearthed is actually quite low.

Surely there are a fair few people who will tell a survey that they do want to have contact with their neighbours, but that - in truth - that they actually don't?

In my line of work, I'm often tempted advise people that it is impossible underestimate people's willingness to interact with each other - and that people have quite elaboate avoidance strategies in place to help them keep themselves to themselves.

That the decline in neighbourliness is not just a factor of social atomisation, but that social atomisation has been welcomed by a substantial number of people who would claim to deplore it.

Digging around for any studies that would confirm or reject this prejudice is on my to-do list - but any pointers would be welcome?

"The public affairs sector will be taking note"

Sez Iain Dale. And he should know.

Just in case all of this is new to you, 'Public Affairs Sector' is a euphemism for 'lobbying industry'.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


This is the fantastic Simphiwe Dana. Have a listen - start with 'Zundiqondisise' and keep going.

The NTaH law of music downloads is as follows;
Music I want to legally download and pay for is only ever be offered for sale on .ru sites that are probably phishing nets. The .ru sites always offer them at ridiculously cheap prices as well.

Otherwise the music that is worth downloading is not available online. Except on US sites that know how to tell you're not a Yank and won't let you complete the download.
I can't find the One Love Movement album on any site that I'd trust with my credit card number.

A stupid anti-democratic campaign

I've finally found one other blogger that doesn't think that this bloggertarian-led campaign to expose elected representatives for the thieves and liars (that they obviously are!!?!) is a good idea.

But even Steve goes too far for me, saying that some whizzy GUI that made it pleasant for MPs to upload their expenses as it is go get pictures from iPhoto to Flickr would do the trick. 

This campaign is profoundly anti-political, and it's advocates are either willfully anti-political and anti-democratic, or the objective allies of those that are. It panders to the Poujadist agenda of the Daily Hell. When someone who is - by his own admission explicitly opposed to democracy as Guido is favours something - particularly in the sphere of democratic regulation - it's supporters need to check themselves. Are they willfully anti-democratic (in which case, carry on) or are they the useful idiots of the people who want to whittle away at the standing of democracy.

I know that there are some of them that actually don't understand why it's anti-democratic to hobble MPs with accountability while ignoring the way MPs rivals flex their muscles - but it's not a defence that is available to all of the supporters of this campaign. It's a common theme of this blog that a lot of self-styled liberals and libertarians don't understand the tension between liberty and democracy. While most literate libertarians are expressly in favour of direct democracy (and will therefore love this campaign), it's amazing how many of them aren't aware of this and imagine they can reconcile their views with representative government.

But one of the most alarming things about it is that it has acheived support from usually-sensible vaguely leftish types who don't have the defence of ignorance.

Here's why (reading this, remember the old adage that I'd have written a shorter post, but I don't have the time to do so....)...

1. It is not the role of Parliamentarians to be model citizens. Some of our greatest Parliamentarians were chronic alcoholics and serial monogamists. If there is a degree of venality among our 600+ MPs, then it means that our parliament is more representative than it would be if it were populated by the squeaky clean purveyors of public cant and certainty that these campaigners want. Let me be clear about this - if you support this campaign, I don't want MPs to be the sort of grandstanding pious shitheads that you want them to be. 

2. It is the role of Parliament to exercise it's distributed moral wisdom. If my MP does that well, but feathers his/her nest a bit in the process, I frankly couldn't give two fucks. So, are the supporters of this campaign doing anything to highlight the quality of deliberation? I doubt it - because there isn't some scapeable database that holds that information. 

3. It is a disincentive to the people who need the most effective form of incentivisation. We judge MPs and governement by their ability to do the job they are paid to do. They are given a salary and a set of expenses to do it with, and it's a good deal lower than a lot of middle ranking executives in the dismally-run failed capitalist institutions that we are all paying for today. If campaigns are whipped up to embarrass MPs, it means that those MPs abilities to do their job during their term of office is limited, and it means that elections become referendums on their personal level of cant - not their ability to represent. A bit of extravagance on days that they are away from home is not evidence that they aren't doing their jobs well, so it's largely irrelvant.

4. It only rewards stupidity. If an MP like Tom Watson who is genuinely interactive - who understands how to use new media tools to get lots of free advice - were skimming a bit off the top to pay for a few pots of flowers in his London residence (I doubt if he is by the way and from what I can see, he's a very honest bloke), he'd probably be better value for money that some dull-as-ditchwater demagogic tosser who publishes every bus-ticket and never says anything that isn't calculated to please everybody. The sort that this campaign will boost at the expense of a few refreshingly cavallier types.

5. Crowdsourcing accountability multiplies the degree to which people who are obliged to publish information are made accountable. Most of the organisations and individuals that rival MPs in dictating public policy do are not subject to the same rules on transparency.

Do I need to explain that MPs have rivals that are jealous of their power again? There is no FOI for commercial pressure groups (or any other kind). Civil servants may be technically responsible for keeping their receipts, but no-one is going to write a little app that will publish those - and if they do, fewer well-heeled vested interests will be waiting for this kind of ammunition. Ditto Quangos. What about journalists? Could someone please write an application that exposes any journalist who has ever been so unprofessional as to read a press-release from the Taxpayers Alliance?  This move will dramatically increase the accountability of only one section of the polity - the one that I elect that represents me. So thanks for that, you fuckers! This is an assymetric and profoundly anti-democratic move that will only please the rivals of elected representatives. These are people who have plenty to be pleased about anyway these days....

6. Elections. Remember them? We have the odious Standards Board that wastes £millions on ensuring that elected local councillors are entirely obedient to local government officers. Now we are looking for micro-accountability between elections for MPs as well. I bet that even No10 is delighted about this. Keep the bastards filling in forms instead of scrutinising legislation and doing their research on policy issues! 

7. Final point. Parliament is the only institution that represents the interests of the nation as a whole. Where have the republicans gone? Why is no-one shouting this from the rooftops? It is in all of our interests to make Parliament a powerful body at the expense of it's rivals. It is an institution that needs encouragement and support from the public.

Today, Parliament is in danger of being been turned into a dull, stupid worthy nest of groupthinkers - semi-clones without a spark of individuality. People who have no power to hold anyone to account because they are too busy filing their receipts. People who dare to stick their heads above the parapet even less than they do currently. There are plenty of things wrong with democracy, and plenty of political trends that are heading in the wrong direction, and this campaign will speed most of them along.

If you want to hobble any organisation, just impose a high level of accountability onto the individuals who run it. That's what we all seem very pleased to do, and I dread where it will leave us in the long term.

I'd agree, our democracy should be considerably more decentralised. But that is something that no-one is crowdsourcing a campaign about, is it?

There are 16 other points that I had intended to make, and the ones above could probably have been edited down to four points or up to nine. And it probably reads like a rant (which it is). But there it is.

Now I'm going to hit 'Publish' now - I don't even have time to check the spelling...

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Will Hutton: (my emphasis)
"...there is a budget deficit next year of £118bn, which may have to increase again - with another big Obama-style fiscal stimulus - if the recession deepens. My view is that the financial markets will accept actual spending only if Britain pre-announces that after financial stabilisation has worked, it intends to join the euro - otherwise we will find ourselves in the same position as Iceland.

These are the grimmest economic circumstances since the 1930s. Lives and businesses are being wrecked as I write. There will be little appetite for my proposed measures; how much better to hope that we can muddle through, looking for "green shoots" of recovery and doing little radical.

But after last week the government - and the opposition - have to get serious. Britain is on the edge."

eDemocracy - like TOTALLY in ACTION!!?!?!

This is what the internet is for! To MAKE MPs disclose how much of, like, OUR MONEY they've, like, TOTALLY WASTED on POTPLANTS!!?!?!?!

I mean ... I couldn't have, like TOTALLY put it better myself!!?!?!?

If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear!! A bit like 42 days detention, eh? Eh??!?!?!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Flashmob in Liverpool St

Probably a bit commercially contrived, but nice all the same.

The concept of the 'useful idiot' explained

Just seen this - via Justin's comments:

Early in 2001 I got a phone call from a libertarian acquaintance of long standing. He asked if I was willing to be the contact person and general front-man for an ostensibly left-wing website that would advocate some policies currently out of favour on the left, but with good deep roots in the history of the working-class movement. (Not in substance reactionary policies, I hasten to add.) This site would be maintained and paid for, and I would be paid a retainer by, a lobbying organisation for some of the companies and non-profit bodies involved in the area in question. The source of the funding, and the inspiration for the site, would be covert. Because the idea was to make it look like a left-wing initiative, independent of the existing (and, I again hasten to add, entirely legitimate) commercial interests in this policy area. Astroturf, in short. 

I said that I'd always kept all my dealings and associations out in the open, and that I wouldn't do it, thank you. End of conversation. Thinking about it afterwards, I was quite annoyed. I'd just been asked to trade on my left-wing credibility in order to do something that would destroy my left-wing - not to mention personal - credibility if it ever came out. What did he take me for?

Tourism advice

A travel price comparison website worth a look.

(Hat tip: Shane)

Who are those masked men?

I've just seen Labourist - a hostile reaction by 'libertarian crusaders' to Labour's attempt to encourage it's elected representatives and spokespeople to step up to the blogosphere in numbers.

I've left this comment on one of their posts, but I don't want to lose track of it, so I'll reproduce it here:

So Labourist is all in favour of free and open debate and transparency and deplores the opacity of Labour List?

OK. I buy that. Now who - exactly - developed this website? The thing is, people do things for a reason. Building a site like this takes a bit of time and energy, and a bit of resource. It’s definitely a clever idea. Just saying you are ‘nobody’ is - patently - a lie.

Who are you- exactly? What have you written elsewhere? What other blogs are you involved in? Do any of you belong to a political party?

This initiative definitely won’t be welcomed by The Labour Party, and as ‘libertarian crusaders’ I suspect that you will not be surprised by this. Libertarian crusaders are rarely impressed by the way that political parties try to ‘control the message.’ So are there any examples of ‘libertarian crusades’ that you are conducting against any of the other political parties? Or or you just tories really? In my experience, most ‘libertarians’ - like Lord Hailsham moaning about an ‘elective dictatorship’ during the Wilson government before joining the most centralising cabinet the UK has ever seen in the 1980s - are just Tories. 

Their ‘libertarianism’ evaporates as soon as the ‘natural party of government’ is restored. So, come on - out with it! Are you Tories really? And are you going to harass the other political parties with the same vigour?

Have you been encouraged to develop this site by anyone? Have you been provided with either financial resources, access to technical advice or facilities by anyone? You say… “we have been described as ‘online libertarian crusaders’.” By whom? When and where? And why? What other examples of libertarian crusading have you been involved in?

More importantly, why don’t you enable comments on your FAQ page? We should be told.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Exit, Voice and Loyalty

In a fascinating interview on Newsnight, Digby Jones outlined the way that it was apparent to junior politicians that any attempt to move the civil service in a direction that they weren't planning to go anyway would be career threatening and futile.

From The Guardian:
"If [politicians] then get up the path somewhat and become a junior minister, I feel actually that is one of the most dehumanising and depersonalising experiences a human being can have. The whole system is designed to take the personality, the drive and the initiative out of a junior minister."
The rebuttal has been swift, comprehensive and lacking in credibility
"Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the senior civil servants' union the FDA, said he was "disappointed but not surprised" at the latest comments given the ex-minister's "traditionally maverick approach".

Mr Baume said the government's love of launching initiatives - and the current economic crisis - meant that there was an argument for more civil servants rather than less."
Jones is the only minister I've heard speak out in this way because he was always going to 'exit.'

One day, when we've finally grown up in this country, we'll have an election and decide who we want as the government. We'll have a parliament of men and women, each with their own small Cabinet. We'll have Prime Minsters scared of Cabinet Ministers, Cabinet Ministers with a local and parliamentary power-bases, and we'll have a senior civil service that is appointed in it's entirety by those Ministers.

Well have a civil service that is capable of doing something rather than just producing more and more pointless procedures, recruiting subordinates, not rivals.

Until that day, we really are just pissing in the wind, aren't we?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A bit quiet here at the moment

Regulars may have noticed that there's not as much ranting as you've come to expect here. This is largely because - as I've said before - I don't know what I think until I read what I've written.

Well, I've written a lot here, and I'm a bit clearer on what I think now - and I'm trying to shape some of the stuff from the archives into something that will be a bit more coherent than these hastily drafted posts.

It'll probably happen elsewhere, but I think it's time for a bit less Id blogging and a bit more Superego-driven stuff.

I'll still be here with the odd observation though, so don't be a stranger, y'hear?

Libel laws: A vehicle for managing publicity

Here's a good primer on libel law from Jack of Kent who I met in the pub a while back. 

Well worth a look.

Bus fuss

Stephen Law, here on the similarly named Stephen Green who is complaining about the Atheist Bus project on the grounds that there is no evidence that there isn't a god.

"Suppose Green wins - then the BHA can complain about adverts saying "God loves you" etc. on the very same grounds."

Quite entertaining. If such nonsense could ever get to a court of law (could it?) it would illustrate the illiberal potential of adversarial policymaking.

Two state solution, or....

A single state democratic solution

(Hat tip: Anthony)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Anthony's found a ranking list of 'economic freedom'. Guess what? There's largely in inverse proportion to the quality of democracy on offer.

I was on the wireless a while ago with our mutual friend Guido Fawkes. I did my usual thing of asking him what he was in favour of (amazing how often people manage to avoid answering that one) and to his credit, he said that the political model that he'd like most like to see applied to the UK was that of Hong Kong (which, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (PDF) gets a paltry overall score of 5.85 compared to the ZaNuLieBore Police State (!!!?!??!?!) ranking of 8.15.

Minarchists. Anti-politics (they say). Anti-democrat, more like. Remember that next time you read anything from any of them about political corruption in the UK.

Stopping Heathrow expanding

Conall reckons Greenpeace's plan will work.


... music for the new depression era: Kirsty McGee

(hat tip: Neil & Kate)

If we communicate for two minutes only it would be enough

Apropos of nothing, a friend as his Marshall McLuhan quote in the signature of his e-mail:

"An administrator in a bureaucratic world is a man who can feel big by merging his non-entity in an abstraction. A real person in touch with real things inspires terror in him."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tax Freedom Day - been and gone for some

Just seen this (a bit overdue):

"The Adam Smith Institute copies a US right wing think tank in publishing a ‘tax freedom day’ for the UK. They claim it is on 2nd June.

But that’s a very selective view of ‘tax freedom day’. That happens to be the day when, they say, a taxpayer on average income, including indirect taxes, local taxes and National Insurance contributions, has paid all their taxes for the year, their remaining earnings being theirs to spend as they then will.

But there’s a major problem in that calculation. Not everyone pays tax at the rate a person on average earnings pays. Far from it in fact."

Via the Other Taxpayers Alliance site.

Who is right?

John Healey thinks this recession will be Swoosh-shaped and will hurt this year.

Matthew Taylor thinks that most of us will be better off this year and that this is bad news for the Tories.

I'm not qualified to conclude anything on this one...

Vote early, vote often.

Olly deserves it. Nosemonkey would be a good winner too. But it's a two horse race.

Created in Birmingham, or Mad Mel.

You know what to do.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Time for the mutuals?

Saw this earlier - I was going to post on it but Tom has done so - far more effectively than I would.
"There must be a challenge put to investors that they failed to query the irrational exuberance that we now see as characterising the age of irresponsibility. Now there's a danger of 'reckless caution', and I don't see evidence they are much concerned about that either. If banks now lack the self-confidence to extend credit, this is going to cause further damage in the portfolios of our institutional investors."

Time for a re-emergence of mutuals - or it would be, if the chips weren't so loaded against them.

Time for Labour to do something on this front, perhaps?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Warm up your living room this cold Saturday

I know I've banged on about this before, but you really should subscribe to Gilles Peterson's podcast, but I'm going to do it again. Well, he's gone a bit quiet lately - I hope he's not stopped doing them.

Every now and then, I find one that I didn't get around to listening to at the time, and it's always a pleasure. This one interviewing Aaron Jerome, and listening to his stuff is particularly lovely (vol 1, no.17). It starts with a great cover of Terry Callier's Dancing Girl, it's got some good African fusion and some really nice Talking Loud-ish Acid Jazz (which you'd expect from GP I suppose...).

Nearly an hour's worth of good stuff there. Go get.

Here's the original of Dancing Girl. As a song it has that bit of Leonard Cohen's Hallelulia's potential for misinterpretation that means it will probably crop up on X-Factor next Christmas...

Remember where you heard that prediction first....

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Anti-EU = know nothing about the EU

... on average, anyway.

Everyone should know this:

"Those (across the EU) who had an objectively poor knowledge of the EU’s role split 33% good thing and 19% bad thing (with 32% neither and 16% don’t know).

Those who had some knowledge of the EU’s role split 51% good thing, 16% bad thing (16%/3%).

Those who had an objectively good knowledge of the EU’s role split 62% good thing, 13% bad thing (23%/2%).

In the same survey, it’s worth noticing that the UK is the only country where those distrusting EU institutions outnumber those trusting them. Can’t think why, though."

Ignorance is a political instrument. Pass it on.

Gordon, can you spare a dime?

Vince Cable sez:

"Unless the lending market can be quickly unfrozen, ministers will have to investigate whether one of the state-owned banks can be used to increase lending to businesses."

Individualist v Heirarchical

Here's Matthew Taylor on Kevin Pietersen and cultural theory. Or Keano redux.

I was talking to an old ex-anarchist freind of mine yesterday and he reminded me of the Tyranny of Structurelessness which is oddly pertinent.

What works and what doesn't

Here's Banditry:

"...a bunch of ignorant whining has gone on lately about failures on the trains, in the coldest and iciest week of the last 15 years. For most of today, the M1 was closed, for almost exactly the same reasons. Anyone who slates the former and not the latter is an ignorant prick."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Elected politicians: Always outnumbered. Always outgunned.

The final victory of Sir Humphrey, the permanent government (no matter who you vote for, these bastards always get in) over elected politicians.

The Coup de grĂ¢ce: the risk (and for “risk” read “certainty”) of being accused of being an anti democratic control freak, there can sometimes be good reasons for holding private meetings where a record isn’t taken. The most successful negotiations, between ministers and his civil servants, between departments or between a department and an outside body, can very often start with an informal discussion that, technically, didn’t actually happen.
No more, apparently. Openness and transparency counts more than successful delivery of policy, I suppose. Hooray for the Freedom of Information Act and the Information Tribunal.
It speaks volumes that the only instance that Tom Harris dares to offer is the ludicrous demands to divulge personal details. In the current climate of public debate, it is no longer possible to argue for ministerial discretion without a deafening chorus of anti-democratic idiocy by way of reply.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Catastrophe strikes

OK. It's competition time again. If you can think of anything - and I do mean anything - that is demonstrably more annoying than the latest news from the East Midlands - then put it in the comments box below.

Let me make it easier. If it's even half as exasperating it wins.

The prize for any successful entrants (and there really aren't going to be any) will be a fucking big one. Probably with a warhead attached to it.

And a detonator.

Now fuck off, the lot of you.

Fuck off!

Low-ish take-up

Not as good as we could be with eGov....

Monday, January 05, 2009

If you haven't seen this already

Twittering tories.

Oh dear

Fox News' twitter account has been hacked....

The fault of the government.

It would probably be wrong to link to the spEak You're bRanes site every day, though it's a bit tempting.

There was this, just before Christmas though.

Factoid watch

Here are three things I've seen in passing recently. All via
  1. Imagine a cube - each side is 25 metres long. You could fit all of the gold in the world into it. Probably.
  2. There are more slaves in the world now than at any point in human history.
  3. We are not dumbing down. Quite the opposite.

I decided to tag posts that referred to various comparative global measurements 'Best in the world index' a while ago. Probably not the ideal choice in retrospect...

Friday, January 02, 2009

'Filter-seeking behaviour'

Here's the consistently-clever Steve Bowbrick with a really good post on Andy Burnham's ruminations on internet classification.

And then here's a USAF flowchart on how it responds to the blogosphere.

(both via Podnosh on twitter for which thanks).

Public service

I've been thinking about public choice theory - something I studied well over a decade ago. I've forgotten most of it now apart from the most significant contours. Max Weber is always the starting point on this, so I've been idly trawling my bookshelves and the web looking at Weber and bureaucracy as a useful starting point (broadly, Weber thought bureaucracies were a fairly rational way of organising things, and public choice theorists were often a good deal more sceptical).

Anyway, apropos of not much, I found a good refresher essay here. And this factoid leaped out: modern armies the soldier does not own his weapons, whereas in ancient armies he did . For example, in ancient Rome when the army was called together the 'classes' were expected to come equipped to a certain standard at their own expense - 'classification' was a form of taxation. Soldiers were expected to bring money to buy food from the locals (when they did not take what they wanted by force); they got no pay or provisions.

Time for another bail-out?

The idea that the newspaper industry is in terminal decline, and that the glaciers have arrived is one that has really gained currency in recent months. Here's another version.

Via Tom Watson (this time on twitter), in the UK it seems that our newspapers are particularly distrusted. Given that the BBC enjoys a greater degree of trust than comparable news organisations despite a concerted and cynical campaign by self-serving sections of the print media (though there are problems with the way it conducts itself).

It's a cheap opportunistic point, but one that needs making. This is a huge opportunity for the model of public service broadcasting. Given that we've spend £squillions bailing out institutions that are, on the one hand, undeserving, but on the other, posing a systemic risk, surely a fraction of that money could be spend bailing out public service news standards?

A disappearance of professional journalism would - in many ways - pose a comparable systemic risk, don't you think?

"The age of depoliticised power will come to a thudding end"

Hidden among the predictions for 2009 in the Guardian a few days ago (I've only just got around to posting on this - sorry) was an unexpected gem. And what a gem it was too.

I don't know if it is really a prediction or wishful thinking. I hope it is the former.

I know that it's bad form (not to say actionable) to cut-and-paste a whole article (even a short one) and I hate not being able to quote Julian Glover in full, because it's the first time I've read a commentator in the mainstream media saying exactly what I've been hoping for one of them to say.

So, getting as much of it in as I can reasonably fit into a 'fair use' approach, here it is.
The age of depoliticised power will come to a thudding end
Next year will see the apex and decline of democracy's fashionable deference to independent expertise. Politics will take control to overcome crisis. The depoliticisation of power ....when decisions were devolved to selected groups and reviews, and above all lawyers .....the only purpose of which is to proscribe the freedom of politicians. It was the miserable consequence of a political culture so cynical it dared not trust itself.

....the independent Bank of England, now frustrating politicians, who find they have the right to hector, but not decide. The need for decisiveness - to spend or to cut - means the lumbering luxury of state independence will go. ....The public sector will hate this. But democracy will win through.

The whole quote is nearly half-way down this page. Read the whole thing. The cult of independence and impartiality - in the media, among market fetishists, in the way that politicians are regulated and circumscribed by litigious pressure groups, by journalists who prefer their adversaries to be suppine, by bureaucrats who prefer permanent managerialism, by the Edwardian establishment throwbacks to sit on six figure Quango salaries- is a curse on this country that has similar consequences to our political life that book-burning would have to our wider intellectual culture.

Either way, Julian Glover has quite restored my rosy view of human nature. For me, it almost has a touch of Orwell's line from The Lion and the Unicorn:
"Churchill, who was at any rate able to grasp that wars are not won without fighting. Later, perhaps, they will pick another leader who can grasp that only Socialist nations can fight effectively."
I'd adapt that to a more general defence of social democracy in an economic crisis:
Only a truly representative democracy can address the causes of a modern crisis.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New year resolutions for you

Can I make a new year's resolution for you? How about this:

Subscribe to the BBC Radio 3 Music Matters podcast. The one about Music and the Brain in November was really good, exploring neuroscience and how music changes our emotional states, and how the brain can even conjure up sounds. The programme includes tentative attempts to project music from thought.

I think that subscribing to the podcast usually gives you the option to get recent programmes as well as the current one (though I might be wrong about this).

On a similar subject, the surprisingly good In Business podcasts are worth getting as well. The current programme - 'all that Jazz' - is about music and innovation. Annoyingly, though, this programme can't be put out as a podcast because of copyright material that is included. But you can listen again for a few more days I think?