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.