Sunday, February 28, 2010

Google's response times

Was an Italian judge right to hold Google responsible for hosting a video showing a child with Downs Syndrome being bullied?

Tim Ireland has another view
, as does Malcolm Coles.

Certainly, Google don't make it easy to flag dubious content to them - I've had a fairly obnoxious blog (newportcity [dot] blogspot [dot] com) link-spamming me via my trackbacks (fnaar fnaar) - he's found a way of getting half-a-dozen trackbacks to this vile rubbish under every one of my posts and he has somehow masked his 'report abuse' link at the top of his blog (see mine) - a violation of his terms of use.

Because of this, I can't report him without taking a PhD in routing around Google's communications barriers. I've taken the easy route out of this by disabling trackbacks

I'm inclined to agree with Tim and Malcolm but with one caveat: Like a lot of business, Google will go to great lengths to avoid making value judgements. If it becomes easy to get content removed as long as you are persistent in demanding it, then it will mainly be wealthy people with resources that can put the time and energy into overcoming lower barriers.

Take Freedom of Information as a parallel. It's undoubtedly a good thing in principle that government should disclose information that is reasonably demanded (and much of that information should be freely available in the first place).

But the main beneficiary of FOI has not been ordinary people wanting government to be more accountable. It's been shady, well-funded organisations like The Taxpayers Alliance who have the resources to use it promoting their own agenda.

I'm not disagreeing with Tim and Malcolm. I'm just saying that symmetry is important here.

A deal is a deal

News Corp's price for supporting the Tories

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Basket weaving? I'll get you baskets weaving...

Surely there is no way that the late great Lionel Jeffries was only 83 when he died recently? That would make him only 34 when he played Mr Crout, or Inspector 'don't call me Nosey' Parker in Wrong Arm of the Law?

If you've ever met me, can I ask you this? Does Peter Sellers in Two Way Stretch remind you of anyone?

Thursday, February 18, 2010


In my heart I know I'm funny.

I'd widen the roads.....

Brendan Behan: "I'm not a politically minded person, which has been proved to me over and over again...."

Colin Ward

Via Peter, I'm very sad to see that Colin Ward has died. He was one of my favourite social commentators and someone that I'd urge anyone to read for the first time if they haven't already.

His columns in New Society and later in New Statesman & Society where I first found them, were the main reason to get those titles. They made the difference between the mags being 'nice to have' and 'must have' without ever straying into tedious speculation on court politics. I've mentioned him a few times here before. The Fabians have a good obit here as well.

Instead, Colin wrote about the little ways in which anarchist approaches were being quietly implemented in everyday life. His articles on informal mutuality, squatting and the ingenuity of ordinary people in adapting to difficult circumstances were a really positive and optimistic supplement to any week. For me, he transformed anarchism from being the pursuit of a bunch of slightly deranged idealists into being a perspective that could comfortably co-exist with, and inform lots of shades of political thought.

I met him a number of times, and he was always a fascinating summariser. The most annotated book on my shelves is his Anarchy in Action, and a 'A Decade of Anarchy' (a compilation of the better writing from the magazine that he edited in the 1960s) is enough to make anyone yearn for the launch of a title with an esoteric set of interests livened by fine writing.

His work on housing, architecture and education is worth tracking down as well (if you're ever at a loose end in Whitechapel, a lot of his hard-to-find work can be had here), and he was particularly strong in making the case for increasing the participation in environmental design.

Why should people live in places and use institutions if they've not been able to influence how they are designed and developed? Good old Colin. I wish there were more like him.

Here's a free sampler to start with.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Tories: Id v Super-Ego. The Ego needs to master the Id.

While I won't vote for them, I can identify with the Conservative Party this weekend. I'm a bit like they are. My Id is a bit shouty and sweary. It likes the sound of it's own voice and it likes to try the odd outrageous argument. It prefers drinking with other similar Ids. And in my career-concious moments, I'm constantly aware of the verbal side-swipes that I've thrown at the people who could have hired me.

Like me, senior Tories know that they have to keep a lid on the Id. And I don't know how it will affect short-term poll ratings, but this has been something of a watershed weekend for the Tories - in a bad way. Nothing significant has happened on its own, but lots of little chinks in their armour have widened. It's not my job to feel sorry for the Tories when things aren't going the way they want them to, but if I were one of them, I'd be a bit worried at the moment.

In 1994, Tony Blair laid the groundwork that he thought was needed to secure an election victory a few years later. The 'Clause IV moment' was an important one strategically, whatever you think to the outcome as a political manoeuvre. By 1997, I don't think anyone seriously believed that - in voting Labour - they were going to get some Maoist dystopia imposed upon them by the back door.

More to the point, I don't think many people believed that Labour was going to govern even an inch to the left of the position that it fought the campaign on. Two friends of mine wrote what I think was a very under-rated portrait of the opportunity that Labour were passing up to do this.

Few of us had real expectations that Labour would run much further than the key pledge that it made to us as members - that it would deprive the Tories of power (on the 'First, do no harm' way of looking at things, this as an achievement in itself). We may have wished for more, but we'd been read the Riot Act in 1994 and we'd swallowed it.

The Tories have done no such thing. OK, they've raised £72m to fight with this time, but above the line campaigning has never been as unattractive as it is today.

Like New Labour in the 1990s, the Tory Ego knows that it needs to be able to hang on to it's existing voters and appeal to people that are soft supporters. The Tory Id, however, wants to make the minimum number of concessions needed to get into Downing Street, and then it would like to row back on as many of them as possible once it has it's feet under the table.

In 1997, Labour, with it's massive majority, had a coherent Super-Ego in the driving seat. It had all of the power that Machiavelli attributed to people who had proved themselves in recent battle.

With the Tories, the Super-Ego is nowhere near as coherent and it is unlikely to have much of the honeymoon that Blair enjoyed. What is worse (for the Tories), this is all glaringly obvious. In an election, the voters are very likely to tumble this fact. The contrast between Labour's downbeat 1990s left and the rampant Tory blogosphere couldn't be more pronounced.

Like Blair, Cameron has had to fix his backwoodsmen with a steely glare and tell them that they don't get any omelette unless they let him break a few of their eggs. The Tories are already treading on broken shells and they're doubtful that even a thin pancake will be forthcoming. In terms of party unity, this is not a good place to be. The moment the poll-lead dips below the 8% level, the big story will be who gets to inherit the corpse.

Now, it seems that Cameron's whole whiter-than-white card is going to blow up in their faces thanks to Lord Ashcroft's dodgy tax-status. In an election fought against the backdrop of economic mayhem caused by the opaque dealings of billionaires, the Tories will be spending a lot of the campaign defending an opaque billionaire to the voters.

In a remarkable article, soft-Tory Julian Glover seems to be saying to people who are not natural Tory voters that they have a duty to vote Tory to save the party from ..... er... most of the party.

Meanwhile, Cameron has been walking a fairly tight line on issues like climate change. His party are about as rational on this subject as they are on Europe. Cameron, however, knows that the only position to you can credibly take to the voters is the 'Pascals Wager' one that I outlined here recently. For years, the public told pollsters that they wanted hanging brought back. History shows that they weren't prepared to buy the whole hanger package though.

The same is true of climate change. People may be sceptical of a science they don't understand. They may have had distrust pricked by climategate. But they also know that no government could simply pretend to be certain that there is no potential catastrophe in the post because it is certain that the whole concept is a forgery. The Tory Id, however, does believe climate change to be some kind of smart ass budget-maximising conspiracy and this tension won't survive the heat of an election.

The Tory Id is already locked in a growing civil war with the urban metrosexuals that have the potential to reach beyond the older, whiter constituency that voted Tory in 2005. Illustrating all of this, this article (and the comments beneath) about Cameron's Cuties shows what is at stake here.

No-one who reads their newspapers and listens to their backbenchers (never mind their frontbenchers) thinks that they'll not seize the first opportunity to dish the BBC up to it's rivals. In the European Parliament, they're in bed with a shower of nutters, foreshadowing a potential period of government in which they have to kowtow to Unionists, Bloggertarians and Thatcherite fruitcakes to maintain a slender majority if they can win one. Does this ring any bells?

The Tory Id will be exposed over the coming months as an out-of-control force that will elbow a weak leader aside as soon as it gets a toe over the line. This has become apparent the weekend.

I'm not saying that they can't win in May. But it became clear over the last few days that it will be a lot harder than they had hoped.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

If you want to hear God laugh...

... you tell him your plans.

The nearest thing to a deity that we have in our house is Brian Clough. You can learn a lot about things that have nothing to do with football by reading this comprehensive post over at More than Mind Games.

John Cameron, in 1905, might have been speaking for Clough in 1973:

Every manager is aware that if a professional team is to show successful results there must exist a genuine spirit of good fellowship among the players. The little jealousies that sometimes occur between different members of a team are unfortunate in the extreme, and should on all occasions be firmly repressed by those in authority.

Cameron never discusses tactics, and we know from other Edwardian writers that the basic 2-3-5 was considered to be the optimum formation, arrived at organically through experience and experimentation. Don Shaw describes just such an attitude in Clough:

Clough disregarded ‘tactics’ which, he said, were ‘the best thing to talk about if you want to ruin a team’s rhythm.’ Blackboard analysts were condemned as counter-productive. ‘Tactics aren’t for me,’ he declared. ‘They’re things teams dream up because they’re scared they might lose.’

Here Clough is channelling R.S. McColl, the Edwardian footballer and founder of the newsagent chain, who wrote:

Too rigid a system of play, in which all the moves are known, will not do. There must be flexibility; endless variety and versatility; constant surprises for the other side. System must be inspired by art and innate genius for and love of the game.

“We pissed all over Benfica,” said Clough after putting McColl’s advice into practice in the European Cup. “You don’t teach genius,” he said on another occasion. “You watch it.”

Key election issue

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Robin Hood tax

I like it. Don't you? It is supported by an impressive bunch of trades unions, charities and voluntary sector bodies. You can spread the word. On Twitter, on Facebook where you can ‘share’ their fan-page. You an even put a poster in your window (pdf) or ponce around in a green Robin Hood mask (pdf) as well, if that’s your style.

Be part of the biggest bank job. But whatever you do, sign up to the campaign. And spread the word?

Tory Tombstone

The next offering from those good people at MyDavidCameron: MyToryTombstone.

Read this


It's interesting.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Five to one.

Saw this, buried in a slightly awkward and clumsy interview with Joseph Stiglitz:
"....there are five lobbyists for every Congressman in Washington DC, and that there are 77 members of the House of Representatives on the House Financial Services Committee, its popularity mostly being accounted for by the fact that it guarantees a healthy flow of campaign contributions."

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Pascal's Wager and climate change

I'm fairly sure that there isn't a god. But if you met me on a crashing plane, I'd probably be on my knees doing a decade-of-the-rosary every couple of seconds.

And for those of us that don't have to capacity to understand the science around man-made global warming, I think that there's a similar Pascal's Wager type approach that we could adopt.

On the substance of the science, I don't have strong or fixed views on this question. As far as I'm concerned, whatever the scientists conclude, if we can all be a bit less greedy and over-consuming it can't do us any harm - and that most of that could be achieved with a fundamental change to the nature of consumer capitalism. Seeing as most scientists tend to think that man-made climate change is a sensible interpretation of what's happened, I'm prepared to go along with it.

Because I see other benefits to such a change - in aesthetic terms, in terms of social justice and increased distributed social capital - I'm quite happy to go along with this, up to a point. It's a similar mindset, I expect, that most lefties have had over the past 150 years. We may not understand or be totally convinced by whatever is buried in the third volume of Das Kapital, but we buy the general outlook on the wastefulness and iniquity of capitalism. We prefer a response that is based upon collective action and common ownership rather than an individualism that doesn't address the historic legacy of exploitation and theft.

As long as an environmental catastrophe is a possible outcome of not taking these fairly palatable steps (same relationship between damnation and prayer on a nosediving 747), I'm happy to go along with a lifestyle that takes a holistic approach to sustainability and lower consumption. That last sentence needs the words 'up to a point' inserting in bold letters, obviously. I'm not about to embrace vegitarianism, nudism, soap-dodging or anything like that.

There's probably a less irritating word than 'holistic' that could be used as well.

But do you see what I've done there? I've conflated the narrow question of cutting carbon emissions with the wider Greenie agendas that are implied, but in no way essential to that task.

I raise all of this because I've just listened (belatedly) to the Radio 4 Analysis programme in which the tensions within the larger camp of people who want to cut carbon emissions was explored.

On the one hand, there is a fairly managerialist response. Simply come up with regulatory frameworks, big strategic decisions (in this case, around nuclear power) and incentive schemes that reduce carbon emissions to the point at which the narrow question of carbon-caused climate change is pointing in the right direction. And then leave it at that. It's a very market-based response - one that downplays any need for collective action and one that treats questions of culture as being out-of-scope. One that maintains a hard shell around the rights of individuals and the need to secure short-term consent.

On the other hand, there's the anti-consumerist radical-decentralisation small-is-beautiful precautionary-principled back-to-nature response.

One commentator on the programme was surprised when she addressed a meeting of 'really hardcore environmental types' and asked (paraphrasing): "If I could wave a magic wand and reduce carbon emissions without effecting any other change in consumption and society, would you lot be happy?"

The herbivores in the room clearly weren't up for this deal, and she was just jolly-well angry about all of this.

I'm with the herbivores for reasons I've hinted at above, but would need to explain at length if you don't already follow my drift. But I'll leave you with two observations:

1. The Analysis programme firmly promoted the narrow managerial market-based approach to climate change. One of the business types that it had as a witness for the prosecution complained that a lot of greenies were prepared to suspend democracy if they needed to in order to force through the cultural changes that they would like to introduce. If you've been here before, you'd know that I've got arguments about how it is only in an impoverished democracy that you need to micro-argue for every aspect of a political programme. It's an illustration of how impoverished the social democratic / green movement's understanding of democracy is that they could serve themselves extremely well by promoting an intellectually coherent definition of democracy instead of the juvenile version of it that has been allowed to dominate public debate.

2. Why is no-one dealing with the question of over-powerful pressure groups and regulatory capture here? If you want an explanation for why the wider green perspective of radical decentralisation, opposition to monopoly capitalism and anti-consumerism is a useful one to adopt, then just look at the way that the tobacco industry delayed necessary change for decades. Look at the way that copyright reform has not kept pace with the public interest, look at the grip the motor industry has over the carbon question-in-hand, and look at how the healthcare lobby has made purposeful change all-but-impossible in the US over the past twelve months.

With democratic reform, it's representative character is infinitely more important than the question of it's proportionality. The real opportunity that more open government offers us is to reduce the room for manoeuvre that pressure groups (as opposed to elected politicians) enjoy. As far as I can see, these are massive opportunities for the green and social democratic left to exploit, but for some reason, they seem almost unconcious of this.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Collaborative misdirection

I know that it may be slightly distasteful to suggest that Northern Ireland's politics could benefit from the reintroduction of some light ordinance, but I think if I'd been Gordon Brown when I heard that ....
It is understood they (the DUP) want the plight of savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society to be included in a deal.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots refused to confirm or deny the suggestion. Last month the Presbyterian moderator said such a government initiative would help build confidence among unionists.

Almost 10,000 people who saved with the society were left without access to their money when it went into administration in October 2008. The government has consistently refused to offer its savers the same protection that was afforded to savers with banks and building societies during the banking crisis.
... I probably would have thought that a couple of flamethrowers would help to get the nitpicking opportunistic little communalist gits to stop wasting everyone's time and start behaving like they had some responsibility as a partner in government.

Like so much in NI politics, they key objective is to screw more money out of HM Treasury by the means of a bit of creative stump-waving. The apparent overwhelming need to score some pointless symbolic sectarian victory is simply a bit of collaborative misdirection by the main parties up at Stormont.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Aidez Haiti

Mark P - who runs Philosophy Football - has emailed me asking me to put this here - please feel free to copy and distribute it more widely?

All profits from Philosophy Football's 'Aidez Haiti' T-shirt will go to the appeal launched by the TUC towards emergency relief and long-term rehabilitation of the victims of the earthquake.

The Philosophy Football Aidez Haiti shirt is available from here.

Photographer Jess Hurd is someone Philosophy Football has worked with in the past year, collaborating on exhibitions. Recently returned from the earthquake zone, she warns that her photos should be viewed with caution, they are extremely harrowing.

It is intended that the first donation will be made at next Wednesday's TUC Concert For Haiti, details here. Do help us raise the funds as quickly as possible, and do please spread the word via facebook, blogs, emails, twitter etc.

On a personal note, I thought that Andy Kershaw's recent piece in The Independent was particularly good.