Tuesday, December 28, 2010

19th Century Liberals

Via a blogroll request, here's 'March the Fury' - a self-styled socialist student blog from Cornwall with a good post on what the 19th Century Liberals could tell their political heirs in the Lib-Dems.

It reminds me of the post that I've probably linked to more frequently than any other - this one from Pete on 19th Century anarchism - with it's links to radical liberalism.

Taking notes

Less a blog-post and more of a request for a few pointers:

I've been thinking (idly) about how teaching works recently - after hearing the Freakonomics podcast on how collaborative filtering could revolutionise teaching (think commercial radio v Last.FM and swap the monolithic playlists / curriculum for a jigsaw of personalised lessons catering to our preferred way of learning and different aptitudes).

One question particularly intrigues me: has anyone ever conducted a study on how different people collect and organise their thoughts? For me, formal education always felt a bit futile until the Word Processor came along. My illegible handwriting combined with a dislike of passive lecture-attendance made my first degree a joyless chore that earned me an unremarkable 2.2 in the 1980s.

A few years later, having acquired a PC with a Word Processor (they'd practically been invented in the intervening years) I thoroughly enjoyed a part-time Masters degree in the mid-1990s. I found it a great deal easier to organise my thoughts and find out what my conclusions were. As I've said loads of times here before, the main reason that I use the blog is because 'I don't know what I think until I read what I've written.'

I work things out by drafting them into an article for others to read. That's my way of working things out. It helps me even if it does nothing for anyone else.

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting with a creative agency and watched one of their team do some quite remarkable note taking that involved elaborate doodles. Not only did it help him stay on top of the meeting, he kept showing us his progress and we all could work out what we wanted as well.

On the other hand, I've always found that mind-mapping just leaves me more confused that I was beforehand.

Taking / organising notes is, IMHO, a hugely under-rated skill. It's the essential pre-condition to effective study or decision-making. Like musicians need to know their scales or athletes need core strength and stamina, it seems to me that we should all have spent more time understanding what kind of note-taking works for us. It could either be some kind of training in doing it properly, or some kind of diagnostic to find out what type of note-taking works best for each of us.

Has anyone seen any articles about this? I'd be interested to read them.

Update: This, via Jon Worth. Oddly, the RSA Animate series was one of the things that got me thinking about this in the first place.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seeing and knowing

What we see (and see more of)...

... and what we know:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Top ten fails

Worth a quick look. A really nasty-looking encounter with a watermelon was the outright winner but this one was my favourite: The funniest joke in the world....

Saturday, December 18, 2010

High notes

Richard Pryor and Sammy Davis Junior offer the lovely (five-and-a-half octave vocal range) Minnie Riperton an appropriate level of sympathy.

All of them RIP, sadly.

Blogging v political careers

So Iain Dale is off. Not so long ago, Tom Harris also skipped the scene and Tom Watson - though currently as active as he's ever been - has quit blogging for periods in the past under different sorts of pressure. Hopi says it's all part of his Kind Hearts & Coronets-type plot of his to be the UK's No1 political blogger.

Iain is retiring - at least in part - hurt. He also says that it's time-consuming and getting in the way of other ambitions but it's plain that - as an unpaid activity - it's actually damaging his wider career prospects (there's a cruel-but-funny take on this here).

Tim has been involved in a similarly frictional relationship with Tory MP Nadine Dorries and, from what I've seen of the evidence (and maybe I've not seen all of it), it seems to me that Tim's account of the conflicts concerned is more reliable than Iain or Nadine's.

Whatever. There's one conclusion that I'd draw here that I've not seen anywhere else:

Tom H, Nadine and Iain have distinguished themselves by being more-active-than-average online. None of them have been able to do the useful things that social media allows them to do - at least in part -because the personal engagement crowds out the political / policy conversation (though I suspect Nadine would just be a little puzzled by the concept in the first place). If you place yourself in full view online, you leave yourself open to disruption. Keep quiet and you don't.

Again, without commenting on any specifics, we all sometimes behave badly. Venal sins, sins of omission, and sometimes, downright badness and dishonesty. Some of us more than others. The thing is, most of the time, we can wriggle out of it. We can avoid providing a line-by-line answer to our critics. We can mumble something that sounds like a half-excuse and make for the door. We can change the subject or tell people to 'let it drift.'

We also sometimes do something that looks wrong in a particular context. We sometimes do something that appears wrong to anyone who doesn't have the opportunity and capacity to understand a complicated explanation.

All of these are politicians' tricks, and we all use them. In an adversarial world, evasion is a constant. To some extent, it's even a conversational virtue and I doubt if anyone who ever had to make a hefty compromise would be able to honestly say that they've never ducked a question.

For this reason, I suspect, a lot of public figures avoid putting themselves in a place where they can be fisked - and this, in itself, is not a good thing in the wider public interest. Iain and Nadine's alleged shortcomings may have come back to bite them. But hundreds of other political figures have, quite simply, kept out of the space in the first place and can be a good deal less conversational with impunity.

Not that it should be punishable to be conversational in the first place - that's the problem.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Lib-Dems and the Bloggertarians

I hope this doesn't sound too much like bandwagon-jumping, but I'd just like to say how disappointed I am with the Lib-Dems.

I posted a distillation of the core message from this blog (since 2005) and my more-serious Local Democracy site (more recent) yesterday on Slugger O'Toole. It was cross-posted on Liberal Conspiracy shortly afterwards where it attracted a few 'typical elitist fear of us pwoles' type comments from the bloggertarian trolls that lurk there. It's the bizarre defence of the most dysfunctional and ineffective way of getting more participation in popular decisionmaking that stands out when right-wing libertarians advocate these crude plebiscites. If you really want more participation, where is the advocacy of participatory budgeting? Citizens Juries? Co-design and co-creation?

Nowhere, because it doesn't land you in the gated communities of Switzerland or California.

How does this connect with the Lib-Dems, I hear you ask?

My disappointment with the Lib-Dems isn't quite the same as most of stuff I've read elsewhere. Sure, they've proved what we always suspected: that they fold very easily under questioning.

They're performing the traditional mudguard role of junior coalition partners and they don't have the ideological steel needed to resist what should be a fairly straightforward temptation: to not give a minority government the mandate to carry out the most extreme cure to the mess that wanking bankers have left us with.

I suppose it's quite easy to get concepts like socially liberal and economically liberal mixed up, isn't it?

That last para could run and run. But none of it is a huge surprise really, is it?

To my mind, the biggest disappointment is in their commitment to liberal democracy. Like a lot of Lib-Labbers, I always thought that their advocacy of PR went hand-in-hand with a wider pro-democracy approach to politics. Sure - they're not socialists, they don't quite grasp how this whole libertarian bandwagon was primarily put on the rails to help the Tories to play them like a cheap fiddle.

But at least they were in favour of electoral reform. It's a rationalist republican principle that makes them the objective allies of democratic socialists everywhere. The Lib-Dems believe, as many some of us in the Labour Party do, that a better quality of democracy is a political end in itself. Comrade Kautsky would be OK with Labour people making common cause with them on this measure alone.

Or so I thought.

But in selling almost everything for a referendum on AV - AV, ffs - while happily nodding through the coalition's greatest crimes against good democratic thinking - we can see that they don't really have that much of a grasp of what we all believed to be a stand-out cornerstone issue for them.

The Lib-Dems don't understand liberal democracy. They're not it's defenders or it's advocates. They will leave it in a significantly worse state than they found it. And like the bloggertarian trolls on the Liberal Conspiracy comments pages, they really can't grasp that democratic reform has any other purpose than being part of a game designed to get more of your own class-interests onto the statute book.

For years, I dismissed the view that the Lib-Dems only believed in PR because it would get them a few more seats. It turns that I was mistaken in doing so.

I'm genuinely disappointed.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Unproductive finance costs

I had an email recently from someone called Chris Cook - I've just been re-reading it for its other content - but this line really stood out for me as an important challenge for the future:
[We need to] "apply the axe to 'unproductive' finance costs rather than to productive people in the public and private sectors: contrary to the neo-liberal rhetoric, public employees are generally productive....just not productive of 'shareholder value' profits...."

Friday, December 03, 2010

"the activists are Wrong but Romantic, the councillors Right but Repulsive"

A good post over on Liberal Conspiracy here from Don Paskini.

I've posted on a similar theme yesterday over at Slugger O'Toole. It's an interesting time. For long periods, the centre-left has regarded the wider left with suspicion on the grounds that the trots main strategy has been to attempt (really badly) to harass the centre-left to move in their direction - a direction that many on the centre-left would happily follow if it weren't electoral suicide. Often, the strategy the left has used included making itself look as stupid and unattractive as possible.

The Tory Ultra 'deniable outriders' have spent the past five years luring the centre-right onto their ground by making that ground more attractive and themselves into more of a (deniable) asset.

Copying them seems to me to be a much more constructive use of the extra-parliamentary left's time?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

False Economy

Those good people from MyDavidCameron and The Other Taxpayers' Alliance are behind the new False Economy site - and it's a very good example of intelligent campaigning based on a need not just to win over the crowds and drive effective protest (an idea that I'm a lot more sceptical about than most, anyway), but to provide a rapid rebuttal to the coalition's arguments along with disruptive arguments of our own.

There's a launch party and a potential Xmas No1

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Xmas box for your favourite blogger

In the unlikely event that I'm it, you can get me one of these from over here.

Because of my politics?

Or to remind me of John? I'll need something to sup from on Robbo Day on the 20th January.