Thursday, January 28, 2010

Restorative Justice

It seems that the different shades of restorative justice that can be found in Northern Ireland offend some people's sense of professionalism. Here's Pete on Slugger:
"Harry Maguire is an ex-IRA prisoner who was convicted of murder. He now works for Community Restorative Justice, an organisation who try to stop punishment shootings. “A number of the shootings that have taken place over the last year have been done in a very haphazard manner,” he said. “They’re unprofessional with what they’re doing. There’s been a number of these punishment shootings where the intention has been to shoot someone in the knees. On one occasion a person was shot in the shoulder.”"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adams, Robinson and a private life

Apologies in advance for the festival of self-linking that follows, but I'm pointing to examples of me contradicting myself, so that's OK, innit?

I'm a bit all-over-the-place on the whole Robinson / Adams business in Northern Ireland.

I've argued recently that Irish Republicanism placed the nationalist ideal above a need for common decency and personal honesty, and the situation that Gerry Adams found himself in - essentially keeping quiet about / not informing the police about his brother stem at least in part from that. It would have been a smaller problem for a conventional politician.

I also argued that a leader of any other political party would be finished if they hadn't been able to kill a story like this one within a few days (hours even?)

Yet I would broadly agree with Gerry Adams here about the private nature of the Robinsons' family difficulties. Is it reasonable to expect Peter Robinson to put his personal humiliation aside and march up to some standards ombudsman to file a formal complaint about the business dealings of his adulterous, suicidal and unstable wife?

Would you? I f**king wouldn't - and I don't think you could draw any real conclusions about my fitness for public office from it either.

As Conor Ryan put it a while ago, all you'd know is that he is a human being.

And on my more serious blog, I've argued that there is nothing to aspire to in a politics of personality in which we choose between risk-averse purveyors of public cant with strong individual powers. Politics is about politics. It's not a soap opera.

It follows that it is not a good thing that we've allowed the personal virtues of individuals to supplant this as the key issue. As I argued here, brand management is not a trivial or cheap business. If you only want people who can afford this - people with Richard Branson-type virtues - people with windmills on their houses, for instance - then the politics of personality will speed this process along.

Now, Pete Baker has been pulling together a detailed timeline of what Adams said and did and when. And I think that Adams would struggle to survive a forensic Paxman-type interview on TV.

So, if he didn't handle the question of his brother, his wider family and the impact this would have on his political movement as well as he could have done, does this disqualify him from public office?

Put yourself in his shoes. He had a choice of a number of incredibly unpalatable options all embedded in an issue that people traditionally go foetal on. He could have exposed his brother to the summary justice of the IRA. He could have overridden his ideological objection to involving the RUC. He could have made the question public (or not taken sufficient steps to keep it secret). His family would have been divided, confused and angry about the whole situation even if he wasn't a leading figure in an extraordinary political movement.

Let me tell you now, I would have entirely fucked up on this one. I would have said the wrong things to the wrong people. I would have overridden a lot of my principles and trusted the wrong people at the wrong time.

Putting people in situations of extraordinary personal stress of this kind does not tell us anything about someone's fitness for public office.

I still think that the leader of any other political party would have had to go by now.

I still think that we have learned something extraordinary about the relationship between SF and its support-base that it is prepared to let him stay.

But I also think that - if we had our relationship with elected representatives right, that a politician would be given more by way of understanding and less by way of judgment if they found themselves in Adams' situation.

Perhaps Sinn Fein's voters understand that politics is more important than finding chinks in the personal armour of politicians?

Could do better

This is the best I could manage I'm afraid. Go on! Have a go yourself?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Personality politics

The politics of personality can be quite entertaining. In the last few weeks, if someone's alleged nervous breakdown and attempted suicide rings your schadenfreude bell, then Iris Robinson - with her queer-bashing track record is a godsend. And then there's - very good for a laugh.

I'd rarely agree with Brendan O'Neill about very much, but this article a while ago deserves a revisit.
“New Labour has discovered that transparency begets, not trust, but further suspicion – the more politicians make their personal purity into their major selling point, and the more they imply that parliament is a potentially corrupt and sleazy place, the more they invite scrutiny of their every foible and Kit Kat purchase.”
There's capital-P-Politics to this as well. As I mentioned the other day, the word 'Candidate' comes from the latin Candidatus - derived in turn from the white robes that Senators wore to signify their purity of mind.

It also said 'look at me, I have the wealth and slaves needed to sustain a huge length of clean white linen every day.'

The modern day equivalent? The politician with the wind turbine on his house. Brand management is not a trivial or cheap business. If you only want people who can afford this - people with Richard Branson-type virtues - then the politics of personality will speed this process along.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Six rules to apply in your response to corporate media

1. You should pay for your own hosting.

2. You should write your own biography, not delegate it to invisible masses on Wikipedia.

3. You should write other people's biographies, from your point of view. Or at least tell true stories about them, which can be assembled by others into alternate views.

4. Sign your name to all your writing. Use your real name, the one on your driver's license, tax returns, passport, draft card.

5. If you care about a subject, write a definitive piece on it that reflects your point of view,. Don't settle for a compromise, group-think sanitized version in the form of a Wikipedia page.

6. You should own your own domain, or set of domains, and pay the registration fees yourself.

10:23 homeopathy campaign

Just seen the 10:23 campaign (the name comes from here)- reminds me of when I had a persistent bad chest a few years ago. It was some infection that hung in there for months and left me with an irritating dry cough. Nothing serious, but annoying.

One thing led to another, and I ended up with a persistent little bloke who insisted on offering me homoeopathic treatment. It got to the point where I could either humour him or tell him to fuck off. He seemed too well meaning to warrant the latter and I let my curiosity outstrip my scepticism for a brief moment so I relented.

He told me that, firstly, he had to work out which treatment that I needed and he gave me a little bottle to hold in each hand. He told me to hold them tightly and then tried to prise each of them out of my hands. He eventually succeeded with my right hand (I think) and declared that my body was holding on to the other one more strongly and that was, therefore, the correct medicine for me.

It didn't work, obviously, but then it didn't even benefit from any placebo effect.

MyDavidCameron: Latest

From here:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Crushed by the wheels of industry

This very good post reminded me of this tune from long ago:

Nowhere to hide

Ewan has picked another example of augmented reality up:
"Point your mobile phone at the person speaking at the lectern, the cute person in the bar or that potential recruit and see, hovering around their head, all their social networks, tastes in music and books, and dodgy photos from last night."
The potential is quite interesting, but it's also a bit scary, innit? The interesting bit for me is how far this puts pressure on people to be interactive - particularly public figures. There will always be those who either are genuinely open about their life - I know plenty of people who like sharing every detail of their lives.

I think that Westminster may start filling up with people who are ostentatiously open about their lives in a 'look at me I'm a pretty straight guy with nothing to hide' sort of way.

It reminds me of the origins of the word 'Candidate' - from the latin Candidatus - derived in turn from the white robes that Senators wore to signify their purity of mind. It also said 'look at me, I have the wealth and slaves needed to sustain a huge length of clean white linen every day.'

The Man in The White Suit. I would say that 360 degree transparency is something that would be quite expensive to sustain - especially given the huge array of different snobberies that you'd have to be sensitive to.

I wrote a probably-too-long post on things that touch on this question here some time ago if you've got an age to waste.

Friday, January 15, 2010

NuBureaucracy and Capitalist Realism

12th February at Goldsmiths:
"Far from decreasing, bureaucracy has changed form, spreading all the more insidiously in its newly decentralised mode. This 'nu-bureaucracy' is often carried out by workers themselves, now induced into being their own auditors."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Teddy Pendergrass RIP

Cruelly under-rated in my music-snob circles.

Apparently Guido is upset about this being negative campaigning?
"Labour’s campaign seems so devoid of original ideas that they have taken to stealing internet memes again"
He is surely correct because internet memes were Guido's idea in the first place.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Google Tax Now!

It's an odd thing about Google - corporately, their behaviour is relatively attractive. For instance, I'm writing this on software that is provided and hosted free of charge by Google. I'm an enthusiastic user of Google Apps, Chrome, Analytics and a variety of other services that they provide completely free of charge.

And what's more, though this post calls for measures that Google would oppose furiously, I don't suppose that they will do anything to delete it (though I'd be interested to see how 'Google Tax Now!' compares with the search engine rankings of my other posts?)

On the other hand, I think that my grandchildren will be paying for the investment climate that has allowed a company to spend on the scale that Google has without any direct pay-back from the customers.

And Google (along with Apple and Amazon) are now making an absolute fortune. Their success has allowed them to adopt a monopoly position and a bargaining stance that enables them to offer a very poor - almost blackmail - take-it-or-leave-it deal to authors, musicians and publishers.

Until there are dozens of competing iTunes / Google / Amazon type players that intermediate deals between users and producers in each of their markets, creators will not be able to take a fair share of the price that people are undoubtedly prepared to pay for a loosening of 'scarcity' in the supply of creative industries services.

Journalists can't say 'pay the rate that I ask or remove my site from your search' because there is only one game in town at the moment. It's not a question of how much you want to monetise your online content - it's a question of IF you want any money at all.

I don't think that a lot of the advocates of copyright reform - Billy Bragg for example - fully get this issue. They seem to be arguing that we should behave as though the market has evolved to become something that it currently isn't - something with weak intermediaries.

Like a lot of the left, we've almost totally gone to sleep on the question of monopoly and the way that it distorts markets unfairly.

An attack on the monopolistic aspects of modern capitalism should be the primary economic focus of the left as far as I can see. There are plenty of other aspects of the marketplace in 2010 in which the public interest would be served by a curbing of monopolies - there's even a centre-right communitarian appeal to such an approach!

We need to follow the French lead here: Google Tax Now!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Robinson latest:

"DUP Leader Peter Robinson said Jesus was watching over him when his wife Iris sought sexual gratification from a teenager instead of some lumbering, crew-cut dyke in league with Beelzebub."

(via Kathryn)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

DUP, SF and Labour: Three observations

I don't have time to flesh this out into anything that makes the arguments properly, but I suspect that these three observations could make early-draft notes for a useful posting:

Firstly, the peace process in Northern Ireland shouldn't be taken lightly. It's ongoing success is undoubtedly a good thing - anything that abates a low-level sectarian civil war and the social havoc that this causes can only be a good thing. So should the two largest political parties in Northern Ireland expect a bit of journalistic soft-peddling? Would journalists be ignoring their greater duty to the sustainability of democracy by destroying the political careers of Peter Robinson and Gerry Adams? (Both, as far as I can see, would not survive in most developed democracies, though they'd probably actually improve their standing in Italy at the moment). Or is there a stronger argument that the institutions will only become sustainable when they have adapted to storms like this one and that this 'creative destruction' will make everyone stronger?

Secondly, neither of the two dominant political parties in Northern Ireland would be able to survive as leading forces in a normal polity. The DUP is a faith-based political party. It's evangelical protestant roots mean that it values subjective truth (though they believe in a supernaturally-guided subjectivity) more highly than rationalist policies and strategies that would be adopted by most successful mainstream parties in Western Europe. Their attitudes on climate change, intelligent design and sexuality illustrate their relationship with those awful political elites that prefer evidence and good practice. The DUP owes its dominance to a highly tribal society and the fact that it's main rival - the UUP - in a fit of self-destructive stupidity - allowed itself to be governed by mandates and direct recall by party members. As such, they would not really survive in a mature democracy any more than UKIP - another primarily 'subjective' party (a commitment to leaving Europe, government by referendums and heavy controls on immigration).

Similarly, Sinn Féin would not survive as a political party in a normal democratic polity. Its performance in the Irish Republic is testimony to that. Because it is constitutionally antagonistic to the very statelet in which may soon become the largest political party, it doesn't feel any obligation to be seen to act in the wider national interest.

Thirdly, there is a lesson for Labour in all of this. There is a section of the party (OK, I don't know anyone who believes this point as strongly as I do, though Mark Fisher MP with his 2003 'Parliament First' document - co-signed I understand by 20 MPs - and an ex-MP Tony McWalter have come close) that New Labour's shortcomings are not those diagnosed by most of the left (appeasement of monopoly capitalism / American NeoCons) but their failure to understand and respect the ecology of representative democracy:
  • Elected representatives should enjoy a reasonably high degree of independence and not be mandated
  • Political parties should be reasonably diverse (circumscribed by an adherence to a common set of values)
  • Leaders should be challenge-able
  • Manifestos should be a short-ish statement of values rather than a long detailed list of pledges
  • Electoral systems that involve party lists should never ever be promoted under any circumstances
  • Single-issue pressure groups should be ignored rather than cultivated
Labour junked most of these values because they didn't have the common sense to respond properly to the first one in that list above. By promoting 'mandated' MPs, Labour opened itself to it's rivals. In the same way that direct recall of MPs and MLAs allowed the DUP to wreck the UUP, Militant was able to seriously damage Labour in the early 1980s.

Instead of grasping and asserting the primacy of elected representatives, Labour closed down avenues that challengers could use and combated red-scares in a hostile press by imposing mandates upon itself. Those f*cking pledge cards.

At the time, as a short-termist strategy, it worked. But I think that it is doing the party serious damage now. Whatever you think to Gordon Brown, Labour are going to be vulnerable on the leadership question during the next election because it has transparently not been resolved.

Similarly, as I argued some time ago (and it appears to be the central point of The Thick of It satire) I don't think that New Labour's loudest apologists would argue that it has been a particularly good government. We're not great at getting things done. We've been given the run-around by civil servants and management consultants. A more diverse, unchallengeable party would have. Our greatest virtue really is that we've kept a measurably worse option - the Tories - out.

So, my conclusion (and I'm sure this could have been reached more quickly), is this:

Monkeying around with the values of representative government may prove a valuable short-term fix, but in the medium term, it leads to bad government and damages your political party in the process. Don't do it.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Reasons to be cheerful

I've seen this pollster's post about how the US is a fundamentally conservative nation. It just sent me off on a hunt of recent posts that I've seen about the political complexion of other countries.

Part one:
Part two:
Part three: (referring to this)

Linking to your own posts

I think a lot of the better bloggers understand something that a lot of journalists struggle with a bit. Journalists are used to being given a word-length and a deadline: 600 words by noon. They write a set structure and each article is self-contained.

Two Northern Ireland-based bloggers that I quite like are a case in point. Take Malachi O'Doherty or Anthony McIntyre, for instance. Both people who have a long track-record writing for print, and both - I think - good honest writers by the standards of most journalism.

Contrast this with the way that Pete Baker writes on Slugger O'Toole. Each post of his almost contributes to a wiki designed to flesh out what Pete believes (and I'm not questioning his view here) to be a consistent world-view.

In Pete's case, its an update to a comprehensive very long post and in itself, I'd argue that it has to be a bit more honest than most journalist's articles (and blog-posts by journos). He creates a pressure on himself that journalists often manage to avoid.

I'm not saying this to have a pop at Malachi or Anthony either. Or anyone who doesn't fill their posts with hyperlinks to their previous posts. It's just I think that referring to your own previous posts is a daring rather than narcissistic act.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Peter Robinson: A statement

NI First Minister Peter Robinson is having family difficulties it seems.

This from Slugger's comment threads:
"It’s the UDA I feel sorry for after being relegated on their big day to the Weatherwatchers slot on UTV Live-and all because of the havoc caused by an undecommissioned weapon of a different type, owned by an as yet unknown source."

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Bedwetter Generation

Positive lyrics make productive happier teenagers it seems. I don't know about that, but there's something slightly Orwellian and eugenicist in the very observation.

For a long time, I've believed that being 16 in 1980 - with The Specials, The Jam, Teardrop Explodes etc in the charts (and Forest strutting around Europe as official owners of the place) qualified me as some kind of modern urban Sonnenkind (not the Nazi sort - more the downmarket lefty version of the between-the-war fast set of Evelyn Waugh and Brian Howard).

But did it make us happy achievers? Looking at this post by Julian Cope (via Richard Sanderson - something of a player in all of this by the way) I'd be happy to forego the terrific success that could have awaited me if John Peel had played a slightly brighter set of tunes on his show. It wasn't all miserablist Joy Division stuff either.

And was there anything more depressing than the 'Best of the Noughties' roundups?

Snow Patrol's 'Chasing Cars' was 4music's most-played-track-of-the-decade. What with that, Coldplay, Keane. James Bl*nt and that weedy version of 'Mad World' can there be anything to envy in The Bedwetter Generation?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Today's signpost off

I've been away from an internet connection for most of the last week or so and there's nothing new to see here.

You could go and look at 21st century fix though?

It shares a lot of my preoccupations about monopolies - particularly Google (pls don't miss the irony of both of our blogs being based on the Google-owned Blogger platform) and about the way that privately owned public spaces are engineered in an anti-human way.

Or have a look at this? (Via Andrew). If I can think of owt to say about it later, I might do.