Dec 312010

The other day, and for once choosing to express myself with brevity, I pointed out how any wild accusations coming from British MPs that the blogosphere was crazed and unreliable were clearly examples of grimy old pots (British parliamentarians) calling shiny new kettles (engaged democratic citizens) unhelpfully and inaccurately black.

I’ve since been thinking further along these lines and have finally come to the conclusion that modern Britain is indeed wacky.

It’s not the preserve of the right, mind.  To believe this would be an unfortunate error of almighty consequence.  If you’ve been reading these pages over the last few months, one of my more common themes is that the social, cultural and economic mess the Coalition is bringing to bear on us is directly related to the previous regime and New Labour behaviours.

Not in the way the Coalition would have us believe though.  It would like us to think that there is a simple relationship between the supposedly spendthrift ways of the left and the disastrous economic situation we find ourselves on the edge of.  I do not believe this is the truth.  Truths told simply always hide far more complex realities – and this, here, is no exception.

The truth of the matter, as far as I can see, is that New Labour was too clever by half – discourse-wise – for anything politically consensual to ever come out of it long-term.  It was always destined to lead to a pendulum swing in the opposite direction, even more exaggerated than its own proved to be.  If current parliamentary practice – as exemplified by the Coalition government – is anything to go by, the British body politic doesn’t need Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News to poison public debate.  It’s already irredeemably poisoned.

And it’s the politicians who make a profession out of the situation who need and require it to remain like this.  I can only assume – in the absence of an obvious parliamentary defence of the blogosphere – that Paul Flynn MP is representative of his colleagues in Parliament when, as he attempts to criticise the idea of the voting public participating in online petitions which could then be debated in Parliament itself, he uses and abuses the figure of the blogosphere wholesale.  The former would be so clearly a separate entity to the latter, both technologically and culturally, that it does truly beg the following question: are Flynn and his ilk more interested in slapping down the Coalition government for foolish and wayward initiatives they’re only actually against because New Labour didn’t think them up whilst in power or are they more interested in slapping down engaged online citizens of a broad and diverse nature because – in their inquisitive and focussed attitudes – they threaten the status quo such professional politicians make their living out of?

We should be mightily suspicious of intelligent people who conflate clearly different cultures and worlds with the obvious objective of smearing both in the easy and inaccurately wacky manner of Flynn.  But Flynn is a symptom, not the root cause.  New Labour’s reign of thirteen years brought us to where we stand right now.  The Conservative-led Coalition government has learnt only too well from its former masters how to make weird and wonderful the truth.

Only in Britain would an allegedly democratic government be prepared to play games with the finite lives of its people.

Only in Britain are we crazed enough to build a society on the whims of the temporally – where not temporarily – powerful.

Only in Britain are we mad enough to try out in the real world something as fundamentally life-altering as this Coalition government proposes – even as the process of theorising, that is to say, experimenting safely in the mind first (like those jolly silly Continentals over the Channel who we so despise), is something we so frequently and vigorously resist.

Dec 302010

All you need to do is look at this web page.  More background from John Naughton here and Dave Winer here.

As Naughton concludes (my bold):

[…] Amazon’s original reasons for dropping WikiLeaks always seemed feeble — and indeed unlikely to stand up in court. But the company’s decision has been useful in drawing attention to the underlying issue. Political discourse is increasingly conducted via cloud services like Amazon’s. That means that it’s moved into a space that is essentially private. As someone observed at the beginning of the WikiLeaks affair, it’s as if our political discourse had moved from the parks and streets and into shopping malls. And that means that important aspects of free speech will henceforth exist at the mercy of corporate whim. This is bad news for democracy.

Dec 282010

Paul Flynn MP has this to say of the Coalition government’s latest proposals to promote online petitions (the bold is mine):

Labour MP Paul Flynn, a member of the Commons public administration committee, criticised the government’s proposal, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This seems to be an attractive idea to those who haven’t seen how useless this has been in other parts of the world when it’s tried.

“If you ask people the question ‘do you want to pay less tax?’, they vote yes. If we get the e-petitions in there will be some asking for Jeremy Clarkson to be prime minister, for Jedi and Darth Vader to be the religions of the country.

“The blogosphere is not an area that is open to sensible debate; it is dominated by the obsessed and the fanatical and we will get crazy ideas coming forward.”

Yeah.  Sure.  Just like Parliament isn’t, right?

Dec 262010

Paul very kindly includes me in his Northern list of bibliophiles.  In order to comply with the requirements of the game he outlines, I think I should – however – widen the remit of the task assigned.

I would define a book as a coherent body of knowledge which narrates a story of some kind.  This story may be non-fictional or fictional – it may be virtual or made of celluloid.  These days, it’s more than likely composed of one kind of digital format or another.  How we read it therefore – the device we need to observe its sense and sensibility – is probably the least of the matter.

That, then, is my definition of a “book”.

Paul also suggests three lists we should recommend from: the top-ten non-fictional books, the top-ten fictional books and the top-five please-don’t-touch-me-at-all-whatever-you-do-next-year books.

So here’s my list of top-ten non-fictional “books”, which I have either read for the first time this year or had occasion to renew my acquaintance with:

  1. “Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang – overview and precision of detail as the tale of modern China is told relentlessly
  2. “Mythologies” by Roland Barthes – I never tire of re-reading these beautiful tales of clever thought
  3. “A Beautiful Mind” – this film redeems its leading character through its ingeniously accurate description of his painfully brilliant state of mind
  4. “The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors” by the Oxford English Dictionary Department – this book dates from 1981 and is one of my most dearly thumbed companions
  5. “Stumbling and Mumbling” blog – deep thought but never computerised
  6. “Though Cowards Flinch” blog – has me consistently out of my depth, but this is the kind of stuff I wish I could always understand
  7. “Slugger O’Toole” electronic magazine – a tale of a village I could never belong to nor deserve to intervene in, but one I will always have a great fondness for
  8. “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani – I re-read this book this year after a hiatus of a couple of years.  If you want to know why bad stuff happens to good people, read this
  9. “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger – I re-read this little book regularly.  It serves to keep my feet on the ground
  10. “” (or wherever you may currently find it) – great publishing, awful choice of extra-curricular activities

Here’s my list of top-ten fictional “books” – mainly, I’m afraid (for the purists amongst you), films or film versions of what we more traditionally understand to be a book; nevertheless, I promise you I do read them just as carefully:

  1. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – I saw the film on the occasion of my wedding anniversary.  Every man who might ever consider forming part of a heterosexual relationship needs to see this film.  It is a tract – in every possibly positive sense of the word – on the subject of rape and its utterly unacceptable nature
  2. “Toy Story 3″ – pretty well perfect film-making: total control of environment and emotions.  At the pinnacle of industrial art (made me blubber at the end, anyhow)
  3. “Star Trek – the Original Series” – too many episodes to enumerate but never fails to disappoint me
  4. “High Society” – because of Louis Armstrong
  5. “Meet Me in St Louis” – because of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli
  6. “The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker (well, it’s about what drives fictional constructs …)
  7. “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F Scott Fitzgerald (other short stories by Fitzgerald too – but this one in particular always gets a re-read)
  8. “U.S.A.” by John Dos Passos (finally finished after having started it such a long time ago at university …)
  9. “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” by Edgar Allan Poe (Nintendo DS version)
  10. “Cracks” by Sheila Kohler

Finally, my list of the five publishing untouchables:

  1. Paywalls
  2. Paywalls
  3. Paywalls
  4. Paywalls
  5. Paywalls
Dec 242010

Yep.  That time of the year when we should all look out for one another.  And your Green Santa needs you!  As this wonderful Christmas card goes on to explain:

“Global Warming is melting Santa’s runway.  No runway means Santa’s sleigh can’t take off and he won’t be able to deliver any presents in time for Christmas!  Green Santa has been set up to help kids take an interest in their environment – the more energy they save, the more of Santa’s runway they save.”

Wonderful hat tip to Mark in Croatia for this eminently worthy cause.  If you meet me on the site some time, wish me a Merry Christmas! 
And that’s a wonderful Christmas and New Year to all my readers – whether regular or just dropping by.

Let’s just hope that between us next year we can work out a better way to fix this planet we’re living on.

More here from this marvellous website.
Dec 232010

This story came to me via Ian Bissell’s Twitter feed this morning:

BBC’s Mark Thompson: Impartiality is dead in the age of the internet | Media Digest

The story referenced can be found here whilst the original source was the Guardian newspaper, which, amongst other things, reported Thompson as saying:

The BBC had been, historically, “weak and nervous” about airing debates about immigration and Europe, he said – but added that he believed the public broadcaster had forced the main parties to discuss immigration during the 2010 election campaign. He promised that there would be more space for “extreme and radical perspectives” on the BBC, which one day could become common views.

It also pointed out that:

Ironically, Thompson’s proposal makes him an ally of the Murdoch family. The BBC director general told the audience that Rupert Murdoch had told him he would like Sky News to go down a polemical “Fox-style” route – but that the editors of the channel had brushed off his wishes.

The nub of the argument lies in these paragraphs however:

The director general said: “There was a logic in allowing impartial broadcasters to have a monopoly of the broadcasting space. But in the future, maybe there should be a broad range of choices? Why shouldn’t the public be able to see and hear, as well as read, a range of opinionated journalism and then make up their own mind what they think about it?

“The BBC and Channel 4 have a history of clearly labelled polemical programmes. But why not entire polemical channels which have got stronger opinions? I find the argument persuasive.”

It would be interesting to examine more deeply this circumstance.  I remember writing a piece for the El País journalism course entrance exam where I argued that the future lay in a more overtly opinionated journalism – particularly of an Anglo-Saxon type – instead of the finer sort El País has continued to practise, where opinions are hidden well in the background and where its practitioners seem to sincerely believe it’s possible to write without exhibiting such opinion or allowing it to even influence your work.

This article would have been written almost a decade ago now – and needless to say I didn’t manage to get on the course.  But the argument I made stands the test of time.  And here Mark Thompson is bringing us up to date.

The impartiality argument was made in the first place because public service broadcasting needed to sell to a potentially dubious audience the politically useful porkie that a single nation existed.  And perhaps for a while it did.  If you could show both extremes, you could fashion a shared centre.  A kind of Werther’s approach to sociocultural fabrication perhaps.

And even where series such as “Play for Today” demonstrated division and disintegration in our society, paradoxically they also served to bring us together again as, once back in our workplaces, we discussed their import and weight all those mornings after and chatted about the themes raised with a real interest and engagement.

Thompson believes that in an Internet world it makes no sense any longer to sustain this porkie.  I would argue that it has very little to do with the fact that far more media are available for us to access – or even that it is far easier for even more channels to be provided in the future than currently exist.

Rather, I think it has much more to do with the fact that our access to different media – to Twitter, to bloggers, to hybrid software and communities such as Facebook – has meant we ourselves have come to understand the true extent of the porkie: the true obfuscation of this single nation irreality, this idea of an impartiality, a Werther’s softness we should all hanker after, which can no longer be sustained.

An opinion is expressed and made concrete by how we string the facts together, whether we believe we can be impartial or not.  This is so obvious that no one could surely argue with it.  And yet, on top of all of this, we have allowed the British media establishment to build an infrastructure of impartiality which has served to hide the beautiful clarity of this observation and make it dark.

For the last ten years, and certainly in the environment I detected was operating within El País itself, I have to admit I have found myself more at Rupert Murdoch’s side in this matter than the BBC‘s – at least as per prior to Thompson’s arrival.  But that is perhaps because I have been trained more as an editor of literature and fiction, an editor in search of universal truths, than one of daily realities, of numbers and statistics, of weather forecasts and bullfights.

So then.  I do not see Murdoch’s encroaching takeover of BSkyB as the disaster my political inclinations may have led me to perceive it as perhaps only a few months ago.

There are other things at work.  YouView may come on stream shortly and offer an entirely different sense of what TV and broadcasting could mean in Britain.  If objectivity and representation can be achieved through a discrete recognition of opinion expressed over time rather than a tiresome trying to ensure that each and every debate ever aired is a four-cornered Buggins’ turn of points of view – quite intellectually unproductive in itself – then perhaps we can follow the historical and technological trends of real users out there on the Internet, instead of tying the bigger organisations down to a Geiger-like decaying of their earlier efficacy and solvency.

A miserable half-life no one would surely wish on any fellow publisher.

Blogging, Twitter and Facebook have all shown us that the future is in building a society on the inventiveness of many individuals.  For a while, it seemed that traditional blogging in its two aspects – i) logging the best of the web and ii) fixing in diary format the occurrences and thoughts that each blogger had – would be the way forward.  Now it appears that Twitter has built a community around the former and Facebook is doing – in fits and starts, even where not always with happy results – the same for the latter.  Whatever the technologies and companies we finally end up using – and I suggest we maybe should get used to the idea that our favourite brands of today will begin to shift rather more rapidly and disintegratedly than the consumer society of the last century had led us formerly to believe might be the case – the path both Thompson and Murdoch are showing us as their view of the future is, in fact, the only one that can allow these big organisations to maintain anything approaching their existing structures intact.

If they do not become more opinionated themselves, they will lose out to an ever-expanding world of Web 2.0 opinionated interactions.

My question therefore is as follows: this may allow people like Fox and the BBC to continue more or less as they are.  But how will such an overtly opinionated media – perhaps I should say an honestly opinionated media – affect the nascent and increasingly self-structuring political blogosphere?  Will it be good or bad for the “real” bloggers?

Might, in fact, it explain the recent peeling-off and shutting-up-shop of some of the biggest name bloggers?

Are they preparing their stalls for when Internet talk radio – or even Internet video broadcasting – hits our British shores?

Impartiality can be tracked falsely in the Buggins’ turn way I have already described.  So many minutes.  So many participants.  And this then is objective television.

Or it can be tracked by allowing equal access to all over a period of time.

And here is where I would, of course, possibly find myself begging to differ with Mr Murdoch – as well as find it difficult to support his publishing instincts if I were right.  If he chose to ensure that the barriers to entry became so high and complex to administer that the only opinionated publishing we would ever get to hear from would be his version of it and his ideology of the world, then I would no longer be able to agree with his desire to Fox News the British media landscape.

So it is that I wonder if this is what is really being planned here.

In which case, Mr Thompson is less a prescient editor, rather more a fool. 


Meanwhile, that is the other challenge we on the left will always find in such circumstances – that of visibility and sustaining it.  It’s inevitably been the case that right-wing talk stations have been better at making their politics sexier.

Could we turn the trend upside down?

Given the opportunity, would we have the nous to?

Would, in fact, we be willing to?

It’s a publishing challenge, no more or less than that.  The question is if, in a free market, we want to be up for the fight.

With Vince Cable out of the reckoning and Jeremy Hunt ready to give the go-ahead, and Mark Thompson from the BBC simply relishing the idea to become controversial, I’m pretty sure it’s going to become a publisher’s Turkish Delight.

And we all know what happened to Edmund in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” when he decided to have just one piece of Turkish Delight.

Addiction city.

Even so, we will have to try just one piece.

Just one little piece.

Wouldn’t you like to try just one little piece of that Turkish Delight this Christmas?

Wouldn’t you like to be given the opportunity to launch your unvarnished opinion on the Great British Public each and every night?

Dec 222010

The Tories almost certainly have felt, over the past decade, that New Labour was a wicked ensemble of a tool, designed entirely to steal the voters which rightfully belonged to the right.  I can understand this point of view.  I agree with it.  And psychologically, it must have hurt very much.

This is why the other day I argued that amongst other things the Coalition government is a child of New Labour:

All new regimes are inevitably born out of the previous.  You cannot be an atheist without having some relationship with the construct that is God.

And Cameron’s Coalition is a child of New Labour, just as much as New Labour was a child of Thatcher.

When political people do politically unpleasant things to other political people – and whether, through so doing, they believe they are doing the best they can for a wider constituency or not – the hard-done-to will remember forever and always how far the doers decided to go.  And grudges will begin to reside in the body politic, just like a series of cancerous growths seeded and waiting to spread.

This is then when politics becomes riven with Mafia-like behaviours and instincts.  It may be innate to politics of course – something we might find difficult to eliminate altogether.  But we can surely choose either to fight it as best we can within an acceptance of the virtues of political engagement over literal war – or we can choose to actively nurture it and allow its malignancy to increase.  What is undeniable by now to almost anyone who cares to look on is that the Tories are clearly revelling in the generational opportunity to unwind absolutely everything and anything that any previous government, of whatever complexion, could deem to point to as an achievement of its own.  Meanwhile, their Coalition partners, the Lib Dems, find themselves cast as squalid whipping boys – unfairly easy targets perhaps; even targets we should hold back from exploiting too much.

Lately, it seems that the only person in politics who is not choosing to nurture these cancerous growths is Ed Miliband himself – and he’s getting his fair share of criticism for not appearing on the parapet more often and, in that awfully Punch and Judy sort of way that the childish business around PMQs demands, giving as good as he gets.

So here’s a short note in support of the strategy behind Ed Miliband’s approach.  As Anthony Painter points out in Left Foot Forward:

Ed Miliband must, in time, respond with a similar sense of drama. He has so far sought to reconnect the Labour party to the lost leadership of John Smith. It was a noble and moral leadership and would have almost certainly still have returned Labour to power in 1997.

And as he concludes in the same piece:

Do not under-value the decency of John Smith. Equally, do not forget that Labour wins when it is the future. 2011 must become the year when Labour is finally honest about its recent past and then with a sense of drama and panache, it imagines and articulates the different future that it can create and turns it into a poetic conviction. The alternative is a third year of frenetic displacement activity. Surely now is the time to move on?

And, in fact, looking back to John Smith’s time is not looking back to the past.  John Smith invoked a different way of doing politics.  He invoked a break with the Mafias, backbiting, obsessions and circles of vicious reclamation of political terrain that Thatcher, New Labour and now this baldly named Coalition partnership – a partnership that is serving only to break the nation apart – have literally condemned us to for so many years.

Looking back to John Smith involves, therefore, looking to the future with nostalgia.  That, I believe, is what Ed Miliband is trying to achieve.  There’s nothing now we can usefully do to stop the juggernaut that these stupid stupid Coalition politicians have set in motion.  But we can choose to be around – thoughtfully, supportively, usefully, intelligently and, most importantly, honourably – for when the emergency services of British politics finally have to make their entrance.

And, as all members of the emergency services do day and night after day and night, we must remember above all that what the people will then be looking for is selfless dedication to that cause and whole which is society and that unit of untold importance which is the individual.

I didn’t preference Ed Miliband as any of my choices for leader of the Party.

But I now wish him all the luck in the world in his attempt to burnish the historical glory and future path of the Labour Party with the memory and unfinished business of John Smith.

Dec 222010

Well, our adventure with water supplies is currently at a productive stage.  Just around the time the earthquake hit Cumbria last night, our ice-ridden external water pipe freed up sufficiently to return our supply to us.  Unfortunately, at the same time the water meter burst.  We’re a first floor flat and the meter is in the stairwell on the ground floor – so this caused no immediate grief to anyone.  We telephoned the water board and the housing trust and after the initial impulse on both sides to find whose responsibility it was to effect the repair, we came to the conclusion that although the lagging was the responsibility of the housing trust, it was up to the water board to sort out the meter.

I phoned again this morning to confirm jobs had been processed and both sets of workers came around a couple of hours ago.  They soon had the situation under control and we are now enjoying proper hot and cold running water for the first time in three days.

I’ve been hearing quite a few horror stories though.  One, if I remember rightly, involved around 35 of 152 water meters installed in a newbuild development in Chester in the underground carpark.  With the cold temperatures, and then last night’s slight thaw, the 35 I mention have all burst – just as ours did.

Whilst the anxiety generated by the situation I’ve only heard about third-hand in the high rises in Blacon can only compound the housing trust’s problems.

Doesn’t matter whether you’re paying more or less for your housing in Britain.  We simply do not take bad weather seriously.

And it’s time we did – from building regulations to good working practices.  Bad weather is here, and – whether you believe in climate change or not – it’s here to stay.  Time to up the ante as far as infrastructures and behaviours are concerned.  In all kinds of housing developments, in all kinds of building organisations.

Dec 212010

You’d think we’d have learnt, what with the WikiLeaks revelations and all, that public figures generally say different things in private than they do in public.  What’s more, you’d have thought that they’d have learnt it’s a massive and wasteful charade to pretend that by not saying in public what they privately think, public discourse is any way bettered.

Maybe Vince Cable has already learned this fact and is actually giving us a masterclass in latterday politics.

Caron responds to Political Scrapbook’s unscientific request on the subject of Cable’s latest declarations by saying:

@psbook 0 I’d say. He thinks exactly as we all thought he did. Nothing to see here.

The sooner we get over the way truth is going to function in these uncharted waters of post-WikiLeaks confidences, the better.

Politics may become more difficult or it may surprisingly become rather easier.  But whatever happens, and whoever’s going to be in charge, these tendencies won’t stop just because we’d prefer that they did.

Cable may be playing a wily game – or he may be a sad old politician who joined the political equivalent of the Cosa Nostra, now regrets he ever considered it and is looking for an easy way out.

Looking not to fall but be indelicately shoved.

Perhaps, when this is all done and dusted, we will realise it’s never been Cameron and the Tories who burnt their bridges with their voting public but, rather, the Lib Dems.  And in this truth there will be an opportunity for Labour to articulate, if it cares to, an alternative which drives us back on to the rails of mutualism, solidarity and corporate responsibility.

A society where business is not a dirty word – and where dirty words are no longer defined as such because we care to understand and cherish the true importance of free speech.

A society where everyone works selflessly – even if only a little, even if only occasionally – for the benefit of the common good.

A society of the good, rather than – in true Cosa Nostra style – a society of the big.  For that, I think, is where we’re headed.  The true meaning of the big society.  A society where only the big count.  Big not as an inclusive and embracing adjective but, instead, as a definer and limiter.  A society made of and for the big.  A society where the small can only get anywhere by radically changing who and what they are – by graciously accepting admittance to influential private clubs and memberships, by selling out their core selves, by acquiring those airs and graces that signify getting to those places only the wealthy can award.

By, essentially, no longer being true to themselves.

So it is that the events of the next few days will serve to allay my fears or confirm my suspicions.

Happy reading …

Dec 212010

This isn’t an item on the technically misguided attempt by the Coalition government to improve the moral fibre of the nation by blocking Internet porn to British users.

In any case, I suspect possibly ulterior motives here.  For if you succeed in getting people onboard with the idea of setting up a Great Wall of Westminster to block porn, one day you will be able to work out how to get political acquiescence to block all those non-mainstream media currently doing such a good job of deconstructing government policy-making.  China – in its most Maoist tendencies – does it.  Why not Chairman Cameron?

Better, surely, a wider and more supportive policy which aims to allow everyone equal access as both producers and consumers to the media we want to have and create together.


But I am getting distracted.  This post is actually about a completely different matter: the sort of Catch-22 situation you just don’t want to find yourself in.  Only, unfortunately, we do.

I phoned the housing trust a few minutes ago to ask them who we should be contacting in relation to our lack of water supply.  They told us there was little we could but wait.  They did, however, offer to bring round some bottled water – an offer I gratefully accepted*.  I then asked them if it was worth asking the water board if there was anything they could do to proactively help us recover our supply.  They suggested it might be worth a try – but we agreed it would be unlikely to produce a positive response.

I then phoned the water board who told me that anything internal to the property was the responsibility of the landlord and if the issue, as seemed likely, was internal to the property, then we would have to take it up with the housing trust.

And, as the water board call centre gentleman helpfully pointed out, temperatures were due to plunge again on Friday.  So we could be looking to have no water again over the Christmas period – even if it did come back later on Wednesday or Thursday.

So between one and the other supplier of services thus contracted, the end result is that we find ourselves without water – and with no one really caring to take any ownership.

And also with no one in this – apparently – Godforsaken country seeming to know a better way.

Update to this post: after a further phonecall to the housing trust, persistence seems to be paying off.  A plumber is coming to inspect the property and – presumably – let us in on the worst.  We shall see.

*More on how grateful my wife felt when the water actually arrived can be found here.

Dec 212010

So this is the reality of coalition government.  The Telegraph catches Vince Cable saying the following:

Asked about his influence in the government, he reportedly said he was prepared to use the “nuclear option” and resign, if he was pushed too hard.

Mr Cable was recorded saying: “I have a nuclear option; it’s like fighting a war.

“They know I have nuclear weapons, but I don’t have any conventional weapons.

“If they push me too far then I can walk out and bring the government down and they know that.

“So it is a question of how you use that intelligently without getting involved in a war that destroys all of us.

He goes on to say:

“That is quite a difficult position to be in and I am picking my fights. Some of which you may have seen.”

And apparently agrees with both Anthony Rawnsley, myself and – by now – the cat’s mother about the nature of this “Maoist revolution”:

The business secretary also reportedly criticised the speed at which the coalition was trying to push through changes in the health service, local government and other areas, which he described as a “kind of Maoist revolution” and said it was “in danger of getting out of control”

“We are trying to do too many things, actually,” he said.

“Some of them are Lib Dem inspired, but a lot of it is Tory inspired. The problem is not that they are Tory-inspired, but that they haven’t thought them through. We should be putting a brake on it.”

Perhaps, at this juncture, we should remind ourselves of the regime change that the Iraq War wrought and its unhappy aftermath and lack of planning to understand fully the implications of what Cable is saying here.

Meanwhile, it is clear that this is not the adult conversation between peers that Cameron promised us in the Rose Garden all those months ago but, rather, a tawdry, squalid and bare-faced attempt to impose on the British people something entirely unnatural to its sense of moral and natural justice.

Cameron needs to be kicked out – and the sooner, the better – precisely because he is aiming to destroy the very fabric of our nation, created and weaved over generations.

And precisely because he is aiming to do so without caring too deeply about what replaces it.

He is no patriot.  Quite the opposite, he is an anti-patriot.

Our sense of moral and natural justice – not his – stands aghast as it observes the transforming zeal of a man who is quite clearly on a hiding to nothing.  And we are too good to know what we must do.

Update to this post: we suddenly discover, via what I presume must be a whistleblower within the Telegraph, that Vince Cable also mentioned Rupert Murdoch in his candid statements.  For some reason, however, the paper chose not to disclose the content of these references when it published the supposedly “full” transcript this morning.  For a rather more complete background to the unvarnished truth and its implications, Robert Peston has now published the details here.  And the BBC has obtained a copy of the original sound recording which you can find below.

Dec 202010

As I cough myself to pieces – though clearly begin to recover as I do so – I am struck by the large organisational message in times of difficult climes such as these: “Wait and see.”  And this isn’t a country thing.  This morning, my wife had an unhappy conversation with two Spanish call centre people from Iberdrola (they share a logo with ScottishPower).  “It’s the computer that calculates it – nothing we can do about it.”

Meanwhile, here in England, two phonecalls to the water board and one to the housing trust have provided us with two solutions to our lack of water: first, hair-dryer the water pipes; second, just “Wait and see”.  Tonight, in the meantime, temperatures in our area are predicted to fall to -17ºC.

Neither solution has worked to date.

And whilst aeroplanes at Heathrow are being diverted to same-climate Holland, which manages to continue to operate its airports because it believes in spending money on being prepared, here in Britain we can certainly predict the weather but, as far as I can see, we resolutely refuse to act on our predictions.

I hate this “Wait and see” attitude.  It’s another case where the free market chooses to make money off its clients in the good times and simply doesn’t turn up in the bad.

Whither, then, contractual obligations? 

I’m not asking for the impossible.  All I’m asking for is that some of the precious corporate resources regularly diverted into the pockets of warm and cosy shareholders be used – instead – for an emergency fund to up the ante sufficiently and fairly in times of climate crisis.

Is it too much to ask?

Update to this post: whilst I tell the housing trust our boiler is now leaking and a red light has come on, and they tell me that their SLA is 24 hours and “if you feel comfortable, you can leave it on”, and I don’t feel at all comfortable leaving on a leaking gas boiler, here’s how Helsinki manages to keep the planes flying – even with six feet of snow.

Second update to this post: fair dos to the housing trust.  An efficient and hard-working engineer who’d obviously had a very long day finally turned up around quarter to ten this evening, proceeded to identify the issue (the overflow pipe on the outside of the house is half the size it should be and had thus frozen up where, under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have) and with a bit of help from our kettle, unfroze the pipe and got the boiler working again.

Many thanks to all involved.

Dec 202010

Andrew Rawnsley made a very coherent point this weekend which my summer reading had already led me to

First, Rawnsley:

I put it down to Tony Blair. Also to Margaret Thatcher. And to Mao Tse-tung. To understand this government, you need to appreciate the debts that it owes to these three influences: Labour’s triple election-winner, the Conservatives’ most radical postwar prime minister, and the Chinese dictator responsible for the deaths of more of his own people than any other leader in history.

To be fair to the coalition, it is not their ambition to replicate the body count heaped up by the Communist party of China during Mao’s lethal reign. Nor does this government share many of the late tyrant’s political ends. Yet in its methods, I am increasingly struck by the strange similarities between the regime of Chairman Mao and that of Chairman Cameron.

Now from my own post:

Cameron is a Chinese Communist if there ever was one – a man who wants to start from scratch in everything, who wants you to know every minute of the day how he’s changed you, who’s proud of the number of bridges he’s aiming to burn, who understands the importance of remembering the wilderness from which he has emerged and of never ever contemplating getting into the position where he’d have to go back again.

If truth be told, the psychology of the matter is that the Coalition doesn’t mind the accusations being hurled at it because it has convinced itself it’s on a broader mission of much greater importance than telling the truth about what it plans to do.  That transforming zeal – that self-belief – is created on the back of that folk memory, still ever so recent, of inhabiting and suffering from the political wilderness.

To Rawnsley’s piece, and indeed my own, I might add that in its early days the Communist regime in China righted many dreadful societal wrongs in a very short period of time.  Why it began to go wrong was in its impatience – and also in its decision and desire to effect revolutionary change almost for the sake of it.

All new regimes are inevitably born out of the previous.  You cannot be an atheist without having some relationship with the construct that is God.

And Cameron’s Coalition is a child of New Labour, just as much as New Labour was a child of Thatcher.

Cameron is clever and doesn’t need a Plan B.  He’s not aiming to coax and bring us along with him as Blair might have tried to.  He already knows what needs to be done – is already doing it.

For beware politicians of a transforming zeal.  They care more about their projects than they do about what people think of them.

Dec 172010

Some interesting articles tonight.  Firstly, from LabourList, we have Simon Wright saying how the Lib Dems may be coming of age:

I certainly believe this is the end of the LibDem magic, that ability to be all-things-to-all-people. I certainly hope it means the incoherence of some of their positions is finally exposed and their failure to stick to a policy will become a very public habit. However, I fear that it might come to be seen as the period when the LibDems started to grow up. The trauma of this experience could give them the resolve not to ever let it happen again. They might learn that people respect parties that can take difficult decisions. There is a long time ahead for this coaliton government – incredibly there are still four and half years planned – and few other topics on which the LibDems are so vulnerable. Our laughing at their current difficulties could seem a bit hollow if they turn out to be teething troubles on the way to becoming a grown-up political party.

Second, we have a lovely piece of traditional logging-the-web from John Naughton, picking up on a piece from Luis de Miranda, where the protocol-riven worlds of diplomacy and the Internet are compared and contrasted:

In what way are the Internet and diplomacy similar? Both are governed by very strict protocols, but their strictures are somehow each others’ opposites. Diplomatic protocol lives on the surface of things, a layer of varnish that actually allows all the treachery, hypocrisy and dirty dealings to go on. The protocol is theatre, while shenanigans play out in the shadows. The rigor of the Internet, on the other hand, operates in all that is invisible: the source code, the programming language standards, the networking standards (TCP/IP, HTML, RFCs). What is on the surface on the web is joyful chaos, depravity, free expression, every manifestation of the kaleidoscope of humanity. We have all been somewhat aware of the stuffy old world of diplomatic protocol, the attention to etiquette and to the rank of governments and their envoys. We are less familiar with the new world of digital protocol.

As de Miranda goes on to point out (the bold is mine):

The world of diplomacy, the world of the rulers, is certainly no sacred realm. The content of the leaked cables – as has been pointed out – is not all that surprising. But Marshall McLuhan strikes again here too: the message is the medium. The momentous nature of Wikileaks comes in its form, not its content: the digitalisation of our representations of the world around us is a new global DNA. And that digitalisation brings to the foreground – partly by contrast – another, complementary aspect of humanity: what I call crealism, the desire to become self-created, to establish a space of liberty outside the automata by seizing democratic control of of the protocols that rule us. Another word for this is empowerment.

In this sense, what is happening to the Internet and what it is happening to the Lib Dems are parallel and perhaps mutually informing processes.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Coalition experience should be forcing the latter to grow up as Wright suggests, as Paul bemoans and as I observe … just at the very same time that WikiLeaks consecrates the coming of age of the Internet.  For we realise that what we are dealing with is a private space of public use.  And just like Liverpool One in the real world, such worlds are not happy places at heart.  As Der Spiegel points out:

The different reactions from Internet firms to the WikiLeaks publications reveal a dilemma. Many citizens regard the Internet as a public space, but in fact it is a private sphere. And the companies that control almost all the forums on the Web can, if in doubt, exercise their rights of ownership and ban who they like.

The extent to which citizens are free on the Internet depends on whether these companies want to get into conflict with the state or other firms, for example copyright holders.

They have to work out, on their behalf, how far the right to free speech goes, and when it infringes upon other rights, for example personal or author rights.

There is a saying “pick your battles.” Well, Internet giants Amazon and PayPal have clearly decided not to join the fight for WikiLeaks. They are avoiding conflict and have thrown out the activists by pointing to their terms and conditions. They have the right to do so. Companies should be allowed to be cowards, if the risk seems too high for them.

That risk could be a general threat from the US political establishment — or the fury of US customers, who regard WikiLeaks as a platform for state treason. Such rage could hit the company a lot harder than the revolt by those activists now calling for a boycott of Amazon and PayPal.

And as it then proceeds to add:

Yet these calls for a boycott should be welcomed. They could show the companies that the situation is actually the exact opposite to what they had assumed: that perhaps they have been wrong in their appraisal of the reaction to WikiLeaks and have actually annoyed more customers than expected with the block. Then perhaps the next time they will do things differently.

The underlying issue does, however, remain the same.  Private spaces of public use are uncomfortable places to be.  As OldTrot tweeted to me the other day:

@eiohel The Social Web is a carefully fostered illusion. Twitter is a private money-making venture. Tweets & trends are traceable & filtered

And furthermore:

@eiohel the open forum is as old as Democracy itself, but the Market monetises, corrupts, and yes sells it. Free speech commodified

So it is we discover – through the implosion that is caused by both WikiLeaks and the Lib Dems – that our 21st century world is not honest, sincere or progressive in the least.

Not in its form anyhow.

The most we can hope for – if everything remains the same (if, that is, we are left at the mercy of those who design and write the code) – is a cuddly kind of content that likes to pretend it loves our every being.

But when it comes to creating the protocols … we are at the mercy of those who create.  And if we do not create them ourselves – or, at least learn how to regularly deconstruct them – then we are lost.

Perhaps it’s time we all become hackers.  As de Miranda’s piece makes only too plain:

Wikileaks was born of hacker culture. Hackers are not spotty, destructive teenagers who provoke a third world war while tinkering at their computers. Hackers work firmly in the real world: they try to reverse engineer the digital world around us. They try to understand how code has been built, especially code whose goal is to keep people out, to monopolistically restrict access. Once the code is understood, it can be mastered and directed to the hackers’ own uses, often open-sourcing the knowledge. The code becomes usable by anyone who puts the effort into understanding digital protocol. This hacking culture does not apply only to digital programs: the hacking digital natives have this attitude towards the whole world; our politics, society, behaviours, tastes, beliefs, identities, have all been assembled like code and are the instruments by which we are controlled.

And as he concludes:

The old, elitist, analog world of double-speak and counter-bluff, the worlds of diplomacy and political institutions, cannot hope to survive the two-pronged attack from digitalisation and empowerment. The message sent by Wikileaks to governments is this: “you are using the digital to organise the world and to control the people; but that means that the people will also have access to your mechanisms of control, the code and the data; the people will be able to hack you – to uncover and subvert your hegemonic uses.” The only way governments could stop this democratising force would be to imprison the coders – a temptation some seem to be tempted by.

Perhaps, then, in the light of all the above, we could see the Lib Dems as the hackers of British politics.  They could be – in some curious way – reverse-engineering our political code, even if not consciously, even if not intentionally.  We’re not quite sure – at least not all of us – that this isn’t being done for entirely undemocratic purposes.  But a small chance still exists – a chink of light coming through the political DNA that might, even so, end up being rebuilt – that perhaps some good will come out of all this pain.

As with WikiLeaks, however, and all those gloriously private spaces of public use we have come to so enjoy … from Amazon to Facebook, from blogging to video streaming … well, it is still utterly unclear if the gain will make the pain worthwhile.

See what I mean?  We can learn a lot from analysing the virtual world.

Especially when the real world begins to become outrageously indistinguishable from it.  Or, alternatively, our thought processes begin to mimic those of the glorious hackers of old to such a degree that absolutely everything becomes reducible to the building blocks of fabulous code.

Dec 162010

Paul has a pretty bitter piece here.  I am surprised that it has not raised any comments as yet.  So today I found myself obliged to make this rather long and possibly mildly bombastic one – as I tried to counter his thesis:

You talk of the Lib Dems as if they were one whole. I don’t think this is true. I think they are currently suffering from immense internal strains as Clegg does a Blair – but a hundred times over, and over a far shorter gestation period.

Yes – the Lib Dems have always been *opportunists*.  But that’s because they’ve had very few opportunities to define themselves on a public stage where this did not mean fighting two fronts.  The two larger parties have always had the luxury of being able to pretend they didn’t know the Lib Dems even existed – and concentrate their fire on one single opponent.

Which in itself showed a deliberately tremendous lack of respect on the part of the big boys.

Always much easier to define yourself cogently when you only have to look in one direction.

That doesn’t make Labour and the Tories any less opportunist – or less deserving of the same criticism.  It just makes them *apparently* more principled.  But I’m not sure, in reality, they are.

You’re disappointed in the Lib Dems because – like many people – their distance from real national power allowed you to put them on some imaginary pedestal.  “If only,” you said to yourself.  And the “if onlys” of this world allow us all to ignore a multitude of concurrent and very real sins.  The higher we place them, the further they have to fall.  We assume, quite naturally, that the Tories and Labour will trash representative democracy every which way they can – we don’t expect any more.  But the Lib Dems were a finer lot, surely. 

Well.  I think quite a lot of them are – as I might say the same of many members of my own party; and, even, at this awful juncture, a number of the Tories.  It’s just that the internecine war in British politics that is now our daily bread doesn’t allow for the conversational politics you would like to implement.

Civil war doesn’t allow for the dynamic of approachability.  Rather the opposite, in fact.

What am I trying to say then?  Find it in yourself not to *blame* the Lib Dems.  Their leaders do only what other leaders, when within sniffing distance of power, have done throughout political history.  And a party is always far more complex, far more compelling and far more important than those leaders of today – who will soon become the weary and solitary has-beens of a yesterday consigned to painful history.

What do yous all think then?  Can – and, indeed, should – the Liberal Democrats be rescued from those who choose to disparage them out of disappointment?  Is it fair to disparage them thus?  Is it reasonable to express such a dissatisfaction because we expected – perhaps unjustly – far more of them than we cared to do of the others?

Ought anyone ever to be blamed for not living up to the perceptions we choose to fabricate around them – cocoon-like and unreal as a Hollywood movie?

Disillusionment may set in at any moment on a political journey.  If Paul had used the word “Clegg” every time he wrote “Lib Dems”, I’d understand his piece better and be far more sympathetic.  But using the broad brushstroke of “Lib Dems” to describe the sins of a power-hungry liar of monumental proportions is really not on.

Is it then?

Or am I completely wrong now – and entirely worthy of the same disparagement too?

Dec 152010

The question just occurred to me as I read on Twitter that Google had considered buying Spotify (more here on the nature of the latter company) but decided not to in the end as a result of internal disagreement.  This then led me to do a bit of reading up on the subject of Internet success and famous virtual start-ups, along with the help and instruction of Wikipedia.

Which, in turn, led me to the following conclusion: within a decade, Sweden has been intimately involved in some way or another with the file-sharing site Pirate Bay, the already mentioned, immensely successful and entirely legal music-streaming site Spotify and now – as a result of its fiercely protective newspaper legislation – the mould-breaking online publisher WikiLeaks.

So what on earth has been happening in this country for so much undeniable invention to be taking place?

And to come back to my original question, what if it had all taken place in the United States of America?

Let’s just imagine a different scenario: a different kind of WikiLeaks located in that part of the US where free speech is most prized; a sequence of diplomatic cables published in an old-style drip-feed way on the subject of other countries’ opinions of American mores and behaviours; and evidence which points clearly to hypocrisy on the part of European democracies, Third World dictatorships, their enslaving and enslaved peoples and the untold suffering that such doubletalk is causing American citizens across the globe …

Whither, then, the cries of foolish and dangerous openness?  Whither, then, the calls to muzzle freedom of expression?

Well, you tell me.

For I do wonder if, behind some of this, on both sides I mean, there isn’t rather a lot of old-fashioned nationalistic posturing.  The US, a bit cheesed-off that it hasn’t been in at the start of a whole new generation and model of publishing – both music and political.  Sweden, meanwhile, so very sure of itself in an upstart kind of way – as befits a nation of advanced communication skills and infrastructures.

Sweden versus the rest of the world then – in particular versus the USA?  A curious – and perhaps dangerous – place to be.

Update to this post: some heartening reading from members of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism faculty tonight (though expressed in a personal and not institutional capacity), as this letter to President Obama is published online.