Mar 312012
 
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Here’s a fascinating article, which came my way via Tim O’Reilly’s Twitter feed, on the subject of whether the sciences of code and networks shouldn’t be considered biological.  Some choice phrases which caught my attention – and which I hope will encourage you to read the piece in full, even if at first glance you may feel it isn’t something which should necessarily interest you:

[...] we now live in a world [...] increasingly run by self-replicating strings of code. Everything we love and use today is, in a lot of ways, self-reproducing exactly as Turing, von Neumann, and Barricelli prescribed. It’s a very symbiotic relationship: the same way life found a way to use the self-replicating qualities of these polynucleotide molecules to the great benefit of life as a whole, there’s no reason life won’t use the self-replicating abilities of digital code, and that’s what’s happening.

[...]

What’s, in a way, missing in today’s world is more biology of the Internet. [...]

[...]

[...] In 1945 we actuallydidcreate a new universe. This is a universe of numbers with a life of their own, that we only see in terms of what those numbers can do for us. Can they record this interview? Can they play our music? Can they order our books on Amazon? If you cross the mirror in the other direction, there really is a universe of self-reproducing digital code. When I last checked, it was growing by five trillion bits per second. And that’s not just a metaphor for something else. It actually is. It’s a physical reality.

[..]

[...] money is a very good example, because money really is a sort of a gentlemen’s agreement to agree on where the money is at a given time. Banks decide, well, this money is here today and it’s there tomorrow. And when it’s being moved around in microseconds, you can have a collapse, where suddenly you hit the bell and you don’t know where the money is. And then everybody’s saying, “Where’s the money? What happened to it?” And I think that’s what happened.

[...]

What’s the driver today? You want one word? It’s advertising. And, you may think advertising is very trivial, and of no real importance, but I think it’s the driver. If you look at what most of these codes are doing, they’re trying to get the audience, trying to deliver the audience. The money is flowing as advertising.

This is one of those articles you come across every so often which opens up to a non-expert like myself a whole wonderful new world of ideas in brilliant clarity.  I am not a computer scientist nor particularly adept at so many of the specialities mentioned quite by-the-by in this beautiful text, but in so very few lines I am immediately able to appreciate that we will shortly become some of the least important entities on the planet.

There will come a moment when the self-replicating code thus described will become very much more complicated than even our own precious DNA.  What then, say you and I?  What will happen then?  Should we fear this moment or simply hope – a little ant-like – that we may be so very insignificant that we will not pose a threat worth bothering about?

Software as neo-nature; money and receptor audiences; how to see advertising as a virtuous tool to a different dimension here on Planet Earth.  Who would have thought it?  What’s really driving our futures is no longer the porn-focussed technologies of the Nineties and Noughties but the ability of commerce to gather together consumer-motivated individuals in $100 billion Facebook-ed packages of stock market worth.

In reality, we need not fear these new lifeforms at all – as long as we are prepared to maintain our firm attachment to the advantages of conspicuous consumption they all now seem to be offering us.  As the piece concludes about Apple’s progressive encroachment:

Why is Apple one of the world’s most valuable companies? It’s not only because their machines are so beautifully designed, which is great and wonderful, but because those machines represent a closed numerical system. And they’re making great strides in expanding that system. It’s no longer at all odd to have a Mac laptop. It’s almost the normal thing.

And there will come a time, just mark my words, when any Luddite-like attempt to resist the charms of these “creatures” (and here I refer to the self-replicating code of the article more than its containing black boxes and physical manifestations) will result in automatic isolation, digital excommunication and – possibly – literal extermination by a evermore tentacled virtual and commercial enclosure.

How smart might that smart meter become?  Now have you ever thought about that?

And pushing the thought a little bit further, will this digital biology signal the final triumph of consumerist corporate capitalism over humanity – even as if we believe we are in the midst of its final days?  Because it jolly well could you know.  It jolly well could.

In such a way, then, from 18th century sole traders where individuals were all important and all inscribing on both sides of the transactions to those eternal anonymous 20th century corporate bodies where individuals were important insofar as they formed part of masses whose behaviours could be predicted to commercial ends, we move into an ambush of technological proportions where – perhaps – we will end up witnessing our total downgrade as entities: no longer anything but servile generators of content which the self-replicating numbers take over, feed off, mould, channel, distribute and shift.

We may, in fact, arrive at a situation whereby the humans finally become the machines and the machines finally become the humans.

Maybe it’s already happened.  The capitalism that’s failed us is the human-run one – that’s the one we’ve seen come crashing down around us over the past couple of years.  It’s through the emotion-ridden intervention of humans that we have arrived at the current misery we’re suffering from.

The machine-run one, however, the one run entirely by and for machines that is, may only just now be on its starting-blocks …

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Mar 312012
 
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Charles Moore has an interesting piece over at the Telegraph today.  His final paragraph defines the current political situation thus:

We have too much debt. We pay too-high taxes. We build too few houses. We are losing old jobs and costs prevent us creating new ones. We are having a bad time, and we want the people who rule us to lead us out of that, and think of little else. It is simple, but not easy.

And whilst I don’t agree with everything he says – I’m not sure it’s costs that are really preventing us from creating new jobs, for example – much as one might sign up with a slightly heavy heart to a manifesto (ie not agreeing with everything you found in it and yet even so agreeing enough), so I am inclined to say: “Yes, in this case, I agree with practically everything you argue.”

As regular readers of this blog will note, I suggested the other day that the Coalition was far cleverer than its public performance might suggest – that, indeed, its public performance might even be a deliberate case of discombobulation.  in fact, evidence that this latter scenario might be the case is included in Moore’s article:

[...] now that I have heard the Conservatives’ private explanation, which is being handed down to constituency associations by MPs, I begin to feel angry.

The private message is as follows. “This is our Thatcher moment. In order to defeat the coming miners’ strike, she stockpiled coal. When the strike came, she weathered it, and the Labour Party, tarred by the strike, was humiliated. In order to defeat the coming fuel drivers’ strike, we want supplies of petrol stockpiled. Then, if the strike comes, we will weather it, and Labour, in hock to the Unite union, will be blamed.”

Moore talks about the difference between Thatcher and these lot by suggesting Thatcher did what she did in the weeks prior to the miners’ strike without inconveniencing very much the public.  (Yesterday, meanwhile, it would appear that at least one member of the public was severely inconvenienced by taking the original government advice too literally.)

But where I agree one hundred percent with Moore’s thesis is when he talks about the public’s yearning for authenticity.  From Thatcher to Blair, authenticity was clearly the prime driver in a wider public’s acceptance and embracing of powerful figures who obviously had their own minds.  You didn’t have to agree with everything they did – you did, however, need to agree with where they were coming from.

And as Moore also suggests, the deception left behind, after Blair’s own breaking of the contract he once forged so strongly with the British voters, is “hanging over British politics like smog”.

Quite rightly too.

Moore also refers to Galloway, though, as an example of authenticity.  Here, I think, he gets it wrong.  Galloway isn’t a careerist; isn’t a celebrity; isn’t authentic in the least.  Galloway, quite simply, is an opportunist who will say what he must.  If anti-Semitism is necessary to win an election, anti-Semitism it will be.

With such opportunism, no one should have any truck.  Nor confuse it with the authenticity which we may yet yearn for in the future.

Here’s a suggestion, in the meantime, as to where we might attempt to go instead: Ed Miliband started his leadership with an apparently unfocussed keynote speech at Labour Party Conference.  This is what I said of it at the time:

Now I’m not saying Ed Miliband has succeeded where Hitchcock did decades before: transgression is not quite where most British politicians are to be found these days.  But I do think, in an analogous way, that – in his recent speech at Party Conference – Ed Miliband was at least attempting to break certain moulds in quite a courageous manner.  The very fact that many people felt obliged to criticise his delivery – and not see his register as conversational rather than traditionally declamatory – does make me wonder if this poor man doesn’t have the hardest job in politics: to sell grassroots collaboration to a political party wary of, and thus resistant to, all such similar promises.

A political party which claims to be the very essence of grassroots politics – and then consistently finds itself in search of yet another charismatic group of fixers.

A political party which could be perfectly positioned to create a new kind of political, social and business environment (as, indeed, Miliband in his speech promised to fight on behalf of) – and yet which generally finds itself dodging and fudging the most insistent contradictions and incongruences inhabiting its core.

Is Ed Miliband’s speech going to be a Hitchcockian achievement?  Misunderstood on its first outing by those who claim to know – yet generally, in the future, to be well received by those who can only vote?  Battling against those “vested interests” which make economies in their own image and for their own purposes is an issue he is courageous to raise.  In a sense, then, perhaps we could say – with his conversation – that Miliband proposes nothing more nor less than that neo-New Labour I was unhappy with the other day: but in a better and far more constructive register; that is to say, all the unfinished business which New Labour was never brave enough to get round to effecting.

Could this, then, be a way of tying the authenticity of New Labour’s legacy of top-down delivery into a 21st century grassroots approach to devolved empowerment?  A way, precisely, of not confusing authenticity with opportunism but – rather – transposing the former to the real people who need supporting.  For as Moore quite rightly points out of the Coalition and its leaders:

[...] You are asserting privilege, when you should be dressing your best because you represent your country. You are acting as if you own the place. You don’t.

Our politicians, for far too long, have been behaving in opportunistic ways.  To describe it in terms of customer-focussed management systems, politicians’ customers (or clients if you prefer) should be external – that is to say, the voters and their families, friends and support networks – whereas of late (and not just this government either) their customers have been manifestly internal; their customers have become themselves.  Businesspeople who don’t simply have the ear of politicians but have actually – suddenly – become the political classes themselves.

Which is why it is, in fact, time to construct a register of communication for politics which does not use the language of business.

Authenticity in politics should really mean service, not ownership.  We need, in British politics, to recover that sense of service.  And whatever the politics that emerges from such a sea change, it surely cannot be as bad as the politics we now have.

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Mar 302012
 
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Over the past two weeks we’ve had a sequence of rather silly narratives.  The Budget finally put its stamp of approval on the 50p to 45p income tax argument that whilst the rich need more money to survive, the poor need less.  Then there was the Granny Tax which apparently hit around four million middle-class pensioners.  The government followed this by jacking up the price of stamps – I guess the only people who use stamps these days are poor people with little access to the Internet – as well as the VAT on hot pasties, so prejudicing again those less well-off individuals unable to afford the exorbitant price of meat these days.

The government also succeeded in turning a potential petrol tanker strike on the subject of terms, conditions, health and safety – a potential strike which was, in fact, still being negotiated at ACAS – into a nationwide panic-buying disaster of monumentally foolish proportions, simply by encouraging ministers to be filmed on TV urging the wider populace to fill up their jerrycans and store them – possibly illegally – in their garages!

We should of course neither forget that at the weekend the Tory Party co-treasurer had to resign because he’d been caught offering access to Cameron’s dinner parties for a quarter of a million pounds a throw.

But in the grand scheme of things, this latter fact appears now to be pretty irrelevant.

So now do you believe me when I suggest this government is using NLP?

*

Today, however, we awaken to the fact that George Galloway has just won from Labour the Bradford West by-election with a massive swing and by 10,100 votes.

This curious event, even where judged by the BBC‘s Nick Robinson as a “one-off political coup by a political one-off”, should surely convince the marketing-led political busybodies who occupy the higher echelons of number-crunching political parties that the demagogic approach will have its day if the disconnect between what politicians say and what politicians do remains.

The result of all the above is very clear: whilst before this morning the past two weeks looked like a clear political win for Labour – even as it depended more on the government’s own furiously shocking lack of an ability to manage news than its own essential virtues – right now it would seem that Tories and Labour are pretty much drawn equal.

The voters meanwhile?  A humungous 0 is my opinion.

Until politics becomes more about the voters than the politicians, until the real client is the non-professional in the equation and not the careerist who makes a job of it, the Galloways of this world will always have their opportunities.

I’m not saying we don’t need careerists.  We couldn’t do without them.

All I’m saying is that we need them to understand that their interests are much less important than the voters’.

Instead of, right now, quite the other way round.

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Mar 292012
 
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Recently, a young man was sent to prison for racist remarks about a footballer who collapsed on the field of play.  The famous, or perhaps infamous, Twitter Joke Trial before it provided plenty of grist to the legal and constitutional mills.

These days, any of you who occupy the field of play that is Twitter or Facebook will surely be aware there are specific risks in posting “controversial” comments – not only about certain subjects in particular but also, especially lately it would seem, almost any subject in general the lawyers can get their clever hands on.  Whilst the mainstream press and media have legions of lawyers to doublecheck their every move, we who tweet, update our Facebook statuses or blog on this and that are less able to fully understand the implications of everything we say.

In part, this is because the mode of discourse of such social networks is throwaway conversation.  And yet whilst throwaway conversation would appear to have been how it all started out, it’s clear from recent events that this was never contemplated in the business models of these corporate behemoths of communication.  From Twitter’s US Library of Congress archiving agreement and exclusively monetised fire-hose access to Facebook’s impositional timeline, all these marvellous Web 2.0 tools have clearly been developed in order to provide very permanent content – quite the opposite of how they originally sold it to us.  All this time storing away every single foolishness, whilst, all the time, giving us the impression we had been involved in virtual chats with our private neighbours over shared garden fences.

So what is the result of all of these diversionary tactics?  Well, the best of all possible worlds for the enablers of such tools and the worst of all possible worlds for ourselves.  Whilst court case after court case limits the liability of the framers, we as individual users – as real people – become totally, entirely, legally and seriously responsible for everything we were tossing lightly into the ether.  The long-term implications are, then, quite terrifying: we are now pointedly and precisely liable for our Facebook groups, our conceptual explorations, our brainstorming of ideas, our insults and our irony, our parody and our barefaced cheek – indeed, anything and everything that in an offline space of municipal integrity occupied the much safer area of analogue privacy.

The growing objective to contain social networks and media within very public and corporate law is nothing but one massive anti-democratic trap we’ve all fallen into.   And I really do not see any way out of it – except, perhaps, to decidedly go back, Luddite-like, to the analogue unconnected world of yore.

Unless, of course, those who promote open source ways of doing and seeing can conceive of a different way of allowing society to talk to itself that does not include the notion of private spaces for public use.

It is that freedom of municipal space we need to recover for ourselves and for the benefit of our democracy.  Only then can we shrug off the fear that our every move is being tracked and checked in order to see how an error of judgement might be monetised by the already powerful.  For that, precisely that, is what I suspect is going to be happening very shortly to a significant minority of us.

And this fear, this very real fear, is something we need to rapidly disabuse ourselves of – especially if, over the next few years, our democracy is to stand a fighting chance of sticking around in anything like the healthy shape we may, in hindsight, realise it once reasonably had.

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Mar 292012
 
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Yesterday, I described how the Coalition government appeared to be using irrelevancies to spin its version of events.  I even tweeted the following:

This *is* the mentality of divide & rule. Knock people sideways with madcap irrelevancies. This is neuro-linguistic programming by govt.

I was, in fact, reminded of James Murdoch’s performance – for performance it was – as he backed Rebekah Brooks and her tenure at News International.

http://youtu.be/LAVd9RySOrI

Notice how Murdoch pauses ever so slightly between each point and concept he wants us to believe.  He pauses and frames his statements in such a strange way that our brains begin to process the whys and wherefores of his performance rather than attend to the possible veracity or not of its content.

He stares too.  It’s a stare you cannot rid yourself of; a stare you cannot ignore.

Again, you spend more time thinking about that stare than the words that come out of his mouth.

Now compare the result of the above video, especially in the hindsight of recent events, with my post from yesterday and the tweet at the top of today’s.  Isn’t the Coalition government using precisely the same techniques as Murdoch clearly employed to disconcert, flat-foot and throw off balance a half-attentive population of voters?

As the #grannytax was used to take the heat of the NHS and Legal Aid bills and as the #pastytax and the potential for a fuel tanker strike have been used to take the heat of the #CashForCameron scandal, these diversionary tactics have their basis in clear if scientifically unproven theory and practice.

Get people to concentrate on the form rather than the content – and the import of the content then dissipates and vanishes.

What a wretched state of affairs we have arrived at.  What a wretched wretched state.

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Mar 282012
 
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I’ve just had a disagreement about the lentils I prepared today.  I used black pudding to flavour them instead of chorizo.  One member of my family was decidedly unimpressed – quite before even trying the dish.  I’d already removed the offending substance from the final presentation in anticipation of such a complaint.  It was the little pieces of black pudding that had split off from the main body – and that I’d therefore been unable to remove – which drew their immediate attention and disapprobation.

Which led me to wonder, as it does if thinking is what you do, whether the world isn’t divided up into two kinds of people: those who are hard-wired to resist any sign of difference and those who are hard-wired to embrace it.

Yes.  Just in that sentence you can see I uncover my own preferences.

I love new food; strange shapes; peculiar people; wacky opinions; unusual combinations of colour; curious furniture; patterned rugs; wallpapered walls; decorated ceilings.  People I live with, however, do not.

It’s not always easy for either side.

Translate this issue to the politics which separates us.  If our instincts are so very opposed – some of us just loving the challenge of permanent flux, others just loving the consistency of permanent perpetuation – how can we possibly even begin to construct the kind of ground we could share in order that we might successfully and productively debate?  And never mind the people who claim to be on the same part of that infamously two-dimensional political spectrum.  Surely more important and more confusing is the state of the people who manifestly occupy a space within the same political grouping and yet, all the same, appreciate difference in the different ways I have described above.

This, of course, may explain why Blairites are seen with grand suspicion by the rest of us.  Or, indeed, why so many different colours are beginning to make their solid appearance in what is rapidly becoming a coalition of rainbow-like proportions at the heart of the British Labour Party.

The question is really whether we want to reach out to people who use the same processes to think or who simply reach the same conclusions.

In my case, I have recently requested that I be allowed to join the Labour Left grouping – after assuring myself it does not aim to become a party within a party.  I am already a member of the Fabians and – outside Labour politics – a recent paid-up supporter of Open Rights Group.  I am also an associate member of the trades union Accord.  In all these cases, I suspect I have joined because they are organisations which have reached the same conclusions as myself on subjects I think are of societal importance.  But in the vast majority of these cases I honestly and sincerely suspect that very few of their representatives use the same processes to think I am most familiar and comfortable with.

Long-term, Blairism has added very little to Labour – except a thirst to win at all costs.  It also, however, thought as I would – even as the conclusions it reached were probably, in most cases, unhappy for me.  Some people who see how I write and act without clear commitment might assume that I’d be better off seeing my destination in Progress – and that anything else was just a journey.  I don’t think that’s fair, though. And I’ll explain why.

A perfect grouping for someone like myself?  Where magpie minds can freely consider all and every issue entirely on its merits and from scratch.  Where tribalism guarantees association with a grouping but does not limit the right to non-conformity.  Where brainstorming and ideas generation are part and parcel of every single day.  Where communication is not tacked on at the end but informs the whole process from the very beginning.  Where organisations do not consult or listen in one direction from the top to the bottom but aim, instead, most importantly, to engage and dialogue in multifarious and multicoloured direction.  Where a proper appreciation of the needs of volunteer supporters and their lives is clearly couched in the language of such sensitivities.

And finally, where the concept of leadership – devolved to all levels of action – constitutes enabling and facilitating over expressions and instincts of impositional frustration.

Perfection doesn’t exist, of course – but at least some of the above would be pretty welcome!

We will, of course, as time goes by, see how all this develops.

As well as, most significantly, what real and lasting impact left-leaning voters and supporters of Labour might now be able to properly engineer.

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Mar 282012
 
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A couple of tweets to be getting along with.  First, this one, which kind of suggests it’s the government who’s stupid rather than the people:

Grannies, pasties, petrol, political donations. All in one week. You can’t help but admire their deft political touch.

Then a couple from yours truly.  This:

Modern definition of spin: slap stupid tax on traditional food & make everyone forget about all bad things you did at weekend.

And now this from Tom:

I can’t believe the Government is stooping to deliberately aggrevating a fuel shortage simply to remove itself from the news. Madness.

To which I responded thus:

@TomMillerUK Believe it. First NHS and Legal Aid was nobbled using #grannytax; then #CashForCameron using #pastytax. Pattern emerges.

There’s a very wise piece over at Slugger right now, quoting from an Irish Times column.  It’s headlined: “Fintan O’Toole: ‘Power corrupts, but so does a sense of powerlessness'”.  Its thesis as follows (I think the italics are Mick Fealty’s, Slugger’s editor):

[...] Civic virtue comes from a belief in both rights and responsibilities, but too many Irish people don’t really believe they have either the rights or the duties of citizens. They don’t have the right to public services – so they wheedle with TDs to get them. Why, then, would they demand high standards of probity from those politicians? If they weren’t cunning enough to pull strings and extract favours, what use would they be?

What it all means is that there’s really no point in making one or two cosmetic reforms in response to Mahon. Systemic corruption demands systemic change. And the purpose of that change has to be the wholesale reinvention of Irish democracy. Irish people won’t stop wheedling and nodding and winking until they believe they really have the power to shape the public realm in which they live.

Well worth a read in full.  The lessons are clear.  This is, I suppose, the Mediterraneanisation of the Anglo-Saxon body politic.  It’s not how the system works nor is it the procedures which must be followed which weigh most heavily on our intellects.  It is, rather, who you know and the favours you can call in which determine how far you can get.

I call it the Mediterraneanisation of Anglo-Saxon politics – but I suppose you could, just as easily, describe it as the widespread implementation of that networking nightmare that is modern business practice.  You put something out to tender even as you already know who you’re going to choose; you advertise a job even as you already know the best candidate. It’s all because of who you know, who you might need in the future and who needs you the most now.

It’s conditionality run riot.

It’s shocking.

And when I’ve argued in the past that people were more important than procedures, I didn’t mean to give easy permission to all those who use their contacts to exclude due and proper process – that is to say, that evidence-based approach to public and private life which surely leads us to societal sanity.

What O’Toole says about Ireland is now absolutely true of the nation states which currently make up the UK – in particular, that dirty and unpleasant land we used to love as England:

[...] Systemic corruption demands systemic change. And the purpose of that change has to be the wholesale reinvention of Irish democracy. Irish people won’t stop wheedling and nodding and winking until they believe they really have the power to shape the public realm in which they live.

Well said.

We should pay serious notice.

Those currently at the top of the English pile are remaking the rest of us in Ireland’s image.

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Mar 282012
 
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I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here.  Let’s assume the battle for privatisation is lost.  Let’s assume it’s a done-and-dusted deal we can no longer usefully impact.  The  NHS, Legal Aid, education, the police and a whole raft of other public-sector services will sooner or later enter the private domain – whatever we do or say.

Nothing to be done about it.  The financialisation and commercialisation of all relationships will soon become complete.

Perhaps, as some have been saying in relation to other areas (I have seen tweeted today the importance of picking one’s battles in the context of the European Union; last Saturday, Lawrence Lessig argued that we should focus copyright efforts on science rather than cinema), we should begin to be a little more discretionary about what to date has been our wholesale opposition to anything and everything the right is proposing out of manifest self-interest.

Accept what’s happened and gather our forces with a different aim in mind.  If we continue to act as Tory analysis of the last ten years would assume we will, we are simply playing to their strengths.  In my slowly forming opinion, I think we need to start learning how to act differently.  Unpredictably.

So let us transfer our war from the killing-fields of preventing privatisation to the playing-fields of making it fit for purpose.  The advantage for all our futures?  We can focus on the cronyism, the corruption, the revolving doors of ministers who leave government to become company directors and CEOs who absent themselves from failed business models to become ministers – we can focus on all of that as we strive to make whatever system we are obliged to work with a system with proper oversight and protections.

We need a vigorous Legal Aid system – they are taking that away from us.  Let us make legal defence for all a priority in the next manifesto, whoever administers its ways of working.

We need the safety nets of proper welfare and NHS services, free in moment of need – they are taking that away from us.  Let us make safety nets for all a priority in the next manifesto, whoever administers its ways of working.

We need a competent system of inspection, target-setting and oversight – they are taking that away from us.  Let us make such oversight on behalf of all our citizens a priority in the next manifesto, whoever administers its ways of working.

We need, in fact, to ensure that – whoever is in charge – we the people remain firmly in charge of them.

Our overarching narrative must become this: we the people are sovereign.

Whilst business and politicians are not.

And, in the meantime, manage our battles with great care: it is time to be selective, wise and judicious if we truly want to influence as wide a public as possible.  It is time to play according to different rules.

It is time to surprise our enemies.

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Mar 282012
 
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Whilst unions announce today the serious possibility that our education system will, by 2015, follow the NHS and Legal Aid down the financialisation and commercialisation routes of private self-enrichment on the part of our professional politicos and their business sponsors, it surely becomes evermore clearer – without a shadow of a doubt in fact – what the government is really up to.

They care not a jot about winning the next election; not a jot about currying favour with all the voters; not a jot about creating a society and set of nation states fit for all our peoples.  Only one thing motivates them: the establishment of an unshakeable regime whose reversal will become so unappealingly expensive that – no matter who gets into power at the next general election – the legacy of five long years of anti-socialist ambush will be maintained and sustained for several generations to come.

Perhaps forever.

Labour is falling into a trap, I have to say.  It is fighting a losing but honourable battle on so many simultaneous fronts of political shock and awe that it’s hardly surprising it is allowing itself to be ambushed in this way.  But it needs to come to its senses: the government has done enough for even the least politically scientific amongst us to be able to realise its true trajectory and destination.  British socialism has a long and efficient tradition – the NHS and Legal Aid being two of its major achievements.  Where efficiency is ignored and discarded outright by supposedly businesslike politicos, it’s clear they are not caring to be evidence-based professionals but, rather, aim to act out of prejudice.  And by acting out of prejudice we can conclude they are acting out of personal self-interest.

What’s so bad about all of this is not that these Tories at the top under Cameron’s rule have managed to hijack their own party – which they clearly have; nor that they have hijacked the democratic system as whole – which they did back in 2010 and will do so until 2015; nor, even, that they betray their business roots by doing what they want rather than what is empirically accurate – something which all of us can now surely see.  What’s so really bad about all of this is that we’re all falling into their trap: focussing on discrete policy battles instead of being brave enough to fashion and forge a counter-narrative.

The government say they are looking to reduce the inefficient state.  We should say they are looking to enrich and expand the inefficient private sector of bad business cronyism.  The government say they are looking to reduce the deficit.  We should say they are looking to transfer its impact from a strong nation to helpless individuals.  The government say they are looking to create an environment of opportunity and empowerment.  We should say they are looking to restrict opportunity and empowerment to the already wealthy.

As I said some months ago now, the bad capitalist blame game works as follows:

  1. When large corporations and the people who own them set themselves up in business, they limit their responsibility if everything goes belly-up to the very minimum they can manage to get away with;
  2. When everything goes belly-up, which it almost always does at least once in the history of such companies, the ones at the very top manage to hide behind Chinese walls that reduce their legal responsibility to a very minimum;
  3. When companies’ profits do not achieve expectations, the fault is first and foremost due to the costs of labour – the term “labour” being understood to mean those at the most humble levels in a company and not the (mainly) ever-so-red-blooded gentlemen at the top;
  4. If companies suffer excessively from declining profit margins, people at the top get paid enormous amounts of money to take immediate decisions to fire massive percentages of their workforces – even where such decisions show absolutely no degree of imagination or added value;
  5. If the wider economy falls completely apart, the taxpayer will be obliged to bail out the failing private sector but compelled to destroy the public;
  6. When the wider economy stops functioning in any meaningful way, the workers who lose their jobs will carry both the moral and economic can for not wanting to find new jobs – even where these new jobs don’t exist;
  7. When the economy finally recovers, the workers will have to continue to accept wage cuts for two reasons: firstly, automation might price them out of the market if they don’t watch their demands; secondly, only the rich work harder for more money – the poor, on the other hand, tend to slacken off their labour when not sufficiently terrified;

These are the things we need to be underlining; these are the things we need for our counter-narrative.

In fact, if truth be told, we need – also – to point out to our nation states and our peoples the degree to which a good socialism ruled our waves.  Only when we can shrug off the instincts to be stealthy about our achievements can we begin to generate a different way of opposition: socialism was always a heartfelt instinct of the British.  In the past we called it fair play.

Perhaps, then, we need to resurrect that idea and begin to call ourselves the Fair Play Party.  A Fair Play Party for a fair play society.

As British as you ever could get.

Whatever your nation.

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Mar 272012
 
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When they proposed taking away Legal Aid from those who’d grown up with every right to expect it, they didn’t suggest that multinationals should also do without their platoons of legal departments and brains.  Of course not.  For this is just one example of many recent examples where the gander’s sauce is used to well and truly cook the goose.  That is to say, we, the ordinary people, are the geese; those who like to prance around the world’s political and business stages being the ganders.

There are no level playing-fields for ordinary people any more.  You perhaps may argue I am being naive – but this is not exactly the case.  What has changed over the years, quite imperceptibly, is the shame that those at the top express in public about injustice.  No longer, it would seem.  Injustice is the tool only of polarised extremists.  The mainstream has other matters to preoccupy it.

The job of government is now the same as that of business: to entrench Darwinian inequalities and ensure it’s every man for himself (and, mark my words, it will most certainly be mostly men).  The poor no longer have their effective representatives: in any case, the model was pretty much corrupting itself already.  Representative democracy?  A rope bridge of uncertain quality too far.

Open source communities for a while have offered a possible alternative: an opportunity for disparate peoples to organise around common objectives with solid foundations and fundamentals.  An exchange of labour, self-interest, altruism and democracy all mixed up in one, sometimes, beautiful package.  This for example:

[...] We need a new form of capitalism for the 21st century—one dedicated to the promotion of greater well-being rather than the single-minded pursuit of growth and profits; one that doesn’t sacrifice the future for the near term; one with an appropriate regard for every stakeholder; and one that holds leaders accountable for all of the consequences of their actions. In other words, we need a capitalism that is profoundly principled, fundamentally patient, and socially accountable.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?  But it’s quite one matter to fashion and forge nice words.

Quite another to implement the devilish detail.

In the absence of proper democratic representation and accountability, in the absence of politicians paying any constant and accurate attention to their voters and charges, there was always the chance that self-organisation as touched on above might have provided the key.  But it seems, even here, the objective of government has been to make daily life so very very Darwinian that the slack our leisure time used to afford, in those better and boom-like times of a decade ago, has slowly but surely dissipated away – to such an extent that we may simply not have the energy to get out and act at the margins of their awful stranglehold on our society.

We are caught – rat-like – in a laboratory of their making; we are gradually losing access to levers of counterbalancing power; our rights, whilst still in theory within our gladsome reach, are becoming evermore difficult to exercise, as they remove all practical support and information and ability to fight sensibly back.

What has changed since the times of recent yore is that our governors and political class now shamelessly, quite publicly, care little for the needs and preoccupations of the vast majority in society.  The tragedy is that whilst New Labour was in power, those of us foolish enough to listen believed the warning signs would not be implemented: whilst an apparently left-leaning and cuddly kind of right-winger was still in charge, and able to comfort the weaker consciences amongst us, we thought that all those laws were a just-in-case of extreme circumstance; a just-in-case we would never really end up using.

Unfortunately, all that commercialisation of the state, that was stealthily enshrined in unnecessary and sometimes hardly exerted law, ended up conveniently sitting in the political wings – just waiting for men like Andrew Lansley, George Osborne and David Cameron himself.

And perhaps, in a surrogate kind of way, Tony Blair himself.

Perhaps Tony Blair now comforts himself by saying – as Thatcher, with New Labour, must have done in her time – that his legacy lives on as spores in the body politic of the Tory Party, under Cameron’s unhappy posse of malcontents.

Perhaps, in truth, we’ve been very naughty people.

Perhaps it is through the Gates of Hell we are only now really entering.

Perhaps, only now, do we find ourselves realising what it is like to survive instead of live in the West.

Perhaps it is time we looked elsewhere.

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Mar 272012
 
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I don’t like Dan Hodges.  I don’t think anyone who brazenly professes to be a cuckoo can be good for any organisation or institution: there are other, far better, ways of declaring one’s position as a non-conformist.

I like non-conformity and practise it here all too often.

But whilst I’m not a cuckoo in Labour’s nest, Dan is all too proud of proclaiming his attachment to such a condition.  So it is with a heavy heart, and as a result of a highly embarrassing prod from Norman, that I draw your attention to Dan’s piece in the Telegraph today.  Read it all if you must – and, to be honest, you really should.  Suffice it to say that in his conclusion he wraps it all up neatly in the smallest of vile packages:

Well that’s what the Labour Party is doing now. “Oh Ken is just Ken,” some people say. “He’s our candidate. We have to back him.”  Ken is Ken. The Labour Party’s very own Nuremberg defence.

On the day a young man was sent to prison for racist comments on Twitter, this kind of statement is tolerated by an establishment of the blind:

[...] Labour’s mayoral candidate finally dropped his false denial, and said “every psephological study I’ve seen in the 40 years I’ve been following politics shows the main factor that determines how people how vote is their income level. It varies, a lot of people vote against their own economic interest very often, but that is the main factor and it’s not anti-Semitic to say that.”

In Britain, in 2012, that is the pitch coming from a mainstream political candidate to his supporters: “The Jews are opposed to me – and us – because of their wealth.”

The point is it’s not enough to claim you don’t have a racist bone in your body.  I challenge absolutely anyone to demonstrate that racism isn’t an anti-social instinct we all have to resist all our lives.  And just because you say you love the grey things in life doesn’t mean you don’t see the world in black and terrible white.

Dan – and Norman – are right on this matter.  Whilst anti-Semitism scrambles its awful way back to power, and the fascist state I already mentioned embraces us, at the root of all this horrible stuff is our massive modern adherence to the financialisation and commercialisation of public discourse.

This financialisation and commercialisation trains us to believe in a hugely destructive conditionality: you do something for me, I do something for you; you do something against me, I do nothing on your behalf.

A little less corporate greed and a little more humanity wouldn’t half make us see exactly how we are obliged to challenge the casual violence of these racist instincts.

In the meantime, those in charge of our politics are allowing it to become evermore contaminated by lazy inaction.

As that old saying goes, we lose our freedoms not because of the bad but, rather, through the inability of the good to stand up and be counted when being counted is just what we need.

Well.

In my small way, here I am.

Count me out and count me in.

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Mar 272012
 
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This is a hacking and tracking century, I’m afraid.  We are losing our moral compass – and fast.  Two stories which draw my attention today and provide evidence for these unhappy assertions.

First, these serious hacking allegations:

Part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation empire employed computer hacking to undermine the business of its chief TV rival in Britain, according to evidence due to be broadcast by BBC1’s Panorama programme on Monday.

The alleged objective of such hacking?  Well, this I’m sad to say:

The witnesses allege a software company NDS, owned by News Corp, cracked the smart card codes of rival company ONdigital. ONdigital, owned by the ITV companies Granada and Carlton, eventually went under amid a welter of counterfeiting by pirates, leaving the immensely lucrative pay-TV field clear for Sky.

If true in any way whatsoever, there are two conclusions we might be inclined to arrive at:

  1. that Murdoch’s closely knit hub of business organisations shows indications of rampantly corrupting and maverick behaviours; or
  2. that Murdoch’s closely knit hub of business organisations simply acts as most of its competitors around it are also inclined to act – the only difference being, in this case, that it has had the misfortune to be caught out;

Personally, and quite unhappily, I am of a mind to conclude the latter.  Why?  Well, in part because of this story which came my way via Richard Murphy on Twitter yesterday (well worth the long read it provides in full):

Major advertisers and corporations have been quietly tracking the online movements of those visiting “Occupy Wall Street” related sites for months. They have have used this data to create detailed portraits of the lives and interests of potential protestors. This data is then sold in unregulated markets and retained indefinitely in databases that may be subject to secret government subpoena. [...]

Couple that kind of tale with others like this one – where we discover that Android apps share, in some cases without user permission, personal details and mobile-phone content with advertisers across the globe – and we must surely end up accepting that if the allegations about Murdoch-connected companies are even moderately true, then his is not the face of unacceptable business practice but rather the ever-broadening underbelly of business and political activity everywhere.

Murdoch is not the problem any more.  Murdoch is just one more example of very many.  Our socioeconomic societies and models are crumbling before our very eyes.  In a context such as this, the most recent cash for Cameron scandal is not the cause of our sadness but the symptom of a much wider malaise.

We are corrupt, folks.  That is what Western civilisation now stands for.

We had a chance after the Berlin Wall and 9/11 to take an honourable path.  Instead, we decided to squander all that moral credit.  This, then, is how we lost everything we could’ve gained.  This is how the West which was won was lost in a decade.

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Mar 262012
 
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I am minded to have this thought – it’s obvious when you think about it.  We are, in fact, in Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” territory.

If all the bad things we wish to stop are secret, how can we possibly get the information to stop them from happening?  If the lobbying that really damages our political and societal life is the stuff very few people ever get to hear of, who on earth is going to be able to do anything about it?  In a sense, in fact, the recent quarter-of-a-million-pound “Premier League” revelations are almost certainly the least of it.  Especially as one Tory politician apparently argued this evening that £50,000 was a quantity of very little consequence.

In the grand scheme of things, that underbelly none of us ordinary people ever get to see, it probably is indeed a quantity of very little consequence.

The truth of the matter is that whilst the Tories have been caught red-handed on this occasion, a million other occasions in all political parties and business transactions will not only have been missed over the decades but will also continue to be missed in the future.

For understandable political reasons, Labour needs to take advantage of these circumstances – and the tribal man in me can accept this.  But the grassroots idealist side of my political make-up sees nothing to enjoy in Cameron’s predicament:

  1. firstly, because if Labour generates the political capital I think it might be able to, it will encourage its leaders to enable a process whereby the hierarchical and pyramidal politics of the Tories are simply and smoothly replaced by what’ll amount to a Tony Blair II – the progressive grassroots will then once again be swept up in a wave of emotional attachment and the same old cycle of unsustainable politics will repeat itself once more;
  2. secondly, the rules and regulations that honest and well-meaning organisations such as 38 Degrees want us to sign up to will not deal with the “unknown unknowns” which I mentioned at the top of this post – and which really do the serious damage to our ship of state’s waterline;

Either secret lobbying is really secret, in which case there is nothing to be done; or it is actually known, in which case what must be happening is that a culture of self-interest amongst politicians, businesspeople, journalists and others in the know is insider-trading on information it prefers to maintain as quite privileged.

That is the real issue: that culture of insider trading; those estates which should review their respective behaviours but are now simply feeding parasitically off each other – using each other’s knowhow and intelligence to enrich their pockets rather than a wider intellect.

That is what we need to sweep away – the creeping commercialisation and financialisation of more and more public and private transactions on the planet.

Money, then, at the root of this particular challenge?

Who’d have known it?

And there’s me wondering where I’ve heard that one before …

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Mar 262012
 
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I’ve just received an email from 38 Degrees called “Dinner with David Cameron”.  For a bizarre moment, I thought it was an invite to yours truly, an old almost-Witney boy himself, to cuddle up to the flavour of the political month.

It wasn’t though.

The email itself, amongst other things, pointed out the following:

Dear Miljenko,

Yesterday, we got yet another glimpse of how corrupt our political system is. The co-treasurer of the Conservatives was filmed giving a rare honest account of how lobbying can work. Donate enough money and you get to have dinner with the Prime Minister.[1]

That’s probably not most people’s idea of a great night out, but the Tory treasurer was in no doubt it would pay off. “It’ll be awesome for your business”, he said.

A ban on secret lobbying would help weed out this kind of sleaze. New rules could force politicians to reveal who they’re meeting and what they talked about. That’s why 38 Degrees members have been campaigning to bring in these rules for ages.

After the MP expenses scandal, public pressure pushed all the parties to make big promises about tackling lobbying. But now it’s time to write the new rules, Cameron has come up with weak rules that won’t solve the problem.[2]

If we speak up together now, we can push him to go much further and bring in a real ban, not just a token gesture. Can you take 30 seconds to sign a petition demanding a ban on secret lobbying?

I think they’ve all got it wrong, though.  In fact, I think the Tories got it wrong when Francis Maude was made a sacrificial lamb to their cause.  They should have called on Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Workfare and Old-Aged Misery – I’m sure it would have been easier for him to argue the whole wretched affair was a wizard wheeze to give practical experience in entrepreneurship to those who might need it.

The truth of the matter – and here, I’m going to be absolutely even-handed – is that entrepreneurship and politics really should not be mixed.  As I pointed out recently, in Roosevelt’s opinion doing precisely this was tantamount to the creation of a fascist state.  An accusation which, in the context of 20th century history, we should not be inclined to make lightly.

In reality, the problem is neither party funding nor corrupt politicians.  The problem is that our politicians and our businesspeople are now indistinguishable the one from the other.  Anyone who is placed in the condition of judge and jury both – of prosecution and defence, one might say – is bound to find it difficult to understand the markers in the sand.

Which is why I am inclined to appeal to anyone who cares to listen:

  • if you’re a politician, please consider your bounden and lifetime duty to be limited to enabling the correct functioning of our body politic;
  • and if you’re a businessperson, please consider your bounden and lifetime duty to be limited to enabling the correct functioning of our competitive marketplace and your place in it;

This should not be a question of passing discrete rules which those in power who have the power will inevitably sideslip.  No.  We need much much more than another set of spurious regulations: we need for people, for real individuals and their colleagues, to want to create and fashion an entirely brand new culture of behaviours.

It’s our culture that has collapsed around us – not our legislative instincts.  You cannot simply force the kind of casual corruption which is contaminating our politicking and business out of existence: once implanted, it’s generally a cancer which escapes all clean excision.

Rather, we need a twofold process of education coupled with that aforementioned hygiene: only then can we revert to a set of relationships which, long-term, might serve to benefit not only democratic discourse but also the sustainability of business behaviours.  What might be good for our democracy might, after all, conceivably be good for our economy.

In a 21st century environment where collaboration is becoming just as important as competition, our instincts should lead us just as much to a re-education of society’s members as a very 19th century dispatching of summary excommunication.

I’m not looking for a witch hunt here but, instead, a process whereby understanding is reached around how we might generate a broader society of constructive instincts; an environment or ecosystem of adult relationships.

Is this too much to ask of this interface between politics and business?

I sincerely hope it might not be.

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Mar 262012
 
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I wrote yesterday on the Open Rights Group’s 2012 Conference, held in London on Saturday at the University of Westminster.

Here, now, you can find the keynote speech given by Lawrence Lessig.  Lessig is best known for his work on copyright, but of late his accumulated wisdoms have led him to investigate the real reasons behind the destruction of our democratic discourse.  In the speech you can find below, you will see examples taken from the fields of technology and copyright which – whilst entertaining in themselves and of vast interest to the geekier ones amongst us – have a much greater relevance to the much wider context of general political activity.

Mr Lessig is an obsessive seer of connecting strands.  He understands how our society works by taking many different-angled bites at the apple of our behaviours.  I would beg you, therefore, whether you consider yourself a geek or a politician, to take the time out to see and listen to what he has to say.

His is no longer a discourse limited to the rarefied concepts and theory of copyright law.  He speaks universally – and deserves universal attention.

Many thanks, by the by, for Open Rights Group’s herculean efforts which brought him to British shores this weekend.

Recognizing the Fight We’re In from lessig on Vimeo.

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Mar 262012
 
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In relation to my previous post, I do wonder this morning if the broad defensive measures put in place by the Tory Party immediately after the revelations in question aren’t indicators that the stink it has generated was more widely known about by those who run and operate the Conservative hierarchy.

Firstly, we have David Cameron getting all hot under the collar, saying how disgraceful the whole episode is.  Then he refuses to reveal who he invited to Number 10 as guests – because this is a private matter.

As if any gentleman who has got into power precisely because of our votes should have the right to keep secret the kinds of people he invites to his official residence.

This morning, however, on various news outlets the Tories (well, mainly Francis Maude) have been gathering to defend their party.  They remind me of a football team whose attack has lost its shine and which now depends excessively on protecting their goalkeeper and captain – in this case, Mr Cameron himself – from further ignominy.

They are, in fact, playing the game in that way we might characterise as that beloved of the Italians of yesteryear: one forward gear, five reverse.  Mr Berlusconi comes to mind, in fact, as I pursue thoughts in bad faith about how resistance is the best form of attack.  Both Mr Berlusconi and Mr Cameron come from media-related backgrounds, by the way.

What have the Tories got, then, to hide?

As Paul has just tweeted:

Cameron wouldn’t risk appearing dishonest over disclosing who he’s dined with unless he had something that looks really bad to hide #R4Today

And, as already underlined, Francis Maude wouldn’t be hauled out to defend to the hilt unless there was something quite terrible to defend:

Cabinet Minister Francis Maude has told ITV’s Daybreak that Peter Cruddas’ cash for access claims are “embarrassing and wrong, and not true. ”

“That’s not the way we do business and raise money, and we’re very clear about that.”

Even as he suggests that if it were, it’s all Labour’s fault:

He says that five years ago cross-party talks got “so close” to agreeing on an individual donation cap but were “frustrated at the very last minute” by Labour.

So where do we stand then?  Who is doing what?  Why is Cameron refusing to reveal who he has spoken to in private within the walls of his official residence – a residence paid for and assigned by the voters to a man we expect to lead and represent the whole nation?

Could this, in fact, be becoming such a clever piece of spin that what’s actually being defended is the dismantling of the NHS and Legal Aid?  A short-term hit on an issue whose waters can be easily muddied with the thesis that politicians are all the same, even as something will clearly be done about at a wider level in several weeks – leading to a long-term gain as the NHS and Legal Aid bills begin to sink on the horizons of activist and petition fatigue and get forgotten about in the artificially generated hullabaloo of government business?

I do wonder.  Don’t you?

For I presume and assume that none of you would disagree that Cameron’s admen mindset is capable of twisted and evil ways of thinking such as these.

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