Apr 112012


This is a strange video.  It washes over the viewer in pale dystopian greys.  Towards the end, the NHS it wants to rebuild is white and industrial-looking – just like the padlocked ballot box we are told will serve as a tool to its recovery.  We are missing only the white coats and padded cells to complete the image of Bedlam.

The Labour Party exists only as a logo and is represented by extraordinarily managerialist-looking figureheads (always excepting, perhaps, the nurse).  This is the final nail in someone’s political coffin.  Maybe mine for making such observations.  A corporate NHS, defended by the kind of corporate Labour which cannot itself quite step up to the barricades, populated by corporate bodies who tell professionally-couched corporate tales in the kind of carefully trained corporate tones of practised presentation-givers.

In this video, we also see what I would judge to be a mistaken appeal being made to the voters: here, we see the NHS belongs to a single political identity; it does not belong to everyone.

Yes.  I know.  There are good historical reasons to suggest that without the Labour Party, the NHS would never have existed.

But the people who are taking advantage of this badge of identity are using it quite desperately to capture as many floating voters as they can in a moment in our body politic when Labour should really be ripping apart the Tory-led Coalition in the polls.

This isn’t happening.

Labour is not polling beyond the combined strengths of a curiously resilient Tory Party and even a highly weakened Lib Dems.

This is the reason why I hate elections of most kinds – and dystopian elections in particular.  These are the dynamics of easy “us and them” – the dynamics I might venture of a kind of civil war – where what we are in favour of is made up mostly of what we are against.

I didn’t join the Labour Party to turn fellow Englander against fellow Englander.

You may disagree, of course; you may feel this video does nothing of the sort.

Convince me otherwise, then.

And, whilst you do, please explain why there are so many dystopian greys.

Is this really the kind of colourless future you want the public to see you voting for?

Apr 112012

Whilst I did a piece recently on the real origins of content “piracy”, Paul currently has a lovely piece over at Never Trust a Hippy on the real origins of copyright.  Interestingly, a commenter responds thus:

Another example of ideas being far older than one thought

And here, in far fewer words than I could ever manage, is the prime justification for there existing a public domain into which all thought finally ends up residing.

This is what I recently had to say on the subject:

[…] I appreciate the need for reasonable periods of copyright, but before we support “original works” we have to understand the process that leads to their creation – and recognise what any creator owes to a previous generation of creators. There is now a massive hole in the public domain, absolutely unheard of in previous times, where nothing but nothing can legally be done to have a creative conversation with, for example, the film industry – an industry which has appropriated with every moral and legal right to do so public domain works from the 19th century for its own wonderful purposes but has refused to return its own property created thus back to the public domains of the 20th and 21st centuries.

And whilst those who are unhappy with related Google-like dynamics may indeed have a complex case to answer, we shouldn’t mix what are essentially issues of trademark and/or copyright law with matters that relate to the almost social contract that is the public domain.

I read an interesting piece in the Guardian yesterday whilst waiting for a train at Oxenholme in the Lake District.  It was arguing that the research of publicly-funded scientists should end up – as soon as practicable – in the public domain via the legal figure of open access.  As the scientific journals and their publishers added very little real value to the scientific process, and in the meantime through their paywalls made access to new ideas evermore expensive and distant (I remember a calculation made by Lawrence Lessig recently which had him hunting down online documents to allow him to understand a family member’s illness better – if he hadn’t have been a top scholar at a US university, it would have cost him over $400 to access the information), so the argument in terms of a societal benefit to automatically place in the public domain such publicly-funded data has become considerably stronger.

But I’d go even further – as you jolly well might expect.  I’d argue that such principles should not only be applied to publicly-funded scientists but also to all elected figures who reach positions of prominence or otherwise on the backs of the voters.  Without the voters and their desire to delegate responsibility, a prime minister or secretary of state would be absolutely nothing politically speaking.  When politicians give exclusive interviews to national newspapers and other media, such organisations hug very close to themselves the content thus generated.  But, in reality, they have no right to at all: arguably the words and thoughts and ideas of our politicians already belong, in very strict measure, to ourselves:

David Cameron wants to snoop into your emails, SMS text messages and telephone calls. He is bringing forward powers to enhance the big brother state in exactly the opposite way he said he would do when he was opposition leader. But guess what, I have news for Mr Cameron. In 3 days time, I discover whether or not I will be given the right to snoop into his SMS text messaging. […]

This does, of course, have implications for open government movements across the world.  But it is only the application of a very simple and fair principle: what you get out of the system, at some in the (near and reasonable) future you put back in.

As they say: what goes around, comes around.

So why should copyright, scientists, public figures and the public domain be any different?

Apr 112012

Bumblebees need holes in walls to find a habitat.  I learnt that whilst in the Lake District yesterday at the Peter Rabbit garden outside the Beatrix Potter Attraction, Windermere.  It seems, for me right now, to describe perfectly what the Coalition’s economics is doing to us.

The people who do the things they are doing to us work in the urban landscape that is the metropolis of London.  When they escape to their country retreats, it is out of privilege they escape: for them, the countryside is just as much a good to be bought and sold as a future on the futures market.  When they plan to detonate, dismantle and destroy the complex ecosystem that is English society, they do not care to worry about those of us who are like bumblebees: those of us who need, in amongst the impervious concrete constructs, habitat-generating holes in Lakeland stone-style walls.

The shock and awe of Osborneconomics is an urban construct: the constructors and developers who remake the faces of our cities every twenty years do not care about complexities, preservation or the conservation of the existing.

Yesterday, visiting Windermere and Bowness showed me – reminded me – that change needs to be managed not imposed; but managed in the sense of appreciating and dealing with its impact on real environments and not in the sense of that managerialist approach which involves brainwashing workforces, voters and affected populations into meek and materialist submission.

Managing in order to add real value, sustainability and persistence of vision to existing communities.

Not managing in order to keep people in the dark, out of the loop and under control.

Windermere and Bowness as tourist attractions and ecosystems of local survival need careful attention, gentle change and an appreciative approach to understanding their manifest needs. The vast majority of people who live and work there do not do so out of the privilege of stratospheric politicians but rather through a hard-won desire and aspiration to make their way in the world.

But if Windermere and Bowness need and deserve this way of doing, why can the rest of us not have the right to the same?

The latter is clearly not what Osborneconomics is about.  Osborneconomics is about making as much money as possible – and to hell with us bumblebees.

Apr 112012

I went to Windermere with my wife yesterday.  It was just a day out.  We did all the traditional stuff: the cruise round the lake; the Beatrix Potter Attraction; a cream tea; a full English breakfast; waiting ages in the Oxenholme station waiting-room for the Virgin Advance-single-tickets train on the way back …

Absorbing, too, the lessons of a sad blue plaque just outside the door to the waiting-room in question which described how a brave PC died in 1965 in pursuit of an armed intruder.

And getting a little jumpy as the non-stopping Virgin trains sped through the station, smacking the doors back and forth with considerable violence.


More importantly, we also saw a modest exhibition in the Windermere library (more here and here) which hit home like a cold hammer to the heart and soul of humankind.  It told the story of 300 children who survived the Holocaust – out of a heartbreaking total, if I remember rightly, of 15,000 more who didn’t.  They were originally sent to a ghetto and concentration camp called Theresienstadt, near Prague.  According to the exhibition, one of the initial objectives of the ghetto was to squirrel away influential Jewish intellectuals whose disappearances would be noticed by the outside world to a facility which would allow the Nazis to present a whitewashed face to the exterior:

[…] To outsiders, it was presented by the Nazis as a model Jewish settlement, but in reality it was a concentration camp ‘where over 33,000 inmates died as a result of hunger, sickness, or the sadistic treatment meted out by their captors’.[3] Theresienstadt was also used as a transit camp for European Jews en route to Auschwitz. ‘Although some survivors claim the population reached 75,000, official records place the highest figure on September 18, 1942, at 58,491 in Kasernes (barracks) designed to accommodate 7,000 combat troups.’[4]

The healing quality of the surroundings the children found themselves in on arriving in the Lake District itself was heavily, and quite rightly, underlined.

I’ll have more to say about this matter in my next post.

In the meantime, never forget the truth that the evil which the Nazis committed was committed in the name of good people everywhere who refused to stand up and be counted in time.

This latter dynamic, incidentally, is alive and well today in many other areas of modern human endeavour.  Quite unfortunately.