May 26, 2009

38 Degrees

38 Degrees has just launched. It's aiming to become a UK counterpart to Avaaz: a large non-party campaign organization built around a stonking big email list, picking winnable campaigns and feeding their supporters with small, easy ways of contributing.

They're kicking off with an attempt to bounce of the MP expenses kerfuffle to give constituents the power to recall MPs. So far they're pretty vague about what this would entail, and I'm not entirely clear on the benefits. Sure, a few immensely corrupt MPs might be removed. But I dread to think how many local campaigns could end up diverting their energies into unwinnable attempts to remove their MPs.

I'm mildly concerned about a few aspects of their site: the petition page doesn't make it clear whether 38 Degrees will hold onto your email, and they aren't offering any email address to get in touch with them. But it's early days yet, and these are things that will doubtless get ironed out quickly. Plus David Babbs is involved, so I already have a fair amount of unpleasantly old-boyish confidence in them.

May 12, 2009

UK election leaflets, archived

Linkies! The Straight Choice is a new website collecting campaign leaflets from UK elections.

If it takes off, this could become a very useful resource. Leaflets ofen show campaigns at their most brutal and desperate. Enhancing the collective memory of what politicians have done is a great way of holding them to account. That goes for the outrageous behaviour that comes out during elections (who remembers the Tory slogan "if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour."? Would pictures help?). More importantly, it goes for the little promises that are made and then ignored, safe in the knowledge that what's said in the campaign vanishes soon afterwards.

Of course, libraries do have collections of this stuff; there's one at LSE, and another in Bristol. But I doubt they get much attention, except from academic historians and the occasional zealous party worker. Online images have much greater potential, provided the intial enthusiasm is enough to start it snowballing.

April 8, 2009

Turning people against the police

The London G20 protests, if they achieved nothing else, have certainly radicalised a lot of people. Or at least, have made them distrust and dislike the police. Now there's a video, showing Ian Tomlinson being attacked by police just before he died.

No, the police probably didn't plan to murder him. They did beat him (more severely than is shown in the video, according to eyewitnesses), and fail to help him. And after his death they tried to conceal what happened.

The fact that he died is the only bit of chance here. Everything else was a deliberate strategy, chosen by the police. And many people will be looking differently at the police - if not because of this, then because of kettling. Keep people trapped on a street for hours on end, and they won't like you for it.

The Guardian also pick up on the media response, so far:

Although the Guardian reported the death on its front page, almost all the coverage elsewhere ignored it completely or concentrated on a version of events that suggested that the police's only connection with Tomlinson had been to try to rescue him from a baying mob of anarchists.

Now, the video has got the story more mainstream attention, and even the Mail is criticising the police. Strangest of all, I find myself agreeing with many of the comments on the Mail article.

April 4, 2009

Racism in the Mail

Some more from Nick Davies' Flat Earth News, this time him being particularly damning about the Mail:

Perhaps I have been unlucky, but hI have never come across a reporter from the Daily Mail who did not have some similar story, of black people being excluded from the paper because of their colour. A district reporter told me he would call up from Manchester to tell the news desk a story, 'and they would always ask: "Are they our kind of people?" i.e. "Are they white, middle class?" Or more often it would be: "Are they of the dusky hue?" And if they were of the dusky hue, then they didn't want the story.' I mentioned this to another reporter, who has spent several decades on the Mail, and he immediately named the senior news executive who was most keen on the 'dusky hue' euphemism. And this is not a thing of the past. While I was writing this book, I spoke to a local news agency who had just had the Daily Mail news desk on the phone, checking out a murder on their patch and asking if the victim was white or black so that they could decide whether they wanted the story.

March 31, 2009

Roll on the FOI requests

Rare thing - a sensible comment on the Jacqui Smith porn storm-in-teacup:

And why, you might ask, am I, um, handwringing over this in quite so prurient a fashion?
Simple. This is just the kind of happy little vignette that it’s apparently just fine for three hundred thousand civil servants and ministers to know about the rest of us. Every internet transaction, every site visit, every email. So what if outrage, mortification and a publicly damaged relationship results? At least the government have been able to verify to their own satisfaction that you’re not doing anything wrong.
Come to think of it, if adult-rated content were to show up in anybody’s records, Jacqui would probably be the first to advocate just nipping in to people’s private purchases and checking them for, say, consensual violent content.

March 30, 2009

One solution - resolution

Superficially hilarious, but deeply dispiriting. 60 Westminster CCTV cameras have to be turned off during the G20 summit - not on any kind of civil liberties grounds, but because their pictures aren't high-enough resolution:

Under the legislation, traffic cameras must be capable of recording at 720 x 576 pixels, an analogue broadcast standard. Westminster's wireless network of road cameras, introduced last year, is the only fully digital traffic enforcement system operating in the UK, and is regarded as one of the most advanced in the world. But its picture quality is only 704 x 576 pixels. The DfT's enforcement branch, the Vehicle Certification Agency, has ruled it does not comply with the law.

Not much of a comeuppance, though - 60 cameras out of perhaps 5 million in the UK

December 18, 2007

No coherent comment, just rage

Missed this one last month in the UK: a woman was convicted for "possessing records likely to be used for terrorism", whatever that means. As far as I can see, she had downloaded some documents on guns and bombs (like, er, just about every teenage boy in the country), and written some angry poems about killing people.

So, basically, she's been fantasizing about being a jihadi rather than fantasizing about being James Bond.

For this she's already been in jail for 5 months, and has a 9 month suspended sentence.

October 10, 2007

Stealth nationalization

My biggest unresolved question about New Labour is whether they're betraying the left, or stealthily implementing leftish policies in a way that doesn't infuriate the right. This is one point for the latter: persuading independent schools to join the state sector. [via Crooked Timber]

November 27, 2006

Westminster's map

[Update: I finally got round to adding legends to the maps]

Which countries get talked about in parliament? With data from They Work For You, I've put together these maps of where MPs like to talk about. Here's the number of mentions a country has had in parliament recently, adjusted for population:

<- Few mentions _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Many mentions->

Looking at this, I'm actually surprised at how globally-minded Parliament is. Sudan (pop. 34.2 million) gets 2,302 mentions; Germany (pop. 82.5 million) has only 3,695 mentions in parliament.

Far from being ignored, Africa actually gets mentioned well beyond its economic importance to the UK. South America, on the other hand, is basically ignored.

Then there's the size bias: small countries get more mentions than big ones, once you adjust for population. Look at Mongolia: Westminster, it seems, finds Mongolians immensely more important than Chinese. The bias can partly be discounted as a problem with measurement: parliament is prone to lists of foreign relations and trade issues, for instance, which mention every country regardless of how small it is. Also, it's possible MPs talk about areas within China or India, which I wouldn't have picked up on.

But there's more to it: larger countries really do get short-changed in the attention we give them. China has a population perhaps 150 times larger than than of Bolivia - but we don't hear anything like 150 times as much news from China. We're all biased by imagining a world made up of nations, and giving the same weight to nations of all sizes. Small islands got discussed an incredible amount - particularly places in the news, like Tuvalu and the Pitcairns, but others as well.

Continue reading "Westminster's map" »

September 7, 2006


I hate the amount of pleasure I got from seeing Blair looking so hunted and powerless on this evenings news. I mean, I don't really have any reason to personally hate him. But seeing the smugness gone is so satisfying - even if it's only because he has worked out that he'll survive longer by looking humble.

I feel as though I should be donig penance for thinking things like this.

April 3, 2006

Blogs with content

I'd like to point you all towards a few blogs with real content, written by people who know what they're talking about. I'm biased about all three: I'm a contributor to the first (and member of the group running it), I was taught by the author of the second, and the driving force behind the third is a close friend who I spent a year sharing a house with. Despite that, they're all great!

First, the Iraq Analysis Group have just launched their new blog. This is one of the most awesome groups of people I've ever worked with. They've been campaigning and thinking about Iraq since the 1990s, first as the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq, and then as this group after sanctions were lifted. They (OK, we) have accumulated a large collection of resources to learn about Iraq. It isn't yet comprehensive, but it's probably the best listing of it's kind on the web. I strongly recommend this site: of the project I've been involved in, this is one of the few that I believe in 100%, and I'm continually impressed by all the people involved.

Then there's sarasvatam cakshuh, a blog about Sanskrit written by Somadevah Vasudeva. The focus is on primary texts, so this probably won't be your thing unless you read Sanskrit. That that doesn't stop me squeeing about it, I'm afraid. There's a good amount of snarkiness aimed at people who write about Sanskrit based on translations and small selections of original texts. Totally justified snarkiness: Somadevah is one of the few who has read immense amounts of Sanskrit literature. Some of it he's committed to memory, and the rest is stored on his Mac, with copious annotations and some weird geek-fu that lets him instantly find any reference. Reading this blog makes me very aware of how little I know, but it also spurs me on to look at more Sanskrit texts.

Finally, another blog on the borderline between research and campaigning. This one is from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, which has been pluggin away at its issue for some 30 years, has kept going through thick and thin, and has a great body of expertise on the basty bits of British foreign policy and corporate nastiness. As with anything focussed on content rather than memes, this might be heavy going if you don't care about the issues.