Red Toiry

April 28th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I like Jonathan Raban, and I’ve not read Phillip Blond’s Red Tory. Still, I’m more than a little dubious of the former’s critique of the latter. It seems to be mainly based on a cultural affinity for the city over the country, and on a disbelief that institutions run by stodgy and self-isolating small-c conservatives can ever do social good.

what meaning they might have for people on sink estates or in sprawling, ethnically diverse conurbations, like those of the Midlands and the North, is beyond comprehension. Like his literary predecessors, Blond, when he thinks of England, sees mainly its church-spire-haunted countryside.

Well, yes, but so what? If Blond can get rural tory do-gooders actually doing good rather than tut-tutting over the neighbours, I’m all in favour. Let’s make a more radical urban variant, and build an odd-couple alliance of urban anarchists and rural reactionaries.

GTD repeating

April 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m an intermittent fan of GTD. That is, I tend to ignore it for a while, and then

This largely depends on what’s happenign in my life; there are long stretches where I only need to deal with one or two large projects. Since GTD is optimized for managers needing to track a large number of small tasks, it’s not much use for me. But then live spins out of control, and I return to David Allen for some imitation of control.
Within GTD, the big problem is that it doesn’t handle big tasks very well. Often a project consists of “Do this. Then do it another 850 times, over the next 3 moths”. Sure, I can keep adding each chunk to my next actions, but it doesn’t really help. What I need is something to remind me that I need to work on the task, show and recognize the work I’m putting into it, and otherwise keep out of the way.

So, I took a look round online to figure out how to deal with the problem. Turns out there isn’t one; everybody has bolted her own system onto it. Sucks, really it does.

Kings (U.S. TV series) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

April 25th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

This seems too good to be true. In fact it was, and got canceled pretty sharply.

Kings is a television drama series ….loosely based on the Biblical story of King David, but set in a kingdom that culturally and technologically resembles the present-day United States

Long-grain pontiff

April 25th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m less than overwhelmed by Michael Bracewell’s book England is Mine. I do have to admit, though, that he has a nice turn of phrase — even if it is in a style that must have landed him in Pseuds Corner:

So pop, despite itself, became arty. English society, high on the new convenience foods, allowed English culture to develop a kind of boil-in-the-bag popism as the successor to the beans on toast of social realism. [80]

[slightly less entertaining on re-reading, when I realise that “boil-in-the-bag popism” probably means music rather than the Bishop of Rome]

April 24th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Sasha Frere-Jones on Patti Smith’s autobiography:

It’s refreshing to read a memoirist so dedicated to telling a version of her life that is more about ideas than bedpost notches, though sad to think that only someone like Smith could push this past her editors. The New Irony: only a rock star has the moxie to be a prude now.

Naturally, though, I’m more inspired by what the other Sasha finds in it:

It’s a love story, in every sense; not only an account of a love affair, but of a connection that goes beyond sexuality and familiarity into true understanding and devotion….
he pair were the cutting edge of late 60s and early 70s creative New York, and the energy and belief and idealism surrounding them practically wafts off the page.

Clegg: it’s all been said before

April 24th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I despair that what it took to puff up the Lib Dems was one good TV appearance and some worship from the media. I’m frankly baffled that the most technocratic and centrist of the parties can paint themselves as outsiders. Seriously? Have you met a lib dem who wasn’t a politics junkie. But I’m thrilled by the prospect of a strong LD presence in a hung parliament, leading to AV+ and then to a situation where we can finally get some real politics in the UK.
Meanwhile, it’s fun to watch Tories bashing Cameron for accepting the centre ground, just as the left has long been bashing Blair & co. Both criticisms are right, of course: you don’t win an argument by accepting your opponent’s case.

there is rage, albeit hypocritical and belated, that the entire strategy pursued by the Cameron regime over the past four and a half years has left the party so pathetically incapable of defending itself against this mountebank and his frequently preposterous party. For the strategy has left the Conservative Party – and Mr Cameron in particular, as was clear in the first televised debate – without much in the way of conviction to use to counter the Clegg soufflé, and apparently believing in nothing.

Orwell Prize

April 23rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Good: Laurie Penny has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for political writing. Better: she’s willing to deliver a well-placed kick to the shins of the organizers, for defending the indefensible, for remaining closed within a tiny bubble of the political elite, and generally for being symptomatic of the fuckwittery of a disconnected and introspective political elite.
Nonetheless, I’m glad of the Orwell Prize, because it has introduced me to Madam Miaow. another excellent shortlisted blog, which I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. And…she’s hardly less scathing than Laurie, about “a truly flesh-crawling example of how skewed and corrupt is the mentality of these people who are running and ruining our lives“.


April 23rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Widowhoood is one of those facets of historical experience that I can’t really grok. Widows throughout pre-modern history have been subject to such a weird mix of fear and acceptance, left a socially precarious position but also one in which they have more freedom than married women. Biblical examples would be Ruth and Judith; historical ones can be traced through land and tax records. Laurence Fontaine argued in a recent issue of Esprit that widows in France had more access to markets:

Dans la France de l’Ancien Régime, le droit des femmes évoluait selon leur statut social et les phases de leur cycle de vie ; les veuves étant, par exemple, plus libres que les femmes mariées qui restaient soumises à l’autorité des maris. Toutefois, la charge qui leur incombait de s’occuper et de nourrir la famille leur a donné un accès au marché.

What I can’t figure out is how much this peculiarly, perversely privileged position of widows was general, how much just a situation which enabled a few personally strong widows to run with it, while the majority ended up in much more difficult circumstances, practically and socially.

[as is probably obvious, this is mainly a marker for a topic I find interesting, but which has presumably already been the subject of multiple books, and which I don’t anticipate having anything new to say about]

April 23rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I love that this article questioning the opening-up of Belarus is all about dubious industrial figures, with nothing about it being a repressive police state.

April 23rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Johann Hari on good form:

something stranger still is happening in The Election That Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Every day in this country, two big forces artificially drag the British government way to the right of the British people, making it enact policies that benefit a small, rich elite at the expense of the rest. We are not supposed to notice this, never mind try to change it. Yet suddenly, in this election, those forces have been exposed.

UK company records

April 22nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Anybody still following news here because of the Panama corporate database might like to know about a new site indexing UK company records, including names of their directors. The people behind it explain:

we bought the Companies House appointment snapshot and dropped it into a quick little searchable symfony app so you can browse the data – it’s the directors and secretaries of every UK company, cross-linked. Quite handy for looking up your PPCs, ex-MPs, etc. Also handy (if you’re a childish prat like me) for looking up funny names (see if you can beat Minge Fan, or Arse Plems Kyentu).

April 22nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Comment on post-election PR in the UK:

I’m afraid that this has been predicted in every close-looking election since … well pretty much since Labour rose to power a century ago, without ever coming close to occurring.

April 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Heh. I’m also a little baffled by the love of Betahaus, which in the end is Just An Office. But even stranger is the terror people seem to have at absolutely safe parts of Berlin:

Das Betahaus liegt zudem abseits neben einer Autowerkstatt und ist eine ansonsten unvermietbare (imho) GSW Immobilien. Absolut keine Gegend wo man Abends alleine durchgehen möchte (Kottbuser Tor ist nicht weit).

April 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

ACTA text due for release today:

Overall, therefore, there was a general sense from this session that negotiations have now advanced to a point where making a draft text available to the public will help the process of reaching a final agreement. For that reason, and based on the specific momentum coming out of this meeting, participants have reached unanimous agreement that the time is right for making available to the public the consolidated text coming out of these discussions, which will reflect the substantial progress made at this round.

It is intended to release this on Wednesday 21 April.

The end of the world as we don’t know it

April 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Ken Macleod:

“Global warming is real, it’s happening and it’s serious, but it’s certainly no reason to believe there’s more than an outlying possibility of the world coming to an end in this century.”

Charles Stross:

I’ve lately been trying to project possible futures that don’t include any kind of singularity, be it a minor one (like the steam engine) or a massive one (strongly superhuman A.I.s that are to us as we are to cats and dogs). Mostly they require either a malthusian collapse, or repressive legislative/political forces. So, to that extent, any SF that doesn’t try to address the issue is either a dystopia or a fantasy.

Takedown downfall fail

April 20th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

A worrying example of how brittle and centralized a lot of our culture is:

A recent wave of takedowns affecting many of the Hitler “Downfall” parody videos has resulted in their removal from YouTube.

Kyrgyzstan: 2005 reloaded

April 20th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

The Kyrgyz government was overthrown last week, something I’ve not yet mentioned here. Partly for obvious lazy-blogger reasons, partly because I was moving house (again) at the time. Partly also because Edil Baisalov, a key figure in the interim government, is also something of a man-about-the-blogospere, and I’m not sure how to correct for the sense of him being a nice guy.
Mainly, though, because I have no answers to the main questions, and no confidence in finding them by churning through online wire reports. Is this a true change of regime, or just of personnel? What reforms will affect anybody beyond the political cliques? Which people are wielding the power, and which are just names on paper? What behind-the-scenes manouvering got this putsch accepted so quickly by the main powers inside and beyond Kyrgyzstan? Will there be any kind of military opposition in the South? How will Bakiyev’s supporters rebel, or run campaigns of protest and civil disobedience, or contentrate on the elections XXX is promising? When the election happens, who will accept the results?
I have a lot of sympathy for the now-victorious rebels. They’ve all tried to engage in democratic politics for many years, and been kept out of the way on trumped up grounds. It was worse under the Akayev regime — it used the old Soviet trick of forced hospitlization to keep Baisalov away from a political meeting, and excluded Otunbayeva from elections because — as ambassador to the US — she had been out of the country. Bakiyev’s government wasn’t much better: now Baisalov was banned from elections because he posted a photo of a ballot box. The assassination attempt in 2006 was just icing on the cake.
And yet, as Sean Roberts writes, it’s hard not to look at these events as just one more link in a chain of coups that will keep going for years or decades to come.

The news coming out of the country looks all too similar to that which we saw in Spring of 2005, only more violent. In general, the events of the last several days taken together with those of March 2005 suggest two things about this country in the twenty-first century – 1) that the Kyrgyz people, unlike most former Soviet citizens, are unwilling to allow a corrupt government to stay in power through its control of the political system and are ready to risk personal safety in order to prevent this; and 2) the elite of Kyrgyzstan has yet to demonstrate that it is capable of establishing a viable government that meets people’s demands and moves Kyrgyzstan’s development forward.

I’m cautiously optimistic about the possibility that this time round things will improve slightly. But it can’t be long until Bakiyev’s supporters attempt some kind of counter-protest, and it’s hard to build an open society while looking over your back for the next coup, especially when you don’t have any source of democratic legitimacy.

Wang Hui and plagiarism

April 20th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve previously mentioned Wang Hui, as a particularly interesting Chinese intellectual. Now he’s being accused of plagiarism — which might be politically-motivated, or could be a gase of someboy finding him with his pants down. Or both.

A great many things keep happening

April 20th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Since hearing it mentioned on In Our Time, I’ve been entranced by the start of Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks:

A great many things keep happening, some of them good, some of them bad. The inhabitants of the different countries keep quarrelling fiercely with each other and kings go on loosing their temper in the most furious way. Our churches are attacked by the heretics and then protected by the Catholics; the faith of Christ burns bright in many men, but it remains lukewarm in others; no sooner are church buildings endowed by the faithful that they are stripped again by those who have no faith. However, no writer has come to the fore who has been sufficiently skilled in setting things down in an orderly fashion to be able to describe these events in prose or in verse.

Alas, that seems to be more-or-less an invention of the translator. The Latin text begins:

Decedente atque immo potius pereunte ab urbibus Gallicanis liberalium cultura litterarum, cum nonnullae res gererentur vel rectae vel inprobae…

Which This translation renders more literally

With liberal culture on the wane, or rather perishing in the Gallic cities there were many deeds being done both good and evil

ah, well, it’s still a glorious opening line, regardless of authenticity.

April 18th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m going through a period of over-the-top enthusiasm for unconferences — they’re just at that confluence of anarchism and practicality where you can imagine the possibility of improving the world by worming our way out of the zombiefied social rituals which usually trap us. Apparently, actually attending one that doesn’t quite live up to the ideals isn’t much of a damper on this.

Just wish I could find a calendar for the things…

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