Recently in Politics Category
May 13, 2013
Liveblogged notes of Zachary Neal's talk on community integration and cohesion at the RSA.
In this talk he's going to focus on micro networks. Are diverse communities possible? Tha answer's grim: no. But there is a bright side...
He's been thinking about community policy in the US; it's fragmented and piecemeal. It's more clearly articulated in the UK. In 2001 the Home Office came out with a report on community cohesion, which lead to the Commission on Integration & Cohesion. In 2010, the Cabinet Office made it clear it was important as part of the Big Society rubric.
This is the right direction - but there's a hidden problem, a policy paradox. It's not clear how integration and cohesion interlock. Are more integrated communities more cohesive? Or are more integrated communities less cohesive?
In segregated communities, similar people live near one another. In integrated communities, different sorts of people are more evenly mixed through the neighbourhood.
In fragmented communities, people have disconnected social networks. In cohesive communities, people have dense special networks.
April 8, 2013
Margaret Thatcher has rather annoyed me this evening, and that's not something I've been able to say for decades.
I hate feeling obligated to write about something on my blog, you see, and by having the sheer, stark lack of consideration to die, she's created a prevailing mood that leaves me to feel I need to put finger to keyboard before I hit the sack, far later than I should have done. Like most British children of the early 70s, my formative years politically were dominated by her. The 1980s were her decade of British politics When she finally left office in the 90s, it was the first time I could remember living in a Britain that wasn't ruled by her. I held on to the Evening Standard front cover from the day she resigned for the next decade or so.
She was a divisive, polarising, but hugely successful and productive figure, who can inspire pieces like this positive spin from Andrew Sullivan and this more negative take from The Guardian, both of which are probably true. But it has split social media into nasty little tribal factions that have been warring away all day, reminding me why I much prefer the the long-form response represented by the two posts I just linked.
In fact, the factions broke down in a way perfectly predicted by Martin Belam back at the tail end of last year:
It's un-edifying, and something I pretty much avoided other than to throw the occasional piece of satire in from the sidelines:
EXCLUSIVE: this person has no idea who Thatcher was: twitter.com/adders/status/...-- Adam Tinworth (@adders) April 8, 2013
In the end, though, I pretty much agree with this piece from Glen Greenwald which argued that people should be free to say what they like about a public figure when they die. She was a huge part of the UK's public life and some debate on what her legacy is is not just to be expected, it's actually healthy.
But there is one response that I do think is unhealthy: "I hated her and I'm glad she's dead". That's not because it makes any difference to her - she's beyond that now, one way or another - or her family, who will never see the majority of it. It simply diminishes the people who feel that way. To devote so much energy to hating someone who left power nearly a quarter of a century ago to the point where you want to celebrate the death of an elderly, sick grandmother and widow just seems to me to lack a sense of proportion and of human empathy.
The reason so many different media warn us against hate - from George Orwell to Doctor Who to umpteen world religions - is that it damages the person feeling the emotion more than the person to whom it is directed most of the time.
This may be, in fact, meta-piety, but it's my blog and I'll be pious if I want to.
February 6, 2013
Something I wrote about the uses of social media in modern political campaigning a few months back.
November 6, 2012
Four years ago, on US election night, I was at The Frontline Club, enjoying their election party. Tonight? Keeping up via the interwebs from my mother-in-law's front room. Oh, and it's my birthday, too. I know how to live.
I'm pulling in information from a variety of sources, but one which is consistently throwing up quirky stories - like the sudden outbreak of Brits Googling "electoral college" - is Maarten's Trendolizer:
Not quite sure how he's doing it, as it involves Perl jiggery-pokery, but it's surfacing interesting, timely stuff, and what more can you ask for?
In my case, "a raid on my mother-in-law's whisky supply" might be the answer...
November 2, 2012
Kottke is suspending posting for the time being:
The situation in New York and New Jersey is still dire** so posting stupid crap seems frivolous and posting about the Sandy aftermath seems exploitive. Information is not what people need right now; people need flashlights, candles, drinking water, safety, food, access to emergency medical care, a warm place to sleep, etc.
The message of how bad things are in parts of the hurricane-hit area does not seem to be making much of the mainstream news. I feel powerless - I'm not even sure who I should donate to that will actually help.
October 9, 2012
The rise in computing power between 1990 and 2020 will be insignificant compared to the rise in the thirty years thereafter. Solar panels will be cheaper than coal by 2020. If you're under 30, you've never really seen change, because it take those 30 or 40 years to really become visible.
What does that have to do with Hexayurts? They're built from standard industrial manufacturing sizes of materials - sheets and half sheets. If the hippies had had these things they would have won. Burning Man is covered with them. In year 10, it's starting to acquire exponential momentum.
Our houses are three things: accommodation, storage of wealth and investment. Right now - accommodation is well met, storage of wealth and investment are ruined, because prices are going down. If we build millions of new homes, you can drive prices down so far that everything changes. Mortgages go away. Ireland has 200,000 empty units. The over-build is gigantic and we won't let the housing prices drop, because no-one wants to admit that the houses aren't worth what they once were. The market is totally illiquid. Abundance breaks the financial system.
Economists get a bad rep, but there are some good new ones. The new economists:
- Coase - companies are efficient pockets of command-and-control within market chaos. But that only holds for some costs of decision making.
- Nash - it's possible that everyone can get stuck in a situation which will destroy all of them, because the costs to the individual of changing the situation are too high - you need co-ordinated action from all - the goat rodeo.
- Benkler - new kinds of value creation exist in an abundant information, cheap communioncatin world. It appears commons based per production works bett than capitalism.
Valve is apparently the most profitable company per employee in the world. They mythology is that you pick and choose your projects in the company. It has no internal coercive structure. If you drive out fear, you get good quality communication. Hierarchy create fear which reduces productivity. The boss of Valve can't get his own games made - but the people who work for him make him $300,000 a year. The pyramid doesn't work in this environment. It's an internal anarchy.
Hexayurt is not a business. There's no bank account. There's just a domain name. Yet, it's the most efficient shelter in the world, and its growing exponentially.
Windows is a corporate ecosystem, and is full of evil midgets - the crapware. Apple is a benign dictatorship - unles you're the app developer who gets kicked out of the store. Linux is structured like the Goth tribes that sacked Rome. The secret to Open Source success is looking like you can finish it on your own. They've sacked the server market and haven't quite done the same with desktop. Apple has put a thin level of dictatorship on top of Open Source BSD and sacked Microsoft, but you can't contain the anarchy.
The three futures:
- Cheap energy, cheap information
- Resource scarcity and war - the classic bleak future
- Decentralise (Naxalites) - a machete version of capitalism
Fear of the nuclear bomb stopped us thinking rationally. It might all work as long as we can get the nanotechnology or biotech risk under control. Stop anyone making an open source 3D printer for genes...
We could end up in a world where the largest functional organisation is 24 people for 4.5 months. Could happen. To survive, we need one planet consumption and no apocalypse technology.
They did a book: The Future We Deserve. Sourced on Twitter, two weeks to edit. Go.
Once you've worked in a co-operative, you get the bug. They moved on to setting up a home care co-operative, based on the system for granting additional payments on benefits for home care. Those additional requirements payments were withdrawn, and the business petered out. She went to work for the Prince's Trust.
But the co-operative bug was still in her system. Next up: Sunderland Home Care Associates. They're serious both about the co-operative ownership - and about business success. They started in 1994 with 20 people, now it's 440. They have £170,000 profit on £5.5m turnover. They help older, disabled and vulnerable people remain in their homes as long as possible. They provide academic support for students with disabilities.
Independent Futures - helping people with learning disabilities live on their own, and use micro enterprise to give them meaningful lives.
Catching up on my liveblogged notes from last week's Meaning Conference - I ran out of laptop battery, so couldn't post them at the time.
Pamela's here to tell us a story about making the world nicer. Todmordon has fruit, vegetable and herbs springing up all over the town. They've developed vegetable tourism. They have a huge challenge ahead of them. The way we're living is passing on a rubbish legacy to our kids.
Is it possible to find a unifying language to talk to people regardless of age or income? There is one: food. So, they didn't bother with a strategy document, or a proposal. They gathered around a kitchen table. And they decided to spin community plates, like circus plate spinners. Let's think about what happens in our gardens, and streets, and community places. Let's teach each other about food. And let's move from that to buying our food locally.
60 people came to the meeting. They didn't talk about climate change, they talked about food. They didn't ask permission. They didn't ask for a cheque. They had to see off the nay-sayers. The power of small actions is awesome. Your little bit of action will help other people come together.
This world is not for the faint-hearted. The models of the past are not the ones we need for the future. They do propaganda gardens, because her mate hates the word "guerrilla". They took a verge, which had been neglected and left to go wild (and become a toilet), and made it a garden, and six months later the council started mowing it - and put a bench in. One person took her wall down, took the flowers out and started growing fruit in her garden. And put up a sign saying people could take it. For two years no one did. And then they started...
This is not a movement for articulate Guardian readers. If you eat, you're in. People started picking veg. One family picked veg, and then brought back soup made from it. They'd never talked to each other before.
They use edible flowers sometimes, so as not to upset the "in bloom" people. They planted a garden in front of the police station - the police now look after it. And they'll tell you that environmental damage in the area has halved. So, male competition being what it is, the fire station decided to join in. Beyond that, they took the prickly plants in front of the new health centre, and replaced them with edible plants. People are walking into the health centre surrounded by things they have only ever seen wrapped in plastic at the supermarket.
They went into the station, they went into the graveyard...
And from that they've moved into training people in cooking what they've grown, and to sharing lost arts, like pickling, preserving and skinning. They bought every market trader a board, on which they could chalk their local goods. It started conversations, which reminded people why markets are different from supermarkets.
They didn't get good response from local farmers, so they build the demand themselves, using things like the Every Egg Matter campaign, and some are starting to join in. They took some waste land, and created a market garden training centre.
They're just a "working class northern town doing veg" but they're featured on TV all over the world. And there are 33 towns following them...
Believe in the power of small actions.
July 3, 2012
Bobbie Johnson - making Matter matter
About a year ago - he got pissed off. He came from The Guardian which has a "troubled" relationship with profit. Why does the meaty, good in-depth investigative stuff he likes not really exist online? Why does it need paper subsidy to make it work. And he wasn't the only one who was feeling that way. These stories are hard - they need time and legal backup to do well. He talked to his friend Jim who lives in San Francisco - he's a science writer who writes for New Scientist et al. They want to find a way to do long-form investigative journalism that's build for the web. Blogs are brilliant. He owes his career to them. And it's become the native format for news on the web. But long stories look and feel the same on the web - and that bores you.
They saw the prices for journalism dropping - but they saw the rise of Kindles and the iPad as new avenues for people to read. The browser is better than its ever been before - particularly with HTML. And pretty much all devices that people use for reading use webkit as the underlying browser technology. So, the obvious answer seemed to be to sell people the long-form content via these new channels, as people has shown a wiliness to pay.
Matter will be a lean, distributed journalism organisation that only produces long, deep pieces of journalism - ideally once a week. The age of journalism businesses doing all forms of journalism are done. They ran the business ideas past some people "who knew what they were doing". They recommended testing and experimentation. They got some feedback on potential Kindle sales. So how do they get started? They needed money. Bobbie's Guardian redundancy money was long spent. They both have babies on the way. The roadblock to getting investors on-board was the need for proof of the concept. And so they decided to try out Kickstarter, the US crowd-sourcing services. They aimed for $50k to commission three big pieces. The most ever raised on Kickstarter for journalism was $55k. They wanted to be "number two by a little". They called in favours from friends to get their video done, e-mailed everyone they knew. They hit the thousands of dollars out of the gate. Overnight they hit $25,000, and hit their goal in 38 hours. Kickstarter gives you a month to hit the funding target... By the end of the month they had $140,000 - making it the most successful publishing project on Kickstarter.
It's changed his idea of crowd funding - it suddenly became a much more powerful idea. They have no other shareholders, thanks to crowd funding - but the have 2,500 with an emotional attachment to it.
They're no longer building a bare-bones service, but they're building something that will look beautiful over all devices. They're working with Clearleft to build it, and they hope to launch in September. The first three are neuroscience, cyber-crime and environmental stories.
They've got a great group of journalists - people from the New Yorker, Wired and Harpers as freelance editors. Each story is being treated as a publication, with their own team. It's like a small book. They'll commission art for it. It's not a magazine. It's not a website. It's Matter.
People thought he was going to run off to Brazil with the money - but their aim is to build a dedicated journalism start-up that can keep its head above water. It might become an umbrella for events and the like. There's another form of crow-funding called payment... They've crowd funded their way to the starting line.
Q. Since they have a business plan, are they worried that they won't be taken seriously by the tech world.
A. VCs want them to have a "big plan". Getting people to pay for journalism is a big plan!
Q. Has there been much success with Kindle Singles?
A. There are a lot of requirements for Kindle Singles - at leads 5000 words, pre-sight by the Amazon team. There are about 200 titles. The average sell is 15,000 copies. Matter is targeting $0.99 price - once everyone has taken their cut you might get $10,000 back. Finding those numbers was the "lightbulb" moment.
Marketing is their big challenge. They'll sell through iBooks and Amazon, but they're hoping people will want to write about their stories, and that their 2,500 supporters will help promote them.
Duncan Campbell - the culture of surveillance
His story started in Brighton 40 years ago. This is a tale about the secret world of surveillance, a biographical tale about journalism, and a call to action about what the government are about to launch against us. There's a small rocky island in the North Atlantic where once all information was owned by the government and publishing it could land you in jail for six months. The 1911 Official Secrets Act was antithetical to journalism and asking questions. Indeed, you could be jailed for asking questions. He was prosecuted in 1977 for a crime which could have landed him in jails for 30 years. That law was eventually repealed in 1989. But now we face a similar situation...
Data journalism is a new opportunity for journalism. He's involved in what he thinks is the biggest data journalism exercise ver. The bill launched by Theresa May a few weeks ago - the Draft Communications Data Bill - is a monstrosity that allows everything on the internet to be data mined by the government. They want access to every layer of the internet - and they're selling on the basis that the next terrorism atrocity could be planned by two avatars talking in World of Warcraft. Since 9/11 a vast industry has grown up selling interception kit to every form of government that allows them to monitor the internet. It's known as "Signals Intelligence".
40 years ago GCHQ in Cheltenham was an absolute secret. When he proposed a feature to Time Out, he phoned up GCHQ, and amazed the receptions hit by the sheer fact of knowing it.
David Orman 2010 book. Protint - protected information intelligence - all our private information will be available to the Government, under special conditions. Travel bookings, passport and biomentric intelligence and so on... The former director or public prosecutions has said that this is information no government should be trusted with. The 1976 GCHQ article caused shock across Whitehall, because what they thought was a well-protected was splashed across a listings mag in London. His telephone was tapped shortly afterwards. He was followed by MI5 - whom he never noticed - and the special branch - whom he lead a merry dance across Brighton. Whitehall saw his article in the alight of Watergate - as a threat that needed to be contained. He was arrested for doing an interview with a former solider. The transcript was marked secret. Then "top" was added. And then it was stamped "Top Secret" again. The trial failed, and the law had to be changed. It had exposed the fact that much of what GCHQ was doing was illegal. The tapping work had started 40 years ago, and continues with the new act.
He continued researching this, and then the BBC and Panorama followed suit. Disclosures under the 30 years rules give an insight into how the Government reacted. The government worried about the BBC making Campbell's activities respectable. The documents show an extraordinarily paranoid view amongst the most powerful people in Britain. He wasn't trying to bring down Britain - they knew that - but he was branded as an unaffiliated revolutionary. Robin Cook was one of them branded in this way - and he ended up running the security services! The net result was the government was forced to bring the intelligence services into the rule of law - and the country afield to collapse. Campbell went to work for the BBC, and started a series called Secret Society - and did a story about the first government spy satellite: Zircon. The show was promptly banned, but the story got out through a magazine. The magazine, Campbell's house, and the BBC's office in Scotland were raided. The director general of the BBC was sacked. By 1988 Campbell was exposing Echelon in the New Statesman - it was already 20 years old by then.
Capenhurst "ETF" - microwave communication around Britain. The Dublin to Manchester link was the backbone of Ireland's communication internationally. At the cost of £20m the government built an interception tower near Birkenhead - even those they weren't legally allowed to intercept. It was decommissioned in 2002. He proposed to Channel 4 that they make an offer to buy it. They were allowed in. The equipment was gone, but they knew the pattern of holes in the floor that would be needed if they were intercepting the signals - and they were there sure enough. Once again, this lead to putative changes in legislation. It was taken to European Court of Human Rights by Liberty - and they won. But the Government never made the relevant changes in the law.
He wrote a report for the European Union in 2000 in Interception Capabilities - a set of laws were passed by the EU parliament in September 2001 - but were buried by the appalling events of 9/11 just a few days later. Then came a series of attempts to provide means to monitor the internet. They focus now on deep-packet inspection. Vast amounts of data can be extracted from communication systems and fed into analysis software. People's movements can be tracked via their mobile phones. Automated number-plate readers are spreading - and they are much more serious than CCTV - which needs to be analysed by human beings. The number-plate readers are automatically banking records of all journeys passing these checkpoints for up to 10 years.
The later, greatest and most serious move is direct access to the internet. Very sophisticated semantic traffic analysers are being placed in major internet switching points. Narus. Both Bush and Obama have legislated to stop court cases against this for breach of privacy. All of the tapping was done in the early part of 2003 - but the plans go back to 1998. It was not triggered by 9/11. As far as can be told, the same is true in Britain. As far as threats to national security go - they already have the access. So why do they need the new legislation?
Just like drone operators, surveillance operators have suburban commuter jobs in comfortable offices in country locations.
The establishment have more paranoia than even radicals of the left. They want all data to be theirs, and are legislating to make this happen. The value of human rights and of privacy is fundamental to our integrity and is worth fighting for.
Q. Bruce Scheinder is big on the fact that kids don't care about privacy any more.
A. It's a fair summary - but that's how they're inculcated to think by Google, Facebook et al. If the product costs nothing - you are the product. The country that understands this best is Germany, possibly through their process of de-Mazification.
Q. The constant cat and mouse that goes on -- presumably the new bill is about making things legal that they're already doing. Is there ever and end to it?
A. There is s central journalistic problem in telling this story - the can be dry as dust. What you need is a victim who has been hurt by surveillance. It's hard to do theism - it's very limited. And there's a chilling effect - people don't feel free to be who they are because of surveillance. Things they're trying to do now - like accessing Skype - are harder to do now. The case is being absurdly over-stated. It's about hanging on to power, not about understanding what they need to keep us safe. The mobile phone hacking we're talking about at Leveson is all PIN-based voicemail hacking. They couldn't get phone records. However, we are at risk of a financial collapse, a 1930s style environment where people will want access to data.
It doesn't look like they have lines in ISPs yet - that's what the black boxes in the new legislation are about. They want direct access to new forms of communication that aren't e-mail, like Facebook messages. They want an ultimate trojan so they can identify who anonymous people actually are.
Q. The phone "hacking" stuff isn't really hacking. It's a party trick. Who here has signed the Official Secrets Act?
About four or five have: people who have served in the forces, who have worked for BT.
A. Signing it amounts to nothing apart from the fact you've read the act. If the duty of confidence to the government - if that has been improperly claimed, I hope journalists will breach it.
Q. Is Theresa May just a mouthpiece for what the security services want?
A. Minsters always are. The justification that the new bill meets the European human rights regulations is so badly written he suspects that all the hard-core civil servants have been sacked. I hope that this amateurism might allow a collation of interested parties to defeat the bill.
Q. Is this anything to do with Wikileaks?
A. I don't think so. Wikileaks is a happy harbinger of the sort of journalism we're starting to be able to do. But this is the historical tentacle of the British state - the same people who built communications tapping operations in Cornwall to monitor its own citizens.
Campbell was never locked away for 30 years - he believes that the state is still stronger than the secret state. But 9/11 is being used to beat us over the head. They tried to tap the internet then - but didn't manage, possibly because they had no budget. This is the latest attempt - and it reflects things they've been asking for for 10 to 12 years. The FBI are talking about the "world going dark" in terms of information - but things have always been dark. People have planned things in meetings like this - people talking in rooms above pubs.
He's looked a lot at terrorist's computers and communications. Do they use cryptology as people claim? None of the planners of 9/11 used any encrypted communications. That's true in the majority of the cases of terrorist plots in the UK - but not all. They us etchings like e-mail dead drops - free e-mail accounts with shared passwords, where they never send the e-mails, just leave messages in the account. That was established art early as 2000 by Al Queda. Now they use the cloud.
August 9, 2011
July 11, 2011
I'm loathe to join the general mob of bloggers posting about every little twist and turn of the phone-hacking scandal, and the closure of the News of the
Screws World. That market niche is filled sufficiently. I'm more interested in trying to discern the long-term consequences of what's happening now; how this might change the media landscape over the next 10 years or so.
Here's three things playing on my mind right now:
In one area, I'm distinctly worried, as I suggested on Friday. The regulation system for journalism is under review, and it looks awfully like the days of the PCC are numbered. And what will replace it?
I can't say I'd trust either main party on this - New Labour was just as busy sucking up to News International's brands as Cameron's Tory party has been, and it's worth bearing in mind that for all the left's accusations that Murdoch's papers are essentially right-wing, they've supported Labour for three out of the four most recent general elections... As one of my colleagues pointed out over lunch, the LibDems have no skin in this game, but only because they were never considered significant enough.
Our politicians are smarting from the expenses scandal, and now they're having their overly cosy relationship with elements of the media pulled apart. Will they respond with honour, justice and a regard for the good of political discourse in this country? Or will they try to emasculate the press so that an investigation like the expenses one would no longer be possible? Hope for the former, prepare to fight against the latter. And maybe the LibDems have a chance to start redeeming themselves in the eyes of many of the public here.
And there's a bigger challenge for them to consider: how can any regulation framework possibly function without some oversight of online-only publications? And how do you separate the powerhouses like Guido Fawkes and (possibly) the Huffington Post UK, from the thousands of independent bloggers doing their thing? Is it even feasible?
The Age of Social Publishing
However important or not you feel the role of social media was in the protests against the News of the World, we're almost certainly seeing a shift in the relationship between the traditional media and the people formerly known as the audience. The advent of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of low-input social media has actually brought into being the concept of everyone being able to publish. While the visionaries of a decade ago might have envisaged the idea of one man, one blog as the primary means of creating that mass publication environment, social networks have actually delivered on the promise. Before now, people's only option to show disapproval of journalists was not to buy the paper - and The Sun in Liverpool is a good example of that. Now they can target the advertisers, and other buyers of the paper, who might be unaware of what's happening. And they can help bring down an entire newspaper.
The model of active publishers and passive audience is broken, and this is just another example of the "audience" beginning to wake up to its own power, and flex its new muscles. And, for us in the media, it's a warning shot across our bows, a reminder that we'll have far more success in the future working with the audience - Rusbridger's "mutual media" - that merely talking at them. And that may require a different sort of journalist. The NotW crisis has been fuelled by that particular breed of news journalist for whom the adrenaline hit of getting the story outweighs everything else - morality, legality and relationship. This byline junkies can be incredibly powerful force in society if harnessed carefully - and an amoral disaster in the wrong context. We need journalists like these, but in an audience-empowered age, we can't afford to let them run the show. That needs to be in the hands of those who understand and respect their audience, and know how to work with them.
A Habit, Broken
Also, I wonder how many of the people who were buying the News of the World are just going to walk away from newspapers? Will they just transfer their purchasing affections elsewhere, and perhaps return to a putative Sun on Sunday, or will they just use this as a "jumping off point" for the whole concept of Sunday newspaper buying? Will this be the critical event that breaks the habit?
Thanks to Paul Bradshaw for some impromptu post-publication subbing of this. ;-)