Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Really Radical

I realize that the roots of the word "radical" are, errrr, just that - going back to roots. But I really dislike the use of "radicalization" to describe the brainwashing of poor western muslims back to the stone age (except, ironically, happily toting 21st century western weapons).

The idea of being really radical for me summons up the re-wiring of ones roots - the subtle, and careful replacement of medieval assumptions with more nuanced behaviours and affordances, permissions and obligations. There are plenty of examples - having just come back from China, I caught up on some of their history (from 13/14th century) and it is a similar story to ours - highly hierarchical societies with a very strict caste system, a priesthood and a royalty, and 11 strata - every detail of behaviour prescribed - penalties for breaking rules could result in everyone from the top 9 strata in your family/entourage being executed - reading about the Peasants' Revolt in about the same time in England, much the same here.

Moving on through the "Englightenment, the 19th and 20th century saw may radical ideas enacted.
People could take the weekend off.
People got a say in how things were run.
The definition of people included folks from any walk of life, men, women,
We got the right to a fair trial (innocent before being proven guilty).
We got to live in peace without interference in your behaviour in your own home.
We got to expect a fair go at education, health, safety, entertainment, fulfilment.

Along with these fundamental rights (and there are a lot more we enjoy)
we got the right to talk nonsense in public. We got the right not to expect the Spanish Inquisition (literally and figuratively). We got Satire. We got to enjoy (or find excruciating) difference. Diversity. Tolerance. Misdemeanour. Letting your hair down. Eccentricity. Daftness.

Long may we persist - I like to think we were heading towards Iain Banks "Culture" philosophy, and a jolly good thing to.

Meanwhile so-called "radicalized" religious "fundamentalists", hear this: you aren't fundamental or radical. You are superficial, ignorant and lacking in any human spirit.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Revolution Will Not be Branded

Struggling through Russell Brand's tome whose basic flaws this review nails (poor writing, repetitios, long windied and not terribly funny).

However, there are several ill-matched tropes in the book, which for me, ultimately, completely undermine what might otherwise have been a useful contribution to the debate on what should replace western capitalist "democracy":

1. Mixing up his own already fairly public personal voyage with a rag-bag of quite interesting critiques of the situation in which we are in, largely by other people, distracts from the impact.
I don't care that he's a recovering substance abuser. It isn't relevant to the argument, no matter how much he tries to make of the analaogy between his own and societies' addictions. The personal solution doesn't work for society, and the social problems don't gell with his conspiracy of the illumiati-bus load of ultra-rich. You can't blame other people, no matter how wealthy for your own poor choices. Re-organising society from the bottom up isn't just a matter of better ad-blocking.

2. Repeated use of 4 letter words, both for emphasis (ok use of F word and invective/dismissal of individuals (not ok use of C word), will piss of a lot of readers who are  from a more genteel world, or perhaps are just women, or just think the author should use his imagination to come up with less lazy cusses (think, arab curses, for example - may your mother's milk be long life).

3. Religion - so I see where he's coming from with the personal/spiritual aspect of life - there's a brilliant bit in Ursula Le Guin's genius novel, The Dispossessed, when someone from the capitalist planet asks the visitor from the Anarchist neighbour world "so you don't believe in god?" and he retorts that they are perfectly capable of thinking in the spirtual mode - its just one of seven ways of thinking. (Wish Le Guin had listed the other 6!)

The problem is that he didn't get the same level of expert advice or even decent sound bytes on how you might link social, and economic re- organisation with a spiritual structure that doesn't just end up being the same old organisation with priests and temples, hedge fund managers and casino banks, presidents, senators, lords and  white houses.

Oh, and he picked the wrong kind of yoga.

Some further thoughts
i). Brand is somewhat in-awe of "experts, to the extent where he magically places Naomi Klein and Thomas Piketty together on a pedestal - as far as I know, Klein is no more "quafid" than Brand to comment (this is not a criticism of Klein (or Brand) - anyone can read up this stuff) but Piketty has "paid his dues" so is an expert (for what its worth) - what makes Piketty and Klein worth reading is that they put their evidence up for inspection - their books are copiously well supported by facts.

ii) Crucial point is that its clear at some points (about midway through the book, for example) that Brand doesn't live the dream quite - when talking about Bankers Bailout he doesn't join up with the discussion of cancelling indivuduals' debts - the argument used by the right wing is that "if we cancel everyones' debt, they will just stop working so hard, and run up more debts". So if that argument applies to the Hoi Poloi/Jane Q Public/The Great Unwashed, how does it not then apply in spades to bankers? The austerity imposed on great swathes of Europe in the name of sorting out the crisis, which was largely bought about by covering failed casino banks and stupid lenders (not borrowers) is one the most awe-inspiring con-tricks of all time. As some of the smart people are quoted as saying in the book, it was transfer of wealth from the poor (who were also borrowers, to the rich who were already coining it from gigantic bonuses and outrageous interest rates.

The Shakespear line  "neither a borrow nor a lender be" sure is bad advice. Pick one, and make sure its a lender. (Brand does quote various olden time cultural and religious proscriptions against lending, to, errr, give him, errr, credit :)

iii) the book should be free (as well as buyable) - this is known not to affect sales of good books, but sets an example - my colleague, Ross Anderson, wrote the best book on security engineering, and got his publishers agreement to make it free online too without any detectable negative impact on sales (in fact, likely the reverse).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A year cutting kindle in, ok so far

So just over a year ago, I bought a kindle primarily so that I could travel on holiday for 2 weeks with carryon luggage only (to avoid paying cheapo airlines a rediculous fee for a checked bag) - I now mainly read on my kindle (paperwhite, in case you care) due to slightly weird eyesight that makes contrast with a modest backlight perfect....here's the years reading - a few books are ones I'd read but wanted to re-read (nostalgia on hols) and I have read a few things on paper ...though I share this stuff with anyone else in my household (kindle account lets you have a decent number of devices with concurrent access)....

you want views on any of these, just ask -

Russell Brand

Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored 
John Lydon

Eichmann in Jerusalem (Penguin Classics) 
Hannah Arendt

Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age 
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

The Rosie Project: Don Tillman 
Graeme Simsion

WE (Timeless Wisdom Collection Book 
Yevgeny Zamyatin

Head of State 
Andrew Marr

James Ellroy

Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else 
James Meek

How to Speak Money 
John Lanchester

The Children Act 
Ian McEwan

The Bone Clocks 
David Mitchell

Carmilla [with Biographical Introduction] 
Le Fanu

How Not to be Wrong: The Hidden Maths of Everyday Life 
Jordan Ellenberg

Across the Spectrum 
Marion Zimmer Bradley

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage 
Haruki Murakami

Hack Attack: How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch 
Nick Davies
Update Available

A God in Every Stone 
Kamila Shamsie

Eleanor Marx: A Life 
Rachel Holmes

Upstairs at the Party 
Linda Grant

Infinite Jest 
David Foster Wallace

How to Build a Girl 
Caitlin Moran

The Woman Who Died a Lot (Thursday Next Book 
Jasper Fforde

One of our Thursdays is Missing (Thursday Next) 
Jasper Fforde

First Among Sequels (Thursday Next) 
Jasper Fforde

Something Rotten (Thursday Next) 
Jasper Fforde

The Thursday Next Collection Books 
Jasper Fforde

I Shall Wear Midnight: (Discworld Novel 
Terry Pratchett

Wintersmith: (Discworld Novel 
Terry Pratchett

A Hat Full of Sky: (Discworld Novel 
Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men: (Discworld Novel 
Terry Pratchett

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike Book 
Robert Galbraith

Hotel Florida: Truth, Love and Death in the Spanish Civil.. 
Amanda Vaill

One Three One: A Time-Shifting Gnostic Hooligan Road Novel 
Julian Cope

The Three 
Sarah Lotz

Nnedi Okorafor

In the Light of What We Know 
Zia Haider Rahman

Nick Harkaway

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys,.. 
Viv Albertine

The Thrill of it All 
Joseph O'Connor

The Bees 
Laline Paull

This Book Will Save Your Life 
A.M. Homes

The Machine 
James Smythe

Ancillary Justice: 
Ann Leckie

Capital in the Twenty-First Century 
Thomas Piketty

Europe In Autumn 
Dave Hutchinson

Frog Music 
Emma Donoghue

Richard Powers

The Luminaries 
Eleanor Catton

The Muslims are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the.. 
Arun Kundnani

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch 
Lewis Dartnell

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk-taking, Gut Feelings and.. 
John Coates

Swimming Home: Shortlisted for Man Booker Prize 
Deborah Levy

Phil Klay

The Edible Atlas: Around the World in Thirty-Nine Cuisines 
Mina Holland

The French Intifada 
Andrew Hussey

Cat out of Hell (Hammer) 
Lynne Truss

The Black Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel 
Benjamin Black

Singing from the Floor: A History of British Folk Clubs 
JP Bean

Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software 
Vikram Chandra

Worth Dying For: (Jack Reacher 
Lee Child

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most.. 
Luke Harding

Shady Characters: Ampersands, Interrobangs and other.. 
Keith Houston

The Muller-Fokker Effect (Gollancz S.F.) 
John Sladek

The Reproductive System (Gollancz SF Library) 
John Sladek

Roderick (GOLLANCZ S.F.) 
John Sladek

The Time Traveller's Almanac: The Ultimate Treasury of Time.. 

Plastic Jesus 
Wayne Simmons

Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the.. 
J. Craig Venter

Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace 
Ronald J. Deibert

Gut Feelings: Short Cuts to Better Decision Making 
Gerd Gigerenzer


Eminent Hipsters 
Donald Fagen

Doctor Sleep: Shining Book 
Stephen King

Raising Steam: (Discworld novel 
Terry Pratchett

Flann O'Brien

The Goldfinch 
Donna Tartt

The Circle 
Dave Eggers

My Old Man: A Personal History of Music Hall 
John Major

Becoming a Londoner: A Diary 
David Plante

Bleeding Edge 
Thomas Pynchon

Margaret Atwood

The Other Typist 
Suzanne Rindell

Rachel Joyce

The Long War (Long Earth 
Terry Pratchett

Dust: (Wool Trilogy 
Hugh Howey

Shift: (Wool Trilogy 
Hugh Howey
Update Available

Wool (Wool Trilogy) 
Hugh Howey

The Year of the Flood 
Margaret Atwood

Zadie Smith

The Adjacent 
Christopher Priest

The Testament of Mary 
Colm Tóibín

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics.. 
Jonathan Haidt

Theatre of the Gods 
M. Suddain

Kiss Me First 
Lottie Moggach

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike) 
Robert Galbraith

Max Barry

The Panopticon 
Jenni Fagan

Bad Monkey 
Carl Hiaasen

Neptune's Brood 
Charles Stross

Sunday, September 21, 2014

DevoMax ++ - Bring Back Elected City Governments

The repeated mantra about why Scotland came close to voting for independence seems to be that it wasn't about an increase in the broadbase support for Scottish Nationalism per se (or the SNP in particular) but much more increasing distrust of the UK's centralist, and hardly representative powerbase - for example, in the FT "the depth of popular discontent with Westminster rule. "
or the Guardian "a much broader loss of faith in the ability of existing institutions of governance to protect people against unaccountable power." [ some data:- on why people voted, and who )]

That's right, I think. In this intelligent, well-mannered, informed and empowering debate, the Scottish made the right choice, because they will now wield more power in the UK than their population superficially should allow. But this is because they spoke for a lot of the rest of us (in what was going to be the R-UK:-) - and hopefuly this can continue.

Cameron has proposed a stupid solution to the West-Lothian question, that matters pertaining to the R-UK would only be voted on by R-UK MPs in Westminster. Wrong. Probably constitutionally wrong, but pragmatically untenable in any case (where are the borders in matters of state within a state, to be drawn if other than arbitrarily?).

No, the solution is DevoMax for all. And bottom up. And start with Cities (where most people live). London needs an elected body (not an elected anti-body like its Mayor who is coloured the opposite of the majority of boroughs). How can a city of 10M people with a GDP and population that would make it the envy of several EU countries, not have an elected government? The one that used to exist (the GLC) was dismantled by Thatcher in a piece of vindictive politics  that made no sense in terms of practical organisation. London needs coordination, but not through a set of residual bodies and a dctator, but via democratic coordination. Bring back the GLC.

What goes for London obviously goes for any large city, certainly Birmingham and Manchester and....so on. The home counties can go figure. They also have reason to feel under-represented in any case with lack of resource for country transport, agricultural policy etc etc

I like that the Scots showed they don't all hate us. I love them, and I don't think it was about that. They hate our "Lords and Masters" in Westminster, and so do I right now. Bunch of chancers who don't care for other than the Big Money lobbyists who take them on nice holidays. I like a nice holiday myself, but I have to go earn it. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Western Intelligence Caliphate

The animated infographic in the wikipedia article on the Caliphate is quite alarming, but then its history. More alarming still is the fact that despite the West's "awesome" and shocking weaponised internet, it is abundently clear that they really hvae virtually no power (or knowledge which would lead to power) to tackle the Existential Crisis that is.

Why is this?

Well if you ask me (and I know you didn't) it's largely down to a continued failure of understanding people, and a continued belief in technology (and capitalism, which are basically a dual anyhow) which is sad, given how many times we have had demonstrated, recently, the limitations of both.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


In a fairly thoughtful article by danny finkelstein, the argument is made that the recent Gaza Offensive was the only option open to Israel in the face of continued missile attacks from Hamas. The points are made
1) what government would survive its own electorate's anger if not responding this way?
2) would any international response to Hamas have occurred in any case, had the Israeli's held off?

Well the answers to these questions are in the nature of the problem - it isn't amenable to  "point solution" - sorting out such problems (e.g. Ireland, South Africa etc) requires a process - the process involves steps, which sometimes go backward. Since 2000, Israel has repeatedly only taken steps backwards. Before then it had taken a few tentative steps forwards.

Two answer the questions 1&2, the reality is that Israel has put up with more deaths in the past without such a vicious response, and now as it improves Iron Dome, it can minimise these without disproportionate retaliation, largely against civilians in punishment for having the temerity to vote for Hamas (which was largrey a response to Israel's earlier intransigence in any case). And the international community would respond - not necessarily to support Israel directly, but you could easily imagine the forces for reason in the Arab world pressuring Hamas or even replacing it with more moderation in the presence of some visible positive steps from Israel.

Not any more (for a while at least). In fact, sadly, quite the reverse. As the shared religious text has it "ye reap what ye sew".

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Big Bad Food

latest debate about Big Food making Big People - article about this in press recently says "government regulation of food industry would be interference in the free market" as an excuse for not intervening in the advertising of causes of obesity to children (amount of sugar hidden in some goods) - the market for food is not free, and even if it was its already regulated for safety for short term problems (e.g. food poisoning / sell by dates) so why isn't this just part of the exact same regulation? Misrepresenting things too is normally not regarded as something that happens in a "free" market....

usual disclaimers apply - if you aren't a free thinker, when you read this, you may find it difficult to digest:)