Sunday, May 31, 2009

Great Moon Wiring Club podcast.
Political Allsorts #6

Dariush's crisis notes.
Political Allsorts #5

Last post reminds me, that among the things conveniently forgotten now we have the MPs' expenses scandal, is not only the recession and swine flu, but also the whole issue of policing of protests and spying on activists.
Political Allsorts #4

Something I started writing a couple of months ago but didn't get round to finishing, re: the question, did I go to the G20 protests on 1st April?

To which the answer is, (shamefacedly), well ... er ... sort of .. um ... late.

In other words, we got up to London in the afternoon and wandered into the city as many of the workers were starting to leave. We eventually found our way to the Climate Camp and hung around there for a while. I had a lot of mixed feelings : that I should be more involved, should have been there earlier, should be doing something. And yet I felt a little bit fish-out-of-water, like being at a party where you don't know anyone else.

At the same time, I had a sense of futility. That the protest was too miscellaneous, too unfocused. What was our agenda? What would have satisfied our demands? Was this not protest for its own sake rather than with a specific objective? (And I know that there are people who will defend the value of that, but I am still very uneasy with it.) I felt little energy or excitement.

The atmosphere was festive with people dancing to bike-powered sound-system or chatting in front of their tents. The entire street was lined with police vans and police standing at the sides, impassively. And for a while, appearing quite inert. They seemed to allow a trio of girls to dance atop one of their vans (though I couldn't see what happened when the girls got off.)

Then, I realized we were getting "kettled"; a solid line of police, impassively blocking the end of the street and refusing to allow any of us to leave. Then, walking back along the pavement towards the other end of the street where we'd entered, suddenly people were all running past us.

We stood confused for a couple of seconds, before a girl shouted at us not to try to stay. And then the police were charging. Not fast but definitely jogging. A skirmish as one man stopped, maybe to try to resist, and was whacked hard. As another policeman came up to the alcove into which we'd stepped back he waved the baton threateningly and we scurried away to where the crowd was being concentrated. Everyone chanting "shame on you!" and people remonstrating "it's a peaceful protest" and, clearly in response to something the police had said, "we don't need your protection".

The crowd, squashed together, still shouting, raised their arms in a sign of surrender. Rather horrible; clearly the majority were not there to fight, and wanted to make that clear. I certainly had no intention of, both out of cowardice and lack of conviction. And yet the passivity of the gesture was disturbing to me. The hopelessness of the situation. The inability of the crowd to do anything about their plight. From the safety of the crowd, someone threw a beer-can into the police, and some kind of moderator or organizer within the camp immediately turned on and started screaming at him.

Soon after, we found a side-alley that the police had clearly left open for the purpose of allowing pressure out of the kettle. And we gratefully sidled out and left. I felt no inclination to stay and see what would happen.

Lenin's Tomb puts things well:

I'm still not clear on what the strategy is behind these mini-spectacles. ... it seems as if the idea at the moment is to have a carnivalesque parade, wind up in one spot and get penned in only to have the police mess with you if you try to have a drink or some weed. I don't want to be a negative nelly, but that's not reclaiming the streets, it's getting owned by the cops.

I've missed out the bit where "Lenin" still *is* supportive of mass demonstrations and strikes because I'm more sceptical than he is. But that's the size of it. There was no way that this protest was anything other than organized in co-operation and co-ordination with the police. And more-or-less under control at all times.

I'm even more in sympathy with K-Punk's line. I've long believed that the only thing you could hope from demonstrations is to produce a spectacle that appeals to the mass media. And now the media is largely immunized to them. The official line was always that British decency and common-sense - as represented by both the police AND the legitimate peaceful protesters (who "wanted to exercise their right to have their voice heard"), triumphed over violent extremists. The police by maintaining order, the peaceful protesters by not turning into a raving mob.

Within this narrative there was pretty much zero acknowledgment that the protesters had any kind of argument or proposal, or that anyone was listening to it. The entire exercise of the protests was characterized in purely emotional terms. Protesters were "angry". And given that we, in Britain, are a modern, touchy-feely, "emotionally intelligent" sort of a place since Tony Blair and Princess Di etc., everyone recognised that they had the right to express that anger. But there was no sense that there was a rational agenda to be considered at all.

It's politics as a kind of cathartic primal scream that helps you get through the day.

Now, there's a lot not to like about this picture. But first, we should note that, somewhat surprisingly, a similar absence of reason was being portrayed on the other side. As it became clear that politicians were not likely to come up with any grand actions, you started hearing stories along the lines that what was really important was the appearance of a deal, and a photo of smiling and confident politicians which would raise the "animal spirits" of the market and so pull the economy back from depression. The market, it seemed, had little need to see concrete plans, but could be won over by spin and charm as easily as the media supposes the public can be.

This strikes me as utterly depressing. If it's true, then we have put our world at the mercy of an institution (the market) which is mind-bogglingly and unendingly stupid. If it's false (as I suspect) then we've got a bunch of stupid politicians, media analysts and (likely) high-financiers who erroneously believe it to be true.
Political Allsorts #3

Meanwhile, my friend Oli has, for a while, been giving me some tough push-back on the decentralist, anarchist and green directions that I've been moving in for a while. And I need to flag that I don't have good answers to him yet.

Oli's arguments can be summarized, roughly, as

a) decentralism is unproven, whereas centralism, and strong power-centres, when wielded in the right cause, have demonstrable achievements.

b) in particular, centralism is necessary to promote egalitarian ends. Examples include the EU which is helping spread wealth more equably through Europe, and counter-examples include "opt-out schools" or the "local democracy" which has failed to bring the US school system to an acceptable state.

So, you need centralized concentrations of power to set and ensure standards. And encouraging decentralism is as likely to allow the wealthy and powerful communities to secede from wider social responsibilities or shared planning.

Like I say, I don't have good answers to this. Though I am looking.
Political allsorts #2

I did go and look at the nascent UK Pirate Party which is still in the process of starting itself up. Here's my suggestion to them. (Note you can only see this comment and their reply if you create an account on their blog.)

As a long-time supporter of the Free Software Foundation and opponent of patents and copyright abuse I'm interested in the Pirate Party; but I think it would be good to see a couple of things from you :

First, a bit more about who's involved. If you're out there, wanting to play the politics game and get our support, you've got to reveal more about yourselves and your background motivations etc.

Second, I think the real promise of a Piracy Party is not just its "issues" of patents, copyrights etc. But the possibility of a political actor that really understands the internet and the changes that society is going through. I like the freedom and privacy aspects of your manifesto (and the opposition to UK ID cards etc.) But I'd like to get a sense that the party is ready to talk about the big opportunities the web brings to transforming government, the economy, society and organizations. (Eg. )

I was surprised by how traditional your constitution looks, with its Officers and Conferences and NEC etc. Is this a constraint that the electoral commission place on you? If not, why not have a much looser structure? Perhaps one based around wikis, meetups, allocating money through online votes, an "architecture of participation" for other organizations (or even parties) willing to partner on particular projects etc?

A Pirate Party could be a leader in making an internet-age political organization if it succeeds in innovating in its own internal governance.

By the way, here's that link again. Recommended.
OK. Here's the first in a series of quickie (I hope) Political Allsorts.

Disclosure. Last week, I donated 20 quid to Brighton and Hove Green party, mainly because I read that Brighton and Hove is the best chance the Greens have of a parliamentary seat.

I'll probably vote Green in the coming Euro / local elections too ... although with the caveat that local elections make hardly any difference in the part of, safely Tory, East Surrey where I vote.

Probably, that is, unless someone changes my mind between now and then.

Comments are open.
So yeah ... I've been busy ...

and, yeah, there's a backlog of stuff.
Been quiet around here, hasn't it?

Too quiet ...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

+1 to Alderston's point in the comments here.

Yes, markets, as institutions, are "inequality amplifiers" driven by positive feedback.

That's the reason that anyone concerned about inequality has to be at least *ambivalent* about them, whatever their other virtues.

Monday, May 04, 2009

In that recent rant I suggested that we can now do without advertising supported "content" on the internet.

I genuinely believe this is true. Mainly for Shirkian reasons that free information and culture is going to swamp paid information anyway, so there's no need to "support" any of it with adverts.

I also, perhaps more ideologically, believe that reclaiming our culture from the ad-support machine will not only make it better, but will actually have the side-benefit of destroying mass everything (mass-media, mass-consumption and therefore mass-production) and thereby take us forward to a fine-grained mosaic economy of millions of smaller, more varied and sustainable producers.

But all that is beside the point. An astute observer is likely to ask ... "hold on a minute, phil! You run your blogs on Google's Blogger service. You host Mind Traffic Control on Google Application Engine. You rely on Google for web-search. And for maps. And are a heavy Streetview user. All of which is paid with AdSense. What do you mean we can do without advertising?"

To which the answer is ... er ... yes indeed. I would, in fact, accept that the flip-side of my desire to remove advertising from the web and not pay for content, is that hosting should be paid for. And that people like me who are committed to blogging should pay more for it. And perhaps people should pay more for their internet connections too.

And, yes, this risks, of course, de-voicing the poor. But that is a more general question of economic justice. That also needs to be solved. But I believe that society would be better (and a damned sight more efficient) without a huge amount of energy being wasted on handicap signaling.

(BTW : yes, I know the counter-view.)

Anyway, without further ado, let me introduce my new poll :

In a world without advertising support, how much would you pay for a server for your blog / wiki / music / video / feeds etc?

PS : last poll seemed to come out 4 votes that Iraq was a disaster, to 2 that the West "got away" (morally, strategically) with it. Though note that Oli feels that the questions were phrased in such a way that he couldn't sign up to any of them.
Good Zed Shaw talk (in tweets)

(Covers everything from python to music to banks and economic crash.)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The internet uses too much energy.

Here's a quick solution.

1) Remove spam. (Whitelist email only)

2) Remove adverts

3) Remove anything that needs adverts to survive. We don't need it any more. ;-)

4) More green server technology.

5) Remove unnecessary graphics. (Text + CSS is more than enough ;-) )
Current 93 bootleg.
Hacker Newspaper is a clever new UI for Hacker News
Beautiful "nordestino" remix of the Bible (part 1, part 2) and a gunfight, from an interesting animation course in Recife : Barros Melo.

Wonderful aesthetic, part traditional folkloric woodcuts, part Yoshi's Story, part Weird Emma.