Monthly Archives: August 2008

Sarah Palin: are the democrats worried?

That’s Iain Dale’s rather improbable analysis, over a series of increasingly aerated posts this weekend, based on the fact that, erm, a lot of people on the left are talking about her surprise nomination in its immediate aftermath. Who’dathunkit? The most surprising political event in months has happened and people are actually talking about it? They must be pooing themselves!

More hilarious is Iain’s transformation into a feminist, citing Peter Hitchens as a fellow traveller. According to Iain and Peter, the left hates women because the left like anti-women policies such as abortion. Genius analysis there. Suddenly, the brains behind “it’s DD for me!” has become super-concerned about how sexist the coverage of Sarah Palin is in the sunday papers. Funny that I don’t recall him having similar concerns about the media’s portrayal of Harriet Harman, Jacqui Smith and Hillary Clinton.

As for the claim that “[the left] cannot stand it when a black person becomes famous as a Conservative – remember Ray Lewis?” – it wasn’t the left that took down Ray Lewis but the Church of England. And despite having defended him here in the past, what I’ve heard since suggests that they were right to do so. Can’t Iain think of a better example of the left’s alleged racism? And you simply can’t imply that Ray Lewis must be innocent on the basis of his skin colour (and political views), and expect to be taken seriously, whilst simultaneously writing this.

Speaking personally, I think appointing Sarah Palin was a mistake which smacks of panic. I think Iain thinks that too, given that a week ago he was citing Mitt Romney as a dead cert. Iain’s subsequent attempts to tar Obama with the Palin inexperience brush simply doesn’t wash: she has been governor of one of the US’s smallest (population-wise – Alaska has roughly the same population as Glasgow) and certainly most isolated states for two years.

Her appointment comes across as too calculated – to be blunt, she ticks far too many boxes. It is too ‘cute’. And many of these boxes are mutually exclusive – how many disaffected Hillary supporters are likely to be wooed by a shootin’, fishin’ and anti-abortion candidate? How many sanctity of marriage obsessives are likely to be convinced that a woman with five children is fit for the job? They certainly have the anti-corruption line in common, but if I were running McCain’s campaign I’d be worried that she reminds voters about what McCain is not, and not in a good way. Do the democrats really need to do more than show the screen of a heartbeat monitor superimposed with her face to get their point across?

I didn’t read any of the allegedly sexist stuff out there about Sarah Palin this weekend, but I did read a perceptive piece by Michael Crowley in the Observer. However much they might try to keep open the rapidly healing Clinton-Obama wound, it is the Republicans who are divided in this election, not the Democrats. Sarah Palin’s appointment on Friday very briefly looked like a masterstroke, but the shock of the new is already diminishing and she has just been dropped in at the deep end. Things like the Daily Kos’ allegations over the maternity of her fifth child may be unfair (the picture of her daughter Bristol does look incriminating but I’m not so sure that the pictures of Palin herself are that convincing – Alaskans tend not to walk around in bikinis in spring), but surely in this post-Rove era no McCain supporter can really convincingly put on the ingenue act? After eight years of humiliation, the Democrats are in to win this thing and at the moment Palin looks like a pretty big target. They might cross the line occassionally, but going for the kill is not a sign of desperation, but rather indicate that the gloves have come off at last. And based on Iain’s rather hysterical reaction, the right just won’t be able to take it.

Blog Deathmatch!

49 will enter… 49 will leave. But in a slightly different order. Keep filling in the survey folks!

On a related note, while this initiative is rooted out of a scepticism that Iain Dale’s list is particularly representative, I really don’t understand Tim Ireland’s vendetta against Dale sometimes. This latest post is a typical example. He is attacking Dale’s refusal to list the “60+” blogs that linked to his latest top blogs project, yet Google Blogs quite clearly shows that 95 blogs linked to it. Not exactly Earth shattering is it?

UPDATE: To all flying monkeys – where do I call anyone a ‘bitch’ on this thread? Answers on a postcard.

Bring Parliament closer to the people!

Thanks a lot to Bridget Fox for kickstarting the debate, both on her own blog and at the Guardian, over the motion “Giving Citizens a Voice in Parliament” which David Boyle and myself will be proposing at party conference next month:

This process might not have stopped the Iraq War (no legislation there) – but it could potentially have reversed such controversial measures as the poll tax or the Dangerous Dogs act, Section 28 or the hunting ban. And it could ensure a real public debate on issues like nuclear power, ID cards, or a third runway at Heathrow.

Even if the results in terms of legislation implemented are not dramatically different, the impact on the process of having people – and politicians – aware that they can really influence the agenda between elections could be revolutionary.

I couldn’t have put it better myself!

Just a bit of fun

Marvellous though it is to come fourth on Iain Dale’s big list of Lib Dem bloggers, I have to admit to being a little dubious about the list as a whole. The lower ranking places seem to be essentially random. Nor does Iain Dales’ reassurance on Lib Dem Voice put my mind at rest:

Just to clarify, that last year a panel of half a dozen LibDem bloggers ranked the blogs. This year they were all voted for by blog readers – 1,142 of them.

That may be true, but since each one of them only had ten votes and they will inevitably be skewed in a rightwards direction, it seems highly unlikely that even a significant proportion of them voted for a single Lib Dem blog.

Anyway, I thought I’d have a little experiment to see what Lib Dem bloggers think of the top 50 that Dale has come up with (excluding myself, because including myself in such a poll would be ridiculously vain). Simply follow this link and rate each blog, giving them between 1 and 4 points (unrated blogs will be given a score of 0). Then I’ll publish the top 50 based on these responses and see how it contrasts with the Dale version.

You have until Wednesday 10 September to vote. Hop to it!

Click Here to take survey

Is Guido bonkers?

So asks Justin McKeating. Now, normally I wouldn’t indulge in such things but I was fascinated by this response to a Liberal Conspiracy article:

According to the moonbats the Is Brown Bonkers? meme is cooked up by Guido on the orders of Andy Coulson at CCHQ.

But if you read the actual article he links to, no mention of Andy Coulson or CCHQ is made in it. There are a couple of CCHQ refs in the comments, but the only person who refers to Coulson is Guido himself.

Rebutting an allegation that isn’t being made against you is a pretty cast iron example of paranoia. Maybe Paul Staines needs to get out of this gig. It isn’t doing his mental health any good at all.

“New Nagging” – a very Cameroon concept [UPDATED LOTS]

Small bit of advice to Andrew Lansley. If you have to insist that you are not “nannying” that is almost certainly what you are doing. Finger wagging doesn’t stop being finger wagging just because you have the fingers of your other hand crossed behind your back.

I know I need to read the actual speech rather than the media precis, but my kneejerk reaction is: what on earth has happened to Reform? They used to be the thinktank that so-called ‘Orange Bookers’ slammed in everyone else’s face as the epitomy of laissez-faire economic liberalism. In the past few months they’ve transformed themselves into one of the usual thinktank subjects – constantly harping on about how government should intervene here, and regulate that.

* * *

I’ve now read Lansley’s speech – I’ve even skimmed through Alan Johnson’s speech on obesity last month for good measure. I struggle to find much in the way of a substantive difference between the two. Both proudly unveil partnerships with the private sector. Lansley states “Providing information and example is empowering, lecturing people is not.” Johnson states “vilifying the extremely fat doesn’t make people change their behaviour.” There is a subtle difference there but it is not immediately apparent.

In the comments below, Dale Basset makes much of the fact that Lansley states that “Legislation will be a last resort.” Is he honestly suggesting that Alan Johnson would say anything different? It isn’t as if the government have been falling over themselves to introduce legislation. In fact though, it simply isn’t true. In Lansley’s bullet point list of steps to take, legislation – specifically European legislation – is right on the top of his list. Points 3, 5 and 8 are also primarily regulatory and/or concerned with state intervention.

His prescription for tackling adult obesity may be legislation-lite, but it is very heavy on “supportive rôle models and positive social norms.” Be honest, given that this is supposed to be aimed at adults, does it not sound more than a little patronising? He actually suggests a teenage version of Lazytown, but by implication he is suggesting an adult version as well.

And as for the children, he explicitly calls for more nannying, merely questioning the nannying style: “we need more of a ‘Mary Poppins’ than a ‘Miss Trunchbull’.”

Bearing all that in mind, he is lucky that he doesn’t get done under the Trade Descriptions Act for calling his speech “No excuses, no nannying.”

Finally, regarding the ‘no excuses’ stuff, it varies between the nonsensical and the deranged. He explicitly attacks the government’s Foresight report for sending out the ‘wrong’ message to obese people. Since when did obese people, with the obvious exceptions of Lansley and myself, sit around reading government reports (admittedly, this may change if they end up cancelling Countdown)?

The line “Tell people that biology and the environment causes obesity and they are offered the one thing we have to avoid: an excuse.” is all too reminiscent of John Major’s call for society to “condemn a little more and understand a little less.” In short, it is classic Tory Flat Earthism. Who cares if there may be important biological and environmental factors behind the increase in obesity? Whatever you do, don’t tell the fat people.

I speak from personal experience here when I tell you that we fatties are perfectly good at finding excuses ourselves. We don’t need government reports to provide them for us and we certainly don’t need populist politicians to protect us from ‘unhelpful’ things like scientific research. I’m happy to take responsibility for my own body shape, but that is another thing entirely from dismissing external factors. One external factor for instance is being singled out as the fatty every day throughout your school career. While I’m no scientist, I have no personal doubt that there is a link between obesity and mental health, as this interesting Ben Goldacre article suggests. Not only might the “no excuses” culture of Toryism not work, but if its main effect is to simply make fat people feel even worse about themselves it could prove counter-productive.

One of my favourite David Boyle books is Tyranny of Numbers. Way before its time, in it he comes up with a number of ‘paradoxes’ about our target obessed culture. Paradox Number Seven states that “When you count things, they get worse.” It certainly seems to me that the more our society obsesses about obesity, the bigger a problem it becomes. Why this has become such a big thing over the past decade I can only guess at, although I suspect it has something to do with irresponsible medical professionals getting carried away with numbers which suit their budget submissions, and a burgeoning diet industry that can now afford to hire sock puppeting lobbyists (and even MPs). I look around me and don’t seem to see much more obesity than there was 20 years ago, yet everyone I know with a bit of muscle on them is BMI classified as obese. It strikes me that a proper ‘conservative’ attitude would be to not get carried away with all this at all. And ultimately, it if boils down to a choice between traffic light labelling on food and having Chris fucking Hoy rammed down my throad as the latest Lansley-approved ‘rôle model,’ I’ll stick with the regulation thanks.

Why we need Land Value Taxation (part 893)

Another reason for LVT can be found in the Guardian today:

Property tax leaves cities ‘looking like broken teeth’
· Government adviser attacks Darling policy
· Empty buildings torn down to avoid payment

I won’t bore you endlessly with the details, suffice to say that LVT is charged on the land itself, irrespective of what is currently built on it. So, you couldn’t avoid it by demolishing buildings, yet it would still function as a means of encouraging land owners to fully develop their properties. If Swindon BC are willing to find half a million pounds just to bulldoze over a perfectly functional industrial estate, you can bet that with LVT they would find a tenant to cover their bills in no time.

Scrabulous and IP Wars

When I twittered Rory Cellan-Jones to ask why he didn’t mention Wordscraper in his blog post about Scrabulous, he replied “cos i couldn’t be bothered!” Years from now, when British journalism has finally breathed its last, this phrase will be engraved on its tombstone.

The thing is, the Wordscraper thing is about the most interesting thing about this whole sorry saga. Cellan-Jones misses the point. Badly. While Scrabulous did indeed cross the line by using the same look as Scrabble and using a name that was far too close to a trademarked property, the fact is you can’t copyright an idea and they have been free to set up an almost identical game.

Intellectual property law is at its murkiest when it comes to games. History is littered with people who sold their ideas to companies before their games made it big, least of all Scrabble-inventor Alfred Butts. How do you make money out of a boardgame when people can replay it countless times? Ironically, the answer that Mattell and Hasbro have come up with is to produce a whole range of merchandise. You can buy the official Scrabble dictionary of course, and a special turntable for your board. You can get the deluxe edition and if you want a really big game why not try Super Scrabble (unbalanced in my view)? In a hurry? Try Scramble. On the move? Try Travel Scrabble. They’ve even produced a pink edition to raise money for breast cancer research. Scrabulous hardly dented that market – if anything it helped it.

The point is, they’ve already realised that the real money to be made is not in the game itself but in creating a range of branded tat for the fans to buy. With that in mind, getting Scrabulous banned looks like a pretty bad business move. It probably won’t cost them much, but it has created a lot of ill will and has been built around getting people to sign up to their own, flash heavy and vastly inferior Facebook app. Meanwhile, the Agarwalla brothers appear to have got away with it. The big guys may have won, but it is a pretty empty victory.

Ultimately, this isn’t how big businesses are going to survive in the global internet marketplace. The Agarwalla’s may have overstepped the mark, but it isn’t hard to stay on the right side of the law. Frankly, if Mattel and Hasbro had any sense, they’d encourage developers to compete to produce the best internet version of the game, offering a license that would allow people to publish the game with their blessing, so long as it included a prominent link back to the official website (admittedly, contractually they may be prevented from doing this even if they wanted do but given how long it took their developers to produce a Facebook app and the poor job they made of it, it looks like we can safely add this to their list of cock ups). Think of the free advertising! Ironically, at a different end of the empire, Hasbro has been experimenting with something very similar. Their Wizards of the Coast publishing arm, which produces Dungeons and Dragons, positively encourages other publishers to use their system (albeit with restrictions, something which has admittedly caused some bad feeling). The result was to take a failing brand and catapult it right back to the top of the industry.

Not only are intellectual property laws becoming increasingly hard to enforce, in many ways they are becoming a serious hindrance to making money, which is what they exist to do in the first place. Properties such as boardgames that were devised in the middle of the 20th century (and superheroes for that matter) are a particularly interesting cultural battleground because to those of us who have grown up with them, they feel like public property. Ultimately, this becomes a question about who owns popular culture. The corporates won’t be allowed to win that battle, whether they want to or not.