Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A swift reminder...

While I think it's great that such issues are being addressed, I find it says much more about us as a nation that it takes Jamie Oliver and a TV documentary campaign to actually get people to think about the food we give our children (let alone ourselves). Apparently we live in a world where things only change if a big name gets lots of publicity first.

Yup, the media is stronger than sense. Propaganda outweighs rationale by a thousand to one.

What's worse is that nobody's addressing the issues of why things are this way in the first place. My own, personal suspicion is that this is a symptom of the very same cause behind crap train services, expensive buses and stressed families - namely, that our concentration on money as a driving force, and our faith in its "effectiveness", seriously obscures our attention on the things that matter, e.g. health, environment and whether or not things actually work. School meals are bad because profits need to be higher to pay shareholders, which leaves far less for what the money's supposed to be for. Same goes for the railways, apparently. Makes sense to me.

All the hearty capitalists I've met hold fast to some utopian idea that their economic theory works, by its own nature of being a theory. But this is like saying that there's no point in having a firewall so long as your software is up to date - it's theory versus practice, and theoreticians need to realise that economic ideas don't work in a vacuum.

So really, I say, most of the crap we have to deal with here on a day-to-day basis can often be related back to the same thing - faith in Capitalism's invisible hand, invented in the same way as God was invented, with the purpose of relieving us from direct responsibility. "The Market" will save us, oh yes. Ha.

And now, the market has been around for so long that we've forgotten what faith we place in it, or what we were really supposed to be doing. It'll get worse before it gets better.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

More on (Moron) Oil in Alaska

Just found this article on BBC News that claims that Alaska's economy is dependent upon the oil industry - uh... hello?: "Like Texas, no-one pays state income tax here. On top of that, each Alaskan man, woman and child gets a cheque every October for about $1,700 as a dividend from the state's oil money. Called the permanent fund, it can make a massive difference to the income of a family of four or more.

The fund was created in the 1970s. The state set aside a quarter of all oil royalties as a nest egg to be used as oil revenues declined. The fund is now worth about $22bn.
"

No wonder all the Alaskans are voting for Bush...

There goes the neighbourhood...

Didn't see this go through the UK press: Bush wins senate support for drilling up Alaska for oil. Hnnng, Stupid fucks.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Blair, belief, community and politics

The BBC and ePolitix both have some coverage of Blair's talk for faithworks (more info and webcast). I've just finished Bertrand Russell's collection of essays along the theme of religion and society, so I guess I'm in the frame of mind to take an interest in these things more than usual.

Instinctually, it seems that Blair's passion for belief-based communities is two things, both probably equally cyncial. First, obvious lip service to the crows he's been invited to speak in front of. But second, if his views are to be taken seriously when applied to the political sphere, then they also strike me as a way of acknowledging that our communities are falling apart, that what held them together before was religion, and that the easiest way to return some of this social cohesion is through religion again. My disclaimer today is that I've only read the news articles, who obviously may paint their own layer on top of whatever he said, but hey, it makes it interesting ;)

Frankly, I find it irritating that the problem of social cohesion is being "palmed off" to voluntary groups. When so much effort is being made by the government to actively disrupt (IMHO) traditional methods of social cohesion - I am of the opinion that ASBOs are a petty, isolationist measure and should be replaced - to suggest that the fabric of our society should be upheld by under-staffed, under-resourced organisations is pithy. The government seems far more ready to lock people up (under the pretense of being "heavy on crime", but really just after a short-term solution to please the impressionable voters) than to take a serious look at the problem - probably because it would require them to take a serious look at themselves at the same time.

Furthermore, I find it depressing to think that the forefront of socio-political thinking rests in belief-oriented structures. Have we really not improved our philosophy to the point where communities exist for their own reason, rather than for some externally-enforced ethic? It's fatalism like this that makes me wonder quite what we do every day in the "real" world, and quite how we rate our ideas of "success" and "progress". Often it seems that the political body has lost all sight of the "individual" (and consequently community) in favour of the larger scale - the concept of "self" has been swept aside by "global issues" and "market efficiency".

Blair seems to keep his faith out of his politics, but maybe this explains why - he has faith in his faith to yet weave some magic. It has its own power, and the church still wields it over society, just as the government does. Still, it could be worse, we could have Bush.

Alice Unleashed

Ah, just when I thought life had got stale and grey, three of my favourite things combine to form an event of epic proportions.

BookCrossing + Brighton's New Library + Alice in Wonderland = The City Reads. See the bookcrossing bookshelf for book release details...

Friday, March 18, 2005

Nothing's fair.

One to check up on...

"Michael Howard will today claim that the Human Rights Act is undermining British traditions of fairness. Speaking at the Conservatives' Scottish conference, the Tory leader will repeat his pledge to scrap the 1998 Act if it is found that it cannot be reformed effectively"

Human Rights != Fair? I'm intrigued.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

BBC NEWS Today

Cue random media comments.

Monsanto say farmers want to grow (their) GM crops. Screw the safety aspects, I say. How about the balance of power/economy? An economy in the hands of a few, nice.

Oh good, more oil.

Iraq MPs sworn in amid deadlock: "The Shia United Iraqi Alliance, which won just over half the seats in the transitional assembly, has been locked in talks for several weeks with the Kurdish bloc."

Has anyone done any analysis into the success of "democracy" within particular societies? Are there any comparisons, say, between how democracy evolved in different places in the democratised world, and how applicable such methods are when thrust into a region of jarring factions? Sometimes it seems like democracy is touted as the panacea for all ills, but no-one's actually stopped to work out how/if it works. More proof that mere democracy (and the freedom of the individual) isn't really the end goal?


Talking of the freedom of the individual, I'm realising more and more recently just how non-free the self is. The cultivation of the individual today faces more pressure from outside influences telling it how to behave for their purposes than ever before. Science, globalisation and technology have been used far more for controlling purposes than for "knowledgeful" purposes - a viewpoint I accept begrudgingly - and as such the encroachment of something greater than humans* upon the mindspace of the individual is greater than ever. I think if we continue like this - an unchecked exploration and exploitation of formal knowledge without corresponding philosophical/spiritual advancement - then the structures and hierarchies we look at with disdain historically will continue to exist subterraneanly, entrenching themselves into our technology, our processes and our thoughts to an even greater extent.

* What is this collective consciousness? Collective organisation and institution is an odd, but very real, concept that seems to have more control over the individual than the individual. Which is more important?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Exmosis codeland

Interesting: Really Simple Discoverability via XML, plus Mozile, a browser-based in-line HTML editor. Currently rolling it into my site, although it looks like Mozile only submits the text you're editing (or the whole page), so need a way to identify which page it's for. A hidden comment would do, I guess, but seems like there should be a better way. (May implement a RewriteRule to spit back a correct RSD file that incorporates the info instead, but this still seems a long way round...)

Keep thinking about releasing the code behind exmosis.net at some point, but right now it's too messy.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Boom and bust in online learning

The .com boom was why the govt's e-University failed, apparently.

"There was no formal market research to establish the demand for the proposed remote learning package and the colleges and the Open University, who currently provide this type of training, were not properly involved."

Duh.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

ITsafe

One to watch? The government's new on-line security site, ITsafe, lists an upgrade to Firefox on its front page, and contains a 5 point protection plan. Good.