Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Tags are so passé

A recent addition to the ever-widening scope of Community Sentencing involves issuing those convicted of a crime with a hi-visibility jacket emblazoned with the slogan "Community Payback".

The idea behind this latest governmental brainwave is presumably that the person forced to wear the jacket will consequently feel humiliated and to some extent (despite this probably being the case already) ostracised from society.

One problem. Much like tags, these hi-vis jackets are not seen as something inherently embarrassing and to be avoided at all costs, but are in fact the latest must-have item for the youth offender of today.

Those lucky enough to be presented with one instantly become the envy of their ASBO-toting mates. Unsurprisingly, there are now reports of style-hungry youths dishonestly appropriating said property belonging to the Probation Service with the intention of permanently depriving it of these bold fashion statements.

Which leaves one wondering: other than the most rationally-challenged of the Daily Mail’s readership, who in their right mind thought that this scheme would actually work ? ?

Too nucleur to fail?

Mathew Yglesias points up the idea of "strategic rents" as a key to understanding the US-Pakistan relationship. The essence of the idea is a variation on the classic conservative criticism of aid and welfare generally - that if you're giving people resources because they have a problem, you are in some sense paying them to have problems.

Pakistan is a country that for about the last 30 years has built itself round military aid, and the military is correspondingly powerful. The big solution was meant to be getting the military out of government, but that doesn't seem to be working so well. The suggestion is that the Pakistan military it knows that if things get bad enough, the US will have no choice but to re-install it, which might expalin why it's so happy to sit most of its forces on the Indian border, domestic chaos notwithstanding:

The army still insists that India remains the major threat, so 80% of its forces are still aligned on the Indian border instead of defending the country against Taleban expansion.

The army has also refused to respond to US and Nato demands to oust the Afghan Taleban leadership living on its soil.

So what do you do about this in the long term? Yglesias thinks the US needs to have a credible threat of just walking away, but that's a lot trickier than it sounds - can the US really claim that it'll walk away from a nuclear power on the brink of collapse with the Taleban hoping to fill the breach? The odds of that hapening are probably pretty small - the Pakistan military, after all, doesn't want the Taleban in any more than the rest of us. Then again, the US doesn't want to be seen to be throwing in th towell in the one place where their stated enemies identifiably are.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

What are we going to do about Labour?

It's not hard to think of reasons why Labour should be voted out. The whole Internet privacy thing (read the simple guide here and the issue over restricting Gurkha rights are just the tip of the iceberg really (Worth having a look here and here if you're interested in those two).

But in my eyes, it's like this. We have a government who wants to exploit difference and divide us in any way possible. Yet at the same time, they also want to know as much about us as possible. Hmmmm. This week I've heard that described by people as 'sinister', 'astounding'. I prefer terrifying.

In a slightly drunken debate last weekend, I proclaimed, rather wildly, (as I am sometimes known to), that the kind of world we see in fiction, like in V for Vendetta and 1984, where people are controlled to ridiculous levels and true freedom is barely an idea, really isn't that far off. If the kind of behaviour that we're seeing at the moment from our government continues, we're going to walk into it and get stuck before we even notice. I sound a bit conspiracy theorist when I say these things, but I actually think it's true.

The Labour government has to go. I've said in an earlier post that I might vote against Labour on the climate change issue alone. Add that to the multitude of other issues, and to be honest, it puts the idea of democracy to shame if we let them do all these things that we really don't like and then leave them in because we might save 25p a week in tax (or some other self interested reason).

But who the hell do we get in instead? I don't know. Maybe we should resign ourselves, like Jarvis, to the seeming inevitability of a Tory government?

But surely not? That the history of British democracy tells us we should bounce Tory / Labour / Tory / Labour doesn't mean it will continue that way forever. That can change.

If the Lib Dems or the Green Party were to take power, I doubt they would have the capacity to do any kind of decent job. Sorry, but it's just true. Organisations and responsibilities expanding at that rate is just a recipe for disaster.

I've always tried to support Gordon Brown. I believe a country, like an organisation, can only be well run if people are behind it's leader. Partly that's his responsibility to keep us on board, but also it's ours to give him the benefit of the doubt sometimes. But Labour have lost their legitimacy now. Gordon Brown should have called that election whilst he had the chance, it would have been a risk, but at least he would have known he was a supported PM. Just the same, key Labour Ministers need to stop kissing his ass and start stepping up for what they believe in. Instead of contradicting themselves and each other, they need to start taking a stand. Question when they see things being done that they disagree with. Resign if necessary.

But they're all too worried about power, and their own little empires. We talk about problems with African Leaders and their lack of concern for the country, but I don't think we're any different here. Same issue, just better concealed. We worry about developing countries having 'free and fair' elections where there is actually choice, but what choice do we really have here? How many of our politicians actually serve us and not themselves?

So what do we do? Get behind the smaller parties and build them so that in 20-30 years they might have a shot? Join the Labour Party and try and change them from within? Start a revolution? Opt out? Give up? Go and live in the woods?

I don't know. I really do not know. So for now, I'm walking the very thin line where I schmooze the great and the good by day, and bang my head against this wall by night. Which makes me quite self interested really, maybe I should become a politician after all...

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