I feel a random urge to post a link to my medication here... I know my behaviour has been odd of late, so this might help to explain why. The sections on bipolar disorder are appropriate to me.




The Self-Indulgent Narcissism Of Telling People Lots Of Truly Uninteresting Stuff About Me Me Me 101 – Extension Lecture

This was passed to me by The Human Tide; thanks to the blogger.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Now that is a good question. I suspect it might well be Johnny Got His Gun. If I had the power, I would make every recruit to the armed forces, every politician and every civil servant read Dalton Trumbo's masterpiece. It is, without doubt, the finest argument against war that has ever been written.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Dana Scully, from X-Files; Cheetara from Thundercats

The last book you bought is:

The last book I bought was Angels and Demons, the sequel to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code as a birthday present for my mother. The last book I bought for myself was Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms

What are you currently reading?

Two books. The first is The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad and the second is Foundation of the LSE by Sir Sydney Caine

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

Hmmm. Good question. Traditionally, one is given the Bible and the Compleat Works of Shakespeare, so I'm going to say that I already have those. One of the five would be, unsurprisingly, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. It should be compulsory reading. The only book I enjoyed from two years of philosophy courses was Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and I think that would win a place. I find much of Rousseau's work, given my limited understanding, to be on a similar level of worth as a putrefying puddle of poo; this, however, is different. In one of my posts on here, titled the Latter Stages of Exhaustion, I try to make an argument that we can only appreciate the fortunate position that is childhood once we can no longer achieve it; that idea came out of reading this book. I have always wanted to understand better the Christian doctrine of punishment in general and Hell, Purgatory and Heaven in particular, so Dante's Divine Comedy. The fourth book would be Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, for presumably obvious reasons. Those reasons are that I want to appear intellectual. The fifth and final book would be Requiem for a Spanish Country Peasant (Réquiem por un campesino español) by Ramón José Sender. The book tells of the growth, life and death of a peasant boy in the lead-up to the Spanish Civil War. It is one of the masterpieces of modern Spanish literature.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

I only regularly read three other blogs. One is the one who passed this to me; the second is Dead Men Left; the third is Waiter Rant. Those are my three.



Don't Mention the War

Basically, I am fed up with the endless, banal, jingoistic vomit that an awful lot of channels throw up presented as programming on World War Two. These are generally titled in the form of a question ('Was Hitler a paedophile?' is about par for the course) and are scraping the bottom of the barrel of acadæmia for some port-soaked old duffer who will provide 'legitimacy' to this buttock-clenchingly awful 'documentary'.

I suppose that this alone wouldn't be too bad; the number of people awake to see this unending river of vomit on a regular basis is small. These programmes go out around the clock and the pseudo-scientific analysis continues being contemptible when people might actually see them and believe them to be true.

We then also have endless commemorations. WWII lasted for six years, so by the time we have finished commemorating the fiftieth anniversary, sixtieth anniversary 'celebrations' are well underway. Each celebration, we are told by Colonel Blimp (ret'd.), is absolutely right and proper.

Instead of a look at how bloody awful war is, we see people puffing themselves up and saying how much camaraderie there was during the war.

I am not keen on the military. I dislike the parading and the polishing, the shouting and the stamping. I don't like the stratification into ranks and commissioned and non commissioned because it reminds me of the informal fagging system that operated at my school and because it rapidly becomes, despite its patent artificiality, taken to be a natural determinant of worth.

In short, I dislike the armed forces. I am willing to accept the need or desire for commemoration, but what we see is not remembrance but glorification.

Nor do we hear anywhere near as much about WWI. Or Korea. Or Suez. Or Cyprus, the Falklands, two Gulf Wars and assorted smaller operations.

Worst of all, all the commentary and commemoration of WWII glosses over or ignores completely the Holocaust.

It makes me sick when some idiot is brought out to wax lyrical about how much they enjoyed the war and not a mention is made of the five million murdered Jews.

It is worth considering how big a number five million is. Imagine a square composed of squares, ten across and ten down. Picture it. Now imagine each of the smaller squares is made up of ten squares by ten squares. Now imagine each of the smallest squares is made up of ten squares by ten squares. That's just one million. It is an unimaginably vast number and represents the greatest crime in European history, sine qua non, and probably in the history of the world.

Instead of talking about the core issue of WWII, something that needs doing more than ever in an atmosphere of growing anti-Semitism, we have pictures of tanks dressed up as analysis and endless glorification of the war.



Constitutions of Continents

Sadly, both Dead Men Left and Hold that Thought are barking up wrong trees when they come to Europe. DML argues for a left no and HtT for a left yes. I'm going to argue, in my usual flaccid and unconvincing style, that left-right issues are not really relevant for the constitution(al treaty) that goes to a referendum this Sunday in the Fifth Republic.

Dead Men Left makes a couple of mistakes, IMHO, in his piece. The first is to say

“Good Europeans vs. bad Americans is a model all internationalists should noisily reject. To dismiss - at a minimum - the 48% who voted against Bush in November 2004; to dismiss the many historic achievements of the US left; to write off any possibility of change in America that does not depend on external confrontation is to evince a profound, pessimistic conservatism.”

DML's main point is right, but to say that the 48% who didn't vote for Bush are somehow part of the radical left or even committed to another world is bollocks. They did, after all, vote for John Kerry. You remember. The one who based the personal part of his campaign on being in the military. You might remember which war he was in...

Secondly, Mandelson is very well described as oleaginous, but just because he likes something doesn't make it bad. I am given to understand that he is partial to guacamole, which I consider an entirely reasonable position. The cynical point of view is that he would sell his own grandmother for power. The European Constitution means he doesn't even have to do that, as it presents him with a lot more power. Now, while Mandelson having more power is probably as close to demonstrably bad as we could come, more power to someone is not necessarily bad. What if Make Poverty History were taken on board by the new common foreign minister as a leitmotif? While it may have become watered down, even Britain will support it and it would improve matters.

The point of the constitution is that it raises the stakes. There's the usual bullshit of pandering to petty nationalism with pointless rhetoric about the EU being not a nation but a family of nations, but beyond that there are two big changes: the common foreign minister and the 1/3 veto.

If people are going to scream about the constitution, they might take the time to read it. If 1/3 of national parliaments vote against a European law, it goes back to the Commission. I do not deny that the EU has the potential to ride rough-shod over the European social model. The 1/3 provision means that, particularly given that people would appear to be more willing to participate in non party-politics based campaigns (viz. Make Poverty History, Stop the War, Social Forums &c.), a particularly odious piece of Eurolegislation could be effectively stopped by a concerted, transEuropean campaign.

The question should be not 'does this accord with our political dogma' but 'is this good for us as lefties/righties/soggy centrists'. There is no bias inherent in the Constitution that cannot be undone by legislation coming from Brussels; the question is as to what nature this legislation will take if the Constitution is approved.



I find myself upstairs in a bar overlooking the concourse of Waterloo Station. I do not know why I write, nor what I will say, except that I feel the urge to. Maybe it is the wine or the heat or the medication or, most likely, all three. I am going home to Somerset for my mother's birthday tomorrow and have a wait until the train departs. I should, I think, be happy; birthdays are meant to be celebrated. Instead, I find myself anxious at going back, even for a short time, to home. I feel as I did when I went home after leaving LSE the first time. The situation is different, as I told my parents straightaway what I was doing and I am severely manic rather than severely depressed. Nevertheless, I feel as if I'm being recalled because I have done something wrong; because, in some way, I am weak. There are concrete mistakes I have made. I have overspent over the past few weeks. I try to justify things to myself, & am only half successful, by saying that impulse buys are a symptom of mania and that my father had not paid my allowance in. These are weak excuses.
It seems so long since I had those wonderful days of lucid thinking when I could look at any object and see in it a world of wonder. Truth be told, they were probably little more than crazed gibberings, but they seemed real at the time.
Part of me wants to allow myself an angry moment, to rage against them for stifling me, but the moment that voice comes to the fore I cringe and am almost in tears at the idea that I could lose my temper with people who are so unquestioningly kind to me.
Let me give you an example: tobacco. When I am in London, I smoke around a pack a day. My father knows I smoke, not least because he is from time to time in London and the smell of stale smoke is unmistakeable when I come home. My mother knows I smoke because she has emptied my coat, complete with tobacco and lighter, to wash it. When I am at home in Somerset, I would be in a much better mood if I could smoke, if I didn't have to have furtive smokes out of my bedroom window, fearful of someone coming in whilst I'm alight or smelling this indiscretion. The sensible thing to do, the rational thing to do, would be just to agree with my parents that everyone knows I smoke. I could even, by way of a mark of respect or somesuch, go outside to smoke.
I am so timorous, by thoughtpaths so mixed, that I cannot do this. Instead, I will keep stealing a cigarette from my window and keep cursing both the circumstance and my inability to do anything about it. I have just considered for the first time the possibility that my parents might object, so ridiculous is my thinking.
So I will go back to Somerset and spend a few days with my family, all the while awkward.



I've put some of my photos up here. Do take a look.



Demos Kratein

The etymology of the word 'democracy' is often mistaken. It comes from the Greek demos and kratein. Literally, it means power to the people, so long as 'the people' is restricted to, essentially, the class of property owners. Dahl makes pains about using the term 'polyarchy' to refer to what most call democracies, but the semantic distinction is superfluous at best and simply wrong at worst.

The idea suggested by polyarchy is that there are multiple sources of power whereas, in reality, sources of power are not discrete but run into one an another. In Britain at the moment, the governing party, Labour, is connected to the Trades Unions. Where now does one stop and the other start? Certainly, they are not the separate sources of power suggested by polyarchy.

In our democracy, not everyone is part of the demos. To begin with, not everyone who can vote does vote (and there is no 'RON' option) and there is no effective popular control over the actions of the executive, not even mediated by the legislature. Democracy is a better term than polyarchy.



Liberal taxation policy

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I thought that the LibDems were effectively two parties: one is essentially a social democratic party and the other is classical liberal in nature, and the two come together by both being socially liberal.

The classical liberal or Orange Book wing of the party appears to be in the ascendant, if their tax proposals are to be believed. They are scrapping their policy for 50% tax over £100k for a flat tax.

A flat tax? Shurely shome mishtake?

No, the evidence is here. The LibDems have at a stroke gone from advocating the most progressive tax system to the most regressive. So regressive, in fact, that it was being argued by Kilroy-Silk's Veritas party.

It does rather worry me that parties come out with statements of principle and new, groundbreaking policies shortly after an election. The Tories are apparently rethinking themselves as a post-Thatcherite party. Labour now want a society based on Respect. The Liberals now want a flat tax.

I increasingly have the feeling that elections don't matter so much as perceived success in day-to-day polls. Elections jumble everything up, but with the increased trend for rebellion (certainly among the Labour back benches) a large or even working majority is no guarantee of being able to push things through the Commons.

The combined actions of the three parties is going to further weaken party identifications as they say one thing for an election and then, once their core vote has been mobilised, run off on whatever pet projects they're harbouring in order to do well in the day-to-day perceptions of politics.



I Love Eurovision

Yes, and I don't care who knows it. Eurovision, the annual display of xenophobia, nepotism and geopolitics masquerading as a song contest is one of the great annual events.

I wonder why Germany gave so many points to Turkey (and, for similar reasons, Spain to the UK). Is it because there are lots of immigrants who tend to vote for their own country automatically in large numbers or is it because the immigrants have become or are becoming accepted?

I'm sure there's a way of predicting the baseline votes for some countries. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy and the BeNeLux have pissed off or invaded most people, and so aren't going to get many votes. The Baltics and Balkans vote for themselves, as do the Scandies. While you can't guarantee that state A will receive votes from state B, I'm sure if you approached it from the opposite point of view and looked at the chances of a state allocating its vote to another state there'd be a way.

Can anyone explain to me what was going on with the drums this year? Just about every act seemed to have percussion as the principal or only instrument, including the faintly surreal sight of an 80-year old drummer for Moldova.

I found myself wondering about the Israeli vote, both given and received, in the contest. The high level of immigration, the fact that immigration to Israel isn't from one country, the desire of Israel to be accepted as Western... it all makes it very interesting. I was pleased to see Israel doing well. There is undoubtedly a rise in anti-Semitic activity and Israel doing well has to offer some comfort. It led me to think, though, about the relationships between Judaism and Israel. If a positive perception of Israel causes a positive perception of Judaism, is it not logical to assume that a negative perception of Israel will cause a negative perception of Judaism?

What, then, for Zionism? Zionism, so far as I understand it, and my knowledge of it is limited, is political action based on the religious belief that Israel is the homeland for Jews appointed by God. Israel exists as a state and is never going to stop existing as a state, so the persistent pressure of some of the more extreme pro-Zionist groups do seem to be asking for trouble.

I am no apologist for suicide bombings and the like, but if Israel is going to make a point of its being the only democracy in the Middle East (well, maybe with the addition of Iraq now) then it would do well to act like a democracy. Three-storey high bulldozers being used to demolish houses (regardless of whether you consider collective punishment to ever be justified) are going to anger people. The question is whether people are angered against just a political entity, the state of Israel, or against a people and religion, the Jews, they view as being forever linked with the state of Israel.

In any case, Kilroy-Silk almost certainly hates Eurovision, which is reason enough to like it.



The SU Again

One of the issues that came up quite a lot in the SU elections last term was the need for an admin assistant up in the advice and counselling centre. The problem, as ever, is a lack of money.

A possible solution might be a hundred club. If we could set up a club with 100 people paying £10 a week for the twenty weeks of the winter and lent terms, we would make £1,000 a week or £20,000 over the term. 25% of this could go into prizes (say one prize of £50, two of £25 and ten of £15 , with the winners being drawn at the end of each UGM. That would leave £10K, which would at least start to cover the cost of an admin assistant.

As it seems I'm going to be around, I might offer to run it.



What the hell is Karzai doing?

Answers on a post-card, please. Why is Karzai now turning around and having a go at the Americans when we knew full well that Abu Ghraibesque 'interrogation techniques', also known as torture, were being used in Afghanistan. One of the members of the Northern Alliance (remember them?) who has done particularly well out of the new regime is one General Dostum. Everyone has a shady past, but in his case it's that he ran a sex slave market.

So why now? We've known for some time that Abu Ghraib extended beyond Abu Ghraib. It is suspiscous, IMHO, that Karzai made a big fuss about it only after it had been leaked, and leaked at that from a US Army investigation. No mention of it until he had no choice to mention it and, helpfully, the US are already investigating it.

So what is Karzai doing?

1. This was a genuine leak and he didn't know what was going on, which suggests to me that he is unfit to run the country. I accept that if he had known, he might not realistically have been able to do anything about it and so didn't say anything.

2. This was a genuine leak and he did know what was going on, but hadn't wanted to pubicly say anything for fear of annoying the US and/or destabilising Afghanistan still further.

3. This was a staged leak and so a brilliant piece of PR. Shame there's no evidence for it, as it'd make a great story. It may be coming out now so that the bad news can be buried along with the Sun's pictures of Saddam in his underwear.



The Human Tide

Another addition to the blogroll... Pablo K's the Human Tide at thehumantide.blogspot.com. Read, note and inwardly digest.



I hate Messenger

I have three instant messenging programmes - AIM, MSN and Y! - that make it, in theory, easy to be in contact with people. I heard it talked about on Click Online, the computer news magazine on BBC News 24, where someone was explaining how it was a new form on conversation that started and stopped through the day as it was convenient without the need for niceties like formal beginnings and ends to dialogues.

The problem is that I desperately want to talk to people. I'm very lonely and I am happy to talk about anything. I become paranoid that, as I am always the one who starts conversations, people don't want to communicate with me. There are some people who I see at LSE (so haven't completely lost touch with) who I know have messengers but I never see them online. How many people, I wonder, have blocked me? How annoying actually am I?

All this communication is wonderful so long as people communicate back. Hmph.

Now, I know I'm being foolish. I've only just taken my meds and I missed yesterday's dose, so that's forty-eight hours between them. I know I'm manic - I can't sit still, I've just spent far too much money on eBay, blah blah blah - but I have thought along these lines when neither manic nor depressive. There's a little voice (metaphorical, not actual) that suggests to me that the fears of the crazy phases have a basis in reality.



Bakers' Union

There are times when I love trades unions.

I have just paid in to the Cities of London and Westminster Constituency Labour Party Account a cheque for £100= from the Bakers' Union's political fund.

Why does that raise a smile?

Still, I'm very grateful, so if there are any Bakers reading, I would like to thank you for your kind donation.



I Defer, You Defer, He/She/It Defers


I have 'made the decision' to defer my exams because I am suffering, as the letter from my psychiatrist attests, from a manic disorder. I use the inverted commas advisedly, as I could not make a decision, it being the only option to me. While things are better now because of the medication and the lack of stress, it is still damned difficult doing ordinary things. The quotidarian now requires a huge effort and it tires the hell out of me.

I wish I could explain to you what it's like to be manic. I had heard of it before it happened to me, but I really didn't understand it. Maybe it's one of those things that you can't explain and can't understand unless you go through it. I have tried coming up with any number of similes, but to no avail. Perhaps the best I've come up with is a carburettor, where depression is too much fuel in the mix and mania is too much air. That doesn't work massively well, though, and frankly I don't know enough about engines to say how far it goes.

Depression and mania are opposites, but they are not necessarily their antitheses. There is a happy mania, which I didn't realise I was in to begin with, and there is what I have now - scary mania. I cannot think straight. I usually think in trees - look at the SU Codes of Practice to see what I mean, all 11.2.1 and so on - but now whenever I focus on an idea it fractals out of control and I have so much going around in my head I can't focus on and develop an idea.

I have phenomenal amounts of energy and my need for sleep is reduced. Until I started taking the olanzapine, I was sleeping 2-3 hours every other night and wasn't showing the usual effects of lack of sleep. What worries me is that even now, with a fairly hefty dose of a fairly hefty antipsychotic that my psychiartist gave me partially because of its sedative effects, I sleep perhaps five hours where I should be dead to the world for half the day.

Although I have all this energy, I cannot utilise it. I find it difficult to focus on a particular task for more than a few minutes before my mind gets lost in the fog of ideas. It is monumentally frustrating - I have ideas, I have energy and now I have time but I cannot achieve the right combination to be able to do anything with them.



Olanzapine Nation

I've been reading Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation. I'd previously seen the film so I thought I should see what it's based on. The film took a bit of a panning from the critics which I don't think it altogether deserves. Although the events it is based on are the same, the film, by virtue of having limited time available, can only touch some of them and has to leave entire sections out, and so it focusses on the unversity experience of the protagonist. The result is that the book gives a very different impression of Wurtzel than the film. The latter makes it look like straight, up-and-down deression where the book gives a much more nuanced account. Both can be true at the same time (although not of the same person) and the film will be a lot more relevant to people who enter a depressive phase in young adulthood (and so, often at university).

The book's account is suspisciously unlike simple depression - it is too crazy, too up and down and too severe to really register with most (or what I perceive to be such) people's experience of depression. Prozac only come in briefly, at the end of the book when there are already notable improvements in Lizzie Wurtzel and after she's been on various meds, notably some industrial-strength sedatives. Nevertheless, I can appreciate certain aspects of it (and, yes, I think I have every bloody right to say that I've experienced severe depression as it's a statement of fact and it's costing me two years of my life).

I feel I should add something to it along the lines of what you do when prozac doesn't actually do the job for you or when the problem is not depression but mania. It's scary. If there is a Prozac Nation, it is the vast amounts of prozac and similar antidepressants that are prescribed principally because of a lack of trained therapists, the particular nature of modern, Western life and improved diagnosis and awareness of depression. What, I think, Wurtzel went through was before the rise of the Prozac Nation and today would be something else.

Welcome to the Olanzapine Nation. Please check your sanity at the border.



Human Probabilities

Thomas Fairfax, a Parliamentary general in the English Civil War, said, of the proposal to launch a pre-emptive attack on Scotland:

Human probabilities are not sufficient grounds to make war on a neighbour nation

How little things change. True, Iraq is not a neighbour to Britain, but then the world is a very much smaller place than in 1650. The basis for going to war was that Saddam posessed weapons of mass destruction, an opinion - very much an opinion - based on intelligence gathered from various sources. Such information is very much, and of necessity, a human probability.

Now we see, played out in Uzbekistan, the consequences of a war justified on human probabilities. I cannot help but think that the actions of the Uzbek government are due, at least in part, to their closeness to the US. Not only was a war made on human probabilities, but the probability (in the opinion of some) Islamic fundamentalism is now used as justification for the unjustifiable.

I suspect that in the coming days we will hear that the decisions to use such heavy-handed tactics were made down the command chain (conveniently away from Karimov, but no surprise there). Terror is such a nebulous concept that it can be used, as we now see, in a manner very much like Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984.

What concerns me is the lack of protest from Washington.


A little light reading...

Channel Four are running a competition to write a play. Details are at channel4.com/theplay. This is an idea I developed a bit and I'd very much appreciate any comments, even if they are of the 'it's a load of shite you self-important prat' variety.

Baby Dracula

The argument

Two vampires have tried to leave their soulless life and be as normal as possible. They have set up a small household, the male working as a nightwatchman and the woman as a barmaid. She is pregnant, something that has never happened before. Humans and vampires have mated occaisionally, giving rise to a purer form of vampire. They do not hunt, instead occaisionally satisfying their needs, when it is unbearable, on the fauna that live in London.

In a meeting of a secret society, the Brotherhood of the Bleeding Heart. One of its members is appointed to track down the vampires and kill them and the offspring for fear that the pure-bred vampire, once fully grown, would be unstoppable.

Cut to the home of the vampire couple. Domestic scene - she is heavily pregnant. The monk breaks in and kills the couple. He takes the baby in his arms and cannot kill it, so he goes to a hospital and leaves it outside.

A reaver is sent to kill the threesome, but feels pity for the young super vampire, and lets it live.

14 years pass – the reaver explains part of the story, including how vampires actually function

The reaver has a job (cleaner?) at the orphanage where the boy (who has become difficult) is. The reaver has a rapport with the boy. Cleaner loses his job to a contractor. Opens a shop selling 'magical' stuff and other arcana. Scene at the orphanage. SI? Isn't the fact that it's a magic shop just a rip-off of buffy? Make him work as a barkeep and have them meet in the appropriate section of the library?

A girl, not from the orphanage (from a boarding school?) buys stuff at the reaver's shop. Has been becoming progressively more interested. Does an incantation that shows links between a coming syzygy and the boy. The reaver explains that the boy is important and that at the syzygy he will be weak and that the brotherhood will try to kill him then. He doesn't say that the boy is a supervampire or that he, the reaver, is a former member of the brotherhood.

The girl asks what a syzygy is - the reaver uses an astrolabe to explain.

18 months pass – more information from the reaver

A new brother, who justifies evil means when they are for good ends, is sent to kill the boy.

The syzygy is approaching... say six months away. The scene is that of some amateur witches, one of whom is the girl (who has become a decent herblorist), doing silly love potions from a book on witchcraft. They go to the section on vampires because one of them has a boyfriend who is a wannabe vampire. The girl realises what is happening and uses the old tome to interpret the positioning of the syzygy to give the place and time of an event to do with a new vampire, who she realises is the boy.

The brother arrives looking for the boy. Goes straight to the reaver's shop to get the information out of him. The reaver realises he is coming and hides the girl in the back of the shop. The brother beats the reaver hollow. In the hospital, the reaver explains the story and that rather than being a force for evil, the boy is just power that can be moulded. Potential to be like the second coming.

Visit to hospital
The reaver had discovered that the brotherhood's belief that the boy had to be destroyed was wrong, that the power could be harnessed. Had intended to kill him at or near birth before trying to leave the brotherhood, but couldn't bring himself to kill a child. Explanation of what the brotherhood does here? The reaver asks the girl to protect the boy till after the syzygy in the hope that the act of protection will teach him that humans can be kind as well as cruel and so allow the potential good to be used.

Six months pass

The reaver is out of hospital. The syzygy is approaching. The boy has been arrested for petty theft. The girl goes to the reaver to bail him out. The brother catches up with the boy, girl and reaver outside the police station. Follows them. Fight ensues in which the boy is wounded and the reaver killed or otherwise taken out of commission. The girl and the brother face off. The brother explains his side of things. The girl is taken aback and appears to be about to capitulate when the police arrive. There is confusion and the boy jumps at a policeman, who shoots him. The girl leans over him and he dies.



A memory of polling day

On the way from the Committee Rooms (a Committee Room is just someone's front room taken over on election day to organise canvassing) at Tachbrook Street to my place off Horseferry Road, I walked around Vincent Square. The cricket pitch in the centre is owned by one of the private schools in the area – I forget which one – and, as I did when I was at a similar school in Somerset, everyone, I presume, was playing cricket. The senior boys were playing 'proper' cricket and were allowed to use the pitch itself while the others used nets and catching cradles around the side. The most junior boys, by age or physical inability, basically hung around and talked to each other.

As I walked around, I saw behind one of the trees, unnoticed out of sight of everyone else, a boy, maybe ten, eleven years old, with curly, brown hair and glasses picking flowers that managed to grow from the little light that filtered through the tree's leaves. I felt sorry for him, such a pathetic figure. He looked not dissimilar – not necessarily the same, but not dissimilar – to me at that age, not because of the hair or the glasses, but his aspect and isolation from the others. I assumed he was in a similar position to me at that age; no good at sport, and so trying to avoid the humiliation of having this proved to all and sundry by always looking for notes to be excused physical exertion and having to use communal showers and changing-areas.

There he was, in school uniform rather than cricketing gear, away from the others and perfectly happy with his own company. I suspect that had any of the others seen him, there would have been a positive hue and cry about this patently abnormal behaviour. I am often told that the British public school system is the best in the world. Maybe it is if you're one of the strong ones, who doesn't flinch from imposing the discipline and orthodoxy of the strong on the weak or one of the moderates who's behaviour doesn't attract the ire of the strong and can live with bullying going on. If you're on of the weak, if you want to be left alone to pick the flowers that grow in the shade of the trees, you tend to find that out of the shadow over your head, a great and terrible hand will pull you up and crush you.



The Legacy of Tony Blair

With the election just having passed, I cannot help but think that one day Our Glorious Leader will stand down. There does seem to be an opinion that, for good or for ill, TB will have been an important PM. I'm not so sure; I don't know what the historians are going to say and what the revisionist historians are going to say after that, but I'm going to tempt fate and do a post mortem on the Right Honourable Anthony Charles Lynton Blair MP, First Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister. And you know, in a very real sense ... that can only be ... a good thing ... for the British people.

There are some things of great importance that have, without doubt, changed sinec 1997. The most obvious of these has to be devolution. Given that Northern Ireland is a special case and that the major parties don't contest seats there, we are left with Scotland, Wales and London having varying amounts of devolved power and embryonic moves towards the same for England in one form or another.

The effect to date would appear to have been broadly positive for Labour. Since devolution, the Conservatives have all but been obliterated in Scotland and Wales. Admittedly, they have just staged a substantial recovery in London, although it should be remembered that there were celebrations because of the retaking of Enfield Southgate, once the seat of Michael Portillo in his dry days, and that London has a larger population, I believe, than Wales or Scotland. I don't know enough about the new Mayors, such as in Hartlepool.

In any case, what cannot be denied is that, because of the proportional systems used and the fact that they are seen as second-order elections, minor parties do better. Time will tell as to whether this has given Labour an institutional hold on power, making them the 'natural party of government' and the Tories always a deviation from the same.

I think another legacy of Tony Blair will be the death of Labour as a mass party and, possibly, the rise of it as an elite party. It is entirely possible that this process was already well underway by the time Neil Kinnock came to the leadership of the party, merely accelerated it and the process has continued under Tony Blair. Perhaps hopes of Labour becoming a mass party died out during the fighting between Kinnock and the Militant.

I sincerely hope that dull but competent economic management has become the norm. When Nigel Lawson was chancellor, there was a lot of talk about whether to use the M0 or M1 model and, so far as I can see, it was a load of bollocks anyway. I'm sure I will appear to be a Labour Party apparatchik here, but a stable, predictable economy has been one of Labour's (read: Gordon Brown's) successes. If you had to decide which of the parties was most likely to retain the power of setting interest rates for itself in Government, one would suspect it would be Labour, with a history of favouring Keynesian economic management. The fact that control thereof now rests with the Bank of England does, I think, mean that the economy is more stable as the Bank of England doesn't give a rat's arse about party politics. Politics, yes, but not party politics. Moreover, as we often hear, what 'the City' and the rest of the grand economic apparatus really like is predictability.

One final thing that I think is, whether you consider it good or bad (I consider it good), is the Minimum Wage and, yes, I think capitals are deserved. As I understand economics, people are meant to be able to negotiate their wages and will withdraw their labour if they don't think they're being paid enough. Utter crap. People don't have that option; people can't just up and move from one end of the country to another. In any case, it is popular and I very much doubt that the next Conservative government will remove it, even if they do freeze it.

Many things have not been resolved and this Labour government, the presumed arrival of Mr. Brown into Number 10 (although he already lives there – Number 11 has larger family quarters, so Tony Blair moved his family in there) and, though it pains me to say it, a Conservative or even (horror!) a Liberal Democratic administration will have to deal with them.

One area that is not resolved is the role of the private sector in what have traditionally been considered public services, such as the NHS, the railways and education. There has been a tendency towards partial privatisation, and I say 'partial' rather than 'part' advisedly. It seems to me that successive governments have not been able to leave this issue alone. I don't know enough about the issue to comment, so I will limit myself to saying that Wilson shouldn't have privatised the Carlisle State Brewery, that the current vogue for privatisation has opened a means by which a subsequent administration can effect much more widespread private sector involvement while keeping things 'nationalised' and that there's probably going to be a post from me soon about transport which will say something like there seems to be a move towards renationalisation of the railways as a result of increasing dissatisfaction from the business community of their failure to improve, public dissatisfaction with their failure to improve, an environmental case for haulage, increasing pressure from the Left and the Unions, and as a sop when Blair or Brown renews the nuclear deterrent.

There has still not been a decision on Europe. It may well be that the decision is made for the time being in France. If, however, the Fifth Republic chooses to approve the Constitutional Treaty, it would seem that we might be forced to make a decision. The pro- campaign will doubtless say that it is not a treaty that actually does anything, rather codifying what has gone before. That is not an impressive argument and the debate about joining the Euro will run on. If Britain rejects the treaty, however, it will not be as disastrous as if France did so; while the Irish option of holding the referendum until you have the right result would not be an option, it might be possible to exploit Britain's interminable, slight detachment from the EU and negotiate around the problem while not binding Britain as tightly into the European project. Returning to the Euro, a decision on that will have to be held at some point. If, however, the referendum on the Constitution was such a thorn in Tony Blair's side that he had to keep dodging the issue of just a date it is hard to see a Euro referendum happening soon.

In any case, it's still not clear what Europe is. Aside from the issue of Turkey, Britain hasn't decided whether it's 'in' or 'out' of Europe or what Europe even is. Is it, as the right claim, a Socialist plot? Is it, as the left claim, a Capitalist plot? Is it just rent-seeking par excellence? I've heard reference to the European model of social provision, being taken to mean the Franco-German model. My arse is that the European model; there are, so far as I can see, three models at work – social, liberal and Scandinavian.

So to foreign policy. Geoff Hoon deserves credit for, until The War Against Terror (capitals very much needed), removing defence as an issue. While it threatens to raise its head again soon when it becomes necessary to replace Trident as a nuclear deterrent, until September 2001 – four years since New Labour came to fruition – there was scarcely a mention of the Ministry of Defence, which previously always seemed to be a polemic.

Each Administration is allowed one war. Blair will have been around for a long time, so he's allowed two. Both were bloody silly, but there we are. It is a real shame that the much-trumpeted Ethical Foreign Policy (again, capitals needed) has gone for a ball of chalk when faced with the realpolitik of international relations. There has been a tightening of export licensing, but that will be undone easily enough by a new administration if it chooses to do so. There has been no real redevelopment of a European defence capacity or a reappraisal of the role of NATO post-USSR – we still have tanks designed for use in Western Europe that are currently deployed in Iraq, an area notable for its dissimilarity to Western Europe.

I am not sure about Northern Ireland. There has been dramatic improvement, but the Good Friday Agreement seems to be foundering. As I write, Sinn Fein and the DUP seem to be hammering the SDLP and the UUP respectively. Perhaps the right approach is a managed decline of hostilities, although I don't see how that will stop the paramilitary groups from descending further into an amateur mafia show with added brutality. I would suggest that the appointment of Peter Hain to the Northern Ireland Office, a more combative personality than his predecessor, Paul Murphy, is in response to that decline in the rate of improvement of the situation.

So, the press are still scum, parties still act as prostitutes in response to them, things are ticking over. To coin a phrase, you never had it so good. There is the looming cloud of pensions, and hunting still doesn't matter. The changes are not interesting things, but they are important. It's hard to excite yourself about constitutional procedures (for most people) and Para iv § 3b (for those who have come across the LSESU Codes of Practice, read 11.11.11 [2]) is never going to be a rallying cry of any substance. Nevertheless, when a future John Barnes comes to give a lecture to a future LSE on Political Change in Modern Britain, I will be fascinated to hear what they have to say.



Downsian Convergence

Evening all...

Downsian convergence (I believe that's how you spell it) is the theory that, in a two-party system, parties will tend to the centre.

It has just struck me that the tendency to the centre does not work. Moving to the centre from (say) the left will lose the extreme left. Put another way, where n is the normal distribution on a notional left-right axis and m is the dropoff of a party's support due to distance from the party's stated position, yn>ym.

Equally, the distribution is not necessarily normal (assuming it can be meaningfully boiled down to a single axis). People won't distribute themselves on a normal distribution for three reasons. Firstly, I see no evidence as to why politics should be considered organic or why it should be boiled down to a statistical function.

Secondly, people have to express themselves through political action. This is done by political parties and, increasingly of late, through single- or narrow- issue groups. People are attracted to these groups because they are close to their own opinion on a given issue, set of issues or general outlook. Once in that group, they will be 'educated' by the group to some degree, and will move towards the norm of that group. This does mean that parties &c. are dynamic poles.

Thirdly, some issues are particularly intellectually or emotionally powerful, so they act as other poles of attraction. Even if someone is generally (say) economically liberal, they might have a particular attraction to (say) nationalised healthcare. Particularly if the issue of healthcare funding is prominent in an election, this might move their position on the scale. People also retain loyalty to a given party, and so they can be discounted except in terms of a 'get out the vote' operation so long as they are not alienated by the party's changed position. The very few who hold views strongly enough to do something about them are better considered as agents in the process.

Does anyone know of any papers done on this? Is this complete rot?



Polling Day

Polling Day

I really am like a small child at the moment. I'm telling, from 0700 till 0900 or 1000, for Labour at the Drury Lane polling station. There is, loath as I am to admit it, a certain charm to the process of an election on the day.

The 'Polling Station' sign is gaffer taped to a railing. The polling booths themselves are not dissimilar to portable display boards. There is not a computer in sight. There are pencils on bits of string, and the clerk running the station has assured me that the pencils are indelible.

Polling starts in twenty minutes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am the only teller here, complete with rosette (with no names of candidates or parties, as per the rules). I actually woke up, in a manner not a million miles away from a young child, old enough to know that presents are coming, old enough to know they'll be the centre of attention, young enough not to know to look under their parents' bed, young enough to be taken in by the magic, on Christmas Day, at half past five, just in time to hear the end of the World Service and the start of Radio Four. I was that excited.

So, I have one plain rosette (red), two telling books, two copies of instruction sheets and one pen. All I need now is some voters... I wasn't expecting queues up to High Holborn (hoping, but not expecting) but a few would have been nice.

The clerk said that he was surprised to see me - fool, could he not see the juvenile joy in my face from a hundred paces? - as Labour hadn't sent anyone to this polling station for a long while. He did say that there were always some - and this is a direct quote - "elderly ladies from the others... you know, twinset & pearls, that sort".

12 minutes till polling starts. Come on, you bastards! Come and make me feel still more important. Ok, one of the polling clerks has gone out for a smoke. Time to start making friends...

7 minutes... where's my queue?

So, as of 1000 we've had about 150 people out of a maximum 1809 through. By any standard, that's pretty good going. I'm on the bus heading back to the committee room to drop off the forms. There were two Tories there at the same time as me. The first one was, aside from being Belgian, Tory Boy incarnate. Pleasant enough, though. The second person was altogether more interesting, mostly because I couldn't work out for the life of me why he was a Tory. This becomes apparent later on.

He was a genial, bumbling sort with a bit of an affectation in his manner and the curious scruffiness of an eccentric English gent. Nice enough, but didn't agree with the Tories on anything. A vegetarian, he opposed foxhunting very forcefully, favours a local income tax instead of the council tax, was dubious about the war; in short a LibDem. Turned out that when he wasn't in 'town', he had a farm in Pembrokeshire. Enough said, I fancy.

Anyway, I'm having a break until seven, when madcap running around will start in earnest.



So, here are my predictions as of 1630

Overall Labour majority: 85-95
Turnout: 65%
Bethnal and Bow: George Galloway (Respect)
Dorset South: Jim Knight (Labour)
Swing from Labour to Tory: 4%
LibDems will do well in share of vote but will not gain many seats




Just a quick post:

I've found a new brand of tobacco that any serious smoker should consider. It's called 'Tor' and comes in three blends: Turkish, Oriental and Virginian. The only place you can buy (that I've found) it is called Bond's of Oxford Street and is at 330 Oxford Street, just after John Lewis on the right hand side if you're heading west, towards Hyde Park Corner.

The Turkish blend in particular comes highly recommended.



Donald McTory

I have a confession to make.

I ate at a McDonalds.

Well, I didn't exactly eat so much as have a milkshake, a comestible which is ingested rather than eaten or drunk. It was tired, I was thirsty, so I purchased something from the Devil's own fast food 'restaurant'.

I do find it amusing that they call it a restaurant. Foetid hellhole might be more appropriate, but I'd settle for takeaway or fast food. It is very apt that I put restaurant in inverted commas. The staff all had emblazoned on their shirts 'I'm Lovin' It'. Aside from the bad grammar, making people declare to the world that they're lovin' frying endless batches of fries and make Big Macs for an odd mix of street dwellers, rushed junior management types, young parents desperately trying to shut their kids up and confused tourists seems a bit like making the inmates of Guantanamo have 'I'm Lovin' It' on the back of their jumpsuits.

The person who served me (whose name appeared next to their amorous declaration towards the preparation of Grade Z food confirming, given that I have no interest in the name of another McDrone, my belief that the name badges are solely for forty-year old mothers to complain to the manager that Mohammed gave Tarquin a regular Coke instead of a Diet Coke, which is very bad for his poor, little, grossly engorged tummy) had a look similar to one you often see at LSE and, I suspect, other universities. It is that of tiredness brought on by insufficient sleep and absolutely no rest in site till everything finishes in a few weeks. The difference is that at LSE the look is brought on by the less mindless task of revision (dumping information into your memory only to forget it after regurgitating it in an exam is pretty bloody mindless) and that the LSE crowd wear, for the most part, Gucci and Prada rather than grease stains and Golden Arches. Both stressors will finish in a few weeks, one becuase of the completion of exams and one as soon as they have another (marginally less shite) job, their contract's up or they're fired for not making the burgers in the approved fashion.

You can see a similar version of doublespeak in the Tories' slogan for the current election: are you thinking what we're thinking. It has an unfortunate pedigree, being used by List Pim Fortruyn in Holland and Jean-Marie Le Pen's FN in France in similar guises. I don't actually think the Tories meant to appear accepting of racists but it has caused an almighty double entendre. It is without doubt a product of advertising consultancy (the slogan meaning 'elect us because we think the same' rather than 'elect us because we're both thinking something of which the liberal fascists/balsamic fundamentalists/thought police don't approve.

In both cases, it would have been a good idea to road test the slogan on people who are hostile to the creator or, at least not automatically positively disposed. I suspect that the group to McDonalds and the group opposed to the Tories might overlap to a large degree.

In the meantime...

Are you drinking what we're drinking?



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