helenic: (sappho with laptop)

At Women's Question Time last week the first question was about the lack of statues commemorating the achievements of women. The audience struggled to think of any. Boudicca, okay. Queen Victoria, yes, although the female figures around her representing abstract virtues don't really count. Queen Caroline. Florence Nightingale. Umm ... we ground to a halt as we realised how many of the commemorative statues in London, male or female, celebrate military achievement. The historical exclusion of women from this sphere (unless you're a Queen or Empress) obviously doesn't help the disproportionate lack of depictions of great women in our public streets and squares.

Many of those present felt that it would be more appropriate to celebrate non-military achievements. We started brainstorming female candidates. Ada Lovelace was one of the first; I had my hand up to name her when she was mentioned. She was the first computer programmer, a brilliant mind, one of the first female members of the Meteorological Society, and if you fangirl her as much as me, you'll love Sydney Padua's remarkable steamgeek webcomic The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage:

A gaping hole in your life of which you were hitherto unaware )

With a certain amount of irony, I don't have time to write a blogpost dedicated to a role model of women in tech, because this morning I was finishing an article about the role of online engagement and social media in the future of policing (please do read it, it took me nearly a week to write) and in about twenty minutes I am dashing out to the Stop Disconnection Demo against the Digital Economy Bill, in attempt to prove the Peer who allegedly said "it's not as if people will protest outside Parliament" wrong. My comment on the bill, The Chilling Effect, is rapidly becoming one of the most-read pieces on Police State, which feels weird when it was only my second piece of tech journalism - the first being Google Buzz opts out of privacy.

I'm a geek: I know XHTML, CSS and some Javascript; I spend my whole life online; I maintain three or four blogs, four twitter accounts, and I'm a partner in a web development company. I've been messing around with computers my entire life, thanks to a dad who encouraged me to do so and built my own machines out of parts. I'm still more nervous of hardware than software - I haven't put together a computer myself yet without help - but I'm rapidly filling in the gaps in my culturally-narrowed knowledge, catching up on my sci-fi reading and adding technology feeds to my ever-growing list. I still feel as if I'm blagging it half the time. I sat down with [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet last Friday as she stressed about an article on the Digital Economy Bill she needed to write, and dredged my memory for a rundown of the biggest issues. I could only do this because I'd written about it myself the previous week, but I recognised myself in [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet's (unjustified, I might add) lack of confidence when it comes to writing about tech.

I come across this all the time: smart, geeky women who live online and have lots to say about politics and equality and education and civil rights and gender and sexuality, but who quail when confronted with a topic they consider too techy. It's the result of centuries of rejection and brainwashing and it's bollocks, of course. Law is way more complicated and difficult than technology, and we all cheerfully opine about that. But I sympathise.

Yesterday morning I went to a web marketing seminar at the British Library, organised by She's Ingenious. Alison Rothwell and Cally Robson spoke to a group of twenty entrepreneurs (all female but one - guess who talked the most) about developing their businesses for the web. As a webdesigner I was there in a somewhat sneaky capacity - I didn't expect to learn much from the talk, but I hoped to learn a lot from the responses to it, in working out what my clients need to know and how best to communicate with them. I managed to hand out some cards, answer some questions, and it was fascinating being one of the three women in a room considered to be tech-literate by an audience who, for the most part, considered themselves dumb amateurs. Alison Rothwell delighted me by encouraging them to build their own sites on wordpress.org, and I suggested some sites for downloading themes and plugins. Of course sometimes you need to hire the services of an expert, but WP is fantastically easy to use, and if I could teach myself how to make websites, so could these brilliant, inspired women launching their own products and services. But I couldn't help wonder if the proportion of attendees stating a complete lack of knowledge or confidence would have been the same at a male-dominated event.

That confidence, though - to stand up as a someone who knows what they're talking about - still comes hard, in politics, business and tech. I am aware throughout my performance how easier it would be if I'd been taught these modes of interaction from a young age. I don't see people of my own gender as keynote speakers; women make up nowhere near half of panellists and our representation in Parliament is shockingly low. Ada Lovelace Day is specifically about tech, but for me the terrifying, alienating process of pretending to be self-assured and confident, speaking up and sharing valid knowledge and experience with people who want to silence me, has been the same within tech as within all other male-dominated spheres. I still need to pretend to be confident half the time, but it's growing on me; I'm starting to get used to the idea that my opinion on technology and politics might be valid, to learn to state it with more flair and confidence, rather than hiding behind self-deprecation or deflecting the conversation onto my personal life.

My ambition is for my daughters and granddaughters not to have to go through this process - to grow up feeling at ease with technology, curious about the new and confident of their role in it. And that means turning ourselves into role-models for the future.

Tonight myself and many other women will be outside Parliament demanding the right to use technology freely. I can't really say it better than Penny Red:

As a woman and a feminist, I am appalled that laws are being tabled that threaten many of these women with disconnection from the source of energy and inspiration that has given me, along with so many millions of others, a renewed political awareness and a visceral sense of sisterhood and solidarity. I have no doubt that if Ada Lovelace were living today, she would be appalled, too.

helenic: (CCTV - what are you looking at?)

This is a bit thirteenth hour, but it's important, so.

Dear David Lammy

I'm writing to you because I'm very worried that the Government, driven by Lord Mandelson, intends to rush the Digital Economy Bill into law without full Parliamentary debate.

This bill is highly controversial and contains many measures that are potentially damaging. Enough people are unhappy about the bill in its current form that the Liberal Democrats were forced to officially reconsider their position at their spring conference. Many of the Lords recognise the dangerous potential of this bill, but it will not get proper scrutiny unless MPs stand up and insist on a full debate.

Clauses in this bill will damage schools and small businesses (including my own small web business) as well as innocent people who rely on the Internet. It will allow the Government to disconnect people it suspects of copyright infringement, which is worrying not only because proper investigations may not occur before disconnection, resulting in effective punishment without trial, but because the Internet is one of the most exciting tools our society has for inclusivity and social mobility. Disconnection - which would apply to all members of an affected household, including children - will impact on individuals' ability to inform and educate themselves, engage with society, interact and converse with other people nationally and internationally and involve themselves with important issues they care about. This bill will make public wifi punitively difficult to maintain, which will effectively disconnect a lot of poorer people from the Internet, who cannot afford their own connection at home. Its greatest impact will be on those who are most vulnerable.

Disconnection is a draconian measure which has no place in a free society which is trying to improve public resources and services. The Internet is the biggest, best free public resource we have. Access to it should be a fundamental civil right.

Industry experts, Internet service providers (like Talk Talk and BT), music industry professionals such as Billy Bragg, activists such as Mark Thomas and huge web companies like Google and Yahoo all strongly oppose this bill. It is worded without proper consultation to the realities of the industry, by people who do not seem to know the difference between a web host and an ISP. This issue is complex and deserves full scrutiny before punitive legislation is passed.

I am writing to you today as your constituent and a struggling small business owner to ask you to do all you can to ensure the Government doesn't just rush this bill through. This bill will have far-reaching consequences and it desperately needs proper scrutiny before it is passed. Please do not deny us our democratic right to full and rigorous debate.

Helen Lambert

The Open Rights Group have teamed up with 38 Degrees to create an easy web form if you want to write to your MP about this. Literally the only chance we have to stop this bill being rushed through before the election is if MPs, especially front-benchers, speak out to insist on full and proper debate. Thousands of people have already written to their MPs in the last couple of days; if enough people do, there's a chance we can still stop Labour from passing yet another piece of repressive and badly-worded legislation before the election.

helenic: (wall of water)

Gone are the days when if you're against the war you go and protest on the street. Protesting doesn't stop wars anymore. Going to your gay pride rally is nice -- it makes you feel good, but unfortunately we don't live in that era anymore. The only way you can create social change is to insert yourself into the machine.

That's Heather Cassils, the genderqueer body builder who kisses Lady Gaga in the Telephone video, talking about queer visibility and the mainstream. Also, if you weren't sold on Gaga yet, check this out:

The thing that was kind of interesting was that in between takes I was getting kind of annoyed because the camera guys were really kind of drooling and talking about "girl-on-girl action" and I said, "What about boy-on-girl action?" And she turned to me and said "Oh. Do you identify as male?" [Laughs] And I said, "Well, probably more than you do." And she said "I'll be sure to tell people that."

Have you seen the video for Telephone yet? Surely you have.

I am completely in love with it. The D/s interaction between Beyoncé and Gaga when she gets in the car would be enough, but they borrowed Tarantino's pussy wagon; there's an explicit riff on the rumour that Gaga has a penis - and the queer kiss with the drag king bodybuilder - and poisoning everyone in the restaurant and the candy-pink Poison TV popups, and the glitchy editing and oh god the OUTFITS. As [personal profile] starchy said, "I can't tell if I just watched a music video or the highest budget semiotics essay in history."

Be warned, though, the song is so freakily catchy it will stay in your head for a week.

helenic: (Default)

For the last few days I've been helping [personal profile] denny with a secret project. This morning it became not-so-secret.

For each vote coming up in Parliament, I will put a poll on this website. Every voter living in Hackney South and Shoreditch will have a login for the site, and will be able to vote in the polls using their computer or their mobile phone.
Whatever the majority vote is, I will vote that way.

My partner [personal profile] denny is running for Parliament as an independent candidate, on a platform of direct digital democracy. This is very exciting! If he's elected, he'll use his communications budget to develop a secure site for the polls, based on authenticated individual logins and the electoral roll for his constituency. (Non-constituents may have a separate poll, but their vote won't be counted.) Many aspects of the idea will be refined democratically through the website, and engagement is very strongly encouraged. The hope is that other candidates will eventually want to stand on a similar platform - and in fact in the last few hours he's already had an enquiry or two along these lines.

The campaign is launching quite late in the day, so he needs all the help he can get. If you believe in the need for bottom-up democratic reform and think the idea has potential, please help spread the word. If you could post about the campaign on twitter, facebook, LJ or other social media that would be brilliant - his main chance of publicity is through word-of-mouth. In addition, he is particularly looking for:

- journalists and bloggers who might be interested in covering the campaign;
- magazine, newspaper or website editors who would like to run an article;
- people to print and/or distribute leaflets or sheets of stickers (an office printer will do);
- printers who might be able to offer a discount on print runs;
- people to design promotional materials such as leaflets, postcards, business cards (I'm doing my best, but I'm already very short of time - I can send you all the assets and resources you need);
- people to write to papers, journalists, MPs, Lords or other public figures, to call their attention to the campaign and ask if they're able to help.

He also needs donations to cover the compulsory deposit and campaign costs, but publicity is just as important at this stage - if not more so.

There's already been an exciting response from the internets so far today. Stoke Newington People ran an unsolicited article by Seamus McCauley, and blogger Jonathan MacDonald surprised us with a second. Twitter seems to like the idea. Online publicity is his main hope of success, especially if the campaign is covered in local and national papers, but of course it doesn't translate to support in his constituency, so he'll be canvassing and doing all the normal things as well. Any support you can give would be very much appreciated.

Edit: Wow. Thanks so much for all the responses and criticism; it's been a fascinating discussion. I'm sorry I don't have time to reply to every comment individually, but check this thread for my general response to people's concerns.

Power 2010

Mar. 6th, 2010 05:59 pm
helenic: (elephant reaching to the moon)

I've just signed the Power 2010 pledge (you should too). I've been following the campaign with interest from the start, and voted on 20 or so reform ideas, three of which made it into the top five. Here's the message I sent accompanying my signature:

I support the Pledge because I think it's an awe-inspiring demonstration of grassroots activism, and sets an interesting precedent for the value of the web in democratic reform. The internet has radically altered the way we engage politically, and the future of our democracy needs to take that into account.

I voted for the following reforms:

- Introduce a proportional voting system

The two main parties, both unpopular with so many people in this country, have dominated Parliament for too long. First Past the Post in its current form is unrepresentative and undemocratic. The Government is too easily able to manipulate the system to increase their own power, as Labour did by re-writing the constituency boundaries in their favour before the last election, and as the Tories did by destroying the trade unions before that. Power should be devolved to allow small parties and independents more chance to have an impact on policy.

- Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state

I believe compulsory ID cards attached to a national database, the DNA database and several other national databases constitute an infringement of personal privacy and civil liberties. I do not think the cost in money, time and effort is worth the benefit to society, and I do not trust either of the two biggest parties to use databases ethically, responsibly and securely. While databases are sometimes essential for the provision of public services, separation between departments should be maintained, and I don't think the Government should generally have access to that data except in exceptional circumstances. We have seen enough evidence of data breaches and database-related abuses of power to know that the current Government cannot be trusted, and without a radical reform of our democratic system I do not believe future Governments will be any more trustworthy.

- Draw up a written constitution

England's government has historically operated based on tradition and precedent. Our society has seen radical changes in the last century, with the rise of social equality and the information revolution, and the onset of climate change. How things were done in the past is not always the best way to proceed. We should draw up a new constitution that reflects modern values going into the 21st Century, which should enshrine and protect such things as equality for all and the rights and liberties of the citizen, and prevent future Governments from undermining these basic principles. A written constitution is particularly important in a system with proportional representation, which lacks the conservative safeguards of FPTP.

I did not vote for English Votes for English Laws, as I think the United Kingdom is strengthened by being as united as possible.

I also did not vote for an elected second chamber, as I feel the value of the Lords is in their ability to engage in long-term thinking without having to play popularity games. I think the hereditary and class-based aspects of the House of Lords are deeply flawed, and would like to see a second house with a more diverse membership and equal representation from different sectors of society. However, any second house should be set up so that it can continue to offer checks and balances to the Commons - the two houses should not be identical. I might be in favour of an elected second house with a substantially longer term, but I think there are other options. Still, I would like to see reform of the Houses and would be happy to see the question put to a referendum.

I'm still thinking a lot of this stuff through; it's incredibly thorny and complicated and I don't pretend to have all the answers. I think that reflects more or less my current state of thinking on these specific issues, though.

helenic: (CCTV - one well-placed balloon)

This article was published today about Boris reducing bus crime in London:

Bus-related crime across the capital fell by 18 per cent in the first year of Boris Johnson’s administration, and has fallen by a further 10.5 per cent in a ten month period taking the figures to a six year low.

Dedicated to patrolling transport hubs in specified areas, the Mayor introduced 32 transport Hub Teams last year, including a team serving Harrow Bus Station and Harrow-on-the-Hill tube station, to increase visibility of policing on the transport network.

Which is interesting, because a couple of weeks ago when I was cycling to Turnpike Lane, I saw this:

That's a 29 bus with upwards of thirty police officers in and around it. You can't see it clearly in the photo, though, so I got a bit closer.

"Excuse me! What are you taking a photo of?" yells the cop striding towards me.

I blink. "The bus," I reply glibly. I'm thinking, if she starts to tell me I can't take photos of police officers this is going to be hilarious, but as it happens I'm late to meet someone and would rather not get into an extended debate about Section 44 abuses.

"What for?"

"For my blog."

She doesn't seem to know what to make of this, so to my relief she decides to drop it, although not without taking the opportunity to tell me off for riding a bike on a public path.

There were several people getting nicked, in little clumps of officers. I considered stopping to observe, but figured that this might not be the wisest course of action after antagonising one of them already. The whole thing seemed bizarrely over-the-top. I mean, I assume it's a fares raid, as they'd be unlikely to bag several violent criminals or vandals in one go. So why the show of force? Most of the people I saw were teenagers, old people. Are 40 police officers descending en masse really necessary? It's the 29, which tends to be used by a lot of people of colour because of the neighbourhoods it goes through, and it's probably spurious but I found it really hard not to see the numbers overkill in a social context. Are the scare tactics really necessary? Is there any purpose to the hordes of yellow jackets other than to scare people?

The bus crimes that worry me are violent assault, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Let's be honest, the chances of those forty coppers jumping the bus at exactly the moment that you're being threatened by someone are slim. It can't be about that. I can also see the need to police fares and vandalism; CCTV pretty much deals with the latter, and fares are usually dealt with by conductors. I understand that the bendy buses have made it easier for people to get off through one door while a conductor or copper enters through another. So having a cop or two at each door is a plausible solution to that. But ten at each door? Really? Is that necessary? Is this about reducing crime, or is it about intimidating people, being seen to reduce crime, and getting some drugs busts in there while you're at it?

Mind you, I probably just find it hard to take any policing strategy that prioritises catching fare-dodgers from the poorest areas of the city over bringing people like, say, Lord Ashcroft to justice. I am sure that London is being defrauded in more significant ways than by the passengers on the 29 bus. But passengers on buses are easier to intimidate. Especially if there are forty of you.

helenic: (sachiko: pensive)

Someone (probably [personal profile] denny) sent me a link to this list of independent candidates running in the next election on Your Next MP. 28 so far - one the ex-leader of the BNP - including only two women. Which is interesting in itself - why so few female Independent candidates?

Anyway, I idly scanned the list to see if there's an Independent standing in my constituency. And - what are the odds? - there is! Disappointingly, there's no information about him on the website (in fact, there doesn't seem to be any information about any of them on the website, which somewhat limits its usefulness). So I'm doing a bit of investigating.

Neville Watson is apparently an executive member of the Independent Network. His campaign page seems very community-focussed, which is good, I think, but doesn't tell me much about his more general policies. He talks about mental health support, alternative education, working with young people to reduce crime, providing farmer's markets for people to sell locally-grown organic produce, affordable low cost housing and energy conservation projects. He seems to be an active social worker with youth groups, managing the local football club, doing volunteer work prisoners and psychiatric patients. Which are all good things. He seems to be passionate, engaged and inspired on a local level.

But an MP isn't just a local leader - they're also an elected representative. And his campaign says nothing about his wider politics - nothing on how he's likely to vote in Parliament. One page of his site says both "he believes in equality and justice for all" and "a strong family unit is imperative for the development of our children", which leaves an amibiguous impression - does he favour the conservative idea of the family, or feminism and LGBT rights? Race politics are arguably more of an issue in Tottenham, and he addresses that to some extent, but there are a lot of gaps. How does he feel about civil liberties? The war on terror? Democratic reform? When you're voting for a member of a party, you can (to some extent) look to the policies of their party for anything they don't specifically mention. With an Independent, there are no such guidelines.

The current MP in Tottenham is David Lammy - a Labour minister whom I am inclined to distrust. His voting record goes against many of my principles, and he seems to tow the party line most of the time. On the other hand, I remember hearing from [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet that he spoke very well at the Labour party conference, and the left seems to generally approve of him, although I'm not clear on exactly why. He's never responded satisfactorily to any of my letters - he leaves it late enough to reply that I have marked my letter "unanswered" on writetothem before I heard back from him, and I've only ever got form letters vaguely related to my question. (For instance, when I wrote to him expressing my concerns about police brutality and strategy during protests, I got a form letter six weeks later about Ian Tomlinson, which completely ignored my actual question.)

This election is the biggest opportunity Independents are likely to get for some time. (If the Tories get in, the current democratic system is rigged to keep them in for two or three terms - the yo-yo effect between the two big parties is well-established. Democratic reform is necessary to undermine that, and what are the chances of the Tories voting for something that will decrease their chance of staying in power?) The MPs expenses scandal combined with general disillusionment with the two-party system is going to give Independent candidates a better chance than they've had in years. Neville Watson, like David Lammy¹, is an Afro-Caribbean (important in a constituency with the racial demographic of Tottenham) family man (Tottenham is very Christian, and the last six MPs have been male). Lammy's expenses record isn't too bad, but it seems to me that Watson has a reasonable chance.

Locally, he may be as good a bet as the LibDem or Green candidates (or better - David Schmitz doesn't have much of interest to say). But in Parliament? I have no way of telling. Of course, I may well not be here anyway - even if we move in March, I might well be voting here as I'm not sure there'll be time to get on the electoral register of our new constituency before the election. So in some ways it's in my interest to vote for a national representative rather than a good local MP. But I'm not sure if that's missing the point.

1. And, apparently, the 2010 UKIP candidate, although he's not listed on Your Next MP so I'm not sure what's going on there.

helenic: (CCTV - big government)

Many of my friends have had good things to say about the new electric cigarette things, smokers and non-smokers alike. I'm not a smoker (well, not of cigarettes) but I'm a fan: they're shiny, they light up blue when you draw on them, and they don't contain tobacco, which means no nasty-smelling smoke, no tar, no carcinogens. In case anyone's not heard of them, they're dinky cigarette-shaped nicotine vaporisers, and I've seen them come in amazingly cute little shiny metal packs where the "cigarette pack" is the charger. As far as I'm concerned it's an example of How Tech Should Be Used.

The Government is apparently less convinced. They have just released a public consultation to determine whether to bring all nicotine containing products – with the exception of tobacco and tobacco products - within the medicines licensing regime. This would require all currently unlicensed nicotine containing products on the market, such as electronic cigarettes, to apply to the MHRA for a medicines Marketing Authorisation.

In case it's not clear why this would be stupid, it would clamp down on electric cigarettes and nicotine patches/gels - the sociable, healthy ways to feed your nicotine addiction - without the restriction applying to tobacco products, being the antisocial, unhealthy ways. It's not clear what the consequences of the medicine license would be - perhaps they'd be prescription only, they'd probably be more expensive - but it would almost certainly discourage their use. The hypocrisy involved in putting these constraints on non-tobacco products and not on tobacco products is really quite astounding. The cynical might suggest that although electric cigarettes are more healthy, the fact that the generate less revenue for the Treasury in the form of tobacco tax might be a reason for the Government to want to place stricter controls on them (i.e. licensing fees).

It's a public consultation, which means they're seeking responses. My understanding is that the Government usually gets far fewer responses to these things than one might expect, meaning that anyone who bothers to respond is likely to have their response at least read (although of course that's no guarantee it'll be taken into account). The consultations are downloadable here, and the response form is here. If you're a user or supporter of electric cigarettes, I'd encourage you to respond.

helenic: (little book)

A few weeks ago I joined my local library, the Marcus Gavey library in Tottenham Leisure Centre. It's a big building with a swimming pool (which I don't visit often enough) and gym classes (I keep meaning to investigate their beginners' yoga), and it also has a library which I'd managed to fail to visit in my two and a half years of living nearby. In the end it was Denny's good influence that persuaded me, with all his talk of having big piles of sci-fi books to read next to the bed in a tantalising, delicious stack. Like pancakes. Or sci-fi books.

I'm quite tired.

Anyway, I have a running list of sci-fi I want/need to read, which goes something like:

  • everything by Charlie Stross except Glasshouse and Singularity Sky, which I've already read. (Glasshouse is one of the best science fiction books I've ever come across. Beautiful, thrilling, awesome book - also the most intelligently feminist work of post-humanist fiction I've read by a male author.)

  • All the Culture books by Iain M Banks (which I haven't read any of, although I've read a couple of the Iain Banks novels)

  • The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, about which I have heard great things from [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet and [livejournal.com profile] cyrus_ii

  • Everything good by Neal Stephenson (including the non sci-fi ones like Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle), probably starting with Snow Crash.

The library is quite nice, but the fiction seemed to all be jumbled up together. I couldn't find most of the stuff I was looking for, although I picked up The Family Trade by Charlie Stross and Anathem by Neal Stephenson - the only book they had by each author. I also grabbed The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (because I love most of her stuff and I think apart from her new one that's the only novel I haven't read) and Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (which looked like cheesy girly fantasy and I figured I'd want to give my brain a rest after Anathem). Then I found Denny in the sci-fi section, which consisted of two columns of shelves - not much, but better than nothing. Still couldn't find any of the Bujolds, but I did grab both of the Philip K Dicks they had in - A Scanner Darkly (which I need to read so I can watch the film) and Valis (in case I like A Scanner Darkly and want more Dick. As it were). Denny got one out for him - Air by Geoff Ryman - and then it was closing so we hastily checked them all out with my shiny new library card and their shiny new digital system (probably not that new, but new since I last used public libraries).

Now I have a big tantalising pile of sci-fi and fantasy books to read, and it makes me feel happy in my happy place.

reviews (and spoilers) so far - 'Air', 'The Family Trade' and 'Wildwood Dancing' )

One disadvantage of shiny digitised library systems: no datestamps in the front of the books. Instead there's a web address where you can login and check your account and renew books online. Which is pretty cool. I kept meaning to check the due date but didn't get round to it. Then I finished Wildwood Dancing today and it occurred to me I'd read nearly half of the books I'd got out, and I should probably find out before I started incurring fines. For some reason, it seemed easier to find the twitter I posted on the day I withdrew them and do some mental arithmetic than to actually find my card, register on the website and check there. Turns out they're due back Monday. Good job my subconscious is paying attention to the passing of time, even if I'm not organised enough to set reminders in my calendar.

helenic: (London rooftops)
Hello internets,

The lovely [personal profile] denny will have a room available to rent in his Shoreditch flat from 1 March. It's a really nice flat, well-located, and he's a bit stuck if no-one takes it. Plus I would (for obvious reasons) end up seeing whoever takes the room a certain amount, so am quite strongly motivated to find someone awesome. This post and his are both public, so please do point people at them if you know anyone looking!


My current flatmate is moving out at the end of February, and I'd like to find a new flatmate to move into the second bedroom from 1st March. I'd prefer it to be a friend, or friend of friends, for obvious reasons.

The room is about 9' x 11' - it currently contains a double bed, a large wardrobe and a medium desk, with room to walk between them. There's also a built-in cupboard in one corner. It's painted a fairly inoffensive shade of orange, but if you want to redecorate it to suit yourself, I'm open to the possibility. I can probably arrange for it to be either furnished or unfurnished, whichever suits you best.

The bathroom is small but does have a bath with reasonable shower, and bonus funky black tiles. The kitchen is large, and contains a fridge-freezer, washing machine and dishwasher, all of which are new. Also a small microwave, a vegetable steamer, a George Thornby grill, and any other food-cooking gadget I tripped over lately (not that I can cook, but I keep thinking the gadgets will fix this). The hallway is quite large for a flat, so there's some spillover storage space there too.

The flat is ground floor, with no shared entrance hallway - the front door opens onto the car park. It's double-glazed, partially centrally-heated, and it belongs to me - which means if something breaks, the landlord has plenty of motive to fix it as soon as possible :) There's a separate garage, which is mostly full of my car, but has room to stash a push-bike and other odds and ends if you want. Residents parking permits are cheap, but parking spaces can be hard to find sometimes.

The building is here: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=N1+6LE - as you can see, it's a 5 minute walk from Old Street tube (or a 10 minute stroll, if you're lazy like me). Being in central London it's also well supplied with buses heading in all directions. It's a reasonably attractive building, with a good green space behind it and Shoreditch Park a short walk to the north.

I'm kink/poly/queer-friendly, and generally liberal/lefty/etc. There is a cat in residence. I don't smoke, and therefore the flat and the immediate surroundings are non-smoking areas. Most other vices are either well-tolerated or positively encouraged. :)

Rent is £600 a month, including all bills - that's gas, electric (both with Ecotricity, for bonus hippy points), council tax, water, phone line (including free national calls evenings and weekends), and 20Mb ADSL (from Be).
helenic: (on rooftops: hair)

Inspired by the success of [livejournal.com profile] roz_mcclure and the helpful resources she linked to, I decided a while ago to give this [livejournal.com profile] no_poo thing a try. (For all the usual reasons: expense, toxicity and general low green credentials of commercial shampoos; wanting to reduce dependency on commercial products; vague handwavy "returning to the earth" aesthetic principle, etc.) So off I trundled to the shops, [personal profile] denny in tow, with the following shopping list:

- baking soda / bicarb
- apple cider vinegar
- vanilla essence
- cinnamon sticks

I ended up going to Tesco, because it seemed the best place to get all of the above at once. "I find it deeply amusing that your hippy hair remedy involves things you can only buy from Tesco," quipped Denny. Yeah yeah. The local shops don't stock the first three items, and anyway, it's not like I ever buy shampoo from them, so it's not money I'm taking away from local businesses.

I came home with mulled wine spice, not being able to find cinnamon sticks, but I've since noticed them in the window of one of the local Caribbean groceries, so TAKE THAT, Evil Corporations.

Anyway, then they sat on the shelf for like six weeks because I am a chronic procrastinator, and also kind of a wuss, but yesterday my hair was really greasy, I had no plans for the evening, and I therefore decided that It Was Time. Cue me scrabbling around the flat for half an hour looking for two appropriate squeezy bottles to mix stuff in, because I'd totally forgotten to buy those. I ended up using one old shower gel bottle (well rinsed) and one non-squeezy water bottle, which was non-ideal as far as application went, but that can be fixed later.

So the method I used was: mix 1 part bicarbonate of soda to 3 parts water in the empty water bottle, then stand in front of the sink, pour some into my cupped hand and scrub it onto my dry scalp. I ended up using several handfuls to get full coverage, which I suspect was too much, but the dry scrubbing doesn't feel right when you're used to sudsy washing. Leave the bicarb on your hair for 3 minutes; I used this time to mix the next solution, which was 1 part apple cider vinegar (any white vinegar also works) to 4 parts water. I added some mulled wine spice (mm, gritty) and cloves for spicy fragrant goodness.

Then I hopped in the shower and rinsed the bicarb out (mmmm, scalp massage). My hair felt silky and pretty awesome even at this point. Then I did another scrub with the vinegar solution, which smelt strongly enough of vinegar that I realised I'd forgotten to add the vanilla essence. Rinsed out the vinegar, finished my shower, added some vanilla essence to the bottle and popped it back in the bathroom.

results! )

helenic: (inspiral)

The Memory Glow lantern installation for the Planet Angel X-Party continues apace. Here's the blurb in case you missed it. And a sneak preview picture! )

Our 'studio' has been relocated from the living room of [personal profile] bard's house (many thanks to him, [livejournal.com profile] strongtrousers and [profile] cyrus_ii for putting up with us imposing for quite so long) to my parents' new house in Chigwell, because it has All The Rooms and my parents are lovely. We're not used to being close enough to do this kind of favour for each other. It's marvellous and I'm immensely grateful for it.

So today, Niamh and I are moving into one of my parents' spare rooms for a week, so I can devout my every spare waking hour to finishing decorating lanterns without leaving my cat abandoned and starving in Tottenham. It's going to be a bit strange being away from my comptuer and commuting to OG from there, but it's the only option. This would be massively easier if I had a studio, or a bigger house, but while I'm still earning my fortune I'm really lucky to have parents who are willing and able to help out.

As well as the inevitable last-minute finishing-the-lanterns crisis, entirely unhelped by [livejournal.com profile] bluedevi's and my chronic perfectionism, at the moment I'm trying to untangle a whole heap of last minute logistical crises. The lantern-making workshop we're running on the night is now sorted in terms of designs and materials. The LEDs for the installation have been ordered and we've got a plan for how and when we're going to rig them. [livejournal.com profile] bluedevi and I will head to the venue on the morning of the Party to spend the day rigging and getting everything right (and dealing with the inevitable last minute things going wrong). We're running the craft table until midnight and (I think!) have the rest of the evening off to party and enjoy ourselves :) Then we're staying on Saturday morning to de rig, and we have a tentative plan for where the lanterns go after the Party.

But we're stuck on how to get them there. This isn't really a last-minute panic - we've known all along that we didn't have a transport solution, and were relying on Planet Angel to help out. But various options have fallen through, and we're getting to the stage of Desperately Asking Everyone We Know On The Internet. Hi, internet! We can offer free tickets to the Party, petrol money, pints of your favourite tipple and probably more - if there's something you'd like in return just ask and we'll see what we can do :)

There are twelve lanterns of varying sizes. Half of them are stackable cuboids and cylinders; a few are awkward round shapes. Three of them are BIG round shapes - the biggest is 3ft across. It's a bit tricky because they're bulky and fragile (although very lightweight) so ideally we are looking for someone with an estate car or people carrier.

At the moment they're in Chigwell in Essex, at my parents' house. We need to get them from there to the Colosseum in Vauxhall on the morning of Friday 27th so we can rig the installation. We know they just about fit in a car because [profile] strongtrousers drove them to Chigwell, although it'll be a tight squeeze and there won't be space for passengers.

Now there are two ways of doing this...

If someone is able to drive to Chigwell on Friday morning, we'll help you pack the lanterns into the car, then you drive to Vauxhall while [livejournal.com profile] bluedevi and I get on the tube (carrying the biggest two/three lanterns by hand if necessary) and meet you at the venue. Easy!

However, we know that most people are working during the day Friday ... so if necessary we can do the journey in two stages.

If anyone is able to drive up to Chigwell on Wednesday or Thursday (in the evening maybe?) and drop the lanterns off somewhere in South/Central London a bit closer to Vauxhall, we can leave them there until Friday morning and then collect them in a cab to take them to the venue.

So... is anyone able to help out with the driving? And if you don't drive, do you have a house within affordable cab distance of Vauxhall where you could store our lantern project for a day or two next week?

Thanks so much in advance to anyone able to volunteer. We are A Bit Stuck so any help you could give would be massively appreciated.

helenic: (CCTV - PSUK)

I made some cheeky icons based on this gallery of CCTV-inspired art. Also one based on a graffiti from the G20. Feel free to use them if you like! It would be courteous to credit me/the source gallery/the original artist (if known), but if you only do one the latter two are more important.

helenic: (CCTV - big government)

The Home Office has just announced its revised plans to keep the DNA profiles of innocent people on the National DNA Database, despite an EU ruling that this constitutes a breach of human rights. The new policy, under which DNA samples can be taken from any individual stopped by police for an arrestable offence, permits retention of these samples for six years regardless of whether the individual was convicted or released without charge.

This directly contravenes the decision made by the European Court of Human Rights in the S and Marper case last December, in which all 17 judges unanimously ruled that the UK policy of indefinitely retaining DNA samples from people who had not committed a crime was illegal under EU law.

The Association of Chief Police Officers claimed that this ruling would seriously limit their use of DNA technology. They therefore advised chief constables to ignore the EU decision, and since the Strasbourg ruling, while the Home Office drafts new legislation in response to the EU's decision, police have added DNA profiles of over 90 000 people who have never been convicted of an offense to the database. Various proposals have been submitted, condemned by human rights organisations, rewritten, resubmitted - and no response to the EU ruling is yet to pass through Parliament. The current set of plans, if passed, are likely to be in contempt of the EU court, and will no doubt provoke another long-winded round of litigation. The Home Office is clearly making every attempt to avoid the strongly-worded recommendations of the ECHR, and while the UK legislators drag their feet, every day more innocent people are added to a criminal database.

So what's the problem? )
helenic: (every turn of the wheel is a revolution)

I've been thinking about online democracy a lot since my post the other day. Some of it's pretty exciting.

Mostly I'm just overwhelmed at how big the conversation is. I'm seeing new stuff everywhere I look. I think these next few months, the closing months of the failed New Labour project when no-one really wants Cameron to be Prime Minister, are going to be key for the conversation about democratic reform. I don't think there's time for anything to happen now but the energy is now, before the change happens, when everyone's excited by the possibilities. After the Tories get in I expect the fire will go out of the talk for a bit, but then we have the next four years to actually make something happen.

Anyway, so I've talked about Open Up, and linked a couple of the huge number of blog posts in the wake of the success of the Trafigura/Jan Moir temporary collectives. Seriously, these articles are everywhere. Here's another one. This isn't new, of course: people have been talking about reforming democracy online since Usenet, and I still think of MySociety as the pioneers in using online technologies to improve the quality of our democracy.

But recently ... I dunno, maybe I've just been getting more involved, but it feels like in the last twelve months it's really been gaining momentum. Our Kingdom has an ongoing conversation about democratic reform, and Guy Aitchison, the dude who runs it, is also heavily involved with the Power 2010 campaign.

Then there's 38 Degrees, and Louder, The Downing Street Project ... and that's just in the UK: worldwide it seems that new social innovation campaigns like The Girl Effect and the World Appreciative Enquiry Conference are springing up all over the place. Then there's thinktanks like IPPR which seem to overlap a surprising amount with the grassroots movements. It's inspiring and hopeful - so many people agreeing things need to change, and pouring so much ideas and energy and time into working towards that! - but also chaotic and dizzying. There's just so much of it! To what extent are all these different groups even aware of each other? Are they duplicating each other's work, are they all trying to reinvent the wheel? If none of this has any effect on the current system, is it so much shouting to the void? Are the messages reaching the people who need to hear them, or is it just a big echo chamber? With so many diverse groups, all with their own agenda, won't they just drown each other out? Do we need to get together and find points of commonality? Is that even possible?

Probably not, but today I've been thinking not about campaigns but about the tools they use. Yesterday I was utterly thrilled to read The Future of Politics is Mutual, which is by an awesome person I hadn't heard of before, called Hannah Nicklin. It's on the differences between the traditional press and online media, narrative vs information and the information economy, and the concept of wikipolitics.

What is Wikipolitics? )

You should read the thread, because there's some really good stuff in there. I've been spamming the thread with comments and thinking lots. Like,

some thoughts )

I don't think we've come close to hitting on the answer on it yet. I don't think a wikipolitics project as described would be likely to have wings: it would probably just turn into a community of hypergeeks bickering over details. I think Wave has the potential to be useful in the longterm but it's not ready yet, and neither is society.

There are a couple of "unconferences" on this stuff happening this week: Open 09 and £1.40. I can't get to either, but I'll be interested in hearing if the discussions went anywhere useful.

I don't know how to harness the energy of this conversation into action. I don't know how to get the disparate online groups to work together. But I think there's something in this, I really do.

I think the only way to fix our current broken democracy is to decentralise it to some extent. I think the internet not only offers strong models for governance in the form of open source ethics and the open source community, but also a unique opportunity for discourse, collaboration and development.

Anyway. This is me brainstorming. Feel free to join in.

helenic: (riot police)

Police State UK have just run a special series of articles on public order policing, surrounding the inaugural public meeting of the new MPA Civil Liberties Panel last Thursday.

Holding the Met to account - by me on Wed 4 Nov 2009 at 23:40
The key issue in the wake of the G20 is accountability. Of the 276 complaints made to the IPCC, very few cases have been investigated or upheld. The IPCC has instructed the MPS to discount any complaints where the officer in question cannot be identified. This is enormously problematic: in what appeared to be a deliberate and calculated effort, hundreds of officers removed their identifying numerals during the policing of G20. This alone constitutes grounds for complaint - Paul Stephenson has called it "completely unacceptable" for police on duty not to wear their numerals - but it also allows the IPCC to dismiss any allegations of excessive force made against officers who removed their ID. Any police inclined to use disproportionate force in a public order situation is thereby given a "get out of jail free" card. Read more »

A mandate for change? - by me on Thu 5 Nov 2009 at 18:17
"Today is all about listening to you - we're not here to speak for the Met, nor to defend them," said Victoria Borwick, chair of the MPA's newly convened Civil Liberties Panel, opening this morning's public meeting. The scope of the meeting - an evidence gathering session on public order policing, and more specifically the G20 demonstrations in April - had been unclear to some. Many people had brought questions demanding immediate answers, but instead their concerns have been 'noted', with no clear idea if answers will be forthcoming. Read more »

Whatever happened to peaceful protest? - by Anna Bragga on Fri 6 Nov 2009 at 14:04
After yesterday's inaugural public meeting of the panel, I am left with an all pervading sense of gloom that no matter how well presented our arguments, no matter how much documented evidence we produce (from citizen journalists to accredited professionals), and no matter how many lawyers and experts we bring in, little will change. Read more »

Deterring Peaceful Protest - by denny on Sun 8 Nov 2009 at 20:33
There's been some good news lately as far as the policing of protest is concerned... the well-established public-order policing policy of 'hit them until they stop, then hit them a bit more' seems to be going out of favour. This is certainly a good thing. Nobody likes being hit over the head, and any reduction in such violence is to be celebrated. However, one of the important concerns such violence raised was that people would be (and have been) put off attending protests due to the possibility of police violence - and while this one issue is now being addressed, there are still plenty of other factors being used to deter protestors from showing up to any given protest. Read more »

Damned if they do, damned if they don't - by me on Mon 9 Nov 2009 at 19:16
Anonymity is increasingly difficult to maintain in the UK. We are tracked and recorded everywhere we go, and the police have access to national databases. The basic precautions necessary to try and slip through the net of police information-gathering require a level of personal inconvenience which many would find off-putting. And yet the alternative is being entered into the FIT/NECTU/etc system of harassment; I can see how facing a choice between the two would put people off attending demos at all. Read more »


We've also updated the site design a bit to add our Twitter feed and hopefully make the articles a bit easier to read. We're still working on the changes - we eventually want fluid width articles, I'm nagging Denny for the option of longer lead text on the homepage, and I want to improve the usability of the sidebar links. But we're at the "it'll do" stage with a lot of this due to having no time at all.

Please do create a free account on the site so you can post comments and submit articles. We welcome all contributions from anyone interested in civil liberties in the UK.

helenic: (every turn of the wheel is a revolution)

Couple of good articles on the sacking of David Nutt, which I find abhorrent for all the obvious reasons, plus those articulated by JQP in his two "Expertease" articles written at the start of this year.

This isn't the first time this issue has been on our radar. Drugs legislation is one of the easiest targets. Then there was the debate about Green Party science policy earlier this year. Now this, which some commentators have compared to the way policy on ID cards continues to ignore expert advice. Detecting a bit of a theme?

[Democracy] relies on one very important variable, which British society has utterly failed to deliver: accurate information.
In theory, democracy works for the benefit of mankind because the government responds to public demands. This requires two things to be fulfilled. The public have to be rational, which sometimes pertains, and it has to have access to reliable information, or else its demands rest on false assumptions. But the media, its main source of information, does not deliver. It provides truth, yes, but it also spews out myths and nonsense to substantiate its editorial agenda.

(Drugs policy and the death of reason, politics.co.uk, Monday, 02, Nov 2009 12:00)

Ah, everyone's favourite rant about democracy and the media! Excellent: I always enjoy having someone else do this one for me. It even includes references to Plato, if not to the process of Athenian democracy itself.

You all know this already, but just in case: Athenian democracy worked because it was tiny. Something in the region of 60,000 adult male citizens had the right to vote at any one point in the mid-5th century BC - a figure that dropped during wartime. Start with a small city-state and then exclude women, children and adolscents, immigrants, slaves, criminals and anyone who hasn't completed military training. The result is a direct democracy, where those involved are small enough to sit in a single assembly, watch political speakers and satirical theatre as a single audience, and participate in the same big debate. More oligarchy than democracy by modern standards. (Is more complicated than this, but you get the idea. Feel free to comment if you think I'm misrepresenting.)

Modern democracies which aim at representing the demands of the whole population - including, even more recently, women - can't be directly representational (until we develop secure tech for remote voting) and they can't be directly informed. Our representation is a mess, and so is our information. I mean the internet is great and all, but so far it mostly seems to be resulting in more people sharing opinion than data. (Peer-reviewed science has massive class and accessibility issues - is wikipedia the closest thing we have to democratic information?)

Anyway, so I'm sure you all know my feelings on policy and the meeja. What I found kind of interesting reading the post-Nutt-sacking commentary (har) is the fact that no-one's thought to relate this issue to climate science. Which seems a bit odd. Look at this paragraph from that Nutt vs ID cards article:

That's not to say politicians should blindly and slavishly heed scientific advice without any other considerations. Of course not. The whole nature of politics is about balancing various constituencies of interest. But politicians should be able to explain the reason for their decisions when they choose to ignore independent expert advice and press ahead with proposals that potentially put the UK population at greater risk.


Governments have been ignoring expert advice on climate change for, gosh, several decades now. I'm outraged about that, but I'm not surprised. It's not even really news, apart from in the "shit continues to hit fan" sense - but that's not unusual either.

If the outrage over the Home Office not only disregarding the recommendations of its chosen experts, but actually punishing those experts for telling the truth, leads to it happening less, well, great: perhaps they'll start listening to expert advice on environmental policy. Drugs legislation is a relatively quiet issue - you don't get many people willing to protest about it, and most public figures avoid speaking out on it unless they're happy to be branded a filthy munter.

Climate change should be a considerably less risky thing to talk about: surely most people believe that saving the human race from extinction is a generally good thing, even if they're not willing to act personally to help the cause. I mean, to oversimplify dramatically, this is one of the reasons we have laws, right? To encourage people to do the right thing even if they might not always want to?

Not only does policy fly in the face of scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, those who complain loudly about this are treated far worse by the state than those outraged at scandal of David Nutt's illegitimate sacking. Climate change doesn't seem to make it into any of the commentary on governments ignoring their experts. Is the issue becoming so marginalised that no-one's willing to include it in their analysis? Perhaps they're all just trying to avoid being labelled domestic extremists. In which case, the re-branding of climate activists as a marginal, undesirable group by the police is clearly starting to take effect.

helenic: (elephant reaching to the moon)

The Defend Peaceful Protest meeting last week was exciting. People are still talking about policing and protest: the so-called "media storm" following the G20 looks like it might turn out to be a shift in consciousness after all. And, of course, the police and the state are still struggling with the issue of accountability as it applies to them, so there's work to be done there. [personal profile] denny is running a mailing list for discussion, news and updates - let us know if you'd like to be added to it (there's also a facebook group).

I seem to have volunteered to write up the public MPA meeting on November 5th for PSUK/LibCon/OurKingdom etc, so I want to get my head properly around the issues in advance of the MPA meeting, and if I'm linking people to PSUK it would be nice if there was some recent content on it. (On which note, anyone want to talk about civil liberties, dissent, privacy, surveillance, or policing in the UK? We'd really really love to hear from you - it was never intended to just be me and Denny.) So I'll be at the meeting in the morning, writing in the afternoon, and then then there's a civil liberties protest that evening in Parliament Square: what better way of remembering the fifth of November? Anyway, you should come to the protest if you care about such things, it'll be good.

All of which has motivated me to get back into political blogging again. It was one of the things to be sacrificed this summer in the name of Not Being So Exhausted All The Time, which was fair enough, but now I have an enormous backlog of issues I want to talk about. I've literally spent the whole day sorting through my open tabs, filing links and articles into topics, jotting down thoughts, running ideas past [personal profile] denny and [personal profile] bard and getting them to fill in the gaps for me. (JQP calls me his Chief Research Otter, but I reckon they're both mine.)

So now I have a big pile of Things To Write About, which is a bit overwhelming but I feel better for organising it all a bit. Quite a lot of it doesn't really fit on PSUK, so I might end up shoving stuff on here unless I can write something good enough that I wouldn't be ashamed to submit it to the news sites.

I won't always have lots to say about stuff, in which case it'll end up linked here as well (although the best way of following what I'm reading/interested in is my twitter, which sees far more activity these days than this journal). Like the three excellent articles I've read today on the role of the internet in democracy:

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet by the late Adams, Douglas Adams. Originally published in 1999 and still relevant and true.

‘Interactivity’ is one of those neologisms that Mr Humphrys likes to dangle between a pair of verbal tweezers, but the reason we suddenly need such a word is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport – the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.

I expect that history will show ‘normal’ mainstream twentieth century media to be the aberration in all this. ‘Please, miss, you mean they could only just sit there and watch? They couldn’t do anything? Didn’t everybody feel terribly isolated or alienated or ignored?’

‘Yes, child, that’s why they all went mad. Before the Restoration.’

‘What was the Restoration again, please, miss?’

‘The end of the twentieth century, child. When we started to get interactivity back.’

The end of Adams' article dates it somewhat, so here are two articles from this week, continuing the theme in light of the recent events surrounding Trafigura and Jan Moir, to bring you up to speed:

Poles, Politeness and Politics in the age of Twitter by Stephen Fry, October 19th, 2009
A tweet is a 140 word expression of what’s on one’s mind, what one is doing or dreaming of. No one, not Biz Stone and the other founders of the service, not you nor I and certainly not anyone in the mainstream or techno press, ever had the faintest idea what Twitter would become. We still do not know what it will become. Some of those who dismissed it as it rose in popularity will now be slinking embarrassedly to the sign-on page, while political ginger groups of all kinds, right left, religious secular, fanatical and mild, will be sitting around wondering how to harness its power. ‘Political consultants’ who had never heard of the service six months ago will be hiring themselves out as experts who can create a ‘powerful, influential and profitable Twitter brand’. And the moronic and gullible clients will line up for this new nostrum like prairie settlers queuing for snake oil and salvation.

“If a twazzock like Stephen Fry can wield such influence,” the mainstream parties and their think tanks will be saying, “just imagine what we can do if we get our Twitter strategy right.”

Well, I contend that I do not wield influence. I contend that Twitter users are not sheep but living, dreaming, thinking, hoping human beings with minds, opinions and aspirations of their own. Of the 860,000 or so who follow me the overwhelming majority are too self-respecting, independent-minded and free-thinking to have their opinions formed or minds made up for them in any sphere, least of all Twitter.
Perhaps the foregoing is the most fatuous and maddening aspect of the press’s (perfectly understandable) fear, fascination and dread of Twitter: the insulting notion that twitterers are wavy reeds that can be blown this way or that by the urgings of a few prominent ‘opinion formers’. It is hooey, it is insulting hooey and it is wicked hooey. The press dreads Twitter for all kinds of reasons. Celebrities (whose doings sell even broadsheet newspapers these days) can cut them out of the loop and speak direct to their fans which is of course most humiliating and undermining. But also perhaps the deadwood press loathes Twitter because it is like looking in a time mirror. Twitter is to the public arena what the press itself was two hundred and fifty years ago — a new and potent force in democracy, a thorn in side of the established order of things.

And, published today, Can't stop the blog: what the internet has done for ideas by Laurie Penny (aka [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet.
The American abolitionist Wendell Phillips once said that '"What gunpowder did for war, the printing press has done for the mind." The internet has had the equivalent impact of the advent of atomic warfare on the world of ideas, making individual thinkers part of a chain reaction whose power can be immediate and devastating. Marshall McLuhan observed in 'The Gutenberg Galaxy that "societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication". The British are desperate to see our creakily ancient institutions - newspapers and political parties dominated by wealthy Oxbridge graduates and a parliamentary system where official communication between the two houses is still overseen by the hereditary figure of Black Rod - reshaped by the internet.

Which leads me neatly to the two new ideas I've seen this week to ise the internet as a tool to "reshape democracy". The first is PartyStarter.org, an as yet embryonic idea rejected by the 4ip call for ideas, but published to see if anyone else wants to pick up the baton.
Membership of the main UK political parties has steadily declined since the 1970s. Disaffection with parties and politicians is at an all time high. Yet despite this, the big parties have hardly changed their structure since being formed in the 19th and 20th centuries (see http://www.paulmiller.org/partypoopers.htm for background on the slow demise of political parties in the UK and internationally).

Rather than focusing on getting more people to join the existing parties, PartyStarter will encourage and help people to set up their own political parties. It is based on the belief that innovation in the way that parties organise and operate is more likely to come from new ’start-up’ parties than from existing parties.

[personal profile] denny has pointed out that we already have lots of political parties (including enthusiastic and lively new parties like the Pirate Party), but they don't stand a chance of gaining power under the current first past the post system. So perhaps not that useful, although it's good to see ideas being shared, and I think this sort of thing is indicative of the general mood for electoral reform and grassroots political change.

Open Up Now is an exciting new campaign for just that, based on small steps which seem fairly credible.

The way Parliament is run and government does business must change - and getting the best possible people into office is the starting point.

That's why we want the people, not the politicians, to select who stands for election. That's why we want Open Primaries in every constituency, where the people select their own candidates, and where anyone can put themselves forward to be a candidate. That's why we want all current MPs to agree to stand for re-selection in an Open Primary. We want this before the next General Election. And this is what Open Up is calling on every political party to do.

You should read Heather Brooke's excellent article on transparency, MP nominations and party whips. I don't know if Open Up will acheive their aims - it seems a stretch, although I've signed the petition and it seems to be gaining a decent amount of momentum for a new campaign. But I seem to be seeing an increasing number of calls for reform, and they seem to be getting increasingly credible. Or am I just looking properly for the first time? Either way, it's excited. Now we just have to make a few of them start to stick.


Sep. 1st, 2009 02:16 pm
helenic: (Default)

Thanks to [personal profile] denny for pointing me at 10:10, a scheme through which individuals and businesses pledge to reduce their emissions by 10% in 2010:

Everyone's looking for something to do about climate change. What’s needed is something straightforward, immediate and meaningful. I think I've found it.

Today I joined thousands of individuals and organisations from across the country to unite behind one simple idea: that by working together we can achieve a 10% cut in carbon emissions during 2010. It’s called 10:10, and everyone can be a part of it.

Cutting 10% in one year is a bold target, but for most of us it’s an achievable one, and is in line with what scientists say we need right now. By signing up to 10:10 we’re not just promising to reduce our own emissions – we’re becoming part of a national drive to hit this ambitious goal country-wide. In our homes, in our workplaces, our schools and our hospitals, our galleries and football clubs and universities, we’ll be backing each other up as we take the first steps on the road to becoming a low-carbon society.

To find out more and sign up go to www.1010uk.org
To read coverage of the campaign from the Guardian go to www.guardian.co.uk/10-10

I just signed up; it's all stuff I'm trying to do anyway, and if enough people join the scheme, it will help put much-needed pressure on politicians to start meeting targets. The UK started the industrial revolution, we should be the first to visibly start reducing the problems its caused. A lot of political will and an enormous shift in the public consciousness is going to be necessary, but I think it's achievable. And the more countries commit to reducing carbon emissions, the greater a chance we have of persuading the big multinationals to follow suit.

helenic: (windowsill; cafe; people-watching)

Climate Camp:


Feminism links, via various people, but most of them from [personal profile] gavagai. Sorry if I've posted any of these before; between IRC, facebook, twitter and here it's sometimes hard to keep track what goes where.


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