Monthly Archives: September 2012

Question Time in Brighton

I was wriggling with joy when David Dimbleby, treasure of the British media legacy and all-round hero, announced with evident pleasure that Question Time was back for a new season of lively discussion on the pertinent issues of the week. Having hosted many hundreds of times since 1994, Dimbleby deserves this praise as throughout he has brilliantly employed his privilege of genuinely challenging his political guests and their frequent attempts at speaking politically skewed truths and occasional lies. He is an exemplary moderator who exerts charismatic control backed with an impressive knowledge of the subject at hand. And almost every other subject for that matter. The opportunity for the people of whichever home the show claims from week to week, to directly address public figures and express their honest opinions, is incredibly meaningful in my opinion. I referred to this show an example of a healthy culture of informative and thought-provoking programming recently and stand by this – despite some rather cringe-worthy elements in this inaugural episode of the umpteenth season of the show.

A general and irritating theme throughout the history of Question Time as I’ve experienced it, is the soapbox aspect. Surprisingly, even when confronted with an engaged and sceptical audience, politicians and other public figures have a habit of rattling out the party line or discussing issues in lame platitudes or with populist drivel. Audience members themselves also occasionally betray a false or unduly influenced understanding of certain situations and it can be frustrating. Thursday night wasn’t exactly an exception although there were some pleasingly redeeming aspects on both sides. And regardless of these criticisms I don’t think they have have ever been serious enough to deny the value of this weekly hour of interactivity.

It has been a busy summer of events however and without the show running for most of June through September there was perhaps more pent up angst than normal. The very first question – Will we see the same level of anger as in Athens and Madrid once the full impact of the UK government’s austerity measures are felt?

I don’t want to personally dissect all the questions put to the panel as in fact the panel do usually, eventually get around to saying most of the relevant and insightful things that pertain to the major perspectives on an issue. I also imagine, if reading this, you might have taken the time to watch the episode yourself and I’d rather focus on the inferences drawn from these episodes. In this case, Alexander, Harman and Rees-Mogg traded interesting thoughts that amusingly complied with their party positions. Alexander with confidence and hint of delusion defended government fiscal policy, Harman threw fairly tired criticisms at him that belied Labours shameless hypocrisy when commenting on fiscal policy and Rees-Mogg scoffed at the notion we would ever behave like Europeans. He did actually make some sense though if we filter out his unfortunate Eurosceptic bent and if you have the egalitarian ability to listen past his archetypal posh accent.

Steve Coogan was actually the first panellist to make the hairs on the back of my neck bristle with anger. He entered the fray with an absolute howler, claiming that the Mansion Tax, despite being economically meaningless, should be put in place just to placate the less well-off in the country. I couldn’t believe my ears but had no need to rewind because he reiterates the point a few bumbling times over before letting Alexander jump back in with some actual financial knowledge. This was the start of what turned out to be a very bad hour for the oddly foul-tempered comedian.

I’ve never watched “Location, Location, Location”, and frankly had no idea who Kirstie Allsopp was until Googling her later, but she ably countered with exactly my feelings on Coogan’s thought. People who are not wealthy do not by default begrudge the wealth of others and it is terribly patronising to suggest they do and would be interested in what Coogan saw as a purely vindictive measure. Coogan, millionaire, can in my opinion not possibly speak to the genuine feelings of an entire economic class and if he believes he can, he is a disingenuous moron. Growing up in a happy working-class environment does not a fucking Karl Marx make (excuse my language). Further, he clearly lacks even a microcosm of nuance as he then added to his opinion that people with mansions vote Conservative so of course the Mansion Tax wouldn’t pass… but of course he was the exception that proves the rule (he is the proud owner of the £2.4 million Ovingdean Grange just outside of Brighton) and would be happy to pay up.

I despise this particular comment of the wealthy liberal, usually a celebrity, that he or she would be happy to pay out these extra taxes. The truth is this – if Steve Coogan doesn’t think he is paying enough tax then he is perfectly welcome and able to pay as much as he wants. His occasional activities with the Rainbow Trust and other charities are nice and surely appreciated but is he aware that he can give his money to his local NHS Trust, school board, council or any other public service of his choosing? Given that the Mansion Tax is unlikely to be implemented, and that’s according to Coogan’s own view, I look forward to reading about his multi-hundred thousand pound donations to a variety of local and national bodies.

At the same time however, I don’t care what Steve Coogan does, the sheer outrage of trying to be a defender of social justice and a super car fetishist at the same time is enough to make an anti-emetic medication vomit.

He spent most of the rest of this episode making similarly stupid statements, along the lines of all Tories believing that everyone not Tory is a “pleb” and that going through private education inevitably makes one a Tory and disqualifies one from public office because how could a toff ever understand the plight of the working man? I could introduce him to a few people. He was vitriolic, unintelligent and ill-informed and I could only chuckle when Dimbleby retorted to his comment that comprehensive schooling did him no harm by asking if it did him any good.

This episode of Question Time caused a small reaction in the journalism pool, notably from Ally Fogg writing for the Guardian. He clearly has a minor case of tumescence for Coogan as he lavished him with praise for his socially agreeable position and describes the actually intelligible (though admittedly uber-Etonian) Rees-Mogg as a “tubular balloon of hereditary privilege” that he would enjoy throwing solid objects at, for saying something he didn’t actually say. Where Rees-Mogg was explaining he wanted state-provided education to be on par with private education so that working in government was more broadly accessible, Mr. Fogg apparently heard, “people with a state school background are simply not up to the job of politics.”

I am tired of the reactionary celebrity or ideologue trying to involve themselves in matters that are totally beyond them. I am even more tired of the notion that the United Kingdom’s antiquated but ever diminishing set of class sensibilities are the responsibility of an oppressive aristocracy. If this episode of Question Time said anything to me it is that, in the least, both sides of the economic line are responsible for this needlessly angry and tribal discourse. I disagree with Rees-Mogg in a number of ways but I respect his intelligence, although often misapplied. I disagree with Coogan in a number of ways but can no longer respect him (where respect was born for his vocal objections to media violations) because he in no way tried to be objective. He stood on his soapbox and spouted unadulterated nonsense.

Featuring: Harriet Harman, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Kirstie Allsopp, Danny Alexander, Steve Coogan

Issues: UK Economic Policy, Public vs Private Education in Government, Andrew Mitchell vs The Met, Rochdale Grooming, Banking and Housing, The Future of the Liberal Democrats

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The State of Governance: UK Edition Two

I need to start this article with an apology. In Edition One of this series I referred to a number of government issues, all accumulating towards a fairly straightforward condemnation of the state of things as they are. And yet I made one significant mistake. By choosing to repeat the moniker of one particular incident, that being the VAT surcharge proposed for certain hot goods sold on and off our high streets, I became complicit in my own pet hatred of a brand of political and media language that we can all do without. I dare not actually repeat the name in question but we’ll just say it stems from an infamous chapter in American history during which one Richard M. Nixon was obliged to resign from the most powerful office on Earth due to his direct involvement in the attempted cover-up of the break-in of DNC headquarters by subordinates ostensibly trying to uncover evidence of illicit funding to the DNC by Cuban authorities. Snappy.

The Watergate scandal, named after the Watergate hotel and office complex, went beyond this incident however and eventually Nixon implicated himself through recordings he had covertly made of private conversations with various individuals subsequent to this attempted cover-up. This was an astonishing episode in the narrative of US politics that had profound implications for the relationship between citizenry and government as well as the question of executive authority. Its importance cannot be understated.

And yet in the ensuing decades we have grown all too fond of the suffix “gate” attached to any and every scandal from the trivial to the somewhat serious. The aforementioned incident involving, amongst other products, a delicacy of the Cornwall region, was perhaps the final straw for me and despite my indiscretion I had sworn never again to exaggerate such pure banality as a Conservative case of mean policy diarrhoea with such a connection to a definitively seminal event. Even if that was what everyone else was calling it.

No, the use of the “gate” term has certainly now run its course, and likely did some time ago. It is idiotic to use such a term when in fact all this does is dilute the understanding of future generations of a time when the leader of the free world engaged in corruption and criminal activities that appeared more along the lines of an implausible Hollywood script, than the true precedent for the benchmark of genuine political scandal. I never felt more provincial than when newscaster after journalist after opposition member, with regards to what I will now rename Osborne’s Pasty Nightmare, regurgitated the term with that often apparent twinkle of self-satisfaction for having dared to be so terribly bloody clever. Oh, the scorn…

Having said this I could now take an elegant tangent back to what was the planned substance of this article, that being a disdainful look at the Labour party. But actually no amount of elegance could adequately achieve the seamless transition I dreamt of and so I find myself hijacked again by a propensity for distraction. I would rather stick to the issue of language in and around politics and my perception of that itself having been hijacked by the effete gaggle of politicians we are these days served by.

I have certainly mentioned in other articles that part of my enjoyment of the political process in a few nations is the theatre of it. This is partly symptomatic of my understood position of glib observer and commentator, but even though politics should be the serious business of making people’s lives better, it is simply true that there is an obnoxious element of PR and marketing. Stemming from this is the majority of that theatrical aspect, which I usually revel in. Sadly, the fun stops with a resounding thud when I’m forced to listen to the politician who, when grappling with profundity and neutrality all at once, in a struggle akin to grasping a lubricated fish, manages to say absolutely nothing. It is bewildering.

We could probably name the usual language of politicians a language entirely unto itself, and indeed, no longer do our esteemed MPs speak English, I hereby call them users of the unwanted dialect of unremitting twattery. Before you accuse me of being rather overly agitated by this impairment of communication, I should defend myself.

God help me but these are actually important individuals, involved in the important undertaking of running the country. I believe that in a democracy the people should be engaged, and speaking as an avid follower of these issues, nothing turns me off more than this dire situation. It does not surprise me in the slightest that direct democratic participation in the UK has steadily declined since 1997 when professional politicians began to outnumber the politicians of conscience (dare I suggest such a thing exists) and this language became prevalent. What ever happened to the statesman who with eloquence and frankness could deliver a message and actively engage the people with it? I am not imagining this was once a real thing as despite Tony Blair’s era bringing this foul culture into play, he was a supreme communicator. As is Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton for that matter, when either are in form.

It now seems the rare exception that a politician speaks in their fashion, although it so desperately shouldn’t be. Vince Cable is often hailed for undressed language, and it’s perhaps his greatest bit of political currency given his occasional habit of proposing curious initiatives. Incidentally, this opens the door to the question of the substance of policy itself. Maybe I am being too hard on the poor folks over in Westminster, as perhaps if they had even the nucleus of a good idea to run with they wouldn’t have to veil needless tripe with a barrage of meaningless qualifiers and exhaustively researched catchwords and phrases that tested well in sample groups. Perhaps if for once a policy could speak for itself we could entirely forgo the mildly sordid and intrusive experience of an MPs ramblings.

We should be so lucky. I realise again as I draw this piece to a close that I’m not achieving the higher goal of discussing such a diamond-in-the-rough as logical policy but then I can find praise for myself in this. Clearly lacking a decent idea at present I say that in distinction to the majority of our lamentable public servants I did not therefore choose to enter politics.

I honestly did want to spend some time with this piece discussing the Labour opposition. And in light of Nick Clegg’s recent surge of heinously transparent policy shifts away from the Tory side of things I think it would be just about reasonable to discuss him a little further. Despite the… Lib Dem thing. But I’m exhausted with rage now and should the House of Commons not collapse in on itself overnight, I’ll have wandered down that way and repeatedly smashed my ailing, frustrated head against its increasingly redundant walls for nothing.

Until next time. Although to corroborate this article and pre-empt the next, please watch this delightful clip featuring Steve Bell offering his commentary on the current Lib Dem conference. Ask no questions as to why I loathe them thereafter.

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An Issue of Faith and the Islamic Protests

Here we are again. Great swathes of North Africa and the Middle East, the heartlands of Islam, stand in protest against a perceived slight of the western world against their faith. This slight is, of course, “Innocence of Muslims”, the incredibly crude and offensive effort of the enigmatic “Sam Bacille” now thought to be one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an American-Egyptian of the Coptic faith. His short YouTube video wastes no time in offering such intentionally outrageous portrayals of the most sacred aspects of Islam that in fact one could almost sympathise with the reaction seen across the region. Almost.

This seems to be a perpetually revisited issue in the modern world. Why is Islam so singular in its sensitivity to criticism? Had this video dealt with Christianity, Judaism or any other major world faith in similarly revolting terms it would have been totally ignored other than to perhaps elicit a view giggles in the smoke-filled rooms of younger students. However the production values alone are enough to disengage even the most vehement rib-poker of religious values and I suspect it would simply have vanished from memory. Indeed, the “Innocence of Muslims” (IoM) almost did until it was finally translated into Arabic and promoted, months after its publication, to the attention of Egyptian news outlets by another Coptic, one Morris Sadek.

The initial feeling is that this entire situation is completely needless. What was the point in making this appalling video? What was the point in promoting or translating it? Why does the Islamic faith have to react so strongly to a cheap insult? It’s all incredibly frustrating for a pragmatist. Regardless, the situation exists and despite being so entirely unnecessary, raises questions of great significance as to the nature of faith, it’s place in the world today and more specifically, the relationship between Islam and the western world.

I am not a person of faith. It is my personal view that organised religion is an anachronism best studied for its academic relevance to human history and culture. My interest in Jesus, Moses or Buddha ends at trying to properly contextualise their historical reality with what I perceive as the myth of their divine status. This is not to say that spirituality has no value, as in fact I think it profoundly does, to another person, but my interest in dogma stopped with the realisation that logically, philosophically and historically it made no sense. Hopefully not in contradiction to this however is that, to a reasonable degree, I understand the mind of the faithful. In my youth I was possessed with a notion of belief.

Here is my contention.

Ignoring the question of whether or not belief is rational itself, the rational response of the believer when confronted with a flagrant denouncement of their religion should be akin to mild amusement. I construct this fictional conversation between two actors:

Sceptic: “Your religion is false, your god is false and thus your way of life is false. I shun your values completely.”

Rational Believer: “You’re a fool. My god is true and I live my life by the word of God. I will be rewarded in heaven and you will suffer eternal damnation. No punishment of mine could ever be greater. Live your life in sin and I shall pity you”

Sceptic: “But I pity you. There is no god and so you waste your life by limiting yourself to laws that have no meaning”

Rational Believer: “Then you’re a greater fool still. My faith is strong and my life is enriched by abiding these laws. I do it in God’s name, nothing could be better.”

The greatest defence of faith is total confidence. Anger is most often the symptom of uncertainty and fear, a reaction to the unpleasant possibility that what you strike out against has actual value or merit.

Christianity: “I am the Lord thy God… Thou shalt have no other gods before me…”

Islam: “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God”

These are statements of pure certainty, The Ten Commandments and shahada are unequivocal. Theoretically a person of faith should have no room for anger in their defence of faith, should their faith be true. They believe in a god and have the word of this god as their defence. Sadly the greatest strength of the faithful is undermined by the concept of blasphemy. The idea that an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent entity could be insulted by a mere human is strange to me. The idea that this insult must then be addressed by human actions is even more strange. Again, what punishment could we enact that could ever be worse than divine punishment?

Is not blasphemy a human construct born out of the idea that faith requires a human defence?

Self-defeating Believer: “Call my god false, undermine a foundation of my social and cultural existence? Well, my god says I should take your head off with this big sword. So there, I won that argument, anyone else feel the same way?”

____________

Setting aside the issue of religion for a moment we should look at the more open concept of free speech. It is completely unoriginal to state at this point that never should any form of non-violent expression incite a violent reaction. This isn’t only born from the importance of always being able to say what you want without fear of physical reprisal (including against those you might criticise; incitement to hate is violent expression) but it also represents the need in all situations for a measured response. Nakoula made a video clip, and an extremely poor one at that. Where is the proportional nature in an entire global region taking to the streets? Perhaps a counter-film, along the lines of Terry Jones being sodomised by the bowsprit of the Ark while Jesus and Judas got familiar on the deck would have been more appropriate? Just an idea. That one, incidentally, would have been just as accurate as IoM and hopefully some bright, young Egyptian media students could up the quality a bit.

____________

Time to change the tone somewhat. The truth of the current protests is that they are largely peaceful albeit still quite lively in their reaction to this video. There is actually even an apologetic element with counter-protests defending the majority of peaceful Muslims. A minority of undoubtedly politically motivated actors have escalated these protests towards the violent assaults on various embassies and western corporate properties. Commentators and various media outlets have been quite careless in not very directly addressing this as I believe that after some decades of increasing sensitivities, the natural disposition of the less engaged western observer is to view Islam as a sort of monolithic entity lacking in humanity and restraint. It is far too easy to ignore the complexities of this issue.

And IoM was unquestionably designed to create precisely this reaction. It is maybe the saddest aspect of the protests that they have played directly into Nakoula’s intentions, as he has made his controversial statement and now has the satisfaction of watching elements of the Islamic world enforce it. It is the responsibility and higher calling of the western world to understand this.

What of the responsibilities of Islam? If the west is to disenfranchise itself from the ill-conceived notion that Islam is a homogeneously aggressive religion then could perhaps the Islamic world begin to de-construct their own anti-western sentiments? “Death to America” is becoming a very boring and unintelligent slogan. The facts behind IoM reveal that the average American, or their government, has as little to do with it as the average Muslim had to do with the attacks of September 11th 2001.

Understanding that an anti-Islamic film was privately funded by an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian, under the guise of being funded by a group of wealthy Jewish contributors, should lead to the understanding that it was patently designed to create strife. There has obviously been a crass miscarriage of information, as to believe that the majority of protesters are wilfully ignorant or independently responsible for their own negative sentiments is to blame anyone throughout history who acted controversially under the lies of an external authority.

What the external authority is in this case is hard to say, I am not sufficiently informed to state that it was hardline governmental elements, extremist religious influences or an extensively established sense of victimisation formed out of years of western manipulation and militancy. Most likely it is all three factors and more still. This incident has notably brought to the conscience once again the truth that there are agitators on both sides with an agenda. They are currently succeeding in this.

The following thought may have occurred to you at some point during the last couple of weeks. If religion didn’t exist in today’s world, where communication is so easy and thus disinformation and over-exposure to prejudice is greatly enabled, none of this and much worse would ever have occurred. In essence this is true and the evidence is clear that religion is struggling to find its place. But as I said earlier, spirituality has value. That it has no value to me is irrelevant to its importance to many though I do make a distinction here between religion and spirituality. It seems to me there is credence in the argument that institutional religion has more often been a motivator of conflict than harmony, such being the nature of difference. I have however no authority to say that spirituality has no place, even if it must be informed through those institutions, because I recognise its value to others.

What I do know is that for this debate to have a positive outcome it requires a much higher level of discourse between the involved parties. The aforementioned wonders of communication that have led to every example of violence and crime seem sorely under-used where solutions are concerned. For every Nakoula, Jones, DWOC, bin Laden, al Queda or Taliban and any example of firebrand preacher, imam or organisation that carries a message of aggression, needs to be a much louder and considerably more rational voice.

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News Media and The Transatlantic Chasm

Thank heavens for The Daily Mail.

And The Sun. The Daily Mirror, The People, The Daily Express, The Morning Star, all of them. Every grotty little tabloid out there, thank you. And it goes without saying to the broadsheets, former and current, The Telegraph, Times, FT, Guardian, Independent, Observer, thank you. We don’t stop at the papers either, thanks be to BBC News, ITN News, CH4 News, Sky News, Newsnight, Question Time, The Daily Politics and any and every print or broadcast medium for the dissemination of information and current affairs that I’ve missed, we in the United Kingdom are truly blessed.

We should all be so goddamn grateful to the British news media establishment, and here’s why. It could be the USA’s news media establishment.

I’ve spent as much time as was wise and a good deal more in the past several months tracking the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections. That’s what I call entertainment. Not because I’m that much of a political junkie, even thought I am, and not because the outcome of these elections is still profoundly tied to the trajectory of the world, even though it is, but because of the theatre.

Obama, Romney and their respective campaigns play their part, as getting people to vote for you will always push you to do some fairly daft things not particularly in the presidential mould. Playing to the base is always a dangerous exercise and again in both cases we’ve seen some surprising rhetoric, although I’m not one for false equivalence and can comfortably state the Republicans have a more particular and unsubtle brand of electoral psychosis. But both of the recent conventions were lock step with the party line and brimming over with varying degrees of enthusiasm and vitriol.

But the real show comes from the USA’s ever degenerating gaggle of 24 hour news networks. I refer primarily to CNN, MSNBC and above all Fox News, who between them dominate the viewing figures for news broadcasts. Before I go any further I would like to give praise to some well-recognised and respected news outfits… ABC, CBS, PBS… and plenty of print formats from the NYT to The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. The sad truth however is that while they and others do hold up the proper end of news journalism, they don’t hold up the popular end and so don’t effect the national discourse quite so dramatically. Your average Republican punter would probably refer to them as intellectually elitist.

Filling the eyes and ears and minds of most Americans are those three big networks, and what a perpetual tussle for ratings they’re in. It’s the source of all their problems that they are commercial enterprises and so must pander to the bottom line, but it doesn’t take a genius to see this. The dynamic is clear, with Fox touting for the right and MSNBC the left, while CNN wriggles around in the dark like a blind and limbless lobotomite attempting neutrality but mostly producing the aforementioned false equivalence that has hammered their viewer numbers down to third from first a decade ago. And how they go about this with gusto. The briefest perusal of any of their website’s media can highlight this for you.

You might be thinking at this point, well, don’t we have the same spectrum of media representation in the UK? How is the USA any worse? For two very important reasons.

First, the tailored bias in the USA is far, far worse. Rachel Maddow and the now defunct Keith Olberman offer(ed) a firebrand-like commentary for MSNBC that gleefully assault(ed) any and all infringements of the right on leftist sensibilities. Poor Wolf Blitzer at CNN must be crying himself to sleep at night knowing how gingerly he must navigate even the most patently one-sided issue the following day. Fox are the standard bearers though. If being generous you only called the other two networks flawed, of Fox you can say without fear that they exist as the PR extension of the Republican party and are only growing more comfortable in this role.

The sheer audacity of their news teams, news anchors, morning shows, feature pieces and all is almost admirable if it weren’t so horrific. Glenn Beck may be gone but the rampant culture of distortion remains as strong as ever, with the likes of Hannity, O’Reilly, Doocy, Carlson, Kelly and Kilmeade using every ounce of discipline to stare straight into the camera on a daily basis and misinform, misrepresent and mislead. Even the so-called “serious” journalists of Fox News are complicit, if in a slightly more inconspicuous and ashamed fashion. I think of Bret Baier and Shepard Smith, and perhaps in the netherworld between these two groups, Neil Cavuto. And there are many more indeed. Sadly for America they all exist in this framework of right-wing ideologues further represented by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and yet further still into the blurred lines of media and politics. We see Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin lapping up Fox News air-time to complement the anchors with “real” perspective.

It is a truly corrupt media culture, and even though Fox flouts the laws of honest journalism more than the rest, they are all three guilty to some extent. With each trying to fill a distinct social niche so as to best optimise commercial value, they fail themselves in what should be the critical aim of the news to offer information and unbiased interpretations where possible.

The second key distinction is an obvious one. I may find a comparable view in The Sun, The Daily Mail or Daily Mirror (the UK’s strident leaders in readership, not to mention their Sunday editions) as unpleasant as one on any of these American networks, but they are, and I pray will always be, only tabloid newspapers. Giving a vocally prejudiced entity a 24 hour television broadcast is probably the easiest way to annihilate rational conversation that I can think of. Sky and BBC News may have 24 hour news services but they are neither openly partisan nor terrestrially available.

We are lucky in the UK for our news media establishment, something that has been very easy to forget in the past couple of years after the atrocity of the phone hacking scandals and reanimated debate as to where the line is drawn in terms of privacy. No matter how disagreeable one might find the tabloids, their existence is important for allowing us to say we have an legitimate and broad discourse that is fairly represented. Even if they spend half their time printing retractions (something every paper has to do occasionally), they are subject to actionable scrutiny. To the best of my knowledge these American news networks are not in the habit of putting their hand up and saying, “Sorry, we were wrong”. In a nation where the major players are engaged in this warped incarnation of the news, this is hugely damaging.

In the wake of the Leveson Inquiry we are more inclined to critique our tabloids, and so we should in the knowledge that this is part of, and constructive to, a healthy media culture. So while even today I lament the attention given to some risqué photos of Kate Middleton, just as I did not so long ago with Prince Harry’s similar predicament, I remain convinced that the tabloids are at worst a necessary evil to those who oppose them and their content. And in light of what they could be transformed into I am grateful for that. Commercialism and the capacity for televisual broadcasting grows ever greater and as a format that allows for a much larger and more easily engaged audience, the absence of a popular American media culture facsimile is nothing short of a godsend.

And on the more serious end of the spectrum we have an astounding track record. Print journalism on par with the finest in the world, exemplary analytical broadcasting like Newsnight and hugely popular interactive forums like Question Time can allow us to say we are, in the majority of cases, doing it right. Suck my informed democracy Aaron Sorkin.

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The State of Governance: UK Edition One

As opposed to the rather more exhaustively referenced piece on Assange and his road to a Butch Cassidy-style ending (Ricardo Platino can be his Sundance Kid, although I’m concerned about the efficacy of English truncheons over Spanish rifles), this one is more visceral. Not just visceral, mind you, more visceral. Thus I defend all oversights of fact and errors of interpretation.

This decision wasn’t at all based on the advice given after the previous article, suggesting that while it’s good to inform, it’s also good to let my readership finish an article without having to catch up on another twenty first. I’m learning. In all honesty, it’s rather more based on the fact that PMQ archives are dreadfully catalogued, and reading endless transcriptions of the speeches of the most asinine political class since time began was making me very sad. I couldn’t be bothered. My hope anyway is that this issue is a little closer to home for some of you and basically irrelevant to the rest. You’ll either know what I’m talking about or not, and if the former, will sympathise or disagree with me based on your existing feelings. This sense is wonderfully encapsulated by a Gary Younge article written pre-election. So before I finish providing my own reasoning for writing this being a waste of time… UK government.

Two and a half years ago I was elated. I might describe myself as a libertarian, which is basically to say I think taxes and government are generally irksome and I prefer to do what I want, when I want. But this conflicts with my other brain which informs me that social justice and equality of most description is incredibly important, and although we can debate the use of taxes and the competence of government in relation to these, it’s not like anyone else is trying very hard.

But two and a half years ago, New Labour had been trying for 13 years and thanks to an affluent upbringing that brought with it some preconceived political ideology, and a smattering of national and global financial catastrophe, I was only too happy to see Brown finally walking the lonely walk out of Downing Street. This emotion didn’t suffer for the short period of uncertainty during which the Con-Lib coalition formed and there was actually a fleeting possibility that Labour could wrangle back the election with some ungodly, mutant “rainbow” coalition of sorts. I would have very seriously burned Westminster to the ground, seeing that democracy as we knew it had died, but I was denied this public service by the marginally acceptable outcome that was.

Even then I wasn’t a complete fascist though, and won’t ignore some of the good things Labour achieved, such as the adoption of the “Third Way”, provision of the national minimum wage and limited aspects of their tax and benefits reforms. Sadly these scarcely served to diminish my increasingly rancorous disdain for Gordon Brown, his affinity for an older, Keynesian model and general denial of the fact that apart from those embodied by Dennis Skinner, I don’t think anyone wanted him. It didn’t help that I found him personally odious, and it would be a good time to mention that I do believe in statesmanship. It may not be the most elevated concept but who leads the nation speaks for the nation, and I’m not ashamed to say that I would have found his disagreeable policies more palatable had he an ounce more charisma to convince me.

And so in came the Tories, rather jubilant after so long in opposition and content for having expediently arranged victory. The mood was such that you would have thought the Lib Dems were a Tory Lite rump, both parties were so eager for a measure of power. I honestly and totally unrealistically imagined this was the start of a golden age of sensible management and sensible policy, that the coalition would only have the best effect of tempering the Tory right and the more leftwards leanings of the Liberals, resulting in a gloriously harmonious government leading the nation out of recession and into prosperity. It felt inevitable and I ate the Rose Garden scenes up and asked for more. Did India really want independence? Those waves have been looking so glumly unruled…

Oh alas, where to begin? This very question has delayed publication of this article as after only a short while of considering this and marshalling my evidence and subsequent thoughts, my head hurt far too much and I had to lie down. The sheer weight of farce has even forced my to redress the theme as more introductory, the beginning of a serial on the many ways Westminster sapped my faith in humanity. For now, for a start, I think we can find significant complaint simply within the failed or misleading manifesto commitments of both coalition parties and the truly shocking degree of incompetence in the cabinet.

Today we have no electoral reform and no parliamentary reform, but instead a host of reforms to the NHS that were not only excluded by the Tory’s promise not to heavily reorganise, but are at this point broadly a pariah. Instead of the Liberal promise to scrap tuition fees we have the most expensive university attendance in history and instead of bolstering younger levels of educational support we lost EMA’s. Compassionate conservatism evaporated in an instant with punishing welfare and public sector reforms in the same fiscal policy that scrapped the 50p and corporate tax rates. New Deal-esque infrastructural and construction projects have failed to materialise and Trident failed to disappear, but then Mitt Romney did tell me recently that the Russians are still our greatest existential threat and I sleep soundly at night knowing we prescribe to his brand of wisdom. And Pastygate… the malicious brainchild of a demented goblin creature.

On a policy level the situation is clearly poor at best, and gets little better on a personnel level. Before we could blink we said goodbye to David Lawes, a so-called treasury and policy wonk ousted on the back of his miscreant expenses. Andy Coulson later followed under a storm of questions regarding his stewardship of the News of the World, with added embarrassment for David Cameron having firmly stood by him. Liam Fox departed his rather sensitive Defence role thanks to allowing one Adam Werrity to tag along whenever he felt like it. The shadow of the Murdoch’s would later revisit and almost engulf both Vince Cable and Jeremy Hunt, the former for “declaring war” on the BSkyB bid and the latter being asked stern questions as to whether he enabled it.

Teresa May actually did go briefly to war with the Civil Service over matters of immigration, and Andrew Lansley with the entire medical profession for obvious reasons. Incredibly he was one of only a few cabinet ministers to take a real knock in the recent reshuffle. I despise reshuffles, such vapid and cynical posturing usually being the remit of a government running out of ideas. Throw in a touch of Oliver Letwin throwing government documents in a St. James Park bin, Francis Maude dangerously suggesting consumers stock up on petrol reserves during the strikes and Michael Gove’s attempts to reinstate Victorian-era educational methods and the cabinet looks to be in genuine disarray.

That’s before you even reach the big dogs. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are walking a razor’s edge. Clegg has almost singularly absorbed every gram of ire generated by his support base and their dissatisfaction with the Liberal agenda being thwarted at most turns. Osborne has become the walking, talking vision of nasty Tory ethics and probably avoids dark alleys in the wake of the hardship suffered by many during this time of austerity. And all of this, from Lawes to Osborne, trickles up to the detriment of Cameron. If delaying this article’s release did any good, it allowed me to observe today’s piece in the Guardian, unveiling the first of possibly many brewing coups. That Bob Stewart was loyal enough not to play along is likely only a temporary reprieve from the Tory backbenchers.

Appointing Maria Miller to Culture Secretary was a telling symptom of Cameron’s increasing fear of reprisals for daring to be moderate. Her voting record on women’s and LGBT rights tells all but are probably short of the mark in terms of satisfying the hard right’s blood-lust for some genuine anti-EU or anti-immigration reform. And so with the old Tory party vying internally for supremacy and an increasingly dissatisfied and obstinate Liberal minority, the coalition itself also looks to be in serious danger. How I long for the Rose Garden again.

It’s astonishing how poorly this coalition have failed in their early aspirations. I fully accept that my initially high expectations were unrealistic and naïve but to have been proved so completely wrong still comes as a shock. But then I truly bought the message of a new compassionate Conservative party, free of the dead weight of the Zac Goldsmiths and Maria Millers of the world, that could effectively function with the Liberals. Their defence of globally hard economic times be damned, I could accept that the recovery was still not really taking off if it weren’t for the tonnage of political ineptitude that also smothered it.

The only thing that remains to be said for now is that if the coalition hadn’t so painfully mismanaged the message of it having been Labour’s initial responsibility, they could still rely on that fact to some extent. But two years of being asleep or drunk at the wheel, and spouting that line with a twinkle in the eye, has killed it. Now I actually do just about agree with Miliband the Younger, that two and half years on the buck does stop at the coalition’s door.

This is not to excuse the Labour Party from further criticism however. I’ve run out of time but next up will be a closer look at the quality of their opposition in context and with their time in government. If possible I shall try to be even more shallow in my deference. Watch out Balls.

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Assange: The Heartless View

As one of my conversational sparring partners mentioned the other day, the Assange case is unique amongst current affairs. Very few issues straddle the span of international, regional and technical politics whilst creating this particularly bizarre sort of the theatre.

When Assange crept onto the scene several years ago I was lukewarm in my assessment of him, based mainly in the feeling that while what he and Wikileaks were doing seemed roguishly heroic and essential to the greater good as embodied by full transparency and accountability, it also felt irresponsible and dangerous to the facts of the real world. Today I feel that had the content of the leaks over those years been closer to a revelation, as opposed to an affirmation of what one could have easily imagined was the filthy, nasty and unspoken truth, then I would have given more praise.

Governments and corporations suffer from, and are complicit in, corruption. The USA committed war crimes and were thoroughly and arrogantly lacking in deference to their international counterparts in the political sphere. People do bad things, are involved in bad things and don’t like other people to know. But effectively we do know. And not just because Wikileaks told us, as while they did deliver the irrefutable evidence, there already exists a monstrous, hydra-like global informational juggernaut in the form of news media, journalism and the internet. Thanks to this, I doubt Wikileaks could honestly claim to have disseminated much that hadn’t been previously conceived of as the assumed truth or conspiracy.

Indeed, despite Assange often lambasting the inferior works of the world’s press as compared to WL’s particular charter as a safe haven for whistle-blowing, there are many fine investigative journalists still at work. Jeremy Scahill alone has published enough material on less-than-savoury US military exploits to create a realistic picture of what happens in today’s wars.

This doesn’t make Wikileaks redundant to any extent, as the definitive proofs they offered us were infinitely more decadent and juicy than the frustrated articles written by tired and jaded, but actual, journalists. The audaciousness of it was also thrilling. There could be no denying the sly pleasure taken from picturing a legion of disparate international official’s heads exploding at any point during the golden years of 2006 to late 2010. This rampant loss of control was, for certainly as long as I’ve taken a keen interest in observing the world, unprecedented.

However, as previously mentioned, it also struck a nerve of uncertainty, and never more palpably than when Assange himself was taking centre stage. Here was a man quite discernibly infatuated with himself and his self-determined mission, who rose from the murky community of “hactivism” where paranoia and a dislike of the “establishment” is almost requisite. The recent escalation of his story, starting with rape allegations in September 2010 and resulting presently in his effective incarceration at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London has completely changed the Wikileaks narrative.

Watch his interview at the 2010 TED conference, only months prior to the first allegations emerging.

Now, I fully appreciate that the only conclusions one could draw from a personal assessment of character and demeanour would be dubious at best. But naturally I have an emotional response to this interview that in my case speaks of a preacher indulging himself quite liberally, and enjoying it. One reason for this is simply that Assange is there, once again as the face and voice of an organisation that otherwise seems intent on remaining highly discreet in it’s membership and activities, with the obvious exception of generating huge publicity around it’s leaks. Second is this telling exchange in the interview when discussing the leak of the 2004 Kroll report, that detailed corruption in the now former Moi administration, but was suppressed.

Anderson – “So, your leak really, substantially, changed the world?”

Assange – “Yes”

The statement is essentially factually accurate enough, if one assumes by ‘your leak’ Anderson implied ‘Wikileaks’ or ‘the whistle-blower you enabled’. But factor in the overall tone of the interview and an adulating audience who almost universally by show of hands proclaim their support for Assange, and this oversight of syntax becomes maybe less innocuous. The fact that Julian Assange and Wikileaks have become almost synonymous entities is the product of his public actions, and has far less do with an irreplaceable, technical role in an organisation of like-minded and highly capable individuals.

In keeping with my negative theme, I challenge the notion that Wikileaks requires any form of ambassador to function properly, an idea that I believe is corroborated by an excellent CNN article by Micah Sifry.

The discontentment expressed by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and Birgitta Jonsdottir is generally clear, and without question in the aftermath of Assange’s sexual scandal. With such a weight of personal baggage about his neck, Assange should distance himself as much as possible from the work he ostensibly loves if he doesn’t want to damage it. What I find more intriguing about this piece was that it reinforced my emotional view, first established by Khatchadourian’s article for the New Yorker, that Assange, far from being the altruistic crusader for transparency and freedom of information, has strong megalomaniacal tendencies that certainly in the past two years have fractured Wikileaks.

And therein lies the dissonance that surrounds his defence of himself throughout this drama. Completely ignoring the specifics of the case, the Swedish judicial process, the UK’s diplomatic position and the looming shadow of the USA’s agenda, Assange has in effect defended himself as Wikileaks.

Speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy he, in neglecting to mention the ongoing process that implicates him in potentially serious sexual malfeasance, completely failed to distinguish between that and the broader picture of, notably, the US government’s feud with Wikileaks due to over half a decade of activism. Of obvious significance are the astounding events of 2010 in the form of the diplomatic cables, the “Collateral Murder” video and, of course Bradley Manning.

Let’s be clear. Currently the most severe action taken against Wikileaks is a banking embargo and a clandestine Grand Jury, neither of which have yielded either an effective cessation of activity or actionable charges. This however was the leaked intelligence document created by the Army Counterintelligence Center in 2008 and marketed by Assange, as you can see, in the most reactionary fashion. The document actually discusses WL’s potential threat to US Army security and poses methods to suppress or deter whistle-blowers. I infer from this that Assange either calculated to further agitate authorities and whip up his support base, is delusional, or a combination of the two. Whichever is more true, it appears that Assange has no intentions of a workable relationship with these authorities and has positioned himself as their enemy, regardless of the actual extent of their attempts to impede WL or the whistle-blowers who supply it.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg provides valuable insight into this aspect of Assange’s temperament in his 2011 publication where he details his “disenchantment with the organization’s lack of transparency, its abandonment of political neutrality, and Assange’s increasing concentration of power.”

However, this broad analyses of Assange, Wikileaks and the clamouring governments around them becomes only more interesting when stacked against the specifics of the ongoing rape allegations. As mentioned, it is actually the most overt attempt at judicial action taken against Assange and, if you choose to associate them in this matter as Assange clearly does, WL. Given the heinously speculative nature of the motives behind this fairly aggressive campaign to remove the man to Sweden, I won’t take the risky measure of expressing a firm view as to whether I believe this process is legitimate or trumped up. My general disposition is anti-conspiratorial but there are elements you can’t ignore such as the raft of concerning issues raised by Naomi Wolf who also refers to the patently unusual involvement of Karl Rove, unearthed by Andrew Kreig for the Huffington Post.

But as you can see in Wolf’s article, unusual seems to be her primary criticism. The pieces when thrown together form an unconventional picture but then what about this situation is conventional? Assange has now been inside the Ecuadorian Embassy for going on three months in a diplomatic stand-off of farcical proportions, allying himself with a government that in his totalitarian interpretation of transparent values could be no better than the USA , in defiance of a nation in Sweden that has possibly less natural association with this brand of conspiracy than the Welsh National Assembly.

If we assume for a moment the pending charges are utterly false, that if extradited to Sweden Assange will be immediately extradited to America to face, as yet, also unformulated charges, what are the implications and consequences? In my mind, they don’t run much farther than a miscarriage of justice against one man whose pleasure it was to ruffle the feathers of just about every government that ever was. To suggest a punishment against him would be as extreme as death is utterly naive and a total misinterpretation of the culture of American governance. Assange perhaps believes that because an Apache helicopter crew callously gunned down a group of civilians that he might suffer similar inhumanity but I think there is an immensely important thing to remember about “Collateral Murder”.

That video does not speak to me of a systemic culture of conspiracy to murder, but only of a systemic culture of conspiracy to conceal colossal mistakes. These mistakes are hugely detrimental to the image of a nation rife with PR problems and a global mission statement that would require an unrealistically impeccable enacting to not be seen in heavily negative terms. I do not for a moment condone the circumstances around the video as they do encapsulate the arrogant and careless nature responsible for it, but to conflate this with any care for the physical safety of Julian Assange is ludicrous. Insofar as he facilitated this grand embarrassment and in doing so was complicit in the breaking of severe laws, it makes perfect sense that the USA wants a reasonable measure of justice. How much you sympathise with that view will entirely determine your perspective on the integrity of their methodology in achieving this.

If, on the other hand, the ‘charges’ are true, that Assange did sexually assault one or both of the plaintiffs then things are more simple. The UK should extradite him to Sweden in order to serve the appropriate sentence at which point the USA, if presenting a valid legal complaint, can request his further extradition into their custody for yet further punishment. The UK and Sweden would both be forced by the European Court of Human Rights to secure binding statements protecting Assange from inhuman treatment at any point during the custodial process, and so justice will have been served without any technical infringements. Assange and his die-hard support base would probably be no less furious about this eventuality than the former scenario, owing to the belief that he, having been a part of good works, is exempt from law. This anger would no doubt be compounded by the shared belief in this community that government in general is implicitly on the wrong side of the argument for having ever tried to conduct it’s more unpleasant pursuits covertly.

At the beginning of this piece I referred to the lesser significance of the greater good as compared to the responsibilities of the real world. It must be very easy to stand on the outside of the machinations of government and rage at their injustices and occasional all-out crimes. It is also very easy to hail a person who associates himself with a form of goodness by exposing these evils. The final point that needs to be continually enforced is that Assange isn’t even at the core of revealing these things to us. The whistle-blowers are the heroes of this story, the people who are actually on the inside and choose to risk themselves and their livelihoods to better inform the public as to how corporate and governmental entities conduct themselves.

My praise for Assange ends at the point of having been varyingly integral to what thus far has been the most effective and prolific of havens for these people. They, unlike Assange, valued the anonymity that was available to them and so respected the dangers of what they were involving themselves in. Whether the current dilemma for Assange is false or true, he resides now in a situation of his own making. I have very little pity.

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Manifesto: Read ‘About’ Section First

One of the fundamental flaws of the otherwise essential and democratising service of internet blogs and similar sites, despite their propensity to often attract characters with little or no intention of constructive debate, is that they are still too rigid in their inception.

In almost every example, the blog works thus – an author will post a comment, article or feature expressing a set of facts1 and, often, opinions related to those facts. This is then taken by the audience of readers who then judge the article against their own, if any, knowledge and opinions of the matter at hand. Many will then feel compelled to provide their own comment, which either directly addresses the author’s thoughts or chooses to simply offer an independent thought pertaining to the topic2. Comments then results in comments on comments and so on, creating debate.

Here begins the problem. Only a small percentage of readers will actually contribute, somewhat due to the cultural stigma of socially interacting online. This is something of an oddity given the hundreds of millions of online gamers and billions of participants in online social networking, but the trends clearly indicate a more proxy based future of socialising so are perhaps second in concern to the mere lack of interest in informed debate. Some participants offer a high level of intellectual discourse but all too few and usually only in matters they directly relate to or have some expertise in. Most offer a largely emotional response, often diminished in value with spurious information. The remainder is either incomprehensible, irrelevant or worse3.

The overall picture emerges as a largely disparate collection of comments, only in pockets relating to one another in an identifiable thread of debate. This is immediately therefore not a highly academic forum4, disengaging those who might offer valuable ideas, and neither does it have the sensationalized ramblings of celebrity and popular culture, disengaging the greater majority of the internet population.

Primarily, we cannot be over-concerned with the reality that currently the internet’s most utilized function is the sharing of media5, social networking and direct communications. Intellectual coercion into more meaningful pursuits is futile but the fact remains the internet does offer the perfect medium for what could be the right kind of forum.

I emphasize this because beyond the discussed structural dilemma exists probably the more damaging factor to the health of the more engaged online community. This is the problem of polarization and the ‘echo chamber’. Ultimately, the author of an article, or the collective of authors responsible for the body of work that creates a larger informative website, have an ideology. This may even be an inadvertent ideology, but one that nonetheless will be applied in spite of all efforts towards objectivity, because of the disconnect between the audience and the author(s). Once the article is published it is in the hands, or minds rather, of that audience and subject to their interpretations and bias, and so inevitably an ethos is established or imposed.

This ethos is completely integral to the fate of the website, due to the unfortunate fact that as much in real life as online, any issue worth discussing6 results in tribalism. Quite opposed to the optimistic view that literally removing one’s person from a diatribe should result in more measured and dispassionate exchanges, it has resulted in the abuse of unaccountability. This is not to say that all debate should be without passion. But it is well known that the worst abusers7 try to provoke something well beyond passion, often succeeding in degenerating the entire debate into a trading of insults and personal attacks. Tribalism is fairly self-explanatory – readers and contributors gravitate towards one part of the ideological spectrum and camp out there. This is partially understandable as challenging debate is precisely that – challenging. It is actually quite difficult and I think respectable to be able enter a debate and concede to losing, even if that loss is only internally registered.

Incidentally, it should not be shameful but admirable to openly admit defeat and an overturning of ones preconceived notions, but we’re not all saints and neither do we all believe that such a gracious act is that at all. Neither are our opponents always gracious in victory. But the reality is that often when confronted with views that oppose ours, we become more defensive and irrational. Part of the definition of enlightened debate is the ability to be objective and appreciate the value in an alternative theory, rejecting only those ideas that can logically and rationally be rejected while preventing emotional positions from rejecting the logical and rational.

However, the fairly vast quantity of sites where a ‘netizen8‘ can go to affirm their own beliefs, unchallenged by opposing views, makes it far too easy to avoid the debate. This is the echo-chamber. The same ideas bouncing back and forth amongst the same collective, unfiltered by dissenting opinion, and establishing those often skewed ideas as fact, is incalculably harmful to broader discourse. Not only is the health of that specific echo-chamber poor, but the internet has long been the propagator of great disinformation due to those without understanding of the unreliable nature of online information, lifting those ideas into the real world. It’s an irony therefore that the troll is probably one of the most mobile of netizens as they search around for the echo-chambers where a bit of prodding and poking will induce the best reactions.

Relatively termed moderate news organisations seem to offer the most reasoned forums, borne mainly out of their moderation. The information presented and it’s interpretations are neutral enough not to incite debate as such but more a string of either toothless or opinion based comments. But the usual rules apply, in that there will be a few informed and relevant comments and the usual amount of nonsense. The news, though, is still the news in it’s traditional capacity however improved in accessibility and breadth and depth of coverage. It serves it’s function as the deliverer of informations that should in fact be free of opinion and interpretation with the exception of discussing the permutations of ongoing stories. Understandably in building a comprehensive picture of a story, a news organisation might discuss with partisan actors the situation, which could influence a viewers position. But I believe the primary mandate of news is the mere dissemination of pure, unadulterated information. To inform the debate.

This is why I believe the blog is completely essential. In the United Kingdom it is more a convenience that we can go online and enter a debate without having to walk out of the front door, pick up the phone or otherwise directly interact with fellow man, but elsewhere in the world it is I think nothing short of lifesaving. It goes without saying that the gathering of free-thinking people for the discussion of ideas is something that often results in persecutions of all variety, be they insipid or outright murderous. But either in the UK or my hence invented “Tyrannistan9” it is true that blog offers a comparatively safe place for debate, if we assume the blog could be used to it’s full and proper potential.

I don’t have a solution as such, but at least I have an idea as to how the blog can be improved in general. The previously mentioned rigidity can be resolved to some extent, by improving the role of the author of the blog and in doing so improving the health of the debate. The first step is to offer more than the facts and interpretation or opinion. In a community so rife with opinions, the author should do more to expose their own evolution of thought so as to situate themselves in essence amongst the audience.

An idea can be formed when one receives a piece of information. For the sake of illustration let’s describe an opulent young princeling caught on camera in acts somewhat less than discretionary10. It is not unfair to assume that in the first instance, you will not be exposed to every potential element of information regarding this story and so your initial reaction will be based on your pre-existing position regarding all factors of the story, including one’s emotional positions. That is to say the initial reaction should not be regarded as valid. Hopefully an individual would then not be content with their incomplete understanding of things and would seek to better inform themselves. Being not omniscience, and all sources of information themselves not being omniscient, we can only go so far in this aim. But I think there is an acceptable state of being informed that falls short of all-knowing which fully permits the individual to form a more complete idea that can be shared and discussed. The evolution of the idea is still not finished however as we are rarely capable of total objectivity, and the final stage of an idea remains as one still influenced by emotion. This is also entirely acceptable I believe. The emotional aspect is nothing less than the sum of all thoughts and experiences that compose a person’s character and is utterly essential in the theatre of unique ideas.

There should be a great deal more transparency in this evolution. An author should have no qualms in admitting that their ideas are based on all of these things:

The initial, emotional, partially informed view.

The view as it looks when all available information is considered.

And the final view, where we allow our emotional aspect back in.

So in terms of our example:

The young prince has been caught in an embarrassing situation, which seems irresponsible of him given his position and likely to cause some outrage and debate. Some will criticise and others will support him. His past has been tarnished by other public indiscretions although these incidents also speak to an unhealthy public appetite for meaningless scandal and the media’s willingness to indulge it. More recently he has been successfully adopting the responsibilities of his position to public acclaim.

The young prince was on a holiday with friends, away from civic duties and active military service, at a private function. The images taken were candid and in the middle of what could be described as a risqué but entirely recreational game involving the removal of clothes. The photos were leaked, presumably by someone who the prince had placed implicit trust in by socially letting his guard down.

The situation is obviously difficult for the prince. As a young man he should be fully entitled to the experiences of a young man, and as a soldier he is fully entitled to rest and relaxation. The leak of the photos taken at a private party was a crass, immoral act, taking advantage of the fame of someone trying to enjoy themselves and causing hysteria and distracting many from more important issues. The prince was doing nothing illegal. But it remains that he is a public figure of great interest, with responsibilities, including those of a role model, that are only due to increase. It seems he can either choose to be servile to his institutionally desired image, and austere, or choose to act as he pleases with full appreciation that the public will take voracious interest in his activities, potentially to the detriment of his image and thus to the future responsibilities handed to him.

Which eventuality becomes true seems entirely down to his choice of actions and what he wants for his future. I do not believe the public has a right to any knowledge of a person beyond that which is directly relevant to their public office, although the definition of ‘directly relevant’ is open to debate. The whole affair leads me to conclude that the prince is a normal11 young man in an abnormal situation that he has not fully learned to manage and that there is a poor shortage of decency in many with regards to how they feed, and are fed by, the tabloid press. Tabloid journalism is itself largely a vapid and wasteful pursuit, that qualifies more as cruel entertainment than any kind of informative service.

Now clearly this form of presenting information and sustaining a debate around it is nothing close to genuinely objective. One could even say that I provide a visceral enough commentary that falls on one side of the issue to the extent that I could expect condemnations of my critique and heavily dissenting views. But rather than simply an honest portrayal of my thoughts on the matter as they were at the time of writing, I as the author should then feel responsible to the debate I have created, and should remain engaged. It is not enough to only write and sit back.

The author should respond to opinions and further information provided by the audience, discuss with them the ongoing issue and most importantly be willing to change their stance. By going through process of detailing the evolution of thought, which includes all of the evidence possessed to arrive at the conclusion, there is nothing to say that a good argument or countering piece of evidence shouldn’t change the conclusion. Implementing these methods I believe would go a long way towards distancing the debate from the echo-chamber. If the authors own beliefs are rationally fluid then there can be no accusation of partisanship and the audience who participate in any given debate are heavily influenced by the tone of the author12.

This may seem like an overbearing commitment for the author whose lot is the ever changing state of current affairs but clearly no debate lasts forever as eventually all will be said and reasonable conclusions drawn. The positives in this approach would be significant however as participants would feel far more engaged than as they are now, trading comments amongst themselves. The author in assuming a more moderating role could also take some control over who participates. Crucial to this is not censoring opposing views but merely those who offer no views and only grief to people truly looking for an informed conversation.

One could only hope that in making these changes, the number of people willing to participate would increase, creating a healthy and dynamic sphere of online debate.

1 Word “facts” used with appreciation for the deluge of misinformation present across the breadth of published materials.

2 Unless contributor is an infamous ‘troll’, scourge of enlightened debate and those with soft skins, previously mentioned as those with no interest in constructive debate.

3 See “trolls”

4 The brief is almost exclusively addressing news, current affairs or other relatively ‘high brow’ sites.

5 See “pornography” and “Youtube”

6 And comically all too often, perhaps even predominately, issues completely devoid of any worth or merit.

7 This will be the last footnote regarding trolls, and the term will be used henceforth. If you were still under any doubt as to what the troll is, a good description might read – “A spineless coward without sufficient meaning in their own life to prevent them from scouring the internet for people susceptible to being baited into outrage and despair by calculated attempts to do just that.” For example, extolling the virtues of an undeniable hero such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Martin Luther King Day might elicit a troll to respond (and my sincere apologies, as this entirely created example will offend), “That faggot nigger, should have strung him up when we had the chance.” Of course, a troll would probably not use accurate spelling or grammar, and though besides the point that the comment is essentially inhuman, speaks to a broadly held suspicion that the troll is, on average, a slavering moron.

8 Portmanteau of ‘internet’ and ‘citizen’, a rather apt word for those who do a little more than check their email periodically.

9 Open debate: What does the nature of the name of my invented nation say about my inherent prejudices as a “Westerner”?

10 Apologies for detailing such an banal incident lacking any genuine public interest, unless you consider foul gossip and innuendo as important to the public interest. It just happens to be topical and easy to parse.

11 In spite of the “royalty” issue.

12 Which applies not only to their points of contention or agreement, but to their overall conduct. Author participation in the ensuing debate can also guide this.

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