Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Very Good and Constructive Discussion

The Guardian is reporting that:
Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, met Martin this morning to seek advice on how he could arrange for the issue to be debated. Martin would not accept the amendment because he decided that a referendum on EU membership was not relevant to the bill being debated, which was about ratifying the EU's Lisbon treaty.

Following Clegg's meeting with the Speaker this morning, an aide to the Lib Dem leader said the two had had "a very good and constructive" discussion.

The aide said the Lib Dems would now be working with the Commons clerks to see if they could find a way of wording an amendment on a referendum that would be acceptable under Commons rules. She said they were "confident" they would be able to find a solution.
Forgive me, but isn't "working with the Commons clerks to see if they could find a way of wording an amendment on a referendum that would be acceptable under Commons rules" exactly what has been going on for the last couple of weeks? I distinctly remember David Howarth telling a group of students from Cambridge visiting parliament a couple of weeks ago (of which I was a part) that his day was being mostly taken up with a procedural wrangle with the clerks over exactly this point.

Given that we have already been bending over backwards to find a way to make the ammendment "in order" through consulation with the clerks, does this comment indicate something else, perhaps? Might Nick's meeting have produced some sort of commitment from the speaker?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Random Comedy Video Clip of the Week

from Maria Bamford, whose Edinburgh Fringe show I saw in 2006. It was good.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Paddick's Message Twisted Shock

The Guardian has embarked on a curious little two-part project in the last couple of days. First, an article picking up Brian Paddick's policy of putting a guard on a carriage of every tube train after 9pm. To the Guardian's ears, this means "women friendly tube carriages":

Women-friendly train carriages with guards on duty after 9pm would be introduced across London's underground network as part of a radical raft of transport measures to be unveiled today.

Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat's mayoral candidate, says every tube running at night should have a clearly marked carriage with a uniformed guard in direct contact with the police.

At the launch of his transport manifesto at Vauxhall bus station in south London the former police commander will also announce plans to put teams of police guards on the late-night buses that have the worst record for violence and antisocial behaviour.

It wasn't an explicitly sex related policy, but to be fair, Brian is quoted as saying:

"Some people are put up off travelling by public transport at night because they don't feel safe," Paddick told the Guardian last night.

"Many women have told me they would feel reassured if there was a uniformed presence on tubes and buses after the evening rush hour.


"Talking to many women, they have told me that they do not feel safe on public transport at night but can't afford taxis, so are being forced to stay at home, which is simply unacceptable."
So part one: Make a policy (designed to put a guard on tube trains so people who feel unsafe have somewhere to go) into a policy for "women friendly" carriages, and raise the issue of women-only carriages by illustrating the story with a picture of a women-only carriage on the Tokyo tube.

Part two: Seemingly rabid feminist Bidisha writes an absolutely barking opinion piece on CiF, where she elides Paddick's policy with all-women carriages without a care in the world. Under the headline

In praise of ladies' trains

Brian Paddick's idea is laudable, but segregation won't solve the problem of men behaving badly

she wrote that
"The Liberal Democrat's London mayoral candidate yesterday proposed "women-friendly" carriages across the capital's underground network, policed by guards after 9pm, an idea similar to the women-only train carriage scheme that operates in Japan."
This is only in the slightest bit true if there was any intention in Paddick's policy of creating segregated carriages. Which there wasn't, as far as I know. She continues:
It's good that Paddick has raised this as an issue because it shows his recognition that groping and verbal harassment are sex crimes, not simply a part of the merry pageant of life in which one encounters all sorts of quirkily eccentric characters to write home about. But is policed or segregated night-time transport really the answer?
So having told us this is designed to be a solution to sexism (which it isn't), we are now to be treated to a whole piece on why it isn't a good solution to this problem (well duh).
For all his good intentions, Paddick hasn't understood the nature or extent of harassment. Does he think that all sex criminals do Sudoku puzzles during the day then come out on the dot of nine, taking up their posts in dark corners and train stations? Most of the harassment I have experienced, witnessed and heard about occurred in daylight hours ...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Well done Nick

Just a quick one from me to say well done to Nick Clegg for having formulated a pretty bulletproof and sensible answer the The Hung Parliament Question on today's Politics Show. And, indeed, for a pretty sound and much less waffly interview in general. Either he just had a shaky start, or he's learnt pretty quickly to tone that tendency down. Either way, a good thing.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

"Ministers Plan Clampdown" - What A Good Idea

Today's Guardian front page story (and doesn't it look pretty now?!) tells us that

A legally enforceable cinema-style classification system is to be introduced for video games in an effort to keep children from playing damaging games unsuitable for their age, the Guardian has learned. Under the proposals, it would be illegal for shops to sell classified games to a child below the recommended age.

At present only games showing sex or "gross" violence to humans or animals require age limits. That leaves up to 90% of games on the market , many of which portray weapons, martial arts and extreme combat, free from statutory labelling.

Now, whilst it is true that the requirement for age ratings to be followed only applies currently to those games referred to the BBFC, there has for a while been a system of indsutry-wide voluntary ratings, first under ELSPA and then PEGI. The problem, as ever, is not so much with the industry, which did everything you could reasonably expect it to without being particularly firmly regulated. The problem comes in the shops selling the games and the people buying them. Whilst most shops, certainly chains, had some kind of policy not to sell games to people under these ages, on the whole it wasn't exactly ruthlessly applied.

So to be honest, despite it probably being in some sense illiberal, I am all for this. For one thing, if we can't trust parents to exercise their own control over children in the field of video sales (which are all covered by the BBFC), then why should we for video games. If anything, there is more of a case for intervention here, since most parents don't play games, and certainly aren't likely to play a game through before giving it to their children like they might a film.

Another reason I would be wholeheartedly in favour of this is that it just might drag the games industry into a more mature place. There will always be violence in all artistic depictions of events, as the film industry of today shows. But by making itself one of the major avenues for boys (and, to a much lesser extent, girls) to get their hands on the kind of material they wouldn't be able to get near (hopefully) in any other medium, the games industry has given itself an image problem. From the outside, it is seen as churning out games full of rather adolescent crap for the sake of it (and not without reason - it does produce a disproportionate amount of this kind of output).

From the inside, many games consumers have got themselves into such a skewed mindset that anything not full of guns and violence is seen as in some way childish and immature. Frankly, companies like Nintendo, which produce an output with some kind of balance of subject matter, deserve to be lauded for their maturity, but they receive precious little of this, and when they do, it often comes from parents, giving them an even worse image.

Gaming still has a problem being taken seriously as an artform in the sense that television and film are. To some extent, this will be the case until the generation which grew up with games supplants its forbears, and the average Mail or Telegraph reader has personal experience of playing games and knows it didn't turn them into either a gun wielding vigilante or an acrobatic plumber, according to taste. But until such time, a step in the right direction might be brought about by this move. My logic for saying so runs something like this:

A large section of the audience for the kind of adolescent drivel which is released is probably underage. If they cannot buy it (and of course, this will not be absolutely the case, parents will still buy things they shouldn't, just as irresponsible parents will buy their children DVDs they shouldn't have), this market will be significantly diminished, rewarding those games companies which have staked their business model on expanding the idea of who their typical customer is (like Nintendo), and punish those who have relentlessly pursued a pretty cynical agenda of pandering (like Sony and EA).

On the other hand, this might see an increase in (ugh) sports games.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Some Great US Election Analysis

The Real News has posted some great stuff on the US primaries, including a glut of post-Super Tuesday stuff the other day. Amongst the best of it is the following:

Two part interview giving a rather pessimistic outlook for the Democrats:

Trying to make sense of the votes:

Two part interview on the specifics of the latino vote:

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Clinton: A National Candidate?

Well, it's the day after Super Tuesday, and I feel like crap. Mostly to do with the Super Tuesday drinking game that I and a few friends concocted, and being awake until the first signs of California going Clinton came in this morning. On the plus side, my copy of The Time Meddler turned up today, and it looks bloody good (it's open in a window next to the one I'm typing this in). But enough of this tot. It occurred to me this afternoon to look for a map of US states according to which way they voted. I found one here, on the Washington Post's site. And what it shows is quite interesting.

To me, it looks like three islands of Hillary in a sea of Obama:

1. Her current seat, New York, and surrounding area.
2. Bill's old seat of Arkansas and surrounding area.
3. Areas with high hispanic populations, mainly around California, but also Florida. (New Mexico doesn't make much sense in this context, but is was pretty close).

There was some talk on Air America's generally pretty good coverage last night about Obama's campaign putting into practice what Howard Dean aspired to last time round: a 50 state strategy. Looking at that map, I can see what they mean.

If that's right, I suppose the question is, can Obama shift the hispanic vote before Texas, and more generally, are Hillary's islands big enough?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Political Balance

Reaction to my bit of number crunching earlier today has been interesting. Benedict G commented that "From that graph it looks like we're overrepresented on Question Time."

A valid viewpoint, I can see where it comes from. But it also doesn't ring true to me (surprise surprise!). Here's why.

Any conception of a "balance" in guest booking must be based in some conception of what that balance looks like. How does one go about doing this? One idea might be that the guests over the course of a series should reflect the balance of public opinion. It looks as if that's what the producers have indeed been doing. At the 2005 election, the polling went 37/33/22/8. When you multiply that proportion by turnout (61.3%), that means that of the total electorate, the proportions who put their vote to the use of a particular party were 23/20/14/5. Question Time, meanwhile, has, since 2005, booked guests such that its proportions go 21/21/15/5.

So no, I don't think we're over or under represented, if you accept that this is what balance means. Certainly no more than the Tories are. And arguments addressing the idea that the proportion should follow our seats in parliament is ludicrous, since it accepts a fundamental tenet of FPTP which we, as Lib Dems, do not accept.

The problem comes in the presence of the wildcards who make up the other guests on each panel. Because so many of them are columnists, or journalists, from the national press, we end up with an awful lot of people expressing opinions which march in much closer step with the Conservatives than the guests who might be more sympathetic to Labour or Lib Dems do with their respective parties.

So here are my suggestions, if we're accepting that model:

No more programmes where you have effectively two tories or two labourites. That seems silly no matter what arguments about balance one puts. And it wouldn't affect the balance much anyway.

Greatly reduced presence of Littlejohn.

That is all.

But I'm not convinced that that is the model of balance that we should be accepting.

There is such a thing as a "main party", at least, that seems to be what the BBC believes - they use the phrase often enough. Surely, then, it is the role of the BBC, in its public service remit (and I feel certain that they claim Question Time as part of their public service time), to provide equal platforms to the "main parties". They seem to broadly agree with this, they have more or less a guaranteed place on the programmes for a Tory and a Labour person each week - even though simply the idea of "balance" doesn't require that this be the case (you could have weeks where nobody from the government was present, for instance, and more weeks when there were two; at least then the sense that the other two parties are in some way "entitled" to these places, but we aren't, would be removed).

The BBC simply doesn't accept that the Lib Dems are a main party. If it did, I feel sure it would be allowing us on each programme.

UPDATED: The BBC Write Me An Email

Well now. Last week's question time didn't have a lovely Lib Dem on it. It did have two dreadful Tories on it (Ken Clarke, Amanda Platell), and two people from the world of the stage (Bonnie Greer, John Sessions). I thought this odd, especially since it's not the first Question Time in the last couple of weeks to give the Tories effectively two representatives on the panel. So, taking Steven Tall's advice, I wrote them an email. This one, in fact:
Tonight's question time featured Ken Clarke (a Conservative) and Amanda Platell (a former Conservative spin doctor, writer for the Daily Mail, and general right winger). It did not feature any representative of the Liberal Democrats.

This is not the only recent programme to allow a second Conservative on the panel: the 17-01-08 edition featured both Liam Fox and Louise Bagshawe (who, much as she might have been justified by her status as a writer, is a Tory PPC, and turned out to do little more than repeat the party line).

I do not remember having ever seen two Lib Dems (nor would I expect to), but why do they suffer this unfair treatment routinely by the programme's producers? I find it hard to believe that a Lib Dem MP could not be found to appear on the programme, in London of all places.
Thrillingly, they have sent me this lovely form letter in response:
Dear Mr Hinton

Thank you for your e-mail regarding 'Question Time' broadcast on 31 January.

I understand that you were annoyed that there was no representative from the Liberal Democrats on the programme.

If I can explain, 'Question Time' aims to represent a broad range of views but it cannot always do this while ensuring strict political balance each week. The panel usually consists of MPs from the main political parties, together with representatives from various organisations and newspaper columnists or editors. The programmes try to achieve balance over a reasonable period and certainly have a firm commitment to political balance over their series as a whole.

I would like to assure you that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thank you once again for contacting us.


Richard Carey,
BBC Complaints
Note how he has completely ignored the other half of my original concern, which was not simply "there was no Lib Dem on tonight", but also "aargh, watching too many Tories makes me sad".

UPDATE: James Graham suggests in the comments that we could demand their numbers. I had another idea: Since the website records the guests on the programme going back to November '06, I thought I'd just compile my own. I categorised each MP, Lord or PPC as Lab/Tory/LD, as well as the same divisions for journalists and other personalities. Where there is no obvious affiliation, I left them uncategorized. If you want to see the spreadsheet and edit it for yourself, go here. Anyway, the results look like this:

Funny sort of balance.