I remembered the Straw Man Institute the other day. Reproduced here, just in case the Sharpener site finally goes blunt and falls off the web.
One of the problems of modern newspaper publishing is the question of how to fill the blank pages of the newspaper every day. After all, even though there’s a lot of news out in the world, journalists only have a finite amount of time each day to turn reality into news, so sometimes they’re glad when the news comes prepackaged for them and it’s even better when it’s not just a press release, but an entire study allowing them to quote a whole host of spurious facts, stick in a couple of pictures and they’ve filled a page with the news that watching four or more DVDs a day can help lower cholesterol.
So, as the demand for news has increased, so the number of studies conducted has risen and the number of people carrying them out has grown to. No longer the sole preserve of the ivory towers of academia, just about anyone can call themselves an Institute or a Foundation and start pushing out their own factoids to an eager and hungry press. Everyone’s a winner – the journalist fills his space and gets to the pub earlier, the Insitute in question gets a mention in the press and a plug for their latest pamphlet and the paper’s readers get a few more vague statistics to quote in ill-informed pub discussions.
It’s not limited to the news sections of the papers either – where would sports pages be without the surveys of which flavour pies are most preferred by football fans, for instance? Even columnists, opinionators and leader writers can have their work eased for them by a well-timed report – I’m certain anyone doing a research project about Sure Start must have a momentary frisson of excitement when they realise that they can guarantee their name appearing in the papers if they send a copy to Polly Toynbee. Indeed, just about any columnist with a point to make can normally find the research from somewhere to back it up.
However, there is one need that isn’t being addressed, especially with the recent development of many newspaper columns into denunciations of things the author doesn’t like. Too often, they’re forced to resort to criticising nebulous figures who believe in the antithesis of the author’s beliefs and aren’t able to bring up someone concrete to make people believe that the threat they’ve identified is real. So, why not have an organisation that specialises in coming up with those arguments that no one else will make? One that will publish the unpublishable and allow it to be torn apart?
Yes, the time has now come for the Straw Man Institute. For far too long, columnists (and bloggers, of course) have been left to generate their own straw men to argue against, with the lack of effort immediately apparent to all expert observers. However, the Straw Man Institute will ensure that everyone has someone to shout against and denounce. Be it calling for an immediate surrender to the terrorists and all their demands while we all convert to Islam or calling for the whole of the government to be privatised with the poor sold into slavery and the profits used to subsidise fox hunts, the SMI will make sure that those arguments are out in the public arena and attributable to someone. For far too long, straw men have been ad hoc creations, summoned only for one article or argument and then dismissed. Now, with the SMI, the straw man will take its rightful place alongside all the other nebulous concepts that drive institutes, foundations and think tanks. Let a thousand straw men bloom!
Of course, I’ve since realised that it should be called the Jonathan Swift Institute, just to cover the tracks somewhat.
Not sure if anyone’s mentioned this before, but a thought occurred to me that there might be a flaw in the way the Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen, specifically the seven most popular links, is compiled.
Those top seven are based on the seven posts that receive the most click-throughs from the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator, which purportedly reveals the seven most popular Lib Dem blog posts of the week. However, having noticed the sort of posts that get included in those seven, I’m not sure it’s an accurate reflection of what’s popular.
Consider this – as bloggers become more popular and well-known with consistently good posts, they’re more likely to become a regular read for people. Thus, their sites are more likely to find their way into people’s bookmarks and their RSS feeds are more likely to be subscribed to. However, that means that when a blog becomes popular and well-read, no matter how good a blog post is, it’s less likely to be clicked through to from the aggregator because it’s already been read before the reader visits there. While taking the top 7 from the aggregator may help give a boost to blogs that are otherwise little-read, it’s not necessarily showing the top reads amongst Lib Dem bloggers.
(By the way, this isn’t intended to denigrate any of the work the LDV team or Ryan at Lib Dem blogs do, it’s just a thought I wanted to put out there, no doubt entirely as a justification for why I’ve never featured in the Dozen…)
Can’t remember if I’ve ever suggested this before back in the mists of blogtime, but I was playing poker online last night and wondering how many other of my readers and fellow bloggers play, and whether there’d be interest in setting up some sort of game or tournament for British political bloggers/Lib Dem bloggers or any other grouping that migth create enough interest? Or if there’s such a game already happening, how do I get invited to it?
Which reminds me of a post I ought to write sometime, currently in my head under the working title ‘If it’s so easy to open an amusement arcade or bingo hall in a British town centre, why is it so bloody hard to open a poker club?’
A thought occurs to me: if you have a phone capable of sending messages by SMS, what’s to stop you branding it as ‘Twitter-compatible’?
An addition to this is the thought that someone – possibly inspired by the Amstrad Emailer – is currently working on a Home Twitterphone system so that you too can join in the fun and send messages through your normal phone. All responses will either be read out to you by the automated SMS voice or printed out and sent to you by post for an additional charge.
I’m not saying this is a workable business model, but I do wonder how much seed capital the right pitch might get from befuddled investors looking to leap on the latest bandwagon.
Having just got back into the habit of regular blogging, I’ve been rediscovering the habits that go along with it such as the occasional perusing of my Sitemeter pages (and I’m still Old Skool enough to be using them, not your newfangled Google Analytics or whatever) and noticed this afternoon that I was getting some incoming visits from Harry’s Place, which was doing a ‘Where Are They Now?’ look at some of the former denizens of their blogroll.
It was interesting to look back on those days when the small number of British political bloggers all seemed to know each other and others had yet to find their way to Blogspot. Indeed, back in those days, Iain Dale wasn’t yet a failed Tory candidate, let alone the Tory uberblogger.
Anyway, that post prompted me to take a look at what the Web Archive snapshot of this place said for June 2003 and when I wasn’t talking about the experience of Wolves being in the Premiership, I was asking the important question:
So, what comes next? I can already hear the first distant shouts of ‘we must use the power of the blog’ sparking up, but what communications methodology is next to be misinterpreted after that?
In the week where Gordon Brown Twittering is the main story on the news, maybe I don’t need to write any new posts, just recycle some old ones.
As the controls for regular football games on consoles become increasingly complex, and the games become harder and harder to play in the ridiculously high-scoring manner they used to be, why has no one yet created a playground football game? You could have a gain that ranged through all the permutations from three-and-in on a tiny space to massive forty-a-side scrambles across a giant playground, with options that included things like ball type and size (my school limited us to nothing bigger than a tennis ball, for instance), through the age of the players to the number of other games going on concurrently within the same approximate space.
“If you have to ask whether or not its art, then please adjust your definition of art.”
With my hour on the plinth now just nine days away, I found this an interesting read.
All the futures are dying.
We were discussing nuclear power in the pub after a group meeting – as you do – and an interesting point came up where I discovered I wasn’t alone in my youthful misconceptions, so what I’m wondering is how widespread this may have been.
When I was growing up in the 70s – or before Chernobyl which may be important here – nuclear power was still something exciting, new and not really understood, so I’m sure I can’t be alone in having thought that they generated power from some semi-magical process, something on the lines of making uranium glow and then hooking it up to the National Grid. Indeed, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone, as there are many cases in 60s and 70s sci-fi of electricity from nuclear power being somehow special and different from conventionally generated power.
So, to get to the point, what I’m wondering is how many other people found it a bit of an anticlimax when they discovered how a nuclear power station actually works, and that it’s merely another (and expensive) way to boil water?
I’ve just seen someone on a forum being pedantic about the meaning of ‘pedantry’. That sound you hear is the internet eating itself.