¦ What You Can Get Away With

This coveted award is won by the Spectator, who obviously weren’t paying attention to the alternative-Earth origins of the sub-editor who thought the beginning of this article made any kind of sense in our world:

Had the public been asked, before Monday morning, to identify two MPs who stood for honesty and decency, the names Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind would have been prominent among their replies.

Unfortunately, we are not yet able to offer guided tours to the world where Jack Straw stands for ‘honesty and decency’, but we’re assured it’s a very interesting place.

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headtransplantThere’s been lots of coverage in the last day for the proposed first human head transplant, which an Italian surgeon thinks he could perform in 2017. Now, I know next to nothing about the medical aspects of it and if it’s even remotely possible, but I do wonder about the term ‘head transplant’.

For me, the term transplant refers to the part that’s being replaced from the perspective of the individual receiving the surgery. So if I was to have a heart transplant, I’d receive a new heart, for a kidney transplant I’d receive a new kidney etc

So, for a ‘head transplant’ to take place, I’d have to receive a new head. The question is, assuming we’re talking about a whole head (brain include), could I receive a new head and still be me? If my head was taken off and replaced with someone else’s, would the resulting creation be me, or the person who supplied the head? Likewise, if my head was then put onto their body, would what resulted be me or them?

It seems to me that while it doesn’t make for as dramatic a headline, what we really ought to be referring to here is body transplants, as the person that results from the surgery would surely be regarded as the individual who provided the head, not the one who provided the body. In the same way that I remain me if I’ve given a heart transplant, and am not regarded as the person who donated the heart, surely the same must apply for this sort of transplant, and we should be referring to it as a body transplant, not a head transplant?

(And yes, there are all sorts of further issues about your head being linked to someone else’s body, but for now I’ll leave those to the real philosophers and psychologists)

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The Time Everyone “Corrected” the World’s Smartest Woman – Marilyn Vos Savant solved the Monty Hall Problem, even if a lot of people wanted to tell her that she hadn’t.
Is Work Good? – “the problem that comes with this one-eyed focus on paid work is that there is a grave danger it reinforces the value of paid work only at the cost of reducing the value of other human activities and social roles. Paid work is only one kind of work; and doing paid work is only one way of being human.”
Are You Man Enough for the Men’s Rights Movement? – GQ meets some of the MRAs, and it’s not an edifying spectacle. (Warning: article contains discussion of rape and abuse, as well as the usual MRA bullshit)
Why Natalie Bennett should shrug off this ‘humiliation’ – “Therefore, nobody in opposition – not Bennett, not Ed Miliband, not Nigel Farage – should ever get into a conversation about how they will fund something without first underlining that the way things exist at the moment is completely wrecked. The status quo is broken; it’s not even static, it’s constantly worsening.”
Democratising the Scottish NHS: A recent experiment in electing Health Board Directors did not prove successful – Relevant to my last post: just making a position elected doesn’t magically create more democracy.

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One thing that surprised me when I first lived in the US, and continues to stand out as an oddity to me is the election of judges. It confuses John Oliver too, leading to this segment on Last Week Tonight:

For me, it’s a great example of an idea I’ve talked about often, that democracy is not just about having elections, and having more elections doesn’t automatically make things more democratic. Democracy is an ongoing process, not a single event, and that process needs lots of different parts to work together to ensure it succeeds.

Electing judges is a pretty extreme example (from the land of extreme examples) but it does get to the point that judges and politicians have different roles within the democratic process, and electing judges starts to confuse the roles. Roy Moore, the Alabama judge at the start of that LWT item, has run for several political roles while serving as a judge, and that sort of confusion between the judicial and the political is common in US politics.

The point is not to say that judges should be free from and challenge or oversight, but that within a democracy not every post needs to be appointed in the same way. Every post in a democracy is appointed in some way, the question is who does that appointment and how – elections are perhaps the most obvious way of doing it, but that doesn’t make them the best or most appropriate in all circumstances.

We’ve seen it in Britain with Police and Crime Commissioners who were brought in to supposedly make accountability of the police more democratic than the existing system of Police Authorities because direct election, rather than appointment through other elected bodies was seen as ‘more democratic’. What we’ve ended up with, however, isn’t any better scutiny or accountability of the police, but a network of what appear to be very well paid spokespeople for the police, who now get brought out instead of the chief constable when the media need someone for a comment.

Democracy is a complex process, and not one that’s easily solved by simply electing everyone and hoping for the best. Sadly, that’s the message we keep getting sold, where an elected mayor trumps a complete lack of democratic accountability. We’re not likely to be electing judges here, but we need to keep making the arguments for real democracy.

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"A letterbox without a leaflet in it is a wasted opportunity"

“A letterbox without a leaflet in it is a wasted opportunity”

One thing I’ve said repeatedly in recent years is that no one gets involved in politics because they really, really enjoy delivering leaflets. I thought that was a really obvious thing to say, but now I’ve had a comment that makes me question that. Apparently, I shouldn’t waste time writing posts on my blog about things that interest me and instead ‘just get out and deliver some leaflets’. (There’s also an appeal to ‘Mark’ to limit the topics that get written about, which makes me wonder if some people think Mark Pack is now the literal God of Liberal Democrat blogging, casting down thunderbolts at those who displease him)

This isn’t a new thing - Liberator magazine has spent years complaining at how the ideas of community politics have been turned into a leaflet delivery cult – and with an election coming one would inevitable expect to see the calls to stop thinking and start delivering increase in number. It’s not even a specifically Liberal Democrat thing – sure, that’s where my experience is, but it’s easy to spot the calls to campaign more and discuss less in other parties, even if they don’t have quite the same fetishistic devotion to shoving pieces of paper through letterboxes.

There are several problems with the ‘shut up and deliver leaflets’ message, not least the fact that it’s bloody rude, but for me they all come down to a misunderstanding of why some people get involved in politics. They rely on the belief that politics is essentially a game, and that it’s about ensuring that your team does the best it can, in the hopes that it can defeat the other teams. In this view, any of us mere bloggers are just average players in the game, not required to think about strategy or tactics, just required to get out there and follow orders. Deliver those leaflets, knock on those doors and do as the party’s high command tell you. Ours not to reason why, ours just to deliver then go back to HQ and ask for more, like a good Stakhanovite.

In that vision, a blog is just another campaign tool. While it’s probably not as good as delivering leaflets – for nothing is as good as delivering leaflets – it probably has some use as a cheerleading tool, telling everyone just how wonderful everything is, and how much more wonderful it would be if they’d just go out and deliver leaflets. That this and other blogs steadfastly refuse to take that approach means that we’re obviously in the wrong.

Unless you look at politics from a different perspective, and see ideas as important or just enjoy talking about general political issues, institutions, and history. What got me into politics was talking about things and considering ways that the world could be different, where the campaigning was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Sure, people like that might be a minority in modern politics (which tells a sad enough tale in itself) but telling us to ‘just go and deliver leaflets’ rather than have an interesting discussion or discover new ideas is not going to motivate. If anything, it’s going to demotivate us, because it tears down another bit of the facade and insists that everything is just about the game, where winning is the only thing of importance, not what you do with the prize after you’ve won.

So no, I won’t stop writing about things I find interesting in favour of delivering leaflets and if anything, I think one thing we need less of in politics generally is campaigning. The general election campaign has been running for several weeks now – whether we wanted it or not – and I’m pretty sure that time might have been better spent by dropping down the level of campaigning and actually trying to get more people to think and talk about issues instead of parroting soundbites and talking points at each other. But then, I would say that, and while I’ve been writing this post I could have been getting my fingers trapped in countless letterboxes.

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I’m old enough to remember the last time the World Cup was held in Australia and New Zealand. 1992 was my first year at university, and I remember sitting around late at night listening to games with my housemates. One game in particular springs to mind – the group match between England and Pakistan, where Pakistan collapsed to 74 all out, but England ended up having to settle for a draw because of rain. At that point in the tournament, England were looking like real contenders, while Pakistan were clearly on their way out. I don’t think anyone expected that Pakistan’s one point from that game would be the difference between them and Australia in semi-final qualification, nor that they’d beat a previously dominant New Zealand to make the final where, of course, they’d beat England.

This time around, England have been comprehensively battered in their first two games against Australia and New Zealand, but yet again the World Cup’s format means those defeats aren’t terminal for their chances. In a seven-team group where four teams go through to the knockout stage, three wins should be enough for a team to qualify. England have had the bad luck of facing two of the strongest teams in the tournament at the start, but now their schedule becomes a lot easier. Scotland, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan await England in their next four matches and three wins from those four should – without a new Kevin O’Brien appearing – be possible. Indeed, a win against Sri Lanka could even mean England qualify in third place from their group.

That then puts England into the quarter-finals, and up against a team from Group B. This is where the placement in the group becomes important. Fourth place in Group A means they’ll likely be facing South Africa, and probably going home, but third place plays the runners-up in the other group, and that’s a much more interesting prospect. That seems likely to be India, who England have recently beaten twice, or if they have a disaster, one of Ireland, West Indies or Pakistan, none of whom should instil great fear in England.

Suddenly, England have a path to the semi-finals opening up before them. Yes, that’ll likely be against Australia or New Zealand again, but they’d be there and suddenly a tournament that looked like a disaster would be their most successful World Cup since 1992. That says a lot about just how poor England have been at World Cups in the last twenty years, but it looks like a good result from here.

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"an exclaimation of annoyance, exasperation, rage or other negative factor or to expel anger, disgust, disappointment"

“an exclaimation of annoyance, exasperation, rage or other negative factor or to expel anger, disgust, disappointment”

The Pitch: It’s the early days of Twitter, and someone’s had an idea for a parody account. Surely, nothing could be more amusing than a right-wing Tory MEP who continually misunderstands things, gets his facts wrong and continually blusters and insists he’s right regardless? So, our protagonist creates the account, and finds the perfect picture to illustrate it in an illustrated dictionary’s image for ‘harrumph’. The account – called Roger Helmer MEP – begins to pick up an appreciative audience

Soon, though, our protagonist discovers that someone, or something, else is posting to the Twitter account and it’s even more in character than he’s ever managed. Curiously, he also starts to notice references to things that Roger has supposedly done in the news, and gradually he begins to realise that not only has his parody Twitter account developed sentience, it has begun to manifest itself into the real world. Soon, a person claiming to be the real Roger is giving speeches in the European Parliament and having an impact in politics, culminating in him breaking free of his creator by defecting from the Tories to UKIP (which, the film implies, may be yet another parody that’s gone too far). Now completely free of his creator’s control, can anything stop Roger Helmer?

The Cast:
Roger Helmer: A CGIed version of Geoffrey Palmer from Fairly Secret Army
Roger’s creator: Craig Roberts
Nigel Farage: Chris Morris

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