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March 26, 2007

Politicians and Journalists

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6155932.stm

I’ve just read a reasonably interesting article on the bbc website where Blair’s advisor on Political strategy offers his opinions about the nature of political discourse on the web:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6155932.stm

The article pushes a negative focus on this views, and I thought I’d just raise my not very humble opinion on the matter.

Firstly its certainly true that online people who post the most or make the most noise will get more coverage, regardless of the rationality, or factual basis of such thoughts. But frankly this is not really that different from print media, which is what we traditionally hold as the ‘gold standard’ of publications. I haven’t read a copy of the Daily Mail in a few years, but the last time I did it was structured hate mongering. Its not as though the (ex-) Broadsheet newspapers are any better. I recognised the Times as unreadable giberish 2 years ago. It seems to have become considerably less focussed on putting a valid point forward than it did when I actually read regularly (back when I was about 14). The independant has become incredibly critically weak in its editorial content, again I gave up on it about a year ago. Its essentially little better than something like the Mail, except instead of using race hate, and blind slogan populism to cloud one’s judgement it relies on sentimentality.

Finally (I’m just picking a newspaper from each group not enumerating every newspaper) we come to the Guardian. The problem with the guardian is that its primary criterion for becoming a writer is the extent to which one can wear oneself as a hat. Charlie Brooker being a prime example. Its more interesting articles are the kind of self important diatribes that I have exemplified in the past two paragraphs. Sure, out of the stand its the one paper I might consider buying, especially at a student outlet where its cheaper, but thats primarily because I’m a self important jackass, rather than because its providing inciteful commentary on the political zeitgeist. Lets face it most of the writers are also ex-marxists who have long since lost their principles and generated some confusing and internally inconsistent political positions, sometimes to the extent that they work for the Times. Yes I’m talking about that twat Aaronovitch.

The internet, on the other hand, provides a wealth of shallow and vapid analysis to counter the wealth of shallow and vapid analysis. The big difference here is that the vacuity is ill informed because its a populist distribution channel with people who are not professionals, rather than critically ill-reasoned because people are more interested in pushing their political agenda in editorials than providing analysis of the situation.

Hmm, there was going to be a serious of points before this turned into a rant, hmm…. Oh yes! Is it really wise for Mr Taylor to be criticising people’s irrational complaining on the internet? People, having read his opinion, might possible go to their blogs and complain about him! I’m not going to, he’s right, the government aren’t trying to screw us over, they are trying to make the world a better place. No, seriously, politicians (at the national level, councillors aren’t so good) tend to be intelligent and well spoken. The kind of people who could get far better paying jobs, sometimes with more influence, elsewhere. Perhaps a better strategy on his behalf would be to try and get people to recognise how hard working and effective MPs can be.

Ok, so its a bit rich for me to be giving Government’s chief political strategist advice on political strategy, but I’ve already criticised the only newspaper I’ve read in print in the last year for writing articles in too similar a style to my own (albeit doing a far better job of it). That covers the what, as to the how element of the strategy lets look into the internet. We already have several good role models:

1. Citeseer is a search engine for academic papers, which allows one to look up references between papers and does some neat things. It thus allows one to easily sift through a mass of high quality, peer reviewed source material.
2. Hansard is a government website that publishes information about House of Commons debates. This gives one an excellent source of raw information about whats going on. It is too voluminous to be of much use to the average joe.
3. My society is a charity that creates websites that allow people to access information about their politicians and other things. An incredibly useful resource and a genuine facilitator of political thought. Its also based on Free Software .

Perhaps if Mr. Taylor really wants produce an informed and critically aware debate on political issues he would be better off trying to promoted organisations like My Society, or push government funding towards independent researchers trying to evaluate the current state of the economy or governmental system, rather than simply proferring some kind of superficial analysis of the difference between print and electronic media thats frankly, very ‘September 10th’.


January 03, 2007

Petitions

Writing about web page http://petitions.pm.gov.uk

The PM’s office has started up a website for Online Petitions. I have no idea if he will ever read these, and several of them are horribly written. I’m sure many SIGs will be well catered for in terms of promotion, but I decided to start a facebook group about specifically IT or computer related petitions, which can be found here . Hopefully people can post interesting ones in the forum, etc.


December 31, 2006

PhDs & Pensions

I was reading through Government pensions regs today and stumbled across something. It turns out that in order to quality for full state Pension you need to be paying NI contributions for 44 years. If you expect to retire at the normal age of 65, then you need to be paying contributions from the the age of 21. This is quite worrying, since if you are even doing a Masters within the normal time frame you are effectively ruled out of a full state pension.

If you are doing a PhD you are probably going to be 4 years down, and if your PhD roles over to year number 4 (which I believe happens for the majority of PhD students) you will be missing nearly 10% of the required time.

The minimum basic pension is £20.51/week and the full basic pension is £82.05/week, with the requirements of 11 and 44 years respectively. If we assume that its a linear scale between minimum and maximum state pensions, then it works out to £1.86/week lost for every year down on the full pension, or £9.32/week for the hypothetical PhD student.

The current life expectancy within the UK is 78.54 years, and rising rapidly. Lets say this hypothetical average PhD student lives until they are 85, to account for the rise in life expectancy before our generation dies, that means that the total cost is £9692.8. Admittedly this ignores the time value of money, but I the figures already have several assumptions in them, before I begin to predict average Interest rates for the next 60+ years.

As far as I can tell from the pamphlet I read, the government makes allowances for people caring for relatives, if they are job seekers or if they are on long term disability allowance, but not for people trying to advance our level of Scientific understanding! I can also see why the government wouldn’t give you a full pension if you haven’t worked to your complete potential. The real contradiction here is that I have a government funded research grant! The state’s position is that they think thats its worth paying someone to do the work – but refuse that person pension contributions.


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