Not Saussure

June 18, 2007

Back shortly …

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 5:15 pm

… probably on Tuesday or Wednesday; it is, people will be relieved to know, real life rather than Second Life that is demanding my attention at the moment, though personally I’d much rather the problems to which I have presently to attend were in a virtual rather than the real world.

June 17, 2007

More thoughts on Integration and Cohesion

Filed under: Community, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 12:36 am

Having become engrossed in Second Life (see below), I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read through Our shared future, the report by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion about which I was rather rude the other day.

I have, though, been thinking about why I dislike its approach so much; it is, I fear, yet again another example of our old friend well-intentioned managerialism, at work. The way I look at the question is this; by and large, most people are tolerant by default. That is, in most counties — and Britain, thank God, is certainly one of them — people are really primarily interested in getting on with their own lives in their own way and aren’t particularly bothered one way or the other about other people might be doing so long as it doesn’t adversely affect them too much. We’re all of us members of umpteen overlapping, and at times conflicting, ‘communities’ — the area in which we live, our families, our friends, our colleagues, our partner’s family (oh, dear God… quote from my late wife, shortly before she died — ‘at least I’ll never have to put up with my brother again, and you won’t have to, either, after the funeral’ — a somewhat unchristian remark, but people like Anna’s brother were the reason the word ‘nincompoop’ was invented), other members of social, political or religious organisations to which we may belong . None of them define us; and through our experience of belonging to them, we’re all of us perfectly well able to deal with people we might not particularly like or who seem to us rather odd (my sometime brother in law, for example).

If there’s someone you don’t like, or who doesn’t like you, you either avoid them or, if circumstances — work, in particular — throw you together, most of us learn quite early on how to deal with such situations. And we do because we’re sensible adults who’ve learned how to conduct our lives so we can concentrate on pursuing, in our own ways, those ends that seem important to us, with a minimum of frustration. When conflicts arise, as inevitably they do, they’re normally between individuals, not communities — though they might well be between particular individuals who, for their own motives (usually political and financial) claim to speak ‘on behalf of’ particular communities.

Now, it seems to me that, in this fallen world of ours, conflicts between individuals are inevitable. Sometimes they can be solved by more or less amicable negotiation, but sometimes they can’t and that’s when the civil or criminal law comes into play. But for government to say, ‘conflict is undesirable so we’ll do our best to ensure it never arises’ is not only deluded; it’s downright dangerous. (more…)

June 16, 2007

Blogpower and the delights of Second Life

Filed under: Blogroll — notsaussure @ 10:58 pm

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last day or so, but I fear I’ve been exploring the extraordinary virtual world that is Second Life. The Blogpower Award Ceremony is to be held there on Sunday 1st of July, courtesy of Tom Paine, at 0900 New York time (1400 in Britain, 1500 Central Europe Time, 1700 in Moscow and 2200 in Australia), so I thought I’d better go and check the place out.

It really is great fun; being show the ropes by an established resident, like the extremely hospitable Mr Paine, certainly helps, but it’s all pretty intuitive and before long you’re happily strolling, flying and teleporting around, just exploring this dream-like and, at times, rather surreal virtual world. I’ve succumbed to its charms, and have rented one of Mr Paine’s virtual apartments there as a base — you don’t need to do such a thing, but it’s more convenient that way and being a resident of this virtual world means you get to do many things that visitors can’t, like decorating and furnishing your apartment and start virtual businesses and so forth.

I’ve just spent a very entertaining afternoon with Mr Paine and Ruthie Zaftig, who has taken to Second Life like a duck to water, learning how to fly, sitting on the roof terrace of Tom’s (literal) castle in the air, while smoking virtual dope and eating virtual hash brownies (the last I manged to be given as free samples, during a lone exploration of some of the more disreputable neighbourhoods). We also took Ruthie on a virtual shopping expedition, from which she emerged with some shoes to die for; one of the great things about Second Life is that the exchange rate with real-world currencies is quite advantageous at the moment, so you can be absurdly generous to your friends (or at least Mr Paine can, since he’s the only one with a bank account there at the moment) for less than the price of a cup of tea.

I’ve been trying to work out what it reminded me of, and the whole thing was vaguely reminiscent of going shopping in the Moscow currency shops in the early 90s. only in this case we were, effectively, paying in black market roubles rather than valuta.

Anyway, I highly recommend giving Second Life a whirl. The software is easy enough to install on both Windows and Linux (though apparently there are supposedly some problems with Windows Vista — it does work on it, from what I read, but you may need to fiddle around with some of the Windows settings). The Linux install is a piece of cake, provided you don’t neglect to read the ‘Read Me’ text first, which tells you to ensure you’ve got the correct video drivers installed — not a problem if you haven’t, since it tells you where to get them from and they’re simple to install, too.

I really would suggest people give this strange alternative world a visit; the Blogpower awards would be a perfect opportunity, since people will know each other, or at least someone else there, or will at least know people from reading their blogs, so there will be people there to talk to. I’d suggest, though, paying a couple of visits beforehand, just to orientate yourself, play around with your appearance there (you can change your appearance, and even species, to your heart’s content), learn how to move about and so forth. My virtual residency should be set up in the next few days — when it is, I’ll post something about it and will be happy to entertain visitors there.

June 14, 2007

Our shared (and bureaucratic) future

Filed under: Community, UK — notsaussure @ 4:39 pm

I’ve not yet read the Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s report on Our shared future, which is obviously a substantial piece of work, comprising some 168 pages. What little I have read, however, does not bode well; one can feel few emotions other than profound suspicion, I think, about a document containing the announcement

In this chapter, our recommendations are about:

  • A shared national vision
  • A national shared futures campaign
  • How Local Authorities can better understand their communities and mainstream integration and cohesion
  • A new performance framework Strong leadership and local democracy – including political parties acting responsibly
  • How we can move away from a “one size fits all” approach

and which contains — this I’ve picked out at random — statements like

Our proposal therefore is that we use integration and cohesion policy to generate a working sense of citizenship that is based on a set of rights and responsibilities appropriate for the changing UK of the 21st century, and one that chimes at a national as well as local level.

The document proposes, among many other things, yet another Quango (don’t look so surprised),

a national body to manage the integration of new migrants, sponsored by Communities and Local Government, but independent of Government.

The authors tell us that

we see the priority actions for this body as being:

  • To clarify the objectives of a strategy […]
  • To baseline the evidence: clarifying the current situation and building an evidence base […]
  • To consolidate and take forward the good practice work currently being developed […]
  • To provide guidance on how to work with settled communities in areas experiencing high levels of migration […]
  • To explore whether asking new migrants (from the EU or elsewhere) to attend the local town hall to pick up local welcome packs when they arrive might address some of the data tracking issues outlined in Chapter 7 below. This could mean not only providing the information they need at first point of contact with a local area, but could also introduce local agreements or contracts that cover behaviours, norms etc. [quoted in full]
  • To secure buy-in and joined up policy making from Whitehall and the third sector: acting as a catalyst for policy development, and an independent voice both for new migrants and those settled communities experiencing rapid change. [again,quoted in full]

I don’t think they anywhere actually promise to hold seminars and deliver endless PowerPoint presentations, but I doubt these can be far from the authors’ minds.

I quote the last clauses of bureaucratic prose in full for two reasons. The first is that the BBC were actually able to persuade a spokesman for the Commission to explain a bit about these proposed local agreements or contracts that cover behaviours, norms etc.

The proposed packs are based on work by some councils to explain basic facts about British ways of life to newly-arrived migrants.”The packs might say that we like to queue at the Post Office and the bus stop and we don’t really like spitting in the street,” said a spokesman

I’m not completely sure if this spokesman is a blithering idiot or possessed of Machiavellian cunning. At first I inclined to the former view, chortling as I was about the bathos of his examples, and, indeed, their utter irrelevance; do many people find themselves beset by newly-arrived migrants jumping queues in Post Offices and spitting in the streets? Then I started having fun wondering what happened if you didn’t sign one of these patronising ‘contracts’ and wondering what else might go in them– ‘we don’t really like people chucking their empty coke cans and Macdonalds cartons in the streets or letting their dogs crap all over the pavement, either, but don’t worry … lots of people do it.’

But then I thought, ‘Hang on; he’s smuggling in, under cover of this risible example, the somewhat un-British notion that aliens have to register with the local authorities.’ I was used to having to deal with the OVIR (ОВиР, “Отдел Виз и Регистрации”, “Office of Visas and Registration”) back in Russia, but I’m a bit alarmed to see the idea brought in here, even inadvertently.

The final clause, though, really irritated me. We’re used to, I thought, and many of us are profoundly fed-up with, self-appointed ‘community spokesmen’ or ‘community leaders’. Now, here we have someone proposing ‘a national body […], sponsored by Communities and Local Government, but independent of Government’ that will purport to act as ‘an independent voice both for new migrants and those settled communities experiencing rapid change.’

Errm… am I alone in spotting a bit of a problem with that?


Blogpower Awards, a Second Life party, and an entry for next year…

Filed under: Blogroll — notsaussure @ 3:25 pm

The results of the Blogpower Awards are now out; many congratulations to all the winners and many thanks to everyone who voted for me in the various categories. And special thanks both to James Higham for organising and running the contest and to Tom Paine for organising the Awards Ceremony, to be held at 2pm (London time) on Sunday 1st July at Mr Paine’s luxurious Second Life residence. This, I think, is an extremely imaginative idea, and I’m very much looking forward both to the virtual party and to exploring Second Life.

For details of how to download the necessary software, register a second life account (both free) and of the bash itself, see Tom’s post here.

I’ve already filed one potential entry for next year’s competition, for the category Most Unintentionally Humorous post, but since a year’s a long time and my memory isn’t what it used to be, allow me to share it with readers right now. The back-story to this is that Jon Swift (who narrowly won the Blogpower Best North American Blog or Column, after a nail-biting photo-finish with Lord Nazh and Zaftig — many congratulations to both of them; Jon Swift is tough competition, indeed, and coming within a handful of votes of him really is an impressive feat) wrote an obituary of the late Don Herbert, an American broadcaster who was better known as Mr Wizard, the presenter of a Children’s popular science TV show.

Mr Swift, for the benefit of those who haven’t yet encountered his blog, describes himself as

a reasonable conservative who likes to write about politics and culture. Since the media is biased I get all my news from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Jay Leno monologues

and, were it not for the fact we have his own word for it that young people

should be taught to avoid satire, which only confuses people and saps the national will. […] While people have occasionally accused me of having a sense of humor, I strive to be funny as little as possible. I hope that, while I may occasionally slip and make an inadvertently humorous remark, for the most part what I say will be taken seriously

one might be forgiven for thinking some of his posts are a bit tongue in cheek.

One person, however, who didn’t slip into the trap of thinking Jon Swift was writing with any sense of irony when he observed that

It must have been a different world back in 1951 when his first show premiered. Can you imagine good Christian parents today allowing their children to be taught by someone who calls himself a “wizard” and tries to seduce children with the “magic” and “mystery” of science? Parents have enough problems these days trying to pry copies of the anti-Christian Harry Potter books out of their children’s little hands. Yet this man was able to go on television every week and tell children there were easy “scientific” explanations for God’s creation and that they should rely on their brains instead of the Bible.

was a Mr M, who co-writes Comments From Left Field (‘Dear Reader, Comments From Left Field is a Progressive news and opinion blog’; Mr M and his colleagues, I’m happy to note, helpfully link the word ‘blog’ in this introduction to the Wikipedia entry for the term, just in case anyone might be confused).

Having read Jon Swift’s piece, Mr M was so incensed that he wrote a scathing attack, Who The Fuck Is This Whackjob?!?!, on Mr Swift. A sample:

The piece, in its entirety, is wholely disgusting, and regressive, and I’m sorry for the invective, but it was necessary. Case in point:

As parents and their children stroll through the 60,000 sq. ft. museum, designed by a former Universal Studios exhibit director, they can see the terrible cost wrought by Mr. Wizard and other advocates of human reason: nuclear war, drug addiction, gay marriage, abortion, evolution taught in the schools, school shootings, graffiti, and carnivorous wolves. Before Eve gave Adam a bite of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, they lived peaceably with all of the animals, including dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurus Rexes munched contentedly on grass and leaves, while children played with their pet velociraptors. One bite of the apple sent these loving dinosaurs into a murderous rage.

Know that my reaction to this paragraph alone was, “Holy Shit.” I mean are you kidding me? Gay marriage and teaching evolution are on par with NUCLEAR WAR? And by the way, Mr. Swift, carnivorous wolves? Most definitely one of God’s creations… not ours.

Then, just to make assurance doubly sure, he went on to Mr Swift’s blog and left a lengthy comment in a similar vein. Oops.


June 13, 2007

Blair and the feral media

Filed under: Blair, Politics, press — notsaussure @ 9:03 pm

What is one to make of Tony Blair’s reflections on the media yesterday? I’m linking, by the way, to the BBC transcript rather than the one on the Number 10 site because, for perfectly understandable but pleasingly ironic reasons, the BBC one is a more complete and accurate account of the great man’s words; the version on the Number 10 site excises the passages

We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defence, after 18 years of Opposition and the, at times, ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative.But such an attitude ran the risk of fuelling the trends in communications that I am about to question.


When I fought the 1997 election – just ten years ago – we took an issue a day. In 2005, we had to have one for the morning, another for the afternoon and by the evening the agenda had already moved on,

explaining the absence with the chaste comment ‘[Party Political content].’

I was puzzled by his description of the media as ‘feral,’ a metaphor that takes us into all sorts of strange places. What sort of wild beast does he have in mind, one wonders; are the media a tiger, on whose back he has taken a ride and is now he finds it difficult to dismount, or are they savage wolves, whom he would like to domesticate into pet dogs (very loyal to their masters, dogs)? Or are they like the feral children who so worried Mr Blunkett and Mr Blair a few years ago, and who need ASBOs to sort them out? Or does he just mean the press have been beastly to him recently? (more…)

June 12, 2007

President Bush’s missing watch

Filed under: Foreigners — notsaussure @ 9:11 pm

Now here’s an oddity. According to Reuters,

Reports that U.S. President George W. Bush had his wristwatch stolen while shaking hands with Albanians on his weekend visit are false, Albanian police and the U.S. embassy said on Tuesday.”The story is untrue and the president did not lose his watch,” a spokesman for the embassy in Tirana said.

Some newspapers, television stations and websites carried reports that Bush’s watch vanished on Sunday when he was greeted by ecstatic crowds in Fushe Kruje, outside the capital Tirana.

“It is not true,” said Albania’s police director, Ahmet Prenci.

Photographs showed Bush, surrounded by five bodyguards, putting his hands behind his back so one of the bodyguards could remove his watch.

Well, Boing Boing provides a link to a Dutch TV station whose video certainly appears to show a watch on President Bush’s wrist when his arm disappears into a crowd of Albanian well-wishers and no watch thereon when his arm reappears a few seconds later — take a look at the video here, and see what you think (the article’s in Dutch, but the video speaks for itself).

I can see it’s a bit embarrassing for everyone that his watch was pinched — rather spoils the initial impression given by his rapturous reception, and doesn’t really reflect well on the Albanians, tending, as it does, to confirm various Mail and Express stereotypes.

However, I’m not sure that the alternative explanation — that President Bush took one look at the crowd and hissed to his security men, ‘For God’s sake, take this watch off my wrist or the buggers’ll steal it, as sure as eggs is eggs’ — sounds much better.

Update: This seems to be rather contentious, and the plot appears to be thickening. Bruce Schneier has a link to a clip, shot from a different angle, which appears — though this disputed by several people commenting at Mr Schneier’s blog — to show President Bush removing his watch himself, presumably because people have been trying to steal it from his wrist. But other links in Mr Schneier’s blog have accounts of how the President’s watch apparently fell to the ground and was then retrieved by security staff.

I’d be convinced by the film of the President removing his watch himself if weren’t for the initial stories having him putting his hands behind his back so his bodyguards could remove the watch for him — seems a convoluted way of doing it, and you’d have thought that, ‘No, the President took his own watch off’ would have been a far better thing to have said, particularly if it were true. Unless it’s somehow against professional etiquette for White House Press Officers to tell the whole, unvarnished truth in any circumstances, no matter how trivial, since that could set a dangerous precedent.

Anyway, I’m not up to arguing about such matters, so if anyone does wish to explain what they think happened, please do it at Bruce Schneier’s place rather than here.

Meanwhile, James Higham quite sensible demands to know,

Are we going to stand for this? Are we just going to sit back while thieves and conjurers hijack the airwaves and hold us all to ransome [Arthur]? I say we act:


Second Update: The BBC has an interview (plus video) with a street magician explaining how magicians (and pickpockets) can snaffle your watch without you noticing — keeping it on a vecro strap is apparently a recommended precaution, because of the noise it makes when he tries to undo the strap, though it probably isn’t much use when you’re dealing with an adulatory mob of yelling Albanians, as happens to me all the time.

June 11, 2007

Blair to become a Catholic?

Filed under: Blair, Catholicism, Politics — notsaussure @ 7:26 pm

Via Bel is thinking, the news from the Daily Mail that Tony Blair is, apparently, hoping to convert to Roman Catholicism after he leaves office next month. This, in itself, is hardly news; the Telegraph had much the same story last month; what is news is that Blair apparently has apparently discussed with Fr Timothy Russ, priest at the Immaculate Heart of Mary near the Prime Minister’s official country residence, Chequers, the possibility of his being fast-tracked into the role of deacon, if and when he’s received into the Church. Says the Mail, quoting

a new book soon to be serialised by The Mail on Sunday – The Darlings Of Downing Street by Garry O’Connor,

so it’s almost certainly untrue,

Mr Blair is reported as asking his confidant Father Timothy: “Would this be possible?” He was told: “It usually takes two or three years”, to which he replied: “The fact that I’m PM, could this make a difference?”

Bel’s looked up the qualifications for becoming a deacon and, probably by some oversight, being a former Prime Minister doesn’t appear to be among them, Anyway, you can read more of this in Bel’s excellent blog.

For my part, I was struck by the way Fr Russ seems to have mellowed; it was only in 2004 that he was being spectacularly indiscreet and not at all complimentary about Mr Blair. Then the Telegraph was reporting that

Fr Russ, the parish priest of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in nearby Missenden, Berks, told a newspaper that Mr Blair had raised the issue of conversion over lunch.”When he asked me, it was in the abstract,” the priest said. “It wasn’t, ‘Can I become a Catholic?’ but, ‘Can the Prime Minister of Britain be a Catholic?’ He said Mr Blair would be “freer to consider the matter” after he had left office. “But even if he resigns or whatever, I doubt he has the ‘necessary’ to join the Catholic Church.

“It is always a work of grace,” said Fr Russ.

“He would probably have a lot going for him, but he also has to change a lot.”

Mind you, Fr Russ’s judgement seems slightly questionable; at the same time, he was telling The Guardian, of Mr Blair,

“He’s a good person and he’s very concerned about humanity. And whether he becomes a Catholic or not, I think he’ll use his position to do something constructive, perhaps in Palestine. He’s got integrity and I can’t see him doing what other former prime ministers doing and going on lecture tours of America.

“It’s not a question of whether he becomes a Catholic but a question of where his conscience leads him.”

June 10, 2007

Blogpower awards

Filed under: Blogroll — notsaussure @ 11:07 pm

I said I wasn’t going to canvass for anyone in these polls, not even for myself, and I’m still not going to. However, they’ve introduced me to some excellent blogs which I hadn’t come across before, particularly Visions of Bradford, who is a strong contender in the categories Most Politically Incorrect blog and Best Ranter.

His announcement of his candidacy possibly gives a flavour of why he’s in the first category, and this exchange with someone rash enough to argue with him gives a good idea of why he’s doing well in the second.

Well worth a read.

Blogpower, Blogrolls and feeds

Filed under: Blogroll — notsaussure @ 10:34 pm

I’m sorry I haven’t mentioned this before, but the excellent Tom Paine, proprietor of The Last Ditch, has made all the Blogpower blogs available as feeds on a PageFlakes page, so if you want to see what the various Blogpoweristi are up to without visiting everyone in turn, there’s a way to do it.

Inspired by his example, I’ve tried to put my blogroll onto Bloglines in a similar manner. I find that it’s a lot easier to skim them in a reader like that than it is to visit individual links, so I’m rather hoping that people who’ve vaguely wondered what such-and-such a blog on my blogroll is about, but have never bothered to go there — I rarely explore people’s blogrolls in any great detail, I must admit — might take a quick look at unfamiliar titles via Mr Paine’s and my online feed readers and perhaps find a couple of unfamilar blogs they find interesting.

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