Several nice sides to Tony

I never thought I would write anything about Tony Blair (et al.) on this blog, but I have just read the most wonderful post about him on Material Witness. As Typepad ate my comment over there, I will provide a link to the Material Witness post here. It is a lovely story and shows several sides, charming ones, to a leading politician — the likes of some of which I have read nowhere else.

Tony Blair, Nicole Kidman and the unfavourable comparison.

I’m smiling.

Hillary Clinton in the Economist

Link: The candidates: Hillary Clinton | Her latest incarnation: presidential front-runner | Economist.com.

I’m not getting into politics on Petrona — politics is one of those subjects where the heat of the opinion is inversely related to the knowledge of the person expressing it, but I do like the description of Hillary C. in the standfirst of this Economist piece:

"Unloved; but also disciplined, well-organised and experienced."

I recognise that Hillary is widely unolved in the USA, but I’ve always rather liked her — in a mild kind of way, I hasten to add.

Has the web helped our public awareness?

From a post on Content Matters: Despite Web and Cable, Americans Remain Oblivious to Public Affairs…."or so say the findings of a new study by the Pew Research Center.The study, entitled "What Americans Know: 1989-2007" assesses public knowledge of leaders and news events, as compared to 1989.  We might have assumed that the advent of 24-hour news combined with the abundance of websites and blogs would have resulted in a more educated public, but that’s not the case. According to the Pew study, our knowledge of public affairs today is roughly the same as it was eighteen years ago."

From the Pew study: "More than nine-in-ten Americans (93%) could identify Arnold Schwarzenegger as the California governor or a former action-movie star — both responses were counted as correct in the scoring. An equally large proportion of the public identified Hillary Clinton as a U.S. senator, a former first lady, a Democratic leader, or a candidate for president. Clear majorities can also correctly identify Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (65%) and Sen. Barack Obama (61%). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is recognized by about half of the public (49%). Other prominent national figures and world leaders are not as well known. When asked to name the president of Russia, just 36% recalled Vladimir Putin."

I imagine that similar results would be obtained if a sample of the British public were asked to identify political figures in the UK and mainland Europe. Most of them would probably get Schwarzenegger, though.

MySpace or YouTube for president?

Via Online Media Daily:

Getting a jump on the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, News Corp.’s MySpace plans to host a general presidential vote on Jan. 1 and 2 of next year. The move is the latest attempt by MySpace and its rivals to engage users in what is certain to be a fiery election where online components will play a significant role.

You can also view the video channels created by the various presidential hopefuls on YouTube at the YouChoose 08 page created earlier this year: a "centralized hub" featuring campaign videos, speeches, informal chats, behind-the-scenes footage, as well as community features such as video responses, text comments and ratings.

If we had universal online voting, would anyone ever go out of the door at election time?

Interviews with a feminist

Am I a feminist blogger? I have been interviewed by "e" of A Blog without a Bicycle ("riding the cyberwave of feminism"), for part of  her MA project on feminist self-presentation in blogging.

The first interview can be read here,  and the second one, here.

It was interesting, and somewhat rejuvenating, being asked questions about feminism. It took me back to my late teens and early twenties, when the issue of "women’s rights" did seem very pressing, and was the stimulus for many a late-night heated conversation (usually a group, and quite often degenerating into complaints about how someone’s boyfriend didn’t do the washing up).

In those days, I am shocked to recall, the UK did not have an anti-discrimination act or an equal pay act. I read The Female Eunuch, The Woman’s Room, and many others of that ilk with a passion and a fury. (Of course, it was a lot worse for previous generations of women — but to me as a late teenager, the fact of my being considered "less" by virtue of being female came as a shock, having only sisters and being educated at all-female establishments.) I remember the pages of the newspapers being full of ads for "Girl Fridays". I could not join the "Oxford and Cambridge" club even quite recently — they have been forced to admit women graduates on equal terms now, since EU legislation a mere few years ago, but that is what it took to make this outfit accept that a woman graduate has as much right to the same facilities as it would extend to a male one. (Naturally, I have not the least intention of joining this organisation, as I know what they really think, despite the four-colour flyers they now send proclaiming their new-found "liberalism" and soliciting membership. Just call me Grauchina Marx.)

But I wonder why feminism seemed more important to me all those years ago, compared with now? Is political activism a young person’s thing; or has life really changed for the better? Or is it that "having it all" — earning a living, being a parent, maintaining the home environment, etc — has worn me out after 16 + 11 = 27 person-years of it?

Power to the people

Link: info NeoGnostic: Two new sites.

Chris at info NeoGnostic, who doesn’t seem to have posted for a while (although that could just be Bloglines) writes about the Open Rights Group. He adds: "They also have a blog, which pointed me to website I never expected to visit, let alone recommend(!) – 10 Downing Street. It has a new petition site that mySociety has built for it, which allows anyone to set up a petition and collect signatures."

Two petitions that Chris found there are one to scrap the proposed introduction of identity cards; and another to allow an exception to copyright law to give individuals the right to create a private copy for their own personal use. But there are 238 petitions there, so plenty to vote for or against.

Why is it important to vote?

On my usual travels round the blogosphere tonight, I must have read twenty or thirty exhortations to vote in today’s US election. Many such posts state that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, just so long as you vote. Why is this?

When I was too young to vote, I was very keen to do so. We had debates and mock elections at school, and were pretty opinionated and (naively, maybe) informed about which party we supported and what they all stood for. For many years, every time there was a general or local election, I voted (not always for the same party). I used postal votes when necessary, and always made sure to get to the polling station if I was based at home at the time. But in recent years, I have stopped. I still vote in general elections, true, but without any enthusiasm for the menu of candidates I am offered. In local elections, I do not vote any more. I have lived in this town for 15 years and have seen all parties either in control or in coalition form — none of them is the slightest bit different in the event. I have become a cynic — engendered by their horrible nasty election leaflets that come through the door blaming everyone but themselves for every wrong in the world and making unrealistic, blanket promises they have no intention of fulfilling.

On the national level, too, politicians are employing an ever-increasing number of unelected special advisers, press officers, PA people, minders, gurus, hairdressers, fortune-tellers and assorted hangers-on. We have seen our main political parties jettison any pretence of conviction politics in favour of appealing to a narrow set of swing voters who can tip some constituency if they are satisfied on a single issue. We’ve seen spin, media management, honours given to newspaper editors while the editors are still in-post, focus groups, opinion polls, etc.

I am not mentioning greed, corruption, hypocrisy and delusions of grandeur, because politicians have always been like that — it was always par for the course. If they were unlucky enough to get caught (eg Profumo) they resigned. Now they just cling on shamelessly for as long as they can persuade their political agents and parties not to sack them — and if they are sacked or if they quit, it is because of votes, not principles. Everything seems to be acceptable.

Politicians in power are tinkering at the edges, sacrificing their election manifestos and failing to represent the interests of the people who voted for them. The media is pathetic, preferring to focus on trivia, gossip and hysteria than in providing decent investigative journalism.

So tell me again, why is it so important to use your vote? Not voting isn’t opening the door to fascism or communism or any other horror. It is a small, inoffensive way to indicate one’s inability to make a positive choice from the depressing options on offer.

Let me know where my argument is flawed.

Meaning of life

Two articles on the unfashionable but essential characteristic of taking responsibility for one’s actions.

First, from a post on "The Life and Times of Rennie D", by Father Mark Long, on the Adam and Eve story:

"It is tempting to assign the consequential curse and humanity’s exclusion from Eden to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in seeking wisdom (a gift God did not yet believe them ready to receive). However, having gained wisdom, they are cursed and excluded for failing to accept responsibility for their choice and subsequent action. Rather than a punishment dictated by God, this is a consequence brought about by humanity’s unwillingness to accept responsibility.
Much of humanity’s suffering is due not to wrong choice, but to our failure to accept responsibility for those choices … there are neither rewards or punishments, only consequences!"

Second, from today’s Times, in which Richard Morrison writes with insight and truth on one of his regular themes, the disjunct in society on either side of the class divide. Today’s peg is a report on the breakdown of family life, specifically disaffection among teenagers, and how the "media class" just doesn’t get it. Please read the whole article. Here’s the nub, but it is even stronger if you’ve read what comes before:

"All this can be summed up in three words: abdication of responsibility. That applies not only to parents who don’t nurture their children, but also to the influential and powerful middle class that doesn’t want to accept responsibility for sorting out the gross social squalor afflicting those lower down the pile. Such selfishness is so short-sighted. Donne said that no man is an island. Equally, no sink estate is an island. The seeds of bitterness being sown there will tear apart our country if we don’t wake up. The future is not measurably bright; it’s potentially appalling."

Electronic voting machines

"Is it too late to start selling bumper stickers that say “I think I voted”?"

The Dilbert Blog: Electronic Voting Machines.

The last word about the election is at the link. Here’s a sample:

"I think about the history of ATMs when I hear all the nervous Nellies wetting their pants over electronic voting machines. I believe those worries are totally misplaced. Now don’t get me wrong – there’s a 100% chance that the voting machines will get hacked and all future elections will be rigged.  But that doesn’t mean we’ll get a worse government. It probably means that the choice of the next American president will be taken out of the hands of deep-pocket, autofellating, corporate shitbags and put it into the hands of some teenager in Finland. How is that not an improvement?"

Feminism at work and in the newspapers

Philobiblon: Time to boycott the anti-female Observer

Natalie Bennett at Philobiblon earlier in the week drew attention to a daft article in Prospect about females in the workplace. She has summarised the article so one does not have to read it ;-), and succinctly dispatched its main arguments. I wish everyone in the world thought as clearly as Natalie on this topic.

Since that posting, the Observer has picked up on the Prospect piece and published their own daft article on the topic, again as pointed out at Philobiblion. There is a lot of incoherent comment on the Observer’s blog about the article, but Natalie has it right on the nail.

My general opinon of Sunday papers (in the UK) is that they are a waste of time: they don’t have any news to report that can’t wait until Monday (or read online if you are a news junkie), and the Saturday papers contain supplements for everything one could possibly want to read about and plenty more that one would not. There are plenty of good blogs publishing roundups and highlights of weekend papers.

I have, as noted, long since given up on the Sunday Times, so it is good to have it confirmed that not only am I not missing anything by not reading the Observer, but I am gaining something by my abstinence.

Incidentally, in the link at the top of this posting, Philobiblon also links to a (Sunday) Times piece on online shopping. This is what I mean about not having to read the Sunday papers — with people like Natalie Bennett and Sarah Weinman around, no need 😉 . The online shopping piece is quite readable, though did not tell a veteran like me anything I didn’t know. Useful for people considering whether to dip an electronic toe into this cyberwater, though.