23 December 2009

Superb YouTube Documentary

Please take a look at this video about an unfinished branch of the London Underground's Northern Line. Yeah, the topic sounded boring to me too, but it is so well made it deserves your attention:

Forget kittens and illegally uploaded music videos, this is YouTube at its best.

The makers have created a documentary about a potentially boring subject into an engaging, entertaining and informative story. I don't agree with his opinions, but the presentation style and the execution is very impressive for an amateur production. Clearly they have spent a lot of time making this film, and I feel it deserves a greater exposure, so get tweeting, embedding and linking, dear reader.

I also think there is potential here to engage a wider audience for more nuanced political issues and campaigns. Proportional representation springs to mind. I could spend a couple of hours making a 2 minute video about STV, but I doubt it would get much attention. However, with more effort, a witty, engaging video could get tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of hits, potentially from an audience that hadn't even heard of electoral reform before.


21 December 2009

What Guido Didn't Show

Last week, Guido recently uploaded a video apparently showing Gordon Brown being snubbed when stretching his hand. But he cut it before the handshaking.

I have no love for Brown, and would love to see the back of him as PM. The reason I upload this is because I want blogging to have some integrity. Cheap spin by the likes of Guido undermine us all.

20 December 2009

The Best of the Noughties

Here are my highlights of the decade:

TUNE OF THE DECADE: Outkast - Hey Ya!

Unbelievably catchy, impossibly upbeat, and able to transform even the grumpiest of moods to one of unparalleled joy, Hey Ya! seemed to be universally popular across the entire human race, and even persuaded this two-left-footed blogger to shake it like a polaroid picture on several occassions.

Runners up:
Together - So Much Love To Give
Royksopp - What Else Is There? (Thin White Duke Remix)
London Elektricity - Out Of This World

ALBUM OF THE DECADE: The Avalanches - Since I Left You

Constructed from over 3,000 samples, Australian punk-rockers turned their hands to electronic music and created a masterpiece. It is a truly unique work, and somehow manages to be exciting, groovy, silly, sentimental and cheery all at the same time. Their follow-up has been in development hell for 9 years now, but the band's Myspace page status, "Clearing samples", suggests we will be treated to more soon.

Runners up:
London Elektricity - Power Ballads
Quantic - Apricot Morning
Q-Tip - The Renaissance

FILM OF THE DECADE: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Michel Gondry beautifully combined the real and the surreal to create this tale of heartbreak that I imagine we can all relate to. Brilliantly written and superbly executed with perfect performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. It truly is must-see.

...and Kirsten Dunst dances around in her pants :)

Runners up:
Slumdog Millionaire

Utterly silly comedy from Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper. Their recreations of early science television is done with real attention to detail, but I wouldn't rely on any of the results of their experiments!

Runners up:
The Office
Peep Show
Charlie Brooker's Newswipe

GAME OF THE DECADE: Super Mario Galaxy
At first glance it appears to be just another Mario platformer. But the addition of upside-down physics added a whole new dimension to the game's possibilities, and made every level a joy to play. So good I bought it twice (well, my first copy did get nicked).

Runners up:
The Sims
Guitar Hero

ART OF THE DECADE: Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller - The Killing Machine
I don't know quite what to call it, but I'll go with animated multimedia sculpture. Two mechanical arms dance over a dental chair to melancholy music, before needles pierce the imaginary victim. It is obviously a deeply political work, with themes of torture and modern society's lack of respect for human life clearly played out. Truly chilling.

Runners up:
Doris Salcedo - Shibboleth
Kristin Baker - The Unfair Advantage
Cang Xin - Communication

It has been an essential part of my life. I moved to Oxford after getting my job after graduating in 2006. I knew no-one, and making friends via housemates wasn't working out. So I set up a Facebook group to meet new people, and I haven't looked back. It is a campaigning tool, a debating forum, a photo compilation, a diary, and who knows what else. My favourite waste of time.

Runners up:
Toyota Prius
Nintendo Wii Remote

How the 'Irrelevant' Meme will be Neutered

Mark Reckons has rightly taken issue with a post from Tom Harris, which takes the line of the Lib Dems being irrelevant. It is the main line of Lib Dem attack by the two big parties: instead of engaging with the issues we raise, call them meaningless and move on. It breaks just about every logical fallacy going, but the Conlabourtives have never been big on logic.

Of course the honest answer is that the Lib Dems won't be the next government. There's an outside chance the party goes into coalition with the Tories or Labour, but we won't be running the country on our own terms. That makes the 'irrelevant' line of attack a hard one to snappily defend. But looking forwards, I think it will soon become hard for our opponents to use this line, because the Lib Dems have a great opportunity to make a major breakthrough: in local government.

Here's my reasoning.

First, lets assume that the Tories win the forthcoming General Election; a reasonable assumption given the state of the opinion polls.

The tendency for local elections has always been that a beleaguered party of national government performs badly at a local level. At the local elections this year, the Tories won with 38% of the BBC's projected national vote, and Labour slumped to just 23%. Back in 1995, it was the Conservatives in a mess on 25%, and Labour on a whopping 46%.

So after a possible blip of optimism for the fresh new Tories, their vote will slump. Who will that vote go to, Labour or Lib Dems? Well, the Lib Dems have always performed better on the local rather than national stage, and we are starting with an advantage with our 28% local vote share beating Labour's by some 5%. Are Labour going to win from an irrelevant (tee hee) third place, or are the Lib Dems going to win from second?

Winning the local elections would of course give the Lib Dems a huge boost, particularly in terms of credibility. And of course it would immediately neuter the irrelevant meme.

So be careful next time you mock the Lib Dems, because you could soon be making yourself look rather silly.

15 December 2009

Gagging For It

This is the BBC Newsnight report on Trafigura that has been gagged:

Now do the same.

7 December 2009

Our Fishy Democracy

(Before I start, a quick appeal: does anyone have a full set of general election data? Preferably in a spreadsheet. Mark Pack pointed me towards this Harvard University site, which is the best I've found. But the number of rows doesn't tally with the number of parliamentary constituencies... there appears to be 18 missing. [Edit, see update below.] Now then, on with the show...)

Since the post on an electoral reform I dreamt up last month, I've been pondering other novel ways we could improve the representativeness of our democracy. I've had a couple of other (interesting but perhaps not advocatable) ideas. The first will take a much bigger write-up, with detailed explanations and number-crunching and graphics and an epic soundtrack, oh and a large chunk of my time. So that will have to wait for another day.

The other idea is a rather silly one, based around using a stick (rather than carrot) approach for getting politicians to engage more with their constituents, and also the public to engage with politics.

To begin, a decent-sized fish tank would need to be purchased and installed in the House of Commons. Then, come the next election, every vote that isn't used will be assumed to be a vote for a fish. I suggest some sort of minnow. If the human candidate with the most votes fails to surpass the number of non-votes, the minnow is duly elected and added to the House of Commons tank.

The minnow can't swim into the lobbies, therefore has no vote on divisions. The fish would not need a second home allowance, but would have a staff allowance to handle constituency work.

Fortunately minnows don't usually see much life beyond their first birthday, so its constituents would soon get the chance to elect a great ape in a by-election.

What this fish system would do is ensure that MPs have a proper mandate from the electorate. If they didn't try and get the vote out, the chances are that they would lose their seat to something wet and scaly. Similarly, it would encourage the electorate to get off their fleshy posteriors to ensure they are represented by something land-dwelling.

So, with a spring in my step, I thought I'd apply this new rule to the last general election. The result wasn't so encouraging.

In 87% of seats*, more people didn't vote than voted for their MP.

Those are some empty-looking benches. We're gonna need a bigger tank.

* Don't rely on that exact percentage too much. Like I said, there are 18 out of 646 seats missing from my dataset. But I doubt the number would change that much.

UPDATE: The 18 missing constituencies are the ones in Northern Ireland. Thanks to Ben Mathis.