Monday, 31 December 2012

Top 10 Dance Tunes of 2012

Because it's tradition! And what a fine, fine tradition it is.

10. Motivation (Kris O'Neil Remix) by Paul Thomas feat. Ladystation

9. Lost In Your Love by Redlight

8. Spectrum (Calvin Harris Remix) by Florence and the Machine

7. The Night Out (Madeon Remix) by Martin Solveig

6. I Don't Deserve You by Paul van Dyk feat. Plumb


4. Nothing Without Me by Markus Schulz feat. Ana Diaz

3. Chronicles of a Fallen Love by The Bloody Beetroots feat. Greta Svabo Bech

2. Aeon of Revenge by Andrew Rayel

And Number One is ...





Saturday, 29 December 2012

Income Distribution Under Conservatives and Labour

Here's a very interesting graph:


This shows the distribution of income under the 1979-97 Conservative government, and the 1997-2010 Labour government. Something tells me the present bunch will be edging toward the former rather than the latter. I guess this is what the Liberal Democrats mean when they talk about 'building a fairer Britain'.

Graph source is page 30 of this Joseph Rowntree/Institute for Fiscal Studies report here.

(H/T @BenCooper86)

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Top 100 Tweeting Bloggers 2012

The top 100 list of tweeting political bloggers is finally here!

Before we move to the main dish, a few remarks on the criteria for inclusion. As this post on defining political bloggers makes clear, a blog is a website produced by an individual or collective organised primarily around user-generated content, and has a comments facility.

There are a couple of other caveats. To be included below, the blog or blogger has to be posting regularly (within the last 45 days) and has to be contributing to something that identifies itself as a blog, regardless of whether it's a traditional blogging platform, something bespoke, or a site hosted by an established media organisation. Lastly, the writer has to define themselves as a blogger. For example, while prominent columnists like Suzanne Moore and Richard Littlejohn appear on mainstream media sites that exhibit the architecture one would associate with blogging, they do not - as far as I'm aware - regard themselves as bloggers nor engage with the comments left below their articles.

So, without further ado:

1. Jon Snow (251,543 followers)
2. Robert Peston (214,384 followers)
3. Alastair Campbell (198,921 followers)
4. Nick Robinson (127,802 followers)
5. Tom Watson MP (108,869 followers)
6. Guido Fawkes (89,639 followers)
7. Krishnan Guru-Murthy (87,598 followers)
8. Owen Jones (74,442 followers)
9. Comment is Free (66,840 followers)
10. Paul Mason (59,226 followers)
11. Laurie Penny (55,499 followers)
12. Stephanie Flanders (54,817 followers)
13. Caroline Lucas (49,475 followers)
14. Faisal Islam (49,362 followers)
15. Michael Crick (47,202 followers)
16. New Statesman (46,740 followers)
17. Mehdi Hasan (43,991 followers)
18. Fraser Nelson (40,814 followers)
19. Huffington Post UK (39,942 followers)
20. David Allen Green (39,311 followers)
21. Adam Boulton (37,920 followers)
22. Cathy Newman (36,308 followers)
23. Iain Dale (35,831 followers)
24. Toby Young (32,773 followers)
25. Tim Montgomerie (32,302 followers)
26. Left Foot Forward (28,631 followers)
27. Sunny Hundal (28,210 followers)
28. Daniel Hannan (26,493 followers)
29. Michael White (26,228 followers)
30. FT Westminster Blog (25,581 followers)
31. Andrew Sparrow (24,425 followers)
32. Gideon Rachman (24,241 followers)
33. Benedict Brogan (23,963 followers)
34. Helen Lewis (23,553 followers)
35. Political Scrapbook (23,130 followers)
36. Sophy Ridge (22,594 followers)
37. Labour List (22,272 followers)
38. John Rentoul (22,065 followers)
39. Harry Cole (21,143 followers)
40. Eoin Clarke (20,605 followers)
41. Demos (18,156 followers)
42. False Economy (16,749 followers)
43. Glen Oglaza (16,512 followers)
44. Conservative Home (16,327 followers)
45. The Spectator Coffee House (15,518 followers)
46. Open Democracy (15,325 followers)
47. Iain Martin (15,314 followers)
48. 38 Degrees (15,313 followers)
49. Liberal Conspiracy (15,227 followers)
50. Richard Murphy (15,205 followers)
51. Gary Gibbon (14,996 followers)
52. Old Holborn (14,415 followers)
53. Adam Smith Institute (13,456 followers)
54. Allegra Stratton (13,346 followers)
55. Rowenna Davis (13,131 followers)
56. James Delingpole (12,879 followers)
57. Charlie Beckett (12,385 followers)
58. The F-Word (12,103 followers)
59. UK Progressive (11,808 followers)
60. Lynne Featherstone MP (11,712 followers)
61. Jonnie Marbles (11,603 followers)
62. Douglas Carswell MP (11,593 followers)
63. Nick Cohen (11,431 followers)
64. James Kirkup (11,394 followers)
65. Danny Blanchflower (11,348 followers)
66. Labour Uncut (11,198 followers)
67. Ellie Mae O'Hagan (11,234 followers)
68. Jody MacIntyre (11,094 followers)
69. Dan Hodges (10,856 followers)
70. The Commentator (9,728 followers)
71. New Left Project (9,626 followers)
72. Joey Jones (9,589 followers)
73. Progress (9,312 followers)
74. Angela Neptustar (9,083 followers)
75. Archbishop Cranmer (8,862 followers)
76. LibDem Voice (8,857 followers)
77. Cath Elliott (8,775 followers)
78. Dawn Foster (8,491 followers)
79. Jonathan Isaby (8,284 followers)
80. Mark Ferguson (8,037 followers)
81. Jacqui Smith (7,993 followers)
82. Compass (7,766 followers)
83. Martin Bright (7,563 followers)
84. Diary of a Benefit Scrounger (7,437 followers)
85. Boris Watch (7,317 followers)
86. Benefit Scrounging Scum (7,269 followers)
87. Mike Smithson (7,157 followers)
88. Labour Matters (6,913 followers)
89. Jon Worth (6,738 followers)
90. Bloggerheads (6,703 followers)
91. Lenin's Tomb (6,665 followers)
92. Another Angry Woman (6,635 followers)
93. Mark Pack (6,526 followers)
94. James Cleverly AM (6,477 followers)
95. Adam Bienkov (6,395 followers)
96. Labour Left (6,281 followers)
97. Alex Massie (6,211 followers)
98. Jon Craig (6,210 followers)
99. Hopi Sen (6,182 followers)
100. Jim Pickard (5,895 followers)

There are lots of things that are striking about this list. But two that really jumped out while I was compiling it was the woeful under representation of women. The second is how the list, and especially its upper reaches, are utterly dominated by professional journalists and bloggers that have broken onto mainstream media platforms. This is the continuation of a trend I first discussed in the 2010 list. If we're honest, the list reads more like a who's who of political journalists and opinion formers than anything else. So maybe next year I'll throw together a list of independent bloggers, which excludes the journos and bloggers who write more or less exclusively for media sites. Who knows? Maybe that will be just enough to see my humble Twitter feed sneak back into the top 100.

Of course, as is the nature of these things the endeavour to be complete often means someone was inadvertently left out. If you think a tweeting blogger has been overlooked, let me know in the comments below.

So, any surprises? Did you make the list?

Update 29.12.12
It turns out the first draft was very comprehensive indeed and only failed to capture three active tweeting bloggers that have enough followers for the list. It's now updated, meaning Aaron Peters, Obo the Clown and Crash, Bang, Wallace are booted off by Cyber Boris (Angela Neptustar), Danny Blanchflower and the recently-returned Iain Dale.

If there are any more that have been missed please let me know below.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Doctor Who: Sexism and Audience

Dr Who at Christmas is now an established fixture, as festive for the folk of these islands as sausages wrapped in bacon and Noel Edmond's jumpers. And yesterday's annual fare, Dr Who: The Snowmen was alright. Like any good Steven Moffat episode, it made sinister the (wintery) accoutrements of childhood - snow, the eponymous snowmen, snow globes - and wrapped them around an absurd plot to conquer the world with ice people. The story arc for the 2013 season is set up nicely as the new companion, Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna Louise Coleman - pictured), is seemingly reincarnated at different points in history (in The Asylum of the Daleks, The Snowmen's Victorian setting, and, as revealed by the coming season's teaser, the present day). And, for the proper purists, this special acts as a sort-of prequel to a couple of 1967 episodes featuring yetis and the London Underground, or something.

Okay, now is the time to talk about Steven. To put it mildly we know Dr Who's lead writer is a flawed genius, and the blemish on his character is, sadly, sexism. The last Christmas episode I reviewed was very suspect. And it's not just me who thinks this, nor is the Doctor the only Moffat production to manifest dodgy gender politics. There's this piece in the New Statesman on his re-imagined Sherlock, there's this hoo-ha over Coupling, and this takedown of episodes broadcast while Russell T Davies was still at the helm. Five minutes with your favourite internet search engine will turn up countless articles and blogs on the subject, including how Moffat deleted his Twitter account after another round of call-outs over recurring sexist themes.

Now, I accept all these arguments. I don't know why Moffat persists with rolling out the tired old sexist cliches. Perhaps he has a problem with women. As a bare minimum he drags around a load of unexamined and unacceptable assumptions. I don't know what his issues are, and wouldn't care if these attitudes didn't crop up and disfigure what is otherwise fine - and popular - work. But they do, so here we are.

However, on top of and in addition to emasculated men, and troublesome, objectified, infantilised women, I'd like to make a couple of other quick observations that may point to a contradictory influence on Moffat's Doctor writing.

A number of people have pointed out that Moffat just can't write women. In yesterday's episode, Clara proved to be flirty, chatty and sassy. Just like Riversong (Alex Kingston) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) who preceded her. Okay, so Moffat's women are cardboard cut outs. But this sits very much inside the Who 2.0 tradition. Russell T. Davies didn't use the show to play out questionable gender politics, but his female characters were cut from a similar cloth. You don't need an abiding knowledge of Joss Whedon's work to realise Davies and Moffat both owe more than a passing debt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I don't think their continuing and recycled "tributes" to her is accidental.

Who episodes and new characters are not conceived in a creative vacuum. They are part and parcel of a cultural phenomenon. It not only is a money spinner but has, strangely, become inscribed in the national character of modern Britain. As well as to entertain and nod occasionally to the canon built up over 50 years, Dr Who has to reflect something of what makes modern Britain back at its audience. Buffy knock-offs the female characters largely are, Moffat and every other writer are tasked with developing personalities that must appeal to its audience. And because, in all essentials, Dr Who is a *children's programme* characters have to walk the tightrope of being role models for kids and safe enough for parents. The political economy of the show's popularity demands women characters who safely convey initiative and the capacity to stick up for themselves. Similarly the men - the Doctor, Rory, and even Captain Jack (remember him?) - are emotionally engaged and right on, if bumbling and unsure of themselves at times. They are pretty much what we would have called 'new men' back in the early 90s. In other words, Doctor Who labours to reflect back what its audience thinks or, more accurately, *aspires* contemporary gender normativity to be (normativity is, of course, always conditioned by modern cultural and particularly media representations of what is 'normal' for 'normal' women and men, but I digress).

What this means is writers like Moffat labour against an ever-present background of expectation. It's a tension. The BBC expect a compelling ratings smash, as it does every year. Parents and children want some safe fare while Christmas dinner ablates in distended stomachs, and Whovians and sad folk like the author of this blog expect a little something we can rant on the internet about. Together, this background of expectation acts both as a parameter disciplining Moffat's writing, and as a countervailing force conditioning character development along the lines of certain sets of infinitely repeated but loosely progressive traits. Clara, Amy, Riversong, the Doctor, Rory - every other recurring 'good' character that has featured since the 2005 reboot are you and me. They are every woman, and every man; or the men and women we and our children would like to be.

So far, the sexist graffiti Moffat sprays about his episodes have yet to undermine this convivial quality. But continued vigilance, calling out and critique will be necessary for as long as we wish Dr Who to stay that way.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Reinstate David Muritu

What do you call an employer that circumvents long-established disciplinary procedures and sacks the branch secretary of its recognised trade union on the last day before the seasonal break? There are many unpleasant names that spring to mind, but because it's Christmas I'll use this employer's official title: Halesowen College.

I reproduce below the statement supporting the reinstatement of UCU branch secretary, David Muritu. It is my understanding that this is just the beginning. Entirely coincidentally, of course, three more active members of the union are facing disciplinaries. This comes ahead of strike action planned in the New Year, which was unanimously endorsed by local UCU members. When that's the case, you know management must be as poor as it is bellicose.

From what I can gather, David is popular among staff and students at the college. Like a number of others, he works ridiculous hours for his students against a pretty shoddy background. I ask you, what other college makes lecturers cover two classes *at the same time*, foists non-specialists to teach certain specialised courses, and fails to provide specialist cover when there are absences?

They're hardly cash-strapped either. According to their own minutes of June's corporate meeting, they have an operating *surplus* of over £2.7m. Management's actions are plain bizarre. You can only agree with the petition statement's opening, David Muritu's sacking "is an attack on eduction and trade unionism".

Make sure you sign the petition. Solidarity messages to the branch can be sent via HalesowenUCU_branch_secretary@hotmail.com

Halesowen College: Reinstate David Muritu as a Maths Lecturer at the college

This is an attack on education and trades unionism. On December 20th Dave Muritu, a known local socialist trades union activist, was sacked from his position as Maths lecturer. This followed disregard of the college disciplinary procedure (no evidence was presented 3 days in advance of the hearing), without anything other than deductive reasoning (his sacking was linked to results, with no regard for competency procedure or accurate review of statistical significance (his results are above national average).

Please sign and convey your disappointment in the college failure to prioritise student needs and achievement over politics. The only logical conclusion which can be drawn from the situation is that as no substantial evidence has been produced, Dave has been sacked on grounds of disagreement with the principal on educational theory and politics. The maths department have received considerable lack of support in the face of student needs, including

1) Failure of the principal to agree specialist cover in staff absence, inspite of a substantial surplus which could fund this

2) Students in a functional lesson being encouraged by management to give up the studies their time is allocated for in order to participate in a “focus group” based around leading questions with no rigorous development or consistent recording of data

3) Victimisation of a known trades unionist, along with possible victimisation of other known activists in the maths department, setting a precedent for activists to be targeted with knock-on effects for other trades-unionists nationally.

Please sign and join us in fighting this outrageous decision collectively.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Statement of SWP Democratic Opposition

-
And there I was just minding my own business when this below tumbled into my inbox. Readers may be aware from a number of discussions at Socialist Unity and the Weekly Worker that a handful of members have been expelled in the lead up to the SWP's conference in early January. Under the rules, SWP members can form a faction in the three month period leading up to their annual meeting. It would appear from internet grapevine gossip that the four members in question fell foul of the central committee's expulsion compulsion for daring to communicate with each other outside the party's internal structure. In the SWP's world, talking politics with a mate via Facebook is a heinous crime.

I reproduce this here for interest, and because I can. By coincidence, I was going to write a sort of reply to Andy's thread on whether the left has lost its way. That will come before the close of the year, deadlines permitting.

Statement of SWP Democratic Opposition

Four comrades have been expelled for forming a ‘secret faction’ during the discussions prior to SWP conference. The expelled members had been legitimately concerned about the handling of very serious allegations directed at a CC member and the way that this was being handled by the organisation and had discussed about what this represented and how comrades could ensure the matter was dealt with properly.

There had been some discussion about whether to declare a faction or not. Some comrades, out of concern for how these matters had been dealt with previously, were in favour of doing so - but other comrades were worried that this might be premature or even disloyal. It is for having this discussion and sharing these concerns that the comrades have been expelled.

Importantly, the accusation of ‘secret faction’ was made against those concerned about declaring one whilst those in favour of declaring one have been referred to as ‘honest’ in a number of report backs from the CC to affected local branches, implying that those expelled were ‘dishonest’. We unreservedly reject this description as slander against the four excellent and valuable comrades who have been expelled.

We feel that this incident raises serious questions about democracy in the SWP in general and about the coming conference in particular. First of all, it cannot be right that a discussion about whether to form a faction is used as evidence of a ‘secret faction’ when it is in the general discussions of the pre-conference period. On a basic level, if we cannot have discussions about whether to form a faction or not, then, in reality, factions are de-facto impossible to organise and the right to form them is purely notional.

Secondly, it is not the case that this is the first, or even the most significant case of comrades discussing meeting before conference to discuss the possibility of a factional organisation that never ended up being formed.

In the run-up to the highly contested 2009 conference, a number of unofficial meetings between SWP members occurred, mainly in pubs and on one occasion after a party council, of members concerned about the developing crisis following the botched electoral strategy in 2008. The pace of events meant that these meetings, which were certainly planned in advance, never coalesced into a named faction, but no members were disciplined for involvement, certainly not the two people who serve on the CC since who had participated. The unofficial pre-conference meet-ups of 2008 were followed in Summer 2009 by an even more unorthodox grouping: a petition, written and organised entirely in secret and outside pre-conference season and mainly signed by party staff, to oust the then-editor of Socialist Worker. Again, no disciplinary procedure was employed – particularly not against the party worker who organised this factional group, who is now in the CC. These incidents, and doubtless others, show that any claim that the rules regarding factions are not, and have never been, implemented with a degree of judgement taking into account prevailing circumstances are wholly false.

There should not be an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the run up to conference. Leninism requires discipline to confront the class enemy – not to prevent debate amongst our own comrades. We believe that these malicious expulsions must be revoked immediately and that the CC must retract its accusations against the four people.

We are also deeply concerned about the impact of all this on our reputation inside the movement. It is little short of incredible that if the expulsions are not rescinded, comrades are going to be expected to defend the expulsion of four comrades (including one woman) simply for discussing concerns about the handling of very serious allegations in their own organisation.

Our feeling is that this is an untenable situation and will have an appalling impact on the morale of members and our ability to build in today's movement. We think that one of the key lessons of the democracy commission was that no comrade should be treated as indispensable. We make no judgement of guilt or innocence of the comrade concerned but note that any other comrade facing allegations of this type with such frequency would be suspended until such time as the allegations were resolved. It is disturbing that the comrade concerned did not voluntarily step down when it became clear that the allegations, whether justified or not, had the potential to seriously damage the organisation. An attitude which treats individuals as indispensable and sacrifices the interests of the membership for them has nothing to with Leninism and more closely resembles the self-interested behaviour of reformist bureaucracies.

Importantly it is not just our reputation at stake here but the health of our own tradition. In response to the expulsions some comrades have repeated the language of some of Galloway's defenders. There have been complaints about 'liberal feminism' and even belief-beggaring accusations that some of the comrades expelled have been MI5 agents, or acting on behalf of Chris Bambery's organisation. Whilst the CC cannot be held directly responsible for such idiocy it is a warning of the kind of ideological degeneration possible when administrative coercion replaces the norms of debate in socialist organisation.

We are aware that serious concerns have already been expressed by those involved in the disputes committee case around this matter, as raised at a recent NC meeting, and that space has been set aside to discuss the way the organisation has mishandled the allegations. This is a positive development, but we believe that beyond the direct issue of the DC there are now equally serious questions about the condition of the SWP that makes a faction necessary if we are not to be expelled for expressing our concerns.

We propose that three things are necessary to prevent further damage to the good name of our Party:

- The expelled comrades deserve a full and frank apology from the CC and the expulsions must be declared null and void.
- Conference must re-affirm that comrades have full rights to conduct any and every kind of discussion in the pre-conference period. This should include raising questions of whether such freedom ought not to be extended beyond the pre-conference period.
- The dispute concerning a member of the CC highlighted above must be re-examined, and the CC member concerned must be suspended from all Party activity and cannot work full time for the Party or in the name of the Party until all the allegations against him have been settled satisfactorily.

In addition to these statements, we are asking comrades to support the motions raised on the question of party democracy at conference. In our view, the conduct of the CC regarding both the expulsions, and the disputes committee referred to above, come as a result of structures and perspectives that restrict internal democracy and discussion.

We are aware that some comrades may share our concerns regarding the expulsions and/or this disputes committee investigation, but reject our conclusions regarding party democracy. We hope to persuade them of our position on this; but even if we cannot accomplish this, we would still ask you to vote for the reinstatement of the four comrades who have been expelled.

[Here was the list of declaration signatories.]

If you are an SWP member, you agree with us and would like to join the Democratic Opposition in the run up to 2013 Party Conference, please email democratic.opposition@gmail.com. The Democratic Opposition is a temporary faction, in line with Party rules, and will dissolve itself after Conference closes.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

RoboCop on the Sinclair Spectrum

It's autumn 1988. My cousins have handed down to me my first computer, a ZX Spectrum 48K. I have a little bit of money in my pocket and fancied something more current than the BombJack, JetPac and Deathchase fare that's had me bashing those infamous rubber keys. What to get? Rifling through the latest Speccy releases, I pick RoboCop up from the shelf. It all looks rather nice - the review in a recent C+VG saw the legendary Jazza Rignall award it 95%. Who was I to argue with such provenance?

RoboCop, published by the late and very much lamented Ocean was that rarest of gaming beasts - a film licence realised as a half-decent game. Released across the UK's big five computer formats - the Amiga, Atari ST, C64, CPC464/6128 and, of course, the Spectrum, the 16 bit efforts were conversions of the fun but unoriginal Data East coin-op. The 8 bit versions were also side-scrolling affairs, but were significantly different games from their technologically sophisticated brethren. These three formats were essentially the same game (though, for some inexplicable reason, you could jump in the C64 version). They mashed together levels inspired by the arcade and mini-games based around set-pieces from the film.

I assume most readers are familiar with the 1987 RoboCop movie. It was a low-budget but well-polished sci-fi action flick with a heavy dose of satire. And it was set in Detroit, so what's not to like? As films go, the points it makes about privatisation, violent culture, masculinity, cyborg bodies, and identity could and probably did fill several special issues of Screen. Unfortunately, the narrative depth and clever intellectual nods were always going to be difficult to realise in a video game, so Ocean didn't even try.

Basically, Spectrum RoboCop is an excuse for a jolly good blast. The levels consist of you as the eponymous hero strolling through a variety of monochrome locations shooting gun-toting, bike-riding and chainsaw-wielding thugs. Power ups are available in the form of a weedy three-way shot, a powerful laser gun, and an awesomely awesome Red Dwarf-style bazookoid. Unlike the film, RoboCop is far from invulnerable and hails of enemy bullets can drain the life meter, fast. Thankfully energy can be replenished by the jars of baby food scattered here and there.

Stitching the side-ways scrolling levels together are the aforementioned mini-games. The first recreates RoboCop's confrontation with a couple of would-be rapists (pictured). However, on this occasion you cannot shoot through her skirt. The second sees you emulate the facial-recognition scene by matching the face of a suspect with felons known to Detroit's Police Department. And the climax of the game is basically a rerun of the earlier level, albeit with the evil Dick Jones holding hostage OCP's 'Old Man'. Special mention has to go to ED 209. While it is a total push over in this iteration of RoboCop (I mean, only three punches to take it out? C'mon), this marked the first video game appearance of a villain who was "borrowed" extensively by many other game designers in subsequent years.

For the Speccy 48K it was relatively impressive. The graphics were very well drawn and the animation and scrolling was as smooth as the hardware allows. There was no awful colour clash nor bleeding of sprites into one another. The gameplay was solid and the loading time wasn't too bad. However, it was afflicted with a three-stage multi-load. If you were unfortunate enough to succumb on levels four through nine, to play again you had to flip the tape to reload the first three stages. It was a nightmare. Thankfully, there was none of this nonsense once I had upgraded to a Spectrum 128K +2a. You popped RoboCop into the tape deck and it loaded in one go. But it took such ... a ... long ... time. In fact, you had to put up with the Speccy's infamous whining and screeching for almost as long as it took you to complete the game.

But for 128K owners, it was well worth it. While visually no different from its 48K sibling, the soundtrack really knocked Speccy owners' socks off. For folk used to the feeble beeps 'n' bleeps of the 48K sound chip, the in-game music was almost up to C64 standards. And the title music was probably one of the best Speccy sound tracks ever. This original composition had something of an oriental flavour - a nod perhaps to the new Japanese consoles starting to menace the British computer scene? And it had sampled speech. Speech!

While RoboCop is a fun if brief slice of retro shooting fun, in many ways it exemplifies the difficulty writing about video games, and early games in particular. It is basically an utterly depthless experience. It is a simple shooting cum puzzle game sprinkled with the gold dust of a hot, licensed property. Only the rudiments of RoboCop's plot make the transition from celluloid to machine code. What was a funny, intelligent and subversive movie is rendered as an entertaining but forgettable computer game - pretty much like most of the 80s action films RoboCop subtly sends up. There are no secrets to discover, no alternate routes through the levels.

Like many film licenses of the 8 and 16 bit era, and this applies to computers and consoles, the plot of the franchise can be entirely incidental to the game. If you removed the RoboCop and ED 209 sprites, and dropped the facial recognition mini-game from the Speccy version, they could have easily been substituted for intellectual property from another licence, or form the basis for a completely original game. And here lies the crucial difference between what was the 'cultural dominant' in premium video game products then (the platformer/shooter) and now (the first-person shooter) - narrative was previously a bolt-on extra incidental to single-player video game experiences. Now, story lines are engineered in as a key part of a game's appeal. They are crucial to establishing the intellectual properties that compete for attention in the present action-oriented market place. It would be hard to write about the single player campaigns in Gears of War, Resistance: Fall of Man, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Killzone without the fictional worlds they explore. As for RobCop on the Spectrum, a narrative-driven analysis is utterly pointless. It was designed to cash-in on a popular flick, nothing more. But still, "I'd buy that for a dollar!"

Friday, 21 December 2012

North Korea to Conquer Space

That apple of the proletariat's eye, the UK [North] Korean Friendship Association, Juche Idea Study Group of England have conveyed the British labour movement's congratulations to the Korean workers and peasants. The successful launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite is an earth-shattering feat of technical ingenuity, made possible only by the guidance of respected Marshal Kim Jong Un. This blow for freedom-loving peoples everywhere has gladdened the hearts of class conscious revolutionaries from John o' Groats to Lands End, and shows the correct line of socialist advance can only come through the Juche Idea. Celebrate!

I'm being silly. But what follows is a genuine press release.


DPRK SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHES SATELLITE!
COMMENTARY OF THE UK KOREAN FRIENDSHIP ASSOCIATION , JUCHE IDEA STUDY GROUP OF ENGLAND AND JISGE


The DPRK successfully launched it satellite the Kwangmysong 3 on the 12th of December at 09.49 in the morning (Korean time). This was great achievement particularly in view of the harsh US sanctions , blockade and pressure. Voice of Russia website stated "launching a satellite is, in any case, an outstanding achievement for any country....., although, of course, on a significantly smaller scale. While South Korea's KSLV rocket is constantly being postponed (the revised launch date, initially scheduled at the end of October, has still not been announced), North Korea has successfully fulfilled its own plan" Wired.com stated "North Korea has joined a small club of 11 other nations that have successfully launched their own payloads into orbit...... a major accomplishment."

Rather than being a drain of resources as some malicious imperialist commentators have tried to assert it will greatly contribute to the advance of the DPRK economy. It will enable the DPRK to scientifically monitor the weather thus opening up the possibility of preventing floods and droughts so as to increase agricultural production in the DPRK thereby improving the living standard of the Korean people.

The launch is a powerful demonstration of the power of the independent national economy of the DPRK as it was built using 100% DPRK resources, funds, materials , labour and expertise. South Korea which has not yet been able to launch a satellite relied heavily on US assistance and even from Russia. The US space programme was heavily reliant on the expertise of Hitler's rocket scientist Werne von Braun.

The launch smashed the sanctions policy of the US imperialist against the DPRK. The DPRK has been the subject of two rounds of sanctions by the UNSecurity Council aimed specifically at preventing the DPRK from launching rockets or conducting nuclear tests. However the fact that the rocket was launched proved that the sanctions had failed. The US imperialists and their "allies" or vassal states plus the UN plus some big powers all put together could not stop the DPRK from launching the rocket.

It is really good that the DPRK stuck to the straight path of independence and refused to listen to the US imperialists and others who tried to either force or deflect them from their goal of launching the rocket. It has now been proved beyond all doubt the rocket carried a working satellite and was entirely there is no need for anyone to condemn or 'regret ' the launch. The UNSC is just a puppet of the US . The fact a number of countries have criticised the launch says more about them than it does the DPRK , it shows that they are puppets and toadies of the US who when the US says jump simply ask "how high sir ?". The fuss made by the US , UNSC, EU and NATO over the launch is hypocritical as in April India launched its Agni V rocket in April 2012 but there was not the hullabaloo there was over the DPRK's launch (despite the fact that India has border disputes with a number of countries).

Days before the launch the south Korean puppets and US imperialists through their Western media mouthpieces had claimed that the rocket launch would be delayed or would not happen. Yonhap on the 11th of December (less than a daysbefore the launch claimed that "Satellite images show the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (DPRK) seems to be disassembling a long- range rocket" (really ? in their dreams more like!)AP reported that "North Korea's planned launch of a long-range rocket could be delayed for 10 days or more after it reported technical delays". This report was proved utterly false the next day.

What is the secret of the DPRK's success in launching the rocket , how was it able to achieve both a great scientific break though which confounded the so-called experts of the imperialist world and at the same time defy the US imperialists and their followers and some timid big powers ?. The secret is a simple one it is the Juche idea of the great leader comrade Kim Il Sung which was developed and enhanced by the great leader comrade Kim Jong Il which is now carried forward by dear respected Marshal Kim Jong Un. The Juche idea gives the Korean people the power to believe in themselves and achieve miracles. Armed with the Juche idea and the Songun idea the DPRK will now conquer space.

In the socialist DPRK of Juche rockets go up! But in capitalist Britain only prices and poverty go up!

UK KFA
ASSSPUK
JISGE


The Association for the Study of Songun Politics, Juche Idea Study Group of England and the UK Korean Friendship issued the following statement concerning the news that the DPRK have launched successfully the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite earlier today !

Our hearty congratulations to the DPRK on this great victory !

This is a great victory for the DPRK under the Songun revolutionary leadership of the great respected leader Marshal Kim Jong Un. It is victory for Juche science and technology and shows the superiority of the people-centred socialist system of the DPRK and the might of the independent national economy based on self-reliance. The rocket was made using 100% DPRK resources, materials and labour . It will greatly contribute to building up the economy and improving living standards.

The successful launch of the rocket confounded the predictions of so-called Western scientists and experts who claimed that the rocket would not be launched for another 10 days. Just how wrong they were !

The DPRK stuck to its path of independence defying the calls of the US imperialists and their followers as well as certain big powers not to launch the rocket . The DPRK does not need permission from anyone to launch rockets or pursue legitimate scientific research. We strongly reaffirm our position that it is the independent sovereign right of the DPRK to pursue space exploration. What is regrettable that instead of congratulating the DPRK on its great success the US imperialists and various international reactionary forces have slandered the rocket launch and cried out for sanctions. As for the UN this has no competence whatsoever to comment on the matter. We say that no one should interfere with the DPRK's sovereign right.

Victory to the DPRK led by dear respected Marshal Kim Jong Un! US imperialists hands off the DPRK.

Long live the DPRK!
Long live dear respected Marshal Kim Jong Un!
Long live the Juche Idea
Victory to Songun!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Plebgate and the Police

I can't say I wept for Andrew Mitchell after he departed the Chief Whip's office a couple of months back. A small sliver of satisfaction maybe. After all, who doesn't enjoy a high-flying Tory crashing and burning? But C4's investigative digging into the circumstances, and crucially uncovering CCTV footage that throws into doubt the existence of a third corroborative witness to the celebrated plebgate exchange points to a police frame up. As Owen observes;
A white privileged politician has just experienced a small slice of the frustration long felt in many of our communities. Perhaps now it will be a little bit more acceptable to stop automatically taking every police officer at their word.
And,
Perhaps, after this episode, politicians will be more open to scrutinising police behaviour. Consider, too, the recent exposure of the Hillsborough cover-up, and the false statements initially provided after the killings of Jean-Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson.
Could this be a watershed moment for the police? This affair comes hot on the heels of public admission of RUC/loyalist collusion over Pat Finucane's murder, serious questions about dodgy activity during the miners' strike, corruption over phone hacking, and the apparent refusal of the police to look into the Jimmy Savile allegations.

It is too early to talk about a wider legitimation crisis for the thin blue line, but with a government determined to chop down their budgets, a timely rubbishing of the police's public image may prove useful.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Defining Political Bloggers

It's roughly that time of year when list frenzy grips this blog, and 2012 is no exception. Very shortly - it might be this week, it might be next - the traditional list of the top 100 tweeting bloggers for 2012 will be published right here (you can reacquaint yourself with 2009 and 2010 here and here - I took a regretful break from blogging in 2011). No doubt many folk will be checking it out to see where they fall in the pecking order. Political social media-types are a vain lot and love to look at stuff about themselves.

However, compiling the list isn't as straight forward as it used to be. I am of the school that a blog is a website produced by an individual or collective, is updated regularly (i.e within the last 45 days), organised primarily around user-generated content, and has a comments facility. Back in December 2006 when this place was launched upon the world, blogs were a clearly defined and expanding part of the internet. They were easily distinguished from forums, mailing lists, chat rooms, usenet (remember usenet?) and your common or garden news and politics websites.

Things have got fudged in recent times. In 2010, I noted how that year's list had seen a greater preponderance of 'professionals' set up shop in the top 100 (i.e. established journalists with a blogging sideline), and the movement of some bloggers onto mainstream media platforms. The great blurring had begun. In 2012 this has become so common that it's grown increasingly difficult to separate bloggers from the media commentariat. For example, if you work for a newspaper as a lowly staffer, once your work appears in the online edition you are, for all intents and purposes, a blogger. If you're a big name columnist like Polly Toynbee or Simon Heffer, your weekly writing schedule is probably the same as it ever was - but again, their columns are now reproduced by their respective papers in the standard blogging 'read 'n' comment' format. They can now see what their audiences think, if they so choose.

I therefore think it's time we can start making some slippery distinctions among the sprawling bloggy/journo mess online political commentary has become.

The most basic distinction is between the 'independent' and the 'professional'. The latter comprises those who derive a large chunk of their personal income from their blogging activity, or are employed by a paper, magazine or broadcaster to blog - be it as an adjunct of their (journalistic) job, or as a regular commentator. Virtually all their blogging output is via the outlets these employers provide. Examples would be Guido, The Staggers, Comment is Free, C4 Fact Check, The Telegraph stable, etc. It includes established columnists who happen to have a comment box stuck under their regular pearls.

The indie blogger is more numerous but is generally less visible and influential, though it can include well-known politicians and political figures. They are either individuals or collectives who maintain their own domains, or have it provided by Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr, etc. and this is the main site of their blogging activity - despite occasionally providing the odd piece for the media, or writing for established party, union, social movement and campaigning sites. A bevy of such examples are here, every month.

And that brings me to the third category that awkwardly and annoyingly problematises the indie/professional boundary. Party blogs like Conservative Home, Labour List, and LibDem Voice, other politics blogs like Left Foot Forward and Progress; and campaigning sites such as the Taxpayers' Alliance, The F Word and ToUChstone are collaborative affairs. They sometimes have one or two paid staff (sometimes not), but rely mainly on a daily churn of voluntary contributions from people for whom this is likely their primary blogging outlet.

This makes no difference where the criteria for the upcoming tweeting bloggers list is concerned as that will be run on the old definition. As always it will include all the different kinds of political bloggers - no doubt subject to inevitable, unavoidable omissions, but in future it may allow for lists by category. Mainly because there's more of a chance of my getting a look-in on at least one of the lists.

These distinctions might have further uses. They could serve as a way into analysing political blogging from a sociological perspective, provide criteria for future annual prizes/contests that celebrate political blogging (no Orwell next year, and what happened to Total Politics?) and, best of all, give us indie bloggers a smug ideology of cool that decries our more successful brethren while we covet their plumb slots.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Tory Growth and Infrastructure Farce

Politics, Lenin once wryly observed, is concentrated economics. You don't need Hegel's Logic to realise the reverse can also be the case, that economic decisions are driven by political considerations. And nowhere is this more true than the treasury under the stewardship of George Gideon Oliver Osborne. As Paul Richards observed a couple of weeks back, Gideon is a chancellor who is political to his fingertips. He is not driven by the national interest (however you define it) nor an amorphous desire to "help people", it is - as it always is with the Tory party - about the exercising and perpetuation of power and, by extension, the privileged interests the Conservative Party has always represented.

It is in this context that one should approach the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which had its third reading in the Commons today. According to the explanatory notes, it "covers promoting growth and facilitating provision of infrastructure, and related matters". Because of the plethora of local government measures it contains, Eric Pickles has the pleasure of steering it through the House.

There are four key measures in this legislative dog's dinner. First and foremost is the ludicrous shares-for-rights wheeze. Conceived by Gideon as his big idea for the Tory faithful at party conference, employers will be able to buy out workers' statutory rights in return for between £2k-£50k worth of shares (not tax free). More disturbingly, firms can offer this on a take it or leave it basis to prospective employees from day one in lieu of established protections. In short, it's a transparent attempt at stripping away rights at work and locking unions out of workplaces. Of this, noted Bolshevist Justin King of Sainsbury's asked "What do you think the population at large will think of businesses that want to trade employment rights for money?" Marxist militant Mike Emmott, an employment advisor at the CBI said "employees have little to gain by substituting their fundamental rights for uncertain financial gain and employers have little to gain by creating a two tier labour market.” And lastly, latter day Trotsky, John Cridland - the boss of the CBI - remarked "I think this is a niche idea and not relevant to all businesses." Indeed. Of 200 businesses consulted by the government in a 33 week exercise, just *five* said they would consider the scheme. Neither is there any evidence that businesses will take more people on. Workers' rights don't kill jobs, economics do.

With attacks on the workplace sorted, it moves on to local government. Or, rather, the undermining of it. Now, Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 sounds as sexy as me at drunken karaoke. But it is a vital element for building the sorts of housing that turns out mixed and cohesive communities. Presently, developers are required to provide facilities for community benefit, such as recreation grounds, transport infrastructure, leisure facilities, public art, or affordable housing. What the Tories want to do is strip back the latter requirement altogether. Apparently, Dave is of the opinion there are some 400,000 stalled residential development sites across Britain, of which 75,000 are in abeyance thanks to the commercial environment. Of them no one knows how many have ground to a halt thanks to S106 obligations, because the government hasn't asked anybody. They have jumped to the conclusion that "red tape" is to blame and that Britain would get building if it was removed. Never mind the existing provisions that allow flexibility around this. Never mind the ongoing housing crisis and stupid prices, which this measure does nothing to address.

On top of that comes a triple whammy of dodgy changes to planning laws. Under the proposed changes, business projects arbitrarily determined to be of infrastructural importance by Pickles could be sent directly to the Planning Inspectorate. So, concerned about the fracking rig turning up at the bottom of the road? Don't fancy your local landscape blighted by open cast mining? Tough. The Tories also would like to see the rules relaxed on some development in the National Parks - so keep an eye out for new phone masts next time you're hiking round the Peak District. But the most ludicrous, simply because it's the most hypocritical, are the dictatorial planning powers Pickles wants to assume for himself. Under the bill, if Pickles arbitrarily determines that a local authority is failing to approve enough applications, he can strip it of its powers and drive through development himself. This is not only profoundly undemocratic, this central power-grab is from the man who's extolled 'localism' more times from the despatch box than he's had hot dinners - and that's a lot.

Considering them all intellectually, they are facile anti-red tape measures Gideon and Pickles believe will unleash the creative powers of the markets. And like nearly every piece of legislation pushed through the Commons by our LibDem-supported Tory government, it is yet another example of evidence-free policy making. But in reality, it comes back to the opening paragraph. It's about the naked exercise of power and creating the conditions that will allow the Tories and the interests they represent to rule for as long as possible. Ultimately, it does not matter to them if their policies undermine communities, rubbish local democracy, blight the countryside, or keep the economy locked in the doldrums. They are cushioned from the consequences of their actions. It's I'm alright Jack writ large, a couldn't care less attitude for which our people will end up paying the price.

Humpty Numpty courtesy of Dom Richards.