Category Archives: Links

Links 24 August

It’s been a while, so there are quite a few articles that I’ve picked up on recently. Some might be signposted elsewhere, but better twice than not at all, eh?

One of my secret passions is Rugby League – I’m off to the Challenge Cup Final on Saturday – so I was glad to see it get some coverage in the Guardian away from the sport pages.

The commercial modernisation of rugby league has crushed its ambitions. But as yesterday showed, it can’t crush the pride.

The Wall Street Journal take a different look at national contributions to the EU budget – on a per capita rather than total basis. Interestingly, that pushes the UK way down the list of contributors.

The picture changes quite a bit. Small, rich countries (the Benelux nations, the Nordics, Ireland) rise up; the biggies (particularly the U.K.) fall down.

This item on the Failblog made me laugh so much. Unfortunately I was on the tube and so everyone thought I was a crazy lady.

Among all the dire news about the written press, Roy has some good news for us:

One success story hidden away among last week’s release of the ABC consumer magazines sales figures was the performance of First News, the weekly paper for children.

In the first six months of the year, it registered a sale of 48,314. That was a rise of 22.5% on the same same period in 2009 (when the sale was 39,450).

Links 9 August

I would love to do a proper post, but it’s been quite busy the last few days, probably due to the arrival of the new boss. so here are some links in the meantime.

Sometime our justice system is not all it could be, or that we would like it to be, but Shirin Ebadi’s article on stoning in Iran in the Guardian puts that in context.

On the face of things, stoning is not a gendered punishment, for the law stipulates that adulterous men face the same brutal end. But because Iranian law permits polygamy, it effectively offers men an escape route: they are able to claim that their adulterous relationship was in fact a temporary marriage (Iranian law recognises “marriages” of even a few hours duration between men and single women). Men typically exploit this escape clause, and are rarely sentenced to stoning. But married woman accused of adultery have access to no such reprieve.

This article in the Boston Globe about facts backfiring is so interesting for our work here.

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

And there are some pretty powerful lessons in SciencePunk’s  Skeptical about Skeptics post, primarily about talking just to your community:

The internet is a wonderful thing, and has allowed groups of people to find one another and work collectively over huge distances, and is very much at the heart of the skeptic movement. But it has also lent an illusion that the online world is an accurate reproduction of the world at large, when it is something of a hall of mirrors. Even this blog is victim to that recursive effect. Writing in a particular style, on a particular subject, from a particular point of view, all this shapes my audience, in effect choosing like-minded individuals who are fairly likely to agree with me on a lot of points. This can create something of a confirmation bias – because unless I come into contact with contradictory views, from someone I respect, I’m unlikely to really be challenged on many of my views. And similarly, lazy or false views will thrive longer than they would in the harsh environment of the outside world.

Links 3 August 2010

Interesting piece by JohnJoe McFadden on the GM milk issue. I was particularly interested to read

As far as is known, no one has ever died or even got sick from eating GM food. Why are people so scared of GM ingredients, while cheerfully accepting far greater hazards?

This issue of risk perception is one I find really interesting. For example, all the people who started cycling after the 7/7  bombs. More than 3000 cyclists are killed or seriously injured every year on London’s roads. So the odds of getting killed are much higher going to work on a bike than on the Tube. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have made that decision, just that the psychology of decisions goes way beyond the rational choice I learnt about in my Public Policy lectures at LSE.

I loved this – just as I love courgettes…

In recent years courgettes have extended their repertoire to include round varieties and brilliant yellow “banana” courgettes. Such a clever vegetable – what’s not to love?

The Grahnlaw blog is examining the best of the Euroblogs this summer. He doesn’t follow me, so I’m not in contention (cough cough), but it is nonetheless :) a discussion worth following.

EU geeks might want to check out the Business for New Europe paper on the case for a UK Sovereignty Bill, which concludes that

We consider that the maintenance of the status quo, with enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of EU matters, is the most constructive way forward.

We have lived through 25 years of EU treaty change and then all the uncertainty over the issue of British membership of the euro. We now have the prospect of a treaty-free decade, without all the parliamentary upheavals that parliamentary ratification entails. Our members would find it perverse and damaging for a Conservative / Liberal Democrat government, declared business-friendly to be adding uncertainty by opening up this particular can of worms.

And finally (as they say), this amazing set of photos which superimpose photos from World War Two on the same buildings and settings today.

Links 27 July 2010

No! Stay! Put in the call, and make Cosmetic Uprise keep blogging!

As my EU-ambassadorial role in the UK has come to its end, I would like to thank everyone for reading this space and being immensely supportive. The feedback and the positive response I got for this blog made me seriously even consider taking a tattoo with the words cosmetic uprise on it. (I didn’t)

A sensible piece from Dennis McShane in the Guardian on Cameron’s position on EU membership for Turkey, which raises some interesting points

…Cameron has pledged a referendum on any major new EU treaty and a final decision to let Turkey in will require a significant new EU treaty. If that is submitted to a referendum, as Cameron and William Hague have pledged, the chances of it being passed are slim.

If you can’t even trust the TV columns… [from Media Monkey in the Guardian]

Has Mike Ward, the Daily Star’s TV critic, got one of the toughest jobs on Fleet Street? In the immediate aftermath of Richard Desmond’s purchase of Channel Five, it wouldn’t be surprising if Ward felt under some pressure to draw readers’ attention to the channel’s roster of shows. Indeed, his “What’s hot to watch today” column in today’s paper features no fewer than four Five programmes out of a total of six recommended: Neighbours and three episodes from CSI and franchises, one of which is at least four years old. Over at the Express, meanwhile, Ward’s opposite number Matt Baylis reflects on last night TV, penning a lengthy piece in praise of Neighbours, above a fact box detailing several things you might not have known about one of its former stars, Stefan Dennis.

And finally, a thought from Jacqueline Novoa Rodriguez via E-blogs about something we could all be doing – handing in medicines we no longer need.

Over a month the authors, who belong to the Mariñamansa Health Centre in Orense, collected all the medicines and medical supplies discarded by patients, doctors and nurses for proper recycling and to avoid disposing of it with general rubbish. They looked at the contents in detail and calculated their cost, which for only in February 2008 was 119 units with a value of 2,740 Euros.

-Donated by patients (and we must thank them for donating there and not throwing away) 78 containers, 47% complete and 56% not expired: 1444 Euros. Three containers were from hospital diagnosis for 645 Euros.

-Free samples given by visitors: 22 complete and 16 not expired: 208 Euros

-Returned by patients: 13 glucometers (4 unused) and tubs of blood glucose strips (3 out of 4 containers complete and all expired): 908 and 108 Euros

Links on 27 July 2010

A return for my occasional series :)

Emergency Exit Fail: have you ever felt like this?

An article about Holyrood TV could apply to the EP, I reckon. There is something of a paradox, with lots of talk about openness and transparency, but little interest in such channels. Why should that be? Is it in the execution, or the principle?

Most likely, you will not feel culturally enriched or in any other way transfigured for having watched events from the Holyrood parliament on a live internet feed. Nor will you, in years to come, remember where you were when you heard the news, revealed last week, that these proceedings receive only 7,000 hits per month. Yet this is about 5,000 more than the entire number of people who watched Kirsty Wark’s $1m docudrama about the making of the Scottish parliament when it was first released.

And if you have ever, by chance, watched the Welsh parliament unfolding you may feel that Holyrood TV, in comparison, is being directed by Quentin Tarantino. Unsurprisingly, such a paltry number of viewers has led to loud calls for the service to be discontinued.

Yet this would be an unwise course of action and betrays an ignorance of what Holyrood TV is for. There are many countries where an unaccountable executive and corrupt judiciary daily subvert democracy. For these enslaved people the existence of a kingdom where politicians and their actions are scrutinised daily on the internet may feel like the land of milk and honey.

That is not to suggest though, that live coverage of Holyrood cannot be improved. Indeed, perhaps what is required is for coverage of parliamentary debates to be broken up with little programmes that show our elected representatives in a more human light and make the business of politics more accessible to the punter in the street and the chiel on the croft.

A Guardian editorial on the shift in British diplomacy makes some interesting points about the UK’s EU policy:

A fairer and more transparent way to promote UK business interests is by influencing and enforcing global trade rules through multilateral institutions. That means a closer relationship with the European Union. Britain’s EU partners are relieved that the more rampant strain of Tory hostility to Brussels is not reflected in government policy. Mr Hague, flanked by the usefully polyglot Nick Clegg, has charmed European audiences.

But civil neighbourliness is not the same as constructive engagement. For most of this year the eurozone has been in crisis. This is a problem of existential proportions for the UK’s most important trading alliance, and yet the government has said nothing of substance about it. Many Tories feel smug at having opposed UK membership of the single currency; some Lib Dems are abashed at having advocated it. That might make it an awkward topic within the coalition, but it doesn’t erase the fact that Britain lacks a coherent European policy.

Links 29 March 2010

I thought Joshua Chaffin wrote a sensible piece today on the departure of Commissioner Ashton’s spokesman.

In the meantime, take heart that Lutz is not leaving the Commission, but going back to DG Trade, where one suspects his lofty skills will be better appreciated.

Nosemonkey gets it spot-on: No-one understands the EU. I guess I would just add “and when they do it’s pretty dry and technical”

But the EU is not a single, harmonious entity, and cannot be simply explained. It is made up of 27 individual member state governments (who all still have to agree unanimously on all major decisions, despite being made up of political parties of all stripes), plus the European Parliament, plus the commission, plus the numerous other bodies that hang around the fringes.

If “the EU” decides to act, it is never for just *one* reason. It is for *at least* 27 different reasons. Unlike with national politics, where policy decisions can often be explained in just a sentence, every EU decision is vastly complex – with large chunks of the decision-making process having taken place behind closed doors in languages that you don’t understand.

New media often get a bashing, so it’s useful to be reminded of the huge potential for good that they embody.

Disasters focus the mind in ways that longer-term problems do not, but this crowd-sourced crisis response movement has lessons far beyond disasters. They are helping us to understand the circumstances that can rally the wisdom in crowds into a powerful force for solving the problems of the 21st century.

Charlemagne suggests to European leaders that they talk less. Good luck with that…

I think Europe’s over-representation is not sustainable in the long run. That said, am I about to urge the British government to allow France to speak for the City of London on financial regulation? Ahem, no. No more than the French would allow Britain to speak for them.

And finally, I was in Edinburgh this weekend and had two great meals, particularly our Saturday fine dining experience at Wedgwood with one of the loveliest bottles of wine I’ve ever had in a restaurant.

Links 23 March 2010

The RSS feed wasn’t really throwing up very much today, but Twitter has been a much richer source!

If the EU matters to you in the upcoming election, Cosmetic Uprise has done the work for you on the parties’ manifestos. From the perspective of the EU being a good thing, I should add. as she puts it:

My EU bias is apparent but wouldn’t even eurosceptics deserve to know more about why the parties’ policies are for or against something and what they intend to do about it?

Some discussion points on the European Parliament by Peter Mair (incidentally, one of my lecturers when I did my Erasmus term at Leiden University)

Perhaps ironically, however, this steady accumulation of these various powers and resources has been accompanied by a steady decline in its popular standing, support and legitimacy. In other words, more powers for the Parliament have been associated with more widespread popular disengagement from the Parliament.

Links 18 March 2010

Is this going to be the Internet election? Or is it going to be the election where everyone talks about it being the Internet election? Here’s some evidence that seems to suggest the former, while not ruling out the latter!

There is a pressing need for open debates in which ordinary voters can test candidates’ views and characters. Hustings in dusty churches and echoey halls may now seem consigned to the past, but that is all the more reason to cheer ingenious schemes to fill the gap by electronic means.

The Independent on civil service purdah

The solution is a sharper codification of purdah (on precisely when it applies and which institutions are bound by it) and a move to fixed-term parliaments. The concept of civil service neutrality is too precious for it to be abused in this fashion by unscrupulous politicians.

The story about someone trying to poison the soup at Stowe school has added piquancy for me (much like the soup, boom, boom) as my brother works there. Like the Independent though, I did have a wry smile at the idea of carrot and coriander soup being served at a boarding school. Good on the school and its systems though for catching it before it could do anyone any harm.

The Big thinkers blog at the CoI reports on an interesting project using mobile phones to support literacy.

I can’t help wondering if the discussion about a hung parliament is a little bit like the discussion about an “internet election”. But this leader in the Independent is quite interesting, not just  for what it says, but also the discussion after it, which for a newspaper comments discussion seems to be quite sensible! I do wish they had linked to the survey they refer to though, so we could have seen for ourselves. Comment is Free over at the Guardian seems to have got that element of online comment a bit more sorted.

Links 17 March 2010

I know this has been around a while, but it truly is a genius idea. A folding plug.

I liked this article about Macedonia for the author’s example of what makes him feel English 

Having been in England since the age of 11, I have a foot in both camps – or, more accurately, find myself foreign in both places. I used to speak no English, then accented English, then accented Macedonian, and now I struggle to remember Macedonian words. This duality is no hardship to me – I’m equally happy to apologise when someone steps on my foot as I am to go around the house closing windows to avoid promaja.

Reminds me of a time when I stepped on a woman’s foot putting my bag on the overhead rack on a Eurostar. As she was British she said “Oh, I’m so sorry”. I said, “I stepped on your foot, I’m the one who is sorry”. “No, no” she insisted, “I should have made a noise.”

An interesting issue, whether to take your husband’s name when you get married, that is slightly on my radar at the moment. I think I’d have bothered less if I’d got married at 24, say, than now. Then, I didn’t really have a sense who Antonia Mochan was. Now, I’ve really got used to being her, and would find it really difficult to relate to Antonia Boyle. Having said that, I’m not going to get all upset if someone does call me Mrs Boyle once I’m married, but I don’t think I’ll change it.

Some ammunition to counter those that say that Britian is historically a white place – evidence that Roman York’s highest social strata were multiracial.

Links 16 March 2010

Neelie Kroes encourages you to contribute to two public consultations

Two important consultations are now live. First, we are asking citizens and businesses and other interested parties consultation on how can we guarantee access to communications services in the digital era. The key question is: are our rules appropriate for the digital age? Should they be expanded to cover broadband access, for example?  The consultation will run until 7 May 2010. Separately the Commission is asking for views on use of Radio Spectrum 2010-2015, between now and 9 April.

A comment is free post on the new ECR grouping in the European Parliament

It’s also obvious that a fair few of the Tories eastern allies are rather keener than they are, for instance, on the redistribution of money from richer to poorer countries, on the CAP, and even on the euro. As the leader of a parliamentary party that is shortly likely to become more rather than less Eurosceptic, that could prove awkward for Cameron.

Charlemagne on the issue of journalists leaving the Brussels press corps and why.

It is mostly economic pressures that are shrinking the Brussels press corps. But there is a political problem too, as Jean Quatremer and others admit. The malaise gripping Brussels has its echo in a growing sense that the EU project is just not where the action is.

Charlie Brooker says it right on the climate change debate:

Hey, I’m no scientist. I’m not an engineer either, but if I asked 100 engineers whether it was safe to cross a bridge, and 99 said no, I’d probably try to find another way over the ravine rather than loudly siding with the underdog and arguing about what constitutes a consensus while trundling across in my Hummer.

And to make you smile, a fabulous picture from CuteOverload