Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I found the report on the state of crisis in politics recently quite interesting. Some of the recommendation seemed worthy of further consideration, like the idea that individuals indicate if they wish to allocate £3 of state funding to a particular party. Of course, I don't know the specifics of the suggestion (having not read the full report) but it's an interesting idea, and one that could sit well with the idea of capping donations to parties.

Another of the more interesting recommendations is that citizens should be given the right to initiate legislative processes, public inquiries and hearings into public bodies and their senior management. This would result in any proposed law that gained the support (by petition) of one per cent of the electorate (about 400,000 people in the UK) must be debated in Parliament. There's a couple of issues with this. Firstly that of time: the legislative timetable is already very tight (although one could argue that we don't need all the new laws that the current executive is very keen on putting forward, but that's a post for another time). Another is that any proposal that came close to having the required number of signatures must be fairly well discussed and have got the attention of the media, hence bringing it into contact with our political masters anyway. Also, the only recent event that I can think of that may have achived those kinds of numbers was the war in Iraq, and that did get a debate in Parliament. And we still lost that one.

I'm not sure about the idea that MPs should be required and resourced to produce Annual Reports and hold AGMs but it'd be nice to feel that that my MP was somehow accountable to his constituents, since mine has been singularly terrible at responding to correspondence.

Finally, the idea of reducing the voting age to sixteen also jumped out at me. I'm ambivalent about this one. I generally consider the the voting age to be synonymous with the "reaching of adulthood" at eighteen, and all the rights and responsibilities that go with that. Admittedly, the only ones that I can think of offhand are the right to vote and the right to drink. Everything else is either at sixteen or seventeen. Either way, I think that we should standardise somewhat.

After all that, if you want to read the report itself, you can find it and its executive summary here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

strike action

The higher education unions (AUT and NATFHE) have both balloted members on strike action, and the results came through today. The membership of both unions have voted to strike and action has been set for 7th March if no negotiation from the employers is forthcoming. The dispute is about pay and conditions following the large cash injection into the sector after the introduction of topup fees in England and Wales and the record grant from the Scottish Executive. I shall be joining my colleagues in walking out in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sleepwalking into the future?

There was a segment on the Today programme yesterday about a report on the future of humanity. The suggestion was that we're "sleepwalking" into this new society filled with things like memory enhancing drugs, gene therepy, embryo selection and cybernetics. Noticing a pattern? Science fiction writers have been dealing with these sorts of questions for decades.

I wondered recently how much relevence that science fiction still has in a society where the emphasis no longer seems to be on the "big ideas", and here's my answer. If this report is anything to go by, SF is still very relevent, and it's our job to guide a frightened mainstream into this brave new world – after all, we've been here so long that we're practically natives.

Friday, February 03, 2006

See for yourself

For anybody curious to see the cartoons that seem to have caused so much hysteria lately, you can find them here. It all seems very much like a storm in a teacup to me, but it's an interesting one nonetheless. Some of them do seem designed to provoke, and use the freedom of speech argument to protect them, but the reaction seems out of all proportion to me. Other religions get mocked and lampooned regularly, and if your faith can't take a little of that, then maybe it says more about you than anything else.

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