Archive for January, 2007

Publicly funded research – who owns it?

January 30, 2007

Under the heading Nobel prize winners join calls to open research to all. Richard Wray reports in todays edition of The Guardian that “more than 12,000 academics including two Nobel laureates have signed a petition urging the European commission to make publicly funded academic research available for free on the internet.”  

There should be no question about whether or not publicly funded research should be available free on the internet. It’s paid for by the public which should not be asked to pay all over agian to see it. So, this is a good cause to which anybody whose asked should sign up.


The law and Wikipedia.

January 30, 2007

A report by Suzanne Goldenberg in today’s edition of The Guardian states that US judges use Wikipedia as a courtroom source.

I wonder when Her Majesty’s judges will admit to taking a peek at it while they are about their business?  

Committed employees & how to get them.

January 29, 2007

Here is a set of statistics from Simon Caulkin’s management column in yesterday’s edition of The Observer. 

A survey by management consultancy Hudson found that three-quarters of senior executives would do an annual cull of their workforce to boost productivity and performance. One in six think they could get rid of 20 per cent of employees without damaging performance or morale; nearly half reckon firing up to 5 per cent a year would be a good thing.

Those of us who have spent our lives working in industry for more years than we want to admit or care to remember will find none of this at all surprising. In fact the only thing that surprises us is that anybody should find it surprising. 

Even though only 4 per cent actually carry out this threat, it is still a revealing, even breathtaking, finding. This is what executives really think of their ‘most valued asset’: fodder to be disposed of against a mechanical target. Not only that, it utterly ignores their own contribution to their employees’ underperformance, raising so many questions it’s hard to know where to begin.

Ignoring their own contribution to employees’ underperformance is a requisite skill of almost every get-ahead executive. I cannot recall ever meeting or working with an executive who, when a mistake was made, or who when something went wrong, asked how he or she might have contributed the problem. When the question of who was to blame for this, that or the other, was brought up you could always bet your bottom dollar that the questioner was implying with some considerable force that he or she was not.  

But I digress. 

The last UK survey for Gallup‘s Employee Engagement Index makes similarly grim reading. In 2005 just 16 per cent of UK employees were ‘positively engaged’ – loyal and committed to the organisation. The rest were unengaged or actively disengaged – physically present but psychologically absent. And it is getting worse: since 2001 the proportion of engaged employees has fallen, while those actively disengaged have increased to 24 per cent.

Again none of this comes as much of a surprise to us. Indeed, we have taken it so for granted that we have we’ve stopped wondering what the cost might be,

Gallup puts the cost to the economy of active disengagement at £40bn, as employees express their disenchantment by going sick, not trying, leaving, or threatening strikes. The culprit, says Gallup, is poor management. ‘Workers say they don’t know what is expected of them, managers don’t care about them as people, their jobs aren’t a good fit for their talents and their views count for little’. Disaffection grows with tenure, so ‘human assets that should increase in value with training and development instead depreciate as companies fail to maximise this investment.’ 

Is there anything that can be done about this? Caulkin does have some common-sense suggestions which are worth thinking carefully about. Whether or not they will be given anything more than a passing glance by executives thy are aimed at is the big question.

The fight against not a war.

January 25, 2007

On Tuesday night– the 23rd of January- Sir Ken Macdonald, the current director of public prosecutions, addressing the Criminal Bar Association, called on Mr. Blair’s and his government to employ restraint in passing laws to deal with terrorism.  

This, it seems to me, something asking King Lear to be reasonable in the demands he made of his daughters. Let’s not dwell on that too much. 

Sir Ken warned said that a “fear-driven and inappropriate” response to the threat could result in Britain’s abandoning altogether respect for fair trials.

It appears to have escaped Sir Ken’s notice that the government has long ago encouraged the public to lose espect for fair trials by encouraging it think that fair trials they do not work when it comes to dealing with terrorism.  

Giving the impression that he is a man to whom this thought had not occurred, though it must have, he went on to say that:  

…. a culture of legislative restraint in the area of terrorist crime is central to the existence of an efficient and human rights compatible process. We wouldn’t get far in promoting a civilising culture of respect for rights amongst and between citizens if we set about undermining fair trials in the simple pursuit of greater numbers of inevitably less safe convictions. On the contrary, it is obvious that the process of winning convictions ought to be in keeping with a consensual rule of law and not detached from it. Otherwise we sacrifice fundamental values critical to the maintenance of the rule of law – upon which everything else depends.

London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, ’soldiers’. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a ‘war on terror’, just as there can be no such thing as a ‘war on drugs’.

The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement.

The Guardian’s legal editor, Clare Dyer, observed in her report next day:

(Sir Ken’s)…. comments will be seen as a swipe against government legislation allowing the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial, later held incompatible with human rights by the courts, and the replacement law that permits suspects to be placed under control orders instead of being brought to trial.

Sir Ken referred to the government’s opt-out from the European convention on human rights to pass the detention law – possible under the convention only if the “life of the nation” is threatened. “Everyone here will come to their own conclusion about whether, in the striking Strasbourg phrase, the very ‘life of the nation’ is presently endangered,” he said. “And everyone here will equally understand the risk to our constitution if we decide that it is, when it is not.

The criminal justice response to terrorism must be “proportionate and grounded in due process and the rule of law,” he said. “We must protect ourselves from these atrocious crimes without abandoning our traditions of freedom.” 

There are some among us, myself included, who believe that we have already abandoned too many freedoms and that Sir Ken’s remarks, admirably clear-headed and insightful though they may be, come much, much too late. Will they have any immediate effect on what the government does? I shouldn’t think so.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan & the RUC.

January 24, 2007

John Naughton (see blogroll on the right) spoke for most of us when he posted this observation to his on online diary.

Ulster’s rotten (special) branch

January 23rd, 2007 [link] I’ve been reading the Police Ombudsman’s report into the collusion which existed between (i) loyalist paramilitary thugs and killers and (ii) the Royal Ulster Constabulary over a period of 12 years in the 1980s and 1990s. Even to those of us who always assumed that such collusion existed, it makes shocking reading. As the Guardian puts it:

It is hard to think of a more serious allegation against the police than that they colluded in the murder of citizens of the society that they are sworn to protect. Nevertheless, that is the deadly charge at the heart of the report by the Northern Ireland police ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, into the protection of informants. The investigation started as an attempt to explain why Raymond McCord Jr was beaten to death in November 1997, a few  months after his arrest in a drugs-running bust. It soon broadened into a wider probe of the relationship between the Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch and local paramilitary UVF police informers, some of whom were alleged to be involved in the McCord killing. These informers have been linked to an array of shocking crimes. Yet, throughout, special branch preferred to protect them rather than hunt them down, and with the full approval of senior supervisors, even going to the length of destroying much of the evidence.

There has been a lot of grave head-shaking in government circles today about Mrs O’Loan’s astonishing report. But this is invariably accompanied by exhortations to “move on” and “leave the past behind”.All of which is understandable, but outrageous. At the very least, any ex-RUC officer connected in any way with the abuses chronicled by Mrs O’Loan and still serving in the (supposedly-reformed) Police Service of Northern Ireland ought to be forcibly retired. From tomorrow.

Now comes the bit which makes you want to pinch yourself. ‘Sir’ Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC Chief Constable on whose watch this stuff happened is now — wait for it! — Head of the Police Inspectorate of England and Wales. That is to say, he is the guy charged with investigating whether mainland police forces are maintaining standards of efficiency, integrity and honesty.

Truly, you could not make this stuff up.

Needless to say, today’s reports show that Sir Ronnie is putting up the not unexpected  robust defense by denying all knowledge of what was going on around him. It’s the classic “I’m the one in charge but the last one to know” move.

At no time did I have any knowledge, or evidence, of officers at any level behaving in the ways that have been described. I would find such conduct to be abhorrent.

The leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, Mark Durkan, hit the nail on the head about Sir Ronnie  when he said:

Either he was not in control of a dysfunctional organisation, or he knew full well but kept the truth hidden … he should not head up the inspectorate of constabulary.


Did they go on singing?

January 23, 2007

In the light of what is happening in music education recently, the Education Guardian has carried out a worthwhile and revealing investigation into what happened in the aftermath of a more modest initiative which was intended to get young people singing.  

The hit BBC series about a conductor going in to a comprehensive school with no choral tradition and trying to set up a choir good enough for international competition has been off the screen for barely a month. Six months have actually passed since the pupils of Northolt high school, on the western edge of London, sang their best at the “choir Olympics” in China. And the question in the minds of those who became hooked on the three-part documentary is: what has happened to the Phoenix choir? Are those students still singing?

The answer is in the article.

Hillary Clinton is up and running.

January 22, 2007

It came as no great surprise to anybody when Hillary Rodham Clinton announced on Saturday that she is entering the Democratic presidential race. Ms. Clinton is a front-runner from the start, partly because she gained a lot of experience when husband Bill was in the White House, and partly because she has shown herself to be a smooth operator in her own right. Her Senate record is, most agree, impressive and she has surrounded herself with advisers who know what they are doing and how to do it. According to observers, she is a disciplined campaigner with a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of domestic and foreign policy. No doubt a reputed $14 million fighting fund, and the proven ability to raise many more millions, also helps into the very strong position.

However, as today’s Washington Post editorial writer points out, Ms Clinton, strong though her position may be, is by no means guaranteed her party’s candidate.

But if Ms. Clinton begins with formidable assets, she also faces formidable challenges. One involves the Democratic base and its unhappiness with her position on the war in Iraq. Unlike Mr.Obama (the other early contender K.C.) who wasn’t in the Senate at the time but made his opposition clear, Ms. Clinton voted to authorize the war; she has been more reluctant than some of her Democratic rivals, most notably the 2004 vice presidential nominee, John Edwards, to renounce that backing or to call for immediate departure of the troops. “I am cursed with the responsibility gene,” Ms. Clinton told the New York Times in an interview upon returning from Iraq last week. “You’ve got to be very careful in how you proceed with any combat situation in which American lives are at stake.”

More than a little self-serving, perhaps, but Ms. Clinton’s approach is, in fact, more responsible than those of some of her opponents. While this is good policy, it could be risky politics, especially in states that hold early primaries.A second and somewhat contradictory issue for primary voters is the matter of Ms. Clinton’s “electability”: Is she such a polarizing figure, with such high negatives (44 percent in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, compared with 29 percent for Mr. Obama) that she would be at a disadvantage in the fall campaign? The question about Hillary Clinton may be not so much whether a woman can win the presidency but whether this woman can.

It is early days yet, but given that but given thata poll carried out by CNN some seven months ago yielded similar results as the Washington Post- ABC report, it will be interesting to see what happens as the Clinton campaign gathers momentum.

Without music life would be a mistake. (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche)

January 21, 2007

Last week we saw Education Secretary Alan Johnson announcing a new £10million package intended to boost music and singing for young people. This is the government’s welcome response Music Manifesto’s recommendations as outlined in Music Manifesto Report No 2, Making every child’s music matter.

 Speaking at the Music Manifesto’s State of Play conference which took place at the Roundhouse last week, Mr. Johnson said: As well as being a worthwhile activity for its own sake, music is a powerful learning tool which can build children’s confidence, teamwork and language skills. A better musical education for pupils can also help them hit the right note in their studies. This is a summary, produced by Music Manifesto, putting the extra £10million into context of the plans for the future.  

1 – An extra £10m to boost music education, especially school singing, both in and out of school hours. The extra £10m invested represents a huge commitment in addition to the £25m already announced for instrumental tuition next year. The extra cash will also fund a major national singing campaign for primary schools led by Howard Goodall.

2 – A 21st century songbook to provide a top 30 song list for whole school/whole class singing. Singing teachers and children will be invited to nominate and then bid for their favourite material.

3 – Choir schools to work in partnership with local schools and other music providers to boost local singing. Some choir schools are already providing a wide range of outreach activities, including the provision of singing master classes and summer schools to their local community. There are 34 choirs schools, with 3 leading the way with outreach programmes. This initiative will be roles out to around 20 more choir schools in 2007, with additional funding to expand their coverage of local schools.

4 – The rolls out of Music Start to engage parents and young children in music making. There will also be more collaboration between school and creative and cultural sectors.

5 – Increased investment in training for teachers and music leaders.

The national singing campaign for singing in primary schools is to be led by the composer and broadcaster Howard Goodall, who was announced as the government’s Singing Ambassador.  

Speaking to the Cassandra Jardine of The Daily Telegraph, Mr. Goodall, as he is wont to do, spoke very clearly and simply about how he saw his brief:

My sister, brothers and I all sang and played instruments. The benefits are immense, not just for self-esteem but for identifying yourself as a person. I want others to have what I have.

Immediately after his appointment, he said:

I am passionate about the dynamic and inspirational effect of music on young people. For me, singing in particular is every child’s first, intuitive access to the world of music, but it is also a powerful and often untapped resource for social cohesion. There is barely an adult alive who does not wish they could sing with more confidence or that they had had a better start with their voices as children.

I for one wish this new initiative every success. I note that Goodall said in the interview with The Daily Telegraph, that “if children haven’t learnt pitch by nine, then it’s too late” So some fifty one years ago, because for various reasons, too painful to be recounted here, it had become too late. I personally do not ever want to see a child denied the opportunity of at least attempting to learn pitch in they way I was denied. That’s why any programme of this kind is unreservedly welcome to at least one member of this household.    

The fiction writer and the fiction reader 2

January 20, 2007

According to the Review section of today’s edition of The Guardian, Zadie Smith’s excellent essay in last Saturday’s Guardian which got my attention, the attention of Elizabeth Baines, who in her The Tart of Fiction blog has given over a whole section to Zadie Smith, and many others whose blogs I dip into on a semi-regular basis, has the distinction of being the most linked-to article of the week.  

What this means is that there are a lot of people out there who are willing to talk seriously about fiction-writing and fiction-reading, provided the person instigating the talk – in this case Ms. Smith – is not talking over their heads.

The second part of Smith’s, Read better, is published today and is just as engaging as the first. It probably won’t be as popular a stopping off point as the first was, not because it is any less interesting or noteworthy than the first, but because in it is Smith is actually doing the donkey-work of demonstrating just how readers and writers can become better in the way she proposed in the first.  

Melanie Phillips puts us right on Iraq etc.

January 18, 2007

I don’t often read anything that gets printed in the Daily Mail, so it takes something like this – a posting by John Naughton to his online diary – to remind me just how barking mad some of its star writers are.

The view from planet Phillips

January 17th, 2007 [link]

Take a look at this — a post from Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips’s Diary…

Wars are often characterised by mistakes in analysis and strategy. This one can be won — provided the President now understands the strategic and operational errors that have been made, and puts them right. Putting more troops into Iraq will not be enough unless the Iranian regime is taken out. Clearly, this is not a great prospect. But it is a prospect which as time goes on will become even less palatable as it becomes ever more unavoidable. The longer it is left, the more difficult it will be. We are now in a world where the only calculation to be made is between rocks and hard places. There are no good options. The only sane course of action is the least worst option.

There will be scant support for this, it goes without saying, from the British media which remains largely on a different planet. Thus Anatole Kaletsky in the Times thinks war with  Iran would be

a disaster on [sic] the Middle East, beside which the war in Iraq would be a mere sideshow… What now seems to be in preparation at the White House, with the usual unquestioning support from Downing Street, is a Middle Eastern equivalent of the Second World War. The trigger for this all-embracing war would be the formation of a previously unthinkable alliance between America, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Britain, to confront Iran and the rise of the power of Shia Islam…

The fact that the ‘Middle Eastern equivalent of the Second World War’ has already been declared and is being waged upon the west does not seem to occur to him. No, the war-crazy villains of the piece are ‘trigger-happy’ Israeli ‘hotheads’ who are ‘hell-bent’ on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Yes, these are actually the terms he uses. Clearly, on planet Kaletsky it is those who seek to protect their country from the nuclear genocide that is being openly prepared for it — of which he makes no mention whatever — who are to be blamed for ‘trigger-happy’ aggression rather than those who are planning such a holocaust. No mention, either, of the fact that Iran has directly threatened
America, has for years attacked America and in Iraq is currently waging war on America, which all might be thought to constitute a somewhat overdue reason for a response by America. But no, it’s those wretched Jews again. What moral and intellectual sickness is this?
Alas, it is the default position in British media and political circles. It is also rampant in the US, but there at least there is now an argument going on. On the outcome of that argument the course of this war — and the fate of the free world — now depends.

So now you know. Andrew Brown thinks that this is the way Dubya thinks.

Hmmm… Suppose he’s right. There is a strange, rather weary, liberal consensus (to which I subscribe) about what’s happened in Iraq, namely that the failure of the neocon project in that benighted land is so manifestly obvious that it’s inconceivable that the US Administration doesn’t now see it that way. (After all, the result of the mid-term elections suggests that the majority of American voters have come round to the view that the whole adventure has been either a mistake or a catastrophe.) In that sense, the report of the Iraq Study Group seemed to us to be just a statement of the obvious.

But it’s just possible that Bush & Co don’t see it like that at all. Maybe they see the difficulties in Iraq as a symptom of not applying enough force? Or of not applying it to the right points — e.g. Iran? Maybe they are seriously thinking of a strike against Iran?

Excuse me while I go and lie down in a darkened room.

It should be said that if she were to write anything other than what she writes here, she be doing the unexpected. We have to remember that in her latest book, Londonistan, published in 2006, Phillips argues that radical Islamism made London its base of because London tried to be multi-cultual, liberal and tolerant of all comers. No namby-pamby liberalism for our Melanie then!