June 07, 2007

When discussion means nothing of the sort

Today's Government Discussion Document Ahead of Proposed Counter Terror Bill 2007 reads like the minutes taken from a conversation between John Reid and a flunky in the back of the ministerial limo taking the self proclaimed Terminator from the Houses of Parliament to the Home Office. At least they remembered to remove point 21: "Erm, I think that's about all. Flick through the Sun and see if there's anything I've missed."

It is not as though anyone even bothered formating it properly, so point three contains a phrase in larger type than the rest of the sentence - "...new drive, more cohesion and a greater strategic capacity in the fight against terror". Surely they weren't trying to emphasise this, were they?

Of the three key elements trailed in advance, pre-charge detention ('90 days' to civil liberties nerds), is first up with three measily points. Only three are needed though, apparently, as 'The decision to increase pre charge detection limits from 14-28 days has been justified by subsequent events. That means we have been able to bring forward prosecutions that otherwise may not have been possible.'

Really? Note that weasily 'may' lurking five words from the end. May. Not 'would'. And the evidence? None presented. Thus the debate is not about whether 90 days (or even 28 for that matter) is an issue, merely how to do it. See what they did there?

Point 7 highlights that in 'terrorist' cases suspects can be questioned after charge on any aspect of the offense for which they have been charged' (Reid's emphasis). Sounds fine. However, in the broader context of 'terror' legislation, the police have been free with the use of prevention of terrorism powers - octogenerian cause celebre Walter Wolfgang being a fine example. Please do correct me, but what is to stop police circumventing the non-terrorist law by charging suspects of non-terrorism activities under terrorism legislation? A minor point perhaps, but I'd like to know, nevertheless.

'The police have identified some circumstances in which it is necessary for them to have a self-standing power of entry and search of premises to enforce and monitor the control order effectively.' And these are, precisely? Without going into the decided dubious case for control orders and their affront to habeas corpus, once more this is not a discussion, still less a debate: no case is made beyond the fact that 'the police' wish it. I'm sure some wish some offences resulted capital punishment, but that doesn't mean it should be so.

Intercept as evidence: as Taking Liberties director, Chris Atkins reasoned on FiveLive this morning, use of intercept evidence in trials is not per se a bad thing. However, past experience of the governance surrounding terror measures suggest that it needs robust accountability, residing with the judiciary, to prevent abuse of the system.

The wording of point 18 is typically meaningless:

The right approach is to address this carefully and fully before deciding on whether to use intercept as evidence. That is what we are doing. However we believe that we now need to reach a conclusion on this issue. Therefore, subject to further discussions to agree the structure and timescale, I am today announcing that we will commission a review of intercept as evidence on Privy Counsellor terms.

"We need to make a decision, so let's launch an enquiry." Now I'm not absolutely certain, but would I be right to assume 'Privy Counsellor terms' would not be entirely public and transparent?

And then stop and search. This one's been kicked into the long grass. Or so it was reported. I'm not so sure - all the document says is that they are consulting on it. Don't believe the spin.

So finally, you are exhorted to be involved in the consultation via the Security website.Well, not quite. You are asked to email your comments to [email protected]. So that's okay then.

So what do we do? First off, I suggest we all email proposing a more open forum for discussion. Secondly we debate and always CC the email address, to keep them in the loop as it were.

Still, my hunch is that based upon this document, discussion on the issues is not what Reid wants. The assumption is that the majority needs to work out how to circumvent the pesky minority, so as I contend, this is not really a discussion at all. No change there then.

June 7, 2007 in Observations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 09, 2005

A brief history of habeas corpus

A great potted history of habeas corpus: what it means, why it matters and where it came from. The reference to Magna Carta reminds me of Tony Hancock's immortal line (as written by Galton & Simpson) in the spoof of 12 Angry Men: 'Did Magna Carta die in vain?'

Link: BBC NEWS | Magazine | A brief history of habeas corpus.

March 9, 2005 in Observations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

Where there's a Will...

...there is generally some good linkery and provoking comment:Potlatch: Will Davies' blog. He's been a bit more prolific of late.

In particular I commend the sentence in his damning of 10x10:

10x10 would do for journalism what Powerpoint has done for public speaking.

Will also muses on mobile telephony, celebrity and philosophy, though quite what Ms Hilton would make of it, is anyone's guess.

Finally, I commend to you on a more serious note, his post about the difference between policy and politics and Mysociety'sTom Steinberg's comment (beneath my rather facetious one):

So politics is about much more than picking policies - it is about all this intangible emotional stuff that career politicians are so good and, and which confuses and upsets us wonks... [P]olitics, despite my love of it, remains as bafflingly closed a book to me as any theory of quantum mechanics.

February 22, 2005 in Observations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

That's you that is

The Demos blog links to this delightful del.icio.us hack: extisp.icio.us by Kevan Davis.

It maps out your del.icio.us tags in a pleasingly visual fashion.

extisp.icio.us - for A Gentleman's Commonplace's tags.

February 22, 2005 in Observations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

Oven blues

Warning: minor rant.

My oven stopped working in the middle of me cooking a beautiful piece of roast beef (with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, the works). Four weeks ago.

I know the beef was beautiful because my girlfriend lives round the corner from me and in somewhat comic fashion we drove the extremely rare joint round to her's to finish it off.

The next day I called MilleniumElectrical (sic). I should have made note of the fact that they cannot spell 'millennium' but they seemed very reasonable on the phone: get the parts you are likely to need yourself, they said, so that we don't need to make two visits. It's cheaper for you, they said.

I agreed and then started a telephone Odyssey around the service systems of Electrolux UK, ServiceForce and various contractors. Some time later it was clear I would have to order and could not simply pick up a thermostat and element from a local store. The said items were ordered and were expected within a few working days.

The invoice arrived, duly noting a thermostat and an element.

Then the box arrived. With a cutlery holder for a dishwasher.

I rang them. They apologised and agreed to send the right items.

A week later a small package arrived with a thermostat and a note saying they were out of elements.

Two weeks on the element arrived. I called MilleniumElectical - I'm in Thursday morning, could you come and fix my oven? No problem.

Yesterday I rang them: it's one o'clock. I have to go out, where is the engineer?

He's overrunning and should have called you. He'll make you his first call tomorrow.

This morning I waited an hour. I had to go to work and he didn't appear. Had Tony phoned to say he was running late, had an emergency to fix or even just a hangover I might have been pissed off but mildly accepting. Instead, I was just angry. I rang to find out where he was but got no reply.


The point? Rants don't always have points, but there are two:
a) They lost a customer. Bad news for them. They lose maybe £50-100 now but possibly several hundred or thousand pounds in future. They didn't call to let me know what was going on. I had to do the calling. Customer service is not just about being reactive: good customer service is proactive. If you can't make the appointment, you ring in advance and keep the customer in the know

b) This is more important. I am not happy with MilleniumElectrical. I tell you (some of whom live in South London) and you avoid them too - so they lose some more potential customers. Moreover, because I link to them, with any luck, when someone types in some of the terms 'oven electrical engineer south London millennium millenium electrical poor service' they will get my opinion of the company's poor service. Is this fair? Yup. They are not responsible for the screw-up with the parts, but their poor service means I am justified to warn others that they might get poor service too.

The sooner such service companies, however small, get this and realise the power of the internet to share such information, the sooner they'll improve their service.

There rant over.

February 18, 2005 in Observations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 21, 2005

The Hague - Friday afternoon question

It's really starting to bug me: a colleague has come back from a meeting in The Hague.

Could someone confirm for me whether it is the only city in the world with a definite article ("the") in its name?

January 21, 2005 in Observations | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 24, 2004

When 'just about ok' is better than genius

It is the British football fan's greatest puzzle this season: why are Everton, a hitherto unheralded side, doing so well (currently third in the Premiership and ahead of Manchester United and Liverpool FC)?

Of course, most fans supporting clubs without a shout for the title (excepting Liverpool fans) are hoping for an upset come May. All the more so because Everton sold wonderboy Wayne Rooney to Manchester United in the summer. 'Haha! Ja-boo sucks to you!' This is British sporting schadenfreude at its most appealing.

The question, though, that interested me more, and should be of interest to non-sporting fans, is whether there is a link between offloading a supremely talented player and doing better in the league. According to Danny Finkelstein in a Times article from last month, there is:

When Everton had Rooney in the side they were much less effective at nicking the points than when they did not. In the games since the start of the 2002-03 season that Rooney started, Everton scored an average 1.21 goals and conceded 1.21 goals. You would expect them to pick up an average 1.35 points per game. They picked up only an average of 1.06 points.

Now look at the games he did not start. Everton scored an average 1.22 goals and conceded 1.05 goals. You would expect an average 1.45 points per game, instead it was 1.78 points per game. It’s official. Everton are better off, far better off, without Wayne Rooney.

So there you have it: because of his sheer abundance of sporting ability, young Wayne was tipping the team off balance. Everton manager, David Moyes, seems to understand what has happened and, though he has £25 million to spend in the Christmas transfer market from the sale of Rooney, he is thought not to want to buy anyone. Why? His team is balanced and, as Finkelstein says, 'better, far better off' as a result.

December 24, 2004 in Observations, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 14, 2004

Keeping it fresh

A little while back I read Sticky Wisdom by the founders of ?What if! - the innovation consultancy. One of the key factors they identify as crucial to creative thinking is freshness - putting yourself in new spaces that open your eyes to different ways of thinking.

The web, and particularly the blogosphere can be the oft discussed echo-chamber in which you hear only what you say and think echoed by many like-minded souls. Alternatively, it can be the source of much freshness and challenging thinking.

Since reading Sticky Wisdom, I've been working at freshness and opening myself up to different ways of working and thinking. I was delighted, therefore, to come across rodcorp; and most particularly, the blog's category How we work - an ever growing set of nuggets from a wide range of sources on how people go about working. What does a writer do to force those first few paragraphs onto the blankness of a crisp white page first thing in the morning? How does a photographer keep the inventiveness flowing? What does an business leader do to stop mental and technical congestion?

Link: rodcorp.

December 14, 2004 in Observations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 29, 2004

Disorganising carts and horses

Organisations must ‘loosen up’ according to Demos this week. In Disorganisation – a new pamphlet written by Paul Miller and Paul Skidmore – they argue that organisations are being drawn in two directions: hyperorganisation and disorganisation.

The former is painted as Frederick Taylor’s management theories taken to their ultimate conclusions: ruthless, heartless efficiency squeezing the life out of staff who want more than the dedicated pursuit of shareholder gain. The latter is the easy-going, come-as-you-are, creative, hip kind of enterprise personified in the press by those loveable scamps at Innocent Drinks (the lastminute.com of the post dotcom crash business world).

Needless to say the distinction is not as clear in most businesses as it is painted here. One speaker at the launch noted that most CEOs for ‘hyperorganisations’ would be happy accommodating many elements of disorganisation.

My sense is that in the inevitable excitement around the pithy idea that big business should be disorganised (something that has unsurprisingly caught the eyes of both the Times and the Telegraph) the real point is not given enough space to breathe – even though alluded to on the cover of the pamphlet:

There is a pressure growing within organisations. People now want their work to be more aligned with their human values. [my emphasis]

This is really about purpose. The word is used three times in this context throughout the report, and yet I feel it should be centre-stage. The question that never quite seems to be asked is ‘what is an organisation for?’.

The economist John Kay recently used the term ‘obliquity’ to describe unexpected consequences, arguing that businesses who set a high shareprice as their overriding objective suffered as a result and that the business with a range of objectives beyond pure profit did better.

In fact the popular perception that a company’s prime objective is profit is a curiously modern one. As Economist writers, John Micklethwaite and Adrian Wooldridge explain in the generally excellent The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea companies were often created with social purposes. Still today, the European social model of business assigns a much greater social responsibility to companies than the seemingly predominant Anglo-American model. This, you might extrapolate, suggests that profit is a more successful objective than woolly liberal social objectives that build hospitals for workers and fund their families through university.

Yet, if Miller and Skidmore – armed with research from NOP and MORI – are correct, employees want to do more that is (for want of a better word) good, not necessarily expect more from their companies in terms of traditional benefits. In essence, they want purpose and the scope to deliver on it. More opportunities to put in, not so much take out.

This is where the disorganisation comes in. In fact, what I draw from their useful pamphlet is: allow people to realise a sense of purpose and you have a happier, more productive workforce.

Take a traditional bank. The thought of ‘disorganising’ a high street bank is enough to give a director an aneurism. Think purpose, though, and the challenge seems less unpleasant: disorganisation for its own sake would be a disaster, but as a means for realising shared social purpose it might be more attractive. The bank’s purpose is making money, but much more than that it is providing financial services to customers, building and maintaining relationships and potentially to do all this in ways which strengthen and benefit society. And employees who can see that they can do this, are doing this, and are being rewarded for it are less likely to leave citing ethical differences.

Look at each of the case studies presented in the pamphlet and the common theme is purpose – realising a shared objective. This report is yet more ammunition for those of us working in corporate responsibility and sustainability. Sustainability in its broadest sense is one area in which employees get a sense of purpose: working with communities, making positive contributions to the environment, etc. The authors quote the figure of 48% of business leaders expecting their employees to increasingly ask to be involved in CSR. The potential purpose is there, organisations need to apply it.

So then: I've no problem with the theory of disorganising, but beware lest the cart is put before the horse - purpose is the key.

PS Liked the launch. Bill Morris must make an excellent afterdinner speaker, I should think.

November 29, 2004 in Current Affairs, Observations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 23, 2004

Blogging marches on

Yet more evidence rolls in that blogging is subtly reshaping current affairs.

First of all, the Guardian in the UK has led with a verbatim copy of a blog post by cameraman and journalist Kevin Sites. Sites made the news by recording a US marine shooting an Iraqi. I suspect it is the first time a mainstream national newspaper has led on its front page with such a source (though I am willing to be corrected).

Next up there is Fistful of Euros' coverage of the election crisis in Ukraine that provides an excellent digest of what is going on. Best of all, the assorted bloggers at FfoE link to Veronica Khokhlova:

You should've seen the crowd walking past our windows, along Khreshchatyk and towards the Central Election Commission... This is a wonderful time here in Kyiv.

Like Salam Pax before her, in Khokhlova you have a talented writer on the ground who knows the issues and, because they are linked to from a trusted source (FfoE) they are treated with greater respect by the likes of me, who have little time to trawl the net for a decent Ukrainian viewpoint.

November 23, 2004 in Current Affairs, Observations, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack