All posts for the month January, 2009

My Akismet comment spam filter has been working fine except to a few Russian (cyrillic) posts and links getting through. But these have always been easy to spot and delete / mark-as-spam.

Today I noticed a bunch and went through deleting them, only to discover that each deleting of a spam comment also deleted one real comment … I have all comments now deleted since 7th Dec !!! apologies to anyone affected.

Bigger problem for me immediately is to find out how and stop this recurring. Anyone ?

Only yesterday I noticed this image of protesters in Nice carrying “Solidaire” banners (solidarity presumably ?) and had John Martyn’s “Solid Air” going round my head all day as a result.

Spooky to hear at the end of yesterday that John had died.

First saw John Martyn in my student days, ’74/’75 ish, backed by Paul Kossoff. Went for years never really noticing that John remained active – unlike say, the way I continued to look out for Roy Harper in that vein, until I bought a live double CD just a couple of years ago. Apart from “Solid Air” itself, I would say “John Wayne”, backed by Dave Gilmour was my most memorable.

I keep pointing out that the World Wide Web model of information is enlightened enough to actually have trust at the top of the stack – ie however information is organized and presented on the web (or anywhere for that matter) it ultimately depends on trust in people in enforceable authority, even if the expert authority is earned in advance. Anything based (entirely) on the power of crowds risks overlooking this important fact.

I often note it in references to limits to freedom in free-democratic-governance at any level, most recently in the Brittanica / Wikipedia story. More frequently in the serious psychological deficiencies of most web information models – like “unfriending” in social network situations.

As a Brit resident in Norway, I can’t help thinking this survey may prove significant.

One of my pet subjects is the fact that in (free democratic) systems of governance, there must be institutions that are not free and democratic, not in the sense of the popular “one man one vote” mantra.

OK, so most people quickly see that total freedom for popular decision-making is a recipe for anarchy, not democracy, which demands institutions to defend and preserve rights and freedoms of individuals and groups from other individuals and groups. There are “greater goods” than individual rights and freedoms. And it is easy to see that pragmatically authority has to be delegated to elected representatives or delegates in order to achieve timely decisions and actions on behalf of the electorate.

However what is harder to see, because it appears paradoxical at first, is that some of those institutions must also have intrinsically “elitist” non-democratic arrangements.

At the very least they need to have meritocratic arrangements that are insulated from direct popular democracy. They require a caucas of people “who know better”. Of course they have to be “trusted” to know better, trusted to make “unpopular” decisions without the question of direct public decision-making input. There must ultimately be free and democratic sanctions, answerable to the “popular” constituency when that trust is lost, but that trust does not have to be sought on the same timescale as the operational decisions of that population.

Of course any sophisticated national government with a history knows about meritocratic appointees to high-ranking public servant positions, high-court judges and the like. These will be appointed democratically (well, by political horse-trading maybe) by one or other house of popular elected government institutions (one level removed from popular vote) and on tenures longer than the popular election cycle of those elected institutions (a second level of insulation from popular voting).

That way the appointers can consider their candidate appointees independently of their electoral considerations, and merited in terms of greater considerations of quality, value, truth and good. Of course the higher (public) profile the particular positions, the greater the (public) political pressures anyway, but the principle is well established.

This is rarely noticed however in new / young institutions embracing the free & democratic “dogma”. And the “received wisdom” view of evolution, particularly in the power of crowds empowered by free access to communications media and technologies, is to completely overlook this issue, and to positively rail against any hint of attempted, even suggested, control by higher “authority”. Two or three posts into a discussion on the subject and some well-intentioned individual – supported by a crowd baying for blood –  is invoking liberty and personal freedoms, accusations of control-freakery or pretensions of higher knowledge, screaming “censorship” and pointing out Hitler, Mao and Stalin and the historical lessons of fascism. Well, all the easy bits ayway, the popular received wisdom of the lesson, minus anything else of value – necessarily of greater value, since by defintion they will be valued by fewer of the population – paradoxically, the opposite of democratic. (There’s a name for that syndrome – counting how many posts before someone makes a “fascist” reference in a  contentious correspondence thread – lost it for a moment.)

 Anyway, memes always promulgate the easy to understand bits, never the valuable subtleties.

I have pointed out before that excellent inventions like Wikipedia are wonderfully valuable in capturing high quality knowledge where the content is uncontentious and low profile … anywhere where it is “political” the mechanism fails and is replaced (devalued) with a power of conflicting wills and attrition, often disguised by many layers of rhetorical and ironic game-play.

Encyclopedia Brittanica seems to understand this – avoiding falling for the obvious Wikipedia model. Somethings, to be definitive, need to be authoritative. W3C itself knows this [Figure 7 Semantic Web Layers], by having “trust” at the top of its architectural stack of web technologies, but those using the power of mass communications often ride over this with their personal democratic dogma.

Some things need to be managed by those with the pretensions, the presumption, the wisdom …. to know better. That’s really, really, really free.

[Post Note – Hooray, and even Wikipedia itself has seen the error of its (simple popular) democratic ways …. nobody said the alternative was easy, just better … as with any publicly shared reference data, publication can be fast, but quality can take a little time. ]

Plus c’est la meme chose. Vive l’Anglais.

It’s a memetic evolutionary loop, but English is a very expressive language because it is used for global communication above and beyond trans-atlantic drivel, and yes it will evolve into “Globish” in the process and even lose the tag “English” if it offends the French. Defenders of English as she is writ and spoke proper should remember that Shakespear is written down, so it’s not going anywhere, provided democratic free cultural evolution enforces the taboo on book-burning. Some things are not free in a free democratic global village. Preservation and freedom can, must, live side by side.

Come on France, the water’s lovely, and bring your best stuff with you Madame Pecresse.

The BBC is right to express concern at the potential mis-use of the fundraising behind this Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, but is getting its priorities back to front and making more of a partisan stance by not carrying this humanitarian appeal.

(Same issue as the Pogues Fairytale fiasco – need to separate political correctness in negative risk-taking, from direct support for the positive point of the exercise. Still at least the Beeb admitted its error that time. Here’s hoping.)

[Post Note : This one will run and run.

And of course

The high profile controversy has given this appeal more publicity than it could possibly have imagined getting – Mark Field, MP.

Maybe Auntie is smarter than she looks, by deliberately making it a political issue and upping the ante ? And Sky now joins the Beeb.]