politics

Over at Political Survey 2005 you can answer a load of questions, and it will then place you on two axes, as determined by a clever statistical technique based on a much larger survey described in the Times. It turns out that what differentiated their sample of people was not conventional socialist/conservative economic politics, but rather their attitudes to crime and punishment and to internationalism. People who favour tougher punishment tend to be less internationalist, that is, anti-Europe and anti-immigration. A second, much less important, differentiating factor is a free market/socialist division, which is strongly correlated to attitudes to the war in Iraq. You can read some more technical details in Chris Lightfoot’s blog.

So, here’s where I am:


It seems I’m to the left of a lot of people on the most significant axis, but to the right of most people on the free market/pro-war axis (I’m not pro-war, as it happens, but I did say that businesses were more competent than government institutions).

The interesting thing about this survey is the correlations it shows, though: as the Times article points out, the thing that separates out people surveyed (and so indicates the battleground in the forthcoming General Election, if we believe their sample was representative) was the Europe and crime.

The BBC screened Jerry Springer – The Opera last night. It was musically brilliant and very funny. Although I thought the ending was weak, I can see how problems of theodicy aren’t going to be answered in a comedy opera. So, leaving that aside, a good time was had by all.

However, the broadcast attracted protests from Christians for scenes in the second half of the opera, in which Jesus and Satan swear at each other, Jesus is played by the same actor who played a nappy fetishist earlier (and wears a very similar costume) and Jesus is described as “a little bit gay”. Stephen Green, the leader of the hitherto unknown evangelical pressure group Christian Voice, has been extensively quoted in the press: you can read his arguments on the group’s website (along with his charming views on gay people), but in brief he objects to the BBC’s decision to broadcast something mocking his religion, and also points out that they would not dare do something similar to, say, Islam.

The BBC is a public service broadcaster funded by the TV licence fee, a tax on television owners (Americans always find this astonishing 🙂 The responses from the public on the BBC News site include many objections from Christians to being forced to pay for the screening of something so offensive to them. Of course, they’re not forced to pay at all: owning a television was not required by the Bible last time I looked, so their situation is similar to the National Innumerates Tax payers who object to how Lottery money is spent. That aside, like many other taxes, some of the money is bound to be spent on things we don’t agree with. We submit to taxation because the benefits seem to outweigh the downsides. Despite putting out an awful lot of tat about home decoration and cookery, the BBC still makes some of the best TV and radio in the world. I might object to paying for Songs of Praise (actually, I don’t, as I like old hymns), but I like Radio 2, Radio 4 (except The Archers, obviously, which is blasphemous and should be banned) and Strictly Come Dancing.

Christians don’t and should not have the right to prevent the screening of programmes to which they object: this isn’t America. An attempt to use Britain’s old blasphemy laws to prosecute the BBC (as some of the Christian groups have been threatening) will be the end of the blasphemy laws, not of the BBC’s ability to screen things Christians don’t like.

Green’s second point is more telling though. The BBC wouldn’t screen something which was offensive to Muslims (or Sikhs, obviously), for fear of violent repercussions. What Green has missed is that this is to the credit of British Christianity: compared to these other religions, it has fewer followers who are prepared to use violence to further their religious ends. As I’ve said elsewhere, I find Islam and American conservative Christianity worrying because of the violence they incite in some of their followers, and hypocritical in their whining about persecution and expectation of tolerance towards them when they do not practice tolerance. Let’s be clear: I am an atheist and believe all theisms to be wrong, but some are more wrong than others.

If Green wants some advice from an atheist, it is this: by all means protest, but not in the expectation that the BBC is morally obliged do as you say. Rather, protest to get across your message about what you think Jesus is like, and where the opera has it wrong. Play up the fact that your protests are non-violent. Get across your larger concern for this country. That’s how to be part of the tradition of free speech in this country, which is both your right and the BBC’s.

Singapore was a good place to visit. I’m not usually a fan of hot places, but since more or less everywhere is air conditioned, there’s always somewhere to retreat to if the 30 °C heat and 70% humidity become too unbearable.

A colleague today referred to what turns out to be William Gibson’s description of Singapore in Wired: Disneyland with the death penalty. Gibson’s article is over 10 years old now, but some of what he says still rings true. What makes Singapore a nice place to visit is that it is Asia-Lite: cheap (at least in Sterling), yet clean and safe, with ethnic areas laid out for the visitor to browse around. The people are friendly and pretty much all speak English to some extent. We saw few policemen about the place: the opinion of our party was not, as Gibson said, that the people had succumbed to the policemen of the mind, but rather that the policemen were among us, plainclothes. But who knows? We weren’t about to drop some litter and find out.

Wired is too hip to like the place, but for all the Disney, Neal Stephenson (him again) and Orwell resonances, I can’t help but admire the vision behind the place. I doubt I’d want to live there, but that’s not because of the problems Gibson has with it. I can imagine that after a while the island would start to seem very small and lacking in scenery. The beauty spots that exist are cheek-by-jowl with construction sites and container ships offshore, just out of shot. But given the choice between what seems a benevolent, if paternal, government and one which mucks around with foreign misadventures while people back home are getting murdered for their mobile phones (a headline to welcome me back, there), it’s not really obvious that the latter is the right one.

The hotel had a phone in the loo. What’s up with that?

The Register has a story about a new Nokia mobile device: a camera which can send pictures via SMS (or MMS, probably) and sound via a voice call. The camera can do motion detection too.

So, will Big Brother soon be watching us? (aside: how many people associate that phrase with bad unreality TV rather than 1984 now, I wonder?)

<lj-cut> I’d like to think not. It’s more like thousands and thousands of Little Brothers. If this thing is priced so that it’s accessible to businesses and homeowners, what you end up with is David Brin’s vision of a Transparent Society. Cameras in the hands of the citizenry are a good thing, since they enable us to watch both agents of government (Rodney King, anyone?) and also people who are up to no good. Brin’s argument is that cheap, mass produced, net connected cameras will be available. Our choice is whether we leave them in the hands of the government or let everyone have them.

This is all part of my grand theory that, what with the government being increasingly rubbish at dealing with social problems, what we’ll end up with is something which Neal Stephenson’s anticipated: burbclaves (we’re already getting there: one of my friends lives in a gated block of flats in London) and phyles (which are sort of tribes or groupings of people with common beliefs: in The Diamond Age there’s a phyle made up of people who follow Victorian social mores, for example). This will all have reached its logical conclusion when there’s a village for people who share a particular outlook on life, with a fence around it and a set of cameras to which all householders have access. Being a bit of a libertarian, I’m not sure this would be a bad thing, although you can’t help wondering what happens to the people who are left outside this arrangement. Anyway, I look forward to being able to point to this journal in 10 years and say “I told you so!”