We start episode 74 of the Small Data Forum podcast – or “1 AB” as Thomas christens it; the first after B*ris – in what many are calling “the era past peak podcast”.
Things haven’t worked out as well for our medium of choice as Spotify predicted and gambled, and that includes the platform’s not-so-conscious uncoupling from the Sussexes. But we – like the relentless grind of British politics – carry on regardless.
Thomas recalls the halcyon days when democracy meant the executive, legislature, and judiciary: three, interlocking, interdependent branches that worked with checks and balances, each branch (or arm) keeping the other in its proper place.
In banana republics (like the US and UK), this breaks down when – usually – the army takes over; what was termed Gleichschaltung or a system of coordination or total control in Nazi Germany. There have been more than shades of this under the Johnson and Trump regimes from 2016 onwards.
The terrible two
Sam surveys the carnage in British politics in the past month.
Since we three last met, the House of Commons Privileges Committee has published its findings into the Partygate affair. Getting wind of a pre-publication draft, Johnson clearly saw the writing was on the wall for his political career inside Westminster, pronounced the Committee (and the report) a “witch-hunt”, and resigned as an MP.
He’d have been out on his ear when the report was published – recommending a 90-day suspension, triggering a Recall Petition and a by-election in his Uxbridge constituency – so rather than be pushed, he jumped. His pre-publication Trumpian rhetoric added to the severity of the punishment, and yet still Johnson didn’t care.
Continue reading “Flushable, unflushable, or lingering round the U-bend?”
Always with fingers on the pulses of the most relevant breaking news stories, the not yet scurvy-plagued triumvirate of the SmallDataForum briefly contemplates the shortages of fruit and veg on Great British supermarket shelves.
And we decide that neither the Marie Antoinette-esque “let them eat turnips” intervention of political-turnip-made Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Therese-with-accents-aigu-et-grave Coffey – nor the seemingly permanently unflushable turds, former-now-shadow Prime Ministers Johnson and Truss, are topics worth any of our (or our listeners) attention.
Sam, of course, wouldn’t know much about those domestic five-a-day-struggles, given his jetting all over EUlandia (Catalonia, Amsterdam etc.), promoting his excellent, not-to-be-missed Using Data Smarter online course, building a “digital ecosystem” – and ZING, just like that, Sam won this episode’s jargon bingo.
How he finds the time to read Times columns is beyond me. But read he does, and so we find ourselves discussing David Aaronovitch’s piece Nobody wants what the Tories are selling (if only they were selling fruit & veg).
Continue reading “Of bots, turds and turnips”
“Are you trying to tell me I’m insane?” asks Ingrid Bergman’s character Paula of her husband Gregory (Charles Boyer) in George Cukor’s 1944 film noir classic, Gaslight. To which he responds “Now, perhaps you will understand why I cannot let you meet people.”
An emotional manipulation which makes the target doubt their own memory, perception or judgment, gaslighting is a very real and serious form of domestic abuse – and as such has been exacerbated through the periods of lockdown, like all forms of abuse.
It has also become something of a media buzzword, so it is no surprise to see it being liberally appropriated (to avoid for once the martial imagery of ‘weaponized’) for political purpose on all our favourite fronts, from Brexit (for and against) to COVID and Trump (in liberal propaganda outlet Stylist(!), as well as The Independent, Forbes , Washington Post, to name but a few).
The SmallDataForum’s fifth Xmas special was, of course, a socially responsible, zoomy affair – with the three of us in our respective WFH HQs, rather than sat around a table in our favourite Italian restaurant, Ristorante Olivelli by the Old Vic in South London, feasting on fine Italian foods and beverages, and recording to the clattering chattering sound of a busy lunchtime service (and afterwards testing Neville’s thankfully advanced audio editing skills).
Continue reading “2020: Caught in the Gaslights”
For understandable reasons, the last four, regular monthly episodes of the Small Data Forum podcast have been focused – almost to the point of obsession – on coronavirus. From the uncertain first fumblings of life under lockdown, through escalating mortality and morbidity, and on to a fundamental lack of trust in the competence of blustering, blond, male, right-wing leaders … the last four episodes have had it all.
Some have said that this podcast was made for events like the pandemic, scrutinising as we do the uses and abuses of data big and small in politics, business, and public life. There’s been plenty of that about of late.
So, with lockdown restrictions being lifted all around the world – and Government advice completely ignored on the beaches of Bournemouth in the mini-U.K. heatwave last week, leading Dorset police to declare the overcrowding “a major incident” – our focus in this episode was much more catholic.
Indeed, with Facebook, GDPR, and brand safety the dominant topics, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d fallen through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and teleported back to 2018.
Continue reading “Facebook, GDPR, brand safety – suddenly it’s 2018 all over again”
If historical analogies provide the measure of a man, then Downing Street henchman-in-chief, lead iconoclast and perpetual ideas recyclist “Classic Dom” Cummings is doing a spectacularly good job.
He has been likened to everyone in the “Who’s Who?” of strategy, warfare and statesmanship, from Sun Tzu, to “a cross between Macchiavelli and Rasputin”, alternatively “an amalgam of Thucydides and Stephen Hawking”, or “an unnerving cross between Robespierre and Dr Strangelove”, or in fact Thomas Cromwell to his boss’s Henry VIII.
As for Prime Minister Johnson, a recent Unherd profile depicts him as Janus, the god of time, transitions, beginnings and endings.
Our classicist-in-residence, Sam, will have particularly enjoyed the perspective of how young Boris got framed and primed in the “rhetorical world view”, laying the foundations of the fine specimen that all media social and traditional relay continuously: “He assumes a natural agility in changing orientations. He hits the street already street-wise. From birth, almost, he has dwelt not in a single value structure but in several. He is thus committed to no single construction of the world; much rather, to prevailing in the game at hand.”
Continue reading “When Henry VIII met Dr Strangelove”