Oh-oh-oh, your pants are on fire

Johnson Brexit lies

During the Matrix Churchill affair – a conflict of interest and bit of political skulduggery so tepid compared with what’s happened in the intervening 20 years – the Tory MP Alan Clark conceded that he had been “economical with the actualité” in answer to Parliamentary questions.

Lying about arms export licences to Iraq seems almost innocent compared to the stodge we’re served up daily by our demagogic masters in the fibbing 2020s. Even if Clark was branded by his wife as a “total Ess-Aitch-One-Tee” in a puff-piece documentary in the 1990s, not least for his endless affairs that were satirised by Private Eye as “discussions about Uganda”.

We start our examination of the uses and abuses of data big and small with a focus on politics in the latest outing of the Small Data Forum podcast, episode 47.

Sam is inspired by the writing and the message in comedian Stewart Lee’s tragedy vehicle, his weekly Observer byline. In a recent column picking through the ashes of Labour’s shambolic performance in British local elections, Lee takes aim at Prime Minister Johnson’s record as one of the worst – and most transparent – liars in British political history.

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The state of the world: “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal”

“It is beyond moronic.” Yes, this might well have been a quote by Gary Neville, Alan Shearer or some other righteously outraged standard bearer of the purity of – in particular – the original English version of European soccerball, in response to the announcement of that ill-fated, short-lived ‘thought’ experiment in the commercial optimisation of said soccerball, the European Super League.

More of that – in Sam’s sober analysis: “arrogant imperialist cultural misappropriation” – later.

In this case, the quote refers to a story that broke on the morning of St George’s day, last Friday 23rd April, just in time for the recording of our latest SmallDataForum episode.

It should really have been a narrative about a hero slaying a huge fire-breathing beast (ignoring the Hydra problem that my dear friend and SDF guest illustrator Christoph alludes to in our title image, the English version of his German football cartoon), but as it turned out – perhaps more in keeping with the storytelling potential of the context and cast – this one was about a chatty rat, featuring prominently the near-forgotten Ghost of Barnard Castle, Dominic Cummings.

Neville (not Gary, but Hobson) kicks off SDF46 by relaying the highlights of the chatty rat saga, which he informed us had even made headlines in the Knutsford Chronicle. That turned out to be the Knutsford Guardian, but all the same.

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The SmallDataForum Interview, vol. 1: Darren Lilleker on politics and communication

After almost five years and 44 episodes of the SmallDataForum with the same old (though always fresh and sparkly) line-up of Neville, Sam and Thomas, we’re introducing one-on-one interviews as a new format, and an extension to the show.

In the first interview of this new series, Thomas talks with Darren Lilleker, professor of political communication at Bournemouth University (and Thomas’ patient, tolerant PhD supervisor).

Main themes include

  • the increasing professionalisation, personalisation and commercialisation of politics
  • the tension between “permanent campaigning” and governing in politics
  • the public’s dissatisfaction with traditional politicians
  • how charisma has replaced practical skills and competence (because legislation is boring and political entertainment is easier than day to day governance).

We weave a tangled web of themes from Thatcher to COVID and speculate that perhaps in the yin and yang of political leadership in the UK, the next Prime Minister will be rather less flamboyant.

However, Professor Lilleker is not optimistic when it comes to self-reflection in politics, and change from within: “what is needed for politics is never going to come from politicians.” The hope is that the public will demand from its political leaders the qualities required for good governance. So far, the signs are not altogether encouraging.

We offer you two ways to access the interview:

1: Watch the interview video on our new YouTube channel:

2: Listen to or download the audio podcast MP3 file:

Social dilemmas, digital and phygital experiences

As if proof was needed that new Netflix edu-docu The Social Dilemma is highly Marmite among (social) media cognoscenti, the SmallDataForum verdict is very much a score draw, from Sam’s firm thumbs-down to my approval and on to Neville’s not-seen-it-yet.

I share Sam’s take that there’s not much new to learn – certainly for topic obsessives like us – and I also agree that eminent voices such as Shoshana Zuboff’s and Jonathan Haidt’s seem overly muffled and perhaps squandered.

But then we’re not the primary target audience. Neither are new media commentators, such as the Verge’s Casey Newton, who feels that the film misunderstands social networks. If it gets the average Netflix user to reflect a bit more on what they do with social media (and social media with them), then that can’t be a bad thing.

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From Woodstock to Nudgestock

Apparently 2020 is what you get when you put together 1918, 1929 and 1968. With just over 40% done, it’s a bit early to say. Or is it?

Pandemic – tick. Global recession – about to hit. Political turbulence and social unrest – we’re only getting started. At least 1968 was followed by the year of moon landing, and Woodstock.

Fifty years and a bit on, we’ve just had the first private company sending astronauts into orbit (though not quite with e-rockets; Elon needs to work on that). And the next Woodstock is likely to be a smorgasbord of Zoomed home gigs.

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