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Hurdle 11 - All talk and no action makes DJ an unhappy boy

Hurdles 4, 5 and 6, you may remember, were inspired by a fellow blogger. This fellow blogger, who shall remain nameless, was once a very influential political blogger but in the past couple of years has stopped blogging any original content. Hurdle 11 is to be based on the most recent post by this blogger, and is all about avoiding the trap of style over substance.

So what matters about a blog? Is it the name? Is it design? is it the features? is it how its hosted? Or is it the content? 

From Hurdle 10 you will know that the primary focus for a blogger should be content. Everything else is nice, but irrelevant until you have built up a core readership and found your feet. Readers only really care about what you are posting, and wont come back purely for a nice design, or a clever name.

This blogger is persistent in attempting what i consider to be the impossible; Taking his blog from a cold start to a 'magazine' blog, that he can take the credit for, while all the original content is supplied by sub-bloggers. You will know i am of the view that there is no substitute for creating your own original content, and any attempt to pass the buck is a recipe for disaster.

It's been a month since this blogger announced his new concept, and there has been no change in the site. Clearly (and hopefully) there has been work behind the scenes, but in Hurdle 10 i said that it's important to strike while the iron is hot. The time difference between announcing the concept, and physical changes, has made the idea feel stale already. I would suggest that a blogger announces any fundamental changes to their blog a week in advance of a new concept going live. If you are working from a cold start, don't even bother announcing because no one will care until you have proven yourself. See Hurdles 4, 5 and 6 for a little more information on cold starts and how fickle the blogosphere can be.

Back to our blogger. His most recent post by this blogger is admirably encouraging audience participation on choosing the name of the new blog. The new blog will obviously need a name, but getting caught up on the aesthetic details is counter productive. What a new, and i consider this blogger to be new, blogger should be doing is picking a working title and getting started with the substance, the original content. Once the readership builds up, you can start worrying about aesthetics.

But is this sort of behaviour part of human nature? How many times have I, as a law student, sat down to do some work and spent hours labelling, filling, organising, time-tabling and alphabetising...it gets to the evening and i realise i have done everything except what i am supposed to do. I suspect it is a bit of this procrastinatory (did i invent a new word?) behaviour that is behind the actions of this blogger. 

But as all law students know, procrastination rarely takes hold forever...i am hoping that this blogger will take a control of the project and we will see him back to being the ground breaking political blogger he once was.


Have any advice you want to share for fellow bloggers? Drop a comment below and i will add your tips to future 'hurdle' posts with your name and a link to your blog/website...can't beat free advertising!


Click 'see more' for a few more pictures that made me giggle;


Royal Wedding...showcasing our constitution, not a wedding

We have two Royal events going on in London today. The first event is the pomp and ceremony involved in showing off the United Kingdoms constitution, showing off relationships with individuals like Elton John, and showing that it is possible to sing like you are drinking the hymn through a straw, Nick Clegg. The second event is a personal one between Prince William and the now Princess Kate. The media are so intent on getting the right video angle, the right commentary, or the right picture that it has become eclipsed. You do get glimpses however. Harry's cheeky grins, 'You look beautiful', the squishing on of the ring (and the awful moment when I thought it wouldn't fit), and the gentle smile between Wills and Kate during the 'speeches' in the Abbey.

The couple, as they leave the Abbey
Despite all the glamor, gold and forced godliness, the whole thing didn't do the couple justice. The political atmosphere may not have been palpable, but it was the driving force. Today's service is seen in Whitehall as an opportunity for the UK to show off to other heads of state..."look at all the gold shit we have". It has, no doubt, been a strong bargaining tool in the Foreign Office's arsenal since the day the wedding was announced. At home, however, it has had even more political motivation. The country is depressed, and suffering from the recession. A big day like this is intended to encourage solidarity, national pride, and therefore overall well being. If the big day succeeds in achieving this, it only succeeds in so far as one who runs away from their problems succeeds in solving them. Once the euphoria has passed, we find ourselves in the same situation, but with a cost to the economy totalling up to £5bn.

There is yet another political angle...one of Royal politics. The Royals simply do not enjoy as much public support as they once did. They are seen as an unnecessary cost to the tax payer, especially in such strained times. Anyone who has studied Constitutional law will realise this is the view of the ignorant. Anyone who has studied political history will realise that the legacy left by the Royal family is one that can help us from making the same mistakes again.

Happy and smiling...
It is often said that Queen Elizabeth II is the last of the great monarchs. Future monarchs will not benefit from the upbringing that she had that has tooled her up with the ability to maintain a Queen-like dignity even under the most stressful situations. Future monarchs will be more emotional, make more mistakes, and generally be more like normal people. The service today is an attempt to retain the image of the great monarchy in its dying days, but it was just a smokescreen. Actually today was a missed opportunity to allow Kate and Wills the wedding they probably wanted, and the wedding most appropriate to our tight financial times.

Our monarchy will always exist, and will be strengthened by building closer ties with the British people. Changing the way they are funded, engaging more with 'normal' people, and giving them an increased element of choice over their lifestyles will be the successful methods of building the relationship with the public. Lavish weddings are great fun, fascinating, and do make people feel happy, but they are a short term treatment, and not a long term cure.

The Mall as the carriage
makes its way to the Palace
Having disposed with the topic of the Royals themselves, i want to talk about the way the day was Policed. Everyone was hoping for an incident free day, but most people will have had a feeling of dread that terrorists of some description would seize on the opportunity. Its a testament to the quality of the police commanders and the security services. There is no doubt in my mind that had there been any weaknesses in the police operation, they would have been exploited. An almost incident free day is something to be proud of.

Not only is it an example of great police leadership, its an example of how we police a peaceful crowd. Today there was no need to employ any invasive tactics such as kettling, nor were there any aggressive police movements. This was not because of the nature of the event, or the type of police officers used, it was because of the behaviour of the crowd. It demonstrates that the police respond to the situation they are faced with...where there is violence, the police will respond in a robust manner. Where the public is being peaceful, police respond in kind.

The moral of the story is...don't behave like morons. Today, apparently, the morons kept away,

Pictures below;


Hurdle 10 (Part 2) - Content

Continued from Part 1


Don't underestimate the
importance of a good headline
Post Title

Dare i say it again, less is more. I have experimented with clever, funny or abstract titles in the past, and these can be counter productive for a few reasons. Firstly, don't make life hard for the reader. The title is there as a summary of what the post is about. They are more likely to read an article that has a title that clearly reflects the content. Secondly, a keyword rich title will help your search engine rankings. Thirdly, an attempt at funny or abstract can make you look stupid if its unsuccessful.

Links

Links can be used effectively for directing readers to sources, relevant sites, email addresses or other blogs...amongst other things.

Make sure all your links
are up to date
My top tip is to avoid a link that looks like; http://www.imalazyblogger.com as it is plain to everyone that you have just copied and pasted. A better link looks like this; Clickable descriptive text. It takes a couple of seconds, and looks so much better. Of course there are exceptions, and its down to your good judgement to decide when a website is so identifiable by its web address that it merits linking in that form. One example could be match.com. Notice though, the link is http://www.match.com, but the text is just match.com. Deciding how to present links is down to you, but good link presentation says a lot about the care and attention you have invested in your blog.

Another great tool i have discovered recently is the link shorteners such as bit.ly. Not only are these great for shortening links for twitter, but they display how many times your links are being clicked. If you do this for all your links, you can assess how often your readers are actually clicking them. Be cautious though, some people don't trust these links because its not clear exactly where you will end up...


Spelling, grammar, punctuation and construction

I didn't pay much attention in primary school, and i spent most of secondary school in detention. As a result i missed out on some of the fundamentals such as spelling and grammar. Luckily, i have managed to learn what i had missed, but the legacy lives on no matter how hard i try to avoid it. The key is in the proof reading.

A blog reader is intelligent enough to distinguish between a blogger who has been lazy in their proof reading, and a blogger who hasn't. There are some mistakes i always make...these are the sorts of mistakes that fall through the net when i proof read.

Spelling and Grammar was, apparently, a whole subject at primary school so i wont attempt to tackle it in this blog post...just make sure you realise how important it is.

Other things to avoid...there will always be some people that will do these things regardless because they think that readers will appreciate the individuality, but i promise you they won't. If a blog is difficult to read, they will vote with their feet.
  • Text speak
  • OVER USE OF CAPS
  • Over use of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Writing like you talk...the great thing about the internet is that is crosses borders. Don't rebuild those borders by adding regional dialect or slang.

Length

As i write this post i am having a dilemma. Is it too long to be published as one post? Don't let post length control what you post, just let it dictate how it is displayed. Options are;
  • Headings
  • Page Break - which is where the reader will have to click "see more" to get the rest of the post
  • Breaking into a series - This is hurdle 11, i have the option of dividing the content topic into 11a, 11b etc
  • Cutting down during proof read - If you think a part of your post is unnecessary, don't be afraid to delete it.


Post Options
  • Reader Comments - I only mention this because i have noticed some bloggers disable this option. Unless you are plagued by spam bots or are posting inflammatory material, i can't see any reason to disable this. 
  • Scheduled posting - This is great if you are going to be away from a computer for a while. Write up a post and schedule it for publishing during your absence. 
I will conclude how i started, these rules are flexible. You will see that i haven't followed some of them in this post, and you should be able to work out why. As with anything, you have to find your own methods...but hopefully this post will have helped.

Bye Bye Bercow?

There is a lot of chatter today about how The Speaker blocked John Hemming MP from asking a question that, were it not for parliamentary privilege, would be in breach of a super injunction. Not once, but twice.

John Bercow
Speaker of the House of Commons
The Speaker, John Bercow, is a weak Speaker...it's been proven time and time again. We have incompetent public officials all over the place...it's  frustrating, but not always critical. An incompetent Speaker is a different matter, because it is his job to protect our constitution. His decision to block Hemming's question is evidence of his collusion with the courts, his disdain or ignorance of the importance of separation of powers, and evidence that he is not up to the job.

If the Speaker decides he is going to prevent MP's from raising super injunctions in future, he is giving the courts the green light to continue operating outside of the principles of open justice. It presents a weakness in the system that, in time, will be exploited to the detriment of democracy.

We are at the top of a very slippery slope. We need a Speaker who will encourage scrutiny of the courts, not collude with the courts to prevent it.

Vote of no confidence? Please?

Something so ridiculous...

Sometimes the world is so screwed up...example;

I just reached for a mug on the top shelf of my cupboard and knocked the sealed sugar jar off into the cats food bowl that was on the counter soaking overnight...full of water. The sugar jar opened and i am now left with a glucose liquid soaking into the carpet. If you looked at my kitchen you wouldn't image that these two things would ever mix by accident.

There must be another force at work that aims to irritate me! :)

Hurdle 10 (Part 1) - Content

This post is in two parts...part two can be found here

We have talked about a wide range of blogging issues in the last 9 Hurdles. Some technical, some theoretical, and some a little bit political. But the day has arrived that we start to address the biggest hurdle a blogger will face, getting the content of your posts right.

In this longer than usual post we will be looking at;
  • Choosing a topic
  • Pitching your post
  • Characteristics of a good post
  • Appearance
  • Post title
  • Links
  • Spelling, Grammar, Punctuation and Construction
  • Length
  • Post Options


Choosing a topic

I tend to choose a topic in two ways. I either sit down and find something to post about, or am compelled to post by something that has happened to me in the day. From bitter experience, and as my 'draft' posts will testify to, the best posts come from the latter.

In other words, don't choose the topic, let the topic choose you. I have found myself gagging to get to a computer to post about something i have read or experienced, and when i look back at those posts now i am very proud of them. The posts that have come out of an inspiration-less brainstorm are always lacking in those characteristics (see below) that make a good blog post.

Don't be pressured by your post frequency or visitor count. There have been occasions that i have realised that i have not posted anything significant for a few days and have forced myself to find something to write about. Writing these pressured posts is stressful. I find myself doing a lot of rewording, as i am trying to manufacture passion about the subject. This is not only stressful, but futile...blog readers can see right through manufactured passion. Having spent hours trying to put together a post i often end up binning it before publishing due to poor quality.

Don't waste your time, or jeopardise the quality of your blog, by forcing yourself to post...let the topic come to you.


Pitching your post

Anyone who has studied essay writing in any detail will recognise the concepts i am talking about when i look at how to pitch your post. Pitching your post is all about judging how much detail you are prepared to go into to do justice to the topic. A good blog contains posts of wide ranging detail. The levels of detail i have chosen are as follows;
  • Definition - Generally the lowest detail you can offer the reader. This will either be a dictionary definition, unsupported opinion or, for the purposes of blogging, an external link without annotation. It's useful as a way of prompting the reader to come to their own conclusions. For example; on the day of 9/11 i could have posted "Massacre: the unnecessary, indiscriminate killing of a large number of human beings or animals, as in barbarous warfare or persecution or for revenge or plunder.". This is a dictionary definition that, even though it has no author opinion or input, has huge effect on the reader. It should be used sparingly however...readers come to your blog for more than just definitions.
  • Describe - A description is an objective observation lacking in opinion and involves taking a situation and describing how it 'looks'. 
  • Evaluate - Evaluation is all about validity of arguments or data. This is probably the safe zone of any good blogger. Lets look again at the UK Alternative Vote campaign. First we need to describe the arguments on each side. To evaluate the arguments we need to decide which direction we are evaluating them from; is it evidential validity, practical validity, ethical validity or compatibility with our own opinions etc. Once we have decided which direction to evaluate from, we then need to discuss how valid each side of the argument is on the basis of our chosen direction. For example; i could decide to approch the evaluation from an evidential point of view. I would need to look at the data supporting all sides of the argument, and then choose which argument is more evidentially sound, or which argument is based on unreliable evidence. I can then present this to my reader, along with the method i used to reach by conclusion.
  • Analyse - Analysis is the breaking down of a complex topic, and identifying the essential features and relationships. Analysis is what newspapers do every day, and its a great way of tackling a complex topic and helping the reader to understand. This can be time consuming, but its time well worth spending. If you are good at analysis, people will always come to you when they are after the news story of the day explaining in a manner they understand.
  • Criticism - To be a good critic, you need to learn to be fair. A critical piece should use all of the levels of detail we have already mentioned in order to build the foundation for the argument. A critical piece isn't necessarily a negative piece. It's actually about looking at the merits, strengths, weaknesses and truthfulness of a topic, theory, or opinion.  If you are going to be critical, you need to make sure you fully understand your argument and know its weaknesses. A good critic will address the weaknesses of his argument before anyone else has the chance to, but be prepared to be hauled through the coals if you can't back it up. 

Characteristics of a good blog post

So what makes a good blog post? This is a difficult question to answer because blog success is so subjective. One persons failure is another persons success. I have, however, listed the characteristics i try to hit when i write a blog post, but the list isn't exhaustive, and you may not agree with them all.
  • Original - A blog that reproduces other people's work can be successful. It is often useful for readers to have a place available to them that consolidates all the materials on a particular subject. However running a blog on this basis is risky. The process of consolidation is very time consuming, uninteresting and just because you build it, doesn't mean they will come. So my number one characteristic of a blog post is originality. If you are posting your opinion, this is by definition original...even though it may be the same as other people. It's up to you to present it in a way that will interest people. If you are purely posting your opinion, you havn't got much to worry about. If you want to go beyond opinion, the key to success is research. Law students and graduates will already be prepared for this, it comes as second nature. Research should come from a wide range of sources, using the same source will get boring for you and the reader. I have a list of 10 or 15 websites that i read for inspiration and tend to use them to back up my arguments.

    To keep it really simple...don't rely on other people to populate your blog...rely on yourself.
  • Analytical - We have already discussed what an analytical piece looks like, and this is the level of detail i aim for for at least 60% of my posts. 
  • Real - Some law bloggers specialise in academia. Some specialise in the reporting of legal developments and some specialise in their experiences. I enjoy the latter more than the former two because their is an element of reality. Law can be such an abstract topic, and law students tend to use blogging as a way of grounding themselves. When i post i aim to start from a real life experience, either from me or someone else, and build on that. Throughout the post i allow myself to touch on academia and legal developments should the post naturally lend itself to that. As with everything, diversity is the key.
  • Emotional - This follows neatly on from Real. Depending on your motivation for blogging, you should feel free to express your emotions. Lawyers are very good at looking at both sides of an argument, and we can sometimes be trained to avoid any opinion motivated by our own emotions. However blog readers want to know that the author is a real person. When i post i try to have my cake and eat it. I will allow myself to be lawyer-like and present all sides of the argument, but i also make sure i express my personal opinion, and talk about how the topic makes me feel. I am not suggesting you fill your posts with raw emotion, but i am suggesting that your blog posts will be received well if you appear to be human.
  • Targeted - When you are drafting your post it can be very easy to drift away from your core issue into other less important collateral issues. Make a note of the main point you want to make, and stick to it. If you come across a collateral issue that you want to address, don't feel pressured into dealing with it straight away, write it down and make it the subject of your next post.
  • Topical - This is my biggest weakness. I often come up with some great post topics, but procrastinate so much that by the time i come to publish the moment has passed. It is so important to strike while the iron is hot...if you leave it too late, the risk is that your opinion is old news.


Appearance

Blog readers have a very short attention span, and will be put off by huge blocks of text (irony noted!). Addressing this problem isn't as simple as you might think. You should not feel like you have to dumb down your posts. You should not fill your posts with unnecessary imagery and formatting. And you should not feel obliged to limit your word count just because some might be put off.


My first tip is to make sure you regularly post shorter posts, snippets, videos, links, quotes or pictures. This means that your average reader can pop onto your blog in their lunch break and look at something entertaining and interesting that doesn't take too much brain power. I would suggest that for every 'long' post you do, post one shorter one. This presents variety, and means that all levels of attention span can find something to read.


When you come to write these longer posts, don't hold back. If you have something to say, say it...and don't faf with formatting or images. Once it is written, you can look at using some techniques to break it up a bit;
  • Images - Images are one of the best ways to break up your text. Using the correct wrapping will make it easier to read, and offer opportunities for the reader to take a breather if required. The choice of image is simple. I like to find images that reflect the different parts of the post, and that are either interesting or funny. For example, i have found funny cartoons that support parts of my posts. I have used diagrams to help the reader add context, and i have used absurd pictures just for laughs. The point is, the image itself doesn't matter as much as the placing. 
  • Videos - Videos are great, but a bit irritating. Embed them right at the beginning, or right at the end of a post. Even better, just offer the link. You can probably tell that i don't see a video offering much to the body of the post, but can be a useful side show.
  • Format - If you have a huge block of text it can be tempting to offer a splash of colour or change the size. The key is; less is more...don't let over-formatting detract from the text itself. I have often given up on reading an article because of stupid colours.
    I encourage use of bold and italics, but avoid underlining too much. Emphasis should not come from formatting, it should come from the words themselves. So rather than underlining or bolding, rewrite the text so it provides a natural emphasis. Your reader isn't stupid, so let them identify emphasis rather than forcing it on them.
  • Headers - As i have done with this article, use of headers can break up blocks of text and help sign post the article. Overuse can cause the reader to be confused as to where one part begins and another part ends...remember: less is more.

Continued in part 2 here




Take a break...

If you have exams, and are furiously revising, let yourself take a break to browse through www.fmylife.com. I just spent about an hour reading through it, and laughed so much i almost burst. FML.

Anti-Police Blog added to Blog Roll...why?

"...the most vehemently anti-police blog in the British Isles" is how the author of the most recent edition to the blog roll describes his blog. My regular readers will know that, as a serving officer, i am very pro police, and that this addition to the blog roll is out of character. Before i receive any more questions about its addition, i thought i would briefly explain why.

Labelling of any sort is often counter productive. I wouldn't say that my blog is necessarily 'pro police', nor would i describe Ciaran Rehill's blog as 'anti police', although he clearly would disagree. My blog is all about what i deem to be right, and what i deem to be wrong. Ciaran's blog is the same, although these rights and wrongs are based on his unique experiences, many of which have been negative ones with the police.

I came across Ciaran's blog while browsing twitter. His description is militant, and his tweets have an undertone of aggression against authority. In one exchange with a police blogger, he describes the police as being "lower than whale shit". It would be easy to immediately dismiss him as unreasonable and extremist. If you can ignore unpleasant tweets like this, you can see that he is actually doing something positive for the police.

The police are given a lot of powers to interfere in peoples lives and it is right that we support citizen journalism as an addition to the scrutiny provided by Parliament, Independent Police Complaints Commission and Professional Standards Departments. There is no doubt that there are people who have been treated very badly by the police, and their anger about that treatment is unlikely to ever change. These people want to find weaknesses in the police, and will fight to ensure that the things that have happened to them don't happen to anyone else. Unfortunately that message is sometimes lost due to their anger. If they can find a way to control that anger, they can become very powerful scrutinisers of the police, and forces should embrace that as a positive.

I love being a police officer. I hate any police misconduct. Where we let people down, we should expect to be held to account. I do not think that the official methods of scrutinising the police are sufficient, so i therefore support Citizen Journalism like this, i just hope that some anger can be put aside so that more can be achieved.


Jon Venables: What Went Wrong?

The question this documentary is asking is; can a child be rehabilitated? The answer is, as said near the end of the program, if we think an adult can be rehabilitated, then we must believe a child can.


Jon Venables: What Went Wrong

Added to documentary index...with another documentary - Panorama: The Trillion Dollar Con-Man

New Section

I have just added a new section called "Guide to Life", which is linked in the top toolbar. It's a collection of links to pages that may be useful throughout university, and beyond. 

The range will be fairly wide, and designed to help you cope with both the mundane and the unexpected.

Anyone willing to contribute a link, suggestion, or even some original content, would be greatly loved for their help. In the meanwhile i will be trawling the web to bring you the pages that may help you in the future.

When is a spade a spade?

Just been reading about the 'mission creep', and it reminded me of this clip from YPM.

BBC Justice Season Continues: See you in court

I woke up at stupid-o'clock this morning, and was cursed with insomnia. As is my usual cure for insomnia, i thought i would find myself a legal documentary. This mornings reluctant choice was Episode 3 of See you in court on BBC iPlayer.

I say reluctantly because the BBC Justice Season is getting a little tired, and although i feel slightly obligated to watch programs like this, its becoming a bit tiresome.

Actually this program revived the Justice Season, which is surprising because i find civil law mind blowing boring. This episode's main focus was about libel, and was fascinating because it showed how unfair the legal system is.

Both of the cases were David v Goliath. Individuals with very limited resources, against huge organisations with unlimited budgets. Natural justice must prevail in situations where David has a 'legitimate' grievance, otherwise our Rule of Law is discarded and replaced with the Rule of Resources. The side with the most money can ensure the potential costs are intimidating enough for the other party to settle. This is no justice at all.

If you look at the wider evidence on Libel, i think these two cases are representative of the daily challenges faced by the little guy in the High Court. It saddens me to think that libel law is the chosen battle ground for the replacement of Rule of Law with Rule of Resources.

Irritatingly, the BBC has removed episodes 1 and 2 already. Thanks BBC.


The topic deserves more than two paragraphs so keep an eye out for my follow up over the next few days.

The Lords' Experiment

Any talk of the House of Lords ought to start with a brief discussion on democracy. A lot of people argue that the House of Lords, the upper legislative house, must be elected. I take the view that there are two types of people who are of this opinion; stupid people, and that rare minority who really understand the arguments for and against. Maybe i can slightly increase that minority by letting you know my opinions, and then will put my theroy to the test by doing a little experiment.

Who be this? Elizabeth the Second,
by the Grace of God,
of the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland
and of Her other Realms
and Territories
Queen,
Head of the Commonwealth,
Defender of the Faith
(and breathe...)
Democracy is essential for a civilised nation, but it has its weaknesses. My argument is that the House of Lords must remain unelected in order to continue to compliment the House of Commons. 

Lets first look at pre 1999 House of Lords weaknesses. Prior to the House of Lords Act 1999 the Lords was made up of a majority of hereditary Peers. These were people who became a Peer by virtue of their family. This was a poor arrangement, because there was no control over the quality of peers in the house, they had no basis other than their family to sit there, and their uselessness could continue indefinitely through their family. Basically, they weren't appointed in a fair manner, and they had no real obligations to the country. The 1999 Act expelled all of these 'Pint of Ale Please' Peers, except for 92.

The Lords is now made up of Life Peers; appointed by the Queen for the whole of their life. Their peerage cannot be passed down through their family. Archbishops and Bishops; 26 of them. May sound a bit of a State v Religion issue here but I actually think their membership of the Lords gives a definite moral and spiritual element to decisions. Although i am not religious, i think this is a positive thing. Lastly, the remaining hereditary peers...for simplicity, i am not going to talk about them any more.

So the overall Lords make up now is (rounded up);

Conservative 28%
Labour 31%
LibDem 12%
Cross Bench Independant 23%
Bishops 3% 
Other 4%


Lord Mandelson - Labour appointed
Peer
Why am i in favour of an unelected house? The House of Commons is made up of some excellent elected MP's. However, its a popularity contest. Thats great but it means that skill, ability and experience can be overlooked. It's a side effect of democracy, and the Lords offers a balance to this weakness. By appointing Life Peers, we can retain and add skills. Sadly, by having so many political appointments, we retain some of the poorer peers where we could probably do with losing them. I am not in favor of this type of politically appointed Peer. I am hugely in favor of the Cross Bench, or independent, Peer.

The Cross Bench Peer is the future of the Lords. A Cross Bench Peer is a politically independent Life Peer, and is appointed by an independent commission  on the basis of
  • Achievement demonstrating a range of experience, skills and competencies; 
  • Ability to make an effective and significant contribution to the work of the House of Lords, not only in their areas of particular interest and special expertise, but the wide range of other issues coming before the House;
  • Willing to commit the time necessary to make an effective contribution
  • With some understanding of the constitutional framework 
  • Who are able to demonstrate outstanding personal qualities, in particular, integrity and independence;
  • With a strong and personal commitment to the principles and highest standards of public life;
  • Who are and intend to remain independent of any political party
  • Who are resident in the UK for tax purposes and accept the requirement to remain so.

The House of Lords Appointments Commission has only appointed 23% of the Lords, yet it's the most transparent, independent and forward thinking method of filling the house with individuals who will positively contribute to the Nation.

The Main Chamber of the House of Lords
as seen from the Strangers Gallery
The Lords should not be filled up with political appointees. It should be filled with experts, specialists, industry leaders and academics. It should be a non political balance to the Commons, weeding out practical problems, errors, bias and confusion from their unique position as independent experts. 

So my future House of Lords would continue to have Bishops, albeit in a reduced role, but all other members would be appointed by a significantly beefed up House of Lords Appointments Commission. The Commission would ensure that they are appointing a good cross section of the UK, including communities and industry. 

If we wanted to make this happen, what would we need to do? Of course the legislation would need to be changed. The appointments commission would need an increased budget. The Prime Minister must lose his ability to recommend peers to the Queen, and that ability would pass to the chair of the appointments commission. Then we need to wait as the politically appointed life peers die off, and they can then be replaced by the independent peers appointed from the commission. We could get the House of Lords cleared of the politicians in 60 years. It may sound like a long time, but in terms of Lords Reform, this is a very short time indeed!

The average age of a member of the Lords used to be published here. Some time in the last year this has vanished, and has been replaced by many 'first female' statistics. According to this article the average age of a peer is 65.  You don't get to be an industry leader, expert or respected specialist at a young age, so this average age reflects the seriousness and respect that the legislative process should be afforded. But we have young MP's, so i don't see why we can't have young Peers. The current youngest Peer is Conservative appointed Baroness Berridge age 39...so i don't think that the Lords is currently age representative.

We currently have a politically biased, non-age or culturally representative upper house. This needs to be addressed by the appointments commission now...they are the only ones who can fix this.

Lastly. I am not all talk and no action. I feel strongly about this, so will be putting myself through the appointments process for the House of Lords. 

This is risky business. I don't want to be laughed out of the office, so i have had to decide if i satisfy the above criteria enough to be taken even remotely seriously. Having put a lot of planning and research into it, i have decided that i am going to go forward with the process. The big question is why i want to do this. I have strong opinions on Lords Reform, but this isn't enough of a reason. I am young, and can offer a different perspective, but this isn't enough of a reason either. I am strongly independent, but this isn't good enough either. I want to do this because i know someone like me is desperately needed.

Lets be realistic though. As much as i want to do this, its unlikely i am going to achieve the ultimate goal of being appointed. So what do i hope to achieve from doing the process, and from blogging about it?

By doing this post i hope to draw attention to one of the alternative views on Lords Reform. I want to open up the application process to public scrutiny, and maybe get an idea of exactly what the commission is looking for in appointed peers. I will be blogging about each part of the process, so watch this space.




Next Step...The Application

The Battle of Chernobyl (2007)

I have always been fascinated with the Chernobyl disaster, and have watched a few documentaries about it. This one is the best i have found. It covers the incident itself, the methods used to control the fallout, the extent of the cover up, and the long term effects.

Some of the statistics are pretty fascinating...i will add them tomorrow.

Despite the cover up, a lot has been learned...i have no doubt that these lessons were the basis for dealing with the Japan power station.

http://www.moviesfoundonline.com/battle_of_chernobyl.php

Added to the documentary index

Hurdle 9 - Rock & Blogroll


I have just undergone a bit of a redesign of DJ and it has led me realise that managing your blog roll(s) is important to successful blogging and strong relationships with fellow bloggers.

What is a blog roll?

A blog roll is a way of sharing links on your blog page, simple as that. Sadly for some, this is where the simplicity starts and finishes. You are faced with a series of choices. which are mainly political and practical. Practically, its all about space...less is more. Politically, its a little more complicated and is explained in the following paragraphs. 

By the end of this post you should see the importance of these small decisions, even if you go back to managing your blog roll in the same way you always have.

Why have a blog roll?

There are two reasons you might have a blog roll; to share blogs you read, or to share blogs relevant to your topic. The hurdle you have to come over about blogging is that it is a community activity, not a competitive activity. Its not about who has the better blog, or who has the most visitors...it's about people with similar interests and values sharing information, ideas, thoughts and feelings on the topic. So using a blog roll is a great way to add depth to your own blog, and to build bridges with your fellow bloggers, even if you may see them as your 'competition'.

A blog roll exchange can be the first step in a long friendship with other bloggers. This friendship matters because when you are getting few visitors in the beginning it is these fellow bloggers that will keep your spirits up.


Decision the first


When i started blogging, the organisation of my blog rolls was fairly fluid and responded to the changing types of links i had. This is the best way to do it, so consider this post as something that gives you an idea of one way of managing your blog rolls, and not the necessarily the perfect way.

The first decision you need to make is about the above question, are you sharing links of blogs that you read, blogs that might be of interest, or both? There is a subtle difference between the two. Blogs that you read may also be of interest to your readers, but there may be some blogs that you don't read but would like to share because, for example, they are the leading blog in your topic. It will depend on how personal you want your blog to be. If you are trying to offer an objective blog, it may be better to stick with a 'blogs of interest' blog roll only.

Lets make the presumption, for the purpose of the rest of this blog, that we are going to have both. The first one will be blogs that i read, and the second will be blogs that might be of interest to readers.

The further decisions...


We have our two blog rolls, now we need to name them. Having experimented with various ways of naming blog rolls I have come to the conclusion that the best format for a title is short and descriptive. Other options are; funny, personal, topical, or abstract titles. Our two blog rolls are going to be called "Blogs i read" and "Other blogs of interest". They are short, will stay on one line and clearly tell the reader what the blogs are going to be about. Naming complete.

So lets say we have 5 or 6 blogs on each blog roll. We need to think about how to order them. If you are using the blogger site you have two choices; Alphabetically and by Most recently updated. This is where blogging politics starts creeping in, and blogger has solved the problem for us. The two choices involve no biased decision from us...it's either down to the name of the blog, or the frequency of posting. Therefore none of our fellow bloggers will fall out with us because we are treating one more favourably than another. 

Lets look at them both individually.

Alphabetically is self explanatory. A at the top, Z at the bottom. It offers a completely bias free order, and makes blogs easy to find. No more need be said. Ordering by date updated would be my preference.

Say i have these 6 blogs, and the blog "Amazing Blogger" hasn't posted in a year, yet "Zulu Warrior" posts every week. I want to share the most up to date and fresh blogs with my readers, which is why i would want them ordered like this. I also see an element of justice. Zulu Warrior is working really hard, yet never gets top spot on my blog. Amazing Blogger doesn't post at all, yet gets prime real estate. So lets recognise the hard work of our fellow bloggers and order by 'date last posted'.

Our next choice will be number of blogs to show. In blogger the choices are All Blogs, 5, 10 and 25. Decide this based on the 'clutter factor'. Do you want your top 5 most recently updated blogs always displayed, allowing for the reader to click "see more" to see the rest, or do you want a very long list so that the reader can still be seeing links to other bloggers when they are half way down the page? The choice is yours.

This next bit is based on the blogger site, but i should imagine other blogging sites have something similar. The tick boxes. This is all about balance. On the one hand we want to give the most amount of information to help advertise our fellow bloggers, but on the other hand we want to avoid 'the clutter factor'. The choices in blogger are; icon; title of most recent item; snippet of most recent item; thumbnail of most recent item; date of last update. My current configuration is Icon, Title of most recent, Date of last update. I chose not to have a snippet or thumbnail because i don't think they add anything more to the 'Title of most recent item'. Having the icon is useful because it tells you what type of blog it is; Blogger, Wordpress etc...it takes up very little room. 

That's tick boxes out the way, which was a lot easier than i thought it was going to be. The next section is about Blog Roll Politics.

Blog Roll Politics

Over the past few weeks my 3 blog rolls have consisted of both personal blogs and corporate blogs mixed. For example; The Guardian Law page was always topping my Law Bloggers blog roll, meaning my fellow personal law bloggers were being bumped down the list. So i decided to divide it all up between Personal Bloggers and Corporate Bloggers. 

Bloggers stick together
It is important that personal bloggers stick together, support each other, and ensure our community isn't overshadowed by corporate bloggers, or other social media. I therefore suggest that you separate your links into Personal and Corporate, and ensure that Personal bloggers have a more prime location on your blog.

Having introduced two new categories of blog roll, we need to make sure we don't clash with the clutter factor...remember less is more. By this point i have suggested that you have 4 blog rolls; Blogs i read, blogs of interest, personal blogs and corporate blogs. An easy way to reconcile them, and to half the number of blog rolls, is to merge "blogs i read" with "personal blogs" and "blogs of interest" with "corporate blogs". This isn't as arbitrary as it may seem, it is based on the importance i assign to each one. I would want my readers to see the blogs i read, and the personal blogs first. I am happy for my readers to see the blogs of interest, and corporate blogs second. The point is, its flexible, you can configure it depending on the importance you attach to each.

Blog Roll Exchange

Unsolicited adding gives
me a tingly feeling
This brings us back to why we have a blog roll, and you have three choices. You can either actively enter into link exchanges; "Hi i will link you if you will link me". This is the best way to get integrated into your topic's community. This is less relevant to linking to corporate blogs as they probably won't participate in a link exchange.

The other choice is to add blogs unsolicited...without anyone asking, and without expecting anything in return. The best time to do this is when you feel fairly established in your topics community. I like to do it to give my fellow bloggers a bit of a confidence boost. Rather than doing a link exchange where it is mutually beneficial, its nice for a blogger to see that someone is adding them without asking for anything in return. What is likely to happen is that that blogger will notice that he is getting referrals from your site, and will add you as a 'thank you'. Having found myself fairly well established, this is my prefered way of blog rolling.

Deleting...not easy
Deleting

Deleting someone from your blog roll can be dangerous, but you should start with a clear policy in your mind and stick to it. If you start without a policy in mind, and add everyone and anyone, it can become harder to delete them, which you will probably need to do to avoid 'the clutter factor', without causing offence in the future. 

My policy is that a blog will get deleted if there is more than 6 months of inactivity. I did experiment with keeping formerly active blogs on there for reference, but changed my mind. I changed my mind because the blogosphere is fickle, and i have come to conclude that that is a good thing. It encourages bloggers to keep up posting. I think a blog roll should be a fresh reflection of what the current community has to offer, not what it had to offer 6 months ago. Should that blogger start up again, i would happily add them of course.



To Conclude

  • Less is more
  • Fresh is better
  • Keep it simple

Twitter v Discrimination

This sort of story exemplifies the sorts of story DietJustice is all about...society coming together against injustice.

Scene outside the John Snow
pub this afternoon
The story is, if you haven't already heard. Two guys on a date in a pub in London, the capital of one of the most socially and sexually liberal countries in the world. Joy of Joys, and not something that DJ often experiences, the date goes well, and they have a bit of a kiss while in the pub.

Apparently the pub, The John Snow, supplied by Samuel Smith Old Brewery of Tadcaster, is run by homophobes and they were told that they were being indecent and that they must leave.

Thanks to twitter (go twitter), they haven't got away with it and the pub is currently under seige, forcing them to close all day. Awesome.

This sort of public outrage shows that homophobia, or any kind of discrimination, is unwelcome and the twitter generation are an entity to be feared. Had i been in London i would have been their to show my support!

The big question i want to ask is; is twitter becoming the cure to discrimination?

Pursuit v Crossing

Here is an example of the spilt second safety critical decisions police officers have to make every day. This is a video of a pursuit on the BBC News website. The vehicle that made off smashes through a level crossing, and the officers call off the pursuit.

Well done to the driver of the police vehicle. That was a good call, and is a great example of how highly trained our guys are.

BBC News - Pursuit Video

Crimes falling through the Met

Browsing the BBC News website today you might be fooled into thinking its April 1st; "Rebekah Brooks's 'reporters paid police' claim probed"

The cast of incompetents is only outweighed by the outrageous suggestion of the Met conducting a criminal investigation into itself.

The story is, predictably, about the endless NOTW hacking inquiry. Specifically about the comments from the sour faced Rebekah Brooks in front of a Commons select committee in 2003. She claimed, just before being silenced by the fumbling Andy Coulson, that she had paid police for stories.

Dick.
Today, some 8 years later, the Met are considering undertaking a criminal investigation into the claims. It's the next in a series of 'too little, too late' actions by the Met in relation to the hacking inquiry, discredited more by the fact that it is announced by Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, the Kratos commander on the day of the Jean Charles De Menezes shooting.

It has been clear for sometime that the Met are in no position to investigate the hacking allegations. They may not have actual bias, although it is likely, but the level of perceived bias should be enough for them to have the integrity to hand it off to another police force. We all know, although it appears that the Met do not, that perceived bias is equally as dangerous as actual bias.

Brooks.
The allegation by Brooks that she has paid police officers for information is one that goes to the heart of the police service's values. It is important that this is investigated by a body that is capable of criminal investigation. The force that is closest, geographically, to the allegations is the Met. Not only are they closest geographically, but their independence from the NOTW has already been brought into question. These two factors undermine any Met investigation into Brooks' allegations, and means that the Met should be immediately passing the investigation over to a northern England force.

Boris.
Having worked for the police for a number of years, i find the Met anomalous. The forces that i have worked for have been forward thinking, open to criticism, and demonstrated their understanding of the importance of police independence. The Met are the complete opposite, and they should be ashamed. They should be ashamed because they are 'the face of UK bobbies', and their action reflects on us all. For some reason they are stubbornly holding on to this investigation. It is either because they have something to hide, or because they are systemically incompetent. Either one is damaging to every police officer in the country.

The police service has fought systemic corruption well since the 70's and 80's. The actions of the Met with regard to the NOTW suggest to me that its unique organisation is still susceptible to the sorts of corruption that we have considered a thing of the past. I hate to say it, but the man to fix this is Boris...or Ken.

Hospital Governors - The start of my journey

I took the first step on the road of being a governor for my local hospital trust today. That first step was meeting the volunteer co-ordinator *slash* membership manager who gave me some information. He did very well considering the hospital is not yet a foundation hospital, which will spawn this council of governors, and the job description has not yet been written.

I had done some research already, but i only cared about the answer to 2 questions.

Question the first: Why has it taken the trust 7 years to apply to be a foundation trust? The implication being that by not applying, the trust didn't deem itself ready to apply and the further implication being that, had the government not forced the trust to apply, it probably wouldn't have done so. Leading onto Question the Second: Is the Executive Board capable of managing a Foundation trust?

The guy i was meeting was what i would call a 'campaign for change' type, and not a decision maker. He 'has a dream', but is far enough away from the ivory tower to be ignored. This meant he couldn't really answer these questions, other than to say that the board was 'making preparations'. I cut him some slack because the trust has applied for foundation trust status before. Sadly it fell through due to a collapsed Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal.

You will know by now that i like to give people the benefit of the doubt. You will know that i try to push for the recognition that government, departments and agencies are made up of human beings and failure and success blight humanity in equal measure. Its right that we hold these individuals to account (especially when they are being paid massive amounts of money) for failures, corruption, mismanagement and incompetence. What i want to fight against is the lack of faith in humanity we have.

An example of the aforementioned twat
Although some ideas may have failed in the past, that doesn't mean they will fail in the future. Every policy, project and reform is at the mercy of the individuals involved. A policy may fail because the minister is a twat. That same policy could come up again, and be a success because the new minister is not so much of a twat.

So this is the approach i have taken in my journey to be a Hospital Governor. I may have some preconceived ideas about what the Executive Board are capable of, but i will willing to give them the chance to 'make preparations' and turn the trust into a great Foundation Trust in the future. As a council of governors we would have the responsibility of hiring and firing the Executives. I will be in a position to hold them to account should they screw it up.

Surely the only fair way to deal with all the proposed changes, in the NHS and elsewhere, is to allow experiments, allow risk, allow creativity and allow failures. Over mitigating these reduces the chance of finding the right solution for the problem. Over mitigating these is a tactic to avoid action and just pay lip service to any acceptance that changes need to be made.

Filthy Cities - Leaping from the gross to the tasteless

Dan Snow presents
I am just watching the program Filthy Cities on BBC2, and its pretty gross. Both episodes have been gross, but not inappropriately so.  The purpose of the program is to show you what cities were like before various degrees of sanitation, they wouldn't be doing a very good job if it didn't have a few cringe moments.

Dan Snow presents it, in his usual clumsy style. The program is what i would label as 'populist', by this i mean it's not really to be taken seriously, but it is a bit of fun.

Anyway, i have watched both episodes so far and it does exactly what it says on the tin...except today i think the program went too far.

Today's program was about Paris, and part of it was looking at how they dealt with the dead bodies resulting from the mass executions. I found it pretty interesting as i didn't realise how many people were killed by the guillotine.

However, while discussing mass graves, Snow decided to interview a forensic pathologist. He turned stupid harmless car crash TV into something quite sinister with his questions about what mass graves this Pathologist had seen. Not in a tactful and respectful way, but the detail of how it smelt and looked. It took a program that was talking about quite abstract topics, to something tangible. I had images of Kosovo and Chechnya's mass graves, war crimes that still very raw in the worlds memory.

I can tolerate the images of faux rotting flesh, decapitated heads, and blood and guts in this program...but i find Dan Snows questioning about recent war graves tasteless.

I am going to watch Campus on C4 now...I know i'm safe with that?

Campus, C4, Love it.

Diet Justice on Twitter

I have always been a facebook type of guy, but i recently deactivated my account cause...well...it was annoying me.

But i thought it was about time i joined the twitter generation @dietjustice is where you can find me!


Follow dietjustice on Twitter

Response to Chris Sims, Chief Constable of West Mids' Police

I have just read The Times article "The obsession with police numbers is pin headed' by the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police and I want to say that it is a breath of fresh air in terms of clarity of representation. [version available on the ACPO website]


Mr Sims has an apparent new found political confidence since giving select committee evidence last month, and is growing into the unofficial role of "the voice of common sense" for police forces across the country. Politics has generally been avoided by police chiefs, and Mr Sims is brave to speak up. Should he speak out of turn, he will face backlask from his police authority, the home office and local MPs. He represents his officers well, so i have no doubt that he has their support, and therefore should keep up the good work.

The Times article warns against trying to identify exactly what roles are, and what roles are not, front line. Its a mistake made by the overseers at HMIC, and Chris Sims says it's of no help to the cuts debate. I agree with him. 

The 
HMIC report entitled "Demanding Times, The front line and police visibility" has defined the front line as "...those who are in everyday contact with the public and who directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law." I think this is fairly reasonable. But the report then goes on to list which roles are front line, middle office and back office, which is not so reasonable or useful. What would be more useful is looking at the functions the police perform rather than the staff that do them. Where a particular function is found to be disproportionately expensive, unhelpful, underused, or inefficient it should be dealt with by either making changes to it or removing it completely. The question should be "would this function be missed by the public or is it essential to fulfilling a core policing value?". Where the answer is no, reform or removal. Mr Sims gives one example of this 'function approach' in his force, where they no longer accept lost property reports. 


Let the police do what they are good at
don't turn them into the new social services
Near to the end of his article he alludes to cuts that effect what the police would call 'partner agencies'. These are organisations like social services, housing, and education agency's. In the pre-cuts era the police often had to be multidisciplinary because those 'partner agencies' either did not have the resources to do their jobs, or they simply slacked off knowing the police would pick up it up. In reality, the police's duty of care is the widest out of all of the public services and therefore we end up looking after the mentally ill, the homeless and the vulnerable where the mandate to do so rests with another agency. The risk of cutting funding to partner agencies is that the police will, by default, have a duty to pick up the slack.


So a cautious well done to Chief Constable Chris Sims, lets hope his foray into front line(!) politics is a successful one.