Radio Gaga

Radio has undergone many development in recent decades, however I still have the same love/ hate relationship with radio I have had since my teenage years. The principal development is the move from broadcast media, to on-demand streaming over the internet. Yet, radio still performs the same function of a background noise to other tasks, then your attentions gets drawn into it for a while before returning to the background. Perhaps the major change is that there is so much more choice now, so we are perhaps more inclined to find really good radio, rather than tolerate whatever is available over analogue broadcast.

I love radio because, for me it is a way of keeping abreast of ideas and especially music, without having to actively select music on a track by track basis. I hate radio because it so often fails to provide music or content I want to listen to.

I don’t feel as though I’m asking for much. I simply want to listen to a general selection of the latest music, from a nice mixture of genres, with the occasional old classic thrown in. Ideally with good music coming to the fore, based on popularity with peers. I do also like genre specific radio, but mostly I prefer a little bit of everything.

The idea of personalised internet radio, which throws up a selection of music based on your past preferences, was hugely appealing to me. I am very frustrated that it doesn’t work terribly well. It tries to pigeon hole my preferences and I get stuck in very limited sub genres. I feel I have to actively do whatever I can to maximise the randomness. So I am left with the problem of it no longer being radio as I have to actively control what it plays too much. These problems I have found with services such as LastFM or Spotify.

So, there is perhaps still very much a place for curated content, the traditional DJ (Disc Jockey), selecting the music that they like and that which they think listeners will find interesting. I believe this is true, I was a massive fan of the late John Peel, because he was a true DJ. However the vast majority of radio DJs don’t follow this philosophy, commonly selecting music from a list, someone else has generated, so, really, what is the point of having a DJ?

My major problem with commercial radio and a large chunk of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), or the BBC, in UK terms, is that music is selected for non-musical reasons. Music may be selected to ‘appeal’ to a certain demographic, for example young people or old people. Does anyone really think that their taste in music is determined by where they live, their socio-economic status, their age? No, music is music!

I can understand why commercial radio does this, there role is to maximise the number of listeners all the time to attract the advertising revenue, but this means that no-one is truly happy with such radio. PBS does sometimes do better, because instead it strives to provide content that some people will like and through a wide diversity in content, aiming to provide something that everyone likes at some point. It is this reason why PBS trumps commercial radio, it is something for everyone. however even the BBC don’t do this quite enough, particularly Radio 1 and 2. I struggle to find many DJs I like enough to make a point of regularly listening to them.

Sometimes, great things happen when you are not searching for them. I wrote on this blog recently that I am learning Welsh. To help with my Welsh, I’ve been listening to Welsh language radio, to improve my listening skills and pick up some vocabulary. I found a DJ I really love on the BBC Radio Cymru, in Georgia Ruth Williams, someone who plays an interesting selection of music, old and new, from Wales and around the world. Her programme is fantastic, exactly how radio should be, teh DJ putting some effort in to select a programme of music. Yes there is a focus on Welsh music on this radio show, but there is nothing wrong with that in my view! I just like hearing strange electronic noise, followed by beautiful classical music. Good music over trying to make an appeal to people for non-musical reasons.

I should also plug WFMU here, this New Jersey, USA based radio station is especially wonderful, with several excellent DJs.

 

 

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TTIP and the Threat to Democracy

Currently discussions are taking place between the EU and the United States to ‘agree’ a trade treaty (TTIP), along side a similar treaty with Canada (CETA).  The issue is that such trade agreements are going too far and making the world a less reasonable and less democratic place. These treaties are not about opening up international trade, they aim to restrict it, though removing control over laws and regulations from the democratic control of people. Laws and regulations are the oil that keeps society running. They are vital to industrial and post-industrial economies.

A pre-industrial economy is largely based on self sufficient communities where almost all goods and services are produced locally by the community for the community. Excess production is then traded with other communities for luxuries. In such a society there is no real need for laws and regulations, the community polices itself, it is essentially an anarchy.

With industrialisation, comes specialisation, a community specialises its production, increasing efficiency and quantity of production, it then trades almost of of its production to fund buying in its other needs. With such a system , laws and regulations are needed as there is no longer a community based based system ensuring standards, rules are required to ensure trade is fair. A community is generally happy with this arrangement as the overall quality of life improves.

Furthermore, it becomes more efficient to standardise, the apply the same regulations and standards across wider economic areas, to include more and more communities. Often the best standards aren’t adopted, but there is nonetheless a net benefit to every participating community. The gain from adopting the standard is greater than the benefit of maintaining a local standard. Such a system works because it is consensual, a community voluntarily gives up some of its local decision making for a net benefit, it accepts and adapts to the new standards. Rules also ensure the environment is protected, that communities have such things as safe water to drink and access to facilities.

The problem with international trade agreements, such as GATT, TTIP and CETA is that communities have no say, no opt out in the standards set by such arrangements. There is no democratic control if  changes in rules or standards start to lead to the net detriment of a community. Essentially there is a trust that standards are acceptable to a community. However if an outside body, or the effect of a trade arrangement, changes the standards in a way unacceptable to a community, the community is left in a difficult position. Accept the changes to standards, but resort to local production to maintain the standards the community wants, effectively decreasing the production capacity of the community. Its a step backwards in the world economy. The standards, the regulations, the laws are no longer the oil that keeps society going, but something every individual has waste time and thus productivity finding ways to  work around the rules, in effect the standards become worse than having standards in the first place.

Then there is ISDS, a system of international courts where corporations can sue governments if it enacts rules that can be established as being detrimental to access to markets for international corporations. for a government to adapt regulations to suit a changing world, it may have to pay a fine to the corporation, so governments will tend not to change regulations. The result being that the regulations become meaningless.

Historically ISDS clauses were placed in international trade agreements to prevent governments exploiting a foreign companies investment by ceasing assets or changes the terms of an agreement. This justification does not apply to the EU, Canada or the US, which already have domestic court systems to prevent such arbitrary decisions. ISDS in TTIP or CETA can only work against democracy, or the will of people in communities.

For example, food regulations, to a large degree regulations exist to ensure that any food you buy is safe to eat, or has a label to tell you that the product is Kosher, Halal, GM-free, free-range, etc informing you that you can eat such a labelled product. So, if this trust in regulations is lost, people will no longer be happy to buy food (or indeed any product) from all over the world, but individually seek to find producers they can trust locally. Its just a massive retrograde step. It’s creating an anarchy on a global scale, without the benefit of policing by the community of the world.

What is especially worrying is that these problems are well known, especially the lack of democratic accountability, but the political establishment has done nothing to address these concerns. Democracy has to work from the bottom (the people who live in communities) upwards, with law making powers given to the centralised establishment rather than the other way around. rather than be imposed from a centralised establishment, a top-down approach is profoundly undemocratic, it’s essentially the feudal system the world had thought it had seen the last of. All the gains that society has made on the last two centuries will be lost unless these arrangements are halted and power returned to the people, democracy.

 

A Democratic Brexit?

Like many people across Europe, I find it rather strange that the UK is to have a referendum on the question of whether to leave or remain in the European union (EU). There really is no popular demand for such a vote. however it seems as though we will be having this vote at some point this year and people don’t seem engaged or interested in such a question. I think most people know that the UK is only having this referendum for party political reasons in the ruling Conservative party.

All my life, as a UK citizen I have never had the opportunity to vote on any matter regarding the EU before, so it does seem a really bizarre question, I would like to be asked what direction I feel the EU should go in. I and I think most UK citizens are neither passionately for the EU or against it. Indeed it seems that only those towards the extreme right and extreme left are against the existence of the EU, whilst most people of the political centre generally have a favourable attitude towards the EU.

I describe myself as a Euro-pragmatist, I believe international cooperation is a good thing, provided it’s democratically accountable and delivers mutual benefits. I am also a strong believer in devolution, I believe political power should be transferred to citizens at as local a level as is practical, the EU is, regrettably, a centralising institution.

So, there are economic benefits of being a member of the EU and disadvantages. Furthermore there are advantages and disadvantages in leaving in the EU. However, even to a relatively well informed person, it is difficult to make an assessment of the balance between the two posibilites.

My main criticism of the EU is it’s lack of democratic accountability. Most decisions are made by the Council of Ministers, an appointed and thus undemocratic body. Then there is the European Parliament, which has few powers and MEPs are elected via a proportional system, which gives Wales 4 MEPs, it  takes a massive change in party affiliation to change representatives and have any real influence. It took the Liberal Democrats falling to 7% of the vote to lose their Welsh MEP (the fall of the LibDems had nothing to do with EU policy), this allowed a huge surge in support for UKIP to get their one Welsh MEP (which was arguably more to do with the immigration issue than the EU per se).

So, on democratic grounds, perhaps the UK should reject the EU. But, and it is a massive but, the UK doesn’t have an effective democratic framework either! We have an arcane FPTP system, suited to two major party blocs which don’t use whipped votes. Nearly every UK parliamentary vote is whipped and we now have a multi-party democracy. At the last election one third of voters did not vote for one of the two traditional blocks, even though these ‘minority’ parties had zero chance of forming a government.

The problem with British democracy is that every time the electorate is asked a question or there is an election, the ‘choice’ is always trying the pick the least bad option between two possibilities. It is this same choice we are being offered with the EU referendum: Is staying in or leaving the EU the least worst option.

My personal feeling is to remain in the EU, even if only for the fact that membership is likely to buffer the crippling effects of the Conservative regime in London. I think that the electorate will do what they tend to do, which is choose the devil they know rather than the devil they don’t know. However I don’t think the result will be in any way conclusive. I would imagine turnout will be really low, because the vast majority of people are not really engaged with this issue, but there will be a desire to kick Cameron and his cronies.  The opinion polls also suggest it will be close, so perhaps neither the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ campaign will gain >50% support. It could be that the UK leaves the EU, when the vast majority of people didn’t really want to.

 

 

Coming Out

One of the main problems with being anxious is a fear of being misunderstood. This fear can be so pervasive that it prevents the anxious person from being themselves expressing how they really feel. so, the anxious person will hide their true feelings, act in a way removed from their real lives. The anxious person has created a wall between the world and themselves. The anxious are sensitive people who don’t like to cause upset to others.

Progress in overcoming anxiety is often hampered by genuine misunderstanding. Often the anxious person is different, is unconventional, so people may not understand them. This is often why being a social outsider is challenging because socially there isn’t often the time or opportunity to make it clear where you are coming from, what the back story behind how you are acting or what you are expressing stems from. Really, convention does hold everyone back, it stops people listening and humans often seem to be hard-wired to leap to a quick conclusion. Thus outsiders are generally at a social disadvantage, unless communicating with fellow outsiders, leading them into sub cultures of fellow outsiders.

Regardless of whether someone is an outsider or not, anxiety itself causes exactly the same problems,  the fear of being misunderstood holds the person back and they send out unclear unconventional signals.

When I was an anxious person, all I wanted to do was be myself, do what I wanted to do and express how I really felt. Essentially, the anxious person wants to ‘come out’ to make a statement to the world:

“I am going to be myself, express how I really feel, do what I want to do. I know that sometimes some of you will misunderstand me, I’m happy to explain, but the fact that you misunderstand me is actually your problem, it’s not mine anymore.”

Having taken this step, it is a very liberating step and there is a sense of release and for a while, you can be too open, seem over-excited by little things, because of this it seems that there is a greater misunderstanding of you. So, there is a temptation to ‘crawl back into your shell’. however it is important to push on, such a person is new at being themselves publicly, they are new to a whole different way of socialising, it takes practice to re-develop social skills in a new way, to learn when it is appropriate to talk about themselves and to learn when it isn’t necessary or important.