Thursday, January 17, 2008

On knowledge, known and unknown!

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I love the Woody Allen quote '...some drink deeply from the river of knowledge, but others only gargle...' in the article 'Ignorance is not blissful' in todays Bristol Evening Post. Woody's quote brings to mind many of Bristol's barely gargling City Councillors!!

The article was a very entertaining read, and the end - 'Knowledge is a strange thing. You now know what I know, and what we know is that much of what everyone thinks they know isn't worth knowing.' - was reminiscent of former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Remember when Rumsfeld said 'There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.'

Interesting thing is that the Evening Post article was written by the Reverend Henry Thomas, whose work is based on faith not knowledge.

Ban those with power from using jargon to blind us !!

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We'd all be a bit more empowered if people in power at all levels were required not to try to blind us with jargon. Recent reports therefore give an interesting and very important angle on the Heathrow Airport expansion consultations. They are indeed using excessive and unrequired jargon such as "periodic emissions cost assessment", "net present value terms", "mixed mode operations" and "external climate change costs".

Use of jargon in this way is a well known unfair technique of presentation and argument. It is commonplace in politics, local and central government operations and elsewhere in our society (not least advertising/marketing attempts at persuading us to consume more than we need). Its no surprise that the Plain English Campaign are up in arms about the consultation documents.

Great to see Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer putting a very good question on this to Gordon Brown at this week's Prime Minister's Questions. Brown's response was patronising instead of plain however, much to his discredit.

Sustainable Communities Bill now law - excellent!!

Great news that the Sustainable Communities Bill has finally become law!! Councils now have a legal duty to set up citizens panels made up from all sections of the community and try to reach agreement with them on community suggestions about improving local quality of life. Central Government then has a legal duty to try to reach agreement with councils on action it will take on locally agreed suggestions. Suggestions for change come from communities and go to central Government instead of the usual other way around. I'd like more radical decentralisation but this movement is certainly in the right direction! The Unlock Democracy organisation are now putting money and staff into getting the new law used at local level (go to their website for guidance, link below).

Its excellent work by Local Works campaigners like Ron Bailey and Stephen Shaw (Local works now based at Unlock Democracy). They were assisted by the very many people who have persistently lobbied Government and their MP (see my previous postings supporting the Bill). The Government and some of its 'loyal' MPs dragged their feet on supporting the Bill, including my MP Kerry McCarthy. Campaigning achieved very large cross-party support however, and with some concessions (reducing the radical nature of the original Bill somewhat) it gained Government support.

Most coucillors just dont cut the mustard: The real state of the city

1 comment:
Remember Chooseday? The campaign to encourage the 'smart choice' of
leaving the car at home on a Tuesday, and walking, cycling, or taking the
bus instead. It was launched just a few weeks ago, with the enthusiastic
support of Bristol City Council.

Fast forward to the City Council's much hyped 'State of the City' debate
this last Tuesday. Lots of talk about transport, of course. Then
Councillor Barbara Lewis dared to talk about 'smart choices', asking all
those members who'd come to this 2pm weekday meeting in the centre of
town on foot, by bike, or by bus to identify themselves.

A smattering of hands went up, but most councillors just looked

That probably said more about the real state of the city than any of the
fine words in hours of debate.