Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Who wants to go through life defining themselves as a 'non-driver'?

Brendan O'Neill raises the important issue of how filling in a form forces us to indelibly define our lifelong identity by ticking a box. But for some reason he is only willing to tackle the easiest question: religion.

There are bigger issues here.

Campaigning cyclists are gear-gnashingly worried that insufficient numbers of people will tick the “Cars In This Household: None” box. The Rail Passengers Association is on a mission to encourage as many non-drivers as possible to declare their non-driving. It argues that only by getting a realistic snapshot of how many cars there are in modern-day Britain (fewer than we think, apparently) can we challenge such allegedly problematic institutions as multi-story car parks, and the privileging of Jeremy Clarkson in various prime time BBC TV programmes.

But if lots of non-drivers choose not to tick “Cars In This Household: None”, I won’t be surprised. Why? Because people generally don’t like to define themselves negatively, by what they aren’t rather than by what they are. “Cars: None” – it sounds so passive, almost identity-effacing, like "No Milk, Please" or "No Telegraph Today, Thanks". The majority of non-drivers, of which I am one, see our non-possession of a driving licence not as the be-all and end-all of who we are, not as the thing that defines us, but simply as an indication that we've had better things to do than get around to taking the test. Our lack of a driving licence is in many ways the least interesting thing about us. It merely indicates how we don’t get around, rather than saying anything about which modes of transport we do use (in my case, Boris bikes and the number 100 bus).

That’s the trouble with the new tubism of the Brunel-ite, occasionally ranting, intolerant variety – it is seeking to create a movement based on a non-use, based on the absence of something (a car) rather than on the presence of something (a hobby horse). It is entirely negative, allowing itself to be defined by its relationship to car drivers: “They are crazy because they don't drive in the bus lane; we are rational because we do.” All those recent hare-brained schemes to create a new out-and-proud public transport movement, with Americans being invited to “come out” as cyclists and join the apparently enlightened Bob Crow-Boris Johnson set of brave car-bashers, even to brand themselves with a neon yellow high-vis tattoo, are ultimately aimed at building a school of thought defined by its absence of a certain kind of paperwork: the right to use a car. It has to be the least inspiring movement of recent years. It only tells people what they should not drive, and hectors them for being dumb and gullible if they do drive it.

It’s no wonder non-drivers at large – everyday, normal tube users and train commuters outside of the irascible metropolitan set for whom cars are the greatest evil – have not been signing up to the new Crossrail movement. That is presumably because they don’t want to define themselves as “non-drivers” when, in reality, they might well drive a variety of things: golf balls, screws into walls, hard bargains, snakes out of Ireland, their editors up the wall, whatever. It is a very sad and hollow man who goes through life advertising to anyone who will listen what he doesn’t drive, yet who rarely articulates the vehicles and footwear he does travel in. Some people will likely pass over the “Cars: None” box not because they are daft or brainwashed, but for the same reason that they keep their distance from public transport – because they don’t believe that their lack of a car is the very essence of their journey to work.

Please note: Unlike the "religion" question, question H14 (Cars or Vans) is a so-called "mandatory" question. Exercise your human right to civil disobedience and join the inspiring rebels in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt by refusing to tick the "None" box. You will not be kettled.


Next up, how to avoid defining yourself by your lack of an NVQ Level 3.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The economics zeitgeist, 27 March 2011


This week's word cloud from the economics blogs. I generate a new one every Sunday, so please subscribe using RSS or the email box on the right and you'll get a message every week with the new cloud.

The words moving up and down the chart are listed here.

I summarise around four hundred blogs through their RSS feeds. Thanks in particular to the Palgrave Econolog who have an excellent database of economics blogs; I have also added a number of blogs that are not on their list. Contact me if you'd like to make sure yours is included too.

I use Wordle to generate the image, the ROME RSS reader to download the RSS feeds, and Java software from Inon to process the data.

You can also see the Java version in the Wordle gallery.

If anyone would like a copy of the underlying data used to generate these clouds, or if you would like to see a version with consistent colour and typeface to make week-to-week comparison easier, please get in touch.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The economics zeitgeist, 20 March 2011


This week's word cloud from the economics blogs. I generate a new one every Sunday, so please subscribe using RSS or the email box on the right and you'll get a message every week with the new cloud.

The words moving up and down the chart are listed here.

I summarise around four hundred blogs through their RSS feeds. Thanks in particular to the Palgrave Econolog who have an excellent database of economics blogs; I have also added a number of blogs that are not on their list. Contact me if you'd like to make sure yours is included too.

I use Wordle to generate the image, the ROME RSS reader to download the RSS feeds, and Java software from Inon to process the data.

You can also see the Java version in the Wordle gallery.

If anyone would like a copy of the underlying data used to generate these clouds, or if you would like to see a version with consistent colour and typeface to make week-to-week comparison easier, please get in touch.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Strange takedown on BBC blog

The following excerpt appeared today on the right-hand side of various BBC blogs:


The link points to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/andrewharding/2011/03/squabble_over_mandelas_missing.html

But when you click on it, Mandela's [what?] is not the only thing that's missing. The post itself has been taken down from Andrew's blog.

Libel threat? Quick change of mind for extra fact-checking? BBC risk-aversion? I wonder. Quite strange that the post remains highlighted in the "Latest from BBC Blogs" on all the other reporters' blog pages (and for that matter, on Andrew's too).

Maybe we'll find out if we keep refreshing the page long enough.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The economics zeitgeist, 13 March 2011


This week's word cloud from the economics blogs. I generate a new one every Sunday, so please subscribe using RSS or the email box on the right and you'll get a message every week with the new cloud.

The words moving up and down the chart are listed here.

I summarise around four hundred blogs through their RSS feeds. Thanks in particular to the Palgrave Econolog who have an excellent database of economics blogs; I have also added a number of blogs that are not on their list. Contact me if you'd like to make sure yours is included too.

I use Wordle to generate the image, the ROME RSS reader to download the RSS feeds, and Java software from Inon to process the data.

You can also see the Java version in the Wordle gallery.

If anyone would like a copy of the underlying data used to generate these clouds, or if you would like to see a version with consistent colour and typeface to make week-to-week comparison easier, please get in touch.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The economics zeitgeist, 6 March 2011


This week's word cloud from the economics blogs. I generate a new one every Sunday, so please subscribe using RSS or the email box on the right and you'll get a message every week with the new cloud.

The words moving up and down the chart are listed here.

I summarise around four hundred blogs through their RSS feeds. Thanks in particular to the Palgrave Econolog who have an excellent database of economics blogs; I have also added a number of blogs that are not on their list. Contact me if you'd like to make sure yours is included too.

I use Wordle to generate the image, the ROME RSS reader to download the RSS feeds, and Java software from Inon to process the data.

You can also see the Java version in the Wordle gallery.

If anyone would like a copy of the underlying data used to generate these clouds, or if you would like to see a version with consistent colour and typeface to make week-to-week comparison easier, please get in touch.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Price tag, we don't want your price tag

I have been listening to a charming pop song by the delightful young artist "Jessie J", prompted by the ravings of a tipsy man on the tube (long story, don't ask).

Some of the lyrics go like this:
Seems like everybody's got a price,
I wonder how they sleep at night.
When the sale comes first,
And the truth comes second,
Just stop for a minute and smile

It's not about the money, money, money
We don't need your money, money, money
We just wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the price tag
What a refreshing attitude, I thought! This insightful young woman has not only written a song about the important and neglected issue of pricing, for the first time since the rapper Meaningful Contribution To Human Progress changed his name to 50 Cent. But she has expressed a subtle understanding of the fact that not all economic incentives are material ones. In many situations, consumers really do just want truth, or a smile, and not a material object. This is implicit in the nature of most exchanges, especially in a knowledge-driven economy.

So imagine my surprise when I logged onto iTunes to buy this song. What do I see but this:


A song called "Price Tag", about how things shouldn't have a price tag, has a price tag!

Many tears were shed over the depressing hypocrisy of this compromised artist. My faith in humanity is shaken. Shattered, in fact.

(I still bought it though.)