Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bad Cop; Good Cop

As we prefer that Junkk.com extols all that is positive and proactive, it is often this blog that gets used to excise the eye-twitching demons that often beset us. 

I am also aware that the %age of my blogs may drift into areas of a... critical nature.

And of these, more than a few do seem to get targeted at the activities of a certain organisation. Hence it is a rare and welcome opportunity to leap to their defence having read Why don't Greenpeace make things happen?

So here you go: Greenpeace do make lots of things happen. And, what's more, a lot of them have been, are and doubtless will be pretty spiffy.

However, as this blog does outline, they can drift off the path of wonderfulness on occasion, and by my reading of this one I'd have to say the correspondent has a point... or two. As he writes (jn case the link drops): 'The back-story is too complicated to go into here, but the question at the heart of this debate is whether developing world countries like India should become the 'dustbin of the world'.

How I get Greenpeace into this is  because they are 'cock-a-hoop that the Clemenceau (a big carrier packed with asbestos en route to an indian ship-breakers) has been stopped - largely thanks to the publicity campaign that they waged against it. They say that stopping the Clemenceau will force Western countries to face up to their responsibilities regarding waste.' Good point.

But... 'The workers of the Alang shipyards in Gujarat, who were depending on the Clemenceau contract for their livelihoods, are less sure. They'd rather feed their families than be sacrificed on the altar of Greenpeace's environmental principles..' Indeed, though there is the not insignificant caveat: '... even if that means the risk of cancer down the line.' Whoops, compromise time. But this has cropped up recently on our own fair shores with 'Ghost ships' from the US, and countless other fair-trade stuff which is great in, and on, principle, but avoids certain 'here-and-now' facts of life... or survival.

It's the conclusion that hit home, and I have to quote it here even though it inspired the title which I felt I had to clarify: "But then I guess penniless, illiterate villagers are low-emitters of carbon. And that's the problem with Greenpeace and much of environmentalism - it's all about STOPPING things happening." Of course its not, but by golly an awful lot certainly is. And it's causing a no small frustration all round, as I have blogged often before.

But as I'm being a good cop today, let's end where the writer does, on a positive note, well... plea: "If only all that campaigning energy  could be funnelled into making things happen - i.e balancing environmental concerns with those of people who need to feed their families." 

To which I say "Oh, yeah!". And that applies nearer to home, too.

Let me though, I have a hypothesis!

I miss Tomorrow's World. It was on prime time, and it made nerdy science-stuff interesting, not to mention inspiring (a bit like Junkk.com I hear you say, no?). And as I can't think of anything that has since replaced it (and while I do confess to the odd peek and snigger, Sky's 'Brainiac' ain't even close), I think I can trace the fact that Universities are closing down Physics and Chemistry Departments left and right to this sad fact.

Which is why I quite perked up when I saw this: Science Comes to the Masses (You Want Fries With That?)
And I quote: "A scientist walks into a bar. More than 100 people are there, eager to hear all that she has to say and ask a lot of questions. No joke. Science is not cold and remote in this setting. It's live, interactive, free and informal, with a drink or two. The purpose is to make science accessible and even fun to anyone with the time to stop by." Amen. Not to mention... coooooool!

At first I thought it was one of those dashed clever ideas from our cousins over the pond, but it turns out they copied it from... us! It all started with an article in Nature by one Duncan Dallas, now a retired television producer, who started Café Scientifique in 1998 with a note posted in a bar in Leeds: "Where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to discuss the scientific ideas and developments which are changing our lives."
Café Scientifiques in Britain received public financing to get started, and dozens are now held around the country.
Now, a plan forms in my head....


Well, we do say that we do the trawlin' to spare you all the crawlin'...(around).  

Because it's one thing to have access to a wide world of web at your key and return, but it's quite another thing to get to grips with it all.  We sure can't, and it's our day job! But we do our best, and our antennae are always sensitive to obscure little snippets out in the ether.

One such was this: A Meeting Of The Mindless, from a pretty useful blog I came across. Useful for sure in terms of content, and also in terms of opinion, though I have to say I was not really with the author on this one. Not so much the facts (and who can argue with them?), but the 'tude inferred.

As (I hope I'm right in saying) Voltaire once declared: 'I may disagree with what you say, but I'll give my life for your right to say it'. Personally I'm iffy on the life-giving stuff (so no cartoons in Junkk.com about our good chums Mid-East of here), but pretty up on the rest. So I have to say that I am a little less than impressed with the way things are going in this area worldwide, what with Mr. Irving getting banged up and all for being nothing more than a self-delusional raving nutter who should have been ignored rather than martyred with a multi-year prison sentence that is in excess of what some folk get for much more physically violent assaults than writing offensive dross.

What we seem to have here is more 'I may not agree with what you have to say, and I also don't think you should have a mind of your own and listen to anyone else our group don't happen to agree with', which I'm not sure is quite what Mr. V was going for, concept-wise.

Now, I haven't read (the missus has, and said it was a cracking yarn) Mr. Crichton's book yet, but I'm read a lot of his other ones. And whatever else you may wish to lay at his door, mindless is not one of them. Nor is he too shy on scientific training. Or, for that matter, imagination (Jurassic Park, anyone?). So if he has arrived at a view, I'd say he's entitled to it simply by being a a person, and worth respecting (if not agreeing with) as a resource by virtue of the points he has on the board.

I just find it sad that anyone who does not toe a certain line (Jeremy Clarkson, David Bellamy, Michael Crichton, etc) ends up on the receiving end of some rather extreme vilification and name-calling, which only drives a wedge between folk like me and the messages and actions we would wish to support. What I need is objective information, reasoned debate, humour and courtesy. Not name calling and throwing of toys out of prams when things don't go 100% the desired way.

It was telling that in a recent interview Zac Goldsmith (of the Ecologist) was put on the defensive by his joining Mr. Cameron's Tory Eco-committee. But as he robustly countered, the best way to effect change is from within (a view Junkk.com certainly subscribes to in word and deed). 

Constantly harping and demanding that people only listen to one side is just plain silly.

Here is the noose

I was reading an interesting piece on responsibility (in the guy at the top sense) in today's Guardian, snappily titled:

Basically it discussed how the word has been devalued by the deeds that (don't) surround it; a view with which I can only concur.

It has rapidly become something of a confessional 'get out of jail free' card, in some cases literally as figuratively.

Although in this case the big issue surrounds the attempt to delay and/or conceal, waaaaay too many in public life, with tremendous public, er, responsibility, have figured out that a quick, insincere 'it was on my watch' mea culpa works wonders to make the past and present go away, and the future look a whole load rosier a lot more quickly.

But what is amazing is how many still try to bend things to the maximum weasel level, and still get away with it. A certain cigar-chomping, trousers-round-his-ankles-in-the-Oval-Office ex-Prez springs to mind here.

What they have managed to arrange is that magnificent nirvana of public life (and/or in many cases paid service): authority with responsibility... but no accountability or consequences. They may be 'responsible' by being at the head of the chain (or simply being caught with their trousers down), but they are not to blame. Neat.

In some cases I have a certain sympathy. In many organisational structures, and certainly government, there is no way the guy at the top can be aware of every action by subordinates, even though they are carried out in their/government's (or business')/people's (or shareholder's/customer's) name. So it is often hard to direct one's ire fully at such an individual if they really were not part of the whatever it was that has blown up. Unless of course they have been complicit in the setting up, maintenance, preservation of or failure to address a system that allows such things to happen, and keep on doing so. I have a real problem with ministers 'taking responsibility', blaming juniors and then no one is ever brought to book at any level. Such status quo is unacceptable, because it is being successfully abused so much these days. And the media must share some blame. How many cases are tenaciously followed-up to a genuine conclusion beyond the first furore in favour of new pickings.? Not many.

Even with Junkk.com's minute structure, there are many things I am not aware of, and many things I have noted that may yet to be addressed. But I really do my best to stay on top of them and follow up. Especially if it is brought to my attention. And boy to I get grumpy if it's something  I have seen as a problem and asked for it to be  dealt with and it hasn't.

I think some slack does need to be cut. But when you get to the end of that rope ,and if you still haven't handled the problem,  it should be allowed to do what it was meant to do, so that another can come in and sort things out.