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Friday, April 30, 2010

Dangerous territory... politics

This is and has always been a learning blog. But it is impossible to ignore the fact that a general election is less than a week away, so I suppose it had to crop up at some point.

The Chairman of the Reed Group and my boss, James Reed has done some interesting little interviews of the three potential Secretaries of State for Work and Pension, which are posted on our jobsite. In them he asks each of the candidates the same five questions so you can compare their answers.

How on earth am I going to make this relevant to learning...?

Well, the thing that has been making my blood boil over the length of this campaign is the degree to which we are all complicit in allowing the three major parties to get away with adversarial positioning rather than actually testing their assertions.

A couple of quick examples:

Not safe in our beds: overall crime and nearly every individual type of crime has never been lower since records began. It has been falling consistently since 1996 (if you don't believe me go look at the British Crime Survey data). But you wouldn't know this from any of the major parties... Broken society? Words fail me!

This is going to hurt... but I'm not going to tell you how much. As Greeks are on the edge of open revolt against the further cuts in public sector pay and increases in taxes that are being placed on them as conditions of support from the EU, we in the UK blunder on naively assuming that our economy is much sounder than Greece's. Do you know how big the UK's structural deficit is? (If not click here). All the three main parties seem to be trading insults around the £6bn that Labour is accusing the Tories of threatening to cut straight after the election. Yet the Institute for Fiscal Studies has criticised all three of failing to disclose their real plans. (It's well worth reading Stephanie Flanders on the difference between British and Greek debt if the above worries you too much)

They are all behaving like embarrassed parents, who when confronted by a child who asks an awkward question they don't want to answer point into the distance and say, "Woo! Look at that! Shiny!"

My point is, if you are ever going to learn anything of value, don't accept what you are told. Go and check for yourself...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

And stay awake because it will all change tomorrow...

With some sense of satisfaction and potentially equal concern, I think I am starting to understand the value of twitter (I have a tendency to be a little late to parties).

Having blogged before about the fact that I couldn't really see the value of it and admitted to worrying about those who have the time to fritter their lives away in twitter, this is mildly embarrassing.

I am an evangelical fan of RSS feeds and Delicious and love what I have learned through them over the past two years. But I have been immensely busy at work over the last couple of months and have not had the time to work methodically through the unread items in Google reader that are starting to pile up.

This was what I liked about RSS. Emails are generally chores and obligations, rarely ideas or motivators. RSS by contrast was stuff that I was interested in. But if it got on top of me I could always hit the "mark all read" button. However this always felt like a bit of a betrayal (the tyranny of the unread) and I've been doing it more often recently.

And so I got the joy in twitter. It doesn't mind if you go off and earn a living for most of the day. It will be there when you get back and will not pointedly remind you how much you have been avoiding it. And most of the good and interesting ideas get retweeted if you follow enough people with shared interests.

Learning without guilt. How marvellous!