Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer campaigning links

Bit of a bias towards strategy and planning on this one, as that's where my head is to some extent at today.

Training resources on systems, power, leadership and campaigns from the New Economics Organisers Network.

Design thinking (read: campaign strategy resources) via Beth's blog and the Greenpeace Mobilisation Lab Campaign Accelerator model.

And bucketloads of more planning resources via the DIY Toolkit

Heroes Journey story-mapping ooojimy from the Dancing Fox

Jenny Ross from Bond on theories of change

Collaboration cards toolkit

Campaigning boardgame? Yes please!

8 top tips for planning a march/protest/equivalent event (Hatcher Group)

Article on non-linear planning in Nonprofit: Absolutely Fabulous which is particularly helpful on the catch 22 of data - you need data in order to commit resources to a project but you need the resources to get the data...

The Powercube - a new way to understand power-relationships.

What does a globally connected, thriving, capacity-building ecosystem for modern advocacy look like? (Report from Greenpeace Mobilisation Lab)

Approaches to Co-creation (Joanna Levitt Cea/Jess Rimington, SSIR)

Civic engagement as a way of life (Kirsten Grimm/Emily Gardner, SSIR)

Huge list of UK politics datasets

And it's a bit meta, but here's a link to more summer reading links from Tom Baker at the Thoughtful Campaigner.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Quick link: Hugo Awards 2017

A quick link here to this year's Hugo Awards, announced last night.

Congratulations to N K Jemisin, who won Best Novel second year running for The Obelisk Gate, the sequel to last year's victor The Fifth Season (review here). I haven't read TOG yet because I have to be in the right mood for something a little on the grim side, but as I did very much enjoy its predecessor I'll be looking forward to checking it out in the weeks to come.

Also glad to see Ada Palmer pick up the Campbell Award for Best New Writer (review of Too Like The Lightning and Seven Surrenders still germinating).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

8 short notes on the poo emoji cushion

1. I've nothing against emoji in general or their cushions. I get that a symbolic language needs a scatalogical vocabulary too.

But why does anyone need a mass produced plush symbol of poo in their life? 

2. It's not cute. Don't tell me it's cute. 

3. The poo emoji cushion (PEC) is not transgressive. Are the owners perhaps planning to reenact scenes from Pink Flamingoes? Of course they aren't. That's because it's toilet humour at its most banal.

4. It's tailor-made for people to hilariously troll their 'friends'. Who will burn it the moment their back is turned.

5. Did I mention the smile? The way the PEC gawps vacantly at you from every second shop window. Brrrr.

6. At least Mr Hanky had the decency to only turn up at Christmas.

7. The PEC perhaps makes some of kind of parallel universe sense (?) as a plot to put a minion of Nurgle (the Chaos God of Pestilence and Plague from Warhammer 40K) on every sofa in the country. But that's not a world I want to live in, brothers and sisters.

8. Its only possible redemption is as a protest campaign tactic. If Arrested Development fans sent bananas to the network and stopped it being cancelled, imagine what impact sending poo cushions by the thousands could have on your target?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Health-geekery Summer 2017

I've been engaging in the traditional summer activity of catching up with my reading - so here's a list of links which will doubtless grow over August.


Where to look packs for STP areas
NHS England press release on additional funding for some STP areas
Report on STP's from the IPPR
NHS Support Federation campaign info on STP's

Accountable care systems

Grauniad article


National Audit Office report: commentary from the MND Association
2013 and 2015 reports from the Wales Audit Office

NHS other

Research on staff attitudes and stress levels from the Point Of Care Foundation
New report on importance of occupational therapists from their Royal College
HQIP report on quality of acute non-invasive ventilation care
Definition of person-centred care from the RCN
Cross-party campaign from Norman Lamb MP for a convention on health and social care.


State of Caring 2017 (Carers' Trust report)

Financial costs of neurological conditions

Research into the financial cost of Parkinson's released.
Alzheimers Society launch campaign to end the 'Dementia Tax' (and if you've forgotten the election campaign already, here's an explanation)

Social care

The state of social care in GB (Leonard Cheshire report from 2016)
Messages from various key players for the current Government (chiefly, sort it out pls)


Can health and social care ever be truly integrated? (Macmillan Cymru on the long-term review of health and social care announced for Wales in November last year)

Is a 'what matters conversation' a carer's assessment? (Prof. Luke Clement)

Consultation and White Paper: Services Fit For The Future (includes governance, participation and accountability issues)

Northern Ireland

NICVA position paper on Brexit as it affects NI has some useful positioning on health

More Brexit

Brexit Health Alliance formed to safeguard arrangements for research and health-care should the UK (as expected) leave the EU.

Nuffield Trust - Getting A Brexit Deal That Works For The NHS

Miscellaneous reports

Survey of specialist palliative care in care homes 
Habinteg Accessible Housing Policy Update
The UK Strategy for Rare Diseases

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Vorrh! (Huh!) What is it good for?

Well, it was a good joke the first time around...

[some spoilers ahead]

Brian Catling is an artist and poet who has expanded into fiction, which probably explains a lot about The Vorrh, his first novel. It's poetic, impressionistic and filtered through Catling's own interests, idiosyncracies and predilictions.

It's also a sprawling, incoherent beast of nearly 600 pages that - if it didn't astound and horrify as much as it does - would at times be ejected out the window with force.

The Vorrh of the title is a Conradian heart-of-darkness rainforest in a fantastic colonial Africa, the name borrowed from Raymond Roussel's 1910 avant-garde travelogue Impressions of Africa. Roussel himself features in the book as one of the main characters, under the reductive alias of The Frenchman.

The forest is a place of revelation, mysterity and insanity, as well as a source of income for the settlers of Essenwald, the timber town at its edge. Catling uses both as a common thread for five overlapping stories, although one of them, concerning Victorian photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge is barely Vorrh-related at all and seems almost to be a palimpsest of an earlier work.

Well, I did mention this was a sprawling effort, didn't I? 

It might be written in the fantastic mode, including magical weapons, angels, wise women, mythical beasts and cyclopses (Catling loves him a cyclops), but The Vorrh is a long way from the genre mainstream, however it's been marketed. Far better points of reference for the reader are gothic horror and magic realism, both of which I'm fortunately very much down with.

For a couple of good reasons, this is one of those books I dare say I will end up reading again. First, there are some plotlines in The Vorrh which are beautifuly told, working as short stories (existential horror, usually) in the broader narrative. The sections involving Roussel, making a creative pilgramage to the forest, are universally good.

Second, there's a lot going on here, as you might expect from a professor and polymath like Catling. He's happy to throw in a reference to this or that esoteric, technological or historical datum every few pages, such that I inevitably didn't get them all first time around.

But, and you have probably sensed some buts on the way throughout this review, this is one of those books where the author is clearly throwing a lot at the wall and seeing what sticks. Not all of it does - the dream monologue of the dog is a particularly low point, and generally the sex is your average bad literary sex. The prose too, verges on the purple at times; Catling's poetic instinct to try and knock every sentence out of the park is endearing, but not every description, not every metaphor works.

Not much of the plot is wrapped up by the end either. The presentation of the Vorrh as a part one of a trilogy might be more commercial contrivance than fact, and I suspect we're probably dealing with one epic 2,000 page novel here.

Tropes and traps

It's also hard to not write about The Vorrh and not address the challenges inherent in writing an 'African fantasy' from a white European perspective. To his credit, Catling rises to the challenge: his perspective is pretty clearly anti-colonial, and to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge no specific cullture is being bowdlerised in the name of fiction. The strand of the novel involving Roussel is a good critique of literary tourism, among the many other things that it is.

So a lot of obvious traps are avoided. Yet there are still problematic tropes here, in particularly the use of the forest and its inhabitants as a stand-in for the African Other: mysterious, magical, dangerous and unknowable. Catling isn't immune from cliche in his African magic either, and his use of a white character who goes native in one of the stories makes sense in context but is a bit of a tired substitution. Plus, the only black protagonist a) is a bit of a bad 'un b) is impressed into servitude c) dies.

None of which to say that The Vorrh isn't a good book, in some places an excellent one, nor to say that Catling isn't aware of the issues - I believe he is and has tried to make sure the novel includes its own critique of these stereotypes. But this may be a sticking point for some readers - each of which will reach their own judgement as to how much he gets the balance right.