Musing on Citizenship-as-a-Service.

By: The Laird of OldhamCC BY 2.0


I have a tax bill due. It is ‘tax on profits’ and while I have the money set aside to pay it, there is still a deep sense of hesitation to hand the money over.

Hold up, here comes the science bit. Long ago humans became collectives to live and hunt together, socialise and defend themselves against their common threats. Living together brings its benefits and its own unique complications and so they evolved their communities norms or codes of conduct to address those complications. Laws and taboos emerged, carried in the carrier oil of the day – usually fear of some super powerful deity (or deities). Later these became commandments, religious law and in some communities – constitutions and legal code. Living together also came with additional cost. The cost in time, effort and materials to do the common things and to maintain them. As money evolved, these costs were rolled eventually up into a tax.

Money made things simpler, but it also made some things more complicated – it changed and changes the relationship people have with their community. It is important – in my view – that the people in a community contribute time and effort to the community work and not simply pay for it.

Fundamentally I am socialist. I deeply believe we are better together. I believe our collective should work for the good of all, especially the least able of us. This costs money – I get that. I’m not against funding our collective. I’m pro-fair taxes and anti-waste.

Basically I’m pissed off about taxes

My current beef with taxes is around a fundamental thing – how it is spent. Not just my taxes but all government revenue.

I deeply disagree with how my taxes are spent in the UK. I did with the previous Labour government and even more so with the current LibCon artists. I don’t want to fund wars dressed up as collective defense. I don’t want to fund insidious espionage on me and my compatriots in the name of the bogeyman. I want better outcomes for the poorest in my community – this takes money and care that money cannot buy. I want an efficient administration, not one in the clutches of greedy corporations that spend the pot I contribute to as though it were free.

Without choice, proportional taxation is malignant.

I don’t get to choose how my taxes are spent – I mean real choice – that is heard and acted on. That leads me to deeply resent proportional taxation – the idea those who have more, pay more. In theory, I am happy to pay more, if I have more. But the dysfunction on how those taxes are spent has turned that dream into a nightmare. The more I make, the more guns are bought, the more waste there is. The more spying there is. The more bankers are bailed out. The more money is diverted away from the things I want to see improve and the more money that is channeled to the things I definitely do not. The more of my taxes go to make the greedy rich, richer. This is not what I want.

So as I was in the shower contemplating handing over a not insignificant sum of corporation taxes I wondered how to pay for our shared interests without screwing over the people that pay it.

What if there was a flat subscription to be British (or American or any other nationality)?

You sign up, get a welcome pack and a token that gives access all the services that are available. Services are provided and maintained by the collective administration. It won’t be run for profit. Clearly sometimes we have to buy in things we are incapable of producing ourselves and that is rolled into the subscriptions.

This would, of course, be a no contract subscription model. You can cancel anytime. You might still access the same services, but at full cost or you might not access any at all. If there was a better provider of citizenship, you had the choice to sign up to them. If fact, you could sign up to as many as you could afford – but remember at any one time, you are probably going to just use one set of services, mostly.


The subscription model is a little different from online apps. We can figure out what the basic subscription is and people can pay that. We can also figure out what it is worth and people can contribute their skills to realise that worth. For example, a doctor might choose to provide 200 hours of medical cover to a community clinic in exchange for their subscription. They might do it to pay the subscription for their child too. Streets need cleaning, gardens need tending, meals need serving and the lonely need company – all are aspects of collective needs that are overlooked.

What really helps this is understand what collective needs are to be met to keep our collective thriving. It is not only money that makes the world go round!

The essentials

Everyone gets the essential services – wellness (include healthcare and basic nutrition), collective security, transportation, access to essential infrastructure and maintenance. Education is also essential, although a little different from other things. Any citizen can access learning to any level they choose, with a payback option if they decide to take go become filthy rich instead of contributing their expertise back into the community!

But what of national resources? They belong to everyone, some generate revenue and that goes into the pot along with the subs. We pay out of the pot to maintain them and provide open access to everyone to things like parks and spas etc.

We never borrow money our revenue can’t cover. Scratch that, we never borrow. Period.
In the end this might mean we grow at a pace that is sustainable. If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, we would invent lots!

There is still a market

The non essential stuff is provided by the market (yes there is still one). Basically it is everything that is not considered essential. Education is another funny one. You might buy specialised education on the market (with money from the collective pot). That, like all education, is an investment.

Sometime the lines are blurry , especially with spending our collective pot on things in the market. The distinction here is that the essential stuff is run not-for-profit – by whoever delivers it. This distinction is protected by the most binding of oaths. There is absolutely no screwing with that. By anyone. We might add to the list of essentials but almost never remove from it and even then only by referendum.

Administration is essential. The popular perception is that it is waste – after all it does not contribute to the services nor to the pot. My view is that it is not waste, but it is one of the areas that could be really wasteful.

What of corporate taxes? Well participants in the market who are not citizens would pay a fee to participate in the market. How much they pay would be linked to their level of participation in the market. Not yet sure this is based on profit. Nonetheless, but they would be bound by our laws on how they operate within our market including labor practices and protections.


There is entitlement. If you pay your subs or you contribute it’s equivalent in community work, you are entitled to use the services. Simple.
There are exceptions, to the ‘pay/contribute and be entitled’ rule. For those who cannot pay and who cannot contribute in other ways , for example the severely disabled or chronically ill. Our collective will subsidise them. Clearly there is a limit to how much subsidy (how many can be subsidised and/or subsidy per person) but I am currently not sure how that would work. Though I suspect there are some services that do not cost more, the more people who use them and so in real terms, the subsidy may not be substantial. There are exceptions.

Children could be subscribed by their parents. There would be no automatic citizenship and you can change whenever you want. If you want choice, then it applies across the board.

Transparency, absolute transparency

For this to work, we need absolute transparency. Everything that needs doing is public so that the others in the collective can contribute. We already know what we all pay (the same rate subs). We’ll also need to know the the size of the pot – including other revenue that feeds it – it needs to be constantly accessible and perpetually accurate. We need to see and know every penny spent and to whom and for what. The actual cost of our administration is available to scrutiny by anyone. It is the accountability that transparency engenders that will help check the waste. Transparency does not come for free, it has to be paid for also – in money and in vigilance.

Transparency takes away some of issues we are currently stuck at. For example being transparent with entitlement means that the decision on identity cards – the usual form the token that provides access to services take – would be a no-brainer. If you access services, you need a token. This token, incidentally, is also your travel card. It shows you are a paid up member of that collective and can travel under its flag.


One area of contention for me is pensions. With this model, your subs pay for what you use now. The current public pensions crisis , in my opinion, is borne out of the shortsightedness of its creators. Basically they started with noble intentions and then they found, almost immediately, it didn’t work. So they lied. They took money they were supposed to save for ‘future’ and used it to fund the now and took the ‘now’ money of taxpayers (in the future) to pay the pensioners whose money they had already spent. It is an elaborate ‘robbing Peter to pay Grandpa Paul’ scam.

So in this model , I do not consider pensions an essential service covered by subs. If you want one, you contribute separately and you buy one that suits your circumstances from the market. We can agree that you must have one, but where you get it from is up to you. To make things easy, we might collect it as part of subs, but it doesn’t go into the pot. It goes directly to the pension provider you bough it from. That way the mandatory aspect is enforced.

Clearly in the future you can use that revenue to continue to be a subscribed member of the collective.

Explore with me

This is an evolving idea. Though it might make you feel uneasy – ideas can do that – please help me explore it. As I wrote this, I thought we are pretty close in some aspects.

What might be the gaps and how might we close them. What would you consider to be our collective needs. Which are essential and which are not. Would you pay for a monarchy for example?

How might the administration be created without the drunkenness that power inspires? I’m open to ideas!

Are we better off remodeling our current system or starting from scratch?

What are your thoughts? I’d love to know and share.

Heroin made Charlie Parker great. I want to be great too.

By: SarahCC BY 2.0

Isn’t that the dumbest headline ever?

I was 25 when I watched  “Jazz” the anthology by Ken Burns where he successfully introduces jazz  music to a much wider audience.  I love jazz and to be able to learn some of the dynamics of the bands and artists was hugely exciting.

Charlie “Bird” Parker was an exceptional saxophonist who helped create the bebop sound (and genre) and defined the music the influenced almost all other forms of popular music from that point.  To many of his contemporaries, he was a genius . Yet he was also chronically addicted to heroin, though he was later rehabilitated from his addiction and seemingly remained clean till his death.

Why am I sharing this?

Well, I remember watching Jazz and especially learning about Charlie Parker who, as an aspiring saxophonist, I totally admired, At the height of his fame, his sound was adored by his contemporaries, almost worshipped. So much that many wanted to emulate it. But it was almost impossible to copy, so many variations, complex harmonies.  Even Bird couldn’t teach you to play like him.  In order to understand how one guy could be so brilliant – many who sought to gain the same abilities looked at his lifestyle and they saw heroin.  Watching Jazz, I was shocked to learn that so of these performers, all pretty good in their own right, thought that perhaps his addiction gave him his abilities. So they took heroin too.

I see so many self-help blogs and the life-hacking culture that share so many ideas for improving one’s life. From weight loss to getting better at a language. I like to think all this information comes from a place of goodness – driven by the desire to share what has worked in one person to others. Yet they are sold as “this worked for me , it will work for you too”.  In truth, you might get lucky and they might just work.

Start your day at 5.30am and go for a run!  It will change your life.

Split your day into 90 minute sessions (because the science proves it) and you will get more done.

Fart before playing your numbers on the lottery,  I won big, you will too. (ok, I made that one up).

My point is that what works for one person is not guaranteed to work for another. At best, one person’s experience is no more than a suggestion to another.

Lifelong curiousity is the real message

What makes one person explore a different routine to the one they have always had?
What motivates people to take up new skills or do weird experiments on themselves?

Often it is because something is not working they way they want. Often it is nothing more than seeking to answer “what might happen if…”.
This is such a powerful idea, one that fuels so much innovation and discovery and, I believe, is the central message of this life hacking, self help industry – which mostly sells the discoveries that are the result of curiosity.

But I think that most people who are into life hacking do not even realise that their discovery (as cool as it might be) is itself less unimportant than the spirit of curiosity through which they derived it. Curiosity to explore alternatives, to experiment and to discover.

I would much rather read about that than be peddled a 5.30AM run to start my day or a blended smoothie to boost my brain power.

We are each unique- even as the systems all around us want to make us believe we are not.  The mainstream of everything requires that we can be categorised, grouped. How else do you understand 7 billion people?  But we are each more than a category (easier to understand  – we are each a category!).  So let’s each find what works for us and contribute it into the larger pool of ideas that others can steal freely from as they emerge what works for them and as we do that, let us celebrate the spirit of curiosity that drives it all in the first place.

Learn to be curious about life, the universe and everything. You will live a better, more fulfilling life.

What you get when you make smart people do stupid things

By: aisling kelliherCC BY 2.0

This post is a little overdue.  I promised my daughter I would post her experience as she described it to me and here it is.

My daughter Brianna is 16.  She is pretty smart (aren’t all our daughters!) and recently did her GCSEs  (the exams young people do in the UK after 5 years of high school).

Actually when I say she did her GCSEs, I mean she did some GCSEs.  You see, Brianna’s been doing them sort of staggered over the course of a couple of years. Her school encouraged her to sit for the subjects she was showing strength in early (like a year early), basically to give her a few chances of getting good grades – a practice run of sorts. It’s a great idea – can’t fault it.  You can use the system as an improvement tool or as a testing only tool. Taking the exams repeatedly and exploring the student’s weak areas and then focusing energy on improving that is a great way to use a dysfunctional system that places so much emphasis on how you do in a 2 hour exam!

Well, Brianna did her English exams earlier on in January and she got a great grade – an A!  So when the exams came round again in June, she was surprised to be told she would retake the English paper. Hadn’t she already aced the exam? She may have had weak parts of her knowledge, but what did those matter if she aced the exam?  In any case, those could be improved without her sitting the paper again.

Side Notes

A side note about exams and the propaganda of how good a school is.  In the UK, schools are judged, in part, on exam results. On how many students got an ‘A’, ‘B’ and so on. Not much is given to the innovation and creative thinking of young people or the real life application of knowledge or how well their learning was facilitated.   As a school, if you put 80 students up for exams and 80 of them got ‘A’ , you are considered the best!

Ok, so now you have an idea of how the system works, perhaps it’s clearer why a school might put a smart kid into the same exam twice.  If she aced it once, she most probably would ace it again – so they get twice  the kudos for the same student.  It’s the kinds of academic double accounting that would delight Enron management. This is what what the Politicians make the ‘educators’ do in order to survive in this system. It’s simply bananas!

Also, a side note about Brianna and exams. They place a strain on Brianna, she gets tired and worn out. Her school know this and yet, knowing fully well both her previous grade and her health concerns they still insisted she sit the paper.

Brianna 10 – Silly School 0

Well, my darling Brianna did something that surprised and delighted me in equal measure.  As she sat for the English paper the second time, she took the decision, independently and without declaration, to stage a most fantastic protest.

She ignored all the set questions on the paper and penned a letter to the unknown examiner. Brianna wrote about pop culture, what bands she loved. She wrote about current news items and ,fantastically, about the unfairness of making a student sit an exam they had already passed, again. In her own words:

.. I wrote my opinion on current pop culture, my opinion on issues in the news currently, why I think it’s unfair to make someone who already achieved their target resit the exam when they have exams they haven’t yet got their grades in. I laid it all out the way we’ve been taught and used all the different presentational features but just didn’t look at the content of the paper

I always knew her intellect was sharp (goodness knows I have been on the receiving end of it once or twice), but to make such a silent yet bold act of protest gives me huge pride and a quiet assurance that at least one young person in this generation of gamers and stylistas is going to give the establishment a run for its money.

There is an examiner out there who marked a paper that was entirely a letter, who – whatever they think of Brianna – cannot have failed to be surprised. I hope as an educator that they recognise that they are not alone in challenging the nonsense that government policy vis-a-vis testing as a means of measuring learning is. I would give that paper a A+ for both ingenuity, civic innovation and creative expression!

From my generation to yours, Brianna, thank you.

Why Sentiment Analysis is Promising But Currently A Waste of Time.

I love you even though you beat me.

Even though you don’t love me.

Even though you shout at and deride my efforts.

Even when you disagree with my existence.

Even when you vilify me for the air that I breathe.

I cherish you despite the cruel words with which you punish me.

You cherish my destruction even when I detest that smallest of inconveniences to you.

Even when the only thing that would satisfy you would be my death.

My cruel killing at the hands of the most vicious destroyer.


What do you think the above is about. Is it overwhelmingly negative or inherently positive?  What is its sentiment?

Here is what one of the ‘leading sentiment analysis’ tools determined it was about:

Screenshot 07:03:2013 11:41-4


I had need to explore where Sentiment Analysis is today because I might have a future need to harness its ‘power’.  Well I was fairly disappointed.

Scientists (in this case computer ones) will have you believe that sentiment analysis is so advanced and mature as to be reliable. Bullshit.

They call it ‘Sentiment Analysis’ and this projects an illusion of precision, reliability and worse still they sell it as something you should base decisions on.

It is no more than word counting and weighting.
Fortunately it is simply a case of mislabelling. This is not ‘Sentiment Analysis’ it is Content Analysis. No more than looking in a basket of citrus fruits and counting lemons vs oranges vs limes. The trouble is when they sell it as a indication that the farmer has kidney stones!

Sentiments deal with the emotional message the content is trying to communicate. Businesses deal with the emotive state of their customers and any indication of how a customer feels might provide competitve advantage and an opportunity to profit (in goodwill or stone cold cash).

I say that Sentiment Analysis is promising because I believe that machines can learn to determine the emotional meaning of any content, but if this is the current approach then I fear that we are a long ways off.

Currently the best way I know to understand sentiment is to have a conversation, to listen and be reasonably educated enough to understand what your co-communicators’ needs are. To look beyond the words used (they may be the wrong ones).  I wish that more businesses recognised this and invested accordingly instead of wasting time, energy and money on something that promises so much and delivers so little.

BTW – using the same engine, this article scored -.107 and could be about renewable energy, hardware, technology or investing. Ouch!

Screenshot 07:03:2013 12:40