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First post

I am starting to write this blog primarily to get into the habit of writing, preferably everyday. A friend who likes her self-help or 'voodoo' books says it is important to write when you first get up. The purpose of these first thoughts is to clear the mind, get things off your chest, thereby setting you free for the day. I like this idea but have other routines first thing that I don't want to break. Instead it will be a bit of a when and where I can affair. Luckily there's a iphone App to make access easier.

The purpose of writing to promote Two colleagues and I run a public debating forum in Birmingham UK. I'm not sure I like the description 'public debating forum' but debating society conjures up an image of pompous undergraduate would-be MPs trying to score points. We are more interested in having the debate, the arguments. The forum is called Birmingham Salon so maybe I should just call it a salon.

The idea of a Salon was developed in 17th and 18th Century France. Typically they were created and organised by aristocratic ladies, to hear the ideas of the great thinkers of the time, to debate their meaning, for entertainment, because they believed ideas were important and because they wanted to know where the world was going, and of course to flirt. The Salon was central to the intellectual ferment of the end of 18th Century. They hosted the great thinkers of the time; Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire. They were the scenes of excitement, outrage, and the shock of the new in a time when ‘the new’ still seemed possible. They signalled a time when the future was still an unwritten book. Salons' were part of the process that ended with the eruption of the French Revolution and the arrival of a new constellation: the age of revolutions.

Ours is a somewhat more modest salon. Having no aristocratic riches to tap we settle for a glass of wine and hopefully a good barnie. You don't get anywhere unless the polarised opposites in a debate can get their points out, and then it's up to the audience to come down on one side or the other. This is important at the moment because the level of debate on any topic is at such a dumbed down level that the principles at stake in many discussions are often passed by. Instead everything is viewed from a narrow managerial perspective - getting out of the recession becomes a banal 'who can blame the bankers the loudest' rant rather than a positive vision for the country's economic future. We have just had a general election in the UK where nothing of substance was discussed by the mainstream politicians.

This lack of proper debate comes at the same time as an unprecedented attack on civil liberties. Not only is Britain the most watched society, having CCTV cameras in every city, the right to trial by a jury of your piers is now seen as too expensive and inefficient to continue rather than as a principle of justice. UK libel laws allow rich individuals to silence critics, the authority of the House of Commons (and therefore the people) has being undermined constantly with MPs now more unpopular than bankers. We have a media so full of their own self-importance that they seem to have forgotten how to do their job properly - so scrutiny of public officials becomes a personal witch-hunt on many occasions.

These things happen because the principles underlying decisions on how society is run are missed because the debates don't happen. The salon is one place to have these debates. Our strap-line is 'no topic is off-limits' and importantly 'open to everyone'. So in the interest of being open to everyone I will start this blog by writing up notes on the meetings, summarising the debate, the main arguments and what the disagreements are. I'll see where it goes from there.


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Is copyright a principle that is impossible to maintain in the modern world where reproduction is almost effortless? Should we take a pragmatic line and formulate alternative licensing and business models that are adaptive to the new realities of the digital age? Or should we, make a stand against the devaluation of works of art and entertainment as freebies, and defend the notion of social creations deserving of reward and accreditation? And as the British government prepares to make publicly available scientific research for everyone to read for free, are there separate principles involved in research literature on the one hand and artistic works on the other?

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