Saturday, July 4, 2009

British Comedy Meets Open Government

This is a "two-fer" for this reporter.

There's been a lot going on nationally in the area of Government transparency. Here in Maine, MHPC went public with "Maine Open Government." And before you know it, Brunswick's "checkbook" should be added to the site, joining the list of other towns going public with their financial data.

Now for the "two-fer" part. I don't know how many of you have watched BBC offerings. Some have played on cable/satellite channels. Most widely known are "Keeping Up Appearances" and "As Time Goes By."

Others are only available at Bart & Gregs. We discovered "Monarch of the Glen" and "House of Cards" there. Both were superb, the former running for 8 "seasons" and the latter a superb political intrigue series within the context of the British Parliament.

British TV of this quality has characters and writing that transcend just about anything found on American TV, which tends toward the juvenile, formulaic, predictable, and sensational. In particular, the Brits have many absolutely marvelous classical actors and actresses, some of whom have appeared in blockbuster movies like Lord of the Rings. I really do suggest checking out the British TV section at Bart and Gregs, and given the weather outlook, you may well have plenty of time for viewing such series.

OK...enough intro. I came across this quote while reading on transparency on the Mackinac Center web site. It perfectly parlays the Brit's witty and piercing humor with the notion of open government:

Back in the 1980s this notion was the subject of an episode ("Open Government") of the British television sitcom "Yes Minister." The following exchange among three bureaucrats illustrates just how difficult this whole business can be.

A: "What's wrong with open government? I mean, shouldn't the public know more about what's going on?"

B: (with a look of disgust): "Are you serious?"

A: "Well, ah, yes, sir. I mean, it is the minister's policy after all."

B: "But it's a contradiction in terms. You can be open, or you can have government."

A: "But, but, surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know."

C: "No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity and guilt. Ignorance has a certain (pause) dignity. You don't just give people what they want if it's not good for them! Do you give brandy to an alcoholic?"

B: "If people don't know what you're doing, then they don't know what you're doing wrong."

A: "I'm sorry, but I am the PM's private secretary and if that's what he wants, then . . ."

C: "You'll definitely not be serving your minister by helping him make a fool of himself. Look at the ministers we've had. Every one of them would have been a laughingstock in three months had it not been for the most rigid and impenetrable secrecy about what they were doing!"

Reading the whole document, "Three Cheers for Transparency," will be well worth your while, as it has some interesting narrative on the contemporary issue of reading, or more correctly, not reading bills before passing them.

Perfect rainy afternoon reading. Unless you have some BBC DVD's to cheer you up. At this very moment, the Poppycocks are experiencing a very proper thunderstorm.

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