Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Those lovable Greek Anarchists are at it again. Chucking bricks and molotovs around like there was no tomorrow. They just don't seem to understand how to behave in an orderly fashion during a union led General Strike. I do hope that we won't see any of this kind of thing at the J30.
Saturday, 25 June 2011
Dressed in his trademark scruffy raincoat he would stumble out of his battered old car and arrive on the doorsteps of the rich and powerful. Safe in their certainty that such an obviously blue collar Jewish incompetent as Lieutenant Columbo could never discover their guilt, the posh murderers would look at the detective as if he was something to be wiped of one's shoe. He always got them in the end. Some say that Columbo was based on a character in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, others that actor Peter Falk simply played himself. One thing is for sure, The character was wonderful and will take it's place alongside the other greats of detective fiction. Peter Falk died yesterday after a sad decline into dementia.
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
J30 will not be the revolution, it will not be the eruption of the marvelous. But it could see thousands out on the streets and it could just possibly end with people feeling a real surge of confidence. We live in hope. June 30th - get out there!
Monday, 20 June 2011
Whatever you may have thought about Brain Haw, and it has to be admitted that the guy was not everyone's cup of tea, he was a committed and determined campaigner who just would not give up and go home. The death of Haw will give the green light for the clear out and clean up of Parliament Square in preparation for the Olympics. Make no mistake about it, between now and 2012 we are going to see a major sterilization of London that will have no regard for anything or anyone that stands in the way of the image of the brand. Parliament Square has needed a pedestrian crossing for years but how sad that that may be the sum legacy of a brave and principled activist.
Friday, 17 June 2011
In a statement reminiscent of Edward VIII abdication speech AC Grayling has stood down as President of the British Humanist Association. Polly Toynbee will continue in the role for the time being.
I consider myself a humanist and I support the work that the BHA does but being a humanist has it's limitations. As the old song goes, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got no class analysis".
There are idiots, unpleasant idiots, and there's Danny Alexander. In the middle of pension negotiations with the public sector unions the Chief Secretary To The Treasury announced today that it's all a waste of time. The Coalition have already made up their minds. People are living longer so will have to work longer. End of. Danny Boy, who looks like he has never recovered from being ambushed on St Stephens Green by Ian Bone, wants a return to the days when working class people worked themselves into an early grave and could look forward to being a burden on the state for five years if they were lucky. So that's it then. June 30th, bring it on!
PS. Danny Alexander has never had a proper job.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
One of the most enduring myths concerns our relationship to "nature" and what we have come to define as wilderness. If only people would adopt a hands off approach to the natural world, the myth goes, we would have a pristine nature to be contemplated by privileged visitors. This thinking is at the very heart of the movement to create national parks and wilderness areas; but the establishment of national parks was a profoundly elitist and colonial project that paid scant regard for the indigenous people who made a living from the land. This is the subject of the BBC4 series Unnatural Histories. The first programme looked at the Serengeti, the second, to be shown on Thursday night, looks at the the Yellowstone and the American conservation movement. Part of the myth is the assumption that when we look at landscape we see a "natural" world that must be preserved. The truth is that landscape is the product of a number of processes including human activity. You don't have to look at remote and iconic areas of the world to see the myth in action. Here in UK there is a widespread misconception that our countryside is in some way the result solely of natural forces rather than human activity. But the countryside is a social and a political product. The result of layer upon layer of human activity culminating in the enclosures and the industrial revolution. The Highlands of Scotland, to give just one example, have little in the way of human footprint due to a deliberate and cynical act of depopulation.
One of the most interesting considerations on the subject that I have found is The Trouble With Wilderness by William Cronon. It is because the myth of untouched nature has such a grip on us, and informs the thinking of governments, the media and powerfull charities alike, that it needs to be challenged at every opportunity. Unnatural Histories is a step in the right direction
Monday, 13 June 2011
It really is a no brainer and summed up pretty well by this banner.
Rape is not sex - it's assault.
No one "asks" to be raped.
If so called modest clothing prevented rape it would be unknown in Islamic societies.
Are the deserving and undeserving rape victims a bit like the deserving and undeserving poor I wonder?
Most rapists are known by their victims and sometimes rape is just a part of domestic violence.
Why are so many men threatened by female sexuality? La chicas es tu amigas!
Saturday, 11 June 2011
Today's Slutwalk had a good turn out and was lively, noisy and to the point. And of course it was good fun to be in the company of so many charming young women. I especially liked the lady with her basque wearing Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Yes it was good fun but I felt saddened toward the end. Sad that after all these years women still have to struggle for the right to dress how they please and go where they please. Sad also that people my age seem to have produced a generation of young men who have yet to fully grasp that girls are mates and comrades first; and lovers only maybe. Anyway, well done all and thanks for a great day out.
Friday, 10 June 2011
With the General Secretary of the Socialist Worker Party outed as an Old Etonian it's only a matter of time before the Trots seek revenge and all kinds of people are revealed to have far posher backgrounds than they would care to admit to. I might as well make a clean breast of it-I was at Eton. Perhaps I had better explain.
In 1958 I departed the broad sunlit uplands of Leyton for the small Essex port of Brightlingsea where I took up a position as apprentice to a small firm of boatbuilders. I think that my parents quite liked Brightlingsea but it was a pretty dull place for a teenager and I was not proving to be a naturally gifted boatbuilder. Some people have even suggested that it was largely due to me that the industry switched to fiberglass and after a while it was generally agreed that I might be better suited to being a machine operator in a local engineering factory. I had not yet met anyone with horizons that extended beyond earning enough to get some new clobber and get pissed. I suspected that there might be more to life than this but it was not yet clear to me how someone like me might find this "more". I think that I just assumed something would happen eventually. Day dreams and reality came to merge with the arrival one morning a strange vessel crewed by yet stranger people. The Totmorgan was a converted ships lifeboat, and I use the word converted in the loosest sense, crewed by bohemians; scruffily dressed bearded beats who talked about jazz and coffee bars. They might have come from another planet as far as Brightlingsea was concerned but in fact had set off from Eton and Windsor and sailed downriver and along the Essex coast. They probably intended to voyage to foreign parts but by the time that the lifeboat towed them into Brightlingsea a return trip to the safety of the Upper Thames seemed more realistic. Post peace convoy and the crusty boat scene none of this seems that unusual, but believe me, for the late 50's this was living on the edge. Of course you don't need to be told that I soon got to know these malcontents and didn't need to be asked twice when they invited me to leave home and job and join them in their adventures. By today's standards the Totmorgan was criminally unsafe and leaked like a sieve. One of the more interesting features of this Heath Robinson craft was the old lorry engine that had never been fitted with a marine gearbox. This meant that maneuvering the vessel involved three people going through the gears, double declutching, adjusting the throttle and steering. Unbelievable!
Eventually, and far more by luck than judgment, we arrived at Windsor. For those of you who don't know the geography Windsor and Eton are separated only by the Thames and a two minute walk over Windsor Bridge. For all the talk of castles and colleges, the dominant feature of the area was actually the industrial estate in nearby Slough where most people worked. I had no intention of going back into a factory but instead was soon immersed in two very different and distinct scenes. The first revolved around Windsor Jazz Club and a coffee bar in Eton High Street that I was later to live above. Here I was to learn about CND, weekend ravers as opposed to real beats and such middle class esoterica as the fact that spaghetti was available in forms other than tinned. The local paper shop owner had sent his son and daughter to a school called Summerhill where the kids organised and governed themselves. These two had gone into acting and could be seen on TV from time to time. All this was well and good but I also needed to earn a living and that's how I came to be involved in the second scene. Windsor was home to a large fleet of river steamers and it was here that I found a job. The skippers tended to be local men but the boys who crewed were recruited from as far afield as Southampton and lived in cramped quarters below deck. After we had finished for the day the skippers would go home and leave this huge gang of fifteen to eighteen year olds to more or less run wild. It was a totally working class environment and very different to the beat scene happening a couple of hundred yards away. I think that I was one of the very few people with a foot in both camps. I was still only seventeen.
At no time did any of us, boat boys or bohemians have anything to do with Eton schoolboys who I think were forbidden to fraternise with the locals. They probably felt the same contempt for us that we felt for them. It was to be years later before I met anyone who had been educated at Eton. I was to learn that as well as producing a disproportionate number of Prime Ministers Eton has also turned out it's fair share of junkies, although quite why heroin should hold such an attraction for these privileged sons of the ruling class I don't know. The beat world is long forgotten and I don't think that I have ever read anything about that unusual marginal world of the steamer boys. Just a footnote in the history of the real people who lived in small twin towns dominated by a castle and a posh school.
Tuesday, 7 June 2011
Last night the third and final part of Adam Curtis' All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, to some extent at least, tied together the various strands of his case. You can forget all about those Brautigan cyber-utopias. It's all going to end in shit. Part two had rubbed salt in the wound by reminding us about the rise of informal elites and how the hippy communes collapsed just like every utopian experiment before them. Armand Denis, who's films of Africa so enthralled us as kids, turns out to have been partly responsible for the Rwandan genocide. We have been happy to see ourselves as machines because doing so help explain why we seem incapable of living up to our aspirations for a decent society. Wonderful television and no mistake - but not the sort of stuff for a restful nights sleep and waking up to that good to be alive feeling.
Monday, 6 June 2011
The Principea Dialectica site is usually a little too intellectually rarefied for someone who was once described as "a bargeman with his brains beaten out". I tend to struggle a bit with all those continental theorist the PD boys are so fond of. None the less I had to smile at their post about the Anarchist Bookfair. Many a true word etc.
What with the euphoria over the inch or more of rain that fell on the allotment overnight, combined with the concern about what effect that rain will have on a very exciting Sri Lanka Test at Lords, I could have missed the news that Vince Cable is about to warn unions that strike action as a response to government spending cuts could well result in further anti-strike legislation. Union leaders will be wanting to make the appropriate radical noises on the one hand while keeping a weather eye out for their future careers and convincing all and sundry of their reasonableness on the other. Meanwhile a spectre is haunting the land and it's not Blue Labour. No, the spectre is a militant working class who will not be fooled by union bosses, city slickers or politicians of any variety but who are prepared to make their own history. As yet they remain just that, a spectre. A growth spurt from me brassicas and an England victory at Lords will have to suffice for now.
Saturday, 4 June 2011
There's a lesson to be learned here.Take a company that is up to it's eyes in debt due to a series of financial deals including the renowned sale and leaseback number. It all looked like such a good investment at one time with shares reaching £4 in 2008. Now the same shares sell for 15p. Many of the company's overworked employees are on the minimum wage so there is little scope for the most popular form of corporate saving. The company attempts to buy a little room to move by asking it's landlords for "time to pay" but the talk is all about insolvency.
The company of course is care home provider Southern Cross and the lesson regards what can happen when privatisation and the logic of the market are allowed to take over health and social care. The spivs have no place in the care of the sick, aged or infirm and we let them in at our peril.
Thursday, 2 June 2011
I'm obliged to Gitane for pointing me in the direction of Stratagems and Spoils by the anthropologist FG Bailey. I shall read it in conjunction with the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Tarzan Of The Apes that I have just got hold of. I like to get a balanced view.
The old chestnut about accountants knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing doesn't sound so funny these days, when the bean counters have more or less taken over the world. The Department for the Environment's National Ecosystem Assessment seems yet another attempt to make real the idea that if it can't be costed it can't be real.
Of course we value some things for their practical use and those things can be priced and exchanged in a market economy; they have instrumental value. Other thing may be valued greatly but we struggle to define that value, let alone put a price on it. Sometimes these two kinds of value come into conflict. We might for example find the view across a valley really beautiful but that aesthetic value may be contested by the need to flood the valley in order to create a reservoir. The people living in the valley can be compensated and resettled elsewhere but there can be no monetary compensation for one's feelings for the valley. There is simply no market in which to trade those feelings. No matter what kind of economic system evolves in the future, disputes about how we manage the environment are inevitable. When considering whether or not to flood the valley we might take into account all kinds of things including loss of farmland and wildlife habitat, the need for water, will a reservoir be for the common good - or just benefit water company profits? We will also consider the sheer pleasure that we get from looking across the valley. It will be a difficult decision to make. But such a decision will not be made any easier by trying to place a completely meaningless monetary value on things that, perish the thought, transcend money.