Friday, December 28, 2007

Reading

Time off from work has allowed me to start catching up on reading. A friend who subscribes to a wide range of magazines passes his cast offs to me. I've got several months New York Review of Books, Tribunes, Chartists, Le Monde Diplo to get through. Any sane person would take the easy route and either pass for recycling or pass them on to someone else.

I have also to get through the books and journals we bought over the summer.

In issue 32 of the Harvard Review there's a piece by Daniel Maier-Katkin and Birgit Maier-Katkin called Love and Reconciliation: The Case of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. It is June 1933, Heidegger has just become Rektor of Freiburg University, and goes to visit Karl Jaspers.
To Jaspers' question "How can a man as coarse as Hitler govern Germany?" Heidegger replied: "Culture is of no importance. Just look at his marvelous hands."
Who was that man's manicurist? Didn't you know a good manicure can excuse anything? Well, now you do.

Seasons Greetings

As Rullsenberg notes, this Xmas card is des pudel's kern.

So in a feeling of seasonal generosity take it as a gift from me to you and yours.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Travel Restrictions are a Bad Thing

One of the markers of a free society is the extent its citizens can travel freely. One day you decide to visit country X because you've heard they do an excellent cheese toastie. Fine. Go and taste the fine cheese toastie, the like of which has never been tasted on these shores.

Some countries, often those labelled as dictatorships or tyrannies, put restrictions on where their citizens can travel. For example Saudi Arabia prevents its citizens visiting Israel. Now, Israel is investigating three journalists, Lisa Goldman, Ron Ben Yishai and Tzur Sheizaf, on suspicion "of unauthorized travel to enemy states Syria and Lebanon to report for some of the country's main media outlets."

Sure Syrian and Lebanon are not exactly friendly towards Israel, and you may call them "enemy states", but in a free society citizens should be allowed freedom of movement inside and outside the country.

Every restriction on free movement of people makes a society less open and less free.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Touristy Pics

Last weekend I went with Rullsenberg to London. Being provincial types we like to take pictures. Here's a couple I like.

This one manages to get a London bus, a taxi, and St Paul's Cathedral in the same shot.



This one is a steamy shot from our bedroom.


Ok, it also has the tower of St Pancras train station. What did you expect?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Patronising Sexist Tosh

You know how it is when you're a member of various organisations and the journals and magazines come through the post, you sometimes wait some time before opening them.

In my latest copy of Engineering and Technology from the IET I noticed the following piece that reads as if it has come speeding from the 1950s.
Do you know what WAF is?” LG Electronics president and CEO James Kim asked the audience at the IFA consumer-electronics show in Berlin in August. The answer came back from the floor immediately: “woman acceptance factor”.
Kim was far from alone among executives at IFA in citing it and although he introduced WAF as a joke, he thought that there was money to be made by solving one of the stereotypical conflicts of the sexes. “No longer does the man make all the decisions regarding electronic products for the home,” he claimed. “By creating products that offer the ‘woman acceptance factor’, we can please both parties.
Has anyone read anything so patronisingly unfunny, outside of a Jimmy Carr gig?

This casual, patronising, sexism is what is deemed acceptable content, in the 21st century, for a magazine from a prestigious professional organisation. Whatever happened to feminism?

The argument is not only sexist it's also wrong. For the past twenty, nay thirty, years consumer electronics have used design and aesthetics as selling points. Look at the queue outside the Apple store for the aesthetically pleasing but over-hyped iPhone: nary a woman in sight. People want well designed consumer electronics that do not have the appearance and appeal of a brick. And that's "people" of all genders, not just people of one gender. To argue otherwise is to perpetuate a patronising, unhelpful and offensive stereotype that serves to perpetuate the stereotype of engineers as socially unaware geeks who wouldn't recognise a feminist if one came up and rammed an iPhone where the sun fails to shine.

Music Was My First Love

Just found, probably years after everyone else, the BBC's Peel's Festive 50s. With 31 seconds (probably a licensing fair use thing) of almost every track.

I was actually trying to find the song Venceremos, off the album Working Nights by Working Week and there it was number 50 in 1984. Singing on the track were Tracey Thorn and Robert Wyatt. What more is there anyone could want?

And now I find they've reformed (well, they had in 2005 and I've only just found them again).

Friday, November 23, 2007

Tributes Being Paid after Untimely Death of Scotland

The Daily Mash reports that
TRIBUTES are being paid to Scotland this morning after the entire country laughed itself to death.

Most would have been dead within minutes. The alarm was first raised at around 10pm last night as thousands of phone calls and text messages went unanswered.

Small groups of volunteers from Berwick-Upon-Tweed and Carlisle ventured north just after midnight only to find houses full of dead people gathered around still blaring television sets.
For more of this sad story read on.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More on Sudanese Refugees

Lisa Goldman interviewed some refugees from Sudan who were living and working on a kibbutz in northern Israel.

We asked why the kibbutz had decided to accept refugees from Darfur.

Jeanine looked at me sternly. “Do you know what happened at the Evian Conference in
1938?” she asked. “When all the countries gathered to try to find a solution
for the Jews of Germany and Austria but no-one was willing to give them
refuge?”

Yes, I answered, of course.

“So that’s why,” answered Jeanine. “We knew that we had a moral obligation, after what happened to us.”
Read on.

Thanks to Lisa Goldman in the comments.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sudanese Refugees in Israel

Israel is becoming an increasingly popular destination for refugees from southern Sudan and the western region of Darfur.

Greater economic prospects in Israel are encouraging Sudanese refugees to cross from Egypt into Israel evading border patrols on the way.

Al-Ahram Weekly reports
Excessively harsh socio-economic conditions and racist attitudes in Egypt seem to be the main reason why Sudanese refugees want to relocate to Israel. Of the Sudanese refugees now resident in Israel 71 per cent report verbal and physical abuse as the main reason for their fleeing Egypt. Some 86 per cent had refugee status with the UNHCR in Egypt, though those crossing the border spent an average of six months in detention upon arrival in Israel. Others are subject to indefinite detention.
There's another section that suggests southern Sudanese are "culturally more attuned to Israeli culture, and Israelis warm up to them", whereas Darfurians are not so liked.

Israel, as is the wont of richer nations, is suggesting that Sudan's neighbours should take more refugees. Al Ahram says
There are an estimated 400,000 Sudanese refugees in Kenya, 400,000 in Chad and 100,000 in Egypt. Yet on the UN human development index, Israel stands at 23, Egypt at 111 and Kenya at 152. Chad is among the world's poorest and least developed nations and Sudan is not far behind.
Via Lisa Goldman's informative site I found this beautiful and emotive set of photos about Sudanese refugees in Israel. Go look.

What's happening in Darfur?

Here's a link to Globe for Darfur's news page.

And, reader, the news isn't good.

Here's Latin Quarter's Radio Africa - "I'm hearing only bad news from Radio Africa".

A day

Woke up early today, a sunday. Had to go in to work for 7am to finish a big system upgrade. The database upgrade scripts had been kicked off at 8pm on Friday. The scripts finished at 9am this morning. Our experience in development, with full copies of our development database took, on average, about 26 hours. The much more powerful production server took 37 hours. Go figure.

If I was making a symbolic point I would say that the development box succeeded without power, perhaps validating the withdrawal from power principle of Subcommandante Marcos. Or maybe not.

Give the system back to users. Return home by lunchtime for breakfast. Eat. Sleep. General malaise.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Power and Resistance

When you meet with power and resistance and treat those two impostors just the same, and then you'll be a revolutionary, my comrade.

Slavoj Zizek writes on power and resistance in the current London Review of Books. The piece is a critique of the latest book from the philosopher Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding. Critchley argues for a "politics of resistance" operating at a distance from the state "bombarding the state with impossible demands, of denouncing the limitations of state mechanisms". Zizek then brings out the "superego" to describe Critchley's "anarchic ethico-political agent" which "bombard[s] the state with demands; and the more the state tries to satisfy these demands, the more guilty it is seen to be. In compliance with this logic, the anarchic agents focus their protest not on open dictatorships, but on the hypocrisy of liberal democracies, who are accused of betraying their own professed principles." Wow. Liberal democracies aren't perfect lands of milk and honey. Tell me something new. Sure, it is worth seeking to change the egregious parts of liberal democracies, like the UK's immigration policies and the USA's prison system. Leaving critique's of "open dictatorships" to the people of those countries is like telling those people "I have heard your heart breaking story, now go and annoy someone else", and washing your hands of their predicament. Whatever happened to solidarity and internationalism?

Zizek then discusses the 2003 demonstrations against the war in Iraq:
Their paradoxical outcome was that both sides were satisfied. The protesters saved their beautiful souls: they made it clear that they don’t agree with the government’s policy on Iraq. Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimise it. Thus George Bush’s reaction to mass demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’
Finally Zizek argues against "impossiblism".
... the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know that we know it, such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse.
If these are not possible then what is possible? Make things better.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How Things Were

Madeleines. Or how things were when I was a lad. Last night Rullsenberg and I began watching the 1980's drama A Very British Coup with the splendid Ray McAnally. Even better was the screenwriting by the incomparable Alan Plater.

It being a school night we stayed til the Foreign Secretary, played by the always good Jim Carter, came back from the USSR with the money to free the nation from the strictures of the IMF. If only it were that easy. Marital infidelity, and - worse - being discovered by the press, meant he then had to resign. What happened to the dictum that Labour scandals were to do with money and Tory scandals with sex?

Thursday we get to watch it til the end.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Top One Hundred Numbers

That would be every one from one hundred to one. I was looking at George Szirte's blog on the brilliant Jan Svankmajer when I found this short film.



But should zero find its way in?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Back to My Roots

As an exiled Wolverhampton boy I do miss the old accent. And yes, it is an old accent still using many Anglo Saxon sounds. The Black Country Bloke at Large writes:
Basically the dialect of the Black Country seems to preserve the way people in England spoke before the great vowel shift!

The Great Vowel Shift was a gradual process which began in Chaucer's time (early 15th Century) and was continuing through the time of Shakespeare (early 17th Century). Speakers of English gradually changed the parts of their mouth used to articulate the long vowels. Simply put, the articulation point moved upward in the mouth. The vowels, which began being pronounced at the top, could not be moved farther up (without poking into the nose); they became diphthongs1. The upshot has been that the Anglo-Saxons lived (like the Scottish still do) in a 'hoose', and the English live in a 'house'; the Anglo-Saxons (like the Scottish) milked a 'coo', and the English milk a 'cow'; an Anglo-Saxon had a 'gode' day and the English have a 'good' one; an Anglo-Saxon had 'feef' fingers on each hand and the English have 'five'; they wore 'boats' on their 'fate' while the English wear 'boots' on our 'feet'. The Great Vowel Shift is still continuing today in regional dialects; many speakers are now trying to move the topmost articulation points farther up, producing new diphthongs.

So we do genuinely spake Shakespeares english!
For those of you who have been left wanting more try these Black Country Dialect sayings.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Supporting Palestinians

Jon Pike made a speech on the 2nd October about the death of the campaign to discriminate against Israeli academics. That's what you'd expect.

In the speech he goes on to make a welcome call for support for "real solidarity" with Israeli and Palestinian students and academics by supporting Gisha, Center for the the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, and Hamoked, Center for the Defence of the Inividual, and FQMS, the Foundation for Al Quds University Medical School.

Hamoked described itself as
Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual is an Israeli human rights organization whose main objective is to assist Palestinians of the Occupied Territories whose rights are violated due to Israel's policies.
Both Gisha and Hamoked "oppose the restriction placed on Palestinians form studying at Israeli universities."whilst FQMS
provides teaching, and examiners on the medicine courses at Al Quds University and its Abu Dis campus. The Foundation provides funding for Palestinian students to train over here, and covers travel costs for British medics to go over to Al Quds. In particular, some of the teaching is at a distance, by email and video conferencing, including with students in Gaza.
Pike goes on to say
We publicised and campaigned around the case of Sawsan Salameh, prevented from taking up her PhD place at Hebrew University Jerusalem. There are, right now, restrictions placed on the travel of Palestinian students, and in some cases these are preventing them from taking up places at UK Universities.

We could not do this sort of work, as a union, before. We could not say a simple thing: that it’s wrong to discriminate in access to education merely on the basis of nationality. Now, we can say this, and in due time, we might even get a hearing. The fact that our voice may easily be dismissed in Israel at present is the fault of the boycotters. Right now it is important to raise the issue of the Bradford student from Gaza who is prevented from taking up his place because of the restrictions placed on exit and travel.

It is important to campaign against restrictions of travel rights for peaceful Palestinians. Free movement is a general human right.

Any policy of collective punishment or the assumption that people of a certain ethnicity are all guilty is racist and morally wrong. Guilt is an individual thing and should be punished accordingly.

Support Gisha, Hamoked, FQMS and B'Tselem.

[FQMS's president was Lord Gilmour who died in September 2007. Their website has not been updated since. Their aims are worthwhile but their website maintenance is sporadic.]

[Hat tip: Norm]

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Exploitation That's What It's All About

Going through my photos from this year I found two images of window displays from job agencies.

The first image comes from Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Labor Ready LA 0708

The second image comes from Derby in the East Midlands.

Monkey Staff Derby 070428

They say they do not pay peanuts but what does a monkey say to you? It says peanuts to me.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Thou Shalt Kill

Doing some reading of other people's blogs I read Reidski's excellent The Big Blowdown and saw this video by Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip.

Rabid Anti-Dentite

Tomorrow I have a dental appointment. Reminds me of this Seinfeld scene:



And here's another one about an answer phone and call screening:



Class (but not the sort that lends itself to a materialist analysis).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Three Johns

Via the informing, educating and agitating Counago and Spaves I have restarted listening to the wonderful Three Johns.

Great.

Bookshelves Don't Declutter Themselves

Bookshelves accumulate all sorts of clutter. Leaflets, pamphlets, flyers and books.

Looking at my bookshelves was starting to get depressing. So many books I have not touched in years. So I decided to donate to my local Oxfam book shop.

That is, of course, assuming they are sellable. Some were quite expensive like Operating System Concepts by Silberschatz and Galvin. I bought that ten years ago when I was a software engineer and had to know those things. Now I'm a DBA operating system fundamentals aren't as important as they used to be.

Carrier bags of heavy computer books are waiting by the front door for me to take to work tomorrow. From work I will lug them to my local Oxfam.

Free shelf space. A void. To fill.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Immigration Controls Pander to Racists

Immigration controls pander to racists. That's a simple enough idea. "Oh, the neighbourhood is changing its character, let's stop people like that coming into the country". And the politician seeking votes for his party stands and demonises others. And people read the unspoken racist sentiment. Some agree. Some disagree and say that immigration controls are wrong. Free movement of labour is the corollary to free movement of capital. It's one of the good parts of the free market neo-liberal package of ideas that's worth keeping. And it's the right thing to do.

Hak Mao argues agin immigration controls
Given Reid's political background*, his recourse to and enthusiasm for racist immigration** controls to restrict the movement and activities of those the Home Office considers 'undesirable' - a method which unjustly oppresses the innocent and seeks to make the guilty someone else's problem: a pointless exercise in the era of international travel and global communications - is entirely unsurprising. If people commit, or are conspiring to commit criminal acts, evidence of their malfeasance should be gathered and presented as evidence in the criminal courts, and, once convicted they should be imprisoned. When their sentence has been served, they should be released. Criminal behaviour must be dealt with by criminal sanctions, not by racist controls.
Amen.

Books and Quotes

When I was a part-time student, and unemployed, I used to spend my days studying, reading and applying for the occasional job. One of the books I read was The Bombardiers by Po Bronson. As high powered romps go it went. If you're interested it's about bond traders and the publisher's blurb says
"the sales manager [is] so overwhelmed by corporate ambition that he forces his traders to sell more bonds than they can handle. As the deals swirl, faster and riskier and bigger, the transactions become increasingly bizarre: shifting around the debt of failed savings and loans, financing investment in bankrupt Eastern European nations, and, finally, arranging a corporate takeover of certain assets in the Dominican Republic (in this case, the entire country)."
Anyway the story is not the point of this post. Trawling through a box of index cards I found this, taken from the book.
  1. Knowledge is Power!
  2. Knowledge is not a candy bar.
  3. Word travels fast.
  4. Power is temporary.
It purports to be a summary of Information Economics. As a summary it seems to work. I post this because I saw recently someone arguing that the Bank of England should have kept its deal with Northern Rock secret to stop depositors worrying and starting a run on the bank.

Is it good for public bodies to keep their major deals secret? Or is it a part of an older more circumspect way of business that is thankfully gone? Openness in government is a good thing. Let's have more of it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Heroes

Everyone has heroes. Sometimes you find they have feet of clay [cliche alert].

A hero of mine is Orson Welles. In last week's LRB there's a review, by J Hoberman, of several biographies. Here's a quote.
As Welles was editing The Lady from Shanghai, the House Un-American Activities Committee turned its attention towards Hollywood. The FBI, whose files described Citizen Kane as ‘nothing more than an extension of the Communist Party’s campaign to smear one of its most effective and consistent opponents’, namely William Randolph Hearst, had long been interested in Welles. He was regarded as a threat, and placed on the FBI Security Index largely because of his political activities on behalf of the committee organised to defend the beleaguered Communist labour leader Harry Bridges and the 17 Mexican-American youths charged with murder in the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon case.[†]

Welles submitted himself to the 1947 interview with Hedda Hopper, a red-baiting ally of the FBI, in an attempt to get right with the authorities: ‘I’m sick of being called a Communist,’ he protested. ‘It’s true that I’ve worked for some of the things the Communist Party has advocated. But that was merely coincidental. I’m opposed to political dictatorship [and] organised ignorance.’
Let's say that I dispute his disavowal of being called "a Communist" but agree with "I’m opposed to political dictatorship [and] organised ignorance".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cricket in the U.S.A

Beyond A Boundary is my favourite sporting book. It is also pretty damn good on culture and society.

Humanistic Academia (I use this phrase as it always irritated me to read in reviews books described as "a must read for students" when I could not see many science students, apart from myself, ever reading it. I was the student who read so widely around the subject he forgot the subject, but that's for another discussion) in the USA loves CLR James.

Unfortunately the centrality of cricket and cricketing analogies to Beyond A Boundary means it is the neglected work.

The New York based writer Joseph O'Neill reviews Beyond A Boundary and writes

cricket was, as it happens, the first modern American team sport -- which is to say, a sport properly organized and monitored. Benjamin Franklin was very interested in cricket, and by 1779 at least two teams, Brooklyn and Greenwich, were turning out regularly. More teams sprang up, and in 1838, the first formally constituted club, the St. George Club of New York City, came into being. Matches for money were played: In 1844, a Toronto team won a $1,000 purse in front of several thousand spectators in New York. Most of the players were British expats, but in Philadelphia, significant numbers of homegrown Americans took up the sport as an elite pastime and produced great cricketers and great clubs.
O'Neill then argues that
Using cricket to blur boundaries between white and black, colonized and colonizer, an-cient and modern, political and social, [James] stages a brilliant attack on "that categorization and specialization, that division of the human personality, which is the greatest curse of our time." His concern was profound and by no means abstract. Are there more-consequential divisions of human personality than the ones currently imposed by religion and nationality?

The trouble, of course, is that Americans, even if they are Americanists, can't read Beyond a Boundary. They can follow the words, but with what prospect of understanding them? How could their reading not be riddled with misconceptions, guesses, gray areas? E. P. Thompson once remarked, "I'm afraid that American theorists will not understand this, but the clue to everything lies in [James's] proper appreciation of the game of cricket." Unfortunately, he was right.

O'Neill ends with the Jamesian line, borrowed from Kipling, "What do they know of America who only America know?" Indeed.

(Hat Tip: Norm)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

We Care, We Care A Lot

Eric Lee and LabourStart are campaigning with Unison in support of care workers in Barnet. The workers work for Fremantle Care a not-for-profit trust that is seeking to slash wages and impose worse terms and conditions.

On their website Fremantle have the usual managerial vision and values section that says their vision is to "To develop the skills and qualifications of our dedicated workforce" and their value is to "Encourag[e] every member of staff to contribute fully". Fishcakes.

Fremantle have tried to shut LabourStart down. Eric Lee writes:
The campaign we launched a little more than a week ago in support of low-paid workers in care homes in north London has generated more support than any other campaign we have ever done.

Already, well over 8,100 messages have been sent to the employer. This is even bigger than our 2005 campaign in support of the Gate Gourmet workers, which was a much more widely publicized dispute in the mainstream media.

As we mentioned in this week's message, the employer reacted swiftly and brutally -- first threatening us with a libel action in the English courts and then sacking a union rep.

And then on Thursday, in an unprecedented move, the employer (Fremantle Trust) contacted our internet service provider and demanded that they shut down the campaign or else face a lawsuit themselves.

We were contacted by the legal department of the internet service provider and told that we had until noon on Friday to close down the campaign or else the entire LabourStart site would be shut down.

We worked very hard over those 24 hours to attempt to get our provider to back down, and had the full support of Unison (Britain's giant public sector union, whose members are at the center of the dispute) but were not successful in doing this before the noon deadline on Friday.

As a result, at 11:59 on Friday we were compelled to shut down the campaigns.

But -- we instantly revived the campaign in nine languages on a different server, in a different country, with a new name that reflects our feeling at this time.

The new site is called "We will not be silenced!" and is located, appropriately enough, at http://www.wewillnotbesilenced.org/

If you have not yet sent off your message of protest to Fremantle, please do so from the new page.

Remember that you can use our system to send out your own message to the chief executive of Fremantle Trust -- and you can tell her, if you wish, what you think of this attempt to silence our campaign.

Please also inform all your lists and every trade unionist you know to use the new site to send a loud and clear message to this employer.

If Fremantle Trust were unhappy to receive 8,000 emails, how are they going to feel about getting thousands more in the next few days? Because that is exactly what is going to happen. We will not be intimidated, we will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced. The campaign continues.

Nick at 4glengate points out that LabourStart is working on behalf of Unison but Unison refuses to fund LabourStart becuase of Eric Lee's position on Israel. Hmm.
Now we have LabourStart playing an important role in a crucial UNISON dispute, at the request of the union. For my money, this just shows that the union leadership had no intention of actually carrying out the boycott decision, but that means the whole debate at conference was dishonest. I hope LabourStart's role in this campaign will help to set the groundwork for the boycott motion to be overturned next conference.
That partly explains why I joined the GMB when I recently began working in local government. I know the GMB has its own internal issues but it's not UNISON.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Changes

I've been away from work for three weeks. Just over the road from my office is Trent Bridge cricket ground home of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. Today I went past the ground for the first time in three weeks.

The Musters Road stand had been demolished.

Demolition at Trent Bridge

The plans are online here.

What a difference three weeks makes.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Karl Popper in Christchurch

Wandering by the Arts Centre in Christchurch I stumbled upon this plaque commemorating Karl Popper's tenure at the University College and the writing of The Open Society and Its Enemies in 1943.

Karl Popper plaque Christchurch NZ

The quote of Popper's on the plaque came to mind when I watched Julian Temple's biopic of Joe Strummer "The Future is Unwritten". Strummer had obvious genius but he also had some crap character traits - dropping people, self obsession to name two.

As someone else said "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters".

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Off for a Break

I'm off to see my folks in New Zealand. We're going via LA.

Planes.

Packing still to do.

Labels to write.

Check this. Check that.

Leave.

Summer Sundae 2007

Last weekend I went with Rullsenberg to Summer Sundae in jolly Lesta, sorry, Leicester.

Had a whale of a time.

Divine Comedy.

Cud.

Low.

Tom Russell with a brilliant song against the planned wall across the South West USA to stop Mexican immigrants. If Mexican immigrants to the SW USA were deported, and future migration stopped, the regional economy would collapse. Picking fruit, mowing lawns, building lawns and washing children. Who would do it? The SW USA needs low paid economic migrants. Sure, they are exploited. Sure, they should be paid more. Sure, some should be higher up the economic chain. Calling for an end to immigration to the USA is racist and against the economic interests of the USA.

Kitty Daisy and Lewis. Amazing rockabilly band.

Kitty Daisy Lewis 1

Kitty Daisy Lewis 2

Kitty Daisy Lewis 3

Scoot over to Rullsenberg for some cracking reviews: Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

James on Trotsky

In Cultural Amnesia Clive James has an essay on Leon Trotsky.

A respected cultural citic has vouched an opinion that "James' essay on Trotsky is fucking shit".

James, as the liberal he sees himself as, sees any attempt at "an egalitarian project" as inevitably leading to the deaths of innocent people. He sees this by taking some examples, notably Stalin's USSR and forced collectivisation of agriculture, and constructing an ,incorrect, universal truth.

James sees Trotsky as a hero to "aesthetically minded progressives" who wished for "a vegetarian version of communism", "a more human version of the historic force that sacrificed innocent people to egalitarian principle".

According to James,Trotsky was idealised because he wrote, orated, loved women and threatened Soviet power so much that the sent assassins out to Mexico to kill him. If you change Soviet to US and Mexico to Afghanistan you can then change Trotsky to Osama Bin Laden argues James. So does that make George W Bush Stalin?

Like a bucket full of bullet holes James's argument holds no water.

"The only thing true about Trotsky's legend as some kind of lyrical humanist was that he was indeed unrealistic enough to think that the secretarial duties could safely be left to Stalin. His intolerance of being bored undid him." And "Trotsky wasn't interested in the hard grind of running the show: Leave that to Stalin. But, an important but, Trotsky yielded no points to Stalin in the matter of dealing with anybody who dared to contradict him." Was this the same Trotsky who is described in Lenin's last will for his "too far-reaching self-confidence and a disposition to be too much attracted by the purely administrative side of affairs"? (Isaac Deutscher,The Prophet Armed, Trotsky 1879 - 1921, Oxford, 1970, p516).
I think that gives Lenin one up on James.

Sure Trotsky was, at times, an unyielding, stubborn, murdering bastard. Witness Kronstadt. The massacre at Kronstadt was inexcusable and wrong. As Emma Goldman stands for many on the left when she quotes, and then criticises Lenin Lenin at the Tenth Congress of the CCP, in My Disillusionment with Russia, ch 27, "The sailors did not want the counter revolutionists but they did not want us either". Goldman goes on to argue that what made the suppression of the rebellion worse was that at the Tenth Congress "Lenin advocated free trade - a more reactionary step than any charged to the Kronstadt sailors".

This shows that Trotsky did not get a free ride from the non-Stalinist Left, well at least from anarchists.

James reveals a massive gap in his knowledge of geo-politics when he says "when totalitarianism is no longer a thing for states, but only for religious fanatics". So Burma is not totalitarian? North Korea is not totalitarian?

James's liberalism leads him to believe, wrongly, that communism, or egalitarian projects inevitably lead to mass deaths. He then loses against Lenin in a description of Trotsky's character. Then he ignores totally the remaining existence of totalitarian states. Finally he posits Trotsky's appeal on the fact that young people want to be him. Where is the evidence? A sudden crop of goatee beards?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Marseilleise and Patriotism

Socialist Unity have a discussion about Progressive Patriotism centred on this wonderful clip that always always sends a tingle down my spine and a tear to the eye.



As the comments at Socialist Unity say
It is also worth saying perhaps that this scene just wouldn’t work with “God Save the Queen”!, but it would with Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, Flower of Scotland, or Jerusalem.


And
if we have a referendum we should automatically assume that anyone proposing “God Saves the Queen” realy means the Sex Pistols - and I think we could live with that as a perfectly English national anthem


All those in favour ...

Drink Soaked Trots Have Moved

Drink Soaked Trots have moved to Drink Soaked Trots.

Healey Has Small Feet

This weekend I discovered that Denis Healey has small feet, UK size 6, European size 38.5, US size 6.5 (from ShoeSize.org) and he still dislikes Dr Death.

In an interview with John Harris
H[ealey's] most incisive character-sketch comes when we discuss the very different mischief wrought by the SDP, and the anticlimactic career of that short-lived political poster-boy David Owen. "When he was born," says Healey, "all the good fairies gave him every virtue: 'You'll be beautiful, you'll be intelligent, you'll have charm and charisma.' And the bad fairy came along and tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'But you'll be a shit.' That was his trouble."
Has anyone who has met Owen ever thought differently?

In the mid-1980s John Tomlinson was chosen as the rapporteur of the European Parliament to negotiate with Sweden over their future membership of the EU.

Tragically in 1986 the leader of the Swedish Social Democrats, Olaf Palme, was assassinated. As European Parliament rapporteur Tomlinson was invited to the state funeral. As a speaker of Swedish Tomlinson was popular with the Swedish Social Democratic Party and he was given a prominent seat for the ceremony. The official representative of the British state, David Owen, was given a seat several rows behind Tomlinson.

Owen and Tomlinson had a history as they had both served under Anthony Crosland in the Foreign Office in 1976, Owen being a junior minister and Tomlinson being a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State. Being made to sit behind Tomlinson, in a less prominent position, made Owen ask Tomlinson "What the fuck are you doing here in front of me?"

Such is the manner of Dr Death.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Rafah Border Crossing

BT'Selem have just issued a call for the opening of the Rafah Border Crossing.

30 July 2007: Joint Call by Israeli, Palestinian and European Human Rights Organizations: The Rafah Border Crossing Must be Opened

Gaza Residents Are Not Pawns in the Struggle for Control of the Strip

Israeli, Palestinian and European human rights organizations today issued a joint declaration calling on Israel , the Palestinian Authority, the European Union, and Egypt , to immediately open Gaza 's borders to passenger traffic, irrespective of their political agenda concerning Hamas. The organizations jointly stated that residents of the Strip must not be used as pawns in the struggle for control in Gaza . The continuous closure of the border crossing for more than six weeks is causing severe harm to hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents who cannot leave the Strip or return to it, impairing their ability to earn a living, receive medical treatment, or pursue education abroad. Various reports indicate that more than 20 people have already died while waiting to return to Gaza from Egypt .

A Gaza resident, aged 25, who is stuck on the Egyptian side of Rafah with his wife and infant son, told Gisha's researcher: “Our situation is a nightmare, it's hell. We came for 15 days to get treatment for the baby, and now we have been here for 65 days. My money has run out. There are many sick people here who traveled to Egypt for medical treatment and got stuck here… I have another son in Gaza and we cannot go back to him.” Another man, who is waiting at the El-Arish airport, said: “More than ninety people are stuck here… There are seriously ill people among us who went to Egypt for treatment and are now trapped here.”

The call by the organizations was directed at the four parties involved in operating the Rafah border crossing. According to the call, Israel 's duty to act to open the border between Gaza and Egypt is based on its responsibility to ensure the well-being of Palestinian residents of the Strip, due to Israel 's position as an occupying force, employing effective control over Gaza . There is importance to finding emergency solutions to reduce the suffering of those stranded in Egypt , said the organisations. However, those cannot replace the Rafah crossing, and there must be a solution to its operational difficulties.

The organizations called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to care for the welfare of Gaza residents and to demand that Israel open Rafah crossing. The groups also said that it is incumbent upon the Hamas leadership in the Strip – which controls the security forces in Gaza – to allow for the safe opening of the crossing from the Gaza side, as part of its duty to safeguard the welfare and rights of Gaza 's residents.

The coalition of organizations called on Egypt to play its part by opening the border crossing from its side, and to attend to the needs of the thousands of Gaza residents waiting, some in intolerable conditions, on the Egyptian side. The organizations also called upon the European Union to issue an unequivocal statement that the Rafah border crossing must be opened immediately, and to demand that the parties permit the European observers to return to the crossing, since their presence is essential for its operation.

Participating organizations: Al-Haq, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Al-Dameer, B'Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights

Friday, July 27, 2007

Speed Reading and Cultural Amnesia

Woody Allan had a quip "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

And in today's Grauniad a correspondent writes:
I "speed read" my daughter's copy [of Harry Potter 7] in 45 minutes. It's about wizards.
Glenn Baron
Leigh on Mendip, Somerset
Green, recycled quips have a safe feeling to them. Like curling up in a saggy armchair with a favourite book and a cup of tea.

I've just bought Clive James's Cultural Amnesia. Slate magazine describes the essays as offering
a compelling alternative history of the last century and of the struggles of liberal humanism against totalitarianism.
You can either read a small selection online at Slate, or buy the book and read it curling up in a saggy armchair with a a cup of tea, or you can do something else, who am I to force you to do anything?

There is a cracking review of Cultural Amnesia by Gordon McLauchlan that mentions that James
writes with warmth and conviction about the brilliant period of four decades in Vienna before World War II when a group of intellectuals, mainly Jewish, flourished in a cafe culture because they were denied the opportunity of wasting their energies on compiling abstruse doctoral theses, because universities discriminated against them. They were driven instead to journalism, plain speech, direct observation and the necessity to entertain [which] could sometimes be the enemy of learning, but not as often as the deadly freedom to write as if nobody would ever read the result except a faculty supervisor.
That ties in to a theme, possibly not mentioned in James's book, that having a group of people with the same interests is important for any artistic movement. Bebop needed a group of people around Charlie Parker for Bird to shine. Abstract expressionism needed a group of people supporting each other in New York in the post WWII period. But that's an aside.

McLauchlan goes on to say "James is a great public intellectual not infected by the hubris of Christopher Hitchens." Some people may argue with that point.

It's a big book, so that's me set up for several weeks.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The New Philanthropists

Ignore all the charitable donations of capitalists and bankers. The real philanthropists are those who take jobs where they earn less than they need to survive. Without people giving of their time and energy the economy would collapse. Where would you get your coffee? Where would you buy your groceries? Where would you stay away from home?



Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Ignorance is not bliss

CP Snow questioned parties of the literati about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and got looks of disdain in response.

Natalie Angier, the science editor of the New York Times, has written a book, 'The Canon - A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science', as a minimum requirement of an educated person. Steven Pinker reviews Angier's Whirligig Tour in the NY Times (registration required).
The costs of an ignorance of science are not just practical ones like misbegotten policies, forgone cures and a unilateral disarmament in national competitiveness. There is a moral cost as well. It is an astonishing fact about our species that we understand so much about the history of the universe, the forces that make it tick, the stuff it’s made of, the origin of living things and the machinery of life. A failure to nurture this knowledge shows a philistine indifference to the magnificent achievements humanity is capable of, like allowing a great work of art to molder in a warehouse.

In “The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science,” Natalie Angier aims to do her part for scientific literacy. Though Angier is a regular contributor to the Science Times section of this newspaper, “The Canon” departs from the usual treatment of science by journalists, who typically cover the “news,” the finding that upsets the apple cart, rather than the consensus. Though one can understand why journalists tend to report the latest word from the front — editors’ demand for news rather than pedagogy, and the desire to show that science is a fractious human activity rather than priestly revelation — this approach doesn’t always serve a widespread understanding of science. The results of isolated experiments are more ephemeral than conclusions from literature reviews (which usually don’t fit into a press release), and the discovery-du-jour approach can whipsaw readers between contradictory claims and leave them thinking, “Whatever.”
In today's Observer Angier's Whirligig Tour is reviewed by Tim Adams. According to Adams the book has been snapped up at auction by publishers all over Eastern Europe and Asia but there has been no interest in the UK - "a place, we might remember, where 20 per cent of people still believe that the Sun revolves around Earth".

It's time to consider that finding stuff out is inocculation against stupidity. And who could be agin that?

Monty Johnstone

The unexpected death of "Monty Johnstone, Political and Social Historian" and Eurocommunist was announced in the Death Notices in yesterday's Guardian.

In Francis Beckett's Enenmy Within, The Rise and Fall of The British Communist Party (1998) Beckett acknowledges the "tireless Monty Johnstone who has been generous with his deep knowledge" and says that Monty has "spent many years of his life making sure that the darkest secrets of international Communism are not swept under the carpet" (p viii).

Becket goes on to mention that
"Monty Johnstone, condemned in the higher reaches of the CP ever since 1956 as a revisionist, was staying in Prague at the time of the Soviet invasion. I'd gone to spend a holiday to see what was going on - I was attracted by the programme of democratisation. On the night of 20 August I was with a the director of Czech television, Jiri Pelikan, who was also a member of Parliament's foreign affairs commission. He thought the Soviet Union would invade. I said he was exaggerating - Brezhnev would not be so foolish. As we parted outside the television station at 10 pm he said, "Come and see me again, if I'm still here." I laughed. But he was never to enter that building again."
Later Johnstone was to draft a pamphlet, at the request of the YCL, called Czechoslovakia's Struggle for Socialist Democracy. (Becket p164 - 165). After almost a decade of exile from the top ranks of the CP Johnstone "was at last respectable again and in demand to address meetings" (Becket p165).

For a more critical piece try this essay from 1976 by Jim Higgins on Monty Johnstone.
YOU CANNOT help having a sneaking regard for Monty Johnstone. He is quite un-putdownable. Not only that, by a quirk of an unjust world, he seems to have discovered some spring of eternal youth.

Perhaps that is why his best writing is reserved for the pages of the Young Communist League magazine, Cogito. In the late 1960s he produced a lengthy critique of Trotsky and Trotskyism part 1.

Despite a promise, in part 1, of an early appearance of part 2, we have had to wait 7 years to get the full beauty of Monty’s thought on the question. But now it is with us and it would be surly to cavil at the delay.

Monty Johnstone has some credentials, that set him apart from his fellow CP authors on the subject, to write on Trotskyism; In his extreme youth he was a Trotskyist, a trauma which – if it did not last long – must have left lasting scars.

He has actually read the source material, which as I say puts him one up on such as John Mahon, Willie Gallagher, William Wainwright, Betty Reid, Marjorie Pollitt, J.R.Campbell and a host of others – who have vented their ignorant literary spleen on Trotsky.

Monty knows that Trotsky was not in the pay of the Mikado (the one in Japan, not the Labour MP), Adolf Hitler or anyone else and, refreshingly, he says so. He takes some pains to point out that on Germany, during the rise of Nazism, Trotsky was right and Stalin, and the Comintern, were wrong.

That, however, is as far as Monty will go. On every other question Trotsky was wrong, apparently. The “fallacy” in Trotsky’s thought is traced back to his theory of Permanent Revolution. This theory, placing as it does the working class as the central core of socialist strategy and action, blinded poor old Trotsky so it seems, to the great revolutionary potential of the middle classes, the peasantry and the “progressive” capitalists, as represented, for example, by the Kuo-Min-Tang.

Now, of course, this is a point of view, and one that has activated the minds of the Stalinist wing of communism for many years. It is not, nevertheless, the only view on the question.

It is for example the view of quite a number of people that the theory of permanent revolution is one that explains, in a Marxist way, the developments of the post-war period in Eastern Europe and China and several other “workers’ paradises”.
...
In part 1 of his work Monty Johnstone conceded, readily, that the Moscow trials were a frame-up: What he did not make clear, though, was the reason for the need of such a method of winning an argument.

The fact is that Stalin was neither right or wrong on the questions Monty Johnstone discusses. Zinoviev and Kamenev were right, or wrong. Bukharin was right, or wrong. But Stalin just won the arguments and in the end it was with a gun or a long distance ice-axe.

In the process the Communist International was transformed into an instrument of Russian policy. The Communist Parties became the extension of Russian diplomacy. And almost without exception the men who made the revolution were killed, disgraced or capitulated completely.

Now sophisticated CP apologists will argue, with the characteristic dialectical chop-logic of the breed, that whatever the crimes of Stalin, whatever the inadequacy of his theoretical grasp, it all came right in the end.

Well that too is a point of view. Even if it flies in the face of all the facts, and it ignores the divisions in the Communist movement, and the abject failure of the Western Communist parties to see any route to socialism except via a bourgeois parliament.

It is true that Trotsky had his failings but he never dreamed that working class power could be exercised through a capitalist institution. For Monty and his chums in the Italian CP this may smack of ultra-leftism; for others it sounds dangerously like marxism.

Our advice to Monty Johnstone is that, now he has completed his work on Trotsky, he should reexamine the Stalinist tradition and attempt to explain the phenomena of the late J.V.Stalin. It will be instructive, worthwhile for the YCL and will undoubtedly get him a highly paid post squaring circles.

Relationships

Just sent an email to a friend.

Got this message back:
Hi. This is the qmail-send program at yahoo.com.
I'm afraid I wasn't able to deliver your message to the following addresses.
This is a permanent error; I've given up. Sorry it didn't work out.

<name@host.com>:
207.183.238.67 does not like recipient.
Remote host said: 551 5.7.1 Recipient Unable to accept message
Giving up on 207.183.238.67.
It seems like our relationship is over. And that makes me sad. I think it's the folksiness of "I've given up. Sorry it didn't work out" that adds to the pathos.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Meme House

I have just been tagged by Rob of Eine Kleine Nichtmusik with a meme, that originated with the wonderful Clare Sudbury of Boob Pencil.

  1. Tell your readers three things about you that would make you the Ideal Housemate if you were imprisoned in a house with ten random strangers for weeks on end. Then three things that'd make you the Housemate From Hell.

  2. Three Things on the Good Side

    1. I can converse. I can converse about the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star and other shoes. I can converse about almost anything except pop trivia and biology. And one of those statements is a lie.

    2. I have patience. But can you spend your whole life hanging around with arseholes? If I can take in several books I won't pester anyone. I'll be no bother. Honest.

    3. I can cook a mean Bolognese (either veggie or meaty)


    Three Things on the Bad Side

    1. I can converse. I can converse about the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star and other shoes. I can converse about almost anything except pop trivia and biology. And one of those statements is a lie.

    2. I have patience. But can you spend your whole life hanging around with arseholes? If I can take in several books I won't pester anyone. I'll be no bother. Honest.

    3. I hate people who just witter on about nothing in particular without pausing for breath and who don't know how to carry a conversation so it includes other people and even when what they start off saying is vaguely interesting by the time they've reached what should be the end, the end my only friend, of their train of thought you have long since factored every number from here to 1729 into sums of cubes and started to wish that someone in a cloak and twirly moustache had abducted you and tied you to a railway track with great thick rope so a heroine in red and black 1950s style dress could come to the rescue but then you're disturbed by a thought that you chose to go in with these complete strangers who'd all chosen to go in to this charnel house so you have actually got something in common but then you stop and find yourself at war and watch waterfalls of pity fall and find yourself not paying a damm jot of attention to what is going on with life all around you and you stop to think that yes life is carrying on all around you with punctuation but you drift in and out of picking up words drifting across the ether from your housemates and you start to sing half remembered lyrics and then you start thinking that don't you know gazing into the vastness of it that G_d is Pooh Bear only to stop right now and know that when you gaze into abyss the abyss also gazes into you.


Oh and I'm sometimes not a social being.

Yes I will vote for the wonderful Clare. In fact I'll vote early and vote often to quote Tony Banks quoting someone else.

I'll tag anyone who reads this. Go on. Just do it.

Blogging At Work

Well, in the public sector. Some of us do work and we do it in the public sector. Research (and good honest to goodness academic research) shows that public sector bodies are using blogs to communicate with each other and the public.

The research was done by David Wyld at South Eastern Louisiana University who reasons that any body funded by the tax payer is a public body. As an old fashioned lefty I'd say that a public body is almost any body funded by the tax payer that is not part of the military. But he's an academic.

In looking at bloggers and blog readers, Wyld said they tend to be better educated, more diverse and more urban than the American population as a whole. In addition, from a political perspective, they are more civically involved and politically engaged in both the online and offline worlds.

The report includes tables detailing Wyld’s research, which is baseline data identifying blogs initiated by members of Congress, Congressional committees, governors and lieutenant governors, state legislators and other officials throughout the nation and in places as far away as Scotland and India.
The public sector body most eager to use blogging is U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM). That means that the global war on terror is being run and fought by bloggers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Logician's Dilemma

There's a classic logical puzzle about a cell, two doors and two guards. A bit like this from the brilliant xkcd.

And the whole setup is just a trap to capture escaping logicians.  None of the doors actually lead out

But not.


(Via Norm)

Lichfield Jazz and Blues Festival

Sunday we went to Lichfield Jazz and Blues festival and saw some great acts.

First up we saw John Etheridge a great guitarist but a bit too rocky for jazz guitar.

Then the amazing Gareth Roberts, his fantatstic trombone and his quintet.

We also caught the excellent pianist Zoe Rahman.

The best band on was definitely Empirical.
Four of them are past members of Tomorrows Jazz Warriors namely, Jay Phelps trumpet (here last year with Dennis Rollins) Nathaniel Facey saxes, Neil Charles double bass, Shane Forbes drums with outstanding pianist Kit Downes completing the quintet.
Here's a performance from the Vortex Jazz Club



If you like jazz then these are your cup of tea. They have an album out shortly.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Dickie Attenborough's Crockery

I went with Rullsenberg to Leicester to pick up our Summer Sundae tickets and to see the exhibition of Picasso ceramics donated to the city museum and gallery by Richard and Sheila Attenborough.

The exhibition is brilliant. The pieces are well displayed. They are all of a quality you would expect of Picasso. The back story as to how the Attenborough's came to own a collection of Picasso ceramics is on the Times's site.

Before visiting the gallery we had a glorious lunch at The Quarter. That was a glorious lunch at The Quarter.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The link between Amin and Hussein

It's all down to money.

An Idi gets a Saddam

As seen in a shop off St Martins Lane, London, last week.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Gratuitous Use of the word rooster

Or, how to use a thesaurus and get things totally wrong.



As seen in a shop window off St Martin's Lane last week in London.

Hello, Goodbye

I've just been in London for a week on a course. Managed to meet up with an old friend. We talked. We drank. We ate and drank and talked some more. We walked and we drank. And we talked some more. Then it came to that time when you have to go your separate ways. You say goodbye. And realise there has to be a better way of parting. There are things you didn't say. They'll have to wait for next time.

Anyway, here's a link to a cool cartoon about goodbyes.

Merlin from xkcd.com c270

I recommend xkcd, a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bonfire of Books

A second hand book store owner has started to burn books he can't give away. When he wanted to thin out his stock libraries didn't want them, thrift stores didn't want them. Tom Wayne, owner of Kansas City's Prospero's Books, saw burning books as a protest against declinining support for the printed word. His colleague said "There are segments of this city where you go to an estate sale and find five TVs and three books". That's tragic. Is it really the case that not reading a book is as good as burning it? I don't think so. A book shelved has the potential to be read. A book burned can never be read. Many books are read and then recycled. How many Tom Clancy novels does the world need?

That second hand book shops are closing down is a cultural tragedy. That people aren't reading as much as they did once in a golden age of literacy is another cultural tragedy. Are those who still read reading better books? Reading Adorno over Adams (but there again, Douglas Adams and Henry Adams are both worth reading)? Reading Althusser over Debord, or even Debord over Althusser.

Secondhand book shops are a major cultural resource. I love going in to a good secondhand bookshop. Picking a book. Beginning to read it. Paying for a pile of books. Leaving with a pile of books. The acquisition of books is good. Reading books is better. Reading good books is better still. But how do you define a good book?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Notebooks and the social command

I was tidying up and reviewing some old notebooks when I found some notes I'd made on Mayakovsky. Can I find where the notes are from? Can I heck. But here are the notes. Someone may know from whence they came. Probably not some dizzy whore in 1804.

Notes on Mayakovsky and the social command

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Unreconstructed non-revisionists

At the Chesterfield May Day rally there was ideology and newspapers on sale like biscuit and cakes at a CWI fete.

I bought The Proletarian sold by the CPGB-ML, who are a bunch of unreconstructed anti-imperialist non-revisionist Communists who left Scargill's Socialist Labour Party because of its commitment to social democracy.

As they say
The CPGB-ML was set up in July 2004 by a group of committed communists who had either been expelled or had resigned from the Socialist Labour Party. It was set up in recognition of the fact that there was no existing party in Britain that carried a consistently Marxist-Leninist, anti-imperialist, anti-social democratic political line. It was, and is, the unshakable conviction of these comrades that only such a party can develop into a genuine working-class vanguard.
And they unconditionally support Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Kim Jong Il in DPKR and the memory of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. There's a strong overlap with the Stalin Society which
was formed in 1991 to defend Stalin and his work on the basis of fact and to refute capitalist, revisionist, opportunist and Trotskyist propaganda directed against him.
At a meeting with the Workers Party of Korea (WKP) last September Harpal Brar said
The leadership of the Labour Party and the trade unions, which are very similar, have exercised a most harmful influence on the working-class movement in Britain. The old CPGB, under the guidance of the Comintern, was able to make deep inroads into the working-class movement, but that party went revisionist with the ascendancy of Khrushchevite revisionism in the CPSU(B) from 1956. In 1989, the CPGB dissolved itself and passed a resolution saying that the October Revolution had been a “mistake of historic proportions”.

In these circumstances, we picked up the banner of Marxism Leninism and tried to build a movement. We are trying hard to dig deep roots in the working class, with very limited success so far. With increasing imperialist attacks on the working class at home and the oppressed peoples abroad, people are beginning to listen to us. We are working hard to develop trade union and working-class work, but a lot has to be done.
So is the CPGB-ML going to win over the British working class to its program? Join us next week to find out. Erm. That may be postponed to next year. If you can't wait to find out just read The Proletarian.

As A Very Public Sociologist says the presence of smaller groups make the British left a fun place to be. Diverse ecosystems are good and that extends as much to a political ecosystem as to any other.

Laggardly posting of Chesterfield May Day

Last monday, 7th May 2007, Rullsenberg and I went to Chesterfield for the May Day Rally.

Here's the brass band before the march.

070507-Chesterfield-premarch-band-medres.jpg

Here's the gathering of the banners, with what looks like an old NHS bed.

070507-Chesterfield-premarch-banners-medres.jpg

Here's one with Chesterfield's famour crooked spire.

070507-Chesterfield-on-march-2-medres.jpg

Here's some more banners.

070507-Chesterfield-on-march-banners-3-medres.jpg

At the beginning of the rally there were stalls selling books. There were stalls selling ideology and newspapers.

And at the end of hte march the sun came out. And there's more in the next post.

Beware Drunken Brawls

Just found this picture, by Rory Hanratty, of a new street sign in Belfast.



Could we make this a nationwide thing?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Nietzsche Family Cartoon

Via DSFTP here's The Nietsche Family.

The Nietsche Family http://www.losanjealous.com/nfc
The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet dared to draw.
There's one for you. Just hit refresh and gaze into the abyss.

Monday, May 07, 2007

All the world's a stage and here's a drill

Back in February artist Jo Mitchell recreated Einsturzende Neubauten's famous gig , Concerto for Voice and Machinery, at the ICA in 1984 where they had a cement mixer, electric drills and jackhammers. The recreated gig was supported by an industrial tool hire company, as it would be.

EN's Alexander Hacke recalls
Because we were using petrol-driven chainsaws, very soon the whole room was filled with smoke, the stench of petrol everywhere. It sounded like a cross between a building site and war. Because I was very young, the others wouldn't let me near the heavy machinery so I stood, wearing protective gloves and a visor, throwing milk bottles into the cement mixer, which smashed and flew into the crowd.

But we would have kept it pretty straightforward if we weren't inspired by the reaction of the audience. There's a famous Walter Benjamin essay about the destructive character, and he says: "The destructive character knows only one watchword: make room. And only one activity: clearing away." And that's how it was. We were thinking, "Actually, it's not us doing anything. The audience are tearing the place apart!" People were fighting over the drills and sledgehammers. Cables and machinery were pulled into the audience.

The thing about these situations is that no matter how wild it gets, people do instinctively take care of each other. I'm sure there were moments when we thought it was getting out of hand but it was all so quick, it went "Snap", like a switch being flicked and everyone going berserk.
How many musicians quote Walter Benjamin? How many musicians fire shards of milk bottle at the audience? It's a thin line between really stupid and really smart.

Myth and reality often clash. According to Mick Sinclair's review of the original gig, in Sounds, and in Mick Sinclair's letter to the Grauniad it was not a Neubauten gig but a performance that featured some of the band members. So there, all you mythologisers who mythologise with your pens, your chance is over, it won't come again.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Derby Silk Workers Procession

This Saturday I had a grand day out in Derby. I went to the Silk Mill Procession which is
a trade union commemoration of the struggle of the Derby Silk Mill workers of 1834.
At 10.30am in Derby’s Market Place, join the traditional silver band led procession with your banners, or with your family and friends, in recognition of the long
and radical history of Derby workers. At the end of the procession at the Silk Mill
gates rally, a chaplet will be laid at the plaque commemorating the 1834 struggle, and there will be trade union and labour movement speakers and lusty renditions of 'The Red Flag' and 'The Internationale'.
Here's the start of the march.

Start of Derby Silk Workers Procession 28 April 2007
The sun shone as we marched to the Silk Museum.

Speeches at Derby Silk Workers Procession 28 April 2007
We passed various traction and steam engines. We listened to a cracking speech from the local PCS rep arguing for the retention of tax offices, and tax jobs, in Derby and against the proposed move to Nottingham (sorry but I couldn't find a link). We listened to Margaret Beckett, and a heckler. We heard a passionate speech from Graham Stevenson arguing that "if socialism is not the answer then there is no answer" to the world's problems. Indeed.

We then had a brass band play the Red Flag, then the Internationale. Then a steam organ started up playing Rule Britannia. Was this deliberate? Who knows?

And so to the Silk Mill pub for a talk by Graham Stevenson on Derby working class history.

Mural on wall of Silk Mill pub Derby Silk Workers Procession 28 April 2007
A bit of history over a pint of real ale. What more could you want?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Red Review

Don't people accumulate some junk? I've been going through a folder of pamphlets picked up over the years and I found "The Red Review Songbook 1985". Thought I'd copy some of them here.

Here's the cover.



Here's the first songs, The Red Flag and The Internationale.



And here's "I Have a Dream", a song that evokes dreams betrayed.



And here's Old Man's Song.



Nostalgia. A simpler time when the opposition was the opposition. When the enemy was the enemy. The joys of opposition politics. Jumpers for goalposts.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tonight the Monkey Dies

I was expcting to go to two gigs next week. But after Einsturzende Neubauten were forced to pull out (concert interruptus) I've got just one to go to, Low. Here's a video.



Hope you enjoy it. And get to see Low on their 2007 tour.

Faith, Hope and Salamandrina

Looks like the Einsturzende Neubauten gig at Rock City, Nottingham next Thursday 26 April, has been called off because not enough people wanted to go.

I was first in the queue (ahem) on the 22nd of January. Tickets numbered 10 and 11. What a night that's going to be. I evangelised to everyone I know with even a vague interest in what I call music. Some expressions of interest.

Only to find out that Rock City can't sell enough tickets. What a let down. The idle, ignorant, musically challenged folk of the East Midlands don't know what they've missed. Who could turn down the opportunity for a night of German muttering and clanking? (Obviously almost the entire population, apart from me and Rullsenberg, of the East Midlands).

So I'm at a loose end on Thursday when I should have been listening to sounds like this.



But on Wednesday I have got another gig to go to.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Twenty pound notes

Has anyone seen the new Adam Smith twenty pound note? Rullsenberg has but every time I've been to a cash machine or asked for cash back at a supermarket I've been given either tens or tens and an old crinkled twenty.

Nostalgia corner, but I can recall the introduction of the twenty pence piece. It was ages before I saw one of those. Then I was one of the last to see a pound coin. As for the two pound coin, they were a year old before I got my grubby mitts on one.

Please, please, please, let me get what I want, this time.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Visit to Iraq

Harry Barnes gives an informative account of a trip to Iraq he made in 2006.

In this piece he recalls meeting Najim Abd-Jasem, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered at the end of March 2007. Until his murder, Najim was the General Secretary of the Mechanics, Printers and Metalworkers Union in Baghdad.

Najim had been an active member of the underground Workers' Trade Union Movement during Saddam Hussein's rule and had struggled against the regime, losing his employment as a consequence.

He was a key founder member of the new free Trade Union Movement which emerged in Iraq immediately after the Coalition's invasion. He helped establish both his own Trade Union and the wider body it affiliated to - the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). The later has now merged into a wider body known as the General Federation of Iraqi Workers and is recognised by the Arab Federation of Trade Unions.
Those seeking to create a better world in Iraq are being targetted by the so-called "insurgency" who see a non-sectarian future as a bad thing.

(Thanks to Will Rubbish)

Denial

There are all sorts of people denying the Holocaust: The BNP described by Denis Fernando of Unite Against Fascism as
"... a fascist party. It has a history of criminal convictions, violence and Holocaust denial. These are not the politics of a normal political party, but a fascist group, utilising the democratic system to gain a foothold in mainstream politics.",
to the leader of Iran
"An international cast of established Holocaust deniers and implacable foes of Israel were given an open forum by Iran ... to support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's contention that the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis was a "myth".
I've just found this site that sets out to "visit a world where these revisionists have won. A world where facts too painful to be remembered are simply erased, and the sins of facism are eliminated en masse" and tries to stop Holocaust denial (aka revisionism) gaining hold.

Intro to a world where facts too painful to be remembered are simply erased, and the sins of facism are eliminated en masse - http://www.revisionistphotos.com/introduction.html

It makes uncomfortable viewing, as it should, but I found some of the images worthwhile and informative viewing. Move your cursor over the thumbnail to see the removed section of the image. The site is revisionist photos.

Aunty Clerical Comes to Tea

As Hak Mao points out, this is anticlericalism week at SCWR. Go and see pictures of clerics greeting fascists and fascists greeting fascist clerics.

It's time to empty the midden of fascists and fascist supporting scum.

Great idea thanks to the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Co-operative Republic (SCWR).

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Egyptian Strikes

According to Nicholas Wroe in the Guardian at a talk at the ICA with Slavoj Zizek, Gerry Cohen called a philosopher "an extremely unpleasant man".

Searching for the name of the philospher drew a blank. However I visited Lenin's Amusement Park, and a piece on labour strikes and uprisings in Egypt aiming to overthrow the corrupt regime of Mubarak. Lenin reports on
Recently, a remarkable article in Merip's Middle East Report by Hossam and Joel Beinin, discussed how Egyptians workers are challenging not only Mubarak's deep-state, but the whole economic order that the US seeks to impose. The privatisation drives, the cuts to wages and the attempts to reduce social protections for workers established under Nasser, have all provoked the fierce strike waves that have intensified even while state terror has intimidated opposition groups.
The Merip article itself gives a history of Egyptian Trade Unions. It seems that the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions is the government's main means of getting people in the street on pro-government rallies.
labor activists and strike leaders in the textile and railway sectors frequently mention the phrase “independent parallel national labor union.” Various leftist organizations are talking about building such a thing: the Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialists, the Nasserist Karama Party, the remnants of the Egyptian Communist Party, the People’s Socialist Party, the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Rights, and the Workers’ Coordination Committee. (Nearly absent from these deliberations is the “legal left” Tagammu‘ Party.) As of yet, however, there are no concrete plans.

The success of such endeavors will depend on whether industrial militancy is sustained, whether political activists can intervene in the strikes and whether workers can establish effective coordination among themselves. It will also depend on whether the Misr Spinning and Weaving workers indeed manage to withdraw from their government-dominated union. If they do score a victory against the union bureaucracy, other workers will be encouraged to emulate them. It is no secret that there is tremendous frustration with union leaders among the rank and file in the railways and other sectors.

Because of the high price of oil and receipts from the sale of public-sector firms, the government has significant cash reserves and can afford to meet workers’ bread-and-butter demands. It has done so in the hopes that workers will return complacent to their jobs. But some workers, and it is not yet clear how many, have begun to connect their thin wallets with broader political and economic circumstances -- the entrenchment of autocracy, widespread government incompetence and corruption, the regime’s subservience to the United States and its inability to offer meaningful support for the Palestinian people or meaningful opposition to the war in Iraq, high unemployment and the painfully obvious gap between rich and poor. Many Egyptians have begun to speak openly about the need for real change. Public-sector workers are well-positioned to play a role if they can organize themselves on a national basis.
There are many things wrong in Mubarak's Egypt (incompetence, corruption, torture, authoritarianism to give an incomplete list) and overthrowing the government may the only way to fix them.

What is meant by "meaningful support for the Palestinian people"? Financial support to develop the Palestinian economy? Military support? Financial support to develop the economy would be a good thing. Military support would just lead to more Palestinian and Israeli deaths and more instability in the region which would not be a good thing.