Monday, June 30, 2008

Tesco Rhymes with Alfresco Rhymes With Fiasco

One of our local centres, Beeston, is about to see the construction of a megalith. Sorry, that should read, a great big monstrosity of a Tesco. To clear the site they have demolished several shops, a pub and a garage and devastated a corner of the town.

A protest campaign has started led by the Church of the Militant Elvis Anti-Tesco Popular Front. Their manifesto begins:
Our candidate is fed up with Tesco wrecking Beeston town centre and putting small shopkeepers out of business. If elected he will do all he can to stop the relentless expansion of this corporate monster because at this rate by 2010 there will more Tesco's in Britain than Elvis impersonators.
Will Tesco just leave us alone? Or are they really bent on total domination of every bloody high street? When will they stop? Rapacious capitalist bastards.

[Via Liam]

Friday, June 27, 2008

Testimonies of Torture

June 26th is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

To mark the day B'selem and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel have put together a video of "David Senesh, an Israeli soldier who was held hostage by the Egyptian army, and Amjad Abu Salhah, a Palestinian who was arrested by Israel, describe the methods of torture to which they were subjected and their long-lasting influence."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Night Wraps The Sky

There is a new book out that looks at the work of Vladimir Mayakovsky. It's called "Night Wraps the Sky: Writings by and About Mayakovsky" and it is edited by Michael Almereyda.

There was a public performance earlier this year which you can listen to.

And here's the cover:

I'll be ordering it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Broken Records and Twilight Sad

Last night we went out to see Twilight Sad and support.

The first support was a rather competent and earnest singer song-writer playing his acoustic songs about former girlfriends. What the world does not need is another singer song-writer bewailing his former lovers.

Then onto a stage the size of a dining table came the seven piece Broken Records. Drums, bass, 2 guitars, keyboards, violin and cello. Then they started. Echoes of the Waterboys. Echoes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Echoes of Arcade Fire. Awesome. Inspiring.

Then came the headliners Twilight Sad. Noisy. Energetic. Moody. Inspired by Joy Division. The lead singer is very inspired by the spirit of Ian Curtis. The potential is all there to be a very good band. The singer should be himself more and drop the Ian Curtis performance style.

Here's Rullenberg's take on the proceedings (and here as well).

Make your own mind up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Coming and Not Going

Mark Haddon visits the Migrants Resource Centre and meets some interesting people.

According to official statistics, from the Home Office, which, by the way, says it is building a safe, just and tolerant society, the UK "removed" 3,025 asylum seekers in the first three months of 2008.
For the first quarter of 2008, the number of principal asylum applicants removed was 2,805, 13 per cent lower than in the first quarter of 2007 (3,205). Including dependants, a total of 3,025 asylum seekers were removed in the first quarter of 2008, 14 per cent lower than in the first quarter of 2007 (3,515). In 2007/08, 12,125 principal applicants were removed from the UK, 19 per cent lower than in 2006/07 (15,050). Including dependants, 13,100 asylum seekers were removed in 2007/08, 22 per cent lower than in 2006/07 (16,710).
Those statistics were brought you by the Home Office, which, by the way, is saying it is building a safe, just and tolerant society.

The Home Office, which is saying it is building a safe, just and tolerant society, is still forcibly deporting about a thousand people a month.

A "safe", "just" and "tolerant" society for who, exactly?

Here's a video report on local communities making a "safe", "just" and "tolerant" society by supporting the right of asyum seekers to stay in this country. Here's the associated article on communities campaigning for the right to remain.

Just remember "no one is illegal".

Asylum in Sunderland

Just finished reading Bryan Talbot's magisterial Alice in Sunderland. It makes the case that Lewis Carroll's work was largely inspired by the scenery and history of Wearside and Sunderland. It also discusses the history of comics and the history of Sunderland - a city that gave the world the electric light-bulb and the stars and stripes.

Some bits work wonderfully - actually all bits are brilliantly done - the exception being the overlong discursive meander with a community crime writer and artist. But, hey, the book tries so much and everything can't work. Talbot is willing to wander and connect various themes. A final documentary section, graphics on lined paper, uses English, and Sunderland, history to support asylum seekers against prejudice (both the whipped up and innate sorts).

It's a massively inspired and wondrous work. They don't mackem like this anymore.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Principia Mathematica and Stupidity Rampant

The petulant Simon Jenkins regurgitates a hobby horse and writes that the study of mathematics is unneccessary for most people and "finance, marketing and design, on service activities" have fed Britain's booming economy which has led to more students studying finance, economics, psychology and other "soft" subjects instead of mathematics, science and engineering. Note that Jenkins picks "soft subjects" that all require an understanding and use of higher level mathematics.
What stimulates today's students is the realm of the creative imagination and the working of the marketplace. This spectrum, from English and drama to business and finance, seems benign both to individuals and to the economy. Students are not stupid. They know where money is to be made, which is why they flock to medicine among the sciences.
And there was me thinking the money was to be made as a quantitative analyst in a hedge fund. The piece is just so wrong I don't know where to begin and Jenkins gets a new one torn in the comments.

In the comments Professor Ross Anderson makes the equally egregiously wrong point that
I teach computer science at Cambridge, and we've found that students can't cope with our course unless they got an A in A level maths. Pretty much the same holds in engineering, economics, physics and chemistry - indeed across the schools of technology and physical science.
Stop and think through the statement "students can't cope with our course unless they got an A in A level maths". One would think that computer science students at Cambridge fit into one of two camps: those with A level maths at grade A (as with any other grade would you be at Cambridge?); and those who haven't studied A level maths. So the evidence comes out as "students can't cope with our course unless they [have] A level maths". So unless Cambridge is accepting students with Bs, Cs, Ds and Es in A level maths Anderson's point about an A grade being necessary lacks evidence and becomes "our course requires A level maths".

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Education, education and no right to leave the country

Societies thrive when all members are healthy, vibrant, active and reflective. Similarly my life is improved by the wellbeing of my neighbours. But that may just be me. Others may delight in the misfortunes of their neighbours. But not me.

Israel's future depends on a thriving Palestinian state. And a thriving state needs intelligent educated people. Students in Gaza have been given scholarships to study overseas. Some have been given Fulbright scholarships to study in the USA and others have places waiting at other institutions elsewhere.

I would have thought that it was in Israel's interest to let out all students with offers of places to study overseas. Well, after much protesting from the US State Department some of the Fulbright scholars have been allowed to proceed with their Israeli entry visa applications. Other students are not so fortunate.

At least two students have places in the UK. Wissam Abuajwa has a scholarship and a UK visa to study at Nottingham University; and Abir Abu Warda has a Ford Foundation-funded place at London Metropolitan University. Both of these students are appealing to the British government to support their applications for entry visas to Israel so they can leave the country.

In the Israeli High Court of Justice, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein is reported by the Jpost as saying that the ban is no less harmful to the Israeli interest because we have to live with the Palestinians in the future, too."

He warned that preventing students from accessing education "harms chances for some kind of coexistence."

The court case was run by Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, an Israeli non-profit organization.

Gisha say that Israel has refused to grant hundreds of requests by Gaza students for entry permits to Israel so that they can travel abroad to continue their studies. And Gisha further says
"the ban "is part of a policy of closure and collective punishment that is trapping 1.5 million civilians."

Gisha's briefing on Israel's ban on students, and others, leaving Gaza, is an informative document, that argues
according to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Conventions of 1907, which were designed to protect the rights of civilians in times of war and occupation, the State of Israel is obligated to protect the residents of Gaza, to allow them to live normal lives and to safeguard their rights. Also according to the Geneva Convention and the Hague Conventions, Israel must provide for the regular functioning of civil institutions in Gaza, including the school system and institutions of higher education.
The Fourth Geneva Convention and its First Additional Protocol prohibit the use of collective punishment.
Among the rights which the State of Israel is obligated to uphold for the residents of Gaza is the right to leave and reenter the Gaza Strip. The right of any person to leave a given territory, including the territory in which he or she lives, is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Israel's policy of stopping students take up courses either in Israel or overseas is morally and legally wrong and is politically stupid.

By its actions Israel is building up a generation of disaffected intelligent young people with a rage against Israel for stopping them studying overseas *and* is also delaying the much needed economic growth of Gaza and Palestine.

That's a double whammy of bad consequences that comes from being politically inept and stupid.