Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Part of the Union

Eric Lee, of the excellent Labour Start site, has issued a request for help for Australian Construction workers:
This week's message is brief and very much to the point -- and needs your attention today.

The Howard government in Australia is one of the most anti-union in the world, breaking new ground in its efforts to smash the trade union movement in that country.

Among its first victims are 107 construction workers, who are being prosecuted for alleged "illegal" industrial action following the sacking of a union delegate.

According to Kevin Reynolds, Secretary of the West Australian Branch of the CFMEU union, "Under the Howard Government, the basic right to vote to take strike action in support of better conditions and a safe workplace has now been criminalised."

The workers made their first appearance in court yesterday (Monday).

They are asking workers around the world to mobilize and send messages of protest to government officials today:


The families of the 107 are facing fines of A$28,600, meaning massive financial hardship and destitution because of these punitive laws. Please give generously:


Spread the word - pass this message on!

Thank you.

Eric Lee

Monday, August 28, 2006


Amnesty International has a Darfur Campaign. It's not been the most high profile campaign but they have had one. Details are here. Further details on Amnesty's site are here.

For more up to date information see the excellent Sudan Watch.

There's an interview with Eric Reeves, an academic expert on the Darfur conflict, at Democracy Now that has been picked up by Mick Hartley. You can read Mick Hartley for a good summary and extract from the interview.

Here's my take on the latest situation. The Sudanese government has rejected a draft U.N. resolution calling for a 17,000 person force to be deployed to Darfur. Reeves says
Khartoum is right now planning a massive military offensive in North Darfur, which has been the most violent of the three Darfur states.

If this offensive takes place, there will be massive, massive civilian destruction. I think we're also likely to see a withdrawal of virtually all humanitarian workers. This will leave some 1.2 million people completely dependent on humanitarian aid, without any assistance whatsoever. By my own calculation, some 500,000 people have already died. As many more could die in the coming year if current trends continue.
The U.S.A's Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer got a frosty reception and a "No" from the Sudanese President, to accepting the U.N peacekeeping force. Not being a Permanent Member of the U.N. Security Council you'd think that Sudan would not have that much say in what the U.N. does or does not do. And you'd be wrong.

New global political realities are forming. Sudan is the major offshore oil supplier
to China and China dominates oil production in southern Sudan. Any U.N. force will only be deployed if there is a concensual resolution. Khartoum consistently says that any state supporting the U.N. resolution is an enemy of the state of Sudan, and that is something China does not want to be. Thus any resolution will be vetoed by China. To quote Eric Reeves
[China] will veto any resolution, and we come up against a very, very difficult problem. What will we do if the United Nations proves incapable of acting in the face of ongoing massive genocide?
Faced by such a question what is the response of campaigning NGOs such as Amnesty? It's the Global Day for Darfur where you can wear a blue hat on September 17th. Is it an adequate response? No. Have I signed up for it? Yes. Do I feel annoyed and angered by the inadequacy of the response? For the love of Hegel, yes.

On Books and Book Buying

On Eric Lee's recommendation I bought "The Mind at Work - Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker" by Mike Rose. And a fine, informative read it is, setting out to demolish the myth that there are workers by hand and workers by brain. Most workers by hand also use intelligence in all aspects of their job. (And, I would like to add, some workers by brain show an alarming lack of intelligence). As Rose says, on page xxvii,
I think we need to be cautious in assuming extensive and necessary effects of particular kinds of work on the thinking ability of the people who do them. Such analysis can obscure the nuance and variation in individual people's experence of work, as well as real differences in the physical and social environment of individual workplaces. The complexity of working life is therefore reduced. We can pinpoint the harmful effects of modern working conditions ... without positing an automatic diminishment of a worker's awareness and capacity to reason.
That assumption that so many people make, that John Doe has a manual job therefore John Doe must be not very intelligent is just wrong and ill-founded. And the corresponding assumption that John Fotheringey has a professional job therefore John Fotheringey must be intelligent is just wrong and ill-founded. And that assumption plays into public policy on education and training and is just wrong and ill-founded.

And if you are going to get it, get it from Union Communication Services. The book is available here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

On Names and Things

In my previous post, on failing to read, I referenced a book by Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies.

There's a splendid review of that work here by a splendidly named chap, George Cowmeadow Bauman. He describes himself as "a career bibliopole and a lifetime bibliophile, if not an outright bibliomaniac".

And what is wrong with that?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

On Failing to Read

Norm cites Nick Hornby as saying 'if you're reading a book that's killing you, put it down and read something else'.

That may be so for some people and some books. However, most people have picked up a book in a bookshop or a library and started to read and taken the book home. And there it sits. By a favourite chair or on a table by the bed. And it is picked up. And the first pages are read. Something happens. The telephone rings. The television gets interesting. What's that music playing? Worst of all, you fall asleep.

Distractions prevent you from being enveloped by the book. You want to read it. You really do want to read it. It's just that you haven't got the time. It's just that you haven't got the energy. So many books to read. So little time.

Last year I bought David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. It's a big, multi-stranded narrative of a world. I carried it in my bag for weeks. I'd pick it up while waiting for Rullsenberg. In coffee shops I'd drink my filter coffee and try and read. I just couldn't concentrate for any length of time. Too much noise. Too many distractions. Just too much everything stopping me.

I was about to give up and blame the book. But then I started reading in a quiet coffee bar in the Djanogly Art Gallery. And I finally got into it. And a damn fine book it is too.

But there are just too many books to read. In "So Many Books", page 22, Gabriel Zaid wrote
"In the first century of printing (1450 - 1550), 35,000 titles were published; in the last half-century (1950 - 2000), there were a thousand times more - 36 million. ... Books are published at such a rapid rate that they make us exponentially more ignorant. If a person read a book a day, he would be neglecting to read four thousand others, published the same day. In other words, the books he didn't read would pile up four thousand times faster than the books he did read, and his ignorance would grow four thousand times faster than his knowledge."
To read voraciously is to gaze into the abyss of the finite when infinity is needed to even approach completion.

Zaid, ibid page 24, goes on to say
"And maybe the measure of our reading should therefore be, not the number of books we've read, but the state in which they leave us.

What does it matter how cultivated and up-to-date we are, or how many thousands of books we've read? What matters is how we feel, how we see, what we do after reading; whether the street and the clouds and the existence of others mean anything to us; whether reading makes us, physically, more alive."

If you're interested in reading and want to read about reading I would recommend "Gabriel Zaid's "So Many Books", Albert Manguel's "A History of Reading", Sven Birkert's "The Gutenberg Elegies", Anne Fadiman's "Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader". There are many more good books on reading, and readers, but that's a good list with which to start. If that doesn't float your reading boat just go and read.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Here's a good comment on the annual gripe-fest that is the A-level results season.
Ministers are hesitant about accepting the case for A* grades, and rightly so. They know that, given the stubborn links between family background and exam achievement, the grade is most likely to be achieved by children from better-off homes. An A* would, to put it crudely, stop the masses from getting ideas above their station.

Those who favour the new grade argue, in effect, that A-levels have ceased to be effective rationing devices because they no longer allow the elite universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, to cherry-pick the best candidates. But Oxford and Cambridge have no obvious right to the brightest students. Some of the cleverest might benefit from other universities, including those with a more vocational bent. Why do we think it necessary to organise our entire exam system around the selection of a tiny proportion of the population for a highly academic education and privileged lifestyle at Oxford or Cambridge?

There are many things wrong with A-levels - too narrow, too specialist, too academic - but the lack of an A* grade isn't one of them.
Shouldn't exam results show what people have learned and not be part of a bigger rationing process for entry to prestigious (prestigious as in "held in high esteem" and as in "knavish") professions and institutions? Personally I failed most of my A-levels because I was bored and wanted to read stuff totally unrelated to my courses (I was doing Economics, Geography and Pure Mathematics and Statistics but spent months reading philosophy books and Bertrand Russell's autobiography). Thankfully I scraped through in Maths which led onto an HND in Computer Studies. But that is just me, I just wanted to read books, think and write an occasional essay. And didn't want any of the formal assessment that went with an A-level course. Some might say it's intellectual laziness. Others might say it's just laziness. Yup. Guilty.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Clamo, clamatis, omnes clamamus pro glace lactis sundae

What a fantastic weekend. Summer Sundae was a damn fine festival. With the Blockheads in the Musician Tent, on Friday, being as excellent as you'd expect. As someone once said, they are Britain's answer to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section or to the MGs. Why isn't there a queue of people wanting to record with the Blockheads?

Saturday saw a brilliant performance from Tunng. Then a splendid singalong-a performance from Leith's finest, The Proclaimers.

There were many more highlights. I'll remember more tomorrow.

It's late. I'm tired and I'm off to bed.

For more highlights see Rullsenberg's record of the weekend. And here. And here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Starbucks and the Wobblies

Counago and Spaves cross post from the Wobblies on the current dispute between Starbucks and IWW members in the U.S.A. Here's an extract
The Wobblies at Starbucks have proven that by taking direct action against the company over issues of concern to workers and by avoiding the skewed certification process of NLRB elections, baristas can improve their lives on and off the job. This strategy only works however, if the company incurs significant economic, political, and social costs when it violates the right to organize by terminating workers for union activity.

Take action with us sisters and brothers. Together we will win:

1) Do not spend your hard earned money at Starbucks until the company respects the right of workers to organize and reinstates Daniel Gross and the rest of the IWW baristas. Let the company know you are taking a stand by participating in the email action:


2) Obtain a resolution or pledge from your community group, labor union, or house of worship agreeing to stay way from Starbucks products until justice is done. Please send copies to starbucksunion@yahoo.com.

3) Hold a rally or leafleting action at Starbucks in support of the right to organize and in defense of the fired union baristas if you feel that's appropriate in your local community. Please check in with the baristas at the store beforehand to involve them in the action.
And here's a link to the Wobblies.

Cricket Lovely Cricket

Last Sunday had a grand day out at Derbyshire County Cricket Club watching Derbyshire play West Indies A.

When we arived the weather was warm. The picnic bags were full. The West Indies were fielding.

When we left, after an excellent day's fun, the weather was still warm, the picnic bags were empty and Derbyshire won by 30 runs. Here's the scorecard.

Here's a report from the Gleaner.

The International Cricket Council is investing heavily in promoting cricket in its current Associate and Affiliate member counties. And that's a good thing. The more countries playing cricket the better.

However it needs to look at the decline of cricket in the Caribbean. Those of us of a certain generation grew up watching Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Alvin Kallicharan and Clive Lloyd conquer the world. We are now saddened by the decline in West Indian cricket. Indeed a simple search on google for "west indian cricket" decline gets 565 responses.

Here's a serious piece, by Jeffery Mordecai, that blames the West Indies Cricket Board's imposition of "a ridiculous eligibility rule" as, a major, reason for the decline. In 1994 the Board made eligibility for the West Indian team depend on playing in domestic inter-island competitions. As Mordecai argues
Our administrators chose instead to put all their efforts into developing and improving our domestic regional and national competitions. This was and is an admirable policy initiative, for the long run, but cannot fully replace foreign professional competition in the short to medium term.

The Eligibility Rule has destroyed the very ingredient that led to our dominance of world cricket by providing that you cannot represent the West Indies unless you represent your territory in all the rounds of the domestic regional competition. In other words, if you secure a professional contract you cannot play for the West Indies.

What is the equivalent rule in the other international sports? There is none!

Does Dwight Yorke have to play every match in the domestic season for Joe Public to represent Trinidad and Tobago in football? Do Brazil and Argentina prohibit their best players from playing abroad?

Such a rule would be impossible to conceive in any other international sport but in our case, the national association (WICB) unbelievably imposed it on themselves, without any input from the ICC
Put like that, will anyone be surprised when the West Indies will soon struggle to beat Bangladesh.


Prescedence. Shmescedence.

There is a man. A man with a blog. A blog called "A Cloud In Trousers". Like this one.

Then along comes a man. A man with a blog. A blog called "A Cloud In Trousers". Like this one.

The leftmarch guy has rather cool tastes (haha - found a link to Deep-bloody-Purple - not so cool now). He even opens with an excellent post on graveyards. What's a man to do?

A spectre, or a frightful hobgoblin, is haunting me.

Hello FraVernero.

And thanks to Will Rubbish for pointing this out.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MP3 players and the privatization of public spaces

Yes. I know. In the past I have argued for mp3 players being
  1. a B-A-D thing
  2. a privatization of public spaces
  3. used by pedestrians (pedo's as we used to call us/them/us in my Wolverhampton school days) with a deathwish
  4. used by people with a premature deafwish
Well. Hold on there a minute. Friday afternoon I was offered a used, one careful owner, iPod Nano 1GB. Being in a happy mood, as I was off on a big weekend, I agreed to buy it. Thus it was that I acquired an iPod. When I bought it, and because of my big weekend still, it contains an appalling miasmic melange of musical mishaps - "power ballads".

That was Friday. I've had a four day break from computers. Now I am trying to download iTunes and load some decent stuff on to it. I was thinking some Miles Davis, some Einsturzende Neubauten, some Pere Ubu (and associated projects), some Regina Spektor, and some (and this will annoy loads of people) Gilad Atzmon.

A friend sent me a copy of "musiK - Re-Arranging the 20th Century" by Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble with Robert Wyatt and Guillermo Rozenthuler" which is, on a totally unbiased viewpoint, a damn fine eclectic album. Yes, Atzmon has some opinions that suggest that for a politician he's a damn fine jazz musician and for a jazz musician he's a bloody awful politician. I think it comes down to can you like the art of someone whose politics you disdain?

In the case of Atzmon I think you can because his music is good. It's second division good (obviously before the inflationary innovation of the Premier League) but it's listenable with a certain amount of challenging content. Carrying on with the football analogy, Atzmon is a Millwall, "everybody hates us and we don't care", rather than an Arsenal. Much of Atzmon's writing is ill-thought out, ill-argued pseudo-intellectual (drop a Lacan, a Freud, a Heidegger and you have a specious academic style) and fundamentally not very good as either argument or polemic. But as a musician he's good. And that surely is what it's all about.

Drawing up the Cloud in Trouser Model for the relationship between your aesthetic appreciation of art and the stated political beliefs of the artist we have:
  • Like Politics - Like Art
  • Like Politics - Ah Um Art
  • Like Politics - Detest Art

  • Ah Um Politics - Like Art
  • Ah Um Politics - Ah Um Art
  • Ah Um Politics - Detest Art

  • Detest Politics - Like Art
  • Detest Politics - Ah Um Art
  • Detest Politics - Detest Art
Too many Ah Ums suggests why bother. When you like the politics but not the art of an artist I find there is a tendency to go "I should like it and I don't but if other's like it that's good". In that lacuna of "Detest Politics - Like Art" lies real difficulty.

But, anyway, I really like some of Atzmon's music. So there.

And back to mp3 players. As I have written before1 they are a
  1. a G-O-O-D thing
  2. a privatization of public spaces
  3. used by pedestrians (pedo's as we used to call us/them/us in my Wolverhampton school days) with a deathwish
  4. used by people with a premature deafwish.
When I'll actually listen to it is another matter.

1 Anyone finding any reference to any such writing probably has a painting of Nat Tate's at home, above the mantel.


As the man said, now ain't the time for ill-informed scribbling. This is more of a discussion about discussion.

When you get people supporting sides in a dispute there are always differences in the level of support given.

There are those who generally advocate support for one side but are able to see when one side is behaving unethically and beyond any sense of human decency.
Israel's action at Qana is inexcusable. I say this as someone who supports Israel's right to defend itself against those who attack it, those who send missiles against its civilians and who intend its destruction as a state.
That's an example of good advocacy that supports one side of an issue but is never too biased to see ethical failings on that side.

Then you get those who know which side of the issue they are on and anything which threatens their blinkered little world view - "I am always right" - gets theorised away as some conspiracy. There's a link at those oh, so nice guys at LGF which constructs a conspiracy theory abut the timing of the collapse of the building at Qana, pointing to Hezbollah as the source of the demolition and a morgue at Tyre as the source of the bodies. Such are the excuses put up to argue "my side is always on the side of the angels". (You'll notice there are no links to this conspiratorial claptrap but if you are interested there's enough clues to google.) And, for those who aren't paying attention, I consider that an example of morally bad advocacy.

I'm sure you could find equally unbiased and biased postings by those who support Hezbollah but I don't want to spend all my time looking at the ravings of those who support, at the level of "national liberation army" or "resistance movement" (it's part of the government so what is it resisting in Lebanon?) or at the level of anti-Semitic rantings like "smash the Jewish state".

For the record, my own position is that Israel has a right to defend itself but when it kills innocents (non-combatants, or call them what you like I don't think the terminology is important) it loses much of the ethical and moral and sheer rightful backing it needs, and deserves.

For discussion on media portrayals of the events at Qana see this news roundup from the Washington Post.