Monday, June 29, 2009

Trains and the Delights of Heavy Engineering

In yesterday's glorious sunshine I went with Rullsenberg on a reconnaissance mission to the Midland Railway Centre near Ripley in Derbyshire.

Yesterday they were running an English Electric event with, you've guessed it, electric trains.

It's also got shiny steam trains, shiny diesel trains and shiny electric trains. Nostalgia is in the air sending you back to the day when heavy engineering was about making things that worked and looked good, or to put it another way, making things that combined form and function to make a perfect whole.

English Electric train at Midland Railway Centre, Ripley, 28th June 2009

If you do go, make time to go on the Golden Valley Light Railway, and visit the workshop to see the brilliant restoration work.

Golden Valley Light Valley engine under restoration at the Midland Railway Centre, Ripley on 28th June 2009

Also find time to go on the Butterley Park Miniature Railway, hold on for a fun ride.

Butterley Park Miniature Railway at the Midland Railway Centre, Ripley on 28th June 2009

The Midland railway Centre is full of enthusiastic, friendly people, willing to help you have a fun day out. Now some of you will go trains, how dull. It's not like that. Honest. You may even get the chance to drive a train, be it electric, diesel or steam.

And here's a signal box.

Signal Box at Midland Railway Centre, Ripley, 28th June 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tax Dodgers Plead for Sympathy

Yes that's U2, the notorious tax dodgers.

U2 drummer Larry Mullen believes rich and successful people are being unnecessarily humiliated when coming in and out of Ireland, describing this as “part of a new resentment of rich people in this country”.

“We have experienced [a situation] where coming in and out of the country at certain times is made more difficult than it should be — not only for us, but for a lot of wealthy people,” he said. “So it wasn’t personal. It was to do with the better-off being sort of humiliated.”
It's great that Bono advocates revoking the debt of developing nations. It would be even greater if he paid some tax.

[ Thanks to Will Rubbish ]

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Deals and False Promises

In the 1930's Roosevelt put into place the New Deal, which put in place much of America's public infrastructure and gave work to Orson Welles, Burt Lancaster and Joseph Cotten in the Federal Theatre Project. Not a bad thing.

In the first decade of the 21st century in the UK we have a scabby programme where private providers are paid to give support to unemployed people. Sometimes that support involves help with writing a CV and a covering letter. Sometimes people turn up with a perfectly good CV, indeed people turn up with several CVs adapted for the jobs they apply for. Sometimes those perfectly good CVs get passed off as the work of the private provider so the private provider can be paid by the Department for Work and Pensions. Here's a site with peoples' negative experiences of New Deal programmes.

The site has some powerful accounts of how New Deal is not working, but they don't like anyone quoting, being advocates of copyright and not for copylefting, or Creative Commons or the GPL.

When the private sector gets involved in the public realm, purely because of the money to be made, you just know the service will be crap, the people on the programme will be patronised, and they will get a crap service. It does not work.

[Via the comments at Dave Spart]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back to My Roots

For those who don't talk proper here's a guide.

And here's the alphabet for those who want to talk proper.

Will Kaufman and Billy Bragg at Big Session 2009

On Saturday I scooted (actually by bus and train) over to Leicester for a day of the Big Session. It was lucky I got my ticket well in advance as the day was sold out.

After getting my bearings and seeing some performance poetry and the charming Delta Maid (the delta being that of the Mersey) I bumped into my friends. After beer and conversation we went to the see the amazing Will Kaufman do his brilliant Woody Guthrie show. He covers parts of the Great depression , the Dustbowl, Tin Pan Alley, and Fascism all through the songs and life story of Woody Guthrie. If you haven't seen his show I recommend you make an effort when he comes to a place near you.

All together "This land is our land ... it was made for you and me".
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
Saying this land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
The night ended with another cracking peformance from the Milkman of Human Kindness. And here's a url if you can't recall the song

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The End of Our Elaborate Plans

There's a cracking discussion of the late 1970s and Andy Beckett's cracking book When the Lights Went Out. Here the article contrasts Callaghan and Brown.
If Callaghan could invariably, even in the most stressful moments of his immensely stressful premiership, come across as 'Sunny Jim', it was because he was never under many illusions. He was built for (and from) compromise. He accepted disappointment from the start - rather like the Freud who thought the point of psychoanalysis was to deliver patients from excruciating mental agony to 'ordinary misery', Callaghan believed that in politics there were only bad and worse decisions. Yet what counted as 'realism' for Callaghan was partly conditioned by forces outside the parliamentary machine and the financial system [.]
And the grandfatherly Callaghan, chirpy and self-possessed, rarely depressed, even amidst the Winter of Discontent that would bring him down, could not strike a greater contrast with the morose Brown, a resentful Richard who carries a wintry discontent with him always, on his heavy brows. For Callaghan stood only at what he thought would be a moment of painful transition for the Labour party, whereas Brown looks like the mortfied personification of the final death of the labour movement itself.
It is time to leave behind stale, decaying, dying representational democracy with its minimum engagement to a system of participatory democracy where people make real decisions that affect their lives.

That's not a call for the will of the noisiest. That's a call for real participatory democracy where people come together to make decsions about the places they live. Real decisions made by local people should encourage more people to take part in the political process instead of leaving it to the political classes.

[ Thanks to Will Rubbish in the comments over there. ]

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Stupid Party.

It's time for a quote from John Stuart Mill.
I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.
Letter to the Conservative MP, Sir John Pakington (March 1866)
And so say I.

I hardly think any sentient being would deny it.

Depths of Despond

With fascists winning two seats in England in the 2009 Euro elections has English politics reached a nadir or are there further depths to plummet?

Nazi Andrew Brons got 9.8 percent in Yorkshire.

Nazi Nick Griffin got 8 per cent in the North West.

The fascist party got 8.9 per cent in the North East; and 8.6 percent in the East and West Midlands.

A large section of the public has spoken and revealed itself as nasty, vicious, self obsessed, supporting a bullying fascist party revelling in jackboots smashing a human face forever.

And here's a picture:
Nazi jackboot

Here's that quote in full from Frederick Douglass:

* If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.
o An address on West India Emancipation (1857-08-04)
Hope Not Hate.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Censure me in your wisdom

Yesterday went to see a splendid production of Julius Caesar at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford.

It was gory. The blood flew about the stage. And the politics proved contemporary enough.

RSC Julius Caesar flyer

These are the speeches that impressed:

From Act 2 scene 1
Never fear that. If he be so resolved,
I can o'ersway him. For he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betrayed with trees,
And bears with glasses, elephants with holes,
Lions with toils, and men with flatterers.
But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being then most flatterèd.
Let me work.
For I can give his humor the true bent,
And I will bring him to the Capitol.

Then from Act III scene 1

CASCA and the other conspirators stab CAESAR. BRUTUS stabs him last.
Et tu, Bruté?—Then fall, Caesar.

And you too, Brutus? In that case, die, Caesar.
(he dies)
Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!
Run hence, proclaim, cry it about the streets.

Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! Run and proclaim it in the streets.
Some to the common pulpits, and cry out,
“Liberty, freedom, and enfranchisement!”

And again from Act III Scene 1
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever livèd in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy—
Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue—
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men.
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy.
Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quartered with the hands of war,
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds,
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
Given the current parliamentary political circumstances I could not help imagining the heroic Regicides and the current, less than heroic, cabinet.