Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why I Read The Guardian

Here's justification enough. Two letters, on the same page: one about tax transparency; and the other about whistleblowers and the appalling behaviour of HMRC.
like the idea that information collected by the government should be available to anyone (Cameron prescribes NHS reform in bid for economic upturn, 5 December). But it's not just the NHS data that might be interesting. What about the Inland Revenue? It has an equally large data bank. I will be quite happy to toss information about my prostate, varicose veins and mild asthma into the limpid pool of transparency, if the chief executives of big pharma and other FTSE 100 companies will share the intimate details of the development of their taxes over a similar period. They are also welcome to my tax details as an incentive. I propose two sets of online directories, one containing all information about everybody's health and the other holding all information about everybody's earnings and the tax paid on those earnings. That would be a start for a hugely transparent society. Will Taylor Cheriton Fitzpaine, Devon
• I was shocked to hear the HM Revenue and Customs solicitor Osita Mba is "facing disciplinary procedures" for disclosing to parliament details of the Goldman Sachs tax debacle (Report, 9 December). These documents were not furtively leaked for personal profit, but presented honourably to parliament to enable it to better perform its duty of holding the Revenue properly to account. Mr Mba is a public benefactor who deserves praise for his courage, not intimidation from his embarrassed bosses. This squalid hounding of a courageous whistleblower should be seen as a contempt of parliament, and the HMRC managers responsible should be hauled before the relevant parliamentary committee to explain themselves. Dr Martin Treacy Cardigan, Ceredigion
No further comment required.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Come On In

Here's a welcome, make yourself at home sign outside a pub in Cromford, Derbyshire:
Muddy boots, wet bums, soggy dogs, Welcome

Noties at Arkwright's Mill

Here's a "noties" from the site of Arkwright's Mill at Cromford
Arkwright's Mill Site Noties (sic)
And here's some info from another notice:
Arkwright's Mill - history and work in progress notice

Don't borrow my towel notice by anonymous

Some people like putting up notices:
don't use my towel you immoral cad- locker sign
Feel the passive aggressive rage in that notice. And see that it's an anonymous angry message.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Libel - what is it good for?

Has anyone really had their reputation cleansed by bringing a libel (or slander or defamation) case?

It went well for Oscar Wilde and for Tommy Sheridan. And nobody now laughs at Max Spanker Mosely.

A self-published writer is suing Vaughan Jones, and Richard Dawkins, and Amazon, over some book reviews. I know this should be nothing to see, move along. But the complaint is being taken seriously. O for a serious legal system.

Index on Censorship write:
John Kampfner, the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, said: “That a family man from Nuneaton can face a potentially ruinous libel action for a book review on Amazon shows how archaic and expensive our libel law is.”

Kampfner added that the Libel Reform Campaign, which is underway with English Pen and Sense about Science, is hoping to commit to a bill in the next Queen’s speech to reform the chilling effect libel has on freedom of speech.

Debt - the first 5000 years

Over the summer I picked up David Graeber's book Debt - The First 5000 years.

I have just got around to starting it. Even though I'm not far in, I can recommend it without reservation. It's definitely the hot book of the moment.

There's a good review of David Graeber's Debt at Social Text by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi.

There's a good interview with David Graeber by Philip Pilkington at Naked Capitalism:
David Graeber: Yes there’s a standard story we’re all taught, a ‘once upon a time’ — it’s a fairy tale.

It really deserves no other introduction: according to this theory all transactions were by barter. “Tell you what, I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow.” Or three arrow-heads for that beaver pelt or what-have-you. This created inconveniences, because maybe your neighbor doesn’t need chickens right now, so you have to invent money.

The story goes back at least to Adam Smith and in its own way it’s the founding myth of economics. Now, I’m an anthropologist and we anthropologists have long known this is a myth simply because if there were places where everyday transactions took the form of: “I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow,” we’d have found one or two by now. After all people have been looking since 1776, when the Wealth of Nations first came out. But if you think about it for just a second, it’s hardly surprising that we haven’t found anything.

Think about what they’re saying here – basically: that a bunch of Neolithic farmers in a village somewhere, or Native Americans or whatever, will be engaging in transactions only through the spot trade. So, if your neighbor doesn’t have what you want right now, no big deal. Obviously what would really happen, and this is what anthropologists observe when neighbors do engage in something like exchange with each other, if you want your neighbor’s cow, you’d say, “wow, nice cow” and he’d say “you like it? Take it!” – and now you owe him one. Quite often people don’t even engage in exchange at all – if they were real Iroquois or other Native Americans, for example, all such things would probably be allocated by women’s councils.

So the real question is not how does barter generate some sort of medium of exchange, that then becomes money, but rather, how does that broad sense of ‘I owe you one’ turn into a precise system of measurement – that is: money as a unit of account?

By the time the curtain goes up on the historical record in ancient Mesopotamia, around 3200 BC, it’s already happened. There’s an elaborate system of money of account and complex credit systems. (Money as medium of exchange or as a standardized circulating units of gold, silver, bronze or whatever, only comes much later.)

So really, rather than the standard story – first there’s barter, then money, then finally credit comes out of that – if anything its precisely the other way around. Credit and debt comes first, then coinage emerges thousands of years later and then, when you do find “I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow” type of barter systems, it’s usually when there used to be cash markets, but for some reason – as in Russia, for example, in 1998 – the currency collapses or disappears.
There's a video interview with David Graeber:
  1. part one
  2. part two

The New York Times describes David Graber as: "A scholar whose books and articles are used in college classrooms around the world and an anarchist and a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World".

Sunday, November 06, 2011

6th and Mission

Over the summer we spent several days staying around Market Street in San Francisco. I have just found this brilliant and thoughtful piece about gentrification, and the difference between 5th and 6th streets

6th is a lacuna for fruit and veg and 5th is the place for bakeries and coffee and food for all who can afford it. As the piece says "A block away. A unverse away."

People may live in the same city but what is it they share, apart from a post code? When a place changes what happens to the people? And pople are the most important part of any city.

Credit to the brilliant artist, Wendy Macnaughton.

Absurdly expensive shopping

Just finished reading Voices by Arnaldur Indridason. A good Icelandic detective story featuring the misanthropic Erlandur.

A line just needs sharing. A suspect in a sub-plot is wearing "a T-shirt with a designer label on one of the breast pockets, which he wore like a medal rewarding him for absurdly expensive shopping."  [p167, Voices, Arnaldur Indridason].

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kant, Capitalism, Immorality and Petitio Principii

Critical thinking and philosophy in schools in schools is an idea whose time is now. That's the gist of a letter in today's Guardian.

Combine that with a course in scientific method, experimental design and enough statistics to keep the Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) fleece being pulled over people's eyes and that's a basis of a winning curriculum.

I couldn't agree more. Critical thinking and philosophy is vital to the well being of a society. If only some of the signatories followed some of the basic rules of logic. A recent issue of Chartist has Bob Brecher's and Phil Vellender's essay on Capitalism and Immorality. I believe that capitalism is immoral but providing a watertight argument why it is is harder than it seems.

Brecher rightly approves Kant's Categorical Imperative,
"Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end."
"Kant's principle seems undeniable (try it). To be a person – to be recognised as such and not just a member of the species, Homo sapiens — is already to have a moral and political status. A person's life isn't merely a means to another's, or their own, ends. So if you deny Kant's principle, you're denying that you're a person - that's a contradiction."
Brecher here constructs a syllogism whose premises are: to be a person is already to have a moral and political status; a person's life isn't merely a means to another's, or their own, ends; therefore we conclude with Kant's Categorical Imperative. To deny the Imperative is to deny the premise. But the second premise is just a paraphrase of the conclusion. This is like saying X is a number; X is 3; therefore we conclude that X is 3. To deny that X is 3 contradicts our second premise.

The argument is guilty of assuming what it is trying to argue for. Avoiding the Latin, petitio principii, this is begging the question, and makes for an invalid argument.

As an aside it is important to realise that it is only in the 20th century that women were considered as persons in English law.
In the LRB, Vol 33 No 9 28th April 2011, Stephen Sedley wrote of
"When Parliament gave women the right to stand for election, Lady Sandhurst was unseated from the London County Council by an opponent who claimed that, not being a person, she could not be ‘a fit person of full age’. But when a Miss Cobden was elected and waited till the time for challenge was past before taking her seat, she was promptly prosecuted for being a person sitting as councillor when unqualified. She put up the seemingly impregnable defence that if she was not a person for the purpose of being elected she could not be a person for the purpose of being prosecuted. Naturally, she was convicted."
I think that Kant's Categorical Imperative is a fine formulation for treating people, but I bet Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder, could have adhered to the imperative, barring an accident of chronology. If you don't see all people as persons then the Imperative can easily become justification for slavery, concentration camps and Fascism. Persons are well treated, as ends and not merely as means, but people are treated however the order of the day sees fit, often merely as means.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Something we didn't do in San Francisco

No. I didn't.

Male Nude Revue - Rookies Night

I was home by the date in question.

Graffiti in San Francisco

Spotted in San Francisco, opposite City Lights.

If at first you don't succeed - call an airstrike

And here's City Lights.

City Lights Booksellers and Publishers

Friday, August 05, 2011

Take Five

Here's the Sachal Orchestra with Take Five.

and there's more.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Clean Clothes

Who wants to go about in dirty clothes? Not me.

That's why I have signed up to the Clean Clothes Campaign.

There's a song by the folk singer Chris Wood Oyster Band that talks about the saddest thing is workers in developing countries putting holes in jeans.

But some companies still sandblast jeans in a process that kills the workers.

If you want to wear distressed clothes buy second hand clothes that have been distressed and have the patina of experience. Don't wear some factory fresh distress.

[ Thanks to Nick for the correction ]

Sunday, July 17, 2011

On Documentary

A brilliant critique of Adam Curtis's style over substance.

[ Hat tip: Paul Stott ]

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Nazi Iconography

I have a confession to make: I don't watch much football. But last night I watched Barcelona outplay Manchester United. Barcelona were superb with their control, possession and all round footballing play.

Something was disturbing me about Man Utd's strip. After several minutes I realised what it was. The red arm patch with the black and white logo, of the Champions League starball, evokes the image of a Nazi arm band. I'm not saying this was an intentional design conceit but I don't think you can have a red band on your arm with a white circle with a black geometric shape without it evoking a Nazi arm band.

See this image taken by Tom Jenkins for the Observer

The arm patch of the geometric ball on a red band evokes a nazi arm band.

There is a history of designers "playing" with Nazi imagery. Often it's not through any malevolent intent but purely through ignorance of the historical and political context of the imagery. An example is when Bryan Ferry apologized for liking Nazi imagery.
He told Welt am Sonntag: "The Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves.

"Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful."
At the risk of summarising and simplifying too much, part of the appeal of the Nazis to 1930s Europeans, was their style, showmanship, iconography and their ability to put on a show. Another part of their appeal was scapegoating and offering brutal and simple answers but here let's just say the Nazis were a criminally bad and murderous organisation with an iconography that still sppeals to some people today. It's not that most designers use the iconography because they have Nazi sympathies, it's often because the imagery, shorn of its political and historic context, looks simple and modern. To separate the imagery from the context takes an almost incomprehensible level of ignorance but we do live in a world where too many still suffer from Beveridge's five 'Giant Evils' of 'Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness'.

To summarise, as I mentioned earlier, I don't think you can have a red band with a black geometric shape in a white circle without it evoking nazism.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Some Musings on Universities

In trying to formulate a response to Howard Hotson's piece in the current LRB, "Don't Look to the Ivy League", I found this quote about an English university:
The University of Cambridge is an exempt charity subject to regulation by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) under the Charities Act 2006.

The University is a common law corporation, being a corporation by prescription consisting of a Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars who from time out of mind have had the government of their members and enjoyed the privileges of such a corporation. By Act of Parliament 13 Elizabeth Cap. 29 passed in the year 1571 the incorporation of the University and all privileges then held under charter or by prescription were duly confirmed.
I was tickled by the phrase "from time out of mind". Since, like yonks ago, to put it in the contemporary vernacular.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England, HEFCE, points out that all bar one, of England's higher education institutions, are incorporated as private charitable corporations. Essentially, in England, the only public institution of higher education is Guildhall School of Music which is controlled by the, not very democratic, Corporation of the City of London. All other institutions are in reality private corporations that are publicly funded. There is little democratic control of the trustees and management of these institutions. There is little in law to stop English universities deciding to go fully private, and refuse public funds tomorrow. That surely means they are not public institutions.

Hotson's argument amounts to looking at the different resources, including GDP and population in the US and the UK, contrary to accepted wisdom, the US actually underperfoms in the THE-QS World University rankings. He makes a welcome contribution to the debate when he argues that there is no evidence of private sector competition driving up academic standards, and, if anything, treating students as customers only serves to introduce grade inflation and leads to expenditure on "the student experience" instead of education. All reasonable conclusions with which I agree. However some of Hotson's reasoning is a bit squiffy.

In looking at the geographical distribution of the top 100 universities in the THE rankings for 2010-11, by which I assume he means this, he says "The wealthiest private universities at the top of the league table .. are concentrated on the northeastern seaboard of the United States". Now the list begins
  1. Harvard
  2. CalTech
  3. MIT
  4. Stanford
  5. Princeton
  6. Cambridge
  7. Oxford
  8. Berkeley
  9. Imperial
  10. Yale
  11. UCLA
Now, CalTech and Stanford are private institutions in California, which is nowhere near the northeastern seaboard. Perhaps he means another THE ranking?

Now, just because you can manipulate numbers it doesn't mean that you should. Hotson argues
According to Unesco, there are 5758 recognised higher education institutions in the US, about 1600 of which grant four-year degrees. So the 72 US universities in the top 200 represent fewer than 5 per cent of those offering four-year degrees. The US university system overall appears to offer poor value for money: none of the funding, public or private, pouring into 95 per cent of the higher education institutions in America makes any impact at all on the world university rankings. By comparison, the 29 UK universities in the top 200 represent nearly a fifth of the 165 listed by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. So British universities appear, on average, to be almost four times better at breaking into the global top 200 than their American counterparts.
That is statistical garbage. If all of the top 200 places were taken by US institutions that would mean that 1400/1600 or 87.5% of US institutions were outwith the top 200 and would mean that the funding of just under 90% "of the higher education institutions in America makes [no] impact at all on the world university rankings". Only 12.5% of US institutions can be in the global top 200. It's all a matter of scale.

Simply on the basis of numbers all 165 of the UK higher education institutions could get into the top 200. That would not make UK universities better at breaking into the global top 200 than other countries' universities. On the basis of Hotson's logic if a country gets 100% of its universities into the top 200, even if it only has one university, then its record at breaking into the top 200 cannot be surpassed. In this case ratios, and percentages, tell us very little.

I'm not disputing Hotson's conclusions it's just that some of his arguments are nonsense.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Tindersticks - My Sister

Years ago I borrowed a Tindersticks album from Wolverhampton Central Library. What a find.

Here's a video of My Sister.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Agents Provacateur

Ever since The Man Who Was Thursday some people believe that activists are all government agents. There was also the case in the USA where, at one point in the 1960s 10 percent of the SWP were FBI informants.
COINTELPRO operations began against the SW in 1961, when court records show they had around 600 members-10 percent were FBI informants who were paid in excess of $1.6 million over the years for their efforts.22 Infiltration began in response to the SW's electoral campaigns and desegregation activities-perfectly legal undertakings. Over the years, member informants supplied the government with membership lists, financial records, budgets, minutes of meetings, mailing lists, and correspondence. From 1961-1976, fifty-five informants held offices or committee positions and fifty-one served on executive committees of the party. 13
Dan Hind points out that at 5:54 into this footage of the MArch 26th 2011 demo a black clad psuedo anarchist passes through police lines by showing a pass.

UK Uncut - How To Do a Bail In

How To Do a Bail In. A guide by UK Uncut.

[Via Socialist Unity]

The Famous Five and a Polyester Emporium

Lasy Saturday a branch of the static inducing, misogynistic, Anne Summers chain had its windows smashed.

The heroes of the hour were George, Julian, Dick, Anne and Timmy. They explain why they did what they did here.
Ann Summers presents a thin veneer of respectability to what is ultimately total exploitation of our attachments, insecurities and fears. It is a point of capture for the feelings of inadequacy synthesized by capitalist marketing.

The present commodification of sex is so successful because the insecurity it generates distracts us from rejecting capitalist values as the only possible precondition for meaningful sexual relations. As if worth and value can be calculated from the frequency of orgasms. Good sex becomes quantifiable. Pleasures must be maximized. Are you missing out because you are not flirtatious, adventurous or daring enough?

But let us not spend too long missing the wood for the trees. This is the nature of the real subsumption beneath capital: once capitalist production is established it seeks to permeate every aspect of life that exists within it.

Our act was not one of destruction but one of rejection. A rejection of a process of capture. Of ensnaring and taking our desires from us. Of taking everything we want in life and returning it to us in a box.
To resist this is to live and, in the words of Jacques Camatte, this world we must leave.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

For F.J. Titmus read Titmus F.J.

Sad to hear of the death of Fred Titmus, a Middlesex and England off-spinner.

Here's the anecdote about the amateurs and gentlemen days of English cricket.
There is a famous cricket story from the days when a strict divide was maintained between amateurs and professionals. It maintains that there was once an announcement at Lord’s that ran:

For F.J. Titmus read Titmus, F.J.

The point was that amateurs had their initials placed before their names and professionals had them afterwards.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An analysis of the fall of the Celtic Tiger

Here's a fairly decent analysis of the economic crisis with particular reference to the Celtic Tiger.

[Hat tip: Bob Piper]

Friday, March 11, 2011

Census 2011

Now then. Now then. There are differences of opinion about the census. Is it important for the future planning of local, and national, services, sorry the Big Society. Must get up to speed with the vernacular.

Should it be boycotted because it's another example of the Big Brother state?

Should it be boycotted because part of the data collection is done by the arms making, and arms dealing, Lockheed Martin?

If you do fill it in what should you put in the religious section?
The Leicester Secular Society and British Humanist Association are running a campaign - "if you're not religious, for God's sake say so".

Here's a picture:

BHA If you're not religious, for God's sake, say so

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Killing

Did you see The Killing last night on BBC4?

If you didn't I recommend that you catch up. It's a Danish tv drama about a 20 day investigation into the murder of a young woman. Soon after the investigation begins evidence is found pointing to local politicians and the media.

What gives this show an edge is that, unlike most tv detectives, the lead character is a woman investigating what you could call a hate crime against women.

Genuinely thrilling stuff.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

House of Books

There's something about the physical paper book that cannot be replaced by an e-reader. It's the feel, the texture, the weight, and the sense that you're doing something that people have been doing at least since the days of Wynkyn de Worde.

Here's Saul Abramsky's account of his grandfather's house of books a house of books.
A little over 30 years ago, a family friend of my mother's came from Los Angeles to visit us in London, and was taken to see my grandparents' house near Hampstead Heath. An artist, he immortalised that evening with a black and white ink drawing. Titled Chimen Abramsky's House of Books, it showed a house the walls of which consisted entirely of books; the occupants sat around cluttered tables in old chairs drinking endless cups of coffee or tea while engaged in animated conversation.

Every single room of the house, except the bathroom and kitchen, was, indeed, lined floor to ceiling with books. And when the shelves were filled, the floors succumbed to great, twisting piles of paperbacks and hardbacks. To me, growing up, this house was my school, my library and my sanctuary when things got tough at home. My grandfather had been a bookseller in the East End from 1940 until the mid-1960s, an antiquarian, an academic – self-made, without even a completed degree. He had been studying history in Jerusalem in 1939, had come to London to visit his parents, and had been stranded by the outbreak of war; he never returned to his undergraduate studies. But he was soon corresponding with many of the world's leading intellects, sometimes writing as many as 10 letters a day.

To that extraordinary place traipsed generations of scholars and rabbis, politicians, refugees, artists, students.
Books, tea, coffee, cake, biscuits and conversation makes for a damn good afternoon.

Monday, January 03, 2011

A Nice Cup of Tea

Over in the USA Christopher Hitchens is complaining about the difficulty of finding a nice cup of tea. It's good to see the Hitch drinking tea. He discusses George Orwell's 11 golden rules for a nice cup of tea. Here are the tenth and eleventh rules:

# Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

# Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.
Go on, have a nice cup of tea.

[Hat tip: Norm]

Sunday, January 02, 2011

A critique of Brecher on universities and the neo-liberal revolution

In the current Chartist magazine Bob Brecher writes on universities and the neo-liberal revolution.
Education has always served two quite contrary needs: continuity and renewal. Now, provided the numbers are small, that is no great problem. The majority of that small minority can be safely relied upon to deal with continuity: the universities of Oxford and Cambridge have performed that task magnificently for centuries. And the small minority (of the small minority) who do concern themselves with renewal will have in mind only those forms of renewal that serve, rather than undermine, the ruling order. So we should not be surprised that Cameron has a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (I'm not joking) from Oxford; his sidekick, Clegg, a BA in Social Anthropology from Cambridge. This presents a problem for contemporary capitalism. It needs to engage the vast majority for its project – as consumers, if not as producers. As it becomes more technologically complex, so it needs workers with more and more skills and more and more knowledge. With the increasing pace of technological change, it also needs those workers to be 'flexible', as Browne so disarmingly tells us. In short, the old division between those fit only for secondary modern schools and those who can be permitted to enter grammar school needs to go much deeper and to go on for much longer.
So we have the two conflicting needs served by education of continuity, the majority, and renewal, the task of a small minority of graduates or institutions? Whether these are "needs" of capital or "needs" of society is left unclear.

When Brecher argues that "[those who] do concern themselves with renewal will have in mind only those forms of renewal that serve, rather than undermine, the ruling order" he is negating the existence of left parties and groups who seek renewal of society through undermining and overthrowing the ruling order.

Why does Brecher write "we should not be surprised that Cameron has a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (I'm not joking) from Oxford"? Does Brecher find it funny that there is a PPE degree? Or does he find it funny that someone should have studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics and not be a socialist? Just as studying humanities subjects does not necessarily humanise the individual, the way, the truth and the light do not all appear to everyone who has followed the path of PPE. In any case Cameron and Clegg have both "proceeded MA" and relinquished all rights to their BA degree, as is the Oxbridge way.

How do you jump from saying an increasingly complex capitalism "needs [flexible] workers with more and more skills and more and more knowledge" to saying the "old division between those fit only for secondary modern schools and those who can be permitted to enter grammar school needs to go much deeper and to go on for much longer." The "old division" does not necessarily follow from the need for workers with more skills and more knowledge and more flexibility (whatever that means).
[I]t comes as no surprise that the most noticeable thing about academic responses to the Browne Report is that no one has seen fit to locate its recommendations in the context of the government's commitment to using the so-called economic crisis as a pretext for initiating a neo-liberal revolution beyond Thatcher's wildest dreams. It is as though its plans for the universities were ignorant, spiteful, blatantly illogical or all three. But they are not; unless we understand government policy for what it is we have not the slightest chance of overturning it, whether in the universities or elsewhere. The transformation of the universities from being a public good, and recognised as such, to being at once providers of private consumables and a vanguard of the values thus entrenched is an integral part of the neo-liberal fundamentalists' opportunistic revolution.
Now "no one has seen fit to locate [the Browne report's] recommendations in the context of the government's commitment to using the so-called economic crisis as a pretext for initiating a neo-liberal revolution beyond Thatcher's wildest dreams" is a claim of bewildering chutzpah. Does he mean that I, Bob Brecher, am the first to locate the recommendations as part of a neo-liberal putsch? Most people I talk to, some of them academics and some not, see everything this Con-Dem government does as part of a neo-liberal realignment.

It is, almost, beyond dispute that universities are a recognised public good. A university is failing its community if it does not dominate the culture and debate in its region. Also society benefits from having skilled and knowledgeable members but there has always been a private benefit to the individual from higher education. The individual often gets confidence and satisfaction from understanding how to come to terms with how the world works, or at least how a part of the world works, and, often, is paid more than those who haven't been through higher education. So universities produce a public good and, at the same time, a private good for its alumni. That has always been the case, even since William of Ockham's time.

Later Brecher asks why neo-liberals need to marketise the universities.
First, because neo-liberalism requires that the majority of people are taught not to think clearly and not to question what they're told, lest they rebel. Second, and this is even more important, if the universities can be made into vehicles of the neo-liberal creed then they will do more than most other social institutions to reproduce and enforce that creed. Not only will 'students' come to believe that everything – and perhaps everyone – is a commodity, but their teachers will themselves be products of the same ideology. For who but the rich will be able or willing to take on postgraduate work once they're already tens of thousands of pounds in undergraduate debt?
That is bollocks. That's more a description of the demands of a command and control economyy than neo-liberalism. Surely neo-liberalism requires that people believe in the tenets of neo-liberalism. It does not require "that the majority of people are taught not to think clearly and not to question what they're told". Neo-liberalism as a doctrine may be something I don't like and oppose, but it has its own logic and its own problems that require clear thinking to overcome. The neo-liberal doctrine of renewal through creative destruction also requires a reqular questioning of orthodoxy to do things in new ways.

Does Brecher suppose there are courses in universities on teaching people how not to think clearly? Surely it's more likely that people are just not taught how to think clearly. At the moment hardly any English universities have modules on critical thinking that teach logic and reasoning skills.

Just because the neo-liberal creed is being driven into universities that does not mean universities are neo-liberal vehicles. There is no necessary causal relationship between how a university, or university department, is funded and what it teaches. When Brecher asks "who but the rich will be able or willing to take on postgraduate work once they're already tens of thousands of pounds in undergraduate debt" surely the answer is those who know that that is what they need to do if they want to do what they want to do. It's not about being rich it's about coming to terms with a debt that you're not going to have to consider paying while you're still a student, even a postgrad. The debt may deter some people; it may attract some people in the way that some people prefer to pay to go to an attraction rather than to a cost-free art gallery. At the moment we don't know the debt's impact.

The next bit
Everything else – from engineering to physics to business to design – will become bereft of critical content, taught – again if that is the right word – by people who understand themselves to be 'delivering' quantifiable commodities to their customers.
is just more speculative bollocks. Why will these subjects "become bereft of critical content"? It's an interesting, and agreeable, definition of "teach" to only include subjects with critical content but can you teach calculus critically, and if you could, should you?

Yes, we can all agree that the Con-Dem government is taking advantage of the current fiscal crisis to drive ideological change.
So again, it will not be 'a huge mistake' to 'value our students simply for what we can get out of them or what they might earn in the future' because 'they will in turn estimate our value by what they can get out of us' ('Hefce chief: prepare for tough journey', Times Higher Educational Supplement. 28 Oct. 2010). On the contrary: that is exactly what Browne intends. The neo-liberal revolutionaries know exactly what they are doing and why. They intend to take advantage of the current 'crisis' – the ideological power of which is in inverse proportion to its material reality — by encouraging the √©lite universities to go private in frustration if for no other reason, forcing the 'bottom of the range' into the hands of commercial companies such as Kaplan and BBP and slowly strangling the rest as any sort of public institution. At least some academics are coming to realise this, and have just formed the Campaign for the Public University (http://publicuniversity.org.uk/).
It is a mistake to "value our students simply for what we can get out of them or what they might earn in the future", irrespective of Browne's intentions. If you don't see it as an egregious mistake it is still the wrong thing to do even if they are Browne's intentions. And, I think, Brecher, believes it is the wrong thing to do. If it is the wrong thing then, it is mistaken, even deliberately so.

As I understand it, all, bar one, of the higher education institutions in England are incorporated as private charities. The single exception is the Guildhall School of Music which is part of the Corporation of the City of London. So legally all, bar one, of England's universities are already private institutions.

Now we are heading to the conclusion:
So what is to be done? We must understand the ideological nature of the Coalition's attack on the universities and not be sidelined by their disguising it as a cost-cutting exercise: this year's planned bonuses for top bankers amount to three times current public spending on the universities. We have to understand and oppose it, not in isolation, as though it concerned the universities alone, but for what it is: a genuinely revolutionary policy.
Yes, it is important to understand this is an ideological attack on universities and society and is merely disguised as a cost-cutting exercise. That's fine and dandy. To then say "this year's planned bonuses for top bankers amount to three times current public spending on the universities" has no relevance to anything unless the money available for banker's bonuses is appropriated by the government. As an argument it's like saying that the money spent on scratch and sniff lotto cards each week is twice current public spending on universities. There is no connection, it's just 3 oranges added to a pomegranate. Now this final paragraph is fine.
Students, administrators and academics need to take themselves seriously as members of a university and to join forces with all the other workers, paid and unpaid, whom the multi-millionaire fundamentalists around the Cabinet table regard as so much dross. Most pressingly of all, academics have to understand, realise and use the power that as academics they have. A good starting-point would be to refuse to act as the self-interested egoists which too many of them have become and whom the neo-liberals would have the rest of us become; to refuse to compete with one another, whether within or across institutions, or with other groups of workers; and to make a new reality of what was once known as solidarity.
I have very little disagreement with the conclusion but the arguments used to reach the conclusion are a mix of speculation and ranting polemic with little evidence to back them up.

As always unite and fight against the neo-liberal agenda.

Gaza Manifesto for Change

Gaza Youth Breaks Out has issued a manifesto against Hamas; against Israel; against Fatah.


Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA!

We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community!

We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16’s breaking the wall of sound; scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in; we are like lice between two nails living a nightmare inside a nightmare, no room for hope, no space for freedom.

We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of coal dark nights with airplanes circling above our homes; sick of innocent farmers getting shot in the buffer zone because they are taking care of their lands; sick of bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, the so-called experts in expressing concerns and drafting resolutions but cowards in enforcing anything they agree on; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel, beaten up by Hamas and completely ignored by the rest of the world.

There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalizing this energy into something that can challenge the status quo and give us some kind of hope.

The final drop that made our hearts tremble with frustration and hopelessness happened 30rd November, when Hamas’ officers came to Sharek Youth Forum, a leading youth organization (www.sharek.ps) with their guns, lies and aggressiveness, throwing everybody outside, incarcerating some and prohibiting Sharek from working. A few days later, demonstrators in front of Sharek were beaten and some incarcerated.

We are really living a nightmare inside a nightmare. It is difficult to find words for the pressure we are under. We barely survived the Operation Cast Lead, where Israel very effectively bombed the shit out of us, destroying thousands of homes and even more lives and dreams. They did not get rid of Hamas, as they intended, but they sure scared us forever and distributed post traumatic stress syndrome to everybody, as there was nowhere to run.

We are youth with heavy hearts. We carry in ourselves a heaviness so immense that it makes it difficult to us to enjoy the sunset. How to enjoy it when dark clouds paint the horizon and bleak memories run past our eyes every time we close them?

We smile in order to hide the pain. We laugh in order to forget the war. We hope in order not to commit suicide here and now.

During the war we got the unmistakable feeling that Israel wanted to erase us from the face of the earth. During the last years Hamas has been doing all they can to control our thoughts, behaviour and aspirations.

We are a generation of young people used to face missiles, carrying what seems to be a impossible mission of living a normal and healthy life, and only barely tolerated by a massive organization that has spread in our society as a malicious cancer disease, causing mayhem and effectively killing all living cells, thoughts and dreams on its way as well as paralyzing people with its terror regime.

Not to mention the prison we live in, a prison sustained by a so-called democratic country.

History is repeating itself in its most cruel way and nobody seems to care. We are scared.

Here in Gaza we are scared of being incarcerated, interrogated, hit, tortured, bombed, killed.

We are afraid of living, because every single step we take has to be considered and well-thought, there are limitations everywhere, we cannot move as we want, say what we want, do what we want, sometimes we even cant think what we want because the occupation has occupied our brains and hearts so terrible that it hurts and it makes us want to shed endless tears of frustration and rage!

We do not want to hate, we do not want to feel all of this feelings, we do not want to be victims anymore.

ENOUGH! Enough pain, enough tears, enough suffering, enough control, limitations, unjust justifications, terror, torture, excuses, bombings, sleepless nights, dead civilians, black memories, bleak future, heart aching present, disturbed politics, fanatic politicians, religious bullshit, enough incarceration!

WE SAY STOP! This is not the future we want!

We want three things.
  1. We want to be free.
  2. We want to be able to live a normal life.
  3. We want peace.
Is that too much to ask? We are a peace movement consistent of young people in Gaza and supporters elsewhere that will not rest until the truth about Gaza is known by everybody in this whole world and in such a degree that no more silent consent or loud indifference will be accepted.

This is the Gazan youth’s manifesto for change!

We will start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves, we will break free from this mental incarceration and regain our dignity and self respect.

We will carry our heads high even though we will face resistance.

We will work day and night in order to change these miserable conditions we are living under.

We will build dreams where we meet walls.

We only hope that you – yes, you reading this statement right now! – can support us. In order to find out how, please write on our wall or contact us directly: freegazayouth@hotmail.com

We want to be free, we want to live, we want peace.
December, 2010

They are to be found on Facebook, of course.

The revolution will be twittered and facebooked.

Desolation Row

When you think of Detroit you think of Motown, the MC5, Iggy And the Stooges. Now look at these images of the decline of Detroit. If the buildings are just left, abandoned as if a couple of minutes notice were given of impending destruction, what of the people of Detroit?

In the related article the photographers say:
"As Europeans, we were looking with an outsider's eye, which made downtown Detroit seem even more strange and dramatic," says Meffre. "We are not used to seeing empty buildings left intact. In Europe, salvage companies move in immediately and take what they can sell as antiques. Here, they only take the metal piping to sell for scrap. In the Vanity ballroom alone, we saw four giant art deco chandeliers, beautiful objects, each one unique. It was almost unbelievable that they could still be there. It is as if America has no sense of its own architectural history and culture."
This is very much a symptom of the cycles of capital with the decline of Detroits' reason for being (that being the motor industry), and racial politics with "white flight" leaving a largely poor, and African-American city centre. To overthrow capitalism and replace it by something better is a laudable, and vital, aim. In Detroit it is as if capitalism has abandoned the people and their infrastructure, leaving little in the way of food shops and all the other essesntials of modern existence.

The conclusion is worth reading:
as [Thomas J Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit] puts it: "The abandoned factories, the eerily vacant schools, the rotting houses, and gutted skyscrapers that Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre chronicle are the artefacts of Detroit's astonishing rise as a global capital of capitalism and its even more extraordinary descent into ruin, a place where the boundaries between the American dream and the American nightmare, between prosperity and poverty, between the permanent and the ephemeral are powerfully and painfully visible. No place epitomises the creative and destructive forces of modernity more than Detroit, past and present."