Dec 312011
 
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This came my way via Charlie on Facebook yesterday:

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, after thirty years of silence, authors of a standard clinical psychiatric bedside test have issued take down orders of new medical research. Doctors who use copies of the bedside test which will have been printed in some of their oldest medical textbooks are liable to be sued for up to $150,000. […]

That is to say, after a third of a century of silence, someone has responded to legal advice and decided they’d like to take a whole profession to the cleaners for using a medical checklist to assess the mental health of its patients.

The result?

This news is highly relevant in light of the ongoing SOPA scandal that is currently threatening the internet as we know it. Many fail to realise that copyright is valid 70 years after the death of the author and up to 120 years after the creation of the work. The use of copyright law to prevent the clinical use of medical tests and to prevent new medical tests being developed is something many of us would only expect to really happen in dystopian fiction. The fact of the matter is that it is happening in real life.

This, then, is truly an example of how copyright can (really) damage your health.  And if every time I mention the term you decide (as the stats would seem to indicate) to turn off – as if the matter had little to do with your real-life existences – I suggest you keep today’s post close to your heart for when you might dust it off the next time I bring the matter to your attention.

Copyright shouldn’t be so important, it is true.  But wicked men and women are abusing its power to make sitting on piles of cash an easier objective to achieve.

And whether this is at the cost of freedom of speech on the Internet or – alternatively – the mental wellbeing of millions of patients across the world, they care very little for the consequences on the rest of society as they proceed to gather together and concentrate more and more of our finite resources for their own individual benefit.

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Dec 302011
 
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Jack of Kent has a revealing piece about why it’s socially acceptable to hate lawyers.  This, in particular, lays bare the whys and wherefores of this prejudice:

The reason why lawyers are generally disliked may not be down to their actual conduct or their personal qualities.

It is instead because law is both powerful and – in the main – invisible.

Law leaves traces in certain documents and speech acts, and it can manifest itself in the coercive actions of hard-faced individuals; but generally law is equally threatening and elusive.

It is perhaps not so much that lawyers are hated, but that law itself is feared and mysterious.

I think, in the main, from my limited contact with the profession, an essential element of our shared inability to like lawyers lies in the fact that lawyers tend to be right.

Even when they are found wrong, in some court case or another, everything is apparently a question of debate – and might easily have turned out quite differently.

When we pay lawyers, we pay them to interpret law – and in that interpretation they have a get-out clause which covers all eventualities.

Thus it is that we hate lawyers because – inevitably – they are always right.

Even when, from the client’s emotional standpoint, they end up being incomprehensibly wrong.

*

And so it is I then ask myself the question at the top of this post: who should we hate the most – lawyers, bankers or economists?

For I do wonder whether the current salvoes broadly directed towards the banking fraternity are – at the same time – misdirected out of ignorance.  In reality, who is to blame for the economic misery ordinary people are being exposed to?  Bankers were – and are – almost certainly simple pawns in a wider systemic set of failings they chose to discretely operate within: so yes, to an extent they were to blame; but no, to a degree they were hardly capable of seeing beyond the careful Chinese walls that all corporate agents are inevitably surrounded by.

Surely we should really blame the artifices themselves of the systems that failed – and not the perhaps relatively helpless and rather more visible frontline protagonists.  That is to say, instead of looking to fault the bankers simply out to make a quick buck, our ire should really have focussed on the economists who devised the technical and ideological infrastructures which stumbled and trembled us to essential long-term oblivion – as all the time they encouraged the economic players to employ their very basest and most disagreeable instincts.

To recapitulate, then: if we hate lawyers because their professional structures mean they are always going to be right, even when they are wrong; and if we currently despise bankers because – in truth – it is easy to understand the idea of modern money-grabbing Scrooges who act out of a cold-hearted self-interest … shouldn’t we also contemplate lining up against the revolutionary wall the economists who have so heavy-handedly failed us?  For in their light-touch regulatory instincts, in their inability to agree productively in public, in their tendency to distort a social science with the tainting instincts of ideological coat-hangers, in their massive desire to test out their theories on real human beings and use the poverty of the 99 percent as a laboratory for personal glory … in all of the above – and much much more I am sure – there is plenty to find at the very least resistible in the profession of the economist.

And yet, curiously, it would seem, they have escaped relatively unscathed the storms and travails of recent times.

Perhaps they are, in fact, for most of us on the planet, quite the opposite of lawyers as described above: where we hate lawyers for always being right, even when we feel they are all very very wrong, the very fact that no economist can ever agree with another surely leads us to conclude that it would be quite unjust to find fault with such an uneven profession.

Perhaps, in truth, as we pity ourselves – and our own medium-term futures under a system which has so manifestly failed to deliver – we can only find it in ourselves to summon up a sadness that a science so central to so much of what we do these days has proved itself so selfish in how it has cared to practise its wisdoms.

What is there to hate in something so imprecise?  Much easier to see the Devil and all His works in the pawns which do the dirty work that such systems allow.

Though there is, of course, an alternative to making diabolic the entire financial services sector: hate the lawyer as suggested; envy the banker just in case; and commiserate with the poor economist for the impossible task he or she has always faced.

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Dec 302011
 
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I read somewhere yesterday that more 18-year-olds use Facebook than are registered to vote.

If I were an 18-year-old I would probably find myself in the same position.

In my generation, we outgrew theatre and film and fell in love with TV and then the web.  In my children’s generation, they’ve outgrown TV and even the web – and fallen in love with Facebook and other social networks.

But in all these cases, little by little, and with notable exceptions such as Blair’s 1997 general election victory, we have begun to outgrow quite clearly what was once a fundamental glue of our society: that is to say, politics.

Today, Chris explains how politics fails.  On the back of a piece by Sean McHale, he suggests politics is in possession of the worst of all possible worlds:

[…] It has neither the body of experience, evidence base and precedent that sportsmen, engineers, bureaucrats, lawyers or some artists can draw upon. Nor does it permit the ruthless natural selection that well-functioning markets do. It is, then, small wonder that, as Enoch Powell said, “all political lives end in failure.”

Sean, meanwhile, suggests that Ed Miliband should learn from the experiences of Barcelona and its football team.  I think Sean, whilst perceptive in his comparison, doesn’t however go far enough.  Barcelona has made an impact on football for one reason – and it’s the oldest challenge in footballing lore: how to provide spaces for individual genius within a system which sustains a team’s challenge through the length and breadth of successive bruising seasons and competitions.  What Guardiola has done, though, is not only simply this – an achievement which in itself would have been enough to generate considerable success.   Winning thirteen out of a possible sixteen trophies in barely four years requires much more than this: it requires true innovation in the systems employed.

Guardiola not only set himself the goal of combining ego and philosophy – he aimed also to create new systems no one had ever before contemplated.  Making the goalkeeper an eleventh man; forcing the opposition to run ragged in triangular circles; even, of late, if I have understood correctly, playing odd numbers at the back and upfront … everything that Guardiola has attempted smacks more of innovatory ingenuity than what I understood to be a more traditional managerialist approach.

Yes.  Perhaps Ed does need to learn from Guardiola after all.  But not in the question of sticking to his guns – it’s, rather, far more important for him to acquire the ability to do for the beautiful game of politics what our Barcelona champion has done for football: perceive accurately the landscape before one; understand usefully the egos in play; and create a system which doesn’t only borrow from the past but actually serves to create a brand new future …

Valdes the eleventh man, for example: so how about forging with Labour Party members a grassroots alliance which actually employs them as frontline leaders instead of hiding them away in the background in mundane and uninspiring envelope-stuffing and door-knocking roles?

Or giving local political communities their head of steam to create local manifestos made to fit the needs of the people around them?

If more of our 18-year-olds care to communicate socially and intellectually via Facebook than intend to register to participate in a five-yearly political exercise of increasing irrelevance, any political party which is looking to have a life beyond the four walnut-lined boardrooms of the corporate megaliths that currently fund their activities is going to have to contemplate fundamentally changing the system of organisation they use.  And if they don’t, someone else will.  And that someone else will one day take off with a virulent violence of astonishing power.

And if we are lucky, we will live to embrace it.  And if we are unlucky, we will live to regret it.

For right now, all I can see is that it is much worse than Chris paints it: it’s not so much that politics fails but – rather – that we are all outgrowing politics as an institution and tool.

The consumerism Carl talks about is – before our very eyes – displacing the centre of gravity that politics once represented.

Those of us who love politics have very little time to act.

Perhaps it is already too late.

But we need to do our very best – even so; and even without too much real hope.

The beautiful game that is football shows us that massive renovation is possible.  The question, I suppose, really is whether there are any managerialist folk as imaginative, creative and pulsatingly clever as Pep.

And that is a question I fear has only one answer.

Nor is it the answer we might be looking to hear.
____________________

Further reading: Paul has just posted a beautiful article on thinking intelligently, honestly and sincerely.  The article and its comments are well worth your time.  Please read it.

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Dec 302011
 
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I was debating yesterday in two posts why anyone should care to support Ed Miliband.  Today I’d like to analyse more closely why my support for him has increased since he was voted Labour leader.

Before I start, I’d like to say I didn’t vote for him at all.

Mine are not the ravings of unconditional admiration but – rather – an attempt to understand whether a relative innocent can make it to the very top of UK pyramidal politics.

Chris criticises Miliband for a lack of self-awareness.  Myself, I am inclined more to agree with Eoin’s perception of the forces ranged widely against the Labour leader, when he says things like this:

Peter Mandleson has not been quiet either. Well actually strike that, he’s been very quiet. But, that’s because he now has people to do his work for him. Through his ‘Policy Exchange’ vehicle he has commissioned several pieces that are about as predictable as is humanly possible from the uber-Blairite. I won’t give his pieces any more air time than they deserve but suffice to say if you get a chance, wander over to their site and view the ideas of Giles, Radice, Byrne, McClymont and others. The point I am making is that powerful forces are working consistently against the Ed Miliband undermining the direction he wishes to take the party and it’s all happening under your very noses.

Yes.  It’s true.  Ed Miliband may never deliver the political party some of us hope deep down he really wants to create, essentially because either his relative innocence or the more experienced forces ranged against him – or maybe a combination of the two – will simply impede him from fulfilling this unspoken promise.

A Twitter friend of mine yesterday pointed out that any Labour government is better than a Tory government – and I am inclined to agree that it is so.  But I reminded this friend that beyond such hoary comparisons – used by those with unimaginative neoliberal economic inclinations to justify the current poverty of both politics and the material world for the majority – there is also the following truth: whilst any Labour government is better than its Tory equivalent, a humane Labour government is better than both.

His arguments focussed around the fact that Ed was unelectable.  Mine focussed around his (ie my Twitter friend’s) excessive lack of ambition: the fact that he was settling for a relative carbon copy future where the only difference between Labour and the Tories was the degree to which wealth continued to be concentrated on those who already owned the world, as the poor were obliged to accept the maxim that the workers always need less in order to want to work more.

Which is why I ask the question in the title of today’s post: is there any alternative to more for the rich and less for the poor?  Most modern politicians are so in thrall to the demonstrable failures of our current economic system that they are incapable of imagining any alternatives.  It’s not a coherent narrative we’re missing – narrators out there we have millions.  Rather, it’s a coherent plot, a synopsis which contains a grain of truth, a story which has a beginning, a middle and an end that we find ourselves without – it’s the trains of thought which create structure and meaning and contain and circumscribe our realities that we really find ourselves wanting.

Our politicians got so used to writing best-sellers through those dark arts of marketing that they forgot how to create leading characters which were anything but cardboard and plastic.  Our politics is, thus, now the political equivalent of the cheaper and bulkier end of the literary industry: zero imagination, zero creativity, zero ingenuity, zero understanding of reality.

And why I hang on to Ed Miliband – even at this late stage – is because I see in him the potential to break away from the above dynamic.  His relative innocence, his relative freedom from self-interested parties, his apparent desire to be good for goodness’s sake … all these things attract me precisely because all his contemporaries only promise more of what has already bankrupted us.

If you have plenty of reasons not to support Ed Miliband for at least a year more, give me just one solvent reason to support any of his contemporaries instead.

And don’t tell me the reason I should break my intellectual back is because electing a carbon copy Labour government to do the dirty work of the rich and wealthy everywhere is sufficient reason in itself.

So whether on the alleged left or the more scurrilous right, is there anyone out there who doesn’t promise more public resource to prop up the greedy banking industry and less public resource to fund the welfare state; more money for the private health corporations and less for the minimum-waged workforces; more tax breaks and opportunities for the 1 percent and fewer life-generating alternatives for the remaining 99 percent; and more sponsored lies hiding the acts of the sly transnationals – organisations which take advantage of the developing poor in the interests of their selfish and uncaring shareholders?

Anyone at all?  Even just a little?

Anyone with half a chance of getting into power who isn’t – in the end – going to give it all away as they find themselves obliged to work on behalf of the already wealthy?

Myself, I do wonder if it is time to jettison our attachment to traditional politics and – via parallel structures such as globalised virtual communities – sidestep ourselves what our politicians refuse to re-contemplate. 

That is to say, make our own politics outside the current as we decide exactly what we are looking to achieve.

The other alternative is to identify – as in my last few posts I think I have been trying to – existing politicians who might be convinced to both understand our thesis as well as grasp wholeheartedly the potential opportunities.

You may fairly argue that Ed Miliband is not that politician.

So tell me then: who is?

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Dec 292011
 
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I’ve always tried to explore ideas on these pages.  Some people have cared to follow such trains of thought – many others have simply ignored them.  As Paul currently says over at Never Trust a Hippy:

[…] I write this mainly to develop my own thinking – I don’t know what I think until I read what I’ve written. It’s a scratchpad – not a collection of short articles intended for an audience.

I think that probably fairly sums up what I am doing here.  It certainly explains how I feel sufficiently motivated enough to continue exploring.

Today I wrote a piece on Ed Miliband’s future.  Plenty of retweets on Twitter resulted – it has been easily the most read of all my posts today.  Most read doesn’t of course mean best written.  But whether well written or not, the intention was to brainstorm a position few people care to sustain right now: that out of Ed Miliband’s leadership something good could still be achieved.  In fact, as Eoin points out over at the Green Benches blog, those who are most against his leadership are most likely to subscribe in some way or another to the agenda which brought us finally to the hole we find ourselves in at this moment in time.

And so it is that I ask myself: what do we really want from our politics?  Do we want a preformed discussion on opposingly monolithic sides along the lines that Eoin describes?  This kind of thing, for example:

Peter Mandleson has not been quiet either. Well actually strike that, he’s been very quiet. But, that’s because he now has people to do his work for him. Through his ‘Policy Exchange’ vehicle he has commissioned several pieces that are about as predictable as is humanly possible from the uber-Blairite. I won’t give his pieces any more air time than they deserve but suffice to say if you get a chance, wander over to their site and view the ideas of Giles, Radice, Byrne, McClymont and others. The point I am making is that powerful forces are working consistently against the Ed Miliband undermining the direction he wishes to take the party and it’s all happening under your very noses.

Or do we want a real, open and free-minded investigation of the real alternatives to the neoliberalism that few politicians out there currently seem to know how to sidestep?  A neoliberalism which only promises increasing concentrations of income on the one wealthy hand as – on the other absolutely disempowered rest – it savagely and unremittingly expands a poverty of both resources and wider life experience.

To sum up in two ideas then: 

  1. Do we want our politics to consist of major players stepping beyond the intellectual minimum as they brainstorm society’s development in all sincerity and in all good faith?
  2. Or, alternatively, do we expect and hope for them to do little more than brainwash the public as they have done to date – and as they themselves presumably intend to continue doing so in the future?

I know which I prefer – as the history of these pages will surely indicate.  Does Ed Miliband promise historically to deliver the virtues of the first instead of settle – like all his contemporaries – for the sadnesses of the second?  That, I do have to admit, I really don’t know.  But then neither can you know the reverse.

And if people despair right now of those who wish to support Miliband as leader of a still nascent Labour Party, I tell you I despair a thousand times more of any proposed alternatives.

Especially where their proponents believe the future lies in paying the rich more in order to improve the economy of everyone whilst, at the same time, choosing self-interestedly to line up the hoary old arguments which say the poor must be paid less in order to convince them to get off their lazy and miserable backsides.

I spoke in a previous post of achieving a “moral democracy”.  Someone on Twitter picked this up as an unhappy turn of phrase.  It was.  But – really – what I was looking for was an alternative to “social democracy”; that is to say, something which wasn’t tainted by historically negative connotations.  Something which spoke of putting people before numbers and reminded us of the importance of doing a humane good – above all.

A politics, that is, which chose to explore – rather than impose – a better future for everyone.

Brainstorming versus brainwashing – that’s the crossroads we currently stand at.

So where do you stand?

And which direction do you want us to take?

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    Dec 292011
     
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    What would New Labour have looked like if the News of the World had closed in 1997 – instead of collapsing ignominiously in 2011?

    This thought comes to mind on the back of a comment of mine which came out of an exchange with Brian at the foot of a previous post:

    Yes. That’s true. That the debate [on neoliberalism] wasn’t conducted *was* a serious failing of Blair and New Labour. But Murdoch still ruled the roost. A thought experiment then. What would New Labour’s regime have looked like if the News of the World had collapsed in 1997 instead of 2011? Think that one through and perhaps contextualising Blair might be easier for us all.

    Just imagine what might have happened if Blair – suddenly released from his obligations to the man who had helped crown him – could have moved Labour forward in exactly the way he must only have ever dreamt about.

    This was before tuition fees had splintered Labour’s faithful; before Iraq had broken the back of the patient church that still constituted the Party, even in 2003; before a whole host of concessions to the rancid right of British politics had distorted and fatally damaged his ability to perceive the real opportunities for a moral democracy.

    For it is the strangest matter that the more moral become the discourses of those who would lead nations, the more violent and militaristic become the realities they proceed to deliver.

    But let’s imagine that Murdoch & Co were vanquished as now: temporarily at least, without too much room to regroup.  Blair could have created a government of an easy three terms – not doing God; not doing triangulation; not doing the Daily Mail or the Sun.  Just being what became him most naturally: listening to the wider people and reinterpreting their discourse for the good of a wider voting constituency.

    Politics has always produced leaders who know how to crystallise and exemplify the desires of a generation.  And where this has not happened, we have had lost generations thrashing about wildly.  It would seem, right now, that we are awaiting that moment again.  And the generation we form a part of has a grand opportunity to remake the future – with or without the help of the commentariat.  As already pointed out:

    […] what if a politician was wise enough to propose pulling – first of all – the wool over the eyes of the commentariat itself?  That is to say: let’s imagine that Miliband, in this case, intended not to give too many gobbets of psychological stroking in the direction of self-important observers – observers who had become so used to being seen as astonishing crystal-ball gazers, by virtue of a privileged connection and control over the people we actually wanted to vote into power, that they found it absolutely impossible to contemplate that any politician might wish to play a different more solidly democratic game and at the same time be half-competent.

    And so they interpret, supposedly on our behalf but surely far more in their own rank interests, that Ed Miliband can’t communicate; Ed Miliband doesn’t know how to fight; Ed Miliband is in hock to big trades union interests; and Ed Miliband is plain and simply the wrong man.

    Plain and simply the wrong man not because he’s wrong for us, the voting public, but – rather – because he’s very wrong for the commentariat.

    You know what I think?  I think most politicians and commentators in modern politics are actually jealous of Ed Miliband.  That he has got so far without owing anything to the media of one sort or another must really frustrate them in their own carefully marketed strait-jackets of thought. 

    Which is why I do say: “Ed, you still have my vote.  The power you can take advantage of, channel and mould is as yet largely untested, untried and unseen.  But if you manage your opportunities well and effectively from now on in, if you manage to see them exactly for what they are before the rest of us are able to even sense their wisdom, you will be marking out a new territory: a new territory which will change British politics forever.

    “It’s now your only alternative. 

    “It’s now our only option.

    “So understand it for what it is – and take it whilst you still can.”

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    Dec 282011
     
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    Wikipedia describes PFI and its effects thus:

    The private finance initiative (PFI) is a way of creating “public–private partnerships” (PPPs) by funding public infrastructure projects with private capital. Developed initially by the Australian and United Kingdom governments, PFI and its variants have now been adopted in many countries as part of the wider neo-liberal programme of privatisation and financialisation driven by an increased need for accountability and efficiency for public spending, national governments, and international bodies such as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank. PFI has been controversial in the UK; the National Audit Office felt that it provided good value for money overall.[1] however more recently the Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee found that “Higher borrowing costs since the credit crisis mean that PFI is now an ‘extremely inefficient’ method of financing projects“.[2]

    Extremely inefficient, perhaps.  But it does, of course, depend on how you measure efficiency.  As I said yesterday, the current Coalition government appears to have lost all its moral compass as it destroys all sense of interdependence between rich and poor; owners and owned; possessing and dispossessed.

    If we care, however, to measure efficiency in terms of how moral and caring society is able to manifest itself in its dealings with the divide between rich and poor, then I propose we might see PFI – a child of the crossover politics of Blairite triangulation – in a completely different light: instead of a tool to fill the deep pockets of the already rich and powerful, PFI was actually a strategy to ensure the private-sector interests of profit and loss were intrinsically wrapped up in the public dynamics of social benefit and exchange.

    We saw and interpreted that companies which grew up and rewarded shareholders on the backs of state concerns were leeching the state of valuable resources.  But how about – in the light of the last year and a half of Coalition greed – we gave Blairites their due?  How about we admitted they were far cleverer and more astute in their long-term defence of the NHS, and indeed a wider state, in the face of forces which – to all intents and purposes – should have won the battle to take over our society a long long time ago?

    Maybe instead of slapping Blairites around the face we should now revise our opinion of where their loyalties really lay.

    Maybe Blair wasn’t out to defend neoliberalism but – instead – fool the neoliberal forces into giving him, and therefore the rest of us, a breathing space to construct a decade of relative social justice which perhaps any other approach would have been unable to gain.

    It’s just a thought, of course – and I’m no expert in these matters.  But a thought is a thought is a thought is a thought.

    And following – in such a way – such a train of thoughts to their ultimate conclusion might just make it easier for the wider Labour Party to reconcile itself once and for all.

    Perhaps, after all, Blair wasn’t an ideologue but, rather, the ultimate pragmatist.  He gained us valuable time we should treasure and – finally – find it in ourselves to thank him for.

    And he provided, in his all-encompassing vision of the forces that really operate in Western civilisation, a once-in-a-generation solution to the circles we needed to square.

    Something we might care – pretty sharpish – to copy and learn from as we see what unbridled neoliberalism is really prepared to go ahead with.

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    Dec 272011
     
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    The Guardian currently has this poll up on the news that English NHS hospitals will be able to earn up to 49 percent of their income from private patients.  The usual spin is being spread around that this will be done in order to benefit the public:

    Health Secretary Andrew Lansley insisted NHS reforms would benefit patients, saying: “Lifting the private income cap for foundation hospitals will directly benefit NHS patients. If these hospitals earn additional income from private work that means there will be more money available to invest in NHS services. Furthermore services for NHS patients will be safeguarded because foundation hospitals’ core legal duty will be to care for them.”

    Two observations occur to me on hearing this despicable and weasel-like news.  The first is: why only 49 percent?  For this really does sound as if it has come out of the mindset of the rankest form of private industry where shareholder power is defined in terms of who has 50 percent plus one – as if the 49 percent cap put in place were supposed and able to calm our understandable fears.

    Broadening the right of an NHS hospital to raise 49 percent of its income from private patients will lead to a hefty percentage of the most expensive and up-to-date resources being reserved for the richest in society – willing and prepared to pay only for the best.  In the meantime, if you do not have such incomes, you will find yourself at the front of the queue for the easy stuff nobody wants to pay extra for and right at the very back for the stuff that might just save your life.

    Let us be clear: it’s not just percentages that count here – it’s also which machines and high-tech procedures are used for whom, when and why.  As well as how hospitals which learn to depend on the rich for their very survival will begin to prioritise who gets the access they need and deserve.

    But there is another far more profound and philosophically upsetting thought which comes to my mind as I cogitate further the implications of this selfish and demonstrably retrograde step: that is to say, one important clause of the modern Hippocratic Oath which defines the relationship between doctor and patient in this absolutely clear and unequivocal way:

    I will remember that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

    All my fellow human beings?  How so?  If 49 percent of my income will soon proceed from 11 percent of my patients, how can I possibly attend to the needs of all those people the Hippocratic Oath so manifestly defines as forming part of my constituency?

    Andrew Lansley is a man of money and little more.  And as such he is in consonance with so many unhappy members of his political party.  What he will achieve with such a miserable and evil mindset – at least, that is, in England – is subvert and destroy the very base of ethical English medicine, as he makes it virtually impossible for its practitioners to comply with the historical tenets of their profession.

    In the meantime, through such a corruption of the noble at heart, he is bringing to the English NHS the same yardsticks, thought patterns and ways of seeing which have already brought our banking industry to its moral knees.

    Whilst our economy – infirm as it is – stumbles because of people who act in other industries just as Lansley chooses to in health, we witness – apparently unable to react or do anything effective to prevent their imposition – the application of the same bankrupt processes and procedures to an institution such as the NHS.

    Who would wish to live in a land such as Lansley’s?  A land once allegedly fit for heroes is fast becoming a moral vacuum of impossible sadnesses.

    I mean for God’s sake, where on earth is Lansley’s moral compass to be found?  Where on earth is Cameron allowing this nation of brave souls to be led?  Where on earth lies the gentleness of those gentlemen and women of old who brought up generations of young people in the principles of tolerance, justice and solidarity?

    What has happened to that once prevalent society of the good and generous English?

    Where … where … where has it gone?

    When did we lose it?

    And why?

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    Dec 272011
     
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    It used to be the Three Kings.  In Spain it still is.  We have given all our presents in our nuclear family already – but the extended family is waiting on the 6th January; what in England we call Christmas Day, at least as far as gifting is concerned, is celebrated in Spain on the occasion of the Wise Men’s arrival at that mythical manger.

    The children have very little time to enjoy their toys.  But it is in many ways far more appropriate and fitting to gift on such a day.

    Meanwhile, I have watched three films in the past two days which – in some way or another – have made a difference to me.  “Super 8″, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2″ and “Finale”, the final feature-length back-to-back episodes of “Smallville”, all speak – in one way or another – of powers greater than ourselves.  And it strikes me, in this holiday period, how strange it is that as God retreats from our daily lives we pursue evermore vigorously tales of overwhelming forces.

    I wonder if in such story-telling behaviours we find more than one considerable truth: man is not made in the image of God but – rather – the other way round; and when we turn our back on such an image we need to replace it with another.

    We need God not because we are weak and unable to face reality as it is but, instead, because God is a mirror of our very own selves – a mirror which allows us to understand ourselves far better than otherwise we might.

    Without the concept of God – or some supernatural entity – we are simply unable to get the distance we need to better comprehend our curious natures.

    Without God we are lost – but not because we need Him or Her as a crutch.  It is, rather, as a kind of mystical magnetic resonance that we have grown accustomed to His or Her presence.  We see further through the detachment God brings to our perceptions.

    And so, when we turn our back on such ideas, dismissing them as irrelevant because they do not correspond to our mechanistically accurate views of the universe, we turn our back on a tool of wisdom.  And so it is we need to substitute this tool with another – and so it is we tell the tales we tell.

    In all three of the films I mention above, the extraordinary imposes its will.  As my daughter has pointed out on more than one occasion, the concept of “extraordinary” is a curious one: the word now means something which is “out of the ordinary” but it could just as easily signify the “especially ordinary”.  For human beings are at their best when they ask for nothing in exchange as they commit their acts of often astonishing kindnesses.  So it is in these three films.  The young children in “Super 8″, the forever gentle Harry Potter in the final film of the series which bears his name, the forever battling Clark Kent in the most Walton-like supernatural sequence of them all – children at heart who have preserved their innocence and their ability to choose right from wrong …

    No, we have not left God behind as we continue to analyse ourselves profoundly.  God is still with us, even as we must change His or Her name and process.

    We change His or Her name but not His or Her purpose.

    God helps us to understand better what we must do.

    And overriding it all, overarching our everything, we see that we are truer to that good side He or She is there to remind us of than any of our constructs will ever request us to be.

    Capitalism may claim to substitute God.  But in our stories, in the tales we tell, in the narratives we choose to popularise, we can see that our instincts and impulses lead us elsewhere.

    Above all, we human beings are as good as our God would have us be.

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    Dec 262011
     
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    I am happy at the moment.  I am in a country which suits my temperament.  It is sometimes illogical, often irrational – frequently exhibiting impractical solidarity to such a heart-warming degree that I cannot but realise how social we as human beings must be allowed to become.

    I wrote about a good man a couple of months ago.  I didn’t realise how good.  His name is Emilio.  As I said in that post, he was a good friend of mine.  The sort of good man a person in a strange land very rarely is lucky to encounter.

    But I was lucky enough to do so.

    And I never forgot him.

    A few days ago I wrote about how – by massive chance – I stumbled across his trail all over again.  My father-in-law’s illnesses took my wife and me to the local hospital – and there I saw a photocopy pinned to a noticeboard which mentioned my above-mentioned friend.

    I was so surprised.  It seemed so right.  To be in a hospital and come across his presence after almost a decade.  He was speaking on behalf of the foundation he is president of, and it was as if I had come across a modern Albert Schweitzer.

    For that, I feel, in a way, is what he is.  A good man who can work wonders within structures that often impose bad ways of working on the rest – and best – of us.

    And so it is that I wonder not what gives us a right to pursue happiness but – rather – what prevents us from spreading more of it around.  On the Christmas Day Spanish news we got, of course, the atrocities in Nigeria – but also a broad and kind handful of small stories about ordinary people trying to make life for the dispossessed a little less harsh during these holidays than might have been otherwise the case.

    To make a better world is in our hands.  If only we decide to do so without any thought for recompense or public recognition.

    That is the key.

    And that is where we must start.

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    Dec 252011
     
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    The whispering started at 5.30 am.  The night was still sharp.  The black and white cat hadn’t, as yet, settled on the round white plastic table outside our sitting-room window.

    Our children are either adults or well into adolescence but – at Christmas – this matters little.

    At Christmas, where our Christmasses allow, we are all children again.

    I was playing Christmas songs via the Google+ YouTube button yesterday.  One of my favourites is – as you might imagine – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.  It came with a heart-rending video of images of war, which served to confirm absolutely the contrary.

    Even so, the thought was well pitched.  Like many moments of grand celebration in times of economic and social inequality and injustice, feelings of both sadness and joy assail one in equal measure.

    *

    6.30 am was the agreed present-opening time.  The upstairs clock was running five minutes fast.  They came down five minutes early.  Back they went – dutifully if a little grumblingly.

    In that five minutes I opened my bleary eyes.

    My wife was still fast asleep.

    I woke her with a gentle “Feliz Navidad”.

    By 6.45 am the presents were all open.

    The children were happy and grateful.

    The parents were smiling.

    This was a good Christmas for us.  Even as in the days leading up arguments of all unhappy kinds had proliferated, so the miracle of the day itself had led to a flowering of kindnesses and gentlenesses.

    Just as all hope had been lost, so all people came together.

    I just wish it were as good a Christmas for everyone else.  For as the video indicates, it is possible to both talk of Christmas and war in the same breath.  And still not understand how either can exist in the presence of the other.


    http://youtu.be/yN4Uu0OlmTg

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    Dec 232011
     
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    I’ve noticed it in myself – but now I notice it in my nearest and dearest.

    I spent the last seven years working for a bank.  For the last three years, it was mainly data entry.  I acquired the condition of frozen shoulder – first the right, then the left – as well as proceeding to lose my 20/20 vision.

    For the last two of those three years, I had a smartphone.  Not only did I get into the habit of checking my work emails on my work’s computer every other minute, I also did the same with my non-work emails via my phone whenever I reasonably could.

    It became an itch which needed to be scratched.

    A mental itch of incredible proportions.

    Speaking with one of my offspring today, I realise for the younger generation the deadly combination of smartphones, mobile Internet and social media has led them to a virtual psoriasis of awful proportions.  They do not even conceive of a time before Google, blogging or Facebook – and when they do, it’s simply because they read it up in what have now become the history books!

    And when you modify that access, and when the computer is no longer personal, and when sharing needs to be factored into the First World equation as is still the case in the Third, then all kinds of issues arise as people find that itch cannot be scratched at will.

    It’s not only an Internet connection we are taught to need – it’s a mode of access which satisfies our hands and eyes.

    We are tactile beings, after all.

    We need to touch something – even when that something is a man-made object of technological prowess.

    And when that itch cannot be scratched, all kinds of residual tensions may surface and explode.

    The personal computer – along with its latterday cousin the Internet-connected phone – both have a great deal to answer for as they increase our ability to find what we are looking for.

    They can find almost anything – it is true.

    But not everything.

    There are skills such as kindness, patience and gentleness which the Internet-connected phone, and the personal computer before it, do not necessarily inculcate in their bravura of almost instantaneous communication.

    I’m not saying that we cannot do these things using such devices.

    I’m simply saying such devices do not naturally lead us to practise and exhibit such skills.

    And where it will end, I really do not know.

    But explosions of impatience from brains which are used to instant and accurate responses are not necessarily the most effective way of reconstructing a healthy non-virtual world.

    At least, I can say, not in my limited experience.

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    Dec 232011
     
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    Yesterday, my wife and I went to town.  We did a couple of things which needed doing.  Then we had a quick coffee and pincho.  I had a paloma.  She had chanfaina.

    She didn’t really like hers.  Mine was fine. 

    It hasn’t been cold these past few days.  Yesterday, it began to get colder.  By the time we finished our coffees, and headed out back onto the pedestrianised streets, the early morning fog was lifting.  The sun was beginning to show again.  It’s a beautiful city, where we find ourselves.

    All the family loves being in Spain – even when being in Spain means arguments and discussions.

    Before we went on to do some last-minute food shopping, we dropped in at the San Eloy school where my eldest son used to study drawing.  They had a wonderful exhibition – structured almost like stations of the cross – of a seven-month-long project to create a series of chronological nativity scenes, telling the age-old story of Jesus’s birth.

    It was a beautiful exhibition.  It brought home to me how much the rough stones, olive and cypress trees, agavas, bright sunshine, cutting blues of the cloudless skies, camels of the adoring kings, the mercadillos, the animals, the impossible angels, the flickering fires and the light and dark of Herod’s evil and fear are all an undeniable part of my heritage – and possibly my legacy.

    I wish I could wrap myself up in these nativity scenes and admire them from within as well as without.

    My life would be easier if I could return to the securities of my childhood.

    In the meantime, my own children are losing the veils that protected them against a harder world. 

    What is this growing-up which thickens our skins so painfully in the face of the realities that eat away at our sense of wellbeing and kindness?

    Why does disillusion have to be such a significant part of spreading one’s wings?

    Why does leaving the nest necessarily mean hurting what created it?

    Nativity scenes contain the seeds of their own sadness – but even so, I wish I could believe unconditionally again.

    Merry Christmas to you all – if merry is precisely the right term.

    And please do all continue to bear witness to that rebirth we seek so very anxiously – and so very universally.

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    Dec 212011
     
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    Whilst I’m on holiday, whilst I have my family around me, whilst I remember a whole host of happenstances which are important to me even as their relevance to the outside world is limited … this is when I make connections between the personal and the public.

    My previous post focussed on how my friends and family are clearly getting older – though to different effect in each case.  That march of time is something we acknowledge only when we have time to examine and perceive its movement.  And this only takes place when we are at relative rest – something our agitated civilisation really doesn’t care to permit.

    More phantoms from the past then?  And to what result?  This time, a perceptive piece which mirrors my thoughts on Ed Miliband at the end of September, where I suggested that in the initial critical reception to Hitchcock’s “Psycho” there was a lesson we could learn about that famously discursive and apparently unfocussed speech by Miliband at Labour Party Conference this year.

    Anyhow.  What leads me to reflect once more on this subject is the perceptive piece I mention above and which contains the following paragraphs:

    Miliband is doing well at the polls because he’s shifting – albeit very slowly – away from the elite consensus towards a more social democratic position which is more in tune with public opinion. His party has rigorously opposed Andrew Lansley’s unpopular health reforms, which mean the end of the NHS in all but name. And they have unequivocally opposed the coalition’s plans to sell-off the Royal Mail.

    What’s more:

    But the main thing is that Ed is heading in the right direction, even if media commentators, still wedded to a political model forged in 1979, don’t like this deviation from the script.

    As a consequence, Miliband’s Labour Party has become the political equivalent of Stoke City football club. Tony Pulis’s team are continually criticised for their style – or rather their lack of it – yet they keep on winning. “They are doing much better than people think,” Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen admitted after Stokes’s latest win, their fourth on the bounce. The same could be said of Labour under Ed Miliband.

    The article also underlines the important fact that exactly where we should believe it must count – elections themselves – Ed Miliband’s Labour has won five out of five by-elections: the most recent, with an increase in share.

    So how do we explain this curious circumstance on the one hand and – on the other – the fact that the media don’t really warm to him?  Although clearly an insider in politics, as far as family legacy is concerned, is he really quite deliberately playing the role of outsider – a “High Noon” kind of lonesome gunfighter … and is it this which means that distances are being maintained?

    Look at it rationally.  Thatcher with gusto, Blair with considerable flair, Brown in his own way and Cameron and Osborne with a determined political guile have all collaborated in one way or another to the same kind of political adventure: pulling the wool most definitely over the eyes of the voting public with their various discourses and triangulations.

    But what if a politician was wise enough to propose pulling – first of all – the wool over the eyes of the commentariat itself?  That is to say: let’s imagine that Miliband, in this case, intended not to give too many gobbets of psychological stroking in the direction of self-important observers – observers who had become so used to being seen as astonishing crystal-ball gazers, by virtue of a privileged connection and control over the people we actually wanted to vote into power, that they found it absolutely impossible to contemplate that any politician might wish to play a different more solidly democratic game and at the same time be half-competent.

    And so they interpret, supposedly on our behalf but surely far more in their own rank interests, that Ed Miliband can’t communicate; Ed Miliband doesn’t know how to fight; Ed Miliband is in hock to big trades union interests; and Ed Miliband is plain and simply the wrong man.

    Plain and simply the wrong man not because he’s wrong for us, the voting public, but – rather – because he’s very wrong for the commentariat.

    So although I do agree that Ed Miliband is not his own man, it’s not because I think he is a conniving manipulator of dark interests.

    Rather, I believe quite sincerely that he believes a dedication to the democratic cause requires him to be our man.

    And that, if I am right, will one day be a most refreshing place for us all to be.

    Except, of course, for our real phantoms of the past: the commentariat of old.

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    Dec 212011
     
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    Yep.  Quite appropriate.  As I stumble across phantoms of the past, even where good phantoms I do declare, the location of Blogger’s new “Publish” button accidentally generates an untitled post which I am obliged to delete.

    Apologies for that.

    But, as I say, it is one more example where the corporate drive to unify user interfaces means mature companies make decisions which aim to satisfy their corporate chiefs more than their soon-suffering customers.

    Google got to where it got through simplicity and clarity of mission.

    Putting the “Publish” button on blogging software at the right of the title bar is, however, madness in any world – and more in such a competitive one.

    *

    The phantoms I speak of?  A dear friend of the family.  I was at the local hospital this morning with my father-in-law.  It seems the health service hasn’t been keeping tabs on his developing conditions, and now problems are seriously sprouting in all directions.

    But whilst we were waiting for the tests to take place, I went over to a nearby noticeboard and saw an amazing poster.  Yesterday, in the city I find myself, a dear friend of twenty years ago had given a speech on behalf of a cause he is apparently the president of.

    I had lost contact with him for many years as the vicissitudes of my life had taken me away from the place and circumstances of our first meeting and developing relationship.

    And whilst my dear father-in-law is but a shadow of his former self, my dear friend from twenty years ago appears to be still going strong.

    A man who believed in modernisation, democracy and freedom of speech.  A man who was able – in a way I was not – to work within a system, and yet (even so) to most positive result.

    I owe him so much, as the friend that he was – as well as the professional who brought my three children into this world.

    I have sent an email to his foundation – I hope he will want to get back in touch.

    I may keep you posted.

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    Dec 202011
     
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    Paul Evans writes profoundly – even if too occasionally of late – over at Never Trust a Hippy, shares more than he should at www.memeserver.co.uk (his periodically emailed newsletter is always interesting and full of magnificent leaps of faith) – and the little of his company I have been privileged to share has led me to understand how very little I properly know about this world.

    With his Political Innovation project, maybe a five-year mission at that, he has been bravely going where few politicians currently dare to go.  If combative politics has always to a certain degree been characteristic of Westminster, and crossing the parliamentary line of trench warfare a real no-no, the truth of the matter is that as the rest of the world begins to embrace collaborative dynamics – from crowdsourcing in general to open source licences in particular – London-centric political activity of the high-level and stratospheric sort seems evermore anchored in a dated and highly lawyerly-laced interpretation of how far an outstretched hand should be shaken in good faith or – alternatively – surgically excised at source.

    Paul’s strengths, therefore, lie not only in his ability to see this wider tendency, conclude that politics is missing the boat dangerously and care enough to want to do something about it but also in his capacity to cross those parliamentary lines in the interests of sharing his truth: we cannot make this complex and intertwined 21st century world function if we do not learn to engineer a very different kind of body politic.

    Chris, over at Stumbling and Mumbling, has recently described how politicians are becoming irrelevant and whilst I don’t entirely agree I can see what he is getting at.  But where Paul goes further than any of us in this matter is in his firm and evidenced conviction that something can be done about the process whereby traditional politicians (those I describe as visible in the news: the ones we vote for via the ballot box and expect to some degree to choose to represent us) are ceding ground to the highly undemocratic lot who are creating all the mini behind-the-scenes and self-contained dictatorships which revolve evermore powerfully around what we used to understand were our democratic institutions.

    Paul may realise or not that this is where he is directing his efforts: I, however, can see it as clear as the light of a brightly clear winter’s morning.  If our body politics cannot recapture for themselves the concept, act and implementation of the very essence we call democratic discourse, the instincts and impulses which have led so many freedom-loving people over long and sustained periods of history to participate in and engage with such ideas will simply shift their focus away from politics as we have known it to other areas of human endeavour.  And whether this endeavour involves communicating across thousands of miles of virtual community in order to construct new worlds of information and emotional exchange at the margins of what we understand to be political activity or – instead – revolves around new ways of actively expressing a sense of sustained and total disengagement with everything and anything our elders and not so elders have cared to fashion on our supposedly democratic behalves, the loss will seriously belong to our existing power structures who will lose entire generations to future activity.

    Democracy is as much a human need as food, shelter, education and health.  And if traditional political structures can no longer supply the channels to allow it to develop as it must, then we will all begin to look elsewhere to satisfy this inherent human need – in companies, in local pubs and clubs, in social media, in virtual relationships of all kinds, in diary-writing, in amateur journalism and more generally in the psychological stroking that is liking, retweeting and hyperlinking.

    Just because our democracies don’t work any more doesn’t mean we will give up on making democracy operate somewhere in our lives.  As a by-the-by, it may in fact be working as well as it ever did in the past – but those of us who are moving on, the perhaps now excessively educated consumer-producers of the early 21st century, have simply outgrown what those power structures were formerly prepared to allow us.

    And Paul and the Political Innovation motto – “For anyone who has ever asked themselves ‘why is politics still done like this?'” – realise this like no one else seems to care to at the moment.

    If politics doesn’t get it soon, those of us who believed in impassioned, informed and intelligent public debate will either be unproductively spending our days despising the mini dictatorships I describe in my previous post and above – or will find ourselves sheering off from traditional politics into other worlds of entirely our own making.

    Neither tendency would be good for a wider social cohesion – both would lead to greater inequality and trench warfare-like impulses across the political divides; not only those already on stage but also those surely waiting more than eagerly in the wings.

    If, then, we are to save politics from itself, we need to explain this broader society – this inherent democratic instinct and need – to a sad, stumbling and mumbling political class which fails to see where the vast majority of society already finds itself.

    And Paul has known this for far longer than he has cared to let on to.

    You can always trust a hippy.

    At least as far as profundity of thought and the requirement – one day – to intertwine it with deed is concerned.

    So if you’re interested in beginning to save politics from itself, register for this event now – for the first in a series of translation layers which will serve not to distance ourselves from the matter to hand but bring us ever closer to a clearer understanding of how out-of-time and very near our sell-by dates we have allowed ourselves to become.

    And one very important point to begin wrapping up today’s post: remember that in Paul you have not only a leader of the cleverest kind but, also, interestingly and surprisingly, a teacher who is prepared to allow you to believe the bright ideas were originally yours.

    That not only shows a rare and generous intelligence, it also demonstrates the supreme – where not arrogant – confidence that comes out of being incredibly knowledgeable.

    To be honest, I really don’t know where to start.  But at least, via Paul’s gentle shepherding, over the past couple of years I’ve realised we need to start somewhere.

    At least I now know a start is absolutely essential.

    So my final question is: what about you?  What do you now think we should do?

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