Sep 212013
 
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Last night (well, early this morning), I discovered how one might be connected to two separate Skype accounts from the same Windows user on the same device at exactly the same time.  I’m currently waiting for clever bods to confirm (if confirmation’s possible) that this is a robust technique – but if it is … my, does it provide a facility I’m sure people with both personal and biz accounts have, for quite some time now, had on their rather random software wish-lists.

If you want to know more, have a look at my Twitter timeline from this morning.  In the meantime, I shall wait for any possible tests to be completed.

This kind of stuff, this random stumbling across felicitous discovery, is kind of what life – certainly my life – has periodically thrown up.  It’s the good bit about life, this – that we can reach beyond our limitations and studies and, through some kind of curious unpredictable case of intuition, add far more value to our sum of knowledge than might be reasonably expected.

We are bigger and better and kinder and brighter than the number-crunching wizards of technological capitalism might allow.

As I tweeted just now:

If we live in a history of masses where individuals have levered disproportionate control, what *is* there to do except live where one can?

And as someone else sadly observed, as a society we are capable of staying up till 2 in the morning to queue up for a new-fangled piece of technology – but, at the same bloody awful time, we do not fight for social justice.

I’ve just, myself, committed the same unhappy infraction: following a train of information-technology thought throughout the early hours of Saturday morning in order to solve a fairly irrelevant issue I’ve long had with a piece of software I regularly work with.

Instead of, that is, going to this socialist demonstration or that – or doorstepping that family or this.

It’s a tragedy, what’s happened.  Yes.  History has become of the masses, as many a Marxian I suppose would suggest was inevitable.  But a small and very focussed group of the selfish has learnt how to conduct the masses in one direction or another.  We are not as complex as we would like to presume.  Through a constant process of “message massage”, we have learnt our place in that mass is a hyper-individualised and localised one.  Paradoxically, social networks do not socialise our environment but actually, massively, serve to individualise our every instinct and impulse.

Really, social networks should be redefined: they do not socialise at all.  Rather, they are pieces of aggressively individualising software code designed specifically – quite consciously – to repeat and reproduce an atomising series of patterns of networked interactions.  We do not interact to build sharing networks with these systems at all.  Instead, we interact to build selfishness-engendering relationships where a contagion and infection of behaviours and beliefs takes place.

They don’t put us, in any way, in a social network to be social.  They put us in a social network to become antisocial.

And whilst Marxian masses were once thought bringers (where not harbingers) of inevitable history, those who still stand atop these society-defining pyramids of (globally) inefficient command and control have worked out cleverly, perhaps unintentionally but certainly convincingly, how to make the masses in question work not for that history we might have hoped for (or not, as the case may be) – but rather for their pockets ever-deepening.

We are selfish beings without a jot of altruism.  That is what we have become – or they have made us.

Your call.

Or your video-conference, as the case may be.


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May 142013
 
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Peter makes a lovely series of observations on Gove’s rank foolishness here.  But I disagree with his conclusion (the bold is mine):

The fight is on for the future of education. Gove is there in the blue corner, confident and pugnacious, ducking and weaving. This doesn’t worry me. My anxiety comes when I look over to the red corner. There, fear haunts his opponent’s eyes and there is no strategy to defend against such a clever right hand lead. In poor condition, the best the left’s champion can hope for is to deflect the blows. Delivering the knockout punch is a distant dream.

As I said of the same Mr Gove in one of my recent posts, the issue is much bigger than a mere fight for the soul of education:

By arguing all he wants is a chronological description of famous people which stops at the vanquishing of the evil party which fought and sustained the Cold War so mercilessly – something essentially he is asking us to buy into – he is actually looking to shore up the old ways of doing politics.  Old ways which, left to their own devices, an educated civilisation and populace would pull apart tiny thread by thread.

By rewriting the way we teach and talk about the past, he is looking to protect his hierarchical view of how politics – the politics which he knows how to lever and make function – must be conducted: people in charge; famous people at that; famous people like Mr Gove & Co.

Now this evening I’ve been revising with my middle son.  He’s taking A-level History in a month’s time.  The subject area in question would I am sure be at the heart of the Coalition’s plans, involving as it does the period in English history we call the Tudors.  Here, then, are some choice phrases from the notes my assiduous son has drawn up:

Religious changes

[...]

1547 – dissolution of chantries [...] Crown secured money + property traditionally used for charity, feasts + celebrations – Haigh believes need for money to fund Scot war more motive than need to destroy Catholicism.

1549 – Introduction of Book of Common Prayer – its use was required by Act of Uniformity of 1549 [...].

[...]

  • Overall reforms implemented despite conservative nature of much of population – largely unpopular.

Rebellions of 1549

According to John Guy “the closest thing Tudor England came to a class war”.

[...]

Reasons for rebellions:

  • Religion predominantly
  • Midlands + East Anglia social grievances – Council receiving reports of riots + rooting up of enclosing
  • Resentment of taxation

The Western Rebellion

  • Prompted by religious grievances – described as “prayer book rebellion” – rebels wanted reversal of entire religious reform inflicted on them during past decade – destroyed their experience of religion in church services + in church’s wider communal role – wished to reverse gov policy
  • Rebellion not purely religious in origin – evidence of distrust between peasants + rural labourers – Duffy “Class antagonism” – taxation also problem – Somerset’s gov attempted to deal with social effects of enclosure by placing tax on sheep – imposed by uncaring + ignorant gov in London – worsened through insensitive implementation by insensitive local officials
  • Somerset appointed Lord Russell and despite failures to tackle problem head on in the end he gathered enough forces including foreign mercenaries and defeated rebels in Exeter

So if we substitute religious practice with the NHS, the sheep tax with the bedroom tax and foreign mercenaries with globalised bankers, we don’t half get the feeling I think you’ll agree that things haven’t changed all that much.

I really do wonder, then, whether studying from top to tail the awful nature of our internecine history is exactly the lesson Michael Gove, and the blessed Coalition more widely, really wants us all to get familiar with.  The more I revise with my son on the subject, the more I realise with a little more learning how the veils of acceptability would, for the vast majority of the voters, fall from the rancid faces of these throwback Tories and their preciously marketed detoxifications.

Meddling with history could, indeed, backfire quite amusingly on the Coalition’s aspirations to turn us all into obedient little souls.  Whilst they look to instil a grand respect for the makers and shakers of latterday politics – heirs to the regimes of the Somersets of our national tale – they might eventually discover that knowledge, however packaged, always leads to unexpectedly unpredictable revelations.

Revelations which are never going to be of any help to tiresome pretenders such as these.  Even when, in their incompetence, they assume they will.


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May 132013
 
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A while back, I found Michael Gove’s belief in traditional history almost beguiling.  This is what the BBC reported back in February of this year:

Under Mr Gove’s plans, revealed earlier this month, children will learn a complete history of Britain, with a clear “narrative of British progress” and an emphasis on heroes and heroines of the past.

The youngest children, as is currently the case, will be taught about key historical figures, and from the age of seven, pupils will be expected to learn a detailed chronological history of Britain, from the Stone Age through to the end of the Cold War.

That phrase “heroes and heroines of the past” did worry me rather a lot, but – at the time – I kind of let it ride.  More on this later.

This weekend the big story has been how Mr Gove has become Mr Sloppy:

The education secretary, Michael Gove, has come under fire for citing PR-commissioned opinion polls as evidence of teenagers’ ignorance of key historical events.

Gove’s department has admitted he cited polls originating from Premier Inn and UKTV Gold press releases.

And so it is that we may see evidenced the real reason Michael Gove wants to get his hands on our history: if we stop it at “the end of the Cold War”, as it would appear he would like to be the case, the victory of anti-Communism is complete in its finest and most indisputable hour: the Berlin Wall collapses; Germany is reunited; neoliberalism’s trickle-down effect still hasn’t been shown to be the farce and falsehood it actually is; light-touch regulation still hasn’t destroyed millions of livelihoods; the credit crunch hasn’t yet crunched; mental ill-health hasn’t mushroomed dramatically along with personal debt.

But that’s not the only advantage of stopping history at “the end of the Cold War”.  Nor is it the only aspect which worries me about Mr Gove’s real motives.  A man capable of using a sequence of press releases to justify a prejudice about the nature of how we must inform modern life with historical events is just about the most preoccupying element of the whole affair.  And this is where I return to the phrase “heroes and heroines of the past”.  It’s not just that traditional history, the sort that seems to float Gove’s boat, is – inevitably (at least for the kind of historians Gove will run with) – a HIS-story much more than it’s ever a HER-story.  No.  It’s that all the democratising tendencies which are looking to flower around us – those driven, even where incompletely, by social networks and media of all kinds – seem to be travelling in a direction quite opposed to the old hierarchies of kings and queens.

Modern politics, little by little, if left at the mercy of these trends, will fall apart and disintegrate quite irreversibly.  And it seems clear to me that this is one barricade Mr Gove does not want us to tumble.

By arguing all he wants is a chronological description of famous people which stops at the vanquishing of the evil party which fought and sustained the Cold War so mercilessly – something essentially he is asking us to buy into – he is actually looking to shore up the old ways of doing politics.  Old ways which, left to their own devices, an educated civilisation and populace would pull apart tiny thread by thread.

By rewriting the way we teach and talk about the past, he is looking to protect his hierarchical view of how politics – the politics which he knows how to lever and make function – must be conducted: people in charge; famous people at that; famous people like Mr Gove & Co.

If we don’t think it important enough to fight him on the beaches of the past, let us at least consider it crucial enough to fight him on the beaches which will shape the future.

Because that’s what he’s improperly aiming to do: Mr Sloppy is doing everything to distract us from seeing the real Mr Undemocracy he is.  We mustn’t allow him to confuse us.

Whilst Gove’s Mr Sloppy is the smoke and mirrors which still bemuse, Gove’s Mr Undemocracy is the real enemy out there.


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Mar 042013
 
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Living in Britain is getting to be a moderately scary proposal.  At least from where I’m sitting, it would seem that both the past and the future are now weighing too heavily on the present.  Two examples tonight which may set you thinking as they have done me.

Last night, I was revising History with my daughter.  She was preparing for a mock exam she thought she had today – an exam, which in the event, won’t take place until Wednesday.  She loves doing mind maps to help her remember stuff: the mind maps we used yesterday were beautifully neat, cogent and well-structured.  Two items jumped out at me and made me wonder – whilst I asked her pertinent questions – whether here, right in front of us, we had the ultimate explanations for the Coalition’s incessant referencing of British history.

The first went as follows, in relation to Political Change:

In 1800 Parliament believed it should not interfere in people’s lives.  If people were unhealthy it was their business.

By 1900 Parliament was making laws to improve people’s health e.g. forcing towns to install sewers.

The second, meanwhile, said this on Entrepreneurs:

Medicine became big business.  Some entrepreneurs made millions of pounds from almost useless remedies.  However others put money into scientific research to find drugs which would help to cure disease.

My daughter is not yet fifteen, and yet, unknowingly to her, though perhaps not to her father, in these few words of hers – snatched and garnered from this book or that class – we have all we need to understand the historical drivers behind the past three years of political upheaval.

For the Coalition knows exactly where it wants to take us: for them, it’s pretty clear, the future means the past.  Not any old past, though.  Instead, the beginning of the century which arguably brought about an astonishing renaissance of persistent legacy.

Not a European renaissance couched in linguistic dissonance but a very British renaissance of a singularly English-speaking colonialism.

A singularly English-speaking colonialism which knew all too well how to traffic in the trade of death and infirmity, both abroad and at home.

*

Whilst British parliamentarians vote to introduce the concept of secret courts (more here), and everyone seems increasingly to see the virtues of spies-in-the-skies, and even privacy seems to be a concept from very forgotten times indeed, I am minded to wonder why the establishment is so very fearful.  As I tweeted this evening:

My question as follows: what have the establishment seen in the future that terrifies them into so much repression in the present?

All these moves around the edges to control and target and define.  And in a century where computing powers and predictive tools have multiplied their perspicacities in an almost terrifyingly exponential way.

So what have they seen – these lords and masters of ours – which leads them to scurry about in such unseemly and unremitting ways?

Why have our brave and powerful eagles suddenly become rabbits in the headlights of the future?

What, in the future, really awaits us?


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Feb 252013
 
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I could start this post by saying:

Ever since I stumbled across some feminist writings on how history was male …

but in reality the spark which brought me to my senses was Michael Jackson’s double album HIStory”.  Bought whilst I still lived in Spain, much treasured too, it was the first time I understood the inconvenient truth behind the word itself.  History – literally – belonged to men.  And women were, more often than not, being written out of the picture.

Today I am minded by this tweet which came my way this morning to write about another possible example of unspoken oppression:

analytical or intuitive mind – one is not better than the other, they each have a different role to play #cipdlrn

To which I responded in this way:

@RapidBI Isn’t an intuitive mind simply an analytical one whose processes we don’t fully perceive?

And, later, in this:

@RapidBI Perhaps we call s’thing analytical when we’re able to share it with others. If not possible to share, the intuition label kicks in.

Traditionally, of course, the analytical mind has been considered male.  Or, perhaps, we should say that’s a certain kind of analytical mind.  It seems to me – intuitively, of course! – that when people talk of “feminine intuition”, they are conflating their understanding of what they easily understand with an idea of how people should (be obliged to) think.

If oppression of the HIStorical kind I mention above is repeating itself with respect to the intuitive mind, I would suspect it has far more to do with fearing the power of an unknown process than any objective assessment of its true nature.  That is to say, much safer to argue the process is unknowable than face the consequences of knowing it all too well.

For, in such circumstances, it’s easier to discard your female brain’s thought processes as non-analytical, simply and entirely because you don’t share its basic assumptions.  It’s rather more difficult to take onboard the idea that perhaps intuition – as we (continue to refuse to) comprehend and define it – is a powerful set of analytical tools which require far greater powers of observation to properly perceive and exert.

It may even be that the kind of men who have described and handed down the history of human intellect have been unable to acquire or manage the skillset which intuition encompasses.  And so, in this way, this inability to acquire something of undoubted importance has led to their desire, instead, to vigorously dismiss it – to undervalue its inherent power and capability and to present it as some mysterious and almost empty-headed process.

A potential HIStory of oppression, indeed.


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Sep 052012
 
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Rob Marchant argues that latterday politics fails to understand the importance of aspiration to ordinary people.  I would argue that the real unpicking of political threads lies elsewhere in our social tapestry.

Take the wheel, for example.  Or – rather – the car industry which has depended so much on its invention.  Since the beginning of the 20th century – over one hundred years now – there’s been a wheel at each corner; a wheel to go round corners; a brake stick to stop the blessed beast; a pair of lights to illuminate the roads.  If you believed the car manufacturers themselves, so very much has changed in that one hundred years.  But is that really the case?  Is that really what’s happened?  Have we as a society of inventors and technologists really operated as aspirationally and as ambitiously as that century could have allowed?

My thesis?  I don’t think our Western civilisation is half as innovative and imaginative as it’s cracked up to be.  I think, in fact, we’re pretty stuck-in-the-mud.  That mobile phones sell succeeding generations on multiples of gigabytes of memory, camera pixels, clearer graphics and better reception, and that such navel-gazing improvements should convince us we live in a society of continuous progress, only goes to indicate how poverty-stricken our ambitions and aspirations are.

If, as Marchant argues, current politics does ignore the importance of aspiration, it is simply because our wider environment – both business and sociocultural in general – also ignores the importance of being truly aspirational.  To aspire only to a “factor of” and nothing more, to spend marketing billions on convincing people this is wisdom, to posit a civilisation on the basis that advancement has to be this discrete and gradual … well, all of this is both a derogation of our responsibilities to each other as well as a concession to a fairly lily-livered cowardice.

It’s not modern politics that is failing us.  It’s modern life.  And politics has become a sad and weary reflection of such a life.  We’ve been so taught to see intelligence and cleverness in terms of moderately more attractive, moderately thinner and moderately altered consumer durables that, when it comes down to identifying true needs and massive ways forward that might exist out there, all we can blurt out in our self-centred satisfactions is “Where’s the logo?”.

And our politics too.  This, I guess, is what Marchant is finding most resistible.

Rob.  Yes.  Aspiration.  OK.  But let it be far far more than that step-by-step process of bald evolution which advertising companies across the world find themselves bounden to sell as revolution.  Let it, in fact, be far far more than that tired old definition of social democracy too.

To paraphrase a drinks company’s misadventured slogan, let it be the real thing.

Let the giant ambitions of other decades replace what has become a smugly self-centred century – a tragically self-centred century, that is; a self-centred century which has already begun to run out of the head of steam which other key moments in history – for all their manifest faults – never quite managed to lose.


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Jun 072011
 
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If we were all ants, the Internet could be rightly described as robust.  But we’re not.  And it can’t.

Yes, yes, yes.  I know it was designed by the American military to sustain communications in times of nuclear war – and in that global and almost socialist sense the Internet always maintains itself in one piece, as packets of information reroute themselves cunningly around the globe.  But when you really need it – like now in the Williams’ household – something almost always ends up cutting you off.

The Internet doesn’t feel in the least robust for me as a discrete individual looking to remain online as often as I care.  I tremble as an important moment in my offline work comes up which requires me to remain connected. 

Like, in fact, this evening.

About eight or nine years ago, I was driven mad by the irregularity and inconsistency of my Spanish dial-up connection.  And when I say “driven mad”, I literally mean it.  I’m sure there must be a condition – and if there isn’t, I’m about to invent it – which we could describe as “online psychosis”.  It’s brought about by the minute-to-minute uncertainty of not knowing whether one can blog, access websites or read and send emails.  It’s a frantic and furious darkness of not knowing.

When you become an extension of the worldwide web and that web is then withdrawn on an uncertain basis, it is just like the modern equivalent of losing a limb – and just as traumatic.

Or, at least, it can be for people like myself.

Robust then?  Only in the sense that statistically the same number of packets continue to wing their way through the ether.  But individual communications – communications that belong to people like you and me, that is to say, the personal things which make us so very human – are so very very dependent on particular cables of copper and telephone sockets and microfilters, and an unending list of other variables.

For you and me, for ordinary people like ourselves, the Internet is a lottery.  Only for the indistinguishable masses does technology march unstoppably on.

In that way, the Internet is not only a lottery, it’s also a brilliant metaphor for history itself.


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Mar 132010
 
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Democracy can sometimes make you cry. One clear example here, as Texas removes Thomas Jefferson from the frame. The wider fear as follows:

As the nation’s second-largest textbook market, Texas has enormous leverage over publishers, who often “craft their standard textbooks based on the specs of the biggest buyers.” Indeed, as The Washington Monthly has reported, “when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas rarely stays in Texas.”

An example of history written by committee perhaps? I know little about this subject so wonder what the eternal debate around writing history in a democracy may be. But surely this is one example of when we need singular thinkers more than ever.

The wider we cast our net, the safer and more accurate we will be.

Thanks to J David Morgan for the link.


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